He was honestly surprised that the moisture in his breath didn’t solidify and drop to the ground as ice. It was that cold.
Daven wrapped his Jedi cloak around the whole of his body, holding it closed tightly around his abdomen. He felt his stomach growl in anguish. When was the last time he had eaten? Two, three standard days ago?
He couldn’t remember. And he couldn’t tell what was worse: the cold or the hunger.
He pulled up the cloak’s hood and backed into the alley as a few citizens passed by. The hood warmed his ears, but hardly enough to make any difference.
Daven wondered for perhaps the third time that night why the transport couldn’t have landed in the summer hemisphere of Telos. He had no food, no lodging, no credits, and - at this rate - no hope for survival.
But he knew that complaining in such a situation was pointless, especially for a Jedi Knight. Rise above it – that was the best course of action, as the Masters would say.
I think I’ll sink below it, he thought sarcastically as he slid against a building’s façade to the bitter duracrete ground.
Everything was gone, at least in Daven’s universe. He had received a message – a small note, really – only a few weeks ago on his personal comlink. It said simply, in a droid-manufactured voice:
Temple on Coruscant demolished. Order disbanded. For your safety, attempt no contact.
And, at that, he knew there was no going back. He was on his own. Before, at least as he had heard, there was a handful of Knights in hiding near the Temple who could be reached if need be. But no more. They were gone, possibly dead, lying in the remains of the Temple.
So he threw his comlink – the last link to the Jedi – away before he left for Telos.
To his dismay, however, if not to his surprise, the bounty hunter attacks continued. All the Jedi had been put on some sort of list with their holopics and last known location for whoever thought to make an attempt on their lives.
How they continued to find him was beyond his reasoning, but he hoped, for the moment, that he was safe. Telos wasn’t known for its bounty hunter population.
Not that he would ever drop his guard.
He was huddled there in the chilly alleyway for only a few minutes before the drumming of thick boots broke him out of his thoughts. He looked up and squinted through the raising fog of his breath to see the outline of a humanoid standing before him.
“Conne wee Jedi?” The Rodian’s words were harsh and more of an accusation than a question.
Daven shook his head, hoping it was just the brown cloak that was giving the impression that he was a Jedi and this wasn’t a bounty hunter on his trail. He didn’t feel well enough to do this now.
“Wee Jedi.” Now the sentence wasn’t even formed as a question.
“I’m not,” Daven responded in Basic, his tone equally cold. “You’d best be on your way.” He put the Force behind his voice, letting it affect the alien’s mind.
“Geewa,” the Rodian hissed and pulled out a concealed blaster pistol.
Daven continued to stare up, unmoving, unflinching. A snowflake brushed past his cheek. “You don’t want to do this.”
The Rodian’s finger took only a fraction of a second to completely depress the blaster’s trigger, but that was more than enough time for Daven to react. He leapt to his feet and dodged the beam, drawing his lightsaber as he did so. He had the weapon ignited before his attacker realized that he had missed his point-blank shot and had decapitated the alien before he even had the chance to turn and face him.
“Force help me,” Daven whispered, closing his eyes and disengaging his saber as the body fell before him with a muted thump.
The snow was falling harder by the time Daven forced himself to open his eyes. It blew around him, pulling down his hood and biting his face. He remembered not to cry, for fear of his tears freezing.
“Breathe,” he said aloud, as if it would make his lungs steady once more. He looked down at the dead Rodian, sprawled out under a thin blanket of white, and sucked in a gulp of air.
“I’m sorry,” he heard himself say, but the words were empty and lost in the winter wind the moment he uttered them. He ignored the feeling of hopelessness. “You can do this” – he closed his eyes roughly, preparing himself – “do it.”
He bent over the corpse, careful not to look into those large, lifeless, black eyes, and begun to dig through the alien’s jacket pocket. He soon found what he was looking for: a small credit pouch. Yanking open its drawstring with numb fingers, Daven poured the contents into the palm of his hand and counted.
Fifteen credits. He sighed dejectedly; he had hoped that the Rodian – bounty hunter as he appeared to be – would be carrying more. This would hardly pay for a warm meal on Telos.
Putting the credits in his own pocket, he returned the pouch to its owner, making sure that the identification papers would be easily findable.
“May you find peace in the Force,” Daven said duly as he stood, secured his lightsaber on his belt, and closed his robe against the cold breeze. He didn’t bother to take one last look at the body, but instead dusted the white fakes out of his auburn hair and walked on.
The nearest cantina wasn’t very far, perhaps ten minutes, but the increasingly harsh weather made Daven’s trek difficult. He arrived there in under a half hour with his boots caked in ice. He silently thanked the wonders of Jedi clothing, the engineering of which was so unquestionable that Daven would never bother worrying about his feet getting wet.
