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Beyond the Saga Saga - Legends Star Wars: The Knights of Ren

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by IgnusDei, Jan 28, 2020.

  1. IgnusDei

    IgnusDei Jedi Padawan

    Registered:
    Oct 22, 2019
    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
    …There was once a princess, beautiful beyond belief, who had set a million worlds on fire.


    In the heart of the capital of the world of Valis, a carriage of varnished black wood inlaid with silver, pulled by power of black-feathered mounts, stopped in front of the Cathedral. The side door opened, and a silver-haired page, an albino hyur boy in his mid-teens, stepped out into the rain, taking a moment to look up at the grey skies. Above, just below the clouds, immense airships — masses of dark steel arches and frames and glossair drives — float in the air, their scale made evident by the murder of crows flying close to them. Remora fighters, small flying gun towers, serve as their escorts, flying in parade formation.

    The page stopped admiring the vessels, and set an embroidered waterproof sheet upon a puddle on the stone pavement. The way thus prepared, a young woman, clad in mourning dress, her starlight silver hair covered by a black silk veil, steps out. Tall, armour-clad figures had cordoned off the area, keeping an entire crowd at bay, but they needed not bother, for all present, peasant and noble alike, were in no mood to clamour for her attention. Not a single soul present felt like smiling.

    The bells tolled, and Ajora van Oberyth, princess of Valis, knew it was time. She dreaded entering the Cathedral, even as the bas-reliefs of God's creatures silently bid her welcome as they were opened by Royal Guards. The bell tolled again, hurrying her, but she found her first step faltering.

    Thankfully, her page, her most loyal companion and friend, was there to keep her from falling. Half the time, he bore the title of court jester as well, but that day would tolerate no mirth. He guided her within.

    Inside, the Cathedral was dark, lit only by a hundred candles mounted on chandeliers above and below. One could barely see the rib vault arches upon the ceiling high above, or the elaborate stone work on the pillars supporting the vast chamber, or the elaborate mandala fresco of the Kildean Zodiac painted in the forward alcove from which the Grand Kiltias spoke...

    But the casket... the closed casket of carved ivory, Ajora could see, at the center an elaborate arrangement of five-petaled Lunar Tears that glowed an ethereal white. Mother's favourites, Ajora realizes.

    "...Blessings of the Great Father descend..." the Gran Kiltias recited, "and guide the body of our beloved Roy to return to the earth."

    Ajora, possessed by sorrow, approached the Casket, making her way past the other mourners, her grandfather, uncles and aunts... The Grand Kiltias, his heart full of understanding, does not stop her then, nor does he stop her when she opens the casket.

    "Great Father," he continues, "guide your beloved son's spirit to return to heaven, towards the embrace of the Mother of all."

    Ajora only peered inside, but the sight was enough for her heart to break all over again. The Horrors' work had not left much for the embalmers to work with. The face was still, even peaceful... but half of it was cracked, the horrifically sunken, twisted flesh covered by a half a mask of ivory, inlaid with silver.

    If only the airships hadn't been so slow, if only our arms had been more powerful, if only our soldiers braver, faster, STRONGER...

    "Papa..." she muttered, failing to choke back her tears. The Pagans had done this, all in the name of the Horrors they worshiped as false gods. She could remember their Warchief, Valfodr, the Immortal, the Abomination, seizing her father — he had been so strong! Fight back, fight back! Papa, please! —by the throat, grinning smugly at her as the Worm made its home inside of him, corrupting his flesh...

    Help me, he begged, at the end. Please...

    I-I don't know how... the words that escaped her lips that day would haunt her forever.

    "And so we give our farewell to Solus van Oberyth, King of Valis," the Grand Kiltias finished. "Faram."

    "Faram," the mourners echoed, all except Ajora, who wept openly on top of her father's casket. Her whimpers echoed in the great hall for minutes, before her page, his head bowed in deference, approached.

    "My lady," he said, shyly. "It is time to let go."

    Ajora was silent, her head not rising from the casket. "Never. I will never let this go. Oh, father... I swear on your corpse... I will have vengeance on the Pagans for this. I will build fleets to chase them to the stars... I will build armies, to burn down all their homes..."

    "Ajora," muttered Kieran, forgetting his station as her servant. Ajora, however, was beyond caring about such things.

    "Papa," she cried, quietly. "On my blood I promise you..." there was determination in her voice now. "I will become the Ren, and I will wield the power of the gods themselves..."

    Kieran felt his blood run cold, and could have he saw the Aeons of the Zodiac look down upon Ajora...

    "...and I will kill them all, Papa, all for you... every last one of them... I swear it."

    A long time ago, on a planet far from here, in a time far from now, there was once a princess who had loved her father very, very much... and the oath of vengeance she had sworn over his corpse would cause unparalleled suffering to people beyond counting, among stars undreamed of, for thousands of years to come.

    "I swear it..."


    ----------------------------------------------

    STAR WARS:
    THE KNIGHTS OF REN

    EPISODE ZERO: THE BATTLE OF D'QAR

    --------------------------------------------------

    7000 years later...



    It is a dire time for the New Republic.
    Despite the destruction of Starkiller Base,
    chaos reigns across the galaxy as warlords
    and crime syndicates attempt to carve out their own
    empires out of the Core World territories, forcing the
    diminished Republic fleet to fight an uphill battle to maintain order.

    Meanwhile, The First Order, undaunted by its devastating loss, begins an immense
    assault across the Outer Rim, a blitzkrieg that will secure valuable resources and manpower
    for the inevitable final push in the Core.

    The only thing standing in their way now is a ragtag fleet gathered above the skies of the planet D'Qar, the headquarters of the Resistance. There, the myriad forces arrayed against tyranny ready themselves to make their stand.






    Thus the first battle of the War for the Outer Rim begins...

    [-o-]


    A single TIE fighter streaked across the bright grey hull of an immense Resurgent-Class Star Destroyer. It was quickly joined by the rest of its flight, their presence signaled by the beastly wail coming through the TIE's cockpit's auditory emulators, an interpretation of its Twin Ion Engines' energy signature. Their destination: a large fleet of diverse, exotic warships and converted transports trading blaster fire and torpedoes with eight more Star Destroyers. Such was the rag-tag fleet of the Resistance, sworn enemies of the Order to Restore the Empire.

    The battle raged over the low orbit of a blue, Class M planet: D'Qar, headquarters of the Resistance. Casualties of the battle floated in the dark, but slowly made their way down to the blue curve of its atmosphere as gravity seized their masses, slowly turning into burning meteors...

    The flight of TIE Fighters screamed across the airless void to join the space battle. Once their, they evaded blaster fire from enemy turrets, and fired their twin-linked Pulse Lasers at any target of opportunity they came across. Eventually, their overconfidence gets the best of them, and they are obliterated by clustered bursts of plasma flak. The source of their doom? The impressive flak guns of a Mon Calamari Supercarrier with the word Raddus painted across the side of its hull, written in aurebesh. It suffered barrages of turbolaser fire from all sides, but its advanced shields, backed by redundant generators and a powerful central power core, held fast.

    Meanwhile, Resistance Ace Pilot Poe Dameron, flying his custom black T-70 X-wing Multirole Starfighter, unleashed a barrage of blaster fire from his craft's four wing-mounted guns. His target, the Star Destroyer Crucifier's array of point defense guns, melted under the bursts of orange-red photons, and turned into useless slag that floated into the black.

    "This is Black One!" Poe practically shouted into his helmet's microphone. "The Crucifier's flank is wide open!"

    On the bridge of the Raddus, Admiral Gial Ackbar — Veteran of the Galactic Civil War — received Poe's signal, and bellows at his weapons officer. "Launch the salvo!"

    Outside, hatches opened across the side of the Raddus, and twenty Assault Proton Torpedoes emerged from their launch ports, trailing plasma behind them as they flew towards the Crucifier. A squadron of TIE FIGHTERS attempt to intercept then, but Poe and his wingmates take them out before they can. The torpedoes bypassed the Star Destroyer's shields completely, then penetrated its hull, causing it to explode from the inside out. Having lost all power to its engines and repulsorlifts, it can no longer maintain its orbit, and promptly falls towards the planet.

    In the background, the Star Destroyer was engulfed in flames. At her post, communications officer Kaydel Ko Connix desperately attempts to sort out the frantic chorus of radio chatter – mostly casualty reports. Typing fast, she relays the relevant information from her console to the central holographic pit of the bridge, where Admiral Ackbar and General Leia Organa study an holographic map of the battle as a small blue triangles and squares face off against large red triangles.

    "So far so good," says Leia, confidently. Casualties were low, and fatalities even lower, while

    "A little too good," comments Ackbar, "They're holding their trump card back."

    "Their mistake." Leia turned to her comms officer "Kaydel! Give me a status report on the evacuation!"

    "Aye aye!" Kaydel responded, then she began to speak into her headset. "Raddus to base, ETA on complete EVAC?"


    [-o-]

    From the grassy surface of D'Qar, the raging battle was little more than a cluster of bursting lights in the sky above, but the urgency of the situation was felt nonetheless. Hundreds of resistance personnel scramble outside of the Resistane facility they had built into the hills, carrying all kinds of important materiel towards the StarMaster transports that had just landed on the ferrocrete landing pads.

    Vober Dand, a male tarsunt clad in the olive uniform of a Resistance officer, looked upon the scene as he spoke in his communicator.

    "Base to Raddus!" yelled Vober over the roar of VTOL engines. "The Transports just landed and the last group is on its way out, we just need ten more minutes before we can take off!"

    Kaydel's response came out of the speaker laced with some static: "Understood, hangars one through four will be notified."


    [-o-]


    "Good!" Ackbar nodded. "Now hail Captain Elson and order him to move his corvettes to Navpoint Beta! Those Transports will need cover fire!

    Suddenly, an alarm beeps on the console of Tam Dradis, the Raddus' Sensor Operator.

    "Admiral!" The young Miralukan shouted as sensor data was being streamed through his opaque plastic visor. "I've got a massive quantum waveform on the scopes! ...Dreadnought displacement! Incoming Hyperspace Jump!"

    "Here it comes," muttered Leia.

    "Alert the fleet!" bellowed Ackbar, his voice like gravel. "Incoming Dreadnought!"

    [-o-]


    As Star Destroyers moved into turbolaser range, a First Order Dreadnought, the Eclipse, surged out from Hyperspace and appeared behind them, dwarfing each Resurgent by a factor of four. A Blood Stripe had been painted across its dark hull, marking it as a Special Forces warship.

    Inside and the Eclipse's Bridge stood a tall, fit, middle-aged Onderonian human man, bearing the same Blood Stripe along the sleeve of his black uniform. Such was Paxton Fell, a grizzled Imperial war veteran from the Galactic Civil War and one of leaders of the First Order's Special Forces. From where he stood, his gray eyes could all the young men and women of his command crew as they worked calmly in their shallow pits. The Bridge was bathed in a sickly red light, contrasting sharply with the blues of the crew's holographic consoles.

    "We have arrived," stated Krios, the Eclipse's Navigator.

    "I know." replied Fell, hiding his mild annoyance beneath a cool exterior. "I have eyes, sailor." He turned to the flight controller. "I want all Interceptors out there and on Point Defense, and the Bombers—"

    "—Belay that."

    Stepping out of the shadows, Armitage Hux, General of the First Order, appears, and approaches Fell. "Tell the pilots to stand down." He commands. "They will not be needed. The Eclipse can deal with anything the Resistance can throw at it." He snickers, and nods towards the melee of capital ships in the distance. "Ready the main gun, target the planet."

    Paxton quirked his eyebrow. "But the Raddus is right there. We can just—"

    Hux sneered at the older man. "Are you questioning the orders of your general, captain?"

    There was a tense moment where Hux and Fell glared at each other, and it was obvious that Fell had nothing but contempt for the young general.

    But rank was rank.

    "No, sir." he responded. "All fighters stand down. Gunnery, ready the main gun, set reactor output to fifty—"

    "One hundred percent!" Hux interrupted again, but this time, possessed by the very worst passionate intensity. "The surface must burn."

    Fell looked at the D'Qar, at one of few thousands of Class M planets in the entire Galaxy, capable of sustaining all kinds of life, humanoids included... and could almost feel his wife desperately clinging to his arm, begging him to stop this madness.

    Outside, the Eclipse's prow splits open, revealing crystalline apertures that glow a bright blue-green, the telltale light of a Superlaser.

    "Weapon is charging," stated Kilran, the Eclipse' Gunnery Officer. "Ready to fire in... ten seconds.

    Discreetly, Paxton Fell tapped a few keys on a holographic interface mounted on a wristband.

    [-o-]


    Somewhere in one of the Eclipse's vast fighter bays. A matching wristband lights up, attached to the arm of another bearer of the Blood Stripe. This man was younger, and paler than the captain above, and was clad in a TIE Fighter pilot's flight suit, modified to handle the stresses of a fast, agile craft. The pilot, Malek Fell, brought the wristcom to his face and let its laser aperture project a message onto his retina:

    Be Ready.

    Malek approached a TIE's cockpit pod, emblazoned with a White Crow over a Black and Burgundy shield, the emblem of the 181st Carrion Crows Elite Starfighter Squadron. He made it several steps on the boarding ladder before Flight Control''s voice blares over the loudspeakers.

    "All fighters stand down," it said.

    Malek pointedly disobeys, and steps into the high-tech, advanced cockpit of his starfighter, a octahedron-shaped black droid with a red optic following him in. As he fasten his seatbelts and puts on his custom helmet, the Droid slots itself into a port behind him, augmenting the ship's electronics.

    The start-up sequence finished, just short of igniting the drives, Malek... began to wait, patiently, for his father's signal to deploy.

    [-o-]

    Gunnery Officer Kilran watched the Superlaser's status on his console. He paid particular attention to the heat gauge, and the Eclipse' massive heat sinks' output. Then, a progress bar rose to the top...

    "Weapon fully charged," he declared calmly.

    Hux nearly shuddered with delight at the thought of firing the Superlaser. "FIRE!" He commands, eagerly.

    [-o-]


    Particles gathered in the mouth of the superlaser, forming a ball of energy. The ball compressed, trembled, and exploded, spewing a ray of blue-green energy.

    The beam surged past a squadron of X-wing starfighters, and a handful of Resistance frigates. In spite of missing them by meters, the ambient energy of the beam alone was enough for the X-wings' fuel cells to detonate, and the frigates' hulls to be peeled off, killing all inside. The beam then blew through the hull of a red Assault Frigate MKII, and continued on through the atmosphere of D'Qar. Inside his cockpit, Poe Dameron can only look on helplessly.

    "No..." he muttered, horrified, knowing that another living world would die at the hands of the First Order.

    [-o-]


    The beam impacted the ground, which shattered under the raw firepower of the superlaser.

    Vober, startled at the scream of ignited air, turn to face the impact point, kilometers away... Then, a wall of dust and fire surged out of the distant horizon, rapidly making its way towards the base. He would have been awed by the sight, and he not been utterly terrified at his impending doom.

    "TAKE OFF!" he screamed at the pilots. "TAKE OFF NOW! WE—"

    He was cut short by an earthquake, and the ground cracked beneath him, splitting into deep chasms with the bright orange glow of lava at the bottom. Vober and his crew fall into the chasms, screaming in terror, and were quickly followed by the one transport that failed to engage its repulsorlifts in time. The Transports that managed to take off switched on their afterburners, a desperate move to stay ahead of the shockwave and make it to the Raddus.

    "Keep going!" yelled one of Transport's pilots over the radio. "Keep going! We're almost safe!

    "This is transport 2!" shouted another, frantically. "Our engine's too hot! We're not—"

    His ship lagged behind significantly, and was torn apart by the shockwave, then another Transport's engines failed, then another, and another...

    [-o-]

    Leia put her hand over her chest, stumbled, and leaned against the holotable to maintain her balance. Through the Force, she felt the death of every man and woman on D'Qar as the once verdant planet turned into a ball of ash and lava. Every, Single. Death... was a stab in the heart, with a dagger made of ice colder than Hoth.

    Ackbar looked at her, worried. "Princess...?"

    She quickly regains her royal composure. "I'll be alright. Dradis, how many transports did we lose?

    "I've confirmed four of the twelve signals going silent," replied Dradis. "The rest... IFF confirmed! They're alright! ETA six minutes!"

    "Elson is reporting in!" added Kaydel. "Nav Beta is secure!... wait... The Dreadnought is transmitting across all frequencies - it's General Hux!"


    Of course it is, Leia thought. Theatrics backed by planetkillers. That's Hux in a nutshell. "Put it through."

    "Rebels..." Hux's static-laced voice began...

    [-o-]

    As Poe and his Black Squadron flew through the battle, Hux's voice resounds over the comms.

    "...You are beaten. Your cowardly assault on Starkiller Base was all for nothing. Our numbers are limitless! Our weapons are mighty! Our resolve is unmatched! Look upon the world below you as it turns to ash, and know that all your homeworlds and all your peoples will suffer the same fate... unless you surrender, and submit to the mercy and grace of the Supreme Leader!"

    D'Qar turning volcanic, far more than Hux's speech, was the one thing demoralizing the fleet opposing the First Order. While the Resistance's ships — hand-me-downs from the New Republic Military — were holding the line at great cost, their allies, Pirates, Mercenaries, and Milita, were starting to break formation, singling themselves out for destruction by the Star Destroyers and their TIE Fighters.

    Poe hated to admit it, but while Hux was not a master strategist, he knew the value of shock and awe.

    [-o-]

    "...You have five minutes to comply." Hux finished, happy to put his speechcraft skills into practice Hux motioned the comms officer — Lieutenant Lynn — to cut the channel.

    "You underestimate Organa," commented Fell. "She didn't break at Alderaan, and she certainly won't shed tears for some backwater."

    "That was then," replied Hux, snorting in contempt. "This is now. Organa is old, and weak..." Hux gestured at the central holotable, as a handful of Militia and Pirate warships attempt to break off their engagements and hyperspace away. "She has already failed to hold her pitiful new alliance together, and now it falls apart before her very eyes. Her surrender is inevitable."

    Lieutenant Lynn raised her hand, getting Hux's attention. "General! Incoming hail from the Raddus! It's Organa!"

    Hux smirked. "Of course it is," he said, turning to the holo-projector. "Patch her through!"

    Leia, clad in her officer's uniform, appears before Fell and Hux as a hologram. She looks defeated.

    "Your Majestry," Fell bows slightly, his tone respectful. He may have hated her brother's guts with a passion, but that did not mean his manners had to go out the airlock.

    Hux, of course, had no such scruple. "Come to your senses at last? Order your ships to stand down, before I lose patience and show you the real power of this mighty warship!"

    "General Hux," Leia began. "I have received your message, and as the leader of the Resistance I speak for every man, woman and droid within it when I say...

    Leia pauses for effect...

    "Yes?" Hux prods.

    "Go kark a wookie, you snot-nosed, arrogant little boy." And with that, Leia cut the channel.

    Hux's left eye twitched as he trembled with rage, while Fell suppresses a chuckle. "That's some surrender," commented the older man.

    "...It's disintegration, then." Hux turned to the crew. "Helm! Keep the prow trained on the Raddus! Gunnery, target their flagship and FIRE!"

    "Sir?" began Kilran, hesitantly. "We can't fire!"

    "...What." Hux was not happy to hear that.

    "Our heat sinks are still cooling the main gun!" explained Kilran, pointing at the heat gauge. "If we fire now our entire ships internals will melt!"

    "How long is it going to take?!" Hux demanded to know.

    [-o-]

    "Four minutes," said Tam Dradis.

    "Those transports can't go any faster," said Leia. We need more time...

    "We'll get it," said Ackbar. "Kaydel, Get Commander Dameron and Vice Admiral Celchu on the horn! Plan B is go!"

    [-o-]

    Out in space, Poe had received Ackbar's message loud and clear. "Roger that," he confirmed. "Plan B is go! Black Leader to Black Squadron, report booster status!"

    The rest of Black Squadron's X-wings formed up on Poe's wing.

    "Black Two," said Snap Wexley over the radio. "Boosters charged and standing by!

    "Black Three," said Nien Numb in Haya, "standing by!"

    "Black Four," said Jess Pava, "standing by!

    "Black Five," confirmed Karé Kun, "standing by!"

    "Black Six," said C'ai "standing by!"

    Poe smiled. "Good! Follow my lead and ready your Mag Pulses, we're taking the Eclipse to the dentist Taika, think your boys can keep up with us?"

    A squadron of nine refitted V-wing Starfighters, painted in various personalized paint jobs, blasted their way past some TIE Fighters and formed up alongside Black Squadron. Inside the cockpit of the lead V-wing,Taika Katanga, a Weequay man clad in the trappings of a space pirate blended with the look of a Naboo fop, grinned eagerly under the transparent face shield of his helmet.

    "Ha! Keep up?! Black Leader, by the time you reach the dreadnought you'll be choking on my exhaust!"

    Suddenly, TAIKA's spherical radar readout blinked orange, and twelve pips appear on it, warning him of an equal number of TIE Fighters moving in to intercept Black Squadron...

    "We got incoming!" warned Jess, before Taika could even say anything "Do we engage?"

    [-o-]

    At the center of the Command Deck of a refitted Providence-Class cruiser, A tall tactical droid stands in the center of the bridge, cables running through the back of his head feeding him streams of sensor data, allowing him to micromanages his force's every task through ansibles channels and auxilliary computer cores.

    "This is Captain Kalani," said the tactical droid, a veteran of a bygone age. "Vulture droids

    A1 through A10: protect the X-wings at all costs."

    "Roger-Roger," the droids respond. "Glory to the Free Droids Alliance."

    [-o-]


    "That's a negative, Black Four," said Poe, chuckling. "Let our friends handle it."

    Before the TIEs can even enter optimal firing range, They are shot at by, of all things, a flight of Vulture-class Droid Starighters. The TIEs that didn't fall to the droids blaster shots and energy missiles scatter, becoming easy prey to the smaller, nimbler craft.

    "This is A1!" The lead Vulture droid transmitted over Black Squadron's channel, as the last TIE became engulfed in blaster fire. "Your sky is clear, meatbag!"

    "You heard the clanker!" radioed Poe, his confidence surging. "We're clear! Lock S-foils into cruise position..."

    On his command, the X-wings' S-foils close. As they line up towards the Eclipse, their boosters' nozzles, an aftermarket mod common with hotshot militia pilots, begin to glow...

    "Go into overdrive on my mark..."

    Behind Poe's cockpit, the spherical astromech droid, BB8, pops and swivels his head out into space, beeping fearfully as its main optic beheld the First Order Dreadnought they were about to attack.

    "Don't worry," Poe reassured him. "The Force is with us..." A deep breath, hand firmly on the throttle, Poe was ready. "MARK!" he yelled, pushing the throttle past the red line.

    Black Squadron's boosters lit up the black, propelling them forward at triple their normal acceleration. Almost as quickly, both the VULTURE DROIDS AND V-WINGS activated their afterburners, and together they streak like comets past enemy and allies: X-wings and TIEs, Assault Frigates and Star Destroyers. The squadrons cleared the melee completely, in seconds, rapidly crossing the starry void between the Eclipse and the cluster of fighting warships.

    Guld, the Eclipse's sensor operator, stares at his console in confusion. "Sir? Incoming X-wings and... ships I haven't seen before. Twenty-eight readings, coming in fast."

    Concerned, Fell walked up to Guld's station and verified the readings for himself. He recognizes the Vulture Droids and V-wings having seen them in history documents and having faced them in dogfights out in periphery of civilized space during the Thrawn Campaign.

    Someone at the Academy needs a swift ass-kicking, thought Fell, glancing at Guld, annoyed at the young man's ignorance of Clone Wars hardware. Even outdated machines can be a threat out here...

    "Problem, Fell?" probed Hux, walking up behind the veteran captain.

    "Yes," replied Fell. "Vulture Droids, and V-wings packing autoblasters. Multi-role Fighters, a lot of em. Should I send out the Interceptors?"

    Hux glanced at the console over Fell's shoulder, and refocused his attention back to the raging battle hundreds of kilometers in front of the Eclipse. "Obsolete machines from a time best forgotten. Flak towers! Forward screen! They'll be dead before they can reach torpedo lock range!" he stated out loud, then, quietly: "...Or did you think I would let your bastard get any glory at this hour of triumph?"

    Silently, Fell imagined throttling Hux for his insolence and arrogance.

    Outside, on the surface of the Eclipse, forty gun towers came to life, each equipped with two quad plasma flak cannons. They unleashed bolts of plasma, set to burst six kilometers away from the Eclipse' prow, forming a curved wall of green bursts that would dissuade any sane pilot from even approaching the massive capital ships.

    Of course, Poe and his friends were not known for sane flying.

    [-o-]

    "They're not slowing down..." Guld tried not to sound impressed – such emotions were treasonous.

    "An attack of desperation," dismissed Hux.

    Fell knew better. "How fast are they going?"

    "Two-hundred and forty megalights." replied Guld. "At this rate they'll be in torpedo lock range in ten seconds."

    "And dead in six." added Hux.

    Fell checked the holographic battlemap, and sees the x-wings clustered closely together, pointed directly at something. Realization dawned on his face... "They're giving their torpedoes a boost!" He shouts at the helmsman: "THEY'RE IN RANGE! EVASIVE MANEUVERS, NOW!"

    The helmsman, Pressly FL185, freezes in confusion and uncertainty, unable to comprehend the threat. He fails to fire the lateral thrusters...


    [-o-]


    "FIRE MAGPULSES!"

    ...Just as Poe and his squadron unleashed a salvo of Mag Pulse missiles aimed at the three forward Flak towers of the Eclipse. The torpedoes, with the initial momentum given to them by the X-wings that carried them, flew past the wall of flak, fast as turbolaser shots. Some of them exploded before they could reach their targets, while the rest hit their marks. Electromagnetic pulses surge out, causing the electronics in the three defense towers to fry, leaving a huge gap in the Flak wall that the resistance squadron wasted no time taking advantage of. Within seconds, the Resistance fighters were on top of the Eclipse, swarming over its dorsal hull.

    "Time to pull their teeth!" shouted Poe. "S-foils open! Full power to guns!"

    "Remember," warned Wexley. "Don't play chicken with those things!"

    Illustrating his point, one of the Vultures flew straight at a tower for too long, and was promptly shot out of the black. It screamed almost comically as it turned into fireball.

    "Stupid clankers! What did I JUST say?!" Wexley's tone spoke volumes about droid losses. After all, droid intelligences were backed up back on the Arc.

    The fighters began their strafing runs, and quickly the Eclipse loses its point defense coverage as Taika's and his V-wings fired impressive blaster barrages upon the Dreadnought's anti-starfighter gun turrets. None of them can keep up with Poe, who manages to take down four towers by himself, before firing one last Mag Pulse at the dorsal shield generator.

    "X-wing Bombing run successful," Kalani transmitted. "Attack of opportunity detected. Vulture droids A1 to A3, arm proton torpedoes, destroy the Eclipse's bridge."

    "Roger-Roger," the three droids confirmed their orders in unison.

    [-o-]

    As Hux ranted and raved at the command crew, Fell saw the three vultures coming, prompting him to press a key on his wrist comm. Going under Hux's head... that was guaranteed to get him in trouble with Snoke, but then again, it wasn't as if the young General was doing anything productive. Someone's got to save our skins, he thought. Up to you, son.

    [-o-]

    The Vulture Droids readied their single torpedo launchers. Inside the droids' artficial mind's eye, target lock reticles form, centering on the Eclipse's bridge.

    "Target locked," the droids speak in unison. "Firing—"

    Their moment of glory was cut short as four lances of green light pierce their lead fighter's thin hull. As it explodes, the rest of the droid fighters scatter, and are picked off one by one.

    "Error! Error!" cried A3, "it came from—" and its warning was cut short by a shot to its central process core.

    A fighter emerged from the cloud left behind by the exploding droid, trailing wisps of black smoke as it flew out to meet the enemy. It was a TIE/SF Interceptor, a faster, deadlier successor to the dagger-winged TIE of the Galactic Civil War. Fitted with four weapon pods packed with concussion missiles, it was far deadlier than its predecessor.

    It bore the mark of the Carrion Crows. Malek Fell had just been unleashed upon the Resistance.

    "What the hell is that?!" shouts Kare, having never seen a TIE like that before.

    "Interceptors!" cries Nien. "They've launched Interceptors!"

    "Wait," Snap double checked his sensor scopes. "I only see the one!"

    Malek outmaneuvered and killed another trio of Vultures.

    "Where's the rest of them?!" asks Jess.

    Taika's pirates attempt to kill Malek, only for him to maneuver around the fallen towers, pulling off an inertial slide that caught a V-wing unawares, dooming it to a fiery death.

    Poe would have been impressed if the Interceptor had not been flown by an Imp scum. "Who in Malachor is that guy?!"

    "A dead man!" Taika radioed, arrogantly. "Poe! Drop the buoy! My boys will handle that Interceptor!"


    [-o-]


    Hux pointed a finger at Malek's craft. "I gave no order to launch! Activate that fighter's self-destruct IMMEDIATELY!"

    Fell had it up to here. "That interceptor just saved your miserable life, you lunatic!"

    Thankfully, Lieutenant Lynn had better sense than to destroy the one ship that was saving their lives.


    [-o-]

    Poe, following the plan, flew his X-WING a kilometer above the Eclipse's dorsal hull, right in the Eclipse' heavy turret's dead zone. A small hatch on the underside of his starfighter opened, revealing a small hyperwave signal beacon. The device was ejected and stabilized by cold gas jets, and began to transmit...

    [-o-]

    "Detecting a quantum waveform above us!" warned Guld. "Cruiser displacement!"

    [-o-]


    A Hapan MC45 Assault Frigate hyperspaced in, followed by a squadron of Mark III Advanced Y-wing bombers and a flight of H6 medium bombers. Their escorts, a wing of RZ-2 A-wing painted with blue stripes, form up on their flanks.

    A young woman's voice, one Poe could only assume belong to Vice-Admiral Celchu, came over the channel. "This is the Stormblood, we have arrived!"

    "Black Leader to all starfighters," warned Poe. "Be advised! The First Order's gave one of their Aces a new toy! Watch out for dagger-wing TIEs, they're packing a ton of heat!"

    Blue Leader, the A-wing Ace Pilot known as Tallissan Lintra, responds "Roger that Black Leader. You heard him, Blue Squadron, you know what to do! Let's show these Imps what A-wings can do!"

    As the A-wings move out to engage, the Stormblood'sside hangar doors opened, making way for four hammer-shaped heavy bombers, the StarFortresses.

    To meet them, the Eclipse finally managed to launch a squadron of TIE/FO and TIE/SF space superiority fighters, and three flights of TIE/SF Interceptors. Before the Eclipse can launch more, the Stormblood fired its ion cannons on the Dreadnought's dorsal hull, causing hangar malfunctions that expose crews to empty space, Turbolaser servos to lock up, and launch tubes to stay closed.

    But something was wrong... the ion bolts took far too long to reach their target. The Stormblood was nowhere near the jump beacon.

    Poe was horrified – things did not go according to plan: "Oh, no... They misjumped! The Stormblood's too far!"

    "The Starfortresses will be cut to ribbons before they can even launch their payload!" warned Snap.

    "If we survive this," growled C'ai, "I'm personally going to strangle their navigator!

    [-o-]

    Kalani appears as a hologram on within the holopit, and addresses Leia.

    "Our strategy has failed." he states, coldly. "Calculations indicate that we will not destroy the Eclipse in time. We must initiate emergency hyperspace protocols immediately."

    "Leia!" pleaded Ackbar, "All is not lost! The boy can still pull it off! You must have faith in him!"

    Unfortunately, Leia and Kalani were of one mind of this. "Navigator," she began, her tone grim. "Spool up the hyperdrives."

    "Leia!" protested Ackbar.

    "Signal the fleet:" Leia commanded Kaydel. "Initiate blind emergency jumps, rendez-vous at meeting point Alpha!"

