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Forging Fortune (Bounty Hunter)

Jenovan's Avatar

04.05.2012 , 09:54 AM | #1
Well, after some waffling, I finally decided to post this. As it currently stands, FF is in large part a retelling of the events of Act I of the Bounty Hunter story. Why a retelling? Because things alluded to in the Prologue below have a profound impact on my fem!BH's interpretation of the events to follow...

So! Spoiler warning for at least Act I of the BH story.

Forging Fortune, Act I: Pride


"Are you really in that much of a hurry to leave?"

Kjara paused in her hunt for the rest of her kit (Where did my boots go? This suite is too bloody big...) and looked back towards the bed, where her companion for the night was sitting up and leaning against the headboard, his hands behind his head as he watched her dress. He'd already successfully delayed her departure once this morning, and she didn't plan on getting in arms' reach of him again. The fact that he still hadn't risen and dressed was a red flag to her that he was ready to make a second try.

Not that his first attempt wasn't fun... She grinned, turning away so he couldn't see. "If I miss out on this job I'll probably be kicking myself for a year."

"What is this job, anyway? You never said."

"A-ha!" Kjara finally located her boots, half-hidden behind a chair. When she sat down to pull them on, she saw that he was sitting upright, regarding her with a gaze more intent than his earlier bedroom eyes. "I didn't, did I?" she said in a musing voice. "I dunno, if I tell you, you might try to beat me to it..."

It certainly wouldn't be the first time a bounty hunter had undercut another for a job, but the suggestion seemed to anger the man; he scowled darkly for a moment before seeming to relax.

Sorry if that offends, hot stuff, but find your own work. Now that he'd pressed her on the issue, she didn't want to admit that she didn't know what the actual job was; it was her contact who interested her. A young, hungry hunter didn't ignore a call from someone with a history like Braden's. "Hey, next time we run into each other, I'll tell you all about it," she offered with a coy grin. There was no real guarantee they'd ever see each other again, of course. She'd never seen him in this part of Nar Shaddaa before, but if he stuck around for a little while, as hunters sometimes did when they found themselves in a new place, they'd probably cross paths again sooner or later.

Then again, if he had money to blow on a suite like this, maybe he didn't need to do little clean-up jobs like she did. He might have been here on more important business for the Hutts, and maybe he'd be outbound soon. Really, he'd been as close-mouthed about his plans as she had been, so she had no idea. Not that it had really mattered. She hadn't ended up here last night to talk about work.

"Hmph." He still sounded annoyed, but he gave her a half-smirk. "Next time, eh?"

"Sure, drinks on me." Kjara stood and straightened her clothes, then headed for the door, scooping up her pistol as she went. "Ret'!" she said in the colloquial Mando farewell, giving him a casual salute.

"Ret'urcye mhi," she heard him murmur as she opened the door and slipped out of the suite.

The Chiss hunter smiled to herself as she closed the door behind her, feeling well-satisfied with the day just past. She'd collected a fat bounty, gotten an intriguing lead on a new job, thrown back some good drinks, and found some pleasant company for the night. And the morning, she amended the thought, smirking to herself. She had never passed a night with a Mandalorian before, but if they were all like that...

Don't be silly, she told herself, trying to inject a little realism into her flights of fancy. Most of those fellas won't give you the time of day if you're not Mando. He wasn't born Mando himself, he said as much; guess that makes him a bit more open-minded. Still, he'd given the impression of being as much of a warrior as any native Mandalorian, and if he'd fought his way in, well... that took skill and nerve, both of which she could admire. On the other hand, that skill and nerve seemed to bring a certain amount of arrogance with it, but that wasn't an unusual trait for a Mando, not at all. It wasn't that he had been rude to her; it was just something in the way he carried himself, an aura of confidence and superiority. Flames, maybe that had made him seem just that much more attractive...

She stretched her arms over her head as she walked down the hall, savoring the slightly painful release of tension, and smirked at a passing guest who grimaced in disdain at her inelegant posture. "Good morning," she called in a singsong voice, but the snobbish human avoided her gaze and muttered something under his breath as he hurriedly walked by. The snub might have bothered the hunter at any other time, but she was in too good a mood this morning to start a fight or terrorize a rich boor.

Bet someone like that's never been outside of the casinos or the Promenade, she thought sourly. If he thinks I look rough, I suppose he's never been to the Duros Sector... The amusing thought of a pompous, rich tourist stranded in the Duros slums was enough to chase away the small blot on her good cheer, and she was smiling again when she sauntered out of the casino's grand entryway and boarded a taxi to the Lower Promenade.

Once she alighted on the tiled concourse of the Promenade, a glance at her wrist chrono told her she had a few hours to clean up and grab a bite to eat before meeting with Braden. Not for the first time, she wondered what a hunter with that sort of reputation could want with a rookie like her. Was he looking for an understudy? Recruiting a mercenary team? Had he run into a job that required a Chiss, for some reason?

Well, she'd find out soon enough. If today is going to be even half as good as yesterday, this "opportunity" will definitely be worth my time...
Ebon Hawk * The Thirteenth Legion * RP/Social/Casual
Kjara | Avidior | Mizret | Ysmena
Forging Fortune * Aviditas

Jenovan's Avatar

04.05.2012 , 09:58 AM | #2
Record 001: Nal Hutta

Kjara allowed herself a little bit of pride at a job well done as she strode into the Poison Pit. Vexx had been the toughest bit of scum they could find on Hutta, and she'd taken down the loudmouthed Corellian fool without any real difficulty. If Braden thought that would be enough to get Nem'ro's attention, things were looking good.

"Hey, guys, mission accomplished!" she called as she stepped through the doorway of their rented HQ. "Who's up for a round of—"

Unable to understand the scene in front of her for a moment, she fell silent, her hand going instinctively for her blaster. Jory, the green Nikto, was sprawled on the floor near his console, and near the center of the room was Braden, marked by blaster fire and clearly dead.

What happened? Who could have...

"Hey, old-timers!" Mako's voice chimed behind her. Still in shock, Kjara couldn't turn in time to stop the slicer from coming in and seeing her friends in this state. "Jory? Braden?" She ran into the room, but stopped several strides behind the Chiss bounty hunter, her eyes on the man who had virtually been a father to her. "What happened?! Is he..."

