I waited until the door closed and then sat down. I was shaking. In my life I had never experienced such a sudden and powerful waking premonition before. I knew that such things happened because I had read about it in the little Mandalorian journal my father had given me. Its author often had terrible premonitions and he wrote about them, many of which came true after the fact. His Jedi teacher had told him that premonitions about the future did not always accurate and that they were unpredictable and that interfering with things because of them was often a very bad move. I had always felt that he should have listened to his teacher but now I found my self in much the same situation and I suddenly understood his point of view much better. I got up and made my way to the galley to make some tea. I fiddled with my bone trader necklace.
The process of becoming Akiana’myshk’apavjäska was strange and daunting. The clothes were beautiful and functional and made from a fabric that looked heavy and thick but was neither. There was a long sleeved under shirt, a seamless over tunic with a square neckline and three quarter length sleeves that were wide, sitting just below the elbows. The tunic went to mid thigh, and was split up the sides to just below my waist. The pants were wide legged, and almost looked like a very long skirt. They could either be worn loose or tucked into the heavy soled boots I usually wore. Everything was dyed some deep shade of a blue that was so dark it almost looked black. Over the tunic and pants went a long, sleeveless robe that was meant to be worn open. It had only one ornate clasp at the top and around the collar, continuing down front seam were decorative and exquisite embroidered patterns, a sort of knot-work, mythical creatures twisting and turning into each other. Over this was worn the outer cloak. This was much as the one I had worn on the trek through the jungles on Myrkr, except it matched the rest of the clothes and fit me better. The sleeves were long and cuffed, and the hood was large cowl like and deep. It too was full of ornate embroidery and fastened at the neck with an ornate bone toggle. There were even heavy leather gloves which also matched.
Before I put on the cloak I went in to the ‘fresher to apply the face mask make up. I thought it would feel yucky but I was wrong about that as well. It was surprisingly easy to apply and went on evenly and smoothly. The white base first then the black for the decoration. As I drew out the markings in an imitation of the ones Za’ar had placed on my face with his fingertips, I suddenly and almost desperately wished that he was here. I had braided my hair back and then knotted it up with the Bone needle, then I smoothed some of the black mask paint over my head to further hide the redness of my hair. When I was done I stared at my reflection in the mirror. I no longer recognized myself. I wondered how Thrawn had known to give me this outfit now. If that had just been over cautiousness and coincidence on his part or had he really known far more than he had let on about what I was going to end up doing. I would have to ask him if I got back in one piece. Whatever the reason for his gift, I was grateful.
I slung the small leather satchel that held my important things over my head, across my shoulder then I put on the cloak and picked up the Culling staff. Za’ar had given me a Bone Trader name, Thrawn had somehow managed to provide me with clothes to look the part, now I had to find the person that fit. I stood very still for a moment and closed my eyes. I had been taught well by Master Kjestyll and relaxing to find my center was no longer as difficult as it had once been. I breathed and let the force surround me. I could sense its presence and feel its weight. When I was ready I opened my eyes and sighed. Whatever happened would happen and I could only deal with things as they came. I opened the ship's hatch and watched the ramp slide down. The air was bitingly cold but it was refreshing and it woke me from the inside out. I locked the ship with the new voice code and waited until the door had closed before I made my way to the cantina. I was pretty certain that his place would make the one in Mos Eisley look like a palace and when I stepped through the doorway I was not disappointed.
Rothana is a planet no one goes to unless they have to and unless one has work or business here it’s not a planet anyone stays on for too long. It is home to the Rothana Heavy Engineering Company, which is a subsidiary of the Kuat Drive Yards. This in itself should be enough to tell anyone all they need to know.
It is a cold planet filled with heavy duty industrial buildings where they build ships and transports. They also manufacture war machines here. The main city, Dyrsk, is not so much a city but rather a huddle of living quarters surrounded by the factories which are mammoth. The only people who live here are the workers and the absolute dregs of galactic society. If people though that Nar Shaddaa was bad, they had never been here.
