First, thanks for the reviews.
sammie teufel: here's more. enjoy. =)
gamorrean princess: since my Revan is based on my personality, I'm honored you find her priceless. =)
Krazed Kaioshin Fangirl: hey, that Bek lookout is worthless. what's she watching for? people to let in? =) thanks for sharing your other thoughts too. feel free to continue in the future. =)
Second, I'm supposed to be writing my thesis this semester, along with at least two other major writing projects, so I can't promise many updates. =(
Carth grumbled the entire elevator ride down. It was rather amazing, not to mention annoying. I wondered if the man was capable of not being unhappy. And if this ride went on much longer, I was going to have a claustrophobic panic attack. On the bright side, that might make me attack Carth, so he might shut up for a change.
The doors finally opened, which shut Carth up momentarily, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Which I regretted immediately, as the air down here was absolutely horrid. I made a mental note to take shallow breaths while here.
As we stepped out onto the ground, two men ran at us, shouting. "You there, up-worlder! Anyone using this elevator has to pay the toll!"
The second one joined in. "Yeah, this is our elevator. If you use it, you've got to give us something!"
Oh, good, they started Carth's grumbling again. Just what I was hoping for. "I don't believe this planet. Even the beggars are trying to shake us down."
The first one spoke again. "Five credits. That's what it costs to use our elevator. Five credits."
I rolled my eyes. "This is a public elevator." Well, sort of. "I'm not paying any toll."
The second one piped up this time, giving a whole new meaning to the word beggar. "Please, have pity on us. We have nothing. All we ask is a few credits to make our lives easier."
I glanced at Carth, who had turned away from the conversation and was grumbling to himself yet again. Wasn't he wonderfully helpful. I sighed. Five credits really wasn't going to make a difference to us, right? "Fine. Here's 5 credits. Please go away now."
They ran away with entirely too much excitement, discussing the numerous possibilities those credits would make on their lives. As I wondered about their level of delusion, I noticed a woman running up to us.
"I'm sorry about that. Those two beggars give everyone in the village a bad name. We aren't all like that, you know. Most of us are good people."
Carth felt the urge to speak. We were going to have to work on that. "I'm sure you are, miss. It's just too bad your little welcoming committee is there to give people a bad first impression."
Ok, he needed to stop talking, so I interrupted before he could say anything else. "My name's Shara. Who are you?"
She turned and smiled at me. "My name is Shaleena. You're from the up-world, aren't you? I've never seen it. I was born here in the Undercity. Is it as nice as they say up there?"
It really depends on your definition of nice. The air was marginally better. "It's nothing special."
She looked skeptical. "Not to you, I suppose. But you're probably used to its beauty by now. I've never been to the surface, but sometimes I think I can see it in my dreams. The sun, the sky, the stars... it all sounds so wonderful." I suppose if you've never seen those things, they would seem wonderful. "Gendar, the leader of our village, tells me I should spend more time trying to improve things down here and less time dreaming about something I can never have. Maybe he's right. You probably think I'm a fool, having dreams of a place I've never even seen. But when I was little, Rukil used to tell me stories of what it was like up there."
Ok, so I got from the rambling that Gendar was the leader of the village, if it could even be called that. But who was Rukil? "Rukil?" I braced myself for more rambling.
"Rukil's the oldest man in the village. The kids call him Rukil Wrinkle-Skin, but he's a kind man. He used to tell me the greatest stories when I was a little girl. I still like to listen to his tales about the Promised Land, even though I know they're just legends. But it helps to make the Undercity seem less... less dark, somehow."
That's the most interesting thing she's said so far. I wanted to talk to this guy. "Where can I find him?"
She looked thoughtful. "He's wandering around somewhere on the south side of the village. He doesn't move too far; it's hard on his bones. He's over 100 years old. The children laugh at him and people think he's crazy because of his stories about the Promised Land, but he's really just a kind old man."
That was enough info from her, actually. "Thanks. I'll be going now."
