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Retracing Steps

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#1
Taeli Raaf

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Connor Harrison

 

It had been sometime since she had seen the man, but she was curious on the progress he had made in the task she had given him. Last they had spoken, she had given him a test of sorts to see if he could prove worthy of being an apprentice, to build himself a power base. She honestly didn't care if it was large or small, she just wanted to see if he had built anything yet. But that wasn't the only reason she had sent a message for him to meet her at a small trade world near Endor.

 

Bahrain was an interesting world of the Sanctuary Pipeline, an arid place but not particularly unpleasant like Tatooine. It at least had some greenery too it, and she found it... tolerable. The people less so. The bazaar, one of the biggest in the galaxy, was packed with sentients from across the galaxy. All of them were there to take in this magnificent example of an open air marketplace, complete with plenty of stalls and merchants, all trying to hawk merchandise at passersby.

 

She was sitting in a small spot set aside for those wanting a place to sit and eat, a pot of Bastion Black tea on the table and a glass half full in her hand. Sitting beside her, out of her usual attire, was her apprentice Eldaah. Dressed in an unassuming top and skirt, a satchel leaning against her seat, she looked for all the world like she was one of many patrons if one didn't have sight into the Force. Taeli herself was garbed in a plain blue dress, not out of place at all from the colorful sea of people milling through the place. Just to complete the disguise, a shopping bag or two sat on the table with the two women. It was apparently festival season for the world.

 

"He's late, my Lady," Eldaah muttered, idly stirring the straw of her drink.

 

"Give him time, the bazaar is forty kilometers," Taeli replied, sipping her drink. There was no hurry for her, after all, she had been tracking this particular item for a year now. Thanks to her vision from Malachor, she had the piece of the puzzle she had desperately needed... a fresh starting place.

 

 



#2
Connor Harrison

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For some reason, Connor felt at home on the planet Bahrain – granted he’d never been there before, but it reminded him of more peaceful, simpler times. Times when he had scaled Star Destroyers on Jakku with Kyra or looked at markets or crested dunes with Corvus on Tatooine. Not when he was a failed Jedi, but when he was a confident man. Hopefully that would return.

His confidence was there, at least now. He didn’t care for any looks he got, which were few, because he may have been dressed in a muted black and grey tunic and cloak, but hints of crimson could be seen on the trim. He was no imposing Lord that was for sure. The natty scar down his eye, complete with his attire, certainly didn’t evoke the look of somebody you ignored.

The last time he had seen Taeli Raaf? Wow, he couldn’t remember. So much had passed since then, and he never counted on seeing her again, but when she made contact he knew it would be for some trial or expedition to find something, so heading to Bahrain was a trip wondering just what it would be. Had he changed since the last time? Connor liked to think so. Time would tell.

A few times in crossing the vast market, he found himself distracted by a few wares on sale and a display here and there. It took a little longer than expected to find the large stall she had mentioned, and then opposite where she would be. He came to a stop, and turned. Punctual as always, she was sat drinking tea in a dress and sat with another. The gut instinct was that she was the Sith apprentice he had encountered along his journey.

He gave his best neutral smile and crossed the bustling street to the side they were sat on. Connor swept his cloak to the side casually and took a seat beside the tea-drinking pair, casting them a look and a nod of acknowledgement.

”Lady Raaf. A pleasure, as always.” He looked to Eldaah. ”Likewise, young one.”

He rubbed his hand together once and surveyed the throngs of people looking for a way to burn through their credits on a bargain.

”There’s a vendor down that way selling some really nice looking sweets. Remind me to stop there before I go. So, how are things in the life of Tae?”

Taeli Raaf

#3
Taeli Raaf

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Connor Harrison

 

"We'll catch up, Eldaah," she said to her apprentice before addressing Connor. Her apprentice bowed her head, grabbed her shopping bag, and disappeared into the crowd. She had her assignment after all. Taeli took a moment to study Connor. He was different than last time, but then... was that surprising? He seemed confident still, so that was an improvement. Not that his whole dark brooding confidence wasn't good, but such could be fleeting.

