Saturday, May 20, 2006

SWG FanFic - Ozies Tale

Little RP story for you. (btw, we need a stickied thread, like in the old Ranger boards, for fanfic tales)

Towards the end of the first week of Elona, and still suffering from the excesses of the Winter Fete, Ozie recieved an encoded transmission from the Watchman. He was to travel to the NW sector of Dantooine and investigate reports that the local Dantari tribesmen had recently been attacking travellers in that region and using some sort of 'magic' to harm them.

As the Nightwatch collaborated closely with the Antarian Rangers in assisting force sensitives the Watchman made it clear that Imperial 'entanglements' were to be avoided if possible. However, while this was officially a recon mission Ozie should draw weapons and armour from the 'watches planetary cache on the Arissi Plains

The transmission ended with a databurst giving the location of several useful contacts in the Banir Fields region.

Ozie shifted in his chair on the bridge of the Antari V, a converted Sorosuub yacht registered as a 'pleasure craft' and, as far as Imperial records would show, owned by a Corellian businessman with 'interests' in the entertainment industry.

The Winter Fete holiday had been a welcome break after the stressful end to the year and sharing Life Day with his adopted family had been enjoyable, but it was time to get back to work and what better than a simple recon mission to Dantooine. Maybe get the chance to do some fishing while he was planetside. "Yeah, a little huntin', shootin' and fishin'. That'd be ideal" he said, speaking to himself in the distracted way that spacefarers tend to do. Just the harmless habit of somebody who spent a lot of time alone in the depths of space. At the back of his mind, however, was the niggling doubt that one day somebody would answer back...

The zabrak's fingers rattled across the ships command keyboard, punching in the coordinates of the Dantooine Orbital Station, queuing up a hyperspace jump and transferring his mission data from the ships main comms station to his personal datapad. That done he strapped himself in and waited for the ships engine note to change from the usual low hum to a brief growl as he entered hspace.

Transferring from his ship to the local shuttle at Dant Orbital went smoothly and the customs droids barely gave him a second glance as he boarded the ship that'd take him down to one of the few facilities on the planet that could handle starship landings. No doubt one day the Empire would develop the settlements here into great cities like those on Coruscant, but for now it was nice not to have rookie pilots zooming around trying to get to grips with atmospheric flight. Especially when their ships were designed for use in deep space and not equipped with the thrusters and counter thrusters needed for delicate maneuvering needed to land on, rather than IN, a planets surface.

At the Mining Outpost Ozie headed to the cantina to give himself a few minutes to adjust to having solid ground under his feet again and to listen in to the locals, see if he couldn't pick up any useful snippets of information.

The outpost was far quieter than he remembered from previous visits. True, there were a few small hunting parties mustering and heading out, but there seemed to be something missing. It took a few minutes before he realised that there were no 'retired doctors' hawking their 'health supplements' and even the local 'entertainment' seemed a lot less active than he thought he remembered. Space travel can do odd things to your memory, but he definitely recalled seeing half a dozen or more twi'lek dancers here and now there was just one tired looking Bith musician.

The other patrons of the bar commented on the lack of entertainment too and blamed the recent 'changes' that had made the planet too dangerous for many of the local crafters. Wild beasts roamed in packs and there was nobody to keep them under control. Even the Mokk and Dantari tribesmen, normally peaceful unless provoked, had started attacking travellers. There were wild tales of rogue jedi hiding out in the hills and acting more like bandits than knights...

Ozie listened carefully to these travellers tales, asked a few discreet, seemingly disinterested, questions and then asked if anyone had heard of an Imperial facility nicknamed 'The Warren'. While the few customers in the bar argued over the existence of this place and whether it really DID haved mad scientists or that was just a tale put round to keep people away, Ozie quietly slipped out of the cantina and headed to the far end of the outpost where he hired a speeder from a local dealer, again letting slip that he was heading to the warren, and then, by taking a large sweeping loop south and east of the outpost, he made sure he was well out of tracking distance of the small Imperial detachment that was stationed in the outpost to assist the Administrator there before heading towards the mountains in the north west of the planet where he should be able to find out more about these weird Dantari magicians.

Night was falling as he arrived at the ruins of the old Jedi temple where his first contact was supposed to be. About 500m from the meeting point he stowed the speeder, attaching a modified droid tracker to it so he'd be able to find it again, and began heading to the imposing ruins on foot. His military training had taught him never to go riding straight in to a meeting without first scanning the area and checking for any surprises. Near the old temple he could see the flames of a large camp fire and this struck him as odd. Surely his contact wouldn't be so blatant, or stupid, as to light a beacon fire?

He stopped behind a low ridge and lay prone in the grass, his electrobinoculars propped on his pack he was able to use their image intensification to see who was standing by the fire. Certainly not his contact, who he knew was a Zabrak like himself and a female to boot. The large humanoid male standing by the fire looked like trouble. Zooming in on the figure Ozie was able to make out an small decoration on a fine chain round his neck. "It can't be..." he thought "that's a dark jedi amulet... what in the name of the Maker would one of them be doing here?"

Sliding back down the embankment Ozie skirted round the edge of the jedi's small camp and, as quietly as possible, made his way into the ruins of the old temple by fording the moat. Keeping to the shadows and ducking down to make sure he was not silhoutted agains the night sky he found his way to a recess under the remains of a ceremonial staircase. He was going to have to think about what to do next, especially as his contact was still nowhere to be seen.

Fine rain began falling and he was glad of the extra cover that this would give him, though he silently cursed the fact it would make drying his clothes harder.

"Comfortable, are we?" the voice said. Ozie, briefly disoriented as he couldn't tell if the voice had originated in his head or not, looked carefully around. Nobody in sight... his hand strayed to the hilt of the dagger concealed in the front of his jacket.

