Raptors of Evidran 2:
Alliance by Mutual Threat
by Fur and Fantasy
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file
Master Standing-Bear settled into the holonet chamber next to B'lyn, cracking his neck and rolling his head, the muscles sore from navigating the official red tape to get in touch with the various Prefects.
He would rather have just dealt with their protocol droids. At least they listened.
Something might change shortly, but he doubted it. It was time to tell the Council about their latest developments, before the Trade Federation could undermine them.
It was not long before the Ithorian Council leader Master Eewenn appeared along with the Wolf mates, Masters Kothi and Monderth, and the Fox mates Masters Thelm and Qalmi.
"What have you learned, Master Standing-Bear?" Master Eewen began.
"The predators the Trade Federation wants us to deal with are very intelligent, and very skilled," Standing-Bear said easily. "I'm afraid we've learned more about the planet than about them at this point. We have spoken with ranking members of the Federation on this planet about possible alternatives to wiping them out, but it will take some time before they make such a decision."
He didn't have to be present to know what was going through the five Councilor's minds. They all knew as well as he did that the Trade Federation would make no such concessions.
"Are they sentient?" Master Eewenn asked evenly.
"I feel they may be, but it is difficult to determine," Standing-Bear explained, knowing that he was lying through his teeth, but not trusting the transmission to be unobserved at this point. "That sort of determination is best made by the Republic's xenobiologists, but it won't be safe to bring them here while these sort of hostilities are in progress. Tell me, is Master Catherine available?" He asked, pressing a button on his datapad and loading a pre-programmed hack to start a second coded transmission.
"No, I'm afraid she isn't," Master Qalmi said, shaking his head, the arctic Fox making a nearly imperceptible motion as he began the Council's end of the hack.
There was a pause and flicker before things stabilized again.
"We are now on channel k-8," Master Monderth informed him.
"Thank you," Standing-Bear nodded. "In short, the Night Raptors - the predators we're dealing with - are very intelligent, and sentient. We have made contact with some of them. We made a surprising amount of progress with a few hours interaction with two of the curious ones, and will attempt to make more over the next few days. They are not making these attacks without justification, however."
"It goes beyond defending their territory?" Master Kothi leaned forward slightly.
"My visions have led me to believe that the Trade Federation unknowingly shattered dozens of their eggs," he explained. "They knowingly destroyed them, but without realizing what they were dealing with. Understandably, the Night Raptors are more than a little upset, and mildly xenophobic as well."
"Quite understandably," Master Thelm nodded, her expression actually displaying some distress. "Have you learned enough to judge what may make amends?"
"Not yet," Standing-Bear said, shaking his head. "We're having enough trouble trying to learn the language well enough to communicate both ways and to keep them from lumping us in with the Federation. Finding a way to get the Trade Federation to leave is likely to be far more effective."
"We will do what we can, but as always, it will largely fall to you to make happen." Master Eewenn's dual-toned voice said softly.
"Understood, Master Eewenn," Standing-Bear nodded. "We will, as always, strive to ensure a minimal amount of damage in the process. However, I suspect that this mission will not help to endear the Order to the Federation any more than most of our interactions have."
"Such is the price of dealing with unreasonable groups." Master Eewenn said simply. "We trust your judgment and abilities."
"Thank you, Master," he said, bowing his head. "Our full report on the day's progress is being transmitted via encrypted hypertransceiver. For obvious reasons, I didn't want to take the chance the Federation would look into it. The Prefects all made it very clear that their xenobiologists assured them I was quite wrong about Night Raptor sentience, thought the name I had given them was needlessly alarming to those who heard it, and that it would be quite some time before the Senate would be able to afford to risk a science team to corroborate their findings."
"Not surprising, and likely true about the Senate." Master Eewenn consented. "Do let us know if you require assistance against the army likely to be sent against you. If the Night Raptors are amenable to Jedi assistance, we are bound to assist them." She almost smiled, as much as it was possible with the Ithorian's mouth.
"I will make sure that they are aware of their rights," Standing-Bear agreed. "Master Qalmi, if you could look up the Senate rulings related to pre-tool using societies, I would appreciate it greatly. At this point, while sentient, they have sufficient tools on their bodies to make creating new ones largely unnecessary."
"I will send it to you," he nodded even as his datapad began the search. "How dangerous are Night Raptors to a Jedi?"
"One who isn't prepared for them, exceedingly," he said easily. "They're very intelligent, and ambush hunters the likes of which I haven't seen since I was stranded in the Ryloth mountains that one time. Beyond that, they're covered with razor sharp obsidian feathers. Likely blaster resistant, though I'm happy to say we haven't had reason to find out."
"Is there anything they likely respect or fear to consider when sending assistance and the next diplomatic contact?" Master Kothi asked.
"Don't send herbivores," he said seriously. "Carnivores, preferably visibly obvious ones, are more likely to earn respect. Beyond that, we'll be trying to figure it out, but patience is more of a necessity than usual. They're not capable of speaking Basic perfectly, at least not without a lot more practice; their mouths just aren't built for it."
"Masters, if I may?" Padawan B'lyn spoke up for the first time and earned a nod from her Master to speak. "Avian or saurian predator races will likely have the best success at learning and speaking their language and understanding the variant of Basic the Night Raptors can speak. They will also be more likely to have names that can be easily pronounced, unlike ours."
"They should also be prepared for a language very heavy in body language," Standing-Bear added. "I'd say at least half the meaning is carried through that method."
"Understood." Master Eewenn nodded slightly. "Is there anything else to add at this point?"
"Not at this point, Masters," Standing-Bear said easily. "Not that isn't in my coming report, none of which requires immediate action."
"Very well," Master Eewenn accepted it. "Report back in a week with any news. Force be with you."
"With you as well, Masters," Standing-Bear said, bowing his head and switching back to the unencrypted channel before turning off the transmission. "Well, we have much more work to do," he observed as he stood. "We'd best get to it."
"Yes, Master." B'lyn followed him out of the holonet room in the Trade Federation base. "*Are we going to take our ship somewhere before they realize we aren't on their side anymore?*"
"*Most definitely,*" he agreed as they left the sealed chamber. "*I believe the last clearing we found last night should do nicely; still within Trade Federation controlled territory, so we shouldn't upset the Raptors, and we can explain wanting to move to the Federation by simply saying we want it readily available if we're attacked again.*"
"*Something they would be very hard-pressed to counter, given why they brought us here.*" She smiled inside, her face and lekku perfectly still.
"*Precisely,*" he nodded, pulling his hood up over his face. "*Now, after our meeting with Nose-in-Danger and Climbs-High, we're going to be following the Night Raptors for a while. I want to pick up as much of the language as possible as quickly as we can. It'll be easier for us to speak theirs than vice-versa.*"
"*Agreed, Master.*" She nodded fractionally after doing the same as they walked to their ship. "*Unfortunately, that does mean you have a significant head start on me. The body language I can grasp fairly well. The spoken part is much more difficult.*"
"*I'll teach you what I can as we have the opportunity,*" he promised, the doors to the hangar opening. "*Fortunately, they're fairly lax about security in this area,*" he observed as he noted the distinct lack of personnel besides droids at this late hour.
"*Very true, Master.*" She agreed easily, her mind carrying the thanks for the teaching to come. "*How long until we bring up the hatching ground and what happened there?*"
"*Not until we have sufficient mastery of their language that we can communicate exactly what we mean, and that we don't approve,*" Standing-Bear replied. "*If they bring it up sooner, for whatever reason, we will deal with it then.*" They were stopped by a security droid near their ship.
"Reason for departure?" It requested.
"Security," the Jedi Master half-lied with ease. "We have been assigned to explore the area outside the safe zone; we want our ship available in case we are attacked."
"Departure approved," the droid nodded, backing away so the Jedi could board.
"*That was easy.*" B'lyn commented. "*This entire mission is going better than most.*"
"*Just wait until the Trade Federation decides that the most cost-efficient way to cope with their problems is to clear-cut and strip-mine the planet,*" he pointed out with a mental shudder.
"We aren't going to let that happen, are we Master?" She glanced at him as they settled into their fighter.
"Hardly," he said, shaking his head and preparing for take-off. "We'll make sure things don't progress that far."
The sun was rising, but the trees left the clearing very dark as Master Standing-Bear and B'lyn meditated quietly, waiting for Noise-in-Danger and Climbs-High. They had left the fighter miles away, secured against any tampering by Night Raptors or Trade Federation operatives, and cooked a pair of shraa they'd caught and killed to offer their contacts for breakfast.
Standing-Bear's eyes snapped open as he heard a light rattling in the trees.
"It seems they're a little hesitant this morning," he mused, rousing B'lyn from her own trance.
"There are more as well, Master." She added softly, her senses stretching out to the gathering. "Many more."
Standing-Bear stretched out with her, sensing the Raptors surrounding them, some even in the trees.
"I have a bad feeling about this," he murmured, looking around at nothing, seeking to spot the well-hidden creatures.
"It must be the entire flock." B'lyn shifted her gaze into a tree to where she could feel a Raptor's presence but not see him. "The leader is here."
"Not the entire flock," Standing-Bear said, shaking his head. "Three missing ... our friends and a guard, no doubt. Somehow, I don't think this meeting is going to go as well as we'd hoped."
"*They've cut off the escape paths, Master.*" She fell into silent communication out of habit in dangerous situations to save breath and give less information to the danger.
"*We'll have to make one, when the time comes. We can't afford to seriously injure any of them. Keep your lightsaber in its holster as long as possible,*" he cautioned her.
"*Yes, Master.*" She planned what she could do to defend herself and her Master without them. It wasn't a new lesson, just a rarely used one.
Both their gazes were drawn to a loud rustle in the bushes as Stronger-than-Feathers stepped into the clearing, her body language dominant and aggressive as she approached them with two companions flanking her.
They both shifted their own body language to make reasonably submissive greetings, the word-gesture combination they needed one both of them knew and had practiced on the way to the clearing.
["You are not welcome here."] Stronger-than-Feathers snarled at them from not two paces away, well within her striking range, before she lunged forward with her kin.
Obsidian feathers cut into their robes, the two Jedi reeling back and to their feet just in time to keep them from cutting into flesh as the threesome closed the distance to take advantage of the size, strength and natural weapons. Standing-Bear spun around to her side, his robes around his hands protectively as he tried to direct the leader's focus towards himself.
"*Get out of here,*" he told B'lyn firmly, knowing she would resist the idea. "*I will follow.*"
"*Nowhere to run to.*" She replied grimly and gathered as much Force around her as she could, pushing Raptors away and deflecting the blows that now came from all sides with the emergence of about half the flock.
"*Find somewhere,*" he ordered her, working to try and get close enough that he could protect her. A part of him dearly wanted to draw his lightsaber, but he couldn't let himself give in. The Raptors were protecting themselves and their own, as far as they knew. Responding with deadly force would only reinforce their preconceptions.
He felt her obey with a burst of telekinetic energy that cleared out one of the trees and made the leap to it, bolting towards their fighter as best she could.
He followed her shortly afterwards, the two of them forced to veer off as Raptors started making their way through the thick branches of the trees, making massive leaps unassisted that the Jedi needed to wield the Force to handle.
Suddenly, as Standing-Bear and B'lyn were both approaching another clearing between them and their ship, they heard the familiar sound of an energy blade cutting through solid matter - and the branch they were going to land on fell to the ground, shortly before they did.
Standing-Bear rolled to his feet, his hand against his side, pain lancing through the muscles after the fall. He pulled the Force to him, easing the pain as he whirled to face the Raptor who had cut down the branch - and seeing one carrying in both of its hands the cortosis-hafted energy spear wielded by the Morgukai slain a month before.
"*That answers the question of whether or not they'll use tools,*" he observed sourly to B'lyn, drawing his lightsaber. In this case he would use it.
He had very little choice otherwise.
He heard one flare to life next to him as his Padawan readied to make a stand with her Master. As much as he wanted her to run, he couldn't be surprised by it. It was what she was trained to do.
"*At least he's unlikely to be as skilled with it as the Morgukai was.*" She commented and lunged forward to counter the attack, careful to keep it an energy-on-energy strike to keep her weapon lit.
"*The spear can be fought normally,*" Standing-Bear cautioned her, bringing his blade around to block the haft as the Raptor wielded its weapon with surprising skill. "*Unfortunately, it's an intuitive design. Focus on the others and escape; I can deal with this one.*"
He knew she really didn't want to obey, but obey she did and whirled around and out of the battle to slash at two Raptors that were closing in from behind, forcing them to leap back or be badly injured.
A third managed to get inside her defenses, raking her side with its claws before she threw it back telekinetically. Standing-Bear felt her pain, and responded on instinct, turning to see how she was.
It was a mistake he cursed himself for a moment later, swearing under his breath as he felt the Raptor's energy blade cut into the meat of his shoulder. He barely pulled back fast enough to keep the injury from being serious, and responded with a double-handed blow from his burning amber blade hard enough to damage the energy cell in the middle, turning the deadly spear into a slightly less deadly staff before his second blow dislodged the tool from the Raptor's grip entirely.
He felt the surprise, deep and rippling, echoed through the flock as his attacker backed off a bit even as another darted in to retrieve the damaged weapon.
They all recognized the danger of the lightsabers and those who wielded them.
"*Master!*" B'lyn called to him to follow her as a burst of Force cleared a way out for a brief moment.
He didn't even spare the energy for a response, leaping after her and bolting down the clear path, extinguishing his 'saber and clutching his hand to his injury, still unable to take the time to try and heal it properly.
He could hear the squawks and scrambling of the Raptors behind them, the enraged predators on the hunt and closing fast.
"*B'lyn, Shadows of the Forest,*" he told her, hoping desperately that the ploy would gain them enough time. They hurried on, gaining a few more precious yards, then disappeared into the shadow of a large, fallen tree, concealed by the thick grass and fungus, B'lyn reinforcing their ruse with illusions of the sound of their flight while he worked to inspect his wound.
He wasn't surprised to find out that the Morgukai spear hadn't completely cauterized the wound; he was bleeding, and the scent would lead the Raptors to them where ever they fled. He reached into his pouch, fumbling for the medical kit and pulling out the laser scalpel. Turning it to the highest heat level, he bit down on the edge of his hood while he finished the job.
Just as he turned the tool off, he heard one of the Raptors land on the log they were hiding behind.
"*We aren't here,*" he told it firmly, reaching out through the Force as he dropped the scalpel. They would need a few seconds before they fled.
It paused to sniff and listen, then squawked and moved on, its deadly foot claws clicking as they tore into vegetation to power its leap.
Standing-Bear let out a breath he hadn't even realized he was holding.
"*This is not how I envisioned this meeting going,*" he observed mentally, wishing for about the tenth time that he'd learned to heal better than to handle languages as he did what little he could to patch up his wound.
"*Me either.*" B'lyn muttered silently even as she stiffened into a true freeze at the thud of a second Raptor landing over them on the log.
"*We are not here,*" Standing-Bear told it mentally, sure he couldn't do this for each of the Raptors, but if he could do it one more time they'd be much better off.
The snort and rawk he got in response as the Raptor looked down at them was very clear in meaning even if he hadn't understood their language.
["Yes, you are."]
"*Run,*" he told B'lyn mentally, bolting just as soon as she was moving away ahead of him.
["This way!"] The Raptor screeched for her flock and raced after them, far more familiar with the area than either Jedi, but not nearly as desperate to make time.
Standing-Bear reached out, sensing where they were going as much as seeing it ... and felt a place strong in the Force.
"*Valley, five miles west,*" he said. "*We can make a stand there at least.*"
His Padawan didn't answer except to change course and focus in on the place he had sensed. They both needed every scrap of energy and breath they had for the desperate run and battle to come.
It wasn't long before they reached the valley, barely a quarter of an hour. Soon, they were at the edge of a broad, green crevasse filled with jungle. The two Jedi leaped off the edge, down to a rocky ledge beneath, looking up expectantly at the Raptors above them as the hunters skidded to a halt at the edge of the cliff.
The rapid chatter and angry gestures were very different from what they'd expected. Even more was the sense of fear from the majority.
Stronger-than-Feathers stepped up to the edge and glared down at the defiant Jedi below before turning to leave with a snort. ["Fools saved us the trouble."]
"There's an old saying from my colony that I think applies here, Padawan," Master Standing-Bear mused, sitting down to catch his breath. "Let me look at your wounds."
"What would that be, Master?" She asked quietly and settled down herself to see to the bleeding gashes on her side.
He took a moment to inspect them, helping her clean some tattered cloth and bits of plant matter from the wounds before he reached into his gear for some bandages.
