Knights of the Old Republic: Outcasts
Chapter Four: Bladedancer

The Wanderer made three more random micro jumps, just to be sure that none of Boss Qui's goons could find them in the interstellar blackness.

Still unused to life on a starship, Kara kept mostly to the dormitory. She knew it was the one place that Aeron wouldn't badger her. Every time she'd encountered the young Jedi since their escape, he'd found a way to reiterate his desire that she accompany him to that damnable Academy. These discussions usually resulted in some rather vile arguments and a lot of snickering on Renn's part.

Aeron was persistent. He would only desist if Liana told him point blank to do so. Kara was half convinced that he'd follow her into the 'fresher to continue an argument.

As if summoned by her thoughts, the door slid open and the Captain entered. "Ah, so this is where you've been hiding," Liana said, striding over to her bunk.

"I got sick of being preached to," Kara said grumpily.

"We do owe him a debt. Without him, we might have been dead or captured." Her tail waved in a slow way. She sat down quickly and started to rummage through one of the satchels in which she stored her personal effects.

"I know... But, damnit, that doesn't mean I should just bow my head and do what he wants, does it? I mean, I know as much about the Sith as I do the Jedi and neither sounds like what I want."

"I did not say that," Liana said slowly. "But we cannot keep running forever." She seemed to find what she was looking for and closed up the bag, slipping something small into her hip pouch before standing. "We would like to have a conference in the main hold to determine our destination. Please come. I will attempt to keep the Jedi from badgering you."

Kara rose and followed Liana back out.

Renn and Aeron were already waiting in the hold when Liana entered, the former leaning against the wall and the latter seated on the floor in the meditation pose he favored. She was vaguely aware of Kara slipping in behind her and finding the furthest possible spot from Aeron to perch.

Liana stayed near the door, so that she could see all of them. "Recent events have left us without a destination," she said simply. Her gaze fixed on Kara. "As our paying passenger, we need to see you safely to wherever you wish to go. If you name a planet, we will take you there."

"You're kidding right?" Kara asked skeptically. "I don't even know what's around here. Heck, I can count the planets I know of on one hand."

Renn laughed. "No wonder you couldn't get a ship."

"Enough," Liana snapped, startling him -and herself- with the unfamiliar sharp tone. She tried to quiet her unease. "It seems, then, that what we need is information."

"I've looked. Nothing on this Venaar guy in any of the databases I could find," said Renn. "It's almost like he doesn't exist." He snorted. "Probably on purpose, if I had to guess."

"Forgive the monotony of this," Aeron said, "but the best place to get information about this Lord Venaar would be the Jedi Academy. We have learned over the years that it pays to watch the Sith most closely. While his elevation to Dark Lord was news to me, we probably have more information about him in our archives."

Kara's face darkened.

Liana looked at him suspiciously, but it was Renn who spoke. "Well, guess what. You don't tell us where this Academy of yours is, we don't go there. End of story."

Aeron looked oddly hesitant. "Well, I could transmit a request to the Masters to tell you of the location. Understand, if it were up to me, I would reveal it. Oaths, however, forbid it."

"Right," Renn replied, rolling his eyes. "I'm sure."

Liana stepped in again before things degenerated into another fight. "This is getting us nowhere. Kara does not want to go to the Jedi Academy. Where else might we find information?"

"I might know a guy," her partner said cautiously. "I don't know, though. This isn't the usual kind of request I go to him with."

"Contact him, see if he might know anything." Her tail started to sway again. "In the meantime, we have a more immediate concern. What is in these?" she asked, pointing to the cargo they had moved out into the middle of the hold when Boss Qui came aboard.

"Yeah, let's see what we're stuck with. Maybe we can find a new buyer." Renn pushed himself off the wall and crouched by the cargo containers. Prying up the lid, he uncovered neat rows of bottles, all surrounded with so much foam and packing material that nothing was going to budge them. He lifted one out. "Corellian brandy," he muttered, making a face at it.

