Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Shards of Memory, Shards of Madness

Maya sat at the edge of the man's bed, watching him as her hands went through the nearly-automatic motions of grinding herbs into a poultice. She'd made this particular salve a hundred times on the Viscount; it was specifically formulated to soothe burns. During the Rebellion, she'd been trained to make it for soldiers torched by blaster fire or power core burns. She hoped her new patient hadn't been subjected to either of those.

Truthfully, she doubted there was any hope the man's injuries had been caused by anything peaceful. He was sleeping now and looked almost serene, but there was no sense of peace around him. No, this wasn't a calm person and it was highly unlikely he led a calm life.

Maya added a small measure of distilled bacta to the vessel in her lap, stirring it idly as she mused on where he might have come from. She'd always been able to sense a lot about people just by being close to them - an empathy inherited from her mother. It was a family secret, especially during the years of the Empire, but now she wasn't as guarded about using her gifts.

In a way, she regretted that openness around this stranger. His mind was a tempest, his dreams a turmoil from which she wished he could awaken. Maya could not sense anything in particular - there were no images - but she knew he was in pain mentally as well as physically. So much agony and loss, that much she was certain of.

Finishing with her mortar and pestle, she set the tusken pottery bowl on the bedside table and eased her chair closer to her newest guest. One of her hands reached out, almost of its own accord, and brushed his raven-dark locks away from his eyes. His face was entirely unshaven, a stubbly beard surrounding a once-neatly trimmed mustache and goatee. There was no denying the vagabond was handsome, though right now he was more unkempt and ragged than anything else.

Dipping her hands in the bowl, Maya started massaging the burn balm over her guest's exposed chest. She stopped just short of the bandages, opening them only enough to get the creme on the burns across both pectorals. Then she replaced the wraps and continued the rubdown along his stomach. His skin was so pale, so porcelain, that it seemed a horrid shame to see it in such poor, seared condition.

Hips and thighs received only a brief, respectful visit from her fingers before she moved on to his legs. The man's knees and shins were badly burned, as if they had rested in an open fire for several long, undoubtedly painful moments. She spent a lot of her salve on them, easing the scorched skin as best she could. Arms, hands, and feet took up the last of the bowl's contents, leaving her with oily hands and a patient she couldn't help but look down at and think of as well-basted.

That brought a chuckle to her lips, one that seemed to stir the man slightly. He shifted, the most motion she'd seen in him since his arrival here. Holding her breath, she stepped back to give him some air in case he awakened. A long, tense minute passed but then he slipped back into somnolence. Though she was sure he would only have awakened to pain, she could not help feeling a little disappointed.

So many questions she wanted to ask him, so much she wants to know. Who was he? Where was he from? Where in the Core had he gotten such a rare, dated starfighter? Her curiosity was almost uncontrollable right now.

So much sot hat she did something she tried never to do; she actively used her mother's talent. This wasn't easy for her. Not only was it draining and hardly guaranteed but it felt very invasive and she hated violating anyone's mind. Still, he was in such obvious distress. Perhaps if she knew what he was dreaming, she could help him somehow out here. At least, that was the excuse she finally settled on.

Her thoughts quieted and she reached out for the stranger's psyche, praying he would forgive her this trespass if he ever found out. Strangely, and more than a little disappointingly, she need not have worried. She could not even get into his mind, much less read his thoughts. The man's will was like a blast door. Even with the wanderer unconscious, there was no way she could penetrate his subconscious defenses.

Sighing, she opened her eyes. In a way, she was relieved. No need to feel guilty if she hadn't actually seen anything, right? Maya let that thought mollify her as she turned to leave the man's bedside.

And then she stopped suddenly. Against the far side of the room, something had changed. There was now a dim red glow visible under the fold of the man's satchel. She'd pulled that bag from his ship herself and she was certain that when she'd brought it here, nothing was shedding any kind of light. Surely she would have remembered that. This stranger didn't have her so distracted that she'd miss something that obvious, right?

Cautiously, she crossed the room and poked the bag with the end of a broom. Maya had been on Tattooine long enough to know that when a strange glowing light appeared, it was usually the on-switch of a thermal detonator or something even worse. Slowly, she angled the bristles and flipped open the pack.

