Boxing, Barab, and Bruises

Setting: In the streets on Barab.
Timing: A few months after the events of Sparks #115.

Disclaimer: The events below are only in-character for the parties involved. Please keep any information below out-of-character if you are not involved, or do not read any further. Thanks!

Boxing, Barab, and Bruises

Official shockboxing on Barab is a big deal; the largest arenas are reserved and filled to capacity with any manner of gentlebeing that appreciates the raw, unrestrained brutality of monolithic creatures nearly dismembering each other with blunt instruments. Due to the popularity, official shockboxing only occurs at set dates and times, leaving the appetites of many gentlebeings unsated. An appetite for broken bones, blood, and brutality.

In the streets, shockboxing locals began to take place. Often outside or near shockboxing gyms, shockboxers of one gym will go and challenge another for fun and sport. Though they appear to be random events, somehow locals in the know are aware ahead of time and always get the best views. The shockboxing locals, however, don't have the luxury of judges to keep time or count technical knock outs. These fights are unrestrained violence, pitting two shockboxers in a deadly circle formed by a crazed mob, cheering them on until one of them is beaten within an inch of life… or no life at all.

A few months ago, an anomaly appeared on the shockboxing circuits - a little Rodian came to Barab and began to participate in the shockboxing locals. No one knew much about him - he kept to himself, stayed in a small room above a cantina, and would always show up at the locals with his gloves on. He never won a fight, but he was small and could take a satisfying beating. When the Rodian fought, people didn't bet on whether he'd win but how long he'd last this time. And after the fights he'd walk away, no matter how many bones were broken or if he was still bleeding. And a few days later, he'd be at the next shockboxing local, ready to get beaten again.

Today is such a day. Aierobu throws a last blow, connecting with his Barabel opponents jaw but not enough to faze him. The Barabel responded with a solid cross, twisting the Rodian's jaw around and sending him crashing to the pavement below. The crowd cheered as money exchanged hands. "Four minutes! A new record!" one bookie shouted in glee as he counted the credsticks he'd accumulated.

The crowd begins to disperse, leaving the Rodian on the ground in a pool of blood and sweat. His arm is bent unnaturally inward and one of his ribs floats in time with his breathing, a sure sign of a fracture within. Already, his other hand starts to gather the strength to prop him eventually up to his feet.

A shadow falls across the broken body of the little Rodian who started the brawl in the first place. After a pause, as the crowd clears away he hears a vaguely familiar voice speak out in a scolding manner in Barab.

Looming over him is the vaguely familiar from of Jynx. Normally in black on black, with a pink blast vest and hair pulled back her mien is different now. She wears slimming black pants tucked into boots, and black corset, over which is a tunic-kimono cinched at the waist, slitted sleeves. A pair of black leather wraps from her knuckles up to over her elbows. Her hair was loose and straight down around her shoulders, a lily tucked behind one ear. There was no color in her hair, her eyes were a violet to match her tunic-kimono, which was violet with white marks on one side, and white with violet on the other.

She narrowed her eyes, speaking in Barab again. This time two of the locals stopped and picked Aierobu off the ground and onto his feet. It was obvious he was hurt.

Jynx had a bag of groceries in one hand, a leash in the other, and a scowl on her face. "So…this is what the Royal baggage boy does on his down time? What the frak are you doing on Barab!?! And what the frak did you tap first for!?!"

Opening his non-swollen (okay, less swollen) eye, Aierobu looks at the figure in front of him. At first his enormous eyes seem out of focus, but as they focus his face attempts to contort into a confused look. Several of his facial muscles are bruised and paralyzed by shocks, however, and the result resembles something of a sinister clown with a facial nerve palsy.

"M…M…" Aierobu stutters for a second before stopping. He turns his head and spits, allowing a tooth to fall out amongst the blood and saliva. "Training, m'lady."

Jynx frowned and sighed. "Let him go" she said to the Barabel who had picked him up. "Thank you" she said, and unable to bring her palms together and bow, she merely lowered her chin and head, but kept her eyes sharp. She had been living her for a few years now, so she knew some customs.

She adjusted the bag in her hand as the creature on the end of the leash looked up at Aierubo and sniffed. It was a black mass quadraped with short fur and a spike collar with a grenade shaped tag that read DASH.

"Aeiro? Do you enjoy getting the snot kicked out of you? Do you know that Barabels fight to the death here?" she asked, a little angry. She hadn't expected to bump into him at all here on her 'home' planet.

"Come on" she said, rolling her eyes as she took a few steps, the stopped and glanced off in the distance at Xakon's palace. She had a whole other life there, even a medical lab, but she couldn't bring him there. "Do you have someplace to go?" she asked, frowning.

"Sau tave verztis kia klase mano xela," the young Rodian mutters under his breath. Within seconds he straightens out, though there is still a trickle of blood coming from an open wound on his face. He uses his left arm to hold his right for a moment, and with a loud SNAP Aierobu reduces the displacement of his right arm. It breaks his concentration, however, and he drops to one knee wincing in pain. "Still…too weak," he whispers under his breath. He curses himself softly in Rodese before forcing himself to stand upright, this time with only the force of his will.

"I…" he coughs for a second, holding his flailing rib with his good left arm. "I do not, highness. I … stay in a room… above The Boxers' Bar… Cantina. It would not s… suit her grace to go there. Please… I only need to med… med… meditate. I… I will not trouble you this day."

Jynx was glancing up and down the street mostly in fear of the looks she was getting from some of the locals. She cursed inwardly, wondering how long before he found out about this, and unwilling to take Aeiro to her apartment. When she heard the snap, a chill ran down her spine as she looked back in time to see the Rodian fall to his knees. When he got back up, Jynx still seemed embarrassed and angry. She saw a few familiar faces glance her way, then at the Rodian, then at her again in confusion.

"Aiero, get up…now please. Don't call me Lady or anything else…" she said. "Now come on" she commanded, shifting her bag to the hand holding Dash's leash and using her now free hand to guide the Rodian towards The Boxer's Bar. She paused, looking into the establishment just before stairs leading up and in Barab asked what room the Rodian was in. Once she knew, she made Aiero walk up in front of her and into the space.

The Boxer's Bar looks to be a pretty rough place on the outside; paint is flaking off the synthetic bricks and the sign is badly faded. Any local knows where it is, however, and traffic through its doors seems to be constant.

Inside, the story changes. The decor is chosen to closely mimic that of a modern shockboxer's gym. At the center of the cantina is a full sized shockboxing ring, though no one is fighting in it currently. Directly surrounding the ring is a full bar, where a variety of attractive male and female dressed as boxing ring card holders tend to the orders for libations that flow in. The far wall hosts a plethora of commemorative plaques, each simple and elegant. The top of the plaque contains a 5x7 picture of the boxer being honored. Beneath that is a bronzed pair of the boxer's gloves, their hand prints, and a small metal plate giving their name and highest rank on the shockboxing circuit. The near wall has a variety of displays showing some of the most celebrated shockboxing matches of all time. The opposite wall has a stairwell leading to the second floor. Most of the chairs and tables are made of metal, and discomfort is part of the allure.

When Aierobu walks in, most of the people take a single glance and look away again. Some of the newcomers to the bar stare at his gaping injuries, but for the most part it seems like this happens a lot. A little Barabel girl comes running up, dressed in an outfit that looks like a boxing ring card holder's but is much more conservative. She's got a small tray with some gauze and peroxide. "Hi, Aiero! You get beat up again?"

Aierobu nods as he takes the tray from the girl. "Hi, K'tara. Your dad in?"

The little girl called K'tara shakes her head. "Nope. He's out getting supplies. We don't got any…" the little girl furrows her brow, thinking hard for a sec. "Oh yeah! Bantha steaks. So he went to go get some."

Aierobu pats the girl on the head. "K, well you gotta take care of the bar then, right? You go and be good."

K'tara nods with a big smile and starts to run off, but she turns around after a sec. "Hey Aiero? Who's the nice lady with you?"

Aierobu starts to head up the stairs, cradling his fractured ribs in one arm and the scanty medical supplies in the other. "She's just a friend, K'tara. Now go take care of the bar. I'll come down and help you in a bit."

Aierobu leads Jynx through the bar and up the stairwell on the wall opposite the entrance. On the top landing, there's a railing overlooking the bar on one side with a few tables, and a row of rooms on the opposite. Aierobu walks to the third door and palms the lock. A biometric scan later the door opens, and he leads Jynx inside his room.

Aierobu's room at the Boxer's Bar is supposed to look like a shockboxing ring locker room. There's a small sink and a refresher to one side, with an electronic privacy screen in front of it. To one side there's a plain mirror mounted on the wall with some cracks and a rough, jagged edge. Beneath the mirror are some shelves, on which there's Aierobu's combat jumpsuit, blast vest, comlink, and some odds and ends. On the floor under the shelves is a spacer's lockbox. The wall opposite the mirror has a fold-out bunk which is currently hidden away. There's a pair of metal chairs and a pitcher of water in the room. By the door there's a wastebasket that's overflowing with bottles of peroxide and bloodied bandages.

Aierobu takes off his shockboxing trunks and gloves, throwing them onto one of the shelves. He pours the bottle of peroxide on his open wounds, his face contorting slightly as the peroxide reacts with the exposed blue blood in a fountain of discolored fizzy bubbles. He then begins to sloppily wrap the gauze around his torso to splint his fractured rib.

