The Cards We're Dealt

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WedaScami
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The Cards We're Dealt

Post by WedaScami » Tue Sep 21, 2004 4:51 pm

WARNING: This thread contains adult themes such as strong language and violence. Descriptions of some scenes contain blood and gore-- but this is merely for a stronger narrative effect. You've been cautioned.

OOC: OOC thread here. Read notes in thread for details.

STAR WARS

PROLOGUE: THE CARDS WE’RE DEALT

It is a time of war for the NEW REPUBLIC. The EMPIRE has been set back on it haunches, yet still remains a significant threat to the galaxy at large, striking strategic points throughout REPUBLIC space. Crime syndicates and spice dealers that thrived during the GALACTIC CIVIL WAR have diminished; and isolated, terrorist groups have taken the helm in cynicism against the peoples of the Galaxy. These groups, coupled with the REMNANT, threaten peace throughout the reaches of free space.

This turn of events has given rise to the number of BOUNTY HUNTERS throughout the Galaxy--each trying to make names for themselves. Cypress, a HUNTER hailing from Tatooine, and former BLACK SUN member, has entered his home system after a battle with one such extremist group—known as the CHILDREN OF THE SHATTERED SKULL. With the extremist group at an advantage, Cypress’ fate will be determined by his ruthlessness and cunning….


The lifeless husk of a man slumped down atop one of the tables in the dusty cantina, still smoking from the blaster wound that had just penetrated his chest cavity, flash-frying his heart. There hadn’t been much time for him to react—the gunfight erupted in the Tatooine cantina and lasted a solid minute before everyone in the bar was dead or close enough to be considered as so. There were about twelve dead men in the bar, not including two protocol droids that had been caught in the crossfire. Two lone figures stood at a far corner of the bar, both hacking violently from the heavy cloud of smoke that hung over the place. A glass rolled off an empty table, shattering on the floor and spilling its contents. The establishment was lifeless… literally.

The durasteel door suddenly burst open, the abrupt flash of light in the ill-lit cantina blinding the two gunmen. They withdrew, covering their eyes until they were adjusted to the light. A lone figure’s silhouette filled the void, standing so that he was unrecognizable to the men. His voice called out, rough and cool—unnervingly calm amidst the scene of chaos in front of him. “It wasn’t hard to find you two—all I had to do was follow the trail of dead.”

“Who the hell are you,” called out one—a burly tradoshan. “Ya don’t get outta my sight right now, you’ll be the next body on the trail, scumbag!” He lifted his weapon, angling it at the intruder.

A thunderous roar erupted from the doorway, a lone blaster bolt searing the air as it flew at the Tradoshan. The reptile felt the impact of the shot before he heard the report, his body thrown askew on the hit. He lifted his hand, but he found that he wasn’t armed any longer—or handed. The stump bled profusely, flecks of flesh and bone littered the immediate vicinity and the Trado’s clothes. He screamed in agonizing torture.

“You were always careless, Quey,” heckled the figure. He disappeared. Quey’s partner—a zabrak--stood frozen in terror. Quey had never taken a hit like this before.

“You’re acting like a rookie, Rechks,” spat Quey. “It’s just a flesh wound—get your ass to some cover! He’s not gonna get away with this!”

“Who the hell is that, Quey,” asked the zabrak in a quavering, cowardly voice. “He got you, man!”

Quey snagged Rechks by the collar with his one good hand. He snarled, through pain and anger, “Cypress!” The tradoshan snatched the weapon from the remains of his hand, shaking off the three talons that still gripped the gun. Rechks was clearly affected by the mention of the name.

The two dashed toward the door, hurdling over carcasses strewn in front of them. The ‘tink’ of metal against the permacrete floor stopped them in their tracks. A grenade was rolling toward them. Quey-- who was behind his partner—plowed into Rechks, whom had already stopped. Rechks fell, sprawling, toward the live device. Quey regained his balance and ducked behind a half-wall nearby.

The tradoshan winced as the blast reverberated through the cantina, glowing fragments of durasteel hurling through the place. A bit of shrapnel hit a table nearby, sticking in the side—the explosive had been a flechette grenade, utilizing small, needle-like darts as projectiles. They were outlawed in most systems due to their inhumane constitution.

He peeked out from his cover, trying to see if his partner had made it to safety. Quey spotted him, convulsing, right in front of the spot the grenade had detonated. Rechks was in his death throes because he realized that he had been careless. This thought passed quickly out of Quey’s mind as a boot was placed solidly in the small of his back. He tried to roll over, but the familiar shape of a blaster barrel was placed solidly on the back of his skull. He froze.

Quey knew he was dead—there was no denying it now. “How in the hell did you survive? We saw your ship fly into fragments before you made the jump here. ”

Cypress’ icy voice retorted, “Vengeance kept me alive. The Shattered Skull will pay…”

“They won’t forgive you now,” screamed Quey franticly, “You’re dead!”

“I had a bad hand this time, but it’s all in how we play the cards we’re dealt that determines the ultimate winner. Looks like you’re out.” Cypress squeezed the trigger-- the passing of Quey and his partner giving him a certain amount of satisfaction. This wasn’t over; it had only just begun…
"Greatness is not measured by how well you speak of yourself, but how well others speak of you."

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Post by WedaScami » Wed Sep 22, 2004 2:20 pm

Chapter 1: Samaritans Amongst the Beggar’s

Reality itself seemed to spiral out of control as the StarViper re-entered real space from the hyperspace continuum. The bluish-white tunnel receded into thousands of star lines until each shrunk into their individual silvery pinpricks of light against a stark black backdrop. The effects of the voyage were disorienting at first, but the thoughts of these minor discomforts were quickly put out of the hunter’s mind. Cypress had much more pressing problems to deal with at the moment…

The cockpit lighting turned crimson—but Cypress didn’t need lights or the wailing of emergency klaxons to know he was in trouble if he didn’t set the ship down soon. Ahead of him was the muddy brown orb, Tatooine. His hands flew over the keys, his mind working too swiftly for his hands to keep up. The hunter brought up the main systems diagnostic menu.

“Give me a damage assessment outside of the information on this screen—how long do I have,” queried Cypress into nothingness. A calm, artificial female voice responded.

“Life support systems are failing at a rate of seventeen point eight-two percent a minute—attempts to stabilize this are unsuccessful. The hyperdrive generator is in critical stage—it is leaking onto the main drives, which are functioning at 30% capacity. Outer hull integrity compromised; loss of cabin pressure imminent.”

“Can we make it to the surface?” asked Cypress coolly, trying to hide the air of urgency that had set in.

“You have three minutes to do so.”

“Good enough.”

As the ship limped its way towards Tatooine, Cypress reflected on the events that had led up to this point. His quarries had become more and more unpredictable—a response to the Republic’s crackdown on crime, no doubt—these guys were desperate, and often times had something more than money or spice to die for. Put a thermal detonator in the hand of someone who isn’t afraid to see their god after blowing themselves (and four city blocks) to hell and you get the most dangerous kind of criminal there is. These were the fanatics Cypress had been dealing with lately, and more often than not, they bit back when cornered.

The StarViper was a considerable loss, but there was nothing more that could be done to change its fate now. The hunter was lucky enough to escape with his life after upsetting a very backwater, extremist religious group on the Outer Rim. It mattered little, because he was about to plunge head-first into the Dune Sea, ready or not.

A minute or so passed before the blackness of space outside the ship gave way to the bluish tinge characteristic of Tatooine’s atmosphere. The vaguely-defined, brown features of the desert planet became clear as the ship plunged ever-faster toward the surface. Cypress reached over to the controls for the repulsorlift engines, hoping for the best in their function.

Sliding the switch forward dramatically, the entire vessel lurched, and the sound of power shutting itself down reverberated throughout the cabin. Cypress stared at the controls for the briefest of moments before cursing, “Shit.”

His attention focused on the sensors, which were basically non-existent at the time. Of course, the comms. were offline as well—Cypress almost counted on this. “Why doesn’t anyting work!?” he roared, smashing both fists into the control panel. The ship sputtered again, and several jets of sparks flew from the panel. The repulsorlifts were now online at 35% capacity.

“Thank Providence for small favors,” said the hunter. It would be enough to at least let him survive the impact. How much of a ship that would be left when he did hit the ground was another matter entirely.

“Show me the projected coordinates of our…er… landing,” commanded Cypress to the computer. He didn’t know if the computer would register “crash site” or not. He glanced at the navigation screen, which displayed a very general area of where he would land—a consequence of the now-defunct sensors. He was presumably going to hit somewhere in the Jundland Wastes—hopefully missing Beggar’s Canyon.

“Great,” thought Cypress aloud. “Survive the crash only to be served as a Krayt’s appetizer.” The features of Tatooine crept upward in the view screen until he was level with the dunes outside—another few seconds and the craft bounced, then skidded on the sand. Cypress tightened his belts as the transparisteel canopy cracked as he hit a particularly rocky dune. The sound of twisting and shearing metal could be heard every time the ship struck the ground.

Finally, the StarViper hugged the ground and tumbled; sending debris in every direction for hundreds of meters. Sand and clay flew up several stories in the air as the craft ripped itself apart from the outside. Cypress closed his eyes, nearly losing consciousness. He heard the cabin depressurize as the canopy finally smashed open, oxygen hissing out into the arid desert air. The craft finally jerked to a halt in an obtuse, upside-down position—the crash leaving a debris field and skid track a mile long. The last thing the hunter thought before the world went black was how the hell he was going to survive this one…
"Greatness is not measured by how well you speak of yourself, but how well others speak of you."

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Post by WedaScami » Thu Sep 23, 2004 2:21 pm

darkness…

“I…I-I think he’s alive!”

Cypress tried to open his eyes, but he wasn’t sure if they actually were responding or not—everything was still veiled in some unnatural blackness—not to mention the fact that he was already blind in one eye from an accident long ago…

“You sure? This ship’s wasted—don’t look like no one couldda survived that,” responded another person.

“Look, he moved! I ain’t lyin’ pap!”

Voices… they’re speaking Basic, Cypress told himself inwardly, Human voices. He tried to move, but it was as if his entire body was pinned down—maybe even paralyzed. He couldn’t feel a thing, but he noted the metallic taste of sweat and blood mingled in his mouth. He tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come.

“Get him the hell ‘outta there, boy” shouted a gruff male voice. “Lucky those damned Sand People didn’t find ‘im before we did! And hurry it up! It’s gettin’ dark!”

The hunter felt someone’s presence nearby, as if they were leaning over him, studying him. “You just gonna stand there, or are ya gonna help me the hell outta here,” asked Cypress—the words came out of nowhere. His senses were coming back very slowly.

