Hi all, This is a new story I have been working on, probably the most out-there fan fiction I’ve ever attempted. The initial idea springs from a small gripe I have with the Expanded Universe material: when you look at the Star Wars universe’s history, it seems to be a constant back and forth between the Jedi and the Sith, from the Old Republic, through the Empire and even beyond to the current Legacy comics, which while heading further into the future still share those familiar characteristics. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love all of that stuff, but I thought it would be interesting to try and take the Star Wars universe in a completely different direction. Thus - Star Wars: The Soulreaper Chronicles. The setting for this Star Wars story is a galaxy far different from the one in the films. Five centuries after Return of the Jedi, a new alien race has swept aside the races we know, leaving only a handful of planets safe from a strange affliction known as the Wyrding. The lines between Jedi and Sith have become murky as survival becomes the only priority. Into this new galactic situation comes our hero, Danil Farwood, a man trained in the ways of the Force, but who is neither Jedi nor Sith. A man with a gift – the ability to steal the souls of other beings, both alive or dead. A man trained as an assassin but who now works as a thieftaker, tracking down murderers for a fee. Step into his galaxy, a galaxy far, far away from the one we know but whose roots remain a long, long time ago… Disclaimer: This is a harsher galaxy than the one we are used to and a more violent one. You have been warned. Chapter One The dead Rodian’s screams echoed in my head, making my hangover that much worse. Keeping to the back of the line of riders, I cast an eye back towards Mos Eisley, wishing I was back in bed. The twin suns beat down on us, reflecting off the sand to pierce my eyes. I groaned. Turning away, I studied my companions – twelve constables in dark grey and green uniforms, along with the local Imperial commander wearing a dark grey imperial navy suit, his shoulders emblazoned with the four red and blue rectangles of his rank. And me, of course, Danil Farwood, in my dirty grey coat and blood red trousers. I pulled my floppy hat further down to protect my eyes and held on to the bantha for dear life. We kept to the ‘road’ that left Mos Eisley and headed into the desert, but the sand had pretty much erased whatever track might once have existed. All of us suffered in the heat, though the commander seemed almost immune. The stench of the banthas seemed even stronger beneath the suns. I ignored the smell as best I could. I already felt sick. That lum ale had been potent stuff. Still, I had yet to find a better remedy for the screaming voices in my head. Pitiless light, heat and death plagued the world around us, the very air clawing what little moisture we had left from our skin. There was something to be said for the Sand People’s moisture suits, I thought. I tried to ignore the heat, staring straight ahead, forcing my eyes not to dart to the poor sod, hands bound in front of him, sat astride the last bantha. He was old and bent, his body gnawed by hunger. His clothes were ragged and sodden with dirt, blood and sweat. He could barely open his eyes from the beatings he had received, but he still glared at me whenever he got the chance. One of the constables, who had accompanied me in my investigations, guided his bantha back towards me, humming. He glanced at me, looked away, then grunted. “What?” I growled. Drink and guilt make for poor bedfellows. I had seen more than my fair share of men die. I was not enthusiastic about seeing another, especially when I was sending him to his death. “You don’t look happy.” It was almost a question. “Happy?” I peered over at him from beneath the brim of my hat. “Why by the… Why would I be happy?” “To see justice done. To see a man punished for his crimes. To see…” To see a man die for protecting his family? To watch him left to the mercy of the Sand People? No, I wasn’t happy. I had picked up the contract three days before, contacted on Coruscant by a Hutt who I had done some work for in the past. Someone had attacked one of his minion’s sons, stabbed him three times with a knife and left him to bleed out in a repair yard. When the local constabulary failed, the boy’s father had turned to his boss, Garda the Hutt, who had come to me. I had accepted, hoping I could do some good… And that I might get a nice commission for the doing. - Good? Faw! I bit back a sigh as the familiar voice cut through the screams in my head. - I wondered when you would wake up, I thought back. - Well, what time of the morning do you call this? The suns are barely up. - Justice doesn’t wait for breakfast, I replied wryly. - Justice can suckle on my… - What do you want, Lucan? - Want? I was sleeping comfortably until you started thinking so loud. Besides, what good did you think you would find? A Sith conspiracy? A threat to the Empire? You’re not working for Tiss anymore, boy. And you should know by now that the reason for all crimes is either sex or money. I scowled. The constable blanched slightly and allowed his bantha to fall even further back. By the Force, did I look that bad? Lucan was right, though. Once I had reaped fragments of the dead soul, a few days wandering Mos Eisley, haunting the Rodian’s usual haunts and speaking to his friends, lovers and enemies brought me a soul-vision of him raping this moisture farmer’s two daughters, three of his cronies looking on and laughing. Not hard to envision the rest. - Go away, Lucan. This time, I heard him chuckle. Then he vanished away into some distant part of my head. Lord Lucan. The first and only man to ever ask me to reap his soul – and the only one who stayed with me. I rarely reap a soul at the moment of death, when it is still relatively sane. Most of the time it is ravaged pieces, fragments that drift somewhere in my mind like gossamer