By the time they reached the bar, things seemed to have normalized all over again. Somehow, these people were either so rich that they’d grown stupid, or there was someone running damage control. In any other scenario, the whole building would have been evacuated by now. Yet, here they were, ordering drinks.
“What can I get you?” the bartender asked cautiously, clearly ruffled by the explosions but maintaining his composure out of a fear of something else.
“I’m feeling something sweet,” Qyreia said casually. “A dessert wine of some sort, please.”
“And for the gentleman?”
Sariel shifted uncomfortably. “Water.”
“Make it a soda with a lemon wedge.” The mercenary leaned in toward the bartender to whisper, “Bit of a teetotaler, but otherwise a nice guy.”
Nodding knowingly, the bartender threw together the drinks with surprising speed and smoothness of motion. It was almost a shame that she’d ordered something so simple as a glass of wine. Even so, the delivery was phenomenal, and she was fairly certain that, upon tasting it, he’d added a few subtle ingredients.
“You know your ingredients.”
“I know my bars.” She eyed Sariel, who seemed at least comfortable with his altered order. “So tell me, sir: how is it that we just had two explosions go off, and yet the peacocks have almost stopped their screeching already?”
“You are rather calm yourself, ma’am.” He busied himself with cleaning the bartop. Just as the Jedi had predicted, the bar area was almost devoid of life — for the moment at least.
“I’m more scared of krayts and wild beasts than I am of a little ‘boom’ like that.” Out of nowhere, a porg landed on the bartop, much to the worker’s chagrin, eliciting a small yelp of surprise from Qyreia. “Well, kinda like that, I guess.”
Sariel shooed the bird away, though it took several hints before the creature finally fluttered off. The bartender grimaced, displeased by having to clean up the feathers and other bio-detritus left behind from its landing. “Beggin your pardon, ma’am, but those damn things are part of the reason for the relative calm around here, but you didn’t hear that from me.”
“Not the birds; the swearing at a customer.” He growled, noting how he’d have to throw away the towel. “They belong to Siceeni Viz. He works for the owner of the casino, and he’s been walking around the past while to ‘calm’ them. All due respect, he doesn’t sit right with me.”
That seemed to catch the Jedi’s attention. “And how might we find him?”
“Dunno why you’d want to do that,” the bartender said curiously, Qyreia throwing a look his way that screamed “Shut up.” “Either way, you just need to look for the Aleena with the nasally, higher-than-thou voice.”
While the Arconan and Odanite mulled over the information, the awkward avians began to appear in greater frequency, and it wasn’t long before they could hear the squawking voice which, as described, seemed very full of itself. The little Aleena, dressed in some odd assortment of leather clothing, was sauntering from one panicked group to another, reassuring the patrons that all was well and safe again; that any further danger was “Inconceivable!”
“He keeps using that word,” Sariel noted out loud. “I don’t think it means what he thinks it means.”
Qyreia nearly aspirated her drink through her nose, but maintained her composure, narrowing her laughter to a smile and passing off her cough as a pleasant hum. “I don’t disagree.”
“You’ll do that when you’re the smartest person in the room.” The bartender’s tone hovered between respectful and sarcastic.
They sat in silence for some time mulling over this information while the casino employee plied his trade to the slowly growing number of patrons, some of whom still had shaky nerves. Sariel was clearly trying to get away to investigate the blasts’ damage, but the mercenary had her eye on a different prize. They were here for information, after all, and there would be more available in parts of the building where more people were; not less. She ordered a refill on her wine, as well as for a handful of miniature liquor bottles that she hoped would survive long enough to make it to the flight home. One of the wealthy patrons was even so kind as to pay for her drinks.
“Do you have a plan?” Sariel asked quietly as they made their way toward the Aleena at a casual pace.
“Kinda. Mostly making it up as I go.”
“And you know the explosions were in the other direction.”
“I do indeed, but I think we’ll get a better clue right here.” A flying porg landed nearby, trilling annoyingly. Rather than see it fly away as the masses shuffled about, the disguised Zeltron picked it up by the feet and continued making her way toward the Aleena, who did not seem pleased by the sight.
