The cantina was gone.
Frowning, Sera looked down, and checked the cheap holomodule she had bought, just before taking off from Iridonia. The image, as grainy and jumpy as it was, was still easy to make out; a grungy little dive, poorly lit and poorly maintained, labelled only by an ancient holographic display. Monka Brews; Girls, Grog, and Games…but, it appeared that the girls had all left, the grog had run dry, and the games had gone dark. The establishment had been demolished and swept away; alive now, only in the liquor-addled memories of its former customers, and the puny disk held in the zabrak’s hand.
She cursed under her breath. This place had been her one clue, her puny speck of a breadcrumb in the search for her brother. The image contained within the disk had been his last message to her, and the rest of his family; but what had he wanted them to find there? A contact that knew where he had gone, or perhaps what had happened to him? A scent, a footprint, a calling card; anything?
It didn’t matter anymore. The trail had gone cold, and the hunt was stalled…but, only for the time being. In two years, Sera had burned that little holo into her mind, committed every single detail to memory. Nearly every waking moment had been spent preparing her for the search for Koren, wherever he may have been. She wasn’t going to give up just because on track had turned out to be fruitless; no, she was far too stubborn for that.
Sighing, Sera shifted her jacket, concealing the blaster and shining dagger hanging at her hip. She would find him. It might take her a little longer than she had intended, but Ancestors damn her if she was going to give up. Squaring her shoulders, the young woman began to march…
…towards the nearest bar. She needed a drink. And, maybe if she was lucky, someone inside would have information; about Monka Brews. About Koren. Or, about this damned dingy station that she found herself on, and where she could sniff-out credits to get her next transport.
The place smelled like cheap alcohol, tabac smoke, and sweat, the air thrumming with a multitude of voices, hums, gargles, and snarls; a real racial stew. All good signs. More than a few of the establishment’s denizens looked like they were regulars; Ancestors, some of them looked like they probably hadn’t left the damn bar since Koren went missing. Some of them had to have some memory of Koren…if he’d even been here.
Doing her best to shut the world around her out, Sera squeezed her eyes closed, and concentrated. Her senses sharpened…and somewhere in the void, she came across a familiar warmth. He had been here. Now she just had to ask around. A pointy-toothed smile spread across her face as she gazed around the bar; she could find a friend here. She was sure of it.
Her first order of business was the bartender. As seedy as he looked -and probably was- he would be the one to ask about any comings and goings, recent or far in the past. So, putting a little pep in her step, she made her way over, sliding into a seat and flashing the overweight human a bright grin.
“Heya. Got any desert bloom?” Instead of a response, the man grunted, turning and mashing the order into a keypad with greasy, stubby fingers. That took Sera just slightly aback, but her smile didn’t fade. Instead, she followed along, standing up and trailing the bartender as he made his way along the counter.
“So…I’m looking for a zabrak. Name’s Koren Kaern, he came in a long while back, tall, was probably in Republic uni-”
“No clue, kid. Too many horns here to remember ‘em all.”
“Oh…uh, well, how about that old cantina that used to be out front? Monka Brews?”
The man stopped, turned, and glared at her. His expression…she didn’t need to be a mystic to understanding the feelings behind those eyes. He wasn’t going to help her.
“Never heard of it. Now, fuck off…if you know what’s good for you.”
Sera froze in her tracks, and he continued on, spitting a violet-green wad of chewing-tabac behind the counter as he went. That had been…less then successful. Oh well. Sighing, the zabrak sat back down at the bar, and turned her gaze to the rest of the patrons. Mercs, probably pirates, from all races and in all colors of the rainbow. Surely at least one of them…
Her blue eyes paused in their tracks, coming to rest on a set of horns, before trailing down to the tell-tale tattooing underneath. A zabrak. Sera’s smile turned into sudden grin; it looked like her luck was improving. Sliding smoothly from her seat, she began to make her way across the cantina…unaware that, beside her, the bartender was speaking furtively to a small group of his employees, and staring hard at her back.
As she neared the table, one of the zabrak’s companions - an enormous… cat-thing - suddenly slammed an oversized palm into the table with a burst of laughter. He might have already been drunk, if not just hardy and hearty. Some of his drink spilled before he brought the almost comically undersized glass back to his mouth.
