Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 4)

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Jonesy
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Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 4)

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

#3 Post by Jonesy »

Chapter 3

Even after three years in the Order of Clarity, Tanni felt like her dreams had come true.

She wasn’t a Keeper. That particular dream was long dead, and the pain of losing it had faded years ago. Now, she was an Archivist. She was a keeper not of the Clarity, but of what precious little remained of the abiru’s original histories. That alone was a duty she accepted with great dignity, but it went so much further beyond that. Some of the more Clarity-attuned Myal had actually meditated upon the Eye and caught glimpses of lost knowledge. Reverse-engineering it was a long and arduous process, but had allowed the abiru to leapfrog their technological development.

Her work in the Order wasn’t always glamorous, though.

“Hey Tanni, can you please help me move these boxes upstairs?”

“May I borrow you for a moment, Archivist Tanni? I need you to grab a data crystal from the top shelf in the archives.”

“Don’t suppose you can get this lid off, Tanni? I swear my mate plugs the jars like this to tease me…”

Being twice as tall and thrice as strong as her Myal co-workers came with certain expectations.

But it was worth it. Even on the late nights and early mornings, when she and the other Archivists sat hunched over their notes trying to make sense of vague visions and faded fragments, she saw the value in her work. Earlier that year, she’d received commendation from the High Keepers for her work restoring a data crystal belonging to Quiesl, one of the few Archivists from the old Viis Empire who had joined the Great Emancipation. The crystal contained a wealth of technological and historical data thought lost to time, now put to use for the good of the abiru. To say her parents were proud of her was an understatement, and Cobar had taken her out on a surprise picnic to celebrate.

And yet, it was hard to feel any sort of pride as she watched her best friend struggle.

That particular afternoon, she waited in the Order Citadel’s courtyard gardens as Cobar’s class finished up. A collection of acolytes sat in meditative poses in a circle around Keeper Taren, who watched them closely as they each tried to levitate a stone using only the Clarity. They were doing well, too. Aaroun cubs, Kelth lits and other young members of various species sat with stones levitating before them. Some were clearly finding it easier than others, even showing off by making their stones do elaborate manoeuvres. But they were all displaying great skill in their command in the Clarity.

All except Cobar, whose stone was mostly twitching and occasionally jumping slightly.

If she hadn’t known him and what he was going through, he’d have made a comical sight. His Toth frame towered over the other acolytes, who were maybe half his age to begin with. One or two glanced at him in sympathy. Others regarded him with mockery or disdain. He wasn’t paying them any attention, with his eyes closed and his brow furrowed.

Keeper Taren consulted his pocketwatch, before clearing his throat. “Okay, we’ll call that a day, acolytes. You’ve all made considerable process, and your mentors will be very proud. You are dismissed.” The Aaroun paused a moment, regarding one particular student. “Except you, Cobar. I’d like to speak with you a moment, if you please.”

A couple of students sniggered as they departed, or whispered among each other and glancing back at him. Cobar stood at attention before Taren, though the way he held himself was clearly self-conscious. Tanni’s heart fell further, but didn’t dare approach just yet.

“Cobar,” Taren said. “How do you feel you’re progressing?”

Sighing, Cobar rubbed his arm. “I mean, at least now I can actually make the stones move…”

Taren nodded slowly. “You have certainly made progress, yes. But these are very basic exercises. Without these foundations, you cannot be raised to a Keeper. And you can hardly spend your life as an acolyte.”

“I’m trying the best I can, Keeper.”

“I know. You’re not the first acolyte to struggle at this stage. But I want you to make sure you’re aware of your options. Just in case.”

Cobar swallowed. “With all due respect, Keeper Taren, the vision from Ampris has to count for something.”

“Have you had any further visions from her?”

“No, Keeper Taren.”

“Well, if it weren’t for those visions, I’d have had this discussion with you sooner. It’s not uncommon for older acolytes to fall behind. Your talent for the Clarity isn’t all that strong to begin with, which doesn’t help matters.” Taren sighed, placing a hand on Cobar’s shoulder. “You’ve proven a dedicated and persistent pupil, Cobar. But we also have to be open to the possibility that, as a Toth, you may simply be hitting your limits. Some species are more attuned to the Clarity than others. There’s no shame in accepting that. Few expected you to make it this far.”

Tanni felt her hackles raise, and could see Cobar tense up as well. Being the first Toth in the Order was stressful enough, but the only one in abiru records to show any sort of talent for the Clarity made his case all the more unusual. The prevailing assumption that the Toth weren’t attuned to the Clarity – or, as some claimed, that they were too stupid to use it – was suddenly up for challenge. She wanted nothing less than for Cobar to succeed, but it clearly wasn’t going as well as either of them hoped.

“I don’t care what they think,” Cobar said. “Ampris saw something in me that I never did. Maybe it’s not coming naturally to me, but there were times I never expected to even make it this far. This could just be another hump I need to keep working at to get over.”

Taren showed no sign of disagreement. “That is certainly possible. As I said, I just want you keep your options open. You wouldn’t be the first acolyte to leave the path to becoming a Keeper. Have you ever considered military service? They rarely turn down former acolytes. Same with the Medical Corps. Even the faintest inkling of talent can prove useful to them.”

“I’d like to continue my training,” Cobar said.

Taren nodded. “Very well. I will continue to teach you as any other acolyte, but I will also continue to hold you to the same standard regardless of your ability. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Keeper Taren.”

“Best of luck to you then, Cobar,” the Aaroun replied. He took his leave, bowing his head slightly to Tanni as he passed. “Archivist.”

“Keeper,” she replied, bowing her head in return. As he left, she made a beeline for Cobar.

His small, dark eyes were even more morose than usual, not helped by his furrowed brow. It had been something brewing for a long time. They’d spent long nights together trying to hone his ability to command the Clarity. She might not share his ability, but she had enough theoretical knowledge to at least try and help him. But in spite of everything, not least of all his dedication, little came easy to him. And as the years had worn on, the toll that took was increasingly evident.

“Cobar,” she whispered, drawing him into her arms. “You’re doing well. It doesn’t matter what Taren says.”

Cobar’s arms enveloped her, bringing a warmth and comfort she hoped he was receiving in return. “Thanks, Tanni. I’m trying. I really am.”

“I know. It shows, Cobar. It might not look it, but it is.”

“I hope so. This is turning into a nightmare. Like being back in school, but stuck in the same class for years.”

“Cobar, I remember a time when you couldn’t even use the Clarity move things. But look at you now!” She took a step back, placing a hand on his cheek. “You’ll get there sooner or later. Maybe it’ll just take a bit longer than usual. Even if it does, I’ll be right there beside you.”

