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Title: Act 3, Scene 1 – D’rue and Sera. The Duel
Fandom: Star Wars.
Disclaimer: No ownership, no profit and no offence meant. Everyone is of the age of consent in their country and period of history
Author’s notes: This ‘verse started as a first anniversary gift for the members of the Canberra Star Wars Collectors Club. That story didn’t go very far but the idea stuck.

Summary: “A true partnership is dancing a duet and two solos at the same time.”

Taanab was exactly what one would expect of any rural planet in the outer edge of the Inner Rim – too far from the Core to be considered truly civilized and too close to the Outer Rim to care. The sort of rough, rustic place that newly minted Empire didn’t care much about as long as taxes got paid and crops got shipped.

On planets like this, news, trade and travellers flowed both ways – in and out of the Core. Those fleeing the oppression of the Empire went one way and those fleeing the lawlessness and piracy for the Outer Rim went the other. And somewhere in the middle, sometimes people stayed.

The great green fields of Taanab’s equatorial farms were always open to unskilled labour, people willing to put up with hard work for low but honest pay to fund the next step of their journey to wherever. Itinerants made up most of the planet’s workforce and as long as they didn’t skim or cause trouble, none of the permanent staff paid them much attention.

The sort of place that was ideal for lying low, or starting over.

Exactly why Sera had arranged for two of the orphaned younglings of Ilanda to be fostered here. With people she knew, people she trusted.

It worried her that the bounty for D’rue Nor-smen had his last known location listed as the Taanab system. Bounties for Jedi had grown larger and larger, the competition for them fierce but she had heard nothing to warn her the twin younglings might be in danger.

Because why else would D’rue break cover now?

Only one way to find out. And it would involve having to be really, really obvious.

***

The Shield Maiden touched down at the spaceport at the edge of town. It was a large complex, designed for long haul cargo freighters but the fierce little ship attracted more than its share of attentions. As did its captain.

The famed bounty hunter Val Kyrja stroke through the marketplace, all broad shoulders and imposing height. Rancor hide armour glisten oddly but what drew the eye was the lightsaber that hung proudly at her side, catching the late afternoon light. A trophy of a previous bounty.

People moved out of her way, whispering behind their hands. She could hear their voices as she pushed up her goggles and scanned to market. Bounty hunter. Warrior witch. Jedi slayer.

Good, Skater’s stories had made it this far and would give her the cover she needed.

When she heard the whisper of jilted lover and left her at the altar she nearly broke character and laughed. Funny how that part of the story kept expanding without any prompting.

A low life bounty hunter called Jaxx eased out of the crowd, sideling up to her as if he was her equal, as if he knew her. “If you’re after the Jedi you’re too late, Val. I hear the Impies have him already. Shot him down a week ago.”

Val looking down at the small Trandoshan with exactly the contempt due the crawling reptile he’d evolved from. She looked back at the market and watched the way the crowd moved, the way the small squads of Imperial troops moved. Whatever was about to happen, it hadn’t happened yet. But it would soon.

People were nervous and not just because of her. The Imperial presence on their mostly peaceful world had the crowd stirred up but the show of force had them too scared to act.

The stormtroopers were moving purposefully, their search patterns tight. They were good. And worse, they were closing on something. Or someone.

From under a market stall, a young boy launch himself full speed towards the open plaza. A force push crashed the falling table back into the squad of troopers, bowling three of them over but the rest raised their blasters.

Sera knew him at once for one of the twin younglings she had sent here, almost two years ago to the day. Jaden, the younger of the two by mere minutes. She didn’t need to force to know he was scared, agitated and about to be shot.

She rushed forward in hope of reaching him in time but someone else got there first.

A heavy cloak fell around one shoulder, half hiding the sleek black clonetrooper chest plate and vambrace that had long since lost their light-drinking shine. The figure stepped between the boy and the stormtroopers, the mace-like handle of his sabre heavy and unignited in his hand. Jedi Commander D’rue Nor-smen.

Out of the corner of her eye, Sera saw three figures take up positions at the edge of the crowd. Tem and Racket; dressed in a similar mix of armour and cloth and Rocker on the far side dressed as a Taanabian farmhand. It was nice to know they had back up, even if the clones might not recognise her.

Three squads of stormtrooper levelled blasters at D’rue.

Things were going to go very wrong very fast.

She stepped across to catch the fleeing boy by the scruff of the neck. Jaden struggled and screamed, too panicked to remember any of the Jedi defences he had been taught what must seem a lifetime ago.

She lifted him off the ground even as he flailed, hissing in his ear. “The man to your left in the straw hat. Run to him.” She dropped the struggling boy and gave him a none too gentle kick towards Rocker, knowing the scout would be watching.

Of all of Black Mace squad, she knew Rocker best, in so much as anyone knew Rocker. He and Tori had been very close on the ‘End. The all but silent scout and the near constantly chattering Corvus mechanic.

She wasted no time waiting for a reaction from Rocker, or even recognition. Most eyes were on D’rue’s unignited sabre but for the boy and the scout to get away safe, all eyes needed to be focused on him.

Or something else.

There was a hiss and a crackle and a lightsaber sprang to life.

