The crew looked at the gaping maw of darkness before them, cutting into the rocky pathway. “That’s… a big cave.” Azariah stammered.
“Indeed,” Blockade’s deep voice replied. “We’ll need to hide the speeders and the ship, no way we’ll fly them through there.” He started moving the ship lazily toward a cluster of large plants – single, massive blue leaves that stuck out of the ground from turquoise stems. He bent one of the leaves to cover the vehicle, and the leaf conformed to his movements effortlessly as the others did the same.
“These are handy!” Hirani chirped.
“It’s almost as if some smugglers planted them here,” the smuggler replied drily.
The crew started making their way into the cave, bundles of supplies in a hovercart behind Tarr Kahn. As they made it further in, they started igniting light sources one by one – B4 activated its optical light, Tarr and Azariah pulled out fusion lanterns, and in front of them all, Jix drew his lightsaber.
The glowing green and orange lights lit the tunnel around them. Hirani had scoffed when blockade said he wouldn’t be able to get the small speeders through the wide caves, but the jagged, rough rocks, spiky stalagmites and myriad columns gave her the sense that even she’d struggle to get them through at any speed. Several times, they needed to lift her droid companion, its’ wheeled body unable to proceed on its own.
They travelled for the better part of an hour when they started to hear a muffled screeching.
“I know that sound,” Kahn muttered.
“Mynocks!” Yebhalo grinned.
“Dinner!” Hirani clapped jubliantly, before drawing her blaster.
The mynocks swooped at them, group after group appearing from the darkness. Over the next few minutes, the cave lit up with bursts of blaster fire, and the screeches of dying mynocks. While the spindly, small creatures weren’t much of a threat to the group, they still came out of the fight with a few cuts, scrapes, and bruises, added to the many they’d already picked up over a long day.
With a few Mynock corpses now in tow, the group made their way further into the cave. The fight seemed to have attracted every Mynock within quite some distance, so by the time they’d all been taken out, the rest of the trip went without incident, until they saw a light in the distance, a small shop sign above a door.
“Interesting place for a cantina,” Azariah mused.
“It’s the lower entrance to the palace,” Tarr explained. “It’s common for anyone going out this way, for whatever reason, to rest up before they go.”
“I’d kill for a soft bed right now,” Yebhalo moaned. “This day has been crazy!”
“The day’s just started,” Hirani sighed. “A cycle here is forty hours long.”
“But we’re still having this thing for dinner, right?”
“You know it!”
The door was opened by a pale yellow Twi’lek, wearing a dancer’s bikini and a metal collar. Yebhalo scowled. Her first impression of the Hutts was seeing one of her own as a slave, and she knew, it would only be worse from here.
“Welcome, to The Waystation,” she said, bowing. “Honoured guests, you have arrived at a good time, we were just about to start lunch.”
“How very kind of you, we have Mynocks if we may contribute to the meal?” Hirani said, smiling a little bit too hard – like Yebhalo, she was furious at the situation, but she chose to confront it with every drop of kindness and compassion she could muster.
The Tolian Twi’lek led them through to a dining hall. The setup wasn’t typical for a cantina – there was a bar and a kitchen, yes, but instead of a smattering of booths and tables, a single long table with a bench on either side of it, making room for maybe twenty beings. Yebhalo and Hirani started skinning one of their prize mynocks, as a second Twi’lek, a Tyrian dressed in a similar manner, brought them drinks. Her lavender face cracked in a smile as she saw the prize meal, though she kept her silence until she left her room, only serving to sour the crew’s mood more.
Jix and Az had already collapsed onto the benches, making themselves comfortable as the door on the far end of the dining room opened loudly.
“Friends!” A toothy grin erupted the word from the devaronian standing in the doorway. Wearing an expensive looking jacket, there was no doubt who the owner of the cantina, and the Twi’leks, was.
“Welcome to the Drilling Hangover! Enjoy the food, take some rest, and make sure your credits are good. “
Jix glanced at Hirani – she had a hand on her holster. “I tink we are good for the credits, friend. Would you care to tell us how you got to such a unique name for dis establishment?”
Jix stood between Hirani and the Devaronian as part of his greeting. Without saying anything to her, the message was clear – they didn’t want to start a fight with the Hutts, especially not before anybody had gotten what they came for. Hirani carried on, but kept a close eye on the Devaronian as he began speaking again. “There’s a mine out back. Got an auto drill pulling doonium and kyber crystals out the ground. Seemed fitting.”
The jedi’s eyebrow raised. “Kyber crystals?”
“Low-grade, don’t worry. They’re still good to focus a blaster though.
“I wonder if that’s what the separatists are after,” Jix mused.
“What do I know? I just run the place.”
The group ate, and slept, as quickly and as quietly as they could. They wanted to be out and away as soon as possible, but it was the first rest they’d had since the gale was shot down. So, they rested – they didn’t expect to sleep well, but exhaustion claimed them all as soon as they landed on their beds. Several hours later, they met for another meal before being led to a large, round platform out in the mine. Several machines dotted a large hole next to them, and dull sparkles shone off of the crystals in the wall. With a loud Ka-chunk the platform started moving upward into darkness. A minute later, a light appeared above them, and another minute later, they emerged into a reception area – part guard post and part cantina. An interesting artefact of Hutt culture was the amount of rooms that also doubled as cantinas.
