The air smelled of hot metal and molten plastic. He stumbled out of the heat, out of the smoke, coughing and retching despite the helmet's filters, and fell to his knees. He coughed, his chest radiating the familiar pain that meant a cracked rib, and he barely managed to raise his arms high enough and wrench his helmet off before throwing up.
He took another two ragged gulps of air—it was a bad idea, his cracked rib was throbbing every time—and wiped his mouth with his hand. Then he picked himself up, and looked around. His vision swam with every move, but he could make out enough details to realize what must have happened. There was debris and the burning escape pod behind him—his master ought to have been with him-
He had killed him. He had killed his master—the memory was off, only sensations and no motives—the smell of charred flesh, the sound of air escaping lungs, screams and fire. Why had he done this?
He couldn't answer the question, and pushed it back—it wasn’t the right time, he shouldn't stop, he needed to get away to a safer distance. Hide. If this planet was inhabited, someone would come to find out what happened, and he was wounded. At a disadvantage.
Another few steps—he was in a canyon of some sort. Another disadvantage. He was visible from above, but couldn't see anyone coming from that angle, and climbing out would be difficult and dangerous with a cracked rib, if not impossible. He would have to stay exposed, until he found an easier route.
He had no choice—he had to move forwards, he couldn't go back, he couldn't hide. His vision blurred and he almost tripped, only barely managing to steady himself against the rock beside him. He blinked, trying to force his eyes to focus, but to no avail. He tried not to think that the dull pounding behind his eyes and the problems seeing meant a concussion. The cracked rib was already bad—if somebody found him-
He didn't want to die. Not yet. Not here.
A few more steps, and there was a turn—and he realized he could hear voices only just when reached it. Two? Three? Just over the corner, he should have sensed their presence—he was too focused on trivial things, like injuries. He still had all his limbs, he was not bleeding out, he was in a fighting condition.
He pressed his back against the stone—it was cool even through the leather parts of his armour—and listened.
Three voices—a deep, male one, and two female ones. They were close. Too close—his breath quickened and he felt his hands curl into fists. He unclenched one and gripped the hilt of his 'saber. His hands felt cold, despite the gauntlets, and there was ice in his stomach.
The voices were closer now.
“I think I sense someone,” the higher female voice announced. He knew then the time for hiding was up. He reached out with his mind, trying to get a sense of where his opponents were—sensing them was easy, they were bright in the Force—the man on point, one woman in the middle, the other guarding the rear.
They were only a few steps away, another moment and they would be past where the canyon wall turned. No time to plan, so he pushed himself away from the stone and broke into a run.
He hurled himself around the corner and slammed into the man, shoulder connecting with his chest. He was a brute, much bigger than Xesh, so he couldn’t fully over-balance him. Not a species he recognized—sort of like a red twi’lek with striped head-tails and horns. He reached out to grab one of the tails, but before he could grab it one of the women—a blue twi'lek—lashed out with the Force, and sent him flying. He braced for impact, but there was still a worrying crack and his side started hurting worse, when he hit the canyon wall. Ignoring the pain, he picked himself up and threw the nearest object at the one who attacked him.
She tried to move out of the way—a blur of glittering fabric and blue skin—and the stone didn’t hit the centre of her mass, but rather her shoulder. Her cry was sharp and loud, and she gripped her arm.
“Stop that!” the second woman snapped and moved between him and the others—he heard and felt her anger, like flames flickering against his skin. “We're not going to hurt you, you idiot!”
“Think of a better lie,” he growled, his attention snapping to her. She was broad-shouldered and tall, with chalk-white skin and silver hair. Like the other two, she was unarmed, but did not hesitate to move between them and Xesh.
Her anger did not fade and she looked insulted—good, maybe that would make her incautious and give him some edge.
She opened her mouth, intending to reply, and he jumped at her then, finally managing to clear enough fog in his head to remember to activate his 'saber. His side hurt too much for a full swing, though, and the woman dove out of the way.
She kicked his wrist, hard enough to jolt him and make him drop his weapon. It clattered down at his foot, and the woman kicked it towards the other two. Xesh tried to catch it, but that only resulted in another spike of pain in his side, and him ending up on the ground, clutching his chest.
