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Star Wars: Into The Unknown

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(NB - This story was first published on but from now on will also be posted here. The first 7 chapters will be posted immediately and remaining chapters will be released in tandem)

This story is my attempt to continue on from the story of Rebels and explain the fates and futures of Ezra, Sabine, Hera, Thrawn, Ahsoka and the others after the finale. Eventually, it will become more intertwined with the Original Trilogy and even the Sequel Trilogy as well as brushing the Anthology films, Prequels and TCW a little too. I've tired to keep it as canon complaint as possible although as we get new stories I'm sure it'll start to contradict things and I'm sure there's more than a few oversights and errors on my part already. I'll do my best to keep it in line with canon but be prepared for some minor diversions along the way.

Each chapter will typically feature a little bit from each of the main characters. Ezra, Hera, Sabine and Thrawn are the main focus to start but over time threads will merge, diverge, be introduced or be ended as the story progresses. Some chapters might focus on one story line or one particular event and I'm trying to make sure that every chapter and section explores something interesting and relevant or impacts the story in a tangible way.

The first two chapters will be prologues of sorts, just to explain what's happening immediately after the finale and to cover one or two things that I wanted to explore but that couldn't be done in the main body of the story. In this chapter: Hera returns to Yavin, Ezra awakens after the hyperspace jump, Thrawn tries to reorganise and Sabine thinks about her future.

Year - 0BBY, approximately 2 days after the Battle of Lothal and the disappearance of Ezra Bridger.

"Ghost to Yavin 4, requesting permission to land."

"Affirmative Ghost. Senator Mothma has been awaiting your return."

"I'll see her as soon as I'm planetside", Hera said reluctantly as she effortlessly guided the Ghost through atmospheric re-entry down onto the isolated jungle moon that hosted the rebel base.

The ancient structures loomed low on the horizon as her trusty vessel drew closer. It was instinct more than effort at this point. Hera Syndulla was such a gifted pilot that even landing, the most complicated part of any flight, was as natural as breathing. In the cockpit seat beside her the bearded Captain Rex took in the sight of home with a hard sigh.

"Coming back to base is never the same, is it?", Rex asked her quietly.

Hera kept her attention on the controls but her heart sank, "Nothing will ever be the same now."

The statement marked the end of the very brief discussion; she was in no mood for talking. Her hands flicked some switches and controls necessary to bring the ship in to a safe landing as Rex silently stood up from his seat.

The old Clone remained standing just to her side, enough to be sure he was still in view, "I can get everything sorted here if you'd like after we touchdown, let you go off and deal with the big-wigs", he chuckled.

The Twi'lek forced a quarter-smile to him, "If you wouldn't mind, Rex. Thing are just... you know, right now."

Rex eyed her sympathetically, knowing all too well what it was like to lose those close to you, "Of course, General. You won't have to worry about a thing." The old soldier saluted out of habit and began to leave before stopping for a moment, "Listen, Hera... we're still all here for you. Me, Zeb, Kallus and everyone. If you need to talk then you know where to find us."

Hera turned back to look at him but couldn't muster the strength to smile again, "I know, Rex. Thank you."

With a nod, Rex disappeared from the cockpit allowing Hera to guide the ship to ground alone. The towering turrets on the perimeter sighted her as she came in and as she descended the tiny green and orange specks on the ground became pilots and technical crews clearing the area. There weren't any faces she immediately recognised among the crews as the Ghost planted itself onto its landing gear. Not that there were many people left for her to recognise anyway. She powered down the engines and pressed a few switches to open the pressure valves and lower the boarding ramp to the ship.

Sitting for a while before deciding to move, Hera inspected the base they'd built. Y-wing bombers, X-wing fighters and U-wing transports lined the landing area as did a bustling crowd of ground crews, soldiers and general staff working around the clock to keep the Rebellion ticking. A few years ago, seeing such a sight would have been unbelievable, the Rebellion really had come a long way. In the past, she'd have grinned and swelled with internal pride. That last part was still there, somewhere, but it was buried beneath a feeling Hera hadn't felt in a long time: loneliness.

Deciding now wasn't the time to dwell on things, Hera steeled herself and got up, her back aching as it had done for a few days now. The stress was probably taking a toll on her body. The Twi'lek found her way out of the cockpit and slowly climbed down the ladder into the cargo bay where Rex and Zeb were already starting to unload the various pieces of equipment they'd brought back with them. Zeb acknowledged her with a nod of his head and returned to his task. Descending the ramp out of the ship, she was greeted by a young officer.

"General Syndulla, Senator Mothma is requesting your presence", he stated with a crisp salute.

Hera never was one to return the gesture, "So I've heard. Let her know I'm on my way."

After the officer commed ahead, Hera walked past the numerous ships and busy throes of people and headed towards the central temple in which Rebel Command was found. Everything was a blur around her, as much from physical exhaustion as from mental, and as she entered the covered hangar of the temple she could barely recall ever walking the distance to it. Just this debrief, then you're done. Hera very rarely found herself as eager to put aside her duties as she did now. There'd been no time to process everything in the last few hours and days, let alone to sleep as well. Rest was all Hera could think of as she entered the Command Room. She knew what she'd have to tell them but she didn't know if she'd be able to keep her composure to do so.

The door opened to show Senator Mon Mothma, as expected, along with General Dodonna, all stood around the strategic planning map in the centre of the Command Room. Also, around it was the not-too-familiar face of General Draven as well as the holographic figure of Senator Bail Organa, stood beside a woman Hera still recognised as his daughter Leia Organa. They look nothing alike, she noted as she made her way to stand at the map.

Senator Mothma greeted her with a warm but somewhat rehearsed smile, "General Syndulla, we've been looking forward to your return. There's only so much we can learn from Imperial news sources."

"It's a relief to be back, Senator. The Tie Defender factory has been destroyed and the Empire has been expelled from Lothal," Hera announced with a distinct lack of her usual fire and enthusiasm.

"And what of Admiral Thrawn?", Bail Organa interjected.

"Most of his fleet above Lothal was destroyed and he himself has been... removed." Hera didn't know how to explain it, to tell Rebel Command a flock of space whales had hyperspaced away one of their deadliest adversaries wasn't something she'd expected to ever have to deal with.

"His fleet has been destroyed?", Mon Mothma asked in surprise.

"Destroyed", Hera confirmed. "It's a... long story. One that I'm not sure you'd all believe."

"I'm sure you'll enlighten us some other time. The fact of the matter is Thrawn's fleet has been destroyed and he's out of the game", Bail Organa reached to stroke his beard, "But what of the other... complications?"

Complications? To call what happened 'complications' struck a nerve in her and she had to fight the urge to raise her voice at him. Remembering she was a General in a war not a delinquent in a cantina fight, she held her tongue and cleared her throat. "I'm sorry to report that... Kanan..." Hera felt the all too familiar feeling of tears creep up on her but she kept fighting them, "Kanan... gave his life to complete our mission."

There was an unmistakable sense of shock at the news, the Rebel leaders had been hoping the death of Kanan Jarrus was nothing more than Imperial propaganda.

Mon Mothma seemed genuinely sympathetic towards her, placing a hand on Hera's arm in comfort, "I'm sorry, General Syndulla, I know you two were close."

Hera wouldn't let herself cry in front of them as hard as that might be and forced herself to look Mon Mothma in the eye, "Thank you, Senator. Kanan did what he had to do and he wouldn't have had it any other way."

"His sacrifice will be honoured and remembered, I promise you", Mon Mothma let her hand fall and turned back out to the Rebel leaders, "I know this news isn't all good, but at least we've put a stop to Thrawn's plans for the Defender."

Bail Organa sighed heavily, "I understand that but it's not worth losing a Jedi over. This cost was too great."

"That remains to be seen, Senator", General Dodonna sounded disappointed at the news but Hera could tell the old General in him was glad the Defenders never would see widespread production.

There was more to tell them and she knew it was best to get it out of the way now. "There's something more. Ezra. Lieutenant Commander Bridger, he's also... gone."

The news of Ezra's loss seemed to take them all by surprise, Hera could swear she saw the colour drain from Mon Mothma's face. "Gone? You mean the Empire-?"

"It's complicated, Madam Senator", Hera interrupted. "Ezra has disappeared, we don't exactly know where to only that he's gone."

Leia leaned forward onto the map table, joining the conversation for the first time in the meeting, "If there's another Jedi still out there we have to track him down. What help can we spare?"

Bail's hand reached forward as if trying to pull her back, "Relax, daughter. I want to help the Jedi as much as you but the Rebellion doesn't have the resources to scour the galaxy for one person."

Hera found herself struggling to meet the gaze of her comrades, "Ezra... finding him might not be something we can do right now", the urge to sob mounted even more but the Twi'lek would not break. Not here. Not now.

Mon Mothma hadn't been prepared for the sudden disappearance of Ezra either, losing one Jedi was enough to sour the mood let alone two. "I see, General Syndulla. I hope you will keep us updated on any developments."

"I will, Madam Senator." Hera let out a deep breath, glad that the task of delivering the hard news was over. "With all due respect, Senator, it's been a long few weeks. May I have your permission to take some time for... readjustment."

"Of course. You're dismissed, General. And thank you for everything you've done, you and your crew have saved countless lives with your actions on Lothal."

Hera answered with a smile and a nod to the other leaders and turned to leave. It was true, stopping the Defender program had saved the lives of countless pilots, civilians and soldiers alike. Kanan and Ezra would have wanted it that way, they were always willing to give of themselves for others. It was a hard consolation to accept but Hera knew one day she'd be happy with it.

She hadn't gotten more than a few metres from the briefing room door when she heard it open behind her. Hera turned to find Leia Organa catching up to her, concern and worry on her young face.

"General Syndulla", Leia began.

Hera smiled thinly at her, "Your Highness, it's nice to see you."

"It's been too long, General. I just wish the circumstances were better." Leia looked down at the floor for a second, "I'm sorry about Kanan, he was a good man."

"Thank you, your Highness. I appreciate that."

"And Ezra too… I owe every member of your crew my life. Everyone here owes them a debt we can't ever repay.", Leia said. "And call me Leia. No need to be formal with me."

Hera nodded, "That's kind of you to say, and it's just Hera."

"Well, Hera.", Leia leaned in and placed a hand on Hera's arm, "If there's anything you need, personal or official, I'll do what I can."

For someone the same age as Ezra, Hera was taken aback by Leia's maturity. The feisty rebel Princess had been something else when they'd first met her, sharp and brave with attitude to match. Hera was pleased to see that Leia had kept that same compassion and warmth despite the stress and danger of her life.

Leia slowly took her hand away but kept her face close. "I don't care what they said in there", she nodded back at the briefing room, "If you get any leads on Ezra then let me know right away. Friendly faces are too few these days, I'd like to help you out any way I can."

Hera admired her conviction. True friends really were a rarity these days but Hera knew she might well have another one right in front of her.

"It means a lot to hear that", Hera said and watched her intently.

Leia stood back, "Anyway, you deserve your rest and I've got meetings to drag myself through. Take care of yourself, Hera."

The Twilek smiled at the young woman, "You too, Leia. Don't get in to too much trouble."

"You know me, Hera", Leia grunted a small laugh. "I'll see you soon", the Princess regarded her warmly before turning back towards the briefing room.

Hera watched her go before making her own way back towards the Ghost. Everything she knew about life in the Rebellion would be different now. She knew she could handle it, it was in her nature to pull through, but she wasn't heartless. Right now, all she could do was take some time for herself and come to terms with everything that had happened.

Maybe rest will get rid of this damn headache too, she grumbled to herself.


Ezra awoke with a scream and a searing pain in his shoulder. He was on his lying on his back, and the sudden jolt upright caused all the blood to rush from his head. If he'd been standing he'd have nearly fainted. His eyes squinted. Everything hurts. Everything feels... strange. Propping himself up on his elbows, he breathed in heavily to fight the breathlessness he felt. Ugh, what happened? After a few seconds, it all came flooding back. Right... purrgil. Hyperspace.

Ezra finally looked around his surroundings to remind himself what happened. He was still on the Chimaera's bridge, in the same position in which he'd been as the purrgil whisked them all away. They're gone? The purrgil were nowhere to be seen, their seething masses of tentacles and tendrils didn't ensnare the bridge as they had in his last memories. Wherever they had taken them, the purrgil had decided to leave him there and move on. Not that he could tell where 'there' was. The emergency shields had come up across the bridge, sealing it away from the cold vacuum of space. Ezra could only guess as to why they hadn't activated earlier, perhaps something to do with the strange powers of the offending creatures or something as simple as them getting in the way. Either way, they were up now and were keeping them alive.

Then his eyes picked up the slumped mass of Grand Admiral Thrawn. He was unconscious, but left sitting upright against the far end of the bridge, his body facing back towards Ezra. His clothing looked slightly torn and even charred, his head oozing small trickles of blood from several minor wounds and an unusual slimy substance covered areas across his uniform. To Ezra's disappointment, the subtle but consistent rise and fall of his chest showed that the Chiss was still breathing. Other bodies were scattered on the bridge too. Soldiers of various stripes and officers of varying roles, all lying unresponsive on the cold floor. Ezra couldn't tell how many were alive and how many weren't. All his mind thought of now was: what next?

His head clearer and his senses returning, Ezra pulled himself onto his feet. The blaster burn on his shoulder was painful but the fact his arm hadn't been blown off told him it wasn't anything major. Just a flesh wound. With a groan, Ezra turned back to look at the sealed bridge door.

Ezra was relieved to see it was still operational as it opened after detecting his movement. As it slid open, more bodies greeted him. This time of the squad of soldiers that had tried ambushing him in the last moments before the jump. They seemed quite clearly to be breathing yet unconscious all the same despite their lack of direct exposure to hyperspace. Emergency systems were in place for damaged or unusual hyperspace journeys, though Ezra doubted 'hyperspace via purrgil' was a situation the Empire planned for. The fact the ship was still in one piece meant that the failsafe systems had at least activated and saved the life of everyone on the Chimaera and presumably the other Destroyers too.

Great, what now? Ezra took a moment to think of his options. He could stay and do something about Thrawn. Suddenly he realised that there was no telling when Thrawn would awaken and any surviving Imperials were going to check on the bridge as soon as possible. It was out of the question, even with Thrawn's actions and allegiances, to just execute him in his sleep. That left only one option: escape. But where to? Where even was he? Ezra decided such questions could be asked later, he didn't have the time to waste by standing on the bridge pondering.

Reaching down with a pained grunt, he picked up an E-11 from a fallen trooper for protection and limped his way off the bridge. He was still in the process of regaining his footing and balance but every step was making it easier to walk. His shoulder hurt and he must have slammed his hip down pretty hard when he fell, but Ezra was confident he'd avoided any serious injuries. If you don't hurry up, that won't be true for long.

Exiting the bridge, he emerged into a standard imperial corridor. Wisps of smoke flowed across the ceiling and the low-drone of emergency alarms echoed throughout the passageways. Recalling his mental map of a Star Destroyer, compiled by years of infiltration missions, Ezra set off in the direction of the hangar. It was his best hope of escaping, far more so than an escape pod. Escape pods lacked any sort of hyperdrive or advanced navigational systems. Ezra didn't have a clue where the purrgil had left them and he had every intention of finding out as soon as possible.

Turning another corner, the bodies of a few more troopers littered the floors. In the next corridor, several more. All seemed to have been heading in the direction of the bridge. Had the purrgil not come in time, any one of these troopers could have been his end. Without his lightsaber he was barely a match for this many opponents. If only-


Ezra's heart stopped as he heard the distinct groan from behind him.

"Ughh.. What the-?", A stormtrooper was stirring from his rest and pushing himself up onto his hands and knees a few metres behind him. Luckily, he hadn't turned around to see Ezra yet.

Great, out of time. Immediately breaking into a sprint, Ezra pushed his aching body as fast as it could down the corridor towards the hangar.

"Hey! It's the Jedi", came the voice from behind him. Karabast.

Under the noise of his own boots slamming on the floor with each step, Ezra couldn't tell if the trooper had started giving chase or alerted the rest of the ship about his presence. It didn't matter now, sooner or later every surviving Imperial on the ship would be converging on his position. He ran down more corridors and spotted more than a handful of downed officers and troopers, all put to sleep by the very sudden but brief loss of oxygen and violent movement of the ship in the seconds after the purrgil whisked them away. As Ezra pressed closer to the hangar, his legs screamed at him to slow down. He hadn't had much rest in the last few days and sprinting across an entire Star Destroyer was not something they were particularly eager to do. Closing on the hangar, Ezra charged through the door into the final corridor to his destination and froze. Three stormtroopers, all awake and upright, were staring right at him.

All the troopers raised their blasters. "Blast him!"

Ezra's hand shot out and a wave of force energy sent them all cascading backwards. Ezra ran towards them, bringing his blaster down and dragging the barrel hard into the helmet of one of the troopers. As he leapt over the stunned Stormtroopers, he quickly turned to face behind him. As expected, the other two troopers were reaching for their blasters. Ezra didn't hesitate now. Even when sprinting, Ezra's attuned force abilities told him exactly where to aim and allowed him to get off the perfect shot. He pulled the trigger twice, sending two bolts straight into the visor of one trooper. As the other watched his comrade fall another volley from Ezra put him down.

The final door opened into the hangar but the scene didn't much help his hopes of escaping. The sudden jump had wreaked havoc on the hangar bays - crewmen and pilots were strewn across the floor, a few ceiling-mounted Tie fighters had crashed down and exploded on the ground and plenty of crates, ladders and munitions boxes had been strewn across the area. Regretfully, some Imperials were already up trying to sort out the mess. Ezra darted behind a fallen crate to plan out his options.

Eight troopers, an officer, two pilots. Wrecked tie... wrecked tie... wrecked tie... shut- Aha! Shuttle! Ezra spied a Sentinel-class Imperial shuttle relatively undamaged on the far side of the hangar, possibly Thrawn's personal one. Some debris had fallen onto it and chipped a bit of the armour plating off but it looked to be in good enough condition to fly. Right now, Ezra didn't care who it belonged to or if it had been a bit damaged. Between him and escape, though, stood a small detachment of Imperials in an open area. There was no way he'd get there without being spotted and in a firefight these odds didn't look good. He'd be easily flanked if he tried outmanoeuvring them. He could try for a runner but he doubted he'd even get half-way before they took him out. His only option was to ambush them and hope the element of surprise could save him. Ezra leaned out from his cover, resting the blaster carefully across the crate to get a stable platform to fire from. He watched the Imperials carefully, waiting for the right moment.

"Hey, you have any idea what happened?", one trooper asked the other.

"I've learned not to ask questions about what goes on anymore, makes me feel better about it", the other replied. The trooper then pressed his finger up to his helmet to receive a message. He nodded several times and turned to the others. "Just got word, that Jedi is on the loos-"

A blast from Ezra's rifle ended his sentence prematurely as the trooper's lifeless body crashed down to the ground. The open ground wouldn't have given Ezra enough cover to reach the shuttle, but it also didn't give the Empire any cover either. Before the other troopers could react, Ezra pulled back hard on the trigger and unleashed a barrage of bolts at the squad. They quickly dispersed and Ezra managed to catch two more of them in the chaos.

"Hangar to command! The Jedi is here! Request- GAH!", Ezra got the officer square in the chest and started to manoeuvre out of his cover.

Three troopers down, one officer. Ezra moved forward quickly and dived behind another crate as one of the troopers took pot-shots at him from the other side of the hangar. Out of the corner of his eye, Ezra was relieved to see the two pilots make a break for the exit, leaving him with just five troopers to face. Five versus one, an unfair fight for them.

In unison, two of the stormtroopers stepped out of cover from their crates as the other three rained blaster fire on him. They were hoping to pin him down long enough for the other two to close in. Bad idea, Ezra thought as his unorthodox solution presented itself. Closing his eyes and with a calming breath, Ezra focused his mind on the crate he was hiding behind.

In an instant, Ezra was leaping out of his cover and the crate flew forward straight into the approaching troopers. The move had taken them off-guard and both were bowled over by the projectile. Taking advantage of the distraction, Ezra covered a fair few metres of ground between him and the shuttle whilst firing indiscriminately at his attackers. A lucky shot caught one of the three covering Stormtroopers in the chest, knocking him out of the fight.

The two stormtroopers he'd knocked over were scrambling to their feet and jumping for their own cover from Ezra's attacks.

"Kriff it! Where's our reinforcements?!", one screamed into his helmet.

The trooper beside him was just as irate, "Can we fall back?! This guy will kill us!"

"Get your head straight! The Admiral will have us both court martialled if we retreat!", the other replied angrily.

Taking the chance, Ezra leapt up once again with a series of blaster bolts from his rifle. This time though, the troopers were more prepared. As soon as he stood up he was diving back down again, a handful of shots nearly grazing his arms and chest. Karabast, I knew this was going too well.

The troopers were starting to get their act together now. One of the soldiers made some hand gestures to the other three and they all began spreading out whilst firing towards Ezra's position. Even now, he was still too far away from the shuttle to make it without getting shot. He was out of options and out of time, so he reached out to try a new strategy.

Ezra focused on the troopers through the force, reaching out to them to feel their minds. Fear, anger, confusion, shock. He felt it all. Then he got what he was looking for; the trooper he wanted. That same one who seconds earlier had wanted to retreat. Where there's a suggestion, there's an opportunity. Ezra remembered Kanan's lessons on Jedi mind tricks. They weren't all powerful, they only worked when the idea was already in the target's head. With immense focus, always conscious of the Imperials closing in around him, Ezra made that link with the trooper.

You will fall back.

Ezra felt no reaction and hardened his efforts.

You will fall back.

"Fall back! Fall back!"

A grin flashed on Ezra's face at the words. One of the troopers started sprinting away from Ezra's position as the other three stared at him in confusion. It was all the time Ezra needed. He brought his blaster up from behind cover and blasted the closest trooper, taking him down in three hits for good measure. By the time the final two opponents had turned back to him, Ezra was running toward the shuttle and firing the blaster with one hand behind him. Realising they'd been outmatched, the two troopers simply ducked behind some crates for shelter, not even bothering to risk firing back at him.

The ramp was already lowered on the shuttle and as he ran up it he found no crew or Imperials present. Ezra smashed his hand against a button in the main hold to close up the ramp from any pursuers. He found his way into the cockpit and threw his rifle aside, sliding into the pilot's chair and activating all the engines and systems he'd need. Weapons check, shields check, fuel... nearly empty. Ezra wanted to smash his head through the kriffing viewport. Not even enough fuel for an hour's jump. An hour couldn't get you from Krownest to Mandalore, let alone anywhere Ezra wanted to go. He still didn't even know where he was. Now that he was here it started to hit him how lost he truly was. His hands went straight for the navigation system and switched it on. The screen made his heart sink. The Unknown Regions.

His mouth fell open and he felt his face drop. Uncharted territory, days in hyperspace from anywhere he knew in a stolen ship with low fuel and with no hope of someone ever finding him. No... you know you can count on her. Ezra's mind focused on her, on her memory and his faith in her. No matter where he was, she'd come for him some day. With a sigh he skipped over the last few checks and brought the ship off the deck, hovering it towards the hangar entrance, a number of tiles and cables sliding off the shuttle as he did so. The reinforcements the Imperials had wanted were arriving as Ezra left but their weapons couldn't do much against a well-shielded shuttle. Ezra gave them a mocking grin and salute as he sailed the ship out of the Star Destroyer's shields.

There wasn't enough fuel for a long hyperspace jump but putting even a bit of distance between him and the Empire was essential. The trouble was the location. There weren't any known safe hyperspace trajectories this far out in the galaxy. A bad jump could send him slamming into a planet or asteroid belt. It was a risk he'd have to take though and one he could only trust his instincts to see him through. Ezra calmed his mind, trusting the force to guide his actions. Unconsciously, he drifted the ship to the side as he put distance between him and the fleet. Clearly, the crews were still in disarray as not even an attempt was made to shoot down his shuttle.

Staring out at the blankness of space, Ezra felt a twinge in the force. Ezra had no idea what it was but instinctively he followed it and steered the shuttle towards the mysterious source. Activating the hyperdrive of the ship, the stars stretched out in front of him and the ship lurched forward with the familiar feeling of inertia. It was only as his ship entered hyperspace that he realised how much of a mistake he'd just made.

Every defeat is a lesson learned. No warrior can hope to have a career only of victory. Failure is often the greatest teacher in any walk of life and none more so that in paths of war. An error only becomes a mistake if it is allowed to be repeated, a situation any warrior must take strides to avoid. The most unexpected strategies, like the most successful, can only ever be used against a good strategist once. After that, they are merely one more strategy with which a true tactician cannot be beaten.

"Grand Admiral?!", the voice echoed. "Grand Admiral, are you hurt?"

Thrawn's eyes peeled open to see the face of one of his bridge crew staring down at him, shaking his shoulders to jolt him awake.

The officer grabbed his comm and started shouting into it, "Get a medical crew to the bridge, now!"

Raising his head with a faint groan, Thrawn looked up at the officer, "That won't be necessary, Captain."

His face contorted into a look of shock and concern, at least some of it genuine. "But... Sir?"

The Chiss wasted no time in standing himself up and inspecting the state of his command bridge. "My injuries are not serious", he told him dismissively.

His red eyes scanned the bridge for any evidence of the young Jedi who'd condemned him to this fate. He saw chaos around him; a few officers were standing up and recovering from their journey and Thrawn could see a few more of his personnel had yet to awaken. Smashed material from the viewports and pieces of terminals and ceiling tiles were thrown across the ground during the creatures' attack. Thrawn noted his own condition too. A few scrapes and burns but nothing serious, and the oozing stains from whatever manner of creature had intervened. His immediate concern was not any of these things. His attention turned to Ezra Bridger, or more so the lack of him.

"Where's Ezra Bridger?", he demanded as his eyes shot quickly to the Imperial.

The words sparked him to attention and a flash of nervousness appeared on his face. "Uh... he's escaped Sir.", the officer fumbled.

If looks could kill, the bridge officer would have been flayed on the spot. Thrawn glared at him, "Escaped?"

"He awoke earlier, Sir. M-most of the ship was still... incapacitated. He was already in the hangar by the time we knew he was escaping", the man had taken half a cautionary step back from the Admiral.

Thrawn's reaction didn't move beyond a disapproving glare, "Do we have a damage report on the other ships?"

"Uhhh, no Sir."

Calmly, the Admiral walked past the officer and towards the communication terminal. He hailed Captain Pellaeon and Captain Sarlis on the other two destroyers. "Pellaeon, Sarlis, what's your status?"

His hail went unanswered for a few seconds before the blue image of Captain Pellaeon flickered to life around the holographic table. His uniform was torn, his officer's hat absent and his own wounds similarly unattended. Pellaeon was perhaps old among Imperial Officers, easily into his late 50s with a heavy white moustache, but Thrawn had found him to be far more sensible and competent than most others in the Imperial Navy. He was no Vanto, the Captain's mind didn't possess the same talent for strategy and was unlikely to pick them up as much under Thrawn's command, but his military sensibility had been evident as soon as he joined the Seventh Fleet. Thrawn had also found Pellaeon to blend well with his own values, likewise seeking to avoid unnecessary violence and also willing to at least try to see the bigger picture in any situation. Thrawn had developed a certain respect for the man.

"Grand Admiral. My crew seems to be alive and mostly well but the ship has suffered extensive damage. I'm trying to get a crew down to assess the damage, though from here things aren't looking great."

Any response was interrupted by Captain Sarlis' appearance at the holo-table. She, like Pellaeon, had suffered apparently minor injuries, although appeared to have made some attempt to clean herself up. Sarlis was about as new as could be to the Seventh Fleet, having been hastily assigned to Thrawn on his trip to Coruscant mere days ago, and it was already clear that her position was one earned through favours, not by merit. Her black hair was tucked neatly under her cap and her olive skin was clear of blood or dust. A clear symptom of a career that so far had been a matter of appearances over achievement.

She stood rigidly to attention, "Sir, my ship is in chaos. I've got people down all over the ship and most of our systems look like they're damaged."

"Relax, Captain Sarlis. I want your damage reports immediately, we need to know what we're dealing with", Thrawn commanded.

Thrawn noticed the hesitation in Captain Sarlis a few seconds before she decided to speak, "Sir, what happened? What were those things?"

"Such questions are not our concern right now. The creatures are gone, right now I am only concerned with the state of this fleet."

"Y-yes, Sir. Understood, Grand Admiral. Sarlis out." It was easy to pick out the clear undertones of both fear and confusion in her voice.

Thrawn nodded to Pellaeon, "Same to you, Captain. Full damage report as soon as possible."

Pellaeon gave a weary nod, "Yes, Sir. Pellaeon out."

As he ended the communication, the Grand Admiral saw a squad of Stormtroopers entering the bridge. The Sergeant approached Thrawn with a salute. "Sir, the Jedi Bridger escaped into hyperspace using your personal shuttle."

"I see... thank you, Sergeant", Thrawn acknowledged before making his way to the map display. As the map flickered on, Thrawn's eyes absorbed every detail of it without a word. The Unknown Regions? Not unsurprising for mindless creatures not to stick to conventional routes. He hadn't expected that such as unguided jump would leave him anywhere familiar and now his assumption was confirmed.

The Stormtroopers and other bridge staff all found their eyes drawn to the map. The murmurs and whispering started almost immediately as others realised that they were in an almost defunct fleet floating out in the Unknown Regions beyond known space.

A technician was the first to put the realisation to words, "The... The Unknown Regions."

Thrawn's voice and composure remained stoic and calm, "It would appear so."

"But, how?", the confusion clear in the stormtrooper Sergeant's voice.

"Evidently the creatures possess some capacity for hyperspace which Bridger was no doubt aware of. They've brought us here and moved on, leaving us damaged and isolated without a clear path to the known galaxy." Thrawn's arms were clasped neatly behind his back in an at ease position. "The question now is where will Bridger escape to?"

Snapping to attention, an eager officer stepped forward, "Sir, I can dispatch pursuers along his last known trajectory immediately."

The Grand Admiral waved him off with his hand. "That would not be a wise choice. There are no known safe hyperspace routes in the area and we can't afford to waste resources on such a dangerous task. Also, without a knowledge of his fuel supply and the ships's condition it would be impossible to determine which of the thousands of potential systems Bridger has ended up in. Caution and patience will serve us better here."

The officer shrunk away with the denial, stepping back but keeping his eyes on Thrawn, "What shall we do then, Sir?"

Thrawn furrowed his brow in deep thought, "Focus on repairing our long-range communications. The sooner we re-establish contact with the Imperial Network the sooner we can resolve this issue."

The officer saluted, "At once, Grand Admiral." Turning on his heel, the officer left and the stormtrooper squad peeled off with him.

Thrawn turned and walked back up the command bridge, taking in the chaos around him. This was the second time he'd been foiled by a mysterious, unknown and unpredictable creature. The 'Bendu' as it called itself had prevented the total capture of Phoenix Squadron on Atollon and now these other creatures took a victory at Lothal away from him. As his mind replayed the events of Atollon he came to a sudden realisation.

"I see your defeat. Like many arms surrounding you in a cold embrace."

Despite his losses, Thrawn was almost amused. The Bendu's prophecy had, admittedly, played over in his mind countless times. Never though had he expected it to be so literal, to be seized by a mass of tentacles as they pulled him and his fleet into the cold vacuum of hyperspace. And it was, after all, a defeat.

Begrudgingly, he realised that the Lothal rebels had pulled a victory from almost certain defeat as they had several times before. The fault was Pryce's. In her foolishness she'd undermined Thrawn's own plans, enabled the rebels to thrive on Lothal, achieved their objective for them and gotten herself captured by them to boot. Her incompetence had finally caught up with her and brought her rule of that backwater to what was certainly an explosive end. Rukh had failed him too. Not as completely as Pryce but he'd proved unable to inflict any major loss on the rebels. Indeed Pryce's choice to kill the Jedi Kanan Jarrus was the only significant loss he was aware of inflicting on the Lothal rebels. It was a disturbing and noticeable trend in the Imperial Navy. The glory-seeking Admiral Konstantine had also cost him a complete victory on Atollon. Without the destruction of his Interdictor, there would have been no call for aid to Sabine Wren and her Mandalorians which had enabled escape for the rebels.

Once more, those below him and those he could never have anticipated had undermined his efforts.

The point was irrelevant now. Thrawn had lost. He wasn't above admitting it. It was a new experience, but one he would learn from to ensure it never happened again. If there was one thing that made him feel even a whiff of fear, it was the knowledge that he'd have to answer for these events to the Emperor himself...

Sabine stood on a rooftop of her temporary accommodation on the outskirts of Capital City, staring out at the open plains of Lothal. The same disgusting orange colour still stained the skies of the once beautiful planet, a constant reminder of the devastation the world had suffered. However, where others saw scars and ruin Sabine instead saw work to be done. She wasn't just here to protect Lothal, she was here to rebuild it alongside its people. His people... her people now too.

Ezra hadn't left any idea of how long he'd be gone for or where he'd be going to and Sabine doubted he knew anyway. Not for a second did she doubt that'd he come home though; Ezra's final message made it clear that someday he'd see them all again. She trusted him to follow that promise through, more than she could trust anyone else in her life.

For now, she had to focus on the immediate future and what she was actually going to do with herself. She hadn't been on her own for so long that it felt almost like starting from scratch again. It was probably too early to lay out a plan right now, Lothal was still adjusting to freedom and likely would be for months to come, but in time it'd become clear what needed to be done. Kicking the Empire out was one thing, keeping them out was another. Defences would have to be built, militia forces trained, infrastructure repaired, emergency plans drawn up and so on and so forth. None of that was to mention all the other non-military tasks of housing, education, transport and more that the new government would have to sort out. Sabine smiled to herself a bit, sometimes it seemed like fighting a war was the easy part.

Thoughts of war drew her mind back to the sky and from there to Hera. She'd left almost a day ago and should be at Yavin base by now. It wasn't the first time Sabine had left the Ghost crew but this was probably the last and watching the freighter fly off into the atmosphere had torn at her heart in a way she couldn't have prepared for. It wasn't as if Hera, Chopper, Zeb and the Ghost were out of her life now - Sabine knew that the bond they'd all built wasn't going to change because they weren't around as much - but it only just started to sink in that the life she'd once known was well and truly over. Things wouldn't have been the same anyway, not without Kanan or Ezra. To not be able to hear Kanan and Hera's marriage-like bickering or to never again spend hours with Ezra just talking about life in whatever corner of the Ghost was quiet enough, it all persuaded her that staying on Lothal was the best choice, even without her duty to Ezra keeping her there.

"Deep in thought?", a voice interrupted from behind.

Sabine couldn't hide a jolt of surprise that caused her head to snap back and see Ryder Azadi, reinstated Governor of Lothal, emerging from the stairs to the rooftop.

The older man chuckled as he walked to her side, "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you."

"It's alright", the Mandalorian smiled, "How's the new job going?"

Ryder sighed with a shrug, "A hundred times more chaotic than I remember. So, about as expected really."

"You sound almost like you don't want it back."

Azadi grunted a laugh, "It's the good kind of tiring. Besides, the first time around everyone knew the Empire was closing in. All we could do was muscle them out of any interests they had on the planet and hope they didn't think we were worth the trouble to go after just yet. Now... I don't know."

Sabine raised an eyebrow at him, "You don't think the Empire will come back?"

"Maybe, maybe not. They stripped Lothal of almost everything they could, there's not much left here. Our loss for now, but it also means there's not much else here the Empire could want. Plus, with your Rebellion kicking up a fuss, the Emperor might not think we're worth the effort."

"That's surprisingly optimistic, especially from you", Sabine pondered a moment. Everything Ryder said was true, and with the destruction of the Temple the Emperor had also lost his own personal interest in the planet. Maybe an independent Lothal wasn't so far-fetched after all.

Ryder cleared his throat, "But that doesn't mean we aren't going to prepare as best we can and that's why I came to find you. How'd you feel about being the Head Training Officer of the Lothal Defence Force?"

That had caught her by surprise. She knew she'd have some role in the new military, maybe a weapons officer or at most a squad leader, but to be in charge of the training for a planet-wide defence force?

She took a few seconds before choosing her answer, "Why me? You could have asked anyone with more knowledge of Lothal or someone who has official military experience. Wouldn't someone like that be a better fit?"

The Governor looked right at her "I don't need just anyone with fighting experience, I need someone with experience fighting the Empire. Someone who knows their tactics and equipment. No one in this sector of the galaxy knows how to fight the Empire better than you."

Sabine considered it for a while longer. She'd handled the responsibility of the darksaber before, a leadership position far more dangerous than this. She was going to be on Lothal anyway and Ryder was probably right in saying that she knew how to fight the Empire more than anyone here. On second thought, it made far more sense than she'd first realised.

"Alright", she shrugged, "I'll do it."

"Thank you, Sabine. I'm glad to hear that. It's not like we'll be starting this tomorrow, there's work to be done first, but when the time is right I'm glad to know you'll help us out", Ryder looked back out over the plains with renewed optimism. "Having you will be good for the troops too. Nothing will whip them into shape like a strict, no-nonsense Mandalorian warrior."

Sabine scoffed at him with smile, "Strict? No-nonsense? Come on Ryder, you know me better than that."

"Oh, I do", he grinned, "But the recruits won't."

The Mandalorian shook her head with amusement and joined Ryder in enjoying the view. Head Training Officer of the Lothal Defence Force. Both of those titles could use some work, but they both represented a future for Lothal and a future for her. If she could use her experience to protect this planet then she'd do it in any way she could. It's the least she could do for her own sake as much as Ezra's.

"There is one other thing", Ryder began after a long silence, "Some of the local leaders and I want something to remember those who gave us our freedom."

Her head tilted to look over at him, her interest piqued. "What kind of something?"

"A memorial for Kanan. We were thinking maybe the fuel processing plant; the area has to be used for something and I can't think of anything more fitting for it." Sabine didn't answer him, the memory of Kanan was still raw and fresh right now. After a few seconds, Ryder continued, "We'd thought we'd ask you and also for you to run it by General Syndulla too. We don't want to do anything that upsets someone."

Sabine swallowed hard, "I think it's a nice idea. I'll ask Hera as soon as I can but I'm sure she'd like it too."

Ryder nodded, "Okay, we'll see what we can do."

She turned away from him, the sudden shift in the conversation still throwing her off a bit. It was strange to think of Kanan in this way, he was a father to her for so long and now... now he was already being talked of like a memory. Still, the Governor didn't settle and Sabine could tell there was something else.

After a minute or so, she was proved right. "It's not just Kanan...", Ryder started, "We also want something as a memorial for-"

"He's not dead, Ryder", Sabine cut him off.

Ryder opened his mouth as if to say something but wisely chose to keep quiet. She wasn't under any illusions about how this looked to anyone else. But no one else knew Ezra, not like she did, and something inside told her he was out there somewhere waiting until he'd be back at her side. It was bad enough to be thinking about Kanan's death and she didn't want to wake up every day to something that even suggested Ezra was gone too.

Looking back at him again, she sighed, "It's difficult to explain... I just know."

"I understand. Or rather I've given up trying to understand things like that", Ryder smiled sympathetically at her, "If you do think of anything we can do for him though, you let us know."

Sabine nodded silently, "Thanks, Ryder."

"Or for you", he continued, "We all know what it's like to lose people we love and we're all there if you need anything from us."

She smiled to herself at that, it was too easy to lose sight of the fact that she'd already helped these people so much. She still felt Ezra and Kanan did more than she ever did, but it warmed her heart to be reminded that people were grateful to her too. Freeing Lothal had been a team effort for all these years, a team effort she was no small part of. Not that she particularly wanted to take much credit, if anything the less public attention the better, but having a bit of pride in what she'd achieved might help lessen the blow of what she'd lost.

"I appreciate that", Sabine replied. "But I doubt I'll be scrambling for a memorial any time soon", she chuckled.

"Well if you change your mind, I'll get things organised", Ryder laughed as he turned back out towards the horizon. "It's getting late, I'd better get back."

"I'd better get down to bed too", Sabine said, looking down to the rooftop beneath her feet. Ryder had been kind enough to give her a house to use for however long she needed, a house she hoped Ryder was prepared to get back under a few coats of paint.

Ryder turned to leave with a warm smile and a nod, walking back towards the stairs off the roof. As he went, Sabine again looked up to the ever-darkening horizon around her. Despite all the destruction and all the painful memories, she knew the planet would pull through and she'd be along for the ride. As she cast a long gaze from east to west, taking in as many details of her new home as possible, a thin but towering speck on a faraway hill caught her eye. A speck that was very familiar. At once, she knew exactly what it was, and not a second passed before a new idea formed in her head.

"Hey Ryder", she called to him just before he disappeared from view, "There might be one thing you could help with."

I'll say a little something about each section here. Hera's return to Yavin is mainly there to explore Hera's feelings after the finale and to establish her friendship with Leia. I won't explore it too much, that's already seen in a few comics already, but it will be relevant at one or two points in the story going forward. Ezra's section is my first time writing a real action scene and any feedback on it will be appreciated. I didn't want him to stay with Thrawn like in every other story and their separation is essential for their futures. Thrawn was a challenge to write, particularly from his perspective so to speak (without Vanto or Pellaeon as an observer). I wanted his section to explore the different ways that he, Pellaeon, Sarlis and the others reacted to failure and confusion. That little paragraph from the beginning of his section is an idea ripped straight from  Thrawn  and I found it quite useful in clarifying what I wanted to do with his section. As for Sabine, I just wanted to explain her thoughts on Lothal and her future plans there. If you didn't guess from the character tags, genre tags or my writing history, then I'll give fair warning of some Ezrabine in this story. It's not the entire plot or anything but it's there and does get some focus throughout.

One other thing, Sarlis is indeed an OC but rest assured there won't be too many of them. A new one will be introduced next chapter but other than that we'll mainly be focused on established characters. They'll be tame too and not Starkiller-esque demigods or evil genius masterminds.

Lastly, a huge shout out to WestwardGlance for proof-reading all of this and being an indispensable source of advice and/or grammar lessons for me. I'm not sure there's anyone here who hasn't read his stuff yet but if somehow you haven't then you don't know what you're missing.

Anyway, in the next chapter and the second part of the prologue: Ezra emerges from hyperspace, Hera makes a discovery, Sabine gets some news and Thrawn answers to the Emperor.

Chapter Text

So here's chapter 2 of the prologue before we start the story proper. There's just some things I needed to establish and introduce to let the main story proceed. The length of time that's passed between each section is a bit varied, Ezra's section picks up immediately after last time, Hera's and Sabine's a few days and Thrawn's perhaps a week.

This is a long chapter and I'm not planning to have every chapter this size. I'm aiming for a 8k-10k word target to keep it long enough to progress the story but short enough so it doesn't become too daunting to read.

I should probably say that, aside from the core films and obviously Rebels (The Clone Wars too I suppose), the two Thrawn novels have the biggest impact on this story. It's not nearly as important to it as Rebels or the Original Trilogy, but ideas, events and characters will be referenced or featured. You shouldn't be too lost if you haven't read them, but be aware that some things in the Thrawn sections will mention the events of both books.

Spoiler warning: Thrawn's section contains several details and spoilers from Thrawn: Alliances. If you haven't read the book or wish to avoid spoiling the details, tread carefully.

In this chapter:  Ezra emerges from hyperspace, Hera makes a discovery, Sabine gets some news and Thrawn answers to the Emperor.

The shuttle shuddered violently as the deafening noise of proximity alarms echoed throughout the craft. The gauges were red, the indicators critical and the controls almost completely unresponsive. The brief few seconds of standard hyperspace travel had quickly descended into emergency deceleration as the twisting blue corridor became a swirling vortex of every different colour on the spectrum. The exterior of the shuttle was glowing white hot and Ezra could see panels of plating being torn violently off the hull. His lessons with Hera hadn't prepared him for this as he fumbled every switch and button in hopes of escape.

It was no use. Nothing in the cockpit was responding. That was to be expected in this situation, he'd have probably sped up his death by trying to mess with anything in hyperspace. He should have done a full systems check before he left, if only he'd spared the seconds. If he survived this, maybe he'd get a chance to piece together what exactly had gone wrong, but as the ship barrelled through space at unimaginable speeds that chance seemed less than slim.

A deep whirring sound came from the ship, making Ezra sick to his stomach. For a second he thought it was the noise of the hull ripping apart and leaving him to a cruel death in the depths of space. To his great relief, it was only the sound of an unexpected emergence from hyperspace, not unlike the one he and Kanan had experienced when leading the Inquisitor to Anaxes. He almost breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of the cascade of colours outside turning into the strangely reassuring blackness of space.

The ship finally dropped out of hyperspace and tumbled into a roll a few times before the on board stabilisation could bring it under control. Ezra shut his eyes tight, the hectic motion already churning his stomach. As he felt the shuttle drift to a more stable position, he cautiously opened his eyes and assessed the situation. The most obvious development was definitely the massive green planet that loomed in front of him, already taking up the majority of the viewport window. That would explain the proximity alarms, a second longer and he'd have slammed straight into it.

Switching his attention to the controls, many of the dials were burned out or still recovering. Unsurprisingly, the hyperdrive was offline and the system was registering 'critical damage'. The hull had indeed sustained significant damage but he'd miraculously avoided a hull breach. The navigational systems put him no more than a few systems away from wherever he'd been before, but it was distance that could buy him a decent amount of time. After all, no ship could easily be tracked through hyperspace, and it was unlikely any Imperial shuttle was under such expensive and unnecessary surveillance. Sub-light engines seemed to be functional although the lack of fuel meant he wouldn't get very far on them.

With no other options, Ezra initiated a planetary scan as he gently edged the controls towards the planet. The display took longer than usual but the results were encouraging. Gravity, oxygen content and water levels were all within liveable ranges. Life-form readings were high; the planet hosted life, but there was a complete lack of any technology. Whatever life down there was primitive at best and more than likely just wild animals and creatures. The ship drew closer to the planet and Ezra could begin to make out areas of mountains, coasts and flatland, all covered in greenery. More information appeared on the display: the day/night cycle was fairly standard albeit a few hours longer than Lothal, the temperature was perhaps a bit above comfortable but still something time would adjust him too and it seemed the planet was particularly prone to storms and high rainfall. Deciding that the conditions were manageable, though also lacking any other choice, Ezra aimed generally for a coastal area north of the equator, far from the intense heat of the equator.

Atmospheric re-entry was bumpier than usual but the ship held together well enough. The cloud cover in this part of the world at the time was minimal so he was treated to a pleasant view of this new planet as he descended. There was more forestry than he'd expected, he'd go as far as to call it jungle, but it was less than somewhere like Yavin 4 and the terrain was remarkably flat for as far as he could see. Ezra began searching for a spot to land in the more open areas close to the coast. Soon he spotted a clearing large enough to set down, only a few hundred metres from the coast, and cautiously brought the limping shuttle to a rough landing. Waiting a few seconds for any signs of a problem after landing, Ezra gingerly released the controls. A few more second passed before he leaned back into his seat with an exhausted groan, his head hanging back over the chair.

Where am I? What can I do now? Was I followed?

There was no way to answer any of those questions. The realisation slowly dawned on him... he was alone. He was lost and trapped far from home. His pulse began racing and his breathing became rapid and heavy. His body tensed as, clenching his fists, he felt a wave of panic and fear threaten to consume him.


Ezra focused in on the part of his mind that had tried to reign him in.

No. Breathe.

He unclenched his fists and tried his best to slow his rapid breathing.

Focus... clear your mind. Like Kanan always said.

Fighting the rush of adrenaline that was trying to overwhelm him, Ezra placed his hands gently onto his knees and sat upright, asssuming a position his late Master had shown him so many times before.

Good... now let go.

Ezra tried to grasp at the thoughts of fear and anxiety swimming in his head. At the same time, he steadied his breathing.

First the body, then the mind.

Slowly, the thumping sound of his heartbeat abated and the tension in his back and neck eased.

Now... calm your mind. Focus.

Shutting out the fears of the outside world, Ezra focused in on the realities of the situation. Yes, he was alone. Yes, he was lost. Yes, he didn't know what to do next.

Accept what you can't change... remember what you have.

His mind focused on the events that led him here and what they all meant. Everything he did he'd done for Lothal. His home was free, his friends were safe, his mission had been complete.

"A Jedi must have the deepest commitment."

A phrase Kanan had taught him early on repeated itself, a phrase Kanan had clearly stood by. Commitment to his mission, commitment to his friends and commitment to the greater good. They were what mattered in the end and he, like his Master, had done all he could. If he had to pay the price by living his days alone on a long forgotten world then so be it, he had made the right choice.

Ezra sat for a while to calm himself, thinking about Lothal and his friends. Maybe he'd never see them again... or maybe he would. Perhaps he'd spend the next 80 years or so in isolation or perhaps tomorrow the Ghost would fly down and take him home. Either way there was nothing he could do or change, so there was nothing to worry about. He trusted his friends to do whatever they could and whatever was right.

Slowly, Ezra brought himself out of his trance and readjusted himself. If he was going to live here then sitting in the cockpit meditating wasn't going to help him out much right now. He stood up and looked out of the window. The clearing was only just large enough to land the shuttle in so his view was mostly just of trees and vines. Through them he could see glimpses of the coastline he'd seen as he landed, no more than a few hundred metres away. The sky was still a clear blue from what he could see and it must have been some time around midday. Satisfied he'd seen all he could, the Jedi turned and left the cockpit and walked back into the main hold, picking up the E-11 blaster he'd taken on the Chimaera. Ezra reached the exit ramp and mashed the button, praying it was still functioning. The ramp stalled for a second before falling hard onto the ground. It wasn't the most elegant exit he'd seen from an Imperial shuttle but at least he wasn't trapped in it.

Ezra stepped off the ramp and was immediately taken aback by the multitude of creatures staring back at him. No bigger than a loth-cat, the scaly creatures had two large sunken eyes and an oversized mouth, their short bodies having only the two legs with no arms and ending in a small stub tail.

What the-?

Ezra's thoughts were interrupted by the screech of one of the creatures as it charged past him and straight up the ramp of the shuttle, followed by a dozen or so of its friends.

"Hey! Get out of there!", he shouted vainly.

It was no use. Within a few seconds the creatures had made it clear they were colonising the ship. With a reluctant sigh, he shook his head and turned his back on the shuttle. One of the small creatures hopped up to him and whined.

"Hey, little buddy", Ezra said as he kneeled down.

The creature squeaked in approval as Ezra petted it gently.

"You guys are cute. Not loth-cat cute but...". Ezra laughed at the strange animal staring up at him, "Maybe we can be friends."

Enjoying the contact for a few seconds more, the creature suddenly skipped away onto the ship to join its friends. Ezra watched it go and then stood up. He turned toward the treeline with new resolve. Maybe I'll be just fine here after all, he thought as he set off into the trees.

To say Hera's mood was abysmal would be an understatement. For the last two days, she'd struggled to find much energy to do anything. The Ghost was too empty without Ezra and Sabine, let alone Kanan. Hera couldn't bring herself to clean up the mess they'd left the last time they were here, it was a bittersweet reminder of the family that had gone its separate ways.

The Ghost's Captain was slumped in her cockpit chair, staring mindlessly at the hustle and bustle of the base, a long-cold cup of caf still clutched in her hands. Her mind was hazy and unfocused, a feeling she wasn't familiar with and despised having. This wasn't her, to sit and mope around instead of getting out there and doing something, but she'd never felt so run down. Her heart sunk a little further with every pass of Kanan's cabin door or with every glimpse of one of Sabine's signature emblems. The loneliness of it all, the lack of sleep and the persistent and unshakeable aches in her head and back were driving her mad.

Her isolation was interrupted by the hiss of the cockpit door opening, revealing Zeb standing behind it.

"Hey", the Lasat greeted, "Mind if I join you?"

Hera nodded towards the co-pilot's seat and set her caf down near the console. "Busy day?", she asked as Zeb lumbered into the chair.

"Not really", Zeb shook his head, "Just like usual really. Well... not usual I guess."

She didn't have to guess what "not usual" meant. This was Zeb's family too, every bit as much as her's, and he'd had to see it break apart. Given his previous experience with loss, Hera had to admire his strength in pulling through as well as he was.

Her hand found his shoulder with a reassuring hold, "I understand, Zeb. Things are... rough right now."

"What about you?", Zeb looked up at her with concern in his eyes. "I mean, Kanan was like a brother, you know? But you... I can't even begin to...", Zeb trailed off, unsure how to finish saying what he was thinking.

Hera swallowed hard, "I- I've been better, Zeb. Honestly... I've been a lot better."

"You've done good, Hera", it was Zeb's turn to offer a reassuring hand, "You pulled through and without you Lothal wouldn't be free. You got through it then and you'll get through it now."

Her eyes started to well a handful of tears but she quickly brushed them away with her hand. "Thanks, Zeb. I appreciate that."

"Don't mention it, Hera. We're family, we stick together. You need anything, I'm here." Zeb almost laughed, "And if I'm not enough, Sabine's only a comm call away."

Hera's mood softened at the mention of the Mandalorian. She was, after all, safe and sound on Lothal. Hera would miss her presence on the Ghost but it wasn't as if she'd never see her again. Some free time and a hyperspace jump was all that stood between them. It wasn't as nice as having her just down the hall for sure, but every bird must fly the nest and this Wren was no different. Sabine was on Lothal because it's what she felt was right and deep down she couldn't be prouder of her for it, it's what she'd do too. Ezra too, even if she had no idea where he actually was, was still out there. Hera had no doubt that he'd come home and whenever that day was, she'd be there with open arms. Of course she'd have to peel Sabine off him first but the thought lifted her spirits.

"I needed to hear that, Zeb", Hera said after a long while, "It's so easy to get lost in what you don't have that it's easy to lose sight of what you've got."

Zeb squeezed her shoulder gently, "That's more like the Hera I know."

"I'll get there", Hera sighed.

"I know you will, I'll make sure you do", Zeb slowly pulled back his hand.

They both watched the base out of the cockpit window, not paying attention to anything in particular. Hera found herself reminiscing on old times, just any old thoughts that popped into her head. She couldn't help but think of Kanan again. It was the same regrets that played over and over, of being so focused on the Rebellion that she lost sight of what was actually worth fighting for. That wasn't to say they didn't make the most of what time they did get, the rare moments they shared as lovers not crewmates were some of the happiest memories she had.

One of her last memories of him was a perfect example of them taking what little they could. Ezra, Sabine, Zeb and Ryder had gone off to scout the TIE Defender base. It seemed like a lifetime ago but it was only a few weeks at best. With them gone for several hours, Kanan and Hera had been left alone for what would turn out to be their last night together. They'd set up camp near Ezra's tower, waiting for check-ins and reports from the group, but with nothing else to do they'd taken a rare opportunity to enjoy each other's company. They watched the sunrise and sunset, they shared a not-so-romantic meal of bland rations and water. They talked about the Rebellion, the Empire, Lothal and how far they'd all come. When night came, she'd curled up in his arms and just enjoyed his presence. There were other details about the night she could pick out, although some in particular she didn't think were appropriate to think about right now. She smiled to herself, despite their unusual relationship and chaotic lives, they still found time to enjoy each other's company. It may not have been the ideal relationship, but it was their own, and she'd cherish whatever memory of it she had.

Zeb suddenly stood up and cracked his back,"I've got something to help make you feel better. I know your weakness is space waffles."

Space waffles were indeed, as Zeb managed to find out, Hera's guilty pleasure. She loved the things even more than he did. She tried to hide it for a while, Kanan had been completely oblivious, but Zeb had slowly realised why the stocks of the treats had depleted faster than they should have been. This time though, the mere mention of the food filled her with a strange revulsion.

"Um, I'll pass I think", Hera answered, herself surprised at her body's sudden distaste for her secret addiction.

Zeb stopped in his tracks and cast her a concerned look, "Are you feeling okay? It's not like you to say no to space waffles."

Hera looked at him for a few seconds, every bit as confused as he was. It wasn't like her at all. Even when she was down, it was space waffles that could always cheer her up.

"Yeah... yeah", Hera dismissed him, "You go ahead."

The Lasat shrugged and walked out of the cockpit, letting the door slide shut behind him. Hera turned away from the door and back to the window, raising her hand to her head as her mind was still picking over her sudden change in appetite. Stress had never impacted her like this before, maybe a few more days of rest would make her feel better? Something still wasn't right though, Hera could almost feel it. She was missing something. Then she started going over what exactly was wrong with her. Sudden aversion to her favourite food, a constant headache, persistent backache, fatigue. All symptoms of countless issues and illnesses she could have picked up anywhere. That couldn't be it though, she'd had all her inoculations recently, there was no way she had caught something.

Accepting that sometimes the body just decided to have off-days sometimes, Hera let her hand fall lazily from her head and rest on her stomach. Then, the realisation hit her like a hovertrain.

Appetite changes, headaches, fatigue, back pain. Hera's eyes widened, her mind drifting back to that last night with Kanan. It had been cold, it'd been a long time since she'd been alone with him... they'd... it couldn't be. Hera's mouth fell open and her hand reached up to cover it, ready ot catxh the scream that she was too shocked to let out. Without another second's hesitation, she leapt out of her seat and straight out of the cockpit.

She rushed through the common area, ignoring Zeb's confused questions as she passed, and headed straight for the base's medbay. There was only one way to know for sure. Hera climbed down the ladder as fast as her body allowed and rushed out of the Ghost's cargo bay. She kept a brisk pace, not wanting to draw undue attention by running, as she headed in the direction of the medbay. Her mind raced the whole way there with a mess of anxiety, shock, fear and, above all, hope. As she approached the main temple structure, she brushed past crowds of soldiers and technicians, a few of which looked quizzically at her as she passed. Hera cared less and less the closer she got and she had to stop herself from running the last few metres of corridor before the medbay.

To her relief, it was empty save for the 2-1B medical droid manning the desk.

"Hello, General Syndulla. How may I be of assistance?", the droid inquired.

Hera cleared her throat, "Uhm, I need a medical scan."

The droid slowly began ambling it's way towards one of the beds, "Of course, ma'am. This way please, follow me."

The Twi'lek silently followed and sat on the edge of one of the beds beside a few pieces of medical equipment. The droid was seeing to some of the monitors and displays for a few seconds as Hera sat anxiously.

"Is there any particular query you wish to be investigated, General?", it asked.

She shook her head, "No... no just, a normal scan should do." Hera didn't know how to say it, she didn't think there'd be scan for unexpected pregnancies, but she figured it's something that a normal one would easily pick up.

The medical droid tapped the dials a few times, "As you wish, ma'am. Please hold still."

The scanner made a whirring noise, followed by a series of beeps and tones. The droid remained silent, watching the results come in with its ever-passive face. Hera didn't speak either, all she could do was sit and wait impatiently for the equipment to do its work. When the beeping stopped, Hera's heart froze. The silence seemed to last forever as the droid processed whatever results he was seeing on the screen.

"General Syndulla", her heart leapt as the droid began talking, "It appears you are in good health." Hera caught her breath in her throat, surely that couldn't be all there was? "There does appear to be one issue though, ma'am", the droid added.

Her heart skipped a beat, "W-what issue?"

The medical droid was silent, as if it was double-checking it's own conclusions, "You appear to be carrying a child. You're pregnant, General."

Pregnant? The word filled her with more joy than she could have hoped. After all of the pain and loss, something new and beautiful was yet to come. A million thoughts rushed through her head. How could she raise a child and fight a war? How would she look after him? What would she call him? Where would he stay? The Ghost? Home on Ryloth? Lothal? Hera pushed aside all the questions she had and almost jumped out of the bed. It hadn't really started sinking in yet but she could already feel the tears welling in her eyes. Not sadness, as they had been these last few days, but pure and honest joy.

"The child appears to be in perfect health, no more than a few weeks in development." The medical droid was watching her emotional reaction with an unreadable expression. "Is this causing you distress? I can organise a termin-"

"No!", Hera shouted a bit too loudly. That was not an idea she was going to think about.

"Of course, General. May I then recommend a regular check-up on both of your health?", the droid offered.

"Yes... yes", Hera said ecstatically, "Just let me know when and where and... anything." Hera's mind was still struggling to take everything in.

The droid turned and waddled towards the desk, "As you wish, ma'am. I will forward a regular schedule to you as soon as I am able. Good day, General."

Hera left the med-bay with her head in the clouds and the questions came flooding back. She couldn't answer any of them but she didn't need to yet, she'd have a few months to figure that all out and there were plenty of people around to help her do it. Her thoughts then switched to her existing family: Zeb, Chopper and Sabine. She couldn't wait to tell them they were getting a new addition to their perfectly dysfunctional family.

With a new smile, Hera headed back to the Ghost with the knowledge that things were going to be okay after all.

Sabine stood proudly on a hill, inspecting the old communication tower Ezra had once called home. Ryder had been more than happy to lend a hand in repairing it, offering materials and labour to help move the project along. Sabine had welcomed the former but politely declined the latter. This was her project to complete and she was committed to seeing it through on her own. The last few days had been a gruelling attempt to clean layers of dust and grime from the outer walls of the tower, ready to be given a new pristine coat of paint. The side walls had all been scrubbed as hard as she could manage and tomorrow she'd turn her attention to the roof. It wasn't exciting work nor challenging but it gave her purpose.

That would only be the first phase though. She'd then have to clear out and fix up the inside of the tower. Crates, boxes, radio equipment, old furniture and Ezra's collection of helmets were still littered about the place. Sabine had to admit she was impressed by how many he'd gathered over the years, a collection that had only grown with every fine addition. Her favourite thing about it was how many of her own he'd kept. Not her own helmets obviously but the ones she'd made her own with a paint applicator and her imagination. At first she knew the offer of the helmet was some childish attempt to woo her, attempts she permitted only for the fun of vandalising Imperial property. Over time it just became something they shared as friends. She'd even tried painting one or two with him but he'd never been particularly good at it. Not that it mattered how good they were, it was the memory that she valued most. The helmets still served as a reminder of what they'd had and, when he came home, what they'd have again.

She thought about him a lot. That was expected given she was in his old house on his home planet. They'd grown so close in the last year or so, particularly the last few months, and now not having him around had left a glaring absence in her life. It was only temporary though, she knew he'd be back one day, and this project was to ensure he had a home to come back to. Not that that was it's only purpose, she'd admittedly planned on using the place herself for the time being. If he wanted it back she'd happily step aside when he was home though part of her didn't think he'd be opposed to sharing with her.

Her comm beeped with a message, saying she had an incoming call from an undisclosed location. Hera no doubt. Sabine knew the Rebel base was on Yavin but it was still a wise security precaution in case the message was intercepted. The long range communicator was in the tower's top level, so she headed down the hill and towards the elevator to the top.

The receiver's flashing light showed that Hera was still waiting for her to pick up. Sabine quickly tapped the accept call button and watched the blue figure of Hera appear above the table.

"Hey, this was unexpected", Sabine started.

Hera looked tired, as she had done when she left a few days ago, but Sabine could tell her mood had improved. "It's good to see you too. How have you been?"

Sabine leaned back against the wall to get comfortable, folding her arms in front of her chest. "I'm okay, it's still a bit, I don't know, strange being here. Without everyone else I mean."

The Twi'lek smiled sympathetically at her, "I know, dear. But you'll get through it, you always do. Do you have any ideas about what you're going to do there yet?"

"I'm way ahead of you", Sabine perked up. "Ryder gave me a job offer: 'Head Training Officer' for his new militia."

Hera looked surprised, "Well that was fast. Can't say it's a bad choice though, you're a good leader."

"I learnt from the best", trying her best to offer some praise to always-humble Hera, "Not crazy about the name though."

She laughed, "I'm sure you'll do something about it. You have a habit of making things your own."

"I can't argue with that." Sabine looked around the old comm tower, "Speaking of which, that's not all I've been up to."

Hera raised an eyebrow, "Oh really?"

"Ezra's tower. Ryder gave me some materials to fix up the place. Sort of a welcome back present for Ezra when he decides to come home."

"You'll have to show me next time I come to visit but it sounds nice. I'm sure Ezra will love it", she insisted.

"I hope so." Sabine looked over to the pile of helmets, many of which were covered in her own designs. She hoped she wasn't overestimating his opinion on her handiwork. "Besides, I wanted somewhere to stay too."

Hera smirked, "You know, some people might read into that. Fixing up his home, living in it until he comes back. Sounds awfully touching", she teased.

"Hera!", Sabine warned with a piercing glare at the grinning Twi'lek.

She put her hands up, "I'm kidding, I'm kidding. Well... at least for now."

Sabine scowled jokingly at her. "Yeah, yeah. How's life on Yavin anyway?"

"It's different", Hera sighed. "I miss having the rest of you around to cause me problems."

Sabine shrugged, "We had to keep you on your toes. But, you look better. Not that you ever didn't look good, I mean, just... you look better."

Hera smiled, "Well there is a reason for that. We're getting a new Spectre."

Sabine leaned forward. She knew Hera would be given new people to fill up her crew. Rex she guessed, Kallus maybe too. "That sounds interesting, who is it?"

The Twi'lek bit her lip, "Not someone you've met yet."

That was an odd way to put it. "Uh... alright. Care to introduce me?", the Mandalorian looked at her perplexedly.

"I can't wait to but it might be a while", she said gleefully.

Sabine continued to eye her suspiciously, "Okay, how long until I can meet them?"

"About 8 or 9 months, give or take."

"8 or 9 months? Why?", Sabine continued to look at her in utter confusion.

8 or 9 months. That was a long-term notice for a transfer. Surely the Rebels coul- no. No. No way.

Sabine gasped and stood up fully from her leaning position. "Hera?! Hera, are you... don't tell me you're..."

Hera watched her old cremate's reaction with a humoured smile. "Well it's not Zeb and unless you and Ezra had a little secret then that only leaves one option."

"I- Hera that's... that's amazing. How long have you known?", Sabine heart was fluttering with excitement.

"An hour or two. I've been feeling odd for a few days now and I guess it just clicked what it might be."

The news was completely out of the blue and certainly not what Sabine had expected to hear when climbing up to the tower. Hera deserved the happiness; she was a natural mother. After all, she'd almost raised her and Ezra for the last few years. It was only fitting that as her adopted children went off on their own paths that she could get a child that was truly her own. There were a hundred questions Sabine could ask about how she'd manage both the child and the Rebellion, or about the dangers of the life Hera led. Sabine trusted her to figure it out though, if anyone could it was her. One question did stick out to her though.

"Wait wait wait, how can you be pregnant? When could you have... uh... you know?", Sabine's question had sounded far less intrusive in her head.

Conservative Hera shied away slightly, "You all went to scout the Defender base and, well, one thing led to anoth-"

"Okay, I wish I hadn't asked", Sabine cut off. Hera and Kanan were still almost parents to her and she didn't need to think about that. "Who knows already?"

"Zeb, Chop and you. I'll have to tell my father soon, maybe tomorrow. As for the others like Rex, I'll tell them in time. Right now I'll keep it in the family.", Hera said. "I still don't know how everything will work yet, I'll have to figure it all out."

"We've got time, we'll work it out.", Sabine reassured her, "If there's anything I can do you call me right away."

Hera smiled, "I'll keep that in mind."

"And if you need a babysitter when you're off saving the galaxy, you know who to call.", Sabine grinned.

Hera cautioned her with a signature mom-glare, "We'll see, I don't want you to have them painting all over the Ghost."

The Mandalorian laughed, "Hey, you let me do it."

Hera rolled her eyes jokingly, "Okay, you have me there. Maybe if some of your talent rubs off then I'll allow it."

"I'll try to teach them for you but no promises.", Sabine conceded happily.

Hera let out a weary sigh, "Anyway, it's been a long day. I should be in bed already but I couldn't wait on telling you."

"I understand, you look after yourself. And let the others know I'm saying hey, don't want Zeb to think I've forgotten about him."

Hera chuckled, "Thanks Sabine, I'll tell them for you."

"Thanks, Hera. It's nice to get some good news for a change."

"We'll keep in touch. And next time I get some leave, we're coming to visit. That tower better be ready.", Hera warned sarcastically with a pointed finger.

"It'll be ready. For all four of you."

Hera smiled back at her for a few seconds before she reluctantly pressed the end call button, causing her figure to disappear. Sabine sat staring at the space she'd just been in, absorbing the news. It was a glimmer of light at the end of a long road for all of them, for Hera more than anyone. As Sabine left the tower and headed back towards her temporary house in Capital City, there was nothing that could wipe the smile from her face. Things might not be the same as they used to be but they didn't have to be. This was different. A new different. A good different.

Night came later than he was used to on this world. The daylight had kept him up and exploring for hours, surveying the land and making a mental map of nearby landmarks or locations. He'd kept the infested shuttle as a point to centre himself around and was building up his environment around it. As night had began to fall, Ezra found his way back to the shuttle. For now, he'd use it as a base camp. He'd fought his way through the packs of harmless creatures on the shuttle earlier to retrieve whatever survival supplies he could. There'd been a bedroll, some blankets, water purifiers, an emergency flare gun, a toxicology kit and a few packs of standard rations hidden away in the hold. Plenty enough to get him started.

Ezra lay on top of the bedroll, staring up at the unfamiliar stars and the looming orange moon. It was beautiful here, he'd been lucky enough to have that. The small creatures, which Ezra had decided to call them loth-lizards to remind of of his home and it's weird naming conventions, had also clustered around the shuttle. At first they were curious of their new neighbour but they'd quickly learned he meant them no harm. A few of the loth-lizards had let him pet them as he lay there and he'd briefly tried connecting with a few of them as he did with the loth-cats. It was more difficult with these creatures, they'd never seen humans before and he didn't have the years of experience with them, but he was confident he could get somewhere with it soon.

Still, as he stared up at the sky, something felt off. There was a strange feeling that he just couldn't shake. Just out of sight and just out of reach. It was calling to him. The more he thought about it, the more he remembered the brief twinge in the force as he left the Chimaera. Perhaps it was the same thing calling out to him then, maybe this planet held more than met the eye.

Then, almost on cue, the loth-lizards made a sudden chirp and scurried back towards the shuttle. The sudden noise and movement made Ezra jump and sit up.

Ezra looked over to see the last one running up the ramp. "What's up with you guys?", he asked them.

Then another feeling crept in. Not so much a feeling as it was a presence. They weren't alone. Ezra's hand instinctively went to his hip for his absent lightsaber before he realised and went for the nearby blaster instead.

"Hello?", he shouted into the darkness.

There was no response other than the cracking of the branches and rustling of the trees.

The young man stood up and held the blaster in a ready position, prepared to meet any opponent with a blaster bolt. He stepped carefully over his bedroll and toward the treeline. Ezra focused and reached out with the force, probing the darkness for whatever being was nearby. As he continued to walk, he could feel its gaze following him with greater intensity.

"Who are you?", Ezra called.

Another sudden rustle snapped his attention up to the trees. The darkness stopped him from seeing anything but the force was another matter. He used his training and all the concentration he could muster to find out what was out there. In a moment of sudden clarity, Ezra found it. Something was hiding in the trees above him and it was about to-

Ezra's trail of thought ended as he shot his hand out and called on the force with it. An angry growl came from the space only inches from his outstretched hand, as the creature that had tried to ambush him struggled to process what was happening. The animal Ezra had caught was larger than the loth-lizards, perhaps closer to a loth-wolf in both size and appearance. It too was scaly and lacking fur but unlike the other locals it had four strong limbs ending in three sharp clawed fingers, perfect for climbing and ambushing like it had just attempted. It's tail was long and thin and it's head was narrow, complete with a mouth of deadly sharp teeth. A predator through and through.

Keeping hold of it with the force, Ezra cast a glance back at the ship. "Hunting my friends, are you? Guess that explains why they love hiding in the shuttle."

Ezra looked at the thrashing creature in his grip and considered his options. As much as he didn't want to harm the creature, he didn't exactly want to let it have his new friends for dinner either. Nor could he give him any of his rations, he didn't want to encourage it to come back. That left him with only one real option: a real test of his abilities.

Calming his mind yet again, Ezra centred his attention on the howling creature. As he'd done on Lothal many times before, he opened himself to its mind. However, he'd underestimated the creature's resistance to him. It's mind wouldn't let him in and he could feel the anger, fear and confusion emanating from within. Ezra grimaced, knowing that the only way to make the connection was to let it go.

Ezra stared into the eyes of the predator, preparing to let it loose, "I hope I don't mess this up, for your sake", he muttered.

Rather than dropping it then and there, he felt it was better to put some distance between the two of them.

"Here goes nothing"

Without hesitating any more, Ezra threw the creature back into the trees but kept whatever link he could with it. He walked backwards towards the shuttle, stopping just before the ramp. All the while he could sense the creature's confusion, followed by its adjusting to the situation and then as it focused back on the hunt. Ezra could hear and sense it as it scrambled to its feet and turned back towards the shuttle. It was now or never.

With the predator's mind free from the panic of the force hold, it was more open to Ezra's probing. He shut his eyes to close out any other distractions and urged the creature to turn back. The snapping of leaves and twigs gave away the creature's advances as it moved closer and closer to the treeline.

Stop, turn back. I mean you no harm.

The snapping and rustling became louder and faster as it picked up the pace and got closer.

Stop hunting us, go home.

The predator gave a menacing snarl as it ran through the trees, showing no signs of slowing down.

Stop, leave us alone.

Ezra tried as hard as he could to influence the creature but it drew closer and closer.


The animal charged through the treeline, straight into the clearing, still running directly at him.

"STOP!", he shouted as he screamed it in his mind. "Turn ba-"

He was cut off by the impact of the creature slamming into his chest, sending him tumbling backwards onto the ramp. For a second, Ezra braced himself for the inevitable pain of the animal's teeth and claws but... there was nothing. His eyes shot open to meet the attacker's, barely inches from his own. The creature was on top of him but hadn't made a move to attack him. Their gazes remained locked for what felt like minutes, but was probably only a few seconds, before Ezra felt the creature's legs move and its head sink away. The predator quietly turned its back to him and walked down the ramp, heading back towards the direction of the trees.

Ezra sat up carefully and watched it go, amazed he'd managed to actually pull it off. As the creature just about reached the treeline, Ezra's attention turned back to the rations still sitting undisturbed next to his bedroll.

"Hey, wait", Ezra called after him. The creature stopped and looked back as the Jedi ran over to his bedroll and ripped open a pack of the rations. "Come here", he said, offering a small piece of the preserved food in an outstretched hand.

The animal inspected him with its black eyes for a while before stepping closer, weary of the strange creature now offering it food.

"It's okay, you're only hungry", Ezra remained rigidly still.

The creature edged closer and smelt the offering, backing away ever so slightly before leaning forward for another whiff.

"Here", Ezra gently placed the food on the ground, casting aside the rest of the uneaten packet, and scuttled back from it.

It watched him move away before turning its attention back to the morsel of food. It sniffed once more, then greedily grabbed the piece and swallowed it in one gulp.

Ezra grinned at it, "See? That's wasn't so hard."

Once more the predator looked at the him with suspicious eyes, just as surprised as Ezra was by the situation. The confusion was only temporary as its natural needs took over, causing the creature to eagerly grab the still open packet of rations with his mouth. Wasting no time, the creature darted back off into the night but not before casting one more look at the strange new friend it might have just made.

Ezra watched it go with a satisfied smile, pleased he'd not only remembered his training but hopefully had turned its appetite away from his new scaly friends. The chirping of the so-called loth-lizards resumed as they sensed the danger passing. A few began hopping out of the shuttle again to resume their usual antics as Ezra settled back down for the night.

He'd kept the predator at bay and maybe, hopefully, he'd made a new friend in it. As Ezra settled back onto his bedroll and looked up at the night sky, he still couldn't shake that strange call in the force he'd felt earlier. Maybe it wasn't that creature, maybe it was still just close-by or maybe there was something else somewhere, beckoning him to follow. Knowing he wouldn't find the answer now, the Jedi rolled over and shut his eyes for the night.

Alliances can be useful in some situations. However, they are almost always based on mutual advantage. While the advantage exists, an alliance will endure, but when such favourable conditions fade so too may the alliance. It may be possible, in some circumstances, to reforge this alliance not based on the previous motivations but on new situations and new realities.

The long-range communication relay had suffered extensive damage during the creatures' attack above Lothal. Thrawn had mustered whatever technical staff he could to work on the project and had to resort to salvaging components from the equally damaged relay aboard Sarlis' Imperator. Almost a week later, the crews finally had the relay operational again.

The Grand Admiral walked slowly and calmly from his office to the hall that used to house part of the Lothal Jedi Temple. It was the same hall he'd led Ezra Bridger to during the Battle of Lothal and the crumbled ruins of the architecture still covered most of the hall. A pity, Thrawn thought, to waste such rare and unique creations. The pressures of the last few days had occupied most of his time, leaving him unable to study the ruins in any detail yet. It would be a valuable learning experience for him. Thrawn had never had the opportunity to study the art or architecture of any force wielders before, beyond passing inspections of the former Jedi Temple during his brief visits to the Imperial Palace on Coruscant. Studying the ruins would surely give him some insight into the minds of those who wielded the force, an area of knowledge he was so far uninformed on.

The Chiss entered the hall to find it empty, as he had instructed. The Emperor was adamant that during any contact he would only permit Thrawn to speak with him. It was understandable after all, the public face of Emperor Palpatine was a far cry from the twisted and deformed figure he was in person. Thrawn was one of only a handful of people to have met the Emperor in person and he was perhaps the only being in the known galaxy he remained almost in fear of. Not terror, he would not turn tail and flee at the sight of him, but Thrawn found the Emperor's single-minded ambition and near complete unquestionable power to be concerning. It allowed him to take decisive action, a contrast with the fatal flaw that made the Republic so weak, yet Thrawn knew that men of his ilk were concerned only with their own position and not with the greater good. For now, the Emperor's goals seemed in part to align with, or at least accommodate, his own. How long that stayed true remained to be seen.

Standing in the centre of the room, Thrawn tapped a button on his communicator, signalling to the communication officers elsewhere in the ship to establish the connection. Thrawn waited in a solemn silence for the hologram projector to sputter to life and waited even longer for the recipient to acknowledge the message. An obvious show of power no doubt but one that lost its impact to those like Thrawn who had come to expect it.

After the extended delay, the hologram projector activated and a large blue projection of the Emperor appeared in the centre of the hall. The hooded figure's face was mostly concealed and Thrawn could only see the lower half of his face and the unnaturally glowing eyes glaring back at him.

"Grand Admiral Thrawn", the Emperor said with hints of malice, his expression unreadable.

Thrawn bowed his head slightly, "Your Excellency, I apologise for the delay in contacting you we have had severe technical difficulties."

The Emperor made no reaction to Thrawn's explanation and glared unfeelingly at him. "More than technical difficulties, it would seem."

