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Glasignis


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Glasignis

“You were right to fear the world. It has gone mad. The gutters brim with poets. Decency lies burning in the street. But this is not a time for heroes. Look instead to those battered souls who have known fear and failure in ample portion, but rise again to reclaim a glimmer of hope”

- A Keeper of Twilight  

Coordinates: K6

 

A planet in the throes of Armageddon. A dying world that refuses to move on. A sphere of survivors and monsters. These are the most basic descriptions of Glasignis.

 

A tidally locked planet located in the Expansion region, Glasignis once boasted a well-behaved and advanced society, complete with its own force traditions. Tragically, a force-imbued plague known as the Howling caused the planet’s people to rapidly degenerate and now the world is nothing more than smoldering ruins, mutated farmland, overgrown forests and barely functional roads, not to mention the frozen Umbraside and the  burning Brightside ends of the planet. Still, life struggles on, each day a test of strength and willpower. 

History

Much of Glasignis' written history has been lost. Earliest records of the planet show it being colonized in 80 BBY and an application for representation in the senate was received in 24 BBY, only to be quickly withdrawn at the start of the clone wars to maintain neutrality.  Being out of the way of any major trade route, and not a major export in many materials, Glasignis was content to be out of galactic affairs. For a short period, the galactic empire considered making the planet a vacation resort for imperial officers, but this plan was discarded. 

 

When the Howling started to spread is speculative, though best estimates believe it started 30 to 90 years ago. Being a proud people, the residents did not request help from anyone, and shortly afterwards the government fell apart. By the current date, most survivors have forgotten what life before the Howling was like, and their optimism and pride keep the people alive for now.

The Howling (aka the Howling Flesh)

No one is sure how the Howling started. Some people believe it started when a rogue Sith came to the world and created the disease as a way to take over the world. Some think the Force itself manifested it spontaneously and without reason. Still others think that one of the Keepers of Twilight accidentally released an eon-forgotten disease in their pursuit of knowledge. Whatever the cause, the disease runs rampant.

 

The disease is known as the Howling for the effects it causes on infected beings, both sentient and non-sentient. Spread via physical contact, the disease infects DNA and Midichlorians, causing warpage. This results in the infected becoming various forms of monsters, ranging in form wildly. Worse yet is that those infected tend to become slightly force resistant and mentally insane, making it impossible to control the monsters in any way. 

 

The forms that the infected take vary wildly, but they do tend to reflect the environment they are in. Those in the Emberpits tend to have flammable bodies and metal-like bones extending from their hides, while those in the Foetid Farms have tumors, boils and additional bleeding orifices. These traits are gruesome to say the least, and each monster seems to instinctively know how to make the best of their newest mutations.

 

What tends to confuse doctors and Force Healers is that those infected with the disease tend to die almost immediately when leaving the system. While this does prevent a galactic outbreak from occurring, it also makes researching the disease very dangerous, as all work must be done on the planet. Researchers are worried that if this disease occurs on other planets, there is no clue as to whether it will keep this planet-bound trait or not.

Residents

Life on Glasignis is a constant battle and an eternal trek. When the Howling caused widespread destruction and panic, all forms of government fell and the survivors were divided into nomadic tribes, or better known as caravans. While most of the populace is human, it is not too uncommon to see other alien races who had settled on the planet before the Howling struck. 

 

Caravans are forced to travel. In order to survive long-term, they must make their way through the once-populated Twilight Ring to retrieve mineral resources from the Brightside and water and food from the Umbraside. The roving monsters make it impossible for people to stay in one place while scouts go to get resources, so everyone is always on the move together. This might mean caravans are composed entirely of speeder bikes or be made up of people walking on foot with a food-laden hovercraft closely behind. With most forms of transport technology breaking down at some point and with supplies always limited, these journeys are dangerous to say the least. However, to the residents, it beats the alternative of starving to death or remaining in one place for the monsters to ambush. 

 

Despite attempts and offers to transport the residents offworld, a combination of pride and optimistic determinism keep the people rooted on the planet. They have survived this long, and they will not leave their home now. However, they have accepted most forms of help, from food and medical supplies to gifts of technology. In return, almost anyone from off world can find open arms from these caravans. 

 

Those who do not belong to any specific caravans are known as outlaws. These people are considered the worst beings on the planet. Instead of working together, they set up traps and attack caravans to carry off whatever they find. Occasionally they align with other outlaws to attack a larger caravan, but when the howling strikes and monsters swarm, all alliances are called off.

The Keepers of Twilight

Before the Howling, Glasignis had a rich culture, complete with its own religion based on the force. Possibly founded by a Jedi who was stranded on the planet an eon ago, the Twilight is eerily similar to the teachings of the Jedi, with a focus on spiritual and emotional enlightenment, a pursuit for knowledge,  and a selfless attitude.  Those priests of the Twilight religion were known as Keepers, and like the Jedi, they tried to maintain the peace on Glasignis. The only major difference between the Jedi and the Keepers is the latter's belief of the ends justifying most means.  Even then, the Keepers argue that their view is not so straightforward.

 

"Blind means are never justified. Those are the ways of a fool. Rather, a well thought out end justifies well-educated means. One must have knowledge to act beyond basic instinct, which is what we all strive for"

- Keeper of Twilight Teaching

 

After the Howling, the Keepers of Twilight took on a more leadership role. Almost each caravan is led or advised by at least one Keeper. Scholars first and foremost, the Keepers maintain maps of the ruined world,  data entries of the time before the Howling (which is little), logs of their journeys and losses everyone has sustained, as well as their own lessons on the Force. While they do not share their secrets easily, those the Keepers find trustworthy and helpful tend to learn a few things. People believe the Keepers have made both wonderful and gruesome discoveries about the force. Discoveries that the jedi and the sith would love to have and hate for the other to find out. 

Geography

Being a tidally locked planet, the planet is divided into three sections: The Sunscorched Brightside, the frozen Umbraside, and the temperate, populated twilight ring that lines the planet’s terminator zone.

Brightside

This half of the planet is a barren, scorched land. Sporadic mountain ranges  rich in mineral deposits dot the landscape, with a lake of lava facing directly towards the planet’s yellow star. Before the Howling struck, the residents of Glasignis used droids to mine the mountain ranges for necessary resources. A few abandoned mining settlements dot closely to the Twilight Ring, being the only places where people can utilize technology to reacquire the necessary technology to keep surviving.   

 

It is rumored between traveling caravans that somewhere in Brightside is a hidden library built by the Keepers of Twilight. While the actual keepers either deny such a place exists or confess that they have no idea if such a place does exist, the rumor continues on, stating that the temple could hold a potential cure for the Howling, as well as other secrets.  

Umbraside

This half of the planet is cold and abysmally dark. Frozen oceans as hard as bedrock face away from the planet’s star, and only along the edge of the Twilight Ring is where liquid water can be found thanks to the planet’s Emberpits (see Emberpits below). Along these coast lines, caravans collect water, farm patches of vegetables and fruits for future caravans to harvest, and rest before making their return trip to Brightside. 

 

A large landmass does exist above the frozen ocean on the Umbraside, surprisingly filled with frozen trees and deadly night creatures that somehow survive the unbearable cold that would kill any other species. It is here that people believe a secret laboratory that possibly created the Howling exists, though this is speculative at best. 

Twilight Ring

Once a city that completely encircled the planet’s terminator zone, the Twilight Ring is where most life on the planet exists. Whether it is the caravans passing through it to get to the Brightside or the Umbraside, the outlaws who hold up as long as possible, or the wild monsters that roam the ruins and the overgrown roads, life exists here. Before the Howling had caused so much destruction, the eternal stage of twilight was considered beautiful and mysterious. Now, the stage between darkness and light causes only anxiety as monsters can appear around any corner. 

 

Below are listed some of the environments found in the Twilight Ring. This is not a complete list, and visitors to the planet could discover other kinds of areas, as well as the infected that reside there.

Emberpits

In order to bring heat closer to Umbraside, the citizens of the planet created pits that released heat and lava from the planet’s core. After the Howling, these well cared for heat pits fell out of use. Unfortunately, this meant that the heat leaked out into the surrounding areas, creating miniature hellscapes, with the Howling making figurative demons to roam the ruins of industrial factories, complete with charred and flayed skin, metal-like appendages,  and ravenous appetites.

Foetid Farms

Before the Howling, when the Twilight Ring functioned like a well oiled machine, the farmlands were the bread baskets. Now the lands have become overgrown to the point of absurdity. Jungles of vines where fields of vegetables once existed, forests of gnarly trees where fruit was harvested, and poisonous weeds now thrive in these places. This is nothing to say of the carnivorous beings who were once the farmers of these lands, who are more like ghouls than people. People have even reported seeing the infected here eating other infected, only to somehow continue to repopulate.

Nerf Countries/Wild Zones

Nothing was more frightening to the residents of the Twilight Ring than the realization that the common wildlife was susceptible to the Howling. Those animals that were infected grew in size and intelligence, to the point of loosely organizing themselves. The most dangerous of the animals were the nerf herds kept for feasting occasions. Mutated beyond recognition,  these beasts now claim vast areas and kill whatever they find. Passing through Nerf country is an unadvisable, but sometimes necessary, task.

Worn-Down Ruins

Teeming with the infected, the ruins of the Twilight Ring are filled with collapsing skyscrapers, abandoned shacks, torn down warehouses, and ravaged cities. Those ruins closer to the Brightside tend to be more scorched and burnt, while those closer to the Umbraside more cold. Whether it is the outlaws laying out traps on roadways, or the monsters roaming the streets, the ruins of the Twilight Ring are dangerous to say the least. Lost technologies, forgotten knowledge, and many other things draw people both from on and off world to these areas, only to be torn apart or infected by the beasts that call these places home.

 

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  • 9 months later...

In the space above the tidally locked Glasignis, The Crate dropped out of hyperspace.

 

I looked out of the viewport, down onto the hellscape below. One side was scorched clean, while the other deep frozen. A nightmarish place to live.

 

Just right for a half-crazy cyberneticist.

 

"All right Oka Geb...where are you?" I muttered to myself, dialing up his private comm recognition code. A light on the dash blinked, confirming that my signal was active. If Oka was still alive, his receiver would pick up my signal, and he could respond.

 

A few minutes passed. Then...

 

Bing!

 

I frowned. No message, just a tracking signal. It was in the Twilight Ring, near the equator. A good distance away from the ruins of any major settlement, but closer to Emberpits than I would have liked.

 

Could at least take a look. Nothing on this planet could damage The Crate. It wasn't that my ship was just that tough (though it was), it's that no tech capable of knocking it out of the sky survived down there.

 

The old ship cut through the atmosphere, breaking through the cloud cover and descending over a wasteland. Dusty, windswept barrens dominated the landscape, with patches of strangely colored life dotted here and there. The dust itself had an ugly, unnatural ochre tinge to it. I curled my lip. I really hated this place.

 

The signal came from just up ahead, and I began to get worried. I should be able to see the caravan by now.

 

That's when I saw them.

 

Marauders. Outlaws.

 

Even from this distance, it was easy to distinguish them from actual caravaneers. One, this particular band seemed to have a real penchant for skulls. As in, every square inch of their two hover skiffs that wasn't needed for function had animal and humanoid skulls dangling from ropes. Two, they were whooping and waving rifles in the air, not the sort of behavior you'd see from your usually cautious Glasignis traveler.

 

What are they even doing?

 

It was clear to me what they had done. Somehow they'd gotten Oka Geb's communicator, saw my signal, and lured me down here with a fake response. My grip tightened on the controls, as I considered that Oka might be dead. Marauders sometimes kept skilled caravaneers alive to service them, but not always...

 

Alright you little savages, let me show you what real weapons can do...

 

Power level gauges on the control panel lit up as the four medium laser cannons charged.

 

I fired.

 

The result was immediate. Marauders scattered as red blaster fire lanced down into their ranks, their cocky attitude evaporating. Apparently their leader had better foresight, because the skiffs immediately started moving off and away, evidence that they'd been primed and ready to go.

 

But then why be out in the open at all?

 

My proximity indicator light alerted me to a new target. I spun the ship around.