He sensed the man move past the woman, muscles rippling under red skin, likely intending to use his size and greater reach to overpower Xesh. He rolled out of his way, each breath laboured and painful. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of giving up, though, and he somehow found the strength to pick himself up. His vision was swimming again, his opponents more like vague shapes at a distance he can no longer tell.
He wouldn't win this. Not in this state.
He took stumbling step back, and tried to find some venue of escape, but he couldn't see any. Behind him there was the burning wreckage, the canyon walls too high and steep to even think about scaling them, and the three Force-sensitives were blocking the only other way out.
He sensed movement behind him before he had heard it—scales scraping against sand and stone, but it was still too late. He had no time to react, too sluggish from pain and dizziness, and only realized he's alive, when air rushed behind him. There was a hand on his wrist—one of the women pushed him behind her. He landed on his knees, and looked up at her—it was the tall one with white skin.
The shape before her was huge—slithering, snake-like body and a maw that was full of needle-like teeth, but somehow she didn’t seem dwarfed by it. He couldn't sense anger from her anymore—just a kind of serenity, like the soft light of a moon over a lake. She was holding her hand out, a commanding gesture, holding the snake-like creature at bay somehow.
The snake-like creature backed off slightly, and hesitated. It tossed its head to the side, and made a kind of wet hiss.
The woman before him was trembling with effort, and barked at the other two, “I can't keep it away for too long. Get away!”
He didn't grasp what she meant, not until he felt hands gripping his arm and someone helped him up, and pulled him back even further. He reeled, and watches the man toss his ‘saber to the woman. It hissed as sand melted against the blade, until it stopped near the woman’s foot. She picked it up slowly, never breaking eye-contact with the snake-thing. None of it made sense—she was not wounded—she should have left him or the twi'lek behind and run-
Instead, the other two would leave her behind for that thing to extinguish her and she would let them—and that somehow seemed much worse than him dying. He twisted out of the grip of whoever had grabbed him and gathered all his strength and anger at the mere idea that they’d let it happen.
He pulled at the canyon walls and tore chunks of rock off, then hurled them at the snake-thing. It took out almost everything out of him. His legs gave out, but there was a wet thud and the sand swirled around him for a moment. Somehow, he couldn't manage to find his fear or anger anymore. There were worse ways to die—he didn’t know why he’d think that, but his mind was too sluggish to try and think of anything.
The white-skinned woman knelt down in front of him—a blur of white and dark grey. There was something he should say to her, he thought. She’d tried to protect him and that meant… something. But the only think that he managed to dredge out from the wiry wool that had replaced his mind were the words the fallen were meant to say to the victor
“I sought death in battle, but if this is my fate, then so be it,” he said. “When you eat my body, my heart is yours. You won it.”
Her eyes widened in shock, and she recoiled. “We don't do that.”
It was only then that he realized she might not have been lying when she had said they wouldn't hurt him.
“Oh,” he said just as everything went black.
“I am never going to hear the end of this, am I?” Shae groaned as she looked at the unconscious man with an expression that was part dismay, part horror and embarrassment. He was human as far as she could tell and looked about her age, she thought—it wasn't that easy to tell, though. Starting with the tattoo—the letter “xesh” in pale purple ink over his nose and eyelids. She briefly wondered why anyone would have that tattooed. A fresh bruise was discolouring one of his eyes, blood crusting over the other—there was a nasty looking cut over his eyebrow. Another bruise, older but still visible was covering a part of his chin, and there were several cuts over his lips. The parts of his skin that were not covered in blood or bruises, were tan. Black hair clung to his face, some of it stuck to the dry blood.
The metal chest plate was somewhat dented, and Shae could see several tears in the black padded leather that made up most of his armour, with more scabbing cuts and bruises peeking out from underneath.
“Hey, you got him to stop trying to kill us,” Sek'nos replied and shrugged his massive shoulders. “You're getting no complaints from me.” He peered down at the unconscious survivor, orange eyes narrowing and wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Took him long enough to figure out that we're not enemies.”
He then looked at the splattered remains of the saarl, and absentmindedly rubbed the forming bruise on his chest. Shae tried not to think about the moment when the rocks tore away from the cliff and slammed into the poor animal. True, it had been intending to eat them, but that was just its nature.
“He didn't,” Tasha pointed out, as she knelt down next to Shae, the dark blue fabric of her overcoat spilling around her and gathering dust. “He still thought we were going to kill him. And eat him. I would have tried to kill anyone who'd want to do that to me—is it really so strange he did?”
