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Mand'alor's Tower // Keldabe Administrative District // Mandalore

The Mand’alor’s Tower stood at the center of Keldabe. It was the heart of the city, of the entire planet, and from it everything grew. A massive, ancient spire of stone and metal and glass that dwarfed everything else on the planet. A source of pride to natives and fear to outlanders. Its shadow stretched to the horizon in these moments before twilight. A seat of power for the entirety of the Mandalorian people, a symbol of their leader’s immense power.

With the coming of night, celebrations intensified. Fireworks shot off at random into the darkness, lending bright and evanescent stars to the constellations passing east to west above. Drunken revelers formed impromptu feasts and parades in congested streets. There were fights. It was Mandalore, after all. Fights for honor, fights for wagers, fights for fun.

Inside of the Mand’alor’s Tower was a different kind of fight. No blasters fired or punches thrown, at least not yet. Diplomats from around the galaxy, locked in verbal combat. They fought for influence, for mercy, for trade or for alliances. It was more vicious than any cantina brawl or battlefield melee.

The immense stone doors to the dimly lit great hall swung open, and those close to the entrance turned to see this newcomer. Instead, there was a shadow. A loping beast on all fours with a sharp and narrow head, black fur and black eyes. If it were not for the brilliant bioluminescent quills on the creature’s spine, they might not have seen it at all by the brazier’s faint light. The congregation near the door grew hushed, some knowing what the arrival of this strange form meant, others simply baffled by the beast’s appearance.

“Lady Ellia Errant, of the Corellian Hegemony,” The herald announced.

Ellia strode into the lion’s den, not with any particular grace or elegance, but with confidence. A small smile on her lips as eyes fell upon her. She looked a far cry from the others in the dark chamber, all dressed in fine clothes or polished armor. She wore an unbuttoned fur-lined parka and dark pants bearing the Correlian bloodstripe tucked into with heavy shin-high boots, a decidedly casual fit for the occasion. Her clothes were coated in fine red and white powder. Ellia’s left cheek was freshly bruised and cut, as if struck by a gauntleted hand. She looked to the herald.

"I’m no lady. Just rich. Close though, right?” Ellia said as she patted her vulpine companion’s large head. Dasri, her four-legged shadow. Before the partygoers descended upon her, Ellia felt an arm loop into hers and tug her away from the limelight, with Dasri trotting close behind.

“Where have you been?” The harsh, whispering voice belonged to Green Jedi Bren Bastra, a nephew of Lord Jaster Erelen. Her escort for tonight, or the other way around if Hegemon Novar was to be believed. Correlia’s leader had assigned her this inauspicious task personally.

"Apologies, your eminence, I was held up at Crait. Pirates.” She pointed to her bruised cheek with a grin. A lie.



“And why were you at Crait, pray tell?”

”Why do I go anywhere? For the sake of going.”

Bren sighed. “Is that why you’re covered in… What is that, salt?”

“Salt and rhodochrosite.”

“Salt and rhodochrosite,” he muttered in disbelief. “You couldn’t have cleaned up?”

Ellia shrugged. "Did you want me here, or did you want me cleaned up? Besides, I know you don’t care for these Mandalorians, but this,” Ellia said, sweeping a hand over her dusty outfit, "is far more interesting to them than that,” she nodded to his crisp, clean robes. Ellia knew the Mandalorians were a people of action, not words, who bore their deeds and battles proudly in the form of battle scars. Some dusty clothes weren't on the same level, but perhaps a step in the right direction, anyways.

Bren sighed. “Fine, fine. But you owe me after this, leaving me with these… People,” Bren said, almost shivering in disgust.

"Of course, I owe you one, Bren. I’ll let you buy me a drink tonight. That seems fair, no?” Ellia looked up into his face through hooded eyes. Bren paused for a moment, mind churning. She knew what he was going to say before the words came spilling out of his mouth.

“You wouldn’t catch me dead at one of these cantinas. We'll have a nightcap at my quarters. The view is quite nice, actually. This city looks beautiful once you’re high enough to not see any of these barbarians.”

Ellis giggled and hid her revulsion well. Bren wasn’t an unattractive man; quite the opposite, despite his many failings. But he was a Jedi. A particularly weak Green Jedi, but still a Jedi.

“And what will your wife say about this nightcap, Lord Bastra?” He wasn’t the lord of anything. His uncle was. But Bren always smiled when she addressed him as such.

“My wife. My wife thinks whatever I tell her, the sow,” he scoffed.

Ellia let out a laugh that didn’t sound forced in the slightest. “Well, I'll see you tonight in your room, my lord.” Another lie. She would not see him tonight. Something else would come up. She’d make sure of it. "Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to mingle. Believe it or not, but some of these Mandalorians actually like me.”

Ellia slid her arm out from Bren’s, giving him one last fleeting smile before striding towards a group of Mandalorians who’d been watching her anxiously, waiting to be recognized.