As he's wrapping himself, he looks up at Jynx and manages a small smile. "It's good to see you here, Reon. I figured you'd eventually run into me, considering you said you live here and all. Too bad you caught me on a good day. How've you been? How's the family?"

She bade Dash to sit just inside the door as she set her groceries down. She had never been into this bar before, though she had probably heard of it.

Jynx took in the small confines, her memory jogged to her very first apartment away from home or the academy….it was a box much like this was. Looking at the wounded little Rodian she shuddered as another memory beseached her: her first trip to Adali. She had somehow managed the con of her life, telling the workers that what she was installing would makes sure the place wouldn't explode in an accident…which had been a lie. If hadn't been for Chimera opening her yap…Jynx hadn't even really known what hit her. Adali were like Barabels….or Trandoshans….Seven feet of lizard scales, teeth, muscle, tail, and nasty arm spikes. Yeah…she had woken up at onne point with them protruding from different points in her body, it was the main reason behind the scars she now carried.

But if it was one thing she learned while living here on Barab it was to not be ashamed of the scars, and to look at them as a kind of beautiful symbol in their own way. Even if she didn't think that they merited anything special, since the situation in her mind was a botch, here, on Barab they afforded her respect.

Jynx sighed as she drew closer to Aierobu, lowering slowly into a crouch. As she did, the fabric of her kimono revealed that she a pair of Rodian throwers on garters around her upper thighs, as well as a few throwing knives. She hadn't seemed to be armed at all. She picked up a gauze off the tray and patted away some of the blood with it before pulling out a long roll of linen to bind his wounds with.

"You have more of a knack for trouble than I do" she said. "I'm surprised the Barabels keep at you…since this isn't your first time" she added.

She moved her hands up without asking and began to feel around on his torso, a patient look on her face. She sighed. "You don't want to keep getting your bones broken" she said, looking up at him. "Have you ever had to regrow bones? It's not pretty and it hurts like hell. And it means weeks to months in the med bay and dips in bacta" she frowned and shook her head as if she knew personally, since she did.

"Have I ever had to regrow bones…" the young Rodian muses. Mindlessly he grabs a small bone off a shelf and throws it to Dash for the little creature to chew on. A closer look reveals the bone to be a Rodian rib bone that would fit Aierobu pretty well.

Aierobu demurs slightly as Jynx tends to his wounds, but as he tries to twist away the bare ends of his rib gnash together and he winces visibly in pain. Settling down, he suffers Jynx to bind his ribs. The smell of trodden bantha podoo emerges in the air, though it compliments the appearance of the room quite well. "That's why I'm here, Reon. I've studied as hard as I can at the monastery, but still the monks will not push me to my limit. So I left early. And … well, Melisaande does get into a fair bit of trouble, it's not enough for me to train with. So I… how did you put it? I developed a knack for trouble. In this case, when I visited Barab a few months back I saw a place where I could push myself harder than most places."

Shaking his head, Aierobu slowly reaches to the nearby table and pours two glasses of water. He offers one in the manner of a servant, placing the glass on his palm and offering it with a bowed head before taking his and sipping it. "I think the Barabel are amused by me. They know what I'm doing; they see that I'm lasting longer. They know I'm much more capable of fighting back, but that's not the point. So they oblige me. We spar, they dish out as much as I can take until I fall, and this way I can practice standing back up. Sometimes it takes me a minute, sometimes a few hours… but eventually I get back up. And a few days later we dance again."

Standing up from the chair, Aierobu limps the room towards the shelves under the mirror. As he passes through the light, a number of darker discolorations are evident on his sea-green skin. Each the size of a Barabel's fist, there are bruises from his torso all the way to the top of his head. One of his antennae stalks is even more swollen than the other, though both appear to be still patent. His back, however, seems largely improved from a few weeks prior - there's no longer any evidence that fleshpacks were applied to it. The light reflects off his clavicle oddly, revealing yet another abnormal contour suggestive of a fracture.

Aierobu kneels down to the floor and rests for a moment, exhausted from the effort of crossing the room. He then palms the mechanism on the spacer's lockbox, opening it. Inside are a few items - a holoprojector, a few datapads, a scroll, a small pouch, and another object. The last object appears to be pyramidally shaped, with a metal frame protecting a crystal inside. The crystal appears to pulse a deep, foreboding, discomforting red glow. Aierobu takes the pouch and opens it, removing a single stick of incense. He then closes the trunk and places the incense on the top shelf. He snaps his fingers at the tip of the incense, and for a moment his fingers take on the glow of a purple energy blade. The incense bursts into life, filling the room with the fragrance of myrrh and frankincense.

"So what is it, Reon?" he asks as he turns around and settles into a full lotus. He breathes deeply, inhaling the incense's fragrance and re-centering himself. "You've been nervous and blushing more frequently than I normally see in you. And you took me by title in at the local, calling me the Royal Baggage Boy. This isn't like the person I've come to know."

"The Barabels are honorable here, but even some are trouble makers Aiero. I've lived her long enough to know that." She said, frowning as she watched him. She sat down in a chair, taking a drink of the water. "I addressed you that way, because it was guaranteed they would leave you alone if they thought you had some big tie, no matter what position. Again, they are honorable…..which may or may not effect you trying to get the snot beat out of you."

She watched as Dash chewed on the bone, happily occupied.

The smell of the incense was pungent at first, then seemed to mellow out the apartment. She watched him shift into a pose she herself knew well. "In any case, it might keep anyone from killing you in the future. Aiero….what if one of the Barabels takes it too far and goes for the kill? You will have been the cause for it. This is not in field….there are still laws one should follow on the streets. I would be very upset knowing that it might come to that, for either party."

She thought about Ka'stor. Even he didn't walk around tapping his foot every few steps. That would be insane.

A few moments pass, and the feeling in the room changes. The wind seems to shift, drawing slightly towards the seated reptilian. Aierobu takes a few deep, cleansing breaths before whispering gently "verztis akti sau'm".

Once more his body begins to shift unnaturally. His bones pull together of their own volition, skin reaching towards skin and closing shut. His musculature flexes in unnatural ways as fibers extend to become whole again. His face grimaces from the effort, and before Jynx's eyes Aierobu appears to become more sallow as his body consumes itself to become whole.

The spectale is over within seconds. His body ravaged, Aierobu bends forward and takes quick, gasping breaths. He hastily reaches for the glass of water and downs it in a single mouthful. He falls out of the lotus, leaning backwards to prop himself up against the shelving.

"I know it," he says in tones made harsh by his ragged breath. "I think you've found I'm a fair judge of character. If someone aims for the kill, I'm more than capable of stymieing them until they tire of the exercise. I do not wish to dishonor them so I do not defeat them, but I maintain my caution." He laughs, a morbid thought twisting his smile into a darker configuration. "And look at it this way - if I die on the streets on Barab then I was unworthy to protect your daughter, was I not?

"Speaking of which, I spoke with your daughter." He halts for a moment, breath becoming more smooth but still quite desperate. "Your daughter proves her self insightful and realistic. She has chosen to pursue the path of the Jedi. I met an old master a few cycles ago at Uneeq's on the Discovery, and I've put the two of them in contact. I give you my personal assurance that he adheres to older ways and is not as tainted as his contemporary counterparts. He will evaluate her to see if they are compatible enough for formal training." He smiles, bowing as much as his weakened and seated state allows. "I hope that this arrangement shall meet with your approval and blessing, Exalted One."

She narrowed her eyes at the title and sighed, wondering if it was best to just let it be or not.

Her features shifted after a moment, becoming softer as she realized by family he had meant the recent additions. "I see" she said, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees, her hands clasped. "Thank you Aeiro" she said, looking down at him. "About Sal…..if it's the path of a 'jedi' she wants to pursue then I won't stand in her way" she frowned a little at the corners of her mouth. "I was unaware there was another who calls them self master, but as long as it isn't Qui-Sung of Darryn Star Trotter I should trust in your judgement of things in regards to that."

"I appreciate your trust," Aierobu says as he leans forward. The movement is much more fluid; evidently his ribs aren't hindering him as much as they were. "The simple truth is, Sal has been exposed to much of the dark side. It's a wonder it hasn't touched her more than it has, but she needs guidance and protection to learn about herself. The Dark Side preys and seduces those who haven't that protection.

"I can't train her. It would be the greatest travesty in the galaxy if she walked down my path, committed to do evil for any good that she sees or enjoys. She's too pure, too honest… and there's too much risk for her to fall completely even if I tried. No," he says as he shakes his head, "she belongs with Master Ky and the Jedi. But I swear, I will watch her. I will save every good act in the universe for watching her if I have to. Regardless of the filth that surrounds her, I will see her to be a Jedi… even if I have to give the Dark Side myself in exchange."

Aierobu laughs. "Though truth be told, I'm not far from it. One of my order had to come here last week for me. This getting stronger thing is a lot more dangerous than I thought it'd be." A serious look comes over him. "No, that's not fair. It was Nellios. I swear, somehow I'll go back there and make things right."

He shrugs and stands up, his wounds now fully healed. He reaches into his chest and pulls one more rib, having been replaced by his rapid growth. He throws the new one to Dash as well. "So what's on your mind these days? Or just here to join the planet at laughing at the ridiculous Rodian?"

It was apparent this was news to Jynx, that Sal had been tainted somehow. She considered, for a moment the temple….it had been of Sith origin, so any of the ghosts their might have been a dark influence. As for the rest of Sal's early life, she just didn't know much about the Squiblings, as ChiChi rightfully referred to the trio.

