Botajef Freighter-Liner Screeching Hawk-Bat
"I told you not to do anything, Willow," Nejaa said, looking out the viewport of their quarters and seeing the mottled sky of hyperspace passing them by.
Sitting across from him, Willow shifted uncomfortably, her head downcast. "I know, Master Halcyon, but if I didn't try to stop them, who knows what could have happened?"
"Maybe nothing would have happened, Willow. Then again, it may have very well ended up causing a far greater disaster. I guess we'll never know now."
"They were Kubaz, Master Halcyon. Everyone knows that bugs form the majority of their diet. And the minute that those Verpine entered the room, they were going to be all over them like drool on a Hutt. I knew I had to do something to stop them."
"But did that have to involve telling the Trandoshan that there were Kubaz in the room? Didn't you think that instead of leaving the room, he would raise his blaster and start firing at the Kubaz, which would lead to them in turn firing back? And that the whole situation would get out of hand because of that?"
Willow sighed theatrically and rested her shoulders on her knees, propping her head up on her hands. She and Nejaa had been confined to their quarters when ship's security had been called to the mess hall to quell a disturbance between some of the passengers that had apparently gotten out of control. And much to their chagrin, the responsibility of the incident had unfairly been dumped on their shoulders when they had been immediately recognized as Jedi, despite all of the effort Willow and Nejaa had put into making themselves as inconspicuous as possible. Naturally, once that bit of information came out, everyone else in the room was quick to blame them for causing the incident despite the very obvious fact that four of the people in the room were holding blasters which were not only pointed at each other, the Jedi themselves appeared to have taken no hostile action whatsoever, and that the blasters were still smoking.
Willow didn't like the line of reasoning that had brought the guards to that conclusion, but she had to accept the fact that it was something that was becoming more commonplace, especially since the Battle of Antar IV five months ago. That battle, much like a lot of local sector conflicts across the past few years, started off with the Jedi heading to the planet to deal with the Roshu Sune, a radical faction of the planet's native Gotal race that had pledged themselves to the Separatist cause. It was always assumed that the cone headed aliens would eventually join the Confederacy, but some of their number had apparently decided that quicker action was needed, and had set off bombs near many of the Antarian Ranger chapterhouses on the planet. The Rangers, who supported the Jedi from time to time, took exception to this, and had descended on Antar IV in full force. A group of Jedi, headed by Council members Saesee Tiin and Coleman Trebor, were sent to assist them.
By the end of that battle, however, there had been massive casualties on both sides of the conflict, which had only come to an end when the Jedi had touched off an electromagnetic pulse weapon, allowing them to claim victory, at the cost of alienating the Gotal, whose sensitivity to electromagnetic emissions had caused them to experience great pain upon the weapon's deployment, and seen over five thousand worlds join the Confederacy because of the incident. More importantly, public opinion of the Jedi had soured significantly, making them near pariahs in the public eye.
There were some who thought that the Jedi would never recover from that incident, which was why Willow had worked especially hard at presenting a positive outlook on the Jedi by her own actions, in order to show the galaxy that not all Jedi were bad. But for ever time she thought that she had been able to put a positive spin on the Jedi to the galaxy, there was a time when she had felt as if the actions of others had taken her efforts ten steps back.
Willow had tried to explain to the security guards that they hadn't been involved in what had happened, but all that seemed to accomplish was convince the guards that they were trying to use a Jedi mind trick on them in order to tilt the situation in their favor. They had then been not-so-gently escorted back to their quarters, and ordered to stay there until the ship reached port, at which point they would be required to disembark and find their own way off-planet. When Willow had asked why, their escort had unceremoniously replied that it was done in order to prevent any other "accidents." Not particularly liking the tone of voice in which she had gotten the answer, Willow decided not to press the issue.
The irony of what they were being asked to do was not lost on the two of them, as they had very much wanted to be left alone. Granted, the reasons for doing so were not the ones they would have picked given the circumstances, but one took the advantages one was offered.
Once they were in their quarters, Willow had confessed to Nejaa that the whole incident had stung her greatly, and that it made her think that she had failed Tara. Although Nejaa didn't agree with that statement, he did say then, just as he had now, that Willow had perhaps mishandled the situation. Had they simply informed security of the situation in the first place, instead of trying to handle it themselves, then perhaps they would not have been ostracized as being the cause of the problem.
Willow couldn't help but agree.
To help pass the time, the pair decided to talk some more, their choice of topics ranging from their activities over the course of the past ten years to the people who were special in their respective lives. Each could sympathize with the other about how they felt when it concerned their special love, in that their duties as Jedi meant that they had to be apart from those they truly loved a great deal of the time. Nejaa pointed out, however, that Willow was in a unique position, given that her love was a fellow Jedi, and one that he himself had known his entire life.
