Chapter Thirteen: Hunters
Bowcaster. Highly modified. Detachable barrel extension. Specialized quarrel ammunitions. Secondary and tertiary firing mechanisms. Extended stock. Two-point sling. Variable telescopic mount.
Ryyk Kerarthorr blades. Two hand-forged weapons. A long curved edge the length of an arm, handle mounted at a ninety degree angle at the base giving it the image of an elongated sickle.
Goggles. Active data streaming. Toggled image intensification and infrared sights. Scope synchronization.
Battle harness. Crossing bandoliers stocked with abundant ammunition and a plethora of situational devices. Across the back, two sheaths and a holster for the bowcaster. No armor. Didn’t need armor.
Trandosha. Birthplace of some of the finest and fiercest independent hunters, warriors, and mercenaries the galaxy. The planet’s details matched its denizens in diversity and intent. The unforgiving deserts lashed out at any foolish enough to cross them with sandstorms and heat. Treacherous peaks towered over lesser formations, adamant in their stature. But not all was dominance and savagery.
A golden savannah rested between the barren lands and the small village of Ssarik. A place where trackers tested their skill. Where sons followed in their fathers’ footsteps. Where a respect existed between hunters and their prey. The area was not fraught with intensely dangerous wildlife, but there none-the-less existed a chain of supremacy amongst the indigenous and imported fauna. A chain that any self-respecting Trandoshan sought to be on top of.
A small hunting party slinked through the high grass. Four adults. Four children. Each member of the reptilian group held a hunting rifle close to their chest as they stalked their prey. Their scales ranging from yellow to a sandy brown, they blended in perfectly with their surroundings.
Moving forward, the party leader followed a specific path through the grass until he reached a clearing. Halting his progress, he raised a claw signaling the group to do the same. Ahead rest a small pack of katarn. Small. Lean. The four legged reptomammals nested around a large tree that stood alone amidst the vast plains. A number rested at the tree’s base, whilst one clung to the side mid-climb, almost acting as a sentry.
The hunting party’s leader beckoned one of the children to move up next to him. The scales of the small Trandoshan that snuck forward matched those of the adult, signifying lineage. The father instructed the son to raise his weapon, before silently ordering the rest of the group to spread out laterally. The child nodded and steadied his weapon against his shoulder, taking careful aim at the katarn hanging from the tree’s side. However, before he could proceed, a loud bang rang out in the distance, prompting the group of animals to hurriedly scurry up the tree.
The hunters looked around for the source of the disturbance, only to see a rising pillar of smoke emanate from where their village should be. The pack leader snarled a command and the group began sprinting back toward their home. Their uncovered feet dug at the grass and dirt beneath their heels, kicking up dust as they rushed toward their burning village. They ran and ran, each minute the silhouette of their home growing clearer and more focused. But with clarity came dismay.
Every building was ablaze. The sounds of combat echoed toward the returning hunting party, but none could register anything above a muffled chaos. Explosions rang out. Structures toppled. The group was still so far away, and there was nothing they could do to prevent the utter destruction of their homes.
Suddenly, amidst the haze of fire and smoke, a mysterious object began to rise above the village. The hunters watched as the shadowed object began to float, basking in the rising ashes of their homes. The group took pause, ceasing their meaningless attempt to reach their destination. They instead continued to gaze upon the object as it emerged from the haze and began making its way towards them.
The black freighter’s engines howled as the ship flew toward the hunters. The blocky starship was utterly intimidating, as were the dual cannons mounted upon its front. As the ship zoomed ever closer, the Trandoshans dove to the ground, covering their heads as they expected a hail of laser fire. Instead, the freighter passed directly over them, shaken the very ground that sat beneath them. Looking up, the hunters saw the starship’s cargo bay door was open.
Emerging from the black freighter's hind end was a lone figure stationed upon a jettisoned platform. The small repulsorcraft fell from the sky, before coming to a soft halt as it hovering gently above the flowing grasslands. The platform was little more than a flat surface bolstered by engines with a control panel sticking up from it. Manning that control panel, however, was someone far from simple.
‘Direclaw’. The silver-haired Wookiee stood tall upon his platform, eyes hidden behind goggles, the lambent flames of destruction reflecting off the black lenses. The lone figure gazed upon the rising hunters below with an eternally stoic visage. As the Trandoshans raised their weapons, the Wookiee retrieved the one upon his back. A flurry of blaster bolts rang out toward the platform, impacting against the vehicle to little effect.
Amidst the chaos, Direclaw was the epitome of calm. In one smooth motion, he shouldered his bowcaster and launched a projectile toward one of the adults. The energy charged quarrel planted itself in the center of the yellow-scaled Trandoshan’s chest, killing him immediately. The leader of the hunting party snarled a command and directed the children to flee. The young ones complied, running back into the tall grass one by one.
