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Hey there! Welcome to Sci-F-Fan-Group, a group for science-fiction and fantasy lovers! Like any group, be sure to read over the rules:

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Anakin's Birthday by PedroDeElizalde
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vehicles
Enterprise arriving at Deep Space Station G-12 by SeekHim
Humanity's Watch - Terran Mandate by Martechi
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Creature of a Day N278 by etinflation
Creature of a Day N275 by etinflation
Creature of a Day N266 by etinflation
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Alive in the darkness by AhapKing
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Planet Demeron by EvanVizuett
literature
STARWARS BOUNTY HUNTERS: War For the Underworld #1Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars, or any of its properties ([Legends and Canon material alike] the Characters, the Planets, events, ships, gear, etc. Mentioned in this story). All those belong to George Lucas, Lucasfilm, and Disney. I do however own the original characters: Drel Semaj, Rimas Guri, Dia Scafer, Weeza Kam, Lam Dlonyer, IA-9, Gan Tik, Ximus Zajex, Nex Ukted, Org Hesh, Funjall the Unforgiving, Oeshell Cingaergg, Tothisk the Slimy, and the Mandalorians: Jacga Ehpal, Fel-Cree, Colsc Hepal, and Nerak Kavu-Kattu. This story is for entertainment purposes only. Thank you and enjoy.STAR WARS BOUNTY HUNTERS:WAR FOR THE UNDERWORLD***Chapter 1 After finishing his approach to the planet Batuu, the Mandalorian Bounty Hunter, Drel Semaj, began the landing sequence for his ship, the Mythosaur. The D5-Mantis Patrol craft finally touched down on the outskirts of Black Spire Outpost. Once the 29-year-old bounty hunter locked down his ship; a necessary precaution in his line of work; he made his way through the crowded streets of Merchant Row. He remained ever vigilant as he passed vendors, and shops of all kinds, always on the lookout for any suspicious characters that could potentially become a threat. His dark grey Beskar armor, accented with touches of red in various places, reminded any who crossed his path that he was a hunter, not easy prey. Many who encountered him on the busy street kept a safe distance, even ducking into shops to avoid him altogether. His long dark grey cape blew back behind him as he continued down the stony streets with one destination in mind: Oga’s Cantina. As Drel entered through the large wide door of the dimly lit cantina, he was met by the sights of smugglers, pirates, bounty hunters, locals, off-worlders, and citizens of various species standing around at narrow tables talking amongst themselves and enjoying all the food and drinks the bar had to offer. Music filled the cantina, as Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes performed their widely known hit, “Mad About Me” for the patrons of the crowded establishment. It was a catchy tune, but one that he’d heard far too many times for his liking. He tuned out the music as he scanned the cantina for his contact. In his head, he went over all the exits and items he could use to defend himself if things went south. Hints of old blast marks scorched into one or two of the permacrete walls of the circular building were clear reminders of just how quickly that could happen; the locals claimed that the marks had been left during a skirmish when Darth Vader and a blue-skinned Imperial Officer had personally paid the cantina a visit several years ago. Drel spotted his contact, Rimas Guri, seated at a booth on the far side of the bar, playing the classic variation of Sabacc with a Rodian Smuggler. The dark-skinned human male wore a brown duster that bore the crest of the Bounty Hunters' Guild on it, which indicated he was a guild agent. “Sabacc!” The dark-skinned man exclaimed to the Rodian in front of him and revealed the cards in his hands. The Rodian cursed angerly and threw his cards on the table. As the Mandalorian approached, Rimas turned to the Rodian. “Get lost.” He said. “I’m tired of winning your money.” The Rodian began to sweep his credits back toward his side of the table. The Guild Agent noticed this and pointed his drawn blaster pistol at the pea-green-skinned Rodian. “Ah, ah, ah. Leave the credits.” He said. “You lost them fair and square.” “E chu ta!” The Rodian swore and walked away from the table empty-handed. “Well, if it isn’t the Blood-Shadow of Mandalore.” Rimas said, once Drel reached his table. “Have a seat, My Friend.” As the bounty hunter took a seat, Rimas collected his winnings. “Fancy a game?” Drel shook his head. He’d known for a while that Sabacc was a favorite pastime of the Guild Agent. There’d been rumors that Rimas had once beaten famed Weequay pirate, Hando Ohnaka, in a game with an extremely rare Idiot's Array, despite the pirate’s attempt to cheat. “Suit yourself.” The Guild Agent said, as he placed the deck of cards back in the pocket of his duster. Drel placed a tracking fob on the table. “You work fast.” Said the impressed Guild Agent. “I wasn’t expecting you for another week. I assume you’re here to collect the bounty on your latest quarry?” The bounty hunter nodded slowly. “Good. The Guild will inform the Hutts once the quarry has been offloaded from your ship. ‘May even brighten their week.” The Guild Agent placed a small sack of credits on the table in front of the Mandalorian. Drel looked around the cantina. There were only a handful of bounty hunters there. “Oga Garra doesn’t usually allow Guild business under her roof.” He stated. Rimas gave a small smile. “In this case, she made an exception, which doesn’t happen often, believe me. The Guild has already paid her a small cut for allowing us to use her establishment for this special business arrangement.” He waved the bartender over. The bartender, a human man named, Nodlia, walked over from behind the bar’s decorative brass work and made his way to their booth. The older bartender had been working in the cantina long before Oga had come into possession of it; even bartending for it as far back as the Clone Wars. “Nodlia, another Bespin Fizz for me, and whatever my friend wants.” Drel only stared at Rimas; his helmeted head betrayed not an ounce of emotion to the man seated across from him. “I’ll take my next job.” Rimas waved the elderly bartender away. “Of course...” He said. “Then, I’ll get right to the point. After what happened on Tatooine a few days ago, the Hutt Council has been hiring extra bounty hunters from all over the galaxy to take out some high-value targets that are threatening their influence over the criminal underworld.” Drel was confused. “What happened on Tatooine?” Rimas looked surprised. “You really don’t know, do you… Jabba Desilijic Tiure is dead.” “What?!” Drel exclaimed in a hushed tone. “How?!” Rimas lowered his voice. “All I know is that he was killed while aboard his Sail Barge somewhere near the Dune Sea. They found the wreckage from the explosion not far from his palace, by the Great Pit of Carkoon.” “Have they hired Fett for this job yet?” Rimas looked even more surprised. “Fett was there. From what I’ve heard, he’s dead too.” “Dank Farrik!” Drel swore. The Mandalorian bounty hunter, Boba Fett was considered one of the most feared hunters in the galaxy for years; one who actually lived up to his reputation on countless occasions. Jabba’s murder was shocking enough, but Fett’s death was even harder to swallow. “What’s the bounty?” He asked? “Whatever it is, I’ll make short work of it myself.” Rimas chuckled. “No doubt, no doubt. But this isn’t just any job, hunting bail-jumpers and smugglers. No, this is the real deal. With Jabba dead, the other Crime Syndicates, like Black Sun, or the Pykes, will try to seize control of the Underworld in his absence. The Hutt’s aren’t taking any chances with this. The Guild has specifically stated that this is at least a two-man job.” There’s always a catch, Drel thought to himself. I haven’t worked with another bounty hunter since…her. “You’ll be going after two Crime Syndicates. I’ve already hired another bounty hunter to assist you with this job. Someone who’ll be able to infiltrate both organizations without drawing too much attention.” Drel was surprised, but he didn’t let it show. It wasn’t too often that the Guild assigned bounty hunters to work together without prior warning. However, this job was very important, and the Guild wanted to make sure it was done right. A job like this meant lots of credits, and he’d make sure he lived long enough to earn his share of the bounty. Still, he didn’t like the idea of working with another bounty hunter. “Who?” He finally asked. “Drel Semaj…” said an all-too-familiar voice from behind him. Immediately, Drel drew his WESTAR-35 from its holster and pointed it at the owner of the voice. The bar suddenly went silent, as its patrons froze at the sudden disturbance. Before him stood a blue-skinned Twi’lek woman clad from the neck down in durasteel Mandalorian armor that she’d acquired from the Black Market, with a modified Mandalorian helmet tucked under her arm. A DE-10 blaster pistol in her free hand was pointed right at Drel’s helmeted head. Her beauty, a real credit to her race, gave her the guise of a frail, helpless, and submissive Twi’lek woman; though her icy-blue eyes were cold, harsh, and those of a hunter. With an attractive smile and caress of her slender fingers, she could lower the defenses of many beings foolish enough to dismiss her as a threat. Drel was not one so easily fooled. “Dia Scafer.” He said. “’Haven’t seen you in a while.” “Oh, believe me, Love. I’m only here because the money’s good.” “Lower your blasters! NOW!” Ordered Rimas, standing up abruptly. The two bounty hunters hesitated, before slowly lowering their blasters; not taking their eyes off each other for a second. Rimas looked around at the stunned patrons of the bar. “Lover’s quarrel.” He said coolly. “Sorry about the disturbance. Drinks are on me.” With that, the Guild Agent tossed two bags full of Batuuan Spira Credits over the bar to Nodlia. The local patrons quickly went back to their business after ordering another round of drinks. Rimas turned back to the two bounty hunters and sternly gestured for them to take a seat at the booth. “Kriff!” He said, as he let out an annoyed sigh. “You two are going to get us kicked out of here with a stunt like that! I heard you two had a rocky history. This isn’t going to be a problem, is it?” The blue-skinned Twi’lek with icy-blue eyes looked at the Guild Agent innocently. “No problem on my end.” She said. “What about you, Love?” Drel let out a low aggravated sigh. “No problem.” He finally conceded with potent distain in his voice. Satisfied for the moment with their answers, the Guild Agent turned his attention back to business. “Now then…” Rimas said. “let’s discuss the particulars of the job.” The Guild Agent pulled out a holo puck and a tracking fob from his pocket and placed it on the table. He lowered the tone of his voice. “This is your first target…” He activated the bounty holo puck. A small hologram of a Pyke male hovered above the table. “…Weeza Kam. One of many Black-Market Arms Dealers working for the Pyke Syndicate. Recently, it seems Marg Krim has made him the top liaison for acquiring weapons and recruiting mercenaries and pirates for the Pykes.” Rimas eyed both bounty hunters closely, before continuing. “Since Jabba’s death, Weeza Kam has been very successful in building up an army in the Criminal Underworld. I hear he has gained the support of the Zann Consortium and other criminal organizations for the Pyke’s war with Black Sun, with the assurance that the Pyke Syndicate will generously compensate all its benefactors once they control the Underworld. Word has it, he’s even been able to procure an impressive number of Combat Droids used during the Clone Wars; not the B1s, mind you, I mean B2-series Super Battle Droids in good condition. And their ranks keep growing.” The Guild Agent switched off the puck; the Pyke’s image disappeared. Neither bounty hunter said a word, as Rimas continued. “Weeza Kam has become a major player in the Black Market. He has the means of recruiting and supplying an army to use against both the Hutt Cartel and Black Sun. ‘We take him out of the equation, and the Pykes lose some of the primary resources they need to contend with Black Sun. The Hutt Council wanted the weaker of the syndicates dealt with first, while they’re not at full strength.” “Do the Hutts have a preference on how they wanted the target delivered?” Dia asked. “No.” Rimas admitted. “Their only instructions were to “Take him out of the equation”. The interpretation of that is up to you.” The Twi’lek smiled wickedly at that news. “My favorite kind of job.” “However, the Hutts were very specific about one thing, though. Whether you deliver the targets for these jobs alive or provide proof of termination, the exchange must take place with the Grand Hutt Council in-person on Nal Hutta.” “You still haven’t told us what the bounty is.” Drel said, ignoring the blue Twi’lek. “The bounty on Kam, is 22,000 credits…” The Guild Agent said, “That’s 11,000 credits each.” Drel let out a sigh. It wasn’t an exceptionally prodigious sum by any means, but it was more than enough to keep his ship in the air for another month or two. Now, the only thing left to do was locate their first target. “Where can we find him?” He finally asked. Rimas lowered his voice a little. “There have been rumors that Kam has visited Depatar, the City of Masks on the gas-planet, Genarius, on several occasions, meeting individually and discreetly with various leaders from different crime organizations and gangs that they’re trying to make their allies. From what we’ve gathered, the Pykes have sent Kam as their representative to meet with Lam Dlonyer and his pirate gang, the Summa-Verminoth. “It sounds like Dlonyer and his crew have been hired by the company Syndicate One to deliver a massive shipment of weapons from Valgauth to Genarius, where it will be picked up by Kam and his men.” The Guild Agent frowned. “Getting to him won’t be easy. In addition to the disguise that he will undoubtedly be wearing, I’m told he’s been traveling with an armed escort of mercenaries almost everywhere he goes. They too, will most-likely be disguised.” “That doesn’t leave us many options, does it?” Drel said. The odds of finding their target dropped significantly. “Not at all.” Rimas agreed. “There’s only one place on Depatar where Kam has definitely been seen without his mercenary bodyguards or his disguise. Several of our sources have confirmed that after each of his deals, Kam has been spotted frequenting the Twi’lek Healing Baths in the city. The establishment has a strict no weapons policy and does not welcome an armed escort on its grounds, so he’s sure to be alone.” Dia smiled. “Seeing as this plan seems like it’s going to rely oh so heavily on me, why don’t I just take the tracking fob with me on my ship and meet you on Depatar once I have Kam.” As she reached for the tracking fob, Drel quickly grabbed her wrist. “I don’t think so. The moment she has Kam, she’ll run off and claim the bounty herself. Either we take my ship and split the bounty fifty-fifty, or the deal’s off.” The Twi’lek smiled coyly at Drel. “You drive a hard bargain, Love…but I guess, given how big this job is, I can see your skepticism. I suppose I could stomach working with you for a quick job or two. I just hope you still have what it takes to take on a group of Underworld mercenaries, while I’m busy capturing the target.” “I fought an entire garrison of Imperial troops during the Purge on Mandalore a few years ago. I’ll be able to handle any cannon fodder the Pykes send my way.” Said Drel. “Besides, it’s not my performance we should be worried about. Let’s hope you make a better seductive Twi’lek slave girl than you do a Mandalorian-pretender. I mean, any true Mandalorian would’ve been able to tell the difference between real Beskar armor and that durasteel knock-off you’re wearing.” There was now a raging fire in Dia’s icy blue eyes, burning with the heat of a thousand suns. The cocky smile she wore on her face, was suddenly replaced by a seething scowl. Drel had struck a nerve in her. She barred her teeth angerly at him. “Let’s take this outside! Then, I’ll show you who should really be considered a true Mandalorian.” She said, drawing her small vibroblade. Drel had already activated the vibroblade built into his Mandalorian vambrace. The blade hummed loudly. Before either bounty hunter could make a move, Rimas was on his feet. “Enough!” He said, slamming his gloved hand on the table. He rubbed his forehead with his other hand. “I was hoping the two of you could do this job like professionals for the Guild, but it looks like I was mistaken. Apparently, I need to tag along to make sure the two of you don’t end up killing each other.” Neither bounty hunter made any objection, though Drel was not too keen on the idea of having a representative of the Guild breathing down his neck during a job. It was just another person he had to worry about potentially getting in his way and blowing the job altogether. But his hands were tied. If the Guild Agent’s presence ensured that Dia Scafer was on her best behavior during this temporary partnership, then so be it. The Mandalorian nodded and made no attempt to talk the dark-skinned man out of coming with them. He was not a politician. If a representative of the Guild wanted to personally oversee this mission, then there was no point in arguing. “Now that we’ve settled that, I’d say it’s time we got a move on.” Rimas said, gesturing to the exit. “Lead the way.” “After you, Love.” Dia said, in a tone that feigned politeness, but in truth, held mockery at its core. As the group exited the cantina, Drel kept one eye on the Twi’lek bounty hunter to his left and his gun-hand within range of his holstered blaster. If she tried anything, he’d be ready.*** A few minutes later, the trio approached the outskirts of the outpost, where the Mythosaur waited. The old patrol craft stood at 58 meters tall and 68 meters wide, with an impressive length of 74 meters. Painted just above the cockpit, on the hull of the ship was a large Mythosaur skull, a traditional symbol used often in Mandalorian culture. For a craft that dated all the way back to the days of the Old Republic, it was in remarkable shape. Rimas was awestruck the moment he set eyes on the massive craft. His jaw hung open as he tried to find the words to describe what he was looking at. “I don’t believe it…” He finally said. “This is what you’ve been flying?” Drel nodded. “’You know how old this rare-beauty must be?” Rimas continued, still gazing with mouth wide open. “It looks like it hasn’t aged at all. Where’d you find one in such great condition?” The Mandalorian ignored the question. “She’s had a lot of work done on her, with some special modifications. All you need to know is that she’ll get us wherever we need to go.”Dia looked unimpressed. “Eh, looks like you managed to keep the Fossil in one piece while I’ve been away. The Fossil: A backhanded nickname she’d given his ship when they first started working together. It was a nickname she knew the Mandalorian hated. “Can’t imagine you’ve had an easy time flying it by yourself since I left.” The Twi’lek continued. A delicious grin formed on her face. “You don’t just let anyone behind the controls of your ship, Love. Your new copilot must be someone you really trust if you’ve had them flying with you for almost a year. Hmmm…I wonder who it could be.” Drel said nothing. Instead, he tapped a few buttons on his vambrace. A moment later, the ship’s main entry ramp, located at the rear of the ship, lowered slowly. Without waiting for his companions to follow him, the Mandalorian bounty hunter climbed the ramp and boarded his ship. Dia and Rimas followed him soon after. The first thing the Guild Agent realized as he entered, was how spacious the Mandalorian’s impressive ship was. The lower deck itself was very open. On the left side of the loading area, there was a ray shield containment unit for temporary holding. On the right, there was a small carbon-freezing unit with five of Drel’s latest bounties; each preserved in it and magnetically mounted on the wall. There were also a few other rooms attached to the lower deck that had been closed off; most likely crew quarters and such. A few meters above his head, was a large, suspended walkway on the upper deck of the ship. Drel made his way up a long open staircase, followed closely by his companions, to the main hold on the upper deck. There was a large holo-terminal in its center, accompanied by some comfortable-looking seats. Another walkway toward the rear of the ship led to Drel’s personal quarters. “Make yourself comfortable.” Drel said to Rimas. Dia looked around at the main hold. “’Doesn’t look like much has changed since I left.” She said, preparing to take a seat. Before any of them could sit down, the door to the upper engine walkway suddenly whizzed open, revealing a silver RA-7 protocol droid armed with a EE-3 carbine rifle. The droid had the rifle pointed directly at Rimas and Dia. “That’s new.” Said Dia. “You have exactly two-minutes to vacate this ship, before I proceed to blast both of you full of holes.” The droid said, in a surprisingly feminine, yet monotone voice. It noticed the Twi’lek bounty hunter palming her blasters. “Make a move, Tailhead, and you’ll be dead before your blasters even leave those holsters.” The Twi’lek was surprised by the protocol droid’s violent and derogative behavior. “Stand down, Eye-Ah.” Drel said calmly, stepping between the droid and its targets. “It’s alright. They’re here on Guild business.” The droid looked at Rimas and Dia, then back to Drel, before finally lowering the blaster. “Very well.” The droid said, setting the rifle on a nearby table. “Apologies, Master Drel. I thought you were being held captive by a pair of criminals. It appears I was mistaken. You bring so many unsavory strangers onboard this ship, one can never tell which ones are not criminals.” “Is your droid always this friendly?” Rimas asked, making no attempt to hide the sarcasm in his voice. “Only on good days.” Answered Drel. “Usually I-A-Nine just shoots first without warning.” “’Seems cross-wired, if you ask me.” The Twi’lek said under her breath. He ignored her and gestured toward Rimas. “Eye-Ah, this is Rimas Guri. He represents the Bounty Hunters' Guild in this sector. Try not to shoot him. I’d rather not have a black mark on my record.” Next, he gestured to Dia. “This is bounty hunter, Dia Scafer. We need her alive for this job.” The droid inspected the blue skinned Twi’lek from head to toe. “This is the traitorous Twi’lek Mandalorian-pretender you once worked with? The one who attempted to unlawfully acquire armor belonging to two deceased members of your Mandalorian clan, before attempting to perforate your vital organs to further entertain her nonsensical delusions of grandeur?” Drel gave a subtle nod. “Oh dear…” IA-9 said. She moved closer toward Dia. “If you should once again attempt to bring harm to Master Drel during this partnership, I will be the inexorable instrument that delivers your excruciating death.” “Charming.” Dia said. “’Looks like your programmer charged extra for etiquette.” She turned to Drel. “Since when have you ever expressed an interest in owning a droid?” “Since I ended our partnership and kicked you off my ship.” Drel replied frigidly. “I decided to get a copilot who I didn’t have to worry about betraying me every time I took a job.” “Sounds boring.” Dia said indifferently. The Mandalorian was losing his patience with his former flame. “Let’s get one thing straight, Dia.” He said pointing a finger at her angerly. “We are not partners anymore. This job doesn’t change that. You are only here because you have to be. The moment we’re done working this job for the Hutts, we go our separate ways. Understand?” The Guild Agent let out an uncomfortable cough. With all the tension between them, the two bounty hunters had forgotten that he was still standing there. “If the two of you are finished, I’d like to remind you that we are on a schedule.” Rimas cut in. Drel nodded. The Guild Agent was right. They needed to get moving. “You’re right.” He agreed. “Eye-Ah, prep the engines. Set a course for Genarius. I’ll join you in the cockpit shortly.” The silver droid turned and exited through the doors from which it had entered. The hydraulic door closed behind it with a low hiss. “Strap in. I’ll be back once we’ve entered Hyperspace.” The Mandalorian once again turned back the Dia. “’I catch you snooping around my ship while I’m gone, you’ll deal with me.” “Ooh… ‘Sounds like fun, Love.” She cooed. “Just like old times.” Drel turned and followed where the droid had exited, leaving the Twi’lek-Mandalorian-pretender and Guild Agent alone in the main hold. *** After passing through the conference room and entering the ship’s command bridge, Drel took a seat at the flight controls in the cockpit, while IA-9 ran one final systems-check of the patrol craft in the seat next to him. He flipped a few switches, on the control panel. The Mythosaur hummed with life; its engines heated up. Slowly, the ship lifted off the ground. It hovered in the air, as its third retractable armament foil extended out from below the ship. Soon, the ship flew past the enormous shadowy spire for which the outpost had received its name and exited Batuu’s atmosphere. There was a moment of silence between the two. Drel eased the ship’s thrusters, while IA-9 finished punching the final calculations into the navicomputer. She was the first to break the silence. “How you could have ever formed a romantic bond with that Twi’lek woman is quite beyond me. I don’t trust her.” Drel chuckled. “You don’t trust anyone that I bring onto this ship who isn’t you, Eye-Ah…” His tone shifted, “…But I don’t trust her either. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we can pull this job off without her.” The droid shook its head. “Organics…” The Mandalorian bounty hunter touched two more buttons on the control panel. “Making the jump to lightspeed in three…two…one.” The Mythosaur, thrust forward, before finally entering Hyperspace.***Chapter 2 Once the Mythosaur entered the bright glow of Hyperspace, Drel took a few extra minutes to double check the navicomputer. When he was satisfied with everything, he returned to the main hold, where Dia and Rimas were still seated. His Mandalorian helmet was tucked under his arm, leaving his face on full display for the others to see. The Mandalorian ran his fingers through his dark brown hair and brushed the matted hair to the side. There were a few scars on his face near his chin; signs of past conflicts. Although Drel was clearly in his late 20’s, a handful of stress-lines scattered near his eyes made him seem years older. The Guild Agent looked at Drel with mild surprise at seeing his face.“So, it’s true…” Rimas said, “…You do remove your helmet.” A small smirk formed at the right side of Drel’s face, revealing a deep dimple in his cheek. “Most Mandalorians do, though there are a few zealot groups that still follow the Way of the Mandalore and choose to never remove their helmets in front of anyone.” “Interesting…” Dia gave Drel a seductive smile. “I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve seen that handsome face of yours.” Drel ignored the Twi’lek’s compliment. “We should reach Genarius in a few hours. For the time being, you’re welcome to use many of the ship’s facilities, but the engine room, weapon’s vault, and my personal quarters are off-limits. I don’t have much in way of food but there should be some left-over stew with blue milk and spotchka, if you get hungry. But first, I suggest we come up with a plan.” “I agree.” Rimas concurred. The Mandalorian took a seat and tapped a button on the holo-terminal. Immediately, the hologram schematics of the floating city of Depatar appeared. It resembled an urchin with many spiky protrusions about it. “Like Bespin, Genarius is a gas giant occupied by several large floating cities. Depatar is one of them. It’s the ideal location for Kam to meet discretely for his black-market deal with Lam Dlonyer.” Drel explained. “There’s a reason it’s called the City of Masks. The city has a law requiring all its visitors to disguise themselves once they’ve landed. In doing so, they ensure the identities of all parties involved in illegal activities on the city remain anonymous.” “What are all those spiky columns around the city?” Dia asked. “Each one of those spikes is a private landing pad.” The Mandalorian replied. “Depatar makes a massive profit requiring all its visitors to purchase a number of permits while exploring the city, including docking permits. Many criminal organizations forego doing their business in the City of Masks unless they have a wealthy benefactor funding them during their visit.” Drel scratched the back of his head and frowned. “I may actually lose money on this job because of all the expenses.” “Don’t worry about that.” Rimas chimed in. “The Guild will cover the cost of any necessary permits needed once we land. With the Hutt Cartel funding this job, the Guild will get its credits back in no time.” That made Drel feel a lot better about this job. Rarely did a bounty hunter have to pay for such things out of pocket for a job. “That settles one problem.” Drel said. “Once we land, Eye-Ah will remain on the ship while Rimas pays for the docking permit and accompanies me in the city, in the event I need any other permits. “Which brings me to our next problem: the city requires that a Professional Permitor be assigned to escort visitors wherever they go during their stay. So, I won’t be able to cover as much ground while I search for Kam. I’ll have the tracking fob with me, so we can narrow our search.” The Guild Agent looked unconvinced. “I don’t know. This seems like a big risk. There’s a chance you won’t get to Kam before the deal goes down.” “That’s where Dia comes in. Depatar has been known to regularly accept shipments of new Twi’lek slave girls from all over the galaxy for the many forms of entertainment in its facilities…including its Twi’lek Healing Baths.” Drel turned to Dia. “When we land, you will pose as a new slave transfer from Nar Shaddaa. You will be taken by a city official and placed in the Healing Baths, where you will keep an eye out for Weeza Kam. If he’s a creature of habit, he’ll most likely show up there once he’s concluded his business with Dlonyer. It will be some time before Dlonyer’s crew is able to finish loading all their Black-Market goods onto Kam’s ship.” “Interesting plan, but what’s to keep the city from sending me somewhere other than the Baths?” Dia asked. “I doubt they’ll send you anywhere else if we tell them that the Hutts specifically wanted you assigned to the Healing Baths.” “Smart move.” Dia said with a smile. “No one wants to upset a Hutt.” Drel looked at her with a seriousness in his eyes. “This next part is very important. When Kam arrives, you’ll activate the tracking beacon built into the bracelet of your disguise to confirm he’s there. Keep him entertained until I arrive to intercept him.”There was a look of disgust on the Twi’lek’s face at the idea of entertaining the Pyke. Drel continued. “I know how you feel about the Pykes, but I want him taken alive.” Dia pouted. “Oh, you’re no fun.” “Alive.” Drel repeated sternly. Dia held up her hands in surrender. “Alright, alright! I’ll keep the scum alive.” The Mandalorian continued. “Once we have Kam, we’ll need to get him back to the ship as quickly as possible without alerting his men.” “What are you planning to do about the weapons shipment?” Asked Rimas. “I doubt the Hutts will be happy when they find out the Pykes still acquired the weapons they ordered.” “While I’m with Kam, I’ll try and sweet-talk him into telling me what platform his ship is on. You can send that droid of yours to attack his ship before it leaves the planet.” Drel gave a small smile at the idea and nodded. “’Looks like you have this all planned out.” Rimas said. “I knew the Guild had made a wise choice coming to the two of you with this job. When you both aren’t trying to kill each other, you work well together.” “Don’t expect this partnership to be a regular thing.” Drel said. “As far as I’m concerned, this is the last time Dia and I ever do a job together again.” “Duly noted.” The Guild Agent said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe you mentioned there was some leftover stew and spotchka? It seems I’ve worked up an appetite.” “Of course.” Drel said politely. “Dia should be able to direct you to the ship’s dining area. That is, if she still remembers the way.” The Twi’lek shot him a dirty look, which Drel ignored. “I suggest both of you rest up. We’ll need to be sharp once we reach Depatar.” Drel said. “If you need me, Rimas, I’ll be in my personal quarters.” The Guild Agent nodded and followed Dia back down the steps to the lower deck. Drel turned and made his way to his personal quarters. After removing his armor and locking it in the closet, the Mandalorian fell asleep on the large bed in his room.*** Drel tossed and turned under his covers. Suddenly, he was back on Mandalore fighting against the Empire to liberate the planet with the rest of his clan during the Great Purge. He’d lost track of how many Mandalorian clans had assembled to fight the Imps for that battle. On the ground, the Imperials had already started deploying hundreds of AT-AT and AT-ST walkers to support their ground forces during the attack. The Empire had sent three legions comprised of stormtroopers, shock troopers, jumptroopers, and death troopers to meet the Mandalorian resistance in the field. Overhead, the sky was filled with a massive fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers. Countless TIE fighters spilled out of the large Imperial ships and engaged the Mandalorian Kom’rk-class starfighters in the air. Streaks of blaster bolts danced across the sky; ships on both sides exploded in fiery explosions. Back on the ground, Drel fought alongside the members of his clan as waves of stormtroopers fired at them. The Mandalorians put up a valiant attack; one truly worthy of their legendary warrior reputation. Drel watched a Red Mandalorian by the name of Jacga Ehpal; often referred to as The Red Death, by the members of his clan; manned a refurbished Mandalorian Battle Harness. Ehpal had been using the impressive vehicle during large assaults after becoming a Mandalorian Warrior to compensate for his birth defect which had rendered his legs unfit for the traditional form of combat. He was absolutely lethal with it, destroying squads of stormtroopers and even a AT-ST with it. Not far from where Drel was fighting, one of his friends, Fel-Cree was fighting off a squad of four death troopers all on her own. She was holding her own against the elite troopers. Once she had felled her opponents, Cree’s Rook-style Mandalorian helmeted head turned back to Drel. “Pick your jaw up off the floor, Drel.” She said. “There are Imps to kill. We still have Mandalore, and I intend to make sure Bo-Katan lives to rule it!” As the fighting continued, the Mandalorian forces were able to eliminate many of the Imperial ground forces, at the expense of many of their own warriors. The tide was beginning to turn in their favor. It looked like the Imperials on the ground would once again be outmatched by the might of the Mandalorian resistance. Using their jetpacks, Drel and Fel-Cree flew over a battalion of stormtroopers and landed on top of an AT-ST. As they opened the top hatch and dropped some thermal detonators inside, an Imperial sharpshooter shot Cree, hitting her in the neck, between the helmet and collar armor with near impossible precision. The female Mandalorian collapsed in his arms. Before the small Imperial Walker exploded, Drel flew them both to safety. Fel-Cree was not in good shape. He needed to get her out of there if she was going to have any chance of surviving her wound. She had minutes at most if they didn’t get her a stim-pack quickly. Drel contacted his ship with the headset inside his helmet and radioed one of its pilots. “Nerak, bring the Mythosaur to our position! Cree’s been hit! She needs a quick evac and medical attention! Have Colsc Hepal takeover flying for you! I need you to help me get her onboard!” “Understood.” Nerak Kavu-Kattu answered. The Mythosaur quickly sped toward Drel’s location and landed a few meters away. As the ship’s main loading ramp lowered, a female Mandalorian wearing sapphire-blue Beskar armor and a Mandalorian Pilot helmet with a silver visor hurried to meet Drel with the last of their stim-packs in her hand. Drel passed Fel-Cree’s limp body off to Nerak. They had not arrived in time to save his wounded Mandalorian friend; not even the stim-pack would be able to bring Cree back now. He quickly turned around to return to the battle, but before he made it halfway back down the ramp, a powerful blast from the turbolasers of an overhead Star Destroyer struck the ground, obliterating Jacga Ehpal and his Battle Harness from existence a hundred meters away. The stunned Mandalorian did not even have time to process what had just happened to The Red Death, once every turbolaser and orbital cannon in the Imperial fleet fired on the planet’s surface. Mandalorian and Imperial ground forces alike were decimated. The Imperial blockade did not care that it was killing its own men. It seemed that if the Empire couldn’t have Mandalore again, then no one could. The pale white sandy surface of the planet instantly was transformed into glass by the heavy cannon-fire. Drel quickly turned back toward the Mythosaur and ran back up the ramp. “Colsc!” He shouted into his headset. “Get us out of here!” The Mythosaur hovered over the ground for a moment, while it retracted the main loading ramp. During that time, a nearby death trooper had taken advantage of the chaotic situation and fired his weapon at the Mandalorians on the retracting loading ramp. Before Drel could even react, Nerak shoved him out of the line of fire and took the blaster-bolt in full, hitting her in the gaps between her armor plates. As she fell backwards, she dropped what remained of their stim-packs onto the floor of the patrol craft, where they shattered completely. Part of Nevak’s armor had also punctured her left lung from the close range of the blast, making it extremely difficult for the Sapphire Mandalorian to breathe. There was no way for anyone to heal her. Before the loading ramp closed completely, Drel saw thick black smoke pouring from the domed roof of Mandalore’s capital, Sundari, while the astronomical aerial bombardment ensued. Carefully laying the grievously wounded woman on the floor of his ship, Drel quickly removed Nevak’s helmet. The young Mandalorian had long blonde hair and skin as pale as the sands of the planet’s surface. The life in Nevak’s eyes rapidly faded away. Ultimately, she died a minute later in his arms.