As he rummaged, he heard something bellowing from the valley and frowned.
"Out of the frying pan, and into the fire," he answered his Padawan.
"They stopped because there is something here they're afraid of." She murmured with a nod. "Think they went far enough for us to climb out?"
"I'd be very surprised if they had," he murmured, moving her robes to bandage the claw wounds and stop the bleeding. "I suspect we're going to have to work our way around to the other side, climb up there. They're probably going to leave at least one guard there to handle us if we climb out on this side for a day or so."
"Through the jungle, or on the ledges?"
The Master considered that for a few minutes, finishing working on his Padawan's side and leaning back to rest on the ledge, looking around the ledges, then down into the jungle.
"Well, we try to go around the ledges, it will be longer, slower, and there's a good chance one of us can miss a jump and end up with an unpleasant fall. We go through, we may have to face something that frightened off an entire flock of Night Raptors. But it'll be faster, we may luck out and not have to face whatever it is, and we should be able to use our lightsabers in any fights we face without having to worry about pissing the Night Raptors off. They were very clearly not looking at a sacred place. Forbidden, perhaps, but not sacred."
"Forbidden with good reason, I expect." She nodded even as she readied to leap to the jungle floor.
"They usually are," he pointed out, preparing to jump down with her. "But it's the way they won't be expecting us to try, so I imagine it's our best odds."
"Even if they are expecting us to do this," she paused to land next to him. "They won't come here."
"Exactly," he nodded. "And I doubt they'll set up guards on the other side of the valley. If we can find a safe place, we might want to camp here for a night or two," he mused, reaching out, practically able to see the living Force around them. "Take care of our wounds."
"That would be welcome, Master." B'lyn nodded and stretched her senses out in awe of this place. "I thought the other jungle was rich in the Living Force."
"I've encountered richer, but this is one of the most concentrated locations I've seen," Standing-Bear nodded. "Just be careful; this much life might just be lots of very old plants and insects, or it could be a smaller number of very, very large creatures."
"Yes, Master." she nodded cautiously and kept her senses open for trouble of any kind as they worked their way through the dense foliage.
Unlike the jungle above, the valley floor seemed to be almost covered with vines and moss that snaked around and covered the rocks on the bottom. There was undoubtedly a river further in; the soil was rich and loamy, filling both Jedi's senses with its scent. There was enough give in the soil that it almost felt like the vines were moving at times.
Then, as some of them tightened around B'lyn's ankle, she realized that they were!
"Master!" Her sharp cry was as much to warn him as call for help as her lightsaber flared to life to sever the offending tentacle.
The dark purple blade burned through the thick green length, and all Hell seemed to break loose. The vines on the ground erupted, grabbing hold of her arms and legs and dragging her down, her 'saber falling from her grip. She heard her Master following her, but couldn't see anything as she was covered by the mass of plant matter she'd been walking on just seconds before.
It took all her self-control not to panic and focus in trying to use telekinesis to force her way out, or at least acquire enough space to breath.
She managed to open a path towards freedom and fight up above the level of the plants surrounding her, gasping for air before another tentacle wrapped around her throat. She could see the core plant, thorny teeth in a massive, leafy mouth that could probably swallow a Night Raptor whole.
A part of her wondered if creatures like this were the reason they'd developed their razor sharp feathers. Without her 'saber, she'd be hard pressed to get away.
It was a moment that made her reach out with her mind for it, seeking the familiar weapon and call it to her, lit and cutting.
It was far away, coming closer, but hadn't reached her by the time she was thrust into the plant's gaping maw. She heard her 'saber's hilt impact against the woody shell surrounding her, knew it was falling into the vines surrounding it as she was coated in a thick, sticky, cloying sap. The inside of the creature's mouth was practically airless, filling quickly with the fluids that would immobilize her until she could be digested.
Of all the ways for a Jedi to die, this was not one she'd thought of.
Then light burst into her increasingly black world, air rushing in as she spat out the cloying sap, gulping down air desperately as the shell around her was hacked open by her Master's amber blade. He hacked through the base stem next, turning to carve away a few attacking vines. He grabbed B'lyn's lightsaber from the ground, and drove it into the loamy soil beneath them.
The vines seemed to throb and writhe in agony for a few brief moments, then all went limp, while he set about the lengthy process of cleaning off his Padawan.
"River ... got to be around here." She managed as she tried to help out. "A lot of water will help."
"Can you move yet?" He asked her. "It's about fifty yards north of here."
"Yes, Master." She stepped forward with sticky, heavy difficulty. "That was gross."
"I can imagine," he agreed, helping her to the river, getting a substantial amount of the sticky sap on himself in the process. "Let's get that cleaned off and then make camp. I imagine it will take the rest of the day to find somewhere safe enough."
"Most likely, Master." She nodded and stepped into the water a few paces to where it was just below her knees and began working the sap off her body and from her robes. Even with all the running water she could use, it wasn't going to be quick.
Standing-Bear knelt to wash his hands and robes quickly, then stood watch, waiting for further creatures of the valley.
"I'm beginning to grasp why the Raptors fear this place," he mused.
"If that's the plant life, I really don't care to find out what eats them." B'lyn nodded and gave up on trying to clean up while dressed. The goo had simply gotten into far too many places. This would require soap and water, not just water.
"I would guess that," Standing-Bear observed as she undressed, indicating something that looked rather like a mossy bantha ... if a bantha had thick armor plates on its hide, glittering in places where the claws and branches of various creatures and trees had scraped at the moss, revealing something like quartz beneath it.
B'lyn stiffened, her attention diverted from the water for a moment before she returned to kept a sharp eye on the water for anything in the river that might conceder her an acceptable meal. The cleansing pellet from her belt would do wonders to get the goo off of her and her robes, but not if she was eaten first.
"Placid at least." She murmured and went to work on her sticky skin and robes.
At least the water seemed to be mostly quiet. Fish, but nothing that wanted to see what nectar-glazed twi'lek tasted like.
"When anything that wants to eat you has to get through probably a quarter-meter of stone, you can afford to be," Standing-Bear observed. "They seem nice enough; I imagine the main threat would be if they accidentally stepped on one of us."
"That, at least, should be reasonably easy to avoid." She nodded, making quick work of cleaning up. "They don't seem to be very fast."
"That, they definitely don't seem to be," he agreed as she finished cleaning up and dressed. "I'll be honest, I could live with the rest of the animal life down here being like that. Not that it will be, I'm sure."
"Generally for that kind of animal to exist, something has to be almost able to eat it." She nodded. "Any feel for a good direction to head to make camp, Master?"
"There's a part of me that suspects the best place would be right back where that plant was," he mused. "It's very dead by now, I'm sure, and the creatures in the area have likely learned to avoid its territory."
B'lyn wrinkled her nose at that idea and went through her gear to make sure none of it had been ruined by the sap or needed cleaning. "Likely true, Master, but it would be a very sticky camp."
"I wouldn't set up at the heart of it," he chuckled. "Clear away some of the vines nearby, where the scent of the sap won't be attracting all the bugs that will doubtless be very interested. It seemed to have a substantial territory to itself."
"So is there a reason not to camp there tonight, Master?" She looked at him curiously.
"Only that it's back the opposite direction of the one we're trying to go in," he pointed out. "But not by very far. I imagine it's the best option we have, that's certain, and I don't think we're up for another pitched battle today."
"I would prefer to avoid that, Master." She admitted easily. "We might not even find another place to rest and heal before dark."
"About what I expected," he nodded. "So let's go see what sort of a shelter we can build up around a place that isn't sticky."
"Yes, Master." She nodded and followed him the fifty odd yards back into the killer plant's core territory and began the systematic work at finding materials and constructing a shelter that wouldn't draw too much attention.
"Master?" B'lyn glanced at him as they heated a breakfast of native bird on her cooking set. "What are we going to do when we get to the other side?"
"Try to get back to the ship, first," he explained. "After we've found our way around this valley, of course."
"We might have better luck trying to make contact with a Night Raptor group a bit further away from the hatching ground. One who hasn't suffered a great loss might be more willing to talk to us." She suggested softly and turned the cooking birds.
"Especially since I seriously doubt that the Trade Federation has had a chance to make a poor impression this far out," he agreed. "I just want to avoid getting caught up in inter-flock politics, if possible."
"Quite true, Master." She nodded slightly. "It seems a worthwhile risk to me."
"Agreed," he nodded. "At the very least we'd be on a clean slate, and if we can communicate with them well enough they might be able to loan us a translator. I do want to get back to the ship yet, though. A visual recording might be able to get our intent across better."
"It will also make travel between groups more effective, and much less dangerous." She nodded towards the core of the plant that had nearly eaten her alive.
"Much, much less," he agreed. "That was a close call I don't want ... to ...." He trailed off, looking into the trees as he heard something rustle.
"*It's not angry at least, Master.*" B'lyn said silently as she got ready to freeze, bolt or talk.
"*No, just hungry,*" he replied, standing up and looking up at the area the creature was in. "*And we're in the middle of its breakfast, I think.*"
"*Great.*" She sighed very softly and made slow movements to pick up their belongings as a creature almost three times her height ambled slowly out of the thick jungle and began using it's thick tusks and strong, prehensile nose to pull up the plant's tentacles.
It watched them warily, munching at the thick vines while they carefully gathered their things and started to move back away, watching it to make sure neither it, nor they, made any threatening moves.
"*Maybe we can actually eat breakfast in a tree?*" B'lyn suggested, acutely frustrated by this world's dangers and how it set her and her Master on edge.
"*A good plan,*" Standing-Bear agreed. "*Let's just hope there aren't too many arboreal predators around here who'll be curious.*"
"*Or herbivores who think that we look like part of the tree,*" she tried to joke as they backed off and began looking for a large, strong tree to finish their breakfast in.
"*I think we're close enough to their eyes to avoid that,*" Standing-Bear chuckled, finding an appropriate tree and starting up it, cooked fowl in tow.
"*Master, if we're going back to our ship first, we can skirt the edge of the canyon on this side until we get around the guards, then climb up and get it.*" B'lyn suggested as she followed him up and they settled where two large branches split, forming a fairly sizable platform.
"*Possible,*" he agreed, eating as he 'spoke.' "*However, the guards will know where all the places we might be able to exit on this side are. Either we'll need to wait until they leave, or find a way to come out somewhere they aren't anticipating.*"
"*True, Master.*" She admitted and ate quickly. "*It still may be safer than crossing the valley again if it goes on too far to go around.*"
"*I don't get the impression that it's that long, from where we are,*" he explained. "*Another point to consider, equally important, is that we're exposed for some distance on either side of the canyon. I would rather be watched by something that might want to let us come to it, than by something that would cheerfully gut us as we clear the ledge. Unless something new comes up, I feel our best choice is still to cross, then backtrack.*"
"*Yes, Master.*" She bowed her head to his greater experience and quickly finished her meal.
He finished his own, beginning to clean things up quickly before reaching over to put a hand on her shoulder.
"Your concern is well-founded, B'lyn," he pointed out. "And it's good that you're thinking about those sort of issues."
"Yes, Master." She brightened inside at the praise. "Did you get a sense of how far across it is? I'm afraid I did not notice."
"Assuming we don't run into any more overly friendly flora, probably a day's travel. We could be up by dark, or shortly after, if all goes well. Which, of course, it rarely does."
"I believe that would offend the universe, Master." She chuckled and stood, ready to head out.
"Let's hope we can be distinctly offensive then," he chuckled with her, standing as well, and starting down the tree to return to the river, and finish crossing to the other side.
B'lyn kept eyeing the river uneasily. Despite being twice her height below them, something down there made her uneasy.
Master Standing-Bear was equally concerned, though he hid it better. He could sense something beneath them, massive... it could be a large school of fish, or it could be something else entirely. He wouldn't be at all surprised to find out there were large snakes on this world ... or other, similarly dangerous predators beneath the water.
"We're going to have to swim across," he pointed out. It was much too far to jump across, and they didn't have anything that would serve as a boat. "I'll go first, watch yourself."
"Yes, Master." She nodded seriously, part of her fully expecting to have to come to the rescue, or have him come to hers. Most likely hers. She seemed to attract critters on this world, friendly and otherwise. Even the friendly ones seemed to have unfriendly ones not far behind them.
He tucked his hood inside his robes, pulled his breather out and fit it to his mouth, in case he had to go underwater for any reason on the way across. Taking a moment to adjust to breathing through the awkward device, he slipped into the river easily, starting to swim across with practiced skill.
"*That big thing is coming towards you, Master.*" She called out to him silently before he'd even reached the midpoint. "*Fast.*"
He wasn't surprised; he'd been monitoring it himself. He wasn't sure what it was yet, but he did know it was a solid creature now, not a mass of smaller ones.
In what he would later decide was probably one of the least brilliant moves of his career, he twisted to dive towards it, his eyes open. With a little luck, whatever it was would decide not to approach now that he'd made it clear he knew it was there.
"*Master!*" B'lyn's screamed at him in warning, her mind carrying the image from above that he matched with the gigantic set of jaws he suddenly realized he was far to close to.
A crocodilian of some kind. Easily fifteen meters long with a jaw longer than he was tall.
He twisted off to the side, propelling himself into the water just aside of its snapping jaws. He felt teeth close around his robes, jerking him back towards the bottom of the river along with the massive beast that had caught him. He bit down on his breather as he tried to reach into his robes for the small sonic-disruptor he kept for use in situations like this.
His lightsaber wouldn't work underwater, and he really didn't think this creature was going to be obliging enough to move onto land before it tried to eat him.
He felt the Force gather as B'lyn tried to force the beast upwards, towards the surface where she could hit it, but it was far stronger than her command of telekinesis was.
He managed to get his disruptor out, but the reptile jerked its head to the side as it started to roll, and the small device fell from his grip.
At least he could still breathe for an hour or so. Likely longer than it could, with any luck.
He reached up, grabbing onto its snout and fishing into his robes for his 'saber. At least latched onto its nose he could avoid dropping it. It took a lot of twisting work, but he finally got turned around so his hand was close enough to its eyes to try and hit. As awkward as it was with how far back they sat, it wasn't terribly effective.
He was distantly aware that his Padawan had jumped into the water and was swimming towards them.
"*Other side,*" he told her. "*I'm going to try something, but it won't be happy with me!*"
The idea had been sound, but he wasn't be able to reach the things eyes physically.
On the other hand, even with his relatively weak telekinetic skills, he'd be able to make up for that. He mustered the necessary strength, striking the massive crocodile across its eye, not hard enough to cause permanent damage, but certainly hard enough to make sure it felt it.
The results were less than hoped for as the animal lashed its tail hard and slammed him into the deep, muddy riverbed. It had felt the blow all right, but it was less than anything it cared about.
He would have tried focusing it more, but he really didn't want to put its eye out if he could avoid it.
"*Master. I have an idea.*" B'lyn called to him silently even as she reluctantly obeyed and continued to swim across. "*Try creating a telekinetic bubble inside it's belly. It might start to focus on throwing up instead of eating.*"
He did as she suggested, not bothering to reply, holding his breath as the breather was clogged with mud.
It was taking enough of his focus just to try and make the bubble without coughing up the contents of his lungs as he was driven into the silt.
The beast might not be that smart, but it was tough as nails and an instinctive killer he had to give respect to. It expected its meals to fight hard until they drowned.
He could feel it though, when his efforts started to pay off. The roiling pain in its gut he associated with nausea.
Abruptly he was yanked to the surface with his captor as it swam fast for the shore, bypassing B'lyn on the way.
He gasped for breath as he felt himself break the surface, then rolled to the side fast as it began to open its jaws. Much to his relief, he was no longer of interest. The giant was just headed to shore to deal with its irritated belly.
B'lyn made it out of the river just after they did, coming out near him as he took a few welcome breaths.
"*Let's move!*" He told her, starting to run away from the river and the creature that had nearly taken him to the bottom of it for good.
She just nodded and did her best to keep her senses open for the dangers that came from everywhere in this land.
No wonder the Night Raptors wouldn't come here. The plants were carnivorous, the prey too big and tough to kill and the predators could probably take one out.
She would be so glad to get out of the area.
The Jedi looked up at the impressive climb ahead of them when they finally reached the base of the cliff on the far side from the Creeping Wind flock's territory. Despite the short distance across the jungle valley, it was nearly dark and both were completely exhausted from the trek and its many moments of excitement.
"Do we rest here for the night, or climb up, Master?" B'lyn asked, torn in the choice herself. Her body felt like lead, it wasn't exactly safe here, but neither was there any promise of being safer up there.