    [-o-]

    The Eclipse's fighters, outnumbering the Resistance bombers and their escorts two-to-one, attempt to swarm the huge, slowly-accelerating StarFortresses. These T-shaped, heavily armoured vessels managed to keep the TIEs at bay, thanks to their turrets outfitted with compound beam lasers. The few First Order pilots brave enough to engage them managed to land a few hits on the heavily defended resistance craft, taking out their weak shields but doing nothing against their tough armour.

    The Starfortress' escorts, however, were not as resilient. The Resistance's pilots were valiant, but bravery did not protect against missiles and lasers. Casualties were slowly mounting, and Resistance comms were starting to fill with frantic calls for help and enraged final cries of defiance.

    Lumi Celchu's voice cut through it all: "This is Vice-Admiral Celchu to Storm Squadron! We have been ordered to retreat. All StarFortresses RTB! All fighters are to blind jump immediately!"

    As Celchu spoke, Tallie baited two TIE/SFs to chase her, setting them up to be downed by flanking shots courtesy of Poe's X-wing. Tallie quickly returned the favour by taking out an Interceptor about to fire at Poe.

    "Storm Squadron!" Poe protested. "Belay that! We can still take this thing out! No, we MUST take this thing out!"

    "Black One!" Lumi's voice was cold as ice. "You are out of order! Abandon the attack immediately or I—"

    Poe pressed a few buttons on his console, tuning out Celchu's signal! "Everyone!" he began, "listen to me! You all saw it! The Eclipse is a planet killer! If we run now, we'll let another Hosnian Prime happen, but if we see this through we can be heroes and save billions of lives! Who's with me?!"

    Storm Squadron, ostensibly under Celchu's command, threw their lot behind Poe.

    "We're with you Poe!" radioed one. "Let's make these bastards pay!" yelled another.

    "FOR HOSNIAN PRIME!" screamed a third, and with that, Poe Dameron had overruled both his General and a Vice-Admiral.

    "Black Squadron! Storm Squadron! I am ordering you to retreat!"

    But it was no use – Storm Squadron had been torn for her control with one impassioned little speech. Nevertheless, she was unwilling to simply abandon Storm Squadron to its fate, and so he kept the ion cannons firing.

    But while Lumi Celchu remained calm, Leia was absolutely livid: "Poe!" she yelled over the radio. "What the hell are you doing you insane—"

    "Y-wings!" Poe commanded Storm squadron, his expanded command feeling as comfortable to him as an old leather coat. "Get those heat sinks!"

    In response, the flights of Mark III advanced Y-wings split off from the StarFortresses at full speed, shooting TIEs with their nose turrets. They suffered a few losses, but they managed to loose their torpedoes at the radiators that line the Eclipse's side trenches.

    Alarm klaxons throughout the Dreadnought blare as its hexagonal reactor pit opened up, releasing coolant fumes into the void.

    Poe cheers: "There's our opening, just as planned! "Everyone with torpedoes, focus on that reactor! Do as much damage as you—"

    "Poe!" Taika cried out. "I could REALLY use your help here!" His custom painted V-wing was being pushed to its limits, dodging and weaving around Malek's autoblaster fire. "That ace just downed all my boys by himself, and now he's after ME!"

    Malek scored another hit, and alarms scream all over Taika's cockpit.

    "Shields down! I don't know how long I can last!"

    "I got eyes on the ace!" radioed Tallie. "And He's got friends coming!"

    "I'll take care of his friends!" replied Poe. "You go help Taika!" If there was anyone who could take on a TIE Interceptor, it was Tallie Lintra with her A-wing.

    "Roger that!" Tallie's A-wing afterburned towards Malek, and the First Order Ace disengaged from Taika to focus on her, sensing her to be the greater threat. Malek lets Tallie chase him closely, dodging her twin-linked GO-4 laser cannon's shots, then briefly reversed thrust, getting behind her.

    Inside his cockpit, computer tones confirm target lock, and he fires a Sidewinder-class concussion missile from one of his ship's missile pods at her. Tallie, in response, attempted to evade the missile by dropping chaff pods, but the clouds of charged metal dust fail to jam the missile's lock. The only option left to her: engaging her boosters and outfly the missile.

    As Tallie escaped, Malek got eyes on Poe's X-wing engage his reinforcements and watches in shock as three incoming Interceptors' hulls erupt in flames under a barrage of blaster fire from Poe's X-wingss. Malek's face contorts under his helmet, a hateful gaze burning through the eye slits.

    Malek moved in to engage the Resistance Ace. "You're going to pay for that, Rebel scum." he transmits over an open channel.

    "Come and get it, Imp," Poe replied, as he brought his X-wing about for a joust with the Interceptor, with Malek responding in kind. They both roared as they faced off, firing at and missing each other by inches, until they came come nose to nose, with neither of them willing to disengage... until the last second, at which point they scraped off each other's paintjob.

    [-o-]

    Two dots, one green, one red, fly past one another in the middle of the holotable as Fell, glares intensely at the hologram of the battle raging just above the Eclipse. Hux, in the meantime, barked orders that nobody could really obey, the latest of which was this:

    "ANY AND ALL TURBOLASERS, FIRE AT THE HEAVY BOMBERS!" he bellowed, believing he could not be heard over the din of the red alert klaxons screaming throughout the ship. Those orders might have been worth a damn, if he had not pulled the Eclipse from dry dock before it could have its shakedown cruise. As it was...

    "We can't!" protested Kilran. "The rotors and servos on our main turrets are still glitching from the ion charge!"

    "All decks report major internal damage from Ion detonations!" relayed Lynn.

    "KEEP THE RESPONSE TEAMS FOCUSED ON THE MAIN GUN!" Hux bellowed some more.

    "Comms!" commanded Fell, after meditating on the battle map. "Patch me through to Beta and Gamma flights!"

    "Aye aye!" responded Lynn, obeying."Patching through your commlink!"

    Fell spoke into his wrist mic. "Beta wing! Gamma wing! Focus fire on the outermost StarFortresses Dumbfire your missiles at max distance at their wings and get them to huddle!"

    "Understood!" radioed Beta Leader.

    "Roger that," responded Gamma Leader. "Killing locks, preparing to dumbfire..."

    [-o-]


    Malek could hear his father's voice calling to him from his helmet's headphones. "Alpha One? Alpha One! Do you read?"

    "I read you!" the pilot responds. "I'm a little busy!

    "Get ready to disengage on my mark and take out that lead Starfortress!"

    Just like we practiced on the sims, Malek thought. "I've got three aces to deal with, damn it!"

    "Have faith, son, if there is anyone who can pull off that shot, it's you!"

    "...Understood, sir, Alpha One, engaging StarFortress!" This was NOT going to be easy.

    [-o-]

    Sir!" cried Guld. StarFortresses will be in optimal assault torpedo range in twenty seconds!"

    "SUPERLASER STATUS!" Demanded Hux.

    "Two minutes!" replied the Gunnery officer.

    "Blast it!" Hux screamed. "Blast it all!"

    [-o-]

    The Resistance fleet managed to down another Star Destroyer, clearing their escape route. The lighter picket ships made their blind jumps while the larger workhorse vessels sync their navigational computers to the Raddus' own NavCom. The Transports, meanwhile, were still trying to make it to one of the Raddus's hangars on time. One of StarMasters blows an engine, but still accelerates, despite the vast hangar doors closing.

    "Raddus! What's happening?!" cried out one of the StarMaster pilots over the comm waves. "Why are the corvettes leaving?! Why aren't the hangars open?!

    "No, no! Please! Don't leave us! Don't abandon us!"

    "Elson to transports, don't worry!" the captain of the Protector tried to reassure them, but it was clear he was starting to panic as well. "We're still with you! We're still with you!"

    Kaydel hears all of this, and looks back at Leia, unsure what to say next. "...What do I tell them?" she asked apprehensively, secretly hoping the question alone would convince Leia

    "Tell them nothing." Leia's response was terse. She didn't like it, but difficult decisions needed to be made. Then, finally, she made the final call. "Lightspeed."

    The Raddus' mighty hyperdrive began to hum across the entire ship. The stars on the viewport began to stretch through the pseudomotion caused by hypermatter particle lensing space in front of them...

    ...Only to snap back to normal. The hyperdrive sputtered, and shut down. The Raddus wasn't going anywhere.

    "What the hell?!" growled Leia, years of smoking making her voice almost as gravely as Ackbar.

    "Engineering reports the hyperdrive's been sabotaged!" relayed Kaydel. "Lightbringer and Vigilance report their hyperdrives are malfunctioning too!"

    "How long until they can fix the problem?!"

    "Not before the Eclipse fires..." Ackbar responds, sinking into his floating pod chair. "We're trapped."

    Leia turned to the holotable, and saw that Black and Storm Squadrons were still fighting the Eclipse. It all came down to them.

    [-o-]

    Their launch tubes restored, more TIEs have joined the fight above the Eclipse, and prioritized the StarFortresses. Concussion missiles are loosed at the heavy bombers, but their gunners were both well trained and assisted by advanced optics in their helmets, shooting most of the ordnance down. The missiles that do hit were blocked by the StarFortress's thick armour, though the kinetic blast almost knocked the ships off course. Slowly but surely, they approach the Eclipse's core.

    "We're almost in range!" declared StarFortress 1's pilot. "Readying Assault Torpedoes..."

    Hatches on StarFortress 1's long, thick wings opened up in the front, revealing the massive warheads of capital-class assault proton torpedoes. In the back, matching hatches expose the nozzles, to prevent the incoming backblast from cooking the inside of the ship.

    "Arming warheads..."

    Meanwhile. Malek gracefully evades Poe's blaster barrage. Taika and Tallie join in, putting even more pressure on Malek by raining flaming red bolts upon him. Despite this immense pressure, the First Order Ace managed to take an attack of opportunisty shot at Jess, who had tried to surprise him from the flank. The burst of autoblaster shots tear past her shield, her engines, and her astromech droid...

    "Jess!" Poe cries out. "NO!"

    "EJECTING!" Jess screams, and Poe watched on as her X-wing's cockpit broke off, its microthrusters pushing it away from the strike craft's hull. The Starfighter erupts into flames, but Jess was on her way to safety.

    Malek passes her by, uninterested in shooting helpless pilots. His father had taught him better than that.

    "I'm okay!" Jess transmitted.

    "That guy's really starting to piss me off." Poe muttered to himself, before speaking into his radio. "Snap Get her out of here!

    "On it!" Snap responds.

    [-o-]

    "Now," the command came, and Malek was galvanized into action. Setting his throttle to maximum, he pushes his fighter across the battlefield towards the central StarFortress, making his Interceptor spin and twist, firing his lateral thrusters to confuse Poe, Tallie, and Taika's tracking. Glancing hits were landed, but easily deflected by the Interceptor's upgraded shields, not slowing down Malek one bit, not even to get out of an H6 BOMBER's way.

    Poe, shocked at the sheer speed Malek was moving at towards his target, came to the only conclusion he could: "Kamikaze! He's going ram StarFortress 1! Stop him!"

    "I'm trying!" Tallie grits her teeth, firing bursts from her guns. Attempting to get a lock for her own concussion missiles didn't work, and she was beginning to regret not packing heatseekers.

    "Schutta just won't die!" Taika swore.

    Poe tried to warn"StarFortress One! You've got an Interceptor packed with missile pods coming at you fast!"

    StarFortress One heeded the warning. "All turrets, focus on that Interceptor!"

    The StarFortreses' turrets fire lances of orange light at Malek, whose breath became louder and more ragged as adrenaline burned through his nervous system the longer Tallie, Taika and Poe's kept the pressure on him with blaster fire. Unable to get a good shot at him, they went from controlled bursts to continuous fire in a desperate attempt to take the enemy Ace out.

    Malek pressed a few keys on his console, and a screen blinked ALPHA STRIKE – FULL SPREAD in aurebesh. Malek's thumb hovered over secondary trigger on his joystick for a moment... then pushed it, emptying his interceptors four missile pods, unleashing a swarm of twenty-three SIDEWINDER concussion missiles. They veer off course, well away from the STARFORTRESSES.

    "What's he doing?! He can't take them out without— OH, KARK!" Tallie swears as the Inteceptor ejects its empty pods behind it, one of them glancing her canopy. Meanwhile, the turret gunners, panicking at the sight of so many dangerous, agile missiles, begin firing on them, hoping to take them out before they hit their marks.

    Poe keeps shooting and narrowly missing the lighter, faster Interceptor, and Malek gets closer to his target...

    "Gunners," signaled Poe. "Keep shooting the TIE! Those missiles aren't going to—"

    The missiles explode, forming a cloud of bright plasma that blinds the gunners. Their shots go wide as they shoot at the ensuing cloud of black smoke unable to see their coming doom getting closer...

    "Taika! Keep firing! Keep firing!"

    "What is he?!" Tallie snarled. "A damned Jedi?!"

    And closer...

    "My guns are melting, Poe!" warned Taika.

    Poe's guns ran hot. Malek got closer still...

    "Come on..." Poe grits his teeth in frustration as he engages his guns' overrides and kept on shooting.

    Poe's guns began to deform and slag, ruining his accuracy. He became more desperate: "Gunners! Shoot him! Shoot him!

    "We can't see anything!" cry the gunners, their eyes darting about the cloud as Malek enters it.

    "TORPEDOES HOT, FIR—"

    And it emerges from the side of the clouds, trailing wisps of smoke behind him. Time stopped as he cuts his twin ion engines, letting the inertia carry him forward while vernier thrusters turn his ship towards StarFortress One's cockpit. Only one of the interceptors' wingtip beam guns was fully charged and about to fire, but Malek only needed one shot.

    A HUD was reflected on Malek's visor, the reflection of the bright orange cross-hair blinking over his right eye. "I win." he says, pulling the trigger.

    [-o-]

    The Starfortress pilot looked to his right, as a overcharged green lance of light hit something on that side of the cockpit, hitting nothing important as far as he could tell. He watcheed as the Interceptor flew away, ion engines screaming brightly into the black.

    "Huh, he missed." the pilot said to himself, relieved. Then he called out to the crew. "Hey! He miss—"

    The Assault Torpedo Warhead that Malek had been aiming for detonated, the explosion killing the heavy bomber's pilot immediately. The crew and the gunners have just enough time to scream in agony before the other warheads detonate, stripping the flesh from their bones in an instant before obliterating the heavy bomber.

    [-o-]

    Outside, the cyan fireball of energized protons expanded slowly, and engulfed the other two nearest StarFortresses, flying danger close to one another after Gamma Wing had herded them close togther. Their own payloads exploding in turn, the fireball expands further, but the fourth one in the formation, its pilot made of sterner stuff, had kept his craft far enough away to get caught at the edge of the blast... Only to have its crew section, along with its engine, gets gutted like a fish by shrapnel, spilling people and parts into the void. All fighters, friend and foe alike, attempt to outrun the fireball. Most make it, but are disabled by the shockwave. Others are destroyed by the shards of heavy armour, causing a small Kessler effect that cause fighters to burst like fireworks.

    [-o-]

    Leia and Ackbar hang their heads in defeat.

    "We're doomed..." Leia muttered.

    [-o-]

    Fell saw the heavy bombers destroyed on the holomap, and breathes a sigh of relief. "We're saved."

    Hux adjusted his hair, trying to appear cool-headed even a drop of sweat flows down the side of his face. "As if there were any doubts. This ship is invincible."

    As if you designed it, thought Fell sarcastically. "Status of the Reactor Core?"

    "Engineering reports it's still venting heat," relayed Lynn. "The Y-wing's torpedoes have put a few dents in the core, but its nothing critical."

    "Sitrep on the battle?"

    Guld responded: "A handful of friendly and enemy fighters are still engaged, sir. Some of their strike craft are making blind jumps." He smiles. "They've lost and they know it."

    "Star Destroyers Galvanizer, Enforcer, and Oppressor report they are still engaged with the Resistance Flagship," said Lynn. "They request fire support!"

    "Status of the main gun?" asks Hux, eager to fire his new toy again.

    "Ready in sixty seconds!" reported Kilran.

    That made Hux very happy. "Good. Order the Galvanizer and Enforcer to keep their distance.

    "Set Superlaser aperture to a three degree spread. We will wipe out the Resistance fleet in one blast!"

    [-o-]

    The X-wing's shield emitters shorted out, illuminating scars on its hull. Inside, Poe's head hung, his face covered in rivulets of blood, some of which floated in the low gravity.

    His eyes were shut.

    BB8 beeps frantically through the cockpit's electronics, hoping to wake him up. Suddenly, his eyes snap open, and his eyes take in the sorry state of the Resistance squadrons. The audio emulators are off, the struggle of his friends to stay alive was a silent spectacle of lasers... Black Squadron, valiant to the end... but it was only a matter of time before the Eclipse would clear its ion charges and finally spit out all four of its fighter wings and overwhelm them all.

    The Stormblood tried to break off, but it's soaking turbolaser fire. Taika made his blind jump, getting the last laugh on three TIEs, but abandoning his allies. Typical, thought Poe.

    Poe sighed, "We had to try, buddy," he tells his robotic friend behind him.

    BB8 beeped sadly in response.

    "We did our best... we, it, it just wasn't good enough." It galled him deeply that in the end, it had all depended on one fighter on the other side being better than him.

    Static burst into his radio, courtesy of BB8. "Jess?" said Snap, his voice marred with white noise. "What are you doing?!"

    "Snap?..." Poe muttered, then shouted. "Snap! Are you still alive?

    "Jess, don't do it! The radiation will kill you!

    Poe tried to catch Jess's response, but it was not clear through the static. "BB8? I can't see too good... can you see what's going on?"

    BB8's head swiveled, scanning space with his main optic. He beeped excitedly, as he finds Jess' escape pod docked with the tumbling StarFortress 4.

    Jess, with her helmet fully closed and a radiological alarm blinking on the side of her helmet's visor, pulled out the dead pilot of the ruined cockpit and floats into his seat, pushing past floating shards of transparent plastic and twisted metal. She tried to switch on the ship's HUD and holo-displays, and succeeded after giving the computer a few kicks.

    "Jess, don't do this! This is crazy!"

    Karé joined his protests: "You've got no engines!"

    "You're wrong," said Jess, filled with determination.

    The flickering displays showed the ruined StarFortress's payload's status. All missiles read fully armed and operational. Jess pressed each of the holographic missiles, overriding safeties and triggering their mag clamps.

    "I've got twelve of them."

    Jess pressed the joystick's secondary trigger, launching all the missiles. The mag clamps hold fast, keeping them inside the ship as the backblast propelled it forward. The acceleration was powerful but turbulent, and JESS has to keep the verniers firing to make sure it stays on target: The Eclipse's reactor pit.

    [-o-]

    "StarFortress!" shouted Guld, "COMING IN HOT!"

    "Alpha One!" commanded Fell. "Intercept kamikaze, now!"

    "Forget Alpha One!" screeched Hux. "Send all fighters against that thing NOW!"

    [-o-]


    Malek was just about to finish Tallie off when he hears his father's call. Spotting StarFortress 4 trailing plasma, he made a bee line for it.

    [-o-]

    Poe watches in horror as TIEs begin to swarm over the last StarFortress, and was awed by its unlikeliest of saviours... a hundred droid fighters, swarming all around Jess' bomber like a school of fish, forming a shield of flying metal, filtering the heaviest of laser fire coming on all sides.

    "Oh, Maker bless those damned clankers!"

    Poe knew that miracle wouldn't last long. He quickly restarted his X-wing, but the engines struggled to rev back up.

    "BB8, can you give me guns, missiles, anything?" he asked, frantically. Malek was tearing through shell of droids.

    BB8 beeped frantically.

    "Slower beeps! What DO we have, then?!"

    BB8 kept beeping, and the booster gauge and hyperdrive readouts lit up.

    "Okay... I can work with that."

    [-o-]

    Black Squadron valiantly attempted to keep enemy TIES off Jess's back long enough for her to get a good angle to loose the torpedoes. A Gunner inside StarFortress 4 wakes up, and manages to down a TIE before dying from his wounds. Once last act of defiance, of rebellion, before the end...

    Unfortunately, the TIE wasn't Malek. The ace approached, stripping off the swirling shield with autoblaster fire until it was thin enough for him to line up an autoblaster shot at the ruined StarFortress 4's cockpit. He manages to fire a short burst before a loud thud echoes through the hull and he suddenly veers out of control.

    "What?!" Malek screams over the open channel.

    "STILL ALIVE, SCUMBAG!" Poe yells right back.

    Poe's X-wing and Malek's Interceptor wings were interlocked, and they spun out of control together, their verniers pumping out plasma plumes as Malek tried to wrestle his ship away. It was no use – the S-foils only close tighter.

    BB8 pops out of his Astromech slot and clamps on the X-wing's cockpit with his magnetic harpoons, while Poe made a rude gesture at the TIE's cockpit pod's main sensor, a gesture BB8 gladly mimicked with one of his built-in tools. The X-wing's cockpit broke off, leaving Malek behind as roars furiously — but impotently — as he was dragged along the X-wing's blind hyperspace jump.

    "And so long!" shouted Poe, defiantly.

    "Someone get Poe's pod!" ordered Nien to anyone within range.

    "On it!" responded Tallie.

    "Jess, you've got a perfect angle at the core!" yelled Poe. "Cut the torpedoes loose!"

    Jess doesn't respond.

    "Jess? Jess! Do you read me?!"

    [-o-]

    Jess was wounded. Two of the autoblaster shots had hit close, causing slag to pierce her leg, while another managed to graze her suit, letting the cosmic radiation through. Going in an out of unconsciousness, Poe's pleas in her helmet's speakers gets her to focus on her situation.

    Bless you, lover, she thought fondly, through the pain and the sickness.

    She was lined up with the reactor; all she had to do then was disengage the mag clamps on the torpedoes and the Resistance would win. She would got home, get into a bed on the Mercy, and recover, fight another day. She would see her sister again.

    But no, the Mag Clamps were fused.

    She sees the engine light go green, and she laughs.

    "Oh, that's just perfect," she gasps. "Now? Really?"

    "Jess! Jess!" Poe calls to her. "Cut them loose and bail out, Snap's ready to pick you up!"

    "A-Anyone...anyone, do you hear me?" she coughed into her helmet. "I need you guys to do me a favour, okay?"

    "You'll tell her yourself, okay?" Karé yelled. "Bail out, damn you! Bail out!"

    "Tell her I love her with all my heart..." she groaned out.

    Jess sets the throttle to maximum, and speeds up the StarFortress towards the dreadnought's core. She takes more fire in the hull, but her ship holds together.

    The remaining droids scatter. It's all on me now.

    "And that I'm sorry..."

    Missiles and blaster shots hit the StarFortress, but it earned its name, soaking up blast after blast until finally the entire cabin ignites and bathes JESS in fire. Her pained cries echo across the battle through every radio in the Resistance Fleet, and every rebel watches somberly as the heavy bomber, now a small comet of plasma, slowly sinks into the Reactor pit...

    Poe could only scream the black: "NOOOOOOOOOO!"

    [-o-]

    "ALL HANDS BRACE FOR IMPACT!" screamed Fell, but it was too late.

    [-o-]

    The Eclipse's insides erupt into flames. Thick armour plates fly off, ejecting thousands of First Order crewmen and fighters and empty escape pods into an airless doom.


    Poe, his pod magnetically clamped on Tallie's A-wing's underside, watches the Eclipse explode, his expression weary. Tallie flew her A-wing and formed up on Black Squadron, along with what remained of the Droid fighters and Storm Squadron.

    "Jess did it..." muttered Poe, his throat hoarse. "She saved the Resistance."

    "The Force was with her, then, and now..." prayed Nien.

    Tallie let out a long sigh, watching as TIEs scatter away, demoralized at the destruction of their mother ship. "Hyperdrive is go... Blue Squadron... Black Squadron? Let's get out of there."

    And suddenly, as if defying its fate out of sheer spite, the Eclipse's flames died...and its lights went back on.

    Poe despaired.

    It had all been for nothing.

    [-o-]

    The command crew had been rattled and shaken off their seats, and Hux was scrambling to get up as Fell tended to a wounded crewman. All around them consoles were erupting in showers of sparks barely functioning, and some of the crew were putting out fires with extinguishers. The entire room was lit by emergency lighting and flickering displays, a red gloom that made Hux's manic smile and cackling laughter all the more frightening. After all, the Resistance's efforts had all been for nothing. The Eclipse endured. The new rebellion was doomed before it could even start.

    It was all because he had been smarter than them all.

    "STATUS REPORT!" he yelled, even the klaxons had sputtered out and died.

    "Primary core is down!" reported Lynn. "Bulkheads are sealed, Death Star protocols are engaged and damage is contained! Secondary fuel two, five and six cells are coming online!

    "GUNNERY!"

    Kilran did not respond, and Hux saw him unconscious at his post.

    "Bah! Up to my ARMPITS in incompetence!" The General scrambles up to the Gunnery station and saw that the weapon was ready to fire. He raised his fist gloriously...

    "Stop, you fool!" Fell yelled. "Particle containment won't hold!"

    "FOR THE FIRST ORDER!" He yelled, bringing his hand down on the big red holographic button.

    [-o-]

    The Eclipse's armored prow opened to reveal the superlaser aperture once more, revealing the glow of the mighty weapon, and the growing sphere of energy inside...

    "Oh, no... no not like this," muttered Tallie. "It can't all have been for nothing..."

    A cone of green light emerges, bathing the entire Resistance fleet in energy particles. The heat isn't quite enough to destroy everything, but it soon would be.

    "Somebody fire a torpedo at its mouth!" Karé pleads "Or-or a hand blaster, a kriffing rock! Anything!

    "It would take a miracle to save the fleet now!" said C'ai

    The main gun began to rupture, and only the Force itself knew if its containment would give out before or after the Resistance fleet would be completely destroyed.

    [-o-]

    In an hidden ship far from the battle, a man stands in shadow as blue-skinned crewmen clad in high-tech uniforms calmly go about their duties. Having observed the battle since the beginning, he gives the order that will change the fate of the Galaxy, unwilling to leave things to chance.

    "Fire."

    [-o-]

    From a far point above the fleeing Stormblood as it clears enough ion interference to make its blind jump, there was a flash of light, and a glinting ray of metal streaks past the Hapan ship at near-lightspeed, almost instantly hitting the Eclipse's prow, delivering several gigatons of kinetic energy. The dreadnought's thick durasteel armour buckles like a sheet of cardboard, and the main gun's particle containment ruptured completely. With the aperture unable to contain the energy, the cone of light vanished, and the sphere of light expanded slowly outward, devouring the prow... and the rest of the ship was next.

    From a far point above the fleeing Stormblood as it clears enough ion interference to make its blind jump, we see a flash of light, and we track a glinting ray of metal as it flashes across space. It hits the

    [-o-]

    "Transports are in! All are accounted for!" Kaydel was elated." They were going to make it, after all!Engineering reports hyperdrive is ready to go!"

    "They've done it." said Ackbar, over the cheers of the bridge crew. "HA! They've kriffing did it! Get us out of here. Now!

    [-o-]

    Hux's expression of pure rapture had vanished, replaced with utter despair as the Resistance fleet escaped, and the sphere of energy approached him...

    "No... no, this isn't fair," he's on the verge of tears. Snoke would make him pay for this failure. He needed a patsy, someone to—

    His skull cracked under the butt of Fell's pistol, and he falls on his face.

    Content that he wouldn't be getting up any time soon, Fell moved quickly to a nearby wall, smashed a glass panel surrounded by red metal, pulled out a metal cylinder, turned it, and pushed it back in just before the Eclipse's bridge disappears into the light.

    The Eclipse was gone, utterly annihilated by its own weapon.

    Against all odds, the Resistance had just won a victory. A costly one, but a victory nonetheless.

    [-o-]

    The Chiss had a reputation of being one of the most technologically advanced civilization of the galaxy, and while the machinery that surrounded the Chiss Captain and his Executive Officer was just as utilitarian as the empire, it looked definitely more modern, dominated with holographic haptic displays and chairs designed to accommodate cybernetic interfaces. The two officers confer over their own version of the holotable, with a spherical display set up to observe the aftermath of the recent battle.

    "Humans." the XO shook his head. "Such mad creatures. The odds were not in their favour and yet they still attempted that suicidal bombing run."

    "Not just the humans... the droids, as well." The captain had been impressed by the old droids. He had encountered them before, long ago, and they had not been as imaginative before. "Give them credit, the attack succeeded."

    "At great cost, and only with our help."

    "No, no. We merely... hastened the inevitable. The Superlaser was just about to explode, after all.

    "What happens now?"

    The Chiss Captain approached the holographic globe, and its blue light illuminated the aged, scarred face of none other than Admiral Thrawn.

    "Now? Now, my dear commander S'jet, we send our report back to Command. Once they've seen what the Resistance is capable of, they will be easier to convince of the plan."

    "The plan?"

    "The plan to rally the Resistance. To rebuild it, improve it, enhance it... and with that weapon in hand we will slowly, but surely destroy the First Order, ship by ship, crew by crew... Every man, woman, and yes, even child."

    "And if they don't approve of your revenge, Thrawn? What then?"

    Thrawn smiled confidently at S'JET, turned away, and stepped back into the shadows. The conversation was over. "Dump the railgun's heat and engage stealth systems. We will stalk the Raddus until Command sends a response."

    "...Understood," the XO relayed the orders.

    Thrawn stopped for a moment, recalling something "Oh, and one last thing: signal Omega-One that her request is granted. Her great interest in that X-wing pilot appears to be quite warranted."

    S'jet's gaze fell upon holographic bust of Poe Dameron.

    [-o-]

    The battlefield had become silent, and dark, burning husks of Star Destoyers and Resistance vessels, about to fall prey to the volcanic world of D'Qar.

    A shadow loomed over the wrecks, belonging to a ship of alien design appeared over the planet's orbit. It's skin was dark biometal, inlaid with decorative silver...

    ...Like that carriage in the rain, a long, long time ago.


    END OF EPISODE ZERO





    -------------------------------------





    PREVIEW of EPISODE 1

    On an island on the remote planet of Ahch-To, a girl named Rey, who had trekked across entire star-cluster following a starmap to this place, walked up a hundred stone steps to reached a robed man standing atop an artificial hill. The man, aged and worn, noticed her, and pulled back his grey hood to reveal his face. Despite never meeting him before, Rey feels she recognizes him.

    This was Luke Skywalker.

    He was much older than she had expected, grey-haired and bearded. He looked at Rey with a confused kindness in his eyes. He did not ask her who she is, or what she was doing here. Rey assumes it was because he already knew.

    She pulled something out of her ruck-sack: a metal cylinder of chrome, long as two spans of a hand. This is Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber, once wielded by Luke against Darth Vader in the depths of Bespin Cloud City for that fateful duel that had turned his world upside down. Rey handed it to him, and could only imagine the memories that must have raced through his mind right then.

    Luke stared down at the weapon of a bygone age for a moment, then back to Rey. The girl smiles, and eagerly awaited his response, no doubt a revelation, or a pearl of wisdom, or...

    "What is this?" he asked, utterly confused.

    Rey's expression fell, as she realizes something terrible.

    Old age had ravaged Luke's mind.

    He had forgotten everything.

    Everything.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2020
    the-505th likes this.
  2. IgnusDei

    IgnusDei Jedi Padawan

    Registered:
    Oct 22, 2019
    Star Wars: The Knights of Ren


    The Sirens of Ahch-To, part 1

    Once upon a time, in a forest of shadow and magic...

    All was darkness, and in that terrible void a voice echoed in the dark, speaking a girl's name.

    “Rey...”

    Then, conjured by thought and imagination, a dark forest appeared all around the girl, made up of gnarled, twisted trees. Their bark was both burnt and slick with sap, their branches were bare save perhaps for the silken webs woven around them by spiders. The sounds of beasts and insects could be heard, distant and faint, between the branches and trunks... so thick they were! They might as well have been walls...

    Then came a road, trees arching over it to shield all travellers from the hated sun. Crickets sang from the shadows, soon joined by wailing unseen Katarn Wolves.

    This was a dream, a dream of a Dark Forest, a place far, far away, and yet... so close to Rey's heart, though the memory of it escaped her conscious thoughts.

    “Open your eyes...”

