Chapter Nine

Like Nar Shaddaa, Dathomir was red. Unlike the notorious moon, however, its coloring was not broken up by the presence of lights, buildings, and skyscrapers. Rather, Dathomir resembled a crimson marble, its surface smooth, cold, pure. The planet reminded Rey of Kylo Ren's lightsaber, of the dark side of the Force. Of evil.

Do I really want to do this?

An uneasy feeling settled over her, and for a moment, she sat idle in the pilot's chair. But then she shook her head. You're not really going to miss out on the chance to meet another Jedi because you're unnerved by the color of this planet, are you? She engaged the thrusters. Of course not. That would be ridiculous. No one reached out to hail her as she began her descent, and while this was not altogether a surprise, somehow Rey found the silence to be even more disconcerting. There's really no telling what might be waiting for me down there.

The planet's atmosphere was thin, and she soon began to catch glimpses of the world below. The ground was shielded by a thick blanket of white mist, though there were spots where the air was clear and she could make out stretches of cracked, rust-colored rock. The only sign of life was a sprawling forest that lay to the west. It consisted of what appeared to be giant thorn bushes, their spindly brown vines peaking menacingly through the fog.

There didn't seem to be a single safe place to land, and Rey had to circle for several minutes before finding an outcropping of rock that was large enough to hold the Falcon. It was at a higher altitude, but that would serve her purposes well. She touched down slowly and with great care.

According to Maz, the Nightsisters were said to have lived in the swamplands, though many of them had also occupied a stone fortress that rested somewhere deep in the mountains—an ancient temple. Of course, there was no way of knowing if the lone Nightsister that Rey sought was still around, but she had to start her search somewhere, and she figured that this temple Maz had mentioned was as good a place as any. Besides, it would probably be at least marginally safer than traipsing through the swamps.

The Falcon's hatch hissed open, and hot air rushed in to greet Rey. Though Dathomir had a reputation for being on the chillier side, it appeared that at higher elevations, the temperatures were actually quite warm. She discarded the cloak she'd anticipated needing. It was probably for the best, anyway. A hood would obstruct her vision, and if the creatures on Dathomir were anywhere near as treacherous as the planet itself—which, she had to figure, they probably were—she needed to be on her guard.

After making certain her lightsaber was secured to her belt, she turned to BB-8. "Ready?" she asked, and the droid responded by asking her if she was crazy. Rey chuckled. "You can stay behind, if you'd prefer. It probably wouldn't be so easy for you to navigate this place, anyway."

The astromech seemed to take that as a challenge. His spherical body straightened as he hotly informed her that he had been designed to traverse all types of terrain, including "savage, mountainous hellscapes like this." Rey laughed again. Sometimes she swore that BB-8 had more personality than most sentients. "All right, all right," she relented. "Come on, then."

She exited the ship, the air growing heavier and more humid with each step. While it wasn't anywhere near the level of heat she'd endured during her time on Jakku, she had to figure there were probably some days that Dathomir could give the desert planet a run for its money. BB-8 rolled down after her, unaffected by the rise in temperature. He chirped to remind her that the temple was to the north, and Rey turned in that direction—not, of course, that it would have been possible to miss the towering structure that lay just beyond their ship.

At first, Rey thought she was looking at a building, though as she drew nearer, she realized that the temple had been carved into the very rock of Dathomir itself. The structure stretched high into the sky, concealing the planet's blazing red sun from view. Darkness roiled from within, and like the cave on Ahch-To, Rey found herself both repelled by and drawn to the place. Which, she supposed made sense. Maz said that the Nightsisters channeled their power through the dark side of the Force, similar to the Sith, though they themselves were not Force-wielders. Rather, they were witches. Rey didn't understand what the difference was, but she trusted the old woman's knowledge on the subject.

Who knows what might be in there, she thought as she stared up at the formidable rock formation. She couldn't fathom why anyone would want to live in there—why anyone would live on Dathomir, for that matter—but Maz had been insistent that the Nightsister had a deep love for her home planet, and that the chances that she would have returned were high. Besides, you're not doing this just so you can meet another Jedi, she reminded herself. You're doing it for Ben.

That final thought was all the encouragement she needed. After taking a deep breath, she began climbing. BB-8 stuck close to her side, and for the most part, the droid was able to keep up without much difficulty. Once they were finally standing at the base of the temple, BB-8 asked her if she really intended to go inside. Rey turned to him with a smirk. "Just stay close. I'll protect you."

Not for the first time, she found herself feeling relieved that her friends had not accompanied her. Putting her own life in peril was one thing, but dragging Finn, Poe, and Rose to Dathomir would have been difficult to justify, especially since she still didn't know how productive of a journey it would be. Hopefully, they'll take Maz's word for it and assume I've gone on some kind of Jedi pilgrimage. Like the time she went to Tatooine to bury Luke and Leia's lightsabers. If they think I'm doing something as mundane as that, then they won't even consider following me .

