Port Ol'val, 1800 Hours
Back into the asteroid.
Ronovi was still adjusting to the dimness of the cavernous spaces of Port Ol'val as she whipped around the corkscrew passages of the tunnel. The last time she had frequented the interior of an asteroid was back when she was a Gladian residing within the Sword's Sheath deep in the Itaana belt, and that had been six years ago. However, she had grown accustomed to navigating the spaceport, having made frequent visits there under her callsign "Patchy" in order to observe and calculate the proceedings of Mal Company.
As her borrowed Marketa-class corvette lurched through another tunnel, the Exarch had little time to review the datapad lying on the seat beside her. She had memorized most of the information by now, though, and was pleased with some of the smaller idiosyncrasies that this Jarrod Wendt apparently had. True, his extreme Force prowess made Ronovi slightly anxious in case the Bothan didn't take her offer very well, but several of his mannerisms would become advantageous to her - namely, his drinking and partying habits. In fact, the Jedi exuded pure Hedonism, which was probably becoming the catalyst to his imminent fall to the dark side. Ronovi grinned at the thought of using the art of pleasure to cater to his likely inner desire for power.
The silhouettes of the Docks soon slithered into view, and Ronovi dropped speed and descended in a surprisingly graceful fashion. She kept an eye on one of the ducts nearby; where she was parking, it would only take a five minute walk to get to Jerem Plaza. Ronovi lifted herself from the pilot seat, dropping just in front of a stocky patrol officer.
"Identification, please," he ordered, but the Epicanthix waved dismissively.
"You don't need any. Oh, and I already paid the parking fee."
She left the pilot to slowly repeat her statements in a monotonous mumble, disappearing into the duct that led to the well-kept Jerem Plaza. The first order of business was a light meal.
Green Horns Tavern, Jerem Plaza
Port Ol'val, 1820 hours
The Twi'lek roosting on a barstool in the corner had not moved for over an hour. At least, that's what the Riileb bartender had told Ronovi after setting down her standard class of Corellian whiskey beside her plate. His pink eyes remained locked on the customer, whose green lekku lay coiled around the belt of his simple gray attire.
"His heartbeat hasn't changed at all," the bartender had told Ronovi. "Not even after a few drinks. Funny how calm he is."
Ronovi ignored the comments of biorhythm, already knowing just what the Twi'lek was up to. She presumed with her sharpened Force senses that he was one of the Knights sent out to find Jarrod. From the way he arched his back and ran his fingers up and down the side of his glass, he was probably waiting for his little Jedi friends, and that meant the Dark Jedi in the vicinity had to move at a less leisurely pace.
Unable to sense Jarrod at all but still sensing pulses from far off, Ronovi tossed back the rest of her drink in a harsh swallow before rising from the table and leaving her unfinished Krakana filet behind. If the Bothan wasn't here drinking, then most likely he had wandered off into the Besadii Entertainment District. The Exarch had been there a few times herself, always amused by how it reminded her of District Sin back in her home city. Some things were always consistent.
The artificial lighting in the plaza was mildly disorienting, but Ronovi was able to tolerate it for the most part. The shadows scattered about the space from traveling passerby flickered across the blue screen of her electric eyepatch, and she stopped to adjust the simple black cap on her head. She felt her fingers curl, then uncurl, then curl again. Her boots scuffed the ground as she turned the corner. She stopped and paused, pulling out a pack of cigarras and lighting one. The smoke calmed her for a moment.
Then she drew the ruby scepter from her utility belt and used it to smash the fleshy nose of the Twi'lek standing behind her.
Ronovi heard the growl of a lightsaber after smelling the blood that oozed from the Jedi's shattered nostrils, just as the red jewel of her weapon struck his temples. A faltering step allowed her to rip the simple silver hilt from under her gray tunic, and blue belched from both ends as she erected one of the blades close to the Jedi's throat.
The clatter of his saber to the ground was the only sound Ronovi heard from a two-mile radius. She sneered into the shocked green visage of her opponent, the crimson dripping onto the collar of his tunic.
"Well, this must be embarrassing for you," she taunted. "Aren't you supposed to be a Knight?"
"I didn't think you were a..." his speech trailed off there. As if Ronovi wasn't worth the effort.
"Were a what?"
Ronovi snickered. "Doesn't matter. You didn't think you could just waltz into Ol'val without us noticing, could you?"
"If I don't report this base, one of my allies will," sputtered the Twi'lek. "And there's no way you can stop..."
His sudden shriek was muffled within the void between them. Ronovi, eyes blazing as she did her work, had taken the liberty of removing the Jedi's left ear. The mangled lump of flesh now lay pitifully at her feet, marked black from cauterization.
"Oh, I'm sorry, were you preaching to me?" she asked. "Because as you can probably tell by now, I don't like preachers. They cause this reflex in me. Hope you don't mind."
The Jedi probably meant to retort with some insult regarding the dark side, but he was shushed by a wagging finger and the still lingering blue blades of the weapon in front of his face. Ronovi let her fingers dance around the red rivulets on his cheeks with a light smile. She would leave him in several small pieces soon, small enough to be discarded in trash bags like leftover pieces of meat in the nearby bin, but not without asking the obligatory question.