*** Drel woke up in a cold sweat. He slowly sat up in his bed. Instinctively, his hand had already found its way to the WESTAR-35 pistol hidden under his pillow; his fingertips touching its smooth metal. The mild grogginess from his sleep quickly dissipated, but he could not bring himself to lower his guard just yet. Something within him became acutely aware that he was not alone in the dim lighting of his sleeping space. In a flash, the Mandalorian had his weapon drawn and fixed in front of him. Although he felt slightly exposed without his armor, he was far from helpless without it. As the automatic lights in the room slowly adjusted and became brighter, Drel could make out the silhouette of a humanoid standing near the foot of his bed; he had a sneaking suspicion he knew the identity of the intruder. “Still having nightmares, I see…” Dia Scafer said with a hint of sadness and pity in her voice. The true-born Mandalorian was not amused. “I thought I was clear when I said my personal quarters were off-limits.” The Twi’lek’s voice took on a more playful and seductive tone. “Oh, come now, Love…It wasn’t always off-limits to me. Don’t you remember?” The lights finally stopped at their normal brightness. To his astonishment, Dia was not dressed in the durasteel armor she’d been wearing earlier; instead, she was wearing the same seductive slave girl disguise she’d worn during their first job together while hunting a Dug that owed Decca the Hutt a large sum of credits. He’d forgotten how stunning she looked in it. The deep-blue silk-velvet midriff top trimmed in gold fabric still fit her slender form nicely, hugging her curves like the fine strokes of an artist’s brush on a canvas. The matching blue silk headdress on her head was further complimented by strands of gold ribbons tied around her lekku and contrasted with her smooth blue skin. A deep-blue velvet skirt had been sewn to the front and back of the almost see-through pants that cascaded down her toned shapely legs and stopped at the silk ankle-high boots that covered her feet. On her arms, gold bands twisted around the tops of her arms and stopped just shy of her elbow. Lastly, a gold bracelet was clasped around her left wrist. In that outfit, she looked completely breathtaking. Drel had to remind himself not to get lost in whatever game of seduction Dia was playing to manipulate him into getting her way. She was very skilled at utilizing this role to make herself even more deadly. What was more surprising was how disarming she could be without being armed at all. “I see you put together your disguise.” He said. In truth, he’d forgotten that she’d left it aboard his ship when their partnership ended. She smiled, still trying to weave her web of manipulation around him. “I found this tucked in the cargo hold, right where I left it.” The attractive Twi’lek swayed her hips and did a slow graceful spin. “If I remember correctly,” She said, “you always seemed to enjoy seeing me in this outfit when we were together…” “That was a long time ago…” He said, working very hard to maintain control of his senses. He was feeling a mix of emotions he’d not experienced for a while. The blue-skinned female smiled at this, and attempted to move closer to the bed, only to be stopped by Drel. “That’s close enough.” He said, still pointing his pistol at her. “Now, I’ll ask you again, ‘what do you think you’re doing in here?’” Her attitude suddenly changed as she dropped her manipulative performance. She now seemed slightly conflicted. “I don’t know.” She confessed. “Seeing your face and putting together a plan before a job… It reawakened something inside of me. It just felt like old times…” Dia slowly sat on the edge of the bed. There was something different about her disposition; a softness and gentleness that he had rarely seen, even when he trusted her. She gently ran her hand across the soft bedsheets, before continuing. “…When it was just us and the galaxy. Taking jobs wherever we wanted. When things were different between us. Don’t you ever wish we could go back to that time, Love?” There was a genuine sincereness in her voice that Drel had not anticipated. “Everyday…” He said under his breath in a voice that was so quiet, it was almost inaudible. “We could fall asleep together… for old time’s sake.” The beautiful Twi’lek leaned in closer for a kiss. Part of him would have welcomed the idea, if not for the pain in his heart. “No…” He said before their lips could touch. “You’re here on business. That’s it…I think it’s time for you to leave.” There was pain in Dia’s icy-blue eyes. She stood up and turned to leave. After two steps, she stopped. “I made some mistakes back then. Many that I can’t take back. But I loved you…” Those words stabbed deeper than any blade ever could. “I know…” Drel said sadly. “There was a time when I thought the world of you. But you changed.” “Where did we go wrong, Love?” He could not bring himself to answer her, nor did he even know where to begin. This all seemed like it was coming out of thin air. Did she genuinely believe everything she was saying, or was this another deception? It was becoming harder to decern truth from fiction the more she spoke. “Why can’t things just go back to the way they were between us?” Dia continued. “You know why.” Drel finally said. “I can’t trust you. There’s always a hidden agenda with you. You play the caring lover when it suits you, then use an arsenal of manipulations you think will get you your way. I’m not buying any of it.” That accusation really stung. “You really think you have it all figured out…” She said, as a tear slid down her cheek. The Twi’lek took another step toward the door. “Why’d you do it?” Drel asked. “Why’d you try to steal the armor? No more games, Dia. I want the truth.” Dia turned around. “Ever since the day a group of Mandalorians rescued me from the Pyke slavers that kidnapped me and tore me way from my family, I’ve been fascinated with your culture. I wanted to be Mandalorian too. When I got older, I sharpened my skills for years as a bounty hunter, hoping that one day I’d have the chance to prove that I have what it takes to be one of you. “Then I heard about the Purge on Mandalore, and how many Mandalorians died in that battle. I was convinced the Empire had killed every last one of you. I thought that my dreams of being a Mandalorian had died with Mandalore. Then I came across you, Love. “I thought that if we worked together long enough, I’d be able to prove to you that I was good enough to be a Mandalorian too. I tried everything, but no matter what I did, I was never going to be considered a Mandalorian in your eyes. Despite all that, I admired you, respected you, even cared for you, in a way I’ve never cared for anyone else before.” There was anger growing in her voice as she continued. “Eventually, I realized you’d never see me as your equal. You held the armor of your dead clanmates in higher esteem than you did me. I finally decided that if I couldn’t be your equal, then I’d just have to prove I was better than you. I was done looking for your approval, so I decided to take the Beskar armor that you held so dear and prove to the rest of the galaxy that I am Mandalorian!” Drel suddenly realized the real reason she had paid him this unexpected visit; she was looking for the same Beskar armor she’d tried to steal before. “But you didn’t get it. I caught you before you could even get away with it.” He spitefully pointed out. “And even if you had, you still wouldn’t have earned the right to wear it! Did you honestly think that theft and manipulation would somehow give you the right to call yourself a true Mandalorian? A true Mandalorian lives by a code of honor. You have none! “Whatever feelings I had for you before, were outweighed by the fact that you lost my trust forever the moment you attempted to steal from me! You are a disgrace to the very culture you idolize.” “Look where that honor got them, Love.” Dia scoffed. “A culture on the verge of extinction and an entire planet glassed by the Empire.” The true-born Mandalorian grimaced. “Get out.” He said coldly. “If you ever sneak into my room again, it will be the last thing you do.” The Mandalorian-pretender made her way to the door. “Oh, and Dia…” The Twi’lek paused in the doorway. “…If you were looking for the armor you tried to steal the last time you were aboard this ship, you should know that I moved it to somewhere you’ll never find it.” Dia turned with a darkly amused smile. “I don’t need that old armor of yours anymore, Love. There are plenty of other ways to get Beskar these days…” With that, she exited. ***Chapter 3 A few hours later The Mythosaur dropped out of Hyperspace. It made its final approach toward the gas planet. Inside the Patrol Craft, Drel and Dia waited in the conference room near the ship’s command bridge and waited for Rimas to join them. Dia was still dressed in her slave outfit. The only difference to her costume was that she had added a long chain to the slave collar around her neck. Drel had thrown a large hooded poncho over his beskar armor. He continued to wear his Mandalorian helmet, though with the hood covering it. Covering the front part of the helmet was a Mythosaur mask, with a visor cut at the eyes. To avoid further suspicions, Drel had decided to leave his Z-6 jetpack on the ship. In its place, he strapped his EE-3 carbine rifle to his back as a backup weapon. It never hurt to be prepared. Finally, Rimas entered the room. Both bounty hunters looked at the Guild Agent as he entered. He had the most elaborate disguise of all. Not only had Rimas covered his exposed skin in light purple paint and colored his hair dark purple with temporary hair dye, he had also added excessive prosthetics to his face, ears, and feet. His eyes were covered by mechanic goggles. To anyone passing by, he looked like a male Lasat. To maintain his cover as an agent of the Bounty Hunters' Guild, he had replaced his brown duster with a vest. His custom blaster pistol still hung at his side on his belt. Dia chuckled at the sight of him. “’Looks like you really committed to your disguise, Guri.” Rimas looked a bit self-conscious about his appearance. “Well done.” Drel said. “You really look like a Lasat, Rimas. No one will recognize you.” He looked a bit more comfortable after hearing that and gave the Mandalorian a nod of appreciation. Dia handed the Guild Agent her twin DE-10 blaster pistols. “Be a dear and keep these safe for me.” She said. Rimas carefully tucked both pistols into his belt. Once the Guild Agent had finished placing Dia’s weapons on his person, Drel gestured for them to follow him. He led the group into the command bridge and took a seat in the pilot’s chair. Taking the controls, he steered the Patrol Craft toward a floating city that matched the hologram schematics they’d seen during the briefing a few hours ago. A voice came over the ship’s subspace transceiver. “Depatar Control to D5-Mantis Patrol Craft. Please state your business.” Drel touched a button on the controls in front of him to reply to the transmission. “Patrol Craft to Depatar Control, requesting permission to dock. We have a new Twi’lek slave transfer for your Healing Baths from Nar Shaddaa. Other than that, our business is our own.” “You are aware of our policies for visiting the City?” “We are.” Drel replied. “Very well. Proceed to pad 1983. We’ll send someone to greet you. Enjoy your stay at the City of Masks.” “Thank you. We will.” Drel replied before switching off his comms. The Mandalorian turned and looked at Dia and Rimas. “Everyone know their jobs?” The two nodded. “Good.” He looked at IA-9, who was seated in the co-pilot seat. “Eye-Ah, stay on the ship. Make sure no one boards while we’re away.”*** A few minutes later, the Mythosaur landed on platform 1983 where a Snivvan and two guards armed with electrostaffs were waiting by the platform’s lift. Drel and Rimas walked down the main entry ramp in their disguises with Dia being led closely behind them by chain. Her hands were bound by stun cuffs. When they got closer to the Depatar greeting party, Drel gave a harsh tug on Dia’s chain, causing the Twi’lek to nearly stumble. The Snivvan, who Drel could only assume was the Professional Permitor that had been assigned to them based on the Badge of Permitor that he wore, smiled and bowed. “Welcome to Depatar. I’m Gan Tik, your personal Permitor. ‘Here for all your needs. How long can we expect you to be staying with us?” “One cycle.” Said Rimas. “Very good.” The Permitor said, typing the information into the datapad in his hand. “Now, if you’ll be so kind as to transfer 200 credits for your visitor permit.” The disguised Guild Agent transferred the credits from the Guild’s account via his personal encrypted datapad. “Thank you.” The Snivvan Permitor eyed the blue Twi’lek. “Such a beautiful specimen you have here. I’m sure we can find a place for this beauty somewhere in our city.” “Our Hutt employer was extremely specific. He wanted this slave assigned to the Twi’lek Healing Baths when we arrived.” Drel interrupted. Upon hearing of Hutt involvement, the Permitor became far more compliant. “Of course, we are more than happy to make sure that your Hutt employer’s wishes are met. Please allow me to add the correct permits required for this business transaction to your code cylinders, once you provide additional payment, of course.” Drel gestured for Rimas to pay the Permitor again. The disguised Guild Agent looked at Drel, then reluctantly paid the Permitor again. He did not look happy about doing so. “Thank you.” The Snivvan said. “You will receive your payment shortly.”There was a small ping on the Guild Agent’s datapad, indicating that the city had sent a payment to his account. “There you are.” The Permitor said with a smile. He turned to the guards. “Show this beauty to the Healing Baths.” One of the guards took Dia’s chain from Drel’s hand and forcefully led her to the lift with the second guard. “This way, Slave.” The three entered the lift. A moment later, the lift doors closed, and it hummed with life. “Are you certain we can’t just leave her here when we depart?” Eye-Ah said over the private comm-channel in Drel’s helmet. “I for one will not miss her.” The statement didn’t even warrant a response from him. Drel shook his head. That droid, he thought to himself. Despite the monotone voice and robotic exterior, there were times when IA-9’s banter almost seemed human. The disguised Mandalorian straightened up and kept his focus on the mission. “It will take a few minutes for the lift to return.” The Permitor said. “While we’re waiting, perhaps I can add more permits that you may need for your visit to your cylinder. What’s the nature of your business here?” Drel leaned in closer. “Hunting…” He placed a sack of credits into the Permitor’s hand. “…For your discretion.” The Snivvan’s eyes were full of understanding, as he discreetly pocketed the credits. “Of course, Sir.” He said. “I will que up the usual permits used by all our bounty hunter visitors.” He looked at his datapad. “Let’s see…Ambush permit, Weapons permit, Self-defense… I’m assuming you’ll be using lethal force…” The disguised bounty hunter said nothing, he only stared at the Permitor. “…I will just put you both down for that.” The Snivvan man said uncomfortably. “K-keep in mind, t-there will be an additional fee for each victim.” He finished totaling up the cost. “For the two of you… that will be 950 credits.” Rimas looked outraged. “950 CREDITS?!” He looked at Drel, who slowly nodded. “Ah, fine!” Rimas grumbled, transferring more credits on his datapad. “Thank you again.” The Permitor said. “Give me a second and I’ll get you each your code cylinders.” A moment later, a terminal released two code cylinders. The Permitor handed each of the men a cylinder. “Please keep these with you at all times.” The lift finally returned. “Ah. Here is the lift. Can I take you anywhere in particular today?” he asked. “Yes.” Said Drel. “Where would one go for a larger than average Black-Market deal?” *** Lam Dlonyer walked through the many hallways of Depatar on his way to meet with Weeza Kam. He grumbled under his breath. This job had already turned out to be an expensive one; though he was glad that a majority of the expenses had already been taken care of by the criminal organization known as Syndicate One before they had left Valgauth. The one-eyed Nautolan was wearing a Quarren mask over his face. It was hard enough to see their Permitor guide with his good eye, now he had to do it while wearing a hot stuffy mask! The things I do for money, Lam thought to himself. This job had better be worth all this trouble. He still didn’t understand why he and his men couldn’t have met the Pyke somewhere that didn’t require them to wear a disguise; but he wasn’t the one in charge of the meeting arrangements. His job was to ship the goods, broker a deal, and get off world. He’d have no problem doing that. With everyone around him in disguises, it wasn’t like there was anything to really see here. Lam’s group passed by a pink-skinned Twi’lek slave girl that was wearing a dress that left little to the imagination. He smiled to himself. On second thought, maybe this arrangement wasn’t going to be all THAT unpleasant. The Permitor led them into a large, crowded room filled with all manner of disguised aliens. Many of them stood about, while others gathered in long narrow booths with two entrances: one for each party. Inside each booth was a long slender business table. Lam was led to one of the booths and was told to enter from one end, while his six bodyguards waited outside the entrance until he and the Pyke had concluded their business. Once he and his Permitor had entered their side of the booth, the pirate captain took a seat in the chair at one end of the table. The syndicate had been very specific in their instructions for the meeting: Lam was to meet on Depatar and only do business with someone wearing a large bowl-shaped hat and a bull rancor mask covering his face. The Nautolan gazed across the table. Seated in a chair on the opposite end of it was someone matching that exact description. Even so, he was still not convinced yet. “How do I know you’re the one that I’m supposed to be meeting with, Friend?” He asked skeptically. The disguised alien held out a long thin arm. Lam could sense the Pyke’s growing annoyance; as well as traces of Spice; using the chemical-sensing tendrils on his head. Based on the high chemical signals the Pyke was giving off, the alien across from him did not appreciate the Nautolan’s skepticism. “I should walk away for being asked such a stupid question…but since you require proof…” The disguised alien flashed a medallion with the crest of the Pyke Syndicate on it. “…Convinced?” the Pyke asked, tucking the medallion back under his cloak. “I am now.” Lam said, kicking his feet up and resting them on the table. He put his arms behind his head and relaxed. A voice came over the speakers in the booth. “If you both would kindly place your code cylinders in the ports located on the table in front of you, we will get this meeting underway.” Both the Pirate and the Pyke did as they were told. Once their code cylinders were placed in the ports embedded in each end of the table, the computer scanned the permit codes in each cylinder. The voice returned. “Permits accepted. You may proceed with the business dealings.” “Shall we begin?” The Pyke--who Lam was now convinced was indeed Weeza Kam-- asked. “Only if your credits are good.” Lam laughed. Though Weeza Kam was wearing a mask, the pirate could tell he was not amused. The Permitor behind Lam, shifted uncomfortably at the pirate’s lack of decorum. “Sir,” he said, “would you kindly remove your feet from the table and behave in a more professional manner?” The Pirate eyed the Permitor. “You’re not being paid to give lessons in business etiquette,” Lam said. “I’m a pirate, Friend. We’re known to misbehave. Now, get back there and keep your mouth shut, or I’ll hire myself a new Permitor who will.” The Permitor took a step back and remained silent. Lam turned his attention back to Weeza Kam. “Let’s get on with this deal.” Kam said, as politely as his annoyance would allow. “The organization that hired you promised the Pyke Syndicate a large shipment of weapons. I’m interested to hear what they’re offering us.” The pirate gave a cocky smile from behind his mask. “I’m glad you asked…”*** Drel and Rimas followed their Permitor into the Black-Market Dealing Area. The disguised bounty hunter used the tracking fob to help him locate Weeza Kam. The small device blipped a little faster. Drel turned to Rimas. “Kam’s somewhere in here.” He whispered. The Guild Agent nodded. “It’s not going to be easy finding him in here with all these people.” He turned to the Permitor. “Where do the larger Black-Market deals usually take place?” The Snivvan Permitor pointed to the booths. “Most of the larger deals take place in our soundproof booths. This way we ensure no one other than the parties involved in the business transactions overhear the details of the meeting.” Drel shrugged. “’Guess we’ll have to try those then.” As they casually walked up and down the many rows of booths, the tracking fob began to blip quicker; its small light began to flash. Kam was close. The Mandalorian switched on the infrared visual display inside his helmet. Sure enough, there was a heat-signature that matched one of the Pyke species, in the third booth at the end of the row on their left. Drel subtly pointed at the booth, as not to draw attention to himself. “He’s in there.” He said. The bounty hunter turned his attention to the twelve bodyguards standing at the entrances to the booth. “’Looks like Kam is meeting with Dlonyer as we speak. He’s not alone. I count two refurbished BX-series droid commandos accompanying four mercenaries outside Kam’s entrance and six of Dlonyer’s crew at the other entrance. All of them are heavily armed. We’ll have to wait until Kam’s alone to make our move.”*** “Now that you’ve heard what we’re offering your organization, I think it’s time to discuss price.” Lam said. “As you can tell, I’m carrying quite the variety of quality R and X class weapons on my ship.” “Yes…” Kam said. “…I’ll take the whole shipment for 23,000 credits.” “Don’t insult me with such a low price.” Lam said, making a wounded gesture with his hand. “My employer was abundantly clear. They will settle for no less than 40,000. I believe 55,000 seems like a fair price.” The Pyke shook his masked head. “For what you’ve shown me? I think not.” “50,000.” Lam countered. “Be serious.” Kam chuckled. “Oh, I am. You see, my crew and I were promised a share of the profits.” The Pirate said. “It’s not easy shipping such a handsome assortment of weapons across the galaxy, under Imperial noses.” “You make a fair point.” The Pyke said, putting his hand to the chin of his mask. “Hmm…49,000 credits. Final offer.” Lam thought for a moment. The offer was still generous, but what was in it for him? “…I’ll throw in two crates of fresh Spice from Kessel for you and your crew, in addition to your share of the profits.” Kam added. That’s more like it! An added bonus! This deal is working out rather nicely, Lam thought. “Deal!” The Pirate exclaimed. “Wire the credits and I’ll have my crew start unloading the goods.” “A crew of Depatar loading droids will arrive to take the crates off your ship and transfer them to the correct destination.” The Permitor standing behind Kam said. The Pyke stood up. “It will be some time before your crates are aboard my ship. I wonder if you would join me in visiting the Twi’lek Healing Baths. My treat of course.” Lam smiled under his mask. He’d gotten paid, was given an additional bonus, AND was invited to a bathhouse swarming with beautiful Twi’lek women. This was the best business arrangement ever. He’d heard about the Twi’lek Healing Baths on Nevarro but had never had the opportunity to experience it first-hand. While this wasn’t exactly Nevarro, Lam was not about to turn down such an invitation. “It would be my pleasure.”*** From a safe distance away, Drel and Rimas watched the two parties exit the booth at the same time. Both sets of bodyguards casually followed Kam and Dlonyer from behind. Rimas began to follow the group before he was stopped by Drel. The Guild Agent looked confused. “Aren’t we supposed to follow them?” Drel shook his head and gestured to another group of four mercenaries that were following Kam from another direction. Behind them, another group of six walked past them and followed the other groups. Last to follow the groups were two B2 droids wearing nothing more than a long cloak, which did little to conceal what they really were. “Kam’s bodyguards…” Drel whispered. “If we move on him now, we’ll be gunned down long before we reach him.” “What do you propose we do then?” Rimas asked impatiently. “Stick to the plan…” Drel said, cautiously eyeing the droids as they walked away. “…and let Dia work her magic.”*** Disgusting, Dia thought to herself as she watched the other Twi’lek slaves in the bathhouse interact with countless guests of varying species. Absolutely disgusting. The section of the bathhouse that she’d been assigned to exclusively catered to male visitors. How many of these poor girls have been ripped away from their families and sold into slavery, or worse, had willingly agreed to serve as slaves, she wondered. The fact that they allowed themselves to be used in such a degrading way to entertain visitors as nothing more than eye-candy was enough to make her heave. She’d been waiting in the facility for two hours. Needless to say, it was not all bad. The scenery was actually quite pleasant. In this section of the bathhouse was a young wroshyr tree from the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk which was surrounded by small rock formations and an artificial waterfall. There were some colorful nontoxic fungus-like plants on the other end of the bathhouse accompanied by vines that hung down from the ceiling above. There were even a handful of plants that she’d never seen before. There were many different pools in the bathhouse filled with mineral water, blue milk, bacta, as well as other liquids. There was a light cloud of steam in the air that covered the entire spa facility. As Dia looked around the area, she noted that most of the Twi’lek slave girls were either kneeling outside the pools and baths massaging, scrubbing, fetching drinks, or entertaining the male visitors with idle chatter while dressed in elegant slave clothing that did more than turn heads; some slaves wore nothing more than bath towels wrapped around their shapely bodies, concealing what little modesty even a slave had. Others were seated inside the pools. Dia had learned right away that slaves were not permitted to enter any of the pools unless invited to do so by a visitor. Many of the visitors used these interactions as an opportunity to flirt with the exquisite beauties whose skin came in a wide variety of colors; somethings she planned on using to her advantage. Thankfully, she was allowed to continue wearing her slave attire in the steamy bathhouse. It was humid and beads of water droplets clung to her smooth, delicate skin. The thin fabric of her disguise was now soaked with moisture and precipitation from the facility. The beautiful bounty hunter was not sure how much longer she could wait for her target to show up. She could only feign a polite smile at the testosterone-driven visitors sending interested glances in her direction so many times. She nearly jumped for joy when she spotted her target entering the bathhouse, accompanied by the one-eyed grey skinned Nautolan pirate that he’d concluded business with. She watched as both men placed their disguises in secure lockers. After they put their clothes in the lockers, the two men made their way to the pools. Lam Dlonyer stepped into a pool filled with mineral water and placed his waterproof comlink on the edge of it. Weeza Kam had left his comlink in his locker with the rest of his belongings. He still wore the Pyke medallion around his neck as he stepped into a pool of green water. As soon as the pair entered the bathhouse, the other visitors suddenly became uncomfortable--even with the distraction of the beautiful women around them-- and quickly gathered their belongings and exited as quickly as possible. It was as if the Pyke had visited the Healing Baths so often that he had say over who stayed and who had to leave. Dia turned to an orange-skinned slave and acted oblivious to the Pyke’s identity. “Who is that?” She asked in Twi’leki. “Is he a king? He must be someone important if everyone else must leave when he arrives.” The orange Twi’lek looked nervous. “You should not ask such things. It will only get you into trouble.” She answered in Twi’leki before nervously scurrying away with most of the other Twi'lek girls. It seemed as if Weeza Kam’s many visits to Depatar had given him powerful influence over this establishment. The Pyke had indeed earned an intimidating reputation. Dia watched as the one-eyes pirate motioned for a pink-skinned Twi’lek attempting to exit the pool to stay with him. “Come here, My Beauty.” Lam said in a sweet and inviting manner. “One as beautiful as you, deserves to relax with me in these pleasant waters.” The pink slave still looked hesitant to accept the invitation. The pirate held out his hand. “I promise you have nothing to fear. I was only interested in entertaining your pleasant company.” The pink-skinned girl slowly inched closer to him. Lam pointed at a yellow-skinned Twi’lek standing behind him outside the pool. “You are welcome to join us too.” Needing no further invitation, the Twi’lek dropped her towel and joined Lam and the other Twi’lek in the pool. The pirate casually placed his toned arms around the shoulders of both girls as all three of them soaked in the relaxing waters together. “It cannot be possible for beauties like you to be fully Twi’lek. No…” He said in a gentle and charming voice. “…The two of you must have a touch of Diathim in you, for you truly are descended from angels.” The two women giggled and scooted closer to the pirate. Smooth, Dia thought. Very smooth. “Slave...” Dia looked around. “Slave...” The Pyke called again, this time louder. She suddenly realized that Weeza Kam was talking to her. This may work out better that I thought, she told herself. “Yes, Sir.” She said submissively in Basic, using her natural Rylothian accent. Kam eyed her. “I don’t believe I’ve seen you in here before.” He said. “I am a new arrival.” The Pyke smiled a wicked smile. “You will do. Come here.” Dia strode toward her target, selling the illusion of a being of beauty and grace with each step she took. “Run along and bring me something to drink.” Dia bowed slightly. “Yes. Of course. Right away.” As she turned, she discretely tapped the hidden beacon on her bracelet.*** Elsewhere, Drel received an alert on his vambrace. “What is it?” Rimas asked. “Dia just activated her beacon. Kam must be in the Twi’lek Healing Baths.” The Mandalorian turned to their Permitor. “Is there a back entrance to the Twi’lek Healing Baths? Some way we can enter without being noticed?” The Permitor was hesitant. “I’m not really supposed to say…” He sighed, realizing his concerns about protocol meant nothing to them. “…There’s a servants’ entrance in the back, but it’s off-limits to visitors.” Drel placed a hand on the blaster on his belt. “Show us.”*** Dia returned with a glass of Andoan wine. She elected to not slip something into the Pyke’s drink; it would be easier to get information from a conscious target. She handed him the glass of wine. “May I be of some other service?” The Pyke took a sip and let out a sigh of relief. “It seems my many business negotiations have become far more stressful than I anticipated. Massage my shoulders.” Dia got to her knees and began massaging the repulsive Pyke’s narrow shoulders. “Oh, you are tense.” She said, continuing to use her natural accent. “You must be an important man if you were sent to do business on Depatar, Sir.” This seemed to inflate the Pyke’s ego. “Mmm…Yes…You could say that.” Kam’s muscles began to relax a bit as the Twi’lek continued to massage him. Every fiber in the bounty hunter’s body wanted to vomit. She hated many things in the galaxy, but there were very few things she hated more than Pykes. It was hard to believe that she was massaging one. She wanted nothing more than to draw the hidden dagger-which was tucked near the hinge of her bracelet- and end the scum’s life then and there; but she needed to find where his ship was, so the others could destroy the weapons shipment before it left the system. Weeza Kam exhaled his total relaxation. Dia’s skillful hands were working their magic. Kam turned around and looked at the Twi’lek slave. “You’re very skilled, for a slave.” He said. “I haven’t felt this relaxed in months. I am not easily impressed.” “Thank you, Sir.” The Pyke continued to stare at Dia, studying her for a minute or so. He leaned in closer and cupped her chin with one hand. “They say your people are the most beautiful in the galaxy. There are few species that rival the grace of the Twi’leks. You are a beautiful one, Slave.” He noticed a small scar just under her left cheekbone near her eye. “Hmm… ‘Looks like someone damaged part of the goods when they handled you. What is this mark from?” Dia looked away. “One of my former masters gave it to me during a beating when I was very young.” Unlike most of what she told the Pyke, this time, there was no need to lie. Her thoughts traveled back to that distant memory; Being kidnapped by the Pykes, beaten when she made the smallest of mistakes, and beaten more severely when she refused to do the bidding of her captors. Those were dark times. “Pity…Your master must have lost some money because of it when he put you up for sale. No one enjoys receiving a damaged product.” He caressed the scar with his thumb. His touch made her skin crawl. “…But I’m sure your remaining beauty allowed him to salvage a majority of the profits from your sale.” Kam’s eyes surveying her form was making the bounty hunter feel uncomfortable. She felt dirty, downtrodden, less than a living being. She wanted to cover herself up and hide from his selfish gaze, but she had to continue to play the part of a submissive servant. The Pyke held up his empty wine glass. “It seems my cup is empty. Why don’t you fetch another bottle for me and grab another glass while you’re back there? I want you to join me for a drink.” Dia shifted nervously. “Forgive me, but I do not believe my new masters will be pleased if they find out.” Kam smiled wickedly. “But it will please me.” He said. “You’ll find I have a great deal of influence in this city. Far more than your masters. I’m sure they will allow it.” Dia did as she was told and returned with another bottle of wine and a spare glass. After filling their glasses, the two sat on the edge of the green pool and dipped their feet in. The warm green water was surprisingly soothing. The Pyke continued to stare. “There is something different about you, Slave. You’re not at all like the other slaves here. I can’t put my finger on it. I’m tempted to purchase you myself and take you back to Oba Diah so you can continue serving me.” This was something Dia had not anticipated. In fact, it was the last thing she wanted. “Can you do such a thing?” She asked. Kam smiled again. “As I’ve said…I have a lot of influence here.” He pointed to his locker. “Bring me my comlink.” The Twi’lek bounty hunter walked over to the Pyke’s locker and after Kam gave her the code to it, she returned with his comlink. The Pyke switched it on. “This is Weeza Kam. I will be purchasing one of your new Twi’lek slaves in the Healing Baths. Take the necessary credits out of my account and make sure she accompanies me to my ship on pad 1997 when I depart.” Kam turned to the pirate, who had been otherwise distracted by the two Twi’leks in his arms. “You should consider joining the Pykes, Dlonyer. I’ll see to it that you and your crew are paid handsomely. What do you say?” The Nautolan chuckled. “You drive a hard bargain, Pyke. Though, it’s not really my style. I prefer to do my business untied to a single organization. I enjoy my freedom.” “Should you change your mind, you have until I reach my ship.” Kam said. “Then, my offer expires.” More steam began to cloud the bathhouse. Although the others did not seem to notice the slight increase in the room’s temperature, this sudden change did not escape Dia’s observation. Weeza Kam pulled the blue-skinned Twi’lek closer to him; For Dia, it was much closer than she would have liked. To add to her disgust, the Pyke began running his long four-fingered hand up the Twi’lek’s arm and caressing her warm smooth skin. Another cloud of steam filled the bathhouse and with it the temperature had noticeably increased. The newly added steam was steadily making it more difficult to see across the room now; Dia could barely make out some of the exotic flora that she’d been able to see only a few minutes ago. There was no denying that the room was getting warmer. The steam was becoming more like a thick blanket of fog. The Pyke began to cough a little after inhaling some of it. He tried to fan some of it away and cool himself