Star Wars: The Knights of Ren
The Sirens of Ahch-To, part 1
Written by IgnusDei
Spellcheck by WarpObscura
"One cannot walk towards the future without a foothold in the past."
Once upon a time, in a forest of shadow and magic...
All was darkness, and in that terrible void a voice echoed in the dark, speaking a girl's name.
Then, conjured by thought and imagination, a dark forest appeared all around the girl, made up of gnarled, twisted trees. Their bark was both burnt and slick with sap, their branches were bare save perhaps for the silken webs woven around them by spiders. The sounds of beasts and insects could be heard, distant and faint, between the branches and trunks... so thick they were! They might as well have been walls...
Then came a road, trees arching over it to shield all travellers from the hated sun. Crickets sang from the shadows, soon joined by wailing unseen Katarn Wolves.
This was a dream, a dream of a Dark Forest, a place far, far away, and yet... so close to Rey's heart, though the memory of it escaped her conscious thoughts.
"Open your eyes..."
The voice was warm, filled with motherly affection, even as it resounded throughout the frightening depths of the dark wood... as if there was nothing to be scared of, not for her.
And it called to Rey.
The scavenger girl's hair was wild and disheveled, while her face was covered in dirt. Her dress, a simple weave, was no cleaner, and torn besides.
The unseen wolves were aroused by her scent, the smell of prey — fresh meat! — and like any good prey her eyes darted about to spot those that would devour her, all the better to fight or flee.
Unwilling to wait for a bloody doom down the gullet of a mere dog, Rey stood up, and fled down the path. As she ran past the trees, she spots more hungry eyes and curious teeth in the darkness, hears the giggles of goblins and sees the grins of ghouls, and countless other things that live in the dark, eager to devour a poor maiden like her.
Rey ran and ran, but the growls of the Katarn Wolves grew louder, dogging her strides. She looked back, and saw the shadowed forms of horned hounds...
"Don't be scared..."
Rey stumbled and nearly fell, but her footing held. Her breath became ragged, her expression became more desperate. The growls were getting closer, the branches of the forest seemed to close in on her... until a light at the end of the path shines upon her face... blinding her.
And then, she found herself in a clearing, surrounded by the same dead trees... only there, the light of the sun was welcome. Past shafts of light and pollen, she could make out a great tree, darkened but nevertheless alive with leaves that glowed like embers with bright blues and greens and purples, even in the shade. At the center of the clearing, amidst wondrous flowers and oddly adorable spider familiars, stood a blindfolded woman in a long dark dress, its fabric embroidered with leaf patterns. Her hair was midnight, her skin was alabaster, and her voice? A dream.
She spun and spun playfully in place, her hands reaching out to find something she cannot see past her blindfold. Her movements, just like the pollen around her, felt slow. Such was the power of magicks, such was the wonder of witches.
"Rey? Reeeyyy, wheeeere aaaare yooouuu?"
The Witch's lips do not move, but her voice echoed everywhere.
Rey approaches her, and it feels as though the woman was growing very tall, or that Rey was growing very small. She reaches out, and find in her tiny hands a bouquet of freshly picked flowers. Where did they come from? The forest had been devoid of life...
Her tiny hands were dirty, riddled with small cuts. The witch reaches out and finds them with her graceful, slender fingers. Removing her blindfold, Rey can see the Witch smile beneath her veil, and it makes Rey happy. Her irises, though an eldritch purple flecked with gold, were filled with warmth and love, then worry as she saw the wounds on the child's tiny hands, but Rey did not mind. The flowers made the witch happy, and that made her happy too, so much so that pain simply could not exist.
She didn't want it to, and so it was not. Such was her power.
But it was not the Witch's will that Rey would be wounded, and so she whispered something which, even at a distance, felt like it was channeled straight into the girl's ears. The words were a jumble, chaos shaped into sound... but they had power: the wounds glowed, then scabbed over, and when the incantation was done the Witch blew air onto the wounds, causing the scabs to disintegrate and scatter to the winds, leaving only unmarked, unbloodied skin on Little Rey's hands.
The inside of the Mansion — the witch's home — was pretty much what one would expect the inside of a tree to be like, with everything made up of the dried flesh underneath the bark. All was grown to suit a person's needs, from beds to shelves, from sinks to chairs, and what could not be grown, had been carved, or cut, like the stairwell Rey climbed up to follow the Witch.
Up those stairs, close to the heart of the tree, was the Witch's laboratory, complete with cauldrons and brooms and familiars, and all kinds of witch-like things that Little Rey could not wrap her head around, for their names escaped her still. The walls and the shelves were decorated with the Witch's trophies, gear and sundries: A Rancor doll there, a coiled Lightwhip over here, a set of black vibroknives right over there, bundles of clothes up there, specimen jars filled with eyes all around, keeping bird hearts, mushrooms and eggs, and all kinds of icky things Little Rey knew not the names of.
The Witch seemed to float around little Rey, beckoning her to follow her just a little more, bouquet in hand, towards the fireplace. She kneels besides the pile of ashes, so that Rey can have a good look at the flower she picks from all the rest - a poppy. The Witch shifted the POPPY between her fingers, muttering something, before crushing its petals and spreading them over the open fire. Smoke emerged from the flames, taking various shapes, before settling into butterflies that flew all around Rey, making her giggle. The Witch traced a symbol into the ashes with a fire poker, and beckoned Rey once again to come closer.
"This sign will protect you..."
Rey tried to focus on the sign, but the trails of smoke the butterflies were leaving around her made her dizzy, and her sight blurred...
The lights go out.
The Witch was nowhere to be found. Little Rey looked at her hands, saw the dirt and scratches, and realized she is grown up and disheveled again. The Katarn Wolves' growls barely registered over the sound of thunder that pierced the darkness.
"Run... Rey, run..."
The flashes of thunder highlighted the shadowy silhouette of a hooded man in a cloak, frightening Rey so much she fell back on the ground. The cloaked man approached, seemingly growing larger with every step, and every step resounding louder on the wooden floor.
"Please... don't..." she begged, her voice trembling.
The figure loomed, casting an imposing shadow over her. Something ignited in his hands, creating a burning pillar of green fire that pierced the roof and set the entire mansion on fire.
"No... NO!" she screamed, as the figure held the lightsaber up, and then brought it down on Rey's head killing her.
And then, she woke up.
On the morning of the seventh day before the battle of D'Qar, Rey opened her eyes with a gasp, then a sigh, as she half-realized that she had been dreaming.
She rose from her cot, looking around her tent to reassure herself that yes, she was still very much alive. The tent's entrance was ajar, its sheets fluttering in the wind, giving her a glimpse of the outside: a lightly clouded morning sky over rocky horizons of muted grass and dirt. The gentle sound of waves crashing over rocks came through.
She sighed. Yes, she was still on Ahch-To.
"Rey?" someone outside growled. Normally, Shyriiwook, the tongue of the Wookiees, sounded like gargling and growling and snarls, but for a talented omniglot like Rey, it might as well have been Galactic Basic. "Are you alright?" growled the alien, shouting from the outside.
"I'm okay!" she shouted back. No need for her to growl, as the Wookiee understood Basic just fine. "Just... just give me a moment, I'll be right out!"
Rey stepped out, taking a deep breath of the air of the water world. She looked back at her tent, a piece of tarp supported by the side of an old, heavily modified YT-1300 Light Transport... but this was no ordinary YT. This one was known across the demimonde of the galaxy as the Millennium Falcon, that most legendary of starships that had been passed on from crook to criminal, before ultimately being lost to a game of Sabacc to Han Solo, Hero of the Rebellion.
What a piece of junk, thought Rey, and indeed it was: much of its side plating had been removed to accommodate all kinds of aftermarket modifications – micro ramscoops, ECM emitters, disposable high-capacity heat sinks... the kinds of things a smuggler would need to ply his trade. Worse still, in order to effect some repairs on the ship, much of the filthy, carbon-scored hull plating at the top had been taken off, exposing some malfunctioning machinery to the outside, all the better for the Wookiee to repair it.
Chewbacca took out a part, examined it, shrugged, and put it back.
"Nope," he said to himself, shaking his head. "Not the problem."
On the ground, below Chewbacca, a white and blue astromech beeped and whistled in frustration. "You checked that one already," said R2-D2, his Binary speech easily understood by Rey.
"You just keep working on that comms interference," said Chewbacca, annoyed. "If I can't fix the hyperdrive, our best bet will be to put out a distress call.
"At this rate it'll be our ONLY bet..." replied the droid. Rey still couldn't believe her ears: in the stories, the astromech droid was described as 'adorable'... but that was mostly because of his small size and high-pitched beeps. In reality, Artoo, a veteran of two galactic wars, dealt with the decades of built-up, traumatic junk data with sarcastic humor. He was, Rey decided, nowhere near as cute as BB8.
"Oh, hey kid!" he beeped cheerfully upon seeing her approach. Still, he's plenty nice to me, she thought.
Rey stopped besides him. "Heya!"she responded. "You still haven't fixed the hyperdrive?"
Artoo swiveled his top dome, as if shaking his head.
"Could I help?" she asked. They had been on this planet for... well, she couldn't remember, but she hadn't done much since they arrived. She wanted to feel useful, and looked up to Chewbacca with pleading, hopeful eyes.
"Oh, no, you're not touching anything!" Chewbacca growled, to Rey's shock. "Not after pulling out that compressor regulator!"
"Hey," Rey began to protest. "I didn't know that would deregulate the Hypermatter containment unit!"
"That's basic engineering!" Chewbacca growled back. "That's literally the FIRST thing they TEACH in ANY ship's mechanic course! Jawas know not to pull a regulator out, for crying out loud! You're lucky I caught the problem before we jumped to Starkiller, or we would have been splattered across the very fabric of the universe!"
Rey winced. As it turned out, Unkar Plutt, who had "purchased" the Falcon from the Irving boys, had the compressor installed for a very good reason. Rey had thought it was unnecessary, and had felt vindicated when the compressor started causing some issues in transit, requiring its removal... but the issues were due to a bad installation, not the compressor or its regulator.
Chewbacca had given her an earful about it ever since.
"I'm sorry..." she wilted under his barrage of growls. "But I just feel so damned useless, right now. There's absolutely nothing to do here."
The Wookiee's shoulders sagged. He had been a little too harsh with her.
"I'm sorry, it's just that..." I hate it when people mess with the Falcon, he left unsaid. He paused, then: "I might have to field strip the hyperdrive later, and I could use an extra pair of hands for it, so I'll call on you."
Rey smiled at him.
"In the meantime," he continued, "check on the old man."
"...What's that going to accomplish?" whined Rey, now depressed.
"Just make sure he doesn't choke on fish bones," Chewbacca suggested. "Or something. If you're not in a hurry, I spotted a waterfall nearby you can use."
"A waterfall?" Rey had never heard the two words fused together, not on Jakku. "What for?"
"To take a shower, what else?"
"Why would I do that?" she asked, confused. On Jakku, a world drier than Tatooine, water was for drinking and not much else.
"Because you stink, girl!"
If R2-D2 could have snorted, he would have. "Coming from a Wookiee, that's saying something!"
"Shut it, droid! But seriously, you smell like sweat and happabore snot!"
Rey sniffed herself. "Alright, maybe I do! But I need to know... what's a shower?
Chewbacca just stared at her, then at Artoo, then back to Rey... in utter disbelief.
Rey, not quite familiar with the process of showering, stood nervously in front of the waterfall. Clad only in a long shirt of thin material that ended at that spot between the hips and the thighs, she could feel the mist turn her skin damp. The water was crashing violently against the stones, and she feared being crushed.
Then Artoo surged forward, smacking is entire body against the back of her legs. "Go on, you'll be fine," he said, but still she stood her ground.
Artoo let out a low whistle, his idea of a sigh. "Alright then." One of his tools popped out of his belly. "SHOCK PROD!"
"Augh!" Rey surged forward, shielding her derriere from further lightning strikes with her bare hands. She found herself under the flow of water...
