Haiki Benara & Dashara Horizon
Dash's green eyes tensed. She stared hard at the tomb's entrance, dreading the challenges within. Her ears listened to the overseer, but the words didn't reach her. At least, not in depth. Each word seemed empty or faked in her head causing her to recoil deeper within herself. She rubbed her tongue against the inside of her teeth while she considered what to expect.
In 'Little Slugland', competition brought out the worst in people. This included her. Dashara inhaled then shifted from one side to another.
When the official go was given, Dash wasted no time. She rushed past the door and darted inside. Darkness blinded her for several moments causing her to slow then stopped. She blinked, trying to purge it from her eyes. The dim torch light of the tomb contrasted terribly with the earlier desert scene.
The eeriness silence sent faint traces of fear crawling down her spine. When Dashara's eyes finally adjusted, she made out the interior structure. Strange stonework lined the interior of the tomb. Different from durasteel, it distorted shadows far differently than the metal.
Not far in, Dash found the first challenge. A pit.
Cautiously the half alien peered over the edge, but her vision failed to see the bottom. She bit her lip then pulled back. Her hand reached out for a small chunk of stone. Lifting it up, she chucked it across the gap. The tiny chunk fell short as it dropped soundlessly into the darkness.
Haiki took off immediately, rushing headlong into the darkness of the caves. He had no fear of his inability to see, because he had something he trusted in far more than his eyes. Not the Force, the sensor suite of his droid. Jana’s sensors had no problem mapping out the room even with no light at all and as he progressed into the cave she whirred and chirped directions to him in binary or else nudged him with her ‘head’ to indicate a direction faster than words could.
By the time his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Haiki was already coming up on the pit trap, regarding it cautiously.He could
jump across the pit with a simple application of the Force, but it was early on in the contest and wasn’t it wiser to save his physical strength for later, when the others were likely to be exhausted?
And speaking of the others and disadvantages, here was that new girl, the half-breed, blankly staring right over the edge of the pit. It would barely even count as murder. Really, he was doing her a favor. If she was this careless about keeping her guard up during testing, it would be better to kill her now before she could drag others down with her.
So, he pushed at her. It wouldn’t take much power in the Force, he thought. She was barely balancing on the edge already and he doubted she had much awareness or skill to resist.
Dash had been about to back up when something shoved her forward. Her balance shifted as her foot slipped, and she fell into the pit. An arm snapped out, catching the ledge. A soft curse escaped her lips as Dash hung on for dear life. Part of her instinct feared the abyss underneath her.
Haiki heard a slight noise that might have been his target slipping into the pit but otherwise he wasted no time in confirming she was dead. Instead he walked along the right side of the wall, searching for an alternate route. These caves were supposed to be full of Tuk’ata, and one thing he’d learned from his deadly errands for Overseer Cessair was that the beasts were more than capable of expanding cave networks on their own. So he wasn’t surprised when after a little fumbling he found a small tunnel clawed out of the side big enough for him to crawl through. He started creeping cautiously with Jana watching his back.
As Haiki traveled through the tunnel, he reached halfway when his foot touched something hard. SNAP! The loud sound echoed off the walls and down the tunnel. Something hard clamped down onto his foot. It bit through the boot, into the flesh, and broke the ankle bone.
A crude, but effective Tuk'ata trap had ensnared his foot. It was basic durasteel bent around in a U shape and fastened at the back. Serrated teeth lined the inside ensuring the more the prey struggled, the more damage endured. A motion detector set in the center when the 'jaws' had been set flat. At the fastener's end, a chain buried itself into the ground and anchored the poor victim in place.
Sounds of shuffling happened at the tunnel's opposite end. A few large shapes shifted past the opening. Their outlines caught by the dull torch light indicating about four of them. A few snarls and snaps happened before silence. Once again, something began to move down the tunnel toward Haiki.
The young Zabrak maintained just enough self-control to stuff a fist in against his mouth and muffle his screaming. He was certain it would do no good against Tuk’ata senses, but it was best not to alert any of his fellow competitors, in case they were the type to take advantage of his vulnerability like he’d done with the half-breed. Of course, if they had any brains at all they would do so. He could think of few more promising targets than himself at the moment.
Through an immense effort of will, Haiki managed to avoid any attempt to wriggle out of the trap or instinctively squirm away from the pain. Doing so would only damage the ankle further. Instead, he slipped a little hand-held device out of his sleeve and reached down toward his ankle with as little movement as possible. He had to angle it just right, but after a moment he squeezed a trigger and a dart shot into his foot with a soft hiss of air. Slowly, numbness began to spread from the tiny point out across his foot and lower leg, cold and relatively soothing. It was a concoction he’d learned from Overseer Cessair, his first lesson.
Once the pain was dulled enough, the acolyte started ‘feeling’ for the machine with the Force, examining it’s inner workings, pushing and prodding inside with sheer will and intellect. Ah, yes it was clear to him that this was a simple mechanical trap, no electronics for him to trick. Still, the fasteners proved it wasn’t all of one piece, and manipulating small parts delicately was something of a specialty for the boy. With conscious effort, well-aware that the Tuk’ata were likely to come prowling down for a meal at any moment, he tried his best to loosen the fasteners and make them pop free.
The trap released Haiki instantly with a slow creak. The moment the foot was clear of the jaws, it snapped down into the 'ready' position again.
With his foot safely out of the trap he shuffled over sideways to huddle against the side of the tunnel, making a path for Jana and trying desperately to conceal himself from view. He’d prepared a failsafe against the predators, but he had no idea if it would work.
Farther up the tunnel, the large shape stilled. It tilted a head with a long snout and perked its head. A long serpentine tail swayed side to side. Once more the creature began to draw ever closer to Haiki, moving at a cautious pace.
