Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 2)

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Jonesy
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Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 2)

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Centuries after the Great Emancipation, a society of free abiru flourishes on the secluded paradise world Ruu-113, safe from the tyrannical Viis Empire. No longer does 'abiru' mean 'slave', now representing a melting pot of species free to rebuild their long-lost cultures. While debate and bigotry are rife, the unknown fate of the Viis poses a unifying threat. So too does the arcane Eye of Clarity provide a symbol of solidarity, passed down between rulers as it deems fit to offer its powers.

But the abiru's isolation cannot last forever. As of late, there have been tremendous shifts in the Clarity - the Force that connects all life. The wider universe will soon take notice of Ruu-113, and the abiru with it. And as the Eye of Clarity stirs, it may once again determine the fate of all abiru peoples.

The Abiru Chronicles is a fan continuation of Deborah Chester's Alien Chronicles, crossing over with the Star Wars universe. Alien Chronicles spun out of Robert J Sawyer's planned novel Alien Exodus, which would have explored humanity's origins in the Star Wars universe. While the project ultimately became an original IP under Chester, it received several references in the pre-Disney canon, implying a shared universe.

Before the Great Emancipation, in a world ruled by darkness, a hero rose up…

STAR WARS: THE ABIRU CHRONICLES

History named her Ampris the Exile: the Golden One, the Crimson Claw, the Conqueror of the Viis. An Aaroun raised as the pet of the Viis Empire’s heir Israi, Ampris was cast from the palace to punish the young royal and endured the cruelty of the Viis firsthand. She toiled as a servant under their decadent hedonism, fought as a gladiator for their depraved amusement, and suffered as a test subject in their pursuit of aberrant science. Hers could have been the same fate as billions of her fellow abiru – the myriad of species enslaved by the Viis – in losing all hope for the future. But one thing above all sustained her through her struggles – an Eye of Clarity.

Given to Ampris by Israi as a parting gift, the Viis viewed the Eye as no more than an aged medallion from the Aaroun’s long-lost culture. But as Ampris learned in forbidden lessons from the palace’s Myal archivists, the Eye was more than a mere trinket. The Eyes of Clarity were conduits of a wider force that connected all life, and appeared throughout the histories of several abiru peoples during times of great need. They were symbols of hope to those who struggled against oppression, and sources of wisdom to those deemed worthy to wield them.

And so Ampris proved herself by laying the seeds of rebellion that grew from the desperate toil of the abiru. The Eye provided her with great wisdom through visions of the future, along with other powers shrouded in myth. But above all, it gave her with the strength to lead in the face of all she had endured. Amidst tyranny, hardship and loss, Ampris and her Freedom Network slowly grew in strength before striking a crippling blow to the Empire. By tricking them into thinking that the much-feared Dancing Death plague had returned, the Freedom Network brought anarchy to the Imperial homeworld of Viismyel. With revolt already spreading throughout the colonies and trade breaking down from sabotage of jump gates, the Viis Empire fell. Amidst the chaos, Ampris and her followers led a great exodus to the secluded paradise world of Ruu-113 to build a new homeworld for all abiru. But Ampris’ ordeals and sacrifices had pushed her health too far, leaving her to pass away peacefully shortly after planetfall.

The struggles of the abiru did not end there. Under the leadership of Ampris’ Kelth friend Elrabin, they struggled to colonize the new world with little more than the ships they arrived in, the knowledge of the surviving Myal archivists, and the Eye of Clarity. It took centuries before the abiru were able to re-establish spaceflight, and in that time disagreement and division were common. But the memories of Viis oppression did not fade, and their possible return has long been a unifying threat. Even as the abiru spread throughout the Ruu system, the jump gate to the Viis Empire remains silent, and the Viis Empire’s fate shrouded in mystery. Yet something beyond the gate has caused the Clarity to stir. And once more, the Eye turns its gaze to a most unlikely wielder…



Chapter 1

As the late evening gloom settled upon the Memorial Gardens, Cobar crept after his friend as she began her ghost hunt.

By day, the Gardens were a majestic sight. Statues immortalizing the heroes of the abiru stood tall and proud statues amidst flowerbeds blooming with every conceivable colour. Some of the heroes had been key figures in the Great Emancipation, while others were early leaders of the free abiru. It was the statue of Ampris that stood the tallest, and not by a small margin. Hers had been erected over her grave at the very edge of the Gardens, right by an overlook commanding magnificent views of First Landing. In one hand she held a parvalleh hammer-axe aloft triumphantly, while her other hand tenderly grasped a replica Eye of Clarity around her neck.
But by night, the gardens were chilling to behold.

Only the faintest lamps lit the gravel paths, casting gently-glowing rivers of light between the flowerbeds. Stronger lights illuminated the statues, whose polished forms practically shone as a result. The night air was cold and silent, filled only with the sounds of insects and the wind in the trees. For the first time since setting off up their trek up the mountain, Cobar felt a weight of dread settle over him. Surveying the gardens – with its statues looking for all the world like spirits returned to the land of the living – he realized that they were seeking forces far beyond their comprehension. Though that was assuming they found anything to begin with.

It was surprising that he and Tanni were being remotely stealthy. Neither of their respective species were known for their subtlety. Tanni was an Aaroun – a proud and mighty folk, with tall and bulky frames covered in lush fur. The only other species on Ruu-113 with a comparable physique was his own, the Toth. His kind had a small advantage in height as well as musculature, though their bodies lacked the same graceful curves. Their pelts were also much thinner besides their bushy heads. Predictably, Cobar stood half a head taller than Tanni, though it would be hard to compare as the two hunched low. They crept through the undergrowth of the forest flanking the Memorial Gardens, slowly nearing the statue of Ampris.

“How much further?” Cobar whispered. “My legs are killing me.”

Tanni waved her hand reassuringly. “Not far now. There’s a good spot up ahead. Concealed, but it’ll give us a good view of Ampris’ grave.”

“You sure we won’t get in trouble?”

“For what? We’re not in the Gardens. We’re in the forest next to it. Nothing illegal against that.” Pausing, Tanni glanced over her back, flashing him a smile that practically gleaned in the low light. “It’ll be fine. Trust me.”

There was something about Tanni’s smile that always comforted Cobar. He chalked it up to her Aaroun features: powerful jaw, short muzzle, tall triangular ears, and wide, expressive eyes. All accompanied by a light and sandy coat of lush fur. Nothing like his own appearance. He was plain even by the standards of the Toth, who could charitably be described as ‘homely’. His face was as broad as it was flat, graced with big nostrils and small eyes flanked by his kind’s usual long and floppy ears. His stubby pelt was a dark grey, further darkening to black as it reached his particularly unkept head of black hair. At least he never let it get dirty – if there was one Toth stereotype he rejected with a passion, it was uncleanliness.

“Smell that?” Tanni asked, slowing down. “Incense. Faint, probably a day or two old. I told you we’re not the only ones who come up here to commune.”

Cobar shrugged. “Yeah, but does anyone ever actually see any ghosts up here?”

Tanni looked back at him, without so much as a trace of doubt in her eyes. “Elrabin saw Ampris’ spirit. After she died, he came up here all the time to visit her grave. There are accounts from multiple people saying they saw him talking as if she was replying.”

“So? Maybe the Kelth just lost his mind in his old age.”

“Never!” Tanni replied, almost offended. “He was a great leader! Right up until the end!”

Cobar raised his hands defensively. “Okay, so maybe it was because of the Eye of Clarity? She gave it to him when she died, right? That thing’s been giving out visions since long before Ampris wore it. Maybe it lets people talk to the dead.”

“Could be, but I reckon there’s more to it. Remember the whole fight between Nashmarl and Foloth when Elrabin named Nashmarl the next leader?”

Cobar ducked under a branch, making sure not to lose his footing in the evening gloom. “Yeah. Elrabin said the Eye showed him a son of Ampris leading the abiru to greatness.”