    The voice was warm, filled with motherly affection, even as it resounded throughout the frightening depths of the dark wood... as if there was nothing to be scared of, not for her.

    And it called to Rey.

    The scavenger girl's hair was wild and disheveled, while her face was covered in dirt. Her dress, a simple weave, was no cleaner, and torn besides.

    The unseen wolves were aroused by her scent, the smell of prey — fresh meat! — and like any good prey her eyes darted about to spot those that would devour her, all the better to fight or flee.

    Unwilling to wait for a bloody doom down the gullet of a mere dog, Rey stood up, and fled down the path. As she ran past the trees, she spots more hungry eyes and curious teeth in the darkness, hears the giggles of goblins and sees the grins of ghouls, and countless other things that live in the dark, eager to devour a poor maiden like her.

    Rey ran and ran, but the growls of the Katarn Wolves grew louder, dogging her strides. She looked back, and saw the shadowed forms of horned hounds...

    “Don't be scared...”

    Rey stumbled and nearly fell, but her footing held. Her breath became ragged, her expression became more desperate. The growls were getting closer, the branches of the forest seemed to close in on her... until a light at the end of the path shines upon her face... blinding her.

    And then, she found herself in a clearing, surrounded by the same dead trees... only there, the light of the sun was welcome. Past shafts of light and pollen, she could make out a great tree, darkened but nevertheless alive with leaves that glowed like embers with bright blues and greens and purples, even in the shade. At the center of the clearing, amidst wondrous flowers and oddly adorable spider familiars, stood a blindfolded woman in a long dark dress, its fabric embroidered with leaf patterns. Her hair was midnight, her skin was alabaster, and her voice? A dream.

    She spun and spun playfully in place, her hands reaching out to find something she cannot see past her blindfold. Her movements, just like the pollen around her, felt slow. Such was the power of magicks, such was the wonder of witches.

    “Rey? Reeeyyy, wheeeere aaaare yooouuu?”

    The Witch's lips do not move, but her voice echoed everywhere.

    Rey approaches her, and it feels as though the woman was growing very tall, or that Rey was growing very small. She reaches out, and find in her tiny hands a bouquet of freshly picked flowers. Where did they come from? The forest had been devoid of life...

    Her tiny hands were dirty, riddled with small cuts. The witch reaches out and finds them with her graceful, slender fingers. Removing her blindfold, Rey can see the Witch smile beneath her veil, and it makes Rey happy. Her irises, though an eldritch purple flecked with gold, were filled with warmth and love, then worry as she saw the wounds on the child's tiny hands, but Rey did not mind. The flowers made the witch happy, and that made her happy too, so much so that pain simply could not exist.

    She didn't want it to, and so it was not. Such was her power.

    But it was not the Witch's will that Rey would be wounded, and so she whispered something which, even at a distance, felt like it was channeled straight into the girl's ears. The words were a jumble, chaos shaped into sound... but they had power: the wounds glowed, then scabbed over, and when the incantation was done the Witch blew air onto the wounds, causing the scabs to disintegrate and scatter to the winds, leaving only unmarked, unbloodied skin on Little Rey's hands.

    The inside of the Mansion — the witch's home — was pretty much what one would expect the inside of a tree to be like, with everything made up of the dried flesh underneath the bark. All was grown to suit a person's needs, from beds to shelves, from sinks to chairs, and what could not be grown, had been carved, or cut, like the stairwell Rey climbed up to follow the Witch.

    Up those stairs, close to the heart of the tree, was the Witch's laboratory, complete with cauldrons and brooms and familiars, and all kinds of witch-like things that Little Rey could not wrap her head around, for their names escaped her still. The walls and the shelves were decorated with the Witch's trophies, gear and sundries: A Rancor doll there, a coiled Lightwhip over here, a set of black vibroknives right over there, bundles of clothes up there, specimen jars filled with eyes all around, keeping bird hearts, mushrooms and eggs, and all kinds of icky things Little Rey knew not the names of.

    The Witch seemed to float around little Rey, beckoning her to follow her just a little more, bouquet in hand, towards the fireplace. She kneels besides the pile of ashes, so that Rey can have a good look at the flower she picks from all the rest - a poppy. The Witch shifted the POPPY between her fingers, muttering something, before crushing its petals and spreading them over the open fire. Smoke emerged from the flames, taking various shapes, before settling into butterflies that flew all around Rey, making her giggle. The Witch traced a symbol into the ashes with a fire poker, and beckoned Rey once again to come closer.

    “This sign will protect you...”

    Rey tried to focus on the sign, but the trails of smoke the butterflies were leaving around her made her dizzy, and her sight blurred...

    The lights go out.

    The Witch was nowhere to be found. Little Rey looked at her hands, saw the dirt and scratches, and realized she is grown up and disheveled again. The Katarn Wolves' growls barely registered over the sound of thunder that pierced the darkness.


    “Run... Rey, run...”

    The flashes of thunder highlighted the shadowy silhouette of a hooded man in a cloak, frightening Rey so much she fell back on the ground. The cloaked man approached, seemingly growing larger with every step, and every step resounding louder on the wooden floor.

    “Please... don't...” she begged, her voice trembling.

    The figure loomed, casting an imposing shadow over her. Something ignited in his hands, creating a burning pillar of green fire that pierced the roof and set the entire mansion on fire.

    “No... NO!” she screamed, as the figure held the lightsaber up, and then brought it down on Rey's head killing her.

    And then, she woke up.

    [-o-]

    On the morning of the seventh day before the battle of D'Qar, Rey opened her eyes with a gasp, then a sigh, as she half-realized that she had been dreaming.

    She rose from her cot, looking around her tent to reassure herself that yes, she was still very much alive. The tent's entrance was ajar, its sheets fluttering in the wind, giving her a glimpse of the outside: a lightly clouded morning sky over rocky horizons of muted grass and dirt. The gentle sound of waves crashing over rocks came through.

    She sighed. Yes, she was still on Ahch-To.

    “Rey?” someone outside growled. Normally, Shyriiwook, the tongue of the Wookiees, sounded like gargling and growling and snarls, but for a talented omniglot like Rey, it might as well have been Galactic Basic. “Are you alright?” growled the alien, shouting from the outside.

    “I'm okay!” she shouted back. No need for her to growl, as the Wookiee understood Basic just fine. “Just... just give me a moment, I'll be right out!”

    Rey stepped out, taking a deep breath of the air of the water world. She looked back at her tent, a piece of tarp supported by the side of an old, heavily modified YT-1300 Light Transport... but this was no ordinary YT. This one was known across the demimonde of the galaxy as the Millennium Falcon, that most legendary of starships that had been passed on from crook to criminal, before ultimately being lost to a game of Sabacc to Han Solo, Hero of the Rebellion.

    What a piece of junk, thought Rey, and indeed it was: much of its side plating had been removed to accommodate all kinds of aftermarket modifications – micro ramscoops, ECM emitters, disposable high-capacity heat sinks... the kinds of things a smuggler would need to ply his trade. Worse still, in order to effect some repairs on the ship, much of the filthy, carbon-scored hull plating at the top had been taken off, exposing some malfunctioning machinery to the outside, all the better for the Wookiee to repair it.

    Chewbacca took out a part, examined it, shrugged, and put it back.

    “Nope,” he said to himself, shaking his head. “Not the problem.”

    On the ground, below Chewbacca, a white and blue astromech beeped and whistled in frustration. “You checked that one already,” said R2-D2, his Binary speech easily understood by Rey.

    “You just keep working on that comms interference,” said Chewbacca, annoyed. “If I can't fix the hyperdrive, our best bet will be to put out a distress call.

    “At this rate it'll be our ONLY bet...” replied the droid. Rey still couldn't believe her ears: in the stories, the astromech droid was described as 'adorable'... but that was mostly because of his small size and high-pitched beeps. In reality, Artoo, a veteran of two galactic wars, dealt with the decades of built-up, traumatic junk data with sarcastic humor. He was, Rey decided, nowhere near as cute as BB8.

    “Oh, hey kid!” he beeped cheerfully upon seeing her approach. Still, he's plenty nice to me, she thought.

    Rey stopped besides him. “Heya!”she responded. “You still haven't fixed the hyperdrive?”

    Artoo swiveled his top dome, as if shaking his head.

    “Could I help?” she asked. They had been on this planet for... well, she couldn't remember, but she hadn't done much since they arrived. She wanted to feel useful, and looked up to Chewbacca with pleading, hopeful eyes.


    “Oh, no, you're not touching anything!” Chewbacca growled, to Rey's shock. “Not after pulling out that compressor regulator!”

    “Hey,” Rey began to protest. “I didn't know that would deregulate the Hypermatter containment unit!”

    “That's basic engineering!” Chewbacca growled back. “That's literally the FIRST thing they TEACH in ANY ship's mechanic course! Jawas know not to pull a regulator out, for crying out loud! You're lucky I caught the problem before we jumped to Starkiller, or we would have been splattered across the very fabric of the universe!”

    Rey winced. As it turned out, Unkar Plutt, who had “purchased” the Falcon from the Irving boys, had the compressor installed for a very good reason. Rey had thought it was unnecessary, and had felt vindicated when the compressor started causing some issues in transit, requiring its removal... but the issues were due to a bad installation, not the compressor or its regulator.

    Chewbacca had given her an earful about it ever since.

    “I'm sorry...” she wilted under his barrage of growls. “But I just feel so damned useless, right now. There's absolutely nothing to do here."

    The Wookiee's shoulders sagged. He had been a little too harsh with her.

    “I'm sorry, it's just that...” I hate it when people mess with the Falcon, he left unsaid. He paused, then: “I might have to field strip the hyperdrive later, and I could use an extra pair of hands for it, so I'll call on you.”

    Rey smiled at him.

    “In the meantime,” he continued, "check on the old man.”

    “...What's that going to accomplish?” whined Rey, now depressed.

    “Just make sure he doesn't choke on fish bones,” Chewbacca suggested. “Or something. If you're not in a hurry, I spotted a waterfall nearby you can use.”

    A waterfall?” Rey had never heard the two words fused together, not on Jakku. “What for?”

    To take a shower, what else?”

    “Why would I do that?” she asked, confused. On Jakku, a world drier than Tatooine, water was for drinking and not much else.

    “Because you stink, girl!”

    If R2-D2 could have snorted, he would have. “Coming from a Wookiee, that's saying something!”

    “Shut it, droid! But seriously, you smell like sweat and happabore snot!”

    Rey sniffed herself. “Alright, maybe I do! But I need to know... what's a shower?

    Chewbacca just stared at her, then at Artoo, then back to Rey... in utter disbelief.

    [-o-]

    Rey, not quite familiar with the process of showering, stood nervously in front of the waterfall. Clad only in a long shirt of thin material that ended at that spot between the hips and the thighs, she could feel the mist turn her skin damp. The water was crashing violently against the stones, and she feared being crushed.

    Then Artoo surged forward, smacking is entire body against the back of her legs. “Go on, you'll be fine,” he said, but still she stood her ground.

    Artoo let out a low whistle, his idea of a sigh. “Alright then.” One of his tools popped out of his belly. “SHOCK PROD!”

    “Augh!” Rey surged forward, shielding her derriere from further lightning strikes with her bare hands. She found herself under the flow of water...

    “OH MY STARS IT'S COLD AND IT FEELS WONDERFUL!” she screamed, discovering the joys of washing herself.

    “It gets better!” said R2, as he readied the soap projection system.

    [-o-]

    “Eek!”

    Chewbacca heard Rey yelp as he worked on the Falcon. With the foot of the waterfall being quite some distance away below a cliff, he had to shout at her to be heard.

    “I'll bet you never saw that much water on Jakku, huh?” he said, looking over the horizon. Nothing but water as far as his eyes could see.

    “No, never! Do people on other planets really do this every day?!”

    He chuckled. Wookiees weren't as fond of showers as humans.So I'm told!”

    [-o-]

    “Well, of course they would...” she said, more to herself than Chewbacca. “Why wouldn't they?”

    Having finished spewing pink perfumed gel at her, Artoo left her alone to wash the resulting foam away, leaving a towel to dry herself later when she was done. “Scrub behind the ears!” he told her. “The stink really gets in there!”

    Rey does so, before allowing herself to relax. Time seems to slow down a bit, the spray of water hanging in the air, the lightscattering into rainbow. The experience, seemingly ethereal, reminded her of something, something she had been tricked, long ago, into forgetting, with a simple gesture.

    Her lids fell. Her eyes fluttered under her eyelids. Her mind takes her elsewhere.

    [-o-]

    The Witch held Little Rey high up with her hands. They spin together joyfully, rain falling on their faces as they look up at the sky, the gnarling branches of the great tree that was their home having parted to let the life giving rain in, at their command. Droplets whirled around them, carried by the vortex of an unseen force.

    [-o-]

    The droplets coalesced into random shapes of water, swirling around Rey as she fell deeper in a trance...

    “Power...” something wicked whispered, unseen and unheard by Rey.

    The girl's eyes opened suddenly, as she felt like she was being watched by something. Out of her trance, the floating water became prey to gravity again, falling to the rocky floor with a splash. Rey whirled around, and she shrieked in fright, for behind her she found no less than fifty small, beakless fat birds, with a plumage of black and white, with orange stripes. They just stood there like a silent choir, the big empty soulless pools of darkness that served as their eyes just staring at Rey's body...

    It made her skin crawl.

    She tried in vain to cover herself up.

    These were the Porgs, part of the local fauna... and Rey absolutely loathed them. It was the eyes, she knew. With the Porgs so close together, they formed a cluster of black holes that could trigger a phobia in the Sith Lords themselves.

    Rey shrieked at them, angrily. “Go away, you foul feathered freaks!”

    Wark,” the Porgs warbled in unison, as if to say: No.

    It's violence, then! she thought, before she threw a rock at them, hitting one of them right in the face. It fell back, dead.

    The rest did not flinch.

    Thus angered, Rey easily tapped into the Force, and with a wave of her hand sent a formless bolt of kinetic energy at the school of Porgs. After the resulting small explosion of feathers, the Porgs finally scattered away.

    “I HOPE CHEWIE EATS YOU ALL!” she screamed as they flew away, knowing that the damned things would return once more.

    “Hey!” Chewbacca called out from atop the Falcon. Apparently, Rey made quite a commotion. “What's going on over there?!"

    “It was those creepy, fat birds again!” Rey cried out in response, distraught.

    “Ooh!" Chewbacca was probably the only person in the Galaxy that liked these critters. It helped that Porgs were delicious. "Time for second breakfast! Would you like some?"

    "NO!"

    Chewbacca wasn't listening. "Just let me get my bowcaster!”

    Rey stepped away from the waterfall, and grabbed the towel to begin drying herself. “I'll stick to my rations, thanks!”

    “Your loss! Oop! There's one!” A bowcaster shot rang out across the island. “Ha! Gotcha, you delicious little bastard!”

    As Rey dried herself, she looked around for anything else that would spy on her. She paused her scrubbing, straining her senses... and could have sworn she heard someone whispering... or snickering at her.

    She turned to try and find the source, looking past the waterfall... and sees the mouth of a dark cave. She wondered briefly, how she had not noticed it before, and the thought made her wary... and curious. Sidestepping the waterfall, she walked up to the cave's entrance to peer in the dark...

    And found nothing. There was nothing looking back at her. There was nothing smiling at the sight of her.

    Nothing at all.

    [-o-]

    Ahch-To, as far as Rey was concerned, was a little strange... an ocean planet, it had very little landmass, with the relatively tiny island she was standing on counting for a tenth of it. At first, Chewbacca had called it a small archipelago, but days after they had arrived, it was obvious the other little islands were drifting away.

    “Chunks of porous rocks,” he had said scratching his head. “I guess.”

    “That's not normal?” Rey had asked.

    “Nope,” he had replied. “Normally...” he had given a few seconds of thought as to how to explain a bit of basic geology. After all, Jakku, Rey's homeworld, didn't have much of an educational system... or oceans, for that matter. “Normally, islands are the parts of underwater mountains that peek out of the surface.” That wasn't the textbook explanation of islands, but it was technically true.

    “Underwater mountains,” Rey had responded with awe.

    This, she decided, was why this small island had so many peaks and hills: There was underwater mountain beneath their feet.

    As she climbed the hillside, she poked curiously at her new clothes - a set of white short robes and trousers with grey bands of embroidered cloth wrapped around them. Her hair was down, and still drying. Am I presentable? she wondered, for the first time ever. Normally, she didn't care about such things, but she wanted to make a good impression.

    Again.

    She checked her satchel: everything was in there, even Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber. Rey stopped her ascent to admire it, and smiled: the stories had made it out to be a weapon of legend, forged from the finest materials from fantastical, hard to reach places.

    Rey knew better.

    She recognized the casing: it belonged to a converted Graflex high-power flashlight, as humble a tool as there ever was.

    I wonder if Anakin Skywalker was a scavenger? She wondered. Like me? He had to be! she concluded, as she examined the bits and bobs that had been grafted on the casing, all from different machines. Bits of a cleaning drone, here, a switch from a lamppost there... It was a piece of junk, really, like the Falcon. But unlike the Falcon it had received far more tender love and care.

    It was inspiring, really. Someday I'll build my own, she thought, and then she realized that, unless she found another lightsaber, she'd have to take this one apart to figure out its construction, sooner or later. The thought depressed her a bit. One wrong move and she could turn the lightsaber into worthless junk.

    She sighed. That's not going to happen any time soon. Putting the weapon back into the satchel, she continued on her way. Might as well get this over with.

    Rey passed by the stone husks of ancient buildings, built by a civilization long forgotten. Alien to it all stood a hut, made up of glassy stone that had to be cut by some kind of plasma cutter, and assembled by, according to Rey, what had to have been a Graviton crane.

    It was a simple, humble abode, good enough for a monk to comfortably live out his days.

    Further past the hut, at the top of the hill, there was a man, clad in pale robes with a dark brown cloak draped over his shoulders. He was old, almost past his sixties, and his hair was almost done greying. His right hand, lost a long time ago, had been replaced by a cybernetic prosthesis that hasn't been maintained in a while. It was still functional, but it was long past its prime, just like the man it was attached to.

    His back turned to Rey, he was seated cross-legged on a rock, dangerously close to a cliff. With a long fishing rod in hand, it seemed like he was entirely focused on getting a catch... but in reality, the rhythm of the waves crashing on the shore below had gently rocked him to sleep.

    Not wanting to frighten the old man, Rey approached him, silent as a cat. In spite of this, something makes him look back.

    “Oh, hello there!” he greets Rey upon seeing her, and gives her a warm kindly smile, the kind given by the elderly to strangers, hoping to make friends of them.

    Such was Luke Skywalker, and the years that had come after the Battle of Endor had evidently not been kind to his health.

    Rey smiled back at him, a mixture of happiness and weariness.

    “Hello, Luke,” she replied.

    “Who's Luke?”

    “...you are.” They have had this conversation before.

    “And what's your name, traveler?”

    “Again, it's Rey.” She said, hoping it would stick this time, but she knew better.

    “Again? Have we met before?”

    “A few times."

    Luke gently shook his head. “...Sorry, I don't remember.”

    “Yeah,” Rey's tone was weary. “I know.”

    Rey sat next to Luke, and asked: “So, what are you doing?”

    “Fishing, obviously.”

    “Oh? They don't do that on Jakku. What's involved?”

    “Well, a lot of waiting.”

    “What for?”

    “For the fish to bite.”

    The word brought back an unpleasant memory of Unkar Plutt, slobbering over something. Fish, he had called it. Fatter and juicier than the repackaged Imperial Navy rations that was Rey had to eat, day after day. “...And then?” she asked, trying not to think too hard about choking her so-called 'Father' to death with the Force.

    “Well, then you reel it in, and you either let it go or you cook it on a pan and eat it.”

    “Ah. Does it taste good?” Unkar Plutt came back to mind, inhaling his food. It had to have tasted good — far better than her rations — and Rey had to push back those feelings of resentful envy again.

    Luke shrugged.Depends on the fish. Depends on the cook. Hungry? I should get a bite any moment, now.”

    “No,” she replied, “but thanks for the offer.” Rey then smelled something familiar, and looked for the source. She saw the basket by Luke's side, and reached over to open it... “Aren't those fish?” she said after peering inside at the slimy, scale-covered shapes. The smell was awful, and she wondered then why Unkar loved these things so much. I suppose they taste better than they smell.

    “Hm?” Luke saw the basket, and his eyes widened in surprise. He laughed: “Well, I'll be a monkey-lizard's uncle! Where did those come from?” His eyes went blank for a second, then: “Thank you, thank you! I appreciate you bringing me something to eat!”

    “But...” Rey's confusion made way for frustration. This again. “I didn't bring you those things!”

    “Oh? Well, no matter. Are you hungry?”

    “No!” It was getting too much – days of going verbally in circles, over and over again... “ Look, is this some kind of test?!”

    Luke was confused. He was always confused. “Why would I test you?"

    “Because that's what Jedi do, isn't it?!”

    Luke had finished folding up his fishing rod.

    “Who's a Jedi?”

    “YOU are!”

    “I am?”

    “Yes!”

    “...How could that be? I don't even know what a Jedi is!”

    Rey got up in a huff, and takes out the lightsaber. She shoves it at him, and he recoils in surprise.

    “This, THIS is the weapon of a Jedi! And it's yours!”

    “It is?”

    “Yes! Leia told me! You lost it when you fought Darth Vader in the depths of Cloud City!” She looked into his eyes, hoping to find recognition there. Finding none, she grabbed Luke's mechanical hand by the wrist, and shoved the lightsaber in his hand.

    “You lost your HAND in that duel!”

    “But it's right here!”

    “Your REAL hand! Your flesh and blood hand! You've got to remember that, at least!”

    There was a moment, full of hope, when Rey thought she had finally gotten through to him, but it faded into nothing, and Luke went back to smiling at her, warmly, stupidly. Rey had failed again, and that brought her on the verge of tears.

    “Look, I give up, okay?! It's been days, and I don't know how much CRAP Jedi are supposed to put up with, but I'm obviously not making the cut, alright?!”

    Luke examined the lightsaber, surprised, as if it just popped into his hand. Rey, fed up with all this, turned to leave, feeling guilty for not having the patience required for this trial, whatever it was supposed to be.

    She stopped for a moment. “I was supposed to tell you that as soon as our ship's fixed, we'll be leaving to meet your sister.”

    “You have a ship?”

    “Yes, obviously,” she almost snapped at him. “It's over there.” The Falcon, yet Another thing you forgot about.

    “...Why can't you just take my ship?”

    Rey turned back to him, shocked. That... that was new. You have a ship?! Wait...” she shook her head. “Of course you do, but where did you put it?!”

    Luke pointed to another cliff on another side of the island, further away. “In the cave. It's a nice ship.”

    “I'll go find it! You stay put!”

    “Okay."

    Rey left, and made it about twenty steps before Luke called to her. “Miss, is this yours?”

    He held up and the lightsaber at her, shaking it for emphasis.

    Rey sighed, “I guess it is, now.” Rey held out her hand and, through the Force, pulled the weapon to her. Luke was a bit puzzled at the feat of telekinesis, but then shrugged.

    “Makes sense,” he said, already putting his fishing rod back together. “Its heart calls out to you,” Luke said, but Rey was well out of earshot.

    Meanwhile, atop their perches... the Porgs were watching.

    [-o-]

    Rey's head loomed over the cliffside, and true enough, there was a cave, though it was hard to tell if its mouth was large enough for a starfighter to fit in.

    Using a rope ladder she had gotten out of the Falcon's tool locker, she climbed down to the opening of the cave, and swung herself into it.

    She found herself inside, of all things, a makeshift hangar, a room of stone that appeared ruined by millennia of sedimentation and water damage. At the center of this chamber was a vessel in a state of disrepair. Some of its parts were not stock, but it was quite recognizable as Incom's most famous Multirole Starfighter.

    It was Luke's personal, customized X-wing. Rey's face almost shone with pure awe.

    “A T-65!” she exclaimed to herself. “And it's whole! Well, mostly whole...”

    Indeed, titanium hull panels were strewn across the stone floor, revealing the ship's internal components. A tarp had been set below the cockpit, dirty with the long-dried grease of the engine parts on it, next to some S-foil grilles.

    Nearby, on a stone table built into a smooth wall of rock, were sundries from the X-wing's cargo pod: A tin box of consumables, Stock T-65 blueprints, a holo-recorder, some soil and flower samples... And a dirty metal dish, with some Porg bones on them. What little meat that had been left on them had rotted away a long time ago, or had been picked clean by insects.

    Beeps and whistles, over the continuous hum of thrusters, came through the cave entrance. “Is that what I think it is?!” Rey's mind translated. R2-D2, with his side thrusters deployed, floated into the cave hangar. He landed right next to Rey, and rays of light streamed out of his main optic as he scanned the craft.

    Rey was surprised: “You can fly?!”

    “Of course I can!” Artoo beeped indignantly.

    “Well, you're a lot more spaceworthy than this old thing...” she said, putting her hand on the X-wing's hull, wiping away some of the grime. “Hey, Artoo? Is this... is this the actual X-wing that took out the Death Star?”

    “Well, no, but it's definitely the ship from his Rogue Squadron days.”

    “Brilliant.” She frowned. “Another disappointment.”

    “Hey, come on, now... here, check this out.” Artoo pointed a beam of light at the side of the cockpit, below which were printed several kill marks, most of which were TIE Fighters, and some other variants. “See those eight marks under the regular TIEs? Those are TIE Defender kills! I printed those for him after the Battle of Pellaeon! We never did break Wedge's record, though...”

    Rey gasped. “Eight TIE Defender kills?! That's... ah...” Rey rubbed the back of her head, sheepishly. “I actually never heard of those. Or of the battle of Pellaon, really. Are Defenders tough?”

    “The toughest. We lost a lot of our best pilots to these things. Farlander, the Azzameen brothers...” He let out a low hum of sorrow. “Great pilots, all of them, but Rexler Brath was better... That's him.” He shook the light at the last mark. It had a star over it, marking it as an Ace. “...Right there.”

    Rey's awe faded as she looked back at the entrance, and recalled the sad state Luke was in.

    “But that was a long, long time ago, wasn't it?”

    “Yeah...” Artoo whistled sorrowfully. He hadn't any luck getting through to Luke, either. “Yeah, it was."

    Rey took a moment to examine all the parts: “Hey... I think I could put this thing back together. Wanna help? I could use some tools.”

    Compartments all over R2-D2's body opened, revealing a vast arsenal of tools, including the soap gun. “I got you covered.” he beeped confidently.

    “Brilliant!” The scavenger smiled. “Just let me have a look at these, first...”

    She walked up to the table, intent on examining the blueprints of the T-65 laid on the table, when something caught her eye: a small bronze disk with three silver prongs curved radially around it.

    This was Luke's holoprojector, and there was a small light blinking on its side, next to a playback button.

    “What's this?” she asked, pressing the button, summoning the small, holographic image of a middle-aged Luke Skywalker. The hologram's appearance was shockingly different from that of the man still fishing on that hill. He was far healthier looking, with an old soldier's build, a shorter head of hair, and a well-trimmed beard. His eyes were weary, but still had a bright spark of intelligence and will. Rey smiles at the sight as it began to speak:

    Luke's journal, day 3, local time. Finally managed to fish my X-wing out of the sea. Water damage is minimal, doesn't look like oxidation is going to be a problem... but, the crash really shook up a lot of internals.”

    Rey wondered out loud, “Hm, I wonder how many more of these there are..."

    “I still don't know what went wrong; one minute all the instruments were fine, the next...”


    “Leave it on while we work,” Artoo beeped. “We might have years of entries to go through.”

    She nodded. “Yeah, sure.”

    Over the span of a few hours, Rey, with R2-D2's help, re-assembled Luke's X-wing , first by going over the schematics, then performing task after task, each one a feat of engineering more complicated and more difficult than the last.

    Luke's holographic recording kept playing as the day went by:

    Day 7. Rogue Squadron survival training is getting me through the food situation.
    Good news is the local fauna has these birds that breed as fast as Gizkas. Pretty rich meat, too. Never thought I'd have to worry about getting fat in a survival situation.”
    He laughed. “Still, I need to be careful with these things. Eat too much too soon and there won't be anything left.”

    Day 8, still no luck with the commslink. I've been transmitting the SOS all week, and no one's responded. Not likely to: Every frequency I try listening in on has static, so something's definitely jamming it... probably the sun's radiation.” Rey and Artoo look at each other, hands and pincers deep in a fuel injector. Getting a distress signal out would be difficult. “Fixing the X-wing's my only hope of leaving this place.”

    Day 12... Creepy things, these birds: They always seem to watch me. Maybe they want revenge?”

    Day 25, X-wing's flight-worthy again, Repulsorlifts are calibrated and the broken thrusters can burn fuel again. Test flight tomorrow morning, and... well, I'm gonna feel real silly about making those recordings.”

    Rey, taking a break and hoping to find a snack, opened the tin box of consumables. Empty.

    Day 26, Test flight was good, except for the hyperdrive test. Its crystal oscillator's blown. I can fly all over the planet, but I can't really leave. Damn it all.”

    Day 47, Not giving up hope. Crystal's blown but with some rocks and some creative uses of the Force and my lightsaber, I've managed to build a small kiln to reshape the crystal. Gonna have to provide the pressure myself. That's gonna burn some calories, I expect. ...Hope the strain doesn't kill me.”

    Rey found the kiln, basically a small stone spherical mold that could fit in a stone box. There was a small cylindrical slot on top, wide enough for a lightsaber's beam emitter.

    She marveled at the ingenuity of it.

    Day 48... not enough crystal left for a whole oscillator. Things aren't looking good... No, no, I haven't given up, not yet. There should be some rare earths in the caves good enough to make a proper crystal,
    strong enough for one trip, and get me far enough away to signal for help. I didn't come to this damned planet to die, and I'll be damned if I spend my last days in the middle of nowhere!”


    Day 49, I'm in luck - the caves are full of treasure! Aphra and Tekka would love it there. None of it is what I came here for, but I've found some gemstones that will do the trick for the oscillator. Just need to bake them into shape.”

    Rey popped the last panel in place, holding it to allow R2-D2 to solder it shut. The final task done, Rey wiped the sweat off her greasy face, and admired their work: the fully restored X-wing. Her chest swelled with pride, and while Artoo was not capable of expressing himself the same way, he was far happier to see the old girl restored.

    Rey looked out. The sun was setting... soon it would be time to go back. “Well, that was fun!” she smiled. It was indeed – she had always wanted to put an X-wing back together. “Shame it's getting so late though.”

    Test flight first thing after breakfast?” queried Artoo.

    “You bet!” replied Rey, cheerfully.

    Luke's hologram kept speaking. Day... I forget. Fifty? Fifty. Yeah. I think I woke something up down in the caves. Something I can't sense in the Force, or... No, no, I've been here too long, I'm becoming paranoid. I really need to get out of there.... I... I hate this place.”

    Rey walked up to the holoprojector to turn it off... and saw Luke, half-way transformed between the dignified Jedi Knight and the weak old fisherman. His image flickered.

    “Day...six? Seven? Rogue Squadron survival training hasn't stuck, it seems. My rations are already gone. Good news is the local fauna has these delicious birds that breed as fast as Gizkas.” He coughed. “Pretty rich meat, too. Never thought I'd have to worry about getting fat in a survival situation. Creepy things, though, these birds... they never stop—“

    As if on cue, the device ran out of power and shut down, with Rey's fingers inches from it.

    “That's odd...” Rey quirked her eyebrow. "I guess it was set to loop? Not that it matters, the power cell's low. If only I had a...”

    R2-D2 rolled in besides her, and opened one of the drawers in his body. “I've got an internal wireless charger. Give it here.”

    “You're just full of surprises, aren't you?” commented Rey, placing the small holoprojector in the drawer.

    “Gotta keep up with the times,” Artoo beeped as he channeled wireless energy into the holoprojector. “I'm due for an overhaul, though.”

    “Ever thought about converting to a BB8 Chassis?” she said, as reached out for the ladder. “You'd look adorable...”

    “Heck no!" R2-D2 protested. "Trashcan for life!”

