Willow was on her feet in seconds, her initial hesitation born out of the fact that she was caught off guard not only by the action, but by the suddenness with which it had occurred. She should have felt something through the Force that would have alerted her to what was about to happen, but the act had happened too quickly and too innocently for her to be able to detect any distrust or foul intent. One minute, the two were shaking hands in a friendly manner; the next, Master Halcyon was halfway across the room.
Seeing the female get up from the chair in which she was sitting, the Devaronian turned to look at her, a devilish smile on his face. "Ah, what have we here, eh? Little girl thinks she can stop Villie?"
Willow swallowed down the lump that was forming in her throat, and hoped that this confrontation would not turn out as bad as she was thinking it was going to. "I don't want to hurt you, but I will if I...if I have to." She spoke this with a confidence she didn't really feel, and looked towards the bar, mind racing at lightspeed, to try and find way to solve this problem that might actually work.
"Or we could...we could sit down and have a drink...instead?"
The Devaronian's smile, defying all laws of humanoid anatomy, stretched further at hearing that. "Ah, yes. Villie would enjoy sharing a drink in the company of a beautiful woman."
Choking down the reflex to vomit that threatened to engulf her, a reflex she knew was brought about by her recollection of breathing the air outside as much as the comment she had just heard, Willow made her way over to the bar and withdrew some credit coins from her belt, placing them down in front of the bartender. As he placed two mugs in front of her, she dropped several more and tilted her head towards the broken table at the far side of the room.
The man nodded in understanding and collected the coins as Willow turned back to the table, finding that the Devaronian was already sitting down, one leg propped up on the table and giving her a look that she had seen others give dancing girls. Fighting down the urge to comment about that, Willow took the seat opposite him, placing one of the mugs down in front of him.
Reaching out to take it, the Devaronian lifted the mug to his face and took a drink of its contents, setting it down in front of him several moments later, his tongue flicking out from between his lips to savor the liquid that remained on his lips. "Ah, that's the spot. Y'see, miss, that's the best thing about this galaxy. For all the problems it has, there's nothing that can beat a belly full of good drink." Giving Willow another look, he added, "Well, perhaps one thing."
Willow closed her eyes and placed a hand on her forehead, mostly out of the fact that she was beginning to get a headache despite her attempts to try and fight the ruckus of the music, but also to keep the Devaronian from seeing how much his shameless self promotion was beginning to irritate her.
Thankfully, Master Halcyon's return saved her from actually voicing those thoughts. Sitting down beside Willow, rubbing the back of his neck as he did so, he glared at the Devaronian. "Nice to meet you, too, Villie. Though I think I'm getting a bit too old to get that sort of greeting."
"You should see what I do to enemies, Halcyon," Villie snickered, moving to take another sip from his drink. "They don't exactly live to get chance to say hello again."
Willow decided to interject herself into the conversation at that moment, before the situation could be further thrown out of control. "Master Halcyon, you know this...person?"
"We've worked together before," Nejaa muttered under his breath.
Villie let out a laugh. "'We've worked together?' Why, Halcyon, Villie thinks you give yourself too little credit."
At Willow's questioning glance, Nejaa clarified, "We've done some...undercover work in the past, Willow. Top secret, hush-hush sort of missions for the Jedi Council and the Supreme Chancellor, you know the kind. Stuff that can't...that really can't be discussed out in the open, if you catch my meaning."
Villie snickered. "That's only because you've already got a lady, Halcyon. Villie under no such restrictions."
He gave Willow another leer that made the redhead's stomach twist into knots. Her mood was not at all improved by the fact that, although he remained calm on the outside, Willow could detect a subtle change in Nejaa's mood at hearing that. She wondered whether or not it would be a good idea for the two of them to remain here.
In an even voice that belied the tension that he was currently feeling, Nejaa said. "You mean...you actually told people about what happened...that night?"
Villie smirked. "Of course I did. Nobody believed me, of course. They said that a Jedi wouldn't stoop that sort of low."
Willow, quickly deciding that something needed to be done in order to stave off the confrontation that declaration promised, interrupted, "Well, then. I guess there's nothing more we can do here. Guess it's time to go..."