Tanni nodded eagerly. “Except that could have meant either of them. Everyone thought it was Nashmarl, but Foloth craved power. Real piece of work. Snatched the Eye right from Elrabin on his deathbed! And you know what? They still found Nashmarl up on the mountain talking to his mother afterwards. So, what does that mean?”

Cobar shrugged. As much as everyone knew the story of Ampris and her sons, he’d never been much of a history student. Not like Tanni, who lived and breathed the stuff. “That we don’t need the Eye to see Ampris?”

“Hopefully!” Tanni said, grinning broadly. “We might even get to see her tonight!”

Cobar looked back in the Memorial Gardens. They were about as close as they could get without climbing over the perimeter fence. “But why, Tanni? I get that Ampris means a lot to you. She’s our greatest hero. But this seems… unlike you.”

Tanni chuckled. “You got me. Alright, I admit it’s a longshot, but I heard a rumour that someone else tried this. And not only did they see something up here, but the Order of Clarity came by to see them the next day. Didn’t even get in trouble! I reckon they saw Ampris. No better way to prove your connection to the Clarity than by seeing her spirit, I’d say.”

Cobar was hesitant to believe it. The Order of the Clarity had been founded early in Nashmarl’s rule, intended to protect the Eye of Clarity from misuse while harnessing its powers for the good of the abiru. They were a secretive bunch, but had helped the abiru weather many a crisis over the centuries. From time to time, they offered acolyteships to youngsters with a particularly strong connection to the Clarity – the force that connected all things, channelled strongest through the Eye of Clarity. Cobar had never felt a spark of it, whereas Tanni had a routine of daily meditations she claimed would help her tune into the Clarity. She’d never actually specified if it was working.

“You really want to join the Order?” Cobar asked.

Tanni nodded eagerly. “Of course! Without the Eye of Clarity, Ampris might not have succeeded in the Great Emancipation. Even if she had, think of all the times its visions have saved our people. Disasters we were able to prepare for. Long-lost knowledge returned to us. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?” Tanni let her gaze drift upwards. “Especially now that we’re back in space. The Viis might still be out there. We need to be ready.”

A chill went down Cobar’s spine at the thought. The prospect of the Viis discovering Ruu-113 had loomed over the free abiru since the Great Emancipation. Evacuation plans and secret hideouts had been established in the early days. Military research had always a high priority. Even the first abiru-built starship to enter orbit had been a prototype starfighter. But for all the assurances of the politicians in the Free Abiru Assembly, Cobar suspected it would be in vain. Even if only a fraction of the old Viis Empire had survived, it would be able to subjugate Ruu-113 with ease.

But the Viis never had a connection to the Clarity. They certainly never knew of the Eye’s power. Maybe, just maybe, that was all they needed.

Tanni guided Cobar to her vantage point – one close to the cliff overlook, leaving them just adjacent to the statue of Ampris. Cobar got to work pitching a tent and unpacking the food he’d prepared for dinner. As he worked, Tanni produced a prayer mat and some incense from her pack and readied herself to meditate. By the time Cobar had finished, the scent of incense was filling his nose, and Tanni was deep in her thoughts.

Tempted as he was to snack while his friend meditated, Cobar remained still and silent to let her concentrate better. For a time, Tanni knelt silently, breathing in the incense deeply as it burned in tiny pots to either side of her. Soon, she began to gently murmur an Aaroun prayer-song. The words were beyond Cobar, being in the ancient language of the Heva Clan rather than the shared abiru patois. But Tanni had a lovely singing voice that he could have listened to for hours, regardless of his ability to understand it. And that night, he did just that.

He had heard a few Aaroun prayer-songs before. Mostly at festivals and celebrations shared by all the abiru species. They were triumphant and energetic melodies, almost defying the sounds one would expect to come from such a powerful-looking people. But he’d always known them to have a deeply emotional side, and Tanni’s songs only proved it. There was a definite sadness to her song. A bittersweetness, perhaps. He recognized Ampris’ name among the lyrics several times. Glancing across at the Memorial Gardens, he saw no sign of her spirit. Or anything out of the ordinary, for that matter.

At least until sudden movement erupted in the branches above them.

Tanni yelped in surprise, falling from her kneeling position towards Cobar. Equally caught off guard, he caught her easily, holding her close as he glanced about the treetops in panic. He quickly spotted the culprit – a bird, already spooked off by the sudden movement below. It took flight, disappearing against the night sky.

“Stupid bird,” Tanni spat, climbing back onto her prayer mat. “Sorry, Cobar. Got lost in thought.”

“It’s okay,” Cobar said, settling back into his spot. “So… are you feeling anything? I haven’t seen any spirits so far.”

Tanni gave a deep sigh, which tapered off into shakiness. Her expression fell, just as she slumped back into a sitting position while drawing her knees up to her chin.

“I can’t feel the Clarity,” she whispered.

Cobar blinked. “What?”

“I can’t feel it!” Tanni cried, looking to him with yellow eyes wide in panic. “Nothing! I’ve done the meditations for years, and nothing! I’ve studied all the texts I can get my hands on, and they’ve got nothing!”

“Hey, easy, easy,” he said, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Remember what they said in school? Everyone’s connected to the Clarity.”

“Everyone’s connected to the Clarity, yes, but a true talent for it… the ability to command it…” Tanni drew a shaky breath, trying to calm herself. “Only a few have it. I mean… I always knew that. I knew that I probably didn’t. But I thought there had to be some way to forge it…”

“Maybe it’s just an age thing?” Cobar asked, grasping at straws.

Tanni shook her head. “We’re almost twenty, Cobar. Most people with a talent for the Clarity display it long before now.”

“Then maybe it’s just not to be,” Cobar said, moving to put an arm around her. “It’s not your fault, Tanni. It doesn’t make you a lesser person. There are lots of people out there – people through our history – who have never felt the Clarity. Doesn’t make their work any less important.”

“True…”

“You’ll work out something, Tanni. You’re smart. Smarter than I’ll ever be. Maybe the Order will take you on anyway, and find some other way you can help them. What about becoming an Archivist?”

“You know most Archivists are Myal, right?” Tanni asked. “What a sight that’d be. They’re maybe half my height at most.”

Cobar shrugged. “That just means you’ll stand head and shoulder over the other applicants.”

Tanni chuckled lightly, a smile returning to her lips. “Thanks, Cobar. Sorry to dump all this on you. I hoped tonight I could prove to myself that I truly had a talent for the Clarity in me. But maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s not to be.”

“No need to apologize, Tanni. I’m here for you, Clarity or no.”

Smile widening, Tanni turned her attention to her satchel. “You’re too kind, Cobar,” she said, pulling out a greasy paper-wrapped bundle and handing it to him. “But don’t think I expected you to get dragged up here out of the kindness of your heart. I brought a whole bag of those meat pasties you like.”

Cobar had already picked up the scent. “From that Kelth bakery? I don’t know what it is with the Kelth and their meat, but they can work miracles with the stuff. Aaroun cuisine’s a close second, of course.”

“It’s all in the spices,” Tanni said, her smile taking on a playful angle as she took a bite from one of the pasties. “The Toth should consider using it for once.”

“Hey, our food may be simple, but it’ll fill you up like nothing else,” Cobar said, reaching into his own pack. “Speaking of, I brought a few things myself. My kinfolk had a big elekara fruit harvest last week. Saved you a few of the choice bulbs.”

“My favourite!” Tanni exclaimed. “We really should do this more often.”

“I’m game. But next time, let’s go somewhere that’s not on top of a mountain.”

“Fine by me!”

With renewed spirits and full stomachs, it was hardly surprising the pair slept well. Despite the cold mountain air, the tent’s cosiness helped stave off the chill even if – or perhaps because – its confines were cramped. Saying that a tent could accommodate two people could mean very different things on a planet home to numerous species varying from three to seven feet in height. Cobar and Tanni were packed in shoulder to shoulder in their respective bedrolls, but neither of them complained. Not when it meant that they could share their warmth beneath a single blanket.