    Rey laughed as she climbed up, with Artoo flying besides her, both of them unaware that in the shadows, the Porgs had been watching...

    [-o-]

    Night had fallen, and next to a large, roaring campfire by the old spaceship, Chewbacca was sitting on a rock, a box of Bowcaster Flechettes by his side, still wet from the cleaning agents that had purged them of Porg blood. The bolts' victims had been plucked, beheaded, gutted, set on a spit, and were rotating slowly above the flames, their motion powered by a small motor.

    Rey sat on a stone opposite of Chewbacca, staring into the fire, tracing symbols in the ash with a branch. She was bored – usually, she spent evenings like this wearing a VR helmet, playing random scenarios in starfighter sims.

    “So where were you?” he asked, sprinkling salt and pepper over the roasting meat. “I called you about the Hyperdrive a couple of times.”

    “Sorry,” she said, focused on her drawing. “I was putting Luke's X-wing back together.”

    Chewbacca nodded. “Is that right? Can it fly?”

    “It should be good for sub-light. I'll see tomorrow about the hyperdrive."

    “Good.” Chewie put a roast Porg on a metal PLATE, along with a side of steamed grain and chopped vegetables. “There you go," he said, handing the plate over to Rey, along with a metal spork. “Careful, it's hot.”

    Rey looked at the dead bird and frowned. “Do I have to? I hate those things!”

    Chewie grabbed a spit, with three birds stuck on it, all for himself. “They're good!” he said, his mouth full.

    Sighing, Rey picked at the flesh with the spork, tearing it from the bones, and took a bite. She had admit: when cooked right, Porgs were quite delicious. Still, she could not quite regale herself, since she had something on her mind. “What will we tell General Organa, when we get back?” she asked. Then, she added, "With Luke, I mean?"

    Chewbacca stopped eating, and it was clear that he had been pondering that same question for a while, now. “We'll tell her the truth; what else can we do?”

    “...and then what?”

    “That'll be up to her. We might drop Luke off at a hospital on Kamino, or Manaan.”

    “Kamino? Manaan?” Rey had never heard of these places. “Can they help him there?”

    “I hope so... but we should focus on getting out of here, first.”

    “I can't help but worry...” then, something else bothered her. “Chewbacca?”

    “Hm?” The Wookiee's mouth was full.

    “Why did you ask Leia to bring me with you?”

    Chewbacca paused to chew and swallow his food. “Well... I had a good feeling about you... and I thought that you and Luke should meet as soon as possible.”

    “Oh? Did you think Luke would train me in the Force?”

    “Well, yes. But...” he sighed. “That's not happening any time soon, is it?”

    Rey stared at her bowl, picking at her food. “It's not fair. It's not right that all that's left of the Jedi just... dies in Luke's mind, or lives on in...” she failed to hide her disgust for the name she forced herself to pronounce. “...in Kylo.” That disgusting, father-killing, friend-crippling, mind rapist!

    Chewbacca turned his head sharply at her. As it turned out, she had muttered her thoughts. He should have snarled at her, told her to shut up, something... but he could not bring himself to come to his godson's defense, the events leading to Han's death still fresh in his mind.

    That red blade of screaming plasma, piercing his heart, boiling his blood...

    I should have aimed for his head, thought Chewbacca.

    Quietly, he and Rey finished their meal, and spend some time staring at the campfire's flames, pondering what the future had in store for them.

    Yawning, Rey got up, and wished Chewbacca good night, while the fur-covered giant wished her good dreams.

    [-o-]

    The twin moons of Ahch-To, one red, one pearl, shone upon the island as a chorus of benign alien insects sang a song that echoed through the night, backed by the gentle waves of the sea.

    Rey was deeply asleep, alone in her tent, while R2-D2 was in sleep mode, connected to the Falcon's power train to recharge.

    Hitherto unnoticed poppies began to bloom all around the island. Only Chewie was awake, a blanket draped over his head and shoulders, as he watched the flames. As the flowers bloomed and glowed with the colours of the moons, Chewbacca's eyelids felt heavier and heavier, causing him to blink more often until finally they fluttered and closed completely. Chewbacca was finally asleep.

    Suddenly, the insects stopped singing, for fear had struck them silent.

    The silence made way for whispers, cackles and cruel laughter... and those in turn made way for the soft song of a woman's voice, echoing across the island.

    Luke...”

    Neither Chewbacca nor R2-D2 were stirred awake by the sound, so soft it was...

    Luke... come to me...”

    But Rey was more sensitive to such magic, and her sleep was disturbed. She groaned as she struggled to keep her eyes closed, but quickly gave up. The wind blowing the way into her tent open, she managed to catch sight of a figure in the darkness, only for it to vanish in the shadows as she blinked. Her eyes found something else to focus on: Luke Skywalker, stumbling in the dark as someone called to him.

    “Luke...”

    Rey strained her ears, and caught Luke's response, full of longing...

    “Mara...”

    A shadow crawled over Rey's cot, moved to her face —

    —and all became darkness.

    [-o-]

    Something croaked in the dark. Something old, something weary... something hungry:

    What's... this...?”

    Something smiling....



    [-o-]



    Darkness made way for dreams, and the girl — no, Rey — stood in the depths of the Dark Forest once more, almost as if the events in the waking world had not happened...

    No, it wasn't quite the same. Time had stopped, marked by black spores that floated, perfectly still, in the air, untouched by the wind. The colours, what little could be seen in the dim moonlight, felt washed away.

    Rey looked around, wary of more wolves. Finding none in sight, she took a few steps forward, and a path cleared before her, guiding her back home...

    Three steps, and suddenly she was there, back to the sunlit garden of the Witch's home.

    “Hello?” Rey called out. It seemed the Witch was no longer there. “Hello!” she tried again, chagrined. She felt so alone, in spite of the voices in her head keeping her company.

    The voices... they seemed to belong to the same woman, but they were a cacophonous chorus of whispers on the edge of her hearing, reflections of her thoughts and fears. Sometimes, it seemed as there was someone right next to her, whispering in her ear.

    Are you going crazy? asked one.

    Do you need help? whispered another.

    So skinny, so weak! giggled someone.

    But a voice, strong and motherly and powerful, spoke louder than all of them: “Remember...”

    “Remember what?” asked Rey, shouting to the sky. Her voice echoed far, but nobody responded...

    Save for a small spider climbing up her leg.

    “Eek!” she yelped, more out of surprise than fear. Young women her age would have been frightened beyond belief, but as Rey would soon discover, she wasn't quite normal, even for a Force-User. She allowed the small creature to climb over her, past the shoulder, and finally to her palm. Rey held the tiny insect up closer to her face, eyes full of curious fascination as she stared at it: Its body, black and purple and flecked with white, was barely the size of Rey's thumb, with two disproportionately large eyes and tiny, stubbly limbs. Being a spider, it should look horrific. Instead, Rey thought it was kinda cute, like BB8, only tinier and with eight legs.

    Suddenly, the spider's black, glinting eyes widened, and it cowered in fear. Rey turned around, hoping to see what frightened it so. Out of the corner of her sight, something - made of black rags - crawled into a hole, hiding from Rey's sight.

    The spider jumped on Rey's palm three times, getting her attention, before bouncing off like a cricket towards the mansion.

    “Hey, wait!” she protested, giving chase at the speed of dreams.

    It had only taken a single step for Rey to pass through the walls of the witch's mansion, the leaping spider leading her through the halls of gnarled wood. There were patches of void here and there, that the spider guided her around, where the dream had nothing to build on, for the raw materials of memory were being eroded by something... something vile, and sour, and rotten, and...

    And green.

    The spider leapt into the gap between two vast wooden doors, painstakingly carved with symbols too complicated for Rey to comprehend. Bursting through the doors, she found herself inside a vast library, at least four stories tall, and there, at the center of that vast room, clad in a dark bustier and a darker skirt, knelt the Dark Witch, held fast by the frozen passage of time. On her shoulder was the spider, leaping up and down to catch Rey's eye. Her face, which Rey recalled was pale and beautiful, was mostly gone, having been shattered into little prisms and shapes that hung in the air.

    Rey's gaze followed the witch's arms, which were spread out downward, as if she were presenting the books scattered by her knees. Two of these grimoires had been opened to specific pages, and the chorus of voices inside Rey's head begged and commanded her to kneel and take a closer look at them. The script and alphabet is utterly alien to her, and nearly impossible to focus on... but the illustrations were clear: In one book was displayed a Poppy, one that she had seen before, and the other book detailed a Sign: a vertical eye, set inside a bird made of fire, its wings spread out in flight.

    The Witch's voice silenced the chorus again, for she needed to be heard above all.

    “Remember the ward...” it whispered, clear as a bell.

    “I don't understand!” complained Rey, only then realizing that her lips were not moving. “What good is a winged eyeball?!”

    There was a droning, and then a trembling and then a footstep, loud and rumbling, right behind Rey. Then another, and another, and with each footfall Rey could feel a shadow loom over her. The spider, once again, began to cower, and Rey whirled around, hoping to meet her stalker with bravery and violence. Instead, her eyes widen, greeting those things with terror and fear. Six grasping hands — old, wrinkled, wet — grabbed hold of her neck, her face, her hair, and pulled



    [-o-]



    —Rey gasped as her eyes opened, her irises contracting from the rush of fear coursing through her. She looked out through the opening of her tent. Was she still on Ahch-To?

    She sat up from her cot, frantically feeling her face and skull with her hands, checking for any damage. Much to her relief, there was none.

    The tent's entrance was ajar, its sheets fluttering in the wind, giving her a glimpse of the outside: a lightly clouded morning sky over rocky horizons of muted grass and dirt. The gentle sound of waves crashing over rocks came through.

    She sighed, though her breath was short. Yes, she was still on Ahch-To.

    “Rey?” The Wookiee outside growled. Who knew that Shyriiwook could feel so reassuring? “Rey, are you alright?”

    “I'm okay!” replied Rey out loud. “It's just the nightmares again!”

    ...Again?”

    “Yes, again. Just give me a minute...”

    Rey winced, she could taste something foul in her mouth, and felt something on the corner of her lip; she wiped it off, smearing traces of a foul cream, pale and green, on the back of her hand.

    “Ew...!” It wasn't the most mature reaction, but then again, that small sample of pale green discharge looked and smelled, by Rey's estimation, really, really gross. It smelled awful, too.

    After a light breakfast of polystarch bread and veg-meat, Rey went outside to see how Chewbacca was doing. He was on top of the Falcon, busy removing a part from the Falcon. He examined it, shook his head, and put it back.

    “Nope... not the problem,” he told himself. “Hm...”

    “Have you started working on the hyperdrive?” asked Rey.

    “No,” the Wookiee rumbled, shaking his head. “Had to check one of the plasma manifolds.”

    “Oh... wait, didn't you check that part yesterday, already?”

    Chewbacca rubbed the back of his head, a bit confused. Then, he turned his head away for a moment, all the better to spit out a pale green wad of saliva away from the Falcon.

    “...I might have?” he scratched the back of his head with his claw. “Yeah, I did. Huh, I guess Luke's not the only one getting too old.”

    “Will you be needing my help?” she asked, recalling their plans from yesterday.

    “Sure, soon.”

    ...What? No chewing me out over the compressor bypass?”

    “Huh? Oh, that. I didn't give you grief over it. Why would I? It saved our hides.”

    But... you did, yesterday, in fact!”

    The Wookiee shrugged. Well, if I did, I'm sorry. Look, I should have the hyperdrive safely pulled out by the afternoon. Can you wait until then?”

    Sure, R2 and I aren't done with Luke's X-wing, so we'll keep ourselves busy.”

    “Luke's X-wing is here?” he tapped his forehead, feeling silly. “Wait, of course it is...”

    Rey eyed Chewbacca curiously, cautiously, wondering if something was wrong with him.



    [-o-]



    “You're sure you didn't detect anyone?” asked Rey, her voice echoing through the hangar cave as she swung off the rope ladder and into the cave.

    “Positive,” beeped R2-D2, as he gently landed on the cave floor. “Nothing took me out of Sleep Mode.”

    “That's a relief, I guess.” It had all been just a dream, she decided.

    The duo found Luke's X-wing, still waiting for them to get in and take her out for a spin. Rey rubbed her hands in anticipation and smiled: She had been hoping to fly a real, working T-65 ever since she unlocked it in the VR sims a few years ago, around the same time she had chopped up one for parts. Soon, she would get her wish.

    Inside the cockpit, Rey barely contained her glee as the dashboard's lights came on. When the VR heads-up display failed to come on, though, she was a bit confused, and realized the problem. “Damn, no helmet.”

    “Eh, you don't need it,” beeped R2-D2 as he slotted himself in the X-wing's astromech slot, behind the cockpit. “The T-65's avionics never did get upgraded with the XJ7's integrated helmet and display sight system, and they gave up on those when they started making the T-70.” A few clicks and whirrs later, Artoo was fully connected to the strike craft's systems. His speech appeared on a small screen on the dashboard.

    “Oh?” asked Rey. She hadn't asked for any starfighter trivia, but she had a taste for it. “Why's that?”

    “Mothma, that's why,” he beeped, as if that explained everything. “Anyways, T-65 is as easy to fly as a Skyhopper, you'll see.”

    “Hm, if you say so...” Rey didn't sound so sure of that.

    “Let's go through the pre-flight check and a quick tutorial, yeah?”

    Rey powered up the console, and without further prompting from R2, pushed a sequence of buttons that made the X-wing's engines hum and stutter back to life. Rey is elated - she was this close to flying a classic. Artoo insisted on the pre-flight check nevertheless, and a rundown of the controls that had taken almost half an hour. Said tutorial involved deploying the targeting computer's blocky scope, which made Rey practically squeal with delight, and she quickly started fantasizing about pulling off the Trench Run that had obliterated the Death Star. Pew Pews were involved.

    Silly humans, thought Artoo. “All systems green, ready to take off, Red Leader!”

    Rey, savoring the moment, slowly pulled the secondary throttle up, and the X-wing's repulsorlifts pushed against the planet's gravity. Suddenly, just as the craft began to rise, the Crystal Oscillator blows, causing a power surge that arced through every component of the ship, damaging some. Alarms, framed and lettered in red, popped up all over the dashboard's screens as the repulsorlifts stutter and die, and the X-wing falls back down on its landing gear.

    No flying an X-wing for Rey, not on that day. “Blast!” she cursed, as she stepped out of the cockpit.

    [-o-]

    Rey removed a small panel near the X-wing's core, and she peered inside the machine's guts, her head practically against Artoo's dome. Her experienced eye quickly saw what was wrong, and she reached in, then pulled out a cylinder of frosted glass, framed in durasteel and tipped with ceramic.

    “That thing's been slotted in reverse!” she declared! “No wonder the thing surged!”

    “Aw hell, diagnostics missed that...” Artoo let out a depressed whistle, and said: “I'm sorry, kid. I must be getting old.”

    “N-No, it's okay,” she said, feeling bad for the droid. She suspected R2 was feeling his age: the R-Series had been around for a long time, and was gaining a reputation for obsolescence. More than a few R2 units had been abandoned on Jakku, gathering dust at markets, hoping that their masters would return...

    Rey could empathize. “We can fix this, okay?” She shook the oscillator close to her ear, and heard a tingling in the glass. “Yep, that blew the crystal alright. I mean, I've never actually handled one of these before, so I probably made a rookie mistake, right?”

    R2-D2's dome swiveled left and right. “No, I was there, checking your work. You put that thing back in right... Or at least I thought you did.”

    'Well, clearly I didn't. So...” she said, as she moved to the hangar's workbench. When Artoo didn't follow, she beckoned him to do so. “Hey, come on.”

    A moment later, Rey was sitting at the workbench, having laid out the Oscillator and the Skywalker Lightsaber next to each other on the stone surface. Using the tools laying on the stone table, she began disassembling the ship component.

    Artoo's periscope rose behind her shoulder. “What are you doing?” the droid beeped curiously.

    “A quick fix!” she replied. “You can get an extra day out of faulty crystal-based components if you slot in a power crystal from a blaster, and since lightsabers work pretty much the same...”

    “How do you know that?”

    Rey did not answer as she opened up the middle of the lightsaber, revealing its crystal chamber... but instead of the traditional primary and focusing kyber crystals, Rey found a black marble that glowed outwardly with a light that shifted between cyans, magentas and blues. It was just small enough to fit into the modified primary crystal mount requiring Rey to pull it out with a pair of tweezers. The gem extracted, the girl found herself admiring it, magical light glinting in her eyes.

    "What the?!" exclaimed Rey. "I didn't know Kyber crystals looked like... that."

    “They... don't,” R2-D2 beeped. “That's no Kyber crystal.”

    “It's not?” she asked, looking at R2. “What is it, then?”

    R2's periscope took a quick scan. “It looks a lot like a Krayt Dragon's Pearl... in which case, congrats! You're rich!”

    There had to be a catch. “But...?”

    “But, usually, Krayt dragon pearls don't have red auras. Might affect the price, for better or worse.”

    “Red?” Rey turned her head back to the gem, and it was indeed glowing red... then, it shifted to gold, then back to cyan. “Huh... weird! Well, in any case, the shape's wrong, it won't slot into the oscillator.”

    “Suits me fine,” Artoo's periscope shook up and down. “Don't want Anakin's angry ghost to haunt me over wasting a Pearl on an oscillator,” He beeped cheerfully, but the truth was that Artoo had no idea if Anakin had ever modified his saber to accommodate a Pearl.

    With a sigh, Rey slotted the gem back in, an act that causes her mind's eye to wander to another moment in time, when she was smaller. The images were fleeting: Little Rey's eyes peeked over the edge of a table, glinting in warm orange candlelight as she watched a man put the pearl inside Anakin's lightsaber, the original kyber crystal's shards spread around the wooden surface. She looked up, but she couldn't catch sight of the man's face before the headpats began.

    The vision of a happy memory faded, and Rey resumed her work. She ignited the saber, testing it to make sure she hasn't broken it. Satisfied that she hadn't ruined a priceless relic, Rey looked wistfully back at the X-wing.

    “The main drives are good,” she said, “but with no oscillator and the blown repulsorlifts... That X-wing's just not getting off the ground.”

    Artoo gently bumped into her. “Hey, don't lose hope...”

    “I haven't,” she said, rising from the stone workbench. “All I need is a spare blaster. Chewbacca should have plenty of those, right?” she packed the lightsaber in her sack, and with a shrug, decided to pack in the oscillator as well.

    [-o-]

    Rey and R2-D2 checked on Luke, and found the old man still fishing. His patience had been rewarded with an odd catch: a wide fish with a huge fanged maw and a long growth coming out of its forehead, tipped with a bulb that glowed faintly.

    “Right where I left you,” she said, and then he turned around, said hello, gave her that fatherly smile. The same song and dance ensued, but Rey had been through it so many times, it did not frustrate her so much any more.

    “I'll see you again tomorrow, old man,” she said, rising to leave.

    “Okay,” he said, simply, and that would have been that, but...

    There was that dream, and that name... “Who's Mara?” Rey asked.

    And then, for a second, Luke Skywalker was back... only to turn into the old man again.

    Another disappointment, Rey thought, turning to leave.

    “White dress...” muttered Luke.

    Rey stopped cold... had she finally done it?

    Luke seemed more animated than ever. “Lace... sheer... over bright spider silk. Hair... Rivers of blood! Eyes like gems... Rose confetti, everywhere...! My friends, the New Jedi, everyone... smiling! Clapping! All around us!” His breath was getting ragged, and his face began to fall, dragged down by pure sorrow.

    “The wedding...” beeped Artoo, realizing.

    “It's gone... all of it, gone! Because... because of HIM...” At that last word, the island began to tremble. Luke was waking, and so was his long dormant power.

    Rey stumbled, but kept her balance. “Who's 'him'? Kylo?”

    “He RUINED EVERYTHING ...” Luke was not shouting, but his voice still boomed, augmented by the Force itself, frightening both Rey and R2-D2 with a thunderous boom that caused the very ground beneath them to vibrate. And then, just when it looked like he would shatter the entire island, Luke was stilled by an unseen will. The rumbling stopped, and he became the old man that saw Rey for the first time, again.

    “Hello, there,” he said. Rey did not reply, and left Luke alone.

    Once they were out of earshot, she turned to Artoo. “Okay, who in blazes is Mara?!” she asked, now with a burning need to know why that name had awakened such passion and strength in Luke...

    “Well...” began Artoo...



    [-o-]



    Night had fallen, and next to a large, roaring campfire by the old spaceship, Chewbacca was sitting on a rock, a box of Bowcaster Flechettes by his side, still wet from the cleaning agents that had purged them of Porg blood. The bolts' victims had been plucked, beheaded, gutted, set on a spit, and were rotating slowly above the flames, their motion powered by a small motor.

    Rey sat on a stone opposite of Chewbacca, staring into the fire, tracing symbols in the ash with a branch out. She was bored – usually, she spent evenings like this wearing a VR helmet, playing random scenarios in starfighter...

    “Wait...” Rey looked around, confused. “How did I get here?”

    “You walked?” growled Chewbacca.

    “No, I mean... I don't remember getting here.”

    “You don't remember helping me fix the hyperdrive?”

    “No... did we?”

    “Sure, we replaced the oscillator together,” the Wookiee said, pointing at the Falcon. “The armature was right proper kriffed, but that replacement you got from the X-wing will work great.

    “Where's the...” Rey's mind was looking for a name, but could find none. “Where's the droid?”

    “R2 is inside, cooking the Hypermatter. We'll be good to go by the morning.”

    “That's... that's good.”

    Rey massaged her eyes, hoping to rub the weariness away. Absentmindedly, she drew a symbol in the sand with a long twig, that of an eye with wings.

    It was not quite right, not yet.

    “I can't wait to leave this place,” she said.

    “You and me both... but morning's a long way away. You should get some sleep.”

    “Alright...” she said wearily. She rose, went into her tent, lay in her sleeping bag, and closed her eyes.

    [-o-]

    The Poppies bloomed again, the insects stopped their song again, and all was quiet again, until...

    “Luke...”

    Rey woke to the sound — a woman's contralto, ethereally sweetened to be more alluring — but she still felt half asleep, and the promise of a deep slumber proved to be a potent siren song, itself.

    She shut her eyes.

    “Luke... come to me, my love...”

    “Mara...”

    Luke's distant, longing whimper got Rey's attention, arousing her curiosity, chasing the sleepiness away. Through tired eyes she managed to catch his form, highlighted by the light of the moon... and that of the ghostly figure of a woman, both her blood red hair and emerald-green dress blowing in an silent wind... or floating in unseen waters. The ghostly figure beckoned Luke to follow, and he stumbled towards her, an old man chasing a dream, the one memory he could never, ever let go...

    “Mara...”

    Rey got up, now knowing for certain that she wasn't dreaming. Silently, she got out of her tent and made her way to the campfire, and found the Wookiee there, sitting on his rock, yet slumped over and deeply asleep.

    “Chewie...” Rey whispered. When that did not wake him, she raised her voice: “Chewie, wake up! Come on, wake up! Something's wrong!"

    But Chewbacca could not wake, not matter how much Rey shook him. She looked back at Luke, and would have called out to him where it not for a hundred little voices whispering in the back of her mind that it would be a very bad idea. Instead, she shouldered her satchel, and stalked the elder Jedi as he moved towards the phantom, ever out of reach.

    Unseen by Rey, the symbol she traced by the campfire, as imperfect as it was, glowed with an eldritch purple, burning the very sand dust and dirt beneath it. Tendrils of smoke rose up, and took the shape of the limbs of a spider, grasping for prey, but found none.

    And then, they were gone.

    [-o-]

    The glowing ghost floated towards the waterfall, passing through it without disturbing the water, or being disturbed by it in kind. The ghost vanished into the cave, leaving only the melodious sound of her voice as a sign of her presence.

    “Luke... Luuuke... come to me...”

    Rey hid behind a nearby rock, and watched on as Luke followed the ghost into the cave. The scavenger girl, surrounded by the gloom of night, hesitated to follow him in, fearful of what may lay in wait for her in the pitch black darkness of the cave.

    Light! She would need light to range into the dark, and she had just the thing in her satchel: Anakin's lightsaber. She grasped the Jedi weapon with both hands and ignited its blade.

    “I can do this,” she whispered to herself, as if the words alone would draw pure courage from the legendary weapon. It worked: she stepped out from behind the rock, and walked into the cave...

    [-o-]

    ...Those were her first steps into a darker world, and they were slow, and careful. The deeper Rey went, the dimmer the moonlight behind her became, and the lightsaber proved to be a poor source of light. Rey found it odd: when she stared into the core of the blade, the white light was almost blinding, but it seemed to refuse to cross into the dark. Only the blade's blue edge radiated its colour outward, and the wet stone returned its blue glint. Still, it was enough to allow Rey to travel through the network of tunnels that lay beneath the island, if only just barely.

    Suddenly, the way became clearer. Whether it was the saber glowing brighter, or her eyes adjusting, Rey couldn't tell. Unfortunately, her sense of direction was not faring any better, and she lost herself in the maze of passages. The very shadows seemed to come to life to stalk her, and some thing whispered where the light of the blade would not reach. Still, she pressed on. And on... and on, until finally she saw something new, a coloured glint in the dark, in a passage to her left, from which myriad distant sounds echoed.

    Not just any sounds, no. Voices, from a time long past.

    These are your first steps...” said an old man, his voice distant yet so close.

    Aren't you a little short...” another voice began to ask... that one was familiar, it almost sounded like Leia, but younger.

    But who's gonna fly it...?” Rey recognized that one. “Han?” She called out, full of hope... only to immediately put her hand over her mouth, thinking she had just alerted something in the dark, something ready to jump out of the shadows...

    ...but nothing came, and she continued to walk down the passage.

    The voices became clearer:

    ...Are you in, Jedi?” asked another woman's voice. Rey had a bad feeling about that one: it felt like it belonged to someone nobody should trust, ever.

    You can call me Gamemaster...” That one — a man's — felt worse. Rey could easily imagine him covered in scars.

    Rey crossed the passage to a chamber so vast the light of the lightsaber could not reach the walls. Only the ground was illuminated, a circle of blue light at Rey's feet. Thousands of glass marbles, some of them the size of a man's fist, some of them no larger than a pea, were set into the ground, glued with hardened calcite into grooves hastily carved into the stone. Rey approached one of the marbles, kneeling to get a better look at it. She peered into the glass, narrowing her eyes at the shades dancing inside of it, until they form a dark figure covered head to toe in glossy black armour, crossing plasma blades with someone, someone who had been right there...

    All these gems were containers for Luke Skywalker's memories, Rey realized. Overcome with a desire to know more about the events that led to the Empire's downfall, she went from memory to memory, only getting the barest of glimpses. Some of them were agonizingly painful to gaze upon:

    That's not true! That's impossible!”

    ...While others were filled with rapturous joy:

    I do,” Rey heard that contralto again, in a gem filled with smiling faces – friends, family, and allies. Rose confetti... a woman in a white dress... strands of hair like rivers of copper and blood...

    Mara!

    Hundreds of other stones began to shine in the dark, and Rey marveled at the sight: a veritable galaxy of memories, the stuff legends were made of! But it all had been cruelly stolen away from him, along with his sense of who he was, and his duty to the rest of the galaxy. I have to get these back inside of him, Rey thought, resolutely. There has to be way!

    Something glowed above Rey, its light a sickly pale green. And she looked up to see Luke floating upside down, a spinning black pyramid right beneath his head. Hundreds of tendrils of green light protruded from its smooth obsidian surface, tracing bright curves in the dark before permeating Luke's flesh. Pulses of golden light emerged from his skin, channeled through the tendrils into the dark crystal, causing its aura to flare, illuminating the bones of those who had not endured this trial.

    Such was the Entechment Machine, and it was draining Luke's very life away, ever so slowly, but it would not kill him, not yet. No, it would torture Luke like this every night, for decades, until his body could take no more.

    “Oh, Stars!” Rey cried out, her voice trembling with horror. “Luke!”

    “Rrr... Rrrraaah...” Luke croaked out, weakly.

    “Rey, yes! It's me, Rey!” He remembers, finally! “I'm here to rescue you, hold on!”

    Luke forced out the word he truly meant to say: “Rrrrruuuun...!”

    Before Rey could do so, she heard a sound, forced out of a throat that could only have been made of worn leather, echoing across the stone room.

    It was a cruel laugh.

    Something dripped on her shoulder, something green, pale and milky, prompting her to look up at a tattered shadow from which sprang six legs, six arms, and six eyes leering at her through a mass of hair and rags. The shadowy creature fell on Rey before she could scream.

    DRRRINK...”

    These words were the last thing she heard before the darkness took her.

    [-o-]

    This time there were no trees, or wolves, or strange magical abodes. There was only a profound darkness, in which Rey floated helplessly... and yet, she was unafraid, oddly comfortable with the dark void.

    It's so... quiet here, she thought to herself.

    Then, from a infinitely long strand of silk hanging from an unseen spot high above — or was it below? — a ball of fluff, black and purple, rappelled down in front of Rey's eyes.

    “Hello you,” she said to the spider.

    The friendly insect waved at her, then moved to trace a strand of spider silk around her hips. She felt its pull, shortly before drifting forward towards a light in the dark.

    Child,” she could hear the dark witch whisper in her ear... “this is your last chance... After this, all hope is lost...”

    “I don't understand,” Rey's lips did not move. Her thoughts were so loud, as loud as the Witch's voice.

    You must remember the sign... Remember the flower... Remember the eye... These are the things... That will set you free.”

    The Witch's speech was punctuated by flashes of dreams/memories: the poppies burning in the hearth, the symbol of the flying eye drawn in ink in the book, the Krayt Dragon Pearl in the lightsaber...

    Set you free!” these three words were repeated countless times by the choir in Rey's head, becoming a drone the caused her head to ache...

    Suddenly, the strand snapped; the spider, distraught, reached out for Rey as gravity asserted itself in the void and claimed her body , but the poor insect can do nothing as the girl fell into the abyss...

    Go.

    And on that command, the spider let go of the strand, and fell with the girl, and both drowned in a sea of pale green milk.


    DRINK...

    [-o-]

    The girl's waking was slow, lacking any distress. Her eyes fluttered and opened, but the light behind them, the very thing that made her who she once was, was gone... She had a name once, but no longer. Now she was just the Girl.

    The Girl felt something tart on her tongue, and something slimy on the corner of her lip, but did not spit or wipe her mouth. She heard rain outside, but did not sit up, instead enjoying the sense of safety that comes from being sheltered from the weather. For hours, she lay under her blanket, staring out of the opening in her tent, watching the tiny bursts of millions upon millions of drops of water crashing against stone and metal and dirt.

    The sound... it was soothing.

    Then she felt a rumbling in her belly, and decided that it's time to get up. She stepped out into the rain, and shivers, but doesn't go back into the tent, which, as it turned out, was attached to a large piece of machinery. There was a big hairy creature standing in front of the machine, staring at it, almost admiring it.

    It had no name. It was just a Wookiee.

    Curious, the Girl approached it. “Hello.”

    The Wookiee just growled and whined at her, scaring her a bit. As his mouth made noises, the Girl noticed a green tint to his spittle, and found it odd, but paid it no heed. He made no sudden movements, no sign that he meant her any harm.

    “I don't understand you...” she said. Little did the girl know, the Wookiee had said the same thing.

    And so he made no further attempts at communication, and simply stared at the ship, or something far, far away, beyond it...

    [-o-]

    The Girl was curious, and felt compelled to explore the inside of the machine. She found the interior, in spite of being caked by filth, utterly fascinating, for there were machines within the machine, exposed components that served some unknown purpose.

    What that purpose was... the girl tried to recall, but couldn't find the words.

    “Hello?” she called out. “Is anyone here?”

    There was no reply, save for the hammering of the rain on the hull. The Girl kept exploring, until she came across a machine in the middle of a room full of boxes, a machine unlike all the others: A cylinder on wheels! Its shell, white and blue, was marred by years of use. She did not recognize the unmoving machine, either, nor did she know how to reconnect the power cell that had been so violently pulled out of it.