"OH MY STARS IT'S COLD AND IT FEELS WONDERFUL!" she screamed, discovering the joys of washing herself.
"It gets better!" said R2, as he readied the soap projection system.
Chewbacca heard Rey yelp as he worked on the Falcon. With the foot of the waterfall being quite some distance away below a cliff, he had to shout at her to be heard.
"I'll bet you never saw that much water on Jakku, huh?" he said, looking over the horizon. Nothing but water as far as his eyes could see.
"No, never! Do people on other planets really do this every day?!"
He chuckled. Wookiees weren't as fond of showers as humans. "So I'm told!"
"Well, of course they would..." she said, more to herself than Chewbacca. "Why wouldn't they?"
Having finished spewing pink perfumed gel at her, Artoo left her alone to wash the resulting foam away, leaving a towel to dry herself later when she was done. "Scrub behind the ears!" he told her. "The stink really gets in there!"
Rey does so, before allowing herself to relax. Time seems to slow down a bit, the spray of water hanging in the air, the lightscattering into rainbow. The experience, seemingly ethereal, reminded her of something, something she had been tricked, long ago, into forgetting, with a simple gesture.
Her lids fell. Her eyes fluttered under her eyelids. Her mind takes her elsewhere.
The Witch held Little Rey high up with her hands. They spin together joyfully, rain falling on their faces as they look up at the sky, the gnarling branches of the great tree that was their home having parted to let the life giving rain in, at their command. Droplets whirled around them, carried by the vortex of an unseen force.
The droplets coalesced into random shapes of water, swirling around Rey as she fell deeper in a trance...
"Power..." something wicked whispered, unseen and unheard by Rey.
The girl's eyes opened suddenly, as she felt like she was being watched by something. Out of her trance, the floating water became prey to gravity again, falling to the rocky floor with a splash. Rey whirled around, and she shrieked in fright, for behind her she found no less than fifty small, beakless fat birds, with a plumage of black and white, with orange stripes. They just stood there like a silent choir, the big empty soulless pools of darkness that served as their eyes just staring at Rey's body...
It made her skin crawl.
She tried in vain to cover herself up.
These were the Porgs, part of the local fauna... and Rey absolutely loathed them. It was the eyes, she knew. With the Porgs so close together, they formed a cluster of black holes that could trigger a phobia in the Sith Lords themselves.
Rey shrieked at them, angrily. "Go away, you foul feathered freaks!"
"Wark," the Porgs warbled in unison, as if to say: No.
It's violence, then! she thought, before she threw a rock at them, hitting one of them right in the face. It fell back, dead.
The rest did not flinch.
Thus angered, Rey easily tapped into the Force, and with a wave of her hand sent a formless bolt of kinetic energy at the school of Porgs. After the resulting small explosion of feathers, the Porgs finally scattered away.
"I HOPE CHEWIE EATS YOU ALL!" she screamed as they flew away, knowing that the damned things would return once more.
"Hey!" Chewbacca called out from atop the Falcon. Apparently, Rey made quite a commotion. "What's going on over there?!"
"It was those creepy, fat birds again!" Rey cried out in response, distraught.
"Ooh!" Chewbacca was probably the only person in the Galaxy that liked these critters. It helped that Porgs were delicious. "Time for second breakfast! Would you like some?"
Chewbacca wasn't listening. "Just let me get my bowcaster!"
Rey stepped away from the waterfall, and grabbed the towel to begin drying herself. "I'll stick to my rations, thanks!"
"Your loss! Oop! There's one!" A bowcaster shot rang out across the island. "Ha! Gotcha, you delicious little bastard!"
As Rey dried herself, she looked around for anything else that would spy on her. She paused her scrubbing, straining her senses... and could have sworn she heard someone whispering... or snickering at her.
She turned to try and find the source, looking past the waterfall... and sees the mouth of a dark cave. She wondered briefly, how she had not noticed it before, and the thought made her wary... and curious. Sidestepping the waterfall, she walked up to the cave's entrance to peer in the dark...
And found nothing. There was nothing looking back at her. There was nothing smiling at the sight of her.
Nothing at all.
Ahch-To, as far as Rey was concerned, was a little strange... an ocean planet, it had very little landmass, with the relatively tiny island she was standing on counting for a tenth of it. At first, Chewbacca had called it a small archipelago, but days after they had arrived, it was obvious the other little islands were drifting away.
"Chunks of porous rocks," he had said scratching his head. "I guess."
"That's not normal?" Rey had asked.
"Nope," he had replied. "Normally..." he had given a few seconds of thought as to how to explain a bit of basic geology. After all, Jakku, Rey's homeworld, didn't have much of an educational system... or oceans, for that matter. "Normally, islands are the parts of underwater mountains that peek out of the surface." That wasn't the textbook explanation of islands, but it was technically true.
"Underwater mountains," Rey had responded with awe.
This, she decided, was why this small island had so many peaks and hills: There was underwater mountain beneath their feet.
As she climbed the hillside, she poked curiously at her new clothes - a set of white short robes and trousers with grey bands of embroidered cloth wrapped around them. Her hair was down, and still drying. Am I presentable? she wondered, for the first time ever. Normally, she didn't care about such things, but she wanted to make a good impression.
She checked her satchel: everything was in there, even Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber. Rey stopped her ascent to admire it, and smiled: the stories had made it out to be a weapon of legend, forged from the finest materials from fantastical, hard to reach places.
Rey knew better.
She recognized the casing: it belonged to a converted Graflex high-power flashlight, as humble a tool as there ever was.
I wonder if Anakin Skywalker was a scavenger? She wondered. Like me? He had to be! she concluded, as she examined the bits and bobs that had been grafted on the casing, all from different machines. Bits of a cleaning drone, here, a switch from a lamppost there... It was a piece of junk, really, like the Falcon. But unlike the Falcon it had received far more tender love and care.
It was inspiring, really. Someday I'll build my own, she thought, and then she realized that, unless she found another lightsaber, she'd have to take this one apart to figure out its construction, sooner or later. The thought depressed her a bit. One wrong move and she could turn the lightsaber into worthless junk.
She sighed. That's not going to happen any time soon. Putting the weapon back into the satchel, she continued on her way. Might as well get this over with.
Rey passed by the stone husks of ancient buildings, built by a civilization long forgotten. Alien to it all stood a hut, made up of glassy stone that had to be cut by some kind of plasma cutter, and assembled by, according to Rey, what had to have been a Graviton crane.
It was a simple, humble abode, good enough for a monk to comfortably live out his days.
Further past the hut, at the top of the hill, there was a man, clad in pale robes with a dark brown cloak draped over his shoulders. He was old, almost past his sixties, and his hair was almost done greying. His right hand, lost a long time ago, had been replaced by a cybernetic prosthesis that hasn't been maintained in a while. It was still functional, but it was long past its prime, just like the man it was attached to.
His back turned to Rey, he was seated cross-legged on a rock, dangerously close to a cliff. With a long fishing rod in hand, it seemed like he was entirely focused on getting a catch... but in reality, the rhythm of the waves crashing on the shore below had gently rocked him to sleep.
Not wanting to frighten the old man, Rey approached him, silent as a cat. In spite of this, something makes him look back.
"Oh, hello there!" he greets Rey upon seeing her, and gives her a warm kindly smile, the kind given by the elderly to strangers, hoping to make friends of them.
Such was Luke Skywalker, and the years that had come after the Battle of Endor had evidently not been kind to his health.
Rey smiled back at him, a mixture of happiness and weariness.
"Hello, Luke," she replied.
"...you are." They have had this conversation before.
"And what's your name, traveler?"
"Again, it's Rey." She said, hoping it would stick this time, but she knew better.
"Again? Have we met before?"
"A few times."
Luke gently shook his head. "...Sorry, I don't remember."
"Yeah," Rey's tone was weary. "I know."
Rey sat next to Luke, and asked: "So, what are you doing?"
"Oh? They don't do that on Jakku. What's involved?"
"Well, a lot of waiting."
"For the fish to bite."
The word brought back an unpleasant memory of Unkar Plutt, slobbering over something. Fish, he had called it. Fatter and juicier than the repackaged Imperial Navy rations that was Rey had to eat, day after day. "...And then?" she asked, trying not to think too hard about choking her so-called 'Father' to death with the Force.
"Well, then you reel it in, and you either let it go or you cook it on a pan and eat it."
"Ah. Does it taste good?" Unkar Plutt came back to mind, inhaling his food. It had to have tasted good — far better than her rations — and Rey had to push back those feelings of resentful envy again.
Luke shrugged. "Depends on the fish. Depends on the cook. Hungry? I should get a bite any moment, now."
"No," she replied, "but thanks for the offer." Rey then smelled something familiar, and looked for the source. She saw the basket by Luke's side, and reached over to open it... "Aren't those fish?" she said after peering inside at the slimy, scale-covered shapes. The smell was awful, and she wondered then why Unkar loved these things so much. I suppose they taste better than they smell.
"Hm?" Luke saw the basket, and his eyes widened in surprise. He laughed: "Well, I'll be a monkey-lizard's uncle! Where did those come from?" His eyes went blank for a second, then: "Thank you, thank you! I appreciate you bringing me something to eat!"
"But..." Rey's confusion made way for frustration. This again. "I didn't bring you those things!"
"Oh? Well, no matter. Are you hungry?"
"No!" It was getting too much – days of going verbally in circles, over and over again... " Look, is this some kind of test?!"
Luke was confused. He was always confused. "Why would I test you?"
"Because that's what Jedi do, isn't it?!"
Luke had finished folding up his fishing rod.
"Who's a Jedi?"
"...How could that be? I don't even know what a Jedi is!"
Rey got up in a huff, and takes out the lightsaber. She shoves it at him, and he recoils in surprise.
"This, THIS is the weapon of a Jedi! And it's yours!"
"Yes! Leia told me! You lost it when you fought Darth Vader in the depths of Cloud City!" She looked into his eyes, hoping to find recognition there. Finding none, she grabbed Luke's mechanical hand by the wrist, and shoved the lightsaber in his hand.
"You lost your HAND in that duel!"
"But it's right here!"
"Your REAL hand! Your flesh and blood hand! You've got to remember that, at least!"
There was a moment, full of hope, when Rey thought she had finally gotten through to him, but it faded into nothing, and Luke went back to smiling at her, warmly, stupidly. Rey had failed again, and that brought her on the verge of tears.
"Look, I give up, okay?! It's been days, and I don't know how much CRAP Jedi are supposed to put up with, but I'm obviously not making the cut, alright?!"
Luke examined the lightsaber, surprised, as if it just popped into his hand. Rey, fed up with all this, turned to leave, feeling guilty for not having the patience required for this trial, whatever it was supposed to be.
She stopped for a moment. "I was supposed to tell you that as soon as our ship's fixed, we'll be leaving to meet your sister."
"You have a ship?"
"Yes, obviously," she almost snapped at him. "It's over there." The Falcon, yet Another thing you forgot about.
"...Why can't you just take my ship?"
Rey turned back to him, shocked. That... that was new. " You have a ship?! Wait..." she shook her head. "Of course you do, but where did you put it?!"
Luke pointed to another cliff on another side of the island, further away. "In the cave. It's a nice ship."
"I'll go find it! You stay put!"
Rey left, and made it about twenty steps before Luke called to her. "Miss, is this yours?"
He held up and the lightsaber at her, shaking it for emphasis.
Rey sighed, "I guess it is, now." Rey held out her hand and, through the Force, pulled the weapon to her. Luke was a bit puzzled at the feat of telekinesis, but then shrugged.
"Makes sense," he said, already putting his fishing rod back together. "Its heart calls out to you," Luke said, but Rey was well out of earshot.
Meanwhile, atop their perches... the Porgs were watching.
Rey's head loomed over the cliffside, and true enough, there was a cave, though it was hard to tell if its mouth was large enough for a starfighter to fit in.
Using a rope ladder she had gotten out of the Falcon's tool locker, she climbed down to the opening of the cave, and swung herself into it.
