PART I  

        The Jedi were gone. There were still rumors of course; whispers echoing from the farthest corners of the Galaxy of a few disgraced fugitives who managed to survive the Emperor’s purge. Stories cropped up every now and then of a crazy old wizard living in some desolate desert hut in the Outer Rim, or an ancient warrior hiding in a remote swamp on some god-forsaken backwater world, but the tales were nothing more than myths. The Emperor had ordered it, Darth Vader had commanded it, and Boba Fett had finished the job. Now the Jedi were nothing more than figments of folklore; fading echoes of hope in an otherwise hopeless galaxy. Finally, for the first time in a thousand generations, people had to see the galaxy the way it was – the way Boba Fett saw it – as a dark place to carve out a lonely, bitter survival.

But this target wasn’t a Jedi. There was a time when Boba’s prey had been one of the finest duelists in the Jedi Order, but if the rumors were true, then in the decade and a half since Order 66, the honorable warrior had decayed into a creature of darkness; a being filled with anger, hate, and suffering, and so the young bounty hunter found it fitting that his hunt brought him to the doorstep of another creature of suffering.

        Over two meters tall, humanoid in form, with flowing black robes trailing from his armored figure and a face forever masked by an angular metal breathing screen, the Dark Lord of the Sith was an awesome, threatening shape as he strode through the corridors of the Star Destroyer Devastator. With his obsidian skull-like mask, which more resembled a scowling gargoyle than a man’s face, and a temper known throughout the galaxy, Darth Vader haunted the battleship like a fearsome, brooding shadow. Heavy black cape gently draped around his polished boots, and gloved hands resting on his utility belt, the Dark Lord stood absolutely motionless by the command deck’s viewport. A frequent pose, the vigilant, demonic statue observed the construction of a colossal dagger-shaped warship, the skeletal frame of which dwarfed Vader’s current flagship. As Boba Fett marched to the viewport, he could hear Darth Vader’s rasping, artificial breathing echo through the command bridge like a whispered warning to those who might approach him.

        “As a reward for your loyalty to the Empire, I have obtained the information you requested,” the Dark Lord rumbled through his deep baritone voice synthesizer without turning his attention from the window.

        “The complete file recovered from the Jedi archives. You will know more about him than he ever knew about himself. It will be transferred to you at my command.”

        A ghostly mechanical breath echoed through the Sith Lord’s gleaming armor as his masked gaze continued to roam the void before him.

        “But first…” Vader turned to face the young bounty hunter, “I want to know why you desire it.”

Boba stared at the Dark Lord in silence. What did it matter to Vader why he wanted the file? It was a personal matter, not a job. Boba had requested Jedi files before in his hunts and Vader had never asked why. After concluding it wasn’t the Sith Lord’s concern, he decided to keep his answer brief.

        “I have a score to settle.”

        “I am aware of your past encounters.” Vader’s forced breaths pumped and hissed through the stale air for a moment as his nightmare-touched mask leveled its usual cryptic, hateful glare. But you are hunting a dead man.”

“Perhaps,” Boba replied with a slight nod, “perhaps not.”

        Silence, save Darth Vader’s signature breathing, overtook the corridor. The gargoyle-like mask tilted its gaze away from Boba, apparently in thought, and for a moment, the bounty hunter was sure the Dark Lord was going to revoke his offer.

        Vader whipped his focus back to Boba; “the Empire has no interest in chasing ghosts. You may use this information as you please…” Vader pointed a single gloved finger in a stern warning, “but do not expect a reward.”

        “Understood,” Boba replied, “I appreciate the assistance.”

        As he turned to head back to his ship, Boba could feel Vader’s piercing gaze follow him across the command bridge. The Dark Lord was something of an enigma to Boba Fett. He appeared seemingly out of nowhere the night before Palpatine founded the Empire, yet it was clear that he was well versed in the history of the Jedi, the Clone Wars, the Separatists, the Republic, and the Empire. It was as if he’d lived through it all in another life. He knew how to command legions of men, yet Boba could find no record of anyone named “Vader” leading forces for either the Separatists or the Republic prior to Order 66. It was as if he had just appeared with all his vast knowledge, lethal skills, and infamous temper overnight. What kind of gruesome injuries could he have endured that forced him to rely on such extensive cybernetics? Was there any human part of him left?

        One day he would unravel the mysterious identity of the man buried beneath that gleaming black armor, but Boba had other priorities at the moment. It was time to hunt.

 

PART II

        As Slave I drifted in its orbit around Al’Har I, Boba could feel the hot touch of rage boiling in both his young body and his bitter soul. Even without being sensitive to the Force, the young Mandalorian warrior could feel the raw fury in his bones ae he closed in on his target. Maybe it was all in his head; his body’s way of digesting decades of bitter rage, or some side effect of the cloning process that brought him into being, or maybe it was just a delusion, but whatever it was he felt, it drove him, and it led him to Al’Har I.

        Through the curved transparisteel of the cockpit, Al’Har I was a wall of mountain-punched clouds before him. It looked almost close enough to touch. As his ship floated around the planet, he couldn’t help but think that it was almost too easy. So many wanted men fled back to their homeworlds when they were in danger; it was predictable. One might even call it instinctual. It made them feel safe. While he exploited the behavioral pattern, it wasn’t something he could identity with. Kamino had merely been his place of birth, a point of origin and a training ground. Slave I was the only home he’d ever known.

As predictable as it was though, it was more than logic and reasoning that brought Boba to Al’Har I. According to his information broker, an eccentric and reclusive arachnoid, there was a rumor circulating; a sort of local legend swirling around a hermit called “Lor Pelek,” which Boba learned means “jungle master” in the local Korun language. The spider-like broker claimed the term referred to an old folk myth of a shaman of both great power and great peril; a wizard, demon, and healer who lived deep in the jungle and drew on the “Pelekotan,” or “jungle mind,” to wield magical strength. Many men had used the title throughout the centuries, but recently the locals bestowed the legendary title upon a reclusive hermit who roamed the mountains around the planetary capital of Pelek Baw.

The broker’s intel was reputed to be quite accurate, but it wasn’t just the tale of a recluse that piqued Boba’s interest, for he knew such tales were quite common among superstitious cultures. What really grabbed the bounty hunter’s attention was an official Imperial report claiming that this recluse slaughtered an entire legion of stormtroopers with a lightsaber. Hailed as a local hero by anti-imperial natives, his treasonous rampage inspired protests and a regional revolt that challenged the Empire’s grip on the primitive jungle world.

Boba turned his attention to Slave I’s dashboard where mountains of data, harvested from the local government’s primitive communication systems, were streaming through the ship’s computers. The archaic technology employed by the impoverished puppet regime made it easy for him to hack their unsecured servers and siphon out as much information as he wanted without anyone detecting a breach. News reports, police frequencies, militia transmissions, and even official government correspondence all flowed straight onto the screen before him. As the data flowed in, Slave I automatically filtered and translated the results that were most promising based on a list of keywords he had selected. All Boba had to do was pick through the results for signs of his prey.

As he did so, Boba also setup a background program to scan the jungle around Pelek Baw for energy emissions signatures. Slave I’s sensors searched for any unusual flares of energy, and then filtered the results based on energy spectrums released by lightsabers. It was a trick he’d picked up during his time hunting Jedi with the Confederacy during the Clone Wars. It wasn’t a quick process, and it essentially required him to wait around for the weapon to be ignited, but if the lightsaber was flicked on for even an instant, Slave I would lock onto it.

These methods were time consuming, but the son of Jango had learned from an early age that patience could be his greatest ally. The greatest predators in the galaxy spent long swaths of time watching, stalking, and tracking their prey. Every being, no matter how careful, would inevitably slip and make a mistake at some point, and Boba knew that if he was patient enough, and perceptive enough, he would be there to catch it.