"Calm. Be still..." the voice spoke again and this time Ozie was able to get a fix on the direction it had come from. He turned his head and, outlined in the ran, could see the shape of a figure. As he tried to make out more detail the shape solidified and a female Zabrak stood about 20m from him, her face concealed by the hooded cloak she wore. Only jedi could conceal themselves that well, but she must have been standing there all the time Ozie had been sheltering. He thanked the Maker that it had been to cold to take off his damp clothing...

"You were sent here, yes? By whom?" she asked, her eyes bright in the darkness giving Ozie the feeling that he was being pressed back against the rocks he was sheltering among.

"If you are who I am looking for, you know who sent me..." Ozie replied

"I know far more than that, Ozie Antare. I am Juddarl, Drakka Juddarl and The Watchman told me to expect you" She nodded towards the distant glow of the Dark Jedi's campfire "I wonder if he's expecting you too? Luthik has been camped out there for the last few days. He's clearly waiting on someone, or some thing"

"Luthik Uwyr? His presence here suggests the Empire is showing an interest in the temples... You have been watching him?"

"There has been much to watch here recently Ozie. But Luthik has had several interesting visitors, yes. Come, let's get into some shelter and you can get dried off properly while we talk"

"I'm almost dry now, but shelter and rest would be welcome..."

Drakka smiled at him "Dry for now... but you will still need to get dry. Follow me." They left the shadows under the old stairs and cossed to the rear of the temple platform. Drakka hooked the skirt of her cloak over her arm and walked into the water. "Hurry..." she said as Ozie stood at the river bank shaking his head as he realised what the jedi had meant by her earlier comment. "Here we go again..."

Wading chest deep in the water, they made their way round some rocks and under the edge of a waterfall. Scrambling up the slippery moss covered rocks they reached the opening of a cave. Drakka quickly stepped inside followed a few seconds later by Ozie. "Soon there's a chamber where we can light a fire and get dry. Come"

The jedi pulled a halo lamp from a small pile of apparently discarded scrap, adjusted the beam down to a low glow and they headed into the tunnel leading away from the cave mouth. Ozie could hear scuttering in the shadows but decided not to investigate instead he concentrated on following the fast moving figure as they wound their way through the tunnel system and eventually found themselves in a short passageway opening into a larger chamber.

Rather incongruoulsy there was a stone built hut in the centre of the chamber, two basilesk pylons extending up on either side of it and sparkling with energy.

Drakka observed Ozies puzzled look and said "They were already in the cave when I first sought shelter here. The hut, well, it makes it easier to keep warm and dry and also gives me somewhere to sleep without the quenkers nibbling at my feet..." She pushed the door of the hut open, securing it with a cord, and gestured to Ozie to follow her in.

The interior was lit by the orange glow of embers in the central hearth. Drakka placed a small bundle of kindling in the hearth then knelt and blew gently into the embers till small flames sprang up. She then added more kindling and a couple of small pieces of timber before standing and taking off her wet cloak. She hung the cloak from one of the branches that formed the roof of her shack and suggest Ozie might want to find dry clothing for himself. She indicated a small cargo container near him which, when Ozie opened it, had a selection of mens clothing in it.

He quickly found a pair of trousers, a ragged sweater and a sleeveless jerkin made from some sort of leather. The trousers had a 2nd class Corellian Bloodstripe running up the side seam and Ozie pointed to it, asking as he did so how she came to have these. "Over the years I have been here many people have visited. Some exploring, some seeking assistance. The owner of those trousers, I seem to remember, lost them in a bet..." She smiled to herself and Ozie knew that that was all the information he'd get from her on that subject. For now.

He propped his boots on the edge of the hearth to dry, pulled off his own sodden gear, dried himself with a rough towel and dressed quickly. He turned back to the centre of the room just in time to see Drakka hitch a brown skirt round her hips and pull the edge of a mangy looking sweater down to cover her midriff. He looked away quickly as he realised her eyes were on him but not before he saw the amused look on Drakka's face as his own cheeks reddened.

They sat on large cushions at opposite sides of the hearth and exchanged pleasantries. Both were zabrak and it had been some time since either of them had been face to face with anyone. Solitude was not a 'normal' state for a zabrak to find themselves in as they were, by nature, social creatures who lived in large extended families. Service to others, military or otherwise, came easily to them as their unit became a surrogate family and, Ozie knew, the paternalistic nature of the Empire attracted many of his kind to Imperial service.

Drakka made a quick meal of some stew from a pot hanging over the fire and some root vegetables that she boiled in fresh water. While doing this she asked Ozie to tell her a little of his past. From his tattoos she could see he had seen battle, yet he was no longer in the Emperors service and still lived? Unusual in these times.

Ozie explained to Drakka that the nature of the Empire had become all too clear as he found his progression through the ranks slower than his human colleagues and the 'expendability' of so many of the Emperors 'children' had finally shocked him into accepting that any paternalism was mere artifice... It was after completing his final tour of duty that he took the opportunity to join an Imperial survey team exploring some of the more secluded and neglected sectors under the Emperors care and learned more about working with the native peoples and species he encountered. When that post was disolved due to diversion of funds to some other pet project he took the offered chance to be "stood down" from active service.

Drakka nodded. "I too have seen the ways that the Emperor treats those who he has become tired of...." She went on to tell of the massacre of the jedi at the hands of what was to become the Empire, directed by dark forces. The recollection clearly upset her and, to divert attention from her own distress she asked how Ozie had become a Watchman.

