The Apprentice II

Zahira woke up and discovered she was alone. The droid helpfully offered that her guest had left the ship just after dawn and had been gone exactly 4.35 standard hours. She stifled the urge to dismantle the droid as a feeling of dread came over her. Something was terribly wrong. Tigris was gone without a trace.

Nervous anxiety clung to her mind as she ran through the spaceport, searching for Tigris’ aura in vain. She harnessed her fear to drive her feet, racing down the desert street like a flash of wind. She let the Force guide her, and stopped short when she realized she was standing inside a building, full of people, the sounds of cantina music wafting up from the lower levels, even at this hour.

The feeling was stronger here. She grabbed a security guard by the front of his jacket and demanded. “Twi’lek. Pink female, scar here” She jabbed her finger at his face to make her point. The guard was surprisingly unconcerned in the face of the dangerous Sith, and jerked his head at a hallway and muttered in Huttese, “Med bay. That way.” She released him and stalked down the hall, turning into the emergency medical station.

What she saw stopped her cold.

Tigris lay on a bed, her skin faded so pale she was nearly white. Her eyes were closed and a breathing mask obscured her face. A huge, ugly saber wound gaped along her left side. Her aura was weak, faint. She was dying.

“She is stable” A voice spoke in Huttese. Zahira looked up to see another Twi’lek, yellow-skinned and wearing a medic’s tunic, make an adjustment to the medical computer and prepared to replace a kolto pack on the wound. “You are her owner?”

Zahira took some time to understand and consider the words, her mind a maelstrom of disbelief, anger, and rage. She managed to say, “She is my apprentice.” As soon as the words came out of her mouth, she knew the truth of them.

She stood beside the bed, her hands moving as she wove a spell to slip inside Tigris’ mind. The medic had dulled her pain and Tigris felt very little. A core of anger and betrayal rested deep inside Tigris’ consciousness. Zahira tried to reach her. Tried to drag her away from the darkness she was slipping into. I can’t heal you. she poured her will into Tigris, everything she had. She would not let her go without a fight. Don’t go. Stay with me. I want you.

She slipped carefully from her mind, as not to disturb her further. Zahira looked up and glared at the medic. She racked her brain for the Huttese words. “She needs healing. Not one of your doctors. One who knows Force.”

The medic nodded. “There are such on Hutta. Nar Shaddaa. Two, maybe four days to arrive. They are few.”

As soon as she began speaking, the Zabrak shook her head, “No. No, that won’t do. She needs one now. She’ll die. There are none? None at all here?”

The medic looked at her sidelong. “Maybe Jedi, across the des―“

“NO! Anything but Jedi. They will kill her.”

The yellow Twi’lek was quiet, and looked thoughtful for a while. “There is another.” She spoke in hushed tones, as if she were relaying a secret, parsing her words in both Huttese and Basic. “Go up from town, turn towards the morning side of suns and travel far. The ridge of rock has a hole. There is a being there who is known to heal the sick and find the lost. He has power.” She placed the kolto pack on Tigris’ wound, and she stirred, uneasy.

“I am going. Do whatever it takes to keep her alive. WHATEVER it takes.” Zahira pressed a handful of hard credits in to her hand. “Call a surgeon.”

Zahira turned on her heel and raced from the room.

A few precious hours later, Zahira was speeding towards what she hoped was the right ridge in the right direction. She could sense no Force-users here, only sand people, most of whom were not wise enough to stay out of her way. If anyone had been tracking her, her path would have been clear by the trail of the dead.

As the ridge drew closer, she slowed the speeder, wary of ambush. Nothing stirred but the updraft caused by the sharp rock rising above her. She slowly banked the swoop and began to travel down the ridge slowly, looking for anything that could be considered “a hole.” A click or two down the ridge, she saw it. An arch of sandstone at the lip of the rock above her made the wind whistle with an eerie tone. Below that, at the base of the ridge, she saw a cave.

She parked the speeder and put her saber in her hand, unlit. She moved carefully towards the cave, alert for trouble. From the corner of her eye, she saw a sand-colored rock suddenly stand and move. She spun to face the threat, her double blades igniting with a vicious hum as she turned… and couldn’t move her legs at all.

Zahira was stuck, as if frozen to the spot. A being in sand-colored robes stood, his hand raised before him, palm facing her. He carried no saber that she could see. Surprisingly, she sensed no threat from him. She stilled her own saber, returning it to her belt. The being lowered his hand, and she discovered she could move her feet again.

His face was hooded and shrouded in layers of cloth. By the shape of his long face, she knew he was no near-human kind. She could see short white fur around his creased and wrinkled brown eyes.

“I seek a healer.” She said, simply. “Are you him?”

The being spread both his hands open to her and bowed slightly without speaking, his acceptance of that title was plain. “Come.” His voice rumbled deep and warm from under his concealment. He walked towards the cave mouth and beckoned her inside. She entered the dark chamber and hovered there. The space was spare, with shelves and nooks carved into the stone. The cave stretched back into darkness.

“She is in Mos Ila.” She said. “She is dying.”

“We are all journeying towards death.” He replied, quietly. “It just takes some of us longer than others to get there.” He poured a small glass of water and handed it to her. She accepted it, the rituals of her own people moving her hand automatically. To refuse to offer–or accept–water in the desert was both insulting and unwise. The law of hospitality stretched across many worlds and many beings.

She sensed no malice in him but at the same time, she sensed no Jedi-like pride or sense of justice. In fact, she sensed nothing at all. He confused her. Confounded her.

“Her wound is deep, and large. A saber, along her side. Her mind has gone beyond the doors of sleep and I–” She faltered. What had this being done to her composure? “I can’t bear to lose her.”

His large brown eyes, aged beyond age, looked into hers. Zahira knew he was searching her soul as certainly as she had tried to sense his. “Yes. There is potential in you for kindness. There is much corruption in you as well.”

She nodded, “Yes. I kill.”

“You are a predator, child. That is neither good nor evil. It simply is.” At his words, she heard a low growl from the darkness of the cave. A beast stirred there, and took a few paces forward so she could see it. It was an enormous grand wrix with sleek black fur, the rest of the beast made of teeth and claws and muscle.

“Predators can be tender to their own.” He moved towards the beast and rubbed his hand across its wide head. The great cat rumbled and returned the gesture, pushing its head against his hand. “But a predator is never cruel. It kills out of survival. Never for greed. Never for pleasure.” His words were a rebuke. She took great pleasure from killing, and he knew it, somehow.

“Please.” She said. “Please come with me to Mos Ila. Save her.” The emotions that Tigris had awakened pained her. “Save her life, and I will owe you mine.”

“I need no promises, child, I will go.” He turned to gather a travel bag from one of the nooks and slung it across his body. “I feel her spirit within yours, calling out.” He said, cryptically.

She almost ran to the swoop and secured him behind her. She pushed the machine to the edge of its capabilities as she flew across the desert back to Mos Ila.

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