Three trunks of gifts had been delivered to Rey’s rooms by the time she woke up the next morning. Nalti encouraged Rey to put on a traditional Abenedoan gown from a trunk of clothing, since she’d exhausted her own gowns on the trip. The one Nalti held up had multiple parts, Rey found as she let her assistant help her into it. First, a simple red underdress, then a heavy textured robe, all of which cinched at the waist with a wide sash. Patterns covered every inch of the robe and might have overwhelmed Rey except for the clever use of color to mute the effect, and it had a train which dragged on the ground behind Rey. It was a tripping hazard, but it also meant she could increase her stride length if she fisted her hands in the skirts and lifted it an inch or two.
Thankfully, they’d just be boarding a transport back to the Dominance and not attempting to fight off hordes of enemies, and the gown’s design let her wrap it as snugly as necessary around her chest and torso.
Nalti assisted by pinning half of Rey’s hair up with plain pins which disappeared among the brown strands.
Palace servants carried the trunks to Rey’s shuttle, using secret back ways to finish before she and her staff even reached the landing platform.
The king waited for them along with an assortment of nobility. A few younger people stood close to him. “That gown suits you,” he said. He held her hands as they said their quiet goodbyes. “Are you sure you will not stay longer? Perhaps consider marrying one of my sons?” He tilted his head toward two young men to his left.
She smiled at him. “Thank you, but…”
He sighed. “Yes, I know. Your Supreme Leader awaits.”
“Take care of yourself, your majesty.” Rey would miss him. The poignancy of it surprised her.
“You as well, my dear.” Worry creased his broad brow, but he released her when she drew away.
Rey led her people onto the shuttle, fastened herself into the pilot’s chair, and ran through the ship’s pre-flight sequence. As the engines warmed up, she grinned at the view in front of her and waved a friendly goodbye to the king. Over her shoulder, she checked that everyone was strapped in and the hatch was closed. She couldn’t help the smile that lit her face. “Let’s go home.”
The shuttle lifted smoothly, and Rey almost hummed to herself with the combined pleasures of flying and getting to see Ben in just a few short minutes.
Though she’d seen him through their bond, it didn’t hold a candle to the warmth of his arms around her or the scent of his skin. She’d be able to kiss him, and her skin sang with anticipation.
It wasn’t until they were almost through the atmosphere that things went wrong.
The shuttle lurched and sputtered. Rey checked her readouts, looking for the source of the problem as the engines reengaged, sending them parallel to the planet’s surface as the navigation struggled to kick back in.
Rey took manual control, smoothing their path deftly as she searched for a place to make an emergency landing. They’d gone too far from the palace to head back there.
The engines coughed, going offline for an instant, dropping them several feet, then shuddered back to life.
Rey didn’t have time to find a good spot. She spotted a wide space – some sort of pavilion or town square which abutted seven buildings of various size and shape, standing like drunken sentinels around the space.
Large enough for a crash landing, Rey decided. She just had to avoid hitting any of those buildings and hope the people in the pavilion saw her in time to run.
Rey struggled to impose her will over the malfunctioning ship, reining it in just in time for the engines to cut out and drop them another few feet. They’d begun a tailspin, and Rey heard the unpleasant sound of someone retching behind her.
She threw out her senses, ignoring the sound of Nalti screaming, and focused everything she had on getting her people safely to the ground.
Dive, spin, engines on, pull up, shunt to one side, don’t hit that building, and–
When the world stopped shaking, it was dark. The shuttle’s emergency lights glowed, bathing the interior in red. For a moment, as Rey blinked out the front window, she couldn’t figure out what she was looking at, but then it occurred to her – rocks. Rocks and dirt.
They were underground.
Dazed, Rey powered the engines down and took stock of herself before unbuckling to check on everyone else.
They’d landed askew, the entire ship listing to one side so that the floor tilted beneath her feet. Rey tested her purchase before letting go of her chair and stumbling toward the armored figures in the small craft’s rear.
“Is everyone okay?”
Shaky affirmatives reached her.
“Nalti’s passed out,” said Rude, already out of his seat to test her pulse. “Someone hand me the med kit.”
Rey lurched to Rude’s side and took Nalti’s other hand in her own.
“Probably just the g-force,” he explained, accepting the med kit from Stone and opening it up. “She hasn’t been conditioned to stay awake through it.” He glanced up at Rey as if remembering that she was supposed to be his first priority. “Are you injured, ma'am?”