He explained that while exploring the Jundland Wastes of Tatooine and recording the different species there he had met the leader of the Nightwatch and, having learned to trust each other over time, become firm friends with the old ranger. The Nightwatch was a small group loosely associated with the Antarian Rangers. They assisted jedi by being their 'second eyes' in areas where the Empire still actively sought out all force sensitives. They also assisted those who had were just becoming sensitive to the Force by watching over them during that uncertain period of inner turbulence. Ozies current task, the one which had brought him here to Dantooine, was typical of another role the 'watch played, and that was to be the 'hands' of the jedi where there were reasons they didn't want their presence felt.

And so, with the retelling of their past lives out of the way, clothes dried and food in their bellies, the two zabrak got round to discussing the business that had brought Ozie out here.

It was true that some Dantari had been attacking travellers in this area and it was also true that they were using some sort of magic to do so. Drakka would go out tomorrow to check some details, while she was doing that could Ozie help with another 'local problem' that could, if unchecked, complicate matters? His ability to come and go unseen would be of great help...

Ozie was flattered at the jedi's recognition of one of his talents and readily agreed to take on the mission when he learned that it involved despatching an Imperial stormtrooper squad that had taken to using the local tribesmen for target practise. While he had been warned by the Watchman to avoid any entanglements with the Empire he couldn't sit idly by while these troopers massacred innocents.

***An Imperial Entanglement***

Before dawn broke Ozie had left the cave, finding that it was easier to get out dry than it was to get in while trying to avoid getting wet. He scurried up a fold in the hillside and away from the temple ruins, stoping only briefly to check on the dark jedi whose camp fire still burned in the distance. Amazingly the tall bald man was still standing by the fire, staring into the distance. Whoever or whatever he was waiting on certainly inspired obedience and dedication.

Moving through the early morning mists Ozie soon found signs that the troopers had indeed been in this area. The bodies of several Dantari warriors lay scattered in the grass, neat holes blasted in their chests. Recognising only too well the blaster pattern he muttered a few words to the Maker asking that he look over these unfortunates and that they should 'travel well, wherever they are'. Drakka's words to him as he left the cave in the morning slipped into his mind... "May the Force be with you" she had said. Let's hope it looks after him better than it had looked after these tribesmen.

The troopers were easy to track from the massacre site. Grass bent double, great big footprints from their Imperial issue footwear. They had headed off directly north, further into the hills. Presumably they were tracking another group of tribesmen. Such great hunters... He'd walked north, following the troopers tracks all the way, for about an hour when he heard the unmistakable sound of blasters. The high pitched whining carried for some distance, but, given the terrain and the weather, it was unlikley they were more than a few hundred metres away. Ozie broke right, ran about 200m before turning to head back in towards the sound of firing. This way, if the troopers decided to backtrack, he'd not end up running into them.

From 75m out he could see them in his gunsight. Four of them, a sergeant and three troopers. Picking off Dantari tribesmen and women who were trying to flee from a nearby village, their stone spears and stoneknives no match for Imperial blasters. "Time to restore some balance...." Ozie said in his head. His left hand dropped to a small device strapped to his waist, his finger found the switch, flicked it and a small electromagnetic field was generated that rendered him effectively invisible. Unlike the jedi who had been cloaked in the temple last night, he was able to move, albeit at a more cautious pace, and he used this advantage to get to a low outcrop of rock that would give him both a good firing position and a degree of protection from any returned fire.

The rocks meant he was unable to fire from a prone position as they had given the nearby grass enough protection to allow it to grow to nearly chest height. Normally this would have been cropped by the herds of bol that moved across the landscape here but the rocks were large enough to bump against the big herbivores horns so they had left the grass closest to the rocks to spring up to full height.

He looked down the barrel of the long Lithitanium rifle he used for sniping, found the sergeant by looking for his coloured shoulder flash, aimed at the weak point in the trooper armour just below the edge of the helmet where the neck was relatively unprotected, took a breath, exhaled slowly and s-queee-zed. The rifle barked loud in the morning stillness and Ozie was already dropping to his knee behind the rocks as his stealth field failed. The stormtrooper sergeant's neck snapped as the projectile hit, severing his spinal cord instantaneously. He couldn't even cry out in surprise as the white hot projectile carried on through the spine, exited under his jaw and then rattled round the inside of the armoured helmet.

His corpse continued to finish taking the step it had just started, the right foot naturally swinging through as his bodyweight shifted, the heel struck the floor as it should and then the impact of the slug hitting him forced the top half of his body to jerk forward from the waist up, his arms spalyed out to the side and he lurched forward, landing face down in the long grass.

The three junior troopers looked instinctively in the direction of the blast but saw nothing, the smoke from the barrel of the rifle masked by the morning mist. As their eyes swung towards their leader for inspiration it appeared to them that he had just thrown some sort of massive fit and fallen to the floor. The trooper closest to the sergeant ran towards the fallen body and was just about to pull the helmet free when he too lurched backwards, performing a ragdoll cartwheel in midair before crumpling to the ground, the lense over his eyes smashed on the right hand side.

This time the smoke from the rifle was clearly visible, as was the tall bald assassin. He dropped to the ground, the long barelled rifle slipping from his graps as he fell feigning a move to his left but rolling quickly to the right. His arm snapped up as he lobbed a flashbang grenade directly at the two shocked troopers. Before the grenade detonated he had already grabbed the carbine from where he had previously propped it against the rocks and was making a curving approach towards the now stunned, deafened and blind troopers who were blindly firing at wher ethey thought he had been.

He closed from about 70 metres at a full run, the carbine chattering, it's rate of fire set to maximum. Ozie knew this would trash the barrel but these were easily replaced, even in the field. The concentrated energy bolts smacked into the troopers armour, the first rounds doing little or no damage at all as the design of stormtrooper armour made it especially resistant to blaster bolts. However that resistance dropped rapidly under a sustained attack and the third bolt easily cracked the surface plating open, the fourth bolt erupted in a small spurt of flame as it ignited the underlying padding layer and the fifth and subsequent bolts slammed straight into the troopers torso. The energy released converted immediately to heat casuing the body fluids in the gut to boil and generate steam. With no easy way out the steam forces its way through the body cavity and death follows almost instantly. Unfortunately it's 'almost' instantly and being hit by a hail of blaster bolts is never going to be a pleasant way to die.