"I don't know, I just got here, but..." Kjara hesitated, but Mako knew Braden's fate; there was no point trying to hedge it. "I'm sorry, Mako, but... he's gone." She hastily reached out and caught the girl as she rushed towards Braden's prone form. "Hey, slow down and breathe for a second, okay?"

"Stop treating me like a child!" the slicer cried, angrily shoving her away. With the way clear, she made her way to the old hunter's side, falling to her knees. "Braden's... he's really..."

Kjara looked away as Mako burst into tears. She didn't know the girl well enough to try to comfort her, but she should say something. "Mako... I'm—"

"You." The accusation in the girl's voice as she turned to face Kjara took the Chiss woman aback. "You had something to do with this, didn't you?!"

"I— what?" The hunter could see the logic in the assumption; she'd been here alone before the slicer arrived, with her pistol in hand, but... "Mako, I just got here myself — but besides that, why would I do this?"

Doubt clouded Mako's expression for a moment as she wrestled with the question, but she finally sighed, her shoulders slumping. "I... I'm sorry, I know you don't have any reason to do this. I don't know what came over me. I just... I can't believe he's gone..."

"It's okay, I know this has to be difficult," Kjara replied awkwardly. "I'm sorry."

Mako wiped her eyes with seeming impatience at her bout of weeping. "Not nearly as sorry as whoever did this is gonna be," she said in a determined voice. "Jory and I set up surveillance gear all over this room, so whatever happened here should've been recorded."

Yesterday, the hunter might have found that overly paranoid, but today's events proved how naive she'd been. "Good. Then we can find out what kind of bastard did this. But..." Tentatively, she reached out and laid her hand on Mako's forearm. "First, we should..." She glanced towards the bodies of their crewmates.

The slicer's expression was blank for a moment, but she finally nodded in acquiescence. "Give me Vexx's ID tags. The creds from his bounty should cover..." she trailed off.

"Right." Kjara handed over the tags without a word of complaint. They weren't totally destitute, yet, and some things deserved to be done properly.

"I'll... get this taken care of," Mako said sadly. "I know who to talk to to keep it quiet." She met Kjara's eyes, and the hunter nodded her understanding: this was not to be discussed outside of this room. "Let me see if I can get a hold of Vorrtu, or Lek'shin..."

As Mako turned to the main terminal and began poking around, Kjara sank into a chair and rubbed at her face. Was this going to be the end of her bid at the Great Hunt, before it had even begun?

When Kjara returned to their makeshift base at the Poison Pit the next morning, any trace of the violence from the day before had been removed.

Mako was already there, tapping away at the main terminal. She spoke up before the bounty hunter could inquire how she was feeling. "I tried to pull up the security recording, but someone's tried to tamper with it. They didn't do a very good job, though, so I'm reconstructing the part we need."

"Tampering? Probably our killer, huh?" Crossing her arms, the Chiss waited for Mako to work her magic.

"Probably, who else would need to? Oh, here we go, easy really, they didn't even lock the—"

Before the splicer could offer an explanation that Kjara probably wouldn't have understood anyway, a holorecording popped to life on the tabletop terminal behind them. As the pair looked on, two men in Mandalorian-style armor walked into the room, the hostility in their posture visible even in the small holo. Braden and Jory rose to meet them and told them to leave, and then one of the Mandos spoke.

"Oh, I know precisely what's good for me. Winning the Great Hunt won't merely be good — it will be splendid."

Kjara was glad that her arms were crossed; it concealed the way she tensed at the sound of that voice. No. No, it's not possible, how—?

The build was the same, the hair was the same, and the arrogant tone was the same. She held her tongue; if she made note of any connection to Braden's killer, regardless of how incidental and fleeting it was, Mako would be convinced of her involvement, she was sure. In silence, she watched the rest of the holo playback, feeling as if the floor was dropping out from under her feet.

"When I win, the entire galaxy will know the name of Tarro Blood."

Blood turned slightly towards the recorder, and the rayed tattoo across the right side of his face was instantly recognizable, solidly confirming his identity. That isn't the name I knew, was all the Chiss could think, her mind whirling.

As the recording continued, Braden said something about Blood being in the Great Hunt before, and being beaten by other Mandalorians. The younger hunter's voice and expression turned darker at that.

"Ah, yes. That. An... unfortunate bit of history, wouldn't you agree, old man?" He seemed to stare Braden down for a moment. "This time, I plan to win. Of course, that will be simpler if my competition doesn't include any real rivals beyond my fellow Mandalorians... That Twi'lek vibroblade master from Ord Mantell? Gone. The Chiss droid builder fond of explosives? Gone. That just leaves your protege to remove. I saved that bit of satisfaction for last."

Me. One of Kjara's hands crept up to her throat; she could feel her pulse hammering beneath her skin. He missed his chance. He could have...

Poor Jory defiantly told the Mandalorians that they'd failed, that Kjara wasn't there, but Blood just shook his head.

"You misunderstand," he said in the tone of one explaining something to a child or a simpleton. "The rules forbid killing competitors before the allotted hour. Thus, the promising up-and-comers I mentioned are very much alive."

And then he told his lieutenant to kill Braden and Jory, and left the room. Kjara might have told Mako to look away, but she knew the girl would have none of it. Together, they watched in silence as the other two members of their crew were killed in cold blood.

The holo abruptly disappeared as the slicer jammed a button on the console. "That scum," she grated, her voice shaking. "He didn't even have the guts to kill them himself. He had his lackey do it, the coward!"

The hunter had to agree with Mako's assessment of his character. What kind of bounty hunter got others to take care of his dirty work? That was half the point of their profession. Unless his disregard for Braden and Jory was meant as an insult, an assertion that they weren't worth getting his hands dirty for... But blast it, this was a dirty job, and if he didn't like that part, he didn't have any business being a hunter, let alone running in the Great Hunt!

"Is that really him? Tarro Blood?" she made herself ask. The name sounded passingly familiar; perhaps she'd come across it researching past Great Hunts, but she'd had no face to associate with it, until now.

