Sarolyn and Neema led Ayo and Yarua back towards the cellar entrance.
“We’ll come up in the servants’ wing,” said Sarolyn, “not far from the kitchens.”
“What about Zibeon?” pressed Ayo, deeply worried for his small, alien friend. The last time he had seen the little Zephoid Zez, they were outside in the grounds. Zibeon had been frightened by something only he could see, and Ayo had been reassuring him when he was hit by a powerful stun blast. He then awoke, in chains, down here. Ayo remembered nothing of the interim.
Sarolyn could sense this incompleteness in Ayo and Yarua. There had been this terrible screaming out in the Formal Gardens and she feared that their friend was dead. She could feel the closeness towards Zibeon, and she knew that his death would hit them hard.
“Shocktroopers!” hissed Ayo as the four of them reached the bottom of the steps. The guardtroopers were sniffing around the hole that Sarolyn had cut into the reinforced cellar door. “Is there any other way out?”
“I doubt it,” whispered Sarolyn as they hid behind the line of the steps.
“Any other exit’s bound to be as heavily guarded as this one,” added Neema.
Sarolyn turned to Ayo and Yarua. “I’ll deal with the guards,” she said softly as she pulled out her lightsabre.
“Good luck, Sarolyn,” smiled Ayo as she strode purposefully up the stairs. His gaze followed the young Jedi with awe. She was a natural leader, strong and determined yet kind and gentle. He glanced at Yarua, who was similarly watching her. The young Wookiee definitely had a soft spot for Sarolyn. Ayo smiled at the thought that he had competition from Yarua. There was something special about her.
The guardtroopers turned upon Sarolyn as she climbed the steps.
“Freeze,” barked the corporal as he levelled his blaster. The guard’s companions took their positions behind the corporal and raised their weapons. Sarolyn froze, her big eyes conveying a false expression of meekness.
“I...I’m sorry, sir,” mumbled Sarolyn as she fumbled with her hands behind her back.
The corporal poked his blaster into her chest. “Get your hands up where I can see ‘em!” he snapped in his distorted tones as he glared at Sarolyn through his helmet’s eyecam.
Sarolyn slowly began to move her hands, but, instead of submissively raising them above her head, she reached out at the guardtroopers with her right hand outstretched, just as she had done when cornered at the Guildhall on Sorensia. A wind like a bomb-blast caught the corporal full on, and he flew backwards, knocking over his companions as if they were skittles.
Almost as if she were re-living those fateful events on Sorensia, Sarolyn ignited her lightsabre as the troops rebounded back to their feet with a barrage of laser fire. She swung her weapon about her, deflecting every shot as if she were a deadly ballerina.
Sarolyn moved so fast that her figure almost vanished into a blur as she cut down the guardtroopers. Her lightsabre hummed and crackled, an extension of herself as she worked as a team with the Force. The corridor filled with smoke.
The laser fire was thinning as more of the guards fell. Through the smoke, Sarolyn caught sight of one determined guard firing at her, the energy exploding into the walls and floor. Dodging the fire, she threw her lightsabre through the smoke, the weapon warbling as it span through the air. Before he could react, the sole-surviving guardtrooper was cleft on two.
The lightsabre flew back into Sarolyn’s hand, switching itself off in the process. All was quiet.
“Take their weapons,” said Sarolyn as she led Neema and the pilots through the smoke. “They could send reinforcements at any moment.”
Japhta Fett lounged in the Master Bedroom, puffing on her cigarette as she watched the intruders sprinting along the main servants’ corridor. She reached over and picked up a comm unit from the sideboard.
“General Crouze, this is Lady Fett. They’re heading for the kitchens. Send all available guards to the scullery and butchery exits immediately. Sarolyn Lordan is not to escape.”
Japhta flipped of the comm unit and returned it to its place before slinking into the boudoir. She wanted to wear something more appropriate for battle.
Slipping into a skimpy, black, diamond-studded evening dress, Japhta looked forward to her showdown with her childhood foe as she clipped her lightsabre to her belt.
For seven years, ever since her expulsion from the Jedi at the age of thirteen, Fett had prepared herself for this battle. She held Sarolyn entirely to blame for her failure as a Jedi, and the Dark Side had turned this hatred into an obsession.
Japhta Fett was blind to her own fame and fortune. She could never be satisfied with what she already had. She was the lover of the richest man in the Republic; she had power and prestige within MHG and she was a galactic celebrity. This was not enough. Japhta wanted more. She wanted supremacy.
“Through here,” beckoned Sarolyn to her companions as they raced through the familiar setting of the kitchen. “The scullery leads to the courtyard.”