off, but his effort made little difference. “That’s enough steam!” Kam called out to whatever Twi’lek slave he imagined was controlling the room’s temperature. “I came here to relax, not to be boiled alive!” He turned back to Dia and attempted to act as if nothing had changed. As his fingers continued to climb up her forearm, Dia had a feeling she knew where the filthy slimeball of a Pyke was going to discretely attempt to touch next with his unwelcome caresses: Her lekku. It was well known throughout the galaxy that a Twi’lek’s lekku were one of the most sensitive areas on their body. Many Twi’leks considered these fleshy head-tails a very intimate spot. To touch a Twi’lek’s lekku without their permission was an unspeakable affront. Dia remembered back on Ryloth, the penalty for doing so was losing the hand that had touched it. Weeza Kam was treading on dangerous ground. As his hand moved closer, Dia quickly drew the thin dagger from the hidden sheath in her bracelet, lifted the Pyke to his feet, and held the serrated blade to Kam’s throat, all within a split second. “I won’t give you that pleasure, Sleemo!” she said, dropping her Rylothian accent. Kam was both surprised and outraged. “How dare you raise your hand against me, Slave! This is the last mistake you’ll ever make!” He began to raise his comlink to call for some backup. *CHOOM! * Suddenly a red blaster-bolt soared into the room and hit the comlink in Kam’s hand, knocking it onto the wet floor. The line was dead before the call could be made. The Twi’lek girls in Lam’s arms let out a shrill shriek at the sudden disturbance. They quickly ducked their heads down and hugged the Nautolan more tightly for protection. Before the pirate could stand up, a fully armored Mandalorian entered the bathhouse from the servants’ entrance. He had a WESTAR-35 drawn; its barrel still smoking. Dia smiled and let out a subtle sigh of relief. “Well, you took your sweet time.” She said as Drel entered the bathhouse. “I had everything under control.” She had to admit, she wasn’t sure how far the Mandalorian had been when she’d activated the bracelet beacon. She’d taken a big risk by pulling the dagger on Kam, but there was no way that she was going to give the Pyke the satisfaction of touching her lekku. If Drel had not shown up when he did…Well... He was here now that was all that mattered. Drel had already removed his poncho and Mythosaur mask before he’d entered. In the steamy room, he almost looked like a bodiless shadow. “’Looked like it.” He said, though his tone implied otherwise. Kam waved his hand frantically at Lam. “WHAT ARE YOU WAITNG FOR, YOU IDIOT! HELP ME!” Lam looked at the Mandalorian, who had become more visible now that some of the steam had escaped through the servants’ entrance. He also noted the smoking blaster that was pointed in his direction. Unarmed and at this distance, there was no way the pirate could put up any kind of a fight without getting killed. Still in the pool of mineral water, the Nautolan raised both his hands in surrender. “I know better than to pick a fight with a Mandalorian…” he said. “…Especially one with a blaster pointed at my head.” “Smart choice.” Drel said. He looked at Dia, his blaster still pointed at the pirate. “We need to move. I’m sure someone heard that.” With his free hand, he tossed Dia a pair of stun cuffs. The Twi’lek bounty hunter caught them with her free hand and locked both of the Pykes hands behind his back. “Where’s Rimas?” “He’s waiting for us.” Weeza Kam scowled at the bounty hunters. “You both are dead!” he hissed. “My men are going to—” Before he could finish, Dia spun him around and struck him hard in the throat with the palm of her hand and knocked him out. Kam collapsed on the ground. Drel picked the unconscious, towel-clad Pyke off the ground, threw him over his shoulder, and carried him out the door as he and Dia quickly exited the bathhouse. *** Lam Dlonyer watched the bounty hunters exit. He had no idea what just happened, all he knew was he wasn’t being paid to do anything about it. Besides, he was much too preoccupied with the beautiful Twi’lek slave girls wrapped around him to get involved. The sound of footsteps echoed against the walls of the room. A few minutes later, a large group of armed bodyguards in disguises entered the bathhouse through the main entrance. They spread out and searched the room for the Pyke but found nothing. One of them approached the bathing pirate. “What happened? Where’s Kam?” He asked in a serious voice. Lam gestured to the servant entrance doorway. “If you hurry you might catch him.” The pirate said. The bodyguards hurried though the door and followed where the bounty hunters had taken Kam. Soon, Lam was alone again with the two Twi’leks. There was a chime from his comlink. It was one of his Patrolian crewmates, Ponyo Gell. “Everything alright, Captain? We heard some commotion.” The grey-skinned Pirate Captain picked up his comlink. “Everything’s fine, Ponyo.” He chuckled. The Patrolian sounded confused. “You sure, Captain? We could send some of the crew--” “No need.” Lam interrupted. “You and the boys stay where you are. I’ll let you know if I need anything.” He switched to a different com-channel. “Dlonyer to Moon’s Shadow…” His second in command, Thrak Zanabi, a Ovissian male answered. “Captain?” Thrak’s voice said cheerfully over the comlink. “’Nice to hear your voice again. What can I help you with?” “Did the Pyke’s payment go through without any trouble?” “I’ll say it did! Ryjo’s just started divvying it up.” “Have you loaded those containers of Spice on the ship yet?” “Yes. Everything’s loaded and in the cargo hold.” “Good. We’ll start heading back to the ship. We’re done here.” After switching off his comlink, Lam pulled the two Twi’leks closer to him. “How would the two of you like to join me aboard my ship. Maybe I’ll buy you both and set you free.” The two Twi’leks giggled excitedly and nodded their heads; their lekku bounced happily. “I think there’s room for both of you in my crew. I have a feeling the life of a pirate will suit you two perfectly.”***Chapter 4 Dia and Drel sprinted down the hallway with Kam’s bodyguards hot on their tail. Rimas and the Permitor stood waiting on the other end of the servants’ access hallway. As the two bounty hunters reunited with the Guild Agent, a hot blaster-bolt whizzed over their heads. “’You bring me my toys?” she asked, taking cover behind a stack of supply crates for the Healing Baths. “I still got them.” Rimas said as he tossed both of the Twi’lek’s DE-10 blaster pistols to her from the back of his belt. Drel fired his WESTAR-35 at the approaching bodyguards, hitting two of them in the chest. As the other bodyguards witnessed the two men fall to the ground, they decided to find cover behind some of the other crates and continued firing at the bounty hunters. “Did you find out anything useful from the Pyke?” He asked Dia. “I did!” she said, returning fire at their enemies. “Kam’s ship is docked on pad 1997. His crew should have the majority of the weapon shipment loaded by now.” The Mandalorian handed the towel-clad Pyke to Rimas. “Here…Take Kam. We’ll take care of his bodyguards.” The Guild Agent tossed the limp Pyke over his shoulder. Drel switched to the headset in his helmet. “Eye-Ah, prep the engines.” He said. “We have Kam. We’re making our way back to the ship. We’ll need a quick getaway as soon as we’re aboard.” “Is that blaster-fire I hear?” the droid asked. “Just prep the ship!” he switched off the com-channel in his helmet and continued to fire at the bodyguards. The Permitor was flabbergasted. He covered his head and was crouched low to the ground as blaster-fire struck the wall just above where his head had been seconds ago. “I should remind you that there will be a fee of every—” “Shut up and keep your head down!” Rimas ordered, cutting the Permitor off. He drew his modified blaster with his free hand and started firing at the bodyguards. He blasted one of the guards with such force that it knocked the man’s mask off and revealed the Deveronian mercenary behind it. The horned mercenary collapsed on the ground with a loud groan. The bounty hunters quickly retreated into the next hallway hoping to lose their pursuers, but this did not slow down the bodyguard mercenaries in the slightest. A moment later, the mercenaries were following close behind them. The other mercenaries were packing some serious firepower. One of them must have been a Wookiee because it towered over the other bodyguards. The Wookiee was wielding a Kell Mark II heavy assault rifle; a weapon that packed quite the punch. As the massive creature pulled the trigger, a powerful explosion erupted from its barrel. The impact left a huge, charred dent in the wall. Had Drel not dodged out of the way in time, he doubted even his beskar armor would have saved him from such a powerful blast. The Mandalorian grabbed the EE-3 carbine rifle slung over his back where his jetpack usually rested. After quickly switching the rifle’s settings to three-round burst fire, he aimed it at the Wookiee and fired. His attack wounded the Wookiee’s right arm, causing it to drop the heavy weapon it was holding. The wounded Wookiee roared with rage. He began to charge at Drel with vicious intent. Before he made it ten steps down the hall, he was hit in the head by another round from the Mandalorian’s rifle. The massive creature collapsed on the ground. Drel’s group continued to make their way back toward the lift to their ship, sprinting up several flights of steps in the process. As the fight moved into a more populated section of the city, nearby visitors were forced to dive for cover. The remaining bodyguards continued to follow the bounty hunters into a larger hallway; a handful of other disguised visitors drew their own blasters and started firing at both groups. Drel figured they were either unsure who had started the scuffle, or simply joined in for the sheer thrill of partaking in a firefight. The gunfire headed in Drel’s direction was steadily increasing. He was not about to shoot any civilians who were not directly involved with the bounty on Kam’s head, which was clearly stated in the Bounty Hunters’ Code. Fortunately, he did not have to worry about them for much longer. The handful of visitors stopped firing when they noticed the same two B2-series battle droids that Drel had seen earlier, suddenly step in front of the other mercenaries. Both droids had the crest of the Pyke Syndicate painted over their faceplates. This was enough for the other visitors to flee from the warring groups. Drel noticed one of the droids aim its wrist-cannon at Dia. Usually, he would not have worried about the Twi’lek bounty hunter, but the revealing slave outfit that she was currently wearing provided her with absolutely no protection at all. The droid fired. Drel quickly wrapped both his arms around Dia and shielded her body from the blasts. His beskar armor did its job, protecting both its wearer and the Twi’lek in his arms. Although the armor had protected both bounty hunters from the blasts, Drel still felt the powerful impact of the attack against his back. He grinded his teeth together as the force of the impacts bruised his back. Dia looked up at him, completely unharmed. There was something in her icy-blue eyes that he had not seen before: gratitude. For all the disagreements they’d had and all the intimate moments they’d shared--even before they’d become rivals-- having the proud Mandalorian-pretender, Dia Scafer, look at him in a way that was completely void of scorn and deceitful manipulation was something new for Drel. Unfortunately, now was not the time to get sentimental. The Mandalorian felt a rush of adrenaline overcome the pain in his back. He quickly spun back around and faced the two droids, wielding his WESTAR-35 pistol in his right hand and his EE-3 rifle in his left. At the same time, he fired both his weapons at the nearer of the two droids. Instead of aiming his rifle at the droid’s thick head or torso, the seasoned Mandalorian fired at its knee joint. The droid--who Drel could only assume had not seen much action since the Clone Wars--suddenly felt its rusty left knee joint break free from the leg beneath it. No longer able to evenly distribute its weight, it crashed to the floor on its side. Before it had the chance to fire its wrist-cannon again, Drel turned his right wrist and sprayed both Super Battle Droids with the flamethrower on his right vambrace. The aged metal that made up the bodies of both droids quickly melted under the intense heat that consumed them. The organic mercenaries behind them were forced to take a step back as the fire flashed in front of them. Dia used this distraction to her advantage and fired a volley of blaster-fire at the other mercenaries. Her aim was impressive, as she had soon killed most of the remaining organic mercenaries. Their next problem, however, was the twin Commando Droids charging toward them. Rimas turned to their Permitor, as he and his companions sprinted toward the lift. “GET THAT ELEVATOR OPEN!” He said tossing his code cylinder to the Permitor. The Snivvan Permitor tried to put the cylinder into the data-port, though it proved especially difficult with shaking hands. “COME ON! QUICKLY! THOSE DROIDS ARE STILL COMING!” Dia shouted anxiously. Unlike the B2-battle droids, the BX-series droid commandos were far more agile. They dodged Drel’s gunfire with graceful acrobatics and drew their vibroswords from the sheaths on their backs. “I’ll hold them off!” Drel shouted before charging toward the droids. The Mandalorian had to switch from ranged attacks to close hand-to-hand combat. Using the fibercord whip and grappling hook on his left vambrace, he was able to ensnare one of the droids’ legs. This only bought him a few seconds while he dropped his pistol and activated the vibroblade built into his right vambrace, then used it to slash at his attacker. The first droid quickly side-stepped the Mandalorian’s attack; meanwhile, the other Commando Droid had freed its legs from the fibercord with its vibrosword and was already running to assist its counterpart in fighting Drel. Rimas noticed this and quickly passed the unconscious Pyke over to Dia. “Take Kam. I’ll go help Drel.” Before she could object, the Guild Agent was already sprinting toward the two droids. The first Commando Droid had knocked Drel to the ground with a sweeping kick. It thrust its blade downward toward the Mandalorian bounty hunter, who quickly rolled out of the way and got to his feet. Before the first droid could deliver another attack, Rimas quickly body slammed it against the ground. The sharp vibrosword fell out of its hand the moment its metal body collided with the hard floor. The Guild Agent quickly recovered the sword before the droid could retrieve it. Spinning the vibrosword in his hand, Rimas swiftly turned and parried the second droid’s attack with it. Drel dispatched the first droid with ease by thrusting his vibroblade into the neck stock below its head, destroying it. After picking up his pistol, he watched in amazement as the Guild Agent went toe-to-toe with the second Commando Droid. Although it lasted surprisingly long against the Agent’s powerful attacks, it was ultimately rendered harmless when Rimas buried his own vibrosword into the droid’s head. The droid’s body collapsed on the ground with a loud clang. With the destruction of the two droids, the last of the bodyguards had been killed. Dia stood dumbfounded by what she’d just witnessed. Drel was equally impressed by the Guild Agent’s hand-to-hand fighting skills. “Not bad, Rimas.” He said. “Never took you for a fighter.” Rimas smiled and picked up the other vibrosword. “Wouldn’t expect you to. My days of fighting in the fighting pits aren’t exactly public knowledge…but that’s a tale for another time.” He placed both swords on his back and headed toward the turbolift door. “’Kam still alive?” he asked. “Unfortunately…” Dia replied. “Good.” Drel said with a nod. “Let’s get him aboard the Mythosaur.” The lift doors opened with a ding. The Snivvan gestured to the lift. “If you step this way, we’ll get you back to your ship.” The group entered the lift and rode the rest of the way up in silence. *** When they finally returned to landing pad 1983, the Permitor stepped between them and the Mythosaur. “Before you’re allowed to leave, I’m afraid there is one final order of business to attend to…” he said, “…Paying your additional fee for the self-defense permit you purchased. I mentioned there was an additional fee for every victim you leave while defending yourself, did I not?” Rimas sighed. “Alright, what’s the damage?” “You’re required to pay an additional 200 credits for each of the victims you either killed or wounded while your group defended themselves. Unfortunately, I can’t let you leave Depatar until the fee has been paid.” The Guild Agent let out a frustrated groan as he pulled his datapad out of his vest pocket. “What’s the final total then?” “By my count…you killed eighteen visitors during your stay. That will be 3,600 credits.”“3,600 CREDITS!” Rimas repeated. “That’s correct.” The Guild Agent looked like he was about to fling the Snivvan Permitor over the side of the landing pad. “Just pay the man.” Drel said. “We have Kam. Now we need to get moving before Kam’s ship gets off-world.” Reluctantly Rimas transferred the credits over to the Permitor; he muttered several Hutt insults under his breath as he did so. The Permitor checked the payment on his datapad. Once the confirmation when through, he gave the group a small smile. “Thank you for your business.” He said. “On behalf of Depatar, I hope you enjoyed your stay at the City of Masks.” Drel could tell the Guild Agent wanted to say something to the Permitor but held his tongue. The Mandalorian tapped his vambrace and lowered the main entry ramp. The group quickly boarded the patrol craft and closed the ramp behind them. “We’re aboard, Eye-Ah.” Drel said over the ship’s intercom. “Get us over to landing platform 1997 as fast as you can.” He turned to Dia and Rimas. “Put Kam in the containment unit over there and turn on the ray shields. Make sure you put a spare jumpsuit in there for him. None of us want to continue looking at him wearing that towel. When he wakes up, he can put it on himself. Once he’s contained, meet me in the command bridge.” Without another word, he sprinted up the steps to the upper deck and hurried to the bridge. ***Chapter 5 The Mythosaur quickly took off and sped toward landing pad 1997. As it got closer, a large Pyke ship about the same size as an Imperial Acclimator Assault Ship was beginning to take off. Apparently, word of Kam’s capture had reached their ears. Drel looked at the ship through the cockpit window in front of him. “There it is.” he said “Eye-Ah, follow that ship!” Dia and Rimas quickly entered the bridge. Drel pointed at the other controls behind him. “Dia, I want you working the retractable weapons foils. Rimas, keep an eye on our shields. I’ll man the forward cannons. We can’t let that ship deliver those weapons to the Pykes.” The Twi’lek and Guild Agent quickly took their seats at their designated positions and strapped in. The Mythosaur began its attack run. As it flew over the Pyke ship, its retractable weapons foils targeted the enemy crafts communication array and fired. Before the Pyke ship knew it was under attack, its communications had already been knocked out. Realizing what was happening, it raised its shields and returned fire at the D5- Mantis patrol craft. Powerful blasts from the enemy turbolasers rocked Drel’s ship as they attempted to hit it. The speed and quick maneuverability of the ship allowed it to easily evade the heavy barrage from the Pyke cannons. It quickly reversed thrusters and turned around for another attack. “Switch to ion cannons. Target their shield generator.” Drel ordered. As the Mythosaur charged at the Pyke ship, it switched its power to its forward ion cannons. The small craft evaded the enemy defense turrets and fired its ion attack at the shield generator. The blast of ion energy punctured the Pyke shields and hit its target. The shield generator sparked with electricity before shorting out. “Their shields are down!” Rimas cheered. The Pyke ship was now exiting the gas planet’s atmosphere. The larger shuttle was attempting to get clear of the planet’s gravity well. “What’s going on?” Rimas asked. “I’m picking up a massive energy surge from the Pyke ship. Drel was all too familiar with what that meant. “They’re getting ready to make the jump to hyperspace. Dia, take out those engines! We can’t let them get away!”The patrol craft quickly swung around to the back of the larger ship, where there were no defense turrets. “Eye-Ah, put everything into our weapons!” The Pyke engines were beginning to glow brighter, indicating it was close to making the jump to hyperspace in a few minutes. The Mythosaur continued to attack the engines, but there was no way they’d destroy all of the engines before the Pyke ship make the jump to lightspeed. “We’re running out of time!” Rimas shouted. Drel’s pulse was racing. They maybe had seconds to take out the engines. If that wasn’t enough, they also needed to get clear of the ship in the event that it did make the jump to lightspeed. If they were anywhere near those engines when the Pyke ship engaged its hyperdrive, the Mythosaur would be torn apart. He was left with no other choice but to start moving away from the enemy’s engines. Suddenly, a heavy volley of proton torpedoes and turbolaser-fire flew over their ship from behind. Drel had to maneuver his ship quickly to avoid getting hit. Luckily, the attack from the rear was so intense that it destroyed the last remaining engine on the Pyke ship. The large ship suddenly stopped, unable to make the jump anymore. “What just happened?” Asked Rimas. “Where’d that attack come from?” A voice came over the subspace transceiver. “This is Captain Lam Dlonyer of the Moon’s Shadow. ‘Looked like you were cutting it close there, wouldn’t you say?” Drel was surprised to hear the pirate’s voice. “I’m assuming you’re the same Mandalorian who captured Weeza Kam…” Were the pirates here to help the Pykes? Drel wondered. He looked out the window and spotted the pirate’s ship. The Moon’s Shadow looked like it had been comprised of two old ships. Its back half was that of an Arquitens-class light Republic cruiser from the days of the Clone Wars, while its front half looked like the bow of a C-ROC Gozanti-class light cruiser had been welded to the back half, creating a unique looking ship. The symbol of a Summa-Verminoth was painted on its hull. The Mandalorian bounty hunter was just about to turn the Mythosaur toward the pirate ship to attack, but the voice suddenly returned. “…Before you start attacking my ship, you should know that I have no love for the Pykes. Go ahead, Keep Kam. We will not stop you. “We are simple pirates trying to make an honest living dishonestly. The last thing we need is to get caught up in some kind of war between syndicates.” Drel tapped the comms button on his controls. “What is it you want then?” he asked. “To make a profit of course!” Lam laughed. “We’ve already been paid, but my crew and I can’t help but feel swindled by the Pykes. So we will be taking those weapons back for ourselves and making a profit elsewhere. Maybe the Rebels will be willing to pay a higher price for our goods. “Here is my proposition; let us board the ship and take back the weapons we sold to the Pykes…and anything else we find of value…Destroy the ship and be on our way, while you take that Pyke scum with you to whatever crime lord wants his head and fly away. Everyone wins!” Drel looked at Rimas, who was also considering the pirate’s offer. After a moment, the Guild Agent gave a nod. They already had Weeza Kam. If the pirate wanted to steal their weapons back from the Pykes, then there wasn’t really a problem. “I’d say that sounds fair.” He replied coolly. “Excellent!” The pirate said. “We’ll take care of the Pyke ship.” “She’s all yours.” Drel switched off his transponder. He turned to Eye-Ah. “Set a course for Nal Hutta.” After pressing a few buttons, the Mythosaur quickly made the jump to lightspeed. *** A few minutes later, Drel took off his helmet and set it on top of the control consul in front of him. He suddenly winced as he laid back in his seat. With all the excitement and adrenaline coursing through his body, he’d forgotten about the fresh bruises on his back and arms. Dia noticed the discomfort on Drel’s face. “You alright, Love?” Drel got up and began to limp toward the door. “I’ll be fine. ‘Just some bruising on my back and arms.” The Twi’lek quickly got to her feet and used her bodyweight to help steady the Mandalorian. “Let me help you to the Med Bay.” She turned to Rimas. “Stay with the droid.” “’You sure?” “Get us to Nal Hutta.” Drel told the droid. “It shouldn’t take too long. I’ll be back when I’m patched up.” As the two bounty hunters exited the bridge and made their way to the Medical Bay by the crew quarters on the lower deck, Dia suddenly kissed Drel’s exposed cheek. The Mandalorian looked at her; confused by the unexpected gesture of affection. “That’s for saving my skin twice back there.” The Twi’lek said. “You’re my partner on this job.” Drel said. “I try and keep the people I work with alive until the job’s done.” Dia stopped and looked him in the eyes as they finished walking down the steps to the lower deck. She was surprised to hear him call her his partner again after all this time. “But why? You hate me. You could’ve let me die at any point back there and taken Kam to the Hutt’s without me.” Drel met her gaze. “You’re my partner.” He reiterated again slowly, to emphasize his point. “I thought you knew me better than that.” Without saying another word, the bruised Mandalorian continued a head to the Medical bay, leaving Dia alone at the foot of the stairs.***Chapter 6 The Mythosaur touched down on the hot, swampy planet, Nal Hutta. The Hutt homeworld was just as unsavory as the slugs themselves. The entire landscape was nothing but endless mist-covered bogs. The air was humid and fetid; a stench none of them wanted to bear any longer than they had to. Fortunately for them, the greasy rain was not falling when the ship docked in Bilbousa, the capital city. Rimas had mentioned that the last time he’d visited the planet, the rains nearly ruined his famous duster; it had taken several washes until it was finally back to a wearable state. After unloading Kam and the other bounties that he’d captured for the Hutts prior to taking this job, Drel, Dia, and Rimas marched the nefarious Pyke Arms Dealer toward the massive palace of Gardulla the Hutt, which resembled a huge fungal pod. Having ditched their disguises during the flight all of them were now in their usual attire. As they entered the palace, which hosted most of the Hutt Council gatherings, Dia placed her special Mandalorian helmet over her head. She wanted to be seen first and foremost as a bounty hunter; the Hutts were notorious for collection slave girls of her species, so the less she looked like a Twi’lek, the better. They were led by some Nikto guards to the Main Council Chamber. Drel noticed that the closer they got to the chamber, the more nervous Weeza Kam was becoming. The arrogance and confidence the Pyke had exhibited on Depatar was now completely gone. Finally, they were permitted an audience with the Hutt Council. As they entered the chamber, Drel noticed several Twi’lek slave dancers accompanied by a Human and Togruta slave, a pair of female Theelin and Deveronian singers finishing their performance for the Hutts. The music stopped when the group entered with the Pyke. Rimas stepped forward so he and the others were standing in the center of the circular room. “Pardon our interruption, Oh Mighty and Esteemed Members of the Hutt Council, True Masters of the Criminal Underworld. May I first offer my most profound condolences after hearing of the loss of the Mighty Jabba. May whoever is responsible for such an appalling crime be—” A female Hutt wearing a feathery hat interrupted the Guild Agent. “Tagwa, tagwa. Bee nop lo. Haku doo uba brought?” A TC Protocol droid on the upper shelf translated. “The Most Venerable, Oeshell Cingaergg, would like to know what you have brought the Hutt Council.” “I was told you received our message before we arrived.” Rimas said. “We have brought you the Pyke Criminal, Weeza Kam. A lowlife arms dealer who has been plotting with enemies that have sought to usurp your illustrious criminal empire out from under you during this difficult time.” The Hutts were clamoring amongst themselves. A red skinned Hutt covered in many Hutt tattoos spoke up next. “At eesgoo, jee-jee doo bu noolish Pyke arms oealah whooh bah nueled bu teowing threat of waaz our enemees. Which of uba oom-sponsible bringing beet valuoole prize?” “Funjall the Unforgiving, is glad to hear that you have caught the Pyke Arms Dealer and wishes to know which of you is responsible for bringing the Hutt Council such a valuble prize.” Rimas smiled and gestured toward the two bounty hunters standing beside him. “These two bounty hunters have come together to bring you such a prize, Oh Great Hutts. On behalf of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild, I have the privilege of formally introducing Drel Semaj and Dia Scafer.” Drel stepped forward and gave something of a half-bow; he was still recovering from his injuries after all. “It is an honor to be standing before you, Distinguished Hutts.” He said. “Never have I seen such a gathering of wise and powerful individuals gathered in such a grand multitude.” A pale green Hutt wearing the medallion of the Besadii kajidic spoke up. “Uba doo oone bu Hutt Cartel teeat service todaee. Jee-jee widd see lo uba add paid choy uba owed. Stang bu prisonah norward.” “Tothisk the Slimy thanks you for your service to the Hutt Cartel and assures you that you will be paid the bounty in full before you return to your ship.” The droid said. “You may bring your prisoner forward.” Drel gave the cowering Pyke a shove forward so that he was standing before the Hutt Council on an exceptionally large tile on the floor. “As an added reward, each of the Hutts gathered here are prepared to make a considerable donation to the Bounty Hunters’ Guild for your assistance in this matter.” “You are most generous.” Rimas said. “Words cannot express my thanks.” Gardulla the Elder was the last to speak. As she spoke, the droid translated what she said into Basic. “The Hutts have more use for you. While you have delayed the efforts of the Pyke Syndicate, the Hutts cannot allow other criminal organizations to continue to side with their enemies. It will take some time to elect a new head of the Hutt Cartel that will take over Jabba Desilijic Tiure's criminal empire. “During that time, they ask that you continue to bring them their enemies to remind the galaxy who the true rulers of the Underworld are so they can make an example of them.” Drel heard the sound of deep laughter slowly rising. Soon, the rest of the Hutt Council joined in the bellowing laughter, as it echoed across the walls of the chamber. He noticed the Hutt Elder slam her hand on a switch located in front of her. A moment later, a trap door beneath Weeza Kam’s feet opened up and sent the Pyke plummeting into darkness below. There was a loud monstrous ROAR from the darkness. Although the bounty hunters and the Guild Agent couldn’t see what was happening, the terrified screams of the Pyke were abruptly cut short. Rimas leaned in closer to Drel and Dia. “All that, just so they could kill him themselves…” “I could’ve killed him myself.” Dia said, listening to the last of the Pyke’s screams die away. “…Still, this death is much more satisfying.” Once the laughter and screaming had died down, Gardulla spoke again. “Uba oom-adee hunt uta-sha next alarry, bountee hunters?” “What did she say?” asked Dia. “She asked if you both are ready to hunt your second target.” Rimas translated. “I did mention that there was a second part to this job.” Both bounty hunters looked at each other, then nodded. Even though their partnership was far from ideal, they’d agreed to see both parts of this job through to the end. “We’re ready.” Drel said to the Protocol droid. “Very well,” the droid translated. “Acquiring the Pyke was only the beginning. The Pykes had influence, but their syndicate was hardly prepared to go to war with the other Syndicates. Your next target has both the influence and the means to fight a war with the Hutts.” Drel had an idea who they’d be going up against, even before the droid said the words. It still didn’t mean the job would be any easier. The next Syndicate that Hutts wanted them to go after was one that had a strong foothold in the Criminal Underworld and was the only organization that could truly contend with the Hutt Cartel. “For your next job, the Hutts would like you to infiltrate and acquire an operative working for Black Sun.”TO BE CONTINUED… (Check out Part II: "Star Wars Bounty Hunters: War For the Underworld #2" [Link below in the description])