    The Girl felt sad for it, but did not know why.

    [-o-]

    The rains continued to fall, thoroughly soaking the Girl's clothes as she explored the island, blissfully unaware that her mind had been emptied. Still, that emptiness of mind allowed a certain magic to be freed to act through her: an aura, hugging her skin, caught the heavy drops of water in its invisible grasp, holding them aloft.

    The aura expanded into a sphere, and the rain swirled all around. She smiled in amazement, and giggled as she spun around in the middle of the field, as if that would make the water spin faster. Dizzied, the Girl falls on her back, the aura cushioning her fall, and her giggles turn to laughter as the rain and the world and her head kept on spinning.

    She sat up, and looked around, and wondered what she was supposed to be doing. Catching sight of her reflection on a puddle atop a stone tile, she knelt besides it to examine it, giddiness having made way for curiosity. Curiosity made way for narcissistic fascination. Fascination made way for a bit of worry, as she noticed that a lock of her wet hair has become silvery white.

    Then, another face appeared behind her in the shallow puddle. She turned around, and kept her gaze locked on the Old Man as she got up.

    The Girl did not recognize him. As far she's concerned, he's just an Old Man, wearing a cloak to shield himself from the rain. She approached him, as he eyed her curiously. Not knowing anything about propriety, she put her hands on his wrinkled face, fascinated by the wear and tear of old age. She traced his many wrinkles with her fingers, and admired the sheer whiteness of his hair. Her face was inches from his.

    “Who are you?” asked the Old Man.

    “I don't know...” said the Girl.

    “Why are you here?” asked the Old Man.

    “I don't know...” said the Girl.

    “Where are you from?” asked the Old Man.

    “I... I... don't know,” said the Girl.

    The questions gave the Girl pause. She could feel the answers bubbling under the surface, but they kept escaping her thoughts.

    “What about you?” the girl asked. “Who are you? Why are you here? Where are you from?"

    “I... I don't know, either,” the Old Man replied.

    They laughed at the absurdity of it all.

    [-o-]

    The sun peeked through an opening in the gray rain clouds, straight above, but only for a moment, briefly shining a beam of light on a stone hut. The Girl and the Old Man sat side by side on a wooden bench, silently enjoying each other's company, waiting for the rain to let up. Above them, a extension of the roof shielded them from the rain. The Girl, still dripping wet, had been pondering the Old Man's questions for a while...

    “I think I'm waiting for someone,” said the Girl.

    “Waiting for who?” asked the Old Man.

    “A friend,” she replied. “He's asleep, but he's going to wake up soon. I'll see him again; I just have to wait.”

    The Old Man said nothing, having already forgotten the conversation.

    “What is that?” asked the Girl.

    “What is what?” asked the old man.

    The Girl pointed at a plant by Luke's feet, growing out of a gap in the rocky ground. Its petals were shut tight.

    “Oh. A Moon Poppy,” replied the Old Man.

    “Why do you call it that?” asked the Girl, her curiosity beginning to animate her, chasing away her stupor.

    “...Because it only blooms in the moonlight,” the Old Man remembered, as the sun peeked out of the clouds again, warming his bones.

    The Girl stood, and gazed upon the field that the hut overlooked. Hundreds — no, thousands! — of these closed Moon Poppies had been planted upon it, and she left the Old Man to indulge her curiosity some more. Surely, one of these flowers had bloomed early...

    She found herself in the middle of the field, her mind not recalling the steps she had taken to get there. She looked down upon a Moon Poppy, and knelt to examine it further. She picked it from the ground, then rolled the petals between her fingers, gently.

    The magic flowed through her, and the Moon Poppy's petals bloomed, exposing themselves to the rays of the sun; their colour went from white to a dark shade of purple, shifting into violet at the tips.

    A vision flashed in the Girl's mind: a witch, an hearth, a fire...

    A present, thought the girl. A present for someone dear to me.

    The Old Man looked on as the Girl spent hours picking Moon Poppies, turning them purple with her fingers. Before long, a whole bouquet had formed in the Girl's hand, her mind not recalling how she got so many so quickly. She just wanted one more. There was always one more... and then she found the last one, the important one...

    For that most special of all flowers was a gift. The petals morphed into a brighter shade of purple than the rest, and opened, revealing a ball of fluff, black and purple: a sleeping zebra spider. Disturbed by the rays of the sun, it woke, opened its big glassy eyes, and shook off its drowsiness.

    She recalled seeing it before, vaguely... was it from a dream? No matter... “Oh, you poor thing,” she said to it, cupping it in her left hand. The insect winced from the harsh rays of light. The gap in the clouds was wide, and not going anywhere any time soon, so she shielded the arachnid from its harsh rays with her free hand. “Were you trapped in there?” she asked.

    The Spider nodded.

    “You can understand me!” the girl exclaimed, joyously. “Can you talk?”

    The Spider shook its head from side to side, eyes shut.

    “Oh, that's a shame,” said the Girl. “Are you alone?”

    The insect shook its head again, more quickly this time, and pointed one of its stubby little forelimbs at the Girl. I am not alone, she imagined it saying. I am with you.

    “Would you like to come with me?”

    Happily, the Spider leapt out from her palm, and caught onto one of the Girl's dark locks. He climbed up, and hid between the strands of her hair, making a home out of her mane.

    The Girl gathered up all her flowers from the ground, and held them firmly into a bouquet. Quickly, the Spider moved across the Girl's arms towards the bouquet, and wrapped strand after strand of spider's silk around the flower stems, binding them together.

    “Thank you,” said the Girl, happy to have made a new friend.

    [-o-]

    At a campfire near the great machine, the Girl waited, and waited, and waited... but the one she was waiting for, always, had yet to come. But she was not alone in her vigil: the Old Man was there, across from her on a rock. He saw her, and the Wookiee sitting next to her, and greeted them as friendly strangers. They smiled at him back. Quietly, they share a meal of grilled fish, courtesy of the Old Man.

    The meal done, they sat in silence, the Old Man meditating on the flames, the Wookiee curiously examining a crossbow that felt both familiar and foreign to him... The Girl, meanwhile was admiring the bouquet of Purple Poppies on her lap. The Spider appeared from her hair, and crawls to the back of her ear. Its eyes glowed a bright purple, but only for a moment.

    A familiar voice, soft and motherly and magical, whispered in her ear... “Remember...”

    Inspiration struck the Girl, and she picked a small branch to trace something in the campfire's ash. At first it was all curls and waves, but eventually she traced something almost perfect in its symmetry.

    An eye under a soaring flaming bird.

    The Moon Poppies across the island bloomed, and before long the Old Man and the Wookiee let themselves fall asleep slumping forward. The girl was the last to succumb, only resisting long enough to allow herself the luxury of laying down on the ground. Her eyes fluttered, and closed.

    This will be the last night they spend on Ahch-To.

    [-o-]

    Tonight,” someone giggled in the dark, “our feast begins!”

    Tonight,” someone said in the dark, “the ritual continues...”

    Tonight,” someone warned, croaking in the dark, “our exile ends...”

    [-o-]

    The Girl sensed something, and woke up. It was still dark, and both the Wookiee and the Old Man were still sleeping. Snoring, even.

    Suddenly, she heard a voice, at once rough like gravel and yet as comforting as a lullaby...

    “Rey...” she heard a disembodied voice say. It was as rough as gravel, as comfortable as a lullaby, and as familiar as a half-remembered dream. She rose from her sleeping spot to see the source of the voice, and her eyes slowly widened with joy as she beheld a tall man's silhouette past the campfire's flames. His face was shadow, but his aura was a wondrous bright light.

    It was her Father! He had returned to her at last!

    “Come to me, my child...” he said, reaching out, beckoning her to approach.

    The Girl, still on her knees, noticed something on the ground, in front of her: the Bouquet. A present for someone dear to me. She grasped it in her hands, got up, and took her first steps towards a long awaited reunion...

    “This is for you..." she said. "For your return. I picked these for you, Just like...” The Girl began to remember. “...Like I always did...”

    Come to me, follow me...” the Father said, paying no heed to the Girl's gift.

    “Just like mama and I always did, for when you returned home...”

    “Come.” Gone was the warmth, replaced with impatience.

    “Don't you want these?” she pleaded.

    “No. Follow.”

    “But they're for you...”

    Rey approached the Father, but he recoiled. Dazed, she reached out, and held the flowers over the flames with both hands, like an offering to a pagan god. As she did so, the Spider peeked out of her mane and, knowing that it was time to act, crawled over her right arm.

    “PUT THESE AWAY,” The father commanded, his voice deep and menacing. “NOW!”

    “...They've always been for you, always... always...”

    The Spider produced two short, blunted fangs from its mandibles, and with all its might, bit into the Girl's hand.

    “Ah...!” The Girl's grip loosened, and the flowers fall....

    “NOOOOO!” The father screamed, as purple flames erupt skyward. Then came a flash of eldritch colours as a cloud of smoke burst from the campfire, and the signs the Girl traced all around it glowed with the same energy as the blaze. The Father faded away, devoured by bright embers that swarmed all over the area. Butterflies of glowing smoke streamed out, their hearts blazing a violet as they found their way into the nostrils of the Old man, the Wookiee and the Girl. The two sleepers woke as they convulse, and wrestle with their own bodies long enough to get up, only to fall on their knees and retch until they spew out a foul pale green liquid onto the ground. The Girl joined them in discharging the foul liquid from their bodies,

    Such was the Crone's Milk. This is what had made them docile, and clouded their memories, and now that it had been expelled from their bodies they were sane once more, and remembered who they were.

    Lightning split the night sky, and thunder soon followed behind it. Dark clouds gathered overhead, obscuring the light of the moons, and rain began to pour, but the flames held fast.

    More butterflies emerge, a swarm of smoke and purple embers spiraling outward from the campfire, revealing something invisible in the dark. A figure appears behind Luke, the glamour that shielded them from suspicious eyes dispelled by Magicks. The figure was a pile of black tattered rags that seemed to float underwater. Its limbs, of which there were many, were bare, wrinkled, veined, and far too long. Rey could only barely make out three faces within the tattered shadow: ugly, warped visages that were obscured in spite of the campfire's light, but the glow of the flames reflected within their irises was clear, along with the glint upon their teeth.

    The shadowy figure split in three, surrounding the group.

    These three creatures, these Crones, were once called the Three Sorceresses of Ssi-Ruuk, the priestesses of an elder God. Now, warped throughout a millennium by something far more ancient and alien, they were the Sirens of Ahch-To.

    Chewbacca roared, and attempted to shoot the smaller Siren right between the eyes. The bolt was inches from finding its mark, before the crone suddenly became as air, vanishing for a moment, letting the energized bolt pass through the haze of warped air. She reappeared right in front of the Wookiee, grinning madly at him, paralyzing him with fright.

    Before he could shoot again, he felt something grab him from behind by the bandolier. The larger Crone hoisted him up with one hand, and tossed him like a rag doll. As he arced across the night sky, Chewbacca roared with impotent rage as he disappeared into the night. The smaller Crone giggled.

    “CHEWIE!” Luke yelled, finally remembering his old companion.

    “The girl has the Gift...” the largest Siren croaked. “She can resist us...”

    “The power in her blood!” hissed the smaller Siren. “So bright! So bright!”

    The third Siren produced a staff of black glass from her tattered cloak, and spoke with the authority of a leader: “Then we finish with the old man.”

    “Like hell!” Luke, using the Force, attempted to push the Siren leader away, but with a wave of her hand, the telekinetic blast was diverted away into a nearby boulder. As it broke apart, the larger Siren grabbed Luke by the arms and held him in place. Luke struggled to free himself from her grasp, but alas, years of Entechment have left his body far too weak to pull free.

    “Let me go!” he growled, helpless to stop the leader from merging with her sister, forming a single being, utterly trapping Luke in a prison of shadows...

    “Get away from him!” Rey screamed, terrified at the idea that Luke's life would end as food for these creatures.

    The leader's head turned to her, and glared hatefully at her.

    “Sister!” hissed the smaller Siren. “Let me play with the girl! Let me break her before you feed her to the dark crystal!"

    “...Do not be long,” said the leader, and together with her elder sister, vanished into the night with their prize as Luke's screams faded in the distance. The rain extinguished the campfire's flames, quelling the light, leaving Rey all alone in the dark against an ancient horror.

    “The shadows unfurl, plaything!” the younger Siren screeched, her cadence a song. “Now you are Nona's new pet, Nona's new toy! And now Nona wants to play-play!"

    As Nona the Younger approached, Rey's eyes frantically search for the creature, a shadow in the night. Her hands, meanwhile search her sides for her satchel, with the lightsaber inside... but it wasn't there.

    Nona giggled, and her bony hands reached into her floating rags... there was glint in the dark, and the sound of something meaty and bony... opening .

    “Looking for this?” taunted Nona, as the lightsaber's blade ignited with that familiar snap-hiss, its pale light illuminating the creature's visage: It was smooth, like a doll's, but framed by an infestation of coral and cracks, barnacles and wrinkles. Its jaw had split open, revealing a prehensile tongue as long as her thin, elongated arms. It was thick, glistening with saliva, and its tip wrapped around the hilt.

    How Nona could speak clearly with her tongue out like that, Rey could only assume it had to do with the two slits on the side of Nona's tongue, which quivered and opened, briefly revealing teeth .

    Rey's eyes widened in terror and disgust, while Nona's double eyelids flickered over almond-shaped pools of darkness.

    Nona quickened again, and reappeared in front of Rey, then behind her, then besides her, before taking a wide swipe with the stolen lightsaber, her tongue extending to reach the young woman's legs

    Rey rolled out of the way, but it was obvious she's only being toyed with. Once the Siren got bored, she would finish things quickly, and Rey would no doubt lose a limb, if not her life.

    The cackling crone quickened in and out of the dark, taking more swipes at Rey, herding her towards the Falcon. She relented, giving the girl time to enter the ship, where she would be trapped, all the better to terrorize her.

    [-o-]

    Rey climbed into the Falcon, and desperately mashed the close button by the entrance, making the Falcon's ramp rise. It was inches from closing shut before Nona, with a strength that could only come from magicks, pulled the ramp down, making the hydraulics groan in protest.

    The Siren's eyes peered over the edge of the ramp, narrow with sadistic mirth. Once she got in, Rey would be trapped inside the Falcon with her...

    “GET BACK!” Rey screamed, as she drew her arm back, channeling the Force into her hand. She reached out, palm opened, and sent an invisible bolt of kinetic energy at the Crone's face, hitting it with the power of a battering ram. Still, Nona held fast, and it took two more blasts before she lets go of the ramp, allowing it to close and lock itself. Rey sighs in relief, feeling safe... and a bit exhausted. Untrained as she was, using the Force was very taxing on her body.

    The feeling of safety disappeared quickly when she heard the Siren knocking against the hull, causing the dim lights to flicker.

    Desperate for a weapon, Rey rushed towards one of the Falcon's cargo bay and searched frantically for anything that might serve as a weapon, tossing aside pieces of useless junk as the Siren attempted to breach her way in.

    Finding nothing that could hurt a monster, she moved on to another area of the ship, where she found R2-D2 with some of his parts spilled out on the floor. She approached him and examined the damage – it wasn't severe, she could fix him.

    “Oh no, please be alright, please be alright...” Rey muttered, her hands moving quickly as they reconnected the astromech's parts with rapid, practiced ease.

    R2-D2's lights blinked, and he came back to life, much to Rey's relief.

    “Whoa, what happened?!” he beeped in binary. “One minute I was cooking Hypermatter, the next...”

    The entire ship rumbled as Nona tried to smash her way in, screeching all the while.

    “Come out, come out, my little plaything!” Nona's sing-song voice resounded across the Falcon's plating. “I am not done playing with you!”

    “What the hell is that?!” R2-D2 beeped frantically, deeply regretting that his Maker saw fit to imbue his processor core with terror.

    “There's a monster outside, trying to get in! I...” Another knock came, fraying Rey's nerves some more. “...I don't know what to do!”

    “Alright, alright!” R2 did his best to sound reassuring, but his beeps could only express so much. “I've got an idea, listen...”

    [-o-]

    Atop the Falcon, the Crone screeched, snarled and cackled as she pounced on the ship. It looked like such a piece of junk, but it proved uncannily resilient to her raw strength. Finally, she decided that enough was enough, and stabbed the lightsaber into the hull.

    Suddenly, the engines came to life, and it looked as though the Falcon was about to take off. Her eyes narrow at the cockpit, now full of lights...

    [-o-]

    The Crone quickens, her face appearing inches from the canopy. She grins upon seeing R2-D2, plugged into the Falcon's computer. The droid, programmed to feel fear, beeps frantically at the sight of the creature.

    “What's this?” the Crone hissed. “The toy-box lives again?”

    Nona smashed her fists against the canopy, breaking the bones in her hands and giggling. In an act of madness, she smashed her own forehead against the solid transparisteel plates, and did no better. R2-D2 watches as her hands mend, and her face snaps back into place.

    R2-D2 had seen a lot of things, but that was just wrong. “REY!” he warbled, loudly. “SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE KARK IS THAT?!”

    The madness went as quickly as it came, and she ignited the saber...

    “REY!” Artoo screeched again, as he gave instructions to the Falcon's power management systems. “HURRY UP! SHE'S CUTTING THROUGH!”

    [-o-]

    Outside, the Falcon's top Quad Laser Cannon came online, and moved, the whirring of its servo motors hidden by the rain...

    Below the gun, inside the gunner's seat, Rey's hands were at the gun's controls. Her face was bathed in the red glow emitted by the gun cam's screen's light, the Siren Sorceress slowly coming into view, the cross hair just a few degrees away from being zero'ed in on her...

    “Easy...” Rey muttered, her voice camouflaged by the rainfall tapping against the transparisteel canopy above. “Easy...”

    [-o-]

    The Siren was almost finished tracing a circle in the cockpit's canopy with the lightsaber.

    Suddenly, the Quad Cannon's servomotors, badly maintained, groan and squeal, alerting the Crone. “What?!” she hissed, whirling around, staring at the split muzzles of the Falcon's guns.

    [-o-]

    The on-screen reticle was centered on the Crone, and Rey pressed both triggers, unleashing a rain of proton bolts upon her target. The Siren screeched in agony as her rags were perforated by bolt after bolt of mass-infused photons, glowing embers bursting at each impact point.

    Nona fell, and vanished beneath the Falcon.

    [-o-]

    “Is she dead?” Rey muttered. Then, raising her voice: “R2? R2, is she dead?!”

    R2-D2 peered out of the cockpit canopy with his periscope, but could not see the Crone's body anywhere.

    “I don't know!” he replied out loud, his beeps frantic. “I can't see it!"

    “Nobody could have survived that,” muttered Rey, peering in the dark beyond the canopy. Just as she let out a sigh of relief, lighting arced across the sky, framing Nona's silhouette as it loomed above Rey. Her face contorted with hate, she stared down at the canopy and let out a snarl of frustration as she grabbed the Quad Laser Cannon by one of its barrels, ripping it out of its mount. Its power cables stretched and snapped, spitting sparks. She smashed the Transparisteel gunport with the heavy gun, showering Rey with shards of transparent metal. Rey screamed as the Crone grabbed her with her other hand, extracting the poor girl from the safety of the Falcon before tossing her to the ground.

    Rey landed and rolled on the ground, sparing her broken bones, but the wind was definitely knocked out of her. Stunned, Rey was unable to get away from the Crone as the creature leapt, landing on top of her. Pale, long fingers coil tightly around Rey's upper arms, pining her in place. The Crone's tongue writhed and stretched, lightsaber at the tip. The meaty openings at the side of the pink appendage vibrated, spewing out noises:

    “You're no fun any more! I'll cut off your feet, and then my sisters and I will gorge ourselves on what's left of your power!”

    The tongue extended, stabbing the lightsaber into the ground, right by Rey's ankles. Rey panicked, frantically kicking at the tongue to keep the beam away from her flesh and bone. The tongue wrapped itself around Rey's right leg, and the CRONE giggled as she placed the blade but a centimeter away from Rey's ankle, the heat almost scalding her skin.

    Suddenly, there was a loud bang, just before a cluster of bowcaster flechettes ripped through the Crone's hardened flesh. Nona screamed, more annoyed than in pain.

    “WHO DARES?!” she screamed, outraged, turning to see her attacker: It was Chewbacca, very much alive and not happy at all about being casually tossed into the water.

    “NOBODY! TOSSES! A WOOKIE!” Chewbacca's roars were punctuated by Bowcaster fire, each shot stripping bloodless chunks of flesh from the Crone's body. The wounds, unfortunately, mended too quickly for her to die. Still, it definitely hurt the Crone, and Nona loosened her grip on Rey, her attention now focused on the Wookiee. She quickened all around him, evading his shots, until she was poised to stab him through the heart...

    Little did Nona know, the Spider was also poised to end her. Having leapt onto her while she had pinned Rey to the ground, the arachnid crawled towards the Crone's prehensile tongue. Before leaping from the top of Crone's head, the arachnid deployed its fangs, now much, much pointier than before, and sank them deep into the tongue as it landed on it, injecting a purple venom within the glossy piece of flesh.

    Nona screamed in agony, as her coiled grip on the lightsaber unfurled mid-swing, saving Chewbacca from death.

    To Nona, who had not known suffering in centuries, the pain that surged out of her rapidly blackening veins was unimaginable, as if lava was flowing through them.

    “What is this?!” she cried. “WHAT IS THIS?!” she screamed.

    The lightsaber was spinning in the air, and Rey saw her chance. She reached out to the weapon with the Force, calling it to her. The saber answered, and flew into her hand, ignited and ready to kill. Rey shouted as she charged the CRONE, but the creature responded by Quickening in and out of reach and smacking Rey across the face, sending the scavenger stumbling back, but not knocking her down.

    “ENOUGH!” screamed Nona. “ENOUGH! A POX ON YOU ALL!"

    Through sheer force of will, Nona regained the use of her tongue, lashing it out at Rey, wrapping itself around her ankle.

    “Oh no you don't! Rey swung down, slicing the appendage. The coil of meat unfurled, sloughing away from her ankle and disintegrating into black dust, while the remaining part of the tongue had become a cauterized stump, blue embers glowing upon the wound. The Crone began to panic, and attempted to Quicken away, but something held her in place.

    Again, it was Chewbacca, twisting her right arm and applying as much force and leverage on it as he could to break it in half. He succeeded, and decided that, while he was at it, that the Crone deserved to have her shin kicked in two. The Crone still managed to throw him onto the ground, but it was already too late: Rey was already upon her, saber in both hands, swinging wildly and madly, screaming as she lopped off pieces of black rags and limbs.

    “Just DIE already!” Rey yelled, furious.

    The CRONE was now flat on her back, the fight completely out of her. Still, Rey showed her no mercy.

    “NOOOO! NO, NO NO!!!” Nona cried, knowing that her death was finally at hand. “I was going to live forever! FOREVEEEEER!”

    Rey kept on chopping away. “SHUT UP, JUST SHUT UP!”

    “GIRL! PLAYTHING! CATTLE!” Nona screeched. “I CURSE YOU!”

    “MY NAME...” Rey began to yell, as she raised her weapon above her head, “...IS REY!”

    Rey delivered the coup-de-grâce, stabbing the Crone in the heart. As the blade sank deep in the Crone's chest, the human girl's eyes began to turn into a bright eldritch blue, matching the light of the saber... and the deep light of the Krayt Dragon Pearl inside the weapon. Nona burst into blue flames, and let out an otherworldly wail as she was consumed. Even amidst the whorl of flames, Rey remained unhurt, as they were drawn into the lightsaber's heart through its blade. The flames extinguished themselves once Nona was nothing but ash, leaving Rey free to fall on her knees, at once exhausted in body and yet... revitalized in spirit. She looked over at Chewbacca approaching her, a look of amazement on his face.

    “...Is it over?” beeped R2-D2 from the Falcon's cockpit.

    “There's two more of these things...” said Rey, wearily. She barely had it in her to take out the one. “They still have Luke!”

    Before Chewbacca could say anything, the ground began to rumble, and shake.

    The island cracked all over, and the Falcon suddenly found itself a bit too close to the edge. The ground seemed to get lower, and the sea became higher...

    “The island is sinking!” Chewbacca yelled, helping Rey to get back on her feet. “Get on the Falcon, now!”

    “We can't leave Luke here!” Rey protested.

    “We're no good to him dead or without a ship! Let's GO!”

    [-o-]

    Its crew onboard, the Falcon rose with some difficulty, the damage from the Crone's onslaught having hobbled the ship, though not beyond R2-D2's ability to repair on the fly. The main thrusters roared to life, and the Falcon began a circular flight around the island as the water around it began to be pushed away by an unseen force, revealing the rocks to be not the tip of an underwater mountain, but the top of a stone tower encrusted by sediments and coral.

    Rey, patching the hole in the canopy, is shocked at the sight: “Oh, my stars... this thing was under us this whole time?!”

    The water whirled farther and farther away. Lightning struck the tower, chasing away the dark, and for a split second, the silhouettes of various buildings — temples, homes, shops — could be seen at the foot of the tower.

    Chewbacca was at the controls, while Rey took the co-pilot's seat. They both looked to the right, waiting for the lightning to illuminate the buildings again.

    “A city?” growled Chewbacca.

    “No,' said Rey. “Not a city.”

    [-o-]

    The spires began to rise out of the depths of the sea, and the shape of the city became more apparent: a five-pointed star, its points long and narrow. The shape, kilometers in length, kept rising, and rising, until its barnacle-infested ventral side was well above the sea, dumping sea water back where it belonged through hundreds of openings. Ancient Glossair Rings, engines that pushed against gravity, hummed to life within the depths of the massive stone star as lights all over the buildings blinked awake.

    It was a starship, and its egress was getting faster and faster, matching the Millennium Falcon at its best.

    Such was the ancient city-ship of Firwirrung, forgotten for millenia, now awakened from its slumber.

    Awakened... by the waning life force of Luke Skywalker.

    [-o-]

    Rey exchanged looks with R2-D2, Chewbacca, and the small Spider now sitting on her shoulder. Nothing more needed to be said. They were going in, and nothing would stop them from rescuing The Last of the Jedi.

    Chewbacca pushed the throttle to maximum.

    TO BE CONTINUED




    PREVIEW FOR SIRENS OF AHCH-TO, PART 2



    The beautiful blue curve of Ahch-to, aglow with the light of the sun, became slowly obscured by the pronged shadow of a ship's prow. The sleek craft, a modified MandalMotors Beskad Heavy Corvette, armed to the teeth with heavy blaster cannons and quad laser turrets, was just coming into the planet's orbit. It was flanked by sixteen G1-M4-C Dunelizard fighters and four M22 Gunships, all Hyperspace capable craft, and they had all been gathered for one purpose:

    Kill Han Solo.

    An audible, echoing ping could be heard in spite of the airless void of space. The Source? The Corvette's sensors, scanning for Han's ship.

    Across the Corvette's side these words were painted in Aurebesh:

    RED REAVER

    And printed below that, was the logo of the Guavian Death Gang.

    [-o-]

    The Red Reaver's bridge was small, but impeccable, and efficiently configured for the Cyborgs of Guavian Death Gang to make full use of its machines.

    A man in a long dark coat stood a the center, overlooking a crew of red-clad cyborgs, his face illuminated from below by the lights under the grille that served as the bridge's floor. Hundreds of holo-screens flickered in the gloom, overseen by augmented crewmen connected to the ship via high-bandwidth cables. The man, Bala-Tik, was a human from Dachaigh, pale and thin, his slight build and pallor hiding a panoply of cybernetics, the latest from the Corporate Sector. Primarily optimized for negotiations, Bala-Tik's augmentations still gave him an edge in combat, should said negotiations turn aggressive. They did more often than not.

    He began pacing about, eager for something: payback. Payback against Han Solo, who had left him to be devoured by hungry Rathars.

    The fact that Bala-Tik had every intention of killing the Old Scoundrel didn't factor in, of course.

    Gathering a crew to hunt the old man down had cost him a lot of favours built over a decade of working for the Gang, but he figured it was worth it to kill a former Rebel war hero. The message would be clear: nobody karked with the Guavians.

    The Reaver's sensor operator, a cyborg with a heavy metal visor, spoke with a metallic, flanging voice.

    “We've got a response to the sensor ping,” he said. “It's the tracking beacon.”

    Bala-Tik smiled. Finally . They had been chasing that beacon for days. “Unkar was true to his word. Show me.”

    The computer-generated image of Ahch-To appeared on the bridge's main screen. The planet spun to its night side, and the screen zoomed in on the planet until the damaged Millennium Falcon fully came into view.

    “There you are, you burnt-out old has-been,” he muttered to himself. Then, he asked: “What are they chasing?”

    The screen zoomed out, and shifted towards the huge, five-pointed star shape of a enormous flying city. The screen's HUD displayed sensor readouts: size, mass, speed, energy... It was all gibberish to Bala-Tik. His forte was violence.

    The sensor operator translated: “Starship, Class 5. Scans show a carbon-date of at least 2500 standard years. Building on surface suggests habitat - estimated population capacity 295,000 sapients. Lifesign scans... inconclusive, but numerous.”

    Bala-Tik smirked “ ...I take it back, looks like the old man had been hunting for treasure all along... And look at the prize he's got. Too bad we're about to take it from him.” Bala-Tik turned to his comms officer. “I want all fighters to intercept the Falcon and shoot it to pieces, the Gunships—“

    An alarm blinked on the Sensor Operator's console. “Quantum waveforms detected. We have incoming.”

    “What?!” Bala-Tik's shock was understandable: nobody else should be here... “Who?!”

    [-o-]

    A Star-Galleon frigate burst out of hyperspace, with its eclectic escort of Scyk Fighters, Quadjumpers, Z-95 Headhunters, and Kihraxz starfighters. The Frigate had been modified for piracy, but it was in an obvious state of disrepair. Corrosion and metal patches marred its hull, and its escort matched it in their ramshackle state. They did, however, outnumber the Guavian squadron 3 to 1. This posse had been put together for one purpose.

    To Kill Han Solo.

    The name of the Star Galleon had been scoured across the hull with a plasma drive in Huttese:

    LEYAK.

    And painted below that, was the sigil of Kanjiklub, an alliance of space pirates from the Pacanth Reach.

    [-o-]

    The inside of the Leyak's bridge looked as bad as the outside, but the bunch of brigands and thugs that manned its posts made the most of it.

    Sitting on the captain's chair, hunched over the side with his head propped up by his arm, was the captain of the Leyak, A short, thin human man from Nar Kanji, he was clad in the traditional leathers of his homeworld. His beard and mustache were thin, his hair was black, and his skin had been tanned by Nar Kanji's harsh sun and — thanks to Han Solo — cured in the digestive acids of a Rathar and then watered-down bacta.

    Such was Tasu Leech, and he had seen better days.

    Standing by his side was his lieutenant, Razoo Qin-Fee. A younger man not much taller than Tasu, Razoo's black hair had been styled after a Zygerrian style — temples shaved, sides raised, middle slicked back — and had dressed in a less traditional style: worn maroon leather jacket, pants, and vambraces, decorated with a leather waist sash and equipped with two criss-crossing black bandoliers and a small belt pack.

    Razoo liked to keep improvised incendiary grenades on his person at all times. One never knew when one had to burn something to ash, after all.

    In front of them, a flickering holographic pit displayed the Millennium Falcon, and the massive city-ship it was chasing.

    Tasu leaned forward and grinned. “I KNEW the old scoundrel was up to something!” said Tasu, in Huttese. “Look at this, just look at this! The ship alone must be worth billions in Credits! RAZOO! Alert the boys! We're going to take that prize from Han Solo's cold dead hands!”

    Tasu, we're not equipped to capture a Dreadnought!” Razoo protested in the same tongue. "Not with a squadron of Guavians on our backs! We should back off, and—“

    Tasu grabbed Razoo by the collar and pulled him close. “LISTEN to me,” he snarled. “I will chase Solo from Malachor to the deep end of the MAW before I even think about backing off! FORGET leading the boys! Get to your fighter! I want you to land the kill shot on the Falcon yourself!”

