A lot of big things had been happening since Sullust. Flurries of holonet reports, some Outer Rim diplomat's ship getting shot down and the ensuing storm of things, a senator had been arrested for leaking things, Crix had found his way to the temple, Talak had gone off somewhere, Kori was missing. Just a lot of things, really. Not to mention trying to bind the Eternal's mind by weaponizing his defenses had left Hannibal without the ability to properly close off for a while. But with a little help and a lot of introspection, that hurdle had been crossed just the same as the last, and the young man was as Hannibal as ever.
But it was the little things that made up the bigger picture, something so often forgotten by even other Jedi. A communication had made its way to the Jedi's ship, passed through secure channels. In the middle of everything happening the Rangers were looking for help. Well, not actually the Rangers. Just one or two in particular.
Douglas Hudson had shown up, pre-recorded, in full colour on Hannibal's holoscreen. He was desperate, though he was trying not to show it too much. Doctors and droids had tried what they could, various medicines and treatments, but weeks passed and there was not a single positive change. The man himself had, by all reports, had something mess with his head when the Coruscant station was attacked and had been rescued by Talak. So with no other option, to the Jedi he turned, asking if they had any magic or something.
Hannibal had returned the call to Hudson's personal line, apparently not the Jedi the chief had expected to see. The young Master was known to him from the news and everything, but more as a friend to the Rangers than a healer, per say. They spoke for a while about the matter at hand and eventually the subject of repayment was brought up, which Hannibal breezily dismissed. Hudson was bewildered and probably a little suspicious, and asked then why Hannibal had agreed to help. The Jedi gave Douglas a small smile over the holocomm, friendly and bright, and answered simply as if it was the most obvious thing in the galaxy.
"Because you asked."
By the time he arrived at the secure medical facility it was well into night on this particular part of Chandrilla. He wore his new standard, the simple cloudy gray left-over-right collared tunic, tucked into his belt and with the sleeves rolled to the elbows. Sol's lightsaber hung from the belt beneath his cloak, the green and gold the only real colour visible besides the many tattoos visible over his arms and over his neck, terminating down beneath his tunic. While his more colourful robes were more well known in the core, that leverage wasn't needed. He wasn't here to make a show, he was here to help.
A Ranger vehicle that brought him to the facility from his ship landed on a rooftop pad and he was guided down inside on a lift, his voice eventually filling the awkward silence escort as he lowered his hood. As always he spoke casually, and while his tattoos could be seen as intimidating it was in a mundane sort of way. He spoke to them about their families and the worries they had, spoke in the same tone as he spoke with everyone else in the galaxy. He offered a snippet or two of advice before the lift hit the correct floor and they exited through the sliding doors.
The officers led him to a room and he stopped before the door. He held up a hand to wait, offered a word of warning, and slowly removed Sol's lightsaber from his belt. Hannibal opened it and removed the crystal from inside before handing over the empty hilt to the utterly confused door guard. The Jedi offered him a smile and suggested it might help. He was let through, now unarmed, and looked around the room.
A night nurse was going over a variety of scanners and IV drips by the hospital bed, the only available light being those embedded in the ceiling. The curtains were shut to prevent others looking inside. Green eyes made their way to a small pot of flowers, slowly wilting without the constant care of whoever had left them. They reminded him of a painting, a dance in brushed hues of colour, and it brought a sad smile to his face. He stepped toward them and brushed his fingers along the petals, the little plant seeming to steadily recover at his touch to a full and vibrant state. Hannibal turned to look at the nurse who had apparently been watching him and gave her a charming smile.
"Don't worry. I'll do what I can," he said, stepping away from the flowers and over toward the bed to observe the occupant. The nurse, Joan apparently, told the Jedi they would be monitoring her vitals just in case. Hannibal just nodded, finding that perfectly reasonable. Joan glanced one more time at her patient with a glimmering mix of hope and doubt behind them, and stepped out through the door, leaving the Jedi and the patient alone.
Hannibal waved a finger toward the light controls, dimming them to a more reasonable half-light, and moved around the bed. He grabbed a chair on his way and moved it beside the bed to sit, taking off his cloak and draping it over the back. In truth he wasn't entirely sure if what he was going to do would work, but at least it was something he had significant personal experience with. It was worth a try, certainly. He would always help where he could. He was a Jedi after all.
Gently he reached out and picked up the patient's hand, limp and lifeless but still warm with the flickering flame of life, and turned it palm up. Hannibal's left him joined it, placing in her grip the brilliantly silver crystal and closing delicately around it. Sol's kyber crystal had come back from darkness and the Jedi hoped it would help heal a kindred spirit.
Hannibal looked once more at the face of Trys Aran, the thinness in her build what wasn't there before, the way she looked worn. He brought to mind Crix, and the fiery and brave woman he'd met and seen on the holonet. His face set into an expression of calm determination and he closed his eyes, fingers interlocking around hers, and the Force answered his call.
A gentle breeze, carrying along ethereal streams the scents of wildflowers in spring and fallen leaves in autumn, swirled into and through the Jedi Master. It found the crystal, followed the lines of his thoughts to Trys herself. She was lost, buried in fear and pain, but Hannibal didn't feel she was yet gone. She just didn't needed a little help, is all.
It was black, and chaos, suffering and torture and the recently traumatic touch of a great, black void. But Hannibal had adapted to such a thing and grown wiser for it, and the void could not touch him anymore. The fear passed over and through him, and only Hannibal remained. He stepped into the black of the woman's mind, a single point of warm sunlight, and stepped deeper within. With compassion and methodical care he made way to the depths, thinking he could still find her hidden in some far away corner, and called out in the hopes she might answer, wildflowers and fallen leaves echoing along the lines of his voice.
It was a cold, empty plain that was thick with fog. The icy chill was tangible to where goosebumps would line his skin even in the physical realm. There was no path, simply endless, barren fields that stretched out beyond the eye could see. Each step forth caused the image to flicker, and each forward move elicited groans of protest like a surface under a tremendous amount of weight.
The darkness crept in like a toxin, subtle at first but still present. It was the only thing that could lead the way through the thick fog. It manifested in thin, hairline black veins that lined the wisps of fog. It was jet black ochre with the consistency of blood, something that could almost be felt. They were traces of something truly malicious that had happened here.