The person standing there seemed surprised by the man’s reaction. “S-sure, hold on.” Cypress now felt the other man tugging at his harnesses; then a wave of pain surged through his entire body, as if someone had sent his body through a meat processor… twice. He moaned audibly, then passed out for a second time.

When he awoke, the pain he’d felt before was still there, only more acute--like he was being say on by a Bantha while strapped to a bed of nails. His body was on fire—he looked around helplessly, again unable to speak, but all he saw was a big white blur. He was on a bed somewhere—the hunter’s body was a broken relic of its former self. There was someone nearby.

His vocal cords wouldn’t form words, but he mouthed the word “water” weakly, setting his head down on the pillow. A cup was brought to his lips, and he drank greedily from it.

“Not too much, now,” exclaimed a young, feminine voice—it was music to him. There were probably others standing there, but his senses told him nothing. He was as helpless as a newborn. He tried to move, but with every tensing of his muscles, it felt as though someone had stuck a thousand vibro-daggers into him.

“He’s lost a lot of fluid,” said the woman’s voice, “Must be from the burns—and the desert.”

There was a fire? thought Cypress—his first coherent thought, I don’t remember… a… fire… He then realized that remembering much about the crash was difficult. He could barely remember what planet he’d landed on. He tried to fight the excruciating pain to sit up—his efforts left him exhausted and agonizing.

“Take it easy,” said the familiar male voice from the ship, “You’re not going anywhere for a while.”

“M-m-my,” Cypress sputtered.

“He’s tryin’ to say somethin’,” said the female voice.

“My ship,” he managed.

“Done for,” responded the male voice. “There ain’t nothin’ left of it—nothing worth salvagin, anyway. ‘Cept your pistols—haven’t seen those things in a long while, lemme tell ya what.”

The words took a moment to set in—his ship, the single possession that he’d taken pride in since his teen years was gone forever. He wagered that no one was willing to salvage what was left, either, at least not in the location that it was presently in. Jawas had likely already gotten to it, anyway. It was a shame—the craft had been given to him as a present for successfully completing his first “removal” for his former Hutt boss. It had likely been stolen from another victim of the Hutt’s greed, but it rarely crossed Cypress’ mind. The vessel was specially-modified for speed, sacrificing shielding to lend power to the high-output engines. It would be difficult to replace this craft.

If there was a good thing that had come out of it all, it was that Cypress’ saviors had picked his two T-6s out of the wreckage. It was easy to overlook more “trivial” items, but these men clearly had an eye for the inestimable. The T-6 was a contraband weapon because of its devastating power—its only drawback, which caused BlasTech to be the target of several lawsuits—was that it overheated easily and tended to warp under the extreme heats caused by the output of energy (ending in the loss of hands or limbs). Cypress had to be extremely cautious in using the pistols—marketed as the ultimate “super-heavy” blaster pistol.

Cypress looked around the room blankly for a moment. The thoughts in his head were racing too fast for him to form much of a sentence. On top of all this, he was extremely weak—probably from the loss of moisture the woman had spoken of. “W-wh-where am I,” he managed after a moment of struggle.

“The ass-end of the galaxy—or as we locals like to call it, Tatooine,” responded the male voice. “Trouble rememberin’?”

“No,” responded Cypress at length, “Where on Tatooine?”
“The ass-end of the planet—way outside Anchorhead.” The man chuckled.

“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that,” the woman said. “We’re not that isolated here. There’s the Venstar family is just on—“

The man cut her off, “Just on the other side of Beggar’s Canyon. Deal with it, the life of a moisture farmer’s alone. Not to mention hard work—I dunno how we got started in this business in the first place.”

“It’s a family thing, I guess. None of us ever had the initiative to move off-planet. Our families have been here for generations.”

“So we decided to scrounge a livin’ by makin’ water in a desert? Don’t seem right, to tell ya the truth. I betcha this one here’s got some stories to tell.”

“Hush now,” commanded the woman, “He needs his rest—he doesn’t need to trouble his mind with anything else right now ‘cept gettin’ better. Time for talk later.”

The man fell silent. Indeed, Cypress was again fast asleep. The whole ordeal had drained him both mentally and physically—he had nothing left to run on except shear will alone. He was just glad that he was still alive—in one form or another.
"Greatness is not measured by how well you speak of yourself, but how well others speak of you."

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Post by WedaScami » Fri Sep 24, 2004 7:59 pm

Chapter 2: A Life Not His Own

“Alright! That’s it for the day, Cypress,” said Rowen, walking up to the hunter as he made his way carefully down from the top of a heavy moisture vaporator. Cypress still had to be cautious when moving around—his body was still healing, but he had made an amazing recovery nonetheless. Two months had passed since the crash, and Cypress had been working for the family that had saved him ever since he got out of bed. He felt he owed them his life, and doing manual labor on their moisture farm was the least he could do for a warm meal and his own room. Besides, the work helped to strengthen his atrophied muscles, so it was a good trade-off. Taking some time from tracking quarries was good for him, anyway. It gave Cypress the opportunity to appreciate aspects of his home planet he’d taken for granted before, or simply overlooked altogether.

Rowen was the father of the boy who’d pulled him from the StarViper. He lived with his son, Sean (15), and wife, Truu—the family also owned a skittish protocol droid named Arvieo, or “Arvie,” whom was treated like one of the family, anyway. They were a peaceful family typical of the farmers on Tatooine. They gave what they had to survive in the desert, and if excess was produced, it was saved for bad times or sold on the open market—water was, after all, a precious commodity on the arid world.

Rowen clapped Cypress on the back, kicking a cloud of dust into the air around the hunter’s head—he’d been working on the family’s machines all day. Rowen, too had been busy with the vaporators all day; as well as retooling the family speeder. “You’ve been such a big help, Cypress. Truu and me can’t thank ya enough. We’ve gotten more water outta these old machines than we have in years! We might even be able ta buy newer ones by the end of the season, at this rate!”

Cypress managed a small, thankful grin (he’d noticed that he’d been doing a lot more of that lately), “I owe you guys big,” he said, “There’s nothing I can do to repay you, so I’ll just stay here and work until you don’t want me here any more.”

“That might not be for a long, long time, Cypress,” exclaimed Rowen with a toothy grin. “But you can’t go on workin’ like this without pay. At least take a little!”

Cypress put his hands on his hips, shaking his head, “I won’t accept a credit—not ever.” It might have been the first time he turned down money like this, too.

Rowen shrugged, the same characteristic smile painted across his features. “Anyway, it’s time for supper. Man’s gotta eat after work like that, lemme tell ya what!”

“He sure does,” agreed Cypress, chuckling a little at the man’s drawl. The two made their way across the plateau toward the family’s T-47 landspeeder. It wasn’t much to look at, but it was an excellent utility vehicle. Wind swept across the flat plain, kicking up a cloud of dust into the late-afternoon sky. Off in the distance, Tatooine’s twin suns sunk lazily over the sandy horizon, turning the sky a breathtaking violet and orange haze. It was so peaceful out on the plateau—peace and quiet were not something Cypress was accustomed to.

After dinner, Cypress returned to his room. It was situated across from the main living quarters in the primarily subterranean dwelling characteristic of Tatooine. The only structures that could be seen above ground were the garage area and main living unit, which showed to the onlooker as two domes above the sands. When standing above the home on ground level, a person could look down into a circular, 3-meter deep, pit that branched off into the various underground rooms of the farm.

After undressing, he took a moment to look at himself in the room’s small mirror atop a generic armoire. The black patch over his right eye covered the grizzly wound he’d received on Tatooine years ago. Scars covered his well-muscled body from the recent crash, as well as other abuses he’d subjected himself to here and there. Stroking the rough whisker line along his jaw, the hunter sat down on his bed and deactivated the lights. It didn’t take long for him to drift off to sleep after his head hit the pillow.

* * * *

Outside, no more than two hundred meters from the family’s home, a dark figure crawled over a dune, the sand barely shifting under his subtle movements. Stars glimmered high above in the cold, desert night. The figure held a pair of macrobinoculars, and gazed in the direction of the farm.

“I have his location,” he said into an unseen comlink, his voice held barely above a whisper. Several moments later, he spoke again.

“Yes—I’ve made a positive ID.”

Another moment elapsed, the person on the other line speaking. The man spoke again. “Yes, there are civilians present. How do we proceed?”

“It would be our pleasure…

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"Greatness is not measured by how well you speak of yourself, but how well others speak of you."

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Post by WedaScami » Sat Sep 25, 2004 6:21 am

Chapter 3: Calm Before the Storm

The green bolt of light and super-heated gas seared through the sweltering desert air, striking the rusted can Cypress had set up for a little target practice, turning the sand behind it into muddy glass. The can was sent gyrating off the opposite side of the smaller hill. He hadn’t played around with his weapons since before the crash—many months ago. He figured it was time for some fine-tuning. He used to be able to pick flies off a wall from fifty meters.

Leveling his T-6 at the pock mark left on the dune from his blaster shot, he began to squeeze the trigger oh-so-slowly, making certain not to “pull” it and throw off the accuracy of the shot. He took a full breath, then let half of it out evenly, stabilizing his aim further. Cypress visualized the shot leaving the blaster, then hitting its target dead on.

“Cypress!,” came Sean’s voice. The hunter squeezed off his shot—three meters high. The roar of the gun caused Sean to jump in surprise. After the sound had subsided, the boy came running up through the sand, looking very jovial.

Cypress glanced at the bolt as it disappeared into the horizon, then back at Sean, a squinted, half-annoyed look on his face. “Nice timing, kid,” he commented, trying to sound agitated. “Whaddya need?”

“I thought I heard you shootin’,” said Sean, a wide grin on his face. He had a slight drawl like his father, but was more… quick-minded like his mother. He had much wherewithal to do great things… if he could ever get off his farm. Tatooine wasn’t the kind of planet that nurtured a person’s ultimate potential. Sean was bound to inherit the farm his father ran, whose father before him ran it, whose father’s father ran it… and so on. Moisture farming was in his blood, and it was often times difficult to depart from this.

“You good with that thing?” continued Sean, peering over Cypress’ shoulder to assess his target shooting. Judging by the look of skepticism on his face, he wasn’t impressed. “Or are you just an amateur bounty hunter?”

Cypress spun the gun around his index finger several revolutions, then stopped it, spinning it in the opposite direction several more times before holstering it in one fluid motion. “There’s nothing amateur about me, kid,” said Cypress defiantly. “I’ll show you—go throw that other can over there about five meters in the air.”

