Chapter Fourteen: Warriors
“I’m worried about the boy. He hasn’t spoken a word since his father’s death. This is an integral point in his training, and without his father to train him, the tribe doesn’t know what should be done with him.”
“He can train with the group, but it is the duty of the father to tend to the son. He’ll have until the end of the next cycle to find a warrior willing to adopt him. If he can’t, he’ll be banished.
“I understand. I’ll inform the others.”
Tatooine. Two suns. Sand. Lots of sand. And rocks. An all-around intolerable place to be.
At the base of a mountain ridge stood the mouth of a cave. And in front of that mouth stood a man. A man who looked onward with utter disappointment as his red coat wafted in the wind and the blowing sand nicked at his boots. The gentle whistle of the warm breeze against the caverns was momentarily drowned out by the Human’s deep sigh.
“I hate this place,” Thorel muttered to himself. Before delving into the dark corridors, the Sith retrieved the holocommunicator from his coat and powered it up, the image of his master appearing a moment later.
“My apprentice. Have you concluded your business on Tatooine?” Tash asked.
“I wish,” Thorel said, uncharacteristically grumpy. “I don’t understand how this hellish dust ball manages to remain relevant in the galaxy. It’s horrible here. And now you’re sending me after recruits in caves? I mean, the Rattataki and Trandoshans can be primitive, but they’re light years ahead of these Sand People.”
“Luckily for you, Syrosk says the child is a different type of alien. A Nikto,” Tash explained.
“What’s he doing hiding in a cave?”
“I don’t know. We only have the information afforded to us by Syrosk’s visions. As remarkable as they are, they are fairly limited in scope. And if it goes unheeded, it will linger in his mind. We nearing the necessary number of students, so we shan’t have to do deal with many more of these excursions. Secure the child and return to me.”
Thorel’s shoulders drooped. "Couldn't you have sent Odrek on this one?"
“He is currently occupied with separate affairs. In my latest series of appeasements, I offered his services to Darth Malgus, whose apparently heading some operation involving Alderaan,” Tash explained.
"Really. He gets Alderaan. I get stuck with Tatooine?”
“Your skills are better suited to your current task.”
“I’m afraid my charm and wit don’t exactly translate to appeasing tribals,” Thorel admitted.
“Might I remind you that you remain a Sith, apprentice. Return with the child. That is all.”
The holocommunicator shut off and Thorel was stuck eyeing the mouth of the cave. Peering in deeper, the apprentice saw the faint flicker and glow of golden light further in. With a hefty hesitation, the Sith eventually made his way into the cavern. Slowly he trekked deeper and deeper until he came across manmade fixtures lining the walls. Primitive, but the sign of a sentient’s dwelling. Electronic torches. Dim. Connected by thin wires and cables that stretched deeper into the cave.
The singular tunnel continued without branches, leading the Sith down the only possible path. Carefully he walked, trying to muffle the sounds of his boots against the hard rock below. Despite his usual aloofness, he hadn’t dropped his guard, scanning the winding path that laid before him. Studying his surroundings, the Sith didn’t know what to expect. The area only matched half of what he had learned of the planet’s indigenous Sand People. No paintings. No tapestries. No burning flames. Only the a faint clattering of metal resonating deeper within the cave.
Eventually the tunnel widened and opened entirely to a large cavern. The single domed chamber was immense, capable of housing a number of small families. Within its boundaries, a number of tents had been constructed. Beside them rest the tools of battle. Racks of weapons and armor. Training dummies. Combat arenas. Standing at the entrance to the populated chamber, the Sith realized his expectations were off.
“Morgukai,” Thorel muttered to himself.
The sound of clattering metal ceased. Eight warriors scattered about the chamber stopped their various training exercises and turned their heads toward the source of the disturbance. The Sith suddenly felt the burdening stares of eight Kajain'sa'Nikto, each armed and armored, beating down upon him. Trained Jedi killers, each and every one of them. Staffs and armor plating forged from cortosis. None of them looked too pleased by the Sith’s presence.
With a deep breath, Thorel spoke up. “I am looking for a child…”
“I don’t care what it is you seek,” one of the Morgukai snarled. He stood separate from the others. More lines than usual upon his face. A person of stature, socially and physically. The group’s chieftain. “I see your garb. Your weapon. Your presence. You are either Jedi… or Sith. We do not abide the company of either. Servants of the Force aren’t to be trusted, and when one stumbles upon our camp… their lives are forfeit.”
Simultaneously, the chieftain and his fellow warriors raised their weapons, hands firmly gripped upon the black staff as their tips began to arc with electricity. The Morgukai began to close in on the Sith, who remained adamant in his motionless stance.
“And what of the Force-sensitive currently residing within your camp?”
The warriors immediately took pause.
“What are you talking about?” the chieftain asked, sufficiently perturbed.
“What reason does a Sith have to come to this deserted wasteland, walk amongst the endless seas of sand, enter an utterly unremarkable cave, and ‘stumble’ across a small detachment of Jedi-slash-Sith killing death cultists? There is a child here, one of your own, that possesses the gift of Force-sensitivity. I’ve come to extend him an offer. A place to develop his talents. To train his body, mind, and spirit in ways far beyond the understanding of your group. To become a proper warrior.”