Further steps would slowly reveal a nasty secret - that the torment had never left. This plane was very much alive and pulsating with dark energies. The ground began to change shape, and terrain could be seen clearly. The Gallo Mountains pierced through the skies ahead.
The fog was thicker on the ground but the mountains loomed above it all. Pressing forward only gave way to more of the black veins and ochre that would stick. It was slowly accompanied with faint whispers. The whispers were soft at first, getting louder with each step forward. They were unwanted whispers, intruding whispers. They told of the past, they told of memories, they were begging to be heard. They made no sense, but they demanded to be heeded.
Following the black would simply amplify the whispers till they were painful. They grew beyond just whispers and into the emotions associated with them. They were dark and twisted emotions, emotions of pain, rage and the deepest despairs. They had been crafted and planted, engineered and fashioned for this specific purpose. The fog would rapidly form to thicken along the entry path, this plane of existence designed in an attempt to trap anyone that ventured in.
Anyone that dared to keep going wouldn’t come out unscathed.
Luminescent green eyes looked across the plain and into the thick, icy fog that swept over to cover the vast expanse. This place was broken and shattered, assaulted by the hand of a great evil. It was done intentionally, viciously, but that alone could not explain the state Trys had been left in. It was freezing in here, the cold of death and despair overtaking everything.
The chill tried to seep into his bones, but the sunlight at his core was warm, and only Hannibal remained. He ventured deeper and noted the lines of ebon buried in the fog, originating from somewhere further in. The Jedi followed them, frowning at the black veins that grew thicker and more viscous amidst the fog. It was an almost familiar sensation, the darkness that crept in amidst everything else. A tendril slid close and he shooed a hand at it, a star glimmering between his fingers, and the creeping thing retreated back slightly smaller than it had been a moment ago.
Mountains rose from behind the fog, the roiling hills of Naboo giving way to a very familiar set of mountains. Hannibal tilted his head at them, waving a hand forward to slide aside the grasping ichor. It tried to stick to his hand and his robes, but the starlight was bright, and only Hannibal remained.
It was the whispering that brought him pause, once their volume was loud enough. The Jedi sat there for a little while, just listening to the mad sound and the feelings that rode along with them. Pain, rage, despair, crafted by hand. Darting shadows danced around the edges of his vision, never quite brought directly into line of sight. A sad little smile of bittersweet nostalgia crossed his face. He had experienced such things since he was a boy, and it was not a thing he would wish on any other. Before it would have been a much greater challenge, even with the icy fortress he once could build at a moment's notice, but now?
Hannibal had experienced the death of a world, and these malicious echoes felt small and petty in comparison. Perhaps he would not come out of this unscathed, but he never did when he chose to fight on behalf of others.
To live is to suffer, but that does not mean life isn't worth the effort.
The young Master's hands came together before him, the brilliant star in his hand briefly covered, then slowly he shifted them apart. Strands of silver light were woven between his fingers, and with a rush of motion it formed into a shimmering starlit cloak around his shoulders, hood settling over his head. Another twisting of fingers and a lone lantern, lit by a solitary silver candle, lay delicately hung from his left hand, a cone of light cutting forward through the frozen fog. It was wildflowers and fallen leaves, the warmth of sunlight in summer and the serene peace of winter.
"I defy you," he spoke softly, and stepped forward into the unknown, following the path to find Trys Aran and bring her home.
The whispers twisted into shrill cries as the light repelled the presence. It was agony, the black veins contorting, spiraling and bursting. Black tar spilled on the ground, the acidity burning into grass and dirt. It ate away at this manufactured plane and revealed glimpses of a world below. It was a thread that led back into the physical plane as the way back was rapidly being blocked.
The whispers were louder than ever, but the light kept the fog at bay. It receded back with each step forth that sent the light piercing through. The shrill cries came with the emotions of pain. The world twisted and warped, screaming into Hannibal’s ear and attempting to pierce into his mind and soul. Dark shadows spilled forth through the fog, crashing like waves on a rock as they met the light. The shadows attempted to envelop Hannibal, circling in from all sides.
This world was foul in wisdom, cruel in strength and its domain was torment. The presence had carved itself a kingdom and had little intention of going anywhere. Evil surrounded Hannibal from all sides, evil in its most foul form, evil that was raw, oppressive, unyielding. It had little regard for the destruction it face as it repeatedly launched itself at Hannibal, wanting to strike him with singular, obsessive purpose.
And then it began to learn.
It began to learn that Hannibal would welcome and accept the pain. He would not buckle under the waves that came for him. He would not crack himself if they were unleashed upon him directly. And so the shrill cries began to recede back into whispers. For a moment there was nothing but a deathly silence. Nothing but Hannibal and the light amidst a field of black.
And then, from a distance he would hear something new. He would hear the voice of Trys Aran. She was screaming in a way that suggested pure torment and agony. And it would happen with each new step he took forward. Each foot forth was a new horror inflicted on his target while he remained untouched. His path was filled with wildflowers and fallen leaves in stark contrast to the torture he was indirectly bringing upon Trys Aran.
Trys Aran had well and truly been worked over by a great evil. The night of her mind was dark and full of terrors, each and every one a poisonous thing. Black fingers grasped and clawed, but could find no purchase. There were no great arctic walls to climb or doors to pry open, no battlements to storm and conquer. It was wind through questing fingers, like trying to catch light in a bottle. The Jedi had faced the darkness in the galaxy, and most recently within himself, and so the shadows writhed against him and only Hannibal remained.
They drew back and away, screaming voices into whispers. The Jedi stepped forward still, once, twice, then there was something else through the fog. Again it brought him pause, longer this time, the sounds of agony echoing through the cold. He stopped and he listened, took another step, internally winced as the screaming resumed for a moment before fading. This darkness was cruel and insidious, this much was obvious, to attempt to turn the Jedi's empathy against him. His expression turned to one of sorrow, even apologetic, but the torturous black had shown him something it may not have intended.