"Now...where did your other friends run off to?"
Fat Butterfly, Besadii Entertainment District
Port Ol'val, 1830 hours
He could feel the evening approaching fast, like a spider racing up a wall as it spat out its fiery embroidery. Only the Force knew what the web would end up catching in its silk net tonight.
The smell of Ukian Torbull tail soup and Rodian Kerstag brought back memories of hunts and banquets in his past, and the Bothan eagerly lifted the large bowl in front of him and savored the spice and meat that glided over his tongue. The two Zeltron ladies flanking him seemed impressed by his voracious appetite, and they giggled and clung to his arms as the Sakiyan waiter strode by.
"And would sir like another glass of Bothan brandy?" he asked, and the Bothan guffawed as if he were surprised that was even a question.
"Yes, please. And some Coruscant red wine, for these two fine dames here."
"How did you know I liked red wine?" asked one of the Zeltrons in a nasally sing-song, and the Bothan she nestled against chuckled heartily, almost jovially.
"Oh. Just a lucky guess."
"You know, I normally go for guys with less fur," cooed the other Zeltron, stroking the large scar that zipped down his hairy jawline, "but maybe for you I'll make an exception."
This was a night Jarrod Wendt had been dying to have since he had left Coruscant, and there was no better place to have it than in one of the fanciest restaurants within the port. It was also one of the only restaurants in the district, probably meant for the higher-class criminal families that he sensed were residing here. Still, he reveled in using the Force for raising and clinking his glass with the stemmed wine glasses of his fangirls, delighting in the seafood and meat dishes that came his way. They laughed at the presumed magic trick. They clapped when he won at their guessing games. True, as shaggy as he was, he considered himself charming; his simpering grin and mellow eyes were excellent tools to use in that regard. He swigged down his brandy like medicine, the golden liquid warming his belly before he popped a Plavonian starfish into his mouth.
"So, girls," he said between chews, grinning with each bite. "Who's up for a game of cards later?"
Besadii Entertainment District
Port Ol'val, 1910 hours
Jedi Knight Eli Vaynsteyn leaned against the wall of a nearby casino, eyes closed as he sifted through his addled thoughts one by one. Knight Clars Rha had not shown up yet, and he was beginning to wonder if he had been caught on the wrong end of some situation. Then again, the Twi'lek was prone to reckless decisions, and Vaynsteyn hoped that such a decision had not been made tonight.
The other two Jedi he had gone with on this assignment were probably patrolling the borders of the entertainment district now, probably the red-light district at this point. They had navigated Jerem Plaza with no luck, which was the reason they left Rha to be capable on his own in case Wendt showed up. Vaynsteyn would have thought that finding the large Bothan would be simple, but perhaps he was sorely mistaken. At least, he thought he was until he saw the bulky silhouette appear from a nearby restaurant.
Linked arm in arm with two Zeltrons, Jarrod Wendt lumbered past some disheveled drug dealers. It was clear that the two pink-skinned women were helping keep the Knight's balance; otherwise he would probably be zigzagging across the walkway. Vaynsteyn breathed sharply through his nostrils before stepping out in front of the Bothan, stopping the three in their tracks.
After the brief ensuing silence, Wendt let out a loud guffaw. "Eli!" he snorted. "Fancy seeing you here!"
Although he was slightly disoriented by the Bothan calling him by his first name, Vaynsteyn kept his composure. He let the words steam from his pursed lips with a perfectly flat tone.
"Wendt. We need to talk."
"Not now, kiddo, not now." Wendt exchanged gleeful glances with his two lady friends. "Look, now there's plenty of man to go around! What do you girls think?"
"He's definitely handsome," one of the Zeltrons slurred before approaching Vaynsteyn. He didn't blink as she brushed a finger against his lip. "Your name's Eli, huh?"
Her expression suddenly changed under the Human's gaze, and her friend seemed to be equally affected. The two exchanged nervous looks before they seemingly inexplicably ran off, leaving a dazed Wendt behind. He stared off in the direction they had taken, and the moment seemed to suddenly sober him up. Of course, with being sober came the anger that Vaynsteyn had taught himself to expect from his little mind tricks.
"What the Hell, Vaynsteyn?!" Wendt roared, finally resorting to using his former ally's surname. Vaynsteyn gave him a small shrug in response.
"Shall we walk together, Wendt?"
"Don't try to be friendly with me," snarled the Bothan. "Where am I going to find women as beautiful as they were? You going to answer that?"
But Vaynsteyn had already begun to walk toward an alleyway, letting Wendt's voice trail behind him. He pleased to see he was now being followed and began to speak in a lowered voice.
"This port doesn't seem too hospitable," he remarked. "Have you noticed that?"
Wendt blinked. "What?"
"I'm saying there's something off-kilter with this place," continued Vaynsteyn. "The atmosphere. The attitude. Seems a little...malicious, don't you think?"
