Corellian Sector of Nar Shaddaa
The Inferno made its way down towards the landing pad to which it had been assigned, with very little in the way of problems. For Willow, however, the experience managed to become very highly ranked on the list of the most frightening things she had ever had to experience. She had known that vessels of the type flown by people like their reluctant Devaronian confidante had a reputation of being held together with little more than adhesive medical tape, spit and the good wishes of those onboard, but never had she before encountered a ship with the temperament and irritability that the Inferno possessed throughout their journey here. The only part of the ship that appeared at all to be cooperative was NT 600, and she hadn't been able to do much besides offer her condolences and well wishes. It was all Willow could do to stop herself from running as fast as she could towards whatever passed for an escape pod of this piece of scrap, Jedi calming techniques or no.
As the Inferno finally came to a rest on the landing pad, Willow forced herself to loosen the death grip she held on the armrests of her chair and make her hands move to loosen her crash webbing she had secured around herself; having done so as tightly as she could manage without cutting off her circulation as the ship began its landing approach. Getting up, she shakily make her way over to R5, who had managed, through no fault of his own, to fall over onto one side.
"Fly much?" she muttered under her breath, hopefully softly enough for no one to hear her, a hope that was quickly and immediately dashed as she felt hot breath on her neck and a hiss in her ear.
"I do. And believe me when I say that, considering the alternative, you lucky to have gotten a chance to find out."
Willow closed her eyes, drew a hissed breath and shuddered involuntarily, the memory of what she had suggested to do earlier coming to mind once more. It reviled her to think about what she had almost done, even if it was in the name of helping Tara. She had come a long way from the reckless Padawan she had once been, and should have known better than to even think of doing something that rash. Thank the Force that Villie had changed his mind; Willow didn't know how she was going to explain that to Tara, let alone the Council.
"One down, one to go," she thought as she got R5 upright. Then, looking towards Master Halcyon, she unhooked her lightsaber and tapped it against his dome. Two of the trapezoidal sections on the top of his dome withdrew, through which both Willow and Nejaa placed their lightsabers. Willow turned to Nejaa as R5 moved off to accompany Villie.
"I have a bad feeling about this, Master."
"So do I, Willow." Nejaa replied, moving to place a hand on Willow's shoulder. "But don't worry. As long as I'm with you, everything will be all right." Willow nodded and headed off after R5 and Villie. As soon as she stepped out of the cockpit, she looked up and let out a sigh.
"I'd feel better if Tara was here."
Abandoned Industrial Warehouse
The first thing Tara became aware of when she regained consciousness was the dull throbbing at the base of her skull. Taking a deep breath, her eyes still closed, she got to her knees and tried to center her mind to purge the pain and confusion that clouded it.
Her eyes snapped open quickly as she came to a startling realization: she could not touch the Force in order to perform the trance she needed to clear her mind. Panic stricken, she swung her head around to take in her surroundings, hoping to find something there that would provide her with an explanation as to why she felt disconnected from the Force.
She found herself in a medium sized room with a table at the center of the room, with a pair of chairs facing across from one another. And at each corner of the room lay a large piece of machinery and piping upon which rested a medium sized furred lizard creature, its claws dug into the framework as if clinging for dear life.
Tara had no further time to think of this as from behind her came the sound of a opening door. She spun around, cursing the headache she felt at the sudden action, to find a nightmare image looking back at her. She had tried to mentally prepare herself to face her father, but the aftereffects she still felt from the blow that had knocked her out, combined with her inability to touch the Force to calm herself, left her with little more than the emotional capability and coping skills of a child.
Kieran showed a complete lack of concern for her apparent fright, moving into the room to sit down in front of the table. He turned to Tara and motioned to the empty chair.
"Sit down over here, Tara."
Tara cast her eyes towards the blaster slung on Kieran's hip and hesitated. She knew that her father was capable of committing cold blooded murder without a second thought, and in her current inebriated state, it was very likely she could do nothing to protect herself when he decided to take her life.
On the other hand, it was becoming very obvious that, had that been his intention at all, she would be dead already. And even without the aid of the Force, she could easily tell that hurting her, at least at the present time, was the furthest thing from his mind.