"Is that a good or a bad thing?" Kara asked.

"Might be able to find a buyer, but it's not too terribly hard to get." Renn put the bottle back and closed up the crate. "Hey, Jedi, make yourself useful and help me get this stuff back into the compartment."

The crate lifted into the air and bumped against Renn. "Where to?" Aeron asked acidly.

Renn opened the cargo compartment, muttering something under his breath about telling the Jedi where to put it. Liana shook her head. She really didn't have the patience for their quarrelling just now. She turned and left the hold, making her way back to the cockpit. She slid into the pilot's chair. Of course, there was nothing she could do here, either. Renn would have to contact his informant before they knew where they were going. Instead, she busied herself checking fuel levels and sensor readings - things that the droids could do just as easily.

Satisfied that everything was running smoothly, Liana reached into her pocket and withdrew the object she had fetched from her bag when she had gone to get Kara. It was a small thing, a little stone from the colony world where she had been born. It had been blessed for her by a priest of her goddess before she left home, and it was as a holy object that she treated it now, offering a silent prayer to see them all through this.

"What do you have there, Liana?" Kara asked from the hatchway.

Liana's ears twitched involuntarily. She hadn't heard the girl approach. "It's a prayer stone," she said, without turning. She wrapped her fingers tightly around it. "Have they started fighting again?" she asked.

Kara seemed uncomfortable about interrupting her. "I wasn't aware they'd paused." Taking a couple of steps forward, she hung her head. "I am sorry he's been such a burden. Even if he saved us, he's still insufferable."

"It's not your fault," Liana replied. "He should not have had to save us." Finally, she gave voice to the sentiment that had plagued her since they rocketed away from Boss Qui's ship. "I know the type of men we deal with. I should have taken more precautions."

"Is that why you've been stalking about like a furry thundercloud?"

"I have not-" Liana began, but then she shook her head. The girl was right. As Renn would say, she'd been brooding. "I should be able to protect my ship and those on it."

"My mother had a saying, 'you live and you learn.' Yes, you made a mistake, but we all came through it all right and the ship wasn't harmed."

Liana seemed to consider this, but her musings were interrupted as another figure stalked into the room.

"You left me alone with the Jedi," Renn said accusingly, pushing past Kara to drop into his chair. He immediately started tinkering with his console. "I should be able to get some messages out and get some information, not to mention a buyer for that stuff in the hold."

"That sounds good," Kara said, stifling a yawn. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm still a bit tired."

"We're all running on low sleep," Renn said. "You could use some rest too, Captain."

Liana nodded slowly. "You're right. I trust you won't damage anything."

"Hey, I can handle it. If it makes you feel better, I'll wake you up when I get us a destination." Renn extracted the datapad he'd snagged from Boss Qui and laid it on the console. "Besides, I should get cracking on this beauty. Go on, get some sleep."

"All right." Liana stood, motioning that Kara should proceed her toward the door. She laid one hand briefly on her partner's shoulder, then followed the girl out.

Renn watched the women leave the cockpit, then shook his head, turning back to his console. He hadn't wanted to say anything to Liana but it was obvious she was angry at herself. A little rest was just what she needed to help clear her mind.

First things first. He sent a brief encrypted message out to the usual haunts. You didn't contact Gaman; he contacted you if he thought you had something promising. Renn then plugged Qui's datapad into a slot in the terminal and began a search of the contents. It wasn't long before he found what he was looking for - a lead into what sounded to be a very lucrative bank account out of Nar Shaddaa. A few careful transfers of funds through multiple banks ought to do nicely. He would make sure to pass them through a second bank on Nar Shaddaa as well, just to help muddy the waters.

The comm sounded. Renn glanced over at the display. Secure channel. He smoothly changed the course of one hand to hit the switch. "Gaman."

"Falani," the other man said. "You're lucky I owe you a favor. Rumor says you're bad luck to deal with just now."