"Indeed we have. May I assume you have read some of the reports?", Thrawn inquired.

"What little there is", the Emperor said. "Who better than you to offer the full story?"

Thrawn straightened himself to address the Emperor. "Upon my return to Lothal the rebels had already infiltrated the Imperial Dome and had Governor Pryce in custody. I offered the boy Bridger a choice as you are already aware."

Thrawn made sure not to make much mention of the Emperor's own role in the events, he had after all failed to achieve his own aims for Ezra Bridger or for the planet of Lothal. Wisely, he felt it would not be prudent to make light of that fact.

"After the Jedi's escape, he ambushed the bridge of the Chimaera, whereupon his allies summoned unusual creatures. From where they came from or how Bridger knew of them, I cannot say."

The Grand Admiral could recognise the almost ridiculous way in which events played out, impossible odds, force-wielding children and mysterious creatures appearing from the ether. However, what had transpired was far from a joke.

The Emperor maintained an unflinching gaze with his monstrous eyes, "And that creatures transported your fleet to the Unknown Regions?"

"It would seem so, the creatures have an unusual ability to manipulate hyperspace travel", Thrawn said. He was hardly surprised either that the Emperor had noticed his fleet's location, the Unknown Regions were a point of unique interest for him.

"Most interesting, Grand Admiral", the Emperor said. "For all your talents, Lothal has been seized by these rebels and you command a broken fleet on the fringes of space."

Thrawn did not answer, he'd learned it was often best to say nothing in such situations.

The Emperor grimaced, "However... the failure does not belong to you alone. The late Arihnda Pryce allowed these rebels to flourish whilst you were occupied elsewhere. And, these creatures were a factor that could not have been anticipated."

"Thank you, my Emperor. Your assessment of the situation is appreciated", Thrawn said.

For a moment, Emperor Palpatine watched Thrawn with his piercing eyes. "Unexpected intervention seems to be something of a pattern of late, Mitth'raw'nuruodo."

The Emperor's assessment was accurate, a fact Thrawn himself had dwelt on too. "The Bendu, as it called itself, and Bridger both possessed knowledge of things that are... unknown to me."

"The force", the Emperor stated plainly.

"It goes by many names in many cultures. The force to some, magic to others, to my own people it is known as 'third sight'."

The Emperor let out a malicious cackle, "The force exists everywhere, Grand Admiral. As you will come to appreciate on your new mission."

New mission? Thrawn raised an eyebrow and looked up at the Emperor. A twisted smile formed on his decrepit face as he watched the Chiss' surprise.

"Forgive me, your Excellency. I had suspected that my objective would remain the capture of Ezra Bridger and the Lothal rebels", Thrawn said.

The Emperor waved his hand, "Lothal no longer concerns me. The destruction of the Temple was an unfortunate loss and my interest in the planet dies with it. As for that desolate backwater, let the Rebels believe in their victory for now. Lothal will be one of many examples that we will soon use to show the galaxy what it costs to oppose my Empire."

"You refer to the Death Star?", the Chiss asked. Thrawn had already made clear his disapproval of the project, feeling that ability to project Imperial power through a more flexible fleet was far superior to a single battle station.

"I sense your disapproval, Grand Admiral. However, with the failure of your Defender program it is clear that the future of my Empire lies in this project. Director Krennic assures us that it is mere months from completion and will soon put an end to dissenters and rebels. My hold on the galaxy will be complete", the Emperor declared with sadistic confidence.

"Your Majesty, I still do not believe this is the best course of action", Thrawn pleaded, in vain he knew.

"Your objections have already been noted, Grand Admiral. Your concerns, however, are no longer relevant on this issue. Your objectives lie elsewhere."

Thrawn met the Emperor's gaze again, "You intend for me to remain in the Unknown Regions?"

The Emperor looked almost amused, "When I accepted your service, you spoke of threats to us both in the Unknown Regions. Now is your time to deliver on the knowledge you promised. I sent you once on a mission to investigate a disturbance I felt in the force, specific and focused."

"The Grysk, my Emperor", Thrawn remembered the whole mission well.

The Emperor's eyes bore into him, "Once more I feel a disturbance yet this is... different. It grows and simmers like a looming presence, far greater and more powerful than any other I have felt. Although at the same time it is less specific in its location and its nature."

So, that time had come. Thrawn had wondered when the Emperor would finally turn his attention to the dangers outside of the galaxy. In truth, he'd expected to be waiting many years until the rebel threat could be completely dealt with. The sort of opponents that might lurk out of view could not be faced by a power that was divided in itself. The Emperor clearly believed that the Death Star would make him powerful enough to face any threat and it was Thrawn's job to find out what all of those threats were. Thrawn had his doubts about that and when the Death Star failed to meet expectations, as Thrawn knew it would, that illusion of strength would shatter. Any information or advantage Thrawn could gain on what lay beyond would be the key to survival for the Empire, and more importantly his own people.

"You believe there is a greater threat residing in the Unknown Regions?", Thrawn asked to clarify. His worries were already focused on the instability within his home systems and on the Grysk who surely had the Chiss in their sights.

"Was it not my instincts that alerted you to the capture of the Chiss children?", the Emperor spoke with assurance.

The Emperor's force abilities had alerted him to a disturbance in the Unknown Regions and had sent both Thrawn and Vader to deal with it. What they found was a little known race called the Grysk, who had captured rare force-senstiive Chiss children in an attemtpt to use their powers for their own gain. Thrawn and Vader had foiled the attempt but Thrawn still knew that the Grysk would turn their attention to the nearest enemy: the Chiss Ascendancy.

Thrawn though for a moment, "Indeed it was, your Majesty."

"I believe this new threat is far more severe, to both my Empire and your Chiss Ascendancy."

Thrawn processed what he'd been told. The Grysk were an actual threat that he knew were coming, the instability in the Chiss leadership was another brewing conflict that he knew beyond a doubt. Whatever the Emperor proposed, however, was an unknown quantity. Did it warrant turning his back on the coming plight of his own people? His mind played through his options, artfully and strategically sorting through his options. The answer became clear. The Emperor's instincts had already led him to one real threat, an opponent that, whilst a threat, had proved its capacity to wait to strike at an opportune time. His own people had endured leadership changes and conflicts and he had admittedly been absent for many years and was working on outdated assumptions. The Emperor's disturbance, on the other hand, was there now. No Chiss shared the level of attunement and precognition as the Emperor. If there was something worse out there, the Emperor would know it before any other. If he wished to protect his own people, this new threat was logically the one that demanded his attention.

"As you wish, your Excellency", Thrawn nodded. "What of the Jedi? He has eluded us but we do not believe he has ventured far."

His face twisted into another menacing grin, "I am glad you raised the issue. Finding Bridger will remain a secondary objective. For you at least."

Thrawn picked up on the specific phrasing. "For me?"

On cue, the hologram of a black clad figure activated beside the Emperor. A female human, her hair cut short and close as most warriors would. She wore black armour from chest to toe, leaving her fair-skinned face bare. Her eyes too had a similar glow to the Emperor's, if much less intense, that despite the blue colours of the hologram Thrawn knew from experience were yellow. The insignia on her arm marked her as Imperial, specifically an Inquisitor. Thrawn was familiar with the group by reputation alone and was under the impression that the group had recently been disbanded. She stood with similar cold confidence by the Emperor's side, her arms clasped behind her back and watching Thrawn with a passive face.

"This is the Fourth Sister. She will aid you in your search of the Unknown Regions and will be of use if you find any traces of Ezra Bridger."

The woman moved her head only slightly to look at him, "I look forward to working with you, Grand Admiral. We'll see if your reputation is well founded."

Thrawn had no patience for boasting or petty rivalries, letting the obvious bait slide by unacknowledged. He gave her only a cursory nod in response, "I was under the impression that the Inquisitorius was recently disbanded."

"Correct, but I still have uses for what agents remain", the Emperor answered.

It was an unexpected answer, the Empire's tolerance of failure was infamously brutal. Evidently the Emperor felt that the mission to the Unknown Regions was important enough to warrant a break from convention. For his part, Thrawn could see the value of another force sensitive to pursue this new threat.

"As you wish, my Emperor", Thrawn obliged.

"I'm already en route to your location, I should be there within a few hours. I will succeed where you have failed, have no doubt of that.", the Inquisitor said smugly.

Thrawn did not let his surprise show to his audience but the fact that she was already on her way was unexpected. Determining their location from the call alone would be easy enough, to have discovered it before hand and already travelled this distance was something else entirely. Tracking any ship through hyperspace was all but impossible with known technology. The only conclusion left was that the Empire not only had developed this technology but it had been set up to track the Chimaera. Director Krennic seemed the obvious culprit, given his distaste for Thrawn and his links with Imperial research projects. Lord Vader and his First Legion could have had ample time aboard to install such surveillance, but even he had no reason to maintain a suspicion of Thrawn's whereabouts. Colonel Yularen's ISB might also possess the means but lacked any clear motive to keep an eye on him. Of course, it could well have been the Emperor himself that ordered the surveillance. Either way, Thrawn maintained his composure and did not draw any further attention to the question.

"That remains to be seen, Fourth Sister. You are no doubt aware that three of your number were defeated on the hunt for the Lothal rebels. The boy Bridger has grown in his power and you would do well not to underestimate him", Thrawn said coldly. His tolerance for bravado was almost non-existent and he could already say with confidence that his relationship with the Fourth Sister would be abrasive at best.

The Emperor laughed at his subordinates, "Both of you will have the chance to prove your worth. For now, Grand Admiral, make sure your fleet is ready to begin your exploration. As for you, Fourth Sister, I will not tolerate the failure of your organisation once more."

The Fourth Sister bowed her head, "Of course, Master. I will not fail you."

"You have your mission, Grand Admiral. I look forward to what discoveries you make", the Emperor smiled once more as the hologram flickered out.

The Chiss turned away and walked towards the door without a moment's hesitation, there was work to be done. Not the work he was expecting to be allowed to do yet, but he was glad the opportunity had arisen. The fight against what lurked in the unknown spaces of the galaxy was far more important than chasing a band of rebels ever could be. The Fourth Sister's influence, the Emperor's ultimate motivations, the situation with his own people and Ezra Bridger's role in the ensuing campaign were still unclear. In time, he knew, the pieces would make themselves clear and he would be the one to fit them all together.

With these elements set up, next chapter we can move onto to what I consider the main story. There'll be a sizeable time jump, skipping right ahead to the epilogue and picking up around the time of that final scene.

Again, a word about each little section. The idea of Ezra living on his own, using his natural aptitude for animals to survive, is something I think makes a bit of sense. I know most of us expect Thrawn and Ezra to ally and spend the years together but I figured we've already got so many stories like that and it suits my own story best if I went this route. Also, I hope some people will recognise the small, annoying, ship-invading bipeds Ezra encountered as he left the shuttle. I didn't intend to split his section into two parts but it was the best way to do it and also it shows there's some actually deadly, or perhaps useful, creatures there. Hera's pregnancy too was something I just wanted to write if only to do a bit of happy Hera. I tried to avoid being too on the nose with all the pregnancy signs, I mentioned backache and fatigue last chapter and the headaches and food aversions too this time but I'm sure everyone already knows she's pregnant anyway. I originally had her go back to the Ghost to tell Chopper and Zeb too, but I felt I'd be repeating myself and Sabine's reaction was more important to get. Hera and Sabine's relationship is one of my favourites in the crew and easily one of the most under-explored. Lastly, Thrawn's section is probably the most significant for the overall plot. With the Death Star's existence, Thrawn can't risk leading the Empire to Chiss space so he's effectively locked into whatever Palpatine asks of him. It's this section that had to be altered due to Thrawn: Alliances. The events of that book did impact by plans for this scene and will alter some details and choices later on, but the overall plot of this story, to my massive relief, doesn't have to change because of it. The whole hyperspace tracking thing also helps tie in Rogue One and even the Sequel Trilogy a bit, so I wanted that in there too.

As for the Fourth Sister, I know the presence of an Inquisitor might raise a few questions. Bear  in mind this is still before Episode 4 and it is consistent with their complete absence from the OT. A force user, as Palpatine says, might prove useful to Thrawn's mission and Palpatine's objectives in the Unknown Regions and her role in the plot is ultimately essential. As for her power level, it's pretty standard Inquisitor sorts of power. She's not going to be ripping Star Destroyers from orbit but she is decently competent with her lightsaber and force abilities. The introduction of the Fourth Sister ensures Palpatine has a loyal agent watching his every move. It's not that the Emperor doesn't trust Thrawn, only that he wants to constantly remind him who he answers to.

That's it for the prologues, next chapter will signal the start of the main story. In chapter 3: Hera has to say goodbye, Thrawn and the Fourth Sister discuss a new revelation, Ezra continues to survive on his own and Sabine sets off with a familiar face.

Chapter Text

This chapter is what I consider to be the true beginning of the story. There is a big time-skip here since last chapter: we're now right up to the end of the OT. I know it's a big jump of four and a half years but otherwise I would have had to fill the story with a few chapters of filler while waiting to reach the stuff I wanted. There'll be an explanation as to what people were doing all this time and why they are where they are. The epilogue already made clear what Hera and Sabine were up to and my prologues were setting up what Ezra and Thrawn were doing in this time period. I'm confident that such a jump is ultimately best for the story and I hope I can convince others to agree with me on that.

Another minor thing I just need to mention is the exact timing of the epilogue. There seems to be a split between those who think it takes place just after Endor and those who think it takes place just after Jakku. I'm going with Endor because there's no confirmation that Hera, Rex or the others were still fighting after that time. Sabine specifically mentions Endor over Jakku so I'll ride with that for now. It shouldn't impact the story too much if I end up being wrong about it.

Anyways, in this chapter:  Hera has to say goodbye, Thrawn and the Fourth Sister discuss their mission, Ezra continues to survive on his own and Sabine sets off with a familiar face.

Year 4 ABY, approximately three months after the Battle of Endor (About four and a half years after the finale of Star Wars: Rebels).

So the time had finally come. Hera had hung up the call about a minute ago but still hadn't found it in herself to move. It wasn't reluctance, not completely, nor fear. She'd been waiting for years for this moment to come, eagerly looking forward to the opportunity, yet at the same time part of her had dreaded the moment. Hera wanted Ezra back more than she could ever say but it would break her heart if she lost Sabine too.

Hera leaned back against the wall of her small room, staring at the communication terminal. It had been strange to speak to her from there again, in the same place Hera had spoken to 'Fulcrum' all those years ago. Ezra had told them Ahsoka was alive, even if his explanation of it was quite confusing, but seeing her in the flesh so to speak was an unusual experience.

A rapping on the door almost made her jump. "Whorp whorp", Chopper complained from the other side.

"Yes Chop, I'll be out now", Hera shouted.

Swallowing back her anxieties about what she'd have to do, Hera stood up and opened the door. Chopper waited indignantly in the corridor waiting for her while garbling yet another complaint.

The Twi'lek rolled her eyes at him, "I wasn't gone that long, stop being dramatic." Hera moved past him and up to Jacen's door, "It was important anyway."

As Hera reached her hand to open her son's door, Chopper chirped slowly and loudly. Hera sighed and knelt down to him. Chopper understood what was going to happen and shared his owner's mix of excitement and worry.

"It'll be okay, Chop. Sabine will look after herself."

Chopper sounded a reluctant groan of acceptance to her. The old droid still had his attitude, he still drove her up the wall most days, but despite that annoying side of his personality Hera had noticed a change in him over the last five years. The astromech was often more understanding, more patient and more caring when he could tell she was struggling. He also enjoyed seeing Sabine and Zeb more than she'd have expected from him and Hera knew he missed having them on the Ghost. At times she'd find Chopper spending a bit too long in Sabine's old room or Zeb and Ezra's. If she didn't know any better, she'd call him down right sentimental. Then there was Jacen. If one thing surprised her the most about the rickety old droid it was how well he and Jacen got on. Chopper loved being around him and Jacen enjoyed it just as much. Hardly surprising in some ways, Chopper had the attitude of a child most of the time, but there was care from him nonetheless. Chopper had only ever held a baby once before, the force-sensitive Ithorian they had rescued with Ahsoka, yet somehow he was a natural with them.

Her mind going back to her child, Hera stood up and turned back to the door, a door that had once been Kanan's. She'd already put Jacen to bed an hour ago but this was something that was worth waking him up for.

She knocked, "Jacen? Dear?"

"Momma?", he called without a delay.

Hera opened the door and her hands found her hips, "Have you been awake all this time?"

The green-haired boy rubbed his eyes, "No, momma."

She rolled her eyes, "Okay, okay."

Hera walked over to his bed and sat on the edge, reaching out a hand to stroke his face. Jacen's room was full of toys strewn about on the floor and clothes crumpled in the corner despite Hera's best efforts to keep things tidy. Pieces of paper were stuck to the wall around the room, drawings and paintings he'd done with Sabine's help. She really wasn't kidding about trying to pass on her talents and Jacen loved the opportunity to make a mess with paint. Crude stick figures representing himself, Hera, Sabine, Chopper, Cham, Zeb and more were pasted all over the place. A particular favourite of hers was one he'd drawn of Ezra, based off one of Sabine's paintings of him. It was crude and simple with orange for his clothes and a brilliant blue for his eyes. It warmed her heart to see, Jacen seemed almost mystified by the occasional mention of Ezra he'd heard growing up and soon he'd get a chance to meet him at last.

Jacen looked at her with childish confusion, "Are you sad, momma?"

"No dear, no", Hera said, "It's just... we have to go do something for a minute, okay?"

The boy folded his arms and put on his harshest grumpy face, "But I'm tired! I don't wanna get out of bed."

"Not even for Auntie Bean?", Hera smirked.

His bright blue eyes lit up, "Auntie Bean?! Is she coming?!"

'Auntie Bean' had quickly become Jacen's second favourite person in the galaxy. Sabine had kept in regular contact before and after Jacen was born and she remained an immovable part of Hera's life. In a way, the Mandalorian would always be like a daughter to her but these last few years had seen Sabine grow to a point where Hera saw her equally as a sister. In the months after Jacen was born, Hera had stayed on Lothal with Sabine to recover and get through the initial difficulties. Even when Hera returned to the rebellion, Sabine continued to be there for them both. When Hera was off fighting, Jacen spent his time either with his grandfather on Ryloth or with 'Auntie Bean' on Lothal. Jacen had created the name, unable to say Sabine at first, and it had stuck. It was going to break his heart to see her go away.

The Twi'lek laughed at his excitement, "No, dear. I was just going to call her."

"Can I come?", the boy's excitement didn't decrease much at all. Any change to talk to her was enough for him.

"I woke you up, didn't I?", Hera said. "But only to say hello, I have to talk to her about some things."

The boy nodded enthusiastically with a beaming grin on his face. Hera stood up and Jacen kicked off his blanket, shuffling to the edge of the bed in his pyjamas. His arms shot out to his mother, his hands grasping at air before Hera picked him up with a smile.

"You're getting big, aren't you?", Hera said as she held him tightly in her arms.

"Yeah! I'm almost four", Jacen giggled.

The Twi'lek rolled her eyes happily, he was only just over three and a half. Hera reached one hand out to open the door with the other still clutching her son protectively against her. His arms were slung around her neck, hugging her as tightly as they could. It was little things like that that made her day and it was things like that that would keep her smiling through, even now. They crossed the corridor into her own room where the terminal sat. Chopper rolled up through the door, watching them both from just inside the room. Hera pulled up a chair and sat down in front of the terminal, Jacen watching innocently and impatiently. Her fingers keyed in the familiar comm address for Sabine and tapped a button, waiting for her to answer.

She must have been at the terminal already since she picked up after only a second or two. Sabine appeared above the table with only her head and shoulders visible. She'd cut her hair since last she'd spoken to her a few days ago, it was short and dyed a slightly different shade of purple.

"Hera?", Sabine asked.

Jacen bounced in her lap, "Auntie Bean!"

Sabine's attention shot to him and her face lit up, "Hey buddy! You've grown so much since I saw you last!"

"I Know! Momma said the same thing!", Jacen titled his head at her, "Your hair is new."

Sabine laughed and ran her hand through it, "Yeah, time for a change."

"It looks pretty, I like it", Jacen said gleefully.

"Thanks, Jac. That means a lot coming from you." The Mandalorian almost blushed, her hair was one of her biggest ways of artistic expression, having Jacen's approval was a good sign to have.

Sabine's smile remained but her eyes found Hera's, a bit of concern lurking behind them, "Is everything okay?"

Hera smiled back at her, "I- yes. Everything's fine. It's just... I had a call from Ahsoka."

The name made Sabine catch her breath in her throat, "You... so does that mean?"

The Twi'lek nodded, "It's time."

Jacen watched both of them obliviously, "Time for what, momma?"

Hera squeezed him tighter to her, unsure of the words needed to explain what was happening. Fortunately, Sabine had found them for her.

"Hey, Jac", Sabine called to him to get his attention, "I'm... going to have to go away for a while."

The boy's face sunk, "What? Why?"

"There's something important I have to do, just for a little bit."

His face still watched her with confused eyes, "But... how long 'till you come home?"

"I don't know", she admitted. "But, I promise when I do I'll have an extra special present for you", she smirked and glanced at Hera.

The boy's eyes brightened a bit, "You mean it?"

"I really mean it", Sabine promised.

"Okay... I guess that's okay", Jacen whined, burying his head back into his mother's side.

Sabine chuckled, "I'm glad it's okay with you, Jac."

Hera let the boy nuzzle into her for a few seconds, letting him take his time to understand. After a while she rubbed his back and gently kissed his head, "I think it's time for you to go back to sleep, hmm? Say goodbye to Auntie Bean."

Jacen unburied his head from Hera's shoulder "Bye bye, Auntie Bean. I'll miss you."

The Mandalorian smiled back at him, "I'll miss you too, buddy. You behave for your mom, okay?"

He nodded lazily, "I promise. Love you."

"Love you too, little guy. I'll be back before you know it", she promised.

Chopper wheeled up to them and reached out his manipulator arms, carrying Jacen carefully in them. He turned his dome to the hologram and chirped a few times, a mix of greeting, attitude and just a little bit of honest concern.

Sabine laughed at him, "I'm sure Ezra is fine, Chop. Now you keep them both safe, I'll blame you if anything happens to them."

The old droid warbled back to her before turning to take Jacen back to bed, rolling out of the door with a series of chirps and clanks as he did so. The door slid shut leaving them alone for what would be their last talk in a long while.

Hera sighed, "Look I know this is short notice, I'm sorry."

Sabine shook her head adamantly, "No, Hera. I've been waiting for this for a long time. Ever since he left I've been waiting for the day to go to get him back... and after Endor and with what Rex said about Ahsoka looking for some lead... I knew it wasn't going to be long."

Ahsoka had visited Rex out of the blue only a few weeks before the fighting on Endor. Hera had told Rex all she knew of Ahsoka's survival, but what little Ezra had told her didn't give them much to go on. At least it wasn't a complete surprise to him when she got in touch with him a few months ago. Hera didn't know where Ahsoka had been for the last six years since Malachor, she didn't know if she'd even told Rex, but whatever she'd been doing must have been important. After their meeting, Rex had contacted Hera as soon as he could to tell her that Ahsoka had found some leads on how to find Ezra and wanted Hera and the others to know ahead of time. Now it seemed Ahsoka had gathered enough evidence to head out to find him. Hera had no idea what evidence she had or how she got it but she trusted Ahsoka to know what she was doing. Hera had Jacen to look after, Zeb and Kallus had obligations with the Rebellion as did Rex. Sabine of course had volunteered to go with her but there was never really a doubt that she'd do so.

Hera couldn't help smile at the girl's commitment. "Sabine... I'm so proud of you."

Sabine looked away shyly, "Hera, quit getting all sentimental."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I just...", Hera trailed off.

The Mandalorian's expression changed into one of concern, "I'm going to be okay, Hera. You know that, right?"

"I know you are", Hera's head drooped. "But I am going to miss you."

"It'll be worth it. I promise I'll bring him home."

Hera's eyes met hers, "There's no one I'd believe that more from."

They watched each other silently for a moment, needing no words to say goodbye to each other.

Sabine eventually decided that the time had come. "I'd better go get ready anyway", her gaze shifting away.

"Sabine", Hera caught her attention, "Be safe."

She huffed with a grin, "No promises."

"Sabine", Hera scowled.

"Fine", she grumbled sarcastically. "I promise. You too."

The Mandalorian lingered for a second longer, meeting the Twi'lek's eyes once more. Then in a flash she was gone. For the second time that evening, Hera was left facing the computer terminal. Years of waiting had finally come to this moment, it was almost surreal. Part of her was scared for them, all three of them, but deep down she knew there were no two people who would have a better chance of finding Ezra. She'd always told herself that one day Ezra would come home, she never stopped believing it, and now that day was almost close enough to reach out and touch.

Hera got out of her chair and headed towards the cockpit. There were people who needed to know what was happening out there with Ezra, Ahsoka and Sabine. Hera knew some of them as family, others as trusted friends and some by reputation alone. Either way, her mission was clear. Hera dropped into the pilot's seat and entered Lira San's coordinates into the hyperspace computer.

Those who walk the paths of life will never find them straight and easy. Every path will have its dips and slopes, some will speed the journey along and others will slow it down. If that path is blocked or removed entirely, many will flounder and lose themselves. However, there are those who do not walk life's paths but instead seek it's destinations. For these people, a change in the path is only a temporary delay for even if the path on which they started is lost, they will create their own instead as their destination is always still in view.

A communications blackout was a regular occurrence over the last five years. Almost every month communications would drop out for a day or more at some point or another. The hazards of space travel, technical issues, entering the atmosphere of certain planets, all of it could cause some issues. On the first day, no one had paid it much mind and their monotonous patrols of the Unknown Regions continued uninterrupted like they'd done for most of their time out there. On the second day, the technicians began scratching their heads to find if something was wrong on their end. As days rolled into weeks, it was clear something was wrong. The fleet feared that a major communications outpost had been destroyed or that some massive cosmic phenomenon was cutting them off. Thrawn knew better. His understanding of the Emperor's personal interest in their mission and of the typical protocol for Imperial communication issues told him that something significant had occurred.

It had taken almost three months before a message suddenly reached the Chimaera, marked as urgent. Thrawn's eyes scanned the screen atop his office deskdouble and triple checking the report that had just come through. It had been exactly as Thrawn had suspected.

Engagement above Endor. The Executor destroyed. Second Death Star Destroyed. Darth Vader dead. The Emperor dead. Operation: Cinder initiated.

His brief mental summary of the dispatch was all that he really needed. He wasn't familiar with Endor beforehand, a quick search of the databases however revealed it to be a rather insignificant gas giant. Thrawn knew the Executor as Darth Vader's personal Super Star Destroyer, a massive leviathan with an inordinate amount of firepower. 'The Second Death Star' was something that Thrawn had long feared, ever since he'd heard of the original Death Star's destruction. The Emperor had an obsession with the ability to create massive battle stations, ones capable of destroying planets. If anything, Thrawn was glad it was destroyed. The presence of such a weapon made the Empire a threat to the Chiss Ascendancy, something he hadn't know the extent of when he'd first heard of the project several years ago.

As for Darth Vader and the Emperor, their deaths were probably the most surprising to think of. He'd reached the conclusion weeks ago that they had both perished but Thrawn had viewed them both as the type of men with the strange illusion that they'd never die, that through their strange abilities in the force they'd outlive the galaxy. Evidently, they were wrong. As for Operation: Cinder, Thrawn had no information. However, he could extrapolate a few things. Firstly, it was top secret, due to it not being mentioned in available Imperial records. Secondly, it was some sort of contingency plan for the Empire, given it was only initiated upon the Emperor's death. Lastly, that both of those facts meant it was certainly nothing good. The Emperor was arrogant and ambitious and not the type of man who would let the victors get away lightly. Therefore, it seemed logical that this 'Operation: Cinder' would somehow wreak havoc on the galaxy, burning down everything the Empire had built out of little more than spite.

Thrawn shook his head. This was a major setback in his plans. The only reason he'd aligned with the Empire was because their unity, military strength and willingness to act decisively made them a viable ally for his people. With the Empire shattered, a powerful tool was compromised. Even worse, the severity of the Emperor's contingency plan and Thrawn's lack of awareness of and power over whatever remained of the Empire meant that it might not be a dependable ally.

The Chiss grimaced at the screen, sorting through his options. Even with the Emperor's death, the Empire still controls most of the galaxy. Many regimes have lost great leaders and endured, although almost as many have crumbled too. The Rebels' own strength is unclear also; how much of their forces were destroyed at Endor? How many worlds do they control? What other figures have emerged on either side that might dictate the fate of the galaxy?

Thrawn ran through a hundred scenarios in his head, trying to formulate the most likely outcome of the events and, from there, the best path to follow. The idea always remained to return home, to use the Ascendancy's resources to continue his search. Regretfully, he shook his head. No, the Empire already provides ships and crew, the Ascendancy would provide little else at this time. With no established details of the threat the Emperor sensed nor a clear solution to it, they would hesitate to act. Especially in the face of their own concerns.

It was true that, despite their time here, Thrawn had yet to uncover much of substance in the Unknown Regions. Thrawn didn't doubt the existence of the threat the Emperor perceived one bit, but he had found no substantial evidence of it yet. If he was to return to his people, he'd need to have not only a target but a plan. The Chiss could wait, for now what remained of the Empire was his best chance of dealing with whatever lurked out here. If he could unite the Empire to fight this threat, or divide it to stop it opposing his own people, so be it. The Chiss would do what he must, as he always did.

"Grand Admiral, she's here", his door guard sounded through the comm.

Thrawn peeled his eyes off the screen, "Thank you, Sergeant. Send her in."

The Fourth Sister walked calmly through the door, her eyes meeting Thrawn's instantly.

"Grand Admiral, I hope you have a good reason for summoning me here", the Inquisitor muttered as she marched to Thrawn's desk.

He held her gaze as she finally stopped in front of him, her body rigid and agitated. It had become clear in their time together that the Fourth Sister had a huge distaste for Thrawn, only protocol and their shared mission kept their interactions civil.

"The Emperor is dead."

Her rigid stance faltered and eyes flickered with shock. The surprise was followed by anger and disbelief as her fists clenched and she gritted her teeth.

"What are you talking about?", the woman leaned forward onto the desk, resting on her still clenched fists.

"It seems rather simple. The Emperor is dead, as is Darth Vader. The communications blackout was no doubt a result of this loss and of the deaths of most of the people who even knew of our mission", Thrawn explained plainly.

The Inquisitor scoffed, "Don't be ridiculous. How can the Rebels touch the most powerful men in the galaxy?"

Thrawn activated the screen once again and showed her the message he'd received. She slowly cast her eyes over it, Thrawn watching her absorb every detail.

"It seems our Emperor could not let go of his Death Star programme", Thrawn continued as she read, "The rebels yet again found a way to destroy the station, this time at the expense of both of their lives."

The Fourth Sister reached out with her hand at the holographic screen above the table, "What's this 'Operation: Cinder'?"

"I do not know", Thrawn admitted. "A contingency of some sort, I don't doubt its severity."

"I see", she slowly moved back from the desk but kept her eyes on the report. Thrawn had never seen this arrogant women look almost speechless as she did now.

Thrawn abruptly shut the display down and leaned in, "The question now is where do we go from here?"

The Fourth Sister scowled at him, "A new Emperor will come, I don't see how this changes our mission."

"Your assessment of Imperial politics is optimistic", Thrawn said as he stood up.

He could see the Fourth Sister's annoyance in her face, "And you're going to enlighten me, are you? The biggest political train wreck in Imperial High Command?"

Thrawn paced quietly to the clone helmet in alcove on his wall, an appropriate point of reference in a time of sudden regime change. "I do not need political support to appreciate the reality of the situation. There are few, if any, figures left with the support or power base left to command loyalty from the entire Empire. At one time, I'd have said Governor Tarkin would take the reins although that option was made impossible years ago."

"Don't tell me you're going to make a claim", the Inquisitor scoffed.

"Certainly not. In fact, my question was not a matter of Imperial leadership. The Emperor may have sent us on this mission but with his absence and the lack of a clear leader, we must reassess our own situation."

"I have my mission and I'm going to see it through", the Fourth Sister said angrily. The woman stepped towards him, "And if you're thinking of turning tail and running back to-"

Thrawn raised his hand to cut her off, "You misunderstand. I agree our mission here is far too important to abandon. However, given the conditions we must adjust our tactics."

A bit of her anger abated, "What are you thinking? I don't know of any other ways to scour a thousand different systems."

"Firstly, the rest of out fleet must be informed of the Emperor's fate and also of our reasons for continuing this mission", Thrawn said. His eyes moved from the Fourth Sister to the piece of painted wall that still sat in the corner of his office, vandalised by the rebels' own Sabine Wren. "Secondly, we must prepare for the likelihood of being pursued. The rebels may find evidence of communications sent to us over these past years and from there they may be able to chart our trajectory. Ezra Bridger's friends in particular might now seek to hunt us down since the fighting is over."

The Fourth Sister looked away for a second in thought, "But they don't know that Bridger isn't with us or that we haven't a clue where he is."

"My thoughts precisely, Inquisitor. This is of course assuming that Bridger has not already returned home, as unlikely as that situation is."

"He hasn't gone home, he's out here somewhere."

Thrawn started to walk back to his desk, "And yet you still haven't any clue as to where?"

The Fourth Sister cleared her throat, "There are a handful of systems near your initial position that I haven't yet searched."

The Chiss slid back into his chair and raised an eyebrow, "And you did not think of searching these sooner?"

"I wanted to but you insisted on moving the fleet out for your 'patrol'", the Fourth Sister bit back. "If I'd stayed I wouldn't have had enough fuel to reach the fleet again."

"My apologies but Bridger was a secondary objective, my mission was more important", Thrawn countered.

The Fourth Sister huffed, "You know, Grand Admiral. If I didn't think you were so prideful, I'd almost think you don't want Bridger to be found."

Thrawn kept staring unflinchingly at her, "Then allow me to allay your worries. Take a ship and head to those systems, perform your search for Bridger as you see fit. My fleet will join you shortly."

She looked at him suspiciously, "Why the sudden change of heart?"

"As I said, the rebels could easily determine our course from the communication records and would no doubt seek to interrupt us. If we return to our initial position, we can follow a completely new course that they will not have anticipated. You may go ahead of us and search the systems you desire and my fleet will catch up afterwards before we continue our search elsewhere."

"Alright", the woman sighed, "We'll play it your way."

"I appreciate your cooperation, Fourth Sister", Thrawn said.

"If that's all, I've got my mission to deal with."

The Grand Admiral stood up to see her out, "Indeed, I will inform our staff of the turn of events and join you shortly."

The Fourth Sister turned to leave without so much as a salute or formal dismissal. It was what Thrawn had come to expect from her and it didn't bother him, no matter how much she wished it so.

"One more thing, before you go", Thrawn called after her. "If you find Bridger, do your best to apprehend him alive."

She stopped to laugh at him but didn't turn back, "Are you that prideful that you want to gloat to him before he dies?"

Thrawn didn't address her answer, "As you will, Inquisitor."

The Fourth Sister walked out of the office without another word to him. Thrawn watched her go, deep in thought. The Fourth Sister was a prideful and vindictive creature, lacking compassion and eager for power, with an arrogance in her unnatural abilities. It made sense that such people saw these qualities in others. Prideful. Her choice of words to describe him was less that accurate. It is not pride, Inquisitor, only pragmatism and practicality.

Once more he turned the display back on to read over the report. Unsurprisingly, in her haste the Fourth Sister had failed to pick up on one tiny but crucial detail within it. Thrawn, of course, had picked out the word. He had picked out the name: Skywalker.

His legs carried him through the forest as fast as they could, the force telling him well in advance of every branch, root, plant, rock or creature in his way. Ezra turned to his right and through the trees he saw Argos, his hunting partner, shoot past him and close in.

Argos was the name he'd given to the same predator that visited him that first night. As it turns out, offering the rations did make him return the next day and the day after that and every day since. Each time, Ezra became better at connecting with him and over time he built a friendship with the creature. Now, more than four years later, Argos and Ezra were an inseparable team. It was on hunts like these that they put that teamwork to the test.

Despite Ezra's reluctance to harm any creature, he had to accept that Argos was a predator that had to feed. Ezra too had to eat and surviving on whatever plants and fruits the toxicology kit deemed safe wasn't the most exciting diet. It took months before, eventually, Ezra came to accept that death was a natural part of life and every creature was to meet its end sooner or later. Whenever they hunted, Ezra always went for the old or sick, those whose death would come soon anyway. Using his abilities, he would calm and clear the mind of every creature and ensure that death came as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The hunt itself was a challenging experience, one that Ezra had taken a long time to learn. Argos had guided him through it, accepting Ezra's observation of his hunts and then his participation. Now, Argos wouldn't dream of it without his loyal companion at his side.

Today, their target was a fast and evasive creature. A herbivore about two thirds of Ezra's height with long legs and a narrow head and neck, Ezra called them long-leggers. They were one of the more common creatures on the planet and lived mostly on the coastlines, preferring to stay out of the denser jungle. This one had strayed from the herd and he and Argos were hot on its tail.

As fast as he was, Argos was faster. However, Ezra's height and force abilities made him the eyes of the operation. In the distance, he could feel the creature's heartbeat through the trees and could feel its every move and intent.

Just ahead, leap over that fallen tree.

Ezra sent the instruction to Argos who followed it precisely, his timing impeccable. The duo has become a well-oiled machine.

You're almost on him... no wait.

The long-legger panicked and darted off to the right, heading further away from its pursuers.

Head right, cut it off if you can.

Argos wordlessly acknowledged every order and shot off to the right, skilfully leaping over logs and rocks in his path. Ezra turned as well, doing the best he could to keep up with the chase. He could feel the long-legger's body begin to tire from the chase and he knew it wouldn't be long. Argos wasn't far behind, his body used to the strain of a hunt.

As Ezra lost any sight of them, he began to slow down. His senses were attuned enough to follow them at this distance; Ezra knew the creature wouldn't run much further. The Jedi focused all of his attention on his abilities and did the best he could to follow the prey's movements and thoughts. He felt it run and jump through the jungle, he felt its hooves smashing branches and leaves and, more than anything, he felt its fear.

Ezra pitied it, as he always did with the prey. It was the hardest thing to get used to on these hunts but Ezra had come to accept it. Without him, Argos and the other predators would still hunt them and kill them. It was the natural order of things and it was as the force intended. In his time here, Ezra had become absorbed in the amount of life around him. With life, he knew, came death. Without it, many other creatures would not survive. It was all simply part of the balance of the universe and the living force, a balance it was not Ezra's place to upset. Still, Ezra did what he could to make things easier. Argos may hunt and kill but he didn't have to do it cruelly; Ezra had taught him to be quick and to ease the suffering as much as possible. Soon it would be time to reach out and end this hunt mercifully too.

The long-legger was tiring every second and the gap between him and his pursuer was getting narrower. Ezra felt Argos jump up into the tree branches, skilfully leaping from one to another to keep clear of the obstacles on the ground. Using the trees, Argos came within sight of his prey and kept his eyes locked on it. Ezra's mind, still on the long-legger, felt a twinge of hesitation from the fleeing creature, then confusion, then panic. The creature had run itself into a corner, fallen trees and rocks blocked its path forward and it was trapped. The end of the hunt had come.

Argos felt Ezra's understanding of the situation and stopped running through the trees, instead slowing down and watching the terrified animal. It looked rapidly around for a way out but found nothing. The noise of Argos landing a few metres away from it, snarling with his teeth bared, signalled the end.

The prey was frozen with fear, waiting for the inevitable moment to come when it felt a strange feeling.

Sleep, become one with the force.

The creature looked at Argos for a second more before its eyes slid shut and it collapsed on the ground. Ezra broke his connection with the long-legger just before Argos moved in to finish things off.

Putting the animals to sleep was a more acceptable solution than letting it suffer. Ezra would always give them a chance to run and escape, many of their targets over the years had escaped and Ezra had no intention of using his powers to bring death to something that otherwise would have escaped it. It was only at the end, when it was clear that there was no escape, that Ezra reached out and spared them the pain. It still unsettled him at times but he knew it was far better than the alternative.

Ezra shook the thoughts from his head and walked over to where Argos was. He trekked through the same trees and bushes that he'd felt the animals run through, his mind always conscious of the jungle around him. Everywhere around him he felt the wonders of life in harmony with the sadness of deaths like the one of the long-legger. It was a cruel cycle yet also one he'd come to understand.

Upon reaching the clearing where the hunt had ended, Argos was sitting patiently by his catch. The animal saw Ezra and whined at him.

"Yeah, boy. I'm coming", Ezra told him as he approached.

Argos got up onto his feet and bounded over to Ezra, affectionately rubbing his head against his legs.

Ezra laughed and petted him, "Stop being all soft, we both know you were just waiting for me to get here so you could eat."

His pet didn't acknowledge him with a response, only looking up at him with wanting eyes.

"Go on then, get started", Ezra said, pointing over to the carcass.

Argos yapped happily and eagerly tucked in to his meal. His human partner rolled his eyes at the creature's habits and planted himself on a rock nearby, watching him contently. Despite looking nothing like a loth-wolf, he couldn't help but notice how similar the animals were sometimes. I guess some things are the same no matter where you are.

Ezra laid back on the rock and looked up at the sky, it was as clear as it had been on the day he arrived. Thinking back to that day, it was about the only thing that was the same. This planet was no longer a strange new world, it was now a sort of home. Not his true home to be sure, but familiar enough. He had Argos now too and the other creatures who he'd connected with over the years, but that too wasn't the company he wished he could have. Ezra valued his time here and what little he had and the lessons he'd learned would be carried with him forever. Still, no matter how hard he tried, he could never stop wishing he was home.

As time wore on, his longing really started to get to him. He spent more time thinking of Lothal and of anywhere familiar. Sabine in particular was always on his mind, it was her he missed most of all. At times he swore could almost feel her, one time he reached out to her and he was sure she answered, not directly but almost as if she felt him doing it. It was a brief and fleeting moment almost a year or so ago and Ezra had tried in vain to do it again and half of him doubted if it had ever happened at all. Even when doing other things he thought of the whole family. Every glance of the shuttle's cockpit reminded him of Hera, every quiet evening in the jungle reminded him of meditating with Kanan, every strange new fruit brought back memories of grocery shopping with Zeb and every annoying loth-lizard would scream 'Chopper' to him. Not a day passed when he didn't wonder what they were all up to or what was happening in the galaxy at large. He'd done his best to listen to the force and what it told him though it rarely gave him any information.

There were a few occasions where he felt something definite though. Once, about six months or so after he arrived, he felt a horrible shift in the force. It was beyond anything he imagined, a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. In the days, weeks and eventually years after that event, he often worried what that horrible event must have been. After that he felt almost nothing concrete until a few months ago, three or four maybe. At first, he felt the sudden and abrupt feeling of loss. He couldn't quite put a finger on what had happened but it was as if a light, familiar and powerful, had finally flickered out. Ezra knew something was happening out there but he could never be sure what. Then, as he walked down to the river to fetch some water a day or two later, another incredible shift occurred. A feeling similar to the one a few days before hit him but this time it felt better, almost an antithesis of it, as if a great evil had been vanquished. Minutes later, he felt something entirely new: balance. Whatever had happened out there, he knew it was a good thing.

Since that last feeling, he found himself growing more and more restless. It was like the force telling him that something had changed, one age had ended and another was beginning, and Ezra had a feeling that in this new age his place would be elsewhere. Where that place would be or what his purpose would become, he could only hope. Either way, he had the strange feeling that his time on this lost world was coming to an end.

Yet through it all, one feeling has remained. That same strange call he felt when he left the Chimaera, the same one from the first night, was still there. At first Ezra had thought it was something on the planet itself, but eventually he'd realised it was never here. It was always in the stars, from that cockpit or up in the night sky. Whatever he was sensing, it was out there somewhere. In the last few months, since that last major shift in the force, Ezra felt it more clearly. It was like the background noise had been blocked out and now all he could here was this strange beckoning call from far away.

Argos' contented purring snapped him out of his daydreams, causing him to sit up and look the beast. The animal had eaten his fill and was lazily plodding over to his master for an afternoon nap.

His scaly head nudged at Ezra as the Jedi stroked his back, "You're such a old man. Had your meal now off to sleep, is it?"

The animal snorted and lowered itself to the ground, ready to rest from his hard work.

Ezra smiled at the sight before reaching for his hip. His fingers found his carving knife, crafted from tree bark and a shard of the shuttle's hull, and got to his feet. He approached the long-legger's carcass with a reluctant groan. Now for the messy bit.

Sabine rested her head on her arms, leaning onto the railing around the tower's balcony. It was a clear day with bright blue skies, a cool breeze and a glowing sun. She watched Capital City off in the distance, its new towers and skyscrapers glistening in the midday light. The plains looked almost golden nowadays, a far cry from the burnt brown landscape she'd seen only four years ago. The sea was a brilliant blue, with the Imperial pumping stations and industrial reservoirs destroyed it was allowed to flow back to its normal patterns. She'd never have guessed that Capital City was once a waterfront but it made for a great view to wake up to every morning.

Lothal was a picture of hope, a shining beacon of recovery from an age of terror and death. It made her proud to have played a part in it, but her mind still lingered on those who hadn't seen it yet and those who never would. Kanan sacrificed everything to secure this future and Sabine thought of him often, especially at the memorial Ryder had constructed on his behalf. It was a simple plaque, centred in a garden where the old fuel depot used to be. It wasn't extravagant or expensive, just quiet and simple, a perfect representation of the humble Jedi.

Ezra too deserved to see it recover, he deserved to see it shake off the remnants of Imperial occupation. Sabine had wished he was there for the celebrations they had, to see the banners across the streets and the crowds dancing, singing, cheering and jeering after their victory. Sabine thought about him too, not a day went by when she didn't dwell on either of them. She'd done everything she could to prepare for when he'd come home, the tower was completely refurbished and just waiting to welcome him back Still, as she waited to leave, she couldn't stop thinking that there was more she could have done. Irrationally of course, she'd spent four and a half years preparing for this, yet in the final hour her mind raced with nerves and anticipation.

A low grumble of engine noises came from behind followed by a large shadow moving across her. Her eyes shot up to see two X-Wing fighters flying in close formation overhead, escorting a massive red Clone Wars-era shuttle. That's her. She watched it fly away towards Capital City with a smile before turning her back and running inside.

Sabine rushed back into the tower, grabbing her packed bag, blasters and helmet that were already sitting ready on the table. Her blasters slid into her holsters and she slung the helmet under her arm. Her fingers reached into the bag, checking for the millionth time that the familiar metallic cylinder was in there too, before taking the elevator down towards the garage. Her speeder bike was waiting for her in the centre, ready to carry her off to begin her most important mission yet. She threw her bag into the baggage area behind her seat and jumped behind the controls, fired up the engine and guided the bike out of the door onto the open plains.

It felt strange to rush off to adventure again, she hadn't used her blasters outside of training since that last battle for Lothal. To their luck, the attack that she'd helped train an army for had never come. Lothal became almost a non-concern to the Empire after Scarif and Yavin, the small plucky rebellion she'd worked with had evolved into a bold fighting force, able to contend with the Empire and eventually to topple its power at Endor. The Emperor's death and the destruction of the Second Death Star sealed the fate for the Empire and while holdouts remained, it was now a matter of when the Empire was finally defeated and not if.

As her speeder crossed the plains, two of the loth-wolves that lived nearby ran with her. They'd accepted her as a friend immediately after she'd moved in and Sabine knew there was probably some deep force related reason for that. The beasts had an air of wisdom about them that reminded her of Kanan, after all he'd had such a special connection with them in his last days. At times, Sabine felt almost as if they were watching over here like Kanan used to and the two running with her now felt like a goodbye, wishing her well on her journey to come. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a loth-cat watching her with its giant eyes and equally over-sized mouth. If loth-wolves were Kanan then loth-cats were definitely Ezra. The small, annoying, goofy looking monsters had grown on her over the years. The hard-ass Mandalorian had been worn down by their charms and found herself more and more taken with their adorable habits, playful attitudes and love of her attention. Not that she'd ever admit it, she had a Mandalorian reputation to maintain of course, but she knew they'd found their way into her heart. A perfect metaphor for the Jedi she associated with them.

Her speeder drew closer to Capital City and memories of all the people that had brought her to this point flooded back. Zeb, the grumpy but protective old Lasat, remained a close friend and a welcome visitor when he had the time to come by. His duties in the Rebellion kept him occupied these days but he still made time for his old friends. When it came to Zeb's friends though, the most surprising one was Kallus. The former enemies had become best friends, though Sabine could never stop teasing them as being something more. They were on Lira San together right now, a symbolic gesture of forgiveness from the Lasat people to the person that, in a life long behind him, had hurt them so badly.

Hera also occupied her thoughts, as did her little 'Jac' as Sabine called him, two people who became huge parts of her life. Hera was always there for her and Sabine tried to do the same, forging an already unbreakable bond into something that was somehow even stronger. Hera had persevered through so much and still found the time to put others first, risking her own life countless times from Scarif to those final battles above Endor. Sabine had supported Hera however she could, mainly through looking after Jacen sometimes when she was away. At first she'd worried that she'd not be very good at it, she'd never looked after kids before. However, Sabine ended up loving the time she got with him. She'd be as happy to see him as he was to see her and she'd had hours of fun watching him play, teaching him to paint and draw or telling him stories about Ezra and the others.

Her speeder entered the bustling centre of the city and made a beeline towards her destination. Ryder had been told to expect a visitor and the docks had made preparations for their arrival but apparently Ahsoka had asked to meet Sabine in the old senate building instead, understandably wanting to avoid too much publicity over her presence. Sabine's speeder navigated the city's winding streets and finally reached the building. She hopped off and slung her bag around her shoulder, bidding her reliable transport a silent farewell before turning toward the building.

As she ascended the steps to the main room, she couldn't escape some of Ezra's last words to her. I know I can always count on you. Once, she'd thought that would mean protecting Lothal and its people in his absence. Now, she realised that Ezra might have always known it would come to this. Ezra might have known that one day he'd need her help and it would fall to her to pull him out of the fire, just like old times. Sabine reached the gaping hole in the building's wall, kept there on Sabine's recommendation to let her creation within look out on the now free Lothal.

The painting covered an entire wall, the colours commanding the attention of anyone in the room. Her masterpiece: the whole family. She'd laboured over it for weeks, getting every detail to perfection. Every colour was chosen intentionally, every symbol a choice and every positioning meaning something. The sapphire-eyed figure of Ezra took centre stage, the one who had brought them to Lothal and the one who still dominated her thoughts and inspiration, with that damn white loth-cat curled around his shoulder. She stood at his side, as she always would, a cluster of loth-cats at her feet. Zeb towered behind them always having their back, his warm smile contrasting his brutish and intimidating appearance. Hera held her pilot's helmet and wore her rank slide with pride, a symbol of her commitment to the rebellion and her gift for flight. Behind her and Ezra, Kanan stood with clear eyes, eyes she now saw in Jacen too. Chopper of course, clambered to the front to be the centre of attention. She was particularly proud of the two loth-wolves on either side, watching over the crew and remembering the role they played in the planet's liberation.

Sabine approached the painting and looked up at it, remembering all the happy memories this family had created. Her attention turned to Ezra and her hand reached out. Tentatively, she drew her finger down his cheek and tapped it lightly. A final reminder of what she'd spent her last few years here for and what she was setting off into the unknown to go and save.

Her reminiscing was interrupted by a strange feeling, like a breeze that she could not feel. Then a shadow cast itself across the painting, blocking out the light from the outside world. Sabine hesitated for a second, unsure what she was waiting for, before turning around.

Standing in a column of sunlight, the Togruta Jedi she'd known years ago looked so much different. Ahsoka stood with confidence and wisdom but not arrogance, the likes of which Sabine had never seen before. She was wrapped in a hooded cloak that covered her montrals and was tied at the neck, flowing down to below her knees. Beneath the cloak, Sabine could see openwork leather wraps around her legs like some figure from ancient history. She wore a grey and silver tunic, fastened by a simple belt with a large circular buckle. Her appearance was completed by the towering staff she held in her hand, topped at the end by another circular symbol. Ahsoka had looked like a Jedi before, legends already at that time, but now she looked almost mythical. The stoic figure watched Sabine intently for a few seconds before gently raising her staff and tapping it onto the ground.

The time had come. Sabine untucked her helmet from her arm, looking briefly at the redone designs of the sapphire-eyed wolf that covered the faceplate. She brought it to her head and slid it on, that familiar feeling of readiness washing over her. Her spirit swelled and her mouth curled into a smile beneath her helmet. The Mandalorian stepped forward and walked towards Ahsoka, ready for whatever journey lay ahead.

Ezra Bridger was out there somewhere and now, finally, it was time to bring him home.

We're finally where Rebels leaves off so from now on we're treading new ground.

Hera's section is the first time I've done anything with Jacen and I'm not sure I've got a good handle on how to write toddlers yet. Like I said last time, I'm a sucker for Hera and Sabine interaction. I loved the idea of Sabine being a part of Jacen's life too and it helps explain the change in Hera and Sabine's relationship in this story. The Thrawn chapter was a challenge since I struggled to think of how to handle the Emperor's death and the defeat at Endor, I didn't want a whole other chapter just to deal with that alone but it's something I felt had to be addressed with both Thrawn and the Fourth Sister. I hope I've given enough of an explanation as to why they haven't found Ezra yet, it wasn't all they were searching for at this time. As for Ezra himself, this chapter serves to show what Ezra has been doing these last few years. Learning to become one with the environment around him, exploring the living force and accepting the realities of the universe are going to be lessons Ezra will carry with him going forward. A hunting scene was new for me but I felt it was a good way to show how talented Ezra has become and how well he can apply his talents. Lastly, retelling the epilogue scene with Sabine's actual thoughts was quite a bit of fun if a bit challenging. As an Ahsoka fan, finally being able to write even her appearance in a story was nice to do and her role is only going to become more important over time.

Two name clarifications before we go. Sabine's nickname of 'Jac' for Jacen is with a soft 'c' (basically, it rhymes with 'face'). As for those wondering why Ezra's pet is called 'Argos', it's a vague reference to Homer's  Odyssey Odysseus' dog is also called Argos and I guess the similar situation of both stories' heroes as being far away and longing for home got me thinking of it. There's no narrative similarity for Argos, Odysseus' dog is back home at Ithaca not out with him, but that's the explanation if anyone was curious.

Next time: Zeb and Kallus get a visit from Hera, Ahsoka and Sabine decide their plan, Thrawn and Pellaeon talk about their objectives and Ezra feels something new in the force.

Chapter Text

I want to mention something quickly about chapter length. Most chapters are probably going to be around 8,000 words from now on, like this one, since there's a bit less to cover than there has been previously. I'm conscious that this is going to be a long story and having every chapter be 10-11k words isn't very inviting for people to read. 8,000 gets the right balance between long enough to cover enough per chapter and not being too long as to send people running away. It's not a concrete rule, some will have fewer words and others more, but it's generally what you can expect in the future.

This time: Zeb and Kallus get a visit from Hera, Ahsoka and Sabine decide their plan, Thrawn and Pellaeon  talk about their objectives  and Ezra feels something new in the force.

The Ghost dropped out of hyperspace into the breathtaking orange nebula around the Lasat homeworld of Lira San. The sight still took Hera's breath away despite years of space travel and multiple visits to the planet. The partially obscured silhouette of an Alliance Nebulon-B frigate became visible in front of her and the hail followed seconds later, guarding the route into the hidden planet.

The comm crackled to life, "This is Aspis command, standby VCX frigate. We weren't expecting your arrival. Checking your signatures now", came the voice from the other end. "Signature paints you as the Ghost. Welcome to Lira San, General Syndulla."

"Thanks you, Aspis. Sorry for not sending word ahead, this wasn't a planned visit", Hera told the officer as she piloted the Ghost toward the planet. "I need to speak to Garazeb Orrellios, do I have permission to land on the planet?"

Hera tapped her fingers anxiously on the controls as she waited for the traffic officer to process her request.

"No need, General", the voice finally answered, "He's on board. I'll let him know you're docking."

"Thank you, Ghost out", Hera replied. It wasn't like her to forget to call ahead but there was a lot on her mind right now.

She flew in towards the frigate, a model she'd seen a few of during her time with the Alliance. They weren't exactly a common sight and how Zeb had managed to convince Mon Mothma to spare one for his little escapade was a mystery. The Ghost flew casually into the hangar and Hera set her down gently in the centre, not far from a small detachment of A-Wings.

As soon as the engines were powered down, Hera was out of her seat and heading out of the cockpit. She entered the common area to find Chopper and Jacen waiting eagerly for her. Hera held out her hand towards her son, silently telling him to take hold of it.

"Are we really seeing Uncle Zeb?", Jacen asked as he held his mother's hand.

Hera started walking toward the ladder into the cargo bay with Chopper following them, "Yes, dear. Just like the last few times you asked."

The boy smiled giddily as she skipped beside his mother. Hera picked him up to carry him down the ladder. He really is getting bigger, she mused as she awkwardly made her way down into the cargo bay. She set him down and made her way towards the Ghost's ramp, hitting the button to lower it.

They emerged into the hangar and looked around for the towering Lasat. It was surprisingly busy with technical crews and even a few pilots seemingly preparing to head out on a mission. Among the throes of people, Hera saw at least a handful of Lasat. She didn't think she'd seen so many off-world before, even if it was only on a ship in their system. If more of them were working with the Alliance, hopefully it meant that the Lasat could start to reintegrate and engage with galactic society.

On the far side of the hangar, a door swung open to let Zeb walk through side-by-side with Kallus. Zeb still wore the same armour and had his large bo-rifle slung around his shoulder. Kallus looked neat and presentable, his Alliance officer clothes ironed to perfection and his hair and beard were meticulously maintained, both evidence of the discipline he'd picked up during his time with ISB. The two men spotted Hera straight away.

"It's them! It's them!", Jacen cried as he pulled his mother's arm.

Hera laughed at him, "I see them. Calm down."

Zeb waved his hand over his head as he approached, grinning down at Jacen as he got closer.

Hera rolled her eyes at the excited boy, "Go on then, go see him."

She released his hand and he ran toward Zeb, arms outstretched.

"There's my favourite kit!", the Lasat shouted to him.

"Uncle Zeb!", he said happily as Zeb caught the running boy in his arms and spun him around.

The Lasat set him down and ruffled his hair, "You're getting big, little fella."

"I'm gonna be as tall as Kallus", the green-haired child pointed to the ex-Imperial. He hadn't been given an affectionate nickname, he was always just Kallus - Zeb's influence, Hera knew.

"Hehe yeah, just not as ugly", Zeb added.

Kallus was about to open his mouth to bite back when Hera interrupted.

"I hope you two aren't setting a bad example", she warned jokingly.

Zeb gave Kallus a brotherly punch on the arm, "You know us, respectable adults."

Hera rolled her eyes, "Maybe when Ryloth freezes over."

Zeb held out his arms to greet her and wrapped her in a warm hug, glad to see his close friend again. The Twi'lek released him and gave Kallus a quick embrace too, a thought that still struck her as unbelievable sometimes.

"It's good to see you, Hera", Kallus said to her. "Still, it's not like you to drop by unannounced."

"This wasn't really planned", Hera bit her lip slightly.

Zeb narrowed his eyes, "What's happened? If you needed something why didn't you just call?"

Hera looked around the hangar and at the crowds of people in it, "Do you have somewhere to talk?"

"Yeah, sure", he nodded. "This way, there's a briefing room we can use."

Zeb motioned back toward the door he and Kallus had entered through and let Kallus lead the way. As Zeb turned to follow, a loud metal clank echoed in the hangar and the Lasat jumped up while clutching his foot.

"Wharp wharp whorp", Chopper chuckled as he rolled past and caught up to Hera.

Zeb screamed, "Gah, Chopper! I'm gonna en-"

"Zeb!", Hera cautioned him with a nod to Jacen.

"Oh, uh, hehe... right", Zeb reluctantly powered through his crushed toes and held his tongue.

The group walked through the pristine white halls of the frigate, Jacen watched in awe at the people rushing to and fro. It was his first real time on a major warship, he'd been on Lothal or Ryloth for most of the war and had only travelled between them on the Ghost. A few passers-by looked curiously at the small child walking through the halls but Jacen paid them no mind, staring back with a toothy grin.

"How did you manage to get Mon Mothma to give you a frigate?", Hera asked to satisfy her earlier curiosity.

"Well since my people didn't get involved in the war much and given their treatment by the Empire, she thought sending a medical frigate to help guard the place might get them on side", Zeb explained.

Hera looked questioningly at him, "She thought the best way to build good relations was by sending a warship into their system?"

Zeb shrugged, "Beats me. My people don't need any more reason to dislike the Empire, don't see why she'd go through the trouble."

"It's a power symbol. Its point is to show who is in charge in the galaxy", Kallus intervened. "The Empire did the same thing. I'm sure Mon Mothma wants to project a different image with that power: peace and prosperity and all that. The motives may be different but the methods are the same."

Hera hadn't thought of it like that, she was still getting used to the Rebellion being the dominant side in the galaxy after all. Times really were changing, it would take some time to get used to seeing things from a different perspective. She'd spent her whole life being an underdog whether it was as a fearful young girl in the Clone Wars or fighting an almost impossible war in the rebellion. It brought her happiness to know that Jacen was going in to a better galaxy than she had been born into, she just hoped it stayed that way.

"Here", Zeb said as they reached another door.

Zeb showed them into a small room with a table in the centre and a few chairs around it, a large window covered one of the walls that gave a beautiful view of the surrounding nebula. Chopper took Jacen off into a corner, letting him stare in awe at the sight as well as keep him distracted from the adults' conversation.

"So, what's this all about?", Zeb asked in a hushed tone.

Hera sighed and sat against the table's edge, "We had a call from Ahsoka the other day."

Zeb stepped forward, "Oh, I see. Is she alright?"

Hera nodded, "She's got a lead."

"Ezra?", Zeb breathed.

"Ezra", Hera confirmed. "Sabine knows already, they left a few hours ago."

Zeb leaned against the table, a mix of both pleasant surprise and understandable anxiety on his face.

"I'm sure they'll be safe, Zeb", Hera assured him.

"I know... I just can't believe it's time. Finally we're gonna get the kid home", Zeb's eyes were fixed on the floor.

Hera grunted a laugh, "Kid? You know he's going to be well over twenty by the times he's back, right?"

"You know that's not gonna stop be messing with him", the Lasat chuckled.

"Another reunion", Kallus said. "Hopefully a more lasting one this time."

Hera folded her arms, "After everything, I think we've all earned a chance to settle down."

"Huh, you can say that again", Zeb sighed.

Kallus leaned forward onto a chair beside them, "Do we have any idea when they're coming back?"

"Not a clue", Hera shrugged. "We'll just have to wait and see."

"So... what? We just sit here and do nothing?", Zeb's impatience showed through. The Lasat was never one to sit out of a good fight and he wanted nothing more than to help rescue someone who was like a brother to him.

"Not exactly, there's more than one reason I came to see you instead of calling."

Zeb watched her closely, "What are you thinking, Hera?"

The Twi'lek shifted uncomfortably on the table, her fingers absentmindedly tapping on the surface behind her. "Leia promised to help us with anything we needed when it came to Ezra. I'm sure she'd like to know what's going on and I wouldn't mind some company for the visit."

"Ah, that makes sense", Zeb said with a nod.

"Leia Organa has a lot of influence, she'd be a useful person to have on side if we need anything", Kallus reasoned.

Leia had earned herself a reputation among the Alliance as a goodhearted and capable leader. She'd played a part in almost every major aspect of the rebellion and had earned the respect of countless people, not least of all Hera. Of course, her already formidable reputation was enhanced by some of the company she kept.

Hera looked away and breathed in deeply, "And... she might be able to get help from the right people."

"You don't mean... him do you?", Kallus asked in shock.

Zeb looked at her cautiously, "Hera, I thought you said you didn't want to ri-"

"This is important", Hera wasn't going to let her own issues get in the way. "He needs to know."

The Lasat looked away to the window, "And what about, uh, you know?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it", Hera's voice went low and quiet. "Right now we've got to do whatever we can to help Ezra and Sabine."

"I'm in, no questions asked", Zeb answered.

Kallus stepped forward, "Whatever you need, Hera. We'll do it."

"Thank you. Both of you", Hera smiled at them. "First thing we need to do is go and see Leia, I'll get in touch and see where she is."

Zeb slid off the table and cracked his back, "Not a problem. Been itching to spend some time on the Ghost again, it's been too long."

Hera stood up from the table and wrapped Zeb in another quick hug. She looked over to see Jacen curled up against Chopper in the corner by the window, having drifted off to sleep after such a long journey. Her eyes lingered on her son, the worries she'd hoped to keep hidden bubbling closer to the surface than she'd liked. Reluctantly, she woke him and the group headed back to the Ghost ready to depart after their quick visit. All the while, her mind still couldn't suppress the niggling concerns eating away inside.

Ahsoka's shuttle wasn't the most extravagant vessel Sabine had seen, nor the largest. Space travel in this ship would take a bit of getting used to after spending so long on the Ghost, let alone spending so much time on Lothal in the last few years. Its small cargo hold had two cramped cabins on either side for each of them and little else other than the cockpit. The compact cargo bay was already pretty full with a few boxes of rations and medical supplies as well as several canisters of fuel. Enough for a few months at least, but not much more. Just how long did Ahsoka think this would take?

They hadn't really talked much in the half hour she'd been here, only brief greetings and Ahsoka's explanation of the ship's layout. The Mandalorian had disappeared straight into her cabin to deposit her things and clear her head for a few minutes. Sabine was glad to have some private space at least, she still valued the time she had to herself when she could get it. She'd dumped her bag haphazardly into her cabin, leaving it on the bed to be sorted out later. There wasn't much else in there to speak of, the bunk took up half the space leaving only barely enough room to walk beside it. A small cabinet was wedged in between the wall and the bunk, barely as high as her waist. Certainly no luxury liner but Sabine didn't mind even if she had been made to sleep on the floor, she was still glad to be here.

The Mandalorian walked out of the cabin and back into the cargo bay, before turning straight for the cockpit. The door slid open for her to show Ahsoka at the controls and the swirling blue vortex of hyperspace in the viewport.

"Nice little ship you've got", Sabine said as she sat down in the co-pilot's seat.

"Not the best, but it's enough for our needs", Ahsoka answered.

Sabine watched the passing blues of hyperspace anxiously, unsure where they were going or what exactly Ahsoka wanted her to do. Ahsoka hadn't mentioned anything about what lead she had on Ezra or how she'd come across it. She doubted that she'd encountered him but she must have found something when she was off doing... come to think of it what was she even doing these last few years? Why hadn't she been helping fight the Empire?

"You're anxious", Ahsoka stated suddenly. Her voice and demeanour held a certain wisdom to them and Sabine was still trying to figure out how much she'd changed since they'd last seen each other.

"I forget you Jedi can do that", Sabine sighed.

Ahsoka switched her gaze to her, "What's on your mind?"

Sabine leaned back into the chair, "Huh, where do I start?"

The Togruta pushed a button to engage the autopilot and released the controls before turning to Sabine. She'd ditched the cloak and the staff was leaning against the wall behind her, leaving her in a tunic similar in style to the one she'd worn years ago.

"Go ahead, I'll tell you what I can", Ahsoka told her.

Sabine sat forward in the chair, "Okay, aside from the obvious question about how we're going to find Ezra. It might help to know where you've been the last few years too, there were a few points where we could have used you."

Ahsoka listened to her questions quietly and calmly nodded after she'd finished. "Fair enough", Ahsoka began, "how much did Ezra tell you about what happened when he went through that portal at the Temple?"

Sabine tried her best to dissect her memory of what Ezra had told them, "Something about pathways and time portals or something? He told us about you and he said something about the Emperor." The Mandalorian shrugged her shoulders and shook her head, "Most of what he said didn't make much sense to me. I don't even think it made sense to him. But I know it worried him a lot."

"What Ezra went through was a portal to a world between worlds, a world that connects the physical world through the force. Key events, important places, locations strong in the force, all joined together through one place. Those who can access it can influence the past and maybe the future, it's a dangerous tool for anyone who controls it."

Sabine watched her intently, "Only people like you and Ezra could access it? Force sensitives?"

"Force sensitives like Ezra and I", Ahsoka nodded, "Or someone like the Emperor."

Even when dead, the former ruler's name still struck her with fear and revulsion. "That... doesn't sound good."

"Well, that's one way to put it", Ahsoka laughed.

"So what? You used this place to find Ezra?"

"No, it's not something that really works like that", Ahsoka tried to explain. The dumbfounded look on the Mandalorian's face showed it wasn't a good way to put it, "It's complicated."

Sabine shut her eyes for a few seconds, "Guess I should be used to Jedi with unexplainable goals and knowledge by now."

"I'm sorry, Sabine. It's just difficult to explain", Ahsoka's voice sounded regretful as if she wished she couldn help her understand.

The young woman open her eyes with another sigh, "It's okay. I'm definitely used to it by now. I understand that you understand, that's enough for me for now."

Ahsoka smiled at her, Sabine could tell if it was admiration or just relief that she wouldn't have to try and break it down.

"As I was saying, that world is dangerous in the wrong hands. If the Emperor knew about the access point on Lothal, there was a chance he knew about them elsewhere", Ahsoka continued.

"And you didn't get Ezra to help you?", Sabine asked.

"When Ezra saved my life, he only pulled me from Malachor for a time. When I returned, it was to the same time period he rescued me from two years earlier. I knew I couldn't cross his path any time before then so I had to go on my own. I found a ship and went off to make sure the Emperor didn't try to use any other access points in the galaxy."

"So you were stopping the Emperor trying to do what he did on Lothal anywhere else?", the Mandalorian felt like she finally understood Ahsoka's logic.

"Yes, something like that."

Something like that? Sabine didn't even want to try to understand any more of the nuance of it. Emperor having that power is bad. Emperor not having that power is good. Good enough for me.

The Mandalorian still wasn't done with all her questions. "I still don't see how this helped you find Ezra?"

Ahsoka turned her chair back to the viewport, "A few months ago, I found that the Empire had already arrived at a site I thought might have been an access points. I, uh, found my way to their communication records to do a thorough investigation and found a dispatch sent to somewhere in the Unknown Regions addressed to Grand Admiral Thrawn."

Sabine raised an eyebrow, "'Found your way' to their communication records?"

Ahsoka smirked, "It might have involved a lightsaber."

"I'm glad to see you haven't changed", it was good to know that the lighthearted and good-humoured woman she'd known before was still in there somewhere.

"Anyway", Ahsoka said with the smile still on her lips, "I knew Thrawn had mysteriously vanished from Lothal, it was all I really knew about what had happened at that point but I knew it had to have something to do with Ezra."

"And that's when you went to Rex?"

"Exactly. I knew he'd be able to help and I figured the time was right for me to come out of hiding. He filled in the blanks and told me that any lead on Thrawn was a lead on Ezra too", Ahsoka explained.

"Then what were you doing since then?", Sabine asked.

Ahsoka looked briefly at the staff leaning against the wall, "I still had my duty as a protector against the Emperor, but I knew the rest of you would want to know what I'd found. Then, after the Emperor was defeated, I was able put aside my role and tried to follow my lead further."

Suddenly, Ahsoka stood up and walked to the back of the cockpit. She went to a locked crate nestled in the corner of the cockpit and pulled out a small holodisc. The Togruta sat back down and pressed a button on the disc, causing a small map to appear above it.

"You found a map to Ezra?", Sabine gasped and almost leapt out of her seat.

The Jedi shook her head, "Not exactly. It's the points of contact between Imperial Command and a single Star Destroyer out in the Unknown Regions."

, "Thrawn's", Sabine smiled triumphantly.

"I believe so. It's not a route to Ezra, not really, but it's an excellent starting point to begin our search."

"Ahsoka, I could hug you", Sabine said gleefully.

The older woman laughed, "Save that for when we find him."

Sabine controlled her excitement, they still hadn't found him yet, but knowing how much Ahsoka had already uncovered filled her with renewed hope. Her mind still focused on the map, she took in what little information she could from it. The thought slowly dawned on here that this tiny map represented thousand of parsecs of space and three years of travel for the people out there. This was going to take time.

Sabine brushed her short hair nervously with her hand, "Uh, Ahsoka? How do we know where he is out there? I know we have the map but the galaxy is huge, we could spend a lifetime on this route and not find a trace of him."

Ahsoka let the question hang for a while and Sabine could tell she was deep in thought. "There is more I can do but it'll have to wait. I don't exactly know how it'll play out."

"Complicated?", Sabine asked with resignation.

"Complicated", Ahsoka agreed. "I've got some ideas that will help us, Imperial transponder codes and other... hmm, assets. We'll have to trust the force to guide us on the right path with the tools we have."

The Mandalorian thought of pressing her for more but decided against it. This mission wasn't going to work if Sabine was second-guessing Ahsoka at every turn so she'd just have to trust her to handle it. Accepting that it was a waiting game for now, Sabine put her hands behind her head and settled in for the journey.

"Any good stories?", she asked after a while.

Ahsoka smiled, "Too many to count. I'll trade you some stories about the Clone Wars for some catch-up on what I've missed these last few years."

"Sounds like a plan", Sabine replied contently.

As Ahsoka began recounting an early story about a hutt child she rescued from some monastery, Sabine kicked back to try and relax. Part of her was still nervous about everything and eager to get the real mission started. She was closer than ever but couldn't help feeling more impatient too. Years of waiting, Sabine. You can wait just a little longer.

The future is always in motion, waiting to move against us or to aid us as it sees fit. Many people believe it is unknowable and unpredictable, that no one can ever anticipate what the next day shall bring. In some ways that is true, no one can know every possible outcome. However, even the most seemingly random occurrences have indicators that a skilled mind can read. The weather has its patterns of pressure and seasons, illness stems from long-term causes and issues, seemingly random accidents are always enabled by a fault or issue that is already present. Recognising these patterns shows that the future is never unknowable. Mastering these patterns shows that the future is never uncontrollable.

Captain Pellaeon marched through the familiar halls of the Chimaera as he had done hundreds of times in the last four and a half years. Only this time, everything had changed compared to all those previous visits to the Grand Admiral. Pellaeon had only spoken to Thrawn via hologram in the last few days, both of them were too occupied with dealing with the aftereffects of the Emperor's death and all it entailed as well as their sudden change of orders.

Pellaeon hadn't slept much in the last few days but he doubted anyone else had. The announcement Grand Admiral Thrawn made a few days ago had shaken them all to the core, even experienced officers like him. His work might not have been affected, not in any way he noticed at least, but his sleep schedule certainly had been. He found himself staring up at the ceiling of his quarters all night, wondering if everything they'd built had been for nothing. He'd already lived through one major regime change, Pellaeon had hoped to be dead or retired before another one. Situations like this often descended into conflict and Pellaeon had seen far too much of that in his life already.

Approaching the door, he handed his code cylinder to the door guard. There was no need to announce himself, they'd seen each other so many times that Pellaeon almost counted him as one of his closest friends. He'd never even seen the man under the helmet or had any real conversation with him but internal observations on things like that kept him sane out here.

"He's expecting you, Captain", the stormtrooper said as he handed back the cylinder.

Pellaeon bowed his head to acknowledge him and walked through the door into Thrawn's office. He cast a cursory glance at Thrawn's training room as he passed, still wary of the menacing assassin droids the Admiral kept in there. He entered the Chiss' office to find him with his back turned to the door, inspecting a map projected above his desk.

"Captain", Thrawn acknowledged.

Pellaeon approached the Grand Admiral and stood beside him, taking a look at the map himself. "You summoned me, sir?"

Thrawn's hand brushed his chin, a habit of his when deep in thought. "Indeed I did, Captain. What can you tell me about this?"

Thrawn keyed a code into his console and a number of red dots appeared across the map. They followed a curve around the three dimensional galaxy's outer edges, stretching almost a quarter of a way around the galaxy. All of the dots were well outside any charted system.

"It's a route, sir?", Pellaeon guessed.

"Indeed it is, Captain. Our route."

Pellaeon huffed, "I've never seen a route plan marked like this."

"You misunderstand, Captain. This is a route of our expedition in the last several years, based purely of points of communication. Traceable points where information was sent or received from", Thrawn said.

The aged officer eyes looked over the collection of dots. Is that all we've done? Three years of his life condensed to a small corner of a map. It looked small already, even without considering how narrow their actual path was within it. Each dot already seemed tiny yet that space in reality represented hundreds, if not thousands, of individual star systems.

"An odd way to present that information", Pellaeon said.

"Ah, but you still immediately recognised it as a route, did you not?", Thrawn continued without taking his eyes off the map for a second.

Pellaeon looked at the Admiral from the corner of his eye, "Uh, yes sir. I suppose I did. You're worried someone else will do that?"

Thrawn nodded, "I'm sure of it. With the Empire's recent defeat it is only a matter of time before the rebels can put this together as well. Ezra Bridger's friends will soon be upon us."

"Would take some real commitment to fly off into the Unknown Regions to find one person, even if they are a Jedi", Pellaeon looked at the sheer distance between the nearest known system and any point along their route.

"I agree, but I also know these rebels have that commitment. Even his status as a Jedi not withstanding, their loyalty to him as a friend is quite admirable."

Pellaeon watched Thrawn for any hints of his feelings. Like every time that he'd tried before, the Chiss gave nothing away. There didn't seem any dislike or desire for vengeance against them, just an objective and measured assessment of them as he gave to every situation. It was something he still marvelled at in him yet it also made him come across as cold and alien, as if the glowing red eyes and blue skin didn't already achieve that last one.

"Why are you sure that Bridger is still alive anyway?", Pellaeon asked. It was a question that had been brewing in his mind since he'd learned of their new orders.

"Jedi have a remarkable will to survive. Ironic, I know, for an order that is almost extinct but even my limited experience with them has taught me that."

Pellaeon huffed again, "Not that it matters anymore, that Inquisitor will be the end of him."

Thrawn turned his head slightly to him, "I doubt that, Captain."

"How can you be sure, sir?"

"Patterns are easy to read. The Fourth Sister is arrogant and eager, too willing to rush in to conflict and far too sure of her own abilities. She thinks Bridger is a child who poses no threat to her. In reality, the threat is right in front of her face yet she fails to recognise it, thinking she will somehow win out in any situation."

Arrogant, eager, sure of herself. Pellaeon had to agree on that assessment, the Inquisitor hadn't won much favour with him or any others during her time here. She rarely spoke to any of them and when she did it was only for orders or in anger. Her strange abilities and violent temperament made people fear her above all and Pellaeon couldn't shake the feeling that she enjoyed that fact.