“I hear that these creatures belong to you,” Qyreia almost cooed at Viz. “First the terrorists, and now birds landing on my dress? Sir, what sort of establishment is this?”
Siceeni wanted to reach for his precious porg, but refrained, remembering what Tissflorin had said in the back room. “Madam, I assure you there is no ‘terrorist’ threat here. Such a thing is… is inconceivable. As for the birds, they are merely frightened by the incident, which is now totally under control.”
Drink in one hand and bird in the other, Qyreia looked completely unaffected by the explanation. What she may have lacked in her haughty facade, she made up for in perseverance. “And yet here I am with something that would be better on a rotisserie than a casino floor.” Viz was about to speak, but she interrupted as any bored patron might, “Now Mr. Viz — I believe that’s what the help said your name was — I am dreadfully bored by the lack of real entertainment you have here. Perhaps you could provide me with something in exchange for your… thing.”
“Madam,” he said through gritted teeth, “I have matters far more important than your entertainment to attend to, so if you could…”
“I had heard you had a dizzying intellect, but perhaps my sources were mistaken, if you can’t so much as point me in the right direction.” Her cocky, inviting smile, was just enough to catch his interest.
“Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Sistros? Braata? Faya?”
“Morons.” He smiled. “Perhaps if the lady were to tell me what she had in mind?”
“A battle of wits, my dear Siceeni. What else? Something with more than money on the line.”
That piqued the diminutive alien’s interest. “And the stakes?”
“How do you feel about life and death?”
You didn’t say anything about this, Sariel thought as the Aleena mulled it over before agreeing, beckoning them over to a table on condition they free the avian. Viz scampered off for a moment while they moved toward their destination. The Jedi’s arm tightened around his companion’s tightly in warning.
“What game are you playing at? I am all for collecting information, but this just seems like foolishness on the Clans’ credits.”
Qyreia leaned into her escort’s embrace, effortlessly peeling off the labels on the small liquor bottles. “He knows something; I can feel it. Just play along and don’t say what you’re thinking like you did before.”
The human grumbled, but he wasn’t about to abandon his ally when she would clearly need his help, minimal though it sounded. Through a series of cronies, they were shown to a private side room that was generally used for the more private betting venues. As high stakes as she’d made it out to be, such a case made sense. Viz had even prepared a table cloth and some finger food for the encounter. Not long after Qyreia took her seat, Sariel standing just behind, the Aleena entered and took his seat across the small table, a waitress standing by his side.
“So, I believe I have met your conditions.” He motioned toward the porg still in the woman’s hand, which she released nonchalantly.
“I will need six glasses of… whiskey. Your finest that you have.” She winked at her opponent. “If either of us is to die, it should be drinking something worth the effort, wouldn’t you say?”
“I am partial to wine, personally, but I accept.” He motioned to the server who left the room and quickly returned with the liquor — likely in a bottle that was worth just as much as the liquid within. “Now, your wager?”
“Six glasses, please,” she said to the waitress, who complied almost instantly. Qyreia then produced one of the darker bottles of liquor; a brandy, if she remembered correctly. “Smell this, but do not touch.”
After opening the bottle, she offered it to Viz, who winced at the scent. “It is strong, whatever it is.”
“What you are smelling is a refined form Teccitin poison, and is in fact one of the many ways I make my living. People must buy it from somewhere after all.”
“And you would have me guess which glass of whiskey is poisoned,” Viz surmised. “And yet you have four glasses too many.”
“Ah, but that is where the real fun begins, my dear Siceeni. For what is danger without a light to go by?” She arranged the empty glasses on the shimmering tray with the bottle of whiskey between, laying down each successive miniature bottle as she explained. “You see, having made these poisons, I have concocted antidotes for each. This particular model of Teccitin requires two separate chemical compounds to be effectively neutralized. In each of these other bottles is one of the compounds in question.”
“So if one of us chooses the poison, we will need to find both antidotes in quick succession or die a gruesome death?!”
He seemed almost overjoyed at the challenge. “Very well then! And who shall do the mixing?”