She looked supremely disappointed. "Oh. Ok. Well, if you ever need anything, or if you just feel like talking, come back and see me. I hardly ever get a chance to speak to someone from the up-world."
I really didn't need this hero worship. Neither did Carth. He got enough from the Republic troops.
As we headed towards the south end of the village, I noticed a distraught woman standing in front of a gate. I frowned. It clearly wasn't the gate out of the village, so I walked over to take a look.
The woman stopped me before I could get too close. "Wait, up-worlder. You can't go through this gate. There is too much danger and suffering beyond. For your own sake, turn back."
Well, that was melodramatic. "Danger and suffering? What are you talking about?"
She waved an arm at the gate. "The villagers infected with the rakghoul disease have been quarantined beyond this gate. At any moment they could be transformed into terrible monsters."
Carth said what I was thinking. "So you just lock them away in a cage?"
"For the sake of the village, we have to keep the infected ones locked away. And when they finally do transform into rakghouls we'll let them destroy each other."
Well, that did make perfect logical sense, even if it was a bit cold. "There must be something someone can do."
She sighed, looking completely defeated. "Nothing can be done for the infected villagers. Even the serum to counteract the rakghoul disease wouldn't be any use, now. Nobody would be foolish enough to risk going into the pens to give them the cure; the infected ones could transform into rakghouls and attack them at any moment."
Ok, that was a little too hopeless for my tastes. "So you'll just leave the infected ones to die?"
"I can't help the infected ones. They have to die so that the rest of the village can live. I accept this."
Not much of a healer, but her logic was sound. I pondered how depressing her job must be, having to watch her people die hopelessly, but it didn't make sense to me that she wouldn't fight harder for a cure, or convince people to dispense the serum somehow. They had weapons down here, right?
I realized that I was staring at her, so I gave her a quick nod and headed back on course.
We were approaching a tent with a man standing stiffly in front of it. This must be Gendar, the village leader. No one else looks this stiff; he must be doing it to look important. He called out to us. "Greetings, up-worlder. We rarely see your kind here in the Undercity. I find it strange that so many of you have come down from the surface recently."
Carth had to respond. "No offense, but I can see why people normally avoid this place."
Note to self: consider kicking Carth when he says dumb things.
Fortunately, Gendar was a forgiving man. "Why have you come into this dark and sunless place? Is there something you need of me or my village? I will help you however I can."
I asked the obvious questions. "Who are you people? Why do you live here in the Undercity?"
"We are the Outcasts - shunned from the surface for our crimes and banished here to the Undercity. We banded together to form this village that we might survive in this hostile environment. I am Gendar, the leader of this village: as my father was, and as was his father before him. Many of us have been here for generations, our ancestors cast down long ago. There is no return to the surface for us, or our descendants. But somehow we manage to survive amidst the filth and roaming bands of deadly rakghouls." Great, it's a prison colony. On the bright side, they seemed to be really friendly prisoners.
Carth spoke again. "What a horrible way to live." We really had to work on this. I kept myself from kicking him, for now at least.
"Life down here can be difficult. It can break the spirit. Many in the village have become bitter and hopeless. Especially those newly cast down. But life goes on, and we must try to make the best of what we have. And maybe someday we will find a better life."
Time to get down to business before schemes of grandeur hit Carth, or worse, me. "I'm looking for a Twi'lek named Mission Vao."
He nodded. "Yes, I have seen this Twi'lek many times, though I have never spoken to her. She and her Wookiee companion often pass through our village on their way to explore the sewers." I wondered how they get down here, anyway. Despite the boredom of the elevator guard, I couldn't imagine him letting them through.
"How can I get to the sewers?"
"There are two entrances into the sewers from the Undercity: one to the north-east of our village, the other to the south-east. But the sewers are dangerous, UpWorlder. If you dare to travel those dark tunnels you would be wise to go heavily armed, unless you wish to become a meal for the rakghouls and other foul creatures. Should you have need of anything else, come speak to me. I represent the entire village and I will do my best to help you however I can."
I was starting to like his helpfulness. I thanked him and turned to head towards the village exit, but was stopped by a ranting voice.