The boy complied, sauntering over toward the remaining intact can. He held it in his palm for a moment, turning it over as if he were studying its features. With that, he tossed the can into the air several meters. Cypress pulled his gun in a flash, letting a bolt fly—it connected with the can, sending two halves spiraling off into different directions. The hunter pivoted, unleashing another bolt not a moment later. Dexterously throwing the weapon to his opposite hand, he spun around and fired yet another shot—from under his arm. The two can halves evaporated, the second doing so centimeters from the ground.

Sean stood rigid, awestruck and overwrought—the whole spectacle had taken place just a few meters on either side of him. Cypress holstered his weapon casually, then exaggeratedly imitated the boy’s saunter over to him, folding his hands in front of him. Cypress had a smug look of satisfaction on his face—Sean still couldn’t pick his jaw up off the sand. “What’s the matter? Bocat got your tongue?”

“Who are you—really?” asked Sean, still a little shaken.

Cypress still wore the smirk on his face, glancing at the boy with a slight twinkle in his eye. Rowen entered the scene, “What’re you boys up to? Little target practice?”

“Something like that,” said Cypress. Sean remained silent. “What’s up?”

“Got some work for the both of ya, after all. I need y’all to take a few things into Mos Eisley to sell. Few odds ‘n ends. Ya mind?”

“Depends,” said Cypress with a mischievous grin, “On whether or not we can take the swoop.” The S-swoop was Rowen’s pride and joy. It was a relic from his days as a rebel riding around with his troupe of friends and raising hell all over Tatooine. It was older, but the craft was just as fast (if not faster) than any top-of-the-line model of the day. Painted a fiery red with orange and yellow flames highlighting the front, the thing was basically a huge turbofan engine with a seat for two attached. It was hard of handling, but then again anything reaching nearly 600 kph would be.

“So ya saw ‘er, huh,” said Rowen, referring to his swoop. He scratched the back of his head with a wide grin on his face, memories of his days atop the swoop rushing back to him. “I don’t even know if she still runs right… But ya can’t take it anyway, too much stuff to carry this time. We’ll have to go riding sometime.”

Rowen, Cypress, and Sean loaded the family’s landspeeder for the trip to Mos Eisley. They remembered to pack extra supplies in case the two were stranded and didn’t happen to be near civilization at the time—Cypress didn’t count on needing any of it, but precautions were always good. Cypress sat in the driver’s seat of the speeder, making the final checks.

“Looks like everything’s in order,” he said, looking over the gauges. “We shouldn’t be more than a few days at most.”

“Alright, y’all be careful now,” said Rowen. “And keep him outta trouble.”

“Don’t worry about Sean,” said Cypress. “I’ll keep him in line.”

“I wasn’t talkin’ to you,” said Rowen with a wide smile. Truu came out of the house to bid her son farewell. It would be the first time he was away from his mother for more than a day.

“Take care,” she said, tears in her eyes. “Oh—I don’t want to let you go, Sean. But your father insisted.”

“Ah, maw,” said Sean. “Cypress won’t let nothin’ happen to me, will ya?”

“Not unless the Sand People need a new slave,” commented the man. “Don’t worry, Truu, no one will mess with Sean in Mos Eisley. No one…”

Truu stood next to Rowen, on the verge of sobbing, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her husband wrapped his arm around her waist, comforting her as the two drove off. Both waved farewell as the speeder disappeared in a cloud of dust into the sunset…

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"Greatness is not measured by how well you speak of yourself, but how well others speak of you."

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Post by WedaScami » Sat Sep 25, 2004 8:36 pm

There wasn’t a really bad part of town in Mos Eisley per se—it was more of a general description for the entire city. Some parts worse than others, but it was still a good idea to watch your back in any part of Mos Eisley. Pulling into the outskirts of the city made Cypress remember his days as a young adult running around the city doing odds and ends for his boss. He knew the city fairly well—not much had changed in the way of urban development.

Ships of many classifications and makes flew overhead, coming in or departing from any of the various starports that pock-marked the city. Pedestrians of all species walked freely in the streets—some of them looking particularly unsavory. Swoops, speeders, and other various repulsor craft sped by on the streets—the city was as alive as it had ever been—probably even more so after the loosening of the Empire’s strangle-hold on the Rim.

Sean looked around in awed silence. Things were moving so fast—he’d likely never seen so many people in one place at one time. He took in the domed, low-level sandstone architecture of nearly all the buildings in Mos Eisley (most structures never rose above two stories because of the frequency of sandstorms), looking in wonder and amazement at the starships that scurried in and out of the port like busy bees to pollen.

“Pretty impressive, huh, kid?” asked Cypress at length. “There’s no place in the galaxy quite like Mos Eisley. Races of all kinds hailing from all corners of the galaxy smuggling spice, running guns, or just stopping off on one of the dozen shipping lanes that goes through this system. You really get a… colorful array of sentients here at any given time.”

“Look at all those starships,” exclaimed Sean. “I bet they’ve been everywhere in the galaxy. I bet they have a lot of stories to tell, too.”

“I bet they do, too,” said Cypress. “You tend to have something to talk about once you’ve run a few Imperial blockades or smuggled contraband through Planetary Customs a half a dozen times.”

Sean looked at Cypress now, a look of wonder still plastered on his face. “I knew you had something to tell. Did you ever have to fight with the Imperials?”

“How do you mean,” asked Cypress.

“You know; a vicious gun battle on the streets of some backwater planet, or a dogfight in outer space?”

Cypress chuckled, “Something like that—we can talk about it when we get a minute later. Right now we gotta find this address.” The hunter held a slip of paper with something scratched on it. Rowen didn’t have the neatest handwriting.

“If this moisture farming thing doesn’t work out, I’m sure your dad would have a good career as a doctor—I couldn’t read his writing if my life depended on it,” commented Cypress. He flipped the paper to Sean. “See if you can translate it.”

“Wow, nice goin’, pap. I’ll try and figure it out…” A moment passed before he spoke again. “I think it’s ‘013-23-01 Boonta Plaza.’”

The place didn’t settle in for a moment—then it hit him. Boonta Plaza wasn’t too far from a cantina Cypress had to take over when he worked for Black Sun. He’d successfully taken it over, at great personal sacrifice, and renamed it himself. He thought the name was fairly catchy, too—“The Firewater Cantina.” Cypress had lost his eye fighting to take the cantina. A bit of shrapnel from a fragmentation grenade got lodged in his pupil—he’d never bothered with getting a new one. He wondered if the place was still around.

“That’s right,” said Cypress at last, “Boonta Plaza’s just on the other side of town. It’ll be about five minutes before we get there. So get comfortable.”

When the two reached the address in question, there was already a man standing outside waiting for the shipment. He was a fit-looking Falleen that looked to be in his mid-thirties—the man reminded Cypress strangely of the late Prince Xizor, somehow, with his green skin and pale, lavender eyes. It was strange, Falleen were not accustomed to leaving their home world and venturing out into the universe—probably because most of them thought themselves superior to all other species. This man was clearly breaking the stereotype.

“Greetings,” he said. “You’re right on time.”

“Rowan gave us good directions,” said Cypress, nodding his greeting. The Falleen looked at the things the two had brought for him. He smiled slightly.

“Excellent,” he said, “everything is in order. Here is your payment.” The man slipped Cypress the allotted amount, plus a little extra for the both of them. “You two have a wonderful day.”

“You too,” said Cypress. When the man walked back inside with his merchandise, Cypress didn’t skip a beat. “And that concludes the shortest, most awkward, business transaction I’ve ever handled.” He chuckled a little, stretching from the long ride. There was going to be another long ride ahead of him, too.

“I wanna go check something out,” said Cypress, getting in the empty vehicle. It floated about half a meter higher now from the load taken off.

He and Sean made their way toward the plaza where the Firewater was situated. There wasn’t much of a crowd out here today —which was very, very strange. As they neared the plaza, the pair spotted a huge crowd of people blocking the avenue. The local authorities had set up a roadblock to the square where the cantina was located.

Cypress pulled the speeder off to the side of the road, stepping out into the sand again. He looked at Sean. “I’m only gonna be a few minutes. I don’t know if you wanna go into that or not. There’s something I gotta check on.” He motioned toward the chaotic mob ahead.

Sean started to get out the vehicle. “I’m coming with you. No one’s gonna steal the speeder, anyway.”

Cypress shrugged, thinking that the commotion was probably two aliens duking it out because of a little road rage. Or one of them had cheated in cards. Things like this were an everyday occurrence in Mos Eisley. As the pair walked up to the roadblock, Cypress overheard various people’s conversations. “I heard someone was in the cantina shooting!” said one person.

“How many people are dead,” asked another.

“I heard there were ten gunmen!”

“That’s nonsense, it’s just some whack job with a blaster taking pot shots at civvies.”

Cypress’ ears perked up at mention of the cantina. Someone had apparently started shooting and was now holed up within the interior. The two pushed their way through the crowd until they got to the barricades. Several troopers were standing guard, keeping the mob back. Cypress turned to Sean.

“Stay put, I’m going to check things out.” It looked as if Sean was about to protest, but Cypress wasn’t in the mood to argue. The hunter stepped past a barricade.

“Hey!” called a trooper, trotting over, carbine unslung. “Get back behind the barricade! Now!”

Cypress looked at him, squinting, putting a hand on one of his holstered T-6s. “I’m a bounty hunter—they sent me to take these guys down,” he lied.

The trooper looked unsure what to do. There was a short pause. “Fine, go ahead, but we’re not responsible if you get yourself turned into slag.” Cypress nodded his agreement.

As he sauntered out into the empty plaza, a piece of paper blew in a spiral across his view. The cantina was still adorned with the same neon sign, The Firewater Cantina. The place was probably continued to be a hot-spot, given its location. He was glad it was still operating. Cypress stopped about twenty meters from the door, taking the medium-sized, beige building in again. It had been a long time…

Suddenly, the door burst open. Cypress began to draw one of his pistols, but saw that the man standing there was in no position to operate a weapon. He was hunched over holding his left shoulder; his left arm bled profusely, and hung uselessly at his side. Blood dripped from several wounds (including blaster shots) on his body and mingled with the dust as he staggered toward Cypress. The hunter bounded over, catching the man before his strength gave out.

“What the hell’s going on in there,” he demanded. The man looked up at Cypress, terror and agony in his eyes.

“Th-they… The Shattered Skull…S-started shooting at everyone…” He managed. Cypress’ eyes nearly went wide at the mention of the group. He had no idea they operated on Tatooine. Cypress shook the man, trying to keep him conscious.

Why?” he queried. The man’s eyes began rolling into the back of his head. His body went limp in Cypress’ arms—then fell to the ground. Cypress crouched over him to check a pulse—this man was dead. The thought left his mind quickly—the Children of the Shattered Skull were going to answer for nearly killing him those months ago, no matter what it took.