STARWARS BOUNTY HUNTERS: War For the Underworld #2Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars, or any of its properties ([Legends and Canon material alike] the Characters, the Planets, events, ships, gear, etc. Mentioned in this story). All those belong to George Lucas, Lucasfilm, and Disney. I do however own the original characters: Drel Semaj, Rimas Guri, Dia Scafer, Weeza Kam, Lam Dlonyer, IA-9, Gan Tik, Ximus Zajex, Nex Ukted, Org Hesh, Lexi Wornag Funjall the Unforgiving, Oeshell Cingaergg, Tothisk the Slimy, Jirobu Reb, and the Mandalorians: Jacga Ehpal, Fel-Cree, Colsc Hepal, and Nerak Kavu-Kattu. This story is for entertainment purposes only. Thank you and enjoy.STAR WARS BOUNTY HUNTERS:WAR FOR THE UNDERWORLD***Chapter 7 Drel, Dia, and Rimas sat in the main hold of the Mythosaur and looked at the hologram of their next target, a Falleen male who worked for the Black Sun Syndicate, named Ximus Zajex. Unlike their previous target, Weeza Kam, Zajex was not simply an operative for the syndicate he represented, he was the Second-In-Command to the head of Black Sun, Ziton Moj. From what they were able to gather, it sounded like Ximus Zajex controlled half of the Syndicate’s illegal operations happening throughout the galaxy. “I have no doubt you’re both familiar with Black Sun’s reputation.” Rimas said. “Out of all the major syndicates that realistically stand any chance of competing with the Hutt Cartel for power, Black Sun poses the biggest threat.” The Guild Agent let out a nervous laugh. “The Pykes were kidding themselves, if they honestly thought that they could take on both the Hutts and Black Sun for control of the Underworld. All they could scrounge up was a collection of mercenaries and aging droids to fight the coming war for them. “Black Sun has far more resources at its disposal than anything the Pykes could ever get their hands on. They have weapons, ships, credits, and a vast number of loyal clienteles, who are willing to back them in their war with the Hutts. In addition to the wealth of assassins, thieves, smugglers, pirates, and mercenaries on their payroll, they probably have just as many bounty hunters fighting for them as the Hutts do. Kriff! Even the Bounty Hunters’ Guild is divided on which of the two syndicates it supports.” Drel crossed his arms. “We know enough about the organization itself, Rimas. Tell us more about Ximus Zajex.” Rimas let out a sigh. “Zajex is involved in everything; slave trafficking, extortion, blackmail, weapons shipments, political assassinations, war profiteering, you name it! He practically runs Black Sun when Ziton Moj is not around!” No wonder the Hutts placed such a large bounty on his head, Drel thought. Of course, he knew that going after an individual with that much power meant that Ximus Zajex would have nothing short of an army serving as his protection most of the time. There was a reason the Hutts were paying them 600,000 credits for this job…it was a suicide mission. “Any idea where we can find him?” Drel asked. The Guild Agent shook his head. “No idea. After the Empire took control of Ord Mantell, Black Sun started operating from a Pantolomin cruiser and set up several smaller bases scattered about the galaxy. He could be at any of them.” “That doesn’t help us.” Drel said. “We don’t have time to check everywhere the Black Sun has set up shop. It will draw too much attention.” Dia coughed, getting their attention. “I’ve done a job or two in the past for Black Sun…” Both men looked at her, furrowing their eyebrows. “Hey, a girl’s got to eat…” She said with a shrug. “…And my tastes are very expensive.” Rimas and Drel quickly looked at each other for a brief moment before turning back to the Twi’lek. “Relax. That was a while ago. My point is that I still have a few contacts who occasionally take a few jobs with Black Sun. I could reach out to them and see if they know where Zajex might be. I could tell them we’re looking for a job and see what they say.” Drel rubbed his chin as he considered Dia’s suggestion. It wasn’t a bad idea. It made sense. They were bounty hunters; the odds of Black Sun turning away two skilled bounty hunters who were looking for work was very unlikely. As far as he could tell, the only people who knew they were working for the Hutts were the three of them. “See what you can do.” Drel said. “Keep it quiet though. Tell them you’re calling in a few favors for a quick job. If they can get us a job, that means they can get us access to a Black Sun base, and an audience with Zajex.” Dia nodded and exited the room to call her contacts. Rimas noticed as the Mandalorian watched the Twi’lek exit. “’Nice to see that the two of you have stopped trying to kill each other.” “I’m honestly not sure if we have.” Drel admitted. “Things changed after Depatar.” “I’ll say…” chuckled Rimas. “Have you ever considered that the way she’s been looking at you these past few days might actually be because she still cares about you?” Drel was still at odds with that possibility. He had to admit, the ceasefire with Dia was nice, but he was still not entirely sure if he trusted her just yet. He decided to change the subject. “I see that you kept the vibroswords.” He said, pointing at the weapons on the Guild Agent’s back. “For all the credits I spent back in Depatar, I thought I at least deserved a souvenir.” Rimas laughed. “Besides, these blades are in pristine condition. It would be a shame if a beautiful weapon like this ended up on the black market.” “I’ve seen what you can do with just one of those blades. I can only imagine what damage you can do with two.” Drel smiled. “You’re surprisingly good in a fight, Rimas. I can’t say I’ve seen many agents of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild fight like that. Most can barely fire a blaster.” “I grew up in the Outer Rim.” Rimas laughed. “Being able to defend yourself in a fight out here comes with the territory.” Drel was sure there was more to it than what the Guild Agent was letting on, but he didn’t push it. Rimas had earned himself a reputation as a respected agent for the Guild long before they’d first been acquainted. He was a man who was not easily intimidated by bounty hunters, thugs, and ruffians, nor did he suffer fools. In fact, if you disrespected him, you ended up paying for it one way or another. It was actually something he admired about the man. “I’m sure it comes in handy.” Drel said occupying the seat across from Rimas. He let out a slightly pained groan as he rested his back against it. “How’s your back?” Drel shrugged. “’Better than it was. The bacta patches I’ve been using have been helping. I should finish healing up in a day or two.” “Good to hear. I’d hate to have to call in another bounty hunter to take over for you.” The Guild Agent looked out at where the Twi’lek bounty hunter had disappeared to. “’You think her contacts are going to come through?” “I don’t know…Probably. But if they’re working for Black Sun, I already trust them even less than I do her.”*** “According to my contact, Zajex is currently on a space station over the planet Falleen.” Drel wasn’t entirely sure he was ready to take the word of someone he’d never met; let alone someone working for Black Sun. “Can you vouch for your contact?” Dia held up her hands. “She’s been known to hit the death sticks a little hard, but her information is good.” He still didn’t know how he felt about taking a gamble on this information, but they didn’t really have much of a choice. If Dia trusted the validity of her contact’s information, then it would have to do. “Alright.” He said with a nod. Dia continued. “She said she can send us some landing codes for the hanger and meet us there once we arrive on the station. It sounds like Zajex is still hiring bounty hunters to work for him, so there’s a chance she can get us an audience with him.” “Fine.” Drel said. “But keep our involvement with the Hutts a secret. We don’t want anyone tipping Ximus off before we can get to him.” “Of course, Love.” Dia said with a smile. “You know, I do have brains behind this beautiful face, right?” That she did, Drel admitted to himself. She was almost too smart for her own good. “Just get it done.” He said. “Give Eye-Ah the jump coordinates and let’s get moving. You can get the codes from your contact on the way there.”***Chapter 8 The Mythosaur exited hyperspace after a quick journey and approached the large station orbiting the Falleen homeworld in the Doldur sector of the Mid Rim. Once the Patrol craft made its way toward the station and provided the landing codes Dia’s contact had given them, they were permitted to land in one of the station’s hangers. As usual, IA-9 remained behind with the ship while Drel, Rimas, and Dia went aboard the station; much to the droid’s disappointment. The group exited the Patrol craft and made their way down the ship’s main entry ramp, entering the enormous hanger. There had to be at least a hundred ships in it. The Mandalorian scanned the hanger cautiously with his EE-3 rifle in hand and observed a number of ships occupying it; a YT-2400 light freighter, a VCX-150 freighter, as well as several other notable ship models. One particular model that caught his eye was the Lancer Pursuit Craft. Even more stunning yet was the fact that there was a small fleet of thirty of them parked on the opposite side of the hanger. Although the Lancer Pursuit Craft was one of the most common models used by the criminal syndicate, Drel could barely stomach the idea of seeing so many Mandalorian-made ships in the hands of Black Sun. After what happened on Mandalore, it was entirely possible these were the last of their kind. While the group continued on, they noticed a Lambda-class T-4a Imperial Shuttle parked in the hanger. It was guarded by two armed stormtroopers stationed at the bottom of its entry ramp. “’Looks like the Imps are dealing under the table.” Rimas whispered as they passed by. “I have a bad feeling about this.” “Easy… They’re not interested in us.” Drel leaned in closer to Dia. “Where’s this contact of yours?” Just then, they were approached by a female Zeltron with a Black Sun tattooed on her arm. “Dia Scafer…” the Zeltron said upon seeing the Twi’lek in Mandalorian Armor. “Lexi Wornag…” Dia replied. The Zeltron woman was undeniably beautiful, even by Twi’lek standards. Her natural purple hair cascaded from the top of her head and stopped just short of her shoulder blades. Her pouty lips were the same shade of purple as her hair. Her red skin looked smooth and unblemished, even with the tattoos on both her arms and the left side of her neck. On her body, which was in excellent physical shape, Lexi wore a black sleeveless top, with a pair of formfitting pants that matched. At the ends of her long shapely legs, she wore ankle-high boots that comfortably sat over the pants. Along her slender but athletically toned arms were elbow-length gloves, perfectly fitted for handling weapons. Covering her shoulders was durasteel shoulder armor with the symbol of the Black Sun painted on top of them. Drel noted a pair of KYD-21 blaster pistols were resting in the holsters strapped to each of her thighs. The ammo belt around her hips had a series of pouches which undoubtedly housed more concealable weapons. Whoever this woman was, he had no doubt that she was skilled with each of the weapons in her possession. He looked over at Rimas who only moments ago seemed tense at seeing the Imperial shuttle. Now, he looked much more at ease; probably due to the calming pheromones that the Zeltron was emitting from her body. The Mandalorian bounty hunter was pleased to know that his helmet was preventing the pheromones from entering his lungs. He could not afford to lower his defenses, even for a moment. “How have things been?” Lexi asked, clearly speaking to Dia. “Oh, you know…a job here, a job there. Whatever it takes to make my way in the universe.” The Zeltron looked at the two men standing beside the Twi’lek. “’This the crew you were telling me about?” She asked. Dia nodded. “’Word is that Black Sun is hiring bounty hunters for something big.” The red-skinned woman chuckled. “You know I can’t talk about that, Dia.” “‘You don’t have to.” Dia said with a smile. “Whatever it is, I want in. ‘Think you could do me a favor and cut us in on the job, for old time’s sake?” Lexi shrugged. “I’d need to run it by the Boss, but it shouldn’t be a problem.” She motioned for the others to follow. “Watch your step. This place can be a little rough.” The Zeltron led Dia and her group out of the hanger and into a long hallway. A few minutes later, they found themselves in a crowded assembly area. Gathered all around them were a rowdy assortment of pirates, thugs, soldiers of fortune, assassins, smugglers, and Black Sun Operators; many of whom were either gambling away their credits, drinking at the bar on the far side of the room, or carrying on in a hardy conversation with each other. A handful of them were looking up and shouting at a number of screens above the bar that were broadcasting various racing competitions happening all over the galaxy. The group carefully snaked its way through the busy room until they reached a door on the other side, where an armed guard was standing watch. Lexi approached him. “I’ve got some fresh bounty hunters looking for work. I’m sure the Boss will want to meet them.” “He’s in the middle of an important meeting and specifically asked not to be disturbed until it’s finished.” The guard replied. The Zeltron threw her hands up in frustration. “Fine. Fine. Just let me know the moment he’s available.” She turned back to Drel and the others. “It may be a while. In the meantime, the bar is over there. I’ll send Dia to come find you when I hear from Zajex.” Drel noticed that the Guild Agent was eyeing a nearby table where a group was playing Sabacc. “We’re not here to play cards.” He reminded him. “I know, but maybe a friendly game of Sabacc will pass the time.” The bounty hunter looked over at the group playing the card game; there was nothing friendly about any of them. “This isn’t Canto Bight or Mos Eisley.” Drel warned. “This is Black Sun. I don’t think I need to remind you what that means.” “I’ll be fine. I just want to play a couple of hands. That’s all.” Drel let out an aggravated sigh. There was nothing he could say that would change the Guild Agent’s mind. “Fine.” He said. “Go on. But be careful and try not to draw too much attention to yourself.” “Understood.” Rimas said before making his way over to the Sabacc table. The Mandalorian bounty hunter turned to Dia, but found she and Lexi had already started walking over to the bar for a drink. Now alone in the dangerous underbelly of the galaxy’s most dangerous criminal organization, he decided to keep an eye on his companions from a distance. His hand rested calmly on his rifle as he did so.*** Rimas Guri couldn’t believe his luck. He’d won the last several hands, as well as an impressive sum of credits from the eight other players at the table. “I thought you all said you knew how to play Corellian Spike!” He laughed as he swept his winnings to his side of the table. The other players looked at him and grumbled angerly. As the Guild Agent continued to win their credits over the course of two more games, things were beginning to look like they were going to become violent. “That’s it!” shouted a Klatooinian pirate. “I’ve just about had enough of you! You think you can just walk in here and take all my credits?!” As the Klatooinian reached for his blaster, someone walked up to the table. Whoever it was must have been intimidating, because the Klatooinian immediately sat back down the moment he saw him. Unfortunately, Rimas had his back to the stranger. “Is there a problem here?” The stranger asked in a deep, booming voice. The Klatooinian pointed at Rimas. “This scum keeps winning all our credits! I say he’s cheating!” Rimas felt a large hand on his shoulder. “Okay, Pal, it’s time for you to –” The stranger stopped himself in mid-sentence; the imposing tone in his voice vanished. “Rimas? Rimas Guri?” The Guild Agent turned to face whoever had said his name and was stunned when he came face to face with a tall, muscular Besalisk with brown skin. He immediately recognized the man. “Nex Ukted!” Rimas exclaimed. “’Last time I saw you, we were in the fighting pits on Loovria.” “It’s been a long time.” The Besalisk admitted; a smile broke across his wide mouth. The wattle under his chin swayed as he chuckled and gave the Guild Agent a hardy slap on the back. The Klatooinian looked just as annoyed as he was confused. “’You going to do something about this cheater?” Rimas stood up and waved the alien off. “Keep the credits and deal me out.” The other aliens went right back to their game. The Guild Agent turned his attention to the Besalisk standing before him. The four-armed Besalisk was dressed in a faded navy-blue shirt and thick leather pants. Although he couldn’t presently see them, Rimas recalled that Nex had a tattoo mark for every fighter and beast that he’d killed in the arena; and he’d racked up quite a few of those over the years. The muscular alien’s biceps were each as big as Drel’s helmet. At the end of each arm were large four-digit hands with long brown nails on the ends of his fingers. Unlike most of his species, who often had bloated stomachs, Nex remained very fit. Rimas also noted that four RSKF-44 heavy blasters hung from the belt around the Besalisk’s waist. Nex was taller than he remembered, then again, the last time Rimas had seen him was almost ten years ago. The Besalisk now stood at an impressive 2.14 meters tall. “You’re taller.” He said. “You’re fatter.” Nex laughed. “Don’t tell me that living in the civilized part of the galaxy has made you soft.” “I’ll admit, I’ve let myself go since the last time we saw each other, but I can still go toe to toe with you any day, Nex.” Rimas said playfully jabbing the Besalisk in one of his four muscular arms. “Is that so?” Nex laughed and rested his arm on the Guild Agent’s shoulders. “You haven’t changed a bit, you son of a spire! Come this way. I’ll buy you a drink, My Friend.” The two reunited friends made their way over to the bar and stood on the opposite end of the counter, far from where Dia and Lexi were standing. Nex ordered some drinks; Rimas was a little surprised that such a renowned and well-connected organization like Black Sun had such a small selection of drinks available. A moment later, the Besalisk handed him a tall glass of Gamorrean Ale. The bar was beginning to fill up with more and more unsavory characters stumbling up to the counter to order another round of drinks. Rimas noticed that Dia and her contact had stepped away from the bar as it became more crowded. He thought nothing of it and took a sip of the sour alcoholic beverage, before turning his attention back to his friend. “Out of all the people in the galaxy that I could’ve run into, I never would have expected to see you here, Nex.” He said. “What are you up to these days? Last I heard you were being called the Champion of the Fighting Pits by half of the galaxy.” “I was lucky you won your freedom when you did, otherwise that title probably would have been yours.” Nex chuckled. “No, my days in the fighting pits are over. These days, I’m working as a bodyguard and enforcer for Black Sun.” “You don’t say.” Rimas commented, trying to hide his disappointment. “Since you’re here, I could put in a good word for you if you’re looking for a job.” Nex offered. “With your reputation as a renowned pit fighter, I’m sure they’d hire you quicker than lightspeed.” The Guild Agent shook his head. “No thanks. I’m doing just fine these days.” The Besalisk took a long drink from his glass, then wiped the froth from the corners of his mouth with the back of his hand. He noticed the symbol of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild on the duster Rimas was wearing. “I can’t imagine you see much action working for the Guild.” “Oh, you’d be surprised.” Rimas said. Just then, Drel walked up. “Dia’s contact says they’re ready for us.” The Mandalorian said. “That’s my que.” Rimas said taking one last gulp of the sour beverage. He patted Nex on the back. “Thanks for the drink. It was good to see you, Nex.” As Rimas and the Mandalorian bounty hunter walked away, Drel leaned in closer to the Guild Agent. “Friend of yours?” “Just someone I used to know from my days in the Fighting Pits.”*** The trio followed Lexi through another hall and up some steps until they reached the private office of Ximus Zajex. The office itself was a fairly large room with a desk in the center of it. There was a small holo-terminal on the desk. Two large Black Sun banners hung on the walls of the office. Behind the desk was a tall chair that resembled a throne. Beyond it, a Falleen male stood with his back to the group, staring out a massive circular window into the vastness of space. He was dressed in long, dark-purple robes that flowed down his legs to the floor. Other than a pair of gold shoulder plates and a round, metal abdomen covering which bore the syndicate’s infamous symbol, the man did not appear to be wearing any other form of protection. A black ponytail fell behind his head and stopped just before the prominent, green-scaled, spinal ridges that traveled down the back of his neck. There was no doubt in Drel’s mind that this shady individual was their target. On the far side of the office stood a Gamorrean holding a Vibro-Ax. The bounty hunter noted an additional smaller ax hanging from the pig-like guard’s belt. There were several scars and gashes on the stout alien’s face and arms, indicating it was most likely a formidable fighter. It grunted and snorted when Drel and the others first entered. The regal Falleen, which was indeed Ximus Zajex, did not turn to greet the bounty hunters as they entered his office. “Lexi tells me that you bounty hunters are looking for work.” He said in a calm, aristocratic voice that held a combination of power and arrogance. “Is this so?” “It is.” Dia answered. “We heard Black Sun was hiring, and since we could use the credits, we thought you might have a job for us.” “Perhaps…” the Falleen said. He turned slowly toward them. His arms were crossed, and his long, claw-like fingers were draped over the sides of his arms. “… But Black Sun already has so many skilled bounty hunters at its disposal. What can you offer us that we do not already have?” “Our loyalty,” Dia said. “and three more skilled individuals who are willing to fight for you.” The office door opened again with a low hiss. Nex Ukted entered and took his place at the wall across from the Gamorrean. “As you can see, Black Sun has no shortage of skilled fighters in its employment.” Ximus said, gesturing to both his guards. “We hire only the finest the Underworld has to offer. “Black Sun has many enemies. Some of which have attempted to send their agents to infiltrate our operations.” Drel gripped his rifle tighter. He did not like what the Falleen was implying. Zajex looked at the Twi’lek bounty hunter and her companions with a cold, judgmental gaze. “I am well aware of your skills, Dia Scafer.” He said. “You have served us well in the past, though, you are not as clever as you think you are.” He extended one of his long claw-like fingers and pressed a button on his desk. Immediately, a holo-recording of Drel, Dia, and Rimas blasting their way through the halls of Depatar was projected from the holo-terminal on it. “This was taken a few days ago…” Dia’s eyes widened in fear. Drel felt his pulse quicken. “We received and interesting report that a Mandalorian and Twi’lek blasted their way through Depatar with an unconscious Pyke arms dealer in their possession.” The Falleen frowned. “Did you honestly think we wouldn’t know? Black Sun has eyes and ears everywhere.” Ximus began to slowly circle around to the other side of his desk. “I suppose I should thank you for eliminating an individual from our competition for us.” He continued. “Unfortunately, you did not deliver the Pyke to Black Sun, so I can only assume that you are all working for the Hutts.” And just like that, the Falleen had seen through their deception. There was no use pretending anymore. Drel quickly raised his blaster. His companions had a similar idea. Before any of them could draw their weapons, the Besalisk and Zeltron drew their own weapons and shot the trio with stun rounds. Nex walked over to were Rimas had collapsed. “Sorry, My Friend. It’s nothing personal.” Drel was losing consciousness fast. He overheard Ximus talking to the others. “Take the Twi’lek to my personal chambers. I have plans for her.” “What do you want us to do with the others?” Lexi asked. “Take them to the fighting arena. Give them back their weapons when they wake up. They will need them for what I have in store for them.” Unable to keep himself conscious any longer, Drel felt the world go black. ***Chapter 9 In the blackness of his unconscious psyche, flashes of memory entered the mind of Rimas Guri. He remembered a trip with his parents from his homeworld, Batuu to Tatooine. He blinked and the memory changed. He was screaming and calling out to the dead bodies of his parents as a raiding party of Tusken Raiders dragged him back to their camp. He blinked again and he was now being sold to the Fighting Pits. In a flash, years of merciless training went by in a heartbeat. He recalled the face of his fighting mentor, Jirobu Rebo. Before Rimas could truly zero in on the memory, the next one took its place. He was now taking his first steps into the Fighting Arena as a fighter. His opponent: the same man that had trained him for the pits. After a great deal of taunting and exchanging lethal blows with each other, Rebo eventually died by his hands. It had been the first time he’d ever killed someone, but it was far from the last. Countless battles in Fighting Pits across the galaxy flooded his mind. The faces of every opponent he’d ever killed in the arena whizzed past him as fast as lightspeed. He remembered watching friends, fellow fighters that he’d come to know and respect, meet their violent ends while the crowds roared and cheered at their expense. He knew each of them, both friend and foe, picturing them in frightening detail. In a fraction of a second, Rimas was forced to relive the pain of each battle all at once. It seemed as if there were no end to the battles replaying in his head. Each was a heated war of life and death between combatants for their own self-preservation. Suddenly, he blinked and his time in the fighting pits had ended. He was a free man. The nightmare was finally over. But was it? The Guild Agent slowly opened his eyes and found himself in a cell; not unlike the ones he’d been placed in before each of his fights. He was half-convinced that he was still dreaming, but when he spotted the familiar Mandalorian occupying the cell with him, the reality of his current predicament could no longer be refuted. *** Drel woke up shortly after Rimas. The first thing he realized was that they were in some kind of cage, in a different part of the station. The bounty hunter studied the thick, metal walls of their confines and determined that the material was far too dense to get a signal out to the Mythosaur. For the time being, it was best to ascertain where exactly they were in the station, before they made any attempt to escape. “Where are we?” Drel asked, sitting up. Rimas frowned. He was already on his feet. “I’ve been in enough holding areas like this over the years to recognize when someone’s sending us to a fighting pit.” He looked around. “Where’s Dia?” “Zajex has her.” Drel said. He suddenly realized his jetpack, Mandalorian vambraces and blasters had been removed sometime while they were unconscious. “Dank Farrik! They took our weapons!” “Relax. It could be worse.” Rimas said. “During my time in the Fighting Pits, there was a time when I was taken to the planet Vodran and forced to fight a Trandoshan slaver without any weapons on a thin, narrow platform that was suspended above a massive Sarlacc pit.” Drel looked at the Guild Agent. He’d heard about life in the Fighting Pits. Very few chose that life for themselves. Most fighters were either captured or coerced into serving in the pits by a local crime boss if they were unable to pay off a debt. There were two ways of to escape such a fate: fight in the pits for a predetermined number of matches across the galaxy until the fighter either won his freedom, or died in the arena; either way, the crowds enjoyed watching the barbaric nature of the sport. The fighters were essentially slaves with little to control over their lives, except defending themselves in the pits. He couldn’t begin to imagine what Rimas must have gone through in those days. In his short time working as a bounty hunter, he’d only ever known Rimas Guri as an agent for the Bounty Hunters’ Guild. There was still so much he didn’t know about the man who’d recently saved his life. “How old were you when you started fighting in the pits?” He asked. “Ten.” Rimas admitted. “I was ten when I was taken prisoner by some Tusken Raiders after they murdered my parents. I spent a year with the Tuskens as their slave before they traded me to an off-world slaver who worked for the Fighting Pits. I spent five years watching the other fighters while being training in hand-to-hand combat, and finally set foot in the arena when I was around eighteen years old. After a few matches, I quickly became a crowd favorite.” Drel was hesitant to ask the next question on his mind but saw no reason to stall it any longer. “How many years did you serve as a fighter?” “Not including the five years of training…Eight years.” The Guild Agent said. “During that time, I met Nex Ukted. I eventually won my freedom and left the pits when I was twenty-five. My fame in the arena had earned me quite an impressive reputation.” “How’d you end up with the Guild?” “Shortly after earning my freedom, I found myself in a cantina on Nar Shaddaa. I noticed there was a disagreement between a group of bounty hunters that was beginning to turn violent. The Guild Agent working there at the time had no idea how to keep the bounty hunters under control. Before things escalated any further, I stepped in and told the bounty hunters that if they didn’t knock it off, I’d report them to the Guild and make sure they never got work in that sector again. The bounty hunters reluctantly stopped fighting and exited the cantina.” He shrugged. “Apparently, an informant for the Hutts witnessed the whole thing and reported it to their Hutt patron. A short time later, I received a message from the Guild explaining that one of their Hutt benefactors were impressed with the way I handled the situation and kept the bounty hunters in check before they caused any more damage. They offered me a job as a Guild Agent, and I’ve been living a life of luxury ever since.” “Well, I’m sure your skills are going to come in handy for whatever Black Sun has in store for us.” Drel said. He heard a whirring of mechanical limbs approaching from outside their holding cell. “Do you hear that?” Before Rimas could answer, two service droids stood on the other side of their cell. They were holding both of the men’s weapons in their hands. “Ah, I see you are both awake.” The first droid said. “Splendid. We were instructed to return your weapons to you once you regained consciousness. I will inform the Master that we are on schedule to begin.” It handed Rimas his two vibroswords and blaster through the bars of the cell. The second droid handed Drel his Mandalorian vambraces and both his blasters. Drel couldn’t help but notice the absence of his jetpack. “And my jetpack?” He asked. The second droid did not seem surprised by the Mandalorian’s question. “Your Z-6 jetpack is safe in the master’s custody. He wanted to ensure that things did not end too quickly.” It pressed a button on the wall and both men felt their cell slowly begin to rise up an elevator shaft that it was connected to. “Fight well, Combatants. May your deaths entertain the crowd.” Soon the cell reached the arena above them. Through the bars of their prison, Rimas and Drel could see the collection of Black Sun employees gathered in the stands of the arena, cheering for the fighting to begin. By the looks of it, Black Sun had created a fairly large fighting arena in the center of the station as an additional means of entertaining its many guests. As he scanned the stands, Drel noticed Ximus Zajex in a private observation box. Beside the Falleen stood the Besalisk and Zeltron. The Mandalorian quickly spotted Dia, who’d been placed in a pair of stun cuffs and forced to watch her friends fight in the pits. Drel leaned in closer to Rimas. “Dia’s up there with Zajex and the bodyguards that captured us.” The Guild Agent shook his head. “I hate to say this, Drel, but we’ve got bigger things to worry about here.” An announcer’s voice echoed through the arena. “Valued associates of the Black Sun Syndicate, tonight we have an unexpected surprise for you. Our esteemed host, Ximus Zajex has apprehended a group of dangerous individuals who were attempting to mettle in Black Sun’s affairs. Instead of merely executing them, he has decided to have them fight to the death against some of our strongest combatants in this arena for your entertainment!” The crowd roared even louder. The cell door facing the arena lowered slowly. Reluctantly, Drel and Rimas walked out into the large fighting pit. The announcer’s voice continued. “Our first combatant needs no introduction, I’m sure. I have no doubt many of you remember him from his days in the Outer Rim Fighting Pits. Rimas Guri! The crowd roared again. “With him is a Mandalorian bounty hunter who is gracing our humble arena for the first, and possibly the last time. I’m told he’s earned himself the nickname, the Blood-Shadow of Mandalore. Let’s hope he lives up to his name. Please give a hand for, Drel Semaj! The crowd began to boo the Mandalorian. “Our host assures me that you are all in for a treat this evening! So without further ado, let the fighting BEGIN!Drel and Rimas looked at the other cell doors in the circular arena. Their weapons held at the ready. “What do you think they’re going to send our way first?” Drel asked. “They’ll start off with something easy to appease the crowd.” Rimas said. “I’m sure Ximus will want to draw out our deaths as long as possible.” The first cell door opened and out stepped the Gamorrean guard from Zajex’s office earlier, accompanied by two other Gamorrean fighters. “Oh, ‘looks like Org Hesh will be the first to fight our new arrivals. And he’s brought friends with him.” The two Gamorreans charged forward, while Org Hesh took his time on his approach. Drel quickly drew his blaster and shot one of the Gamorreans in the head, killing it without any trouble. Rimas on the other hand, made one swift, graceful, swipe with a vibrosword and killed the other as it clumsily staggered toward him. Org Hesh squealed in rage and drew his second Vibro-Axe from his belt. He swung his larger ax at Rimas. When that attack failed, he attacked with the smaller ax, hacking the air with it. Quickly blocking the second attack with the vibrosword in his left hand and cutting diagonally with the one in his right, Rimas quickly dispatched Org Hesh with ease. “’Looks like Guri’s skills have remained as sharp as those blades in his hands! Org Hesh is no more!” the Announcer commented. “Let’s see who our next challengers will be.” The next cell door dropped. Two Terrelian Jango Jumpers armed with daggers did a series of flips as they exited the cell. Behind them, a large Whiphid male armed with a large spear entered the arena. The two Terrelian Jango Jumpers flipped over Drel with incredible acrobatics. As they attempted to strike the Mandalorian with their daggers, he parried with his beskar vambraces. They jumped around the seasoned Mandalorian several times, taunting him with their graceful maneuvers. As one of the Jumpers attempted to flip backwards, Drel quickly fired his fibercord whip and grappling hook quickly wrapping the cord tightly around the alien’s legs. Before it knew what was happening, the Mandalorian swung the captured Jumper at its partner and also knocked it off its feet. The bounty hunter quickly sprayed both Jumpers with a burst of blaster-fire from his EE-3 rifle before either of them could recover. The two Jumpers died with a surprised expression on their face. Rimas and the Whiphid were locked in combat. The strength of his opponent was unbelievable. As Rimas attempted to attack the Whiphid, he was knocked onto his back. The creature raised the spear above his head for the killing blow. “It looks like it’s over for Guri.” Suddenly, a pair of daggers spun through the air and landed directly in the Whiphid’s heart. The creature looked down in surprise at the two sharp pieces of metal protruding from its chest, before it finally collapsed on its knees and died. Rimas looked at where the daggers had come from. He was relieved to see the Mandalorian bounty hunter holding one of the Jumpers’ daggers with his hand raised above his head and preparing to throw it at the Whiphid again if it got up. Drel hurried over and helped Rimas to his feet. “They’re going to keep throwing the Arena Fodder at us until we’re all worn out.” Rimas explained. “When that happens, they’re going to throw something big at us.” “Then, I suggest we stick together and hold our ground.” They faced two more waves of skilled mercenaries and fighters. The crowd continued to cheer for the combatants in the arena. The Mandalorian and the Guild Agent had succeeded in proving that their deaths would not be so easily won. Suddenly, the ground rumbled. Something big was in one of the cages, waiting to be set loose in the arena. “That doesn’t sound good.” Drel said. The huge cage door lowered slowly, and a massive creature emerged from it a few minutes later. Both men gasped. “It’s a Mantellian Savrip!” Rimas shouted. Drel had seen the creature many times in the popular game, Dejarik, but this was his first time seeing one in person. The Mantellian Savrip was far more imposing than the small playing piece on the holo-chess board that it was featured in. Apart from the fact that it stood at four meters tall, despite its hunched-over stature, its large four-fingered hands sported sharp claws at the ends of each finger, and fanged mouth made it more than a force to be reckoned with. It had dark grey leathery skin, with horns on its snake-like head, and arms that were long enough to drag on the ground. Its red eyes glowed menacingly. Much to his surprise the creature wore primitive clothing. The Mantellian Savrips were a semi-sentient species that had lived on the planet Ord Mantell. These days, the reptilian-species were all but on the verge of extinction, thanks to years of being hunted and exported by the immigrated species that occupied its homeworld. With an average lifespan of 500 years, there was no telling how old this particular Savrip was; not that it’s age really mattered to the other men. The Creature bellowed something in its native language, Savrip; which sounded more like a roar, than a comprehensible language. The Mandalorian and Guild Agent would need to work together if they were going to have any chance of defeating it. Drel would have given just about anything to have his jetpack with him. The Mantellian Savrip took a few steps forward and swung its long arms at the pair. Both men had to act quickly in order to dodge the attack. It slammed its clawed fists against the ground and lashed at Drel with its mouth. “Watch out for those teeth!” The Guild Agent warned. “Savrips have a very poisonous bite!” The Bounty Hunter once again rolled out of the way of the creature’s attack. “Duly noted! I’ll try and draw its attention! See if you can land a few good strikes on it!” He drew his WESTAR-35 and fired at the Savrip; which only seemed to anger it more. It was far more intelligent than either man thought. While Drel attempted to get its attention, the Savrip used its other arm to swat at Rimas, preventing the Guild Agent from getting close enough to strike it. As the Mandalorian tried to avoid another attack, one of the Savrip’s massive, clawed hands knocked him onto his back and sent both his blasters spiraling out of reach. Before he could recover, it lifted him off the ground and brought him closer to its mouth, pinning his arms with its tight grip. The crowd roared with excitement. Drel desperately struggled to get his arms free, as the Savrip’s maw drew ever closer. With a great deal of effort, he was able to free his right arm. Acting with lightning quick speed, he activated the flamethrower on his right vambrace and sprayed it in the face. The Surprised Creature was forced to drop the Mandalorian. The Bounty Hunter’s flames charred the scales on its face, but otherwise let it unharmed. It roared again in a mixture of rage and pain. The sound was deafening. “Quick thinking, Semaj!” Rimas shouted with a smile. “’Got any more tricks in your arsenal?” “As a matter of fact…” Drel press another button on his right vambrace. It was a longshot, but worth a try. *** Up in Ximus’s Private Observation Box, the Falleen was enjoying the spectacle below. Though the Mandalorian and Guild Agent had fared well in the arena up until this point, the Mantellian Savrip was proving to be much more difficult for them. He wondered how long it would be before both of them were devoured by the large beast. Either way, he had the Mandalorian’s Z-6 jetpack with him, so there was virtually no chance of escape from Black Sun’s Fighting Pit. He noticed Nex Ukted frown at the display below. “I could’ve taken Guri in a fight.” Nex complained. “It would’ve given the crowd a real show too. This just seems like a waste.” “Perhaps…” Ximus said calmly. “…But it would hardly be as thrilling as this. A former Mandalorian Warrior fighting side-by-side with a former Legendary Gladiator against a Mantellian Savrip. Few have witnessed a creature like that in their lifetime, I assure you.” He turned to the blue Twi’lek standing beside him in her cuffs and durasteel armor. “Does it bother you, knowing that your friends will most likely die in this arena?” Before she could answer, the Z-6 jetpack in the corner of the observation box suddenly switched on. It hovered in the air for a moment. “What is this?” The Falleen said angerly; his green skin turning red for a moment, before returning to its normal color. “Grab it, You Fools!” As the Besalisk and Zeltron bodyguard scrambled to grab the hovering jetpack, it soared out the box’s window and down toward the arena below. *** Drel watched as his Z-6 jetpack flew toward him from the observation box above. Without wasting a moment, he reattached it to his backplate and lifted off the ground. Using his fibercord whip and grappling hook, he pulled his EE-3 blaster back into his hands with lightning-quick retraction. Now, it was a fair fight. “I DON’T BELIEVE IT!” exclaimed the Announcer. “’Looks like Semaj and Guri have a fighting chance!” The crowd cheered with wild enthusiasm. At this point, it didn’t seem like they were favoring any of the combatants. They were all too captivated by the extremely entertaining display unfolding before their eyes to even care who the victor would be. “Let’s try this again!” He shouted to Rimas, with a wave of optimism in his voice. “I’ll keep him focused on me! You know what to do!” The Mandalorian flew over the Mantellian Savrip’s head; evading its long neck and teeth as he did so. He continued to fire at it with his rifle from the air. While the Savrip focused its gaze on the airborne Mandalorian, Rimas rushed toward the creature’s short legs and stopped at its three-toed feet. He thrust one of his vibroswords into its left leg, burying it deep into the scaly tissue and using the other sword slashed the tendon on the leg. The Savrip roared in pain and dropped to its knee. As it tried to stand up again, the Guild Agent repeated the action on its good leg, causing it to fall onto its front. Using its long arms to try and prop itself back up, its attempts were ultimately in vain. With both its legs severely wounded, there was no chance of the Savrip returning to a bipedal stance again for this fight. Seizing the opportunity to bring the match to an end, Drel landed back on the ground. With the assistance of the rangefinder in his helmet, the Mandalorian fired a missile from his jetpack into the mouth of the Savrip. When it reached the inside of the creature’s throat, it exploded; killing the Mantellian Savrip instantly.