"You! You come from the world above! Is this the time of destiny, then? Is this a portent of the salvation of my people? Or merely another false sign to mislead us from the path? Are you the herald of prophecy? The beacon to guide us through the darkness? Or are you merely another harbinger of shattered dreams and unfulfilled promises?"
Carth leaned over and whispered in my ear. "Be careful. This one might be crazy enough to be dangerous."
Thanks Carth, you're so helpful. Before I could formulate a response, the ranting started again. "Speak to me, up-worlder! Tell me what fate you unleash upon us - salvation or damnation! Speak, up-worlder - I beg you!"
The first question I could come up with was incredibly stupid. "Could I ask you some questions?"
"A question. You are uncertain. Bewildered. Perplexed. Understandable, I suppose. Even after a hundred years of life I myself still become confused at times." I could imagine that. "Perhaps I can make things more clear. Some things, at least. My name is Rukil, the oldest Outcast here in the village. Rukil Wrinkle-Skin, the children call me sometimes."
This was Rukil? And here I thought he was the village idiot. No wonder people laugh at him. But Shaleena spoke highly of him, so I wonder what she saw in him. "I'm Shara. What do you want from me, Rukil?"
"Once I was honored for my wisdom, but over time the villagers fell away from the true path. Eventually there was only a single apprentice who followed me - and now she is gone, too."
"The true path?" This better not lead to a sales pitch.
"No, no, no. Not yet. I must be wary. Careful. You may be a false savior. Dare I share my secrets with you? No. Not until you prove yourself."
I started to take a deep breath, but remembered the lack of air quality, so I stopped myself. "And how can I prove myself?"
"My apprentice is lost. I sent her out into the Undercity to find... well, I cannot tell you. Not yet. Sadly, my apprentice has not returned. Please, up-worlder, will you help an old man? Will you seek out my apprentice in the Undercity? Her name is Malya. I must know of her fate, whatever it may be. I must know what she found."
My pessimism told me that she was dead, probably killed by rakghouls, which would be why she hasn't returned. But something told me not to actually say that out loud to him, so I simply agreed to help him.
"Finding her may be difficult; Malya could be anywhere in the Undercity, but if you find her I will know you to be our true savior! Only then can I reveal my secret knowledge to you."
I don't think I want to be a true savior. Although I guess that would be better than being a false savior. After promising to keep him updated on my progress, if there was any, Carth and I continued heading towards the village exit.
We convinced the guard to open the gate, then was attacked by rakghouls pretty much the second he closed the gate. I had to admit the guard had good timing.
I really didn't like those things. They looked like monsters out of a fairy tale, and smelled really bad too. And they had glowing green spit, which I assume contained the poison that caused rakghoul disease.
As we dispatched the last one, a blue ball of energy came barreling around the corner. "Please, you have to help me! Nobody else is going to help me. Even the Beks won't help me. But I can't just leave him there. He's my friend! You'll help me, won't you?"
I put my blasters away and rested my hands on her shoulders. "Slow down, Mission. What's wrong?"
She was hysterical, hyperventilating as she spoke. "It's Zaalbar. He's in trouble – big trouble! We have to help him. If we don't they'll sell him into slavery!"
I pulled her into a hug, making sure not to touch her lekku, and caught Carth smirking out of the corner of my eye. "Calm down. Take a deep breath." Well, actually, you might not want to do that, but it seemed like the right thing to say. She actually listened and took a few deep breaths, which did seem to calm her down somewhat. "What happened?"
Her breathing was pretty much under control, so she took a step back from me to talk. "Me and Zaalbar were just wandering around here in the Undercity. You know, looking for stuff we could find, just kind of exploring. We do it all the time."
"I guess with a Wookiee at your side you've got to figure you can handle the odd rakghoul attack." What was with Carth and his unnecessary commentary anyways? She was distraught enough.