“Thissala ankara mala Lod ti dan a kan, ankar. Ak-tena aken a ven a taka kar.”
“This huntress, of Tribe Lod, hopes you find your star and moon, hunter. It is good to see a friendly face.”
She smiled, offering the stranger her hand, barely even glancing at the table’s other occupants. The greeting was important; everything had to be done properly.
Across the table, the massive, furred fellow paused mid-drink, his eyes glancing with some confusion between his friend and Sera.
Karran’s ears perked up. He had grown used to hearing the muddled droning of Huttese, Ryl, and Basic. But hearing his native tongue, spoken so formally; that was something he had not heard in…seven years? Eight?
He stood up and took a step toward the newcomer.
“Thissala ankar mala Teo vilkalla chu tai Selen. Da kronna da Zabraka ak vilkalka.”
“This hunter of Tribe Teo welcomes you to Selen. The crown of a Zabrak is welcome.”
He placed his hand on her shoulders and stooped down to place his forehead against hers. The traditional peaceful greeting among his people that his father had taught him.
“I am Karran Val’teo. Come sit. Any child of Iridonia is welcome.”
Nodding, Sera stepped back, taking the nearest empty seat at her new acquaintance’s table.
“…Well, that was different,” the feline man muttered. A wide grin quickly overtook his face. “Hi, I’m Sulith!” He made a vain effort to brush his long and tangled hair off of his face, and extended a hand twice the size of her own.
Karran chuckled softly as he retook his seat, “Apologies friend. It is not often I get to exercise the etiquette my father taught me.” he waved to the bartender to bring another round of drinks.
“Sera Kaern. It’s nice just to see a friendly face, all the way out here.” She returned Sulith’s grin as she sat, the tension in her shoulders melting away. “I don’t think I’ve relaxed since stepping off the transport from Coruscant. I haven’t been away from home this long…ever, I think.”
The older zabrak gave her a questioning look, cocking his head slightly. “What brings you here, child? To Selen, and…well, to our table.”
“I was kinda wondering the same thing, actually.”
“Well…one, I’m not a child. Two…” Sera paused, examining the two men before her. After a few moments, she sighed. “I’m looking for…do either of you know anything about Monka Brews? It was a cantina here, right nearby; torn down. Not sure when.”
The two looked at each other, the back at her. She got the feeling they thought she was insane. Or drunk. Or a child. Maybe a combination.
“Hmm.” Sulith scratched at an ear, then shrugged. “I can’t say I have. This is my first time through here.”
“Nor I. Why do you ask? The establishment is gone now, and there is no shortage of cantinas in our good Port.”
Sera shook her head, running a hand over her horns. This was turning out far more difficult than it had to be. “I don’t care about the fuckin’ bar. I’m looking for-…”
“Your brother?” A voice interjected from behind them, raising goosebumps on the back of Sera’s neck. She turned, blue eyes snapping onto the source of the question; it had almost sounded like they were taunting her. Three men stood there, just a few feet away from their table. Two of them seemed to be cantina employees, one of whom was holding Sera’s ordered drink in his hand. The man behind them, the one who had spoken, however, was most certainly not an employee. Another human, clad in heavy, dark clothing, he cut a menacing figure. Not that Sera was afraid of him, or the blaster on his hip; she didn’t know any better.
Karran and Sulith did. All it took was one look at the patch on his arm, and they jumped to their feet. The zabrak clenched his fists, the massive togorian’s hand crept toward the handle of the massive hammer slung over his thickly-furred shoulder…and Sera was caught right in the middle of all of them.
“Hey! Hey, hey, hey hey hey hey now…no need for this, right? Let’s all just calm…down.” No one was calming down. Hands stayed on weapons. But, it did give Sera a moment to step back, out of the line of fire, and give both sides a look of pure, confused exasperation.
“What the ‘krif is going on here? Karran? Sulith?” She gave them a questioning look. Then, she turned back to the human in black. It was an interesting symbol patched onto his arm; some kind of star? She wasn’t really sure. It occurred to her that she knew nothing about any of these people. Narrowing her eyes, the zabrak jerked her jacket away from her hip, clearing the blaster and dagger; just in case.