If he had nothing else, at least he still had his boots, cloak, and tunics.
A blast of warm air greeted him as he entered the cantina, instantly thawing his features. He welcomed it and brushed off the rest of the snow from his shoulders.
“Hey, buddy,” a gruff voice shouted at him. It came from the barkeep – a dirty, unshaven man – standing at the counter. “Open for paying customers only … onaccounta the weather.”
“Of course,” Daven responded kindly, stepping towards him. He pulled the credits out from his inner tunic. “Let me see your menu.”
Full power. Good, Nyssa thought after a quick check of her array-firing blaster pistol – an immaculate weapon well worth the price she had paid for it. Or at least she hoped it would prove itself to be today.
The quaint little cantina was one of the few places left open on this ice ball, so she knew she would spot him heading there eventually. And like an omen coming to pass, he did – she couldn’t mistake that red hair and those robes even from across the street.
While she wondered why he hadn’t dyed it, she was glad he was so easy to pick out of a crowd. Although a Jedi often could be deciphered by his walk or mannerisms, Nyssa was the type to rely on more foolproof methods.
She walked through the door, ignoring the glances and salivations of several males hanging around the bar. She was wearing a tight-fitting combat suit, gray in color. It was formed perfectly to every curve of her figure and she certainly knew that men easily found her attractive. While she often used that simple fact to her advantage, she doubted such things would work on a Jedi. Still, the combat suit served as light armor and its design allowed for completely free movement. Even in the cold, it was useful.
“Hey there, sweetheart,” the barkeep said, lust lining his voice. “Something I can help ya with?”
Nyssa smirked and walked up to him, leaning against the counter and knowing full well that half the cantina was currently staring at her backside.
“You’ve seen this man?” she asked after flipping on a holopic.
The flirtatious look instantly disappeared from the barkeep’s face and he nodded sharply, pointing to a booth in the back of the cantina. Nyssa followed his finger and recognized the same figure she had seen enter.
“Thanks.” She pulled away, aware that all those same men now had nervous fear racing across their expressions, and started toward that back booth.
“Hey, wait,” the barkeep shouted. “For paying customers only … the, ah, weather, you see.” He gulped harshly and she turned back to face him.
“Oh, really?” she snorted. “Well, here” – she pulled a full credit pouch off her belt and threw it on the bar in front of him – “that should be enough to buy any drink in stock. With a little left over to help pay for the mess I’m about to make. Just stay out of my way, got it?”
“Good,” she hissed, annoyed that the man would bother to try to stop her. She turned towards her prey, walking slowly to size him up first.
He was eating some sort of sandwich, near as she could tell, and was surprisingly fierce about it – shoving the food into his mouth and licking his fingers in between bites. She hadn’t expected a Jedi to be so lacking in manners.
She moved closer, as close as she had even been to him up until this point, and stopped short, shocked.
Gods, he’s just a kid, she thought, her eyes widening. The Jedi didn’t look a day over twenty-three – half the age his warrant had proclaimed him to be and just a few years younger than she herself was. She pulled out the holopic once more, understanding now that this wasn’t a pic out of some old archive, but a recent one, probably from the military database.
The error immediately made sense to her because the Emperor, upon attaining complete control of the Republic government, had insisted that the galactic dating system reflect the change to the New Order. The day that Palpatine took the throne was the first day of Year One. Now it was the end of Year One or perhaps the beginning of Two; Nyssa, like every other being in the galaxy, had trouble keeping track. The computers also had trouble and made countless little errors in dating. Most were caught, but the case of Daven Staver must have slipped through.
Of course, he was only one lowly Jedi Knight – a rank that Nyssa hadn’t been too impressed with when she thought it referred to a forty-three year old human. But now she was more than a little amazed; someone his age should still be a Padawan.
Oh, well, his youth would equal inexperience and an inexperienced target would make for an easier catch.
She crossed the last few steps towards him and paused at his table. He looked up at her, staring directly into her eyes, and appeared to be puzzling out why she was there.
Nyssa found herself holding her breath. Could nothing go as she thought it would? Not only was he in the prime of his youth, but he was also the single most gorgeous man Nyssa had ever seen. His eyes were about five shades bluer than on the pic and his soft, round features looked less effeminate than she imagined they would. Instead, he appeared calm and intelligent despite his obvious youth, very much the stoic Jedi.
“Um, I’m sorry,” he spoke, jarring her out of her reverie even as he had the voice to match his looks. “You’re a very beautiful woman, but I’m not interested. Never mind that I don’t have the credits.”