"Seems like it." Mako shook her head, as if to clear it, then began working the terminal. Displays popped up with articles dated ten years before — mostly rumor reports rather than true news — and the visage of a younger Blood appeared, without the distinctive tattoo. Still, there was no doubt about it: he was the man who had come here, the same man Kjara had recently met under vastly different circumstances.

"He's a big shot even for a Mandalorian," Mako was explaining, gesturing at one of the articles to enlarge the text. "When he started out, he was major news: some minor Alderaanian lord's son who got himself trained by one of the best hunters in the galaxy. Rumor says that a bunch of Mandalorians united against him when he joined the Great Hunt and they took him down hard — nearly killed him. He was out of the picture for years."

"So now he's cheating to give himself a leg up," Kjara said darkly. How could she have known...

"Looks like." The discussion seemed to have distracted Mako from her grief, so far, but now she fell silent for a moment.

The hunter was still reeling with the implications of what had happened here, but there was one thing she was sure of. "He'll pay for this," she promised in a low voice. Braden had been an esteemed hunter and deserved better, and both Braden and Jory had been killed to strike at her. In her mind, it was her responsibility to find retribution for them.

...And if Tarro Blood thought that he was going to keep her out of the Great Hunt like this, he had another thing coming. He'd only managed to add to her determination to get in.

"If he wants the Great Hunt so bad, that's where we'll take him on," she declared, causing Mako to look up at her in mild surprise. "I signed on with you guys to win, and I've got no intention of letting some sore loser push me out before we even start. Are you still with me?"

"Of course!" the slicer assured her. "We've gotta do this... for Braden. He thought you could make it, he really did."

Kjara nodded, her expression solemn. "He gave me a shot, and I'm gonna take it."

"Okay." Mako took a deep, steadying breath. "Nem'ro's still our ticket in, but Braden..." she faltered for a moment, "Braden was going to help get you on the Hutt's good side. I think as long as no one knows that Braden's gone, I can still get you an audience with Nem'ro. It'll be tricky, and I'll have to call in a lot of favors, but..." She wiggled her fingers in a pantomime of typing and gave Kjara a weak smile.

"All right, good. Great." The Chiss shook her head in a vain attempt to focus. "If you're gonna work on that, I'm gonna go have some target practice." She could really use something to shoot, right now. "I imagine taking out some of Fa'athra's goons wouldn't hurt my chances, yeah?"

"No, you're right. In fact," Mako added, "if you can take down some of their street captains, Nem'ro might see it as a favor."

"Huh. Even better, then." Kjara's hand dropped to rest on the grip of her holstered blaster. "Give me a buzz if you need me. I'll be taking out the trash."

"‘Kay. I'll probably be here for a while." The girl's attention was already drifting towards her slicing, and she punctuated her words with a distracted wave of farewell.

Wishing she could tune out distractions half as easily, Kjara took her time walking down the Pit's back hallway, trying to parse her thoughts. Half-formed ideas writhed around in her mind like that smuggler's tank full of fancy eels, and she'd have no peace until she sorted them out and examined them.

Tarro Blood. What did he really want with me on Nar Shaddaa? Had he known or suspected, even before she had, that Braden was there to recruit her for the Great Hunt? She remembered his annoyance when she wouldn't explain her next job; had he been fishing for that very specific information?

And if he did know that, or even thought it likely, why didn't he simply get rid of her before she was protected by the rules of the Hunt? I was careless, that night. I never thought I'd have to worry about something like that. I don't have any other hunters hating my guts — at least, not that I know of — and I don't owe anyone money... I keep my slate clean. Again, she'd been naive, dangerously so. He could have killed me with his bare hands if he wanted; I never would have expected it. And even in the casino district, it's not hard to make someone disappear on Nar Shaddaa.

Maybe he hadn't thought she was worth the trouble. Perhaps he'd taken the evening to size her up, and ruled her out as a serious competitor — it sounded on the holorecording that he'd only eliminated certain hunters he saw as real threats. But if that were true, what had changed his mind? She hadn't done much here on Hutta besides taking out Vexx, and that was when Blood and his lackey had attacked. They must have made the decision to do so before yesterday, so it was unlikely some action on her part had prompted it.

Of course... she couldn't dismiss the possibility that their meeting on Nar Shaddaa had been nothing more than a strange coincidence.

She could only imagine his chagrin when he found out that she was a prospective competitor, if that were true. Or maybe that had been a reason for him to attack her crew — a spiteful lashing-out when he realized he'd missed his chance to eliminate her earlier. But that gives me too much credit and Braden too little. If Blood was trying to eliminate really troublesome rivals, surely he'd aimed for Braden's group because of the old hunter's reputation, not her own. He had seemed a bit hostile towards Braden at some points, perhaps as if the older man had crossed him before, but Braden had seemed dismissive and impersonal. Was there some perceived slight from Braden in Blood's past? The sort of thing a Mando would carry a grudge for?

Possibly. Bounty hunters made enemies and gained rivals; it was just part of that way of life. That Kjara hadn't managed to do so until now simply demonstrated how inexperienced and unknown she was... but that was apparently changing.

Maybe, possibly, if. Maybe he's done all this to just drive me mad before the Hunt even begins, she thought, rubbing her forehead. Flames. There was a saying on Dromund Kaas: Give a Chiss a five-piece puzzle, and they'll solve it into seven pieces. Kjara wasn't a great example of the typical Chiss mindset in most ways, but even she had that tendency to assume a problem was complicated, and to dissect it as minutely as possible. She didn't truly think Blood knew that about her or her people, but even if it was unintentional, the confusion he'd caused her was almost as much of a handicap as losing Braden and Jory.

She'd reached the cantina's main taproom by now. This early in the day, it was relatively unpopulated, and she was strongly tempted to stop for a spiked mug of caf. She knew, however, that sitting down and trying to relax would be an open invitation for all of those half-baked ideas to come bursting forth, each "maybe" vying for her attention. No... her first instinct had been the right one. It was time to go shoot things, to lose herself in the simplicity of aiming and firing her blaster, ducking for cover, and sowing general mayhem with her wrist-rockets. Hunting down Fa'athra's gangsters would require her full concentration, but blessed little conscious thought — just what the doctor ordered at a time like this.