Hesitating only for a fraction of a second, Tara got up and moved to sit down, flinching involuntarily as Kieran withdrew the blaster. She closed her eyes, knowing she could do nothing to stop him if he decided to shoot her dead here and now.
The sound of metal against metal rang in her ears, and Tara opened one eye to find that Kieran had placed the blaster down on the table. Opening her other eye, she looked deep into her father's eyes, surprised to find there not the cold heartlessness of a killer, but the haunted pain of a tortured soul whose past transgression has finally caught up with him.
So intent was she on reading her father's face - being unable to pick up on his emotions any other way -, Tara initially missed her father's comment, her mind catching up quickly when she realized the impossibility of what it was he had just said. "What?"
Some of the pain Tara noticed in her father's face receded, replaced by the simmering anger she no doubt knew he was keeping in check. "You heard me."
Tara swallowed and nodded, unsure as to how else to respond. This was a man who had killed others in the past; someone who had killed her mother without a second thought; someone who had once tried to kill her. All of that gave him every right to be apologetic, but people like him didn't feel that way. So why was he feeling that way now?
Casting her gaze downward, Tara struggled to make some sense, any kind of sense out of what was going on. "Why? Why apologize to me? Why not kill me now while you have the chance? You would have before had it not been for Republic Security. We're about as far away from the Republic as you can get now, so what's stopping you this time?"
"Time, Tara." Kieran looked away from her, and Tara could tell that there was genuine sadness in his voice. "I've had a lot of time to think, Tara. Both on Oovo IV and…since, and I've come to the realization that the universe is, at its most basic, cruel and unfair."
Tara tried to express disinterest in what Kieran was telling her, but it was difficult for her to do so, given that what he was saying was very much along the same lines as what she had been thinking over the past ten years, and particularly since she had become appointed to the Jedi Council. "What do you mean?"
Kieran looked up at the ceiling, then down towards Tara. "I'm surprised, Tara. I thought that you of all people would understand what it is I'm talking about. You're still a Jedi, aren't you? Of course, from the look of it, you may have taken up a new life as a slave girl of some Hutt overlord or something."
He smiled thinly, and Tara tried not to give him the satisfaction of knowing how close to the mark his comment had hit. For the briefest of moments, she was glad that her connection to the Force had been severed. Her emotional control was in such turmoil that she feared lashing out in such a way as to compromise her principles.
Kieran made a dismissive gesture. "In any case, you should know as well as anyone else how inherently cruel the universe is. You Jedi parade around the galaxy, thinking you're doing good and ridding the galaxy from evil, but you never quite seem to realize that the greatest evil you face isn't from those who seek to harm the ones you protect, but from the ones you protect themselves.
Tara couldn't help but agree with Kieran, even if she couldn't bring herself to voice that agreement. It was all true. The Jedi were really being taken to task lately, what with the disastrous incident on Antar IV and the controversy over the Baby Ludi incident. It had become common practice among certain Senators to refer to the Jedi as "Palpatine's Secret Police," a belief that the Council did little to dissuade. Actions like that made Tara believe that the other members of the Council secretly believed themselves to be superior to the Senate and the Chancellor. She couldn't help but imagine what would happen if, one day, the Council decided to take control of the Senate.
"I know," Tara whispered. "I…I feel the same way."
"I had no doubt you would," Kieran replied. "Your mother was the same way."
Despite herself, Tara found her interest piqued at that comment. "Really?"
"Oh, yes," Kieran smirked. "She spoke to me several times about how glad she was to be with me, as it meant she didn't have to put up with the Council and could live a relative life of peace and tranquility." His smirk took on a feral touch, and Tara grew cold at he stared deep into her eyes. "And that's what she wanted most, you know; a life away from all the chaos and corruption of the Republic. I wanted to give her that life, but she didn't want it the way I wanted to give it to her, so she left me, and decided that the best thing for you would be to give you back to the ones she loathed the most. I wouldn't call that the smartest thing she ever did, but considering what happened to her…"
Kieran let out a chuckle, and Tara looked away, unwilling to look her father in the eye any longer. The past few moments such had made it obvious to her that he was being manipulative towards her, hoping that, by being kind to her, he would find a chink in her armor through which he could cripple her more severely than she already was. Gone was the vulnerable figure that had entered the room, and in its place was the dangerous man that he was before, and would likely be for the remainder of the rest of his natural life.