"Oh yeah? Who's 'rumor' this week, Gaman?"

"Daj out of Derra IV is dead, day after you make a spectacular escape from the planet. Now you and your lovely Captain got a price on your heads. She's doing well, I hope?"

Renn's hands fell still. "Daj is dead? How?"

"Supposedly he took a long walk off the top of his control tower not long after being taken into custody for questioning by a squad of Sith troopers."

It would explain how they got the name of the ship, how they got a bounty out so quickly. Renn took a long, deep breath and uncurled his clenched fingers. "You still willing to deal?"

"Like I said, you're lucky I owe you a favor, Falani. If I didn't, I wouldn't be caught dead speaking to you."

"I have two things for you. One's simple. Four crates of Corellian brandy we need to unload."

"I'll be able to find a buyer. Easier than you can, I expect. And the other?"

"I need everything you can find out on the current Lord of the Sith. He calls himself Venaar."

There was a sharp hiss of indrawn breath over the comlink. "You working against the Sith now?"

"Let's just say we have a passenger with an interest. Besides, we should know who's trying to kill us."

Gaman chuckled. "That's a dangerous request, Falani. Your favor covers the goods, but digging up info on a Sith Lord? I might end up the same as poor Daj."

"Not funny."

"Wasn't trying to be."

"Look," Renn said quietly. "Gaman, I know the network you have. We don't need to know his life story. Just get me something we can use - what kind of forces he has at his disposal, at least."

A sigh. "All right, all right. I'll see what I can find. Bring the cargo to Bhardesh. I'll send another message with more contact info on a buyer there. But this time, you owe me. Got it, Falani?"

"Got it," he replied, sitting back in his chair. The comm clicked off without a goodbye.

"You hear that?" Renn called over his shoulder to the astromech, which was puttering around at the computers behind him. A rude beeping sound answered him. "Well, start entering the calculations into the navicomputer." Another distinctly nasty sounding chorus of beeps. "Because I'm busy, that's why!" A resigned whine, and the little droid wheeled off.

Renn stared down at his console again and sighed. Liana... she needed her rest. He'd tell her later.

Fire, death and flashes of incalculable masculine beauty.

Kara was dreaming, and knew it as such. Things here bit her mind with such clarity they surpassed the real.

The images roiled over and over. The farm burning, her family buried in graves that dark soldiers trod over, and that face that haunted her once before, that breathtakingly beautiful face.

And above it all, the red crystal pyramid gleamed with knowing eyes.

"Come to me," echoed through the world. "Come to me, my kin."

Kara sat bolt upright, eyes wide and sweat drenching her.

The dormitory was dark.

Breathing heavily, as if she'd just run a great distance, Kara slowly relaxed, her muscles unwilling to let go their tension in case some enemy might still be about. Inexorably, she drew her knees up to her chest and rested her forehead against them. Slowly, she brought her laboring heart back under control.

Digging in the small footlocker Liana had given for her use, Kara found the crystal pyramid and set it on her bunk before her.

In the dream, it had burned with power and sentient wisdom, but here it sat dull and unimpressive.

"So, I'm here. How do I make you work?" she asked the object.

Answers were not forthcoming.

"Damn it, old woman, you tore my life apart for this thing and now you make it go all silent?" Anger began to bubble in Kara. How dare her grandmother leave this mess for her to fix? How dare her parents keep this secret from her, if they even knew themselves?

Fury blazing in her eyes, Kara reached for the cursed thing again, impulsively intending to dash it against the bulkhead, when the crystal flared again into crimson life.

"Kara?" Liana's voice came from the far bunk. She was sitting up, blinking blearily toward the red light emanating from the crystal. "What is that...?"

The image of the old woman seemed to consider the room and its occupants. "Welcome, Seekers. I am Selene Bladedancer. Learn from my wisdom, if you will."

"Are you Selene, my grandmother?" Kara demanded of the image.

"I was mother to Mairi Nu Vanden," Selene said in response. "If she, in turn, bore you, then yes."