"We rest," he said after a few moments to think about it, reaching much the same conclusion. "We have some idea what we'll encounter down here ... up there, it could be more of the same or nothing at all, but if it is more of the same I don't want us this tired and trying to fight it."
"In the trees, Master?" She looked at him uncertainly. "Things seem a little less dangerous up here at least."
"Actually, I think that first series of ledges would be safer," he decided, considering the rock wall they were facing. "To judge by how confined to the valley these creatures are, I doubt many of them climb the rocks."
"Very true, Master." She nodded in honest agreement. Looking at the ledge, she debated using the Force for a leap, something that would be the last of her reserves, or climbing up, which could lead to a fall. After a moment, she focused on the ledge and gathered the Force for a leap.
Standing-Bear followed her, a pair of shorter leaps carrying him into the trees, then over to the ledge to settle down next to her.
"We're lucky we ran into the Raptors before this," he mused, groaning a little stiffly as he leaned back against the rock.
"Why do you say that, Master?" She looked at him uncertainly as she began to set out the light bedding they had left.
"If we'd run into this valley and the creatures in it before encountering the Raptors, we may well have assumed that creatures from down here were responsible for what happened to the TF settlements."
"Quite true, Master." She nodded with an uneasy look at the gauntlet they had just passed through. "There are certainly creatures there capable of that level of damage."
"Not even necessarily with the intent of doing serious harm," he agreed. "Those bantha-like creatures we saw could probably crush most of the buildings and think they were being friendly."
"Not being bright enough to realize differently," she nodded and set out her cooking kit to make a simple, warm meal they both needed badly. "I must admit, I will be very grateful to sleep in my cramped cot on the ship after this."
"A bright side to every hardship," he chuckled slightly. "Your wounds are still healing nicely?" He asked her.
She paused to double check and nodded. "Yes, Master. I will need to be careful of them for a few days yet, but they are no longer a hindrance."
"Good," he nodded. "Between all the running, fighting, climbing, and swimming, I was afraid they might have reopened or become infected."
"Not that I can feel or sense." She shook her head slightly and dug into their packs to see what they still had. "Are yours still closed, Master?"
"They are," he nodded, taking a second to visually verify that the wound was just a scar at this point. "It's not much different from a lightsaber scar, though much shallower than most."
"One more to join your collection, Master." She nodded and put some of their rations on to warm.
"And yours," he pointed out. "There's definitely no question about whether or not they're sentient now, even from the Senate's definition. A Morgukai spear doesn't just stay on, you have to figure out how to activate and use it."
"I would have appreciated a less painful way to find out, but that is true." B'lyn agreed as she added water and some local plant material to make a thick soup for them.
"Believe me, I would have too," he chuckled slightly. "Thank you for cooking, B'lyn. I think we have the beginning of a plan, for how to get the Trade Federation off of Evidran 3."
"Yes, Master." She nodded with a slight smile. "First thing is to get our ship back, and hope they haven't found it, or at least figured out how to get to it."
"Most definitely," he nodded. "Do you think you'll be able to take the ship back to Coruscant if necessary, B'lyn?"
"Yes, Master." She nodded. That much she was sure of, despite the strong resistance to leaving her Master behind.
"We may end up sending you back with a Night Raptor representative, if we can reach the point of being able to make peace with them and communicate, and they agree," he explained. "In the meantime, I would stay here and help the Raptors stand their ground."
"Understood, Master." She nodded and finished stirring the thick soup. "Do you still have a bowl in your set, Master?"
"I do," he nodded, pulling it out and accepting a helping of the stew. "I'll handle dinner tomorrow," he promised, "once we can relax enough to eat."
"Hopefully in the comfort of our ship." She nodded seriously and helped herself to a fairly large portion for herself. Her only food since a light breakfast had left her very hungry.
Standing-Bear froze as he and B'lyn climbed the sheer rock walls leading up out of the valley, hand not quite at the next handhold.
"*Something above us,*" he warned her, his senses keenly aware of every sound and shift at the top of the canyon. He couldn't sense what it was; the valley's Force-signature was still too strong to make it out.
"*Leap up and over from here, Master?*" She suggested as much as asked. "*Whatever it is couldn't be expecting that kind of move.*"
"*It doesn't seem to know we're here at all,*" he decided after a moment, clearing the rest of the distance to the next handgrip. "*We'll climb until that changes.*"
"*Yes, Master.*" She answered silently and focused back on the next handhold, trusting him to keep an eye on whatever was up there.
They climbed slowly, cautiously, pausing every once in a while to make sure they weren't being watched directly. Eventually, they both reached the top, looking up over the lip of the canyon carefully.
Only to see a wide-eyed lemur hanging from a nearby branch and munching on something that looked like an orange almost as big as its head.
"I'm beginning to think those lemurs have it out for us," Standing-Bear muttered to himself as he hefted himself up onto solid ground.
"Better them than a Raptor." B'lyn let out a frustrated breath and rolled over the edge, grateful to lie still for a moment after several hours of climbing. "We aren't dinner to them."
"That's very true," the copper-skinned Jedi agreed, leaning back against a tree and looking up at the lemur who was still watching them curiously. "I'm just glad they're not sentient too," he chuckled.
"If they were, we wouldn't be in this much trouble," B'lyn pointed out with a rueful chuckle. "They're quite willing to be friendly."
"Yes, but I don't particularly want to have to explain to the Raptors why they couldn't eat them," Standing-Bear pointed out with a chuckle. "Assuming they do."
"I expect they do, when they can catch one," she nodded with a chuckle. "I don't think that's too often, though."
"They are a little higher up than the Raptors seem inclined to go," her Master agreed, taking a deep breath and sighing a little tiredly as he relaxed for a few minutes.
The next few moments passed in relative serenity until something decided they'd had enough time without distractions, and one of the large, orange-like fruits the lemurs were eating fell squarely onto B'lyn's stomach.
"Oof." She grunted and picked up the whole fruit that rolled off her belly. "I think someone has had enough quiet time, Master."
"I think somebody likes you," he pointed out with a chuckle, indicating the lemur that had dropped the fruit - the same one who'd been staring at her their first night on Evidran 3.
She blinked a couple times to see the same individual on both sides of the jungle valley. "They sure get around." She murmured and picked up the fruit, considering it and the lemur. "They might not be sentient, but they are smart and friendly at least."
"A pleasant change to what the local standard seems to be," Standing-Bear agreed. "And this does confirm that there must be a reasonably easy way around the valley," he pointed out. "That, or the markings are remarkably similar."
"Also possible," she nodded and watched the creature watching her. She brought out a small knife and began to cut into the fruit, slicing it into bite-sized portions. It smelled sweet and healthy, and tasted much the same. "*Quite good.*" She offered a slice to her Master.
"Thank you," he nodded, taking a slice and trying it. "*I have to agree,*" he nodded, chewing the soft, juicy flesh as they were watched by the curious lemur that had dropped it down for them.
B'lyn swallowed her slice and cut one for their curious watcher. "Want one?" She spoke softly, holding it out.
"Meep?" The lemur dropped from the tree a bit, hanging from its tail as it looked around. Then he dropped to the ground, cautiously approaching her and the offered fruit slice.
B'lyn held still, her hand extended with the offering and focusing on not being a threat.
He crept up closer, then accepted the slice of fruit, holding it up to his mouth and nibbling at it, occasionally pausing to glance at B'lyn, Standing-Bear, or random noises it heard in the forest.
B'lyn slowly sliced another piece for her Master, then herself. They got two for themselves before the lemur was finished and looked expectantly at her until another slice of the juicy fruit was offered.
The small prosimian ate with them happily, the fruit gradually divided up amongst the three of them.
"Well, at least we seem to have made one friend on this planet," Standing-Bear chuckled. "I wouldn't be surprised if he follows us the whole time we're here now. Think you're rested enough to try communicating with him?"
"Yes, Master." She nodded. Empathic communication was generally much easier than telepathy as well as being much less accurate. "Is there anything in particular you have in mind?"
"Mostly just for you to practice. Some Padawans discover abilities they wouldn't normally expect just trying things at random. Maybe see if you can tell if he's the same one we met before?"
She nodded and carefully focused on the creature, reaching out in the Force until she felt the inquisitive animal mind.
It was definitely curious, and friendly. It seemed to feel her reaching out to it, and moved closer, reaching out to poke her,
utterly fascinated with something that felt strangely familiar to it.
After a moment, she reached out slowly with an open hand towards it.
It looked at her open hand, then reached out, taking it in its own tiny ones, inspecting the deep purple skin and sniffing before licking some of the fruit juice from her fingers. It looked up at her again, then seemed to reach back out towards her with a friendly feeling.
She controlled her physical gasp, but her surprise carried clearly to her Master and the lemur before she focused on returning the friendly feeling along with acceptance.
The lemur let out a string of eeps, squeaks, and other assorted noises before it clambered up onto her shoulders and she felt dozens of curious minds reaching out, none coherent enough to communicate, but seemingly all at least mildly empathic.
"Fascinating," Standing-Bear mused, reaching out and feeling what was going on. "No wonder this planet feels so Force-strong."
"Very," she nodded slightly, her new friend trying to figure out how to groom something with no fur or hair. For the most part, it seemed to be settling with poking curiously at the base of her lekku. "It is a very effective warning system, I expect."
"Very effective," he agreed. "One of them gets into trouble, all of them in the area know about it and can decide how to respond in an instant. Explains why they seem to cluster together the way they do as well."
"It's an effective way to stay safe on such a dangerous world." She nodded and relaxed.
The next few hours passed peacefully before a ripple of tension passed through the empathic network of the lemurs. The one still curiously exploring B'lyn leaped off suddenly, then up into the trees, a sense of danger very strong in its mind as he hurried up into the upper limbs.
"Predator incoming, Master." B'lyn said softly as they stood.
"Something more dangerous than the things in the area too," he nodded, taking his lightsaber in hand, though not igniting it yet.
"Up the trees again, Master?" B'lyn glanced at him, her own lightsaber drawn and unlit.
"Not yet," he said, shaking his head. "It may be one of the Raptors. If it was several of them, I'm sure we'd have known by now."
B'lyn nodded and stood her ground as a single Night Raptor emerged from the thick foliage of the jungle and stopped to regard them.
"*Not the same flock,*" Standing-Bear observed. "*If it was, we'd already be in trouble.*"
"*It would have never appeared alone.*" She agreed as the stare down began, predator against two things it thought might be prey.
The Night Raptor moved slowly as it began to circle them, judging them in the full mindset of hunting.
Standing-Bear met its gaze, keeping it firmly and constantly in sight, not backing down at all this time. He knew how to deal with a predator that wanted to eat him, and how to convince it that it wasn't worth the effort without a serious fight.
He wanted to start there for now.
B'lyn wasn't nearly as skilled at it, but she understood the principles and kept her posture steady and unflinching despite full knowledge of what the creature stalking around them could do.
"*Not Food.*" She pushed the thought into it's mind, earning a startled squawk as it jumped back, it's hunting mood broken by the sudden thought in it's mind.
Taking advantage of is surprise, Standing-Bear offered a mimicked click and gesture of greeting, hoping that this flock used the same dialect as the first they'd encountered.
The Raptor blinked a couple times, then warily returned the greeting, its claws carefully folded back to not point at the Jedi.
["White-Feather of the Crystal Gorge flock."] He told them formally.
"Connor of the Jedi," Standing-Bear introduced himself carefully, using the proper hand gestures, half-wishing he had some idea what Nose-in-Danger would have called he and B'lyn. "B'lyn, of the Jedi," he added, indicating his Padawan.
["What are you doing in our territory?"] White-Feather asked a bit sharply, his head movement showing off the single long quartz-like feather on the underside of his left arm's partial wing.
["Stronger-than-Feathers' flock attacked,"] he said, quickly running out of useful words in their language he knew and indicating the valley behind them, and trying to explain that they'd crossed it through gestures.
The new Raptor snorted, a sound of both comprehension and displeasure.
["Planning to stay?"] He asked a bit aggressively.
["Not long,"] Standing-Bear answered quickly.
White-Feather nodded and studied them again. ["You go where?"]
["Back,"] Standing-Bear tried to explain, indicating that they planned on going around the valley. ["May visit later, friendly meeting?"] He suggested, cobbling together a variety of different words he'd picked up from Nose-in-Danger.
White-Feather looked at them like they'd gone made, then shrugged. ["I know fast way around monster land."]
["Tell us?"] Standing-Bear requested, certain now that they'd have to keep observing the locals and putting together what they could of their language over the next few weeks. ["We'd be grateful,"] he added.
["I show you, you give fresh meat to me."] It counter-offered.
["Need time to hunt, but agreed,"] Standing-Bear agreed easily. The offer was certainly reasonable enough; for all that he would normally have preferred to get an amount. Not that he was really prepared to haggle over it.
"*What did we just agree to, Master?*" B'lyn asked silently, having only caught part of the exchange.
"*He's going to show us a safer, quicker route around the valley. In exchange, we do some hunting for him.*"
"*Good trade from the sound of it,*" she nodded a bit.
["Come."] White-Feather motioned to them and turned to the north.
"*Agreed,*" Standing-Bear nodded. "*Come on, let's follow White-Feather.*"
Standing-Bear and B'lyn could smell the heaviness of water in the air as the thunder of a waterfall rumbled over the jungle sounds. It didn't take any Force-sensitivity to realize that White-Feather was nervous here. He kept looking around, jumping at sounds and flits of light.
["Behind the water."] White-Feather pointed to the waterfall they were half way up as they stepped into view of it. ["Beyond is Stronger-than-Feather's place."]
["Thank you,"] Standing-Bear replied. ["Meat we gave you on the trip enough?"] He asked, the two of them having hunted some on the way to collect White-Feather's fee.
["Yes."] White-Feather nodded, a quick bob of his triangular head. ["Have good days."] He added and turned to leave, eager to be out of this area that dimmed so many of his senses.
"That went surprisingly well," Standing-Bear observed as the Night Raptor left quickly. "Well, let's pass through, we'll need to hit the trees quickly once we're on the other side."
"Agreed, Master." She nodded and moved quickly down the slippery trail barely wide enough for one to walk down.
When she stepped behind the waterfall she drew a sharp breath and wobbled slightly, the raw power of the Living Force assaulting her unprepared mind.
Her Master was there with her quickly, helping to support her, his own mind prepared for the natural power of the waterfall.
"Keep moving, B'lyn," he encouraged her. "It will weaken as we move on."
She didn't nod or respond beyond putting one foot in front of the other on the slender, slippery trail behind the great fall that turned into the lazy river they had crossed miles downriver.
The older Jedi guided her carefully, making sure neither of them fell. He reached out, helping her block her mind off so that she could focus safely. There were disadvantages to spending most of your life on worlds that the Living Force was only a background feeling and not this incredible roar that threatened to overwhelm everything, or drown you in its intoxicating essence.
"Thank you, Master." B'lyn murmured as she stepped out of the waterfall passage and they began to work up the path into the jungle above.
"Don't mention it," he smiled, letting her get a bit ahead of him before following her, his own senses open to any signs of approaching predators that didn't appear. There was plenty of life as they adjusted their path to make a fairly direct route to their small ship.
"*He's back, Master.*" B'lyn commented over an hour later and glanced up to the branch where a lemur was walking along with them.
"*Persistent,*" Standing-Bear chuckled. "*You may have somebody wanting to go home with you at this rate.*"
"*At least he's small and cute,*" she smiled faintly at her admirer. "*And doesn't think sentient life might be dinner.*"
"*Well, after your first meeting I think you talked him out of that,*" he chuckled. "*And he's not interested in dates.*"
"*Very true,*" she shuddered slightly at the idea of a Night Raptor interested in her that way. Interspecies was one thing, those obsidian feathers were quite another.
Standing-Bear chuckled and reached up, telekinetically pulling down one of the large fruits they'd been given before and pulling out his knife. "Why don't we have a bit of something to eat while things are quiet?"
"That sounds very good, Master." She nodded, then snickered when the lemur leaped down to land delicately on her shoulder to stand with its hands on her smooth head. "To him as well, apparently."
"Why do you think I suggested it?" He chuckled, cutting through the leathery skin and taking out a slice of the juicy fruit within, offering the first one to the lemur before cutting out slices for B'lyn and himself.
"Are you trying to get me a pet, Master?" She teased him.
"If it is the will of the Force that he becomes such, nothing I could do would change his mind," the Ambrinthan replied with a slight smirk. "Besides, the Council would be worried if you didn't come home with one some time before your Trials, given my track record.
"At least this one doesn't consider half the Council as a meal like your last one." She shook her head with a chuckle. "I'm going to need a bath after this, you know."
