Blaster fire rippled over the cover where Hanabi and her handful of clone troopers crouched around her. It was supposed to be just a simple outpost of Death Watch but it was a full blown fortress! She still wasn't sure of the enemy numbers but it was enough and it was taking a toll.
“Master Kahan, Commander Nokta? We can't get any closer than this.”
“Don't get yourself killed Hanabi.” Commander Nokta called. “We'll have support soon.”
“My armored forces are nearly in position, once they are we'll make a full assault.”
Hanabi looked over her cover, ducking down as the repeater swept her way.
“Hurry Master, they're going to cut us to pieces here. If they bring up missiles or rockets we're toast.”
“Acknowledged.” Master Kahan replied stoically.
Hanabi began cycling through her com channels, trying to figure out where all her troops were. They'd been scattered all over the landing zone once the Mandalorians—no, Death Watch, Aira-ty was very specific about that—had started shooting. Now her forces were scattered all over the place with no clear combat line established between them and the enemy facility. Worse yet, they still had to wait for the reinforcements from Master Kahan's forces before they could push against the Death Watch forces.
“This is Squad Seven 3rd Company, help us! He's killing us!”
Hanabi locked in the channel. “Trooper report, where are you?”
“Help us!” the signal cut out as a blaster bolt deadened the line.
Hanabi did a quick scan and found the transmission's origin point.
“Commander Nokta, I'm responding to a distress call two klicks north.”
“Be careful Hanabi, Kahan's forces aren't in position yet.”
Hanabi bit her lip, she wasn't going to leave those troopers stranded. “I copy, I have to help them.”
There was a pause. “Alright, I'll rendezvous with you. Don't get shot.”
Hanabi smiled in relief. “Thank you.”
She gave orders to the Clone Lieutenant, telling him to remain in contact with the reinforcements and not to move from their position until the assault began. When the trooper asked what she intended to do he was aghast.
“We'll cover you ma'am.”
She shook her head. “No, I'll be fine. I don't want you to endanger yourself.”
The clone's expressionless helmet stared at her for a moment before turning away. Hanabi's eyes widened in shock as the clones around her stood as one and opened fire on the enemy positions.
“Make it count!” shouted the lieutenant.
Hanabi wanted to stop them but there wasn't time, biting back her frustration with the troopers putting themselves at risk she ran, quickening her steps with the Force as she headed north towards the distress call, praying that she wasn't too late.
She crested a rocky hill and scrambled down the slope to the depression below. She caught her breath as she came to a stop. There were at least a dozen trooper bodies strewn around in the dirt and in their midst, calmly cleaning a combat knife stood a Death Watch.
Hanabi drew her saber, fighting with the rippling emotions inside of her. “You killed them.”
The armored figure turned his helmet towards her. “Oh these things?” he remarked, kicking the body of the nearest trooper. “They're just cheap copies, he waved the nasty knife around in his grip. They're nothing compared to the real thing.”
“Shut up and fight me.” Hanabi said, lowering her lightsaber into a guard position.
The Death Watch chuckled. “Oh? Well if you insist.”
The whine of a repulsor engine sounded and both of them turned to see Aira-ty soaring over the rise on a speeder bike. She pulled it to a stop and stepped off of it, her helmeted gaze locked on Hanabi's adversary.
“Care to try your luck?” she asked threateningly.
The Death Watch seemed confused now, his head canted to one side. “I know that armor...take off your helmet.”
Aira-ty frowned, wondering what this dog wanted with her helmet. When she did nothing, he laughed, it was a cruel and heartless sound that sent a chillingly familiar tingling down her spine.
“Oh, I'm hurt. You won't even take your helmet off for an old friend?” he chuckled, his entire body trembling with the movement as he reached up and removed his helm. “I'm not quite that rude.”
Aira-ty's heart stopped. “Grauzem.” she snarled.
He grinned at her, his dead eye—the same eye she had taken from him—staring at her murderously.
“I haven't forgotten you Aira-ty.” he raised his hand to his dead eye and the scare beneath it. “This eye remembers you, you're burned into it you know.” his face turned into a crazed snarl. “Take off your helm!”
Aira-ty reached up and unlocked her helmet, letting her green hair fall freely down her back. She glanced at Hanabi who was looking to her uncertainly before turning her gaze back to the sandy haired Death Watch madman.
Grauzem was leaning forwards, like some chained animal waiting to be set free on the hunt.