Gonna be a bad day to be on Fa'athra's payroll, she thought grimly, drawing her blaster as she stepped out into the sunlight.
Ebon Hawk * The Thirteenth Legion * RP/Social/Casual
Kjara | Avidior | Mizret | Ysmena
Forging Fortune * Aviditas

Jenovan's Avatar

04.05.2012 , 09:59 AM | #3
Record 002: Dromund Kaas

Adrenaline still singing in her veins, Kjara tried hard to concentrate on the Wookiee Huntmaster's speech. The groaning, growling language was difficult to pick up at any time, but she had other things on her mind at the moment besides the Huntmaster's elaborate congratulations.

All of us fighting over this last spot in the Great Hunt — we're the small fry, the ones who couldn't get in on our reps or on the backs of bigger sponsors. Besides the Mandos, who else is in? What other sorts of hunters am I up against? Not that the other hunters in the melee had given her much trouble, but again, that only made her the biggest fish in a small pond. What else lurked in the wider sea?

"This is simply ridiculous."

The sneering, arrogant tone broke through the Huntmaster's recital and set Kjara's teeth on edge. When Crysta had said that Tarro Blood had spread the word that the Chiss hunter was out of the fight, she hadn't quite realized that her handler meant he was here. Had he been watching in the arena during the melee, waiting to size up his future competition? I hope he was. And I hope all his plans went to hell when I walked in.

"I mean, really. This needs to stop right now." Bold as bronzium, Blood strode into the room, stopping several paces away from the Chiss hunter as she slowly turned to face him. His gaze was on Assistant Huntmaster Lek, but quickly flicked back to Kjara as she drew her blaster and pointed it at his face.

"Oh, is the hunt starting already?" she asked coldly. He met her glare with a smirk and made no move to defend himself. It was the first time they'd seen each other face-to-face since Nar Shaddaa, but there was no particular recognition or acknowledgment in his expression, just hostility and that damnable arrogance.

"No, no! No unsanctioned kills in the Great Hunt!" Lek bellowed. As Kjara reluctantly lowered her pistol, Blood's smirk widened into a malevolent grin for just a moment before he turned his attention back to the Mandalorian authorities.

"You see? That's a perfect example," the Alderaanian hunter said in a tone dripping with disdain. "I must object to this farce. That... thing does not deserve to enter the Great Hunt."

His scornful words hit Kjara like a slap in the face, and beyond the anger, she felt... shame. A thing? I was more than good enough for you on Nar Shaddaa, and now I'm a thing? You chakaaryc son of a rancor...

That line of thought brought her to a realization, though, one that nearly prompted her to instinctively back away from him. If he brings that up... She'd look like a foolish little girl in front of the Huntmaster, and Mako... Flames, Mako would lose it. The former was simply bad for her reputation, but the latter... She and the slicer were becoming friends as well as teammates, but given Mako's hatred for Blood, that nascent friendship could be shattered with a few choice words from the Alderaanian. And in a purely practical sense, losing Mako would ruin her chances at the Great Hunt. They were already down to a team of two; they'd been lucky so far, finding help in unexpected places, but she couldn't count on that in the future. Especially if she was alone.

Her hand clenched tightly on the grip of her blaster. She prayed she wasn't visibly shaking, if only because she'd rather die than give Blood the satisfaction of rattling her so badly.

But he was too busy making his case to pay attention to her. "Her credentials are a lie, fabricated by her little gutter-rat of a sidekick," he declared, contemptuously pointing at Mako with his thumb. "She deserves no honors."

"You lying, cheating, murdering scum!" Mako shouted furiously. Tarro didn't even acknowledge her with a glance, as if denying her right to be heard here. Kjara imagined that the girl would have liked nothing better than to pummel that condescending expression off of his face with her own two hands.

"We know this hunter's history, Blood," Lek said firmly, before any more insults could be thrown. "The Huntmaster has ruled."

"You fools," Blood growled, his anger at being thwarted finally showing through his mask of cool hauteur. "This is a place of honor, a competition of elites. Mandalore will hear of this!"

"Aww, everyone's not seeing things your way?" Kjara cooed in a mocking, saccharine tone, as if soothing a child having a tantrum. Blood's gaze snapped back to her, hate sparking in his eyes; in response, she crossed her arms and regarded him with the most contemptuous look she could muster. "I sure hope you aren't gonna cry."

"Enough!" the Alderaanian snapped, making a sharp cutting-off gesture in the air. He closed the distance between Kjara and himself, coming well within arm's reach, and pinned her with a laser-hot glare. Again, she forced herself to not step back as he loomed over her in his full beskar'gam. "Before this Great Hunt is over," he said in a tone that was all the more menacing for its calmness, "I will have your skull in my hands."

—hands, callused from years of fighting and weapons work, cradled her face, capturing her for another breathless kiss. She could feel the strength there, coiled like a spring but held in check... for now. Usually she was the hunter, but tonight she was the hunted, the prey, and that vulnerability brought on a new sense of exhilaration—

Kjara swallowed hard as the memory came, unbidden. Could he see, somehow, what she was thinking? But as his hazel eyes bored into her, she saw nothing but the threat, one hunter to another: while you stalk your quarry, I'll be stalking you.

Before she could muster up some bravado-filled response, Blood turned on his heel and strode out of the room, his footfalls ringing loudly in the silence.

"Well," the Assistant Huntmaster said after a moment, his tone speculative, "the Great Hunt just got way more interesting."
Ebon Hawk * The Thirteenth Legion * RP/Social/Casual
Kjara | Avidior | Mizret | Ysmena
Forging Fortune * Aviditas

Jenovan's Avatar

05.10.2012 , 02:00 PM | #4
(Took a while to get this one where I wanted it, and it could still use some work, but I think it's time to turn it loose into the wild.)

Record 003: Nar Shaddaa

As Kjara and Mako stepped out from the Star Cluster Casino's grand foyer, the Chiss hunter heaved a quiet sigh of relief. All the place was to her anymore was a haven of bad memories — or, more precisely, memories that had been tarnished by later events. She didn't need to be reminded of her own foolishness; she already harangued herself for it constantly.