Boba knew this would not be an easy hunt; Al’Har I provided some truly challenging terrain. The majority of the planet was covered in toxic gasses, and life could only survive on the mountainous plateaus that rose above the cloud cover. One plateau near Pelek Baw, on the Korrunal Highland, was of particular interest to Boba. After reviewing the file from the Jedi Temple, the young bounty hunter realized that the stormtrooper massacre occurred on the same plateau where his Jedi target’s ancestral tribe originated. That couldn’t be coincidence, and it certainly narrowed the search area. Now all Boba had to do was figure out where on the plateau the hermit, now called Lor Pelek, was hiding. With its blood-thirsty predators, acid rain, metal and silicon-eating fungus, and poisonous jungles filled with tribes of deadly Force-sensitive native warriors, Al’Har I would not be easy to navigate. Hostile as the jungle world was though, it was the Lor Pelek’s home, and so Boba Fett would make it his tomb.

Part III

Broken twigs, shredded leaves, and splinters of bark whizzed through the air as the brewing storm tore its way through Al’Har I’s barren northern forest. The cool, dry season always gave birth to terrible bouts of nature’s wrath, but this storm was particularly fierce. With winds that could overpower most speeders, the brewing tempest was the fiercest Al’Har I had seen in decades, maybe even centuries.

Through the chaos lumbered a single, dark shadow. Few creatures dared to venture from their dwellings during such a ferocious storm, but the Lor Pelek was no ordinary creature. Over two meters tall with broad, powerful shoulders and a physique that boasted the kind of strength that could rival a Wookie, the Lor Pelek was easily the deadliest man on Al’Har I.

Sharp gusts of icy wind whipped through the mighty shaman’s robes as if the fabrics that clothed him were nothing more than withered leaves, but he knew he had to push onwards. It had been nearly three standard weeks since he’d had a sip of water, and he knew that if he didn’t find an oasis soon, he’d never survive the dry season.

The iron fingertips of the shaman’s mechanical hand, cold and unfeeling as the frozen breeze they weathered, clutched the frayed cuff of his sleeve and pulled his cloak up past his knotted beard to shield his lightning-seared face. Shards of razor-sharp bark pelting his shivering body, the old man knew he wouldn’t survive much longer in such terrible weather, and so the Lor Pelek was almost ready to turn around.

        The old man felt their presence echo through the Force around him before he saw them. Squinting his single remaining eye, the Lor Pelek scanned the chaotic tempest around him and counted seven wild Akk dogs circling him; a whole pack of hungry predators. As a youth, he’d studied the ancient Korun art of bonding with the ferocious creatures once they’d been domesticated, but these beasts were not the loyal hounds he’d trained with. These Akk’s were wild and likely starving for fresh meat.

Allowing his cloak to fall from his grip, the Lor Pelek reached his iron claw deep within his robes and withdrew from its shredded folds a metal cylinder no wider than his three largest fingers and no longer than his forearm. A relic from a prior life, the device was forged of metal and crystal a long time ago, back when he was a young man, during a more… civilized age. He knew he shouldn’t use it; that doing so could attract unwanted attention, but this was a matter of life and death. Besides, no one else was around to witness it. With rumbling growls and rolling thunder pounding through his skull, the Lor Pelek closed his single remaining eye and summoned the living Force. Debris from the brewing tempest swirling around his robed figure, the old hermit knew this was the only way. His metal fingertip found a well-worn switch on the neck of the device, and a shrill cry of raw energy cut through the air as he ignited his weapon.

 

 

Part IV

          It had been years since Boba Fett had used light wave emissions tracking to hunt a Jedi. It had earned him quite a few credits from the Confederacy’s coffers. From Count Dooku’s coffers. He remembered how he had hated that cruel old man, but Dooku was gone now, killed by the famous Jedi Anakin Skywalker during the last days of the war. Boba had encountered Skywalker a few times during the war. Tried to kill him once or twice too. They called him the “Hero Without Fear.” Now he was just another ghost from the past, forgotten by the Galaxy at large along with most of the Jedi.

          Vader paid handsomely for the remaining Jedi. Actually, he paid well for any poor soul who incurred his dark wrath, but especially Jedi, and so Vader was one of Boba Fett’s most frequent and valued clients. The Dark Lord’s insatiable passion for hunting the disgraced peacekeepers made Boba wonder what kind of history he had with them. Had they taken a loved one from him, as they had done to Boba Fett himself? Or had he been one of them long ago? Or maybe…

A tiny red bulb flickered on, immediately catching Boba Fett’s eye, and a slight ping from the energy scanner indicated that a faint burst within the target emissions range had been detected. A mighty storm was raging through the area where the energy flare had been emitted, making it impossible to pinpoint its exact location, but it was about seven clicks north-east of Pelek Baw, along the edge of a large plateau. A chill shivered down Boba Fett’s spine; the Lor Pelek had just made his mistake.

        Toggling through Slave I’s various mapping tools, the young hunter selected the ship’s topographical scanner and began scanning the region for any features that might resemble either a man-made structure or a natural geological feature that could serve as a dwelling. While his search yielded no traces of any artificial structures, he did notice one feature that looked promising. A long thin line depicting a sharp depression, or dip in the ground that trailed out from the edge of the raised plateau; a riverbed, or at least the remains of one. If the river began at the plateau’s sharp cliff face, then there had probably been a waterfall there at some point, and that meant there were probably caverns where the falling water carved passages through the rock.

        Reclusive, uncharted, and undesirable; the perfect hiding place for a fugitive.

Boba Fett downloaded the map and the coordinates into his helmet’s HUD display, and then rose to his feet. His mind racing, Boba climbed down into Slave I’s cargo hold to prepare his gear.

        Grabbing hold of a metal barrel in Slave I’s cargo hold, Boba pried the container open and plunged his bare hand into its golden contents. The various metal-eating and silicate-eating fungi that populated Al’Har I’s atmosphere forced the young bounty hunter to coat all of his inorganic equipment in Portaak amber. The sticky sap smelled vile, almost medicinal, but from what Boba had read about Al’Har I’s fungi problem, it was the only known substance that could protect metal objects.

Smearing the golden-brown sap onto his gauntlets, Boba was surprised to find that it actually didn’t stick to his hand, only to the metal it was being used to protect. Boba coated his helmet, gauntlets, and shin guards in the portaak amber, but not his torso armor.

Boba pulled a heavy metal case off of one of the storage shelves that lined the walls, laid it on the floor, and popped it open. Insulated by an expensive foam casing was a crude looking chest plate. With its irregular shape and bumpy texture, flaking layers, and bands of tan, pink and purple pigmentation, the armored plate more resembled a giant bruised thumbnail rather than the protective scale of the wild beast from which it came. Indeed the plate itself was fashioned from a giant scale harvested during the Clone Wars from last Zillo Beast of Malastare. It was said that a single scale from the enormous monster was strong enough to deflect a lightsaber, and so when Boba Fett found body armor forged from the creature’s unique scale, he decided it would be the perfect protection for his trip to Al’Har I. Boba slipped the crudely carved plate over his head and tightened the leather straps. It’s rough shape fit awkwardly on his torso, but it was definitely sturdy. Hopefully it would be worth the small fortune he’d paid for it.

After some consideration, Boba decided that he would leave his new EE-3 Carbine rifle aboard Slave I. This was partially because he didn’t want it to get corroded by the fungus, but more importantly, he realized that if this Lor Pelek really was a Jedi, then energy weapons were a bad idea. Boba knew from experience that lightsabers could easily deflect blaster bolts back at the person who fired them, which made them very risky. ACP, or Accelerated Charged Particles, and other projectile weapons were the smarter choice; even the hot plasma blade of a lightsaber couldn’t deflect a chunk of lead. Jedi couldn’t deflect fire either, and incendiary weapons were among Boba’s favorite, but his flame thrower relied on a silicon-based compound for the fuel pouch and fuel line hose, so he’d have to leave it behind. Boba also knew from experience that sonic detonators, of which he’d bought three, were highly effective at disrupting a Jedi’s concentration.

