The stench. She had forgotten all about it. The odor of ozone, the smell of smog, the reek of residue - ash and smoke - coming from grills that were cooking Sith knows what atrocities. It was everywhere in this ecumenopolis - every scent and perfume and aroma and miasma oozing its way into her nostrils like an unwanted sludge (not that sludge was ever wanted, truth be told). And all she could do was walk through it.
It had been years since Ronovi had been on this forsaken planet, her last escapade being unspeakable. No, really: She would break the neck of anyone who asked about the last time she drank too much with one Arden Karn. Now, however, she was on another mission entirely: A culinary one. One much more appetizing, and with a much happier ending.
The Epicanthix had always been a seafood addict. Second only to her obsession with Whyren’s, her yen for marine meals transcended moral and spiritual boundaries. Shark, krakana fillet, eel, Berbersian crab, Plavonian starfish. It all made Ronovi’s mouth water, her tongue flickering against the back of her teeth excitedly. She had to unscrew the cap of her whiskey flask and down a good quantity of liquid amber to calm down her anticipation.
She was more excited than usual due to her destination. At long, long last, she had received VIP access to one of the most exclusive sushi restaurants in the galaxy. It was known as one of the best of the best, reserved only for the most elite. And Ronovi had received the privilege unexpectedly while flat-faced drunk in her Pinnacle quarters.
“As decreed by the Versea family, all members of the di Plagia - and their respective members of the ruling council - are welcomed to this fine establishment.”
Guess there’s a benefit to being the Dread Lord’s Wrath after all, Ronovi grinned, as she turned the corner and ducked under a cloud of smoke from a nearby barbecue. She avoided the “fragrance” of charred rat, leapt over a sleeping rib-cat, adjusting the collar of her uniform (she had tried to look ‘somewhat’ presentable for this occasion), and strolled in the direction of a small, squat building - the brass placard on the awning reading, “The Toasted Keelkana.”
The Toasted Keelkana
Tasha stretched back from the bar stool, letting her blue tendrils fall about her shoulders. Taking another glance about the room, she realized that she still hadn’t seen her fellow Plagueian partner in crime. In the smoke-filled atmosphere of the bar, there were a few patrons about, dimly lit and crowded around small, round mahogany tables. A couple Zeltron talked in a corner by the bar right above the sous chef’s portrait on the wall. As Tasha scanned the room, she saw a few other aliens and humans playing cards at a longer table towards the center, bedecked with flowered vases and an ornate mosaic surface, while to the right was a Rodian and Zabrak making some sort of shady exchange over tall glasses of some hot alcoholic beverage. Far in the back were two humans drinking some of the finer ales the sushi restaurant had, one of them cheering on the other as he devoured a rather large portion of Scalefish fillets piled high on his plate.
Tasha shook her head. “Oh, come on. There is much better seafood than just scalefish here. I wonder why he is taking so long - TuQ’uan should have been here by now.”
She shifted slightly on her cushioned bar stool as she turned to the right, she could see a rather tall Epicanthix making her way inside the establishment. She was wearing some nicer clothing, but not too fancy - more militaristic, in fact, as if she were an esteemed war general. Tasha soon recognized her: it was none other than the Proconsul of Plagueis, Ronovi Tavisaen. She smiled and beckoned her over towards the bar.
“Fancy seeing you here, Tavisaen.”
Ronovi’s one organic eye blinked slowly as she adjusted the cuffs of her long, black coat. “Versea. I wasn’t expecting you to be here tonight.”
“I was expecting someone.”
“Varick, in fact,” Tasha’Vel grinned. “But it looks like he’s bailed on me.”
Ronovi sneered back. “Most likely due to wifely duties, knowing him.”
Tasha laughed and beckoned the Epicanthix to sit on the seat next to her. As Ronovi settled down, she still looked gargantuan compared to the Twi’lek even while sitting down. She removed her coat and hung it on a hook that was located in front of her knees, her knuckles resting gingerly on the smooth service of the counter as she eyed the various boats of sushi sailing in an endless circle in front of her.
“So what brings you out here for tonight?” Tasha’Vel asked as she began to look over one of the nearby menus in reach.
