The Hunt for Den Akaro

The engines went from rumbling to hissing as they powered down. Merce slapped the hatch controls and leapt down before the gangplank had fully extended. Another telekinetic slap and the gangplank went back up the other way with a groan of protest.

Merce had intentionally put down several miles from the old, glassed Shadow compound on Honoghr. The walk allowed him to think as well as conceal his trail from the Jedi he hunted — one Den Akaro, Knight of the Order of the Righteous Blade. Merce began to regret his decision when his thoughts kept wandering to unrelated things though, and it was a relief when he finally spotted a break in the trees approaching him.

He paused on the edge of the forest, where the char ran up to the last broken and burned stumps that had withstood the bombardment, then scattering as it met untouched undergrowth, like a stream dissipating out across a delta flood plain. He reached down into his belly, a furnace of emotions: hatred and bloodlust. The Dark Side power ran down his limbs like a water trickle, tingling faintly on his skin as he focused on redirecting lightwaves to conceal his form from prying eyes. The Dark Side wreathed him then like a black fire, and satisfied, Merce stepped out onto shiny, blackened ground. Each footstep was like a powderpuff of ash, both physically and in the Force as he changed the crackling of the char into silence with one burst of the Dark Side after another.

Halfway out onto the forest turned plane, he spied the Force signature of a nearby Jedi. Passion for the hunt suddenly blazed inside him, and Merce began to sprint, a literal Shadow flicking across the landscape. His feet pushed off the earth with the inevitable rhythm of a dance step, and then he leaped the last couple yards, biting back a whoop as his stomach flew into his ribcage due the distance he had to fall. This thrill, too, channeled the Dark Side, and he unsheathed his parang and lightsaber at the last moment to bring an end to the Jedi underneath him.

But the Jedi wasn’t there. Merce glimpsed a fleeting blur of white and blue off to the side, and his nerves singing now, he pivoted on one foot, bringing his knee up to his chest and then striking out with one foot to the ground to stall his momentum as he lined up with the Jedi’s new position. The hum of an igniting lightsaber answered the wail of his red one as he lashed out, two strikes high, another at the shoulder, duck, sweep, leap, down again on the other side of his opponent. For a split second, Merce forgot all about the mission or any risk of death; for the moment he lived for this: the movement and the rhythm of the clashing blades, spinning robes like skirts, covering the movements of a forward leg, then the snap side kick from the Jedi’s back foot…

Merce tasted blood as his vision went starry, and the game was abruptly over. Soft music turned to screaming in his head, and he saw darkness streaked with bright blood. The Dark Side roared through him as he pressed the attack. Each arm whirled like it was attached to its own automaton; he flung out his parang, gathering a large rock telekinetically in the same stroke, letting this fly just before the parang returned to his hand. He waded forward in a straight line, braving the curtain of blue lightsabers with a flashing blur of his own blades, but then his line broke as the Jedi kicked out his kneecap and sprung away.

Merce screamed as the leg buckled; he spent precious seconds forcing it back together as the Jedi landed like a spider on the side of the last remaining wall of the old temple. Merce ripped another boulder from the ground, slamming it at the little white and blue figure, turning the boulder over and slamming it again and again as the Jedi dodged, like skipping a stone off a pond. The last hit, the boulder found a weak spot in the brickwork, and the wall that had survived an orbital strike abruptly collapsed into a shower of a hundred pieces. Out of the dust cloud leapt the Jedi, his robes still impossibly white as he soared high, crossing the sun so that Merce could not see him. The Reaper tilted his head, bringing up his lightsaber to block, and time seemed to pause again as he heard a distant keening in the Force like the returning arc of a parang. He ducked and rolled sideways as if to catch it, but his own parang was still secure in his hand; it had been the Force, speaking to him in the language he knew best.

He felt more than saw the Jedi impact the ground behind him, and Merce threw himself horizontal, not quite a cartwheel, both legs striking at the Jedi’s neck as the blue lightsabers spun uselessly wide to where the Reaper had been a second ago. Merce felt the Jedi’s head scrape by on the back of one leg, and he crooked his knees like a door slamming shut; the two of them fell to the ground tangled together: Merce’s legs locked around the Jedi’s head as the Jedi hugged him about the waist.

They grappled, the Jedi slipping from Merce’s headlock like he was made of air. Merce rolled and the Jedi was on top of him; another roll and the positions were reversed. The Jedi cracked him over the head with a rock of his own; Merce flicked a concealed blade down from his wrist and tried to press it home in the Jedi’s side. A great pressure seized his throat then, forcing him to gasp for breath. For a moment, the combat was a stalemate, Merce’s arms burning as he continued to push on the wrist blade, feeling like he had swallowed something over-large as his throat closed tight.

But Merce had something the Jedi didn’t have. The quick, vicious dance was not the only one he knew, and he stretched into his memories of wearing a quite different uniform around the Emperor’s Palace, of a slow, impenetrable malevolence that waited in dark corners and endured any pain. His blade slipped closer inch by inch, not speeding even as it sank into flesh and the Jedi kicked and screamed. Merce lost his eyesight and then his hearing as the Jedi continued to choke him, but still he could sense the man’s form, feel the resistance under the tip of his knife giving bit by bit, until it hit something — an artery, the wall of a heart, it did not matter — and like a burst sunfruit, the Jedi abruptly crumpled. His spirit fled, and then the lights seemed to switch back on for Merce.

He was snapped back to reality in the next few breaths. He lay ontop a body, sucking in sweet air. The malevolence in the Force had left him except for a lingering ache in his midriff, and he knew faintly he’d pay for it later that night when he could not keep his food down. He forced himself upright, tearing away the Jedi’s cloak and sabers as the Harbinger had asked. The walk back to the ship seemed to last forever and a day as pain dogged him; no thoughts intruded on the spent emptiness that was now his mind — or perhaps deeper than that, in his very soul.

He rekindled a little fire in his core to rouse himself enough to pilot the ship, and sometime later, he was arriving back on Mustafar. The job was done, the end delivered to one Den Akaro.

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