Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 9)

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Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 9)

#1 Post by Jonesy »

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…


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 Viisymel. 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.”


“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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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 Viisymel 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 Enclave Council’s Kelth representative, so he’d be a good representative of the Enclave 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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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.”


“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 Enclave,” 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. She and everyone else in the Abiru Enclave have been very excited about reconnecting with Ruu.”

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 Enclave?”

“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 Viisymel, 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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Re: Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 4)

#5 Post by Jonesy »

Chapter 5

Silence hung over the cockpit for a long time, its occupants staring at the flickering hologram.

Fear gripped Cobar’s heart like a vice, sending a deathly chill through his veins. He had hoped – like so many others before him had – that the Viis had died out. Even in Ampris’ days, their species was in steep genetic decline lingering from the Dancing Death plague, leaving them increasingly infertile and prone to hatching defects. If that hadn’t been the end of them, then the escalating civil war among the Empire’s resource-producing colony worlds might have done the job. But it had not been the case.

The ancient enemy of the abiru was still out there, and still clearly dangerous.

“Can they track you?” Cobar asked Finn. “Can hyperdrives be traced?”

Finn shook his head. “Only with very rare, very specialised technology. If the Viis have no knowledge of hyperdrives, I’d doubt they’d have it. They probably won’t even connect us to Ruu-113, anyway.”

“They might have picked up the abiru onboard.”

“The Falcon’s equipped with sensor jammers from its smuggling days. Should block their scans.”

“We managed to scan you,” Cobar said.

Finn frowned. “Huh. Hope it was the crash that knocked the jammers out and not the Viis. Otherwise…” He exhaled. “Even if they do suspect something, I think it’s safe to say Ruu-113 isn’t in danger just yet.”

“I hope so.”

Tanni hummed to herself, eyes fixated on the hologram. “Odd...” she muttered.

“What is it?” Cobar asked, peering closer.

She pointed to the wing on the fighter, where there was something stencilled onto the side. An emblem, consisting of a stylised bird of prey soaring upward and a circle of stars underneath.

“That’s the emblem of the Viis Imperial Flotilla,” Tanni said. “But… there’s supposed to be a globe representing Viisymel in the middle. It’s not there.”

“The Viis homeworld?” Finn asked.

Tanni nodded, stroking her chin. “It’d be a major omission. The Viis were… are deeply nationalistic. Most loved the Empire, and Viisymel was the heart of it.”

“Something might have happened to it,” Cobar suggested. “It was pretty badly polluted, so maybe they had to evacuate? Or perhaps it was destroyed in the civil war?”

Finn shot him a worried glance. “Woah, hold on there, Cobar. The Viis have the ability to blow up planets?”

“Well, not ‘blow up’, exactly. More ‘blast the surface with solar energy until it’s a lifeless rock’. That’s what they did to the Aaroun homeworld, Sargas III. A couple of others, too.”

Tanni nodded, sighing slightly. Cobar didn’t blame her – most Aaroun mourned their long-lost homeworld. The Aaroun had fended off Viis subjugation far longer than most. Only when the Viis unleashed a biological weapon against Sargas III’s ecosystem, leaving the population facing starvation, were the Aaroun forced to capitulate. As the Aaroun were rounded up and enslaved, precious little in the way of cultural artefacts and historical records had been saved before the Viis destroyed the planet. Even less had survived long enough to be brought to Ruu-113, and only a few scraps had been gleamed from meditating on the Eye of Clarity. Most original Aaroun culture was lost forever.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Finn said. “It was a tactic favoured by the Galactic Empire, and the First Order remnants that succeeded them. We lost some truly magnificent worlds, and the people who called them home. Alderaan. Hosnian Prime. Kijimi. Our friend Poe was from Kijimi, in fact. Its loss still weighs on him.”

Tanni nodded again. “Then perhaps I could interview him? We may not be able to help his homeworld, but we can at least immortalize it in our archives.”

“I’m sure he’d appreciate it,” Finn said, looking to R2-D2. “Any luck retrieving an audio recording?”

The droid gave a few beeps, the meaning of which was completely lost upon Cobar. But after a few moments came a crackle of interference, through which a sharp, hissing voice cut.

“… restricted to unauthorised civilian traffic! In the name of the Regent-Kaa of Mynchepop, you are to power down your weapons and accompany us to the system garrison! Refuse, and you will be fired upon!”

It was still hard to make out above the static, and Cobar’s grasp of the Viis language was limited to half-forgotten school studies, but he still stood in awed silence. He and Tanni were the first abiru on Ruu to listen to a living Viis’ voice in centuries. A momentous occasion, though likely an infamous one.

“Okay, I didn’t understand much of that,” Finn said. “But they said Kaa, right? As in the Viis Emperor?”

Tanni scratched her head. “Yes, but he said something about a Regent-Kaa. Something must have happened to the last Kaa.”

“Doesn’t explain why the Imperial throne is on Mynchepop, either,” Cobar added. “The place was a vacation colony.”

“The Empire must have fractured,” Tanni said. “There’s no other explanation. The Viis Empire’s government, or some claimant, must have fled to Mynchepop away from Viisymel for some reason.” Tanni exhaled. “Okay. I think we should report all this to the powers that be. There’s been no sounds of fighting yet, so that must be a good sign. You two go tell them. I want to try exporting these recordings to a data crystal.”

“I’d better stay and help translate for the droids,” Finn said. “Go on ahead, Cobar. We shouldn’t be long.”

It was a simple enough task – relay the findings to the decision-makers. But with the findings being the biggest upset to Ruu politics since Planetfall, and the decision-makers being the top political and military leadership, Cobar felt the all-too-familiar tightness of anxiety settle upon him. He tried to clear his head a bit with a few deep breaths of crisp night air on his walk away from the Falcon, but it did little to calm his nerves.

Most of the military was now gathered around the representatives and the scientists, who stood by the First Citizen Erkixu’s holoprojector as she addressed the newcomers. Cobar couldn’t see or hear much of it from the distance. At the edge of the ring of soldiers stood Marshal Rann, who was quick to notice him and wave him over.

“Acolyte,” the Marshal said. “They’re holding a formal welcoming ceremony. Can your news wait?”

Cobar nodded. “We don’t believe there’s immediate danger to Ruu. But we have confirmation that the Viis Empire, or a splinter state of it, still exists. They’re the ones who attacked the vessel.”

“Gods help us,” Rann muttered, glancing skywards for a moment. “The Viis are stubborn [censored], I’ll give them that much. I swear, if these newcomers bring them down upon us...”

“I don’t believe they have, Marshal. The technology to track hyperdrive jumps is very rare. It’s possible that the ship’s sensor jammers prevented the Viis from detecting the abiru onboard, too.”

Rann tilted his head. “The same jammers that we managed to bypass?”

“That’s why I say ‘possible’, sir. We don’t know if the sensors died in the crash or the attack itself.”

A trace of scepticism remained in Rann’s expression, but he nodded regardless. “We’ll need to investigate further. But I’ll trust your assessment of the hyperdrives, at least. We should be safe for now, though I’d still like to see the recordings.”

“Archivist Tanni and Padawan Finn are working on exporting them now, Marshal.”

“Excellent,” the Marshal said, patting Cobar’s shoulder. “Chin up, lad. A lot is up in the air here, but you’ve been of tremendous help. We may have an opportunity here, anyway.”

“An opportunity, sir?”

The Aaroun nodded towards the Falcon. “Their vessel can travel between stars. The Viis’ can’t, unless they somehow pulled their heads out of their cloacas in the last couple of centuries enough to invent something new, which I doubt. Whatever the case, reverse-engineering these drives might offer us a strategic advantage.”

Cobar’s military experience didn’t extend far beyond his reservist training, but he could definitely see it. The abiru could have the ability to strike anywhere in the Empire, wherever it was weakest. They could cripple whatever was left of it, bringing freedom to the billions of abiru left in chains. It was a gripping thought, albeit one Cobar knew was far-fetched. The Free Abiru Fleet was pitifully small, and the orbital shipyards supporting them had only begun operation half a century ago. But no longer being confined to the Ruu system was still a good start.

“I hope so, sir.”

“You and me both, Acolyte.”

For a while longer, Cobar watched the welcoming ceremony. He imagined someone in First Landing had blown the dust off some long-forgotten procedure for first contact. That, or First Citizen Erkixu made it up as she went along. Either way, Cobar did his best to look calm and professional as the ceremony wound down. Between the scientists and a number of journalists among the dignitaries, there were several cameras and holorecorders trained on the proceedings. Cobar had a feeling that the recordings would become very widely viewed, and that he'd be making an appearance sooner or later. As much as he relished the chance to make a good impression to the people of Ruu, tension still gripped him even as the ceremony came to a close.

“And so, on behalf of the people of Ruu and the Free Abiru Assembly, I welcome you all as friends,” Erkixu said. “Whether by fate or by chance, your path has led you to our home. We extend to you the hand of friendship, and hope this marks the start of a long and mutual companionship.”

The words were addressed to the entire motley collection of newcomers, abiru or otherwise. But there was no denying their leader – Master Skywalker, the young woman with the weight of the entire Jedi Order on her back. She looked confident enough as she stood before Erkixu, but Cobar could sense the faintest feeling of unease within her. Whether it was from crash landing on an alien world or the weight of being one of the last Jedi left in the universe, he couldn’t say. But there was no denying she and her friends had been through much.

“Thank you, First Citizen,” Master Skywalker said. “It is a tremendous honour to set foot on your world. We’re all very eager to see it in full, and to get to know you all better.”

“Likewise, Master Jedi,” Erkixu said, eyes turning to Rann as he took a few steps closer. “Marshal Rann. Anything to report?”

Rann merely gestured at Cobar, leaving him to hurriedly step forward to stand beside the Aaroun.

“Acolyte Cobar has some information that you will find important,” Marshall Rann said.

And just like that, all eyes on Ruu-113 were upon him.

Cobar’s nerves shot into overdrive. Everyone was staring at him – Erkixu, Qrooth, the delegates from the Assembly, the guests. No doubt millions more would be watching the recording the following day, and on many more that followed. While there had been some brief media attention on him being the first Toth in the Order of Clarity, that was going to pale next to the arrival of otherworldly guests. Spotting Qrooth giving him a nod of encouragement made him realize that now was his chance. It was his time to prove himself to everyone involved, though he suspected that involved himself.

Drawing himself up, Cobar cleared his throat and gave a small bow. “First Citizen. Honoured guests. I’m afraid our fears were correct – the Viis were responsible for the attack on Master Skywalker’s vessel.”

Murmurs spread through the gathered crowd like ripples in a lake. The tension was palpable, and it didn’t take a connection to the Clarity to know it. Even with Cobar’s novice perception of it, he could sense the fear returning. Some did a better job hiding it than others, though. Gorlican body language was notoriously hard to read, and Cobar was hard-pressed to tell if Erkixu was afraid. Qrooth, he could tell, was surprised yet unwavering. But for the sake of everyone else, Cobar decided to continue quickly.

“That said, the threat to Ruu-113 is limited. Hyperdrive travel can’t be tracked without special technology that the Viis probably lack. Our friends’ ship also has jammers that may have prevented the Viis from knowing there were abiru onboard.”

“That is some small relief,” Erkixu said, rubbing her hornlike beak. “But when you say that the Viis were responsible, do you know if it was the Viis Empire itself?”

“I’m not sure, First Citizen. The ships were definitely Viis designs, but the symbols on them were not an exact match of the Viis Flotilla’s. Then there’s a transmission they made, which spoke of a regent Kaa on Mynchepop. It’s possible that the Viis Empire has broken apart, or at least lost control of Viisymel.”

Another round of murmurs ensued, more speculative than fearful. Cobar still clung to the hope that all he loved would remain safe, but there were too many unknowns to be sure. He looked again to the newcomers, who were quietly conversing among themselves. Finn had just joined them, and it was then Cobar realised Tanni was standing behind him. He glanced back, and was met by her bright smile. Seeing her face brought him some much-needed relief, and looking back to see Qrooth nodding approvingly brought him tantalisingly close to confidence.

“Thank you, Acolyte,” Erkixu said. “You have been very… helpful. We have much to assess and discuss of this Viis threat, but it is best approached with a clear mind. I’m sure our guests are very shaken from their ordeal.”

“You are welcome to stay at the Order’s Citadel,” Qrooth offered. “We would be honoured to have you as our guests.”

Master Skywalker bowed her head. “And we would be honoured to accept, High Keeper.”

And so the biggest event in abiru history since Planetfall came to a quiet close. With the pomp and ceremony over, pure logistics kicked in. The newcomers picked out their belongings from the Falcon, though Chewbacca and the droids volunteered to remain behind and help the Defence Organization engineers ready the Falcon for airlift to a military facility. While the sappers debated among themselves on how to prepare the stricken craft, a team of military medics got to work assessing the newcomers. Bringing new diseases to the planet was obviously not desirable, but thankfully they all tested negative for contagions. Even so, medical biosecurity worked both ways, and the newcomers were each given some basic inoculations against common abiru diseases. Chewbacca proved hesitant to receive his shots, but a Kelth medic with a particularly soothing voice managed to butter him up enough for him to go along.

The trip back to the Citadel took place not in a skimmer, but a military-grade airlifter. An escort of Aaroun and Toth soldiers joined them in the cargo hold, watching the newcomers silently from behind their visors. The journey was much noisier than taking a mere skimmer, what with the heavy-duty engines flanking the airframe. That left Tanni and Zezeziel the Myal all but shouting in an excited conversation on Ruu history, one scholar to another. Cobar tried to listen along, but was quickly distracted when he realized that the Toth beside him was staring right at him.

“You the Acolyte, then?” the man asked.

Cobar nodded. “Yeah, that’s right.”

“Gods must have smiled on you, boy. First Toth in the Order. Make you feel special, huh?”

“I don’t know. I just do the best I can. Show them all what we’re capable of.”

The older Toth smirked. “I can respect that. But don’t let it go to your head. Toth have gotta be strong. Strong of arm, strong of heart, strong of bonds. Moving a few rocks with your mind doesn’t change that.”

Cobar nodded along, as if he hadn’t heard the same sort of spiel from his father before. Toth culture elevated strength above all, whether it was physically or metaphorically. That was how it had been in ancient times before the Viis, though it had been muddied and tarnished by the poverty and desperation of living under the Empire. Ideals like ‘protecting those weaker than you’ became ‘survival of the strongest’, while ‘kinfolk’ became a euphemism for ‘gang’.

“Hey, lay off the lad,” said the soldier on the next seat down – another Toth, removing his helmet to let his scraggly hair free. He leaned forward, casting Cobar a grin. “Cobar, right? My little girl’s always saying she wants to be like you. Join the Order, become a Keeper, help the abiru. I don’t think she has the powers for it, but there’re worse role models.”

Cobar couldn’t help but smile. “Be sure to give her my regards.”

The soldier reached into his pocket for a commlink, holding it up. “Don’t suppose you’d be willing to say a few words for her yourself? Fadal’s her name.”

Swallowing, Cobar gave a nod. The soldier keyed in a command to the commlink and handed it over, gesturing that it was recording. Mind racing, Cobar began speaking loud enough to be heard over the airlifter’s engines.

“Hello, Fadal! This is Acolyte Cobar, of the Order of Clarity. We had a very eventful day today, greeting the new guests to our world, but it all went smoothly. We couldn’t have done it without your father and his friends. I was very happy to see so many Toth there helping out, and I hear you want to do the same! There’s a lot of shapes that can take, but the Toth are strongest when we’re helping others. I’m rooting for you!”

It was sappy, even by his standards, but the soldier seemed pleased as Cobar handed the commlink back. His peer didn’t look quite as moved, though. But as Cobar leaned back in his chair, he realized that Tanni and Zezeziel had been watching the whole thing, smiling broadly. Tanni had her recording device in her lap, trained on him.

“What?” Cobar asked, catching the playful glint in Tanni’s eyes.

“Nothing,” she said, tapping some buttons on the side of the recording device. “Just documenting the day. Got some great footage of our new friends, and of the Falcon.”

“And me?”

“Why not? First Toth in the Order, encouraging the next generation of Toth. That’ll be good for the archives.” Tanni gave him a small wink. “Besides, it’s adorable.”

Zezeziel chuckled. “You know, I didn’t expect to meet a Toth on this journey. I’m glad I did.”

“We don’t bite,” Cobar assured her. “We’ve come a long way since the bad old days of the Viis.”

“And it’s wonderful to see! Not to sound patronising, of course. I swear, there’s so much to study on this planet, I hardly know where to start!”

Her excitement was clearly contagious, with seemingly the entire Archivist wing of the Order of Clarity waiting for the newcomers’ arrival. Zezeziel practically disappeared into a swarm of her fellow Myal, with only the odd Aaroun and Kelth Archivist standing tall above them. The High Keepers proved more reserved, offering a formal welcome with a crowd of curious Keepers and Acolytes gathered behind them. But even that didn’t last long – it was clear that the newcomers were getting very overwhelmed.

Their guest rooms at the Citadel were about as luxurious as the ascetic Order of Clarity could offer – far from hotel quality, but still better than the Acolyte quarters. No bunk beds, no communal bathroom, and no dining hall – each room was a self-contained apartment, if decidedly rustic. It was all comfy beds, cosy kitchenettes and private bathrooms. Probably nothing compared to what the newcomers were used to, but Cobar would have killed for a bit of privacy. Though with the entire corridor cordoned off with Keepers on guard at either end, it was clear that they were very much under watch.

“Well, we’ll leave you all to get settled in,” Qrooth said. “Would you be amenable to a formal dinner this evening? We have much to discuss with the other High Keepers. Especially if we are to grant you access to the Eye of Clarity.”

“Sounds great!” Poe said, offloading his bag with a thud. “We ran out of fresh food weeks ago. I’m excited for anything that doesn’t come from a packet.”

Master Skywalker cleared her throat gently, and nodded. “Yes, we would be honoured to join you. Just know that we wouldn’t dream of interfering with the Eye, or anything like that.”

Qrooth waved his hand. “Nonsense. The Eyes of Clarity are for all abiru, and I see no reason why that shouldn’t hold true to non-abiru as well. We have rules in place for its protection, obviously, but as long as you’re respectful I see no issue.”

“That’s very kind of you. Thank you, First Keeper.” Master Skywalker turned to face Cobar and Tanni. “Thank you all.”

Cobar and Tanni bowed in return, following after Qrooth as they left the newcomers to unpack their belongings.

“I must say, I’m very pleased with the both of you,” the Zrheli said as they walked the Citadel’s stone halls. “Today held a lot of unknowns and little time to prepare for them, but you handled it flawlessly.”

Tanni shrugged. “They’re a friendly bunch. That definitely helped.”

“Absolutely,” Cobar agreed. “But some of the things they speak of worry me. It sounds like the wider galaxy was ruled by an empire not unlike the Viis’ for many years. It had a corrupt user of the Clarity at its head, who nearly destroyed their equivalent of the Order of Clarity. Twice!”

Qrooth glanced back at him. “Yes, they mentioned that at the ceremony. Did Padawan Finn tell you what became of the Empire and its leadership?”

“They were defeated, right?”

Nodding, Qrooth brought the pair to a stop and turned around. “I know it is a disturbing revelation, but I think we should take comfort from the fact that this Galactic Empire proved fallible. The Viis Empire may survive, but given its decline in Ampris’ day I think it is safe to say it remains in a diminished state.”

“We might find out sooner rather than later,” Cobar said. “Marshal Rann seems adamant on reverse-engineering the Falcon’s hyperdrive. It might give us an advantage over the Viis.”

Qrooth hummed. “Then I shall be sure to advise caution when he proposes any action outside Ruu. If that technology fell into Viis hands, the results could be catastrophic.” The Zrhel sighed. “But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We’ve all had a long night, and ought to rest in preparation for this evening.”

“There’s one more thing, High Keeper,” Cobar said. “The destruction of the Jedi Order, and the rise and fall of the Sith… do you think that was what Ampris spoke of in her vision? The shifts in the Clarity?”

“It’s quite possible, my Acolyte. But I do recall she spoke of Ruu’s isolation coming to an end, and you fitting into it all. If your inroads with our new friends is any indication, I suspect that your fate is tied to theirs. Perhaps we will have you serve as a liaison between them.”

Cobar nodded, though nervousness swelled within him. Fate or no, he was no diplomat. “I will do whatever the Order asks of me.”

“Then as your mentor, I ask you to get some rest. I have much to discuss with the High Keepers, and no doubt they will have many questions for our guests this evening. We’ll work up quite an appetite!”

As Qrooth took his leave, Cobar was left with too much on his mind to properly process as the weight of fatigue grew on him. Even with the initial shock of it all wearing off, he was left in the midst of events that could well determine the fate of the abiru, be it in Ruu or whatever was left of the Empire. No doubt there would be many eager to see their fellow abiru freed and the Viis laid low, but Cobar had no reason to believe it was a fight they could handily win.

Tanni reached out to Cobar, putting an arm around him. “Hey. It’s alright, Cobar. It’ll work out in the end.”

“I hope so. I just… I’m worried, Tanni. If the Viis are still out there, and something happens… it’s one planet against an empire. We don’t have the ships or the manpower to hold them off.”

“You’d be heartless not to shaken, Cobar. After all the Viis did to our people, and all the other abiru, we’re right to fear them. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be strong. We’ve got new friends, and it sounds like they’ve got some serious resources and connections backing them up. The Eye must have called them here for a reason.”

Cobar sighed, nodding. “We’ll find out soon enough. You heading back to your quarters?”

