My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 45

Sarah woke to a smothering, overheated silence that smelled strongly of ronto. She was in between a tossing, muttering Bastila and a ronto that smelled strongly of itself, in a tiny indentation in the rocks too small to be considered an actual cave. She could see Canderous's legs from her position...yes, he'd taken the last watch. He was awake and aware, she could sense it rolling off of him. "Still nothing?" She asked by way of greeting, and he snorted in answer. No, still nothing. Even with taking the long way around, hoping to tease their followers into an ambush, they'd make the bay and hopefully the fragment, later that night. She didn't have the time to waste

She wriggled out from behind the ronto, blinking against the glare. The Eastern Dune Sea was laid out in front of her, the rocks scribed in dark shadows as the suns slid towards the horizon. It was a suddenly breathtaking sight and she paused, staring out across it. Had she stood like this before? Taken this moment to just appreciate the stark majesty? Somehow, she didn't think so. She'd been in an even bigger hurry then...driven by something...blinded by something. It seemed impossible that she could have ever been so focused, so driven. Was that even really a loss? Something she wanted back? She could see where a Jedi Knight could fall into that place, but it seemed so blessedly far away from here. I want myself back. But my real self. Whatever that is.

"Do you see them?" Bastila asked from behind her, and Sarah almost jumped out of her skin, fingertips grazing the lightsaber hilt at her thigh.

"Ah, no. Wasn't really looking. Just admiring the view." It sounded very foolish, and Sarah glanced over her shoulder to gauge the younger woman's reaction. "It's majestic. I don't think I took the time to see it before."

"It is majestic, Sarah." Bastila admitted, moving up beside her and staring out across the shifting, whispering dunes. "It really is. We get so caught up in everything that we lose sight of it all. So focused on what we're doing that we lose who we are."

We lose who we are.

"Nothing during the watch, Canderous?" Sarah asked. He was relaxed in a cleft of rocks overlooking the small hole they'd chosen for shelter, and he had a commanding view of all of the approaches to them.

"Nah. Nothing at all. Figure they went to ground during the day as well. They either are waiting for us to find what we're looking for, waiting for cover of dark, or have a predetermined ambush point." He shrugged, sliding down from his perch to land next to them. "Whoever it is, they're good."

"Uh huh." She'd give him that much. If she hadn't sensed them, if she didn't still sense them, she'd never know they were around. "Two Jedi and a veteran Mandalorian type of good?"

He didn't dignify that with an answer and she merely smiled. Exactly. Only a fool would have followed them out here.

"We'll be at the fragment in a couple of hours. If they don't jump then..." She needed to know who. Why. She needed to stamp this out here. If they'd been followed all of the way from Taris, then it was unlikely that their tail would simply give up on Tatooine.

"Then we'll go hunting." Canderous stated firmly, slinging his rifle and readying his ronto. "Don't like the idea that we're being followed around like this. Nothing good could have come from Taris."

And that was a rare truth. She nodded, gracefully vaulting onto her ronto and turning it to face the pull she felt. Enough of this. She'd tried to draw them out, they'd refused. It was time to get the fragment and deal with them if they showed. And Canderous was correct, if they didn't, it would be time to go after them. The desert was a perfect place to make problems just vanish.

They had ridden for a couple of hours, it was a dull, violet twilight, the edge of the first moonrise gilding the dunes silver when Canderous pulled his ronto even with Sarah's. "Still coming?" He asked softly. Now would be a perfect time for an ambush, the shadows were deep, the light fickle and uncertain. Another hour and the second moon would start to rise and the Dune Sea would be brightly lit.

"Yes." What were they doing? If they were in a speeder, they had speed on the rontos. They had to be waiting for the fragment. But how could they even know about it? Where had they slipped up? At least she could sense Carth, he felt unconcerned, at ease, confidently focused on something. He felt good. Content. He soothed her, he calmed her. "They're still there." She breathed.

"And we're close. I can feel it." Bastila had ridden up on her other side, her gaze locked in the same direction that Sarah was facing. "And I also feel..."

Something very large. Something very alive. "The krayt." Sarah affirmed. "The best time to try to take us is when we're trying to take it."

