Actions

Work Header

Here Be Monsters

Chapter Text

The view from a descending spaceship usually boasted a singular magnificence not afforded on the ground. But Lothal didn’t even have that from ten thousand feet high. Outside of its sprawling capital, a clash of black industry and white architecture, spread a beige vastness that even the peculiarity of their rock formations dotting the plains couldn’t fill.

Observing from a port side transparisteel viewer, Kix had seen better. He’d seen worse, too.

He was one of two passengers on this Imperial transport to Lothal—the other was a droid of some make that Kix hadn’t paid attention to for the duration of the trip, once he double checked that his stowed weapon was easily accessible from the luggage sitting at his feet. The droid didn’t resemble a battle droid in the slightest, but the tinny sound of its joints moving and head swiveling still made some recess of Kix’s mind jumpy.

They landed in the Imperial Command Center, a large building that succeeded in copying the stifling sterility of the Empire. Everything in the open hangar suffered from a bleak, uniform grayness, somehow even paling the woman in blue who waited just out of reach of the boarding ramp when it fell.

Her blonde hair, poking out from under an absurd hat reminiscent of those rock formations, was the only flourish of personality that separated her from her fellow gray Imperials who milled about further in the room. A haughty tilt to her head that required she look down her nose to see anything, she glanced repeatedly from Kix to the datapad in her hands once it was clear he was the only human arriving. And Kix had made sure he was the first one off the transport.

“CT-6116?” she asked with a bewilderment that seemed foreign on her face. This was an official who didn’t like to be bewildered; like any good Imperial she must have just liked being in charge.

“Kix, if you please,” he said. If she had his clone wars record—which the Empire still kept around after all clones were forcibly retired a decade and a half ago—then her confusion must have stemmed from the fact that he looked nothing like his days in the war. For one, he had a full head of graying hair, and two, a very impressive goatee that Kix was quite proud of. “Look here,” he added, pointing to his left temple, “you can still see the edge of my tattoo, if it helps.”

The blonde woman lost most of her vexation at that, because clearly no one would be mad enough to commit to facial tattoos just to fake an identity. She stowed the datapad and her air of authority returned in full. “Welcome to Lothal City… Kix. I am Minister Maketh Tua, I oversee the Empire’s industrial vision here and I was the one to hire you.”

“I live to serve,” Kix said with a slight bow. He’d learned early on to keep the derision out of his voice when he said that line—and for whatever reason, Imperials always seemed a little more at ease once it was out of his mouth. The Minister was no different.

“Your duty will be tending to the local factory workers, who’ve suffered from the lack of a qualified doctor for ages. If, however, we have Imperials that need your attention, they take priority. Understood?”

“I’m familiar with the standard practice of the Empire, yes.”

The Minister paused as if she wanted to contest his opinion, but instead turned toward the door on the opposite wall. “Follow me, I’ll show you to your workstation.”

On the other side of Lothal City, an unusual amount of dust blew into the cantina with the customers today, and Ezra Bridger’s task every other time—between bussing tables and running orders out to people—was sweeping that tenacious dust right back out. But there would never be a way to truly clean this old cantina, Ezra knew. By now he’d accepted that it was part of the charm, just like the memorabilia from the Clone War decorating the walls and the entire nose of a clone transport crowning the roof of the inn. It was surprising the Imperial occupiers allowed this ode to a former era when not much else was.

Ezra’s black hair flopped wildly as he bounced between his jobs, but he always maintained that perky demeanor of a fourteen-year-old. He had worked at Old Jho’s Inn for several years already. Officially, anyway. He lurked around the building for years before that, earning odd jobs here and there from a sympathetic Ithorian who was well aware of the fact that Ezra had been parentless since the age of seven. The sympathy lasted until Ezra was eleven when Old Jho gave up and hired the boy to service the first floor cantina and second floor rooms. The rooms were mostly for passing spacers in between jobs. The cantina was mostly for the locals.

Ezra had just stowed the broom in its corner when the front door slid open and a couple of humans entered. The one Ezra recognized was a kindly looking market vendor who took a seat at the bar.