He looked past her, eyes following something behind her. She glanced back to see a pair of Keepers walking along, staring back at her and Cobar. There was a hint of disgust in their expressions, though it was anyone’s guess as to why. Taren was far from the most sceptical member of the Order when it came to having a Toth receiving an acolyteship. Seeing an Aaroun expressing affection for a Toth probably rubbed some folks the wrong way, too. Anger swirled in Tanni’s throat either way.

“Thanks, Tanni,” Cobar said, bringing her attention back to him. “I know it’s a longshot, but have you found anything in the archives that might help?”

Tanni sighed. “I’ve checked literally every mention of the Toth in the old pre-Emancipation documents. There’s not much Toth history recorded. No mention of the Clarity or anything that could pass for it.”

“I appreciate it, anyway. It was worth a try.”

“Don’t give up, Cobar. We’ll get through this.” She lowered her hand, nodding towards the dining hall. “No sense worrying about it now. How about we go get something to eat?”

“Soon. I better check in with Qrooth first.”

“Let’s do that, then,” Tanni said, walking alongside him.

The High Keepers’ quarters lay deep in the Citadel’s already labyrinthine corridors. The place was a fortress as much as it was a monastery, and centuries of renovations could only do so much to improve the charm. Electric lights had been awkwardly affixed to ancient torch sconces, while someone had tried to cheer the place up a bit with some potted plants. But the whole place had been built with defence in mind. There was no telling when or if the Viis would turn up in orbit one day, and that meant that the Order’s most important facilities lay deep within the complex.

The pair found Qrooth in his chambers. Despite being the sanctum of one of the Order’s leadership, the space wasn’t opulent at all. The only remotely advanced piece of technology was an inactive computer terminal. Qrooth sat at a desk even older than he was, beside a stack of papers that would make a Myal scholar proud. The old Zhrel looked up at his visitors over his eyeglasses, giving a delighted trill.

“Ah, Cobar! I was about to come and check up on you.” Qrooth said, rising to his feet. “Good to see you too, Archivist Tanni. What might I do for you?”

Tanni smiled, offering a bow. “Just accompanying Cobar, High Keeper.”

Qrooth gave a coo-like chuckle. “Of course, of course. And you, Cobar? How was today’s training?”

“Same as usual, High Keeper. I’m wielding the Clarity, but it’s not coming easily.”

“Don’t be disheartened,” Qrooth said, circling around his desk. “It’s not uncommon with older acolytes. If your experience will be anything like theirs, you’ll find that it will become easier, in time.”

“Keeper Taren suggests that I weigh up my options.”

Qrooth frowned. “Keeper Taren does not get to dictate whether you continue your training. The only people who can are either you or I, and I certainly see no reason for you to leave. A Toth harnessing the Clarity is still momentous, and you’ve exceeded many people’s expectations. Then there’s the matter of Ampris…”

“I know she saw something in me,” Cobar said. “What worries me is that not even she knew what it was. And if I’m not good enough, then I might not be ready for whatever’s coming.”

A slight chill fell over Tanni as she remembered what Cobar had said of his vision from Ampris. She spoke of an end to Ruu-113’s isolation, but that could have meant anything. The long-dreaded return of the Viis. Contact by other abiru free of their former masters. Perhaps even something else entirely. Each one carried so many unknowns and risks that the Archivists had driven themselves mad drawing up contingencies. Tanni had seen glimpses of their plans, and they hadn’t filled her with confidence.

“It’s not like you aren’t doing well in other ways,” Tanni said, trying to distract herself. “Who won the Order’s hand-to-hand championship two years in a row?”

Cobar smiled. “A couple of those Samparese nearly gave me a challenge.”

“Nearly.”

“See, we all have our strengths,” Qrooth said. “You have yours, and you’re prepared to work to overcome your weaknesses. I have faith that you’ll be raised to a Keeper one day, and by then your hardships today will be but a memory.”

“I hope so, High Keeper,” Cobar replied. “It’s just… what if me being a Toth does have something to do with it? We know that the Viis never had command of the Clarity. What if we just have a naturally weaker talent?”

Qrooth shrugged. “The Viis are something of an anomaly in that regard, if records are to be believed. But I am hesitant to measure an entire species based on a single member. We’ve had acolytes who had a weak talent for the Clarity, or were slow learners despite their best efforts. Besides, there are always challenges when we have a new species join our ranks. I was barely a Keeper myself when we had our first Gorlican acolyte.”

“Did they struggle?”

“He had his challenges, as any acolyte does. But there are always unique challenges for being the first representative of his people in the Order. Self-consciousness. Judgement. Stereotyping. I heard more than one comment that he would try to use the Clarity to sway merchants to give him better prices. Absolutely disgusting. The man was, and still is, utterly selfless and committed to our ideals. But some only saw him as a Gorlican, with all the assumptions that can falsely bring.”

“I imagine the Samparese had it pretty bad as well,” Tanni said.

“Absolutely. They enjoy a good scrap, but back in the day many claimed they were too violent and unintelligent to be worthy of Keeper training.” Qrooth looked back to Cobar. “Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

Cobar nodded. “But that doesn’t explain why we haven’t seen any other Toth capable of wielding the Clarity before.”

Qrooth sighed deeply. “Honestly, Cobar, I suspect that comes down to us not looking for any. At the end of the day, the Order isn’t perfect. We may strive to protect the Eye of Clarity and uphold the ideals of unity it represents, but we’re still people. Flawed and wonderful people, swayed by the culture around us. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but we have to strive to be better.”

“I’m sure we will,” Tanni said, even if Cobar didn’t look convinced.

Watching the sunset helped to cheer him up a little bit, at least. The pair grabbed a simple dinner from the dining hall, electing to eat outside in the adjoining gardens. They had a spot that they frequented – one that was obscured enough by foliage to offer some privacy, but still commanding spectacular views of the valley. The Great River snaked its way through the verdant vegetation of the outlying farms and preserves, disappearing as it entered the towering spires of First Landing. From a distance, the city looked like part of the forest, its buildings covered in gardens and greenery.

For all the uncertainty that lay in Cobar’s life and Ampris’ warnings, it was impossible not to take some comfort in the sight. The abiru had built a new world for themselves. And for all its flaws, it was a beautiful one.

“Say what you will about this place,” Cobar said between mouthfuls. “Good food, at least.”

Tanni chuckled. “Got to help the acolytes grow up big and strong. Not that you need it.”