"Agreed." Canderous stated. "I need to get a good look at the terrain, so don't go and do something stupid before we get the chance to work this out. We don't know what's following us..."

"I'm not in any hurry to get this started." Sarah noted. "And the last site had droids, so I'm not counting that possibility out, either." She had trouble sensing droids, they just didn't resonate like living beings seemed to.

"A big krayt, whoever's following us and droids like we found in the temple on Dantooine?" Bastila shook her head. "A big order, Sarah."

And it was only going to get bigger. Sarah had utterly no idea whatsoever how they were supposed to handle Korriban. And even if they found the Star Forge, what then? Without a real clue as to what it was, they were shooting in the dark. It had to be impressive. It had to be guarded.

Am I simply fodder? Disposable? So broken that I won't be a loss? Thrown away on a fool's errand? But Bastila isn't. She's vital, or is she? If she was so damned important would she really be here? Would she really be put in a place where she's rightfully worried about a couple of droids, a canyon krayt, and no more than six people following her? Is she part of the Coruscant temple's investigation? Or are we a last gasp attempt by the Dantooine temple to prove its worth? This is all too important for that...

Bastila reached across the space between the ronto and rested her hand on Sarah's forearm. "I have faith in you, Sarah. I have faith in us." Sarah sighed, half annoyed. It was good to not be alone, but it was sometimes intrusive that the younger woman could read her so well. And it wasn't fair that it didn't seem to flow equally both ways.

"We should leave the ronto here." Sarah sighed, gracefully dismounting and loosening her ronto's saddle. "If that krayt smells big food, we'll be peeling him off of us before we get a chance to work this out." That was the last thing they needed, to have not only their followers get the drop on them, but that krayt as well. Canderous grunted in agreement, sliding down and unlimbering an impressively large gun. It was time to get this shit started...

She moved out of the cover they'd paused in, staring around. It was bright, two of Tatooine's three moons up and almost full. The dunes sloped up from this position, and faintly, she could just make out something different than the rocks that crowned the height of the slope. She sighed, wading up the slope until she reached the point where it leveled out, a flat space in front of a too regular to be natural dark opening in the rocks. And beyond that opening she felt the siren's call of the map fragment, and the life of a very large creature.

"Canderous?" He was wearing a low light and probably thermal visor. He didn't have the force, but he had a different set of tools at his disposal. "I feel the fragment. I feel the krayt. I feel the temple..."

"I see..." The lines around his eyes deepened as he focused, squinted. "Not much heat. I think I can see the krayt. Something big and..." His hand described an organic hump. "But no heat. No heat signatures in there at all."

That didn't fill Sarah with joy. The krayt would give off little to no heat, it was ectothermic. But the fragment gave no heat? Was it shielded? Broken? Would she still sense it if it didn't work anymore? These things were supposed to be thousands of years old...they were risking it all on machines older than the Republic.

"Take a perch in the rocks and hit the krayt. Pull him out into the open, keep an eye on our approach, and give Bastila and me support and cover. If you can take it out with a face shot, I'm good with that as well. Not here for the sport of it all."

"Gotcha."

He strode away, vanishing amongst the rocks alongside of the entrance, and Sarah palmed her lightsaber hilt, waiting. She could feel Bastila snap into combat mode, moving to the perfect place to maximize the pair's attack front, placing Sarah just a fingertip outside of her much larger reach.

There was a wait, and the barest sound of a silenced round, then a muffled roar and one huge, pissed off canyon krayt dragon boiled out of the entrance, bearing straight down on them. Sarah rolled out of the way, taking the opportunity to run her lightsaber hilt deep down its side when it turned on Bastila. Another shot, it ricocheted off of the krayt's skull, about an inch from the mid face shot that would have been an instant kill, a shot that would have exploded through the krayt's large sinus cavities.

Need to get it turned more towards Canderous's position...

She ducked beyond Bastila, deliberately moving the younger woman by pushing into her attack apron. Bastila compensated immediately, drifting in the direction that Sarah needed her to come around to. Good. Right there. And... They flanked its head, now pointed directly in Canderous's direction. Take the shot. Not going to get a better one.