*** Back in the Observation Box, Ximus was furious! By an unforeseeable stroke of luck, the Mandalorian and the Guild Agent had bested his champion. He pointed a long claw-like finger at the former Besalisk Gladiator. His skin changed from green to a bright shade of crimson as his anger grew. “GET DOWN THERE AND STOP THEM! NOW!!!” Nex Ukted quickly exited the box and began making his way down to the arena. With all the excitement transpiring in the arena below, they’d failed to notice a silver RA-7 Protocol Droid enter the Private Observation Box with a serving tray filled with drinks. “Might I interest any of you in a beverage?” It said. Dia kept her gaze on the arena as she blindly reached for a glass on the tray; which proved difficult with the stun cuffs around her wrists. The droid swatted Dia’s hands away. “None for you, Tailhead!” The Twi’lek immediately recognized the droid as it slowly walked toward Ximus Zajex and offered him one of the glasses. “Beverage?” “NOT NOW!” The Falleen yelled. He motioned for the female Zeltron. “Take this droid down to the garbage smasher and have it destroyed!” “Oh well…” the droid said. “…I had hoped that you and your guards would be foolish enough to fall for my deception. Pity… it employed the use of powerful sedatives mixed into the drinks on this tray, which would have rendered you all unconscious once you ingested it. I suppose I will have to subdue you using more violent means…” There was a clicking noise in the droid’s servos. “Come on, Shiny.” Lexi said pointing her Black Sun blaster rifle at the droid. Without any warning, the droid quickly grabbed the barrel of Lexi’s blaster and smashed the butt of it into the red-skinned alien’s head and spun around in a fluid motion at an uncharacteristically fast speed. The Zeltron bodyguard was inexplicably caught off-guard by the droid’s swift mobility. She grabbed her wounded head and fell backward. Before she could fully recover, the droid kicked her in the face and knocked her out cold. While this was happening, Ximus had drawn his blaster and fired it at the droid. To Dia’s amazement, the blast just glanced off the droid’s metal plating. She was completely stunned. Normally, a blast like that would have destroyed any protocol droid it hit. The droid flipped the serving tray around and smashed it against the Falleen Crime Lord’s head with enough force to knock him unconscious. Zajex collapsed on the floor. “Eye-Ah?” The Twi’lek Bounty Hunter asked, still trying to process what she’d witnessed. “What just happened? How did you do all that?” IA-9 removed the stun cuffs from Dia’s wrists and placed them on Ximus Zajex. “Master Drel took the liberty of upgrading my systems with a variety of combat and security programing. In addition to the many forms of combat stored in my memory banks, I am equipped with joints from various security droids to increase my mobility once the programing has been initiated. He also took the liberty of coating my metal plating in Beskar, using the armor of two deceased members of his Mandalorian clan that he had kept aboard his ship.” That’s what Drel meant when he said he’d put it somewhere I’d never find it. She had to hand it to him, putting Beskar on a droid was the last place she expected to find it. IA-9 picked up the unconscious body of Ximus Zajex and carried it over her shoulder. With her free hand, she picked up the Zeltron female’s Black Sun blaster rifle and contacted Drel’s headset. *** At that same moment, Drel received Eye-Ah’s transmission. “Master Drel, I have successfully captured Ximus Zajex and liberated the Mandalorian-Pretender…” The Bounty Hunter was very confused. “Eye-Ah? Aren’t you supposed to be with the ship?” He looked up at the Falleen’s observation box. He couldn’t see anyone at the window. “I got bored.” Eye-Ah admitted. “When I didn’t hear from any of you, I assumed that you’d all been captured. It appears I was correct in that assumption. I decided to embark on a rescue mission and was surprised to find most of the station empty. During that time, I devised a clever plan to abduct the target using—” “Hang on...” Drel interrupted. “Did you just say you captured Ximus and rescued Dia single-handedly?” “That is correct.” The Mandalorian was at a loss for words. Of all the people that could have captured the Falleen Crime Lord, he would have never guessed that a droid would be the one to succeed. “I expect this means that I’ll be receiving a small share of the profits from this job?” Drel couldn’t help but smile at the droid’s insistence on being paid. “I’m sure something can be arranged.” He chuckled. “In the meantime, you and Dia stay where you are. Rimas and I will meet up with you shortly.” He turned to the Guild Agent. “We have Ximus. Don’t ask me how. All you need to know is that we have him and the girls are up in the observation box waiting for us.” Drel noticed the equally confused expression on Rimas’ face. “Apparently, Eye-Ah left the ship to rescue us.” He explained. The Guild Agent still looked confused, but it seemed like he was perfectly fine omitting a follow up explanation. “If we have Ximus, what are you waiting for? Get up there.” Rimas said waving him on. “I’ll find my way out of here. There’s usually a service door hidden behind the walls of the arena.” Drel lowered his rangefinder and quickly scanned the arena walls, until he located the hidden door. Once he’d found it, he fried his EE-3 blaster rifle and punched a hole through it. “Thanks.” Rimas said, placing his vibroswords back in the sheaths on his back. “Get moving! Chances are, once Black Sun finds out that we have Ximus, they’re going to send the whole station after us. Don’t worry about me. I’ll meet up with you soon.” The bounty hunter gave a nod, then flew up to the private observation box, while Rimas exited the arena through the service door. ***Chapter 10 Dia picked up her Mandalorian helmet and placed it over her head. She lifted her twin blaster pistols off a nearby table where Ximus had set her helmet earlier and twirled both pistols around her trigger fingers. A moment later, Drel flew through the window of the observation box and powered down the thrusters of his jetpack. “All set?” He asked. The Twi’lek bounty hunter nodded. She realized that Rimas was not with him. “You left Rimas down there by himself?” She scolded, “Some friend you are.” “Relax.” Drel said. “He’ll meet up with us soon. Besides, he can handle himself in a fight if he runs into trouble. What we need to do is take Ximus and get off this station. By now, Black Sun is probably sending the entire station after us. We just need to find a way to the hanger from here.” IA-9 perked her head up. She was still carrying the unconscious Falleen Crime Lord on her shoulder, while holding a rifle in the other. “Right now, we are in the very center of the station.” Eye-Ah said, “If we want to avoid running into any Black Sun operatives, I suggest we take the back hallways until we regroup with our Guild Agent benefactor. From there, we will be able to make our way to the hanger.” “’Sounds easy enough.” said Dia, looking at Drel. She eyed the Mandalorian’s Z-6 jetpack with great interest. Although she’d acquired enough armor to pass as a Mandalorian, it had been rather difficult to procure an authentic Mandalorian jetpack on the black market. Beside needing her own collection of actual beskar armor, having a jetpack would probably be the next addition to her Mandalorian wardrobe. Still, she envied the one attached to Drel’s backplate. “Any chance I can get my hands on a jetpack like yours when we get back to the Fossil, Love?” The Mandalorian ignored her question and followed IA-9 out the door of the observation box and into the hallway. “Really?” Dia huffed. “You gave your protocol droid a full military upgrade, complete with its own beskar plating, and your telling me you can’t spare an extra jetpack?”*** Rimas made his way through a labyrinth of winding corridors. At first, he was a bit turned around as he tried to navigate all the interlocking hallways in the station’s lower levels. It had only been about ten minutes since he and Drel had split up in the fighting arena. Thankfully, he had not run into any criminals working for Black Sun, but he was ready to regroup with Drel and Dia. As he continued down a narrow hallway, which soon transformed into a much wider one that could probably fit an entire RGC-18 landspeeder in it, he was certain that he’d found an entrance to the central levels of the station. Suddenly, he heard a voice from an adjoining hallway call his name. “Guri!” Rimas peered down the end of the hallway and noticed some stairs leading upward. However, standing in the middle of it was Nex Ukted. In his lower hands, Nex was holding a pair of cortosis blades and an electro cudgel in his upper-left hand. Rimas guessed that he’d probably picked the latter weapon up sometime during his journey down to the lower passages. The Besalisk pointed at the Guild Agent. “We’ve been through a lot over the years, Guri, so I’ll be honest with you. I wasn’t a fan of the stunt Ximus pulled with the Savrip back in the arena. He was getting impatient with the way you and your friend were handling yourselves against his fighters. You remember I was never a fan of watching a fellow gladiator go up against a massive creature in the arena. I mean, I’d hardly ever call that an even match. “I offered to fight you myself when Ximus suggested unleashing the Mantellian Savrip in the arena, but he wanted you both dead sooner.” He chuckled loudly. “I have to say, after seeing you in action again, I’m impressed. You’re skills haven’t dulled at all, My Friend!” Friend. The word seemed more like an insult coming from Nex’s mouth, even if that was not the Besalisk’s intention. “Really?” Rimas raised an eyebrow. “’You still consider me your friend after the stunt you pulled? Tell me, was I still your “friend” when you stunned me in your boss’s office; because the Nex I remember would never have shot someone in the back like that?” The muscular Besalisk shrugged and held all four of his arms in an open position. “Oh come on, Rimas.” Nex said with a smile. “It wasn’t personal. I had a job to do. Black Sun’s the one that pays me. That means they call the shots.” Rimas shook his head. He couldn’t believe it. After years of talking about getting out of the fighting pits and getting their freedom, his friend had given it up the moment he joined Black Sun. “’Sounds like you’ve traded an old slave collar for a shinier one.” He said. He saw a nerve in the Besalisk’s face twitch. “Careful, Rimas…” Nex warned. “I said it wasn’t personal, but ‘you keep talking like that and I may just change my mind.” This did not dissuade the Guild Agent’s resolve on the matter. “You don’t honestly believe you’re a free man here. You’re serving new masters here; masters who don’t care what happens to you as long as they continue to make a profit. “Instead of walking away from a life of fighting and embracing the bright future you won for yourself, you’ve gone right back into the slums of the galaxy to entertain a new crowd, just like you were doing before.” “’Better a black sun then none.’” Nex said, quoting the mantra of the Black Sun Syndicate. Rimas let out a sad sigh. “I always thought you were more than just a brainless thug who enjoyed jumping from fight to fight… I guess I was wrong.” He could see the rage boiling over in Nex’s eyes. “I AM NOT A BRAINLESS THUG!” the Besalisk shouted, as he slammed the electro cudgel in his hand against the wall; the powerful impact left a very deep dent in it. Nex was breathing heavily. His chest puffed up and down as his rage consumed him completely. “I’m done talking to you! Ximus wants all of you dead! So I’m going to start with you! LETS GO! YOU AND ME! RIGHT NOW! No blasters! Just like back in the arena!” Rimas drew his vibroswords from their sheaths on his back. “I don’t want to fight you, Nex, but I’ll do what I have to.” The two former gladiators lunged at each other in rage. They were evenly matched. Sure, Nex was stronger and had an extra set of arms, but Rimas had speed, and more importantly, full control of his emotions. The Besalisk swung the electro cudgel at Rimas, who in turn side-stepped the clublike weapon in Nex’s upper-arms and parried the two cortosis blades that were coming at him from the lower ones. It was clear that Nex was not pulling his punches. He was striking hard and striking to kill. Sparks flew in the air as Rimas’s vibroswords once again collided with Nex’s cortosis blades. As he parried again, Rimas kicked the Besalisk in the side of the knee. Nex returned the favor by headbutting the Guild Agent with his boney three-pronged headcrest. Rimas’s lip started to bleed; the copper taste of blood filled his mouth. Another attack from the cudgel hit the ground, centimeters from Rimas’s feet. For a brief moment, the ground shook. The loud crash of the cudgel colliding with the hard floor reverberated off the walls and continued to travel through the many empty hallways behind the fighting men. The Guild Agent took another swipe at Nex with both his swords. The Besalisk barely managed to move out of the way in time to avoid the severity of an attack which could have proven to be more detrimental to him, stepping away with only a small cut on his upper bicep. “How about that.” Nex said, mildly amused. “You finally drew blood.” He proceeded to swing his twin blades more widely and violently, forcing Rimas to slowly back up as the series of attacks drew ever closer, until finally the Guild Agent felt his back touch against the wall. With the cortosis blade in his lower-right hand, Nex swung away from the cornered man’s body; exploiting the weakness in Rimas’s loose defensive stance from the inside; and intentionally made sure that it collided with the inner-Ricasso of the vibrosword in the Guild Agent’s left hand. The attack was so powerful that the sheer force of the impact knocked the vibrosword from Rimas’ hand. Before the Guild Agent had time to react, the Besalisk seized the dark-skinned man by the throat with his upper-right hand, lifted him off of the ground, purposefully tossed the cortosis blade in his lower-left hand aside, and swiftly used it to pin his foe’s armed sword-hand against the wall. He tightened his grip around Rimas’s throat; the agent’s feet dangled in the air. “I expected more of a fight out of you, Rimas.” Nex said, “You may have been better than me in the past, but I guess that’s not the case anymore. I suppose that makes me the better fighter.” The Besalisk drew back his cudgel to deliver the killing blow. As he struggled to breathe, the Guild Agent raised his left leg and kneed Nex in the pronounced wattle under his chin. Nex gasped in pain. He released his grip on Rimas and put his hands to his own throat. This was the small window that the Guild Agent needed to turn the tables. He swung his vibrosword away from him and severed the hand holding the cudgel. The sharp blade cauterized the wound as it cleanly passed through the Besalisk’s wrist. Nex howled in pain and horror, while he instinctively cradled the arm missing the appendage at the end of it. “MY HAND!” He bellowed. Before the Besalisk could recover, Rimas picked the cudgel up out of the severed hand on the floor and clubbed Nex in the side of the head; though, not nearly hard enough to kill him. Nex let out a loud groan and collapsed onto the floor. “Not in this galaxy, Nex.” Rimas said, tossing the cudgel aside. As he picked up his other vibrosword and placed it on his back, the Guild Agent noticed that a security pad had fallen out of Nex’s pocket. He picked it up and inspected it more closely. There was a map of the entire station on the screen, with some live video feeds. He flipped through several of the screens and quickly spotted his companions stealthily moving down a stairway two levels above him. According to the map, if he took the staircase in front of him up a level, walked past the area where Black Sun stored their latest weapon shipments, and continued down four more hallways, he’d be able to regroup with them. After pocketing the security pad, Rimas drew is modified blaster and ran up the staircase.*** In another section of the station, Drel, Dia, and IA-9 continued to hurry through the central hallways near the assembly area where they’d waited to meet the Ximus Zajex only hours ago. The droid still had the unconscious Falleen Crime Lord over her shoulder when she stopped suddenly and motioned for others to do the same. “What is it?” Drel whispered. “Black Sun Mercenaries…” Eye-Ah said. “… guarding the hallway up ahead.” “Do you think they spotted us?” Dia asked. Blaster-fire exploded against the hallway corner just above the droid’s head. “Never mind!” A volley of more fire continued down the hallway, as Drel and the others took cover against the wall. When the blaster-fire finally stopped, one of the mercenaries spoke. “We know you have Zajex!” The mercenary shouted. “We have you outnumbered and outgunned! Why don’t you give up now and we’ll make your deaths painless?” Dia laughed. “There’s two ways we can do this.”IA-9 quickly dipped around the corner and fired her rifle, killing two of the mercenaries. Dia shrugged. “That’s one way.” “I’ve already called for backup!” The head mercenary continued. “In a few minutes, you’ll be surrounded!” Suddenly, Drel heard what sounded like two small, metallic balls rolling on the ground; though they did not sound like they were rolling toward them. “DETONATORS!” The mercenary screamed. Drel heard the mercenaries attempt to scramble for cover, but it was too late. *BOOM! * By the sound of it, someone had rolled a pair of thermal detonators into the hallway where the mercenaries were. The explosion had killed all of them. Drel turned to Dia. “Who was that?” “Don’t shoot!” called a familiar voice. The trio lowered their weapons. It was Rimas! “Come on! This way!” motioned Rimas. “We’re going to be having company real soon!” The bounty hunters followed the Guild Agent down the hall, just as a series of baster-fire echoed behind them. The group soon reached the entrance to the hanger. “Where’d you get those detonators, Rimas?” asked Dia. The Guild Agent chuckled. “I took a shortcut through the area where Black Sun stores all their new weapon shipments.” *** The bounty hunters soon reached the entrance to the hanger. They were followed closely by the rest of Zajex’s forces. Drel blasted the controls to the entrance door. He could hear the crowd on the other side of it trying to get it open again. As they sprinted to the Mythosaur, he noticed that the Imperial shuttle was no longer in the hanger. They probably received orders to terrorize someone somewhere else in the galaxy, he thought. Just then, he heard the hanger entrance door explode. A whole slew of Black Sun criminals poured through it. The Black Sun Bounty Hunters and Mercenaries began to fire at Drel and his companions. One of them fired at Drel as he climbed the ship’s main entry ramp. Dia quickly dived in front of him. The Mandalorian held his breath, Nerak…it was happening all over again. Thankfully, the blast only hit Dia in the shoulder, her armor took most of the damage. “Dia!” He shouted. “I’m fine, Love.” Dia said. “It just grazed me. I’ll live.” Soon, Drel and the others were aboard the Mythosaur. IA-9 quickly threw Ximus into the containment unit and activated the ray shields. Afterwards, she sprinted up the steps to the ship’s cockpit. Rimas leaned closer to Dia as he observed the droid move far more rapidly than he’d seen it move before. “Is it just me, or is Drel’s droid faster than usual?” The Twi’lek rolled her eyes and hurried up the steps to the upper level. *** The Mythosaur lifted off the ground and soared out of the hanger. As the station’s defense towers fired at Drel’s ship, the Patrol Craft did a barrel roll and destroyed it with its rear cannon. “Nice shooting, Eye-Ah!” Drel cheered. The droid looked at the flashing overhead screen. “Master Drel, I believe we are being followed.” Sure enough, an entire fleet of Lancer-class pursuit crafts were pouring out of the station. The pursuit crafts fired their dorsal mounted light triple laser cannon turrets, pivoting light laser cannons, and fixed forward medium laser cannons. Red streaks of blaster-bolts danced through space. One blast bounced off the hull. Another clipped one of the foils which started smoking. “Dia, get up here!” Drel shouted into the ship’s intercom, “I need you on the guns!” Both Rimas and Dia were in the cockpit a moment later. As the pursuit crafts got closer, IA-9 had to maneuver the Mythosaur several times to avoid getting hit again. “Switching power to rear deflector shields.” Drel said flipping a switch. Dia rotated the guns on the ship’s foils. She fired all of them in procession. The series of blasts struck one of the ships pursuing them. The ship spun out of control and collided with another ship, causing them both to explode. Drel looked at the error screen in front of him. Dank Farrik! Their fuel hose had been hit. The Mythosaur was leaking fuel. “We need to get out of here! We’re losing fuel fast. Eye-Ah, do you think we’ll be able to reach Nal Hutta with whatever fuel we have left?” The droid shook its head. “Unlikely. I could scan for nearby settlements or repair stations if you’d like.” “Just get us somewhere we can refuel and make repairs!” Drel ordered. “The moment you have a location, make the jump to hyperspace!” He noticed that Rimas was smiling about something. “What are you so happy about?” The Guild Agent laughed. “Black Sun still hasn’t realized that I set a bunch of charges in their weapons storage area.”*** Lexi Wornag limped down the steps until she reached the weapons area. Kriff, it had been a long day. Her head was throbbing and she was sure she had a bump on her forehead. She leaned up against a crate. What I wouldn’t give for a death stick, she thought. Suddenly, she heard beeping. As she inspected the crates, she noticed that all of them were beeping. As she explored further, she noticed a set of explosive charges had been set and the final countdown sequence had been initiated. If the charges went off with all these weapons in here, it would be more than enough to destroy the station. She had two minutes to get any remaining personnel off the station before it blew. She frantically reached for her comlink. *** Nex Ukted, rubbed his head. He was horrified when he realized he was still missing a hand. He was going to make Rimas Guri pay if it was the last thing he did. He got to his feet. Suddenly, the station’s evacuation alarm sounded. “ALERT! ALERT! EMERGENCY PROTOCOLS ENGAGES! THIS IS NOT A DRILL! THERE IS A BOMB IN THE STATION! EVACUATE THE STATION! ALL PERSONNEL, EVACUATE THE STATION! TWO MINUTES REMAINING!” Nex let out an angry roar and sprinted toward the emergency escape pods. *** “Master Drel, I believe I’ve found a suitable location that will meet our needs.” IA-9 said. “Good! Punch it!” Shouted Drel. The Mythosaur quickly made the jump to lightspeed. A few second later, the Black Sun Station exploded; leaving what remained of its fleet to collect the escape pods that had made it off the station, before they tried to figure out what to do next. ***Chapter 11 The Mythosaur quickly exited Hyperspace, just outside of Nar Kaaga, on the edge of Hutt space. The patrol craft was in bad shape. Drel thought it was a wonder that they’d even managed to get to Hutt space at all. Despite all the smoking and carbon scoring, the crew was able to dock the old ship safely. After talking to the docking official and paying the docking fee, Drel was directed to one of the local mechanics, who accepted the job; though, he was a bit baffled at how a ship as old as the Mythosaur was still able to fly at all. The bounty hunter was very clear about two things: 1. Repair the ship, and 2. Stay off his it. He went on to explain that if any of the mechanics were caught snooping around his ship, He’d blast them. As the mechanic called over his team and went to work, Drel boarded his ship again. He passed Ximus Zajex, who by this time had already woken up in the containment cell. The Falleen peered at the Mandalorian with a calm, yet sinister gaze. Something about how relaxed the crime lord was while standing in his confines, made Drel feel uneasy. Unlike their previous target, Weeza Kam, there were no attempts to barter, bribe, or even threaten them to get his freedom. He just stood there looking at them…waiting. Drel continued over to the blue Twi’lek, who was finishing up in the Med Bay and applying a bacta to her wounded arm. Deep down, he felt guilty that she’s been injured attempting to protect him. He set his helmet on the medical bed and watched as Dia slide her flak vest with the durasteel “Mandalorian” armor, over her head and fastened it over her dark blue flight suit. “How’s the arm?” She shrugged, which immediately caused her to wince in pain. “I may have downplayed how much it actually hurt, for your sake, Love. Now that I have a bacta patch on it, It’s not so bad..” “Good to hear. I suppose I should thank you for what you did back there the hanger.” “Drel Semaj, am I about to receive a “Thank You” from you?” She said with a mix of amusement and surprise. “Something like that…” He gestured for her to follow him to this ship’s armory. “I thought you said this part of the ship was off limits, Love.” Drel tapped the security code into the panel on the door. A moment later, the doors hissed open. “I’ll admit, when I found out we’d be working together again for the Guild, I was more than a bit apprehensive about it…given our history…” He said stepping into the cramped space. “But you proved me wrong. After everything we’ve been through on this job, you’ve shown me that you have my back. You were even willing to take a blaster-bolt for me.” She smiled, stepping into the tight space with him. “You did the same for me back of Depatar. So, I guess we’re even.” “My point is,” Drel continued. “You have my gratitude, and you’ve earned my trust.” He ventured further into the armory and returned with a JT-12 jetpack. “This belonged to one of the members of my clan. She died saving me during the Purge.” He held the jetpack out and offered it to Dia. “I think she’d have said you earned it.” Dia took the jetpack. Her face was a mixture of emotions. “I…I don’t know what to say, Love.” Before she could say anything more, Drel pulled her in close and kissed her. The kiss lasted for a full minute. It was imbued with passion and reawakened affection. The armory door suddenly hissed open. Standing in the doorway was IA-9. “Oh…” the droid said. “I saw you both entered the armory. Naturally, I assumed you were in some kind of danger, Master Drel.” “It’s fine, Eye-Ah.” Drel said blushing. “We were just finishing up.” The droid shook its head. “Organics…” It closed the door again. “Sorry about that.” Drel said looking back at Dia. “I actually think she’s beginning to like you.” “You’re mistaken.” Eye-Ah interjected from the other side of the door. “You could do much better than the Tailhead.” “Thank you, for that, Eye-Ah!” Drel called. Dia raised an eyebrow. “'Sounds like she’s jealous.” She picked up the jetpack and attached it to the backplate of her armor. “We should get back out there…”*** For the remainder of their stay on Nal Kaaga, Drel and Dia avoided public displays of affection on the ship. Apart from dining together with Rimas and occasionally passing each other on the stairway, they kept to themselves. Dia spent a lot of her time in the crew quarters, while Drel was busy overseeing the repairs being done to his ship. Finally, they mechanic and his team finished with the final repairs to the Mythosaur. After refueling the D-5 Patrol Craft and paying for the repairs, the crew started the flight systems and set a course for Nal Hutta. “Now that we’re back on schedule, I should probably let the Hutt’s know we have Ximus.” Rimas said, leaning back in his chair in the cockpit. “I’d hold off until we get closer to Nal Hutta.” Suggested Dia. Del nodded. “I agree. We still have some time before we reach our destination.” “Think about it…” Rimas said. “In a few hours, you’ll both be rich.” The ship lifted off and flew away from Nal Kaaga. As Drel and IA-9 prepared to make the jump to hyperspace, an alarm went off in the cockpit. “Talk to me, Eye-Ah…” He said. “What’s going on?” The droid looked at the scanners. “I’m picking up multiple crafts dropping out of hyperspace!” Eye-Ah reported. “The Empire?” asked Rimas. “The Rebellion?” Suddenly, an entire fleet of Black Sun ships entered the system. The massive fleet of Lancer Pursuit Crafts and a handful of other ships were accompanied by three much larger Black Sun ships. “That’s not good.” The Guild Agent gasped. The Lancer Pursuit crafts began their attack run, Rimas gazed out the cockpit window. “I don’t understand… How did Black Sun find us so quickly? I thought you said we got away clean.” “We did!” Drel said frantically, as he steered the ship. “I scanned the ship for tracking devices the moment we entered hyperspace with Zajex! There was nothing!” “Perhaps someone tipped Black Sun off to our whereabouts while our ship was being repaired.” Eye-Ah theorized. Drel didn’t want to think about that. They needed to get moving again. “I just got this ship back together! I’m not about to let it get damaged again!” He said. “Set a course for Nal Hutta. We’re going to need to jump quick!” The Mandalorian turned to Dia. “Dia, go keep an eye on Ximus! Make sure he stays in his cell!” The Twi’lek stood up and hurried back to the main hold. As IA-9 continued to plug the calculations into the navicomputer to make the jump to lightspeed, The Mythosaur was struck by more blaster-fire. Rimas looked at another error screen. “Uh, Drel… The containment field holding Zajex just powered down!” Drel looked to the droid seated beside him. “Did you finish making the calculations?” “Yes. They’re plugged in.” They had a new problem. “Someone’s attempting to access the hatch to the escape pod.” Rimas reported. “Rimas, stay here! Keep our shields up at full power!” The Mandalorian Bounty Hunter ordered. “When I give the signal, make the jump to lightspeed!” He turned to IA-9. “Eye-Ah, come with me! I think something might have happened to Dia!” The bounty hunter and his droid quickly exited the cockpit and left the Guild Agent alone.*** Drel and IA-9 raced into the upper deck of the main hold. As they anticipated, Ximus Zajex had escaped the containment unit and was making his way to the ship’s only escape pod. When he was at the top of the stairs, the Mandalorian expected to see the Twi’lek bounty hunter’s unconscious body sprawled out on the ground. What he found instead was Dia escorting the Black Sun’s Second in Command to the escape pod. “Dia?” Drel asked in confusion. The Twi’lek Mandalorian-Pretender turned around and smiled coyly. “Hello, Love…” Before Drel could react, Dia had fired her grappling line at him from one of the fake Mandalorian vambraces on her wrist and wrapped his arms and legs up with its thick cord. Drel stumbled over and rolled down the length of the steps. Seeing this, IA-9 turned her attention to the traitorous Twi’lek. “Tailhead Schutta!” Eye-Ah shouted as she jumped from the upper deck to the lower deck. “I knew you’d be trouble.” The droid ran toward the Twi’lek betrayer, ready to tear her apart. Before it could take two steps, Dia fired an ion dart from her vambrace. The dart hit the exposed circuits on the droid’s abdomen, where the beskar plating did not cover. It sent an intense electrical charge, which fried IA-9’s wires and circuits. The powerless droid collapsed on the ground with a loud thud. The Twi’lek turned her attention back to the bound Mandalorian at the foot of the steps. “’Lots of good all that beskar did it.” Dia laughed. “’Seems like a waste if you ask me.” “Why are you doing this?” Drel asked as he struggled to free himself. Had Ximus Zajex exposed her to his natural hypnotic pheromone? Was she doing this against her will? The Falleen Crime Lord chuckled. “She had you fooled, Mandalorian. Your former partner has been working discreetly for the Black Sun Syndicate for quite some time. It was I who instructed her to take the job that the Bounty Hunters' Guild had offered her, so she could spy on the Hutts for me. She was informing us of your every movement the whole time!” “What did they promise you?” Drel asked Dia, ignoring Ximus. If he could keep them talking, maybe he could reach his comlink and give Rimas the signal to make the jump to lightspeed while Zajex was still aboard. “Credits? Fame? Revenge? Did they tell you that in exchange for helping them, they’d let you steal the beskar armor off my corpse when I’m dead?” “Please…” Dia chuckled. “They offered me all of it. But I don’t want your armor. Black Sun offered me an entire shipment of beskar they’d received from one of their Imperial clients. As I told you… There are plenty of other ways to get beskar these days.” She pointed to the jetpack on her back. “Thanks for the jetpack though, Love. I’m surprised. I really didn’t expect you to give me one just like that. It will go well with my new armor.” Drel could feel his fingertips brush against the comlink in one of the rear pouches on his belt. He just needed to get it loose. “We should get going, My Dear.” Ximus said. “Inform our forces that we’re exiting the Mandalorian’s ship. “As you wish.” Dia pulled out her comlink. “This is Dia Scafer. I’ve freed Ximus Zajex and will be departing shortly. Instruct the fleet to hold their fire until our escape pod has been jettisoned. Once we’re clear, blow the Mandalorian’s ship to pieces.” She gestured to the escape pod. “After you, My Lord.” The two members of Black Sun entered the escape pod and shut the hatch behind them. Got it! Drel pulled the comlink free and shouted into the speaker! “Now, Rimas! Punch it!” The Mythosaur thrust forward. It quickly sped past Black Sun’s fleet and into hyperspace. *** Later, Drel sat in the cockpit of his ship and informed the Guild Agent of Dia’s betrayal, while he finished recounting what had transpired in the main hold. “So you’re telling me Ximus got away.” Rimas sighed. “Kriff! I’m sorry, Semaj. I had no idea that Dia was working for Black Sun.” “She covered her tracks pretty well.” Drel said. “She even acted like she’d been taken prisoner while you and I were in the fighting pits.” The Former-Champion of the Fighting Pits understood. “She was playing out both possibilities. In the event we escaped, she probably assumed we’d try and free her. And if we were killed, she wouldn’t have to play the hostage anymore. Either way, she made sure her cover was intact!” “Exactly!” Drel said. “She’s a real aaray o’r te shebs! Part of me still didn't trust her. There were a couple of times that she nearly had me fooled. She really loves to play her the part she’s given.” Rimas buried his head in his hands and rubbed his temples. “I just can’t believe it…” He sighed. “All that and we lost Zajex.” “I never said we lost them.” The Guild Agent looked up and raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?” “I didn’t trust Dia, at least not completely, so I slipped a long-range tracking beacon on the jetpack I gave her.” “Well, that’s great!” Rimas said, perking up. “Where are they?” “Last I checked, they were still on the move. Don’t worry we’ll have their location when they land.” Rimas gestured to the broken droid that Drel had dragged back up to the cockpit and strapped into one of the empty seats. “What about your droid? Do you think you’ll be able to get her up and running before we find Ximus?” The Mandalorian shook his head. “Her circuits are entirely fried. Even with the tools I have at my disposal, there’s no way I’d be able to fix her in time. She needs a lot of work done.” “I happen to know someone back on Batuu who might be able to help with the droid when this job is over.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I hate to say it, Drel, but I’m not liking our chances if it’s just the two of us against Black Sun and their thugs. Even with your droid I don’t think it would make much of a difference. We need someone you really trust. Someone whose good in a fight.” Drel thought for a moment. They needed a new copilot to help fly the ship. Although Rimas was doing a fair job behind the controls, he was just not used to flying a ship like this. They needed someone who’d been behind the controls of The Mythosaur before and knew how to fly it like the back of his hand. There was only one person that came to mind. “I know a guy who might be able to help us take on Zajex and his Black Sun thugs.” Drel said with a smile. “As luck would have it, last I heard he was on Nar Shaddaa…”***TO BE CONTINUED… (Be on the lookout for the rest of the story soon. links in the description below.)
