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Cold death on Kijimi
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Kijimi – 23 BBY

“We’ve been here for three days, and still no sign of Noled. I’m worried…” said Asora while looking at her nearly empty glass.
“Don’t worry… The place is full of outlaws, smugglers and bounty hunters… Everyone is very cautious… But we still have a few places to visit.” Tien was trying to be reassuring, but his confidence was nearly as low as the level of his own drink. He did not know Noled. All he wanted was that they found him quickly so that he could go back to his normal business.

As they came back on Tien’s ship, R4 greeted them with enthusiastic sounds. Asora listened for a couple of minutes, nodding from time to time. “Now, that’s interesting!” she said finally.
“What did he say?” asked Tien.
“It seems that R4 spoke with a very talkative R5 unit on the yards… The droïd has heard the name. It seems that Noled has a meeting with its master this afternoon. Somewhere called “the red keep”, outside the city.”
“OK then, let’s ask a few people to know where this place is.”

It turned out that this was also a difficult piece of information to get. No one knew, or no one wanted to answer, until they met a Dug in a spare part shop – at least that was the sign over the main door, but Tien would rather call it a junkyard…
“The red keep?!” answered the Dug with a look of fear.
“Do you know where it is?” asked again Asora
“Well, hum… I cannot say that I have never heard the same, but… it’s a dangerous place. Don’t go.”
“That’s our business” answered Tien. “Could you just tell us where to go ?”
“As it suits you…” whispered the Dug, looking around as if to make sure that no one was hearing. “Leave the city by the North and continue for eleven miles. You will see it then. There is a frozen lake where you will have to leave your speeder. Two or three guys should wait here. With blasters. After that, you will have to walk the remaining mile up the trail, until you reach the place. More guys with blasters will show you the way…”
“Why so many armed men?” asked Asora
“So, you don’t know?” replied the Dug. “The red keep is a stronghold where the Spice Runners operate their business.”
“Oh my…” whispered Asora, turning to Tien: “Why would Noled go to the Spice Runners?”
“Well, I remind you that I don’t know him.”
“We have to go!” she said, ignoring his remark.
“Wait a minute… I remind you that I don’t know him. I don’t want to mess with the Spice Runners for this guy. Why don’t you just wait that he comes back?”
“If he ever comes back!” answered Asora angrily. “Okay, stay here if you prefer, but I’m going”. She waved a hand to thank the Dug, who was already back to his tasks anyway, and she left at a determined pace.
Tien sighed. “I think that I’ll regret it…” and more loudly to Asora: “Wait, wait… I’m coming…”

The two of them rented an old V-35 speeder and headed North in silence. They had no plan other than “knock at the door and ask for Noled”, as Asora explained, “unless you have a better idea?”. No answer from Tien, so that was the plan. The landscape was fully white. Snow, ice and cold everywhere.
A few minutes later, they saw the red keep on top of a medium hill. It was a reddish small outpost, apparently well-guarded. The frozen lake was just in front of them, as well as two men in dark green clothes, waving their heavy blasters to order them to stop.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” asked the closest one.
“Asora and Tien Aro” answered the Twi’leck (Tien groaned; he would have preferred to give a fake name). “We have to go to the red keep”.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes, we do. Our colleague Noled Gaarb arrived first, you sure have seen him?” said Asora, trying to sound as self-confident as she could.
“Indeed”, answered the man. “His speeder is over there; he arrived an hour ago. But he did not speak of any colleague…”
“Anyway, we have to catch up with him. Can we go now?”
“Mmmh… First, you have to leave all your weapons here. Then you can go.”
Asora immediately dropped her blaster in the landspeeder. She gave an angry look at Tien, who seemed to hesitate. He sighed again and left his blaster as well. The guard waved is own weapon to show them the way – a snowy path going up the hill.

At the very same time, another visitor was just reaching the red keep. She introduced herself.
“My name is Qi’ra. I’m working for Dryden Vos. I’m here to meet a man named Noled Gaarb.”
“Welcome, Qi’ra. Your mister Gaarb is here, but mister Vos must be a very cautious man to send two people for the same job, right?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, this Kyuzo named Narambo stepped in just ten minutes before you, claiming that he works for Dryden Vos. He and this mister Gaarb are together in the lower level.”
Qi’ra turned to the stairs.
That is precisely when they all heard the detonation of the blaster.

Outside, Asora and Tien could not hear the shot, but they could not miss the sound of a body passing through a solid window.

The body rolled in the snow, just below the building, leaving a bloody trail behind him until he stopped, face down. But no doubt was possible for Asora – it was Noled. She screamed and rushed towards him, under the incredulous look of all the sentries.

In the basement of the red keep, Qi’ra was pointing to a dark tunnel: “Where does it go?”
“To an underground cellar”, answered the Spice Runner. His colleague, the tall Lasat, had already disappeared in the corridor to track down the Kyuzo. “And then to another exit on the other side of the mountain, but this passage was supposed to be closed since a long time…”
“Well, your Lasat friend should better find this thief. Because my boss will not be very happy if this does not end well. Let’s go back outside and have a look at this dead body.”

“What I am doing here?” wondered Tien, looking at this strange scene. Asora was still seated in the snow, sobbing close to Noled. This girl Qi’ra was here too, seemingly not afraid by the half dozen of Spice Runners who were surrounding them. A Lasat ran towards them.
“Could not catch him”, he said between two deep breaths.
“Damn it!” swore Qi’ra. “He’s stolen the idol and managed to escape inside your own place!”
“We’ll hunt him down”, answered one of the Spice Runners.

They all heard a sharp sound – an engine accelerating – and turned to the North, witnessing a medium freighter rushing towards the sky.
“No you won’t” said Qi’ra. “Crimson Dawn will take care of this.”

*** To Be Continued ***

1st chapter: “Chase on Corellia” https://www.mecabricks.com/en/models/Jk2EyBnm29A
2nd chapter: “Ozu’s idol” https://www.mecabricks.com/en/models/1k2q1N0P2E0
3rd chapter: “Smuggling on Lah’mu” https://www.mecabricks.com/en/models/1XjdVP3Za8b
Next chapter: we’ll see! smiling face with open mouth
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