The glare that Wendt cast in Vaynsteyn's direction was unexpected this time. His eyes seemed different, as if they were boiling from an unseen heat. But the Knight was not done yet, and he leaned forward as if to whisper into Wendt's ear.
"It's not a good place for people like us."
He began to walk forward again before noticing that Wendt was not following him. Turning around slowly, Vaynsteyn found himself again looking into Wendt's golden eyes.
"Who else is with you?" the Bothan asked calmly.
"Knights," replied Vaynsteyn. "Knight Rha, Knight Wimble, and Knight Siskar."
"I want nothing to do with them."
"You don't understand, Wendt," Vaynsteyn retorted coolly. "We're taking you back to Coruscant, and one of two things will happen. The first is that you will apologize to the Council, and return to our fold. The second..."
He didn't even get to finish explaining the second option of trial, for as he spoke he felt a sudden rush of air before his skull cracked loudly against the adjacent wall. As he dropped to the ground, he felt blood trickle into his eyes as his vision wove in and out of a tapestry of focus. But his hearing was still intact, and Vaynsteyn heard one last statement from Wendt before the Bothan walked off having finished his blatant display of Force power.
"Tell the Council to kiss my ass."
Hot Hands Casino, Besadii Entertainment District
Port Ol'val, 1910 Hours
The sound of whining reels in lugjack machines and the smell of cigar smoke was pungent in the small space, and various members of criminal families huddled around tregald booths and sabacc tables. Drinks of course were being served on trays, sometimes dozens of them being packed onto one platter. It was all sucked down like mother's milk as the unlucky wept for their fates.
Ronovi was of course one of the lucky ones, though the Force helped out in that regard. As she slammed down an Idiot's Array in front of her opponents, the table shook from pounding fists and nearly bestial roars. They called foul. They demanded answers. All that Ronovi did, however, was smile as she gathered the sabacc pot.
"If you'll excuse me, boys," she said, "I need to celebrate with a drink."
They noisily responded to that remark as well, some congratulating her and others saying good riddance. One man even audaciously asked if she desired him to partake in drinking alongside her. Ronovi instead hightailed it to the bar, waving down the droid bartender for a drink. There was still no sign of Jarrod Wendt, and this was the fourth casino she had stepped into over the past hour.
As she pried the whiskey from the bartender's pronged fingers, she couldn't help hearing tidbits of dialogue a few stools away from her.
"No, I come from far off...on duty, you know..."
"Duty, eh? You're just cryptic as other men I've met."
Ronovi couldn't help turning her head to look at the instigators of the conversation, laying her eyes on a young Human female drinking what looked like Halmad Prime. Of course this bar would have it, of all places; the port was not exempt from black market dealings. As Ronovi's eyes moved up and down the petite figure of the woman, she couldn't help noticing the Krayt dragon tattoos running up and down both her arms as well as the pork pie hat pulled tightly over her short red hair. Then again, that was before she looked at the middle-aged Arkanian in a brown jacket sitting beside her, sipping sweetwater from a tall glass.
Immediately she felt her pulse quicken, the blood vessels constricting in her neck. Yes, he was good at hiding his power to some, but not to others...
"So you said you saw him earlier, in the Fat Butterfly?" the Arkanian was saying, running his fingers through his long white hair. The young woman chuckled coolly.
"Hard to miss. The guy had a seven course meal in front of him," she said. "Big guy, too. Looked like he could arm wrestle a Rancor and win."
"And you don't know where he went?"
The woman shrugged. "Could've been anywhere here. He seems like quite the partier." She then seemed to eye the Arkanian cautiously, as if she didn't trust him. "You his friend or something?"
"You could say that," the Arkanian smoothly replied.
Ronovi didn't move from her stool, keeping her head low but her ears sharp. The conversation continued on in a similar pattern - the Arkanian would attempt to pry information from the woman, and the woman would very casually give him "I don't know" answers. The Exarch's glass slowly drained over time, until at long last she saw the Arkanian stand up.
"I suppose I should continue looking, then. Thank you for your help."
"Pleasure's all mine."
He left slowly, gracefully, and Ronovi watched him the whole time. Her fingers drummed feverishly against the bar, and she licked her lips and tasted the stain of Corellian whiskey on them. She kept a keen eye on his clawed hands, waiting for them to clench. And they did, and he stopped in his tracks, turning slowly back around.
Their eyes met. Ronovi felt her teeth clamp together. She remembered her variety of weapons nestled within her utlity belt. Then she saw a suited man shove past the Arkanian, almost sending him off his feet. The Arkanian blinked, sighed, and lef the casino. Ronovi wondered if he had noticed her power just as much as she had noticed his. Then she yelped as she noticed the young woman suddenly sitting on the stool next to hers.
"He your type or something?"
"Oh." Ronovi breathed. "No. Definitely not."
"I figured. You don't seem...interested." Then the woman changed her tone when she saw the furrowed brow on Ronovi's face. "Sorry, but when a lone wolf waltzes in here, I figure they're not looking for a date."
"You mentioned that you saw someone at a restaurant. May I ask who it was?"
The woman laughed and took a long drink from her glass. "Geez, you too?" she said. "I guess suddenly Bothans are top dollar."