She found herself inside, of all things, a makeshift hangar, a room of stone that appeared ruined by millennia of sedimentation and water damage. At the center of this chamber was a vessel in a state of disrepair. Some of its parts were not stock, but it was quite recognizable as Incom's most famous Multirole Starfighter.
It was Luke's personal, customized X-wing. Rey's face almost shone with pure awe.
"A T-65!" she exclaimed to herself. "And it's whole! Well, mostly whole..."
Indeed, titanium hull panels were strewn across the stone floor, revealing the ship's internal components. A tarp had been set below the cockpit, dirty with the long-dried grease of the engine parts on it, next to some S-foil grilles.
Nearby, on a stone table built into a smooth wall of rock, were sundries from the X-wing's cargo pod: A tin box of consumables, Stock T-65 blueprints, a holo-recorder, some soil and flower samples... And a dirty metal dish, with some Porg bones on them. What little meat that had been left on them had rotted away a long time ago, or had been picked clean by insects.
Beeps and whistles, over the continuous hum of thrusters, came through the cave entrance. "Is that what I think it is?!" Rey's mind translated. R2-D2, with his side thrusters deployed, floated into the cave hangar. He landed right next to Rey, and rays of light streamed out of his main optic as he scanned the craft.
Rey was surprised: "You can fly?!"
"Of course I can!" Artoo beeped indignantly.
"Well, you're a lot more spaceworthy than this old thing..." she said, putting her hand on the X-wing's hull, wiping away some of the grime. "Hey, Artoo? Is this... is this the actual X-wing that took out the Death Star?"
"Well, no, but it's definitely the ship from his Rogue Squadron days."
"Brilliant." She frowned. "Another disappointment."
"Hey, come on, now... here, check this out." Artoo pointed a beam of light at the side of the cockpit, below which were printed several kill marks, most of which were TIE Fighters, and some other variants. "See those eight marks under the regular TIEs? Those are TIE Defender kills! I printed those for him after the Battle of Pellaeon! We never did break Wedge's record, though..."
Rey gasped. "Eight TIE Defender kills?! That's... ah..." Rey rubbed the back of her head, sheepishly. "I actually never heard of those. Or of the battle of Pellaon, really. Are Defenders tough?"
"The toughest. We lost a lot of our best pilots to these things. Farlander, the Azzameen brothers..." He let out a low hum of sorrow. "Great pilots, all of them, but Rexler Brath was better... That's him." He shook the light at the last mark. It had a star over it, marking it as an Ace. "...Right there."
Rey's awe faded as she looked back at the entrance, and recalled the sad state Luke was in.
"But that was a long, long time ago, wasn't it?"
"Yeah..." Artoo whistled sorrowfully. He hadn't any luck getting through to Luke, either. "Yeah, it was."
Rey took a moment to examine all the parts: "Hey... I think I could put this thing back together. Wanna help? I could use some tools."
Compartments all over R2-D2's body opened, revealing a vast arsenal of tools, including the soap gun. "I got you covered." he beeped confidently.
"Brilliant!" The scavenger smiled. "Just let me have a look at these, first..."
She walked up to the table, intent on examining the blueprints of the T-65 laid on the table, when something caught her eye: a small bronze disk with three silver prongs curved radially around it.
This was Luke's holoprojector, and there was a small light blinking on its side, next to a playback button.
"What's this?" she asked, pressing the button, summoning the small, holographic image of a middle-aged Luke Skywalker. The hologram's appearance was shockingly different from that of the man still fishing on that hill. He was far healthier looking, with an old soldier's build, a shorter head of hair, and a well-trimmed beard. His eyes were weary, but still had a bright spark of intelligence and will. Rey smiles at the sight as it began to speak:
"Luke's journal, day 3, local time. Finally managed to fish my X-wing out of the sea. Water damage is minimal, doesn't look like oxidation is going to be a problem... but, the crash really shook up a lot of internals."
Rey wondered out loud, "Hm, I wonder how many more of these there are..."
"I still don't know what went wrong; one minute all the instruments were fine, the next..."
"Leave it on while we work," Artoo beeped. "We might have years of entries to go through."
She nodded. "Yeah, sure."
Over the span of a few hours, Rey, with R2-D2's help, re-assembled Luke's X-wing , first by going over the schematics, then performing task after task, each one a feat of engineering more complicated and more difficult than the last.
Luke's holographic recording kept playing as the day went by:
"Day 7. Rogue Squadron survival training is getting me through the food situation.
Good news is the local fauna has these birds that breed as fast as Gizkas. Pretty rich meat, too. Never thought I'd have to worry about getting fat in a survival situation." He laughed. "Still, I need to be careful with these things. Eat too much too soon and there won't be anything left."
"Day 8, still no luck with the commslink. I've been transmitting the SOS all week, and no one's responded. Not likely to: Every frequency I try listening in on has static, so something's definitely jamming it... probably the sun's radiation." Rey and Artoo look at each other, hands and pincers deep in a fuel injector. Getting a distress signal out would be difficult. "Fixing the X-wing's my only hope of leaving this place."
"Day 12... Creepy things, these birds: They always seem to watch me. Maybe they want revenge?"
"Day 25, X-wing's flight-worthy again, Repulsorlifts are calibrated and the broken thrusters can burn fuel again. Test flight tomorrow morning, and... well, I'm gonna feel real silly about making those recordings."
Rey, taking a break and hoping to find a snack, opened the tin box of consumables. Empty.
"Day 26, Test flight was good, except for the hyperdrive test. Its crystal oscillator's blown. I can fly all over the planet, but I can't really leave. Damn it all."
"Day 47, Not giving up hope. Crystal's blown but with some rocks and some creative uses of the Force and my lightsaber, I've managed to build a small kiln to reshape the crystal. Gonna have to provide the pressure myself. That's gonna burn some calories, I expect. ...Hope the strain doesn't kill me."
Rey found the kiln, basically a small stone spherical mold that could fit in a stone box. There was a small cylindrical slot on top, wide enough for a lightsaber's beam emitter.
She marveled at the ingenuity of it.
"Day 48... not enough crystal left for a whole oscillator. Things aren't looking good... No, no, I haven't given up, not yet. There should be some rare earths in the caves good enough to make a proper crystal,
strong enough for one trip, and get me far enough away to signal for help. I didn't come to this damned planet to die, and I'll be damned if I spend my last days in the middle of nowhere!"
"Day 49, I'm in luck - the caves are full of treasure! Aphra and Tekka would love it there. None of it is what I came here for, but I've found some gemstones that will do the trick for the oscillator. Just need to bake them into shape."
Rey popped the last panel in place, holding it to allow R2-D2 to solder it shut. The final task done, Rey wiped the sweat off her greasy face, and admired their work: the fully restored X-wing. Her chest swelled with pride, and while Artoo was not capable of expressing himself the same way, he was far happier to see the old girl restored.
Rey looked out. The sun was setting... soon it would be time to go back. "Well, that was fun!" she smiled. It was indeed – she had always wanted to put an X-wing back together. "Shame it's getting so late though."
"Test flight first thing after breakfast?" queried Artoo.
"You bet!" replied Rey, cheerfully.
Luke's hologram kept speaking. " Day... I forget. Fifty? Fifty. Yeah. I think I woke something up down in the caves. Something I can't sense in the Force, or... No, no, I've been here too long, I'm becoming paranoid. I really need to get out of there... I... I hate this place."
Rey walked up to the holoprojector to turn it off... and saw Luke, half-way transformed between the dignified Jedi Knight and the weak old fisherman. His image flickered.
"Day...six? Seven? Rogue Squadron survival training hasn't stuck, it seems. My rations are already gone. Good news is the local fauna has these delicious birds that breed as fast as Gizkas." He coughed. "Pretty rich meat, too. Never thought I'd have to worry about getting fat in a survival situation. Creepy things, though, these birds... they never stop—"
As if on cue, the device ran out of power and shut down, with Rey's fingers inches from it.
"That's odd..." Rey quirked her eyebrow. "I guess it was set to loop? Not that it matters, the power cell's low. If only I had a..."
R2-D2 rolled in besides her, and opened one of the drawers in his body. "I've got an internal wireless charger. Give it here."
"You're just full of surprises, aren't you?" commented Rey, placing the small holoprojector in the drawer.
"Gotta keep up with the times," Artoo beeped as he channeled wireless energy into the holoprojector. "I'm due for an overhaul, though."
"Ever thought about converting to a BB8 Chassis?" she said, as reached out for the ladder. "You'd look adorable..."
"Heck no!" R2-D2 protested. "Trashcan for life!"
Rey laughed as she climbed up, with Artoo flying besides her, both of them unaware that in the shadows, the Porgs had been watching...
Night had fallen, and next to a large, roaring campfire by the old spaceship, Chewbacca was sitting on a rock, a box of Bowcaster Flechettes by his side, still wet from the cleaning agents that had purged them of Porg blood. The bolts' victims had been plucked, beheaded, gutted, set on a spit, and were rotating slowly above the flames, their motion powered by a small motor.
Rey sat on a stone opposite of Chewbacca, staring into the fire, tracing symbols in the ash with a branch. She was bored – usually, she spent evenings like this wearing a VR helmet, playing random scenarios in starfighter sims.
"So where were you?" he asked, sprinkling salt and pepper over the roasting meat. "I called you about the Hyperdrive a couple of times."
"Sorry," she said, focused on her drawing. "I was putting Luke's X-wing back together."
Chewbacca nodded. "Is that right? Can it fly?"
"It should be good for sub-light. I'll see tomorrow about the hyperdrive."
"Good." Chewie put a roast Porg on a metal PLATE, along with a side of steamed grain and chopped vegetables. "There you go," he said, handing the plate over to Rey, along with a metal spork. "Careful, it's hot."
Rey looked at the dead bird and frowned. "Do I have to? I hate those things!"
Chewie grabbed a spit, with three birds stuck on it, all for himself. "They're good!" he said, his mouth full.
Sighing, Rey picked at the flesh with the spork, tearing it from the bones, and took a bite. She had admit: when cooked right, Porgs were quite delicious. Still, she could not quite regale herself, since she had something on her mind. "What will we tell General Organa, when we get back?" she asked. Then, she added, "With Luke, I mean?"
Chewbacca stopped eating, and it was clear that he had been pondering that same question for a while, now. "We'll tell her the truth; what else can we do?"
"...and then what?"
"That'll be up to her. We might drop Luke off at a hospital on Kamino, or Manaan."
"Kamino? Manaan?" Rey had never heard of these places. "Can they help him there?"
"I hope so... but we should focus on getting out of here, first."
"I can't help but worry..." then, something else bothered her. "Chewbacca?"
"Hm?" The Wookiee's mouth was full.
"Why did you ask Leia to bring me with you?"
Chewbacca paused to chew and swallow his food. "Well... I had a good feeling about you... and I thought that you and Luke should meet as soon as possible."
"Oh? Did you think Luke would train me in the Force?"
"Well, yes. But..." he sighed. "That's not happening any time soon, is it?"
Rey stared at her bowl, picking at her food. "It's not fair. It's not right that all that's left of the Jedi just... dies in Luke's mind, or lives on in..." she failed to hide her disgust for the name she forced herself to pronounce. "...in Kylo." That disgusting, father-killing, friend-crippling, mind rapist!
Chewbacca turned his head sharply at her. As it turned out, she had muttered her thoughts. He should have snarled at her, told her to shut up, something... but he could not bring himself to come to his godson's defense, the events leading to Han's death still fresh in his mind.
That red blade of screaming plasma, piercing his heart, boiling his blood...
I should have aimed for his head, thought Chewbacca.
Quietly, he and Rey finished their meal, and spend some time staring at the campfire's flames, pondering what the future had in store for them.
Yawning, Rey got up, and wished Chewbacca good night, while the fur-covered giant wished her good dreams.
The twin moons of Ahch-To, one red, one pearl, shone upon the island as a chorus of benign alien insects sang a song that echoed through the night, backed by the gentle waves of the sea.
Rey was deeply asleep, alone in her tent, while R2-D2 was in sleep mode, connected to the Falcon's power train to recharge.