“Afternoon, Mr. Jenn,” Ezra greeted despite the dust. “The usual?”

Mr. Jenn nodded. “Thanks, Ezra.”

Old Jho himself had discarded his task of wiping down the bar in favor of chatting with Jenn until Ezra returned with a warm plate. The adult’s hushed conversation of Imperial developments in the marketplace pricked Ezra’s ears, but the second Ezra set down the plate in front of Mr. Jenn, Jho shooed Ezra back to work. It was an unfair double standard: he was as curious about the current affairs happening in his own town as anyone else, yet because he was only a teenager, all the adults preferred to keep these conversations away from him, like being ignorant of the facts would protect him.

Ezra would’ve protested if other customers hadn’t been waiting, and wiping his hands on his discolored apron, he hurried to a booth where a gray-haired stranger sat. The man was so engrossed in inspecting the clone wars-era painted logos and pin-ups decorating the walls that he didn’t even notice Ezra. He was clearly not from around here: he had enough hair to pull back into a bun which was a lack of efficiency not attempted in the capital. Not to mention it looked ridiculous.

“Hey there, welcome to Old Jho’s. We’ve got a special today: buy a side of shavaca-do, get three free.”

The man looked at Ezra, a quiet confidence surrounding him like a glow, and Ezra wasn’t sure whether to feel safe or wary around him. “How is that making you a profit?”

“We just really need to get rid of it at this point,” Ezra said. Its popularity on the neighboring planet Garel did nothing to affect the opinions on the natives of Lothal.

The stranger only chuckled. “I’ll have the burger special—no shavaca-do. And if Jho’s around, tell him I’d like to see him.”

Ezra looked the man up and down before taking his order to the kitchen. He’d never heard that accent in his life, making him wonder just where in the galaxy that man came from. Strangers didn’t know locals by name, but when they did it usually meant trouble. While stormtroopers could never be counted on for actual defense, Ezra always took comfort in the fact that he had a concealed slingshot built into his left cuff, and was a fantastic aim—if he was being humble.

It was no wonder the man hadn’t seen Jho, as the Ithorian still stood hunched at the bar, gossiping with Mr. Jenn. It still surprised Ezra that the translator machine wrapped around Jho’s bent neck managed to filter his speech low enough to not be overheard by the patrons sitting in the nearby booths.

Their conversation frustratingly petered out once more as Ezra approached. They both regarded him politely, as if waiting for him to leave again so they could continue their discussion.

“Jho, some new guy wants to talk to you,” Ezra said, pointing to the man in the booth who still found interest in looking at the decorative war posters and clone helmets. Mr. Jenn had no qualms with letting Jho leave the conversation, and he was perfectly content with eating his lunch in peace, even though Ezra prompted him with a, “So… anything new happening in the market today?”

“Same old, same old, Ezra,” said Mr. Jenn, shoulders bent with a weariness that all locals wore anymore. From the terrified whispers earlier that day, Ezra already gleaned how stormtroopers had arrested Vorann, a Rodian vendor in the market, and shut down his stall. It was the third arrest that week, and yet none of the adults had let Ezra in on the conversation when these matters were discussed. There really weren’t any benefits to being a teenager on Lothal.

“Ezra!” Jho called, spindly fingers beckoning him back to the stranger. “I want you to meet someone.” If Jho knew the man then Ezra had no cause to be apprehensive.

“Ezra, this is my old friend, Kix. He helped me acquire half the decorations for the inn when I was just starting up the business.”

Kix’s nod lacked any degree of humility usually seen on Lothal. “I’m more impressed the Imps haven’t confiscated all of them yet.”

“Just gotta know how to negotiate,” Jho chuckled through his translator. “So what brings you here after all these years? Bad time to be on the run, I hear.”

“A job opened up, actually. The factory workers needed a doctor and the Empire called on me. They gave me everything except a place to stay! Par for the course, really. I wanted to see if you had space available for me to rent for the foreseeable future.”

