Chapter Two

The Slippery Slopes Cantina was unlike anything Rey had ever experienced. The music she'd heard outside became almost deafening as she stepped into the dark, cavernous space. Multicolored lights flashed from above, directing her attention toward an inlaid circle near the center of the room that served as a dance floor. Most patrons had opted to sit, however, and Poe gestured at an empty table with four stools before leaning in to yell near Finn's ear. Though Rey strained to hear what was being said, she couldn't make out any words over the cacophony.

After a short moment, Poe set off in the direction of the bar. "Poe's gonna get us drinks!" Finn shouted, and Rey found herself glancing automatically at Rose, who looked as puzzled as she felt.

"Us?" the girls exclaimed in unison.

"Yeah!" Finn beamed, nodding. "He said first round's on him, remember?"

The girls exchanged another look, their wary expressions mirror images of one another. "Hang on," Rey said, walking fast to keep up with Finn, who was already several steps ahead. "Finn?" she tried, but her friend didn't seem to have heard. "Finn!" She grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop. "I thought Rose and I made it clear that we have no intention of getting inebriated on Huttese spirits-"

"Nobody said anything about getting inebriated. Well." He paused, his eyes darting upward briefly. "Okay, maybe Poe did. But I don't think he really meant it. I mean, he's our pilot, so he can't let himself get too messed up. Right?"

He chuckled, but when Rey fixed him with a flat stare, he sobered. "Look, I get it. You're uncomfortable letting your guard down in a place like this. So is Rose, and after everything we've been through, you'd think I would feel the same."

"But?" she prompted when he didn't continue.

In response, Finn averted his gaze, sighing. "I know this may come as a shock," he said, "but liquor wasn't exactly a First Order approved beverage. It was forbidden to all Stormtroopers, even when we were off-duty."

"Really?" Rey's eyebrows shot up. "That seems rather ridiculous."

"Yeah. But does it surprise you?"

She had to consider but a moment before shaking her head. "No. I guess not."

"Exactly. They wanted us to be ready for anything, all the time. Which means I've never really lived , Rey. Never been to a party—not one I was there just to enjoy—or had too much to drink, or sat at a sabacc table, or…"

He didn't have to say any more. Because Rey understood. Finn had been denied many things during his time as a Stormtrooper, and Rey found she couldn't fault him for wanting to partake in those things. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she realized that her own background was very similar to his.

As a girl, Rey had spent nearly every waking moment toiling away in a junkyard. By day, there'd been scarce opportunity for fun or merriment, and when night fell, she'd not had the energy or the means to do anything but lie awake and fantasize about what it would be like if—and when—her family finally returned. She'd imagined a joyful reunion full of laughter, tears, and tight embraces. But after more than ten years of a destitute and lonely existence, she was forced to come to terms with the fact that the future she'd envisioned would likely never be a reality. And so, like Finn, she'd left. Unlike him, however, she'd had every intention of going back.

Then she met Maz Kanata, who'd imparted on her the words she so desperately needed to hear.

"Dear child, I see your eyes, you already know the truth. Whomever you're waiting for on Jakku, they're never coming back. But, there's someone who still could."

Rey had thought Maz was talking about Luke then, though now she found she wasn't so sure. Maz was Force-sensitive, and while her abilities were limited, when Rey looked back on that day, she couldn't help but feel the old woman had been offering her a glimpse into the future.

A memory from Exegol pushed itself to the forefront of her mind, of the moment the Emperor had sneered down at her, loudly declaring, "The Jedi are dead!" Rey recalled the defeat that had washed over her as she raised her lightsaber, ready to strike him down, like he wanted, to surrender herself to him and to the Dark. She'd even caught herself thinking it might not be so bad, having the full expanse of his power at her fingertips.

And then…

Then she'd seen Ben, battered and bloody, but ready to stand with her, to fight. His voice had been in her head, grounding her, bringing her back to herself, assuring her that she wasn't alone, that he was with her. Seeing him then had felt like coming home.