"Sit down, Willow," Nejaa stated, his tone making it clear that his words were an order to be followed without question, not a suggestion open for debate. As Willow did so, the Corellian Jedi Master affixed the Devaronian with a neutral look. "Villie...Vilmarh, we've been through a lot together. And I have to ask you...to do one more thing."
The smile vanished from Villie's face as he stared directly into Nejaa's face. "Villie remembers what happened the last time I did favor for you, Halcyon. Villie not in great mood to go through that again."
Nejaa let out a breath, and reached into his belt, producing several large denomination credit notes. "Do you think these might change your mind?"
Villie picked up the credits and counted the notes. "Well, this convinces me to at least listen to you. Whether or not it convinces me to help...well, that depends on what it is that you want."
"Passage to Nar Shaddaa."
Villie, who had set the credits down on the table in order to take another sip of his drink, spat out the liquid he had thus far consumed, which, rather unfortunately, was sent directly into Willow's face.
"Villie always figured you were funny man, Halcyon," Villie said after wiping his hand over his mouth. "But Villie never think you stupid enough to tell me to do that. You know I can't go there after what happened last time. No amount of credits in the galaxy will change my mind."
Nejaa, ignoring Willow's questioning stare as she set about drying her face, rested his head on his propped up hands, knowing that if he wasn't willing to accept a bribe, it was going to be very difficult to wrangle the Devaronian into getting him to agree to this.
Willow chimed in at that moment. "Maybe we could work out...a...a bargain."
Nejaa was about to interrupt, but thankfully, Villie took an apparent interest in what Willow had to offer. "Villie would like to hear what kind of...bargain you have to offer, pretty lady."
"Well," Willow began, but before she could continue, her voice caught. She then began trying hard to force the words from her mouth. Nejaa could detect the distress she was feeling at trying to say the words she wanted to voice without having to use the Force, making him instantly aware of the fact that whatever it was she was going to say wasn't that great of an idea.
"Well," Willow tried again, her words managing to come out this time despite the look she caught from Nejaa that all but told her not to say them. "Maybe in addition to the credits, maybe there's something else we can...we can...offer you."
Nejaa had seriously begun to not like what Willow was implying, and seeing the ashamed and embarrassed look on her face as she spoke that phrase immediately told him that what the redhead had in mind had been exactly what he thought she was going to say.
And like he predicted, he didn't like it one bit.
"Willow, no!" Turning to look at Villie, his own face took on a cold countenance that suggested doom if he were to say the wrong thing now. "Don't even think about it. If you can't take us where we want to go for what I've offered you, then we'll find some other..."
"Hold on, Halcyon," Villie interrupted, placing his hands down on the table as he got to his feet, looking at Willow with a smile on his face, one that Nejaa fought with all of his self control not to wipe off. "If this pretty young thing is suggesting what it is I think she's suggesting, then Villie fly you wherever you want, no charge."
Reaching out, he took one of Willow's hands into his own. The act came so quickly that neither of the two Jedi was able to react to it. Jerking Willow to her feet, Villie made his way to the door, an uncharacteristic spring in his step.
Falling into step behind them, Nejaa gritted his teeth, telling himself that they didn't have a lot of time to accomplish their mission, and that if certain...questionable activities had to be performed in order to help get them on their way, then that was the way it had to be.
He was just glad that Tara was not here to witness this. While there was no doubt that she would have tried to justify it as he had, there was little doubt that she wouldn't have been as calm about it.
Getting to his feet, he moved exit the cantina and made his way back to the spaceport, Willow and Villie ahead of him and R5 trailing behind.
Tara had made her way back to the spaceport without incident, passing by an incalculable number of locals that appeared as if they were the type that frequented Hutt Space. She only hoped that the few credits she had on her, in addition to the ones Master Halcyon had provided, would be enough to convince any one of them to take her to Nar Shaddaa without having to promise them something else. After all, even in a situation as dire as this, there were certain moral boundaries that she would not cross.