“Well, last I checked, the Rollmaster of Naga Sadow decided I deserved to eat at this little spot,” Ronovi replied. “And I happen to be quite the sushi fan. Chef Volkphunko is supposed to be one of the best.”
“Well, of course you are invited to eat here,” Tasha said. “After all, I thought it would be a nice gesture for your entire clan to have a little Versea hospitality shown to them after the Reliquary campaign. I certainly did enjoy that little bout on that planet. As for Chef Volkphunko, he is very skilled. I am sure whatever you order will practically melt in your mouth - unless, of course, you would like it live.”
“Nothing survives after I serve it,” a deep voice could be heard grunting above them. The two women looked up, and sure enough, a tall Mon Calamari in a white uniform and apron beamed down at them. “Welcome back, Madame Versea.”
Ronovi chuckled. “I’m sitting in the presence of royalty. Nice.”
“May I get you both started?”
At this point, the Epicanthix’s eyes lit up. She gave Tasha a very sharp and eager look. “How’s your appetite tonight, my dear?”
“I am quite famished. Order whatever you wish.”
“You really, really shouldn’t have said that.”
“Oh?” Tasha raised an eyebrow. “And why is that?”
Ronovi wasted no time. Slapping her hand down hard enough on the counter to spook the Zabrak noble wearing gold next to them, she declared her desires to Chef Volkphunko loudly and proudly. “Every specialty roll on the menu, Chef! Two of each!”
Tasha’s eyes widened a bit. “Wait! Are you serious?”
“I told you you shouldn’t have said, ‘Order what you wish,’” Ronovi smirked. “Unless you’re not as hungry as I thought?”
“Oh, I am plenty hungry.”
Volkphunko gave them both a bulbous-eyed look. “Madame Versea, you must remember that two of each specialty roll is…quite a bit of food.”
Tasha at first looked apprehensive, but then, her eyes brightened as her appetite took over. That, and she was always ready to challenge an Amazon like Ronovi. “I know that, but you heard the lady,” she said to the Mon Calamari. “Bring out the food.”
“We’re havin’ a feast tonight!” cackled Ronovi, as Volkphunko began preparing his cutting boards, looking simultaneously confused and resigned.
“They’ll have to roll us out of here by the time we’re done,” added Tasha, smiling thinly.
While they waited for their fine cuisine, Ronovi poured a good amount of Whyren’s into a spare glass, while the descendant of Rylothian nobles enjoyed sips of Aldeeranian white wine, which somehow still existed despite the planet’s demise years ago. Tasha would normally go with a Tattooine Sunrise, and perhaps that was still to come - but for now, she wanted to cleanse her palate before the banquet. Meanwhile, Chef Volkphunko painstakingly labored over his counter, his knives dancing as he threw together the beginning of fourteen specialty rolls…twice. Ronovi was teasing Tasha as she watched the display, as the Twi’lek was eyeing her glass of whiskey.
“Whatsa matter? Wanna sip of my own drink?”
“It looks good and definitely sounds more my kind of drink.”
Ronovi rolled her eyes. “Pssh. Alkie.”
“Oh, look who’s talking!” Tasha’Vel laughed. “I’ve heard some rather interesting stories from TuQ about your drinking.”
Ronovi brushed off that comment, thinking that TuQ’uan better have retold the triumphs of her defeat of the Pantoran in a Sandy Sith contest. “Well, at least I’m not a Sadowan.”
“Yet, here you are with a Sadowan,” Tasha grinned.
“Ahem.” The chef was ready. “Your first specialty roll.”
He slid two plates over to the two women, revealing rows of sushi rolls gleaming with Berbersian crab salad and Dindra sauce. Ronovi immediately could feel herself salivate. She snatched up her pair of chopsticks and went straight to town, popping roll after roll into her mouth and barely chewing.
“Savor it,” Tasha instructed gently, giggling. “You’re in one of the best restaurants in the galaxy.”
“I can’t help it. It’s so good.”
“You’re just starting, too,” Volkphunko grunted, as he began preparing the next dish.
Tasha couldn’t help polishing off her serving of rolls quickly as well, and soon, more plates were brought out. Salar rolls with Tattooine Thunder sauce were presented, which admittedly caused Ronovi to furrow her brow.