The cantina was a dimly lit, filthy building filled with factory workers, low life’s and aliens from all ends of the galaxy. The air was rank and filled with smoke, the sharp scent of sweat and reeked of stale beer. There was music coming from somewhere but it was not obnoxiously loud so I didn’t mind it too much. I was surprised that not a single person even bothered to look up at me when I entered the main floor. I suppose I had been expecting some reaction to the outfit but as I scanned the room I saw the reason why. There were so many diverse looking people and aliens that one more painted, masked face made no difference. I took a deep breath and went to sit in a corner that was unpopulated and from where I could pretty much see the whole place. It was not the largest cantina in the galaxy.
I sat with my back to the wall. I ordered pikaché ale from the bored looking waitress and then noticed the door on the other side of the room behind the bar. I guessed that was where the entrance to the upstairs offices was because from my scans of the outside I had not seen any back way out. I paid the waitress when she brought my drink, gave her a healthy tip, hoping she'd leave me alone, and didn’t touch the ale. I just sat and waited and watched.
The amazing thing about wearing a masque is it gives you an edge, a sense of anonymity. I had the hood of the cloak up and pulled low over my face, the lighting in the cantina was crappy to start with and it was easy to feel invisible. So it scared the wits out of me when a deep, soft voice spoke beside my ear in a language I recognized but did not speak or understand.
“Eta’peylan nu’vje’a’tashku.” He said.
I looked up and stared into the face a Bone Trader. For a split second I thought it was Za’ar but that was not the case. This man was taller, with broader shoulders. The ornate bone mask not only made from that of a different creature but the intricate carvings that decorated it were also completely unlike those on the mask that Za’ar wore. Only the glowing red eyes held a strange sense of familiarity for me.
I had not even noticed him as I had scanned the room. He had moved like smoke to stand beside me and I had been caught utterly unaware. I fought to get my heart rate back down to normal.
“I do not speak your language. I’m sorry.” I said in basic.
He cocked his head to one side and continued to stare at me. He then said something in a different language. Minnisiat was a trade language from the Unknown Regions. I had heard it before but I could not speak it either so I shook my head. He regarded me for another very long moment and then said in halting basic.
“Well met are we, but I know you not. May I sit?”
I nodded and he took the chair next to me instead of the one across from me, allowing me to maintain my view of the room.
“My basic is not as well as I would like it to be, but easier to communicate with you, I think, yes?” he asked.
I nodded. “I speak other languages but not Cheunh or Minnisiat.”
He drew a deep breath. “How are you named?” he asked.
“I am Akiana’myshk’apavjäska.” I told him.
“Pavjäska, North Shield Clan, this name is well known to me but you are a’Traeth, not of the people. Who has named you?” he asked.
“Nikätza’arth’pavjäska.” I said.
The Bone Trader sat back and nodded slowly. “This name is also known to me. A great warrior among our people, he is honoured.” He was thoughtful and silent for a few moments and then he said. “I am Kirja’navaar’inkjerii, son of clan Inkjerii of the Hjal Dantassi.”
“I am honoured to meet you.” I said.
I sensed his smile beneath his mask and he seemed to relax a little, but his eyes remained watchful.
“How is it that you are one of the People but not of the People?” he asked.
“Are you asking why I have the name?”
He nodded. “You are the first a’Traeth I have seen who bears a name and wears a hunter’s face. I would like to hear how it came to be so.”
“It is kind of a long story.” I said.
He looked about the room, following my eyes. “There is time, nothing will happen yet. Whatever it is that you await will take longer than you are thinking.”
“How do you know?”
Again I sensed a smile. “Tell you, I shall, in trade for your story. The Honoured Nikätza’arth’pavjäska would not, I think, make of his get just anyone.”
