“What were you thinking?” Grot hissed.
Luna’s mind raced, what had she been thinking? The Nautolan had clearly been one of the senior officers present and a key target. Taking the shot was the logical thing to do and one hostage wasn’t an unreasonable risk. But the Duros girl, Orona was her name, reminded her too much of her protege Eris and various other healers she had trained over the years. The girl had spirit and a great deal of potential.
“Those are my,” Luna struggled for the right word in basic, “clan-mates.” Her sapphire eyes burned with maternal rage. No one threatened her pack and lived.
The Trandoshan read her tone and body language perfectly, he may not have agreed but he understood her motivation. “Very well, how do you propose we get them back?”
“We follow and try to call for backup,” is all she could spit out in the moment. “But failing that we can’t let them leave the planet, they likely have shuttles stashed somewhere outside the city’s sensor range.”
Grot stood up and slung his rifle. “I agree, but their shuttles are likely not far from here. Let’s move.”
The pair began to move through the forest as swiftly and stealthy as they could. Each began trying their comlinks to no avail, localized jamming. Luna reached to her backpack as she ran and pulled a frisbee sized black disk from on top. She pressed the top of the disk and legs unfolded from the bottom and it floated in front of her. The “disk” beeped and red eyes came online revealing a seeker droid.
“Sirius,” Luna commanded, “comms are down, return to the shuttle and tell Eris we are pursuing enemy agents with Padawan hostages. Give her this location and our heading, watch for enemy spacecraft.”
The droid beeped an affirmative and flew off in the opposite direction.
“Do you think that droid will reach your friend in time?” Grot inquired.
“Hopefully he just needs to get close enough to break through the jamming then he can radio the message.”
The Trandoshan slowed his pace, “we shouldn’t expect reinforcements though.”
The pair halted as they can to a clearing at the base of the hill they were on. They quickly ducked into the underbrush and took up another sniper position. Instead of taking up his rifle, Grot pulled out a scan pulse device and began studying the readout. Luna scanned the area with her electrobinoculars mentally making note of the enemy positions.
The clearing was clearly a rally point of some kind for the Collective forces with what appeared to be two landing spaces cleared for Lamda sized shuttles. Behind each of the hasty landing pads were four Padawans lined up in a straight line and fitting with shock collars. They were seated with their heads drooping down, at least partially sedated.
Smart, Luna thought as she continued to observe. Restrain and drug the Jedi prisoners so they couldn’t use the Force effectively. She had seen such tactics on Nancora, when the Collective had bothered to take prisoners.
The eight restrained hostages had two guards a piece, milling about and watching the sky for their rides. The rest of the Collective soldiers had formed a hasty perimeter around the clearing, Luna counted ten total plus the Nautolan officer they had seen earlier, still dragging Orona around like some kind of prize. The Okami zoomed in with her binoculars as far as they could go. Orona had a large bruise on the left side of her face that darkened her otherwise green skin and a bleeding gash from her forehead. She had put up a fight while getting captured, but she had the same shock collar and restraints as the others. Luna’s fury burned that much hotter, but years of discipline kept her rational brain in control.
“I count ten, plus the officer,” the Mandalorian reported.
Grot looked up from his readout and scanned the area with his naked eyes. “Aye and seven hostages.”
“There’s got to be more of them out there,” Luna mused. “We need to move quickly before any enemy reinforcements show up.”
The Arconan growled absently in thought as he pulled out his rifle and began to scan the area. The odds were stacked against them but it was far from impossible. He felt confident he could take out the guards nearest one set of hostages from his current vantage point but that would leave the other set open. It would take both of them, only Luna had a medium range rifle at best.
“I have a plan,” Grot announced as he looked up from his rifle scope. “I can cover you from here and take out the hostage guards on the left before they can do anything but you’ll have to get closer and get the ones on the other side at the same time for this to work. After that we’ll have to take the rest down as quickly as possible.”