Inside, she saw only what had been visible when she'd taken the pack from the old ARC starfighter's cargo bay. There was some kind of long bladed weapon wrapped in a grey cloth, a leather belt with pouches and strange metal shapes, a smaller bag with pieces of crystal and steel inside, a few datapads, a small silver resin case, and a bundle of black silk tied with a crimson cord.

It was the last parcel that was glowing between the folds of its cloth cover. There were enough gaps in the wrapping for red light to seep through, shining brightly enough to fill the entire satchel with a deep, brooding light. Though the radiance was an ominous color, Maya couldn't help but feel drawn to it. The light was pulsing rhythmically, a fascinating pattern of dims and flares that drew her closer. And closer.

And closer.

Before the barkeeper could stop herself, she had reached into the bag and withdrawn the bundle. Untying the cord keeping the package closed was easy enough; the black mynnidar spider silk cloth falling all around her hand to reveal its hidden mystery.

There, resting in her outstretched hand with only silk between its bottom side and her flesh, was a vaguely pyramidal crystal the color of blood. Strange etched plates of gold and dark iron girded its facets like armor, each one engraved like a circuitry board. Beneath the plating, deep in the crystal's heart, a second crystal was barely visible - a spindle of obsidian with a intricate, web-like pattern of lines covering its surface.

Fully caught in the glowing grip of this alien artifact, Maya reached out with her free hand. Eyes wide, she breathed in slowly, feelings of awe and majesty washing over her mind. What a wondrous device, such a magnificent object. So much power at her fingertips and it was hers. All hers!

Her hand crossed the glowing air between her and the crystal, only a few inches from making contact. Three inches away.

Two inches away. The crystal began to thrum like a heart beat.

One inch away. The symbols on the device opened languidly, digital eyes gazing in all directions as the artifact awakened.

Just as her hand came to rest on the object's wide, front facet, it was suddenly stopped by a firm, implacable grip on her wrist. There, standing beside her clad only in bandages with dark eyes reflecting only the blood-light of the relic in her grasp, stood the stranger.

"Don't." His voice was as tortured as she'd imagined it and the force of his thoughts, the depth of emotion and concern behind his warning struck her wide-open mind like the flat side of a Gammorean's axe.

Reeling, she fell to the ground, held aloft only by the stranger's hand on her arm. The crimson crystal did not fall, though she could scarcely believe it as the object remained right where it was, hovering in mid-air. Arcs of light were flickering around it now, like radiant arms seeking contact... or sustenance.

The stranger let go of her wrist, letting her slide the rest of the way to her bottom on the stone floor. The discarded piece of spider silk flew up into his outstretched hand and he slowly covered the crystalline artifact with it once more. Then the ribbon darted through the air and coiled around his fingers like a snake, waiting its turn to be tied over the parcel.

His strange device contained again, the man turned to face her, looking down with a weary, almost puzzled expression. "Dangerous," he said with the slightest of nods to the crystal. Holding it to his chest, he looked for all the world like he was trying to contain the fury of a grenade. Red light poured over and around him, the wrath of the crystal denied. The radiance flared to a blinding level, causing him to groan to pain and her to shield her eyes.

When she could see again, Maya looked up just in time to see the stranger slumping to the ground. Unconscious again, he looked even paler than before. She was free to act now; whatever spell the red jewel had caught her in was gone. She scrambled under the man and caught him before he could hit the ground.

The crystal fell as well, landing with an oddly heavy thud on the ground. She ignored it completely. Getting this man back into bed was her only concern. Well, that and cursing herself for a fool for getting into his belongings in the first place. She'd feel no end of guilt if he lived long enough for her to apologize for this.

"Please, please Maker let him live long enough for me to apologize."

Maya pulled his blankets back up over the man's chest and sat beside him, holding his hand for no other reason than because it felt right. Whistling a lullaby tune from her own childhood, she watched over him long into the night, stopping only when she passed out over his chest...


Zay said...

See, that's what happens when you has a gift and you don't teach yourself to use it!


Erisraven said...

And we finally see the item that gave this blog its name! Well done!

Robert said...

Well since I just finished reading everything...

Well done. Just so you have an idea of who this is...it's LNT from WotC's little boards.