Suddenly, emerging from one of the tents was the head of a young boy intrigued by the words he had gathered eavesdropping. The child gazed upon the Sith with a cold visage, one afforded to him by his species’ biology coupled with a particularly harsh upbringing. The Sith offered the boy a nod as he emerged fully from his tent.
The Morgukai chieftain darted his gaze between the intruder and the child, never dropping his disgusted demeanor. “We’ll deal with the boy after you are disposed of.”
Whatever pleasantness had remained upon the Sith visage was all but wiped clean. In its place a stern glare levied at the Morgukai chief.
“Your training may have shielded your minds from me, but the boy’s thoughts are clear as day. All you lot care about is death. Your codes, your creeds, your skills, your interactions, your relationships… it all leads back to death. It’s the only language you’re fluent in. Very well.” The Sith reached to his belt and retrieved his lightsaber, igniting its crimson blade with a flick of his wrist. “Let’s converse.”
The closest Morgukai lunged to strike, bringing the head of his staff down upon the Sith in a mighty arc. With supreme speed, the Human sidestepped the blow unfazed. The warrior recovered quick enough to avoid colliding his weapon with the ground, but not quickly enough to avoid the tip of the Sith’s crimson blade puncturing his throat with one swift thrust. Retracting his blade just as quick, the first victim had not even reached the ground as the group closed in on Thorel.
A second approached the Sith, keeping his guard tight and his weapon close. Thorel’s lightsaber brushed against the length of the warrior’s staff, eliciting a shower of sparks as it refused to cut through. His grip tightened, the defending Nikto could not extend his reach as the Sith continued toward his flank. In one smooth, fluid motion, the apprentice plunged his saber into the warrior’s side, an area unprotected by armor plating.
A third lashed out at the Sith, the two fighters’ weapons making brief, but frequent contact as they traded a series of blows. The fourth Nikto moved to the Human’s rear, attempting to flank him. Opponents on opposite sides, the Sith was on the defensive, dividing his attention between the two foes. Darting back and forth between the two, Thorel eventually parried a blow, ducking and sending the tip of the third’s electrified staff into the fourth’s shoulder. The Sith raised his blade with a swift sweep, lopping off the third’s arms at the elbows before continuing to relieve the stunned fourth of his head.
The fifth charged the Sith. Thorel replied with the powerful swiping of his free hand. Suddenly, the charging Nikto lost his footing, as if a rug were instantly pulled out from under him. For a second, the warrior was floating, but in the next he was flying as the apprentice thrust both hand forward, furiously knocking the Nikto back and into the nearest rock face with a Force push. A loud thud resonated throughout the chamber as the warrior's head collided with the solid surface.
The sixth maintained his distance, but to little avail as the Sith released his grip on the lightsaber with a calculated toss. The saber swirled upon an arcing flight path toward the Nikto’s head. The seventh thought to capitalized on the Sith’s weaponless state. Just as the flung saber passed through the sixth’s neck, the seventh lunged his staff’s tip at the Human. The Sith sidestepped the thrust, batting the weapon away with one hand as the other collided with the warrior’s chest plate with an open palm. As soon as it made contact, a powerful Force push traveled through the armor, sternum, and lungs of the seventh Nikto. Reeling from the loss of his breath and his insides being rearranged, the Sith’s saber had finished its arc and was once more held within his hand. Thrusting the crimson blades tip forward, it managed to pierce the cracked chest plate and everything resting behind it.
The last of the Morgukai remained. The eighth. The chieftain. The two squared off, eyes intently locked. The two collided without another moment of hesitation, trading blows with a high degree of expertise. The Sith moved with a fluid grace, anticipating and deflecting any blows that came his way, making artful thrusts and jabs when the proper moment arrived. The apprentice nicked at the Nikto’s chest, blade bouncing off the cortosis-weave armor with little lasting effect. The chieftain put up a good fight, but his defenses were failing. With each subsequent lunge of his staff, the Sith would land a glancing blow on his unguarded limbs, leaving numerous burns and lashes upon the chieftain’s arms and legs.
The Nikto’s movements were slowing, his limbs suffering from damage and fatigue. One errant strike later, and the Sith was able to plunge the tip of his blade deep into the chieftain’s thigh, bringing the warrior to his knees. As he struggled to steady himself, resting the majority of his weight upon the staff, the Nikto gritted his teeth as he stared at the stilled Sith that now stood across from him.
“He’ll never… be a proper warrior…” the chieftain muttered.
“That not for you to decide,” Thorel replied. The Sith followed up with a quick slash of his blade, severing the head of the last Morgukai warrior. As all eight Nikto laid motionless upon the ground, Thorel calmly sheathed his saber and returned it to his belt. Looking up from the ground, he saw the child standing unfazed outside the boundaries of his tent. Slowly, the boy eyed each and every one of the fallen warriors before laying his eyes upon their killer. “Listen, there is much to…”
The child took a step from his previous frozen stature. Then another. And another. Until he finally stood in front of the Human himself. The Sith stood in silence, as the young Nikto simply offered a single dutiful nod and began to walk toward the exit of the cavern.
Thorel offered the slight tilt of his head before following the child. Together, they vacated the caves and made their way to the apprentice’s docked ship. Vurt was heading for the Academy.