He got up, retrieving his blaster as he did so. "I'm going to give you some time to think about your situation here, Tara. I've heard from reliable sources that friends of yours are on their way here. They may have already arrived. And as you may or may not know, we're going to take them as our prisoners, just like you. When we bring them back here, I'm going to give you a choice. You can either stand beside me and live the life meant for your mother, or die alongside them, knowing you can't do anything to stop me."
Tara's eyes widened as he stopped at the door, turned around, and smiled faintly. "And by the way, that empty feeling you have is from those lizards." He gestured towards the frameworks at the corners of the room. "Can you believe it? Turns out there's as many people here who hate the Jedi as much as there are in the Republic. And it looks like the most dangerous weapons are those that don't appear to be that way. While you're in this room, you won't be able to pull any fancy Jedi tricks to get out. So get comfortable. You're going to be here for a while."
All Tara could do as Kieran left the room was slump against the chair and start to cry, her entire life crumbling around her faster than she could imagine. She had let Willow down. She had let Master Halcyon down.
And now she was going to pay the price for it.
Kieran walked down the hallway, surprised, and somewhat shaken, by the encounter that had just taken place. He had no doubt that Tara believed his words to be a complete falsehood, but in truth there was more to them than he would have admitted. The universe had to be cruel and unfair. How else could he explain the fact that, instead of doing this on his own time and with his own resources, he was now, for lack of a better term, wrangled into it by individuals who held no real stake in it, but sought to use it as a means to further their own agendas?
If there was one thing he despised most in this universe, it was being a pawn in someone's game.
He couldn't exactly blame Beth for getting him into this situation, regardless of the truth of that statement and how much he wanted very much to do so. She thought she was doing what was needed to be with her only living relative, and for someone who had spent her childhood raised among the Mandalorians, it was only natural that she felt as strongly for him as she did. If there was one thing those nomadic warriors prized more than credits, it was family.
Entering a room at the opposite end of the hallway, he found that personage hunched over a computer monitor, looking intently at the screen, which showed an image of the room he had just left. Hearing him enter, Beth turned to look at him. "That was quite a show you put up in there, Uncle. You nearly had me believing what you said."
Kieran glowered, an act that caused the young woman, a product of Manadlorian upbringing and a fearsome warrior in her own right, to shift uncomfortably in her chair.
"It wasn't," he said, his voice conveying enough malice to tell Beth to drop the subject and never to bring it up again. "Everyone out there looking for our next guests?"
"They know only to observe?"
Beth nodded again. "If they find him, they'll contact me and let me know. Trust me, Uncle. Nobody's going to act unless you say so. They want the honor of taking out that Jedi scum to be yours as much as I do."
"Good," Kieran smiled, patting Beth on the shoulder appreciatively. "Still, it would be more amusing…"
Beth cocked an eyebrow. "Uncle?"
"Nejaa Halcyon put me away," Kieran explained. "And now he's here to do it again. But he doesn't know that his apprentice…my daughter, is already my captive." He let out a chuckle, finding something about that scenario amusing; an amusement Beth apparently didn't share, if her blank look was any indication.
"Think about it, Beth. Yes, I want to take Nejaa's life. But how more satisfying for me would it be…to make Tara do it?"
The realization of what Kieran said finally blossomed in Beth's mind, and she smiled in return, letting out a chuckle at how amusing she found the idea. Kieran gave her another comforting pat on the back, then turned and left the room, the sadistic smile still on his face.
"Yes," he thought. "How much more satisfying would that be?"
Willow's steps were the stilted gait of an individual who had just suffered a serious back injury, the result of her constant state of nervousness ever since leaving what passed for the spaceport where the ship had landed. If that had been a representation as to what she would expect from the rest of the planet, there was a very good chance she wasn't going to get out of the experience with her sanity intact.