Trys Aran was still here, and with each cry of pain the Jedi gained another hint as to where. Hannibal had always been good at finding things, so long as he knew what it was and that it was around at all. His instincts were sharp, and his own experiences with his demons steeled his will. He'd sat in a cozy office throughout his youth, closed off and across from a kind woman who spoke to him with honesty and care. He could tell helping him had been painful for the both of them, and he knew eventually it was what he'd needed.
Hannibal would not back down when someone else needed his help.
His head tilted toward the path, and he took another step forward. The screams again rang forth. The dark had retreated, but the space they left did not remain empty for long. The Jedi continued to step forward and brought with him the calls of birdsong and the whispers of trees, the pitter-patter of falling rain and the smells of dew-dropped grass at dawn. Each step took him further than the last toward the screaming, flying as if carried by the wings of a great bird with his little lantern to lead the way as the landscape passed by.
The candle in the lantern flickered and flared, spoke in a soft voice, an echo of words that matched those Hannibal spoke himself. Words he'd said when he faced the dark thing that tortured the soul of the kyber within Sol's lightsaber.
"This is not your home," came the paired voices, those of a determined Knight and a wise Master. They spoke to the dark things that infected the mind of Trys Aran, and they spoke clear and true. The voices flew off into the darkness like swarms of moths seeking flame, unbothered by the fog and defiant of the wicked vines.
They brought along on fluttering wings the sounds of a holomovie drama and Coruscant traffic, the smile on a young man's face and the love in his heart when someone spoke of his mother, the smells of almost-burnt brownies in the oven and freshly brushed paint. Although the voices spoke softly, almost gently, they did so with power and purpose.
"You have no power here.
You are nameless.
You are nothing, and you will return to nothing.
Only Trys Aran will remain."
The path forward was clear, just as the path behind was blocked and immersed in shadow. Hannibal blazed a trail, but it only lingered for moments until the darkness took hold. Trys’s cries could be heard louder and louder. The path grew more complex, cracks forming along the ground to a void below.
“This is not my home,” A deep, sinister whisper spoke then, articulate and addressing Hannibal directly for the first time, “It is my domain to subject to whatever I please. It is my kingdom to rule. It is you who do not belong here. But here you will remain.”
The earth cracked and split, dividing many times over as great fissures formed in the ground. The serene mountains in the distance turned into something dark and twisted. The tops of the largest mountains cracked open, the orange hues of a great volcano preparing to erupt reflected into the skies.
The light had shadow above it and thick, black clouds loomed above Hannibal. He would have to traverse the broken earth where a black abyss threatened to swallow him if he fell. The darkness sought to destroy the path back as much as it could. Any place where Hannibal’s light did not shine was fortified ten times over and it would be that much more difficult to return.
It had intended for Hannibal to find Trys, and he would after he crossed through the abyss and the single bits of earth that he could hop across. He would find her after coming upon the closest black mountain, the summit of which held her. Black rain poured from above, the same black tar from the veins in the fog. The whispers of agony, the screams, all of it continued as a dirge to accompany his futile quest.
Emerging above the summit would reveal his purpose. It was Trys Aran, but then it was not. It was the same woman, but the eyes were white and opaque. She was on the ground in a fetal position, vacantly staring ahead. The eruption of the volcanoes behind her brought an orange hue to her otherwise deathly pallid skin. The vacant eyes turned to look in the direction of Hannibal.
“Have you come here to be a hero?”The voice was only vaguely hers, mostly two toned and laced with dark whispers, “Have you come here to subject me to your righteousness? Have you come here to deliver me?”
She gazed towards his eyes, but her own made it impossible to truly read. It was a broken and tortured version of her, more of a shell than the fiery woman he had once sat across from.
“You, who without care, would kill others,” Her face tilted slowly towards where Sol’s crystal would be, “You, who cannot be satisfied with just that. You who would seek to then strip from a being everything that they devoted themselves to because you and you alone decided it was torment to him. You who seek to decide the fate of others and brush aside their devotions and their own faith. You who couldn’t give Sol the tortured salvation he so desperately sought by choice. You who took that choice away from him.”
The voice was dead and monotone the entire time, the haunted eyes looking back towards where the emeralds were, “Have you come to do the same now? Have you come to subject me to your will because you judge what is right? The master of this domain believes the same. Their sense of duty is no less than yours. Their cause is no less than yours. Their view of what is right is no less than yours. With the way you force your will upon others, are you truly so different than those that did this to me?”
Trys stared vacantly for a long moment, “Is it not a greater mercy to let this all end?”
The way was shut, or so it seemed. In his wake where it had been fall it became winter.
The Jedi strode onward, terrain passing by. The earth split and broke, falling away into a vast and yawning void that meant to consume and trap him. The sky grew black and dark, and droplets began to fall as before. The Jedi stopped before a chasm as the voice began to speak, claiming its ownership of the space it had sunk its roots into. Hannibal smiled softly at it, green eyes alight with genuine amusement.
"A disease has no sovereignty over its victim," he replied, "Nor a healer over their patient."
Black rain fell toward the Jedi, and his cloak rustled with movement. From within was drawn a fragment of summer, abuzz with bees and strongly growing things, and it unfolded into an umbrella above his head the same bright yellow hues of a Naboo sun. Streaks of blue, pink, purple, and red swam through the corona, and they were all the fires of life. The rain fell, became crystal clear and warm as it passed the umbrella, and only Hannibal remained.
He leapt from the precipice, umbrella caught in the streaming wind of birdsong and carrying him on to land on stable ground. He leapt again and again, until coming gently down to land before a great mountain, burning far above with the fires of hate. A small and pale figure sat before it, curled unto itself. The shape of Trys was a sad sight, and whether it was real or not, it drew crystalline droplets from emerald eyes that fell and nourished the ground below. It was sad, but the Jedi did not pity her as she could still be helped, he felt. It was sad for the torture and pain she had endured in the depths of her own mind, and it steeled his determination to move forward.
Another step and the figure spoke, in a voice that was only barely her own. The Jedi approached slowly, one step at a time as it spoke, listening carefully to each word. By the time the voice was done speaking he was much closer, the wide umbrella covering the two of them as protection from the rain. Hannibal smiled down at her, genuine and all the way to the eyes. It was sad and compassionate, no pity hidden behind the bright green stars that were his eyes in this place.