Tanni nodded. “I don’t know if I’m going to sleep much, but I should try. You’re welcome to join me, though. The acolytes’ dorm gets pretty noisy, doesn't it?”

“Yeah. Especially during the day.”

“Well… we Archivists get private rooms. If you need some peace and quiet, our whole wing of the Citadel’s as quiet as a library. Usually.”

Unfortunately, ‘usually’ proved not to be the case, with another swarm of Myal quickly forming around Tanni as she walked Cobar to the Archive Wing. The questions were unending, regarding every single aspect of the night that had transpired. Tanni didn’t even bother providing much of an answer, instead just handing over her recording device. It was carried off like a sacred relic, with several of the Archivists outright giggling with anticipation at watching the recording.

Tanni deposited Cobar at her room, inviting him to make himself at home while she raided the Archivist’s shared kitchen. Her room was no larger than Cobar’s own, though unlike him she didn’t have three other Acolytes sharing it. That wasn’t to say it was overly spacious; besides a simple bed and dresser, the room was dominated by a wide desk and wall-sized bookcase. Curiosity getting the better of him, Cobar began browsing the shelves. About half of it was given over to various framed photographs, many being of Tanni and her fellow Archivists together on duty or during their downtime. Whether they were studying ancient Zrheli holy sites or relaxing by the beach at Okal’s Point, it was a humorous display either way with her towering over her diminutive peers, but they clearly got along very well.

It was surprising to see so many photographs featuring himself, though. He noted a few dating back to their childhood. One he remembered vividly – a photo of him sitting at a table with Tanni hugging him from behind, taken at her seventh birthday party. It had been the first time a non-Toth had invited him to a party, and the move hadn’t been lost on him. His parents had insisted he be on his best behaviour, her parents had insisted he be on his best behaviour, and she insisted that she be invited to his birthday party when it rolled around.

Cobar smiled to himself as he looked at the more recent pictures featuring the two of them. From their time in school to their reservist training, there they were in their student robes and auxiliary uniforms. There was even a photo of the two of them taken minutes after he’d won the Order of Clarity’s hand-to-hand championship. His fur was matted with sweat, he was clad only in his contestant’s shorts, and he was nursing a bruised rib from his final round against Narrabri, but he still stood smiling and triumphant next to a proud-looking Tanni. She’d been his most energetic – not to mention loudest – supporter throughout the championship, and he’d applied himself doubly just to avoid letting her down. The excitement in her expression and her broad smile had made it all worthwhile.

Putting the photo back with a grin, he turned his eyes to her book collection. A lot of them weren’t surprising. The Life of a Kelth was Elrabin’s deeply honest autobiography, famed for its unflinching look at his life in the Viis Empire’s underworld before he met Ampris. The Golden One was even more well-known, widely considered the foremost account of Ampris’ life due to it being a joint project between Elrabin and Ampris’ sons. Cobar did raise an eyebrow at Tanni owning a copy of Fariance Nights, though. It was an infamous work of historical fiction based on the theory that Ampris and Elrabin had been more than just friends, which even Elrabin himself had fervently denied.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was seeing that Tanni had an entire shelf dedicated to books about the Toth. Not just texts on their history and culture, either. He recognized novels by several famous Toth authors. Which was to say they were famous among the Toth, for the most part simply for being authors; their work hadn’t made much of a splash beyond that. But seeing them on Tanni’s bookshelf was heartening nonetheless. He wouldn’t have expected any scholar to take much interest in his people, but Tanni never ceased to amaze.

“You like my collection?” Tanni asked, as she returned with a platter of steaming pastries.

“It’s impressive,” Cobar replied. “I didn’t realise you were so into Toth literature.”

Tanni chuckled, settling down on her bed with the platter before her. “I’m the Order’s unofficial expert on Toth culture. I suppose I have you to thank for piquing my curiosity.”

Cobar took a seat on the opposite side of the platter, sampling one of the pastries. It was small enough to clearly be intended for a Myal appetite, but Tanni had at least brought enough to satisfy their combined hunger. “Not bad. Didn’t take the Myal to be chefs.”

“Well, they’re an all-in-one meal of meat and vegetables, for the busy scholar on the go. Apparently, they’re prepared specifically to minimize crumbs, so they don’t mess up any documents.”

“Sounds about right. Though I am curious… you really have that much of an interest in the Toth?”

Tanni shrugged. “Why not? Your culture’s as rich as any other species’, if a bit under-documented. Besides, you and your kinfolk are interesting people. I enjoy spending time with you all.”

“Really? I mean… they tease you a lot when you visit.”

“About as much as they tease each other. Sure, it was off-putting at first, but I realized that that kind of banter is just how most Toth socialise. They seem to enjoy it when I reciprocate.” Tanni took a bite from one of the pastries, taking a moment to chew and swallow. “How are your kinfolk, anyway? You didn’t say much about them after your last visit.”

“They’re fine,” Cobar said. “It’s just… the usual. Hard to tell where the teasing ends and the insults begins.”

A hint of worry entered Tanni’s expression. “I thought they were proud of you.”

“They are. My parents are, and some of my aunts and uncles. But I think it’s more about me making history for the Toth more than anything. In most of my kinfolk’s eyes, the ideal Toth is still one who works hard and plays hard, you know? Not one who sits around meditating or reading books.”

“Little Fadal looks up to you,” Tanni said. “That was a sweet thing you did for her.”

Cobar chuckled. “I couldn’t say no. I just hope I live up to her expectations.”

“You will, Cobar. You absolutely will.”

As welcome as the meal was, it did little to stave off the march of fatigue. Almost as soon as they’d finished, they turned down the lights and settled into bed. With the pair lying back-to-back, there was little room beneath the covers. But it was reassuring, all the same.

Though Cobar was surprised to have Tanni roll over and put her arm around him.

“Hey, Cobar?” she whispered to him. “You did great today. I’m proud of you.”

Cobar smiled, even though she couldn’t see it. “Thanks, Tanni. Same to you. I’m sure you and your Archivist buddies will have a great time with our new friends.”

“We’ll be keeping busy, that’s for sure.” Tanni moved to withdraw her arm and roll back around, but paused partway. “Say, Cobar… you don’t mind if I stay like this, do you?”

Cobar was momentarily blindsided by the request. While they were no strangers to sleeping in such close proximity, actually holding each other was a rarity. The only times they’d cuddled up like that since adolescence was after Tanni went through a nasty breakup and a couple of times when Cobar had fallen out with his kinsfolk. For her to ask that of him made it truly hit home how eventful a night it had been for them both. And after all of it, Cobar welcomed the gesture. If anything, it made him all the more appreciative that Tanni was there to face it all with him.

“Not at all,” he said. “Go ahead.”

“Thanks,” Tanni whispered, settling back in against his back. She buried her faced in his hair, and he could have sworn he heard her give a small purr. “Sleep well, Cobar.”

“And you, Tanni.”

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Re: Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 6)

#6 Post by Jonesy »

Edit: Oops! Posted the wrong chapter by mistake! Don't post while falling asleep, kids!

Chapter 6

It didn’t take long to sort out the sleeping arrangements. Finn and Poe took one room, Zezeziel and Iloowk took another, and Nellit claimed a third. There was a fourth free, but Rey instead found herself sharing with Nellit. After the day they’d had, she needed someone to talk to and decompress. Besides, her options were limited; Chewbacca was away overseeing the Falcon, Zezeziel and Illoowk had clearly worn themselves out from excitement, and Rey had an inexplicable feeling that Finn and Poe needed some time alone.

Nellit didn’t mind the company. Rey had spent many an hour with him discussing the Jedi and the Force during the quieter moments of their perilous voyage, though they’d barely made a dent answering the portfolio of questions sent along by Nellit’s academic father. They had a tendency to get off-topic anyway, mostly as Nellit grew fascinated by her adventures. Rey got the distinct impression that Enclave Security saw little action, and humoured him patiently enough. They’d long since reached the point where she’d consider him a friend.

Theirs was a comfortable enough room. The Citadel was clearly an old building based on the faded stonework, and the furniture was mostly built from simple wood and cloth. But a lot of effort had gone into keeping it all presentable and comfortable, leaving it with a distinctly rustic charm. While nothing compared to Rey’s room back on Chandrila, having spent years living in the husk of an AT-AT walker meant that any proper lodgings were still very much a novelty to her.

“Gotta say, I expected a worse welcome,” Nellit said, slumping back into a padded armchair experimentally. “Thought they might blow us out of the sky on suspicion of being Viis. That, or we’d find that the Zrheli wiped out the rest of the abiru to keep their holy world pure.”

Rey looked up from her unpacking, raising an eyebrow at Nellit’s musings. “Ever the optimist, aren’t you?”

The Kelth paused, giving a small chuckle. “Well, you know what it’s like. The Zrheli consider the place sacred, and would probably prefer not to have a bunch of heretics tramping around. But whatever deal Ampris made with them must have stuck.” He looked up at a painting on the wall – a portrait of a golden-furred Aaroun. “They haven’t forgotten about her, that’s for sure.”

Rey walked over to examine the painting. It was expertly made, obviously with great devotio. In her depiction, Ampris had the typical features of an Aaroun, almost resembling a Wookie with a slightly bulkier frame and more feline features. Her muzzle was prominent and rounded, though her smile was sincerely friendly if the artist’s impression was anything to go by. So too were her hazel eyes deep and expressive, almost staring out from the canvas.

“Sounds like she was quite a hero,” Rey said.

“That she was,” Nellit agreed, leaning forward in his seat. “She went through the worst the Viis had to offer. They made her their pet, then their gladiator, then their test subject. And yet she not only escaped it all, but built up such a following that she could strike a crippling blow to an empire. Reminds me of someone in that regard…”

Rey couldn’t help but smile at the Kelth. “I had a lot of help.”

Nellit shrugged. “So did Ampris. But sometimes that’s what it takes, you know? A special someone to spur others into action. I know you worry about rebuilding the Jedi from all of two people, but you’ve got that talent.”

“Glad I have your confidence,” Rey said. “It’s… it’s not easy, thinking about how far the Jedi have fallen.”

Rising to his feet, Nellit walked over to touch her shoulder. “Hey, chin up. You think Ampris didn’t feel hopeless at times, with her people and so many others in chains? But here we are. Are you going to tell me there weren’t times that defeating the First Order and the Sith felt impossible?”

“Once or twice,” Rey admitted.

“And what about this Luke Skywalker you’ve told me so much about? He defeated an emperor, and damn near rebuilt the Jedi Order with his own two hands. It’s clear to me that the Jedi are capable of great things. You, especially. I think the Eye recognizes that.”

Rey gave an embarrassed smile. “Its visions didn’t cover us getting shot down.”

“Yeah, that would have been a nice heads-up. But it showed you this world, and the people who call it home. Clearly, it wants you here. To what end… I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.”

It wasn’t a comforting thought. They were far from home in unfamiliar territory with a damaged ship, and the Viis possibly lurking around the corner. But staring at the portrait of Ampris, Rey noticed what the Aaroun was wearing around her neck – a silver amulet containing the same purple crystal Rey had seen in her vision. The Eye of Clarity. The very thing capable of calling to her half a galaxy away, clearly deeply attuned to the Force. Perhaps enough to know of her plight. Perhaps enough to help rebuild the Jedi. Once, the idea might have sounded absurd, but everything it had seen Ampris through left Rey’s quest looking far less far-fetched than it once appeared.

Comfortable as her bed proved, sleep proved frustratingly illusive for Rey. Her body was crying out for rest as she bunked down, but her mind didn’t slow down at all. Over and over again the memories of the day replayed themselves, from the terror of the crash to the guarded welcome from the abiru. It was the image of Poe cradling Finn’s limp body that stuck with her the most: the anguish in Poe’s face, not to mention her own sorrow at her friend and padawan coming so close to death. As comfortable as she was becoming on Ruu, it came with the lingering dread that the Viis were every bit as dangerous as the abiru had feared.

Nellit had long drifted into gentle snoring by the time Rey finally dozed off herself. When she did, she wasn’t surprised to have another vision. But this was different. Clearer. She found herself standing in a verdant forest clearing on Ruu-113, recognising the sight of it from her past visions. The people, she now realised based on their robes, were Keepers from the Order of Clarity. She even recognized a few of them – Qrooth and his acolyte Cobar not least of all. But where in past visions they’d been looking to her, they now stood with their eyes skyward.

Against her better judgement, Rey looked up with them.

Something was bearing down on the planet. A massive circular structure, consisting of a set of metallic rings turning around faster and faster with each passing moment. They glowed in a dizzying array of colours, growing almost unbearable as a great vortex of energy yawned open from the middle. It didn’t slow at all, careering towards the planet as if to swallow it whole. Rey raised her arm to shield her eyes, scrunching them shut as the light engulfed her.

A hot, dry wind washed over her. She opened her eyes to blazing sunlight, and for the briefest moment thought she was back on Jakku. Looking around, she found herself in an arid land. Dry, sickly grass spread out around her, disappearing among the trunks of petrified trees. She stood on a road cracked from heat and overgrown with weeds, leading to the entrance of a bunker built into a cliff face. She approached the cavelike entrance out of sheer habit, looking for shade. And while stepping inside brought some relief from the sun, it did little to inform her of where she was.

The bunker didn’t lead far, with a massive metal door standing sealed and inert at the opposite end of the entryway. The rest of the space looked long abandoned. Crates had been broken open, their contents rummaged through and discarded on the floor. A transport speeder sat with its engine hanging out of the chassis, stripped for parts. A solid layer of dust and dirt coated it all, as though it had all been that way for a very, very long time.

Rey took a few deep breaths, trying to ground herself. It was just a vision. She was in no danger. And yet there was still something unnerving about the bunker. About the planet outside, too, with all its dead trees and ailing grass. Something had happened there. And whatever it had been, it had left something buried and forgotten in the bunker. Possibly for the better.

Hesitantly, she placed a hand against the door, reaching out through the Force. She found the locking mechanisms easily enough, testing them. It had obviously been sealed long ago, seemingly from the inside. It took a long time for Rey to work the mechanisms back into place, then all at once she felt power surging through the door’s circuits. The door groaned deeply, before slowly beginning to rise.

The door was barely shoulder-height when she realised someone was standing on the other side. Against the shadowy backdrop of the unlit hallway beyond, she could only just make out a tall, slim figure looming over her. Before she could so much as step back, the door had reached the figure’s head, revealing a pair of green, glowing eyes. Its hand – green, scaled and clawed – shot out to grab at her throat. But the moment it brushed against her, she found herself back in bed, awakening with a start.

“Huh?” Nellit murmured, rolling over in his bed. “You alright, Rey?”

She sat up, cradling her head in her hand. “Yeah. Just… a vision. Most vivid one yet.”

With only a moment’s hesitation, Nellit climbed out of his bed and moved to sit at the foot of hers. The worry was plain in his yellow eyes. “What happened?”

“It was like… I was on Ruu. Then this big object appeared in the sky. Circular structure, with lots of glowing metal rings inside.”

“Jump gate, maybe,” Nellit said. “I’ve seen diagrams of them. The Myal and Zrheli have spent years trying to build a functioning one. The Chiss want us to help them build their own.”

“I can imagine,” Rey replied, rubbing her forehead. “So, I went through the gate, and I was on another planet. Hot and dry, but as if it hadn’t always been that way. There was a cracked road, and an abandoned bunker.”

Nellit rubbed his muzzle. “I’m not liking the sounds of this.”


“Viisymel was a fairly temperate world, before the Viis wrecked the place. A lot of areas wound up warmer than they should have been from atmospheric pollution. Things might have worsened if the Viis stopped trying to do anything about it. Not that they did much to begin with…”

“Then you’re not going to like the figure I saw,” Rey continued. “Tall and scaly, with clawed hands…”

Nellit inhaled at the description, and Rey immediately knew what she had seen.

“A Viis,” they said in unison.

Before either could speak further, a loud banging at the door sent them both leaping out of bed. Nellit was scrambling for the sidearm on his bedside table with hackles raised, but Rey stopped him with a hand on his arm. She sensed no threat outside – if anything, their visitor was worried.

Rey crossed the room to open the door, and found herself facing an increasingly familiar Toth taking up most of the doorway. Cobar was wringing his hands nervously, dark eyes wide in fear, and was quick to offer her a bow.

“Are you okay, Master Skywalker?” he said. “I was sent to summon you to dinner, but halfway down I sensed that something was wrong…”

Rey tried her best to smile reassuringly. “I’m fine, thank you. I just had a vision, that’s all.”

“Oh… you’d better speak to the High Keepers, then. If it’s strong enough for me to feel it, then there’s no doubt it came from the Eye.”

Nellit joined Rey, pulling on his uniform jacket as he regarded Cobar sceptically. “Does this happen often?”

“Visions? It’s… not unheard of. Keepers and Archivists meditate on it all the time to try and scry something or another. Never something as strong as what you just had, though. We’ve known that the Eye has been acting unusually for a while now, probably reaching out to you. But me being able to feel it is new. I’m… not the most attuned.”
“Still impressive that a Toth can get any handle on it,” Nellit said.

Cobar looked genuinely uncomfortable at the statement, but Rey quickly realized he wasn’t going to call Nellit out on it. She spoke up instead. “Even the most talented Jedi can struggle at first. Finn was a very late starter. Not to mention myself…”

“Really?” Cobar said, almost sounding relieved. “I mean… I’m sure your mentor would be proud.”

Luke’s memory stirred in the back of her mind. His tutelage had been lifechanging, and every day she strove to live up to his legacy. It was hard enough at the best of times, when it was just her and Finn trying to balance the politics of securing resources for the nascent Jedi Order and actually continuing her padawan’s training. It was a difficult path to walk, and she realized just how much it was weighing on Cobar.

“He was a true hero,” Rey said. “Luke Skywalker was his name.”

“Your father?”

Rey shook her head. “No. I just uphold his name. It’s… complicated.”

“I see. Well, perhaps it’s best that we-”

He turned to look down the corridor, just as Rey sensed someone approaching. Several someones. A group of Keepers rounded a corner, pushing past the ones on guard and making a beeline right for them. At their head was a grizzled Aaroun with light grey fur, whose brow was furrowed with displeasure.

“Keeper Taren,” Cobar said, bowing.

The Aaroun completely ignored him. “Master Skywalker, you need to come with us.”

“Hold on,” Nellit said, taking a step forward. “We’re your guests here. We have a right to an explanation.”

“We’re taking you to the Chamber of the Eye,” Taren said. “You did something to awaken it, and we need to find out what.”

Rey frowned. “I had a vision, Keeper. I had no control over it.”

“All the same, Master Skywalker, it needs to be investigated. For the Eye to bestow a vision to anyone is a tremendous honour. But if it is reaching out to you as you claim, then that would be unprecedented.”

There was no doubt she was treading on sacred ground, culturally speaking. The Eye of Clarity was a relic unlike any Rey had ever seen, seemingly capable of acting either by the will of the Force or on its own accord. She was still at a loss why it would want her. Yet judging by the look on Taren’s face, the last thing the abiru wanted was an outsider to claim their most sacred relic.

“I… I see,” Rey said, glancing past Taren to Finn and Poe’s room. The door had opened a crack, and she could see the two of them peering out at the commotion. “I’m sure we’ll be able to clear all this up with the High Keepers. Just give me a moment, please.”

She hurried past the Aaroun before he could reply, slipping into Finn and Poe’s room and shutting the door firmly behind her. The two of them looked deeply uneasy at the turn of events, clearly picking up that something was wrong.

“What’s going on, Rey?” Poe asked. “Looks like the local hospitality’s going downhill.”

“I had another vision. A new one, about the Viis homeworld.”

Poe winced. “Please don’t tell me this Eye thing wants us to go there. Our last reception in Viis space left a lot to be desired.”

“I know. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is bite off more than we can chew.”

“It’s not like we can go anywhere until the Falcon’s out of the shop,” Finn said. “Besides, we should spend some time here before we make a decision. We have a thriving group of Force users to learn from, and a powerful artefact that’s clearly capable of great things. That’s more than we had before we set off.”

“Yeah, but being attacked by the Viis threw a bit of a hydrospanner in the works,” Poe said. “Either the Eye doesn’t have our best interests in mind, or it can’t be relied upon to provide a full picture. I don’t like either possibility.”

“I don’t know,” Rey replied. “This whole world was founded on the results of the Eye’s actions. If nothing else, it gave Ampris the strength to keep fighting.”

“And you heard about some of the things she went through in the process. The Eye didn’t save her from being forced into the arena, or be used as a test subject. What Zezeziel said about that lab still gives me chills…”

Rey’s reaction to hearing the story hadn’t been much better. “There’s no doubt that the Viis are dangerous. But I think that makes learning their fate all the more important. If not for the abiru, then for the rest of the galaxy.”

Poe sighed, though he forced himself to smile. “I couldn’t let Zezez down by packing it in early.”

“She’d never forgive us,” Finn agreed, turning back to fetch his robe from the foot of his bed.

Poe similarly went over to the bed, rummaging through a bag next to it for a change of shirt. Watching the pair for a moment – joking about borrowing robes from the Keepers as they dressed – she noticed something that she’d missed on the way in.

Only one of the two beds had been slept in.

The observation didn’t elicit much surprise from her. She’d had her suspicions when Finn had queried whether she’d uphold the Jedi Order’s ban on romantic relationships. At first, she thought he’d be getting back together with Rose, having decided some time before that they were better as friends. Now, it looked as if his heart yearned for someone a little closer to home. And in all honesty, seeing the smiles the two were sharing made her realize she couldn’t possibly ask Finn to let it go. Even if it meant revising some of the old Jedi ways – not something she took lightly.