“Don’t think of paying!” Old Jho said. “I still owe you one—we’ll get you a key and you can stay as long as you need.” The cook called from the kitchen that an order was ready, and Ezra dutifully retrieved it. On his way to Kix’s table with the meal, he found Jho sorting through a drawer behind the bar.

“Jho,” he whispered, “what are you thinking?! He’s helping the Empire!”

“He’s helping the factory workers—people from Lothal,” Jho said sternly. He plucked out a key card and slid it on the tray next to the utensils. “And Force knows they need all the help they can get.”

Ezra glowered at the mention of the Force. People often called upon it, but it’s not like there was some benevolence interacting in their lives and saving them from the iron fist that squeezed the city tighter each passing day. Ezra delivered Kix’s plate of food with a distrustful expression back in place.

While Kix had accepted the room for free, he protested the mention of free meals. Good thing, too, or else Ezra would’ve really had to talk to Jho about good business practice.

If there was one thing Ezra knew after working a job for three years, it was good business practice.

Over the coming week, Kix integrated into his role as doctor. The last person previously slated as medic for local factory workers had been an Imperial with the bare minimum knowledge of first aid, and for any injury requiring more than a plast-aid, he recommended them to the hospital. Except the factory hardly gave workers time off to go to the hospital.

Kix worked full twelve-to-fourteen hour days, and most nights he didn’t even make it back to the inn in time for dinner.

One afternoon, two stormtroopers interrupted his line of patients to escort him back to the Imperial Complex where an officer needed medical attention. Kix followed them to the staging floor, a bay where supplies and tech lined the duracrete expanse in some semblance of organization, to be loaded onto ships on the equally large landing pad just outside the doors.

The officer in question was Commandant Cumberlayne Aresko, a long-faced man with a sickly pallor that turned out to be his normal skin tone. A stack of crates had fallen on him and while nothing was cut or broken, his ensuing unresponsiveness prompted others to send for Kix. A thicker-built imperial, Taskmaster Grint, hovered. He showed so much worry that Kix had to wonder if Grint wasn’t the one to push the crates onto Aresko himself. Grint was too preoccupied with worry to help the handful of stormtroopers a meter away from them re-stack the fallen crates.

As Kix shone a light into Aresko’s eyes, a passing group caught his attention—Minister Tua and two stormtroopers, headed for the outside landing pad. Following the sound of a standard Imperial ship, they returned with an additional member, someone dressed in sleek black armor who walked with too much personality to be an Imperial. It wasn’t one of the variety of troopers that now populated the army in all colors of armor spanning the spectrum from white to gray to black; this was something else entirely.

“Always something interesting going on here, I see.” Kix nodded in the direction of the group entering a turbolift, and Taskmaster Grint paused his worry long enough to pick up on it.

“I always steer clear of Force-users. Nothing good ever comes from havin’ ‘em around.”

“I thought the Jedi were wiped out,” Kix said, his voice low and all attention off of Aresko.

“They were,” Grint said matter-of-factly. “That’s an inquisitor.”

Kix paused a moment. “What’s he inquiring about?”

“What?”

Ezra found it difficult to maintain suspicion of Kix when the old man was almost never around. As Ezra didn’t live in Old Jho’s Inn, he was already gone for the day every time the doctor returned to his room. Out of sight, out of mind, and Ezra fell back into to his daily routine, unbothered.

The front door swooshed open to admit a cloud of dust swirling through the streams of warm afternoon light, and Ezra grabbed the broom with a groan. The hooded customer to enter, however, stood right in the middle of the dust, making Ezra’s job much harder. His threadbare cloak had seen harsher climates than here on Lothal, and it hardly seemed fit to protect either the human underneath or the security chest he carried under one arm.

There was something about this stranger, beyond his physical appearance—standing near him made Ezra’s fingertips prickle and the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. But it wasn’t a sense of danger, like when shiny white-clad stormtroopers passed through the market and Ezra was holding merchandise in his hands.

This was… something else.

“Uh… can I help you?” Ezra asked.