"Of course I care," Hannibal began, laughing ironically at the accusation. "All life is a precious thing. Enough to fight in defense of it, though it pains me. I made that choice long ago." He crouched down before the figure, and beneath the umbrella it was not summer but the cool winds of spring. Wildflowers in many colours sprouted from the black ground around his feet, springing up from where the rains of summer fell.
"Sol made his choice to spread suffering and death to others, and I chose to protect. I regret his choice, but I do not regret mine." The lantern was raised, and within was not a candle but a glowing pearl, the star between his fingers. It knew well the suffering forced by the Dark on others, and it had come back from it when help had been offered. "I'm no hero, and I offer no salvation."
"Only my help, in drawing poison from a wound," he spoke kindly, smiling the same. The hand holding the lantern extended forward, the shape of the object shifting into a silver mist and leaving only the bright evening star that shone from between the Jedi's fingers. He offered it to Trys, palm up, luminescent droplets falling all around them and shielding them from the burning heat of the mountain. "You need only make the choice."
Colourful tattoos of many kinds lined his left arm, mythical figures of guardianship, protection, and healing joined by vibrant flowers and clinging vines, all brought to life by the nature of this place. Many were once scars he'd gained over his life, turned from painful lessons into beautiful and vibrant pieces of himself. Each was now run through by fractal lightning burns, shaded in with gold in the waking world, but here and now they were filled to the brim with salubrious sunlight. The sunrays reached out along with Hannibal's hand, waiting only for Trys to take them.
"It's time to go home, Trys. Crix still needs his mother, and you deserve far better than this."
Trys remained curled on the ground, shivering from the chill of the darkness that surrounded her. There was a light as Hannibal stepped closer, and it was almost searing pain. She wanted to shrink away, but she was too weak. Instead, she hugged her knees tightly to her chest, vacant gaze staring ahead.
His words made her angrier, and the world around him began to shift. The volcanoes erupted, heat and black rain pouring from above. For all his positivity, he was not a master of this domain. His star remained untouched, but a storm raged above that would shred through the umbrella. The black, icy rain would return to coat them both.
Trys could not touch what he offered, but her face tilted that way all the same. The star being so close threatened to burn her. She couldn’t stand it in this form, and she cried out and scurried back till she sat with her back pressed against the rock surface behind her. There was hatred on her face, anger at being subjected to Hannibal’s will. The word Crix gave her pause, but only briefly. The true Trys had been tormented into believing her son was dead, and she had accepted it in her madness. She couldn’t touch the light while the rules of this domain still applied to her.
“You fool, can you not see what this place is?” She hissed, “You cannot leave it without leaving something behind. If I walk from here, I have to leave pieces behind,” She pointed at him, “So do you if you wish to leave here. You can choose what to leave behind, but a price must be paid.”
For her, she hadn’t been given that choice. For her, she had to leave behind precious things and precious memories she wouldn’t realize till she awoke - if she ever did. Trys hugged herself, drawing shuddering breaths, the real Trys’s voice coming through now more than ever, “No, I can't get out of here alone and I cannot ask someone else to make a sacrifice. Even if that means staying in this hell. I would have asked it a long time ago if I considered it an option. It is a small sacrifice if you return by yourself. It is a bigger one if you try and take me because this place was designed to keep me. Go and leave me. Your efforts were wasted, Jedi.”
The Jedi frowned in mild annoyance as the roiling storm fell, tearing through his umbrella. Black droplets fell upon his cloak, gathering and pooling on the ground. He did not have the mastery of these techniques Oota had, nor had he finished figuring out the purest expression of the Light that he could only bring forth in small amounts. His kind were resistant to mental influence and attack, and perhaps that would help him, but it did nothing for Trys and it would not allow him to change the rules of this place so easily.
Droplets fell, and the cloak became winter. It was cold, like the rain, but of an entirely different sort. It was indifferent and impersonal, the deep chill of sleep and serenity that came to renew the cycle of life when the time came. There was no hatred, no anger, no fear, only the promise of death and the peace that followed. Although the rain was cold, winter was colder still in the limited area of the Jedi's influence, and black droplets froze into pure, glittering snow that drifted to the ground. Only Hannibal remained.
Emerald eyes turned to look at Trys, who had retreated away. The Jedi considered her words with a pensive expression, particularly after the voice steadily shifted back closer to the one he'd heard before. He looked around, he listened, but he could not discern the heart of this elaborate box the Eternal had built aside from Trys herself. Perhaps winter could smother its core, but Trys would freeze along with it. So the Jedi looked and saw the only real choice available to him.
He looked down at the star between his fingers for a moment, as if listening to a distant voice, then looked at Trys once more. The star was placed along the neck of his cloak as a broach and he stepped toward Trys, stopping within two arm's lengths this time, snow slowly gathering at his feet. He straightened and smiled, the light behind his eyes un-dulled by what she'd said. Perhaps he was a fool of a Jedi, walking in here despite the risks, but that was just the kind of man he was.
"You never asked,"he affirmed, head tilting slightly and expression coloured by understanding."I offered. I would not be here if I wasn't willing to pay a toll."It was a lesson he'd learned throughout his life. To live was to suffer, but that didn't mean it wasn't worth living. Across a hundred worlds and many more experiences, despite pain and hardship, through struggle and strife, there was a single notion that had stuck with him.
"I've heard the stories of many cultures, you know. All kinds, teaching all kinds of lessons. But it was a certain kind that really stuck with me. They were the ones that really mattered, the ones full of darkness and danger. The stories one didn't want to end, because how could the end be happy after all that happened?"He waved a hand at the great, chaotic, frozen, burning place they stood in, then turned back to the pale woman on the ground.
"In the end, even darkness will pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it will shine all the clearer. Those were the stories that really stuck with me, and now I know why. I had plenty of chances to turn back, Trys, and I didn't because there's something I'm holding on to."
Hannibal smiled at her then, the most genuine smile perhaps he'd ever let cross his face. It was joy and sunlight, coloured by the familiar weight of melancholy, and a little hint of nervousness. He had lived his entire life weighed down by something only he could feel or see, but he kept on going, knowing the sun would always rise in the end. Hannibal was a Jedi, powerful and wise by some standards, a luminous being. Even so, in the end, he was only human.
