In Vino Veritas


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"Still don't like this. None of this. Bad feelin' in my gut," Yal was muttering as they made their way back out of the Felina. "High Chancellor sá idla, I ain't trustin' a man when I can't see his shoes. Fancy desks n' robes n' all, he's got stuff he isn't tellin'."

She grimaced, rubbing at her elbow, then reached for the tin canteen at her belt. Flipping the lid, she took a quick swig, grimaced a little harder, and popped the cap back on with her thumb.

"N' now we're meetin' with, wot, that tom'k Jedi? Doin' his homework for him? Why else he'd tell us whatever he's got if he's too - too lazy to handle it hisself?"

The pilot huffed.

"Got better stuff to be doin' than talkin' to one of them lot. Dunno why I gotta come."
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The Hired Gun

Xadok led the way outside of the Felina, now dressed and geared up as befitting a mercenary of his calibre. He deliberately left most of his more impressive firepower behind, however, choosing instead to rely on his holdout blades and blasters. The same went for his helmet, which left his head unobstructed and unarmoured. As much as he hated the smell of Coruscant - or any other ecumenopolis, in truth - and distrusted every last one of its inhabitants, he didn't want to wander about looking like he was actively trying to get into a firefight or kill someone. That aspect of his business could wait for a later day.

For now, he needed to appear casual yet professional. Which was funny, when one considered that he brought his pilot, Yal, along—the very same pilot who now (un)happily expressed her annoyance at being told to do so beside him.

"We don't have to trust the schutta to work for him, kid. People like the Chancellor, I've found that they tend to keep their cards close to themselves, even while the table burns around them," he pointed out, shrugging. It certainly wouldn't be the first time they've accepted a high-risk job from a high-profile client. A shrapnel wound near the small of Xadok's back, long since healed and scarred over, could attest to that fact. That and a few thousand credits in the crew's shared profit pool. After all, you sometimes have to take big risks to get big rewards. And boy, the reward they were potentially looking at right now was unlike anything else Xadok's ever seen. It was a ticket out of this life. The promise of a better future. He'd be right and truly krong'd if he'd turn such an opportunity down. "I say they're entitled to keep their secrets. I could care less, so long as we get paid as promised at the end of it all. I can afford to argue about the finer details when I'm nice and retired on a resort world somewhere, reminiscing about my past as a mercenary, still so full of vim and vigour."

Chuckling, he fished out a cigarette from his coat - an expensive brand, flavoured with spice and paid for by one of the kyber crystals he flaunted at the Chancellor's office - and placed it between his lips, his eyes looking out at the Coruscanti skyline around the spaceport.

"And I brought you along because I just thought you needed some fresh air for a change," Xadok continued, replying easily to her grievances with a teasing smile. He lit the cigarette, then, taking in a long puff before continuing, smoke spilling out from the corners of his mouth as he spoke. "Didn't want you to rot inside that ship all alone, absentmindedly playing with the airbrakes or whatever it is that you pilots usually do when left unsupervised. And 'sides, don't try and tell me you'll turn down the chance for a free drink or two."

He had called a taxi over on his holo before he stepped out of the Felina, and his eyes now scanned the traffic near the spaceport for a sign of the airspeeder that bore the number of their ride. The destination? A familiar haunt in the lower district of the massive ecumenapolis, one that the Jedi - Aorri - often frequented. The very same one whose name and address he'd sent to Xadok over the holo an hour or so ago, with a short message attached.

Got something to trade.

"As for that drunken kriffhound of a Jedi, we need to talk to him precisely because he's too lazy to do anything by himself," he answered Yal's final grievance, simply and matter-of-factly. His teeth flashed white in a vicious smirk, stark against the crimson hue of his skin. As much as he liked to present the image of the friendly and bragadocious mercenary, Xadok could be a cunningly ruthless bastard when it came to getting people to do and say what he wanted. Especially if it benefitted him at the end of the day. "Whatever he's got, we'll use it for our benefit. And if he has nothing worth pursuing? Well, I'll still learn a thing or two—you can count on that."

He took another drag of his cigarette, feeling the slight tingling of the spice in the tips of his fingers as he did. His eyes settled on Yal, then, staring at her as if sizing her up.

"Should know by now that I'm a damn good judge of character, kid."

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Yeah. Yeah, was a reasonable enough way to go about it, she guessed. In a way, Xadok was right. They'd taken jobs from untrustworthy guys before, had high risk jobs for high pay before. But - this was different, wasn't it? The usual sort wore it on their sleeve. You knew you weren't supposed to trust them. Some of them didn't even want to be trusted. But here -

Nothing twinged her more than bad people acting like they were good. Like they knew best. Like they were doing a service.

She hissed through her teeth, shoulders slumping.

"Yea. Yea, guess it makes sense," she assented. "Lotta credits on the table."

She brushed off the - joke? dig? - about free drinks with a smirk, wrinkling her nose at the acrid spice smoke and shifting to lean against a nearby signpost. No point pushing. Not now, at least.