"Bridger, on the other hand", Thrawn continued, "has not only been waiting for someone to pursue him but has had years to prepare. He will be in a familiar environment with escape routes and back up plans already in place. He might not be expecting an Inquisitor but he will adjust accordingly, he and his rebels have defeated at least three of their number before although I admit I do not know many of the details."

"And that's where we come in? We're there to pick up the slack?", Pellaeon questioned.

"In a way", Thrawn responded. "The battle may not have happened but its outcome is already clear, the patterns and behaviours of both our combatants have already decided it."

It wasn't the most elaborate prediction of a situation he'd seen Thrawn make but it made sense, it was always just simple logic in the end.

"But what if you're wrong?"

Thrawn abruptly switched off the map and turned to face him. "I have ordered her to take Bridger alive so that I may speak with him."

"Do you think she'll listen?", Pellaeon asked.

"No, quite the opposite. However, in her rush to deny me that privilege she will become more rash and is more likely to imperil her mission."

Pellaeon's face hardened, "You intentionally want her to lose?"

Thrawn nodded, "Bridger's knowledge might yet be of use to us, there is a chance that his own abilities have given him an insight into what is out here that has eluded us, insight that has also been denied to our own force sensitive agent."

Pellaeon grunted in approval, "I suppose that makes sense. At least get your enemy to spill the intel before you get rid of them."

Thrawn made no specific reaction to the answer and moved on, "A Jedi is an exceptionally useful tool and ours is a mission that demands such instruments, even if we must go to extreme lengths to utilise them."

"I suppose you didn't tell the Fourth Sister that", the Captain had a hint of amusement in his voice.

Thrawn's lips ever so slightly curled into what might almost have been a smile, "I might have omitted that when I assigned her her new mission."

Pellaeon breathed out heavily and nodded his head, "So you send her in, she finds Bridger for us, we come in and clean up the mess."

"A simple but apt explanation, yes", Thrawn answered.

"As you wish, sir." Pellaeon began walking towards the door with Thrawn at his side.

The Chiss remained deep in thought and seemed to only be paying Pellaeon a slither of his attention. The old Captain didn't mind, the Grand Admiral's mind worked at a hundred parsecs a minute and was probably halfway through another task already. As he reached the door, Pellaeon turned back sideways to him.

"I'll make sure everything is ready for our arrival, best estimates say we'll be back at our original starting point within a day", he told Thrawn.

"Thank you, Captain. Dismissed", Thrawn bade his farewell.

Pellaeon saluted to him before turning away. His mind was already tired without the Admiral's schemes and mind puzzles, now he just wanted to rest. The door guard barely acknowledged his departure as he made his way back to his shuttle.

As he walked, he mulled over his discussion with Thrawn. He wasn't fully on board with the idea of assuming the Fourth Sister's failure but Thrawn's plan to use Bridger as a source of knowledge was a good one. Pellaeon didn't know what Thrawn saw out here or why he was so convinced there was some huge threat lurking but he'd come to respect the man and trust his knowledge. If Thrawn thought something, Pellaeon could trust that he was probably right in thinking it. Besides, Pellaeon had joined the Republic Navy to protect people and had remained with the Empire to do the same thing. If this was what he had to do to protect people now, he'd handle it.

The Captain found his way back to the waiting shuttle to return to his Star Destoyer, the Myrmidon. The aged officer grumbled to himself as he climbed up the ramp. Maybe if I help save the galaxy this time they'll let me start my damn retirement.

The rain blew in just as Ezra got back to camp. The wet season was on the horizon and that meant months of soaked clothes and cold nights, none of which Ezra was a big fan of. Ezra hadn't exactly brought a wardrobe with him, having only the increasingly tattered orange clothes he was wearing and one intact flight suit from the shuttle, the other flight suit had been picked apart for repairs and materials for his own clothes and equipment. Come to think of it, Ezra was tattered and dirty in general. Makeshift razors were only so effective in keeping himself groomed and eventually he'd given up, letting a black beard grow around his lower face. It wasn't as long as Kanan's yet, but he was giving him a run for his money with the rest of his hair. His short buzzcut had grown out to almost shoulder-length, forcing him to tie it into a ponytail at the back of his head. Rain at least meant water for cleaning, Ezra still disliked being caked in mud, blood or anything else if he could avoid it.

Here though, just like on Lothal, rain wasn't the best weather for walking in or doing much else for that matter. Argos didn't mind the rain one bit and he barely seemed to notice it. To Ezra's chagrin, that also meant the creature had no qualms about jumping all over him even with soaked skin and muddy paws. It would have been nicer to see if it didn't always leave Ezra damp and miserable for the rest of the day when he did it. The oblivious animal walked happily beside him, plodding along without a care in the world.

Ezra picked up his pace to get out of the rain and headed straight into the shuttle. It was times like these that he was glad he'd turned it into a make-shift shelter, sparing him a sleepless night on the jungle floor. He entered the cockpit and found the stored meat from the other day's hunt that he'd carved from the long-legger by hand. Hera would have flipped if she saw him using her favourite part of the ship as his storage area, but Imperial shuttles weren't known for being spacious. Long-legger meat wasn't half-bad tasting if he was honest, or at least it was leagues above the other things around to eat. Ezra reached for a large blanket and picked out some meat ready to be cooked. If he wanted to get a fire going, he'd have to do it now. Any longer and everything would be too soaked through and it'd be a boring meal of berries and fruit again.

"Here boy!", Ezra called to Argos.

The animal bounded up the ramp and straight to him.

"Take this and put it by the fire pit, alright?", Ezra said while handing him a wrapped sack of meat to carry in his mouth. "And don't you even think about eating it yet, I know what you're like."

The beast shied away with guilty eyes before carrying the meat out of the ship. Ezra kept a cautious eye out of the window as he sorted through the wood he also kept in the cockpit, grabbing a cluster of sticks that looked decent enough to make a fire. Ezra took them and met Argos outside by a small pit dug into the ground and surrounded by stones. Luckily, the meat was untouched and Ezra gave Argos a rewarding scratch behind his ear as he sat down.

It took a few minutes to get a fire going and Ezra tried his best to shield it from the wind and rain. With the fire roaring, he placed the meat on it and settled in to wait. Argos sat with him, asleep for most of it. The light and smells slowly began to attract loth-lizards as well but Ezra had conditioned them to at least stop taking his food. The playful creatures mostly watched the flames in amazement or jumped around with each other. A few paid Ezra a visit, letting him tickle their chin in the way he'd learned they loved. Some of the other loth-lizards would hop up to Argos and wake him by squawking loudly or chirping in his ear. The disgruntled beast would bat them away with his paw and close his eyes again straight after. It was the polar opposite of how he'd been when Ezra first met him, Argos didn't try to eat them or even hurt them. It was amazing what time and discipline could do to something.

However, to do that Ezra still had to accept other sacrifices. Argos might not feed on the annoying little creatures but he was still a predator, as the food cooking over the fire reminded him of. Ezra couldn't deny his nature, Argos was a predator whether he liked it or not, but Ezra could teach him to control it and use that trait for to help others, in this case to help Ezra and his survival.

Ezra propped himself up into a meditating pose, crossing his legs and laying his hands on his thighs. He straightened his back and took in a deep breath, shutting out the other thoughts from his mind. Meditation was his usual pastime when cooking and it would be no different today.

He let his mind wander at first, allowing it follow whatever path it chose and letting it come to rest naturally. The crackling of the fire brought him memories of the food and the animal it had come from. Death that feeds new life. The loss of one life would provide means to sustain not only his life but Argos' too and however many loth-lizards he decided to give a treat to afterwards. A strange and morbid exchange but balanced in it's own way. It was the type of exchange that the universe was particularly fond of.

The complicated ecosystem here was a hierarchy of predator and prey, many animals being both at once, with its own unique attributes and qualities that was unlike any other place in the galaxy. Lothal had its own, as did every other world that hosted life. On each, the force manifested itself as something that was simultaneously familiar and unique. It was a brilliant system, a pattern repeated throughout the galaxy for every world. Like everything in the force, it was all connected and joined in the same complex existence. Ezra, too, was a part of that existence. A part of the force as much as any creature here.

Slowly, Ezra had began to question his own place in the force and these larger systems. The more thought he gave it, the more convinced he became that he was merely a small part of the wider whole. He was not above it, he did not control it, if anything the force controlled him. He was a tool of the force's will and had come to trust it completely. With that acceptance, came the acknowledgement that the force was not his own, it never belonged to anyone, he simply shared in it.

The thoughts of the force and distance brought his mind back to that strange call he still felt. Like a constant noise at the back of his head, all he had to do was tune in to it to hear it. He tried to reach out to it, as he had before, stretching out through the force, not caring about whatever physical distance was between him and its illusive source. As he was close to giving up hope yet again, a new and unfamiliar feeling began creeping into his senses.

Wait, what?

Ezra had surprised himself. Had he really managed to make a breakthrough? Ezra calmed himself and kept his focus, opening his senses again to this new feeling.

Yes... yes. I feel it... I can feel myself reaching out to it... approaching it.

The Jedi felt the feeling grow like it never had, with an intensity he'd never felt from it. As it grew, it became more clear and started to feel ever so slightly different to usual.

Getting closer to it... yes...

Suddenly, Ezra's breath caught in his throat.

Not getting closer to it... getting closer to me.

He felt Argos jolt awake beside him and a low growl came form the beast's throat, feeling the rising fear and confusion in his human companion. Ezra felt it getting closer as he tried hard to home in on whatever was happening.

Wait... no.

Getting nowhere, he tried to shift focus away to something else to clear his head. As he took this new feeling out of focus, Ezra came to a chilling realisation. The call he'd been feeling for so long was still there, unchanged. This was something different, something new... and it was coming straight for him.

The Fourth Sister's TIE Advanced v1 barrelled through hyperspace at maximum speed. It was only a short jump to the neighbouring system but the boredom made it feel like hours. She didn't see any more reason why Bridger would be here than in the last dozen systems she'd tried today or the thousands they'd passed through in the last four and a half years. When the Emperor assigned her this mission, she'd expected a unique and interesting challenge. She was only half right. The challenge was not lashing out and murdering the incompetent fools she had to spend her life around.

What a waste of her talents to be scouring the middle of nowhere for a child. She deserved better than this, she was one of the last force users in the galaxy and had outlived both the Emperor and Lord Vader. She should be deciding the fate of the whole galaxy not doing work better suited to a recon ship.

The Inquisitor gritted her teeth in contempt as the automatic systems began to disengage the hyperdrive.

"Another miserable system, another waste of my time", she muttered to herself.

As the view cleared she saw a large planet appear in her view. It looked habitable with trees and water but nothing special, with a layer of clouds covering parts of the landmass. She lazily tapped her ship's on-board scanners. Life-readings where high but nothing on the electrical scopes. Another primitive world with nothing interesting.

She was about to head closer to look for any signs of settlement that could suggest Bridger was hiding there when something touched her mind. The Inquisitor froze as she felt it.

What was that?!

Then it came again, stronger and clearer.

Who... what is this?

She followed the feeling with her mind and her eyes turned to the planet.

I can almost see it...

Her face curled into a malicious smile as she saw it in her mind's eye.

"Ezra Bridger... there you are."

Now the pace can start to pick up as the hunt for Ezra begins in earnest.

For Hera's section, this was a chance to show the relationship Zeb and Kallus have with Jacen and Hera and to show that time hasn't weakened the family bond between everyone. I'm sure most of you have figured out what exactly Hera is worried about and who this other person Leia can connect them to is, though I wanted to show them as having a reputation and even a 'legend' around them already. Sabine and Ahsoka was a new experience, it's not a dynamic that we have much of anything to go off of. I tried to reflect Ahsoka's growth and maturity that her journey has given her without completely getting rid of the personality she already has. Protecting the World Between Worlds from Palpatine seems like a believable explanation for where she is during the OT. I also wanted to show Sabine's growth, especially her ability to let go of her desire to know everything and being willing to trust others, something she had to accept with both Kanan and Ezra during Season 4. Thrawn's section, or should I say Pellaeon's, if how I intend to do Thrawn most of the time. It's hard to write his own thoughts so it's better to use an observer like Pellaeon to keep some of that mystery, especially as Thrawn's plans start to come into play as the story goes on. I wanted Pellaeon to be an old but sensible officer with a little bit of a sense of humour. I didn't want him to be a carbon copy of his Legends self, nor too similar to Vanto. Ezra's section is shorter since there's not much I can do with him just sitting on a planet but things are about to get a lot more interesting for him, as the Fourth Sister's arrival will surely guarantee. I've tried to get Ezra's opinions on the force to echo those seen in The Last Jedi as well as in other areas of Star Wars. 'Death feeding new life', 'the force not belonging to any individual', 'accepting the good and bad of nature' - they're all ideas that have been reflected at some point in the new canon, hence why I wanted Ezra to head down that route.

I feel like I should mention the coinciding events around the search for Ezra. When it comes to 'convenient' coincidences in the plot, Star Wars' solution is just to ascribe it to the "will of the force", basically a by-word for plot convenience. Thrawn's explanations for why the Fourth Sister can go back now to search these systems are true and I tried to make them believable, but at the end of the day Star Wars is filled to the brim with lucky breaks and happenstance just like this.

Next time: Ezra prepares his defences, Thrawn receives contact from the Fourth Sister, Hera pays a visit to a trusted friend and Ahsoka has an important talk with Sabine.

Chapter Text

The exact timing of these little chapter is a bit jumbled. Thrawn and Ezra's stuff is taking place at the same time, all of Hera's stuff so far is taking place only over the course of a few days, meanwhile Sabine and Ahsoka are probably a day or two behind everyone else. It'll be pretty clear when each story converges but keep in mind that every event is not necessarily occurring in tandem with one another. For pacing reasons, they're not in chronological order this time nor last time but I hope things aren't too confusing for everyone.

In this chapter:  Ezra prepares his defences, Thrawn receives contact from the Fourth Sister, Hera pays a visit to a trusted friend and Ahsoka has an important talk with Sabine.

His heart pounded in his ears, the long-forgotten feeling of imminent danger. In years past he might have frozen up at this moment, struggled to clear his mind, but that Ezra Bridger had grown up. Without missing a beat, Ezra got to his feet and kicked a flurry of wet dirt into the fire to put it out. The action sent the loth-lizards scurrying away but Argos remained vigilant by his side, still feeling Ezra's instincts as his own.

Clearly, he hadn't been wrong to feel his time here was coming to an end. One way or another, this chapter of his life was drawing to a close. Whatever was coming now would ensure that. All that remained to be seen was how that ending would come. Ezra had prepared for this day ever since he arrived, mentally preparing himself for the day he'd have to fight his way out... or do his best to protect what he could.

Over the years, he'd gone through many plans for how he'd deal with an intruder. With each new lesson he learned and with each new discovery, he'd added or removed something from that strategy. It ended up being quite simple in the end, hardly a tactical triumph that would leave people in awe, only something that should, hopefully, give him enough of a window to escape.

Was it Thrawn that was coming? More than likely. Ezra couldn't be sure of anything other than the malicious intent of the intruder, intent clearly directed towards him. The presence was odd, something a bit different to what he'd felt down here, but Ezra put that down to years of isolation. Part of him had a strange excitement about seeing another person at last, he only wished that person wasn't going to be trying to kill him too.

But... if they've found you, others could too.

A small but honest smile formed on his lips as he ran back into the shuttle. He rummaged around the main hold for a handful of items. A few bits of food from the jungle that he knew would keep, a canteen full of water and a small first aid kit went into a bag that he slung over his shoulder. He also found the old E-11, now with a makeshift sling he'd crafted out of a vine and some leather, and hooked it around his shoulder too. Taking a lingering look at the messed up bedroll in the main hold and the various other bits and bobs lying around, Ezra sighed a weary but long-overdue goodbye to his home and went into the cockpit.

His hands went straight for the emergency equipment box beside the door. Opening it, he picked up the emergency flare gun kept in there and slung it into the bag too. All part of the plan. The Jedi darted back out of the shuttle and went around to the right side of the hull, finding the large metal cap mounted on the side that covered the fuel line. With a bit of effort due to years of rust and disuse, he yanked it fully open to leave the fuel tank exposed. Tearing off a bit of his weapon sling, he fed one end in through the hole before taking it out and doing the same with the other. When the whole sling was well doused in fuel, he left it hanging out of the fuel tank.

Everything's ready, now to get into position.

Ezra finally looked back over to Argos, standing ready by the firepit and watching the forest around him. Sunset had just past and the gathering clouds were eating away at what little light was left. The animal turned his attention back to Ezra as the young man approached him.

"Hey, buddy", Ezra said as he ran a hand gently over Argos' neck. "It's time for that thing I keep talking about."

The beast understood what he meant, Ezra could see it in his eyes and feel it in his mind. Part of Ezra's plan depended on Argos and the connection they'd built. It was a risky strategy on paper but Ezra has complete faith in his companions' abilities and the strength of their bond.

"Round up the long-leggers, just like we practiced. I'll keep in touch, okay? We're going to get off this rock", Ezra smiled at the animal, trying to reinforce what he was saying.

But still, Ezra was understandably nervous about what was going to happen. Ezra's connection with Argos was strong, allowing him to feel whatever he was feeling, but the connection worked both ways. The animal rubbed his head on Ezra's arm, a sign of comfort and trust for him. The display made the boy laugh, playfully rubbing his hand over his companion's head one final time.

Reluctantly, Ezra stood up. "Okay, boy. We need to get moving, I'll find you later."

The animal watched him intently for a few seconds more before slowly turning away and darting back into the forest but not before tilting his head back to see Ezra as he went. Argos then disappeared into the trees, like he had on that first night, though this time Ezra wasn't seeing off a stranger, he was saying farewell to a dear friend.

It's not a last goodbye, you'll see him again. Ezra didn't know how much he believed that. It wasn't Argos' survival he was most doubtful about, it was his own. There was a good chance he wouldn't make it out of this. The danger wasn't going to break him though, he'd fight his hardest to win out and hopefully, maybe, he could start making his way home. All he had to do first was hope all his plans worked out.

Ezra reached for the E-11 slung around his shoulder and held it ready with both hands. He turned back and looked up to the treeline, trying to see what he could in the fading light. His eyes picked out the tallest one he could see and he set off into the darkness to reach it.

Patience is a virtue that is often is short supply. Many are eager for quick victories, to rush in and meet their objective head on. In most cases, these people lack the foresight to win a war. They think of only the next day and the short-term victory to be won instead of considering the wider factors that could secure their victory in the future. True success comes to those who are patient, who are willing to set aside temporary concerns and lay the groundwork for victory in the entire war, not just victory in the coming battle.

Pellaeon stood at the holographic communicator on the bridge of the Myrmidon. The blue figure of Captain Sarlis stood by his side and opposite them Grand Admiral Thrawn was detailing an itinerary for their departure and new patrol routes.

"I would be best that we continue to split our forces into three detachments to search each star system along our path. We will meet again at preassigned systems to coordinate the next patrol routes every ten rotations."

Thrawn had brought up a map in the centre of the table to demonstrate. A single red dot represented the starting system then three blue lines spread out from it, representing the three patrol groups Thrawn planned. They again joined together at a second red dot before repeating the pattern again. It was the same tactic they'd used previously and Pellaeon didn't really understand why Thrawn was wasting time going into such detail about it again. Regardless, he kept his mouth shut and listened silently.

Thrawn turned his attention to his two Captains, "We will split our two frigates between the two of you meanwhile the Fourth Sister will remain with me. The frigates should provide you with the extra eyes, the Inquisitor on the other hand will remain with me aboard the Chimaera."

Just like before, Pellaeon told himself. Pellaeon could tell Sarlis was as bored as him, though he struggled to think of a time where the young Captain didn't look bored to death whenever Thrawn spoke.

"Any questions, Captains?", Thrawn suddenly asked causing Pellaeon to snap out of his thoughts.

"Hmm, no Grand Admiral", Pellaeon almost stuttered.

Thrawn picked up on his sudden hesitation, "Something more, Captain Pellaeon?"

There was plenty more he wanted to ask. What about Bridger? Thrawn had made it clear he intended to use Bridger's knowledge yet he was making plans even without it. Speaking of Bridger, where was the Inquisitor? They'd had no contact from her since they arrived at their original starting point from all those years ago. She was around here somewhere yet Thrawn hadn't made any specific mention of her mission since their meeting the previous day.

"Sir... if I may", Sarlis spared him the burden of an explanation. "What makes you think this route will find us anything that the other didn't?"

"Nothing in particular", Thrawn replied.

Sarlis' face still gave him an unknowing look, "So, we still don't know what we're looking for?"

"We are looking for any indication of a threat in the Unknown Regions."

"Yes, sir... I know, but what does it look like? What sort of thing are we looking for? A fleet? A weapon? A species?", the Captain's eyes were heavy with bags and her face weary. The fall of the Empire hit a political officer like Sarlis harder than most, if she still had any lingering hopes of progress and power after being out here for so long, Pellaeon knew they must have taken a sharp blow.

Thrawn pressed a button on his end to shut down the map interface, clearing the space above the table. "If you are narrowing your definition of a threat to a specific idea then you risk missing threats that are new or exist outside of your preconception. The galaxy is large and full of dangers, they will take many forms, some of which we will never have anticipated."

Pellaeon smiled wryly to himself, we definitely didn't anticipate it coming in the form of flying tentacled space whales.

A uniformed officer suddenly appeared beside Thrawn with a salute, "Sir, we've got an incoming transmission from the Fourth Sister."

"Ah, at last. Put it through", Thrawn instructed.

The officer nodded in the other direction, to the communications officer no doubt, before stepping out of view. The Fourth Sister's face appeared in the centre of the table facing the Grand Admiral.

"Inquisitor, I trust you have some news for us", the Chiss watched the new arrival carefully.

Pellaeon could see the prideful smile on the translucent figure, "I've found Bridger."

The bridge crew of the Myrmidon started murmuring and whispering, having been listening in as much as they could. It was a rather conveniently timed discovery and Pellaeon started to wonder why the Admiral had been so sure that she'd find Bridger on this search in particular.

Thrawn didn't make any explicit physical reaction nor did his tone give any hint of relief or satisfaction, "Excellent work, Inquisitor. Relay your coordinates to us, we're already standing by in the vicinity."

For a moment Pellaeon wondered if she actually would hand over the information, Thrawn had a convincing argument for her just wanting to keep the glory for herself. He knew the Grand Admiral wouldn't abide that one bit, he saw Bridger as too useful an asset to pass up.

Surprisingly, the Fourth Sister sent them anyway. Her head dipped and her body moved as she must have been sending the information back to the fleet. "Here, as you asked, Grand Admiral."

"Thank you, Fourth Sister. We will rendezvous with you shortly", Thrawn nodded to her.

"You better make it quick, I can't promise there'll be anything left of him for you to help with", the woman grinned confidently at the Chiss.

And there's the catch, the old Imperial shook his head. He knew she was being uncharacteristically cooperative. She wasn't just being sure of herself, she was taunting Thrawn with a victory she hadn't even earned yet.

Thrawn scowled heavily at her, "You are to await our arrival and apprehend Bridger alive."

"I'm afraid I can't take that risk", she answered smugly. "By all means send your troops, but I'm not giving the boy the chance to escape."

More like you don't want to give the Grand Admiral what he wants. Pellaeon rolled his eyes at the immaturity of it all and thought back to Thrawn's evaluation of the Fourth sister. Arrogant, self-assured, eager - an accurate description of her actions right now. He also remembered what Thrawn predicted based off of those traits. Was she really rushing off to her own defeat? He found himself less troubled by the idea now, maybe she did need to be brought down a peg or two.

The Grand Admiral kept his composure as always, "I have no patience for your games, Inquisitor. You have your orders."

The Fourth Sister glared back into Thrawn's eyes, "I have my orders. But not from you."

Her hologram flickered out and silence hung in the room. They'd all seen the Grand Admiral's disagreements with the Fourth Sister before but never had she been so openly disobedient. No one dared say a word, not even Pellaeon, as they all wondered if this would be the insolence that finally got Thrawn to crack.

Yet still, the Chiss didn't let any hint of anger or indignation show. "Commodore Faro, ready our ship to jump to those coordinates."

Pellaeon breathed a heavy sigh of relief, he wasn't a fan of this type of internal hostility.

"Pellaeon, Sarlis", Thrawn said suddenly, "Ready your ships for departure and each of you prepare a stormtrooper detachment for landing, we leave in ten minutes. I do not wish to waste any more time than is necessary."

Pellaeon furrowed his brow, "Sir? We're all going?"

Standard Imperial procedure always recommended leaving a Star Destroyer in any intended rendezvous location if a diversion had to be made. It was a sound strategy, the risk of an enemy seizing their current position might have been low but Thrawn was nothing if not cautious.

Thrawn switched his gaze to Pellaeon, "The Imperator and the Myrmidon will indeed be joining us. As will the light-cruiser Aeternus. The light-cruiser Invictus will suffice as a vanguard here while we deal with this diversion."

Pellaeon didn't like it. To take all three of the Star Destroyers and one of their two light-cruisers as well was more than overkill. He must really want Bridger to throw all his resources so blindly at it. The Chiss must have had a plan behind all this. Intimidation? A show of power? Or was he simply not willing to take any chances with capturing the Jedi? After this was all done he hoped Thrawn could clarify it for him.

Pellaeon saw Thrawn turn to his crew, "Relay the orders to the Invictus, inform them that we are departing to these coordinates and to come to us there if there's any emergency. Even so, I don't suspect we'll be occupied for very long." The Grand Admiral then turned back to the table, "You have your orders, Captains", Thrawn dismissed them and his own hologram deactivated.

Pellaeon and Sarlis watched each other for a second, the look on her face showed that even she found this choice unusual. Was Thrawn really getting that worked up over this? Pellaeon didn't think the Fourth Sister had gotten under his skin, though he might be wrong about that.

"Any idea what's going on with him? I've never seen the Grand Admiral like this", Sarlis almost whispered to him.

Pellaeon shook his head and sighed, "Haven't a damn clue, I just know we have our orders."

The older man tipped his head to her and disengaged the hologram. He then turned to the Myrmidon's navigational officer to confirm the coordinates were entered and made his way further up the bridge.

Pellaeon looked to his first officer, "Get Lieutenant Garlund to organise a fire team, I want them ready for ground operations within ten minutes."

The officer saluted, "Yes, Captain. At once."

Pellaeon trusted his crew to get everything ready as he observed the rest of the fleet from the viewport. The four ships were moving into position for the jump as the Invictus moved to establish its own position. The old officer in him was still mulling over the abrupt change in Thrawn's tactics but he also kept in mind all that Thrawn had already told him about the Fourth Sister and Ezra Bridger. He'd hit the nail on the head with his expectation that'd she attempt to take him down without back-up and he needed no reminding of his assessment of her character.

His eyes stayed on the other two Star Destroyers and the light-cruiser as the final preparations were made for hyperspace. It suddenly reminded him of how similar their designs were to the old Republic Venator cruisers. Pellaeon had served on one during the Clone Wars, one of many non-clone officers who'd brought their experience to the war effort. Back then, the Jedi were heroes that everyone in the Republic idealised. Now, over two decades later, he was off to hunt the last one.

This time Hera had at least made the wise choice to send a message ahead about a visit. She didn't have much of a choice if she was honest, Leia had to be one of the busiest people in the galaxy right now. Leia happened to be back on Home One, Admiral Ackbar's command ship, for a time and had asked Hera to meet her there for whatever she needed. As Hera climbed down the Ghost's ramp, she didn't overlook the fact that such a busy woman had made time for her on very short notice.

"Hera, are you sure you don't want to bring Kallus?", Zeb asked he walked beside her.

Hera turned back to see Jacen waving them off with Kallus standing beside him.

"I need someone I can trust to watch Jacen", Hera reasoned. It showed how highly she'd come to think of Kallus that she'd trust him with not only her life but with Jacen's too.

Zeb kept a concerned look on his face, "It's going to be okay, Hera. Don't worry about it."

"I know, I'm just glad I've got friends like you to set my mind at ease", Hera said.

Speaking of old friends, as they left the ship a familiar face stood ready to meet them. Commander Rex was suited up in his old clone armour, an outfit he wore at almost every opportunity, as if it was a second skin for him. His beard was still large and well-maintained, no longer or shorter than it had been since she'd first met him. Hera had known Rex was still assigned to Home One so decided to contact him as well. It turned out Rex was far more informed on the situation than Hera had expected. Leia had already got in touch with Rex to let him know Hera was visiting and Ahsoka had unsurprisingly contacted her old friend before she'd left as well and caught him up on events with Ezra. He also had the job of escorting Hera to her meeting with Leia which would save her the risk of getting lost somewhere in the massive Mon Calamari cruiser.

"Long time no see, General", Rex greeted with a smile.

"Two months too many", she sighed as she gave him a quick hug.

Rex looked at Zeb next, "How's Lira San, big fella'?"

Zeb shrugged, "Feels like home, what can I say?"

The man turned and began walking out of the hangar, Hera and Zeb following close behind. "Well it's good to have some familiar faces around here, looking at Wolffe's ugly mug never gets any better."

"How is Wolffe?", Hera asked, always concerned for the friends she had left.

The clone waved his arm as he spoke, "Grumpy, paranoid. You know, he's Wolffe."

"Hehe, just like usual", Zeb laughed. "What do they have you doing out here anyway?"

"Patrols, patrols and more patrols", Rex grumbled. "Occasionally we get some holdouts to deal with but nothing fancy. Hearing rumours about a strike on some place called Akiva, but no real plans yet that I know of. I think Wedge is going out there for some recon on the place."

Wedge, another familiar face that Hera saw far too rarely. The gifted pilot had really made his mark on the Rebellion, coming to lead the accomplished Rogue Squadron and serving admirably at Yavin, Hoth, Endor and dozens of other battles. In the brief times she'd seen him since Atollon, Wedge always put his success down to Hera's training. Hera, on the other hand, knew pilots like him would excel with their skills no matter who helped to train them.

Rex led them out of the hangar and into the corridors of the ship. It was much bigger and far more crowded that the Aspis above Lira San. Hera had seen it busier, she'd spent a bit of time on the cruiser before and after the Battle of Endor, but spending the last few months out of the loop made the crowds more noticeable again.

"So...", Rex began as they walked, "Any word from them?"

The Twi'lek shook her head, "None yet."

"Bah, look at me worrying like an old man. If they needed help they'd tell us", he flung his arms up and chuckled to himself.

Hera was quiet for most of the rest of the walk, silently taking in the activity around her and planning what to say in her head. Zeb and Rex chatted as they walked, a few jokes and prods as soldiers always did. Hera smiled at a few - the age jokes from Zeb, the Kallus jokes from Rex, the harmless boasting from both parties. They eventually reached another corridor, empty of the crowds of people that had cluttered the halls on the way in. A single closed door stood at the far end of the hallway.

"She's waiting for you", Rex told them both as he approached the door.

The others let Hera go first, then Zeb and Rex went in at the back. Hera raised her hand and knocked the door.

"Come in", the soft voice inside called.

The door swung open on command to reveal Leia standing behind a small desk, three chairs already set out in front of it. The room was small and mostly white with a large plane window looking out at the expanse of stars behind her desk. Three chairs were already sat in front of Leia's desk.

The woman quickly walked around the desk and wrapped Hera in a warm embrace, "Hera, good to see you."

Hera hugged her back, "We need to stop leaving it so long between visits."

Leia slowly released her and nodded to Zeb with a smile, "Garazeb, hope you're keeping an eye on that Kallus."

Rex sniggered behind them, "Oh, I'm sure he is."

Present company stopped Zeb from giving Rex a firm but friendly punch.

"Please, take a seat", Leia motioned to the chairs and sat down in her own behind the desk. "How's life been treating you?"

Hera slid into the chair with a sigh, "It's been worse. Definitely not as busy as it was a few months back."

The Twi'lek remembered the lead up to Endor as an exhausting string of drills, intel briefings, recon missions and other preparation tasks that dragged out for months. It was the longest she'd been without seeing Jacen too, him being safely on Lothal with Sabine, and the emotional strain hadn't helped the physical exhaustion. Still, nothing worth doing was ever easy and what they'd achieved in that battle was worth every draining day and sleepless night.

"What about you? I imagine Mon Mothma has been keeping you busy", Hera asked Leia.

Leia rubbed her temples with her hand, "You have no idea. She's had me running all over the galaxy from Naboo to... I don't even know where, trying to gather support for the New Republic. Won't be much of a government if no one wants to be governed."

"I thought that would be right up your alley", Hera said.

"It is right up my alley, but my alley also involves a lot of shooting these days", Leia muttered.

"Well if you're half as good with a blaster as you are with diplomacy then I'm sure you'll be alright."

Leia chuckled before her expression grew more serious and the woman looked Hera in the eye, "So what's going on? It's not like you to do things on short notice."

The Twi'lek rubbed the back of her head with hand, just under her lekku, "You asked to be kept up to date on any news we had for Ezra."

"You've had contact from him?", Leia's eyes widened and she leaned forward.

"No, no contact", Hera said, "But we've found a lead and, well... Sabine has already left to check it out."

The younger woman pursed her lips, "She went out alone?"

For a moment, Hera didn't know what to say. Then she looked over to Rex sitting on her right, looking for silent confirmation that Ahsoka's involvement could even be mentioned. Rex gave that confirmation himself.

"She's gone with Ahsoka Tano", Rex said.

The name visibly caught Leia off-guard, her eyes suddenly narrowing and the surprise on her face was noticeable. The former Princess then looked over at Rex for a brief moment, sharing a look that seemed to hide something beneath it.

"You know who she is?", Hera asked carefully.

Leia cleared her throat and Hera saw her eyes glance at Rex again, "Yes, I do. The former Jedi."

"I don't know what she found", Hera shrugged, "But she seemed convinced it could lead her to Ezra. She got in contact a few days ago and then before I knew it she and Sabine were flying off to find him."

"How sure are you that they'll find him?"

The Twi'lek didn't have a doubt in her body about them, "I trust them both, if anyone can find him then they can."

Zeb chuckled and made his first contribution in the meeting, "Plus Sabine's stubborn enough to search the whole galaxy to find the kid."

Leia smiled and shook her head, "From what you've told me about her, I don't doubt that one bit."

Hera paused and moved her eyes away from Leia and out to the window instead. Just under the desk, she nervously rubbed her gloved hands together. Zeb noticed her apprehension from the corner of his eyes and nudged her gently. It's only Leia and it's all for Ezra.

"Everything okay?", Leia suddenly asked worriedly.

She swallowed hard, "Yes, it's... okay. There's just... something else I needed to ask."

Leia eyed her carefully, unsure why Hera was suddenly so nervous around her, "You can ask me anything, Hera."

The Twi'lek breathed in heavily, "I thought since you knew him and since Ezra's a Jedi that you'd..."

Hera saw the sudden realisation appear on the women's face. "Luke?", Leia breathed.

Hera quickly started to explain herself, "I know he's busy and I know it might not be my place to ask but-"

Leia watched her start to fumble before reaching a hand over the desk to hold the Twi'lek's, "Hera... relax. I promised I'd do anything I can for you and for Ezra and I meant it. I'll get in contact with him straight away, I'll drag him kicking and screaming if I have to."

Hera squeezed the woman's hand back, "Thank you, Leia. I can't thank you enough."

Her brown eyes met Hera's again, "You don't owe me a thank you. You said it yourself, Ezra is a Jedi and Ahsoka is... close enough. Luke needs to know what's going on, if there's anything he can do to help then he'll do it."

The woman's eyes then drifted away for Hera's and it was her turn to look nervous. Something was brewing behind her eyes and another glance over at Rex again raised Hera's suspicions. What did they know that she didn't? Is wasn't like either of them to keep secrets from Hera. Leia swallowed her own nerves back and then looked up at both Zeb and Hera.

"What I'm going to tell you can't leave this room, not yet anyway", Leia finally said. "If Ahsoka is coming back and with everything else, I suppose it would come out sooner or later.

"Leia?", Hera asked with raised eyebrows. This was unusual, she'd never seen Leia as one to shy away from anything.

"Luke", she began, "Well... he's my brother."

Zeb and Hera looked at each other in shock. "Brother?", the Lasat asked.

Leia smiled jokingly, "Same mother, same father."

Brother? Every quickly fell into place. Leia and Luke... Skywalker. Rex. Ahsoka. Anakin Skywalker.

Hera looked over to Rex, "You knew about this?"

The old clone shrugged his shoulders, "Only after Endor."

"That's not what I thought I'd be hearing when I came to see you", Hera said.

Leia titled her head with a grin, "I'm full of surprises, mostly the good kind."

Hera chuckled, "You definitely are." She looked back over to Rex, "It's nice to have someone who knew your father then."

Luke's father being the legendary Jedi hero Anakin Skywalker was common knoweldge in the Rebellion, if the name didn't give it away then the lightsaber, piloting skills and force abilities did. She'd never asked Rex about it much, she figured it might bring back memories that'd he'd prefer to be left alone, but now was an exception.

Hera's comments had the complete opposite effect to what she intended. Rex and Leia both visibly tensed up at the mention of her father, the old clone looked mournfully away and Leia awkwardly shrunk back. That was insensitive of her, she knew losing people close to you was tough. Hera at least had been lucky enough to have some memories of her mother, Leia probably didn't even meet her father let alone have something to remember about him.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to make either of you uncomfortable", Hera apologised to them both.

With some hesitation, Leia then sat forward again. "No, it's alright. It's still just... unusual to talk about. No harm done", she said as she waved off the awkward situation. "Now then", Leia said as she stood up. "I don't mean to push you out but I'd better get in touch with Luke and I've got mountains of paperwork and reports to read over."

Zeb, Hera and Rex stood up with her. Leia moved around to the front and gave Hera another friendly hug before walking with them to the door. The meeting has gone smoothly but it wasn't Leia that Hera was so nervous about meeting. If what she'd started to think was true then meeting Luke could be a difficult double-edged sword to manage.

Hera stopped her just before they left, "Thank you, Leia. I really mean it."

She smiled warmly back at her, "It's the least I could do for friends like you."

Zeb and Rex led the way out and Hera followed. As they walked away, Leia was leaning in the doorway to watch them go.

"General Syndulla", Leia called to her, "May the force be with you."

The Twi'lek smiled back, "And with you, Princess."

They landed on an arid planet, alone and forgotten in the middle of nowhere. She went on without Ahsoka, creeping through the bleak and empty wastes of the desert in the blaring midday sun. In the distance, she saw something. Small and still, lying unceremoniously in the sand. Her legs began running to it, her mind knowing what she was about to find. As she got closer, the sun-bleached orange colour of the object became clearer. She ran closer, making out the vague shape of...

No, no, no, no, no!

She was metres away from it now. A body. A sand-covered, dried out body lying face-down on the ground. Sabine had never seen anything like it, it must have been there for weeks if not months. Slowly, her hand reached out to the body's shoulder and gently pulled it to turn it over.

The Mandalorian let out a blood-curdling scream when she saw its face.

Sabine shot up in her bed, kicking the blanket off of her sweating body. Another night, another nightmare. Some nights they were of battles she'd won, others she'd lost, some dreams even created a loss where she'd actually won. Mandalore also haunted her, the sickening image of the Duchess wreaking havoc on strangers, friends and family.

Tonight the dreams weren't of war, they were of Ezra. The memory of the dream crept up on her again, the images filling her with dread, anger and fear.

She reached for the water by the side of her bed, hoping to drown out the horrible thoughts. Her heart was racing, her hands were shaking and her undershirt was soaked through with sweat. The Mandalorian looked down at the crumpled blanket on the floor and the ruffled pillow hanging off the bed.

"No sleep for me tonight", she muttered under her breath.

Sabine stood up from the bed and looked around her, unsure what she could do to occupy herself instead. No blaster practice, no running, no painting on the walls, no call to Hera. She sighed to herself; at least she still had stargazing. Deciding the cockpit was as good a place to spend the night as any, she wiped the sweat from her forehead and stepped outside.

"You're troubled."

The voice of the Togruta sitting silently on the floor of the main hold made her jump out of her skin.

Sabine caught her breath after the jump, "Please, don't ever do that again."

Ahsoka had her eyes shut and was sat in a meditating pose in the centre of the main hold, just beside some crates of food. Her staff was laid out in-front of her as were the hilts of both of her lightsabers.

"You're on edge", she said without opening her eyes.

Sabine hugged her arms around herself, "Yeah, just bad dreams."

"Dreams of what?"

The Mandalorian shifted her gaze away from Ahsoka, even though she knew she wasn't looking at her. "Just... things. A lot on my mind I guess."

Sabine watched Ahsoka breathe in deeply a few times more, remaining incredibly still. Then she opened her eyes and picked up her staff with her hand, moving it beside her. She then picked up both sabers with the force and placed them next to it.

"Sit", Ahsoka motioned to the now empty space in front of her.

Sabine cautiously approached her, "You're not going to try and make me meditate, are you? Because Ezra tried that before and it didn't work out."

Ahsoka waited for the Mandalorian to sit down in front of her. Sabine tucked her legs in under her, emulating Ahsoka's own position.

"Tell me about the dream."

"It was just some nightmare", Sabine shook her head dismissively.

Ahsoka continued to watch her, "Dreams can show us concerns and feelings we don't give voice to. They're important to understanding our own thoughts."

"I know... I'm just... they're just dreams. I don't see how it's important?", irritation crept into her voice.

Ahsoka continued to press her, "What was the dream about?"

"Ahsoka it was just a nightmare, I-"

"Sabine", Ahsoka intervened gently, "You're being evasive."

Evasive. The Mandalorian prepared a biting remark but couldn't see it through. She wasn't the closed-off child she used to be, she was better than that now and Ahsoka was only trying to help her. Sabine squirmed in her place. The dream wasn't nice to think about on her own let alone talk to someone else about. She paused as she decided which parts she wanted to share and which parts were best left unsaid.

Sabine sighed reluctantly, "Well... it was about finding Ezra."

The Togruta's blue eyes caught her own, "Understandable, you're anxious about the mission."

She laughed in a futile attempt to lighten the mood, "No points for that."

Ahsoka's eyes still focused on her, "And?"

"And?", Sabine raised her eyebrow at her.

The older woman shut her eyes for a moment and sighed, "You have to control your emotions. Attachments can be difficult to manage, believe me I know, but-"

"Hang on, attachments?", Sabine's eyes narrowed and her voice hardened.

Ahsoka didn't seem to take offence and remained calm and patient with her. "Sabine, you have to be honest with me. You can't have your judgement clouded by personal feelings."

"Okay, first of all why do you even think I have any feelings for Ezra? Can't I just be friends with someone without falling for them? And what do you know about attachments, I thought Jedi weren't allowed them?", Sabine felt her anger rising.

"I never assumed the nature of your attachment to him", Ahsoka replied calmly.

The Mandalorian gritted her teeth, hoping she hadn't just dug herself some sort of hole, "You know what I mean."

Ahsoka carefully observed the irritated young woman, watching her hardened expression and clenched fists. She could feel her emotions behind it all. It wasn't anger, not at her, just defensiveness.

"When I was your age, a bit younger actually", Ahsoka's lips curled into a smile, "I knew someone. Lux Bonteri. We were the same age but we didn't have a lot in common on the sruface. I was a Jedi serving the Republic, he was a rising politician for the Separatists. He was the 'solve problems by talking' type, I was the 'solve problems with a lightsaber' type."

Sabine's anger softened, "Sounds... interesting?"

Ahsoka huffed a laugh, "One word for it. We ran into each other a few times, a few adventures, a few close calls, a few... moments between ourselves."

"What happened?", the younger woman watched her with interest.

"The war happened, the Jedi happened. The war kept us apart for long periods and deep down I knew, we both knew, it was never something that could work. Eventually there was another woman but... she didn't make it."

Sabine looked at her sympathetically, "I'm sorry... what happened with him?"

Ahsoka's eyes flashed with a mix of pain and regret, "After I left the Order, I didn't see him again. After the rise of the Empire it was best if I didn't put him in danger. He grew up, had a daughter and even joined the Alliance."

The Mandalorian perked up a bit, "When we get back we should go look for him."

"There's no point... I looked him up on the databases a few months ago. He was killed in an operation a few months after the Battle of Yavin."

Sabine's mouth hung open and she winced, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry."

"That's alright", Ahsoka's eyes hid many memories behind them, "Sorry, I got off track there. What I'm trying to say is that I understand what it's like to be... close to someone and to live your life thinking you might never see them again. These feelings are natural, even the Jedi admitted that, you just have to learn to control them and not let them interfere with your judgement."

Sabine remained silent and shifted her gaze to the floor. Ahsoka watched as she young girl thought it over in her head, not pressuring her further and instead letting Sabine take whatever time she needed. The Mandalorian brought her feet out from under her and clutched her knees close to her body.

She bit her lip and didn't quite find it in her to meet Ahsoka's gaze, "I- I don't want you to get the wrong idea. Ezra and I aren't, um, we're not... we were just friends."

The Togruta picked up on the phrasing, "Were?"

"Before he left, I guess still just friends but... it's complicated", Sabine hugged her legs in tighter. "I thought about it before a few times, especially in the last few months before everything happened. We were getting so much closer, getting every mission together, spending all our downtime together and I just... I don't know, I guess we just clicked."

"Did you ever talk about it?", Ahsoka asked.

Sabine shrugged, "Not really. I mean, I knew how he felt at the start but that sort of died down. I'd mess with him about it sometimes just to embarrass him but we never talked about it seriously."

"Do you think he still felt the same way? If there's a chance he does, we need to keep that in mind when we're out here", Ahsoka said.

Sabine smiled a little to herself as she thought back to some of her memories with him. The jetpack on Concord Dawn, the story her father told her about Ezra's rescue, the lingering gazes they shared more and more often in the final months and so many little moments in the final few days. Even if Sabine wasn't entirely clear how she'd felt back then, she had a reasonable idea about what he might have felt.

She nodded slightly and smiled, "I think he did, he just got better at hiding it as we got closer."

"A lot of Jedi struggled to handle their attachments. Ezra seemed to do a better job than most"

"Kanan set a good example", the bittersweet memories of Kanan and Hera's relationship flashed briefly in her mind. "Was it common for Jedi to have attachments? I thought it was against the rules?"

"The Jedi couldn't fight nature, all they tried to do was teach people to let go of the attachments and not act on them. Not that it always worked, it wasn't exactly uncommon. I knew plenty of Jedi who struggled with the idea or even outright defied the Code because of it." Ahsoka laughed quietly, "You know he isn't even the first Jedi I've known that fell for a Mandalorian."

"I guess there's something special about us", the Mandalorian replied jokingly.

"You certainly have your charms it seems", Ahsoka laughed.

It was reassuring to open up and honestly talk about it with Ahsoka. She always wondered, even if she did find Ezra, how his Jedi training might somehow change things if they ever really did give them a shot. The talk with Ahsoka had put her mind at ease, at least a little bit. There was still the obvious question of whether he still felt the same way, or even if Sabine still did when they found him, but it was nice to know that it wasn't completely unheard of.

"Thanks, Ahsoka", Sabine said after a long pause, "I'm sorry I was so hostile to you at the start."

"That's okay, these things are tough to talk about", Ahsoka smiled.

Sabine bit her lip nervously, "Maybe after we find him and get back I'll... I'll see how things go."

"That's all you can do. You may find being friends is the best option or things might happen naturally without you worrying about it."

"Yeah, you're right", Sabine sighed, "We have to find him first anyway."

"That we do", Ahsoka agreed, "And to do that you need to be well rested."

The talk had cleared her head more than she could have hoped, enough for her to try and catch a few more hours of sleep. Ahsoka was right, she owed it to Ezra to be at her best, barely sleeping wasn't going to help things. The Mandalorian unwrapped her arms from her legs and got to her feet.

"You're right", Sabine said as she stood.

Ahsoka nodded, "I'll let you know in a few hours when we're getting close."

Sabine began walking back towards her cabin. She didn't need to question Ahsoka's sleep schedule, she knew meditating was almost like sleeping for a Jedi. Before she reached the cabin door, she turned back one more time.

"Hey Ahsoka, just so we're clear. You won't tell Ezra any of this, right?", she asked.

"Hmm, that depends", Ahsoka said.

Sabine narrowed her eyes, "On what?"

Ahsoka smirked to her, "On you promising to send me a wedding invitation. I've never actually been to one."

"Don't make me regret telling you", Sabine smiled and rolled her eyes.

The Togruta grinned back, "My lips are sealed."

With a shake of her head, Sabine disappeared back into her cabin. She picked the blanket off the floor and tidied the pillow before sliding back under the covers. Her head hit the pillow free of the nightmares that had plagued her for most of the night, and the Mandalorian drifted off peacefully with warmer, happier visions of what lay ahead.

Ezra's section is pretty easy to understand and it's him putting years of planning and training into practice. I mentioned early on how Ezra's time on the world and the lessons he learns are going to have an impact on his story and this is one of the first and most direct ways in which it's doing that. Thrawn's intentions had to strike a balance between being believable to the Fourth Sister and avoiding messing up his own desire to capture Ezra alive. Thrawn is always a fair bit ahead of the game and I don't want it to be any different here, there is reasoning behind pretty much all of his actions. Hera meeting Leia is deliverance on Leia's initial promise to help her back in the Prologue. Also, it's the first major crossover between the Rebels stuff and the Original Trilogy stuff in this story. The overlap is going to grow in the future, especially as Hera prepares to meet Luke Skywalker. I sprinkled in some more references here and there, some to others characters like Wolffe and Wedge, some to events like the attack on Akiva or Operation: Cinder on Naboo, just to try and tie it in to the wider story and universe. Lastly, the romantic element of Ezra and Sabine is going to come into play as we go on and it deserved something more than passing thoughts from Sabine or off-hand jokes from Hera. Sabine and Ezra are firmly just friends as of Rebels, according to both Filoni and Tiya Sircar, but I strongly favour the idea that their friendship will grow into something more afterwards, especially based on Sabine's commitment to him in the Epilogue.

Another note on names here: the Star Destroyer names, or all the ship names for that matter, don't always have a deeper meaning to them. Some of them are picked because I just liked the way they sounded. However, that isn't to say there isn't some rhyme or reason to why I picked certain names, but I'll leave that explanation for much later.

If anyone's curious about the ship names -

Chimaera (Thrawn's ISD) - A Greek mythological creature usually seen as a lion/goat/snake hybrid.
Imperator (Sarlis' ISD) - Latin for 'Commander'.
Myrmidon (Pellaeon's ISD) - A tribe from Greek Mythology. Achilles was the son of their King during the Trojan War.
Aspis (the Nebulon frigate at Lira San) - Greek for 'shield'. (Insert Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel reference here)
Invictus (the light cruiser Thrawn leaves behind) - Latin for 'undefeated'.
Aeternus (the other light cruiser that stays with the fleet) - Latin for 'unending' or 'eternal'.

So far, each of the main stories has had some progression in each chapter. Next time, however, we focus heavily on a single event and as a result there'll be no Hera, Sabine or Ahsoka in the next chapter. They'll be back in the chapter after next.

Next time: A confrontation ensues as Ezra uses every tool at his disposal to fight off the Empire.

Chapter Text

So this is a much more focused chapter than previous ones, but it's very important to the overall plot. It's shorter too but a lot goes down in it.

This time: A long awaited confrontation ensues as Ezra uses every tool at his disposal to fight off the Empire.

The tree Ezra was using for his vantage point was harder to climb than he'd expected. Night came fast on this world and it was getting harder to see the sticks and branches he needed to climb up, let alone the rain making everything too slippery to get a good grip of. He scrambled up higher, his blaster and bag hanging loosely off his back and bouncing off him with every quick movement.

Finally, he reached the highest branch. Strong and sturdy enough to hold his weight and giving him a good view of the shuttle below as well as letting him see the thinning trees that gave way to the coastline in the distance. Ezra sat on the edge on the branch, committing as much of the view to memory as possible. Night was coming fast and within minutes he'd barely be able to see half of what he could now. He took special note of the routes to the beaches and the exact details of the shuttle.

After surveying the area for a minute he settled down and put one hand around his blaster, ready to fire at any attacker that might approach. He then focused his mind, reaching out into the forest around him for what might be his final time. The bulk of the creatures were continuing as normal, unaware of the confrontation that was brewing around them. His small lizard friends were making their way back to the shuttle too and Ezra slowly reached out to keep a mental hold of them. His mind focused and reached out for Argos. He felt him running as fast as he could through the outskirts of the jungle, parallel to the beach. The beast was searching for his targets to put the plan into action.

The rain continued to pour down and Ezra thought for a second that he'd heard a low rumble of thunder. The rumble dragged on and as it went on it became louder. That's no thunder... that's a ship.

Ezra's eyes scanned the darkening sky above and around him. In the distance, approaching from the sea, a faint white light was reflecting in the clouds. It drew closer, the whine of its engine becoming louder as it did. The light began to drop faster and it started to break through the cloud coverage. He squinted his eyes to get a better look at the intruder. It was no Imperial shuttle for sure, far too small. It looked like a TIE but different, smaller and with curved wings.

His breath caught in his throat and his stomach churned. He'd seen that type of TIE fighter before. Inquisitor.

Argos panted heavily as he ran up along the coast, his eyes constantly probing the distance for what he sought. The practice attempts had burnt the pattern into his mind and he knew what he had to do. In the distance he saw them, a large herd of the creatures lumbering around near the treeline. Long-leggers.

The beast remembered Ezra's instructions and turned further in to the jungle to hide his approach from the creatures. The herbivores were wholly unaware of the situation as they grazed on the thin covering of plants that marked the boundary between the jungle and the beach. Argos picked up the pace and went out around them, trying to get behind the entire herd to make it more effective. After a dozen more metres, Argos had cleared most of the herd and lurched back towards the trees.

His paws hit sand and he stalked carefully out of the trees. Giving away his position too early wouldn't let this work. He walked out into the centre of the sand, his eyes giving him a good view of the herd even in darkness. He skulked closer and closer until the position felt right.

Argos opened his mouth and roared as loud as he could. Even with the noise of wind and rain, his cry caught the attention of most of the herd.

The animals perked their slender heads up to look, Argos could smell their fear and confusion. They had safety in numbers though and the herd slowly grouped closer together.

Argos roared again, closing it off into a series of viscous snarls and growls.

This time the animals began to whine back as a chorus of grunts and whinnys sounded from the group.

One more time, Argos let out the loudest howl he could. This one got the attention he wanted. Not from them though, it was his signal to his master.

Argos felt the familiar brush of Ezra's mind on his and then felt it shift its focus away. The long-leggers were still braced against him, ready to defend themselves against the predator. Then, a few of the creatures shrunk away and stepped backwards. Then those same few made a fearful whine and turned tail to run.

In the confusion, more began to break rank and follow suit. Soon, the entire herd was turning itself around and sprinting as fast as their long legs would carry them. Argos let out a triumphant howl and gave chase.

The Fourth Sister moved her TIE down through the cloud layer. The light on her craft wasn't giving a very good view of the jungle and from what she could tell there were no suitable clearings to land in.

"The beach will do", the Inquisitor muttered as she pulled the controls towards the clear coastline beneath her.

The adrenaline was rushing through her. She hadn't hunted for so long and she'd waited so many years for this exact opportunity. If that Chiss thought he was going to deny her the opportunity for this kill, he had another thing coming.

"When I'm done with this maybe I'll give Thrawn the same treatment", she told herself, her mouth curling into a malicious grin.

She could still feel Bridger's presence nearby and he was no doubt aware of her arrival. If their brief brush of each other's minds didn't give it away then the noise and sight of her TIE fighter would. Not that it mattered, part of her wanted him to know what was coming to put an end to him. The boy had led her on a wild bantha-chase in the middle of nowhere for years and he was going to suffer for it.

The ship descended toward the surface and touched down on the sand. The Inquisitor quickly undid the safety harness in the cockpit and opened the hatch. With a final check for her lightsaber, she leapt up from the seat and clambered to the top of her ship. She looked out at the forest, eager to put an end to this charade once and for all.

They dropped out of hyperspace straight into view of a a large green planetary body. Ah, so this is where Ezra Bridger has been hiding all these years.

"Commander Hammerly", Thrawn called, "What are the readings on the planet."

The officer glanced at his screen, "Generally habitable. Water, oxygen content - all good enough to live in."

Thrawn pursed his lips as he processed the information. "Such conditions do not only support life but favour it's development. Order the stormtroopers to be on the alert for native creatures, Bridger has already proved his uncanny ability to utilise wildlife to oppose us."

The creatures Ezra summoned above Lothal, purrgil as he'd since discovered, still stuck in his mind all these years later. They were a valuable lesson on the strange abilities of the Jedi and not one Thrawn would soon forget.

"Yes, Grand Admiral. I'll notify the squads now", Commodore Faro acknowledged before pulling out her comm to relay the information to them.

Thrawn looked to the other Star Destroyers beside his own. The Myrmidon flew beside the Chimaera, equally prepared for the coming assault. The Imperator hung back as if following the others' lead. Sarlis and her crew had seen only minor skirmishes with pirates and such since Lothal and was unlikely to have seen much combat before that, this was an unusual and unfamiliar event for them. Thrawn and Pellaeon on the other hand had seen hundreds of battles, this was certainly a minor engagement compared to most of what they'd seen. However, it could prove to be one of the most significant. Thrawn's red eyes glanced briefly at the Aeternus before turning back towards his communication officer.

"Contact the other ships, let them know we are ready to proceed."

The officer wordlessly acknowledged the order and hailed the two other Captains. "Imperator and Myrmidon on the line, sir."

"Put them through", Thrawn instructed.

The bridge's comm crackled to life with Pellaeon's gruff and serious voice, "Squads are formed up in the hangar and the shuttles are prepared. Ready when you are, Grand Admiral."

"Ready, sir. We'll follow your lead", Sarlis added.

"Commodore, are our shuttles ready?"

"Yes, sir. Sergeant Filmund is awaiting your command."

Thrawn turned back to the viewport, "Excellent. Deploy all stormtrooper detachments to the surface, we want Bridger alive."

Both of the other Captains followed the order and instructed their own squads to depart. Thrawn kept his arms clasped behind his back, carefully watching the planet below.

"The warrior's path lies before us", he trudged out the old aphorism over the communications channel, "let us see where it leads."

The old phrase was a favourite of his but for all the truth it held, it also disguised a fact Thrawn found so few had understood. This path he walked, like all those he walked, was chosen with the destination already in mind. In truth, he already knew where it would lead. Thrawn watched as the shuttles departed on their mission to capture Ezra Bridger. The Grand Admiral cast another cursory glance at the four ships assembled in his fleet. And so it begins.

The Fourth Sister's boots landed with a soft thud on the wet sand. The rain was starting to pick up and night was falling but Bridger would not elude her. She held her deactivated lightsaber in her right hand, ready to meet her opponent at the slightest notice.

"Come out, Bridger", she laughed into the darkness with no real expectation that he'd hear her, "Let's not drag this out any longer than we have to."

She wasn't surprised that her only reply was the distant rumble of thunder and the pattering of rain around her. Stepping away from her TIE, she slowly advanced toward the treeline with her senses on alert. Her eyes watched for any sudden movements and her ears listened out for the rustle of a tree or the snapping of a branch amongst the noise of the rain. She tried to feel any force signatures ahead of her but the bustling life in the jungle made it difficult to pick out anything specific.

Once more she took note of the rising sound of the thunder. The storm is moving in fast, time to find the boy and get out of here.

The Inquisitor stepped closer to the treeline and was almost crossing into it when she became acutely aware of a vibration beneath her feet.

"What the-?", she started asking herself.

The noise of the thunder got louder. Surely the storm can't be that major, can it? A familiar tingling feeling at the back of her head warned that it wasn't the storm she was feeling.

The Inquisitor turned to look further down the coastline. The darkness wouldn't let her see very far, but she didn't need her eyes to know what was out there. It wasn't a storm that was approaching her it was something else; moving, breathing, pulsing with life and fear. Not just one thing, many things. Her eyes widened in surprise as the barely visible figure of a strange animal appeared in the near distance, followed by another and another and dozens more after that. A stampede.

She had little time to react before the creatures were almost upon her. In the darkness she could barely get a look at them but it didn't matter, she'd be dead if she didn't move.

Waiting until the last possible moment, she leapt up into the air and let two of the charging beasts pass under her before landing in a small gap between the animals. The force warned her of another approaching and she dodged to the left, barely avoiding being hit by it. More came charging and she shot off to the right, further than before, now surrounded by a moving mass of the creatures.

She couldn't see any exit from the stampede, no sign of an end to the stream of beasts or a break in their numbers she could dive out of.

Gritting her teeth she leapt over another one, letting her anger and frustration fuel her instincts. Left, right, then left again she weaved through and past each creature in her way. Still her mind searched for an exit somewhere, for a brief gap in the panicked mass that was engulfing her.

For a moment she felt the opportunity coming, the force telling her a few seconds in advance that the horde would break just long enough for her to leap out of its path. She focused her efforts and began to bend her legs, ready for the opportunity as it came. Almost, almost, now ju-!

Her mind went blank and the air was knocked out of her lungs, her body tumbling backwards in confusion. A glancing blow from one of the creatures left her on her back on the sand, another wave of the beasts coming back around.

As she regained her senses, she felt the heavy impact of their hooves coming closer. She clenched her fists and gritted her teeth hard.

"Enough of this game!", she screamed.

Kicking herself up to her feet, her hand found her lightsaber hilt. The crimson blade sizzled into life, illuminating the area around her in a menacing red glow.

The horde was about to hit her but this time she was ready. Seconds before the lead animal was on top of her, she swung her lightsaber in a wide arc in front of her, stepping slightly to the side as she did so. The blade caught its target, as she knew it would, cutting clean through the beast's neck and leaving it to tumble headless to the ground.

She wasted no time in swinging the lightsaber around again, using the momentum of her sidestep to do a full turn. She cut low this time, her blade burning through the legs of another. The thrill of combat began to rush through her as she swung her lightsaber in precise and lethal arcs around her. The animals whined and screamed in pain as she brought down more and more of them. Her blade cleaved into another's chest, she thrust it deep into another's abdomen as it passed, and she began leaving a trail of corpses and dying beings in her wake.

Another break in the stampede gave her a chance to catch her breath for only a handful of seconds. Looking behind her, she must have cut down ten or so of them. Using what little time she had, she searched around her for a way out but found something interesting instead. The creatures were circling back around. It wasn't one massive stampede, something was herding the creatures back on themselves to hit her again. Bridger.

Not Bridger, she saw only a second later, another beast. A smaller one than the long-legged nuisances that made up the stampede. This one was shorter, scalier and had teeth and claws. Her way out became clear: kill the beast.

The herd had circled back around to charge her again but she'd had more than enough of that for one day. With a wicked smirk, she activated the second blade of her saber and turned on it's rotatory function. Pulling her arm back, she grunted hard as she used the force to send the lightsaber flying into the herd. The spinning double-bladed lightsaber cut a bloody swathe into the animals, brutally cleaving and cutting dozens of them as it forced its way through. The Fourth Sister watched with sadistic glee as the animals' lifeless bodies fell over one another. Those on the flanks could sees their companions falling and began to break away, giving the Fourth Sister a wider berth as the first few started to run off into the distance.

As the herd began to thin, she held her lightsaber a few metres in front of her with the force. It's red blades cut into any animals foolish enough not to give up their attacks and move on. Eventually, the Fourth Sister caught sight of the end of her torment.

With a sadistic laugh she summoned her weapon back to her hand. The bright crimson blades shot into her grasp and she brought the lightsaber back down to her side. As she did so, a impact slammed into her chest that sent her flying backwards once again.

A gnashing row of teeth was barely inches from her face. The creature that had been directing the herd was now pinning her down, trying to finish the job himself. She struggled hard to hold back it's head, desperately searching around for the lightsaber that had been knocked out of her hand. Her left arm pushed against the creature's neck, stopping it bringing its head down for a killing blow, whilst her right arm fumbled by her side to find the hilt.

The anger built in her again. "Get! Off!", with all her might and rage she kicked her feet up and sent the creature flying back a few metres.

It yelped as it hit the sand but quickly began to recover and stand up. The Fourth Sister did the same, clambering to her feet in the few seconds she had. Her eyes searched for her lightsaber hilt which lay on the sand about three metres away. She darted quickly to the weapon as the animal pounced toward her.

Ugh, too late!

Deciding at the last minute that she wouldn't reach the weapon in time, she instead spun back and brought her leg up to kick the attacker. Her foot connected with its face but the beast found its own mark. As it tumbled past her, its claws drew across her right arm and cut deep into it.

She recoiled in pain and clutched her arm as the animal landed back onto the ground. Thin trickles of blood began running down her sleeve and pangs of pain shot through her.

"You're going to die for that, you filthy animal!", she spat at him.

The animal clambered to its feet and lined up with her again, the blood telling him that his target was wounded. This time, however, the Fourth Sister would be ready. As the creature charged, she reached out her injured arm and pulled her saber with the force. She activated the blade, waited for the right moment, and swung.

"Gah!", the pain in her arm shot through her again and her attack faltered. The blade couldn't make the killing blow, missing the creature by a hair's breadth.

The animal also missed its attack, passing harmlessly over the Inquisitor's shoulder. It landed firm on its feet and turned back to its target. Their eyes met and she held its gaze as they both planned their next move.

Suddenly, the creature looked sharply off to the side and titled its head, as if it heard something. It then stared back at her and snarled.

The Fourth Sister readied her blade, preparing to end this battle and get on with her mission. This time though, the beast didn't attack. It turned back to the forest and ran away, as fast as its legs would carry it.

Cowardice? Boredom? Fear? Bridger's command? The Fourth Sister didn't care. She turned off the blade and straightened up. Her arm still hurt but she knew the pain would only enhance her abilities.

Keeping her weapon ready for another ambush, she set off into the jungle at last.

He hadn't been prepared for an Inquisitor. He thought they were all dead. All of his plans were to deal with stormtroopers and Imperial soldiers, not a force sensitive warrior. The long-legger's thick hides might have survived a blaster bolt but they clearly were no match for a lightsaber. His lack of preparedness has cost him dearly.

His heart still ached with the disaster on the beach. He felt their pain and their terror as the Inquisitor cut through the stampede, bringing a brutal end to dozens of creatures. Innocent creatures. Animals he'd sent to their deaths for his own sake. His heart felt heavy with guilt and regret.

He'd almost lost Argos too, in the confusion he'd barely been able to tell that Argos had tried to attack the Inquisitor. By the time he'd fully realised what was going on, he was impressed to see Argos had actually wounded her, but at the same time that injury was the only thing that stopped her striking a deadly blow to him. If Ezra hadn't told him to retreat when he had then he might have lost another friend tonight. Wherever Argos had fled to, Ezra had the haunting feeling that they might never see each other again. He really wished he was wrong on that.

Again, the force started to warn him about something else. Another low rumble of what sounded like thunder began mounting on the horizon. Ezra looked out from the treetop, praying that it wasn't another Inquisitor. In the distance, breaking through the clouds, Ezra could make out the faint silhouettes of three Sentinel-class shuttles.

That's... not good.

Ezra had expected stormtroopers and had planned to use the long-legger stampede to overwhelm them as they left their shuttles. Then he planned to steal one of the shuttles for his own and make his escape. Clearly, that was going to be much more difficult than he'd planned. His mind began running through new solutions as fast as he could. He sighed when he realised his only remaining option for escape: the Inquisitor's TIE.

That was only half the battle though, he still had three squads of stormtroopers to deal with. At that moment, another solution presented itself as he looked back down towards the shuttle that brought him here in the first place.

His mind reached into the forest to put a new plan into motion. After all, on this world, shuttles had a natural enemy.

Sergeant Filmund hadn't seen real action in years. He'd been part of clean up crews and the odd skirmish with pirates or undesirables as they scoured the Unknown Regions but he hadn't used his blaster outside of target practice in a long while. That was about to change. It was his luck that his first mission in years would be to hunt a Jedi, the very last thing he wanted to encounter on his list of enemies. Under his helmet, he cursed himself and prayed that the Inquisitor could see to the Jedi before he'd have to cross paths with him. It didn't take a genius to know what happened to stormtroopers who got in the way of a Jedi.

His squad readied themselves for landing as the shuttle lurched down onto the ground.

"Alright, check weapons", he commanded his squad, "Grand Admiral wants him taken alive, stun only."

One of his troopers groaned, "You can't be serious? We can't stop a Jedi with stun blasts!"

"Just follow you orders, Corporal", he stared him down, "If you hadn't run away like an idiot four years ago then Bridger might not have escaped."

"I-I-I it wasn't my fault, sir! I don't know what happened, it's like I lost control", the trooper stammered.

Sergeant Filmund rolled his eyes under his helmet, "We've all heard the story, Corporal. Get yourself ready and stop complaining."

The shuttle jolted as it hit the ground, signalling to the teams inside that is was time to go.

Sergeant Filmund leaned his head into the cockpit to talk to the two pilots, "Lower the ramp!"

The pilots followed the order and pressed the button from the cockpit. Filmund looked down at his weapon one more time, double-checking that everything was ready.

"Uh, sir?", one of his troopers called from behind him a few seconds later.

Sergeant Filmund spun around, "What now?"

He saw all of his troopers staring out of the ramp and, through the darkness, hundreds more eyes stared back. A crowd of tiny two-legged creatures were gazing back with huge mouths and shining black eyes.

"What are those?", the same trooper asked.

Another one shrugged, "I don't know but they're kinda cute."

In unison, the whole pack of them let out a ear-piercing screech and charged at the shuttle. They barged into the troopers' legs, throwing many of them off balance. They leapt up the sides of the hold, their teeth ripping into electronics and wiring wherever they could find it.

"Ahh, get them off!", the Corporal shouted.

One of the stormtroopers fired a stun shot at the mass of animals but the fast little targets were too quick and he caught another trooper in the back.

"Damnit! Stop firing!", the Sergeant yelled.

Over the comm and outside, he heard similar sounds of chaos and confusion. It sounded like the other two shuttles had been hit by these creatures as well.

Sergeant Filmund cursed again and kicked a few of the little monsters out of his way, "Forget the shuttles, we've got a Jedi to catch! These things won't hurt you."

Filmund barged out of the shuttle, leaving them to the creatures. His squad followed suit, barring the one stunned trooper that had been caught in a blast.

He pressed his fingers to his helmet comm, "All squads fan out. Alpha go west, Charlie go east. I'll take Bravo to the north."

The Sergeant raised his hand above his head to order his squad into a single file formation before leading them deeper into the jungle.

Ezra's plan had been more successful than he'd hoped, with the loth-lizards overrunning the shuttles and sending the Imperials into chaos. A few of them had got nervous and opened fire, catching a few of their own.

Well, every little bit helps.

The troopers had fanned out, one squad east and one squad west, but that still left one heading straight for him. Or rather straight for the shuttle. It was almost time to put the last stage of his plan into action.

When the time came, he'd have to move quickly. There'd be no second chances. Even if this part did actually work, he'd have to be careful not to run into the Inquisitor too. Everything about this was risky but Ezra did what he could to put the anxieties out of his mind. He trusted the force, there was no changing its will. If he was to escape, he would. If this was where he died, he'd die knowing it was all the will of the force.

Below him, he sensed the troopers approaching the clearing where the shuttle was waiting. It was too dark now to see much of anything but a Jedi didn't need his eyes to see, a thought that very briefly reminded him of Kanan.

"Clearing up ahead, looks like there's something there", the lead stormtrooper said as they exited the trees.

"Woah, is that a shuttle?"

"Congratulations, laser brain. It must be the one Bridger escaped in, the Grand Admiral's one", the leader replied.

Ezra chuckled to himself, it was nice to settle that internal question of whom that shuttle had belonged to.

He felt the troopers move further into the clearing, "Spread out and say alert, the Jedi could still be here."

Slowly, Ezra opened his bag and reached into it with his hand.

He could hear the noise of boots on metal as some of the troopers entered the shuttle. "Yeah, looks like he was living in this thing."

His fingers found the emergency flare gun and coiled around it's grip.

"Sergeant", one of the troopers called from outside the shuttle, "Come see this."

Ezra brought the flare gun out of the bag and began to raise his hand.

"What is it, Corporal?", the Sergeant muttered impatiently.

Trusting the force completely, Ezra raised the flare gun and pointed it at the shuttle.

"There's a tiny vine hanging out of the ship's hull. Wait...sir, do you smell that?", the Corporal asked as the Sergeant approached, "Is... is that fuel?"

"Oh my."

Ezra squeezed the trigger and a bright orange emergency flare soared from the treetop straight into the clearing. The force made his aim impeccable and it flew straight into the open fuel cap, catching the fuel-soaked vine which fed the flame into the rest of the tank. The whole shuttle exploded in a brilliant display of orange fire, shooting up into the sky and taking out the entire stormtrooper team. Sabine would have loved that, he smiled to himself.

Wasting no time, Ezra jumped from the branch and used the force to soften the impact before running in the direction of the Inquisitor's landing area.

And there's Thrawn's stormtroopers, the Inquisitor thought as she saw the inferno that erupted in the sky above her, "How typical."

She was almost impressed by Bridger's plan, using the environment and standard guerrilla tactics to hold them off. Almost impressed, but not quite. These petty attempts were little more than a delay, they would not stop her reaching her target.

Right on cue, she was proved right. In the distance, the sound of heavy breathing and snapping leaves alerted her to the approach of her target. He was running toward the beach, about thirty metres off to her right, the trees and darkness obscuring any clear view of him. It didn't seem like a stretch to assume he was heading for her ship, hoping to escape with it. She was not going to let that happen.

"Bridger!", she yelled into the darkness.

She felt the Jedi notice her as he kept running through the trees and she ran to her right, hoping to intercept him from the side as he passed her. The Jedi was faster than she'd anticipated, outpacing her by a decent margin. As she ran towards his path, the boy leapt over some trees and avoided her.

"You'll have to do better than that to impress me, boy!", she shouted.

She'd just missed him from the side but now she was right behind him. With a grunt, she activated her lightsaber again and sent it spinning through the air towards him. It cut through the trees, sending bark and leaves flying in the air behind him but it didn't catch the Jedi. She began sprinting after him again, catching her lightsaber as she went.

It was his turn to launch an attack. In her haste, she hadn't noticed the blaster he was carrying. The boy turned as he ran and fired back in her direction, a volley of inaccurate shots pelting into the trees and ground. A few lucky shots went towards her but she easily deflected them away from her, he wasn't expecting to stop her only slow her down enough to escape.

"You can't run, Bridger", she shouted at him as she chased.

The boy turned back again, "Doing a good job so far!"

Time hasn't worn down his childishness. The Inquisitor narrowed her eyes and doubled her efforts, he would not escape her.

It seemed that all those hunts with Argos had paid off, though not in the way he'd planned. He was used to the strain and difficulty of running through the jungle, even if he was usually the one doing the hunting.

He swung his arm back and fired another handful of shots back at the Inquisitor, hoping to catch her off balance and slow her down enough to let him escape. The trees were thinning and it couldn't be much further now.

The whirring of her lightsaber came again and he knew it meant another saber throw was coming. He waited for the force to tell him the right moment before ducking down as fast as he could. The red blades ripped into the trees around him but yet again had missed their intended target.

Finally, he caught sight of the beach. Sitting on the sand, about thirty metres from the treeline, he saw the idling lights of the Inquisitor's TIE fighter. Ezra charged through the final few metres of plant life and covered as much of the distance as he could between him and the TIE. A few seconds later, a sudden wave of energy sent him face down on to the sand.

"An admirable display, boy. But not enough", his attacker said coldly as she walked out of the trees.

Ezra looked up to the TIE, he was just over half way to it but the Inquisitor was closing fast.

He stared her down and scowled, "I'm not done yet."

His hand reached out and sent another wave of energy back at her. She must have been expecting it, as she kept her footing and only slid back a few metres. It at least gave him enough time to scramble to his feet and point the blaster at her.

"We've scoured whole systems for you and here you were all along, barely a few parsecs from where you began."

Ezra kept his blaster trailed on her, "You must be really terrible to have taken this long."

"Hmph, your bravado won't save you", the Inquisitor laughed. "Thrawn wants you alive, I think he wants his own revenge for what you did to him."

"Sorry to disappoint him, but I've got better places to be", Ezra retorted.

"Oh, I have no intention of delivering you to him", she raised her blade and pointed it at him, "You're not getting off this planet alive."

Ezra was about to reply with another snide comment when he felt something approaching. It was coming in fast, just behind the Inquisitor, running through the jungle... no... no! NO!

The Inquisitor sensed it too as her eyebrow raised and she turned to look over her shoulder. Out of the brush, Argos appeared with a snarl and jumped at the Inquisitor, fangs bared and claws outstretched.

"NO!", Ezra shouted in vain, knowing that it was far too late.

The woman's senses had warned her too early. As Argos leapt off the ground, she began to turn and raised her saber with her. Ezra watched in horror as the Inquisitor thrust the blade deep into Argos' torso, a pained yelp coming out of his friend.

"Ah, you mangy beast!", she screamed at Argos as her blade impaled him. She used the momentum of the swing to throw him down onto the sand, the lightsaber still speared through his chest, "Oh, you have no idea how badly I wanted to do that."

Ezra's heart broke as the creature's eyes met his, the life seeping away from him with every second. The animal's eyes then looked back to the ship, understanding what it was for and what Ezra had to do. His companion had given his life to distract her long enough to let him escape. Ezra wasn't going to waste that sacrifice.

Tearing himself away from his friend's dying moments, he shut his eyes tightly and ran for the ship. In the Inquisitor's gloating and satisfaction, she didn't notice him escaping until it was too late.

"No! Dammit no!", he heard her voice as he jumped up to the hatch and pried it open.

He fell down into the seat to see her sprinting fully at him out of the window, lightsaber bared and rage plastered across her face. It didn't matter now, it was too late for her. Ezra flicked on the switches, appreciating that she'd been so kind as to leave the ship's engines on low-power instead of completely shutting them down. The ship was in the air before she could reach him and he watched the anger on her face as he lifted off. He saw her pull back her arm to send her lightsaber flying at him again, but he fired on to the beach beside her to send her tumbling to the ground.

His eyes caught Argos' slumped mass once again, lying deathly still on the shore beneath him. Ezra mentally reached out to him, feeling only the faintest flicker of his dear friend before it ebbed away to leave nothing behind.

With a final mournful thought for his lost friend and a last lingering gaze at the place that had been his home for almost four years, Ezra turned skyward. Getting off the ground was one thing, knowing where to go now was something else.