She blinked back at Aiero as she sat back, crossing her legs at the knee and folding her arms under her breasts. She contemplated Dash chewing the new bone, apparently he had eaten the first one.

"Master…Ky?" she asked, a new look on her face. Contemplative at first as she thought back in time. She was able to place him with a face, and an event that would change things inwardly for her and a few others. "I haven't seen him since…." there was a sadness about her face. "The mission we lost Darrik" she said. She closed her eyes, as if in a moment of silence, but she pushed thoughts to the back of her head. "I haven't seen him since….Ky that is." she added, blinking her eyes back.

The violet was replaced by her normal hazel.

"I don't know much about him, but Sal is wise for her age. Though I may need to speak with her soon" she said. Her eyes took in the room once more. It was both more and less than her quarters on base.

"I was shopping" she said as her eyes fell on the bag she had been carrying. "Groceries…ChiChi is kind in eating what I place before him, though I think I can cook some things well….or at least passably so. Squibs have t,,astes for things that I don't and vice versa. Especially when in my culture some things don't call for cooking."

Her stomach grumbled then and she looked amusedly down at it, a smile on her face though she blushed a little. "Sorry…I've snacked at the markets but haven't eaten a real meal yet…." she closed her eyes, picturing the street mart just down the street from here. "Have you eaten?" she asked. "Obviously you've been here for a while….long enough for people to be acquainted with your presence in the very least."

She pulled out her com then. "Eeviee…can you please come…" she paused, thinking up the address and recalling what room they are in. She gave the address to her droid. "If you would take dash and the groceries to the apartment for me I would be greatful…and see if L won't see you've had an oil bath?"

She put her com away, content to wait for her little droid. "As I was saying…Barab has one of the best markets…especially for food" she smiled.

Aierobu looked over at a corner, where a pile of dehydrated food concentrate lies. "I have been meditating," he says simply. "To purify myself I fast two days of every three and eat a single meal of protein on the eve of the last day. I was going to eat tomorrow."

But he stands and removes the remnants of his shockboxing briefs, leaving him in naught but an undergarment. "I would be honored to accompany you," he says as he reaches on a shelf and grabs a T-shirt from the Schiller-Morestoff Brewery and a pair of cargo pants. He puts these on deftly, and the scars and bruises become concealed once more under some garments. As he reaches for some credsticks, he pauses and turns his head to look at Jynx. "You sure you won't be … inconvenienced? I seemed to be humiliating you with my presence on the streets earlier."

Jynx shrugged "Does it matter as long as we eat?"

Yet another side to the being known as Reon. "Will it be ok to leave Dash here for Eevie to pick up or should we wait? If you wanted to really clean up…like the blood still on you…that would fine. As for paying for food…let me get his one" she offered.

"Huh? Oh… right. The blood." He turns towards the small sink in the corner and turns the spigot. As cool water rushes into the basin, he takes a washcloth and soaks it. Using a small piece of actual soap, he scrubs away at the remaining blood on his face and arms. A minute passes as he pays meticulous attention to the detail of his appearance, including a few deft strokes to straighten out his mohawk.

"As for Dash, I can ask K'tara to watch your pet. She's an inquisitive one and I suspect sensitive herself. But she's a good girl and will take good care. And I'd be honored to be your guest as this is your home, though I suspect I should take a raincheck to get my money's worth!" He laughs as he puts on a pair of simple, large shoes.

He pauses as he glances at himself, then over to Jynx's attire. "Umm, am I underdressed? Did you have someplace in mind?"

"Not that I know" she said, comparing her clothes to his. She shrugged. True this was nicer than her standard dress, but if she had been on Kalandis this would have looked like she just got 'out of bed'. Or least her mother would have thought so. But she enjoyed the ease of movement in her kimono, besides, it wasn't full length nor formal in her opinion. Even letting her hair down…she frowned a bit, realizing that sometimes being compared to other humans was a downer.

She followed Aiero down to the bar and waited for the girl K'tara to come up. Jynx explained the droid that was on it's way and made sure to tell the little Barebel to be kind to her dog and to her droid, and if she did she would reward her when she came back this way.

K'tara looked at Jynx for a long moment as if trying to place her. "You showed the others how to use exploding gum? Your hair was pink then."

Jynx blinked, then laughed. "Yes…I showed them" she confirmed. "And my hair can be any color I want, and my eyes" she said. She closed her eyes for a moment, changing her hair all violet, and her eyes a colorless white. She probably looked like a different species of human. As she straightened back up she looked to Aiero, her hair going back to black, her eyes to violet.

"If we can trust the little one…"

Aierobu laughs. "I should have known. A celebrity and local legend. How fitting." Bemused, he leans down to K'tara and smiles. "You watch after the nice lady's doggie. Her droid will come and get it, and Dash has plenty of nice bones to chew on until then. Other than that, you have to watch the bar till your dad gets back. Okay?"

K'tara smiles and nods. She runs off, evidently eager to be a big girl and help tend the bar. Aierobu turns to Jynx and smiles. "She's young, but her heart is one of the purest I've seen. If the… if that organization was still operational, I'm certain they'd have recruited her. Your loved one is in the best of hands."

Aierobu turns and leads the way across the bar, carefully moving chairs and widening the path without drawing attention to the fact that he's preparing a way for an honored personage to travel upon. At the door, he stands and opens it. "The weather seems to be turning a bit more chill. If you'd prefer, I could see that you're taken home comfortably," he says with an almost imperceptible bow.

"Aiero stop it" Jynx said, arms folded at the door.

"The only one allowed to offer me niceties is ChiChi…unless he's around and demands other's do the same" she said, giving a quick sweep around. If it got back that she was on a 'date' with someone not her husband it wouldn't bode well for either of them. In any case it wasn't a date….she told her self over and over.

"Anyways…I tend not to have any issues on the streets of Barab contrary to what some might think" she said, stepping out into the street. She rolled her eyes when a Barabel tapped his toe at her and she shook her head. Not int the ring, is not my thing, she thought as she kept walking.

"Come on Aiero"

The young Rodian glances at the Barabel who tapped at Jynx. A melody of emotions play across his face - bemusement, affront, and eventually sadness. All is gone in a moment, returning to the gleaming smile of Aierobu's normal demeanor.

"You ask me to stop so blithely," he chides as he covertly looks around himself. Though his gaze rests on several people, his demeanor conceals the emotions playing within behind a mask of joviality. "And yet, I suspect you'll always have to ask me one more time."

The young Rodian steps in behind Jynx, as a bodyguard or servant might. "So you didn't let me know if you had a particular destination in mind this evening…"

Jynx was slightly annoyed but distracted by the thought of food. She paused on the side of the street and looked up and down, then stuck out her hand and flagged down a repulsor carriage. It had enough room for two to sit, and there was a long arched shaft the connected to a pilot droid in the front.

"We have these on Kalandis" Jynx said as it pulled to a stop for them. "It's one of the first things I fell in love with here" She got in and patted the seat beside her after she told the droid her destination and swiped her cred chip in a slot on the side.

They could have walked, Aierobu realized, but Jynx seemed inclined to the carriage. She seemed to relax back into the seat, her eyes taking in the people around them as the droid made for the meats market.

Aierobu's facade remains intact as he steps to the side and steadies the carriage for Jynx's ascent. He then springs up and into the seat beside her. A carefully measured inch of space separates the two on the seat of the carriage, and not even a follicle of Aierobu's hair enters Jynx's personal space.

"On Rodia, those who cannot fight often carry conveyances such as this," Aierobu says. "I've never been in one… I guess you can figure out I usually like to walk, eh?" For a moment his mien is shattered by a fleeting emotion across his face. Is it guilt? Distaste? Whatever it was, it is soon vanquished by his ever-present smile.

As they approach, the air carries the smell of the meat market. Aierobu's stomach rumbles, depleted from his massive expenditure of energy earlier and from two days of fasting. He mutters a colorful Rodian metaphor under his breath aas his left hand grabs his right wrist, squeezing so hard as to temporarily push the blue discoloration of his blood away from the skin and leave it a blanched green. All the while, the smile on his face remains unchanged as he takes in the crowds of the meat market.

"I rode in these often, or our personal vehicle, on Kalandis" she said, touching the lily in her hair errantly as she thought of it. "Or when traveling about with my mother" she said. "Just about the only decent thing about those outings."

She thought about that too….going to get her hair done, or to the bath houses in the mountain passes. If it weren't for being underground Barab would be more like Kalandis.

"I have never been to Rodia….I should think if it is like Barab, that as long as I minded myself I would be ok. Granted…some of the locals recognize me here" there was a slight hesitation to recognize as she said it. "And for the most part I am left alone….though some also recognize me and don't."

Aierobu turns to briefly consider his companion. His face becomes neutral as he looks at Jynx. After a moment's pause, he speaks in a low tone. "I'm glad to hear you speak of Kalandis. As you once told me, there's only one other person like you in … our organization. And though your memories there are not all pleasant, it is a part of you that grants you a radiance many of us can never aspire to. Lady." He bows his head slightly before turning back to the world, that smile once more on his face.

"Rodia's… with all due respect, I hope you never see it. It's an untamed jungle, with fearsome animals that are scarcely contained. Rodians are too busy fighting to actually make anything of their planet. They fight with the beasts, they fight with each other - a wise man once said you know a Rodian when you see a being fighting with their own crops. The larger clans maintain the few cities on Rodia… but it's been almost ten years since I was," he hesitates for a moment, "asked to leave. For a Rodian, the ultimate honor is to win the right to leave the planet. If anyone were to associate that ability with you, I suspect you'd be targeted in short order."