That's who Maz must have been talking about. Ben, not Luke. She didn't know how it had taken her so long to realize the truth of this, but now that she did, she felt terribly foolish.

And sad.

"Rey?"

Finn was watching her with a knitted brow, and Rey blinked, mentally berating herself for allowing her thoughts to return to Ben yet again.

"All right," she said quickly, taking his hand, as he had done to her the day they met on Jakku. "You win. Let's go find ourselves a table. Rose!" She waved to their friend, who was hurrying to catch up.

"What's going on?" Rose shouted. "What are we doing?"

The grin Rey gave her was nothing short of mischievous. "Having fun."


"What are they doing?" came Zorilla's voice in his ear.

Gorbec didn't say anything at first, his eyes drifting casually toward the table where the Jedi girl sat with her friends. "Not much," he finally told his sister through his comm device. "They're just talking."

"Sounds boring ," she droned, and Gorbec grunted.

"Listen, Zorilla," he said after taking a drag of the fizzy yellow drink he'd purchased from the bar as cover. "I've been thinking-"

"You'd better not say what it is I think you're going to say."

"Just hear me out, would you?" he growled, breaking off in order to glance around. Which was stupid, now that he thought about it. Because really, it was impossible to hear anything in a joint like this.

"I think we could do it," he said. "If we took her on together-"

But Zorilla cut him off. "You truly are an idiot," she said, and Gorbec bristled, his grip on the glass tightening.

"You don't just kill a Jedi." He could practically hear her shaking her head through his comm. "It would be especially stupid for someone like you or me to attempt such a thing. Her special abilities would put us at a severe disadvantage, say nothing of our limited experience in combat-"

"It's a difference of fifty thousand credits," Gorbec argued. "And I don't know what you mean. We both have excellent combat skills."

"Compared to her, no, we don't. When's the last time you took on a Sith lord and lived to tell the tale?"

Gorbec slammed his drink down harder than was necessary.

"Best we collect what reward money we can, and leave the difficult stuff to the professionals," Zorilla resumed. "Speaking of which, our contact should be arriving any moment-"

Gorbec switched off his ear-piece, all the while clenching and unclenching his fists beneath the table. Zorilla might not have faith in their abilities, but he did.

He downed the last of his drink before standing, his gaze fixed furiously on the Jedi girl, who threw her head back in a laugh. Though he hated himself for it, Gorbec faltered a little at the sight. She looked happy, and if even half of the stories he'd heard about her were true, then she deserved to be as such, perhaps more so than anyone else in the galaxy.

She's a hero, and I'm about to repay her with a blaster bolt to the head. He let the full truth of that register in his mind, deciding at once that Zorilla must be right. He was an idiot.

I have to do it, though. For Bennie.

He set off before he could change his mind, a slight wobble to his gait as he stalked purposefully toward the Jedi girl's table.


"Wait. You mean, you never found the actual codebreaker?"

Rey could feel a laugh bubbling in her chest. The others were watching with expressions that betrayed varying degrees of amusement, a fact that did not escape her notice despite her slightly intoxicated state. Well, she thought, this was what they wanted.

And, as it turned out, it may have been exactly what she needed .

Rose, too, whether she wanted to admit it or not. Her friend was smiling as she lifted a mostly empty glass to her lips. Poe had gotten them a pitcher of ale, and after some argument, he'd convinced Rose to have a little—well, maybe more than just a little. Rey noticed there was a pink tinge to the other girl's cheeks as she leaned in, elbows resting on the table. "No," she confirmed. "After we got arrested, we knew there was no way we could reenter the casino, at least not without being recognized. We had no idea what to do. So we started arguing, and one of the prisoners in our cell overheard us."

She looked at Finn, who nodded, adding, "He was shifty as hell. But he offered to help, and time was not on our side. It was him, or nothing. So…" He shrugged. "We hired him. And he got us onto the Supremacy , just like he promised, but the last thing you'll ever hear me do is sing the guy's praises. I mean, he still betrayed us, in the end."

Next to him, Poe scoffed, topping off another glass. "I said it once, I'll say it again: you guys are insanely lucky that all ended up working out."