Rey shook her head. She had a few nasty bruises where the safety harness had cut into her, maybe a scrape or two, but nothing which needed urgent attention. “Take care of her.”
Rude did as bade, patching Nalti’s cut with bacta and easing her out of her harness.
“Someone get the hatch open,” Rey said, helping Rude catch Nalti as she slumped between them.
Rowdy sat closest, so he unbuckled, moved carefully the few steps up to the release lever, and pulled. The back hatch lowered a few feet and then made a painful grinding noise as the tilted edge butted up against more stone and dirt.
The rest of Rey’s guards released their harnesses and made their way carefully to survey outside the ship. Graves and Flash slunk out first and called back that it looked pretty stable.
The two of them created a perimeter as Ash dropped down to help ease Nalti out of the ship. Once Nalti was safe with Ash, Rude landed beside them and immediately helped carry the unconscious girl out of the way.
Rey dropped easily down next, rolling her eyes at Stone’s protest behind her, and walked far enough from the shuttle to evaluate their situation. They’d crashed through the surface into the underground network of tunnel dens.
“Well,” she said, hands on her hips. “That was fun.”
“Fun like a barrel of rocks, ma'am,” agreed Rowdy.
A groan pulled Rey’s attention to the prone figure on the ground. Rude responded immediately, telling Nalti not to sit up too quickly.
Rey surveyed her people. They stood tense and ready, on edge. Rey didn’t know what the right move was, here, but she thought they ought to find a safe spot to wait for the local authorities to show up.
Mind made up, Rey opened her mouth to say just that when a disturbance rolled across her consciousness, changing her words into a harsh command.
Rey shoved those nearest her toward a convenient side tunnel. A single Force pull yanked Rude and Nalti the last few feet to safety when their ship exploded in a hail of sharp debris.
The tunnel they’d just been in collapsed.
Graves cried out sharply, and Rude was by his side in an instant, helping him put pressure where a piece of falling rock had cut into his leg.
“That wasn’t us,” said Flash, her weapon at the ready and her head on a swivel. “That wasn’t our ship – someone fired on it.”
“I agree,” said Rey. She took stock of everyone. Their armor had been dusted with dirt, but they mostly seemed whole.
“We should get out of this area, ma’am,” said Stone, looming at Rey’s elbow. The pikeman, Thorn, approached her other side.
“Can Graves be moved?” she asked Rude.
“As soon as I stop the bleeding,” he replied. He’d removed the armor around the wound and cut a hole in Graves’ black undersuit, exposing the torn flesh. Ash dropped on the other side, handing Rude things from the med kit.
Rey had a moment’s pause when she saw that he’d grabbed it and brought it with them. He’d also been the first to identify Nalti in the ship and Graves just now, and the first to help.
The beginnings of a thought took root in Rey’s mind.
“We’ll move her ladyship,” said Stone. “You can catch up with us.”
“I’m fine,” Rey said. “We can wait.”
“Due respect, ma'am, you’re our first priority.”
Rude spoke without turning from his work. “He’s right, ma’am. You need to go. We’ll find you.”
Graves, his face hidden by his helmet, nodded.
Rey went to Nalti and lifted her with a shoulder under her arm. Rowdy went to take the other side, but Nalti assured him she was fine so he joined Flash and Valkyrie at the corridor’s only remaining exit.
“Okay,” Rey said. “We’ll take this right and then the first left and find a building to hunker down in. Meet us as soon as you can. Stone? You stay and help with Graves.”
For the first time, Rey appreciated the training that made her people obey without question. She couldn’t see Stone’s face, but his posture went rigid with displeasure.
Rey used her free hand to lift her slightly-too-long skirt so she wouldn’t get her feet tangled in it and helped Nalti shuffle quickly toward the open end of the passageway. “Do you have it?” she whispered.
“Yes,” replied Nalti. Rey had given Nalti her lightsaber for safekeeping that morning. “Give me a second.” Rey stopped when the other young woman pulled her arm away and dug inside her jacket. She handed the weapon to Rey, who stuffed it into her belt, and they continued forward, nudging her people to the right when she joined them.
They hadn’t reached the first left when they started taking fire.
Flash shouldered her rifle and took out two of the shooters in the time it took Rey to pull her weapon free and light it.