Looking across the way, she saw a rather thuggish looking Quarren flanked by two Gamorreans standing by one of the area's many docking bay doors, obviously waiting for a client to arrive. She was thankful that they appeared to already have a charter, as the last thing she wanted to do at this moment was to have to put up with any trouble that the pig faced aliens were likely to cause. Ignoring them, she made her way to the next docking bay, pausing as the door opened, revealing a rather annoyed looking Duros in freighter togs and a sour expression on his face.
"Yeah? Whadda want?"
Tara suddenly found herself without the ability to speak. "I...I..."
Grunting, the Duros shoved Tara aside rather forcefully and moved past her, muttering as he departed, "I don't have time for this."
Turning to look at the departing Duros, Tara was thankful that he had other business to attend to. She wasn't terribly sure that she wanted to be in his company for the period of time it would take to reach the Smuggler's Moon. And besides, he reminded her too much of the Neimoidian who had, ten years ago, put her through so much agony and suffering that all she had wanted to do upon encountering him was to end his life. It was only because of Willow that he still lived, though he had suffered the loss of one of his limbs at her own hand.
He should consider himself lucky. Tara wondered if he knew how close to the end he had come that day. But at least he would be in constant fear for the rest of his life, never attempting to do to anyone else what he had done to Willow and herself.
No, he wasn't of any danger to either of them anymore. That was, however, not something she could say about her father, a man she knew was capable of untold horrors and would do anything he could to satisfy his desire for revenge should he ever be wronged.
That was what made finding transportation off planet important. Tara knew that her father would do anything he could to threaten her life or the lives she loved, which meant that she had to make sure he wasn't able to do that, even if it meant confronting him once again. She didn't like that idea very much, but she liked the idea of seeing Willow get hurt once again a whole lot less.
Tara found herself standing in front of another docking bay door. Looking around, she entered it and was instantly greeted by the sight of one of the most interesting ships she had ever seen. It appeared to be made up almost entirely of a single wing, no real evidence of a cockpit other than a small ovoid attached to the center of the ship at its stern. Two large engines provided a brace between the hull to which that cockpit was placed and the wings. From the look of it, it was the typical smuggling ship: fast, lethal, and the type to expect trouble wherever it went.
Tara knew that the owner of this ship was the person she wanted to contact, and turned around to head for the door, hoping the port authority would be able to tell her who the ship was registered to. As she did, she could feel a set of very familiar presences approaching, one of which was keenly aware of the fact that she was here, though the other was, as of yet, not.
Tara instantly threw up her defenses, knowing that she couldn't leave now without being seen, and left with no other recourse, ran to the nearby storage area. She closed the door and threw the weight of the Force behind her defense mechanisms, hoping that the combination of the two would make her invisible to those about to enter. She left the door open as far as she could, however, in order to hear whatever scraps of conversation between Master Halcyon, Willow and the third person as she could.
"This ship best of its type," a heavily accented voice said. "No finer ship in the galaxy than the Inferno."
"That's a ship?" a voice that was distinctively Willow's asked. "That looks more like an oversized hang glider."
"The most powerful of things can be contained in the most deceptive of packages, Willow," the voice of her former Master replied. "We are the perfect example of this."
"Indeed," the foreign voice mused. "Though the ship's not as good as it used to be since Pit Droids muck around with hyperdrive. Onboard computer also more trouble than she worth sometimes. Now, get onboard ship while Villie take care of final preparations."
The hissing of hydraulics indicated the lowering of the ship's ramp and was soon replaced by the sound of feet on metal, indicating that someone had gone up the ramp. Assuming that it was Master Halcyon and Willow, and with the fear of being seen by either of them gone, Tara abandoned her hiding place, her defenses against being probed still in place, and made her way to meet the one to whom the third voice belonged, finally seeing that it belonged to a male Devaronian.
Turning his head at the sound of her approach, the Devaronian let out a toothy smile. "Ah, another nice lady. If you're looking to hire me for a job, you're a bit late. Villie already got an assignment." He gave Tara a cursory look, almost as if he were treating the blonde like a piece of nerf meat. "Although...if the right offer came along..."