Fortunately, she ignored him. "Only this time they were waiting for us. Gamorrean slave hunters. We didn't even have a chance to run. Big Z threw himself at them, and he roared for me to run. I took off; I figured Zaalbar would be right behind me. But there were too many of them. He couldn't get away. They're going to sell him to a slaver, I just know it!" She looked on the verge of hysteria again.
"Do you know where they took him?"
She shrugged. "I don't know for sure, but those Gamorreans like to hang out in the sewers. The stink reminds them of home, I guess. That's probably where they took Big Z." It can stink more than it does here? How insane.
Remembering that we were looking for her to show us into the Vulkar base, I had a question. "There's an entrance into the Vulkar base in the sewers, right?"
She was a smart girl. "If you help me get Big Z back, I'll show you a way into that Vulkar base."
Now there was a deal even Carth couldn't refuse. I nodded, and saw Carth doing so as well.
Her enthusiasm returned. "It's a deal. As soon as we get Big Z back, I'll show you a way into that Vulkar base. Now, come on. We have to find Zaalbar before they sell him to slavers or worse." I half expected her to grab me by the wrist and start dragging me towards the sewers.
"Do you know where he's being kept?" Apparently Carth wasn't listening to the entire conversation.
Mission was either smart enough to humor him or too distraught to remember that she had already answered that question. "The Gamorreans make their camps in the sewers. I bet that's where we'll find Zaalbar, and that's where I'll show you the secret entrance into the Vulkar compound."
As she turned and headed off towards what I assumed would be the sewer entrance, I noticed a Sith patrol walking towards us, so I grabbed Mission by the arm and pulled her behind me.
"You there! Civilian! This is a restricted area! What are you doing down here?"
Well, time to see how well these papers hold up. "I've got all the proper security papers." I reached into my pack to grab them, but the guard waved me to a stop.
"Security papers? Oh... you're one of those trackers the Commander sent down, right? They should have given you an armed escort – it's nasty down here! We've already lost one patrol. We figure the rakghouls got them. We've had so many encounters with those things we've actually run out of rakghoul serum. Plus we've had several skirmishes with looters from those Lower City swoop gangs. I'm telling you, we should just stay in the Upper City where we're in control!"
They've already lost one patrol? I wonder if that patrol had any serum left. "You said you lost one patrol already?"
Before I could finish asking where they were, he interrupted. "Oh, is that why you're down here? Search and rescue? I didn't think they would send anyone. They were in the southern section of the Undercity when we lost contact. I would have gone to investigate, but my orders are to search for those crashed escape pods, even if it means leaving another patrol to die." Sith soldiers were almost as talkative as Republic soldiers.
Ok, now to get rid of him so we could continue what we were doing. "You just follow your orders and keep looking."
"Hey, I'd never disobey my orders. I'm not a fan of court martials and executions." That would be the expected response for anyone with mental capacity. "I was just talking, you know? Nothing anyone has to mention to the Commander. Come on patrol, let's get back to it. The sooner we get this search done the sooner we can get out of this mutant infested hole. Move out!"
Good, they left. I turned to Mission and Carth and explained my thoughts. "Let's see if we can find that lost patrol before heading into the sewers. They might have some rakghoul serum leftover, so that'd be handy to have around. I assume there are rakghouls in the sewers?" Mission nodded. "He said south, so that way." I pointed in what was apparently the correct direction, since no one corrected me, and we headed that way.
We soon stumbled over a group of corpses, one still wearing Sith armor. Figuring that this was the lost patrol, I started looting. Mission looked disturbed, so she helped Carth keep watch.
Which was a really good thing to do, because the second my fingers wrapped around the rakghoul serum, Mission let out a scream, letting us know there were rakghouls around.
I really had to say that Mission was a wonderful shot. She may not have a very powerful blaster, and she may not have done much damage, but she very rarely missed. I made a mental note to get her a better gun.
Once we dispatched the rakghouls, she led us towards the nearest sewer entrance. On the way there, we were once again interrupted, this time by a very nervous man.
"Don't... don't move! I'm... I'm not afraid to use this blaster if I have to!"