Luna nodded with understanding, it was risky but they had few options. She removed her medical backpack and adjusted her bo-rifle sling. The Okami pulled a dagger out of her belt and examined it. “I’ll start with the nearest sentry and try to move as close as I can, with some luck I can eliminate a few quitely before the shooting starts.”
“That armor doesn’t seem like the best for stealth,” Grot commented.
Luna placed her helmet next to her medical backpack, she’d need all her senses for this. “It’s built for hunting and scouting, I think you’ll be surprised.”
The Trandoshan returned to his rifle scope, “I’ll be up here watching if you get spotted.” The skepticism on his voice was palpable.
For having just been shot at less than an hour ago the Collective soldiers were rather lackadaisical in their perimeter. Perhaps Capital Enterprise mercenaries were not as dedicated as their Liberation Front or huntress colleagues. The sentry nearest to them paced nervously and kept looking behind him as if looking for the shuttle that would get him off the planet and away from danger. He was a blue-skinned Twi’lek in his mid twenties from the looks of it. Probably a fresh from training.
Luna crept down the hill slowly, giving the sentry a wide berth at first as to not descend directly in his line of sight. Then she got within 15 meters of him and hid behind a tree. The Mandalorian clutched her dagger close, there was limited cover between her current position and the sentry. If she tried to rush to melee range, she’d be spotted for sure and likely shot. She readied her dart launcher. The shot would be tricky, but nothing she hadn’t hit before. The Okami waited until the sentry looked behind him again then took aim. She steadied her firing arm as best she could, held her breath and fired. The dart landed just above the soldier’s collarbone, not quite where Luna had aimed but close enough to get the job done.
“Hey!” the sentry exclaimed as he reached up to find the dart. He swatted at it as if he had been bitten by an insect only to find a small dart protruding from his neck. The Twi’lek turned to alert his colleagues only to collapse to the ground before he could. Luna crept up to his unconcious form, making sure none of the other guards were looking this way and drug him into some tall grass.
One down, nine to go
The clearing was large enough to land two shuttles which left little in the way of cover for Luna to move to if she wish to avoid detection. The amount of equipment on the ground was minimal. She moved as discreetly as she could to the group of Padawans on the right trusting Grot would take care of the guards with the group on the left. The guard closest to her was leaned over checking restraints on a hostage while the other was absently looking toward the horizon for the incoming shuttle. Like a Nexu hunting its prey the Mandalorian crept closer and closer with her dagger drawn. With a swift motion she brought the blade to the Weequay guard’s throat and slashed. Hot blood spewed onto the back of the Padawan as the guard collapsed with a wet gurgling sound.
Hearing the sound the second Human guard quickly turned and froze for a moment in shock at the sight of his butchered comrade. The row of hostages was between Luna and the guard so she didn’t have a clear line to close the distance for a melee strike so she reached for her blaster pistol with her free hand. Shaking the shock away, the guard took aim at the intruder with his rifle and began to shout “INTRUDER!”
At that moment all hell broke loose. Grot took the shot at the first of the two guards near the right group of Padawans, sending an echo of a slugthrower shot ringing through the clearing. Luna dropped her dagger and dove backwards pulling her pistol out of its holster and aiming it. The angry guard took a shot at the Mandalorian, having the bolt pass over her head as she fell backwards. It would have hit had she not moved when she did. Luna was now on her back with the blaster pistol trained and she hit the Human guard dead center in the chest before he could aim for a second shot.
The rest of the Collective squad scrambled to react to the ongoing attack but with Luna on her back in the grass and Grot in a hidden sniper position they couldn’t tell where the assault was coming from, only that some of their colleagues were missing.
“Sniper due west!” one of the NCOs shouted as the rest of the squad scrambled to cover. The Nautolan officer pulled his hostage close and made sure to point her toward the direction of the sniper as a living shield of sorts.
More slugthrower shots rang out as Grot continued to engage targets with expert precision. Luna got up from her position, holstered her pistol, recovered her dagger and unslung her bo-rifle. She moved to the drugged and restrained Padawan hostages closest to her and had them lay as flat as they could on the ground as not to get caught in the cross-fire. She then ran over to the group on the left and had them do the same. Most of the Collective squad was now focused on Grot’s position and threat of a sniper but the Nautolan officer noticed Luna.