I drew a deep breath and began to tell him about the hunt that had taken place on Myrkr without naming names or giving too much away. I gave as much detail as I could about the final parts of the hunt and my small part in it. I could still smell the blood and the muck and hear the screams of the men and the beasts as they had died. It was difficult to retell and I had to fight to still the shake in my voice when I spoke of Za’ar and how he had bloodied my face, using the words he had spoken. When I was finished Kirja’navaar’inkjerii was silent for what seemed a very long time.
“Look around this room, Akiana’myshk’apavjäska. In the left corner do you see the man , dark clothed and masked? He awaits someone or something. Looks too often at his chrono. Weapons are hidden at his back. He has reached behind twice now, to assure himself that they are still within his grasp. He watches the door, the same door you also watch. But he has not seen you or taken note that you also wait for that door to open.”
I saw the man he spoke of, tall and slender, dressed in black space-gypsy clothes, wrapped and masked. All that could be seen of his face were his eyes and they were restless and wary.
“Look now across the room, there are two more clothes alike yet not alike. They are all together and they watch the room for who comes and who goes. His back up they are.”
I saw the two he was talking about, a woman and a man, also dressed in space-gypsy clothes, her face was free but his was also covered.
“Now in the near corner by the come in door there are two more. The strength, the how do you say, muscle, they will be the last to leave when the fighting begins. All five came in this morning and have been waiting a restless wait ever since. The one you are watching over came in some time ago here and they all went very still. She is who they hunt.” He paused a moment then added. “She does not know you are guarding her back, does she?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No.” I said.
“You do not care for this woman, yet you will risk your life to protect her from unknown danger, why?”
“You are very observant to know all of this, how?” I was suspicious of him now.
“I am Jhal’kai, this is meaning in basic something like, hunt or pack leader. I track the prey. I am very good at this job, well trained to see and know where the hunters and the hunted are, how they will run and what they will do before they know themselves. I am the one who must lead the hunters and tell them where they must go, for that I must predict what the prey will do. ” He said. “The ones we now watch here are not good at their jobs, they are nervous and show fear, untrained and untried. Only the one clothed in black is unafraid. He is their leader, they all watch to see how he signals and wait for his command.” He gave a slight shrug. “You have not answered my question.”
“I was asked by someone I work for to watch out for her. She is a dancer of some value.” I told him.
He nodded. “You do not lie, but you do not sound happy about this either.”
I sighed and sat back in my chair. “Why are you here in this place?” I asked.
“It is a stop point for my kind. The cold is familiar to us and the people here are not interested in our ways. We are left alone to travel as we will. I wait passage to my next hunt on Kerest.”
“Kerest? They have transports going there from here?”
“No but someone will take currency from me and deliver me there.” He said. “Currency speaks many languages.” He added.
“What are you hunting there?” I asked.
“Ice beasts called Ikhatuu. Very challenging.” He replied.
I had never heard of these creatures but Kerest was known to me. It had once been a planet with a thriving, civilized people but when their sun went inactive and the planet was plunged into an ice age, the civilization died. What rose in its place was a society of hunters so vicious that they pretty much hunted themselves to the brink of extinction. Word of their prowess and skills somehow reached the Empire at some point and there were several Kerestians who worked for the Emperor. They were well known for their unique and extraordinary weapon they called a dark stick. I had never seen one but I had heard tales of them. A weapon that when it was not turned on looked like a piece of metal, but when it was active it had a black light beam in the shape of a crescent moon. Its ability to slice through almost anything was the stuff of legends.
“Well, good luck with the hunt.” I said.
He chuckled. “Luck, I need no luck but I thank you for the thought, none the less.”
I sighed and fiddled with the small skull necklace I wore around my neck. Kirja’navaar’inkjerii watched me for a moment.
“May I see that?” he asked.
I slipped back my hood and took the necklace off, handing it to him to look at. He took it gingerly, carefully in his large gloved hands. He stroked the bone with what seemed to me almost a reverence. He handed it back to me after a long moment. I slipped it back on and redrew the hood over my head. The bone needle in my hair had also not escaped his notice.