"Yeah," Finn said dryly. "Believe it or not, though, Canto Bight was actually the easiest part of that mission." His eyes lit up as another thought seemed to occur to him. "Did I ever tell you about how I singlehandedly took down Phasma?"

"Are you serious?" Poe exclaimed, and Rey felt the corners of her lips twitch upward. She wasn't sure who they were talking about, though it was obviously someone they both had history with.

As Poe grilled Finn for more details, Rey stood and wandered off toward the bar. She didn't have any doubt that Finn's story was an exciting one. But hearing it would only serve as a reminder of what she had been doing during his and Rose's mission, aboard that very same dreadnought. Of how foolish she'd been when she gave herself up to Kylo Ren, thinking that he was the answer to everything. That she could somehow convince him to switch sides, to turn back to the Light and fight for the Resistance.

She should've known that only Leia would ever be capable of such a feat.

He did come back, though, Rey reminded herself. When it mattered most.

And that was just it. Even though it had taken Ben longer than she would have liked to come back, Rey found she couldn't bring herself to regret meeting him. No, her only regret was that she would never have the privilege of getting to know his true self better.

"Remember that I will be with you. Always."

A lump formed in her throat as she recalled her bond-mate's last words to her, the words she had heard spoken so clearly in her head, through the last remaining flicker of their connection. Her eyes burned. Poe's wrong. This isn't working. I must not have drank enough ale. Maybe if I have some more-

"Rey!"

Only then did she realize that someone was shouting her name. She turned with a start, finding herself standing face to face with Rose, her friend's deep brown eyes shining with worry.

"Rose!" Rey swallowed, managing a small smile. "I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me-"

But Rose waved her off. "Never mind that. Something's clearly upset you, and I thought…" She shrugged sheepishly. "Well, I thought you might want to talk about it."

When Rey didn't respond, her friend babbled, "Of course, you don't have to if you don't want to!" She looked down, her expression suddenly turning serious. "Finn asked me not to mention this, but…a while back we were talking about Exegol. He said something happened to you during the battle. Something bad ."

Rey's blood turned to ice. "What did he tell you?" she asked hurriedly, and Rose scrunched up her face.

"He said there was a moment where he couldn't 'feel' your presence anymore." She shook her head. "I don't have the Force like you guys, so I don't really understand what that means. But…he said he thought you were dead."

A heavy silence followed as Rey stared down at the floor, a series of images flashing through her mind in rapid succession. A stone chamber. A pale, withered man in a black robe. Wide, milky white eyes. Two blue laser swords joined together. A flash of bright light. And then…

Nothing.

"That's because I was."

She said it so quietly that for a moment she wasn't sure Rose had heard. But then her friend's eyes grew wide. "No," she mouthed, staring in horror.

Rey nodded slowly. "It's true. I didn't have the strength to defeat the Emperor."

"But…you did ," Rose protested, gesturing wildly with her hands. "I mean, you're here! And you killed him. Right?"

"Yes," Rey said, willing her voice not to shake. "I had help, though. If I'd been alone, I…I wouldn't be talking to you right now."

Again, silence fell, and Rey watched as a flurry of emotions flitted across Rose's features. Shock. Disbelief. Confusion. "Rey," she said, dropping her voice to a whisper so that Rey had to lean in closer. "I know you've been avoiding talking about what happened, but…I think maybe now it's time. Finn and Poe think so, too. It's why they let me go after you. Believe me, they wanted to follow. But I told them to stay put." Her smile was both sad and encouraging. "My sister Paige and I? We used to share secrets. I'm very good at keeping them."

The implication was clear, and if Rey was being honest, at that moment she wanted nothing more than to throw her arms around Rose and cry into her shoulder. The idea of telling someone everything, of finally laying it all bare…it was almost too tempting to resist.

No, she chided herself. Rose was just starting to have fun. You were too, remember?

And she still could. No, she would. She was determined.