"So he was a Bothan."
The look that Ronovi got in response was coy but somewhat seductive. "I just said that, didn't I?" the woman replied.
She yawned and stretching so that the tattoos on her arms seemed to swirl on her skin. This certainly was at least some kind of lead, and Ronovi shoved her empty glass away and stood up without paying her bill. She stood over the woman with one hand shoved into the pocket of her trousers, her other hand extended outward.
"I think you can be of more help to me than you were to him," she said. "What's your name?"
"Dewal." The name came out slowly, as if she were surprised by the sudden amicable gesture. "Chrai Dewal."
"Well, Miss Dewal," Ronovi murmured, "why don't you take me in the direction of that restaurant?"
"Take you? Do I look like a tour guide?"
"No," retorted Ronovi, smirking, "but you look like you can make a good bodyguard. And bodyguards get pretty damn good sums for taking orders."
Now she was getting her attention. Chrai Dewal leaned forward on her stool, her back popping at she arched it. Her amber eyes had grown considerably brighter under her red bangs.
"How much are you offering?"
Besadii Entertainment District
Port Ol'val, 1930 Hours
Illadi Siskar exhaled loudly as he strode under the imposing streetlights, the light bathing his white hair in an unnatural glow and making his similarly white eyes water. This search was getting nowhere. He would have imagined hearing back from either Knight Rha or Knight Vaynsteyn, but neither of them had attempted to make any contact with him. The Force had lain bare, unwavering - that is, until he had looked at the Epicanthix woman perched on that bar stool.
She harbored a great deal of strength...certainly more than expected from an average gambler or potential bounty hunter...
He suddenly felt a shudder in the air around him, and a sense of urgency pervaded him like smoke seeping into his nose. Picking up speed, Siskar drew his jacket closer about his chest as his boots scraped the pavement and kicked up cigarra stumps and ashes and what looked like some broken teeth left behind from a past brawl. He strode by a neon-lit drug haven that was passing off as a cheap liquor store before turning the corner, seeing a familar figure a few yards away.
The Human female rushed over to Siskar, her face flushed. She wiped perspiration off her brow and took a long, throaty breath as a slight artifical breeze kicked up the tails of her coat.
"I thought I sensed you," she whispered, brushing a strand of blonde hair from her eyes.
"And I you. Where is Vaynsteyn?"
"Close by," Tarja Wimble replied in a harsh whisper. "I found him lying in an alleyway. He looked like someone had given him a blow to the head."
"A blow to the head? I didn't think Vaynsteyn was causing any trouble."
"It doesn't seem like he was. I administered some healing to him. It should help," continued Wimble. "We'll go to him, but there's something else you should know."
"And what's that?" Siskar asked.
"It's about Knight Rha. I sensed pain and agony within Jerem Plaza as I passed. I couldn't quite detect what it was until I suddenly felt a severed connection in the Force...you must have sensed it, too."
"I did, but..."
"Rha's dead, Knight Siskar," Wimble cut him off. "I know he is. I felt it."
Siskar stiffened. He felt the blood freeze in his chest, then in his arms, before his mind flitted back to the casino. He remembered the black hair and the blue eyepatch...and the look they had exchanged...
"You think perhaps..."
"Knight Wendt killed him?" Wimble attempted to finish for him.
"No. Someone else."
Then he sensed her again, farther off, but there. Craning his neck, Siskar saw two silhouettes passing along the street, moving closely together. He instantly recognized the woman from the casino, as well as the redheaded girl he had talked to in the same vicinity. He started to wonder.
"Wimble, you find Vaynsteyn and make sure he's back in shape," he ordered. "Ask him who hurt him and go from there. If it was Wendt, you have to search around here."
"And where will you be?" Wimble asked as Siskar began to walk away.
"Dealing with someone else."
Alleyway, Besadii Entertainment District
Port Ol'val, 1945 Hours
"You're sure this is close to where the restaurant was?" Ronovi demanded as she pressed herself against the wall, lighting another cigarra. The ash burned her throat.
"Hell, I don't know anymore," sighed Dewal. "I mean, I've only been there once, and maybe..."
"Talking in 'maybes' will do nothing," growled the Exarch. "You told me you'd help me find this man. Stick to your job if you want to get paid."
It was becoming difficult to be patient, but something about Dewal was appealing to Ronovi. Perhaps the possible link to a similar past was part of it, but Ronovi couldn't help looking at her face through small clouds of smoke. The high cheekbones, the sharp nose, the large eyes, the glossy hair. It was all she could do not to drift within her own thoughts as the cigarra began to burn away between her lips.
Then she heard footsteps, loud and plodding, and Ronovi lifted her head to see the unexpected guest. Immediately her mind blazed with Force recognition. The screen of the datapad screamed in her memory, as the grizzly face of a Bothan emerged in the light of her cigarra before she dropped it to the ground and put it out with the heel of her boot.