The man looked in every other possible direction before finding Ezra under his nose. He pulled back his hood to expose a head of dark hair and a yellow stripe across his face, just under his eyes. Either he was a near-human species, or he was a human from a planet with a strange fashion sense.

“A room,” he said in a strained voice; Lothal dust usually did that to a person. Ezra diligently scuttled behind the bar to grab a key card from the drawer only for the man to snatch it right out of Ezra’s hand without a word of thanks. Heading for the stairs, he muttered, “Don’t disturb me.”

“Wasn’t gonna,” Ezra muttered in reply. Old Jho’s Inn may have been the only inn in this sector of Lothal City, but it certainly wasn’t anything fancy. Some spacers came from rims closer to the core worlds with wild ideas of service. Like food brought directly to their rooms when the cantina was a staircase away, or morning wake up calls.

Ezra took to the invasive dust again, not even thinking of the stranger until he appeared that evening around dinnertime.

The first floor cantina received much more patronage at lunch when the market was open and workers on break needed to grab convenient food. Evenings were a different story because hardly anyone ventured away from home with the rumors of an unwritten curfew in effect. The dinner crowd was usually made up of just the customers rooming at the inn. Lately that crowd numbered fewer and fewer, and tonight it was just…

The man with the stripe, now devoid of both cloak and security chest, took a seat at the bar, and Ezra popped up in front of him with the same energy as if it were midday.

“Gimme the fried nerf special,” the man said with a gesture that was too lazy to even point at the menu board. “And something strong to drink.”

“How strong?” Ezra asked.

Kriffin’ strong, kid.”

“We’ve got lighter fluid in the kitchen and engine oil out back. Do either of those work for you?” Ezra saw the stranger’s teeth at that. The man didn’t immediately harden back to his original gruff manner, either, as if he was savoring a rare feeling.

“At this point,” he sighed, “I wouldn’t say no to either.”

Ezra slipped into the kitchen to place the order with the cook before continuing his usual routine tidying the cantina. He found himself glancing at the stranger while wiping down booths and again while taking a broom to the entire floor. Ezra knew this was a spacer, but he didn’t feel like one of the opportunists who came to Lothal expecting to easily scam naive people on a backwater world. His palms still prickled in his presence, which seemed like it should be a warning of some sort, but Ezra knew it wasn’t. Even though he wasn’t sure how he knew.

“Order up!” the cook called from the kitchen as a loaded plate slid onto the counter. Ezra tossed the broom against the nearest wall and zipped behind the bar to deliver the meal to the stranger. He already had his drink; Jho poured it because Ezra still wasn’t allowed to serve alcohol.

There really weren’t any benefits to being a teenager on Lothal.

The man looked just as unimpressed with the meal Ezra pushed in front of him as he did with his drink. But he dug in with the intensity of someone who hadn’t eaten in days. Ezra related to that feeling a little too well.

Ezra returned to his sweeping even though he was bursting with questions to ask. Like where was the man from, or what was he doing here. More importantly: did he have any stories to tell? In Ezra’s experience, other people’s stories were the only way for him to visit the galaxy.

The floor was dust-free by the time Ezra returned to the bar to find the man done with his meal.

“I’ll take a second round,” he said, pushing the plate towards Ezra. The cook grunted acknowledgment when Ezra placed the order in the kitchen, leaving Ezra with nothing else to do except return to the bar and wipe down what Jho already cleaned not fifteen minutes earlier. Only slower. The man, though, seemed to stare straight through the wall ahead of him.

“Just come back from a long journey?” Ezra asked. He earned the stranger’s suspicious stare. “A lot of spacers order as much food here as possible after living off of ration cubes.”

No reply.

He tried again after clearing his throat—but his voice still cracked: “So, what’s your name?” Ezra had no theory or expectation for what exactly made this man different, but he would find out.

The stranger watched him over that bright yellow stripe. With his eyebrows just as flat, he looked doubly unimpressed.