 

"Moving at an interesting pace," she answered vaguely, setting her tea down. "Several of my endeavors are starting to bear fruit, such as the one that we will be pursuing today. However, before we get to any of that, tell me what have you been up to? I recall I gave you a task last time we spoke to build your own power base if you wanted to learn from me more."

 

She was quite curious in what he had been up to the in several months since they had last seen each other. She had strong suspicions he had done what he had said he would and mend the bridges with the First Order, but she wanted to hear it from him.



#4
Connor Harrison

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Crossing one leg over the other thigh, Connor rested his hand on it and looked to Eldaah, not being overly friendly or cold; just a slight hint of warmth in his face to show a respect for the young girl. She made her exit, off to the vendors blending in perfectly.

He gave his attention to Taeli, not looking at her, but fully listening. He sat and people watched, wondering what stories and secrets they had. Much like himself, there was plenty to find inside the human soul if you looked deep enough.

”I had a feeling you'd want me to go exploring and nothing social. Shame.”

A little smirk, and then he looked at her to answer.

”A power base? Hm.” He smacked his lips gently and turned his cybernetic left arm up and flexed the fingers. ”I can't say I'm sitting on a throne of blood yet, but as you said, power isn't all you own in material possessions. It's about what you've formed inside and the connections you have. Life has been tough, but in some way it's been cleansing, especially when I saw death in a firey pit on Maena. Sort of puts things into perspective.”

He crossed his arm back again and turned to the crowd with a small sigh.

”It was hard to remember everything after, but certain things have dripped back. Such as I know you weren't a fan of my siding with the First Order, but they were the only ones to give me a chance. I've since returned and ignored any dispersions about my past and focused on getting back in that circle, getting my own power base as you say. How long will it take? I don't know. Will it work? I can't say. But they won't stop my trying.”

There was a pause. Connor pursed his lips slightly in thought.

"The Force is all I have known and it's the one stability I've had throughout my life. I serve the Dark Side now. If you show me another path, I will pursue the power at the other end.”

Taeli Raaf

#5
Taeli Raaf

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Connor Harrison

 

"I do enough socializing throughout my day," she laughed. Between her duties as a Jedi Master and running her company, she spent far too much of her time having to socialize with various beings. No, she most certainly was not going to spend an expedition doing such. She might appear to be, but it was all part of the job. She was, admittedly, somewhat disappointed to hear that he hadn't constructed a solid power base as of yet. While he might think he was forging a power base by associating with powerful figures in the First Order, was he the one forming it... or was he attaching himself to theirs? A question to ponder.

 

"Indeed, I am not even close to a fan of the First Order," she said. "Foolish little children that think they know the power of the dark side of the Force, or fanatical zealots that believe even their own propaganda of their might and righteousness. They believe that nothing and no one can enter or challenge their hegemony."

 

Which made the fact they were on a world within First Order space all the more amusing for her.

 

"But we aren't here to discuss my views on the First Order," she continued. "We're here to both continue your education and to pick up on the trail of one of the most dangerous artifacts in the galaxy. Tell me, pulling on your knowledge from the First Order and the Silver Jedi, what do you know of the Sith Lord known as Vitiate?"



#6
Connor Harrison

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Connor smiled softly at her dry humour that never seemed to go away. She was honest, in most parts, and said how it was. He couldn’t fault her on that. Nor with her standing on the First Order; he had heard and seen many pros and cons for the turbulent truce between the Order and the Sith Empire. East and West shrouded in the Dark Side, hemming others in and keeping the galaxy tight.

”No, no I understand. That’s fair enough, and perhaps they wouldn’t be my first choice in serving the Dark Side, but at a time when the Sith didn’t accept me, the First Order did, so I followed their guidance. It wasn’t easy, and even now I don’t know how well I stand with them, but I’m persevering. No wavering or throwing the toys out of my pram this time. It’s nothing but the Dark Side of the Force, regardless who seeks my services.”

He sat back and tapped his fingers on his thigh, humming gently in thought at her question.

”Vitiate.”

Eyes closed for a moment, searching his broken memory over his time in the Light and Dark. Faces. Voices. Dreams.