        No concentration means no Force powers.

        Boba picked up his old ACP rifle. The cold cast-iron frame was heavy but durable; ugly yet powerful. Truth be told, he really disdained the cumbersome relic, but he’d used it before and he’d use it again. Boba slung the rifle over his shoulder, strapped his leather utility belt around his waist, then clipped a smoke grenade and his three sonic detonators to his belt.

        Effective as those armaments were though, Boba Fett’s most effective weapon was neither a gun, nor a grenade. The most powerful – and most expensive – tool in his arsenal was actually a tiny glass vile. Costing nearly half of his last bounty, the transparent container was filled with the only substance in the galaxy that could truly level the playing field; the blood of an obscure tree lizard. How exactly it worked, Boba wasn’t quite sure, but he knew that it was supposedly debilitatingly painful for Jedi or Sith to touch the liquid. Pouring some of the substance into three Kaminoan Sabre Darts, Boba loaded the poisoned darts into his gauntlet-mounted Velocity-7 dart shooter and then placed the glass vial in one of the leather pouches on his belt.

        The bounty hunter decided he should probably bring other non-metallic weapons in case his rifle got corroded by fungi. Searching Slave I’s cargo hold for any non-alloy weapons, he found a dagger with a crystalline blade, which he sheathed and strapped to his calf. He also dug up an old and tattered teal poncho that had belonged to Jango.

As he unrolled the poncho, he felt a heavy object fall on his foot, and when he looked down, a sleek silver pistol sat at his toes. Reaching for the weapon, he instantly recognized it. It had belonged to Jango. Thinking back to the day his father died, Boba faintly recalled rolling the pistol into the cloth. Since he didn’t have a non-energy-based sidearm, Boba decided he’d bring the pistol along as a backup. The young hunter clipped a holster under his arm and slipped the poncho over his head. He then coated the pistol in amber and stashed it in the holster.

        Everything else in the cargo hold was metal though, so he’d have to acquire or forge anything else he might need once he reached the surface.

        Climbing back up to the cockpit, Boba programmed a set of landing coordinates that would leave him near the ruined imperial camp on the outskirts of Pelek Baw. Slave I’s durasteel plating would be vulnerable to Al’Har I’s airborne fungi, so Boba would have to quickly disembark from the vessel, and then remotely send it back into orbit where the freezing, unforgiving void of space would destroy the fungal spores.

Once he’d set the ship down, Boba gathered up his gear, hustled off the landing ramp, and then sent Slave I back into orbit.

 

PART V

        Al’Har I’s turquoise sky began to melt into a deep amber as Boba Fett began his climb into the mountains. Though it was known as a humid jungle world, the temperature on Al’Har I could fall to be quite cool at night during the planet’s crisp autumn, and as Boba started his trek through the foliage, he found the sharp nip of the evening breeze whip his back.

The hike was neither short nor easy. The ground was covered in downed trees, broken sticks, large swaths of bark, and other debris from the terrible storm had ravaged the area the night before. The jagged edges of his chest plate, chipped, flaked, and scratched against his shoulders and neck.

As he hiked, Boba reviewed the topographical map he’d downloaded to his helmet. The digital marker he’d set for himself marked a clearing at the edge of the plateau, at the bottom of the cliff face. Besides its isolation, Boba realized the hypothetical cave made sense, for the Lor Pelek’s lair was located right in the middle of an old battlefield, one with a particular connection to the past.

        A war zone from a planetary civil war that raged as a proxy war during the Clone Wars, Al’Har I still bore the scars of a bloody conflict. If Boba was right about his target’s identity, then this Lor Pelek’s entire tribe was nearly exterminated during that war, and the hunter found it suiting that his most hated prey, the last of his tribe, would die in this place as well. Broken and alone, among the charred bones of his extinct clan, the exiled Jedi would finally pay for his crimes.

        Al’Har I’s moon belt was high in the night sky by the time Boba reached his target coordinates. Quietly stalking through the trees, he could see a small clearing ahead. A tall cliff face with a single dark cave loomed at the far side of the clearing. The cavern was exactly where he’d expected it to be, and sets of faded footprints told the young hunter he’d finally found his target. Treading lightly through the dew-tipped grass, Boba neared the entrance to the cave.

Through his deathly visor, he scanned the cave thrice over, first with his night vision, then in thermal vision, and lastly he scanned for bio-signatures. Nothing. As far as his sensors could detect, the cave was empty. Could he have been mistaken? He took a few steps closer to the mouth of the cave. His predatory instincts were rarely ever wrong, but like any fallible creature, Boba knew he wasn’t immune to mistakes…

        A barrage of crackling sapphire lightning bolts burst from the cave’s entrance, and before he could even process what had occurred, Boba felt his spine slam against the tree behind him. His skeleton screaming in white-hot agony, the Mandalorian ground his teeth and let out a sharp grunt. Black smoke and the stench of charred circuits stung Boba’s nostrils and he realized his helmet’s computerized systems were down; fried to a crisp by the Force lightning. After manually flipping his helmet’s vent open, the bounty hunter rolled to take cover behind a nearby rock, drew his rifle, aimed into the cave, and caught his breath, waiting for a lightsaber to scream to life and light up the forest.

        But the bounty hunter’s patience was met only with the still silence of the chilly night air. Despite this, he did not move a single muscle, not a twitch. For a long moment, he didn’t even breathe.

        A short hiss and a sharp crack shattered the silence as a shard of pure amethyst sliced through the fog.

        A twitch of his finger and a hail of metal slugs burst from Boba’s rifle. Compared to the sharp crack of his carbine, the repetitive banging of the ACP rifle boomed through his skull like a war drum. When the spinning violet blade swiftly cut the slugs out of the air, Boba rolled over his shoulder and ducked behind a tree. The bounty hunter then lobbed a smoke grenade at the Jedi, and when puffs of caulky smoke engulfed his prey, he unleashed a second hail of lead.

        For a moment, all was still. Boba squinted to see if he could make out a body, but as the smoke drifted gently in the night breeze, there was no trace of the Jedi.

        The ground thundered and dirt flew through the air as a mass of flesh and plasma crashed down next to the Mandalorian. Before his lethal reflexes could snap his rifle up to fire, a jet of purple light sliced through the air and lashed Boba across his belly. The lightsaber burned a hole through the poncho but bounced off the Zillo scale armor as if it were a ray shield. It felt as if he’d been hit by an air speeder, and Boba was almost certain the blow had broken at least two of his ribs, maybe three, but the crude armor held. As he struggled to feet, Boba felt a sharp pain knife through his right lung and diagram as he tried to draw a breath, and before he could catch his breath he felt his boots leave the ground.

        The one called Lor Pelek stood shrouded in shadow with only an outstretched claw of iron, clenched in a raised fist, illuminated in the moonlight. As Boba struggled in the shaman’s invisible grip, the Lor Pelek took a heavy step toward his captured prey. As he leaned into the moonlight, and a band of silver light illuminated his weathered features, Boba Fett could see the same broken soul that had haunted his adolescent nightmares. The Lor Pelek’s battered cloak, knotted beard, and crinkled white hair drifted in the gentle wind as he marched closer to his captured opponent. In his lightning-singed face, with its heavy makeshift leather eyepatch and flared nostrils, Boba found a man charged with a beastial ferocity.

        “YOU!” The exile bellowed, his single remaining eye, glazed with the fog of cataracts, quivered with madness. “I should have known you’d come for me!”

        “You’ve had this coming for a long time, Windu.” Boba replied sharply.

