Chapter 18

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Morning came over the desert, a warm breeze rustling across the hot sand. The twin suns beat down on the backs of Venar, Bastila, and Mission. Even HK warned that his circuits were beginning to overheat. The two speeder bikes zoomed across the dunes, blowing up clouds of sand as they went.

Bastila was beginning to get worried. During the night, after the raid on the sand crawler, Carth had reached out to them over the com to relate to them the developments on their end. A bounty hunter was not a good sign by any count. That meant the three Sith they fought the day before must have gotten a message out to the Empire. The good thing about it was that given they had chosen to send a bounty hunter instead of more Sith assassins or a battalion of troops, the Empire likely did not yet realize the importance or significance of the mission.

Yet, Bastila still felt something was off about it. The Sith they had fought had recognized her. Why had Malak sent only a bounty hunter after them when only a month ago he had destroyed a planet to ensure her destruction? She felt the Force churning within her as she meditated on the matter.

They reached the top of a large sloping dune that swept downwards and off in the distance, atop another large dune, sat the sand people village. The walls were made of scavenged metals and hide, with large hide canopies covering most of the stronghold which let the searing light from the suns in while providing ample shade as well. Even from first glance, it appeared the sand people were much more organized than one might have anticipated.

"We should go on foot from here," Venar said, "Look, see the turrets?" He was right. There were scavenged turrets aligned along the outside walls of the village. It really looked more like some primitive military base than a village.

"Good idea," Bastila said, "They're less likely to blast us on the spot if we come walking in slowly."

"My thoughts exactly."

"Of course, they'll probably try blasting us ether way," she retorted, before adding, "I hope you know what you're doing, Padawan."

"HK? Mission? You ready?"

"Excited Affirmation: Oh I am most ready should these savage meatbags try to kill us, Master. Oh I do hope they're not friendly."

"He's in there," Mission said, her eyes misty. "My brother is in there."

"I know," Venar said placing his hand on her shoulder, "We'll find him... but Mission, just in case, you might want to prepare yourself." Mission nodded, steeling herself.

"Perhaps," Bastila added, "the Force has lead us here for more than one purpose."

With that, they left their speeder bikes there on top of the dune and ventured down the slopes of the hot sand banks towards the sand people enclave. As soon as they reached the bottom of the dune, they heard the distinct cries and hollers of the sand people coming from within their stronghold. Within moments, about two dozen of their warriors came running out the main entrance of the enclave, running towards them with gaffi sticks and slug-thrower rifles.

"Well," Venar said, "They know we're here now."

"Stand your ground," Bastila advised as they continued walking forward, undaunted.

"HK, wait until they're within range and then begin broadcasting that we come in peace."

"Begrudging Compliance: While I am not fond of this tactic, Master, I shall acquiesce."

The minutes seemed to drag by as the approaching band of hostile warriors made their way to them across the sand. As they got closer, they stopped and raised their hands in the air as a sign of surrender. They were only several yards away when Venar signaled for HK to begin broadcasting the message.

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