Bits of red-brown stone crunched beneath Rey's boots. A slim section of misplaced rock curved upward in an imposing archway, and she put a hand on her lightsaber before turning to look back at BB-8. The droid chirped, promising that he was right behind her, and Rey nodded and crossed the threshold. She didn't get far before it became clear that they weren't alone. There were other life-forms in the temple, of that she didn't have any doubt, though it was nearly impossible to tell what they were or how close they were to her current position. There's something…off about this place. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but whatever it was, it clouded her senses, making it difficult to interpret whatever it was the Force was trying to tell her.

"What right have you to Dathomir?"

At the sound of the voice, Rey closed her fingers around the hilt of her saber. The temple appeared to have been constructed in layers; though the cavern in which she now stood was empty, there were several shelves of rock that hung at varying levels high above her head. She imagined that whoever had spoken was likely perched up on one of them. Such a position would give him both the high ground and better visibility. "Who are you?" she demanded, eyes darting all around. When no one answered, she said, "I mean you no harm. If you'll come out and talk-"

"Talk?" The voice was distinctly male, and Rey continued scanning the shelves above her, but she didn't see anyone. "If all you wish to do is to talk, then why do you carry a weapon, Jedi ?"

Rey let her hand fall back down to its side. Not yet. Only if he strikes first. "My name is Rey," she said, still not knowing where to focus her gaze. "And you're right, I am a Jedi. But I come to Dathomir in peace." She paused, deciding to take a gamble. "Are you one of the Nightbrothers?"

Finally, she detected movement to her left. Something was lurking around the nearest corner. As soon as she had realized this, a red-skinned Zabrak came into view, and Rey fell back a step. She'd been wrong . He was on the ground level of the cavern, clad in brown and black leathers with an ax in one hand. Knowing he was armed made Rey want to reach for her lightsaber again, but she forced herself to remain calm and still.

"You know who we are, then." The Zabrak's yellow eyes glowed with satisfaction, and Rey's pulse spiked at his words. We?

More figures began stepping out of the shadows. All of them were horned Zabrak males, their skin tones ranging from red, to orange, to yellow. Each was tall and almost unnaturally muscular, as if they'd been born and bred to fight. While a few carried axes like the first, most of them had opted for spears or various other forms of spiked weaponry. They loomed above Rey on the rock shelves, surrounding her completely. She counted seven in total.

"I do," she said carefully, pushing down her instinct to move toward the exit. "I also know of the Nightsisters. I was told that one of them still lives on Dathomir-"

"You dare speak of the Nightsisters?!" The single Zabrak on the ground floor hissed, brandishing his weapon, and Rey nearly sighed aloud. Well, I tried to be nice. She pulled her lightsaber free and ignited it. The Zabrak didn't appear particularly frightened by this, though he did halt his advance, growling angrily. "She lies!" he cried, pointing. "You see? She does not come to Dathomir in peace!"

Rey nearly rolled her eyes. Well, you didn't really give me much choice, now, did you?

"Brothers," the Zabrak continued, "let us not forget that it is her kind that slew the Nightsisters! Because of the Jedi, Dathomir is but a pale imitation of its former glory. Today, Brothers, let us exact our revenge!"

What? Rey deactivated her saber, frowning. "The Jedi didn't slay anyone," she said. "Please, if you'll just let me explain-"

"The very fact that you are here makes you a trespasser," the Zabrak cut her off, puffing out his chest, as if that somehow made him look more intimidating. "Leave now, and we will consider allowing you to keep your life."

Rey shook her head. She might have been outnumbered, but she wasn't backing down that easily . One way or another, I will get what I came here for. "I'm not leaving until you tell me where I can find the Nightsister."

The cavern fell silent. Then, in a flash of movement, the Zabrak lifted his hand, a glowing green ball forming in his palm. He drew his arm back as if to throw it, and BB-8 squealed for Rey to get out of the way, which she did, covering her head with her hands as she dove behind a wall of rock. What was that?! An explosion of light ensued, and Rey tensed, certain she'd been hit. But she didn't feel any pain. Did he miss me?

She lifted her head. A dome of what looked like crackling purple electricity surrounded her on all sides. A forcefield. The Nightbrother's—because she was certain now that that was what he was—aim had been true. Someone saved me, she realized.

But who? And why?

The forcefield disappeared, and in the next instant, someone was pulling her out from behind the wall of rock. Rey blinked, only to find a human man with red hair and startling blue eyes appraising her. "You okay?" He didn't wait for an answer before snapping his head toward the Nightbrother who had attacked her. "You've got a lot of nerve, pulling a stunt like that, Taras! If my mother finds out about this-"

"Your mother, " the Nightbrother hissed, "is the only reason I don't skewer you on sight, half-breed!" He tightened his grip on his weapon, as if to drive home this statement, and Rey turned back to the red-haired man, who was pointing a gloved finger at the Nightbrother.

"I'd keep that to myself, if I were you. As far as Merrin is concerned, threatening her children's lives is nearly the same as making an attempt on them."

