He stood in the shadows, waiting.
So far today, he had already dispatched three: one human, one Tydian, and even a droid, an old 2-LOM model. And he had only been trailing the boy for six hours.
Overhead, the twin suns of the desert planet beat down relentlessly. Cloaked figures rushed down shaded avenues to escape the stifling heat. Grimly, he knew that on planets like this, beings tended to stay indoors during the day, and activity tended to pick up at dusk. Three were already down — several more to go at sundown.
One hundred meters away, the subject of his attention turned to look at some useless baubles on a dusty window. The blonde head swung to and fro, like the hyperactive arm of an oscillator set to overdrive. The boy’s wide-eyed innocence at all the things around him was refreshing, if not mildly amusing.
What the boy found fascinating, his watcher considered little more than a hellhole. In fact, just the latest in a series of hellholes he had to live in, after the fall of the old system and the rise of a new order. Mos Etnoh considered itself a cosmopolitan place, with its rundown tourist attractions and “historical” landmarks that were likely put up a fortnight ago. Whereas Mos Espa prided itself on being a gambling zone and home of the Boonta Eve, and Mos Eisley was unabashedly a smuggler’s hive of scum and villainy, Mos Etnoh still clung to its pretensions of being the planet’s cultural center, if ever the world even had one.
Further ahead, a female voice called, calling the boy back to his guardians. The watcher took the opportunity to cross the street, ending in the same dusty window formerly occupied by his charge.
Without meaning to, he caught a glimpse of his reflection: a hooded figure in brown, with a graying beard and the tanned leathery skin of an old desert hand. Had he really aged that much? Even the most brutal years of the Clone Wars did not take such a toll on him.
His musing were cut short by movement to his right. An old Xhillian rushed down the street, muttering about the infernal heat. Xhillians were a long-lived species, easily matching a Hutt. By the mottled gray skin of this one, he was obviously past the 500-year mark. And yet, he moved faster than a newly hatched spawn.
The bearded man pretended to study the same baubles that fascinated the boy, watching the Xhillian’s reflection on the unwashed pane. A moment later, his suspicions proved correct — there was a brief flash of silver on the old being’s sleeve. The split-second glint would have been unnoticeable to most, but not to the watcher. It was the unmistakable silhouette of a holdout blaster.
Slowly he turned. The Xhillian glanced once in his direction before hurrying on, intent on pursuing the same quarry. That was his fatal mistake.
After making sure there were no additional eyes on the street, the watcher lashed out, catching the alien midstride. The blaster, already primed for action, fell from his robe.
The Xhillian’s gray hide briefly flashed yellow in alarm. As the blaster clattered loudly on the ferrocrete, his skin took on a deep crimson red. Anger.
The two figures faced each other in the canyon of the alley: one snarling, the other quietly confident.
In the blink of an eye, the red alien raised his other sleeve, revealing a second holdout blaster. But the tanned human was faster — before the arm was even halfway up, its owner was already embedded with three prongs of a Kamino saberdart, coated with their trademark poison.
The Xhillian fell. The human remained standing over his quickly graying corpse.
The only witness to the duel was a hunched beggar, who quickly learned to look away and mind his own business.
The watcher hurried on to catch the boy. Four down so far, several more to go. Dusk was quickly approaching.
As he moved, he turned to look back at the being whose life he just took. Unlike before, the man no longer felt any pangs of regret, no sudden bouts of conscience in his new role. His head swung back to his fair-haired quarry. The Xhillian was already the past — he had to focus on the present.
As he did, a sudden tingle of alarm gripped him, the same sense that enabled him to survive all throughout the Clone Wars and the turbulent period that followed. There was something familiar about that beggar.
Just as he turned to look, a sudden flash of emerald brilliance bathed the street, before being quickly extinguished. The watcher looked at the cauterized hole on his chest, gasped, and staggered.
A hand steadied him. The old beggar.
“Quietly now, my friend.”
The man looked up at a face much like his own. Graying beard, tanned skin, crisscrossing lines of worry permanently etched by years of hardship and countless battles. But the blazing blue eyes were unmistakable.
The shadows deepened and dusk settled. As his breathing shallowed and faded, the watcher mused on the irony of it all. After three long years, he had finally tracked his ticket to a Core promotion: the rumored son of Skywalker himself. Only to be caught by the boy’s real guardian, a figure who was long thought to be dead. A figure that he had served with during the Clone Wars, no less.
Before he slipped into oblivion, the watcher’s last thought was how bitterly unfair it was that the Emperor or anyone in the ISB would never know what he discovered.
Overhead, the twin suns set. The old beggar blended back in the shadows, as the boy and his adoptive guardians went on their way, across the undulating sands of the Dune Sea.