“My name’s Ezra,” he volunteered, completely abandoning his ruse of cleaning the bar top. “Ezra Bridger.”

The man shoved his chin into his hand as he leaned on the bar, dark eyes tight, and Ezra felt the full brunt of his inspection. His fingertips prickled again.

“How old are you, Ezra Bridger?”

“Fourteen.”

The man’s stern eyes glazed over then; math usually did that to a person. He came back around and his hand dropped from his face along with his interest. His eyes fell to his drink and he swirled it around. “What a time to be alive,” he mumbled.

“Sorry?”

“Name’s Vos,” he said with renewed interest, as if on a second wind. “Nice to meet you, Ezra.”

“You too. Gonna be on Lothal for awhile, Vos? Wish I could recommend anything interesting about this place but… we honestly have nothing going for us.”

An easy smile rocked on Vos’ face. “Sounds perfect. I’ll be around until I decide what to do nex—” His attention diverted to the door so quickly that even Ezra braced himself. But no one entered. Not even the stormtrooper roving guard was heard stomping down the street, and they usually competed to see who could make the most noise at night. Vos eased himself back into his seat with difficulty. “Actually, I’ll take that meal to go.”

Before Ezra could voice his confusion, the cook shouted, “Order up!” and a plate slid onto the back counter. Vos grabbed it right out of Ezra’s hands and bounced up the stairs to his room, leaving Ezra to stare after him as the sensation in his palms dulled with the distance.

Jho emerged from the back room he used as his office a minute later and dimmed the first floor lights. “Thanks for all your help today, Ezra. Go on home.”

The stillness blanketing the city heightened Ezra’s expectation that something was going to happen as he returned home to his tower, which stood well outside the reach of town. But he didn’t pass a soul. He just spent the majority of that journey wildly checking his surroundings for no reason. Maybe Vos’ antics had influenced him because an odd, queasy feeling took hold of his gut, and Ezra couldn’t shake the feeling he was being watched.

His morning commute was much better, and Ezra reached the inn by his usual time to clean the second floor just before the lunch rush began. He ran into Vos exiting his room, empty plate in hand.

Vos stopped, a sudden friendliness about him. “Ezra, can you do me a favor?”

Ezra grimaced at a line all too common.

“Keep an eye out for… unscrupulous people. I’m trying to lie low and people out there are trying to find me.”

“That’s really vague,” Ezra said, mouth suspended waiting for a punchline because strangers—especially spacers—always kept their problems to themselves. Who in their right mind would share their real business with a teenager?

“Well, I don’t exactly know who’s after me, I just know they are. They make you feel sick to your stomach just to be near them. If they come for me, Ezra, give me a heads up, yeah? Can you do that for me?”

Ezra wanted to tell Vos of better plans—like not to entrust his life to a fourteen-year-old who only worked at the inn part time. But the intensity in Vos’ eyes was borderline hypnotic, and along with the prickling in his hands that started out so subtle, Ezra found himself nodding.

“Sure, yeah. I guess I can—” But Vos was already down the stairs.

His cleaning routine slowed that morning with his mind preoccupied by Vos’ words. Perhaps the odd feeling that had washed over him last night, the feeling that must’ve hurried Vos away after dinner, was what Vos meant. It was also a good idea to tell Jho, and maybe the kitchen workers. But then again, they kept things like this away from Ezra all the time on account of him being a teenager. Ezra could leave them out of it this time. He told himself it was to be selfless and not put even more on their plates than they already had. But there was a little accusatory voice in the back of his head telling him he was just trying to prove he was capable of something like this—and that he really should tell an adult. Ezra swatted that voice away.

This secret carried him through the day with higher enthusiasm than normal, because sure he interacted with all the local lunch customers, but he was really looking out for unscrupulous people on Vos’ behalf. Amid the diligence, Ezra couldn’t help noticing Jho droop throughout the day. His effort to greet every customer waned, he personally fielded fewer orders throughout the day, and he spent half the day in the office.

Ezra only approached him after dinner, when the lights were dim for nighttime cleaning. He found the Ithorian hunched in his office, tapping away on an old ‘pad. “Hey, Jho, everything all right?”