Her eyes instantly narrowed. So he was arrogant as well. She sat down across the booth’s table from him and pressed her lips into a thin line. His gaze followed her movements; confusion was evident in his expression.
“Hey, beautiful, I’m not interested,” he said again. “Don’t you understand Basic?”
Nyssa nearly let out a growl as she pulled a datapad from her vest pocket. She sat it down roughly on the table and the execution warrant for one Daven Staver appeared as a tiny holo.
“Do I look like a prostitute to you, Jedi?” she asked bitterly, raising her eyebrow.
His eyes widened in understanding and he glanced back up at her, blinking once as if incredulous. Then, to Nyssa’s disbelief, he leaned back in his chair and picked up another bite of food.
“Sort of, yeah,” he responded with a shrug and continued eating. No fear in his eyes, no panic. Hell, not even a slight hint of worry. “I mean,” he said, mouth nearly full of food, “you don’t wear the makeup, but walking around in that outfit when it’s below freezing outside? Yeah, you do.” He took a large drink from his glass of water.
Nyssa was so angry she could swear she was starting to see red. Her mouth was slightly open from the shock of his reaction, but she wasn’t about to let herself sit there, dumbfounded.
She pulled out her blaster and, keeping it under the table, pressed the barrel against his left knee. She saw a visible pause in his chewing.
“How many prostitutes have you had that carry blaster pistols?” She smirked.
“Well, none to be sure,” he said, setting down his glass, “but, to be fair, I’ve never ‘had’ any sort of woman, so it isn’t a very good comparison.” He shoved another bite of sandwich in his mouth.
“As much as I find your sexual preferences or lack thereof absolutely fascinating,” Nyssa hissed, “I have to ask: are you aware that I’m here to kill you?”
“At the moment, the worst you can do is blow out my kneecap,” he reminded her.
She moved the blaster slightly left, aiming directly for the Jedi’s crotch. “And now?”
“I could live with less,” he grunted. “I haven’t eaten in three days. I’ll take the chance, beautiful.”
“My name is not ‘beautiful,’ Jedi.”
“And mine’s not ‘Jedi,’ it’s Daven,” he answered coolly. “But you already know that. What’s yours, if I may be so blessed to know?”
“Jade,” she hissed, her tone equally icy. This wasn’t going anywhere near where she thought it would.
“Jade? What? Did your mother hate you?”
She nearly squeezed the trigger. Almost.
“Nyssa. Nyssa Jade.” She was becoming frustrated. What was wrong with this man? She was about to kill him; didn’t he care?
“Nyssa,” he repeated thoughtfully. “I like it. Very pretty.”
“Are you insane?” she finally blurted out.
“Well, we’re about to find out, aren’t we?” His grin was wide.
She realized her mistake a half second later. He was, in fact, not insane. Far from it. He had just taken the last few minutes to size up her personality, her preferred fighting style, and her breaking point, all while confusing her to such a point that she had no hope of knowing how in depth an escape he had just devised.
But she had no time to chastise her own stupidity.
The table flew against her, aiming to smash her against the bench’s back. She slid down, falling to the floor underneath, without a millimeter of extra space between her face and the table’s edge as she went down. She forced herself into a crouch and managed to grab Daven’s leg as he was trying to flee.
He tripped and fell with a small groan. His head flew back to glare at her, and she allowed herself a satisfied smirk. Not going to be so easy, Jedi.
He answered her with a sharp kick aimed directly at her face. She moved back quickly, letting go of his leg, and avoided the brunt of the attack. She imagined, however, that her cheek would be swollen when she woke up tomorrow morning, if she managed to live long enough to go to sleep tonight.
Daven was running again, heading towards the exit. Nyssa rose to her feet, shaking the pain away, and fired a series of shots in his general direction. She saw his head bob down as he ducked away from the blasts.
The cantina went into a frenzy of shouts and screams from the various patrons. Nyssa stopped her firing when the haze in the room became too thick to see through and looked for red.
He had landed somewhere near the bar.
“You know, Nyssa,” she heard him yell, “I’m beginning to think you’re the insane one. There are innocent people in here. Why don’t we take this outside?”
“Yes, outside!” came the barkeep’s frightened voice.
He was most likely hiding behind the barkeep’s counter. She headed towards it, blaster raised and arms fully extended. A woman, probably one of the prostitutes Daven had in mind, started to weep as Nyssa passed. Nyssa wanted to roll her eyes.
“Not my problem, Daven,” she shouted back. “I just want you. You happen to be in here. Only one of us is leaving this place alive. Let whatever ‘innocents’ die if you don’t want to surrender. I’m rather impartial to it either way.”
