AN Like in the previous chapter, what I've changed is in a note below.
Where A Desert Prophet Re-joins Society and Makes Himself Presentable
The man had no face, only oily darkness that was spreading through his veins under the thick grey skin. Eating him from the inside and outside.
There was shouting, words like static—demands for blood, for death, for a show.
He wanted to spring forward, but he couldn't—something coiled around his legs, holding him in place as the man approached—and no, his skin wasn't grey, why had he thought it had been? It was tan, like his own, familiar scars snaking down his arms and-
A hand gripped his thigh, another his ankle, nails digging into skin. He couldn't move, and if he couldn't move, he couldn't fight.
If he couldn't fight, he'd die. It would be his blood on the sand, his body for the feast. The man was now nothing but darkness, and close enough for him to strike. He watched the black arms raise and start to fall, fingers coiled around a 'saber, but then something pulled Xesh back.
A hand on his wrist, another over his mouth and nose. A woman, her black hair bound into a thick braid was holding the dark figure by its wrists. She looked almost like a giant then, and then the dark shape lashed out with a leg.
The woman stumbled and the blade fell.
Her head rolled, and when it stopped, he knew who it was. Thick white dreadlocks had taken the place of the dark braid, and her eyes were milky white. Her body was so much smaller now—a broken doll, its strings cut.
Blood flowed over the sand, but it never quenched its thirst.
They were still shouting—for blood, for death.
There would be no escape and no rescue. He was alone and he had to fight, if he wanted to survive.
The content of Quan-Jang's mug of tea had long ago gone from hot to barely tepid. Unfortunately, he only discovered it now, having taken a sip. It wasn't even that the report he had been reading was written in a riveting style, but what was found among the remains of the escape pod and crashed ship…
Not much of the actual vessel had survived—the speed at which the ship had met the surface of Tython had seen to that. There was something that Tem's engineers guessed should be a black box, although apparently it looked more like neon orange arachnid. Curiously, there was no sign of a power source—no radioactive materials, no fossil fuel…
The escape pod had been hit by some of the debris, and while it was in one piece, it was also fairly badly banged up. Still, it clearly had done its purpose and delivered the survivor in more or less one piece.
Sadly, nothing they had found so far bore any hints as to why the ship had crashed or what it had carried aside from the young human. There were traces of organic matter, but most of it seemed to have burned up during atmospheric entry. It could have been food, it could have been one or two other passengers. They had managed to establish that the crew of the ship would have been no more than three, given its size.
There were other details in the report—the composition of the materials the ship was made of, a thorough description of all the parts that had been found… But it seemed that unless they broke the encryption of the black box, the only way they could shed light on this mystery was to ask the survivor.
The survivor who had been hostile to the first people he had met. The survivor who felt like a wound in the Force.
Quan-Jang gulped down more of his tepid tea and put away the datapad with the report. He had another matter that needed attending to. The way the survivor felt in the Force made him think of something that his former apprentice had said more than ten years ago, before he had gone to the Silent Desert to meditate on his vision of doom.
It did not appear he had reached any conclusions, given that he had not seen fit to return, but Quan-Jang had a feeling his time was up regardless of that. Daegen was going to have to come back and get involved again.
The room was one of many such in the Temple of Healing—white walls and floor covered with easy to clean tiles, and a nondescript bed. It was located deeper into the centre of the enormous structure, and so it had no actual windows, only screens showing the view outside or under the surface. Currently, they were displaying a storm—white-topped waves would crash against the force field that existed exactly in case of such bad weather. They'd sizzle then harmlessly, far from the temple.
The survivor of the crash rose as soon as Rajivari, Ketu and the Sek matriarch had entered the room, with the Master of Akar Kesh in the lead and Rajivari last. He was only by Ketu's request here—to show good will and willingness to work with the Council that had voted him out of his seat.
And so, thanks to politics, he had been the last one to see the offworlder. He was a boy of maybe nineteen years—twenty at best. Dressed in a sick-gown, he looked perfectly ordinary, save for the noticeable scars on his legs. The long pale grey sleeves covered his arms, but Rajivari guessed they were similarly scarred.
What truly caught Rajivari's attention was how the Force felt around the boy—it was alive with fear, anger and hate; like a trapped animal that knew it couldn't run and wouldn't survive a fight. The others must have sensed it too. He saw the Sek matriarch purse her lips as she stroked one of her lekku. She was the oldest of them all, and though age had bent her back and robbed her of some of her mass, but she still towered over him and Ketu. Certainly, the stripped horns added to an already imposing figure—something that a number of men had not failed to notice back in her youth.
"What's your name?" Ketu asked. Rajivari's former student maintained a calm demeanour with ease, his thoughts and feelings guarded from anyone, even his teacher. His hands were laced together, his back straight and he his dark eyes hooded.
The boy refused to meet their eyes stubbornly, features set in a scowl. His hands shook slightly, and he balled them into fists, so tight that the knuckles turned white.
"We'd rather not resort to calling you 'hey you'," Rajivari added. "What should we call you?"
"Xesh," the boy answered curtly.
Well, they ought to have guessed. It was written on his face. Rajivari bit down several comments—there was no point in agitating the child any further.
"Can you tell us what happened to the ship you were on?" Ketu continued. He scratched his dark beard absent-mindedly, and the boy's eyes followed the movement keenly.