 

Another skiff? And this one had the leader, if that ridiculous nerf skull helmet was anything to go by. It also had...

 

Was that a catapult?

 

I barely had time to process what was happening when what was indeed a crude catapult fired its payload. I jerked on the controls, but I was too close. The projectile glanced off my port wing and dissolved into...dust?

 

No, not dust...metal filings, that clung to the hull.

 

Alarms blared as simultaneous power failures were suddenly detected.

 

"Karking clever git!" I shouted in furious frustration. The nose of The Crate tipped down as it began to lose altitude. I didn't know what was in those metal filings, but it was playing havoc with the main power flow.

 

"Hold on!" I shouted to the passengers.

 

I managed to barely level us out as we came in for a crash landing. The last I saw of the skiff was it rocketing towards our soon-to-be crash site.

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Music

 

The first thing Kiv thought about when he pulled himself back up was the heat. It was hot. Scorching hot. Tatooine’s hot days didn’t compare with this heat, and here the sky was an eerie twilight glow. 

 

“Whew!” Kiv breathed out heavily, reaching into his robe to scratch his sweating ear. “I didn’t realize you landed so fun-like crazy lady…”

 

Kiv looked around, confused. The place was like a smoking, smoldering junkyard. Pieces of metal and scrap layed everywhere, glowing with long-living embers and melted durasteel. Black smog rose from all around, choking the very life from all who tried to breath the little life-giving oxygen that could be found. 

 

Kiv adjusted his robe again, covering his face better to help block out the heat. 

 

“Well, this is interesting place. But if I here, where is ship?”

 

Kiv remembered how the landing went. The long slide. The scraping of metal. The screaming of the rodent as he clung to the walls frantically, trying to get to the pilot’s cockpit to see if he could help. Then the sudden stop as the ship hit something solid, and Kiv was thrown out the window. 

 

“Helooo?” Kiv called out, hands cupped near his mouth. “Big cousin? Eyes? Crazy Lady? Where you go?”

 

Kiv stumbled a bit further and stopped himself. He found himself facing a massive drop off. The unimaginatively huge pit he faced was larger than any sarlacc pit he thought of. The pit rivaled the sinkholes of Utapau, going deeper than Kiv could look down. But Kiv could see something glowing at the vastly distant bottom.  

 

“What is…?” Kiv started to ask before receiving an answer. The heat that was rushing upwards and the intensifying glow gave the Jawa all the info that he needed. Survival instincts kicked in. Kiv dashed, leapt, and dove beneath a pile of metal, digging like a mad wamp rat before a deadly sandstorm. Kiv considered himself lucky, for just before the heat wave hit the surface, he pulled the last piece of metal back to cover the opening. 

 

The sound the lava made was a roar. It erupted in the air, so hot that it partially vaporized into gas as it hit the surface. Anything exposed to the air instantly started to burn, as the heat wooshed away from the pit, carrying anything light enough with gale-force wind. Only because the heat-treated cloak and the pieces of partially melted metal was Kiv able to survive the heat wave drawn directly from the planet’s core.  

 

Just as quickly as it came, the heat receded and the lava went back down the pit. Kiv pushed his way out and wiped his face. 

 

“Kriffing son of a rancor!” Kiv cursed. “The fires of Mustafar is better than…”

 

Kiv stopped. Gunfire was heard in the distance away from the Emberpit. Kiv had to do a double take, realizing just how far he had been thrown from the ship. Then he broke into a sprint towards the gunfire. 

 

“Safer than here I bet!” 
 _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
It wasn’t. 

 

While Kiv experienced the Emberpit’s eruption close-up, the marauders and outlaws had begun to gank the crashed ship, fitting as half of them were Ganks and the other half Humans. Utilizing their own skiffs to circle the ship, opening fire trying to kill the occupants. When the heat wave had struck, they utilized their own cloaks and protections to guard against the heat and then proceeded to continue their volleys. 

 

The heat had provided one advantage to the droids however. When the heat wave struck, predicted by now panicking Eyes, Meepo stepped out, mouse droids attached to his back. On command, M1, modified according to Imperial standards, activated its shield generator while M3’s arms extended around Meepo’s body, opening fire with it’s own blaster attached arms.

 

“Imperial protocol states that self-defense is applicable here!” Meepo noted. M3 chirped in fear as it continued to open fire back at the circling skiff, taking out the head gunner. "Something I do not take joy in, but oh well"

 

>Master? Master?< Eyes frantically asked as he turned over pieces of metal, scanning for the lost rodent, uncaring that only a stray blast would take him out. His programming stated to help, serve, and protect his great and glorious master. And while he hated the Rodent’s guts, he wasn’t going to give up on his duty quite yet. 
 

 

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The black-clad Tusken instinctively gripped at the leather strap that hung above his seat aboard the attack shuttle as it shuddered dropping out of hyperspace. He knew it meant they were probably close to wherever they were going, but beyond that, the mysteries of space travel still presented a forbidden mysticism to the more primitive nomad. That and this sort of travel always seemed to result in negative outcomes. It was like the gods themselves punished those who dared defy the natural state of things. He sure thought that too. At this point, Rru figured he was all but abandoned by the gods of his people. All that remained were he and the voices of his ancestors who directed his paths. Through them, perhaps he could find redemption.

 

The craft shuttered some more as it broke the hot dry atmosphere of the world. Rru just held on tight. There was little else he could do as his mind raced reciting ancient histories and prayers silently to himself behind his blackened breath mask.

 

And then the ship lurched mightily and screaming mechanized alarms began to reverberate about the cramped metal coffin they were careening in. Had it not been for that strap, Rru would have fully tumbled out of his chair. As it was, it was the only thing to save any dignity he might have left. Well, until the ship slammed into the surface of the unknown world beyond. With it, the Tusken’s head slammed into a rather unforgiving metal support and instantly his world went black.


________________________
 

An unidentified time later:

 

In truth, it was but a few minutes.

 

Rru began to come to. His world had stopped moving; not that he could tell. Blinking the tears out of his eyes, the Tusken’s vision swam before him. His head was pounding. If he could have spat without clogging up his ventilator, he would have;  the metallic taste in his mouth distractingly revolting.

 

But still . . . 
 

The dull sounds of blaster fire pinging off the hull of The Crate rang clearly through the craft. Rrur almost could feel it and he winced as the larger skiff gun unloaded salvo after salvo into the craft.  Glancing about, he noted that the rodent was gone. For a fleeting moment he wondered if the Jawa had finally gotten them in to deep and was in fact trying to roast them alive.

 

My was it warm. Almost homey like in its penetrative suffering. Pulling himself from the floor, Rru grabbed his rifle that lay nearby and began to carefully maneuver towards the open shuttle doorway. The outside took a moment to adjust to. It was starkly different than what the Tusken was used to; but then again, it was a small universe and, a familiar skiff angled into site. The more things changed the more things stayed the same.
 

Crouching, Rru began to move, using the ship for cover.  Just as the skiff disappeared around the aft of the downed craft, the head gunner toppled from the side in a returned exchange of fire.

 

Making a mad dash for a nearby hill of twisted debris, the black Tusken hurried to find cover from the approaching band of marauders. There was more than a few of them, the skiff being only a part of their entourage. It was the law of the desert, only these rather mechanicalized looking demons seemed a bit more hostile than the usual Jawas Rru was used to. Of course, that was before he met Kiv.

 

Noting the rodent’s small pet droid frantically digging a short ways off; seemingly oblivious to the approaching band of hostiles, Rru growled. It was a low predatory sound, not one that would carry across the battlefield. No, it was more like that of a Narglatch as it’s heart swelled and body tensed preparing to pounce on its unsuspecting prey. Flopping himself down between two jutting razored spines of metal, the Tusken winced as his head objected to the sudden shift in momentum. Raising his cycler to his shoulder, Rru popped the slide backwards and slipped one of the incendiary rounds the Jawa had given him into the chamber.

 

The first Gank that stalked towards Eyes did not even know what hit him. A distant crack of antiquated firepower was the only telltale alert a mete moment before searing pain tore between the gaps in his armor and the whole being erupted into a cacophony of plastoid and cybernetic guts. A fireball consumed the mercenary and the three comrades closest to it in a plume of fire and smoke. Even Rru had to pause to admire the devastation of the XPyre round; but only for a moment.

 

The Tusken raised his rifle above his head standing partially to be silhouetted against the twilight sky; a black wraith, a dragon of legend as he let out the guttural war cry of his people as it echoed defiantly across the battlefield. Drawing attention to himself, the Raider dropped to a crouch as he dropped another explosive round into his worn cycler and took aim.

 

Another crack. Another consuming fireball. It did not take but a moment before the raiders were hesitating, turning their attention from the ship and towards this new threat, whatever it was. Was the prize worth it? To fight a fire belching demon of the night?

 

BOOM!!! A fiery round struck the power relay of the skiff sending trails of inky black smoke into the sky as the craft began to careen out of control. 
 

Another gutteral war cry echoed  across the desolate landscape. Wherever they were, Rru knew these types all too well. He had spent his life fighting their kind on Tatooine. He would do the same here.

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"Come on, come on!!!" I shouted.

 

I tapped the controls futilely, but only received a weak flicker in response. Whatever magnetic, electro-pulse, magic metal ore they had hit The Crate with, it was still interfering with the system. My ship was dead in the water.

 

"KARKING KRIFFING---" I let loose a string of curses that only someone who'd lived with transgalactic cargo haulers could have produced. I only vaguely noticed that the rest of my passengers weren't around to hear. Either dead or out fighting, if the sounds coming from outside the ship were to be of any gauge.

 

I was mad. Really mad. Really, really karking mad. Not for being outwitted by a bunch of mouth-breathing, grime-slurping, dung-eating bandits. No, I'd been outwitted before. No bounty hunter who's actually done something with their career hasn't had that one unlucky shot take them down, or that one idiot mark just dumb enough to be clever. The sign of a quality bounty hunter was if you survived that shot, that idiot.

 

No, I was mad for a different reason. I didn't have a lot that I held onto in this life. I'd let go of my homeworld a long time ago, emotionally anyway. The original crew that raised me? I loved 'em, but I hadn't talked to them in years. The echani colony? I wouldn't be welcome back there in my lifetime, and honestly I was ok with that. I had the whole galaxy to roam in.

 

But The Crate?

 

The Crate was *mine*.

 

These scumbags had broken my ship.

 

And I was going to kill them for it.

 

I leapt out of my seat, and moved back towards the rear of the ship, and the cargo.

 

_______________________________________________________________

 

The rear of the ship fell open with a slam. Not enough power to actually open it, so I'd been forced to crank the manual release and let the ramp freefall.

 

I sat on the back of the (slightly used) Joben T-85 speeder bike. My left hand was clamped firmly on the bike's hand clutch. My right hand held the spear I'd picked up on Felucia, gripping it near the bottom so it jutted forward like a lance. These hooligans wanted to ride around whooping it up like kids on their first nerf ride? Fine. Let's whoop it up.

 

With a roar (that probably meant I should check the fuel recycler), the bike rocketed out of The Crate's belly. A fierce smile broke over my face, the kind I had right before I socked some overconfident thug right in his smug gut. Piloting instincts kicked in, feeling out the speeder bike like it was a starship, and I banked towards one of the skiffs. From the looks of things, they were having a bad time of it. One skiff was already nose down in the rubble, a smoking wreck. And...

 

Geez, were those guys on fire? How did they manage that?

 

I didn't have any more time to think as I sidled up along one of the remaining skiffs, spear in hand. My guess was the pilot, if he had seen me, hadn't looked closely enough or taken the time to realize that not every fast moving vehicle on the field was a friendly. I accelerated, and swept the tip of the spear towards one of the crew of the skiff who was firing ineffectually with a rifle from the juddering vehicle. The spear tip cut straight through the boot and dug into his foot, and with a scream of shock and pain the man stumbled back...right over the railing.

 

Now I had the pilot's attention.

 

"COME ON!" I screamed, letting the thrill take me, and peeled away, goading the skiff into abandoning its attack on the ship to chase me.