Not the long orange blade but her more standard green one.

“Jedi!” She called, heavily accenting her voice to match the character of Val Kyrja. “I’ve waited a very long time for this.”

D’rue turned slowly to face her, half turning his back on the stormtoopers. They had centre stage now and without a commander, he doubted the troopers would fire. They were after the boy; a fully trained survivor of the fall wasn’t what they expected today. Nor was an angry bounty hunter. “So you are the valkyrja I’ve heard whispered about.”

No recognition showed on his face but she knew from the way he said the name, he knew her. Valkyrja was an old word of the all but lost civilisation they both descended from. It meant collector of the fallen, a message she hoped he might have heard in the stories she had spread.

“Surprised?” She challenged fiercely, beginning to circle him, her blade held high.

“Disappointed.” He sighed with well feigned heaviness. “I hoped what happened between us could have ended. I’d hoped you’d have counted me amongst the dead and moved on with your life, past this bitterness.” He fell into step, keeping the distance between them even as they circled each other.

They had every eye on them now, not even the stormtroopers dare look away. The legend of Val KyrjaI’s Jedi lover gave them the perfect scene to play out.

“No-one has a higher claim on your life than I. Not even death itself.” She drew the blade back to a high guard, the blade above her head and struck down, snarling as she did.

He ignited his blade in a blaze of orange light that almost matched the setting sun, pushing her blade aside and twisting out of range. “You have no claim on me. I loved you, but we both knew-” his words cut off as she drove forward her attack, forcing him to twist and spin to keep her at bay, “my calling was elsewhere.”

She could tell by the strain in his voice as he spoke that he was struggling to keep a straight face. Only they knew the source of the cheesy dialogue – an obscure vintage holovid they both loved as children. A swashbuckling romance that was set in the early days of the Jedi order, on the verge of the first Sith war. Sera had scavenged the tiny machine when she was a pickpocket on the understreets of Coruscant. D’rue had helped her repair it and together they sat and watched it for hours, or played at mock sabre fights any time D’rue could slip away from the temple. It was their own language, their private joke.

“You loved me!” She hissed, pushing him almost to the edge of the now transfixed crowd. In the gathering gloom, their sabres flashed and danced, the brightest lights in the square. “And yet you left me to become one of them! A monk! After the passion we shared. For what?”

“For us.” He pushed back then, using his height and reach to move them back to the centre of the open space. “I did it for us. For all of us. There must be balance. There must be light or darkness will prevail.” The words had lost their defensive tone, now confident and strong; the holovid ideal of the noble Jedi Knight. “For the Force.”

His stolen words drew a small but audible cheer of approval from the crowd. No-one here was on the side of the Empire. No-one local anyway.

Their blades crossed and arched, leaving trails of light in the still air. They flicked back turning and spinning their blade in a display meant to dazzle.

D’rue Nor-sman had trained with of the finest sabre-masters in the galaxy and was in turn respected as a master of the art. He had trained Sera with a sabre during the early days of the Jedi Strike team. Although she was no Jedi and only barely force sensitive, it was still important to know how to use any weapon at hand and a lightsaber by its very nature had serious advantages. D’rue’s style was direct and no-nonsense, a technique borne of battle and the need for concise action but many hours of travel aboard the Argument’s End had given them time to play around.

This wasn’t a real fight, this was a game; a distraction.

But a game they hadn’t played in some time. Sera’s block rose slow and late, her blade angled wrong. The heavy orange blade of D’rue sabre fell hard across her vambrace, too late to pull up completely. The contact sending a shower of blue sparks into the gathering darkness, drawing a hiss from the watching crowd. The ultrachrome reinforcing strip down her vambrace melted on contact and she twisted back to shake her arm, dislodging the molten metal before it burnt through the tough hide.

“Damn you!” She danced back; throwing ruined her glove and vambrace down. Well, that had been worth the small fortune she paid for it. “Damn you and the Force to hell.”

She drove hard at him then, swinging wide and exposing her right flank. She hoped desperately that there was light enough left for him to see the thin layer of ultrachrome down her side.

This display needed a believable closing blow.

He caught her meaning and for a moment, caught her eye, understanding passing between them. He turned on the ball of his foot as she charged forward, knocking her blade up and drawing his own blade across her side. Her scream was piercing as she clenched the blade between her other vambrace and side, hiding the shower of blue sparks.

He flicked off the blade and let her drop, breathing hard. Every line of his body radiating regret in the eerie shadows cast by her fallen sabre. He dropped to one knee and touched her lightly, seeming to close her eyes.

“I did love you. I will always love you.” His whispered words seemed to carry to every ear in the square, the gesture hiding the small data chip he slipped into her sleeve. Coordinates to the rendezvous point just out of the system.

The stormtroopers surged forward then, the spell broken but the people of Taanab turned to push them back. “Get out of here!” One farmer urged as the crowd got between the pair and the Imperials. “We’ll hold them off long enough for you to get away.”

Another farmhand touched D’rue’s arm, his other hand on the bounty hunter’s prone form. “We’ll see her decently buried, you have my word. Now go.”

That was the first time Sera had heard Rocker speak more than three words in a row.

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February 2017

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