The troopers body was thrown back against his remaining colleague who, still stunned from the grenade, hit the ground hard. Ozie rushed towards him, stamping his boot down on the troopers wrist as he groped around for his blaster. It went against all his instincts to kill a defenceless man but he couldn't risk a survivor getting back to raise the alarm. The Empire would flood the sector with troops and Drakka's hideout would surely be found. He stepped forward, pressed his foot against the troopers throat and shifted his weight forward. The crunch as the troopers neck snapped told its own story.

Working quickly he dragged the four corpses into a small ravine, checked their pouches for any documents or items that may come in useful and, finding only credits, left them to the quenkers and huurton that were already circling. The undergrowth shoook as a large voritor lizard rushed out, grabbed the leg of one of the dead troopers and began trying to shake it loose.

It wouldn't take long for there to be nothing left to find.

He gathered the troopers weapons, short barrelled blasters mostly, removed their energy packs, then heaved them into a dense cluster of ferns. A quick scan round to check that he'd not left any of his own gear by mistake and he was out of there. He headed away from the direction leading to the jedi temple for about 15 minutes, then curved round to the right, eventually crossing back over his own trail. At this point he backtracked up the original route away from the clearing where he'd killed the troopers, eventually sidestepping off the track when he found some convenient boulders and loose growing shrubs that'd easily hide the point where he left the track. In this way, anyone following him away from the ambush would find themselves literally going round in circles while he moved rapidly away from the target area and eventually headed back in towards the temple, checking all the while that he was not being followed.

He approached the cave mouth from above this time, marvelling at how well concealed it was by the falling water. Even better, he found a way to get in with not much more than a slight drenching. As it was still daylight outside he could see down as far as the first bend in the tunnel and, as he went round into the darkness he pulled a small halo light from his pack, slid it into the fabric loop on the shoulder strap and used that to illuminate his way back down to the underground shack.

The hut was unlit and he could see no sign that Drakka had returned. He entered and made himself comfortable on the cushions. Because the torches in the hut had been lit last night he hadn't noticed how far up the tunnel he could see, and, in the silence, just how much he could actually hear out in the cave system. The quenkers scavenged the tunnels constantly, eating whatever they could find, communicating with each other in high squeals. Somewhere in the distance he could hear something bigger, heavier that made a similar sound to the quenker but it was deeper, different somehow...

Thinking about this he drifted off to sleep, only to dream about the troopers and the large lizard, then as always happened, the faces started to come back. The faces of countless tribesmen and women, rebels, insurgents, seperatists, traitors, cowards.... like a long queue, snaking off into his past, the faces of everyone he'd killed at the Emperor's bidding. Then he saw them, his brothers and sister, the small travelling camp on Iridonia when the family was travelling across the desert to join with others from the same clan in the rain forest there. The riders that came charging down from the dunes on those damned saphire blue lizards. He was only young but if he could just get to his pack, if he could jus treach up to the pack on his fathers mount... something grabbed his foot, dragged him backwards onto the hot sand, it burned against his skin, he was lifted by the ankle and thrown... the last thing he remembered about Iridonia and his family was the heavy, armoured boot swinging towards his face. Something had a hold of his foot! Not then, not in his child memory, here, NOW!

He rolled onto his back and kicked out, his foot being held vicelike. His eyes, already used to the dark finally focussed on Drakka's face. He stopped struggling and was immediately babbling apologies and excuses and still trying to shake the memory of that last day on the home world. Drakka knelt beside him "No, it is I who should apologise Ozie. I saw you sleeping and, remembering my joke about 'quenkers nibbling my toes' thought it'd be funny to wake you by pretending to you that one had got hold of your foot. I didn't mean, I didn't realise... I didn't want to see your dream..."

"You saw my dream?" he snapped back? "How can that be? It's mine, it's my memory, how can you have seen it?"

"The Force reached out to you and saw what you saw. When I touched your foot the Force gave me a sense of that memory... I am truly sorry for intruding..."

Now standing, Ozie looked at the old zabrak, still pretty for all her years, but suddenly looking tired and worried. He felt the anger and fear that the nightmare had left pass through him and burn away into the nothingness. "No, Drakka, you have nothing to apologise for, you were not to know. The Force sometimes toys with us, for it's own ends."

She smiled at that and replied "You are wise, for a youngling! But we have a grave matter to attend to. Please, light the fire while I check the tunnels. We will eat when I come back and then you will have a choice to make.

***The Chieftans Daughter***

Drakka returned after checking the tunnels for signs that anyone had been here unbidden. They sat and ate some of the stew which Ozie had heated over the fire. There was none of the talk of past lives that had gone with their meal last night and both of them felt a tension build between them. This was something they would have to deal with or it could cause problems if they were to work together.

Ozie broke the silence by asking what was the choice he was going to have to make. "The Dantari tribesmen from the plains near here, have been assisting me in making raids on Imperial camps in the region" she began. "While you were gone today I travelled over to meet with their chieftan and his daughter, Preni, has been captured by a new detachment that has been drafted in recently. The ordinary troopers are bad enough but these commando are arrogant, relentless. The Dantari say they have overheard them mention having been sent from Dathomir to look for jedi scum." She paused, looking around the hut nervously. "I think I must have been indiscreet in my use of the Force and possibly it has been felt. It could explain what Luthier is doing here..."