“Won’t say no to it.” Cobar ate another mouthful, before looking over at Tanni. “Hope I haven’t been too mopey today. It’s just… frustrating.”

“Oh, I don’t blame you, Cobar. Just… promise me one thing.”

“Anything for you, Tanni.”

“Don’t give up. I don’t know if that’s what Taren wants, or if he thinks that’s what’s best for you. But I know you can do this. And I know you’ll be better off for it.”

Cobar smiled, an inkling of his usual self shining through. “Thanks, Tanni. You’ll be delighted to know that I’m not going anywhere. I want to prove that a Toth can become a Keeper, especially if Ampris sees a reason for it. Besides… I’d miss you if I left the Order.”

Tanni was a momentary loss for words. “Oh, Cobar…”

“I mean it,” he replied. “I used to worry about it back before we finished school. You’d go off and join the Order, and I’d be still down on the farm doing what I always did. Not that I mind the work, but not seeing you as much… I couldn’t bear the thought.”

“Cobar, I’d still have come and visited you. You’d be just as welcome to see me and my family, too. My parents like you. They both think you’re very nice.”

“I think ‘for a Toth’ was their exact phrasing. Though it’s not like my kinfolk have been that polite towards you. How many years have they been joking that you’re my girlfriend?”

“I haven’t been keeping track. But it’s fine, Cobar. Toth have always been a bit rough around the edges. That’s just the way some people are.” Tanni hesitated a moment. “Is that what’s bothering you? How people view the Toth?”

Cobar shrugged. “You know my kinfolk. We’ve had it drilled into us that we have to prove to the other abiru that we’re not the thugs and morons they make us out to be. And now I have a chance to do something that no other Toth has done before, and make a mark on history in the process. But… you see how well it’s going. I’m scared that that’s going to just feed people’s assumptions. And if my kinfolk get it in their head that it was all my fault for blowing my chance…”

Tanni shook her head, putting an arm around him. “Your kinfolk would be full of it if they think that. You have a talent for the Clarity, Cobar. You’ve already proven that the Toth are capable of wielding it. Now all you have to do is keep up your training and refine it. I know you will.”

“I’m glad you’re still optimistic.”

“I don’t say it without reason,” Tanni said. “I always knew there was something special about you. Even on the day we met.”

Cobar’s eyes widened in surprise. “The very first day? You mean when I was sitting all alone in the corner of the classroom, because nobody wanted to talk to the big, scary Toth?”

The memory was as clear in Tanni’s mind as the day it happened. “Cobar, I’d never even seen a Toth in person before. All I knew were the old stories from the Viis Empire, where most Toth were just criminals and hired thugs. But there you were: a sad, lonely boy.”

“And you offered to be my friend.”

Tanni couldn’t help but smile. “I remembered all those stories my mother told me about Ampris, and about the abiru being strongest when standing together. Seeing you, I realized that the Toth had to be part of that, too. Honestly, being your friend was the best decision I ever made.”

Cobar was quick to return her smile. Momentary as it was, the sight of him freed from his troubles brought her a surge of joy. This was how she’d imagined how their time in the Order would be – not filled with doubts and struggles, but the two of them side by side and supporting each other, just as they always had.

A rustling in the foliage distracted Tanni from her thoughts. A particularly lithe white-furred Samparese, clad in the simple robes of an acolyte, gracefully wormed his way through the branches towards their hiding spot. His wedgelike face held a pair of keen eyes and a smirk that exposed a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, though his expression quickly changed to disgust as he regarded the pair. It was only then that Tanni noticed just how closely she and Cobar were sitting together, and hastily withdrew her arm from around Cobar.

“Uh… not interrupting anything, am I?” the Samparese asked, his voice not dissimilar to a hiss. “Not some weird interspecies tryst?”

“What do you want, Narrabri?” Cobar asked, his tone taking on a surprisingly icy edge.

Narrabri raised his hands. “Alright, alright, no need to get violent, Toth. I heard your voice. Wanted to ask you something.”

“I’m listening.”

“Do you… sense anything?”

Cobar pointed a finger squarely at the Samparese. “Go fertilize a Skek, Narrabri. You know full well I can use the Clarity.”

The Samparese looked genuinely shocked. “Cobar, I can sense something’s not right,” he said, unease clear in his voice. “I’m not messing with you.”

“That’d be a first.”

Tanni placed a hand on Cobar’s arm, before addressing the Samparese. “What do you sense, Acolyte?”

“I can’t place it, Archivist,” Narrabri replied. “Like a shift in the Clarity. Subtle. Uneasy.”

Tanni looked back to Cobar, who sat with his eyes closed and his brow furrowed. She and Narrabri watched him silently for a few moments before he opened his eyes again.

“You’re right,” Cobar said. “Alright, I take it all back, Narrabri. I think something might-”

An alarm echoed across the Citadel before he could finish.

All three abiru froze up, listening for the grouping of tones as years of civil defence drills had taught them. The alarm consisted of short bursts of two single tones, signalling one of the worst emergencies possible – an unidentified extra-terrestrial threat. A single tone would have been worse, heralding confirmation of Viis arrival. But a deathly chill went down Tanni’s spine all the same.

“Gods help us,” she whispered. “They must have spotted something in orbit.”

Narrabri ran a hand through the fur between his ears. “It’s the Viis. It has to be.”

Cobar was already on his feet, offering a hand to Tanni. “Sitting around whimpering won’t help. You know the drill, Narrabri. Go bother your mentor.”

The Samparese snarled, bolting off through the foliage. Cobar and Tanni followed suit to find the Citadel awash with activity, with people hurrying in every direction as they scrambled for their preassigned stations. The pair hurriedly returned their crockery and cutlery to the dining hall, but were interrupted by someone calling their name before they could go any further.

“Cobar! Tanni! With me!”

High Keeper Qrooth strode through the chaos with remarkable calm, leaning on a walking stick as though on a brisk hike. The pair fell in beside him, following the diminutive Zrhel as he led them through the Citadel’s hallways. The blaring alarms and barely concealed panic of the other Keepers sent blood rushing through Tanni’s veins, but she tried to keep her cool.

“What do you need from me, High Keeper?” she asked. “Protocol states that I have to report to the archive wing.”

Qrooth shook his head. “Not today. We’ve got an unidentified vessel inbound. Critically damaged and barely communicating, from what the Defence Organization reports. I’ve been assigned to assist with first contact when it lands, and I want an Archivist on hand. There’s none other I’d trust more with this task than you.”

Tanni smiled, and exhaled with the barest hint of relief. What they faced wasn’t exactly a worst-case scenario, but it was still one that left tremendous uncertainty.