“Ori, Mav, I was hoping I’d see you here! I just got back from Crait; you’d love it there, whole aquatic world under the surface just waiting to be explored. They do have a bit of a pirate problem in that sector, though I don’t think that’d be a problem for you two...”

Ellia stood on the balcony like a woman come to the end of something, starbursts of fireworks coppering her dark face and a cold wind blowing out of the west. She looked out at the city below and leaned on the sweeping balcony’s ledge. Ellia took a drag from her cigarette, watching the wisps of smoke drift into the wind. Thasero Konnar, the Sunrider’s eccentric linguist, hand-rolled them himself. Inside was a concoction he refused to share. His own “special blend,” probably harvested from a dozen different systems. Whatever they contained, Ellia couldn’t get enough of them. The smoke was sweet, almost floral.

Her hands were shaking, and not from the cold. She could still feel her bruised palms pressed around the metal bars, the steel biting into her face. It was as though she’d be turned into some beast, caged and left to tear itself apart. And Ellia had. Just a taste of what she deserved, what she felt coming around the bend in every waking moment.

Ellia braced herself against the stone railing as if to steady herself or to slow the world that was rushing around her. She watched as rockets exploded into ephemeral blossoms of light and sound below. They started to taper off, preparing for a grand finale. She watched speeders pass by. Ellia took another drag of her cigarette.

She reached down and idly stroked Dasri’s soft head, and the four dark eyes looked into her face in response. Ellia saw in the strange vulpine being what she did not possess within herself. Honesty. Dasri wore no mask. He told no lies. His feelings and desires were shown plainly on the luminous quills that lined his back. Dasri allowed himself to feel everything fully. Ardenthearted. She envied this.

Ellia knew she'd have to go back in soon, or they’d come looking for her. Despite being Corellian, she was a great favorite among some of the Mandalorians and the other diplomats. Perhaps because she wasn’t a diplomat, something novel among their circles. The star power helped too, she theorized. For maybe the first time in her life though, Ellia wanted to be alone.
Through the din of gunfire and screams, Itxaro heard Shirik's harsh voice call out to her. She froze. Run back across the bridge through all that shit? She felt a breeze pass by her face, ice cold. Itxaro spun around to follow that feeling just in time to watch Shirik's ice shard embed itself into another monster, stopping it just before it slashed its vicious tentacles down on her. The creature looked frozen solid, half-immersed in the river like some grotesque statue.

She didn't second guess Shirik after that.

Itxaro holstered her now-empty weapon and took a deep breath as she watched the flaming creature slowly lumber towards her. Injured, perhaps, or just sizing her up. She saw the Glenn behind it, gaping wound in its chest from which blood flowed freely. Her doing. Itxaro's legs went weak.

Don't think about it.

Itxaro grounded her boots into the crumbling bridge and took off towards her companions, trying to stay clear of the burning monster. The beast jolted into action, jabbing a burning limb at her head like a spear. She ducked, stumbling, just as another burning tentacle swiped at her legs. Itxaro hurdled over the sweeping attack and fell to all fours, scrambling over the fallen Glenn's corpse. A searing jolt of pain shot up her leg as a burning barbed tendril lashed against her calf. She cried out and pulled her way instinctively, but the dark figure was upon her in an instant. Itxaro felt the heat emanating from the creature in waves as she tried to gain purchase on the wet stone, dodging blows that slammed into the crumbling bridge.

Her grasping hands found the dead Glenn's sabre. Itxaro rolled to face her pursuer, sword clutched in both hands, and with a graceless swing cleaved through several burning appendages just as they were about to strike. The severed limbs skittered off the bridge and the creature shrieked in anger or in pain. Itxaro couldn't tell which. All she knew was that it was time to run. The engineer lurched to her feet and put some distance between herself and the beast before the tendrils reformed and it renewed its pursuit.

Things were not much better reunited with her comrades. Several more Glenn were maimed or killed, Mallory had been injured, and Eva's mech was tangled up in a struggle against another creature's tentacles. Itxaro joined the other Glenn in their attempts to free Eva, hacking viciously at the ropey beast attempting to penetrate her armor; the weapon felt strange in her hands, unbalanced and too heavy for its shape, but it was still less alien to her than the gun at her hip. The ground beneath her shook as something emerged from the bridge, almost part of it.

Then Shirik cried out, "Now!"

Her wide eyes narrowed to slits as she continued mindlessly hacking and slashing at the creature, shouting like some half-crazed warrior, hoping whatever Shirik had done would save them from this nightmare.
Itxaro was too focused on not falling into the raging river underfoot to notice much. Shirik's cheers of encouragement. The ominous silence that followed. It wasn't until she heard their voice again, warped and strangely distorted, did the engineer realize something was terribly, terribly, wrong.

And by then, something had her leg.