“We need to take cover!” yelled Rowdy, shooting back as Flash picked off another. Rey tugged Nalti into a nearby alcove and the guards crowded in, covering them.
“What about the others?” asked Nalti, craning her neck to look back.
“They won’t walk into an active shootout,” Rowdy assured her between blasts.
“I’m concerned about the way they took out our shuttle,” Valkyrie shouted over the sound of blaster fire.
Flash turned her head. “Yeah, I was thinking about that, too. That was heavy ammunition. If they hit this hallway with the same amount of firepower, it’ll come down on top of us.”
“We have to close the distance,” said Thorn, blaster in hand. He had a pike strapped to his back, but he couldn’t use it at this range.
“I can help with that,” said Rey, releasing Nalti. The other young woman leaned against the alcove wall, but she already seemed steadier on her feet. She nodded encouragement to Rey.
“I don’t see how, unless you plan to be a human shield,” yelled Flash.
“Hey, Rowdy,” called Rey as she tugged her lightsaber out of her waistband. “You remember what I told you about Kylo Ren’s scar?”
He stopped blasting around the corner long enough to turn and look at her.
Blue light reflected off his helmet as she lit her weapon and grinned. “Wanna see how I did it?”
Hiking her skirt with her free hand, Rey lunged into the corridor, opening herself to the Force as plasma blasts fell around her, her weapon flashing with bursts of deflected power. Rey’s movements were liquid as she pushed forward into the enemy onslaught, gaining enough ground that the attackers tried to fall back.
Rey wasn’t having it. With a battle cry, she raised her lightsaber and charged, feeling the life signatures of her people keeping pace behind her. She both saw and felt an enemy snuffed out by Flash’s rifle, the sniper picking off another before they closed and began hand-to-hand combat.
Thorn took one in a single fluid pike thrust, and Valkyrie broke the neck of another after flipping him to his back. Rowdy shot another point-blank in the face and punched that one’s comrade hard enough to break his nose.
Two went for Rey, and she plunged her saber through the heart of the first while Flash and Pike finished the second in tandem.
Once the enemies lay dead around them, Rey had a moment to examine their clothing. They wore goggles and cloaks, obscuring their faces. As Rey’s team tried to identify them, she saw that they were of different races, all with a small black star tattooed below their left eye.
“Castellian pirates,” said Thorn, kneeling beside one of the fallen. “What are they doing on Abednedo?”
“Someone sent them,” said Rey. It was a guess but an educated one. Someone had already put her in danger once. When that failed, they might have decided on a more direct route.
Thorn’s head snapped up as if scenting blood. “The king?”
Rey shook her head. “No.” She couldn’t entirely discount the king, but her instincts said this wasn’t him, and she trusted her instincts.
“Money,” said Flash suddenly. “For a mission this dangerous, someone promised them a hell of a lot of money. No one is stupid enough to attack a high value First Order target without a very fat bankroll.”
Rey nudged one of the bodies with her foot. “We should’ve left one alive to question.”
“Unfortunately, we’ll probably encounter more,” said Rowdy, moving to Rey’s flank and examining the corridor for movement. Anyone not interested in having their head blown off would probably hunker down until the violence blew over. “Let’s get out of here before more show up.”
Nalti wasn’t with them. Rey glanced back the way they’d come and saw her peeking around the edge of the alcove.
The tall, brown-haired girl stepped out into the corridor as she caught Rey’s eye, hands hugging her elbows and eyes widening at the sight of dead bodies – and then an instant flare of light, hitting Rey’s eyes before the tell-tale sound of a blaster caught up with her ears, and Nalti fell.
Rey found herself racing down the corridor, her lightsaber in hand and a scream of pure rage on her lips as she leapt past her fallen friend and swatted blaster fire away like so many gnats, barely cognizant of the hand holding her skirt out of the way or the effort of her sprint, every molecule of her body focused on snuffing out the sparks of life in front of her.
It felt good – too good – to destroy the bastards who’d cut down Nalti. Rey lunged among them with mindless ferocity, letting the Force move her through them, cutting each down, death personified.
A rifle blast from behind Rey cut down a pirate to her right in a single shot, and then her pike-master and brawler and whatever-the-hell Valkyrie was caught up and subdued the remaining enemies.
They left one alive, and Rey had to hold herself back from cutting his head off as Rowdy bared the captive’s face to her.
“Who hired you?” she asked hoarsely, only then recognizing the salty wet taste on her lips as tears.
