The Blood That Moves The Body
Word Count: 3639
The guard, who had been stationed in the woods shortly below the base on Lavisar, fell to the ground with a dull thud, the sound softened by snow, and lay still. His neck had been broken and he had never known. It had happened so quickly that he hadn't had the chance to even notice it happening. Above his dead body, stood a thickly built, imposing Selonian man. His fur rippled slightly in the breeze as he surveyed his kill. It was too quick, he found, to satisfy him. For the Selonian, Reldan Boru, was not normal among his species. He had been born with an eternal thirst for blood that would never be slaked. He was known to his fellow Imperial Commandos as The Ghost, a master of stealth who took great pleasure in the art of killing. The Ghost was the blunt instrument of an Imperial force so secret and clandestine, it did not have a name. Those who knew of its existence knew only that it was the Emperor's top secret department of revenge, extortion and terror.
Ghost approached the treeline close to him and peaked out. He could see the path ascending towards a peak in the forest upon the snowy mountain that held a semi-decagonal building. There were four guard towers surrounding the small base, each holding a sniper's perch. The glare of a laser sight strafed across, coming for Ghost's path. He ducked down quickly, now on top of the corpse watching the sight stop for a moment, before changing directions and retreading its path. From below him, he could faintly hear something— voices. In the dead man's ear was a comm earpiece, which he removed and inserted into his own ear.
"You ask me, yer man the gaffer's gettin' old and losin' it. Some grass tells him he's gettin' dropped tonight and that's a reason to panic? Aye, right. He's a crime boss, people are wanting him dead every day. Bloody hoax, I reckon."
Ghost slinked forward to the last tree in front of him and glanced sideways at the adjacent tree. Obscured almost completely by the snow, he could make out one of the sensors that was dotted around the perimeter of the base. Unsheathing his claws, he stabbed the device, which let loose a small flurry of sparks. His work was done, for the moment. One by one, the four guards in the towers fell to the floor and stayed there. Moments later, he heard footsteps. A figure came into view on his right, its face obscured by a dark tactical mask with several tally marks scored into its side. They removed a small sharpened stone from a belt pouch and quickly scratched four more notches onto the row. The helmeted head nodded, and shouldered the silenced sniper being held, before making a motion that indicated to move towards the door of the compound.
Silently, the pair advanced onwards. They reached the doorway, and Ghost started feeling around for a small panel to the left of the door. Finding it, he pried it open, using his claws to get a strong grip. For a man so important, the security system was relatively simple. After a moment or so, Ghost felt a surge of static through his fur, before the doorway slid open silently.
"Shocking," he said, his voice a low purr.
"What was that?" his partner asked, her voice silky, "A joke? What's up with that?"
"Oh, behave. Don't just stop because I'm drawing attention to it."
Mirage, like Ghost, was a callsign of sorts. Her real name was Dileih Tikean, a bounty hunter on a long term contract with the Empire. Her pragmatism and lack of hesitation had drawn Ghost to her. Their friendship was a source of much confusion to their allies, but they themselves did not question it. Ghost was perfectly content to have one person in the galaxy who he wouldn't kill if ordered to. Noiselessly, they made their way through the entrance to the compound. Ghost took a moment to observe his surroundings. They were at one end of a long hallway, styled like a Dantooinian Enclave; off-white stone with dark wooden trim and doorways. The hallway split off in the middle, going both left and right. The left passageway led downstairs, whereas the right led to a stairway that wound upwards decadently. If their intel was to be believed— and it often was— then their target was to be found to the right. Ghost turned to his comrade and made a sweeping motion with his hands that pointed to the stairway. As she raised her weapon halfway to a firing position, it happened.
From the left stairway emerged a Gotal man bringing a blaster pistol to bear. Before he could turn his attention from Mirage, Ghost was on top of him. He wrapped his large hands around the Gotal's throat, feeling the man scramble for purchase of his weapon as his windpipe was constricted. There was a stomach-churning crunch, and blood seeped from around the guard's neck. Ghost lifted his hands, exposing his now extended claws, and let out a growl so low that Mirage only heard it through her audio-heightening helmet speakers. Remembering the mission, Ghost swung around to once again face the stairway, and began advancing once more, like an assassin droid executing a high priority instruction. In many ways, Ghost may as well have been an assassin droid. He followed orders unflinchingly, especially when, as always, his orders were to kill. Only once in his life had he hesitated before a kill, although he believed his own mother deserved one more precious second than the rest of his victims would receive. In her own way, she had understood. After all, it was she who marked him at birth as den slayer for the Children Of The Five, a cult who worshipped the Five Brothers, the planets that formed the Corellian System, through blood sacrifice.