Hannibal held out his hand again to Trys, just his hand, palm up, scarred and coloured in again and again. He offered his help not as a Jedi, or a saviour, or a hero, or even really as a healer. Just as a young man who wanted to help her the same way he had been when he'd needed it most. It was something he'd see through, stubborn person that he was.
Hannibal spoke gently but confidently, just as one friend would to another, and took a single step closer.
"There is good in the galaxy, Trys. And it's worth fighting for. My offer stands, and I've made my choice. Take my hand."
The world hissed in protest at Hannibal’s words. It wanted so badly to break him, wanted so badly to pierce his mind, wanted so badly to corrupt and twist him. And yet it could not, not after he had torn himself apart to rebuild himself again many times over. He had been the embodiment of the types of stories he described, armed with nothing more than hope and courage. He had taken the steps of his own accord, had ventured in here without a second thought no matter what the cost.
It was a concept the great evil here could never understand. It was vexed and perplexed, and that made it angrier. But the more rage that was inflicted, the more destabilized the realm became. It could not singularly focus and channel its dark energies and powers. The world flickered for a brief moment or two before the skies began to churn above and roil.
Hannibal made his choice, a choice known only to him until, and if, Trys decided to act. She remained sitting, gazing blankly ahead as Hannibal spoke words that resounded like a gentle flute amidst the screams of her nightmares. It was the comforting drizzle of soft, summer rain on her skin against the icy shards tearing into her. It was a warm embrace against the blades that cut into her over and over again. It was something to hang onto, and it was something she hadn’t seen the eternity she had been trapped here.
With the star further away, Trys could slowly look up to gaze upon him. He had reached a hand out for her and she stared at it. The opaque flickered just for a moment as she slowly raised her eyes to gaze into the emeralds.
The world began to take notice of what was happening. Its powers were being compromised and it had to act quickly upon anything it held under its will. The mountains began to crack and fall behind Trys. The lava erupted as volcanoes began to burst and spill. There were giant cracks and fissures along the summit where they stood.
Trys pushed herself up to her feet, a crushing weight in her bones preventing her from moving. The world did everything it could to push Hannibal back, the surface he stood on cracking and sliding away. Trys felt that weight, but her eyes flickered briefly between opaque and blue. She remembered those words, that melody, that summer rain, that single thread to grasp. He was here by choice. He would pay his price. She would pay her price. But she believed him. She believed that it would be all right in the end no matter how bad it got. She had to believe it. It was that dangerous belief that had not existed before. It was that single, simple concept that clashed so violently against the very nature of this plane.
Trys pushed forth, screaming at the top of her lungs as the fissure grew. She could only focus on that extended hand. She started to run, the world collapsing around them. She felt agony, her form beginning to blur as her spirit was snatched, torn and yanked. Her flesh had marks on them as if claws tore through skin and attempted to hold her back. Still she pushed forth, long, bloody grazes opening up along her arms, shoulders and back as she did so.
The mountain behind her collapsed, threatening to take her down with it. And that was when she leapt into the air. Her eyes were more blue than ever, staring momentarily into the greens as she fell into that void that was created. She fell over the lip, but she suddenly crashed against the opposite side of that gap, hanging against it.
Earth cracked and sky thundered, the world they were in protesting what was happening in the only way it could. Hannibal stood firm on his platform of stone while it broke and slid away from Trys, holding his arm out. He watched as Trys struggled and fought to stand and her eyes shifted between their natural colour and the pale veil that had been pulled before them. He watched as she fought her hardest, just as she always had.
She screamed and ran forward, the light returned to brilliant blues mirrored in vibrant emerald. She roared her determination, and it was mirrored in his sunny grin, defiant of the darkness that surrounded them both. He paid no attention to the falling rain of molten stone as the mountains shattered behind her. Hannibal only had eyes on the reason he was even here.
The dark clawed at Trys and he grit his teeth, but kept on smiling. "Fly!" he cried, reaching out with his hand as she ran. "You can make it!" Hannibal knew she could, and he also knew why this world didn't want to her. If she put herself in his hands, there was no way it could keep them there. It would take its toll, exact its price, but once Trys was under his care the rules changed. Not a lot, but just enough to matter.
"Fly!" he repeated, and as the mountain fell and the blue-eyed woman jumped forward. Hannibal followed her, stretching his arm to follow. Not a moment to soon hand met hand, and she hit the wall of the chasm. The Jedi smiled down at her then, and with a great heave pulled her up and out of the pit with much more strength than his frame could possibly suggest.
Because she had clutched his hand, and that gave him all the power he needed.
The cloak was whipped off and hung around Trys' shoulders once she was on solid ground, sharing his protection with her now that she'd taken his hand. A blink later the ground was different. They no longer stood on cracked stone, but a large shard of dented steel, frosted over and reflecting the burning mountain.
The star between his fingers twinkled and shone, two digits brought to his lips tip to tip. He blow gently across them, shining petals that tinkled like crystal glass forming and fluttering into the fog. Hannibal slipped to the side, his hand never leaving Trys' and wrapped his right arm over her shoulders, the guardian spirits on his arms more animated than ever now they were given a charge to protect.
"Now we fly."
In his footsteps he'd left spring, summer, and autumn, but now the way was shut and it was a chilling winter. But with the hand he held and the choice he'd made, he could bring back spring again.
Hannibal had given up something he'd kept with him his whole life, wrapped around the core of his being. Now had seemed the time to surrender it for the sake of another. It had kept him safe, guarded him well against the pain of loss and death he'd feared. It was an incredibly personal thing, and equally uncomfortable to give up. Doubtless he'd have to work with it and learn, take his scars and paint them anew like he'd always done. It would be painful and hard, but that was alright. He could use another few scars, anyway.
He smiled, happy and sad at once, nervous and excited, and he said goodbye. He'd given up the impenetrable walls he'd built up around himself to keep others out, prevent too close of an attachment to any person. Walls he'd crafted by hand since he was a small boy, afraid since that very first loss. They shaped every interaction he'd ever had, maintaining a comfortable distance between himself and them, even his closest friends. It was careful and meticulous control over himself, over what he felt and didn't, over the kind of face he made and the tone of voice he used, over how he looked at people and how they looked at him.