    Tasu let Razoo go, and dismissed him with a gesture. “All hands,” Tasu bellowed, “prepare for battle! All ships, full burn towards that flying city!”

    Razoo left the bridge, and went to the hangar to prep his ship. “ I have a bad feeling about this ...” He had had that same feeling before boarding the Eravana, and that blue milk run had turned real sour.

    [-o-]

    The Kanjiklub ships' engines spewed plasma as their outputs were pushed past their safety limits, and they overtook the Guavian vessels.

    [-o-]

    On the Red Reaver's bridge, Bala-Tik saw the Kanjiklubers headed straight for the prize, his prize.

    “ALL SHIPS!” he screamed. “INTERCEPT THOSE KANJIKLUB GOONS! DON'T LET THEM GET TO THE PRIZE!”

    [-o-]

    Out in space, the Guavian ships accelerated towards Ahch-To, their crews ignorant of the horror that awaited them on the Firwirrung...
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2020
  3. IgnusDei

    IgnusDei Jedi Padawan

    Registered:
    Oct 22, 2019
    https://archiveofourown.org/works/22366432/chapters/53435005

    STAR WARS
    THE KNIGHTS OF REN

    EPISODE 3: THE SIRENS OF AHCH-TO, PART 2:
    THE UNDERCITY


    "It's called the dark side of the Force because it's secretive. That's all."

    -Lona Aphra



    Amidst the furious exchange of lightning between the storm clouds, the Millennium Falcon's engines roared as its pilot — Chewbacca — pushed its engines and verniers to the limit, evading ion bolts and blaster fire. from Guavian Death Gang starfighters. The shots barely grazed the Falcon's shields, but it was only a matter of time before the damage would build up to bring them down, and once the ion shots started hitting the hull, the Falcon would crash in the water. The Falcon rose, then leveled out, exposing its ventral side to its pursuers and putting them in the bottom Quad Laser Cannon's firing arc. Bursts of photons streamed out of the weapon, scoring a few hits against the Guavian's Dunelizards, causing them to disperse.

    Inside the Falcon, the gunner's chair swiveled around as Rey raked the flight of Dunelizards with photon bolts before focusing on a single target. She managed to get a few good hits on one of them, but it wasn't enough to down it on account of its upgraded shields.

    “Finn made it look so easy...” Rey muttered to herself. Then, out loud and into her headset's microphone, “They've got shields!”

    Chewbacca, in the pilot's chair, heard Rey over the ship's intercom. He growled as the Falcon rumbled, and something burst into sparks behind him.

    “They're too tough!” exclaimed Rey. “I can't kill them fast enough!”

    “Just focus on scaring them away,” Chewbacca roared back in Shyriiwook. “We're almost there! R2! How much longer?"

    In the Falcon's engine room, R2-D2's many tools frantically moved over a piece of machinery as he's smothered by clouds of coolant.

    “I'm almost done!” R2-D2 beeped in binary. “Just give me one more minute!”

    Outside, clouds parted ahead of the Falcon, revealing the Red Reaver and the Leyak, and Firwirrung some distance in front of them. They hovered in the sky, trading turbolaser fire as their squadrons of fighters dogfight with one another, supported by their capital ship's own point defense blasters. Some of the Kanjiklub fighters, including a custom-painted, heavily modified Kihraxz Starfighter, broke off from the battle and went after the Falcon. There's at least 8 of them.

    “Oh, come on, really?” Chewbacca almost yelled. “We've got incoming Kanjiklubbers! Eight of them!”

    “That's too many!” Rey protested.

    “Relax,” said Chewbacca. “I've got just the thing that will even the odds.”

    Chewbacca opened up a panel on his console, revealing a set of switches and buttons. He pulled one of the switches, activating a secret hull plate between the Falcon's mandibles that slid open, revealing a rack of Assault Concussion Missiles. A holographic HUD appeared in front of the Wookiee, and bright orange crosshairs lined up with one of the fighters in the middle of the formation: a Quadjumper. The targeting computer let out a tone to confirm lock, and Chewbacca wasted no time in pushing the big red button on the console with the word LAUNCH written on it with permanent marker.

    “Happy Life Day!” whooped Chewbacca. “Enjoy your present!”

    One of the Assault Missiles, packed with shrapnel, flew out of the Falcon's missile rack, trailing orange plasma. The Kanjiklub Quadjumper attempted to evade, but was hit right in the cockpit, obliterating it. The explosion's shockwave, augmented by shards of hot titanium and chunks of shrapnel, caught six other Kanjiklub fighters, destroying three of them and severely damaging the rest, leaving them easy pickings for Rey's Quad Laser as the Falcon streaked past the Kanjiklubbers' broken formation. Only the Custom Kihraxz survived both the explosion and the onslaught of blaster fire.

    “One! Two! THREE!” shouted Rey, counting her kills. “I got three of them!”

    “Don't get cocky!” warned Chewbacca. “We still have a Kanjiklubber on our tail!”

    “I'll get him, too!”

    Rey lined up the Custom Kihraxz on her scope, and opened fire... only for it to perform a barrel roll around her shots. Rey can only graze its shields.

    “Ooor maybe not,” Rey muttered nervously. “This guy's good; who is he?”

    Inside the Kihraxz's cockpit, Razoo Qin-Fee snarled as his shield display blinked red and turned blue, registering a hit.

    “You're gonna pay for that, Solo...” he growled.

    He pitched up to get a better shot at the Falcon's dorsal hull, but Chewbacca rolled to keep him on the customized transport's narrow profile... not that it mattered, as Razoo switched from the Kihraxz's blasters to its Ion Missile launchers. The brigand maintained the Falcon in his holographic sights, almost getting a lock... before the entire cockpit shook. Razoo's shield display blinked red, and was now a constant orange.

    “The hell?!” He screamed. He had not kept an eye on his sensor display: the rear quadrant had a lot of red dots on it.

    Said dots belonged to the Dunelizards that were also chasing the Falcon, and they had decided to throw some of their firepower Razoo's way, forcing him to disengage from the Falcon to defend himself. Switching from his Ion missiles to his Heavy Lasers Cannons, he made the Guavians pay for their attempt on his life, taking out one of the Dunelizards with a lucky shot to the cockpit.

    But the Falcon was not out of trouble - the two warships were keeping pace with it, and Chewbacca could see the Star Galleon opening its tractor beam array...

    Inside the Falcon's engine room, a final spark blew out as R2-D2 finished soldering the connection between two parts – one stock, the other almost alien in its complexity.

    “SLAM is ready to go!” the droid transmitted.

    “About time!” Chewbacca growled over the intercom. “Alright then, hang on!”

    “Wait!” Rey shouted from the gunner's pit. Something was wrong with the guns: on the turret controls, four orange capacitor displays slowly dimmed into nothing. “What's SLAM?!"

    Back in the engine room, the machine R2-D2 was working on began to glow yellow as the old droid clamped itself down, securing itself for what was to come.

    “Alright, HANG ON!” Chewbacca flipped up another panel, this one hiding a bigger, redder button with the word SLAM printed on it.

    “...Guys?” Rey was getting worried. “Seriously, what's SLAM?”

    Without reply, Chewbacca slammed the SLAM button, activating the Falcon's SubLight Acceleration Motor. The Falcon's inertial dampeners failed for a second, a second during which he could feel himself being pushed back into his seat as the ship screamed plasma out of its array of thrusters. He checked the speed readouts on the dashboard: A ludicrous 300 Megalights!

    Rey shrieked in the background as the Falcon streaked towards the Leyak, loosing several missiles just as the Kanjiklub ship attempted to pull in the modified transport with its tractor beams. There had been no tone lock - the missiles had been dumbfired, and were being pulled by the beams, tripling their acceleration as they were guided straight into the tractor array.

    The resulting impact obliterated the tractors, denying the Leyak its prize...

    Chewbacca made a hard turn back towards the flying city, grazing the modified Star Galleon with the YT-1300's shields, leaving behind sparks in the air and scorch marks on the enemy warship's hull.

    Chewbacca laughed and laughed – he hadn't pushed the old girl like this in almost a decade!

    [-o-]


    On the Leyak's bridge, Tasu Leech was trembling with rage, trying to maintain a veneer of calm so that his men didn't lose theirs. Seeing Han's ship on the main viewscreen, leaving them to eat its exhaust was making that VERY difficult.

    Alarm lights flashed red.

    “We've lost our starboard tractor beams!” shouted a crewman. “Damage reported across deck three, four and five! Casualties—“

    Tasu slammed his fist over his armrest. “I don't care!” he snarled. “Full speed ahead! GUNNERY! Do you have a lock?!”

    “We have lock!” shouted the gunnery officer back.

    “THEN FIRE EVERYTHING!” Tasu screamed. Han Solo would not get away – not this time!


    [-o-]


    Panels on each side of the Leyak opened up to reveal missile racks packed with Homing Missiles. They swarmed out out like a school of fish, trailing smoke as they raced towards the Falcon, trying and failing to keep up with it as it flew towards the Firwirrung. The Falcon almost made it, but suddenly its engines begin to stutter and cough.

    Inside the engine room, R2-D2's built-in fire extinguisher sprayed out foam all over the SLAM unit, choking out its flames.

    “The SLAM unit's fried!” he beeped loudly.

    Back in the cockpit, Chewbacca watched as thirty blips on the sensor display begin to approach. Quickly, he pressed a button, making the Falcon release sixty flares in an attempt to trick the homing missiles' guidance systems. Half of them veered off, chasing bright lights and smoke instead of their intended target. The other fifteen missiles continued the chase, slowly gaining on the Falcon as it reached Firwirrung.

    “I still haven't got power back to the guns!” Rey shouted into her headset. “I can't shoot those missiles down!”

    "That's alright." Chewbacca popped his neck and readied himself for something, something Han Solo had pulled off a long, long time ago. “Let me show you what I've learned from the Corellian Kid.”

    Chewbacca grasped the controls firmly, and took the Falcon into the city atop the flying stone star, making the craft weave across Gothic towers and spires of dark green stone. The missiles followed the same course, doggedly... but not perfectly.

    One by one they impacted against the walls of Firwirrung's ancient buildings, until none remained save one. That one was inches from the Falcon's thrusters, until Chewbacca pulled off a barrel roll that confused its tracking, and before it can reacquire its target, it smashed itself against a tower's bell. The toll rang out across the city as Chewbacca let out a roar of victory. He was joined by R2-D2's whistles and beeps and Rey's cheers over the intercom.

    They were quickly drowned out by the alarm on the sensor screen.


    [-o-]


    Surging out from behind a tower, engines screaming, Razoo's star fighter turned to face the Falcon.

    “You're mine,” Razoo growled as he pressed the trigger on his flight stick, unleashing a barrage of blaster fire from his twin linked heavy cannons. Large bolts of energy hammered against the Falcon's shields, bringing them down. Razoo smirked: Han Solo was as good as dead...

    Thoughts of imminent victory were quickly ruined by his HUD's heat gauge blinking. The guns fired one last shot, but it would take precious seconds before they could fire again.


    [-o-]


    In the Falcon's cockpit, the shield's meter on Chewbacca's dashboard blinked red as the Falcon reeled from the blast. In the gunner pit, Rey tracked the Kihraxz with the Quad Laser, but the capacitor gauges were still empty.

    “R2!” she yelled, frustrated, constantly mashing the triggers. She didn't have Finn's trigger discipline. “He's coming around for another attack!”

    “Working on it!” R2 responded.

    “Hurry up!”

    “I can give you four shots!” As he said this, the four gauges lit up, and they each only had one glowing red pip on them. “Make them count!”

    Rey lined up a shot, and fired.

    It went wide.

    “Blast!” she cursed.

    Another shot, and this time the Kihraxz performed a twist that threw her off, causing her to hit a building instead.

    “Come on...” she muttered, grinding her teeth.

    The Kihraxz steadied its course, baiting her to take another shot. Rey did so, just as the enemy pilot juked around it. Another miss.

    “Come on!”

    Unwisely, Rey fired again... or she would have, if her finger hadn't just stopped just a millimeter short of pulling the trigger.

    Breathe...” she heard a voice tell her.

    “...Luke?” muttered Rey. She did not hear Chewbacca's confused reply.

    Calm yourself. Close your eyes. Focus.”

    Against all sense, Rey did what the voice in her head told her to do, taking the extra step of shutting down the targeting screen on the Turret control. She breathed deeply, slowly, closed her eyes, and...

    ...And she was at once outside the Falcon, and within it, and aware of all things outside of it. She focused on the Kihraxz – and its pilot. He was like a coiled snake, ready to strike at the slightest provocation... or slither out of reach.

    No, that wasn't right. He was... Rey couldn't find the word for what he was, but there was a rhythm to what he did. It was brutal and fast, but there was a pattern to his flying, and once Rey got a sense for it...


    Rey took another deep breath – she was focused, and calm.

    [-o-]

    Razoo's eyes were narrowed in cold anger, focused on his crosshairs as he lined up the kill shot...

    [-o-]


    The photon bolt was unleashed from the gun. The shot, aimed at where the craft should be, flew out to meet the craft, and sunk itself deep into one of its engines.

    Rey breathed a sigh of relief. “Four!”

    [-o-]


    Screaming in rage over the alarms, Razoo wrestled with the controls to tame his out of control fighter... he succeeded, just long enough to aim its nose at the Falcon again, to take one spiteful shot at it.

    “DIE, HAN!” he yelled.

    The heavy blaster bolt hit the Falcon right in the thruster array.

    Razoo smiled – he had done it, and it was time to bail. He pulled the ejection lever.

    The Kihraxz's cockpit erupted as its pilot ejected, his seat soaring high before a chute deployed and he was caught by the winds. The fighter flattened itself against a building before erupting into a pillar of flame.

    Razoo did not mind this one bit, not while he could see the Falcon struggling to maintain its altitude while engines sputtered, smoke and fire streaming from the blaster hole.

    [-o-]


    “Come on, old girl!” said Chewbacca to his beloved ship. She protested through the HUD, relaying that the shot that got into the engine had managed to penetrate deep into a liquid pump, the one that fed the repulsorlifts their coolant. They were starting to overheat, and when they would inevitably shut down, the Falcon would be little more than a brick with thrusters. “Hold it together,” he begged the Falcon, “I know you can do it...”

    Almost as soon as Chewbacca thought to flip the craft to expose the hot repulsorlifts to the cooling rain, the Falcon's engines decided it was time to die. Outside, all that could be heard was the wind flowing past the ship as it glided through the air, before its nose began to tip downwards. In the cockpit, Chewbacca pulled a red lever, activating the emergency thrusters. Jets of high-pressure cold gas vented below the ship, but the Falcon was still on its way down.

    “Brace yourselves!” yelled Chewbacca.

    The Falcon glided on, moving past the flying city's spires. It grazed the lightning rod of a clock tower, the walls of a library, narrowly missed the roof of a temple, then finally hit the cobblestones of a main street, sliding and spinning on and on until it was meters away from the edge of one of Firwirrung's six arms.

    Above the Falcon, on the opposite end of the city, the Leyak and the Red Reaver loomed overhead, still trading fire as transports and dropships made their way towards the crashed transport.

    But the sorceresses had other plans, and the criminals did not figure into them. One of Firwirrung's long dormant lightning cannons came to life, and fired a stream of electricity at one of the dropships. The bolts chained to the others in the formation, not quite destroying them, but ensuring they would also crash into the city. Larger weapons woke up, aimed at the Leyak and the Red Reaver, and these cannons loosed tear-shaped projectiles of electricity that blow through the large vessel's hulls.

    The Red Reaver, being the more sleek vessel, was the most damaged, but it launched several escape pods before its reactor core overloaded and obliterated the ship in a conflagration of plasma. The Leyak, meanwhile, did not explode, nor did it launch escape pods; instead, it managed to crash in the middle of the Temple District, kilometers away from the Falcon.

    Thunder and blaster raged for a minute longer, and then quieted, leaving nothing but the rain.

    [-o-]


    Within the depths of Firwirrung, far below the streets and well past the sewers, there were vast interconnected ossuary chambers, the ceilings supported by High Dagonian pillars and arches. Inside each of these chambers were intricately decorated stone pods, arrayed against the walls, caked in centuries of sediment and sea flora.

    A song echoed across the stone of the walls, the bones of the city: a lullaby in an old tongue, sung by a mournful Elder Crone.

    One of the pods hissed, as copper bolts slid out. It opened, ever so slightly.

    Clawed fingers slid out of the gap.

    “It is time to feed...” muttered Aisa, the eldest of the Sorceresses of Ssi-Ruuk.


    [-o-]


    Suspended above the ground by the straps of the gunner's chair, Rey opened her eyes with a start as sparks pop around her. She winced in pain: there was a cut on her forehead, and she could feel a welt on her skull.

    “Oh, my head...”

    She looked ahead – she was facing the transpariteel canopy, cracked and scrapped, and saw nothing but stone floor beyond that. The Falcon's bottom gun, what little she could see of it, was ruined, no doubt crushed and torn into a hundred parts behind the ship.

    At the top of the conduit that led to the rest of the ship, Chewbacca's growls and roars could be heard.

    “Rey?” he whined. “Are you still in one piece?” he growled.

    “Yeah, I'm okay!” replied Rey. “Just a little dizzy, that's all!”

    “Then hurry to the main hold!” His voice grew fainter, along his footfalls. “We haven't got much time!”

    “Alright, alright, just let me...”

    Rey undid her seatbelt, and fell.

    “Oof!”

    [-o-]


    The wall panel popped off after a couple of knocks in the right spots, and Chewbacca moved it away, revealing his private arsenal of firearms, vibroweapons, and other equipment. Her staff in hand, Rey stepped into the cargo hold, and walked up behind the Wookiee, surprised.

    “Stars! What's all this?”

    “Souvenirs from the Clone Wars,” replied Chewbacca, proudly. “And the Thrawn campaign,” he added. That one, he wasn't as proud of.

    “There's a fortune of hardware here!” Rey exclaims. “If Unkar had known...”

    Chewbacca began to equip himself with weapons and equipment from the hidden racks and compartments: A ceramite vest with a personal shield, a large repeater blaster, a sawed-off concussion rifle, a pack of laser trip mines, and a Wookie Vibrosword.

    To Rey, he handed a small comm-link, and an utility belt, upgraded with a fully charged personal shield, a small medkit, and a clip-on flashlight. Chewbacca pointed at the shield's emitter.

    “Personal shield, great against blasters, not so great against slugthrowers and vibroblades. Got it?”

    Rey nodded. “Got it. I could use a blaster though...”

    Chewbacca's hand hovered over several impressive assault rifles and carbines, each one bigger than the last... before subverting Rey's expectations and going for a much smaller K16 Bryar Pistol instead.

    “That's it?” Rey couldn't hide her disappointment at the weapon. It didn't look like much.

    Chewbacca handed it to her, holding it by the leather holster. “The rifles are all too heavy for you,” he stated, gesturing at her thin frame.

    “But...”

    Chewbacca grumbled. “Hey, the Bryar's a good gun: Press and hold the trigger, wait, release it, and the charged shot will punch through several centimeters of armour. This thing has downed AT-STs!”

    “If you say so...”

    Rey grabbed the pistol by the grip, and suddenly, just like the first time she grasped Anakin's lightsaber, the Bryar's history came to her in a vision. Her surroundings twisted into the blackness of her iris, until...


    [-o-]


    ...Until she saw through the eyes of an Elite Rebel Mercenary as he kills his way through the fiery ruins of Tak, a Rebel base taken over by Palpatine's Imperial Stormtroopers.

    Emperor protect us,” screamed one of them. “It's HIM! It's —“

    The stormtrooper barely had time to aim his blaster rifle before the Merc perforates his brain with a shot from his Bryar Pistol, the very same gun Rey is grasping in her hand in the present.

    Moving snapshots flashed across her vision, one for every stormtrooper killed by the weapon, each death causing more and more terror in their living comrades, who would soon join them.

    “It's just one man!" shouted an officer over the base's loudspeaker system. "You outnumber and outgun him! Shoot him!”

    “We ARE shooting him!" screamed a trooper into his helmet's mic. "He just won't DIE!”

    Trooper corpses littered the halls of Tak base, amidst the smoking corpses of the Rebels and refugees they had murdered. The Merc had been creative with his kills, favouring close quarters. When the troopers got very close, the insane, murderous rebel used his vibroknife on them, and he always stabbed somewhere painful before finishing the Imps off.


    No, NO!” The Stormtrooper cried. It did him no good, and he gurgled as the vibroknife was buried into his neck, below the ear, as the Merc shot another trooper in the face. The moving snapshots continued, each one a more brutal stormtrooper's death than the last, until things finally settled down. The slaughter was almost over...

    Rey saw through the Mercenary's eyes as he wiped blood on his knife off on a dead Imperial Officer's jacket. He heard someone whimper, and the Merc turned to see a quaking, kneeling, surrendering stormtrooper, his weapon at his feet in the middle of a growing puddle of urine.


    I surrender! I surrender!” he cried out.

    The Merc approached him... slowly.


    Have mercy, please!” he cried.

    The Merc stopped, and turned his gaze to the left towards the charred corpses of a family. Mother, father, and son. To the right, Rebel soldiers. Survivors. Shot in the back of the head.

    No Mercy given, no mercy granted.

    Suddenly, the Merc grabbed the last stormtrooper by the neck, and pressed the barrel of the Bryar under the stormtrooper's chin, before holding the trigger. The stormtrooper cried frantically until...



    [-o-]


    ...Until the vision bled away, and Rey was back aboard the Falcon, in the present. She stumbled backwards, and put her hand over her mouth, trying to suppress the urge to puke.

    The Bryar was still in her hand.

    “Looks like you've got a concussion,” concluded Chewbacca, after a moment's confusion. He quickly fished out a disposable hypospray from his medkit.

    “No, I'm okay!” the girl shook her head. “It's just...” she stared at the gun. "This weapon... Where did you find it? It's got... it's got a history.”

    “A history for another time,” said Chewbacca, pushing the hypo against her bare arm. “Hold still...”

    There was a beep as Chewbacca injected Rey with a light stim.

    “Ow!”

    [-o-]


    The Falcon's main loading ramp's door opened with the groan of rusty metal, revealing Rey, Chewbacca and R2-D2. The two bipeds jumped down from the ramp onto the rain-slick cobblestone ground of Firwirrung, while the droid fired his thrusters. As he landed, Rey looked up in the darkened sky, watching for the fleet that had pursued them.

    Only a Dunelizard fighter remained, and it would have strafed the Falcon had it not been promptly shot down by a lightning gun. As it crashed into a nearby district, Rey's gaze panned across the city, and she saw pillars of smoke emerging from crash sites, and roaring fuel fires defying the rain. The worst one was straight ahead, where the Leyak had crashed.

    “Oh, my stars...” Rey muttered, before turning to the Wookiee. “Chewie, what's the plan now? If we try to escape...” We'll get fried, she left unsaid.

    “Nothing's changed,” said Chewbacca. “Head for that big tower, save Luke...” He looked at the Falcon... it did not look like it would fly again for a very long time, judging by the damage. “...find a ship with a hyperdrive, and then we get the hell out of here.”

    R2-D2 chirped and beeped. “And, you know, disabling those lightning guns would be a big plus.”

    Chewbacca growled at R2-D2 – he hated the old droid's sass. He switched his Repeater blaster cannon on. “Right,” said Chewie. “Let's go save ourselves a Jedi.”

    The trio began their trek towards the center of the city, striding forward, unaware that, as always, the Porgs were watching...

    [-o-]


    ...And atop the tower at the center of Firwirrung, so did the two Crones, for framed by the translucent curved edges of an orb was the Falcon's trio, as seen through the cursed eyes of the Porgs. The globe was held aloft in the pale, wrinkled, elongated hand of Verthandi the Matron Crone. From the shadows, her elder sister, Aisa the Eldest, spoke, her voice a rasping, wet cough.

    “Poor, poor Nona,” mourned Aisa, lamenting the death of their younger sister. Ssi-Ruuk's blessings had been upon them, and they had lived a very long time together, far more than other Dagonians normally did, and thanks to the traveller's gift they had endured even longer... only for the youngest among them to perish at the hands of some girl, a beast, and a machine. “Poor, poor Nona...” she repeated.

    Verthandi, if she mourned Aisa's loss, did not show it. “Ah, but her death has stoked embers in the girl's blood,” she said, her eyes fixed on the globe. “Aisa, do you feel it? The power in her, awakening...”

    “Stoked by death,” Aisa chided Verthandi. “Aisa's death.”

    “And pain, and blood!” Verthandi smiled. “Go, Aisa! Take your thralls and stoke the flames in her.”

    Aisa probed Verthandi's corrupted face for any ounce of regret, but found none. “As you wish, sister,” she said, as she retreated in the dark, away from the light. Her footfalls were heavy, the sound laced with bass. A splash of water echoed in the dark...

    ...And she was gone, leaving Verthandi alone with Luke Skywalker, floating over the entechment prism that was slowly draining him of strength. Motes of light danced out of its core, as its harvest was wirelessly transfered to the rest of the Firwirrung's ancient machines.

    Luke was beginning to wear thin, and he would not last the night.

    “You don't have to do this,” said Luke, pained.

    Verthandi moved like a shadow, circling around him like a predator toying with a wounded prey.

    “I can help you...” he continued, pleading.

    “But you ARE helping, Je'daii...” Verthandi's voice seemed reassuring, but it was falsely so. “Our city lives again, all thanks to you.”

    “There's a better way...” said Luke. “I can show you...”

    “There is NO other way,” Verthandi denied. “Firwirrung's hunger is deep, and it would have taken the ritual sacrifice of millions for it to fly once more. But the power in your blood is worth that number, and the girl... the girl as twice as much, slumbering in her veins. What other power is there?”

    “The Force,” replied Luke.

    The word angered Verthandi.

    “...it's all around us, you just—AAAARGH!”

    The entechment prism glowed red, and drained Luke's lifeforce more quickly, causing him great agony.

    “The Force?” Verthandi seethed. “The Je'daii spoke of the Force, when they unseated us from our thrones! They sang of the Force, as they destroyed our armies! They chanted of the Force, as it drove them to hunt my people down to the last child! Do you think you can convert me? I, who had to suffer through the Blood War your masters declared on my kin and kind? No... No... it is YOU who will be converted, converted into the FUEL for the resurrection of the Ssi-Ruuk!”

    By Verthandi's will, the draining relented, and Luke gasped, sighing in relief.

    “Fear not...” reassured Verthandi, her tone filled with malice. “I will not kill you just yet. The girl, after all, seems to care about you a great deal...”

    Verthandi approached Luke. Nona had been the curious one, but it was a trait Verthandi had shared with her. “Your daughter?” she probed.

    “...No,” Luke replied.

    “A bride, then?” Verthandi taunted, curiosity making way for cruelty. “A girl groomed, just for you? What would poor, poor Mara say?”

    Luke turned away, disgusted and hurt, and then gathered enough defiance to look Verthandi straight in the eye.

    “Continue with this madness,” he warned, “and she will be your slayer. She has too much of her father in her to give you any mercy.”

    Verthandi laughed, and had the prism make him scream some more.

    [-o-]


    The main street Rey and company had been striding on for ten minutes on curved around into a circle, forming a plaza, and at the center of that circular park stood the Temple of Sii-Ruuk, the central structure of the Temple District of Firwirrung.

    Like all the buildings of in this flying city, the Temple of Sii-Ruuk was an architect's serenade to the High Dagonian Revival period, the walls decorated with bas-reliefs patterned after sea flora and fauna, set off by bronze inlays.

    Despite resembling the Temple greatly, the homes and shops that surrounded it seemed more modern, with some brass machinery stuck on them to aid in the residents' comfort. The dark stone walls were two meters thick at least, marred with green algae, barnacles and coral branches, and they had withstood the test of time for centuries, maybe even millennia.

    Unfortunately, the Temple of Sii-Ruuk had not weathered a Star Galleon crashing into it all that well. The Leyak and the Temple of Sii-Ruuk were now merged together, a mess of broken stone and bent durasteel, lit up by the blazing husks of fuel tanks. R2-D2 thought it was comical, the way the Star Galleon's rear end stuck out of the building's roof.

    Hidden behind some cover, Rey was admiring the sight, while Chewbacca scanned the area with a pair of EV2 Macrobinoculars.

    “What are we waiting for?” whispered Rey. “Luke's in pain... I can feel it.”

    “Deciding if we should go around or power through...” replied Chewbacca, cautious. “There's no telling what we'll face either way.”

    R2-D2's periscope turned to the Wookiee. “Relaaax, I'm pretty sure there isn't a dianoga around...”

    “Shut it, droid!” Chewbacca snarled back, annoyed. Apparently someone had told the droid about one of Chewbacca's personal phobias, and the damned trashcan taunted him with that fact every chance it got. “There are worst things than squids.”

    Rey looked to her left, at one of the dark, foreboding alleys of the district, and gulped. “I vote through; no telling what's waiting in the dark.” She looked at the Leyak's wreck, and shivered. “At least the fires will be warm.”

    Chewbacca turned to R2-D2. “Anything on sensors, droid?”

    R2-D2's periscope spun, scanning the area thoroughly.

    “I've got a few erratic life-signs...” he beeped, lowering his periscope. “Nothing we can't handle.”

    “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGH!”

    The blood-curdling scream made Rey shiver with fright. Blaster fire echoed through the temple, joining a faint chorus of weapons across the city... and then the echo died.

    “On second thought!” Rey said quickly, “maybe the dark alleys won't be so bad?”

    Chewbacca sighed. “No. We're going through, as the crow flies. I'll take point. You stay behind me and keep your eyes peeled for... whatever made that man scream.”

    Grasping her staff out of habit instead of the Bryar sheathed at her hip or the Lightsaber clipped on her belt, Rey followed closely behind Chewbacca as he stepped towards the Temple of Sii-Ruuk, with R2-D2 not far behind them.


    [-o-]


    A circular lock turned, unlocking the double doors of finely-carved metal, allowing them to be pushed apart by Chewbacca and Rey. The doors were huge, easily thrice the size of Chewbacca, and were incredibly heavy. It wasn't much trouble for a Wookiee, but Chewbacca was a bit shocked to see it wasn't impossible for a skinny human woman... even if she was grinding her teeth and her face was tomato-red from the struggle.

    The inside of the Temple was a vast chamber that dominated the entirety of the building, illuminated by the Leyak's fires. It was surrounded by balconies, and topped by a fresco dome on which the rise of a god-fearing civilization — led by a trinity of beautiful, almost divine women — was elaborately painted on. Much of that story, sadly, laid on the floor in pieces of broken stone, thanks to the damage caused by the Leyak. Amazingly, despite the lack of visible pillars and the considerable damage, the ceiling had not completely fallen.

    The floor was no less harmed: a portion of the Leyak's nose was buried under the floor of polished jade chips, close to the central altar. Said altar was surrounded by three statues of the same alien women on the fresco. One was young, another was old, and another was middle-aged.

    The group moved through hundreds of the radially configured biers, on their way towards the door on the opposite end of the Temple. They passed the central Altar, and Rey caught a glimpse of a Kali Ma Dagger made of obsidian, inlaid with gold. Her scavenger's instincts made her reach out for it, eager for a prize, but reality began to distort, much like when she touched Anakin Skywalker's Lightsaber for the first time, or the Mercenary's Bryar pistol.

    Rey looked up, and saw the statue of the middle-aged woman, wielding that same knife in one hand... and what looked like a heart, in the other. She could easily imagine the person the heart belonged to, screaming in agony...

    Or maybe she wasn't imagining. Maybe she was recalling.

    Wisely, Rey backed away from the altar, and hurried back to Chewbacca.

    They arrived at the double doors, and Chewbacca attempted to turn its lock... but failed to even make it budge. On the other side of the door was the accumulation of close to a thousand years of sediment, on which coral and barnacles have thrived. The lock was held fast by it, and even Chewbacca's strength was not enough to make it move.

    “Locked!” Chewbacca roared. “Blast it!"

    “Nope, stuck. Sensors show a major buildup of ceramic and rock behind that thing.”

    “Let me try something,” said Rey.