At the halfway point of the staircase, two yellow suited Twi'lek men stood guard, facing away from Ghost. He crept up, before quickly grabbing their heads, knocking the men out with a dull smash.
As per the agreed strategy, Ghost stayed crouched halfway up the spiralling staircase while Mirage took point. He saw her dash up the stairs and begin sweeping the room with the sights of her blaster rifle. She angled her head down towards him and nodded upwards. He ascended until he was by her side, and what he saw was far from what he had been told to expect.
"I'll lock off the exits, just in case." Mirage said, a hint of sadness in her voice as she removed her helmet and began moving across doorways to secure the room.
Perpendicular to Ghost was a lone hospital bed; a haggard looking old man laying in it. His glassy eyes met Ghost.
"You're probably surprised at how easy it was to get in here," the man said
"Security was lax," Ghost replied.
"Per my intentions, friend," his voice was hoarse, and Ghost approximated that he didn't have more than a few weeks left in him, "I'd rather die before the word gets out that Pertru Thorn is sick. I welcome it. I have spent decades sealing myself off from assassins like you, and now I'm expected to die in my sleep? It's an easy way to taint my legacy."
"Do you think being murdered will make you anything less than a pathetic man who spent his last days hiding from his enemies in the middle of nowhere?"
Thorn cackled in reply, his illness catching it and turning it into a coughing fit. He spluttered into his hands, wiping them on his sheets and leaving a scarlet streak that wasn't there before.
"A tale of a sick old man putting up a fight against a bloodthirsty Selonian is enough to preserve my memory. So long as I'm remembered as a man who didn't die without a struggle, I can accept that."
"Your logic is... flawed, nobody will ever know. There's nobody here to see it." Mirage said, joining the conversation for the first time. She turned to Ghost, "We came here to do a job. Do it now, or I will."
"He wants me to do it." Ghost replied, his voice contemplative, the fire in his heart dying down to a cinder.
"Maybe so. Do you want to do it?" Thorn asked weakly.
"Over the years, I have seen many try to kill me. Sometimes because I've wronged them, others simply because they were being paid handsomely. You, though, why are you trying to kill me? Because of your fierce loyalty to the Empire?"
"It's my duty."
"No... it's because you are young and foolish. You have been tricked by men older and more bitter than me, into thinking their goals are your goals."
"Shut up!" Ghost said, his voice rising.
A strong hand gripped his arm, and he could feel Mirage's whisper in his ear, as well as hear it, "Don't lose your nerve, you know how we deal with operators who get too twitchy."
He glared at her, before turning to approach Thorn, his pace increasing every second. Right as the man was almost in his arms reach, he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen, and the wind was knocked out of him. A small vibroblade was protruding from his lower torso, and Thorn was sitting halfway up, a triumphant smile on his face.
"If they don't remember, you will."
Ghost summoned every last morsel of his strength so that he could bring his claws to bear on the man's weak throat. Before he could struggle his way over, there was a muffled thump and Thorn was dead, a small bleeding hole now placed between his eyes.
"We're going. Don't give me a reason to leave you behind. We're discussing this back at the ship." said Mirage, holstering a silenced slugthrower. She turned and started surveying the windows for escape routes. "Oh," she said flatly, "take this."
She threw a small stim injector over her shoulder into Ghost's hand. He stabbed it into his arm, slowly pushing the cap down and feeling a surge of adrenaline almost immediately. Ghost knew he was in for a fierce chewing-out as soon as Mirage and him had fled. To let a target get into his head like that was so uncharacteristic that he had surprised even himself. As the rush of energy increased, he felt his fur stand on end, giving him the appearance of a feral animal.
"There." Mirage said, staring out the window. Ghost approached, now standing by her side.
"You see that?" she said, pointing to a tiny outhouse on the edge of the peak.
"I do." he growled.
"I've just sent a message to your personal commlink. Don't open it just now. Hundred credits says what's in there is what I've guessed."