It was Jarrod Wendt. It had to be. The eyes, the fur, the scar running down the left side of his head - it all coincided perfectly with the provided image. Now, however, the peaceful glint in his eyes was gone, and the robes Ronovi would have expected him to wear were replaced by semi-formal clothes. Ronovi's fingers noticeably twitched as she lit another cigarra, and Wendt spoke to her in a gruff mutter.
"Mind sparing me one?"
Ronovi looked into the Bothan's eyes, studying their golden hue. There was certainly a tinge of arrogance in them, as well as the expected sense of hedonism permeating from the dilated pupils. At the same time, Ronovi felt his terrific Force power, as if the Force were a liquid bubbling in his stomach like hot soup in a pot. Marick was right - he certainly was not subtle with his Force connections, and it was a wonder that his friends didn't seem close to finding him.
She gave off a small smile, offered the pack to Wendt, and watched as he drew out a thin cigarra and held it out for her to light.
"What're you two fine ladies doing out here this evening?" he asked between puffs of smoke. "Shouldn't you be enjoying yourselves?"
"Already got my fair share of credits from sabacc," Ronovi swiftly replied, grinning with her cigarra drooping unceremoniously from between her teeth.
"Did you?" Wendt said with a tone of interest. "Gotta say, you certainly look like a girl who gambles. And can kick my ass, for that matter."
"I don't know about that. You seem formidable enough." Was he not noticing her Force connection? Or was he simply not even trying to notice?
"Hey," Dewal cut in suddenly, breaking off the conversation. "Isn't this the guy you were looking for?"
If there was anything worse than a death glare, that was what Ronovi shot in Dewal's direction as she sensed Wendt's casual mood turn into subtle skepticism. He withdrew the cigarra from his lips and gazed cautiously at the Epicanthix.
"You were looking for me?" he asked. "What for?"
She had to think fast and make it look nonchalant at the same time. A shrug of the shoulders stalled for time as she let the words tumble out of her mouth. "I just heard you've been garnering a lot of people's attention. You know, since your arrival. And I figured I'd want to meet the man himself."
That was partially true; Wendt's Force connections, again, were not masked, and it had garnered the attention of Qel-Droma and Arcona at large. Ronovi waited for Wendt to buy her claim. He did. Kind of.
"What makes me so famous?" he asked.
"I don't know. Your gambling? I did hear about you from a gambling friend."
"Shoot, one of the guys I slaughtered in a game of Binspo?" Wendt responded, laughing loudly. "Because he deserved it."
Yeah, Ronovi thought, and he was also a high-class member of Mal Company who didn't take kindly to losing. This was the "poking his nose around" that Marick was talking about. She tried to change the subject.
"Or maybe it's the way you fight? I've heard you've got into a few scuffles as well."
Wendt snorted. "I do what I can," he said, flexing his the bicep on his right arm.
While the pride emanating from him was stifling and certainly hard on the palate, Ronovi was at least getting him comfortable. Now she could drive the bargain home. Ignoring the impatient look at Dewal's face, she took a step toward Wendt and let a small smirk dance on the corners of her mouth.
"You know, top men would want guys like you joining up with their forces and cleaning up this place," Ronovi whispered. "But I've got something better."
"Oh, do you?"
"Yeah. How about we get away from Ol'val and I can take you to - "
She wasn't able to finish as a flurry of Force connections flared up in her mind. Shortly thereafter, she heard footsteps before seeing two Humans appear on the other end of the alley. A low, stuttering voice emerged from the ensuing silence as the man in the duo walked slowly toward him, a large closed wound on the side of his head.
"Wendt. Found you again."
It was then that Ronovi immediately knew who they were, and she noticed that Wendt looked ready to fight. Spitting out her cigarra, she planted her boot into the Bothan's back, listening to the startled grunt as he propelled forward.
Alleyway, Besadii Entertainment District
Port Ol'val, 1950 Hours
Siskar's mood had gone terribly sour. He had attempted to make his way calmly and coolly toward the women, only to find they had disappeared into the vast array of alleys around the district. While one of the women's Force power was palpable, it had grown too faint to detect at one particular spot. All he had was an energy field, and the whole space was his to navigate much against his will.
He was better off trying to find Wendt. The bastard never even tried to mask himself, and Siskar took a deep breath and delved further into the Force. Instantly he felt another rush of urgency, much stronger than Wimble had exuded previously. He let the delicate threads of the environment guide his steps, until he almost blindly turned a corner as his legs carried him along.
Feeling a hand suddenly plant itself against his chest, Siskar found himself toppling to the ground. He caught himself as he fell, his knees wobbling but his balance retained. He heard fading footsteps stop, then looked up as Jarrod Wendt from earlier stared straight at him.
"Gotcha," Siskar snarled, moving to draw his saber from his belt.
Thus the Arkanian made a fatal decision, turning to look at his fellow Knights as they raced toward him and the others. He could feel Wendt's presence disappear from him as another presence suddenly grew closer, and he realized his error far too late. For as he laid eyes on Vaynsteyn and Wimble, he felt a sudden burst of pain breaking through his spine and ribs, the bones cracking in his chest as a sapphire blade turned purple from his blood erupted from his skin.