Her mood was somewhat alleviated by the fact that Master Halcyon, being ever the comforting parent, had chosen to walk in step beside her, even taking her hand on the occasion when her emotional state tilted a little too heavily on the unmanageable side. He wasn't Tara, but as there wasn't anything she could do about it, all Willow could do was accept the comforting touch and hope that her overall nervousness and memories of her time in Coruscant's underworld as a child didn't get to her.
Leading the way, Villie took a look around, his tongue flicking out through his sharpened teeth. "This your game, Halcyon. Where you think we should start?"
Nejaa took a look around the immediate area, finding a seedy cantina nearby that would seem to be the best place to begin their discreet inquiries.
"That seems to be as good a place as any." Villie turned to look at the cantina, the faintest hints of a smile appearing on his face. Seeing the interest he showed at entering the area, Nejaa stepped up beside him and placed a hand on the Devaronian's shoulder. "Don't forget. We still have a job to do."
"True, true," Villie replied. "But you know what they say, Halcyon. All work and no play make for dull boys."
Willow sneered at the Devaronian's comment. "I'm not a boy, you know."
Passing a glance backward, Villie let out a dismissive snort. "Hard to tell the way you're dressed."
Nejaa stepped towards Willow and took her hand, forestalling any attempt on her part to react to that comment. Looking back towards the cantina, he let out a sigh. "All right, Villie. We'll check out the cantina. But just try to remember that we have a job to do?"
Burning Deck Cantina
"I'm not joking around, Faith. I've got the proof right here."
Faith let out a sigh. "So you've been sending out your scrap droids to spy where you know you shouldn't again?"
The unmistakable sound of a whine accompanied Dawn's voice as it came over Faith's comlink. "Well, you never let me come with you whenever you go to places like this, so how else am I supposed to find out about what goes on here?"
Faith shook her head. For all of her skills, Dawn still had a habit for getting her nose stuck into somebody's business, and invariably bringing them along for the ride. "Dawn, don't make me send your sister back to the ship. You wouldn't want us to take away your special birthday surprise, would you?"
Dawn sighed. "All right, but you have no idea what you're missing."
Faith shut down her comlink and returned it to her belt. "And I'm not really interested in finding out either." She turned to look at Buffy, only to find her attention riveted to the cantina entrance, watching as three people stepped inside. "What?"
"That Devaronian," the blonde replied. "I never would have thought I'd ever see him again."
"What about him?"
"Remember what Dawn told you about how we met?" Faith nodded, and slowly came to realize what it was that Buffy was talking about. That Devaronian must have been the one who had killed her mother. Reaching down for her blaster, Faith made a beeline towards the trio, ignoring all of Buffy's pleading attempts to stop her.
"That devil's gonna pay for making my B hurt so much," she thought as she unholstered her blaster and brought it up. But before she could discharge a bolt that, at point blank range, the Devaronian had no chance in the seven hells of dodging, she felt the weapon wrench from her grip to go sailing towards the nearby wall.
"What the…?" Surprised by the action, she didn't notice immediately that one of the two individuals accompanying the Devaronian, a male that appeared to be in his late sixties stepped in front of her, offering a polite hand.
"Good day to you. Perhaps you'd like to explain why you're intent on killing my friend here."
Approaching from behind, Buffy looked up at the newcomer. "You have pretty poor taste in friends, buddy. This guy killed my mother."
The Devaronian gave the blonde a quick glance. "Now that you mention it, you do look a little familiar. You the daughter of that Anaxes senatorial aide I killed?" He smiled. "Easiest job I ever had, even if NT couldn't shut up about it."
Buffy let out a feral snarl, and it was only due to the actions of Faith that she didn't do any more. Noticing that they were beginning to attract far more attention than she wanted, she looked at the assembled group. "I think we can all agree that we should take this little meeting to someplace a little less…public?"
The male took a look at the crowd. "I think that would be the best thing to do." He looked at his companions, giving the Devaronian an especially hard look, before turning his attention back to Faith. "Let's take this outside before anyone here gets the wrong idea."