Which only made it more surprising for Cobar when he woke up to find that the tent was gone.

Tanni’s disappearance was what disturbed him more. He leapt to his feet, looking around in panic. The mountain was bathed in the warm glow of the morning sun, leaving the pristine woods radiant with the colours of leaves and flowers. And yet the forest looked… wrong. It took Cobar a moment to realize what else was missing – the Memorial Gardens. There was no sign of them at all. Not a single statue. Not a single pathway. Just wild, untouched nature.

Cobar looked over to the cliff, and saw that the tallest buildings of First Landing were nowhere to be seen. Moving closer, it was clear that the entire city was absent. The only sign of civilization was a collection of starships landed by the Great River, with a handful of tents and huts hastily erected around them. He recognized the ships, too. Not only had he seen them in his history textbooks, but some of them had been cannibalized to form the oldest buildings in First Landing. They were the same vessels that had ferried the Great Exodus to freedom.

For a while, Cobar could only stare dumbfounded. He had to be dreaming. There was no other explanation. But there was still a certain rightness to his surroundings. Drawing his courage, he took a few hesitant steps closer to Ampris’ burial site, trying to peer through the foliage to see if it was there. If he remembered correctly, Elrabin had laid her to rest on the overlook the day after Planetfall. And sure enough, he quickly spotted a pile of disturbed earth and makeshift grave marker, strewn with a handful of flowers.

But there was also a golden-furred Aaroun standing at the nearby precipice, surveying the landed vessels far below her.

Cobar recognized her immediately. Even if he hadn’t seen recordings dating back to the Great Emancipation, her face adorned posters and shrines on every corner of Ruu-113. Yet none of it came close to seeing the majesty of her pelt in person. Golden fur was already rare for the Aaroun, but there was a reason she was known as the Golden One.

“Ampris,” Cobar whispered.

She turned to face him, removing any doubt who she was. Ampris stood tall and strong even by Aaroun standards, just as if she was in the heyday of her time as a gladiator. But her stance was relaxed, despite the inherent confidence. She wasn’t clad in her old gladiator outfit, either, instead wearing robes that wouldn’t look out of place among the average abiru. A smile had already formed on her short muzzle, while her brown, soulful eyes held only friendliness.

“Greetings!” she said warmly. “Don’t be afraid. Come, join me.”

Cobar didn’t even hesitate to approach her, standing next to Ampris as she looked him up and down. It was clear that he was in the midst of something more than a dream. Was he speaking to Ampris’ spirit after all? He wished Tanni was there to help him figure out just what was happening. Or just to help him think of what to say – how was he supposed to address the greatest hero the abiru had ever known?

“What’s your name?” Ampris asked.

“Cobar. It’s… an honour to meet you, Ampris. You’re a hero to us all.”

Ampris’ smile only widened. “It is an honour to meet you too, Cobar. I must say, I regret not knowing many Toths in life. We only had a handful in the Freedom Network. Under the Viis, so many Toth turned to crime or working as enforcers.”

Cobar almost winced. It was a painful chapter of Toth history, inasmuch as his people even had a history. “We’re not all like that,” he said. “I mean… some still are, but most of us want to be a part of the abiru. To prove ourselves after what the Viis reduced our people to.”

“I know that feeling. I still mourn to think what the Aaroun could have become had the Viis not enslaved us. To them, we were no more than labourers. They cared only for the strength of our bodies, not the sharpness of our minds or the fire in our hearts.”

“At least now your people have a second chance,” Cobar said.

“Some do,” Ampris agreed, turning her eyes skyward. “But so many were left behind. The Empire was falling last we saw of it, but what became of it and the people who couldn’t join the Great Exodus… even I don’t know.”

“But you’re… a ghost? Part of the Clarity? You can’t just… fly there?”

Ampris laughed. “I would if I could, Cobar. But no. My place is here, watching my people and offering wisdom to those deserving. Including you, it would seem.”

Sighing, Cobar shook his head. “That can’t be right, Ampris. I’m nobody. My kinfolk are farmers. It’s a line of work that suits me fine. Really, it’s my friend Tanni you should talk to. She’s smart. She’s brave. Only reason I even came up the mountain was to keep her company while she tried to commune with you.”

As much as Ampris maintained her smile, a tinge of sadness crept into it. “It’s the will of the Clarity that we’re speaking. I sensed your friend’s presence, and I appreciate her attempts to reach out to me. But she doesn’t have the talent for the Clarity within her. Not like you.”

“No,” Cobar said, taking a step back. “That’s not possible. I’m not sensitive to it.”

“You are. Very, very faintly. Enough that you could have led your entire life without knowing of it. Now I don’t know if that’s just you, or if the Toth aren’t as attuned to the Clarity as others, but it doesn’t matter. I’m a part of the Clarity now, Cobar. And I can sense that fate is guiding you.”

A deathly chill settled over Cobar. He wanted to believe he was dreaming, but he couldn’t bring himself to it. But he didn’t feel any different. No connection to the Clarity. Certainly no guiding hand of fate. He was a farmer. He was happy to keep being a farmer. The thought of being anything more – not least of all against his will – was nerve-wracking.

Ampris seemed well aware of his discomfort, placing a hand on his shoulder. It felt perfectly real. “I know it’s a lot to take in,” she said. “But don’t worry. I’m not a stranger to the Order of the Clarity. They’ll help you.”

“But why?” Cobar asked. “What fate? I don’t… I don’t know anything. I wasn’t planning on doing anything.”

“I don’t know,” Ampris admitted. “I cannot see the future. But there have been great shifts in the Clarity since my passing. Far, far beyond Ruu. Some for the worse. More recently, the better. Whatever it means, I fear that our peaceful isolation cannot last forever. And when that changes, I imagine you’re going to play a role.”

Cobar couldn’t find the words at first. His throat was tight with anxiety, and it took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself. “Is it the Viis? Are they coming back?”
“I don’t think it was them. No, this is something much, much bigger. Something involving the Clarity.”

“But what am I supposed to do? I told you, I’m nobody. What can I possibly do?”

Ampris took a step closer to him, drawing him into a hug. Every part of it, from her touch to her warmth, felt utterly real. Any lingering thought that he was dreaming evaporated in an instant.

“I wish I knew enough to tell you,” she whispered. “But I can see that you’ve got a good heart. Whatever may lay in your path, or in the future of the abiru, I have faith in you.”

Cobar closed his eyes, nodding. “Thank you… but I…”

In a heartbeat, Cobar felt his surroundings changed. He opened his eyes again, and he was back in the tent.

Nothing was amiss. The sun was yet to rise. The forest was silent. Tanni lay beside him, dozing peacefully. He sat up slowly, cradling his head. Fear gripped him too tightly to think straight. Over and over, his exchange with Ampris replayed in his head. Cobar wanted to accept his initial suspicions. To believe it had all been a dream. But deep down he knew something extraordinary had happened.

The movement must have woken Tanni, who stirred from her sleep beside him. “Cobar?” she said groggily. “You alright?”

“Yeah. I just… I had some sort of dream. I think.”

Tanni propped herself up on her elbow. “You think?”

“Yeah. It was like I was back at planetfall, overlooking the ships down by the river. Ampris was there, and we talked. It felt… real.” He looked over to her, barely able to make out her form in the darkness. “It can’t have been, can it? It’s impossible.”

Tanni sat up slowly, shuffling along the tent so that she could face him.

“Not if it was a vision from the Clarity,” she said quietly.

Cobar shook his head. “It can’t be, Tanni. I’m too old. I’m not… I don’t feel it.”

“You’re sure it wasn’t a dream?”

“I… I don’t think so.”

“Okay,” Tanni said, fumbling through her pack for a portable light. She switched it on, illuminating the tent with a comforting glow. “Tell me what happened. All of it.”