"Deal," Ghost whispered, "Let's leave this place."
From the foot of the staircase at the other end of the room came a hard rattling noise, which turned to pounding.
"Who locked this door?!" a distant voice yelled, followed by the sound of several clattering footsteps.
"How many?" Mirage mouthed.
Ghost jerked his head and closed his eyes, letting his keen Selonian sense of hearing guide him.
"Ten," he mouthed back.
"No way out," she said quietly.
Ghost thought for a moment as he heard the sound of a plasma torch cutting through the door like butter. Saying nothing, he scooped up Mirage in his arms, placing her helmet back on her head. He held her tight to his chest as she squirmed, confused by his lack of explanation. He faced the large curving window, and took off running at a seemingly impossible speed. About a metre short of the glass, he jumped and turned his back to the window, protecting his comrade from the impact, while nicking his back all over. At tremendous speed, he felt his fur hit snow and Mirage was knocked free of his grip. Without a moment to lose, he regained his footing, and searched for her. She was already back on her feet, and simply nodded. They both ran towards the small hut, Ghost about two metres ahead of Mirage, his acceleration the product of his strong Selonian frame mixed with hypostims. The snow at their feet was boiled as blaster bolts spattered to and fro, the snowy ground like a piece of paper full of holes. Mirage turned as she ran, letting off shots in a last ditch attempt to deter their pursuers.
Ghost, finally reaching the hut, launched himself through the flimsy old door. Inside, on racks adorning the walls, were hoverski kits of various shapes and sizes, with an opening onto the steep mountainside on the end opposite the door. Seconds later, Mirage found herself right by his side.
"Credits..." she said breathlessly, "now... please."
Ghost opened his personal comm unit, which displayed a message reading: "Hoverskis."
The pair each grabbed a set of skis which roughly fit their sizes, before placing them on the ground and stamping their feet onto the clips which secured them and activated the repulsors housed at the base of the contraptions.
"We should've left him gift wrapped." Ghost mumbled, before propelling himself through the opening. He fell sharply downwards, hitting the snow at speed which increased by the second. The repulsors in his skis hummed and threw snow to either side of him. Glancing behind him, he caught sight of Mirage close by, and ten yellow-suited figures emerging from the hut one at a time. The wilderness began to thicken, and Ghost found he had to be more alert now. Trees raced past him, and the cold air rippled his thick fur. There were sharp cracks from every direction as blaster fire rained around him. He hunched forward, making himself both more aerodynamic and also a smaller target. Mirage was now directly to his right, popping off return fire whenever possible. There was a loud metallic clank as her blast struck the base of one of the men's skis. He lost his balance, before being launched somersaulting through the air by the generator by his feet blowing to pieces. Distracted by this, Ghost had little time to notice the blaster bolt speeding towards his feet. He felt a pop underfoot and suddenly the sky and the ground switched places. When they finally stopped, he found himself lying face up, millimetres short of a cliff edge. The hypostim had began to wear off, and the pain of his wounds was finally setting in. The pursuers stopped several feet away.
"She's heading for base-camp, boss!" one yelled.
"Good, we'll head her off at the precipice. You stay here and watch this one, we'll be back for him." another replied, before gliding away from the cliff edge and down the mountainside with the rest of the group, leaving Ghost alone with his guard, no fight left in him.
Assuming Ghost had any energy, escape wouldn't be an option without dispatching the henchman first. His right ski was completely destroyed, so he wouldn't be able to outrun his guard. Slowly, he moved his left foot to the latch on his right ski, and applied pressure until he felt the weight of the ski leave his foot.
"Hey! Let me see that..." the guard said, advancing to grab the loose ski.
As he bent down to pick up the wrecked tool, Ghost wrapped his claws around the man's arms, and threw him over the cliffside. As the guard's screams echoed off the cliffside, Ghost lay on his back for a moment longer to catch his breath. At last, he got to his feet, and the cold air made his wounds sting. Every movement took tremendous effort, and he felt as though he might die at any moment. The once mighty warrior limped down the side of the mountain, making every effort to stop himself from stumbling and falling. The night was eerily silent, a stark contrast to only a few minutes prior, when the sound of repulsors and blasts filled the air. Altogether, the mission had been nothing short of disastrous. Ghost's lousy performance had baited them into a trap, which had resulted in the top secret nature of the operation being compromised. It was unsurprising. Ever since he had let himself become attached to the woman, he had been slipping. His heritage and the Empire had bred him to be the perfect tool for murder, and yet all that had been undone by this woman, this bounty hunter, who had this inexplicable hold on him. She would have to die. While she existed, there also existed potential for him to slip further. If she didn't die, then he would, either in the field or at the hands of the Empire's executioners as punishment for failure.