Tara rolled her eyes and reached into her robes, withdrawing the credits Master Halcyon had given her, along with some of her own small earnings. "Look, let's cut through the pleasantries. I know who hired you for your current job, and I know who the other 'nice lady' is." Waving the credits she had in front of the Devaronian's face, she continued, "I'm going to give you these credits on the condition that you do the following things: first, the 'nice lady' in question is not to be harmed in any way or treated as your kind are known to do. Second, when you get to where you're going, you're to stay with them no matter what happens..."
"No, no, no," Villie protested. "I told them, and I tell you. Villie's not staying around on Nar Shaddaa longer than he has to. As for the first request, I'm afraid I can't honor that, either. That part of the fee I'm receiving for this little adventure, and no way I intend to let that slip away."
Tara suppressed a shudder, disgusted that Willow would allow herself to be treated in that fashion by someone like this Devaronian. Things must have been pretty desperate for the two of them if Willow had even thought that was a good idea, since she knew that Willow wouldn't immediately make that the first offer in any bargaining position. Trying to shove aside the bad feelings this news brought her, she tried to figure out if there was any way that she could convince him to do what she wanted.
There was a way, but she would not resort to that. Using the Force in that fashion was as bad an idea as what Willow had thought was proper payment for this voyage. Tara would not easily compromise her principles for what she thought was right, even if Willow herself thought it was a good idea.
Tara realized then that the longer she delayed him, the more likely it would be that Nejaa would come to see what the holdup was. And she was acutely aware of the fact that he would be greatly displeased at seeing her as the source of that delay. "Look, I want you to do anything you possibly can in order to ensure the safety of your passengers. If they are harmed in any way, either by you or by...somebody else, I will find out. And if I do find out, I will make it my life's mission to find you and make you pay."
Despite the obvious threat being directed his way, the Devaronian flashed a lecherous grin that on a normal human being would have passed for charming. "Ah, Villie always know you Jedi were rather emotional. Tell you what, pretty one. Villie take you up on your request if you do something for me."
"What?" Tara sighed.
"Tell me about the redhead. She any good in bed?"
On reflex, and completely unaware of what she was doing, Tara grabbed the Devaronian by the scruff of his collar and slammed him into the landing gear. "Don't you dare talk about her like that, you miserable Sithspawn!"
"My, my," the Devaronian snickered, seemingly unaware of the fact that his life was in apparent danger. "Seems like someone has a rather nasty temper about a certain redhead."
Hearing the Devaronian speak those words to her felt as if she had been thrown into a vat of acid, and never in Tara's entire life had she ever heard something so excruciating painful. All she felt at that very moment was the urge to do something...anything that would cause him to suffer for what he had just said.
That brought the rational part of her mind to the surface, making her instantly realize how close to the Dark Side she was getting. Letting go of Villie, she scrambled to apologize. "I'm...I'm sorry..."
Apparently uninterested in hearing anything that approximated an apology, the Devaronian straightened his collar out and moved to the ramp. "Best you not be here in few minutes. Ship exhaust do bad things to people dumb enough to be where they shouldn't."
Tara took the hint and turned to leave, wondering for the first time if Willow's continued safety was really worth all of the trouble she was going through.
Nejaa wondered, not for the first time since this trip began, whether things were getting too far out of control. What had began as a simple mission meant to redeem himself in the eyes of the Jedi Council was fast becoming a dangerous situation that he had never intended to create. And what made things worse was the fact that he had asked Willow to accompany him. When he had given her the option to come with him, he had made it clear that she was in no way honor bound to do so. In fact, he had seriously hoped that Willow would think of some reason to stay behind, even one as pathetically flimsy as preparing to return to Mon Calamari to help with the diplomatic efforts there. After all, it was clearly obvious that the situation there was out of control, and not even the most skilled diplomats could put that shattered picture back together.
Not that it particularly mattered, since he knew that whatever excuse Willow would come up with would be a pretext in order to explain why she would want to spend time with Tara, knowing as he did that she would need to be as calm as she could get before he returned to Coruscant with her father in tow. Unlike the last time he had done that, when she had been young and na´ve enough to believe that what was going on around her was little more than a random attack by an unknown individual, she would know full well who the person was and why he was doing it.