That made the three of them, in a sense, as close to a family as their situation would allow.
At the foot of the bed, R5 let out a twitter that interrupted the pair's latest conversation, letting them know that the ship had come out of hyperspace, and that there was someone approaching the door.
Seconds later, the door itself opened, revealing the guard who had escorted them earlier standing in the doorway, blaster in hand and pointed in their direction. "On your feet."
Willow and Nejaa complied, the redhead giving the man a hard stare. "Why are you treating us like prisoners?"
"Look, lady," the guard scoffed with a dismissive hand, "If it was up to me, I'd let you get off without any problems." He gave Willow a look that, given her current attire of a crop top and figure hugging pants, made her wish, not for the first time, that the undercover role she had decided to take and the destination she and Nejaa were going hadn't forced her to wear it. "But frankly, there are some of us here who have a rather negative opinion of...of you people. And unfortunately, they happen to be the ones who write my paycheck, which means I gotta do whatever they say. And they said that you had to stay here until we hit port. And now that we're about to, you're free to go, on conditions that you already know, so I won't repeat. And I would suggest that you don't try any of your Jedi tricks to get back onboard. No telling what might happen if you do."
Taking the implied threat directly to heart, Willow, Nejaa and R5 left the room and headed down the corridor towards the ramp, the guard following behind them, reminding the two of them every so often that he was the one in charge of the current situation and that they were to exit the ship with a minimum of fuss. By the time that they had arrived, the ship had already touched down, the passengers already disembarking. As soon as they had joined the others, Willow took in a deep breath in order to center her mind and perform a trance that would help calm her nerves...
...and immediately wished she hadn't as she began to gag, an unfamiliar aroma working its way into her nasal capillaries.
Nejaa laughed at Willow's misfortune. "Not used to the smell of moldy cheese, are you Willow?"
In the midst of a coughing fit, Willow looked up at Nejaa, an angry glint in her emerald green eyes. "It's not funny, Master Halcyon."
"Consider yourself lucky," Nejaa replied with a chuckle. "We could have gone to Kothlis instead. I hear the smell is actually worse there.
Willow glared at Nejaa as she tried to make herself feel less nauseated about the smell (having decided that she could not, and would never, bring herself to admit that she would get used to it). Succeeding at her attempt, at least for the time being, she looked around the area. "So now that we're here, how are we going to get to Nar Shaddaa?"
"I've contacted an old friend while you were asleep, and asked him to meet us here." Nejaa answered. "I'm sure that he's here by now. Willow, maybe you and R5 should go into the city and see..."
Suddenly, Nejaa spun around, feeling a familiar presence nearby. It was a female presence, but it was very faint, almost as if whoever that person might be was trying to mask herself to the two of them. And while he was assured that the attempt succeeded as far as Willow was concerned, Nejaa knew that whoever was doing this was in too much of an emotional state to make the effort to completely mask herself from him.
And somehow, Nejaa knew that Tara didn't particularly care if he did notice her. All that mattered was that Willow didn't know she was nearby. But ironically, her efforts to try made her presence through the Force all the stronger to him. Realizing this, he wondered for a moment if, despite his earlier assumption that Willow was unaware of what was going on, the redhead did indeed feel Tara's presence. If she did, she had made no outward reference to it, and he could feel nothing from her that indicated that she was hiding something from him.
He let out a sigh. Tara should have known better than to sneak onboard the ship and follow them here. He also wondered why he hadn't picked up on it until this moment, though with the commotion in the mess hall, it wasn't that much of a surprise that other things had been on his mind. And it also wasn't that much of a surprise to him to find that she had managed to hide her presence from him for that long. He had taught her well, but apparently he had done too well of a job. Tara was, after all, skilled at using the Force, even though she normally detested doing so in a manner such as this. But when she decided to do something, she would do whatever was necessary in order to accomplish it.
Looking at Willow, he pointed into the city with one hand, giving Willow a scrap of flimsiplast with the other. "Willow, take R5 and go wait for me at this address. I'll join you shortly."
Willow, clearly seeing that Nejaa was distressed, yet deciding that now perhaps was not the best time to argue, headed off without complaint, R5 following behind her, letting out a slightly concerned whistle.
As soon as they were out of his sight, Nejaa took a few steps towards the nearby alley, trying to act as casually as he could make himself appear, giving off the appearance of a man casually strolling around the street. Upon reaching the mouth of the nearby alley, however, he suddenly reached out with one hand and grabbed the arm of someone who was hiding in the shadows. Dragging that person out of the darkness, Nejaa fixed his glance on her face, hidden as it was underneath her long blonde hair.