Hitherto unnoticed poppies began to bloom all around the island. Only Chewie was awake, a blanket draped over his head and shoulders, as he watched the flames. As the flowers bloomed and glowed with the colours of the moons, Chewbacca's eyelids felt heavier and heavier, causing him to blink more often until finally they fluttered and closed completely. Chewbacca was finally asleep.
Suddenly, the insects stopped singing, for fear had struck them silent.
The silence made way for whispers, cackles and cruel laughter... and those in turn made way for the soft song of a woman's voice, echoing across the island.
Neither Chewbacca nor R2-D2 were stirred awake by the sound, so soft it was...
"Luke... come to me..."
But Rey was more sensitive to such magic, and her sleep was disturbed. She groaned as she struggled to keep her eyes closed, but quickly gave up. The wind blowing the way into her tent open, she managed to catch sight of a figure in the darkness, only for it to vanish in the shadows as she blinked. Her eyes found something else to focus on: Luke Skywalker, stumbling in the dark as someone called to him.
Rey strained her ears, and caught Luke's response, full of longing...
A shadow crawled over Rey's cot, moved to her face —
—and all became darkness.
Something croaked in the dark. Something old, something weary... something hungry:
Darkness made way for dreams, and the girl — no, Rey — stood in the depths of the Dark Forest once more, almost as if the events in the waking world had not happened...
No, it wasn't quite the same. Time had stopped, marked by black spores that floated, perfectly still, in the air, untouched by the wind. The colours, what little could be seen in the dim moonlight, felt washed away.
Rey looked around, wary of more wolves. Finding none in sight, she took a few steps forward, and a path cleared before her, guiding her back home...
Three steps, and suddenly she was there, back to the sunlit garden of the Witch's home.
"Hello?" Rey called out. It seemed the Witch was no longer there. "Hello!" she tried again, chagrined. She felt so alone, in spite of the voices in her head keeping her company.
The voices... they seemed to belong to the same woman, but they were a cacophonous chorus of whispers on the edge of her hearing, reflections of her thoughts and fears. Sometimes, it seemed as there was someone right next to her, whispering in her ear.
Are you going crazy? asked one.
Do you need help? whispered another.
So skinny, so weak! giggled someone.
But a voice, strong and motherly and powerful, spoke louder than all of them: "Remember..."
"Remember what?" asked Rey, shouting to the sky. Her voice echoed far, but nobody responded...
Save for a small spider climbing up her leg.
"Eek!" she yelped, more out of surprise than fear. Young women her age would have been frightened beyond belief, but as Rey would soon discover, she wasn't quite normal, even for a Force-User. She allowed the small creature to climb over her, past the shoulder, and finally to her palm. Rey held the tiny insect up closer to her face, eyes full of curious fascination as she stared at it: Its body, black and purple and flecked with white, was barely the size of Rey's thumb, with two disproportionately large eyes and tiny, stubbly limbs. Being a spider, it should look horrific. Instead, Rey thought it was kinda cute, like BB8, only tinier and with eight legs.
Suddenly, the spider's black, glinting eyes widened, and it cowered in fear. Rey turned around, hoping to see what frightened it so. Out of the corner of her sight, something - made of black rags - crawled into a hole, hiding from Rey's sight.
The spider jumped on Rey's palm three times, getting her attention, before bouncing off like a cricket towards the mansion.
"Hey, wait!" she protested, giving chase at the speed of dreams.
It had only taken a single step for Rey to pass through the walls of the witch's mansion, the leaping spider leading her through the halls of gnarled wood. There were patches of void here and there, that the spider guided her around, where the dream had nothing to build on, for the raw materials of memory were being eroded by something... something vile, and sour, and rotten, and...
The spider leapt into the gap between two vast wooden doors, painstakingly carved with symbols too complicated for Rey to comprehend. Bursting through the doors, she found herself inside a vast library, at least four stories tall, and there, at the center of that vast room, clad in a dark bustier and a darker skirt, knelt the Dark Witch, held fast by the frozen passage of time. On her shoulder was the spider, leaping up and down to catch Rey's eye. Her face, which Rey recalled was pale and beautiful, was mostly gone, having been shattered into little prisms and shapes that hung in the air.
Rey's gaze followed the witch's arms, which were spread out downward, as if she were presenting the books scattered by her knees. Two of these grimoires had been opened to specific pages, and the chorus of voices inside Rey's head begged and commanded her to kneel and take a closer look at them. The script and alphabet is utterly alien to her, and nearly impossible to focus on... but the illustrations were clear: In one book was displayed a Poppy, one that she had seen before, and the other book detailed a Sign: a vertical eye, set inside a bird made of fire, its wings spread out in flight.
The Witch's voice silenced the chorus again, for she needed to be heard above all.
"Remember the ward..." it whispered, clear as a bell.
"I don't understand!" complained Rey, only then realizing that her lips were not moving. "What good is a winged eyeball?!"
There was a droning, and then a trembling and then a footstep, loud and rumbling, right behind Rey. Then another, and another, and with each footfall Rey could feel a shadow loom over her. The spider, once again, began to cower, and Rey whirled around, hoping to meet her stalker with bravery and violence. Instead, her eyes widen, greeting those things with terror and fear. Six grasping hands — old, wrinkled, wet — grabbed hold of her neck, her face, her hair, and pulled—
—Rey gasped as her eyes opened, her irises contracting from the rush of fear coursing through her. She looked out through the opening of her tent. Was she still on Ahch-To?
She sat up from her cot, frantically feeling her face and skull with her hands, checking for any damage. Much to her relief, there was none.
The tent's entrance was ajar, its sheets fluttering in the wind, giving her a glimpse of the outside: a lightly clouded morning sky over rocky horizons of muted grass and dirt. The gentle sound of waves crashing over rocks came through.
She sighed, though her breath was short. Yes, she was still on Ahch-To.
"Rey?" The Wookiee outside growled. Who knew that Shyriiwook could feel so reassuring? "Rey, are you alright?"
"I'm okay!" replied Rey out loud. "It's just the nightmares again!"
"Yes, again. Just give me a minute..."
Rey winced, she could taste something foul in her mouth, and felt something on the corner of her lip; she wiped it off, smearing traces of a foul cream, pale and green, on the back of her hand.
"Ew...!" It wasn't the most mature reaction, but then again, that small sample of pale green discharge looked and smelled, by Rey's estimation, really, really gross. It smelled awful, too.
After a light breakfast of polystarch bread and veg-meat, Rey went outside to see how Chewbacca was doing. He was on top of the Falcon, busy removing a part from the Falcon. He examined it, shook his head, and put it back.
"Nope... not the problem," he told himself. "Hm..."
"Have you started working on the hyperdrive?" asked Rey.
"No," the Wookiee rumbled, shaking his head. "Had to check one of the plasma manifolds."
"Oh... wait, didn't you check that part yesterday, already?"
Chewbacca rubbed the back of his head, a bit confused. Then, he turned his head away for a moment, all the better to spit out a pale green wad of saliva away from the Falcon.
"...I might have?" he scratched the back of his head with his claw. "Yeah, I did. Huh, I guess Luke's not the only one getting too old."
"Will you be needing my help?" she asked, recalling their plans from yesterday.
"...What? No chewing me out over the compressor bypass?"
"Huh? Oh, that. I didn't give you grief over it. Why would I? It saved our hides."
"But... you did, yesterday, in fact!"
The Wookiee shrugged. "Well, if I did, I'm sorry. Look, I should have the hyperdrive safely pulled out by the afternoon. Can you wait until then?"
"Sure, R2 and I aren't done with Luke's X-wing, so we'll keep ourselves busy."
"Luke's X-wing is here?" he tapped his forehead, feeling silly. "Wait, of course it is..."
Rey eyed Chewbacca curiously, cautiously, wondering if something was wrong with him.
"You're sure you didn't detect anyone?" asked Rey, her voice echoing through the hangar cave as she swung off the rope ladder and into the cave.
"Positive," beeped R2-D2, as he gently landed on the cave floor. "Nothing took me out of Sleep Mode."
"That's a relief, I guess." It had all been just a dream, she decided.
The duo found Luke's X-wing, still waiting for them to get in and take her out for a spin. Rey rubbed her hands in anticipation and smiled: She had been hoping to fly a real, working T-65 ever since she unlocked it in the VR sims a few years ago, around the same time she had chopped up one for parts. Soon, she would get her wish.
Inside the cockpit, Rey barely contained her glee as the dashboard's lights came on. When the VR heads-up display failed to come on, though, she was a bit confused, and realized the problem. "Damn, no helmet."
"Eh, you don't need it," beeped R2-D2 as he slotted himself in the X-wing's astromech slot, behind the cockpit. "The T-65's avionics never did get upgraded with the XJ7's integrated helmet and display sight system, and they gave up on those when they started making the T-70." A few clicks and whirrs later, Artoo was fully connected to the strike craft's systems. His speech appeared on a small screen on the dashboard.
"Oh?" asked Rey. She hadn't asked for any starfighter trivia, but she had a taste for it. "Why's that?"
"Mothma, that's why," he beeped, as if that explained everything. "Anyways, T-65 is as easy to fly as a Skyhopper, you'll see."
"Hm, if you say so..." Rey didn't sound so sure of that.
"Let's go through the pre-flight check and a quick tutorial, yeah?"
Rey powered up the console, and without further prompting from R2, pushed a sequence of buttons that made the X-wing's engines hum and stutter back to life. Rey is elated - she was this close to flying a classic. Artoo insisted on the pre-flight check nevertheless, and a rundown of the controls that had taken almost half an hour. Said tutorial involved deploying the targeting computer's blocky scope, which made Rey practically squeal with delight, and she quickly started fantasizing about pulling off the Trench Run that had obliterated the Death Star. Pew Pews were involved.
Silly humans, thought Artoo. "All systems green, ready to take off, Red Leader!"
Rey, savoring the moment, slowly pulled the secondary throttle up, and the X-wing's repulsorlifts pushed against the planet's gravity. Suddenly, just as the craft began to rise, the Crystal Oscillator blows, causing a power surge that arced through every component of the ship, damaging some. Alarms, framed and lettered in red, popped up all over the dashboard's screens as the repulsorlifts stutter and die, and the X-wing falls back down on its landing gear.
No flying an X-wing for Rey, not on that day. "Blast!" she cursed, as she stepped out of the cockpit.
Rey removed a small panel near the X-wing's core, and she peered inside the machine's guts, her head practically against Artoo's dome. Her experienced eye quickly saw what was wrong, and she reached in, then pulled out a cylinder of frosted glass, framed in durasteel and tipped with ceramic.
"That thing's been slotted in reverse!" she declared! "No wonder the thing surged!"
"Aw hell, diagnostics missed that..." Artoo let out a depressed whistle, and said: "I'm sorry, kid. I must be getting old."
"N-No, it's okay," she said, feeling bad for the droid. She suspected R2 was feeling his age: the R-Series had been around for a long time, and was gaining a reputation for obsolescence. More than a few R2 units had been abandoned on Jakku, gathering dust at markets, hoping that their masters would return...
Rey could empathize. "We can fix this, okay?" She shook the oscillator close to her ear, and heard a tingling in the glass. "Yep, that blew the crystal alright. I mean, I've never actually handled one of these before, so I probably made a rookie mistake, right?"
R2-D2's dome swiveled left and right. "No, I was there, checking your work. You put that thing back in right... Or at least I thought you did."
'Well, clearly I didn't. So..." she said, as she moved to the hangar's workbench. When Artoo didn't follow, she beckoned him to do so. "Hey, come on."
A moment later, Rey was sitting at the workbench, having laid out the Oscillator and the Skywalker Lightsaber next to each other on the stone surface. Using the tools laying on the stone table, she began disassembling the ship component.
Artoo's periscope rose behind her shoulder. "What are you doing?" the droid beeped curiously.
"A quick fix!" she replied. "You can get an extra day out of faulty crystal-based components if you slot in a power crystal from a blaster, and since lightsabers work pretty much the same..."
"How do you know that?"