        “I cut your father down and now I’ll do the same to you!” Windu roared, his voice raw and hoarse as if it had been used for nothing but bellows of sheer rage since the day he retreated from the Galaxy.

With each word the shaman blared, an invisible fist tightened its grip on Boba’s throat. The young bounty hunter could feel his consciousness draining. Though he was almost certain it would be futile, Boba tried to raise his rifle. In the half an instant it took his killer instincts to turn a thought into an action, Boba found his skeleton screaming in immeasurable pain. Bolts of energy ripped through the air and engulfed his body in pure white-hot agony.

        “I don’t think so,” Windu taunted, shaking his head.

        Boba realized he couldn’t move his limbs. When he tried to fire his rifle, the weapon plunged it’s barrel towards the ground and roared to life; emptying its entire magazine into the ground beneath him at a rate twice as fast as it was designed to fire. When it’s barrel fell quiet again, the weapon tore itself from his grip and darted off into the darkness. Boba’s hands were forced up beside his head, and his gauntlets crumpled around his wrists like scrap metal.

        “You come to MY planet, shoot up MY jungle, and you think you’re getting away that easy?”

           Windu took a step closer to his prey and his clenched fist eased into a weary point, with his pointer and middle fingers drifting towards Boba’s chest.

         “I sense something… A presence I haven’t felt since…”

The two fingertips poked through the charred slash mark in Boba’s pinch left by Windu’s lightsaber. Boba felt the clumsy metal digits jab at his chest plate and the old man’s face twisted in confusion – or maybe it was confliction? Boba wasn’t sure.

“Huh, interesting. Very clever,” the hermit grumbled.

The invisible force that held him suspended wrenched Boba’s right arm down behind his back. Out of nowhere, thick bands of vine or some other fibrous material wrapped themselves first around his abdomen, then around his right wrist. A moment later, Boba’s other hand was forced behind his waist as well where it was similarly restrained. As he struggled against the binding fibers, the bounty hunter felt like captured game. A set of invisible hands wound the restraints in a tight bind, so that no matter how hard he tried, Boba couldn’t budge his arms.

        “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna kill you,” Windu marched closer to his suspended foe and tilted his head to one side. As he did so, the milky glaze of his thick cataract sharpened and crystallized into a razor-sharp amber iris that pierced straight through Boba’s visor, “not yet.”

        Satisfied that his prey was captured, the Lor Pelek let out a sigh and lowered his hand, sending Boba crashing to the ground.

        “You’re coming with me.”

 

Part VI

        Boba Fett knocked the back of his helmet against the rock wall behind him.

        How did I end up here?

        Beaten, bound, dragged through the dirt, and stripped of his rifle and dagger; hardly the ending he’s envisioned for his hunt for Windu. The scaly armor plate that had just saved his young life had scratched and scraped his shoulders and neckline raw. As he sat captive in the cave that served as the Lor Pelek’s jungle hermitage, Boba Fett could feel the hot touch of rage swelling in his chest. For a full decade and a half, the son of Jango had wanted only one thing in life; to kill Mace Windu. Now, as his most hated prey wandered around searching the sky for magical signs like a lunatic only a few paces away, Boba Fett found himself powerless to slay him.

“I almost can’t believe you found me,” Windu muttered more to himself than to his captive.

        “Reality doesn’t care if you believe it.”

        Windu shot Boba a glare of pure contempt and then returned his attention to the sky.

“How’d you do it?” Windu croaked without turning to face his captive.

“The lightsaber. It gives off-”

“-an energy signature,” Windu cut in. “Yeah, I knew I shouldn’ta used the thing.”

The old Jedi shook his wrinkled head in disappointment, then turned to his prey.

        “Well, you got perfect timing,” the old man taunted, his lip curling in a satisfied smirk as he gazed up at the night sky. “Maybe too perfect.”

        “Oh really?” Boba asked sarcastically, “so why haven’t you killed me yet?”

        The old man froze for a moment and then turned to level another disgusted, hateful glare at his prey.

        “The time isn’t right yet!” Windu sneered with a sort of righteous indignation, as if it was incomprehensible and almost offensive to him that Boba didn’t understand the blatant truth revealed in the celestial bodies above. Baggy eyelids quivering around his fog-coated eye, which crystallized once more into a golden orb and bulged so far out of its socket that Boba worried it might pop out of his head, the psychotic look in Windu’s gaze showed he was clearly detached from reality.

        Seeing the former Jedi master in his current state of near madness reminded Boba of a note he found in Windu’s Jedi file written by Windu himself the last time he visited Al’Har I during the Clone Wars.

        “Vaapad is a path that leads through the penumbra of the Dark Side. Here in the jungle, that shadow fringe is unexpectedly shallow. Full night is only step away. I must be very, very careful here.”

        The old shaman was clearly not a Sith like Dooku or Vader, but Boba Fett could tell there was an aura of darkness following Windu. It reminded him of another note that Windu recorded about his clan brother.

        “I don’t see Vastor as evil. Not as a truly bad man. Yes, he radiates darkness – but so do all the Korunnai… His is the darkness of the jungle, not the darkness of the Sith.”

        The crazed recluse wandered back over to the mouth of the cave again and glanced up at the sea of diamonds that lit up the night. For a moment, the shaman seemed lost in the starry abyss, his trembling head tilted to allow his monovision gaze to analyze the constellations above. Boba took the opportunity while his captor was distracted to see if he could break free. He still had Jango’s pistol hidden in the holster under his poncho, but he couldn’t reach it with his hands bound behind his back. He knew the vibroblades in his gauntlets could slice right through the hemp restraints, but he was wedged against the cave wall in such a way that his hands were pinned and he couldn’t reach the button on his wrists. For the time being, Boba Fett was stuck.

        Once the Lor Pelek was satisfied with whatever delusions he found in the stars, he hung his head, took a deep breath, then marched back to Boba. Crouching in front of his bound foe, the shaman leaned in close.

        “We’re gonna let the stars decide your fate,” he said with a convinced nod.

        The stars? Boba didn’t know how to respond to such lunacy.

“You know, I warned you long ago,” Windu shook his head disapprovingly, “I told you to get over it years ago, but I guess you couldn’t.”

“Justice must be served,” Boba replied bitterly.

        “Justice, huh?” Windu scoffed, “what you want isn’t justice, it’s revenge. Yeah, I killed your father, but there was nothing unjust about it. I didn’t murder him in his sleep, I defeated him on the battlefield. It was an honorable death; a better end than what you’ve got coming.”

“Everyone dies, Windu. It’s the final and only lasting Justice, and I swear by the soul I don’t have, I am going to kill you.”

The shaman wandered back over to look at the sky again. He was clearly expecting something to happen. “You know what, I think it’s just about time.”

Windu turned back to Boba and raised his mechanical fist into the air. An invisible hand wrapped itself around the bounty hunter and shoved him to his feet.

        “Let’s go, Fett.”

        As they marched into the clearing outside the cave, Windu’s foggy eye swiveled wildly in its baggy socket; nervously scanning the surrounding foliage like a paranoid spice dealer.

        “I know you’re out there!” the Lor Pelek called out to the empty darkness, “Come out and face me!”

        “It’s just you and me out here,” Boba said as he grabbed ahold of one of his gauntlets and ran his finger along the slit designed for his vibroblades. He knew he could easily break free if he got the mechanism working, but Windu’s crushing Force attack had severely damaged the gauntlets.

        “NO!” the shaman bellowed, “I FEEL HIM!”

        “Who?” Boba asked in an attempt to push the senile old man further into his delusion to buy himself more time.

        Windu lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper; “Darkness…Evil… Fear incarnate.”

The durasteel vibroblades shrieked through Boba’s damaged gauntlets and sliced through the hemp restraints. As his arms burst free, Boba Fett lunged at Windu.