“That's it, that's the face I want to see.” he looked at Hanabi, smiling dangerously at the purple skinned girl. “Sorry girlie, our fight is going to have to wait.” he licked his blade as he turned back to Aira-ty. “I've got bigger fish to fry.”
Aira-ty assumed a fighting stance. “Well then come on.”
Grauzem chuckled darkly, glancing down at her blaster. “Not going to shoot me?”
She smiled sweetly at him. “Who said that?”
With a quick movement she drew her blaster but she was either too slow or Grauzem was too fast, she wasn't sure which it was but he swatted the blaster aside, sending a stray bolt into the red dirt. It was all Aira-ty could do to keep herself from being gutted as she parried his knife thrust. She stepped off, dancing out of his reach for a moment before readying herself again.
“What's the matter.” leered Grauzem. “Lost your nerve after all these years? Don't tell me Jango's death made you go soft.”
Aira-ty's temper flared and she came forwards, back within the deadly knife range. She batted aside the blade and delivered a vicious uppercut to Grauzem's jaw. He staggered back laughing, looking back at her, his one good eye blazing with delighted hatred.
“Yes, that's what I want, that's the woman who sent me to hell!”
He rushed forwards again and Aira-ty locked arms with him, his knife bare millimeters from her throat. How was he this strong and fast after being imprisoned? It was impossible! Then again, him being here at all seemed impossible, and yet, here he was. Alive and just as vicious as ever. She gazed into his frenzied gaze, the tattoo under his left eye seeming oddly out of place when compared to the scar under his right eye whose glazed gaze never left her features as they struggled with the knife.
The struggle went back and forth for a moment, Aira-ty couldn't match Grauzem for strength but she knew how to use leverage against her opponent and thought she was slowly gaining the upper hand. Then Grauzem slammed his head into hers. She staggered back, dazed for a moment until something cold slipped between her armor plates and into her stomach. Her eyes widened as she looked down at the blade imbedded in her abdomen in disbelief.
Grauzem pushed her back, pinning her with his remaining arm and grinning down at her maliciously.
“Oh, I've been waiting fifteen years for this.” he snarled. “Ever since you sent me to that pit.”
Aira-ty looked up at him defiantly, refusing to go out meekly. If she was going to die, it'd be on her feet.
“That's it.” he growled, leaning in close to her, his warm fetid breath brushing over Aira-ty's face. “That's the woman I want to defeat.”
He chuckled darkly, twisting her arm behind her and leaning forwards as he twisted the blade in her stomach. Aira-ty winced but her pain was replaced with alarm as Grauzem kissed her passionately, digging the knife in deeper as he twisted it in her gut.
“Stop it!” shrieked Hanabi, flying in with her blade.
Grauzem danced out of the way of the lightsaber, letting Aira-ty collapse with the knife sticking in her stomach. She was still in shock, but from the wound and from what Grauzem had just done to her. She looked up at him, her hatred milling about with her disbelief.
He laughed at her, scoffing her. It didn't last. Hanabi came at him again, but this time he was ready for her. He danced around the saber, catching its hilt and twisting it from the Padawan's hands and throwing it aside before delivering a gauntleted punch to the girl's face. Hanabi went limp in Grauzem's grip as he looked down at Aira-ty.
“You might want to put something on that.” he said with a chuckle. “You'll bleed out.”
He put Hanabi's limp form down and walked towards Aira-ty with murder in his eyes.
“What say we finish our business then? I want to see why Jango loved you so much.”
Aira-ty recoiled, trying her best to scramble away from him but Grauzem grabbed her and punched her stomach. The pain was excruciating and she screamed in agony, biting her lip to silence herself, tasting blood in her mouth.
“Oh don't do that.” Grauzem said hotly. “You're turning me on.”
The sound of engines distracted him, he turned to see a shuttlecraft alighting on the bluff above the depression. Its landing ramp opened before it even touched down and a trio of Death Watch jumped down to the ground.
“Grauzem, we've got to evacuate. The Republic has been reinforced, we've rigged the base to blow.”
Grauzem snarled in annoyance, turning back to Aira-ty. “Well that is just too bad. I was going to enjoy raping you. I guess I'll just have to settle for killing you.”
The snap hiss of another lightsaber stopped Grauzem as he reached for Aira-ty's neck.
“I wouldn't do that if I were you.”