”A Sith Lord who touched on immortality? Am I partly right? I am sure you mentioned such a Lord when we were on Dxun….but that is cloudy, and I may be mistaken. I am guessing you’re not out to seek the Sith Holy Grail are you? Or..ARE you.”

Taeli Raaf

#7
Taeli Raaf

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"You're correct he was a Sith Lord that sought immortality," she said. "He actually succeeded, for a time anyways. Lived for some 1,300 years before he was defeated by someone only known as the Outlander. However, while his secrets of immortality died with him, those aren't what I'm interested in." If she needed to, she already knew how to transfer her essence to another host if need be, thanks to her foolish friend Alex teaching her the technique. "Vitiate was also a pioneer in Sith magic and alchemy, pushing the boundaries beyond anything any previous or future Sith could ever dare to dream of. So you might joke when you say I'm looking for the Sith holy grail, but that is not far off the truth."

 

A chime started to play through the bazaar, drawing everyone's attention.

 

"Attention patrons of Bahrain, the annual Podracing event will begin in just a few moments. Place your bets, and draw your attention to the nearest monitor or blacony. The main event is just ten minutes away!"

 

The crowd around them was charged with even more excitement.

 

"I hope Meyer came back to race like last year! Boy that was something!"

 

Taeli looked back at Connor, smiling what anyone seeing her face would be a benign smile.

 

"Anyways, we're here to track down his holocron," she continued. "I've been tracking it for the better part of a year, and a vision on Malachor granted me insight that this world had a vital piece of the puzzle I need to find it. Apparently, the people who run the Podraces here, some gang called the Bloodhounds, are known artifact dealers on the black market. With Zakuul being so close to this world, I suspect they found something of interest to me."



#8
Connor Harrison

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Connor didn’t move much when she spoke, because he had to pay attention to all the detail, big or small, for her puzzle pieces always seemed to fit at the end and if you missed one little piece than Taeli Raaf wasn’t going to be willing to make it easy.

Looking out to the crowd at the sound of the announcement, he smiled back, evidently seeing the buzz of the crowds and excitement in the air.

”Well, I’m not one to question your intention or motive. You wanted me here, so here I am.”

He sat forward, and then stood up, resting his hands on the rear of the chair.

”Best time to get these Bloodhounds at their most vulnerable would be a race. Such a convenience you picked here of all places at this time to find out more.” He gave a small smile again. ”They say the Force works in mysterious ways. Well, clearly they haven’t met Lady Raaf.”

Connor nodded and extended his hand.

”Shall we take a walk then?”

Taeli Raaf

#9
Taeli Raaf

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"How was I to know that their festival season just happened to include the biggest Podrace this side of the Hydian?" she said, feigning shock and surprise. It really hadn't been hard to find the opportune moment to come to the world. She had dispatched Eldaah here weeks ago, immediately after her vision, to scout the world and find the best chance to corner these criminals. She had hopes that a mutually beneficial arrangement could be made with them... however it never hurt to be prepared.

 

Accepting Connor's hand, she rose from her seat and left a credit chit that would cover the entire cost of her drinks and then some. There was always an advantage in cultivating assets among businessmen and the staff when one was on world. You never knew who might have a nugget of information that could prove valuable.

 

"When was the last time you've done a mission like this?" she asked, making conversation as she subtly guided their path through the crowd and towards the main grandstands. The criminals occupied the top boxes, all the better to show off their wealth, to give their top clients a chance to lord over the masses. Odds were decent that they could get in without violence once they reached there, but if violence was called for... well she plans for that as well.



#10
Connor Harrison

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Holding Taeli's hand for a second, he let her stand and lead the way before returning his hand behind his back for a gentle stroll through the marketplace, noting the increase in activity at the announcement of the race.

”Last time I did something like this? Dxun, with you. You know since my leaving the Jedi, I've spent my time talking, thinking and getting arrested and losing limbs. I've done nothing productive and it's been very frustrating. But, then, I'm here now and in a better place so bring it on I say. It's only a matter of time before I become the figure you always said I could be.”

He inclined his head a little.