        But the Jedi Master, deranged though he was, moved quickly as ever. His amethyst blade screamed to life and Windu whirled to face his attacker.

        Closing the distance between them before Windu had the chance to strike, Boba’s blades ripped through the shaman’s robes and sliced deep into his belly. The wounded warrior swung his mighty saber but Boba managed to leap aside and deliver a powerful blow to back of Windu’s knee, which sent him to a kneel. A quick arc of the purple blade proved too slow, and Boba rolled over his shoulder out of the saber’s range. Leveling his gauntlet with Windu’s neck, Boba was about to launch a payload of blood poison into Windu’s throat when an invisible force of nature slammed into his elbow sending the dart shooting into the dirt. The shaman the. raised his metal hand to lift Boba high into the air.

        “No, no, NO!” Windu rose to his feet. “NOT YET!” He barked before turning towards the jungle. “I know you’re out there! You need to see this!”

As an invisible hand around his throat grew tighter, the bounty hunter’s every nerve began to scream with pain, and Boba Fett was certain he was going to die.

        “Take back your pawn and face me, coward!” Windu barked at the empty night.

        Windu’s ramblings faded into incoherent mumbling as an empty ringing filled Boba’s ears. Death’s grip, cold and black as the void of space, began to strangle his senses. This was the end; Boba Fett was going to die a harsh and merciless death at the hands of Mace Windu, like his father before him.

        A shadow lunged from the darkness. A screech cut through the air, a blazing streak of bloody flames sliced through the night, and a deafening crash of hate and fire rang through the jungle.

        Windu’s crushing grip on Boba broke instantly and the bounty hunter slammed to the ground. As he wiped the dirt from his visor, he heard a rasping growl echo through the crisp night air. No, not a growl, a breath; a ghostly mechanical breath.

        “We meet again,” blared a synthetic baritone voice. Boba knew that voice…

        Rolling over, Boba realized that the sea of glassy shards that had illuminated the night sky were replaced by a fleet of pale durasteel wedges hovering in the atmosphere.

        Windu’s weathered face twisted with confusion at the sight of the deathly skull mask and gleaming obsidian armor, but after a moment his nostrils flared wide, and his single golden eye widened in its scarred and wrinkled socket. The demonic tower of hate that emerged from the shadows was a menacing sight to behold, but as his single cloudy eye regarded Darth Vader, Windu’s reaction was not that of a fearful man, it was a look of horror and recognition.

        “You’re not…” the old shaman’s cheek twitched as he struggled to recover a memory,”…by the Force…” Windu’s bearded jaw flexed, his eye narrowing “what have you become?”

In that instant, the young hunter realized why Vader had questioned his interest in Windu’s file; the Dark Lord had his own vendetta to settle with Mace Windu. They must have known each other somehow. The two warriors circled each other; deadly blades of fire pointed at one another.

“You remember a dead man,” Vader blared.

        The Dark Lord tightened his grip on his weapon; his infamous blade forged of blood and flames.

        “…and now your time has come!”

Vader spun his crimson torch and brought it down like an executioner’s vibro axe over Windu’s scarred forehead. The old man blocked, whirled, and spun on his heel, but his stamina was not what it once was. As the Dark Lord hammered away at his prey, the aged Jedi found himself struggling to keep up with the robotic reflexes and hateful fury of his opponent. Their sabers clashes hard, vaporizing their air between them in a contest of will and might.

“Last we met, you would not grant me the rank of master.” A rasping breath, filled with as much hate as mechanical strain, pumped through the space between them.

“Tell me…” the Dark Lord leaned in, his crimson saber grinding against Windu’s amethyst blade, “…who’s the master now?”

Windu’s eye widened, his jaw parted, and his shoulders stiffened – and Boba Fett saw his opportunity.

        Rising to his feet, Boba snapped his dart shooter up to eye-level and fired. There was empty click, a short snap, then a dart fell out of the barrel and dropped to the floor. Boba realized the dart-shooter must have been damaged. He whipped his father’s pistol out of the holster beneath his poncho, took aim at his most hated prey, and fired off three shots. The Jedi whirled and spun his blade with impressive speed for a man of his age and cut the bolts right out of the air. A moment later, Vader’s blade came down towards Windu again, and the Jedi turned, blocked, and launched a counter attack. It was a perfect opportunity for Boba Fett.

        The young hunter raised his damaged gauntlet, then fired off his smart-cable at his distracted opponent. The metal wire wrapped itself around the Jedi’s shoulders, elbows, legs, and torso, and Windu dropped his weapon.

“This one’s mine,” Boba called to Vader as he yanked the cable with all his might and sent Windu stumbling to the ground. “You wanted every last Jedi dead; that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Effortlessly waving a single gloved hand through the air, Vader sent the bounty hunter tumbling aside. The metal cable snapped, whipped backwards, and then lashed Boba Fett across his belly.

“I am altering our arrangement,” the Sith Lord hissed, “the Empire will compensate you for locating Windu, but I will destroy this one myself.”

“I’m not hunting him for you!” Boba protested as he struggled to his feet, “this is personal!”

“Indeed it is.”

Another wave of Vader’s gloved hand and Fett flew backwards. He felt his body slam against something hard, followed by a sharp pain in the back of his skull, and then his world faded to black.

 

PART VII

The cool trickle of fresh blood dripping down his back sent a chill shivering down Boba’s spine and pulled him back to consciousness. His eyes snapped open like a pair of jack-knives and as he rolled to his feet, Boba quickly surveyed his surroundings. Vader and Windu were gone. The area outside the cave was littered with craters, broken sticks, cracked rocks and other debris, but as far as Boba could see, there was no trace of either the Sith Lord or the old shaman.

As his focus sharpened, he noticed a trail of blood leading into the cave. Boba assumed it had to be Windu’s, probably from the belly wound, since he doubted a mechanical monstrosity like Darth Vader could bleed.

Boba had no idea how long he’d been unconscious for, but the blood was fresh, and it was his only chance to recapture his prey. Taking one last glance around, Boba picked up his pistol, leveled it with the cave’s gaping mouth, and carefully made his way inside.

Boba Fett was a man of many travels. He’d hunted prey from one side of the galaxy to the other, but he’d never seen anything quite like what he found inside of that cave. Trinkets of bone, feathers, plants, carved stones, and other tokens of a shaman, littered the floor. As he waded deep into his prey’s abode he found the nightmares of a tormented soul scrawled in bloody charcoal and scratched into the stone all across the walls. Words, phrases, figures and drawings; all narrations of suffering covered every corner and crevice of the makeshift dwelling. Years of guilt and misery clearly took a heavy toll on Windu’s mind. Boba Fett hadn’t noticed any of it when he was in the cave earlier. He had literally knocked his head against a road map of his enemy’s psyche but was too angry to notice, and it made him realize how much his blind rage had clouded his sharp senses.

Boba recognized the closest word scrawled across the stone wall; “Vastor.”

Farther along the wall was a phrase; “UNLIMITED POWER!”

        Out of character for a Jedi. Boba thought to himself, Goes to show how far he’s fallen.

        “Defend your blood.” Probably another reference to Vastor, the hunter guessed.

“Haruun Kal is darkness.” While the Galaxy called the God-forsaken jungle world Al’Har I, Boba had read that Haruun Kal was the name used by locals.

There were a series of incoherent ramblings; things like “I AM Vaapad now!” words like “Juyo”and “Dôshalo” that Boba didn’t recognize, and phrases that made no sense. “He WAS too old,” was scratched deep into the stone along with “the prophecy was MISREAD!” Most of what he read made no sense to the Mandalorian, but a familiar name caught the bounty hunter’s eye.