"He only nibbled when Master Eewenn let him," the Jedi chuckled. "And yes, though I imagine we're both going to need one rather badly when we have the chance next. He is a surprisingly neat eater though," he observed, though some of the juice from the fruit couldn't help but dribble onto B'lyn's head. "At least you don't have fur for it to be cleaned out of, like some of our colleagues."
"Yes, but with fur, or even hair, it wouldn't dribble nearly so far." She finished off a second piece before needing to wipe a trickle of juice from approaching her eye.
"Here," he chuckled, pulling out a small handkerchief and passing it over. "One thing you'll learn quickly when you become a friendly-animal magnet is to always have something to keep them from making too big a mess until they're housebroken."
"Thank you, Master." She said a bit sarcastically and accepted it and wiped her head dry. "It's a wonder that croc didn't want to be your pet." She smirked back at him.
"There's a line where 'I'd like to have you for dinner' isn't a friendly gesture," he chuckled. "He crossed it very thoroughly."
"That he did," she nodded and finished her last slice of fruit. "I have to wonder how many of the giant predators are resistant to the Raptor's obsidian feathers. With that kind of armor, they wouldn't normally have anything to fear from anything."
"I imagine that's why they're the top-line predator and sentient species on this planet," he pointed out. "Though frankly, our crocodilian friend could probably make short work of one if he caught it by surprise."
"Most likely, given how afraid they are of the valley." She nodded and reached up to stroke the lemur's tail as they began to walk again and it stayed where it was, perched on her head and shoulder.
"Yes," he nodded. "Most likely additional plant predators too, though I can't imagine the one that almost took you would be able to take a Raptor."
"A young one, perhaps." She said thoughtfully. "Its sap was sticky and thick enough that if you stepped into it instead of being dragged it wouldn't matter if you were covered in blades. You'd never hit anything."
"True, though if it reacts like that to anything that gets close I don't know that you'd get close enough without being caught. Still, obviously enough other nearby creatures to feed them."
"And at least one that feeds on them." She nodded as they fell into the comfortable silence of a long trek that required attention for danger.
Standing-Bear silently signaled his Padawan to still, something she'd done a fraction of a second before when the lemur leaped from its perch of many hours to scramble up a tree, broadcasting the danger signal it had heard from others of its kind nearby.
"*Raptors.*" She whispered silently, sure of what was causing the reaction.
"*It was bound to happen some time,*" Standing-Bear pointed out, making a leap of his own into the lower branches of the nearby trees with B'lyn just behind him. "*Until we know who it is.*"
"*True,*" she admitted as they stilled until they could get a sense of friend of foe.
The two of them waited for a few minutes until the Raptor arrived. They both let out bated breaths as they recognized Nose-in-Danger, and saw that he was alone.
"*Do you want to do the honors, or should I?*" Standing-Bear asked B'lyn.
"*I will, Master.*" She smiled slightly and whistled softly to get Nose-in-Danger's attention before jumping to the jungle floor.
Standing-Bear watched quietly as they greeted each other and Nose-in-Danger expressed his surprise that they'd gotten out of the valley. When he noticed the Raptor looking up in the trees, he dropped down himself, realizing that he was hoping he'd made it out too.
["Why did you come back?"] He looked between the Jedi worriedly. ["Stronger-than-Feathers still very angry."]
["We had to return to where we came from,"] Standing-Bear explained, knowing they didn't really understand ships yet. ["The metal vessel we came in,"] he clarified with the mental image of their ship. ["And we want to help against the others who came, the first ones."]
["Be careful."] He cautioned them, glancing over his shoulder and shifting nervously. ["Found one near our boarder. Stronger-than-Feathers not happy we can't destroy it."]
["That would be ours,"] Standing-Bear admitted. ["We want to make friends, if it's possible. We aren't like the others; want to stop them. They will bring others, try to destroy the Night Raptors."]
["Maybe after a clutch has grown up."] Nose-in-Danger said hesitantly. ["When she had a strong hatchling again."]
["How long?"] Standing-Bear asked, knowing it would still be too long for them to wait before dealing with the Federation.
The question made Nose-in-Danger pause as he figured out how to answer it.
He held up his hands, closed into loose fists and opened it one finger at a time until all four on the right and two on the left were extended. ["Many heavy rains. I hatched in the previous clutching."]
That would be some time, Standing-Bear was sure.
["We don't have that long,"] he said apologetically. ["We must deal with the others, the egg-smashers, before then."]
["Stronger-than-Feathers does all we can."] Nose-in-Danger insisted. ["You are only two."]
["Which is why we, us and Stronger-than-Feathers and the other flocks, have to be together,"] Standing-Bear explained, using mild telepathy to help his words when he didn't have quite the right thing to say.
It earned him a couple curious looks as Nose-in-Danger realized some of the conversation was directly in his mind.
["Maybe she believe words in her head."] He cocked his at the older Jedi. ["Not had that done before. She angry, but very smart, good leader."]
["Any idea how to make peace with her? Just us? Make her listen?"]
["Bring head of a killer with you, and meat for a feast."] He offered, not sure it would work, but sure it would give them a little time to talk. ["She might listen. She not listen to me."]
["She worries for the flock,"] Standing-Bear nodded. ["We will see what can be done. We should go, before trouble starts."]
["Walk carefully."] Nose-in-Danger nodded his head and turned to leave.
"*This has gone too easily,*" Standing-Bear mused as he and B'lyn approached their fighter. "*Even if Nose-in-Danger is running interference for us.*"
"*Every time you say that, Master, things get really ugly.*" She pointed out warily.
"*Believe it or not, the relationship is rather the opposite of what you're thinking,*" he pointed out with a grim mental chuckle, his hand on his belt, near his lightsaber. "*We have to make it to the fighter.*"
"*Worth running for it?*" She glanced at him.
"*Not yet. I'd just feel more comfortable with my bow within reach. I don't think the Raptors are what I'm feeling now....*"
"*Trade Federation?*" She guessed, sure the company would be after them by now.
A blaster fired, narrowly missing Standing-Bear as he twisted to the side just before it fired, drawing his lightsaber in an instant and igniting it in time to deflect the next shot.
"*That would be 'yes,'*" he observed, moving to put B'lyn between himself and the ship. "*Get under cover!*"
She muttered under her breath and deflected a shot back towards the unseen solders as they began to move for their ship while putting trees between themselves and their attackers as often as possible.
They continued to retreat like that until a dull 'thump' echoed from behind them.
"*Down!*" Standing-Bear ordered her, reaching up and flicking his free hand at the small, cylindrical objects flying through the air towards them as she obeyed without question. It continued over them, landing on the other side before exploding mid-air, ripping branches from the trees and sending them flying as the older Jedi dove for the ground.
"*I counted at least thirty, Master.*" She warned him as they moved again, making their best time through the rain of blaster fire. "*Five between us and the ship.*"
"*Well, at least we know they aren't underestimating us,*" he observed with a sour mental tone, whirling around to block a blast from behind, sending it back into the unfortunate Fox who fired the shot. "*That's four.*"
"*Three,*" B'lyn added as she reflected a shot of her own. "*And another ten to the total just came into range.*"
"*Remind me again why I thought it was a good idea to park inside TF territory?*"
"*Because it was safer than Night Raptor territory at the time?*" She quipped and twisted to block two bolts from the side.
"*Maybe that valley would work next time,*" he observed dryly. "*Jump for the ship, I'll cover you.*"
B'lyn calculated the distance and opponents and gathered the Force around her to add speed and distance to her movements. After blocking another blast from the side and dodging two others she moved.
"*Fighters!*" She called out in warning to her Master before a blast from one, even blocked, knocked her to the ground with a hard thump.
He was at her side in a flash, helping her up and then pulling her towards the tree where they had some cover.
"Shit," he swore under his breath, his back against a tree as he breathed hard. "*Are you okay B'lyn?*"
"*Yes, Master.*" She tried to catch her own breath. "*Just bruising, no breaks. They came prepared for us.*"
"*Not surprised; they knew what they were dealing with in us,*" he pointed out. "*We're pinned down until we can deal with those fighters; we'll have to whittle down the mercenaries until then. One of us will have to distract them; I think you're best qualified for that.*"
B'lyn nodded and focused on one of them that was nearby and not paying quite enough attention to where his blaster riffle was aimed.
"*Fire.*" She ordered him silently.
He did so, obeying her command instinctively more than consciously, pulling the trigger without realizing that one of his partners was in front of it.
In the chaos that followed, he was promptly shot several times, and Standing-Bear disappeared into the trees.
A lightsaber hummed harshly a few seconds later and one of them screamed as his arm came off, still holding his blaster. The scream was silenced an instant later, the Jedi Master in full hunting mode.
His Padawan wasn't far behind, though she preferred to have them do the dirty work for her with mind tricks of one kind or another. Orders to fire at the wrong moment, illusions of her where someone else was, sounds to turn them into her Master's lightsaber.
In the focus of those in the jungle, she made a critical mistake: she forgot about the two in the air until anti-tank blasts blew the small collection of trees and bushes she was hiding in to shreds and sent her flying to ricochet off her own ship before slumping onto the ground, only dimly conscious.
Standing-Bear rushed out of his own cover to protect her - only to find himself promptly surrounded by the twenty-five or so remaining mercenaries, all of them keeping out of range, and seemingly only waiting for him to do something so that anybody who missed his falling body wouldn't hit whoever was on the opposite side of the ring of soldiers.
His senses still sharp from the hunt, he could feel that they were no longer the only danger here. Just inside the trees were a score or more Night Raptors ready for a bloodbath.
The only real question was which side, if not both, they would try to slaughter.
"If you don't all stand down now, I can guarantee that not a one of you will leave this battlefield alive," he told the mercenaries matter-of-factly, his 'saber still lit and at the ready.
"You're in no position to make threats, Jedi." A huge Dire Wolf sneered at him from behind a small cannon it used as a blaster riffle.
What it wasn't seeing, and Standing-Bear could, was that three of the mercs had already vanished in the absolute silence of their vocal cords being shredded before they were pulled back into the flock for dismemberment.
"It's not a threat," he said simply, just before the Dire Wolf disappeared and the remaining mercs realized what was going on, turning to open fire into the trees that held nothing. "It was a warning," he sighed, moving to start helping the Night Raptors against the more heavily armed mercenaries.
Every time, it amazed him how quickly good discipline could break down with the death of a leader and the unknown. The mercs did their best to survive, or at least create a significant cost to their deaths. Hitting what wouldn't show itself was a difficult proposition when you didn't have the Force to help out.
It wasn't until the two airborne fighters got into the act again that it was anything less than a given outcome. They blew away the cover the Raptors were relying on, forcing them out into the open. Blaster bolts struck, causing wounds but not killing through the multiple layers of obsidian feathers. They rarely had a chance to score two hits before one of the other Raptors or Standing-Bear laid them low, but the fighters laid down suppressing fire that kept the Raptors from simply swarming them, tearing the clearing apart.
Standing-Bear turned and jumped, twisting out of the way of a blast and grabbing onto the wing of the ship, swinging up on top of it and hacking through the engines with a single swing of his lightsaber, jumping over to the other and repeating the act, back onto the ground before the second fighter exploded, killing the pilot and sending a hail of debris towards the grounded mercenaries below.
By the time he reoriented for the ground fight, it was a swarm of black forms hacking the few remaining mercs apart with wing-feathers, claws, jaws and body slams intermingled with vicious cries of victory and satisfaction.
"*Master?*" B'lyn was standing, just barely, but she made it to his side with a motion to escape to the fighter before the Night Raptors took note of them.
"*Wait by the fighter, but don't board yet,*" he cautioned her, moving to follow her to the side of the ship.
"*Yes, Master.*" She obeyed him despite her fear.
"*Control your reactions, Padawan,*" he said reassuringly and firmly. "*This may work in our favor.*"
"*The enemy of my enemy ....*" She nodded fractionally in understanding and did her best to stand straight and let her fears go as the flock turned their attention to the pair, gathering around them with threatening sounds that didn't make words as Stronger-than-Feathers stalked dominantly through her followers.
Standing-Bear didn't stand down, meeting her eyes.
["Thank you for your help,"] he told her, creating an instant silence in the gathering.
["Nose-in-Danger says you gave him food."] She said, her voice hard even for her kind as she motioned the very submissive male forward. ["Talked to him and Climbs-High. You killed the killers. You want to make peace."]
["We did, and we do,"] he said, his manner shifting to a slightly more submissive one, appropriate for somebody approaching peacefully. ["The killers will continue their attacks, and they will get larger. We want to help you stop them, make peace between your people and ours."]
["Why?"] She focused on him sharply. ["What do you want?"]
["Peace,"] he explained, realizing that peace for the sake of peace was a concept that would probably be fairly alien to her. ["For your people and mine to be friends, not enemies. A friend is worth much in a hostile world,"] he pointed out, hoping she would agree with him on that much at least.
She considered him for a long, silent moment, then turned her head slightly to look at one of her flock. ["Fetch it."] She faced Standing-Bear again. ["You fix what you broke?"]
["The ... outsider weapon?"] He mimicked the length and holding of the Morgukai spear as he realized he didn't know anything close to a word for it in their language. He couldn't think of anything else he'd broken, but he wanted to be sure.
She paused a moment, then nodded. ["You broke, you fix?"]
["If I am able,"] he nodded. ["Should be able to. Need some supplies first."]
"*B'lyn, fetch a spare power pack from the fighter? I'm going to be repairing a Morgukai spear if I can.*"
"*Yes, Master.*" She replied, only to freeze when three Night Raptors pounced on her movement towards the fighter, placing themselves between her and it.
["She stays."] Stronger-than-Feathers told them firmly.
["The supplies are on the ship,"] Standing-Bear explained. ["But I will fetch them myself, if you wish."]
"*They don't trust us that much yet,*" he explained to her.
"*I gathered as much, Master.*" She relaxed fractionally and backed off to her original position.
["Yes."] Stronger-than-Feathers nodded to him. ["Little one stays with us."]
["I will be back shortly,"] he promised, moving to the fighter, manually opening the cockpit once he was up on the wing and reaching in for one of the several spare lightsaber power cells and repair kits.
He just hoped the Morgukai used technology as similar as it looked.
By the time he returned to the center of the circle near B'lyn the Night Raptor that had darted off had returned with the weapon and turned it over at a subtle motion by Stronger-than-Feathers.
He took it, inspecting the damage he'd managed to do. As he'd expected, he'd mostly damaged the power cell. There was some very minor damage to the shaft, but not enough to need repair.
The question then became if he'd damaged the cell, or the contacts, and as he carefully took it apart he found that his aim had been as good as he'd hoped; he'd shorted out the cell, nothing more.
This wouldn't even take five minutes to repair. Pulling the cell out of the shaft, he replaced it with the new one, making sure it was properly seated. He did everything so that Stronger-than-Feathers could see, and she was watching curiously, displaying for the first time what he was beginning to suspect was a racial trait and part of why they had developed to sentience. Even the angry ones were alert, observant and curious about everything around them.
A few minutes later, and he put it back together, twisting it to turn it on, then deactivating it, pulling one of his extra cells from his pouch and offering both the spare cell and the spear to the leader.
["If it is damaged again, or stops working, try putting this in,"] he explained as she took both items and examined them, turning the weapon on herself before nodding, deactivating it and handing the spear and power cell to the one who had retrieved it with a sense of handing it back to it's owner. ["It may be enough to repair it."]
["How can we kill all of them?"] Stronger-than-Feathers asked simply.
["We cannot,"] he said simply. ["There are many more, who can come in their ships. Soon they will bring more than can be fought, unless our people can stop them."]
He new he'd upset her, insulted her, with the way she ruffled her feathers, their clicking an audible display of her displeasure that her flock picked up on.
And, at the same time, there wasn't any other way to address it. What he had said was true; if necessary, the Trade Federation could simply level the planet and pick up the pieces.
["He not mean it like that."] Nose-in-Danger insisted from his still-submissive position nearby.
["How can your people stop them?"] She asked with an angry click.
["Our laws require them to leave if there are other people on the planet when they arrive, to leave or make an agreement with them,"] he explained. ["The killers didn't realize that the Night Raptors were more than animals at first, and they don't care now. If we can bring what they are doing to the sight of my people, they will be forced to leave."]
Stronger-than-Feathers glared at him, decades of experience and a natural affinity for leadership almost as effective as the Force in judging his truthfulness and intent.
He could feel her desire for a second opinion and the knowledge that she was leader and such was a luxury she didn't have right now. Her flock depended on her decisions and she had to choose well or they would all die.