“Salar?” she asked. “Isn’t that…rather bland? I mean, I know Reg loves it, but…”
“Oh, it’s bland normally,” the Mon Calamari replied. “Hence the addition of the Thunder.”
“Is it good?”
If Volkphunko could smile properly, he would. “It’ll send a shock up your spine.”
Tasha took one of the salar rolls and bit into it. Instantly, it was almost as if she had been struck by Force lightning. She reeled back in her chair, her eyes closing as she finished the roll. The spiciness of the Tattooine Thunder stinging her taste buds all the way down her throat.
“This is amazing, Ronovi! You have got to try it!”
“Already halfway through!” gurgled Ronovi, who was tearing into the salar. “I have got to get a bottle of this sauce back to Reg. He’ll never think of this stuff the same way again!”
The rolls kept coming after that. “Icefish roll with Lava sauce.”
“Not as spicy as the thunder,” Ronovi mumbled. “But I like it. Say, speaking of lava, Plagueis is going on a vacation soon!”
“It is not too bad, but yeah, I think I like the thunder better.” Tasha replied. “That is neat - I wish I could go on a vacation. Things have been crazy trying to organize things.”
“Scalefish fillet with Iskalonian tartar sauce. A classic.”
“This is not too bad,” said Tasha. “The tartar sauce really does bring out the better side of Scalefish.”
“Meattail roll with drezzle sauce.”
“This is one of my personal favorites,” commented the Twi’lek.
“Not bad, not bad,” commented Ronovi. “Melts in the mouth.”
“Trout roll with Emulsauce.”
“Not too sure about this one,” opined Tasha. “I think I may have to have it again later.”
The rolls kept coming, and the women kept eating, their hunger never fully subsiding despite their satisfaction. Rodian eel rolls with Glockaw sauce and Opee sea killer fillet rolls with Falpas sauce disappeared as soon as they were served. Ronovi particularly loved the Lambro shark roll with green fire sauce that came next, devouring it with relish. The exosquidra roll with plankton spread and white suvoli cream was an absolute treat from the sea, and even the Gorg roll, despite its amphibious nature, was palatable. Chef Volkphunko, of course, always knew how to save the strangest for last, and the final three rolls certainly bewildered and enchanted both Ronovi and Tasha.
“Octopod roll with Gonzo yellow cheese sauce,” he rumbled, as he pushed over the plates.
“With Gonzo what now?” Ronovi asked.
Volkphunko blinked slowly, most likely used to this reaction. “Gonzo yellow cheese sauce.”
“Just try it, Ronovi. It’s all been amazing so far,” Tasha said, taking a long sip of her third glass of wine.
Ronovi complied, allowing the seared cephalopoid covered with thick, melted cheese to slide onto her tongue. She was, at first, conflicted - the tender meat mixed with the heavy dairy was almost overwhelming at first. Then, however, the pungent flavor dissipated, and the beautiful blend of seafood with its fondue topping was surprisingly pleasing. She swallowed the roll, observing Tasha as she tasted her own sushi.
“I’m not going to lie,” the Epicanthix remarked. “I expected that to be terrible. But it’s the opposite of terrible. Guess I should never question the chef, eh?”
“You got that right,” replied the Mon Calamari from behind the counter, already busying himself with the penultimate roll.
Tasha smiled over the brim of her glass, watching as Ronovi doused her throat with another wave of Whyren’s. It was definitely time to get serious, in case Volkphunko hadn’t been serious before. As he delivered the next plates to the two women, Ronovi was acutely aware of how the food looked…specifically, how it moved. Nudibranch, purple coral worm, slivers of nexufish, and other slices of seafood wriggled and writhed on their tiny beds of tikit grain. Purple sourwort glistened on the still twitching chunks of sea creatures, and the Epicanthix couldn’t help chuckling at the display.
“Means it’s fresh, isn’t it?” she asked the chef, using her chopsticks to point at her very much living rolls.
“Very fresh,” he retorted. “Enjoy the sulyet.”