"Do a lot more than sittin' around fiddlin' with the airbreaks. Just ask the old man what happens when you don't keep a ship happy, he gets it. And sides... you don't gotta take me out for walks."

She wasn't going to complain, though. Pointless or not - it felt nice to be included. Tilting her head up absently to the sky while Xadok scanned for the shuttle, she listened somewhat idly, but turned to meet his eyes when he looked her way. Her lip quirked up slightly.

"Su vlwunu ku. Tryna tell me somethin', huh?"
The Hired Gun

"I don't know, kid, am I?" Xadok's eyes bored into Yal's with a challenging glint behind them, his browline raised in an inquisitive gesture. After a moment, he chuckled and looked away, observing the sky once again as he drew more smoke into his lungs. "In our line of work, it pays to know how to get a good measure of someone fast. Because some people, you can read 'em like an open datapad the moment you spot 'em. But others? Not as kriffing easy—though you might think otherwise, to begin with. Takes years and a whole lot of grief to know the difference."

A flicker of emotion, transient, played across his features. A flaring of the nostrils, a slight shudder of his lekku, a brief glint of the sharp canines of his mouth. Something of a mix between frustration and some other indescribable emotion. Whether directed at the cityscape before him or a lingering thought, none could tell. None but he himself, that is.

"Though I've learned one thing that helps to deal with that problem." Just as quickly, that ever-present smirk returned, washing away that previous expression from his face as if it never even existed. His eyes registered the approach of the taxi, a rapidly growing speck among a thousand other vehicles polluting the Coruscanti skyline, and he continued, "Kut itosh e'uchat — in drink, there is truth. An old Twi'lek saying, I'm sure you've heard."

Soon enough, the airspeeder stopped on the platform in front of them, its doors opening automatically to reveal empty seats and no driver in sight. Droid-operated, as most things were this high up in the planet. Xadok flicked his cigarette away as he regarded the taxi in front of him. It was a deliberate gesture, owing to the fact that he had hardly even smoked half of it, though he made no show of acknowledging that fact. Instead, he looked at Yal and cocked his head towards the vehicle.

"Let's go," he urged, stepping inside first and settling in on one of the seats, right behind where the driver should be. "Time we meet this Jedi of ours."

Yal shrugged.

"Could be sleepin' with a blaster every night waitin' for me to try n' swipe my ship back," she poked, but she grinned back. They'd come a long way. Things'd been - awkward, to say the least, starting off, but it wasn't like she had anywhere else to go. Didn't mean she knew the man, though. Talked about reading people, but kept himself shut off in turn. Way of the trade, she supposed.

See - there it was now. Was that - anger? Loathing? Grief?

She couldn't tell, and she wouldn't press. Wasn't her place to.

"Kut itosh e'uchat," the pilot echoed, taking a swig of her canteen for good measure.

"My pa said somethin' like that, though he was the drinker in it." She laughed, more bitter than mirthful, and took another swig. "Paranoid w'lnuch'a."

As the taxi arrived, she slipped into the backseat opposite Xadok, popping the cap back on her canteen and settling into the chair.

"You gonna get him drunk, or is he gonna be drunk when we get there?"
The Hired Gun

Xadok sat quietly, observing the Coruscanti skyline. Peering out of the airspeeder’s window, the city slid by like dark water, lit up by its numerous lights and neon signs. In moments like this, the place appeared almost impressive. Coruscant. Galactic Heart. Capital of the Republic. It seemed almost like a place of possibility and wonder, its uncountable skyscrapers stretching high towards the skies above, far away from the grime and dirt that truly existed at the planet’s core.

Being reminded of that, Xadok’s face twisted into a grimace. No, Coruscant was never impressive - would never be impressive, in fact. The whole place was just another Nar Shadda, but all glamoured up, hiding its festering sores beneath layers of makeup like a dancer he once knew. New over old layers of eyeliner and eyeshadow to hide the way her eyes looked sunken with each passing night, feeling nothing and everything at the same time, hiding how little she was sleeping as she stumbled through life like a half-remembered dream. The only life she ever knew and ever would know. Funny, he mused, that this was what he was being paid to potentially save. The festering corpse of an uncaring, unfeeling empire - for it was an empire, no matter what the Senators in their high seats would like to say - that should’ve died long ago. Its crown jewel a sore on the heart of the galaxy.

It would’ve been kinder to simply let it meet its end, Xadok thought. But he never had much of a kind streak in him.

Yal’s question pulled Xadok out of his observations, and he regarded her with a raising of his browline, face narrowed in contemplation as if he was making sure she’d really said something to him.

“Hmm? Oh, the Jedi?” He eventually queried, again to make sure. After a moment, he shrugged. “I’d bet creds that he’ll be at least three drinks in by the time we make it there.”

Leaning back against his seat, he crossed his arms over his chest, a devious smirk spreading across his face. “I reckon I’d be a stingy kriffing bastard if I don’t buy him at least a dozen more, eh, kid? After all… Kut itosh e'uchat.”