Cobar obliged. He spared no detail, sharing everything he remembered. And as someone who frequently forgot the reason he entered rooms, it was astonishing just how clear his memories were. Tanni listened on in fascination, which quickly elevated to fixation as Cobar recounted his conversation with Ampris. She hung on every word that the ghostly Aaroun had spoken, and mulled them over long after Cobar had finished.

“I believe you, Cobar,” she said. “I’ve heard accounts of Ampris coming to people in visions. It’s rare, and the accounts might not be entirely credible, but… I believe you.”

Cobar exhaled, though he felt only the slightest relief. “So, I’m not crazy, then?”

“Not at all,” Tanni said, giving him a small smile. “I know you, Cobar. I know you wouldn’t be saying these things without good reason.”

Nodding, Cobar lowered his eyes. The anxiety of the whole situation was starting to grow an entirely new facet. One that only weighed on him more under Tanni’s kindness.

“It should have been you, Tanni. You should have been the one to see her.”

Tanni was silent for a few moments. Her eyes were downcast, lost deep in her thoughts. “It’s not your fault, Cobar. I wouldn’t have had you pegged as sensitive to the Clarity. Best we can do now is go to the Order and tell them what happened.”

“I don’t think we’ll need to go to them,” Cobar said, staring at a faint light that had appeared on the tent canvas.

The pair stumbled out of the tent, quickly spotting the light moving towards them. Several, in fact. As Tanni held up her own light, a trio of figures became clear in the gloom. Each was clad in simple robes with a small torch affixed to their bandolier. Though it was hard to tell based on the robes they wore, one had the stature of an Aaroun and another of a Kelth. The species of the third figure was harder to place, but it was clear enough who they were.

Keepers of the Clarity.

Even in the darkness, they walked tall and confident. Their robes were plain and humble, with the only ornamentation being the replica Eyes of Clarity slung around their necks. The Aaroun and the Kelth each wielded the traditional quarterstaff like walking sticks, though they had much fiercer-looking blaster pistols strapped to their hips. The pair halted a few paces from Tanni and Cobar, while their compatriot continued to approach.

“Ah, what have we here?” he said, voice shrill. “Visitors up the mountain after hours. Trying to summon Ampris, perhaps?”

Cobar realized the speaker’s species just as the man threw back his hood. He was a Zrhel, with a particularly long beak and greying plumage. The man regarded the pair with dark eyes, but there was a deceptive keenness to them despite his age. It wasn’t a surprise to see a Zrheli Keeper – they had a greater affinity for the Clarity than most abiru species. But that didn’t make their avian appearance any less unnerving.

“We mean no harm, Keeper,” Tanni said, bowing. “I sought her guidance. My friend is just here for company.”

The Zrhel gave a squawkish laugh. “No need to apologize, Aaroun. You’re not the first to camp out here, nor will you be the last. Though it would seem that things didn’t quite go as you expected.” The Zrhel looked up at Cobar. “Isn’t that right, young man?”

Cobar swallowed nervously. “You know it was me?”

“Of course!” the Zrhel said. “Ampris told me was much herself. You’re not the only one she’s spoken to tonight.”

The other two Keepers glanced at each other, with one making a whispered comment. The Zrhel turned to them, giving an inquisitive trill.

“You have something to say, Keeper Taren?”

The Aaroun Keeper bowed his head. “No, High Keeper Qrooth. I’m just… surprised.”

“I don’t see why you ought to be. We’ve had Samparese Keepers. Phivean Keepers. Even Gorlican Keepers. Is a Toth that surprising?”

“It’s still a first,” Keeper Taren said. “It’s long been held that his kind has a weak connection the Clarity, if any. Toth, if you don’t mind my asking, have you felt anything that you would consider a connection to the Clarity until now?”

“No,” Cobar said. “I… I didn’t know until tonight.”

Taren nodded, looking back to High Keeper Qrooth. “I don’t doubt you or Ampris. But I still find this very anomalous. Especially when he’s already older than most new acolytes.”

Qrooth nodded curtly. “Noted. But remember that everyone has a connection to the Clarity, whether they have the talent to wield it or not. Perhaps the Toth feel it differently than others. I’m sure this young man’s experiences will help illuminate matters. But I will not see him denied opportunity because of his species, or for his age.”

“Of course not, High Keeper,” Taren said, bowing his head once more.

Turning back to Cobar, Qrooth walked around him, looking him up and down. Cobar watched him nervously, casting the odd glance at the other Keepers. They stood still – almost reverently so – but he could practically feel the stares emanating from beneath their hoods. He didn’t the Clarity to sense their doubt.

“Keeper Taren does raise a pertinent point,” Qrooth said. “The Order has never had a Toth Keeper. That would put a lot of eyes on you. Still, there’s a first time for everything. Ampris is one with the Clarity, and she’s never set us wrong in her guidance. Especially on the occasions she’s pointed us towards new acolytes.”
Qrooth circled around him once more, coming to a stop before him. “You have potential. But I sense that your connection to the Clarity is quite weak. Even by the standards of prospective acolytes.”

Somehow, that information did little to assure Cobar. “Am I worth training, then?” he asked.

“Cobar!” Tanni whispered.

“Yes, don’t discredit yourself, young man,” Qrooth agreed. “You’re not obliged to join us, of course. There’s no penalty for declining, though we may check up on you from time to time to make sure your abilities aren’t being abused. Though it’s most likely that your talent will simply languish, untapped and unused. Otherwise, our door is open to you. You need not decide now, but you are already older than our usual acolytes. I would see you begin training sooner rather than later.”

Cobar was at a loss. He could say no. He could go back home, and get on with a life of simple, honest labour. A life spent working hard alongside his kinsfolk to keep the abiru fed. Each day ending with him curling up in bed with aching muscles and a good book. Far from a glamorous life, but he was content enough with it and appreciated its importance.

But what would Ampris think of him turning his back on what she thought was his calling? What would Tanni think of him turning down the opportunity she so desperately wanted herself? He might not share her admiration for the Order, but he certainly respected them. If he joined, he could help the abiru in ways he never would have imagined. Especially if Ampris’ omen proved true. Perhaps he could even help prove that the Toth had moved on from their past once and for all. That was something his parents had always instilled in him, and he felt they would understand his decision if that was what it would mean.

He glanced at Tanni, trying to gauge where she stood. She seemed to know where his thoughts lay, and she gave him an encouraging nod. “You can do it, Cobar,” she said quietly. “I know you can.”

Cobar exhaled, looking back to Qrooth. “Okay. I’ll try it. If it doesn’t go well…”

Qrooth nodded. “You won’t be obliged to stay. Besides, you’ll still see your family on your rest days. Same with your friend here.”

Tanni chuckled. “I was thinking about becoming an Archivist, anyway.”

Clapping his clawlike hands, Qrooth chuckled delightedly. “Ah, an aspirant scholar! Seems you’re in good company… Cobar, was it?”

“Yes, High Keeper.”

“In that case, Acolyte Cobar, you have a long journey ahead of you. One that I will help guide you on personally. If the Order is to see its first Toth Keeper, I’d see that your acolyteship is handled properly.”

Cobar bowed to Qrooth, and not entirely out of etiquette. The High Keepers formed the inner circle of the Order’s leadership, making them highly respected even by the Order’s standards. It was rare for them to directly undertake mentorships. As much as Cobar felt honoured, he also felt the grip of anxiety tighten in his gut.

“I’m honoured, High Keeper,” Cobar said.

Qrooth returned the bow, turning to survey the horizon. Dawn had arrived, brightening the forest with its orange light. “Well, we have a long day ahead of us, then. Family to inform, introductions to make. A Keeper’s life is a busy one, but rewarding all the same.”

Cobar hoped that would prove true. He wasted no time helping Tanni break down the tent, before divvying up a quick breakfast from the previous night’s leftovers. The pair ate as they walked, the Keepers having turned down the offer of food. In fact, Keeper Taren and his compatriot remained silent as the group set off, even as Qrooth and Tanni discussed the Order’s Archivist wing and its recruitment process. Considering how impressed Qrooth sounded by Tanni’s knowledge of the organization, Cobar had little doubt she’d be successful.