She shifted slightly; almost staring through him and B'lyn before making a choice.
["What does this require?"]
["Trust,"] he said softly, knowing how hard that would be to build. ["And I know that will not come immediately. The fastest way to prove what we say is true would be to take a Night Raptor back with us, as a guest, to speak to those who enforce our laws."]
Only long experience kept him from tensing in anticipation of the response he was sure he would receive to that idea.
["Let me, Leader."] Nose-in-Danger unintentionally deflected that reaction towards himself even as he defused it to some extent.
["No!"] Stronger-than-Feathers snarled at him with a hard swipe of inch-long, razor-sharp hand-claws that he reflexively shifted to take as painlessly as possible with most of the force deflected by his hard feathers. She turned to Standing-Bear, her feathers still fluffed in displeasure. ["You prove yourself first. Hunt for the injured ones."]
["I will do so,"] he nodded, grateful that the proof she was requesting was something so relatively simple. He'd been half-afraid she'd really want heads brought to her on the proverbial silver platter.
["Then come."] She turned around to lead her flock back to their home. Without an order either Jedi could notice, the relatively uninjured Night Raptors began to gather the bodies of those they had killed.
"*That went relatively well, Master.*" B'lyn commented with a bit of curiosity about why the bodies were being gathered.
"*It did,*" he agreed. "*And I suggest you not be too curious about that, Padawan, you may not like the answer overly much.*"
It only took her a moment past that to realize the answer. It took all of her self-control to avoid making a scene.
"*I truly hope they do not expect us to eat them.*" She whispered mentally, still sick to her stomach at the thought.
"*I seriously doubt it, fortunately,*" Standing-Bear said silently as they started to follow the Night Raptors away. "*We'll have our own hunting to do, and that for others.*"
"*Their kills, their meat.*" She nodded fractionally and moved inside the flock's ranks back to their current nesting location. "*Do you think they would react badly to offering to heal them, Master? I'm going to have some work on myself to do.*"
"*Force healing, I suspect they would accept, but we will have to go through Stronger-than-Feathers first,*" he said easily.
"*It just seemed selfish to heal myself and not at least offer to do what we can. No one was badly injured from the look of things.*"
"*There may be others who are,*" he cautioned her. "*But heal yourself. We will work together to heal the others if we are allowed.*"
"You know Master, I think I am going to appreciate all those living off the land camping trips we've taken." B'lyn spoke softly with a touch of amusement. "*At least the price she asked for our lives and acceptance is one we can provide without questionable choices.*"
"I told you they were for a good reason," he chuckled as the terrain became more familiar the closer they came to where the Night Raptors roosted. "*And yes, I'm quite grateful for that.*"
["You did very well."] Nose-in-Danger told him as the young Night Raptor slipped a bit back to move next to them. ["Not hurt much?"]
["Not hurt much,"] Standing-Bear agreed. ["You?"] He asked, not able to see any serious injuries for his feathers.
["Not hurt."] He chirped. ["Big feast tonight. No one died, and there is much meat."]
["All from the fight?"] Standing-Bear asked, trying not to let his stomach turn too much at the thought.
["Most."] He looked at the Jedi curiously. ["Hunting was good today as well."]
["Good to know,"] Standing-Bear nodded slightly. ["We don't eat the meat of other people, generally. Forbidden for B'lyn and I,"] he explained, hoping Nose-in-Danger would understand.
While the idea, or at least subject, didn't seem to, the Night Raptor nodded in understanding of the concept that some things simply were not done.
["Not have to eat that meat then."] Nose-in-Danger told them easily.
Standing-Bear couldn't miss just how relieved B'lyn was, though she had kept her composure throughout the conversation.
He had to admit, he was rather relieved as well. He was sure he could, if it was required, but he did not want to find out the hard way.
["Good to know,"] he nodded. ["Thank you."]
Nose-in-Danger nodded slightly and they fell silent for the remainder of the walk. It didn't take Standing-Bear long to realize that he was looking at the entire flock as the dead bodies were stacked with the animal kills of the day. Every single one of Stronger-than-Feather's flock had been in on the attack that had saved the Jedi's lives.
"*No young ones at all, Master.*" B'lyn murmured.
"*An entire generation killed,*" he agreed quietly. "*Nose-in-Danger is one of the youngest, he said.*"
["Newcomers!"] Stronger-than-Feathers raised her voice to a sharp squawk.
"*That would be us,*" Standing-Bear observed silently, moving to meet the leader with his Padawan behind him.
["Kills-the-Sun,"] she motioned to a powerful Raptor standing next to her with an air of absolute authority that was overshadowed only by hers. ["You hunt with him. He leads you. Understand?"]
["We understand,"] Standing-Bear nodded, certain that he was dealing with the leader's mate and that he wasn't nearly as accepting of having them here as she was.
["Good."] Kills-the-Sun snorted.
["We eat!"] Stronger-than-Feathers roared, earning exciting calls and a sharp revival in energy that was ready to settle into a post-battle brooding and snappishness in the aggressive population.
["You eat last, younglings."] Kills-the-Sun informed them before walking to the pile of kills with his mate to claim the first share.
"*We're at the back of the line,*" Standing-Bear translated for B'lyn, nodding and moving towards Nose-in-Danger and Climbs-High, picking up on the subtle pecking order of the flock, which seemed largely based on age beyond the leadership.
"*I wonder if they even have the concept of guests here, Master.*" She mused to him as they watched the pecking order unfold and adding the occasional name to their owner.
"*I imagine they do, but we aren't,*" Standing-Bear pointed out. "*We're more like peripheral flock members.*"
"*On probation,*" she nodded as a small squabble was quickly settled and the body of a Fox went with the victor while the looser selected a different one. "*I do hope these feasts are not common while we are here.*"
"*With any luck, you'll be off this planet with one of the Raptors before that opportunity presents itself,*" he said reassuringly. "*You'll be our best bet for returning; you're a better pilot, and will leave more space in the fighter for your passenger.*"
"*It also leaves the one of us with the better language and combat skills here to deal with the front line.*" She nodded in agreement. "*How does the process for sentience determination work for a case like this, Master?*"
"*The most important step for you and our representative, assuming we can convince Stronger-than-Feathers to send one, is to address the Senate. The Council will handle the legal red tape, and undoubtedly already is. But it means we have to act quickly; the Senate could quite reasonably refuse to rule on the issue without meeting a Night Raptor, and I'm sure the Trade Federation will just be champing at the bit to deliver one to them.*"
"*We might have more luck getting one from another flock to come with us, if she will not in time, Master.*" B'lyn commented silently and focused on a small Night Raptor that wasn't eating a person. "*I don't think they'll need to hunt for some time, Master.*" She added with a slight nod towards those eating. "*That one has already downed a quarter of her mass.*"
"*And will be eating more, I'm sure,*" he agreed. "*Not uncommon for reptiles; gorge and then wait to hunt until the noise has died down and they're hungry again. I imagine we'll be doing some quiet hunting and fruit-gathering of our own.*"
"*Hopefully that will not offend them,*" B'lyn nodded.
"*It is our turn, Padawan.*" Standing-Bear stood and walked towards the greatly diminished pile of bodies.
"*At least they left us most of the animal kills, Master.*" She murmured and tried not to think about them eating people.
"*The body matters not, Padawan,*" he pointed out, trying to give her something resembling consolation as they selected a reasonably sized bird to split between them, knowing they wouldn't need anything more to eat in all likelihood. "*They have all gone on to the Force already.*"
"*I know, Master.*" She replied softly. "*I have not yet accepted that to the point of eating one. It is not an easy taboo to let go of.*"
"*I understand,*" he nodded slightly, moving to a place where the two of them could cook and eat their meal without moving too far away or being too close to an eating Night Raptor. "*I'm not either; just consider where they may be coming from.*"
"*Meat is meat, once it's dead.*" She nodded and sat down next to him. "*I don't think it bothers me that much that they are eating the bodies, Master, so much as the thought that they may expect me to at some point. The lack of cooking, tables, utensils and the trappings of civilization make it easier to see that they consider them just another source of needed meat that was killed in a battle, not a hunt. Nothing I am getting indicates that they would be inclined to eat a body that hadn't attacked them first.*"
"*I doubt that Nose-in-Danger would be so far off that he'd say it wouldn't be a problem when it would be,*" he pointed out as B'lyn set up their cooking equipment. "*And even if they are, on this world, I think we can agree that they're in a position of not being able to be particularly choosy here.*"
"*Yes, Master.*" She nodded in agreement and relaxed at being reminded of Nose-in-Danger's statement. She was still glad she didn't have to try to eat the flesh of a person.
"*You're not the only one glad for that, Padawan,*" Standing-Bear chuckled slightly, starting to cook the bird they'd chosen, cleaning it and cutting the meat up to be heated.
It was an indication of both how long it had taken them to get their meal, and how fast Stronger-than-Feathers ate, that they were just setting the meat in the pan when she walked over lazily, clearly heavily sated by her gorging and in a mild, curious mood as she settled down, her head up to stay a bit over theirs, as she watched them.
Standing-Bear worked at cooking the fowl, remembering how curious Nose-in-Danger had been about the process, and prepared to explain it again if Stronger-than-Feathers asked. So far she seemed content to simply watch and sniff a bit, her body bloated with the huge amount of meat she had consumed in the previous hour.
It wasn't for a solid fifteen minutes when the bird was fully cooked and they had an audience of a dozen or so that either Jedi realized that while she was mildly curious, this was more about showing the rest of the flock that this was acceptable behavior, and being curious was acceptable.
The two of them started to eat, noticing that, by now, most of the flock was similarly gorged on the meat that had been available to them, the stack of bodies significantly lower, though by no means depleted yet.
Nose-in-Danger and Climbs-High, second to last in the pecking order now, came and settled in right next to them, almost touching but mindful of their feathers' effects on humanoid flesh.
"*I think the curious ones are claiming us as friends, Master.*" B'lyn smiled at Nose-in-Danger next to her, though she kept her meal for herself.
"*Good to have some,*" he smiled back, reaching down carefully to touch Climbs-High on the shoulder in what he hoped was a friendly gesture. He had seen some of the others grooming each other, and this was a gesture that similar. Her low, soft croon of pleasure came as reward for the risk.
"*Very, especially with her approval this time.*" B'lyn nodded and finished the last bits of her meal. "*I think I'm going to be grateful for a little vegetation in the mix soon, Master.*"
"*We'll gather some fruit when we have the opportunity,*" he promised her. "*Once the flock is a bit more wound down.*"
"*Thank you, Master.*" She considered those grooming each other. They seemed to be using some kind of fine sand and leaves to carefully polish their feathers. One was even using a stone to help reshape and sharpen the battle-broken feathers of another.
["May I groom you?"] She asked Climbs-High carefully, not sure if she should offer it to a higher ranking Night Raptor first, or if starting at close to her social level was better.
["You want to?"] Climbs-High looked at her in surprise, then gave a ruffle of her feathers that was the physical match to her glowing pleasure.
["Yes,"] B'lyn nodded. ["Show me how, a little?"]
["Sure."] She leaped to her feet in delight and quickly disappeared into bushes to appear a moment later with a large leaf of the sand and a large handful of the leaves used to polish and clean.
"*Watch your hands, B'lyn,*" Standing-Bear cautioned her, watching and learning along with his Padawan, mind open for any particular alternate meanings to the process. At least during the demonstration, while it was socially pleasurable to both Climbs-High and Nose-in-Danger, it didn't seem to mean anything more than flock acceptance.
"*I will, Master.*" She assured him easily and paid careful attention to how Climbs-High used the sand, plant sap and leaves to clean and polish Nose-in-Danger's feathers. She moved much more slowly and clearly than needed, the first hint of what would likely create the flock's teacher on display.
Standing-Bear watched along with his Padawan, grasping the process quickly. As B'lyn started to help polish the feathers of Climbs-High, he decided to make an offer.
["Would you like me to take over?"] He asked Climbs-High and Nose-in-Danger both.
Nose-in-Danger brightened as much as Climbs-High had and nodded quickly. ["Yes, I would like that."]
"*It's not too different from polishing a crystal for display, Master.*" B'lyn commented as she went to work on Climbs-High's feathers to much crooning and emotional warmth.
"*I'm almost afraid to imagine what would happen if they were introduced to sonic polishers,*" he observed with a mental chuckle, taking over the work on Nose-in-Danger's feathers from the other Raptor while she focused on enjoying B'lyn's work.
"*Very, very sharp, shiny feathers.*" She almost giggled, though she never lost track of exactly where her hands were relative to the sharp edges of various feathers.
The pair were simply ecstatic at the attention, and as time passed, it became ever more clear that while this was an important social action, it meant nothing more to the pair than flock-member acceptance and appreciation. Something they gave trying to get into other's good graces far more often than they received.
It was a pleasant finding; the last people Standing-Bear had been with that used grooming as a social activity had used it as a sign of romantic interest.
By the time the Jedi had worked all the way down to the tip of their tails, it was almost dark and the Night Raptors were dozing off every few minutes.
["We groom you?"] Nose-in-Danger offered with a happy ruffle of his feathers.
["Is there a river nearby? We groom a bit differently than you do,"] Standing-Bear asked.
["This way,"] Nose-in-Danger stood slowly stood and walked into the jungle with a slow, content gait.
B'lyn and Standing-Bear both stood to follow, glancing at Stronger-than-Feathers as they did so to make sure there weren't going to be any objections.
None were forthcoming from her, though a few of the younger Night Raptors also took note of their departure and lazily stood to follow curiously to the river. It was really more of a large creek, but quite sufficient to bath in and not too fast running or deep enough for large predators.
"*Disrobe carefully,*" Standing-Bear warned B'lyn. "*We don't know if they understand the idea of clothes yet.*"
"*Understood, Master.*" She nodded and took her time undressing. She was grateful for the idea of a bath, even in just a stream, after the battle and jungle trek. "*I don't think they really do, but no one is freaked out either.*"
"*A good thing,*" he nodded, undressing himself. "*A few species have thought clothing and skin were the same thing,*" he chuckled mentally, amused at the memories as they pulling their bathing kits from their pouches and slipped into the water. Nose-in-Danger and Climbs-High were in the water a moment later, watching carefully as the pair began to wash the grime and sweat from their skin.
"*I think some of them are watching in more than idle curiosity.*" B'lyn commented and let Climbs-High take the soapy cloth from her. The Night Raptor wasn't familiar with the Twi'lek's body, but it wasn't difficult for her to work out 'clean everything' and that skin was skin and to be cleaned.
A brief moment's mental observation gave Standing-Bear the answer about what was B'lyn was sensing.
"*They're just observing the difference in genders and species,*" he explained to her. "*Academic interest, of a sort.*"
"*Probably thinking we make it way too obvious.*" She chuckled softly and suppressed a shiver of pleasure as Climbs-High gently stroked her lekku to clean them. "*I think I can pick out male or female, but it's pretty subtle to me.*"
"*Not uncommon,*" he chuckled. "*At least they realize that we're not entirely different species based solely on gender differences. That was a fairly awkward moment.*"
"*No kidding,*" she chuckled mentally, remembering that mission to an insectoid race that couldn't grasp gender differences in a race. That the male Twi'lek with the group wasn't even purple skinned like her and insisted they were the same race only confused the Kit'tulin all the more.
Oblivious to the silent conversation, Nose-in-Danger went to work on Standing-Bear's long, sleek black hair. He was fascinated by the strands and how water changed their consistency. It wasn't anything like skin or feathers or even fur.
["Careful,"] Standing-Bear cautioned him as he tugged it a little sharply, his tone clearly more along the lines of somebody teaching another than somebody truly uncomfortable or upset. ["It is attached to my head,"] he pointed out with a chuckle.
["Careful."] Nose-in-Danger nodded and moved more cautiously. ["Delicate."]
"*It's something new, Master.*" B'lyn giggled silently, though she doubted the Night Raptors near them didn't pick up on her mirth and good mood. She stifled a moan of surprise when Climbs-High went from her lekku to her breasts and reminded herself sharply that it was just skin like any other kind.
"*Control, Padawan,*" Standing-Bear reminded her firmly. "*Though you might want to stop her before she tries to wash up too much lower,*" he added, knowing for sure that he was going to do so with Nose-in-Danger.
"*Yes, Master.*" She responded, her surprise at the idea of needing to clear with a bit of a blush darkened her deep purple skin. ["Please do not groom between my legs."] She asked Climbs-High, earning a startled and slightly confused look before the other female's mind clicked on the likely reason.
["Not mean it like that,"] she kind of stammered. ["Climbs-High not mates with females."]