The Ithorian jumped in his seat, but his expression bent into guilt.

“Just business things, Ezra, go on home.” Even with a translator, Jho sounded different when he lied. Ezra had always had a sense for when people lied to him, a nagging feeling in the back of his head along with a twisting in his chest.

“Jho, tell me the truth. Something’s off.”

His boss sighed and scrolled back up through the datapad. “The Empire’s bad for business, you know. I’ve been steadily losing money with folks afraid to leave their houses at night, or be seen outside too early in the morning. Customers come mostly for the cantina anymore, not the lodging and I… I can’t afford to keep employing the full staff.”

Ezra’s stomach dropped. He knew his job was the most expendable, as he was the most limited by what he could do. He wasn’t old enough to work in the kitchen, he wasn’t old enough to serve alcohol. There really weren’t any benefits to being a teenager on Lothal.

“I can pay you until the end of the month,” Jho continued, “but after that I’m… gonna have to let you go, Ezra. I’m sorry.”

Everything about Ezra froze. What he said to Jho—if he said anything—failed to reach his own ears; the next thing he knew, he was outside, the light from the twin moons paving his way home in a dull glow. He walked as if he wasn’t in control of his own body, just a passenger in an automatic vehicle.

His gut twisted as his deluge of memories faded into fears. It was the same distress he’d felt when his parents were first taken away—panic, at a complete loss of how to carry on in a world suited to adults. The aching abandonment, like a sharp stab to the lungs with every breath.

This job had at least given him purpose, and a sliver of respect from people. Without it, he’d just be some orphan on the street, struggling to get by.

Ezra tried to breathe. His chest was tight. Too tight. He stopped walking just to catch his breath, leaning against the wall of the last building before the empty expanse that opened beyond the city. From here on it turned into a solitary walk, where no one but Ezra traveled because he was the only one to live out this far, in a tower all by himself. A long walk, where no one could hear him cry. It gave his mind time to assault him with Jho’s words on repeat, and taunt Ezra with rebuttals he could’ve attempted, like demanding Jho’s friend Kix pay rent instead of living for free and costing Ezra his job.

Halfway home, Ezra stopped when a cold shiver shot down his spine. He wiped his face and glanced back to the silence of Lothal City. It slept like any other night, gray and cold, but it felt like a panic had awoken—outside of himself, outshining his own anguish. Ezra had no idea why, but Vos immediately flashed to mind, and the image spurred him to sprint back to town.

Old Jho’s Inn was in view when Ezra heard a dull crash that made his palms prickle. Ezra flipped the concealed energy slingshot out of his left cuff as he slid into the cantina. Jho peered out from his office door in the back corner. One glance told Ezra he was fine, just shaken. Another crash rocked the floor above them.

“Ezra! Don’t go up there!” Jho called as Ezra took the stairs two at a time. Ezra’s surprise at his own determination only kicked in when he reached the second floor, but by then the scuffle emanating from Vos’ open door banished all thought.

Ezra ran to the doorway with his energy slingshot crackling taut to find a slender black-armored figure fighting Vos. The foe wielded a humming red blade while Vos fended him off with the remaining half of his chair. Just when the stranger lifted his blade to strike, Ezra released his sling. A direct hit to the black helmet. The shot sent his whole body staggering to the side. He whipped his head around and from the black facemask stared two bright yellow eyes. They pierced through Ezra and that feeling of sickness punched him right in the gut.

Vos lunged forward with a scream and pinned the attacker between the chair and the wall. The red weapon fell in the ensuing barrage of punches landed by Vos, and the blade retracted before the semicircle metal hilt clattered to the floor.

In the span it took for Ezra to consider rushing in and grabbing the weapon, the fighters were moving again—their speed inhuman. Black Armor pushed Vos away, and his weapon seemed to jump back into his hands of its own accord. He stabbed forward as Vos swung the only thing he had left: the chair legs. There were pained noises and close quarter movement and all of a sudden Vos had the red blade in his hands. It stuck right out of black armor’s chest. The blade disintegrated and the attacker crumpled with a final wheeze.