"I don't understand" she said, looking back at Aieobu. "Targeted?"

Aierobu nods. "There's a reason my kind are often stereotyped as thugs and brigands - it's bred and taught to us from a young age. I never said there would be a good reason behind it, I merely worry that a young woman of your beauty and charm may draw unwelcome attention on Rodia. Not that you couldn't handle it, but it might be inconvenient for you and life altering … and in some cases ending… for some of my people."

"I've been in not so savory conditions before…" she said. ""I am sure the party would band together…..besides you have never seen me in my bounty gear….but I will take what you say and keep it in mind" she said.

The carriage came to a stop at the end of a long street lined with awnings, vendors, and the like. There was a fresh produce market here too, smaller than the other….smells hung in the air and Jynx waited for Aeirobu to get out so she could, then turned to face the market, a smiled on her face.

Aierobu redoubles his effort in smiling, and the effect feels like a used car salesman. "I'm certain you'd be able to take care of yourself," he says smoothly as he steps out of the carriage and offers Jynx a hand down to the street below. He lowers his head, partly in chivalry and partly to covertly scan the surrounding area and the people in the market.

She stepped down, taking in the stalls and the people in the street. She took a moment to smooth her kimono out, more to conceal the weapons she carried. Then she stepped among the vendors.

Barab was a mix of races, though anyone not a Barabel stood out. A few humans dotted the throng, one waved to Jynx and held up a box of what Aeirobu took to be sticks. They were fried antenea in sweet sauce. Jynx merely nodded that she had seen him, but any intentions of buying his wares were pushed to the side.

She seemed set on a mission as she pushed into the throngs, muscling in between the Barabels. There was an Imperial duo keeping the peace that took note of her passing through. Jynx played coy as she passed them by, pulling a fan out of where Aierobu hadn't the slightest clue, and she snapped it open to conceal all but her violet eyes as she passed. Slowly but surely she made her way to a near crowded vendor and pushed her way up the stairs (think the tea house in Crouching Tiger).

Once up a floor she peered into the screened off rooms, finding an open one she slipped inside. There was room enough for four and she moved to one side and gracefully lowered into a lotus position, slipping her fan away as she picked up a menu.

Aierobu makes idle chatter regarding the weather on Barab this week as he passes with Jynx through the crowd. Though his smile remains unbroken his eyes casually glance across the crowd, taking stock of the persons in the market. As the couple passes the Imperials, Aierobu casually steps to partially obscure their view of his companion. "Some good things for being nondescript," he whispers to her as they walk past.

Entering the tea house, he genuinely smiles for the first time. "I love it," he whispers into Jynx's ear as he takes in every ounce of the place. His ignores the looks from the locals as he tourists it up, enjoying every sight and sound there is to have.

As the couple enters the screened room, he notices Jynx take the seat opposite the entrance to the room. Smiling at what must have been reflex from her training, he takes an adjacent seat to monitor the exits. As he picks up a menu and casually peruses it, he whispers into it for only Jynx to her. "I don't think we've been followed. Can you tell me what sort of trouble you're in, or is this too public?"

Jynx smiles, setting the menu aside after barely giving a look.

"What makes you think I am in trouble Aiero?" She asked. "I frequent this place a lot…..a regular matron here" as she speaks she turns over a simple clay cup.

A young Barabel female came by to deliver a hot kettle of water. There was a heat pad in the center of the table to keep the water hot, and Jynx set a small circular screen over the top of her cup and spooned a mix of spices into the strainer before pouring the water over, and setting a topper over the cup to let it steep.

She placed an order for more food than Aierobu thought she would, ordering three appetizers, two sides, and a main dish of Skotcarp soup and a bottle of Barab sake' before glancing across at Aierobu. She arched her brow in an iconic manner for her as she shifted slightly in her seat.

Aierobu's eyes slant as he looks at Jynx in genuine surprise. He begins to speak but notices the waitress walk in. His eyes might have widened slightly at the depth of Jynx's order, but his eyes are pretty wide already. "Umm, just the tea, please," he tells the waitress. "Thanks," he mutters as he watches the waitress take the order and leave.

As he sets himself a cup of tea to steep, he looks over at his companion. "I just figured… you've been looking over your shoulder ever since you met me today. Looking off in the distance, around the corners, like you were being followed. And…" he looks down at his feet, attempting to conceal a faint flush to his face, "I figured … well, there was a reason you invited me to lunch, Highness."

Jynx frowned. "Look, I don't need anymore trouble of the male oriented kind" she said defensibly and a little angry too. "Not on Barab, of all the places I have to deal with that crap"

She seemed put out and she sighed, checking her tea as she removed the strainer and took a drink. "Look Aiero…I live here. I know people here. Some might wonder why I am with you" she shrugged. "Truth is I didn't expect to see you here and what was I supposed to do when I saw you broken in pieces on the ground? Leave you there?" she shook her head.

"Let's just have a nice lunch" she said. "And then part ways…you wherever you were headed, me back home. If ChiChi is still out an about" she shrugged. "I dunno…maybe I'll train more or something" she said. "Besides…lots of toe tappers out today and I dunno if it was directed at me or you" she narrowed her eyes a bit "though if it were a guess I'd say it's you. I have a rule on Barab…keep it in the ring unless it's the real thing" she said.

Aierobu slides back from the table slightly and brings his forehead to the ground in the same position of subservience and deference he took in the refresher aboard the Mine, Not Yours not too long ago. "Begging my lady's pardon," he says clearly in quiet tones, "but I must seek forgiveness. Perhaps her highness would permit me to provide an explanation for my clearly reprehensible behavior. I was merely commenting that her Ladyship has now taken twice unusual concern on the part of this subject. You bandaged my back, using flesh packs that are clearly worth more this misbegotten servant. And here on Barab, when a proper member of royalty would have walked on, you stopped again and ensured that I was tended to.

"M'lady Reon," Aierobu continues, head not leaving the floor, "I know full and well that her highness's beauty and virtues are a match for any of her peers in the galaxy. And as her highness has reminded me once today, I am a baggage handler and errand boy, not one who should sit casually at her table. But please know this - I would never have assumed that a peasant such as myself has aught to do with such that only Emperor Chichi himself should be allowed to consider."

Aierobu shifts slightly, moving the pressure slightly off of his knees and onto his hands. "Lady, I see now that I have embarrassed you. Since you found me in the alley, your kindness and generosity demanded you tend to me, though it would cost you face on your homeworld. You have since looked over your shoulder at every step, concerned that keeping company with one such as myself would demean your position here. I shall do as you have ordered; I will accept the graciousness of your gesture and sit with you for this meal.

"I would only beg one more boon, if I can be so bold. I have found… a way here. A place where I can train myself to become closer to what I must be to serve my purpose. There is no safer place that I can endure the injuries that I can here. And though I cannot return to fight today, as it would make people suspicious, I intend to become injured tomorrow, and again and again in the days to come. I would beg that my Lady not take this away from me. Please… I need this pain."

Jynx blushed as she glanced around, and she was glad of the partitions though it didn't offer complete privacy.

"Aiero, please stop groveling" she said with a frown. She played with her fan and leaned her elbows on the table in a very unlady like manner. "If you must keep on with the royalty bit" she sighed, sitting back.

"Look Aiero….that whole Empress bit was a joke back on that planet. It beat being referred to as the boss lady, and no way was I using rebel rank" she said the last mostly as a whisper. "I just thought it would be fun…and of course ChiChi would expand upon that idea, he is a Squib. It's only fitting that he does. But the fact of the matter is I am NOT royalty. For it to be construed as such…"

A look came over her face, a light clicked in her mind. "Aiero, have you ever thought that you are drawing attention to me that I do not wish to have by your manners now? I live here, Barab is my home. Would you, in field, grovel at my feet? Or would you think twice about it, since it might cause events to spark, that would make me into a target?"

She drank her tea, hoping that would sink into the Rodian's brain and stew.

"I afforded you those niceties early because no one deserves not to have them. Your back was torn apart….mine has been also. You were laying broken and battered on these streets I call home….on another planet, with a similar people I too was in a situation that lead me to the medical bay for over a month. So why should I neglect you?" She blinked.

"As for continuing to punish yourself…for whatever reasons you have….well, that's up to you. But know if I find you on the streets again I will stop and see you are taken care of. You want to take the hits here now…so that later you can withstand it" she nodded. "I understand, even if I don't like it."

At the harsh reality evoked by Jynx's words, Aierobu brings himself to his knees again. "And again, I have embarrassed you, it seems," he says in a soft, broken tone. His eyes and face betray no emotion. A silence begins, broken only by him pausing to remove the strainer from his tea and taking a furtive sip. "By galactic law, you have laid claim to a system. Yours is the right to choose its governance, normally to be accepted in the Galactic Senate but since that's been disbanded and I think the Empire's busy, it might as well be what it is. So if you declare a monarchy, you are indeed Queen and Empress.