["It is all right,"] B'lyn said soothingly and pointed to the small, round mounds on her chest where Climbs-High's hands were. ["Female breasts are sensitive like that too. Usually only mates touch."]
["Oh!"] Climbs-High removed them quickly, careful of her claws and feathers despite the sudden movement. ["Any other parts like that?"]
B'lyn glanced at her Master, giving him the opening to answer for males.
["Between the legs again, for males, but that is usually all,"] Standing-Bear explained easily; this wasn't the first time he'd had to. ["We can handle that ourselves."]
["Understood."] Nose-in-Danger nodded and clicked his tongue lightly, glancing over as three other Night Raptors waded into the water to join them. ["Glimmer-of-Night, Clicks-Down and Summer-Heart."] He introduced the three.
["A pleasure to meet you all,"] Standing-Bear said easily, nodding to them politely.
["Your youngling, mate ...?"] Glimmer-of-Night, the largest and dominant of the three, asked him curiously.
"Padawan," Standing-Bear explained, knowing that there was no word he knew in the Night-Raptor language that explained it, and pronouncing the word very carefully. ["One I protect and instruct in the ways of the] Jedi."
The threesome exchanged looks and a fair amount of body language mixed in with an occasional verbal word as they worked on that.
["What is a Je'dai?"] Glimmer-of-Night did his best to pronounce the name correctly, and got reasonably close; closer than most Hutts managed to be sure.
["Many things,"] Standing-Bear explained. ["Warriors, teachers, peace-makers. We protect those who cannot protect themselves, and serve the] Force. [It is difficult to explain, in detail,"] he admitted. ["I don't speak your language well enough."]
["Leaders?"] Glimmer-of-Night suggested uncertainly.
["More like advisors,"] Standing-Bear clarified. ["We make suggestions, give advice, rather than tell people what to do."]
["Like Kills-the-Sun to Stronger-than-Feathers,"] Summer-Heart commented, looking at Glimmer-of-Night. ["You only teach one at a time?"]
["Usually,"] he agreed. ["We have many teachers, and few good] Padawans. [Not everybody can become a] Jedi."
["Like Tends-the-Wounded,"] Summer-Heart clicked in amusement at the confusion both males showed. ["She not find another to train yet."]
["How does Tends-the-Wounded heal the injured?"] Standing-Bear asked, wondering if they might have happened across a sensitive.
Nose-in-Danger made a submissive chirp and got a nod before he spoke. ["She knows all about the plants and animals and land. She crushes and heats and soaks and does other stuff to them. Rubs the stuff on injuries. Sometimes uses certain plants to stop bleeding or bind things in place."]
["We know about that type of medicine,"] Standing-Bear nodded. ["Yes, it is similar to that. We have another way of healing, but only some people can understand it."]
["All your kind can understand what Tends-the-Wounded does?"] Glimmer-of-Night almost balked in surprise.
["Not entirely,"] Standing-Bear said, the misunderstanding natural enough given what he'd said. ["The people who can have made things that let the people who don't use it though,"] he explained. ["Pellets and pastes made from the herbs that people can eat when they have to."]
He realized that that was about where his audience had reached their limit of questions and strange information for one day. Glimmer-of-Night dipped his head politely before walking away with his companions.
["You did good."] Nose-in-Danger commended quietly and went back to work on Standing-Bear's long, thick black hair. ["They were impressed."]
["Thank you,"] Standing-Bear said. ["I hope I didn't confuse them too much."]
["They leave before that. Special skills are very valued. Everyone hunt and fight, not many can heal or remember history or catch rikuuta."] Climbs-High assured him. ["It's a big fish that lives deep in the Great Water. In times of poor hunting, they feed the flock."]
["Special skills are usually valued,"] he agreed. ["Those who have them are important to those they help. Most have some special skill, just not always as useful as others."]
["Most just hunt."] Nose-in-Danger looked at him uncertainly. ["Only a few good enough to learn a skill."]
["There are other types of skills,"] Standing-Bear explained. ["Ones that are more valuable in a different type of society. Discovering new things, exploring, building things... it will develop, in time."]
["When hunting is no longer needed so often."] Nose-in-Danger said, earning a quizzical look from Climbs-High as he went further than even she could think of.
["Exactly,"] Standing-Bear nodded, finishing up his bath, impressed with Nose-in-Danger's ability to grasp the more difficult concepts he was presented with. ["As things become more settled, other skills will become more valuable."]
"*Master, I think we should back off this subject. As good as praising Nose-in-Danger is, Climbs-High is getting very uncomfortable with this.*" B'lyn commented softly as the female Night Raptor cleaned her legs and tried not to show her distress.
"*Noted,*" he agreed, picking up on the subtle signs he hadn't learned to associate with distress yet but his Padawan could feel through the touch of the one washing her. "*Fortunately, we're just about done with our baths.*"
["We should probably get back to the flock soon,"] he said. ["B'lyn and I should gather some fruit before we return, but we can talk about this later, if anybody wants to."]
["Ring-Tailed Climbers are always near good fruit."] Nose-in-Danger said easily and stepped back to Standing-Bear could wade to the shore. ["I know where they gather sometimes."]
Standing-Bear shook off a bit, and then wrapped his hair up after pulling out a small dryer and taking care of the dripping water.
["If you could show us, we can bring some back then,"] he said, dressing quickly as Climbs-High and B'lyn followed onto the shore, B'lyn making similarly short work of dressing. ["The fruit, of course; there's more than enough meat left with the flock."]
["Ring-Tails not very good eating anyway. All sinew, no meat."] Nose-in-Danger wrinkled his nose up. ["Hard to catch too. Better than nothing, but only when really hungry."]
["They're still scared of the Raptors,"] Standing-Bear pointed out with a chuckle. ["Let's go."]
"*Well, it seems your little friend is mostly safe,*" he chuckled mentally to B'lyn.
"*As long as he doesn't take to coming into camp.*" She chuckled in return, though it was serious too.
"*I suspect we're going to be hunting fairly soon, Padawan,*" Standing-Bear commented mentally a few days later as they started to cook their meal. It wasn't lost on either of them that nobody had gone hunting since the battle, with the surplus of meat available. Neither was it missed that they ate far more often than anyone else there, but much less each time.
Nose-in-Danger had downed what was likely almost a third of his body weight in the feast and had only nibbled a mouthful now and then since. It was similar with the others the Jedi had watched. Sleeping and lazing in the dappled sunlight had been most of what the Raptors had done in the recent days.
It was more than a little glaring to the Jedi that dinner today was being taken from the several-day old bodies that field-cooking was already stretched to make palatable. The age didn't seem to bother the Night Raptors, but like most who never knew cooking or refrigeration in a hot climate, they would have the stomachs and tastes to deal with it.
"*Even if they don't yet.*" She agreed, grateful that they had had a great deal of free time that had been put to good use finding things other than meat for their meals. The fruits and other plant parts had gone a long ways to get them this far, but at least she was ready to go vegetarian until the next hunt produced something more appealing for the meat portion.
Her Master wasn't far behind; they'd already started supplementing their meals with nutritional pellets from their dwindling supplies again.
["Why do you heat everything?"] A young Night Raptor, Keen-Eyes, pointed to their cooking food curiously.
["Healthier for us,"] Standing-Bear explained, turning some of the meat on the hot plate. At least there was still some of the non-sentient meat left; they hadn't had to make that decision just yet, the Raptors seeming content to focus on the bodies for the great feast. ["Raw meat can make us sick sometimes."]
["They are delicate,"] Far-Swimmer, a young female, pointed to them, indicating their general physical condition relative to a Night Raptor. ["Like hatchlings or a White One."]
["A White One?"] Standing-Bear asked, not recognizing the reference.
["Night Raptors old enough to turn quartz white."] Keen-Eyes explained. ["Not even Stronger-than-Feathers has seen one, but there are stories that some do manage to survive that long. Tends-the-Wounded might start to turn by the next hatching time."]
["Impressive,"] he said, knowing how rare something like that would be, especially if the change in color came along with a degradation of feather strength, as it sounded it did. A brief glance at the flock's 'healer' showed that she didn't seem to be that old, but then he didn't know the signs for Raptors, if there were any at her age. ["Yes, it's similar. Cooking the meat helps with that,"] he explained, returning to the original subject.
["All the berries and bits of stuff help too?"] Far-Swimmer asked, sniffing at the fragrance coming from their meal.
["Some,"] he acknowledged. ["Our people aren't only meat-eaters,"] he explained. ["We need some other foods sometimes to stay healthy."]
["We think they taste good too."] B'lyn added with a shy smile for those close to her relative age. ["Berries are very sweet."] She picked two up from the bag she'd gathered them in and offered them to the pair.
They looked at each other, perhaps even conversing silently with very subtle body language or even vocalizations outside the Jedi's range. After a bit they each took one and tossed it into their mouth.
["Try to chew. It'll let you taste it."] B'lyn explained an offered two more after the first small berries went down without a bite.
Standing-Bear let his Padawan continue, reaching out to her mentally.
"*A good idea, B'lyn,*" he said approvingly, smiling slightly as he finished cooking their food and the Night Raptors blinked as the super-sweet juice of the berries flowed over their tongues.
"*Thank you, Master.*" She smiled both at the praise and the Night Raptor's apparent understanding of the appeal of berries.
["You show us where those are?"] Keen-Eyes asked.
["Happy to show you,"] Standing-Bear nodded, speaking up for his Padawan. ["After the meal? Not far from here."]
["Yes,"] Far-Swimmer nodded agreeably and settled down to watch them eat and relax until it was time.
The meal passed fairly quickly, B'lyn and Standing-Bear eating their cooked meat without taking the time to taste it, glad to avoid the flavor of it as much as they could. When they were finished, they quickly cleaned their utensils and packed them away, the act nearly a ritual by now.
"*If you leave while you still have some supplies left in your pouch, I think I'm going to borrow them until your return,*" he observed mentally to his Padawan.
"*Understood, Master.*" She agreed without question, but also with the knowledge that she'd intended to leave them with him even if he hadn't said something. "*When are we going to bring up talking to other flocks, Master?*"
"*After the next hunt, once we've had a bit more of a chance to prove ourselves to Stronger-than-Feathers,*" he replied. "*She isn't likely to listen until then, particularly not when supplies are gradually dwindling.*" He stood, packing the last of his gear and looked at the four Raptors who were going to join them.
["Yes."] Keen-Eyes nodded easily and fell into step behind the Jedi with Far-Swimmer at his side. Nose-in-Danger and Climbs-High not far behind. Nose-in-Danger and Climbs-High weren't far behind, but mindful of the higher rank of the other young Night Raptors as they started into the jungle, just sparing a glance for the flock leader to make sure there weren't going to be any problems.
Given that they were provisional members of the flock, and seemingly similar to the people who'd smashed an entire clutch of the flock's eggs, Standing-Bear had to admit to being a little surprised at the amount of freedom they were given.
"*I think it might be that we're never out of sight of at least two of them, Master.*" B'lyn commented on his thought. "*I expect that it would be quite different if we tried to leave or move on our own.*"
"*Probably,*" he agreed as they moved off into the jungle and out of sight of the majority of the flock. "*But I have to admit that if I were in her position, I'd have the stronger warriors of the flock watching us.*"
"*Quite true, Master.*" She nodded fractionally as they climbed over a fallen log that the Night Raptors made the jump over easily. "*Maybe it's a good sign, that she trusts us that much.*"
"*We can hope,*" he nodded slightly, looking up at the tree they were looking for.
["Here we are,"] he told the Raptors. ["We'll head up and see if they're still here."]
["Anything on the ground?"] Keen-Eyes asked as the Jedi started to climb. ["Easy for us to get at?"]
["Yes,"] Nose-in-Danger nodded to him.
["Farther from camp,"] Standing-Bear clicked down after he and B'lyn had made the jump up into the trees, finding the berry vines quickly and starting to pick some of the riper bunches. The more of their language he learned, the more he appreciated how much of it was based on body language; he just couldn't use proper grammar while he was doing something else and it was difficult even doing nothing else with his lack of tail, long neck and feathers. They had an incredibly well adapted language to their form given it was even possible for another race to use. ["Longer walk, but we go."]
["Good."] Far-Swimmer nodded to them, eager to taste these sweet things the newcomers liked.
Quickly filling a pouch with berries, Standing-Bear started back down the tree, taking shorter jumps from limb to limb on the way.
["These should be good to start on while we walk,"] he offered, holding a bunch of the berries out to the Raptors accompanying them. ["You'll want to take them from the vines before eating them."]
["Yes,"] Far-Swimmer nodded and accepted the pouch, selecting a handful before offering it to her companions to claim a portion for themselves while the group headed out for the ground-growing berries.
Standing-Bear couldn't help but notice that it was surprisingly quiet around them as they traveled. The Raptors were obviously the top predators on the local food chain; nothing seemed to want to risk drawing their attention. As a result, it was a quiet trip out to the place where they berries were, only the sounds of the Raptors munching on berries punctuating the silence.
That, he decided, had to be the reason for the vague sense of uneasiness he had. There should have been more animals.
"*It's very quiet, Master.*" B'lyn murmured silently. "*Even more than usual around them.*"
"*You noticed that to, did you?*" Standing-Bear frowned, starting to stretch out with his senses. "*You and the Raptors start gathering fruit, I'll need a moment.*"
"*Yes, Master.*" She answered easily.
He focused on what was surrounding them, and B'lyn felt the familiar sense of the Force gathering around him, and of her Master's focus on its various paths and flows.
["These are ready to eat,"] She explained to Keen-Eyes and Far-Swimmer, showing them ripe berries. ["Berries that are not ripe yet are very bitter."]
Standing-Bear could hear them, but it was very quiet, distant, from where his perception was. He was searching through the forest, sensing the life there, the energy, and searching for the pattern that didn't belong.
The irritating part was that everything seemed to... mostly. There was something wrong, but he couldn't see it. It was a feeling he hadn't had for ages.
Then, he realized, that that was exactly what was wrong.
He snapped his perception back to his body just in time for the first rustle to sound from the hidden attackers.
"Ambush!" He shouted, igniting his lightsaber and diving over to block the first blaster shot aimed for Climbs-High.
Her screech of outrage at the attack was quickly overshadowed by her companions' calls, the flair of two lightsabers and a dozen blasters as everything went into motion. Night Raptors hit the jungle foliage, the Jedi focused on following the blasters to their origin.
The squeak of pain before a moment of silence alerted both Jedi to what they were facing.
The Trade Federation had brought in Rodians.
"*B'lyn, spread out, keep your back to a tree at all times,*" Standing-Bear warned her, leaping into the trees, his amber blade the only thing that betrayed his own location. When a blaster bolt lanced out of the foliage to cut through the branch he was standing on, he threw it off to one direction, leaping the opposite one.
The next shot struck the blade, knocking it into a tree, but betraying the location of the hunter firing. Standing-Bear disappeared into the leaves, grabbing the green, rubbery head of the ambusher, and twisted sharply. It barely got out a squawk of surprise before its neck broke, its body falling to the ground before he leapt over to reclaim his lightsaber.
A squawk of pain snapped his attention to the far side of the small battle where Far-Swimmer had taken a long vibroblade hit to the shoulder.
He caught only enough to realize his Padawan had dropped down to slice the offender in half before his attention was required to focus on just keeping himself alive.
Three of the Rodians were laying down a punishing pattern of suppressive fire, and he had to focus on blocking their shots until he had an opening to grab a fallen branch and throw it up at one of them.
He heard the distinctive 'thump' of a grenade launcher, and dove for cover as the gas grenade landed where he'd been standing.
Not only were they dealing with Rodian hunters, they were dealing with hunters prepared for Jedi.
The only advantage here were the four Night Raptors that no one on the outside knew enough about to truly be prepared for.
It was a point that was taken into graphic account by the squeaks and squawks of pain and surprise as two of those laying down suppressive fire met Keen-Eyes and Climbs-High as the pair tackled them from behind.
Even so, the hunters were as well-prepared as they could be. The two had fallen, but the two Raptors were suddenly attacked by what seemed for all the world to be a swarm of metal birds.
Repulsor-knives, as Standing-Bear quickly realized. He wasted no time finding the Rodian in the trees, controlling them with his belt, and quickly cut him down before he had the chance to do too much damage to the Raptors. The knives collapsed to the ground as their control belt was bisected along with its wearer.
Both Night Raptors had been hit, but it wasn't enough to slow them down much as they continued the hit-and-run tactics that Standing-Bear was beginning to recognize as a racial trademark tactic. They had been lucky, unlike Far-Swimmer, who had collapsed not long after B'lyn had reached her and pulled her away from the battle.