Vos himself staggered, and for the first time, Ezra saw that his shirt was punctured from his own stab wounds.

He pointed to his belongings in the corner next to the tousled bed as he fell to his knees. “Chest—bring it…”

Ezra crossed the room in one bound to grab the security chest doing a poor job of hiding under Vos’ cloak. It looked no more than twenty pounds, but acted like it was attached to the floor.

“Concentrate,” Vos groaned from behind him. Though that could’ve just been him talking to himself, at this point.

Ezra tried again, lifting with all his strength. An odd feeling swept over him, like he was tapping into a power outside of himself, but all around him, that helped him lift and carry the chest to Vos.

The man now propped himself on one arm and every breath was a struggle. “This hurts a lot more than it looks,” he hissed through gritted teeth. He punched in a code on the touchpad embedded in the front of the chest and the lid swung open to reveal… junk. A couple of datapads with cracked screens were buried under small mechanical pieces that looked like they were pilfered from someone’s workbench. The only valuable item was a small credit bag, but that wasn’t enough to warrant a security chest.

“This inquisitor was after the treasure map. More will come now—” Vos hissed again, clutching his side.

“Come on, we’ve gotta get you to a doctor,” Ezra said, but Vos carried on as if he hadn’t heard him.

“Take it. I don’t care if you follow it or bury it, just don’t let them get it.” Vos fished out a datapad from under scrap metal and held it out. Footsteps echoed from the hallway as Ezra flipped it around in his hand expecting it to look a little more extraordinary than regular datapads.

“It’s a treasure map? Are you serious?” he asked with half a smile. Even though he hardly knew Vos, he wouldn’t put it past the man to go out with a joke.

“Jedi treasure. Don’t let them get it, Ezra.” His face, contorted in pain, was quite serious.

Kix barged into the room then, taking one look at the damage before hunkering down on Vos’ other side and ripping Vos’ shirt away from his injuries in assessment.

Neither Vos nor Ezra paid any attention to the doctor.

“A Jedi can open it,” Vos said, hissing again as Kix worked. “But anyone who says they’re a Jedi is either a liar or a ghost. You’ll”—he groaned, and his head lolled—“open it f…ine.” His bracing arm failed and Vos slumped against the floor.

Ezra finally glanced at Kix, expectant.

“He woulda needed an operation to survive a lightsaber wound to the gut,” Kix said, tan eyes bent in just as much sympathy as Ezra’s. “Not even the nearest Imperial hospital has the equipment for an operation that precise.”

Old Jho poked his eyes into the room now that the scuffle stopped, followed by the rest of him. “What happened in here?” His question was so soft it hardly disturbed the heavy silence.

Ezra glanced down at the ‘pad in his hand. “He said that inquisitor was after this. A map to a Jedi treasure.”

“I wouldn’t exactly equate the Jedi with wealth,” Kix said.

“Did you know them?” Ezra demanded, wide eyes immediately on him.

“Aye. You did, too,” Kix said, nodding to Vos.

Questions swirled in Ezra’s head, sparking as quickly as the automatic assumptions that clicked into place—like the prickling reactions Ezra felt when Vos was around. But he still found himself blurting, “How did you know?”

Kix leaned over the body to rifle through Vos’ security chest—which didn’t seem like a doctorly thing to do at all, in Ezra’s opinion. And because Vos entrusted the map to him, Ezra also felt a certain possessiveness over the rest of the chest, as well. At this point, Kix was basically rooting through Ezra’s things. But a moment later Kix pulled out a long, cylindrical object and Ezra’s offence simmered.

“He had this,” Kix said, handing it over. It weighed Ezra’s hand down like a rock. For a moment Ezra wondered how he could’ve mistaken this for junk earlier, despite being camouflaged among the other broken and rusty parts. He pushed the button near the top and a green blade sprang forth, humming as if alive. Ezra shut it off with a scream.