She tried pulling away without looking, assuming she'd gotten snagged on a branch knocked loose by the torrential flood, but it tightened around her calf, digging into the heavy cloth. Then Itxaro looked. A black tendril coiled up her leg, its grasp slowly constricting, while another crept towards her other. Some kind of snake? Vine?

She barely had time to yelp before all hell broke loose.

Strange, shifting figures erupted from everywhere, all ropes of black sinew striking with deadly speed and strength. "Shit, shit, shit," Itxaro muttered breathlessly as she was pulled onto her back with incredible strength by the tendril. Time seemed to slow as she watched her comrades struggle against the beasts in whatever way they knew; sword, gun, fire. It all seemed woefully ineffective.

No help coming here, Itxaro thought as she struggled to keep her body out of the water. Already she was submerged to the knee, tentacle climbing up further and further. She drew her heavy revolver and pressed the barrel against the tendril's surprisingly yielding flesh, sideways so as not to blow her own leg off, and pulled the trigger. Jet black powder splattered across the wet stone as the tendril was nearly severed from the large caliber round. Her ears rang from the gun's boom and her hand felt numb from the recoil, but Itxaro seized the moment and pulled her leg free from the weakened thing, scrambling to her feet.

The damaged tentacle withdrew just as the other seized her wrist holding the gun. She might have wondered at the creature's intelligence, apparently able to realize that gun equals weapon, had it not started to try and crush her organic arm while simultaneously drag her into the water. Itxaro howled in equal parts anger and pain, her finger instinctively pulling the revolver's trigger. It fired into the air to no effect.

She pulled against the tentacle, pain shooting up and down her arm, before realizing she had two hands. Well, one hand and a prosthetic, but a very strong prosthetic at that. She grasped the tentacle with her unfeeling mechanical hand, and with a squeeze, crushed the pliant flesh in her metal palm to black dust. She nearly fell back into the water but stumbled and remained upright. Her arm was sore, and purple bruises were already appearing around her wrist, but she was alive and free.

Itxaro watched in silent horror as another malformed beast sprung from the water and onto the collapsed, now engulfed in fire. She thoughtlessly fired her remaining five rounds into the creature's back (was it the back?) and dark powder erupted from the exit wounds on the other side. The bullets seemed to pass clear through the monster. "Shit," She repeated, knowing her gun was now empty and the ammo for it could only be found in her cinched-up backpack.

Keldabe Administrative District // Mandalore // Mandalore Sector

"Rask Coburn. 'Some time' is underselling it a bit, I'd say. I'm still kicking, myself."

Tybren smiled and Rask smiled back. He wondered just how sincere the Mirialan's was. He thought of predators on the Rim that would bear their teeth before striking.

Rask gripped the Mandalorian's beskar-clad arm. A small gesture darkened with a certain ambiguity. He knew full well that the Mandalorian could crush every bone in his forearm to powder if he so chose. Rask thought back to the last time they met. Rask had been a young man then. In his prime and dumb as hell, but getting wise fast. Not fast enough, as it had turned out.

"Kickin's nothin to scoff at. Lotta people from the bad old days ain't around anymore to kick much of anything. After 22 years, seems like theys all droppin like flies."

He thought of all those faces from his past, those he'd never see again and those he hoped to see one last time before he put a blaster bolt through them. The passage of time usually bleached out men's stains, made past infractions that seemed unforgivable in the moment just petty slights after a few decades. Rask hoped that this was true for Tybren for his own sake. To him, though, the past only festered like an untreated wound.

"Of course, it's a bit different nowadays. I'm retired, mostly. Doing a lot more talking than shooting."

"A semi-retired mercenary," Rask chuckled. Not the full story surely, but one he hoped to pry out. "Well if that don't beat all."

"What about you? Here for Founding Day, I'm guessing. You still... working?"

Rask didn't have to look down to know that Tybren was resting his hand on the pommel of the sword at his hip.

Same old Tybren.

He didn't take much offense. Last time they crossed paths, Rask knew he'd been a real bastard.

"I'm not ridin with the Irregulars, if that's what you're askin, or any such outfit. The string on that trade run out not long after we parted ways. For me, anyways."

Parted ways. Pretty way of puttin it.

"I ain't sure if I quit them or they quit me. Quits, either way. I been with the Outer Rim Regulators since then. Keepin the peace on the frontier, or somethin like that. Gave a run at retirement like you, but it didn't take with me."

Rask tried to downplay his status as a Regulator marshal. Relations between the Regulators and Mandalore were rocky at best, and the badge didn't open doors and earn trust on Mandalore like it did elsewhere on the Rim. The Mandalorians were fiercely independent and never much cared for Regulators interfering with their affairs, the Death Watch especially. He suspected they viewed themselves as the inheritors of the Rim, and just saw the Regulators as an obstacle to that. An unfounded suspicion, granted.