The woman began to wail.
Nyssa moved closer, aiming the blaster directly at the top of the counter. The second he stood up she would have him. He was quite the coward, really, and it surprised her. She drew to a halt in front of the bar, searching for any sign of the Jedi. Several of the customers, who previously couldn’t take their eyes off her, were currently hiding under the countertop and avoiding her gaze.
She peered over the bar slowly, blaster ready to take the shot. A few broken bottles lined the floor, probably shattered by one of Nyssa’s shots, and various kinds of alcohol were seeping through the wooden floorboards. She saw movement out of the corner of her eye and she pointed at it within a heartbeat.
“Please,” the barkeep sobbed. “Please don’t kill me.” Tears soaked his beard and ran streaks of clean through the grit on his face.
Nyssa didn’t bother to respond or ask where Daven was. Instead, she whirled around to protect her unguarded back. Her turn was greeted with a loud snap-hiss.
A blur of orange-yellow came towards her and forced her to back away. Her tailbone bumped the counter’s sharp edge. Nyssa grinded her teeth together as the lightsaber blade’s tip flew by just centimeters from her nose. She blinked and then refocused on Daven.
He stood poised with the saber over his body, ready to strike directly at her neck. Gone was the playful smile he held only moments before, and his innocent-looking features had hardened into an expression suited to a seasoned warrior.
How quickly the hunted became the hunter.
Nyssa fired another round at him, hoping to push him back only a few steps – just more than a blade’s length away. He didn’t budge, but used the saber to gracefully block the oncoming shots.
She was grateful that the array blaster could fire so rapidly, or else Daven might have been able to strike her down in between rounds. He did eventually move back, nearly by the time smoke was starting to arise from the newly blaster-burnt objects around them. He was repositioning himself to block the fire at a different angle.
Nyssa took a split second to wonder why he had done so before she saw – almost in slow motion, really – him reflect one of her own shots back to her. She tried to dodge it, but time sped up far too fast, and the stray fire hit her square in the thigh.
She fell with a shriek, dropping her blaster and using her free hand to stop the bleeding.
Daven stood motionless, his lightsaber still ignited. He did not cut her down, but looked sadistically amused, as if he had been planning this all long.
“I don’t know who or what has given you a taste for Jedi blood,” he told her, his voice surprisingly gentle. “But you won’t get it from me.”
She stared up at him, waiting for the deathblow that never came. Instead, the Jedi deactivated his saber and reached for a nearby napkin – one large enough to make a tourniquet. He handed it to her with deliberately slow movements, keeping his distance both for her comfort and his safety.
She grabbed the cloth quickly and jerked her hand away as soon as she was able. Wrapping her leg tightly, she tied the napkin edges into several knots.
“We have no previous quarrel,” Daven continued. “I’ve let you live.”
“Don’t make the mistake, Jedi,” she said, pausing to catch her breath and raise, “of thinking that this is some sort personal issue with me. The Empire has put a rather lucrative bounty on your head. I’m in it for the money. And I don’t get paid until you’re dead.”
She realized that those beautiful azure eyes had been full of compassion only after the look had utterly disappeared. Now his brow was furrowed and, somehow, the blue had darkened.
“I’m sorry to hear that, then.”
“I’ll bet you are.” She shifted her weight off the bad leg – her left one – and rebalanced herself. She knew she hadn’t picked up her blaster when she stood, but that didn’t really matter anyway.
Nyssa reached behind her back with her right hand, feeling for the object strapped securely to her weapons belt, and grabbed a hold of its handle. She watched Daven, who appeared to be at a loss as to what to do next. Of course he would be; the Jedi would not attack an unarmed opponent even after said opponent refused to surrender.
It reminded Nyssa of hive drone – an insect that was genetically programmed to do one task and one task alone. When circumstances changed, the bug would simply stop functioning and die. This behavior was characteristic of Jedi in general – save innocent, destroy hostile – and clearly manifested itself in Daven in particular. He was quite the drone, indeed.
Well, she thought, barely able to contain her glee, I’ll make the decision easy for him this time.
The shockwhip was a blur as it unfolded and cracked for the first time. Daven flinched and jumped back involuntarily, but his saber was re-ignited within the second. Nyssa moved her arm up and flicked her wrist, sending the flexsteel strand hurling towards him.
He attempted to block it, swinging his lightsaber to intercept the whip’s tip. The two weapons connected with a bright flash of light and electrical surge. Daven pulled back quickly, obviously worried that his saber could short out.
“Shockwhip,” she informed him. “It has a power conduit all of its own. Just think what it’s gonna do to your skin.”