Siskar choked on his own plasma, his eyes rolling upwards in their sockets as the Epicanthix from earlier twisted the fine bladework until all of his vertebrate was severed from their chain link by link. He made a quick final prayer to the Jedi Order, the words fading from his memory as quickly as he had conceived them, before the sword withdrew from his flesh and left him sprawled in a huddled red mess on the ground. His allies would be too late to save him, as Rha's and his murderer faded from view and took Wendt with her.
His last thoughts were a fleeting hope that his death would be a sacrifice for Wendt's recovery. So much, however, for returning to the Council alive.
Alleyway, Besadii Entertainment District
Port Ol'val, 1955
Ronovi finally stopped to rest against the wall of a dead end street, thin light seeping from the windows as she smelled tobacco and deathsticks from inside. A small grated drain leading to the asteroid's makeshift sewer below was nestled beside her, and she debated slipping into it to make a not-so-clean getaway. Her sapphire blade still hung limply from her hand, the Jedi's lifeblood dripping from its glistening tip. She wiped it on the right leg of her trousers before sheathing it.
"Why did you stop me?" Wendt snarled. "I could've killed them for you!"
"Not without controlling your rage, you wouldn't have," hissed Ronovi. "You have to work on that. And for the love of all that is sacred and holy, calm down your Force presence!"
The anger she felt bubbling in Wendt was beginning to simmer, though she loved the fact that it was there to begin with. It was a good start. "You know?" he asked.
"Wendt, everyone and their damn grandmother can sense you here," replied the Exarch. "You're not subtle, that's for sure."
"What, you think I was a hunter or something?" Ronovi found that thought quite funny. "Not even half of it. See, I was trying to strike a deal with you..."
Another interjection had sprung from a now white-lipped Chrai Dewal, who stood shaking. And it certainly wasn't from the cold.
"Are we just going to stand here," she cried out, "or are we going to forget that you just stabbed someone and we're stuck at a dead end and there are two people trying to kill us?!"
"Pipe down, Dewal," Ronovi snarled. "You're getting paid by the hour here, so enjoy the fact that the clock's still ticking."
"Enjoy it, my ass! If we walk out of this alley, we get slaughtered. Period!"
"Fine. Then go into the sewer."
Dewal blinked. "What?"
"C'mon, you look like you've had experience getting your hands dirty." Ronovi gestured at the drain beside her. "So go in there. Hell, we'll all go in there, so we can pop up on the other side without those guys noticing. But you go first to make sure there isn't something like a dianoga down there."
"No, I'm just strategizing. Do you want to get out of here or not?"
Cursing, Dewal stooped down by the drain and pried the grating off of it with ease before beginning to lower herself into it feet first. Wendt cast Ronovi an incredulous look.
"There's no way I'll fit in there."
"I'll make you fit," Ronovi sneered. "I'm just trying not to abuse my Force powers, get my drift?"
"So you knew..."
"That you were making a scene here in Ol'val. And we don't like that," replied the Exarch. "And before you ask all dramatically, 'We?' that'll all be answered if you consider a few things. I know you left the Order for a reason. Didn't you?"
"Good. And what reason was that?"
Ronovi immediately sensed hesitation. She expected it, and she knew she had to push the friend agenda further. She tried it out.
"C'mon, Jarrod...you can be honest with me, the woman who saved your life."
That seemed to work...almost. The answer she received was far from what she wanted, but she'd get the rest out of him.
"I felt...constricted by the Order, you know?" Wendt muttered. "Found it too stuffy. It was all so orthodox, so rigid. I couldn't go out at night unless I was fighting. I couldn't leave my room even unless it was urgent. And I'm not like that."
"You're a drinker."
"I like to have fun," Wendt smirked. "And the girls love me. Seriously, a Bothan catching their eye? Not very common."
"Maybe not." Ronovi bit down on her lower lip and let her vision drift over Wendt's scarred face. "But I think something else drew you away, didn't it?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Your eyes," she replied. "Their color isn't quite natural. I feel ambition bursting from them. Something the Jedi Order doesn't like, does it?"
Wendt exhaled deeply. "No."
"It's power you really want," prodded Ronovi. "Isn't it?"
Then her Force senses were overwhelmed again, and she hissed under her breath. So close to getting him, and yet so far, as she sensed their enemies approaching. She whipped her head around to Dewal, who was grunting as she tried to push her torso through the small opening.
"C'mon, go!" Ronovi barked.
"Like Hell I can!" Dewal snapped back. "My ribs won't fit!"
"Then pull yourself out and make yourself useful! We've got company!"
She was right, and she watched as the two Human Jedi Knights from earlier stormed into the alleyway. Blocked. No way out unless they resorted to the slaughter. Ronovi lifted her double-bladed saber from her belt, just as she heard a loud curse from Dewal. The young woman was trying to pull herself out of the drain, her stomach heaving and her hair growing damp under her hat as she pushed her hands frantically against the frame.
"Sh-t! Help! I'm stuck!"
