Empires and republics rise and fall, but Mos Eisley remained a hive of scum and villainy. Eiven Task followed his guide through the maze of the spaceport, past dealers in narcotic spices and stolen droids, down back alleys where corpses piled up until the weekly removal crews came by, the ones on the bottom already gummy and half-mummified from the dry heat, and finally to one of the many illegal hangars that dotted the town. A pair of guards—a Rodian and a droid—had their hands on their blaster rifles as Task's guide made a sign, and didn't relax as Eiven passed them into the half-hidden freight elevator. The rusty door to the cage shuddered shut, and they began to descend.
"When we meet Oona, let me talk." his guide said. Milos Sothas was tall even for a muun, with chocolate-brown skin and kind blue-grey eyes and a spare frame. His high forehead free of hair save for a fringe of grey about his ears, and a close-cropped grey mustache and beard complete his long face. He wore the desert garb of an Antarian Ranger, all sandy browns and yellows and with a wide-brimmed floppy hat, but hanging from his belt was as finely-crafted a lightsaber as Task had ever seen—small enough to wield comfortably in a single hand, with the slightest of curves at the base of the handle.
Eiven himself was a head shorter than the tall muun, about average for a human, but more imposing. He wore a smooth white armor and helmet modeled after the Royal Imperial Guard, patched and repaired in places where it had been damaged in battle, and over that a reversible hooded clock, the outside white, the inside black. In his right hand he carried a meter-and-a-half tall staff of phrik alloy. With a flick of a finger, the recessed control knobs at either end would transform the weapon into an even deadlier lightsaber pike.
In time the dark deepened, the desert heat gave way to cool, dry air, and the elevator rattled to a stop. The cage door struggled open, revealing a reception hall and more guards—again, evenly distributed between droids and aliens. Through the floor, Eiven could feel the movement of a crowd, the stamping of feet and shouting in a dozen alien tongues. The muun took the lead stepping off the elevator, confident in his long-limbed stride as he walked through the hall to where Oona the Hutt lay.
Young by Hutt standards, Oona was perhaps three meters long from neckless head to the tip of tail, and still quite mobile. The Hutt's brown-grey hide had a mottled appearance, but its vast eyes were violet rimmed with yellow. A grey protocol droid painted with coiling krayt dragons stood at Oona's side, and the droid greeted them in Basic as they approached. The muun replied in Huttese, a language Eiven had yet to learn, though he picked out a few words—including wala-wala "he who throws off the betting." Task let the muun do the talking, but it was the protocol droid that addressed him first.
"Mighty Oona agrees to allow you to participate in the tournament. Master Sothas says you have been informed as to the rules and the stakes. You must pay the entrance fee now."
Reaching into the pouch that hung at his left side, Task withdrew a four-sided pyramid of dark crystal—a Sith holocron he had stolen years ago. A mangy one-eyed Bothan and a combat-scarred battle droid came up, a flat-topped floating platform between them. The protocol droid took the holocron from Eiven's hand and placed it on the platform; immediately a spherical energy shield enveloped the whole device.
The muun's hand caught Eiven on the shoulder, and guided him toward a door away from Oona.
"Well, the good news is, you're in." Sothas said. "The bad news is the tournament is due to start soon. As an unknown and a late entry, that's going to throw the betting off. So you're going to be in the first match."
The door opened, and now Task could hear and feel the noise and movement of the crowd, which was arranged in galleries around a flat-bottomed bowl with steep, curving sides topped with translucent force-shields to keep the crowd back. In the pit was largest wookiee Eiven Task had ever seen, a white-furred albino carrying a massive long-hilted lightsaber with a meter-a-half long blazing green blade.
"…which starts in twenty minutes. Good luck."
"No blasters or other ranged weapons. No Force lightning or tricks! This is a contest of martial skill from some of the greatest Force-adepts in the galaxy…" the Toydarian announcer worked up the crowd with his spiel. Floating near the ceiling were seven holocrons, each in its own energy-shield. Eiven Task examined his opponent.
The albino wore the robes of a Jedi, and stood well over two meters tall. The thick hilt of its massive lightsaber was half a meter long, and combined with the meter-and-a-half long blade made for a weapon as long as Eiven's own lightsaber pike when ignited. Combined with the wookiee's considerable height and longer reach, and Task knew he was already at a disadvantage.
"…to the death!" the Toydarian shouted and flitted off. The wookie settled into an Ataru stance lightsaber held in both hands and his body turned slightly to the side. Eiven ran straight at the wookiee, his staff held low and parallel to the ground. In response, the wookiee stepped forward, bringing his lightsaber down for a slash that should have split the human in two, but at the last moment Task dodged aside, then brought his staff down on the wookiee's wrists with as much strength as he could bear. Surprisingly, the wookiee dropped the lightsaber, the blade flickering out before it hit the ground.