"No," he said.
"Can't or won't?" Rajivari asked dryly. This was getting tedious—surely, the boy was capable of answering not just in monosyllables.
"I can't—I don't remember what happened," the boy answered. He tensed up visibly, but it seemed like there might be getting somewhere now that he finally managed to spit out a full sentence. His accent was noticeable now that he said more than one word—sharp and clipped, with a distinct trill to the r's. "We could have been running from a battle, or it could have been an accident or sabotage."
"Then perhaps you remember what you were doing here?" the Sek matriarch asked, her tone gentle. She leant forward, the crystal beads of her tiara catching light with the movement.
The boy glanced at her, then resumed staring at the floor. "No. It could have been that my master wanted to conquer your world, or it could have been an accident."
Rajivari gave Ketu a sharp look. His former apprentice maintained a calm facade, but Rajivari could see his fingers tense for a moment. The Sek matriarch leant forward ever so slightly, the lines around her orange eyes growing deeper.
"With one ship?" Ketu asked.
The boy froze up completely for a moment, and then asked, "There was only one ship?"
Rajivari sensed no deceit. That was a genuine surprise for him, as odd as it was.
"Yes," the Sek matriarch said. "Don't you remember?"
The boy shook his head. Rajivari sensed more fear from him, and it was still directed at them. He was expecting some sort of a negative reaction, that much was obvious.
"Will more come?" he asked.
"I don't- They might," the boy answered. "If we were a scouting party then my master's superiors will send another. If it was anything else, they will want to know why he is gone." He started rubbing his wrist as he talked.
Perhaps it was a self-soothing habit.
The Sek matriarch took his hand then and examined his wrist with a frown. It was only cursory—the boy went absolutely still, his eyes fixed on the elder woman. Rajivari fully expected him to lash out in misguided self-defence, but instead he just went still, like a creature that knew there was no point in fighting back.
The woman let go of his hand a moment later, and Rajivari wondered if the hardening of her expression coupled with a surge of maternal anger were caused by what she saw or the boy's reactions. She had always let that part of her nature cloud her vision to the bigger picture.
"Who is your master?" Ketu asked, and then added, "And what do you precisely mean by 'master'?"
"He was a predor of the Infinite Empire," the boy answered. "He was to bring new worlds and slaves to the Empire."
It all was starting to sound positively lovely, Rajivari thought. He simply couldn't wait to hear more. He kept the comment to himself too.
"He owned me," the boy continued. "I killed him. I... don't know if- I don't think I killed anyone else."
"Why did you kill him?" Rajivari asked. He could guess a number of reasons, some of which would make everything less complicated, and some that would not. Given how the situation looks like already, he has a feeling it will not be first case.
"I don't- I can't remember," the boy said. He looked up then, just for a brief moment, and asked, "Are you going to kill me now?"
"We have no intention of harming you," Ketu said. It was met only with disbelief, which quickly turned into suspicion and fear.
Rajivari did not fail to notice, how the Force reacted to every emotion. It went beyond what he knew—in fact, many Force sensitives had claimed fear or anger made using the Force harder. That clearly was not the case with the boy though, and Rajivari wondered why.
It merited studying, at least. A peaceful state was naturally much more conductive of remaining rational, but Rajivari had an inkling the Force could be stirred up like this by something else. Something that would not cloud the mind. But that was something he would have to ponder upon later.
Shae remembered Master Quan's previous apprentice only vaguely. He had left the Temple of Science ten years ago or so, and she had seen him only once or twice. Most of what she recalled was that she had been looking up and up.
Now, they were nearly the same height, and he no longer seemed as imposing, even if he was one of the biggest humans she had met. But then, everyone seemed smaller when compared to a rancor.
She definitely didn't remember the beard, which looked more like a bush, or the hair which was more like something alive and ready to strangle you. It hung well past his back in a sort of bleached-brown tangle. She thought she spotted a desert hopper tangled in it at one point.
The smell had definitely not featured in her memories either.
Still, she worked with animals on a daily basis. She could take unwashed desert prophets.
"You've grown Shae Koda," Daegen Lok informed her placidly. It was likely meant to be a greeting.
"I've been told children do this," she answered, as she placed her hands on her hips. She gave him another once over, in case the first time didn't convey her disapproval. "I take there were no bathrooms in the desert?"
"One uses the giant bathroom on the ground," Daegen Lok replied dryly. "It builds character wonderfully. Especially the sun baking one's brain."
"I will take your wisdom in consideration, Master Lok," Shae answered sweetly. "Did the sun fry your memory, or do you remember how to find a bathroom?"
The older man flashed her a grin. "I even remember how to use it. But thank you nonetheless—it warms an old man's heart to see such kindness in one so young."
"Then I will inform Master Quan-Jang that you will be ready..." She paused and eyed the unkempt mane on Daegen Lok's head. It covered most of his back and looked like it could only be tamed by shaving it off completely.
"Three hours, or so," he said with a shrug. "Four, if you are feeling generous."
- Xesh remembers more of his childhood before being enslaved.
- Tul'kar and Xesh were on a scouting mission, and the ship was much smaller. The reasons for this will become apparent later.
- The council voted Rajivari out of it for making proposals of the "Force-sensitives ought to rule over Force blind" kind.