Once the three of them had emerged once more, Zeziel and Iloowk were already up, about and pestering Keeper Taren with questions. The pair looked as though they’d barely slept, and quickly admitted to having spent hours poring over data crystals provided by the Archivists. And as Taren led them deeper into the Citadel, they hardly let up with the questions about Ruu-113’s history. The Aaroun’s patience was clearly wearing down.

Rey’s interest, however, lay elsewhere. She walked abreast of Cobar, looking up at him. The nervousness in the young man’s disposition had eased, but it was still clearly there. No doubt he was having a rough time of his acolyteship. Visitors from another world must have been a most unexpected complication.

“Acolyte Cobar, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” Rey said.

The Toth shook his head. “No, Master Skywalker. Go ahead.”

“Is it difficult being a Toth in the Order?”

The young man blinked. “Um… well, I’m the first. And nobody expected there to ever be a Toth Keeper. You see, the Viis had no known connection to the Clarity, and most people assumed the same of my people.”

“Really? Nobody could sense it within you?”

“Apparently not. They didn’t even do the usual tests for it in early childhood, like they do with other species. The only reason they found out about me was because of Ampris.”

“Ampris?” Rey asked in confusion.

“Yes. Surely your abiru companions told you of her?”

“They did. I just thought she died a long time ago.”

Cobar nodded. “Oh, yes. Centuries ago. But her spirit remains. I had the honour of meeting her in a vision.”

“I see,” Rey replied, although his statement only raised more questions than answers. She didn’t get much of a chance to decide how she’d approach questioning him, with Nellit almost coming to a stop to face him.

“Did I hear that right, Acolyte?” Nellit asked, regarding the Toth with genuine curiosity. “Are you telling me that Ampris’ spirit still lingers in this world?”

Cobar nodded. “It’s long been said that she still watches over us. It’s rare that she gives appearances directly, but it’s not unheard of. She’s a part of the Clarity now. She said as much herself in her vision.”

“What was it like?” Zezeziel asked, tugging at the hem of Cobar’s robe to get his attention. “What was she like?”

The Toth rubbed the back of his head. “It was… almost like a dream. Like actually being back at the time of Planetfall. And as for Ampris… she was everything I’d ever imagined. Kind. Compassionate. She wasn’t even put off by the fact I’m a Toth.”

It was that last statement that made so much click into place for Rey. If Nellit and Iloowk were any indication, the Toth were held in very low esteem by the abiru. Cobar was obviously no stranger to that, and that must have been at least part of what weighed so heavily on him. She resolved herself to speak with him in private – that level of emotional unbalance was more than she’d want to see in a Padawan.

The Chamber of the Eye lay deep in the Citadel, and the cool, damp air made it clear that it was also deep inside the mountain that the stronghold had been built atop. Passing dozens of guards in ceremonial garb, Rey found herself stepping out of the hallway into a vast artificial cavern. The stone ceiling soared high overhead, supported by sturdy columns and beams affixed with soft lights. They were all directed to the middle of the room, where several concentric rings of ankle-deep pools reflected their glow. In the very middle of the pools, at the end of a small stone bridge, stood a statue in the vague form of an Aaroun. And around its neck sat the Eye of Clarity.

Rey knew the sight of it well enough from her visions, but was still taken away by its beauty. At the end of a silver-beaded necklace sat a small, circular amulet. Into it were carved radiating points, emanating out from the crystal set into the very middle. It was as clear as glass, though with an ever-so-slight glint of purple to it. And for the briefest moment, Rey swore she saw the faintest spark of light within its depths.

A group of elaborately-robed figures stood by the statue, though most stood back in observation as two stepped forward to greet Rey. One was Qrooth, who showed no sign of tiredness despite his age and long night. But the other was the oddest creature Rey had ever seen. Its olive-green body was smooth and hairless, standing on four stout legs with six armlike tentacles waving idly. The front two tentacles clapped together in delight, and the creature practically galloped closer to greet her. Its head was bulbous and dominated by two knobby eyes, and opened its mouth to reveal it filled with waving cilia.

“Master Skywalker!” it cried in a strangely bubbly voice, offering one of its tentacles to her. “Welcome to Ruu! Such an honour to be meeting you!”

Rey shook the creature’s tentacle as she might a hand, trying to ignore the sliminess. “Likewise… High Keeper?”

“Yes! High Keeper Odrell, at your service. I take it you have never met a Phivean before?”

Rey felt like she’d remember if she had. “No, you’re the first.”

“High Keeper Odrell is responsible for the protection and upkeep of the Eye,” Qrooth explained. “And of all the Keepers in our order, he is perhaps the most attuned to it. From what he has sensed, your suspicions were correct! Now that you stand here with us, the Eye has begun to stir.”

“The Eye has been watching you,” Odrell said. “Great things it has done, offering wisdom to those it sees as worthy. Whether it is times of crisis or times of great works, that is when the Eye is needed most.”

“You think something will happen soon, then?” Finn asked.

The Phivean gave a gurgling laugh. “It already has! We may live in paradise, but we do so as exiles. We know not what became of our peoples, or of our former oppressors. You are the first visitors from beyond Ruu in our short history, and you bring with you the means to leave our isolation!”

Rey looked back to the Eye. It was beautiful, to be sure. But there was no way it could live up to the reverent tones with which it was spoke. It looked for all the world like a simple medallion, its power invisible to the ignorant viewer. But even with that knowledge in mind, it remained inscrutable. Why had it summoned her? To what end? The notion of being a cosmic plaything bent to the will of some ancient artefact was a deeply uncomfortable one.

A tentacle wrapped around her wrist, and Odrell guided her closer. “Do not be afraid. The Eye is a force for good. Its ways may be mysterious, but it has never set us wrong.”
“Okay. So… what do I do with it? Do I wear it?”

Qrooth shook his head. “Traditionally, that right is reserved to those it has unquestionably chosen to wield it. But to commune with it, you may lay your hand upon it. I think it’s clear by now that it wants something of you.”

Odrell brought her hand towards the Eye, but stopped short of forcing her to touch it. That would be up to her. For a few moments, she remained transfixed on the Eye’s crystalline depths, looking for any sign of light within. She could sense its presence in the Force easily enough, but it was unlike anything she’d encountered before. With one quick glance to her friends, receiving a few looks of support in the process, she tentatively grasped the Eye with all the care and reverence she could muster.

She wasn’t surprised to feel the world slip away around her, replaced by the dry, humid air of Viisymel. Once more she stood in the middle of the bunker, with the doors at its far end now standing wide open. Flickering emergency lights illuminated a long, wide corridor beyond, leading deeper into the facilities’ bowels. There was no sign of the Viis, or any other life. Hesitantly, she took a step into the corridor.

“Master Skywalker?”

Rey spun around, drawing her lightsabre and igniting it in a single, fluid motion. She swung high, bringing its blazing yellow edge against the neck of the stranger behind her. It stopped an inch short, close enough to singe his fur.

“Cobar!” she exclaimed, shutting her weapon off. “I’m so sorry! I was attacked in my last vision, and…”

The Toth stood still as a statue, eyes wide in terror, before he lifted a hand to his neck. “It’s okay, Master Skywalker. I doubt you could kill me in a vision, anyway. Even with your… laser sword.”

“Lightsabre,” she said, hooking the weapon back onto her belt. “I didn’t expect to see you here. But you said you’ve had a vision before…”

Cobar nodded. “Just the one. And that was from Ampris, not the Eye itself. She knew that the Clarity had something in store for me, even if she didn’t know exactly what. At first, I thought it was just me being the first Toth in the Order, but Qrooth seems to think it’s tied to you.”

Rey regarded the Toth quizzically. Clearly the Eye had plans for him as well, considering they were sharing a vision. Yet he was just as at a loss as to why as she was. “Well, this is the place might hold some answers. I saw it in my last vision, only there was a Viis here when the door opened.”

Cobar scanned the room. “Looks abandoned. But I swear by the blood of my kin, Master Skywalker, that I will lend my strength to yours and keep you safe.”

Rey stared at him in confusion for a moment, before he cleared his throat with a look of embarrassment. “Sorry. It’s a Toth thing. A Pledge of Strength.”

“Oh. So… do I say something back?”

“I mean, there’s no set wording. But the usual etiquette is to thank the person, compliment their strength, and swear to use it for a just cause.”

Rey could see a glimmer of excitement in his demeanour, and couldn’t help but smile. “Then you have my thanks, Cobar. I can tell you’re a very skilled and capable Keeper, and I hope that we can unravel this mystery. Together.”

“Thank you, Master Skywalker. I’ll take point, if you don’t mind.”

“Be my guest,” Rey said. “And please, just call me Rey.”

“Sure… Rey.”

The air cooled and stagnated as they walked down the corridor, as if they were descending into a tomb. It wasn’t far off – the facility was utterly lifeless, with no sign of any living thing Viis or otherwise. Through the flickering lights, Rey could see that the stone and metal walls still stood strong, despite the odd cracks. It wasn’t long before they reached an intersection, with two paths leading off in either direction. But between them sat another large door, this time accompanied by words painted across it. The words were alien to Rey, but Cobar inhaled sharply as he read them.

“This is a Viis facility alright,” he said. “I recognize the letters. I think it reads… ‘main storage bay’. Not sure about the smaller words above it, though. That… that word might be ‘Laboratory’. Oh, Gods…”

“What’s wrong?”

“Every abiru knows the sorts of experiments that went on in these kinds of Viis labs. Have you ever heard of the Vess Vaas Research Laboratory?”
Rey swallowed. “Zezeziel told me about it. It’s where they kept Ampris.”

“It’s where they experimented on her. Where they impregnated her and other abiru women with half-Viis hybrids, trying to splice abiru immunity to the Dancing Death plague to the Viis. Where they dissected the infants like… like animals, and killed the women when they were no longer able to bear their test subjects.” Cobar stopped himself, taking a deep breath to calm himself. “The Viis are evil, Rey. This place is evil.”

Rey recognized the disgust in his voice – she’d shared it when she’d heard Ampris’ story in full. As much as she took comfort in knowing Ampris had escaped with her two infant sons, it had been impossible not to feel distress upon learning that her daughter had been dissected shortly after birth. It was that moment that Rey realized just the kind of horrors the Viis had wrought, and it had left the abiru’s paranoia about their possible survival all the more justified.

She put a comforting hand on his arm. “It’s terrifying to think about, I know. But we can’t let fear overwhelm us.” She looked back to the sign. “Are we in Vess Vaas?”

“No. Ampris destroyed that horrid place when she and the other captives escaped. But there’s no telling what other horrors the Viis might have been cooking up down here. It must have been sealed for a reason.”

“Then we’ll have to be twice as careful.”

The door to the storage area proved functional, as did the lighting in the room beyond. The place was as large as a warehouse, and its far walls were stacked with crates and boxes of unknown content. But what made Rey and Cobar hesitate was the rows and rows of machinery dominating the middle of the floor. They were tubelike fixtures, connecting to outlets built into the floor with pipes and cables. The top halves were transparent, but their contents were obscured by frost. Rey laid a hand on one, only to withdraw at the freezing touch.

“Something’s preserved in here,” she said, wiping the glass with her sleeve. Her heart dropped as she saw a body within – a grey-furred Kelth, lying as still and cold as a corpse. “Someone…”

Cobar didn’t respond. He was staring at something among the crates. “Rey. Come look at this.”

She crossed over to him, finding him standing before a pod sitting separate from the others. It was sealed, but there was no sign of frost on its glass lid. Inside, nestled upon a piece of cloth, was a very familiar-looking amulet glinting faintly in the dim light.

“Another Eye,” Cobar breathed. “They weren’t all lost, then.”

“Apparently not. Do you think this is what the Eye wants us to see?”

“Maybe,” Cobar said, gently touching the glass. “Just maybe…”

The moment his hand touched the surface, the lights went out.

Taking no chances, Rey drew her lightsabre and ignited it as she turned around. Her burning blade brought some precious light to the darkness, its glow shining off the frosted glass of the pods around them. For a time, it was as if the sabre’s crackling was the only sound that filled the still air. Right until there was a deep hiss from across the room as one of the pods began to open. The very same that Rey had examined.

With Rey holding up her lightsabre for light, Cobar lifted the lid off its inhabitant. The Kelth was clad only in a plain jumpsuit, her fur covered in icicles. Cobar shed his outer robe, covering the Kelth and gently lifting her from the pod. She looked small and weak in his massive arms as he knelt down to cradle her, but at least she began to stir. She looked up at Rey groggily, struggling to hold up her head.

“It’s okay,” Cobar whispered. “We’re friends. We’re not going to hurt you.”

The Kelth didn’t answer, keeping her eyes on Rey. But as her yellow eyes widened with fear, Rey suddenly realized that the Kelth wasn’t looking at her.
She was looking at something behind her.

Before Rey could even move, a large, scaly arm shot out of the darkness, seizing her in a headlock. She tried to stagger free, only to find herself back in the Chamber of the Eye.

She would have fallen to her knees if Finn hadn’t caught her. High Keeper Odrell was soon at her other side, supporting her with a tentacle around her arm. She was in better shape than Cobar, at least – he had fallen backwards into one of the pools, and was being helped back to his feet by Tanni. The Keepers watched on, murmuring amongst themselves or chuckling at Cobar’s misfortune. And all the while, the Eye remained utterly inert.

“Easy, easy,” Finn whispered. “It’s alright.”

“You are safe,” Odrell added. “What happened?”

Rey exhaled uneasily. “It feels so real. Twice now, I’ve been attacked by the same Viis in my visions. And Cobar was there, too. Actually sharing the vision.”

All eyes turned to the Toth, who was sheepishly stumbling out of the water with Tanni’s aid. “That’s right,” he said. “I saw the Viis for myself.”

Qrooth tilted his head. “A shared vision? That’s almost unheard of. What did the two of you see? Where were you?”

“An abandoned facility,” Rey said. “A bunker, deep below the ground in a wasteland. They were holding abiru there, in cold storage.”

“I saw words on the door,” Cobar said. “I think I saw the name of the facility.”

“Here,” Tanni said, producing a pen and notepaper. Cobar was quick to fill it with a scrawling on the Viis letters, dripping water all over it in the process. Tanni studied the results for a moment, frowning deeply.

“Viljnia Basin Physics Laboratory,” she said, frowning. “I’m not familiar with it. High Archivist Jeziil?”

An elderly Myal plodded forward, taking the note from her and adjusted his eyeglasses as he examined it. “Terrible handwriting, but I concur with the translation. I am not familiar with the facility, but I recognize the name of the region. It is on Viisymel.”

“That’s not all,” Cobar added. “There was another Eye of Clarity there. Just like Ampris’.”

Silence fell upon the room. It was understandable – the other Eyes were thought lost to time, and learning that the brethren of the abiru’s most sacred relic had survived was a momentous revelation. Even Qrooth was clearly taken aback by the news.

“Another Eye,” Qrooth murmured. “And at a research lab, no less.”

“You think they were studying it?” Rey asked.

Qrooth gave a deep sigh. “That’s what I fear. If they worked out that Ampris’ Eye of Clarity was a deciding factor in her victory, then it is a very real possibility that they sought to unlock its secrets for their own gain.”

The Zrhel began to pace slowly, brow furrowed. Rey spared a glance at her friends, only to see the worry in Finn’s face and the confusion in Poe’s.

“The High Keepers will need to discuss this matter urgently,” Qrooth said at last. “Even if the facility lies abandoned, we cannot ignore the existence of another Eye. If anything, we should be making plans to retrieve it.”

“And to rescue the abiru,” Cobar added. “We found a young Kelth who was still alive, in cryostasis. I dread to think why they were being kept at a physics lab, but it can’t have been good. We have to help them.”

Qrooth regarded his acolyte with a small smile. “Of course. We cannot forget our duty to our people, first and foremost.”

“There is one more thing,” High Keeper Odrell said, offering a tentacle to Cobar. “Acolyte, you have shown yourself to be blessed by the Eye, deemed worthy of its vision. If I may test something?”

Cobar took the tentacle hesitantly, allowing the Phivean to lead him towards the Eye. “What do you want to test?”

“Just a hunch.”

Once more Odrell left the Toth’s hand hovering just above the crystal. Gulping, Cobar glanced towards Qrooth, who gave him a nod of encouragement. He then looked to Tanni, who was watching on with a broad smile. Only then did he look to Rey, and she suddenly suspected what Odrell wanted to try. She touched Cobar on the shoulder reassuringly, to which he gave a momentary smile. Hand shaking, Cobar gingerly let his fingers brush against the surface of the Eye.

And the moment his hand touched it, it shone as bright as a star.

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Re: Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 7)

#7 Post by Jonesy »

Chapter 7

Young abiru often asked how the Clarity got its name. The obvious answer was it being named after the Eye of Clarity, through which it had first been discovered. But there was much, much more to it than that.

Even in the days of Nashmarl’s rule, when the mysteries of the Eye were first broached upon, those able to tap into its power discovered an ability to sense the world around them more profoundly than ever. They could peer into the past, gleaning precious scraps of history and wisdom. They could feel the ebb and flow of the present, from the tides of fate to the thrumming of life. They could even catch the tiniest of glimpses into the future, with all the wonders it held.

Once, Cobar might have found those old accounts fanciful. Even as his connection to the Clarity had materialized, his ability to sense through it was often cloudy at best. But as his hand touched the Eye of Clarity and was lost in its glow, it was as if a fog surrounding him suddenly lifted.

And for a brief, wonderful moment, he felt the world around him with perfect clarity.

The Clarity flowed through him like he’d never felt it before, like firm but gentle waves on an ocean shore. Everyone around him was an immutable part of it, almost inscrutable in the richness of their presence. He could feel their surprise, their shock, and their joy as they watched him, almost like their emotions were a distant extension of his own.

He loved it. He felt more alive and in-tune with the world than ever. But it didn’t last.

Almost as soon as it had begun, the Eye settled back into its rest, leaving only silence in its wake. Cobar stared at it long and hard, almost disbelieving what he’d just undergone. It was clear he wasn’t the only one – even with his abilities settling back into mediocrity, he could feel the unease in the room.

“Gods above,” Keeper Taren muttered.

The Aaroun’s words broke the spell, and murmurs soon filled the air. Cobar looked instinctively to Qrooth, only to find the old Zrhel looking genuinely mystified. It was only a momentary look, soon replaced by a growing smile. Qrooth said nothing, looking to High Keeper Odrell expectantly. The Phivean had gone uncharacteristically still, though his tentacles were quick to begin quivering with excitement.

“By the Great Sea!” Odrell exclaimed, seizing Cobar by the shoulders. “It’s chosen you, young man! It’s chosen you!”

Qrooth cleared his throat. “This is indeed cause for celebration, High Keeper, but need I remind you that there is protocol for such events?”

Odrell gave a small gurgle that Cobar took to be a delighted chuckle, before straightening up to address Cobar with a tone of utter seriousness.

“Yes. Yes, of course. Acolyte Cobar, please present yourself to the High Keepers.”

A chill ran down his spine, but he did as he was told. Odrell and Qrooth gathered with the five other High Keepers as they stood in a semicircle around him, and he knelt down in respect. He spared a glance to the side, where Rey and her companions were receiving a whispered briefing from Tanni about what was about to happen. Most looked genuinely curious, with Zezeziel bordering on childlike wonder and Illoowk approaching disdain. But Tanni was easily the most excited at all, practically beside herself in anticipation.

“What does this mean?” Poe whispered, just loud enough for Cobar to hear.

“The Eye doesn’t react like that for just anyone,” Tanni replied, meeting Cobar’s gaze. “Only those that it chooses to wield it.”

It was only then that the gravity of the situation sank in for Cobar. The Eye had a will of its own, as much as any Keeper. None knew its nature, but all knew its significance. Even in the days before Viis enslavement, most abiru cultures knew that the Eyes only granted their power to the worthy. Even in recent history, it had had an impressive track record. Ampris had led their peoples to freedom. Elrabin had kept the disparate refugees together as they tamed their new home. Nashmarl had laid the foundations for a thriving society. They, and the dozens that had followed, had become giants of abiru legend.

Nobody like him. Never a Toth.

High Keeper Arntrad stepped forward, bringing Cobar’s focus back. He was the seniormost High Keeper aside from Qrooth, but it was expected that the Zrhel would recuse himself on matters involving his Acolyte. That left Arntrad, an aged Aaroun man whose brown pelt had almost entirely greyed, to look down at Cobar with dull yellow eyes. There was a definite scepticism in them, but Arntrad spoke loudly and clearly regardless.

“Hear me now, fellow Keepers, for the Eye’s gaze has fallen upon one of our own. Within him, it sees potential worthy of one chosen as Wielder. While that decision is the Eye’s to make, our oath to protect the Eye demands that any aspirant Wielders prove themselves worthy to us. High Keeper Odrell, can you confirm that the Eye has chosen Acolyte Cobar as a possible Wielder?”

Odrell rubbed his forward tentacles together. “The connection between the Eye and Acolyte Cobar was unlike anything I have witnessed, but it matches past records of past choosings. The Eye’s will is clear in my eyes.”

Arntrad nodded. “Very well. High Keeper Qrooth, as Acolyte Cobar’s mentor, can you vouch for his character?”

Qrooth stepped forward, circling to stand beside Cobar. Cobar glanced up just in time to catch a reassuring smile from his mentor, before lowering his eyes once more.

“Cobar is the most dedicated student I have had the good pleasure of mentoring. He may have much to learn, but his heart is true and his loyalty unwavering. His acolyteship has been a challenging one, but I believe we are both the richer for it.”