As he made his way through the forest after the group, Cobar spared one last look behind him at the Memorial Gardens before they disappeared from view. Ampris’ statue was already meeting the sun, shining like a beacon that would be visible far below at First Landing. It was a symbol of hope to all abiru, and a reminder of what he would be standing for as a Keeper. Something that might just make it all worthwhile.

But Cobar stopped in his tracks as he spotted a figure standing by the base of the statue. He recognized who it was immediately. Ampris, her form taking on an ethereal blue glow, was watching him leave with a proud smile on her face. As their eyes locked, she offered him a reassuring wave, before fading away into the brightening sunlight.

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Jonesy
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Re: Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles

#2 Post by Jonesy »

Chapter 2

Rey stared deep into the star map, looking for something that she wasn’t sure even existed.

The hologram of the Unknown Regions swirled like a stormcloud. It was a vast expanse of uncharted systems, spread across an equally uncharted miasma of celestial hazards. Black holes, supernovas and gravity wells made up only the most mundane hazards preventing proper exploration. Every spacer had a tale of a friend-of-a-friend who met a gruesome end seeking their fortune out in the Chaos, as the Regions were sometimes called. There was a certain one-upmanship when it came to describing the most horrific anomalies that infested both real and hyperspace in the area. Some of them were plausible enough to actually be true.

Even so, none of that was of any help to Rey. She didn’t know enough of what she was looking for to even begin to find it.

R2-D2 – currently serving as the map’s projector – gave an inquisitive trill. Rey couldn’t blame him. What she was going through was odd even for a Force user, let alone to a droid. She gave a small sigh, shaking her head.

“No, Artoo, I don’t know where it is specifically,” she said, waving her hand through the Unknown Regions. “Just the rough area. Even then, it’s… inexplicable. More of a feeling than clear directions.”

R2 gave a doubtful beep, not concealing his scepticism whatsoever. Rey would be lying if she didn’t have her doubts, even if they were starting to fade.

“Yes, I’m sure. I’ve been having visions of… something. Whatever it is, it’s drawing me there through the Force. Or perhaps it’s the will of the Force itself nudging me. I suppose there’s only one way to find out.”

The next round of beeps had a distinctly nervous tone. Rey shook her head again, this time grinning.

“No, I don’t sense it’s dangerous, Artoo. Or at least not hostile. Reaching it, though… that might be risky.” She rose to her feet. “Come on. Poe and Chewie should be here soon. We’ll need their help.”

The map flickered away into nothingness as R2 shut down the display and trundled after her into the temple hallways. ‘Temple’ still felt a bit of a stretch. It was actually an old country estate seized from a First Order collaborator by the Chandrilan authorities, then gifted to the reborn Jedi Order after the New Republic re-established their capital on Chandrila. Rey hadn’t been about to look a gift Bantha in the mouth, but the place never sat easily with her. Perhaps it was a bit too luxurious to serve as the home of an ascetic order. Perhaps it was oddly empty with so much of the original furniture removed. Perhaps it was sheer loneliness from having only two people and a few droids sharing it.

That sense weighed on Rey as she walked the silent corridors, with only the sound of R2 following her to break the quiet. But that soon changed as she heard a speeder approach. In spite of herself, Rey picked up her pace as she headed towards the landing pad. Even if her plan was laughed out of the room, it would be good to see her friends again.

Finn was already greeting their guests by the time Rey got there. He was an odd sight, clad in Jedi robes with Poe’s old jacket over the top. But he looked good in it. He certainly appeared in good cheer as he hugged Poe and Chewbacca in turn, who were just as pleased to see him. Poe was resplendent in a New Republic uniform, while Chewbacca wore his usual bandoleer with his Medal of Bravery proudly attached. As the three conversed, the crisp country air was filled with the sound of laughter and playful roaring, sending echoes across the estate.

“What a welcome!” Poe said, grinning at Rey. “Looks like the entire Jedi Order has come out to see us!”

Rey chuckled, stepping into his embrace. “We’re working on it. We haven’t had any survivors of Master Luke’s Order come to us. Once Finn’s finished his training, we’ll focus more on recruiting.”

“Hey, the First Order’s barely cold in its grave,” Poe replied. “Nobody’s expecting you to rebuild overnight. I’ve got nothing but faith in you two to get the Jedi back on their feet.”

Chewbacca gave a grunt of agreement, nodding enthusiastically as he pulled Rey into a tight hug. He released her only when BB-8 approached with a delighted trill, leaving the Wookie to pick up the droid and cradle him like an infant.

Finn shot Chewie a smile, before looking back to Poe. “I’ve been learning a lot as Rey’s padawan. Safe to say the Jedi’s future is in good hands.”

“No pressure,” Rey muttered. “But seriously, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. The recruitment alone’s going to be a challenge, with so few resources and so much uncertainty in the galaxy. But… I think I have a lead on something. It’s a longshot, but it could help.”

Roaring in enthusiasm, Chewbacca patted Rey’s shoulder while uttering something that sounded like an assurance. Poe echoed it with a nod.

“I should be able to convince my superiors that my talents are needed with you for a while,” he said. “Safe to say the galaxy owes you a few favours.”

Rey chuckled. “I appreciate your confidence, General. But I’d better explain things before we get too far ahead of ourselves. Come on in. Threepio should have lunch ready soon.”

C-3PO was indeed ready to serve up by the time they were settled in the dining room. The droid was proving a decent cook, at least once he’d installed a program covering local cuisine. That afternoon he’d prepared Chandrilan squall tendermeat with fresh colla sauce, which the diners were quick to declare to their liking. Frankly, Rey was happy with anything more flavoursome than polystarch flour bread, and was content to sit and enjoy the meal while Poe and Chewie caught them up with their latest news.

Chewie had just returned from a sabbatical on Kashyyyk, and was happy to report that his mate Mallatobuck and son Lumpawaroo were in good health. Poe wasn’t quite as joyous, spending less time in the cockpit and more time coordinating the mop-up of First Order remnants. It was a campaign that the Resistance – now the de facto armed forces of the New Republic – was handily winning. But each victory brought them closer and closer to a whole new problem, which would be determining what would come next for the recuperating New Republic.

“I don’t care how dangerous this adventure of yours is going to be, Rey,” Poe said. “But it’ll beat the endless debates. Centralize this, federalize that. I need a break from it all. So, where are we going? Somewhere with sandy beaches? Snowy mountains, good for skiing?”

Rey sighed, taking a sip of her tsiraki. “That’s the thing. I don’t exactly know. You see, I’ve been having visions lately. Almost like… something’s reaching out to me.”

She paused a moment, half expecting derision or scepticism. But none came. Finn sat attentive and serious in his expression. Poe actually seemed a little more interested than he had prior. Chewbacca was still eating, but obviously intrigued.

“What contacted you?” Poe asked. “What did you see?”

“A few things. A planet that I don’t recognize. Species that don’t match public records. Scenes of… war, or unrest. But the main recurring element is an eye.”

That was the straw that broke the kaadu’s back. Finn blinked, while Poe cocked his head slightly.

“An eye?” Poe asked.

Rey nodded. “A piercing purple eye, rapidly solidifying into crystal. I don’t understand it, either.”

Poe nodded slowly. “Okay. So, what do you make of this… information?”

“It’s hard to say yet,” Rey said. “Like I said, whatever or whoever it is, I feel like it’s calling to me. And from what I can tell, it’s in the Unknown Regions.”

Poe inhaled sharply. “That does make things complicated. I think our trip to Exegol was enough Unknown Regions for one lifetime.”

“Is it still doable?” Finn asked.

Taking another bite of his meal, Poe gave a shrug while he ate and swallowed. “We wouldn’t be the first to go out that way. It’ll still be difficult finding a way through the Galactic Barrier, and the Regions aren’t much safer to traverse beyond that. But we have options to do it comparatively safely. Short hyperspace jumps are the main one, since it reduces the risk of running into anything nasty. But I hear the best method is to do what some of the locals do, and use force-sensitive pilots.” He shot Rey a smile. “Any idea where we can find one?”