"What's wrong?" Mako asked curiously, turning to look at her.

“Nothing, I just...” Kjara trailed off as she considered a handful of weak evasions. She generally wasn’t one for secrets, but she would have been perfectly happy to keep this unfortunate little bit of history to herself. The problem was, the secret wasn’t hers alone, and she couldn’t ignore the possibility of Tarro Blood letting certain facts drop just to be hurtful. He might not know just how much Mako hated him, or how poorly she might take this particular information, but he could guess that it would be, at the least, highly embarrassing for Kjara.

Of course, she could rob him of that opportunity by telling Mako about it herself... But confessing was still thin ice, in the hunter’s mind. For one thing, it had been months since that night, and since Braden and Jory’s deaths soon after. Would the slicer hold it against her that she’d waited so long to mention it? Beyond that, would Kjara’s “crime” of fraternizing with the enemy be grave enough in Mako’s eyes to create a rift between the two of them, even if she came clean now?

After the murder of the other half of their team, the two women had drawn close together, like two people with a single handlight walking through a dark, dangerous cave. They were on their own in a galaxy that had suddenly shown not just its teeth, but its poison stinger, too. And on top of that, Mako had just lost someone who was like a father to her. Kjara’s objective, analytical side (or the properly Chiss part of her brain, as she thought of it) wasn’t entirely surprised when the slicer began to make overtures of friendship, going beyond the simple camaraderie of fellow bounty hunters working a job together. On a more personal level, the hunter had been... well, grateful. Mako quickly came to fill a gap in Kjara’s life that she had never really acknowledged.

As a child, the hunter had had a hard time making friends; the humans of Dromund Kaas were wary of their blue-skinned allies, and parents’ attitudes filtered down to their children. Other young Chiss, on the other hand, found Kjara’s forward, rambunctious nature strange. And once she started hunting, well... It was hard to keep close friends in this line of work. Colleagues that you had a bit of mutual respect and trust for, sure. Familiar faces you were glad to see when you pulled into port, definitely. Lovers, certainly — although Kjara felt like she’d be avoiding that particular indulgence for a while. But a friend who was by your side every day, who you could trust in a firefight and then laugh and relax with afterwards... That was something she’d never really had before, and even after such a short time together, it was hard to imagine chasing down a target or clearing a room full of guards without Mako backing her up, or shambling back to base — dirty, disheveled, and victorious — without the other woman alongside, the two of them griping and grumbling together in a sort of affirmation of survival.

Now that Kjara had that, she didn’t want to give it up, and the idea that Mako might hate her for something she hadn’t done — revealing her past involvement with Blood — hurt just as much as the thought of losing her because of what she had done. But she couldn’t count on this staying under wraps forever, and given the choice of telling Mako herself or risking her finding out some other way...

Well... when in doubt, go for the straight truth. The hunter preferred honesty and straightforwardness in almost everything; it was time for her to stick to those principles, and this was as good an opening as she’d ever get for something so difficult to bring up. Taking a deep breath, she met Mako’s eyes, and her expression must have been bleak, because the other woman’s questioning look became one of concern. “Kjara? What’s the matter?”

“I...” The hunter glanced back over her shoulder at the casino’s entryway, then shook her head. “There’s something I need to tell you. Let’s go get a drink on the Promenade or something — somewhere other than here.”

“Um... okay...” Mako sounded puzzled and more than a little worried.

“It’s not... It’s not really urgent or anything,” Kjara tried to reassure her as they walked to the taxi stand, “it’s just... I guess it’s kind of important. Maybe.” In the grand scheme of things, a one-night stand, on Nar Shaddaa of all places, should never have been important, but...

Mako had said, when they first arrived on the Smuggler’s Moon, that people came here to lose something. Kjara had lost something here that she’d never intended to, and she wasn’t sure she’d ever get it back.

One brief taxi ride and a short walk later, the two women had found themselves a table in a busy cantina known for its variety of appetizers and finger-foods. Business in the Corellian Run was seldom slow, even in the daylight hours, and the chatter of the other patrons around them gave Kjara a secure feeling of anonymity. Not that anyone else was likely to care about their topic of conversation, but she didn’t exactly want her indiscretions echoing in an empty room.

After their plates arrived — some sort of flat, flaky pastry with a savory filling, and fried dosha-shrimp served with a spicy sauce — the bounty hunter finally cleared her throat self-consciously, instantly drawing Mako’s attention.

She’s dying of curiosity, Kjara realized, feeling guilty for keeping the slicer in suspense. I wish I had a better payoff for her patience. “You remember that Braden recruited me here on Nar Shaddaa, right?”

“Yeah, of course. He did a lot of work here himself, and he heard about you through some of his contacts.” The girl picked up a wedge of the pastry and nibbled on it tentatively, her eyes still on Kjara.

“Right.” The Chiss hunter was too nervous to eat anything at the moment; she fiddled with the stir-stick from her drink instead. “Well, the day before I was supposed to meet with him, I cashed in a bounty, got a nice little pile of credits. Between that and knowing I was gonna be talking with Braden the next day, I was in a pretty good mood, so I came down here to have some drinks and chill out, you know?”

“Sure. Braden and Jory always said...” Mako trailed off for a moment, then smiled wistfully. “They said we should enjoy our credits when we had ‘em, because who knew if we’d get another chance?”

Ah, flames. Kjara hadn’t meant to remind the slicer of their former crewmates. Would her anger at their murder be fresh in her mind now? Regardless, she had to finish the story now that she’d started it. “Exactly. So... I was over at the Boracyk—” the cantina was a well-known hangout for hunters and mercs — “just having a good time, and someone buys me a drink. You know, not openly, but that whole ‘send it through the bartender’ thing. I look over, and it’s some fella, a Mando by the look of him.”

Mako grinned slightly at this revelation. She knew by now that the hunter had a certain weakness for Mandalorians. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.” The Chiss couldn’t quite summon up a smile in reply, and the ice in her glass rattled as she fidgeted with the stir-stick. “We got to talking, and one thing led to another, and we went back to the Star Cluster, since he was staying there, and, well, you know.”