"You are what the Sith are after," Kara said, not a question. "Why?"

Selene's eyes flicked from Kara to Liana. "Child, I am but a shadow of what Selene was in life. If the Sith again seek my holocron, then I do not now know the reason for it."

"But you warned me before," Kara responded. "You said that the knowledge this... holocron... contains must not be used again."

"And so it should not. If any again walk the path I trod, then the galaxy, the universe itself, will cease to be."

Liana slid out of bed as the hologram was speaking and now walked around it, eyes fixed on it. "Is it a recording? How is it responding?" she asked quietly.

"The object you see before you is a Holocron," Selene explained. "Through it, one sensitive to the Force can, with training, take a portion of their life and wisdom and store it for future generations. Do not mistake this for some mere data terminal. I am aware of those about me, their motives, and their intentions."

"So you are somehow alive?" Kara asked.

"In a fashion. I am neither fully bound to this world or the next. I am as you see me."

"What do you know of the Sith? Did you serve them in life?"

Selene's face darkened. "I served Revan, yes. I stood with her when she went to the wars. I stood with her still when she raised her banner against the Republic. More than that, I will not say now."

"Do you know of Venaar?" Liana asked.

Selene's eyes flashed. "Him! Yes, I know of him, cursed be his destiny."

"What can you tell us of him?" Kara demanded. "Why is he after me?"

"The coming of Lord Venaar was foretold me in a vision. I knew he would seek what I fervently guard, and that he would be the Avatar."

"Avatar?" Kara echoed.

"His will is not entirely his own. It is his doom."

The dormitory suddenly flooded with harsh light as the door opened.

"What Sith magic is this?!" Aeron demanded. "I felt dark currents running through the Force, and now I find you with a Sith Holocron!"

Selene gazed arctic chill at Aeron. "Fool. What darkness do you speak of? The dark side of the Force? The darkness within all life? The ultimate dark that awaits us at the end of this long exile? Tell me, oh fount of wisdom, tell me of this darkness."

With that, she faded.

Liana's pushed tendrils of her loose mane back from her face. "Your 'disturbance in the Force' aside, do you realize you have entered our quarters without permission?"

These words broke the trance that held Kara. She glanced down at herself. Her wardrobe being sparse, she'd merely stripped to her skivvies for bed. Now she dove for the blankets to cover herself.

"Um, I..." Aeron stammered.

"Get out of here, you pervert!" Kara bellowed and lunged, smacking him hard across the cheek.

Renn looked up from his console as Aeron stumbled into the cockpit and sagged into one of the secondary chairs in the rear, behind the pilot's seat. He took in their reluctant passenger and the angry red splotch on his cheek. He'd heard most of the commotion for himself a few minutes earlier; enough, at least, to make a rough guess at what had happened. "So, the kid finally had enough of you, huh?"

"I do not understand her anger," Aeron said in confusion. "I told her my purpose for entering and she assaulted me."

"So you barged into their bedroom without warning, and you don't know what you did wrong?" Renn leaned back in his chair, unable to keep a smirk from his lips. "You must've gotten an eyeful if she slapped you that hard."

"I didn't notice," Aeron retorted hotly. "I did not go into their chamber to ogle them!"

"Sure you didn't. I suppose the Force told you to go in there, right?"

"As a matter of fact, it did," the Jedi snapped. "I felt dark emanations from their chamber and found them studying a Sith holocron."

More Jedi mystic babbling. Renn shrugged. "Hell, if it's able to give them information on this Venaar character, I could care less what they were consulting. It's just some artifact. It's not like it's going to blow up the ship or anything, is it?" He turned back to his panel.

"I suppose... But they shouldn't have been studying it without guidance. Such things easily corrupt the unwary." He rubbed at his cheek disconsolately. "She didn't have to hit me so hard," he muttered.

Renn kept his eyes on his console. "She must really not like you. Good."