STARWARS BOUNTY HUNTERS: War For the Underworld#3Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars, or any of its properties ([Legends and Canon material alike] the Characters, the Planets, events, ships, gear, etc. Mentioned in this story). All those belong to George Lucas, Lucasfilm, and Disney. I do however own the original characters: Drel Semaj, Rimas Guri, Dia Scafer, Weeza Kam, Lam Dlonyer, IA-9, Gan Tik, Ximus Zajex, Nex Ukted, Org Hesh, Lexi Wornag Funjall the Unforgiving, Oeshell Cingaergg, Tothisk the Slimy, Jirobu Reb, Agoti, Zejor Suun, Darq Kildock and the Mandalorians: Jacga Ehpal, Fel-Cree, Colsc Hepal, and Nerak Kavu-Kattu. This story is for entertainment purposes only. Thank you and enjoy.***Chapter 12 The Mythosaur slowly touched down in one of the landing areas on Nar Shaddaa. From space, the glowing ecumenopolis moon that orbited Nal Hutta resembled a much smaller version of Coruscant, if it were a planetwide den of scum and villainy; Drel was fairly certain that there were many who would’ve described the Imperial Capital of the Galaxy the same way. After locking his ship, the Mandalorian bounty hunter and Guild Agent set out in search of Drel’s trusted ally; on this crime-ridden rock, trustworthy individuals were in very short supply. Finding him wouldn’t be the issue, Drel knew where to look. *** Colsc Hepal sat alone at a table in one of the tamer night clubs on Nar Shaddaa. He recently concluded some smuggling business with a Gran merchant that had proved to be more difficult than he originally anticipated. Although the job had been successful, he doubted he would ever do business with the Gran ever again. Hepal enjoyed this particular establishment far more than some of the other, more popular, establishments like the Rimmer’s Rest, Smuggler’s Hideout, the Orange Lady, or the Kessel Club. It was far less rowdy than Giton’s Bar or Club Imperato and had a lower bounty hunter presence than the Burning Deck, the Slag Pit, or the Meltdown Café. It was quiet and relatively simple, though it occasionally had some visits from less-reputable people looking to cause trouble. He slowly lifted the glass in front of him, pressed it to his lips, and sipped his glass of Spice Runners Cider while he cautiously watched the shady characters move about the club. From his table, he could see everything going on in the building. Hepal wore a grey flight suit and brown boots. Strapped to his right thigh was a single WESTAR-34 blaster pistol in a leather holster. The twenty-two-year-old man had brown eyes and dark brown hair that was almost always trimmed in a High Fade style. On the outside, he did not look much different from all the other smugglers who visited the city-moon; though, many would argue that he was much easier on the eyes than most of Nar Shaddaa’s population. As an occupational hazard, he trusted no one in the establishment, especially the women at the bar that shot him flirtatious looks. In a place like this, whatever they were after was probably nothing but trouble. On the off-chance that they were planning on robbing him, he decided he’d rather not part with any of his credits. Right now, the only thing that he wanted to do was sit in silence and drink his drink. No disturbances. Across the club, Hepal spotted a group of four ruffians led by a Half-Human Half-Mirialans piece of filth named, Darq Kildock enter. Kildock and his four gang members started harassing innocent looking off-worlders and demanding credits from them. When the civilians refused, they caused a scene; smashing glasses, intentionally spilling drinks, and even forcefully grabbing civilians until they finally coughed up the rest of their credits to them. The sudden ruckus caused a majority of the club’s occupants to flee the building in a wild panic. The gang turned their attention to the blonde Barmaid who was now attempting to clean up the mess they had made. The young woman was probably no more than twenty-one years old and judging by her shaking hands, she had not been working in this particular establishment for long. She was by all accounts a very pretty young woman. She had hazel eyes and pouty lips. Light freckles danced along the bridge of the nose and along her cheeks. Her dainty fingers carefully picked up broken pieces of glass on the now wet and sticky floor as she dropped to her knees and drew a rag to soak up some of the liquid mess on the floor. As she continued cleaning she failed to notice Kildock and his thugs surround her. Before she knew what was happening, two of the thugs grabbed her by the arm and lifted her off the ground to her feet. The startled young woman’s hazel-eyes looked around the club and pleaded for someone to help her. “What do we have here?” Kildock cupped her chin in his hand and inspected her. “This one’s pretty enough.” He said. “Why don’t we take her down to the Slaver’s District and get her fitted with a transmitter chip.” The blonde woman struggled harder to get free, but Kildock’s thugs held her tightly. “No! Please!” She pleaded. “You can’t do this! I…I have a family to take care of!” The Gang Leader only chuckled. “Don’t fret, Beautiful.” Darq Kildock said with a wicked smile. “I’m sure they won’t miss you too much. Besides…They can still come and visit you…While you’re dancing with all my other slave girls at my club.” The group laughed with their leader. The young woman’s attempts to free herself quickly became more desperate. “NO!” She cried. “Help! Someone, please!” Her tear-filled eyes locked with Hepal. “Please…” She whimpered weakly. The Gang Leader quickly noticed her looking in Hepal’s direction. “What are you staring at, Off-Worlder?” Colsc let out a sigh. He took another swig of his cider and set the glass back on the table before he stood up. “You must be joking!” Kildock laughed. The hand clutching the woman’s chin squeezed her cheeks together and forced her to look at the Off-Worlder again. “’Looks like the Off-Worlder is going to try and protect you.” He turned his attention to Hepal. “Well, Stranger, as you can see you’re outnumbered, and I already have the girl. So why don’t you just sit back down and finish that drink before I have my boys teach you to butt out of our business--” The young woman quickly clamped her teeth down on Kildock’s hand. “AH!” The Gang-Leader yelled, as he freed his hand from between her jaws. Colsc said nothing. His eyes burned with determination while he stared the ruffians through squinted-eyes. “Are you listening? I said butt out before you get hurt.” Kildock repeated. Colsc ignored the warning and began walking toward them. “That’s it! Boys, teach this Off-Worlder some manners!” One of the thugs ran rushed at Hepal and took a swing at him. Hepal ducked and shoved the thug into another table by the illuminated bar counter. The table crashed to the ground beside the dazed thug. “Okay, Off-Worlder! I was going to just give you a beating and then be on my way with the girl, but now that’s going to cost you your credits when I’m done with you!” Kildock growled. “Get him!” The rest of the thugs rushed at the Off-Worlder. The first and second thugs tried to grab him in unison. Colsc swiftly kicked the first in the stomach, before quickly chopping the second in the throat. To add insult to injury, he then grabbed the first thug by the back of the shirt while he was doubled over and slammed the man’s head directly into the gut of the second while he gasped for air. The second thug toppled backwards and hit his head against the bar counter. He collapsed onto the wet floor with a deep groan. The third thug swung wildly; it was almost embarrassing how sloppy his form was. He threw several powerful punches but hit nothing but air. He decided to change his strategy and kicked his leg out toward the Off-Worlder. Colsc caught the thug’s foot in his hand and shifted the man’s weight until he finally lost balance. He quickly grabbed the thug’s head and slammed it against another tabletop and knocked him out cold. During that time, the first thug had recovered and gotten to his feet. He drew his knife and charged toward Colsc with it. Colsc easily avoided the knife and responded by shattering a nearby glass against the thug’s head. The man’s eyes rolled into the back of his skull as he fell to his knees, then onto his face. Darq Kildock had his arm around the blonde woman’s throat and his blaster pistol pressed against her temple. As he pulled her toward the exit, a white-haired bartender drew a blaster rifle from behind the bar and pointed it at him. “That’s enough, Kildock!” The White-Haired man said. “Let go of the girl and get out! NOW!” “Oh, I don’t think I will, Old-Timer.” Kildock said, as he turned his blaster and pointed it at the elderly bartender. “The girl’s coming with me and nothing’s go--” *POW! * A blast hit Darq Kildock in the side of the head. The Gang-leader’s lifeless body stumbled back and let go of the woman as it dropped like a tree. Both the young woman and the elderly bartender looked to where the blast had come from. Colsc Hepal stood with his WESTAR-34 drawn; Its barrel still smoking. He walked over to Kildock’s dead body and reached into the man’s pocket. After pulling out a very impressive sum of credits in a series of small sacks, he tossed them over to the elderly bartender. “For the damage?” The bartender asked. Colsc said nothing. He holstered his pistol, walked back over to his table, sat down, and continued to drink his drink as if nothing had happened. *** Drel and Rimas stood in the doorway of the night club. They had witnessed the whole spectacle. “That’s the man.” Drel said. The remaining customers remained quiet when they noticed the fully-armored Mandalorian bounty hunter and Guild Agent. “Let me do the talking.” Drel continued, as they approached the smuggler’s table. Rimas wasn’t about to argue. If Drel was going to enlist the help of the smuggler to help them take on Ximus Zajex and Black Sun, it was probably in his best interest to let the Mandalorian lead the negotiations. “Su cuy’gar.” Drel greeted in Mando’a. The smuggler smirked and set his glass on the table. “Pirusti haa'taylir tion'ad bic cuyir…” The man replied in Mando’a. “… Te Tal Prudii be Manda’yaim.” The Guild Agent stood near Drel, completely confused by whatever language they were speaking. He honestly had no clue what was being said by the men as they talked. “Ni haa’taylir gar partaylir Pehea at gev aru’ese guuror a Mando.” Drel said gesturing to the defeated thugs behind him. The smuggler nodded. Drel gestured to the man’s grey flight suit then pointed to his own armor. “Vaii cuyir gar beskar’gam, Colsc? The smuggler, who Drel called Colsc, smiled. To Rimas, it almost sounded like they were talking about armor; which seemed strange considering that Drel was the only one wearing any. “Verd ori’shya beskar’gam.” The smuggler said in an amused tone. He noticed Rimas and inquired about the Guild Agent standing by Drel. “Evaar’la burc’ya?” “Ner tomad.” Drel answered. At this point, Rimas was lost. He’d given up trying to understand what Drel and the smuggler were saying. “What are you saying?” He finally asked. Drel turned to Rimas. “I just told him that you are an ally.” “Would it make you feel better if I talked in Basic?” The smuggler asked in flawless Basic. There was not even a trace of any accent from the man. Rimas looked even more confused than he did before. “Drel, who is this guy?” Drel gestured to the smuggler. “This is Colsc Hepal, a member of my clan.” You’re a Mandalorian!” Rimas said in disbelief. Colsc Hepal nodded. “I am.” That explains why he’s such a skilled fighter, Rimas thought to himself. Drel continued. “Colsc used to help me fly the Mythosaur.” Rimas’s eyes darted back and forth between the two Mandalorians. “On Mandalore, they used to call me, Te Kebiin Cabur be Nau bal Vercopa.” Rimas shot Drel a confused look. “The Blue Guardian of Light and Hope.” Drel translated. Drel gestured to the Guild Agent with a cock of his head. “Colsc, this is Rimas Guri, an agent for the Bounty Hunters’ Guild. He’s been overseeing my most recent job for the guild these past few days.” Colsc Hepal ignored the introduction and took another sip of his drink. “I take it this isn’t a social reunion then?” “I’m afraid not.” Drel said. “I need your help, Hepal. There’s no one else I can trust with this.” Colsc raised an eyebrow. “What’s going on, Drel?” The armored Mandalorian sighed. “It’s a long story.” ***Chapter 13 Dia Scafer looked at the new beskar armor she was wearing. As promised, Ximus Zajex had given her enough pure-beskar to make an actual suit of Mandalorian armor. Not only had he provided her with the materials for it, he’d also taken the liberty of using his connections in the criminal underworld to find a skilled blacksmith to work the metal to create a near-identical suit of armor for the Twi’lek bounty hunter shortly after they’d arrived on the new Black Sun Base. The craftsmanship was flawless. Her hand practically glided along the smooth surface of the armor plates when she finally received it. It was everything she’d thought it would be and more. She marveled at how beautiful the freshly forged metal looked. It was incredibly durable but weighed far less than the old durasteel armor she’d been wearing. Every plate had been fitted to her exact measurements allowing a free range of motion whilst wearing it. One new addition to the armor that she was particularly fond of was a pair of long armor-sleeves made from light strands of durasteel-cord that covered her lekku as added protection. The head-tail coverings were surprisingly flexible and didn’t hurt the extremely sensitive Twi’lek’s organs in the slightest. The blue Twi’lek admired her armor and its accessories in the mirror of the living quarters Black Sun had given her. She posed for herself several times in it so she could get the full effect of seeing it on herself. It was all SO comfortable. Is this how every Mandalorian feels in their armor, she asked herself. She looked like a Mandalorian now. If this was the closest she was ever going to get to being an actual Mandalorian, then she was perfectly fine with that. She hadn’t had the opportunity to paint the beskar armor the same color as her old armor-plates, but she decided that could be done in the future. Right now, she wanted to enjoy how the shiny metal looked against her body. In her navy-blue flight suit and flak vest, combined with her armor and JT-12 jetpack, she was sure to be seen as a Mandalorian first and a Twi’lek second. Dia took a moment to look at the jetpack that Drel Semaj had given to her as a sign of trust. In the end, she had betrayed that trust. After all the times he’d saved her life, she’d still turned on him. She felt a pang of guilt. Deep down, she’d actually started to care about the Mandalorian and the Guild Agent, Rimas Guri, during their time together. She recalled the kiss she and Drel had shared in the armory. The passion and affection that had been poured into it, was something she’d not expected from the hardened Mandalorian. She’d been caught completely off-guard by it but had also enjoyed it. Her mind was conflicted about her betrayal. On one hand, she’d gotten the armor she’d been dreaming about wearing since she was a little girl on Ryloth; On the other hand, she’d betrayed the man she once loved to get it. Had she been wrong to do it? No, she told herself, it was worth it. The galaxy was a harsh place. The only way to survive it and get what she wanted was to do whatever benefited her the most, even if it meant stabbing a couple people in the back. She’d gotten this far by only looking out for herself and now she was working for the most powerful criminal empire in the galaxy. The door to her living quarters suddenly slid open. In walked Ximus Zajex accompanied by Nex Ukted, whose missing hand had recently been replaced by a large cybernetic one. “I trust you are satisfied with your new armor?” Ximus asked. Dia nodded. “Yes. Thank you.” Ximus seemed indifferent about her gratitude. “You have served Black Sun well…” He continued. “…and you have been rewarded. We are more than willing to make sure that you are continually rewarded, should you choose to remain an exclusive agent for Black Sun.” Dia was intrigued. “What else did you have in mind for me if I do decide to work for you exclusively?” "All in due time, My Dear.” The Falleen Crime Lord said calmly. “For now, I am in need of another bodyguard. I believe you will do nicely.” He smiled and turned toward the door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have urgent business to attend to.” With that, he exited, leaving Nex and Dia alone. The Besalisk bodyguard inspected the Twi’lek’s new armor and smiled. “Nice armor, Blue.” Nex said, placing his new four-fingered cybernetic hand on her shoulder. “Ximus delivers on the promises he makes. ‘Glad to hear you be working with us longer.” “As long as they keep paying me.” Dia eyed the large cybernetic hand on her shoulder; it accidentally brushed against her lekku. “What happened there? You touch another Twi’lek’s lekku without their permission?” Nex looked confused for a moment before he realized his mistake. “Sorry ‘bout that. Still getting used to it.” He said withdrawing his hand. “No. I lost it in a fight with Rimas Guri.” He flexed the robotic fingers and scowled. “’Next time I see him, I plan on returning the favor.” Dia figured that the odds of Drel and Rimas ever finding them now were very unlikely. There were so many Black Sun bases to choose from in the galaxy, that it would take them months to before they found this place; by that time, Ximus would have already moved to a different base. “It’s hard to believe that Lexi didn’t make it off the station before it blew. I’m going to miss that girl.” Nex continued. “If it hadn’t been for Rimas and your Mandalorian boyfriend, she’d still be alive!” The Besalisk had struck a nerve. Dia’s eyes flashed a look of anger at the former gladiator. “He is not my boyfriend!” She fumed. “And it was Rimas who rigged the charges to blow. Not Drel!” “Only gives me another reason to kill Guri if I ever see his face again.” When Nex had calmed down a moment later, Dia slipped her helmet over her head and walked toward the door. “Enough talk, Big Guy. Time to get back to work.”*** Drel and Rimas waited aboard the Mythosaur. They looked out the main entry door and watched for Colsc Hepal. “Where is he?” Rimas grumbled impatiently. “He’ll be here.” Drel assured him. “Before we left the club, he said he had to grab a few things from his ship. Believe me, he’ll show up.” The Guild Agent shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know, Drel… The longer we wait the harder it will be to find Zajex.” “He’ll be here.” Drel repeated. “We can trust him. He’s not Dia. He’s a Mandalorian. His allegiance is not up to the highest bidder. He’s an excellent pilot and as you saw a skilled fighter. Besides, you were the one who said that this was a two-person job.” The Guild Agent did not look entirely convinced, but he conceded to the Mandalorian bounty hunter’s logic. “Well, if you trust him, then I’ll trust your judgement.” A few minutes later, another fully-armored Mandalorian approached the ship. Unlike Drel, the other Mandalorian’s armor had been painted deep blue with some yellow accents added to his collar, shoulder, knee and shin armor and Mandalorian vambraces. On his back, he wore a variant of the Z-6 model jetpack that Drel wore with a blue and yellow color scheme that match the rest of his armor. A Full-T Mandalorian Defender Helmet covered his head and face. Yellow lines framed the helmet’s visor and stretched across the sides and crown of it. At the base of the helmet, just under its cheeks were twin data ports built into it. On the left side of the visor was what looked like a small three-clawed scratch above the left eye. Drel recalled that Colsc had filled in each scratch with red paint shortly after the Great Purge. When asked about it, Colsc explained that it was a fitting way to honor those who had fallen that day; One stripe for Fel-Cree’s death, one for Nerak’s, and one for the death of Mandalore itself. The Mandalorian pilot wore those stripes like a badge of honor. That day, the Mythosaur had lost half of her crew, leaving only Drel and Colsc to fly it. A few months later, after no contact from the rest of their clan, Colsc eventually left and set out on his own. This was the first time the Mandalorian had set foot in the Patrol Craft in a while. As Colsc Hepal boarded the ship, he turned to Drel. “’Sorry I’m late.” He said. “’Had to grab my armor. I barely had time to get it before My crew kicked me off my ship and took off without me. I don’t think they wanted to stay put while I’m away. ‘Turns out they’ve been trying to force me out for a while now. Backstabbing Pirates the lot of them.” “We’ve had our fair share of traitors recently as well.” Drel admitted, remembering Dia. “In the meantime, you’re welcome to call the Mythosaur home again until you can get your ship back. Once we’ve captured the Falleen Crime Lord that I told you about and deliver him to the Hutts, I’ll help you get your ship back.” Colsc shook his head. “I wouldn’t concern yourself with finding my ship, Vod. I know exactly how to deal with the aruetiise that took it…” The blue Mandalorian looked out at ship that was already beginning its departure from the Smuggler’s Moon and typed a sequence into the buttons on his vambrace. *BOOM! * The ship exploded in a fiery ball before it even left the atmosphere. “…Consider me a member of the crew again, Drel.” “Good. It just so happens that we need a pilot.” Drel said. “And there are only a few people who can fly this ship as well as you.” Colsc just shrugged. There was no reason to refute the truth. Colsc was an exceptional pilot. Drel could think of at least fifteen times that the blue Mandalorian’s piloting skills had gotten them out of a tight situation. “I assume you’re going to go after the Black Sun Operative you told me about.” Colsc said. Drel nodded. “Well then, you can consider me your partner from now on. I’ve spent the last year working as a smuggler. ‘Might as well add bounty hunting to the resume.” Drel held out his hand. “Deal.” The two Mandalorians shook hands to solidify their partnership. When they broke the handshake, Drel turned to Rimas. “You’re a decent fighter, Guri. ‘Even saved my skin once or twice. But I can’t ask you to join us when we take on Ximus and Black Sun. You’re a representative of the Guild. You should stay here and let us handle things. We can meet you on Nal Hutta once we have Ximus in our custody.” Rimas shook his head. “No. You’re going to need all the help you can get when you go up against Black Sun. I’m not going anywhere until that Kung is brought in!” “Alright.” Colsc said. “Then let’s get this Old Bird off the ground.”*** Five minutes later, the three men entered the cockpit. Colsc looked around it. Not much had changed. It was as if he’d never left. The only real new thing he spotted on the ship’s bridge was a broken RA-7 protocol droid strapped into one of the chairs. By the looks of it, the droid was powered down. “’Something wrong with your beskar’ad?” he asked as he approached the droid. Drel nodded. “She took an ion round to the abdomen. All her circuits are fried.” Colsc knocked on the droid’s head; a familiar high-pitched vibration emitted from its metal coating. “Beskar plating?” He asked. “Why’d you put it on a droid?” “My last partner tried to steal some of Fel’s and Nerak’s armor from me a while back.” Drel said. “After I kicked her off my ship, I realized the safest place to put it would be somewhere that no one would expect to find it. “Since I needed a new copilot, I bought a droid, made some modifications to it, and coated its plating with the armor of our clanmates. In a way, it was almost like having Fel and Nerak back, while keeping their memory alive.” The blue Mandalorian wanted to be mad with his clanmate, but the truth was that he understood. Life aboard the ship had been difficult without Fel and Nerak. Fel-Cree had always kept everyone level-headed, while Nerak always did her best to keep them in good spirits. The day they died, emotions ran high and the Mythosaur was the quietest it had ever been. After several failed attempts to contact any surviving members of their clan, it seemed like they were all that was left of it. He could understand why Drel had gone to such lengths to preserve their memory in some way. The droid must have been keeping his Mandalorian friend company his long and lonely hikes across the galaxy. It was only natural that Drel had formed some kind of attachment to it. Unlike the souls of organic beings, the soul of a machine could be easily retrieved in the event its body expired. Colsc shook the morose thoughts from his head and took a seat in the copilot’s chair. Right now, they needed to get moving and somehow find where the Black Sun Operative had escaped to. “I’d love to sit around and reminisce about the old days and all the friends we lost, but we need to get moving.” He said. “And unless you know the target’s exact location, I’m not going to be much help here. There’s a whole lot of galaxy that we need to search and without some idea of where to look—” There was a beeping noise on the navicomputer. “What’s that?” Colsc asked. Rimas smiled. “’Just the long-range tracking beacon that Drel placed on the Twi’lek bounty hunter who double-crossed us before she escaped with Ximus Zajex.” The Guild Agent said. “’Looks like Zajex finally stopped moving.”Drel took a seat in the pilot’s chair beside Colsc. Colsc turned to him. “Where are we headed then? “Smarab.” “Then let’s get moving! Strap yourselves in. ‘Plugging in the coordinates into the navicomputer. We’ll be able to make the jump to lightspeed soon.” Once Rimas and Drel had strapped into their seats, the Mythosaur made the jump to lightspeed and soon entered the familiar brightness of hyperspace. ***Chapter 14 In the Audience Chamber of the Black Sun Base on Smarab, Dia stood guard in her new beskar armor with Nex. Their boss, Ximus Zajex sat in a chair near a holo-terminal on the far end of the chamber and tapped his long green fingers on the arm of the throne-like chair. Unlike the Black Sun space station that the Falleen Crime Lord had previously operated out of, their current base did not entertain any of the scum and villainy that made up their army. Only his most trusted servants, guards, and agents were allowed to set foot on the base. There were no windows in the chamber and security was tight. Zajex had filled the chamber with his heavily-armed guards, and a handful of loyal bounty hunters who acted as his personal security detail. A large navy-blue banner with the symbol of the Black Sun Syndicate hung from the wall. Dia watched as Zajex finally rose to his feet. “Where is Zejor Suun?” An armored Black Sun Guard stepped forward. The male Falleen soldier wore a helmet that fully covered his head with eyes that glowed yellow. Below it was large shoulder armor that came down to the top of his chest; offering protection in addition to the gambeson body jacket that he wore that stopped just above his knee-high boots. “Yes, Lord Zajex?” The Crime Lord beckoned for him to come closer. “Come closer.” The Guard obediently did as he was told until he was standing directly in front of Zajex. “You are head of my personal security detail, are you not?” “Yes.” “And as such, you are in charge of protecting the heads of Black Sun from their enemies?” “Well, yes.” “So tell me, how is it you allowed a Mandalorian bounty hunter, an ex-gladiator, and a protocol droid to not only capture me, but succeed in escaping the station with me in their custody?” Dia could hear the nervousness in the guard’s voice as he spoke. “W-Well, we were caught off-guard. When I heard that the Mandalorian and Guild Agent that had entered your office had been captured and taken to the fighting pit, I assumed they’d no longer be a threat to you, so I saw no reason to increase security with them in custody.” “You allowed a droid to freely roam about the station, infiltrate my private observation box, and knock me unconscious. Had I not previously instructed Dia Scafer to infiltrate the Bounty Hunters’ Guild, I would already be in the hands of the Hutts.”“I was not aware that that any predetermined plans had been set in place, My Lord. Had I known--” “Whether you were aware of my plan is irrelevant. Your failure cannot be overlooked. We are Black Sun. We are feared because we are untouchable. By allowing me to fall into our enemy’s hands, even for a short time, you have proven to them that we are not as untouchable as we seem. Your stupidity has cost this organization a base and valued resources that were going to be used in our war against the Hutts. You will not fail me again.” The Guard dropped to his knees. “Never again, Lord Zajex. You have my--" The Falleen Crime Lord quickly activated one of the energy blade shields hidden in his robes and executed Zejor Suun without warning. The energy blade was deactivated and back in the Zajex’s robes before the guard’s body hit the ground. Dia was impressed by the Falleen’s swiftness. Ximus Zajex looked at the rest of the guards and operatives gathered in the chamber. “There is no place for weakness in Black Sun.” He said. “Failure will be met with severe punishment, while success will be rewarded. As of this moment, my new Head of Security will be Nex Ukted. I trust the defenses of this base will not be so easily infiltrated with him in charge.” The Besalisk pointed at the crowd. “I want all of you in your positions! Double the patrols! I catch you slacking off I’ll kill you myself! Get moving!” The crowd in the audience chamber quickly exited the room leaving a handful of guards behind with Zajex, Dia, and Nex. The Falleen made his way to the holo-terminal. A few seconds later, a hologram of Zilton Moj, the Head of the Black Sun Syndicate, appeared above the terminal. “What is it, Ximus? I have urgent matters to attend to. What do you have to report?” “Despite our minor setback with one of our stations, we are on schedule for the upcoming attack on the Hutts.” “That is good news. Soon we will have enough strength to invade Hutt Space.” Ximus raised a brow. “You expect to go to war with the Hutts so soon?” Zilton nodded. “The Hutts are still attempting to collect themselves after losing Jabba. It is best to attack them while they are at their weakest. Since you are the one who informed me of Jabba’s death, I am putting you in charge of our forces when Black Sun finally goes to war with the Hutts. I trust no one else to see this task through.” “You honor me, My Lord. I will see to it that the enemies of Black Sun are destroyed.” “If you should fail, we will have to find an alternative means of ruling the Criminal Underworld.” “I will not fail.” With that the transmission ended. Dia had overheard everything. Sure, Serving Black Sun as a bounty hunter or bodyguard was one thing, but now they were actually going to war. She wasn’t sure how she felt about it. Years ago, she had lost her parents during the Free Ryloth Movement led by the Twi’lek resistance leader, Cham Syndulla. She blamed Syndulla for their deaths and outright refused to join his resistance. She did not want to become a freedom fighter, she wanted to be a Mandalorian. Deep down, she never really liked the idea of being a soldier in someone else war. In recent years, she’d considered going after Cham’s daughter, Hera, once or twice, when she’d heard that the Empire had placed a large bounty on her head for her involvement with the Rebel Alliance. For Dia, catching the green-skinned Twi’lek general of the Rebellion would have been fitting revenge against Cham for her parent’s death. Unfortunately, someone else had jumped at the opportunity before she had. Eventually, she just gave up on pursuing that target. Now, she was being asked to become a soldier for Black Sun. She let out a sigh. If this was the cost she had to pay when she aligned herself with Zajex and his cause, for the time being, she would just have to do as she was told. ***Chapter 15 As the Mythosaur continued its journey through hyperspace, its crew sat in the cockpit and prepared to take on Black Sun again. There was no telling what sight they’d meet when they dropped out of hyperspace; a single ship? Three ships? An entire fleet of Black Sun ships? They were shooting in the dark. Colsc checked the coordinates one last time before turning to Drel and Rimas. “We’re almost there. Once we drop out of hyperspace, there will probably be several ships defending the base. The moment we enter the system, I’ll start jamming their signals so they don’t see us coming. I’ve already taken the liberty of boosting the Mythosaur’s jamming signal.” “Good.” Drel said, “Guri, man the guns. If there’s a welcome party, we need to be ready to defend ourselves. Even if we jam their signal, we’ll need to make sure the Mythosaur stays out of sight. Black Sun will recognize this ship if they spot us. That means we can’t risk landing near the base. Someone will need to stay behind with the ship can keep it in orbit, while the rest of us drop to the surface using our jetpacks.” Both men turned to Rimas. The Guild Agent immediately knew what the Mandalorians were thinking. “No way! If I wanted to sit around while the two of you go after Ximus, I would have stayed on Nar Shaddaa. Don’t forget that I still represent the Bounty Hunters’ Guild. If I say I’m joining you, then I’m joining you when you go against Black Sun.” Drel looked like he was about to argue with Rimas, but Colsc quickly interrupted him. “I can program the autopilot so we can call the ship to us when we need a lift…” He said as he tapped a few buttons on the console in front of him. “…Done. The autopilot is not synced with your vambrace, Drel. No one needs to stay behind. So we can all drop to the surface together.” “Uh…I don’t have a jetpack.” Rimas said nervously. “How am I supposed to get to the surface while the ship’s in the air?” Colsc shrugged. “You could just jump and free fall down. You’ll definitely reach the surface before us.” The Guild Agent looked at the blue Mandalorian in disbelief. His mouth hung open at the insane suggestion. He turned to the other Mandalorian, wondering if Colsc was being serious. “He’s joking.” Drel said. “There’s an emergency thruster pack that you can use to slow your descent. It doesn’t have any weapons on it, but it should allow you to keep up with us.” Their conversation was suddenly cut short again. “Get ready!” Colsc called. “’Dropping out of hyperspace in three…two…one…” The Mythosaur quickly exited hyperspace and entered the system. Its crew was fully prepared to confront the Black Sun ships they expected to encounter. Nothing. Nothing was waiting for them. There were no ships of any kind patrolling the system. The crew looked around in confusion. “Are we in the right place?” Rimas asked. Drel nodded and looked at the readout on his screen. “That’s Smarab. The scanners are picking up some kind of structure on the surface.” He said, then quickly turned to Colsc. “Start jamming them.” The blue Mandalorian did as he was instructed. With a flick of a switch, the signal was active. “We’re dark. Their scanners are jammed.” He looked out the cockpit window at Smarab. The large astronomical object that the Mythosaur was steadily approaching looked like a small planet whose moon had collided with it and somehow embedded itself into its surface. There were still some indications of water bodies, but the flat ground surrounding the impact zone was mostly barren. According to the scanners, Smarab’s atmosphere was still breathable; though, he doubted anything but Black Sun inhabited the planet now. The older Mandalorian looked out the cockpit window as well. “Good.” Drel said. “Get us closer.”*** After activating the Mythosaur’s autopilot, the small crew used their jetpacks to drop down to the surface below. Once on the ground, they continued toward the Black Sun Base on foot. Night had fallen, so their descent had gone unnoticed. From a safe distance away, Drel and Colsc lowered the Range Finders and activated the night vision on their helmets to get a closer look at the base. The sizable base had high stone walls with guard walkways about halfway up the outer walls that went around the entire structure. By the size of the fortified building, it was hard for the Mandalorians to judge how many floors it had, but if they had to guess there were probably six floors on each side of the building, if not more. Four additional lookout bunkers were connected to the sides of the large building and attached to the guard walkways for patrols. Colsc imagined that each of the bunkers probably had some kind of E-Web heavy repeating blaster set up in the windows with snipers accompanying them. Two large blast doors were the only means of entering the base from the ground-level with a large security control room build directly above it. In front of the thick blast doors were two round water fountains with some plants decorating the sides of the entrance. Beside the base was an additional access door for the guards that Colsc guessed led to some underground tunnels. However, their main concern was the four quad turbolaser cannons mounted on each corner of the rooftop. They would need to enter that control room and take those cannons offline before they went forward with the infiltration. Drel turned to Rimas. “Security looks pretty tight. There are patrols on the ground and upper walkways of the base, as well as four quad turbolasers on the roof.” “And that’s just on the outside.” Colsc chuckled. “If I can make it into that control room, I can turn those cannons off and get a layout of the whole base.” Drel nodded his head in agreement. “We’ll have to approach on foot, then climb up the walkways by that command center near the north entrance. Remember, we need to do this quietly, so set your blasters to silent. Otherwise, the whole base will know we’re here.” “Understood.” Rimas said with a nod, as he and the others switched the settings on their blasters to silent. “What are we waiting for?” *** Using the cover of night to their advantage, the three men kept to the shadows as they approached the base. Once they were close enough to the north wall, Colsc climbed up to the guard walkway on the right side of the Control Center, while Drel and Rimas scaled the wall on the left side, and carefully avoided the patrols. As a single guard passed by on the walkway, Colsc silently climbed up, covered the guard’s mouth and stabbed him with the vibroblade in his vambrace before he could raise the alarm. The guard’s muffled cry of pain only lasted for a brief moment before it went completely silent. Drel did the same to the guard on their side of the walkway, before helping Rimas up. Once the guards had been dealt with, the group waited by both of the external access doors to the control room and waited for Drel to give the signal to enter. All of them had their blasters drawn and held at the ready. “Move.” Drel whispered over the private comms channel. In unison, Colsc and Drel entered the control room from opposite sides. There were about fifteen Black Sun Guards waiting in the control room. Before any of them knew what was happening, the two Mandalorians and Rimas opened fire; the guards were dead before any of them could raise the emergency alarm. Some didn’t even have time to pick up their weapons before they were gunned down, but they met their ends just the same. The head guard quickly attempted to use his comlink as he backed away from the intruders. “We’re under attack! We’re under--" There was nothing but static coming from the comlink. The signal had been jammed. The Falleen guard made a dash for the emergency alarm but was shot in the back before he could reach it. Colsc and the others lowered their blasters once the last of the guards had been killed. The blue Mandalorian quickly moved toward a security terminal, pulled a data-cord out of a pouch on his belt, connected it to one of the round data ports built into the cheek of his helmet, then plugged the other end of it into the port of the security terminal. “I’m in.” He said. “No alarm’s been activated. We’re still dark.” Colsc typed a few commands into the security terminal’s keyboard. “What are you doing?” Drel asked. “I thought you were just going to power down the cannons.” The blue Mandalorian continued typing. “I’ve hacked the controls. Now, I’ll be able to control the base’s security systems from my armor.” He pulled out a blank holopuck and plugged it into the terminal. “Downloading the complete layout of the base for you.” He said, unplugging the data-cord from his helmet. After handing the holopuck to Drel, he tapped a button on his vambrace. “Locking down all access to the control room. If anyone who isn’t me attempts to access the security systems, the terminals have been reprogrammed to short circuit.” “Good work.” Drel said. He activated the holopuck and studied the layout of the base. After determining the quickest route to the audience chamber in the lower levels of the base, he turned back to Colsc and Rimas. “Zajex will most likely be in the Audience Chamber guarded by Dia and Rimas’s old friend.” He pointed at the hallways they needed to take to get there. “If we move down these hallways, we’ll encounter the least amount of security based on these schematics.” Rimas smiled. “Doesn’t sound like a problem.” “We’re still going to have to find a way past at least six patrols before we get here.” Drel continued. “That’s not counting the security stationed outside the Audience Chamber. It’s still not going to be easy.” Colsc shrugged. “Wouldn’t have it any other way.” Needing no further incentive, the group hurried deeper into the base as the thick control room door locked behind them. ***Chapter 16 Dia stood in the audience chamber with Zajex, Nex, and a handful of Black Sun Shadow Guards. It was the first time the Twi’lek bounty hunter had ever seen the Shadow Guards, but she’d heard plenty about their reputation. Unlike the rest of the Black Sun Guards, the Shadow Guards were elite fighters that wore portions of black armor used by Imperial Shadow Troopers. The Imperial symbol had been replaced with the symbol of Black Sun. In addition to the former Imperial armor, the guards wore dark Black Sun helmets that match the rest of the armor. Each of the guards also had a portable cloaking device build into their armor in the event they wanted to catch their enemy by surprise. She shook her head. All this security seemed like overkill. There was no way that Drel or Rimas would ever find them on Smarab. They were far too well hidden here. Not to mention that Nex had gone to great lengths to make sure the base was entirely locked down for Ximus. Was all this hiding really necessary for him when he had an entire fleet of ships that could just have easily guarded the planet from space? Even if it drew attention to his location, it demonstrated the full might of the Black Sun Syndicate and its resources. Come to think of it, if that were the case, there would really be no reason for her to be acting as one of his personal guards. Through the visor of her Mandalorian helmet, the blue Twi’lek looked at the Falleen Crime Lord, who sat calmly in his chair as usual. He didn’t seem worried at all, which should have brought her comfort. Even so, she had no idea why she suddenly felt so uneasy. Maybe it was just her bounty hunter skepticism imagining things. Yes, she told herself, that’s it. It’s just my skepticism getting the better of me. There’s no way Drel will be able to track me all the way out here. Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a rumbling from one of the upper levels. “What was that?” She asked. Nex shook his head. “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” The Besalisk drew his security comlink. “This is Ukted. What’s going on up there?” Static.I said what’s going on up there! I want an report now!” Static. “Someone better answer me!” Static. The Besalisk growled in frustration. “I can’t get through!” Dia tried the comlink in her helmet but was only met with static. “I can’t get a signal either.” She said. “I think we’re being jammed.” Nex was furious. “That’s impossible! There’s no way anyone would be able to find us here.” His eyes suddenly shot in Dia’s direction. “Where did you say you got that jetpack from again?” Dia shrugged. “I got it from the Mandalorian after I tricked him into trusting me.” “The Mandalorian just gave you that jetpack?” What was Nex getting at? She wondered. “He did, once he fully trusted me.” “Take it off!” “Why?” “I want to see something.” Dia noticed Ximus staring at her. Reluctantly, she detached her jetpack and handed it to the Besalisk. Nex carefully inspected the jetpack from every angle. Finally his long fingers rubbed off against something on the underside of the jetpack near its thrusters. “Ah. There it is.” He said pulling of a small round piece. “Just as I thought. A long-range tracking-beacon. Looks like you led your old partner straight to us, Blue.” Dia’s eyes widened in horror. “What? How?” “’Looks like the Mandalorian played you. He probably tucked the tracker on the underside where he knew it would be easy to miss.” Ximus slowly rose to his feet. “Well, it looks like you have failed me, Dia.” Dia backed up slowly. “No! Never! Honestly, I had no idea he’d put that there!” Nex drew one of his RSKF-44 heavy blasters and pointed it at Dia. “Do you want me to kill her now, Lord Zajex?” There was a long pause as the Falleen pondered her fate. The Twi’lek bounty hunter was half-convinced that he was going to order the Besalisk to kill her. “No…” Ximus finally said. “She will be punished, no doubt. But she will have the opportunity to redeem herself. We are expecting company after all.” The Besalisk put the blaster back in its holster and crushed the beacon in one of his free hands. “As you wish, My Lord.” He turned to the Shadow Guards. “You heard him. Get into position. We’re expecting company.” The Shadow Guards quickly activated their portable cloaking devices and vanished from view. *** “Well, so much for sneaking around.” Rimas said. “’You try getting tossed across a room by a Wookiee bounty hunter like Snoova and see if you can maintain some kind of silence after that.” Colsc said as they continued down one of the hallways on the ground level. “I wouldn’t know.” Rimas said. “I was too busy trying to avoid his vibro-ax.” Drel shook his head in aggravation. “Just be thankful that the only thing the Walking Carpet hit with his light repeating blaster was a fuel tank being moved to the hanger and not either of you. Consider yourselves lucky that the force of the explosion knocked him out. The last thing we need to deal with is an angry Wookiee coming after us now that the whole base knows we’re here.” Drel looked at Colsc as they continued down the stairs. “What can you do to slow down any reinforcements on their way?” The blue Mandalorian pressed a button on his vambrace. “I sealed off several of the hallways on the upper levels and flooded them with knock-out gas. I don’t expect there’ll be any reinforcements coming from up there any time soon. It won’t stop all the patrols, but it will definitely thin out the herd.” Well, that takes care of a few of our problems, Drel thought. Now all we have to do is get to the Audience Chamber. It was unfortunate that they no longer had the element of surprise on their side, but it wasn’t unexpected. Nothing ever went perfectly smooth. They just needed to adapt to the situation as it changed. A few minutes later, the group reached the outer hallway of the Audience Chamber. Waiting for them were forty Black Sun Guards accompanied by five loyal bounty hunters on Black Sun’s payroll. There were far too many to take in a straight fight without getting killed. “What do we do now?” The Guild Agent asked. Drel thought for a moment. Then an idea popped into his head. “Colsc and I will toss a couple of our smoke grenades into the hallway. Once it fills with smoke it will be easier to approach and pick them off.” He turned to the Guild Agent. “Rimas, you wait here. Colsc and I will handle this.” The dark-skinned man reluctantly nodded, though he seemed a little disappointed about being left behind. Drel and Colsc each reached into the pouches on their belts and drew a handful of miniature smoke grenades. The pair tossed the pebble-sized grenades into the next hallway at the feet of the guards, before switching the heads-up displays in their helmets to the thermal settings. Thick smoke began to fill the outer hallway. Soon, it was impossible to see anything. The guards spun around in confusion. “Hey! What’s going on?” “I can’t see a thing!” Slowly, the two Mandalorians crept through the smoke with their vibroblades drawn. They moved as swiftly and silently as lethal shadows. One-by-one, the guards fell victim to the Mandalorians’ sharp blades, until there were none left alive. When the smoke cleared, Drel and Colsc stood on opposite sides of the outer hall with the bodies of the slain guards and five bounty hunters at their feet. The bodies littering the tiled floor. Rimas joined them when he was certain it was safe. He let out a low whistle at the sight of the dead bodies. “Nice work.” Next, the three men peered at the Chamber door. “Zajex will probably be expecting us.” The Guild Agent stated. “Any idea how many guards are on the other side of this door?” Drel shook his head, after attempting to pick up the heat signatures in the Audience Chamber. “The walls and blast-door are too thick for our scanners to get a head count.” “’Looks like we’ll just have to do this the old-fashioned way.” Colsc said. With the press of a button, the large blast-door began to open. A moment later the three men entered the Audience Chamber. ***Chapter 17 Apart from Ximus Zajex, Nex Ukted, and a Twi’lek Mandalorian that was probably Dia Scafer, the Audience Chamber appeared to be empty. Rimas looked at the Falleen, who did not seem surprised to see them. He merely sat on his thrown at the far end of the chamber. “It appears you’ve found me, Mandalorian.” Ximus said to Drel. “Hiding a tracking beacon on the jetpack you gave Dia as a symbol of trust…Very clever. It was an oversight I will be sure not to repeat in the future. “I see that you and your partners have made short work of my security. Most impressive. You would have made an excellent operative for the Black Sun Syndicate. We certainly would have put your skills to good use.” “We’re not for hire.” Drel said. “And even if we were, we’d never join up with Black Sun.” “The Hutts are very eager to meet you, Zajex.” Rimas said with a smile. “Though, they don’t really care if we bring you to them alive.” “You are mistaken, Guild Agent, if you believe the Hutts will ever be able to regain the power they once held now that Jabba is dead.” Rimas was beginning to wonder if Black Sun had a hand in orchestrating Jabba’s death. “Before you ask,” The Falleen continued, “I assure you that the Black Sun Syndicate had no involvement in Jabba’s death. Your deaths, however, we will cladly take ownership of. Guards!” Just then, eight Black Sun Shadow Guards wearing portable cloaking devices decloaked and stood behind the three men with their weapons pointed at them. Two of the guards were armed with Electro-Bisento staffs, while the rest of the guards were armed with Black Sun rifles.*** Dia watched Drel, Rimas, and a blue Mandalorian she’d not seen before, whirl around to face the new threat behind them. She almost felt guilty about how easily the Falleen Shadow Guards had been able to surprise Drel and the others. There was no cover in the otherwise empty chamber for the three men to use. It looked like it would be a slaughter. The Mandalorians, however, did not let the unexpected appearance of the Shadow Guards keep them from putting up a fight. Both activated their jetpacks and flew up toward the chamber’s high ceiling, as the guards with blasters focused their fire on the moving targets. Rimas had used the distraction to go after the guards wielding the spear-like weapons. The Former Gladiator ducked, dodged the blade of the first guard’s Electro-Bisento, and blocked the attack with his vibroswords. The First Guard spun his weapon around in a rowing motion and blocked Rimas’s counter-attack. Meanwhile, the Mandalorians were busy flying through the air and blasting their weapons at the Black Sun Guards below. They succeeded in killing two of them and quickly fired some small missiles from the launchers on their vambraces at the remaining guards with blasters. The series of small explosions killed the four guards. Dia turned her attention back to Rimas. Rimas had been doing fairly well against the two skilled guards. The small explosions had distracted the guards just enough for the Guild Agent to land some crippling hits on the first one. The Second Guard attempted to come to his friend’s aide by charging at the Guild Agent with his Bisento held in front of him. The Former Gladiator rolled out of the way and in doing so, caused the second guard to impale the first with the tip of his Bisento. The impaled guard let out an audible groan as he was run through. Before the Second Guard could withdraw his weapon, Rimas shove his twin swords between the Falleen’s backplates and killed the last of the Shadow Guards. Upon seeing his elite guards dispatched, Ximus Zajex rose to his feet and made a move toward the door behind his throne. When he attempted to open it, he found the door was locked. “Impossible!” Dia heard the Falleen curse under his breath as he tried to open the door again; the result being the same as before. “Having trouble?” The blue Mandalorian asked, as he and Drel touched down on the ground again. “You aren’t going to get away this time, Zajex.” Rimas panted. Once he’d caught his breath, he turned to Nex. “This is your last chance to walk away, Nex. You don’t have to die fighting for Black Sun.” The Besalisk looked down at his cybernetic hand. His eyes filled with hatred. “After what you did to me, Guri? No way!” Dia drew her twin DE-10 blaster pistols from her holsters. “Enough…” Ximus said, calmly turning around. “It appears you have left me no choice…” Dia cocked her head in confusion, as Ximus approached Drel with his hands together. He’s giving up just like that, she wondered. She honestly didn’t known whether to lower her blasters or not after seeing Ximus surrender so easily. Drel cautiously stepped forward with a pair of stun cuffs and prepared to place them around the Crime Lord’s wrists. The Twi’lek suddenly noticed something in the Falleen’s hands, as he offered the Mandalorian bounty hunter his wrists. Before she could offer any warning, Ximus activated the energy blade shield in his hand and slashed Drel across the chest with it. “Drel!” She suddenly cried out, unable to stop herself. The Mandalorian toppled over backwards. Thankfully, the beskar armor on his chest had taken most of the blow. Drel quickly got to his feet. Rimas quickly kicked the first shadow guard’s Electro-Bisento over to Drel, as Ximus drew a second energy blade shield from his robe and activated it. “KILL THEM!” The Falleen ordered. “With pleasure!” Nex laughed, drawing his cortosis blades with his lower arms. Dia had little time to decide what to do as the blue-and-yellow Mandalorian flew toward her.*** Drel picked up the Electro-Bisento at his feet. He could have sworn that he’d heard Dia call out his name. He shook the thought away and focused on defending himself from Ximus’s attacks. The Falleen was very skilled with the fan-like blades made of energy. Clearly it was not his first time fighting with these particular weapons. As he tied to attack Ximus with the Bisento, the Falleen connected the twin energy blades together and made a larger shield. He disconnected the energy blade and attacked Drel again. It was nearly impossible for the bounty hunter to penetrate the skilled Crime Lord’s attacks. *** Rimas rolled out of the way as Nex charged toward him with impressive speed. The furious Besalisk swung his cortosis blades at the Guild Agent as he passed. He stopped by the impaled Shadow Guard and pulled the Electro-Bisento from the dead man’s chest. Nex turned back around so he was facing Rimas. “I’m going to enjoy killing you.” The four-armed man taunted. He swung the spear-like weapon with his upper arms, while his lower ones continued wielding the cortosis blades. “You cut off my hand…” He attacked Rimas with the blades in his lower arms. “…You set the charges that killed Lexi…” Rimas defended against the lower attack but was struck in the face by the metal rod of the Bisento. “…And you humiliated me!” The Besalisk continued toward his former friend. He swung the blade of the Bisento at Rimas’s head. The Guild Agent barely dodge the attack in time. “I was even going to give you a warrior’s death!” Nex bellowed. “But after cutting off my hand and knocking me out, you were going to just leave me on the station and hope that I died when it blew up so that you wouldn’t have to kill me yourself!” “And here we are.” Rimas said, holding his vibroswords at the ready and prepared for another attack. *** Dia activated her jetpack as the blue Mandalorian grabbed onto her. The two of them tumbled around in the air and exchanged punches. In truth, this was the first time she had ever used a jetpack, so she was far less skilled at flying than her attacker. The two of them suddenly collided with one of the chamber walls and dropped to the ground. After getting to their feet they continued their battle. Dia drew her DE-10 blasters again and fired them at her attacker. The blaster-bolts just glanced off the other Mandalorian’s beskar armor. She fired her fibercord whip and grappling hook from the vambrace on her wrist and wrapped it around her attacker’s hands. Before she could attack again, the blue Mandalorian charged toward her, using his thrusters to gain momentum. He jumped into the air, switched off his thrusters and kicked Dia hard in the stomach with both his feet. Both of them rolled through the chamber doorway and into the outer hallway. Using his vibroblade, Colsc cut himself free. “You must be the old partner, Drel keeps talking about.” He said. “You must be the surviving member of his clan that he never talks about.” She retorted. Colsc shrugged. “Fair enough.” He said. “But at least I earned the right to wear this armor, instead of cutting a shady deal with Black Sun to get it.” The Twi’lek punched at Colsc; who easily blocked the attack with his arm. “You have…” Punch! “…No Idea…” Kick! “…How long..” Parry! Counter-Punch! “…I’ve been waiting to wear this armor!” She said, drawing her vibroblade. “You Twi’leks area sure light on your feet.” Colsc said, dusting himself off. “I don’t recall asking for a dance though.” “I’m more Mandalorian than Twi’lek these days!” “You almost know how to fight like us. I’ll give you that, but you’re not a Mandalorian…” The Twi’lek attempted to slash Colsc with her vibroblade, as they continued to fight. “…It’s almost an insult that you even consider yourself a Mandalorian.” Colsc thrust his blade toward the Mandalorian-pretender. Dia quickly parried with her vambrace and pushed the man’s wrist out of the way. She spun around, jumped on one foot and kicked the blue Mandalorian in the chest. “I’m going toe-to-toe with you, so I can’t be that bad.”*** Drel barely dodged out of the way, as the Falleen’s energy blade sliced a large chunk out of the throne. He rolled and fired his WESTAR-35 at Ximus when he got to his feet. Ximus blocked the blaster-bolts with the energy blades. The Falleen glanced around the chamber and noticed that Dia and the other Mandalorian were no longer in the chamber. “I see your Mandalorian friend and Dia have taken their fight elsewhere. Such a pity. I would have liked for them to witness your death. Then again, if the Mandalorian kills her first, he’ll only be saving me the trouble of killing her myself for leading you here.” Drel could barely believe his ears. Zajex was going to kill Dia because he placed a tacking beacon on her without her knowledge and unknowingly led them straight here. He dodged another strike from the Crime Lord. This time it grazed the Mandalorian’s arm. “Ah!” Drel cried in pain. “Hmmm… it appears I’ve made the Blood-Shadow of Mandalore bleed.” Drel grabbed his wounded arm and staggered backwards. Ximus attacked again. This time, the Mandalorian lifted the Bisento to block the attack, the force of which knocked the rod upward against Drel’s chin and knocked the helmet clean off his head. The helmet soared across the chamber and rolled into the hallway.*** Meanwhile, Colsc and Dia were locked in combat. Their vibroblades sparked as they collided. Dia straddled the Mandalorian and used the weight of her body to press her vibroblade closer toward the armored man’s chest. Colsc struggled to keep the blade from stabbing him. “It’s a shame you’re fighting for the wrong side. You’d make a great Mandalorian if you weren’t so committed to Black Sun’s cause.” He said. While avoiding the Twi’lek’s blade, the Mandalorian used his knees to push Dia off of him. Both of them quickly recovered and got to their feet. “I’m not committed to their stupid cause!” Dia yelled. “All I wanted from them was this armor! I don’t care about their war with the Hutts!” She ignited her flamethrower and sprayed the flames in a sweeping motion. Colsc quickly rolled out of the way and fired his fibercord whip and grappling hook to bind the Mandalorian-Twi’lek’s arms together at her sides. He used his jetpack and spun around her twice to keep her from getting free; the tightness of the rope caused the Twi’lek to accidentally drop her vibroblade. “Then why are you fighting us?” Colsc asked, after landing again. “You could have just walked away!” “Don’t you get it?” She said, as she struggled to free herself. “You can’t just walk away from Black Sun. I don’t want to fight Drel, or any of you, but Zajex will kill me if I fail him again! I don’t have a choice now!” As Dia struggled, she tripped and fell onto her back with her arms still bound at her sides. The moment her body hit the tiled floor, her modified Mandalorian helmet fell off her head and rolled a meter or so away before finally stopping. Colsc approached the bound Twi’lek and stood over her. “You always have a choice.” Just then, Drel’s helmet rolled into the hallway and bumped against Dia’s boot. She immediately recognized the Mandalorian helmet. “Drel!” She gasped. The Twi’lek bounty hunter quickly looked at Colsc. “Listen, I don’t care what happens to me right now. Drel’s in trouble! He’s going to need our help!” The blue Mandalorian looked in the direction of the chamber, then back at the Twi’lek. Part of him was convinced that this was some kind of trick. “Please…” Dia pleaded weakly. “I love him… I made a mistake… Don’t let him die for it…” The Mandalorian looked into the Twi’lek’s blue eyes. There was genuine concern in them, but none of it was for herself. Whatever selfish motivation she’d had before was now replace by her concern for her former lover. “It sounds like you just made your choice.” Colsc said, cutting her bonds. He offered his hand to help her up. To his surprise, the Twi’lek graciously accepted it and made no attempt to continue their fight. “You actually love him…don’t you?” “Yes.” Colsc heard Drel’s pained cries from the other room. “You want to be a Mandalorian and earn the right to wear that armor?” A look of eagerness flashed in the Twi’lek’s eyes. “Absolutely!” Colsc handed the Twi’lek her helmet. “Then let’s go save Drel!” The two of them quickly picked up their weapons and ran into the Audience Chamber. *** Drel’s vision was starting to get fuzzy. He was in a lot of pain. His lower lip was bleeding and there was a small second-degree burn just above his right cheekbone from how close the Falleen’s energy blade had gotten to his face. Luckily, that was the only damage the energy blade had done to him. Still, Ximus Zajex had proven to be a difficult opponent. After knocking the Mandalorian off his feet and onto his back, it took every ounce of strength to defend himself against the Falleen’s unyielding attacks with the Electro-Bisento in his hands. The Crime Lord was so close to him that Drel could see the sadistic pleasure in the Falleen’s eyes as he continued to attack. The energy blades pressed hard against the metal rod of the Bisento, so much so that the center of the rod was beginning to glow orange. The Mandalorian didn’t know which would give way first, the strength in his arms or the rod itself. In the end it proved the be that latter when the energy blade cut the Bisento in half. As Drel attempted to roll away, he felt Ximus’s foot pin his cape to the ground, which prevented him from rolling very far. Ximus brought the energy blades above his head and savored each second before he delivered the killing blow. Drel closed his eyes, accepting his fate. Suddenly, he heard something whirl through the air. He opened his eyes again when he heard Ximus shout in pain. Sticking out of the Falleen’s left shoulder was Dia’s vibroblade. The Crime Lord recoiled from the sudden surge of pain in his shoulder and took a step back; this was the opportunity Drel needed to roll away now that his cape was free. The world around him was coming in and out of focus as the Mandalorian got to his knees and fumbled for the sharp-half of the Bisento. Among the sound of blood pumping in his head, Drel thought he heard Dia’s voice again in the distance. “Go help Rimas! I’ll help Drel!” He heard the quick ignition of a jetpack and felt someone land nearby. The sounds were followed by a series of blasts being fired from a pair of DT-10 blaster pistols and deflected by the twin energy blade shields. He then felt a hand on his back. “Get up, Love. I’m here to help.”*** Rimas felt his body slam against the stone wall of the chamber. He felt the wind exit his lungs. Next, he felt a surge of pain in his jaw after Nex punched him with is new cybernetic fist. He heard Drel cry out in pain but was helpless to offer any kind of support at the moment. The Besalisk laughed as he punched the Guild agent again. “After I kill you, I plan on having your mark added with all the other deaths on my back. Maybe, I’ll do something special to it to make it stand out more.” The Guild Agent slashed at the cortosis blades in Nex’s lower hands. Although the initial attack did not result in dismemberment, it was painful enough for the towering Besalisk to drop both blades. “AH!” Nex shouted. Rimas was covered in bruises. He was almost certain that there was no place on his body that was not bruised, bleeding, or swollen. Nex was not pulling any of his punches. The battered Guild Agent uses his left hand to steady himself against the wall and pointed his other vibro-sword at the Besalisk. “Had…enough?” He panted. Nex only roared. Like Rimas, the Besalisk had several open cuts across his exposed torso and upper arms. Despite these, Nex continued fighting like a man possessed. He swung and punched at Rimas with his lower hands. With his upper hands he swatted the Guild Agent with the blunt end of the Bisento. The dark-skinned man dropped to one knee. Nex twirled the spear-like weapon so that the pointy end was toward his opponent. From out of nowhere, Colsc Hepal sprinted over, picked both of the Besalisk’s cortosis blades up off the ground, and used them to stab Nex in the back. The wounded alien roared in a mix of pain and rage before he unexpectedly went into some kind of warrior frenzy. He didn’t even seem to notice the two blades protruding from his lower back as he continued to madly swing the sharp Bisento at both his attackers. He noticed Dia Scafer firing her weapons at Lord Zajex. Her sudden betrayal finally sent him over the edge. “TRAITOR!” He shouted. “You better hope that Zajex kills you before I finish with these two, because I’m going to make you suffer before you die!” Rimas had never seen Nex this crazed before. He was fighting more like a feral Wampa than an actual sentient being. The Besalisk swiped at the two men with his four claw-like hands. Colsc and Rimas did their best to avoid being hit by the powerful strikes. “Sorry to intrude.” Colsc said, dodging an attack. “’Looked like you could use the assist.”Rimas tried parry the blade of the Bisento with his vibro-swords as it swung past his head. “I appreciate the help, but this fight is personal.” He said. The blue-armored Mandalorian tilted his head in confusion. “You’re joking! That Besalisk has lost his mind!” “I can handle Nex!” The Guild Agent replied. “‘See what you can do to help Drel and Dia!” The Mandalorian shook his head, but reluctantly left the two rivals to continue their fight alone. *** Ximus Zajex swung his twin energy blade shield at the two bounty hunters attacking him. He incorporated a variety of skilled kicks from several of the martial arts he knew during the isolated skirmish, knocking his opponents back if they got too close. Dia retrieved her discarded vibroblade off the floor and used it to attack the Falleen, while Drel attacked with the sharp-half of the broken Bisento staff. “Impressive…” The Falleen admitted. “I haven’t had to fight my enemies myself for some time now. I should thank you for allowing me to sharpen my skills in hand-to-hand combat after being out of practice for so long.” Drel used his jetpack to deliver a powerful kick to Ximus’s jaw from mid-air. During that time, Dia fired the pistol in her other hand and blasted one of the energy blades out of the Falleen’s grip. The blade tumbled out of reach, but this minor setback did not seem to slow Ximus down. As the two bounty hunters attacked the Second-In-Command of Black Sun, Colsc hurried to assist them. He fired his WESTAR-34 at Ximus. The skilled Crime Lord used his remaining energy blade to deflect the blaster-bolt while he continued fighting Drel and Dia. Suddenly, distant Blaster-bolts echoed from the outside hallway. Colsc turned and noticed a large patrol of Black Sun Guards hurrying down the hallway toward the Audience Chamber. “We’ve got incoming hostiles!” “Well, what are you waiting for, Mando? Get out there and keep them busy!” The blue Mandalorian gave a quick salute and flew over to the chamber’s entrance. A moment later, he was firing his blaster and spraying his flamethrower at the approaching guards in the hallway. *** The Guild Agent swerved away from each attack the maddened Besalisk’s attacks. No matter how many times he cut Nex with his vibrosword, the Black Sun Enforcer refused to go down. There was no way of reasoning with his former friend as the attacks grew more violent. In a fit of rage, Nex tossed the Bisento aside and kicked the dark-skinned man to the ground. He raised all four of his arms above his head, intent on bringing them all down at once on the Guild Agent’s head. Rimas reached for the Bisento just beyond his fingertips. Nex began to bring down his fists, but before any of his hands could land a deadly blow, Rimas grabbed the spear-like weapon and tilted it toward the Besalisk. The sharp blade punctured clean through Nex’s chest. The Besalisk’s four arms dropped to his sides. Nex dropped to his knees but remained upright with the Bisento propping his dead body up like a metal support beam. He let out one final groan as he went completely still. The Guild Agent slowly got to his feet and dusted himself off. He suddenly thought he saw Nex’s body stir again. Instinctively, Rimas drew his blaster and shot Nex in the head, just to be sure he was dead. When there was no movement from the dead Besalisk, he was satisfied that Nex was indeed dead. Rimas shook his head; he was both impressed and annoyed at how long it had taken him to kill Nex. “You were just as stubborn in death as you were in life, Old Friend.” He said limping away from the body. *** Dia attempted to keep the Falleen Crime Lord’s attention focused on her with a series of coordinated melee attacks, while Drel went for his exposed back with the blade of the Bisento. As Drel went for Ximus’s back the Falleen spun around, grabbed the handle of the Bisento in the Mandalorian’s hand, kicked Drel away, and thrust the end of the spear-like weapon into the gaps between Dia’s breastplates. The force of the thrust caused the surprised Twi’lek to crash into the nearby throne and hit her head. Drel’s eyes went wide as Dia laid motionless beside the throne with the broken end of the Bisento sticking out of her chest. The Falleen smirked at the sight. “That solves one problem.” Drel felt rage surge in his chest. Ximus had just murdered the woman he loved. Sure, the nature of their relationship had been a rocky one, but deep down he cared for her just the same. Now she was gone. He looked up at the Falleen with seething hate. He sprinted toward Ximus at full speed and activated the thrusters on his jetpack to further boost his approach. The sudden and intense force of the Mandalorian’s body knocked the Crime Lord off his feet and sent his energy blade flying. Drel, blacked out for a moment as his rage consumed his conscious thoughts. He straddled the Ximus’s chest and unleashed a series of heavy punches. It all happened so quickly that Ximus could not defend himself. Green blood poured from his nose and mouth as the Mandalorian beat him within an inch of his life. Somewhere in the rational part of his mind, Drel heard Rimas’s voice. “DREL! STOP! IT’S OVER!” The Guild Agent said. KRIFF! I SAID STOP IT! WE WANT HIM ALIVE!” Drel was so caught up in punching Ximus that he didn’t want to stop. He wanted to make him pay. Nothing short of a tribe of Wookiees was going to tear him off of the Falleen Crime Lord. “Love…” Drel’s eyes widened as he heard Dia’s weak voice. He immediately stopped punching the now unconscious Falleen and looked over at where the Twi’lek was laying. Dia was propped up against the throne. Her helmet had been removed and so had the blade protruding from her chest. She was definitely alive and awake, while Colsc treated her wounds with bacta and stim packs. There didn’t appear to be any permanent damage to her lekku from the hard impact against the stone throne; he guessed that the strands of durasteel-cord wrapped around the long head-tails had aided in protecting the Twi’lek’s vital organs. She looked at Drel and smiled. “She’s stable.” Colsc confirmed. “She’ll make a full recovery once we get her back to the ship.” Rimas placed some stun cuffs on the unconscious Falleen and stood up. “We should get moving before more guards arrive.” “Oh you won’t have to worry about that.” Colsc said. “Most of the guards have been neutralized by the base’s security systems. The surviving guards won’t regain consciousness for a couple of hours. By that time, we’ll be long gone.” Drel got to his feet. “Good.” He said. “Colsc, start calling the Mythosaur to our location. Rimas, you’re in charge of getting Ximus back to the ship. I’ll carry Dia and take her to the Med Bay once we’re aboard. I have something in mind that will keep Ximus from escaping before we reach Nal Hutta.” A short time later, the group gathered their belongings and headed topside where the Mythosaur was waiting for them. *** Once they were onboard, Drel immediately had the Falleen Crime Lord encased in carbonite using the small carbon-freezing unit on the lower deck. He wanted to make sure that Ximus Zajex would be spending the remainder of the flight that way until they delivered him to the Hutt Council. As an extra precaution, the Mandalorian placed the carbonite slab in a ray-shielded containment cell and locked it using a secure code that he was absolutely certain none of the other crew would know. Colsc and Rimas quickly headed to the cockpit and took of the Mythosaur, while Drel got Dia to the Med Bay and began treating her wounds before treating his own. She’d spend the remainder of the return journey there until she was well enough to walk on her own. In no time at all, they were traveling through hyperspace on the way to Nal Hutta.***Chapter 18 Dia sat in the Med Bay with Drel and Colsc, while Rimas got some rest in the crew quarters. There was some debate between the two Mandalorians whether or not to allow the Twi’lek to keep the Mandalorian armor she’d received from Black Sun. Colsc stood by Dia’s medical bed, while Drel observed from the doorway. “From what Drel tells me you’ve always been fascinated with Mandalorian culture.” He said. “If you were so fascinated with Mandalorians, why didn’t you find a clan and become one sooner?” “I’m not from Mandalore. So I can never be a true Mandalorian.” The Twi’lek said. “Besides, the Empire wiped out most of the Mandalorians in the galaxy, so there aren’t many of you left to seek out for recruitment.” “You don’t have to be from Mandalore to be a Mandalorian.” Colsc said. “There are plenty of ways to be accepted by one of the clans. As long as you respect the culture, fully commit yourself to its honor bound creed, and are accepted by the clan leaders, you’ll have the right to call yourself one of us.” Drel stepped into the room. “Wearing the armor doesn’t give you the right to call yourself a Mandalorian. It’s about the choices you make and live by that honor the many eras of the Mandalorian legacy.” He said. “You started off as someone who idolized our culture so much that you tried to steal some armor to be part of it. However, on Smarab you showed me that might have what it takes to be considered a real Mandalorian.” Dia’s eyes were a mix of excitement and slight confusion. “What do you mean?” Drel and Colsc looked at each other. “Colsc has gotten into contact with some of the last surviving Mandalorian clans still in hiding across the galaxy.” Drel said. “After hearing about what you did and your fascination with our culture, they want to see first-hand if you have what it takes to join the Mandalorian ranks.” He shrugged. “I may have even talked them into letting you keep your armor.” The smile on the blue Twi’lek’s face was infectious. Drel couldn’t recall a time he’d ever seen her so happy. “Rest up. We’ll be arriving at Nal Hutta in a few hours. After that, Colsc will put you in contact with one of the clans. Once you’ve been paid you can find a clan and start your Mandalorian training.” He exited the room. Then quickly poked his head back into the Med Bay. “…Oh and if you’re wondering why your share of the bounty is smaller than ours, consider it payment for the new escape pod you owe us.”