Rey looked around, summoning courage as she lunged for a nearby table, seizing an abandoned, half-empty glass of liquor. Then she threw her head back and downed its contents in three great big gulps. She grimaced as the bitter, foul tasting liquid seared its way down her esophagus, all the while trying to ignore the fact that Rose was gaping at her.

"That isn't…you can't just…" Rose sputtered, but Rey was already grabbing her hand and pulling her forward.

"Um. Rey? Where are we going?"

Rey half-turned, though before she could answer, she jolted, walking straight into a massive wall of green flesh. "My sincerest apologies," a heavily accented voice said, and Rey staggered, rubbing her injured shoulder as she lifted her gaze. A Twi'lek with piercing yellow eyes was staring down his nose at her.

She'd met a fair number of Twi'leks, both at Niima Outpost and on the planet Ryloth during her time with the Resistance. They were a common species, and like most, they tended to mind their own business unless provoked. But Rey didn't like the way this one was leering at her, as if she were some sort of prized animal that he hoped to capture and mount on his wall. Something isn't right here .

"Let's go," she mumbled to Rose. "I don't like the look of that guy."

"Me either," Rose said, taking her arm.

They'd only walked a few steps before Rey stopped short. A tiny, prickling feeling had begun at the back of her neck, a feeling that she might have dismissed as nothing a year ago. But she'd had enough run-ins with danger since then to recognize when the Force was trying to tell her something.

Her head snapped back to the Twi'lek, who now held a blaster in his hand. Immediately, Rey reached out, both literally and figuratively, and she watched as those big yellow eyes went wide with alarm.

"I knew it." The Twi'lek's voice held both fascination and fear. "You are the one they're looking for."

The moment Rey had realized his intent, she'd locked him in a Force-hold, and though she knew it had been the right thing—not just for her protection, but also Rose's—she couldn't help feeling a twinge of regret. The Twi'lek was staring at his incapacitated right arm as if it were a foreign limb, a separate entity with a life of its own. Seeing him do this made Rey think of the day that Kylo Ren put a Force-hold on her , back when she first met him in the forest on Takodana. Being frozen in place, not having control over her own body…it had been terrifying, and she imagined the Twi'lek was likely having similar feelings now.

"Release me!" he cried out. "I promise, we won't touch your friends! We just want you!" He twisted, struggling against his invisible bonds. But Rey did not lower her arm. If anything, she pushed back harder.

"Who's 'we?' What are you talking about?"

"Rey!"

She allowed her gaze to dart over to where Rose stood atop a table, her blaster pointed at the Twi'lek. "I've got you," she said, and Rey acknowledged her with an appreciative nod.

"Go! Get Poe and Finn-"

"I'm not leaving you!"

She wanted to object, but Rose was stubborn, and Rey knew that any such attempts would be wasted breath.

"Rey!" came a desperate shout from across the room. "Rose!"

Both Finn and Poe were rushing toward them, and Rey noted that several of the bar's patrons had also gathered to watch the scene play out. She returned her gaze to the Twi'lek. "Who's looking for me?" she demanded.

"Don't you know?" He sounded surprised. "There's a bounty on your head. Fifty thousand for your capture, a hundred thousand for your corpse."

A hundred thousand credits? Rey thought, incredulous. Who would put such a bounty on me?

"Well," she said as Poe and Finn closed in on them, blasters raised, "I'm afraid you aren't going to be the one to collect it."

Instead of answering, the Twi'lek let his gaze travel past her. It was a slight movement of the eye, one Rey likely wouldn't have detected if she weren't so hyper-focused on him. She spun just in time to spot another Twi'lek approaching. This one was female, also green-skinned. She held a blaster, which she fired almost the second their eyes met.

Rey relinquished her hold on the other Twi'lek, trusting her friends to keep him at bay as she stretched out her hand, using the Force to deflect the bolt. The fiery red orb hovered in mid-air for a brief moment before shooting upward. It crashed into the ceiling, as Rey had intended, the charged particles erupting in a small explosion before raining down in a trail of orange and white sparks.

Then all hell broke loose.