Rey did not answer as she opened up the middle of the lightsaber, revealing its crystal chamber... but instead of the traditional primary and focusing kyber crystals, Rey found a black marble that glowed outwardly with a light that shifted between cyans, magentas and blues. It was just small enough to fit into the modified primary crystal mount requiring Rey to pull it out with a pair of tweezers. The gem extracted, the girl found herself admiring it, magical light glinting in her eyes.
"What the?!" exclaimed Rey. "I didn't know Kyber crystals looked like... that."
"They... don't," R2-D2 beeped. "That's no Kyber crystal."
"It's not?" she asked, looking at R2. "What is it, then?"
R2's periscope took a quick scan. "It looks a lot like a Krayt Dragon's Pearl... in which case, congrats! You're rich!"
There had to be a catch. "But...?"
"But, usually, Krayt dragon pearls don't have red auras. Might affect the price, for better or worse."
"Red?" Rey turned her head back to the gem, and it was indeed glowing red... then, it shifted to gold, then back to cyan. "Huh... weird! Well, in any case, the shape's wrong, it won't slot into the oscillator."
"Suits me fine," Artoo's periscope shook up and down. "Don't want Anakin's angry ghost to haunt me over wasting a Pearl on an oscillator," He beeped cheerfully, but the truth was that Artoo had no idea if Anakin had ever modified his saber to accommodate a Pearl.
With a sigh, Rey slotted the gem back in, an act that causes her mind's eye to wander to another moment in time, when she was smaller. The images were fleeting: Little Rey's eyes peeked over the edge of a table, glinting in warm orange candlelight as she watched a man put the pearl inside Anakin's lightsaber, the original kyber crystal's shards spread around the wooden surface. She looked up, but she couldn't catch sight of the man's face before the headpats began.
The vision of a happy memory faded, and Rey resumed her work. She ignited the saber, testing it to make sure she hasn't broken it. Satisfied that she hadn't ruined a priceless relic, Rey looked wistfully back at the X-wing.
"The main drives are good," she said, "but with no oscillator and the blown repulsorlifts... That X-wing's just not getting off the ground."
Artoo gently bumped into her. "Hey, don't lose hope..."
"I haven't," she said, rising from the stone workbench. "All I need is a spare blaster. Chewbacca should have plenty of those, right?" she packed the lightsaber in her sack, and with a shrug, decided to pack in the oscillator as well.
Rey and R2-D2 checked on Luke, and found the old man still fishing. His patience had been rewarded with an odd catch: a wide fish with a huge fanged maw and a long growth coming out of its forehead, tipped with a bulb that glowed faintly.
"Right where I left you," she said, and then he turned around, said hello, gave her that fatherly smile. The same song and dance ensued, but Rey had been through it so many times, it did not frustrate her so much any more.
"I'll see you again tomorrow, old man," she said, rising to leave.
"Okay," he said, simply, and that would have been that, but...
There was that dream, and that name... "Who's Mara?" Rey asked.
And then, for a second, Luke Skywalker was back... only to turn into the old man again.
Another disappointment, Rey thought, turning to leave.
"White dress..." muttered Luke.
Rey stopped cold... had she finally done it?
Luke seemed more animated than ever. "Lace... sheer... over bright spider silk. Hair... Rivers of blood! Eyes like gems... Rose confetti, everywhere...! My friends, the New Jedi, everyone... smiling! Clapping! All around us!" His breath was getting ragged, and his face began to fall, dragged down by pure sorrow.
"The wedding..." beeped Artoo, realizing.
"It's gone... all of it, gone! Because... because of HIM..." At that last word, the island began to tremble. Luke was waking, and so was his long dormant power.
Rey stumbled, but kept her balance. "Who's 'him'? Kylo?"
"He RUINED EVERYTHING ..." Luke was not shouting, but his voice still boomed, augmented by the Force itself, frightening both Rey and R2-D2 with a thunderous boom that caused the very ground beneath them to vibrate. And then, just when it looked like he would shatter the entire island, Luke was stilled by an unseen will. The rumbling stopped, and he became the old man that saw Rey for the first time, again.
"Hello, there," he said. Rey did not reply, and left Luke alone.
Once they were out of earshot, she turned to Artoo. "Okay, who in blazes is Mara?!" she asked, now with a burning need to know why that name had awakened such passion and strength in Luke...
"Well..." began Artoo...
Night had fallen, and next to a large, roaring campfire by the old spaceship, Chewbacca was sitting on a rock, a box of Bowcaster Flechettes by his side, still wet from the cleaning agents that had purged them of Porg blood. The bolts' victims had been plucked, beheaded, gutted, set on a spit, and were rotating slowly above the flames, their motion powered by a small motor.
Rey sat on a stone opposite of Chewbacca, staring into the fire, tracing symbols in the ash with a branch out. She was bored – usually, she spent evenings like this wearing a VR helmet, playing random scenarios in starfighter...
"Wait..." Rey looked around, confused. "How did I get here?"
"You walked?" growled Chewbacca.
"No, I mean... I don't remember getting here."
"You don't remember helping me fix the hyperdrive?"
"No... did we?"
"Sure, we replaced the oscillator together," the Wookiee said, pointing at the Falcon. "The armature was right proper kriffed, but that replacement you got from the X-wing will work great.
"Where's the..." Rey's mind was looking for a name, but could find none. "Where's the droid?"
"R2 is inside, cooking the Hypermatter. We'll be good to go by the morning."
"That's... that's good."
Rey massaged her eyes, hoping to rub the weariness away. Absentmindedly, she drew a symbol in the sand with a long twig, that of an eye with wings.
It was not quite right, not yet.
"I can't wait to leave this place," she said.
"You and me both... but morning's a long way away. You should get some sleep."
"Alright..." she said wearily. She rose, went into her tent, lay in her sleeping bag, and closed her eyes.
The Poppies bloomed again, the insects stopped their song again, and all was quiet again, until...
Rey woke to the sound — a woman's contralto, ethereally sweetened to be more alluring — but she still felt half asleep, and the promise of a deep slumber proved to be a potent siren song, itself.
She shut her eyes.
"Luke... come to me, my love..."
Luke's distant, longing whimper got Rey's attention, arousing her curiosity, chasing the sleepiness away. Through tired eyes she managed to catch his form, highlighted by the light of the moon... and that of the ghostly figure of a woman, both her blood red hair and emerald-green dress blowing in an silent wind... or floating in unseen waters. The ghostly figure beckoned Luke to follow, and he stumbled towards her, an old man chasing a dream, the one memory he could never, ever let go...
Rey got up, now knowing for certain that she wasn't dreaming. Silently, she got out of her tent and made her way to the campfire, and found the Wookiee there, sitting on his rock, yet slumped over and deeply asleep.
"Chewie..." Rey whispered. When that did not wake him, she raised her voice: "Chewie, wake up! Come on, wake up! Something's wrong!"
But Chewbacca could not wake, not matter how much Rey shook him. She looked back at Luke, and would have called out to him where it not for a hundred little voices whispering in the back of her mind that it would be a very bad idea. Instead, she shouldered her satchel, and stalked the elder Jedi as he moved towards the phantom, ever out of reach.
Unseen by Rey, the symbol she traced by the campfire, as imperfect as it was, glowed with an eldritch purple, burning the very sand dust and dirt beneath it. Tendrils of smoke rose up, and took the shape of the limbs of a spider, grasping for prey, but found none.
And then, they were gone.
The glowing ghost floated towards the waterfall, passing through it without disturbing the water, or being disturbed by it in kind. The ghost vanished into the cave, leaving only the melodious sound of her voice as a sign of her presence.
"Luke... Luuuke... come to me..."
Rey hid behind a nearby rock, and watched on as Luke followed the ghost into the cave. The scavenger girl, surrounded by the gloom of night, hesitated to follow him in, fearful of what may lay in wait for her in the pitch black darkness of the cave.
Light! She would need light to range into the dark, and she had just the thing in her satchel: Anakin's lightsaber. She grasped the Jedi weapon with both hands and ignited its blade.
"I can do this," she whispered to herself, as if the words alone would draw pure courage from the legendary weapon. It worked: she stepped out from behind the rock, and walked into the cave...
...Those were her first steps into a darker world, and they were slow, and careful. The deeper Rey went, the dimmer the moonlight behind her became, and the lightsaber proved to be a poor source of light. Rey found it odd: when she stared into the core of the blade, the white light was almost blinding, but it seemed to refuse to cross into the dark. Only the blade's blue edge radiated its colour outward, and the wet stone returned its blue glint. Still, it was enough to allow Rey to travel through the network of tunnels that lay beneath the island, if only just barely.
Suddenly, the way became clearer. Whether it was the saber glowing brighter, or her eyes adjusting, Rey couldn't tell. Unfortunately, her sense of direction was not faring any better, and she lost herself in the maze of passages. The very shadows seemed to come to life to stalk her, and some thing whispered where the light of the blade would not reach. Still, she pressed on. And on... and on, until finally she saw something new, a coloured glint in the dark, in a passage to her left, from which myriad distant sounds echoed.
Not just any sounds, no. Voices, from a time long past.
"These are your first steps..." said an old man, his voice distant yet so close.
"Aren't you a little short..." another voice began to ask... that one was familiar, it almost sounded like Leia, but younger.
"But who's gonna fly it...?" Rey recognized that one. "Han?" She called out, full of hope... only to immediately put her hand over her mouth, thinking she had just alerted something in the dark, something ready to jump out of the shadows...
...but nothing came, and she continued to walk down the passage.
The voices became clearer:
"...Are you in, Jedi?" asked another woman's voice. Rey had a bad feeling about that one: it felt like it belonged to someone nobody should trust, ever.
"You can call me Gamemaster..." That one — a man's — felt worse. Rey could easily imagine him covered in scars.
Rey crossed the passage to a chamber so vast the light of the lightsaber could not reach the walls. Only the ground was illuminated, a circle of blue light at Rey's feet. Thousands of glass marbles, some of them the size of a man's fist, some of them no larger than a pea, were set into the ground, glued with hardened calcite into grooves hastily carved into the stone. Rey approached one of the marbles, kneeling to get a better look at it. She peered into the glass, narrowing her eyes at the shades dancing inside of it, until they form a dark figure covered head to toe in glossy black armour, crossing plasma blades with someone, someone who had been right there...
All these gems were containers for Luke Skywalker's memories, Rey realized. Overcome with a desire to know more about the events that led to the Empire's downfall, she went from memory to memory, only getting the barest of glimpses. Some of them were agonizingly painful to gaze upon:
"That's not true! That's impossible!"
...While others were filled with rapturous joy:
"I do," Rey heard that contralto again, in a gem filled with smiling faces – friends, family, and allies. Rose confetti... a woman in a white dress... strands of hair like rivers of copper and blood...
Hundreds of other stones began to shine in the dark, and Rey marveled at the sight: a veritable galaxy of memories, the stuff legends were made of! But it all had been cruelly stolen away from him, along with his sense of who he was, and his duty to the rest of the galaxy. I have to get these back inside of him, Rey thought, resolutely. There has to be way!
Something glowed above Rey, its light a sickly pale green. And she looked up to see Luke floating upside down, a spinning black pyramid right beneath his head. Hundreds of tendrils of green light protruded from its smooth obsidian surface, tracing bright curves in the dark before permeating Luke's flesh. Pulses of golden light emerged from his skin, channeled through the tendrils into the dark crystal, causing its aura to flare, illuminating the bones of those who had not endured this trial.
Such was the Entechment Machine, and it was draining Luke's very life away, ever so slowly, but it would not kill him, not yet. No, it would torture Luke like this every night, for decades, until his body could take no more.
"Oh, Stars!" Rey cried out, her voice trembling with horror. "Luke!"
"Rrr... Rrrraaah..." Luke croaked out, weakly.
"Rey, yes! It's me, Rey!" He remembers, finally! "I'm here to rescue you, hold on!"
Luke forced out the word he truly meant to say: "Rrrrruuuun...!"
Before Rey could do so, she heard a sound, forced out of a throat that could only have been made of worn leather, echoing across the stone room.