Ezra is finally putting this world behind him and moving on in the story, things in general can start moving forward faster. As much as I like the idea of this world and the lessons he learned, it was difficult to do much of interest with him on it. His time here was vital to his story but part of me is glad to put this place behind us for now. Using the animals to defend against the Empire is the culmination of his lessons there and the first time in the story where his experiences on the world have directly affected or enabled his actions. I tried to tie in as much as I could from his time there: Argos, the loth-lizards, the long-leggers, just to try and wrap up his time there nicely. The corporal from the stormtrooper section is the the that Ezra mind tricks to send running in the very first chapter. There's no real significance to using him, he's burned to a crisp now anyway, but they're the same character. I know there wasn't much of a direct physical confrontation between Ezra and the Fourth Sister, it's good for Ezra since he's still without a lightsaber, but rest assured that you may yet see that somewhere down the line. As for Argos, I actually did grow attached to him when writing this and it wasn't always my intention to have him in the story. When writing Chapter 2 I just decided to have the predator come back and it was a good way to personify Ezra's talents for making connections. I had to kill him though, there simply wasn't a way for Argos to leave with Ezra and the Fourth Sister is not the type of character to let such annoyances slide by unpunished.

I've never done a chapter where I've jumped around so much like this, I hope it wasn't too disjointed to follow. I considered doing it all from Ezra's perspective but figured it would get boring. Jumping between lots of different events kept up the variety and gave a more complete picture about what was going on.

Next time: Ezra leaves the system, Thrawn discusses the Fourth Sister's failure and how to proceed, Ahsoka and Sabine reach their destination and Hera meets Luke Skywalker.

Chapter Text

After last time's more focused and eventful chapter, we pick up the other stories as well as continuing on with Ezra's escape.

I'll says it here before we begin: this chapter introduces Commodore Karyn Faro who will continue to be an important character. She's not an OC, she's one of the Chimaera's officers from the canon Thrawn novels, and I'll be using here more and more as the story goes on. I just thought I'd metnion it here so people who aren't familiar with her aren't too surprised.

This time:  Ezra leaves the system, Thrawn discusses the Fourth Sister's failure and how to proceed, Ahsoka and Sabine reach their destination and Hera meets Luke Skywalker.

Regret. Pain. Death. They were all he could feel. He may have escaped but the cost was far greater than he'd planned. So many beings had died, among them a friend, all so he could have his freedom. As he soared up into the sky in the stolen TIE fighter, he wasn't so sure it was worth it.

Ezra slowly moved the controls, getting used to the feeling of flying again. Hera's training had taught him well and the basics came back almost instantly, letting him get off the ground and into the air without much difficulty. It took a few minutes to figure all the rest of it out, the TIE's unfamiliar layout was also making things difficult, but as Ezra climbed higher he settled into the task.

The storm was really rolling in now, bringing actual thunder with it at last. The rain and winds howled around him but the TIE held steady and carried him through. Ezra didn't really know where he going. He was no less lost now than he had been when he left the Chimaera almost five years ago. Instinctively, he quickly checked the fuel gauge and to his luck he had almost a full tank. The hyperdrive was also in good condition, sparing him another disaster like the one that had stranded him here in the first place. Confident that the ship was in a good enough condition, Ezra ascended further and finally broke through the thick layer of clouds. A vast expanse of stars opened up before him, taking his breath away and filling him with renewed optimism. He was going to find his way back home; somehow or in some way, he was going to get back.

His hope was short-lived however, as his eyes picked out three large objects and one smaller one all hanging in low orbit. The distinctive arrow head shape and grey colour could only ever belong to Imperial Star Destroyers. Three Star Destroyers and a light-cruiser too? Thrawn must want me bad.

An alert sounded in the cockpit that Ezra at first thought was a proximity warning of incoming fighters. Soon he realised that it wasn't that at all. Instead, he was being hailed... by the Chimaera. Ezra considered answering it, then hanging up, then answering it again. He knew who was likely to be on the other end. Biting his lip and muttering under his breath, his fingers hovered over the comm button before timidly pressing accept.

A hologram flickered in front of his controls, a design choice that he still questioned for safety reasons, showing Grand Admiral Thrawn. The Chiss looked almost completely the same, with no changes to his face or hair and still wearing the same pristine white uniform.

"Ezra Bridger", the red eyes met his.

"Thrawn, its been a while", Ezra replied through gritted teeth.

Thrawn seemed to sense Ezra's contempt, "I see the Fourth Sister has failed in her mission."

The Jedi grinned proudly, "Sorry to disappoint you."

"I'm hardly disappointed nor surprised. Her arrogance knew no limits, it was always going to be her downfall."

"Seeing some of yourself in her?", Ezra wrinkled his nose, "But she's not dead, just stranded and embarrassed in the middle of nowhere."

"I am aware she is alive, I do not know you as one to kill your enemies if it can be avoided", Thrawn responded, "Indeed, perhaps I should thank you for your restraint."

As Thrawn spoke, Ezra's TIE began leaving the atmosphere and entering the cold vacuum of space. He angled his ascent away from the assembled ships, trying to put as much distance as possible between him and any pursuers.

Ezra laughed, "Restraint? For not killing her?"

"No, for not killing me. You had ample opportunity to kill me aboard the Chimaera as you departed yet you spared my life."

The Jedi remembered the thought process, the idea of executing him was never one he'd seriously considered. The Jedi Code was abundantly clear on that issue but Ezra's own sense of right and wrong stopped him too. Even now, Ezra still doubted he could ever kill anyone in cold blood, even someone like Thrawn.

"Well some of us have our principles", Ezra spat back.

"You question my morality and my goals?", Thrawn asked.

Ezra scoffed, "I'm not questioning your morality, I'm denying you have one."

The Chiss' eyes remained fixed on his, "I have my principles and morals. I serve those interests above all else, as I always have and shall do until I meet my end."

"That can't come soon enough"Ezra grumbled to himself. "Do you really think the Emperor cares about your interests? You're not half as clever as you think you are if you believe the Emperor cares about anyone but himself."

Ezra's hand found the hyperdrive switch and began power it up, knowing time was of the essence if he wanted to escape.

If Thrawn had heard the insult, he made no show of it. However, Ezra caught a quick flash of surprise on the Grand Admiral's face before it hardened back into his usual stoic expression.

"Interesting", Thrawn said, "I'd have thought your abilities would have kept you informed."

"What do you mean?", Ezra looked at him with confusion.

The red eyes stared into his, "The Emperor is dead."

Ezra's mouth fell open, "What?"

"About three or four months ago the Emperor and Darth Vader were killed in an engagement over the forest moon of Endor. The Empire as you know it has crumbled for the time being, your rebel friends surprised even me with their achievements", Thrawn didn't express any regret or anger as he spoke, as if he really didn't care either way.

Dead. Both of them? Ezra almost wanted to cheer, they'd really done it! Years of fighting, so much sacrifice and the rebellion had pulled it off. Sabine, Hera, Zeb, Chopper, Rex, Kallus, Mon Mothma, Leia - all of them. The disturbances he felt months ago suddenly all made sense, he'd felt the dark presence of the Sith Lords be destroyed. At last, the force was in balance again. Part of him didn't think if he'd ever see this day yet here it was. Sure, he was halfway across the galaxy with no route home, but what truly mattered was that the galaxy was finally free. Ezra had no idea what could possibly have defeated the likes of Vader and the Emperor, he'd seen their power for himself. Whoever put a stop to them must have been exceptionally gifted. If he got back - when he got back - he hoped he'd be able to meet them.

He quickly glanced down at the hyperdrive computer, waiting eagerly for the drive to be ready to jump.

"The fighting is mostly over", Thrawn continued, "I've no doubt your allies will come to search for you in time. I'm sure Miss Wren or General Syndulla would very much wish to see you. Assuming they have survived, of course."

Thrawn's mention of them lifted his spirits, to hear their names from someone else, even if it was Thrawn, made them seem closer than they had in a long time.

"They're alive", Ezra didn't need to question that, if something had happened he just knew he'd know about it.

"We shall see."

The hyperdrive was nearly ready but any second now the build-up would be detectable on the Imperial's sensors.

"I don't get it, if the Emperor is dead why are you still out here?", Ezra asked.

Thrawn watched him silently for a few seconds, Ezra could recognise when his old enemy was deep in thought. "I have my own goals, as I said", Thrawn answered at last.

The Jedi narrowed his eyes at him, "And what goals are those?"

Thrawn glanced quickly around him and then stared back at Ezra, "I offer you a choice: you can run and hope to be found in some far-flung corner of the galaxy or you can turn yourself in."

It was a blatant dodge of the question, Thrawn didn't seem interested in sharing his goals. Maybe Thrawn just wanted revenge on him, maybe he wanted to reestablish the Empire, maybe there was some other objective the Chiss had. How Ezra fitted into all of them, he didn't know. On the other hand, he also didn't care. The sooner he was away from Thrawn the better.

"Turn myself in?!", Ezra laughed, "Have you gone mad out here? I'd rather not hand myself over and have that crazy Inquisitor throw out me out an airlock."

"I assure you, no harm would befall you. You have my word", Thrawn placed his hand flat over his chest, a sign of promise.

The hyperdrive computer flashed up with an indicator showing it was ready to jump.

Ezra put his fingers to his forehead in a mocking salute, "I'm afraid I'll have to pass, maybe next time?"

"Sir! The ship's about to jump to hyperspace!", a voice called from Thrawn's end.

The Grand Admiral continued to stare at him, "Until we meet again, Ezra Bridger."

With no clear destination, Ezra shut his eyes in the few seconds and tried to think of a plan. Immediately, the obvious option presented itself. The call he'd felt on the surface, the one that drew him from the Chimaera in the first place, was still there. Aiming the ship in its direction and praying the hyperspace route was safe, Ezra pressed the activate button.

Thrawn's hologram watched in silence as the connection dropped out and the stars stretched out into the swirling corridor of hyperspace.

Arrogance costs lives in war, it costs missions and resources. Warriors with great ability or great success are all too often consumed by their delusion of infallibility. When that illusion is shattered, those that don't lose their lives are often broken. Reforging a warrior after such failures is difficult, though it can be done. Alternatively, some are born arrogant and will find that persona all but impossible to shake off. Warriors such as these are a challenge to control but can, if the situation favours it, be every bit as useful as any other.

Commodore Faro stood beside Grand Admiral Thrawn in the Chimaera's hangar, awaiting the return of the ground teams. Thrawn made no mention of Ezra Bridger's escape or the brief exchange the two had shared and Faro had no inclination to bring it up. The Grand Admiral was certainly no Vader when it came to bringing up concerns but she knew better than to make pointless idle conversation with him.

The ground teams had to request alternative transport back to the fleet, their own shuttles had been incapacitated by the local wildlife. Faro had no idea how that could have happened and was almost looking forward to how they were going to explain that one.

They weren't kept waiting long before one of the back-up shuttles that had been sent down was flying back into the hangar. Faro and Thrawn stood with an escort of stormtroopers, ready to receive the returning troops. Faro shouldn't have been surprised when the ramp lowered and a clearly angry Fourth Sister marched out.

"Fourth Sister", Thrawn said to her as she walked off the shuttle.

"Spare me the gloating", the Fourth Sister spat back as she came to a stop in front of him.

"I do not gloat, Inquisitor. I also do not condone complete failure."

Faro saw the Inquisitor's face harden into an angry glare, but the Grand Admiral held firm and didn't flinch. She'd seen plenty of their disagreements, everyone in the fleet had in the last few years, but the last few felt more intense than ever before.

"Bridger has only escaped temporarily, do you really think I don't have the means to track my own ship?", the Inquisitor folded her arms and held her disgruntled gaze.

Thrawn's stance stayed rigid and unmoving, "A ship that size will take time to narrow down with a tracker and it is impossible to do so when Bridger is still in hyperspace."

"Then we wait, even on a full tank he can't run forever", the Inquisitor replied.

The two opponents stared each other down for a few seconds longer. Faro herself stayed still at the Grand Admiral's side, the Inquisitor was no fan of her either, or any of the Chimaera's crew for that matter.

"That still does not address your failure or your insubordination", Thrawn said.

The Inquisitor was indignant, "My failure? Your stormtroopers didn't do much better", she countered with a glare at the stormtrooper escort that was accompanying them.

"Unlike you, stormtroopers are not specially trained to deal with Jedi. They did, however, follow their own instructions to the letter. Had you waited for their arrival and worked together to apprehend Bridger, as you were ordered to, perhaps he would be sitting in our cells instead of flying through hyperspace in your ship", Thrawn said every word with a cold calmness, keeping eye contact with the Inquisitor the whole time.

"I don't care what you ordered", the Inquisitor bit back as she raised a pointed finger to his chest.

The sudden motion caused the escort to raise their blasters at her. Faro almost thought she was going to hit him but the Fourth Sister backed off after seeing the guards.

Her attitude didn't soften though, "I have my orders to kill that Jedi, I was not going to let him escape."

"And yet you did exactly that", Thrawn countered immediately. "I don't need to remind you that the Emperor is dead, basic chain of command would make me your superior officer."

"Don't patronise me, I'm not part of your military structure."

Faro glanced at the Inquisitorius symbol on her arm. The Fourth Sister was technically right, they weren't officially part of the Imperial Navy so, in theory, she didn't actually have to submit to Thrawn's commands. Then again, she was part of the Empire and there was a decent chance that Thrawn was the highest ranking member of the Empire left. Really, you could argue either way and they'd both be equally right. However, Faro knew that whichever side Thrawn stood on was probably the most sensible one to follow.

Thrawn choose neither of those arguments, he chose the simplest one to present.

"You are part of this mission, as per the Emperor's instructions. Not only am I in charge of this mission but the Emperor's orders imply that you defer to my judgement", Thrawn explained.

The Fourth Sister didn't like that, Faro could tell. Her lip twitched slightly and she peeled her eyes off the Grand Admiral.

The surprise didn't last long. "Your judgement?", the Inquisitor said, "Why didn't you pursue Bridger?" The Fouth Sister pointed around the hangar to the numerous TIE fighters sitting unoccupied.

Faro could answer this one, speaking up for the first time in the encounter, "Standard operating procedure doesn't mandate TIEs to be deployed for a single fugitive. Besides, having the TIEs in flight would have used up fuel, which we're not exactly awash with."

The force-sensitive warrior glared at her with contempt but Faro didn't shy away, she knew the Inquisitor would take it as some sort of victory if she did. Still, her unnaturally yellow eyes filled with an instinctive revulsion and she couldn't ignore the sudden feeling the sweat running down the back of her neck.

"The Commodore speaks truly", Thrawn intervened, "The probability that Bridger would even get airborne was minimal. Unfortunately, it seems my calculations did not account for your ineptitude."

If the Fourth Sister didn't like Thrawn before, then she really hated him now. Faro was surprised at the bluntness and directness of Thrawn's remarks, it wasn't the way he usually operated. She could feel the stormtroopers behind them tense up as Thrawn and the Inquisitor stared each other down. The Commodore saw the Fourth Sister's fist clench and for a second she thought she was going to attack again. To her relief, the Fourth Sister just stared at him wordlessly.

Thrawn broke the silence, "If you've nothing else to say, I'd suggest you get to work on finding your ship before the chance to find Bridger is lost forever."

The Inquisitor gave Faro another sideways look before stepping back, "As you wish, Grand Admiral."

She turned and walked away from them, heading towards a corridor on the far side of the hangar. Thrawn and Faro watched her go, the Commodore glad that the woman hadn't snapped and lashed out of them.

"Come, Commodore", Thrawn said after a while before turning heel and heading back the way they came.

"Y-yes, Sir", Faro tore her mind away from the conversation and followed him a half-pace behind.

Thrawn looked slightly back over his shoulder at her, "You are on edge."

The Chiss had an aptitude for reading people and there was no use lying about it to him, "Yes, Sir. I almost thought she was going attack you."

"Even she can recognise her position, attacking me would only turn the fleet against her. She has won few friends here and she knows so."

She couldn't argue with that, Faro hadn't seen her have any positive interaction with anyone. The Fourth Sister kept to herself and the only times she dealt with anyone else were in Thrawn's briefings or out on a mission. Thrawn, on the other hand, earned loyalty through achievements and good leadership. He fostered talent where he saw it and always looked to the root of the problem if he found one. Other officers she worked with before him were always seeking to get ahead, the Grand Admiral simply wanted to protect his people, both the Chiss and those under his command. So far, that desire had aligned with Imperial interests.

Faro hesitated before speaking, "Grand Admiral, permission to speak freely?"

"Of course, Commodore", Thrawn nodded.

"I understand the Inquisitor's failure but... you're not one to berate or insult. Why did you antagonise her back there?", Faro asked tentatively.

Thrawn took the question in stride, "The Fourth Sister takes such slights to heart. As a result, she will work harder and faster to find Bridger not only for her own pride but also in a petty attempt to spite me."

"You annoyed her so that she works harder to prove you wrong?", Faro asked.

"That is the basic principle", Thrawn answered.

"Do you really think she'll find the Jedi?", the Commodore asked as they left the hangar and entered into a corridor.

"I'm sure of it."

The woman glanced up at him for a second, "And what happens when we do find him?"

Thrawn remained silent for a few more metres before slowly coming to a halt, prompting Faro and the stormtrooper escort did the same. Thrawn turned to face her with an unreadable expression.

"Do you agree that our mission out here is of the utmost importance?", he asked.

"Absolutely, sir", Faro answered, noticing he hadn't answered her question.

Thrawn nodded in agreement, "As do I. You are aware that my reasons for serving the Empire are tied to the servitude of my own people in the Chiss Ascendancy."

Faro knew that full well, as the not-so-pleasant memories of their brief work with Darth Vader had reminded her. Even with Vader, the Grand Admiral was evasive and mysterious in his own special way, able to answer or avoid a question without giving much of anything away. Thrawn never went in to much detail about the Chiss or what exactly he sought to gain from working with the Empire, all he'd revealed was that he could serve both loyalties with no issues. Faro hadn't heard many stories about the Chiss other than the odd ones Eli Vanto had shared before his mysterious disappearance, knowing them as a shrewd and intelligent race. She wasn't sure how much Thrawn was colouring both of their perceptions of his people, but she doubted she'd ever find out herself.

"I am aware, Grand Admiral", she answered, "But I'm not sure how this relates to Ezra Bridger."

"Both the Empire and the Chiss have enemies in the Unknown Regions, some we know and others we do not. It is imperative that we use all of our might to prepare for the event in which these enemies seek to strike out at us", Faro noted that Thrawn had again evaded the question and not even mentioned the rogue Jedi.

Faro pursed her lips, "What enemies do you mean?"

The Chiss thought deeply for a moment. "The Grysk perhaps, as you already know. Others... I do not know", Thrawn admitted, "I only know that they are out here. Therefore, we must use every resource to our advantage."

It was another non-answer. She ran it around in her mind, trying to piece together what she could. Thrawn's conversation with Bridger before he left, his desire to capture not kill him, his talk of using everything he could. The pieces fell in to place simply enough. Thrawn wants to use Ezra Bridger to search the Unknown Regions.

Thrawn watched her intently, "Ah, I believe you understand."

Faro glanced quickly over at the stormtroopers escorting them, doubting they had enough knowledge to piece everything together. Working with a Jedi would be a hard pill to swallow for most Imperials, but Faro wasn't most Imperials and neither was Thrawn. The Grand Admiral attracted similar people to himself to his command, people willing to see the bigger picture and take difficult decisions in their stride. Be it bombarding civilian populations to end a conflict that could kill so many more or working with one of his greatest opponents to achieve a larger goal, Thrawn only cared to do what was ultimately the right choice in the end and that was a bottom line that she knew the Chimaera's crew, Captain Pellaeon, herself and many others around here could respect.

The Fourth Sister, on the other hand, might not agree and there would certainly be dissenters elsewhere in the fleet if Thrawn was to bring Bridger on board. It made a lot of sense that Thrawn wasn't making his aims too public.

"I understand, sir", Faro nodded, "I trust your judgement."

"I admire your loyalty and thank you for it, Commodore", Thrawn said as he straightened up and turned to talk again.

Faro began to follow with the stormtroopers a few paces behind.

"For now, we must await the location of the Fourth Sister's stolen fighter", Thrawn continued as if the previous conversation had not happened.

"Of course, Grand Admiral. I'll make sure we're ready to depart the moment we have the coordinates", Faro obliged, her mind returning to the task at hand.

"Two minutes out", Ahsoka said from the pilot's seat.

Sabine stepped forward and sunk into the co-pilot's chair, her helmet resting on her lap. Two minutes from wherever Ezra and Thrawn had been taken by the purrgil. It was surreal, the reality of where she was still hadn't sunk in. She was excited and nervous at the same time, more than ready to find her friend and bring him back home where he belonged.

"Any idea what's near those coordinates?", Sabine asked.

Ahsoka looked at the map screen, "The sensors are detecting a few systems nearby but the coordinates themselves are in the middle of nowhere. No planetary masses or asteroids nearby."

Sabine sighed, "So it's unlikely there's going to be much to go off."

The Togruta turned her attention back to the controls, "We'll have to wait and see but we knew this was only going to be the start of our journey."

"Just the start... right", Sabine reminded herself. It was too easy to get ahead of herself, they were still probably months away from finding Ezra. Closer than ever, sure, but still not there yet.

Another minute later and the alarms told them that they were approaching their destination. Sabine sat up and watched the viewport in anticipation. She wasn't expecting anything but a blank expanse of stars but she held out some hope, just in case. Ahsoka was still on the controls as the inertia kicked in and the hyperdrive wound down. The vortex outside became long lines of pale light before finally becoming the tiny glimmers of stars.

Empty space... exactly what Sabine had expected.

The Mandalorian sunk back into the seat with a huff, as if disappointed that she'd found exactly how much she'd thought she would. Still, it was strange to think that Ezra had been here. It might have been a few years but Ezra had-

"Sabine", Ahsoka said suddenly with a hint of surprise.

The young woman turned to Ahsoka, "Hmm?"

The Togruta scowled at the monitor, "There's a ship out here."

"What?!", Sabine jumped out of her chair and looked at the screen.

A ship indeed, a light-cruiser to be precise, one of the Arquitens-class ships that she'd seen plenty of over the years. Looking at the scopes it seemed in perfectly good condition, it certainly didn't look damaged and the infra-red sensors were picking it up plain as day against the backdrop of space. The ship was functional which meant one of two things, if not both: either there was a chance Ezra was on that ship or the other ships couldn't be far away.

"Have they spotted us?", Sabine asked with her mind still on the readings.

On cue, the communicator beeped with a hail from the Imperial ship.

Sabine looked worriedly at Ahsoka, "I hope you've got a plan."

"Remember those Imperial transponder codes I told you about", Ahsoka told her as she went to press the button to receive the transmission.

"Unidentified ship, this is the light-cruiser Invictus. What are you doing out here?", the confused voice on the other end asked.

Ahsoka changed the pitch of her voice to something slightly uptight and formal, "Uh, yes. We were sent as part of a contingency plan in the event of a crisis in the Empire."

The voice on the other end took a whole ten seconds to answer, "We were not informed of your arrival. Who authorised this?"

"The Emperor."

"Impossible, the Emperor is dead", the voice answered.

So, they did know that. Sabine had been curious how up to date they were out here on what was happening in the galaxy.

"Obviously, it was set up before he died", Ahsoka replied with the attitude and impatience of an Imperial officer, "Are you going to allow us to land or are we going to have to have words with Grand Admiral Thrawn? We have much to discuss."

The comm went silent before finally crackling to life, "Alright, I don't see how else you could have gotten these coordinates. You're lucky we were here when you arrived."

Ahsoka raised an eyebrow and muttered under her breath, "Is that so?"

"Send your transponder codes now", the Imperial demanded.

"Sending", Ahsoka tapped some buttons and inputed a series of numbers and symbols.

"Alright", the voice said, "All checks out, you're cleared to land in the hangar."

"Thank you, on our way."

"Naturally, an inxpection crew will meet you when you land. Standard safety precautions", the voice contiuned.

"Naturally", Ahsoka repeated. The comm shut off and Ahsoka breathed a sigh of relief, "That went better than I expected."

"What were you expecting?", Sabine questioned.

The Togruta flicked open a tiny cap on top of the controls, revealing weapon triggers on each.

Sabine gasped in surprise, "This thing is armed? I didn't see any weapon when I got onboard."

"I had some modifications. Weapons, enhanced sensors, improved navigation computers", Ahsoka ran through the list, "I even have a cloaking device."

"You're joking", the Mandalorian was impressed, "No ship this small has a cloaking device."

"I knew someone who owed me some favours, they pulled a few strings", Ahsoka replied. Sabine couldn't tell if the person she was talking about brought her good memories or bad.

The Mandalorian turned her attention back to the light-cruiser as they drew closer. No TIEs came out to meet them and the turbo lasers didn't track their approach. The Imperials really aren't expecting trouble out here.

"Do you think they'll have Ezra onboard?", Sabine asked.

Ahsoka paused and focused on the ship, "I don't sense him, I don't think he's there."

Sabine cursed to herself but stayed focused, "They mentioned we were lucky they were here. Guess that means they haven't been here long or they'll be leaving soon. Maybe both."

"If that's the case, they might have some information on where the rest of the ships are", Ahsoka suggested.

Sabine gave a satisfied smile, "And that'll lead us straight to Ezra."

"Hopefully", the older woman replied. "We'd better get ready for landing."

Ahsoka set the ship's landing to auto-pilot and got out of her chair. She picked up her staff from beside her and pressed her hands to it, causing the pole to shrink down to maybe a third of its size. Then, Ahsoka slid it into a sling on her back that was usually hidden underneath her cloak.

Sabine stood up with her helmet slung under her arm, "Huh, I was wondering where you kept that."

"I've got to have two hands to fight properly", Ahsoka said with a tap of the lightsabers on her waist.

Ahsoka led them out of the cockpit and towards the main hold where the exit ramp was. Sabine noted the fuel cannisters and ration crates tucked away in the main hold. Right now, it looked like Ahsoka might have overestimated how long this was going to take. She could only hope that was the case.

"So how are we planning to do this? Simple? Stealthy? Mind trick your way through?", Sabine asked.

Ahsoka smiled, "I was going to play it simple, they'll be no match for a former Jedi and a Mandalorian."

Sabine threw her helmet on and smiled under it, "I like it, my type of approach."

"I hope you're ready to fight, I know you've been out of it for a while."

Sabine scoffed a laugh, "I'm a Mandalorian, I'll be fine."

"Hmm, good point", Ahsoka answered. "You stay back and take cover in here. I'll greet our hosts."

The Mandalorian's hands fell to her hips and found their natural place on her pistols, "Just save some for me."

Their ship flew itself into the hangar on auto-pilot as they waited for landing. They felt the pressure change as the ship crossed the hangar shield and then the hard jolt as the ship came to a landing. Ahsoka nodded to Sabine and she hid behind the wall beside the entry ramp, ready to peak out and blast any Imperials she saw. Ahsoka stood in the hold a few feet back from the door, her arms down her sides and her hands inches from her lightsabers.

Sabine found herself grinning under her helmet. These guys don't stand a chance.

The door slowly opened and Sabine peered around to see a squad of five troopers walking casually towards them. Ahsoka stood back, obscured by the shadows in the shuttle's main hold.

"That shuttle's not regulation", one of the stormtroopers muttered from outside.

"Who's in there? Identify yourself!", another called.

Sabine waited with baited breath as Ahsoka stood with her eyes closed and a steady breath. Then, Ahsoka opened her eyes and winked at Sabine with a smirk on her lips. In a second, Ahsoka was spinning out of the door as two flashes of white light erupted in the hold. From outside, Sabine heard the familiar hum of a lightsaber and the unmistakable noise of the blades slicing through stormtrooper armour. It was over in seconds without a single blaster shot fired.

She poked her head out to look at the hangar. The smaller hangar of an Arquitens-class was only just large enough to store their ship and only a handful of TIEs hung from the ceiling mounts. Ahsoka stood with her lightsabers in a reverse grip behind her back, around her lay the bodies of five troopers with a single clean lightsaber burn on each of their chests.

"On one hand, that was impressive", Sabine said to Ahsoka as she stepped down into the hangar.

Ahsoka looked back to her, "And on the other?"

Sabine shook her head with an exaggerated groan, "You didn't leave any for me."

Alarms suddenly began to blare within the shape, echoing throughout the empty space of the hangar.

"Don't worry, you can have these ones", Ahsoka told her.

The hangar door was directly in front of them and there wasn't anything in the way of cover for her to use, or so it seemed. She pulled out her blasters with confidence and felt the familiar rush of pre-battle adrenaline.

"You block, I fire", she instructed Ahsoka.

The Togruta raised her sabers to a ready position and Sabine took her place behind her. She raised her blasters and kept her eyes locked on the hangar door, waiting for it to swing open as the reinforcements approached.

"Can you sense them?", Sabine asked.

Ahsoka focused for a second, "Yes, they're close."

"Let's give them a surprise. Can you use the force to open the door from here?"

The Togruta nodded in understanding, "Of course, nice plan."

"Thanks, I try", Sabine answered with sarcastic smugness.

Keeping her blasters pointed at the door, she watched as Ahsoka reached out and pushed the manual activation button with the force. Sure enough, a squad of six troopers were charging down the corridor, about ten metres from the door. They hadn't expected the door to open so early and had no time to react.

Sabine opened fire with her WESTAR-35s into the approaching squad. It was only right that her first combat shot in over four years found its way straight into the visor of the lead trooper and the next two impacted the chest of the stormtrooper behind him. Still got it, she smirked under her helmet. The other four troopers dived for cover in the alcoves of the corridor, two to the right and two to the left. As one on the left popped his head out, Sabine fired off another volley of shots that sent him tumbling to the floor.

The two stormtroopers on the right then poked their blasters out, firing a few inaccurate bolts in their direction. Ahsoka stood firm in front of Sabine and effortlessly deflected the shots away with elegant twirls of her blades. After their volley had stopped, Sabine squeezed off some more shots to catch them as they dived back for cover, getting only a glancing blow on one of the troopers.

"I need to get closer", Sabine told Ahsoka as she raised her sabers again.

"On it."

The Togruta moved forward and kept up the impenetrable shield from her weapons. They edged closer to the door before Ahsoka dropped her weapons again to let Sabine fire. This time, however, she utilised a different method. She pulled a thermal detonator from her belt and chucked it down the corridor. Her aim was faultless and the detonator rolled perfectly down the middle of the hallway The troopers had no time to run before the device exploded and sent them slamming hard into the walls on either side. Sabine inspected them from her position to make sure that all three were staying down before lowering her blasters with an audible sigh.

"Ahh, it's been way too long", Sabine twirled her pistols around her fingers and slid them back into the holsters. She was going to need them again in a second, but Sabine wasn't above a little showing off now and again.

Ahsoka extinguished her blades but kept the hilts ready in her hands, "I couldn't even tell you've been out of it for a few years."

Sabine shrugged, "As proud as I am of that, I have to admit yours was cooler."

The Togruta smiled proudly, "Still plenty of opportunities to show me up."

"I'll do my best", Sabine promised and looked down the corridor where the troopers had come from. "I've been on enough of these ships to know my way to the bridge, if there are clues to where Ezra is then they're there."

Ahsoka motioned down the corridor, "I'll follow your lead."

The Mandalorian pulled her blasters out again and started down the corridor, Ahsoka keeping pace just slightly behind her as they headed toward the bridge.

Hera tapped her fingers nervously on the table in a small debriefing room aboard Home One. The room was no larger than Leia's small office, sharing the same white colour all around and having only one large table in the middle with five chairs, another large viewport giving a view of the stars outside. It should have been relaxing but Hera found herself distinctly on edge.

Leia had contacted Luke immediately after their meeting and found that he wasn't far away from the fleet. He'd agreed to stop by and meet with Hera on relatively short notice. The Twi'lek had insisted on meeting him alone, leaving Zeb, Kallus and Chopper on the Ghost with Jacen. Rex had some of his own duties to attend to, leaving Hera to meet with Luke with only Leia there with them. They were due any minute and Hera waited eagerly for the door to slide open. After a few more minutes, she heard the soft noise of voices and footsteps from outside the room. She got to her feet to greet them, unsure of exactly what to expect.

The door swung open and Hera's eyes met Leia's.

"Hera Syndulla", Leia said with a smile as she turned back over her shoulder, "My brother, Luke Skywalker."

Behind her, a man in an all black combat suit and tunic walked calmly in to the room. He was average height with medium-length blonde-brown hair and blue eyes. He walked with wisdom and confidence that sharply contrasted his youthful expereince. She's heard he was young but she hadn't expected this. Looking at him, he was no older than Ezra or Leia, probably the same age, yet his gait painted him as so much older. On his hip, the hilt of a lightsaber hung from the belt clip.

"Skywalker, it's an honour to finally meet you", Hera said to him.

"The honour is mine, General Syndulla", Luke bowed his head humbly.

"I've heard so much about you. Yavin, Hoth, Endor - everyone in the rebellion has head your stories", the Twi'lek sorted through the myriad of tales she'd heard about the rebellion's own Jedi warrior. The most recent one anyway.

Luke raised his hand, "Please, I couldn't have done it without a lot of good friends."

"You can say that again", Leia jokingly nudged him.

"But you, General Syndulla, I've heard much about", Luke walked further into the room. "Your service to the rebellion far exceeds my own, you've been flying for them since before I'd even left my homeworld. Your example has inspired many people, friends like Wedge and Leia all speak very highly of you."

Hera shrugged meekly, "We all do what we can. I just wish we'd beaten the Empire sooner and with fewer losses."

"Don't we all", Luke replied with sigh.

Hera looked at him more, seeing deeper into the legendary figure before her. He had an aloofness to him but a warmness too, a man who wanted to use his knowledge to help people. His eyes were weary though, as if they'd seen many trials and difficulties in his short life so far, which Hera knew to be true. Just like Kanan... just like Ezra.

Hera looked out the window at the galaxy they'd helped save, "I'm just a pliot, you're a Jedi. I think it's fair to say your achievements outrank mine."

Luke turned to the window and looked with her, "Our actions define us more than our titles, and your actions are exceptional."

"Like you said, everything was done with good friends... with a good family", Hera remembered the whole crew fondly as well as the other friends close to them.

The Jedi paused for her to reminisce a moment before turning his head to her, "I know about the crew of the Ghost. Leia and Rex talk about all of you often, about you and Sabine or Zeb. I've even heard the odd tale about your astromech droid too", Luke chuckled.

Hera grunted a laugh, "Chopper is a... unique droid but I wouldn't change him for the galaxy."

"I understand the sentiment, my own droid has his quirks", Luke smiled before his face became more serious, "And I've also heard about Kanan and Ezra."

The Twi'lek caught her breath in her throat, suddenly apprehensive about talking about them with him.

Luke might have sensed her hesitation, "Kanan sounded like an honourable man, I'm... sorry for his loss. The galaxy is lesser for it."

Hera felt Leia's hand appear from behind and rest reassuringly on her shoulder. In the last few years, Kanan's memory had become less raw and she was more able to focus on the lighter memories she had rather than the less pleasant memories of his final weeks. Of course, Jacen made all of those memories hurt a little more and a little less at the same time, representing both what she'd lost and what she'd never lose.

"Kanan was... wonderful. Compassionate, kind, honourable", Hera began, "He'd never stand by if he had the power to do something to help people. He was always patient and understanding with everyone." Hera smiled with the memories. "Then he could be an idiot too, make stupid choices and say stupid things but, I still... I always..."

Leia tightened her hold on Hera as she struggled to get the words out. Her relationship with Kanan was still a bit tough to talk about out loud and Hera knew that the Jedi Code didn't look favourably on such attachments.

"He sounds like an incredible person", Luke told her, "And a good Jedi. Always thinking of others and willing to make sacrifices for the greater good."

"That's Kanan", Hera smiled, "That's Ezra too", she added, getting to the crux of the conversation.

"From what I've heard, I agree", Luke responded.

Hera turned to him, "How much do you know about what happened?"

"Leia told me he's out in the Unknown Region, but I thought it'd be better to hear the full story from you", Luke explained.

Hera breathed in and Leia's hand fell away from her shoulder. Once again, Hera looked out at the stars in the distance.

"Ezra was taken... somewhere by the purrgil above Lothal. We've been waiting for a lead on him ever since, biding our time before we could go and find him."

Luke nodded, "And you found that lead?"

"Ahsoka did", Hera looked at him, assuming he already knew the name.

Luke moved his eyes away for a moment as he thought, "I see."

"Her and Sabine left almost a week ago", Hera continued, "I don't know what lead she found but she seemed sure it would lead to Ezra."

"You've had no contact with him since he left?", Luke asked.

Hera shook her head, "None, for almost five years now."

It still felt strange to say it like that. Five years. It seemed like yesterday that they picked up the scruffy but goodhearted street-rat from Lothal. He'd grown so much since then, physically and emotionally, and Hera couldn't be more proud of him. He knew that Hera was proud of him, she was sure he knew, but she couldn't wait for the opportunity to tell him again.

Luke stared out of the window for a while, again saying nothing to Hera. She wondered what he was thinking, if there was anything he could do for Ezra. In truth, she knew there wasn't much he could do right now. However, she needed to make sure Luke was ready when Ezra came back. The Jedi would probably have to be rebuilt and Luke and Ezra were the only remaining members of the once great order. Ahsoka... not quite, but she was sure Luke would want to meet her too. After all, with what she'd learned from Leia about her and Luke's parents, then Ahsoka would definitely want to meet the two of them when she returned.

"Thank you for bringing this to my attention, General Syndulla", Luke said after a long while.

"Please, only Hera", the Twi'lek always preferred names over rank and protocol.

"I'm afraid there's little I can do to help him out from here", he said regretfully.

Hera sighed, "I know you can't."

Luke faced her fully, "I'm sorry I can't do more right now. For the meantime, we have to trust in Ahsoka and Sabine to bring him back safely."

"I understand", Hera nodded in agreement, she had never expected him to fly off into the unknown after him as well.

"However, when he's back, maybe we can start to rebuild what was lost", the Jedi spoke with resolve and hope.

The idea sent chills up Hera's spine. Rebuilding the Jedi. For years that idea seemed as far-fetched as anything she could have imagined. Now, against all odds, the hope for rebuilding the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy was tied up in the person standing before her and in the person she saw like a son. And perhaps in the one who actually was her son.

Hera felt her heart race at the thought of Jacen. She couldn't... she wouldn't give him up. Not yet. She would in time, she knew she would, but not now... not yet. He was still too young.

"I- Thank you, Skywalker", Hera said quickly.

Luke and Leia didn't appear to notice her internal conflict or the hesitation in her voice.

"Anytime, Hera", Luke said.

Leia stepped forward and looked warmly at Hera, "Keep us updated on anything, we'll do whatever we can for you."

Hera pulled her in for a brief hug with her own friendly smile, "I'd better get back to the Ghost. You know how Zeb and Kallus are, probably wrecked the place already."

"Of course", Leia released her hold on the Twi'lek, "Stay in touch."

Hera nodded and turned to Luke, "Until we meet again, Hera", he said with a bow of his head.

"I'll look forward to it, hopefully I'll have Ezra with me by then."

"We can hope", Luke said.

Hera walked with them to the door of the briefing room. With some final goodbyes, she turned to walk out of the door. Just before she left, she turned back to Luke as familiar words formed on her lips.

"Skywalker", she said, "May the force be with you."

The old Jedi saying didn't catch him by surprise, "And with you, General Syndulla."

Hera left and the door shut behind her. Her thoughts still focused on Jacen, on the last piece of Kanan she had left. With his... gifts, to call it that, she knew he'd have to walk the same path as Kanan. Hera wanted him to do that, she wanted him to become all he could be, but at the same time she wasn't ready. Not yet. It was still too soon, he was still too young and the memory of Kanan was still too fresh. She'd let him go one day, she knew that, but right now there wasn't a thought in the galaxy that scared her more.

Luke watched the door with heavy eyes and a solemn expression after Hera left, not moving or talking for almost a minute. Eventually, his sister scowled at him from the corner of his eye.

"I know that look", she said with her hands on her hips.

Luke didn't turn his head from the door, "She didn't mention him."

"Did she have to?", Leia replied.

Luke grimaced to himself. No, she didn't have to, but she should have. She wanted to in fact, he'd felt it from her, but her own anxieties held her back. She couldn't let go of him yet and Luke could sympathise with that. However, sympathy didn't mean agreement and his promise to Master Yoda still stood: "Pass on what you have learnt." There was no better opportunity for that than her son and the chance to rebuild the Jedi had to win out. Hera knew that.

"You know I have to do this", Luke told her solemnly.

His sister sighed heavily, "I know you do, she knows it too."

"I need to speak with her before she leaves", Luke turned to Leia and met her eyes.

Leia winced but reluctantly seemed to agree, "Talk to her but be respectful. Hera has been through a lot in this war and Jacen means more than the galaxy to her. Giving up your only child to let them lead the life of a Jedi has got to be a difficult choice to make."

"This is for the Jedi, it's what Kanan would have wanted for his son."

It was only a guess on his part, based on what he'd heard of the late Kanan Jarrus. Leia, on the other hand, had known the man and still held him in high regard all these years later.

Leia rubbed her forehead with her hand and sighed. "Go then. Talk to her. But if I hear you've upset her then you're going to be answering to me", she warned him.

He reached out a hand to his sister's shoulder, "You have my word, I'll be careful."

At last, Ezra can finally investigate that feeling he's been having and figure out just what was going on. The brief discussion between Thrawn and Ezra wasn't always planned but I felt it would be a good way to fill Ezra in on events and was an interesting encounter in its own right. For the next section, I used Commodore Faro instead of Pellaeon because I didn't want to contrive another situation where Pellaeon would be on the  Chimaera . I've been trying to sprinkle names like Faro's and Hammerly's here and there since the Thrawn books give us a pretty complete roster. Using Faro is a bit different since she knows less about Thrawn's plans than Pellaeon but is perhaps more used to the Grand Admiral's strategy. I think she's more willing to accept his judgements and follow orders whilst Pellaeon often wants the bigger picture along with it. I wanted more people to be aware of Thrawn's intentions not to kill Ezra, and Faro seems like the most logical person after Pellaeon. Faro will continue to be used and, over time, she will become an increasingly important part of the plot. For Ahsoka and Sabine, writing a combat scene with both of them was difficult given how differently they fight but it was fun to let them both loose on some Imperials. Hera's meeting with Luke is a big moment for her, she's only heard about him in stories. I did consider having the rest of the crew there but having Leia was more than enough. Ezra and Luke are the last true Jedi left (Ahsoka is, after all, no longer a Jedi) so I think she appreciates how important it is that they help each other out. Hera's anxiety about Jacen has been mentioned before, essentially she's scared that Luke will take Jacen away to be trained. Hera is such a maternal character and letting go of your children is the hardest thing for a parent to do, so I felt it was the most appropriate conflict for Hera to have.

On a side note, Leia's mention of giving up your child to be trained is of course a foreshadowing of Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, and it's actually around this time that she becomes pregnant with him. This story isn't going to feature Ben Solo or anything like that, it was just a little something I snuck in there.

Also, I do want to address something I've been thinking of for a while. Initially, this story was planned to be a massive almost 50 chapter long tale. That's still sort of the case, though I've refined my plan down to 44 chapters for a few  reasons, but I am considering some more changes. I've been writing like I never have before for about a month or two and I actually just finished my draft of chapter 17 before I published this. However, I don't have all the time in the world and a major new start in my life is on its way that is probably not going to leave me much time to write for a while. That being said, I'm not going to abandon this story. Instead, I'm going to be putting it on a hiatus at about the halfway point on chapter 20 since it's a fairly natural resting point for the story and it leaves me plenty of time to focus on other things before the new chapter of my life begins. I realise I'm talking of things that are months away for you guys with this publishing schedule. I'll still be publishing the completed chapters on a regular 4-5 day basis well into October or November time but I just wanted to let people know now that I won't be writing continuously.

Next chapter:  Ahsoka and Sabine get another lead, the Fourth Sister finds a chance to redeem herself, Luke and Hera talk about Jacen and Ezra explores a new world

Chapter Text

In this chapter:  Ahsoka and Sabine get another lead, Luke and Hera talk about Jacen, the Fourth Sister finds a chance to redeem herself, and Ezra explores a new world.

Blaster bolts hissed past Sabine's helmet but none of them had found their mark. Pushing up the corridor, she and Ahsoka were charging through waves of Imperial fire without so much as a scratch. Stormtrooper aim hadn't improved since Sabine had last met them and the handful of lucky shots that could have been an issue were easily beaten away by Ahsoka's lightsabers.

"How far to the bridge?", Ahsoka grunted as she sent a blaster bolt back between the eyes of a trooper.

Sabine slid into the cover of an alcove in the wall, "Not far, just up this corridor."

About twenty metres up the corridor was a sealed grey door that Sabine knew led into the bridge. Any trace of Ezra that was on this ship would be found there. Of course, first they'd have to cut through the squad of stormtroopers in their path. There were no other corridors for the troopers to retreat into, just a straight shot to the bridge. The stormtroopers knew that and were digging their heels in, fighting back with all the coordination and anger they could muster.

Ahsoka remained standing in the centre of the corridor, holding back bursts of fire without so much as breaking a sweat. The stormtroopers had learnt though and would fire only one or two shots at a time before diving back into cover, making it harder for Ahsoka to deflect the bolts back at them. Instead she adopted a more difficult tactic. With each burst, she angled her lightsabers differently and sent them back in other directions. At first Sabine thought she getting tired but quickly realised what she was doing. As another stormtrooper stuck his head up, she caught both shots and sent them back down the other side of the corridor. At that moment, another trooper popped up to shoot at her, only to be met with the two deflected shots flying straight into his visor.

"We need to get moving, this is taking too long", Sabine shouted from the side.

"I'm open to suggestions", Ahsoka shouted back.

Sabine looked up the corridor at the remaining troopers and sorted through her options. Playing duck and shoot with them would whittle them down but take too long and she was out of explosives too, clearly she'd forgotten how many she'd go through in combat. Looking at Ahsoka, she was reminded of a familiar tactic.

"Ahsoka!", Sabine called, "You pull them out, I'll pick them off!"

Ahsoka nodded and kept up her defense with her lightaabers but her eyes closed tight as she focused. After a second, Sabine saw her fingers rise off the hilt and her hand dart to the side. Down the corridor, the closest stormtrooper slid out into the open.

"Ahh! What the-?!", Sabine silenced him within a a few seconds.

Again, Ahsoka pulled another out from the other side this time and again, Sabine took him out of the fight. Wordlessly, they both began advancing up the corridor with Ahsoka pulling the enemy out and Sabine shooting them when she did. Sabine wasn't actually counting how many had been in their way, seven or eight perhaps, as her mind was already focused on the bridge and what they could find within. She ran on instinct up the corridor, her Mandalorian reflexes sending blaster bolt afer blaster bolt straight at her targets. She didn't know how many she got and how many Ahsoka had taken out.

By the time she snapped back to full awareness, they were left with one terrified stormtrooper hunching up against the wall.

"No... please", the trooper blubbered before them.

Sabine and Ahsoka exchanged a look, considering what to do about the lone survivor.

"P-p-p-please, I don't want to die", he begged.

Ahsoka sighed and waved a hand in front of his face, "You have to go to your quarters and lie down."

"I... I have to go to my quarters and lie down", he repeated.

The soldier dropped his blaster and began walking away down the corridor.

"Not bad. I've seen better", Sabine said.

"It was better than hurting him", Ahsoka reasoned.

"Whatever you say", she replied and turned back to the door.

The Mandalorian inspected the bridge door and found it locked. These magnetic seals were all but-impossible to open with anything short of explosives or a programming spike, none of which were at hand. Still, they had an alternative tool at their disposal.

"Ahsoka", Sabine motioned to the Togruta.

"My pleasure", she replied as she approached the door with a lightsaber raised.

Her white blade cut through the door diagonally from left to right, leaving a gaping orange gash in it. With a push of her hand, what was left of the door fell away and shot into the bridge to the horror and surprise of the officers sealed inside. The former Jedi and the Mandalorian walked on to the bridge with weapons raised at all of them. There were five officers still in the room. One appeared to be the leader, having the black uniform, rank plague and gaunt appearance of a typical old Imperial captain.

"You", she pointed to the captain with her blaster, "Where's the rest of the fleet?"

"I'll never tell you, rebel scum", the Imperial shot back.

Sabine rolled her eyes, "Look, I don't want to be here any more than you do. Just tell us where they are and we'll be on our way."

The Captain clenched his fists, "You'll never get to the Jedi before the Grand Admiral does!"

So they had found Ezra.

"Where?!", she shouted and kept the blaster pointed at him.

The Imperial crossed his arms smugly, "I'm afraid I won't tell you that."

"Just stop playing games. Tell us", she insisted and tightened her grip on her pistols.

"Never!", the captain shouted and kept a smug, arrogant smile, "Reinforcements will be here any moment and you'll be killed. I don't have to tell you anything."

Sabine gritted her teeth, the Imperial was working himself under her skin. She tried to calm herself but another glimpse of his smug grin and-

"Dammit!", she shouted and pressed the blaster hard into his throat, "Tell me now or I swear I'll-"

"Sabine!", Ahsoka's hand grabbed Sabine's shoulder. The Togrtua's eyes were full of concern.

Sabine looked around and saw the fear on the faces of the other Imperials. Looking at the man in front of her, he wasterrified as Sabine's blaster dug into the skin of his neck. Under her helmet, her mouth fell open and she felt a pang of regret. This wasn't her, fear and intimidation weren't what she wanted. They weren't what Ezra would want either.

"Right", Sabine said heavily as she pulled her blaster from his throat.

Ahsoka watched her sympathetically for a few seconds before turning to the captain. She raised her hand and waved it in front of his face, "You will tell us where the rest of the fleet is."

The Imperial's face gave a neutral expression, "I will tell you where the rest of the fleet is."

The man turned around and walked to one of the bridge's computer terminals. Sabine watched as he tapped some things into it and brought up a communication log.

"The Grand Admiral ordered his Star Destroyers to these coordinates", the Captain told them in a monotone drone.

Ahsoka nodded to her, "Sabine."

"Right", Sabine said and pulled out a small data drive. She slid it into the console and downloaded the set of coordinates,"Got them."

Sabine stepped back and stood at Ahsoka's side, both looking at the five other people in the room.

"What are you going to do with us?", one asked nervously.

Sabine had been wondering about that. In her anger, she'd almost blasted an unarmed captive, she didn't really want to actually go through with that for all of them. On the other hand, they couldn't be trusted not to shoot them down as they left or to warn Thrawn they were coming.

She sighed and looked to Ahsoka, "Ideas?"

The Togruta deactivated her blades and pondered for a moment. Then she closed her eyes and raised her hands out around her.

"There's an emergency in the aft of the ship, you should all go and check it out. You will forget we were here."

All five Imperials straightened up at the words, "There's an emergency in the aft of the ship, we should all go check it out. We will forget you were here", they said in unison.

At once, all five walked quickly out of the bridge and made their way down the corridor. Ahsoka watched them go with a satisfied smile as Sabine looked on.

"I don't know if I found that impressive or just creepy", Sabine muttered under her helmet.

"Let's just be happy it was successful and get going. That should give us enough time to be out of here before they alert Thrawn", Ahsoka started walking out of the bridge.

Sabine followed close behind, "But they're still going to tell him."

"If these coordinates are right, we'll be there before they get a chance to warn him", the older woman said as they walked.

They walked in silence for most of the journey, both on high alert for any remaining Imperials that might be running around the ship. Sabine's mind was unfocused, still dwelling on her outburst in the bridge. Even if they were Imperials, they didn't deserve that treatment. When they finally reached the hangar, Ahsoka stopped and turned back to her. Whether she'd only just sensed Sabine's unease or if she'd only now decided to say something, the Mandalorian couldn't tell.

"Sabine...", Ahsoka started.

The Mandalorian sighed, "I know, Ahsoka, okay? I'm sorry, I don't know what happened I just-"

"Sabine", Ahsoka repeated, "Remember what we talked about."

Let go of your attachments, don't let your feelings cloud your judgement. Sabine almost felt like a Jedi when she repeated those words to herself. This mission was too important, Ezra was too important, to lose her head and get lost in her own anger. They'd find Ezra but she wasn't going to lose herself to do it.

"Okay, it won't happen again", the Mandalorian promised.

Ahsoka smiled and the two headed back into their ship on the far side of the hangar. None of the Imperials had been brave enough, or stupid enough, to try and take their ship in the chaos. Looking at the emptyness of the hangar, Sabine knew that they'd be long gone before the Empire could try and pursue them.

They slid into the cockpit chairs and Sabine reached for the data drive, eagerly keying in the coordinates as Ahsoka lifted the ship off the deck and out into space. Sabine's heart fluttered as their shuttle cleared the light-cruiser and aligned itself with the distant coordinates. Next stop: Ezra Bridger.

Hera sat at the table in the Ghost's lounge with a plate of space waffles that Zeb has so kindly prepared for her. The Lasat sat with her, letting Kallus and Chopper handle Jacen for a while. As Hera picked at the food, Zeb watched her closely with his large green eyes.

Zeb shifted awkwardly in the chair, "So, uh, he didn't mention it?"

Hera shook her head as she chewed, her Lekku shaking side to side.

"Right...", Zeb rubbed his head, "Does he even know?"

She swallowed down her food, "I'm not sure. Leia might have mentioned it to him. He knew about Kanan and I so...", Hera shrugged as she trailed off.

There was a strong chance he did know, Hera's child wasn't exactly a secret in the Rebellion and nor was her relationship with Kanan. Not everyone knew, of course, but it wasn't as if it was top-secret. Plenty of people knew Hera personally and word just got around and many still remembered her being pregnant while flying for the rebels at Scarif. It wasn't really a matter of if Luke would find out, but when.

When she first heard of Luke Skywalker, she'd never really thought about the idea of him training new Jedi. She'd expected the fight against the Empire to drag on for years longer than it actually did. It was only as Jacen got older, when his unnaturally quick reactions or strange ability to know when someone was coming to the door, that Hera realised Kanan might have given him more than his bright blue eyes. It made sense now, his father was force sensitive so he would be too, but the thought just hadn't occurred to her much at first. Since then, and since tales of Luke became more widespread and impressive, she'd become more and more worried that the Jedi was going to whisk her son away like the Jedi of old. She was all too aware than Kanan never knew his parents, she couldn't bare that to happen to Jacen too. For his sake more than her own.

With impeccable timing, Jacen came running through the door.

"Mom!", he shouted happily as he ran to her.

"Dear", she scowled as she picked him up onto her lap, "Aren't you meant to be with Kallus?"

"I know, I know", he bounced in her lap.

Chopper wheeled in with a metallic grumble followed by Kallus.

"Don't blame me, you were watching him", Kallus told the snarky droid. The astromech gave a series of annoyed groans and wheeled up to the table with Kallus behind him, "Sorry, Hera, he just got all excited and ran outside."

Hera looked at her son with a signature mom glare, "What's got you all excited?"

"I just wanted to say hello", Jacen said happily.

She rolled her eyes teasingly, "Hello to you too, dear."

Her son giggled, "Hi, mom. But I didn't mean you."

Hera's face dropped and Zeb tensed up too, "What do you mean? Who else is there?"

Jacen looked around innocently, not knowing why he'd worried everyone, "Ju-just the man. The one on his way here."

Zeb leaned forward, "What man? Where?"

"Skywalker", Hera breathed. Jacen could sense him, two force sensitives were sure to notice each other, and he was coming to see her about Jacen.

She stood up and held Jacen close to her for a hug before quickly handing him to Kallus.

"Are you sure it's him?", Kallus asked, knowing why Hera was worried.

Hera nodded, "It's him." She didn't have any doubts about that.

Jacen watched his mother with sad eyes, "Mom? Can't I say hello?"

Hera smiled thinly at him, "Maybe another time, dear."

The boy sunk his head as Kallus carried him back towards his cabin with Chopper in tow.

Zeb stood with Hera and brushed her shoulder, "Come on, it's not like he's going to steal him away from you against your will."

"I know", Hera's heart thumped in her chest, "Let's just get this over with."

Hera stepped out of the common room and down the ladder into the cargo bay. Zeb followed cautiously behind her, leaving his bo-rifle behind, there was no need to carry a weapon into what was already going to be a rough conversation.

The cargo ramp was still wide open, giving them a view of the hangar outside. From what she could tell, Luke wasn't there yet. Part of her was glad that she had time to think things through, another part of her was impressed that Jacen had already felt Luke approaching from so far away. Briefly, Hera considered going out to search for him herself but decided that this talk was better had in the comfort of her own ship.

They weren't in the cargo bay for more than thirty seconds before a black clad figure appeared in a doorway on the far side of the hangar.

Zeb nudged at Hera as the figure approached, "Is that him?"

Even at this distance, Hera could make out the blonde hair and the lightsaber swinging at his hip, "That's him, Luke Skywalker."

They tried not to stare at him as he approached but Hera knew he'd noticed them already. Still, Skywalker walked calmly and slowly across the hangar with all the grace of a Jedi. He was almost at the ramp before Hera decided to call to him.

"Skywalker, I didn't expect to see you again so soon", she said with a forced smile.

Luke tilted his head to her, "I'm sorry for the intrustion, Hera." His eyes turned to Zeb as Luke stepped on to the ramp, "You must be Zeb."

The Lasat straightened up, "Garazeb Orrellios, Captain of the Lasan Honour Guard. It's good to finally meet you, Skywalker."

"The same to you", the Jedi replied.

"What can I do for you?", Hera asked him as he ascended the ramp and entered the cargo bay. She knew the answer, Luke knew she knew too, but a little part of her hoped she was wrong.

The Jedi paused before he spoke, "I believe you know why I'm here."

Hera looked down at her feet and rubbed her hands together. "Jacen", she murmured.

Luke looked at both of the rebels in front of him with a solemn expression. "His abilities are unique, I was able to sense him as soon as I came aboard. The force is strong with him, like his father."

"You want to train him", it wasn't a question but a statement Hera knew to be true.

"Yes, in him lies the first steps to rebuilding the Jedi Order."

Hera felt her stomach tighten. There it was, plain as day. Exactly what she'd feared was exactly what Luke wanted.

The Twi'lek's lip twitched, "Skywalker... I can't."

Luke stepped closer to her, "I understand it's a difficult choice but this is larger than any of us."

"I'm just not ready, he's just not ready", Hera said adamantly.

"No one ever is", Luke's voice was heavy with his own understanding of how unprepared people were for life's changes.

Hera felt her emotions crawling up from inside her. She couldn't let him go, he was her only son. He was all she had left of Kanan, she couldn't give him up to never see him again.

"I just can't", Hera's hand reached to her mouth and she started to sob, "I'm sorry... I just can't."

Zeb wrapped an arm around her to comfort her, holding his friend close as she sobbed into his side.

"Skywalker, maybe now isn't the time", Zeb said to him.

Luke didn't make a move to leave. He was committed to his goal, no doubt about it. Zeb did his best to comfort her to no avail, her body was shaking and the tears started to come in full force. Skywalker gave her a sympathetic look, he clearly didn't want to upset her, but his resolve remained unshaken. Hera knew how important this had to be to him.

Hera couldn't think of a way out. Luke knew about Jacen, there was no taking that back. She couldn't ignore it for the rest of her life or try to avoid him. Most of all, she would never be able to hide from her shame if she did that. She'd have let herself down, Kanan down and Jacen down if she didn't let this happen.

"Maybe there's a way to solve both problems at once", Luke suggested.

The Twi'lek looked up suspiciously, "What do you mean?"

"The answer seems quite obvious", Luke looked to Zeb as well, "Ezra will train him."

Both of their eyes went wide in disbelief at the idea. Hera couldn't find the words, Ezra was so young and he was Kanan's padawan he couldn't... She stopped and looked at Luke. She looked at the man who would train Jacen otherwise. He was the same age as Ezra and, when it came down to it, Ezra had been a Jedi for years before Luke had even began his training. She trusted Luke from his reputation and from his actions but Ezra was something else. Hera loved Ezra like another son, there was no one in the galaxy she trusted more than him and only a tiny handful she trusted equally as much.

"As Kanan taught Ezra, so too can Ezra teach Jacen", Luke watched Hera's silent reaction, "No doubt you'll all remain close, so you don't lose Jacen, and the Jedi will survive through them both until I find my own apprentice."

There were a lot of unknowns in there. Ezra might not want to teach Jacen, Ezra might not want to stay nearby, Jacen may not even want to be a Jedi in the first place. Still, it made a certain sense and there was no one she'd rather have Jacen learn under. If he agreed to do it... maybe Hera would actually be okay with it.

"Of course, we're still waiting for Ezra to come back but when he does...", Luke smiled contently, "Things will fall into place."

"I'll have to think about it", Hera finally said.

"I understand", Luke met her eyes, "But please remember what's at stake."

Luke bowed his head and began to leave as quickly as he'd appeared. The brevity of it all shook her the most. In less than two minutes, she'd gone from nervously worrying about Luke taking Jacen away to thinking that she could get the best of both situations. Keeping Jacen and doing what was right - all through Ezra. When he got back, of course.

"That went better than I'd hoped", Zeb forced a laugh, "Ya' think Ezra will do it?"

"I'm... we'll see", she whispered.

Zeb pulled her up to her feet, "Come on, you've had a long day."

Hera appreciated the Lasat's care more than she could tell him. For his own part, 'Uncle Zeb' adored Jacen and was fiercely protective of him. Hera trusted him completely with both of their lives and knew that she could count on him for anything, including things like this. Emotional support throughout the last few years was shared between all the old crew, they'd all leaned on each other to get them through any worries or rough times. This was no different.

"Don't mention this to Jacen", Hera said quietly.

He nodded, "Not a word."

"Thank you, Zeb."

Hera climbed the ladder and went back to the common area. Her appetite for space waffles was gone and replaced with a need to be around her son. She set her own worries aside and spent the rest of the evening with Jacen, embracing this simple time with him while she still could. She prayed that Ezra would accept, the fear of losing him to Skywalker was still lurking deep inside, but part of her was tentatively hopeful that things were all going to work out for the best.

What does Thrawn know about any of this? He's got no place here, an alien in an Imperial fleet with no idea how the force works.

The Fourth Sister paced around her private quarters aboard the Chimaera. It was a simple and dour chamber, barely five metres square. It had no windows for natural light, only four blank grey walls around her. There was one bunk in the corner, on the far side of the room from the door, there were a few equipment boxes and a single meditation seat in the middle of the room just large enough for her to kneel on top of. A desk was pushed against the side of the wall, on top of which sat a computer terminal that was currently trying to home in on the tracker placed in her TIE Advanced.

And Bridger too. Who does that boy think he is? Barely a man and barely a Jedi, using animals to do his bidding.

She thought back to the anger and indignation she felt as her TIE lifted off the sands with Bridger at the controls. Her only solace in that moment was the satisfaction of killing his mangy pet. She'd killed a lot of the things he'd sent after her. The thrill of cutting through the stampede flooded back to her, the addictive feeling of drawing her blade through flesh and bone as the animals were cut down around her. She hoped that hurt Bridger, it certainly had the opposite effect on her.

I'd have that whole world burned if it was my choice.

It should be her choice, she reasoned. The Emperor sent them out here because he felt a disturbance in the force and only she was equipped to deal with that. There were no other force users left, only Ezra Bridger, and he wasn't going to be around much longer. Maybe when she'd finally ended that child she'd take her rightful place as the leader of this mission. Of course, she'd have to deal with Thrawn first. Her mouth curled into a malicious smile: preferably violently. She'd have to deal with his loyal acolytes too. That old fool Pellaeon, a man a few decades out of date in both tactics and usefulness. The blindly obedient Commodore Faro, the personification of the Chimaera's ego-stroking devotion to Thrawn. Or that weak-willed politician Captain Sarlis, still lost and out of her depth even after five years of this mission.

Impatiently, she looked over to see the computer still struggling to get a trace on her ship.

Where could he even go?

There was no chance of that ship getting him back to known space even on a full tank, assuming he could even find a safe route to it. The best hope he had was to wait for someone to come and find him, assuming anyone cared enough. Thrawn seemed convinced that the Jedi's friends would be on their way. The Fourth Sister, on the other hand, didn't think it mattered. There was no way for them to get to him before she did, assuming this damn tracker started to work.

With a frustrated groan she marched over to the terminal and stared harshly at the screen. She wanted to hit it or do something, anything, to it to make it go faster.

Ugh, no use.

She needed to focus and channel her anger into something useful. Eyeing the meditation seat in the centre of the room, the Fourth Sister stepped on and knelt down on top of it. Her hands rested on her knees and she shut her eyes, not as the Jedi had taught her but as Lord Vader had.

While the Jedi preached patience and serenity, the Sith favoured anger and destruction. It gave them real, tangible power in this galaxy that the Jedi liked to pretend didn't exist. Such denial was their downfall, ten thousand Jedi brought down by two Sith Lords and a handful of those wise enough to join the ranks of the Inquisitorius. Wise people like her.

Her eyes shut tight and her breathing steadied as she mouthed the mantra Lord Vader had drilled into their heads.

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.

She thought of the world where Bridger had been hiding, quiet and serene. However, it was merely an illusion as he waited to be found. She'd found him and broken the peace of that world in her relentless hunt for Bridger.

Through passion, I gain strength .

The drive to find the Jedi, her eagerness for the hunt, fuelled her own abilities. Her anger gave her the strength to brush off Bridger's attempts to stop her, crushing the weak creatures he sent at her.

Through strength, I gain power.

The rage and anger those beasts stirred in her only made her more powerful. Each killing blow made the next easier and easier. Even when he escaped, the anger only simmered away within her and strengthened her commitment to killing him. That strength, as it was for any wielder of the dark side, would be her power.

Through power, I gain victory.

A vision of the future flashed in her mind. She cornered Bridger, in a dark and lonely place, fear in his eyes and a lightsaber in her hand. With one swift strike, his life and her search were ended.

Through victory, my chains are broken.

With that victory, she would be the only true wielder of the force left in the galaxy. She'd cease to be bound by this mission and could get rid of Thrawn and his allies and take control of these ships.

The Force shall free me.

Then, with the force as her tool and the Empire as her followers, she could finally begin to take the power that she deserved, no matter who tried to stand in her way. Ultimate power and the fate of the galaxy would rest in her hands.

Her anger focused in on Ezra Bridger, the boy who'd be the catalyst for her rise to power. He wouldn't get far and it wouldn't be long until-

The Fourth Sister's breath caught in her throat.

A twinge in the force, subtle but persistent. Somewhere out in the stars.

Her mind kept hold of it as best she could. It was small and hard to feel but... it was there. At first, she thought it was Bridger. Quickly she realised it was not but it had a certain familiarity to it. It was as if it was always there in the background since she'd arrived in this system and now, as if the time was right, it was calling to her.

Her lips curled into a satisfied grin. It wasn't just calling her, it was calling him. The force has decided to give her the victory she'd craved for so long. Bridger was being drawn to the same place as her and he'd never know she was coming.

She unfolded her legs on the stool and stood up, the feeling still there in the corner of her mind. She could use it to find him on her own, she didn't need that tracker. She glanced over at it still searching fruitlessly for a lead. Let Thrawn have it, by the time he reaches me it will be too late. Bridger will be dead and soon, he'll be there alongside him.

Turning her back on the computer she marched out of her quarters and made her way in the direction of the hangar bay.

Compared to his last hyperspace journey, this one was smooth sailing. Ezra found himself mesmerised by the sight of hyperspace again, it'd been so many years since he'd sat and watched the swirling colours stretch out before him. Memories flooded back of hours spent curled up in the Ghost's nose turret, by himself at first and then with Sabine, or of his time sitting beside Hera and Kanan in the cockpit as the galaxy flew past around them. There was always something cathartic about it and its effect hadn't worn off after all these years.

Ezra was almost disappointed when he felt the force compelling him to stop. He wasn't following a charted hyperspace lane, there weren't many out here anyway, he was simply trusting the force to lead him to where it had been calling him.

"Well, here goes nothing", his hands flicked the switches to power down the hyperdrive and bring the TIE back to a normal speed.

He watched eagerly out of the window to see where the force had led him. The ship smoothly but rapidly dropped back into real space, luckily without any alarms or warnings like last time. Also unlike last time, he wasn't left feeling as if he'd only just dodged a gruesome death.

Like last time however, the ship had dropped him into view of a planet. This one was a fair distance away still, navigating hyperspace manually meant he didn't emerge as close as you'd usually expect to, and far enough that his hand could cover his whole view of it from this distance. Whereas his last destination was a verdant jungle world, this planet looked much less accommodating. From this distance all he could make out was a deep orange hue to the place, almost certainly it was an arid desert-type world.

The ship drifted closer for a few more minutes, bringing the planet into better view. As he came closer he could make out a few moons, five at least, as well as dozens of smaller bodies orbiting around it. He could also make better observations of the planet itself. It did indeed look arid and rocky, no water anywhere on the surface that he could see. Speaking of the surface, he could see all of it since there quite literally wasn't a single cloud in the sky. A large area near the equator had a darker orange colour that faded as it spread out across the planet's whole surface. Asteroid impact, a big one too.

An asteroid impact might explain the number of small orbiting bodies around it and the seeming lifelessness of the place. Ezra activated the TIE's onboard planetary scanner. No water, as he'd already been able to tell, oxygen levels were at least breathable and the temperature survivable, but too much time here would probably prove dangerous. Still, a terrestrial planet with an atmosphere could prove to support life. To Ezra's surprise, there wasn't even the faintest hint of anything alive down there.

Except, of course, the disturbance he felt. It was much sharper and clearer, no longer the hazy background noise he'd felt it as for the last five years. This was real, noticeable and within his grasp.

Ezra let the feeling guide him down to the surface below. That's odd, he noted as he descended, the disturbance feels like it's near the centre of the darker patch of orange around the equator. The ship came closer. Wait, it's exactly in the centre.

The TIE broke into the atmosphere and Ezra kept getting closer to the surface. Eventually the darker shade of dusty orange on the ground stretched out from horizon to horizon as far he could see. The terrain was craggy and full of canyons, ravines and jagged outcroppings of rocks. The feeling grew more intense with each minute, until Ezra knew he was achingly close to whatever had caught his attention so long ago.

Finally, Ezra knew it was time to land and meet this disturbance face to face. The terrain around him was every bit as craggy and broken as it was everywhere on this planet. He eventually found a canyon wide enough to fit the TIE, tantalisingly close to where the call was emanating from, and set the fighter down gently. He wasted no time in slinging his bag over his shoulder, grabbing the E-11 and popping open the hatch above him.

His boots met hard rock on the ground, sending a cloud of fine dust up into the air around him. The canyon walls towered up at least twenty metres all around, closing in around the landing area. A single offshoot canyon from the landing area was the only path out and seemed to be leading him directly to the source of the disturbance.

Ezra held his weapon at the ready, unsure what to expect on this desolate world. Despite his alertness, he saw no animals, no plants, not even a gust of wind blew through the canyon. The whole world seemed to be dead. That might have meant he was safe from an attack or a predator but if anything, Ezra felt more on edge here than ever.

He crept along the canyon, grateful at least that it shaded him from the intense sun of the world, and walked through the unnatural crags and cracks of the environment. The feeling grew closer with each step, still as unknowable and indeterminable as it always had been. Slowly, the sides of the canyon got lower as he went along. He reached a sharp bend in the crevice and stepped cautiously around it.

The feeling seemed to hit him as he rounded the corner. The canyon stopped abruptly and gave way to a large expanse of space, perhaps a kilometre or so in a wide circle. A few other rocky canyons fed into this central area. In the centre of the area stood a small cluster of tall jagged rocks on a slightly raised hill. There... that was it.

Ezra stepped out into the featureless expanse between the canyon exit and the central rock formation. The sun was bearing down on him in the open and he was starting to sweat in the heat. The closer he came, the better view he got of the jagged rocks in the centre. As he got closer, he noticed a large opening within them. A cave. There's a cave in there. That must be what I'm here for.

It took a few minutes to cover the distance but it felt much longer. It reminded Ezra of wandering the deserts of Tatooine to find Maul and Master Kenobi, albeit without a droid companion to keep him company. It was a testament to how lonely this place seemed that Ezra almost wanted Chopper here. He was joking to himself, of course. He honestly missed that annoying metal menace.

At last, Ezra reached the foot of the small hill which the cave was on. It was raised no more than five or ten metres above the ground with a series of stones and rocks leading up. Ezra noted the unnaturally orderly placement of the stones on the hill, they seemed almost like steps. In fact, Ezra was sure they were. Someone, or something, was here once. Feeling a new sense of danger, he tightened his grip on the blaster. Someone or something might still be here now. One by one, he climbed the dozen or so evenly placed steps to the mouth of the cave. Distance had proved deceptive and Ezra had all the proof he needed that this was no cave, it was a building. Carved into the rock with thought and hands not the processes of nature were clear signs of life. The mouth of the cave was circular with smooth sides that could only have been carved by hand. It was completely dark inside and Ezra couldn't see more than a few feet into the structure. Why was this built here? Why out on such a far flung and lifeless planet?

Swallowing back his nerves, Ezra stepped through the doorway into the darkness. The bright reflection of the light outside has made it difficult to see at first but his eyes soon adjusted. A thin corridor led deeper into the rocks, sharing the same smooth roundness as the doorway. A few metres down, it opened up into a small circular room with three other identical corridors leading out from it.

Ezra chuckled to himself, just like the Lothal Temple. Same layout, same method, he shrugged.

He took a hand off his blaster and pointed his finger at the far left corridor, "Loth-rat, loth-cat, loth-wolf, run. Pick a path and all is... done..."

The Jedi trailed off as a faint yellow light crept up the middle corridor. At first, Ezra thought it was a trick of his eyes. In the next few seconds, the pale yellow light seemed to move down the corridor, heading straight for him. Ezra reached out with the force but could feel nothing aside from the strong feeling that pulsated around this ancient ruin.

As panic set it, Ezra stepped back from the middle corridor as the yellow light came closer. It grew stronger and stronger until it suddenly shot into view. Not one light, but a dozen or more, all moving in unison. Ezra froze up and couldn't get himself to pull the trigger at the cluster of strange lights.

For a few seconds, Ezra stared in frightened silence as the lights came to a stop by the entrance to the middle corridor, just inside the large circular room. Ezra felt like they were staring at him for a long while.

"So, you have come at last."

The voice startled Ezra and he jumped back from the light, yet still he didn't pull the trigger.

"Calm yourself, I mean you no harm."

The unfamiliar voice was soft and smooth but with a distinctly masculine quality to it, a voice that held both wisdom and knowledge. It seemed to come from all around him, even within him, not simply from the cluster of lights that hovered in the room.

Ezra lowered the weapon, sensing that this presence really meant him no harm. "Who are you? What is this place?"

"Who I am does not matter as much as who you are, Ezra Bridger."

The young man slung the weapon around his shoulder but still looked suspiciously at the lights, "How do you know who I am? Do I know you?"

"Our paths have never crossed but I know of you and know many who you also know."

"So you're a friend of a friend?", Ezra asked the voice. The strange nature of this place confused him, something tied with the force he was sure. Therefore, it seemed like a reasonable guess, "Are you a Jedi?"

"Once I called myself a Jedi."

"Why are you here?", he looked around the room as if searching for the answer around him.

"I am here because you are here."

"Oh, that explains it...", Ezra muttered sarcastically. "What is this place? Some kind of Jedi Temple?"

"It is one of many confluences in the force, a nexus where the cosmic and living force are intertwined."

Ezra took in the explanation with curiosity. A concentration of the force, which might explain why the he felt the presence of this place so strongly. The tension in his body eased as he became more trusting of this new presence, "Why was I drawn here?"

"I cannot speak to the will of the force, I can only assume it drew you here for a purpose."

Ezra squinted his eyes to look around the room. There didn't seem to be much of anything to give him a clue as to what this purpose was. No symbols or statues, no writing and no images, just blank walls carved into perfectly circular rooms and corridors.

"What purpose is that?", Ezra asked.

"I do not know the answer you seek. I can only show you where that answer could be revealed to you."

The cluster of yellow lights began to twirl around themselves.

"Follow the light, the light will be your guide."

The lights slowly began to float back down into the middle corridor, imploring Ezra to follow. He looked around, with a strange mix of both hesitation and disbelief, before cautiously following the lights deeper into the depths.

Ahsoka and Sabine are closer than they realised on the path to finding Ezra though a short path can still be a difficult one. I wanted to show Sabine losing her cool a bit as well as show off Ahsoka's force ability. Mind-tricking a whole room of Imperials is no small feat. I wanted to get all of the Jacen stuff out in the open, Hera is torn between her natural commitment to the greater good and her maternal link with her son. It's another situation where her own relationships are in conflict with her duties to a wider idea, just like her relationship with Kanan during Season 4. Hera knows what it's like to miss out on someone close because of a commitment to a wider ideal and she does not want to give up Jacen lightly. That said, I really didn't like the Hera section this time and I don't really know why. It just felt messy and rushed and, even though it went through a few hours of re-writes, eventually I just had to settle. Next, I wanted to give the Fourth Sister some time since all I've really done is kick her around for a few chapters. The Fourth Sister's chapter was just a window into her beliefs and character. She isn't a Sith but Vader teaching them the old Sith Code seems pretty believable to me, it's tenants apply to all users of the dark side anyway. I also wanted to make clear that it's not just Ezra that can feel this call, the Fourth Sister can feel it too. Ezra is finally inching closer to the strange feeling he has had for so long but bare in mind: some things are not a cause but only a symptom of something far larger. Some of you might have figured out the identity of the voice Ezra meets, while others might not know much about it. I'll save it for the author's note of next chapter to state plainly what it is for those who haven't figured it out, but I think there's enough hints in there for people to piece it together without much trouble.

This feels like the time to address Jacen's force abilities directly. I know many people don't want him to be force sensitive and I can sympathise with that, I also want him to keep a lot of Hera in him too. I do want him to be force sensitive in the end but I will make sure that it isn't all there is to him. As Sabine said, Jacen was born to fly and there's plenty of exceptional force sensitive pilots out there, if he ever gets the chance. From a story perspective, I think it just makes more sense for Jacen to be force sensitive since it offers the chance to resolve, create or continue so many ideas and stories in the future.

Next time: The Fourth Sister goes after Ezra, Thrawn makes observations on the force and the Fourth Sister, Ahsoka and Sabine follow their new lead and Ezra has a very unexpected encounter.

P.S - As of this chapter, I'm also posting this on Archive Of Our Own under the same title and username. It'll hopefully get a few extra readers and the tagging options on that site put this one to shame.