It was purely a thing of habit, he'd been doing it so long.
Others noticed, but never mentioned it. His smiles were fake, he never really laughed, he made sure no one saw more than what was just beneath the surface. No one got too closed, and few really worried about him just as he'd always preferred it. It was a part of him, as much as his tattoos were, as much as the Force itself, and its loss would shake him. But he'd made his choice, and like always he'd stick by it.
After spring came and went, and the two of them left with it, those walls would be gone. But that was alright, since he'd been able to help.
Hannibal stepped forward with Trys. He was only human, but he was a Jedi too in the end, after all, and he didn't hesitate for a second.
Hannibal’s sacrifice had been one that could shatter the engineered realm. The cries of the Dark Side resounded shrilly as the world collapsed. Earth cracked and broke apart, but it was not the abyss that waited below. The path back to the physical realm of existence was there for them to fall into. She clutched desperately onto Hannibal through the journey, but many parts of her were shredded and torn away as she did so. The same happened for him, walls stripped away layer by layer, bits of his identity as he knew it falling away.
It was a massive punch to the gut to him when he jolted back into the physical realm.
The change was far more dramatic for the patient that had been laying across the bed from him. This patient had been laying there for many, many weeks. This patient had hair that grew almost down to her chin, far longer than she had ever kept it. This patient had lost muscle tone far from where she had worked so hard to condition. This patient hadn’t yet realized what she had lost or what exactly transpired.
There was a loud, rasping breath as the patient abruptly began to move and gasp. Alarms resounded and nurses rushed in at once, quickly working to restrain her as they had to remove the tubes that had been inserted to sustain her during the coma. The efforts lasted only long enough to rid her of the tubes before Trys Aran bolted upright and forcefully shoved a nurse aside, IVs tearing out from both arms.
She stared ahead, the whites fading from her eyes as if cataracts clearing to give way to the vibrant blues that had been there before.
Trys Aran drew in a breath on her own for the first time in an eternity.
There was a wild look to her, one mixed with rage and fear. She could hardly hear the chatter of the nurses, but she looked to the side and through them. She looked between them and at the man just beyond. The man that had just given up so much for her. The man that was willing to pay any price to bring back a woman that meant nothing to him, a woman that hardly knew him. Blues met emeralds and her gaze was that of a hawk’s. It was one he would both recognize, and yet wouldn’t. She was Trys, but she wasn’t.
Hannibal fell, the weight of his choice carrying him down. He fell through spring, feeling each piece of himself that he'd given up falling away into nothing. Gravity took him down, down, and with a sudden rush of feeling his consciousness returned fully to his body.
Instantly there was too much sensory input. Panic, anger, surprise, shock, hurry, care. The sound of alarms, the rush of footstep, cool air across his skin, the crystal that was now clenched in a closed fist, the chaotic chorus of many voices. Hannibal scooted his chair back and a little away, entire body tense and still. Right until Trys said something.
The Jedi looked up her, meeting her sharp gaze. A series of emotions briefly crossed his face and it took him a moment to categorize which were his and which weren't. He still had his Jedi training, but an important bedrock of that training had been given up and it was a struggle. His eyebrows furrowed and he began to speak, making a strained attempt at a smile.
"I-" He suddenly stopped and held up a hand for patience. A nearby trash can was snatched from the floor and he turned away to vomit into it. He spit into it a few seconds later with a look of utmost annoyance and disgust and put it off in a corner away from him. A nearby nurse had the presence of mind to offer him a bottle of water that he drank gratefully. Another was placed near Trys. She was a little scary looking just then, but your average nurse wasn't terribly weak of heart and they just went about their business.
Hannibal cleared his throat and made another habitual attempt at settling his expression, failed miserably, and settled on something like a resigned half-smile coloured with weariness. He tried again, this time with less nausea.
"I'm Hannibal Grayza," he said, bemusement sneaking into his smile that passed a moment later. "I was asked to help." The crystal was slipped somewhere into his belt. "Oh, I'm a Jedi. That's probably an important bit, right?" He blinked at her and smiled in as friendly a way as he could manage.
"We met a couple times. Sorry I was all, uh..." He wiggled his fingers in a mystic sort of way. "Sorry for intrudin', y'know? How do you feel?"
Trys didn’t look away as the man vomited into the nearest trash can, trying to internally work out what it was about him. Her mind was a fog, and she felt nothing but surges of emotions. She knew who she was….to a degree. A lot of her thoughts and memories were fuzzy, but she didn’t know what she didn’t know. Trys rubbed her forehead, fingers trailing along to feel the longer hair. Everything felt so different, and she felt sickly.
She paused when the man spoke again. The name didn’t ring a bell, and everything he said after only caused her to frown. A Jedi? Why would a Jedi be asked to help? Help for what? And they had met before? Trys didn’t trust Force users and she had woken up in a hospital bed with one puking a few feet away from her. She glared at the man as he apologized for ‘intruding’ and casually asked how she felt.
Trys attempted to move, swinging her legs around over the edge of the bed. She felt weak and didn’t try to stand just yet. However, her gaze was searing into this Hannibal character.
“What did you do? Why are you here? Why am I here?”
“Miss Aran I really think-” One of the nurses began. Trys quickly grabbed one of the IV poles and looked over at the woman.
“Come closer and I will kriff you up so bad with this that they’ll have to shove my feeding tube down you instead,” She said icily as the woman slowly backed off.
Trys turned to scowl at Hannibal, still angrily clutching the pole, “Start talking. Now.”
The young Jedi gave Trys a look, though he wasn't entirely what look it was. It felt equal parts sympathetic and piercing, though not really angry. Green eyes didn't look away from blue, though a short barking laugh did leave his mouth before he covered it when the woman threatened a nurse with an IV pole. He cleared his throat and looked to the nurse.
"Sorry, not funny. Maybe give it a little if you have the readings, please?" he suggested with a little more bite than he'd intended, earning him a confused and indignant look in turn. With another look at the very angry-looking Trys the nurses gathered what they needed and left the room behind, sticking to remote monitoring for now, though without a doubt they'd be swarming back if some other horrible thing happened.