“As you say,” Arntrad said, turning back to Cobar. “Know this, Acolyte. All are judged by the gaze of the Eye. As Keepers, we are sworn to use its wisdom for the good of all abiru. Receiving its wisdom is the highest honour our Order recognizes, second only to one. Only those deemed truly worthy are called upon to wield the Eye, calling upon its full powers and serving as figures of hope. Acolyte Cobar, do you consider yourself worthy of this honour?”

Cobar wracked his brain, trying to remember accounts of past Wielding Ceremonies. Only two had been chosen in the last century. The most recent had been Jevvim, the Kelth pilot who captained the first abiru-built spacecraft on its maiden voyage into orbit. Before that, it had been the Zrheli scholar Cawxa, who negotiated a Zrheli separatist movement into re-joining abiru society. Even as Jevvim risked his very life in the name of progress, and Cawxa worked seemingly in vain against inevitable civil war, both had remained humble and intently focused on their goals. Cobar shuddered to imagine what conflict he might be called to join, but did his best to follow the example that all past Wielders – Ampris not least of all – had set.

“N-no,” Cobar said at last. “No, I’m just an acolyte. But I swore an oath to protect all abiru, and I have faith in the Eye. If it deems me worthy, and it sees need for me, then I will serve in any way I can.”

Arntrad gave a satisfactory nod, freeing some of the weight from Cobar’s chest. “Your devotion is noted. None can truly gauge the will of the Eye, but it has never led us astray. Our freedom and safety were won in no small part from its powers. Do you swear to uphold your oath to use your abilities only for the greater good, and commit yourself to facing whatever hardships may befall you?”

“I do,” Cobar said. “I swear.”

“Good. We know not what may lay ahead for you, but the lives of many abiru may well be threatened. Do you swear to embrace all the peoples we call ‘abiru’, and to work beside them despite any and all differences?”

“I swear.”

“Then do you acknowledge that, in the hardships ahead, you may need to make great sacrifices? Do you swear that you will only make any such decisions with the utmost solemnity, and with any wise counsel that you are offered.”

“I swear.”

Arntrad reached down, laying a firm hand atop Cobar’s head. “Then by my duty as High Keeper, I name you Wielder-Aspirant, blessed with the chance to prove yourself worthy of wielding the Eye. The final decision is the Eye’s to make, but the High Keepers will judge your worthiness all the same. We shall convene to discuss this turn of events.”

“Dinner will have to be rescheduled,” Qrooth added, looking to Rey and her friends with an apologetic smile.

Eating was soon the least of Cobar’s worries, as after a quick change into some dry robes he was left sitting in the hall before the High Council’s chambers. Beyond, the High Keepers would be discussing everything about him – his past, his present, his future. He’d stopped trying to imagine what they were saying for fear of giving himself a panic attack. But there was no escaping the incessant dread that he was about to be dragged into something big. Something that could decide the fate of all abiru.

At least he had some company join him after a while to take his mind off it.

“Here you go,” Rey said, handing him a plate of Myal pastries. “Your Aaroun friend insisted that I deliver these to you. Said you get out of sorts when you’re hungry.”

Despite his mood, Cobar afforded himself a smile. “Tanni knows me too well. Thank you, Rey. You didn’t have to come down here.”

“And miss out on all the excitement? Finn and Poe and the others can mingle just fine without me. I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine. I’m just… rolling with the punches, I guess. It’s a lot to process.”

Rey chuckled. “I’ll say. I’m guessing this doesn’t happen often.”

Cobar shook his head. “Less and less. Back in the old days after Planetfall, when everything was still up in the air trying to build a new society, the Eye was practically passed from Wielder to Wielder. Now that things are pretty settled, it’s not so common. There’ve only been two this last hundred years. Might not be an entirely bad thing, though.”

“How come?”

“Because the emergence of a Wielder usually means there’s a crisis on the horizon. Sure, sometimes they’re chosen in times of peace for some great accomplishment, but more often it’s to face some conflict or disaster. Given all that’s happened, I’m scared that whatever’s coming is going to involve the Viis.”

Rey was silent for a few moments. “You know, Cobar, there were times I was absolutely terrified fighting against the First Order and the Sith. But we Jedi have very specific teachings around fear, and for good reason. It’s natural to feel it, but it must be controlled unless it ends up controlling us. And I say that because I sense much fear in you.”

Cobar couldn’t help but give an embarrassed smile, though it came with a sharp pang of shame. “That obvious, is it?”

“Very. Even from the moment I first sensed you in the Force, I could recognize it in you,” Rey said. “Don’t think that that makes you cowardly. Honestly, it sounds like you’ve overcome a lot in your training. But fear has proven the downfall of many a great Jedi in their turn to the Dark Side.”

“Finn talked about that. Believe me, Rey, I don’t plan on using my abilities for evil.”

“Who does? Most who fall to the dark side did so with noble intentions, fearing for their loved ones not least of all. It very easily leads down a dark path of ends justifying means. A path that one can lose themselves on.” Rey paused, regarding him curiously. “What are you afraid of, Cobar?”

He munched on one of the pastries as he mulled over his answer. “Aside from the whole ‘visitors from another world’ thing? Expectations, I guess. Being the first Toth in the Order. Most abiru doubt a Toth can do become a Keeper, and my kinfolk want me to prove the doubters wrong. But then it turns out I’m not that talented, which leaves me letting my kin down and proving the doubters right.”

Rey nodded along. “I can understand that. That doesn’t mean you should let the pressure of others cloud your training, but I get where you’re coming from. I was left with some pretty big boots to fill.”
“Looks like you’re doing a good job to me.”

“Thank you. But believe me, it hasn’t come easy. I haven’t had to worry about my species being a factor, though. The way Illoowk and Nellit speak of the Toth makes it clear that your people had a dark past under the Viis. But surely that’s not still the case.”

“Not at all. A lot of Toth want us to prove ourselves. We still get a few bad elekara fruits spoiling the bunch, but we’re as law-abiding and educated as anyone. Even if a lot of people still think of us as the uneducated thugs the Viis reduced us to.”

“Did anything like that happen to the other abiru species?” Rey asked.

“Well, the Viis only used the Samparese as gladiators, not servants or labourers like everyone else. Didn’t do their culture any wonders. And then there’s the Gorlicans. They were the only other reptilian species in the Empire aside from the Viis, so the Viis didn’t think them quite as lesser as us mammals. A lot of Gorlicans collaborated with the Viis, and the Viis treated them more like junior allies than slaves. Mostly.”

Rey nodded. “Well, now you’ve got a Gorlican First Citizen. I’m sure she overcame a lot. Have any Samparese Keepers?”

“A couple.”

“Then I see no reason why the Toth can’t succeed, either. If anything, I think you might be the one to help turn things around.”

“I don’t know,” Cobar said, eyes downcast. “I’m not much of an Acolyte.”

“Cobar, I was a scavenger before I became a Jedi. Finn had been indoctrinated since childhood to fight for the First Order. Even Luke Skywalker was a humble moisture farmer. Are you going to tell me that past Wielders haven’t come from nothing?”

It was true enough. Ampris had been raised as a pet to the Viis royal family. Elrabin had been a petty criminal. Nashmarl had been born of the Viis’ horrific experiments in hybridisation. And yet, they had all overcome their pasts to be great leaders of the abiru. Surely a middling Toth student wasn’t that far of a stretch.

“No,” Cobar said. “You’re right. It’s just such an honour to be chosen. I never would have dreamt about it.”

“From what I’ve seen of you, Cobar, I think you’ll do fine,” Rey said, patting his shoulder. “Come to think of it, would you like to sit in on some lessons with Finn and I? I’d like to get a better feel for your ability. Who knows, maybe seeing an outside perspective will help you, too.”

“I’d be honoured, Rey. Could I try out your lightsabre?”

“We’ll see how we go.”

They talked a while longer – mostly on Rey’s own experience in training, which sounded like a thoroughly improvised affair. Luke Skywalker’s exile was sobering to learn of, moving to heartbreaking as he gave his life to save Rey and her friends. Leia’s fate left Cobar with a similar feeling. It hadn’t truly occurred to him just how tragic the fall of the Jedi truly was, even if it brought the glimmer of hope in Rey and Finn. And given what dismal odds the Resistance had faced at times, even a glimmer could make all the difference.

Cobar was enraptured by Rey’s story, and was only brought back to reality when the door to the High Council chambers creaked open. Indistinct but heated conversation persisted on the other side as Qrooth slipped out, closing it behind him. Cobar rose to his feet respectfully, and Rey did the same.

“Master Skywalker,” Qrooth said, bowing. “I apologise that we could not let you observe the proceedings. Discussion of potential Wielders is a strictly private affair.”

“I understand, High Keeper. For what it’s worth, I’d be willing to vouch for Cobar.”

“Very kind of you, but we’ve already agreed that he may undertake the necessary trial. It will be between him and the Eye.”

“What will I face, High Keeper?” Cobar asked.

Qrooth shrugged. “Visions, but I know nothing of their contents. Wielders who face them rarely speak of the specifics. The best you can do is doubly apply yourself to your studies and training to prepare.”

“Of course, High Keeper. But Rey and I were just discussing Jedi training. Could I take some time to train with her and Finn?”

“Absolutely!” Qrooth said delightedly. “I was going to suggest it, actually. It’d be an excellent opportunity to get to know the Jedi better. Especially given that our new friends’ fates are seemingly intertwined with yours.”

“You think so?” Rey asked.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, Master Skywalker. The Eye does not give visions without reason. And I don’t recall it ever having given a shared vision before. Unless such things are known to happen to Jedi?”

“I wouldn’t know, honestly. So many of our records have been lost. I was part of a Force Dyad, when two Jedi hold an inseparable bond, but that’s not what happened tonight.” Rey sighed, chuckling lightly. “This Eye of yours grows more fascinating by the day. I know it’s a lot to ask, but would I be able to study it in more detail?”

Qrooth shook his head. “If it were up to me, I would allow it. But such access would require unanimous support from the other High Keepers. I don’t think they’re all prepared to trust you with our most sacred relic just yet. Perhaps once we have had the chance to know you and your friends better, we can discuss such matters. The Eye has a clear interest in you, after all.”

“If only it could tell me why,” Rey replied. Cobar could only nod in agreement.

The trio chatted for a time, escorting Rey back to her quarters. They spoke of past Wielders, and the accomplishments they had made. Ampris, Elrabin and Nashmarl were the main trio that any abiru could name, but Cobar was able to recall the Nithlived dynasty as well from discussion with Tanni. Nithlived the First had been the first Aaroun to wield the Eye of Clarity, while Nithlived the Third had led the Aaroun’s last, desperate defence against Viis subjugation. As impressed as Qrooth and Rey were by his knowledge of them, Cobar couldn’t help but dwell on Nithlived the Third. He was hesitant to voice his concern, at least until Rey had retired for the evening and he walked with Qrooth to the High Keepers’ quarters.

“Wielders don’t always succeed, do they, High Keeper?”

Qrooth looked up at him curiously. “What do you mean?”

“I mean Nithlived the Third. The Aaroun priestess. The Eye chose her to wield it in the Aaroun’s darkest hour, but they were still defeated by the Viis.”

Nodding, Qrooth gave a small smile. Perhaps it was out of politeness. Perhaps it was respect for Cobar philosophising. Either way, Cobar was left with a sense that there was some unease behind it.

“This is not a new topic of debate. Not even among the High Keepers. I take it you know what I’m going to say?”

“That Nithlived proved the Viis to be fallible, laying the seeds of future rebellion?”

Qrooth nodded. “That’s the line of thought most scholars give. The Aaroun were fierce in their resistance, and the example Nithlived set inspired generations of rebels that followed. Including one that you know personally.”

“Ampris,” Cobar said. “But the Eye chose her as well, and the ordeals she went through pushed her body to its limits. She succeeded, yes, but she died not long after. If her victory over the Viis was part of the Eye’s plan, then it must have known that she’d die.”

Qrooth paused, looking up at Cobar with a look of utmost seriousness. “Cobar, nobody can truly claim to know the Eye. Not how it works, not what it wants. But it saved our peoples from the horrors the Viis inflicted on us, and it helped us build a thriving civilization. It did all that so by elevating those it found wise enough to serve as leaders or symbols of hope. That can take a lot of forms, as we’ve seen across our history. But sometimes… that takes the shape of a martyr.”

Cobar stared at his mentor, and perhaps for the first time felt genuine doubt in Qrooth’s teachings. The Eye clearly had its plans for the abiru, but there was no telling how much it was prepared to give up. Perhaps it foresaw inevitable defeats in the pursuit of broader victory, explaining Nithlived’s failure and Ampris’ death. Perhaps it was merely using the abiru as a means to an end, willing to sacrifice them whenever it saw the need. Or perhaps it was simply not as omniscient as many liked to think.

“I’ll continue to serve the abiru people, as I’ve sworn.”

“I do not expect you to do so blindly, Cobar. I know there’s a lot that we don’t know at the moment, but it’s not expected that you face your destiny alone. Especially if you’re put into danger.” Qrooth was silent for a few moments as he reached the door to his quarters. He turned to Cobar, looking up at him. “I am proud of you, Cobar. I know you’ve had your doubts, but few Wielders consider themselves worthy of the honour bestowed upon them.”

“I just don’t understand the decision. I’m not that talented a Keeper. And being a Toth… if the Eye wanted a hero everyone can rally around, it could’ve picked an Aaroun. Or a Kelth.”

“Or someone who has overcome great hardship, and embodies the promise that Ruu-113 is a home for all abiru. It doesn’t matter if you’re a talented Keeper or great warrior. What matters is in your heart.”

“Thank you, High Keeper. Have a good night.”

“And you, Cobar.”

Tempting as it was to seek out Tanni, Cobar decided it was best to retire to his own quarters. They’d have plenty of time to speak of the fateful evening that had unfolded, and he didn’t want to outstay his welcome with her, and. It replayed itself over and over in his mind as he walked the Citadel’s dim halls. Only time would tell what lay ahead for him, and the anxiety of awaiting for it was already gnawing at him. But remembering Rey’s words, he did his best to calm himself. Higher expectations than ever had been set for him, and only his own resolve could see him through.

Or at least, that's what he hoped.

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Re: Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 8)

#8 Post by Jonesy »

Chapter 8

After another day of playing guest, Finn felt gladder than ever to resume his training.

Not that the preceding days had been disinteresting. There were tours of the Citadel, lectures on Ruu history, and even tentative plans for an outing into First Landing. But Rey had been adamant that they get back into the habit of preparing for his ascension to Knighthood. Especially when that meant Cobar could sit in on their training. Considering he was the talk of the Citadel – if not Ruu-113 as a whole – he too welcomed the chance to take his mind off things.

They started off the day with a round of meditation. The Citadel was built into a mountain, but had a ring of lush gardens around the terrace supporting it. They found a quiet spot with a nice patch of shade and refreshing mountain breeze, most conductive to their relaxation and focus. Finn was momentarily distracted by a couple of young Acolytes spying on them from the bushes, but all it took was an opened eye and a playful glare to send them running off giggling.

Distractions aside, it was easy enough to slide into a meditative trance. It had been a foreign concept to Finn when he’d started his training, and he’d struggled to find a sense of inner peace. That was the crux of Empty Meditation – a tradition dating back to the old Jedi Order, focusing on the emptying of feelings and opening oneself to the Force. Through practice, he could anchor himself with ease.

A pity the same couldn’t be said for Cobar.

He had said little about his experience with the Eye. Apparently he felt little different, was still at a loss as to why the Eye wanted him, and evidently preferred to focus on the morning’s lessons. Despite everything, he took to it well, though Finn could sense it took him a while to truly clear his mind.

“How’s that working for you, Cobar?” Rey asked after a while, prompting Finn to open his eyes. “I sense that you’re a bit calmer than usual.”

It was true enough. Worry was still etched on the Toth’s wide brow, but the simmering anxiety in his presence had noticeably faded. “I think I’m getting the hang of it,” Cobar said. “It’s been coming to me a bit easier since that day in the Chamber of the Eye, but I haven’t felt with that same level of… clarity. Not yet.”

“The Eye might be trying to help you,” Finn suggested. “If not adding its power to yours, then at least by unlocking what was always there inside you.”

“Maybe. Could have used it sooner, if that’s the case.”

“You’d be surprised,” Rey said. “Finn and I didn’t know of our connection to the Force until we were about your age. Same with Luke Skywalker. What matters is what you now choose to do with it. And I think that’s where you need to improve your confidence.”

“You think that’s what’s causing my problems?”

“It can’t be helping. From what I’ve seen, you’re under more public scrutiny than any Jedi ought to be. Doubting your abilities won’t help you develop them.”

Cobar nodded, lowering his eyes. “I might not be that strong in the Force to begin with.”

“And there’s no shame in that. The Jedi have long known strength in the Force to be something that differs from person to person. But pure strength means nothing without the skill to use it. Nor does it replace the importance of commitment, both to the Jedi and the Light Side.”

“Do the Keepers view things differently?” Finn asked. “Sounds like your… difficulties have been a problem for the other Keepers.”

Cobar nodded. “It’s expected that Keepers serve selflessly as protectors of the Eye and the abiru peoples. We’ve been crucial in crises and conflicts, and a lot of people think we’re the abiru’s best hope of fighting off the Viis if they ever invaded. And with all that in mind… we can’t afford to be weak. Not with our home and our freedom on the line.” He paused a moment. “There’s that fear that you mentioned, Master Skywalker. I know what your teachings say about it, but I just can’t help it. Not with what the history books say of the Viis.”

Rey regarded him silently for a few moments. “The Jedi are not without emotion, Cobar. We’re not without fear. What matters is that we control our feelings, especially as we fight for the Light Side. At the end of the day, we strive for peace and justice, even when that calls for us to take up arms. The best way to do that is with a clear mind free of attachments that risk clouding your judgment.”

“Did that work for you fighting the First Order?”

“No. I let my emotions get the better of me several times, and nearly paid the price. But failure is often the best teacher.”

“Perhaps we should try another form of meditation,” Finn suggested. “Moving Meditation might work better for you, Cobar. It’s still about pushing out distraction, but works more from concentration and physical activity.”

Cobar looked to him thoughtfully. “I guess I’ve always found combat drills kinda relaxing. I could show you a thing or two about our quarterstaff technique, if you’d like.”

“I most certainly would.”

Having already brought a few training staffs with him, Cobar handed them out as the trio positioned themselves out in a clearing in the garden. They started off with the underlying stances, along with some basic moves. The Keepers’ technique was clearly defensive, with a heavy emphasis on dodging incoming blows and delivering precise strikes to incapacitate. Finn took to it quicker than he’d expected – Rey had used a staff for many years on Jakku, and made heavy use of them in training him. That didn’t mean there weren’t a few surprises to be had.

The biggest, perhaps, was seeing Cobar in his element. He knew what he was doing, and he knew how to communicate it. Despite his height and brawn, he moved with remarkable speed when demonstrating various manoeuvres. Finn shuddered to imagine what facing him – or indeed any other Toth – down in close quarters would be like.

“You’re good at this, Cobar,” Finn said as they took a water break.

Cobar shrugged. “Thanks. I prefer hand-to-hand combat, though. It’s something of an art among the Toth. Not that I’m nearly as good at is as my kinfolk. Swear I still have the bruises to prove it.”

“They beat you?”

“Oh, no. It’s just something all my kin are expected to learn. We have little contests a couple of times a year, even when we’re not challenging the kin chiefs.” Cobar took a deep drink from a water bottle, draining half of it in one go. “The Order has something similar. An annual competition for unarmed, melee and ranged combat. I’ve won the unarmed portion twice in a row.”

Finn raised his eyebrows. “Now that doesn’t surprise me. Goes to show you do have your talents.”

“I guess. But there’s much more to the Keepers than just knocking people around. Violence is meant to be a last resort.”

“Sure. But that brings us back to Moving Meditation. The whole point of it is concentration and movement. I don’t know about combat drilling, but I know some Jedi did it while tinkering with machinery. Seems there’s a few forms it can take.”

“I’ll have to try and do it more meditatively, then. It’d be good to stay sharp just in case…” Cobar nodded up at the sky. “You know.”

Finn nodded, looking up at the clouds. “Yeah. Good idea.”

They kept it up until midday, when Qrooth and Poe came out to greet them. Apparently the two had spent the morning in conference with visiting dignitaries, though Qrooth then wanted to take Cobar for some lunch and further training. Rey decided to join them, leaving Finn to walk along the garden terrace with Poe by his side. After the workout Cobar had given him, the cool mountain breeze was just what he needed.

“Busy morning?” Finn asked.

Poe chuckled. “Very. Mostly shaking hands and giving assurances to some very nervous government folks. Marshal Rann also sent along a status update on the Falcon.”

“Have they broken her yet?”

“Not yet. They’ve airlifted her to a military base for repairs. Chewie and the droids have been directing them. The Defence Organisation will need to manufacture a few replacement parts from scratch, but they don’t mind footing the cost as long as they can copy our designs.”

“That seems fair. They can’t be limited to one system forever.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Poe agreed. “Besides, Rann’s assured us he’s got his best man overseeing the Falcon’s repairs. You’ll never guess who it is.”

“I don’t know anyone on this planet, Poe.”

“His name’s Jevvim. Hotshot test pilot. Old man now, but in his day he was the latest Wielder.”

Finn looked at Poe in surprise. “He’s not a Keeper?”