“I knew the man who carved that piece you wear about your neck. A great warrior was he, a leader of his people and a wise man. To own a token by him is a precious gift. This was your first-hunt gift from the one who named you?”
“He must think highly of you to part with such a treasure. You are bound to him?”
“I don't know what that means.” I said.
Kirja’navaar’inkjerii shook his head and sighed. “How is it that such a great and noble Hunter has chosen to make you of his get and not tell you anything about his kind? You are ignorant of everything that is Mathäd’antass’Iyantha. You do not speak the tongue. You know nothing of the ways of the hunt and none of the customs. Lucky it is for you that I know of him and his name. Lucky for you it is that he is honoured among my clan for his great deeds. Others who would not know his name would have killed you for what would have been seen as desecration of our Way.”
“I have no answers for you. I did not ask for this name or the hunt or these clothes.” I said.
“We do not ask for our fate, Tjällh. It is usually handed to us by unexpected means and unwanted circumstances.” He chided. “He has bound you by name and gift, yet you know nothing. I have no polite way to give this question. Has he bedded you and joined with you as one beast?”
I actually blushed and hoped that the makeup hid it. “Uhm.. no.” I said. “Well that is to say… not yet. It is complicated.” I opened my mouth to say more then shut it again realizing that Kirja’navaar’inkjerii was chuckling beneath his mask.
“I can see why Nikätza’arth’pavjäska is taken by you.” He said gently. “But you must learn the way of the People, Akiana’myshk’apavjäska.” He said. “There is more to the Dantassi than a mask and clothes.”
“How in the name of the holy Sarlacc am I supposed to do that?” I asked. I really wondered about this because the circumstances of my life were not exactly conducive to me simple taking off to learn the ways of this strange culture Thrawn had thrown me into.
I felt him smile. “Uljask’peylan ji’rüshjen taeami.” He said. “A way will be found.”
“Easy for you to say.” I sighed. “How is it you know the Honoured Za’ar? You keep saying that he is a great warrior known to your people. What did he do?”
Kirja’navaar’inkjerii drew a deep breath and glanced about the room. So far everything was still quiet and seemingly normal. The dark clothed man in the far corner still waited but was not agitated in anyway.
“Many, many years ago, before I was born, some of the Dantassi people left the mother world to explore, find new homes, and find new hunting grounds. We are, by nature, a restless people. We are not like the ordered Chiss who went underground to seek warmth and softness. We are born and bred on the world above where it is hard and cold. It shaped our needs, our wills. We sought more of the same hardness, not less. One of the planets these explorers found was a small world in what you would know as the shoulder of the Tingel Arm. It was uninhabited by sentient beings and had a good and varied animal population. The climate suited our kind, very cold, very harsh but not eternal winter. It was different and challenging. Hjal is situated between Sernpidal and Cadomai.”
“For most it would be a worthless place. Yet my people colonized it, making it their home base and new hunting grounds. They lived and thrived there for many generations before another race from the far away came and made experiments on the land. They found something of value and made to war with us. Wishing to remove us from our home and take it for their own. We were small in number and unaccustomed to such warfare as we were about to meet.” He paused and shook his head. “I do not know how it was that the Honoured Nikätza’arth’pavjäska came to hear of our troubles but he came to our aid. He did not bring a vast army with him, but a small group of seasoned hunters that he had trained alongside. He spent several months working with us and teaching us the arts of this different kind of war. It was something unfamiliar, new to us and lessons were well learned, never to be forgotten.”
“We are known as great hunters across the galaxy but that is not the same thing as fighting an army of trained soldiers with weapons of terrible destructive power. The Dantassi pride themselves on the noble art of hunting, we prefer to see the yes of our prey when we take its life, we use all that we take and waste nothing. War is destructive without real purpose, fought for greed and power. It is not our way but we learned and we adapted."