“What do you know about my brother?”
“Oh, Koren? He’s a buddy of mine. Has been for a while.” The words were like a live wire, sparking over Sera’s back. It looked like the man could tell by her reaction; chuckling, her motioned behind his back.
“I can take ya to him, if you’d like. He’s been expecting you for a while. But…we’ll need to ditch these losers first. Workin’ for the Blindman; you know they tried to kill him, when he first got here? I reckon…well, I reckon we can return that favor.” Slowly, Sera turned back to look at Karran and Sulith. Both of them looked just as confused, just as surprised as she was.
“That’s a lie, and you’ll keep your tongue and your hands to yourself if you know what’s good for you.”
The other two men were drawing their blasters now, and the man in black had extended his hand toward her. She didn’t know if she should take it. Really, she had no ancestors-damned clue of what she could do. So, she looked inward. She didn’t know it was the force; not really. She hardly knew what the force was. But, that didn’t mean that she didn’t know how to use it; even in rudimentary fashion. Tentatively, her mind reached out. In the man in black, she found only darkness, and bad intentions. In Karran, and Sulith…
“Karran…kas nat fidelis, ankar?”
“Can I trust you, hunter?”
Karran gazed back at her, and nodded. That was all she needed. Slowly, she turned back to look at the three thugs, and gave them a small grin. “Well…sorry guys, but I think I’ll have to decline your offer. No hard feelings, right?”
They went for their blasters. Hard feelings were aired. And all hell broke loose. Outside the bar, a violet skinned twi’lek heard the commotion. More importantly, she felt the echo in the force that it created. That couldn’t go unanswered.
Sighing, she adjusted her course. She was supposed to meet Qel’Droma’s new recruit somewhere in the area; knowing their luck, whatever shit just hit the fan had probably been thrown by them…or at them.
There were only two or so feet separating Sera and her new allies from the thugs. Not enough space to draw her blaster, or even a dagger. So, she decided to handle things the old fashioned way. Sulith and Karran seemed inclined to join her in that regard. While the man in black and his two cronies jerked blasters from holsters -the former squeezing off a blaster shot that Sera barely jerked her head out of the way of- they charged in, Sera taking on the lead shooter.
She didn’t waste any time with him. This kind of combat was where she excelled, and that showed immediately. First things first, she needed to get the blaster out of his hand; using her momentum, she brought an elbow cracking down onto the human’s wrist, knocking it to the floor. A sharp blow to the throat stunned him and knocked him backwards, giving her space for her next flurry of kicks; an oblique strike at the back of the knee to put him in the ground, a toe-up kick to the groin to double him over, and one last spinning kick -something she didn’t ordinary do- hard against the ear; with a groan, the man went limp, all bravado gone. Her own personal mixture of K’thri and Mandalorian -which her brother favored- never failed to surprise most opponents. It took all of the flash out of her native style and replaced it with aggression; as this feebly writhing man had just found out.
Karran and Sulith seemed to have done well for themselves as well. The togorian had disarmed his opponent immediately, though he seemed to rely more on pummeling then any sort of technique, while Karran had quickly and ruthlessly dismantled his adversary with an admirable bout of K’Thri. Before she could mention it, however, or even begin to question what in her ancestor’s names had just gone down, however, she heard a hum. Again, the flesh stood on the back of her neck. The group turned…just in time to see the bartender levelling a blaster rifle at them.
“Shit.” Sera ducked, immediately searching for cover…but cover came to her. Sulith, a heavy plasteel shield held out before him, had stepped directly in front of her, while to his right, Karren had ignited…a lightsaber. Sera’s jaw dropped, and her eyes widened watching the blood-red blade catch crimson bolts from the air, sending them back at the bartender, and driving him into cover. He wasn’t able to stay there for long; reaching out a hand, the older zabrak yanked the portly gunman out from his protection…with nothing but his mind. It was the force. Karran and Sulith made quick work of him from there. The zabrak pulled the unfortunate man through the air towards them, face-first into Sulith’s hammer. It was a safe bet to say that he would be out cold for a while.