“I believe my companion here will suffice.” She motioned to Sariel, “Be a dear and grab that small table in the corner. You’ll need something to mix these on.”
The human was less confused, but still unsure as to his whole role in the matter. As much as he had talked about ‘mixology’ earlier, he knew nothing on the subject. He set the table in such a way that neither person could see where his hands were moving, though Siceeni could watch him behind the Zeltron while she could only see the Aleena. It seemed rather unfair, but it was what she wanted.
“Make sure the glasses are even,” she intoned plaintively.
Really, he had already thrown everything together, so the ‘antidotes’ were mixed with the ‘poison’, and after adding the whiskey, no one would have been the wiser either way. The stuff smelled so strongly that he wondered how even he kept a straight face. He motioned for the waitress, who picked up the tray and set it down so that there were three glasses before each person.
“The glasses are arranged left to right; poison and antidote components. The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink.”
It was so simple to Siceeni. “Now,” he began, “I saw the big human’s movements and could easily tell where the poison and antidote were. But it was the waitress that produced the drinks, and they might have moved everything at the your predetermined instructions. From there I have only to divide what I know of you: are you the sort of woman to put the poison into your own glass or your enemy’s?”
“I would hardly call us enemies, but do go on. I am loving this banter, though please abridge the soliloquy with the antidote glasses.”
The Aleema nodded, grabbing the glass in front of Qyreia. “I deduce that you are confident in yourself, and so might direct to have it put in front of you. But you work with these substances, and are therefore very conscious of your mortality, and so might put it as far away from you as possible. However, you might have considered that I would think of that, and choose the one in front of you, so you put it before yourself.”
“Truly you have a dizzying intellect,” she responded in mock awe as she grabbed the sole glass. It was not a difficult lie, but Sariel was beginning to see the logic of it. “Shall we then?”
“By all means.”
They both drank, each watching the other cautiously, until the glass was fully emptied. Neither maintained full composure at the strong liquor’s burn, but Qyreia was secretly wincing inside her head. Did that mother fracker put everything into these? Based on what she could see of the glasses, they were all the same color, so either he spared the whole bottle, or he did it to every single one. Either way, there were still two glasses to go.
“Shall we choose the antidote before one of us loses entirely?” The encouragement was not lost on the Aleena, who gave a much more abbreviated deductive reasoning behind his choice, though by the time he was done, his words were slurring slightly.
By the time they drank the third glass, his speech was barely understandable.
“Sho,” he said as Qyreia reclined in her seat, showing off a pale-hued leg, “how long ‘ntil we find out?”
“Well,” she replied as if she’d hardly drank anything, “if the one who drank the poison chose the antidotes, neither of us. Otherwise, I should guess no more than say… ten minutes? Alcohol does odd things to the chemical properties, you understand.”
Even with his vast knowledge of poisons, that seemed logical enough. Or was it the whiskey talking? It might be that he was succumbing to the poison too. There was no way to know until the time expired.
“How ‘bout anoth’r drink? Not often we get to live so loosely, eh?”
“I like the way you think, Siceeni. Another glass for us both, miss.”
Waitress poured them each another glass, effectively finishing off the bottle, which they both clinked together as a final toast. Qyreia sipped at hers, trying to enjoy the flavor a little more than her much smaller counterpart with only the one liver, who proceeded to throw back the whole glass into his gullet until none was left but residue.
“Now weh waisht… whaeit… wh-wesht…”
It was about then that Siceeni Viz fell down to the ground, thoroughly drunk and very liable to be subject to alcohol poisoning. While Qyreia paid the waitress for her silence, she had Sariel hide the small man amidst his robes before they walked out amidst the bustling throng of people.
“How did you know that would work?” the Jedi asked as they walked away as though nothing had happened.
Qyreia was starting to feel the effects of the whiskey, but her anatomy was doing wonderfully at keeping her on her feet. “I honestly didn’t. But now, so long as we can get our little friend somewhere safe and quiet, we can get as much information as we like.” She patted the subtle bulge in the larger human’s robes. “Isn’t that right? Never mess with a Zeltron when liquor is on the line.”