Another hollow, empty thump of a silenced round, and the krayt's legs dropped out from underneath it.

"Get the fragment." Bastila hissed, still warily covering the krayt. "I'll stay out here, in case they come now. The fewer of us stuck in that hole, the better."

Sarah nodded, moving quickly towards the opening and warily peering in. It was some sort of bay or lobby, the vision had been dead on correct. It was empty of killer droids, or truly anything else of interest except for the tightly closed, metallic graphite ovoid in the back. It fell open as she approached it, banishing the darkness with the same awesome light show as the first had, the data syncing seamlessly with the Dantooine data held on her datapad. So far, so good.

Another hollow, empty report of a rifle sounded and she froze, listening. Yes, they'd come, finally. And they'd found two of the three of them outside, waiting and ready. She emerged cautiously, clinging to the shadows, her eyes locked on a defiant Bastila, saber ignited, standing between the newcomers and the cave.

I don't know these people. I've never...no. That's wrong. I have seen the one before, on Taris. He was on the platform with Kang, when we stole the Hawk. How, how is he here?

Questions to ponder later, after his death. How close could she get until she was seen? She studied them, her count had been close. She'd been betting on six, she got five instead, all of them under cover of their speeder and trying to take pot shots against...Canderous. Foolish idea, he was under cover, Bastila was out in the open, but they were deliberately not shooting at her. And she was deliberately holding her position, protecting Sarah. She's the target, and they want her alive. And that simply wasn't about to happen while Sarah was upright and kicking...Bastila was hers, no one else was allowed to have the woman that Sarah was bound to. She galvanized into motion, charging into the open, a grenade clenched in her main hand, the lightsaber ignited and held reversed in her off hand.

"There's another damned Jedi!" One of them yelled, confirming Sarah's deepest suspicions. They weren't here for Sarah, they hadn't even realized she was here. They weren't here for Canderous, who was laying down a deliberate and accurate covering fire to get Sarah close enough. They were here for Bastila.

But they were more than willing to shoot at Sarah, or try to. Bastila moved into the fray, uncomfortably close to Sarah, making them doubt the wisdom of shooting at the pair of them. "Fire in the hole!" Sarah yelled, giving the grenade five seconds of hang time, and then snapping it in the direction of the speeder. It was a perfect toss, none of them were actually in the speeder, and the grenade landed snugly behind the driver's seat. It exploded a moment later, forcing their attackers out into the open, and Sarah stared at them. "Nice hat, asshole." She spat, getting a good look at the man she'd only fleetingly seen on Davik Kang's flight bay. It was, in fact, an incredibly silly looking hat on a very blocky, squat man wearing goggles. "Anybody ever tell you it looks like a dick...head?"

Canderous sputtered in laughter, picked up by her earpiece tied to him, but she kept her expression outraged, cold, promising death and mayhem. It was easy, amazingly easy. This idiot in the stupid hat dared to shoot at her? Dared to try to take Bastila?

"Do you know who I am?" The man demanded, belligerent. He was still holding it together, but his back up felt shaken, uncertain. They hadn't been expecting two Jedi. They were worthless. Pointless. They just needed to die, and she was the one to convince them of that.

"No. Do you know who I am?" She hissed in response, "I am..."

Talking to a dead man. Canderous's shot was perfect, and he'd been presented with a nearly stationary target at fairly close range. Sarah didn't feel relieved, she felt cheated. Let down. Like a new toy had been snatched from her grasp, dangled before her and then denied. And his companions were beneath her notice, they broke and ran...choosing the drawn out death that the desert offered instead of a quick standup fight against her. She felt like screaming, gnashing her teeth, railing against Canderous for doing the smart thing.

There's something wrong with me.

"Sarah." Bastila rested her arm over Sarah's shoulders, holding her protectively close, forehead to forehead, and the feeling fled. "Did you get the map fragment?"

"Y...es. Yes, I did. It synced up perfectly with what we got on Dantooine."

"Good." Bastila's voice was soothing, her eyes shining. "Let's check out our krayt for pearls and get you back to Carth, where you belong."


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