And just like that…it was all over. Sera was still staring openly at Karran, and the shining lightsaber. Sure, she could utilize the force in her own right; she and her brother had taught themselves to do so. But that was on an entirely different level from this. “Are…are you a jedi?”
Karran smirked at her, shaking his head. “You have much to learn, child,” he stated, pausing to look her over. “You are unhurt?”
“I’m fine. Just…fucking fine,” she replied, sighing deeply as the musculature across her body relaxed. Then, she returned to focus, her gaze sharpening as she strode towards the two strangers. “What the hell happened there? Who are these guys? They said that they knew my brother…and that whoever you two work for tried to have him killed.”
“Nothing but trouble, judging by the sigil” Sulith retorted casually. “If they knew your brother so well, why did they try so hard to kill you? I think your brother’s gotten mixed up with the wrong people, friend. Dawn Conclave. Nasty people…as you can see.” He nudged one of the limp bodies with a foot, producing a groan.
“Alright…who are they? What do you two know about them?” The two aliens didn’t respond right away, pausing to give each other a ‘here we go look.’
“It is difficult to explain, exactly, without…”
The voice came from behind them…but somehow, Sera knew it would. She was already spinning, dropping into a crouch, and extending a hand outward, reaching out with the force. The man in black, who had, against all odds, managed to climb back to his feet, was unable to get a shot off before the blaster was ripped out of his hand. Whistling as it went, the weapon flew…straight into Sera’s grip.
There was a long, dead silence as the four of them contemplated that. The Dawn Conclave thug stood shocked, blood dripping from his busted ear. Then, his eyes bugged out, and his face suddenly contorted into a silent scream as a bright-yellow beam speared through his throat with a hiss.
The fresh corpse fell, smoking, to the ground. Tali Sroka stepped over it, making no more sound than she had when she had entered, and stabbed the man through the back of the throat with her lightsaber. Despite that grim reality, the twi’lek smiled at the three of them.
“Well, you must be Sulith. Good evening. These friends of yours?” She motioned to Karran and Sera. The lightsaber was a pretty dead giveaway for the former. “Arcona?”
Karran nodded. Sera just looked confused. “Arc-what?”
Now all three of them were looking at her, Sulith and Karran in a rather bemused fashion, and the Twi’lek with curious interest.
“You’re force sensitive. You pulled the blaster out of his hand.” Karran wasn’t asking a question. He was stating fact.
“Yeah…sorta. I…me and my brother taught ourselves, back home. I know my way around the simple stuff.”
That prompted a few raised eyebrows, mostly from Tali and Karran. Sulith still looked like he thought a practical joke was being played on all of them.
“Well, would you like to learn more?” The twi’lek asked, stepping closer. She looked…well, friendly. Sera couldn’t help but begin to trust her. Still, she wasn’t sure.
“I don’t even know who you guys are yet. I don’t even know your name.”
“Tali. Tali Sroka.” Tali extended a hand, offering it to Sera. The zabrak was still pondering.
“You’ll help me find my brother?” That was the most important thing. As much as she wanted to go with them, to train to be…well, not a Jedi apparently, but whatever they were; Koren was the most important thing. She had to find him. She had to.
“If he’s involved with the Enclave, somehow, we’re your best chance.”
“You’d better be,” Sera stated flatly, before sighing. She stared at Tali’s hand, eyes flitting up to meet the Twi’Lek’s. She didn’t think they were lying to her. Why would they. Besides…she had to trust someone. And these people had been nice so far. Perhaps that was revealing of Sera’s naïveté…but that was aside the point. Reaching out, she took the hand and gave it a firm squeeze.
“Sera Kaern. It’s nice to meet you.” She gave a warm smile to all three of them, finally relaxing after everything that had happened. “Tonight has turned out way, way more…interesting than I thought it would.”
Tali smiled, her one uncovered lek coming up to wipe a drop of blood from Sera’s cheek. “Well, dear; the night is still young. Welcome to House Qel-Droma of Clan Arcona, Sera Kaern. Let’s get going; we have a great deal of people to introduce you to.”