Cypress unclipped one of the flechette grenades on the dead man’s bandolier. He figured that he might need it once he got inside. The needle-like shrapnel from the grenade was meant basically to cause the most amount of soft tissue damage possible—nothing much else—they were useless against any kind of armor. This is why they were illegal in most systems.

Cypress stepped toward the door, unholstering a T-6. The next instant, he kicked it in, standing within the empty frame so that the gunmen inside wouldn’t be able to make out his identity through the sudden brightness. As his own eyes adjusted, Cypress found bodies lay scattered throughout the cantina, it was as if all Hell had broken loose—evidence of a small explosive detonating was also present judging from the smoke that rolled out, and the blast damage inside. The men responsible were either crazy, or just plain stupid.
"Greatness is not measured by how well you speak of yourself, but how well others speak of you."

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Post by WedaScami » Sun Sep 26, 2004 3:20 pm

Chapter 4: Massacre at The Firewater Cantina

Quey Vos, a burly Trandoshan, was seated at the far corner of the cantina, casually smoking a cheap cigarra that had been given to him by his partner, Rechks Cushrinatto-- a Zabrak. The place was actually a very well-kempt establishment near the center of Mos Eisley, called The Firewater Cantina—catchy name. Well-kempt in comparison to the other, lesser bars around the city—some of which made a womprat’s nest look like the Imperial Palace. There wasn’t a huge influx of scum in this particular place, either—this made things a little more tolerable, anyway.

The two men had been working together ever since they joined the Shattered Skull a few months back. They had been promised time and time again huge pay and lots of action—and all of this above the normal restrictions of the law. So far, the only thing they had done was steal a few religious artifacts held by museums around the galaxy. It was child’s play, mostly—both men were looking for some real, raw action.

The de facto purpose behind the Skull was still unknown to both of the men. Apparently, it was a primarily religious organization bent on overthrowing any sort of order in the galaxy, and trampling those who got in their way with terrorism and psychological warfare. It was the “trampling” part that Quey and Rechks had been initiated into the organization, not necessarily the “religious” aspect. Both men weren’t totally sure what kind of a religion endorsed violence, coercion, and anarchy, but it fit their agenda quite evenhandedly, nonetheless.

“This is bullshit,” griped Quey. “We’ve been at this job for what—five months now? And we don’t have any money, we haven’t seen any real action, and we’re stuck out here in the armpit of the universe!”

“There’re worse parts of the anatomy,” quipped Rechks. “We’ll see something soon, don’t worry.”

“Damn skippy,” exclaimed Quey. “We better, or I might just pistol-whip the next sonovabitch that looks at me funny.”

The waiter, which happened to be a silvery protocol droid, shuffled up to the table, inquiring, “And what would you two gentlemen like to drink this afternoon?”

Gentlemen?” asked Rechks, sounding offended, “Do I look ‘gentle’ to you?”

“It’s merely an expression, sir,” said the droid—he managed to sound quite frantic, even though he was not capable of emotion. “What would you like to drink?”

Rechks stood, pulling his blaster out of its holster. Jamming the barrel into the droid’s abdomen-circuitry, he squeezed off four rounds into it. Sparks and bits of plastisteel flew everywhere—dark, mechanical lube spewed from the “wound” like blood. “Oh dear,” exclaimed the droid. “You’ve shot me.”

Rechks pushed the droid away, sending it sprawling. A living waiter promptly rushed up, shouting angrily, “Put that weapon away! No shooting the droids!” Quey, as if on queue, rose from his place beside the waiter—the trandoshan was at least a head taller than the man. The larger alien snatched the small human waiter by the neck, lifting him up to eye level. The little man squirmed and struggled against the giant claw, but his efforts were futile.

“What was that,” rasped Quey, “No weapons? Alright…” With this, he twisted the man’s neck until a wet snap resounded throughout the bar. Quey released his grip on the man—he fell to the floor like a rag doll, still twitching. Everyone had fallen silent, and everyone was gawking at the scene that had unfolded. Several patrons sprinted out the front door at the first sight of violence. Others began motioning for their own various concealed weapons.

EVERYONE FREEZE” boomed Quey. “Nobody pulls a weapon and no one gets hurt!” Some of the patrons halted, but most others continued anyway, pulling their weapons into view. Rechks produced a small thermal charge, activating the controls—lights came to life on the metallic sphere, and a beeping noise could be heard. The terrorist heaved the weapon into a particularly large crowd of threats in the opposite corner.

No one had time to react before the device detonated, the concussion and heat from the blast knocking everyone in the bar off balance. A thick cloud of smoke poured from the relatively small blast, enveloping half the cantina—five men were now dead, including the waiter. A man charged Rechks from behind, shoulder down as if to tackle him. Quey stepped in the man’s way, smashing the grip of his pistol down atop the man’s skull, resulting in a satisfying crunch! The assailant crashed to the ground, unconscious or dead. It mattered little, for Quey finished the job by putting a shot right into the man’s head.

By this time, a few of the patrons started firing at the pair, most of the shots skipping harmlessly off the ceiling or floor around them. A bit of plaster from a stray shot off the wall hit Rechks in the eye. He let out a string of curses, diving for cover.

It was chaos, and the two were still out numbered and out-gunned. Fortunately for them, they weren’t out-brained. Most of these men only knew the dangerous end of a blaster because they’d accidentally killed a family pet as children. Quey dove behind an overturned table, switching out charge cartridges. Rechks had just finished doing the same. The two exchanged quick glances before standing from their hiding spots, firing wildly. Some of the shots met their targets, but most flew into walls, tables, or any other destructible object.

Chunks of the support pillars collapsed to the ground as Quey opened a barrage on a man that had taken cover behind them. The gunman returned fire, missing the large trandoshan by mere centimeters. The bolt raised a blister on the lizard’s neck—Quey pressed a claw over it to check if it was bleeding, the smell of seared flesh filling his nostrils.

“You hit,” asked Rechks, keeping several of the men down with his own shots.

“Near miss—that bastard nearly did me in,” chuckled Quey, trying to suppress his nervousness. “Let’s end this, now!”

A man armed with a barstool charged Rechks, hefting it as he neared him, ready to strike. When he was within distance, Rechks stepped in to meet his assailant so that the man couldn’t get a good swing at him with the stool, then he shoved the blaster up underneath the man’s chin. Chunks of brain matter showered Rechks and anything near him when he ended the man’s life—his body fell to the floor like a sack of spice.

Quey shot one man in the stomach, then stepped toward him, claw outstretched. The talons met the injured man’s neck, rending sinew and flesh. With one fell blow, the man’s throat was ripped out—the wound spewing glistening crimson as he crashed to the floor backwards from the hit. Writhing in agony while choking on his own blood, the man clutched at the gaping hole that used to be his Adam’s apple, it formed a thick, oily pool around him as he died. When he stopped convulsing, the cantina was emptied.

The two tittered in sadistic pride at the scene of butchery that lay around them. Rechks wiped a fleck of blood from his cheek, “Let’s see ‘em call us ‘gentlemen’ now…” The comment made the pair howl with laughter, even though they struggled to breathe in the murky, nebulous air.

Unexpectedly, the door swung open as if it were forced, a bright flash from the outside ambience blinded the pair for a moment. Quey shielded his eyes, shrinking back from the intense light. In the next moment, the figure of a man appeared in the open door, standing rigid. He spoke with a voice as cold and savorless as Hoth, “It wasn’t hard to find you two—all I had to do was follow the trail of dead….”
"Greatness is not measured by how well you speak of yourself, but how well others speak of you."

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Post by WedaScami » Tue Sep 28, 2004 3:15 pm

Quey was unnerved by the sound of this man’s voice—he sounded cool… confident…dangerous, “Who the hell are you,” he called out, trying to suppress the quaver in his voice, “Ya don’t get outta my sight right now, you’ll be the next body on the trail, scumbag!”

The trando raised his blaster, a wicked smile coiling on his face. Before he could form another thought, a sharp pain pierced his wrist, just below the palm. His entire body jerked sideways, which was followed by the booming report of some heavy weapon. Quey’s hand disintegrated in the blink of an eye, smothering his freighter’s trousers with the pulpy remains of the appendage.

Quey’s eyes went wide as his gun clattered to the ground, the man at the door continuing, “You were always careless, Quey…” Quey routed, misery nearly overcoming him—the wound spouted blood by the pint. The man’s silhouette disappeared from the door frame.

Rechks stood, frozen with fear—he shook palpably. Quey staggered to regain himself. “You’re acting like a rookie, Rechks,” spat Quey, lifting his stump up to the man’s face, “It’s just a flesh wound—get your sorry ass to some cover! He’s not gonna get away with this!”

Quey put the man down, “Who the hell is that, Quey,” Rechks was hardly trying to hide his emotion now—fear was gaining the upper hand. “He got you, man!”

Taking his partner by the collar, Quey nearly lifted the zabrak off the floor with his usable hand. Quey inhaled sharply through his teeth, baring the sharp fangs, trying to overcome the pain. “Cypress!” he boomed. He set Rechks down, seeing that he’d gotten the message through. Rechks was frozen at the mention of the bounty hunter’s name…

Cypress… The man had dealt with both Quey and Rechks before—though never when they were under the employ of the Shattered Skull. Shortly after leaving Black Sun, Cypress was hired by a private client to track down the pair and relieve them of a shipment of spice that they’d “somehow” mistaken as theirs during a botched deal. Quey and Rechks were originally intended to walk away with four drums—they ended up with six, depriving the client of his much-needed product. Needless to say, the man was more than a little pissed off.

Cypress had later found the two holed up on Gall—a backwoods, lawless Imperial enclave located on a small moon of the gas giant, Zhar in a system sharing the same name. Cypress discovered their ship in the docks, infiltrating and retaking the said spice. Additionally, he planted several charges on the hyperdrive unit of their ship as a going-away present, set to detonate after the navigation computer activated the systems.

When Cypress later confronted the pair, he allowed them to retreat to their ship, where a worse fate than a blaster bolt to the face awaited them. As Cypress perused in his own ship, Quey and Rechks “escaped” into hyperspace—or so they thought. When the charges exploded, their ship reverted to real space. The two were stranded on a bygone shipping lane and incapable of interplanetary travel—awaiting the almost certain loss of power and eventually, life support.

Through some stroke of luck, a deep-space salvage team picked up a torpid distress signal from the craft and saved the thieves before they suffocated. Quey and Rechks vowed vengeance on the bounty hunter, and nearly got the chance to fulfill their wishes when they pounded him almost immediately after concluding his “business” with Skarrek (another quarry). However, the pair was under the new commission of The Shattered Skull. The jump to safety eventually lead the bounty hunter to Tatooine, luckless and shipless.