Chapter Text

The Fourth Sister goes after Ezra, Thrawn makes observations on the force and the Fourth Sister, Ahsoka and Sabine follow their new lead and Ezra has a very unexpected encounter.

The door to the hangar slid open as the Fourth Sister marched through it. A handful of TIE Defenders, the final remnants of the Grand Admiral's treasured programme, sat unattended in the hangar. She eyed the closest one and set off towards it.

"Inquisitor? What are you doing?", an angry voice called to her over he intercom.

"Lieutenant Xoxtin", she called the voice by name as she paced across the hangar, "I'm taking one of the TIE Defenders." It wasn't a question, she was telling the pedantic officer exactly what she was going to do.

"I wasn't informed", she replied indignantly, "Does the Grand Admiral know about this?"

The Fourth Sister reached the ladder up to the Defender's cockpit, "He'll find out soon enough."

The Senior Lieutenant complained to her over the hangar's intercom as she entered the cockpit and closed the hatch. She couldn't hear a word of what the woman was saying but it didn't matter, she couldn't stop her leaving. The Inquisitor activated the systems for the Defender to prepare for take off. Begrudgingly, she had to admit that she quite liked the Grand Admiral's pet project. The fighter was heavily armed, even more so than her own, fast, shielded and with a hyperdrive too. It's a shame he managed to let his only factory for them get destroyed.

Xoxtin's droning voice was drowned out by the sound of the Defender's engine powering up and lifting itself off the hangar deck. She sailed it easily through the hangar shield and out of the Star Destroyer's shadow. Right on schedule, Grand Admiral Thrawn's voice interrupted her.

"Inquisitor, might I ask what you think you're doing?", there was no hologram to speak to but the Fourth Sister could tell he wasn't happy.

"You said to find Bridger, that's what I'm doing", she replied.

The comm crackled again, "You were ordered to relay the coordinates immediately and remain with the fleet. Was something perhaps unclear?"

She focused back on to the part of her mind that was holding onto the disturbance she had felt. There you are. She pulled the controls to aim the ship, still impressed with the responsiveness of the Defender.

"I don't need the coordinates", the Inquisitor said cryptically.

Thrawn went silent for a few moments, "Explain yourself."

"The force will guide me", her voiced was thick with self-satisfaction, "I know you won't understand."

"Is that so...", she could feel that arrogant mind sulking away. He knew he couldn't hope to comprehend the force, unlike her.

The Fourth Sister's satisfied grin didn't fade, "Don't worry, Grand Admiral. The computer will narrow down the TIE's location for you soon."

"Again you insist on going alone, even though doing so led to your failure once before", the Chiss reminded her.

Her hands tightened around the controls a bit more than they should have, "That's not going to happen this time."

"And why should I believe that?", the voice challenged.

"You don't have to believe it", she felt the ship find the right vector for where she wanted, "I'll simply prove it."

Before the Grand Admiral could answer, she was gone. The Defender's hyperdrive activated and sent her straight to the source of this call, straight to Ezra Bridger's location, straight to victory.

No plan survives contact with the enemy. New situations and unforeseen factors always force a strategist to adapt their methods. The mark of a true strategist is the ability to maintain the same singular goal in spite of any changes in their intended path, be they minimal or monumental. Therefore, a good plan must always leave room to be changed and improved as the situation requires. The less rigid the strategy, the more reliable are its results.

From the bridge of the Chimarea, Faro could see the TIE Defender disappear into the distance as it entered hyperspace. The bridge was silent, no one knowing what to say. It was not only a blatant example of insubordination, it was completely nonsensical. All the talk of 'the force' still didn't sit right with the Commodore, she didn't trust religions on principle even if she knew for a fact that there was some truth to the old legends. She'd been an often unwilling witness to the power of the force during her time with the Empire but that didn't mean she trusted its supposed 'will'.

"Grand Admiral?", Faro asked carefully, "Do you have any idea what she's talking about?"

His back was still to her so she couldn't get any indication of his feelings from his facial expression, though that was almost always true.

"The nature of the force still eludes me", the Grand Admiral began, "But we no longer fumble in the dark. Those who use it think it guides their actions by its own unknowable will."

She kept her eyes on the back of his head, "You disagree?"

There was a slight nod of his head, "Consider: the Emperor claimed it was the will of the force that allowed him to eradicate the Jedi and establish the Empire. Likewise, he believed it was the will of the force that he should rule the galaxy. Yet, despite his belief, fate determined him to die above Endor and his Empire to crumble. If the force has a will, it is fickle."

Lieutenant Argal at the helm station chimed in, "Then what is she doing out there? The Fourth Sister surely felt something."

His attention remaining locked on the stars outside, the Grand Admiral kept his voice steady, "Indeed she did. However, I do not believe she is feeling some will of the force, rather a presence."

Faro raised an eyebrow, "A presence, sir?"

"A presence", Thrawn confirmed. "You are all aware that our mandate for this mission was from the Emperor himself, as it was when Lord Vader accompanied us to Batuu?"

There were a few murmurs of agreement, including one from the Commodore herself. She never liked being reminded of that mission; you couldn't have Vader or Thrawn in the same room without feeling like the towering black figure was going to resort to one of his infamous 'punishments'. Even then, it was unlikely Vader would punish Thrawn directly, it would more likely be one of his subordinates and Faro always found herself to be the nearest person to the Dark Lord at those moments.

"In both cases, the Emperor indeed felt a presence. The nature of this presence, I cannot say. It might be a being, a group of beings, a place or creature. However, they always draw those strong in the force to them. Lothal, for example, had an ancient Jedi site that drew not only Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus, but again the Emperor as well."

They'd only hear rumours of the Emperor's special interest in Lothal. Perhaps naively, Faro had thought that the Emperor shared Thrawn's commitment to the TIE defender programme. It seemed only right that the actual interest was another mystical and unknowable thing that Faro and the others could never wrap their heads around. Thrawn, on the other hand, might be a different story.

Faro continued for him, "So you think there's something specific that's attracting the Fourth Sister?"

"And?", the Grand Admiral barely moved his head.

"And...", the Commodore paused as the final piece fell into place, "Bridger too."

Thrawn nodded, "I do not believe the Fourth Sister is feeling Ezra Bridger, but rather they are both being drawn to something else. The Jedi also escaped on an unknown flight vector, the same one that our Inquisitor also followed."

"Do you think this is the same presence the Emperor felt?", Faro asked.

"Maybe, I cannot be certain. If it is, it is imperative that we find the source at once." There was a long pause, "Commander Hammerly, how long until the tracking computer can narrow down the location of the stolen TIE?"

The officer turned to his display, pressing a few buttons to make a new screen appear, "Another few minutes, sir."

"Excellent", Thrawn turned back from the window and paced calmly back up the bridge, "Contact the Myrmidon and the Imperator. Commodore...", the Grand Admiral looked at her as he passed, "Ready the ship for departure."

"Aye, sir", she acknowledged and set about in the familiar routine that preceded any hyperspace jump.

Meanwhile, Thrawn reached the communication terminal aboard the bridge and waited for the communications officers to do their work. Soon after, Captain Pellaeon and Captain Sarlis appeared as holograms around the table.

"Grand Admiral", Sarlis greeted with a salute, "Was that a ship that just left the system?"

"Indeed it was. Our Inquisitor has determined a location for the Jedi, she has already departed", Thrawn explained.

The Imperator's Captain huffed in surprise, "That was fast. Are we going with her or is she returning on her own when after she kills him?"

Faro picked out the word choice: kill. Clearly, Sarlis didn't know Thrawn had his own plans for Ezra Bridger. She assumed Captain Pellaeon already knew since it was common knowledge that Thrawn trusted him immensely. Their partnership reminded her of Eli Vanto at times, the out-of-his-depth officer contending with the Chiss' own strategic genius. She laughed internally, she knew how that felt.

Thrawn had not told Sarlis and didn't seem to intend to, "We will join the pursuit once we have retrieved the coordinates."

Faro approached the table by Thrawn's side with a silent nod to tell him the Chimaera was ready.

Captain Pellaeon leaned forward with a suspicious look, "If we haven't retrieved the coordinates, how can she know where to go?"

The Chiss smiled thinly, "A pertinent question, Captain. I can only say what the Inquisitor told us, that she felt the force guiding her to a specific location."

"You believe her?", Pellaeon asked suspiciously. Pellaeon, like Faro, was always the cynic.

"She departed on the same vector as Bridger", Faro explained to them, "The Grand Admiral also believes this could indicate a presence similar to what the Emperor felt."

Thrawn continued where Faro left off, "If these phenomena are related, it is crucial that we discover the source immediately. Prepare you ships fo-"

"Grand Admiral!", a comm officer interrupted, "There's a transmission from the Invictus... it's on the emergency channel."

The hairs on Faro's neck stood up. Emergency channel. Out here? Pirates maybe? Smugglers? Grysk? Another uncontacted species? It wouldn't be the first time they'd run into such things out here. But no, the timing of this was off. Something wasn't right.

"Patch it through", Thrawn replied promptly.

The thin and clearly terrified face of the Invictus' captain appeared at the table.

"Sir... I...", the Captain stammered.

"Calm yourself, Captain. What is the emergency?", Thrawn inquired.

His gaze shifted uncomfortably and his hands fidgeted, "Well... sir. We... uh, we don't actually know for certain."

Faro exchanged a confused glance with Pellaeon but Thrawn remained fixated on the hologram.

"Tell us the details you do know."

"Right...", the Captain was clearly shaken, "We detected a ship and then there were these two women and... well, the bridge staff woke up in the aft of the ship and couldn't remember anything. We... we went back through the ship and many of the stormtroopers onboard were dead, sir. A few more in the medbay, best guesses say a quarter of our stormtroopers are dead. Most of the general staff were hiding and have no idea what happened."

Two women taking out a quarter of the stormtroopers? A typical light-cruiser carried a crew of seven hundred and fifty, with roughly one hundred of those being stormtroopers. Who could take out twenty five troopers?

"Unconscious in the aft?", Pellaeon repeated the Captain's odd explanation.

"Y-yes, we woke up with no memory of what happened."

Thrawn stroked his chin, "It appears the assailants rendered you unconscious and moved your bodies to the rear of the ship."

That was an odd thing to do, surely. Still, Faro couldn't see any other explanation for what had happened.

"Did you manage to identify any of the intruders?", Thrawn asked the Captain.

He nervously shook his head, "N-no, sir. Like we said, they were women, a few of the survivors heard two female voices but... we don't know who they were."

"I see...", the Chiss sunk his head and seemed to go deep into thought.

"There's something more, sir", the Captain said, "We checked the logs when we returned to the bridge. They accessed our communications records."

Thrawn was one step ahead, "Bridger's allies have come."

Faro snapped her head to look at him, as did Sarlis and Pellaeon. They couldn't be here, not already. How could they have taken out an Arquitens? How could they have even found them here so quickly? If this was true, time was of the essence. If they took Bridger back, Thrawn wouldn't have Bridger's abilities to help him fight this threat and it would make their job much more difficult. They had to move quickly.

"They left you unconscious because they did not wish to see they're intentions made known, though in their haste left a trail. They must have been searching for any hint of Bridger's location within the communications records. The fact that they have already left suggests that they found it."

Faro looked at him in shock, "So they're on their way here?!"

"More than likely", Thrawn answered.

"Then we've got to stop them!", Sarlis insisted with more vigour than Faro had ever seen from her.

"Patience, Captain", Thrawn looked to her, "They are not our concern at this time."

Sarlis looked confused, "But, aren't they here for Bridger?"

"Certainly, though he is not here. Not anymore."

Sarlis' enthusiasm ebbed away, "So... what do we do?"

"We proceed as normal", Thrawn looked back over to Commander Hammerly, who nodded back with a thumbs up. "It seems we have coordinates for the stolen TIE and have reason to suspect that this location could be relevant to our ultimate goal in the Unknown Regions. We shall not pass on this opportunity to catch a single band of rebels."

Faro nodded in agreement, "Right. And without some like Bridger or the Inquisitor, they'll have no way to figure out where he is once we leave the system."

"My thoughts exactly, Commodore. Hence, we must leave immediately to minimise the risk of infiltration or interception", Thrawn focused the explanation onto Sarlis. Faro was sure Pellaeon had figured it out with her.

"As you say, Grand Admiral", Sarlis murmured.

Thrawn turned back to Hammerly, "Relay the coordinates to the other ships", his attention then went back to the other Captains, "Prepare to jump as soon as possible. Invictus, hold your position and we will rendezvous with you after this diversion."

All three Captains accepted the orders and disappeared from around the table. Thrawn walked back down the bridge with Faro at his side. The Chiss remained completely silent, not uttering a word. Faro couldn't tell if it was surprise at the arrival of the rebels or curiosity at what they'd find at the coordinates, probably both. Either way, at least they were going to be out of the system before the Jedi's friends could arrive. Admittedly, the Commodore herself was interested to see what was drawing the two force users in. It had to be something very powerful or very important, though if it was dangerous or not was another matter entirely.

The former Jedi was silent for most of the trip and Sabine didn't have much to say either. Sabine had hoped they could find Ezra as soon as possible but had never dreamed that they'd be so close to finding him already - not that she was complaining about that at all.

This jump is taking too long. Well... actually it was taking exactly as long as it should have, but still... it was taking too long for her. It was strange that the closer she got the more impatient she became. Ezra was here, at the end of this jump, and they were so close. Yes, there were probably a few Star Destroyers to contend with but nothing they hadn't dealt with before.

The flight dragged on and on with Sabine getting more restless. Eventually, she took to pacing around the cockpit to calm her nerves. Surprisingly, Ahsoka didn't say a word, perhaps understanding that it was best to work the frustration out now to clear her head. Not that it seemed to be helping much, she wasn't any calmer now than she was when they left the light-cruiser.

"Sabine", Ahsoka spoke softly, "We're almost there."

The Mandalorian stopped and breathed in deeply, "Okay... yeah", she sat back down in the cockpit chair.

"Calm down, Sabine", Ahsoka's blue eyes watched her closely.

"I know, I'm trying. Let's just bring him back safe", she stared out of the viewport, waiting for the hyperdrive to disengage.

Ahsoka pressed some buttons on the console, "Cloaking device is engaged, they won't be able to see us."

Without any more words, the ship dropped out of hyperspace. As the swirling corridor became the black expanses of space, Sabine held her breath in waiting for the inevitable view of Star Destroyers.

Any second and... Nothing?

There was... nothing. No Star Destroyers, no ships, just one large planet. No trace of the Empire or Ezra was visible from orbit. They'd... they'd missed him. They'd come all this way and they'd missed him. Her heart sunk as she looked around for any sign of Ezra or the Empire. Sabine looked hastily at the sensors to see if they were missing something but there was still nothing. On the planet too, no signs of technology or activity. The place was just empty.

"No... We can't have missed him...", Sabine's eyes scanned the black expanse of space before them, but it was no use.

"We don't know that for sure", Ahsoka tried to calm her nerves.

She slammed her hand on the console, "Dammit! How can you be sure? Where else could he be?"

Ahsoka pointed to the planet nearby, "He could have been hiding down there." She looked at the scanners, "It seems liveable enough."

Sabine sighed and bit her lip nervously, "You think we'll get some leads down there?"

"I don't know", the Togruta shrugged, "But it's our best shot."

The sensors indicated just a little bit of electrical activity in a coastal region to the north of the equator. Sabine didn't hold out hope for it being Ezra but it might at least give them some hint of what happened to him and where he might have gone. The world below was a verdant jungle that might have been beautiful if it wasn't so tied up with her own anxieties. Ahsoka kept her focus on the controls, guiding the ship towards where the electrical disturbance was being felt. As they neared it, Sabine looked out of the window to see what it was.

"Imperial shuttles", Sabine said as she pressed against the viewport, "There's three of them down there."

Sabine didn't know what that meant. Good? Bad? There didn't seem to be anyone else left here so they must have been abandoned. If so, why? And where were the people in them? From the look of them, they can't have been here very long.

Ahsoka did the best she could to get a good view of them, "Hmm, they must be the ones Thrawn deployed to find Ezra."

"Something stopped them going back, but what?", Sabine muttered.

"Ezra...", the older woman pondered for a moment before returning her focus to the controls.

"Can you sense him or something?"

She was silent for a moment, "No. I don't feel him nearby."

That was not good. There were only three explanations for why Ahsoka couldn't sense him: he'd escaped, which seemed unlikely; he'd been captured, which would make their job a hundred times harder; or worse...

Sabine shook the negative thoughts from her head. "There", she pointed to a flat stretch of beach not far from the shuttles, "Should be clear enough to land."

As Ahsoka landed the ship, Sabine got up and pulled her helmet over her head, slinging her bag over her shoulder as she went. She waited in the main hold for Ahsoka to finish landing the ship. The older woman came with the staff in hand but without the cloak, apparently thinking it might be too warm for this jungle world.

They stepped carefully out of the ship onto the soft sand below. Despite her racing mind, Sabine could still appreciate how beautiful this planet was. The glistening expanse of the ocean, the smooth strips of beaches and the lush green jungle would have made an excellent source of inspiration at another time. If Ezra really was here, at least he had a good view.

Ahsoka led the way towards the shuttles that had landed on the beach. They were probably a few hundred metres away from where they landed and Sabine could get a pretty good view as they approached. They were intact with no sign that they crashed. It looked like they were simply abandoned here. She pulled down her rangefinder on the side of her helmet to get a better look. There seemed to be some minimal damage on the exterior but nothing that indicated why they were abandoned.

Sabine looked over to Ahsoka to ask if she felt anything but saw the Togruta staring down at the ground as she walked. "Hey, you okay?", she asked.

Ahsoka hesitated but looked up after a second, "Yes, I'm fine. This place just has a strange feeling to it."

The Mandalorian could agree on that, it felt strange that Ezra was here so recently and the Empire with him. Walking closer to the shuttle, Sabine could hear a chorus of chirps and squeaks from the native wildlife. Soon after, she realised those noises were coming from within the shuttles themselves.

"Well someone has made themselves comfortable", she joked as they approached the shuttles.

She'd been right. As they almost reached the shuttle, Sabine saw a small knee-high creature hop out of the access ramp. It had no arms, two tiny legs and big black eyes that caught sight of the intruders as they approached. Then another hopped out after it, followed by another and two more after that.

Ahsoka laughed, "I think we know why the shuttles were abandoned."

The animals watched with curiosity as Sabine and Ahsoka approached. Peering in to the first shuttle, they could see why these creatures were such a problem. There were probably two dozen or so in this shuttle alone and the interior was filled with scratches, bite marks, ripped wires, smashed dials and as many other small dents and problems that the little creatures could cause.

After a few seconds, a few of them hopped up to Sabine with inquisitive chirps.

"Hey, little guy", she smiled and knelt down to one of them. Gently, she tickled its chin with her finger, "You're kinda cute."

Ahsoka stood back but none of the creatures seemed to even try to bother her, "If I know Ezra, these things probably loved him. He always had something of a talent for dealing with animals."

That was an understatement, Sabine knew. Back on Lothal, every creature there seemed to be eager to follow him. The loth-wolves, of course, had helped them in their final campaign for the planet. Then there were the loth-cats, they'd never be able to leave him alone whenever he was around. Sabine didn't know how many times she'd seen the felines hop up to him for a fuss and some attention when out on missions with him. Even Ezra's final move against Thrawn relied on his connection to the purrgil. If he could get on so well with giant space whales and magical wolves, she was sure these tiny lizards were no problem at all.

"Have you seen our friend?", Sabine petted another one of the lizards. "My height, black hair, big nose, sort of an idiot", she grinned under the helmet.

The adorable creature nuzzled into her with a few satisfied squeaks.

"I think he likes you", Ahsoka smiled over to her.

Sabine brushed a hand over the creature's head, "Come on, I think if I stay any longer then I'll have to take some of these with me."

Reluctantly, the Mandalorian stood up and got to inspecting the shuttles properly. They didn't end up giving many clues, all three of the shuttles had been picked apart by the creatures and no records or data were readable. There were no signs of any troopers either nor any blaster marks of any kind. It was about as much of a dead end as anything could be.

When she finally came out of the shuttle, she found Ahsoka again staring aimlessly away. "Hello?", Sabine called to her.

Ahsoka snapped back to reality, "Sorry... did you find anything?"

"No.", Sabine sighed as she walked over. "What's got you so distracted?"

Ahsoka's fingers wrapped a little tighter around her staff, "There's a feeling in the force, a call almost."

"Is it Ezra?", Sabine raised an eyebrow.

"I don't know, I don't think so", the Togruta looked over to the jungle, "It doesn't matter right now. From the look of those marks, I'd say that the stormtroopers went that way", she said while pointing to the treeline.

There was indeed a clearly flattened area of brush and some snapped branches leading into the jungle. Upon closer inspection, the faintest outline of a stormtrooper's footprint could be made out in the ground at the treeline.

Sabine looked further into the trees, "Looks like they went this way."

Ahsoka stood by her side, "Lead the way."

Drawing her pistols, Sabine stepped carefully into the jungle on full alert in case of any surprises. She doubted there were any troopers left here but there was never any harm in being too prepared. Behind her, Ahsoka looked up at the sky for a few more seconds, squinting against the brightness of the sun, before slowly following Sabine into the trees.

After a few minutes of crawling through the undergrowth, Sabine stopped and turned back to her, "Still don't sense him?"

She shook her head, "Still no, he's definitely not here."

The Mandalorian's head sunk down, "Right... okay."

"Sabine", Ahsoka reached out a hand to her friend, "Wherever he's gone, I'm sure he'll be alright."

The lights floated down the corridor just ahead of him with Ezra keeping a steady walking pace behind. The long circular corridor turned and sloped downward, showing this place to be far larger than it had looked from outside. After a few minutes of slow walking, the corridor finally gave way into a large open chamber. The lights flew up high to illuminate everything they could. The room wasn't very tall, perhaps four or five metres up to the ceiling and was also a near perfect circle, save for a flat wall on the far side. The floor itself was rocky and natural with a large rock standing roughly in the centre of the room.

On the far wall, Ezra could make out strange shapes on the flattened area. Ezra stepped further into the chamber to get a better look in the dim light. On the flat wall, there were seven bronze rings embedded into the stonework. In each, there was a small break in the ring, only about the size of his hand, in a different alignment on each ring. The larger ring had the break right at the top, the next had it about a third of the way down on the left, the next had it a few degrees to the right of the bottom. The others also had them spread out in other, equally random arrangements. The young Jedi stepped toward the symbols and tried to see if they could help him figure out what in the galaxy was going on here.

"What is this place?", Ezra asked as he traced his fingers across the rings.

"That is for you to discover."

He looked back at the lights, "That's not very helpful."

"I'm sorry I cannot be of more help but the answers are within you to find."

The cryptic responses providing little help, Ezra stepped back from the wall to get a better look at the whole. He stroked his chin with its thin beard and took in every detail he could. If only Sabine were here, she'd work this out without breaking a sweat...

Suddenly, the light seemed to dim. Ezra quickly looked back up to where the cluster of lights had been to find it completely empty.

"Hello?", Ezra called into the darkness.

No response.

"Are you still there?"

Once more, his only answer was the echo of his voice bouncing off the walls.

"Well, guess I'm on my own", he turned back to the wall.

His attention went back to the wall. It was the only thing here so it had to be something. There was no writing, no images, no indication whatsoever of what this place was. He paced back further, trying to see if there was anything that might give him a clue.

"Difficult it is, hmm?", a new, croaking voice from behind said.

Ezra screamed and fell face first onto the ground. He quickly scrambled back up to to his feet to turn around. When he did, his mind froze. That voice. He should have recognised it instantly. Sitting on the rock in the centre of the room was the small, pointy-eared and faintly glowing figure that he'd seen years ago.

"Master Yoda?!"

The old Master smiled and held his cane upright between his small legs, "Long time has it been since last we spoke."

Still shaken, Ezra stepped a few paces closer to him and then knelt down to be eye-level with the old Jedi, "You can say that again."

Yoda's eyes watched him closely, "Changed the galaxy has. Changed you have also", he pointed at him with his stick.

"Yeah... It's been a long few years.", Ezra nervously scratched his head, "Is it really true? Is the Emperor really dead?"

Yoda sighed, "Gone from this life, Darth Sidious has. Tell me, why must you know?"

Ezra looked at him quizzically, "I... I just wanted to make sure. I've been away for so long."

"Hmm, felt it not, did you?", Yoda asked.

"No, I did. I just had to be sure", Ezra thought back to the strange sensations from a few months ago, of balance and loss of both good and evil. A sudden chill went up his spine and his eyes went back to Yoda, "Master, I felt something else. Something... different. Like the Emperor but..."

The old Jedi laughed, "When nine hundred years old you reach, time it is to move on."

"You're - but how are you here?", Ezra stammered.

"Here, am I? Or only because you are here?", Yoda's stick again pointed at him, "No death there is, only the force."

Ezra's eyes widened, "But I don't understand, why here? What is this place?"

The Jedi Master pulled his cane closer and rested on it, "A temple, from long ago."

"A Jedi temple?", Ezra asked, "Or a Sith one?"

"Hmph, Jedi. Sith. All there is they are not", his old eyes looked around the large room, "Know this already you do."

Yoda had a point there. He'd seen Inquisitors, they weren't Sith. Ahsoka also might once have been a Jedi but even she'd distanced himself from the name, as Maul had done with the Sith. Then there were things like the Bendu which walked somewhere in the middle.

"So not a Jedi temple and not a Sith temple, then who built this place? And what happened to them?", Ezra cautiously looked back at the wall and then out to the corridor that led him in, just to make sure that whoever built it wasn't still here after all.

"Trusted the force to bring you here, did you not?"

Ezra nodded, "Yes, Master."

"Then trust it to tell you why", his small green hand waved in front of him.

Taking the advice, Ezra shut his eyes and reached out in the force. If this place was calling him here then there had to be a reason.

"I still don't know what I'm looking for", Ezra muttered with his hands firm on his knees.

"Know I do not", Yoda admitted, "But know you can if open your mind is."

Ezra shut out everything else and felt the environment around him. He felt the smooth contours of the cavern and corridors, built with intent and reverence so long ago. This place was ancient and important - no, it was sacred to the people who built it. The more he focused, the more he understood why. The force swirled here, unnaturally strong like it was at Lothal or on Malachor. As the voice had said, it was a confluence in the force.

"This place is special", Ezra began, "It's strong in the force, very strong. The people who built this place knew it and wanted to preserve and protect it."

"Good", Yoda's voice agreed, "What more feel you?"

He reached further, back out of the corridors and through the temple. It was old and empty too. For all its importance and all the effort made, it sat alone and forgotten on an inhospitable world. Ezra's mind left the cave and felt the planet around him. It was desolate and barren, scorched and empty. Its jagged canyons and unnatural crevices, its looming moons and orbiting bodies, the sheer lifelessness of this place. It all spoke only one word: death.

"It feels dead", Ezra said grimly, "It's like someone destroyed this world and everything on it."

The old Jedi grumbled, "See now, you do."

Ezra opened his eyes again, "But who could do that?"

"The wrong question that is, another must be asked first", Yoda replied.

The young man looked back to the strange circles on the wall, "Why would someone do this?"

"Yes. Something here perhaps?", Yoda's voiced felt like it was leading him.

Ezra looked closer at the circles embedded into the wall. They formed a perfect circle into the rock, not unlike... Lothal. Ezra caught his breath; no wonder this place is strong in the force, no wonder people felt it sacred, no one someone cared enough to try and destroy it. The circles weren't a decoration, they were like the painting at the Temple on Lothal. That's why the force felt so strong and even vaguely familiar here.

"Ah...", Yoda said, "Understand you do."

"There's a portal here to that world. What did Ahsoka call it? Like a World Between Worlds", Ezra finally understood.

"That is its importance", Yoda tapped the stick on the rock to punctuate it, "Called you here to see it did."

"It wanted me to see the portal?", Ezra reasoned.

Yoda's ears wiggled, "Yes, but to see what happened also. Terrible danger, I fear."

"Danger?", Ezra asked worriedly.

"Stirring something is, here in the unknown", Yoda warned ominously.

"Out here? What could be out here?"

"Something ancient, powerful", Yoda grunted, "Hmph, know I do not, but find out you will."

"Me? But I'm... I'm not..."

"Not what, hmm?", Yoda asked, "Not a Jedi are you?"

"No, I am but I'm not... I'm not you", Ezra stammered.

Yoda's ears perked up and he sighed with a smile, "Me? What Jedi am I that you are not?"

Ezra's shoulders sunk down, "You're... you're so wise and powerful."

"Oh?", Yoda interrupted, "Power makes one a Jedi?"

"No", Ezra shook his head, "No... but I'm not... I can't fight this. I can fight the Empire, I can fight an Inquisitor but something that can destroy a whole planet?"

The Jedi Master sighed heavily, "Tell me, Ezra Bridger. What makes one a Jedi?"

Ezra thought back to the first lessons Kanan taught him and the basic tenants of the Jedi Code. Even now, they were still in his mind as fresh as always.

"Compassion", Ezra started, "Honour, sacrifice, patience, honestly, wisdom, humility."

The old Master watched him intently, "Yes, good. Then cruel are you? Lacking of compassion?"

"I... no", Ezra remembered all the people he'd worked hard to save. On Lothal, the people whose suffering he'd set out to end, he'd spent years with the others trying to spare innocent people the pain of the Empire. They'd all used that desire to do good across the galaxy from Kessel to Mandalore, all because of their compassion for every living being.

"Honour... lack you honour? Lie, cheat and steal, do you?"

Ezra chuckled to himself. Once, yes, that was him as the street rat on Lothal. Now, that wasn't the case. Now he was a Jedi with responsibility and integrity. "I suppose I don't do those things."

Again, the Jedi Master watched him, "Sacrifice. Your own life have you not risked? For your home, give up everything did you not?"

Yes, he had. Every mission with the crew could have been life or death yet he'd done it anyway. Then, when the time came to save Lothal, he'd taken Thrawn's ships away with the purrgil and gone with them, knowing he might never see his home or his friends again or even survive the trip.

Yoda took his silence as an agreement, "Years you spent, waiting and watching. Even now, patient you are in waiting for home."

Ezra nodded, "Yes, Master. I waited but... I wanted to go home. I still do. More than anything."

"Hmm, honesty", Yoda laughed, "And what learnt you in your exile?"

That was a hard question. He'd definitely learned how much he missed his friends and how much he'd missed home. Still, he'd learned his place in the force. He'd learned to accept what he couldn't change about the universe. He'd improved his ability to connect to others, such as his friend Argos or the passing wildlife, and learned how brilliantly balanced the whole universe could be. He'd also dwelt on the things he'd seen before coming here. How to manage your attachments properly, to not let fear or jealously cloud you vision, that was a lesson from Kanan that still lingered with him. . Most of all, he'd gained an appreciation of the force not as a tool but as something that unified everyone. The force was within everyone and everything and belonged to no one. He still had a long way to go in fully understanding these things, as if anyone ever could do that in the first place, but Ezra's views had evolved and changed in his time alone.

"Wisdom I sense, hmm?", Yoda prodded.

Ezra rubbed his head meekly, "I guess. I don't know. I guess I learned that the force isn't just some power Jedi have. It's life and death. It's hope and fear. It's predator and prey. It's all of it. It's all just..."

"Balance", Yoda finished for him. "Humility, not a question that is", the old Master pointed to Ezra with his stick once more. "Nothing do I have that you do not already possess."

Ezra bowed his head, "I- thank you, Master."

"Thank you? Nothing have I done. A Jedi you are, Ezra Bridger"

For all his humility, Yoda's words still filled him with pride. Yoda was right, being a Jedi meant doing what was right, it didn't mean power or experience or following some rigid code. Being a good person is what made a Jedi and he'd always try to be the best he could. Right now, the best he could do would be to find out what actually happened out here. If something out here was as dangerous as Yoda believed, then he had to do his part to stop it.

"I think I understand, Master", Ezra nodded his head and steeled himself, "If there's something out here, I'll do what I can to find it. If I can, I'll find a way to stop it."

"Great care you must take in this, Ezra Bridger", Yoda warned, "But know that allies you may yet have."

"Allies? Out here?", Ezra asked.

"Out here, yes, but at home also."

Home? "You mean... I'm going home?", Ezra couldn't help but feel excited.

Yoda cautioned him with his hand, "Hmmm, clouded... hard to see the future is, but others there are who can help on this path. When right it is, guide you all the force will."

Ezra calmed his excitement and refocused on his mission, "I see, Master. Thank you", Ezra went to stand up, "I'll go see what I ca-"

The faintly blue aura around Yoda's cane suddenly moved to the side of his head, hovering a few inches above his right shoulder. Ezra didn't know if it was actually solid, he still wasn't sure about these visions, but he felt compelled not to touch it or push through it.

"A moment, before you leave", Yoda told him as he 'pushed' him down with his cane.

"Master?", Ezra didn't know what was happening.

"One thing more I have for you", Yoda kept his cane above Ezra's shoulder.

The young man's eyes narrowed, "What? Like a gift?"

"Hmph, no gift", Yoda chuckled, "Nothing that is not already yours it is. Only words."

"Words?", Ezra looked suspiciously at him.

Yoda nodded wordlessly and kept his cane steady, "Ezra Bridger, a long time have I watched since taken as a student you were. You, your master, hesitant and doubtful you were. Fear, anger, contradiction - like many before you."

Ezra hung his head slightly. They weren't traits he was proud of but they were common themes in his early days. Even now, he struggled with the odd spike of anger and frustration but he'd learned to control them. Kanan had been so patient with him, helping him to control his emotions and his anger through years of training. Ezra hadn't always succeeded and he hadn't always found it easy but in the end, Kanan had pulled him through. Even now, years after Kanan passed on, it was his lessons and words that helped him out of tricky situations and kept him going when things were tough.

"Now", Yoda continued, "A Jedi, you have become. Wise, patient, honest, humble, noble. Jedi traits are these, a sign of something far greater."

Greater? Ezra looked up at the wise Jedi sitting above him.

Yoda held his cane steady, "For you, Ezra Bridger, your trial have these years been. By the right of the Council", the cane rose over his head and settled above his left shoulder, "By the will of the force. Ezra Bridger, Knight of the Jedi Order, rise you may."

Wait... what?! Ezra couldn't speak as Yoda drew the cane away and settled it between his legs. It felt like hours passed and still Ezra couldn't believe it.

"Only words they are", Yoda laughed at his bewilderment.

Ezra finally straightened up, "I... Master..."

"A Knight you were long before entering this temple, only recognition this is."

Slowly, Ezra stood up and kept his head bowed, "I'm honoured, Master."

Yoda nodded to him, "Go now, Ezra Bridger. Solve this mystery, you must. But heed my words: allies you may yet have. Those you have yet to return to, others you have yet to meet", the Jedi Master paused, "And others you have yet to teach."

With that, the Jedi Master's figure dissipated before him. Ezra was left in stunned silence, mulling over the parting words from the wise Jedi Master. Looking back at the wall, he decided there'd be time later to think things over. Right now, he had a responsibility to uphold. As he did so, he murmured a few quiet words: Thank you, Kanan.

As always, some general comments on this chapter. The first section is just showing the Fourth Sister leaving, nothing extravagant. I did get to use Senior Lieutenant Xoxtin, who makes a brief appearance in the recent Thrawn book, and I might use her again some time. I like referencing other members of the Chimaera's crew, if only for continuity's sake. Thrawn's section was my attempt at showing how Thrawn has learned from his previous experiences with force users and is making reasonable guesses based on that. I wanted to do something where he's bouncing ideas of the Chimaera's crew like he does in the books so I gave it a shot for a little bit. Ahsoka and Sabine just narrowly miss Ezra himself but they get to start to see what happened out there. Next chapter, they'll get a much better view into how Ezra has spent almost five years of his life. The final chapter was a difficult but enjoyable one. Ezra's knighthood had to come and having it through a vision/force ghost is a a lot like Kanan's own knighthood. The words used are a mix of the ones used for Kanan and the ones used for Anakin in the original Clone Wars cartoon. I felt like Yoda would change them slightly and talk a bit more about why Ezra specifically is being knighted since he isn't a traditional Jedi in some ways. I think that's why Yoda feels he's ready, Ezra has walked his own path and has been selfless, thoughtful and kept in the light even if he isn't an orthodox Jedi Knight who strictly follows the Code. With Yoda's own doubts about the Clone Wars era Jedi, I think Ezra serves as proof to him that a Jedi is not made by adhering to a rigid code but by being a good person and exhibiting traits such as compassion, wisdom and sacrifice. Also, as Yoda alludes to, a Jedi Knight is much better suited to take on their own students...

Also, the voice that guides Ezra from the last chapter is indeed Qui Gon Jinn. He appears as a cluster of yellow lights, as he does to Yoda on Dagobah, and even uses some of the same phrases from his appearances in the Mortis and Yoda arcs in The Clone Wars. There was no reasonable way to fit his name into the story and the name couldn't mean much to Ezra anyway. Also, I didn't want to come out and say it last chapter since it might spoil the appearance of Yoda in this one, but I don't mind clarifying it now. He can't appear in the same way as Obi Wan or Yoda since his training was incomplete but having a force nexus there allows him to influence things more directly. I'll talk a bit about force nexuses in the author's notes of a later chapter, just to clarify what my interpretation of them is and how it ties in to things.

Next time:  Ahsoka follows her instincts, Ezra figures out the portal, Thrawn becomes more suspicious of the Inquisitor, and the Fourth Sister closes in.

Chapter Text

Ahsoka follows her instincts, Ezra figures out the portal, Thrawn becomes more suspicious of the Inquisitor, and the Fourth Sister closes in.

The jungle was quieter than Sabine had expected, usually these sorts of places were full of life and noise, and she hoped it wasn't a sign of things to come. Through the trees ahead, Sabine saw them thinning out and a few tall black objects sticking up in the distance.

"Ahsoka?", Sabine crouched down behind a log to be cautious, "I see something."

Ahsoka went down as well and looked where Sabine was pointing, "I don't sense anyone, let's check it out."

Keeping her eyes sharp, they moved closer to the tall objects in the distance. A few metres before the trees gave way, Sabine knew what it was. The charred remnants of an Imperial Sentinel-Class shuttle lay in the clearing, the wings folded up but blackened by flames. They got through the trees and entered the clearing to find the answer to a lingering question.

Ahsoka sighed, "I think we've found some of the stormtroopers."

Scattered around the clearing were a number of stormtroopers with large black burn marks across their armour. It looked like they'd been caught in the explosion of the shuttle.

Sabine's stomach lurched, she didn't want to think about who else had been caught in the blast.

"The Imperials wouldn't blow up one of their own shuttles", Ahsoka said, inspecting the wreckage.

Sabine stepped forward slowly to the front of the shuttle, "This was Ezra. Has to be."

She got closer to the shuttle and where the viewport would have been. It looked like the fire had blown it clear or melted it, one of the two. She held her breath as she peered through the shattered canopy into the cockpit... to find it empty. Part of her breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn't found him sitting in the pilot's chair. Putting both hands on the nose of the shuttle, Sabine pulled herself up and slid in through the open viewport. The interior was charred and mangled, it would never fly again of course, but its basic structure was intact.

In the burned out cockpit, she glanced at the emergency box that looked mostly empty save for a few incinerated bandages and pieces of things that were charred beyond recognition. Then she looked into the main hold, hoping that she wouldn't see something she'd rather not have. The ramp was open a bit but the fire and explosion had rocked the ship onto its side to leave it mostly closed. Thankfully, the hold didn't have any cruel surprises waiting for her. Burned material lay sprawled on the floor as did a few seemingly empty boxes. Her hair stood on edge when she realised what this must have been. Ezra had been living here. The mess of material of the floor must have been a bedroll or sleeping bag, the crates probably for food and supplies.

What had been a source of worry now told her that things were looking up. From the lack of weapons or supplies that she could see among the wreck, Ezra must have had time to prepare and escape. The most likely option seemed to be that he packed up and ran when the Empire came, leaving his makeshift home as a trap for the stormtroopers. Not bad, Ezra. Almost impressive.

With a cautious smile behind her helmet, Sabine clambered out of the shuttle. Ahsoka was still taking a look at the stormtroopers around the clearing, specifically at two bodies thrown to the far side of the clearing beside the ship.

"No Ezra", Sabine said with a sigh of relief, "I think he was living here and blew it when the Empire showed up."

Ahsoka turned back to the shuttle and pointed at the side of it, "I'd agree. Somehow he blew the fuel tank when the Empire turned up. A good distraction if ever there was one."

Sabine's hands fell on her hips, "Then where is he now?"

The Togruta stood up and shut her eyes to reach out with the force. Sabine watched anxiously, accepting but not entirely happy that they were so dependant on the force to solve their problems. After a minute or so, she opened her eyes and looked to their right.

"This way", she motioned with her staff.

Needing no further explanation, Sabine followed her through the jungle but not before giving one long look back at the ruined shuttle. He'd been there, she didn't know for how long or why, but he'd been there. She could reach out and touch things he'd touched, see the same trees he'd seen, walk in the same places he'd walked out here.

She shook away the thoughts and put her mind back on following Ahsoka. The jungle wasn't as dense as she'd seen on Yavin but it had its difficulties; Hard to see branches, low-hanging vines and the odd unsavoury local perched in the trees kept them occupied for most of the trek. They walked for about five minutes before both noticed a change in the jungle. Deep gashes in the trees and branches that were torn and snapped on the ground started to appear as they walked. They didn't look like they were made by any sort of predator and they were too visceral and rough to have been made by Ezra himself.

"Ahsoka?", Sabine asked the woman in front, "Any idea what happened here?"

In front of her, Ahsoka didn't answer. Sabine could almost feel the Togruta's mind wandering elsewhere.

"Ahsoka?!", she called a bit louder.

The Togruta shook out of her distraction, "Sorry... I don't know."

Sabine kept walking behind her but closed the distance between them, "Are you alright? Ever since we got here you've been acting strange."

"I'm sorry, I just can't shake a-", Ahsoka started but cut off abruptly.

Instinctively, both blasters were in Sabine's hands within seconds, "What's wrong?"

Ahsoka put a hand behind to calm her down but kept walking forward. Sabine looked past the Togruta's shoulder to see the trees thinning out before them and the open sands of the beach a few dozen metres away. For a few more steps, Sabine couldn't see what had startled Ahsoka, but then it came into a view. A few metres from the treeline, a scaly body lay slumped on the ground. A medium-sized creature, maybe a bit smaller than a loth-wolf, with a long tail and a narrow head.

The Mandalorian lowered her weapons, a corpse was no threat, but she kept on guard in case there was something else nearby. They both stepped out of the trees together with Sabine staying focused on the dead animal and Ahsoka looking out at the rest of the beach.

"Sabine, look", Ahsoka tapped Sabine's shoulder to get her attention.

Out on the sands, a hundred metres or so away from them was another gut-wrenching sight. Dozens of animals lay dead on the ground, their bodies sprawled and piled on each other. They were too far away to make out many details but Sabine could tell they were a different animal to the one that lay in front of them.

"What happened here?", Sabine took off her helmet and looked out dejectedly.

Ahsoka shook her head, "Something terrible. I'll go check it out."

"Yeah", Sabine sighed an agreement. "I'll be with you in a second", the Mandalorian looked down at the creature at her feet.

As Ahsoka left to see what had happened to the pile of dead creatures, Sabine tuned her attention to the animal beside her. For some reason, she felt a strange pity for it, more so that she would for just any animal. The Mandalorian crouched down and ran a gentle gloved hand over the animal's back, silently mourning it. Her hand and eyes ran over its scaled skin - and stopped suddenly on its torso. Sabine's eye widened and her mind froze. A cauterised hole was burned through the beast's torso. The sort of mark that could only have been left by a lightsaber.

"Ahsoka!", Sabine shouted to her in a panic, "Ahsoka!"

The Togruta hadn't gone far and ran back to her, "What's wrong? What's happened?"

With a shaking hand, Sabine pointed to the wound, "Lightsaber."

Ahsoka knelt down and inspected it for herself, "That's a lightsaber alright. I guess Ezra must have-"

Sabine cut her off with a stare as her fingers reached down into the backpack slung over her shoulder. Her fingers still trembling, she pulled out a silver and black cylinder from her bag that she'd brought with her: Ezra's lightsaber.

"That's... troubling."

Sabine swallowed hard, "Who else even has a lightsaber?"

Ahsoka and Luke were the only Jedi that Sabine knew of, and there'd be no reason for any Jedi to be out here. Darth Vader was dead and the Emperor too, assuming he even had a lightsaber. Unless Bo Katan was out exploring then there was only one option left. Another Inquisitor.

"I suppose it's not impossible that there's an Inquisitor out here", Ahsoka had reached the same conclusion herself.

"How? I thought they were all dead", her voice strained.

Ahsoka pursed her lips, "The last mention of them I'm aware of was from a few months before Ezra disappeared. Imperial records never gave me a full list of them but I suppose it's possible one was sent after him."

"Dammit...", her gloved hand went to her forehead, "This isn't good."

"Sabine", Ahsoka put her hand on the Mandalorian's shoulder, "You've all dealt with Inquisitors before, he can handle himself."

"I know he can...", Sabine looked down at the lightsaber in her hands, "But now we know there's one out here looking for him and we're completely out of leads. We can't come this close and...", she didn't want to finish her sentence.

Ahsoka went quiet for a moment, "We're not completely out of leads."

Sabine looked up to her, "What?"

The Togruta pushed up on her staff and stood up, "Do you trust me?"

"Of course... why?", the Mandalorian narrowed her eyes as she spoke.

"That feeling I've had since I came here?", Ahsoka looked up at the sky above her, "I think I know where we should go."

Looking down at the lightsaber again, Sabine's fingers traced its familiar ridges and shapes for a while. Then, sliding it back into her bag, she stood up and put her helmet back on.

"Alright, lead the way."

Ezra's mind was still reeling from his conversation with Master Yoda. Seeing the Jedi Master was enough of a shock, even if it was something he'd done before. There was something different about this time compared to the other two times he'd communed with him. He didn't know if Yoda had changed or if it was just him.

Learning that Yoda wasn't exactly alive was still something he couldn't wrap his head around. Someone as old and powerful as Yoda must have carried so much secret knowledge with him but Ezra hadn't expected any of that to let him cheat death. He'd almost wanted to ask if Kanan could do the same thing but a piece of him knew that it wasn't so. If Kanan had the ability to preserve himself after death he would have told Ezra about it or made himself known to him or Hera after he'd passed.

Still, that meant there was much left for Ezra to learn. Not as much as before though, apparently. Jedi Knight. That would take a lot of getting used to. Internally he still doubted himself, he wasn't sure if he really was ready for that title but, then again, if Master Yoda thought it was time then he might be right. Ezra would just have to do his best to prove himself worthy of the honour.

But, "Others you have yet to teach?" That last part stuck in his head the most. Was he really ready for that? Yoda certainly thought he was. At times, Ezra still felt like only yesterday he was a student. It would be a big change to suddenly become the master. Whenever or however that situation came about, Ezra hoped he'd be ready for it.

However, now wasn't the time to dwell on those things, he had a job to do. Turning back to the rings mounted on the wall, he looked them over with knowledge of what they actually were - a portal into the 'World Between Worlds'.

"Seems simple enough...", Ezra looked at the small gaps in each of the bronze rings that were arranged in different places on each ring. Common sense would say that lining up the gaps would open the portal, it was the only sort of pattern to them that he could see.

He centred himself and reached out a hand toward the rings. Starting with the smallest ring in the centre, he felt it with the force and pictured it in his mind. The gap in this ring was about about two thirds of the way down on the right hand side. Therefore, he used the force to turn the ring and line up the gap at the top of the circle. The old bronze ring was heavy in its own right and years, or centuries, millennia even, of disuse made it a struggle.

With a bit of effort the ring finally started to move, the motion sending a few clouds of dust out around it. For something so small, it was very heavy and it took all of Ezra's focus to move it.

It's only big in your mind.

He reminded himself of Kanan's earliest lessons for telekinesis. Theoretically a Jedi could move anything they put their mind to. With focus and effort, the ring slowly slid into the position he wanted. He opened his eyes to see the gap lined up perfectly in the top centre of the ring. With a satisfied smile, he let it go with the force... and watched it sink back down to its original position.

"You've got to be kidding", Ezra drooped his shoulders with a sigh.

Once more he tried to move it, this time he struggled a bit less but the weight was still hard to contend with. When the gap finally aligned, he let go again. Like last time, it fell away and rested back where it started.

Ezra cursed under his breath. This wasn't going to be easy. He'd have to hold the ring in place while he moved the others... and he'd have to do it for all seven of them.

Knowing what he had to do now, Ezra reached out and moved the smallest ring into place. Keeping hold of it, he then started to move the next smallest one. In his eagerness he'd forgotten that this ring too hadn't been moved in so many years and the extra strain and effort caused him to lose his focus and drop the smaller ring.

"Karabast", he muttered through his teeth.

It was time for a new approach. Next, he tried his hand at moving each of the rings individually to loosen them up a bit. The second smallest came loose quite easily, the next a bit more difficult and the one after that more difficult still. By the time he'd worked through all of them, he was tiring out and he hadn't even tried moving them all at once yet.

He psyched himself up to prepare for another go, shaking his arms and cracking his neck. "Alright", he told himself, "You can do this."

One by one, he started to move each ring, smallest to largest. Moving them all at once was not an option but moving each one at a time could work. The first one found its place without much difficulty and the second slid into position as well. It was only on the third that the strain made him drop them all again.


He tried again, and again, and again. After that, a few more times too. Each time getting just a little bit farther and a little bit more annoyed. He worked through every curse he knew as he tried over and over to move the rings. Karabast, kriff, di'kut, blast and many more he'd picked up over the years, a few of which Hera certainly wouldn't have been happy about.

At last, after almost an hour of hard work and focus, he was getting so close. Dropping them one more time, he breathed in deeply to be ready for what he hoped would be the final attempt.

"Well, well", a female voice came suddenly from behind him.

Ezra turned back to the entrance and saw the same Inquisitor he'd escaped from before walking slowly into the room, her lightsaber bared and malicious intent in her eyes.

"We meet again, Jedi."

Nothing in the galaxy is truly unknown. Nothing in the galaxy is ever truly lost. By these conditions, every question may be answered by those with the resources and commitment to do so. To achieve this, one must be willing to make the connection to what is known in order to answer the unknown. Even if the specifics of a situation - the enemy, the time, the place - might change, patterns exist that may explain any action. It is through these patterns, through prior experience and applied knowledge, that a good tactician can fathom that which might appear to others to be unfathomable.

Commodore Faro had seen many worlds in her time. She'd seen dust bowls like Ryloth, sprawling city planets like Coruscant or tucked away backwaters like Batuu. In all her years though, she'd never seen a world like this.

Lifeless, dead, scorched - just a few of the words she could use to describe the world that the TIE tracking beacon had drawn them too. The whole planet was a shade of sickening orange that could not have been natural, at least from what she could tell.

The Grand Admiral was once more staring out to space, his back to the bridge and his crew. Faro didn't know what was going through his head, she didn't know if the sight was as unsettling to him as it was to her.

"Commander", Thrawn called to Hammerly on the scanners, seemingly unphased by this world before them. "Do you have the precise location of the Inquisitor's TIE Advanced?"

Hammerly tore his eyes away from the large windows, "Uh, yes, sir. I'm picking up another signature too, probably the other TIE Defender nearby."

How in all the galaxy the Fourth Sister had 'known' Bridger was out here, Faro had no idea. The force, obviously, but just... how? Faro was not a complete stranger to it, she'd been around in the Clone Wars and had plenty of experience with the Fourth Sister and Darth Vader too. Compared to the average galactic citizen, she'd seen more alone than a thousand people combined probably had. Still, that didn't mean she understood the force or those who used it one bit.

"Commodore, I want the stormtroopers on the ground and converging on those signals", Thrawn didn't take his eyes off the planet.

"At once, Grand Admiral", Faro didn't let her awe show in her voice or even on her face.

Despite her efforts, Thrawn seemed to almost sense it. After she'd relayed the orders down to the stormtrooper squads, Thrawn motioned her over to him with his hand.

"Come, Commodore", Thrawn said, "Tell me what you see."

Hesitantly, she walked up beside him and stood at ease while looking at the planet. "It's dead, Sir. The whole planet is just... wrong."

"Hmph, you word choice is most interesting", Thrawn said.

She furrowed her brow, "Wrong?"


Faro turned back to the planet, "It looks dead, sir. I don't really know how else to say it."

"I would agree, Commodore. Dead is perhaps the most appropriate term for this world", the Chiss' red eyes scanned over the orange-tinted surface of the world below. "Tell me, what do you make of its moons?"

Moons? Faro had noticed a few of them already. Taking a closer look, she started to realise what the Grand Admiral was getting at. Some of the moons were just that, moons, but there were dozens of smaller bodies orbiting the planet. These were smaller and much more rugged, almost like asteroids. A minor asteroid belt around a world, even a terrestrial one, wasn't out of the ordinary. However, something about it still didn't sit right with her.

The Commodore shook her head, "I still don't see what you're getting at, Grand Admiral."

The Chiss finally turned away from the planet but instead to Hammerly, "Commander, initiate a surface-level scan of the terrain."

"At once, sir", the Commander squinted at his display and pressed a few more buttons. "Rocky, sir. The whole world is a mess of canyons and ravines, some craters too."

"Craters? Could be asteroids", Faro reasoned.

Thrawn stayed completely still, "No. This is not a natural destruction."

Faro's heart skipped, "Grand Admiral... you don't think..."

"I do not think, Commodore. I know", Thrawn said in confidence. "Do you see the discolouration on the world?", Thrawn pointed to the different hues of orange across the surface.

"I-I do", Faro stammered.

Thrawn pulled back his hand, "They are not just simple variations in the surface's colour. They are different layers of the crust as the one above was torn away."

There were a few murmurs of disbelief and possibly disagreement too among the crew. That was understandable, to inflict that amount of damage was all but impossible. No weapon could achieve such power. Well, expect one that they knew of.

Faro swallowed hard, "You think something happened here like...", Faro glanced nervously around the bridge, "Like Alderaan?"

What had happened at Alderaan was no secret, even out here. Snippets of information about it had trickled through and it was the Grand Admiral himself who actually said it aloud first. The Emperor's secret battle station, the Death Star, had somehow destroyed a whole planet. The Commodore understood the logic, kill a few billion people now to prevent a war that could kill a few trillion more. A cold and ruthless tactic but understandable. That wasn't to say the idea didn't unsettle her, it did, but it was at least something she could wrap her head around. But the theoretical idea of wiping out a planet was nothing compared to the ability to actually do it. To think that a weapon really existed that had the power to do something like that in the first place... that had kept her up at night more times than she'd admit, even if this Death Star had since been destroyed.

A chill ran down her as she looked back down at the planet below. Something had done the same thing out here and they hadn't got the faintest clue who it was, why they did it or even when it was done.

"Yes...", even the Grand Admiral's voice seemed heavy at the mention of Alderaan, "The conclusion would be that some weapon destroyed this world. Hence why it is so lifeless, why the colour of its surface is so unnatural and why so many bodies are locked into its orbit - debris from the impact below."

"But why? What could have even done this?", Faro asked in awe.

The Grand Admiral went silent for a long while, "I believe that we might be on the trail of the Emperor's 'disturbance'."

That was not what she wanted to hear. Part of her was hoping Thrawn would turn around and explain this away as some isolated phenomenon and never mention it again. Of course, she almost knew that this would be the case from the moment Thrawn started to talk about the destruction of this planet.

"I do not necessarily believe that this presence is found on this world but I do believe we are seeing its ramifications in front of us", Thrawn continued. "There is a pattern to such things, a sort of reasoning, Ezra Bridger and our Inquisitor were drawn here for some reason. Perhaps the 'will of the force' as they call it intends them to witness what has happened here."

"So this 'disturbance', if it is what destroyed this planet, had to have a reason to come here. Any ideas, Grand Admiral?"

Thrawn stroked his chin, "I do not know, though I suspect we may find out. Order all stormtrooper squads to be on the alert. When they find whatever is down there, I wish to know about it."

"What if there's nothing down there?", the Commodore asked, "This destruction looks like it happened a long time ago."

"I agree, Commodore. I believe you are correct, this is not a recent cataclysm."

Faro looked quizzically at him, "Then how can you be sure whatever did this was the same disturbance that the Emperor felt? How would the same thing that did this attract the Emperor's attention when it did?"

"There are things in this galaxy that are not worn by time, Commodore", Thrawn said grimly. "However, we may also be dealing not with one individual entity but a threat of a culture or a species. Such dangers are far more likely to survive the pressures of time."

The Commodore looked at the planet and sighed, "I don't know, if they were this powerful then why didn't they come for the rest of the galaxy?"

"With this sort of power it seems unlikely that their interest merely ceased at the Unknown Regions. More likely, something stopped their wrath", Thrawn answered. "Which begs the questions, why is it stirring now?"

"I don't know, sir", Faro shrugged her shoulders.

"Nor do I", the Chiss' face was filled with concern. "The Emperor perceived threats through the force, it would not be unwise to assume that others who wield the force will be essential is unravelling this mystery."

"Like the Inquisitor", Hammerly suggested from his station.

Faro caught the briefest glance from Thrawn before he replied, "Yes, such as the Inquisitor."

"Such as the Inquisitor". Thrawn might not have mentioned Bridger directly but his statement did leave room to accommodate it. In a way, Faro could respect that Thrawn wasn't ever lying to the Chimeara's crew about his intentions. He did indeed want to harness the powers of a force user, just not the one they expected.

For all his aloofness, even Thrawn couldn't hide the fact that something was troubling him behind those red eyes. Faro had seen such a look only a small handful of times before but had learned that if she saw it then it never meant anything good.

"Something more, Grand Admiral?", she asked carefully.

"For now, nothing", Thrawn replied, "Only time may provide us the means to solve this mystery."

Faro folded her arms and sighed. She wanted to question Thrawn about more of this; about how Bridger fitted in, how he thought Bridger could ever help them against whatever he believed was responsible for what happened her. Now wasn't the time to ask such things, however, with so many others nearby.

They watched in silence as a shuttle flew out from the Chimaera and flew in the direction of the planet. The Commodore could only hope that they'd be coming back with more answers than questions this time around. She shook her head slightly and huffed to herself, I have a bad feeling about this.

The boy was clearly surprised to see her strolling out of the corridor and into the chamber. Had the Jedi really been so naive to think he'd escaped her already? The large cavern was another circle with a rock in the centre and some strange symbols on the wall behind Bridger, but little else. There was nowhere for him to run and nowhere for him to hide.

"Surprised? So was I when I felt the force calling me here, calling me to you", she pointed at him with the lightsaber blade.

The boy raised an eyebrow to her, "To me?"

The Inquisitor stopped a few feet into the chamber, "You're here, aren't you?"

"You're not too bright, are you?", the Jedi taunted.

She gritted her teeth and clutched her lightsaber tighter, "I've got no patience for your games, boy."

The Jedi quickly raised his blaster to point at her, with the Inquisitor raising her own blade in response. They stared each other down for a few more seconds, just waiting for the other to make a move.

"It wasn't me that drew you here", the boy laughed at her.

The Fourth Sister glared at him, "What are you talking about?"

"You'll have to work that one out by yourself", his blue eyes rolled, "Though I doubt you're smart enough."

The Inquisitor stepped forward one pace, "Your gloating won't save you. There's no escape this time."

Glancing briefly behind his shoulder, the Jedi grinned, "You'd be surprised."

"Hardly", she took another step toward him, "You've got no beasts to do your bidding, no mangy animals to fight your battles for you this time."

For the faintest second, the Inquisitor saw pain behind his eyes. Ah yes, the beast. The Jedi clearly had a soft spot for animals, that scaly menace in particular. It must have hurt him to see him die so painfully. She started to smirk - Good.

"I've got to say, that animal of yours was brave. Not like you. He fought his own battles", she stepped closer, "You give him a name?"

She could feel the Jedi seething on the inside, "Argos."

"Argos?", she chuckled, "An interesting choice. Not that it matters anymore."

His finger slightly twitched on the trigger but the Jedi kept his anger in check, "If you're trying to mess with my head, it won't work."

"Oh, I know. Watching your friend die in front of you as he tried to save you would have broken you if anything could", she locked eyes with him.

Despite his composure, the Fourth Sister could feel the faintest twinges of anger and pain in the boy. She wouldn't mind seeing him break before he died, to see all that Jedi training unravel before his final moments.

"Such a shame that all he bought you was a few hours. You're still going to die anyway, alone and forgotten, on some far flung world away from home. Do you think your friends at home will miss you?"

"Do you ever shut up?", the Jedi spat back.

"What does it matter", she scoffed, "They're not going to know anyway."

The Jedi still would not break, "If you were half as good at fighting as you were at wasting my time then maybe you'd actually get somewhere."

She laughed, "You're right, now isn't the time for talking."

With a sinister grin, she leapt forward and swung her lightsaber at the Jedi.

The force warned him about the attack in plenty of time, allowing him to easily slide to the side and out of harm's way. Without wasting a second, he pushed his hand out and sent a wave of force energy at his attacker. The unprepared Inquisitor slammed hard into the wall behind her, taken completely off guard by Ezra's counterattack.

As the Inquisitor struggled to get up, Ezra raised his blaster and started shooting as he backpedalled away from her. Unfortunately, the Inquisitor was ready and her rotating blades caught the blaster bolts, sending them flying back into the stonework.

"You've got some talent, boy, I'll give you that", the woman clambered on to her feet and brandished her double bladed lightsaber.

Ezra gave her a cocky smile, "I wish I could say the same about you."

The Inquisitor scowled and her arm pulled back before launching the lightsaber towards him in a spin across the room. Ezra barely had time to react as he leapt up and over the lightsaber, letting it pass harmlessly below him. Taking advantage of the opening, he raised his blaster in mid air as the lightsaber passed under him and sent a volley of blaster fire at the Inquisitor.

As fast as he was, she still managed to see it coming and dived out of the way. The Inquisitor hid behind the rock in the centre of the room, the one Master Yoda had appeared on, and used it for cover from his blasterfire. Ezra landed on his feet before he felt the force warning him to keep his head down. Ezra ducked quickly as he felt the lightsaber pass back over his head and straight into the Inquisitor's hand.

She was leaping over the rock in seconds and her feet kicked out toward him. The kick got him in the chest and sent him sliding back across the room. He shook off the landing and got to one knee, watching the Inquisitor staring him down.

"This has gone on long enough", she spun the lightsaber in her hand.

Ezra glanced quickly over to the rings on the far side of the room, "For once, I agree with you."

Once again she charged at him and he pulled hard on the trigger as she approached. He dodged to the left at the last second, again barely missing being caught by the lightsaber. She swung back at him again but he slipped out of her reach to the right. With a hard grunt she turned with all her force and swiped at him again but his reactions were still too quick.

He was almost starting to get cocky doing this and slid around his oppnent again. This time, however, she cut a bit too close for comfort. Her blade swung and almost grazed his chest, sending him stumbling backwards. Taking the advantage, she swung up again and Ezra almost thought she'd take his arm off. Instead, the blade caught his E-11 and cut the barrel in half, taking out his only means of defence.

Before she could swing again to finish him off, Ezra pushed out with the force and sent her careening backwards toward the centre of the room. He was directly opposite the portal, the entry corridor at his back, and knew it was now or never.

Bracing his feet, he jumped forward and flipped over the Inquisitor and the rock in the centre of the room. As he passed over, the Inquisitor lashed out to try and catch him with the blade but only found the rock in the centre. Her blade cut straight through it, sending a heavy chunk of stone tumbling to the ground.

By the time she'd regained her footing, Ezra was standing tall by the portal. His back was to it, his eyes instead watching his enemy carefully. He put one hand behind his back, trying to visualise all seven bronze rings in his mind.

Her eyes burned with rage as she stood up, "I'm going to kill you slowly, Jedi. You're going to suffer for every second of my life I've wasted hunting you."

In his mind, he got a mental grasp of each of the seven rings. Opening this was going to be challengeHis eyes then went to the chunk of rock that the Inquisitor had cut, lying haphazardly on the floor beside her. Closing it might be even harder.

Slowly, the Inquisitor took one step towards him, her gaze burning through him. All the while, Ezra slowly started to move the rings. Being so focused on him, the Inquisitor didn't even notice as the first and second rings gently slid into position behind him.

"I hope you're willing to waste a little more time...", Ezra winked as the third ring found its place.

"Such arrogance. You're a fool if you thi-", the Inquisitor's attention shot to the wall at last as the fourth and fifth ring moved into position. "What are you doing?", she pointed the blade at him from a few metres away.

Ezra reached out with the force towards the cut stone in the centre of the room, "You'll find out soon enough." He felt the sixth ring align itself in the wall behind him.

The timing would have to be perfect.

Right on cue, the Inquisitor shook off her confusion and raised her blade, ready to cover the final few metres to her target. As she did so, Ezra slid the seventh and final ring into position. Suddenly, the force seemed to open up and pour out from behind him, almost overpowering with its intensity. The Inquisitor stopped in her tracks, staring wide-eyed at the now open portal behind Ezra.

With the force, he grabbed at the rock at the centre of the room and pulled it toward him as fast as he could.

"See you around, Inquisitor", he gave her a mock salute as he fell back into the portal.

The rock hurtled towards the Inquisitor from behind and she ducked just in time. But the Inquisitor wasn't his target. As Ezra stepped back into the portal, the large rock slammed hard into the rings around it sending out a frightening crackle of light and a crescendo of noise. The last thing he saw was a flash of light as the gateway crumbled behind him.

The Jedi stepped back into the shimmering portal before her eyes, disappearing into nothingness. She leapt out of the way as a chunk of rock flew past her head and smashed into the rings on the wall.

They shattered and a brilliant blue-white light started to shoot out across the room. At that moment, the force hit her like never before. It washed over the Inquisitor in a huge wave, overwhelming every sense she had and bringing her to her knees. In the chaos and confusion, everything seemed to spiral towards one single thing, reaching out and clawing at her mind. Then, from somewhere deep within yet far away, she heard a deep rasping voice.

"Find. Me."

The wall then erupted into a blast of energy, sending rock and metal flying across the chamber and throwing the Inquisitor violently back through the room. The echos of the whisper lingered in her mind as she slowly faded out of consciousness.

Ahsoka and Sabine's called heavily upon the events of chapter 6, namely the destruction of the shuttle, the Inquisitor chasing Ezra, the stampede of the long-leggers and Argos' death. The animal that Sabine and Ahsoka find is indeed Argos and his death not only let Ezra escape but now has also given Sabine and Ahsoka a better idea of what they're up against. I don't think I've mentioned Ezra's lightsaber in the story yet but Sabine does have it in her bag with her. Who knows, maybe she'll use it at some point...  Thrawn and Faro's section again tries to establish the unusual characteristics of this world and starts to confirm Thrawn's suspicions that they might well be on the trail of their target. As Thrawn says, the destruction of a planet or the strange allure of the force are familiar ideas that he and Faro are both aware of. Using both of those experiences, he's able to recognise the possibility of what happened here. I do actually know what happened on this world but I'm not sure when it'll really get explained in detail, if ever. I do worry sometimes that having so much of this planned behind-the-scenes makes it more difficult to write some of these scenes. I know what happens, but Thrawn and the others don't, so I have to make an effort to ensure that my knowledge of what happens doesn't seep into the story where it doesn't belong. If I'm doing that, don't hesitate to raise the concern and I'll do my best to improve in the future.

Another escape for Ezra but a much narrower one this time. I don't want the Fourth Sister to just be like an 80s cartoon villain who gets beaten easily every time she show shows up. Last time, she killed Argos and a bunch of wildlife, this time she only avoids killing Ezra because of the portal to the world between worlds and has still managed to destroy his only physical weapon. I spent a while on Ezra's first attempts to move the rings since I felt it helped emphasise the difficulty of it. I didn't want him to just snap his fingers and open a portal to the World Between Worlds without breaking a sweat. His ability to open it at the end is earned through effort and immense focus with the Inquisitor right there trying to kill him.

Then there's the obvious question: what's up with the voice? That's an answer that's a long way off. People can guess away and that's fine but I'm not going to give anything away before the story does. This chapter really starts us down the path of the big bad of this story, something that's only been talked about in hypothetical or uncertain terms so far.

Next time: Ezra uses the World Between Worlds, Ahsoka puts her plan into action, Thrawn interrogates the Fourth Sister and Hera returns to Lothal.

Chapter Text

Ezra uses the World Between Worlds, Ahsoka puts her plan into action, Thrawn interrogates the Fourth Sister and Hera returns to Lothal.

"Inquisitor?", a voice echoed in her head, "Inquisitor?"

The Fourth Sister opened her eyes to see a stormtrooper staring down at her, shaking her shoulder to wake her up. She was slumped on the floor on the far side of the room from where Bridger had disappeared.

She hit the trooper's hand away and clambered to her feet in a daze, "What... what are you doing here?"

The stormtrooper stepped back, "The Grand Admiral sent us down, we had no contact from you. There some sort of explosion from the cave about ten minutes ago, then we came in and found you."

Her head ached and her mind was hazy but she clearly remembered the voice. Find me. Find who? What did that even mean?

She looked over at where that strange portal-like thing had been. The strange silvery gateway had closed and only the dull grey wall remained. Pieces of the rings that had been mounted there were strewn about on the floor across the chamber along with shards of rock and stonework. A few stormtroopers were picking over the rubble, clearly having no clue what they had looking at.

"Uh, ma'am?", the stormtrooper beside her asked, "What happened? Did you find the Jedi?"

She didn't answer and only looked over to the sliced off weapon barrel in the corner of the room. So he was definitely here, this wasn't all some strange dream. She still didn't have the faintest clue about what had happened or where Bridger had gone. This place was strange and unusual and this incursion had opened up far too many questions for her liking.

Still, something called to her through the force. In the wave of force energy that overwhelmed her, something was communicating with her. Something wanted her and had called to her. But why? And who was it?

"I-uh", the stormtrooper interrupted her again, "I need to report to the Grand Admiral. He'll want to know what hap-"

"No", she cut him off.

The stormtrooper hesitated, "N-no? I'm sorry I have my orders."

The Inquisitor shot him a harsh look and saw him pull back from her. She raised her hand and waved it in front of his face, "You will forget what you saw here. There was nothing of importance."

He went rigid, "I will forget what I saw here. There was nothing of importance."

She turned her gaze to the handful of troopers looking at the strange rubble, "Troopers, you will leave and forget what you saw here. You will tell the Grand Admiral nothing."

At her words, the other stormtroopers tensed up and repeated the command back to her.

"You will return to the fleet", she ordered them.

The lead stormtrooper turned to his men, "Move out. Back to the Chimaera."

Her yellow eyes watched them march mindlessly out of the chamber and disappear into the corridor. Once more, she looked at the mess Bridger had left behind. She'd never seen anything like that before, this was new territory.

The voice played over in her mind again. Find me. Taking another lingering look at the rubble, she then turned to go back to her retaken TIE. Something out here wanted her to find them and she wasn't going to disappoint. It needed her for some reason and she felt compelled to go to it. Whatever it was, it might be useful to her. Maybe along the way, it'll lead me to Bridger too.

"What do you know about the force?"

"It surrounds and penetrates us, it binds the universe together."

"That force does not belong to the Jedi."

Ezra sat up with a groan, his head pounding with pain. Ugh, that was... uncomfortable. He took a few seconds to regain his composure before finally opening his eyes to the world around him.

In front of him was the portal he'd come through but it looked faded and muted, and he took that as confirmation that his plan had broken the portal and stopped the Inquisitor, or anyone else for that matter, getting through. So that must mean...

Ezra looked up and around him. Here he was again. This... place, this World Between Worlds. The stars in the sky shone brighter than before, making huge constellations across the sky above him. The familiar black walkways lined with white borders stretched around him and above him but this time there seemed to be more than before. In the distance, he could see more portals too, many more than he'd seen in his first visit here.

"Growing your abilities are."

"The force is strong in you."

"It's calling to you."

In the distance he could hear whispers and voices. A handful of them were clear enough to pick out but who was talking and why he was hearing them weren't questions he could answer.

Ezra pulled himself to his feet and checked himself over. The broken blaster was still in his hand, or at least half of it was, and the bag he was carrying was still there along with everything he brought with him. Aside from a few scratches and grazes from the fight and his rough landing, he seemed to be alright.

"I'm being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain."

"The boy you trained, gone he is..."

"It is such a quiet thing, to fall."

More whispers brought his attention back to the present. He had a job to do. Ezra noticed that there were now multiple layers of portals, a tier above the one he was on and another below. Ezra could only imagine the number of places that were joined here and how far apart they all must have been.

He walked slowly down the walkway away from the portal he came in through. Like every other gateway, it was joined to a large central ring. Looking around him, there were probably hundreds of other gateways that he could see. Yoda was right, his abilities had grown and he was able to perceive and understand much more now.

"I'm just glad you're here, at the end."

"Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."

"I'm one with the force. The force is with me. "

He tried in vain to make out the identity of the voices but nothing came of it. It was hardly surprising, who knew how much of the galaxy was tied up in this place. He could be hearing the voices of people a thousand parsecs and as many centuries away from where he was, wherever that happened to be.

The question now became where to go next. He had no indication of what he wanted or of where he was supposed to go. Wait, yes I do. The force had called him to that temple for a reason, it had called him to the portal for a reason. Therefore, there had to be some indication of where it wanted him to go. He let the force guide him with his steps as he walked, trusting it to tell him where he needed to go from here.

Then, like a subtle hand pulling at his arm, he felt the call again. Similar to what he'd been feeling for years but changed somehow. Stronger, perhaps? Clearer? More focused? Ezra didn't know exactly, only that he was starting to feel its pull again. It was as if the same thing from before was drawing him in a slightly different way. Maybe in this world the force acted differently, or maybe the portal that he'd destroyed had been some conduit of it. Either way, it had reestablished itself and was drawing him closer.

He set off in the direction it compelled him to, walking around the large central circle of portals and gateways.

"No, no! You're still holding on! Let go! "

"I have the power to save the one you love!"

"That power will only consume you."

Out of interest he looked at some of the portals that he passed. Each one had a different set of symbols and shapes, each probably representing a different place where the portal led. Besides each, he could feel the faintest glimmers of what lay beyond. The first one he passed had the images of twisting vines and what looked like a cave, with the odd sensation of darkness balanced with a familiar light. As he passed another, one surrounded by pictures of crystals, he started to feel the air grow cold and chilly. The next one felt familiar and warm, like a place he may well have been, with the image of a pyramid-shaped building above the gateway.

Ezra felt pure darkness in the next, as if wherever the portal led was nothing but evil and had been for a long time. He gave that one a wider berth than most and moved on. The next one felt much more pleasant and Ezra could almost smell the scent of the sea and hear the waves crashing gently onto the rocks from the other side. He was reluctant to leave that one, it seemed like a calm and peaceful place. The force flowed strongly from the next portal and within it he felt death clawing to get out, perpetual torment swirling like a vortex is some long forgotten place. Ezra kept moving onward, feeling the unique sensations and seeing the distinct imagery around each gateway he passed.

Soon, he reached one that looked different and he recognised it instantly - Malachor. The distinctive triangle shape of the portal was unforgettable. This time, Ahsoka's strange flying friend was nowhere to be seen and nor was the Togruta herself. He would have loved her help right about now, even if it was just to see a familiar face.

Wait... if that's Malachor, then... Ezra thought back to his first visit to this place. It all came back to him in an instant. Lothal is that way! He ran past the Malachor portal in the direction that he remembered coming from years ago. There were quite a few other portals, but he knew he'd have no trouble recognising Lothal. He was right, of course, and stopped before another gateway.

"I will come back and free you."

"A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind."

"I lost my way for a long time, but now I have a chance to change things."

Before him was another tall portal, like the others here. This one, however, went back home. Around the outside, loth-wolves ran around the circle and images of the mounds ubiquitous to Lothal were down at the bottom. It looked the same as last time but unlike the others, there was no overwhelming sense of what lay on the other side, only tiny glimpses. That was understandable, the temple had been destroyed and the portal with it. Part of him wished that wasn't the case and that he could jump through now and be back home where he belonged. Still, the faintest slithers of Lothal were seeping through. Not much, but enough for him to feel his home. Maybe the portal wasn't fully destroyed, or perhaps in time it was repairing itself.

Lothal took over all of his thoughts. The open plains across the planet, the beautiful twin moons hanging in the night sky, the shining sun above them all. All of it was still there and now it was free from the Empire and would be forever more. He wondered what would actually be on the other side. Maybe, with the temple destroyed, wildlife had taken over the place. Were there some loth-wolves there right now? Or some adorable loth-cats playing in the grass? Maybe it was people, a new farm or a warehouse, even a new settlement as people came to live on the world he called home.

Then the people at home came back to him and warmed his heart. Hopefully Ryder was having fun pulling Lothal back together, they were lucky to have a man with his spirit. Maybe Jai Kell was helping, his Academy training would have helped organise the people after the Empire left. He could only imagine how perfect Lothal must look now that it's free, and in its clear skies he thought of the Ghost soaring through the clouds. Hera would love it there, too few worlds gave her such a nice view to fly in. Zeb might like it too, no place would be better to sit back and blast out his music while he relaxed. His heart skipped when he thought of Sabine. She would have a perfect view to paint. The stars, the open fields, the glistening sea; all of it would be so beautiful to put to a canvas. Almost as beautiful as her...

He stopped himself from going any further. He couldn't do this to himself.

"I have to sort this out on my own."

"Please, don't go this way."

"You must run!"

With a heavy sigh, he stepped back from the portal. It might not even work in the first place but he couldn't let his mind wander down that path. He wanted to go home, more than anything in the galaxy, but he couldn't. This portal was no use to anyone anyway, not now, and he needed to focus on what he had to do. There was something out here, something dangerous enough to trouble Master Yoda, and Ezra had to find some sort of evidence that could unravel that mystery.

His eyes kept on the loth-wolves for a few seconds before he tore himself away. He didn't let himself look back as he went, knowing that if he did it would only make things harder. Instead he followed the call in the force, walking past the portals and giving the one to Malachor only a passing glance as he went by.

The call became stronger until Ezra reached the portal it was emanating from. It was large and circular, a lot like Lothal's, only this time there weren't loth-wolves around the edges but what looked like people. Crude figures of people decorated the outside of the gateway, their arms sticking up in various positions. Some had both arms pushed out in front of them with flat hands, others had one raised into a tight first, some had their hands pointed or reaching out at each other. At the very top of the portal, there was a single large white circle.