It was at that moment that Standing-Bear realized that Nose-in-Danger was nowhere to be seen.
He couldn't be sure if the Raptor had run back for help, was hiding, preparing an ambush, or had already fallen. Fortunately, he had a few moments to try and find out. He moved towards the clearing he had last seen the young Raptor in, and didn't see him laying there.
At least he probably wasn't badly injured.
Having confirmed that, he was back to trying to evade the hunters as he heard B'lyn cry out through the Force, one of the hunters managing a searing hit with a blaster.
He had to give her credit for keeping it silent. A year ago he would have heard her as well.
Her rage, however, wasn't quite so cleanly controlled. Her temper was rare, but being injured in battle was when it showed if it would. Today, being pinned trying to protect and heal the fallen Night Raptor, it flared bright and hot to call on the Dark to rip the Rodian's head off before she caught herself and suppressed the Dark Side along with her anger.
Standing-Bear lost no time making a bolt for her position, blocking another shot while she focused on her patient, and on trying not to slip again.
"*I'm here for you, B'lyn,*" he reassured her silently and felt the danger of her anger slip away with her trust of him and she focused completely on stabilizing the injured. "*How is she?*"
"*Hurt badly, internal bleeding. She needs a Healer, but I can keep her alive. Her arm may never work quite right again, though.*" She explained grimly and didn't even wince mentally at the shot that landed within inches of her.
"*Do what you can,*" he told her, focusing on defending the three of them until help arrived.
It wouldn't be soon enough. Even with Keen-Eyes and Climbs-High running interference and picking off hunters between avoiding getting shot themselves. On the few glimpses he got of the pair, he could see the shimmer of wet blood along with the shine of their obsidian feathers. He couldn't be sure if it was theirs or their kills, but he suspected both.
"*Is she stable?*" He asked B'lyn, trying to keep his sense of urgency out of his mental voice. He needed to get back into the fight, preferably along with her, or they'd all end up dead at this rate.
"*If she isn't hit again.*" B'lyn nodded fractionally and pulled her lightsaber back out even as Far-Swimmer struggled to her feet, one arm hanging uselessly at her side. ["Run back to the flock."] She insisted with the temporary authority of being the one healing gave her. ["You can not be injured again."]
Far-Swimmer swayed a touch, but nodded and lowered her body on long legs to bolt into the jungle she knew so well.
The two Jedi launched themselves back into the fray, Force swirling about them almost palpably as they called on it to enhance every reflex and movement they made. One of the Rodians managed to get a net over Climbs-High, dropping it on her from above, but he soon found himself experiencing a feeling not unlike being dropped into a very pissed off blender as Standing-Bear cut the branch out from beneath him, sending him down on top of her.
Everything, even the Jedi, froze for a fraction of a second at a sound that hit the instinctive prey-response in everyone there. The bugling roar echoed in a score or more voices mingled into a single sound of rage and promised death that all knew by instinct.
Not even Standing-Bear saw them at first, but the rage and kill-intent ran through him as sharp as any knife in the Force. A strong enough reaction that even the non-sensitive Rodians felt it.
Then glimmer and black exploded out of the jungle in a swarming wave of sharp feathers and sharper claws and teeth guided by perfected predatory instincts and the hunters intellect of a sentient.
Standing-Bear couldn't help but get the feeling that the battle had saved their lives had been more of a game, a hunt. This was Night Raptors enraged and at war.
By the time he'd been able to place exactly all that was going on, each of the remaining Rodians had been practically shredded by the Raptors that had come to their rescue and had swarmed them. To the credit of the injured defenders, they had managed to take care of a third of them on their own before backup had arrived, but the remaining hunters had no clue what was hitting them before it was all over.
"*That was ... disturbing ... Master.*" B'lyn murmured silently, a bit in shock at what she'd just witnessed. "*That kind of destructive power with that much rage.*"
"*Disturbing, but it is their way for now,*" he pointed out, slightly disturbed himself. "*Come, we should check on Climbs-High and Keen-Eyes.*"
"*Over there,*" she motioned to the largest gathering where the pair were in the middle of things and talking rapidly.
"*Well, they can't be hurt too badly,*" he observed, realizing that they were explaining what had happened to the flock. He couldn't help but notice that the bodies, even the mostly whole ones, seemed to be largely ignored for now.
"*And they're saying good things about us, Master.*" She added with a bit of relief and approached a Night Raptor on the edge of the group. ["Did Far-Swimmer make it back?"] She asked quietly.
["Injured bad. Tends-the-Wounded with her now."] He told her quickly.
["Has anybody seen Nose-in-Danger?"] Standing-Bear asked, fairly sure that he'd run back for help, but not entirely sure yet. And even if he had, it was possible he'd been hurt in the process.
["He told us intruders attacked."] The male nodded. ["He here,"] he glanced around and pointed with one bloody claw folded back against his finger to the Night Raptor who was also explaining what had happened to a smaller group.
["Good to know,"] Standing-Bear nodded, only then letting the battle-rush leave him, the Force that he'd been using so heavily relaxing as he realized that he'd managed to get himself injured at least once without noticing it.
At least it was just a scratch, not anything like the times he'd almost killed himself fighting something without realizing how bad a shape he was really in like the time he'd earned his name.
"I really hope this is not going to be a weekly event, Master." B'lyn murmured tiredly. "That took a lot out of me."
"I want to get you off this planet before that does start happening regularly," he admitted softly. "Hopefully along with one of the Raptors."
She glanced at him, abruptly aware of just how serious this situation was. "How long do you think we have, Master?"
"Only until the Senate starts to actually move forward, rather than dragging their heels as they usually do," he said, looking out, seemingly unfocused, as though he was looking at something on the invisible horizon. "When they realize that they must act to preserve their supposed dominance on this planet, they will act, and in large scale. After all, if they 'tragically' drive a sentient species to extinction before the Senate can rule that they are one, they still have legal claim to Evidran 3."
["What you talking about?"] Kills-the-Sun demanded from nearby.
["This is only the beginning of the attacks,"] Standing-Bear translated for them. ["The others have decided they must destroy the Night Raptors, B'lyn, and I to keep this world. We must stop them quickly; we must send somebody to speak to our law-keepers."]
Even without the bared teeth and rumble, he knew this idea went down even more poorly with Kiss-the-Sun than it did with his mate.
["How is this attack any different from the others?"] Stronger-than-Feathers demanded, silencing her mate. She would listen, but she was not their friend.
["Larger, for one thing,"] he pointed out. ["They would not have attacked if the whole flock was here. They have begun to hunt the Night Raptors; they only attacked us because they thought they could kill us before the flock arrived."]
["Let me go, Leader."] Nose-in-Danger lowered his body submissively for all his tone was insistent. ["It is my life to risk."] He countered her unvoiced rebuttal. ["They saved Far-Swimmer. They protected us. Let me go."]
["There will be danger,"] Standing-Bear admitted quietly. ["But B'lyn and the] Jedi [will protect him."]
["No."] Stronger-than-Feathers snorted, brooking no further discussion as she turned to leave with her mate, the flock heading home.
"*We're getting somewhere, Master.*" B'lyn said silently. "*She's not quite as resistant as the first time.*"
"*Agreed, B'lyn,*" he nodded. "*Come, let's get back to the camp, see if we can do anything more for Far-Swimmer... if they'll let us.*"
["I will talk to her when she's calmed down some."] Nose-in-Danger said quietly and fell into step with them. ["She stubborn. So am I."]
["Don't upset her too much,"] Standing-Bear cautioned the younger Raptor. ["She'll see things soon, I'm sure. Last time, she wouldn't have listened as much as she did."]
["I be careful."] He promised and fell silent for the rest of the walk. It was a rare day when a Night Raptor was seriously injured.
A rare day that Standing-Bear feared was going to become more and more common as the weeks passed. They needed to act, and fast.
The rest of the trip back to camp passed in grim silence, the Raptors and Jedi alike worried about attacks like this happening more often. The Trade Federation might well have found a way to besiege a people without standing structures to attack. Just make it suicide to travel too far alone, and the entire flock would have to pick up and leave eventually, just to find food.
It would be an incredible price in lives to maintain for the Trade Federation, but this world would be well worth it for them.
From up ahead Stronger-than-Feather's incredulous squawk drew them forward in a hurry to see a badly beaten Night Raptor stumbling into the Creeping Wind's clearing from the far side.
"White-Feather?" Standing-Bear asked, surprised to see the Raptor from across the valley.
The Federation was attacking more widely than he'd anticipated.
Kills-the-Sun was ready to attack, but his mate stopped him with a glance and stalked up to the intruder.
["Peace."] White-Feather croaked out, laying almost flat on the ground in submission and exhaustion. ["Strange things attacked. Killed us. No way home."]
["You are Crystal Gorge."] Stronger-than-Feather snapped and ruffled her feathers.
["I good hunter."] White-Feather insisted. ["I prove it, I live."]
Stronger-than-Feathers blinked and shifted her body in surprise. ["You would join us?"]
["Yes."] White-Feather whispered. ["No go home now."]
["Tends-the-Wounded will see to your injuries."] She said simply and walked off, much more disturbed than she let on.
Standing-Bear could feel the tension passing through the entire flock, the newcomer almost as disturbing as the situation that seemed to be forming. He took advantage of their distraction to move a little closer to White-Feather, assessing his injuries quickly. He was in bad shape and would need a Healer to survive, and likely bacta treatments. The medicine of this world was not up to dealing with the extensive beating he'd taken.
"*That is more than I can heal, Master.*" B'lyn whispered between their minds as White-Feather closed his eyes.
"*Between the two of us, we may be able to help him,*" he reassured her. He just hoped that the two of them would be enough to do more than make his passing less painful.
["We can help,"] he offered White-Feather softly, kneeling beside him. ["Your wounds are serious, but if you wish, we can help you."]
["She always did have a weakness for strays."] White-Feather chuckled weakly and looked up at them from where he was laying. ["Yes, help, please."]
Standing-Bear knelt, running his hands gingerly along the broken surface of White-Feather's feathers, exposed patches of flesh where some had been ripped out trying to cut through armor.
The Raptor might well be beyond their ability to save.
"B'lyn, you handle the surface, I'll work deeper," he said softly. "When you can, help me down below."
"Yes, Master." She answered easily, her own exhaustion forgotten in the face of one who needed her.
That said, he pressed his hands to White-Feather's side carefully, trying not to cause him any pain as he searched out the wounds deep inside, caused by any number of different weapons. He couldn't help but notice that few of them seemed to be blaster shots; mostly vibro-weapons, and a ragged hole torn into his side by a slugthrower that had pulled shards of shattered obsidian in along with the heavy metal projectile.
The Jedi Master reached into his pouch, pulling out a small device to draw the debris from the wound, and showed it to the Raptor.
["This is going to hurt, but I need to get their weapon out of your body,"] he explained, dimly aware that the entire flock was watching the two Jedi work with a mix of apprehension, curiosity, and fear and that his Padawan was already at work on stopping blood loss at what it was.
["Yes, understood."] White-Feather spoke weakly.
["Never mind me."] A gentle female voice told them all as Tends-the-Wounded pushed to the front with a large roughly-created leather bag of her things.
Standing-Bear carefully turned the probe to White-Feather's wounds, turning it on to its lowest setting and using the tiny tensor beam it generated to first pull the obsidian shards out, and then the bullet, taking special care for each step, working quickly but trying to minimize the pain the Raptor felt.
["Have anything for his pain?"] He asked the healer, about ready to start the healing process now that it was safe to. He wished he had better medical facilities here; with the amount of blood White-Feathers had lost getting here, he was lucky to be alive even now, and there was no way to replace it like this.
["Yes."] She said simply and lifted White-Feather's head to help him drink a small amount of dark liquid. ["Put this on the wounds. It help pain and healing."] She handed over a hard gourd of creamy red paste.
Standing-Bear nodded slightly, applying some of the paste, handing the gourd to B'lyn to finish. He used the contact to help him focus, calling on the full strength of the Force to help him heal the critically injured Night Raptor.
He could feel the internal injuries closing up, the bleeding slow and stop, the infections White-Feather had acquired during his flight burning away.
There was still much more that would need healing, but he was out of immediate danger at least ... and they were rapidly reaching the point where there was little else B'lyn and Standing-Bear could do for him, regardless.
["You are strong healers."] Tends-the-Wounded commented quietly as she did what she could with salves and plants. ["He is not likely to live, but he may now."]
["We do what we can,"] Standing-Bear said softly.
"*I have to agree with her, B'lyn,*" he cautioned his Padawan mentally. "*We may have done enough, but I'm not sure it will be enough.*"
"*Just let it not be in vain.*" She whispered silently and closed her eyes briefly. "*We should check on Far-Swimmer, Master.*"
["Where is Far-Swimmer?"] He asked Tends-the-Wounded. ["We may be able to offer her some more help, now that the fight is over."]
["Near the hollow tree."] She motioned towards a huge fallen tree on the edge of camp. ["Her arm will recover."]
["Thank you,"] he nodded. ["We'll just check on her quickly."]
He just hoped that B'lyn having saved one would make up for the one they might not have been in time for. She wasn't a Healer by training, but she still hadn't lost a patient yet. The first one was always hardest.
B'lyn mumbled, initially resisting her Master's nudge to wake up.
"Wake up, Padawan," he told her, using the firm tone that he knew she'd react to regardless of her body's desire to do otherwise. "We have a hunt to join."
"Yes, Master." She struggled to open her eyes for a moment before finally fighting her way to a state resembling wakefulness. She blinked at him a couple times and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Not for TF I hope."
"Something called a 'wrappamuba,'" he said, shaking his head. "It's not safe to leave with anything less than half the flock anymore, what with the TF everywhere, and they plan on making the hunt worth their while. From the sound of it, this creature's large enough to feed the whole flock and then some."
"Another week of disguising rotten meat." She sighed and sat up to straiten her robes out. "Are we going to try to not use our lightsabers on this one, Master?"
"We haven't heard a complaint about it yet," he pointed out. "Given the situation, and the size of this thing by what they're describing, we don't have much other acceptable choice. On the plus side, they let me go back to retrieve my bow yesterday," he pointed out, indicating the collapsed weapon at his side. "In case of emergency."
"Good," she smiled and stretched as she stood, working the kinks out of her body from sleeping on the ground. "We haven't actually hunted with them yet. How are the injured doing, Master?"
"Far-Swimmer is resting her arm, and White-Feather is still fighting," he said, grateful that the seriously injured Raptor was still alive. It was a good sign for him. "No guarantees for him yet, but he's alive yet."
"There are no guarantees in life, but that it will end." B'lyn nodded, trying to be philosophical about it with mixed success. "It looks like the hunters are waiting for us, Master." She glanced at Stronger-than-Feathers looking at them.
"Then let's not keep them waiting," he nodded, grabbing his small quiver of energy-bolts and slinging it over his shoulder as they moved to join the Raptors.
No sounds were made as the group headed out and began the hunt, only body language used to communicate. It was half an hour into things that the Jedi realized the hunt had not yet begun in earnest. They were traveling to a hunting ground. Two hours later, the jungle began to thin some and the tension and hunting interest picked up sharply with the sight of a scattered herd of huge reptilian herbivores grazing.
While not as big as some in the valley, even the small ones stood three times a Night Raptor's height and would weigh several tons.
It was easily food enough for several flocks, something that made Standing-Bear wonder if they were planning on contacting some of them after this. It would make sense; even the Night Raptors would end up forced to waste vast amounts of food if they didn't share it.
The flock spread out and surrounded a target selected by Stronger-than-Feathers. The animal hadn't even realized they were there when a little over half those around it launched to drive the huge sickle-claws on their feet into it's body and grabbed hold of the beast's hide to hold on and slash again while it bellowed, causing the others to stampede into the more open land beyond the light jungle.
Standing-Bear and B'lyn were still on the ground with the others, keeping the massive beast from fleeing along with the rest of the herd, keeping it in place while the flock's hunters finished it off.
It was a bloodbath in a very literal sense by the time the animal finally collapsed and the rush of a successful hunt swept through the gathered Night Raptors.
["Go."] Stronger-than-Feathers ordered a particularly long-legged hunter, who rushed back the way they had come.
["We prepare it now."] She told the Jedi. ["Only meat comes back with us."]
"Understood,"] Standing-Bear nodded, pulling out a small, unpowered knife, not sure if they would appreciate the searing his lightsaber would give the meat.
"*Let's get to work, B'lyn,*" he told her as she pulled out a similar knife of her own and they joined the majority of the hunters in dissecting the kill into more manageable parts. It would be most of the afternoon before the rest would arrive to help carry it to camp.