She cracked the whip towards him again, this time aiming right for the saber instead of his neck. Daven’s reaction had given her an idea.
They touched and surged once more, but now the whip had managed to wrap itself around the saber’s blade several times.
Nyssa yanked as hard as she could. Daven held his grip tightly, but the bounty hunter clearly had all the leverage and the saber eventually flew from his hands. She pulled up, letting the whip release the saber into the air, and cracked it back down onto Daven’s shoulder.
And now there was nothing to stop the impact.
It hit, and Nyssa heard a harsh buzz the moment the tip stuck his skin. The sound that came out of Daven’s mouth was nearly inhuman and much louder. He shuddered violently and his knees buckled, but he was able to remain standing.
So she hit him again – now on his ankle to make sure he would finally go down. He did, landing roughly on the palms of his hands and shaking as the electricity flowed through his veins.
It must have hurt. She stopped, pitying him for a second – knowing that he had put up a good fight – before striking him once more. He merely whimpered this time as the flexsteel traced across his upper back.
She readied her wrist to flick forward again; this blow would most likely be the one to render him unconscious. But, with speed impossible to follow with a human eye, he shifted aside. The whip grazed past him, even as Nyssa attempted to draw it back to her.
He jumped up and threw himself at her. She didn’t have the time to brace for the rough collusion, and she found herself tumbling to the floor with Daven’s body completely covering her.
They landed, and the Jedi immediately grabbed her wrist, pinning it to the ground. His touch was rough and she could tell he was putting a great deal of weight into that grip.
“Let go of it,” he ordered. She could feel his warm breath on her face and was beginning to find it hard to ignore the fact that he was straddling her.
“Like hell, Jedi,” she hissed back. She looked directly into his eyes. Gods, he was close. Close enough to kiss her if he wanted to.
His grasp intensified and, pulling her arm up, he slammed her hand against the wooden floor. He repeated the move until she felt her knuckles begin to blister. The whip slid out of her grip.
He relented a bit, resting the bulk of his weight on his knees. She glared at him and plotted a way out from under him.
Daven, however, was looking away, ahead of them. It could have been some sort of trick, but his mortified expression appeared to be genuine. Curious, she tilted her head back and followed his gaze to a human figure lying on the ground across from them. It was the crying prostitute, Nyssa realized, but the sound of weeping had long since ceased.
Daven’s lightsaber, deactivated, was next to her, and a large, cauterized gash ran from the top of her chest to the bottom. The saber must have hit her after Nyssa had pulled it away from Daven.
“She’s dead?” She knew it was a stupid question, but she desperately wanted an answer in the negative.
He nodded sharply and Nyssa could hear him swallow dryly.
They had killed her. They had killed an innocent person.
As much as she hated to admit it, that was the first time for Nyssa. She wished she didn’t feel so guilty – who cared about one pathetic tramp? – but she couldn’t help it. This was not the way it was supposed to go. It was just supposed to be Daven.
She needed to get out of there. She needed to end this.
His right hand, while still holding onto her left, had not gotten the same amount of attention as his left. It was still a weak grip when Nyssa managed to slip her hand away. Daven focused on it and tried to regain his hold, but it was too late.
Nyssa punched him hard in the face and he instantly drew back, freeing her right hand. She reached down towards her boot and grabbed the vibroblade that was strapped inside it.
Before he had a chance to re-steady himself, she sank the blade into his leg. Daven hissed and uttered a word she could have sworn Jedi did not actually have in their vocabulary.
She was all but free and she began to slide away from him. He managed to compose himself long enough to hit her back – a right hook much more powerful than she could have mustered.
Her lip bled. Daven starred at her, collecting his breath in gasps. Finally he stood and reached out his hand. The lightsaber whizzed through the air and landed in his palm.
She watched him. There would be no second chance at surrender, especially now that her actions had resulted in the death of that girl.
Nyssa waited for him to ignite the saber, for him to strike her down, but, again, it never came. Instead, he simply walked past her, limping towards the exit. He glanced at the woman’s corpse as he passed, but said nothing, did nothing.
She willed her body to get up and follow to fight another round, yet she felt the last of her energy drain from her. She was exhausted. Looking down at her bad leg, she saw that the napkin tourniquet was completely soaked in blood. Droplets were also leaking through her suit and wetting the floor.
She had lost a lot more blood than she had originally anticipated.
Straining against the wound, Nyssa stood and headed to the front door. Daven was gone, lost in the freezing wind, and even his blood trail was quickly covered with a new layer of snow.
She’d find him eventually. Nyssa drew a ragged breath and leaned into the doorframe, letting the fierce draft blow against her bruised face and through her disheveled hair.