“This might be it,” Cobar whispered to himself.

“Pardon?” Qrooth asked.

“This might be what Ampris talked about. The end of Ruu-113’s isolation.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Qrooth said as they approached the armoury. “Fate or no, I want you with me as well, Cobar. Best-case scenario, it all goes peacefully, and a historic moment goes down with our first Toth acolyte nice and visible to the public.”

“And worst-case scenario?”

“Then you’ll get to put your fighting skills to more use than a mere championship.”

The armoury was already opened up and in the process of distributing weapons to assigned personnel, though the quartermasters quickly waved the trio to the front of the line. Qrooth and Cobar each took the usual Keeper armament – a telescoping quarterstaff for defence, and a blaster pistol for offense. Tanni simply took a pistol. Like most youth on Ruu-113, she’d undertaken a couple of months of reservist training in her final year of schooling. She was no soldier, but she knew her way around a blaster well enough. Though as much as she wished she wouldn’t need it, she couldn’t imagine it would make much difference.

The only reprieve from the cacophony of the Citadel came as the trio entered a skimmer in the complex’s hangar bay, with the vehicle’s closing door bringing an eerie silence broken only by the humming engine. They were soon in the air, soaring through the night air high above the treetops. With Qrooth speaking with the Kelth pilot in hushed tones and Cobar staring out the window, Tanni closed her eyes and whispered a quick prayer under her breath, hands clasped before her. Nothing fancy – just a prayer for the safety of her home and family. When she opened her eyes again, she was surprised to see that Cobar’s hands were also clasped before him. As he opened his eyes, she reached over and held his hand gently. Neither said anything, but she could tell from the look in his eyes that it was a welcome gesture.

Their trip took well over an hour, their destination lying deep in an outlying preservation sector. Yet even though they were far from any settlement, the place was lit up as bright as day with gleaming floodlights from circling gunships. Even from the air, Tanni could see dozens of Aaroun and Toth soldiers in full body armour surrounding the landed spacecraft, weapons trained on its still form. It had been a rough landing judging by the downed trees and half-buried hull, but perhaps it had still been a survivable crash.
While Tanni hadn’t been sure what to expect of the vessel’s appearance, it looked far less sophisticated than she’d have imagined. It looked like a metallic disk two prong-like struts at the front, with a small cockpit awkwardly jutting forward on one side. The vessel’s hull was worn, battered and even scorched in places, but there were markings painted onto it that looked oddly familiar.

“Doesn’t look like any Viis craft I’ve seen images of,” she said. “And what are those symbols there? Zrheli?”

“It would appear so,” Qrooth replied. “Doesn’t look like our old pre-enslavement designs, though.”

“So, we’re not dealing with the Viis?” Cobar asked.

“Perhaps not. But we must proceed with caution regardless.”

The skimmer set down not far from the military’s command tent, and immediately departed once the passengers disembarked. Between the nose of the departing craft, shouted orders between soldiers and the heavy footfall of marching boots, Tanni felt her nerves start to fray. She focused on following Qrooth, who led her and Cobar towards the command tent.

A group of uniformed officers stood around a folding table, in the middle of which sat a projector displaying a hologram of the landed vessel. The most well-decorated of the officers – an older Aaroun with streaks of grey in his black fur – turned away from the display to observe the new arrivals.

“Ah, High Keeper,” the Aaroun said, bowing deeply. “Thank you for your prompt arrival.”

“Marshal Rann,” Qrooth replied, returning the gesture. “Looks like your troops have been equally punctual.”

The Marshal gestured towards the hologram. “We’ve been tracking the vessel since it entered the system. It has some sort of interstellar drive, but it appears to have been damaged by something just prior to its jump. Their communication system’s on the fritz, but we managed to make out what sounds like a Kelth speaking our language amidst the static. Said something about an ‘Abiru Enclave’ and a ‘Jedi Order’.”

Tanni tilted her head. “Jedi? I don’t recall mention of such a group from the archives.”

“We don’t believe they’re from the Viis Empire,” Marshal Rann said. “Or at least, we don’t detect any Viis onboard. Sensors are picking up what looks to be a Kelth, a Myal and a Zrheli, along with several members of two unknown species. Several robots, too.”

Qrooth stroked his beak. “Fascinating. Have they said anything of their purpose here?”

“They’re on a peaceful expedition, or at least that’s what some of their broadcasts have claimed. It’s hard to make out.”

Nodding, Qrooth turned his gaze to the hologram. “I don’t sense hostility from the ship. That’s encouraging..”

“There’s someone with a talent for the Clarity onboard the ship, too,” Cobar added. “Not just the Zrheli. Someone else. I feel their presence.”

Qrooth paused a moment, clearly focusing himself mentally, before looking back at Cobar with a delighted chirp. “You’re right! One of them has a very powerful talent indeed.”

The officers didn’t look quite as convinced, with a couple of them not even bothering to hide the scepticism in their expression as they regarded Cobar. He glanced around nervously before his eyes met Tanni’s, and she offered him a small smile of encouragement.

“Good thing we brought the experts, then,” Marshal Rann said. “We’re under orders to wait for the politicians and scientists to arrive. Once they’re here, we’ll commence face-to-face contact.”

It took the politicians their sweet time to get there, too. A procession of skimmers arrived with various dignitaries, whose formal clothing stood out like sore thumbs amidst the sea of uniforms. The scientists weren’t quite as fancily dressed, with several looking bedraggled enough to clearly have been roused from their sleep. But from the last skimmer stepped not a person, but a robot – a squat, multilegged contraption with a holographic projector mounted on its back. The projector quickly flickered to life to display a figure any abiru would recognize.

First Citizen Erkixu, the elected head of the Free Abiru Assembly.

Even through the muted colours of the hologram, her outfit was clearly ostentatious. Not surprising, considering she was the first Gorlican elected to the position of First Citizen. They were the only abiru species to possess a reptilian biology, with torsos encased in a hard shell, limbs covered in hard scales, and faces drawn into a sharp beak. High fashion was a common obsession to make themselves more presentable, though Erkixu was quite progressive when it came to masks. The Viis had once considered the Gorlicans so ugly that they were legally required to wear decorative masks, which became such an ingrained tradition that it continued on Ruu-113. But Erkixu shunned the practice, and freely regarded Qrooth and Rann with keen, orange eyes completely unobstructed.

“Is this… yes, it looks to be working,” she said. “Marshal Rann. High Keeper Qrooth. A pleasure to see you both.”

Qrooth bowed his head. “Likewise, First Citizen. We are ready to begin when you are.”

