The Yuuzhan Vong warrior stood well over six foot tall, and weighed substantially more than two hundred pounds most of it muscle and scar-tissue.
Standing in the dark behind the bedroom door, though, he was as still and silent as a shadow. Only the shine of his eyes, grey and ghostly, gave anything away.
He watched as the Jeedai woman stepped into view, gliding along the runway of light that slanted through the opened doorway. She looked briefly around at the familiar walls of her own sleeping-place, seeing nothing amiss, and she gave a small shrug, sliding the short jacket from her shoulders.
He saw the collar of her gown, the lean muscles of her bare back come sliding into view, the soft curves of her shoulders and struck. One hand reached out, grabbing down on her jacket collar and twisting hard, pinioning her arms inside the sleeves. She spun in surprise like a razor-edged whip but he moved like a charging bantha, body-tacking her to the ground before she even realised she’d been attacked.
He used her body as a mat to break his own impact, hearing her crack and bruise beneath him as they landed. They burned half way across the carpet before the thrust of his strike had spent itself and before she could thrash free, he had his other hand clasped across her face, the hand carrying the rag of drug-doped vinesilk. He straddled her waist as she tried to wrestle him off, savouring the wild, panicked bucking of her body beneath his own for a few moments. Then, as the drug took effect, his smile grew cool and sharp. Her struggles softened, and her body went slack.
Briskly, he bound her wrists and elbows with whipvine, then rolled her onto her back, stuffing the doped gag into her mouth and slapping a length of duct tape across her lips.
That was a touch he was particularly pleased with, he thought, smoothing down the lead-grey sticky-plast across her jaw, whispering her to be calm. She writhed a little, her eyes blinking in confusion above the gag, but she was too far gone to resist.
As he stood up, her gaze tracked with him, and he looked back at her. Dizzy and innocent eyes, full of surprise trying to focus on him; trying to understand. He flashed her a grin, then slipped out of the bedroom across the corridor, and into the kitchen of Luke and Mara Skywalker's Coruscant appartment.
From down the corridor, he could hear the clash of lightsabers.
He went round the kitchen with quick, professional control eyes scanning the white-painted cupboard doors, fingertips caressing the cool marble worktops, hunting for anything that could be danger. Nothing that he could see, just Darth Vader's lightsaber and the keys to the family runner, sitting on the sideboard beside Mara's handbag.
He pocketed both, then paused, turned back and with a grin, he helped himself to a shuura from the bowl of fruit on the counter; tossing it once in his hand, admiring the ripeness underneath the smooth, soft flesh. He turned it over again in his hand, slid his coufee from its sheathe, and started to peel the skin away.
An elegant, civilized way to use a blade, he thought, as he strolled back out into the corridor. You couldn't do that with a Jeedai lightsaber.
Passing the bedroom again, he glanced in, and saw Mara shifting on the floor, making muffled noises. There was a flash in her eyes as she saw him standing there, aimed at him like a drunken punch, but he just shook his head and stepped away, triggering the door to shut, then crushing the lock-plate with his elbow.
He finished stripping the fruit, and popped a slice into his mouth, chewing happily as he walked into the main living area.
He came through the door just in time to see a boy with a lightsaber backflip wildly over the Skywalkers' leather sofa, landing with a crunch on top of the caf-table and lashing out with his blade at his assailant fighting for his very life.
The boy's opponent laughed in reply, and pressed her attack harder.
The Yuuzhan Vong warrior smiled at the sight of the two of them, leaning comfortably back against the wall, and continuing to munch the fruit.
Tahiri Veila moved like an electric storm, her lightsaber flashing in rapid thrusts and slashes that seemed more like Force lightning than the dancing of a blade but which still had the precision and control of a Shaper's scalpel-cuts. Ben Skywalker parried wildly, retreating backwards with a reluctance that gave a sulky tenacity to his moves. He fought like an animal fierce and savage, untrained and honest, his mop of bronze-blond hair whirling around his head with every move.
And as the warrior watched, he made one mistake too many.
Tahiri took the boy's footing out from under him, and sent his lightsaber spinning up into the roof. While he was still falling, she planted one bare foot down on his chest, slamming him to the floor, and lashed her golden blade high above her head.
With a shower of sparks, Ben's weapon exploded apart, and she used the Force to fling the shattered halves to opposite sides of the room. She finished with the point of her blade aimed at Ben's face, her toes teasing on his sternum, weight shifting just a little as she smiled at him.
The warror looked at the boy, seeing the sweat on his face, the terror in those big blue eyes, the anxious quaver of his lower lip.
For a moment, Tahiri towered tall over him and then she snapped off her blade and swept down like a raptor, grabbing the lapels of his collar, and hauling him high up off his feet.
"HELP!" Ben yelled, suddenly exploding again into sound and motion. "HELP ME!!"
"Shh," Tahiri hushed, lifting a finger of her free hand to her lips, and smiling behind it. "You're just wasting your breath."
With that, she whipped round on her bare heels, and tossed him across the back of the sofa, his legs kicking wildly, right arm twisted round behind his back.
He skewed his head, and his face scrunched up in pain.
"Hey," he said. "She's hurting me!"