Ozie said, in as calm a voice as he could, "No, you told me that there are some tribesmen in the area who are using the Force? Perhaps it is their untutored use of it that has been detected? Surely you feel it when they use it?"

"That is possible, yes. So many small disturbances in the Force there are. I try to meditate and determine what they mean but there are just so many..."

"Take time to think on it while I'm gone Drakka... May the Force be with you" Ozie said as he got to his feet, already reaching for his pack.

"And with you, youngling" she half smiled back "So you are going to help find Preni?"

"I have no choice, really. I was a child when I was taken from my family. The pain of that still disturbs me now..." He paused briefly as Drakka stood and walked to the back of the hut. "Travel well, Ozie, and yes, I will meditate on these small disturbances while you are gone."

Outside in the night air Ozie could smell the smoke from the dark jedi's fire, drifting down the river on the breeze. He pulled the electrobinoculars from his pack and looked. Yes, the man was still standing there, still staring off in the same direction. He was so focused on his own 'meditation' that he would be unaware of anything but a major disruption of the Force. And even then, the dedication, or fear, that had him stand there day in, day out, would it let him notice?

He decided he would head directly to the chieftans camp and then follow the troopers trail out from there. It should be easier to do that than to blunder about out here hoping to find them. After travelling for a short while he felt he should move up into the hills and take a look in the next valley. He wasn't sure what drove him to make this decision, he was just following a hunch really but again there was that niggling feeling in his head that somebody was directing him, telling him where to go.

As he approached the crest of the hill he dropped to his knees to minimise his silhouette against the sky, then in a half crouch, shuffled forward to where he could see a herd of long necked pikets were grazing amongs another herd of bol. The tall animals serving as a lookout for the whole herd in case a voritor or other carnivore attacked.

Beyond the herbivore herd he could see the unmistakable flashes of blaster fire and he headed down to investigate.

As he approached the location where the blaster fire was coming from he found the huge corpse of a graul. A large bipedal creature, incredibly aggressive and looking a little like a furry rancor, it was a favourite trophy kill for hunters. The blaster marks on its body showed that it hadn't been hunted and killed but instead it had been tormented and tortured with shots to its arms and legs, ears, hands and feet. Somebody had a cruel idea of 'sport' around here. And to do that sort of damage whoever had done it had had company.

Approaching the source of the blaster fire carefully, Ozie was able to see that a small four man squad of Imperial Commando, dressed in dark 'scout' style armour, were tormenting another graul, goading it towards a pack of voritor lizards that were standing their ground on a nearby hill. If they could edge it close enough to the lizards they would join in the attack and leave the 'hunters' to bet on the outcome. Nearby he could see a Dantari tribesman, no, it was a female, with her hand shackled to a pin driven into the ground.

First things first, save the hostage. Send her back to her tribe or let her fight alongside him. Then he'd see how well these commando fought with a graul and some voritor on one side, and a maddened zabrak on the other.

Using the personal stealth field generator on his belt Ozie was able to skirt round to the tree line beside Preni. He decloaked and, when she almost cried out in amazement at the man appearing by magic, he hissed "Drakka sent me, quick, follow me..." as he used a pair of bolt cutters to snap the light chain holding Preni in place. "Did Drakka send you? She's so brave! I want to be like her one day..." the Dantari chieftans daughter prattled. "Please, Preni, run now, go back home..." Ozie hissed, shooing her away... "I'll go back to Drakka. She's so cool!" snapped Preni and ran off into the trees.

A blaster bolt whizzed past his ear and suddenly Ozie wished he'd equipped armour this time out. He tossed a small smoke bomb at the ground and vanished into the cloud it threw up. Immediately he reactivated the stealth field and moved as quickly as he could AWAY from teh tree line as he was sure that was the direction the troopers would expect him to go. He also wanted to draw their fire away from Preni and travelling inthe same direction as her would not achieve that.

The troopers unleashed a hail of blaster bolts in the direction of the trees, hoping to hit the hidden man who had popped up and released their captive. They weren't able to give the job their full attention however as the graul was now bearing down on them and looking for revenge. Scenting a change in the balance of things, the voritors were also closing in.

Ozie ran close to the troopers, lobbed a gas grenade under their feet and then plunged into the oncoming animals, dropping another smoke bomb as he went. The effects of the smoke were strong enough to cause the creatures to lose interest in him and they continued in their charge towards the troopers. Ozie collected his thoughts, checked that the gas bomb had detonated properly and was relieved to see the troopers pulling off their helmets and trying to stem the blood that spurted from their eyes, ears and noses. The lizards and graul also got scent of this and began leaping and slashing at the troopers who were powerless to fight back.

Unslinging his rifle Ozie took aim at the first trooper. The slug slammed into his unarmoured head with predictable results. A second trooper went down screaming as the graul used it's hooked claw to open him up from gut to gizzard. The third trooper vanished from sight under a cluster of lizards and the fourth, who was now trying to run away ran starigh t into a huurton matrons pack.

The damage the creatures had done would cover the few shots he had fired at the trippers and, after grabbing the remains of the smoke bomb and gas grenade, Ozie fired up stealth again and ran out of the area. No point hanging around to feed the bodies to the wildlife, they were already doing the business themselves.

Day was just breaking as Ozie got back to the cave and made his way down to the little hut. He quietly unlatched the door, stepped inside and lowered himself onto the large cushions. With the door latched behind him and no light other than the dying embers of the fire the interior of the hut was almost black. He could hear Drakka's breathing over at the far side of the shack and, rather than risk giving her a nightmare by pulling at her foot, he lay down on his cushions and allowed himself to drift off.