A very large man turned around. I could almost hear him rolling his eyes. "Settle down, kid. We've already lost enough men to those damn rakghouls! The last thing we need now is more casualties from a needless firefight." He turned to me and looked me up and down. "Hm. By the looks of you I'd say you're down here for the same reason we are: to salvage something from those downed Republic space pods. Let me give you some advice: forget about it. Do yourself a favor and just head back the way you came."
Who was this guy anyway? "Are you threatening me?"
He somehow puffed himself up. "Mandalorians don't make threats, we make promises. But I'm just trying to give you a friendly warning. This isn't a good place to stand around chatting. The Undercity is crawling with rakghouls. I've already lost half a dozen men to those monsters."
What a wonderful time to bring that up, because immediately after he said that, the very nervous man started chattering again. "Canderous, I heard something! Over there, in the shadows! Sounded like a rakghoul!"
Canderous hefted his unnecessarily huge gun. "Looks like we've got company! Get those blasters ready, boys!"
I leaned over and whispered to Mission. "Who's he?"
She looked nervous about talking with rakghouls so near, but she replied. "Canderous Ordo. He works for Davik."
We ended up helping Canderous and his useless crew fight off the rakghouls. He was not happy. The very nervous man lay dead near his feet. "Damn! I told Davik this salvage mission was a bad idea. His men aren't trained for this kind of thing, and I can't babysit them all. Okay, boys. We're getting out of here before I lose anyone else. I can't carry all this salvage back by myself." What a great reason not to lose anyone else. "You'd be smart to get out of here as well. Even if you can handle the rakghouls I doubt there's anything worth finding anymore."
"What does that mean?"
"Davik sent me down here with this motley crew to scavenge whatever we could from the Republic escape pods that crashed during the recent battle overhead. But the Lower City gangs got here first. Anything worthwhile in those Republic pods is probably in their hands now. Davik won't like that." He turned back to his men before I could even think of responding. "Come on boys, let's move out."
I thought it was interesting that although he was the largest, clearly strongest man in the group, he carried the least. His unnecessarily huge gun probably weighed a ton though.
As soon as they were out of sight, Mission started us towards the sewers again. On the way, I looted a few more bodies, this time finding the body of Rukil's apprentice. She had a journal, so I shoved it into my pack, and made a mental note to talk to Rukil next time we passed through the village.
Mission stopped in front of a nondescript looking gate, indicating that this was the entrance to the sewers. As we climbed down the ladder, I made yet another mental note to invest in a gas mask or something that might allow me to breathe without gagging. Face it, we were voluntarily going into a sewer of a rather polluted planet. This just couldn't end well.
After turning a few corners in the sewers, we ran into a few Gamorreans. I never thought I'd see someone be excited to see Gamorreans, but Mission was positively bouncy at the sight of them, despite the fact that we needed to fight them.
Gamorrean intelligence is inversely proportional to their size. It's rather fascinating. We dispatched a room full of them with absolutely no problem at all.
As I looted, Carth stood guard in the hall, and Mission ran up to a door, fascinated and excited. "Hmm. Look at this. This is one of those old style manual locks. No computer codes or nothing. The sewers is the only place you'll see one of these on Taris. You can't use conventional security spikes on these old locks, but don't worry. I've come across them before. I've rigged up a little device that should do the trick."
The door squeaked open to reveal a rather weary looking Wookiee. He sighed. "You're a sight for sore eyes, Mission." I was amazed once again by the nature of his language.
She practically flew at him, wrapping her arms as far around him as she could, and mumbled into his fur, sounding somewhat teary. "I'm glad to see you too, Big Z! You didn't think I'd forget about you – Mission and Zaalbar, together forever!"
Probably wanting her to untangle herself from him, Zaalbar waved a hand at us. "Who's that with you?" Apparently he wasn't paying attention when we met in the cantina.
Mission pulled herself away from him and smiled at us. "These are my new friends, Big Z. Without them I never could have got you out."
Something in me told me that formality would be appropriate here, so I gave him a slight bow. "Good to meet you, Zaalbar. I'm Shara Yun."