Rechks shook himself out of his trance, tightening his grip on the pistol. Quey stooped to pick up his own weapon, to which the remains of his fingers were attached. Shaking them free, Quey nodded toward the door, indicating to Rechks that he was to take the lead. The zabrak hesitantly obliged, jogging toward the door, Quey not too far behind.

As the two reached the door, a small, metallic object skipped into the cantina from outside. Rechks identified it as a threat almost immediately, stopping cold. Quey’s momentum was too great to stop in such an abbreviated distance, so he rammed into his partner’s back, sending the man face-first toward the floor. Quey shifted his weight to one side and bounded into cover.

When Rechks lifted his face, the small, live explosive charge dominated his field of vision. Suddenly, the lights on the outside of the device stopped blinking for the briefest of moments. The zabrak attempted to move, but his muscles wouldn’t respond. “Oh shit—“ was all the man could manage before he was mangled by the explosion.

Quey peeked out to behold his friend—rent asunder by the bounty hunter’s weapon. He tried to stand, but was unrepentantly pinned down by someone’s boot. He didn’t need to be a Jedi to guess who it was, either. The game was finally up. A blaster barrel was pressed into his head—Quey waited for death.

When it didn’t come, the trandoshan felt the urge to plead for his life—but he determined it was a futile effort. “How the hell did you survive? We saw your ship fly into fragments before you made the jump here.”

It was true—Quey was almost certain Cypress’ ship was damaged too thoroughly to survive a jump through hyperspace. He would have wagered his very livelihood on it, too. Cypress had a reputation of coming back to haunt those that had wronged him.

Vengence kept me alive,” answered the hunter. “The Shattered Skull will pay…”

“They won’t forgive you this time,” shouted Quey, anger and fear surfacing in his voice, “You’re dead!”

“I had a bad hand this time, but it’s all in how we play the cards we’re dealt that determines the ultimate winner. Looks like you’re out.” A bright flash—it was then that Quey departed the world of the living…
"Greatness is not measured by how well you speak of yourself, but how well others speak of you."

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Post by WedaScami » Thu Oct 14, 2004 8:52 pm

Chapter 5: Shattered Dreams

Cypress took a moment to wipe the liquefied remains of the trandoshan’s head off the barrel of his T-6. When he had the gun fairly clean, he holstered it, followed by a brief walk outside. The hunter took a moment to fill his lungs with the arid atmosphere, exhaling slowly, relaxing his mind.

Casually making his way across the square, Cypress arrived at the barricades where the troopers were still trying to keep the mob back. One of the unoccupied men strode up to Cypress, gun lowered at his side. “I’ll be damned,” he exclaimed, surprise apparent in his voice, “You’re alive. So the perps are dead, right?”

The hunter nodded slowly, squinting his eyes to slits from the unrelenting suns’ rays. He began to walk toward the barricades, searching for Sean in the crowd. Spotting the youngster being jostled about by some unruly bystanders, Cypress hiked up his belt and plunged into the chaos toward him. People had all sorts of questions—all of which Cypress ignored—it was probably dangerous to stay in town for much longer.

When he reached Sean, Cypress wasted no time in starting their lengthy journey home. “Let’s go, kid,” he said casually.

What,” queried Sean, hardly believing Cypress’ apathy after the events that had just transpired.

“I didn’t stutter, kid,” continued Cypress, trying to deflect the question he knew was inevitably coming, “We’re getting the hell outta Dodge.”

“But what about the cantina,” persisted the boy, nearly hopping off the ground with anticipation. “What happened?”

“I’ll tell you on the way home,” said Cypress calmly. “We need to get out of Mos Eisley before their buddies catch wind of the mess I made of them.” The two reached the unladen speeder, each of them climbing inside. Sean was still ecstatic about the whole ordeal. He fidgeted around the vehicle, contemplating ways to pry more information out of Cypress. He was like a little boy hopped up on a sugary carbonated drink.

The desert terrain rolled by smoothly outside—the cityscape had given way to the rocky crags and rolling dunes characteristic of Tatooine. “I know what you’re thinking,” said Cypress at last. He was just as cool as he was when they left Mos Eisley. “You think I travel around the galaxy looking for trouble and killing anyone that stands in the way. You think it’s a glorious life of action and suspense, don’t you?”

Sean remained silent, so Cypress started again, “I can’t tell you how many times I almost died going back to that cantina. Those two thugs, however careless they seemed, were still so dangerous it is hard to imagine anyone with half a brain going into that place to challenge them.”

“So why did you,” queried Sean.

“Because it’s who I’ve become—those sons-a-bitches think that just because they can tote a blaster and terrorize normal, upstanding people, that they’re somehow superior to them. I used to be one of the thugs, way back when I started working for the Hutts, but that slowly began to change when I joined Black Sun. I saw those people as cowards who couldn’t find something to fight for, so they vented their pent-up frustrations on innocent people. People like that don’t deserve a place among civil society. I strive to restore some of the Justice that those terrorists attempt to take away from the defenseless, so that at least there is some semblance of order in a galaxy so deprived of it.”

The hum of the repulsorlift engines was all that could be heard for a few brief moments, Cypress’ unexpected speech actually managing to take both of them by surprise. Cypress finally spoke again, “And that’s all I have to say about that—both of them are dead. They fell by my hand… quite deservingly, too.” The two hardly exchanged a word for quite some time.

*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*
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Post by WedaScami » Sun Oct 17, 2004 10:47 am

The first stars began to glimmer through Tatooine’s atmosphere as the two neared home. It would be just after nightfall when they made it back to the farm—the warm, inviting glow of the main entrance calling them in to rest after such a long day’s journey. Cypress almost smiled just thinking about it.

“It’s pretty late, even though we made good time,” said Cypress at last. “Let’s hope your parents aren’t waiting up for us when we get home.” The speeder neared the farm, but it didn’t look as if anyone was around to greet them. It was very dark, and no lights were left on. “They must’ve turned in for the night,” commented Cypress.

“They still should’ve left the lights on for us,” said Sean, nearly jumping from the moving speeder and sounding particularly frustrated. Cypress pulled it to a stop about twenty meters from the main entrance. Collecting some things from the vehicle, Cypress followed Sean into the house, where it was still dark as pitch. There was something eerily strange about everything.

As Sean motioned to activate the lights, Cypress grabbed his hand to stop him. “What’s the deal,” asked Sean sharply, “Lemme turn on the lights, Cypress.”

“Keep it down,” said the hunter, his voice turning icy all of a sudden, much like it had been after emerging from the cantina in Mos Eisley—it sent a chill down Sean’s spine.

“What’s goin’ on,” queried Sean with a whisper. The alarm was surfacing in his voice. “I can’t see.”

Cypress pulled one of his T-6s slowly, looking around the room cautiously. “Take me to your parents’ room—don’t ask any questions. I’ll be right behind you.”

Sean shut up and complied, taking Cypress across the farm’s miniature courtyard and up a small flight of stairs to Rowen and Truu’s room. A slight, chilled wind came off the desert above and down into the courtyard, causing Sean to shake a little—though he wasn’t certain now if the chill was from the wind or the bitter fear that had set in on him. He knew something was amiss, but dared not let his imagination run away with his fears.

Cypress stopped Sean before the boy opened the rust-red door. He shook his head, motioning the boy to step away from the entryway. The hunter pressed the button to activate the door, and it slid open quietly. He stood like a statue, gun raised into total darkness for a moment. His features had become like stone, his face grim.

Seans stomach was turning knots with fear and anticipation. Why hadn’t his parents come to the door once it was opened? Why was he so scared? These questions would likely be answered in time, but they continued to plague the boy nonetheless. Cypress stepped into the doorway, hand reaching across the interior wall to find the lights.

Suddenly, something hit the hunter’s arm, and the sound of metal-on-metal could be heard. He jumped back, raising his right hand into the doorway while pulling the left out of the room. His arm had been hit with some sort of cutting object, a deep gash had been cut into the tissue, and the wound bled profusely. Cypress cursed, unleashing three high-powered shots into the room. The interior lit up like daytime, giving the hunter a chance to readjust his aim with each shot.

On the third shot, Cypress bounded into the room. A few seconds later, a fourth and final shot rang out. The boy walked into the doorway, holding his ears, which were still ringing. He reached for the lights.

No--!” started Cypress, jumping toward Sean. He was too late. The lights flickered on. Off in the corner was Cypress’ assailant, torn to shreds by two bolts which had hit their mark—his sword lay blood-soaked next to him. In the middle of the room stood Cypress; panting, and holding his afflicted arm. His eyes dropped to the floor as he holstered his blaster, exhaling in disappointment. “I’m sorry, Sean, I’m so sorry…” was all he had to offer.

In the corner opposite Cypress’ victim was Sean’s parents’ bed. The sheets were soaked in bright crimson, and small pools were gathered in sunken places on them. Two indistinguishable forms lay side-by-side in the mess, faces covered with plastic bags. The walls around the bed were smeared with blood, including a hand print which streaked along Truu’s side of the bed. Propped beside the bed was a bloodied sledge hammer—Cypress identified this as the terrorist group’s signature. It was used to smash the faces of their victims--hence the name “Shattered Skull.” The group used it as a terror tactic, but there was no rhyme or reason for this, just a senseless bloodbath likely meant to send Cypress a warning.

The hunter stepped over to the boy, whose gaze was fixed on the bed. His eyes welled with tears, and Cypress stepped in front of his field of view. “Ma—mama? Daddy?” he sobbed. “What happened?...” His voice quavered with emotion.

Sean kept repeating “mama” and “daddy” as Cypress led the boy out of the room, switching off the lights. Not even Cypress could stand to linger in the room any longer—hatred swirled around as if it were a tangible object. Sean’s sobs grew louder. “Why? Why did they have to kill them? Why, why, why?” It seemed like senselessness, but Cypress knew there was little else to say. Few words could describe the scene behind the door, and Cypress offered fewer still.

He let the boy carry on. Cypress couldn’t make the boy stop—perhaps he had grown a heart since he’d met these people. His former self would say he’d grown soft. Either way, Sean was breaking down, and Cypress did not want to stop him. The hunter stepped back, face full of pity for the boy. “I’m sorry…”

“You’re sorry,” sobbed Sean. “You should be sorry. This is all your fault! My parents are dead because of you! You’re just as much to blame for my family’s deaths as they are, you bastard! None of this would’ve happened if you hadn’t come here! I hate you!