Rose fired her blaster at the assailant, and the Twi'lek hissed, her body convulsing as the bolt clipped her in the shoulder.

"Zorilla!" the other Twi'lek screamed before baring his teeth and taking aim at Rose.

Rey didn't hesitate. She ignited her lightsaber and jumped in front of her friend. The kyber blade blocked the first shot, and Rey quickly pivoted in order to block the second. "Go! Run!" she shouted as the Twi'lek continued his assault. "We're right behind you!"

Poe and Finn ran ahead, and Rey followed, all the while keeping her eyes trained on the Twi'leks, who were both firing blaster bolts at her and Rose. Rey easily blocked each shot with her lightsaber, and Rose stayed close behind, where she was protected but also able to return fire. Rey had never seen Rose in action before, and she wasn't at all surprised to find her friend was an excellent shot. By the time they'd reached the exit, the Twi'leks were both injured and out of breath, and they seemed to concede among themselves that further pursuit was ill-advised.

"Come on!" Poe yelled, waving them onward, and Rey and Rose glanced at each other before lowering their weapons and sprinting full-speed for the exit.


The crowds gave them a wide berth as they rushed into the street, and it took Rey several seconds longer than it should have to realize why. Her lightsaber was still on, and every sentient-being in the vicinity was staring at her. Or rather, they were staring at it, the steady beam of golden light that she held in her hand like a torch.

The onlookers appeared both shocked and thrilled by the sight of the kyber blade. Some gasped and pointed. Others shouted. Still others looked fearful, of both her and the weapon. Seeing their terrified faces was enough to make Rey feel guilty for wreaking such havoc upon them. They hadn't asked for this. Then again, she supposed neither had she.

"This way!" Poe directed, taking a sharp turn down an alley, and Finn made an exasperated noise as he followed.

"You sure you know where you're going?"

"A hell of a lot surer than you!"

Finn pursed his lips, obviously having no rebuttal as Poe skidded to a halt, motioning for them to duck into a dilapidated doorway. They'd been running for some time, and Rey retracted her lightsaber, thankful for the reprieve as the four of them leaned against the building's crumbling wall, catching their breaths.

"I heard what he said," Poe panted, "about there being a bounty on your head." He paused, and Rey could sense feelings of regret radiating off of him as he sighed. "There's something I need to tell you guys. If I'm being honest…New Republic intelligence isn't entirely sure how significant the First Order's remaining forces might be. But by the sounds of it, there may be more than we'd hoped."

"Wait," Rose cut in. "Are you saying you think the First Order might've been the ones who put a bounty on Rey?"

"It's possible," Poe admitted, but Rose shook her head.

"How? We destroyed all of their ships on Exegol. All the major ones, anyway."

"That was the Final Order," Finn reminded her. "The army Palpatine had been building in secret for decades. And yeah, the First Order sent a lot of their ships to defend the fleet during the battle. But there's no way that that was all of them."

"Exactly," Poe said, sounding grim. "And that's the problem. It's just like it was at the end of the Galactic War. No one really knew how many Imperials were still out there. Unfortunately, we're kind of in the same boat right now."

Hearing that, Rey pushed off from the wall. "Are you serious?" she said, making no attempt to conceal her anger. "What was it you were saying yesterday, about the First Order being nothing to worry ourselves over?"

Poe glanced down at the ground. "I didn't say not to worry-"

"You said we were being overly cautious, that we didn't need to hide-"

"I know what I said!" he snapped, and Rey could practically see him counting to ten in his head. "Yeah, our intel's pretty limited," he continued in a quieter voice, "but until now I didn't see a reason to be concerned."

"And there may not be," Finn pointed out. "Remember, this is all just speculation. We still don't know if it's the First Order that's after Rey."

It was a comforting thought, though her friends' nervous expressions indicated that none of them felt reassured.

"I don't think anyone followed us," Rey said finally, glancing at the doorway.

"I don't think so either," Finn agreed. "Those bounty hunters gave up."

Rose snorted a laugh. "Big surprise. They took one look at Rey's lightsaber and practically wet their pants."