Rask pushed his battered wide-brim hat back on his head and looked up at the massive tower before them, like some mountaineer eyeing their next conquest. A problem to be solved. "Hell, I'll be honest, I forgot about the Founding. I'm planetside lookin up old friends is all, just worked out that I ended up here at the worst damn time for it." A half-truth. "You weren't on the itinerary, but I'm happy I ran into ye." Perhaps another. Rask wasn't sure yet.

"You look like you done well for yerself, Tybren. How'd a merc like yourself come into retirement? That don't happen every day. Make it big, or you got a side gig goin?"

Pounding drums cut through the din of the crowd, all in near-perfect unison. A chill ran down Rask's spine though he did not know why. Despite the celebratory mood, the drums seemed ominous to him, some primal herald of blood and fire to come. Mandalore unified after years of strike. He did not think they would be content to sit on the sidelines of the great galactic game any longer.

Keldabe Administrative District // Mandalore // Mandalore Sector

The sun faded in the west like an evil dream, its departure from this world hastened by the jumbled skyline that sliced off the sunlight like a ragged scythe. It was something Rask never quite grew used to in bigger cities. Early sunsets and perpetual twilight. Back home, when the sun went down, that was it. You turned in.


Rask turned his focus to the task at hand. The Mand'alor's Tower. There was little doubt in his mind that his quarry was inside. The fulcrum of power in this volatile world, an obelisk of dark stone that pierced the cyanic blue sky past pale clouds. No better place for a traitor.


A Republic commando, once his gang’s lifeline so many years ago. She’d come to them during the Irregular’s heyday, when they were at their strongest. Sent by the Republic, she said, to provide assistance and intelligence. Apparently, Jak’s Raiders were getting noticed by Republic High Command. Zi’Aii, young as she was, certainly proved her worth. The Twi’lek had been a deadeye with a blaster, but her real skill was with explosives. With her, they’d probably blown up a system's worth of Sep supplies. The young woman also provided them with Republic intelligence, which, in the early stages of the war, was always accurate and actionable. Later, not so much.

As far as Rask was concerned, she’d only slipped up once. She sided with Jak. Gunned Rask's mutineers down, left him for dead, and went rogue with the rest of the Raiders. For that, she earned herself a hefty bounty in nearly every system. Then, like so many Raiders, she just disappeared.

But Rask had her now. She was working with the Separatists, some sort of diplomat for Ryloth. Last Rask had heard, Ryloth was engulfed in civil war, so she was likely trying to curry favor with Mandalore. Trying to stop them from shipping supplies to the rebels, maybe. It didn’t matter to him. He wondered if she was ever true to the Irregular's cause, or if she was just in it for the money. As he got older, Rask suspected most of them were.

Rask worked his way through the throngs of revelers, studying the Mand'alor's Tower. He needed to know the building’s layout in case things went south. Rask looked for entrances and exits, windows and balconies, of which there were few. He looked for guards, of which there were many. There must have been a landing pad at the upper levels, judging from the whine of starship engines powering up from above the clouds. The front entrance was certainly an option, since he could just walk right through. But access to higher levels, where the important folks were? Not likely. Rask wouldn’t be granted landing privileges if he hopped in his ship, nor could he scale the sheer building even if he had the gear or inclination. They’d just gun him down. No, he’d have to figure something else out.

More than one way to skin a womprat.

Rask ordered caf from a stand and paid the vendor and idly stirred his drink with a small plastic spoon, although there was nothing to stir for he took it black. His sharp eyes remained on the tower, as if to unlock its secrets and will his way inside. Rask knew he’d find a way in. He always did. It might not be elegant, it might not be pretty, but he’d find a way. The celebrations were picking up in energy now as the sun faded, and he was offered drinks and food and company by carousers, but he just smiled and politely declined. Rask knew he would need his wits about him now.

Rask peeled his eyes away from the tower long enough to spot a familiar face in the crowd. A strange one, at that. One he’d not expect to see ever again, and one he wasn’t sure he’d like to. Scarred green skin. More tattoos than he remembered. Gleaming white beskar. The last time their paths crossed was over 20 years ago, and it had not ended pleasantly. The Irregulars hired him and several other mercenaries for what was supposed to be a big blow to the Separatists out on the Rim. It didn’t work out like that.

Still, Rask had no choice. Cel, though helpful, was just a low-ranking bureaucrat, and an outsider on Mandalore at that. The mercenary, though, was a true Mandalorian. Perhaps he’d have enough pull to get Rask where he needed to be. The Mirialan was currently choking down some food, an embarrassing position for such a strong fighter. Rask opened, as he always did, with a joke.