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Kiv stopped and bent over himself in panting exhaustion. After all of his years spent running and hiding, he never fully realized how bad he was at tests of endurance. He was a sprinter and a scurry kind of rodent, not a mile long runner. That’s what things like sand-crawlers and ships were for, not legs.

 

“Speaking of that…” Kiv commented as he looked back up. The wreckage of the ship was pretty bad. No coat of soogah juice would cover that up. Still, it probably could be repaired. Probably. All it would take was some bending of parts, some refitting of engine pieces, some replacement of dented hulls, a couple gallons of spit and shine, and it would be as good as new. 

 

Provided they could get some peace and quiet Kiv noted as the shots continued to rang out. 

 

The raiders were realizing they had bitten off more than they could chew. That was not more evident than the ones trying to handle the Tuskan. On any other planet, it would’ve been easier. The emberpit area was littered with debris, giving excellent cover and without a skiff, pursuit on foot was risky in itself. And combined with the fact that Tuskans were rare outside Tatooine, let alone on Glasignis, the roars and its fire igniting bullets, the raiders began to think Rru was not one of the unafflicted off-worlders, but instead one of the Howling. 

 

These raiders, at least the ones not on fire, took off in the direction they came from, hoping their comrades would save them. 

 

However, the other skiffs had their own trouble. 

 

“I’ll have you know that imperial protocols state that execution would be an acceptable form of punishment due to the lack of local governance in the area…” Meepo stated loudly, sniping off another raider from the skiff.  While it was unlikely to be overheard over the laser fire, Meepo seemed to enjoy the talk. “However, i'd be willing to settle on a lesser form of punishment if you…”

 

>Oh shut up!< Eyes beeped as he flew by into the protocol droid’s shield cover. The Tuskan’s roaring and cover fire seemed to help Eyes realize how much danger he was in and forced him to race back to the ship.  >Our master is most likely dead and you care only for…<

 

“Hey! How dare you think I’m dead!” Kiv yelled out, startling the two droids as he popped his head around the Crate’s rear. “Like simple crash would kill me, please, you droids dumber than bantha babies.”

 

>Master! Thank the maker!<

 

Eyes flew next to the small jawa and gave him a quick scan before reporting. 

 

>Your ‘cousin’ is handling himself well, while your newest asset is holding up for the most part. As for our pilot…<

 

As Eyes explained what he had witnessed so far concerning Zeris, she was handling the last skiff quite well. Having knocked off one of the three ganks riding it, the two remaining took note of this opponent. The pilot, clearly annoyed and filled with a small portion of pride, began to chase. Silently through unknown means, the Ganks communicated their goals to each other. The pilot was attempting to catch up while the main gunner, utilizing a poorly welded-on turret, began to open fire. 

 

"Kriffing putah bathna poodoo!" The Ganks cursed, 

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Clasping his rifle over his head, Rru let out a final angry sand-clad bellow to the sky before dropping back to his covered position and leveling the battered cycler back onto the rapidly devolving battlefield. Whatever these raiders were, they clearly had not expected this much of a fight. Clearly they were not true warriors, he mused noting how the rabble disintegrated before the onslaught of mechanized demonry his allies unleashed upon their attackers. With he, a cursed and condemned, yet saved holy protector of Tatooine by their side, there was little chance of loss.

 

CRACK

 

His rifle rang out again, sending a smoking trail chasing along from a fleeing skiff’s engine compartment.

 

Wait for it . . . 

 

The vehicle continued on it’s haphazard pursuit as it rounded about for another pass, her aged deckgun thump thumping in a steady bass line of the song of chaos that seemed to carry across the trash-strewn lands.

 

It turned and continental to bear down towards where Rru and @Klu Kiv were positioned, raining down red blaster bolts. 
 

Crink. Chink. Another round locked into the chamber of the sandblasted weapon.

 

Wait for it . . . 
 

Rru took aim at the exposed pilot of the craft. He really would rather not get run over. If experience had taught him anything, unmanned craft had a horrible tendency to veer hard to the left or right when their control was not conscious to guide them.

 

Wait for it . . . 
 

KABLAM!!!! WHOOSH!!!!!!

 

The incendiary round had burnt its way into the engine block, carried partway by the kinetic energy of the Tusken’s shot. The rest boiled down to the eruption of the explosive ammunition in a contained space as it engulfed the already heated motor, eventually igniting the mixture of volatile and flammable liquids within.

 

With a battlefield shaking explosion the entire skiff and anyone or thing within 20 feet of the thing were engulfed in a greasy fireball of billowing black smoke. Bits of skiff, baked gank, and other unidentified bits sprayed outwards in every direction. Even Rru paused for a moment, impressed by the shot. That sleazy Jawa sure knew how to get his hands in some interesting stuff.

 

Shouldering his rifle on its strap, Rru slid down the mound of metal careful not to snag on any jutting pieces of razored junk. Alighting to his feet at the bottom, the man’s gaderffi fell into place in his hands. The thing was more an extension of his being than a separate weapon at this point. Whirling about in a vortex of black sackcloth and glinting beskar, the phantomed sandman swung. His weapon gave a low whuuuuump as it cut through the air and lethal speeds before it’s club-spiked end impacted grizzily into the armored cranium of a gank killer rounding the mound of metal. The mercenary dropped like a sack of hubba gourds. Had he been clad in the traditional robes of a Jedi and had his metal tribal weapon been a humming blade of energy, the kill would have been graceful, something almost holovid-quality-esque. As it was, the sucking sound of the weapon leaving the crushed cranium was anything but pleasant.

 

Not that any of that was processed by Rruror’rur’rr as he gave himself over to the moment; his every action led by the guidance of his ancestral voices, their spirits empowering his every action. He was already spinning away, somersaulting in a spinning airborne maneuver over the volley of heavy blasterfire the fallen Gank’s two brethren unleashed where the Tusken had been standing. The glinting beskar lashed out ripping the throat from one Gank. A moment later the opposite end of the weapon caved in the head of the second. And before their bodies hit the sand, Rruror’rur’rr landed behind them, gaderffi held out to one side, blood dripping from the pointed ends.

 

Running forward, the warrior hooked the ankle of the next mercenary, a haggard looking Gammorean, toppling it to the ground and kicking his axe across the sands out of reach. Using the momentum, Rru pressed forward, gently clanking the rounded bend of his weapon against the Jawa’s nearest droid companion. Just enough to be slightly irritating and catch the mechanical being’s attention. He let loose a low guttural snarl that needed no translation, stay out of his way.

 

And he was off, a whirling dervish upon the battlefield, carried by the force itself, manifest in the guidance of his Tusken ancestors. It was no wonder the primitives of yore saw the Jedi and Sith as demons, wizards, and messengers of the gods.

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On 8/29/2022 at 11:36 PM, Klu Kiv said:

"Kriffing putah bathna poodoo!" The Ganks cursed

 

I hauled on the hand clutch, banking left as the skiff behind me opened fire. It looked as though I had gotten their attention.

 

I'd never fought ganks personally, but a gungan enforcer for a tax collection agency on a big multi-asteroid mining complex had told me about them once. Coincidentally, we'd both been getting plastered on the local rotgut booze they served miners to make them forget troublesome ideas like "union" or "protest" or "standard safety protocol". As two fellow experts on how to hurt people without permanently ruining them for a client, we had gotten to talking. I dont know how a Naboo rural like him had gotten out to one of the armpits of the galaxy, and I hadn't thought to ask. He told me "Ganks are tricksy ones. Deysa always come in packs right? Yoosa hit one, it's like kickin over a buzzgrub nest. Dey all over yoosa, and when dey done with ya, dey bury yoosa where no one finds ya. But da real spooky part? Dont talk. Dey all *tink* at each other. Gives meesa da willies. So if yoosa club one of dose bombad killers, you better have enough clubs for all of dem."

 

I distinctly remember he'd stopped talking at that moment to throw up. I dont know how he'd gotten fresh fish way out there, but after that I wasnt far behind in emptying my stomach on the bar floor.

 

So these guys were telepaths or something huh? That could be trouble. A good vehicle crew was one that could coordinate wordlessly between gunner and driver, and it sounded like these guys had a leg up on the competition. So trying to dodge their fire over a chase was a bad idea. I could corner and try to get behind them but that might...

 

I smiled as an idea came to me. It was a reckless, awful idea that would only work with talent and a lot of luck, and would be legendary if I pulled it off. My favorite kind.

 

As I weaved back and forth through the skiff's potshots, we came up on a smooth expanse of ground, some kind of volcanic plain. I glanced back at the skiff. It was riding high, its repulsorlift probably cranked up to avoid rubble.

 

I stopped weaving for a second, and the skiff lined up behind me, no doubt lining up a killing shot.

 

I killed my engine.

 

As I did, I learned back as hard as I could. With a crunchy clang, the bottom of my speeder skipped off the smooth plain, rapidly slowing. And then the skiff passed me over, bottom bare inches from my head.

 

Grinning I cranked the motor.

 

Nothing happened.

 

Cursing, I pumped the clutch rapidly, my speeder skipping off the ground again, this time with a much louder grinding sound.

 

My stomach coiled around my spine as my speeder refused to start. Then, mercifully, it roared to life and lifted back up off the ground.

 

I whooped wildly as I accelerated towards the skiff now ahead of me. It was banking hard, likely trying to turn around and see what the kriff had just happened. For a moment it looked like I would die in a fireball by T-boning something six times the size of my own vehicle. At the last second I gave my own repulse control a quick flick, an old swoop gang trick to force a jump. My speeder leapt a few feet into the air as my repulsorlift cycled, and I rocketed up one side of the skiff on off the other. My spear lanced out as I did, taking the gunner in the armpit and sending him over the edge with his arm hanging by half a shoulder.

 

I whooped even louder, nothing but adrenaline and glory in my brain.

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  • 2 weeks later...

As the battle raged with the group against the scavengers and raiders, their noises began to attract others' attention. Even as the Tuskan whirred around the battlefield like a demon of old, filled with the blood rage of his ancestors, his noises attracted something. And even as the Echani took on the rival skiff, causing it to crash into the ground into a fiery explosion, her actions attracted something. And even as Kiv’s droids worked their magic of technology, careful to stay out of the way as per Rru’s instructions, they attracted something.

 

This ‘something’ had climbed out of the Emberpit that Kiv had observed before. Before the planet had undergone its hideous transformation from paradise to apocalypse, some criminal had imported several rancors for carnival fights that people on the planet could bet on. When the disease had begun to spread, he had killed his rancors out of fear. The owner however couldn’t kill his prize bull, and instead kept it with him, unaware he doomed both himself and his bull to a fate worse than death. 

 

Eyes was the first to notice it. 

 

>Sir! Attention, Sir!>

 

“Shush shush you boltbucket” Kiv ignored, flipping the droid off once. “Keep recording the action, think how much I can sell this stuff for. People will buy this an arm and le-”

 

Eyes didn’t bother with asking. Instead, he projected out an image before Kiv.

 

Kiv silenced immediately. It was then he felt the ground shudder beneath his feet. The heat rose drastically. Even under his heat-proofed robes, Kiv felt a sweat begin to come.

 

>Aprox 1000 meters away< Eyes reported. Kiv didn’t say much. He simply creeped around the ship and looked back where he came. 

 

The rancor was enormous. Hitting at least 18 meters in height alone, the thing barely resembled the creature it originated from.  Its rough and tough skin had been completely burnt away, revealing melting muscles and oozing blood vessels that smoked in the open air. Its lips and mouth permanently peeled back to reveal a maw of blacked teeth and almost shined in the fire light its eyes and mouth burned with. Its claws, fallen out at an unknown time, had been replaced with metal pieces of scrap. And riding atop of it, its owner in its past life was permanently fused to the thing’s back. The owner was producing a black glassy liquid inside his body, and was pouring over his beloved pet’s sides. This liquid caught aflame the moment it touched the beast's skin, giving the thing an appearance of a literal coat of fire. 

 

The beast roared as it stretched its body, spewing white and blue fire from its eyes and mouth into the air above it. Even at this distance, the monster’s heat caused Kiv to break into a deep sweat. 

 

“Time to go!” Kiv shouted and turned and ran towards the others. 