“Excellent. I would join you in person, but you know first contact protocols. Assume hostility, and minimize exposure to potential attack.”

“I believe our visitors to be peaceful explorers, but we’ll hold to protocol,” Qrooth said, gesturing towards the vessel. “I will take point and lead Acolyte Cobar and Archivist Tanni here to make initial contact, with Marshal Rann and his forces holding back in case of hostilities. Once we’re certain of their intentions, you and the other representatives can approach.”

Erkixu nodded, looking over Tanni and Cobar in turn. The fact that she paused her nodding and held her gaze on Cobar left Tanni knowing something wasn’t right.

“Yes, about that, High Keeper,” Erkixu said. “I don’t know if it would be appropriate for a Toth to be involved in this process.”

Cobar tensed up at the words. Tanni went even further, daring to fold her arms. At least Qrooth proved more diplomatic. “The Order maintains the right to choose its personnel for our operations. Cobar is under my mentorship, and I would see him join me. Even if it is just for protection.”

“And I have nothing against your acolyte personally, High Keeper. But the Toth have been known to come off as… intimidating. Not least of all in light of their history with the Viis. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be making a show of force, but there’s a fine line between that and intimidation.”

“With all due respect, First Citizen, our first impressions should be reflective of our society here on Ruu-113. Would showing that the Toth are just as welcome and accomplished here as any other abiru species not be conductive to that?”

Erkixu hesitated a moment. “Marshal Rann, your thoughts? It won’t interfere with your operations?”

The Marshal regarded her with confusion. “Ma’am, about half of my troops here tonight are Toth. If their kind is as good at Keeper-ing as they are at soldiering, I don’t see an issue.”

“Very well,” Ekixu said. “Acolyte Cobar, I trust that you will follow your mentor’s instructions?”

Cobar bowed his head, even though his jaw was visibly clenched. “Yes, First Citizen.”

“Excellent. High Keeper Qrooth, you may proceed.”

And proceed they did. After a quick briefing on procedures and the layout of his troops, Rann led the entire first contact procession to the cordon, where he called over a Kelth quartermaster to issue them with some equipment. Each received a communication headset, a belt-mounted energy shield and a portable breathing mask, along with instructions on their use. Tanni also took the opportunity to prepare her handheld recording device – something no self-respecting Archivist left their quarters without. Confident that both the microphone and camera were in working order, she looked up to find Cobar standing by her. The nervousness in his expression was obvious, despite his efforts to hide it.

“Ready?” he asked quietly.

Tanni nodded. “I missed ‘first contact with long-lost abiru’ class during my training, but I’ll let Qrooth do the talking.”

Cobar chuckled, but it came out more as a shaky sigh. “I can’t believe this is happening. Or that even the First Citizen looks down on me.”

“And the Marshal of the Defence Organization doesn’t,” Tanni replied, reaching out for his hand. “Tonight might be your big chance, Cobar. Your chance to show everyone what the Toth can really be like.”

It looked as though Cobar was about to deflect her comment, but he instead nodded. “It’s going to be an interesting night.”

Tanni looked over the stricken spacecraft, in all its half-wrecked glory. Something had damaged it, and she dreaded to find out what. “It certainly is.”

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Re: Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 3)

#4 Post by Jonesy »

Chapter 4

The last time Finn had woken up with such a headache was the morning after celebrating Emperor Palpatine’s death. But back then, he’d only had a hangover. Not a bandaged head.

Even through the throbbing pain, he had enough sense to recognize that he was still on the Millennium Falcon without even needing to open his eyes. He recognized the texture of the bunk he lay on well enough, having slept in it countless times over the years. The pull of gravity felt wrong, though. Like the artificial gravity was off-kilter, or the entire ship sat at an angle. Neither possibility was good news.

“You awake there, buddy?”

Finn opened his eyes, looking around. He was in the Falcon’s crew quarters, alright. Poe sat on one of the other bunks, looking like he’d been in the wars himself. One of his wrists was bandaged, and his eyes were distinctly fatigued. But the smile at seeing his friend awaken shone through, and Finn could only return it.

“Unfortunately,” Finn replied, sitting up and nursing his head. “What the hell happened?”

Poe carefully crossed the room, keeping a hand to the wall to compensate against the tilted floor. He took a seat on the foot of Finn’s bunk, clasping his hands before him. “Good news and bad news.”

“Bad news first, then.”

“Someone attacked us. We were barely out of hyperspace before we had fighters all over us, and we barely made it back into hyperspace before they got some good hits in. You hit your head pretty hard when they took out the upper turret.”

Finn tried to remember, but he only caught a few glimpses. Shouting. Running through the corridors. A bright flash. Since one of their earliest jumps into the Unknown Regions nearly landed them into a black hole, the crew had been expecting the worst with each new system they entered. Several near misses with various stellar hazards after that only proved their caution justified. But hostile vessels had still come as a shock. Especially since they didn’t know the culprit.

“Who did this to us?”

“No idea. We might get some clues off the sensors and comm records. But we haven’t had time to check. Not when we jumped into a whole other problem…”

“Crashing, I assume.”

Poe grimaced. “Yeah. We took a few more injuries in the process. Chewie lost some fur putting out a fire in the engine room. Illoowk broke her ankle. I fell on my hand on a bad angle.” He held up his bandaged wrist just to drive the point home. “Good thing we’ve got Rey. We’d be in much worse shape without her healing powers. Might have lost you.”

Finn exhaled. “That bad?”

“That bad,” Poe confirmed. After a moment’s hesitation, he reached out and touched Finn’s hand. “I was worried about you, bud. I’m glad you’re alright.”

Smile widening, Finn petted the back of Poe’s hand. “I guess that’s the good news, then.”

“No. Well… it is good news, obviously. But there’s something else.” Poe nodded in the vague direction of the front of the ship. “We made it. Ruu-113. Beautiful garden world. Flourishing abiru civilization. Everything we hoped for.”

Finn gave a relieved exhale. At least something had gone right in their expedition. “So, we’re safe, then?”

“Might be a bit early to say. I get the distinct impression the locals don’t like visitors. Their messages to us were a bit… curt. They didn’t shoot us down or anything, but we’ve got a whole army of them encircling us.”

“They probably think we’re Viis.”

“Nellit told them otherwise before we lost the comms. Hopefully they believed him. They seem more cautious than hostile, at least. Last I heard they’ve got some dignitaries assembling outside.”

Finn swung his legs over the side of the bunk. “We’d better make a good impression, then. They’re our best bet if we want to get the Falcon in the air again.”