It seemed that the whole situation, one way or another, was his fault. When he had captured her father the first time, he had expected that he would be carted off to the maximum security wing of one of Coruscant's many detention facilities. Of course, he should have known that legal red tape and the court system would have found a way to finagle the whole thing. He should have stayed until he was safely detained and was no longer a threat to anybody.
But he hadn't counted on things getting that fouled up...or the eagerness of his young Padawan...or the maliciousness of the man who claimed to be her father but was anything but.
He had, of course, been planning on telling Tara everything about the man and his familial relationship with her, but he had been hoping to do so at a time when he knew that Tara would be capable of handling the information. As a rule, Jedi were discouraged from learning about their past lives prior to their commitment to the Order, but Nejaa knew that Tara had a right to know about this man and what he meant to her. But she definitely did not deserve to learn it in the manner in which it had.
Ever since then, Nejaa had hoped to find an opportunity to atone for that mistake. He had hoped that this would be the time. But things had quickly spiraled out of control, and as before, what he had wanted was not what he had gotten.
And now Willow was going to be at the tender mercies of a male Devaronian. Of her own choice, certainly, but that did not make the scenario any less appealing. He hoped that Willow knew what she was doing. When they all got back to Coruscant, he hated to be the one to have to tell Tara that her love had given herself freely to another, even if it was done in order to make her feel better.
Willow sat on the bed, as nervous now as she had ever been in the past. When she had made that offer, she certainly hadn't expected that he would take her up on it. As a matter of fact, the only reason she had spoken was because she wanted to find some way to solve the friction that had developing between the two. And that, unfortunately for her, had been the first thing that popped into her mind.
She knew that Tara would be ashamed for what she was about to do, which was why she would never tell her about it. Tara would all but go supernova if she were to learn that she had given herself to somebody else in such a manner. Willow wasn't sure she would be able to forgive herself, either.
Willow jumped slightly at hearing the voice, a smooth sounding feminine one that didn't appear to have any body attached to it. "Who's there?"
"I am NT 600," the disembodied voice replied. "And I must apologize for the behavior of my master. He can be rather...stubborn."
Willow recognized who the voice must have belonged to; the onboard computer that the Devaronian had mentioned earlier. Calming down, she allowed herself to lie down and stretch out to her full length. "I can tell. Is he always like this?"
"Most times, yes," NT replied. "That is why I exist. I act as his conscience, always ensuring that he always does the right thing."
"Do you think that you can do it this time?" Willow asked, a faint glimmer of hope in her voice.
"I'll certainly try," NT answered. "Though I doubt I will have that much of an impact."
The door opened at that point, and Villie walked in. Getting up, Willow tried to make herself feel as comfortable as she could about what was about to happen. "So...you're here now, so I guess that you'll..."
Willow, who was in the midst of undressing herself, suddenly stopped. "What?"
Moving over, Villie said, "Villie take you to Nar Shaddaa, then Villie make sure you and Halcyon don't get hurt." He gave Willow a glance. "Go join Halcyon. We lift off soon."
Willow finished redressing herself and moved to join Nejaa and R5 in the common area of the ship. Clearly surprised to see her, Nejaa asked, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Willow said, a little shell shocked.
Nejaa got to his feet and started off the way Willow had come. "I swear, if he's harmed you..."
"No," Willow said with a bit more force than she wanted. Realizing that Nejaa had misinterpreted her, she quickly added. "He didn't do anything."
Stopping, Nejaa turned to look at Willow. "What do you mean?"
"He just came into the room and told me to get out," Willow clarified. "He also said that he'll take us there and make sure that we didn't get hurt."
"Did you do or say anything that might have made him say this?" Nejaa asked, clearly surprised at hearing the Devaronian so suddenly change his attitude.
"No," Willow responded. "And he had seemed so adamant before. I'm not certain what could have made him change his mind."
Standing a safe distance away, Tara watched as the Inferno lifted out the docking bay and sped into the sky. Raising the hood of her cloak, she moved off into the crowd, hoping to find someone either heading to her destination or someone she could convince to take her there.
"I'm sorry, Master. I know you won't like this, but I have to do it. I need to make sure you and Willow remain safe. You're going after a man who is capable of doing anything. Who knows what he's doing at this very moment."