 

“Run! Hide! Something! Big nasty nasty!” Kiv screeched. His droids followed suit, not needing a second command. In the distance, hopefully there would be a place to hide while the thing infected with the Howling would be distracted by the food inside the ship. 

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Rruror’rur’rr spun to a stop atop a nearby dune. All about him lay the fallen, knocked out, broken, or dead. No one stood nearby. The closest ganks and company had turned tail and began to flea, abandoning their downed craft. They urged their worn vessels, their prized heavy high-atmosphere auto-sphere catapult back into the debris fields, the maze, from whence they had come.

 

Had he been a Jedi or even a Sith, the field of strewn foes would have been almost artistic. It would have been mesmerizing, a dance of destruction or preservation had it not been so . . . barbaric. A weapon of primitive Tusken origin formed from Mandalorian Iron did not cauterize wounds as it passed. It did not stem the flow of blood as it seeped into the hot sands with a steaming boil. Such a weapon was not a more elegant weapon for a more civilized age; no, this one was formed in the devastation of a world that had stood against a galactic menace. It had been forged in the fires of the lasers that turned a fertile world to glass, honed upon the relentless winds that had turned the world to sand. And as the voices of Rru’s ancestors led his every step and motion, so too did they hum with the  weight of beskar as two ancient cultures bound as one wrought their combined histories of survival and mastery in battle on this far off world. Raising his weapon above his head, the blood-soaked Raider let out a fetal war cry to the sky, its echo haunting the fleeing raiders who for years would debate exactly what had happened, who they had shot from the sky, and why they had lived through the onslaught of demon, droid, and mercenary. 
 

Even as he celebrated the flight of one foe, Rruror’rur’rr felt the boiling heat of a Tatooinian heatwave press against his mind. It was a warning, a slight change in atmospheric pressures, the guiding touch of the ancestors on even the most calloused faithful raised in such a barbarous environment. It was the power of the suns driven like a herd before the lash, fire before the storm. Swiveling from his place above the field of battle, the Tusken’s cry was cut short as in the distance he saw it. No, he felt it before his eyes could register such a thing. Standing at 60 plus feet tall cloaked in smoke and flame with a cry that shook the air even from a distance, the Tusken knew a true monster of hell when he saw one.  To take a great Krayt took a tribe. He recalled the last time had had battled one, of the losses of so many offworlders, of the losses he himself sustained. He had not lived through it; only resurrected by his ancestors to complete a still unknown task.

 

He did not need to understand the high pitched screeching of the Jawa. If anything, he was almost becoming accustomed to it even if this time it may have been even more excitable, if that was even possible. Leaping, Rruror’rur’rr slid into a sprint down the sand as he dufked from sight quickly outdistancing the Jawa and his ragtag crew of machines. Racing past the downed ship, the Tusken slowed as he beheld The Crate. He had been offworld before and even he knew a thing or two about getting around. Landing here meant there probably was not a space port or at least one they could readily access. Many of these star-strewn sojourners were attached to such craft, much like a Tusken and his Bantha. To leave this one . . . Rru’s eyes turned to where Zeris rocketed away from yet another explosion as it’s reverberations were absorbed into the planet itself; yet another incentive to their attackers that they were not easy prey. She would be no different and she was his ticket off this forsaken world. The downed ship, their only even somewhat conceivable hope.

 

And so Rru slowed, diving for cover behind the hulk of freighter as it smoldered in the ground. His gaderffi would be of little use at this point he feared, but, Rru’s mind wandered to a possible solution before alighting on one. Charging into the ship, the Tusken began to desecrate what remained of any neatly organized piles of supplies. Most had been thrown asunder by the crash; but in the chaos, Tru managed to find it. He had to shove a heavy wad of cargo netting off the crate, but there it was, the box full of mines. Given Kiv’s fearful reaction and even a rudimentary explanation, Rruror’rur’rr knew the explosive laden pressure discs were not something to be taken lightly. With the screech of nails on deckplates, Rru pressed his back to the crate as he forcibly walked it towards the maw yawning to the world outside until the crate tumbled out and open. Hopping down, the Tusken held a pair of mines up in each hand as he grunted at the passing security droid. It was worth a shot. 

 

Hitting the activator switch on the first, Rru would have 15 seconds before the weapon was active. He sent it frisbeeing through the air where it landed with a grav-locking thump on the ground before burying itself just beneath the loose sandy surface. And so he continued, mine after mine, all while keeping a watchful eye on the approaching abomination.

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I grinned fiercely and jabbed my spear into the air as I saw the rest of the skiffs peeling away, the heatwave of a nearby explosion warming my face. We'd run them off! Now I just had to clear that kriffing dust off the ship, run a diagnostics, and we should be good to go. If I was going to search for Oka Geb (and hopefully he was still alive), I'd rather do it from the air.

 

Then I noticed that the heat from the explosion hadn't faded.

 

As I turned, banking the speeder, I didn't comprehend what I was looking at. The thing was massive. It was shaped like a rancor, but karking heck it was bigger than any rancor I'd ever seen! I was reminded why I'd avoided this planet.

 

I saw where it was headed.

 

"NO YOU DON'T!!!" I screamed. It was obvious what it was after. It wanted The Crate, my ship, and I'd be torn to bloody pieces before I let that thing have it! Granted I didn't know how to stop it, but I'd think of something. Or I'd die.

 

So that was the start of a plan.

 

I rocketed back towards the ship, the heat growing more intense with every second. Sweat poured down my face, but as I blinked a salty from my eyes, I saw the tusken laying mines down.

 

That wouldn't do anything other than make it...

 

...Angry.

 

I laughed. A quiet, nervous laugh.

 

Maybe it was the heat baking my brain. Maybe it was the adrenaline. Or maybe the planet itself was just making me crazy. But I had another idea. Another really bad idea.

 

Now I had a plan.

 

I sped along the ground and shouted at the tusken as I did. "Make it mad!!!" I shouted. There wasn't time to elaborate further.

 

I rode my speeder bike so fast into the cargo hold that I almost wrecked, braking just before I hit the opposite wall. I dug through one of the emergency supply stashes I kept under the seats, and pulled out three long, thin cylinders colored bright orange. Signal flares.

 

I ran back outside, twisted the ends of each, and held them up in one hand. Brilliant white light poured from them, enough of a piercing glare to be seen from miles up if needed. And the beast certainly noticed. I lumbered forward faster, and I ducked back inside, step one accomplished. I needed its attention, for it to see me as a living thing and not just some tin can to crack open. Now I just needed it spitting mad.

 

A muffled boom from outside told me that the tusken had started accomplishing part two of the plan, whether he knew it or not. I don't know if he got out of the way, and at the moment I wouldn't be much help to him if he hadn't. A second muffled boom signaled the titanic rancor had stepped on another mine, and a rumbling growl that drown out the echoing explosion was all I needed to hear to know that the creature was pissed.

 

Come on. Come on! Do it you lizard from hell!

 

A third boom, and then a fourth in quick succession was the only warning I had that the thing had picked up speed. It had seen me, and then it had hurt itself, and I suspected it was putting two and two together to blame me for that series of events.

 

I braced myself. If I'd gotten this wrong, I was going to be one very dead arkanian.

 

The Crate shuddered, grinding against the stone as something made it shift. Then, it began to tilt.

 

I was only confused for a moment, as the rancor's face came into view in front of the cockpit. Even though The Crate was as long as this thing was tall, it was still managing to lift the front of the ship up in its massive arms and peer inside. And it saw me. And apparently the tusken had done his job exceptionally.

 

The creature roared, a sound that seemed to shatter the world and left my ears ringing. Then it belched fire. A heatwave passed through the ship as the outside of the cockpit was enveloped in a firestorm. The Crate wasn't some cheap civilian transport, it was a military ship designed to handle reentry without shields in a pinch. But even so, the heat was turning the inside into an oven.

 

Pleaseworkpleaseworkpleaseworkpleasework

 

I repeated the mantra in my head as I struggled to keep my eyes on the control panel while not looking directly at the conflagration outside. Because I knew something the monster didn't. The dust that disabled my ship was magnetically clinging to the hull.

 

And magnets stopped working when they got hot.

 

With a fitful start, the control panel lit up. Maybe the creature sensed the change, or maybe it was pure coincidence, but it stopped disgorging its inferno at the same time, peering into the ship to see if it had killed the irritant.

 

I stared back at it, grinning like mad.

 

"Hi."

 

I fired the guns.

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The Tusken’s heart tensed in his chest, the closer the beast loomed. It was truly terrifying. Even he, the fearless desert raider, would be a fool to not acknowledge such a thing. Not that he would let that show. Beneath his rough-hewn black robes, worry began to set in even as he continued in his task. The voices of his ancestors swirled around him, filling him with a sense of urgency and turning the anxiousness he felt into a burst of speed and strength. Explosive discs flew faster and further while the Tusken kept his attention on the approaching mega-behemoth. Not that he needed to, with every ground-rumbling step, Rru felt the temperature grow. The air about him becoming hotter and hotter until even he was uncomfortable. Sweat poured from his body, caking his specially designed robes to his body.

 

It sent a chill down his spine. Wether this was out of fear or a simple biological combination of his heat-reducing robes and sweat-drenched body would be debated later.

 

KA-BOOM!!!!!!!!!!

 

The first mine detonated beneath the goliath’s foot sending concussive waves through the air as the ground beneath the beast erupted.


 

It was not like Rru heard Zeris’ crying command. The reverberations of the first detonation ringing in the warrior’s ears and the pinpoint focus he had on the monstrosity before him drowned the scream of the biomechanical woman’s speeder bike as she rocketed aboard. Maybe, somewhere in the back of his mind, Rru knew she was there; but in that moment, if you asked him, he would have denied it. Still, he felt the urge to press the fight. As the megalith loomed closer with every ground-quaking step, Rru sent mine after mine flying towards it. The detonations were nigh instantaneous as they rocked the monster’s body, impacting  with mutant flesh instead of the ground. The concussive blasts finally sent the Raider tumbling, unable to stand against the force of the tidal fire he now fought to slow.

 

Picking himself up from the dirt, the warrior leapt to his feet, gaderffi in hand, glinting orange against the fiery inferno of the monster. Not that it would do much good, but the weapon was a part of him as much as the claws of a panther came out when threatened.

 

The roars of the creature tore at the Tusken Raider’s ears, already ringing from the kinetic successive explosions of a dozen or so anti-vehicle mines. He crouched, his head swiveling about as even the ancient voices of his forefathers urged him to flee.

 

Just as he turned, the shriek of metal against stone drew him short. Looking over his shoulder, Rru was horrified. The beast was not intent on him, the crumb who had inflicted pain and anguish, like a spray of tarantulan hairs to the body, on the creature and it’s amalgamated rider. The ship, The Crate, that he had sought to try and defend was now the target of the creatures wrath. One end heft high in the air, there was little the Tusken could do, but instinctually, he knew he must. Lives were at stake and his cover was, well, compromised. 

 

A gout of flame engulfed the end of the craft. Belched from the maw of the monster, Rru could feel it’s intensity as it shambled forward trying to claw and rend the ship, The Crate’s hull screeching in pain against the solid rocky soil that cradled it He cringed. Could anyone survive such a direct blast? He dove for cover behind the nearest dune of sand and metal, the pile of earth absorbing some of the most direct heat.

 

It was fortunate that he did, for even as the gout of flame stopped, the beast took one last step forward just as the telltale sound of a ship’s systems powered up. The sound of blaster cannon fire peppered the air; but Rru only felt it for a moment. The creature reeled from the assault and in doing so stepped squarely on the crate of remaining mines. Such pressure, even on unactivated explosives, combined with the heat was enough. The entire crate detonated.
 

BOOM!!!!!!!!!!!

 

It carved the earth for a hoverball field length in every direction. Dirt and debris erupted into the air flew skyward and then rained back downward. Dust hanging heavy in the superheated air.

 

The Tusken was sent tumbling across the ground, end over end as his cover was engulfed and consumed by the fireball. The shockwave leaving him dazed and confused against a distance outcropping of jutting rusted durasteel. His eyes seam before him as he took in the scene in the distance. The beast had fallen, but if it was dead or merely injured remained to be seen. The Crate had toppled haphazardly back to the ground.
 