Five minutes and two attempts by Villie to provoke the blonde later, Nejaa led the group into a more reputable establishment than the one they had just left. Of course, "more reputable" on this planet meant that it was slightly less run down than its contemporaries and less likely to be filled with people who wanted to jab a blaster barrel or vibroblade in your ribs, but he felt that the distinction was important enough. He didn't need to reach into the Force to know that Willow was growing more unnerved by the moment, and the altercation that would have erupted had they stayed would have caused her to do something she might have regretted. With the situation getting out of control, he had to do whatever he could to make sure Willow was safe. He owed it to Tara.
Leading the others to a table at the far end of the room, he made sure that they all didn't position themselves in such a way as to gain an unfair advantage they would be able to exploit against the others, then sat down himself, focusing his attention on the dark haired woman who, in turn, was staring vibrodaggers back at him.
"All right," she said, shifting her focus to Villie before returning it to him. "You want to explain what's going on around here?"
"I'd be happy to," Nejaa replied, placing his hands on the table in a gesture of friendship. "My name is Nejaa Halcyon. I'm a…"
"Jedi," the woman responded, smiling broadly as she did so. Seeing Nejaa shocked look, she clarified, "Oh, it's all over the Holonet; how you got embarrassed during the Scarlet Thranta thing. I thought I recognized you." Nejaa winced, his discomfort drawing an appreciative chuckle from his Devaronian comrade, which in turn drew a sour expression from the blonde. Noticing this, the dark haired woman moved to place a hand on the blonde's thigh, then turned back to Nejaa. "I'm Faith, and this is Buffy." She jerked the thumb of her other hand back at the blonde. "Call her B."
"I'd call her a little spitfire," Villie unnecessarily brought up, Willow moving quickly to damper the fire that comment would no doubt bring.
"What I'm sure our friend means, Faith, is that Buffy seems to have quite a bit of a temper."
"You'd have a temper too, Red," If you met the man who was responsible for killing your mother."
Willow's already obvious apprehension about the situation, not to mention the fear she held towards the Devaronian, grew by leaps and bounds. What was far worse for her to realize was the fact that she recalled at that moment a comment that Master Halcyon had made before, that the two of them had once engaged in secret activities that weren't meant to be known by others. She couldn't help but wonder how many, if any, of those activities resulted in the deaths of innocent people, knowing that Tara would never approve of that sort of thing.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Nejaa directed towards Buffy, who didn't appear to be willing to accept the apology. "Truly, I am. But you can't allow a personal vendetta to get in the way of our current mission."
"Why not," Faith demanded. "What's so important that you'd have to associate yourself with a lowlife like him?"
An uncomfortable silence passed between the group, Willow noticing that Nejaa was trying to decide whether or not it was a good idea to reveal the purpose of their mission to them. Deciding on her own that it would be the only way to gain their cooperation, or at least lessen their concern about them, she spoke up. "Because he's important to us; he's helping us find a wanted criminal who we know is somewhere on this planet."
"Lots of wanted criminals on this planet, Red," Faith countered. "And we aren't exactly high on the Republic's Life Day gift delivery service, either. You're gonna have to be a bit more specific than that."
Nejaa sighed and, realizing that, Willow having revealed their mission to them, he had no choice, withdrew a holoprojector from his belt and placed it on the table, activating it. And as the image coalesced into being, it caused Faith's eyebrows to noticeably rise in surprise. "Kieran Maclay, huh? Boy, Republic Security sure ain't what it used to be if that guy managed to escape."
"He obviously had help," Nejaa grunted, oblivious to the fact that Faith had no knowledge of his role in the events in question. Equally oblivious, Faith continued to laugh for several more seconds before she stopped, a curious look on her face. She reached into her pocket and Nejaa, noticing Villie reach for his weapon, held up a hand.
They watched as Faith retrieved a comlink and activated it. "Dawn, you there?" No response. "Dawn?" Several more seconds passed before Faith, annoyed beyond measure, shouted, "Hey, brat! You awake?!"
A young girl's voice erupted from the comlink. "Jeez, Faith! What's got your spanners in a vice grip now?"
"What was it that you said you wanted to show me again?" Faith asked.
"Why do you wanna know now?" Dawn responded. "Find someone that might be interested in learning what we know?"
Faith looked at Nejaa and smiled. "I think so."