Without hesitation, Poe helped him to his feet, steadying him against the slanted floor. But for a moment, Poe paused with his arm around Finn’s shoulders. “Just take it slow, alright? You’re not going to be much of a negotiator if you’ve got a concussion.”

“Better let your handsome face do the talking, then.”

Chuckling, Poe helped him out of the dorm and into the main hold, where the other had assembled. They weren’t looking much better than Finn did, with dents on the droids and bandages on their organic companions. R2-D2 sat in the middle of the room, projecting a hologram of the Falcon and its surroundings that everyone was in the process of examining. It wasn’t pretty: the Falcon was half-buried in the dirt and tilted forward, while dozens of abiru soldiers took up position with weapons trained on the ship. And in case it wasn’t clear they meant business, a fierce-looking gunship passed into view briefly as it patrolled the skies above.

Rey’s eyes weren’t on the hologram, though. The second Finn had set foot in the room, she made her way over and drew him into a tight hug. Being master and student was still a very new experience for them both, but it didn’t change the friendship that lay underneath. As their embrace ended, Finn found himself looking not at a powerful Jedi master, but a young woman worried she’d nearly lost one of her closest friends.

“Good to see you up and about,” she said. “How are you feeling?”

Finn shrugged, giving Chewbacca a reassuring smile as the Wookie put a hand on his shoulder. “Bit of a headache, but I’ll live. You have to teach me how to use the Force to heal sometime. Knowing us, we’ll be in need of it again sooner rather than later.”

“Probably. But let’s put off the lesson until we’re out of danger of being shot up again.”

“How is it looking outside?” Poe asked, circling around the hologram. “Our new friends look like they’ve brought quite a welcome party.”

“It’s awful!” Illoowk squawked, jabbing at one of the holographic soldiers with a taloned finger. “Look at these big lugs! Toth, sullying our sacred world with their very presence!”

Chewbacca gave an uneasy murmur. Finn tilted his head, thinking back to one of Zezeziel’s lectures from their downtime between hyperspace jumps. “Toth? They’re one of the abiru species, right?”

“In name only,” Illoowk replied. “Those ruvts were as bad as the Viis! The gods blessed them with size and strength, but deigned to give them brains no bigger than Skek droppings. The smartest were enforcers and bodyguards of the Viis. The dumbest were common street thugs.”

“There are no Toth in the Conclave,” Nellit added, leaning back against a bulkhead with folded arms. “In fact, Toth guards fought to keep our ancestors from fleeing Viis space. I certainly doubt they’d have much to offer if they had joined us.”

“Those look like professional soldiers,” Poe said. “Well-armed, too. We shouldn’t underestimate them.”

Rey sighed. “Poe’s right. We need to be very careful. Especially since there are Jedi among them.”

Finn turned to Rey, eyes wide. She ignored his stare just as she ignored the shocked looks from the others, eyes on the hologram. Finn let himself relax for a few moments before concentrating, reaching out with his senses just as Rey had taught him. It was impossible to miss the presence she was referring to.

“Two, from what I can tell,” Finn said. “One of them has a very strong connection to the Force.”

“And the other?” Nellit asked.

“Weaker,” Rey replied. “Or at least not fully realised. My guess is a Master and a Padawan, or whatever the local equivalent is.”

“The locals have clearly honed their bond to the Force,” Zezeziel said, taking notes on a datapad. “Astounding. We simply must ask them about it. And the biosphere, of course. The botanical data will take years to process! Then there’s the preservation of Zrheli holy sites…”

“Hey, we’ve got movement!” Poe said, pointing to a trio coming into view on the hologram. “Zrhel, Aaroun and… that’s a Toth, right?”

“Alas,” Nellit replied, eyeing the figures cautiously. “I think they mean to speak with us.”

The trio certainly made for an odd procession as they approached the Falcon. All three figures wore simple but ornate robes with bandoliers, though the Aaroun’s robes were of a very different style overall. She carried a small device in her hands, training it on the Falcon. The other two carried staffs of some sort, though it was unclear if they were ceremonial or functional. The Zrhel treated his like an oversized walking stick, but the Toth carried his like he was ready to use it.

“I think that’s them,” Rey said, pointing to the Zrhel and the Toth. “The Jedi.”

“The Toth?!” Illoowk exclaimed. “You can’t be serious!”

Finn shook his head. “I think Rey’s right. I can sense his fear from here. The Zrhel’s calm as anything, though.”

“What about the Aaroun?” Poe said. “What’s she pointing at us?”

Zezeziel peered closer at the hologram, before gasping. “Oh, my. I don’t think that’s a weapon. Look at her robes. They’re fashioned after those of the old Imperial Archivists. I heard a few had joined Ampris’ exodus, so perhaps they founded their own little order.”

“Well, whoever or whatever they are, they’re ready to say hello,” Poe said. “I’d better go out and represent the New Republic.”

Rey nodded. “Alright. Let’s say you, me, Finn and Nellit go make contact. You too, Threepio. At least until they know our intentions are peaceful.”

“I’m coming too!” Illoowk added. “I never thought I would live to see our sacred world! I’ve dreamt that this day might come since I was a hatchling!”

Zezeziel raised her hand as well. “Don’t forget me! This is a momentous occasion! I must document it firsthand!”

Chewbacca added an enthusiastic growl, picking up and readying his bowcaster. Finn sensed a brief flash of annoyance in Rey, but it proved short-lived.

“Alright, I suppose all of us can go,” she said. “But just stick back, and let Poe and Nellit and I do the talking. Artoo, BB-8, go help D-O with the recording of the attack. Our new friends will want to know more about how we got shot down.”

The astromech beeped a few times, before trundling off towards the cockpit. As the others went about gathering their belongings and readying themselves to disembark, Finn was left simply hoping the people outside would indeed prove friendly.

It got off to a poor start. The main cargo door was inoperable due to the crash, leaving them to awkwardly climb out through the partially-obstructed cargo ring. Finn went last, helping Illoowk and Zezeziel through before climbing out himself. And as he did, the cool night breeze struck him instantly. After weeks of recycled life support air, the freshness was unworldly. He took a deep inhale, savouring the earthly scents of the forest. Turning his eyes upward, he found himself staring at a starry expanse free of any light pollution whatsoever.

If it weren’t for the army gathered around, it would have been a peaceful night.

The gunship neared once more, the whine of its engines cutting through the night air like a vibroblade. It positioned itself over the bulk of the ground forces, like an insect crouched in wait for prey. A few orders were shouted among the troops, too indistinctly to be heard. But there was no mistaking the tension. Aaroun and Toth soldiers were positioned all around them behind trees and portable barricades, training their rifles on the newcomers. Finn didn’t have to reach out to sense their fear.