It was a cruel laugh.
Something dripped on her shoulder, something green, pale and milky, prompting her to look up at a tattered shadow from which sprang six legs, six arms, and six eyes leering at her through a mass of hair and rags. The shadowy creature fell on Rey before she could scream.
These words were the last thing she heard before the darkness took her.
This time there were no trees, or wolves, or strange magical abodes. There was only a profound darkness, in which Rey floated helplessly... and yet, she was unafraid, oddly comfortable with the dark void.
It's so... quiet here, she thought to herself.
Then, from a infinitely long strand of silk hanging from an unseen spot high above — or was it below? — a ball of fluff, black and purple, rappelled down in front of Rey's eyes.
"Hello you," she said to the spider.
The friendly insect waved at her, then moved to trace a strand of spider silk around her hips. She felt its pull, shortly before drifting forward towards a light in the dark.
"Child," she could hear the dark witch whisper in her ear... "this is your last chance... After this, all hope is lost..."
"I don't understand," Rey's lips did not move. Her thoughts were so loud, as loud as the Witch's voice.
"You must remember the sign... Remember the flower... Remember the eye... These are the things... That will set you free."
The Witch's speech was punctuated by flashes of dreams/memories: the poppies burning in the hearth, the symbol of the flying eye drawn in ink in the book, the Krayt Dragon Pearl in the lightsaber...
"Set you free!" these three words were repeated countless times by the choir in Rey's head, becoming a drone the caused her head to ache...
Suddenly, the strand snapped; the spider, distraught, reached out for Rey as gravity asserted itself in the void and claimed her body , but the poor insect can do nothing as the girl fell into the abyss...
And on that command, the spider let go of the strand, and fell with the girl, and both drowned in a sea of pale green milk.
The girl's waking was slow, lacking any distress. Her eyes fluttered and opened, but the light behind them, the very thing that made her who she once was, was gone... She had a name once, but no longer. Now she was just the Girl.
The Girl felt something tart on her tongue, and something slimy on the corner of her lip, but did not spit or wipe her mouth. She heard rain outside, but did not sit up, instead enjoying the sense of safety that comes from being sheltered from the weather. For hours, she lay under her blanket, staring out of the opening in her tent, watching the tiny bursts of millions upon millions of drops of water crashing against stone and metal and dirt.
The sound... it was soothing.
Then she felt a rumbling in her belly, and decided that it's time to get up. She stepped out into the rain, and shivers, but doesn't go back into the tent, which, as it turned out, was attached to a large piece of machinery. There was a big hairy creature standing in front of the machine, staring at it, almost admiring it.
It had no name. It was just a Wookiee.
Curious, the Girl approached it. "Hello."
The Wookiee just growled and whined at her, scaring her a bit. As his mouth made noises, the Girl noticed a green tint to his spittle, and found it odd, but paid it no heed. He made no sudden movements, no sign that he meant her any harm.
"I don't understand you..." she said. Little did the girl know, the Wookiee had said the same thing.
And so he made no further attempts at communication, and simply stared at the ship, or something far, far away, beyond it...
The Girl was curious, and felt compelled to explore the inside of the machine. She found the interior, in spite of being caked by filth, utterly fascinating, for there were machines within the machine, exposed components that served some unknown purpose.
What that purpose was... the girl tried to recall, but couldn't find the words.
"Hello?" she called out. "Is anyone here?"
There was no reply, save for the hammering of the rain on the hull. The Girl kept exploring, until she came across a machine in the middle of a room full of boxes, a machine unlike all the others: A cylinder on wheels! Its shell, white and blue, was marred by years of use. She did not recognize the unmoving machine, either, nor did she know how to reconnect the power cell that had been so violently pulled out of it.
The Girl felt sad for it, but did not know why.
The rains continued to fall, thoroughly soaking the Girl's clothes as she explored the island, blissfully unaware that her mind had been emptied. Still, that emptiness of mind allowed a certain magic to be freed to act through her: an aura, hugging her skin, caught the heavy drops of water in its invisible grasp, holding them aloft.
The aura expanded into a sphere, and the rain swirled all around. She smiled in amazement, and giggled as she spun around in the middle of the field, as if that would make the water spin faster. Dizzied, the Girl falls on her back, the aura cushioning her fall, and her giggles turn to laughter as the rain and the world and her head kept on spinning.
She sat up, and looked around, and wondered what she was supposed to be doing. Catching sight of her reflection on a puddle atop a stone tile, she knelt besides it to examine it, giddiness having made way for curiosity. Curiosity made way for narcissistic fascination. Fascination made way for a bit of worry, as she noticed that a lock of her wet hair has become silvery white.
Then, another face appeared behind her in the shallow puddle. She turned around, and kept her gaze locked on the Old Man as she got up.
The Girl did not recognize him. As far she's concerned, he's just an Old Man, wearing a cloak to shield himself from the rain. She approached him, as he eyed her curiously. Not knowing anything about propriety, she put her hands on his wrinkled face, fascinated by the wear and tear of old age. She traced his many wrinkles with her fingers, and admired the sheer whiteness of his hair. Her face was inches from his.
"Who are you?" asked the Old Man.
"I don't know..." said the Girl.
"Why are you here?" asked the Old Man.
"I don't know..." said the Girl.
"Where are you from?" asked the Old Man.
"I... I... don't know," said the Girl.
The questions gave the Girl pause. She could feel the answers bubbling under the surface, but they kept escaping her thoughts.
"What about you?" the girl asked. "Who are you? Why are you here? Where are you from?"
"I... I don't know, either," the Old Man replied.
They laughed at the absurdity of it all.
The sun peeked through an opening in the gray rain clouds, straight above, but only for a moment, briefly shining a beam of light on a stone hut. The Girl and the Old Man sat side by side on a wooden bench, silently enjoying each other's company, waiting for the rain to let up. Above them, a extension of the roof shielded them from the rain. The Girl, still dripping wet, had been pondering the Old Man's questions for a while...
"I think I'm waiting for someone," said the Girl.
"Waiting for who?" asked the Old Man.
"A friend," she replied. "He's asleep, but he's going to wake up soon. I'll see him again; I just have to wait."
The Old Man said nothing, having already forgotten the conversation.
"What is that?" asked the Girl.
"What is what?" asked the old man.
The Girl pointed at a plant by Luke's feet, growing out of a gap in the rocky ground. Its petals were shut tight.
"Oh. A Moon Poppy," replied the Old Man.
"Why do you call it that?" asked the Girl, her curiosity beginning to animate her, chasing away her stupor.
"...Because it only blooms in the moonlight," the Old Man remembered, as the sun peeked out of the clouds again, warming his bones.
The Girl stood, and gazed upon the field that the hut overlooked. Hundreds — no, thousands! — of these closed Moon Poppies had been planted upon it, and she left the Old Man to indulge her curiosity some more. Surely, one of these flowers had bloomed early...
She found herself in the middle of the field, her mind not recalling the steps she had taken to get there. She looked down upon a Moon Poppy, and knelt to examine it further. She picked it from the ground, then rolled the petals between her fingers, gently.
The magic flowed through her, and the Moon Poppy's petals bloomed, exposing themselves to the rays of the sun; their colour went from white to a dark shade of purple, shifting into violet at the tips.
A vision flashed in the Girl's mind: a witch, an hearth, a fire...
A present, thought the girl. A present for someone dear to me.
The Old Man looked on as the Girl spent hours picking Moon Poppies, turning them purple with her fingers. Before long, a whole bouquet had formed in the Girl's hand, her mind not recalling how she got so many so quickly. She just wanted one more. There was always one more... and then she found the last one, the important one...
For that most special of all flowers was a gift. The petals morphed into a brighter shade of purple than the rest, and opened, revealing a ball of fluff, black and purple: a sleeping zebra spider. Disturbed by the rays of the sun, it woke, opened its big glassy eyes, and shook off its drowsiness.
She recalled seeing it before, vaguely... was it from a dream? No matter... "Oh, you poor thing," she said to it, cupping it in her left hand. The insect winced from the harsh rays of light. The gap in the clouds was wide, and not going anywhere any time soon, so she shielded the arachnid from its harsh rays with her free hand. "Were you trapped in there?" she asked.
The Spider nodded.
"You can understand me!" the girl exclaimed, joyously. "Can you talk?"
The Spider shook its head from side to side, eyes shut.
"Oh, that's a shame," said the Girl. "Are you alone?"
The insect shook its head again, more quickly this time, and pointed one of its stubby little forelimbs at the Girl. I am not alone, she imagined it saying. I am with you.
"Would you like to come with me?"
Happily, the Spider leapt out from her palm, and caught onto one of the Girl's dark locks. He climbed up, and hid between the strands of her hair, making a home out of her mane.
The Girl gathered up all her flowers from the ground, and held them firmly into a bouquet. Quickly, the Spider moved across the Girl's arms towards the bouquet, and wrapped strand after strand of spider's silk around the flower stems, binding them together.
"Thank you," said the Girl, happy to have made a new friend.
At a campfire near the great machine, the Girl waited, and waited, and waited... but the one she was waiting for, always, had yet to come. But she was not alone in her vigil: the Old Man was there, across from her on a rock. He saw her, and the Wookiee sitting next to her, and greeted them as friendly strangers. They smiled at him back. Quietly, they share a meal of grilled fish, courtesy of the Old Man.
The meal done, they sat in silence, the Old Man meditating on the flames, the Wookiee curiously examining a crossbow that felt both familiar and foreign to him... The Girl, meanwhile was admiring the bouquet of Purple Poppies on her lap. The Spider appeared from her hair, and crawls to the back of her ear. Its eyes glowed a bright purple, but only for a moment.
A familiar voice, soft and motherly and magical, whispered in her ear... "Remember..."
Inspiration struck the Girl, and she picked a small branch to trace something in the campfire's ash. At first it was all curls and waves, but eventually she traced something almost perfect in its symmetry.
An eye under a soaring flaming bird.
The Moon Poppies across the island bloomed, and before long the Old Man and the Wookiee let themselves fall asleep slumping forward. The girl was the last to succumb, only resisting long enough to allow herself the luxury of laying down on the ground. Her eyes fluttered, and closed.
This will be the last night they spend on Ahch-To.
"Tonight," someone giggled in the dark, "our feast begins!"
"Tonight," someone said in the dark, "the ritual continues..."
"Tonight," someone warned, croaking in the dark, "our exile ends..."
The Girl sensed something, and woke up. It was still dark, and both the Wookiee and the Old Man were still sleeping. Snoring, even.
Suddenly, she heard a voice, at once rough like gravel and yet as comforting as a lullaby...
"Rey..." she heard a disembodied voice say. It was as rough as gravel, as comfortable as a lullaby, and as familiar as a half-remembered dream. She rose from her sleeping spot to see the source of the voice, and her eyes slowly widened with joy as she beheld a tall man's silhouette past the campfire's flames. His face was shadow, but his aura was a wondrous bright light.
It was her Father! He had returned to her at last!
"Come to me, my child..." he said, reaching out, beckoning her to approach.
The Girl, still on her knees, noticed something on the ground, in front of her: the Bouquet. A present for someone dear to me. She grasped it in her hands, got up, and took her first steps towards a long awaited reunion...
"This is for you..." she said. "For your return. I picked these for you, Just like..." The Girl began to remember. "...Like I always did..."
"Come to me, follow me..." the Father said, paying no heed to the Girl's gift.
"Just like mama and I always did, for when you returned home..."
"Come." Gone was the warmth, replaced with impatience.
"Don't you want these?" she pleaded.
"But they're for you..."
Rey approached the Father, but he recoiled. Dazed, she reached out, and held the flowers over the flames with both hands, like an offering to a pagan god. As she did so, the Spider peeked out of her mane and, knowing that it was time to act, crawled over her right arm.
"PUT THESE AWAY," The father commanded, his voice deep and menacing. "NOW!"
"...They've always been for you, always... always..."
The Spider produced two short, blunted fangs from its mandibles, and with all its might, bit into the Girl's hand.