Whatever was on the other side of this portal was where the force had been calling him, or at least it would bring him one step closer. The small inklings he felt from beyond weren't encouraging. There was a coldness seeping from the portal, not like Krownest or winter on Lothal, but something evil, like on Malachor. The cold shook him to the core with fear more than anything else.

"I'm going to end this, once and for all!"

He stared into the opaque gateway, wondering what he'd find on the other side. It isn't too late to turn back...

"I made a choice... I couldn't stay..."

No. I can do this, I'm a Jedi. I'm a Jedi Knight. No amount of fear, anxiety or longing for home could stop him committing to his mission.

"But now I know there's something stronger than fear. Far stronger."

Ezra breathed in and out to calm himself down. At last, he readied himself for the jump.

"There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?"

Ezra threw himself at the portal, not knowing where it would lead him next.

"Cloaking device engaged", Sabine confirmed as Ahsoka began to power down the hyperdrive. "Any idea what this feeling you had is?"

"No", the Togruta answered, "Though I guess we're about to find out."

The inertia kicked in as the ship started to come out of hyperspace. Sabine watched the viewport intently, but she only expected to see another empty world and no sign whatsoever of Ezra. She didn't mean to be cynical but, well, she was being realistic. There was so little chance of them find-

Sabine's jaw fell open as they emerged from hyperspace.

Three massive Star Destroyers loomed in front of the ship with another light-cruiser nearby. She couldn't be more grateful that their cloaking device has kept them hidden from view or those Imperials would make short work of their shuttle.

"Well, looks like my hunch paid off", the woman next to her laughed.

There was a large planet below them, orange in colour and with a number of moons and orbiting asteroids. Sabine punched some buttons on the scanners to get a better idea of what was down there. Things can live down there... Ezra can live down there.

"Ahsoka? You sense him?", she asked quickly.

"Hmm", she paused, "It's difficult to tell."

"Okay, okay", Sabine hastily tapped on the console, "I could try using the life form scanner, or maybe the-"

"Relax, if he's down there then I think I know where to find him."

Ahsoka moved the ship toward the planet, keeping a good distance between them and the Empire. They weren't shooting, so that meant they hadn't detected them on their scanners. With how small their ship was, it was unlikely they'd be able to spot them by eye. Beneath one of the Star Destroyers, Sabine saw something that made her blood run cold. The large design on the underside of the Chimeara was still there. That's Thrawn's ship alright.

A proximity alarm started to blare and snapped Sabine back to reality, "What's that?"

Ahsoka stared down at the screen, "We've got ships leaving the planet's surface. They're all heading back to the fleet"

That didn't bode well, not at all. If they were heading back already then that meant... Sabine didn't want to think what that meant. No, he's not dead. Sabine didn't have anything concrete to base that on, she just knew. Something within her just knew, she was sure of it.

They were far enough away that Ahsoka could manoeuvre well out of their flight path. The cloaking device kept their shuttle safe from detection whilst they scanned the incoming ships. The first three ships were all Sentinel-class shuttles packed to the brim with lifeforms. Behind them, a TIE Defender seemed to be flying on autopilot with another ship close on its tail. The sight filled her with dread; it was the type of TIE only used by Inquisitors.

"Looks like they're done down there", Ahsoka observed.

"Then shouldn't we follow them? If they're leaving then he's isn't going to be down there."

Ahsoka continued on her course toward the planet, "Patience, Sabine. We'll find our answers."

She didn't try to argue the point anymore. Frankly, Ahsoka knew better than her anyway. Her instincts had brought them here with no hard evidence or coordinates so there had to be something going on with this place. She sat and watched out of the window as the ship flew down to the surface. It was rocky and desolate, hardly a welcoming place to be.

The dreams that had plagued here recently came back to her, of finding Ezra on some desert world. This place was a bit too close to that for her liking and she knew all too well that sometimes dreams could be frighteningly accurate, especially when they involved the force.

From the air, Sabine could see a large open area with a single rocky structure in the centre. She guessed that must be what they were here for, there was nothing else as far as she could see. They set down in a small canyon large enough to take the shuttle's size. As soon as the landing gear hit the ground, Sabine was out of her chair and throwing her helmet on with her bag slung around her shoulder. She was already waiting impatiently at the access ramp when Ahsoka followed with a troubled look on her face.

"What's up?", she asked cautiously.

Ahsoka planted her staff on the ground, "Something has happened. Whatever led us here has... changed."


"It's complicated. We have to move quickly", Ahsoka lifted her staff and headed out of the ramp.

They walked faster than normal, Ahsoka led her at a pace just too slow to be considered running. Sabine couldn't hide her nerves, Ahsoka wan't one to panic so if she was on edge then there must have been something wrong. Ezra wasn't dead, he just couldn't be, she'd know. Still, as they walked through the canyon and out into the wide open space she'd seen from above, Sabine couldn't stop herself dwelling on those nightmares.

"That's where we're going", the older woman motioned with the staff as she went.

The Mandalorian couldn't tell if it was the heat or her nerves making her sweat, "No surprises there. There's nothing else on this rock."

"Careful, there's more here than meets the eye", Ahsoka kept her focus ahead of her.

When they got closer, Sabine still couldn't see anything interesting about the massive rock. Ahsoka, however, seemed to look more unsettled as she approached. When they finally reached it, Sabine stopped and looked up at is while Ahsoka went around the sides to see if there was anything to find.

"I don't know what you expected to find here but...", Sabine shrugged her shoulders.

Ahsoka called to her from the side of the rock, "Sabine, this way."

With a curious look under her helmet, Sabine went around to see what she meant. In the side of the rock, there was a small crack that led deeper inside. A cave, that's something. Ahsoka was standing at the entrance waiting for her. Wait, not a cave. The entrance was carved into a perfect circle in the rock, leading down into a dark passage.

"After you", she told Ahsoka.

The Togruta carefully led her into the cave, tapping her staff on the ground as she walked. They emerged into a circular room with three other corridors leading off from it.

"I don't sense Ezra here, but this is where the force was guiding us", Ahsoka's eyes scanned around the room.

Sabine also took a look around. The architecture was simple and basic but it had a certain appeal to it. Granted, it wasn't quite her type of art, but it had its own charm. "You know which way to go?", she asked.

"I believe so, follow me", Ahsoka walked down the central corridor and Sabine followed.

It only took them a short while, not even a minute, before they came to another large chamber. This was larger than the previous one and didn't have any other exits or entrances. Only two things caught Sabine's eye; the first was the slab of smoothly cut rock in the centre of the room; the other was the smashed up design on the far wall.

"What is that?", Sabine pointed to the mess of rubble on the floor.

A huge stone lay smashed on the ground like it had been thrown at the wall. Shards of metal and pieces of some decoration were lying broken on the floor as well, all part of some ring-like symbol that had been there. Did the Empire just come to vandalise old ruins?

Ahsoka stepped toward the rubble with her staff in hand, casting her eyes over everything in silence. The Mandalorian could tell something was weighing heavily on her mind.

"Hey, you okay?", she stepped towards the Togruta carefully.

Ahsoka put up her hand to her, "I'm fine."

Sabine stopped but kept looking at her, "I don't think you are..."

"No...", Ahsoka shook her head, "It's just..."

"Complicated?", Sabine finished the sentence for her.

"Not really no", Ahsoka answered. "Ezra was here."

Her eyes widened under her helmet, "Are you sure?"

"Positive", Ahsoka smiled.

"Then where is he?"

The Togruta nodded her head towards the smashed up area of wall.

Sabine looked quizzically at her, "Yeah, you've lost me. He's in the wall?"

"You were with Ezra at the temple on Lothal, weren't you?"

"When he went into the... wait. Is that what you think it is?!", Sabine stepped up to the wall and stood by Ahsoka.

Ahsoka gently pushed her back with her staff, "It was a gateway, yes. Until Ezra got his hands on it."

Sabine looked down at the rock among the rubble and the mess of metal pieces on the floor. Making a mess of everything? Yeah, that seems like Ezra.

"My guess is that he was led here too, just like I was, and probably like that Inquisitor", Ahsoka's lips curled into another smile, "And somehow he figured out how to open the access point."

"Huh, and he didn't even need my help this time", Sabine jested.

"And, the Inquisitor wasn't able to follow him through. He destroyed the gateway after he went through to make sure she didn't get access to its power."

"Wait, you can repair it, right?", Sabine asked hesitantly.

"I cannot", Ahsoka admitted "Best I can tell, these gateways will reform in time but there's no telling when that'll be."

Sabine felt her renewed hope start to ebb away, "Then what can we do? If we can't follow him then he could be anywhere in the galaxy."

He'd been here... he'd been right here and they'd missed him again. The Mandalorian felt her frustration rising again. They couldn't come this close just to go back to square one

Ahsoka gave her a sympathetic look, "I know you're frustrated but there is something I can do." She looked down at her staff and then up at the wall, "You might want to step back."

Sabine stepped back to the rock in the centre of the room and watched her companion closely. She didn't have a clue what she was doing but she hoped it would help.

Ahsoka planted the staff firmly on the ground in front of the wall. "These gateways can be tricky, they can affect time and the force in ways that we can't truly understand. But, during my time with them, I've learned a trick of two."

"I thought you said they can't be fixed, at least not by you", Sabine said.

"They can't. However, the access point still exists even if it can't be used. With the right knowhow and the right tools, they can still be useful", Ahsoka angled the circle atop her staff to align with the broken symbols on the wall. "We may not be able to use it but the force flows through the gateway all the same."

As she said it, the tip of her staff started to glow with a pure white light. It seemed to form within the circle and grow in intensity with every second.

"Uhh, Ahsoka?", Sabine stepped back further.

"I need to focus", she glanced back over her shoulder, "Trust me."

Sabine nodded wordlessly and backed away more, stepping over the stump of rock behind her but still watching Ahsoka. The staff continued to glow until the light burst from the top in an intense ray. The ray went straight into the wall where the symbols had been. It spread out along the surface until they formed a complete circle across the entire gateway before the ray seemed to focus in on the centre of the circle.

Sabine couldn't even guess what was happening, she wouldn't know where to start. Ahsoka was straining against the staff as the light poured out of it into the wall. Soon, that whole area of the wall was glowing as brightly as the staff as Ahsoka continued to focus all of her efforts on it.

Without warning, the ray flared and a large burst of energy erupted from the staff. The light pulsed for a few more seconds and then abruptly cut off with a loud crackling boom. Ahsoka breathed out loudly and fell to her knees, holding onto the staff for support.

"Ahsoka!", Sabine ran over to help her up.

"I'm alright", Ahsoka breathed as she pulled herself up with the staff.

The Mandalorian looked back to the wall, "Do I even ask what that was?"

"Like I said, I knew a trick or two", she caught her breath and checked the top of the staff, probably making sure it wasn't damaged.

"Want to give me the simple explanation?", Sabine shook her head.

The older woman smiled, "Simple? The world on the other side doesn't obey our laws so things like time don't work in the same way. I could, how do I put this, look back at what happened before we arrived."

"You saw Ezra?", Sabine would have been more than a little jealous of that.

"Not exactly, it's complicated. I did see where he went and even if I can't follow him, the force can. That's what the energy from the staff was for."

Sabine took off her helmet and looked at her in confusion, "You sent the force after him? How does that even make sense?"

"That's not how the force works", Ahsoka laughed, "The staff can send energy through the gateway, energy that someone attuned in the force can feel. I'm not really able to follow Ezra with it but I can use it to follow the gateway he used."

The Mandalorian grinned as she started to make sense of it, "So you can detect where he came out?!"

Ahsoka's eyes narrowed "Something like that. The trouble is that any force sensitive can detect it. The feeling might keep Ezra near the portal but..."

"It'll also draw the Inquisitor", Sabine completed her sentence.

The Togruta turned away from the wall, "The quicker we get moving, the better chance we'll have of reaching him before that Inquisitor catches on."

Ahsoka started walking out of the chamber and back out of the ruin. Sabine lingered for a moment over the rubble. Just a little longer, Ezra. We're almost there.

Captain Pellaeon had barely arrived on the Chimaera for a private meeting with the Grand Admiral before they received word that the ground teams were already returning. Thrawn had given no such orders and neither had he. As soon as Pellaeon reached his office, he knew that whatever meeting the Grand Admiral has planned would have to wait. The Chiss wasted no time and made straight for the hangar, walking much faster, Pellaeon noted, than he usually did.

"I have to agree, Grand Admiral. This is unusual", Pellaeon grumbled as they headed down the corridors.

"The Fourth Sister's influence I fear", the Grand Admiral kept his eyes forward as they went.

The Grand Admiral has called Pellaeon for a meeting while the Inquisitor and the stormtroopers did their work on the planet below. Pellaeon couldn't say he envied their assignment, that world looked uninviting enough even without the Jedi waiting down there. He'd honestly been expecting to be laying eyes on Bridger by the end of the day but it seemed like they were going to be disappointed again. The stormtroopers were checking in as ordered until about halfway into their mission, while the Inquisitor was being her usual self and not bothering to keep in touch at all. There'd been no further communications since and no warning that the ground teams were coming back until the Chimera's own crew scanned the shuttles approaching.

By the time they reached the hangar, the stormtroopers had already returned. Most of them were unpacking their gear and leaving the ships already, bantering to each other as soldiers always did. Pellaeon followed as Thrawn made a bee-line for the stormtrooper Sergeant, marked out by his white pauldron.

"Sergeant", Thrawn said as he approached with an unusual coldness to his voice, "Perhaps you'd wish to explain why you are here and not on the surface, as I ordered."

The stormtrooper straightened up and saluted, "Uh, sir. The Inquisitor ordered us back."

Thrawn's red stare locked onto the Sergeant, "I am your commanding officer, not the Fourth Sister."

"Right, uh, yes. Um, we know that, sir", the stormtrooper stuttered and looked around nervously.

"The fact that you are here in this hangar suggests that you do not", the Grand Admiral replied.

Pellaeon watched the nervous trooper shifting uncomfortably under Thrawn's interrogation. Something wasn't right here and he was getting a bad hunch about it.

"Tell me, what was down there? I hope you at least followed through with those orders", Thrawn pressed on.

The trooper sunk his head and his hand brushed his neck, "Uh, I think... no, there wasn't much down there, Grand Admiral. Just empty desert and rocks if I remember."

Thrawn didn't immediately answer and instead processed everything in his mind. Before either had a chance to continue, a TIE Defender flew in through the hangar shield followed by the Inquisitor's specialised TIE Advanced. If she'd found her ship and had taken it back then that meant... Pellaeon pulled at his collar, swearing that the hangar was getting warmer somehow. This wasn't going to be pretty.

The Chiss instantly turned his attention to the landing TIE and completely disregarded the stormtrooper. Pellaeon dismissed him with a nod and followed Thrawn as he walked to meet the Inquisitor.

As soon as the TIE's hatch opened, Thrawn's voice was echoing around the hangar. "Inquisitor. Explain yourself."

She pulled herself out of the ship and jumped down onto the deck, not using the ladders that most pilots did. Pellaeon had expected her to look prideful and painfully arrogant but instead the woman looked distracted, exhausted and almost confused.

"Must I repeat myself? Where is Bridger?", Thrawn's voice was harder than usual and his words came out harsher for it.

"He wasn't there", the Inquisitor replied.

"Really?", the Grand Admiral glanced at her personal TIE, "I suppose you merely found your ship lying unattended for no reason whatsoever."

The Inquisitor folded her arms in front of her, "He was here. He ditched the ship by the time we arrived and we couldn't find him. Must have gone somewhere."

The answer was vague to say the least and hardly a good excuse. They'd not even been gone an hour, not nearly enough time to properly search the area for him.

"I will not play your games, Inquisitor. Why do the stormtroopers not wish to tell me anything about their mission?", Thrawn asked but Pellaeon sensed he knew answer.

The Inquisitor's gaze broke from Thrawn's for a second, "Maybe there's nothing to tell. Sorry to disappoint you, Grand Admiral."

Suddenly, the Inquisitor winced and gasped quietly. She stepped back from Thrawn and looked around bewilderingly. What in blazes is going on today?

"Inquisitor?", Thrawn eyed her cautiously.

"I... uh", the Inquisitor seemed breathless and confused, "It's nothing."

"I do not believe so", Thrawn watched as the Inquisitor shook off her sudden daze and regained herself.

"If you'll excuse me, Grand Admiral, I must return to my quarters", the Inquisitor murmured before stepping around the two of them and walking away.

Thrawn didn't try to call after her or stop her in any way. Pellaeon knew there'd be no point in that, she'd just ignore him. Whatever just happened with her a moment ago seemed to be as surprising to her as it was to them.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?", Pellaeon sighed.

"I believe so, Captain. The stormtroopers' evasive responses and lack of memory are indicative of a Jedi mind trick."

Pellaeon sighed again, "But why? What did she have to hide down there?"

"I do not know", Thrawn stopped watching the Inquisitor go and turned to Pellaeon, "Something has emboldened her or perhaps distracted her. I do not see how Bridger could have escaped and the Fourth Sister would not abandon her search of the planet so quickly."

The Captain scowled to himself, "Unless she knew she wouldn't find him. He couldn't be dead, could he? She'd be jumping for joy if he was, even if she didn't do it herself."

"I agree. There is something unfolding that we are not seeing", the Grand Admiral said grimly. "Contact the Myrmidon. Order them to send another squad to the surface for an investigation. I very much wish to see what was down there. Perhaps then we can start to unravel this mystery."

"At once, Grand Admiral", Pellaeon pulled his comm out from his belt and relayed the orders back to his ship.

"As for her unusual behaviour moments ago, I do not know", Thrawn continued as the Captain barked the orders into the comm.

That made two of them. The Fourth Sister behaved strangely at the best of times but Pellaeon had never seen her behave like this. The sudden look of surprise, the complete changes from smug hostility to confused meekness didn't seem to have an explanation. Something must have surprised her or suddenly caught her attention, but what?

The Captain huffed, "I can't abide these force types. Nothing's ever simple with them."

"Even the force can be understood with the appropriate knowledge or experience. Whatever has occurred with Bridger and whatever has caught the attention of our Inquisitor will be identified, sooner or later."

"That's awfully optimistic", Pellaeon laughed dryly.

"Hmm, perhaps. Either way, we shall do what we can." He pulled out his own communicator and raised it to his mouth, "Commodore, prepare ground scans of the target area. Captain Pellaeon and I will join you shortly.

Commodore Faro's voice came through, "Commander Hammerly will handle it at once, sir.",

"Excellent, Commodore. We are on our way." The Grand Admiral walked away and motioned for him to follow, "Come, Captain. Let us see what the Inquisitor wishes to hide from us."

It was strange being back on Lothal. Even with Jacen and Chopper for company if still felt unusual to be here without Sabine or Zeb, not to mention Kanan or Ezra.

Not that it wasn't nice to be here. Standing on the balcony of Ezra's old tower, or should she say Sabine's tower, she was treated to a beautiful view. The sun was setting over the plains and the whole sky was lit up in a beautiful orange. Not like the orange from before, not the horrible artificial colour that had stained everything under the Empire. It was beautiful now.

Chopper wheeled out of the tower and onto the balcony next to her, grumbling in his mechanical voice.

"You better not have woken him up, you know how sleepy he gets when we're travelling", Hera warned the droid.

Jacen was already asleep. Sabine kept a bed here in a small corner of the tower for Jacen whenever he visited and it was almost as much a home for him as his room on the Ghost was. Part of her didn't like that. Not that he felt at home here or with Sabine, she loved that, but she didn't like that Jacen had to jump between different places so often. A month on Lothal here, a month with Cham there, back on the Ghost the next before starting all over again. It was no way to grow up. It couldn't really be helped, duty came first as it always did, especially since it was ultimately Jacen that she was fighting for. He deserved to grow up free of the fear and conflict that she'd have to endure and Hera had helped change the galaxy to make that happen for him.

Thankfully, that chapter was coming to a close. The Emperor was dead and the New Republic was spreading across the stars. Things could always change of course, no one had expected the sudden rise of the Empire for example, but Hera cautiously hoped that things would be different. She couldn't bear the thought of to having fought for so long only to have it all torn away within a few years. Jacen deserved a peaceful life and, honestly, she'd earned a few years of peace for herself too.

Chopper chirped beside her, reminding her that he was still there.

"In a minute, Chopper", Hera rolled her eyes. He'd been promised some joint adjustments this evening, just about the only maintenance Chopper enjoyed. "Just give me a few minutes, it's been a long day."

They'd arrived around midday after leaving Home One almost two rotations ago. With no indication of when Sabine and Ahsoka would return, there was no point in sitting around waiting. Leia, Rex and Luke all had their own responsibilities to attend to but promised to be there as soon as any word came through. Zeb and Kallus still had some business on Lira San so Hera had dropped them off too. That left just her, Jacen and their grumbling mechanical companion alone on Lothal.

Hera wanted to make sure everything was ready for when they returned. Maybe clean up the tower, repair a few things here and there and make everything tidy to welcome them home. Hera smiled to herself, behind all her worries she was still overjoyed that they were finally going to bring Ezra back.

A few other things had to be done to prepare and she'd spend most of the afternoon attending to some of that. Ryder Azadi had been a good friend to them all in the last few years, giving Sabine a job, a home and all the materials she asked for. He did little things too; the Ghost had docking priorities and Hera would always return to find the ship refuelled whenever she left it there. It was his way of saying thank you and reminding them that he still thought about them, even if his growing responsibilities took up most of his time. She'd visited him earlier to let him know what was happening and that she'd probably be staying here for a while. Ryder had insisted on some sort of welcome back celebration for Ezra, the 'Hero of Lothal' as people often called him, but Hera wasn't so sure. Ezra wasn't much for crowds or attention anyway. They eventually settled on a small welcoming party when he got back to Lothal, a few people like himself, Jai Kell and whatever other familiar faces they could scrounge up. There'd be some official ceremony down the line but Hera felt it was best to wait until Ezra came home to decide on that one.

"Whorp wharp whorp", Chopper grumbled.

"Don't make me give you an oil bath", she glared at him.

She didn't mean the threat, she was far too tired to go through the trouble. Maybe when Ezra and Sabine got back she'd get them to do it, they loved making Chopper grumpy - not that he needed much help doing that.

"Or maybe I'll get Sabine to give you a paintjob."

"Wharp!", the droid waved his arms indignantly.

Hera lay a hand on Chopper's dome, "I'm kidding, Chop."

The droid grumbled halfheartedly, something about not wanting them back if they were going to pick on him again. She rolled her eyes at him, knowing that the old droid missed them more than he'd admit.

"I miss them too, buddy. They'll be back in no time."

When they did get home, things would be different. Kanan obviously wouldn't be there and there'd be no war to fight. For once in their lives, they'd have the chance to sit back and enjoy life. Ezra and Jacen would have their Jedi training of course, assuming Ezra agreed to do it. Then Jacen would follow in Ezra's footsteps and in Kanan's before him. It was a much better arrangement than handing him over to Skywalker to fly about the galaxy away from his family. Kanan didn't ever return to his homeworld, he wasn't even sure where that was, let alone see his parents. Hera couldn't let that happen to Jacen too.

Come to think of it, Hera hadn't thought much about how it would work. She knew Ezra and Jacen would have to spend a lot of time together but Ezra wasn't likely to be on the Ghost like he was when he was a student with Kanan. Ezra would want to stay on Lothal, he deserved to stay on Lothal, so Jacen would have to as well.

Hera bit her lip and looked out at the plains around the tower. It would be a nice place for him to be, for all of them to be. She'd been thinking about it for a while and now, standing here, her decision became final. Hera Syndulla was going to settle down, and she was going to settle down here. Not a retirement of course, she wasn't anywhere near that age and she knew she'd probably be called for a mission or two here and there, but for the most part it might be time to make a home for herself with solid ground under her feet. If Ezra and Sabine were going to be on Lothal with Jacen too, then she wanted to be there with them. Maybe she could even persuade Zeb and Kallus to come too.

Her mind created an image of a small compound around the tower with a few other buildings. A house for her and Jacen, a house for Zeb, a house for Kallus, or maybe just one for those last two. There'd be a courtyard in the centre and, of course, a nice big landing area for the Ghost. She might want to settle down but there was no way Hera Syndulla wasn't going to find an excuse to fly whenever she could. It would be a perfect way to spend the next few years, basking in her family on the world they'd all worked hard to save.

Another smile graced the Twi'lek's lips as she tucked the little fantasy away for now, saving it for another time.

If she was going to stay here though, she'd have to make peace with something. She looked over to Capital City, its lights keeping it clearly visible even as the sun was setting. The familiar skyline was still breathtaking in its own way. The gaping hole left by the dome had been replaced by new skyscrapers and towers and the whole city had been cleaned up and updated. Every single part of it, including the former Imperial sectors. Perhaps the most dramatic overhaul was that fuel depot.

It had been Ryder's suggestion to turn that place into something nicer and there was nothing more fitting than having a memorial for Kanan there. It was a quiet garden, some choice plants and a few decorations donated by the people of Lothal. In the centre of the garden, where that particular fuel tank had been, was a small simple plaque in Kanan's memory. She'd only ever been to it twice. Once was for the opening ceremony a few months after Yavin. Sabine finally persuaded her to go again about a year ago but they hadn't stayed long, she still couldn't really face it. Zeb visited a few times when he was on Lothal and Sabine went there somewhat often, she even had a few paintings of some of the plants there. Jacen, on the other hand, hadn't been there at all. To be honest, Hera didn't even think she'd mentioned it to him. He was too young she told herself.

But now, Hera knew she couldn't shut it away and pretend it wasn't there, not if they were going to be settling down here. It was past time for Jacen to see it and know who his father was. Especially if he was going to walk the path of a Jedi like Kanan had. It wouldn't be easy to go there again but it had to be done - for herself, for Kanan and for Jacen.


Next time: Ahsoka and Sabine leave the planet, Ezra emerges from the World Between Worlds, The Fourth Sister follows her instincts and Hera takes Jacen to visit Kanan's memorial.

Chapter Text

 "When we get back to the ship, it should be a simple case of trusting the force to guide us", Ahsoka explained as they stepped out of the cave and back into the blaring sunlight.

Sabine wasn't far behind her, unsure exactly how to fell about all of this. "Simple? Simple for you maybe."

"I got us here, didn't I?", Ahsoka grinned.

The Mandalorian grumbled under her breath, "Sometimes I think you enjoy this too much."

They started to walk across the empty expanse back to their ship. It was still as warm as before but Sabine felt much better on the way out than she had on the way in. They knew where Ezra had gone, or at least Ahsoka knew, and they were going to get there before he had a chance to run off again. To think it might only be hours before she could see that stupid loth-rat grin of his. She still hadn't decided where'd she'd slap him or hug him first, she guessed she'd just figure that part out later.

Her mind wandered as she thought about him and how close he was. She couldn't stop imagining the look he'd have on his face when he saw them for the first time or the torrent of worries, concerns and hugs he was going to get from Hera. Then it came to Jacen, that was going to be the big one. Ezra had no clue about Hera's pregnancy, none of them had back then, so it was going to be more than a surprise for him. The best kind of surprise of course. She'd filled Jacen's head with stories of Ezra and was looking forward to Jacen hounding Ezra with a million questions as soon as he met him. Lothal was waiting for him too. Just imagining how happy he'd be to see it safe and free, looking out over the beautiful plains from the balcony on their... his tower. Am I getting ahead of myself? Maybe a little bit.

She pulled her head out of the clouds and kept her mind in the here and now where it belonged. They were almost at the mouth of the canyon and out of the huge open space where the cave had been.

"So how far away is this beacon of yours telling us to go?", Sabine asked as they walked.

"It's hard to say. We'll know when we-"

Ahsoka cut herself off and her eyes shot up to the sky. Sabine looked as well and saw what the Togruta had already sensed. An Imperial shuttle was flying down from orbit towards their position. It was pretty far away, too far for Sabine to hear the engines, but it was moving quickly. They might not be spotted easily but it wouldn't be hard to pick out their red and white shuttle among the rusty orange of the terrain.

"We need to run, now!", Sabine broke into a sprint back towards the canyon they'd come down.

Ahsoka followed close behind, slipping her staff into the sling on her back to be ready for a fight. At the rate that shuttle was coming down, it'd be here in minutes and Sabine's most optimistic guesses still told her that the Empire would see their shuttle long before they reached it, let alone got off the ground and escaped. If the Empire found them or captured them now... Sabine grunted under her breath and pushed her body harder. They were not going to get caught now.

She started to hear the sound of the engines as they entered the canyon but the high walls made it impossible to see the shuttle. They just had to hope that they could stop the shuttle sending any warning up to the fleet. If they did it might well be game over.

They reached a fork in the canyon, "Which way? Which way?!", she yelled back to Ahsoka.

"Right!", Sabine followed her directions and went right, her mind too distracted to remember the way.

They ran for another minute or two, Ahsoka having to remind her more than once of which turning to take. It wasn't long before the shuttle engines quickly but noticeably quieted down. She knew what that meant; they'd landed. Sabine had to hope her and Ahsoka weren't too far away from their ship now.

Ahsoka was easily keeping pace with Sabine, "It's not far now, don't worry."

"Don't worry?", she answered breathlessly, "They're going to see our shuttle."

"They were going to catch on sooner or later, at least we know where Ezra is already."

"Yeah but so will the Inquisitor!",

"They don't have a head start this time, we're going to find him, Sabine. I promise."

They turned another corner in the canyon and Sabine stopped in her tracks. She could see their shuttle in front of her, exactly where they'd left it. Only now, a squad of eight stormtroopers was looking it over. They must have arrived only seconds before her and Ahsoka. Their shuttle had set down in a wide area of the canyon with two entry points into it. Sabine and Ahsoka had taken the canyon path that led towards the temple, whilst the Empire must have landed somewhere down the other path.

"Karabast", Sabine cursed under her breath and dived behind a rock nearby to avoid being seen. She watched the troopers carefully as they inspected the ship.

"What is this doing here?", one of the stormtroopers walked along the side of the shuttle and looked up at the cockpit.

"Looks like one of the old Republic shuttles", the squad leader knocked the door of the ship and waited for an answer. "Huh, guess no one is home."

Ahsoka crept up beside her and crouched down behind the rocks next to Sabine.

"What do we do?", the Mandalorian whispered.

Ahsoka peered over the rock, "We have to get rid of them. We can't let them report to Thrawn."

Sabine drew her blasters from her hips and slowly peaked over her cover.

"We gonna blast it open?", another trooper tried the door.

The squad leader paused, "Hmm, better contact the Grand Admiral. Maybe he'll want to-"

A blaster bolt burned through his helmet and cut the squad leader off mid-sentence, sending him crumpling to the floor. Before the troopers knew what was happening, Sabine was sliding over the rock with both pistols firing as rapidly as she could manage. The stormtrooper by the shuttle's door took a handful of rounds and tumbled to the ground.

Ahsoka leapt up after her, drawing the attention of the entire squad. They certainly hadn't expected to face anything like her. The white blades ignited as she jumped at the nearest trooper, sliced up through his blaster and then across his mask in a single fluid motion.

The stormtroopers quickly descended into chaos, "Fall back! Get to the ship!" Despite their superiority in numbers, the troopers realised they were completely outmatched.

A trooper tried to run from the area and down the path the Empire had come in through, but Sabine caught him in the back as he went. Their numbers were narrowed down to four now, more than an easy fight. The remaining four were all grouped behind some rocks near the canyon entrance where the troopers had come in. Ahsoka and Sabine moved up, taking cover behind another large rock closer to their shuttle.

Sabine poked out to shoot at them but instantly dived back down as three of the troopers stood up and started manoeuvring out of cover.

"Ugh!", Sabine slammed her back against the rock, "I can't get a shot."

"They're moving out of cover, only three of them", Ahsoka watched them from the side as they moved away from the rocks and towards the shuttle.

Sabine peered out again and saw the fourth trooper, the one that had stayed hidden, get up and start to make a run for it down the canyon path.

"Ahsoka, cover me! I can't let them warn Thrawn!"

Ahsoka nodded and stepped out of cover with her lightsabers bared. She drew the attention of the three stormtroopers and their blasters too, letting Sabine jump out and give chase after the other trooper.

He was fast, Sabine had to give him that. Sabine haphazardly fired a few bolts towards the three stormtroopers as she went past to throw them off but their attention was still on Ahsoka. She ran after the escaping trooper, firing a few more shots at him as they ran up the canyon. The stormtrooper luckily dodged them but didn't risk firing back. Smart move, she thought as she pointed her blasters for another attack. Then, the trooper reached for his belt and his arm flung back, sending a small metal ball back behind him. Wait... is that a... Detonator!

Sabine had barely enough time to slow herself down and ran right over the grenade before it exploded just behind her. The force sent her flying a few more metres forward, face down onto the rough rock below. Her ears were ringing, her body ached and she could feel the iron taste of blood in her mouth. Her pistols had been knocked from her hands and she couldn't see them anywhere.

"Sabine!", Ahsoka's voice came from her wrist comm, "Sabine! I heard an explosion, are you alright?"

Her mind was still in a daze from the explosion.

Ahsoka's voice came again, more urgently, "Sabine! What happened?!"

She groaned and pressed the respond button, "Ugh, I'm... I'm fine. Grenade." She pushed herself onto her knees as the dust cleared.

"Did you stop him?!"

Sabine's eyes shot up to the trooper that she'd been chasing. She could see the Imperial shuttle further down the canyon and the trooper was still running for it. She looked desperately around for her blasters but couldn't see them anywhere.

"Oh, kriff it", she got to her feet and broke into a run towards the shuttle. She wasn't going to catch him before he got there but she might reach it before he could get a message through the transmitter or get the ship off the ground.

She ran as fast as her aching body would let her. The ringing in her ears was starting to stop but her back was killing her. The taste of blood had stopped a bit too, she must have bit her tongue in the fall. It didn't matter, she had to stop that trooper. But how? No blasters, no extra grenades. She'd have to go hand to hand. Or..He wouldn't mind, would he? Of course he won't.

As she approached the shuttle, her hand reached into her bag and fumbled around. There it is. Out of the bag, she grabbed Ezra's lightsaber hilt and held it in her hand. She hesitated for a moment, giving the weapon the reverence and significance it deserved, before igniting the shimmering emerald blade.

Sabine slowed down as she entered the shuttle, the lightsaber drawn up in a ready position as she walked. She saw the stormtrooper with his back to her, desperately tapping away at the communications relay in the cockpit.

"Hey", she called to get his attention, "Step away from the console. Now."

She stopped a few metres behind him and pointed the blade at the back of his head. The stormtrooper froze and Sabine stared at the back of his helmet for what felt like minutes.

"Step away and we won't have to hurt you", she honestly didn't think he would be stupid enough to try something now.

Clearly, she was wrong. The stormtrooper's hand shot forward to the communicator, "Grand Admiral, there's a Mandalori-ahhhh!"

She lunged forward and swung the lightsaber diagonally down his back, tearing through armour and putting an end to him. She brought the blade up again and slashed at the terminal to cut off any more communications.

"Oh, karabast", she looked at the console and sighed heavily.

The stormtrooper had sent a partial message, enough for Thrawn to know there were intruders here. Thrawn would even know one of the intruders was her, it wasn't likely that any other Mandalorians would come out this far. Still, at least Ahsoka's presence wasn't known to him. Having that surprise up their sleeves could help them out.

With a groan she turned around to leave the shuttle. She took a few seconds to deactivate the blade, simply admiring the familiar glow and simple design of the hilt. The noise was different to other lightsabers too, it was deeper than others she'd heard and she sort of liked it. Admittedly, it was far from the first time she'd used it since he'd been gone. Life on Lothal was quiet and that left her with plenty of free time, some of which she'd spent practising the forms that Ezra had taught her back on Atollon. Ezra's lightsaber meant a lot to her, not only was it his in the first place but it had saved her life, in his hands or her own, too many times to count.

By the time she'd finished musing on the weapon and slipped back into her bag, Ahsoka was already waiting outside.

"They got a message off but not much detail, no mention of you or anything."

Ahsoka scowled at the ground, "It's odd that the Empire came back a second time. There's no way they could have known we were down here."

"There'll be time for that later, we have to get to Ezra", Sabine charged past and kicked up a good pace back to their ship.

"Slow down, Sabine", Ahsoka called from behind, "You dropped these."

Sabine spun around to see Ahsoka holding up both of the Mandalorian's WESTAR pistols in her hand.

"Oh, thanks", Sabine took them both back and gave them a brief inspection, "Sorry, I'm getting ahead of my- oh, karabast."

Ahsoka raised an eyebrow, "Is something wrong?"

Sabine sighed and slid the blasters into her holsters, "Yeah, the paint job is all scratched."

The Togruta stared at her, "That's what you're worried about?"

"Hey", she put her hands on her hips, "Do you have any idea how much time I put into these?"

Ahsoka smiled and shook her head, "Tell me another time. Let's get back to the ship. We need to leave now if we want to get to Ezra."

Returning the damaged, ruined, blasters to her hips, Sabine led the way back. If they were lucky, they could slip out of the system before the Empire could send someone after them. Then, they only had to hope that they'd reach Ezra before that Inquisitor could.

The Fourth Sister was shaking by the time she reached her quarters. Not fear, she told herself, it's adrenaline.

The first thing was whatever just happened with Bridger. The boy just disappeared into a glowing hole in the wall as if it was some portal. How could the boy have known to do that? Even more importantly, what was that? She'd never heard of any of it so how Bridger had known was a complete mystery.

Secondly, that weird feeling that she'd had when she arrived back on the Chimaera. That was still there in the background but she hadn't had time to figure out what it actually was yet. It might have been calling her somewhere. It wasn't quite the same feeling that had brought here her in the first place, this one was less a constant drone that she suddenly tuned in to and more like a flare going off in the force and grabbing her attention.

Lastly and most importantly was that voice. As the portal that Bridger disappeared into exploded, the force overwhelmed her and with it came those two words. Find me. The voice was raspy and pained but it was there, like the words of a dying man that were strained and harsh. What did the voice belong to? How did it contact her? Why did it want her help? Where could it even be?

She couldn't go after Bridger the same way he left, it was pretty clear that whatever that was it wasn't going to help her anymore. The voice had also given her no real clues, only a vague instruction. The new sensation, the one she'd felt as she got back to the Chimaera, could be addressed. It a call in the force had drawn her here, maybe this was another that would lead her to where Bridger went or maybe even the source of that voice.

The Inquisitor knelt on the meditation stool in the centre of her room, just as she did to prepare for the call that drew her here. This was more intense than that and she simply had to clear her mind to listen to it. The last one felt like a subtle hum while this one was almost like an intense concentration of energy somewhere. She focused in on it more. It wasn't that far away. She didn't know what it was but she didn't doubt that this was something worth investigating.

A bit longer and she felt she had a good grasp of it, perhaps good enough to follow. A little more and... that was it. This feeling was new but it was similar to what she'd felt before. It was something different but it was calling her all the same. It was calling her and she knew she could follow it to the source.

She stood up and prepared to fetch her TIE fighter before she abruptly stopped. She didn't know what she was walking in to this time. True, she didn't know before but this was different. A niggling feeling told her that this voice was a much more important task than capturing Bridger. Furthermore, he had some explanations to give about what he did down there. Begrudgingly, she had to admit that maybe capturing Bridger was a better choice than killing him right now. If he had information that was being kept from her then she should have it, and if she was lucky she might get to inflict some pain to make him tell reveal it. Even then, she might inflict pain anyway.

Of course that would mean Thrawn's cooperation. Thrawn still wanted Bridger captured for his own pride. Now, however, the Fourth Sister needed him too. They had the same goal of capturing Bridger even if their reasons were different. She clenched her fists and sighed, she'd have to play his game for now. With a few curses under her breath, she stepped out of her quarters and headed to the bridge.

Thrawn stroked his chin and looked down at the holographic map on the table. Pellaeon watched him intently as his mind ticked away, with Commodore Faro beside him.

"Their landing site looks to be here", Thrawn pointed to a narrow canyon on the display, "Whilst their target would be this odd structure. I do not doubt that there is more there than meets the eye."

Pellaeon looked at the unassuming cluster of rocks in the centre of a large clearing on the map, "Something the Inquisitor doesn't want us to see."

Before any response could be made, the bridge doors slid open and a pair of boots marched hard on the floor. Pellaeon turned and saw the Inquisitor with a less than amused look on her face.

Thrawn quickly shut off the map, "Inquisitor. To what do we owe this interruption?"

The woman came to the table and rested both hands on the edge. The malice and anger Pellaeon was so used to seeing in her was gone and replaced with something that was almost civility.

"Grand Admiral, I believe I have a lead on Bridger's location", she kept her voice steady and her face calm.

Pellaeon and Faro both looked at each other suspiciously but Thrawn kept his eyes on the Inquisitor. "Is that so? After our last encounter, I'd have not thought you'd wish to cooperate on this matter."

Their meeting in the hangar less than an hour ago was still fresh. Her open disobedience, her ambiguity and even her odd actions. It didn't take a genius to know that something wasn't quite right here, and Pellaeon didn't like not having a clue what that was.

The Inquisitor shifted her gaze away. "I was perhaps... too hasty. I have come to...", she sighed, "I've come to accept that Bridger's capture might be more achievable than his immediate death."

Now that was unexpected. The Inquisitor's intention to kill Bridger against Thrawn's orders was well known, word of her open disobedience since she first caught whiff of the Jedi had spread throughout the whole fleet. Yet here she was, openly accepting that she was wrong. There was only one explanation for this: she's hiding something. He looked over at Thrawn, knowing that he must be thinking the same thing.

The Grand Admiral didn't let anything show, maybe the Inquisitor was still naive enough to think he hadn't noticed her odd behaviour and Thrawn wasn't going to shatter that illusion for her.

"I see. An interesting change of heart", the Chiss watched her with a passive expression, "Why, might I ask, have you changed your mind?"

She looked away again and adjusted her stance, "As long as I get to kill him later, I don't see why capturing him is a bad choice."

"Is that all?", Thrawn cocked his eyebrow.

Pellaeon could see her mutter something under her breath before she spoke, "I... also realise that I have not defeated Bridger on my own. Perhaps we do need to cooperate and I know you would only do so if I promise not to kill him."

Thrawn didn't comment on her reasoning. "What is this lead you speak of?"

"There's a... call in the force. It's what drew me to Bridger here in the first place and it's drawing me somewhere else now."

Pellaeon narrowed his eyes, "I thought you said Bridger wasn't on the planet."

She looked at Pellaeon from the corner of her eye, "I said he was here but that'd he'd left. I'm assuming the force is guiding me to where he is now."

Commodore Faro has the courage to question her too, "How could he have escaped to another planet without a ship?"

The Inquisitor sunk her head, "He must have found one. Pirates or smugglers maybe. It wouldn't be impossible for them to have been out here somewhere, he probably ditched the ship and took a ride with them."

"I don't agree, it sounds too unlikely", Pellaeon shook his head.

"Unlikely as it may be, Captain, I believe it might be our best lead", Thrawn surprisingly seemed to agree with her. "Bridger is not down there, I sincerely doubt that our Inquisitor would let that opportunity pass her by. By whatever means Bridger reached his next location is irrelevant next to the fact that he is actually there."

Pellaeon looked at him, stunned by his sudden desire to work with her, and the Commodore didn't seem much less surprised either.

Even the Inquisitor hesitated, "I- thank you, Grand Admiral. I'll go ahead in my ship, I'll let you know the route to follow as I go."

"No", Thrawn interrupted, "You shall not go alone. You will go ahead in an Imperial shuttle with a full compliment of stormtroopers."

"You don't trust me, Grand Admiral?", her voice held a small hint of anger that she couldn't quite hide.

"Given your previous actions I believe the precaution is warranted."

She looked him in the eye and shot a glance at Pellaeon and Faro before bowing her head, "As you say, Grand Admiral. I'll leave at once."

Without another word she turned on her heel and marched off the bridge. They watched her go in silence.

"Thoughts?", Thrawn asked after the door had slid closed.

"She's hiding something", Pellaeon knew that much was obvious.

"She could just be trying to get us away from this planet. You said yourself you believed that there was something she didn't want us to see", Faro suggested. The Commodore had only been told in passing about even on the surface but she did an admirable job of piecing it together for herself.

Thrawn clasped his hands behind his back, "You're both correct. She has something to hide on this planet for one and something else she is also keeping a secret. The only reason she would accept Bridger's survival is because she can use him for her own ends."

"And what would those be?", Pellaeon asked.

The Grand Admiral's red eyes looked away, "I do not know, Captain. Though I believe we may start to find answers at wherever the Inquisitor is planning to lead us."

They were interrupted by the beeping of a incoming message.

"From the surface, sir", an officer called from the side.

Thrawn nodded, "Put it through."

The hologram of a stormtrooper appeared above the table, crouched over a terminal. "Grand Admiral, there's a Mandalori-ahhhh!" The stormtrooper's message cut out after only a second in a flash of green light.

The whole bridge ground to a halt to watch and a few of the staff started to whisper among themselves.

"Play it again", Thrawn ordered.

The message repeated, "Grand Admiral, there's a Mandalori-ahhhh!" This time, Thrawn paused the recording right before it cut out. Clear as day, through the stormtrooper's chest, was the glowing blade of a lightsaber.

"Bridger's allies are here", Thrawn announced.

Faro leaned forward, "How could they be here? That's impossible. And where could they have found a lightsaber?"

"Calm yourself", Thrawn raised his hand. "You forget that Bridger relinquished his weapon before coming to the Chimaera above Lothal. The weapon is in the hands of his friends."

Thrawn played the message again but cut it off earlier, "Grand Admiral, there's a Mandalori-"

"Mandalorian?", Pellaeon finished the last word of the stormtrooper's message.

Thrawn nodded, "Indeed. No doubt it is the Jedi's compatriot, Sabine Wren. The Jedi and the Mandalorian were close friends during their time together and displayed a strong connection with each other. It makes sense not only that she'd be among those who would endeavour to find him but also that she is in possession of the Jedi's weapon. There is a significance to the lightsaber that even I am aware of, only those who one trusts completely should be entrusted with its safe-keeping."

Faro sighed, "That still doesn't answer how they found this place so quickly. They couldn't have tracked us, could they?"

The Chiss paused and might have been searching for an explanation. Hmph, odd. You'd think he'd already have an explanation for how they did this. "Hmm. It is possible that they have the means of tracking our ships. If they entered this system undetected, it is possible they intercepted us after their incursion aboard the Invictus and found the opportunity to track us."

Pellaeon ran his hand along his chin, "Or Bridger found some way to contact them. Perhaps with the Inquisitor's ship?"

"Potentially", Thrawn's eyes locked onto the stormtrooper and the lightsaber blade burning through his chest. "Commodore, prepare the fleet for departure, I wish to be ready as soon as the Fourth Sister begins to communicate our route."

"Sir?", Faro didn't move to follow his orders, "Aren't we going to deal with the intruders? How do we know we won't lead them to Bridger again?"

"Consider: either Bridger signalled them personally or they followed our fleet. If the former is true then they will leave and find Bridger as soon as they can, reaching him ahead of us and thereby retrieving him, meaning that time is of the essence. If the latter is true then they have no further route to Bridger and are therefore not a threat if we can get there ahead of them. Either way, it is our best course of action to leave immediately and pursue Bridger before he slips through our grasp."

The Commodore chewed it over, "At once, Grand Admiral."

"I understand your concern, Commodore", Thrawn gestured to her as she left to attend to her orders.

"I don't like this, Grand Admiral", Pellaeon said quietly, not wanting to make an open show of his uncertainty. "It's bad enough with the Inquisitor, but with Bridger's allies here too? Something is going on."

Thrawn stepped over and kept his voice low, "Calm yourself, Captain. Events are under control."

The Captain waited and thought it over again. He was missing something obvious here, something blatant. They all were. How did the Fourth Sister know where to find Bridger? How did he escape? How are his allies here already? And Thrawn... Pellaeon looked at him again. He was clam and measured as always despite the sudden appearance of the intruders and the Fourth Sister's odd behaviour.

"Captain?", Thrawn asked after a few seconds.

Pellaeon snapped back into reality, realising he'd been staring blankly away for a few seconds. "I-I'll return to the Myrmidon and make sure we're ready."

"Be patient, Captain. Things will become clear soon", Thrawn kept his voice low and his face serious. The Chiss watched him for a few seconds before turning around and walking further up the bridge.

Pellaeon watched him go before taking his own leave back to the Myrmidon. Things weren't right and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to figure out just what was going on out here.

Ezra tumbled onto the ground with a thud. He didn't take quite as long to recover from this portal jump, it was his second one that day and he was almost getting used to it. Rubbing his head, he stood up and looked around.

Yet again, he was in a large cavern but this one was much taller and much less rugged. It was less a cavern and more a room. The portal must have been in the wall behind him but it was too faded and grimy to see much detail. The room was a simple rectangle with short walls behind him and on the far side, with long featureless walls of stonework along either side. The portal seemed to be the room's only real feature and there was just a simple doorway on the opposite wall. The darkness made it hard to see much detail but there were simple patterns carved into the walls.

The most noticeable feature, however, was the dark purple mist that coved the ground. It obscured everything and seemed to cling on to everything it touched, flowing unnaturally across the ground as far as he could see.

"What is this place", he asked no one in particular as he stepped away from the portal.

Ezra slowly walked down the room, unable to see anything of interest. As he walked, he took the useless broken blaster that the Inquisitor had cut in half and dropped it to the ground. It was dead weight, no point lugging it around. He reached the doorway on the far side and found it held up by two ancient looking pillars. They were almost crumbling and it was a miracle they hadn't collapsed and brought the doorway down with it. He stepped through quickly, half scared that the movement would cause the old stone to fall down on top of him.

The doorway led him into a larger room, this one was much wider and much taller. In the centre of the room, raise on a platform of steps, was what looked like an altar. Ezra approached curiously and saw a smashed purple object lying atop it. It looked like some sort of orb had been set on the altar but it had been smashed and the top third of it lay shatter and broken on the floor and altar. The mist almost poured out of it. Best he could tell, whatever this mist was, it had been in this... orb.

Then, Ezra saw what was lying on the other side at the foot of the altar. A body.

Ezra stepped around the altar and crouched down to the body. He was no stranger to bodies but this was something else entirely. What happened here? The body was almost charred, all blackened and shrivelled. It must have been here for centuries, millennia even, just lying here. The whole body looked... wrong. It hadn't rotted away like it should have, the skin still clung to the corpse even if it was blackened and scarred. Ezra could even make out features on the face, including the frightening scream that the face was contorted into.

He stepped back from the gruesome sight and looked around. On the far side of the room to where he'd come in, there was another doorway and it looked like there were some stairs leading up. Hopefully, they led out of this twisted place. Ezra looked again at the altar and the desecrated body before heading to the doorway. The strange mist still lingered above the floor, coming up to Ezra's knees. He squinted his eyes to see where he was going and then stopped a few steps later. Another body lay on the floor in-front of him. Off to his side, there was another. Looking again, there were probably two or three more around him.

"Well this isn't creepy...", Ezra muttered to himself and knelt down to another body. It had the same strange look as the one at the altar. "What happened to you? What could have done this?"

Ezra looked back at the altar and the strange orb on top of it. That maybe? It was the only answer that seemed to present itself.

Leaving the unfortunate bodies where they lay, Ezra made his way to the stairs. The mist stuck to everything and a few more bodies were strewn about in horrible positions up the steps. A few of them had things trapped in their hands but it was too misty and dark for Ezra to see what they were. He covered the final few steps and looked out at the landscape.

Ezra went wide-eyed as he cleared the stairs, "Oh no..."

The stairs led to a hill that looked out over his surroundings. Ezra couldn't tell if it was nighttime or if this world was naturally the same horrible shade as the mist that ensnared the whole area.. In the distance he could see pillars and buildings, all poking out from the fog. On the slopes of the small hill and on the ground below, he could see even more bodies. There were a number of them kneeling and Ezra didn't want to think about how many were lying just under the miasma. It was disturbingly similar to what they'd seen at Malachor. The ancient structures, the unnatural darkness, the fields of corpses and maybe even the involvement of strange force-related weapons. It had to be something powerful to have caused this kind of destruction for so many people.

Ezra noticed that most of the structures were still relatively intact. The ravages of time had crumbled and worn a few but they were all still standing. Whatever transpired here didn't result in the destruction of the buildings in this place, only the people around it.

There was open space in front of him, lined on the sides with a few small buildings and structures. It looked almost like a street, leading up to the place he'd just come out of. There were more bodies here; a few slumped against walls, a few kneeling down with arms raised against... something, others lying flat. Ezra went up to one that was sitting against a wall and took a closer look. It was defiled like all the others with its blackened skin and horrible contortions but as he looked he found something different: a hole. A single circular hole was burnt through the body's chest. Ezra knew exactly what type of weapon left wounds like that. Only lightsabers were that precise.

Lightsaber wounds, ancient ruins, strange weapons wiping out whole battlefields? It was more like Malachor than he first thought.

From there, it seemed reasonable to guess what some of these bodies had been clutching in their hands. He looked at the ground around this body and, sure enough, a dusty old lightsaber hilt was lying only a few inches from its grasp. Ezra picked it up, watching as the mist oddly stuck to it for a moment before dissipating and then tried to activate it. It took a few seconds before the blade sputtered to life. Red, the colour of the Sith. The single red blade quickly cut out with a sizzle. It wasn't surprising, this weapon had been lying here for countless years.

He dropped the useless hilt onto the ground and stood up to explore again.

As he walked, he started to think out loud. "Master Yoda said there was something ancient and powerful out here. The planet that the other temple was on was also destroyed and then the force called me to this portal." He stopped and looked around at the destruction around him, "Makes sense to me that whatever is out here had to do with this too. People fought here, people with lightsabers, and they all died... Something horrible must have-"

Ezra turned quickly back to the ruin he'd come out of. What was that? A twinge in the force just flared up behind him, back in the same direction as the portal. For a moment he thought he was sensing someone coming through but that was impossible, no one could have done that. It had to be something else but he didn't have a clue what that would be.

The strange new feeling faded a bit after a few seconds but it was still there. This place is strange, it's probably just a side effect of whatever happened here. Figuring out what happened here was what mattered now. He shrugged off the odd feeling and continued to look around, hoping to find something that might start to explain all of this.

Hera brought the two-seated speeder to a gentle stop at the entrance to the garden. Jacen looked around at the city, he'd never been to this part of it before, but Hera could tell his abilities were letting him feel her own anxieties. She stayed in the pilot's seat for a moment and looked at the garden entrance. It looked nothing like the fuel depot that it used to be. The tanks and huge walls had been torn down and a small white wall stretched around the site.

"Mom? Why are we here?", Jacen asked innocently from the passenger seat.

She reached a tender hand to the side of his face, "This is a very special place, dear. Come on, it's past time you visit."

His bright blue eyes didn't seem to understand but he listened to his mother. She undid the safety harness, no way was she letting him get in the speeder without wearing it, and lifted him out of the chair. She opened the door and put him safely down as she got out of the speeder.

"What is it?", Jacen stared up at the walls and over to the small entrance.

Hera smiled thinly, "Somewhere special." She took his hand and led him into the entrance.

The garden filled all of the grounds that were previously part of the fuel depot. The whole place was awash with bright colours, with greens, reds, blues, yellows and the sweet aroma of a hundred different plants. A path went around the perimeter of the garden and four smaller, evenly-placed paths led in from the outer edge to the centre. In the middle, where all the paths joined, was a small plaque placed there in memory of the person this garden was built for: Kanan Jarrus, Jedi Knight.

She led Jacen by the hand through the entrance and up along on of the centre paths. There were many people here, locals and tourists all sharing in the beautiful corner of Capital City. Couples walked hand in hand, lone observers sat to take in the view and parents walked with their children around the gorgeous patches of flora. Jacen was instantly taken by some of the plants on their right and dragged his mother over to see them.

"Those ones, those ones!", he pointed eagerly with a smile.

Even here, he could still bring a smile to her face, "What about those ones, dear?"

"Auntie Bean paints those. They're her favourite", Jacen leaned onto the small fence that separated the path from the flowers.

The ones he'd picked out were tall stemmed flowers in a brilliant sapphire blue. Hera had seen the painting of them herself, one of many plants from here that Sabine had put to canvas. Hera knew Sabine came here every now and again to paint and, seeing this place in person again, she understood why. Sapphire blue, she thought to herself, I wonder why they're her favourite... She smiled to herself as Jacen continued to look at them in awe.

Then the boy turned back to her with pleading eyes, "When's Auntie Bean coming home? I miss her."

"You and me both, dear", she ran a hand over his hair. "She'll be home soon, don't worry."

Jacen kept his hands on the fence and drooped his head, "Why'd she have to go?"

Hera stared at the blue flowers, "Something very important. I promise that when she's home, you'll be glad she went."

She let him stand there for a while and get it out of his system, it wasn't the first time he'd asked about her and it definitely wasn't going to be the last.

"Come on", she gently pulled his hand back into her own, "There's something I have to show you."

Her son obeyed and tore himself away from the pretty sights he loved so much. Hera turned to the centre of the garden and the plaque that stood embedded in a stone plinth there. Jacen looked in wonder the people they passed but Hera's eyes stayed on the plaque as they walked. When they finally reached the central clearing, she stopped Jacen and knelt down to be eye level with him.

His bright blue eyes were worried, after all he could probably sense her own emotions. She brushed a wayward strand of hair from his face and forced a smile, "Jacen, dear, do you remember what we told you about your dad?"

The boy hid his face from her for a few seconds, "Uh, he's my dad... and..."

She laughed quietly, "Well done, dear."

"Auntie Bean said he was a hero", his tiny nose scrunched up, "And then you said he isn't here anymore."

Hera breathed in shakily, "Well... it's time you know why."

"Why he isn't here?", he asked his mother.

She glanced at the plaque and then back at him, "No. Why he's a hero."

Hera swallowed hard and stood up, leading him gently by the hand to the plaque. She could see the words etched into it clear as day.

In memory of Kanan Jarrus

Friend, Father, Brother, Jedi, Hero

Who gave his life here so all of Lothal might be free

She kept Jacen close at hand and led him to the plaque.

"Mom?", he looked innocently up at her.

Hera didn't know how best to do this. How do you even make a child that small process something like this?

"Here", she lifted him up to her chest so he could see the plaque. Of course, he was far too young to be able to read it yet but she wanted him to see. "Your dad was a very special person. He helped a lot of people and did a lot of good things." Her voice started to crack as she spoke, "He always put everyone else first. Me, Auntie Bean, Uncle Zeb..."

Jacen buried his head into her shoulder, "But he's gone now."

It wasn't a question. It was strange about people just understood what things meant. No one ever has to be taught what death means, people just know.

Hera didn't want to think about where she was standing right now. That fuel tank had stood exactly where they were at that moment. "He is. That's why they made this place, all for him. All of Lothal wanted something to remember him by."

There was nothing she could say to him to make it right. She knew this pain all too well, her own mother passed when she was barely a teenager. When it happened to her, she struggled to accept that life could be that cruel to you when you were still so young. Yet Jacen had lost out even more than her. Hera might not have had her mother as long as she wanted but she had memories of her to treasure. They might be few and not all of them might be pleasant, but she knew her face, she knew her voice and she still remembered being held in her arms. Jacen didn't have that. He had no memories of his own of Kanan. Jacen could walk past his father in the street or hear him on a recording and not even know who he was and that broke her heart more than anything. Nothing about it was fair or right but there was nothing that could be done to change that.

Just because it couldn't be changed, that didn't mean the pain couldn't be eased. Jacen didn't have memories of his own so the people who did know Kanan owed it to him to share them. Whether that was her, Sabine, Zeb, Ezra or the rest of Lothal, Jacen deserved to know who his father was. She already regretted not bringing him to this memorial sooner, even if he didn't understand where he was or what it was for, but she wasn't going to make a mistake like that again. She wasn't going to try and shield him from his father's legacy because of her own emotions.

"Momma... will I be like dad? Like... a hero?"

"You will, dear", Hera planted a small kiss on his forehead, "I promise."


Chapter Text


This whole place was every bit as desolate as it had looked when he arrived. Ezra combed through more than a few old buildings in search of anything that might help him understand what happened here but couldn't find anything. Only more desecrated corpses, broken lightsabers and a handful of ancient objects scattered about. As he'd already noticed, most of the buildings were still intact and Ezra explored them carefully, watching his footing through the constant mist that ensnared everything.

Ezra entered another small building to try and find any sort of answer. This building must have been some sort of storehouse since it was one long empty space with a few old crates lying around. Sitting in the corner were two more bodies. These two caught his eye, something about them stood out compared to the others. They were pulled close together and through the fog he could see that their hands were joined. They must have died side by side out here. Ezra cautiously stepped over to them to get a better look. Everything was too... defiled to make out anything about them but Ezra couldn't help but feel bad for them.

"Whoever you were, at least you had company", he mumbled as he knelt down to them.

He saw one of the lightsabers lying flat at their feet. Out of curiosity, he picked it up and activated it. Red? The blade was pure red, like that of a dark sider. It fizzled out after a few seconds like the others and Ezra lay it back down on the ground. It was odd to think some dark sider had the heart to die with company.

"You must have been much nicer than the Sith I've met", he joked to them.

Ezra took another look at them and was about to leave when he spotted a glint of silver between both of the bodies.

He reached in to see what it was, "Hello, what have we here?"

Wedged between the bodies was another lightsaber, but this one was much less worn and damaged than the others he'd seen. Ezra's fingers found the ignition button and he gasped when the blade came to life. Blue. A brilliant cyan blue blade, a bit lighter than the colour of Kanan's lightsaber, came steadily from the hilt. He was surprised that the lightsaber was working so well, the blade was holding fine and must have been protected from whatever happened by being between these two people.

That was what confused him the most though. Two people, side-by-side, yet on different sides of the force. One red, one blue. Why would they be here and why together? They could be opponents who fell in battle with each other but that wouldn't explain their position. Also, it didn't explain why both fell victim to whatever happened here and not just one of them. They must have been on the same side of this battle, light and dark fighting alongside each other. That only left the obvious question: fighting against what?

Ezra turned his attention back to the lightsaber and the blade still glowing strong. "I guess you won't mind if I take this", he deactivated the blade and clipped it into place on his belt.

It felt unusual to have a lightsaber there again but it also felt natural. This weapon is your life. Kanan's words played over in his mind. Ezra might not have his actual saber but he'd make do for now. It couldn't hurt to carry a weapon just in case.

He stood up and gave the two fallen warriors a considerate look before making his way out of the old building. As he stepped out into the street to keep exploring, his heart skipped a beat and the hairs on his neck stood on end. No... it can't be...

His eyes shot to the sky but the cloud cover made it impossible to see. Through everything he swore he could feel it for the briefest second, the dreaded feeling of that Inquisitor. No, it couldn't be her... right? How would she have found him so quickly? He scowled and then looked back in the direction of the ruin he'd arrived through. Something had called her here again, like it had on the last planet.

Ezra's eye went to his waist and the lightsaber so fortunately clipped there. The first time they'd fought, he'd managed to slip away with the help and sacrifice of Argos and the wildlife. On the second occasion, he'd managed to escape through the portal and only just destroy it in time to keep her from coming through. This time, things would have to be different. He couldn't run forever and he couldn't risk the Inquisitor being prepared for the portal trick this time, her gaining access to that sort of power would be catastrophic. No, there would be no running this time. He had to make a stand and now he had the tools to do it.

He breathed in deeply to calm his mind before going back in the direction from where he came. One way or the other, he wasn't going to be running and hiding anymore.

Commodore Faro had been surprised that the Inquisitor didn't have any tricks up her sleeve on this journey. As she promised, the Fourth Sister followed her odd instincts and periodically stopped to transmit short-range jump coordinates for the fleet to follow. Faro knew better than to take this as her turning over a new leaf, there was something behind all of this odd behaviour and she, Captain Pellaeon and the Grand Admiral all knew it.

"Hyperdrive powering down, Grand Admiral."

Grand Admiral Thrawn was at the front of the bridge, as he always liked to be, as they emerged from hyperspace. From her own station, the Commodore could get a good view of the space outside as they returned to real space.

Well, at least the planet is intact this time. That was her first observation of their new destination. The Inquisitor had given coordinates that put them close to this new planet, close enough to efficiently and smoothly launch their squads to inspect the surface. The world had a dark purple tone to it but it was nothing out of the ordinary. No greenery or water as far as she could tell either. A quick glance at the scanners showed there were no moons or asteroid rings to worry about.

Faro marched up to Thrawn at the head of the bridge and handed him a datapad with the results, "No moons, no water, no signs of life."

Thrawn took the pad and inspected it, "Interesting, another world with no signs of habitation that still somehow draws our elusive Jedi."

"He might just be stranded there. Assuming he is actually down there, of course", Faro cast a look down at the world.

"I trust that the Fourth Sister is correct in believing Bridger is here", he handed the datapad back to the Commodore. "However, I am most concerned about his reasons for being here."

She glanced at the pad again and then to the planet, "I see what you mean. There doesn't seem to be anything down there."

"Perhaps we are looking for the wrong things", Thrawn turned on his heel and motioned the Commodore to follow him along the bridge. "Contact the Fourth Sister, I wish to speak with her", he ordered the bridge crew as they went.

Obeying the order, an officer tapped away on his screen as Thrawn and Faro reached the communications table. After a few seconds, the Fourth Sister appeared in a hologram above the table.

"It seems my instincts get results, Grand Admiral", the Inquisitor's voice held familiar self-satisfaction.

"I will consider this excursion to have produced 'results' when Bridger is found and not before", the Grand Admiral countered dismissively. "Where is your so-called disturbance located?"

The holographic figure shut her eyes for a few moments. "Near the equator", she opened her eyes and looked down at the console on her end, "I'll give the general location so your troops can land, I'll give more specific instructions when I get there."

An officer on the sidelines nodded to Thrawn to show the data had been received.

"I will caution you only once, Fourth Sister. Do not engage Bridger without the support of your squads and, more importantly, he is not to be killed", Thrawn's voice was cold and steady. Faro had heard the tone only a few times before and knew the consequences that came to those who disobeyed it.

The Fourth Sister seemed less than happy but begrudgingly agreed, "Very well, Grand Admiral."

She shut the link down from her end before any further response could be given.

Faro leaned over to Thrawn, "Sir, any more of an idea on what she's hiding from us?", she kept her voice low so others around wouldn't hear.

"None yet, but I intend to find out", he answered. "Commander Hammerly", the officer straightened up at Thrawn's mention of his name, "Bring up a map of the area designated to us by the Inquisitor."

They waited for the holotable to fill with the image of the surface. When it appeared, it showed a large area of almost featureless rocky terrain. Near the centre of the map, however, was a glaring anomaly. Something was interfering with the scans within a large area, perhaps an area of a few square miles or so by Faro's best guess.

"It seems we have our location", Thrawn zoomed in on the anomaly and waited for the scans to load up.

When the map updated, Faro was surprised at what she saw. The interference suggested some sort of oddly composed chemical fog, it wasn't unheard of for such things to happen, but among it there were signs of artificial structures. The fog seemed to hang about them and flow around the area there, leaving only tiny areas exposed.

"Intriguing", Thrawn stroked his chin in thought.

"It could be radioactive?", the Commodore suggested, "Maybe ionisation if there's something electrical down there. It would explain why the scanners are having trouble."

Thrawn continued to observe, "Informed suggestions, Commodore, as always. However, I suspect the cause of this issue is more enigmatic."

She furrowed her brow, "You think it's something with the force?"

It showed how well the Commodore could adjust to these unusual concepts that she could readily consider such an option. She was starting to agree with Thrawn's thinking that whatever was going on out here was something tied up with that ancient mystical power. Part of her didn't like it very much, she had no background in that kind of stuff, but she trusted her own abilities and those of the Chimaera's crew, not to mention the Grand Admiral's.

"I believe it is a likely explanation, given the nature of how we came to this world and its relationship to both Ezra Bridger and our Inquisitor."

"I'm no expert, but I've never seen anything about the force that did that. I thought it was just mind tricks and throwing things around", she was half-joking about it.

Thrawn didn't get the humour, "The full nature of the force eludes me but it is something far more powerful than that. I have personally seen far more unusual manifestations of its power."

She didn't need him to explain what he was talking about. They'd all heard the stories of Atollon even if they were up in orbit when it all happened. A giant creature, strange storms, lightning that could take down Imperial walkers - it was nightmarish. Faro hoped they weren't walking into another situation like that.

"I'll order the ground teams to make a full assessment", she pulled out her communicator from her belt. "I'll make sure they report to you immediately", she wanted to avoid another situation where the troopers returned without gathering any intel.

"That won't be necessary, Commodore", Thrawn raised a hand to stop her.


Thrawn turned fully to her, "Notify our ground teams, I shall be joining them on this operation. I wish to investigate this world for myself."

Faro looked wide-eyed at him, "Grand Admiral, we don't know if it's safe down there. We can't afford to-"

"The stormtrooper detachment will keep me quite safe and you forget that I am no stranger to combat. The benefits of seeing this location far myself far outweigh the minor risks to my own safety."

"As you say, Grand Admiral", she pulled the comm to her mouth but paused before relaying the orders. "What about Bridger or his allies?"

The Chiss looked her in the eye, "Rest assured, Commodore, I have made all the necessary preparations."

Knowing that was the best answer she was going to get, Faro set about relaying her orders to the crew while Thrawn took one more look at the map before closing it down. He then slowly and calmly walked away from her and off the bridge. She was watching him go the whole time, praying that he wasn't walking into something that was going to get him hurt, or worse. Their mission was doomed if they lost him and he hadn't personally directed a ground operation since Atollon.

It was pointless to worry about that now. For the meantime, their job was to find Bridger and get to the bottom of this mess. Faro paced up to the front of the bridge, as she liked to do when she had the deck. Her stomach tightened as she caught a glimpse of the Inquisitor's shuttle in the distance flying down to the surface. Something was going to go wrong here, she could feel it. She just hoped they'd be able to pull out some answers from whatever mess they were about to walk into.

The Fourth Sister handed over the controls to the other pilot as they descended. She silently stepped back through the shuttle, relishing in the fear and suspicion she got from the stormtroopers. Each shirked away from her as she passed and spoke about her in hushed whispers as she waited at the entry ramp for landing.

She despised being with these cretins, useless grunts infamous for their inability to get the job done. Still, they were a necessary evil if she wanted to succeed. Thrawn's cooperation, for now, was essential to getting to the bottom of this mystery. Unfortunately, it also meant capturing Bridger alive too. She needed him for her own ends as well, but she'd rather just torture it out of him then and there and be done with it. She grumbled and silently promised herself that she was going to deliver Bridger alive but with at least a limb or two missing. He didn't need his arms to tell them what he knew.

If he knew anything at all, that was. He definitely knew something she didn't, whatever he managed to do with the wall back at that ruin. Somehow, it had transported him here, wherever here was. She was less sure that he'd have answers for that, though she'd do her best to figure out why the force had summoned her to this planet in particular.

Above all, it was still that voice she was most concerned with. Find me. The words played over in her head again. They came to her when that wall exploded as Bridger passed into it. It was possible he knew something at least.

"Twenty seconds", the pilot called out from the cockpit.

The stormtroopers behind her got to their last minute checks and preparations before landing.

"Sergeant", the Inquisitor summoned him with a harsh voice.

"Y-yes, ma'am", she could sense the trepidation in him. Good.

She didn't bother to look at him, "You and your troopers will follow my lead and do exactly as I say. Or else." She dipped her shoulder enough for him to get a glimpse of the lightsaber on her back.

He hesitated and she felt him squirming under his armour, "Of course, whatever you say, ma'am."

The shuttle shook as the landing gear hit the ground and the troopers raised their weapons in case anything wanted to greet them as they left. Fools, she could sense that there was nothing there.

When the ramp finally slid open, she could feel the astonishment from her subordinates. She herself was also taken aback by the sight in front of her. The shuttle was set down on a hill that overlooked a dark, mist-filled valley. There were ancient buildings and pillars sticking up through the purple mist and a large structure was carved into the stone cliffs on the far side of the valley.

Through the force, she was equally intrigued by what she felt. The place reeked of death and pain, unlike anywhere she'd been before. Among that sensation she felt the call that drew her here. It was definitely close, more than likely in the cliffside temple she could see. Then, the Fourth Sister smiled when she felt Bridger's presence too. It was hard to find through all the other things but not a problem for her. It seemed like everything was falling into place.

The Inquisitor pointed to two of the troopers, "You two, stay here and secure the shuttle. You are to destroy it if Bridger comes near."

"Yes, ma'am", both troopers saluted her.

"Squad, stay behind me. Eyes open for Bridger and don't get in my way", she barked at them before stepping out of the ship.

"You heard her", the Sergeant followed close behind, "Stay close and follow the Inquisitor! Set blasters to stun, we want this Jedi alive."

She despised hearing that. He'll be dead in time, but not before he tells you everything he knows.

The strange mist was obscuring any view of this place as they walked down the hill. The Fourth Sister did her best to peer through but couldn't see more than a few metres in front of her.

"Ahh, this whole place feels wrong", one of the troopers from behind started to complain.

"I feel you, something's real off about this planet."

"Quiet!", the Sergeant barked at the two troopers, "Stay focused."

They walked a bit longer, getting deeper into the mist and closer to the buildings in the distance. As she stepped over another rock, something odd about it caught her eye. She bent down into the mist to get a closer look and the sight made her skin crawl. A body. Not a normal body, this one was corrupted. It looked black and dried up, like it had been here for millennia. Seeing the buildings around this place, there was a good chance it actually had.

"Inquisitor?", the Sergeant cautiously approached her.

"Body", she said flatly, "It must have been here for years...", her eye caught something of greyish-silver lying nearby.

Her hand reached out to the object to see what it was. A lightsaber? The hilt was old and the metal was blackened but it was definitely a lightsaber. It was an old cross-guard design with smaller vents on the side, apparently for ventilation.

The Sergeant intrusively peered over her shoulder, "What have you found?"

Wordlessly she activated the blade in the direction of the stormtrooper. The crimson blade sizzled to life, cutting a bit too close to the curious Sergeant and making him jump back on to the ground. It was only a few seconds before the old blade sputtered out and deactivated. What was it doing here? There was no clear explanation for the weapon or the mutilated body beside it. She'd have to find answer here, they might end up being related to that voice too.

"M-maybe we should wait for reinforcements. I don't like this place", the Sergeant said as he scrambled to his feet.

The Inquisitor turned back and saw another trooper nervously step forward, "I'm with him, we'd better wait for extra support."

"We are continuing as planned. If you're too cowardly to keep going then I have no use for you", the Fourth Sister pulled her lightsaber off of her back and activated the blade.

She watched them all step back and look around at each other. She could sense their fear and their conflict about whether to follow her orders or hedge their bets. Wisely, and unfortunately, no one spoke up to dispute. They probably knew that any threat she made would be gladly followed through. She took their silence as acceptance and was a bit disappointed as she put away her weapon.

"I'm glad we have an understanding", she turned and kept walking into the mist.

A few seconds passed before she heard the murmurs of agreement and the sound of them following behind her. The Fourth Sister scanned around with her eyes as she walked. The thick fog made it difficult to see anything below her knees and it flowed unnaturally around every building and wall. She caught a glimpse of a few more slumped and twisted bodies on the ground or leaning up against walls.

"Another body", someone called a few metres behind her.

"Same here", another said.

There was a horrified gasp, "What in the-? What happened to these people."

"We will find out", the Fourth Sister spoke sternly over her shoulder, "Now stop whimpering like a child and keep up."

With a disgusted groan the trooper kept on moving with the squad. They were starting to reach some of the buildings now, most of which were surprisingly intact. From the looks of things, it seemed whatever happened here occurred millennia ago. The black colours were faded and dust had blown into piles at the base of the walls. At least the structures were mostly holding together even if the people who were here weren't so fortunate.

They reached what seemed to be the end of a street. At the far end of the next set of buildings, she could see a large cliff and a set of stairs leading down into the darkness of a temple-like structure.

"That has to be what we're here for", the Sergeant needlessly pointed out.

"Excellent observations, Sergeant", her voice dripped with sarcasm and contempt. "All of you will follow my lead and be on the alert, Bridger is in that temple. Remember, we're to take him alive. Unharmed is less of a concern", she knew she was going to make him suffer at least a little bit.

The Fourth Sister started towards her destination with the squad following a few paces behind her. It was down those stairs that she could feel the strange sensations that summoned her as well as the presence of the Jedi. Her destiny was waiting in there and it was time for her to meet it.

Sabine didn't know how many times she double-checked that the cloaking device was engaged. Ahsoka said they were going to be dropping out of hyperspace any second now and Sabine just wanted to make sure everything was going to be alright.

"We're here", Ahsoka announced softly and began disengaging the hyperdrive.

Ahsoka was guiding the ship manually rather than travelling to predetermined coordinates, she was following her own senses after all. Blind hyperspace travel was almost a death-sentence in most cases, particularly over long distances. With Ahsoka at the helm though, Sabine trusted her to guide them safely to where they needed to be.

Sabine still held her breath as the shuttle dropped to normal speed, silently begging that everything would go smoothly. Sure enough, three Star Destroyers and an Arquitens light-cruiser were waiting above a rocky purple planet.

They knew the Empire had a head start on them, even Ahsoka was surprised that the Inquisitor had caught on so quickly. By the time Ahsoka and Sabine were lifting off on the last planet, the Star Destroyers had already jumped to hyperspace, giving them just a few minutes advantage over them. A few minutes is all it could take to... She shook away the thoughts and glanced at the cloaking device indicator again.

"It's working, Sabine", Ahsoka smiled as she saw her checking.

"Can't be too careful", Sabine checked all the system indicators she could see.

Ahsoka slowly guided the shuttle to the planet in the distance, "This is definitely the place."

The Mandalorian stared out of the cockpit window. Her first instinct was to question Ahsoka but she had the odd feeling that she didn't need to. Something just told her that he was there, she just knew. "Yes...", she murmured, "This is it alright."

Ahsoka paid no mind to Sabine's odd sense of certainty, "I can feel the energy from the staff but there's more down there. I think we're in for another interesting planet."

"Hopefully the last one", Sabine muttered.

She started to check over her pistols and her bags to make sure everything was there. Pistols, check. Detonators, check. Lightsaber, check.

"Hmm, scanners are picking up a shuttle heading down to the surface", the Togruta said.

Sabine perked up and looked at the scanner for herself, "That's a good sign, I guess. At least it means they probably haven't found him yet." She lingered on it before going back to her pre-battle checks, "We should still hurry, the fewer Imperials between us and Ezra the better."

Ahsoka hesitated for a moment and then turned to face her, "Sabine... I think it's best if you stay on the shuttle."