”Well, I hope so anyway. I know it's been a while.”

Connor looked over to her; she never seemed to change.

”How have you been. In all aspects, I mean, not just as you are here with me.”

Taeli Raaf

#11
Taeli Raaf

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"Really? Dxun? What have you been doing with the First Order if not carrying out missions that fit your skillset as a former Shadow?"

 

Such a waste of an asset, if the First Order wasn't using him for covert operations. Perhaps they felt his face was all too familiar to the Light factions in the galaxy to allow him the opportunity for such operations? Or maybe they still did not trust him to do so without betraying them? Either way, it was such a shame. Yes, maybe there was something she could teach him today. Walking through the marketplace, she could feel the palpable excitement in the air. She never understood the need to gamble on sporting events.

 

"I've been well," she replied. "Busy as always of course."

 

It was true, she honestly reveled in being busy and living her tripe life as a respected and senior Jedi Master in the NJO, the CEO of a successful company that allowed her the freedom to pursue her own projects, and being the, if she wasn't being presumptuous, most useful spy and agent for the Sith Empire and its Dark Lord.

 

"Some of us are just comfortable as we are, in the role we are in," she said. "I am one of those people, but you know that already."



#12
Connor Harrison

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As they walked, Connor shouldered past two gossiping men, paying them little attention. It was getting a little packed along the marketplace with the steady flow of people heading in one of two directions.

”Tell me about it,” he said, almost to himself. ”So far I've flown what felt like an escort fighter to an assault, I've baited a rebel and brought him in for questioning, and been on some luxury yacht on a simple break.” He shook his head. ”May as well have burnt to death on Maena at this rate. Or stayed with the Silver Jedi. At least I had respect there; I could lead others, get into the battle and make a difference.”

The pair walked on, and this time he shouldered past two women and moved a little harder and with purpose, his bitterness creeping in about the running around after his tail jobs he had been doing for the First Order.

”I don't think they trust me. They think I'm a spent force, and I have nothing behind me. Partly true, but I could show them true power and true leadership if they'd give me a chance.”

Connor and Taeli rounded a corner in the marketplace, coming to what looked like the beginning of a downward incline towards an expansive arena and viewing platform running in a semi-circle.

”I'm losing more and more of who I was day by day, Taeli. I'm running out of patience.”

Taeli Raaf

#13
Taeli Raaf

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Connor Harrison

 

"Then the answer is simple," she replied, giving apologetic looks to the people Connor had shouldered past. "We have to show the First Order just how valuable you are to them."

 

Turning the corner, the excitement had only grown as the pre-race preparations were underway. The surge of the crowd, and the noise only grew, concealing their words from being overheard.

 

"A crisis perhaps, some sort of event that only you have the answer for," she mused aloud. She could very engender such a crisis, something that would allow Connor a chance to take a leadership role within the First Order. "I'm sure you can imagine what sort of... events I could manipulate into being. But, we can discuss that and what I hope to teach you today after we obtain the information I was seeking."

 

The arena they were walking into had definitely been influenced by other Podracing arena areas. She got the distinct sense of a blend between Tatooine and Malastare in how the Bloodhounds had designed their theater, and likely their course. Casually, her eyes scanned the crowd, heading up to where she knew the top brass of the gang would be watching. They were likely manipulating the odds, ordering blackmail or sabotage so their designated winner would actually take the prize money. Greed at its finest, and she could sense their greed.

 

"Up there, top box," she said, pointing. "Shall we go say hello?"



#14
Connor Harrison

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He nodded as they walked some stairs, indicating with his hand for them to head up, careful not to go flying with any eager spectator running up or down trying to get a good seat. The box where Taeli indicated stretched a little around the lip of the viewing platform, closed off with a viewing hub across the whole front for panoramic views. A couple of radar dishes were stationed on top as well as, what looked like, some small blaster cannon.

It seems these pirates took their security and business ever so seriously.

Part of Connor wanted to agree with her, but part didn’t. He was fed up of trying to prove himself – he was who he was, and he was the one who once struck fear into the enemies of the Silver Jedi and a face and name known to many. He wasn’t ready to keep being the runt of expeditions and ventures in order to have others approve him even being there.

