Chapter 34: The galaxy had condemned her to a hideous death.

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Ella continued to climb. The numbness in her arm had left her immediately after her immersion in the cold waters of the sea. Her will to survive had given her new strength. She heaved herself hand over hand, finding footholds in the narrowest of fissures in the Marl tree's bark, up and up and up, putting as much distance as she could from the Farsalt ground at night.

For she knew she wouldn't be alone for long.

She had climbed a third of the way up, using the ladder-like vines to help her, and now she heaved herself onto the first of the Marl's great branches. She rolled onto her back and exhaled, her ribs and shoulders burning from the pain of the climb and from the strains of the day. Her breathing slowed. She could allow herself a little time to relax. Yes. She had time.


She turned her head onto its side and gazed up at the mountain, some miles distant and through the fires that blazed between them amongst the Marl. What had happened up there? Had Tayre been hurt by her fall? Why had a single TIE attacked them like that? Nothing about it made any sense to her, least of all Colonel Arnaud's insistence that she, more than Tayre, be kept safe.

Unable to resist the weariness, her eyes fell shut, and she slept. She dreamed of a million worlds. It was unlike any dream she had experienced before. Each heartbeat offered grand vistas of planets, the details acute, even the smells and the feel of the ground beneath her feet or the wind on her face. Ocean worlds, desert worlds, worlds covered in trees and gas giants with hurricanes blowing continuously since before the founding of the Republic, a galaxy screaming with life, calling to her, warning her. Welcoming her too.

She woke in an instant, refreshed and renewed, the tiredness gone from her limbs and her mind clear, aware that she was in some sort of danger.

The fires were too far away to threaten her, and the wind coming in off the sea was blowing the flames away from her. No, it wasn't that.

But she felt it.

Ella peered over the branch and down the trunk.

It was moving. In the darkness, she could make out lumpen forms climbing toward her that made her shiver.

Desiccation slugs!

There were few more vile animals on Farsalt. Their slime would cause a near total paralysis in any human it came into contact with, and afterward they would suck all the moisture from your body over several days, keeping you alive throughout that time, using your own circulation to get the best meal they could make of you, forcing your heart to beat faster by injecting you with an agonising toxin from the razor sharp needles that lined their underbelly.

It was a hideous way to die.

She dropped her hand to her holster, to check the state of her blaster.

It was gone. She couldn't remember losing it, if it had fallen from her in the water or if had been ripped from her by a branch on her desperate flight from the TIE.

Ella realised she was in serious danger. No one knew where she was. She had no communicator after leaping from her speeder. She couldn't climb down, for the tree would be coated in the slime from the slugs. And there was no tree within reach that she could jump to.


She had no choice. She stood immediately and heaved herself up, hoping that the slugs might not follow her if she got high enough, hoping that she could hold them off until daylight and attract attention from the top of the Marl.

She felt her way upward in the darkness. Several times her foot slipped from the bark and her leg was burned against the tree as she struggled to keep herself from falling.

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