"Ah...!" The Girl's grip loosened, and the flowers fall...
"NOOOOO!" The father screamed, as purple flames erupt skyward. Then came a flash of eldritch colours as a cloud of smoke burst from the campfire, and the signs the Girl traced all around it glowed with the same energy as the blaze. The Father faded away, devoured by bright embers that swarmed all over the area. Butterflies of glowing smoke streamed out, their hearts blazing a violet as they found their way into the nostrils of the Old man, the Wookiee and the Girl. The two sleepers woke as they convulse, and wrestle with their own bodies long enough to get up, only to fall on their knees and retch until they spew out a foul pale green liquid onto the ground. The Girl joined them in discharging the foul liquid from their bodies,
Such was the Crone's Milk. This is what had made them docile, and clouded their memories, and now that it had been expelled from their bodies they were sane once more, and remembered who they were.
Lightning split the night sky, and thunder soon followed behind it. Dark clouds gathered overhead, obscuring the light of the moons, and rain began to pour, but the flames held fast.
More butterflies emerge, a swarm of smoke and purple embers spiraling outward from the campfire, revealing something invisible in the dark. A figure appears behind Luke, the glamour that shielded them from suspicious eyes dispelled by Magicks. The figure was a pile of black tattered rags that seemed to float underwater. Its limbs, of which there were many, were bare, wrinkled, veined, and far too long. Rey could only barely make out three faces within the tattered shadow: ugly, warped visages that were obscured in spite of the campfire's light, but the glow of the flames reflected within their irises was clear, along with the glint upon their teeth.
The shadowy figure split in three, surrounding the group.
These three creatures, these Crones, were once called the Three Sorceresses of Ssi-Ruuk, the priestesses of an elder God. Now, warped throughout a millennium by something far more ancient and alien, they were the Sirens of Ahch-To.
Chewbacca roared, and attempted to shoot the smaller Siren right between the eyes. The bolt was inches from finding its mark, before the crone suddenly became as air, vanishing for a moment, letting the energized bolt pass through the haze of warped air. She reappeared right in front of the Wookiee, grinning madly at him, paralyzing him with fright.
Before he could shoot again, he felt something grab him from behind by the bandolier. The larger Crone hoisted him up with one hand, and tossed him like a rag doll. As he arced across the night sky, Chewbacca roared with impotent rage as he disappeared into the night. The smaller Crone giggled.
"CHEWIE!" Luke yelled, finally remembering his old companion.
"The girl has the Gift..." the largest Siren croaked. "She can resist us..."
"The power in her blood!" hissed the smaller Siren. "So bright! So bright!"
The third Siren produced a staff of black glass from her tattered cloak, and spoke with the authority of a leader: "Then we finish with the old man."
"Like hell!" Luke, using the Force, attempted to push the Siren leader away, but with a wave of her hand, the telekinetic blast was diverted away into a nearby boulder. As it broke apart, the larger Siren grabbed Luke by the arms and held him in place. Luke struggled to free himself from her grasp, but alas, years of Entechment have left his body far too weak to pull free.
"Let me go!" he growled, helpless to stop the leader from merging with her sister, forming a single being, utterly trapping Luke in a prison of shadows...
"Get away from him!" Rey screamed, terrified at the idea that Luke's life would end as food for these creatures.
The leader's head turned to her, and glared hatefully at her.
"Sister!" hissed the smaller Siren. "Let me play with the girl! Let me break her before you feed her to the dark crystal!"
"...Do not be long," said the leader, and together with her elder sister, vanished into the night with their prize as Luke's screams faded in the distance. The rain extinguished the campfire's flames, quelling the light, leaving Rey all alone in the dark against an ancient horror.
"The shadows unfurl, plaything!" the younger Siren screeched, her cadence a song. "Now you are Nona's new pet, Nona's new toy! And now Nona wants to play-play!"
As Nona the Younger approached, Rey's eyes frantically search for the creature, a shadow in the night. Her hands, meanwhile search her sides for her satchel, with the lightsaber inside... but it wasn't there.
Nona giggled, and her bony hands reached into her floating rags... there was glint in the dark, and the sound of something meaty and bony... opening .
"Looking for this?" taunted Nona, as the lightsaber's blade ignited with that familiar snap-hiss, its pale light illuminating the creature's visage: It was smooth, like a doll's, but framed by an infestation of coral and cracks, barnacles and wrinkles. Its jaw had split open, revealing a prehensile tongue as long as her thin, elongated arms. It was thick, glistening with saliva, and its tip wrapped around the hilt.
How Nona could speak clearly with her tongue out like that, Rey could only assume it had to do with the two slits on the side of Nona's tongue, which quivered and opened, briefly revealing teeth .
Rey's eyes widened in terror and disgust, while Nona's double eyelids flickered over almond-shaped pools of darkness.
Nona quickened again, and reappeared in front of Rey, then behind her, then besides her, before taking a wide swipe with the stolen lightsaber, her tongue extending to reach the young woman's legs
Rey rolled out of the way, but it was obvious she's only being toyed with. Once the Siren got bored, she would finish things quickly, and Rey would no doubt lose a limb, if not her life.
The cackling crone quickened in and out of the dark, taking more swipes at Rey, herding her towards the Falcon. She relented, giving the girl time to enter the ship, where she would be trapped, all the better to terrorize her.
Rey climbed into the Falcon, and desperately mashed the close button by the entrance, making the Falcon's ramp rise. It was inches from closing shut before Nona, with a strength that could only come from magicks, pulled the ramp down, making the hydraulics groan in protest.
The Siren's eyes peered over the edge of the ramp, narrow with sadistic mirth. Once she got in, Rey would be trapped inside the Falcon with her...
"GET BACK!" Rey screamed, as she drew her arm back, channeling the Force into her hand. She reached out, palm opened, and sent an invisible bolt of kinetic energy at the Crone's face, hitting it with the power of a battering ram. Still, Nona held fast, and it took two more blasts before she lets go of the ramp, allowing it to close and lock itself. Rey sighs in relief, feeling safe... and a bit exhausted. Untrained as she was, using the Force was very taxing on her body.
The feeling of safety disappeared quickly when she heard the Siren knocking against the hull, causing the dim lights to flicker.
Desperate for a weapon, Rey rushed towards one of the Falcon's cargo bay and searched frantically for anything that might serve as a weapon, tossing aside pieces of useless junk as the Siren attempted to breach her way in.
Finding nothing that could hurt a monster, she moved on to another area of the ship, where she found R2-D2 with some of his parts spilled out on the floor. She approached him and examined the damage – it wasn't severe, she could fix him.
"Oh no, please be alright, please be alright..." Rey muttered, her hands moving quickly as they reconnected the astromech's parts with rapid, practiced ease.
R2-D2's lights blinked, and he came back to life, much to Rey's relief.
"Whoa, what happened?!" he beeped in binary. "One minute I was cooking Hypermatter, the next..."
The entire ship rumbled as Nona tried to smash her way in, screeching all the while.
"Come out, come out, my little plaything!" Nona's sing-song voice resounded across the Falcon's plating. "I am not done playing with you!"
"What the hell is that?!" R2-D2 beeped frantically, deeply regretting that his Maker saw fit to imbue his processor core with terror.
"There's a monster outside, trying to get in! I..." Another knock came, fraying Rey's nerves some more. "...I don't know what to do!"
"Alright, alright!" R2 did his best to sound reassuring, but his beeps could only express so much. "I've got an idea, listen..."
Atop the Falcon, the Crone screeched, snarled and cackled as she pounced on the ship. It looked like such a piece of junk, but it proved uncannily resilient to her raw strength. Finally, she decided that enough was enough, and stabbed the lightsaber into the hull.
Suddenly, the engines came to life, and it looked as though the Falcon was about to take off. Her eyes narrow at the cockpit, now full of lights...
The Crone quickens, her face appearing inches from the canopy. She grins upon seeing R2-D2, plugged into the Falcon's computer. The droid, programmed to feel fear, beeps frantically at the sight of the creature.
"What's this?" the Crone hissed. "The toy-box lives again?"
Nona smashed her fists against the canopy, breaking the bones in her hands and giggling. In an act of madness, she smashed her own forehead against the solid transparisteel plates, and did no better. R2-D2 watches as her hands mend, and her face snaps back into place.
R2-D2 had seen a lot of things, but that was just wrong. "REY!" he warbled, loudly. "SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE KARK IS THAT?!"
The madness went as quickly as it came, and she ignited the saber...
"REY!" Artoo screeched again, as he gave instructions to the Falcon's power management systems. "HURRY UP! SHE'S CUTTING THROUGH!"
Outside, the Falcon's top Quad Laser Cannon came online, and moved, the whirring of its servo motors hidden by the rain...
Below the gun, inside the gunner's seat, Rey's hands were at the gun's controls. Her face was bathed in the red glow emitted by the gun cam's screen's light, the Siren Sorceress slowly coming into view, the cross hair just a few degrees away from being zero'ed in on her...
"Easy..." Rey muttered, her voice camouflaged by the rainfall tapping against the transparisteel canopy above. "Easy..."
The Siren was almost finished tracing a circle in the cockpit's canopy with the lightsaber.
Suddenly, the Quad Cannon's servomotors, badly maintained, groan and squeal, alerting the Crone. "What?!" she hissed, whirling around, staring at the split muzzles of the Falcon's guns.
The on-screen reticle was centered on the Crone, and Rey pressed both triggers, unleashing a rain of proton bolts upon her target. The Siren screeched in agony as her rags were perforated by bolt after bolt of mass-infused photons, glowing embers bursting at each impact point.
Nona fell, and vanished beneath the Falcon.
"Is she dead?" Rey muttered. Then, raising her voice: "R2? R2, is she dead?!"
R2-D2 peered out of the cockpit canopy with his periscope, but could not see the Crone's body anywhere.
"I don't know!" he replied out loud, his beeps frantic. "I can't see it!"
"Nobody could have survived that," muttered Rey, peering in the dark beyond the canopy. Just as she let out a sigh of relief, lighting arced across the sky, framing Nona's silhouette as it loomed above Rey. Her face contorted with hate, she stared down at the canopy and let out a snarl of frustration as she grabbed the Quad Laser Cannon by one of its barrels, ripping it out of its mount. Its power cables stretched and snapped, spitting sparks. She smashed the Transparisteel gunport with the heavy gun, showering Rey with shards of transparent metal. Rey screamed as the Crone grabbed her with her other hand, extracting the poor girl from the safety of the Falcon before tossing her to the ground.
Rey landed and rolled on the ground, sparing her broken bones, but the wind was definitely knocked out of her. Stunned, Rey was unable to get away from the Crone as the creature leapt, landing on top of her. Pale, long fingers coil tightly around Rey's upper arms, pining her in place. The Crone's tongue writhed and stretched, lightsaber at the tip. The meaty openings at the side of the pink appendage vibrated, spewing out noises:
"You're no fun any more! I'll cut off your feet, and then my sisters and I will gorge ourselves on what's left of your power!"
The tongue extended, stabbing the lightsaber into the ground, right by Rey's ankles. Rey panicked, frantically kicking at the tongue to keep the beam away from her flesh and bone. The tongue wrapped itself around Rey's right leg, and the CRONE giggled as she placed the blade but a centimeter away from Rey's ankle, the heat almost scalding her skin.
Suddenly, there was a loud bang, just before a cluster of bowcaster flechettes ripped through the Crone's hardened flesh. Nona screamed, more annoyed than in pain.
"WHO DARES?!" she screamed, outraged, turning to see her attacker: It was Chewbacca, very much alive and not happy at all about being casually tossed into the water.
"NOBODY! TOSSES! A WOOKIE!" Chewbacca's roars were punctuated by Bowcaster fire, each shot stripping bloodless chunks of flesh from the Crone's body. The wounds, unfortunately, mended too quickly for her to die. Still, it definitely hurt the Crone, and Nona loosened her grip on Rey, her attention now focused on the Wookiee. She quickened all around him, evading his shots, until she was poised to stab him through the heart...