    Quickly and with almost practiced ease, Rey twisted one of the ends of her staff, revealing a mount for various pieces of equipment. She twisted another ring, and the mount became wide enough for the lightsaber to be slotted in. After some tightening of a couple of bolts, Rey activated the blade. She had made herself a makeshift Lightsaber pike.

    She produced a pair of welding googles from her sack, and put them on. “Look away!” she warned, before she planted the lightsaber into the lock, hoping to slice past both the door and the build-up. After a few seconds, she stopped to check her progress. Pulling down her goggles, she watched in surprise as the white hot glowing scar she had inflicted on the metal quickly faded. In seconds, the metal was cold once more.

    “Blast!” Rey swore. “I forgot, this is a starship. The whole place is probably built for space travel...”

    “Try the window,” suggested Chewbacca, nodding at the one right next to the door.

    As Chewbacca watched for anything lurking in the dark, Rey attempted to cut a hole big enough for a Wookiee to pass through. The lightsaber's blade eventually pierced through the incredibly thick glass, but...

    “Hate to sound like Threepio,” R2-D2 whistled. “But... at this rate? I calculate you'll cut that hole in exactly one hundred eighty-seven minutes and 45 seconds. We might as well go back around.”

    Chewbacca shook his head. “Outside is perfect ambush country, not an option. We stay on the main path.”

    “Well, that leaves the big hole that frigate made...” R2-D2 shone a light on the Leyak. Rey followed the the light's beam with her eyes, until it shone on the huge hole in the temple walls, some four stories above. The gap was soaked in burning fuel. He then shone his light on a spiral staircase.

    “I see some stairs up... don't think you can walk through the flames, though... which leaves...”

    Rey tracked R2-D2's light as it moved to the Leyak's bridge. The windows around its main bridge were shattered, their frame utterly twisted. Someone was slumped over the window, a shard of transparisteel in his gut.

    Rey winced. That had to have been a terrible way to go.

    She shook her head, and saw the Emergency rope ladders that led up to Bridge, no doubt deployed by the surviving crew.

    Why aren't they here? wondered Rey, and recalled the horrible scream from earlier.


    [-o-]


    The Leyak's bridge had been reinforced against impacts, but even that didn't save it against the crash. Broken cables hung from the ceiling from twisted, rusty girders and broken panels. Lights from consoles flickered with flashes of blue, which contrast with the orange of a few console fires and the blood red of the emergency lights.

    R2-D2 flew through one of the windows, and scanned the area with his periscope scanner. The only organics he could detect were the mangled corpses at their stations.

    The captain's chair was empty.

    “All clear,” he beeped loudly. “Come on up!”

    Rey and Chewbacca climbed their way up. As they did so, R2-D2, plugged into one of the bridge's data ports, bypassed some badly-maintained hardware and activated the ship's interior fire suppression system. Jets of foam hissed out, automatically aimed at sources of heat stronger than one thousand degrees.

    “That should clear us a path,” R2-D2 beeped, proudly.

    “Got a better reading on those lifesigns?” Chewbacca growled.

    “Sorry, still spotty,” the droid swivelled his head left to right. “Those internal sensors haven't had proper maintenance in decades...Uh oh.”

    “Uh oh?” asked Rey. “What do you mean, uh oh?! Please tell me the reactor isn't going to blow?”

    “No, the reactor's cold. It's just that the nearest hatch was on deck four, right by the tractor beam bank. According to diagnostics, it's been fused shut by an explosion. We're going to have to go further back, on deck one.”

    “Ship's tilted,” said Rey. “That's gonna be a quite a climb...

    “How far back?” asked Chewbacca.

    “WAY back, to the engine room,” replied R2-D2.

    “Aren't we going to be too high up, though?” wondered the Wookiee.

    “Don't worry,” said the Droid. “I got that covered.”


    [-o-]


    Guns in hand, Rey and company moved the through the corridors of the Leyak, scoured by recently extinguished fires. Backup power was failing. The emergency lights flickered, and soon the only illumination came from their flashlights. Noises from elsewhere echoed through the air vents: Blaster shots, snarls, and the occasional scream.

    Things moved in the shadows, avoiding the flashlight's beams like a plague.

    “Well, this is bringing back ugly memories of the Purge,” said Chewbacca. “Speaking of which, if you see a zombie, shoot it in the legs and run.”

    “...What's a zombie?” asked Rey, confused.

    “A dead man that yet lives, and his only desire is to devour the contents of your skull.”

    Rey glared at Chewbacca. “Oh, that's just great! I mean I really need something like that on my mind right now.”

    The ship's galley, much like the rest of the ship, was covered in soot, and metal twisted by heat. The tables were bolted down, but trays, utensils, and blocks of food lay amidst puddles of charcoal-burnt food processor slop.

    Rey entered first, taking point, Bryar in one hand, supported by the other forearm. The other hand held the flashlight in a reverse grip. Rey kept the gun close to her body, an ideal close range stance.

    An ideal military stance.

    Chewbacca looked at her curiously. “Where did you train?” he asked.

    “I'm sorry?” Rey did not look at him.

    “The way you hold your gun...”

    “Oh, am I doing it wrong?”

    “No, it's fine. Almost perfect, even.”

    “Then what's wrong?”

    “...Nevermind; it's not that important.”

    Suddenly, there was a noise in the dark, followed by a beeping sound from R2-D2.

    “Lifesign!” warned R2-D2. “It's close!”

    They could hear something moving behind the walls, making the metal creak, the sound echoing through the metal, prompting Rey and Chewbacca to point their weapons and flashlights all over the galley walls, looking for something hostile.

    “I don't see anything...” said Rey.

    Chewbacca growled menacingly, hoping to scare any stalker away.

    R2-D2 cast his light over a door. “There! Reading's constant!”

    Carefully, Rey and Chewbacca approached the door. “Stack up,” Chewbacca ordered, pointing at the door.

    “What?” Rey replied in confusion, dispelling any notion in Chewbacca that she had received military training.

    Then, Rey pressed a button besides it, and the door slid up to reveal another hall... as well as the Kanliklubber in front of them. Even with guns pointed at him, the man is obviously relieved.

    “Oh thank the gods,” he breathed out, relieved. “I thought you were one of those things—“

    Suddenly, the air vent burst open and a clawed hand grabbed the Kanjiklubber by the shoulder. The man screamed frantically as the hand tried to drag him into the vent. Rey wasted no time shooting up at the opening while Chewbacca tried to save the Kanjklubber, but he wasn't quite fast enough: the boot he grabbed slid off the man's foot.

    “NO NO NO HELP ME! HELP MEEE!” The man's screams echoed through all the airvents, before fading away completely.

    “What in the hell was that?!” yelled Rey.

    “Whatever it was,” said R2-D2, alarmed, “it's got friends! Clear life signs, coming up right behind us!”

    As if to confirm this, snarls could be heard down the hall the trio had come through.

    “RUN!” roared Chewbacca.

    [-o-]


    The group hurried down the stairwell to the lower levels of the ship, a task made difficult by the awkward angle of the ship, but not as difficult as the locked bulkhead door waiting for them at the bottom. The lock was analogue, and warped stuck. Without prompting, Rey took her makeshift lightsaber pike to it.

    “Hurry up!” warned Chewbacca.

    “Going as fast as I can,” Rey yelled back.

    Snarling and hissing came from above, and Chewbacca fired an extended burst with his Repeater Cannon. This kept the shadowy pursuers at bay, but no matter how much fire he loosed upstairs, Chewie couldn't confirm a single kill.

    They were getting closer.

    “I've only got so much coolant!” warned Chewbacca, holding his gun with one hand while the other tossed a trip mine. It stuck onto a panel far above them.

    “I've almost got it!” said Rey.

    They were getting closer, and the Repeater's heat gauge was starting to blink.

    The door fell open, its edges glowing red hot. “Got it! Go!”

    After following Rey and R2 in, Chewbacca laid another Laser trip mine right by the door. As they ran, something tripped the first mine. Its explosion resonated through the ship, and Rey looked back, hearing more inhuman wails and snarls.

    “Stars!” she exclaimed. “I hope that slowed them down!”

    The second mine went off.

    “Only just a bit!” growled Chewbacca. “Keep running!”

    [-o-]


    The heavy metal double door slid open as Chewbacca stepped through, scanning the area down the sight of his REPEATER. Then, satisfied that the room was clear, he urged the other two to get in. Once Rey and R2 run in, Chewbacca closed the door, and shot the electronic panel, hoping to delay their pursuers. R2-D2 activated his rockets, and flew up to the main engineering console on a raised metal platform, right under the main reactor.

    “Cover me!” the droid ordered. “This won't take long!”

    There was a scratching on the door, as the pursuers tried to pry their way in. The doors groaned open, and claws peer through the gap. Chewbacca shot at them once the gap was wide enough to see the glint of the creatures' eyes, while Rey stabbed at them with her pike.

    “R2, what are you doing?!” Rey yelled, as she managed to slice off a creature's finger. The scaly, clawed digit fell on the floor, and erupted into flame. “The reactor's cold! We don't have time for it to boot!”

    “I know!” R2-D2 whistled back, “But the emergency super-capacitors still have a charge, I just need to... there!”

    The supercapacitors fed power to the bridge, where the helm control consoles came to life, the words REPULSORLIFT ACTIVE and ENGAGING VERNIERS blinking red in Aurebesh on the screens, as their accompanying icons become animated.

    Outside, the thrusters under the Leyak's nose fired. Pivoting on the wall, the ship's rear end quickly fell down...


    “HOLD ON!” warned R2-D2.

    Rey and Chewbacca lost their balance as the ship shifted angles. The rear engines smashed against the ground, causing it to crack, and Rey and Chewbacca fell upon the impact. The normal lights brightened, and the creatures hounding the trio screeched in pain, and their echoes faded into silence. Apparently, they were not fond of bright lights.

    “You stupid droid!” roared Chewbacca. “You could have killed us!”

    R2-D2 flew up to a door right above a ladder, leading starboard. “Snarl later! The power won't last!”


    [-o-]


    The airlock close to the rear of the ship opened a story above the ground, allowing Chewbacca and Rey to leap down below. As the Wookiee's feet hit the cobblestones, there was a slight rumbling that caused Rey to instinctively crouch and widen her stance. She looked down... and saw the cracks forming along the mortar and stone. R2-D2, his thrusters firing, was about to land.

    “Careful!” warned Rey. “The ground looks like it's about to give!”

    “It'll be fine,” beeped R2-D2. “It would take a lot more weight, or a big explosion for it to crumble.”

    “Really?” Chewbacca's growled, amused. “So why are you coming down so slow?”

    “...No sense in being careless,” R2-D2 whistled in a low tone, as he landed gently and carefully.

    They began to run towards the city's central tower when two M22-T Gunships belonging to the Guavian Death Gang fly in low, beneath the city's Lightning Cannon's coverage. They hovered above the trio, casting their spotlights on them.

    “CHEWBACCA!” a voice screamed out of one of the gunship's loudspeakers. “STAY WHERE YOU ARE!” it barked.

    “Oh, you've got to be kidding me...” whined Chewbacca. He recognized that voice.

    Inside the gunship's gunnery seat sat Bala-Tik. A masked Guavian Pilot sat in front of him, controlling the craft.

    “We've got unfinished business!” yelled Bala-Tik into a microphone.

    The group, not caring one bit about Bala-Tik's business, began to run, but the Guavian negotiator aimed his Gunship's nose turret at the ground in front of them and barred their way with a wall of autoblaster fire.

    “I SAID: DON'T. MOVE.”

    Rey looked up at Bala-Tik's gunship - it's been damaged, and a component at the front, right by the large transparent canopy, was shorting out.

    “It's got no shields,” Rey whispered.

    Rey kept the Bryar at her side, and held the trigger down. There was a hum as the weapon built up a charge...

    “WEAPONS ON THE GROUND, GET ON YOUR KNEES, AND HANDS ON THE BACK OF YOUR HEADS!”

    “Chewie?” Rey whispered to Chewbacca. “Were you exaggerating about this gun? About AT-STs?

    “Just as long as you don't miss...” Chewbacca whispered back.

    The hum became a drone, and Rey closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and focused, just as she did earlier in the Falcon's turret.

    “I won't.”

    “I SAID—“

    Rey raised her gun, aimed it right at Bala-Tik'S GUNSHIP's cockpit, and released the trigger. There was a flashing beam of light, then a loud boom as the recoil knocked her back a step.

    “WHOA!”

    The cockpit canopy melted, letting the stream of heavy photons pass into the Pilot's eye, which continued on and grazed the side of Bala-Tik's face. The dead pilot slumped over his controls, causing the craft to spin.

    Chewbacca seized this chance to draw his sawed off concussion rifle, aiming it at the other gunship. An ovoid made of blue energy surged out of the barrel, and hit the second gunship square on the nose. Its shields held, but the kinetic energy caused its nose to shoot up.

    The second gunship's pilot frantically tried to regain control of the misaliged repulsorlifts, while the gunner behind him attempted to line up a shot at the group below, who have already begun to make a run for it, once again.

    “Go after them!” shouted the gunner.

    The cockpit was bathed in another flash of blue, as another concussion shot shakes the gunship, sending it spinning.

    “I'm trying!” barked the pilot.

    Meanwhile, atop the wreck of the Leyak, out came Tasu Leech, walking out of a gaping hole in the hull. His torn clothes were covered in alien blood, its colour matching the fluids on his High Frequency Machete. Slung over his back was a huge quad smart missile launcher. His eyes were wide with madness as he saw the Guavian Gunship chase after Chewbacca, the blue bubble of the Wookiee's shields blinking as some autoblaster shots hit him in the back.

    “YOOOUUU GUAAAVIAAAN DOOOOOGS!” he screamed.

    He shouldered the launcher, and aimed it at the gunship.

    “HAN SOLO IS MIIIIIINE!”

    The multipurpose missile flew towards the Gunship's rear, trailing white exhaust behind it. It found its mark, right into the pursuing gunship's main engine.

    The craft briefly erupted into flames, showering flaming metal panels below it, but it was still mostly intact, chasing the trio down the main street as if it was the last thing it would do. The Droid and the Wookiee made a dash for it, but Rey, lacking the former's built-in rockets and the latter's powerful long legs, quickly lagged behind.

    “Wait!” Rey gasped desperately. Don't go.

    Chewbacca looked back, and his eyes widened: The gunship was about to crash nose first behind Rey. “Get down!” he snarled, but it was too late. The crash caused one of its fuel tanks to explode, and the resulting shockwave knocked Rey and Chewie down, and as predicted by R2-D2, cracked the ground, enough for it to break down completely. As Rey tried to get up, the cracks widened and elongated towards her...

    “Oh no...” she muttered.

    Meanwhile, Bala-Tik'S Gunship moved in to try and cut off Chewbacca's escape. A dozen panels on its side opened, each revealing a cybernetically enhanced Guavian Security Soldier, each one of them clad from head to toe in lightweight red armour, armed with TL-50 HEAVY REPEATER assault rifles and stun sticks. They dropped from four stories high, miniature repulsorlifts grafted into their bodies slowing down their fall to the ground. Slowly they marched, towards Chewbacca, who was struggling to get back up.

    A pit widened beneath Rey, and horror dawned on Chewbacca's face as he realized what is about to happen. He began to run towards her, but the soldiers were already upon him, smacking him down with their stun sticks. The cracks widened even more, the stone gave way beneath Rey, and she fell into the depths of Firwirrung, crying out to Chewbacca to help her.

    [-o-]


    Razoo's eyes opened as he gasped, galvanized into consciousness by a splash of water on his face. He took stock of his situation: he was hanging by his parachute from one of the dreadnought's many sewage drains, which was spilling relatively clean sea water upon his head. A gust of wind pushed him, and the piece of synthetic fabric keeping him from falling into the water far down below tore up just a little. The tangle of cables attaching him to the parachute couldn't be climbed.

    Faced with that situation, there was but one thing Razoo could say. “Well, Peck.”

    Fortunately, he noticed another nearby sewage drain, some distance below and in front of him. He pulled out his VT7 “Serpent” High-Frequency Machete from his thigh sheath, and with a blade in hand and its cord secured around his wrist, he began to swing himself back and forth towards the drain. When he had enough forward momentum, he pressed the machete's trigger, swung the humming blade over his head to cut the wires, and propelled himself towards the opening. Immediately, he let go of the blade, freeing his hand to better grab on to the stone ledge.

    One of his hands slipped.

    “Peck, Peck, PECK!” he swore, feeling as though the water below was getting further away. At Standard G, and at that altitude, the sea might as well have been concrete. The sudden stop at the end wouldn't have been pretty.

    Summoning his strength, Razoo managed to regain a second firm grip on the edge, and pulled himself up. He breathed a sigh of relief, took a moment to catch his breath, and pressed a button on his wrist commlink.

    “Razoo to any Klubber out there! Do you read?”

    Only static responded.

    “This is Razoo! Is anyone out there?”

    Finally, something came on the radio channel: the insane laughter of Tasu Leech, before being drowned in blaster fire and screams... then more static. Razoo sighed, and switched his commlink off.

    “I guess not,” he said, shaking his head. “Damn you, Tasu... You should have listened to me!”

    Razoo shivered under the rain, and looked behind him for refuge. The drain's bars were too narrow for him to fit through. Thankfully, a VT7 was rated for metalwork, and after a good swing, the bars clattered into the flow of brackish water, both ends red hot. Razoo stepped over them, peering into the dark and seeing nothing, not even the shadows moving around the corner.

    What a wonderful smell I've discovered, he thought, wincing as his nostrils took in the scent of... it wasn't quite sewage, but it was definitely disgusting.

    He reached for a slow burning signal flare on his bandolier and ignited it, the resulting crimson light bathing the wide passage. Razoo found no one and nothing else. The way illuminated, and with no one to call upon and nowhere else to go, the gangster proceeded forward...

    [-o-]


    Rey's body lay on the bottom of a pit some ten stories high, amidst pieces of rubble made wet by both the rain and the streams that poured out of broken pipes above her. She groaned in pain: miraculously, the fall neither killed her nor broke her bones, at least not completely. She was, however, badly bruised.

    From above, a Porg flew down and perched itself on a jagged piece of rock, and stared at Rey with the black soulless pools that were its eyes. Through magic or science, the Porg transmitted what it saw to the Firwirrung's Core Room, where Verthandi stared into her orb. With a gesture, the vision inside the orb changed into the image of Aisa.

    “The girl has fallen into the catacombs,” she said, “and she is alight with pain. Go, go before she wakes and evades you.”

    Verthandi switched the orb's vision back, just as something with eight legs jumped at the Porg's eye.

    “What...”

    It was the purple spider.

    The leaping arachnid landed right onto the Porg's face, and the round bird took flight in an attempt to shake off the insect. Suddenly, it fell like a rock behind a piece of debris.

    Awful sounds emerged from that spot, with clawed shadows stabbing and cutting. After a moment of gnashing and slurping, all was quiet, and the Spider stepped into the light, looking none the worse for wear. It even let out a tiny burp.

    It leapt and bounced towards Rey, landing on her face, and attempted to wake her up by tickling her nose. Her eyes fluttered open, before focusing on the tiny creature.

    It loomed over her left eye, and waved at her. Hello there.

    “Hey...” she groaned back. “Ooh! Oh... I hurt all over.”

    Rey did not bother to get up as she reached for the medkit on her belt and pulled out a small one-use healing stim. She injected it in her arm, and in seconds the bruises on her skin began to shrink. She sat up, tested the motion of her arm, and winced.

    “Ack!” she cried. “I guess this stuff takes time to work...”

    Rey looked up, trying to estimate how far she fell, and thus how far she'd have to climb. It was a long, long way up.

    “It's a miracle I'm alive...” she took a deep breath, preparing to shout, “CHEWIE! ARTOO! ARE YOU UP THERE?”

    Nobody answered.

    Rey noticed the spider crawling on her knee. She cupped her hands near it, and the spider leapt onto her palms.

    “Hey you. I had almost forgotten about you...”

    The Spider nodded.

    “You're with me for the long haul, aren't you?” she said, bringing the creature close to get a better look at it.

    The Spider nodded again, smiling with its big eyes. Unlike the Porgs, the two larger ones that dominated its face seemed more... alive, somehow. They were just as black and glistening as the fat birds', but they had gold irises, making them appear almost sapient.

    “I guess I ought to call you something, then. How about... how about Peter?”

    The Spider shook its head, and frowned.

    “Hm, you're right, you're a lot smaller than the one in those storybooks... how about Cuddles, then?”

    The spider looked up, pondering if being called Cuddles for the duration of its existence would suit it, then nodded.

    “Cuddles it is!”

    Rey put Cuddles on her shoulder, then noticed her makeshift Lightsaber Pike on the ground a few meters away. She reached out to it, pulling at it with the Force, but only the tip of the staff moved, as if the Force could only affect the lightsaber stuck on it. Thus, the weight of the staff slowed Rey's telekinetic pull quite a bit. It made her way into her hand, if a bit awkwardly, dragging the other end of the staff on the ground.

    That made a lot of noise.

    “Cuddles?” she asked. “Have you seen my blaster? It's... black, with a mag on the side.” As if a spider would know what a blaster is, she chided herself.

    She needed not worry, for Cuddles understood, and bounced a couple of times on her shoulder before jumping off. Rey got up, and found her ankle still aching. Leaning on her staff for support, she followed Cuddles to her weapon, and upon seeing it she reached out with the Force, just as she did with the Pike.

    The pistol did not move.

    Rey was puzzled by this, but tried again, and that time it barely moved. Frustrated, she picked it up by hand, and put it back into its holster.

    Suddenly, heavy footsteps echoed through the wide sewer pipes above. They were heavy, and steady, and accompanied by the sound of shears opening and closing.

    “Giiiirl...” the elder crone's croak seemed like it came from everywhere. Rey gasped at the sound, as the frightened spider jumped into her hair and hid between the strands, quaking with fear. “Wheeere are yoooouuuuu...?”

    Frantically looking for a way out, Rey only found a passage amidst the rubble that would lead her deeper into the catacombs. She ran to the mouth of the dark passage, peered into it, and hesitation stopped her...

    “There you are!”

    Rey looked up, and glimpsed the Crone's mass of tattered black cloth coming through one of larger broken pipes. Her fight or flight instincts took over, choosing flight, and so Flashlight in hand, she ran — limping! — deeper into the passage.

    Aisa leapt off from the broken mouth of the sewer pipe, her landing heralded by the cracking of stone and the splashing of water. She gave chase, and while she was slow, her strides were long, steady, and loud...

    [-o-]


    ...And no matter how far she ran through the catacombs Rey, was stalked by the sound. Against all sense, the direction it came from seemed to change, as if the large, elder crone could go from one place to another in an instant.

    The passages were almost labyrinthine: interconnected corridors of finely carved rock, inlaid with the bones of the city's dead. Rey tried to maintain a straight course, using her flashlight to look ahead and avoid dead ends. But always, the steady footfalls hounded her.

    The footfalls... and the shears.

    Rey looked at the flashlight, and something occurred to her.

    [-o-]


    The plates of barnacles on Aisa's legs cracked and popped as they tapped each other, their slithering proboscises reaching out for food even as she strode through the passages. Her shears' blades ground against each other menacingly - the promise of a gruesome death. Progressively, the halls ahead became brighter with the light that Aisa had been using to track Rey. The strides became faster, the shears grind harder... Could it have been that easy? Was the chase over already?

    No, Aisa realized, as her sea lice-infested toes tapped the light projecting cylinder, their inhabitants opening a nail to see what could possibly be so bright, only to retreat in fear of its intensity. A hand, covered in a gauntlet of hardened coral, poked the portable light with a taloned finger out of curiosity, then picked it up.

    “Clever girl...” croaked Aisa, before coughing up a sea parasite. “Clever, clever girl.” Aisa held up the flashlight, and smiled.

    [-o-]


    Rey limped rapidly through the passages, Dagonian skulls set into the walls grinning at her all along the way, dimly lit by the blue glow of the Pike in her hands. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, she thought. There won't be any looking down a passage for dead ends anymore, she knew. There was the echo of a croak as Aisa called for aid, and the sound was answered by the same snarls and screeches that had dogged her and her friends back on the Star Galleon.

    “Oh no...” she muttered, frightened.

    Rey hurried, but winced in pain, the stim having yet to reach her damaged ankle, or her bruised lung. There's got to be a way out, she thought desperately. There's gotta be!

    Rey limped down a passage, and suddenly the blue light illuminated a wall.

    A dead end.

    The snarls were getting closer...

    Rey was beginning to despair. “No, no, no...”

    The wall was made of solid stone, but something had cracked it a long time ago, to the point that there was a visible hole in the wall, the center of a web of fractures. Something was barely visible behind it, but that did not matter: the wall wasn't as thick as the Temple's walls, so Rey attempted to cut through the rock with the lightsaber...

    It was taking too long.

    The snarls were getting closer...

    Desperately, Rey stopped cutting, and shoulder checked the wall. Some chips of stone fell off, and she burned herself on the white hot stone, but the wall held.

    She tried again.

    The wall did not yield.

    Again.

    It held, and she could imagine it defying her, taunting her with her impending doom. It had a voice, sampled from her head, and that voice was Unkar Plutt's.

    And the snarls were getting closer, and turned into eager hissing.

    Suddenly, Rey's eyes flashed gold, and a power borne out of fear and blood welled up in her heart, and surged out of her throat:

    “BREAK, DAMN YOU!”

    The Force Scream's shockwave hit the wall almost point-blank, and the stone shattered outwards, opening the way to an entire Undercity at the core of the Temple District. The floor was only two stories down, and Rey leapt, not thinking twice about escaping her pursuers. The snarls turned frantic – the prey was escaping!

    [-o-]


    Landing with far more grace than she had thought possible, Rey found herself in the center of a wide street, with thousands of buildings on each side of it, each one taller than the last the further from the main street one went, giving the impression of waves of stone, brick and tiles about to crash into each other. Everything was very faintly lit by the blue gloom of countless orbs of light, which were mounted on tall, elegantly decorated lamp posts on every street, or set to light fixtures atop arches or the sides of pillars.

    Switching off her lightsaber, Rey ran into the dark, and found a place to hide, in the shadows of storage boxes in front of some shop. What that shop sold, Rey couldn't quite tell, but the jars filled with semi-opaque liquid did not inspire confidence in her.

    Suddenly, Aisa stepped through the broken wall, her weapon hidden beneath her tattered, hooded cloak.

    Behind her, a dozen shadows moved, then stopped, awaiting her commands. They were much shorter than she was, and lacked her deformations. Their slender, athletic bodies were covered in worn, hooded cloaks, beneath which the glow of their reptilian eyes could be seen.

    These alien humanoids, with the features of men, lizards and fish, were the Reavers.

    Suddenly, Aisa raised her hand, and spoke in her native tongue.

    T'leth...”

    T'leth, the ikhthýs word for 'light'.

    The glow within the lamp spheres of the Undercity brightened, and together glowed as bright as the moon. In other places, such as the markets, the lamps glowed a bright pale yellow...

    The contrast between the blue gloom and the yellow light... Rey found it beautiful, but only for a split second, as the surging lamps nearly flushed Rey out of her hiding spot in the shadows.

    “Spread out,” said Aisa. “Find her.”

    The Reavers growled, and pulled out their daggers – a similar design as the one Rey saw on the altar - and moved as blurs across the Undercity... They were not as fast Nona, Rey realized, and wondered how she knew the creatures' name. No matter, she thought, as she watched Aisa approached a nearby canal, and leap into the water.

    There was a splash, and Aisa didn't come back out.

    Rey found another hiding spot, behind another stack of crates, and a Reaver was on the other side. She winced; her wounds were getting better, but had not yet healed.

    The Reaver moved closer, and Rey instinctively went for the Bryar, in spite of knowing that with her health, getting into a fight with one of those monsters was suicide.

    As her hand gripped the weapon, the world spun and stretched, and vomitted itself into her eye... taking her elsewhere, and elsewhen...

    Scarif. A world of jungles and beaches.

    It was all quick flashes, but Rey saw outside herself as she watched the Mercenary – his face covered in a dark tactical helmet with a gold T visor - stalked Stormtroopers right outside an Imperial facility built in the jungle, evading searchlights, flashlights, and the narrow gaze of troopers.


    Too many,” whispered Jyn Erso. Wait how do I know her name Her hair was blood and copper, and her eyes bright and blue. “How do you want to do this?”

    More flashes. Crouchwalking behind cover. Waiting for the right moment to move. To strike. Stabbing a man in the right spot to kill him and prevent him from screaming at once. Chokeholds. Takedowns.

    These were memories of a killer.

    The best of all killers, forgotten, redacted, erased.


    Stay in the shadows...” replied the Mercenary. His voice, it was low and warm and Rey liked it. “Avoid the light... and follow my lead.”

    Stay in the shadows, avoid the light. Whatever Rey retained from these visions, it would be this, at least. She shook the vision away... and felt the Witch's presence right besides her, whispering something in her ear:

    Move as he once did. Embrace the shadows... and these creatures shall be your prey.


    Rey gasped, and whirled around. The Witch was nowhere to be found.

    Hearing the gasp, the Reaver moved in, and just as he was about to catch Rey... she moved quietly around the large crate, keeping it between herself and her stalker. Eventually he looked away, and Rey took that opportunity to make a dash for an open window.

    Through it all, she felt oddly calm.
    [-o-]


    Another Reaver stepped steadily in front of another well-stocked store, its eyes scanning left and right for Rey as it passed by a shadow cast by a large Obelisk in the center of the Undercity. The footsteps of the Reaver became more distant as it moved away from the shadow.

    All clear.

    Rey stopped holding her breath, and she emerged from the shadow, up to that point completely hidden from the Reaver's unfriendly eyes... as if by magicks.

    [-o-]


    The next reaver stoked the light within a crystal lantern framed in steel... not that he needed to, as the lights of the undercity's marketplace were numerous. Still, there were many little hiding places among the stalls, casting little shadows, and a light could have served him well.

    Rey stalked him, keeping any cover between herself and the light, and thus... staying in shadow, and in doing so, stayed unseen.

    A Porg looked on from above, and failed to see Rey... but it did see the group of four Guavian soldiers coming through the plaza, moving in formation, scanning the area down the holographic sights of their TL-50 Repeater carbines. They stopped by a large fountain, stone statues of the three priestesses of Ssi-Ruuk erected at the center. Rey was watching them from afar, hidden in shadow.

    “Scout team four here,” said their leader into its helmet's integrated commlink. “We've found a whole CITY down here. Sending automap data. Nothing that looks like treasure so far. Over.”

    Rey could not hear the response.

    “We checked out the fires,” continued the leader. “Someone was cooking a whole bunch of fat birds, for some reason... No, didn't eat them. Sorry, by cooked, I meant incinerated. We may have a pyromaniac on the loose, or something.”

    Suddenly, there was a sound coming from the statue, a lullaby, hummed so gently even a killing machine like the Guavian was pulled in. One of the soldiers approached the fountain, and peered into it, staring at his own reflection overlaying the shallow surface of jade chips.

    “See anything?” asked his teammate.

    “No... nothing—“

    Two black blades, wreathed in a dark red aura, splashed out and came together, digging into the soldier's neck... but not quite beheading him, not yet. Aisa's immense form rose from the water, hoisting the soldier up as the obsidian shears drained the life out of the cyborg, his very life turned to red streams of energy that Aisa drank from her skin... and the many living orifices on her shell.

    “HOSTILE!” the lead Guavian screamed. “OPEN FIRE!”

    Repeater bolts, hundreds of them, impacted with a dull thud upon Aisa's living armour, leaving her unbothered. “Flesh and Clockwork, working in accord?” she said, curiously, admiring the cybernetic man caught in her shears, pondering the possibilities of such a combination. “Fascinating.”

    Aisa lifted her shears and opened them, sending the Guavian soldier flying up, before closing them again, slicing him in two as he came down. His two halves turned to dust.

    Rey watched in horror as the soldiers kept pouring Repeater fire into Aisa, whose hardened skin barely buckled from the barrage. At least the younger crone had at least reacted to being shot. Rey did not stick around as Aisa sliced another Guavian in two, and took advantage of the distraction to get away into an alley, running like a bat out of the Maw.