        “Skywalker is NOT the Chosen One!” Anakin Skywalker?  Boba remembered seeing the young Jedi smashing through battle droids in the Geonosis Arena. He was one of the prisoners who was supposed to die that day, and he became a prominent commander in the Republic’s army during the war.

“Second Pillar: stand by your Ghôsh… the Jedi were my Ghôsh.”

The ramblings suddenly clicked in Boba’s mind as he remembered a note he found while flipping through Windu’s file. It was written by the Korun Jedi himself, and must have been collected by Yoda, or another council member, and included in the record.

        “The Korun culture is based on a simple premise, what they call the Four Pillars: Honor, Duty, Family, Herd. The First Pillar is Honor, your obligation to yourself. Act with integrity. Speak the truth. Fight without fear. Love without reservation.
Greater than this is the Second Pillar, Duty, your obligation to others. Do your job. Work hard. Obey the elders. Stand by your Ghôsh.
        Greater still is the Third Pillar, Family. Care for your parents. Love your spouse. Teach your children. Defend your blood.
Greatest of all is the Fourth Pillar, Herd, for it is on the grasser herds that the life of the Ghôsh depends. Your family is more important than your duty; your duty outweighs your honor. But nothing is more important than your herd. If the well-being of the herd requires the sacrifice of your honor, you do it. If it requires that you shirk your duty, you do it. Whatever it takes. Even your family.
Yoda once observed that – though I left Haruun Kal as an infant, and returned only once, as a youth, to train in the Koran Force-bond with the great akks – he thinks I have the Four Pillars in my veins along with my Korun blood. He said that Honor and Duty are as natural to me as breathing, and that the only real difference my Jedi training has made is that the Jedi have become my Family, and the Republic itself is my Herd.”

A sharp chill shivered down the Mandalorian’s spine as the true nature of Windu’s fall suddenly became clear to Boba Boba. The young bounty hunter had read a blurb in the file about Windu’s innate ability to find weaknesses, or shatterpoints, in anything he turned his mind to. It was part of his Korun instincts. Ironically, Boba realized, it were those same Korun instincts that formed the Jedi’s own shatterpoint. Those tenets of the Korun culture, moral and righteous as they were, ultimately were the source of Mace Windu’s downfall. As Windu wrote in his note, the Jedi were his Family and the Republic was his Herd, and when he chose not to kill Count Dooku on the balcony that day on Geonosis, he failed everyone he loved. Hundreds of his friends died because of his choice that day, and the wrath of that guilt emerged the night he tried to arrest the Chancellor. The darkness within him washed over him in a murderous wave, and he was ready to assassinate Palpatine. He was ready to commit murder that night, to sacrifice anything to redeem his failure on Geonosis, and his willingness to forsake his Jedi vow was ultimately his downfall.

Wading through the darkness, Boba found himself squinting into an abyss, but the bounty hunter was more than just a sum of his tools. As he groped his way through the cage, relying only on his senses and his instincts to illuminate his path, he realized that it’s the user that gives a tool its utility, that it’s the hunter that gives his weapons their lethal value, not the other way around. A lack of tools wouldn’t have stopped Jango, and despite his birth on Kamino, Boba Fett was a Mandalorian by trade and training, just as his father had been. The younger Boba had the instincts of a true predator, and the bloody trail staining the dirt floor told him his prey was ahead.

Like any creature not native to the night, Boba’s first instinct was fear, but as he stumbled through the cave’s broken rocks and cracked walls, he realized fear, anger, and other instinctual emotions would only get him killed. As a young man, he’d let his emotions get the better of him, and his grieving anger had helped him survive the Clone Wars, but if he wanted more than just survival, if he truly wanted to slay the murderous Jedi, Boba Fett had to be sharper, colder, stronger, and smarter than he’d ever been. Smarter than Jango had ever been.

Though it boiled deep within him, Boba couldn’t let himself be ruled by hate. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but anger and hate were Vader’s way, and Boba Fett knew he couldn’t beat the Sith Lord at his own game. No, the bounty hunter knew that if he wanted to beat Vader to the kill, he had to be smart. Relying on emotion would get him nowhere.

A breath to quell his rage and focus his senses, and Boba Fett pushed on. His cool head restored, the young hunter became acutely aware of his surroundings. A faint magenta light flickered through cave, dancing like a candle in the wind, and he realized there must be a second entrance.

 

PART VIII

        The night air flickered with shadows, sparks, and flashes of blue and white lightning bolts. Raising his crimson blade, Darth Vader deflected the attack, sending shards of energy scattering into the brush.

“Where did we fail you?” Windu asked, his hoarse voice saturated with disgust. “Obi-wan taught you the right way, I know he did. How did you turn into this?”

        “Do not lecture me about the virtue of the Jedi while the Dark Side’s power flows freely from your own fingertips!” the gargoyle mask hissed back, “Your philosophies and lies no longer confuse me, old man!”

His face twisting with bitter offense, Windu released another barrage of lightning. Crackling like shards of ice, the daggers of energy bounced off Vader’s blade and darted off into the night.

“The fool you knew died with the thousands of other Jedi you failed to save,” Vader blared, preying upon the fears and regrets he sensed in his foe.

“The Masters, the Knights, the Padawans… even the younglings… I killed them all. All of your friends, all of your mentors, and all of your students. Every single one of them…”

Marching forward, the Sith Lord raised a gloved hand from his weapon and summoned the might of the Force to slam Windu against a tree. As his opponent crashed into the massive trunk, Vader raised his blade high, then lunged at the Jedi.

But the Korun Jedi would not be subdued so easily. Falling to a bended knee, he shook off the pain and hurled himself at his dark foe; their deadly blades crashing together in a magnificent fountain of sparks like two terrible bolts of lightning on a stormy night. Torches of fire arcing and crashing, slashing and grinding, spinning and stabbing, the two titans lashed at each other relentlessly. Trees were smashed, sparks flew, and shrubs were set ablaze to create an inferno around them that lit up the jungle.

          Though he skillfully deflected the Dark Lord’s ferocious attacks, it was clear even to an outsider like Boba Fett that Mace Windu was only fighting defensively. His amethyst blade sliced, blocked, and parried with impressive speed and power, but for reasons Boba couldn’t fathom, it never attacked. It was as if the old shaman was just fending Vader off to buy time, but for what?

“There’s a reason we never made you a master!” Windu called as he pressed his flaming blade against Vader’s, “Yeah, you were skilled, powerful, even honorable at one point, but you were arrogant… thought you were invincible. You never knew your limits!”

A piercing shriek, followed by a deep mechanical grinding cut through the air, as if durasteel cogs were pressing together under immeasurable strain and pressure. There was a sharp snap, like an old rusted gear cracking in half and popping out of place, and Darth Vader’s right arm dropped to his side where it hung limp, as if his elbow had shattered. With all the men he’d killed, all the bones and limbs he’d blasted, broken, and smashed, Boba Fett had never heard a human body – or any organic body – make a sound like that.

“What’s the matter, you seem to be having trouble?” Windu taunted, “Guess you didn’t know about the fungus… Huh? Yeah, it’s some nasty stuff. The air here’s filled the stuff. Feeds on anything made of metal or silicon. I suppose you could say my planet doesn’t like you any more than I do!”

Releasing a thundering growl, Vader’s rage only grew worse. With only his left hand remaining to hold up his weapon to block Windu’s blade, the Dark Lord dug his mud-encrusted boots into the ground and drove his full might, and the full weight of his armored body, toward his enemy.

Windu’s hand was quick. Dropping from the hilt of his weapon, his iron claw swung by his belt, and then as his torso turned and pivoted, it shot up to grab Vader’s left forearm. Digging his durasteel fingertips into Vader’s wrist, Windu crushed the bionic limb like a metal can. Sparks flew and shrapnel tore through the air as the Jedi then ripped a chunk of the Sith Lord’s robotic wrist off. As his hand twitched, Vader’s saber hit the dirt. A well-placed kick to the chest panel knocked the Dark Lord backwards sending the various flashing lights on his chest into a flickering frenzy. As Vader stumbled and readjusted the panel, Windu did not miss the opportunity.

