Time: +18 Months After Zakuul Invasion.
Rishi, Southern Hemisphere.
Moist heat. The kind that only needed a few minutes of exposure before your shirt clung to your back like a second skin. Mosquitoes buzzed around their heads, eagerly looking for unclothed skin to settle on. Every member of their party had beads of sweat running down their temples, smudges of dirt lining the path their hands had taken to wipe at the droplets. The air was filled with noise from the jungle surrounding them; the singing of colourful birds, insects twittering, scuttling and zooming around, all accompanied and overseen by the groaning of ancient trees in a breeze that didn’t reach the ground level.
Kallum cursed. Groove grunted in reply. At the front of the procession, Lucasta growled and slapped away another brightly coloured bug before pushing past an impossibly vibrant green plant, its long leaves unfurling into their path like graceful limbs decorated with blood red flowers the size of cabbages. Tree roots littered the jungle floor, seemingly appearing out of nowhere to snag their feet and wind around their legs. Somewhere behind them, a bellowing roar caused a flock of birds to take to the sky. Glancing at Lychus, Lucasta quickened her pace.
After what seemed like hours but had really only been half an hour, maybe shorter, the trail ended. With a scowl, the Zabrak looked up at the thick wall of greenery before them, blocking the path. Unfortunately, it looked to be completely natural, framing a rock wall behind it that went up far beyond their view. She turned, then, her gaze directed at the new addition to their party expectantly. Keen yellow eyes regarded her over a curved beak as the Rishii stepped forward. Raising his dark brown and golden dappled feathered arm, he ran his hand over the wall almost reverently. The party watched with bated breath, most in fascination, one with alert wariness, as he closed his eyes and hummed softly. “Here.”
The soft crow of success that had bubbled up from his throat had them all sighing in relief, though when he passed through the foliage without nary a second glance, he elicited a dismayed outcry from Kallum, who dove after him immediately, and a tightening of fingers around a gun from Lychus. Lucasta stepped forward, placing her hand on her First Mate’s arm gently and prompting him to look her in the eyes with that painfully familiar frown. A was smile was her only reply before she too vanished to the other side of the wall.
Once she had pushed through and her eyes got used to the bright light from the sun finally streaking through the trees, her breath caught in her throat. Trees as tall as the buildings on Coruscant provided the valley with protection from above with their absolutely gargantuan leafy roofs. Sunlight poured through the thick greenery, layering the ground with dappled spots of bright yellow light. Lush grass carpeted the floor as far as the eyes could see, only intersected by bubbly blue creeks with rapidly running water and ancient ruins of cities build millenia ago. A glance to their origin confirmed her suspicion of it being mountain water, with one wall of the valley being a sheer stone cliff. At this distance, they couldn’t hear it, but she could see the light reflecting from the waterfall crashing down into a small lake at the foot of it. The hidden valley probably looked to be a continuation of the mountain’s rocky slopes, she realised as she craned her head back to peer at the treetops again.
Their Rishii guide stood patiently as the party gawked, though when the Captain finally cleared her throat in light embarrassment, his amusement was clearly visible. Inclining his head, he turned, leading them away from the secret entrance and towards one of the massive trees. As they approached, Luca’s eyes widened at what she could now see wasn’t as thick a trunk as she had initially believed, but a house, artfully crafted to fit around the tree’s original trunk, after which said tree had been nurtured and grown around the house. The carefully tended wood was decorated with beautiful and intricate carvings depicting birds in flight, their colours painstakingly inked in.
And now, closer to the ruins, she could see that they were not, in fact, ruins at all. All of the buildings had been integrated with the surrounding area, shielding them from being seen from above, as well as providing them with solid foundations and in some cases, even paths across which Rishii could be seen crossing from one building to another.
Their guide led them to the nearest house, where he bid them to wait as he ascended the stairs, then entered through the door and closed it behind him. Hours passed, during which they had been given fresh water, its taste hinting at minerals and cold stone, as well as roasted nuts and both fresh and dried fruits. An absolute delight for the space-faring and nutrition pack eating crew, more than one of them contemplated the option of perhaps staying for more than a few hours when at long last the door opened.
“He will see you now.”
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t shoot you right now.” Their reunion was one of violence, regret and tears. She was a Republic Marine. It was what she had dedicated her life to, fought for with every fibre of her being and could finally lay claim to when she was branded as an ODMC by Lieutenant Margo Faulkner. She was a Marine. And here before her stood the man who had sunk her ship. Her gun was drawn and placed against his throat before either of them could even blink, a red haze darkening her vision and blurring her eyes. Or were those tears?
Instinct, or perhaps fear, caused him to freeze, his breath caught in his lungs as his pupils thinned to small pinpricks of black, wide eyes fixed on her enraged and furious features. His throat bobbed against her gun as he swallowed, almost in slow motion.
Too soon. The wounds were too fresh, recently having been brought back to the surface by the Rishii that had received them into his home. And now she was given a chance at revenge, payback. A chance to watch someone bleed for his death. Her finger tightened against the trigger, all sounds of the Cantina around them falling away as she leaned forwards to spit her words out at him, reading his crimes to him before she executed him. Only she couldn’t. Not when his eyes widened, first in shock, then in horror as her angry words struck him like physical blows.
He hadn’t been there. Hadn’t known. Had only been on board of the Imperial Cruiser long enough to see his superior officers, responsible for saving his life, be threatened with executions, then they’d been put on a transport to Kaas. And no matter how badly she wanted, needed to shout at him, call him a liar and pull that trigger, she couldn’t.
So instead, they talked. About him. About her. His arm. Her ship. Their goals. And somewhere between the talk about the future and the past, her crew became his and she found herself having to introduce a medic to her crew.
Or at least, she hoped she would. Right now, as she flattened herself to the top of the rock a little bit more, she questioned whether she would have the chance, though. He’d made one request. One thing he needed to do before they could leave. Apparently he’d been helping locals with their medical needs and there was a shuttle nearby with supplies. If she helped him get them, he would be able to give them to the right people and ensure they’d be fine for a little while longer.
A simple plan, in theory. Go into a cave, find the crashed ship, get the supplies, leave. Only neither of them had really taken the time to double check they were alone. So here they were, possible hostiles outnumbering them in a cave, unable to transmit to anyone on the outside.
Just another day in paradise.