“Sometimes, I think starving would be preferable to Mandalore’s food. Ain’t never developed the taste for it, myself,” Rask said as he approached, armed with an easy smile, unsure of how the mercenary would respond. “Ain't seen you in some time, Tybren. How you been?”
Itxaro studied the collapsed bridge. There were stone bridges on Earth of similar design that stood for hundreds, if not thousands, of years; they didn't just collapse for no reason, especially if they were maintained as Silbermine suggested. She took note of the large stones just peaking over the edge of the waterline like crocodiles. It would be dangerous to cross loaded down with equipment as they were, and the receding waters were still moving quickly. Itxaro shifted the weight of her heavy pack on her shoulders and looked to the others uneasily.

"Whatever we do, we should probably do it fast. Get a fire going and post sentries, or get our asses across this river. I don't like the looks of this place anymore." Throughout their journey, Itxaro had been endlessly fascinated with the biome's rich and diverse wildlife, but now the swamp had taken on a sinister, almost malevolent quality that awoke in her a primal fear she kept in check. For now.

At Mallory's urging, Itxaro cautiously drew her revolver and her body relaxed some, the weapon's weight reassuring her. That, and the training she'd received back at the Jotunheim meant Itxaro actually knew how to use it now. Somewhat. She compulsively checked the weapon's cylinder and positioned herself between Shirik and Silbermine. She thought of the demons the Glenn lord had mentioned the other day. A year ago, she would have deemed such a thing impossible, but now, with magic and aliens abound, who knew?

The group seemed indecisive, so the engineer took the initiative. "I remember reading somewhere the best way through an ambush is to power through. So, ladies first?" Itxaro suggested as she slowly walked to the collapsed bridge, studying the route she might take through the broken stones as if it were a puzzle. Itxaro holstered her gun again unclasped her pack's front strap, took a deep breath, and leapt to the first small stone. Itxaro yelped as she nearly lost her footing on the wet rock, but with some clever flailing she managed to regain her balance. She glanced back to the others sheepishly before hopping to the next stone, this time more cautiously.
Cel, Lorn, Rask, Urh'otrr'kur

Keldabe Administrative District // Mandalore

Lorn finished shaking Cel’s hand and withdrew his arm back into his overcoat. He had barely acknowledged the young woman scream out at the blaster shot, as he was too absorbed with his own amazement at the stupidity of his underlings at the time. It is not a sin to be a civilian, so he would not blame his rescuer for being a foreigner to such violence. “Thankfully I don’t need to see quite that much of Keldabe, I only need to find my way to the next round of diplomatic talks that are supposed to be held later tonight.”

<What happened here?>

Lorn turned to face the robotic voice and had to stop for a moment and think about what he saw. Two Tuskens were standing on Mandalore, talking to him in basic. Lorn had never heard of a Tusken leaving Tatooine, much less travelling across the galaxy to attend a festival. Lorn was honestly so surprised he was left speechless for a moment.

Cel would stare for a moment at the Tuskens after they approached, she seemed almost flabbergasted at the sight of the two. “I….Uh… You are Tusken… and… don’t you usually live on Tatooine.” She seemed completely taken aback that she seemed to almost forget what Lorn had asked. How did they get here… why are they here? Oh man… they probably smell, I haven’t tried to see if they have.

Rask wasn’t as taken aback by the Tuskens as his compatriots, having met their kind before years ago, and spotted them in the crowd earlier. Then one produced a translator droid and he was just as confused. Rask studied the Sand People with new eyes. He looked into the narrow pinholes, windows into what might be a Tusken's soul. He found nothing. A fetid miasma hung over the pair of robed silhouettes, either them or something they carried with them. Perhaps both, Rask considered.

They were curious, though, and Rask indulged them. If only so they wouldn't bring their war clubs down on his head.

"Just some drunk children, playin at soldiering. Nothin you need to concern yourself with. No, I'm sure they'll shape up now that he's here." Rask tilted his chin towards Lorn. People hadn't scattered at the gunfire. If Mandalorians ran every time a blaster was discharged, there'd be no one left on the planet. But the crowd thinned, perhaps sensing there were better places to be in case the Deathwatch made an appearance. Rask thought they had the right idea.

”Why don’t we get a move on? Given the choice, I’d rather not have to explain this mess. Maybe we can take your new friend there to his party,” Rask said sidelong to Cel. A meeting of diplomats was just the right place to begin his hunt for Zi’Aii, and he wasn’t eager to tell the Deathwatch why he’d scrapped a droid in broad daylight and kickstarted a cantina brawl. Lawman or not.

Cel’s eyes were moving over the Tuskens and their devices and examining if they are actually a threat or not. She nodded to herself. About a 15% chance of them being a threat later on… of course you can’t put a probability on savagery…though it does seem that they have advanced technology that make them less savage…Or is it more their culture that could be considered the savagery. That’s interesting, I could probably write a paper on that.

“Hey, can I interview you guys later?” Cel would ask curiously with a slight smile on her face showing curiosity and interest in the Tuskens before she registered what they asked and what was finally going on.