But, then, he needed to be accepted and have a place because without that, he would have nothing to live for and may as well follow the old dream of Corvus Raaf – retire as a moister farmer on the planet furthest away from it all and live out his days alone and as a nobody.

The announcement came bursting over the high speakers as the pair reached the top of the stairs. He saw a couple of what appeared to be guards without weapons, but they were probably concealed under their jackets or tucked into their belts.

"I’ll follow your lead. No need to say I’ve got your back. That goes without saying unless you’d rather I wait away from you?"

Taeli Raaf

#15
Taeli Raaf

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Internal conflict was an old friend for Connor, one that circumstances just kept having him revisit. She could feel it rolling off of him, frustration, resentment, pride, all rolled into one glorious package with a little extra need for acceptance tying it all together. Disregarded by the First Order and Sith Empire, shunned and reviled by the Jedi, he was caught in the middle with no one there to offer a hand, to offer him acceptance... bar one person. No matter how much time passed, he always answered her call. The crowd roared as the Podracers' flags moved out onto the course, but she paid them no mind.

 

"Let's go make some new friends," she said, gracefully moving up through the stands towards the box where this gang's leadership was located. The guards reacted to the two figures approaching them, blocking their way, hands inside their jackets likely gripping pistols or stunners of some sort.

 

"Halt, no one is allowed past this point," the human of the pair said. Burly, bouncer type... easy to kill... His companion, a Weequay, stayed silent but his stance spoke he was itching for a fight.

 

"Now now, gentlemen, you wouldn't want to stop your bosses from hearing about a unique business opportunity? Would you?" she asked, changing her accent from her usual mix of Lorrdian/Corellian to something more like Kuati.

 

"Business? And what about him? Is he a businessman too?"

 

"Ye wanya bacaka wa Jeedai nei," the Weequay grumbled in Huttese.

 

"He's simply my bodyguard, and he is very good at his job clearly," she replied. "Now, please. Let us through, and I'll be sure to mention to your bosses how their men at the door deserve a raise."

 

That last bit was added with just a touch of Force Persuasion, not enough to complete influence them, but greed had a powerful motivator.

 

"Fine, but don't expect the bosses to like you," the guard said, letting them pass. With a small wink over her shoulder at Connor, she led him to the door and opened it.



#16
Connor Harrison

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Connor stood behind Taeli, just to the side, doing his best “bodyguard” impression. He didn’t need to try – he just stood stone faced and looking at the guards enforcing everything that Taeli said with a cold stare and confident posture.

It wasn’t long before they were admitted to pass, and a small nod of appreciation was given as he walked through with her out of the heat and into the cool interior.

The box was spacious but somehow looked small. It housed a few patrons, a couple more guards by the doors, and the light from outside generously lit up the room. A bar to the rear, tables in the centre and seating at the front to offer the best views of the racing. However there was little in the room that evoked a true and honest sporting meeting.

It was clearly a place where deals were made and done out of the prying eyes of the public. A few people turned to the rather distinctive looking couple who entered.

"Certainly going to be messy if things don’t go your way," Connor whispered as they came to the middle of the room.

He looked around, getting a sense of who was stood where, who carried what, and who could be dispatched quickly for maximum distraction and disorder.

Taeli Raaf

#17
Taeli Raaf

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"We ask nicely first," she whispered back. "If not... then it gets messy."

 

She said it all out of the corner of her mouth, her lips never losing their smile as they were escorted to the bosses of the Bloodhounds. The leader of the Bloodhounds turned his head to regard the pair, eyes narrowed in either greed, anger, or possibly even both.

 

"I said we weren't to be disturbed until after the races, so this better be good," the man said.

 

"My name is Iaeta Liaf," Taeli explained. If they checked, they would run into a cover identity she had established prior to arriving on planet that she was a reclusive Kuati noblewoman that did business with select antiquity clients around the galaxy. "I'm a procurer of rare artifacts and antiquities for very wealthy and influential clients around the galaxy. I currently have a client very interested in artifacts from Zakuul, and rumor had it that your organization had recovered some rather unique pieces."