Then the massive furry paws came up and hit Eiven in the chest, and he realized that he'd just decided to get in close to a fight to the death with a wookiee. The blow sent the human sprawling and knocked the staff out of his hands. With a pair of long strides, the wookiee Jedi was on him again in moments, those massive hands clamping on either of his arms and drawing Task in for a bodylock. With his arms pinned to his sides and his helmet pressed against the wookiee's chest, all Eiven could see was fur—but he felt the wookiee's hands meet behind his back.
Task's legs scrabbled for purchase, but the best he could do was to wrap them around the wookiee's lower torso and pressed his helmet as hard as he could into the wookiee's sternum. Gigantic arboreal humanoids as they might be, even wookiees need to breathe. They stayed like that for what seemed an eternity…maybe thirty seconds. When Eiven heard the crinkle as part of the armor across his arms and shoulders began to deform, he knew it wasn't going to work. Taking a gamble Task let his body go limp. The wookiee Jedi, not expecting this, relaxed his grip slightly as the human became dead weight in his arms. Eiven used the moment to kick the wookiee as viciously as he could between the legs.
The wookiee howled and dropped him. Task found his lightsaber pike. The albino was still half clenched over as Eiven ignited the silver-white blade. A moment later there was the smell of burning hair and the Jedi's head bounced against the floor.
Even as the crowd roared and stamped their feet, betting for the second match began. Eiven Task was in the locker room. Colored displays showed the changing odds, and Eiven noted his own ranking had suddenly increased. The display flickered. "Mighty Oona bids you to prepare yourself. The next match will begin in half an hour." Grimacing, Task slapped some bacta on his bruises and started putting his battered armor back on.
Eiven re-emerged to find his opponent already waiting for him at the opposite end of the arena. His opponent this time was a Sith Pureblood, red-skinned and red-eyed, bald but with a tendril of tentacles on his chin, and naked to the waist, displaying the muscled build of a boxer. The Sith had no weapons, and his only armor a pair of grey metal bracers.
The gong sounded. Eiven flicked his lightsaber pike into life and held it near the head and pointed downwards. The Matukai moved confidently, arms in front of him in what Eiven recognized as a Teräs Käsi stance. When they were a meter apart he let the staff slide forward, then brought the blade up in a strike toward the Pureblood's head.
With Force-driven speed, the Matukai intercepted the blade with his bracer—and with an audible snap and a whiff of ozone, the blade destabilized and vanished. Inside his mask, Eiven swore, even as he quickly retreated and swung his staff around, bringing the other end to bear. The Pureblood's bracers must be pure cortosis; his lightsaber-blade would be useless for minutes.
In the time it took for Task to reignite his blade, the Sith had already come inside his reach. After a momentary struggle, Eiven felt the weapon ripped from his hands, to strike the energy shield at the top of the arena with a crackle. Retreating another step, Eiven assumed an Echani stance.
They struck at nearly the same time. Task received the worst of it, the brutal Force-strengthened blows of the Sith ripping through his already damaged armor, though for his troubles the Sith had endured a half-dozen brutal Echani strikes that left spots of purple blood and a couple teeth on the floor of the arena. Then with a sickening crunch Eiven's world flickered and went black—repeated head strikes had finally damaged his helmet too much for him to see through the visor. Task's panic about fighting blind was removed a moment later when a wrenching blow ripped the helmet from his head.
Task let loose a seemingly wild left-handed blow. The overconfident Sith caught the human's fist in his right hand. Eiven's smile was a grim line on his face as he reached out with the Force and flicked on the lightsaber embedded in his forearm. The bloodshine blade bit through the Matukai's hand, burnt fingers dropping to the floor. The Sith's sudden shock and pain was all the opening Task needed, and the last sight the crippled Pureblood saw was the blazing lightsaber aimed at his head.
The third match was between a human Jensaarai and a former Imperial Knight, both female. The ex-Knight was a miraluka, a race of near-humans that were naturally blind, but compensated for their lack of sight with inherent Force senses, and competed in a tight-fitting black jumpsuit with blindfold. The Jensaraai competed in full armor, and appeared to be a jar'kai specialist, wielding a pair of lightsaber tonfas. Eiven Task watched the match with interest, as both organizations were said to produce exceptional lightsaber combatants.
The ex-Knight took the offensive with a blitzkrieg in the aggressive Juyo style. Her speed and agility was breath taking, and the Jensaarai was quickly forced back and on the defensive, with only the cortosis-weave armor allowing the human to survive serious injury. Backed up nearly to the wall of the arena, the Jensaarai tried to leap over the miraluka—and the silvery-white blade of the ex-Knight's lightsaber cut through the weakened armor, bisecting the human woman in two. To her credit, the miraluka quickly ran her lightsaber blade through the gap between the helmet and chestpiece, ending the Jensaarai's life quickly.