The Mon Calamari then disappeared into the kitchen, perhaps to really hunker down for the grand finale, or coup de grace, of the night. Ronovi stared at her plate for a bit, watching as the shrapnel of marine life continued to squirm on the mounds of grain. She then looked at Tasha, who smiled and showed gleaming sharp teeth as her lekku flexed in excitement.
Tasha’Vel took her chopsticks and gripped one of the slippery chunks of live seafood and devoured it. She chewed it a bit before swallowing. It had an interesting texture, but the flavor was delicious.
“Always my favorite part, eating it live. Sometimes brings out my predatory instincts.” She laughed as she grabbed another wiggling helpless morsel of purple coral worm. “He really brought out the full flavor. Great job, Volkphunko.”
She then turned to Ronovi. “Well, you ordered it, so have at it. I want to see this.”
Not to be outdone by her Twi’lek buddy, the Epicanthix gripped the nudibranch with her chopsticks and shoved the entire wriggling mass of live seafood into her mouth and began to chew it. She could still feel it jerking around in her mouth as she chewed it a bit more. Still, the sweet and sour taste was fantastic, and soon, it didn’t matter if the little buggers were alive. Ronovi devoured them, demolished, tore them apart with her teeth, and grinned.
“Pretty damn good,” she declared.
The Twi’lek smiled back, and the two ladies finished their Sulyet in glee. When they looked up for their final roll, however, they noticed that Volkphunko had yet to return. Setting their chopsticks down for the time being, they decided it was good to let their near-full stomachs settled, as the late night crowd shuffled in for drinks and bites.
“Ready for the grand finale?” asked Ronovi, raising her eyebrow and giving Tasha one of her token smirks.
“Always,” replied Tasha, grinning back.
Sure enough, Volkphunko came out with a tray loaded with bloat eel rolls. Now this was something else. All the other platters paled in comparison to this meal. The eel had been sliced delicately into thin slivers, served on pristine beds of rice and seaweed. Tasha felt her stomach gurgle slightly as she steeled herself a bit.
“And now for the real deal. I remember a time or two when I was present for my parent’s noble diplomacy meetings. I was told at the sushi buffet they had that I could eat anything there. However, I was only allowed one bloat eel roll. I think it had something to do with my dad almost dying from being poisoned.”
Ronovi’s eyebrows, once arched, now shot up toward the heavens. She seemed to relish in this announcement. “So!” she declared. “If this wasn’t prepared properly, I could die, correct?”
The Twi’lek grinned heartily, “That is the challenge. I have great faith in Volkphunko, though - he has yet to serve me a poisoned one.”
“Well, then,” smirked the Epicanthix. “I suppose it’s time to chow down, ain’t it?”
The Mon Calamari closed his eyes and exhaled, and the two women dug in. Bloat eel disappeared almost as fast as it had been brought out, and Ronovi moaned in satisfaction at the texture and sublime taste. She cleaned her plate with ease, with Tasha not far enough, and they pushed their utensils away, in the direction of the wowed chef.
“How much time we got, Volk?” asked Ronovi, ending her sentence with a profoundly loud belch.
Volkphunko blinked slowly in response. “As long as you need, I suppose,” he replied. “I have yet to kill someone with this dish, after all.”
Tasha’Vel nodded as she leaned back a bit, letting her stomach slowly digest a bit, then sat back up and put a hand gently on Ronovi’s shoulder.
“You know, you are so far the first person who has ever been able to keep up with me when eating sushi. I absolutely love all kinds of sushi, and it is kind of nice to spend time with someone who enjoys it just as much as I do.” She then let out an enormous burp of her own and laughed. “Compliments to the Chef. Bravo Volkphunko!”
Ronovi clapped, and the chef bowed. Fourteen kinds of rolls had been demolished by these ladies, and even those who settled at the corner tables of the restaurant had noticed their prowess. As the plates, napkins, and chopsticks were cleared away, Ronovi couldn’t help pouring Tasha her own glass of Whyren’s, handing her the vessel brimming with gleaming amber.
“Drink up!” she declared. “You’ve earned it.”
Tasha lifted the glass to her lips. “Bottoms up,” she responded, and she downed the entire glass in one gulp. She then shook her head a bit and grinned like a cheshire cat. “That is some good stuff!”