Haiki shivered involuntarily from his little niche of the tunnel, twisting himself out of the way with a wince as Jana rolled by him in the narrow confines. To properly squeeze past him she had to slowly inch, maintaining traction on her rolling sphere, creeping around him to the front of the tunnel. Silently, he hoped that his new countermeasure worked. It was that or allow Jana to try and block the tunnel while he scrambled back, and leaving her to be scrapped was unacceptable to the boy.
The large creature, a male Tuk'ata, blotted out the light farther down the tunnel with his slender body. A gentle swish flickered across the gravel as it drew closer. Eyes reflected back light giving them an eerie yellow glow. His maw widened to expose its razor teeth, dripping with saliva and fresh blood.
A tilt of his head, indicated he heard something. The Tuk'ata's body tensed and it let out a growl that quickly turned into a whine. Slowly, it began to fall back to its original entrance. Loud growls vibrated off the tight tunnel walls as it continued to make its exit.
Haiki waited until the Tuk’ata was completely out of sight and earshot before letting out a sigh of relief, his breath coming in short, half-panicked gasps as the worst possibilities faded away. He tapped Jana lightly to signal her to keep rolling forward, then started crawling out after her until they could emerge from the Tuk’ata tunnel, being much more careful to look for any traps.
When Haiki exited the tunnel, a strong odor hit him. A heavy sulfur scent mixed with iron and dank earth. The scent of death and rot. Four faint torches illuminated from the corners of the rectangular room. Several corpses, in various stages of decay, littered the floor. Several trails dragged from one end to the other.
Four sleek Tuk'ata turned to face Haiki. Their teeth flashed in a snarl and a deep, hungry growl emitted from their throats. Two of them rushed for Haiki, hoping to take him down quickly.
Haiki was in no shape to fight two Tuk’ata at once. Instead he huddled behind Jana without bothering to struggle to his feet, trusting in the device that had warded off the first Tuk’ata to protect him from these two while he searched for a path out of the feeding grounds and further into the tomb complex, where Overseer Cessair would hopefully be waiting.
There were two identical doors, on either side of the tunnel's exit. Both appeared to lead to another room. Soft snarls and rustling came from the right room, hinting to more than the four standing before him.
The two that rush immediately came into range of Jana. They yelped then ground to a stop. Their claws dug, scattering more bones, as they paced just out of range. Intelligence lurked behind their eyes while they tried to understand.
One glanced to its tail then back to the droid and Zabrak. It lowered on its front hunches as its barbed tail swung at Haiki's side. The tip rushed and narrowly missed his arm, tearing through the sleeve. The Tuk'ata barked its disapproval.
This drew the attention of the other three once more.
The wounded acolyte took advantage of the scattering bones to snatch up one of the longer and sturdier ones as it skidded towards him, whether it was animal remains or...something else was the last thing he wanted to think about. Instead he started to crawl and inch toward the less noisy, less occupied left-side tunnel, sticking painfully close to Jana and the device within her that was holding the Tuk’ata at bay. If he could just get away from them, the bone and his own torn robe might make a splint and bandages. He could do that much at least.
All four of the Tuk'ata fixated on their current prey. Their forms stalked forward through unseen paths in the bones. Whip-like tails swayed back and forth in their wake while they studied Haiki's path. Seeing him head to the far doorway, the largest Tuk'ata gave a sharp bark. Two broke off from the group and raced to place themselves between their prey and the door. The other two paced just out of range from the sonic sound. With no warning, they shifted to the side and whipped their barbed tails at him. One smacked into the wall while the other skimmed just in front of his face.
It took everything the boy had not to flinch away when that barbed tail passed so close to his face. As far as he knew any show of fear would only make the Tuk’ata angrier and hungrier. Instead he loaded a dart with yellow striped fletching into the pneumatic launcher on his wrist with hands that he barely kept steady. He took aim and fired at the nearest Tuk’ata for center mass. Hopefully, Overseer Cessair’s paralysis toxin worked as well on these things as it had on Haiki himself. After firing, he continued to crawl backward, dragging himself along with his hands and one good foot, inching toward the den exit.
The dart shot forward. It buried itself into the flank of a smaller Tuk'ata causing it to yelp. When the needle end hit, the contents drained into the animal and caused its eyes to dilate. It swayed and wobbled before it toppled into the ground.
The nearest Tuk'ata looked at it in confusion. It growled then ventured a nip on the hind quarters. The drugged pack mate let out a groggy snort, but it didn't raise its head. This encouraged another sound bite on the fallen Tuk'ata's hind quarters. Red painted the down creature's flank as its attacker barked, gaining more attention.
Those blocking the door became curious as they moved toward their fallen companion. Leaving the door open for Haiki and his droid to escape.
Haiki didn’t bother to watch the grisly scene he was sure was imminent, instead crawling as fast as he could for the exit without flailing like prey and attracting attention. He made it across the threshold to the next chamber with Jana covering his escape and looked around, hoping as much as he dared that he hadn’t gotten into something even worse.
Fortunately for the boy, the cave he entered into was a much more inviting one. It had a pool of water at one end, whether artificial or natural, fed by some hidden groundwater reserve along with dripping stalactites above. The rest was fairly empty save for a few carved out statues on either side of the walls, the faces long faded by time and dripping condensation. There was another exit off to one side, but Haiki wasn’t concerned with that for the moment. Instead he motioned Jana to keep watch by the Tuk’ata filled door and got to work binding his broken foot. He used the bone he grabbed and the fabric of his torn sleeve to make a splint, carefully watching the other entrance all the while. He’d have to move on soon, see if he could walk. But for now, he would marshall his strength.