She winced and shook her head, one lekku sliding over her shoulder. Her blue eyes were wide, concerned. “That doesn't look good. I don't think we should move him.”
“One of us needs to go back, admit to being stupid and ask for help transporting someone with injuries the extent we don't know of,” Shae said firmly. Someone had to make decisions, and it seemed it was up to her.
“I'll go,” Tasha said quickly. “He seems to have... I don't know, decided he'd rather get killed by you-” she nodded at Shae, “rather than anything else, and you're not wounded. So, if he wakes up and you need to subdue him, you and Sek'nos will manage.” She rubbed her arm. “I'm going to be a liability.”
Sek'nos looked doubtful, as he rubbed one of the navy blue stripes on his left montral. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like he intended to voice his doubts, which meant that it was up to Shae to do so.
“And you are going to get yourself eaten on the way,” she said, somewhat testily. Sometimes Tasha seemed to be competing for the title of Little Miss Perfect Martyr, really. “Sek'nos, you go.” When he gave her a doubtful look, she scoffed, then picked up the now inactive energy blade—quite like the weapons Master Madog had been experimenting with, come to think of it. Then, she handed it to the young togruta. “You take that. I'll tell him he has to go with us, if he wants it back, if he still wants to fight and if he wakes up at all.”
She gave the unconscious man another doubtful look. “He's pretty badly battered. I really don't think he will wake up. We're in more danger from scavengers than him.”
That seemed to convince Sek'nos. He slapped Shae's shoulder in encouragement and grinned at Tasha, before turning back and breaking into a brisk jog. Shae watched him go, before looking back to the unconscious mystery man.
She wasn't an expert on healing humans—or well, any other sentient beings—but she could at least check if there was anything immediate to be done.
The light leaking from the reinforced windows illuminated only a fraction of the ocean beyond them. Just enough for curious fish and cephalopods to occasionally stop and watch, until an opportunistic carnivore chased them away. It was the sight that anyone who needed to visit the heads of the Temple of Healing was greeted with.
Jia Ter Aen sat straight, hands folded on eir lap. Eir large green ears were drooping, but otherwise ey was not showing any signs of eir mood. Nevertheless, Calleh could sense that the younger healer was upset. Unlike herself, Jia did not find the view from the windows soothing. Land-dwelling species tended to be unnerved by being reminded that the Temple of Healing was partially submerged. It clearly was not helping Jia to centre eirself now.
Calleh waited politely for the younger healer to gather eir wits, until finally eir emotions settled into a calmer state.
“The patient is stable,” Jia said, eir tone business-like. “The initial assessment of his the most serious injuries was correct—he has a concussion, one broken rib and two cracked ones. There is a number of smaller cuts and bruises. He exhausted himself quite badly, but I sedated him nonetheless.”
“But?” Calleh asked. She could guess at least a part of what was bothering Jia—after all, she could also sense the young human. Even unconscious, he exuded a sense of wrongness in the Force. It made her think of a bird caught in an oil-spill.
“That were by far not only injuries he's suffered during his life—he has scars that are consistent with battle injuries—a disturbing number in someone so young. Some seem to be years old—he would have been in his early teens when he acquired them,” Jia said. Ey paused, before continuing. “There are others—mostly burns, which are not consistent with battle. They look consistent with self-harm patterns.”
Calleh put one blue-green hand on Jia's shoulder in a gesture of support, her webbed fingers curling around it. As healers, they dealt with so many things that were beyond upsetting. And sometimes, it could be too much.
Jia was still young—at least among her species. It would be a pity, if this trial would prove too much for her.
“Some of them are... he's in his early twenties, most likely,” Jia continued. “Some of his scars are from early childhood.” She looked away. “He’s also slightly under-weight for his size.”
Calleh blinked and waited. There was more coming—she did not need the Force to guess, merely her experience.
“And he feels wrong in the Force. Like... like a wound that has been left open for too long,” Jia said finally, eir ears drooping even lower.
“I understand,” Calleh said. “But you must remember that your pain does not help those you heal. Focus on what you can fix, Jia.”
The younger healer exhaled slowly and nodded. “I will compile a report for the Council. And inform them when the patient will be fit to answer questions.”
She stood up and left Calleh to her own thoughts.