The fourth match was between the muun Milos Sothas and a multi-limbed cyborg that wielded a pair of light-whips on its primary arms and a pair of heavy claws on its lower, secondary arms; balancing itself on four heavy pincer-legs. Sothas took a fencer's stance, and when the gong sound ignited his lightsaber blade—a thin, highly accurate lightfoil which he wielded with one hand, a short shoto blade in the other.
The cyborg rushed in, light-whips leaving long black scars in the floor of the arena. Sothas moved with easy grace through the Soresu stances, deflecting and evading attacks with calm assurance. Task could feel the Force flowing through the muun, anticipating strikes, scoring hits where the cyborg presented openings, leaving no such vulnerabilities in his own defense. The cyborg attempted to power through and overwhelm the muun, attacking with both whips in tandem, but every time his attacks fell just a little short. After a third particularly frenzied rush, Milos Sothas stepped aside at the last moment and with a deft slash of his lightfoil, both of the mechanical limbs on the right side of the cyborg's body fell to the ground.
The cyborg screeched in pain or rage, and its remaining light-whip arced at the muun like the unraveled thread of a star. Sothas merely seemed to raise his lightfoil and duck; the light-whip caught on the blade and swung back around, the burning thread slicing through armor and prostheses to flash-boil what few organic bits remained in the metal shell.
The crowd cheered. Displays flickered rapidly as bets were paid out, odds adjusted, and the timer for the penultimate match began counting down. Milos Sothas caught Eiven's face in the crowd. We need to talk. The muun's thought-voice echoed in Task's brain. Eiven hurried to meet Sothas in the locker room before the semifinal match against the former Imperial Knight.
"Vaapad." The muun said.
"Wampashit." Task said. "Nobody knows Vaapad. Born and died with Mace Windu. It's just Juyo—and she's really good at it."
"Task, I've been at this longer than you. Trained a lot of fighters in my time, seen every style there is to see. That wasn't Juyo, and there's only one other thing I've even heard of that fits. That Knight took a Jensaarai apart like a training droid, and didn't even take a scratch." He scratched at his beard. "There's bound to still be some footage around of Windu or someone else using it, or even a holocron. One way or another, she has it—or at least a passable imitation."
The two Force-adepts stared at one another from across the moon. Eiven still wasn't sure if he trusted the muun. Task had killed two of the old adept's apprentices, and that had impressed Sothas enough to invite Eiven to the tournament. Yet the old muun had not sought to become his master, or teach or train him in any way. They both knew that if the muun survived this next match, they'd be facing each other to the death.
"Why are you telling me this?" The human asked.
The muun smiled. "Because I think I know how to beat her. But if I die out there, I want you to take her down for me. But there's one thing I want to know first: how did you lose your arm?"
Task instinctively flexed his prosthetic left arm. A straight line of scar tissue ran from the side of his neck down to his hip, and everything to the left of that consisted of cybernetic replacements for the bones and organs that should have been there.
"At the Jedi Academy. I was one of the padawans. Sixteen years old, ego as big as a moon. I'd been studying how weapons were imbued with the Force. A stick that could meet a lightsaber in combat. I thought…I thought I'd figured out how to do it with unarmed combat." He swallowed, throat suddenly dry. "I'd seen one of the Skywalkers do something like that, once. Deflect a lightsaber with their hand. Different technique. I didn't know. But I was stupid enough to try it." Task held up his prosthetic limb. "This is how they saved my life."
The muun nodded. "And after?"
"Ran away. Ran far away. I thought I'd lost my connection to the Force forever. Got drunk for a week. By the time I realized I still had a connection to the Force, I'd hopped a ship out toward the Rim. I did…things for money, for food. Stole a bit, read what I could get my hands on. Trained from what I could remember. And spent the next ten years digging through the trash that the Jedi and Sith had left buried throughout the galaxy. Lightsabers, holocrons, manuals, old training droids…"
"You've done well, boy. Held your own and better." Sothas said. "Now listen close…"
Eiven Task did not watch the fight. He sat cross-legged in the locker room, eyes closed, controlling his breathing. There were hundreds of living beings up above, vibrant eddies in the Force, all together a teeming mass. Unaware of the Force, or any of their latent potential, they directed it sluggishly according to unconscious instincts, often canceling each other out. Maybe three would have a precognitive glimmer of this fight's end. Perhaps one would realize and act on it.