A short ways off, Rru saw his cycler lying in the dust. slumping forward, he felt his body cry out in protest. Even for a hardened desert nomad, being cartwheeled across the dunes hurt a fair bit. Using his arms, which seemed to hurt the least, Rru drug a swath through the sand, pulling himself towards his trusted weapon. Finally, he grasped it, pulling the stock into his shoulder as he gingerly raised the barrel from the sands. A quick check revealed a loaded explosive cartridge. Staring down the scope, Rru focused on his ragged breathing. Each breath bobbed the barrel of his weapon as he sought to bring the creature into focus.

 

There! He saw it. The rider. Fused to the back of the felled monster, the creature on it’s back lived yet.  He flailed as he beat at his monstrous mount, bobbing in and out of sight of Rru’s ragged bobbing scope.

 

Slowly, as he caught his breath, the Raider’s weapon settled. The calming breath of his ancestors offered a sense of peace, of hope. He would not die here. Not this day. Slowly, carefully, the rider came into view, the crosshairs settling squarely on the being’s torso.

 

CRACK!!!

 

 

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The beast had not known pain like this. During its mutations, pain was amongst the first things to go. There was only hunger and instinct. To be torn apart by explosives, both those on the ground and those from the flying metal boxes, was the first time it actually remembered pain. 

 

The rancor, longing for death, crawled on. Even after the ship had riddled large holes in its body, and the explosives had completely taken off its lower limbs, it still moved for the kill. It could feel its life fading away rapidly, and its last action would be to attempt to kill and to spread. The Howling would always spread. It crawled on the ground towards where its master pointed, hoping to get one more kill.

 

Then the master was shot. The shot tore through this torso like a saw, spilling fiery oil everywhere. But even as he bled, the master continued to move a few moments more. Unlike the rancor, pain was its friend. It loved it. It relished it. In his previous life, he was only slightly masochistic. Here, masochism and sadism were on full display. 

 

Both beast and master dead, the fused bodies fell still, still burning. 

 

Kiv watched horrified from his hidey hole. It wasn’t until all the beasts became still and silent did he emerge, creeping towards the bodies hesitantly, ready to bolt at the first signs of movement.

 

“No like this place, no no” Kiv finally commented as he backed from the beast, careful not to touch any of the remains that had splattered about. “Not like home. I prefer sands, not this. But ach, i have good family, no?” 

 

Kiv almost laughed as he approached the Tuskan. “You do good big cousin! Ancestors proud i’d say, yes? Not many can do what we all do”

 

Kiv looked at the Crate and waved at his droids to check it out. “Maybe pilot live, yes? Fire that intense, might kill. But hey, if she dead, we, as closest family, inherit, yes?”

 

Meepo was the one who eventually checked on Zeris. 

 

“Oh good, you are alive.” Meepo commented as he entered the ship and found Zeris. “I was wondering if i was doomed to be stuck with the least protocol followers in the vicinity. Though i must say…”

 

Meepo began to give the inside of the ship a look over. “You do have more then a few issues that fall out of imperial parameters. However, since you did take down that monster, I’d say even the empress would give you leeway.”  

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Rruror’rur’rr slumped, letting the barrel of his rifle fall to the ground as he saw the rider slump over. For the moment, at least, they were not being attacked. The first time since arriving at this accursed world. He closed his eyes, rolling to his back as his tensed bruised muscles relaxed, if but for a moment.

 

Then he heard it, that high squeaky voice. Every muscle in his body tensed at the sound. He groaned in pain as slowly he sat up. “Your ancestors are not my ancestors, for if they were, they would even now command me to strike you down for your cowardice.” He growled, making no effort to hide his disdain for the little

rodent; and then he was off, prattling on about yet another chance to gain ill-gotten booty, this time from their pilot. He wasn’t wrong, the law of the desert said that property left abandoned belonged to he that found it. Still, he doubted the diminutive being could even reach the foot controls , much less repair or pilot what was left of the ship. He had seen Jawa workmanship before.

 

But he was right, they owed it to their ‘team’ to check on one another. It might be the inly way they survived this hellhole. Slowly, as his muscles grated in protest, he stood up, picking up his weapons and scattered gear as he did so. 
 

Slowly, the Tusken Raider began to trudge through the blistering sand towards the haphazardly cockeyed Crate. He could feel the heat still radiating off the dead abomination. As he approached it he paused. Around the other side he heard the droid aboard the ship. It prattled off something about protocols and parameters. He shook his head, it was not his problem. It probably meant that Zeris was alive at least.

 

He turned his attention back to the hulking mound of meat. Back home, to leave such a prize to waste was unheard of. Rru had no tribe to provide for here and he did not know the anatomy of such a beast; but he did know, such creatures generally held some sort of worthwhile prize, be it bile, pearl, or fang.

 

Placing his hands on his hips, the Tusken canted his head as he surveyed the monster. Where could he start?  The only obvious place was the head; but what was he looking for? The meat should be baked already, but somehow, it was not. If anything, such a excretion would be incredibly useful. Fingering the knife in his bandolier, Rru pondered on where to start.

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I hate this planet.

 

That was the thought running through my head as I extracted myself from the pile of emergency rations, cybernetic parts, assorted junk, and an empty turbine lubricant canister that I was coming to find hadn't been entirely empty after all.

 

I groaned. My head felt like stirred soup, everything blending into everything else, big chunks spinning round and round and round and...

 

Sighing, I dropped to the...wall. I groaned again, this time in frustration. Of course The Crate was on its side. Probably knocked the starboard stabilizers out of alignment when it happened. I had no proof of that, it just felt like one of those days.

 

On 9/22/2022 at 12:47 AM, Klu Kiv said:

“Oh good, you are alive.” Meepo commented as he entered the ship and found Zeris. “I was wondering if i was doomed to be stuck with the least protocol followers in the vicinity. Though i must say…”

 

Meepo began to give the inside of the ship a look over. “You do have more then a few issues that fall out of imperial parameters. However, since you did take down that monster, I’d say even the empress would give you leeway.”  

 

"It's dead?" I asked, my voice slurring a little. That probably wasn't good. I might have a concussion, but I couldn't seem to find it in myself to care. That also probably wasn't good. Instead, I gave the little jawa a thumbs up, and lurched to the controls. The lights were flickering, and half a dozen warnings were competing for attention, but a quick glance over told me none of them were anything that would ground us. I had been right about the starboard stabilizer, but I could compensate until I got The Crate somewhere I could work on it.

 

First thing's first.

 

I tapped the controls, and the ship's repulsorlifts hummed to life. There was a screech of scraping metal, and then a sudden lurch as the ship righted itself. With another tap on the controls, the ship gently dropped back to the ground.

 

I stepped out of the ship, and saw the tusken heading for the beast.

 

"Hey! When you're done there, think you'd be up for some tracking?"

 

I hadn't given up on Oka Geb. If he was still alive, then I was going to find him.

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Kiv held his hands up at the Tuskens angry words about unshared ancestry. 

 

“We all need family when off the sands. What’s old jawa saying? He has no pack dies soon? We all sons of sand, yes? No worry, I no call you cousin, call you lone raider? Yes yes…”

 

Kiv observed as the larger being went towards the corpse. Kiv himself had an instictual urge to get closer and see what he could salvage off the body, but something was off. 

 

“Um, you sure you want slice and dice? It… it smell not good, like… like burnt rotten bantha. But older than old? Don’t smell right, no no no…”

 

Coming from anyone else, it may have been a typical response. But coming from a Jawa, who’s own natural odors were described as ‘musky’, ‘’potent’ and ‘repulsive’, meant something. Still, Kiv also knew better than to get in the way of a Tusken Raider, and quietly observed from the side.

 

Meepo followed closely to Zeris. He understood that as far as he was concerned, the best option off this planet was the pilot. 

 

“Excuse me, but who or what are you hoping to track exactly? This planet does not exactly bode well for anyone’s survival, and I’m afraid imperial protocols did not include any information this planet that I am standing on.

 

Kiv seemed to overhear this and glanced over. “You no know this place? Only hear whispers. Bad place, best left alone, yes? What kind friend is this, danger lady? He valuable person? Lover perhaps? Or maybe owes child services? Hehe, i kid, i kid.” 

 

Eyes, who had been silent for the most part, had begun to scan the area. This place was for all intent and purposes, a junkyard to say the least. Scraps of metal and trash everywhere. But what confused the little droid is that some of the rubble seemed to indicate the site was once much more organized. In the past, this may have been a parking spot for a control center for an emberpit. Even in the short distance, he could spot a hovel of a building that once houses many computers and controls. But now, it was a wasteland. 

 

Further in the distance away from the pitt Eyes could also see signs of civilization. Or at least, previous signs of civilization. Old skyscrapers toppled over, smoking ruins, half-buried streets, etc. And even further, piercing the skies, was one lone skyscraper towering over all the other ruins, like a dagger emerging from the ground hoping to stab the skies. 

 

Eyes flew back down and began to relay all the information he gathered to the group. 

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Rruror’rur’rr stood there with his hands on his hips regarding the majestic fallen demon beast and rider. Before he could decide how to begin slicing, the Tusken’s attention was called away by one of his fellow sojourners. Pursing his lips beneath his mask, he shook his head. The voices of his ancestors whispered to him. They urged him to turn his attention to the Jawa and the cyborg. He really did not want to. Gutting such a exotic monster, it seemed so much more simple. Oh how he longed for a simple existence.

 

With a sigh, urged forward by voices only heard by the himself, Rru turned. He tucked his knife away and stepped towards Zeris. “Your friend,” he spoke matter-o-factly as he wondered exactly who they were after or how they might find him on this vast wasteland of a world. Here, even the ancestral voices seemed tainted with an evil that permeated from this world. They whispered to him. They enjoyed the kill of the monster, even if it had little purpose beyond the bloodshed.

 

The winds whispered all about the Tusken. On the heat of this devastated world, they spoke. Images of the quarry, Oka Geb, played from Zeris’ foreign mind to Rruror’rur’rr’s barbarian one. The coarse sands of the world blew about the nomadic tracker as he knelt. Rru scooped up a handful of sand, studying it as he allowed it to flow through his fingers in streams of elemental earth.

 

As the land of the sand fell, it was whipped away by the wind, vanishing into the eternal sunset sky. Rru’s eyes scanned the horizon, the voices of his ancestors blending the past and the present. A once teaming city and before that rolling hills and rivers, giving way to the accelerated claws of decay and madness as an unnatural evil shadowed the land. Brother turned against brother and the world about them came crashing down until

it was nothing more than this, that which stood around them now. His ancestors, they were not of this place, not of these sands, born by them and consumed again in death. No, they were the spirits of Tatooine’s faithful, the warriors who had grown haughty like these. Dependent on the artifice of false promises and prophecy, they had stood strong in the day of damnation and they had fallen in it, their children sheltered by the very boiling of their blood. The warm winds that blew about Rruror’rur’rr grew cool, cold even, like a cloudless desert night carrying upon them the false promise of a looming storm. In it’s grasp, Rru could see the marauders, they that had to take them before they even touched this accursed land. He felt their bloodlust, their greed for things so small. Their ignorance and unwillingness to give up grasping at the straws of the galaxy would be their undoing. Even upon a world such as this, a  fallen sister to the plate-glassed ancient son of Tatoo, the firstborn and soul heir to a legacy of folly, these had not learned. Like the newcomers who sought their fortunes among the sands of his people, refusing to forgo their adulterous ways, these marauders too forsook their own. The spirit world implanted memories, those of the fallen, of the past. The guidance of the ages sought out the face of one man, a being known not to their son, but to that of his companions. They traced these marauders footsteps through the sands, following their winding ways backwards until they intersected with that of Oka Geb. His sinful folly, like that of so many Rru had seen, had led to an intersection with those too who desired naught but destruction and he had set upon, ravaged by the mighty.
 

The voices hissed to Rruror’rur’rr as he stood, the winds dropping to a slight guiding breeze. His body was tense; they sought punishment, to kill these sinful ones; ones whose fate seemed to mirror but were unintwined with those of his people, of Tatooine. His ancestors visions and desires seemed darker than before. This world was a cursed place, for it even tainted the eternal dead.