With the important part of the story still missing, it was apparent that Mako didn’t quite know what to make of this information. Kjara could see it on her face: I thought she liked Mandos — what’s the problem? “Did... something happen?” By her tone, she clearly meant “something bad”.

“No, not at all,” the hunter replied, shaking her head. “It was fine.” Better than fine, damn it all. “It’s just that...” She put her hands flat down on the table to keep from accidentally knocking her drink over. “He gave me a false name, or at least, not the name he usually goes by these days.”

“A false name? Why—?” The other woman met Kjara’s eyes and read the answer there. “No.” She’d managed to piece together what the hunter couldn’t bring herself to say, and now seemed on the verge of jumping out of her seat. “You can’t be serious, Kjara, how could you—”

“I didn’t know!” the Chiss said emphatically. “And even if I did, it wouldn’t have mattered — knowing who he was wouldn’t have meant anything to me then.” She looked at her friend pleadingly. “I was just having fun for a night.”

Mako stared at her, and the distance between them seemed to widen somehow. Kjara could only imagine what was going through her head. Does she think I’m actually working with him? That I care for him? That I won’t take him down when we finally catch up with him, and the rules allow it?

“Why are you telling me this now?” the slicer finally asked, her expression unreadable.

It wasn’t quite the question Kjara expected, but it was one she could answer. “Because... being at the casino again reminded me of it all, and because... I wanted you to hear it from me,” she said quietly, looking down at her hands. When the other woman didn’t reply immediately, she stumbled on, “I’ve been afraid that he might say something about it, and you’d think I was hiding it from you the whole time...”

“You have been,” Mako pointed out quickly.

“I know!” The hunter raised her hands in surrender. “I just...” She sighed. “Would you have admitted something like that? That some random fella you got horizontal with turned out to be your nemesis a few days later?”

The slicer grimaced, and Kjara knew she’d scored a valid point. “But after Braden and Jory... after he tried to keep you out of the melee on Dromund Kaas, and tried to get that nasty little Rodian, and then those Corellians, to kill you... Didn’t you ever think you should have said something?” Now Mako sounded as much hurt as angry.

“I... Flames, seeing him there, on Dromund Kaas... You have no idea how afraid I was that he’d say something there, in front of the Huntmaster and everything,” Kjara said lowly. “After that, I... I’ve thought about it, a lot, but I just didn’t know how to tell you.” How would you ever bring that up in conversation?

Mako was silent for an uncomfortably long time; the Chiss worried that she was being judged, as if her partner was trying to decide if she was trustworthy anymore. Heh. Girl can verify anything on the HoloNet as legit or fake, but she can’t do that with people. Ordinarily, she’d feel insulted for being doubted when she’d told nothing but the truth, but there was more at stake than just facts, and she’d known that Mako’s hatred for Blood would come into play. She’d just hoped that the slicer’s liking for her would overcome it. Maybe we’re not as close as I thought, after all...

That sinking feeling, the knowledge that she’d disappointed someone, sat in the pit of her stomach like a stone. She’d felt the same thing from her parents when she’d declared her intention to become a bounty hunter, ignoring their advice that she join the CEDF, or at worst, one of the Empire’s branches of service. She’d forsaken the traditional Chiss path of enforcing order to take up a highly chaotic profession and lifestyle; not only did her parents not like it, they could hardly comprehend it.

There wasn’t a gap of understanding like that with Mako, at least, but that didn’t make the slicer’s reaction any less painful. She wouldn’t have had a problem with virtually any other male in the galaxy, but this particular one... Why did it have to be him? Kjara asked herself for the millionth time. Was it really a coincidence?

Not that that really mattered, right now; whether or not Blood had intentionally sought out the Chiss, she hadn’t refused, and he hadn’t forced himself on her. As much as she loathed him now, she’d never lie about that. Her incaution and lack of judgment were all her own, and now she had to accept the consequences, whatever those would be. If she lost Mako... well, she had no one but herself to blame. It wasn’t fair, but who ever said life was fair?

Finally, Mako met her eyes, and asked point-blank: “Do you have... feelings for him?” The idea was so distasteful that it seemed difficult for her to even say the words.

“No,” Kjara said firmly, wanting to make matters very clear. “Absolutely not. It was never gonna be anything more than a good time for a night, and now with everything that’s happened...” She shook her head. “I can forgive another hunter for a little scuffle on the job, but this underhanded sabotage crap... No. Never.”

The slicer nodded slowly, seeming to accept that answer. She still looked a little wary, though, and Kjara had to resign herself to the fact that the trust between the two of them would be strained for a while.

“I’m sorry, Mako,” the Chiss murmured, meaning it. “I just... didn’t know what to say.”

“It’s all right,” the other woman sighed, shrugging slightly. “I guess I don’t know what I’d do in that situation either,” she admitted, “but... if there’s anything else...”

Kjara shook her head emphatically. “Nothing else, I swear.” She tentatively tried out a little humor to break the tension. “Unless you want details, and then I’d have to charge good credits for that.”

The slicer shuddered in disgust. “Nooo, thank you.” She glanced up at Kjara, frowning. “I can’t even think of his stupid, smug face without my trigger finger itching. Do you...” She seemed unsure of how to word what she was getting at, but the hunter thought she got the gist of it.

“I don’t know. Sometimes I just want to shoot him and have done with it, but then, I’d like the chance to punch him square in the face, too.” The Chiss shook her head. “Maybe it’s nothing personal to him, but it sure as flames is to me.”

She hadn’t thought of it quite that way before, but it was entirely possible that Blood didn’t give a damn about their previous encounter; maybe he simply saw her as an opponent, albeit an annoyingly persistent one. He’d implied when he’d come to eliminate Braden and Jory that he’d rid himself of other potential competitors, but perhaps he’d just meant the easy ones. Maybe he was putting this much effort into foiling the others still in the running, and she and Mako simply knew nothing of it.

That didn’t make her any less eager break a few of his teeth, however.

Mako was watching her with an expression that was equal parts concern and consternation. To Kjara’s relief, however, she no longer looked suspicious. “We’ll get him,” she said determinedly. “Unless he gets knocked out of the Hunt early. Then we’ll just laugh at what a loser he was.”