"Embrace the pain," Tahiri whispered, cranking his arm tighter across his back. "I mean that. You need to learn."
"He's not one of us, Ree," the warrior sighed. His voice was low, dangerous. "You don't need to do this."
"He should learn," she challenged, meeting him with low threat in her own voice hard determination in her face.
He met her gaze in silence, a smile slashing wide across his face. Then, he laughed, and popped the last quarter of the shuura in his mouth; moving across the room to join them, slowly chewing it over.
"He's full human," he reminded her. "Full-born Jeedai. There are other ways."
"All the more reason he needs this," she countered. "Jedi don't always stay Jedi ... I thought that was why we were here."
"Maybe," he murmured, looking at the way the boy's face scrunched in pain, then looking back at her. Another silent gaze smouldering, slow and lingering.
Even though she had never managed to find him in the Force, he reflected, there were a lot of times in their relationship when they didn't have to say anything at all.
"Are you two fighting me, or each other?" the boy asked, and then his eyes twitched in fear as they both lowered their gazes down to him. "I shouldn't have said that, should I?"
"Well done," Tahiri grimaced, twisting his shoulder quickly out of its socket, and making him yelp as she slotted it back in. "Kun, you talk him through this."
He sighed, and folded his arms across his chest, trying to ignore the child gasping in pain under his girlfriend's ministrations.
"I'm no good with kids," he whispered. "You wanted to do this your way ..."
"Your way. You just took out his fragging shoulder, Ree."
"And he needs to learn to enjoy being hurt by the opposite sex," Tahiri replied, using her free hand to smooth through his hair. "Now just relax," she said, her voice a seductive whisper that would snatch at a boy's heart and soul, even one that young. "Pain is life. You're going to learn to enjoy this ..."
"B-but, you're a Jedi!" Ben protested, cranking round his head and staring at her. "Jedi don't do things like this!"
"I'm not a Jedi any more, Ben," she said, and there was a sadness beneath the harshness in her tone. "Master Skywalker told me that if I ever left Dagobah without his permission, he would take that as my resignation. So I resigned. I'm just Tahiri now or Riina, or K'Sliven. Tusken Raider, Yuuzhan Vong. And human. It's more fun and more dangerous."
"You should do what Dad tells you."
"And when you don't, you have a good reason, don't you?"
"Sometimes ..." He sounded more dubious this time.
"Uncle Jacen said you ..."
"We were set up."
"But Jacen said ..."
"Ben," Tahiri said, twisting his elbow viciously. "It was Jacen who set us up. And that's why we really, really need to find him."
Another twist. Tahiri reached her free hand for her knife.
"You're lying!" Ben wailed. "That's impossible."
"Enough," the Yuuzhan Vong said, stepping forward and closing his grip round Tahiri's wrist. For a moment, her eyes locked with his, and sparks seemed to strike in the air between them. Then she relaxed her grip on the boy but only a little bit. Her other hand still rested on the pommel of her knife.
"Now, Ben. Tell us where Jacen went."
"Ben," Tahiri teased. "I think you should tell. Otherwise ..."
"I think you should as well," he whispered, dropping into a crouch and meeting Ben's hurt glare. "See, Ree wants to hurt you. I ... don't."
"Oh, great." Tahiri roled her eyes. "Now you get all paternal, Kun."
"Who are you?" Ben asked, gazing at him. He twitched, his eyes flickering for a moment; but he didn't blink.
"I'm," he said, then paused, and sighed. "No-one. You don't know me, kid."
"That doesn't mean you don't have a name," he protested. "Everyone's gotta have a name."
"Trust me," he sighed. "You don't want to know." He glanced up at Tahiri. "There are things far worse than what your aunt wants to do to you. I'm one of them." Then he saw the flicker of concern in her face. "What? What is it?"
"Tails and Lowie," she said. "Master Skywalker is on his way. Back from the Jedi Temple Kyle and Kyp are with him, Kenth and some of the Knights as well."
He looked at Ben again, knowing what she was thinking. It would be a simple matter for either of them to extort an answer from a small child, even a Force-trained one but that was going to leave Ben scarred inside and out, and the thought of Luke and Mara in a blood rage chilled him to the bone.
Persuasion, even Yuuzhan Vong style, took a little more time.
Then he thought of what kidnapping him would do to Mara, and grimaced.
"We can't take him with us," he said. "For his sake. We find another way."
"Yes we can," she said. "We have to."
"You can't kidnap me!"
"Yes we can," Tahiri repeated, slinging him over her shoulder, then grinning as he began to pound her back with his small fists. She flashed a grin at the warrior, and started towards the door. "Watch us."
The warrior sighed, and fell in step behind them. "We take their runner. I'm driving."
"Has anyone ever told you that you're not a nice man?" Ben asked, twisting his head round to look at him.
"Has anyone ever told you you talk like your Uncle Han?" he asked, fixing the boy with his steeliest gaze. Ben's face scrunched in hurt, and he fell silent. "Thought not. Now, be a good Jedi, and meditate on the meaning of that."
Ben Skywalker's eyes went bright, stung by something that he truly didn't understand.
As well he might, Kunra Jamaane thought, behind the dark mask of his frown. As well he might.
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