Kahan stood overlooking the grisly scene below, the broken bodies of clones were everywhere. Hanabi was unconscious and it looked as if Aira-ty had been severely injured.
“Stand back from her.” Kahan commanded.
The unmasked Death Watch held up his hands and smiled manically as he backed away.
“Sure, whatever you say Jedi.” he chuckled as he reached Hanabi and picked her up. “I'll just be taking this as a consolation prize.”
Kahan's eyes narrowed. “Unhand her, now.”
“No can do, you see I really want to hurt that woman.” he pointed at Aira-ty. “But I want her to suffer, since you're here that means I can't enjoy myself. This girl,” he hefted Hanabi over his shoulder. “Means that she'll suffer.”
“I'll say it again, unhand her.”
“Die Jedi.” Grauzem said simply.
The shuttle's cannons opened fire then. Kahan's sabers flashed and he swatted the first cannon bolt aside before leaping into the air and parrying the shots from the three Death Watch. He landed in front of Aira-ty and whirled his sabers in a blinding series of parries as he deflected and blocked the incoming fire. He began to gather the Force to him, exerting his mind as his body defended both their lives.
Aira-ty saw the blaster fire flying all around her and realized that it wasn't all coming from the Death Watch. There was return fire from the opposite bluff. Had more clones joined the fray? She hoped so, she hoped they killed Grauzem once and for all. She heard a muffled cry and someone started shouting, it sounded like Grauzem. She hoped he'd been shot. Then the shuttle's thrusters lit up and it blasted vertical, blazing away into the atmosphere. A figure knelt over her and she tensed for a panicked moment, imagining that Grauzem had returned to violate her.
“Be still Commander.” Kahan commanded. “Let me help you.”
Aira-ty cried out, biting her lip yet again as he drew the blade out from her gut.
Kahan shook his head. “He took her.”
“Bu—but the clones.”
“There weren't any clones.” Kahan said flatly. “They're all assaulting the base. That was an illusion.”
Aira-ty sank back into the red dirt, feeling her heart sink.
“It's a trap.”
Kahan nodded. “So I gathered, I've informed the commanders, they'll be careful.”
“Skywalker...Skywalker is going to kill me.” Aira-ty whispered as the full gravity of what had just happened swept over her. She'd lost his Padawan, how could she face him?
“Not before you have the chance to find that scum.” Kahan said as he examined her wound. “This is deep.”
Aira-ty winced as Kahan applied a bacta patch to the knife wound, hissing in a breath through gritted teach.
“Can't you just heal it with some Jedi trick?” she growled.
Kahan's usually stoic features broke out in an apologetic smile.
“Sorry, I'm afraid I never was very good at that.”
She laughed, probably from the shock she realized as he helped her up. She leaned on him heavily as she glared at him.
“What kind of Jedi are you? You can create illusory clones but you can't heal a knife wound?”
Kahan shrugged, glancing at her for a moment as they limped towards her bike.
“I have other uses.” he said simply, pausing for a moment. “They've breached the fortress.”
Aira-ty blinked and looked at him. Despite his armor and its obvious communications equipment she knew he hadn't received any transmissions.
“How do you know that?”
“I'm directing the battle.” he said simply. “I can touch the minds of each of the men under my command...though I tend to stay with the captains for the most part. I don't want to interfere with the tactical units too much lest I get them killed.”
Aira-ty stumbled and nearly fell, clutching her side. “I am going to gut him.”
They stopped for a moment, Kahan considering her with his clear blue eyes beneath the straight lines of his black hair. He seemed to reach some kind of conclusion then, and Aira-ty's eyes widened as he scooped her up in his arms and carried her the rest of the way to the bike.
“Wha—what?! Put me down!” she yelled indignantly.
“You're in no condition to ride behind me, we need to get you to a field station and a medic." he said as he straddled the bike, clutching the controls with one hand while his other arm held her against his chest as he revved the bike's engine and it lifted off.
Aira-ty glared up at him, but he didn't seem to notice as he raced the bike back towards the Republic forces. Her face burned with shame, though whether from her defeat and failure or from her current predicament she was unsure.
“Idiot.” she growled under her breath.
“What was that?” Kahan asked over the roar of the wind whipping around them.
“Nothing.” she muttered, wondering who she had been referring to.
She knew one thing. Grauzem would pay, and dearly, for humiliating her and taking Hanabi. She would hunt him down and tear out his remaining good eye.