By contrast, the duel itself was like two storms raging. The Force was strong in muun and miraluka alike. Sothas was tight and controlled, his precognitive powers stretched as far as possible; added speed and strength to aged limbs, and endurance beyond limits. The edges of his mind flickered against that of the ex-Imperial Knight, reading intentions, trying to sow doubt and fear, and mostly failing. Her naked aggression stung Task, even from here. An angry competitiveness and burning desire honed by long practice, channeled into her swordplay. It was like trying to predict a storm, the attacks wild and erratic, no tactics to them, but driving power. Each trusted in the Force to guide their blows, and the result was a bloodless dance with burning blades.
Task felt the slip, as Sothas overextended himself. The sudden flare and fade as his life ended. Then Eiven Task opened his eyes, and let the world back in. The hammering vibration of the crowd's cheer reached even down here. The semifinals were over.
Task entered the arena without his helmet and armor, feeling almost naked. The crowd saw him as though for the first time. The lean, wiry build more reminiscent of the marathoner than a boxer or fencer. A tanned, lined face that spoke of long days in the desert and fields. His hair was a shaggy mix of brown and gold, cropped short, and only the sliver of silver around the irises of his brown eyes spoke of any non-human parentage. In his right hand he carried his lightsaber-pike; his prosthetic left arm was bare, the lightsaber shoto build into the forearm visible.
The ex-Knight came out in the same gear from the last match. She was taller than Task, but even thinner, with straight silvery-white hair that hung down to the neck. In addition to her own lightsaber, Sothas' lightfoil hung at her belt. He assumed a Shien stance, the lightsaber pike held in front of him in both hands near the base, maximizing his reach. She made a salute, then held the blade in front of her at a forty-five degree angle.
The crowd grew silent and tense.
The gong sounded.
The first dozen passes he kept her at spear's-reach, meeting her stroke for counter-stroke, trying to steer her into the wall. The ex-Knight realized this quickly and changed tactics, whirling about, his strikes always a split-second behind her current position. Task felt as much as saw her spiraling in, moving inside his guard, and he adjusted the lightsaber pike to match, drawing it closer to him, rotating it around his body.
Within minutes they were both within range of each other, ducking, weaving, slashing. He thrust the staff between her legs, trying to trip her up, but she rolled around and over him, coming up with her back to him. Eiven brought the phrik-staff down on her, but the blindfolded miraluka struck without turning her head, her silvery-white blade flashing. The bottom half of Task's lightsaber-pike hit the arena floor with a clank.
Stooping down, Eiven picked up the fallen part of the staff in his left hand. With a flicker of the Force, the silvery-white blade in the other end ignited, and he stood up with a blade in either hand. He barely had time to block as the ex-Knight, renewed her attack, building up into the frenzied pace that had overcome Sothas and the Jensaarai. Task gave ground, duel-wielding the short-bladed clubs in an improvised fashion, falling back on old Niman techniques.
It wasn't enough. Every moment the female near-human built greater speed, her lightsaber strikes coming as little more than blurs, and Task struggled to bring his blades up to counter her random assault.
"Tell me." The blind woman whispered, just loud enough for him to hear. "How many blades do you see?"
In one terrible moment, he thought he saw three lightsaber blades striking at once—and in the next second, the two halves of the lightsaber-pike were knocked out of his hand. He backed away a few steps as she stood there, breathing hard, face flustered from the effort of the assault, hair plastered to her forehead.
Defiant, he turned sideways, and raised his flesh-and-blood right hand, the edge towards her. His left arm came up level to his chest, and he flicked the short-bladed red lightsaber blade there to life. The jewel in the lightsaber tugged at his consciousness, and as the muun had told him to, Eiven opened himself to it. In that moment, Task could feel the ex-Imperial Knight as if he had stepped into her own skin. Their pulses beat in time. She raised her blade to prepare to strike, and he could see how it was going to be. They shared that moment, the vision of his death at her lightsaber stroke.
They moved at the same time. Eiven's bare right hand caught the silvery-white blade at about the middle. There was a flash of pain, and the smell of burning flesh, but blade ceased its deadly arc. Then Task stepped forward and drove his bloodshine blade in a left-handed uppercut, straight into her heart.
The crowd went wild. Some went bankrupt. Servants and medics rushed out. Eiven remembered them packing his right hand in bacta. Oona the Hutt came down to congratulate him, presenting the seven holocrons that were his prize—three red four-sided Sith pyramids, a pair of blue Jedi cubes, a purple eight-sided prism from the Jensaarai, and a yellow cubic infocron from the Matsukai.
Later, in his ship The Memory of Alderaan, through the pain and the pain-medications, heading away from Tatooine on a route he hoped would avoid the worst of the thieves and pirates, he allowed himself a little smile.
He had won.