“Cheers to that,” the hunter agreed, but privately, she didn’t find that scenario likely. Unless a group of competitors teamed up to put him down like last time, Blood seemed ready to take out his rivals through any means necessary — and she imagined he wouldn’t be caught out the same way he was ten years ago. He wanted the victory badly enough to forsake his honor; with plenty of resources and nothing holding him back, he’d be difficult to beat.

It would be up to her and Mako, then, to fight their way to the top. If, like the slicer suggested, the Alderaanian was eliminated in an early round and they never crossed paths, they still had to take the prize, for Braden’s sake and to prove that petty interference wouldn’t stop them. If they faced Blood along the way... well, they had to win, for the prestige, for Braden and Jory, and for their own pride.

Kjara wasn’t a Mandalorian to go looking for deadly fights just to test herself, but this one... she wanted, and she’d beat every rival and take down every target she had to in order to get there. That was really all there was to it.
Ebon Hawk * The Thirteenth Legion * RP/Social/Casual
Kjara | Avidior | Mizret | Ysmena
Forging Fortune * Aviditas

Fiffen's Avatar

05.13.2012 , 03:59 PM | #5
This is really good Jenovan, I hope you write more

Jenovan's Avatar

01.22.2013 , 04:28 PM | #6
Between work coming down hard, and other characters demanding headspace, this story's been in limbo for a little bit. Now that I'm able to eke out more writing time, I'm hoping to get this back in gear!

In the meantime, here's a goofy little point-of-view piece from Kjara's storyline. Some mild spoilers for the end of Act I for the Bounty Hunter, but nothing significant, I think. This is, as far as I recall, the first time the player sees Torian in the game, and since you don't get to talk to him there, I pondered what he might have been thinking... especially given his "introductory" conversation later in the story.

A First Impression

Most of Torian’s brethren kept their buy'cese on as they waited in parade rest, but he kept his tucked under his arm. He wanted to see the new Grand Champion of the Great Hunt with his own eyes, unencumbered by the sensor array of the HUD in his helmet. It was, he thought, a better way of taking the measure of a person as a person, and not as a potential target.

All he knew about the new Champion was that the winner was a woman, and that she wasn’t a Mando. He’d heard some chatter that she wasn’t human, either, but that seemed less certain of a fact. Not that any of that really mattered; any Mando should know that anyone, regardless of race or gender, could be a true warrior. Listening to some of his mates’ grumbling in the last few days, though, it seemed like some of them needed reminding...

Tion’vaii chakaaryc beroya?” Jogo muttered next to him, his impatience clear enough even with his helmet muffling his voice. “Let’s get this over with, already.”

The Huntmaster might have heard the exasperated comment; almost as if in response, he called out in Shyriiwook for the Champion to enter.

A slideshow of speculative images flitted through Torian’s imagination in those last few seconds before the new Champion crossed the threshold: a Rutian Twi’lek in the casual gear of a civilian pilot; a deceptively petite Rattataki with a techblade at her back; a tough-looking Mirialan with a cybernetic eye... Who had won one of the toughest, most brutal contests in the galaxy?

The woman who finally entered shattered all of his tenuous expectations. A small ripple of sound—murmurs, surprised intakes of breath, the sudden shifting into a more attentive stance—passed through the room as she paused on the threshold. A Chiss bounty hunter? He’d met some of the blue-skinned aliens from time to time (more of them here on Kaas than anywhere else he’d been, actually) and while they seemed to be excellent agents and soldiers, he wouldn’t have guessed at one of the cool, reserved Chiss making it big as a hunter. They had all seemed too... prim for such a rough-and-tumble career.

But the Champion seemed different somehow, with a hint of the typical beroya’s confident swagger in her step. She wore relatively lightweight gear, the sort favored by some mercenaries who didn’t want to draw attention by wearing heavy plate-style armor. Her kit seemed somewhat mismatched in design and material, but when you bought (or otherwise obtained) your armor piece by piece, that was what you ended up with, after all. Still, her gear all seemed to be of decent quality, and well-suited to her movement; she must have taken a great deal of care assembling it all, or tweaking it to fit her needs.

‘Course, she can probably buy any armor she wants now, custom-made, too. That was what bounty hunters put their credits into, wasn’t it? Blasters, gear, and ships: anything that would make them more efficient and effective.

As the woman drew closer, walking between the two parade rows of Mando’ade, Torian focused less on her kit and more on her face. There was a distinctive, nasty-looking scar across her right eye, looking fresh enough to have been gained during the Great Hunt, but she seemed to still have sight in that eye, judging from the way she was taking in the scene. Aside from the scar, her face was … well, pretty, belying the force of will that surely drove one of the galaxy’s best bounty hunters. With her bemused half-smile, she might have been a holovid actress, or one of the Empire’s camera-friendly PR specialists, rather than a successful mercenary.

Later, he realized he must have caught her attention because he’d doffed his helmet; once she was barely two strides away from him, she met his glance and grinned, her teeth a startling flash of white against the indigo blue of her lips. As she continued down the line, he found himself staring after her, something that his vode would surely notice.

Tion gar kar’ta mirc’yc?” Dess whispered on his left, setting off a few quiet snickers nearby.

Burk’yc meshut,” Martik murmured with mock gravity from Jogo’s other side.

Mesh’la buruk,” Dess offered as a correction. Jogo’s only input was a snort of disdain.

Dangerous beauty, or beautiful danger? They were probably both right, Torian thought, and Dess’s opening salvo was uncomfortably on-target. He wished he could put his bucket back on to hide his face, but the Huntmaster was giving a speech now, and drawing (further) attention to himself would be the wrong move. Well... the ceremony would be over soon enough, and he’d certainly been mocked for worse things than finding a woman attractive. They all got teased for that.

Up at the front of the room, the bounty hunter saluted and bowed slightly to the Huntmaster, who gestured for her to turn and accept the accolades of those in attendance. Torian cheered along with the rest, and perhaps more sincerely than some.

“She’s out of your league, Tor’ika,” Dess commented, not unkindly, as the young man’s eyes lingered on the Chiss.