The boy meant it. And to a certain extent, he was right, too. The Skull would never have come here hadn’t it been for Cypress. He wanted to tell Sean that Rowen understood the risks of letting him stay. He wanted to leave and put all this pain in the past, but he couldn’t run from it—it would just eat at him until he broke down, too.Sean fell to his knees, face buried in his hands. He sobbed uncontrollably now. Cypress was letting this get out of hand—he had to take control now.

Over the sobbing, Cypress heard something. It was a faint, distant bass, but it seemed to be getting louder, and closer. “Be quiet for a second,” ordered the man. “I’m sorry, but you have to be quiet.”

When Sean didn’t comply, Cypress walked over to him and picked him up. “On your feet, Sean. Stop crying. You have to be strong for your parents. It’s what they would’ve wanted.”

Sean looked up for a moment, rage filling his eyes. The boy abruptly turned his back on the hunter, shoulders heaving from emotion. “Damn you, Cypress. I don’t have to listen to you ever again.”

The hunter stepped up behind the boy, covering his mouth and bracing him in place. “If self-preservation is something you cherish, I suggest you listen to me. You can bitch at me later… Listen.

Sean clawed at Cypress’ hands, struggling against the man’s strength, but to no avail. He finally gave up, strength leaving him. “Listen,” ordered the hunter again in his icy voice.

Sean heard the same sounds. He relaxed and stopped his struggle. “What now? What’s all that,” he asked.

“You expecting someone,” asked Cypress. “’Cause I think you’ve got company.”

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Post by WedaScami » Sat Oct 23, 2004 7:37 am

Chapter 6: Bittersweet Revenge

Suddenly, a thunderous roar filled the courtyard, the shadowy visage of a repulsor craft darting over the gap for the briefest of moments. “The Shattered Skull,” said Cypress, frustration and anger gathering in his voice. “Shouldda known they weren’t done yet. And they’re mounted.” The terrorists were riding swoops—and from the looks of it, the specialty S-swoop designed for speed and torque.

Swoop gangs were notorious all over Tatooine for creating a general sense of havoc and disorder wherever they went. Most of the members were robbers that would steal from their own mothers. A conviction of a galactic felony within the groups here and there wasn’t uncommon, either. These men were usually masters with their bikes, making the machines able to do anything but play cards. Cypress wasn’t sure at the caliber of the Shattered Skull’s swoop men, but it was likely that they were hired for this job, not directly affiliated with the cult itself.

Cypress let out a string of curses as the roar of the turbofans made all other noise nearly inaudible. There must’ve been at least a dozen of the riders, but it was hard to decipher anything down in the courtyard. Cypress nearly dragged Sean out of the open area, into an enclosed hallway leading to the garage area. Sealing the door, Cypress was able to think a little more clearly.

Sean was still sobbing, but Cypress wasn’t going to sacrifice both their lives because he couldn’t get it together. “Sean,” said Cypress calmly, “Sean,” he shot. “Snap out of it! Listen, does your family have a ship?”

Sean looked up at Cypress, a confused look on his face. “A ship, something that can fly off planet? Does your family have one?

“W-we’ve never n-needed one before,” answered Sean weakly between sobs.

“Any relatives?”

“N-no, they’re all dead or’ve left the planet.”

“Well shit,” he cursed, punching the wall in frustration. He shook his hand once, skin broken on his knuckles. “We’re going to have to fight our way out of here. These guys aren’t here for a Sunday evening drive in the Wastes.”

Cypress went into the family kitchen, where a family heirloom hung on the wall over the table. It was a Tusken Raider’s rifle, which Rowen had taken off the body of one of the desert-dwellers after a few of them had tried to kill him in Beggar’s Canyon once. It was a very old rifle, built by the raiders themselves. It was said that these guns were used by the nomadic tribes to hunt krayt dragons… or humans. The slender, elongated barrel occupied much of the length of the gun, while the action and stock took up about a third of the length. Cypress lifted it off the wall, finding that it was a pulse rifle, meaning that it was used for long-ranged shots. Rowen had affixed a rudimentary scope to the weapon to replace the iron peep sights the raiders customarily used, as well as a nylon sling.

“How much ammo is left for this thing?” asked Cypress, looking over its features. Rowen had taken good care of the gun, not allowing it to get too dusty, and oiling it regularly. He took the gun and headed off toward the garage.

“Whatever he took off that Tusken way back when,” answered Sean. “Probably just a few cartridges.”

Cypress took the gun, looking through several cabinets in the kitchen. Sean looked in one of the drawers and lifted a board hiding a secret compartment inside. He produced two cartridges of ammunition, each with five shots in them. “It’ll have to do,” said Cypress, heading off toward the garage.

“Where are you going,” asked Sean.

“Remember that swoop ride your dad promised us? Well I’m about to take him up on that offer…”

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Post by WedaScami » Mon Nov 15, 2004 5:21 pm

Cypress and the boy sped through the darkened subterranean corridors of the family’s moisture farm, pausing briefly to allow the hunter to check the charges in his T-6’s. The entire house was as silent as death—an almost fitting ambience for the events that had unfolded that day. The two passed quickly through the foyer of the house, stepping into the garage area.

As Sean stepped through the door, he heard a faint voice. He thought his imagination was running away from him until he heard it for a second time—this time, he could almost make out the muffled word “help!” In the foyer. Stopping cold, Sean listened. There room lay silent.

Cypress turned, seeing that the boy had stopped short. Sean tugged at the hunter’s sleeve, gesturing for him to return to the dark foyer. Stooping lower, Cypress asked, “What is it? We’re in a hurry, kid!”

“Shh! Listen!”

The muffled voice could be heard again, bantering about something—it seemed to be emanating from the corner of the room. “—the hell?” queired Cypress aloud, moving toward the source of the voice, drawing a pistol. “Stay here, kid,” commanded Cypress.

Sean remained at the door, hiding himself behind the doorpost. Cypress moved over to the corner, searching for any form of life. The voice had stopped now—it was like a cornered cricket, ceasing when it sensed another’s presence. Cypress stepped forward slowly, his boot knocking against something hard and metal. Two disks of light showed themselves in the dark, glowing brightly as they rolled away from Cypress.

The hunter raised his gun, nearly squeezing off a shot when a shrill, posh-accented voice froze him, “Dear me, NO!” It was Arvieo, the family protocol droid.

“Arvie!” cried Sean, rushing over. “Where’s the rest of you?”

“Oh, thank heavens!” cried Arvie, voice amplifiers kicking in to “shouting” volume. “I thought you were more of those ‘Shattered Skull’ criminals!”

“Quiet,” hissed Cypress. “They’re gonna storm in here with all this commotion—let’s go.”

”But what about Arvie,” queried Sean, getting teary-eyed again. The robot was the only “family” he had left now.

Cypress turned back, studying the boy holding the protocol droid’s head, beady lit eyes staring back at him. He sniffed, “It’s good he’s only a head now, or we might be leaving him here. We’ll take him—maybe he knows something about these guys.”

“Thank you, Mister Cypress, thank you!” said Arvie. “I thought I was doomed to that pathetic state for the rest of my fuction!”

“You still might be if you don’t keep quiet,” snapped Cypress, shoving a finger in the robot’s face. “Find some place to carry him so your hands are free,” said Cypress, talking to Sean. “You’re going to need them for the ride.” Sean quickly found a harness that could carry the droid’s head, then headed for the garage.

The smell of fuel and mechanical fluid filled Cypress’ nostrils as he stepped into the dark garage, which doubled as a work and machining area for Rowen. Tools and parts of all sorts lay about on work benches, droid components and engine pieces were scattered about various shelves, and several articles of heavy equipment stood off in the corners and lining the walls. A large, mult-paneled durasteel door comprised of many slats separated them from the outside, and facing this was a canvas tarp covering a rather large object.

Cypress moved over to the door, raising it an inch or so off the ground. The sound of the gangsters’ turbofan engines spilled into the small room, deafening the two humans. Arvie insisted on speaking, “I believe they’re outside, sir!” he shouted.

“Really? Ya think so, professor?” boomed Cypress over the noise. He shook his head in disgust.

The hunter walked to the middle of the garage, still carrying the Tusken rifle, and assumed a prone position on the dusty ground. He fiddled with the weapon a few moments before setting it against his shoulder, left hand steadying the gun via the fore grip, and right hand wrapping around the hand grip. Sean stood mesmerized.

“Wh-what are you doing,” he stammered.

“Watch and learn, kid,” said Cypress, squinting through the scope of the gun. He was frozen for a moment, peering through it before he said, “From the looks of things there’s about twelve to… say, fourteen of ‘em out there. All of ‘em are armed with some sort of light blaster and a hand weapon—vibroaxes mostly. Doesn’t sound like much, but a swoop rider doing even 100 kliks per hour can do some major damage to soft targets, and even light armor with a properly-aimed hit with one of those things.”

The hunter peered through the scope again, freezing his aim on one point—riders passed in and out of view as they raced in a circular formation on the family’s property. They were yelling all sorts of obscenities, and had even set fire to the main household in their frenzy. Cypress gritted his teeth, taking a sharp breath and holding it. He exhaled half of the breath out to steady his aim as his finger tightened on the trigger.

An instant later, the gun leapt back from the recoil, report filling the garage and bolt escaping underneath the door. The shot scored a direct hit on the fuel tank of one of the riders. Fuel sprayed all over the rider, and a spark from the man’s cigarette set himself ablaze, as well as the bike. The vehicle spun out of control into another man, whose bike was also ignited by the other—an inferno erupted as a secondary explosion mushroomed into the air.

In the confusion, one of the gangsters who wasn’t paying attention careened into the other stall of the garage, killing the rider instantly. The bike immediately began to smoke. “We’d better get the hell outta here before that thing blows,” commented Cypress. The hunter dashed to the tarped form, heaving the canvas aside. Rowen’s shiny S-swoop hovered there, polished finish reflecting the dim light in the garage.

Cypress straddled the seat, turning the activation key and giving it a hard kick-start. The thing sputtered, then died. “C’mon, baby,” coaxed Cypress. “Work.” He gave it another kick, this time opening the throttle a little. The craft came to life with a deafening roar, fans activating. Sean stared in amazement.

“When I tell you,” yelled Cypress to Sean, who was standing near the door. “Open that door—I’ll get you on the way out!” Sean complied, reaching for the handle.

”On three,” boomed Cypress. “One… Two… Three!” Sean heaved the door open with all his might, sending it up to the ceiling. In the same instant, Cypress opened the throttle wide and zipped out of the garage, retros flaring up. He grabbed Sean by the collar as he did so. As he half-flung the boy onto the small seat behind him, they roared through the dazed crowd of gangsters, still trying to figure out where the shot had come from.