***Chapter 19 Shortly after arriving on Nal Hutta, Drel and his bounty hunter partners were brought before the Hutt Council. Rimas led the bounty hunters into the circular chamber. Behind him Colsc pushed the carbonite slab of Ximus Zajex to the center of the room. The Guild Agent noted that there were not as many Hutts in the chamber as there had been before. Perhaps Jabba’s death had created discord between the Hutt families as they contemplated who to choose as the infamous Crime Lord’s worthy successor. At the moment, the absences were irrelevant to their business here. He stepped forward. “Most Illustrious and Noble Hutts, I am pleased to inform you that after great struggle these talented bounty hunters have succeeded in bringing the Falleen Crime Lord, Ximus Zajex of the Black Sun Syndicate before you to pay for his many crimes against the Hutt Cartel. There was murmuring among the Hutt councilmembers. One of the male Hutts was the first to speak. “Wedd oone, Murishani.” He said looking Drel’s direction. “Uba widd shulu oom-warded generouslee.” The TC Protocol droid translated on behalf of the Hutts. “The Hutt Council is most pleased with your efforts, bounty hunters. They will see to it that you are rewarded generously for your trouble.” Rimas bowed. “Thank you, Most Benevolent Hutts. I trust whatever punishment you have in store for Zajex will cause your enemies to tremble before they attempt to undermine you again.” He gestured to the Carbonite slab beside him. “Shall I have one of the bounty hunters free the prisoner from his carbonite confines so that you can deliver his punishment at once?” The Hutt known as Gardulla the Elder spoke next; the droid translated for her. “No. Gardulla the Hutt has requested that their Falleen prize be kept the way he is. She believes that he will make an excellent addition to their vast collection of “decorations”. They will proudly display their new trophy in a private location for their viewing pleasure. “The Falleen’s punishment will not be over so quickly. It will last for thousands of years and be left for many Hutt generations to witness, until the name Ximus Zajex fades from the memory of the galaxy.” And I thought the Pyke’s punishment was harsh, Rimas thought to himself. The droid continued. “The Council wishes to remind you that the events of these transactions are to be forgotten the moment you leave this chamber. As far as the rest of the galaxy is concerned, Ximus Zajex is dead.” “Understood.” Rimas said. He glanced at the bounty hunters, who nodded in agreement. As the bounty hunters turned to leave, Gardulla raised her obese hand. “One moment…” The droid said. The bounty hunters faced the imposing Hutt as the droid continued to translate. “My mistress invites you to stay and witness the triumph of the Hutt Cartel while she informs the head of the Black Sun Syndicate, Ziton Moj, of his trusted operative’s demise.” The droid turned on the holo projector and sent a message out to the Black Sun Syndicate. A moment later, a hologram of the Fallen head of Black Sun, Ziton Moj, appeared. “To what to I owe this immense honor, Noble Hutts?” Moj said. Gardulla spoke in Huttese while the droid conveyed her message in Galactic Basic. “The mighty Gardulla and the Grand Hutt Council wish to inform you that your plans to usurp control of their criminal empire has failed. There will be no war against the Hutt Cartel for the Underworld.” Moj raised a brow. “Is that so? Am I to believe that the Hutt Council wishes to surrender to the might of Black Sun, or should I give my Second-In-Command the order to enter Hutt Space with Black Sun’s impressive fleet and lead it in its deadly campaign against your system?” “My Mistress says you are gravely mistaken, Ziton Moj. She would like to inform you that your attack against the Hutt Council will no longer be possible, now that your operative, Ximus Zajex, is dead.” Moj grimaced as the droid continued. “His body has been delivered to us by a team of skilled bounty hunters. The Hutt Council demands that you dissolve your fleet. Any further action taken against the Hutt Council and its empire by the Black Sun Syndicate will have irreparable consequences for you. “The Great Gardulla says that you would do well to remember that the Hutt Cartel still holds substantial influence over both the Underworld and the galaxy.” The Falleen tucked a finger under his chin. He did not look overly bothered by the news. “I am aware of how far the influence of the Hutts reaches…for now.” Moj said. “Though, there may come a time when your great power diminishes. When that day comes, we will be waiting to take your place.” The Falleen stroked his thick and narrow facial hair before finishing his thought. “Until that day arrives, Black Sun will turn its attention to exploring alternative avenues to secure its place in the changing galaxy. We will agree to take no further action against the Hutt Cartel for the time being.” With that the transmission ended. The droid turned its attention back to Rimas and the bounty hunters. “The Hutt Cartel thanks you for the valuable services you have provided it. If we have further need of your services, we will contact the Bounty Hunters’ Guild with the details of any future jobs.” Another droid carrying a camtono approached Drel and handed him the round container. “Please accept this payment on behalf of the Hutt Cartel. You will find the full-amount agreed upon enclosed.” And with that their business arrangement with the Hutts ended. ***Chapter 20 After dividing the job’s earnings up aboard the Mythosaur, the three Mandalorians collected their hard-earned credits. Drel insisted the bounty be split four ways, insisting that the fourth go toward IA-9’s repairs once they reached Batuu. The Guild Agent offered to show the Mandalorian where he could get the droid repaired in exchange for passage back to Batuu. Drel agreed. Soon the Patrol Craft ship entered hyperspace bound for its destination at the galaxy’s edge. *** When they were finally alone, Drel approached the Twi’lek Mandalorian. She was busy applying the final coat of metallic-blue paint to her beskar armor when Drel found her. After noticing the Mandalorian, she turned to greet him. “To what do I own this pleasure, Love?” She asked with a wide smile. Drel handed a small device to the Twi’lek. “Colsc wanted me to give this to you.” “What is it?” “It’s an encrypted Mandalorian wayfinder. He said you’ll be able to use it to locate Mandalorian clans scattered across the galaxy.” Dia’s smile brightened. “Then, I’ll have to finish painting my armor before we find more Mandalorians.” “About that…” Drel wasn’t sure how to proceed. “…Colsc and I will not be joining you.”Her smile faded. “What do you mean?” She stepped closer to Drel and rested her delicate hand on his chest. “I thought things could go back to the way they were between us…” She looked up at her lover with pleading eyes that were trying to understand what the Mandalorian meant. Their eyes locked. Neither spoke. Drel felt his heart race as he stared into her eyes. They were no longer cold or icy in appearance. Now they seemed to shimmer like kyber. “I…I want that…” He finally said. “…but after everything that’s happened…” The Twi’lek finally understood. “…You still can’t trust me.” She finished with a frown. She looked away. “I guess I really can’t blame you, based on my track record.” Drel gently turned the Twi’lek’s gaze back toward him. “I want to… but right now I can’t.” A tear slowly slid down her cheek. The Twi’lek quickly wiped it away with her sleeve. She cleared her throat and attempted to hide the sadness in her voice. “I…I understand.” Drel put both his hands on the sides of Dia’s arms, just below the shoulders. “It’s not that I don’t love you…I do…” He suddenly realized he’d just admitted how he truly felt about her. “…I just need time.” The blue-skinned Twi’lek’s eyes twinkled. “You love me?” Drel nodded and pulled Dia closer. “I do.” The Twi’lek wrapped her arms around him and rested her head against his shoulders, as the tears continued to flow. “Then why do you want me to leave?” He raised his right hand and cupped the base of her skull with it. “Because I can’t teach you what you want to learn without allowing my feelings to keep you from reaching your full potential.” It was a painful truth. There was no way for him to be both her lover and teacher. If they continued down this path and got romantically involved, he would always hold back during her training, in fear of hurting her. If she found a Mandalorian clan that was willing to train her, they would not hold back, they wouldn’t challenge her until she reached her fullest potential. “There will be time for us someday, Cyar'ika.” He said, using the Mando’a word for darling. “It’s just not now.” Their lips met for a brief moment as they shared a passionate kiss. When the kiss finally ended, Dia melted into Drel’s arms. The two of them stood in silence for a long time and just held each other close. Dia was the first to break the silence. “You really love me…” It was not so much a question as a reassurance. Drel gently touched his forehead to hers and closed his eyes. “To the edge of the galaxy and back…”***Epilogue Shortly after the Mythosaur landed on Batuu, in the spaceport of Black Spire Outpost, Dia and Drel parted ways so the Twi’lek could begin her search for a Mandalorian clan to train her. It was a bittersweet parting, but Drel knew in his heart that it was not truly a goodbye. When Dia was gone, Rimas directed Drel and Colsc to the Droid Depot in the Land Port section of Black Spire outpost. He introduced them to an Utai droid repair technician named Agoti and explained their dilemma to him. Eventually, the Guild Agent was able to persuade the short Utai technician into repairing IA-9 for a more discounted rate. *** Drel, Rimas, and Colsc sat in Oga’s Cantina and enjoyed a couple of drinks in the Guild Agent’s usual booth. It had nearly been a week since they’d arrived on the planet after finishing their job for the Hutts. Their stay on Batuu was not overly eventful; though, the bounty hunter had to admit it was nice to be not have anyone shooting at them for a change. In Drel’s book, that was cause to relax. During their stay, the two men took the opportunity to replenish the supplies in the shops and marketplace of the outpost. It was not a vacation, but it gave the men time to let their injuries heal, before they parted ways with the Guild Agent. The men raised their drinks high in a toast. “Here’s to a good run!” Rimas said, clinking his glass against both of the Mandalorians’ drinks and poured a generous amount of the fermented beverage down his throat. Drel and Colsc followed suit. The former gladiator leaned in closer to the other men. “’Any progress with your droid?” He asked. “More or less…” Drel said. “Most of Eye-Ah’s circuits and wires needed to be completely replaced. Agoti was very interested in the special modifications I made to her. Though, I heard there was a minor issue regarding IA-9 yesterday.” The bounty hunter sipped his drink again. “Apparently, the Utai accidently triggered one of Eye-Ah’s self-defense combat programs while he was making some final repairs and she attempted to kill him before he was finally able to power her down.” He continued. “Apart from that, I’ve been told the repairs are almost done. I’m just waiting to hear from Agoti when he’s finished with her.” “That’s good to hear. Your droid is in good hands.” Rimas said. “I’m told Agoti is a wizard when it comes to fixing droids. He’s a fifth-generation of droid builder here on Batuu.” “Thank you for everything you did to help us get her fixed.” The dark-skinned man smiled. “Not a problem, My Friend. I’ve actually grown fond of that droid. I’m glad that I could help out.” The Guild Agent finished his drink and set the empty glass back on the table. “So what’s next for the two of you, My Friends?” Drel and Colsc looked at each other. “Once Eye-Ah’s repaired, Colsc and I will probably make our way toward the Mid-Rim. there's a few things there that we need to look into." Rimas nodded understandably. “Say no more. Well, I hope your journey to the Mid-Rim will be a productive one. I’ll keep my ears open and contact you if I hear anything about any high-value bounties that need to be hunted for the Guild.” “You know how to reach us.” Drel Said. “What about you, Guri?” Colsc asked. “Are you planning on accompanying any other bounty hunters in the field in the near future, or have you had your fill of excitement for a while?” “Kriff no!” Guri laughed. “My days of fieldwork are over. I plan on staying right here for a while. Batuu is a somewhat peaceful place that the Guild can use as a temporary anchor point for collecting some of its lower-value targets. I’ll probably be here for a month or two, then find a more permanent place to set up shop.” There was a chime from Drel’s holopad. The Mandalorian pulled the handheld device out of his pouch and answered it. A small hologram of the Utai appeared on the pad. “Bright Suns.” Agoti said. “I just wanted to let you know that I just finished with the last of the repairs. Feel free to stop by the Depot and pick up your droid whenever you’re ready.” “We’ll be in to pick her up shortly.” Drel said. “Very good.” The droid repair technician said before ending the call. “‘til the spire.” The hologram of the Utai technician disappeared. Drel turned to Colsc. “Time to go.” As the Mandalorians stood up and placed their helmets over their heads, they noticed a crowd gathering at the bar. There was a large hologram broadcasting a message from the Rebel Alliance over the HoloNet. **"This is Leia Organa, last princess of Alderaan, former member of the Galactic Senate, and a leader in the Alliance to Restore the Republic. I have a message for the galaxy. The grip of the Galactic Empire on our galaxy and its citizens is relinquished. The Death Star outside the forest moon of Endor is gone, and with it the Imperial leadership." ** The hologram played a recording of the Imperial Superweapon being destroyed. Many of the bar’s patrons clapped and cheered at the exciting news. It was no secret Drel and Colsc hated the Empire after what it had done to Mandalore. Their planet like many others had suffered greatly at the hands of the Galactic Empire. After seeing the Imperial Superweapon’s destruction, it felt as if Mandalore and its forces had finally been avenged. The Guild Agent rose to his feet and stared at the broadcast with stunned silence. “How about that…” Rimas said with a smile. “The Rebellion actually did it.” The blue Mandalorian turned to Drel. “The rest of the Imp forces around the galaxy aren’t just going to roll over and surrender to the Rebels without a fight when they hear this.” Drel nodded. “I know they won’t. But if the Rebellion keeps this momentum up, then they’ll have the Imps on the run. With more large victories like this one, this blasted Galactic Civil War will be over in a year or so.” Colsc looked back at the broadcast. “The galaxy just got a whole lot more interesting.” Rimas smiled and looked at the Mandalorian bounty hunters. “I bet the Rebellion will pay top credits for high-value Imperial targets on the run. That will be good for the bounty hunting business.” Drel wasn’t so sure about that. It was possible that once the Rebel Alliance set up its new republic, their new government could just as easily stop hiring bounty hunters altogether to make its security forces look strong and capable enough to handle any threat without outside involvement. He kept his thoughts to himself, as he and Colsc exited the roaring cantina and made their way over to the Droid Depot in the Land Port area of Black Spire Outpost. *** Agoti greeted the Mandalorians as they entered his shop. The stubby Utai male wore dark-green coveralls with a toolbelt wrapped around his waist. There still was oil on the pale-pink skin of his hands. A variety of droid parts filled the shop. Conveyor belts transported thousands of extra parts around workshop. Domes of R-series and C1-series Astromech droids were piled on shelves with many other droid parts. Personality chips, were placed on a special shelf beside arms, legs, and droid chassis that were not fully assembled yet. A series of work benches had been placed in the center of the shop, where several human technicians were hard at work repairing droids for other customers. Everywhere they turned there was a new unique droid part to look at. On the upper balcony of the shop, were a collection of powered-down droids. There were pit droids, Protocol droids, Astomechs, Repair droids, and Security droids; Drel even spotted a decommissioned B1 battle droid used during the Clone Wars. A Gonk droid could also be seen powering one of the machines in the other room. The older Mandalorian was so distracted by the many sights of the shop that he’d almost forgotten about the Utai in front of him. “Bright suns.” Agoti said warmly. “Your droid is ready and waiting for you. We had her cleaned and buffed for you before you arrived. Per your request, no additional adjustments have been made to your droid other than the necessary repairs.” An even smaller Utai with greyish skin chased a C1-Astromech into the shop from one of the back rooms. The new Utai was only a few years old and behaved like an excited toddler. Agoti quickly waved the much younger Utai away. “Mubo, we talked about this.” The older Utai scolded. “No fooling around on the shop floor! You could get hurt!” The small Utai made a few indiscernible dribbling noise and innocently giggled as he scampered off into the room he’d come from. “’Sorry about that.” Agoti said slightly embarrassed. “That’s just my son. He’s fascinated with droids.” The technician let out a small cough. A silver RA-7 protocol droid slowly wandered into the room. “Master Drel…” IA-9 said, in a unexpressive tone that barely indicated excitement. “I had the most peculiar dream that I was shot by the Tailhead you used to be partners with. Did you succeed in delivering--" “Yes, Eye-Ah.” Drel interrupted before the droid revealed something it wasn’t supposed to. “There’s a lot you missed while you were powered down. I’ll explain it later.” The seasoned Mandalorian quickly paid the technician with some credits from their earnings. Agoti smiled and accepted the payment. “Thank you for your business.” He said as Drel turned to leave. “May the spires keep you.” The droid followed her master toward the door. She noticed the blue Mandalorian standing in the doorway of the shop. “Who might this be?” She asked. “Another new partner?” “Something like that.” Drel answered. “Eye-Ah, this is Colsc Hepal. He’s a member of my clan. I trust him, so don’t shoot him. He will be staying with us aboard the Mythosaur for the foreseeable future.” “Very well.” The droid said. “I will tolerate his presence aboard your ship.” “Nice to meet you too…” Colsc said sarcastically. “Don’t worry she’ll warm up to you.” Drel said. The trio exited the shop and began their walk back to the Mythosaur. “Am I to understand that the capture of Ximus Zajex was successful?” The droid asked as they walked. “It was.” “And you were paid for the job?” “We were.” “That is good.” Eye-Ah said. “I will take my share of the bounty once we are aboard your ship, Master Drel.” “I’m afraid most of your share went toward getting you repaired.” The droid’s posture drooped a little. “I see…” It said in a tone of disappointment. “Cheer up. I’ll let you help Colsc fly the ship.” “Are we really returning to work so soon?” Drel nodded. “Yes. But we’re not getting paid for this next job.” The droid turned its head. If it’d had the ability to express how it was feeling Drel was almost certain that she’d be giving him a confused look. “Explain…” “Our next job is not for the Bounty Hunters’ Guild. It’s for our Mandalorian clan.” The droid looked forward, as if pondering whether it wanted to be involved in the next venture. “I assume you have a destination in mind…” “I do.” Drel said. “Then where are we going?” Drel only smiled. “I’ll tell you when we get back to the Mythosaur…”***The End
Mop Up JobLucas held on to the overhead strut with his right arm as he surveyed the landscape rushing by only 30 meters below. Had he not had his helmet on, he could have heard the rushing air swirling around the aft hatch of the shuttle that remained open. They wanted a quick exit when they reached the drop point. Hopefully, they would not need to jump before then. As the craft continued to rattle in the dense atmosphere, he glanced back at his troopers, all seated and strapped in. Only he stood braced near the rear hatch as the shuttle shook its way to the destination. Looking back at the grassland below him, he saw a herd of hexiphants scatter as their formation buzzed overhead. Flying in tight formation were 3 shuttles and 1 kestrel class fighter. Lucas looked back down at the herd. There must have been nearly 50 of them. The elephant-sized bovines resembled 6 legged bison. Supposedly, they have a temper but are grazing creatures that largely pay no attention to humans or other smaller creatures. He hit his comm button, “Hey Sally, you see any Quad-Rexs in the area? We just past a herd of their favorite prey.” “Not for a while. Last pack of Quad-Rexs I saw was near the jungle’s edge.” crackled her answer. “Good! How far out are we?” Lucas asked her. “I can see some smoke on the horizon that looks to be at about the coordinates we estimated their impact would be. If I punch it hard, I can be there in 90 seconds.” “Do it!” Lucas tightened his grip on the strut as the craft accelerated. He could see the other 2 shuttles on either side fall behind momentarily before accelerating to catch up. Pressing his comm button to go to open-channel. “Ok, everyone. We are 90 seconds out. Lock and load. Zoe, go get a good look at the pod and hit it with a few missiles for good measure. If you see anything else that looks like it might be a Cyrealian, you are weapons-free.” “Yes, Sir!” Came Zoe’s enthusiastic response as her Kestrel fighter zipped out ahead of the slower shuttles. “OK,” Lucas continued. “Sally set us down front and center. Jill set your shuttle down on our right flank about 100 meters from the crash site. Rebecca, set your shuttle down on our left flank. We should try to envelop the site in a triangular formation.” “Hey, Lt! Just fired two missiles at it.” chimed in Zoe. “Be advised the enemy craft was definitely a shuttle, not an escape pod. Also, it is right near the edge of a small canyon. About 50 meters from the lip of a drop off into a small river below.” “Ok new plan. We still use the triangle, Jill with team 2 and Rebecca with team 3. Just drop your teams off at the edge of the canyon on the left and right side. Sally set us down on the opposite side of the crash, away from the canyon. We will drive any survivors to the other teams as we approach the crash. If it is not too late, I don’t want any Cyrealians to get into that canyon. Swimming after them is not my idea of fun. How copy?” “Solid copy shuttle 1,”“Solid copy shuttle 2,”“Solid copy shuttle 3,” “Solid copy kestrel, and just FYI I see a spot for the shuttles to set down after the drop. Rocky patch of raised ground on the other side of the canyon. Good visibility and no grass for anything to hide in.” “We are here.” Sally said as the shuttle banked hard to the left, then leveled out as it lowered to the top of the tall grass.“Everyone, out of the shuttle, let’s go! Sally, Jill, Rebecca, after all your teams are unloaded, go to the rocky outcropping. Have your copilots pull security at the back hatch with the auto turrets. Keep the engines spooled up in case we need to get out of here.” With that Lucas turned and jumped, keeping his knees bent as he fell through the grass, not sure where the ground would be. Turns out the grass was at least twice as tall as him. Landing, Lucas rolled forward out of the way of the rest of the troopers dropping in after him. Besides him, shuttle 1 had carried 20 C.A. model troopers and 2 C.H. troopers. Shuttle 2 piloted by Jill had 15 C.A. troopers making up team 2, same as Rebecca’s team 3 in Shuttle 3. Lucas pressed forward in the thick grass, monitoring his navigation Hud. “Darius, Xander, on me. Stick 1, form a line to my left. Stick 2 form up on my right. Let’s sweep to the crash. Looks like it is going to be slow going.” A chorus of “Roger that” and “Yessirs” echoed over his local comms channel as the team began to make their way to the enemy shuttle. Lucas called his two squad leaders in the other teams. “Chris, Will. SitRep.” “Second squad here, Lt. We made it to the edge, but the grass is pretty tall. Though not as tall as where it looks like you are,” reported Chris.“Third squad is at the edge of the Canyon. Looks like we are on your left flank. Shorter grass here so we can see pretty well. We have formed a loose picket line along the edge to keep a lookout.” said Will. “All good here, Lt.”“Roger that. Form a line along the edge as best you can team 2. Try to link up with each other if possible. We are on our way to the crash site.” “Solid copy Lt.! Wilco!” There was a short burst of static as Chris and Will ended their transmissions. No doubt due to all the foliage that was acting as interference. “Darius, Xander. You two take point. I want our two heaves up front in this tall stuff.” Pausing for a moment, he let the two hulking frames of the CH model clones wade past him in the elephant grass. Looking left then right, he checked his team using his heads up display. The augmented reality helped every trooper in the field keep tabs on what was happening. He could see a small blue square for each of the CA models, and the heavy CH had a circle inside their blue square. “Everyone, use your Hud for the waypoint marking the crash. It will help keep your orientation. Stay in line and move toward the crash. I don’t want anyone to get lost in this stuff.” Lucas followed Darius and Xander. It turns out it was much easier to make progress following them as they bent all the grass down out of the way with their impressive size. “The Fuck is that!?” broke over the local comms channel, followed by a brief burst of weapons fire. “What’s going on stick 2?” called Lucas. A CA model answered, “Tim, the new guy, just saw his first doggiedid, Lt.” “A what?” asked Tim.Lucas sighed, “Big dog-sized grasshopper-looking thing? Yeah, those are harmless. But most of the creatures that eat them are not harmless. We are looking for Cyrealians, only shoot at bugs that have 22 legs and are as large as a horse from now on.”“Aye Sir!” came Tim’s answer. “Alright everyone, pick up the pace. The sun is setting. Let’s not get stuck out here in the dark,” Lucas growled as he followed the CH models, clearing the way to the crash site. As they reached the waypoint, they found a crater in the ground surrounded by burned grass with scattered metallic parts of what was once a Cyrealian shuttle. Surveying the scene and the lack of a shuttle to search, Lucas keyed his comms button for an open channel. “Good shooting, Zoe. Anyone seen any survivors yet?” As if on cue, Zoe’s kestrel streaked overhead. “Thanks, Lt! And I haven’t seen any of those creepy crawlies from up here.” “This is Sally in shuttle one. We are all sitting over here on the other side of the canyon. None of our co-pilots have reported anything outside yet.” “Ok, this shuttle didn’t fly itself. Adam, Tim, Jerry. You three look for remains. The rest of us will push forward to the Canyon. Darius, Xander, take point we are moving out.” Lucas motioned for the canyon where the other two teams were waiting. The team fell into a column formation 2 by 2 following Darius and Xander making their way to the edge of the Canyon. When they were about halfway, a burst of fire erupted to their right followed by a yell over the radio, “Contact! We have cont---!” then the transmission ended in static. “Cyrealian sighted! Sir, your column chased it to us. It burst out of the grass and went over the edge before we could get a shot at it. Looks like it took Will, Jack, and Lars with it as it went. Say again 3 men down.”The amount of fire to the right flank intensified. More shouts coming in quickly over the radio. Lucas called back. “Is there more than one? I thought you said you didn’t get a shot off. Report!” with that he and the rest of team 1 sprinted the last bit to link up with the other two teams. “This is Leon with team 3 Sir. We are not in contact currently. We sighted a Cyrealian just after team 2 started shooting. They could have startled it. It took 3 men over the edge. Situation: 3 men down, no shots fired. I have sent a 5 man fire team down into the canyon in pursuit. Looks like the Cyrealian made it to the water Sir.” There were a series of about 4 explosions coming from team 2’s area to the right and smoke starting to rise. “Sit-Rep team 2!” Called Lucas as team 1’s column reached the canyon ledge and met up with Leon, the new acting leader of team 3 who had replaced Will. “How many Cyrealians are you in contact with?” Switching the Comms to open channel. “Zoe! We need your eyes and weapons now. You weapons clear. Go help team 2.”“Sir, not Cyrealians! Say again not Cyrealians! We have crawlers!” Yelled the unidentified clone as another trio of small explosions reverberated through the tall grass and echoed off the far wall of the small canyon. “What are your casualties and how many are you in contact with Trooper?” Lucas asked as he made hand motions for his column to form a defensive line with Darius and Xander forming the center.“Estimate 8 casualties...well, make that 9 now there goes Quin, and the number of crawlers is a fucking swarm. We are falling back while maintaining fire. The 6 of us left are throwing all of our remaining grenadines as we walk backward toward you, keeping them suppressed with automatic rifle fire. Be advised, we seem to have started a brush fire in this dry grass.” “Yeah, no kidding.” Leon said as he pointed up to the sky as the flames were turning the smoke-heavy atmosphere a glowing rust color. Screeching overhead, Zoe’s Kestrel banked hard and dove back toward the swarm of crawlers providing a hail of covering fire for Team 2’s retreat. She opened up with her heavy auto cannons as they spewed super heated plasma into the fray, doing nothing to slow the spread of the fire. “Hey Sally, we need you to swing by and pick up three at the crash site. That fire is moving their way quickly.” Lucas ordered. “On it, Sir,” came Sally's response. “Tim, how are you three holding up at the crash site?” Lucas questioned? “We are holding for the moment, Sir.” Tim answered. “Waiting for that pick up though, the surrounding grass is starting to move about. Think some of that swarm running from the fire is encircling us.” “Look at the river, Sir!” Leon pointed with his rifle. Lucas turned and looked down below to the river where the 5 troopers had made it to the water’s edge. They were inspecting one of the 3 bodies that had been left near the water's edge. Just then a Cyrealian lept out of the water and grabbed the first two troopers with its massive scorpion-like pincers and slammed their heads against the rocky bank before thrusting them under water. It then starting firing at the remaining 3 clones, with an automatic plasma weapon in each of its 4 hands. Quickly, two of the other clones were torn apart by the weapons' fire as the last remaining trooper dove for cover behind a boulder. “Light it up!” Lucas commanded. Immediately All the troopers started shooting at the Cyrealian in the water. The thick atmosphere proved to be more than a match for their plasma rifles, dissipating most of their fire before it reached the Cyrealian in the water. The few shots that made it were ineffectual against the large centipede-like creature. Seeing the troopers high above it on the rim of the canyon, the Cyrealian ducked back down under the water in the narrow stream. “Grenades!” Called Lucas. Each trooper threw grenades into the water, showering the area the Cyrealian was last seen. As the grenades started to detonate and send plums of water up, Lucas turned to Leon, “Get the rest of your team down there and finish that thing off! We will hold the crawlers here and cover you.” “Aye Sir!” Leon turned to the rest of 3rd squad “You heard him! Let’s get that bastard.” He then jumped off the ledge and slid down toward the water. His squad followed suit, hurrying to the narrow stream and to catch the Cyrealian before it could escape. “Here they come!” Lucas looked back toward the brush fire that was sweeping toward them. What was left of 2nd squad, only 3 survivors out of 15 broke out of the grass to join 1st squad. Following right behind them was a massive swarm of Crawlers. “Open fire with anything you have. Weapons free! Weapons free!” “Hey I got bad news Lt.” Sally commented over the comms channel in Lucas’ ear as he was firing his weapon at the onslaught of crawlers. “Is there any good news today?” Lucas answered as he tossed a grenade and reloaded. “Afraid not. Those 3 at the crash site I just went to pick up got swarmed just before I got there.” Sally informed him. “However, a silver lining is that most of that swarm you are fighting off is headed away from the canyon now into the open prairie. Fire has them running away.” “That’s good at least. But it looks like that fire is gonna make us take a swim to keep from getting burnt as well.” Lucas noted. Taking a moment to reload again he appreciated how much of an impact Daris and Xander were having on the center of the swarm with their heavy auto cannons. The rest of the 20 C.A. clones were mopping up the edges of the swarm, getting any outliers and preventing them from being flanked. He could now feel the heat from the fire as it was closing in. The amount of plasma fire from his troopers probably started a new brush fire that was just adding to the situation. But Sally was right. There were fewer crawlers now than there had been. “Ok everyone! Good shooting. Time to get wet before that fire gets here. Everyone down into the Canyon now! We need to finish off that Cyrealian and see if he has any friends.” Lucas turned and lead the way, sliding down the mostly dirt embankment to the bottom. “Hey Sir! Zoe here. Just got a call from Hrothgar. A Cyrealian fleet just warped into orbit. Looks like an invasion, Sir. I have been ordered to intercept anything that tries to land on the planet.” “Good hunting, Zoe. Thanks for the update.” Flipping off the comms channel Lucas turned to Leon. “Has your team made contact with the Cyrealian since you came down here?”“Yes Sir, we lost two more men when it started firing at us from mid stream. We returned fire but it seemed to turn and head down stream. Do you want us to go after it?” Leon asked. Looking down the edge of the river, Lucas considered for a moment. “No, you have only 5 men left in your squad and one of them is wounded. Darius and Xander! You two are too big to make it along that narrow stretch of loose dirt along the water effectively. I am placing you in 3rd Squad under Leon. You all will stay here. Myself and the 17 left in 1st squad and the 3 survivors from 2nd Squad will continue downstream. Everyone understand?”“Yes Sir!” came a chorus of responses. With that, Leon positioned his men on a sandbar just a few meters upstream. Everyone else headed downstream along the left side of the river bank single file. It was difficult terrain and a very narrow strip of somewhat flat ground just above the water. As they walked, Lucas made his way over to a survivor from 2nd squad. “Hey Rodger, you are one of the 3 survivors from 2nd squad. What happened to your squad when the crawlers attacked?” Lucas asked as the squad moved out. They were making their way along the left side of the river, heading downstream. “Well, Sir in the tall grass we were all strung out in a long thin line. They came from our flank and picked us off one by one with their long tongues sticking through the thick grass. We had no visibility beyond a meter. Their striking distance is about 4 meters. One by one we could not amass enough firepower to deter them until we could group up again,” Rodger recounted. “Usually in the past we faced crawlers in a bit more open space and only 1 or 2 at a time. Never a swarm before.” “I see. Our intelligence has never reported crawlers living out here in the plains, or hunting in large packs.” Lucas looked at the trooper, “Besides, we do know the Cyrealians have the ability to communicate using a sort of electrostatic discharge. Telepathy, if you will. But, from our intel it seems more like dolphins talking with electrostatic bursts instead of sonar. They could have enticed the crawlers to attack for all we know through a mechanism we are still unfamiliar with. We will have to pass this new intel along when we get back.”“Agreed, sir.” Roger said as they kept following the river. “L.T.! I think I see something in the water up ahead,” came a call via helmet comms from the trooper currently on point.“What do you have, trooper?” Lucas asked as he zoomed in with his visor to scan the water. The trooper identified as Alvin in Lucas’ hud kept walking along, acting like he hadn't noticed anything, as not to alert the Cyrealian, exactly as he was trained. “2 shinny looking stones across the river sticking just out of the water. Those might be its compound eyes sticking up watching us.” “Good work trooper! That is what it looks like. Everyone, open up on that thing on the count of 3 let’s get it by surprise,” Lucas said over squad comms. “1-2-3!” Instantly all 20 troopers opened fire on the Cyrealian across the small river. However, with its lightning reflexes it was able to duck just under the water when it saw the troopers raise their guns and turn towards it. But, with this many troopers firing automatic plasma rifles closer than the last time, their rounds still carried enough static discharge to electrify the water near where their rounds were impacting. This had a stunning effect and played havoc with the Cyrealians sensory organs and nervous system. What the squad didn’t see was the other Cyrealian peering out of a burrow about halfway up the canyon wall on the far side of the river. This Cyrealian had a large weapon that would have been something like a crew served weapon for humans. Soon as all the troopers were firing into the water at the one they saw, the hidden Cyrealian started firing from an elevated position at the single file line of 1st squad as they were caught completely in the open. With a long burst of fire from back to front, so the troopers, distracted by what they were shooting at, didn’t see the troopers behind them getting hit, the Cyrealian fired its heavy weapon into the column. 8 troops were killed instantly, including Rodger. Lucas dove into the river along with a few fast thinking clones. The wounded ones were then pummeled with another sweep finishing off 4 of the wounded. Another sweep killed the final 2 left on the bank of the river. Seeing what was happening downstream Leon’s 3nd squad started shooting at the Cyrealian in the burrow that was raining fire down on 1st squad. Darius and Xander with the heavy weapons laid down a withering amount of fire. However, the Cyrealian had quickly dug the firing position out behind a boulder and not a single clone in all of 3rd squad could get a good angle to fire at it effectively. “Sally, Jill, Rebecca! We need covering fire from your shuttles right now. Cyrealian in a borrow just under your location about halfway down the cliff.” Leon called out over the radio. “Inbound hot!” Sally called back. With the clones of 1st squad either dead or in the river the Cyrealian in the water was no longer being stunned by electricity from their rounds hitting the water. It swam toward 6 C.A. clones and their leader Lucas. The Cyrealian in the borrow firing down on them started sweeping the water near them as they ducked. Now it was their turn to get hit with what felt like a very strong police taser while they were under water trying to hold their breath. As if on cue the Cyrealian shooting at them tazing them stopped firing just moments before his partner reached them. No doubt due to their ability to communicate and plan so effectively. With each of its large pincers it snapped the legs off the first 2 clone troopers and moved on. The next 2 were grabbed by its 4 arms. They had their necks snapped quickly and were discarded. Lucas and the remaining 2 clones came up for a much needed breath just as Lucas could see what was happening with his watertight visor providing a measure of visibility in his predicament. The Cyrealian in the burrow halfway up the canyon turned and leaned out of his hide slightly to shoot around the boulder protecting it. Quickly Leon’s team 3 started to take casualties as well. Darius was hit in the chest and went down along with two other C.A. model clones. The few remaining clones kept firing at the Cyrealian. The shuttles screeched into the Canyon, turning their backs to the Cyrealian in the burrow. With their back ramps open each shuttle had their Co-Pilot operating an auto cannon like a door gunner. The Cyrealian didn’t have time to elevate his heavy weapon to shoot up and hit the shuttles in time as the fired directly into its upper body disintegrating it. Down in the river Lucas ditched his rifle as it would not work under water, and if he made it back to shore there were several lying on the bank of the river to pick up. Seeing the Cyrealian coming straight for him and the 2 other clones in the water. Lucas pulled out 2 grenades and armed them and swam toward the beast. When the Cyrealian grabbed him and one of the other clones with its pincers, Lucas reached his arms out toward the Cyrealian’s head. As Lucas pressed the grenades against the side of its head, both grenades detonated. The explosion killed Lucas and the Cyrealian, along with the last two clones in the water. “Sally, can you confirm that that last Cyrealian is down?” Leon asked.“That is affirmative. It just floated to the top and its head is blown off. No survivors, Cyrealian or clones down here. Looks like your squad of 3 plus 1 heavy is all that is left.” Sally reported. “Roger that. Jill, Rebecca fly a final loop around to scan for any more Cyrealians. Sally come pick us up. I heard some radio traffic that more Cyrealians are showing up in orbit. I don’t think we are done fighting today.” Leon said.
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First up, the "General Sci-fi" folder has been renamed to "General Sci-fi and Fantasy". Not a big deal, but it was kinda bugging me that it said one and not the other. Still the same folder, submit there if it's general stuff or if unsure where to submit.

Next up, there's now a dedicated mature content folder. That means any art submitted with a mature filter MUST be posted to that folder, or it'll be declined. I went through a good chunk of the current gallery, and sorted what I could. If I missed anything that should be in the mature folder, please let me know.

That's all for now.
Have a good one everyone!
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Here, we fans unite to share our interest in sci-fi and fantasy things.
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:icon3metal:
3metal Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2020
Thanks for accepting me!
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:iconflorapolitis:
florapolitis Featured By Owner May 28, 2020   Digital Artist
How should the law act on Robots and Androids with feelings?
www.deviantart.com/florapoliti…
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:iconblackfurya:
BlackFurya Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2020
Leeloo by BlackFurya  
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:iconknightpredator:
KNIGHTPREDATOR Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2017
I had a few fan art commissions based on sci fi movies/characters I would like to share here if possible?
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:iconshifter-eternal:
Shifter-Eternal Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2017   Digital Artist
Of course!
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:iconknightpredator:
KNIGHTPREDATOR Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2017
I didn't see a place to submit or like a drop-down option ? Would I be able to just send the link to you? Also I'm not sure which of mine would be ok if you wanted to look in my gallery and give me an idea?
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:iconshifter-eternal:
Shifter-Eternal Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2017   Digital Artist
In order to submit works yourself, you have to be a member.

And any works that have some sort of sci-fi and/or fantasy elements are okay.
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(1 Reply)
:iconblack-cat16:
black-cat16 Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2017
What's the submission limit here?
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:iconshifter-eternal:
Shifter-Eternal Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2017   Digital Artist
10 per day for all folders
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:iconblack-cat16:
black-cat16 Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2017
Thanks. 
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