The pirate shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Rey shoved her lightsaber through his eye socket.
The sound of Rude’s voice made Rey turn. Stone and Ash half-carried Graves, who kept his weight off his bandaged leg as he limped between them.
Rude had abandoned them and skidded to a stop beside Nalti, turning her with gentle hands, the med kit abandoned beside him.
A moan, low and so filled with pain it was barely human, echoed through the subterranean corridor.
“Nalti,” whispered Rey, rushing to Rude’s side as the trooper opened the med kit. Rey knelt at Nalti’s head, hands brushing the hair from her soot-stained face, and tried not to look at the scorched arm Rude examined.
Rey’s hands trembled. She thought for a moment that Nalti was unconscious because she didn’t scream when Rude touched her blackened limb, but her eyes were wide and glassy and staring up at Rey.
“You’re okay,” Rey whispered furiously. “You’re okay. You just got knocked down, you’re fine. Some bruises in the morning, maybe a headache.”
Rude drew something from the med kit and injected Nalti in the neck. Her lashes immediately fluttered, and her glassy gaze disappeared behind closed eyelids.
“Get us out of here,” Rude barked, shoving the med kit into Rowdy’s hands before lifting Nalti into his arms. “I can’t do anything for her here,” he explained in a low, clipped tone.
Rey nodded and went down the first side corridor she could find. She began taking turns at random, her only thought to get as far from the crash site as possible so she and her people could recuperate.
They stumbled into a populated area, families peeking out from individual underground dens, the network of tunnels and burrows not unlike a hive. Rey led them through, not wanting to get civilians caught up in her trouble.
The tunnel system made no sense, but Rey hoped that would work in their favor and throw off the pirates hunting them. Every turn seemed to take them lower, deeper below the planet’s surface, but Rey didn’t stop until she spread her senses out and found no life nearby. She hunted until she found an old storage area that was still in use but hadn’t seen foot traffic for some time.
She led her people inside and moved crates into the doorway with the help of the able-bodied. Graves sat in a corner, his injured leg stretched out in front of him. Rude crouched beside a prone Nalti, helmet off as he checked her life signs and smoothed bacta across the damaged flesh of her arm.
“How is she?” Rey asked gently.
“She could lose the arm.” Rude ran a hand across his face, fine tremors running through his fingers. “She didn’t feel me touching it in the corridor – that means third degree burns. The nerves have been destroyed.” He took a deep breath and dropped his hand, eyes locked on Nalti’s unconscious face. “The biggest risk right now is infection. She needs a med bay and a surgical droid, not some stormtrooper half-assing his way through field dressing.”
“Hey,” said Rey, putting a hand on his armored shoulder, “it’s not your fault. Do what you can and let the rest of us concentrate on how to get out of here.”
He nodded, took a deep breath which seemed to steady his hands, and continued treating the unconscious woman.
The rest of Rey’s guards gathered in a different corner, leaving the wounded to Rude, and Rey joined them. She leaned against the dirt wall, her lightsaber off but in her hand in case of attack. The adrenaline that had been pumping through her system started to fade, leaving her shaky and worried.
“What are we going to do now?” asked Valkyrie quietly.
“We need to get out of here,” said Thorn. “Our best bet is to get to a communications console and contact the Dominance.”
Rey cursed, feeling the urge to slap a hand over her face. She tucked her lightsaber away and fiddled with the ring on her opposite hand, twisting the flower-like base and pressing down on the gem in the center until she felt it click. “I had an emergency beacon on me,” she explained to her baffled guards, waving her ring at them. “It’s on now.”
“That should do it,” said Thorn.
“I should have activated it the moment we crashed,” said Rey, annoyed with herself. She remembered why she hadn’t – she’d thought she could handle the aftermath of something as simple as a crash – but she couldn’t justify not taking two seconds to activate it when they’d been taking fire in the alcove.
She’d been distracted, sure, but… she’d promised Ben she’d use it if she ran into trouble.
She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the wall. “He’ll be here soon.” The thought shouldn’t have brought her as much comfort as it did. He would cut through any lingering pirates with merciless rage, would destroy anything between him and Rey. She knew it, and she counted on it. She had to get Nalti help as soon as possible.
It was Stone who broke her out of her thoughts by asking, “Who will, ma’am?”
She opened her eyes, confused. Wasn’t it obvious? “Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren is coming.”