At that moment, the lights came on, causing Ayo to squint with the sudden shock. As they entered the scullery, they were confronted by a legion of guardtroopers, their laser fire bouncing off the glazed-brick walls with a screaming ping.
Ayo, Yarua and Neema threw themselves to the floor as Sarolyn repelled the blasts. The others returned fire, the energy bolts criss-crossing the scullery in a dizzying lightshow.
“We can’t get out that way!” yelled Ayo as Sarolyn Force-pushed the troops into the dishwasher. Yarua barked urgently as more guards filtered through the scullery exit to replace their fallen comrades. “There’s too many of them!”
Neema reached out with the Force and a drum of detergent flew up from beneath the dishwasher and crashed into the advancing troops, who tumbled head-over-heels-as they slipped in the thick, potent liquid that had spilled upon the tiled floor.
“There’s a way out through the butchery,” said Sarolyn as she pointed the way with a wave of her lightsabre. The four of them charged along the passage behind the kitchen, followed by the troops, who had by now regained their footing and continued their pursuit. The troops fired at every opportunity, their shots hitting food containers, refrigerators and shelves. Food and shards of crockery were strewn across the floor as the guardroopers gave chase.
Ayo returned fire through the line of windows that separated the kitchen from the corridor, the glass shattering with a shower of fragments. The troops, wading through the mess of broken porcelain and trampled food, caught sight of their targets as they made their way along the passage, their head bowed low to avoid being hit.
Foolishly, Ayo raised his head to peer through the shattered window, and a guard immediately fired. The young pilot ducked sharply, swearing, as a laser bolt whistled past, millimetres from his ear.
“That was too close!” Ayo muttered as Yarua pulled him to safety, barking angrily for fooling about.
A stray shot hit the vast gas range that dominated one wall of the kitchen, and it exploded in a fireball. The troops scattered as heavy shards of metal flew in all directions. Protected from the blast by their body armour, they turned into the corridor and fired.
“They’re bloody persistent, aren’t they?” yelled Neema as the two parties exchanged fire. The passage filled with smoke as Yarua brought up the rear, shooting wildly into the covering haze. The veil of smoke had no effect on the guardtroopers’ vision, for the infra-red images of the escaping targets shone with crystal clarity as they turned into the butchery.
Skinned animal carcasses hung from overhead beams, swinging on their ropes as Sarolyn and her friends negotiated their way past them.
“The door’s over there,” said Sarolyn, pointing to the far windows. It was becoming light outside, and the strengthening daylight gave the four of them a renewed sense of hope that they might manage to escape.
“Saz,” said Neema with a smile, “Adoum parks his swoop just outside the door. We ought to use it to get away.”
Sarolyn had noticed the Head Chef’s small speeder bike yesterday, when she and Neema were scrubbing the flagstones outside, but before she could answer, and almighty howl filled the air.
Sarolyn turned to see an enraged Yarua flinging carcasses around the room as Ayo tried in vain to placate his friend. The commotion quickly attracted the guardtroopers, who had hitherto lost track of them as they hid in the butchery.
Laser fire streaked through the room, causing the suspended carcasses to swing and gyrate with the momentum of each hit. The smell of roast meat hung around them as Sarolyn deflected the shots.
With a frenzied volley, Yarua charged headlong into the troops, sending one after the other collapsing to the floor. The huge Wookiee was overcome with anger and grief by what he had seen, and Ayo was pleading with him to see sense.
“There’s nothing we could have done, Yarua,” yelled Ayo, his hand covering his eyes as tears streamed down his face. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
Ayo tried to pull Yarua to safety, but his own strength was nothing compared to the formidable power of an angry Wookiee. As Neema wrestled with the outside door, Sarolyn somersaulted over Ayo and Yarua, and cut down the nearest troops with a wide swing of her lightsabre. Before the remainder could react, she Force-pushed them into the wall, where their rocket packs erupted in flames.
“Go! Now!” shouted Sarolyn as Ayo and Yarua stood motionless, staring at a carcass that was considerably smaller than the others. She tugged at Yarua’s shaggy arm in an attempt to coax him into motion. The young Wookiee turned on her with an angry roar, his eyes blazing with rage.
Synchronised footsteps pounded along the corridor leading to the butchery, and Sarolyn could sense that they were running out of time. She took Yarua’s arm and pulled it, desperately trying to lead him to safety. Yarua roared and pushed her away.
“For my sake, please!” begged Sarolyn frantically. Ayo stepped in and led the grief-stricken Wookiee to the door. He still could not believe what he and Yarua had seen: suspended upside-down amongst the cured shaak carcases was the skinned and gutted body of Zibeon Munt, his exposed flesh glistening in the light and his fangs jutting from stripped jaws.