“Dropped out of the Order to join the Defence Organisation. Pretty common destination for failed Keepers, apparently. But the Eye still chose him before he became the first abiru to leave Ruu-113’s atmosphere. Man was a hero even without the Eye.”

Finn filed that tidbit away in his mind. He’d heard enough talk of the Eye having its own intelligence, but that particular move confirmed it beyond all doubt in his mind. It knew how much resumption of spaceflight would mean to the abiru, and it knew to offer its power – or at least its mere prestige – to the man in the cockpit. That took such a keen awareness and foresight that there was no doubt of its intelligence. As for its motives and goals… he wasn’t so sure. But Jevvim’s success could at least offer some hope for the newest Wielder.

“Sounds like someone for Cobar to meet, then,” Finn said.

“Absolutely,” Poe agreed, looking back in the direction Cobar and Qrooth had walked off. “How is our big, furry friend, anyway? He seemed pretty shaken by the whole Wielder thing.”

“I think the initial shock’s over, but he’s still got a lot on his plate. Really needs to rein in his emotions, but it doesn’t sound like the Order of Clarity’s the best environment for it.”


Finn shrugged. “They’re a young group compared to the Jedi. Haven’t faced the same trials and tribulations we have, or the hard lessons that’d come from them. Seems to me like they’re a lot more integrated with the culture around them.”

“Doesn’t sound like a bad thing.”

“It can be if it brings in external prejudices. Cobar has a lot to offer the Order, but he gets a hard time for being a Toth.”

“Not surprising. Illoowk’s been very… vocal in what she thinks of the whole thing. I don’t get the impression she’s alone in thinking that.”

“It’s not right by him. I don’t know what the Eye plans on using him for, but I think he has it in him.”

Poe sighed. “I think I know what the Eye wants. It showed him a place on the Viis homeworld, right? Well, Rann’s asked if we’d be willing to help mount an expedition to investigate. My guess is that Cobar’s meant to come along.”

Finn stared at him in silence for a few moments. He’d suspected something similar might be requested. It made all too much sense; the abiru lacked hyperdrive technology, and the Eye had attracted the right people to give it to them. And if the Eye wanted them to face their ancient foe, it had picked a Wielder who would be no slouch in battle. Optimistic as he was in Cobar’s ability, Finn still felt a rogue sense of fear unfurl within him against his better judgement.

“I’ve told him it’ll be up to you and Rey to decide,” Poe continued. “I don’t want to put you in danger again.”

Finn couldn’t resist a smile. “Poe…”

“I mean it, Finn. After what happened last time...” Swallowing, Poe looked away down the mountainside. “I care about you. More than anyone. And I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Finn lifted a hand to his cheek, guiding his gaze back to him. “I feel the same way, Poe. But I want to help these people. It’s what we Jedi do.”

Poe smiled, leaning his forehead against Finn’s for a moment. “And you’re going to make a great Jedi,” he said, before gesturing down the mountain towards First Landing. “You know, I asked Rann about local cuisine, and he recommended a good Aaroun place. What would you say to dinner sometime?”

“Like a date?”

“Not like a date. A proper date. Romantic meal, and maybe a show or something afterwards.”

Finn’s heart fluttered at the thought. The two of them cuddling up on their first night on Ruu had been nothing short of sublime – just the kind of comfort he’d needed as the weight of being stranded on a distant planet began to sank in. Sure, the whole relationship thing was new to him, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to concile it with the Jedi’s ‘no attachment’ policy. But as strange as the new world they found themselves on was, he could think of nothing he wanted to do more than to share it with Poe. Even if there was an obvious logistical difficulty.

“I’d love to, Poe. But I don’t have any local currency.”

“Guess we’ll just have to put it on Rann’s tab, then.”

The following day, the two of them joined Rey, Cobar and Nellit on a speeder flight out to a military base deep in the forest outside First Landing. He might have missed it flying over – there were a few large radar dishes in a facility too heavily fortified to be an observatory and a few isolated bunkers and landing pads, but nothing remotely resembling a proper base. That was until they set down on one of the pads, which began descending underground without warning. Finn watched out the speeder’s window, quickly finding himself in a cavern-like hangar built into the bedrock. There was a constant stream of troops and transports from various tunnels, all clearly part of a much wider network.

A group of officers in blue formal uniforms stood waiting at the landing pad, fronted by Marshal Rann. The old Aaroun looked genuinely pleased to see them, even if the same couldn’t be said of his subordinates. Professionalism prevented too many distrustful stares, but it was easy to pick up on some unease. For once, Finn was inclined to question just whose hands they had allowed the Falcon to fall into.

“Good morning to you all,” Rann said, giving a polite bow. “Welcome to Parvellah Base. Hope you’re not claustrophobic.”

Poe chuckled, returning the bow. “Not as long as your ventilation system works. Let me guess – built to withstand orbital bombardment?”

Rann nodded. “Correct. With our space navy in its infancy, we could very easily lose orbital superiority in the event of an invasion. But this base wouldn’t fall so easily. It’s the largest military installation on Ruu-113, and host to the Supreme Headquarters of the Abiru Defense Organisation. But we’ve never been busier with your ship down in the repair bay.”

“I’m sure it’s in good hands,” Rey said. “How are Chewbacca and the droids?”

“The language barrier’s been difficult, but your droid C-3PO is a good translator… if a tad high-strung, if I may speak freely. But Chewbacca’s an exceptional engineer, and an eager teacher. Your droids are nothing short of remarkable, too. Their input has been invaluable in understanding your technology.”

“Just as long as the Falcon still flies once you’re done tinkering with her,” Poe said. “She’s a real scrapheap, but she’s our scrapheap.”

Rann smiled. “Yes, Chewbacca has made it clear that your ship is far from cutting edge. But it’s still decades ahead of our capabilities.”

“When do you think she’ll be ready to fly again, then?”

“Months, most likely. We’re confident we can get the resources and machinery we need to manufacture some replacement parts, but industry on Ruu-113 is very tightly regulated for environmental and religious reasons. It can be slow to adapt, but at least matters of national security get first priority.”

“Perhaps you can open up trade with the New Republic someday?” Finn suggested. “They could sell you the resources and technology you need.”

Rann shrugged, expression growing a shade dourer. “You’d have to talk to First Citizen Erkixu about that. From what I’ve heard of your journey into the Unknown Regions, we’d need a stargate constructed for any kind of regular transportation. And even then… I’d rather not become reliant on outsiders. Our isolation is our best defence against attack.”

“But you still want to launch an expedition to Viis space.”

“Both the Defence Organisation and the Free Abiru Assembly want to know what threat the Viis pose, and they want to know now. I understand that asking your help is a very significant request to make after your ordeal, but yours is the only hyperspace-capable ship we’ll have access to for the near future. That said, I will respect your decision if you decline.”

Rey looked to her friends, then back to the Marshal. “We’ve already talked it over. We’ll help, as long as we take the reins for the mission. Our ship, our lives, our rules.”

The Marshal nodded. “I’ll discuss your offer with the powers that be, but I’d be prepared to accept that. As long as I get to send a trusted representative.”

He looked over to Cobar, who quickly picked up on Rann’s unspoken nomination. “Me, Marshal?”

Rann nodded. “The Eye gave you and Master Skywalker a vision of the Viis homeworld. It’s clear that it wants you there. If not to retrieve that other Eye, then to face what remains of the Viis. Besides, I’d feel more confident knowing our friends have a Toth backing them up.”

Cobar opened his mouth to protest, but hesitated in his reply. “Thank you, Marshal. I’m honoured by the trust you place in me.”

“I know a good soldier when I see one, Acolyte. You won’t let me down.”

A small ground transport ferried the group through the tunnels, with Marshal Rann pointing out a few key facilities. The cramped confines and bustling corridors reminded Finn of a couple of Resistance bases he’d visited, but the mood was far from it. There was paranoia there, from the furtive glances of the personnel at the visitors to the posters on the wall depicted scaled hands reaching for Ruu-113. Finn did his best to reserve judgement, watching his surroundings as he listened to the conversation in the front seats.

“I must compliment you on your facility, Marshal,” Nellit said. “It’s far more sophisticated than anything Enclave Security possesses.”

Rann grunted. “Yes, I heard the briefing on your little Enclave. Sounds very much like you live under the Chiss yoke.”

“I wouldn’t say so. We have a very beneficial mutual relationship.”

“A gilded cage is still a cage. Let me ask you this: would the Chiss allow your Enclave to join us here on Ruu-113 if you requested it?”

The Kelth was silent for a few moments. “I don’t know. When I left, there were very serious talks about relocating to Ruu if the situation permits. We need more genetic diversity, at the very least. And I imagine few would pass up the opportunity to move somewhere nicer than a frozen wasteland like Csilla.”

“Then I may well have my answer soon.”

The transport soon arrived at a vast hangar bay, which was easily the biggest hive of activity in the facility. Dozens of engineers and technicians milled about examining various parts and readouts, while soldiers worked to lug equipment and materials into position. In the middle of it all sat the Falcon, which to Finn’s relief was looking far better than it had after the crash. A few of the hull panels had already been replaced, while others had been removed to access the ship’s insides. She wouldn’t be spaceworthy again for a time, but at least she wasn’t looking like a total write-off.

They found Chewbacca in the cockpit, directing a Kelth who sat at the controls, holding them experimentally. The man certainly looked at home in a cockpit – he wore a pilot’s jumpsuit, even if it was accompanied by a brown leather jacket that was clearly not regulation uniform. He glanced quizzically over his shoulder at the approaching group, wrinkled muzzle curling back into a smile.

“Ah, Marshall Rann,” he said, offering an informal salute. “Chewbacca was just walking me through the Falcon’s control setup. Might just take her for a spin myself once she’s spaceworthy.”

Rann saluted back, both to him and Chewbacca. “Let’s not put the cart before the dolapi, Jevvim. We can discuss test flights once our repairs are complete.”

“I’m not worried. The gearheads have fixed worse damage. Usually damage inflicted by me, in fact.” The Kelth rose to his feet, offering Rey a bow. “You must be Skywalker. You’re a damn fine pilot to have landed this beauty in one piece. Couldn’t have done better myself given the circumstances.”

“Well, it’s like my friend Poe here always said,” she replied, nodding to him. “Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.”

The Kelth laughed. “I’m very good at landings, then. Jevvim’s the name. Former test pilot, now chief instructor.”

“And former Wielder,” Cobar added.

Jevvim looked over at the Toth, grinning. “That I am… Cobar, right? Rann’s told me about you. Thinks you’ve got what it takes to front his little expedition.”

Cobar gulped. “I trust his judgement.”

“But not your own? Believe me, kiddo, Rann knows what he’s doing. And if he doesn’t, the Eye does. You’ve gotta have something going for you for it to choose you.”

“Cobar is a skilled fighter,” Finn said. “Very devoted to his duty as Keeper, too.”

Cobar looked to him in surprise, though the hint of a smile was enough to warm Finn’s heart. The young man needed positive reinforcement, even if it brought a small laugh from Jevvim.

“Well, you’ve clearly left a good impression with our new friends, at any rate!” he said, turning to Chewbacca. “What say we give our friends a sit-rep on the repairs? Then we can move onto The Surprise.”

The emphasis certainly piqued Finn’s curiosity, especially based on the mischievous chuckle Chewbacca gave in response. But the Wookie remained coy even in the face of some ribbing from Poe, which failed to produce an answer. Instead, Chewbacca led them through the Falcon, weaving between various work crews as he provided an update on the repairs. The precious hyperdrive was evidently still intact and operational, but that was about where the good news ended. Propulsion had been knocked out by the crash. Communications was still hanging on by a thread. The underside hull had numerous points of damage that would need replacement. The list soon began sounding like a eulogy. But there was something about the eagerness with which the abiru technicians examined and documented the parts they worked on that left Finn confident that the Falcon was in safe hands.

Even if there was one piece of damage that left all of them feeling decidedly uneasy.

“This isn’t good,” Nellit said, as they followed Jevvim down a corridor to wherever he was keeping The Surprise. “The Viis must have taken out the jammers early in the fight. They would have had every opportunity to scan you and realize that there were abiru onboard.”

“It’s not like they can follow us here,” Poe pointed out.

“No, but we’ve still kicked the greenstripe’s nest. If they think the abiru have a hyperdrive, they’ll probably up security. Could make our expedition that much more dangerous.”

“Viisymel looked abandoned in my… in our vision,” Cobar said, glancing at Rey. “If that’s the case, it might be safe to jump there.”

“That’s a big ‘if’,” Nellit replied. “Viisymel could still have a few occupied habitable regions. Even if the planet’s abandoned, the rest of the system might not be. You think the Viis haven’t been trying to get the jump gate to Ruu back online in all this time?”

Up ahead, Jevvim chuckled. “Typical Kelth. Ever the worrier.”

Nellit looked to the older Kelth with a huff. “I’m just trying to assess the risks.”

“Oh, that’s fine. That’s fine. But risk is what drives us forward. I’ve spent my life risking my pelt testing out new aircraft and spacecraft. I’ve watched friends go down in flames doing the same. But without people like us, we’d have no presence in space, and no realistic means of fighting a Viis invasion force before it makes planetfall. A recon mission to Viis space is a terrifying prospect, yes, but we’re talking about our ancient enemy. We need to know as much as we can about them.”

“Jumping straight into their former capital still sounds like suicide to me.”

“Good thing we’ll be ready for them!” Jevvim paused before a sealed blast door, hand hovering over the controls. “Enough about that for now. Are you ready for The Surprise?”

In response, he received a few cautious affirmatives. Grinning, he hit the button, and the door shuddered open with a metallic groan. On the other side sat another hangar bay, this one occupied by a trio of fightercraft. They were a simple design, with a sleek midsection and drawn-back wings. But they were impressive craft nonetheless.

“Free fighters?” Poe asked. “You shouldn’t have.”

“We expect them back in one piece. But in all seriousness, I figured you’ll be working closely with the Defence Organisation for a while, so what better way to break the ice than a little flight to taste of our hardware? A few of you are pilots, right?”

Poe nodded, eyeing the craft. “I’d be lying if I wasn’t curious about the sort of ships you have. But we’re not exactly used to your controls.”

“Don’t worry about that. These are training craft. You’ll have a pilot behind you every step of the way if you want to try the controls. Even if not… it’s about time you got a good look at our world. Seeing it from the ground is one thing, but from the air… it’s something else entirely.”

Poe didn’t hesitate to accept the offer, loudly joking about the superiority of New Republic craft as he was fitted for a helmet. Rey and Nellit politely declined, indicating that they would discuss the proposed expedition with Rann. Cobar looked as though he might join them, but was quickly informed that the craft could barely fit Aaroun pilots, with no hope of accommodating a Toth. Picking up on his disappointment, Chewbacca announced he would stay behind give Cobar a tour of Parvellah Base. Jevvim suggested he test-drive one of the newest personnel carriers, but Rann was quick to shoot down that suggestion.

Finn decided to go along, ending strapped in the front seat of Jevvim’s craft while Finn was joined by a Samparese pilot in the second craft. A Zrheli pilot took control of the third, acting as an observer. As the underlying elevator lifted the three craft to the surface, Poe’s boasts turned to good-natured grandstanding between himself and the Samparese. The jests tapered off as they prepared for take-off, and gave way entirely once they were airborne.

Jevvim hadn’t been wrong – the planet was just as beautiful from the air as it had been from the Citadel and the speeder ride over. Better yet, their flight path took them over First Landing proper, giving a better look at its soaring towers and their greenery. The Great River snaked its way through, flanked by brightly-festooned boardwalks and terraced gardens. Boats bobbed along its length, carrying cargo and passengers in the shade of their solar sails. But the most impressive feature of the riverfront was a vast stone building with a columned exterior, sitting at the middle of a wide parkland.

“That’s the Assembly Hall,” Jevvim said over the comms. “Home of the Free Abiru Assembly, our government. Listen carefully, and you can hear them arguing from up here.”

From over in the other craft, Poe gave a small chuckle. “I don’t think the New Republic can claim superiority in that regard.”

“Some things just don’t change. Now, we’re going to follow the Great River out to the coast, just past Okal’s Point. Once we hit the ocean, we can pass controls over if you’re up for it.”

“Sure,” Poe replied. “Then I can show you abiru how it’s done.”

Poe’s copilot was halfway through insulting his skills when Jevvim muted them. “Don’t mind Vuraki,” he said to Finn. “Samparese are a competitive folk. Verbal sparring is their favourite pastime when they’re not outright sparring. But anyway, did you want to take the controls?”

Finn shook his head. “Never flown anything nearly this complex. Poe’s the flyboy between us.”

“Fair enough,” Jevvim replied. “Still… Jedi’s not half bad, from what I’ve heard. Especially when there’s so few of you left.”

“I’m humbled to help Rey carry that torch,” Finn said. “You nearly became a Keeper, didn’t you?”

“Nah. Nowhere close. Got a flicker of Clarity in me, but none of the skill or patience to hone it. Spent years meditating and training and studying, but in the end I figured my talent was better spent elsewhere.”

“Still must have come in handy.”

Jevvim laughed. “Why do you think I’m such a good pilot? I’ve got enough Clarity to sense when something’s wrong and to react faster than the average cockpit-warmer. That alone can mean the difference life or death.”

“What about the Eye, then?”

In a mirror affixed to the cockpit canopy, Finn saw Jevvim lean back in his seat, smiling wistfully.

“The Eye of Clarity,” Jevvim muttered. “Gods above, the look on some of my former teachers’ faces when it chose me. I had visions about it for weeks before they let me see it.”

“It must have come in useful on your big flight.”

Jevvim shrugged. “I don’t know. It was a smooth mission, all things considered. Leave the atmosphere, run some tests in orbit, come back down in one piece. Couple of hiccups, sure, but nothing I couldn’t have handled on my own.” In the mirror, Jevvim turned his gaze to the horizon. “I didn’t need the Eye. But it wanted to be there around my neck. It knew I was about to make a historic flight, and it knew its presence would win over the hearts of the abiru.”

“It wanted them to have hope,” Finn said. “I wonder if that’s why it showed Cobar a vision of another Eye.”

“No idea,” Jevvim replied. “Never did shake the feeling that we’re just pawns of some higher being. But it’s all above my paygrade.”

Part of Finn wanted to think Jevvim had the right idea, but he couldn’t shake his unease. He did, at least, try to push it out of his mind with some quiet meditation as he watched the forests and waterways of Ruu-113 cruise by beneath him. They were coming up on the coast, passing a couple of smaller cities built along or near the Great River. It wasn’t long before the sea was visible over the horizon, its vast blue expanse peppered with fishing boats and cargo ships cutting through the waves. As they began to follow the pristine beaches along the coastline, Vuraki finished briefing Poe on the controls.

“Seems easy enough,” Poe said. “Not too different from piloting our own craft.”

“Just don’t get cocky,” Vuraki said. “If you get us killed, Rann will court-martial me for sure. Alright, switching controls over to you. Remember – sky good, ground bad.”

“Ground good, sky bad. Got it.”

Poe taking the controls of the fighter was like a maestro being handled an instrument. Or, in this case, an utterly alien but largely similar instrument. There were a few shuddery manoeuvres as Poe put it through its paces, earning a few curses from Vuraki and chuckles from Jevvim. As he watched on, Finn couldn’t help but smile at Poe’s antics. Even as an inexplicable sense of unease grew inside him.

Something was wrong aboard the observer aircraft trailing them. Finn glanced over his shoulder, finding Jevvim looking back as well. The Kelth turned forward, yellow eyes wide in fear.

“I sense it too,” he said, just as the shooting began.

Bright red bolts shot past the cockpit window, close enough for Finn to feel the heat. They may well have connected if Jevvim wasn’t already pushing the craft into a sharp bank away from Poe and Vuraki. Bracing himself, Finn looked over to see that Poe had done the same in the opposite direction, smoke trailing behind him.

And pursuing after him like a bird of prey was the third fighter, lining up for another attack.

“Rhiath, what the hell are you doing?!” Jerrel spat into his mic. “Disengage! Disengage!”

The comm crackled for a moment, before the high-pitched voice of a Zrheli squawked through.

“Never! I’m doing what you traitors should have done days ago! I will not let these outsiders bring the Viis to our sacred home!”

“Damn it, Rhiath!” Jevvim muttered, tapping at the comm unit. “Poe! I’m opening a direct channel! You reading? What’s your status?”

“Vuraki’s dead!” Poe yelled into the comm. “I’m hit, but she’s holding together!”

“Just hold on!” Jevvim replied, tapping the comm again. “Raptul One to Parvellah Base! Emergency! Emergency! Raptul Three has gone rogue and fired on us! We need support!”

“Understood, Raptul One!” came the reply. “We’re scrambling fighters and alerting Glaudoon Base to do the same. They’re closer. They should be able to reach you in a few minutes.”

“We don’t have that long!” Poe said. “Jevvim, what weapons do these things have?”

Jevvim huffed. “Almost nothing for a training flight. Just the built-in laser cannons. No missiles. No countermeasures.”

“Good thing we’ve got something better. Finn, I’m going to try and bait him towards you. Think you use the Force on him?”

Exhaling, Finn nodded. “I think so. Just… be careful.”

“When aren’t I?”

Steeling himself, Finn focused inwards for a quick meditation, before scanning the horizon. He’d lost sight of the other fighters in Jevvim’s manoeuvres, but was quickly able to locate Raptul Three based solely on the malice emanating from its pilot. The fear – the hatred – the Zrheli felt was palpable. But Finn couldn’t let himself be distracted. Not when Poe’s life was on the line.