It was overwhelming. Not at all what he’d expected based on the few abiru he’d met. But even they had spoken in hushed tones of the Viis, and the horrors they’d wrought. Enough that Finn might have thought them to be exaggerating if he hadn’t witnessed the crimes of the First Order and the Sith firsthand. The abiru may have had every right to be fearful. But he could only hope that meant they could be convinced to see the newcomers as friends.

The robed trio continued their approach, backlit by spotlights from the gunship. The Aaroun continued with her recording, surveying the newcomers with curiosity as she neared. The Zrhel was also looking them over, expression difficult to read yet clearly friendly. But it was the Toth that Finn focused on. He took Illoowk and Nellit’s claims about the Toth species with a pinch of salt. No doubt they’d been used by their Viis masters for brutal ends, but writing them off entirely sounded dubious.
And yet, the young man stood a solid foot taller than his already sizeable Aaroun companion. So too did fear practically radiate from him through the Force, tinged with the barest hint of underlying misery. They were all emotions any Jedi should have been taught to control. That volatility coupled with his size made him a force to be reckoned with, and one Finn hoped he’d never have to face.

His thoughts were pushed to the side just as Illoowk brushed past him, barely paying him any attention. The Zrhel’s face was turned to the sky and treetops, beak hanging open in astonishment. After a few more limping steps, she dropped to her knees with an enraptured coo.

“Sacred Ruu,” she uttered in disbelief, before her voice rose to an echoing squawk. “Sacred Ruu! At last! At long last!”

Finn saw a few soldiers look among each other in confusion or outright lower their weapons entirely. The approaching trio stopped in their tracks, with the Toth and Aaroun exchanging a bewildered glance. But the Zrhel just smiled, approaching Illoowk and placing a hand on her trembling shoulders as she wept tears of joy.

“It is an honour to welcome you here, egg-sister,” the Zrhel said. “Please tell me, do your companions speak the abiru patois?”

Rey nodded, taking a step forward. “We know a little. Our droid knows more. He will translate what we cannot speak.”

It sounded a little stilted even to Finn’s untrained ear, but Rey had a better grasp of the abiru language than he had managed so far. It didn’t help that the whole patois was a mishmash of the Viis language and the various abiru species’ dialects. But at least the Ruu abiru could understand them, which meant the language barrier was one less thing to worry about.

“You came prepared, I see!” the Zrhel said. “I bid you all welcome to Ruu-113. I am Qrooth, one of the High Keepers of the Order of Clarity.”

Rey bowed her head. “It is an honour to meet you, High Keeper. I am Rey Skywalker, Master of the Jedi Order.”

Qrooth bowed his head, as did the Toth and the Aaroun. “Yes, I heard of this Order of yours,” Qrooth said. “Is ‘Jedi’ your word for the powers we seem to share?”

“No. We call it the Force. Jedi are those who use the Force.” Rey paused a moment. “Is the Clarity named after the Eye of Clarity?”

Qrooth chuckled. “Yes, correct. Very astute. We believe that the Eyes are focal points of the Clarity. Or the Force, if you will. Of course, we only have the one, and it remains as mysterious as ever.”

“I know. I had a vision of the Eye, and of this planet. I… think it called me here.”

It was that claim that put a crack in the Zrhel’s composure, with surprise crossing his wrinkled features. “Extraordinary. That raises so many questions, but we will wait until the dust settles for answers. Your ship appears to have seen better days.”

“Surprisingly, it’s not actually our worst landing,” Poe said, smiling sheepishly. “But if you have some mechanics among you, we could use a hand getting her back in order.
“We may be able to help. But we need to know what befell your vessel to leave it in such a state.”

“We were attacked before arriving in this system,” Rey said. “We don’t know by whom.”

The Zrhel frowned, and Finn senses a distinct unease grow within him and his companions.

“Were you attacked by the Viis?” Qrooth asked.

“Like I said, we don’t know,” Rey said. “We are trying to pull a recording of the attack from our computer.”

“Well, the sooner we can view that recording the better,” Qrooth said. “You must understand, the spectre of the Viis finding us has loomed over us since the Great Emancipation. If they are out there, we must know.”

“Perhaps I can help?” the Aaroun said. “Their computer’s probably far different to ours, but I know a thing or two about data salvage.”

Qrooth gave a thoughtful coo. “I suppose there’s no harm in trying. If our friends will allow it.”

“By all means,” Rey said.

“Very well. Archivist Tanni, see if you can help our guests. Take Acolyte Cobar with you, just in case.” Qrooth looked back to Rey. “Archivist Tanni is one of the sharpest minds in our Order’s Archivist wing. And Acolyte Cobar is my pupil. A dedicated learner if there ever was one.”

The Toth looked at his master with unease, though Finn couldn’t tell if that was nervousness about entering an alien vessel or doubt in his own abilities. Either way, Finn felt for the young man. Uninvited visitors would be stressful enough, even without the possibility of the Viis still lurking out there. But if they were going to get into the abiru’s good graces, some ice would have to be broken.

“I will show them to the cockpit, High Keeper,” Finn said.

Qrooth looked to him with a slight coo. “Oh, thank you, young man. Are you Master Skywalker’s Acolyte?”

“I… yes. We are called ‘padawans’, but I believe it is the same. My name is Finn.”

Tanni the Aaroun smiled at him. “It is an honour to meet you, Finn. Please, lead on.”

Finn obliged, leading her and her Toth companion back towards the Falcon. So far, so good, he figured. They had some cooperation going. Even if the recording confirmed their worst fears, it would be clear that they at least shared a common foe. But that didn’t stop him from overhearing Illoowk utter something to Rey.

“… sure we want to let a Toth loose in the ship?” the Zrhel asked.

Finn knew the Toth had heard her. He felt the young man’s mood sink further, but it felt to be out of resignation than anything. The Aaroun was a different story, though. He felt a genuine flash of anger within her at the comment. Finn glanced back at her in surprise, only to find her having placed a hand on Cobar’s shoulder. The two were obviously no strangers to such comments.

“Don’t worry about her,” Finn said once they were out of earshot. “Illoowk is just a bit… overexcited.”

Cobar didn’t look convinced. His bovine features were still drawn into a deep frown, and his tiny black eyes held a surprising sadness to them. “I’m used to it.”

Tanni sighed. “Are there many Toth in this Abiru Conclave?”

“None, from what I hear,” Finn said, ducking through the Falcon’s hatch. “Mostly Myal and Zrhels, and a few Kelth and Aaroun. Never been there myself, though.”