Direclaw primed another quarrel and soon, another adult of the hunting party was put down. As the Wookiee scanned for his third target, the head Trandoshan rushed toward the platform and leapt at its heels. The vehicle dipped and swayed as the reptile clutched at the aggressor’s feet. The second Trandoshan remaining fired a careful bolt toward the distracted Wookiee, landing a messy shot against the target’s shoulder. Direclaw stumbled backward, before leaping from his platform.
The Wookiee landed on the grounds below with nary a bend in his knees, with the lead Trandoshan following soon after. As the reptile straightened his posture, he found the Wookiee already aiming his bowcaster at him. Ducking to the ground, the hunter managed to escape the launched quarrel, but his fellow behind him wasn’t so lucky.
Only two men remained. Two masters of the hunt. The Trandoshan rushed up to his knees, firing his rifle at the Wookiee. The silver-haired hunter was remarkably swift, darting to the side as the red bolts of energy flew past his head. The scaled hunter kept the target in his sights, but was unable to land a proper hit. He was used to hunting game. This was no game.
Direclaw closed in on the remaining Trandoshan. The gap between them closed to nothing in an instant. Instead of raising his bowcaster, the Wookiee merely released the weapon from his grasp, letting it fall to the soft grass. Reaching behind his back, Direclaw’s hands returned baring two hand-forged blades. The last thing the Trandoshan saw was the Wookiee’s face staring directly at his as the two blades crossed directly below his chin. A moment later, the Wookiee uncrossed them, sending the hunter’s head to the ground, the rest of his body following shortly after.
The Wookiee straightened his posture and returned his bloodied blades to their sheaths. Slowly, he dusted himself off and picked up his bowcaster. Touching a small device strapped to his left bandolier, the aerial platform lowered itself, allowing its rider to hop back on. With a tap of his claws against the control panel, the vehicle lifted itself and the Wookiee scanned the surrounding fields.
Lines of disturbed grass signaled the paths of the fleeing Trandoshan children. Ordering his platform forward, Direclaw ejected his bowcaster’s magazine and replaced it with another. It wasn’t long before he had the first child within his sights. Shouldering his weapon, he took careful aim and fired an unenergized quarrel. The metallic bolt planted itself in the child’s back, sticking out while its tip delivered a dose of nonlethal sedative deliberately measured for this particular prey.
Direclaw turned toward the next child as the first victim continued to run, eventually succumbing to a sluggish stupor and falling to the ground. One by one the young Trandoshans fell. When all four were dealt with, the Wookiee set his vehicle down.
The eyes of the hunt master’s son grew heavier and heavier as he lost control of his entire body. Paralyzed, but he could still feel the grass scratching at his cheek. Suddenly, an imposing figure stood over him, blotting out the sun as he laid prone in the Wookiee’s shadow. In his last moments of consciousness, the son witnessed the figure clamp an electrified collar around his neck and drag him toward where his fellows lay.
Direclaw pressed a button on his parked vehicle, signaling the automated pilot installed in his freighter to return. As the black starship descended, the Wookiee returned the platform to its bay, and placed the unconscious children in a series of cages.
Pa’nek Station. An orbital space station situated on the fringes of Hutt space. A marketplace for all things illicit with none of the glitz of Nar Shaddaa. In one of the many hangar bays, worker droids unloaded the cargo of Direclaw’s freighter. The caged Trandoshans made their way to the market alongside other various crates and containers.
The sentient creatures were put on display alongside various rare fauna and beasts of burden. Very few in the galaxy had need or want for Trandoshan slaves, but the Wookiee took great pride in his work. As Direclaw waited for a potential sale, he was greeted with the sight of an approaching buyer. Young. Male. Human. Red coat. He was interested in one of the children, one in particular. A deal was struck, the Wookiee gave warning of what was to be expected, but he Human offered only a content smile and the nod of his head as he parted with his credits.
A group of attendants began to transport the caged Trandoshan toward the Human’s ship, when the child began thrashing about. His motions ceased when the electric collar around his neck activated, forcing the reptile into a defeated slump. The Wookiee handed over he collar’s control and offered a departing nod.
In the Human’s hangar, the transporters were about to load the Trandoshan’s container into the Fury-class interceptor when the owner dismissed them. Alone with his purchased item, the man unlocked the cage and asked the child to come out. The lizard hesitantly complied. The two figures faced one another, one refusing to look the other in the eye. Bending his knees, the Human reached around the child’s neck and unlatched the restraining collar.
The Trandoshan lifted his gaze, looking the Human in the eye for only a second before darting for the exit. The Human turned and watched the child make a run for it, letting out a brief sigh. Just as the alien was about to reach the entrance to the station’s interior, the Human reached out with his hand and offered the quick flick of his wrist. Suddenly, the Trandoshan was flung backward, tugged by an invisible force and dragged back to his master’s feet.
The alien offered a confused look as he gazed up at the smiling Human, who now offered a helping hand. There were words to be shared. Explanations to be had. The promise of hidden power. Of redeemed honor. Of countless battles and tests of might.
The Trandoshan no longer wished to run, but to walk, alongside the Human and onto his ship. Nesk was heading for the Academy.