Then all at once, Poe was upon them. His fighter shot overhead, still spewing black smoke from behind. Finn’s chest tightened as he realized that Poe might not be airborne for much longer, but he focused his attention on the other fighter careening towards them. Raising his hands, Finn reached out with the force, trying to get purchase on the fighter. It was a much bigger target than he was used to in training, but Rey’s teachings said that it mattered not.

All it took was a simple push. Sharp, sudden, and unstoppable. Finn lifted one of the wings and depressed the other, sending the fighter into a spiralling dive. The pilot’s fear sharpened, then disappeared entirely as his craft impacted with the water. In its place there was only emptiness, followed by a sickening feeling in Finn’s stomach.

“Gods damn it,” Jevvim muttered. “Raptul One to Parvellah and Glaudoon Bases. Raptul Three is down. Repeat, Raptul Three is down.”

“Acknowledged, Raptul One. Any casualties?”

“Raptul Two is damaged. Pilot Vuraki is dead, but General Dameron is still in control. Requesting clearance for emergency landing at Glaudoon Base.”

“Glaudoon Base copies. We’re clearing the main landing pad and dispatching emergency teams.”

The conversation passed Finn by as he stared down at the wreckage in the ocean. He’d killed before. He’d never enjoyed it, but he’d done what he must. But this felt different. He’d killed someone who cared only for the protection of their home – the same home that Finn and his friends had been graciously welcomed into. Forced as his hand might have been, there was still blood on it.

“How you holding up, Finn?” Poe asked, voice distorted by static.

“I’m fine. Just… shaken. You?”

“Nothing serious. Pretty sure I can limp to Glaudoon Base in one piece. But I think our warm welcome is wearing out.”

Finn turned his gaze back to the wreckage. “I sure hope not.”

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Re: Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 9)

#9 Post by Jonesy »

Chapter 9 - Part 1

Cobar was hard-pressed to name a more dismal week in his lifetime.

His nerves had barely settled from Parvellah Base going onto alert, hurrying after Rey and her friends as the corridors filled with blaring alarms and soldiers racing to their posts. They already knew Finn, Poe and Jevvim were okay before they boarded the airlifter to Glaudoon Base, but that did little to cut the tension of the flight over. By the time they arrived, Finn and Poe were there to meet them with reassurances and hugs, but Cobar could tell it was for show.

The last thing he’d wanted to do was impose on the friends in their reunion, and had sought out Jevvim to check on him. He found the old Kelth standing still and silent by the rescue craft, watching a team of medics moving a body bag onto a stretcher.

“Vuraki was the worst student I ever had,” Jevvim said at his funeral days later. “Not in terms of skill, mind you. In attitude. Just because he could fly a crop-duster on the family farm, he thought he was better than every other cadet. Better than most of his teachers, too. But I made damn well sure to humble him. And I think we both learned a lot from each other. Not least of all in respect.”

The guests had been warned of Samparese funeral customs. They weren’t afraid of speaking ill of the dead, but they did expect truth in every word. Cobar hadn’t even expected to attend, until Jevvim requested it. It had caused something of a stir in the media – it was Order tradition not to publicly announce a new Wielder until they had passed their trial and been formally named, but it wasn’t uncommon for rumours to spread. From the few newsfeeds Cobar had caught, the thought of a Toth Wielder was evoking some very mixed responses.

But that was nothing compared to the political firestorm that the attack on Finn, Poe and Jevvim had ignited. Zrheli terrorism was once again in the spotlight, not having seen a flareup since the days of Wielder Cawxa and the Zrheli secessionist movement. There’d been protests calling for crackdowns, counter-protests in opposition, and fierce debates on the floor of the Free Abiru Assembly. Cobar tried to keep up, but quickly found the experience far too depressing and distracting.

Especially with his trial to become Wielder right around the corner.

On the night before, he found himself training in the Citadel gymnasium. Not because his trial would need it, but to try and clear his mind as Rey and Finn had taught him. His world consisted of a training dummy and a quarterstaff, and his life a well-practiced series of blows. But reality just kept creeping in, from memories of the attack to the angry faces on the vidscreen. Jevvim wasn’t helping, either – the old Kelth lounged on a nearby bench, watching Cobar with a smirk.

“A pity the trial doesn’t involve beating up dummies,” Jevvim said wistfully. “You’d be named Wielder in a heartbeat.”

“It helps me concentrate. The trial’s all mental, right?”

Jevvim tapped his forehead. “Yep. All in visions. Can’t say what you’ll face, though. Might be different for everyone. Best you face it without foreknowledge, in any case. But you’ll be okay. If a pilot can do it, a fierce Toth warrior should do just fine.”

“There’s nothing else I can do to prepare?” Cobar asked, slumping down on the bench next to Jevvim.

“Whatever keeps you focused, that’s what my old teacher told me. You’re spending the night before your trial in the gymnasium. I spent the night before my trial in a brothel. Cawxa said he spent the night before his trial with his beak in a book. Each to their own, I suppose.”

“You knew Cawxa?”

“Briefly. I was named Wielder not long before he passed, but he helped me get ready for my trial. We were an odd pair, looking back. Hotshot pilot and distinguished scholar.”

“Now it’s hotshot pilot and Toth farmboy.”

Jevvim smirked. “Farmboy? Should have known. One of the southern kinholds?”

“Yeah. We grow mixed crops and vegetables, but we’re most famous for our elekara fruit. My mothers have a whole business set up making jam out of them.”

“They must be proud of you.”

Cobar smiled, patting the letter in his pocket. “I got a letter from my birth-mother today. She’s ecstatic. Doesn’t sound like my father and my second-mother are entirely sure what to make of it, but they’ve always pressed me to make something of myself in the Order.”

“Well, you held out longer than I did. Must be tough being the first Toth.”

Cobar shrugged. “I’m trying to focus on my training, not what others think.”

“Good. Being chosen as Wielder means something. Whatever it is, I think you’re going to live up to it.”

Appreciative as he was of the sentiment, Cobar remained uneasy. But as Jevvim retired for the evening, the weight of what lay ahead still hung over Cobar as he walked back to his room. He was consumed by his thoughts that he almost collided with Rey as he rounded the corner. She raised her arms reflexively just as he did the same, and they managed to steady each other before he could bowl her over.

“Oh, sorry, Rey!” Cobar exclaimed, backing up. “I didn’t see you. My mind was elsewhere.”

Rey smiled up at him. “Understandable. Sounds like tomorrow’s your big day.”

Cobar chuckled. “That’s for sure. Will you be there?”

“Absolutely! In fact, I wanted to come wish you luck. Practicing your Moving Meditation?”

“It’s been helping a lot. Starting to feel like I might have a shot at this.”

“You’ll surprise yourself,” Rey said, leading him along back down the corridor towards their respective quarters. “Finn sends his regards as well. He and Poe are out for the night.”

“Your escort’s letting you back out of the Citadel? I thought they wanted you all to stay here in case of another attack.”

“Our escort doesn’t know.”

Cobar smiled. He shouldn’t have been surprised – Finn had asked him if he’d known any good picnic spots nearby. “Glad to hear they’re holding up well. It’s awful what happened up there.”

“We’ll have to remain on our toes. At least your authorities are taking it seriously.”

“Zrheli separatism is an old problem. Some of them don’t want any non-Zrheli on their sacred world. Things aren’t as bad as it was in the days before Cawxa, but having outsiders here… that’s new. Something a lot of people still don’t know what to make of.”

“And like I told Rann, being cooped up in the Citadel’s not going to help. We need to be introducing ourselves to the people of Ruu. Showing that not everyone outside the star system is to be feared.”

“Then perhaps our expedition might help win some hearts,” Cobar said. “I know we’ve asked a lot of you, but I do really appreciate that you’re coming along.”

“Helping others is the Jedi way,” Rey replied, walking with him out into the cool evening air of the gardens. “Besides, that vision still sticks with me. Something’s going on in that bunker. More than just a second Eye.”

Cobar sighed. “Does it bother you? The Eye having these plans for us, without us knowing?”

“It’s… troubling, yes. But I get the impression that it hasn’t led your people wrong.”

“But it doesn’t guarantee its Wielder’s success, or their survival.”

“Neither does the Force. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.”

“True. I still don’t like the idea of my fate being out of my hands.”

Rey patted his shoulder. “It isn’t, Cobar. The Force itself has a will of its own, but that hasn’t stopped generations of Jedi from forging their destinies. The Wielders from your own past aren’t much different. The Eye may have helped them, but there was something in each of them that pushed them forward with or without it. Yes, there’s a lot up in the air right now. But I think you’ll find your purpose very soon.”

“I hope so,” Cobar said. “I suppose you’d know what it’s like, with those expectations on you. Do you think it was fate that you were the one to restore the Jedi Order?”

Rey paused mid-stroll, gaze wandering to the lights of First Landing far below them. “I don’t know. Such prophecies aren’t new to the Jedi. Even if it was fate… I don’t think I’d have done it any differently. It’s easy to look back at the darkest moments in the fight against the First Order and the Sith, and wish things had been different. But when I think about the friends I made, and the peace we helped bring to the galaxy, I can’t help but think it was all worth it.”

Cobar nodded. “I trust your judgement. Perhaps once this is all over, I could join you back in your space for a time? I’d love to see the Jedi Order begin to rebuild. Perhaps even help, if I can.”

“I would be honoured, Cobar,” Rey said, smiling up at him. “Hopefully your reception in New Republic space proves a little… friendlier.”

The ceremony began at dawn, with the first rays of the sun shining down into the Citadel’s great hall onto the hundreds of assembled Keepers, Acolytes, Archivists and other guests. To Cobar, the sheer multitude of people would be intimidating enough even if he wasn’t to be the centre of attention. But he felt strangely calm as he stood before the assembled High Keepers in his ceremonial robes, awaiting the arrival of the Eye. As was customary, Jevvim stood beside him as a previous Wielder, clad in his formal uniform and as many medals as he could fit on his chest. Normally, Qrooth would stand beside Cobar as his active mentor, but the ceremony required all High Keepers assembled as one. Thus, Cobar had invited Rey to stand beside him, both as a gesture of friendship to the Jedi Order and in recognition of the guidance she’d offered.

Cobar spared a glance up at the visitor’s gallery, where a multitude of dignitaries, military officers and journalists had assembled under the watchful eyes of Keeper guards and Defence Organisation agents. First Citizen Erkixu held the place of honour in the middle of the assemblage, but Cobar’s eyes wandered to the group of Toth gathered off to the side. His parents, aunts, uncles and cousins jostled for a better view, and began waving when they realized he was looking up at them. Against protocol, he waved back, the warmth of their love comforting him even across the hall.

Blaring horns quickly snapped his attention back to the ceremony, with the arrival of the Eye heralded. A procession of armoured guards flowed into the room, with High Keeper Odrell in their middle. In his tentacles, he held aloft a small bust that bore the Eye of Clarity for all to see. The sight of it still brought a sense of wonder and hope to Cobar, for all the uncertainty it now represented to him.

“Good luck,” Rey whispered. “May the Force be with you.”

Cobar glanced over to her, smiling. “Thank you. And to you.”

Odrell’s procession fanned out, allowing the Phivean to take his place in the middle of the assembled High Keepers. He lowered the bust down onto a small podium, his spare tentacles swaying in excitement. As he held the bust in place, High Keeper Arntrad stepped forward.

“Fellow abiru!” he cried, his microphone-amplified voice echoing through the hall. “We assemble here on this momentous occasion to witness the Eye of Clarity cast its judgement upon one of us. The Eye has seen potential within Acolyte Cobar – a relative newcomer to our Order, but one who has shown tremendous dedication in his studies and in welcoming the outsiders to our world. He has sworn the Wielder’s Oath, and now stands ready for judgement.”

Arntrad gestured to Odrell, who carefully lifted the Eye from its bust. As the Phivean approached, Cobar knelt down onto a provided cushion, lowering his head and closing his eyes. Tentacles brushed against his face as Odrell slipped the amulet containing the Eye around his neck, its chain clearly having been modified in preparation for a Toth neck. For a few agonizing seconds, Cobar felt as if absolutely nothing changed. He could still feel the ground beneath him, and hear excited murmuring behind him, but nothing different.

Then all at once, he felt everything and nothing.

A roar filled his ears, jolting him from his trance. A starship soared overhead, clearly having launched from nearby. The blazing sun burned at his eyes, leaving him shielding them with his forearm as he rose to his feet. He was in the middle of a narrow and unpaved street, surrounded by cheap stone tenements rising high on either side of him. The shade they offered was welcome, but the air was still hot, dry and fouled by pollutants. And yet dozens of abiru around him braved the heat, trudging along in various work uniforms and downtrodden expressions.

All except one – an Aaroun woman in a robe, standing in the middle of the street watching him with a smile. Her golden fur shone bright in the sunlight.

“Ampris!” he exclaimed, hurrying towards her. “It’s so good to see you!”

She embraced him, holding him close and tight. His worries all but evaporated in an instant. He’d feared that she might have abandoned him after their first meeting all those years before, but there she was. In the sea of uncertainty that he found himself adrift in, he at least had one familiar face to find solace in.

“It good to see you too, my friend!” Ampris said, holding him at arm’s length. “Look at you! A Keeper of the Clarity! I knew you had it in you!”

“You knew? I didn’t hear from you again after that night. I wasn’t sure what happened…”

“I was always there, Cobar. I watched over you every day. But I had to be sure you succeeded through your own skills and dedication, not from my involvement.”

“My training… I hope I haven’t disappointed you.”

“Absolutely not!” Ampris said, chuckling. “Cobar, I had no grasp of the Clarity in life. None. Your skills already surpass my own. What truly matters is what you do with them.”

“I think the Eye wants me to go to Viisymel,” he said, looking around. “This is it, right?”

Ampris nodded. “Vir, the capital of Viisymel and the Viis Empire. It held some of the largest abiru slums in Viis space. This is where I was born.”

Cobar looked back to her with a frown. “You were raised in the Imperial Palace, weren’t you? You were taken from your mother very young.”

“Indeed, I was.”

She crossed the street, opening one in a series of doors for him. The room inside was dark, illuminated only by a single lamp. In its light, an Aaroun woman lay on her side atop a bed, watching her litter of infant cubs with a broad smile. They looked to be asleep, though one was wide awake and paying close attention to its mother. A female, with a distinctive golden pelt.

“My golden one,” the mother said quietly, stroking young Ampris’ face. “Brave and strong, my daughter will grow up to be. Look at you, bigger already than your brothers. Straight-shouldered, you are. An Aaroun, you are, my darling, a daughter of a proud line of the Heva clan. All your history, I will teach you. Our songs, you will learn that you may teach them to your sons and daughters. Through you, we will go on.”

Young Ampris mewed in response, earning a small laugh and gentle kiss from her mother. “Yes, my golden one. Yes, you are wonderful and precious. I love you so much.”

Cobar smiled at the sight, though his heart was heavy. Little was known of Ampris’ early days before she became pet of the Viis Sri-Kaa, but it was widely accepted that she had been abducted by Viis slavers. These precious moments with her mother had barely lasted days, before Ampris was torn from her mother’s life forever.

The mother’s eyes met his. Though her smile remained, there was a definite questioning to her gaze. Cobar wasn’t sure if she was a part of the vision or the long-dead spirit of Ampris’ mother, but he erred on the side of caution. He bowed his head respectfully, remembering a phrase Tanni once taught him after her sister had her cubs.

“Congratulations, chenith-fahn,” he said. New-mother.

The mother’s smile widened, but neither of them had the chance to say more when a rough pounding came at the door. Cobar turned just as it slammed open, filling the darkened room with light.

And into the room stepped a Viis.

He stood almost as tall as Cobar, with a slim frame concealed by a dusty jacket and shadowy hood. Beneath it, Cobar could just make out a pair of cold, green eyes on his blue-scaled face. But his eyes soon turned to the man’s companions – a pair of Toth, each larger than Cobar in height and bulk. Their clothes were equally rugged, and their fur and hair unwashed. A stab of fear hit Cobar, even as it was dampened by disgust.

This was his people’s darkest hour. This was when they’d been reduced to thugs and enforcers, little more than living weapons in the hands of the Viis. And this, he realized, was a test. To face that darkness and show that the Toth now stood above such barbarism.

“Get out!” the Aaroun mother shouted from behind him. “This is a birthing room! I have the right to privacy for these first days!”

“Stay calm,” Cobar said over his shoulder. “I swear by the blood of my kin that no harm will come to you. Grab your cubs, and be ready to run.”

His words only brought amusement to the other Toths, who guffawed deeply as they brought stun-sticks to the ready.

“Stupid kid,” one of the Toth said. “Thinks he’s a hero!”

“Quiet!” the Viis hissed, cold eyes firmly on Cobar. “This doesn’t concern you, Toth. Walk away, unless you want to get hurt.”

“No,” Cobar said, raising his hands in a defensive fighting stance. “I will not let you lay a hand on this family.”

The Viis reached into his jacket for a weapon, lowering his eyes for a brief second, and Cobar seized his chance to strike. Nothing fancy – just a swift but strong punch to the jaw, sending the Viis sprawling back before his companions could respond. His hand throbbed in response, but he backed up and resumed his stance before the Toth could respond.

“There’s no need to fight!” Cobar called. “The Viis think you’re tools! Slaves! There is no honour in using your strength like this!”

The other Toths switched on their stun-sticks. “Honour!” one of the Toth said. “Kid talks like an Aaroun! Toth don’t weaken themselves with honour. We’re strong, and the strong do what they-”
Cobar raised his hands, reaching out with the Clarity. Whether from his calming meditation or his state of panic, it came to him easier than it had before. He managed to seize one of the stun-sticks and pull it back towards him, ripping it from its holder’s grasp. His palm brushed the electrified segment as he snatched it from the air, the surge of electricity setting his nerves ablaze. He stumbled backwards to regain his composure, only to find the still-armed Toth bearing down on him, stun-stick raised ready for a savage blow.

In his panic, Cobar let loose with the Clarity again, pushing the Toth backwards. The thug flew back against the doorframe, falling into a cursing heap. As the Toth lay nursing the back of his head, Cobar spun to his other attacker, and was greeted with a wide punch straight to the stomach. He doubled over in agony, soon finding himself in a headlock. The Toth wrapped his powerful arm around Cobar’s neck, slowly tightening his hold.

“Think you’re better than us, whelp?” the Toth growled in his ear. “Think your witchcraft’s going to stop me from crushing your throat?”

Cobar didn’t answer. Even if he could, he needed to save his strength. He needed an opportunity to escape, and he needed it then and there.

“The Viis respect us more than any mewling Aaroun. You know why that is, whelp?”

Shaking his head, Cobar spotted where one of the stun-sticks had rolled away. The pressure on his neck was agonizing, but he tried to clear his head and ready himself.

“It’s because they respect strength! They had the strength to build an empire, and to show the rest of the abiru their place! And we Toth have proven that we’re better than any snivelling-”

Cobar reached out with the Clarity once more, pulling the stun-stick into his hand. This time he managed to catch it properly, and jammed it into the ribs of the other Toth. He yelped in pain and fell backwards, giving Cobar a chance to struggle free and jab him a couple more times. Electric crackles filled the air, and the Toth soon lay unconscious.

The other Toth had stopped moving too, just leaving the Viis stumbling to his feet. Cobar rose to meet him, stun-stick in hand. “This is your last chance, Viis.”

“You can’t win, Toth!” the Viis said, backing up towards the door. “The Patrollers will have your head! Your magic tricks won’t save you then!”

Cobar began to follow, his stun-stick at the ready. “They’ll be too late for you.”

The Viis stared at him in disbelief as he backed up, leaving him to trip over the body of one of his thugs. By the time he propped himself up on his elbow, Cobar had his stun-stick almost touching the man’s throat.

And just as Cobar registered the fear in his eyes, the Viis disappeared.

So too did the Toths, and the Aaroun family. Even the street outside had gone silent, leaving him in an empty room with Ampris watching him with folded arms. A small smile had crossed her lips.

“Impressive,” she said. “Almost as skilled as I was in my day.”

Cobar let himself relax, dropping the stun stick to nurse his throbbing stomach and rub his neck. “Was that a test? Felt… real.”

Ampris nodded. “That’s the whole point. A test of your courage in the face of the abiru’s ancient enemy. Though I suppose it was harder for you than most.”

“Toth aren’t like that now. We’re part of the abiru.”

“I know. And even if many would doubt it, I think you’ll be the one to show them wrong. You didn’t even hesitate to defend the vulnerable.”

“I wish I could have been there that day.”

Ampris shrugged. “We cannot change the past. All our experiences led us to this moment, and our actions will determine our future.”

Cobar sat down on the bed, wincing at the pain it brought. “If my future brings me to Viisymel, the fate of Ruu might hang in the balance.”

Ampris smiled, sitting down beside him. “It’s not an easy burden to bear. But you’ve passed your first test. I can’t tell you what the Eye of Clarity thinks, but I know I’m impressed.”

“Did the others pass?” Cobar asked.

“In their own ways,” Ampris replied. “It’s a test of resolve, not fighting skill. A few took a beating. A few talked the Viis into backing off.”

“Like Cawxa?” Cobar asked.

Ampris smirked. “Quite a diplomat, he was. Not like your friend Jevvim. He put up a real fight.”

“Jevvim? No, I don’t believe it.”

“I didn’t say he was a fair fighter. His strategy was to… go for the low-hanging fruit.”

Cobar winced. “Just as well I didn’t ask him to spar with me.”

“Just as well,” Ampris said with a chuckle. “But this is only the first trial, you must understand. There are others, when you’re ready.”

