1 - Hunting Hunters
Imp Belsavis spoilers - they've been put in spoiler tags
The wine made him smile. So out of place for a woman who lived such a hard-edged lifestyle. She liked blasters with plastight grips, pulled her hair back in a spiraled knot, swore like a sailor, ate Rodian street food any time it was available, and bought large amounts of Alderaan wine. The hunter lifted his head from the sniper scope as his quarry disappeared into her ship with a crate of the fine vintage.
Another time, sweetheart.
Skari stopped inside the main hatch, set down the crate, and rolled her shoulders, trying to get rid of the tension that had plagued her for days.
"Blizz!" she called as she packed her armor in the storage cabinet.
"*Hey Boss!*" he chirped happily, emerging from the engine room.
"Hi," she said, "Did you check the ship over today like I asked? Exterior and interior?"
"*Yep! Blizz check the whole thing!*"
He nodded. Her jaw tensed as she waited for the news. "*Left thruster need fixed, so Blizz fix it!*"
Skari managed to pull a smile together. "Thanks."
"*No problem, Boss!*" He scurried off to do who knows what.
She checked the locking mechanisms again, stowed the wine in Gault's room, and climbed the stairs to the upper deck.
"Hey, you don't look so good," Mako said as Skari stepped onto the bridge.
Skari sat down in the captain's chair and started flipping through the current bounties. "We haven't shown up on here lately, right?"
"Not since you took out Gor'tha the Hutt and half his mercs."
Skari nodded, a frown set deep on her face.
"What's going on?"
"I think we're being watched. Damn sure feels like it anyway."
"That why you had me run checks on all our firewalls?"
Skari nodded, "Any cracks?"
"Thanks, Mako," Skari said as the slicer headed down to the lower level. Skari rubbed the back of her neck and tried to relax.
The hunter walked along the Upper Promenade, hands in his pockets, eyes straight ahead. No one gave him a second glance: another lean man with half a face of scars, dressed in casual clothes and a hat. On Nar Shaddaa, he hardly stood out.
He kept pace with the Chiss on the Lower Promenade, watching for her out of the corner of his eye, the flash of blue every so often telling him she was still there. She stopped and scanned the crowd with a scowl on her face. He continued on a few paces, pausing to stop at a vendor selling some crap souvenirs. Before she moved again, he walked quickly down the ramp to the lower level, moving in the opposite direction. His patience was rewarded when she headed to the taxi speeder pad and set course for the Red Light Sector. And that little Rodian restaurant she liked so much.
The Rodian platter had been delicious. Skari walked along the dirty alley, eyes watching the corners. Should have brought the crew maybe, but they needed the time off to do their own things. Too much time in the cramped ship would drive anyone nuts, and she didn't need Gault threatening to strangle Blizz again for going through his stuff.
A slight movement in the corner of her eye had her pulling her blasters. Just a rat. Maybe it was too much time on the job. Got you paranoid, seeing things that weren't there. Or maybe she was being hunted. Again.
She heard a muffled pop a split second before her left leg went out from under her.
"Sh*t!" She went with the fall, feeling the numbness from the tranq dart stuck deep in her thigh spreading quickly through her body. "F**king bastard," she snarled as she tried to lift her blaster toward the hazy figure that jumped down from a ledge. Her vision was quickly fuzzing out. She wasn't going to walk out of this one.
Skari could feel her head spinning like she'd spent a few hours with some of Gault's wine. The room was shadowy. Cold. The floor nothing but dirt. A couple dim lights lit the space, but there was nothing to see but dark bare walls. She was tied to a chair in the middle of the room in her underclothes, her armor nowhere to be seen, and her hands in what felt like electro-restraints behind her. Her head cleared enough for her to be sure of one thing: whoever did this was going to f**king die...just as soon as she got the Nantellan key she had hidden in her hair into her hands.
She stretched her shoulder up as far as it would go, rubbing at the space behind her ear. She could feel the small piece of metal slide out of place. Carefully, she eased it down into the collar of her undershirt and down into the sleeve.
"Awake. Good." Skari peered into the dim light to make out a brown, whipcord lean man of average height entering the room. His face was all angles and planes - shaved head, sharp cheekbones, slanted golden eyes, narrow nose, faint lines beginning to form at the creases of his eyes. He was attractive, even with the mess of burn scars on the right side of his face. He was going to make a handsome corpse.
"What the f**k is this about?"
He walked across the room, stopping a few feet away to crouch down on his haunches so he was on her level. He had a knife out that he kept flipping while he examining her with a considering eye. "I've hunted a lot of people," he said after a moment, "but, sweetheart, you're one of the wilder ones. Lot of anger there."
"Oh you haven't seen angry, a**hole," she growled, jerking at her bonds a bit. The Nantellan key slid down her sleeve a little farther and out the cuff. She caught it between two fingers before it hit the ground.
He smiled slightly. "You really don't know when you're beaten do you?" He stood. "No sense wasting time." He walked over and sliced through one of the three scars that ran down her right cheek. She gasped as the pain seared through her and blood began trickling down her face.
"Now," he said coolly, "I need information. Give me what I need and your death won't be overly painful. Don't and I'll make you beg for it to end."
She laughed harshly, "It'll be a hot day on Hoth before I beg."
He cut down the second of her scars, pushing a curse out of her. "Yes you will," he said matter of factly.
