Chapter Five: Ambush

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Da'bral brought the speeder to a halt beside the cave entrance and hopped out. The two suns of Tatooine were setting on the horizon, leaving an artistic masterpiece of blue, red, and yellow in their wake. The suns slowly drifted down, as if reluctant to leave, and light slowly faded from the sky, taking the heat with it.

They made their way into the cave, scattering womp rats into the swirling mists. The cave was dark, but as Da'bral looked up, he saw a large hole that opened into the bottom of a ravine, through which some of the twilight was able to seep. He scrambled up the sloped wall to the hole and crawled through, standing up and staring in awe at the cracked layers of rock around him. The sandy floor, precarious platforms, and rough walls all looked fantastic to him.
"Hey," Ishti shoved him aside so that he could get through, "what did I say about hurrying?" He laughed and stood up next to him. "Let's go."

As they walked through the still valley, shaded by a rocky overhang, with the soft sand cool under their feet, Nyron began chatting to Merich.
"Merich Vox, huh?" he was saying, "Not a relation of Kanso Vox, surely?"
"He's actually my father!" Merich replied proudly. "He trained us himself, when he could spare the time."
"Now, that is interesting! You must be a great bounty hunter if he trained you! You're probably better than me!" Nyron said.
"I dunno about that," Merich conceded, "But I am pretty good, he trained us well. He's a great teacher, and a great father."
"I'm sure he is. He's famous for bein' a great melée fighter - much like myself, if I may say. Did he pass that onto you?"

"Stop it, Gonbor! I know what you're doing!" Ishti was storming over to them, his finger raised in warning. There was a slight tremor in the ground, as if to set the mood.
"Please call me Nyron." Nyron tried to interrupt, but Ishti ignored him.
"Merich is to stay back! I made an exception for Karlien because she's older and will otherwise be of little use, and because you will be protecting her. I will not endanger this boy's life!"
"Yeesh, calm down, a'right!" Nyron looked surprised, even a little hurt. "We were just talkin'."
Ishti gritted his teeth, but went back to the other side of the path.

"Hey Ishti," Da'bral called, pointing to something at the side of the path in an attempt to break the awkward silence left by Ishti's outburst. "Look at this, it's beautiful."
Karlien had also noticed it, "Oh, it is!" she agreed, "Come on!"
Begrudgingly, Ishti complied, and followed their gazes. Growing out of the sand was a shrub, covered in large, bright green leaves and exquisite white flowers. "How could a plant like that withstand the desert suns, even down here?" he wondered out loud.
"It can't." Nyron informed them. "That's a Molo shrub, its leaves and flowers only appear at night. You said the pirates'd be here at dusk, right? We'll catch them in the nick of time! Oh, how exciting!"
"Not if we hurry." said Ishti grimly, and started to run. His exosuit made him a fast runner, and the others struggled to catch up. By the time they had made it to the main path through the canyon, he was the only one not out of breath.

"Da'bral, go up on that ledge there. Nyron, Merich, behind the rock on the other side. Karlien and I will stay here." Still tired from the run, the others were aghast at more hurrying, but quickly obeyed Ishti's commands. Da'bral took his sniper rifle from its case and put it to his shoulder, taking cover behind a rock on the surprisingly comfortable flat ledge, and waited. He saw Nyron whispering to Merich - probably words of encouragement, or some crazy joke. Ishti seemed out of sorts, he hoped he'd manage to stay focused and not do anything rash. But he put aside his fears, this was going to be easy.

Finally, after a much longer wait than they had expected, five speeders appeared around the corner in the distance. Putting his eye to the sights, Da'bral took aim and waited for them to get closer. They were headed straight towards them now, an easy shot. He breathed in, breathed out, and pulled the trigger. The speeder crashed, and Da'bral took aim again at the leading speader - another success. As expected, the other pirates abandoned their speeders and began taking cover. Now Nyron and Karlien would run in with the others giving covering fire. Except that wasn't what happened.

Ishti started as Merich shot into the sky, hovered over the pirates, and opened fire. Then Ishti panicked, unable to think straight. Merich was exposed, and he couldn't help him, what could he have been thing?! Then his confusion turned to anger. It was Nyron's fault, it had to be! That's why he'd been whispering to him earlier! Then, as if the situation wasn't bad enough already, he saw that a dozen pirates were on the cliffs, firing down on Merich! They'd been outsmarted by pirates!

"I'm going out." Karlien said suddenly, breaking his thoughts.
Ishti tried to object but - "It wasn't a question, I'm saving my brother. Cover me." She activated her jetpack and flew into the fray, drawing her sword. As she did, Ishti ran out, firing at the pirates on the cliffs to draw their attention. He shot down two before taking cover, moving to another position to surprise them from.

"You idiot!" Karlien yelled up at Merich as she sliced a pirate in half. There were only three left on the ground now. Merich ignored her, apparently engrossed in fighting a particularly skilled Twi'lek, barely dodging a shot from her pistol before finally killing her.
"Listen to your sister, you fool!" yelled Nyron, grappling with a Kata that refused to be stabbed. "I know it's cliché, but you've gotta admit: the girl's right!" Merich still didn't appear to hear him.

Da'bral had the biggest challenge of all: finding the pirates on the cliffs that weren't distracted by Ishti and killing them, all without being noticed, so he was prepared for when he failed. As soon as the Hontu landed beside him, Da'bral ran him through before he had a chance to raise his staff. But the short time that took was too much. Even as he prepared to fire again, a Trandoshan scored a direct hit through the gap in Merich's neck armour, grinning as she realised she had been successful. Da'bral killed her immediately but it was too late, Merich was dead.

Karlien screamed in anguish as Merich fell from the sky. Ignoring the Delphidian she was fighting, she ran to him, tore off his helmet and looked at him for the last time. As she cried over her brother's body, she was shot in the back by the Delphidian.

Ishti ran out from cover and let out a brutal cry, shooting up at the cliffs with his rifle. One pirate dead, two pirates dead, three pirates, four pirates, five, and six. And then, finally, it was over. But Ishti hadn't felt so distraught since his parents died.

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