“Figures you’d go moony over some aruetyc beroya, arue’tal,” Jogo sneered in digust. One of the others said something sharp to him, but Torian tuned them out; he was mostly inured to Jogo’s venom by now.

Dess was right—she was out of reach. Mesh’ne, balyc ret buruk’ne, he thought privately. The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and maybe the most dangerous, too. But of course, to a Mando, those two qualities were equally attractive, and overlapped more than a little...

Someday, we’ll meet on a more even footing, and she won’t be out of reach anymore. It was half a wish and half a promise.
Ebon Hawk * The Thirteenth Legion * RP/Social/Casual
Kjara | Avidior | Mizret | Ysmena
Forging Fortune * Aviditas

Jenovan's Avatar

04.03.2013 , 07:47 AM | #7
Back on track, at least for a little bit. This portion of the game's story was giving me writer's block for a while but I finally punched it. Maybe the next part will be along sooner than later. >_>

Record 004: Alderaan

Kjara sulked.

There was really no better word for it, she had to admit to herself as she sat in an absurdly over-stuffed chair, a glass of Alderaan Ruge in her hand. She and Tyresius—no, Gault, she reminded herself—were waiting for another chance to talk to her contact, Baron Zacar. Waiting around for a stuff-shirt noble was bad enough, and the slights, insults, and unwanted advances from various members of his family were worse, but the other nobles here, talking about her behind her back, knowing she could hear them, were the real slime at the bottom of the pit.

Bloody cretins. She didn’t dare lay a hand on any of them—not for simply talking—and they knew it. That left them free to discuss her as if she were some sort of half-tame beast wandering around off-leash.

For a moment, she wished she had her mother’s gift for Chiss-style hauteur. She wondered what these overdressed mynocks would make of a quiet, icily polite CEDF officer in their midst, rather than a rough-looking bounty hunter with a short temper. She knew at least some of them found her irritation gratifying—although if they were wise, they’d stop poking this particular akk hound before it snapped.

Then again, I’m pretty sure some of these idiots would be willing to push me that far, just to confirm all their nerf***** about me being some kind of dirty savage.

So, instead of giving them the satisfaction, she sat, and sulked, and drank. At least the liquor was top-notch.

“Hey, slow down on the Ruge, huh?” Gault muttered to her out of the corner of his mouth. “I feel for you, I really do, but the last thing you need to do is...” The Devaronian paused to search for tactful wording.

“Make a drunken *** out of myself?” Kjara supplied with a disdainful snort. “I can handle my booze, you know.”

“I bet.” Gault knew better than to argue the point, but the short reply spoke volumes. “Can you handle the booze on top of the urge to strangle a few of these bantha-brains, though?”

He probably had a point; she almost never drank to the point of physical impairment, but a loosened hold on her temper today would probably be a bad thing.

“Stop making good points, okay? It’s really irritating.” Of course, she was joking, and Gault knew it, but he had been almost annoyingly helpful so far on Alderaan. He had a more pragmatically diplomatic frame of mind than Kjara—which made sense, for a grade-Aurek con man. Since she had to tiptoe around these nobles for the sake of both the Empire’s goals and her own, having someone to talk her out of breaking a few faces was useful. “If you keep it up, I might finally have to admit that hiring you was a good idea.”

“Can I say ‘I told you so’ without getting shot?”

Heaving a put-upon sigh, Kjara drained her glass and set it down on the table next to her. The sound caught the attention of a few of the nobles nearby, who turned to look at her warily, as if expecting her to leap up and start shooting. When she did no such thing, they gradually resumed their gossiping.

At least the Sith nobility usually have some teeth to back up all their strutting airs, the hunter thought sourly. She certainly didn’t enjoy being looked down on by them, either, but she had a healthy respect for anyone who could fry her with Force lightning or deflect her blaster fire with a single lightsaber. These pompous twits? Not so much.

Heh. Puts Tarro Blood in a whole new light, knowing this is the world he comes from. The other bounty hunter’s self-assured arrogance, which had nearly brought the two of them to blows in front of the Huntmaster on Dromund Kaas, seemed to be ingrained here, at least among the nobles. No wonder a bunch of other Mandos took him out. He was probably insufferable from the word ‘go’.

But... ah, there was a good reason to endure these idiots. If she could get a handle on the way they thought, their tendencies (especially under fire), and their habits, that could help her if she had to track down Blood in one of these rounds...

“Ah, advocate.”

Kjara restrained the urge to roll her eyes. She should never have encouraged Raffid Girard’s flirting, but she’d made the mistake once and now he seemed to have decided he had a chance with her. Creepy git.

“Can I get you another drink?” the young nobleman asked, the politeness in his tone doing nothing to camouflage the leer on his face.

“No thanks, I’m good for now,” the hunter said with a shake of her head. Aside from the fact that she was taking Gault’s advice, Raffid was pretty much the last person she’d want to accept a drink from. Wouldn’t put it past the little weasel to slip something in it. That’d be about the only way he’d get me in bed.

“Courtesy demanded that I offer,” Raffid said lightly, shrugging. He glanced up at the ostentatiously elaborate chronograph on the wall, then towards the closed door of Baron Zacar’s office. “I believe my father should be with you shortly.” Catching Kjara’s glance, he smiled in a way that made her skin crawl. “If you find yourself at liberty later, however...”

“Pretty sure I’m gonna be busy shooting people,” the hunter said brusquely, crossing her arms. “For a good long while.”

“Well. I suppose that is what you’re employed to do, isn’t it?” Raffid finally seemed to accept the dismissal for what it was, but refused to lose hope. “Be that as it may, the invitation remains open, advocate,” he said over his shoulder as he sauntered off.

Gault coughed politely—in a clearly mocking fashion—as Kjara silently ground her teeth in exasperation. All right, class is in session. Course of study: “How to think like a petulant, spineless tool with too much money.”

Maybe, just maybe, her downtime here wouldn’t be utterly useless...
Ebon Hawk * The Thirteenth Legion * RP/Social/Casual
Kjara | Avidior | Mizret | Ysmena
Forging Fortune * Aviditas