Maya Jeda stepped over a gnarled green vine and eased into the jungle. The plains of Shili ended abruptly, fields of waving turu-grass cut off by thick-boled trees. Where the occasional birdcall had sounded out there, the riot of sounds stopped as soon as Maya moved further into the jungle.
The trees were widely spaced but surrounded by whole ecosystems of undergrowth. Even as she tried to step around the larger bushes and flowers, she heard animals start up again in the distance. There were dangerous creatures on this world; the native Togruta people were fanged and strong. Some groups still hunted akuls in a rite of passage to prove that even their children could survive when the wild inevitably bullrushed its way into civilization. Maya was glad to have her two lightsabers hanging at her hips, even if she didn't like the idea of fighting animals.
Those dangerous animals were the whole reason she was here. She had been hired to retrieve the urgluk bezoar, a hunk of nutrients not unlike a krayt dragon pearl or the hairballs produced by a pet felinx. She had nearly stuck her tongue out in disgust when her employer told her what she was going after, but apparently there was a market for bezoars as art pieces. The urgluks just coughed them up and left them lying around, so there was no harm done to the animals if you wanted to retrieve one. The challenge was to survive the rest of the jungle to get to them. That's what Maya was getting paid for.
The jungle noises got used to her fast, resuming their raucous background din. Maya paid a lot of attention to sounds since she had lost her voice. The Force allowed her to communicate, but she was left with only a grainy, potential rasp in the back of her throat. Because of that, the way other things produced sound mildly fascinated her. The closest thing she had to a voice was the paired singing of her two lightsabers. She paid close attention to other tunes: the thin cheeping of one animal, the slow hoot of something else. Her species, the Chiss, were rarely seen outside their own empire. Most sentients she met assumed that no one in her species could speak. The Chiss eyes, an expressive, liquid red, were said to communicate the spirit behind them well enough.
Maya walked two kilometers into the jungle, monitoring the sounds.
An urgluck nest should be close. She stopped when she heard crashing further in. Trees shook, raining down leaves and letting in patches of sunlight in a tumult that was clearly moving toward her. Maya spun to get her back against the trunk of a tree, one hand going for the cloth-wrapped hilt of one of her lightsabers. She didn't want to draw in fear or anger against an animal that wasn't trying to harm her; even if she wasn't a Jedi, bearing such a traditional weapon meant something about the morals of the one who used it.
Seconds later, an animal twice her height galloped past. It roared and shook clinging vines from its horned head. The body was white and four-legged, with black stripes that flashed past like train windows. That's the urgluk! Maya realized. It matched the pictures.
It passed her fast, feet pounding, and then a humanoid figure blasted after it, trailing a line of fire that dropped sparks along the ground. The flying figure was almost the same color as its quarry, dramatic black and white. Maya thought she recognized its armor.
"Kyr!" Maya stepped out into the trampled path, calling out with the Force. The creature, blocked from running any further by two thick tree trunks in its path, turned around and pawed the ground. Bony brows added glare to green, reptilian eyes and a dragonlike snout.
Maya called again. "Kyr!"
The humanoid landed on the ground, stamping out the tiny fires from her own jetboots. A bundle of fleshy tendrils as white as her armor draped from the crown of her head down her back. Her face was hidden by a Mandalorian t-visor. She spread one palm back as if to ward Maya away. "Stay the kriff back, Maya. This thing's killer." Her voice was commanding, edging toward the deeper end of the Nautolan species's usually sibilant tones.
"That thing's what I came here for!" Maya stepped out further. "It's got a bezoar, like a stone, I have to find."
"You mean this thing?"
The bezoar, a white, crystalline lump, had been held under Kyr'am'aran's far arm. She tossed it. Maya caught it, now making the tongue-out 'ick' expression as she felt its smooth surface. In the process she saw more sparks Kyr had left behind and stamped them out.
The urgluk roared. Kyr lifted off with a sound nearly as loud.
"Don't hurt it!" Maya thought. Since they had been raised together in the Force-rich culture of the Nightsisters, Kyr was used to understanding how Maya spoke. Even if Maya didn't use specific words, she could convey her intent through thought and emotion. Now, her thought was primarily "I just need this bezoar!"
Kyr landed on a tree branch as if that was what she had intended to do all along. She folded her arms. Maya slowly stepped backward, letting the big animal see that it could retrace its path and escape. She thought about how some tribes of Nightsisters could use the Force to calm wild rancors. Her own Force sensitivity was mild, but she spoke to the urgluk in her mind the same way she did to people. She told it to be calm and that they were friends. It couldn't really care about getting its hairball back, right?
Just as Maya glanced up to see that Kyr was indeed being friends, the urgluk started to move slowly back down the path, shuffling left and right but not seeming bothered by Maya's presence. It lumbered away, leaving Kyr to fly down and watch its tail disappear into the trees.
"How'd you get here?" Maya asked.
"I was looking for you," Kyr said. She unclipped a latch at the jaw of her helmet and took it off, revealing a lightly speckled, pale white face.
"Thanks for helping."
"That thing just started kriffing chasing me. I nearly tripped over the..the bezoar, right?" She flicked one armor-backed hand toward the object Maya still held.
"How'd you know I was here?"
"Asked the guy who hired you. It's not exactly common for there to be a Chiss around."
"Guys like him don't usually talk about business."
"They do if the conversation involves a blaster to the face, little one."
"He's alive. I didn't even hurt him. You can collect your reward for the...thing, and then we can get to the next mission."
They started walking down the trampled path. Maya looked down at the bezoar, which was heavier than it looked. "Next mission?"
"Here, let me hold that." Kyr said.
Maya passed the bezoar over. "I got a call that somebody wants help with rogue Jedi. They need mercs who are capable and believe in the Force, but not crazy enough to mess up a negotiation before the actual capture. Are you interested?"
"So, capable and not crazy. That's supposed to be us?" She let the Force indicate that she wasn't sure those were both good things to be.
Kyr pointed the bezoar at her. "The not crazy part would be you." An easy smile lit up rusty gleams in her Nautolan eyes. "It pays enough to keep us in a good living for years."
"And there's Jedi involved?"
"I haven't gotten the details yet, but there's no one from the actual Temple. It's someone else, another faction."
"Like the Nightsisters."
"That's what I'm thinking. We know them."
"If they're from a different clan then...it doesn't sound like there's any harm in it," Maya mused.
"I can show you the original message back on the ship."
"The client left you a recording? Are you sure this is legit?"
"That's the other reason I want you along." Kyr glanced at Maya before purposelessly stepping over a splash of yellow flowers. "In case it's not."
Maya nodded. "Okay."
"It's been a while since we worked together."
Maya said, "So, you tracked the urgluk to find me? You could have just called!"
"I know." Kyr grinned. "This way was just more fun."