"Son of a..." Ronovi didn't finish her curse, letting the blue blades curse for her and ignoring Dewal's startled yelp as they shot out from their metallic shelters. Wendt gawked at the sight, then remembered his own weapon as he removed it from his belt. A green light glowed in the corner of the Epicanthix's eyes, and she looked briefly at the Bothan as he readied himself in a Djem So position.
An offensive form. This was going better than she planned.
Vaynsteyn grinned as he saw the silly display of power in front of him. Still, he had to properly defend himself. Nodding to Wimble, he drew the ornate hilt of his saber slowly from beneath his tunic, the yellow light dancing on his face as he activated it. He felt the warmth of Wimble's green saber as she leveled it in front of her eyes in a Shii-Cho position.
"I must say, I didn't expect you to find a friend, Wendt," he called out, before looking at the woman who apparently to be wedged tightly in a drain. "And you, too. Hello. Need a hand?"
"Go die in a hole!" the woman roared recklessly as she struggled, and Vaynsteyn couldn't help laughing as he and Wimble slowly walked toward the Epicanthix and the former Jedi.
"Last chance, Wendt," he murmured, brandishing his weapon. The glow bathed the Bothan's face in an amber hue. "Repent and return with us. I don't want to hurt you."
"Like Hell you don't," Wendt snarled. "You think you're all high and mighty? Well, you're not, Vaynsteyn. You're just like me, wanting the same thing but marching around like you're the freaking messiah. Well, I'm done with that. I'm done trying to be the savior for the people. Because I'm not."
"If that's truly what you believe," Vaynsteyn whispered, "then there is indeed no hope for you."
He then nodded again to Wimble.
"Eliminate the woman...there's no hope for conversion. She's too far gone. I'll take care of Wendt."
Vaynsteyn felt a shade of eagerness from the Epicanthix, who seemed to take this all in like a form of entertainment. Typical of who he sensed was a dark one, a Dark Jedi, hellbent on the twisting of the Bothan's mind. The Jedi would not have that. He would never allow it.
"This is for murdering Clars Rha and Illadi Siskar!" he heard his Jedi companion bellow, just as he himself lashed outward only to catch the green flame on the tip of the yellow beacon he swung in front of him.
Ronovi easily sidestepped a lunge by the female Jedi and parried an uppercut slash to her chin. Her agility was certainly impressive and her Force reflex strong, but the Knight's strength was lacking and it made her swings awkward and clumsy. The Epicanthix deflected another swing before twisting her body toward the side, jabbing outward with her saber.
Using the brutal, carnivorous Juyo calmed her head yet brewed her heart like hot tea. It felt fantastic. The lactic acid burned in her arms as she countered parries and blocks, swinging and slicing in brilliant arcs as the two blades spun about her figure. Using the double-bladed saber was like becoming a dancer, falling into the manic rhythm and percussion of the art. And Ronovi was about to paint a marvelously bloody picture.
Letting her saber whip over her left wrist into her left palm, Ronovi let her dominant shoulder lead the way before her fist flew out in a feverish jab fitting of a Hapan boxer. She heard the crack, then the cry, as shards of broken teeth nipped at her knuckles and blood splashed from "Wimble's" lips. She allowed the woman's hands to flounder before letting the blue speed past her chest and find their target - removing the saber from the Jedi's grip and taking half of her right hand with it.
Ronovi watched the woman fall to the ground, shaking with glee as she heard the scream of anguish. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Wendt throw his Force power into "Vaynsteyn's" light but supple figure. She could sense the rage practically oozing from his pores, amplifying his strikes as he locked his saber with his opponent's and his shoulders shook as he pushed into him.
It energized the Exarch, just as she plunged one of the blades of her saber deep into Wimble's stomach and watched her slowly die as her intestines became cauterized chasms.
Wendt and Vaynsteyn were evenly matched in terms of strength. It was difficult to believe, but the Human was very much like a tall tale, with the figure of a performer and the power of a Bothan. The Force glazed across his eyes like fabric, guiding him as he maneuvered and became aggressive when Wendt's Force power surpassed his.
In every way, they were in a shoving match, their lightsabers barely making movement beyond the screech of plasma against plasma. Wendt gritted his teeth, feeling the perspiration beginning to form on his brow. He channeled Force energy again to push Vaynsteyn back, trying to counter his Soresu form. Against Vaynsteyn's Force defense, it merely seemed to be a wind pressing against the Human's face. He would not give up ground.
Then Wendt caugh glimpses of his unexpected ally. The choreography she was swept up in. The sneer on her face as she smashed her fist into Wimble's mouth. And then, the final kill that made the Bothan's heart pound and his head burn from the sheer sight of power. He could not help it. He let his hubris get to him, and he turned his head to watch the blue blade sink into Wimble's deserving gut.
He felt the heat far too late, his shirt burning away and exposing the slashed flesh beneath. Wendt bellowed loudly and dropped to one knee, dropping his lightsaber as his hand reached out to clutch his wound. Then he saw the hilt fly past him, and Vaynsteyn with one swooping arc split the thing in two and let the fragments clatter to the ground.
The hum behind Wendt told him that the Epicanthix had noticed the turn of events, lifting her saber in an attempt to finish Vaynsteyn. However, he felt the burn of his opponent's weapon against his neck just as she stepped forward.