"Honestly, Tara. Secretly following us and skulking about in the shadows? I thought I taught you better than this."
Tara, for her part, didn't try to deny what she had done. "I...I had to do it, Master Halcyon. Willow...I wanted to make sure that she...that she..."
Nejaa fought hard to control his temper, not wanting to set a bad example to Tara even in these circumstances. She hadn't come out and actually said it, but the unspoken accusation behind those words was that she thought he wasn't capable of protecting Willow on his own. This stung him a great deal. Through all that they had shared, they had come to regard one another as family. And although he had told Willow that he had been proud of the relationship she had formed with his former Padawan, he was more than a little distressed at seeing her here, apparently deciding to take matters into her own hands. It was nothing more than a selfish action on her part, and no amount of convincing him of any wrongdoing that she had done would make the situation any better.
"That she what, Tara?" he asked rather forcefully. "That she would be safe? Do you truly have that little faith in my abilities?"
Tara looked away, clearly confirming to Nejaa that this was indeed the reason which had prompted her actions. Shaking his head, he brought Tara back into the shadows of the alley, hoping that nobody passing by had noticed them.
Once they were back under the cover of darkness, Nejaa affixed Tara with a glare that made absolutely sure she knew his displeasure. "I can't believe you, Tara."
"Master Halcyon," Tara began. "If you can give me a chance to explain..."
"You have an explanation, Tara?" Nejaa asked, spreading his hands apart rather dramatically. "I'd be glad to hear it."
Brushing aside a few strands of her hair that had gotten into her eyes, Tara looked into her former Master's face and decided that the truth would be the best thing to say. "Master Halcyon, I know that you're a capable Jedi, and that Willow...that she has grown a great deal in the past ten years. But you're going up against a man I know can be dangerous. And if anything should happen to Willow, I'll...I'll never..."
Nejaa sighed, realizing now that, no matter how hard he tried, he simply could not be that angry with Tara. "Tara, your intentions are noble, I will not deny that. You have a special relationship with Willow, and that's not something that I would ever think of intentionally destroying. But what you've done here is a very bad idea."
"In what way?" Tara asked, the tone of her voice clearly telling Nejaa that she truly did not see the inherent danger about the situation that he himself did, and hiding the surprise she felt at discovering that, somehow, he had learned about the relationship between her and Willow.
Starting to pace out of genuine nervousness, Nejaa continued, "Tara, the reason why I decided to ask Willow to come with me was because I wanted to make sure that the two of you managed to find the best of this situation. I wanted you to feel comfortable that Willow was with someone who would be as adamant about making sure that she was safe as you do, and I wanted to make sure that Willow had an opportunity to contribute something to this situation, in the hope that it would make both of you happy. The fact that Willow already feels strongly negative about the man makes that obvious to me, at any rate. It obviously made her decision a lot easier than I had expected."
"That was irresponsible of her," Tara muttered. "She should have asked me first."
"Perhaps," Nejaa agreed. "But sometimes the best way to deal with a problem is by being irresponsible." He chuckled slightly. "There's been many a time I've learned that lesson."
"And so I hope you can understand that I don't want Willow to learn that same lesson, Master Halcyon," Tara said. "At least...not in this fashion."
This drew a rather irritated groan from Nejaa. "Tara, I know what you want to ask me. And the answer is no. You can't come with us," he stated. "This mission is dangerous enough as it is without having you come along to complicate things."
This finally broke Tara's calm. She had been willing to listen to Nejaa's attempt to justify putting Willow in danger, but he clearly wasn't about to give her an explanation that would satisfy her. This, combined with the fact that she was still sore about the Council's unilateral decision on their part to give him the assignment in the first place, finally sent her over the edge. "With all due respect, Master Halcyon, I fail to see how my presence could make any difference."
Nejaa slammed an open palm against the wall, an act that, given that it was out of character for him and also occurring with sudden abruptness, caused Tara to jump noticeably. "By the Minions of Xendor, Tara, it could make all the difference between success and failure!"
"Then explain it to me how!" Tara all but shrieked. "Explain how my not being with you makes any difference!"
"Because it can distract Willow!"
Nejaa had wanted to explain to Tara why she needed to be kept away from this mission, but he had not wanted to do it by shouting it at the top of his lungs so anyone within hearing distance could notice. Yelling at Tara had never been an option, even when she had seriously displeased him. It was one of the main reasons why they had managed to get along so well.
Tara looked away from Nejaa, the obvious shame she felt at hearing this making any form of rebuttal impossible. After a few moments of silence, she whispered, "I'm sorry."