"But Reon, you'd be neglecting what is laid at your feet if you think your royalty began or ended there. Kas'tor, Melisaande, me… we haven't accepted our duties because you laid claim to a system. Whether you call them family or comrades in the Alliance, our lives are at your feet. But you alone, of all of them, can understand that responsibility. Your parentage, your compassion, your kindness… I don't call you highness because you declared it to be so. I call you such because you live up to your birth, and lead by noble and fitting example. Your manners are deplorable, but not because you don't know better; you betrayed that secret the second you knelt with me on your daughter's ship. I've seen that before, Reon… my life was darker then."

"So my life is yours. Not because I chose it directly, but because the Lady Melisaande to whom I am bound bids it so. She takes the friendship you have shown her seriously; perhaps more so than you realize. And your daughter, Sal… pray you never come to know what I would do to keep her safe and on the path she chooses."

Aierobu sets his tea back, looking Jynx directly in the eye. Somehow his posture seems straighter; his shoulders are set back and his jaw is square, as if he himself had sat amongst kings at one point as a peer. "And now, the Force is my Ally. I must learn how strongly I can depend on my ally, because if I overestimate I will fall and my charges will become vulnerable when I am needed most. I must suffer; that is why I fast two days of every three. That is why I seek this torment - not for enjoyment but for strength in knowing myself and that which is all around us.

"So then, can you accept this? Can you accept my service, now knowing why I choose to honor you as you have always deserved? Can you see why I do what I do, and accept that it is ultimately in the name of you and yours? And would you forgive me for not otherwise knowing how better to serve you? I'm… unaccustomed to being in this position, but I swear I will learn it."

Aierobu looks out of the window, a long and far away look in his eyes. "I was raised to be noteworthy and notable too, once. I have spent the last years learning how to be nondescript. Now I am trying to learn how to truly be a servant. Perhaps this, too, is a cycle. At least, it is a lesson I am valuing highly."

"I can't make a tram move off it's tracks" she said. "I can't make you live your life in any manner different from how you are living it now."

She paused as the first dishes were laid out, along with plates enough for them both. Jynx served up a portion and invited Aiero to eat, as she pulled a pair of well worn bamboo shoots with tapered ends out from someplace on her person. She used the expertly, in stead of the utensils on the table, and used them to shove a dumpling in her mouth. She smiled, seeming pleased to have a bounty of appetizers laid out.

"Kas doesn't serve me" she said. "No one does. People will serve under…in the alliance because they are made to do so by command. Others….because of comradarie and friendship I would like to think."

"I don't live up to my birth rights, whatever they once were they are gone. And they will remain so unless this war is over and we are on the wining side, and even then…." she sighed, put off by the sway of things. She neglected thinking on such things if she could help it. "That was another life, another time. I am something different now, than I was then, and maybe in the future even this will change."

She tried not to choke on the second bite of food as she wondered inwardly if she would still even be human in the future or something…else.

"Here on Barab I can be Reon to some. I can sit and tend my flowers, fold laundry, spend quality time with my husband….and on the other hand I am still Jynx. I can spar, and get my legs swept out from under me by tail swipes, hand out and drink with friends I have made here…" she shrugged, and poured the sake'.

"I won't turn away help unless I feel it is not needed" she said. "Already in looking after the squiblings…who will probably prove more of a handful than I am thinking…." She looked across at him. "So do what you will, but let me tell you that if you keep up with groveling and this 'highness' business I will teach you a lesson the hard way. I dislike it when recruits refer to me by rank, especially during peace time or in field….it's dangerous. Calling me by titles is the same here and now. People get desperate and do stupid things. The last thing I need is for some poor Joe down on his luck thinking I would be a rewarding mark."

"I can see a few things happening in that case. My fist turning his face into pulp, ChiChi and Kas'tor taking it personal, or…" she frowned " well, let's say that is idea enough for you. It's happened in the past, not to me personally, but I've heard it's occurred to people I know."

"So as long as you want to be nondescript" she said. "Let me be too, ok?"

Aierobu stared at a single leaf left floating in his tea. He did not touch the offered food, though he bows politely in declination at Jynx's offer. "I am fasting," he says simply.

Minutes pass as he stares at the tea leaf. The enticing smell of dumplings and fresh herbs wafts through the air, but other than a slight increase in moisture around his snout Aierobu seems unaffected. He then speaks, still looking into his cup. "In some places, they say one can read a person's fortune by staring at a tea leaf floating in a cup. Is it so different, feeling the connection between all things? Or staring at the stars, trying to discern some ancient pattern written into the heavens? Or studying all of the histories that ever have passed, that we might delineate some sort of repeating cycle? Aren't we all trying to do the same thing?"

Aierobu cleared his throat. "I took your warning once when you discussed how you might… treat your biological offspring. I take it again here and now. I will call you Jynx when we are in public, and perhaps Reon when it is the two of us if you … are in such a position as to be her for a moment. I am a murderer only in service to the Balance, and do not see need to endanger life so heedlessly, especially as those that might be driven to desperation." To the trained eye, the faintest glimmer in his eye suggests that this may not entirely be true, but where the truth ends and the lie begins is always the hardest part.

Aierobu's features settle into a gentle posture, and he modestly sips once more of his tea. "Barab is precious to you. A home, a place to be Reon for even a short while… if I had such a place, I would defend it as well. Please, enjoy the meal. Perhaps while you do so, I will offer amends by telling you a story? It is a dull and disinteresting one, but perhaps it will offer you entertainment for a while."

Aierobu sips his tea once more before setting it down and adding hot water to the cup. "This is a story that you've heard part of before. On a planet far from here, your place in society is determined by the stars of your birth. A once powerful family had been losing prestige for many years, because its leaders were old and all of its children were born under the wrong stars. But one day, one boy was born under all the right stars… except one. He was destined to be a leader, but the highest star in the sky that night was the Star of Cursed Fate, or unluckiness.

"The clan cursed its luck but accepted its new leader's birth. For years the boy was trained as the head of a clan… and indeed, and since the elders remembered the days that the clan led their people, the boy was trained to be the leader of an empire. He showed promise, with excellent perceptive skills and a gifted tongue he smoothed many difficulties before hostilities could ensue. He took to his lessons well, and learned the culture and etiquette of nobility with ease. But his people did not respect diplomacy - leaders were born as gifted warriors and nothing else.

"Here again, the boy proved great. He was the greatest stickfighter of his generation. On his eleventh Cycle's Dawn, the boy bested a ravenous Un'kew armed only with the bough of an aging tree. His clan rejoiced and thought their drought had ended. They even dared whether they had misread the appearance of the Star of Cursed Fate.

"But they were wrong. On the day he bested the Un'kew, the boy watched as the unconscious beast was fed to the fire for the feast. And in his mind and in his heart, he heard the beast's dying screams. They ravaged his dreams and tore at his resolve; no longer could he fight beasts knowing the suffering he caused was for little other than sport, where they fought for their lives. The boy's martial prowess began to visibly falter - it had in fact only gotten sharper, but he now spared knockout blows so the animals could escape with their lives.

"His clan was devastated, but they still held hope for the child. That hope finally faded when the boy began to realize the connection between all things. He foolishly showed this to his village, performing 'magic tricks' others deemed the work of a charlatan. The boy thought if he could demonstrate that all things were connected, he could end the needless violence of his people against their world.

"The clan's response was swift. The boy was told to carry out a trade for the clan by meeting with a freighter captain and accompanying him as the clan's representative. In truth, there was no trade and the captain was paid only to dump the boy off planet somewhere. It was not until some days in hyperspace later that the boy learned of his fate. Rather than be sold to slavers, the boy managed to convince the freighter captain to take him in as a serving boy. And thus, our young boy once thought destined for Grand Protector became an indentured servant in a week's time. He stayed with the captain for several years, learning of the galaxy and earning his keep several times over. Thus, when he was mortally wounded and saved by a doctor, the captain agreed he could be free to serve the life debt he had accrued."

Aierobu stops to drink from his now cold tea. "Of course," he says with the wisp of a smile, "these things don't happen anymore. I mean, who even believes in life debts these days, right?"

At first, she was a little put off to be eating when Aiero would not, but as he began to talk, she eased back into a relaxed pose he had seen her slip into only around ChiChi or on rebel base.

She ate, seeming to some how accommodate nearly all of the food into her stomach, and what she left behind was only slim pickings not from being full, but from being tired of the spice or flavor which was potent. She poured more sake, since his eyes were averted down it was easier to glimpse the practiced gesture of the pour as if even that was some secret art, though she didn't mean for it to be.

When he mentioned reading fate from a tea leaf she smiled wistfully, a distant look in her eyes that she blinked back into the present, but she listened with interest. And at the last remark she laughed low, covering her mouth with her hand.

"Aiero…you are on Barab. If you think that the importance of life debts is lost you are either blind or deaf" she smiled.

Relaxed, she leaned an elbow on the table's edge and rested her chin in her hand. Her dark hair fell around her face like a veil of shadows, the violet of her eyes seemed all the more vibrant set in her face, her eyes lined with black the way that some humans were fond of.

"My nana used to tell me that when a person was done with their tea, their fortune could be read in the leaves left over. She could always see something there, or maybe she just said she did…all I saw were tea grains." She smiled, taking a drink of her sake'. "We used to strain the leaves into sill kerchiefs and cool them, then place them over our eyes to stop the wrinkles" she blushed. "I still do."

Jynx giggled then, but she seemed in a slightly better mood for the story, even if the ending was sad. But she was used to stories such as the one that Aiero just told, though if she had to guess there was more behind it than he might be letting on.