“It is,” smiled Ronovi. “Rare, too. I’ll have to tell you all about how I snag it.”
The Epicanthix and the Twi’lek swiveled around on their stools, only to come face to face with a Devaronian in a wardrobe that seemed too classy for his species. He grinned a slimy, bucktoothed grin above the frills of his collar, his horns practically bursting from his forehead in aggressive spirals.
Tasha was the first to speak upon looking at the homely gentleman. “And what brings such a fancy gentleman like yourself to our table?” she asked, giving a sweet little smile.
“I was just…admiring your never-ending appetites, my dears,” retorted the Devaronian, folding his arms. “Perhaps you’ve still got a craving for…something meatier?”
“Tasha, I’m gonna crush him,” growled Ronovi through a mouthful of a whiskey.
“Oh, don’t be so cold to me!” exclaimed the Devaronian, his eyes focused solely on Tasha now. “Where you from, you pretty thing?”
“Oh, I come from a pretty far place.” The Twi’lek stood up and moved closer to the sleazeball. “And where I am from, I have learned exactly how to deal with such a person as you.”
The horned bastard looked offended at this remark, a hurt expression splayed across his face. “Now, what did I do wrong?” he asked. “All I was asking was - ”
He was cut off by a sharp, deft blow beneath the chin - an uppercut from Ronovi, her fist slamming into his jaw and sending him several feet back into some abandoned stools. The Epicanthix cracked the knuckles loudly after dealing the blow, sighing in exasperation.
“You were asking for a beating, is what I was getting outta this exchange,” she snapped. “Now, are you gonna stop actin’ like a Casanova, or do I need to knock some teeth out now?”
“What the kriff, man?” growled the Devaronian, clutching his lower lip, which had started to swell and change color dramatically.
Tasha’Vel laughed before her eyes flashed a vivid green as her countenance changed. “You see, now you’ve gone and upset my friend here, and we were having a great time. I don’t like people who upset my friends. I suggest you listen to this lady here before we both show you just how much we appreciate your friendly gestures.”
The Twi’lek didn’t even have to lift a finger, unlike Ronovi, to make the guy get the message. He glanced around the space, realizing he had no back-up or support, before dashing away, disappearing down the hallway toward the bathrooms where there was most likely a secondary exit. Ronovi smiled before sitting back down on her stool, polishing off her drink and slamming her highball down with a flourish. It was at this point that a poor sap of a Zeltron toddled by with the check, the total glowing in green print from a datapad.
“I’ll just take your credits here, ladies,” he mumbled, his head lowered.
Tasha’Vel smiled sweetly at the Zeltron. “Thank you for allowing us to have a wonderful time here. You have done an excellent job bringing us the total.”
The Zeltron’s head perked up a bit as he looked at the smiling Twi’lek. “Well, thank you!”
Just as his eyes made contact with Tasha’Vel, she gently waved her hand. “We have already paid for the night. Thank you for coming.”
The captivated Zeltron repeated her words. “We have already paid for the night. Thank you for coming.”
Ronovi couldn’t help sneering at Tasha’s mind trick. She could tell it took some effort on her part, but the Twi’lek managed to head out of the Toasted Keelkana without gasping for breath. The Wrath of Plagueis followed her, and soon, they were both exposed to the smoggy air outside, the night looming over their heads.
After gulping down some air, Tasha turned to face her compatriot. “So, Ronovi,” she said. “Do you like karaoke?”
The question caught Ronovi completely off guard, and she couldn’t help laughing as a result. For a moment, she forgot about the putrid smells of Nar Shaddaa - the odor of ozone, the smell of smog, the reek of residue - ash and smoke. Instead, she was simply entranced by Tasha’s question, and she couldn’t help answering pleasantly and candidly.
“I have to say, karaoke isn’t exactly my cup of caf,” she confessed. “Or my highball of Whyren’s, for that matter. But I also can’t sing worth beans.”
Tasha grinned. “How about this: I sing, and you dance?”
Ronovi’s organic eye lit up. Now that was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“Lead the way, my lady,” she replied. “Take me to the best karaoke bar in town.”
With that, she offered Tasha the crook of her arm. The Twi’lek took it gladly, and the two women cavorted off into the overcast night.