 

Rubbing the last grains of sand between his fingers, Rru looked to Zeris and Kiv. “The one we seek was set upon by the same death worshippers who attempted to sacrifice us.” He pointed out through the hills of devastation. “If we can follow their path, we may yet find him. If we are lucky,” he gave Kiv a playful kick, “this one won’t loot whatever remains of him before we have what we came for.”

 

He waved to the others, “grab what you can carry. We have a long journey ahead of us and these sands may not be as forgiving as that of our home.” The paths of repulsorlifts were hard to track, but in the wilds even they left telltale signs; disturbances upon the earth. Hulking wheeled catapults in the other hand; well, those were pretty easy to track, as long as they did not tarry and the tracks were obscured by the evening and morning winds.

 

The Crate would be of little use. The catapult tracks might be visible for now, but a ship might destroy them prematurely, and when they began to fade, foot travel would be a necessity. “Maybe your demon-droids could guard her vessel from raiders,” he gestured to Kiv’s droids and The Crate. No sense tracking just to lose their only means of escape. Even Rru recognized that. He knew that the false representations of life the Jawa liked to hide behind were threatening. His people had developed special means to fight them. Hopefully they could keep their means of egress secure. Maybe they could even fix it. It did look a bit banged up after it’s hard landing and encountered with the demon and its rider. 

 

 

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“Maybe your demon-droids could guard her vessel from raiders,”

 

“You must be joking” Meepo complained, overhearing the idea. “Imperial records state that a protocol droid, no matter how much modificating has taken place is never suited for security detail, nor a droid of my calibur would ever be…”

 

“Ach!” Kiv pointed a finger at the droid sternly, like a man scolding a pet from sneaking a piece of meat off the table. Meepo instantly quieted down. 

 

“I boss, droid. You do guard duty. You good. Shoot anything that not us, yes? And record for posterity sake? That right, posterity sake, i use that word correct? Ah, Eyes you stick with me, like always. Good to have eyes at back of head, hehe” 

 

Meepo sighed and answered with a yes sir and wandered to the ship. At least there was enough power from the ship to keep him and his mouse droids running for a while. 

Kiv looked at Rru, nodding. “You think good lone raider, I like! He guard, we find friend, maybe get treasure, win win win. Yes…” Kiv clapped his hands together, almost giggling. This world had very little public information about it as far as he knew. The more he could gather about this planet, the more likely he would find customers that would pay through the nose for one of his datapads. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 9/30/2022 at 8:57 PM, Klu Kiv said:

“Excuse me, but who or what are you hoping to track exactly? This planet does not exactly bode well for anyone’s survival, and I’m afraid imperial protocols did not include any information this planet that I am standing on.

 

Kiv seemed to overhear this and glanced over. “You no know this place? Only hear whispers. Bad place, best left alone, yes? What kind friend is this, danger lady? He valuable person? Lover perhaps? Or maybe owes child services? Hehe, i kid, i kid.” 

 

I didn't look at the jawa as I examined the outside of The Crate. All things considered, it wasn't that bad. Although, I suppose for this situation, anything short of being totaled wouldn't be considered "that bad." Still, the antique had gotten off easy. The starboard stabilizer had just slipped a few teeth in the gear assemblage, which was leagues easier to fix than if it had bent cracked.  The paint job was gouged to heck and back, and the front of the ship had acquired a blackened, sooty tinge where the beast's fire had roiled over it. I could probably take off and land with just the instruments, but if we had time I'd prefer to at least get the viewport cleaned off.

 

"Oka Geb is a mechanic," I said, opening up a panel on the rear underside of the ship to check one of the fuel lines. Intact, good. I help up one of my arms and spun it at the elbow. "He put these on me. Didn't ask for pay, so I owe him."

 

I paused, then added, "...also, yes. This place is best left alone."

 

On 10/2/2022 at 11:34 PM, Wyvernfall said:

Rubbing the last grains of sand between his fingers, Rru looked to Zeris and Kiv. “The one we seek was set upon by the same death worshippers who attempted to sacrifice us.” He pointed out through the hills of devastation. “If we can follow their path, we may yet find him. If we are lucky,” he gave Kiv a playful kick, “this one won’t loot whatever remains of him before we have what we came for.”

 

He waved to the others, “grab what you can carry. We have a long journey ahead of us and these sands may not be as forgiving as that of our home.” The paths of repulsorlifts were hard to track, but in the wilds even they left telltale signs; disturbances upon the earth. Hulking wheeled catapults in the other hand; well, those were pretty easy to track, as long as they did not tarry and the tracks were obscured by the evening and morning winds.

 

The Crate would be of little use. The catapult tracks might be visible for now, but a ship might destroy them prematurely, and when they began to fade, foot travel would be a necessity. “Maybe your demon-droids could guard her vessel from raiders,” he gestured to Kiv’s droids and The Crate. No sense tracking just to lose their only means of escape. Even Rru recognized that. He knew that the false representations of life the Jawa liked to hide behind were threatening. His people had developed special means to fight them. Hopefully they could keep their means of egress secure. Maybe they could even fix it. It did look a bit banged up after it’s hard landing and encountered with the demon and its rider. 

 

I have to admit, I wasn't ecstatic at the idea of leaving The Crate behind. That ship wasn't just my home, it was my lifeline. Whenever things got bad, it got me out. You could just take off and leave whatever problem that had latched onto you behind. A part of me was tempted to just get onboard now.

 

But Oka Geb was my friend. I didn't have a lot of those.

 

And I did owe him.

 

"Alright, just a second." I jogged back into The Crate,  and stuffed a pack with emergency rations, tarps and ropes for a portable shelter, and a water tank. We probably wouldn't be out there that long but... Yeah, I'd be surprised if this place didn't try to kill us twice in one day.

 

I tied the pack to the top of the speeder bike, and pulled it out of the ship with me, the bike's repulsorlifts letting it act as a sort of hovering sledge. I could just walk beside it and pull it along.

 

"Enough for five days," I said, "if we're careful."

 

I turned back to Kiv's droid, Meepo. "If something comes, you can lock the ship from the inside. If it won't leave you alone, push the button wired under the dash and hold it for three seconds. Should scare it off. Don't push it unless you need to." The button was actually wired to a faulty sub-alternator. It was an original part of the ship from back in the Clone Wars, but with the way the Republic had built their military ships to take a beating, the entire component had been built directly into The Crate's frame. Taking it out would have basically involved cutting up the entire ship, so I'd cobbled together a replacement from newer, more efficient parts and just built around it. So the original was still there, just deadweight helping to hold the old hunk of junk together. Activating it with the button would cause the whole ship to shake like there was a moonquake outside, the lights would flare from the slight power surge, and an unholy grinding sound would rumble out of the chassis. I'd had to use it before, and the best way I could describe the sound was to imagine if half a dozen banthas with operatic training all had gastrointestinal distress simultaneously.

 

"Lead on."

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The journey the three took that day was long and, thankfully, uneventful for a while. With the mixture of rubble and uneven ground, the going was slow, but progress was made for sure. Besides the heat from the Emberpit, the most noticeable thing was the sky: being this close to the Umbraside of the planet, the eternal twilight was much darker than lighter, the sun’s rays barely piercing this far. 

 

Unfortunately, with the planet being tidally locked, time was almost impossible to measure with natural methods. Kiv complained several times about how long the group had marched, only to be corrected by Eyes’ internal clock. Eventually the group was forced to make camp. 

 

Thankfully, life seemed to be hard to find so far. While Rru could find evidence and traces of life such as tracks of large trodding humanoids and tracks of a few vehicles were noticed, no living thing crossed their path yet. This was a mixed blessing however: While no monsters interfered, the absence of wildlife made things eerie under the twilight sky. Even tatooine had bugs or rodents, but here, there was nothing but more ruin.

 

Among the ruins of the city sprawl, the group found a clearing of what was a parking lot. Thanks to the intense heat of the Emberpit, no fire was needed, neither for warmth nor for food. The rations Zeris provided, though a bit bland, were thoroughly precooked. 

 

“Oooh, you smart lady to ask for these from Meepo” Kiv commented as he nibbled his own portion. “Aren’t you glad you got my help? I always provide good contacts and info”

 

Kiv looked over at Rru, and scratched underneath his hood in curiosity. “What you think Lone Raider? Place interesting, yes? Far from home, but still active yes?” 

 

Kiv pointed up at Eyes who was patrolling the perimeter. The little searcher droid was strangely silent as it continued its vigil. 

 

“No need to be tense though, Eyes does good job. Demon droid maybe, but useful demon, no? Come, you tell Kiv what you think of place, yes?” 

 

Kiv glanced back at Zeris and scooted closer to the pilot. “What you know of this place lady? I hear whispers, and not good ones. World gone mad, poets dead in the streets, that stuff. And that thing we fought…”  

 

Kiv waved his hand over his face, pretending to smell something rancid.

 

“Pew, something not right there. Place makes me nervous, but excited, yes? Think how much people pay for information on this place. Old Jawa saying, don't imagine how something is useful for you, imagine someone will will find use in it, and sell it to them. So what you know lady? And why your…mechanic, Oka…why he come here? He from here originally? He hiding from law? Cause I understand that…”  

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Rru walked all day. It was a rough walk and they hd to pick their way through mazes kf debris, shrapnel, and junk several times. Several more times, the Tusken had to stop and wait. Shaking his head he would mumble to himself, reminding himself that there was a reason his people lived within the sands. They did not need massive rolling fortresses provided by offworld masters to survive in their home. It showed here. Striding forward with his weapons slung comfortably across his body, he had to stop when he got too far ahead. It did afford him the chance to look for threats; not that he found any of significance. This was truly a wasteland. After their attackers had fled and the beast destroyed there had been nothing; nothing but the chittering of the Jawa and his droids.

 

The lack of transitioning suns only spoke to the unnaturalness of this place. Tales spoke of ancient offworlders destroying the once lush world of Tatooine when Rru’s ancestors dared to stand in defiance against them. They refused to be made into slaves. Their entire world had paid for their perceived sins. This world too had paid, perhaps they were still paying, entrapped in a portion of their joint histories unspoken of in the thousands of years since.

 

Finally, when their legs had tired sufficiently and the whining of the rodent had grown unconsolable did they stop. Rru made a thorough check of the perimeter of the parking lot and the nearest obstacles and points of cover beyond. Yet again, he found nothing. Returning to the group, Rru warily accepted a sealed ration pack plopping to the ground beside the others. Opening it with some difficulty, he held the bar up to his face mask and smelled. He withdrew in disgust throwing the ration bar instinctively. He snorted in disgust. 
 

“What you think Lone Raider? Place interesting, yes? Far from home, but still active yes?” 

Rru studied the Jawa for a moment. Was he serious? “Active?” He asked, a little concerned that the atmosphere may have gotten to the poor Jawa’s brain. “We have seen nothing all day. I fear we may be trekking upon sacred burial sites.” He shivered against the less-than-cool shadowy air. “Even the ancestors are touched by the dark punishments wrought upon this world. We should be very careful.”

 

“No need to be tense though, Eyes does good job. Demon droid maybe, but useful demon, no? Come, you tell Kiv what you think of place, yes?” 

 

Rru shrugged his shoulders as his stomach growled hungrily. The Tusken exhaled sharply through his nose as he looked down at the hastily abandoned ration bar. Leaning forward, he scooped it up before rising to his feet. He pointed a tense warning finger at the Jawa as he shook the ration bar and barked an unintelligible desert warning.

 

Turning he stalked off towards a mound of junk at the edge of the parking lot to eat alone. Such was Tusken culture. He would eat alone. To remove one’s outerwear in front of any but immediate family was punishable by death. As the sole survivor of his tribe, Rru was condemned to eat alone, ungazed upon by eyes . . . or, well, Eyes evermore.

 

Walking around the pile, Rru looked all about, checking and double checking to insure he was alone. Squatting on his haunches, Rru began to remove the heavy wrappings about his head first to a point that he could remove the moisture retention mask. He then began to unravel the lengthy wraps about his right hand until it was exposed to the foreign air. The Tusken shuddered, before taking the bar and holding it to his face. He grimaced again, pausing to force himself to take a bite of the dried ration bar. It tasted like it smelled. He snarfed it down anyway. The faster it was done, the faster the taste would be gone from his tongue.