She rubbed her finger and thumb together of her free hand. He hadn't seen her draw out the small metal coin which seemed to appear suddenly in her hand. It glinted faintly in the light as she set it on the table and slid it across. It seemed to be a credit chip of some kind, very old fashioned. Something Aierobu had never seen unless it was a relic. And this seemed old and well worn, though not as much as it might have been. On one side was a brush script symbol that probably stood for the worth. On the other side was a symbol of what looked like twin birds or some sort chasing one another around a loop, and at a closer look that circle might have been an eclipse.

Aierobu's eye fell on the coin, and his relaxed expression changes once again. The previously relaxed, comfortable mien shifts to calculation of the puzzle that is placed before him.

He picks up the coin, sniffing it at the edges with his fingertips. "You have kept this with you for a long time, perhaps all the time," he whispers. "I can sme… well, you've left your mark on it. But it's old… you humans used these, did you not? Before your currencies were unified. Which means, to the right person, it's valuable. But I suspect its value to you is even far greater, perhaps immeasurable."

"This is likely of a powerful family, to have backing sufficient to mint their own coin. That it was taken for value suggests many things. And the symbols chosen… closed loops, symmetric symbols. It's hard to attain this level of power and maintain such a stance."

Aierobu looks up, considering the person and not the object. "But… you knew all this, didn't you. You're not testing me. This coin - this is your story, isn't it?"

"You are right" she said. "It is old, and I have carried it with me for a long time…it was my Father's. The first coin earned always passes down, so how far back it goes I am not sure. And yes….my family, back in it's lineage, was able to craft the coin in some very early feudal way of life."

She blinked. "That, is my family crest, Aiero."

She drank her Sake'.

"Shall I trade you a story for a story?" She rested her head in her hands and closed her eyes, summoning the tale into her mind and letting it play out while she narrated to Aiero what he could not see.

"When Kalandis was born into space it was one of the masses that hung between stars in the void. It remained there in the shadows unbeknown to anyone or anything for a long time. And so it went unnoticed as it slowly developed and changed, until at last the raging liquid core was too full of curiosity and life to not venture up past the core. And when it spilled out of the highest peak suddenly there was light….gleaming golden and red against all that darkness between the stars. It is said that the flow of molten formed a beautiful golden bird known to Kalandians as the Fe', and as it took flight for the first time it spotted it's own shadow moving along the planet's surface and mistook it for it's mate, which we call the Hua. And so it chased itself around the planet."

"Some say that is how the sun came to be in our system, some say that in the destruction of it's passing the soil was tilled and the life energy spread and evolved until things came to be as they are now. And some say that every so often in the rarest of occasions the pair meet up and there is a brilliant silver flash, that is the eclipse we seldom see."

"But it is a silly old tale, as much as one can love it, probably based off the wild life. For on Kalandis there is a Fe and Hua bird that are mated pairs…though they are rare and endangered now, and protected as they have been for years by my family. It is where our crest and it's colors come from."

"Of course there is also an old proverb I have heard the lower class say to those aspiring to move up, and even my Father would say it to my Mother. He who chases after his own shadow will eventually tip and fall over it, and only then will it dawn on them how foolish it was to start."

At mention of the coin's heritage, Aierobu gently puts it on top of a napkin and slides it back towards its owner. He sits, wordless and entranced as he listens to the entire story. At the mention of the Hua bird, his gaze falls to his own hand. Holding it outstretched, he looks both at it and through it, to the shadow it casts on the table below.

"Chasing its own shadow," he whispers to himself. "An eternal, pointless chase? Or is it the journey that's important, bringing life in its wake? Or that some chases are worth eternity? Chasing perfection, perfect mates, perfect balances…"

He snaps out of his reverie, smiling gently at Jynx. "I think your story was the far more remarkable gift, considering my own predicament. And I'd love to hear your own story of Kalandis, but I suppose by the rules of our makeshift game I should offer a tale in exchange?"

He ponders a moment, considering. "Ah, perhaps this one. It's one I've told your troubled daughter, though a less edited version. Some years ago, a young man happened to be travelling the universe. The young man, as many are these days, was cursed with feeling the connection between all living things. He had even learned how to take advantage of this, though not nearly as if he had formal training.

"Now our young man idolized the Jedi. He had always been affected by the suffering of others, and did all that he could to alleviate unnecessary pain. Though not formally, he tried to live his life by the highest of moral codes. He did good where he could, not that these deeds might someday be judged but that the deed itself was the worthier part.

"One day, he came to know that a group of beings would assemble in a public place to mourn the passing of a powerful and honorable Jedi. The young man figured that, if there were to be any clues of where to find the Jedi, it would be there. And so he went, though he normally did not attend such events.

"Lo and behold, our young man did indeed go to the event, and he listened diligently to the conversations of all beings there. And eventually, he happened upon a group of beings speaking in open air of secrets of the Force, and students they should like to train. Our young man thought he had finally found his chance. And so he spoke to the Jedi he found.

"And Jedi they were, or so they claimed to be. They even made some use of the Force, as if to test his strength. But when the young man asked if they would train him, they refused. Too old to be trained, one of them replied.

"The young man was despondent. He asked what he should then do, if he was too old to be Jedi and too learned to be ignored by Imperial Bounty Hunters. One of the Jedi suggested the young man learn to help farmers on a remote world by improving the climate for their crops.

"To this, the young man thought these Jedi were foolish. And so he departed on a journey throughout the galaxy to find learning from wherever he might. Eventually he found such training, though they only agreed to take him after he had served the dark side. By the end of his trials, the young man had single handedly seen to the murder of three defenseless beings, two of whom were impaled alive through durasteel walls. To this day the young man continues to occasionally serve the Dark Side, and the acts he has done has caused the suffering and deaths of hundreds of beings.

"And so our story ends… but who committed the greater service to the Dark Side? The young man who fell, or the Jedi who sent him to do so?"

Jynx was quiet for a time, contemplating that though she didn't realize it at first.

"I couldn't know" she decided at last as she looked down at the coin. She traced it's edges on the napkin with her fingers. "What if the supposed Jedi hadn't really turned him away and there was indeed a treasure to be found if he had gone off to do as he had been? If he had helped the farmers…what then if some lowly hermit that was given stock by his neighbors had been a Jedi?"

"There once were two lords who lived in the mountains. Both came from the same house or nobles and were equal in almost every way. One day their Uncle, who was King without heir, was wounded in battle, and he proclaimed that he would pass on his rein to the one that proved to be the better. So they exiled themselves into the wilds of the mountains to train, and for many years they were gone."

"One fateful day the lords happened to meet again on the summit of the mountain, where they found a tea house that had only windows for walls. There was an old woman of the mountains who lived there and she took both lords in, not knowing who they were since she lived as a hermit in a place no one had traveled to."

"There came a time during their stay where on lord asked her to impart wisdom upon him, for he had labored to hunt to provide her with food. And seeing that it was only fair she agreed. 'How can I become as wise and well respected as my ailing uncle?' the first lord asked. 'Into the travel the mountain pass where it is silver with snow, and into the countryside beyond. There you must make yourself a home and live, and only then will you gain these that you seek.' the woman answered him"

"But he was restless and impatient at the thought, and so instead of doing as the hermit had bid him he instead traveled to the city of other men to learn what he could."

"Now soon after the other lord came and asked for the woman to impart her wisdom upon him, for he had labored to gather wood to keep her warm and so she could cook. And seeing that it was only fair she agreed. And so the same question was put to her, and the same answer given. Only this second lord thanked the woman, and after he saw she was stocked well enough to her through, he left to do as she had bid him. He traveled through the mountain pass and experienced the cold and loneliness that dwelt there, but marveled at the solitary views before him. And when he came to the countryside beyond he was tired and thankful to be taken in by those who lived there. And for many years he toiled, tilling the ground, sewing life into the paddies, and taking pride in his work. And one day as he sewed his paddies farther than any of the other farmers had before he came across a beautiful woman rinsing the dye from long strands of silk."

"In time he fell in love with her and brought her back to the village, though she would not marry him. And as he toiled, he made her silks, and with it they were able to buy books from which to learn, but over time he had to see to hard labor and left knowing to his lover. And at last they journeyed home, and this time the going was better. And they saw the old woman had passed on, and it was then the girl said she would marry for the woman had been her mother and now that she was gone it was up to the girl who she would make her husband."

"And the couple returned to the court of the ailing King but the first lord remained absent. So it came that as they waited for his return the Uncle came to understand all the experiences his nephew had come upon, and to love his niece. And in time the lord strove to share his experience in the kingdom and set to work on it, leaving his bride to tend his uncle and keep him company. "

"And the second lord came home one day and was changed also. He had killed many in his pursuit of knowledge, wealth, and power, but when he laid these before his Uncle the King they were not enough to tear his attention away from the bride of his rival lord. Overcome with anger and jealousy he sought to kill the distraction, but she saw him coming and she threw up her sleeves, and he was caught off guard by her sudden gesture and the raiment of the colors. He slipped and fell backwards away from them and down the stairs."

Jynx blinked, pocketing away her coin and her chopsticks. "None of the learnings he had come by had prepared him at all for the woman defending herself and the King. And when the second lord came back he mourned the loss of his kin, and they buried him in a place of honor despite his ways. So the kingdom was passed down…."

Aierobu laughs at the end of your tale. "I've heard this one! It's told differently on Rodia. On Rodia, they're both told to become hunters for a small village. The first one hunts kithar, large feline creatures with better senses of smell than our own. He brings one home after many days. The second goes out and hunts tingu, rodent like creatures of a moderate size. The tingu are plentiful, and the second hunter collects enough to feed the village for several days before the hunt is over. The moral we teach is that, even though a prey may be more prestigeous, it is important to keep one's goals in sight.