Hannibal took a breath and leaned back in his chair, flexing the fingers of his left hand that felt particularly restless and expression thoughtful. The scowl he was met with got a sharp-eyed look in turn, emerald eyes staring right back. The stubborn defiance the man was known for coming to the fore, and the sympathetic and smile smile that joined in was coloured with it too.
He supposed he shouldn't expect her to remember much of what happened in her head. The young Jedi had been conscious, but the place he'd journeyed to so he could pull Trys to the surface had been deep in her subconscious. She was a brave and fiery woman, but she didn't have Jedi training in the least. There were bound to be complications, but he'd already agreed to help, so he'd still see it through.
Focusing was easier now that the swarm of nurses had retreated too, so that was nice. He could actually try and word what had happened in a way that wasn't space magic mumbo-jumbo.
"I went into your head to pull you out of an enforced coma. I am here because Chief Hudson asked me for help waking you up because nothing else was working. You are here because the Sith- creepy guys with red blades and a tendency for overengineered shoulder armour?- captured you and trapped you in your own head." Hannibal briefly made a face that reflected exactly how much he disliked the latter concept, brows furrowing and lips turned down.
He intended to answer any follow up questions, but he usually tried to avoid Force-y terminology that wouldn't mean anything to people who couldn't perceive it like a Jedi could.
"With the Force," he clarified. "Magic bullshit, y'know. Ask away, I'll be in this chair a while."
Trys didn’t take her eyes off the other man as he looked at her and processed everything happening. The nurses finally got the hint and shuffled out. Her scowl got deeper when she caught him smiling. Even sympathetic, she thought the man smiled entirely too much when the situation didn’t call for it. She generally wanted to punch people that smiled too much, but he was presently a bit too far away and she wasn’t sure her legs worked.
It took a lot for her to listen to everything he said without having any sort of visceral reaction to it. She prided her privacy above all, and to be casually told that some hippie wizard was dancing around inside her mind made her stomach turn. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, knuckles turning white from clutching the IV pole. Trys exhaled after a moment, furiously staring at the ground.
“Did you….did you see everything about me? Past? My secrets?” She tossed the pole in frustration, the metal clattering loudly against the ground, “Kriff it, you probably wouldn’t tell me either way,” Trys shook her head.
She defiantly moved to get off the bed and stand. However, not having practiced walking for a long time meant that she abruptly dropped into a heap on the ground. Trys didn’t move from there, moving to rest her back against the base of the bed behind her as she remained seated.
“I am Trys Aran,” Trys said quietly, clutching her hair and closing her eyes, “I am a Ranger. I was….I don’t remember where I was. I remember faces, but I can’t remember names. I just see nothing but a fog when I try to recall anything,” She opened her eyes again, looking at Hannibal, “How was I captured? How did I get out?”
Trys suddenly felt around her hip, almost entirely out of habit, and paused. She glanced up at the Jedi, blinking for a moment, “Wouldn’t happen to have a smoke on you, would you?” Who was she kidding? Jedi didn't seem like they knew what a cigarra was.
Hannibal scowled for a moment when Trys threw the pole, her own frustration mixing with his on his face, which only annoyed him further. Trys' reaction was entirely understandable, all things considered. She didn't seem to remember who Hannibal was and, like most normal people, likely wasn't fond of the idea of a person floating around their headspace for any reason. It's not like she could keep track of that sort of thing. Even so, the concept of pulling memories out of someone's head repulsed him, though he wasn't sure that was exactly what his face was sending.
"I would, in fact, tell you. And no, I did not," he insisted firmly with a little irritation mixed in, though he was distracted by what he was going to say next by Trys trying and failing to drag her emaciated ass out of the hospital bed. Yes, she was definitely Crix's mother without a doubt. Wry amusement crossed his face and he stood, scooted the chair back, and slowly sat down on the floor using the chair as a neckrest. Almost absentmindedly a hand moved to his belt, eyes staring somewhere off into space while Trys settled herself in place, and only turned back back when she asked about a smoke.
"Good idea," he answered, already in the middle of pulling his pack from a pouch on his belt along with a portable ash tray, which he placed on the ground between them. A flick of a thumb opened the pack in his left hand and he plucked one out before offering it forward, array of colourful tattoos and shaded in scars leading up to the yellow and silver box of a Naboo cigarra brand.
He lit his cigarra with a plain, well used silver lighter before offering to light hers- or just letting her use the lighter herself- before placing both the pack and lighter on the ground next to the ashtray. Hannibal exhaled a cloud of smoke, sighed, and looked distinctly pensive. The young Jedi was pretty damn sure she'd take some of these answers a little hard, but at least she was already on the floor this time.
"You are Trys Aran, Ranger Lieutenant. The Sith lied to you and told you they had your son- Crix Aran, looks distinctly Zabrak- to lure you in for capture." He grimaced slightly. "You were found by Talak- moody guy, good intentions- and Crix while some Jedi who followed along skirmished with some Sith." Hannibal took a drag from his cigarra, silent for a moment, and blew a cloud of smoke directly up toward the room vent.
"Before you ask, no, no one died." He paused. "Well, a Sith died, but nobody who wasn't an unrepentant jackass." The fingers of his right hand tapped idly against against the floor and he recognized it as something he'd used to do to prevent the shaking. This was turning out to be a very fun and educational experience and, while he didn't regret his choice, it was sure to be a challenge. Wonderful.
"Sorry," he said after a couple seconds with a frown. "I only managed to wake you up, but I'm still gonna offer my help with the rest. Y'know, if you don't mind." Hannibal cleared his throat with a sheepish and apologetic grin.
"Oh, uh, Crix is safe too. I'm trying to keep him out of trouble."
Trys observed him as he was seemingly grumpy at the accusation that he would lie about rifling through her mind. She didn’t remember certain things, but she did recall finding it amusing to get a rise out of Jedi. It always seemed so damn impossible, but this one was delightfully animated. Trys was visibly surprised when he also chose to sit down on the ground, casually pulling out his own pack of cigarra.