The pain had barely begun to fade, but Cobar nodded nonetheless. “Did you… make all this? These visions?”

“With a little help from the other Wielders. The Eye has its own way of choosing people, and I doubt it would allow itself to be exploited. But it’s allowed us these visions to test a Wielder’s mettle. If you’ll be as resourceful as you were here before me, I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

The Eye’s influence on the whole process raised too many questions for Cobar to approach, but he kept his focus where it mattered – Ampris. “Thank you, Ampris. Thank you for everything. I… I don’t know what I would have made of myself if you hadn’t come to me.”

Ampris put a comforting arm around him. “You’d be surprised, Cobar. You made it this far with your own dedication. Much still lies ahead, but a lot of people will be rooting for you. Myself included.”
Cobar smiled, his fears swirling into excitement. “I think I’m ready for the next trial, then.”

“Then I will wish you all the best. I’ll see you again before you know it.”

Before Cobar could process what she meant, he found himself standing in the middle of an abandoned plaza.

He was still in Vir. He knew that much based on his surroundings. But the city was in chaos. Smoke hung over the air, mingling with the ambient pollution, while howling sirens were punctuated with weaponfire in the distance. The walls of the surrounding buildings were emblazoned with posters, none of which boded well; some were graphic warnings from the health department about the new strain of the Dancing Death plague, and some were hastily-produced propaganda depicting Ampris leading an army of abiru with a glaudoon blade held high.

These were the darkest days of the Viis Empire, and the golden age of the Abiru Freedom Network. As the Empire’s colonies rebelled and its technology broke down from sabotage, the Network only grew in strength among the disaffected abiru of Viisymel. It all culminated in Ampris’ greatest ploy yet, faking a return of the Dancing Death plague to sow chaos and allow her exodus to flee Viis space. It was a time spoken of with great fondness and romanticism, though finding himself in the middle of it made Cobar more uneasy than anything.

“You make a better wall than a window, Toth,” came a voice from behind him.

Cobar turned around to find a Kelth lounging atop a stone plinth, with the statue it once held now toppled into the dirt. The Kelth had dark grey fur and an unkempt mane, wearing an old green jacket that looked battered beyond any hope of repair. If he hadn’t known better, the Kelth was a typical lowlife eking out a living in the slums. But Cobar recognized him instantly.

“Elrabin?” he asked, unable to resist a smile.

The Kelth gave a satisfied grin, slipping off the pedestal to stand before Cobar. “Nice to know I’m still in the history books. You must be this Cobar that Goldie tells me about.”

The nickname confirmed it – it was Elrabin’s nickname for Ampris, which he famously used in the dedication at the beginning of The Golden One. “Do… you and other spirits talk to each other?”

“Oh, yes. All the time. Nashmarl and I have a bet going on whether you’ll pass your trials.”

“What does a spirit have to wager with?”

Elrabin thought on it for a moment, before shrugging. “Nothing, really. Gotta keep ourselves occupied somehow.”

“True. Might bore yourselves to death.”

“Was that a joke? Gods above, Goldie was right. The Toth really are trying to get smarter.” Elrabin grinned up at him. “Chin up. I’ve been on the receiving end of more than one Toth beating. Believe me, I’m glad you’re on our side now.”

Cobar smiled. “We still have a lot of convincing to do. And I want to be the one to prove it.”

“Then let’s get down to business!” Elrabin said, scrambling back up onto the plinth to sit on its edge. “Look around you, Cobar. What do you see?”

“This is Vir, just before the Great Emancipation.”

“Hey, smarter than you look! This was Goldie’s big moment. Years of hard work laying the foundations for resistance against Viis rule. Even managed to win me over, which is saying something.”
“I know. I read your autobiography. You were quite the cynic in your day.”

Elrabin smiled even wider, laughing in delight. “I really am remembered! Can’t let Goldie hog the spotlight, can I?” With a wistful sigh, he continued. “I had a bad upbringing. Deadbeat dad. Working mother. Pain-in-the-tail siblings. Crime felt like the only way I could make my own path, or at least take the pressure off my mother. Not that my reasons mattered, in the end. I was betrayed and sold out too many times to trust anyone ever again.”

“Until you met Ampris.”

“Until I met Ampris. She made me believe in something greater than myself for once in my miserable life. Gave up everything to bust her out of Vess Vaas and go on the run. I risked it all to bring that grand plan of hers to fruition.” Elrabin’s smile widened. “Of course, I met the love of my life helping her bust out some slaves. Wanting a better life for her and our future lits definitely helped.”

Cobar chuckled. “So I can imagine,” he said, before a loud roar gave him pause. He looked up just in time to see a shuttle shoot overhead.

“And it begins!” Elrabin cried. “The Exodus. The Emancipation. The first real shot at hope and freedom the abiru of Viisymel ever had. The excitement, and the celebration… you had to be there.”

“But I am.”

Elrabin slipped off the pedestal, elbowing Cobar in the side. “Then let’s go to the spaceport and see it!”

Cobar trudged after the Kelth, still taking in his surroundings in astonishment. Vir had been the centrepoint not just of the Viis Empire, but of the abiru’s history within it. But that history had suddenly stopped after the Exodus. Millions of abiru had been left behind, to say nothing of the countless more across the Empire’s other colonies. There were also the Viis Rejects, a growing underclass of Viis riddled with genetic defects lingering from the Dancing Death plague, who had chosen to remain behind and reshape the Empire. Given the state of Viisymel in his vision with Rey, Cobar had no way of knowing if their plan had succeeded. It was quite possible he was headed to a dead planet, inhabited only by ghosts of the past.

A clatter drew his attention – very close, echoing from down a nearby alleyway. Elrabin paid it little mind, but Cobar stopped to look. He did just in time to see something disappear behind an overflowing dumpster. Perhaps just a Skek, scavenging for food. But with a glance back at Elrabin, who continued to walk along while pointedly ignoring him, Cobar suddenly wondered if it was part of the test.

“One moment,” Cobar said, ducking into the alley.

“Take your time!” Elrabin called after him. “I’ve got all the time in the universe!”

Cobar slowly approached the dumpster, keeping his ears open for any further noise. His foot brushed against a plastic container, sending it jangling away. That was when he heard a small gasp, followed by a whimper as he circled around the dumpster.

A small Viis hatchling huddled before him, pressed back against the wall as if trying to keep as much space between her and him as possible. She was clad in a battered robe and hood, which had fallen away to reveal a mottled blue-scaled face and vestigial rill. She was a Reject – that much was clear from her deformities. What that meant to Cobar, he couldn’t say. The role the Rejects played in the Great Emancipation was the topic of great debate, from positioning them as genuine allies to dismissing them as just another type of Viis using the abiru as pawns in their own agenda. But before Cobar was a scared child, and he could only comfort her as he would any young abiru.

“Oh, you scared me!” Cobar said, putting on a smile. “Here I thought there was a Skek scurrying around. Sorry to give you a fright.”

The hatchling said nothing, still staring up at him fearfully.

“My name’s Cobar,” he continued. “What are you doing out here? It’s very dangerous right now, with the rebels and the soldiers fighting. Where are your parents?”

The hatchling gave a small shrug. Cobar glanced around for any sign of where she might have come from, but could see nothing besides overflowing bins and sealed doors. His eye caught the container he’d accidentally kicked, which was labelled as containing quixlix. It’d been a common foodstuff common in the Viis Empire, infamous for its low quality, poor taste and inexpensiveness. Cobar tried to open the container, only to find it jammed. No doubt that was why it had been discarded.

“No parents, eh?” Cobar asked, before trying the lid of the container with all his might. Despite the tension, he managed to pop the lid off. “There we are. Were you trying to open this?”

The eagerness with which she seized the container from him was answer enough. Her stance relaxed, though she still eyed him cautiously as she ate from it. Cobar glanced to the head of the alleyway to Elrabin, suddenly remembering that he was still in a vision. The Kelth watched him with an amused smirk.

“Is this part of the test?” Cobar asked.

Elrabin shrugged. “Would it make you act any differently if I told you she’s just there for decoration?”

Cobar looked down at the hatchling, leaning against the wall opposite her.

“We can’t leave you out here,” he said to her. “It’s dangerous. The abiru are rising up, and the Viis military out in force.”

The hatchling continued to eat, watching him impassively as she shovelled mouthfuls of grey paste into her mouth. She reminded him of Tanni’s nieces and nephews when they’d been young, so shy of him at first. In fact, it was hard to even view her as a Viis, and harder still to remember that she didn’t exist. But he was beginning to suspect that Elrabin was putting him up to something, and he wracked his brain for options to act as he might if he had actually been there that day.

“What about the spaceport?” Cobar asked Elrabin. “There would have been some Rejects there when the rebels seized it, right? Maybe they can help?”

Elrabin shrugged. “You tell me.”

“I suppose it could be dangerous. I know the Viis military was spread thin by this point, but they can’t have ignored Vir’s main spaceport being seized.”

“Good thing we have a big, strong Toth, then,” Elrabin said.

Cobar glanced down at the hatchling, who still stared up at him with uncertainty. “I can scout it out once we get closer. Make sure the way is clear.” He knelt down, putting on a smile. “What do you say? Want to go try and find your parents?”

The hatchling frowned, regarding him cautiously.

“I’ll let you ride on my shoulders,” Cobar added.

The hatchling grinned, flashing a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth. As much as he might have expected to feel fear at such a sight, Cobar could only smile back.

It didn’t take long to reach the outskirts of the spaceport; according to old tales passed down since the Exodus, it had been encroaching on the abiru slums more and more with each passing year as its operations expanded. But all that had come to a halt that fateful day. The glass façade of the terminal building was pockmarked with holes from small arms fire, while the soaring communications towers had been turned into impromptu snipers’ nests judging by the barrels jutting out from them. A similarly makeshift barricade had been erected by the main doors, manned by a rough-looking group of abiru armed with whatever weapons they’d managed to scrape together. After scoping them out from behind cover, Cobar slowly but deliberately made his advance towards them, raising one hand in a gesture of peace while supporting the hatchling on his shoulders with his other hand.

“What the…” muttered one of the rebels, a Myal nursing a rifle longer than he was tall. “Move it, Toth! The Viis could be back any second!”

Cobar almost cursed under his breath, but managed to stop himself – he couldn’t pass on any bad language to his young charge, after all. He jogged forward all the same, carefully depositing the hatchling safely behind the barrier before he climbed over it himself.

“She’s been separated from her parents,” Cobar explained. “Are the Rejects still here?”

The Myal glanced between the hatchling and Cobar, eyes wide in disbelief. “Yeah, they’re talking with Elrabin and the others. Sounds like they’re going to hang back and cover our retreat.”

“Good,” muttered an Aaroun, who stood scanning the horizon with a pair of macrobinoculars. “A Viis is a Viis. I say let them stay, and fight it out with their own kind. The lot of them deserve to die.”

The hatchling stepped away from the Aaroun towards Cobar, reaching up to hold his hand. Cobar glanced down at her in surprise, before shooting the Aaroun a glare.

“The Rejects are our allies,” Cobar said firmly. “The Viis treat them little better than they did… than they do us.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the Aaroun replied. “Enemy of our enemy. But they’re still Viis. They’ve been humbled, sure, but that just makes them more dangerous.”

Frowning, Cobar took the hatchling’s hand and led her inside the terminal. Cavernous as the space was, it was still crammed with thousands of abiru seeking shelter from the fighting and freedom from the Viis. The fear was palpable and the panic clear from the cacophony of voices, but there were glimpses of hope to be had; an Aaroun mother calmed her cubs with stories of Ruu-113, a Zrheli priest led his flock in prayer for their safe passage, and Freedom Network rebels carted through whatever supplies they could seize towards the landing platforms. Cobar knew they’d land on Ruu-113 with little more than the clothes on their backs, sparking centuries of struggle to relearn and rebuild. But the abiru around him would succeed, and they would do so as free peoples.

It was among the mass of abiru that the Viis Rejects stood out like sore thumbs. The clothes they wore were not dissimilar, beaten and tattered, though most wore hoods to protect their ravaged features. Some bore rills far too large or small for Viis their age, while others had discoloured scales or unnaturally-proportioned limbs. But as they saw Cobar approach and he explained his situation to them, he saw them regard his young charge with the same concern any abiru would show a lost child. They all proved all too happy to help, and within minutes a distraught Reject woman was gathering the young hatchling up in her arms.

“Oh, Zileel!” she cried. “We thought we’d lost you! We tried to get back to you, but the soldiers…”

A Reject man with two rills patted her arm, before clapping Cobar on the shoulder. “Thank you, Toth. We might never have found her again.”

Cobar bowed his head. “It was the least I could do.”

“Few abiru would risk their lives for us,” the man replied, before leaning in to lower his voice. “We would do the same for you, though. We think the staff got a message off about us taking over the spaceport. The Viis military’s spread thin with the rioting, but they’ll be sending forces soon. Ampris has been a staunch ally of ours since she returned to Vir, and we plan on returning the favour by making sure the last of your ships get away.”

Cobar regarded him uncertainly. “Are you sure about this?”

The man nodded. “We’ve got volunteers preparing to stay behind while the rest get to safety. I’ll fight better knowing my wife and daughter are safe.”

“Then I will stand by you,” Cobar said, surprising himself almost as much as he surprised the Reject.

“You would give up your chance at freedom to help us?” he asked.

“I believe in Ampris’ mission. I’d fight for the freedom of the abiru, and for the Rejects too.”

If the Rejects held any doubt, they didn’t show it. As the hours wore on, the terminal began to empty with each roaring shuttle launch, each carrying hundreds of abiru to the mothballed trade ships hanging in Viisymel’s orbit. That had been a pleasant side effect of the late Viis Empire’s decline, with trade breaking down between revolts in the resource-producing colonies and sabotage of the ever-critical jump gates between systems. But none of that was importance to Cobar, as he joined in efforts to maintain calm and order in the terminal. Many shied away from him at first, wary of a Toth in their midst, but nobody dared say anything to his face.

As the last shuttle prepared to leave, the abiru rebels made their final retreat. Some handed their weapons to the Rejects, and a few even offered some small words of encouragement and farewell. Cobar turned down several offers to join them, remaining at the barricades with rifle at the ready. Even holding it brought back memories of his reservist training. He’d been an adequate recruit in most regards, but never saw himself serving as anything more than a grunt if push had ever come to shove. Yet that had all been before the Eye chose him. And as he glanced around at the Rejects taking up position on either side of him, seeing them look back to him with respect and expectation, he realized he might just have what it took to be a leader.

“So, are we going to fight off the Viis?” Cobar asked, glancing over his shoulder at Elrabin.

The Kelth laughed, leaning back against a pillar. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? No, the test is over. You passed. You proved yourself willing to go out of your way to help others, be they abiru or Reject. Sacrificing your spot on the shuttles and staying behind earns you a couple of points, too.”

Cobar glanced back to the Rejects, only to find them gone. The loss brought a pang of sadness to him – it was so easy to forget they weren’t real.

“I don’t see how I could do otherwise,” Cobar said, setting his rifle aside. “Did any of this actually happen?”

Elrabin tilted his head from side to side. “I took a few liberties. A few Rejects did volunteer to hold off the Viis, but I don’t know when or if they tried to reclaim the spaceport. I was on my way out, and… Goldie was in a bad way, as you probably know. Had a lot on my mind.”

Cobar nodded. “Did the hatchling exist?”

“No. She’s a little something I like to try out with Wielders who were born after the Emancipation. A test to see if bravery in facing the Viis translates to sympathy for the Rejects.”

“I never got the impression you were close to them.”

Elrabin shrugged. “We were more alike than I cared to admit in life. Once upon a time, I lived in the same ghetto as them and lived in the same fear of the Patrollers as them. But I never saw them as anything other than Viis.”

“Ampris did.”

“Yes, she always saw the best in people. Brought the Rejects to our side. Brought the Zrheli to our side, too. Doesn’t surprise me that she’s taken interest in a Toth wielder.”

Cobar nodded in agreement. “She saw something in me.”

“And it’s damn good she did. But it’s not just me and her you’ve got to convince. You’ve got one more test ahead of you. Think you’re up for it?”

“Ready and eager.”

Elrabin grinned. “Good luck then, kiddo. ‘Til we meet again.”

Cobar barely had time to smile before he was whisked away once more. And before he knew it, he was back on Ruu-113 as he’d never seen it before.

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Re: Star Wars: The Abiru Chronicles (Current Chapter: 8)

#10 Post by Jonesy »

Chapter 9 - Part 2

The market was bright, loud and bustling, as abiru of all species gathered for food and trade around dozens of brightly-decorated stalls. A round of song erupted from around a communal firepit, punctuated by the shouts of merchants advertising their wares. On every side were simple buildings – all rammed earth walls and wooden roofs – decorated with festive streamers, coloured lanterns and thriving gardens. And yet, there was hardly a piece of technology to be seen; the streetlights looked like they’d cannibalized from the ships of the Emancipation, and a patrol of law enforcement officers had faded firearms on their hips. But the abiru wore simple clothes and traded simple wares, just as they might have centuries or millennia before Viis enslavement.

These had been the very early days of Ruu-113’s colonisation. The abiru arrived on its surface with almost no technology, tools or resources, beyond the starships they’d seized and whatever loot they’d carried off from the Vir spaceport. They’d had to start over from scratch, building a new society from stone tools upwards. What knowledge and technology they did have had to be used sparingly, and more often than not preserved for future use – they may have arrived in starships and known how they worked, but it would be centuries before they had the industries to build any ships themselves. There had been some truly difficult times that technology could have eased, from diseases to natural disasters to simple difficulties adapting to the new biosphere. But the struggles had paid off in the end, and even the hardest of times paled in comparison to Viis enslavement.

For a few moments, Cobar simply stood there taking in the sights. A few people regarded him as they passed, and he was quick to smile at them. Most didn’t return it, but he was too floored by his surroundings to care. Once again, he was witnessing history. Though he had to wonder just who had brought him here. Seeing no sign of anyone out of the ordinary, Cobar turned around and immediately knew where he was.

Assembly Hall, for many years the largest building in First Landing, stood majestically behind him. Most of its more modern additions and renovations were missing, leaving only a simple stone façade fronted by its distinctive colonnade. It had still been an impressive architectural accomplishment for the early abiru, serving as their seat of government and main administrative centre ever since construction. And as Cobar approached the steps up to the Hall, he spied two figures at the top of the flight, staring down at him.

His first instinct was to label them Viis, based on their features and stature. But everything about them was wrong. They weren’t tall or slim enough to pass as Viis, even discounting the downy pelts that covered their bodies. A chill settled over him as he realized who he was approaching.

Nashmarl and Foloth, Ampris’ half-Viis sons. Two people unlike any other who had ever lived.

Nashmarl stood tall and regal, dressed in a ceremonial burgundy robe befitting his station as an early leader of the abiru. Between long sleeves and a shadowy hood, very little of his fur was visible, but Cobar could see it was light enough to see his pale, scaly skin beneath. Nothing like that of his brother; Foloth wore a simple but impeccable shirt and trousers, his greener scales needing no protection from the sun. He regarded Cobar with brown eyes that looked for all the universe like his mother’s, even as Nashmarl watched with green eyes that were utterly Viis.

“Looks like Elrabin’s won your little wager,” Foloth muttered to his brother. “I told you not to underestimate our Toth friend.”

“You almost sound like Mother,” Nashmarl muttered back, before giving Cobar a welcoming smile. “Forgive me, Acolyte. I had my trepidations about a Toth’s ability to prove themselves as Wielder. That assumption was a shortcoming on my behalf. I am pleased to have been proven wrong.”

Cobar nodded. “A lot’s changed for the Toth since you died.”

“Among a great many other things. To see how far we’ve come is all the more reason to be mindful of the past.”

“When are we, exactly? After Elrabin passed?”

Nashmarl nodded. “Long after. Towards the end of my reign.”

Cobar glanced at Foloth, and the half-Viis caught the look. “And long after I attempted to usurp my brother,” Foloth added. “Long after I tried to seize the Eye for myself.”

“I see,” Cobar replied. He wasn’t sure what else he could say on the matter. Foloth’s attempted coup had been a dark day in early abiru history, marking the first time their nascent civilization had faced an internal crisis that could have truly torn it apart or see it revert back to tyranny. Foloth had taken the Eye from Nashmarl at Elrabin’s deathbed, intending to declare himself supreme leader. But despite his claims to the contrary, the Eye did not find him worthy. And with that revelation, his movement fell apart, leaving him to reconcile with his brother and support his rule as a trusted advisor.

“That was when I decided that the Order of Clarity had to be formed,” Nashmarl said. “It needed protection from misuse, and it needed study of its nature. But more than anything, it needed to be a symbol of all abiru. Not just its leaders.”

“Well, it clearly worked,” Cobar said. “The Eye has never been misused.”

“Through its own wisdom as much as abiru effort,” Foloth said. “What are your plans for it, Cobar? What do you intend to do as Wielder?”

“Serve the abiru, just as I would have as a regular Keeper. But there’s something else it wants. It showed me a vision of Viisymel. Of another Eye being kept there.”

“Quite a revelation you’ve been gifted. I wish you nothing but the best in your quest.” Foloth took a step closer. “But surely there’s more there. A desire to unleash your powers upon the Viis? To use it against those who oppose the Toth? To harness the potential you’ve been given, and to use it to forge yourself power beyond anything you imagined?”

Cobar regarded Foloth in horror. “No. I could never do that. I’m not like…”

“Not like who?”