Rey chuckled. “I have been practicing with the Falcon lately. But I’d like you to co-pilot. You may not be force sensitive, but I’d feel a lot more confident with your skills on hand. Same with you, Chewie.”

Chewbacca chuckled, following up with a couple of growl-like sentences in Shyriiwook.

Rey nodded in response. “I appreciate your concern, Chewie. But no, I don’t think it’s a trap. The more I feel this calling, the more I realise it’s not dangerous.”

“Or at least that’s what it wants you to think,” Poe said. “There’s still a lot of unknowns here. But I’m willing to help. Something or someone this attuned to the Force might be helpful for the Jedi.”

Rey turned her eyes to Finn. His expression was conflicted, but he too soon gave a nod. “I’ll follow your lead, Master.”

Rey sighed. “Finn, we’ve talked about the whole ‘Master’ thing.”

“I’m still your padawan. If we’re going to rebuild the Order, we have to have a bit of formality.”

“But you’re still my friend. I respect your opinion.”

Finn hesitated for a moment. “Well… I don’t like risking so much on such little information. But dangerous or not, if it’s capable of reaching out to you, it needs to be investigated.”

Chewie nodded in agreement, leaving Rey to turn her eyes to the droids. C-3PO perked up in surprise when he realized she wanted his input, but it was R2-D2 who chimed in first with a series of enthusiastic bleeps. BB-8 echoed him, going as far as nodding in agreement.

“I’ll-I’ll-I’ll help!” D-O chimed in, giving a slower but no less enthusiastic series of nods.

C-3PO glanced down at the tiny droid, before looking back up at Rey. “Well, I do agree with Master Finn that we’re taking a very big risk on very little information. But I suspect you may have need of a translator. While my knowledge of Unknown Regions languages is limited, I’ll help as best I can.”

Rey smiled, if only to hide her nervousness. Part of her didn’t expect to get this far. Or perhaps that’s what she’d been hoping. “So, we’re in agreement, then. But believe me, I’m not about to walk into this unprepared. If we’re going to do this, we need a plan. And if you’re all going to come, I need your input.”

The others certainly didn’t hold back. As the hours ticked deeper into the night, their plans and understanding slowly coalesced. But even then, it was vaguer than Rey would have liked. Without a clear understanding of what challenges they might face in the Unknown Regions, their list of needed supplies and equipment was necessarily broad. Poe was at least confident he could requisition it all through his contacts. Rey also did her best to detail her visions in more depth, even showing off some sketches she’d made of the various species and sights she’d seen. Just as she’d expected, the others didn’t recognize them. But they weren’t about to give up.

Chewie offered to take C-3PO on a trip to Coruscant to see what they could dig up in the old Imperial Archives. Poe named a few New Republic members and observers close to or outright in the Unknown Regions, and Finn promised to approach their representatives for help while Poe chased down some supplies. Deep down, Rey knew it still left little to go on. She pressed on regardless, hoping that they’d manage to find something of help.

And against all expectations, they did.

Finn was on his second day of talks with New Republic representatives when he hurriedly contacted Rey over the holonet, asking her to come to the New Republic Senate in Hanna City. Despite having been the New Republic’s capital once before, the ongoing mop-up of First Order forces and general galaxy-wide reconstruction efforts left the whole city a bigger hive of activity than ever. Finding a free landing pad was a challenge all on its own, and finding Finn was equally difficult amidst the crowded halls of the Senate Building. When the two did link up, he only led her deeper into the complex, excitedly explaining that he’d found a lead.

The office they entered was cramped, clearly portioned out of a larger space. It was sparsely-decorated, too, only containing local furnishings and artwork. But it still held two occupants, who broke off their conversation to politely rise to their feet. One was a blue-skinned humanoid man with piercing red eyes and greying hair, who watched Rey for several moments with a small smile. His clothing consisted of a formal but understated white robe, giving the impression of being someone of importance. But Rey’s attention was quickly drawn to his companion.

The woman was very short, standing at half Rey’s height. Though she was clad in plain brown robes, her body was covered in a short pelt of yellow-brown fur. It thinned out to grey skin at her face, which was dominated by a short muzzle and wide, dark eyes. Those same eyes stared up at Rey excitedly, while the woman’s prehensile tail furled and unfurled in anticipation. The woman’s species was one that Rey had seen only once before – in brief glimpses in her visions.

“You saw one!” the woman exclaimed. “Your friend says you saw an Eye of Clarity!”

Rey stopped dead in her tracks, looking down at the diminutive figure. “I… may have. I definitely saw a vision of an eye.”

“A purple eye? A crystal eye?”

“Yes. You know of it?”

The woman laughed delightedly. “Of course! Any abiru who knows their history knows of the Eyes of Clarity! We thought them lost to the ages!”

“Well, it sounds like I came to the right place, then,” Rey said, offering a polite bow. “But I think some introductions are in order. I am Rey Skywalker, Master of the Jedi Order.”

The blue-skinned man chuckled. “An apt name. Our Force-sensitive navigators are known as sky-walkers. From what I have heard of your skills and accomplishments, I would say it is well-earned.” The man bowed deeply. “I am Ambassador Xodazi'trov'meo, or Zitrov if you prefer. I represent the Chiss Ascendancy.”

“The pleasure if all mine, Ambassador. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Chiss. Or heard much of you, for that matter.”

“Good. We like to keep it that way. We’re a humble power in the Unknown Regions, and we mostly keep to our own affairs. We had been considering observer status with the New Republic since the Empire’s fall, and decided to pursue it after we came into conflict with the First Order. I understand we have you to thank for their defeat.”

“I only played a small part,” Rey replied. “A lot of good people gave their lives in the fight against them.”

“We know that all too well. No matter how small you think your role in it all was, know that it proved crucial in the end. For that, you have our thanks.”

Smiling, Rey bowed her head and looked to the shorter alien. “And you said you are an Abiru?”

The woman tilted her head from side to side. “Yes, and no. I am a Myal. ‘Abiru’ is an old term, covering the various species once enslaved by the Viis Empire. ‘Talking animal’ is the closest translation.”

Finn gave a small grunt, brow furrowed. “You’re clearly more than an animal. Can’t say I like the sound of these Viis.”

The woman chuckled. “No abiru would disagree with you there,” she said, looking back to Rey. “I am Zezeziel, of the Abiru Enclave.”

“Pleased to meet you, Zezeziel,” Rey said, bowing again. “Are you an ambassador as well?”

The Myal shook her head. “Just a sociologist, actually. Chandrila is a sivo mine for cultural studies. The Enclave hopes to establish an outpost here, with the permission of the Chandrilans and the Ascendancy.”

Rey looked to Ambassador Zitrov curiously, and he was quick to nod understandingly. “The Abiru Enclave is a semi-autonomous enclave within our borders. We provide them with resources and protection in exchange for their skills. Most of the population is Myal, and they have proven themselves peerless researchers. Their work is highly respected.”

“We’re not slaves, if that’s what worries you,” Zezeziel added. “We abide by the Chiss Ascendancy’s laws, but we largely govern ourselves on internal matters.”

“But there was a time you were enslaved by the Viis?” Rey asked.

“A long time ago. The Viis Empire held almost a dozen other species in bondage under a dominion spanning scores of worlds. My direct ancestors toiled on a remote research colony in the final days of the Viis Empire. As it fell into civil war and rebellion, they hijacked an exploratory vessel equipped with cryogenics to escape the anarchy of the collapse and the tyranny of the Viis. It was a desperate gamble, but after centuries of travel the vessel eventually wound up in Chiss space.”