Tarr Kahn started toward the two Gammoreans flanking an exit to the room. The walls were a pale yellow, reflected in everything in the room, and the green-skinned brutes – and their heavy axes – got the worst of that.
“I’m bringin’ supplies. These guys helped me – they wanna see the boss”, he slurred in broken Huttese. One of the guards squealed a response, in Gammorrean – Hirani surmised, though none of them could tell what was said. He left the room, and returned a few minutes later, flanked by a Rodian, wearing more blaster pistols than he likely knew what to do with.
“You’ll come with me. The blockade runner will go straight to the depot.”
Yebhalo started “but-“
“Straight. To the. Depot.”
She scowled. She’d hoped to leverage the fact that they’d helped Tarr in order to curry favour with the Hutts. As the Rodian led them out to the courtyard, she thought it was strange that they’d been allowed to keep their weapons, though as they entered the palace courtyard she understood. Turbolaser turrrets, a large, domed particle shield, dozens of armed aliens of every species she could think of – Gardulla’s palace wasn’t so much a palace as a fortress. Nobody would be foolish enough to try something here.
Hirani, on the other hand, didn’t notice the defences – she was otherwise distracted – The courtyard doubled as a landing pad, and every ship on it, as far as Hirani was concerned, was beautiful.
There was a heavily modified Lancer, obviously set up for bounty work – the name on the side was the “Banshee”. Even the paint job was custom – blacks and reds and dark greys all over. Hirani found herself wiping away a bit of drool as she looked over to the next ship – A Koensayr Citadel. Unlike the Banshee, the “Burning Lash” was understated. It looked like a pretty standard ship, perhaps a bit poorly maintained, but it was actually the opposite – There were scuffs around the engine and hyperdrive – telltale signs that they’d been replaced for those who knew to look for them, and the blaster cannons were small and sleek – designs that looked like they were made for function without being too showy. She stared at it as they passed, until they passed enough for her to get a good look at it.
“E, chu ta!”
“Is that a kriffing Basilisk!?” Hirani caught herself, lowering her voice. “I didn’t know they still made those beasts.”
“They do, there just aren’t a lot of them around,” Az smirked.
“Good ship?” Jix enquired.
They responded at the same time. Hirani shook her head. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in one, but I definitely would never want to be anywhere near that thing’s crosshairs. She pointed at the ship’s cannon, which was actually more than half of the ship. Where the other two ships seemed to have some elements of design, the Basilisk was a big metal box of gun.
“They’re cramped, and where that banshee will turn on a credit, you’ll be lucky to turn that thing on an orbit. They’re damn near indestructible, though, and with that gun – for a one-man ship, you could take on cruisers with that thing head on!”
Az grinned. “You wouldn’t have to even fire. They can pretty much ram through anything. Flying one of them is a great honour among my people.”
Jix nodded sagely. “So you’re telling me dere’s another Mandalorian in dere. Is dat who ya’re looking for?”
Az nodded. “We’ll see.”
“Indeed. We’ll be entering Gardulla’s court, now.” The Rodian said, as he opened the door. The room was poorly lit – a fighting pit in the center of the room held a pair of massif hounds fighting, in front of the throne where Gardulla sat, lazily watching the fight. To her side was a man with neat attire, blue skin and red eyes. Dozens of thug-looking types scattered around the room, especially to the left, where two steps led up into, unsurprisingly, another cantina.
Among the myriad of Twi’leks, Sullustans, Weequay, Dug, Quarren, humans, and other unidentifiable species, a few stood out.
Az immediately noticed the fully beskar-clad mandalorian standing in the corner. He wasn’t drinking, or socialising, merely observing. Az acknowledged him with a nod. The bounty hunter’s helmet turned slightly toward him, but otherwise didn’t move.
Jix, surveying the room for threats, noticed a slight shift in the force. He didn’t get enough from it to make anything of it, but found his eyes resting on a creature sitting on the side of the fighting pit. The being was huge – twice his height, at least, and built like the basilisk outside – muscular and bulky, covered in armor, with an elephantine trunk and tusks adorning his face.
The Twi’lek women, for their part, both had their attentions caught by the same scene – the blue man next to Gardulla, speaking with Issan. She caught Yebhalo’s eye and nodded.
They Zygerrian woman passed by them as they moved toward Gardulla. “Business, as usual, never slows down, does it. I hope you also get what you came for.” Slyly, she smirked at them as she continued past, and out of the room. The rodian led them to the opening before the throne where Gardulla sat.
The chiss stepped forward, hands neatly behind his back. Hirani couldn’t help but think how out-of-place such a tidy person was in this hive. Even his voice, throaty and silky, was neat, clean somehow, and he spoke with an eloquence unlike she’d ever heard.
“You have the honour of addressing Gardulla the Hutt. Esteemed guests, kindly introduce yourselves, and announce your business.