The exile hooked his weapon to his belt, then lifted his withered old hand as if he were about to give final rites to a dying man. Instead of absolving guilt, the gesture brought pure pain as Windu released a surge of power unlike anything Boba Fett had ever seen.

Darth Vader summoned his weapon. The metal hilt shot through the air like a blaster bolt, but his damaged mechanical limbs were too slow to whip the weapon into action.

Springing through the night like a wave of vicious serpents, the lightning tore into Vader’s body just as the Dark Lord’s weapon screamed to life. The cyborg released a cry of raw agony as the lightning ripped through him, and his saber fell to the ground once more. Bones flashed, and beams of metal glowed red hot beneath the black armor as the Dark Lord writhed with pain. With each flash of light, Vader stumbled, twitched, and shook as if his soul had been dealt a mortal wound. A final loud bang from deep within the Sith Lord’s chest ripped through the crisp night air and his chest panel flickered off. Windu lowered his hand, and Darth Vader fell to a single knee. A trembling arm steadying him on each side, the broken Sith coughed, choked.

        “It’s over!” Windu cried triumphantly, “you have LOST!”

After a moment of belabored breaths, Darth Vader struggled to his feet.

“Do not test the power of the Darkness!” Vader blared through his suit’s broken vocalizer as he stumbled toward his enemy.

The Sith Lord barely made it a few steps before falling to a bended knee once more. His armored figure shook and he started coughing harder, and then finally let out a shallow, broken wheeze.

The shaman shook his head in solemn disapproval and grabbed his lightsaber from his hip.

“In the name of the Republic that you betrayed… by Right of the Council that you destroyed… and by the Will of the Force that you’ve forsaken… I sentence you to Death.”

His tattered cloak flowing in the night breeze, Mace Windu ignited the weapon and raised the blade high. With the hilt beside his ear, he took one last look at his dark foe.

“The Prophecy said you were Chosen…” Windu shook his head in clear disappointment. “Some savior you turned out to be.”

Chosen? The word struck a chord in Boba’s memory.

The Lor Pelek pivoted his powerful body and swung the amethyst blade with all his might.

Vader’s mangled hand rose up into the air like a resurrected corpse, and his would-be executioner froze mid-swing. Suddenly, the ground began to rumble as though a whole stampede of wild beasts was approaching, thick tree trunks burst apart as if hit by phantom mortar rounds, and stones ripped through the air like blaster fire.

“That suit of yours won’t last much longer!” Windu barked at his foe.

“The Dark Side WILL sustain me long enough to destroy you!” Vader bellowed as his hand, twitching and convulsing, rose higher into the air.

“I wouldn’t count on it, An-.”

The Jedi’s golden eye bulged, his jaw tightened and his throat grew tense. Blood spraying from his quivering lips, Windu’s bearded neck began quivering as if it were locked within Vader’s gloved grip.

“There is only VADER now!” the Dark Lord growled, the full might of his rage thundering through the night. “The last memory of that foolish boy dies with you!”

Though he coughed and choked, Windu’s blade pressed ever closer to his kneeling foe. As the purple saber pressed ever closer to the Dark Lord’s face, it sliced the tip off Vader’s gloved fingers. As thunder shook the night, the searing violet light burned only a finger’s width away from Vader’s mask. The closer Windu pushed the saber towards Vader’s face, the tighter the Dark Lord squeezed the invisible bind around Windu’s throat.

The flames of Windu’s blade, a perfect blend of garnet and sapphire, licked Vader’s mask, and the shiny black finish above the right eye melted into a glowing slit of molten orange. Windu’s weapon cut into the Sith Lord’s masked face and Boba Fett swore the contest was over. If the Jedi could muster only the slightest bit more power, Darth Vader, the Emperor’s iron fist, would be cut in half.

Boba knew this was his chance. The young hunter reached beneath his cloak and withdrew his father’s pistol. The hot touch of rage pulsing through his senses told him to open fire, but his logical mind knew better. The two titans were face to face, only a palm’s width apart; the slightest error and the bounty hunter would accidentally strike down his best client. Raising Jango’s pistol to eye level, Boba Fett took aim, but with the storm of debris hurtling through the air, the Mandalorian couldn’t get a clear shot at Windu’s head. If he hit Windu without killing him, Vader’s hateful power would instantly break the shaman’s neck. He had to find a way to non-lethally neutralize both of them, and he had to do it fast, or else his one and only chance at vengeance would be lost forever.

PART IX

        An ear-shattering boom, loud as the guns on a the Empire’s mightiest warship, echoed through the night. As the smoke cleared, Boba saw to his satisfaction that the sonic detonators had disoriented the Jedi Master and the Sith Lord alike. Windu’s saber spun from his grip, his hands bolted to cover his ears, and he fell to his knees beside Vader. Vader’s twitching hand collapsed to the floor and his head dropped to a lifeless bow. Supported only by his mask’s physical inability to slump past his chest plate, Vader looked more like deactivated battle droid than a fearsome Sith warrior.

From the inferno, a Mandalorian emerged. Puffs of ink-black smoke trailing off his singed poncho, Boba Fett crept from the flickering shadows. Pistol held high, the bounty hunter marched up to his prey and leveled his weapon with the Lor Pelek’s head.

“Say hello to my Father for me.”

But the flash that lit up the grisly scene was not a scarlet energy bolt, it was a hail of sapphire.

“Tell him yourself!” Windu cried defiantly.

As the crackling lightning ravaged Boba’s entire body, he managed to fire off a single scarlet dagger of light into Windu’s abdomen. But even the blaster bolt that burned through the shaman’s torso didn’t stop the barrage of electricity, and Boba fell to the ground; his pistol fell from his hand and slid off into the darkness.

Waves of searing lightning tearing through him, Boba found himself merely a hand’s length from his prey. With each surge of energy, Boba could feel his muscles spasm, cramp, quiver and convulse. His limbs flailed, every last nerve within him screamed, and he could feel his whole body writhing in impossible agony. He could feel his gauntlets and shin guards burn red hot against his skin, the fumes of his own singed flesh and hair chokes his senses, and he could see his helmet’s visor crack like a piece of cheap glass.

The pain was blinding, the crackling deafening, and the searing heat that melted his skin was beyond crippling, but the son of Jango could not give up. As wave after wave of paralyzing electricity ripped through his writhing corpse, all he could think about was how after so many years, Mace Windu was finally within reach. He was close. He was so close.

Fighting through the electrical torture, Boba grabbed the vial of animal blood from his belt. He barely felt the shattered glass slice through his glove as he crushed the vial in his hand, before he blindly swung his arm and felt the shards of glass connect with Windu’s flesh.

Boba Fett had no idea how much of the animal blood was left in the broken container, but the instant he felt the top of his hand collide with the shaman’s knotty beard and calloused flesh, the searing torture stopped. The crackling of the lightning was replaced with a blood-curling scream, and when Boba opened his eyes, he saw the shaman was writhing in pain; hands clenched around his bleeding throat and his open jaw blaring a mighty burst of raw agony. Boba knew the blow to Windu’s throat definitely wasn’t deep enough to be a mortal wound, so the blood poison must be working. The bounty hunter still had no idea what exactly a ysalamiri was, or why its blood was so harmful to Jedi, but in that moment he didn’t care.

Flipping himself over on top of his prey, the young hunter locked his legs around his writhing foe’s torso. As his aching lungs struggled to draw a breath, Boba crossed his arms at the elbow, and then slammed his fists down next Windu’s head. The crossed blades of both gauntlets cut into the shaman’s neck as Boba Fett leaned in close to Windu’s face.