Skari met his eyes directly. Gold eyes should be warm, but his were the eyes of a stone cold predator. She went to work maneuvering the key into the lock on the restraints while her blood ran in red rivulets down her blue skin.
"What I need is a name," he said, his eyes steady on hers. "Five years ago someone hired you to kill an accountant on Kasnee 8. Do you remember the job?"
Skari paused in her hidden efforts to unlock the restraints. "I remember the job," she said soberly.
"Young man, a boy really, blonde hair, large ears?"
Skari resumed trying to escape while she talked, drawing out the time. "And freckles."
"That's the one." His jaw clenched for a moment.
"He someone to you?" she asked.
"I'd say I was sorry," she said as she activated the key and felt the lock give way, "but I don't think that would matter much to you."
"You're right," he said, reaching over to slice open the third scar, "it doesn't."
His hand never reached her face.
She exploded out of the chair, grabbing his wrist with one hand while her other fist slammed into his ear. She headbutted him before he could recover and, for good measure, brought her knee up hard between his legs. He gasped and folded over for a split second. She twisted the knife out of his grip and quickly hooked one side of the restraints onto his wrist. He swung a hard punch at her which connected to her side, but she kept her head even as she lost a lungful of air and managed to get the second restraint over his other hand. She hooked her foot behind his ankle and yanked his feet out from under him, putting him down hard on his back. He lunged for the knife, even with his hands in restraints, as she scooped it up and stepped back.
He laughed hoarsely as he struggled to breathe through the blood running from his nose. "You are something else, sweetheart."
"Stop calling me that, a**hole," she growled.
"Whatever you say, honey." Laid out he might be, but the man didn't look beaten. Skari didn't dare get close enough to him for him to reach her, but she glared at his new pet name.
"I'm curious, how'd you get out of the cuffs?"
"A girl's got to have some secrets."
"Fair enough," he said, shifting slightly to make himself more comfortable.
"You waited a long time to come after your brother's killer," she said.
"Didn't hear about it till recently. We didn't talk much. Been hunting in the Tabrel Sector."
Skari frowned. "Lot of f**kers who think they’re hunters out there. Which one are you?”
“They call me the Tracker."
Skari took another step back from him. She was damn lucky to be alive, damn lucky. The Tabrel Sector was a thieves den: low on law and high on petty criminal kingdoms. To hunt bounties in Tabrel you had to be half crazy, and if the stories she’d heard were true, the Tracker more than qualified.
Skari thought for a few minutes. The thought that came into her head was incredibly stupid. But that job on Kasnee 8 had eaten at her conscience for a long time and maybe, finally, she might be able to do right by that boy. Last one on her list. She met the cold predatory eyes of the man at her feet. Incredibly stupid.
"What's your word worth?" she asked him finally.
"If I say it's as strong as Mandalorian iron, would you believe me?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I thought not."
"I'd like to propose a partnership," she finally said. He sat up, his face completely serious. "I've tried to find Akko Nadras for years. Never sat right, killing that boy. I don't have the skills to track the guy who put the order in though. You do from what I've heard. But I need to be sure you're not going to try to kill me or harm my crew. Otherwise I'll kill you right now."
"A partnership. With the woman who killed my brother."
"I pulled the trigger. I won't make excuses for that. But I would like the chance to make it right. Well, as right as it can be." Skari considered just how stupid a move this was again as he got to his feet. Even with his hands in restraints, his movements were sure, balanced. He was strong and quick and dangerous beyond belief.
"I heard you've gone respectable lately," he said.
"I don't know about respectable," she said with a shrug, "Just trying to be on the right side for once."
He looked at her carefully. "Ok. A partnership. I don't try to kill you, and you help me take out the guy who ordered my brother dead."
"Word of honor?"
"For what it's worth."
So stupid. She stepped into striking range. Stupid stupid stupid. His face was inscrutable as she slid her key into the lock.
"A Nantellan. I'm impressed. Those aren't easy to come by."
"Had to find something to spend my money on," she said, slipping the key back into her hair as she watched him cautiously.
He held out his hand for his knife. Skari looked down at it. "How bout you give me back my blasters, and I'll give you your knife."
"Fair enough, sweetheart," he said with an appreciative smile. He walked to the door and opened it onto a deserted hall. He led her down it into a small room that he'd obviously been sleeping in. The spare pallet on the floor, bag, and collection of weapons marked this as his space. Everything was neat, even in the grimy room. He collected her twin blasters from the pile and handed them to her. She handed his knife back to him. He flipped it once and then sheathed it in the small of his back. Both of them continued to watch each other carefully, two wary predators ready for the other to strike.
Skari jerked back as he suddenly reached towards her face, pulling up her blasters.
He chuckled, "Relax, sweetheart, just cleaning up my mess."
"Just don't make sudden movements, okay?" she said as she carefully holstered her guns, "Or they might be your last ones. And quit calling me that."
He smiled as he gripped her chin with one hand and wiped the blood from her face with a clean rag. He handed her a med pack and began to pack up his belongings. She put the pack to her face, a sigh escaping her as the cool numbness started to lessen the throbbing pain in her cheek.
"Ready," he said in less time than she would have thought possible. He stood in the middle of the room, relaxed, alert, and capable of pretty much anything. This was probably the stupidest thing she'd ever done in her life,
"What's your name, Tracker? So I know what to put on your gravestone."
He laughed. "My name is Solomon Crae."