 

The man started laughing, joined by his compatriots. They continued for several long moments, ones that she kept her pleasant face on outwardly. Inwardly, she was... less than pleased.

 

"Did I say something amusing?" she asked.

 

"Darling, you're a year late," the man said, snickering. "We went through all that stuff, and made a tidy profit off it."

 

Taeli quirked her head as she sensed the lie. The man didn't know she knew he lied, but there it was... plain to see. The time frame rang true, but the part about the profit did not. Why lie about that... ah... she could sense his intent.



#18
Connor Harrison

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At the teasing hint of malice in Taeli’s voice, Connor turned ever so towards her with a curious glint in his eyes, before turning back to face the room.

So the bargaining commenced – the little threat they tried to make from the outset, to Taeli’s basic proposition, to the attempt at intimidation and then bare faced lie. It was textbook stuff from criminals and vagabonds like these. There was a spike in the Force from Taeli, like a swell that was only a bad sign for those trying to deceive her.

"If I may?" Connor spoke as he stepped forward, clasping his hands. "You’re busy men, that’s obvious, and Miss Liaf here is equally busy. But she is rich. Rich, powerful and well connected to all corners of the galaxy. Perhaps you just need to remember if anything from Zakuul actually WAS sold, or if you still have it."

He looked at each of the goons one at a time.

"I promise you, you won’t be disappointed."

Of course Connor had no idea what she was truly after, but he didn’t care enough for the mindless brutes in the room to let their outcome affect things. She was going to get what she wanted, it just was on their head how easy she took it.

Taeli Raaf

#19
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"First off, tell the help his opinion isn't needed," the man stated, laughing with his followers joining in. Outside the window, the crowd roared as the countdown for the race began. "Secondly, I know we don't have of that stuff left. It was one box and it's long gone. But he raises an excellent point. If you're as rich and powerful as you claim, I'm sure you'll turn a tidy bit of credits for your ransom."

 

Blasters were drawn on the pair, the gang ready to stun what was likely their best meal ticket for the year. Skimming the merchants here and fixing the Podraces were all well and good, but a Kuati noblewoman? Someone would be willing to pay top price to make sure he came back in one piece. Taeli sighed. Why did it always come to this?

 

"Are you sure we can't come to some accommodation?" she asked, subtly shifting her stance. "All I need is the name of the man who bought the Zakuul artifacts."

 

"Nothing you can say or offer will convince me to give you that information," the man laughed, leveling his blaster at her.

 

"Very well then," she said. The air temperature dropped, and the Force if one was sensitive to it, the room darkened. She pointed at the lead man. "Connor, if you wouldn't mind terribly?"

 

The order was implied there, she wanted them all dead but the leader.



#20
Connor Harrison

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The former Jedi gave a silent sigh. So predictable. So overly confident when they were nothing but insignificant. Blasters were raised and the temperature dropped as the pressure in the room seemed to swell a little.

At Taeli's word, Connor lowered his head and raised his hands in mock surrender.

When he looked back up at the gun-toting head honcho, his eyes were burnt amber and his face a sheet of dead emotion.

The left hand clenched, and the blaster in the lead man's hand exploded in a small shower of fire and hot metal. The right hand twisted and clenched, and two blasters trained on them from the left of the room violently turned on the other, and fired, blasting a hole through each thug's chest, sending one across a table and the other into the wall.

A couple of the patrons in the room screamed and ducked out of harms way and cowered in the corner, as another small push out with Connors hand caused another gun to explode and set fire to the man's arm holding it, sending him into a small human barbecue.

It was over in seconds with minimal noise thankfully drowned about by the podrace, but it all had maximum damage. Connor lurched forward to the head-honcho trying to cool his blistering, burnt hand, and instead of the old Force grip around the throat routine of applying pressure, he simply grabbed the man's collar and dragged him over to stand before Taeli.

With a sharp kick to the back of the knee, the head-honcho was soon kneeling before her.

The thrill of it all made Connor feel good, more than he had in a while from just a fleeting action.

Taeli Raaf