Poe stepped outside, swiveling his head left and right before beckoning them forward. "We should be fine as long as we don't draw attention to ourselves. Just follow my lead, and we'll be back on the Falcon in no time."

They exited the alley and rejoined the throngs, walking at a leisurely pace. No one spared them a second glance, and by the time they reached the square that they'd passed through earlier, Rey found herself starting to relax. They might manage to make it back to the hangar without incident after all.

But then she stopped dead in her tracks, drawing herself up to her full height as she surveyed the square. That feeling was back again, though she couldn't seem to pin down just what it was trying to tell her.

"Uh. Rey?" Finn questioned, the trepidation in his voice telling her everything she needed to know. She nodded before closing her eyes and casting out her awareness, searching for whatever disturbance they both sensed.

"Hey," Poe called out, sounding irritated. "What's the holdup?"

"I'm not sure," Finn answered, watching Rey, who opened her eyes to return his stare. There was no question that someone was watching them, and whoever it was, their presence in the Force was strong, much stronger than the average person's. Almost as strong as Ben's.

Rey's heart hammered in her chest at the thought. A part of her couldn't help wishing that it was Ben, that he'd found his way back to her through some channel of the cosmic Force. But she would recognize her bond-mate's signature anywhere, and whoever was among them had a dark presence, much darker than his had ever been.

I've got a bad feeling about this.

"Someone's following us," she told her friends, her voice a near-whisper. "Someone powerful. A dark side user, I think."

It was odd. She had always assumed there were other Force-users besides herself and Finn out there, somewhere. The galaxy was enormous, after all. But it was unsettling to imagine that those "others" might be people who had chosen to align themselves entirely with the Dark, people like Vader, Snoke, and Emperor Palpatine himself.

Poe cursed under his breath at the same time that Finn said, "A dark side user? As in…the Emperor?"

But Rey shook her head. "Not as powerful as that. Still, we should get out of here."

Rose's face was stricken as she nodded. "Let's keep moving."

"Gladly," Poe quipped, already making his way forward again. "Eyes peeled, everyone. Whoever this mysterious Force-wielder is, we're not gonna let him take us by surprise."

Almost as soon as he had said that, Rey froze, her hand shooting out to grip his arm. The pilot stumbled, casting her an annoyed look, though when he noted her wary-eyed stare, he blinked, turning slowly.

A gargantuan creature stood before them, brown-skinned with two great big horns jutting from her chin. Her hands and feet were bare, displaying sharp talons. A Dowutin , Rey thought, recognizing the alien as one of the many species she'd spotted doing trade at Niima Outpost. This Dowutin was much larger than any of the ones she'd met, however, standing at what had to be at least nine feet tall, outfitted in a skin tight black suit and visored helmet.

Rey knew without any doubt that this was the Force-user who had been following them. The question was: why? Was this another person looking to collect the bounty on her head? She kept her hand close to her lightsaber, hoping against hope that this was a conflict that could be resolved through civil discourse.

Somehow, though, she didn't think she was going to get that lucky.

"Jedi," the Dowutin said simply. She made no move for any weapons, but Rey flexed her fingers, prepping herself to use the Force at a moment's notice. "I assume you know by now that this will not be an easy fight."

When she didn't say anything further, Rey frowned. She couldn't get over how odd this person's Force signature was, like a gray shadow moving through an otherwise bright and colorful world.

"What…what are you?"

Instead of answering, the Dowutin laughed, the sound low and guttural. "Yes, I think this will be fun."

Then without another word she reached behind her back, brandishing a sword, and Rey tensed as she scrutinized the weapon. A strange choice, she thought as Rose suddenly cried out behind her.

"Rey! That sword-"

The Dowutin charged, her enormous feet carrying her across the pavement at an almost impossible speed. She was so fast that Rey only barely managed to activate her lightsaber in time to parry what was sure to have been a deadly strike. Yellow light clashed against gleaming metal, and for a moment, Rey stared at the point where the two weapons met, unable to contain her shock.

The sword held up against the kyber blade.