Undeterred, the Nightbrother scowled, baring his teeth. "This conflict does not concern you, boy."

"Oh, but it does," the other man insisted. "Dathomir belongs to me as much as it does to you. And yes, I know how much you hate hearing that, but it's the truth."

The Nightbrother—Taras—stared down his nose at them, his black lips curling into an ugly sneer. "At least let us take care of this Jedi trespasser."

But the red-haired man gave a sharp shake of his head. "This girl hasn't even had the chance to explain herself. I won't give you permission to kill her-"

"You do not command us!"

With a growl, Taras charged, ax poised. Rey ignited her lightsaber again, but the red-haired man stepped in front of her. The hum of a second kyber blade tore through the air, and Rey blinked in shock at the beam of violet light that shone from his extended hand. He moved toward Taras without hesitation, and their weapons collided once, twice, thrice, before the Nightbrother gave up and retreated back several steps.

"You're right," the man told Taras calmly, "I don't command you. The Nightsisters do. But you don't really want to bother them with something so trivial, do you?" He deactivated his saber, approaching the Nightbrother with outstretched arms. "The girl merely needs to be questioned, Taras. There's no need for bloodshed-"

"We will question the Jedi trespasser!" Taras seethed, also reluctantly lowering his own weapon. "Then we will bring her to the Nightsisters so that her fate can be determined. As it should be."

That's when, suddenly, another ball of green light appeared in the cavern. Rey's heart-rate increased as she adjusted her stance, moving her feet farther apart, both hands gripping her still-activated lightsaber. Perhaps she could use it to block the attack this time. But after a few moments it became clear that the green light had not been created by any of the Nightbrothers.

"If you take another step toward my brother, then you are a dead man, Taras."

A voice echoed off the stone walls. It was female, but slightly garbled in a way that gave it an eerie, almost baritone sound. This is a very strange place, Rey thought as the green orb began to take the shape of a hooded humanoid woman.

Fascinated, Rey watched the glowing figure grow more pronounced. She was taller than Rey, covered head to toe in red, her hood wrapped tightly enough so that only her face was visible. She had stark white skin and full black lips, and once she was fully corporeal, her amber eyes appraised the scene critically. Rey found her to be both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

Apparently, she wasn't the only one who thought so. Taras bowed his head, something like reverence entering his voice as he exclaimed, "Lady Calista, your timing is impeccable. A trespasser has entered your temple-"

"Silence," the woman cut him off sharply. "You threatened my brother just now, so if you want to continue breathing, then I suggest you take your leave of us. You and your men," she added with a pointed glare at the other Nightbrothers.

Rey fully expected Taras to argue. Instead, though, he bowed again. "Of course, Lady Calista. We shall leave at once."

"Good," the woman—Calista—huffed, already turning away from him. "As for the trespasser—she stays with us." Her smoldering eyes shot toward Rey. "Who are you?" she demanded, and Rey couldn't help being impressed as the Nightbrothers immediately began filing out. It's like anything she says is gospel to them. She must be a Nightsister.

"Calista," the red-haired man said before Rey could reply. He didn't speak to her with the same respect that Taras had, though there was a gentleness to his voice now, something Rey supposed he likely only reserved for those closest to him. "She's just a traveler-"

"So I surmised," his sister shot back. "Still, we must know her intentions. After all, people do not travel to Dathomir simply for the fun of it."

Why does she keep talking about me like I'm not here? "I'm more than happy to explain my intentions, if you'll give me the chance," Rey said, frustrated, and Calista's piercing eyes shot back to her.

"Very well," the Nightsister said, crossing her arms. "You may proceed, Jedi."

There was derision in her voice as she said Jedi , as if it was a word she loathed and only spoke out of absolute necessity. Rey wanted to inquire about this, but the look Calista was giving her indicated that her patience was wearing thin. And so Rey cleared her throat. "My name is Rey. Rey Skywalker. You may have heard of me." She added that last bit as a joke, but Calista's brother gaped at hearing the name. "I assure you," she continued hurriedly, "I mean Dathomir no harm-"

"You mean…you're that Jedi?"

Calista shot her brother a glare. He sounded positively starstruck, and Rey shuffled her feet as she glanced at BB-8, who was also watching and listening to her intently.

"I don't…I mean, yes," she stammered. "I'm the Jedi who defeated the Emperor, if that's what you're asking." She cleared her throat. Being treated like a hero never ceased to make her feel uncomfortable, and it was painfully apparent that she still didn't know how to manage such conversations. "I came here," she said, "because I need to find someone named Cal Kestis."

Calista's expression shifted to one of astonishment. A split-second later, however, her eyes narrowed into slits. "Well, then I am sorry to say that you wasted your time." She exchanged a glance with her brother, and Rey detected a shared sorrow between them.

"What do you mean?" she asked when the Nightsister didn't elaborate.

Instead of answering, Calista just stalked off. Her brother's eyes were sad as he turned back toward Rey, sighing. "She means that Cal Kestis is dead."