Little did Nona know, the Spider was also poised to end her. Having leapt onto her while she had pinned Rey to the ground, the arachnid crawled towards the Crone's prehensile tongue. Before leaping from the top of Crone's head, the arachnid deployed its fangs, now much, much pointier than before, and sank them deep into the tongue as it landed on it, injecting a purple venom within the glossy piece of flesh.
Nona screamed in agony, as her coiled grip on the lightsaber unfurled mid-swing, saving Chewbacca from death.
To Nona, who had not known suffering in centuries, the pain that surged out of her rapidly blackening veins was unimaginable, as if lava was flowing through them.
"What is this?!" she cried. "WHAT IS THIS?!" she screamed.
The lightsaber was spinning in the air, and Rey saw her chance. She reached out to the weapon with the Force, calling it to her. The saber answered, and flew into her hand, ignited and ready to kill. Rey shouted as she charged the CRONE, but the creature responded by Quickening in and out of reach and smacking Rey across the face, sending the scavenger stumbling back, but not knocking her down.
"ENOUGH!" screamed Nona. "ENOUGH! A POX ON YOU ALL!"
Through sheer force of will, Nona regained the use of her tongue, lashing it out at Rey, wrapping itself around her ankle.
"Oh no you don't! Rey swung down, slicing the appendage. The coil of meat unfurled, sloughing away from her ankle and disintegrating into black dust, while the remaining part of the tongue had become a cauterized stump, blue embers glowing upon the wound. The Crone began to panic, and attempted to Quicken away, but something held her in place.
Again, it was Chewbacca, twisting her right arm and applying as much force and leverage on it as he could to break it in half. He succeeded, and decided that, while he was at it, that the Crone deserved to have her shin kicked in two. The Crone still managed to throw him onto the ground, but it was already too late: Rey was already upon her, saber in both hands, swinging wildly and madly, screaming as she lopped off pieces of black rags and limbs.
"Just DIE already!" Rey yelled, furious.
The CRONE was now flat on her back, the fight completely out of her. Still, Rey showed her no mercy.
"NOOOO! NO, NO NO!" Nona cried, knowing that her death was finally at hand. "I was going to live forever! FOREVEEEEER!"
Rey kept on chopping away. "SHUT UP, JUST SHUT UP!"
"GIRL! PLAYTHING! CATTLE!" Nona screeched. "I CURSE YOU!"
"MY NAME..." Rey began to yell, as she raised her weapon above her head, "...IS REY!"
Rey delivered the coup-de-grâce, stabbing the Crone in the heart. As the blade sank deep in the Crone's chest, the human girl's eyes began to turn into a bright eldritch blue, matching the light of the saber... and the deep light of the Krayt Dragon Pearl inside the weapon. Nona burst into blue flames, and let out an otherworldly wail as she was consumed. Even amidst the whorl of flames, Rey remained unhurt, as they were drawn into the lightsaber's heart through its blade. The flames extinguished themselves once Nona was nothing but ash, leaving Rey free to fall on her knees, at once exhausted in body and yet... revitalized in spirit. She looked over at Chewbacca approaching her, a look of amazement on his face.
"...Is it over?" beeped R2-D2 from the Falcon's cockpit.
"There's two more of these things..." said Rey, wearily. She barely had it in her to take out the one. "They still have Luke!"
Before Chewbacca could say anything, the ground began to rumble, and shake.
The island cracked all over, and the Falcon suddenly found itself a bit too close to the edge. The ground seemed to get lower, and the sea became higher...
"The island is sinking!" Chewbacca yelled, helping Rey to get back on her feet. "Get on the Falcon, now!"
"We can't leave Luke here!" Rey protested.
"We're no good to him dead or without a ship! Let's GO!"
Its crew onboard, the Falcon rose with some difficulty, the damage from the Crone's onslaught having hobbled the ship, though not beyond R2-D2's ability to repair on the fly. The main thrusters roared to life, and the Falcon began a circular flight around the island as the water around it began to be pushed away by an unseen force, revealing the rocks to be not the tip of an underwater mountain, but the top of a stone tower encrusted by sediments and coral.
Rey, patching the hole in the canopy, is shocked at the sight: "Oh, my stars... this thing was under us this whole time?!"
The water whirled farther and farther away. Lightning struck the tower, chasing away the dark, and for a split second, the silhouettes of various buildings — temples, homes, shops — could be seen at the foot of the tower.
Chewbacca was at the controls, while Rey took the co-pilot's seat. They both looked to the right, waiting for the lightning to illuminate the buildings again.
"A city?" growled Chewbacca.
"No,' said Rey. "Not a city."
The spires began to rise out of the depths of the sea, and the shape of the city became more apparent: a five-pointed star, its points long and narrow. The shape, kilometers in length, kept rising, and rising, until its barnacle-infested ventral side was well above the sea, dumping sea water back where it belonged through hundreds of openings. Ancient Glossair Rings, engines that pushed against gravity, hummed to life within the depths of the massive stone star as lights all over the buildings blinked awake.
It was a starship, and its egress was getting faster and faster, matching the Millennium Falcon at its best.
Such was the ancient city-ship of Firwirrung, forgotten for millenia, now awakened from its slumber.
Awakened... by the waning life force of Luke Skywalker.
Rey exchanged looks with R2-D2, Chewbacca, and the small Spider now sitting on her shoulder. Nothing more needed to be said. They were going in, and nothing would stop them from rescuing The Last of the Jedi.
Chewbacca pushed the throttle to maximum.
TO BE CONTINUED
PREVIEW FOR SIRENS OF AHCH-TO, PART 2
The beautiful blue curve of Ahch-to, aglow with the light of the sun, became slowly obscured by the pronged shadow of a ship's prow. The sleek craft, a modified MandalMotors Beskad Heavy Corvette, armed to the teeth with heavy blaster cannons and quad laser turrets, was just coming into the planet's orbit. It was flanked by sixteen G1-M4-C Dunelizard fighters and four M22 Gunships, all Hyperspace capable craft, and they had all been gathered for one purpose:
Kill Han Solo.
An audible, echoing ping could be heard in spite of the airless void of space. The Source? The Corvette's sensors, scanning for Han's ship.
Across the Corvette's side these words were painted in Aurebesh:
And printed below that, was the logo of the Guavian Death Gang.
The Red Reaver's bridge was small, but impeccable, and efficiently configured for the Cyborgs of Guavian Death Gang to make full use of its machines.
A man in a long dark coat stood a the center, overlooking a crew of red-clad cyborgs, his face illuminated from below by the lights under the grille that served as the bridge's floor. Hundreds of holo-screens flickered in the gloom, overseen by augmented crewmen connected to the ship via high-bandwidth cables. The man, Bala-Tik, was a human from Dachaigh, pale and thin, his slight build and pallor hiding a panoply of cybernetics, the latest from the Corporate Sector. Primarily optimized for negotiations, Bala-Tik's augmentations still gave him an edge in combat, should said negotiations turn aggressive. They did more often than not.
He began pacing about, eager for something: payback. Payback against Han Solo, who had left him to be devoured by hungry Rathars.
The fact that Bala-Tik had every intention of killing the Old Scoundrel didn't factor in, of course.
Gathering a crew to hunt the old man down had cost him a lot of favours built over a decade of working for the Gang, but he figured it was worth it to kill a former Rebel war hero. The message would be clear: nobody karked with the Guavians.
The Reaver's sensor operator, a cyborg with a heavy metal visor, spoke with a metallic, flanging voice.
"We've got a response to the sensor ping," he said. "It's the tracking beacon."
Bala-Tik smiled. Finally . They had been chasing that beacon for days. "Unkar was true to his word. Show me."
The computer-generated image of Ahch-To appeared on the bridge's main screen. The planet spun to its night side, and the screen zoomed in on the planet until the damaged Millennium Falcon fully came into view.
"There you are, you burnt-out old has-been," he muttered to himself. Then, he asked: "What are they chasing?"
The screen zoomed out, and shifted towards the huge, five-pointed star shape of a enormous flying city. The screen's HUD displayed sensor readouts: size, mass, speed, energy... It was all gibberish to Bala-Tik. His forte was violence.
The sensor operator translated: "Starship, Class 5. Scans show a carbon-date of at least 2500 standard years. Building on surface suggests habitat - estimated population capacity 295,000 sapients. Lifesign scans... inconclusive, but numerous."
Bala-Tik smirked " ...I take it back, looks like the old man had been hunting for treasure all along... And look at the prize he's got. Too bad we're about to take it from him." Bala-Tik turned to his comms officer. "I want all fighters to intercept the Falcon and shoot it to pieces, the Gunships—"
An alarm blinked on the Sensor Operator's console. "Quantum waveforms detected. We have incoming."
"What?!" Bala-Tik's shock was understandable: nobody else should be here... "Who?!"
A Star-Galleon frigate burst out of hyperspace, with its eclectic escort of Scyk Fighters, Quadjumpers, Z-95 Headhunters, and Kihraxz starfighters. The Frigate had been modified for piracy, but it was in an obvious state of disrepair. Corrosion and metal patches marred its hull, and its escort matched it in their ramshackle state. They did, however, outnumber the Guavian squadron 3 to 1. This posse had been put together for one purpose.
To Kill Han Solo.
The name of the Star Galleon had been scoured across the hull with a plasma drive in Huttese:
And painted below that, was the sigil of Kanjiklub, an alliance of space pirates from the Pacanth Reach.
The inside of the Leyak's bridge looked as bad as the outside, but the bunch of brigands and thugs that manned its posts made the most of it.
Sitting on the captain's chair, hunched over the side with his head propped up by his arm, was the captain of the Leyak, A short, thin human man from Nar Kanji, he was clad in the traditional leathers of his homeworld. His beard and mustache were thin, his hair was black, and his skin had been tanned by Nar Kanji's harsh sun and — thanks to Han Solo — cured in the digestive acids of a Rathar and then watered-down bacta.
Such was Tasu Leech, and he had seen better days.
Standing by his side was his lieutenant, Razoo Qin-Fee. A younger man not much taller than Tasu, Razoo's black hair had been styled after a Zygerrian style — temples shaved, sides raised, middle slicked back — and had dressed in a less traditional style: worn maroon leather jacket, pants, and vambraces, decorated with a leather waist sash and equipped with two criss-crossing black bandoliers and a small belt pack.
Razoo liked to keep improvised incendiary grenades on his person at all times. One never knew when one had to burn something to ash, after all.
In front of them, a flickering holographic pit displayed the Millennium Falcon, and the massive city-ship it was chasing.
Tasu leaned forward and grinned. "I KNEW the old scoundrel was up to something!" said Tasu, in Huttese. "Look at this, just look at this! The ship alone must be worth billions in Credits! RAZOO! Alert the boys! We're going to take that prize from Han Solo's cold dead hands!"
"Tasu, we're not equipped to capture a Dreadnought!" Razoo protested in the same tongue. "Not with a squadron of Guavians on our backs! We should back off, and—"
Tasu grabbed Razoo by the collar and pulled him close. "LISTEN to me," he snarled. "I will chase Solo from Malachor to the deep end of the MAW before I even think about backing off! FORGET leading the boys! Get to your fighter! I want you to land the kill shot on the Falcon yourself!"
Tasu let Razoo go, and dismissed him with a gesture. "All hands," Tasu bellowed, "prepare for battle! All ships, full burn towards that flying city!"
Razoo left the bridge, and went to the hangar to prep his ship. " I have a bad feeling about this ..." He had had that same feeling before boarding the Eravana, and that blue milk run had turned real sour.
The Kanjiklub ships' engines spewed plasma as their outputs were pushed past their safety limits, and they overtook the Guavian vessels.
On the Red Reaver's bridge, Bala-Tik saw the Kanjiklubers headed straight for the prize, his prize.
"ALL SHIPS!" he screamed. "INTERCEPT THOSE KANJIKLUB GOONS! DON'T LET THEM GET TO THE PRIZE!"
Out in space, the Guavian ships accelerated towards Ahch-To, their crews ignorant of the horror that awaited them on the Firwirrung...