The Mandalorian immediately glared at her with a fire in her eyes, "Excuse me? I did not come all this way to sit on the ship."

"That's not what it's about. Once we're down there the Empire is going see our shuttle plain as day, someone is going to have to stay aboard and keep the shuttle at a safe distance while the other gets Ezra out of there."

Sabine clenched the bag in her hands a bit too hard, "Then you stay here, I'm going to find him."

"Sabine, I understand you're angry", she reached out a hand to her, "But we know there's likely to be an Inquisitor and, in the nicest way possible, I'm better equipped to deal with them. Besides, if things don't go to plan...", Ahsoka sighed and didn't finish the sentence, knowing Sabine would get her meaning.

For a second, Sabine wanted to argue and shout. She wanted to see him, she wanted to see the look on his face when he knew they'd come to get him. Still... Ahsoka had a point. Sabine trusted her own abilities, she wasn't going to ignore how talented she was, but she'd be no match for an Inquisitor. The last thing Ezra would want would be for her to get hurt or killed trying to find him, it would break his heart. Ahsoka had the best chance of getting Ezra out safe and that was all that mattered.

"Okay", she relented and sunk back into her chair, "I trust you."

"Thank you, I know how much it means for you to say that right now", Ahsoka smiled sympathetically.

Sabine may have accepted the situation and trusted Ahsoka but that didn't mean she was happy about it. "We both know that the Empire is going to send people after us as soon they spot us."

"You're a good pilot", Ahsoka turned back to the controls, "And I'm sure you'll get the opportunity to blow up some TIE fighters while you're at it."

The Mandalorian slumped in her chair and sighed out her frustration. The frustration quickly melted into confusion as their destination came into view. A cloud of fog hung over a valley in the distance, with small buildings peaking out through the mist. Sabine couldn't make out much detail yet but so far everything about it just looked... wrong.

"What happened down there?", Sabine said in awe as the shuttle drifted closer.

Even Ahsoka seemed taken aback, "I don't know but this place is strong in the force."

"Wait... I think I see the shuttles", the shuttle drew closer to the location and Sabine could clearly make out the outline of at least one Sentinel-class Imperial shuttle poking out of the mist.

Ahsoka stood up and slung her cloak around her neck, "Here we go then." She picked up the staff leaning against the wall and checked the lightsabers clipped to her waist.

"We get much closer and they're going to know we're here", Sabine guessed they were less than a kilometre away now.

The former Jedi stood and observed the strange place as they approached. Ahsoka's face was unreadable but her gut told her that the Togruta was just as disturbed as she was by this place. She only hoped that Ezra wouldn't be stuck down there much longer.

"Take us low around the edges of the fog", Ahsoka pointed to a small rise just outside the fog.

Sabine squinted to see it, "If that shuttle down t here dropped off any troopers then they'll definitely see us."

"They're going to catch on sooner or later, might as well have it be on our terms", Ahsoka shrugged. "Don't stop to land, drop me off and get out."

"If we're lucky I can draw some of their attention away from you", Sabine could at least enjoy blasting a few TIEs in the meantime to make up for not rescuing Ezra personally.

Ahsoka lay a hand on her shoulder, "Just keep yourself safe, we need a shuttle to come back to."

"I'll be fine", her face became more serious, "But... keep yourself safe. Ezra too."

"I'll protect him with my life", the Togruta assured her.

Sabine's head dropped a bit, "I know you will. Thank you, Ahsoka."

"Save that for when we get him back", Ahsoka met her gaze with another assured smile.

As the shuttle approached the drop-off point, Ahsoka squeezed Sabine's shoulder and walked back to the entry ramp. It would just be a quick drop, Ahsoka would jump out of the shuttle and be on the ground in seconds while Sabine would lead what attention she could away.

Leaning on her staff by the hatch, Ahsoka laughed to herself.

"I'm glad your sense of humour is along for the mission", Sabine called from the cockpit.

"It's nothing", Ahsoka sighed, "I'm just thinking. I'll make sure he saves the first hug for you."

Sabine turned back to her with a smirk as the shuttle finally reached the drop-off point, "You better or I'm leaving you here."

Ahsoka winked and hit the button to open the ramp. Sabine felt the rush of cold air as the door slid open. With a look back at the Mandalorian, Ahsoka leapt out of the shuttle to the ground a few metres below. As soon as Ahsoka was clear, Sabine pulled the shuttle up into the sky. She caught a glimpse of Ahsoka as she pulled away, her pristine white cloak standing out amongst the mist and dark rocks around her.

She still wished she was down there with her, fighting her way to him on the ground rather than buying time in the air. After spending four and a half years on Lothal missing him and then at least a few months out here looking for any trace of him in the middle of nowhere, she was a bit disappointed that hers wasn't the first face he'd see after so long. Still, she had to admit that Ahsoka had the best chance of getting him out of this situation. She would rather play it safe than end up having this whole long, dangerous, frustrating search come to nought.

With that thought, Sabine laughed to herself. She remembered not knowing whether she wanted to hug Ezra or slap him first. Thinking of how much she'd missed him, how long they'd been apart, how difficult it'd been to find him and how risky this whole mission had been, she knew her answer. Hug. Definitely hug. Then a slap. A good one too.

On cue, a handful of ineffective blaster shots rattled onto the hull, probably from an overambitious stormtrooper who caught sight of the shuttle from the ground. Soon after, the sensors picked up a few more ships heading into the atmosphere.

"Well", she flicked open the caps on the controls that covered the weapon triggers, "This is where the fun begins."


Chapter Text

The Inquisitor and her squad crept through the ruined buildings, stepping over more bodies as they walked. There was some sort of battle here, that much had been obvious from the start, and the Fourth Sister was getting more attuned to the sense of death and pain here. They fed here and made her eager for combat.

"Hey...", a soldier from behind turned around, "You hear that?"

"Hear what?", the Sergeant snapped back.

The trooper held up a hand, "Sounds like a shuttle."

"It's just our reinforcements", the Fourth Sister said impatiently.

"Are you sure? It doesn't sound like-", she stormtrooper stopped as soon as he saw the Inquisitor glaring at him. "Uh, you're right. Probably the reinforcements."

She too could hear the noise of a shuttle in the distance somewhere behind them but the fog and buildings were getting in the way of seeing it for certain. The Fourth Sister assumed they must have been reinforcements from Thrawn. At least that's what she thought at first, now she was starting to sense that something was different about this. She brushed it off, this whole world was strange and unusual, and there were more important things to attend to.

"Keep moving", she ordered, "We're almost there."

The squad pressed on towards the ruin they'd seen from above. The Fourth Sister could feel Bridger's presence getting closer with every step. He was down there, for sure, and there was going to be no escape this time. They reached the foot of the hill that led up to the stairs and the Inquisitor turned back to address the squad.

"Remember", she began, "Bridger is to be taken alive. Do your best to not let him kill you. But I warn you, if you get in my way then Bridger will be the least of your worries."

The squads murmured a few things in agreement and none met her gaze. Fear... pathetic.

Without another word, the Fourth Sister unclipped her lightsaber from her back and held it ready in her hand. She reached the top of the stairs and peered into the darkness, unable to see more than a few metres down. It looked like the stairs went on for a while into the ground. The Inquisitor stepped slowly onto the first step and then the next, keeping her eyes open for any sign of the Jedi's tricks. The stormtroopers nervously followed after her.

"Lights", the Sergeant whispered sternly and the stairs lit up with the white light from the stormtrooper's blasters.

The stairs went down about twenty metres and led into a level corridor. The stonework was a dull brown and covered in dust with some meaningless patterns and carvings on the walls, none of it telling her what this place was or what happened here. She reached the bottom of the stairs and waited for one of the troopers' lights to illuminate the way ahead. Another long corridor stretched out with the same bleak brown appearance but in the distance she could see it give way into a large cavern.

The Jedi's presence felt almost within her grasp as did the strange call in the force. They crept closer through the darkness, her eyes looking for any sign of what she wanted. Then, about halfway down the corridor, she thought she could make something out in the cavern ahead. Orange? Orange... the Jedi. Barely visible through the darkness and the mist was the worn and dirty orange clothing worn by Ezra Bridger.

"It's Bridger", she whispered over her shoulder, "Be ready."

The troopers behind her checked their weapons as they approached. The Jedi was motionless in the centre of the cavern and as they got closer she could see that he was simply kneeling there in a meditative pose. No doubt he'd already sensed their presence and probably knew there was no hope of escape.

Even as they entered the cavern, Bridger didn't move. He stayed kneeling near the centre of the room, his eyes shut tightly. A strange altar was at his back with the smashed remains of some sort of object and yet another defiled body lying against it. The Inquisitor strode in and stood just in the doorway, about ten metres from Bridger in the centre of the room. The stormtrooper squad fanned out across the room, forming a semi-circle around the Jedi at roughly the same distance from him that she was.

"Ezra Bridger, how fortunate meeting you here."

The Jedi waited a few moments, "Fourth Sister, right?", he said casually.

"Hmph. How did you get here? What sort of Jedi trick got you out here without a ship", she asked.

The Jedi remained calm and didn't even open his eyes, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't play games with me!", she snapped, "Tell me what happened in that temple!"

A smirk formed on the boy's lips, "You lost, that's what happened."

The Inquisitor gritted her teeth, "I could have you executed right here, Jedi."

"No, you can't", he replied instantly.

"Oh really, can't I?"

"No", he said again, "If you could I'd be dead already. You said yourself, Thrawn wanted to speak to me. Besides, it sounds like you want some answers that I think you have to avoid killing me to get."

She folded her arms but clutched her lightsaber a bit tighter, "For the last time, child, what happened in that temple?"

"You're smart. Figure it out", the boy shrugged his shoulders.

"Enough of this!", her voiced echoed off the walls, "Tell me what happened with that portal!"

The troopers looked at each other in confusion and one or two murmured something to each other. She didn't care right now about what they knew, it'd be easy enough to kill them herself and blame it on Bridger.

The Jedi slowly shook his head, "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."

Her fists clenched and she had to resist the urge to just strike him down now. With a growl at the back of her throat she ignited one of the blades of her lightsaber and pointed it at him.

"Your bravado won't save you, we'll break you soon enough. You know you can't escape this time, Bridger. Surrender and perhaps I'll consider delivering you to Thrawn unharmed."

The troopers raised their weapons and took aim, waiting for the Jedi's next move.

Ezra felt their weapons drawn on him and their fingers twitching at the triggers, but his resolve remained unshaken. Just a little longer...

"That won't be happening", he kept his voice calm and steady.

"Your choice, Bridger", the Inquisitor's answered with smug satisfaction.

"I can sense their fear...", Ezra breathed, "The troopers, they're scared."

A few of the stormtroopers broke focus and looked nervously around at each other, and as they did he sensed their weapons drift off their target.

"I sense their fear. Fear of this place and what it is. Fear of me and what I'll do to them", Ezra reached in and felt the minds of the troopers around him, many of them shaking under their armour. "And their fear of you", he nodded toward the Inquisitor.

He felt the Inquisitor's mouth twist into a smile, "They know what I do to people who get in my way. They fear me because they know I mean my threats, something you'll soon learn as well."

Ezra's hand still lay on his knees in his meditating position, "And I sense your fear."

The Inquisitor stepped back and her expression hardened, "Fear? You have too much faith in yourself, boy."

Ezra scowled, "It's not of me, so what is it of? This place, maybe? It'd make sense. A strange world, death, destruction, no answers. Enough to make anyone scared." His mind tried to probe into the Inquisitor's and sense the emotions coming from her. "But... there's something more", he said slowly, "Something else that you're scared of."

The whole squad of stormtroopers was now looking around bewildered, not knowing what was going on.

"What are you afraid of, Inquisitor?", Ezra asked. "No...", his mind tried to glean what little understanding he could, "Who are you afraid of?"

"Enough!", she screamed, "Troopers! Blast him!"

Everything happened in a flash. The squad had lost their focus as they watched the two of them and they were taken by surprise when the order came. It took them a second to register what was happening and it was all the time Ezra needed. As soon as the order came, Ezra pushed himself up from his meditating position with all his force and leapt into the air, flipping back onto the altar behind him. He looked to see a wave of stun blasts dissipate harmlessly into the ground where he had been. With his feet on the ground, he pushed out with the force with all the effort he could muster and sent out a wave of force energy at his attackers. The entire squad was sent reeling back and slammed hard against the walls with a hard crunch, leaving every single one of the stormtroopers unconscious on the ground.

The Inquisitor had been caught unaware and was sent careening back a few metres, landing hard on her back by the entrance. He stepped down from the altar as she scrambled onto her feet.

"I'm almost impressed, Bridger", the Inquisitor grunted and brushed off the dust on her clothes.

Ezra stepped forward a bit more, "It's always 'almost' with you. You'd think after beating you twice that you'd get a bit of humility."

She laughed, "Fleeing is not winning."

"You win by surviving."

The Inquisitor activated her blade again, "Well, you'll be losing soon enough. I don't need the stormtroopers to defeat you. You have no allies to come to your rescue, you don't even have a weapon to fight with."

Amazing, every word in that sentence was wrong. Ezra's mouth curled into a smirk, "You assume too much."

She narrowed her eyes, "Still so naive."

Ezra shut his eyes tight and his hands slowly reached around to his hip. His fingers reached for the ancient lightsaber and brought it round to his front. The Inquisitor's eyes went wide as he activated the blue blade of the old weapon he'd found earlier. He held it in the ready position in front of him, just like Kanan had showed him all those years ago. The weight felt familiar and everything came flooding back, as if he hadn't gone a day without wielding a blade.

"So be it", the Inquisitor said grimly.

Ezra raised the blade across his front in the traditional salute, an honour that the Inquisitor didn't bother to return. They stared each other down, trying to predict the other's first move. Ezra could see the surprise still on her face, she hadn't bargained on him finding a lightsaber and was clearly taken aback. No weapons, no allies? Wrong on both accounts...

Ezra hid the grin from her, not wanting to clue his opponent in in. Ezra hadn't expected it either and had honestly planned on this being his final defiant stand. To say he was surprised a few minutes ago would be an understatement, but the feeling might have been the biggest relief of his life. Their connection was strong, maybe even as strong as the one he'd built with Kanan, and there was no way in the galaxy he wasn't going to notice her arrival. A ship had entered the system not long ago and was already on the surface. A ship that certainly didn't belong to the Empire. A ship carrying Sabine Wren.

The Fourth Sister's feet suddenly left the floor as she leapt into the air. Ezra was ready to meet the attack and the whole cavern echoed with the crackling sound of a lightsaber blade meeting another.

"Approaching the landing zone now, Grand Admiral", the pilot called from the cockpit.

Thrawn's shuttle hovered low above a flat area just outside of the cluster of ruins that the Inquisitor had marked out for them. The view from above had been unsettling enough and it was essential that they conduct a more thorough investigation on the ground.

They landed on a slight incline that allowed the Chiss to see over the mist and look at the ruins as the ramp opened. It was far more breathtaking on the ground. His assumption that this fog was something new seemed to be true. It flowed unnaturally across the ground and hung heavy over everything, obscuring a clear view of the environment. However, on the far side of the area, nestled into a cliff face and at the end of a long 'street' between the buildings, he could make out an entryway. It was safe to assume that it was there that was the most important part of this ruin. No doubt it is also where the Inquisitor has been drawn to.

On his orders, the stormtroopers moved from the landing site into the ruins. The buildings had little organisation to them aside from the central street he'd seen from the shuttle. The troopers fanned out into the buildings, most of which were surprisingly intact, as Thrawn started to make his own observations.

One of his stormtroopers raised a hand to call him over, "Grand Admiral! We have a body over here."

Thrawn quickly paced over to the trooper leaning down into the mist. Indeed he was right although it was much unlike anything he'd seen before. The corpse was blackened and the skin had been dried out. Decomposition could occur differently in different conditions but this was nothing natural, something terrible happened to this individual.

"Another one", someone called from behind.

A third voice came in, "Over here too, at least three more."

"Unsurprising", Thrawn told the trooper beside him, "The catastrophe that caused this destruction must have been on a significant scale. That there are many bodies which suffered this fate is unsurprising."

Thrawn took another look at the body, not wishing to touch it in case it was somehow contaminated. These wounds were inconsistent with any weapons he had seen.

"Corporal", he called to one of the troopers, "Ensure several of these bodies are retrieved and transported to the Chimarea. I wish them to undergo a more thorough investigation."

"Yes, sir", the Corporal saluted and pointed over to some of his subordinates to begin transporting the bodies.

Thrawn then went to one of the buildings, hoping to gain some understanding of who might have been here. Black stone, simple and reserved. No weathering. No further adornments or decoration. These individuals were not extravagant. Hard and angular designs suggest practicality, perhaps from a military or religious group, if not both.

He ran his blue fingers across the outer walls and inspected them. Interesting, the fog leaves no residue. Therefore, it is unlikely to be of a chemical nature. It is odourless, non-toxic and non-flammable, also ruling out gas, smoke or some sort of fuel. Fascinating. That leaves only one explanation: unexplainable. At least in conventional terms.

It was as he'd feared. The fact that the Fourth Sister had been so mysteriously drawn here had raised his suspicions and now the odd conditions on the surface all but confirmed them. This place had once been inhabited by some manner of force users. It was impossible to tell by eye how long ago this might have occurred but deeper analysis might provide some answers. However, his own observations told him that his was far more ancient that the Republic and could date back thousands of years.

That left the next question: why out here? Seclusion on a desolate world, far from the known locations where force users might be found such as Coruscant and even from hyperspace lanes. Evidently, the people here wished to be left alone. The scale of the architecture suggests that this was not a humble religious obligation as might be expected from monks. No, this seclusion was necessary. They must have had something to hide. But what?

Thrawn looked around at the bodies scattered about. He moved among the stormtroopers, wordlessly noting the position of the bodies, the structures and their orientation. It was beginning to look even more troubling. Some stood opposed to one another, some stood side-by-side. None, however, are hiding. This was a catastrophe that came unexpectedly nor were all of its victims similar. There were at least two different factions fighting and both were caught by this disaster.

Then that begged yet another question: why is this place now abandoned? If something here was worth having, worth fighting for, why was it left in disrepair? It is unlikely that everyone who knew about this location perished here. However, neither side returned to recover their fallen or return the location to its original function. This place must have been abandoned intentionally, left here and forgotten so nobody would ever return after whatever transpired.

An abandoned world of force users, ravaged by a strange force-based weapon millennia ago, left undisturbed for years and mysteriously drawing force users to it now. There were no more doubts in Thrawn's mind. They were on the trail of whatever the Emperor had sensed out here.

"Grand Admiral", a trooper ran up to him and saluted. "Uh, some of the men from the Inquisitor's squad are reporting that a shuttle passed over. It wasn't one of ours. They say it flew in, stopped over a ridge, and flew off again."

So, they had already arrived. "I see. Thank you, trooper", Thrawn pulled his comm from his belt, "Captain Pellaeon?"

"Grand Admiral", the Captain's voice acknowledged a few seconds later.

"It seems Bridger's allies have arrived already."

There was silence for a few moments, "Already? How's that even possible?"

"That is not our concern. Deploy another squad of stormtroopers to the surface, we must be prepared for their intervention."

"At once, Grand Admiral", the Captain replied.

"As for the shuttle", Thrawn's eyes darted to the ground for a second and then to the sky, "Three TIE fighters should suffice to handle the shuttle."

There was hesitation on the other end, "Only three?"

"Only three. One shuttle is unlikely to evade such odds and we cannot afford to dedicate excessive fuel and munitions at this time."

The Captain sighed, "As you say, Grand Admiral. I'll order them down immediately."

The Captain didn't seem to agree with his strategy. An understandable concern, his own independent thinking continues to show through. All in due time.

Thrawn keyed in the Inquisitor's comm address, "Inquisitor?" No response. "Inquisitor?", a few more seconds passed without an answer. Sliding the comm back into his belt, the Chiss looked over to his squad leader. "Sergeant, you have a new objective. Take half of your men and move up the central street. There is an entryway there which your squad will need to investigate."

"Of course, sir. Are we looking for anything in particular?"

"The Inquisitor. Or Ezra Bridger. More than likely, you will find both", Thrawn answered.

The Sergeant nodded and took half of his men deeper into the ruins, disappearing into the fog away from them. The other half of the squad remained with the Grand Admiral to retrieve the bodies and aid in his investigation. As he started to observe the buildings again, he could only hope that everything would play out according to plan.

The Inquisitor's lightsaber slammed hard into Ezra's blade, a deep screeching noise emanating from it.

"I'll admit, I hadn't expected you to stand and fight", the woman snarled.

Ezra favoured her with a cocky grin, "I'm full of surprises."

He put all his strength into his arms and pushed the Inquisitor's blade back, breaking the saber lock. Ezra swung his lightsaber at her torso and she hit it away with her blade. As he brought his lightsaber back, he blocked a swipe from the Inquisitor. She pressed the attack, swinging high from the left, then low from the right. The force warned Ezra beforehand and his blue blade was ready to meet every strike.

Ezra started to backpedal as she pressed her attack. Kanan's lessons in Form III came back into his mind and he focused on putting up a strong defence, ensuring that the Inquisitor wasn't given a single fatal opening. The Inquisitor did the opposite of Ezra, committing everything to her attacks in an aggressive and violent attempt to take him down.

She brought her lightsaber down hard again, glaring at him from between the blades, "You're no match for me, Jedi. I was trained by Lord Vader and the Grand Inquisitor."

Ezra met her gaze, "Well I was trained by the Jedi who killed the Grand Inquisitor, so I'll take my chances."

He threw her back again and went on the offensive. He went high but feinted at the last second, going low and only barely being blocked by the Inquisitor. Ezra took advantage of the surprise, bringing his blade up high again while the Inquisitor was still off-balance, making her stumble back in an attempt to dodge the blade which missed her by inches. The Inquisitor slid back and they paused to catch their breath.

"Your form is good, boy, but not good enough."

The Jedi tightened both hands on his lightsaber and held it infront of him, "I wish I could say the same for you."

She grinned maliciously at him, "We shall see."

The Inquisitor held her lightsaber in front of her and activated the second blade. She brought it down to her side, adjusting her style for the extra blade. Ezra changed up too, holding the saber higher and close to the side of his face like Kanan used to do.

She yelled as she leapt forward again and began striking at him faster. Their blades met for barely a second as they picked up the pace of their duel. She had a favoured pattern that he began to notice. She'd raise her lightsaber and swing downwards, catching him high with one of the blades. Immediately after, she'd pull back and bring up the lower half of her lightsaber, hoping to catch him from below. It forced him to rapidly move and block, denying him much chance to attack for himself.

Ezra kept note of her pattern as she began striking out recklessly wherever she could. Their lightsabers glanced off each other and crackled loudly, sending flashes of light out across the room. Then, Ezra sensed her next attack coming in, following the pattern she'd started to use. This time, Ezra was ready.

Her lightsaber came down from high and Ezra blocked it. As soon as she pulled it away to bring up the lower blade, instead of moving to block it, Ezra sidestepped and stood clear. The Inquisitor hadn't expected him to dodge and the blade cut up into thin air. Ezra then cut up from below with all his strength and pushed the double-ended lightsaber up. The force of the swing was stronger than the Inquisitor had expected and, as Ezra planned, the lightsaber flew up out of her hands and clattered to the ground somewhere behind him.

Using her confusion against her, Ezra pushed out with the force and sent her flying backwards, leaving the Fourth Sister lying on her back a few metres away.

"You've lost, Inquisitor", he walked towards her and raised his blade.

"What are you going to do, Jedi? Kill me?", she laughed as she propped herself up on her elbows.

Ezra met her eyes, seeing the hatred seething within them. No, he couldn't kill her.

"That's what I thought", the Inquisitor said as her eyes glanced somewhere behind him for a moment.

Ezra lowered his blade but kept it in his hands, ready for if she tried anything. "No, I won't kill you", he sighed, "That's not the Jedi way."

"The Jedi way", she mocked, "How have you still not got it through your head? The Jedi are dead! They were wiped out. All that's left is you and you're not getting off this world alive."

"You'll be surprised", he grinned. Seriously, where are you guys?

Her eyes shot behind him once again. "As will you!", she shouted as her arm shot out toward him.

Ezra sensed the danger before he heard the noise of her lightsaber coming to life. He leapt up into the air and gasped as the Inquisitor's lightsaber spun under him and flew back into her hands. By the time he'd landed, she was charging at him at full speed and he only just managed to raise his saber to block her.

"When you've told me what I want, I'm going to kill you slowly", her eyes burned with hatred at him as their sabers locked.

"You talk too much!", Ezra pressed into the saber lock, putting his strength into pushing her back.

Their blades cracked and sizzled loudly against each other and the light grew more intense as they forced against each other. Ezra could feel her strength giving in and she was about to break the saber block when his blue blade made a horrible screeching noise. What the-?

Ezra looked at his blade and could swear he saw it... no, no no no no no! Ezra jumped back and pulled the lightsaber away just in time. It whirred and crackled horribly before it started to flicker in and out of existence. He watched in disbelief as the blade cut out and a thin wisp of smoke came from the hilt. Dammit, I knew it was too much to expect this old lightsaber to be reliable.

The Inquisitor gave a satisfied laugh, "Poor Jedi, the force has turned its back on you."

Ezra caught his breath in his throat. This was not good.

"Now then, Bridger", the Inquisitor grinned, "Time to end this."

With a grunt she pushed out with the force and threw Ezra against the altar in the centre of the room. His back slammed against the stone with a crack and the useless hilt was thrown away into the darkness. He groaned at the pain and reared his head at the Inquisitor slowly walking towards him. Her blade dragged in the ground as she approached.

"I need you alive but that doesn't mean unharmed", she stood above him and raised her blade. "You've had us on the run for so long, maybe losing your legs would teach you a lesson."

Ezra shut his eyes tight and braced himself. He was too exhausted and dazed to reach out with the force. He had no weapon and he had no energy. Kanan lasted without his sight... and artificial limbs are so adva-

Suddenly, Ezra's eyes shot open and the hairs on his neck stood on end. The Inquisitor froze up too, her eyes going wide and meeting his.

No... it couldn't be.

Everything seemed to stop and the whole galaxy felt like it was taking a breath. He didn't know how long he locked eyes with the Inquisitor above him but he could see the understanding growing in her eyes. After what felt like an eternity, the Inquisitor stopped looking at him and turned her head over her shoulder. Ezra finally broke out of his trance and looked over to the entrance.


Sabine brought the ship around as the sensors blared to warn her of the incoming ships. Her fingers hovered over the weapon triggers, ready and eager to take on whatever the Empire was going to throw at them. The screens showed her two Imperial shuttles were coming in from orbit and heading towards her to land.

This shuttle was heavier that anything she'd flown, certainly a lot less manoeuvrable than either of the Phantoms, but she'd have to make do. Hopefully, it made up in firepower what it lacked in mobility.

Sabine came in from the side of their flight path, hoping to catch them by surprise. The two shuttles were flying beside each other, one leading the other by a short distance. Sabine lined up her ship with the lead shuttle and waited for the targeting system to confirm the shot.

"Now!", she pressed the triggers down and sent a stream of blue laser fire in the direction of the Imperials.

The shuttles had no time to react and a number of shots caught the first shuttle. It's stabiliser wing crumbled and other shots rattled into its hull, sending the it falling out of the sky in a billow of smoke. The second shuttle's pilot saw this and started to try some evasive manoeuvres. The nose of the shuttle went down and it went under the stream of fire from her own ship.

It then banked right to try and evade her and kicked up its speed. Sabine pulled on the controls and turned her ship, holding the trigger and not giving her opponent time to breathe. The Imperial shuttle wasn't too fast or agile but neither was her own ship and she struggled to line up a shot as her enemy weaved side to side to throw her off. She chased after him and got a few glancing blows on her target but wasn't managing to do any major damage.

As they got closer to the old ruins, another proximity warning sounded in the cockpit.

"Ugh, what now?!", she snapped. She rolled her eyes after reading the screen, "TIE fighters. Great."

She looked at the shuttle she'd been chasing and then at the screen. If she kept chasing the shuttle, the TIEs could easily get the drop on her. If she broke off to take the fighters, that shuttle would drop off more reinforcements for Ahsoka and Ezra to deal with.

She bit her lip and sighed, "Sorry you two, I'm sure you can handle it."

The Mandalorian broke off her pursuit of the shuttle and let it go down to the surface. Instead, she pulled the ship around and headed straight in the direction of the approaching TIEs. She could make out their unmistakable silhouette against the clouds already. They wouldn't be expecting a direct head-on assault from an old shuttle - no one but her would be crazy enough to try that.

As soon as they were in range, Sabine sent waves of laser fire at them. All three started to break formation to avoid the attack. As the centre fighter pulled up, Sabine saw the flashes as its hull took several hits before exploding into a fireball.

Sabine took her eyes off the explosion and started looking for the other two fighters. They'd both pulled up and she'd lost sight of them in the chaos. Then, a stream of green lasers shot past the window on the right as one of the TIEs looped around for a counterattack.

"Karabast", she cursed and banked hard to the left to avoid the attack.

Another volley came from the side as the other TIE joined in. Forced onto the defensive, Sabine pulled down and to the right to avoid the second attacker. They both passed over her without getting a hit.

Sabine brought the lumbering shuttle up and looked quickly at the sensors, trying to guess their next move. Both TIEs were moving quickly and turning around, no doubt trying to get behind her and line up some clear shots. That was the last thing she wanted to happen. Sabine brought the shuttle around to the right, letting the large ship have the space it needed to move. If she wasn't quick she'd-

"Aghh!", the whole ship rocked. "Dammit, for fu-", another impact rocked the shuttle.

The TIEs were already behind her and were closing in fast. They were faster and more agile than her and were now in the last place she wanted. She did her best to buy some time, weaving left and right to throw off their aim, as she tried to inspect the damage. No major damage, at least that's something. The shields had held but they wouldn't last forever. There was no chance of her outpacing the TIEs or outmanoeuvring them like this.

She kept calm and thought back to Hera and her flight lessons. The Twi'lek had given her and Ezra lots of advice and training over the years and was full of good ideas and methods. Sabine would never be anywhere close to as good a pilot as Hera but that didn't mean the Mandalorian couldn't put some of her tactics to use. Sabine considered her situation and remembered Hera's instructions.

"I hope you're right about this, Hera", she breathed.

She'd have to adapt the technique to fit the shuttle rather than the X-Wing Hera performed the manoeuvre in. Sabine stopped weaving and went straight ahead, waiting only a second for both of the TIEs to line up behind her. It was risky but it was the only way this was going to work. The second that they were in position, Sabine slammed a button on the console and cut out the engines. The momentum kept her in the air while she pulled up, arcing the shuttle up into the air with what momentum remained. The shuttle slowed as the momentum ebbed away but the timing had been perfect. The fast-moving TIEs passed under her at the same time that her shuttle reached its peak and started to fall.

Immediately, Sabine reignited the engines and opened fire. It took a few seconds for them to warm up, so the shuttle started to fall back down. As the shuttle came down, she let out a stream of fire in the direction of the left-most TIE and blew it into pieces. The engines then kicked in and she pulled up towards the TIE on the right. As her ship came up, she fired again and caught the last fighter with another volley and sent it spinning out of control towards the ruins.

Sabine let out an exhausted sigh and leaned back in the chair, "Hera is definitely hearing about that." She looked down towards the ruins and then down at her comm, "Come on, Ahsoka. Where are you?"

Standing in the entrance was the familiar Togruta, a towering staff in her right hand. Her glowing white cloak shined brightly even through the unnatural darkness of this place. Ezra could feel her wisdom and the sense of power she carried with her, knowing that she was leagues above anything this Inquisitor had faced. Even as he sat beneath the altar, he still caught the faintest glimpse of a smile visible under her hood.

"Step away from him", her familiar voice spoke with authority and reverberated around the whole chamber.

Clearly, the Inquisitor had no clue who she was dealing with. "And why would I do that? Who are you to come here and order me around?"

"I'm not here for you, Inquisitor, I'm here for my friend." For the first time, she made eye contact with him as she spoke.

The Inquisitor looked back at Ezra for a second, "A friend of Bridger's? How unfortunate. You and your Jedi friend are going to die here."

Ahsoka calmly took a few paces forward, "I'm afraid that's not going to happen."

The Inquisitor stepped away from the altar and brandished her blade, "You're going to try and fight me, Togruta?"

"No", Ahsoka kept her voice steady and tapped her fingers on the staff she carried, "We've got places to be."

"What do you think this is?", the Inquisitor snapped indignantly and stepped towards her. There was only a few metres between them now.

"Step aside and I'll do you no harm", Ahsoka met the Inquisitor's gaze and held it.

The darksider laughed, "That's not how this works."

"Now you've done it...", Ezra muttered from behind them.

Ahsoka smiled and looked over to him, "Cover your ears, this tends to be loud..."

Ezra listened and shoved his hands over his ears. The Inquisitor lifted her blade to lunge at Ahsoka but the Togruta didn't even flinch. She raised her staff up and thrust forward at her attacker, causing a massive flash of white and yellow light to erupt from it with a deep rumble. Ezra watched as a burst of strange lighting blasted at the Inquisitor in full force and sent her flying over his head. The lightsaber flew out of her hand as she was sent tumbling backwards before slamming hard into the ground. Ezra looked over the altar and saw her unconscious form slide across the floor, aftershocks of the strange lightning still dancing over her body.

"I'm not going to ask", Ezra breathed as he turned back.

Ahsoka stood over him with a wide smile, "When you asked me to come and find you, I didn't think you'd make it this hard."

The former Jedi reached out a hand to help him up and Ezra brushed the dust off his clothes as he scrambled to his feet.

"You look like you're in one piece", Ahsoka smiled, "A bit worse for wear but nothing serious."

"Yeah...", Ezra ran his hand across his beard, "Ahsoka... I... I can't believe you're here. How did you both find me?"

The Togruta cocked an eyebrow, "Both?"

"Yeah", he shrugged, "I sensed Sabine the moment she arrived on the planet."

She smiled down to the ground, "Ah, I shouldn't be surprised about that."

Ezra rubbed his head, "How surprised did you think I was when I felt it?"

"A welcome one, I'm sure."

"You can say that again. But I still don't get it, how did you find me so quickly?", the Jedi asked.

She tapped the staff on the ground, "It's complicated. Which also reminds me...", she pointed the staff past him and back towards the corridor which he came in through from the portal. A ball of pale yellow light shot out from the corridor and seemed to absorb back into the staff.

Ezra's mouth hung open, "Again, I'm not going to ask."

"Probably for the best, there'll be time to talk later."

The Jedi paused and took a few deep breaths. Everything had happened so fast that he barely had time to register anything. Almost five years of his life were spent alone out here, hoping that maybe he'd get a chance to go home. Now, that time was finally, definitely over.

Ahsoka sensed his emotions, "Are you alright?"

"Yeah", he breathed, "I think I'm better than alright."

"Good, because we've still got to get to the ship", Ahsoka turned and motioned for him to follow.

His mind was still racing as he followed her, "I'm guessing Sabine is with the ship?"

"Got it in one", Ahsoka replied, "She's keeping the Empire occupied to buy us time. I think she was a bit disappointed that she didn't get to come down to get you in person."

"If I know Sabine, I'm sure blowing up what the Empire sends at us might make up for it", Ezra grinned. There was almost nothing in the galaxy that Sabine loved more than sticking it to the Empire.

They reached the foot of the stairs out of the ruin and Ezra took another look back at the altar and the slumped Inquisitor.

"Ahsoka, do you know what happened here?", he asked solemnly.

She turned back with him, "No, I don't, but it worries me."

"It's just...", Ezra thought back to the instructions he had from Master Yoda and the warnings he gave.

Ancient and powerful, that was how he described what he'd felt out here. This had to be something to do with it, it couldn't be a coincidence. However, Yoda had also told him to expect allies at home to help in dealing with... this. The force brought Sabine and Ahsoka here for a reason, it had to be the way forward in facing whatever was out here.

"Never mind. Like you said, there'll be time to talk later", Ezra decided it was best to talk about everything some other time and turned back to the stairs.

From the corner of his eye, he saw the troubled look on Ahsoka's face but she didn't press him for anything more. They had to deal with one thing at a time and right now all that mattered was getting out of here.

"Here", Ahsoka reached under her cloak and pulled out one of her lightsabers, "You might need it."

Ezra took the saber and admired it up close, recognising the familiar and unusual shape. "I was going to ask, no use finding me only for me to get shot trying to get out", he chuckled.

"I want it back", she warned jokingly.

He shrugged and clipped it to his belt, "That's fine. White isn't really my colour."

"I'm glad your sense of humour hasn't been worn out", Ahsoka smiled. "Come on, time to get out of here."

They left the chamber and started to walk up the steps. About halfway up, Ezra glanced at Ahsoka, "Do you sense it too?"

"Absolutely", Ahsoka answered casually as she slid her staff into a sling on her back. She too could sense the stormtroopers closing in on their position.

Ezra followed her lead as they ascended the stone stairs and walked out into the open. Sure enough, six stormtroopers were approaching the ruin and froze when they saw them.

"Stop right there!", the squad leader barked.

Simultaneously, Ezra and Ahsoka activated their white lightsabers as the squad opened fire. Ezra's training flooded back and he blocked the shots effortlessly, deflecting them harmlessly into the ground or up into the air. It took him a while before he'd got the hang of it enough to send the bolts back at the troopers. Ahsoka had already taken down two before he'd even got one.

"You know", he grunted, "They're going to send more forces after us."

Ahsoka hit back another bolt and caught a fourth trooper, "Then we'd better move."

They both stepped down from the hill and into the street while the remaining two troopers fired at them. Wisely, the two stormtroopers retreated as they approached. Ezra reached out with the force and got hold of them both, lifted them up, and threw them into the side of one of the buildings, rendering them unconscious on the ground.

"That'll buy us some time", Ezra deactivated the blade and smiled at Ahsoka.

A blaster bolt zoomed past them not even a second later.

"You were saying?", Ahsoka ducked down and activated her own lightsaber.

Through the mist, they could see another full squad of stormtroopers approaching.

The Togruta tapped her wrist comm, "I've got him, ready for pickup."

Ezra was a little disappointed when no real response came through, there wasn't a sound in the galaxy he wanted to hear more than Sabine's voice right now. A few more minutes, that's all it'll be.

"Which way to the ship?", Ezra asked as his blade ignited to deflect a shot.

"Follow me", Ahsoka backpedalled a few paces and then turned to lead the way.

Ezra glanced back over his shoulder as he covered her from behind. The squad was closing fast and there was at least ten or more of them. They weren't impossible odds, definitely not for the two of them, but with the buildings and environment it could be easy to get cornered.

Ahsoka sprinted through the area and Ezra kept pace, not wanting to lose sight of them in the mist. The stormtroopers had an advantage as their visors could probably pick them up through the fog, but the force was all that Ezra needed. Even as he lost sight of the pursuing troopers, the force warned him in enough time to block any shots that came their way.

Even as he was leaving, this place still struck him with fear. He hadn't gotten much in the way of answers about this place, let alone about what Master Yoda had told him. The brief glimpses he caught of the desecrated corpses as they went reminded him that while his exile was coming to an end, something else was only just beginning.

"Not far now", Ahsoka called from ahead.

The buildings started to thin out as they reached the outskirts of the area. They'd put some distance between themselves and the troopers but a few wayward shots were still trailing them. Ezra kept looking ahead intermittently and saw the terrain start to rise higher as they cleared the last of the buildings.

Ahsoka clambered up the small hill and instantly went to her comm, "We're at the pickup, where are you?"

There was no response as Ezra ground to a halt next to her.

"Sabine?", Ahsoka called again into her comm.

Ezra heard the voices of the troopers approach and Ahsoka brought her lightsaber up again.

"There they are! Stop them!", glimpses of white armour appeared between the buildings below as blaster fire started to soar at them.

They both started to block a shower of blaster fire as the troopers closed in. They were exposed up on the hill and there was no telling when more Imperial reinforcements could arrive.

Luckily, it was their backup that got their first.

Ezra turned just before the noise of the ship's engines blared behind him. A red and white Clone Wars era shuttle hovered over head and a torrent of blue lasers poured down onto the attacking stormtroopers. He couldn't tell how many were caught in the blast and soon dust was flying everywhere as the Imperial squad descended into chaos.

The shuttle ceased fire and turned in the air as a small doorway opened up on the side of the hull. Even though it was right there in front of him, Ezra still though he was dreaming.

"After you", Ahsoka pointed to the shuttle.

Ezra stared at the door for a moment before leaping up with the force.

His judgement was perfect and his feet landed on the floor of the shuttle's doorway, before he fell forward onto his hands and knees. The sound of Ahsoka's feet hitting the metallic floor was followed by the hiss of the door closing. Ezra stayed on his hands and knees, panting for breath and trying to process everything that had just happened. This was it. He was safe. Nearly five years... and it was over.

Ezra barely noticed the feeling of the shuttle rising into the sky nor did he really notice as Ahsoka ran into the cockpit. Everything was just... overwhelming. He pushed himself up onto his knees, still staring blankly down at the floor in shock. Finally, he started to stand and accepted it in his mind.

After all this time, he was finally going home. Nothing in the galaxy had ever felt this good.

He was proved wrong a second later as a pair of arms threw themselves around him.


Chapter Text


"Sir...", a stormtrooper approached Thrawn nervously with his head bowed, "The... the intruders have... escaped."

The other troopers inspecting the small building with Thrawn froze up and stopped what they were doing. The Grand Admiral remained calm and composed, as he always did.

"And Bridger?", he only sought to confirm his assumption.

"He's gone as well, Grand Admiral", the stormtrooper kept his head low.

So... Bridger is going home. Thrawn stood completely still, deep in thought and staring unflinchingly at the soldier that had brought the report to him. Their secondary mission for almost five years had been the capture of Ezra Bridger. This trooper's fear at this moment was understandable but, in all honesty, unwarranted.

"Thank you", Thrawn told him, "Dismissed."

The man hesitated and stuttered before turning heel and leaving the building a bit faster than usual. The other men in the ruined building murmured among themselves and nervously returned to their inspection of the area.

Thrawn pulled his communicator from his belt and tried once again to raise the Inquisitor. No response. He'd be surprised if Bridger had actually killed her, though his rescuer's hand in this could have brought her life to an end as well.

"Troopers, with me", he summoned two of the men near him and left the building.

The Chiss made silent observations as he walked toward the Inquisitor's presumed location. A higher concentration of bodies here compared to elsewhere, suggesting that the fighting became more intense as it moved towards the central ruin. Thrawn's position hadn't been far from where he suspected the Inquisitor was and he was almost at the stairs within a few minutes. As he reached it, he noticed another change: interesting, now there are almost no bodies. It seems that the attackers were killed before reaching this location, which suggests something within was worth the effort to keep them out.

Thrawn reached the top of the stairs that descended into the ground, constantly trying to assess his surroundings. He noted the patterns on the walls as he started to climb down. Not extravagant but their existence sets it apart from the surrounding structures. Perhaps its purpose warranted the extra attention and glorification, or maybe this temple was constructed by someone other than those who built the surrounding buildings.

The stairs gave way to a narrow corridor which led into a large chamber. The fog that flowed on the ground seemed to get thicker down here and the Grand Admiral began to suspect why. In the centre of the chamber was an altar with a smashed object lying on top of it. This room appeared to be the central chamber of this ruin and several smaller corridors led off of it.

His focus went back to finding the Inquisitor. She was crumpled on the floor on the far side of the room, scrapes and tears across her face and clothing. She appeared to have been thrown across the room and was starting to stir awake as he approached.

"Inquisitor", his cold voice echoed throughout the chamber.

The Fourth Sister started to open her eyes with a pained groan. Her eyes squinted as she looked around the room, likely trying to remember what exactly had happened.

Thrawn watched her in her daze, "Bridger is gone."

Bridger's name caught her attention as she sat up and she finally focused her attention on the Chiss. Thrawn saw the flash of anger appear in her eyes and then humiliation and regret.

"His allies have left with him on their shuttle and they are already en route home. Your failure is more than complete."

She gritted her teeth and reached out a hand, "Grand Admiral, I..."

"You will listen to what I have say", he cut her off sternly. "Your defiance has cost us Bridger as well as the lives of many of our men. For several weeks you have openly defied my orders, repeatedly failed in your own missions and continually endeavoured to hide things from me."

Wisely, the Inquisitor held her tongue.

Thrawn continued to look down at her, "Our only hope now is that you can redeem yourself for your failures by committing your efforts to my mission."

The Fourth Sister's tensed up, "Your search."

"My search", Thrawn confirmed, "And you shall defer to my judgement and my instructions whilst a part of it or you shall be dealt with accordingly."

"If you're that disappointed, why not just kill me?", she laughed weakly.

"Because, Inquisitor, you may yet be of use to us. The Emperor sensed a disturbance in the force and thus your abilities in that regard may prove useful in the future", Thrawn explained.

The Fourth Sister smirked up at him, "You need me."

"We need each other, Inquisitor", Thrawn countered.

She finally started to stand up unsteadily and winced from pain somewhere in her body. Thrawn made no offer to help her up or aid her, knowing she'd only turn him down.

"If you need my help then you're going to have to-"

"At the moment, you are in no position to make a demand of anything, Inquisitor", Thrawn cut her off.

She shrunk away and muttered under her breath, far too quietly for him to hear. Even with her arrogance, there was no mistaking her abject failure so far. Good, Thrawn though, let it drive her.

The Chiss watched her resentment simmer within before half turning away, "If you have nothing more to say, I have other matters to attend to."

"Whatever you say, Grand Admiral", she sarcastically exaggerated the title.

There were no more words as Thrawn turned his back and walked away. His mind played over everything in his head again, contemplating how every event had played out and fed into another. As he exited the ruin, he reached for his communicator on his belt.

"Commodore?", he said.

There was a few seconds delay, "Grand Admiral", she answered cautiously. The trepidation, she already knows.

"Summon Captain Pellaeon to the Chimaera and escort him to my office, I wish to speak with both of you there."

"At once, sir", she answered.

The Grand Admiral put the device away and made his way back to the shuttle. It was time for them to assess the situation they found themselves in. More importantly, it was time to give them both some answers.

Captain Pellaeon didn't find himself speechless often. He also didn't see the sensible Commodore Faro as one to be easily silenced either. This, however, was a situation that defied expectations. Despite all their efforts and Thrawn's direct intervention, Ezra Bridger had escaped. Not only had he escaped, but he had been rescued by the allies that the Grand Admiral consistently declined to deal with. For all the Fourth Sister's own failures, and there were many, it was also the Grand Admiral's choices that had allowed the rebels to win out in the end.

Of course, Pellaeon wasn't going to tell him that and neither was Faro. Their brief and hushed conversation on their way to Thrawn's office had seen them both agree to just let Thrawn speak. He'd lost out before, at Atollon and above Lothal, but not after working for so long for one simple objective. This might be a sight to behold.

"Did he say when he'd be here?", Pellaeon asked impatiently as he stood in the centre of the office.

The Commodore was looking at the painted section of wall covered in the young Sabine Wren's artwork, "No, he just said that he wanted us here. I'm sure he won't be long."

The door guard had let them in as soon as they arrived but Thrawn was still on his way from the surface. It wasn't typical of him to make them wait at all, he was nothing if not efficient.

"Do you think he'll be angry?", the Commodore asked quietly.

Pellaeon huffed, "I'm not sure he's capable of it, though I don't want to be within a parsec of him if he is."

"I'm not sure what he's going to do now. There's not much chance of us dragging Bridger back out here, looks like we're on our own", Faro said.

"Maybe", Pellaeon grunted, "We'll have to see what the Grand Admiral has going on in that brain of his."

The woman smiled halfheartedly, "I'm sure he'll have something interesting."

At that moment, the door to the office hissed open and the Grand Admiral walked in. Pellaeon and Faro snapped to attention, a formality that was usually unnecessary for Thrawn when they met privately, but they weren't taking chances today. Surprisingly, the Chiss' face was inits usual calm and composed state. You'd never think that he'd just suffered a significant setback in something he'd dedicated almost five years of his life to.

"Captain, Commodore", he nodded to them both in turn, "I appreciate you meeting me on such short notice."

Faro moved back to Pellaeon's side, "Of course, sir."

Thrawn stepped into the room and held out a hand to them, "Your comlinks, please."

Pellaeon and Faro glanced at each other before taking the devices from their belts and placing them into the Chiss' hand.

"Thank you, merely a precaution. We cannot be too careful", Thrawn removed the power cells from both of them and lay them on his desk and did the same with his own.

Pellaeon cleared his throat, "With all due respect, Grand Admiral, what happens now? We lost Bridger and his knowledge with him. This plan for him it's... it's collapsed."

"No, Captain. The plan has transpired exactly as I anticipated."

Both officers looked at each other as the Chiss took a seat at his desk.

Faro furrowed her brow, "I don't follow, sir."

"Please", Thrawn motioned to the two seats at the front of his desk, "Sit. There is much to discuss and you are certain to have questions. The time has come to explain everything."

They exchanged another confused look before taking their seats opposite Thrawn. This'll be good, he thought to himself.

"I will start from the beginning", Thrawn looked at Faro, "Commodore, I trust you remember Commander Eli Vanto."

Vanto? Pellaeon himself had heard the name a few times. Vanto was an aide assigned to Thrawn immediately after his arrival in the galaxy. From what little Thrawn, Faro and others had mentioned of him, Pellaeon knew he'd been a capable tactician and strategist, if a bit unsure of himself. He'd heard him mentioned in a few anecdotes about Thrawn's earlier years with the Imperial Navy but it was common knowledge that the young Commander had mysteriously disappeared over seven years ago. It was months before Pellaeon joined the Seventh Fleet and even before Thrawn had been concerned with the Phoenix rebels.

The name was as much a surprise to Faro as it was to him, "Uh.. yes, of course, sir."

"I am aware that, to others, there is ambiguity surrounding his location in the last several years. Kidnapped, executed, exiled, imprisoned, merely retired - I've come across many suggestions from idle rumours and conversation."

Faro leaned forward, "Are you saying you know where he is?"

"Of course", Thrawn answered, "I sent him to my own people in the Chiss Ascendancy."

The Chiss? What in blazes is he doing there?

"The Chiss? Why?", Faro asked.

Thrawn steepled his fingers, "Commander Vanto had a sharp tactical mind that, with years of honing, became a formidable tool to those whom he served. I have made no secret of my concern about threats in the Unknown Regions and the danger posed to my own people. I believed young Vanto would be a formidable asset to them for the future."

"That's a sound move but I don't see how it's relevant", Pellaeon told them.

"Vanto is an example of my philosophy on this matter. I will use talent, Captain, wherever I find it. The two of you, for example, have prospered because of your natural ability and I am grateful for your service. However, in this fight against the unknown I cannot only look to those who serve me. These threats, perhaps the one we are on the trail of now, are more than a threat to just the Chiss or the Empire, they threaten all people of the galaxy. I used Vanto's talent and was able to divert it to my people. Likewise, I wished to use Bridger's talent to further aid my people, to put them both in the best position for everyone." Thrawn leaned back in his chair, "Of course, allying with Bridger would be impossible with the presence of the Emperor. To say he despised the Jedi would be an understatement and I feared he would quickly learn of Bridger's survival, likely informed by our Inquisitor, and find a way to eliminate him."

Pellaeon leaned in, "So that's why you only went for Bridger after the Emperor was dead. You knew he'd never approve of an alliance while he lived."

"Exactly, Captain."

"Wait... how were you even sure you could catch Bridger when the time came? Wasn't that plan a big stab in the dark?", the Commodore asked.

Thrawn shook his head, "I had known Bridger's location almost immediately after he escaped five years ago."

"What?! How?", Pellaeon exclaimed, "Why didn't the Inquisitor find him them?"

"We had no means to pursue Bridger before the Emperor's contact and from there both our larger mission and the Inquisitor's presence became a factor. Finding Bridger was simple enough, do you recall how he escaped the Chimaera?"

Faro paused, "On your shuttle."

"Indeed", Thrawn answered, "Bridger's last trajectory left only one world as a likely candidate for his location."

"You didn't tell the Inquisitor?", Pellaeon eyed him suspiciously. The Captain wasn't too comfortable with deception no matter when it happened or why.

Thrawn remained calm and steady, "I would have told her if she asked, though she never did. In her arrogance, she overlooked the most basic sources of knowledge and assumed her own abilities would see her to victory, a trait I'm sure you've both come to recognise. By the time she was nearing his location, I insisted that we continue with our mission into the Unknown Regions. Bridger would remain undisturbed until the end of the conflict in the galaxy, it was not in the nature of his allies to abandon the fight for his sake nor would he want them to. I trusted that he would remain on that world until such time as we could retrieve him."

Pellaeon sighed, "So you knew where he was the whole time and had the Inquisitor running in circles for this whole expedition?"

"In simple terms, yes."

The old man stroked his moustache, "Okay, I understand that much. How does this relate to anything either?"

"Because by the time the opportunity came to retrieve Bridger, something vital had changed."

"The Emperor's death", Faro said.

"No", the Grand Admiral pressed a button on his desk and a holographic image of a report appeared above his desk. "Do you know what this is?"

Pellaeon and Faro squinted at it and started to skim over the words. Engagement... rebel fleet... Endor... Vader and the Emperor dead.

"The message you had about the death of the Emperor", the Commodore said plainly.

"Yes...", Thrawn's hand moved to his chin, "Read it. Tell me if you notice what I did."

They scanned the report over as Thrawn watched them wordlessly. Pellaeon was about to give up and just ask him what he was getting at when a familiar name caught his eye.

"Skywalker?", Pellaeon scrunched his nose. "Luke Skywalker."

"Indeed", Thrawn smiled thinly.

"Skywalker? Like that Jedi hero?" The Commodore, like Pellaeon, had lived through the Clone War and everyone had heard tales of the great Jedi hero Anakin Skywalker.

"The relation to Anakin Skywalker was indeed what piqued my interest", Thrawn continued.

"So... what? A brother?", Pellaeon asked.

"No, I believe this Luke Skywalker is his son."

"Impossible", Pellaeon scoffed, "Everyone knows Jedi couldn't have children. They couldn't even have partners."

"Shouldn't, not couldn't", Thrawn's eyes looked away as if recalling some old memory, "I have reason to suspect that Anakin Skywalker perhaps broke such conventions of the Jedi and thus could have fathered a son."

"A name doesn't prove anything", Faro shook her head, "Might be a coincidence."

"Ah, but it is not", Thrawn replied, "It says here that he was brought aboard the Death Star II only hours before its destruction and it also alludes to his survival and escape. The personal interest the Emperor evidently had in this Skywalker, the fact that both the Emperor and Lord Vader were killed shortly after his arrival there and his survival in the first place leaves no room for doubt. Only a powerful Jedi, such as the offspring of Anakin Skywalker, could have pulled off such a feat."

Pellaeon pinched the bridge of his nose, "I appreciate this is interesting, Grand Admiral, but what does this have to do with Bridger?"

Thrawn turned off the display, "Because when I learned this, my plans had to adapt. We were operating on the belief that Bridger was the last Jedi. With Skywalker's existence, a Jedi who even defeated the Emperor and Lord Vader, there was another Jedi who could be of help to us. You see, Captain, I do not just want Ezra Bridger; I also want Luke Skywalker."

The Commodore rubbed her chin, "How would you get Skywalker to work with you? How do you even get him out here?"

"Simple, Commodore. We let Ezra Bridger return home and warn Skywalker of the threat that lurks in the Unknown Regions."

He wanted Bridger to escape all along. Pellaeon and Faro looked long at each other. They should have known, if Thrawn wanted something then he'd get it, no matter what. There was no way he would have made so many missteps if they weren't part of his plan.

"If I wanted Bridger at any moment, I could have gone to him and overwhelmed him with numbers. However, it was not enough to capture Bridger nor just let him escape, he needed to have a reason to return here. Perhaps you'd say we had to 'trust in the force' to show him this threat", Thrawn smiled thinly as he spoke. "The Emperor sensed a threat out here years ago. I believed that, given the chance, Ezra Bridger would also realise something was amiss. The force works in unusual ways, it is hard to predict, but some patterns do emerge. If there was something significant out here, significant enough for the Emperor to sense, I was confident Bridger would find its trail."

Faro nodded along, "Bridger finds some trace of this threat and realises there's something out here so, when he does go home, there's still a reason for him to come back out here."

"Precisely. I did not know the nature of this threat yet I trusted Bridger to at least recognise its existence. That is why he was not pursued as soon as he commandeered the Inquisitor's ship to escape and why only token forces were committed to his pursuit on the shattered desert world he reached using said ship. I admit, I do not know how Bridger managed to elude the Fourth Sister on that world but his escape there was ultimately the best course of action. It did, after all, lead us to our current location and to clear evidence of this threat. What matters is that Bridger would be, indeed he already has been, left with unanswered questions that I believe will trouble him enough to investigate. Given their relation to the force, it is only logical to assume that Skywalker will also be drawn to this endeavour."

"Hang on", Pellaeon raised a hand, "If Skywalker is a Jedi and a rebel, he must have he run into someone who knew about Bridger in the last few years. How did you know he wouldn't come out to search for him now? You could have caught them both in one fell swoop."

Thrawn gestured to him, "A wise question, Captain. In fact, I had initially assumed that would be the case and operated on that assumption for several days."

"Really?", Pellaeon cocked an eyebrow.

Once more, Thrawn pressed a button on his desk and a familiar hologram appeared. "Do you remember this, Captain? It is the map I constructed based on traceable points of communication. You yourself anticipated that Bridger's allies could use it to begin a search."

Pellaeon remembered it well, it was in the same meeting where the Grand Admiral had admitted his intentions of capturing Bridger rather than killing him.

"Aye, I do. It seems you were right."

"Indeed. Not only was this map useful in predicting where Bridger's allies would be but also when they would arrive. I used the time it took to construct the map, coupled with the projected time of travel to determine not only where Bridger's allies were likely to be but also when they'd arrive. Their loyalty to him is deep, I expected them to begin searching for information at the earliest opportunity, and therefore it was easy to determine when they'd reach us."

The Commodore leaned in and pointed to the map. "Wait a second", she pointed to the red dot that indicated their initial position, "You had us waiting here while the Inquisitor searched for Bridger. You were killing time waiting for Bridger's allies as much as for the Inquisitor", she was almost smiling.

Thrawn had the ghost of a grin, "I did make a point of reiterating things at length for a while, did I not?"

At the same time, some thing suddenly clicked with Pellaeon. "The Invictus", he said suddenly. "You left it at our initial position, against standard procedure, while we went after Bridger. You wanted Bridger's allies to find the ship. You left them a trail to follow."

The Grand Admiral nodded, "Perceptive. I believed the determination of Bridger's allies would allow them to escape that encounter with enough information to pursue us."

"So when the Invictus was attacked... you planned it", Faro's voice was hesitant. After all, people had died in that attack. Good people.

"As I said, we must go to any lengths to pursue our goal. Their deaths were not without reason", Thrawn replied coldly. "That encounter, however, provided essential information that altered the plan. Do you recall the details of the attack?", he continued unphased by the deaths of the Imperial crew.

"As well as its own Captain does", Pellaeon began to laugh before stopping abruptly. The Captain didn't remember a thing. "Jedi mind trick", he breathed, "There was a Jedi there."

Thrawn nodded, "Indeed. However, another clear detail emerged about the intruders. 'Two women'. Luke Skywalker, evidently, was not one of the allies that had pursued Bridger."

Faro sunk back in her chair, "You mean there was another Jedi."

"That appeared to be the most likely option", Thrawn continued, "Although it had to be tested. Their following of the coordinates to our location was expected, however, rather than allowing them to follow another trail, I devised a test to confirm my suspicions. Both Bridger and the Fourth Sister felt something in the force telling them where to go. I predicted that, if there was truly another force user among Bridger's allies, then they too would follow that feeling. The test proved conclusively that there was indeed another Jedi."

"What other Jedi can there be? They're all dead", Faro's face look troubled.

"Information on the Jedi is... unreliable. The Emperor was intentionally destructive towards records of them and their persecution forced them to ground. It is possible that there were more Jedi that remained undiscovered although it is equally possible that another force user emerged in our time away that wished to aid Bridger's allies. I do not know who they are but, if they are not Skywalker, then I am willing to allow them to return home and bring him to us."

Pellaeon sighed heavily, "So there was another Jedi all along, that's how they managed to keep following us."

"Which is also why you insisted on pursuing Bridger immediately rather than trying to intercept his allies when they ran into to one of our patrols", Faro said.

"Partially. My choice not to engage Sabine Wren and whoever came with her at that time was in part because I truly wished them no harm. However, we also needed to ensure that Bridger had indeed found the trail of something that would draw him back here before his allies could retrieve him. Therefore, we needed to reach him ahead of his allies to make sure of that fact. If this planet had not provided Bridger with enough of a reason to be drawn back here then we would have needed to prolong this search until he could be convinced otherwise. If his allies managed to get a head start on us then our plan would have unravelled. Fortunately, things played into our hands."

Commodore Faro leaned in again, "Alright, so I can understand you letting Bridger escape, I can see how you led his allies here and I understand your reasons for doing that. But, you did send troopers and fighters after them multiple times."

"A necessary act. The Inquisitor, like many in the fleet, would not work openly with Bridger. If I appeared to be aiding him or his allies in some way then they'd surely disagree. I had to balance the assured safety of Bridger's allies with the need to maintain the illusion of opposition", Thrawn explained. "Two individuals capable of clearing a light-cruiser were capable of handling a lone squad of stormtroopers, although I admit that I had not expected their encounter at our second destination. I had genuinely wished to have the location assessed and not pointlessly engage the intruders."

The Captain then remembered Thrawn's orders earlier in the day. "Three TIEs", he shook his head, "That's why you only wanted three TIEs to go after the shuttle earlier."

Another thin smile appeared on Thrawn's lips, "Three TIEs were the optimal number. We knew Sabine Wren would be the pilot. Not only was her presence confirmed by the recording in the encounter with our troopers, but she was always the most likely candidate to venture out in search of Ezra Bridger in the first place. Their connection is quite robust, an admirable friendship to say the least. Also, since it was not the Ghost that we encountered, we also knew it was not General Syndulla that was out here. It made most sense to send the force user to the ground while Miss Wren remained in the ship, where her piloting ability made her more than a match for three weary and long out of service TIE pilots."

Again, Thrawn's dismissal of the deaths of Imperial personnel was a bit unsettling. However, Pellaeon could see the logic in his plan. He too understood that some times a dozen lives had to be sacrificed to save a hundred.

"Which leaves us in our current situation. Ezra Bridger, Sabine Wren and their mysterious Jedi ally will return to their homes with knowledge of a threat in the Unknown Regions, one deeply tied to the force. They will no doubt meet Luke Skywalker and, predictably for the Jedi, return to confront this threat."

"And we'll be waiting for them", the Commodore's voice was low, but whether from fatigue, shock or disapproval, Pellaeon couldn't tell.

"The Inquisitor won't like that. A lot of people won't", Pellaeon said grimly.

The Chiss paused, "There will be... disagreement. However, it is essential that this threat is dealt with by whatever means necessary. We shall confront such divisions at a later time. For now, we must learn all we can about what we have found and do our utmost to give ourselves the best opportunity of defeating it."

It was all out in the open now. Thrawn's intentions, his actions, his beliefs. Of course Thrawn must have known where Bridger ended up after leaving the Chimaera, they were all just too shocked and busy to devote much time to capturing the Jedi. Instead, Thrawn kept that information tucked away, knowing that Bridger could be of use only when the Emperor wasn't watching his every move. As soon as the Emperor was gone, Thrawn made his move and worked to get Bridger but by then Skywalker had come into the equation, so he adapted his plan. He finally let the Inquisitor loose to find Bridger, not to capture Bridger but to ensure that there was a trail that the Jedi's allies would be able to follow too. He left the Invictus in the perfect place for those allies to find, finding that location using the same method of tracking communication points that he knew the rebels would use, while he drove Bridger onward to make sure he knew that there was a threat out here.

Thrawn's assumption that Skywalker had come was corrected by the attack on the Invictus, which allowed him to adapt his strategy and make sure that Bridger could be rescued and bring Skywalker out here. When the force guided Bridger and the Fourth Sister, he trusted that it would also guide whoever had come out here on a rescue mission. Thrawn prevented Bridger's capture long enough to make the boy learn about the threat and also avoided engaging the Mandalorian and whatever Jedi had come on two separate occasions. Only when they reached this planet, when it was clear to everyone that there was something dreadfully wrong out here, did Thrawn allow Ezra Bridger to be rescued and return home. All the while, he kept the Inquisitor in the dark and on the backfoot. He played on her arrogance and then antagonised her about her failures, making sure that she failed to kill the Jedi and was too distracted to catch on to his true goals.

The old Captain sighed, "The things we do for the greater good. I'm on board with your plan, Grand Admiral. If there's something out here that's as dangerous as you think then I'm willing to take the risk of trying this."

"Thank you, Captain", Thrawn looked at the officer in the room, "Commodore?"

"I won't lie, Grand Admiral", she said solemnly, "I don't fully agree with the deaths of loyal Imperial servicemen as part of your plan." She looked away for a moment, "But... I do agree that we have to make sacrifices. We need to stop this threat and I'm willing to do my part."

"I value your honesty and understand your reservations, Commodore. I assure you, I will do everything I can to minimise such losses in the future." Thrawn stood up and began pacing around his room, "Of course, it will be a while before Bridger and Skywalker return to us. For now, we must bide out time and learn. It is crucial that no one outside of this room, for now, learns of our intentions. If the Inquisitor caught wind of this then she would not abide our choices and might inspire similar disagreements among others. We must also consider whatever she is hiding from us, and also whatever role this elusive threat itself could play. It is far too early and the situation far too volatile for us to do anything but wait."

A knock sounded on the door, bringing an end to any more explanation.

"Enter", Thrawn went over and spoke into the intercom.

Thrawn's door guard entered the officer, "Sir, the Inquisitor has been trying to raise you. She wishes to discuss something with you."

Pellaeon glanced at the deactivated comlinks on Thrawn's desk and hoped the Fourth Sister hadn't become suspicious of their silence.

"Thank you, Lieutenent", Thrawn dismissed him and turned back to Pellaeon and Faro, "It seems we have work to attend to. You may return to your duties."

Just like that, the Grand Admiral retrieved his comlink, slid it into his belt and left the room with the same passive aloofness he always did. The Captain and the Commodore sat for a few moments, still reeling from everything.

It was Faro who spoke first, "That wasn't what I was expecting."

"No points for understatements, Commodore", he chuckled.

"Let's just hope this works out", the Commodore said in a tone that Pellaeon couldn't figure out was joking or not. "I swear that man is going to be the death of me."

Pellaeon huffed a laugh, "You and me both."

Ezra didn't question who had thrown their arms around his neck. If the feeling of her armour or the familiar smell of paint and carbon scoring didn't clue him in, her beautiful and unmistakable presence in the force made the answer clear. He could feel the hardness of her armour pushing against him, she'd caught him at an awkward angle for their hug,and he was still trying to cat his breath, but he didn't care. He just shut his eyes and slid his hands around her waist, relishing in the hug he'd waited five years to have. It was warm, soothing and everything he'd hoped it would be. Years of worrying, years of loneliness, years of uncertainty - it made it all seem worth it.

"You're an idiot", Sabine's voice was muffled by his shoulder.

"I know", he laughed quietly.

Her arms tightened the hug, as if she was still trying to convince herself he was actually there in front of her.

"Five years. Five years and...", her voice croaked.

Ezra breathed raggedly, "I know. I'm sorry."

"No, no, that's not...", she sighed into him. "I missed you."

"I missed you too", his hands rubbed soothingly up her back.

They held each others for a while longer before she pulled away, letting him see her for the first time in years. Her bright brown eyes met his and he saw the tears that were welling in them. Her hair was shorter, shorter than he'd ever seen it, and dyed a lighter purple colour than last he'd seen her. She'd re-done her armour too, hardly surprising to say the least, with darker purples, reds and blues. There was a brilliant rebel starbird on one shoulder and a stylised purrgil on the other. Beautiful... his eyes drifted to hers again, all of it.

Her arms were still draped around his neck as he admired her handiwork. "Are you really surprised that I changed it?", she smiled at him, "Or don't you like it?"

"No... I mean, I-I like it. It's new. You look amazing now...", he started stuttering like a teenager again, "I mean, you always did look beautiful... wait, that came out weird..."

She shook her head at him, "You really haven't changed a bit, have you?"

He laughed nervously, "You can't blame me for being rusty on my people skills."

"Hmm, but you've have changed a bit", she titled her head and unwrapped an arm from his neck. "Not quite a Kanan beard but...", she slowly drew her hand along his face, "It's still got to go."

"Hey! What's wrong with it?", he brought his hand to his chin defensively.

Sabine shrugged, "It's... not the best look for you."

"Why not? I think it works", he insisted.

She rolled her eyes, "We'll talk about it later."

"Oh really?", he raised an eyebrow and grinned, "And why does it matter? It's my beard."

"Fine. You can keep it if I get to dye it", she smirked.

Ezra sighed, "Alright, point taken."

The laughter died down and they both went quiet. She let her eyes drift away to the ground, "I'm still mad at you. For the purrgil, I mean."

Ezra was still angry at himself for that but he did what he had to do. He remembered the pain in her voice as she begged him to get out of the Star Destroyers before they jumped and he'd kept himself up for more than a few nights wondering how he'd made them all feel. He'd left Sabine, Hera, Zeb and the others in the dark about everything and then just disappeared from their lives. It was the right call, he'd do it again if he had to, but that didn't mean he didn't regret parts of it.

"You should have told us. If we'd known we could have... I don't know... we could have helped." She wasn't really angry, Ezra noted, she was just hurt.

His arms unconsciously pulled her closer, "I did what I had to do. I didn't know what would happen so I couldn't guarantee anything."

"It was complicated", she muttered unhappily.

"Something like that", he replied quietly.

"But you could have said!", her voice went louder, "If the others had known that you might go... If I knew I might have, we could have...", her anger ebbed away and she let the point go. Words for another time, maybe. "Dammit, Ezra."

He sunk his head, "I'm so sorry, Sabine. I didn't mean to-"

"No, enough with the apologies", she told him adamantly. "You did the right thing, I know that." The Mandalorian's face brightened into a beautiful smile, "And it did work out in the end. I've got you back and Lothal, it's... you have to see it."

Lothal. Everything he'd done, he'd done for Lothal. His friends too but Lothal most of all. He remembered how he felt near the portal to Lothal and how badly he wanted to reach through if it still worked. Ezra wanted to see the open plains, the adorable loth-cats and his friends that still lived there. He wanted to see his old tower, assuming Ryder hadn't had the old thing knocked down, and look out from it at a free and peaceful world. Now, he knew he was going to get the chance to do that with the people he cared about at his side.

Ezra's smiled widened, "What's it like?"

Her eyes looked into his, "It's perfect. I can't wait for you to see it."

"What about Hera, Zeb and the others?", he asked.

"They're good, they're all okay. They missed you, Hera especially."

Ezra laughed, "Sounds like Hera. Always such a mom."

Sabine's eyes shifted for a second, like she was about to say something, but she held her tongue. "You don't know the half of it, she hasn't gone more than a few days without checking up on me. It's really sweet of her."

"Wait, you haven't been with her?", Ezra furrowed his brow. He'd thought they'd all stuck together since he'd been gone.

Sabine was confused for a second and it was almost like she'd forgotten he hadn't been around for five years, "Oh, uh, no. We didn't, not like before anyway. Hera had, uh, obligations."

"Obligations?", Ezra asked quizzically.

"Ugh, it's complicated. Hera stayed with the rebellion and so did Zeb and Kallus but they weren't all on the Ghost like before. Most of the others stayed too, Rex and Wedge and everyone, they all kept fighting."

Ezra narrowed his eyes, "You still haven't told me where you were. Didn't you stay?"

The Mandalorian looked away, "No, I didn't feel right staying after everything. Not without Kanan and not without you."

"Sabine, I can't believe that you-"

"Hey", she cut him off, "Someone had to look after Lothal when you weren't around."

"You... you what?", his mouth fell open.

His reaction made her laugh, "You heard me, I was on Lothal, doing your job", she jokingly pointed a finger into his chest. Her joking attitude gave way to a more serious one, "I thought it'd be what you'd want. Besides, I couldn't just let what you and Kanan gave up so much for go to waste."

She'd stayed on Lothal this whole time. For Kanan, for its people, and for him.

"Sabine...", there weren't any words for him to say.

"Hey, enough about me. What have you been doing out here for all this time?", she quickly moved the conversation on. Huh, she still hates being the centre of attention.

Ezra took in a deep breath. What had he been doing? He'd spent years on his own, working to survive and understand what he could about the force. It had been a learning experience in more ways than one.

"I've been busy, I guess", that might have been an understatement. "Surviving, exploring, meditating

"Not shaving", Sabine intervened.

"Not shaving", he rolled his eyes sarcastically, "And I've been missing you guys. A lot."

"We missed you too", she assured him. "I can't imagine what it was like for you to be alone all that time."

Technically, he hadn't been truly alone. He'd made connections with the animals, Argos most of all. His heart ached to think of them. So many of them, Argos included, were dead because of him. He hadn't mourned them yet, he'd been so busy since he'd left that world, and his emotions started to bubble up. Ezra pushed them down as best he could, not letting his pain show for now. Despite his effort, Sabine still managed to pick them up somehow. Force bond... right.

"Hey... what's wrong?", she asked sympathetically.

Ezra took a trembling breath, "It's nothing. It's just been a lot to deal with sometimes."

"Oh, Ezra", she reached a hand out and cupped his cheek, "You're back now, you don't have to go through it any more."

Ezra covered her hand with his own and smiled thinly, "Yeah, I know. I think I'll just need some time."

"All the time in the galaxy. And I'm here, no matter what you need", her promise was honest and heartfelt.

He held her hand on his face for a while, shutting his eyes and closing out all of his worries. He was here now, he was safe, and Sabine was right there with him. After a while, Sabine let her hand drop and pull him in for another embrace. Ezra had to admit, Sabine had never struck him as the hugging type before, but right now he was glad he was wrong.

"I hope I'm not interrupting anything", Ahsoka suddenly appeared from the cockpit.

They both pulled away from each other, neither knowing exactly why they didn't want Ahsoka seeing them like that. Sabine gave her an odd look, almost like a warning, before clearing her throat, "Uh, no, no. Just catching up."

"I can bet, it's been a while", Ahsoka had ditched her staff and cloak and was smiling at them both.

"Yeah", Ezra scratched his head, "I don't know how to really say it but, thanks. Both of you. I can't thank you enough for doing all this."

Ahsoka leaned back against the wall, "You saved my life and I owed it to you to try the same. Let's just say we're even now."

His attention went back to the Mandalorian still standing close to him. "Ezra, you know I'd never let you down. You'd do the same for me", her eyes locked meaningfully on his for a brief moment.

He brought a hand to her shoulder. "I knew I could always count on you", he echoed the words he'd said on the gunship all those years ago.

Sabine's eyes stayed on his for what felt like an eternity. When he'd said he could count on her, he knew he meant it. Still, it was so much more than he'd imagined for her to have to travel all the way out here and wait so long, all the while protecting his own home in his absence. Yet here she was, standing right there, having done exactly that.

"That reminds me", her eyes broke away and went down to the bag at her side, "I have something of yours."

Her hand reached in and what she pulled out made Ezra's breath hitched in his throat. His lightsaber. She brought it out and held it in front of her, letting him see the weapon he'd carried years ago. Kanan had helped him construct it after losing his first and he remembered every single groove and shape on it. This weapon is your life, Kanan would say. It was only fitting that he'd get it back and that Sabine would be the one to have kept it safe for all this time.

Hesitantly, he reached out and took the weapon in his hands. The weight and shape were instantly familiar and he took a few seconds to run his eyes over it, remembering every detail.

"You kept it safe?", Ezra breathed as he slowly put it into its rightful place on its belt.

"Of course I did. What did you two always say? 'This weapon is your life'", she sighed happily, "I was going to look after it no matter what."

Ezra couldn't admire her care or her loyalty enough, she'd gone above and beyond for him. She'd been his closest friend, protected his home in his absence, guarded his most sacred possession and then gone off into the depths of the Unknown Regions to bring him home. There weren't any words he could repay her with. Instead, his arms wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her in, holding close the person in the galaxy who meant the most to him.

Ezra saw Ahsoka's warm smile from the corner of his eye. The Togruta was watching them contently and silently, being kind enough to let them have their moment.

Too soon for his liking, Sabine slid out of the hug but kept her arms loosely around him, "So what happens now?"

His heart skipped for a second as he saw the happiness in her eyes. She thought this ordeal was over, that they could go home and be done with everything. She deserved that much, Ezra knew that, but things were far from over. After what Master Yoda had told him, after what he'd seen out here, things were only beginning.

His face sunk and Sabine saw the change in him, "What's wrong?"

"There's something we have to talk about", he said solemnly to them both. "Something important."


Chapter Text


The Chiss walked out of the chamber and disappeared up the stairs, not bothering to look back or acknowledge the Fourth Sister any further. His pride was insufferable and now that he didn't get to gloat to Bridger, he was going to make her life as hard as he could. As if it could get any worse than it already was...

He blames my ineptitude? It seemed unfair to her. The stormtroopers failed far more than she did. They'd been taken down by Bridger within seconds and done nothing but complain and be fearful since they'd arrived here. Even then, they still escaped past however many reinforcements were sent after them. This wasn't her failing, it was Thrawn's and his soldiers', and one day she was going to make sure he knew that.

She grumbled to herself and looked around the room. She hadn't had much chance to have a look around yet and she might be able to find some answers here, it certainly wouldn't hurt to look.

The force felt different now, much different to how it was when she came here. Bridger's presence had gone and the odd feeling that drew her here was also silenced, though she didn't know why it had. The strange aura of this world still overwhelmed every other feeling and without the other interference she could feel it now with greater clarity. There had to be some answer here for her, or at least some trail to pick up. The force wouldn't have brought her here only to turn its back on her.

She began by inspecting every small corridor that led out of the chamber. The first one was directly opposite the entrance, just on the other side of the altar. It didn't seem to have much purpose, just an empty room. The Fourth Sister didn't give it much of an examination, she didn't have time to waste on stonework and bare walls. The next corridor was mostly collapsed in and, peering through the rubble, appeared to lead to some sort of living area. None of this was telling her much.