    So much for them being the prey... she thought.

    She spotted a door, leading into the basement of a house. It was ajar...

    [-o-]


    ...Rey carefully closed the door, then quietly locked it. She breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, a place to hide... she thought.

    She leaned against a wall, and crouched into a sitting position.

    “Let's rest a bit,” she told herself.

    Just as Rey let her head fall on her knees, she heard the whirr of a sawed-off blaster carbine loading a photon shot.

    “Hands in the air,” said the Kanjiklubber.

    Rey sighed miserably as she looked to her left, and saw a Kanjiklubber with a double crest hairdo holding said blaster, some three meters away, the barrrel aimed at her head. The carbine was wrapped in cloth, which she found suspicious. Besides that, she saw no other weapon, not even the blade that was supposed to be in his thigh holster. His bandoliers' sockets were empty, too. Odd, that.

    He was also obviously wounded: there was blood on his face, mixed in with the sweat. The source? Cuts and bite marks; the latter had to come from small creatures... Porgs, Rey realized. Of course they bite, the little—!

    The Kanjiklubber raised his pistol, prompting her to get up.

    Rey got up, and put her hands in the air. She knew the drill. Constable Zuvio had frisked her at gunpoint enough times for the procedure to stick.

    But wait, this isn't a search! “I mean you no harm!” she said. “I-I'm not with those red guys!”

    The Kanjiklubber shushed her, angrily, looking at the windows nervously.

    “Turn around,” he commanded as he approached.

    Rey obeyed, and found herself being gently kicked in the back of the knee, then forced down before the brigand relieved her of her Bryar, her staff, and her sack. He kept frisking her for any hidden weapons... even in her hair. She felt Cuddles' weight lifted, and smiled.

    “Who are you?” he demanded to know. “Which gang are you with?”

    “I'm not with any gang!” Rey protested.

    “Guess you're with Han's crew, then. Any reason why I shouldn't just waste you right now?”

    “I got exactly one.”

    “Which is?”

    “Cuddles.”

    “You're not my t— URKH!”

    The Kanjiklubber's eyes rolled up as he gurgled, while Cuddles removed his little teeth from the man's neck. The poison wasn't strong enough to kill the man, but he fell flat on his face and into unconsciousness all the same.

    Cuddles leapt back onto Rey's shoulder just as the man fell.

    [-o-]


    Hidden from view, R2-D2 made his way down a street until he arrived at the Library, a large imposing building in which the Guavians had set up a temporary headquarters. It wasn't quite the same as the temple – less ostentatious, but far more erect and imposing looking, with more windows.

    The droid spied Chewbacca being brought into it under guard. Several cyborg soldiers were also being brought in on stretchers, either in bad need of a mechanic, a medic, or both.

    Inside, on a lower mezzanine suspended below an atrium that went up all the way to the roof, the soldiers forced the Wookiee on his knees in front of Balak-Tik, his face partially covered by a bacta patch to treat the wound from Rey's earlier shot.

    Chewbacca's hands were tied behind his back by high-tensile strength carbon cords. He wouldn't be throttling the young Guavian negotiator any time soon.

    “Where's Han Solo?” Bala-Tik asked, trying to hide his frustration. This job had not gone according to plan.

    Chewbacca snarled defiantly, so Bala-Tik shocked him with a stun stick.

    “Where's the damned treasure?”

    More snarls. More shocks.

    “Where's Han Solo?”

    On and on it went. It was almost as if Bala-Tik did not really care, at first, simply looking for an excuse to torture the Wookiee. Eventually, Bala-Tik lost patience.

    “Where is it?!” he shouted. “That old fart wouldn't get out of bed if there wasn't a payday in it for him! He wouldn't come out here unless there was a fortune somewhere! TELL ME WHERE IT IS!”

    Meanwhile, a bored Guavian soldier examined one of the many books on the shelves. He skimmed through it, unable to read the alien script… and casually tossed it over his shoulder.

    The book landed in a puddle with a thump, its pages ruined by the water.

    [-o-]


    Of course, as always, a Porg was watching, and elsewhere, Aisa let out a low, long growl. “Defilers…”

    She turned to her Reavers, wiping a Guavian off her shears. “Keep looking for the girl. I have an infestation to cleanse.”

    Aisa walked to a fountain, and vanished into its water with a splash.

    [-o-]


    Outside of the Library, R2 kept waiting for an opportunity to present itself. To do what, he wasn't sure, but he just could not bear to leave Chewbacca behind. After all, they had been through so much together. Turned out they had both served in the Clone Wars, and they had never gotten the chance to share war stories.

    Suddenly, the droid picked up a commlink signal.

    “Chew... D2? Is anyone...?”

    R2 compensated for the interference, and Rey's voice became clearer.

    “Rey?” The droid transmitted in binary, relieved. “You're alive!”

    “Oh, stars! You're alright! Where are you? Is Chewbacca...?”

    “Chewie's okay! They've taken him prisoner and into what looks like a library...”

    “A... a what?”

    R2 couldn't believe his audio processors, but reminded himself that Rey was apparently raised on a planet with no major cities, nevermind a library. “A place with lots of books in it,” he explained, trying not to sound too condescending. “The Guavians have taken it over. Where are you?” He checked the signal's direction. “Underground?”

    “Yeah, and I honestly have no idea where I'm going. If I had a map, I could...”

    “A map?...” R2 wondered where he could find one, and remembered. “Wait!”

    R2 accessed the holo-projector inside his recharging rack, and quickly sifted through the data he had re-organized.

    “Rey, you're in luck. Guess who's been exploring this place between fugue states?”

    “...Luke?”

    “Got it in one! Open up your commlink - incoming download!”

    [-o-]


    In the house in the Undercity, Rey adjusted the Kanjiklubber's commlink on her wrist, as she received a map of Firwirrung. The tiny holo-emitter displayed the city in some detail, and it was haptic-enabled, allowing her to manipulate the image. After a while, the Obelisk she passed by earlier caught her eye.

    “So...” she started to mutter, “...that means I'm here...which means... yes! I'm going the right way.
    Oh, thank you, Luke!”

    “See that building?” asked R2 over the channel. “According to Luke's logs, it's a station for a public hover tram system.”

    “A tram?”

    “A small vehicle that will take you up to the library's underground station,” R2 explained. “You'll get here in minutes.”

    “But it's so far!” Rey protested. “And I'm surrounded by monsters! How am I going to get there on my own?”

    “You're gonna have to figure that out – can't do much else from here. I'll be waiting for you. R2 out.”

    Rey sighed, and looked around. The house wasn't very large, but it was very well furnished... if a little humid. She entertained the thought of simply waiting here forever, but... No, those creatures would find her eventually, and even with her weapons, she'd get overwhelmed.

    Unless...

    She looked at her prisoner, and thought: What the heck. Worth a try.

    [-o-]


    Razoo Qin-Fee was enjoying the bliss of near non-existence when he felt the sting of a slap across the face, forcing his mind to surge out of the depths of unconsciousness and emerge into the real world.

    “Ow!”

    “Wake up!” a voice commanded shortly after. It was feminine, and had that Dromund Kaas accent.

    Razoo shook his head, tasting something odd and cotton-like in his mouth. He took stock of his situation: He was sitting in a very well furnished — if uncomfortably moist — living room, on the second story of the house he had ran into to escape from those damnable birds. The source of the voice, as it turned out, was a tall, slender girl with Corellian features: Big brown doe eyes, dark hair and pale skin, with freckles across the nose. She sat in front of him on a wooden stool, her gun back in its holster. There was an empty small medkit on the table besides her, next to a couple of spent ampoules marked 'DETOX' and 'TRAUMA'.

    Also, he was bound up tightly against a — very comfy! — leather couch by sheets of linen, taken from the windows. Not smart, he thought. Someone or... something could see us.

    “Feel better?” she asked.

    “I suppose I should say thanks for the bacta?”

    “I guess.”

    Razoo, spitefully, did not say thanks; instead, he made a point to look at a strange device on a commode. It was a box with an engraved metal cone on top, with a needle set onto a disk. Passive-aggresive spite made way for genuine curiosity. What the Peck is that supposed to do? he wondered.

    She held up Razoo's carbine, without the cloth. It's obviously too damaged to work: the heat sink, a cheap tibanna pump, had blown apart due to stress.

    “Clever, by the way,” said the girl, tossing the useless weapon at his feet.

    Razoo looked at the gun, then smiled at the girl. A silent taunt. Fooled you.

    “I need your help,” said the girl.

    Razoo quirked his eyebrow. “You have a funny way of asking.”

    “Was that you?” She points at something else in the room. On the floor was a Reaver, with Razoo's HF machete sticking out of its face. The creature was covered in scarred-over cuts and blaster holes, and appeared to be dead.

    “Yeah, that was me,” Razoo sniffed, then smirked. He was proud of that kill: running from the Rathars Han had unleashed on his band had been... emasculating. Taking down that strange, but powerful creature had done wonders for his mood. “What?” he taunted. “Friend of yours?”

    “No, but if you're good enough to kill one, then I'm definitely going to need your help. I've got a map that can lead us out of here. I'm thinking you want out, too.”

    “Is that right?” Razoo eyed her warily. “Where is this map?”

    “Up here,” she said, tapping her forehead. “There's a... tram station that leads to the... library.” The words felt so alien to her... Yep, definitely some hick. “I've got a friend there,” she continued. “The Guavians have taken him prisoner and—“

    Razoo interrupted her. “I take it your friend is either Han or that walking carpet of his?”

    “His name is Chewbacca!” she corrected, clearly offended.

    “Heh. No deal. The Wookiee can rot, for all I care.”

    “Right, well, the alternative is me leaving you to rot here.”

    “Go ahead. My friends will find me eventually.”

    “No, they won't. Your friends are all dead.”

    Razoo's eyes widened. “What?”

    “You came with that Star Galleon, right? I've been through it. It's empty; the crew's gone. The ship itself is full of holes and the reactor's so cold it'll take a day to restart it. The skies are empty.”

    Razoo shook his head. “...Doesn't matter. I'll find my own way out. There's got to be a working ship somewhere.”

    "You'd be shot down by those lightning cannons immediately. You're just not getting home. Unless..."

    “Unless?”

    She got up. “Unless we disable those guns, and do you know how we do that?”

    “Do tell.”

    “The central tower. We take that over, we control the guns and we might even ride this city ship right out of the system.”

    “Right, and then Han shoots me in the back first chance he gets.”

    “... He won't,” she said, and her expression turned sad. “He can't.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because he's dead.”

    Razoo laughed. “Really? How?” The brigand just had to know. Whatever it was, he hoped that it hurt, and hurt real good. Solo had taken so much from Razoo's people.

    “His son killed him on Starkiller Base.”

    Razoo was struck silent. Kinslaying. That... that was not how Razoo wanted Han to go. That wasn't even how Tasu wanted him to go. Shot in the gut, maybe. Fed to a Rathar, definitely, but... dying at the hands of your own son? Well, it didn't surprise Razoo in the least: Solo definitely did not look like 'father of the year' material, but... “Peck.” Razoo finally said. “I mean, Peck. I'm... I'm sorry.”

    The girl did not know what to make of that. She waited for the other shoe to drop, a cruel final remark at Han's fate... but it never came. Razoo meant what he had said.

    Razoo considered the offer. Refusing would leave him stuck here, and betrayal... no, that would not get him anything either. He hated to admit it, but the girl looked like a survivor, too, and he'd need all the help he could get leaving this place. And with Han dead... “Well, if the old scoundrel's not a factor any more...” Hello, Life Debt.

    “We're wasting time...”

    Rey approached the Reaver's corpse, and took the machete out of its head, and its finger twitch went unnoticed by her. “This is the deal. I guide you out, you watch my back, at least until we find a way out of here.” She moved right besides Razoo, blade in hand. “Deal?”

    “Deal. Get me out of these things.”

    Rey cut Razoo's bonds. “I didn't catch your name...” she asked.

    “Razoo Qin-Fee,” the kanjiklubber replied. “Yours?”

    “Rey.”

    “Rey who?”

    “...Just Rey.”

    That was when the not quite dead Reaver leapt up at them.

    [-o-]


    Outside of the house, the thin windows of the upper floor barely muffled the screeching, screaming and shouting coming from all parties inside. A flash of blue light, and the Reaver - missing an arm - burst out of one of the glass panes, a lightsaber blade coming out of its back. Rey followed it out, closely, holding the pike by both hands.

    The Reaver's corpse broke Rey's fall as they landed on the street below. It let out an agonized wail as the blade of the lightsaber finally ignited its flesh, and it burned to ashes. Its brethren heard its dying cries, and responded in kind, announcing their intent to avenge him.

    Razoo's head poked out of the broken window. He looked down below, his blade dripping fresh Reaver blood. “You're a kriffing JEDI?!” he yelled out.

    Rey got up, and dusted herself. “Well...”

    Razoo demonstrated some of his free-running skills by making his way down. The Reavers howled again, announcing the hunt, and the two unlikely allies began to sprint.

    “Why didn't you say you were a Jedi in the first place?!” Razoo yelled. “My people owe a Jedi their lives and freedom!”

    “I-I'm just a trainee! And how was I supposed to know!”

    “A Padawan?! What's a Padawan even doing here?!”

    “I'm here to rescue Luke Skywalker!”

    “Are you kidding me?! THAT'S THE JEDI THAT SAVED US!”

    “Well I didn't know, okay?!”

    “How much further, Trainee?!”

    “A few more blocks; keep running!”

    Rey led Razoo through the maze of streets, evading and sometimes killing their pursuers... right up until they came across a steep impasse of rubble.

    Rey stopped, about to curse, while Razoo simply kept going, using his acrobatic skills to scale the rocks. He noticed that Rey wasn't keeping up with him, and once he was on top of the pile of rocks he reached out to Rey.

    “Come on!” he urged.

    Rey took a running start and jumped up, catching Razoo's hand. He pulled her up.

    “Thanks!” she said.

    “I thought Jedi could jump?!” accused Razoo.

    “Trainee!” Rey insisted.

    [-o-]


    The station was yet another testament to the local masonry and architecture, an open platform of stone that served as a berth to several automated Hover Trams. Each one was a perfect copy of the other, a small train car made of smooth dark green steel and tarnished with brass, all topped with a Glossair ring engine. Briefly, Rey wondered where those things were even made.

    The place was lit up by powerful golden lamps, the light of which Razoo found comforting. Rey, however, having grown accustomed to the dark, winced, and lamented the lack of hiding places.

    The unlikely duo ran up the stairs. Rey was showing clear signs of exhaustion, but Razoo, who was a much better athlete, was barely winded.

    They went for the nearest Tram, and Rey hurriedly made her way into it by forcing the sliding doors open with her pike.

    “Tell me you can work this thing,” said Razoo.

    “Sure I can,” she replied, looking for a joystick on the main control panel at the front of the vehicle. Finding none, she pulled the large brass lever.

    Nothing happened.

    “That's just pecking great,” cursed Razoo.

    “I can fix this! I can fix this!”

    Rey knelt, and popped open the maintenance panel under the control console.

    “It's out of power!” complained Razoo, gesturing at the inside of the cabin. The lights were not on.

    “Look around you!” Rey shot back, gesturing at the lamps outside. “There's plenty of power! There's a bypass in there, I know it! I just-”

    Suddenly, the lights began to flicker. Razoo took that as a bad sign. “How much longer?” he whispered, wary for danger.

    “Not long!” Rey whispered back, feeling her way around the parts. There was a distinct lack of wires, which she found odd, but her instincts guided her hands.

    The lights on the platform were getting dim, while the glowing surfaces of the adverts lining the roof of the tram lit up. Razoo went in.

    “Hurry up!” Razoo hissed.

    “I can't rush this,” Rey hissed back.

    The lights went out.

    “...Oh Peck.”

    The Reavers — six of them! — dropped onto the platform from the open ceiling, announcing their presence with a war cry. Curved daggers in hand, they hid in the shadows, and silently approached.

    “Hold them off!” Rey commanded. “I need more time!”

    Razoo could hear more Reavers coming. His machete was deadly, but he knew Reavers were just too tough. “I'll need a better weapon!”

    “Here!” Rey yelled, tossing her pike at him.

    Razoo's eyes widened, and he smiled.“Oh heck yeah,” said Razoo, grasping the weapon with both hands. He had always wanted to wield one of these lightsabers. Not as a pike, but at this point, there was no point in being picky.

    Razoo stepped out of the tram and stayed close to the door. Before him, three Reavers appeared from the shadows and walked into the pale glow of the blade, viciously waving their knives, thinking they could scare the Kanjiklubber.

    “Let me show you what a pit fighter can do, lizards!” he taunted them back.

    Razoo exploded into action, the pike's shining blade a blur of motion as he cut the first Reaver apart with shocking ease. Rey looked up from her work, and saw Razoo rapidly pummel another Reaver into submission with the pike's metal shaft before impaling it through the heart. The last Reaver attempted to stab Razoo in the back, and the Kanjilubber responded by back-kicking it in the groin, opening it up for a beheading swipe of the Pike.

    Rey had to admit, she was impressed.

    Three more Reavers appeared, and just as they were about to attack, their fallen brethren ignited in blue flames. They recoiled in fear.

    “Afraid of a little fire, you pecks?!” snarled Razoo, before engaging them.

    As Razoo assaulted them, Rey worked out a bypass, and the tram's computer came to life:

    “Hello!” the voice, pleasant and feminine, spoke in ikhthýs. “Welcome to the Firwirrung's transit system, please insert proper coinage to continue on your wonderful trip!”

    “What the hell did that thing just say?!” Razoo yelled as he kicked a Reaver in the groin.

    “Err...” Rey, for reasons mysterious even to her, was an omniglot... but even she found the Dagonian language difficult to grasp. “It wants something called 'coinage'... I think!”

    Razoo couldn't believe it. They were going to die because they didn't have exact change. “You're kidding, right?!”

    “I don't think it's trying to make me laugh, no!”

    Just as a Reaver fell from one of Razoo's acrobatic counter-moves, he heard the clanking of coins. There was a sack of it on the new corpse's belt. With a deft swipe of his machete, the purse was cut from the belt, and Razoo kicked it towards Rey. “Here!” he shouted. Convenient! he thought. The bag fell next to her, coins spilling out. She stared at them, utterly confused.

    She'd never handled hard currency before.

    “What am I even supposed to do with those?!” she complained.

    Razoo would have gotten exasperated, had he not been busy fighting for his life. “Put them in the slot, you stupid hick!”

    Rey grabbed the sack and looked for a slot. There was a box with one right by the sliding doors.

    She tried a large piece... it did not fit.

    “Too big,” she muttered.

    She tried a small coin. The box spat it out.

    “Too small?”

    She tried a medium-sized coin... there was a click, and a ding.

    “Ah! Perfect!”

    She added more coins, until the machine was happy. A holographic map of the city's stations appeared from the box, and the computer spoke again. “Thank you. Please select your destination.”

    Razoo swung the Pike, and missed his target as the Reaver leapt back, wise to his moves. Razoo tried again on another Reaver, but heard the whirr of a charging Bryar behind him. He looked back, and saw Rey pointing a gun at his head.

    “Get down!” she yelled.

    The charged shot flew right over Razoo's hair as he ducked, piercing the chest of one Reaver then continuing on through the flesh of two more. They fell, screaming, as Rey's gun went into cooldown mode, hissing coolant vapours.

    “Get in!” she beckoned Razoo. The Kanjiklubber ran into the tram as Rey loosed another charged shot, keeping another six Reavers at bay by piercing two at once. The hover tram's sliding doors closed behind Razoo, and the craft itself lifted itself away from its berth as soon as Rey punched in the destination. The glossair rings glowed brightly, leaving a trail of light as it flew towards a tunnel entrance in the Undercity's ceiling.

    The duo breathed a sigh of relief together.

    “...Can I have my lightsaber back, please?” Rey asked, after a moment.

    “Sure.” Razoo's eyes turn murderous, and aims the blade right at her head.

    “Get down!” he yells, pushing her away before stabbing the window behind her, and piercing the heart of the Reaver beyond it. The creature loosened its grasp on the tram, and screamed as its body fell to the undercity below, turning into blue embers and ash.

    Razoo sat down, catching his breath. They were safe, at least for now. “...Here you go,” he said, handing the Pike back to Rey.

    “I thought you were—“ she began.

    “—going to betray you?” he finished, chuckling, as he wiped the sweat off his brow. “You don't know us Kanjiklubbers very well, but understand this: A deal is a deal.”

    [-o-]


    There was a chime as the TRAM docked with the underground Library tram station, and its doors opened. Rey and Razoo stepped out, wary for more danger, but the place was clear.

    Rey activated her commlink.

    “Hey!” Razoo whined. “That's mine!”

    Rey ignored him. “Artoo? Are you there? Is Chewie still okay?"

    After a moment, R2-D2 responded, “Rey? Something's wrong. The inside of the Library's gone dark.
    I'm not picking up any lifesigns in there anymore...”

    “Oh no, Chewie...” Rey muttered, horrified.

    “Don't lose hope: Sensors aren't one hundred percent reliable. He could still be alive.” He paused. “Where are you?”

    “At the Library station.”

    “Good, be careful on your way up. There's a soldier guarding the top of the stairs, and six of his friends are guarding the entrance to the library proper. Lots of floodlights, too, but I can take care of that. Think you can handle the guards?”

    “We'll try.”

    “Wait, who's we?”


    [-o-]


    At the top of the station's stairs leading up to the front of the Library, there was indeed a lone Guavian soldier on guard, apparently talking to helmet's mic. Rey and Razoo peeked at him from behind cover, stacked up against either side of the stair's lower entryway.

    “I don't know what's crawled up Bala-Tik's datajack, either...” said the Guavian, his voice flanging. “Yeah, I agree, it's almost as if he's scared of the old geezer...Any news from the scout teams?...Crap, we need to get out of this city...”

    “Oookay,” Razoo whispered to Rey, well out of earshot of the Guavian. Apparently, enhanced hearing wasn't part of their augmentation package. “How do you want to do this?”

    “Quietly, duh!”

    “Cool. Still got those coins?”

    “Yeah...?” Rey said, handing Razoo the coins.

    “Get ready to jump him...” He said, dropping the sack between them. The coins scattered, making a lot of noise across the stone floor, the kind that would get anyone's attention.

    The Soldier approached, carefully stepping down the stairs, his helmet's ring optic staring down the sight of his TL-50 carbine. Just as he crossed the threshold, he caught sight of Razoo, and aimed his gun at him. “Freeze!” the cyborg yelled.

    Instead of attacking, Razoo merely put his hands up. “Whoa, there! You got me!”

    Rey made her move and attacked... by bonking the soldier over the head with her staff. Being a cyborg with a helmet, the Guavian Soldier took the hit, but didn't go down. Still, the blow did give Razoo the opportunity to shank the Guavian with his machete. After a few lightning-quick stabs, the Soldier's redundant bioware failed, and he finally died.

    Razoo knelt besides the dead body, intent on despoiling it. “The hell was that?!” His tone at Rey was disbelieving, and angry.

    “I was trying to knock him out!” Rey explained.

    “He's a pecking cyborg! They don't go down with a tap to the head! With Guavians, it's kill or be killed!”

    “Well, I didn't know, okay?!”

    “Oh, whatever! Let's just loot him before his friends show up.”

    Quickly, Razoo took the dead soldier's Repeater and a few grenades.

    “Let's see... damn rifle's front heavy, no front grip, crap at close quarters...Grenades... Couple of Cryobans and helloooooo incendiaries!” He smiled, fitting them onto his bandolier. “My favourites. Ooh! A handkerchief!” He pocketed the embroidered cloth.

    “You'd steal a piece of cloth?” Not that Rey was any stranger to looting, but a handkerchief? “Really?”

    “Pieces of cloth are handy,” said Razoo, smiling meaningfully.

    “Hmph.”

    [-o-]


    Rey and Razoo emerged from the stairs and quickly hid behind the cover of a chest-high supply crate. The Guavians had set up barricades around the entrance, making a field base out of the Library's lobby. The duo spotted two Soldiers trying to get into the building, before the rest of their squad ran up to them, alarmed.

    As R2 reported, the place was lit up by floodlights.

    “Damn it, Bala-Tik!” shouted the first soldier. “Open up! This isn't funny!”

    “His network signal's faint,” said the second soldier. “But he's there.”

    “AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGHHHH...” The scream, muffled by thick walls and glass, came from inside the Library.

    The second soldier shook his head. “...Nevermind, he's gone.”

    “Guys!” yelled the third soldier. “Giles is off the network, too!”

    “What?!” exclaimed the first soldier. This job was getting worse all the time. “Where was he?!”

    The fourth soldier pointed towards the stairs, with Rey and Razoo in the way. The soldiers moved in, guns drawn.

    Rey felt her adrenaline surge, galvanizing her heartbeat. “Kill or be killed, right?”

    Razoo nodded, resolute. “Right.”

    Rey took a deep breath, and activated her stolen Commlink. “Artoo? Lights!”

    Close your eyes!” Artoo warned.

    The generator feeding the lights surged, and the bulbs became miniature suns. Rey and Razoo caught the warning in time, but daylight still filtered through the skin of their eyelids.

    “What the kark?!” shouted the first soldier.

    The lights exploded, and darkness spread. For a while, all that Rey and Razoo could perceive was the scattering of glass, as their eyes needed time to adjust.

    The Guavians, as it turned out, had no such problem. “Infrared, now!”

    The ring-shaped visors on the Guavians helmets glowed as they reached in the dark to perceive heat.

    “Hostile!” shouted the fourth soldier. “Klubber behind that crate!”

    “Aw, crap, crap, CRAP!” cursed Razoo, who could barely see anything. “Rey?” he called out, but she did not respond. “Rey!”

    Razoo's eyes widened as they adjusted and it had seemed that Rey had completely vanished. The Guavians did not give him time to process this, as they peppered the crate covering him with blaster fire, keeping him suppressed while the fourth among them moved in to flank him.

    The Lightsaber ignited with that unmistakable snap-hiss, its faint blue light outlining a shadow shaped like Rey just before she stabbed the flanker in the chest. Instantly, the saber extinguished itself, and she became practically invisible once more.

    “What the?! Cloaker!” the first soldier warned his fireteam.

    “Switching to EM!” shouted the third. “...I don't see him!”

    “NINE O'CLOCK,” barked the third. “SUPPRESSIVE FIRE!”

    The soldiers sprayed at Rey's last position, their Repeater's muzzle flashes briefly piercing the dark, but they hit nothing. She reappeared elsewhere, and beheaded the second soldier, only to vanish just as quickly.

    “NOOO!” screamed the third soldier. “Damn it all, it's a JEDI!”

    “We need help!” shouted the first soldier, and they were quickly reinforced by another fire team.

    The pressure off, Razoo took short controlled bursts at the newcomers, and when they moved into for cover, Rey killed the third one. To Razoo, the sight was unnerving - Rey was practically a ghost, only visible when it was time to kill something.

    A couple of the soldiers attempted to take the high ground with a combination of their powerful legs and repulsorlift implants, but Razoo perforated them both, one mid-jump, the other just as it landed on a balcony.

    Eventually, it was down to one, and he panicked, firing wildly into the air, and a shot managed to get a lucky hit on Rey's shield. The shield bubble stood out in the backdrop of darkness, allowing the last Guavian to focus its spray blaster bolts at it .

    “TAKE COVER!” shouted Razoo, but Rey did not listen, and recklessly charged the Guavian. Fortunately for her, the shield held, while the Guavian's Repeater overheated. Within the second that cyborg took to switch to his pistol, Rey had already stabbed him in the heart. Even with his cybernetics, the soldier's body could not tolerate a seven hundred Kelvin rod of energy dumping its heat inside of it. He fell over, dead, steam hissing from the wound, smelling of cooked meat, both synthetic and real, and molten plastic.

    All was quiet. The power came back to the one floodlight that hadn't blown. Rey was just standing there, staring down at her handiwork, illuminated by the flickering light.

    Razoo walked up behind her. “Huh,” he said, admiring her handiwork. “Not bad at all... For a trainee. Could have been useful back when we were facing those lizards earlier, but hey...” Razoo paused, and saw Rey's expression. “...First time?”

    'What?” Rey responded, almost dazed. “No, I've...” she recalled that lone Stormtrooper in the forest close to Maz's castle. “I've killed before.” It hadn't really hit her before. I've killed before. I shot a man dead before.

    Shouldn't I be feeling awful, or guilty, or something?


    Razoo got more specific. “First time killing someone up close and personal?”

    “...Yeah,” said Rey, after thinking about it. She nodded. “Yeah, It is.”

    “... need to puke, or something?” Razoo's concern, much to Rey's continued puzzlement, was genuine. “No shame in it, you know. It's not the same as blasting someone from afar, after all. It's a lot more personal.” He crinkled his nose - the Guavian had just relaxed his bowels. "Smells worse, too."

    Rey shook her head. It smelled bad, yes, but that was not what bothered her. “... No," she began. "I'm just... shocked. It was so easy. In the dark they were just... prey.”

    The last word echoed in Rey's head in the Witch's voice. She knelt, and was about to remove the dead Guavian's mask.

    Razoo grabbed her wrist, stopping her. “No. Leave it. You don't want to see his face... It'll stay with you forever.” This was the voice of experience speaking.

    “Yeah..." Rey responded, dully. "Yeah, okay.”

    That was when R2-D2 came out of hiding from behind the floodlight's generator, and approached the two victorious humans, amidst the many corpses of cyborgs. “Whooaaaa...” he whistled. “That was... that was something,” he beeped. R2-D2's main sensor fell on Razoo, who was looting whatever he could carry.

    The Kanjiklubber cursed, unable to find a firearm ideal to his preferred stance. All of the Guavian's guns were unbalanced, the price of power. Not that it had bothered them, thanks to their cybernetics. Sloppy, Razoo thought.

    R2-D2 beeped, “Huh. Made a new friend?”

    "Kinda," said Rey, kneeling before the droid. "Are you okay?"

    R2 whistled in the affirmative.

    “So are we gonna rescue that walking carpet already?” Razoo asked, impatiently.

    “Is Chewbacca still in there?” asked Rey, worried.

    R2-D2's dome swiveled. “I honestly don't know. The Guavians have been trying to get back in for the past ten minutes. The door and walls are almost as thick as the Temple's - breaking in will take a while.”

    Razoo approached the main doors, knocked, made a half-hearted attempt to get open it, then shrugged. "Oh well, we tried." he sighed. Goodbye, life-debt."

    "Oi!" protested Rey, standing right besides the crook. "We can't give up now!"

    "What? You heard that scream earlier. Something probably ate him, killed him, or worse... and besides: look at that thing!" He gestured at the building. "That's warship level construction, right there!"

    "Well, what about those?" she pointed at his bandolier, then snatched one of the many incendiaries he had looted from the dead nearby.

    "Those?! Those are napalm, not thermite! That's good for paper, wood, flesh, and a droid's insides maybe, but that?" He pointed at the massive metal double doors, with its redundant locks. He began to walk away, saying, "Forget it, let's find the Guavians' ride. Maybe we can save ourselves, if not Luke."

    Rey put the incendiary grenade in her pack, and put on her googles. She didn't care if it took hours - she'd get through that door and save Chewbacca, imagining him all alone and despairing. And abandoning someone, anyone, like... her parents did, so long ago. No. NO! I WON'T!

    Razoo walked up to R2-D2, and asked, "Seen their gunship anywhere?"

    The droid was moments from shockprobing Razoo right in the nether regions for that insult to Chewbacca, before he saw Rey stab the double doors with her makeshift spear. "NO!" the droid screamed, causing Razoo to turn around. Just as the energy blade was about to touch one of the locks, the doors opened wide into the dark interior of the building, swung inward by an unseen force, the same force that was now pulling the girl in.

    "HELP!" Rey screamed as she flew in. Razoo ran to her, reaching out, but it was too late.

    The door was shut, and would not yield.

    Rey was trapped inside Aisa's Library.