He bowed back to me. "You know the language of my people? That is rare among your species; I am impressed. You have saved me from a life of servitude and slavery. There is only one way I can ever repay such an act: I will swear a lifedebt to you."
Mission looked shocked. "A lifedebt? Are you sure?"
He rumbled back at her. "I am sure, Mission. This is an issue of great importance to me. Because of our great physical strength, Wookiees are being used as slave labor on our own homeworld. They see us as brutes and animals to be exploited. Over the years slavers have taken many of my people; we must always be on guard against raids against our villages. When the Gamorreans captured me, I thought I was doomed to a life of servitude. I have been saved from such a fate, and the only way I can repay that is through a lifedebt."
Mission turned to me, still amazed. "Big Z swearing a Wookiee lifedebt to you. Wow - this is major. Do you realize what this means?"
It was clear to me that a lifedebt was one of the most sacred vows a Wookiee could ever make, but I really needed the explanation to be sure. "It's some sort of loyalty vow, right?"
"A lifedebt is the most solemn vow a Wookiee can make. It means he'll stay by your side for the rest of your life. Wherever you go, whatever you do, Zaalbar will be with you."
Apparently I was getting that Wookiee bodyguard I wanted after all. I can't actually say that I wanted him to follow me around for the rest of my life, but it was obviously of great importance to him, and I wasn't about to argue with a Wookiee, so I nodded my understanding.
Upon noticing my understanding, Zaalbar straightened up, something I wasn't sure he could even do given how tall he already was, and started reciting the vow. "In the presence of you all I swear my lifedebt. Forever after I will be by your side, Shara Yun. May my vow be as strong as the roots of the great wroshyr trees of Kashyyyk."
I bowed my head at him. "I'm honored to accept your vow, Zaalbar." Part of me wondered if he was going to make a similar vow to Carth, who also participated in his rescue, but then I realized that it'd be very difficult for him to physically fulfill a lifedebt to more than one person.
Mission piped up. "I guess this means you're stuck with me too."
That's what I had figured anyways. "I'm glad to have you aboard, Mission."
She gave me a slightly nervous smile. "I guess I still owe you one secret path into the Vulkar base. That was the deal, wasn't it? Don't worry, I know a backdoor into that scum den!"
I really didn't feel the need to bring her along. "Just tell me how to get there."
She wasn't going to take any of that. "I better come with you - the Vulkars put up a force shield to keep the sewer dwellers out. I'm one of the only non-Vulkars on Taris who can get you past it. I can't remember exactly how to get there, but I know it was somewhere here in the sewers. Over to the northeast, if I remember right. I just hope the rancor monster isn't still there."
Carth overheard that one. "Rancor? Are you serious?"
Mission nodded. "There used to be a rancor monster that made its nest in that part of the sewers. Pretty much eats anything it can get its claws on. That thing is huge! Luckily rancors aren't too bright. I was able to sneak past it before, so I'm sure we'll figure something out. That is, unless you want to change your mind."
I sighed. I was not about to deal with a rancor and traipse through an enemy base on an empty stomach. "How about this: why don't we go back to the apartment, restock, eat, get some rest, and then come back?"
Carth smirked. "Sounds good."
As we turned to leave, another door opened and more Gamorreans spilled out. Zaalbar hadn't had time to find a weapon yet, so he fought them empty-handed while the rest of us used our weapons. Once the Gamorreans were dispatched, Mission ran over to a footlocker and picked the lock. She let out a gasp as it opened.
"Big Z, it's your bowcaster!"
He let out a satisfied howl at seeing his weapon again, and grabbed for it. However, I had a better idea. That Wookiee strength would be better served with blades than the bowcaster. I gave him a vibroblade, Mission gave him her vibroblade, and she took the bowcaster. That seemed fair. She was an excellent shot, she just needed a better weapon.
I wondered how I was going to get past the Sith guards with a Wookiee in tow, even with my invincible security papers. Oh well. We'd just have to wait and see.