Running one hand through his hair, Nejaa blew out a breath. "I know you are, Tara. And so am I." Fishing into his robes, he produced a few credit vouchers and handed them to Tara. "Here. I want you to take these. I'm sure that you had to tell the Council some genuine reason for leaving Coruscant. Even though I don't plan on telling the Council that you followed me, I would suggest that you stick to whatever reason it was that you gave them in order to provide a reasonable cover story as to why you have returned to the Temple earlier than you may have planned."
Taking the credit vouchers, Tara nodded in acquiescence to Nejaa's wishes. "Of course, Master Halcyon. Good luck on your mission."
Nejaa smiled and put one hand on Tara's shoulder. "May the Force be with you, Tara."
"And with you, Master."
Tara stood rooted to the spot for several more moments as Nejaa made his way into the city, rubbing the credits between her thumb and forefinger. Doing a quick count, she realized that she had been given nearly two thousand credits. Obviously, Nejaa had thought that would be enough to get her wherever it was that she had told the Council she was going, along with enough to make sure that she was comfortable for some time afterward. And he had obviously given them to her thinking that she would use them to do just that.
But Tara knew that no matter how much she wanted to believe what Master Halcyon had said, she couldn't just leave Willow alone. Her feelings towards her former Padawan were such that she was unable to look at the grander picture, always boiling things down to a simple concept: Willow plus potential for danger equals trouble.
And that meant that she would need to find some way to follow the two of them to Nar Shaddaa. And knowing also that she couldn't sneak onboard whatever ship they would use to complete their trip without drawing their attention, she would have to hire someone to take her there, preferably before they arrived themselves.
Heading into the city, Tara decided that the best thing for her to do now would be to find transportation without drawing either Nejaa's or Willow's attention. And there was only one place in the immediate vicinity where that could be possible.
Every five seconds since departing Master Halcyon's side, Willow had thought she wouldn't make it to her destination, the pathway between there and the spaceport choked with various marketplace businesses, the people running them trying to hock their wares to any and all that would stop and listen. And seemed to take great pleasure in doing so to those who wouldn't.
"Guess they don't call this Merchant's Square for nothing," she thought as she entered the building whose address matched the one on the flimsiplast she had been given and was instantly assaulted by the most horrendous noise she had ever encountered.
Supposedly, it was music being played by the band truncated in the far corner of the room, but it bore only a passing resemblance to any musical compositions she had heard in her lifetime. It sounded more like the sound of a roaring rancor grinding two durasteel plates together without pause.
The effect it had on her senses was about the same.
Walking over to the bar, she ordered a glass of blue milk and, once the glass was handed to her, took a rather large drink from it, hoping that it would help to dull the pounding in her head. Unfortunately, it had apparently been chilled for far too long, as the liquid immediately caused her brain to freeze the moment it traveled down her throat.
Employing a Jedi healing technique in order to help clear her mind, she made her way towards a booth, sitting down just as she saw Nejaa arrive and make his way over to her.
"Everything OK, Master?" she asked as he sat down.
"Hmm? Oh, yes Willow. Everything's OK."
Willow could tell that he was lying to her, having picked up some faint impressions from Nejaa's mind as he moved to make himself comfortable. But as much as she wanted to get him to voice those concerns, she knew that in order to do so, she would have to admit that she had used the Force to do so. And that meant admitting to him that she invaded his mind, even in the fleeting casual way that most other Jedi were prone to do.
Wanting to change the topic, Willow took a look around the cantina, trying to find a different topic of conversation. "So...how exactly are we going to get to Nar Shaddaa? You said that you had hired someone to help us get there."
"I did," Nejaa confirmed, looking at his chrono. "And I told him to meet us here. He should be here by now."
Willow scanned the crowd, taking in the patrons, none of whom looked trustworthy enough for Nejaa to have hired for this task. Then again, looking for someone trustworthy in a place like this was akin of looking for a drop of water on Tatooine. "What do you think? Do you think we can trust any of these people to take us there if your friend doesn't show up?"
Nejaa glanced around the room, ignoring Willow's question. His eyes came to a stop at the doorway as a figure entered the room, a slight swagger in his step as if he were already inebriated. The red tinted skin and horns immediately made Nejaa identify him as a Devaronian, and the one whom they had been waiting for.
Getting to his feet, Nejaa made his way over to the Devaronian, extending one had as he came into his eye line. "Why, Villie, nice to see you again."
The Devaronian flashed a toothy smile. "Too long, Halcyon." The smile immediately turned into a sneer, as he reared back and sent a punch directly into Nejaa's gut, causing him to double over in pain. Grabbing Nejaa, the Devaronian followed up by throwing him across the room, the Corellian landing in a heap onto one of the nearby tables.