"I like your version, though," the young Rodian says as he sips at his re-warmed tea. "I see your point, perhaps our young man should have gone to the remote village and tended the weather? Perhaps he should have and perhaps he chose hastily. On the other hand, he might still be on some remote moon, caring after crops and looking to the stars with longing. One more powerful in their understanding of things might be able to see the two paths and consider them against the weight of the galaxy, but that's for another discussion."

"So, I still mean to have your story of Kalandis. As is fitting and whether you like it or not, I shall ask the polite third time. And in keeping with our impromptu game, I will offer one last tale. This tale I will offer with its own game - buried within this story is the truth, and buried within this story is a lie. The lie speaks to the truth of things, and the truth speaks to the lies we all tell.

Aierobu smiles as he sets his tea down on the table and stands. "There once was a young soldier who was fighting a war. Whether he was on the side of good or evil is irrelevant; what is relevant is that he did many things both good and evil in service of the cause he felt was right.

"One day, the young soldier visted a battlefield on a distant land. The land was a beautiful and fair land, known most deeply for its honorable traditions. The soldier fell in love, and declared that lands such as these were the ones he was fighting to protect. He did all that he was asked in that land, and left it feeling as though he had served it to all that he was capable.

"Time passes, and one day the soldier is asked to return to that land. When he does, he finds that the enemy has captured the territory in his absence and ravaged its people. When he asks what has transpired, the soldier learns that his own crown was unable to afford the newly captured land protection, thus returning that beautiful and distant land to a fate far worse than it had originally endured.

"When the soldier travels through the land, he meets a woman. The woman is a widow of the war, whose heart had been ravaged by the losses her people suffered. And though she did not know it, her nobility and endurance signified the dignity of her people, and the young soldier's love for that distant land was personified in this woman.

"The soldier is given a chance to correct the mistakes and liberate the distant land again, but before he does so he is asked why. If he answered what was in his heart he feared to lose what he had come to value. And so he gave the answer that was most in keeping with what he had come to love.

"Now, what the soldier chose is both the crux of this story and irrelevant to its end. What I can tell you is that the soldier paid for the mistakes with his very soul, but I can also tell you if that you ever sit at a bar and hear a soldier order a Corellian without a twist with a half twist, you might turn to him and ask what he chose yourself."

His tale finished, Aierobu takes the tea up from the table once more and swirls the leaves in it half-way around the cup.

Jynx considered the telling. She had experienced something near to his last story.

"You want to know about Kalandis?" She asked.

She was silent as the food was cleared away, more water brought in for the tea. And she paid the waitress for her services and the food before turning back to Aiero. She had poured the last of the sake, turning over her tea cup onto a napkin.

She took in a deep breath, seemed to hold it for a moment as she shut her eyes to center, then she let it out.

"In the mountains of Kalandis, there is nested a grand estate which spills down the side like a waterfall. And within this estate there presides a noble family who governs the lands that stretch out beyond the scope of what the eye can see from any given point, and of the other places within the system." She paused, her eyes still unopened a she sat. When she finally opened them her gaze was lowered and she traced the rim of her sake' cup with a finger.

"There was also a girl child born into this house, whom was loved…and hated…and spent much of her early years alone in the vast confines of the estate. She had everything that such a child of position could want, toys that none of the other children had, tailored clothes still made in the old style by hand rather than droid…." she sighed. "But she was lonely, shut away in this estate in the mountains with only her nurse to occupy her."

"So she would sneak out at night, down her balcony, through the walled in gardens, and down the pass into the city proper below. At first, the kids there would let her play…but it was only to play with the things she brought and not with her. So she was still alone, you see. And one day, she got caught, as was bound to happen. And so her mother decided that if she was old enough to sneak around, she was old enough to start learning her stead. And she became her mother's shadow…attending her matron everywhere she went in system at first. Now and again she would sneak out, beyond the garden walls, and up the mountain pass a ways where she would sit to be alone when she got tired, though when she came back she was always scolded for not wearing her slippers…"

"The girl matured….as the beginnings of womanhood crept over her like blossoms after the snow her mother and her spent more time tending to primping needs. Kimonos became more sophisticated, the obes became tighter, the shoe heels became taller. Life as a noble woman in grooming became suffocating. More and more the reflection showed the white faced stranger…a mask that was beginning to look less and less like the girl…and more and more like a backwards version of her matron."

"Perceptions seemed to shift…to her matron she was not 'enough'…to her Father she rivaled her mother when it came to beauty, and for a while he even prided himself to comment so.

"Surely this, or some other thing, displeased her matron. When the young woman was old enough, her matron argued that if she was to become governess…since the senate had been disbanded, that she needed to travel out of system and meet with other like minds. So her Father allowed this to come to pass….and she was granted leave with her mother. She found promise at first, but she was kept at the heel and so watched from a distance. She made acquaintances where her matron pushed her to, and she listened in where she was told. Though she didn't understand most of what was being discussed, nor did she feel she cared."

"She met a boy from the neighboring system…whom she had known as a child…a rare friend. And in short time came to understand that such a friendship might be twisted by the matrons of the families…and formed into a marriage in the years to come."

She paused for a moment, drinking the last of her sake'. She pulled the lily from her hair, holding it in her hands like a cup. The white petals where smarted with crimson at the base, like it was spattered with blood. It had a faint but familiar scent…one that seemed part of Jynx as much as detonite was.

"Near the end of one of their visits abroad her matron took her straight to the quarters of a noble and former senator whom she had met only briefly. Her matron left her there…alone…"

"He didin't do anything…but it was implied time and again why she had been left to his company. So her trust betrayed by her matron, she called out to her Father, who saw her home. From that day forth there was a divide between the women of the house…the girl did many foolish things in anger and desperation…meaning to disgrace her matron. But those disgraces effected her Father as well, so he sent her away to learn as he had. For if his noble child would not govern as a matron, she would rule as he did. And this seemed to suit her better in the run of things…but trouble could not be kept at bay for long."

"Even at the Academy problems arose, and instead of turning to a diplomatic solution, or to the council of her Father, she lashed out…and so dishonored her Father once again. And rather than face him, she fled…"

She sighed, lifting the tea cup to reveal the mess of tea leaves left on the napkin, within the confines of a perfect ring of damp and slightly discolored cloth. "I think nana only proposed seeing things in the leaves…like one aspires for things in their future…" she was looking at the mess of leaves. "Who can see a future so clearly that might not come to pass at all? It should change as we change" she sighed and looked up at Aiero.

"I've been back to Kalandis since…and it is in worse shape than I left it only because I returned. The house that seemed to have mended is now fully sundered…my mother hides in exile in the neighboring system…tradition of governing is lost and now consumed fully into the Empire and under the jurisdiction of my Father…Moff Vo of Kalandis Sector. I have dishonored my family enough…first in failing to be a noble representative, secondly in running away to join this rebellion. I am the last heir to that place…and depending on the tides of this war I may never return to it. And even if I could…" she shook her head.

Aierobu listens breathlessly to the entire tale, entranced and enraptured. Several moments pass after its ending before he begins to catch his breath once more in slow, deliberate cycles.

"A courtesan," he says as if considering the sound the word makes as it leaves his mouth. "We do not have these but I was trained… well, I've heard of them, anyway. I have heard that this is a demanding lifestyle, and often unpalatable. I… wish that you would not have been made to suffer so."

Aierobu finishes the rest of his tea and places his cup on the table. He settles back into a half lotus and breathes deeply once. "It happened in the Nellios System, not too far from here. I'd been there before with Melisaande - helped her accomplish her mission parameters and we left. When we returned… well, my story was true to this point and hereafter.

His breath becomes drawn as his eyes narrow as if to keep the images from coming back in. "It was war and it was a massacre. It was brutal and swift, and it was merciless. And the Nellosians, right, had none to blame other than the ones who had opened the door to their misery - us. And I felt… fearful for all the other systems that the Alliance has helped along the way. I felt angry, for the pain the Nellosians had been made to endure. And I hated… the Empire, the War… so many things I hated."

"I had a choice, there on Nellios. The world itself was being drawn out of balance as the Empire pushed harder and harder on its side. And the Alliance had little to combat with, other than me. So I chose. For one of my order to take a side and push with all his might is forbidden, for it brings us out of balance. But I thought to sacrifice myself, that this one world survive. Just the one.

"It turned out my sacrifice wasn't needed - a key Imperial unit defected at the right time, and they brought victory - not I. But I was already careening out of control, and now without anyone to know what I was doing or any reason why. I was seduced by the Dark Side, there on Nellios. And I fell."

Aierobu leans back against a screen. "And that is how I know the Dark Side so well. That is why I must suffer now. I must fulfill what I have given to the Dark Side - it's as much a part of me as anything else. And at the same time I must become stronger, not only physically but in spirit. I must know what I am capable of, to the limit, so that I don't falter again.

"So I fast. I fight. I cut myself. I starve. I hurt. I languish. But most of all, I endure. Because someday, I'll be in that situation again. And I have to be able to help her without losing myself. But now, at the brink of what I feel is me nearly gone… it's just not enough. I'm not there yet, not to the levels I was on Nellios. I'm not suffering enough, and I don't know what else to do."