***The Emperors Agent ***

He awoke after a dreamless sleep. Drakka was already sitting in the doorway of the hut, her back to him, her legs folded under her and her head dipped as if in deep thought. He reached out and lifted the small bottle of drinking water from the side pouch of his pack, unscrewed the lid and took a gulp to freshen his mouth.

"Good morning, Light of Preni's Eye.... " Drakka chuckled.

"Good mo.. what?" Ozie choked, coughing water onto the floor of the hut. "Pardon?"

Drakka swung round in the doorway, laughing. "Oh youngling! You have so much to learn. Preni came here last night after you rescued her from the troopers. 'Oh such a fine young warrior' 'a magician! he appeared out of nowhere and called the animals of the plains and the mountains to aid him...' 'So brave! So fierce! I would want my sons to be like him..."

Ozie dropped his head into his hands, groaning "I don't believe it.... You're teasing me? Tell me you're teasing me?"

"But Ozie!! She's such a fine young girl, a good hunter and she does have a rich should be pleased that she finds you so, ah, interesting..." By now Drakka could barely contain her amusement and Ozie felt as if his entire face was alight.

"I'm sure she is a FINE young lady, Drakka, but I think her path and mine lie in different directions..."

"Predictions are hard to make, youngling. Especially about the future!" Drakka chuckled to herself as she got up and walked into the hut. "We have some answers to the problem that sent you here and again, you must choose your path. Listen carefully, Ozie. Listen well".

Drakka then explained to him that Luthik, the dark jedi who had been camped nearby for weeks now, was in fact an agent sent by the Emperor to organize the native tribes into some sort of 'strike force'. "As you have said yourself, Ozie, the Emperors children are 'expendable' and he will do with them as he will". She continued "Luthik has taught some of the Dantari to draw from the Force and, as they have no knowledge of the Light and Dark sides of the Force, they have been willing students, enjoying the power to instil fear and do damage that the Force gives them"

"We have to stop him, Drakka, we can't let knowledge of this spread off world, back to the Emperor..." He shuddered at the thought of force wielding Tusken Raiders on Tatooine, or what could happen to his hoe world if some of the natives there were given access to this sort of unskilled knowledge...

"Again, you have chosen without hearing the alternatives, youngling. This impatience will cause you harm I fear"

"There is no alternative, Drakka. We must maintain the balance. No matter what that takes..."

"You should contact the Watchman, ask him to send you help? These force wielders are going t be a formidable enemy..."

Ozie thought for a moment then said "No. I will go alone. I cannot ask you to risk exposing your presence here and there isn't time for the Nightwatch to muster and send a detachment here. Every hour that passes is an hour closed to the Emperor getting window of this development and we must stop that. No matter what the cost." He paused for a moment. "Drakka... If... If I fail. Contact the Watchman and tell him I have let him down. Tell him of this Luthik and his training of the Dantari, then retrieve my body. If anything is left I want it to go home..."

Drakka looked shocked at the strength of the young mans resolve and his acceptance of the need for him to make this sacrifice. If only he had been found by the Watchmen when he was younger, before he had suffered so much. In her head a voice said "Younger he would not have been the same young man. Stronger a weapon becomes as it is heated in a fire..."

"Yes, Master. I will meditate on this...." Drakka mumbled to herself. Looking up she saw the look of concern on the young zabrak's face. She waved at the air as if to dismiss some phantom and half smiled to Ozie as she said "May the Firce be with you, Ozie"

"And with you, Drakka. Always".

He did not stop to look down at the dark jedi's camp this time. Instead he dropped down into the riverbed and used the dead ground it created to shield him from view as he made his way toward the valley that Drakka had told him the force sensitive Dantari were hiding out.

As he clambered up out of the riverbed and picked his awy through some head height ferns, he walked straight into the face of a red eyed Dantari who was wearing a heavy hooded robe, similar to the one that Drakka had, but of a much darker material. Instinct, and fear, took over and he immediately grabbed the black handled stiletto which he wore in a horizontal scabbard on the back of his belt, lunged forward and rammed the tip of the blade upwards beneath the Dantari's jaw.

The heavy muscles and thick bone of his skull slowed the knife but not before it had penetrated up into the brain. A quick twist of the wrist and the wild man dropped like a bag of melons dragging Ozie down with him. Ozie pulled the knife out, wiped it on the shirt front of the fallen man, then rolled him over to pull the heavy robe off of his corpse. "Travel well, stranger. Be at peace.." Ozie muttered.

The robe, made of a coarse woolen material, stank like the bottom of a quenkers den, but it did serve to hide Ozies true identity as he circled the three remaining Dantari. The one he had just dispatched was probably the weaker of the group. Two of those remaining looked a little tougher, but the tall one, the one wearing a tabarded top similar to Luthik's. He looked as if he'd be very much more of a challenge.

"Take the head off the snake" the vice in his head seemed to whisper "Take the head off the snake and the body will die..."

"No, no..." Ozie thought back. "Not this time. Leave the leader till last. Remove his protectors and he'll still be a tough fight, but I won't have them hitting me as well..."

As soon as he had made his mind up on this course of action, Ozie stood, concealed himself with the Personal Field Generator and moved round to where one of the henchmen was lifting a small rock by manipulating the Force. He waited till the rock was at waist height before sneaking in and attaching a small wire hook to the Dantari's clothing. He then slipped back out of sight of the other two wildmen, paying out a fine monofilament thread behind him as he went. He then gave the thread a gentle pull and watched in amusement as the Dantari completely fell for this old school yard trick. Totally taken aback with the sudden tug on his clothing, the wild man scowled, then followed the thread... straight into the killing ground that Ozie had just prepared.