Sirens wailed as Japhta Fett raced down the Grand Staircase, surrounded by a platoon of her best guardtroopers. Minister Whyteleafe, a guest at the Mansion, brought up the rear as he struggled to keep up with his hosts.
“Get a skiff to the main entrance now!” barked Japhta into her wrist comm. “And cover the Hangar. I want that Jedi!”
“Come on, Yarua,” yelled Ayo, fighting back the tears at the sight of their fallen friend. “Do as Sarolyn says.”
Reinforcements charged into the butchery as Sarolyn and her companions piled through the exit. Ayo blasted out the lock as the door dropped to the ground. Adoum’s swoop, as Neema had predicted, hovered by the door as Sarolyn leapt upon it and started up the engine.
“Ayo, Yarua, Neema!” shouted Sarolyn as the three of them rushed to join her. “Jump on!”
The swoop was designed for one person, and its repulsors could barely cope with the extra load. The small, lightweight machine sank sickeningly as the others leapt aboard.
Sarolyn released the throttle and the swoop lurched forwards, its engine protesting beneath the strain. Ayo, seated behind Sarolyn, held on to her midriff as the swoop jolted. Turning to peer around Neema and Yarua, he noticed the butchery door being raised to reveal the boots of the guardtroopers behind it.
“They’re coming through!” yelled Ayo as Sarolyn tried to wring more power from the dangerously overloaded swoop.
“Yes, Ayo, yes!” snapped Sarolyn as she concentrated. She closed her eyes, willing the power of the Force into the engine. The swoop lurched once again and she could feel Ayo’s grip tightening around her waist in response.
Yarua barked as the swoop began to move, slowly at first, its rear end scraping along the ground under his considerable weight. Laser fire whistled past the Wookiee’s ears as the swoop picked up speed. The troops had broken through.
Turning around, Yarua pulled his stolen blaster and let off a volley of fire. The pursuing guardtroopers began to fall.
A speedskiff intercepted the swoop, blocking its way ahead as Sarolyn steered the tiny transport around to the Formal Gardens.
“We’ve got company!” shouted Neema over the whine of the engine as the guardtroopers aboard the skiff opened fire. The swoop rocked madly under the onslaught as the laser bolts streaked past. Clinging for dear life, Ayo, Neema and Yarua returned fire as Sarolyn wrestled the swoop up and over the skiff with a loud protest from its engine. Neema held tightly to Yarua as she shot at the troops on board, picking off one of their number as he raised his blaster to shoot at Sarolyn. The guardtrooper fell with a clatter as the skiff swung around and gave chase.
“Take over,” said Sarolyn into Ayo’s ear as she guided his hands to the handlebars. As soon as he had control, she leapt upwards, landing aboard the skiff with a back-flip. Her lightsabre swished into life.
Twirling her weapon as if she were a majorette, Sarolyn despatched the guardtroopers from the skiff, anticipating their every move as they tried in vain to blast her from the deck.
“Ayo!” yelled Sarolyn as she grabbed hold of the tiller, her cloak flapping in the wind as the two craft sped along. “Steer the swoop over here and jump on.” She glanced at Neema and Yarua. “All of you!”
“I’m losing power!” shouted Ayo, grimacing with effort as he fought to keep the swoop aloft. “She won’t budge!”
“I’ll move closer,” said Sarolyn in reply. “We daren’t risk stopping. We haven’t got time!”
Sarolyn slowed and drew level with Ayo, motioning for Neema and Yarua to jump across to the skiff.
Yarua reached out and steadied the two speeding vehicles as Neema leapt across the rushing grass. Once she was safely aboard, he bawled for Ayo to follow as the two vehicles rocked back and forth alongside each other.
Ayo glanced at Sarolyn. He really did not fancy jumping between two fast-moving vehicles, but he knew he had no choice. “Stuff this for a lark,” he muttered as he clambered across with Yarua close behind.
Ayo screamed as he lost his footing. He fell, barely managing to cling to the side of the skiff as the swoop crashed into an ornamental fountain. Neema reached out and pulled him aboard. Ayo, sweating and shaken from his narrow escape, slumped to the deck at Sarolyn’s feet.
Ayo looked up at Sarolyn. “Where’re we going?” he gasped, his mouth dry from panic.
“The Hangar,” said Sarolyn as she hit the accelerator. “We’ve got to get off this planet. We’ve got to stop Mandalore.”Forward to Chapter 36 Back to Chapter 34 Home