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I hate hikes. It's the only time I miss my real legs. That probably sounds strange, since most would take mechanical legs to be an improvement in that situation. They don't get tired, they don't get sore, the muscles don't burn with the day's exhaustion...

 

But that's the problem though. I miss that sensation. I get a taste of it when I exercise my core, but nothing quite like the warm ache that comes from hard work. That feeling had been with me my whole life. As a child in the diamond mines, it signified me earning my keep and helping my family. On the cargo ship that became my temporary home, where the jobs that meant our livelihood were scattered, it meant steady work and a cheered crew to go with it. Then in the Echani colony, it had meant training, and a girl finally taking real control over her life for the first time.

 

I'm not one to hide from my own thoughts, and that includes regrets. In my head, I know my choice to take Oka Geb up on his offer was the right one. In my head, I know I'm happier with my enhancements than I ever could have been living in that colony, or on that ship, and definitely happier than in those mines. But still, with no fatigue to distract me, and endless, dragging hours on the road, I had nothing but time to remember what I'd given up. I couldn't help but feel a pang of loss with each mechanical step.

 

I hate hikes. So I was glad when we finally stopped in what looked like a parking lot.

On 10/20/2022 at 10:54 PM, Klu Kiv said:

Kiv glanced back at Zeris and scooted closer to the pilot. “What you know of this place lady? I hear whispers, and not good ones. World gone mad, poets dead in the streets, that stuff. And that thing we fought…”  

 

Kiv waved his hand over his face, pretending to smell something rancid.

 

“Pew, something not right there. Place makes me nervous, but excited, yes? Think how much people pay for information on this place. Old Jawa saying, don't imagine how something is useful for you, imagine someone will will find use in it, and sell it to them. So what you know lady? And why your…mechanic, Oka…why he come here? He from here originally? He hiding from law? Cause I understand that…”  

 

I paused, thinking before I answered.

 

"This is a dying world that never dies," I finally said. "There's a disease here. They call it the Howling. It's what turned that beast we saw into a monster. It's spread by physical contact, but since you two seem to favor full body coverings and I rarely touch anything with my bare skin anymore, I'd say were safe for the time being." I took a bite out of the ration bar, chewing without passion. After I'd swallowed, I continued. "As for Oka...you gotta understand he's not exactly normal, even for a profession that involves cutting body parts off and welding metal in their place. He doesn't do it to learn, or to help, or to advance science or medicine or anything like that. He does it because he actually enjoys it." I held up my arm. "When he volunteered to do this to me, he was excited. And when he was done, he was...proud. Since then his tastes have only gotten more exotic." I gestured to the devastated landscape around us. "He volunteered to come to this hellscape, and he didn't do it out of compassion for the locals. He wanted to see what he could make with monsters as his canvas. The Howling creates unique biology in those it infects. Endless novelty for him to tinker with. Last I heard he was uninfected and traveling with a caravan, bartering medical services for supplies and protection. He's stuck in a pressure suit as his species always is in this kind of atmosphere, so he may still be uncontaminated, but who knows? I'm here to pay him back for what he did for me. Even if he doesn't think I owe him, I do, and I don't like being in debt." I paused, thinking back to that last, static-filled message he'd sent. "He mentioned he was working on making bio-transplants, using the infected beasts here for raw materials. That should tell you all you need to know about him."

 

On 10/21/2022 at 12:13 AM, Wyvernfall said:

Turning he stalked off towards a mound of junk at the edge of the parking lot to eat alone. Such was Tusken culture. He would eat alone. To remove one’s outerwear in front of any but immediate family was punishable by death. As the sole survivor of his tribe, Rru was condemned to eat alone, ungazed upon by eyes . . . or, well, Eyes evermore.

 

I watched the tusken leave. I didn't know much about his culture, but his stance made it clear he wished to be left alone.

 

So long as he was careful and didn't stray too far, it was fine I supposed. Honestly he seemed the best equipped to survive out here out of all of us.

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Kiv nodded at the woman’s words, making a mental note of everything she said. 

 

“Ooh, interesting man, I like, I like. Maybe when I meet Oka, we discuss business yes? Hehe, but first, i sleep now. You can sleep too if want, Eyes keep watch. He my finest work, though no tell him that.” 

 

Several uneventful hours passed for the group as they rested. Whether they passed the time by  slumbering or simply sitting and enjoying the serenity was up to them, but for those moments of still, unnatural silence, it was peaceful. Even underneath the crepuscular sky, with the sun never fully rising nor setting in the far distance, everything was peaceful. 

 

Only the Tusken would’ve heard something. Something ethereal on the wind carried itself to the raider from Tatooine. Akin to a whisper, this elegant transit of thought floated on unseen winds and settled in Rru’s ear, giving the information like an elderly woman whispering in her grandchild’s ear.

 

Keep left at the fork and follow the paths along the opposite side of those canals. You will find us that way.

 

No sooner did it say these words, it evaporated. Generatd and carried on the currents of the Force, the message gave way, no longer existing in this reality.

 

Shortly after was when the infected approached.

 

It was the smell and the noise that came first. The smell was a little more subtle due to the environment: acrid and miasmic, carried on a downward breeze towards the group. Though not immediately sharp, its intensity grew as the breeze grew stronger from the burning meaty source.

 

The sound was much less subtle. Charred and depilous feet, plodding on stony ground, raking claws pulling forward over shattered glass and moans emitting from mouths filled with broken and rotted teeth. Some long since mutated, others more freshly so, the bodies moved forward with blind determination fueled by hunger. 

Eyes was the first to see them. Having kept his patrol for most of the resting time, he saw them at a distance. A horde of about 50 beings, shambling forward. Some were little more than skin and bones, while others were lumbering giant brutes of burning fat. Some had appendages made entirely of metal like bones, while others had protrusions out of their back making forms of twisted braziers holding glowing flames. Like the rancor and its rider, each being’s skin seemed melted much like burning wax, barely clinging on to the exposed flesh underneath. 

 

In front of the group of infected, one lone female Zabrak led the way. Its horns twisted into a literal crown, the being was the only one dressed in torn black robes like some kind of sick cultist leading a congregation. As she led the horde, fire dripped from her hands, leaving a small trail of sticky flames that the horde seemed to relish crawling over.  


What was extremely concerning, at least to Eyes, was that this zabrack was leading the horde directly towards the group, as if she knew exactly where they were. 

 

>I hate to report, but we need to move right now.< Eyes beeped wildly, prodding Kiv with an extended claw to wake him up. >We have a large group of hostile beings approaching, and they seem to know exactly where we are.<

 

Kiv jumped up and looked around. “Ok ok, we move, we move! Uh, raider!” Kiv shouted at the Tusken. “You tracker, you lead, yes?”  
 

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Wiping the crumbs of the ration bar from the stubble of his beard, Rru sighed audibly. Gingerly he leaned back on the junk heap to his back letting the weak sun beat down on his exposed face as he closed his eyes. For a moment, he smiled. Peace seemed to flow subtly about him and the spirits lay silent as the breeze ruffled his hair.

 

It was then that he heard it, the voice. It was not the same as those of his ancestors, fierce and warlike, filled with strength, conviction, and compassion for their people, for their lands.

“Keep left at the fork and follow the paths along the opposite side of those canals. You will find us that way.“

 

The voice was old and feminine, a specter on the wind. Rru’s eyes blinked open. He pursed his lips as he pondered the voice sitting up and looking about. There was nobody there. The world was still, save for the breeze. Something smelled. It was awful. The desert nomad clenched his teeth as he suppressed the urge to vomit.

 

Reaching down, Rru quickly began to redress himself. Something born on the wind seemed to approach. Whatever it was smelled off, dangerous even. The Tusken’s mind was drawn inexplicably back to the massive mutant beast that had tried to eat their ship. He shuddered. Slipping his rifle from his shoulder, he scrambled back toward the group, grunting a primitive warning towards the group. He saw the droid, Eyes, who had dutifully left him alone as he ate. The little metallic being poked furiously at the Jawa.  Maybe there was something to the little abomination. There was no time to think about it now. Something foul approached. “Get up! Keep your voice down.” He snarled, waving furiously at group. He nodded at the Jawa, his head lifting into the air, sniffing at it like a dog. He felt the wind against his waving robes. He could smell them. He knew from where they were coming. It was the way they wanted to go. They couldn’t smell them, at least, not yet.

 

Scrambling up the pile of junk, Rru stared down the barrel of his cycler, the scope brought into focus the approaching horde. “Demons.” He hissed before sliding back down to the others. Looking at @Zeris Mons, he pointed to @Klu Kiv, “Can you carry it?” He asked. “We must be as swift as the wind.”

 

Without waiting, Rru ducked into a quick run at a ninety-degree angle from the approaching horde. He ducked and wove beneath jutting beams of fallen structures and around giant jutting fingers of buried metallic beasts of industry. They needed to get out of there quickly.
 

Avoid the fight. It was an old Tusken philosophy. At least for the moment. No sense going into battle without every advantage possible. This world, well, they did not know it well enough to have every advantage; but being overtaken on an open field by an unknown foe was plain foolish. And so they ran, deeper towards the Umbraside of the world, the cold seeping like tendriled claws to rake at the Tusken’s flesh. ‘Run!’ His ancestors urged and they were seldom wrong. Their ancient words of wisdom leading him on.

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On 10/26/2022 at 2:10 AM, Wyvernfall said:

Scrambling up the pile of junk, Rru stared down the barrel of his cycler, the scope brought into focus the approaching horde. “Demons.” He hissed before sliding back down to the others. Looking at @Zeris Mons, he pointed to @Klu Kiv, “Can you carry it?” He asked. “We must be as swift as the wind.”

 

Without waiting, Rru ducked into a quick run at a ninety-degree angle from the approaching horde. He ducked and wove beneath jutting beams of fallen structures and around giant jutting fingers of buried metallic beasts of industry. They needed to get out of there quickly.


I didn't wait to ask questions. That was how you died in a place like this. If the tusken said they had to go, I had every reason in the galaxy to believe he meant it.

 

I also didn't wait for permission from the jawa. I scooped him up with my left arm, effortlessly hoisting him up onto my shoulder. I grabbed the handlebars of the speeder with my other hand, and I began sprinting after the tusken raider.

 

The cold hit my face first, like dozens of little glass bits digging into my cheeks and ears. The biting chill crawled outward from there, spreading over my skin and burrowing down to my bones.

 

This wasn't sustainable, for several reasons. Obviously, if we kept going this way we'd freeze. But the real problem is we must be getting close to the stormline, the region where the bitter cold and the tenuous warmth met hundreds of feet up in the air. Normally stable, all it took was a slight deviation, a momentary gust to draw that warm air into the cold side, to trigger a storm. I'd never experienced one myself, but I'd seen one from a distance on Troiken when I'd been hunting a particularly slippery Xexto.

 

Granted, a storm like that was normally rare, but with the volcanic activity nearby, and just how much this planet seemed to want anything that wasn't a monster dead, I wasn't willing to bet on our chances.

 

Plus, it might have just been my imagination, but it felt like the wind was picking up...

 

Coming into focus out of the gloom, I spotted the silhouette of a small, blocky building. A simple two-story box, it jutted out of the desolate landscape completely alone. No road led to it, no ruins of other buildings surrounded it.

 

But it looked sturdy, and it was intact. It would have to do.

 

"There!" I shouted, pointing at the building. "We can make a stand! Unless one of you has a better idea!"

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“Hey! I no like this!” Kiv protested at being carried by Zeris. “I am very capable of moving myself at a quick pace, so let me..”

 

>Sir.< Eyes interrupted, keeping up alongside the group >My last count of hostiles was at 56, and I honestly believe that is a conservative amount<

 

“Faster lady, faster faster!” Kiv screeched, now clinging tightly onto the free ride. 

 

Kiv actually became a bit more thankful as the temperature continued to drop drastically. Wrapping his robes around a bit more tightly, Kiv began to shiver slightly. 