“Barely,” Ambassador Zitrov said. “The vessel was in poor shape by then. We typically don’t accept refugees, but we made a rare exception for the abiru. Even discounting the Myal’s contributions to our knowledge base, their information on the old Viis Empire highlighted a potential threat to the Ascendancy. Fortunately, we haven’t heard anything of the Viis since, but we can never be too careful.”

Rey listened on intently, though a vague sense of dread washed over her. An entire empire had risen and fallen in the Unknown Regions, dictating the fate of numerous species in the process. And yet, it hadn’t even qualified as a footnote in galactic history. If anything, it made the scale of the Galactic Empire and the First Order that followed all the more intimidating. But in a way, the victory over them also felt all the more remarkable.

“Sounds like it’s for the best,” Rey said. “But I’d like to know more of these Eyes of Clarity. You think that’s what’s calling me to the Unknown Regions?”

Zezeziel nodded. “What your friend described matches their appearance, so yes. I believe it is an Eye. The Eye, perhaps. As I said, most had been lost to time. We only know the probable location of one.”

“Where is it?” Rey asked. “Viis space?”

“Not anymore,” Zezeziel said. “If some of the last broadcasts we picked up from the Viis were correct, the Abiru Freedom Network staged a great exodus from the Viis homeworld Viismyel to the paradise world Ruu-113. The leader of the Network, Ampris, was in possession of the only known Eye of Clarity.”

“Ruu-113,” Finn repeated. “You think that might be the planet in your visions, Rey?”

Rey shrugged. “It was a beautiful world that I saw. Lush. Pristine. It’s certainly possible. Do you know where Ruu-113 is, Zezeziel?”

The Myal shook her head mournfully. “No. We have starcharts of the Viis Empire, and its place in the Unknown Regions. But the Viis kept Ruu-113’s location a closely-guarded secret. They had intended to exploit its resources to save their crumbling homeworld, especially as the colonies grew rebellious. But the only jump gate leading to Ruu broke down soon after initial exploration. It was an open secret that the Zrheli were sabotaging the gate.”

“Another abiru species, I’m guessing,” Rey said.

“Yes. They are a very… odd people. But they are gifted beyond compare when it comes to handling quantum hardware. A small rookery of them aided my ancestor’s escape from Viis space, and remain a part of the Abiru Enclave. Though really, they’re an enclave within the Enclave.”

Ambassador Zitrov chuckled. “They’re insular even by our standards. Much slower to trust us than the Myal or the others. But they have lent us their expertise, and we’ve learned a thing or two about them in the process. The main thing that might interest you is their latent force sensitivity. We suspect that’s the basis for their quantum aptitude.”

“Perhaps we should take some on as apprentices,” Finn said.

Rey almost chuckled, but realized it wasn’t a terrible idea. “We can consider that in time. But the Zrheli kept sabotaging the gate, you say?”

“For centuries, yes,” Zezeziel said. “Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands must have been executed for it. You see, Ruu-113 is sacred to the Zrheli. They would rather lay down their lives than allow the Viis to pillage it. They must have come to an agreement with Ampris and her followers to grant them passage. As far as we know, the Abiru Exodus settled the planet, far from the clutches of the Viis.”

Finn exhaled, scratching his head. “Okay, so let’s assume this Ampris made it to Ruu-113 safely, Eye of Clarity in hand. But that still leaves the question of what the Eyes are. You said there was more than one?”

Zezeziel nodded. “They have appeared throughout the histories of several abiru species in the hands of their wisest leaders. We Myal had one that became the symbol of leadership. The one Ampris carried dated back to her own people, the Aaroun. We don’t know the Eyes’ exact nature, but they are amulets that each contain a crystal with very powerful abilities. Many are shrouded in myth, but the most common thread is visions of prophecy bestowed upon those that the Eyes deem worthy. Especially in times of crisis.”

“These Eyes clearly work through the Force, then,” Rey said.

“That is what we believe. Most abiru history was wiped out by the Viis, making it difficult to ascertain. But based on our understanding of the Force from Chiss knowledge and public documentation about your own Jedi, the Eyes being Force-connected artefacts is a reasonable explanation. Some suspect that they are actually entities unto themselves. We can’t say for sure without investigation.”

The way Zezeziel stared at her after saying that made Ray cotton on to her meaning very quickly. “You wish to come with us?”

The Myal nodded. “You have no idea how important the Eyes are to my people. Same with Ruu-113 to the Zrheli. Your visions are the first we’ve heard of the Abiru Exodus in centuries. And if we can learn the fate of its fate, it would give us closure on a vital chapter in our history.”

Rey suspected the Falcon was going to be a lot more cramped on the expedition, even with the Myal’s small stature. But she felt hopeful. She had stumbled into something much bigger than she realized, but was beginning to understand its importance. “I would be honoured for you to accompany me. We may be able to spare room on our vessel for a couple of extra people, too.”

Zezeziel hummed to herself. “Ifrada is our leading expert on the Force. He’s also the Conclave Council’s Kelth representative, so he’d be a good representative of the Conclave as a whole. But if we’re going to Ruu, we simply must have a Zrheli delegate, too.”

“Will the Chiss be sending anyone?” Rey asked.

“Not at the moment,” Ambassador Zitrov said. “We may send an envoy to Ruu if there is indeed an abiru society there, but we have more urgent matters to dedicate resources to. That said, I can provide you our most up-to-date charter of routes through the Galactic Barrier and general navigational hazards in the Unknown Regions. On one condition, that is.”

“Anything you ask, Ambassador. I appreciate your help.”

“And I am happy to provide. But I would have you report anything you learn of the Viis Empire to us. We suspect that it has either fallen or at least declined dramatically, but we need to know if it is in a state to threaten us. We take potential threats very seriously.”

Rey nodded. “I understand. We’ll pass on anything we learn of the Viis.” Though from what she was hearing of them, Rey desperately hoped they didn’t come back with bad news.

Zezeziel quickly excused herself to make some arrangements, but not before Rey gave her a standing offer to visit the Jedi Temple. The Myal was almost speechless with excitement at the thought, apparently having been meaning to seek such an invitation for some time. But while Rey also felt a sense of anticipation – not to mention relief that she had a clearer picture of what she was dealing with – new anxieties had only formed. Ones that Finn similarly shared.

“These Viis sound like a charming bunch,” he said, as they flew back to the Temple. “Enslaved several species. Ruined their homeworld, too. They may be a threat to more than just the Chiss.”

Rey shrugged. “Sounds like they may have toppled their own empire. The Chiss don’t seem too worried.”

“Would they tell us if they were? Poe’s list had a footnote saying they’re shrouded in mystery. I heard one of them was an Imperial admiral, but I couldn’t tell you anything more about them.”

“I didn’t sense that Ambassador Zitrov was lying to us. Or at least I didn’t sense him meaning any harm. Probably just wants answers as much as we do.”

“I hope that’s the extent of it,” Finn said. “These Myal… these abiru. This Eye thing clearly means a lot to them. It’s obviously very powerful, even if it wasn’t calling to you from half a galaxy away. But am I alone in thinking it could be useful?”

Rey glanced over at him with a raised eyebrow. “For what?”

“For all sorts of things. We know it provides visions. It could help us rebuild the Jedi. Or the New Republic. It could help us prepare for the next big crisis.”

“The abiru probably don’t want us walking off with their prized relic.”

Finn nodded. “I’m not saying we should. But surely they can lend it to us for an afternoon, or something.”

“We can ask them when we get there. But we can cross that bridge when we get to it.”

“Assuming we make it to that bridge without being sucked into a black hole…”

The chances of that happening were looking slim, at least. Chewie and C-3PO returned from Coruscant a few days later with a wealth of navigational data, soon expanded upon with Ambassador Zitrov’s own. Poe’s attempts to scrounge up supplies had borne fruit, along with various other foodstuff, supplies and equipment for an expedition into the unknown. Zezeziel and her companions arrived days later with even more kit in tow. Rey wound up having to crack open some of Han’s old smuggling compartments just to fit it all.