Her voice would go back to its cheery sound as she looked at Lorn. “Oh I can lead you there, most likely it’ll be the Mandalore tower, you’ll have to excuse me though I don’t have my ship and I’m not too interested in flying so we can take the back streets and roads.” She looked around at everything that had transpired. “If you told me this morning that I was going to watch a bar fight, meet a vice admiral and then promptly meet a couple of Tuskens… then I would have told you that you are insane. This truly is an interesting day!”

Cel would look up at Rask almost like she was making sure he was close to her, these other two she didn’t trust fully, but he seemed to be honest in all that he has said and done around her. “Come on everyone!” she said as she led the entourage. What a scene it must be to have this ragtag group following behind her.

Urh’otrr’kur listened intently as the translator droid worked furiously to deliver what they had said, to transmit it to the little earpiece he wore. He could feel it slowly get hotter in his hand, too, something that made the Tusken want to groan in annoyance but he knew the translator would try to deliver that, too. So instead Roh'okr and he listened in silence to the foreigners through their little sphere.

Drunk children playing soldier, that was the reason given. Were they on Tatooine, there the children knew their place and knew their elders. There they'd have respect for the rites that would make them into warriors. It seems that these people…one of them, at least, had no such respect. And they called Tuskens savages. He snorted in derision. It seemed the man swallowed by a coat was some sort of leader among them…though not enough to chase after the children who were so disrespectful. Not enough to force them to stay, either. The Tusken chieftain looked the young man up and down with a critical eye. He didn't seem particularly upset by their disrespect…in fact, he seemed surprised.

Of course, then the girl offered up…a talk? After being amazed by the mere existence of them, and vocally too, she wanted a talk? Urh’otrr’kur could tell the word she had used bore no equal in the Tusken tongue, the translator briefly grating in contemplation of how it would deliver such strange news. What did she want to talk about? Why did it have to be later? He could feel the droid heat up more in his hand, through the gloves, as it frantically worked. Roh'okr's eyes drew down to it as well, staring. He turned it off.

<Is it meant to do that?>

<No, I don’t think so.>

<Did he say this one is a leader? Another chieftain?>

<Seems to be that, yes.>

<Where are his people? To deal with these disrespectful young?>

<He doesn't seem to care enough to stop them.>

<And the female? Was that…what was she asking?>

<I am unsure.>

<They make humans strangely here.>

Urh’otrr’kur struggled to not laugh, merely shaking his head again as he waited for the translator droid to cool down for more use. Normally it wasn't like this, but of course these humans had to use strange and different words the translator droid struggled to interpret. Why, why, he was not sure. Of course, then they got moving down and away to a…party? A celebration? Something of that sort. A meeting involving the strange chieftain.

Well, might as well. Maybe Ro Nuul would be there. The pair promptly followed as well, though lagging some little ways behind.

Rask heard the familiar low whine of jetpacks behind them as Deathwatch troopers touched down. He didn’t turn around to see as Cel led them through the increasingly narrow streets of Keldabe. He fell in with the Tuskens, leaving Cel to deal with the Imperial officer.

They walked in silence for a time. As they exited the Refugee District and entered the city proper through an ancient gate, the architecture grew taller around them, the streets even busier. Celebrants roamed from place to place, all under the increasingly watchful eye of the Deathwatch, perched on balconies above them like some metal gargoyle. Not as much mischief here. Rask watched himself limp along in the glass reflection of buildings they passed.

Finally he spoke. He wasn’t sure how much they could even hope to understand; as far as he knew, the Tusken language wasn’t extensively studied. Hard to study it, when everyone who speaks it tries to kill you. Still, he tried.

”You two are a long way from home. Same as me, I guess. What brings ye this far out?”

Did Urh'otrr'kur really want to tell them of Ambria, of their exit from home by those made beings? Did he really want to give too much information about the clan, and maybe leave them open to attack? Urh’otrr’kur gave a long pause before he tersely replied, a simple response that likely left much to be desired as they strode on.

<Patronage. Just meeting our patron, and looking for more patrons.>

Rask raised an eyebrow at this and looked the Tuskens over again, but found nothing he hadn’t seen before. Patrons. Strange word for a Tusken to use. The Tuskens he’d met before wouldn’t have ever sought out a patron, but he supposed they weren’t a monolithic people.

”Patrons, huh? I’d bet you might have some luck with the Mandos. There’s always some new clan or ally with them, and you could do worse for friends,” Rask said. ”I’m bettin there’s a trial you’d undertake, ritual or some such thing, but nothin you Tuskens couldn’t handle.” A little flattery never hurt, in Rask’s experience. He wondered if his words were true; would the Mandalorians accept Tuskens into their ranks?

”How you two enjoyin city life? Me, I don’t like it worth a damn so far.” Rask asked. He couldn’t imagine they were keen on it either, but the Tuskens already surprised him twice and he was ready for any answer.