["Bone-meat?"] A hunter offered the pair after he'd cracked a large leg bone open to make the marrow inside available.
["Thank you,"] the Jedi Master nodded, taking some of the marrow for himself, not bothering to cook it, familiar with eating this sort of meat in the raw.
"*You may still cook it, but it would be rude to refuse,*" he told B'lyn silently. "*Healthiest meat in the animal, short of some organs.*"
"*Understood, Master.*" She scooped some of the soft material out with her fingers and passed the bone on, mimicking what her Master did and simply ate it raw. "*Unique.*" She murmured and swallowed easily. It wasn't at all like raw meat, for all it didn't taste like anything she knew.
"*Quite,*" he nodded. "*Be glad you didn't grow up in my colony, or you'd have never gotten away without trying some before,*" he chuckled, the flock settling down to eat some of the meat and cut the rest into still more manageable pieces.
They had most of it ready to travel when the remainder of the flock finally arrived with the dimming light of late evening. Even Far-Swimmer was there, though her share to haul back was smaller than most out of consideration for her injured arm.
The two Jedi, for their part, each loaded up with at least a full load of the meat for one of the Raptors, Standing-Bear grunting a bit as he hefted a load that was nearly as large as he was, showing no real strain after he had lifted it.
["You guard."] Stronger-than-Feathers told B'lyn and pointed to a spot in the middle of the flock. ["Keep us in sight."]
["Understood."] The young Jedi nodded and moved to her position on their flank as the group started to move.
Both Jedi glanced at each other when the flock headed east instead of south and fell into step with the group.
"*I don't see White-Feather here.*" B'lyn said worriedly, though she let none of her attention stray from her duty.
"*I'd be more surprised if he was,*" Standing-Bear pointed out. "*We may just be taking a roundabout route to throw off scavengers.*"
"*Or any Trade Federation mercs around.*" She nodded and focused completely on her guard duty, her hand on her lightsaber and the Force wrapped lightly around her to assist her senses and reflexes against anything that came near.
Fortunately, either the Federation's mercenaries were busy elsewhere, or they weren't up for taking on an entire flock, even one weighed down with meat. Standing-Bear became more and more certain that something wasn't quite right as they continued their journey eastwards, without turning to return to the old nesting spot.
He had a fairly good idea what it was too, as Stronger-than-Feathers gave the order to stop for the night.
"*I don't think we're going back, Master.*" B'lyn spoke silently as burdens were set down in a pile in one corner of a large clearing outside a low-ceiling cave surrounded by jungle.
"*Neither do I,*" he admitted silently. "*B'lyn, I suspect that White-Feather didn't make it.*"
"*I suspect the same, Master.*" She sighed and pushed the loss away. Life went on; death was a part of it. There would be time to grieve for the Night Raptor later. "*I don't think they have death-rites.*"
"*They may not,*" he admitted as they found followed the sound of splashing to a nearby stream and joined the Night Raptors who were cleaning their feathers of blood. "*Or they may just wait for another time.*"
"*Quite possible, Master.*" B'lyn nodded and made quick work of cleaning the blood and sweat from her body and robes.
"Bralin," Tends-the-Wounded shook the water from her obsidian feathers and walked up to the young Twi'lek, using the closest to her name the Raptors had gotten yet. ["White-Feather died while you were hunting."] She said simply. There was a trace of regret, but not the kind of response most Republic races did towards a lost patient.
["Thank you for telling me,"] she bowed her head a bit and watched as the local healer walked back towards the clearing.
Standing-Bear wasn't too surprised; on this world, and most primitive ones, the death of a patient that badly wounded was expected. That he'd survived as long as he had was testament to his will and the healing skill of those who'd worked with him, particularly Tends-the-Wounded.
Still, he kept a careful watch on B'lyn's reactions to the news beneath the surface. She was holding together fine for now, but time to think could change that.
He cleaned up himself and joined her on the short walk to the clearing to rest for a while.
He wasn't too surprised to see B'lyn settle down for a short nap in a relatively quiet part of the clearing, much of the rest of the flock doing the same, basking in the warm sun as it rose to warm their feathers and bodies.
He settled in to meditate, the first chance he'd really gotten to do so in too long.
Standing-Bear looked up and around when a bone-deep thudding echoed through his very bones in the pre-dawn hours. B'lyn was asleep, though restless now that she was aware of the new sound. Night Raptors woke up quickly and settled on the ground, putting as much of their body in contact with the vibrating earth as they could.
He could sense the tension surrounding him. Putting his hand to the ground, he could feel the rhythmic rumbling. Not a quake or other natural occurrence; it was more like somebody was beating on a drum to send a coded message.
He couldn't help but wonder if there were places where the Night Raptors may be more visibly advanced, or if there was possibly another sentient race on this world that was.
Then again, a drum large enough to cause this sort of rumble as far away as it probably was would be a fixed object, not something the flock carried around. More like a waypoint, or a meeting stone - something that you went to when you needed it.
By the time B'lyn had given up on sleeping and was focused on the rhythm vibrating the earth, he had discerned the pattern, but not its meaning. At least not beyond the distress and rapid, harsh words exchanged among members of the flock.
They were scared.
Even Stronger-than-Feathers and her mate were afraid, though they did not show it to their followers as they calmed the group down.
"*Something is very, very wrong,*" he told his Padawan mentally. "*Get ready to move fast, if we have to.*"
"*Did you understand any of that message, Master?*" She looked at him, her worry clear in her mind despite her calm exterior. "*I am sure it is a repeating pattern, a message of some kind.*"
"*I don't know the code,*" he said, shaking his head. "*But whatever it means, it has the entire flock on edge... I suspect that the Trade Federation is starting to move across Evidran.*"
They held back and watched as Stronger-than-Feathers was challenged and a circle rapidly cleared around her and another Night Raptor as they stalked around each other.
"Of all the times for a rank battle," Standing-Bear muttered quietly to himself, though he hung back and watched, fairly sure that the battle would be short, and that they wouldn't be called on to provide healing afterwards.
After all, their feathers were armor as much as weapons.
It was also a pointed lesson in Stronger-than-Feather's combat skills that she put her opponent down in less than two full circles without having to injure him seriously at all.
She stood in the center of the circle, her head at its full height as she glared at her other flock-mates to see if another challenge was coming. Satisfied that her place was secure, she stalked towards the Jedi with Nose-in-Danger walking submissively behind her.
"*Let's hope she's in a better mood than she seems to be,*" Standing-Bear observed silently, adopting a more submissive body language as well.
["Who flies your thing?"] She rumbled, her two large toe-claws clicking on the ground in her displeasure and distress.
"B'lyn," Standing-Bear said, indicating the Twi'lek. He could, but she was a much better pilot than he was. ["What has happened?"]
["Intruders find two other hatching grounds and attack flocks from one Great Water to the other."] She gave the short summary. ["She take Nose-in-Danger. Bring us help."]
["She will go,"] he nodded. ["It will take time, but we will hurry as much as possible."]
["Take meat and go now."] Stronger-than-Feathers ordered. ["We must go to a gathering of leaders to deal with this threat."]
["Yes, Leader."] B'lyn dipped her head and hurried to the pile of meat to put several meals worth in a large pouch she secured to her damp belt. "*Force be with you, Master.*" She met his eyes before darting into the jungle with Nose-in-Danger on her heals.
"*With you as well, Padawan,*" Standing-Bear replied as they left, before turning back to Stronger-than-Feathers.
["What do we do if there are hunters between here and the] ship?" He asked her, not wanting to overstep his bounds, but uncertain about the safety of his Padawan.
["They will still guard it?"] She looked at him with a slightly cocked head.
["They may, I can't be sure,"] he admitted. ["But they have probably either taken it, or will expect us to return to it."]
["Do you request guards for her journey?"] Stronger-than-Feathers asked him almost formally as the low thudding of the drums continued to resonate through their bodies.
["Or simply for permission to accompany them, if that is acceptable."]
She considered him, weighing the risk of him leaving with the risk of the younger pair never making it to the ship. She hated the idea of letting them both go.
["Kills-the-Sun, Glimmer-of-Night, Clicks-Down and Blood-Feathers will go with you." She decided and turned to call the four to her.
["Thank you,"] he nodded, seeing the other Raptors, including the one carrying the Morgukai's spear, came over to watch him.
["Go with him, guard those leaving. Come back with him."] Stronger-than-Feathers told them simply. ["I will wait three days before leaving."]
["Understood."] Kills-the-Sun nodded and tensed the powerful muscles of his legs before powering off with the others behind him, Blood-Feathers waiting for Standing-Bear to join the run before falling in behind him.
******************* =================== *******************
"Master, we have a problem," B'lyn observed as she reached the clearing they had left their fighter in, Standing-Bear and the group of Raptors having caught up with them just minutes after they left.
"What is ... I see," the Ambrinthan said, frowning as he saw the empty clearing, still showing signs of the fighter having sat there for a prolonged period and the violent battle a week before. "You do have to give the Federation points for perseverance."
"Considering what it would take to get close to her, they must have put a specialist down for the job." She shook her head, then realized that Kills-the-Sun was getting antsy about the language they were using. ["At least they did not blow it up. It should be at the base."]
["We will have to recover it, or another] ship [then,"] Standing-Bear nodded. ["It is a day's travel to return to their base, we should start now."]
["We will not go into their camp without at least the full flock."] Kills-the-Sun informed them firmly.
"*Do you think that you and Nose-in-Danger will be able to get a ship on your own?*" Standing-Bear asked B'lyn, clearly concerned, but knowing that it was their best chance. "*They will not be expecting you closer in than this, and if they are attacking other flocks their military force is likely spread out.*"
"*Their security is not that good, Master.*" She answered with determination as they moved out again, the guards still accompanying them. "*I am good at sneaking around.*"
"*Then if Nose-in-Danger is willing, you two will likely have to go on your own. I doubt our escort would trust us to bring the ship back afterwards.*"
"*I understand, Master.*" She nodded and focused on what was around them, watching for traps and ambushes as they worked their way towards the Trade Federation base.
The trip was reasonably quiet, punctuated by brief moments of intense tension as B'lyn or Standing-Bear occasionally disappeared to dispatch a stationary turret left behind by the Trade Federation. A day's travel, and two meals for the Jedi while the Raptors watched nervously, later and they were at the edge of the base, the point where the Raptors simply weren't willing to go any farther.
["We have to claim another] ship," Standing-Bear said firmly, knowing that the entire group wouldn't go with him, but knowing just as well that there was no choice. ["Either] B'lyn [and I, or she and Nose-in-Danger, have to go into their camp."]
["You return with us."] Kills-the-Sun told him firmly. ["They must go alone."]
"*We will be fine, Master.*" She looked at him seriously and pulled her hood up. "*I am good at this.*"
"Force be with you, B'lyn," he said softly, taking her hand and squeezing it. ["Send word to the Council as soon as you can, they may think us dead."]
"Force be with you, Master." She replied earnestly even as they reluctantly let go. ["I will, Master. We will return with aid as soon as possible." She promised and turned to find a way to sneak into the facility that Nose-in-Danger could follow.
["Let's get back to the camp before they leave,"] Standing-Bear said to the guards, just enough time left for them to do so yet.
Kills-the-Sun nodded and turned around to lope off at an easy, open gate that covered distance at an incredible rate without tiring him out.
B'lyn glanced back to them as her Master left, leaving her on her own for one of the very few times in her life. ["Come on."] She told Nose-in-Danger quietly. ["We sneak in. Try not to be found. We don't want to fight them right now."]
["Understood."] He nodded and dropped his body low to the ground as they moved in on the facility and it's largely mechanical guards.
The droids, most of what was left, seemed largely oblivious to them as they stalked in quietly. It wasn't too long before they were past the main line of observation, and able to move a bit more quickly.
Now, they just had to avoid roving patrols that occasionally moved through, making them stop in their tracks. One of the droids looked over at them, his sensors sweeping right over them before it passed on.
["It not see us?"] Nose-in-Danger whispered to her after they were gone.
["I don't think so,"] she replied quietly as they moved again, wishing that the droid guards were more susceptible to mind tricks and other distractions she could use against a living one.
As it was, she had to rely on skill and her robes to keep her hidden and hope that Nose-in-Danger didn't flash in the light at the wrong moment. At least he was a natural born hunter and trained ambush predator still in his natural environment. He was better than she was out here in the jungle.
Once inside the complex, it could be very different.
They managed to get inside through an open corridor, the base kept comfortably cool by the air conditioning, the wide open, barren spaces offering little in the way of hiding places and far more camera security to contend with.
On the plus side, she knew her way around and had a fairly good idea where to go and how to get there with passing the fewest number of cameras and security checkpoints as possible.
With live guards, she could have walked in with near-impunity. With droids, she had to work hard to keep herself and her charge from being spotted and having to fight their way to the spaceport's pad.
There were some seriously tense moments as droids walked past them, able to see them if they'd turned their heads, but the programmed paths they were on required them to go straight forward at all the right moments.
It was still nearly an hour before they managed to creep into the hangar, finding their stolen ship stored with all the rest of the Federation's vessels, a few droids working on 'cleaning' it to return to the Council.
B'lyn motioned Nose-in-Danger to be ready to attack. These weren't combat droids. He was more than capable of taking one out.
They got as close as they could, then she lit her lightsaber and bisected the nearest droid in the same moment that Nose-in-Danger launched himself onto another, ripping it apart with sharp-clawed hands, long, razor-sharp arm-feathers and two sickle-like toe claws.
["Inside."] She hissed and only just caught herself from helping push him inside the small hatch so she could enter and start up the launch sequence before anyone noticed.
They'd have plenty of attention when they blasted the bay doors open.
From the sound of it, they were getting plenty of attention now. Alarms went off as the droids suddenly dropped off the monitoring systems after a brief, interrupted report of an attack from the one that Nose-in-Danger had destroyed. She barely had time to get the launch sequence completed before a small group of battle droids moved to stop the ship, gathering and raising their blaster rifles.
["Kill them?"] Nose-in-Danger looked at her, spoiling for a fight.
["Yes, not personally."] She reworded her choice when she realized that she didn't know the word for 'weapon' either. They were already airborne by a couple feet and easily swung around to open fight with the fighter's higher-powered weapons before turning them on the hanger doors and open sky.
Droid parts fell to the cement floor of the hangar as they exploded out of it, Nose-in-Danger startled by the feeling of moving so fast as the fighter took off for open sky, fire still curling the edges of the hangar doors behind them. It was lucky they hadn't closed blast doors, or it would have been a lot trickier. As it was, they streaked through the air, heading for space, other fighters starting up after them as soon as the pilots could be scrambled.
["Get in back. Hold on to something solid. I can not have you thrown against me."] B'lyn told Nose-in-Danger firmly and was relieved when he obeyed without question. Now she could concentrate fully on avoiding their pursuers until she was high enough to enter hyperspace and the three-day trip to Coruscant.
Just in time too; blaster bolts started to rip through the air past her, the guns of the pursuing fighters trying to force her down. The shields took most of them, but she heard the warning indicator start flashing, indicating that one of them had a solid lock with its concussion missiles.
Those wouldn't just glance off the shields, not in the shape they were in now.
She closed her eyes and gave everything over to the Force for a brief moment. It was all she could, but it was enough. She flipped her fighter on its tail, cut the engines to keep her momentum and fired with all four main guns directly at the fighter with the lock.
She didn't even wait to see the hit before hitting the maneuvering thrusters and flipping back around for the main engines to burst to life again and propel them out of the atmosphere.
They made it into space, the computer chiming that it had the coordinates ready and could make the jump any time. It was just about at that moment that she saw the Federation transport vessel approaching, and received a hail from it.
"Attention hostile vessel. Surrender or we will be forced to destroy you."
Fortunately, they were looking forward to the second option enough that they hadn't activated their tractor beams yet. It would give them too much control to provide an excuse to vaporize the tiny fighter.
It was a choice that lost them both opportunities in the fraction of a heartbeat it took B'lyn to reach forward and activate the jump.
The stars of the Evidran system blurred, and she was vaguely aware of a massive energy discharge on the radar just before the ship disappeared safely into hyperspace.
Raptors of Evidran 2: Alliance by Mutual Threat
168 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written September 28, 2005 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann
Setting: Star Wars (Furry)
Primary Races: Human, Ka-Karur (Night Raptor), Panther, Twi'lek
Contents: Furry. Gen. Death, Violence
Blurb: When making friends with the enemy, sometimes the most valuable thing you can have is a common enemy and a desperate situation.
Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.
Page Hit Count from September 29, 2005