Jynx shifted, seeming sad and concerned. "Nellios" she said it softly. "I was there once…for the first time since I have joined with the alliance my grooming as a child actually became useful on Nellios. I did not know that war had broken out…I can't imagine Nellios at civil war."

She sat up straighter, thinking on it. "When we left, Councilor Iolan was reinstated withing the governing body. There was talk of starting up a rebel cell on planet…I was to go back there, to make sure that things were going smoothly, and that if anything was needed of us." She frowned, overcome by a deep blush and doefull but angry eyes. "I should have gone back. Did the rebellion send no one back?"

"Iolan…what's become of Nelios since?" She blinked, but seemed concerned. "You say the war there pushed you into the darkness…I suppose for some it will, especially those who are more susceptible to such things. Perhaps in a way it's good….perhaps you're inability to become numb, or accustomed to such things is good…and does not jade your vision of things. But the punishment for it…." she paused, about to speak but seeming to think better of it, or having a realization of things.

"Perhaps we all punish ourselves for our mistakes and short falls…"

"You didn't go back," Aierobu says as his tone shifts to shorter, harsher enunciation. "I didn't go back, though I gave my word. No one went back. We all said we were going to, and we all assumed that someone was going to… but no one went back. And when they asked for help, no one listened. And when we went back to wonder why no one was talking to us, well you can imagine what we found."

"I told myself it's not my job. I'm not part of your organization. I help in-so-far that the person I'm serving is part of your organization. But when I went to Nellios, they assumed that I was a part of the Alliance because I spoke on their behalf. They didn't want to hear that a person responsible for the Alliance's broken promises … wasn't even really part of the Alliance himself.

"So I gave what I had to make it right. And I gave more than I had, far more than I should have. And it didn't matter; once the Crimson Dawn got involved one Rodian is just sewage floating along to the reclamation plant.

"And no, I can't become numb. For better or for worse, even if an afflicted purged every ounce of emotion from within themselves they would be instantaneously flooded with emotions from everywhere else by the power of the Force. If that conduit is open for a person, it is open both ways.

"And that's why… there is a void in the universe. There is suffering that I have caused, and I can't counterbalance it. I tried fixing the problem on Nellios, but it didn't help. So I suffer to match suffering, but it's not working. There's always more suffering. Always more… so I seek more and more. Someday I will die or this will be balanced once more again, but perfect balance is a shadow that I am chasing around a planet. And that is the lie that speaks to the truth - that the foolish, foolish boy ever paid for his debt with his soul. Because he's still paying…"

Aierobu curls against the back wall, burying his head between his knees. "I'm still paying…"

"Aiero….you said it yourself" Jynx moved around to the side opposite and placed her arm around his shoulders.

"It's not your job…but when you make a choice to act it becomes your job. You use Mel as an excuse to tie yourself to it…if a person swears a life debt to another person, and their charge starts to make snap decisions it should be the voice of the one who is life debted that the charge listens to. Because in accepting that life debt they need to care. It's no different than family Aiero…"

"The sword cuts both ways, and if Mel is unaware of her choices' effect on you, she needs to be made aware. We are changed from the ties that bind us. You said you will not take a love because it would effect your job….but does a life debt not do so? Obviously it has an effect. You think and act on Mel's choices, and she is unaware. The balance there was already weighted against you both."

"What happened on Nellios is a travesty, surely. It's not the first time something of this ilk has happened" she said. It was true, on a mission the alliance had put the heat on affiliates that may or may not have actually wanted to help rebels…..and the alliance had pulled out. Jynx had been angry, and so had one or two other members. They vowed not to leave, even if it meant imprisonment….She shook her head. That had been different only in it's end…that those directly effected were taken out, albeit against the will of some. But it was another example of their medaling.

"Sadly it probably won't be the last, though it shouldn't happen at all." She frowned. "I can't speak for Nellios as I have not gone back. But Aiero…you can't suffer it alone. It makes you jaded. I know one other like you who has their ties to the real world. It's dangerous both ways, but it keeps them grounded. Yes, it does effect their decisions….but Mel is doing so too."

"Even those who aren't afflicted suffer it. This is war, it is something that will happen. Because if we could through life without putting stock in it one way or another then what use to live would it be?"

Aierobu's shoulders soften at the touch. "She didn't choose the burden of having an indentured servant; she shouldn't have to make decisions worrying about how they'll affect me. That's what a bodyguard does; thinks and acts on their charge's decisions, invisibly, to ensure their safety as they do what they need to do.

"She also didn't choose to have … me as a servant. Mine is the role of balance. Of all the members of my order, only one other that I know walks the world. And I suspect he's the one you know as well. All the rest, every last one of them is hidden in a monastery so that they don't risk their balance or that of the world. We're too influential - we can shift balances in the largest of ways, by the seemingly smallest of things.

"So it can't be my job, because then I am choosing a side. That's why I must ensure that everyone has their choices, because they must be free that the balance can eventually be neutral. The second I make a choice for someone or affect their decision, a balance may shift. The last time a balance shifted, an Emperor rose to power, the Jedi order all but died, and the entire galaxy fell under oppression. That is a balance we are all still trying to restore, years and years later.

"It doesn't mean I don't want to choose a side. It doesn't mean I don't want it to be my job. It means I can't. All I can do is support the people that are choosing the side I want, or doing the job I would want to do. As long as the overall balance is against, then my support is made safe because the actual shift of the balance is being done by natural means."

Aierobu smiles wistfully as he thinks back to Nellos. "It doesn't mean I don't want to fall in love. I'm probably about the same age as you are, Reon, and though my blood is blue it doesn't mean that much is different. It means I can't, though. And frankly, girl, I was suffering alone pretty well until you happened to find me on the streets. Not that I mind - this meal was fantastic."

She frowned. "You watched me eat" she pointed out.

"I was always told to offer things to others if I was to partake…but no one said I couldn't indulge if they didn't. And I like food….I like food a lot."

"I didn't choose to have your servitude…in fact I rebel against it." She said. "The point is with it there or not I am affected. You CHOOSE to debt yourself to Mel. She accepts it…has she pushed you away from her? Told you to knock it off?" Jynx wondered if she had or hadn't come to think of it.

"Anyone can effect things by their very existence in this life. You don't have to be of any order to do so. Mel effects the lives she saves, or choses not to save. And from those choices it ripples out…like ripples of water from a single drop into the pool…..or the blast radius of an explosive. We effect things all the time, even if we are not there at all. What would have happened if ChiChi and I had not gotten married?"

She closed her eyes. "I can't say for sure. Perhaps I would not be alive to have this talk with you now, not toe adopt the squiblings…perhaps ChiChi would have turned to the darks side long ago, perhaps if not for me he would have never tasted it at all…." she shrugged.

"I can't say what hasn't come to pass. I do know from experience that those who don't think about the ones serving them get burned in the end. Eventually the servants turn. You said before that a servant might serve a king, but the king has to return that service in kind. Otherwise the balance it put off. How many times servants have been bribed in my career I can't count. Bodyguards can be bought depending. Kas' can't be….he is honor bound. Even he gets in the way" she said.

"When he tossed me over his shoulder and ran from the spider…well, I understand his reasons for it now. But had that caused the death of you or ChiChi has he not caused me harm? The loss of an operative under the alliance would weigh on me…not in the same manner as the loss of my husband. But lives are too precious to waste. Even I know that, and I kill en mass'. I can caulk some up to collateral, I can say I don't care…part of it's true. But sometimes I am still bothered by it. I don't set off my own explosions….karma has a way of catching up with me once in a while."

She sighed. "As for your suffering…now that I know I might not like it but I'm not gonna make you stop."

Aierobu looks away. "I am fasting," he says simply. "I am glad that you ate, and happy I could keep you company. If I can't serve you, will you please accept that much?

"As for the Lady Melisaande… she rebels against it in her own way. Initially she refused; my old friend the freighter captain convinced her that she should accept my services. The universe is a dangerous place and she was very newly out of medical school. I, however, had learned much as a tramp freighter's Second Mate. But she always tries to convince me that my service is done. I did save her life once, but I nearly died in the process and she had to save mine again.

"That, I suspect, is partly why she has elected to share my service with your family - to pay it off faster and rid herself of me."

Aierobu shifts gently under Jynx's arm; the end result is a slight increase in the space between. "I am honor bound. You gave me a directive to ensure your husband return alive; I did so despite the fact that I compromised my own secret in the process. And yes, I know that my actions affect the pattern. The point is to make balanced changes, which is far easier if we affect things by supporting the actions of those already part of the pattern. Then the fabric only pulls in a given direction, rather than trying to force a new thread into the weave.

"But we have discussed this," Aierobu says as he gently comes out from under the arm and begins to stand. "You have refused my service other than as a friend to guide your daughter and aid you should your husband fall. These things you shall have, on my life and word. The Lady Melisaande has shared my life-debt service with your daughters; this they too shall have. And I am much smaller than Kas'tor - I shall not get in your way."

Aierobu considers as he looks out the window. "Reon… when we were in the refresher, you said that if I needed assistance, I could ask you. I've been studying the holo-recordings that we made in Ours, of the scrolls in that dark room. And there is a way to make armor, armor that is light but could offer me vital protection against the enemies we face. I … I'm hoping you'll let me have the amulets we found on the planet. I can learn a lot from the scrolls, but without living examples of alchemy a lot of it is beyond me. And… if you ever come across a material called Cortosis, that you might tell me where to find it."

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