threads, rising to the surface when I see or smell or do something to trigger them. I’ve only ever reaped two such souls. Lucan was the second. Murmured curses filled the sharp air, bringing me back to the present. The lieutenant hailed us to a stop at the bottom of a large dune a few miles from the city. Strange iron posts, twisted and festooned with pieces of cloth and shards of bone, surrounded the small depression. A larger post, carved with arcane pictograms, rose out of the sand in the middle. A Tusken judging post. While the guards spread out in ceremonial fashion, I slid off the bantha’s back, took off my hat and began to wave it in front of my face to create some air. I studied the post, a shiver running down my spine. Hard to believe that once upon a time the men I was with would have torn such a post down, smashing it to pieces as proof of the Sand People’s savageness. That had been before the Release. Before the Wyrding. The farmer was forced to his knees before the lieutenant, who sat his bantha with all the cold dignity required of the Empress’ Justice. He stared down at the man as one of the constables read out the charge. “Awold Tow, moisture farmer from Mos Eisley, you are accused of the murder of Kelwa Orn, only son and heir of Min Orn, free merchant of Mos Eisley.” Free merchant? That was a joke. Orn was a smuggler and a thief. “Will you plead?” Awold stared past the lieutenant and the soldiers. Right at me. His eyes burned, dry as a bone, a thousand curses springing from their depths. I rubbed a hand over the back of my neck. I could feel a headache coming on. One of the constables surged forward, kicking the farmer to the sand. He reached down, grabbing Awold by the scruff of the neck and forcing his head up. “You were asked a question, dog.” “I’ll no plead,” Awold said. The constable went to slap him again, but the lieutenant’s voice boomed against the dunes. “Let him be.” Frowning, the constable did as he was told, though not before delivering a swift kick to Awold’s rear end. The lieutenant turned to me. “Who accuses this man?” With a bitten off curse, I stepped forward. “I do.” “On what basis?” “On the basis of my solemn word.” “And whose word is that?” “The word of Danil Farwood, member of the Thieftaker’s Guild.” The lieutenant nodded, turning away from me. I wished I could jump back on my bantha and ride away, but I had to see this through to the bitter end if I was going to get paid. There were more questions and answers, though all of them avoided the subject of what Kelwa Orn had done to this man’s daughters. Finally, the lieutenant barked a command. Two of the constables came forward, lifting Awold to his feet. Pulling real knives – vibroblades were too few and far between – they cut away his clothes, then turned and marched him to the post. We all stood or sat our banthas, and watched. The two guards pushed Awold back against the post, lifting his hands above his head. One of them began to run a rope around and around the post and the farmer, binding him securely. By now, he was weeping softly. He pissed himself, liquid splatter soaked up by the bone dry earth. My headache was getting worse. As the first constable wrapped the rope around the post, the other one pulled a hammer and nail from his pocket. I winced. They could have just used the rope, but these ‘sacrifices’ as executions had to be done right. I had heard rumours about them ever since arriving on Tatooine, but this was the first time I had witnessed one. I forced myself not to turn away as the constable lifted the ancient hammer high above his head. It glinted dully in the harsh sunlight, then there was a swish of metal through air, a hollow thump and a scream. Blood burst forth from the man’s palm, dark as old wine. It began to drop down his forearm, his chest, his legs. Blood and tears mingled with the man’s piss at his feet, the parched sand drinking it eagerly. Once the ropes were tied off and the hammering completed, both constables walked back to their waiting banthas. The lieutenant guided his own forward. “In the name of Empress Gara Thorn, Empress of the Galactic Empire, and by the power vested in me by the name of Moff Mawthew Ensto of Tatooine, I do sentence you to a day and a night. May the twin suns sound your soul and decide your guilt. And if they should find you guilty, may the Peoples of the Sand have mercy on your soul.” The farmer began to scream. If it were possible, the heat grew even more unbearable as we rode back to Mos Eisley. The man’s screamed pursued us. As we drew within sight of the city, I began to feel something building in the back of my head, the unmistakeable feeling of the Force growing steadily. I tried to hurry my bantha along, but now that the lieutenant and his men had no further need for me, I was forced to the back of the group. A wind had arisen, leaving us riding through air thick with sand and choking dust. My head was beating like a drum, as if someone was taking the blunt end of a stick to my temples. I gritted my teeth against the pain, rubbing at the back of my neck to try and relieve the pressure. It kept building, though, until the pain was so intense I could hardly see the sand in front of me. Just when I thought it could not get any worse, the Force summons washed over me. I have dealt with Force-users long enough to recognise a mental summons when I feel one. They do not come in pictures or words. Instead, I was overcome by an absolute necessity to be where the summoner was. Added to that urge was a distinct identity marker, a flurry of impressions as clear and unmistakeable as blood on fresh snow. My mistress needed me. She was on Coruscant. I had to get there as quickly as possible. A Force summons takes a lot of Force energy, especially over such a distance. For the person being summoned it is like being hit with eleven stun bolts while holding a conducting rod and standing in a pool of freezing water. I yelled, once, and then the darkness swamped me and dragged me down.