One of Aeron's dark eyebrows arched. "I see. You entertain certain... ideas, do you?"

"Like hell. I'm just glad the kid has better taste than that."

"Then why do you refuse to look me in the eye, choosing instead to focus on a console that has not changed its readout since I entered?"

Renn turned to glare at him. "I guess I'm just hoping you'll go away if I ignore you. What are you doing up here anyway? Don't you have to go meditate on why you got slapped?"

"Meditation would not enlighten me as to why I was slapped. This conversation is of at least mild interest and besides, I can see something gnaws you, something besides me."

"It's none of your business," Renn snapped, turning back to his console again.

"Seriously, Renn. What is bothering you? I sense it is important."

"No one asked you to sense anything, Jedi." Renn realized he was grinding his teeth and stopped with some effort. Aeron continued to watch him, saying nothing.

"Look, would you stop staring at me like that?" Renn said finally. "You really want to know? A friend of mine is dead. He did us a favor and got us off Derra IV, and the Sith killed him for it."

Aeron seemed to consider his words. "And you think you are in some way responsible?"

"We all are. We're all mixed up in this thing now. Daj is dead because we escaped. The Sith may have done it, but we gave them a reason to."

"We most certainly did not!" Aeron suddenly thundered. "Yes, we are embroiled in great events that are beyond our knowledge, but we are not responsible for this man's death. Did one of us execute him? Did we put a blaster to his head and fire? Did we, ourselves, decide to end this man's life? Of course not. By saying it is our - or your - fault, you forgive the responsibility of those who truly committed this murder. No, Renn. We are not responsible."

Renn was aching to punch the sanctimonious idiot himself, but he didn't so much as twitch in Aeron's direction. He wasn't worth the effort. "No wonder the Jedi almost died out after the war. You only care about yourselves. Why don't you just take your Jedi philosophy back to Solara on someone else's ship?"

"How did you learn that name?" Aeron demanded, face going chalky.

Renn touched a few buttons on his control panel, bringing up a copy of Aeron's last report to his Jedi Masters, smiling in cold satisfaction at the other man's reaction. "You really ought to learn how to encrypt your super-secret reports better, especially if you're using our ship's comm system to send them. I mean, even if I was stupid enough not to have a tracer program monitoring all incoming and outgoing signals, a child could have sliced your message. Oh, and I'm not sure I like how you described me, either."

Dumbfounded, Aeron demanded, "You spied on me?"

"Not you specifically. Ship security. I'm sure you understand. Have to make sure we're not being tracked or, well, spied on."

Aeron was silent.

"And, of course, once I had a possible name, I needed corroboration, so I did some digging on my own," Renn continued, watching Aeron's face. The Jedi's mix of astonishment and anger was enough to sate his own rage. The smug bastard had earned this. "Solara hasn't got any resources to speak of, so you'd have to import. Food, water, everything. These resources flow pretty freely there, and at a level that only a large colony could require. The freighters all leave empty, so there's no export. The only sort of complex that has no export with that much import is a military base, and there's no such base on Solara."

He finally rose and leaned in conspiratorially. "The nail in the coffin, though... if you want to be secretive, it's a bad idea for whoever Rajahr is to sign for such shipments with the title 'Master'. It sort of screams 'Jedi'."

Renn ignored Aeron's attempts to stammer a response and keyed the ship's intercom. "Liana, he came through with a buyer. We're heading to Bhardesh to drop the goods. We should be there in a few hours." He paused, frowned. "Gaman had some other info, too. It's not good."

"On my way," Liana's voice replied.

She entered a few minutes later with Kara. The girl stopped, glared at Aeron, and instead of taking the other seat next to him, she stood as far away from him as she could within the confines of the cockpit, over by Renn's seat. Renn hastily pulled up some charts on his display to replace the Jedi's report.

Liana sat, her eyes fixed on her partner. "What news did he have?"

Renn glanced toward Kara, then back at Liana. "The Sith killed Daj on Derra IV. If I had to guess, it's how they found out about us so quickly."