She reached over to grab one, eyes taking in sight of the tattoos that covered his arms. Her gaze lingered for a moment, silently wondering if such practices were even allowed amidst those prudes. Trys lit the cigarra, holding her arm vertically so the sleeve dropped just enough to reveal her own artwork that suggested it wove further down. Her work attire had always been strictly professional, covering up every bit of her body art despite there being no rules against it. She did it by choice, already having enough of an uphill battle with a criminal background.
Trys drew in the cigarra and exhaled a cloud of smoke, having forgotten that instant buzz. She heard him speak and rattle off names. Trys glanced at him sharply, her eyes widening, “Crix,” She said abruptly. That name held a tremendous amount of meaning to her. He had said Zabrak. Trys glanced into Hannibal’s eyes, trying to rattle her mind. His emeralds were the only things that held some sort of familiarity even though she couldn’t place why.
“My son…” She said barely above a whisper, cigarra hanging limply between her fingers. Hannibal finished speaking by reassuring her that he was safe. Trys could feel her heart pounding against her chest, and she could only see imprints and shadows. She looked at Hannibal’s eyes again, staring intently and trying to find a thread that connected to anything at all. His eyes brought glimpses and flashes of mountains, fog, fire and her own pale and unmarred arms.
Trys rolled down one of her sleeves, flipping the arm to gaze at her inner forearm. She saw the dates and the jagged line of a heartbeat. She closed her eyes and remembered that day when the doctor detected the baby that first day, when she heard that rhythmic sound. She remembered the terror and anxiety, and how her life was effectively over. She remembered being sixteen and alone. She remembered shouting and crying with the Zabrak that slammed the door and walked out of her life forever.
“Crix..” She whispered, staring at that jagged line and feeling all the emotions that came with it. She remembered the soft cooing, the first words, the first steps, the goofy grin, the yelling, the complaining, the silent treatments. The memories went blank as she tried to recall more, but the tattoo anchored her back for now. Trys looked at Hannibal again, her eyes red as tears brimmed them, “He’s...okay? Th-They didn’t do anything to him?” She grabbed onto the side of the bed and attempted to rise to her feet without luck, “I have to see him. Please..Hannibal..”
Hannibal glanced down at the woman's arm, clearly briefly taken by the artwork scrawled across the limb. This was a new detail he hadn't noticed before. Emerald eyes, still shining with that strange light behind them, came back up to look into blues. The Jedi took a drag of his cigarra and exhaled it lazily. Trys whispered about her son, rolled down her sleeves.
Hannibal's eyes followed hers, and that's when it hit him.
Fear and panick ran through like a splash in a shallow pool, hitching breath and widening eyes. Alone and afraid and unsure of what to do next. Bitter anger and the heat of tears, a throat sore from shouting, the pit in ones chest after being abandoned.
Joy and dulled pain and warmth, uncertainty, hope, love- Stop.
With effort he broke away from the flood of echoed emotion and looked away from Trys' arm, focusing instead on the smell and taste of cigarra smoke, the rhythmic tapping of fingers on tile, the pale white of the wall, the beeping of machines, cool air from a vent across exposed skin. Steadily the muscles in his face relaxed, though his brows were still furrowed in an unhappy look that wasn't helped by the tears brimming in Trys' eyes when he turned back.
Hannibal reached down to his belt and pulled a holoprojector from a pouch, ashed his cigarra in the tray, and started flicking through controls. Deftly he connected his commlink and tapped a switch.
In full colour, if slightly muted, a projection of Crix was formed. He was on a ship, Hannibal's in fact, wearing a simple shirt and pants. He held a simple, smoothed wooden stick in his hands in a basic stance. The next still showed Hans and Crix together affecting repairs to a speeder bike, and the next was them drinking tea and talking about something or other, both smiling broadly over a joke. The last was the simplest, just Crix in a gray jacket and reading from a datapad. He'd looked up at something Hannibal said with a half grin, directly at the camera- actually a droid- in response.
"He wasn't harmed, they never got him. Crix is alright."
Hannibal offered his hand, halfway between the two of them. "This floor sucks. I'm sure you could get up on your own if you really tried, but you haven't actually eaten anything in forever and the nurses will yell at me. Let me help, maybe they get you something basic to eat, and I tell you what he's been up to, okay?" The young Jedi had a clear expression of concern, though there was no pity there to be found and he wouldn't push the issue if she chose otherwise.
"We can call him if you want, but he'll be told you're awake. He's been visiting you, y'know, he's a good kid."
Trys was far too wrapped up in her own disjointed thoughts and pains to notice the impact all this was having on the other man. She kept looking at her wrist, tears spilling freely down her cheeks for a moment before she finally wiped them off with a sleeve. Trys was never known to be a particularly emotional woman, but the pains of not remembering details about her son hit harder than anything she could have ever imagined.
She looked up when Hannibal projected and allowed her to see glimpses into Crix’s life. Trys’s eyes lit up as she observed her son - far more grown up than her memories told her - aboard a ship. She saw Hannibal next to him and her son in various states and working on different things. She saw him smiling, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. Trys had to wipe her face a few more times by the time Hannibal spoke again.
“I’d rather see him in person,” Trys said quietly, “I want to have my head on straight before I do,” As much as it killed her, she wanted to be in a better mental state before she unloaded on him. For a moment, Trys looked off into the distance, lost in thought.
She looked at Hannibal when he reached a hand over. Trys despised asking for help. However, she also knew when she was crossing a stubborn line and fighting a losing battle. She planted the cigarra between her lips as she grabbed the bed with one hand and reached the other out towards Hannibal.
As soon as her hand touched his, she felt searing pain along her body. It felt as if her skin was being clawed apart, and she had sudden visions of mountains crumbling. Trys didn’t let go of the hand, however, her grip tightening firmly till her fingers almost turned white. The images subsided after a moment and she was back in reality.
Trys was on her feet and wobbly by then, and she loosened her grip, glancing at him awkwardly, “My bad I...my head is a mess right now,” She finally found her footing, standing up straight as she used the bed to balance herself. Trys was about to mention something else, but she slowly turned to look at Hannibal again.
“Why is my son with you?” She asked quietly, “Who are you to him?” Why weren’t the Rangers the ones more involved here? It appeared as if Crix had been spending quite a bit of time with Hannibal, “...Who are you to me?” Trys eyed him suspiciously, eyes widening and almost accusatory.