 

“Not good, no no, not good. Jawa’s never like the cold, no no. you never see a Jawa on Hoth, do you? Nope, you don't.

 

Back where the group had made camp, the infected Zabrack stooped down and felt the ground with fiery hands. The warmth of the clean had passed here. The stench of the unaffected still remained here, untainted by the world. The zabrack’s back bones cracked as it unnaturally bent forward further, licking the ground, tasting the cleanliness the off-worlders had brought with them.  Their germs enraged her. To not know the perfection of the infection was such a tragic life. They needed to be treated, and killed. 

 

The Zabrack turned towards her horde and selected one of the members of this horde: a large, hulking brute. Once a decent but pudgy construction worker, this being had become enlarged and enraged by the Howling Madness. The disease inflamed every cell of his body, becoming bigger and stronger than any normal human could become naturally. 

 

The Zabrack raised a fiery hand and threw a fireball at the Brute. The flames began to consume the Brute’s already melting skin. The fire invigorated the Brute. He roared with delight: feeling pain was a sensation that he and most of the infected missed. It was why they followed the Zabrack. Her fire made them feel again. 

 

The zabrack turned and threw another fireball into the distance where she felt the clean were moving towards. The brute roared and took off, bulldozing through rubble with a speed that belied his large stature. He would find heat in that direction. And if he found the uninfected, he would teach them the perfection of the infection.  Slowly, the zabrack followed, the horde behind her. 

 

"We can make a stand! Unless one of you has a better idea!"

 

Kiv looked at the building doubtfully. 

 

“Uhh, you sure lady? That place look not so…”

 

The fireball the zabrack had thrown landed a few meters behind the group, exploding with fury.

 

“Sounds good with me!” Kiv exclaimed. At this moment he jumped off and made a break for the building, Eyes following. 

 

Kiv found the door to be unpowered, and had to force it open himself. The inside told a lot. White scuffed up floors, and walls, broken panels, bloodstained desks, burnt chairs, all of it told the building’s history. The building in the past had been a private laboratory/observation post for some minor Kaminoan scientist of unknown reputation. Nowadays, it probably housed the occasional caravan or criminal. 

 

“Come come! We hide here, you fight, yes?” Shouted at the others as he scampered up some stairs to the second floor towards the rooftop. In the distance, the roar of the Brute grew closer and closer. 

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The ancestors, they urged him onward, into the cold. Rruror’rur’rr did not have to think. He simply followed their urging and direction. Beyond instinct, it is what gave him an advantage in combat, or so he thought. It is also what made him run like the wind across the desolate world, keeping easy pace with the robotic legs of the amalgamated woman. So when she pointed out the jutting duracrete structure, the ancestors did not voice any concern. In fact, they seemed keen on the idea and Rru was not one to object. It was cold, too cold if you asked him. With the dark sky and the cold wind, it was colder than the coldest night back on Tatooine.

 

Running towards the building, the Tusken took a lap around the building. Windowless. One door in on the ‘front’ side. One door out on the ‘back’. Both were solid. What a strange building. It might be that they could not even gain access.

 

Or not. Apparently the Jawa had put his thieving skills to good use and got them inside. Rru shrugged. Better than nothing. He slipped in with the others, cautiously looking about. What a room. It looked like countless other buildings he and his tribe had ransacked back home. Off worlders, interlopers, heathens, all of them, come from beyond the stars to take up residence and steal the divinely given gifts of the indigenous persons. Nothing to worry. This place was nothing to stop and stare at. Nothing looked to be a suitable weapon.
 

Taking the stairs three at a time, Rru bound up the narrow staircase along the side wall into the shadowy windowless darkness. Pulling his gaffi free, the nomad dropped into a stalker’s hunting stance. He squinted into the darkness. Shiffling forward he felt, each of his senses honed to a razor’s edge. The ancestors whispered in his ear. Even if he could not see, they could, and they led him. Across the cluttered room to a ladder. Rru shook it to make sure it was secured to the wall before he began to climb, stopping only before hitting his head on the locked hatch that led onto the roof. Hooking the point of his beskar tribal weapon through the metal loop of the lock, he twisted the shaft. Leverage did the work. The lock popped off with a bang as it clattered down to the floor.

 

With a creak of rusted metal, Rru swung the door open. It slammed on the roof. Cautiously he stuck his head out. Heating and cooling units, ravaged by the wind and time, a dilapidated comm relay, nothing really out of the ordinanry; well, until . . .

 

Rru rounded the central towering compressor unit. Lying on the rooftop, tucked just beneath the unit was some sort of launcher. Rru dug at it with his toe, pulling it out to see it better. He canted his head as he regarded the large maw

of the barrel, whatever this thing, it shot something BIG. The intricate targeting scope was something else entirely.

 

A roar resounded form where they had recently come. Squinting against the darkness, Rru tried to peer into the distance, to see what he knew had to be pursuing him. He could not see anything. Dropping prone, he shrugged the aged cycler from his shoulder and brought it to rest before his eye. Scaring down the primitive scope, Rru could finally see it. Some ugly beast lumbered toward them blowing through whatever stood in his way. Throwing his head back, Rruror’rur’rr let loose a traditional Tusken war cry. He hoped the Jawa would hear it and his lifetime amongst the sands would come back to him.

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I took the stairs two at a time, reaching the edge of the roof a second after the tusken. I had no idea what this building had originally been intended for, but it looked like it had been stripped long ago. Or at least, that's what I assumed before Rru found the grenade launcher. I imagined whoever had tried to defend this little island of civilization in a wasteland sea of madness, dying to some beast or abomination, never even getting the chance to fire his weapon. Well, no sense dwelling on hypothetical irony.

 

I dropped to the front of the building, dropping into a crouch as I watched the monstrosity grow larger as it closed the distance. I wasn't going to tangle with that thing up close, not until I saw what it could do. But I could dodge, and keep it distracted long enough for the tusken to line up a shot and work that launcher. Granted, there would be an explosion, but that was a problem to consider later.

 

Alright you ugly hutt spawn, your big. But how nimble are you? 

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As the others went to the rooftop, Kiv busied himself scavenging what he could. Unfortunately the second floor was just as bare as the first floor. Whatever use the building had seen in days past had been stripped down long ago.

 

“Well that’s annoying!” Kiv complained as he kicked a piece of scrap from a breaking wall. “At least I would leave something, like…like, i don’t know, but Kiv is generous scavenger, yes i am. Stupid humans wouldn’t know the rules of…”

 

>Sir, if i may pull your attention over here< Eyes beeped.

 

Kiv looked over and stopped. “Well well well well! What’s this?” Kiv asked a loud as he wondered over, scratching his chin underneath his hood. 

 

>Looks like a map sir< Eyes replied, scanning the image on the wall. >These lines here must be paths i believe.<

 

“No no, those are walls, see the paths are between the walls, see you stupid junkpile?” 

 

>but then what are these scratch marks here?>

 

“Uhh…” Kiv was caught off guard at this question and had to pause. “Perhaps those are roadblocks? No no, that’s not right. Maybe they be some kind of resting place? No no…gah, this be us right? This spot here?”

 

>No sir, I think that was where we were earlier…< Eyes disagreed, just as confused as his master was. 

 

The two didn’t get to argue further, as the sound of the Tusken’s roar broke the air. 

 

“Alright, I come! I come cous….lone raider!” Kiv corrected himself. “Eyes, take detailed scan and we decipher later.  Hurry!”  

 

Kiv rushed out onto the roof where the Tusken was waiting. It was from the roof he saw the brute. Breaking through the last of the rubble between him and the group, he first plunged into the fire that the zabrack had thrown from so far away. It seemed to smile as the flames licked at its wax-like melting skin. The pain was glorious. 

 

Its eyes, half-melted in their sockets, somehow spotted the group. A roar escaped its throat and it charged forward, its oversized hands clenched into fists above its head. Once getting close it would attempt to bring them down on the first being in its way and proceed to clobber it into unconsciousness. It moved with a speed that its size hid well. Most beings this large would be expected to move like a bantha. But for the brute, embolden by flames, speed was no issue for it. 

 

“Oh, she be crazy to fight that…” Kiv started to exclaim, before being distracted by the weapon that he accidentally kicked. 

 

“Oooh!” Kiv’s tune instantly changed. Excitedly he rubbed his hands together. “You find this beauty lone raider?”

 

Kiv picked up the weapon…barely. It was much heavier than any weapon he was accustomed to. 

 

“This big gun! Big big gun!” Kiv commented as he examined the modified grenade launcher further.  “Me don’t know weapons, but Kiv knows big guns means big death, yes? That’s why all the nastiest beasts of our home so big, right lone raider? Krayt’s aren’t big for nothing!”

 

Kiv studied the weapon further and then dropped it onto the floor before rushing back down the stairs, passing by Eyes. “I know where i saw ammo! Kiv return quickly, and we have big weapon to fight off monsters!”

 

Eyes sighed and looked at the fight that was starting between the Brute and Zeris. >This will not end well< 

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As fast as he had appeared, the Jawa was gone. Muttering something about ammunition after eyeing the launcher Rru had found. instinctively, the Tusken chalked it up to the cowardice synonymous with the stinking rodents people. It was right up there with thieving, only, for some reason Kiv had left the launcher.

 

He hadn’t time think about it though as the monster barreled toward them seemingly intent on their demise. Was everything on this planet focused on killing them? Were one of his companions wearing some sort of tracker that broadcast their location to the whole world? They had come here for one feller, and so far he seemed to be the ONLY one they could not find!! He’d suspect the Jawa, but their demon-amalgamated comrade had leapt from the safety of their roof to face the monster head on. Either she was suicidal or she was in cahoots with the demons here. After all, was she not the one who brought them here? Rru, shook his head. The beast was coming closer. Staring down his rifle, he shook his head. He doubted his earlier tricks with the rifle would be effective here.

 

The launcher glistened in the starlight. The Tusken worked his fingers as he pondered the weapon, keeping the circulation going in his fingers. Finally he lat his prized cycler on the rooftop to grab up the launcher. He regarded it for a moment. The design was foreign, but projectile weapons seemed to carry similarities across the cosmos; in a matter of moments he hugged the weapon’s butt and stock into his shoulder. His sight naturally fell down the targeting array, a red glassy design with a phosphorescent yellow crossed circle in the middle. Obvious enough. Rru did not even know if the thing was loaded, but he focused the targeting reticule on the flaming monster. With a sigh? He pulled the trigger. Nothing happened, unless you counted the audible clank of the trigger flipping some sort of mechanism in the gun itself. 
 

Rru sighed. So much for that. He relaxed the weapon in his arms as he stared out at the advancing for. This was not good.

 

The beast’s roar echoed across the newest battlefield. The Jawa had fled. Their pilot had apparently gone back to rejoin her demon ilk or die in some machine-induced fit of stupidity. Rru stood, he inhaled, held his breath, and exhaled. He would accept his fate as only a true Tusken could. The ancestors whispered encouragement in his ears. He would die, here, on a world not his own; a just punishment for his own sins, for not being their for his people in their time of need.

 

Ka-Chunk!!! The internal workings of the launcher clanged in the cold air and before Rru could react, he was knocked backward by the projectile that leapt from the weapon’s mouth. A missile arced out through the sky. The unexpected

recoil knocked the weapon painfully into Rru’s shoulder as he tumbled to his behind. The missile trailed forward crashing into the ground several yards in advance of the beast. There it seemed to sit, internal timers counting down before:

 

The entire night sky erupted in shocking blue light against the purple starlit sky, a ball of expanding blue lightning filled energy crackled as the missile detonated in an ever-growing expanse of destructive ionic energy. An ion torpedo, mind you, Rru had no idea what it was; but it sure looked dangerous, in a beautiful flay your flesh from your bones sort of way. Had he not know the thing came from the launcher in his hands, the Tusken would have been quick to attribute it to the supernatural. Leaping back to his feet, Rru squinted at the bright crackling explosion. Hoisting the now-unknown empty weapon above his head he let loose a joyous war cry, challenging any who might dare try and take them on! They were not dead yet, not by a long shot. The Tusken had wanted and the spirits had spoken, in electrified beautiful and deadly judgment. Boy had they spoken!

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