“Not like you. Like you were, at least. The Eye wouldn’t have you here otherwise.”

Foloth regarded him for a moment more, before bursting into laughter. “Quite a philosopher. Already wise in the ways of the Eye.” Foloth wrapped an arm around Cobar’s shoulder, leading him around the side of Assembly Hall. “I know you are not the type to repeat my mistakes. But wielding the Clarity is no small responsibility. The last thing I would want to see is for someone to follow in my footsteps out of some misguided paternalism.”

“You wanted what was best for the abiru.”

“I most certainly did not, Cobar. I claimed as much, and my followers believed it wholeheartedly, but it was a lie. In truth, I never quite saw myself as abiru. Mostly Viis, and better than those around me for it.”

“But you’re here, now, as a part of the Clarity,” Cobar pointed out. “The Viis have no connection to it, so you and your brother are obviously Aaroun enough to count.”

Foloth grinned. “Perhaps so. But my point is that I do not expect you to make that same mistake. I do not expect you to misuse your powers as a supremacist. My worry would be that you would do so as an outcast. Would it be so hard to believe that the first Toth Keeper might seek to use his powers to right past wrongs against his people?”

“We Toth have made our mistakes too. I want to prove myself, yes. But I want to move forward. Towards something, some future, all abiru can be a part of.”

Foloth gave a satisfied nod, looking back to his brother. “He’ll make a finer Wielder than I ever would have. Not that it’s a high bar, but still.”

Nashmarl grinned, before adjusting his hood against the sun, whether out of realism of the vision or simple, lifelong habit. “Don’t discount yourself entirely. You were still the best advisor I ever had.” Nashmarl turned his attention to Cobar. “I’m afraid the purpose of this vision is not to merely convince my brother of your worthiness. You’ve shown great compassion and bravery in your previous trials, but we have one more in store for you.”

“Of course. I’m ready whenever you are.”

“Patience, Cobar. We have a journey before us.”

They didn’t have to walk, fortunately. A covered cart stood ready in the nearby street, pulled by a pair of burly Aaroun brothers. As the pair pulled them through the streets at a brisk jog, Cobar watched the city go by, committing every detail he could spot to memory. The old, squat buildings, long gone or reduced to heritage sites in his day. The kaleidoscope of clothing, reviving old cultural styles and compensating for lifetimes of drab Viis-approved garments. The people, so different in many ways to their modern descendants but the same in many more. He’d have given anything to have Tanni there with him to document it all, but he’d make sure he could at least give her a second-hand account.

The cart soon took them beyond the walls of First Landing, out into rolling farmland and pristine forest beyond. Perhaps for the first time since his visions began, Cobar felt a stirring of homesickness. He’d spent many hard days toiling in the fields among his kin, and plenty of carefree days playing in the forest with his cousins and Tanni. As he stared at the sea of stelf bulbs, watching a group of farmers’ children run through the crops in a game of tag, he realized that such days were truly behind him. But future generations of abiru could well depend upon his actions on Viisymel, and he accepted that responsibility sombrely.

As the road began to incline, Cobar quickly realized that they were heading into the mountains where the Citadel lay. By the time the great fortress was visible through the trees, Cobar could hardly recognize it. The imposing structure had barely risen from its foundations, and what was there was covered in wooden scaffolding. But even its beginnings were a sight to behold.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Nashmarl said. “A shame I did not live to see the Citadel’s completion.”

“A good leader will plant trees he will never sit in the shade of,” Foloth replied. “It was an ambitious project though, albeit a necessary one. Not just for protection of the Eye, but for future generations who would study it. A foresightful move, no?”

Cobar smirked. “Quite. They did a good job building the place.”

“Excellent,” Nashmarl said, as their cart entered the workman’s camp. “I’m sure you wouldn’t mind helping them, then.”

The work camp was a very makeshift affair, with rows of simple canvas tents erected on wooden frames around great stockpiles of stone and lumber. Above it all sat the beginnings of the Citadel’s façade, still missing enough walls to see right into the great hall between the scaffolds and workers. Hundreds of abiru were hard at work, readying materials and hoisting them up to their counterparts atop the scaffolds, all while architects pored over plans and debated them among themselves. But unlike the days of the Viis, there was no coercion from their labours. The sound of laughter from the workers gathered by the camp on their breaks attested to that.

“Is this the final trial, then?” Cobar asked. “Helping to build the Citadel?”

Nashmarl nodded. “As a Keeper, you are a protector of the abiru, in times of peace just as much as strife. We’ve seen you face fear and adversary head on, but we wish to see you prove yourself in honest toil as well.”

“I was raised on a farm. Didn’t do much construction, but I’m no stranger to a hard day’s work.”

“Excellent. Though I’m afraid the Citadel was not built in a day.”

The head foreman took some convincing to let a Toth onto the work team. “Too quarrelsome to work with, even when they’re not too boneheaded to follow orders,” were his exact words. Remarkably bold, considering he was a Myal who barely made it to Cobar’s shins. But with some insistence, and assurances he could count without use of his fingers, Cobar was let onto the team. His role was simple – to heft stones from the stockpiles, and deliver them where they were needed. And just because he was in a vision didn’t mean that the loads any lighter.

Accustomed as he was to hard labour, Cobar finished the workday with searing muscles and a general fatigue hanging over him. But compensation came in the form of free soup dished out from massive pots, with fresh bread carted in from First Landing. Bottles of drink were passed around with grateful acceptance and playful teasing about saving some for everyone else. When it was Cobar’s turn, he was handed a half-emptied bottle from a grey-furred Aaroun youth, barely into adulthood.

“Thank you,” Cobar said, accepting the drink with a smile.

The Aaroun smiled back, though he was clearly regarding him with suspicion. “Didn’t know they had Toth working here.”

“Just started today.”

“My dad says the Toth liked the Viis. Viis paid them to beat up anyone who resisted the Empire.”

“You’re going to tell me no Aaroun ever worked for the Viis?”

“Not by choice!”

“Who had any choice under the Viis? They used entire species to their own ends. Myal forced into labs. Aaroun forced into fields. We Toth just… happened to be strong fighters.” Cobar paused, trying to gauge the boy’s age. “You don’t remember it, do you?”

The boy shook his head. “Too long ago for me. My parents told me all about it, though. My dad still has scars from when they used to whip him.”

That explained it. The first generation of abiru born after Viis oppression, knowing of it only through the accounts of their parents and grandparents. In time, those firsthand accounts would fade, living on only in oral and written recounts passed down to future generations. In some regard, Cobar was gladdened that the horrors the Viis were inflicted wouldn’t be forgotten. But even so soon afterwards, the truth of life under the Viis was already being distorted.

Cobar couldn’t hold it against his acquaintance. Nivu was his name, and he proved eager to share some stories that his family had lived through in the Viis Empire’s latter days. His parents had met while drifting between cities, desperately searching for work and food as Viisymel’s economy stagnated amidst civil conflict in the colonies, and had leapt at the chance to join the Great Emancipation. A few of the other workers chimed in with tales of hardship that had been passed down from their families. Some had even been there to live through it.

Nashmarl and Foloth were nowhere to be seen the following day. That was part of the test, Cobar reasoned. Proving dedicated enough to work long and hard for the greater good, not just out of expectation. That did little to ease the pain in his muscles, or ease the weight of the stones he carried. He was tempted to use the Clarity to ease his burdens, but found that he struggled to wield it. Figuring it was also part of the test, he shouldered his burden without complaint. Nivu was performing similar work, albeit without the same adeptness for manual labour that life on a farm had granted Cobar. He spent the day gently correcting the young Aaroun’s lifting and carrying techniques, and the evening swapping stories, jokes and all manner of thoughts with him and whoever else in earshot.

Days past, filled with more of the same. Then weeks. Then months. The thought crossed Cobar’s mind that he was doing something wrong, and should have sought out Nashmarl and Foloth. But his work never quite seemed finished enough to warrant stepping away. The Citadel was taking shape more and more with each passing day, only adding to the excitement among the workers. Cobar struggled to think of them as facsimiles, existing only for the sake of his vision. Would a vision show the same sharp wit as Jiyeel the Myal architect? Or the excitement that Greha the Kelth showed when he learned he was to become a father? Or the gratitude that Nivu expressed when Cobar helped him work up the courage to talk to the pretty girl working in catering? Whether facsimiles copies of those who came before or their souls brought back to life, Cobar felt right at home among them, having long proven himself enough to escape the stigma of being a Toth. Just as he’d always wanted.

But that didn’t mean he’d take his mind off his work.

He’d noticed the pallet of bricks teetering atop the quivering scaffolds seconds before the whole thing collapsed. His first instinct was to stand back and raise the alarm, but a voice reached his ears before he could even open his mouth – Nivu, asking him what was wrong. Cobar looked down, seeing the youth standing right at the base of the stricken scaffolding.

Cobar flung up his hands to move Nivu with the Clarity, but he felt nothing. Not even by his usual standards of inadequacy. As a loud snap filled his ears, Cobar darted forward, tackling Nivu out of the way. He was a second too late.

The agony that came down on Cobar’s back was unimaginable. He let out a howl of pain as he crumpled in the dirt, panting as it faded away into nothingness. He lay helpless as panicked yells filled the air and workers gathered around. But none of them were looking at him.

Cobar stumbled to his feet, and found himself standing over his own lifeless body.

The pallet had landed right on his back, reducing it to a bloody mess. Greha knelt beside him desperately checking for a pulse, but the horror in his eyes made it clear there was nothing to be found. Nivu sat huddled in a ball, sobbing as Jiyeel stroked his shoulder comfortingly. Cobar wanted to speak up, to say that he was still alive, but he couldn’t find the words. The pain was still fresh in his mind, and he doubted he’d ever forget the memory of feeling his back being broken in two. Nor could he forget what it was like to stare into his own black, lifeless eyes.

Cobar felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to see Nashmarl beside him. Foloth stood a few paces behind, eyes on the corpse. Anger surged inside him as he readied himself to challenge the pair for answers, but Foloth spoke up first.

“I never liked this test,” Foloth said, turning his gaze to his brother.

Nashmarl shrugged. “It serves its purpose.”

“What purpose?” Cobar demanded. “Knowing what it’s like to die?”

Nashmarl shook his head. “Knowing what it’s like to live. Knowing what it's like to work among the abiru as an equal, even with the power at your fingertips.” Nashmarl looked down at the body. “And knowing what it’s like to feel like such a part of the abiru that you would risk your life for them.”

“You want me to be a martyr? Is that it?”

Nashmarl regarded him coldly. “The test does not always end in death. Merely the risk of it. Besides, there are many sacrifices expected of Keepers. It’s no secret that dying in the line of duty is a very real possibility.”

“The possibility troubles you, doesn’t it?” Foloth noted.

“Why wouldn’t it?” Cobar asked. “I just… I felt all of that. I know what it’s like to be killed!”

“I’m sorry it ended that way. But I meant the idea of dying in the line of duty.”

Cobar exhaled. “Again, why wouldn’t it trouble me? Am I being chosen to send to my death, with no say in the matter? I know what’s happened to some of the past Wielders. Am I going to be defeated like Nithlived or die like your mother, just because the Eye wills it?”

“I made my sacrifice willingly.”

Cobar turned to find that the Citadel grounds were deserted, save for a certain golden-furred Aaroun approaching him. Elrabin joined her, giving Cobar an affable nod. Between that and Ampris’ sympathetic smile, Cobar felt his nerves calm.

“This is the hardest trial for all Wielders,” Ampris said. “Don’t feel like you’ve failed, just because you fell. Or because it’s upset you.”

Cobar took a deep breath, and released it. “You really gave your life willingly?”

“Yes. I infected myself with a mutated strain of the Dancing Death, and went to personally confront Israi Kaa. I pretended to infect her, and sparked enough panic to let the Great Emancipation succeed.”

“Stupid move,” Elrabin muttered. “Didn’t need to go that far.”

Ampris sighed, glancing to her companion with a smirk. “Elrabin, we’ve been having this argument for centuries.”

Elrabin shrugged. “Gives me something to do.”

Ampris rolled her eyes, looking back to Cobar. “I needed to appear severely infected for the ploy to work. Perhaps a smaller dose would have let me live, but that would have run the risk of the plan failing.”

“And without it, the Great Emancipation might have failed?” Cobar asked.

Ampris nodded. “What’s one life next to the freedom of millions?”

“That’s pretty cold calculus.”

“And not a decision I would make for another. Nor is it a decision the Eye made for me.” Ampris took a step forward, placing a hand on his shoulder. “There is no need to fear the Eye, Cobar. Its power saved my life when I was in Viis custody, and its wisdom gave me hope even in my darkest days.”

“Do you think you’d have done anything differently if you didn’t have the Eye?”

“I’ve wondered about that long and hard. I want to say no. But so often, my faith in the Eye was what kept me fighting, even when I was yet to fully understand its power. By the time of my death, I had yet to understand it. Perhaps we never will.”

Cobar nodded. It was food for thought, but he was too overwhelmed to digest it. “So, did I pass the trials?”

Ampris’ smiled broadened. “Most certainly, Cobar. You have shown great bravery, dedication and selflessness. I cannot speak for the Eye, but I think we Wielders would be proud of you.”

“You’ll be fine,” Elrabin said, grinning up at Cobar. “Go show Ruu what a Toth can do.”

A choir of voices spoke up in agreement from behind him. Cobar turned to see that Nashmarl and Foloth had been joined by hundreds of others – Aarouns, Kelth, Myal and more, dressed in everything from Order robes to traditional garments from ages past. They must have been Wielders (or the local equivalent) from the various abiru species’ ancient history, before the arrival of the Viis. He could put few faces to names; he recognized Cawxa from the history books, and he spotted a trio of similar-looking Aaroun women he presumed to be Nithlived, her daughter and granddaughter. The sight of so many legends and heroes took Cobar’s breath away, and he only then realized just how great the legacy of the Wielders truly was.

A legacy that extended as far as the Toth.

Cobar spotted at least a dozen of them, but was too shocked to count them properly. They were clearly priests, clad in plain robes devoid of any ornamentation besides simple bracelets and circlets featuring gemstones in mimicry of the Eye of Clarity. The closest to him was a young woman, barely his own age. She had a similar enough pelt, too, but with a slightly lighter shade of grey. Her hair darkened into black, cut short and straight. Her smile was broad and welcoming, and she bowed to Cobar in greeting.

“We knew you had it in ya, Cobar.”

“Thank you. But who are you? Another Wielder?”

The woman smiled. “Julan. We of the Three-Eyed have watched you with pride, kin. Long have we waited for a fellow Three-Eye to rise on Ruu-113.”


The woman raised her finger, pointing to each of Cobar’s eyes, and then to the Eye of Clarity around his neck. “Three eyes, kin. Two for the physical world, one for the spiritual. On Ceunth Siltr, you’d be recognized as a wiseman. At least to a kinleader wise enough to recognize it, rare as they are. You’d talk more sense into a brick wall than most of them!”

Ceunth Siltr. Clan Home. Every Toth had heard stories about it, passed down through what little oral history the Toth had left. Great battles, mighty warriors and grand adventures, each defying belief more than the last. The creep of mythology made it difficult to separate fact from fiction, leaving so much of Ceunth Siltr’s history and geography in question. But Cobar found himself standing before a fellow Toth who had walked its surface and society. He was practically beside himself as the possibilities for learning sank in.

“You… I… I have so many questions!”

“And plenty of time for answers!” Julan said, grinning widely and clapping him on the shoulder. “But you’ve been through much this day, kin. Rest. Reflect. When you’ve cleared your mind, then we can talk. I got a lot to tell you myself.”

“And I look forward to hearing it, kin.”

Cobar turned to Ampris, finding her gesturing away from the crowd. He followed her as they walked towards an overlook, where First Landing was barely visible above the treeline below. As much as Cobar wanted to go back, and to talk to the other Wielders about their lives and legacies, he found Ampris’ presence to be the right kind of comfort he needed after his fretful experience.

“So, what now?” Cobar asked. “That’s the end?”

Ampris nodded. “Of your trials, yes. Of your time as Wielder… that’s just beginning. But the others have a good impression of you. A little inexperienced, perhaps. Unsure of yourself. Nothing we can’t see you overcoming.”

“Aside from being a Toth?” Cobar asked. “I mean… I know I’m not the first, now. Not technically. But for the people of Ruu-113 I will be.”

“And you will prove yourself to them, in time. I am sure of it.” Ampris smiled, looking down at the city. “I wish you could have met Julan before, but we did not want to overwhelm you. She’s… spirited. Adamant on seeing you succeed. Can’t blame her, after what she went through.”

Cobar tilted his head, but Ampris glanced at him and shook her head in response.

“She asked that she tell her story in her own words,” Ampris explained.

“I see. All the same… thank you again, Ampris. I am proud to carry on your legacy.”

“And I am proud to watch you do so, Cobar. Be well.”

As the pair shared a smile, Cobar felt the vision beginning to dissolve around him. He spared one last look at the rest of the Wielders, who offered various waves, salutes and farewells. The last thing he saw was Julan, tapping the ornate eye on her headband with a broad smile. His spirit lifted at the support, and perhaps for the first time he truly felt that he had a shot at succeeding as Wielder.

And as Cobar felt himself slip away from the vision, he realized that something wasn’t right.

He didn’t find himself back in reality. Instead of the Citadel’s great hall, he found himself in a darkened chamber. Another vision, he quickly realized. One too disconnected from the other to be a part of it. He knew his surrounds all too well, despite the darkness clouding his vision. The metal walls. The hard floor. The rows of cryopods.

“The labs,” he muttered to himself. The same as the vision he had shared with Rey. Clearly, the Eye had more to show him.

As his vision adjusted, he could make out the cryopods lining the storage bay like coffins in a tomb. He brushed the frost from the nearest one, gazing down at the Aaroun lying within as still as a corpse. Shuddering, he looked around in exasperation, searching for a reason why he’d be seeing the accursed place once more.

And as he turned, he spotted a figure standing paces down the walkway from him.

A Kelth. The same one he’d seen in the earlier vision, he realized. He took a couple of steps closer, and in the flickering light realized just how young she was. Mid-teens, he estimated. Her fur was grey, with a faded auburn mane surrounding her head and neck. She was shaking in a light brown jumpsuit marked with Viis text and numerals, clearly designating her as a prisoner of some kind. But the fear in her yellow eyes made Cobar realize she wasn’t shaking from the cold.

“Y-you again,” she whispered.

Cobar hesitated for a moment. Was she a part of the vision? Or was her awareness a sign that she was a very real person sharing it with him? Clearing his mind, he could faintly sense something to her presence. And of what little he could sense, the sheer sense of terror in her was enough to chill him to the bone.

Cobar bowed deep and formally, desperate to prove himself not to be a threat. “I am Acolyte Cobar, of the Order of Clarity. I remember you too, from the last vision.”

The Kelth tilted her head. “Vision? Does… does that mean I’m alive?”

“Yes. I saw you sealed in one of these cryogenic pods. Do you know why you were in it?”

“Oh, no. No, I can’t be alive…”

Cobar reached out to touch her shoulder, but she pulled away and slumped against the nearest cryopod. She slid down to sit, hugging her knees as she broke down sobbing. Not wanting to make her uncomfortable, Cobar held off against touching her again, instead sitting down on the floor against the opposite cryopod.

“It’s okay,” he whispered. “We know where you are. We’re going to come help you. I promise.”

The girl took a few deep breaths, releasing them shakily. After a couple of minutes, she looked back up at Cobar with her eyes wide, tears streaming down either side of her muzzle.

“Sorry,” she whispered. “I… I just…”

“It’s okay. What’s your name?”


“Pleased to meet you, Shevin. Now, we may not have much time. We believe you are being held in the Viljnia Basin Physics Laboratory. Does that mean anything to you?”

Shevin looked at him incredulously, but gave a small nod. “The lab. Yes. I… I remember they were… testing us. Something about our brains. Our minds. They thought we could use some… old relic.”

“An Eye of Clarity?”

“Yes. How did… wait. You said ‘Order of Clarity’ before.”

“Our order was formed to protect and wield the Eye of Clarity. An Eye of Clarity, that is. Like the one I saw in my vision here.”

“He was right, then. I can’t believe it. I thought he was crazy, but he was right…”

“Who was right?” Cobar asked.

Cobar sensed the presence before Shevin could respond. In an instant, he was on his feet, positioning himself between Shevin and the figure in the shadows. Cobar couldn’t make out his face, but he knew he was a Viis. That much he now knew for sure.

“Who are you?” Cobar called. “Answer me! Now!”

No reply came, the air filled only with Shevin whimpering behind him. He felt her clutch the back of his robe, hiding behind him. Her fear only galvanized him.

“Shevin,” Cobar whispered. “I swear by the blood of my kin that I will keep you safe.”

“Fascinating,” the Viis replied, his voice cold and reptilian. “Quite eloquent by Toth standards. A shame.”

The Viis lunged forward, just as Cobar raised his fists to protect himself. He grabbed the Viis’ wrists, coming face to face with his adversary. His green, scaly face was drawn back into a snarl, with raw hatred in his equally green eyes. Cobar could feel the man’s strength faltering, clearly driven more by fury than raw strength. He readied himself to fight back, but his moment just never came.

He was back on Ruu-113. No Shevin. No Viis. No vision, as best he could tell. He was still kneeling before the eyes of thousands of silent abiru, raising a hand to his head as he struggled to reacclimatise. A cool tentacle lay upon his shoulder, and he looked up to see High Keeper Odrell smiling down at him.

“I sense your success,” the Phivean said. “Congratulations, Wielder.”

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