Roh'okr spoke-up instead, braying out his disappointment in quick enough order. One hand clasped the handle of his gaderffii, gihaal long forgotten and discarded in a trash can. <The dunes are better than this. I miss home. I miss the brothers.>

The chieftain gave a long sigh, shaking his head. He missed it too, but wouldn't have been so eager to state that. It was an easy thing to state, complaints and whines for home. The man's first comments intrigued Urh’otrr’kur though, suggestions that there was some ritual or trial they could take, that they would be able to overcome it. The implications there weren't hard to see, seeing as rituals with the Mandalorians meant they would also be Mandalorians. It made him bristle. His tones, while in the Tusken tongue, were harsh and confrontational in more ways than one, sharp and fast.

<Patrons are not brothers, merely friends. We are Tusken, they are Mandalorian. That is a line neither cross.>

Between the Tusken’s harsh language and the droid’s flattened speech pattern, Rask could hardly tell if he’d given offence, but erred on the side of caution. He held up his slender hands as if in surrender. ”Alright, alright, my mistake. Sure, Mandos’ll be your friends. They’re a friendly lot,” Rask replied, knowing the translator wouldn’t pick up on sarcasm. Tuskens joining Mandos? Drinks gotten to your head, old man? You’re short on ears and long on mouth. Think before you open that slack jaw of yours. Rask fell silent, letting the ambient street din fill the void between them instead.

Cel would continue to guide them along the different paths of Mandalore, never seeming to stop and never seeming to have any second thought where she was going. In fact she was almost skipping and humming as she continued to move on. If anyone saw her eyes though they seemed to be darting all over the place. “Upon reflection, it is truly remarkable to witness the convergence of diverse nations and people groups congregating here on Mandalore, united in celebration. The irony lies in the fact that this harmonious assembly is a fleeting moment in time, as these same individuals will soon become diametrically opposed adversaries, engaged in conflict and strife..” She’d say so gleefully and with a hint of a giggle. She smiled at the group before leading them down a dark alleyway.

“Don’t worry this is a shortcut.” She’d say as she led them through the rotten-smelling alley to the other end. At the end of the Alley, you could see the Mandalore tower. It wasn’t in front of them, but it sure was closer than they had been.

“Okay shouldn’t be far, maybe a 20-minute walk from here. So… anyone got any great stories?!” She half-joked.

Lorn stealthily groaned as he was told the walk back would at least be another 20 minutes, shocked he had managed to absent-mindedly wander his way so far from his captors. He would likely be torn a new one after all this time, doubly so if he was late to the diplomatic dinner. As his guide suggested some storytelling, Lorn stayed quiet and let one of the others talk. Basically growing up a child soldier does not lend itself to having fun stories to share on a leisurely walk. The young admiral merely attempted to stay focused on the long walk that was now beginning to wear on him.

As the silence grew, Rask decided to speak up. ”Shore, I’ve got one for ye, if you don’t mind old war stories.” He’d told it a thousand times to a thousand audiences. It hardly felt like something that actually happened to him anymore, as if the truth faded each time with the retelling, but those who heard it still enjoyed it.

Cel smiled as she listened to Rask’s story, she began to giggle at the end as she turned and spoke. “Rest assured, I will hold you accountable for your promise. My exceptional memory ensures that I never forget important commitments, so you can trust that I will always remember this.” Cel said, giving Rask a wink before giving this band of misfits a smile and turning back around to lead her rather strange entourage.

Rask laughed. ”I don’t doubt that you will, ma’am.”

By the time his tale ended, the group was swallowed by the shadow of the Mand'alor's Tower in the afternoon sun. The streets surrounding the tower were filled with minor nobles, diplomats, wealthy merchants, and every other person from throughout the galaxy trying to scrape their way to the levers of power. Deathwatch guards patrolled the streets relentlessly, ensuring there would be no trouble in this opulent part of Keldabe. City workers were still setting up the final preparations for the festival to take place that night.

Cel would look up at the large tower and smile as they got closer and closer. She would turn to the group, “Well, here we are! Try not to upset anyone while you’re here! I’ve had so much fun! But this may be it for our merry band of misfits!” she would twirl around and start heading for the front doors as if to show them inside, there was a guard who held up his hand for her to stop but she held up a badge and he immediately dropped his hand as she walked to the front doors and opened them. “Perks of being a bureaucrat.”

Rask let the other two enter as Cel held the door and paused. “I believe this is where we part ways for now, Ms. O’Royal; I got a few things to do before wandering into this krayt’s nest,” he said, idly thumbing H1-VOK’s ruined memory chip in his pocket. ”I’ll catch up, sooner or later.” Rask tipped his wide-brimmed hat as the heavy doors swung shut.
you know we had to do'em

Keldabe Refugee District // Mandalore // Mandalore Sector
Mentioned:@pandapolio @Thayr @Paingodsson

"Yes ma'am, trouble seems to follow us," Rask repeated as they walked out of the cantina. The two stood there for a moment, Rask blinking in the day's afternoon light like some nocturnal creature caught out after sunrise. His eyes adjusted and he was able to take in the scene around him.