He barely had time to react before Ozie smashed a container at his feet that discharged a noxious cloud of gas. As Ozie stepped back out of range of the gas cloud he lobbed a snare trap at the retching tribesman then, as the gas cleared and the tribesman stumbled about, bloodied and confused, Ozie stepped forward and dispatched him with a pistol shot direct to the temple. The tribesman crumpled and lay completely motionless. "Be at peace, traveller"

The third Dantari fell as fast as his friend, falling for the same trick, but not before calling out in pain and alarm. Ozie had barely finsihed with him when the last Dantari rushed into view. As soon as he saw Ozie crouched over his fallen comrade the tribesman drew a vicious looking sword, about half as long as a normal sword and, from the high pitched whine it gave off, Ozie immediately knew it was a vibroblade.

This meant trouble. The short sword had a powerful motor built into the hilt that caused the edge of the blade to vibrate at such a high rate that it could easily break through light armour. One blow from that could easily take Ozies arm off and the Dantari was closing fast.

Grabbing his pistol in one hand and a snare trap in the other, Ozie jumped to his feet and, hoping for a direct hit, chucked the trap with all the skill he could muster. He heard the casing split and the wire mesh deploy. The Dantari flailed at the mesh as it hit him and this only served to further entangle him, knocking him off balance and making movement difficult.

Knowing the fine wires would only hold for a matter of seconds, Ozie moved further away from the tribesman and raised the pistol to fire a small poison flechette into the exposed neck. Dropping the pistol he unslung his carbine and began firing as fast as he could, moving away and off to one side. The Dantari, free of the wire now but groggy from the effects of the small poison dart continued to charge in the direction that Ozie had been in. This exposed his flank to a further burst of fire from the carbine and he eventually toppled forward, still heading towards the last place he'd seen his attacker.

Ozie walked forward and knelt beside the corpse. Rolling him over he saw that he too was wearing a necklace with a small dark jedi medallion attached. "Trinkets for the natives..." Ozie cursed as the voice startled him. He looked round and saw a heavy set man, no, a Dantari tribesman, but groomed, dressed from head to toe in black and red. Even as he digested this information the Dantari brought his hands togetehr in front of him and unleasehed a terrifying bolt of Force lightning directly at Ozies chest.

The blast threw him back 5 metres and left him totally winded. The tribesman was clearly weakened by the effort it had taken to unleash this attack but he had already begin to adopt a Dark Jedi combat stance, gathering strength from the Force. "You see, I have learned well, Master!" he shouted as he again brought his hands round to fire another burst of lightning at Ozie.

Ozie reacted more from instinct than any sort of plan and, throwing himself off to one side, lobbed a flash bang grenade at the wildman. The resulting explosion disoriented him for a few seconds, enough time for Ozie to drop a smoke bomb and conceal his position. Not for long, but enough time to gather his thoughts and plan his next move.

A quick check at the carbine showed it had enough energy left for two maybe three blasts. The shots would go wide as the barrel was pretty well worn now and there wasn't time to field strip it before his cover broke. He needed to weaken the wildman, wear him down, and at the same time stay out of the reach of that damn lightning. He slung the carbine round his neck, prepped his last gas grenade and a flashbang. Then, taking a deep breath he stood and lobbed the flash bang directly at the force wielder. It detonated on contact and had the effect of deafening and blinding the target as well as disorientating them with shock.

Ozie sidestepped to the left about 15m, dropping the gas bomb in the path of the staggering wildman. The bomb detonated and sent up a cloud of foul greenish chemical smoke which, on contact with skin or eyes, casued immediate bleeding and blistering. Added to the effects of the flash-bang this meant the wildmans senses were being heavily overloaded with pain stimulii.

Sidestepping left again, Ozie swung the carbine up and aimed directly into the cut of the wildman. Force weilder or not, it'd be difficult to concentrate with your guts filling with the steam from blaster bolts. The target crumpled, fell to his knees, then forward onto all fours... retching and gagging he rolled onto his side and finally got sight of Ozie, now closing in to deliver the coup-de-grace.

With his dying gasp the Dantari fired a furious burst of lightning at Ozie which again caught him in the chest, throwing him backwards and effectively paralysing him as the charge ran through his arms and legs, burned around his face, ears, eyes... Ozie's carbine was still pointing at the tribesman and, through sheer strength of will he managed to force his hand to squeeze closed. The gun barked, pain seared through Ozies right leg and the lightning stopped.

It took some time for Ozie to gather enough strength even to roll onto his side and see that the Dantari was in fact dead. In doing so the pain from his leg caused him to shout out, breaking the silence that had settled over the valley. Knowing that the local wildlife would be closing in fast looking for an easy meal, he realised he needed to stabilise his wound and get out of there. He pushed himself up until he was roughly sitting, scrabbled in his pack for a large field dressing and a stim pack D. The smaller Stim A's in the ready pocket on his belt were not going to be powerful enough for this mess.

Opening the field dressing, the first thing he found was a thin fibreplast sheet that was to be laid on the ground to make a small sterile field. He stuffed as much of it under his leg as he could manage before the pain started to wash over him again. The leg of his trousers below the knee was shredded completely away and the calf muscle was badly ripped. The blast from the barrel exploding had driven carbonium steel fragments into the leg and flayed the skin away from his shin in a hand sized patch. He slammed the needle of the StimD into his thigh, straight through the clothing, and depressed the handle. A hefty cocktail of medecines in a bacta suspension began to flow through the needle, into the muscle tissues and on into his system. He peeled the sterile cover off the front of the padded dressing, a simple pad made from blown fibreplast "wool" and infused with bacta, then steeling himself for the pain, he pressed it down over as much of his wound as he could. A small ampule of bacta on the back of the pad cracked open under the pressure from his hand and the healng fluid began to seep thru the dressing and into the wound.