After what felt like hours, Ghost's legs simply gave way. He was spent. Finished. Once a fearsome killer, now a pathetic mess lying in the ground. His ears rang, his back stung and ached, blood seeped from his abdomen, his foot had been burned by his wrecked hoverski. As he fell to his knees, facing out against the mountainside, a blinding light dazzled him. A tall silhouette stood against the light, guided him towards its source. Warm hands tended to his wounds, made him feel safe. He did not know where he was. Somewhere between death and consciousness. Over time he became slowly more aware of his surroundings. He was in a bed, there was a humming sound enveloping him— a ship— and his wounds felt somewhat less agonising.
"Good morning," a silky voice said.
"Tikean," he replied, opening his eyes fully to see her standing at the foot of his bed, her flowing purple hair sitting at her shoulders, rather than braided and kept in her helmet.
"I'm glad you're awake. We're almost there."
"We're en route to the Crusader, Rel."
"The commander's gonna have us for the high jump when we get there, you know."
"Well," she said, "maybe just you. I.. need to leave. My contract is up, and this work is beginning to get too messy."
Ghost laughed, his ribs aching as he did so. "They're not letting you leave. Nobody gets to leave. Haven't you realised that yet?"
"I have, and I've also realised that whether or not they let me doesn't matter. Not one little bit. I am going. I knew I was never gonna leave you out there, and that's the problem. The Empire is no place for compassion."
"Where will you go?"
"I don't know. Somewhere I can think. Home, maybe."
Later, aboard the Victory Star Destroyer Crusader, Ghost sat in the uncomfortable chair opposite the Commander's desk. He was an older human male, his blonde hair had touches of grey throughout, with a cruel face.
"You are a disgrace to the Empire. One of our best agents, and you have made nothing less than a complete shambles of what should have been a routine operation. Now, were it my decision, I would have you executed for gross incompetence, however somebody above me is watching out for you. Effective immediately, you are demoted to Corporal and will be transferred to the military commando section of the Imperial Armed Forces, where you'll be rubbing shoulders with all the other amateurs. Have you anything to say for yourself before I dismiss you, Corporal?"
"No, Commander Luidi." Ghost replied, having to exercise the utmost effort in keeping a tight lid on the rage he felt towards the officious man.
"Good. Get out of my sight, and send in the bounty hunter."
Ghost rose from his seat, saying nothing. The door to Luidi's office slid open, revealing... nothing.
"She isn't there, Commander."
Commander Luidi stood in the main hangar bay of the Crusader, saying nothing, though his eyes were alight with fury. Where his personal hyperdrive-equipped TIE Interceptor had once stood, was now an empty space. Paired with the fact that the bounty hunter, Dileih Tikean, was nowhere to be seen, it was clear what had happened. From the entrance to the hangar came a communications officer, sweating and breathless.
"Commander, I have Moff Kalur demanding he speak with you at once."
"Send it to my office terminal, Ensign, thank you.
Ghost sat in the barracks of his new unit, cascaded to sharing with the squad, rather than having his own quarters like he did on the Crusader. His squadmates were out drinking, the self indulgent dogs. He loathed them, he wanted nothing more than to rip their throats out with his bare hands. Not just his new squad, but the entire Empire. They were a sinking ship with no desire to admit the fact. Utterly delusional. He would not indulge their delusions any longer. More than anything, what he needed was his... friend. Dileih Tikean had left him little indication as to where she was going, for he knew not where her home was, but that would not stop him. He would flee the Empire, find new employment where his skills would be respected, and use that as a base from which to search for her. For the most part, Ghost could feel himself changing. His last mission had broken something in his spirit, softened him. The very idea was lamentable, and yet he could not seem to stop it. He could hear his squadmates stumbling merrily towards the barracks, and in spite of how much he felt he was changing, there was a full moon that night, and The Ghost's thirst for blood was rising once more...