“There’s a Mandalorian inside our perimeter! Sweet Ashla why we are paying you people?” The officer exclaimed in an almost high Galactic accent. He held a rapier to his Duros hostage’s throat turning her toward Luna.
The Okami paid more attention to two soldiers running toward her, she shot one with her rifle and a slugthrower round came out of seemingly nowhere to take out the other. A Devaronian male’s head exploded in a spray of silver mist from the slug round as his toxic blood sprayed on the ground.
Luna felt very lucky to have Grot as an ally. Her attention turned to the officer.
“You wouldn’t kill one of your fellow Jedi would you?” He sneered.
“I am no Jedi,” Luna retorted as she aimed her bo-rifle at the Nautolan’s head.
“A traitor to your own kind then? How does it feel to be the Force user’s lapdog?”
The Okami gave no reply, keeping her aim fixed on her opponent. The unmistakable sound of a sonic imploder detonating behind her told Luna that her sniper support had now been engaged at grenade range. She was now on her own and the rest of the Collective squad had shifted to engage the sniper.
Luna noticed the officer had no ranged weapons on his person, only two rapiers and a whip were visible. She lowered her bo-rifle and deftly converted it to staff mode. “Only cowards hide behind hostages, face me if you dare.”
The Nautolan paused, looked at his wrist chronometer to check the time and smiled as if he got an inside joke. “As you wish,” he replied. He spun Orona around and stabbed her in the stomach before tossing her aside like a used doll with the blade still protruding from her stomach.
“I was hoping to face a true Jedi today, but I guess one of their Mandalorian lackeys will have to do,” he sneered as he readied his second rapier.
Luna charged him with all her fury slashing with the electrified ends of her bo-rifle in staff form. The officer deftly dodged and parried as if studying her form. He was toying with her.
“It was just a little prick, I don’t know why you’re so angry,” he taunted. “If you defeat me you should have plenty of time to save her.”
The Okami rushed her opponent again with renewed vigor, making wide sweeps of her staff to try to catch him for a disabling discharge of the weapon’s energy. He was too fast, it was like trying to snatch a bobbing snake. The officer seized an opportunity when Luna was fully extended in a slash of her staff to deftly dart his rapier forward and slice her cheek. The Mandalorian lept backward to reflexively feel her wound.
“My dear you are starting to bore me. You’ll have to do better than that if you wish to best Lord Ru’g En!” He bragged with a flourish of his weapon.
The sound of a lambda shuttle descending into the area interrupted the two combatants. The vessel landed in the clearing with a thud.
“Oh it appears our time is up,” Ru’g exclaimed as the ramp lowered to reinforcements pouring out with rifles trained in Luna’s direction. She had little recourse but to dive for cover behind some of the communication jamming equipment. The fresh Collective soldiers opened fire, effectively pinning her down.
A second lambda shuttle began to descend next to the first and for a moment Luna wondered if this is how things would end for her, getting overwhelmed on a landing zone trying to save Jedi hostages. Then laser cannon fire from above struck the second shuttle, sending it flying to the far side of the clearing in a flaming wreck. The Okami looked up to see her personal shuttle, Valkyrie whiz by and circle around for another pass. Eris had come through!
“Leave the hostages, we have plenty of others!” Ru’g barked as he rushed into the intact shuttle in front of him. “GET THE SHIELDS UP!” The lambda shuttle quickly rose and began to fly away as Eris pursued them in Valkyrie blasting at the now shielded vehicle.
Luna rushed over to Orona who was not breathing. She carefully removed the rapier and noticed it was coated with poison. She was too late. The Mandalorian rushed to try to revive the Duros but to no avail. Finally she administered an antidote dose to herself in case the cut on her cheek had some of the same poison on it.
Holding the lifeless Padawan in her arms she swore to gods, ancestors and Force itself that she would get vengeance for Orana or die trying.