He rested back on his hands, the pain in his leg still bright but changing now to a heavy thudding burning sensation. Oddly enough, this WAS an improvment. He had to get back to Drakka and tell her that the force weilders were dead but that one of them had been studying and knew some rudimentary combat moves. He had to get to her and let her know and THEN he could get to a med centre.

Rolling onto his front, Ozie crawled to a nearby tree and used that as a suppoert to force himself upright. From the top pocket of his shirt he pulled out the trigger for the droid locator beacon he'd attached to his hire bike a few days ago. It was a fair distance away, but it was a LOT closer than Drakka's cave. What owuld normally have been a 15 minute walk dragged on to be a one hour hobble. The pain relief in the dressing pack was starting to wear off as he found the bike, but he was able to push his damaged leg over the saddle, then gun the engine, leaping forward across the Fields of Banir as the day began to fade. At least, he hoped the light of day was fading, either that or he was slowly dying... oh great, now the voices in his head were starting to share graveyard humour... this couldn't be good.

The drive up towards Drakka's cave was mercifully uneventful and he left the bike in a small defile near the river that fed the waterfall. There was no easy way for him to get down to the cave, so, stuffing the sterile field cloth in his mouth to help stifle any screams, he slid into the river and allowed it to drag him over the lip of the cascade. The fall down carried weightless in the shimmering water, lit by the last rays of the evening sun, was momentarily blissful. The slam as his body hit the icy dark pool at the bottom of the falls and was then tossed around in the current as he flailed his arms trying to guide himself towards the edge, less fun.

A hand shot out of the curtain of water and grabbed him, hauling him backwards and into the cave mouth. Drakka? Thank the Maker...

He woke on a pallet of cushions in the small hut, a cool hand on his forehead, quiet mumbling in his ear. As his eyes opened he saw the tanned face of Preni, the young Dantari girl who Drakka had taken great delight in tormenting him about.

"Master Drakka! He is awake! He is returned to us...." she called excitedly, beaming down into his face. Her dark eyes glistened with unshed tears, and Ozie felt himself being drawn into them, feeling sorry that he had been responsible in some way for her distress...

"Ah, youngling, Preni has brought you back to be with us again? She was amazed when you fell out of the sky yesterday... lucky for you she was just leaving after bringing me some firewood and supplies!"

Ozie struggled to sit up in the bed then realised that he seemed to be naked under the sheets. "My clothes? Where..."

"Oh, don't worry about that, young Preni has seen men undressed before. After all, you can't grow up in a warrior society without damaged fighters needing treatment. And besides, a loincloth doens't eave much to the imagination...." Drakka looked as if she was going to start laughing at Ozies embarassment againand excused herself. She stepped away and made herself busy with something at the far side of the room "A great impression you have made, young Ozie. Preni has not left your bedside since she carried your body in here..."

Preni knelt beside Ozies bed and said, "Young Master Ozie. I was so grateful to you for saving me from those co-man-does but you sent me away before I could thank you. I am so glad that the goddess of the sky delivered you to me, especially as you were in need of healing. Master Drakka has been teaching me how to heal wounds and treat illnesses, so it was doubly fortunate that you landed in the temple pool".

She spoke with such earnestness and conviction that it was hard not to admire the strength it must have taken for her to take tuition in healing from anyone other than the clans shaman. Ozie placed his hand on her shoulder, smiled and thanked her for all her care. He hoped that he had been a good patient? She nodded and smiled, placed her hand over his and squeezed it.

"You should rest now, Master Ozie. If I may, I would like to rest a little too?"

Not entirely sure where Preni intended resting, Ozie nodded, thanked her again then almost sighed with relief as she stood and made her way across to the cushions Drakka had used as a bed.

Reaching into the cargo container at the head of his bed, Ozie fished out a large piece of plain coloured material which he wrapped round his waist like a long kilt. "That'll do for now..." he grinned. "I don't seem to be able to find any trousers that'll fit over the dressing on my leg!".

"Walk with me, Ozie. If you can manage..." Drakka said, moving toward the door of the hut.

Ozie hobbled to the door, then rested against the outside of the hut.

"You have choices to make, young master Ozie, Light of Preni's Eye. But first, tell me about the force wielders. I felt the battle as a disturbance in the Force and can see for your wounds that it was a tough fight, but tell me, what happened.. what did you see..."

He retold the days events as best as he could remember them. Drakka was especially interested to hear the details of the attacks that the Dantari had learned. "From the student you can learn much about the Master" she said.

Then the telling was past and Drakka stood in the shadows of the cave for some time, thinking over the details, weighing the significance of each event and how it fitted into the whole. Ozie remained where he was, sitting against the stones that formed the bottom layer of the small hut.

Finally Drakka spoke.

"Ozie, you have endured great pains, have acted honestly and with no selfish motive. I fear you will have made enemies with some Dantari and the Empire will one day become aware of what has happened here, so you will continue to be exposed to risk because you have helped me. But you have shown yourself to be a true friend and I am honoured to have met you".

Ozie blushed and muttered something about it having been a priveledge to serve and how the risks were worth it if it means the Emperor doesn't start training other tribesmen to be his toys.

"I want you to take this token, Ozie. It is a holocron, a jedi trinket, but I feel that in time it may help guide you towards your true home." She handed him a small blue cube that glowed faintly. The surface was covered with a fine, intricate geometric pattern and, as he held it, the holocron seemed to hum gently as if it was resonating to some energy field.

Ozie thanked her and then followed her gaze. Inside the hut the sleeping form of Preni could be seen, lying on the small bed and clutching Ozies workshirt.

"As I said, you have choices to make, young Master Ozie. Meditate on this you must" In the shadows, Drakka smiled.

Ozie looked at the sleeping Dantari girl, then at his pack on the foot of his bed and the pathway up to the mouth of the cave.

"Much I have to think on" he said, quietly.

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