Cypress pushed the left footbrake with all his might, cutting the bike back hard and kicking up a sizable cloud of dust to cover their escape. He swerved out of the maneuver, using the cloud to shield their path. Cypress knew they wouldn’t stand a chance in an open-plains fight, so he darted back between the main house and the garage, giving the appearance that he’d dashed off into the Dune Sea through the dust.

Several riders darted past, guns drawn and axes raised into the sky as they whooped in pursuit of their new prey. Cypress laughed at these men’s stupidity as he kicked on the retros, blasting off at full-throttle toward the cliffs just a handful of kilometers from the farm. The maneuver wasn’t meant to totally take the men off his trail, but at least put enough distance between them to make it to the canyon unscathed.

Cypress gritted his teeth, skimming over the tops of the dunes at break-neck speed. A few grains of dust flew into his face, stinging his skin as they formed small abrasions on his cheeks. An insect could put an eye out at these speeds, and Cypress only had one eye to spare as it was. Over the horizon to the east, the sun’s glow was just appearing over the broken rock formations that started to appear. They had traveled several kilometers when the first blaster bolt streaked by, missing too far off to their right to care much about.

“Looks like they’re on us again, kid,” said Cypress with a coolness that seemed quite unnerving in the tense situation. “I wish it could be me back there—try to warn me if anything’s coming close so I can swerve outta the way, alright?”

Sean had his arms wrapped tightly around Cypress’s waist, his eyes shut tight. “C’mon kid,” said Cypress. “Gimme a hand here.”

“Oh dear!” shouted Arvie. “They’re shooting at us! Look out!”

Cypress swerved, green bolt streaking by where they would have been hadn’t the droid warned them. “Thanks, Arvie,” said Cypress. “Keep it up.”

The hunter bent lower to the controls, attempting to make them more aerodynamic. Just ahead on the horizon, the first rocky red crags of Beggar’s Canyon loomed like jagged, bloodied teeth of some feral beast. This is where they would make their stand… this is where they would exact their vengeance…

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Post by WedaScami » Tue Nov 16, 2004 1:30 pm

“Open your eyes, Sean.” A faintly familiar male’s voice called. “It’s alright, son. Open your eyes now.”

“Daddy?” asked the boy faintly. “Is that you?”

“Wake up, kid! You okay?” Cypress’ voice answered, barely audible over the roar of the bike’s engines. Sean sat up, still holding the hunter’s waist, and blinked a few times. “I must’ve fallen asleep…”

“Hold on!” yelled Cypress, not hearing Sean’s comment, and leaning hard on the bike—they narrowly missed an outcropping of razor-sharp rocks.

The swoops in pursuit were forced to slow as they reached the turn, risking collision in the cramped vein of the canyon. Cypress was very skilled in his precision flying through the canyon, twisting and pivoting the small craft with surgical accuracy, even with a passenger. The walls of the canyon in this area were only a few inches away from them on each side, the sandy floor was smoothed by ancient waterways long dried by the desert sun.

“Where are we,” asked Sean frightfully, looking back at the pursing silhouettes of the gangsters as they gave chase. They only shot at long intervals, most of their attention at navigating through the narrow spaces.

“Where’ve you been for ten minutes?” asked Cypress, dodging another rock. “We’re in Beggar’s Canyon.”

Beggar’s Canyon. It was named for the hermits who dwelled there before Jabba the Hutt drove them off. The canyon was formed from a series of smaller, interconnected canyons which criss-crossed the desert like a matrix of intertwined capillaries. In years past, the main sections of the canyon were used in a section of the Mos Espa pod racing course.

There were rock formations on every side of the two—some of them high up and shaved away by centuries of sand-blasting sandstorms. Cypress noticed the sun reflecting off the tops of the highest formations, blood red against the lighter sky—dawn had come.

Ahead of them, about half a kilometer, Cypress spotted a particularly large boulder held up by a thin “neck” of stone—it appeared as if it were some exotic piece of modern art, baked in the kiln-like temperatures of Tatooine’s daytime heat. He looked back at Sean for an instant, getting his attention. He had an idea.

“Hey Sean,” he said. “Grab my gun out of my right leg holster and hand it to me, will ya?”

The boy complied, thinking the man had gone crazy. Was he actually going to shoot back at those goons while driving through a four-foot-wide trench? He had to be crazy.

Steadying the craft, Cypress put a bead on the slender support of the huge approaching rock. With a well-aimed shot, he missed the half-meter thick rock by a good two meters. The rock was approaching fast, so the next shot would have to count. He let off the next shot a few seconds later, this time aiming extremely carefully without endangering them too much. The bolt connected with the support, blasting it into a million fragments. The rock gave way just as Cypress passed under.

The man leading the pack of gangsters chasing them thought he had a chance to get through. With an amazing boost on the engines, he darted under just before the boulder touched ground. The next man was not so fortunate.

The boulder toppled down, intercepting his flight path as he was crushed instantly beneath its massive weight. The third man in line attempted to fire his directional rockets to gain some altitude, but it was a case of too little, too late. With a fantastic explosion, he collided with the rock and evaporated with the burning fuel.

The others who were trailing had enough time to hop over the thing, disregarding the flaming wreckage of their comrades, and continuing their chase.

Cypress cackled as he heard the explosions behind him, twirling the gun on his finger and re-holstering it. The leader of the gangsters was only trailing them by fifty meters or so, and closing fast. Cypress’ swoop was extremely fast, but it lacked in the maneuverability and handling aspects. Arvie yelped as he saw the man approaching.

Goodness!” he cried. “One of them made it through! Do something!

The gangster fired, sending a red bolt ahead of Cypress. The man had terrible aim on the bike as he swerved in and out of the zigzagging corridor. Cypress was giving the powerful machine all he could without making them a pile of slag in the middle of the canyon.

The trailing marauder fired several more shots, splintering flecks of sharp stone back at Cypress’ face. The hunter growled as a sizable flake took a slice out of skin on his cheek, drawing a trickle of blood. Cypress quickly drew a T-6, handing it back to Sean. “Blast that sonovabitch, kid!”

Sean turned back, pointing the weapon at the approaching rider. He could nearly see the contorted expression of hatred on the gangster’s face as he approached, now within a stone’s throw of the swoop. Sean struggled to steady his aim with one arm as he reached back and took aim at their assailant.

He did all the things Cypress had told him to, lining his target up with the beads of the peep sights, taking a breath to steady his shot. His finger squeezed uneasily on the trigger until—boom! the report of the small weapon took Sean by surprise, the recoil nearly knocking him off balance. In his struggle to stay on the bike, he dropped the T-6 into the cloud of dust behind them.

The boy went wide-eyed as he watched the gun disappear, knowing he’d never see it again. His attention was then turned toward the swoop behind them, which had nearly halted—the T-6 bolt had connected with the front of the gangster’s bike, penetrating through the elevated handlebars, through the fuel tank, and through the gangster’s chest, destroying both instantly, crashing the swoop, with rider, down to the sandy floor below in a heap.

“Great shot, kid!” exclaimed Cypress. The boy’s lack of enthusiasm perturbed the man slightly. “What’s wrong, never killed anyone before?”

“It’s not that…” said Sean, trailing off.

“Then what?”

”Your gun… I-I dropped it…”

“You what?!” yelled Cypress, turning half-way around in the seat in surprize. “That gun was worth a—“ He dodged past another outcropping, steading the craft immediately after. “Fortune!” he finished.

“We’re gonna have a nice long talk after this,” grumbled the hunter, grabbing the controls again. He didn’t have time to care much about his lost gun. The kid had done well, destroying their immediate threat. There were still seven riders back there with only one objective in mind: kill both of them. Cypress wasn’t about to let that happen over a weapon, no matter how precious it was.

He turned sharply, entering a much wider section of canyon. There weren’t as many twists and turns here, but plenty of opportunity for his pursuers to have some target practice. He was going to have to gain some ground quickly before the fighting spilled over into this section of the route…
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Post by WedaScami » Sun Feb 20, 2005 12:58 am

OOC: What? You guys think this thread was dead? Hell no!

IC:

Time itself seemed to slow as Cypress kicked in the turbo thrusters Rowen had installed on the vehicle. The hunter depressed a small red button located on the handlebars with this thumb, both riders jerking backward, trying to stay seated. The swoop burst forward with amazing speed, the walls of the canyon blurring into smooth surfaces as their features became nebulous. The amplified thrusters howled through the gorge, engines roaring with at an intensified decibel.

A few moments later, the boost was exhausted, and the swoop returned to its normal, terrific speed. The turbothrusters had to recharge for a long period of time before they could be utilized again. Knowing this, Cypress used them while they could be of some advantage in the straightaway.

The two blasted through the canyons, the ear-splitting sound amplified by the bare rock walls surrounding them. Once the turbothrusters had been exhausted, Cypress checked back over his shoulder—seeing no one. This made him wonder as to how far behind him the mercenaries actually were, or if they had broken off their attack altogether. The man looked back, regarding Rowen, “If they get us in the open desert we’re finished. We have to at least lessen their numbers some before we get out there.”

Rowen nodded earnestly, looking back over his shoulder anxiously. The horizon was clear, but that didn’t mean the men weren’t back there. Cypress leaned over the handlebars, trying to gain some aerodynamics to boost them along. Every now and again, a fork in the path would appear, but several of them appeared to be too narrow to be navigable.

Cypress spotted a turn-off up ahead. He pointed to it, shouting, “Right there! We’ll turn in there and wait for them! When the go by, we’ll get the jump on ‘em!”

The hunter slowed the swoop to a crawl, easing the vehicle into the turnoff. He parked himself as close to the canyon wall as he could, so that none of the passing gangsters would spot him prematurely. They sat there for about a minute before the gang whizzed by in a blur.

Here we go…” thought Cypress, opening the throttle wide. He was behind the troop of mercenaries in no time, his single remaining T-6 unholstered…
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Post by WedaScami » Thu Jun 16, 2005 3:51 pm

Cypress blasted toward the mercenaries with about half-throttle. Getting too close would perhaps compromise his cover—and it wasn’t something he could very easily afford to lose at this point. Raising his T-6 over the handlebars, the hunter lined the small of one of the mercenary’s backs up in the peep sight, then squeezed the trigger.

Whatever secrecy Cypress had before was now—quite literally—blown along with the targeted mercenary’s waist area, which disappeared in a thick red cloud as he flew by. Cypress squinted as he was spayed by the man’s blood flying past the riderless speeder. Cypress lined another man’s swoop in his sights and squeezed off three more shots at it—one connecting with the main repulsorlift control module. The entire craft corkscrewed out of control, directly into two more riders before combusting in a blossoming explosion of ignited fuel and debris.