Mace Windu raised his mechanical hand to Boba Fett’s throat. His pointed metal finger tips clawed a hole in Boba’s neck guard, but he was too slow. Just as the iron digits scratched into his flash, Boba pushed his gauntlets deep into the Jedi’s throat. A muffled, gurgled cry echoed through his helmet and a geyser of dark liquid sprayed across his cracked visor, but Boba didn’t relent. Pumping into his wrists every ounce of vengeful power his exhausted body could muster, Boba Fett didn’t relax until the hollow crack of a broken vertebrae told him that Mace Windu’s head was severed from his body; until it rolled in the dirt as Jango’s had. Then, only then, did the legendary predator rise, and as would come to be his trademark, Boba Fett was the last one standing.

 

PART X

        Baptized in blood, anointed in sweat and tried in pure agony, Fett rose to his feet. Absorbing the gravity of what he’d just done, Fett felt invisible as he marched over to the broken cyborg.

There was a time when it was unthinkable to Boba Fett that anyone could break the fearsome Dark Lord of the Sith, but as he sat slumped in his battered suit, belabored wheezes hissing through his broken armor like a midnight breeze whistling through a tomb, the weary hunter found himself wondering if Darth Vader would live to see sunrise.

        Boba Fett could have killed Vader that night. He could have blasted him to bits or left the Dark Lord to die in the jungle alongside Windu; abandoned him as fodder for the mold and bacteria to eat his suit while he helplessly suffocated. The impulsive rage that characterized his youth still demanded it. Angry and bitter though he was at the way the imperial commander had used him to further his own vengeful agenda, he knew that letting one of his most profitable clients die was not good business. Daybreak was near, and they still had to make it out of the jungle. The locals might come looking for shaman, and Fett wasn’t exactly itching for another fight right away. As he thought about it, it occurred to him that with his helmet fried and his gauntlet’s crushed, he couldn’t even contact Slave I. Suppressing his anger, he realized he needed Vader almost as much as Vader needed him.

There were no sparks or flames coming from the suit, and the lights that usually blinked on Vader’s chest and belt were dark, leading Fett to conclude that the power source had been damaged or disconnected somewhere beneath the heavy armor. The suit was clearly deteriorating, but if they could get it started, they might still have enough time to get off-world before it completely fell apart.

“How do I restart this thing?”

Vader did not respond for a moment; only his shallow wheezing indicated he was still alive.

“The main power source is damaged,” Vader managed between gasps, “there is an auxiliary power unit on my belt. Remove the cables. Connect them to the chest plate. Then turn it on.”

Approaching the immobile Sith Lord felt like Fett was approaching a cornered animal, one that might lash out at any moment. Setting up the cables felt like he was mending a wounded beast. Once Fett had done as Vader instructed, he took a step back.  “Is it working?”

Again the Dark Lord did not respond.

A high pitched ringing emanated from the suit, but Vader remained motionless. A series of ruby-red sparks crackled along the chest plate. The cyborg jolted, let out a grunt, and then the lights on his chest panel and belt flickered back to life.

A ghostly mechanical breath haunted the night air.

Once he’d caught his breath, Lord Vader reached for his weapon, grabbed it in his trembling mutilated claw of a hand, and clipped it to his belt. The Dark Lord then placed both hands on his bended knee and pushed himself to his feet; his tattered black cape draping itself over his shoulders and around his beaten body as a shadow might cloak a demon in a nightmare.

“Windu was right. I got that suit working but it won’t last much longer down here. We should go,” Fett warned, “the locals may come looking for him.”

“Those savages no longer pose a threat,” Vader replied abruptly as he pushed a button on his belt.

“Why is that?”

Vader did not respond. Instead his hateful mask merely leveled it’s usual deathly glare at the bounty hunter. Moments later, a sharp whine shattered the silence between them and a blinding white glow of artificial origin washed over the two men. The signature theatrics of an Imperial landing shuttle didn’t intimidate Fett, but he knew something was wrong when Vader raised his maimed hand into the air and the craft halted its descent.

“There will be no record of this.” Vader declared, his mask’s chiseled features still drilling the Mandalorian. “Windu died long ago, along with the rest of the Jedi; along with Kit Fisto, Zabrak Kolar…” Vader’s baritone voice trailed off for a moment as if he were embroiled in some powerful, and perhaps conflicting thought. “…and Anakin Skywalker.”

The specific, isolated mention of Skywalker caught Fett’s attention. Anakin Skywalker hadn’t died on Coruscant with Zabrak Kolar, Imperial records stated his remains were found on Mustafar. Mustafar; a volatile volcanic world. Vader had once summoned Fett to a castle of his on Mustafar. The odd set of coincidences struck him and Fett began to wonder if the night’s events had finally revealed the Dark Lord’s true identity. That word… “Chosen.” Windu had used it describe both Skywalker and Vader. The scribblings in the cave, the familiarity with Windu, the intimate knowledge of the Jedi, the leadership experience, the immense physical power…

A thousand parcels of thought connected in his psyche and Fett felt a powerful bind clamp around his throat and wrists. Though Vader remained completely still, with his hands resting by his sides beneath his cloak, a deep rumbling, like a bout of rolling thunder, filled the air.

        “There will never be any mention of what occurred here tonight, bounty hunter,” the Dark Lord hissed threateningly. “No record of the old bat’s rambling lies… and no reward.”

Fett looked around to see an army of Darth Vader’s porcelain-clad pawns emerging from the surrounding shrubs. The burns, scratches and smoke residue on their armor made clear why he needn’t worry about the locals. Vader was obviously determined to ensure that whatever dark truths Windu may have retained within his crazed mind would go with him to his grave.

“There’s nothing to say,” the bounty hunter replied.

The mild strangulation continued as the scowling gargoyle mask silently drilled Fett with the it’s stoic glare. It was as if Darth Vader were reading his mind and deciding whether or not to telepathically snap his neck. For an agonizing moment, Fett stared back into the dark abyss entombed within that deathly mask, and it was in that instant, as he locked gazes with galaxy’s most feared executioner, that Boba Fett finally understood that Darth Vader was an angry, broken man driven only by unfathomable fear and a bottomless reservoir of self-loathing. That’s what made him most dangerous. It wasn’t the lightsaber or the Force powers, it was that bitter, hateful will to destroy that made Darth Vader absolutely lethal. As he held the shuttle suspended above them at the expense of his own physical condition, the Dark Lord made it clear that it was he alone who held the power of life and death in his unfeeling hands, and that he would wield that power against absolutely anyone – including himself – if it meant keeping his hideous past guarded.

A gust of chilly autumn wind raced through the brush, and the shuttle suspended above bobbed and bounced in its delicate hover. With his shredded cape billowing beneath the shuttle’s thrusters and the entirety of his figure illuminated in the landing lights, the full extent of Vader’s robotic enhancements lay exposed. Torn fabrics revealed battered durasteel limbs, shredded wires protruded instead of severed veins, and blackened burn marks took the place of bloodstains. Whatever shreds remained of Vader’s organic form were well concealed; sustained by powerful machines and driven by an even more powerful self-loathing. Nothing that challenged him or resisted his will could ever thrive. That’s when Boba Fett decided he didn’t want to know any more about Vader’s past for the sake of his own self-preservation. Maybe Vader really was Skywalker, or maybe Windu really was just a crazy old man, either way, Boba Fett now understood that digging into the Dark Lord’s past would be a fatal endeavor.

“Good,” Vader’s grip on Fett’s neck relaxed, as if some dark sorcery had allowed him to read the final conclusion in Fett’s mind. Vader signaled to the shuttle to land and then started towards it. Then he paused and tilted his helmet back towards Fett.

“It would be unfortunate if I had to recruit a new bounty hunter.”