The abiru members of the expedition were a motley bunch. Zezeziel was clad not just in her robe, but a harness carrying all manner of esoteric scientific instrument. And as she stepped inside the Jedi Temple, she was giddy as a schoolgirl.

“Fascinating!” she cried, looking around while adjusting an augmented reality monocle over her right eye. “This building is far more modern than I expected. And the carvings on the pillar here! Is this a key figure from Jedi history?”

Rey grimaced. “No, that’s the merchant who used to own the estate. Most of his artwork was seized after his arrest, but the pillars were too load-bearing to be taken out. I think his depiction here is over-flattering, especially around his midsection.”

Zezeziel hummed in disappointment. “Well, you could do worse, all in all. Better to have a Temple that’s too extravagant than one that lacks amenities.”

“True. At least we have better heating here than the old temple on Ahch-to.”

Zezeziel was quick to introduce Priestess Illoowk, the Zrheli representative. Of all the species Rey had met, the Zrheli were perhaps the oddest yet. Illoowk’s scrawny avian frame was covered in a thick purple plumage, matching her priestly blue apparel quite nicely. She regarded her surroundings with far less reverence than Zezeziel had, but still gave Rey the closest approximation of a smile that her yellow beak could manage.

“Blessings upon you, Skywalker,” Illoowk said, bowing deeply. “You humble me with your invitation. Few of my flock expected to ever lay eyes on the beauty of Ruu-113 again, so to be invited on your pilgrimage is the highest honour.”

“We’re pleased to have you, Priestess,” Rey replied. “We understand the importance of Ruu-113 to your people. If that is where our path is headed, I’m eager to see it for myself.”

“You won’t be disappointed. Ruu-113 is nothing short of a paradise. A miracle. One that many Zrheli have given their lives to protect. If it comes to pass that it is safe from the Viis, then their sacrifice will have been worth it.”

The fire in the Zrhel’s voice gave Rey pause. If what she was hearing was true, many Zrheli had died keeping the planet safe from Viis exploitation. She could only hope that meant the Zrheli would be fine with the rest of the abiru settling it. Or at least that they had found some kind of compromise instead of coming to blows.

The final abiru waited quietly and patiently until Rey had finished speaking with Illoowk. He was surprisingly young as best Rey could tell – seemingly in his mid-twenties, barely older than herself. He was tall and lanky, clad in a black uniform that Rey didn’t recognize. He must have been one of the Kelth that Zezeziel had mentioned, resembling a canine or vulpine with a long muzzle and thick mane. He stood at attention as Rey approached, but still flashed a bright smile that stood out from his dark grey fur.

“Greetings,” Rey said. “You must be Ifrada.”

The young man dipped his head, before speaking with a surprisingly high-pitched voice. “I’m afraid not, Master Jedi. I am Lieutenant Nellit of Enclave Security. Ifrada is my father, but he’s recovering from a bout of illness at the moment. Since I’m familiar with his studies on the Force, I volunteered to stand in for him.”

“Oh. I wish your father a speedy recovery, then. He’s welcome here at the Temple anytime, as soon as he feels up to travelling.”

Nellit giggled. “Oh, he’ll leap at the offer. He’s already provided me with a very long list of questions for you. But the expedition comes first. I’ve been tasked with formally representing the Enclave Council, as well as keeping our people safe. And you, of course.”

“Well, we’re glad to have you, Lieutenant. The Enclave clearly places a lot of trust in you.”

“My presence kills two skeks with one stone,” Nellit replied. “Three, hopefully, if my father’s work can offer any insight. Though I doubt I’d have little to offer a Master Jedi like yourself.”

Rey smiled. “Rebuilding the Jedi Order will be a slow and difficult process. Any help would be appreciated.”

“Don’t tell that to my father. He might just wind up moving in here.” Nellit paused a moment. “Ambassador Zitrov told us of you and your friends, you know. It’s incredible. All you did, all you went through… I don’t think you’ll need my protection. Sounds like you’re all more than capable of getting out of trouble.”

Rey smirked. “Only because we’re more than capable of getting into it. But I hope that won’t be the case on this trip.”

“You and me both, Master Jedi.”

That night, like so many days that followed, was the first time the Jedi Temple truly felt alive. That first dinner was purely social, allowing the two worlds to slowly collide. Rey and her friends recounted their victory over the First Order and the Sith, staying as humble as possible in the face of the abiru’s veneration of their heroics. In return, the abiru told them much about life in the Enclave. It wasn’t a large community, and some of the non-Myal populations were so small they needed gene editing and artificial procreation to avoid inbreeding. But for all the limitations of being a small enclave within an isolated power, they seemed content enough. In their eyes, it was a vast improvement over living under the Viis. Even from what little Rey had heard of them, it wasn’t hard to see why.

It was the ensuing days that truly made Rey appreciate the depth of what she was about to undertake. Zezeziel worked with Poe updating the Falcon’s navicomputer, charting out several theoretically safe paths to the vicinity of the Viis Empire. Rey’s own instincts would have to take them closer from there, but that felt much less intimidating once Illoowk taught her a few meditations she’d learned from a former Chiss sky-walker. Finn and Nellit managed to upload a language program covering the abiru patois language into C-3PO, with Nellit going on to give a few basic lessons as a backup. Rey heard Poe call the navicomputer a ‘nolo’ under his breath on several occasions after that.

Comforting as it was to see everyone getting along, dread still gnawed at Rey’s stomach on the day of their departure. A few more abiru from the Enclave had come to Chandrila to maintain the Temple in their absence, but they were joined by a delegation sent to offer gifts and blessings on the abiru’s behalf. A group of Zrheli priests painted sacred runes onto the Falcon’s hull, while an Aaroun shamaness led a prayer-song as she anointed each member of the expedition. Rey accepted the sacred oil pressed to her forehead with a smile, but it did little to allay her anxieties. Especially as the formalities ended, and the final preparations began.

“You look nervous,” Finn said.

“Do I?” Rey asked. “It’s almost as if we’re about to go on a dangerous trip into the Unknown Regions.”

Sighing, Finn put a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, if the Chiss can build a society out there, I think we can manage a little adventure. Besides, aren’t you curious about this Eye of Clarity? It’s got to be reaching out for a reason.”

“It could be pulling us into danger.”

Finn shrugged. “Or it could recognize that we need help. You’ve heard what Zezez has been saying about the Eyes. They wind up in the hands of great leaders, even across multiple species. The fact that it’s calling out to you, the conqueror of the Sith and last hope of the Jedi, can’t be coincidence.”

Exhaling uneasily, Rey glanced around at the abiru assembled at the landing pad. From the huddle of Myal scholars conversing with Zezeziel excitedly, to the Zrheli deep in prayer with Illoowk, to the Kelths and Aarouns helping Chewbacca and Nellit load the last of the cargo, it was clear that even the possibility of rediscovering the Eye’s fate had brought them together. Just as the Eyes had left their marks on their peoples’ histories, surviving in legend even the cultural destruction wrought by the Viis. That had to mean something. And for better or worse, Rey and her friends would soon be a part of it.

D-O trundled down the Falcon’s cargo ramp, zigzagging between the feet of various Aaroun and Kelth trying to avoid stepping on the tiny droid. Racing up to Rey, D-O came to a stop and tilted his conical head upwards expectantly.

“D-d-diagnostics complete!” he said. “Ready for ta-ta-takeoff!”

Rey reached down to pat his head. “Thank you, D-O,” she said, before turning back to Finn. “We’ll find out soon enough. I just don’t know if this Eye would be enough to help us rebuild the Jedi.”

Finn shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. But having some new allies can only be helpful.”

Rey looked over at Zezeziel, Illoowk and Nellit, who had gathered by the Falcon’s ramp to say some final goodbyes to their friends. There was so much she was yet to learn of them and their peoples, especially if they found themselves in crisis. But deep down, Rey knew Finn was right.

“We need all the help we can get,” Rey said, as she made her way over to join the others. The Unknown Regions awaited them, and they would face it together.

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