Avoiding the crash, Cypress realized that he’d just narrowed the field by four riders—which meant that three were left. The three that remained quickly realized that staying in front of the angered hunter was not in their best interests in terms of self-preservation, so they opened their air brakes wide and shot past Cypress—or two of them did, at least.

As the last of the mercenaries was flying back toward him, the hunter extended his T-6, waiting for the opportune moment to shoot. When the other man’s skull was mere inches from the barrel of his weapon, Cypress pulled the trigger. The extended arm was almost immediately covered in liquefied brain matter and gore—the man’s head exploding like a ripened melon.

The man’s companions were stupefied that one man and a boy had single-handedly defeated their entire gang. It was too late to turn back in fear now. They had to play this hand for keeps—even if it meant that they too were going to die. Cypress opened the throttle wide, finally emerging into open desert again. They were in the Dune Sea now—hundreds of kilometers from any form of established settlement. It meant that even if one of them survived, but without a ride, they might as well be dead themselves. With any luck, a sandperson would find them and feed on the moisture in their body.

Laser blasts seared past Cypress—the two mercenaries were getting desperate now—they knew that the hunter could out-sprint them across open desert, so they had to make their shots count. The blasts lit up the twilight hours as the suns began to sink down behind the horizon. Gritting his teeth, Cypress hunkered down to the controls to gain more aerodynamics. At this speed, anything would help.

The distance between he and the perusing mercenaries was about to become too great for blaster fire when Cypress heard something from behind him. It sounded like a grunt, or perhaps a whimper, but he knew almost immediately that something had gone awry with his young partner, Sean, seated behind him.

The hunter turned back slightly, looking toward the boy, “Hey, you alright, kid?” When no sound came from behind, Cypress started to become concerned that something serious had happened. “Sean, you alright? If you’re hurt, say so.”

“I—I’m h-hurt…” came a weak voice, barely audible over the turbofans.

Cypress was alarmed, but he couldn’t risk slowing down to tend to the boy. They could both be dead if he did so, and that would benefit no one. He was forced to wait until he had safely evaded the men giving chase. Not a moment later, a horrible grinding noise filled Cypress’ ears—almost sharp enough to cause him to cover them instinctively. Looking back over his shoulder, the man noticed that his craft was hemorrhaging thick black smoke—a sign that oil was leaking into the exhaust from somewhere. With a curse, Cypress determined that it was about time to settle in and make a last stand against these thugs.

Turning the swoop to the side, Cypress activated the air brakes. They almost immediately began to slow until they glided over a final dune and drifted to the granulated quartz underneath. The hunter lifted his companion off the swoop, whose color had grown sickly white. Trying not to move him much, Cypress set the boy down on the slope of the dune and checked him over for wounds.

Rolling the boy to his side, Cypress noticed that he had caught a blaster bolt high in the back—a lethal hit. He turned the boy over again, suddenly wondering why he was not dead yet.

“Sean,” he said faintly, fighting back his emotion. “Sean… can you hear me?”

“Paw? Is—is that you?”

“No, Sean. It-it’s Cypress… Hold still… try not to move too much.”

“I-it’s gotten real dark…”

“Shh…”

“I—I-I’m sorry I could—couldn’t be strong, Cypress…”

Something happened within the hunter. Something that had not happened in decades—he hardly even felt it happen, but it was there… a single tear dropped from his eye, rolling down his cheek. “You were strong… stronger than anyone I’ve ever known. It’s my fault you’re dead. I killed you… I killed your family…”

The broken man looked up to see that his companion was no longer breathing. His face looked peaceful though, not twisted by pain or any burden of the cruel galaxy. It was as if the entire universe was mocking him now. He had tried to become a different person—forget the way in which he used to live his life—but he’d failed… miserably. He could not escape the hunt… it would always find him and take him in again… And this family had paid the ultimate price to come to this realization.

No more. He would not let any more innocent suffer because of his mistakes. He would not let any more innocents suffer because of cruelty and injustice of the lawless of the galaxy. No more… No more…

He stood—a new passion within his heart. Rage threatened to consume him as he looked down upon the corpse of his good friend, Sean. As he blinked out the last of his tears into the Tatooine sand, he knew somehow, that these would be the last he would ever shed. Looking up from Sean, Cypress spotted two silhouettes coming over the dune. The two mercenaries had come to finish their job…

“Well, well,” said one of them. “If it ain’t Cypress cryin’ over a little kid’s corpse! Ain’t that funny! The boys will get a kick out of this one!”

“Shut your dirty hole, you sorry bastard,” said Cypress between clenched teeth.

“I hope all you got ain’t harsh language,” laughed the other. “Cause we ain’t gonna let you live after your little romp through Beggar’s Canyon. Wha--?!”

With almost superhuman speed, Cypress bounded up the dune past a few wild shots from the mercenaries. He was on one of the men in an instant, brandishing a boot knife. The enraged hunter dug the knife deep in the man’s throat, then ripped it out with a violent jerk. Blood from the man’s arterial spray coated Cypress, giving him the look of a crazed butcher. The crimson fluid gurgled in the man’s mouth before he dropped, lifeless to the ground.

“I’ll make you beg for death before the end,” growled Cypress, turning to the other man. Before the other had time to respond, the hunter was already choking him. A look of pure hatred spread across Cypress’ features, and the most deep-seeded rage filled his very being, as well as an overwhelming sense of satisfaction to be squeezing the life out of this man. But… something was amiss.

Cypress hadn’t moved from his spot over the bleeding corpse of the first man he’d slaughtered. He was holding the second man in midair, choking the life out of him from about three meters away. The other grasped his throat, tearing at his esophagus for precious breath. The rage that filled Cypress intensified, and he clenched his fist into a tight ball.

The mercenary crashed to the ground, vomiting blood uncontrollably. He was no longer able to speak, and would never rise from the sand of Tatooine again. Cypress shook violently with rage, allowing his fist to relax. He staggered away from the two broken corpses and returned to Sean’s side, collapsing to the ground next to him, exhausted…
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Post by WedaScami » Fri Jul 01, 2005 1:28 pm

Chapter 7: A Life Forsaken, Not Forgotten

Cypress pressed one last stone into the sand and stood, wiping a few drops of sweat from his brow as he did so. The black-clad hunter finally stood from kneeling over three small mounds in the sand outside Rowen’s homestead. The three family members who had taken the broken Cypress into their home and nursed him back to health now resided in shallow graves beneath the burning Tatooine sands. It was heart-wrenching to think that these innocent people had been pulled into the hunter’s troubles, only to pay for their selflessness with their lives.

The hunter’s rage seethed within him now. Even as he performed the farming family’s last rights, he could think of little else than vengeance. Yet, through his emotion, Cypress shed no more tears. They would not bring the family he grieved over back to life, and it would only weaken him inside. No, he must stay focused now. The Children of the Shattered Skull would not take lightly the loss of an entire gang of swoopers—especially by one man. There might already be a bounty posted on him.

It mattered little. Cypress was a hunter—and a very well-seasoned one at that. He would be able to outsmart the petty thugs anyone sent after him. It was the professionals that would give him trouble. Dengar, Bossk, Boba Fett… these name came to mind, though Cypress had heard Fett had retired from hunting… though it was most probably a cunning deception to lure his quarries into a false sense of security. Fett would never be done with the hunt. Not so long as he drew breath.

“I’m truly sorry, my friends, with all my heart…” said Cypress quietly, looking at the three mounds aligned at his feet. A black cloak hung loosely from his shoulders, furling in the slight wind, “I hope that this burial brings you some rest at last. You’re all dead because of me, but I swear to you all, that I will have vengeance. For your lives… and mine… Rest in peace, my friends. I’ll never forget…”

Walking away, a small sandstone sign was engraved above the family’s heads. It read: ”Here lies the Ruuhn family. Lives taken before their time by a cowardly hand, none can replace the lives so cruelly slain, but reprisal will be theirs in this life or the next…”

Cypress walked away toward a stolen swoop, leaving imprints in the sand as he sauntered away. “Oh dear, where am I?” exclaimed Arvie in his slightly comical accent. The hunter had all but forgotten about him since the episode in the canyon.

“Oh, you,” said Cypress, surprised by the droid’s presence. He was only a head—so it was easy to overlook him. “You’re still on Tatooine. Your masters are dead.”

“Master Rowen! Master Sean! It can’t be!”

“It’s true,” responded Cypress grimly, the droid reminding him of the previous day’s events. “I’m sorry. I’ll be your new master now.”

“I suppose that would be the most prudent, considering that you were the family’s closest friend, and most trusted worker. I am happy to be at your service, Master Cypress.”

“Good,” said the man, making the final preparations to leave.

“May I inquire as to where we are going?” asked Arvie.

“Mos Eisley. I have some real good friends to drop in on before we leave the planet. Shouldn’t take long. Not long at all…”

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Epilogue: A New Path


”This is Annette Starskimmer reporting to you live from HoloNet Eyewitness News in Mos Eisley. A breaking news story has just occurred, and we’re here to bring you all the information in a flash! The notorious crime gang known as the Children of the Shattered Skull have terrorized Tatooine residence for many years, using terror tactics to gain land and influence in the cities and the wastes. The gang has had a strangle-hold on certain areas’ economies, even butting in on the Hutts’ income. Until now.”

“Sources say that a single man pulled up in front of the Skulls’ headquarters riding a modified S-swoop this morning and began opening fire here in Mos Eisley. The man was dressed totally in black, and moved quickly and with precision strikes. He proceeded into the building where he brutally murdered the gang members within, leaving no one alive, and leaving no calling card. He was in and out within ten minutes, before Imperial troops had time to react.”

“This is one of the worst cases of vigilante justice Mos Eisley has seen in years—an entire gang wiped from Tatooine’s surface with one fell swoop. . Though there are more influential areas where the Shattered Skull operate, Mos Eisley is said to be a major place of operation for the syndicate. Authorities have been unable to pin anything on the syndicate for years, but it appears that a citizen was fed up with the Skulls’ antics, and decided to take Justice into his own hands. Whoever this masked murderer is, he is considered armed and extremely dangerous. Inhabitants of Mos Eisley express mixed feelings about the sudden disappearance of the Skulls, some citing that an even greater threat must be in town now. A bounty was placed on him this afternoon, but citizens are urged to let the proper hunters deal with this man. This is Annette Starskimmer reporting live for HoloNet Eyewitness News: Tatooine...”


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Thanks to all the readers for keeping with me on this one. It's been a long run, but I finally finished a personal story. There's an OOC thread up in the roleplaying OOC forum if you have any comments/questions. Again, thanks to everyone for reading.

--Wade
"Greatness is not measured by how well you speak of yourself, but how well others speak of you."

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