The street was surrounded on either side by squat prefab buildings made of cheap durasteel and small windows. These buildings, once new and shining bare metal, were now rusting and painted in vibrant and garish colors. Crude additions or second, third, and even fourth floors were added to some habitats, giving the whole street the feeling of being cobbled together. Each building's appearance reflected its inhabitant's tastes. Some walls bore murals depicting brave Mandalorian protectors with blasters in hand, or other artwork the occupant's previous homeworld. Others looked like the art of young children, stick figures of small families and flowers and other doodles. In the narrow spaces between each dwelling merchants hawked their wares in makeshift stalls. Food, trinkets, artwork, anything and everything that anyone could ever want. The entire community grew from a single point, the spaceport exit, and now encircled the spaceport entirely. Rask could see ships of every make and model land or take off from the heart of the district.

Once a refugee camp after the fall of the Republic, it had grown into something much more. Something the residents seemed proud of.

The streets were packed with people from around the galaxy, and the locals were pleased with these new arrivals. A chance to make some money, and a chance to display their new lives, gifted to them through the protection of Mandalore, many would say.

"Didn't tell you who I'm lookin for," Rask spoke to Cel over the din of music from the cantina behind them and the voices of vendors calling out their wares. "Twi’lek woman, name of Zi'Aii Nenta, though I expect she'd have changed it by now. Hell, probably changed her face too, if she's smart. Which she is. Too clever by half sometimes."

Rask looked at the cantina and watched as a team of small droids with flat, oval heads scrambled up the side of the building and set about painting over the sign that read "L4's Place." In a matter of seconds, the updated version said "Z3's Place." The sign had several layers of paint over the first two letters. Apparently, this establishment changed hands frequently. He shook his head ruefully and continued.

"She were a Republic agent. Once. Turned bandit the day that well ran dry. Now she's tryin' her hand at somethin new. Representin Confederacy interests on Ryloth, or some such thing. Don't rightly know much about it. All I know is she's on this planet, and I aim to find her, and bring'er to justice." Rask fiddled with the memory chip in his pocket. He thumbed the scorched half of it that was left. H1-VOK's memory chip. All the droid was, and all it would ever be, all in his pocket. He swiped the chip from the droid's head at the cantina, only to find he'd blown right through it when he executed H1. It would take a miracle to recover anything intelligible from the fragmented data leftover.

Stupid. Stupid to do it like that. Ain't no description of a fool you fail to satisfy.

Rask caught a glimpse of two odd figures in the crowd. Their frames were swathed in bandage-like robes and two narrow tubes jutted from their wrapped faces where eyes might be. They carried strange clubs with spikes on their bulbous ends. Tuskens.

"Well if that don't beat all," Rask said, more to himself than anyone else. "Fellas must be lost. If those are fellas. Hard to say." He'd encountered Tuskens before. He knew very little about them, but he was certain they never left Tatooine. They had neither the inclination nor the technology. Or so he thought.

More sounds of fighting from the cantina behind them. Rask didn't pay any mind, transfixed on the Tusken casually walking through the crowd with little more than a few curious glances from passerbys. Then a shot rang out.

Rask spun, blaster drawn, just in time to see a grinning New Imperial holding their gun just as the cantina doors slammed shut.

Slow. Too damn slow. You coulda been shot. Coulda been dead. Cel coulda been dead.

He'd lose sleep over that, he knew.

He returned the blaster to its holster as a slouching man approached them, garbed in an Imperial Navy dress uniform. Rask couldn't discern much else from the man, cloaked as he was in his coat. Young, but hardened beyond his years. He'd seen that look all too many times on the faces of clones in the late days of the war. Rask rested the heel of his hand on his blaster's grip casually, like a swordsman might place a hand on the hilt of their weapon when at rest. So relaxed that it did not seem a threat, only where his hand might naturally fall. Judging from the man's severe expression, Rask figured he was about to get chewed out for something, at which Rask knew he would laugh.

Instead, the man asked for directions.

Rask chuckled and tipped his hat to the man. He thought the man might have been drinking at first, but he looked as sober as a Jedi. "Well captain, I think they call this place Keldabe, last time I checked. Refugee district, maybe. You want specifics, best ask my friend Ms. O’Royal here. She'll know better than me."

His words were amiable enough, friendly even, but there was just a hint of distain behind Rask's sharp eyes. Barely perceptible, but there. Rask never had much love for those of the Renkar Imperium. They were a furtive, slavish people to him, all serving some tyrant whose interests were not their own. Everything the Rim was not. The man before him looked like an officer as well. Rask didn't care much for officers.
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