Kara's head whipped around. "A man died because of us?" she asked in horror.

"Yeah. He's the one who cleared our launch." He owed me a favor. Renn frowned in Aeron's direction, but the Jedi didn't seem as keen on his 'we're not responsible' speech this time around.

"Then he should be honored in our actions," Liana said quietly. She bowed her head in a moment's silent prayer.

"So..." Kara asked, "what are the plans after we get to Bhardesh?"

"We find our buyer and, if nothing happens during the deal, I think we can safely stay on-planet to get fuel and supplies," Liana said.

"You should change some of those crystals of yours into cash while we're there," Renn told Kara. "Just in case."

Kara's look became strange, oddly detached. "Yes, I probably should. If it's not too much trouble could you, um... I don't want to get taken advantage of because I don't know the local exchanges..."

"Sure, for a cut."

"Renn!" Liana's tone was sharp.

"It was a joke, come on."

"No, it was an attempt," his partner said, running her fingers through her mane, exasperated.

"Seriously, I'll do it," Renn told Kara.

"Thank you." She left without another word. Renn frowned after her; something in her tone was off.

Aeron broke from his thoughtful reverie. "She seems distraught. If you will excuse me, Renn has opened my eyes to something and I would like to meditate." He rose and left also.

Liana glanced at her partner curiously. "Hell if I know what he's talking about," Renn shrugged. "By the way, he's been using our comm system to send reports back to his Jedi Academy. I was able to trace the transmissions. He wasn't terribly careful."

She nodded. "I suspected he might. Let him continue unless it becomes an obvious danger to us." She reached into her belt pocket and extracted Aeron's lightsaber. "Return this to him before we land, in case he decides to take other transport."

Renn hefted the cylinder. He'd never held one of these things before. He was tempted to crack it open and take a look before he gave it back to the Jedi. "All right." He put it into his own pouch.

How easy it would be to dump both their passengers at Bhardesh, to wash their hands of them both and go into hiding until things blew over.

And then, wouldn't Daj's death be for nothing? He'd said it to Aeron earlier; they were all wrapped up in this now.

"I'll be right back," he said suddenly, pushing himself out of his seat. "I want to check on that stupid astromech droid."

It was a lame excuse. He almost believed it himself.

Kara sat at a small gaming table in the main hold. Hologramatic creatures skittered across its surface at random according to her input. She had no idea how to play, really; it was just something to do while she waited.

"Bad move," came Renn's voice from behind her as one of the creatures died a virtual violent death. T5-E4 beeped emphatically from nearby, though whether it was in support of Renn's statement or just enthusiasm for the fate of the game piece, she wasn't sure.

'Violent little thing,' she reflected. "It's just one more thing I don't understand," she said as much to herself as to Renn.

"What's that?" he asked, leaning against the wall by the door.

"I don't understand anything," she replied. "Nothing at all. I don't even understand myself anymore. Did you know, I'd never been in a fight before the cantina? Not once. Ever."

"I've seen stranger things. You held your own. Hell, you saved us all from Qui with that lightsaber trick of yours."

She smiled wryly. "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good?"

Renn snorted. "I don't trust in luck. I'd rather have something more solid to work with."

"Eventually luck runs out," Kara agreed. She slumped suddenly, like she'd been deflated. "Renn, what am I supposed to do next?"

"Well," he said, watching her, "Gaman's promised to see what he can dig up on your Sith Lord. That'll be a start. We'll go from there."

Her head came up sharply. "Wait, 'we'? But I thought you..." she trailed off, unable to finish.

"What can I say?" He half-smirked. "Liana likes you."

Her face brightened instantly. "Oh, well, in that case, I guess I'll hang around."

"Besides," Renn drawled, "you wouldn't last a minute without me to bail you out of trouble, farm girl."

Getting to her feet, Kara crossed the hold and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You know what, spacer boy? You're right."

-End, Chapter Four