"Stop there, if you want him to live."
Wendt saw her freeze, knowing she was calculating rather than hesitating. He looked up into Vaynsteyn's cold visage, his chiseled jawline glowing yellow in the dimness of the space.
"So kill me, then," he snarled. "That's what you want, isn't it? Kill me!"
"No, Jarrod," Vaynsteyn replied, and Wendt growled at the sound of the man using his first name. "I won't kill you. But if you tell your 'friend' there to surrender to us, perhaps I'll let you go."
"He's lying, Wendt," the woman barked. "He'll kill me and then kill you next. The Order doesn't tolerate traitors."
"Yes," hissed the Jedi, "but we are less tolerant toward kind like you."
"Of course," she teasingly murmured. "Because we were able to tap into something far more powerful than you'll ever achieve."
Wendt then felt his body crumple as Vaynsteyn seemed to push him to the ground with a Force-formed hand, stepping over him as he twirled his saber.
"We'll see about that, Dark Jedi," he hissed, raising his blade as his opponent moved to raise her own.
The sudden whistle of a blaster bolt halted the seemingly imminent confrontation.
Ronovi stared for a moment as a flash of red burst across Vaynsteyn's left shoulder, crippling his arm and forcing him to drop his saber. As she looked around for the culprit, she found Chrai Dewal still halfway in, halfway out of the sewer vent, a blaster drawn from her open vest and now smoking from the barrel.
She then watched, with a wide organic eye, Vaynsteyn's weapon fly through the air and drop into Wendt's hand. The yellow was spitting from the emitter as the Bothan rose still clutching his wound but looking like a rabid animal in his blistering anger. Vaynsteyn turned around slowly, eyes watering, hand darting across his injury as Wendt stepped forward.
"Please," Ronovi heard him plead like he was a starved dog now. "Please, Jarrod...you don't want to do this...you don't want to poison your heart like this."
And then it was over. The deed done. Eli Vaynsteyn gasped one last gasp as Wendt stuck the blade deep into his chest, his heart slowing down as he sank into oblivion. Ronovi heard every heartbeat and every mind pulse as he faded away, and she knew that in the end, she had accomplished her mission.
The two Force sensitives glanced down at the bodies before they remembered the smoldering corpse of the Arkanian a few alleys away. Ronovi felt the fear swell within Wendt's chest, and she raised a hand somberly to calm him.
"We have agents all over the place. They'll clean up the mess."
"I see." Wendt snorted loudly in order to breathe again; Ronovi sensed that the gash still ached bitterly in his abdomen. "I apologize for...causing a ruckus..."
He sat down on the pavement, then looked at Ronovi as her fingers brushed against his torso. She felt his pain and then coolness on her skin, as the gash partially healed under her hand.
"There," she said. "That should keep you stable for a while. We'll have you set up for the medbay in no time."
"Where will you be taking me?"
Ronovi smiled. "Simple. To Estle City, to meet my superiors. I have to say they'll be quite impressed with your Force abilities...as well as your penchant for channeling your fury properly."
"And you..." Wendt whispered. "Your strength and your skills...they..."
"All from the ability to tap into darker reserves, yes," replied Ronovi. "And given the fact that you just mercilessly killed a Jedi, I'd say you're rather prepared for some morbid experiences. Come. We've got to get out of here before we cause any more of a scene."
"Just a damn minute!"
Ronovi's eyes shot back to Chrai Dewal, who now rested her chin on her folded arms with the blaster laid out beside her. It was clear that she had had no success pulling herself out of the pavement, and that amused the Exarch to no end.
"Don't laugh," Dewal snapped, as Ronovi's lips twitched. "I know you're trying not to laugh. Don't forget I carried out my job properly. I know your type well enough. I've seen those toys before. And let me tell you, I know how to use this little toy, and well!"
"So help me!" cried Dewal, splaying her hands forward in a gesture of pain and desperation. "Get me out of here!"
"And why should I do that?" Ronovi asked. "What makes me think I can trust you?"
"Trust me? Trust me? I just shot a Jedi in the shoulder for you, for Kriff's sake!" Dewal barked. "And if you let me tag along with you guys, I promise you don't have to pay me a cent for tonight. I've been scrounging for pocket money for three months now - I'm not about to resort to waiting for the sewer cleaners to yank me out of here."
"What do you think?" Ronovi asked Wendt as he kneeled down beside the trapped woman. "My clan can always use some marksmen. Or women, for that matter."
Wendt smiled, let his head drop in a short bow, and extended a furry hand. "If given permission, ma'am, I'd say she could use a bit of military finesse. I haven't seen shooters like her in years, not even those hired by the Order."
"Well then, Jarrod Wendt," Ronovi whispered coolly. "You will go back to Estle City with me before we make our journey to Lyspair. Now, grab one arm and I'll grab the other."
"Never thought I'd live to see the day I'd help a Dark Jedi with this kind of chore," the newly christened Dark Jedi grunted, seizing Dewal under the armpit and ignoring the redhead's simpering glare.