Tanni squeezed through the hatch, looking around with more amazement than Finn had ever seen from one of the Falcon’s passengers. “Well, you have an impressive vessel, at least!” she said. “I’d say it’s even a little more advanced than our own.”

Finn couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or polite, but decided to play it safe. “The Millennium Falcon is an old ship, she’s reliable. She’s served us well on many adventures.”

Cobar didn’t have quite as easy a time getting through the hatch, but soon joined them. “So, this thing can actually travel between stars?”

“Well… yeah. Why, you don’t have hyperdrives?”

Tanni shook her head. “No. The Viis Empire was built with stargates. There’s one connecting Ruu and the Viis homeworld Viismyel, but the Zrhels controlling the gate closed it behind Ampris’ exodus. It’s never been opened since.”

“I heard about that. Sounds like it was for the best.

“No doubt about it.”

It wasn’t an impressive tour. Not with the ship still sitting at an angle and burnt in several places. But Finn was rapidly developing a liking for his new acquaintances. He still had very limited experience dealing with aliens since deserting the First Order what felt like a lifetime ago, but Tanni’s enthusiasm shone through their differences. She was as natural a scholar as Zezeziel, with a new batch of questions with each new room Finn walked her through. Cobar was quieter, but clearly calming down after Illoowk’s comment and the whole first contact situation in general. Finn suspected Tanni’s presence had some role in that; the two were obviously close friends. And Finn figured that if an Aaroun could manage to befriend a Toth, then Illoowk’s claims were overblown at the very least.

The droids still took some convincing. When Finn introduced them to Tanni and Cobar, R2-D2 somehow managed to give Finn a questioning look despite his mechanical nature. BB-8 was a bit friendlier, offering a polite greeting before quickly turning his attention back to the Falcon’s main computer. D-O was hesitant to even approach, and took some coaxing from Finn before he even neared Tanni.

“Don’t worry, D-O,” Finn said. “They’re friends. They won’t hurt you.”

“O-o-o-okay,” D-O said, tentatively trundling towards Tanni. “H-h-h-hello!”

Tanni knelt down, petting D-O as she might a stray animal. “Hello! What a fascinating little machine you have here, Finn. Seems almost… sentient.”

Finn shrugged. “They’ve got personality, that’s for sure. Let me guess – something else the abiru don’t have?”

“I don’t think the Viis even had robots this advanced. They preferred things be done by hand.”

“As long as it wasn’t their hands,” Cobar added.

Chuckling, Finn followed after Tanni as D-O led her towards the cockpit. She was too enthralled by the tiny droid to take notice of much else. “Not surprising,” Finn said. “So, I hear you’re an Acolyte? Been training long?”

Cobar rubbed the back of neck, ducking down slightly to fit in the Falcon’s corridors. “About three years. I was a late starter.”

“Ah, me too. Jedi usually train from childhood. But… well, there aren’t many Jedi left. Rey and I couldn’t be too fussy.”

“How many Jedi are there?”

“That we know of? Two. Just the two of us.”

Cobar stopped dead in his tracks. “Two? I… I got the impression it was a larger group.”

“It was. We were hunted nearly to extinction a few decades ago. There was an attempt to rebuild more recently, but… it’s complicated. Do you have a concept of the Dark Side of the Clarity?”

“I suppose so,” Cobar said. “We’re very strict about how we use it. Not for personal gain. Not out of anger. Not to break laws. That sort of thing. A few have misused it over the years, usually put to death for it. It’s among the worst crimes an abiru can commit.”

Finn nodded, thinking back to his teachings. Rey would be able to do a better job explaining it. “Well, the Dark Side goes a lot further than just breaking rules. It’s not just misuse, but actual manifestation of everything that goes against the Light Side. Anger, fear, lust for power. It’s tempting, and it’s corrupting, and it’s… alluring, I suppose. But the Jedi train extensively to resist it.”

“The Jedi being followers of the Light Side?”

“Right. Users of the Dark Side are known as Sith. The Sith were what nearly wiped us out the first time, and a Jedi fallen to the Dark Side is what almost destroyed our attempt to rebuild.”

“Okay,” Cobar said, his deep tone hinting at comprehension. “So… what happened to these Sith? Are they dead?”

“They’re gone for now, but it’s probable more will emerge one day. From what Rey tells me, there’s always been a cycle where the Light and Dark Sides wax and wane. They form new equilibriums, before one overpowers the other. I want to hope that balance has been restored, but… there’s plenty of problems facing the galaxy without the Sith. It’ll take years to flush out the remnants of the First Order.”

Cobar tilted his head. “First Order? Are they Sith?”

“Most aren’t users themselves, but they’re remnants of the Galactic Empire. Turns out they were being led by its Emperor, who was a Sith Lord.”

Cobar stared in horror, and Finn could feel his unease. He regretted the explanation immediately. The Viis were obviously a source of great anxiety to the abiru, so learning that most of the galaxy had been ruled by a similar empire would have been a terrifying thought.

“I don’t like the sound of this Galactic Empire,” Cobar said. “But maybe we should wait for Tanni before a full history lesson. But… you said they’re remnants? Just what’s happening in the wider galaxy?”

“The Empire was overthrown in a rebellion, who installed the New Republic. It’s named after the Galactic Republic that the Empire grew from, and they’re hoping to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Worked a bit too well, since they were nearly wiped out by the First Order. But the New Republic won out, and is rebuilding both itself and the galaxy.”

Exhaling in relief, Cobar nodded. “That’s… comforting. I mean, if this Galactic Empire of yours proved fallible, then maybe-”

A cry of terror echoed through the Falcon’s corridors, emanating from the direction of the cockpit.

Cobar moved with speed Finn would never have expected from a Toth. He could barely keep up with the Acolyte as he bounded down the corridor, slowing only to squeeze into the cockpit. As Cobar put a comforting arm around Tanni, Finn caught a glimpse of her terrified expression. For one horrific moment he thought that the talks outside had turned hostile, but could sense that Rey was safe and calm. But he could see the hologram being projected by R2-D2, and the pieces fell into place.

It was an angular vessel, consisting of a pointed cockpit with a pair of forward-swept wings on either side. Obviously one of the vessels that had attacked them, like the metallic bird of prey it resembled. Probably a starfighter, judging by the shape. But the owner was all too obvious based on Tanni’s reaction.

“Is that what I think it is?” Finn asked quietly.

Tanni nodded, leaning into Cobar’s embrace. “That’s a Viis fightercraft,” she whispered. “They’re still out there. Oh, Gods, they’re still out there…”

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