"When the invasion came we were ready and through his great leadership we defeated our enemy so soundly they gave way and signed a treaty to never return. They greatly feared Nikätza’arth’pavjäska and his weirding-witch ways of knowing what they would do and how they would do it. It was as if he could read their intentions. When the fighting was done and the treaty signed, he left as quietly as he had come. For one so young he was well versed in the arts of warfare and his hunting skills would have rivaled the best of us.”
I sighed as I fiddled with my necklace. Every time I turned around it seemed I learnt more and more about a man I felt I barely understood.
The Bone Trader across from me nodded at the carving I played with. “It was my grandfather who carved that bone charm you now wear. I still recall when he gave it to the Honoured Nikätza’arth’pavjäska. That you now wear it tells me much. Not easily are the gifts from one honoured elder to another passed onward. Nikätza’arth’pavjäska is not a man to do things lightly or without great consideration.” Kirja’navaar’inkjerii said quietly.
I didn’t know what to say. He was right about Thrawn he was not a man to do things lightly or without great forethought. For the second time since I had landed on this forsaken planet I wished he were with me. This sudden ache of missing him was new and I didn’t understand it. Something of that thought must have shown on my face because Kirja’navaar’inkjerii placed a hand over one of mine and leaned close to me, locking his eyes on mine.
“Tjällh, have faith. It was not by chance that we are well met here. Nothing happens without reason. You are not alone.”
“Thank you, Kirja’navaar’inkjerii.” I said quietly, swallowing back the sudden rush of emotion that threatened to engulf me. I took a deep steadying breath, remembering Thrawn's words to me. “Help comes in unexpected guises. It never hurts to be prepared.” He had said. I wondered how he had known. More mysteries without answers.
As Kirja’navaar’inkjerii drew back I felt his smile. “It is customary for strangers to address each other with the fullness of their names, but you have shared too much of your spirit with me today for me to allow such formality. You may know me as Navaari.” He said.
“Does this mean you can shorten my name as well?” I asked thankful for small things, Chiss and Dantassi names were a mouthful.
“If you allow, it would be an honour to do so.”
“Za’ar calls me A’myshk’a. I take it that is the core form?”
He chuckled. “Yes. Although your full name is most beautiful. Do you dance?”
“And Nikätza’arth’pavjäska has seen you dance.”
I nodded again but I wasn’t about to elaborate on that little episode of my life.
“My daughter loves to dance. Perhaps one day you will travel to our home and we will meet under more restful circumstances. I would offer you hospitality and you would have a chance to learn the way of the People.”
“I would like that very much.” I said and I meant every word.
“When next you are with the Honoured Nikätza’arth’pavjäska you must ask him to take more care in educating you in our ways.” He said softly.
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. How could I describe to this stranger my very odd relationship with the man he knew as Nikätza’arth’pavjäska. I could not even make sense of that myself. I sat back in my chair and watched the room. It had grown more crowded as the shifts changed and the people coming off work came in for a drink.
The man in black had not moved from his spot and neither had his friends but they had grown more watchful. We had been talking for well over an hour and nothing much had changed. I allowed myself to relax and center a little so that I could sense the more subtle changes with my own weirding ways. It was always as if the world about me suddenly got brighter when I did this, allowed myself to touch the Force. Navaari watched me carefully for a moment but said nothing. He too, went back to observing the crowd. We lapsed into a silence that was surprisingly comfortable. I felt a kinship with this perfect stranger and I did not know why. What was it about the Dantassi that made them so close knit, so strange and yet somehow now offered me a sense of solace? What had Thrawn done in making me a part of this culture? I felt as though I was being drawn into something that somehow went beyond my control and there was no way to stop it and I really wondered if I even wanted to stop it. One thing was for certain I was going to have to have a little chat with Thrawn about this when I got back. I sighed out loud, making Navaari look at me. I was about to say something when I felt a sudden shift in the air around me. A ripple in the force that told me something was about to happen.
Navaari motioned with his hand for me to be still. “Be still and observe, Tjällh.” He said quietly, firmly. “When the time is right for you to intervene, you will know.”
So I sat and waited, they were the longest few minutes of my life.