Gah, Bridger must have known something. How else could he have found his way here? The Inquisitor thought back to his childish arrogance every time they met, his snide comments, his smug remarks, his blatant lies about not knowing anything. He had to have known something at least, something she didn't. It was no use now, if Bridger could figure it out then she was definitely capable of figuring things out too. She took some pleasure from her encounters with that Jedi. The pain on his face when she ended that animal of his, the terror in his eyes when the lightsaber gave out and she moved in for the kill, it was all so satisfying even if he'd ended up escaping. Not next time, Bridger. If we ever cross paths again, it'll be the end of you.

Another corridor was intact and stretched out further than she could see. Stepping carefully through the mist that lingered everywhere, the Inquisitor kept up her internal complaining.

That damn Togruta too. What in the force was that? Some Jedi trick no doubt. The arrival of Bridger's ally had been a surprise to say the least. How could someone like Bridger be worth venturing all the way out here for? And how did they find him so quickly? Part of her knew that answer. The Togruta was powerful in the force, she'd sensed as much the moment they'd arrived. Admittedly she might have... underestimated the other woman's abilities. That wouldn't happen again. She'd trained with Lord Vader, she'd stood before the Emperor himself, that damn alien was nothing she wouldn't able to handle if the opportunity came up.

A few metres down the corridor, there appeared to be a passageway leading off to her right. It was small and cramped, barely tall enough or wide enough for her to squeeze through. She gave it a cursory look and then moved on, only to find another similar passage about a metre further down followed by a few more entryways carved into the wall.

She peeked into one of them to see what was down there. The corridor only extended about five metres before leading into a small enclosed room. It was pitch black so the Inquisitor ignited her lightsaber to bathe the room in its red light. Storage room... how disappointing. The room was tiny, barely four metres by either wall and also bathed in the strange purple mist. There was nothing in there but rotted crates and other useless miscellany. Disappointed, she sheathed the blade and went back into the main passageway.

"What am I looking for?", she whispered to herself.

More of the small storage rooms were leading off from the centre corridor. She had half a mind to give up and turn back when something seemed to invite her down one of the corridors. She paused and sceptically looked down the corridor.

Blocked, of course. The ceiling looked to have caved in down the only corridor that was catching her attention. She scoffed and began to turn away but stopped halfway. It's worth a look at least. Glancing over her shoulder to watch for any prying eyes, she focused on the rubble in her mind. She clasped her hand and lifted a small piece of rock out of the way and moved it to the side of the entrance, doing the same for a dozen or so crumbled pieces of stone. When she'd cleared enough so she could climb through, she activated her blade to light her way and stepped carefully over the remaining rubble.

This room was structurally identical to the last one she'd been in, just a small and unassuming storeroom. Her blade lit up everything in it for her to see and her first glimpses weren't encouraging. Old crate, torn clothing, degraded piece of old technology... hardly something worth the attention. Once she entered, however, she saw an old table pushed into the corner with another emaciated corpse sitting deathly still with its back to her.

"Why am I wasting my time with dead people?", she scoffed and took a closer look.

It was dead as dead could be, the same unusual wounds and unnatural blackness as every corpse here. An old lightsaber lay flat on the desk beside it, not on the floor or in their hands - which were instead they clasping something tightly.

The Inquisitor reached out her hands to pry the object from its rotten grasp, "I'll take this..."

The body put up a fight before all of its fingers snapped and released the object. It was a small and unassuming little thing but she felt something from it. Yes... this is it. Brushing the years of dust and filth off it, she inspected the small item. It was a tiny circular object, nicely fitting into the palm of her hand. It had a greyish-silver colour and a pattern of etches and ridges on its surface. The most striking feature was a dark purple sphere in its centre that seemed to glow even without the light from her weapon. Her fingers felt around the edge and found a small button that popped open the face of the object. The top layer opened up to show the purple stone in the centre of a series of dials, lines and markings.

It's appearance was unusual but she could recognise what it was easily enough. "A... compass?", she questioned.

It wasn't like any she'd seen and the markings on it made no sense at all to her. She kept it in her hand as she left the room, pondering over what to make of the discovery. It had to be important, she hadn't found it by accident after all.

Reluctantly, she realised that this wasn't something she'd figure out alone. If I'm stuck with that Chiss, I might as well try and use what little talent he has.

Ezra hadn't even noticed that they were already in hyperspace until he walked into the cockpit. Ahsoka must have gotten them out of there while he and Sabine were distracted. The Togruta hopped into the pilot's chair and Ezra sat in one of the rear seats.

"Alright", Sabine asked as she slid into the co-pilot's chair, "What's up with you?"

That was easier asked than answered. The truth was that Ezra didn't really know what was up and that made it all the more concerning. Master Yoda had told him that something was out here, he'd felt the draw in the force and he'd seen the destruction left in its wake but he didn't know who or what it was or anything else that might help them.

"I guess it started when I escaped from Thrawn and then it was there the whole time I was in exile. There was this, I don't know, feeling or call. I kept hearing it calling to me the whole time I was there but I could never figure out what it was", Ezra stroked his beard instinctively, "I knew it was the force trying to tell me something but I didn't know what. When I managed to get off that planet after the Empire attacked, I felt it again and I followed it."

"I understand what you mean", Ahsoka nodded along.

"You do?", he asked.

"Yes, we went to that jungle planet. We found traces of you but the Empire had already left. I'm assuming it was that same feeling that guided you that I felt there. Without it, we wouldn't have been able to find you."

Ezra paused in shock, "You were following me?"

"Yeah", Sabine joined in, "We ran straight into a light-cruiser when we arrived and they gave us the coordinates of where Thrawn's fleet thought you were."

"They gave you the coordinates?", he asked sceptically.

The two women grinned at each other, "It might have involved some blasters and a lightsaber or two."

"Anyway, like Ahsoka said, we got there and everyone had already left. Her... feelings took us to that desert planet with that cave temple but we missed you again. The Inquisitor's ship was already leaving by the the time we arrived."

Ezra was quite surprised that they'd walked his path as well. He thought they'd found traces of him and then come straight to find him and hadn't really imagined that they'd been on his trail for days if not weeks. If they'd followed him, then they must have seen so much. The jungle world where he'd lived for so long, maybe even the shuttle or... other things he didn't want to think about right now. If they'd followed him further then...

"You saw the temple too... did you see what was there?", Ezra asked them.

"Yes, a gateway to the World Between Worlds", Ahsoka looked at the staff leaning against the wall. "That's how you escaped", she said.

"Yeah, just barely", Ezra remembered his encounter with the Inquisitor there and how narrowly he'd managed to get away.

The Togruta smiled amusedly, "I have to say, I'm impressed by your handiwork. You stopped the Empire getting access to the gateway."

Ezra shrugged, "I improvised. It wasn't easy and I had some help."

Sabine narrowed her eyes, "Help?"

"You didn't see him when you went there?", he asked. He'd expected Master Yoda to make an appearance, at least to Ahsoka.

"No? Who's 'him'?"

"Master Yoda", the name caught them both by surprise. "He appeared and I spoke to him."

"What, like one of those visions?", the Mandalorian was getting a bit unsettled. She never did like it when all the force related stuff took over.

Ezra rubbed his head, remembering what Yoda had told him. "Not exactly... he's, uh..."

"He's gone", Ahsoka finished for him, "I felt it too."

"Do you know how he managed to speak to me?", Ezra questioned.

Ahsoka turned away for a moment, deep in thought. "I don't, not fully. I only know that if he communicated with you then he had a good reason to. It must have been important."

"That's what's been bothering me", Ezra sighed, "Master Yoda said there was something out here in the Unknown Regions. He said it was ancient and dangerous and that I had to do what I could to find it and stop it."

They all went silent for a while. Sabine seemed lost but still worried while Ahsoka looked deeply troubled. She'd probably felt something was amiss out here already and to know Master Yoda also felt the same must be concerning.

Ezra continued, "He didn't know what it was, not really. But whatever it was, it was the reason that the desert planet was so destroyed, it did something to it and wiped out all the lives on it. And the planet you found me on, that had to be something to do with it. The force wouldn't have led us there if it wasn't."

"This is worrying, I won't lie", Ahsoka said. "That world we found you on, I could feel the pain and the death there. If they're related then...", the Togruta didn't have to finish what she was saying.

"We have to do something. Master Yoda said it was my mission to see what was out here and do what I could to fight it."

There was no missing the pain on Sabine's face, "You mean... you're coming back out here?"

He couldn't find it in him to look her in the eyes, "I-I don't know. Master Yoda did say other people might be able to help me. Something about people I've yet to meet?"

Ahsoka and Sabine exchanged a knowing look. Sabine mouthed something to her but he couldn't tell what.

"I know who he might have meant", Ahsoka said at last, "Luke Skywalker."

"Skywalker?", Ezra asked in surprise, "Like Anakin Skywalker?"

The name seemed to affect Ahsoka and she sunk her eyes away. It was her old master after all, a pain he more than understood.

"Yeah, if the name didn't give it away then the lightsaber or piloting skills did, there's no mistaking it. I've never met him but I think Rex and Wedge have", Sabine seemed to think quite highly of him. "Everyone in the rebellion has heard the stories."

"Rex has, yes", Ahsoka said quietly, "I haven't met him either but I know about him."

"You should see him when we get back", Ezra said hesitantly.

"Yes... we both should. Especially if Master Yoda said that there were others that could help", Ahsoka set aside the pain of her late Master's memory and continued as normal.

There was another Jedi all this time? Ezra was surprised, he'd honestly thought he and Ahsoka were the last in the galaxy. If he was related to Anakin Skywalker then he had to be powerful too. Powerful enough to defeat the Emperor though? If Luke Skywalker was a Jedi and the Emperor had been defeated then the obvious assumption would be that he was the one who defeated the Sith. If that was true then Skywalker would be a big help to confront whatever was out here.

Another thing that Yoda said also troubled him. Those you have yet to teach. The implication was obvious but Ahsoka had to have some answers. Maybe she and Skywalker would help teach too.

"He also said something else, something about teaching", Ezra said.

Ahsoka raised her head, "Teaching?"

"Yeah, he said 'those I have yet to teach'. Who would that be?"

"In my time, the Jedi took young children strong in the force and trained them to become Jedi. If the Empire has fallen, maybe Master Yoda wanted the Jedi to be rebuilt." Ahsoka squinted at him, "But usually those who teach are Jedi Knights or Jedi Masters."

"Well, I guess that's why he knighted me", the Jedi said causally.

The Togruta smiled, "I thought I sensed something different about you. Congratulations, Ezra. You've more than earned it."

"You made it, huh?", Sabine jokingly nudged him, "Well done, Ezra." Her voice became softer, "I'm proud of you and... and Kanan would be too."

The two friends shared a heartfelt smile, remembering their shared connection to the late Jedi. They both owed Kanan so much and even though it'd been almost five years, it still felt raw sometimes. Sabine's attention drifted away, as if she was thinking about something else. Ezra could feel her thoughts vaguely but didn't dare to probe into them any further.

"We'll have to discuss it when we return", Ahsoka broke the silence, "I'm sure Luke Skywalker will have some things to say about all of this. For now, we need to get you home."

Ezra pushed the worries away, setting them aside for another time. "You're right, there's not much we can do now", he sighed.

Ahsoka turned back to the controls, "You two should get some rest, it's been a long few days."

"A long few years", Ezra muttered jokingly.

Sabine stood up and punched his shoulder, "Come on, nerf herder. We've got some catching up to do."

We sure do. He remembered how long it had felt when she'd been away with her family on Krownest years ago, but that was only for a few months. This time, there'd been almost five years, a galactic regime change and separate lives for all that time.

Ezra followed her out of the cockpit but turned back to see Ahsoka's amused face watching them both go. "Uh, Ahsoka?", he asked her.

"It's nothing", she waved him off with her hand.

"Right...", he eyed her suspiciously for a moment before brushing it off and following Sabine.

Thrawn couldn't recall ever visiting the Fourth Sister's quarters at any point since she'd arrived. One of the old officer's quarters left unfilled after the Battle of Lothal was provided for her use. What little time she spent on missions and at meetings with him was about the only time she wasn't to be found in her small chambers. As he approached, he wasn't blind to the possibility that the Fourth Sister's insistence on meeting him on her own turf might be some sort of power play.

"Inquisitor", he called into the intercom

The alarm buzzed and the door slid open to allow him to enter. Thrawn stepped in and looked around at the modest chamber the Inquisitor kept. There was no art or decoration of any kind and there was little more than a bed and a desk. A meditation stool stood in the centre of the room, though Thrawn admittedly did not know how she'd acquired it. The occupant stood hunched over the desk and didn't turn to greet him.

"Grand Admiral", she acknowledged over her shoulder.

Thrawn stepped closer, "For what reason did you request my presence so urgently?"

The woman stood back from the desk and motioned to the surface that she'd been hunched over. "Take a look for yourself, I though a man of your disposition would find this interesting."

Sat on the desk was a small circular object no bigger than the palm of his hand that was open to reveal an internal mechanism. It was crafted from silver with ornate but deliberate patterns and symbols etched into it, and a large purple gemstone embedded in its centre. Most fascinating, evidently a compass of some sort. Ancient but valuable and remarkably untouched by time.

"I found it in the ruins, packed away in a storeroom off one of the corridors from the main chamber", she explained as he inspected the object.

The Chiss tilted his head to her, "How did you find it specifically? Was it kept under particular security or held in a place of significance?"

"Not really", she looked down at it, "Clutched in some corpse's hand in a ruined chamber."

"What compelled you to take it?", he questioned. He had his suspicions as to why she'd been drawn to it but it served to see how open she intended to be with him on this matter.

Her yellow eyes seemed to consider her answer. "The force almost wanted me to find it. I believe it's important."

Fascinating. Also, concerning. "Is that so?", his attention returned to the compass. "I must admit, I am surprised you are so forthcoming with such information, given your previous attitudes."

She bristled under her armour, "It's no secret that we don't see eye to eye on many things, Grand Admiral. However...", the Fourth Sister swallowed hard, "I accept that we must put aside our differences if we are to find this threat."

"I agree", the Chiss said, "If we wish to eliminate the threat the Emperor perceived then petty disagreements must not be allowed to interfere."

"As you say, Grand Admiral." She turned her attention back to the object on the desk, "So, this will help us find what we're looking for?"

Thrawn made special note of her wording on both occasions. 'Find', not 'confront' or 'eliminate'. His suspicions about her ultimate intentions were already there. He had long suspected that her deceptions were somehow related to the threat in the Unknown Regions. Now, it seemed that her mind on the matter had yet to be made up. Her intention seemed only to be the finding of this threat. Whether she wished to somehow harness the threat, allow it to grow or simply decide when she encountered it, her intentions appeared to differ from his own. That led to the most important question: why? He was no closer to that answer now than he had ever been and giving the Inquisitor any indication of his suspicions could prove problematic.

Their goals aligned in so far as locating this threat and determining its nature. For now, her aid was essential.

"I believe it will", he finally answered the Inqusitor's question after a long pause. "These symbols", he pointed to the marks and lettering around the inner mechanisms, "They are clearly navigational aides utilised by this compass. I do not recognise the language but the basic format is understandable and still corresponds to the basic cardinal directions as well as the primary and secondary intercardinal ones."

"So it's useful on a planet but nowhere else."

"Not exactly", his finger brushed the central stone, "Do you know what this is?"

"Some gem. Why? Is it important?", she asked.

Thrawn recognised the material. "It is a lodestone, a naturally magnetised piece of mineral. Specifically, it is a supraluminite lodestone."

The Fourth Sister looked blankly at it, "And that's important?"

"Yes, supraluminite takes its name from old legends of it. It is said that the material possesses unique navigational qualities that may be used to guide lost travellers among the stars. Legends, purely, but every legend holds truth. There is an unusual reaction when supraluminite finds itself in certain hyperspace vectors, in that it glows brightly, hence the name. There is no scientific explanation for this property although few tests have been conducted on it given its rarity."

"Certain hyperspace vectors?"

Thrawn grimaced, "Yes... only certain ones and it it said that certain pieces of the material only bear the reaction along certain routes. I cannot confirm such things for myself since, as I've mentioned, the material is exceptionally rare."

She squinted at the stone, "And yet you've heard of it?"

"As someone who had spent their life travelling, I have come across many rumours and stories surrounding ventures into hyperspace. I have only ever seen supraluminite once, though it was enough for me to recognise its appearance here", Thrawn explained.

"We have to follow it then. If it was found in that ruin then it must have some significance to it", the Fourth Sister stood up and folded her arms.

"My thoughts exactly, Inquisitor", Thrawn concurred.

She reached a hand to the compass, "I'll leave immediately."

Thrawn stopped her hand, "No, you will not be going alone."

She snatched her arm away. "I will not drag another hapless squad of stormtroopers about", she spat.

"You have already proved incapable of working with them", Thrawn told her plainly. "Therefore, I shall accompany you."

Her anger turned into surprise, "You'll accompany me?"

"Was I unclear?", he took the compass in his hand.

"No, I heard what you said. I'm just-"

"Good", he cut off any protest from here, "It would be wise to rest before we depart. Report to the hangar in twelve hours time. I shall have a shuttle prepared for our expedition."

Her mouth moved faintly as she considered her answer. Finally, she seemed to admit defeat and slumped her shoulders, "Of course, Grand Admiral."

"Excellent." Thrawn turned and went to the door, "If there is nothing more?", he asked over his shoulder.

The silence was his answer. She stood still and silent but her eyes spoke volumes. Thrawn could read the frustrations and, above all, the resentment. What was she hoping to find alone? What did she wish to keep hidden from others? Thrawn ran his fingers over the grooves of the compass as he walked. Only time and patience will reveal those answers.

Ezra let out a snorting laugh, "And then Ahsoka just blasts her across the room with one push of her staff."

Sabine gasped for breath between her laughter. Ahsoka did have a habit of showing up the Empire and making them look like idiots.

"Ahh, that sounds like Ahsoka", Sabine sighed as the laughter died down.

They sat in her small quarters on the shuttle, both at opposite ends of the bunk and swapping stories about their time apart. Sabine had lost track of how long they'd been here, hours at least, but she wasn't making an effort to count. Having her best friend back to talk and joke with after all this time was the best gift she could have asked for.

"How did you find me, anyway?", Ezra asked after a while.

Sabine leaned her head back against the wall, "That's... a long story."

"We've got time", he pulled his legs up close to him on the bottom of the bunk.

"Well...", she began, "Ahsoka had this map she'd put together, from communication signals or something, and that led us to where you must have emerged from hyperspace. As luck would have it, there was a cruiser just sitting there. Ahsoka had transponder codes and we charmed our way in, they didn't even know what hit them."

He smiled at her, "Wait, you two took down an entire light-cruiser?"

"Not all of it, we got a few stormtroopers but I think we scared the rest off. Ahsoka pulled some Jedi mind trick and sent all the officers running after we got what we needed", she declined to mention her almost snapping and blasting an officer. Some things were best left in the past.

"Some luck running into a cruiser there and for them to have the coordinates too", her friend said.

"Yeah...", she hesitated for a moment, "Anyway, we followed them but we didn't find anyone. We landed to have a look around though, it was a nice place."

Ezra's eyes darkened, "I guess so."

She winced, "Oh, I'm sorry... I didn't mean to..."

"No, it's alright, it was a nice place", Ezra waved it off. "What did you see down there?"

"A bunch of ruined shuttles at first. Oh, and there were these tiny little scaly creatures..."

Ezra perked up, "You saw the loth-lizards?!"

"Um, yeah...", she raised an eyebrow, "Loth-lizards?"

He awkwardly looked away, "Oh, uh, I gave them a name. They were lizards and I missed home so..."

"Why am I not surprised?", she rolled her eyes. "Didn't name anything after me, did you?", she teased.

Ezra smirked, "I didn't miss you that much."

"Oh please", the Mandalorian winked at him with a grin.

"Fine", he raised up his hands, "I named the annoying ones after you."

He was lucky he was too far away for her to hit so she gave him her harshest glare.

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding", the Jedi wisely gave in.

"Hmm, right... they seemed nice anyway. At least you had some company." Sabine's thoughts went to what else they'd found on that world. She bit her lip nervously, unsure if she should ask. "Hey... you mentioned the Empire found you. What happened? I mean, we saw the shuttle so I can guess but, you know."

She didn't push him to answer and he took his time. It had been his home for a few years, having some bad memories about leaving it wasn't to be unexpected.

Ezra started after a while, "The Inquisitor came first and we held her off for a bit."

Sabine picked up on the word, "We?"

His eyes shut tightly, "Argos. I had a... pet, I guess. He was my friend. We had a connection so we were more partners than anything."

Sabine should have expected as much. Ever since she'd known him, he'd had a gift with animals and people. At first, she thought that the animal gift might only apply to Lothal but his abilities with the purrgil and then the krykna showed he was just naturally gifted. That ability to bond applied to people too, he and Kanan had a strong link with each other. Over time, especially in the final few months, Sabine felt like they had built one too. She'd feel what he felt, he'd know what she was thinking before he'd say it. Even out here, she just knew he was safe or when they'd finally found him.

"That's good, you deserved company out there", she said sympathetically.

"We hadn't expected an Inquisitor, we didn't plan for it", his voice cracked. "I blew the shuttle to deal with the stormtroopers and then ran for a TIE but she was on my tail. She cornered me on the beach and for a second I thought it was over but... Argos, he jumped in. He didn't make it"


That's why she'd felt the odd connection with that creature. The one she'd found on the beach with the lightsaber wound. That was his friend, his only one out here.

"Sorry, I...", Ezra swallowed hard but couldn't stop the tears.

Sabine scooted over to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulder, comforting him in his grief. It might have been an animal but they could mean a lot to someone at the best of times. To have had them as your only companion and to have been so prone to bonding with other beings like Ezra was, that had to make it hurt. She ran a hand soothingly along his arm, letting him mourn his friend in his own time.

"I don't know if it means anything to hear but we... we found him. When we were there, Ahsoka and I found him, I know it", Sabine didn't doubt that their mutual connection was how she recognised it. "If it wasn't for him we wouldn't have known about the Inquisitor. We would have gone in unprepared and got ourselves hurt."

He calmed himself down and fought back the tears. "Thanks, Sabine. It's nice to hear he didn't die for nothing", Ezra said after a while. "I wouldn't be here without him. Obviously not without you guys either but, Argos as well."

They sat for a few minutes before Sabine could tell the grief had passed for now. She pulled back her arm but stayed next to him, close enough to almost be touching.

"Tell me about you guys. I want to know what you lot have been doing", Ezra sat up a bit and didn't seem to want to dwell on his own challenges for too long.

Sabine stretched her legs and sighed, "Like I said, I've been on Lothal. Hera has stayed with the rebellion but it's been... complicated."

"Complicated?", he shot her a clueless look.

There was no way she was spoiling that surprise for him. Part of her worried that he'd already sensed Jacen's existence or that he'd somehow read her mind and found out. She knew better, that wasn't how the force works, but she really didn't want him to know ahead of time. The joy and amazement on his face would be worth the pain of keeping a secret from him.

"She'll explain, you'll get what I mean when we get back", she said and swiftly moved on. "Zeb and Kallus were with the rebels too, they stuck together a lot and spent a lot of time with Hera but they had their own stuff to do too. Last I heard they were both on Lira San, Zeb wanted him to see it after the war."

Ezra huffed a laugh, "Kallus on Lira San?"

"Yeah", she was amazed as him, "He deserves to see it though. He's a new person now and the Lasat realised that."

"Do you see them a lot?", Ezra asked.

She nodded, "Yeah, not as much as I'd like to but I see them all. Hera especially, she visits all the time and calls almost every day. Zeb and Kallus come by when they can, which is nice."

A warm smile formed on his face, "And Chopper?"

"Wherever Hera goes, that monster goes with her", she laughed.

"I never thought I'd say it, but I honestly miss him", that was understandable, she'd even missed Chopper sometimes. "I miss it all. Chopper, the Phantom, the Ghost. I mean, she still has the Ghost, right?"

Sabine scoffed, "Does a loth-cat have its tail?" The old Lothal saying fit perfectly for when someone was asking stupidly obvious questions.

Ezra instantly looked at her with an odd expression on his face, "Where'd you hear that?"

"I did say I've been on Lothal this whole time", he could still be an idiot when he wanted to be.

"Yeah, I know but, I guess it only just hit me." His eyes lit up and she could tell where he was going, "How is Lothal? What have you been doing there?"

"Oh you know, this and that. For a while we worried that the Empire would come back and be a problem for us but that never came through. Ryder set up a militia and I spent a lot of the first few years training them."

Sabine had spent the better part of two years instructing and ordering them all about. It wasn't all easy, some recruits were just troublemakers and many days bored her to death, but it was for a good cause. It also got her out doing stuff and kept her skills sharp. It also didn't hurt that she got to put a lot of cocky young recruits in their place in blaster matches or sparring practice.

"Ryder made a good choice, you're a good leader."

"Ugh", she hated people telling her that, "The Empire never came back in the end so we never had to put it to the test. Most of the time after was just spent rebuilding and cleaning everything up." She smiled to herself, "It's beautiful. I've gotten back into painting a lot. Not just symbols but items, landscapes, even people."

"You'll have to show me when we get back." Ezra always did like her paintings.

"Yeah, I cluttered the t-house with them", she bit her tongue back. She'd almost spoiled another surprise she'd been keeping.

To her relief, Ezra didn't pick up on it, "Really? Where are you living anyway?"

"Uhhh, just a house. It wasn't being used so I fixed it up. You'd like it", she wasn't lying really, maybe about the house, but he'd forgive her when he knew.

"Huh", he shrugged, "I almost thought you'd live in my tower or something."

Kriff, really? She half-considered just telling him but decided the surprise would be worth it.

"Come on, in the state you left it? No one was going to live in the mess you left", she grinned. It was the truth, to be fair. She did have to clean the place for a few weeks to make it liveable.

"Okay, good point", he relented.

She drew her legs up close to her. "It reminded me of you a lot. Lothal, I mean. Everything about it was just... it's your home. The plains we'd sit in when the Ghost was planetside, the markets we'd do jobs in, even the loth-cats reminded me of you."

The Jedi huffed a laugh, "Is that a compliment?"

Her elbow playfully nudged his side, "Only you'd think it was." She didn't really mean that, but she wasn't going to tell him how much the creatures had grown on her in the last few years.

"So painting and training? Sounds like fun."

"Not just that. I explored a bit, helped out on things, spent time with Hera and things", she was trying her utmost not to accidentally mention the babysitting. "Oh, I did lightsaber form practice too. I hope you don't mind", she smiled awkwardly, hoping he didn't find it rude of her.

"Oh, nice. Maybe you'll actually be a challenge now", he gave her a cocky smile.

"Excuse me?", she jokingly glared at him.

Ezra's hand brushed the lightsaber at his hip, "I'm joking, you've always been good." The compliment made her smile, she knew it meant something coming from him. "I'm surprised you didn't paint it or something", he laughed.

Sabine bit her lip, "I... might have considered it. Once or twice." It was more than once or twice. "I didn't think you'd appreciate me covering it in paint though."

He looked back at her, "No, I actually wouldn't have minded. It'd look good."

"Really?", she'd never thought he'd actually be okay with it.

Ezra just smiled, "Yeah, why wouldn't I be okay with it? I love your art."

"Oh, in that case... maybe I will give it something." She wasn't sure what she'd paint but she'd make it something amazing, it had to be. 'This weapon is your life', and she didn't miss what it meant for him to want her to leave a mark on it. "Speaking of redesigning...", she looked obviously at the beard around his chin.

He sat up, "This again? We talked about this."

She sat up with him, "Ugh, I didn't wait five years and come halfway across the galaxy to see your dumb face and have it covered in... that." The comment came out more heartfelt that she'd meant it to.

Ezra paused and met her eyes, "Sabine..."

"I mean... that came out weird, didn't it?", she looked awkwardly away.

"And you say I'm the one with awful compliments", he teased.

Her elbow found its familiar place in the side of his ribs to shut him up. It worked and they both sat there quietly, relaxing wordlessly in each other's presence. It was almost like old times, back on the Ghost or Atollon or Lothal. They'd spent so many hours joking and talking with each others, sometimes with Zeb too, just forgetting their troubles. Except, this isn't like old times. Everything had changed now. The galaxy, their lives, even them as people. They weren't the young rebels on the Ghost anymore, they weren't the two kids in Hera and Kanan's perfectly imperfect family. They were just two survivors of a war that had killed so many and had been kept apart for far too long.

She didn't know how long it was before he spoke again. "Hey, Sabine", his voice was soft and quiet. "I know I said it but... thank you. I can't-"

"Ezra, stop it", she couldn't stand compliments or attention, she never could. Her eyes focused on the floor and didn't want to look at him right now.

"No, you deserve to know", he said adamantly. "What you've done for me, what you've always done, I can't ever thank you enough. It means more than I could ever show you."

Sabine finally looked at him and saw the care in his eyes and the heartfelt smile on his lips. It broke her hard exterior to see him like this, so humbled and genuine about everything. She owed it to him to be the same.

"Ezra, after everything you've done for me and for everyone else, you don't owe me anything. Thank you, Ezra. For everything. I don't think I ever really told you that", his bright blue eyes drew her own to them.

"It takes a really special person to have your commitment to do something like this", Ezra's voice was hushed but honest.

Sabine let the eye contact break for only a second, "I've had someone special keeping me going."

For the first time since they'd been reunited she looked at him. She really looked at him. Under the ruffled hair and untrimmed beard was still that same stupid loth-rat she'd always known. The same good heart, the same noble spirit, the same loyal friend. Yet behind it all he was just a little broken. Broken by grief, loneliness, heartbreak and self-doubt. She knew him well enough to see it, and she knew it well enough in herself to recognise it. Ezra had gone through so much, she had too, and through it all they still had their friendship to pull them through.

She couldn't help but let her mind wander to the feelings she'd started to accept since she'd last saw him. She'd worried they'd burst through when she found him but they hadn't. Instead, she'd slowly been reminded of them every minute since he'd come back. The trust, the humour, the friendship, the care, the respect, all of it reminded her. After all this time, all these years and all this distance, she still loved him. She wasn't ready to say it, she didn't know when she'd be, but she knew it.

Sabine suddenly became conscious of how long she'd been staring at him and abruptly broke away. She might accept her feelings but that didn't mean she was any better at handling them most of the time.

"Uh, we should get some rest", she said as she shuffled to the edge of the bed.

Ezra moved to, "Yeah, it's been quite the day." If he'd had any inkling of her thoughts, he didn't let it show. She appreciated that. However he felt after all this time, he still respected her enough not to push her too far.

"You can stay here", she said as she stood up, "You deserve a good night's sleep in a proper bed."

"Uhhh...", his voice trailed off awkwardly.

She didn't need to know what he'd assumed. She went to her bag and pulled out the small bedroll tucked away in it, "I'm going in the hold."

Ezra cleared his throat, "Ahem, uh, right."

Sabine opened the cabin door and turned back, "It's good to have you back, Ezra."

The Jedi smiled brightly back to her, "It's good to be back."

"Night, Ezra", she told him as she slowly slipped out the door.

"Night, Sabine", he replied just before the door slid closed behind her.

Unexpectedly, she didn't sleep much that night. She wasn't kept up by nightmares or her anxieties, if anything it was the opposite. She couldn't stop imagining Hera's face when she first lay eyes on him, Chopper's poor attempts to pretend he wasn't overjoyed to see him, Ezra gasping for breath as Zeb half-crushed him with a hug. Jacen too - nothing was going to compare to seeing that, not even him going back to Lothal. Plus he'd get to see the galaxy be free for the first time and enjoy life like normal people got to do, without war or tyranny to worry about.

Whatever they did next. Whatever happened with the Unknown Region, with Skywalker, with Jacen or with Lothal, it didn't really matter. Whatever the future brought for either of them, from now on they weren't going to be anywhere but at each other's side.


Chapter Text


The trip had taken almost two weeks, as Ahsoka and Sabine had predicted, and it had managed to feel a whole lot longer and whole lot shorter at the same time. Time melted away when he and Sabine sat and talked for hours on end, and he'd spent hours meditating with Ahsoka, they'd even done some lightsaber sparring between the three of them to get him back into the swing of things. They'd caught him up on galactic events too. He'd heard about the heroic sacrifice of the rebels at Scarif and of Luke Skywalker's destruction planet-sized battle station called the Death Star. Sabine told him about the narrow escape of the rebels at Hoth and of their final lucky victory above Endor.

The stories he most liked were the ones about the people he knew. Wedge had flown in almost every major battle and was one of the rebellion's most respected heroes. Rex had served as a commando at Endor, Leia Organa had kept up her relentless drive against the Empire and was one of the rebellion's key leaders. Mon Mothma, General Dodonna and even, to Ezra's complete disdain, that sleemo Lando Calrissian had all kept up their part of the fight.

Things weren't all so uplifting though. Master Yoda had gone, he already knew that, but Ahsoka knew that Master Kenobi had also become one with the force. Ezra had hoped that Obi Wan Kenobi has somehow survived after all this time but from what Ahsoka heard, his sacrifice saved Luke Skywalker and set him on the path to defeat the Empire. A few other familiar faces hadn't made it; Senator Bail Organa, Saw Gerrera, Hobbie and more than a few others had given their lives. For better or for worse, he wasn't going back to the same galaxy that he once knew.

"There's the corvette, just like they said", Ahsoka announced and snapped him out of his trance.

In the distance, a CR-90 Corvette was waiting for their arrival. They'd been able to send a message ahead and Leia Organa herself had promised to personally take a ship to pick them up. Ezra would have rather gone straight to Lothal or had the Ghost meet them but they had things to do and people to see first. All in good time. He'd be glad to see Leia at least, though he still hoped someone else had come out too.

"Hey, you okay?", Sabine asked from the chair in front of him.

His eyes stayed fixed on the ship as they approached, "Yeah, just a bit overwhelmed I guess.

"It's nice seeing you speechless", she grinned.

Ahsoka guided the shuttle to the side of the awaiting ship, ready to connect with the docking tube to take them on board. Ezra felt something as they approached, something that was very vaguely familiar to him.

"Come on, you", Sabine pulled him up out of the seat.

She led him to the hatch on the side of the shuttle as Ahsoka brought them in. Sabine watched him stand impatiently by the door, his agitation and nervousness clearly showing.

"Relax, Ezra", she put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"Easy for you to say. I haven't been back for years", he quickly smoothed out his scruffy hair and ran a hand across his beard.

"You're not that nervous about meeting the Princess, are you?", the Mandalorian smirked at him.

His eyes widened. Ezra knew what she was implying, 'nervous about the Princess'. He'd hoped Sabine might have figured out by now that he tended to prefer a different type of woman. "What? No! I'm just nervous. What if Hera sees me like this", he looked down at his rough clothes.

"I'm joking, I get it. Just relax, people aren't going to care what you look like", she dropped her hand from him.

"Right...", he let her eyes linger on her for a few moments longer.

The ship jolted as the docking tube attached and they heard the hissing from outside as the pressure and air were normalised. Ezra hovered his hand over the open button, waiting for the alarms to give the signal. At last, the buzz told him it was time.

"After you", Sabine stepped back to let him get out first.

His hand stayed over the button for a few more seconds before he shakily pushed it down. He went through the airlock with Sabine just behind him, reaching the white doors of the corvette itself. It opened to a clean white corridor, just like how he remembered. On the far side on the short corridor were a few figures. Some soldiers and two women, one was probably Leia but he didn't really check. Ezra only focused one person. Hera.

The Twi'lek was standing before everyone else, rubbing her hands together nervously. She froze when she saw him, just like he did, and he meet the eyes of his adoptive mother for the first time in years. Despite five years passing, she looked the same. The same caring eyes, the same flight suit, the utility gloves, the same goggles on top of her head.

"Hera", his voice was barely more than a whisper.

They stared for what felt like forever before they both moved in unison. It was a blur but they closed the gap in seconds as Hera's loving arms settled around him.

"Ezra", she whispered into his shoulder.

He couldn't help but let a few tears go too. Hera was a mother to him in everything but blood and he'd missed her as much as he'd missed Sabine.

"You're here... after everything you're here", her voice whispered.

"Yeah", the sob mixed with a laugh, "I'm here. Thanks to Sabine and Ahsoka."

With the mention of the Mandalorian, Hera's head came up and an arm loosened as she reached to pull Sabine into the hug with them. Ezra brought his arms around them both. He had them both back and nothing was going to tear them away again. It was a while before Hera loosened her caring hold and looked at him fully.

"Oh, Ezra", her hand came up to his face, "You're still wearing those same clothes for five years ago."

He smiled at her, "Hera..."

She didn't take notice, "And you hair is all scruffy... and you're full of scars."

"Hera!", he started to laugh a bit.

Her hand went to his face, "And the beard?" She breathed in through her teeth, "You might want to take a look at that."

Kriff, really? He could feel Sabine's smug grin without even looking at her.

"Hera!", he said firmly but softly and took hold of her hand, "You're such a mom."

Her green eyes darted to Sabine for the briefest second. "I know, dear, I know. I've... I've missed you so much."

"I missed you too", Ezra squeezed her hand in his own.

"I'm so proud of you, Ezra." The Twi'lek looked him up and down again. "I can't imagine what you've been through out there. I'm so glad you're safe."

"I'm fine, Hera. You're the one who's been fighting a war this whole time."

She smiled, "Not the whole time, and I've had people there with me."

"I didn't realise you weren't all on the Ghost", Ezra said to her.

Hera sighed, "Sabine had Lothal to look after. She was pretty adamant on that, for a few reasons..."

"Ahem", Sabine cut her off with a half-angry half-joking glare.

"Zeb and Kallus had their duties. I still had Chop and... well", Hera bit her lip, "Well you'll see."

Ezra squinted at them both. You'll see? Sabine had been evasive about Hera's 'obligations' whenever he'd asked. It was clear they were hiding something from him. His best guess was that she had her own squadron again, maybe even her own fleet at this rate, and they must be saving it to surprise him. That was nice of them to try and surprise him with whatever secret they had, but he was really itching to know.

"Alright, are you going to let me in on the secret?", Ezra asked them both, "You're both up to something and I know it."

"Trust us, Ezra", Sabine put a hand on his arm, "You'll know when you know."

Ezra sighed, "It better be good if you're keeping it from me."

Hera exchanged a look with Sabine, "It's better that good, Ezra."

Before he could get anything else out of them, a familiar voice piped up behind Hera. "It's moments like this that make all the fighting worth it."

Leia still looked recognisable after all these years. She still had the same air of maturity and leadership that he'd seen when they first met, despite being about the same age as him.

"Princess", Ezra gave her a quick hug.

"Ezra Bridger, it's been a while."

Way to understate it, Princess. "Too long, Princess. Sabine said you've been busy?"

Leia put her hands on her hips, "We've all been busy for a long time. Me, Hera, Sabine, and not to mention you. It's good to have you back."

"Good to be back, Leia", he smiled to her.

Ezra saw Hera and Leia's attention shift to the corridor behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw Ahsoka with her robe and staff standing outside the hatch.

"You're right, Princess", she agreed, "These moments are worth fighting for."

"Ahsoka Tano", Leia watched the older woman for a moment with a thoughtful look.

"Princess Leia Organa", the Togruta said as she approached.

The younger woman's was hiding something and Ezra could feel it, Ahsoka probably could too.

"I've heard a lot about you, Ahsoka", Leia stepped forward to her.

"And I you", Ahsoka sighed slightly, "I'm sorry about your father, he was a good man."

Leia's breath hitched in her throat. It must have been hard to think about, Sabine had told him about Alderaan's destruction at the hands of the Empire. It finally explained that feeling of terror he'd felt through the force over four years ago. Bail Organa, Leia's father, had died in the attack, another casualty of the war.

"I-uh, yes. Thank you... Ahsoka", Leia's head sunk down.

Hera stepped in to place a comforting hand on Leia and spoke to the Togruta. "It's good to see you, Ahsoka. It's been too long."

"Hera, it's good to see you in person."

After being sure Leia was alright, Hera pulled Ahsoka into a hug. "You're not escaping either", the Twi'lek laughed. "Thank you for what you've done."

Ahsoka returned the gesture, "Thank you for what you've done. If I recall, I owe you my life already, and Ezra too."

Neither of the women seemed to be able to take a compliment. Ahsoka and Hera both deserved the praise they got but both were too humble to ever take it.

"Besides", Ahsoka continued, "Ezra did a good job of keeping himself alive on his own and without Sabine we wouldn't have found him anyway."

"I wouldn't be here without any of you guys", Ezra told them all, "Thank you, for everything."

"Will you stop saying 'thank you' already?", Sabine groaned at him.

Hera shook her head at the two of them, "Sabine's right, you don't owe us a thank you. We're family, and you gave up a lot more for us."

Ezra wanted to hug them all again, Hera and Sabine in particular, but he fought the urge.

"There'll be time for more catching up when we get back to Home One. There's someone else who wants to meet you first", Leia told them all.

Ahsoka and Ezra shared a brief glance, part anticipation and part anxiety. Ezra was definitely looking forward to meeting this Jedi but Ahsoka was understandably more wary.

"You mean, he's here?", Sabine asked the question for them.

"Luke's here, yes", Hera confirmed, "He thought it'd be a but much to ambush you as you arrived but we thought you'd want to speak with him."

"Come on, he's waiting for us." Leia started to lead them out of the corridor before stopping abruptly. "Oh, Ahsoka. Someone does want to see you first."

Ahsoka could sense that it was Rex before they'd walked through the door into the next corridor. The old clone looked pretty similar to how she'd last seen him just before the Battle of Endor.

"I don't believe my eyes. Ezra Bridger", Rex chuckled as they approached each other.

"Rex!", Ezra met him with a good handshake and a half-armed hug.

"I'll be damned, you're almost going to give me a run for my money with that thing", Rex chuckled and pointed to the beard.

Ezra defensively touched his face, "Is everyone talking about the beard?"

"Don't worry, Rex, it's going", Sabine seemed to be telling Ezra as much as Rex.

Ahsoka smiled at the two of them. They really did make an admirable team and were a matched set if there ever was one. She hoped things worked out with them, they'd both earned that sort of happiness, a sort of happiness too few people in this galaxy had.

"Ah, I wouldn't argue with that one", Rex winked to Ezra.

"Yeah, even I know better than that", Ezra nudged back at Sabine.

"Come on you two", Hera came up behind them, "Let's go."

The Twi'lek, the Jedi and the Mandalorian walked past but Leia stopped Rex and whispered close to him for a moment.

"Hey, you guys coming?", Ezra called after them.

"Yes", Leia pulled back, "Ahsoka and Rex will catch up. We'll wait for them there."

Rex finally looked at Ahsoka as Leia left to join the others, leaving the two old friends alone.

"You actually found the kid, I'm impressed. I mean, I knew you would but, you know, didn't take you long", Rex said as he walked closer to her.

"It wasn't easy but we got him", Ahsoka let out a weary sigh.

"Still got the fancy getup I see", he pointed to the staff and the cloak wrapped around her.

She brandished the staff and smiled, "I told you, they're important."

"Right, right, the force and stuff", Rex raised his hands to admit defeat.

The Togruta huffed and gently pulled him in for a hug, careful not to hit him with the 'fancy' staff as she did so.

"I'm glad you're alright", Ahsoka spoke softly to him.

He tightened the hug before releasing her, "You too."

"How was the fighting?", if there was one thing Rex could talk about, it was war.

His hand unconsciously rubbed his forehead, "Endor was intense but I haven't seen much action since. Mostly had me in for intel briefings and boring patrols."

"Well, maybe I'll take you on some more exciting missions for a change", Ahsoka suggested, "I've got a few places I've still got to secure and a few things I've got to set in order."

"Ahsoka", he scowled, "Don't tell me you're jumping straight back into it. Don't overburden yourself."

"Oh please, remember who you're talking to", she smiled back. Ahsoka wasn't quite sure if she was trying to say she could handle it or trying to remind him that she always overstretched herself.

"Maybe this time you can stay a bit longer and unwind", he suggested. "There's some places in the galaxy you have to visit. Mandalore, Ryloth, Christophsis, Onderon", all places she'd last seen in the midst of war.

"We'll have to see, Rex", Ahsoka sighed.

He furrowed his brow, "Something else came up, didn't it?"

"Maybe, it's too early to tell", she looked up the corridor, "We'll talk about it later. Right now, I'm more interested in Luke."

The clone hesitated for a moment, "Like I said before Endor, he's the Gener- Anakin's kid."

Ahsoka noticed the correction. Rex knew what Anakin had become, she'd told him when she'd visited a few months ago. It hadn't be easy for her to tell him and it had been even harder for him to listen to. At first he didn't believe it, then he got angry at himself for not knowing, then briefly at her for not telling him earlier, then back at himself again. The truth was that is wasn't his fault, not one bit. He'd been on Mandalore with her when it happened and couldn't have seen it like she should have. He didn't know anything about how close he already skirted to the dark side... unlike her. He wasn't to blame... unlike her.

"Have you spoken to him?", Ahsoka asked.

He nodded, "Briefly. He knows who I am and he'll know who you are."

"I see", she went quiet again.

Part of her was obviously glad to be meeting him, he was Anakin's son after all and a hero in his own right, a Jedi hero to boot. However, she still couldn't shake the guilt. Maybe if she'd stayed, maybe if she'd been there when he'd needed her...But it was too late for that now. Anakin was gone. She knew that much.

Rex lay a hand on her arm, "Ahsoka, there's something else you should know."

She look worriedly at him, "Rex?"

"It's Leia... the Princess."

Leia. She'd sensed something about her when they arrived but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Familiar for sure, but that was to be expected from Senator Organa's daughter.

Rex sighed, "Leia Organa, well, she's not Organa. She's Skywalker, like Luke. They're twins."

She let her mouth drop open. Another Skywalker? The shock took a few moments to pass but soon enough, things started to make more sense. The natural leadership ability was a trait from both of Leia's parents, as was the fierce attitude that Ahsoka had heard so much about. There had been something about Leia the moment she'd laid eyes on her when she arrived, but the possibility had just never crossed her mind. Then the rest of it started to make sense. She'd been a friend to Bail Organa for years after the fall of the Republic, and he never wished to discuss his daughter much, especially it seemed when Ahsoka was around. Now, that reluctance made a lot more sense. Bail was one of Padme's closest friends in the Senate and one of the Jedi Order's closest allies, so was a uniquely safe place for someone like Leia, and hiding her in plain sight among one of the galaxy's leading politicians made a strange sort of sense.

"I...", she paused, "Actually, I'm not surprised."

"Really?", he looked at her sceptically.

"I sensed something about her since we arrived, it felt familiar but different", she mused. Ahsoka smiled and thought back to old memories, "Besides, she is exactly like her mother too."

That Padme Amidala was their mother was never really in doubt. Ahsoka knew about Anakin and Padme's shared secret before she'd left the Order, but she'd never said anything about it to anyone. Almost every Jedi had some secrets and attachments they never quite let go of. She had Lux, Master Kenobi has Duchess Satine Kryze, and Anakin had Senator Amidala. A lot of people close to them probably had their own suspicions too. She knew Rex did and Obi Wan must have had some idea. There were just bigger concerns at the time with the war and all. Ultimately, maybe that relationship was a good thing if it brought Luke and Leia into the galaxy.

Rex chuckled, "My thoughts exactly. She's got the fire of her mother and the attitude of her father."

"Now that's a frightening combination", she smirked.

"Damn right it is, and she made sure the Empire knew it", the old soldier could find the humour in any situation.

Ahsoka took a few seconds to take it in. Not only was she meeting Luke Skywalker but she'd met Leia Skywalker too. If what Rex said was true then they already know who she was as well. Perhaps after things had settled down, she have a talk with them properly. They deserved to know about their parents, no matter what became of them in the end.

"Come on", she tapped the staff on the ground, "Let's not keep them waiting."

"With all due respect, I can't overstate how bad of an idea I think this is", Commodore Faro told Thrawn as they walked to the hangar.

"I understand your anxiety, Commodore, but it is unwarranted."

The Grand Admiral had slung a bag over his shoulder with a few supplies in and was donning his white combat armour. He might have looked prepared for anything but Faro couldn't accept that he was prepared for this. Venturing off into the Unknown Regions was dangerous enough without doing it alongside an untrustworthy force user who already despises you. Thrawn hadn't exactly been clear on why he decided that this was the best course of action but she couldn't think of any explanation he could give that would be good enough anyway.

"I assure you, this is the most appropriate course of action at this time", Thrawn said as they walked. "The opportunity to observe these discoveries first hand without the possibility of the Fourth Sister seeking to deceive us is too valuable not to take advantage of."

"How are you so sure that you're going to find anything in the first place? You're not relying on her senses again, are you?", her anxiety was clear in her voice.

"We have alternative means of exploration", the Grand Admiral kept his hand on the bag around his shoulder, "Rest assured, Commodore, this expedition will bear fruit."

The doors to the Chimaera's hangar slid open and a bustle of maintenance crew and hangar staff were seeing to their tasks. Thrawn made a cursory nod to Senior Lieutenant Xoxtin, the pedantic and well-connected overseer of the hangar, and made for his ship. However, it was not his shuttle that he was going toward but the old nondescript freighter he'd liberated from pirates years ago.

"You're taking the freighter?", Faro had to question the choice of transport.

"Yes. The Unknown Regions are uncharted, not uninhabited. An Imperial shuttle would attract attention that a civilian freighter would not", Thrawn explained.

Faro didn't trust the roughed-up old ship. It had been in the Seventh Fleet almost as long as she had and technology wore away much faster than people. She spotted the Fourth Sister already standing near the shuttle, regarding it with disdain. Well, at least we finally agree on something, Inquisitor.

"How sure are you that this is the right path?", she asked in hushed tone.

The Grand Admiral stopped and turned to her, "It is the only path that has presented itself to us at this time."

Faro glanced over at the Inquisitor, "I still don't trust her. Not without more backup to keep an eye on her."

Thrawn looked as well but seemed untroubled, "I do not trust her either, Commodore, but she recognises her dependence on our cooperation. She cannot achieve her ends without our aid and cannot hope to retain such aid if I am removed from the equation."

For someone trying to allay her worries, he was awfully cynical about it. He was hinging his life on the Fourth Sister's acceptance that killing him would cause more problems than keeping him alive.

"Furthermore", Thrawn pulled a strange object out of his bag, "She is unable to navigate without this device, which only I posses the ability to understand. If this in any indication then she will also recognise that my knowledge will be essential in uncovering this threat. She lacks the thought for art, architecture and symbolism that are already proving vital in our journey."

The Commodore folded her arms in front of her, "She needs you to achieve her aims, but what are her aims?"

Thrawn slid the object back into his bag, "We shall soon see."

"Grand Admiral!", the Inquisitor's voice interrupted them.

Thrawn turned from her and began walking over to the Inquisitor. Faro followed a few paces behind, unsure if she felt worse or better about this.

"Inquisitor, I see we are ready to depart."

The Fourth Sister turned and followed him, condemning Faro to follow behind. "We're going in this?", the Inquisitor pointed to the shuttle.

"The need to maintain anonymity could prove useful in our expedition", he explained to the Inquisitor what he'd already told the Commodore.

"Hmph, whatever you say. Let's just get going", the other woman sighed. "Do you have the compass?"

"I do", Thrawn answered.

Compass? She concluded that it must have been the object Thrawn had shown her a few moments ago.

The Chiss anticipated her thoughts, "As I said, Commodore. Alternative means."

Faro saw the Inquisitor's head turn back slightly to her and a cold glare shot from her yellow eyes. Under her guise of cooperation, Faro could tell that the Fourth Sister was the same seething, hateful creature that she had always been. Whatever she was hiding, whatever was forcing her to work with them, was something important.

"I'll prepare the ship for take off", the Fourth Sister kicked up her pace and went ahead to the ship without them.

Thrawn slowed and watched her go. "She is eager", he observed, "Anxious and unsettled, intent on beginning this mission as soon as possible."

"Or finishing it", Faro added.

"Indeed, or finishing it", the Grand Admiral kept looking at the ship, "I shall relay coordinates to you and Captain Pellaeon when I believe we have found something of significance."

"Aye, sir. Any orders in your absence?", she inquired.

"Captain Pellaeon will assume command of the fleet in my absence and as per usual you have the Chimaera. Pellaeon has already been instructed to dispatch Captain Sarlis and the Imperator to retrieve the Invictus.

Faro had been wondering what was becoming of the light-cruiser. The Invictus had been holding position ever since it was attacked by Bridger's allies weeks ago. It also made sense that Sarlis was the one to be sent to retrieve it, it was the lowest risk and lowest difficulty sort of assignment that Thrawn had a habit of passing on to the young Captain. Political appointees, even after years in the service, rarely grew into their roles.

"As for you, I have several samples being brought up from the planet's surface. Bodies, minerals, architecture and the like. Ensure that they are analysed and accounted for. If there is anything they can tell us, I wish to know it."

Faro nodded, "As you say, Grand Admiral."

Thrawn turned to face her, "I entrust the safety of this ship and the fleet to you and Captain Pellaeon."

The Commodore stood to attention and saluted him, "We'll do as you've commanded, Grand Admiral."

"I trust that you shall", Thrawn tipped his head before walking away to the ship.

Faro stood at ease and watched him disappear into the ship, not turning back once. His mind was already moving on to the task at hand, as it always did. The Grand Admiral's suspicions seemed to be well-founded but that still didn't mean she was on board with this mission. Leaving him alone with her was dangerous, especially if they happened to find whatever it was that the Inquisitor wanted.

The civilian freighter lurched off the ground and flew steadily out of the hangar before disappearing out of view into the blackness of space. It was out of her hands now. The Commodore began to make her way back to the bridge to coordinate the analysis that the Grand Admiral had requested. She might not be able to influence this mission with the Grand Admiral or the Fourth Sister, but she and Pellaeon could play their own roles here. It would have to be enough for now.

They were waiting outside the bridge for a few minutes for Ahsoka and Rex to catch up. Sabine and Hera were having a quiet conversation, far too quiet for Ezra to hear them, just a few metres back from the door while Leia and Ezra stood near it on opposite sides of the corridor.

"They never lost faith in you", Leia said suddenly.

Ezra brought his attention to her, "What do you mean?"

"Hera and Sabine", she nodded over to the two women lost in conversation, "They never gave up hope. I remember Hera telling us what happened. She knew how it looked to everyone else but I don't think the thought ever crossed her mind that you might not be okay. She trusted you completely."

Ezra looked appreciatively at the Twi'lek, "Yeah, that's Hera."

Leia watched with him, "And Sabine too. Always holding out hope. I admit I don't know her well but I do know that she almost lived off the belief that you were alright and that you'd come back."

Sabine and Hera seemed oblivious to their conversation and were still whispering to each other. He couldn't tell what about but there was no mistaking the joy on their faces. They were the two people he cared for most in the galaxy and it still hadn't sunk in that he had them back in his life. Losing people for so long can really make you appreciate them whn you have them back, even if you already thought the world of them before. Now that he had them back, he promised himself he would make sure they knew. He'd do whatever he could for Hera, help her with anything or spend any time with her that he could. For Sabine, he'd do the same but that wasn't quite enough. There was something different about her and he wasn't going to miss the chance to show her that. They'd lost five years already, he didn't want to lose any more.

"I know that sort of look", Leia smiled knowingly at him.

He snapped his attention back to the Princess "Huh? What look?"

"Sorry, didn't mean to keep you waiting", Ahsoka's voice interrupted as her and Rex arrived.

"It's no problem", Leia motioned her forward, "Come on, he's itching to meet you."

Ahsoka met Leia's eyes as they walked past and the Togruta gave her a thin smile for a second. Huh, I wonder what's going on with those two?

"That makes three of us", Ahsoka took her place next to Ezra as Leia led the way. Sabine was close behind him with Rex and Hera hanging at the back.

Leia opened the door to the bridge, the familiar sight of a Corvette's command centre greeting them. A skeleton crew of no more than five people was manning the bridge, it made sense not to waste many personnel on a casual pickup. The ship was already in hyperspace, heading back to the rebel fleet where Zeb, Chopper and the Ghost were all waiting.

One person on the bridge, however, was no crewmen. Standing with his back to them and staring out of the viewport was a young man with blond hair, clad all in black, with a dark glove covering his right hand. The way he carried himself left no question as to his identity, as if his unique presence in the force didn't give it away - Luke Skywalker.

"Ahsoka Tano, Ezra Bridger", Leia pointed to the man on the far end of the bridge, "Meet Luke Skywalker."

Luke turned to them so they could see his face. His blue eyes seemed older and wiser than his boyish appearance made him look. From the look of him, he couldn't be much older than Leia, probably even the same age.

"Hello there", the Jedi bowed his head and stepped down towards them, "It's good to finally meet you."

"Same for us", Ezra smiled.

"It's long overdue", Ahsoka added.

"Yes, I agree", Luke stepped in front of them and held out his right hand to shake Ezra's. Cybernetic, he thought as Luke then moved on to Ahsoka, interesting. "You must be Sabine", he said as he extended the gesture to the woman on Ezra's left.

"Guilty as charged", the Mandalorian smiled nervously back.

You're not that nervous about meeting the Jedi, are you? He internally echoed Sabine's own snide comments to him earlier about Leia. Jokingly, of course. He hoped Sabine preferred a different type of Jedi.

"Hera, Rex", Luke acknowledged them both at the back of the room. Ezra wasn't surprised that they'd crossed paths before.

"So...", Luke looked at Ezra and Ahsoka, "Three Jedi."

"Two and a half", Ahsoka corrected, "I'm not really a Jedi."

"So I've heard, you left the Order", Luke seemed to be apprehensive. Understandable, given who he was talking to.

The Togruta let her gaze drop, "I did."

"Still, you know more about the force than either of us. It's an honour to meet you at last", Luke said to Ahsoka.

"I can say the same", the former Jedi replied.

Ezra felt the nervousness from both of them. Anakin Skywalker's legacy still hung heavy over both of them and meeting each other had to dig up some bad memories.

Ezra tried his best to alleviate the tension, "I can't believe you defeated the Emperor and Darth Vader. That's impressive, even for a Skywalker."

"I didn't defeat them, not really. My father pulled through in the end", Luke said solemnly.

"Your... father?", Ezra squinted at him.

Ahsoka stepped forward, "Luke, they don't know. I thought it wasn't my place to say."

"Say what?", Ezra looked quizzically at them.

The mood in the room turned sombre and a few concerned looks were exchanged. It made him feel better than Sabine looked as lost as he did and Hera didn't look much the wiser either.

Leia cleared her throat, "As I said to you before, Hera. None of this is to leave this room, at least for now. Garazeb and the rest of your crew aren't a concern if you want to tell them but there are people who it's better not to tell, at least for now."

"Uhh, Hera?", Ezra looked over to the Twi'lek.

Hera shifted her gaze to Leia as if to confirm it was her place to say, "Uh, Leia is... Leia isn't..."

"She's my sister", Luke finished for her.

Ezra was taken aback in surprise. Leia... was a Skywalker? Ezra looked over to her as the woman dipped her gaze away. She had the spirit and the bravery to match the stories he'd heard of Anakin Skywalker, there was no doubt about that. Yet still she looked almost ashamed about her identity.

"But, what does this have to do about your father?", Hera asked the Jedi. "I-I thought he died in the Clone Wars."

"In a way, he did", Luke sighed, "Though he wasn't dead, not really. Consumed, trapped, imprisoned maybe, by something else."

"Something else?", Sabine questioned.

"Darth Vader."

Ezra turned to the source of the voice, seeing Ahsoka looking mournfully down at the ground. Anakin Skywalker was consumed by... Ezra's breath hitched. No, Anakin Skywalker was Darth Vader. A thousand things seemed to fall into place at once. It was why Ahsoka had become so sensitive at the mention of Anakin on the journey home, why Leia looked so conflicted about her past, why they'd insisted that the information didn't leave this room.

More things suddenly made sense after all this time. He remembered Master Kenobi on Tatooine, protecting someone as he'd heard Maul say. Luke had come from Tatooine, it was common knowledge. And then... and then there was Malachor. Karabast, there was Malachor. Ahsoka had faced her own Master. Ezra remembered watching her push him away and make a final stand against Vader. He'd heard their voices but had never known what they were saying.

Ahsoka sensed his thoughts, "Malachor. I found out on Malachor. There were... hints before but I only knew for certain there."

"Ahsoka, I...", Ezra's attention went back to Luke and Leia. Anakin might have been Ahsoka's Master but he was their father. "Luke, Leia, I'm sorry. I-"

Luke cut him off, "Ezra, my father did terrible things but in the end he came through. I didn't defeat the Emperor, my father did, and I didn't stop Darth Vader, my father destroyed him."

Rex walked around and stood between Ahsoka and Leia, offering a comforting hand to his old friend. "I don't know about you, but I'm going to remember the Anakin Skywalker I knew. The General who fought for what was right no matter the cost. Not... not what came after."

"I appreciate your sympathy but let's leave it at that. Dwelling on the past isn't what we need right now", the young Jedi looked to Ezra, "Your message mentioned that you had something important that you needed to discuss."

Ezra sighed, "Yes, we do." He looked back at Sabine and then to Ahsoka before starting to explain himself. "This is probably going to sound unusual but... I saw Master Yoda."

Luke folded his arms, "It's not unusual, I know what you mean. I've seen him myself, and Master Kenobi."

"Do you know how they do it? I didn't think anyone could live on like that."

The other man sighed, "I don't know. I was hoping you'd know, or Ahsoka."

The Togruta thought for a moment, "There are ways to survive death using the force. The consciousness can be preserved after death and with immense training can manifest itself physically.

"Kanan didn't mention any of that", Ezra replied.

She shrugged her shoulders, "It's not common knowledge, it's not even a Jedi technique."

"Then how do you know about it?", Luke asked.

Ahsoka shook her head, "That's not important right now. What matters is that they did communicate to you, to both of you. Something had to have been important for them to do that."

Ezra continued, "Well, Master Yoda sensed something, out in the Unknown Regions. Something that was powerful and dangerous. He sent me to learn what I could but I didn't find much."

Luke took a deep breath and leaned back against the central strategic table, "What did you find?"

"Only bad things", Ezra admitted.

Barren lifeless worlds, fields of dead corpses, ancient abandoned ruins - none of that meant anything good.

"There were a number of planets that had evidence of some sort of attack or destruction. Ezra thinks one entire planet was ravaged by something, and both of us saw the results of some sort of attack on the planet we rescued him from. There was some sort of battle there but the place was... desecrated. Bodies everywhere, twisted and defiled in a way that had to have be done by the force", Ahsoka explained.

Luke rubbed the bridge of his nose, "The Emperor believed there was something out there too. He'd set up facilities across the galaxy to monitor something out in the Unknown Regions. If Master Yoda sensed something too then..."

"They're related", Ezra sunk his shoulders.

"You said something wiped out a planet. Like the Death Star?", Leia stepped in.

"No", it was Sabine that corrected her, "I saw the planet, it wasn't like that. It was just empty, like all of the life on it had been ripped away. It was still there but everything on it was gone, apart from some temple."

"Master Yoda said it was ancient and it didn't seem like it happened recently", Ezra could figure that much out from the age of the ruins he'd found himself in.

"If Master Yoda and Master Kenobi could survive after death then maybe we're dealing with something similar for this... disturbance. It would explain the link between this threat and all of these ancient sites", Ahsoka's face hardened into a look of concern.

Karabast. Ahsoka made a good point. The age of this mystery had been clear ever since Master Yoda had told him about it. But how could anything still be alive after that time, and how dangerous could they be?

"Perhaps the Emperor wanted that power and that's why he was searching out there", Luke suggested.

Ezra stroked his beard, "If the Emperor though something was out there then maybe that's why Thrawn didn't come back. It wasn't just some punishment for Lothal, maybe he wanted Thrawn to search for it."

"The Chiss are native to somewhere in the Unknown Regions", Ahsoka reasoned, "And it might even explain why an Inquisitor was sent after you."

Luke raised his head, "Inquisitor?"

"Jedi hunters", Ezra explained, "We thought they were all gone a few years back but there's still one out there with Thrawn."

This wasn't good. None of this was good. Life after death, Yoda and the Emperor sensing the same thing, Thrawn probably getting special assignments, long forgotten ruins, and ancient battlefields. This was all so-

"Hold on", Ahsoka said firmly but softly, "We're fumbling in the dark here. We can't start making all these assumptions and acting on them. We know Master Yoda felt something was out there, we know the Emperor sensed something too and we know that there's a few locations that suggest the same thing."

Luke sighed, "Then what do we do?"

Ahsoka shut her eyes and focused her mind. "We have to be patient. We don't know enough to commit to anything so far. For now, we can't rush into things. An old friend once told me that the benefit of moving slowly is that you always see the path ahead. Right now, we need to take things one step at a time."

"So what do you suggest?", Ezra noticed how naturally Ahsoka became the voice of wisdom and restraint among them.

"Luke, you said the Emperor set up facilities to monitor the Unknown Regions?", the Togruta asked.

"Yes, I found one on Pillio but there's more throughout the galaxy." The Jedi stood up, "I have some leads for more locations but I'd have to investigate them."

"Good, see to it. If the Emperor knew anything that could help us, we'll find the evidence there."

Luke nodded, "Sounds like a plan."

"Ezra", the Torgruta turned to him, "You understood this feeling better than any of us. Think on it, focus on it, and see if you can learn anything else. Also, gather what information you can about Jedi history, there might be something in there that gives us a clue."

He looked a bit surprised, "Is that it?"

Ahsoka smiled, "Don't sound too optimistic, Jedi history is hard to track down and even harder to sit through. Though I'm sure you'll have plenty of reading time back on Lothal."

"You have earned some time at home", Hera spoke for the first time in the meeting.

"Besides, I'm sure you'll find your own purpose there", Luke said to him cryptically.

Ezra could feel more than a few eyes on him. What did they known that he didn't?

"What about you?", Luke asked their de facto leader.

Ahsoka seemed to tighten her hold on her staff, "I have a few places that might help us learn something. Places strong in the force that I've been to. I'll see what I can track down."

"Sounds like we have a plan", Leia clapped her hands together, "Or at least, you three have a plan."

Ahsoka huffed a laughed, "We'll need your help too somewhere along the line."

"I'll do what I can", Leia's hands went to her hips.

"That settles it then. I'll track down more of the Emperor's facilities and find out what I can, Ezra will go home to Lothal and gather what information he can, and Ahsoka will set out and see what she can uncover."

"We'll stay in contact", Ahsoka told them all, "We're not going into isolation. Stay in contact with each other."

"Of course", Luke said.

Ezra nodded, "Not a problem."

So, the plan was set. Ezra had to admit, he was relieved that he wasn't being dragged into some star hopping escapade straight away. Like Hera had said, he'd earned a rest. When the time came, he wouldn't sit idle though, and he knew that eventually the time might come where he'd have to venture back out there again. For now though, that time was a long way away.

One of the bridge crew then interrupted, "General Organa, we'll be emerging from hyperspace momentarily."

"Excellent, Captain", she acknowledged him.

Hera came to Ezra's side, "Well, I suppose this is goodbye to the rest of you for now."

"Only for now", Leia pulled the Twi'lek into a hug.

You've earned some time at home, Ezra", Luke smiled to him.

Ezra put out a hand to shake Luke's again, "I'll see you soon. Good to meet you, Skywalker."

"Same to you, Bridger. Don't be a stranger."

Then Ezra turned to Ahsoka, ready to part ways with one of the people who had risked everything to get him here.

Ahsoka laughed to herself, "You know, I spent all this time searching for you and now you're off again."

The young Jedi grinned to her, "I'm not exactly going to be in exile again. I'll be safe."

"I'm sure you will be. After all, I'm sure Sabine will keep an eye on you", Ahsoka smiled to the Mandalorian next to him.

Sabine's eyes rolled playfully at him, "I'll do my best. You know what he's like."

Ezra nudged her, "Hey, what's that supposed to mean?"

Sabine shook her head and stepped toward Ahsoka, "Come on, you." The Mandalorian pulled the Togruta into a warm hug, "Thank you, Ahsoka. For everything you've done."

"You don't have to say a word. Thank you, Sabine. We wouldn't be here without you."

His two rescuers slowly released each other. "Just stay safe, I don't want to have to come and find you too."

Ahsoka laughed, "Hmm, I'll do my best."

There was a flurry of farewells and parting hugs between a few more people - Hera and Ahsoka, Sabine and Leia, Ezra and Rex - before the three former Spectres made their way to leave.

Ezra turned back from the door before he went to look at Ahsoka and Rex standing near Luke and Leia. With the revelations about Darth Vader and Leia's true heritage, they still had a lot to talk about. Ezra wouldn't have minded staying for it and spending some more time getting to know Luke but, at the end of the day, it was time for him to go home.

"Hey", Sabine's hand came to his shoulder, "You ready? Zeb is waiting on that cruiser and you know how bad he is with standing around."

"Yeah", Ezra breathed, "Time to have the family together again."

Sabine's hand fell away and they caught up to Hera, already making her way to leave the ship.

He heard his friend mutter beside him, "You have no idea..."


Chapter Text


There was a long silence after Ezra, Sabine, and Hera left the bridge. They were taking the shuttle over to Home One as soon as they could to reunite with the rest of their friends and then head back to Lothal. Ahsoka was happy to see the time come, but right now her mood was anything but positive. She was nervous, unsure and perhaps above all, ashamed.

Her eyes left the door and returned to the other people in the room with her. Rex, Luke and Leia all seemed to share some mix of excitement and uncertainty about what was to come. Still, Ahsoka knew exactly what she wanted to know.

"Did he really come back?", she asked Luke.

The young Jedi was deep in his own thoughts, "Yes. I'd be dead if it wasn't for my father."

So, it really was true. Luke had achieved what she and even Obi Wan couldn't. Anakin had been in there all this time, still buried somewhere beneath the... monster that had consumed him.

"Can you tell me what happened?", her voice was shaky and quiet.

"There was always good in him. I knew it. When my father brought me before the Emperor, I could feel the conflict within him. We fought but I knew he was holding back." Luke delved back into what must have been a painful memory, "But I refused to kill him. The Emperor urged me too but I couldn't. So, the Emperor tried to kill me. I screamed and I begged and then... it stopped."

"Your father?"

Luke nodded, "I saw my father throw the Emperor down into the Death Star's core. The lightning, if that's what it was, damaged him though. I carried him to a ship but...", he trailed off and just shook his head.

So, it was true. After all these years, despite unimaginable darkness and the loss of all her hope, Anakin really had been the Chosen One. Ahsoka had lost faith in the idea not long after Order 66. The Sith had won, she didn't know of any surviving Jedi, and Anakin was dead by all accounts. Now, despite everything, she'd been proved wrong. Obi Wan had been right, his Master had been right, the Father had been right - he'd brought balance to the force.

That still didn't change what happened to get him there, and it didn't change how she'd let him down. If she'd paid more attention, if she'd stayed with the Order, if she hadn't abandoned him then... then maybe none of this would have happened. If she'd gone back to Coruscant and not stayed on Mandalore, if she'd taken the pardon and accepted the Council's apology, if she'd just tried...

"Ahsoka?", her old friend could see her turmoil.

"I'm sorry...", Ahsoka hung her head and shut her eyes tightly, "I'm sorry..."

Rex moved closer, "Ahsoka?"

"It's my fault...", she was on the verge of sobbing, "I should have been there for him. None of this would have-"

"Ahsoka, don't start thinking like that. None of it was your fault", Leia pleaded with her.

"I want to think that, Leia, but...", Ahsoka sighed.

"Ahsoka, there's nothing anyone could have done. If Obi Wan and Master Yoda couldn't stop it then no one could have, not even you", Rex assured her. "Look, I know it's hard but this wasn't your fault, not one bit."

"He's right, Ahsoka", Luke chimed in.

"The only person that's blaming you is yourself", Leia had her mother's wisdom.

Rex sighed heavily, "It's not what he'd want you to think, and it's not what you should be thinking."

"I... I don't...", Ahsoka paused. She'd spent years trying to convince herself that it wasn't her fault and still didn't believe it. Hearing it from others helped, but this wasn't a wound to be healed over night. "I... appreciate what you're saying. Let's just... let's just not dwell on it right now."

"You're right", Leia agreed, "I don't want to know about who Darth Vader was, I want to know what my father was really like."

Her lips curled into a smile as she thought of what to say. "Anakin was... kind, he was brave, honourable, selfless, heroic. He wasn't always like the other Jedi but he had a good heart and always looked out for his friends. He wouldn't let an injustice stand if he saw it. Slavery, corruption, crime - he'd fight it wherever he saw it."

"They said he was a pilot", Luke's interest in that part of Anakin's life was understandable, given his own reputation.

"Best in the galaxy", it wasn't an overstatement, "Taught me everything I knew and even impressed Jedi who'd been flying longer than he'd been alive."

Anakin's piloting skills were legendary, already infamous within a few months of the Clone Wars. Master Plo, a gifted pilot himself, had once called her Master 'the finest pilot he'd ever seen.' Coming from him, that was some compliment.

"You should have seen some of the manoeuvres he'd pull", Rex started to chuckle. "On the ground as much as in the air. He'd stop at nothing to get the job done and you knew as a soldier that he'd never ask you to do something he wouldn't do himself. It's the best way to lead and the men respected him."

Anakin always was unique in dealing with the clones too. Unlike most Jedi, Anakin shared their sense of excitement for a good fight and, as Rex said, would always lead his men in the front. Most of the time, Ahsoka felt he was far more at home among his soldiers than he ever was at the Temple. Part of that rubbed off on her too, she'd picked up her own sense of boredom with Temple life over the years.

"The plans were... unorthodox, to say the least", Ahsoka remembered them fondly.

"You can say that again. You remember Teth?", Ahsoka did indeed remember her second mission as Anakin's padawan. Rex looked at Luke and Leia and let the memories flood back, "Your father scaled a vertical cliff with walkers and grappling guns. To save Jabba the Hutt's son of all things."

"Oh", Leia swallowed nervously, "That's... interesting."

Rex didn't notice her odd reaction, "And then there was Ryloth. Seppies damaged his cruiser beyond repair. Rather than retreat he decided to just ram the thing into the droid command ship and smash the blockade."

Ahsoka remembered that battle well, it was her first real command for both a fighter squadron and a cruiser.

"He was a good man", Rex sighed mournfully. "Whatever happened to him after, it's... he was still a good man. He saved a lot of lives, my own more than I can count. The man I knew would be proud to see what you two turned out to be."

Ahsoka agreed, "Rex is right. You'd have made your parents proud."

Leia leaned against the central table beside her brother, "Do you... do you know our mother was?"

As if there was any doubt... There was something between Anakin and Padme, even his clone troopers knew that, but very few people knew the extent. A surprise ambush on a mission that Ahsoka wasn't actually meant to be on was what finally told her that his affection for Senator Amidala was something much more. She hadn't expected them to be as close as they apparently were, but there was a strong bond between them. Ahsoka had her own struggles with those types of feelings and she'd been almost glad to see that her Master had learned to manage them to get the best of both worlds. Or at least, thought he'd learned to manage them.

"Have you heard of Padme Amidala? She was the Senator for Naboo during the Clone Wars."

The young woman's eyes lit up, "Yes... I've heard all about her. My fath- Bail would tell me about her all the time. I based a lot of my early speeches in the Senate on her work."

"She was a firebrand", Ahsoka remembered her friend fondly all these years later, "She was courageous and worked tirelessly for what was right. One of the finest Senators the Republic had ever seen."

"Handy with a blaster too", Rex added.

For a Senator, Padme always was remarkably skilled for combat. She had the talent and the nerve to face down the Separatists on the battlefield as well as in the Senate chamber. Her reputation for being willing to take any risk for the greater good even caught the attention of the Jedi Council and she became their go to contact for anything political.

Rex nudged Ahsoka on the arm, "Remind of you someone?", he looked over to Leia.

Luke smiled to his sister, "She does sound a lot like you."

The woman breathed a laugh, "I suppose there's a reason why I liked her so much."

"It was good of Bail to keep her memory alive and to give you the chance to follow in her footsteps."

"Thank you, Ahsoka", Leia stood up and reached for the Togruta's hand to hold it in her own, "It's nice to be able to learn about them."

Luke stood as well, "Thanks, both of you. I know it can't be the easiest thing to talk about."

"Not a problem, Skywalker", Rex shook the Jedi's hand.

Ahsoka smiled thinly, "Same here. It's been too long since we talked about them and remembered your father for who he really was."

She took in the sight of them both, the children of two of her oldest friends. Anakin had given her so much and been so important to her and Padme had been a loyal friend that had stuck with her through some of the most trying times of her life. They may not be around anymore but Ahsoka could repay everything they'd done for her by offering the same to their children. Anything they needed, she'd be there. If they needed guidance, she'd do her best. If they wanted allies, she'd follow them to the edges of the galaxy. If their lives were on the line, Ahsoka wouldn't hesitate to give up her own to save them.

Rex then leaned in to Luke, "Hey, now that's done, do we still have the, uh, the surprise?"

Leia's hand released Ahsoka's, "We certainly do, Captain."

Ahsoka looked suspiciously at them, "What surprise?"

"You'll see", Rex grinned at her.

Leia pulled her comm from her belt, "Hey, you two. Get up here."

The Princess stepped toward the door and led Ahsoka there too. Rex and Luke stood back a bit, the old soldier winking at her with a grin on his face.

"Alright, what's going on", Ahsoka was enjoying the mystery, even if she didn't have a clue what what they had up their sleeve.

"Just some old friends we thought you wouldn't mind seeing", Rex shrugged happily.

Old friends? I can't sense any- The door slid open and cut off her trail of thought. Her mouth hung open and breath hitched when she saw who was in the doorway.

A chorus of happy beeps and whines erupted and the familiar friend rolled to toward her.


It was him. The astromech had the same blue and white paint job that he'd had since the war and she could still recognise the unique sound of his beeps and chirps. The little droid had even kept some of the same quirks, rocking on his legs in excitement.

"Hey, little guy", she leaned down on one knee and placed a hand on Artoo's dome, "Long time no see."

He beeped in agreement.

"I've missed you too, Artooie", she used her old affectionate nickname for him.

Ahsoka could still understand the series of chirps from the astromech.

"Yeah", she glanced down at her robes, "I grew up. But you haven't changed a bit."

Her attention linger on him before looking up at the other figure that came in. C-3P0, of course.

"Threepio", she swallowed back a wave of nostalgia.

The protocol droid dithered about for a moment, "Greetings, I am C-3P0 human-cyborg relations."

"Senator Organa had his memory wiped, doesn't remember a thing but he kept the personality", Rex explained.

Ahsoka shouldn't have been surprised at that, it was standard procedure after a droid changed ownership. Besides, who knew what Threepio remembered about Anakin or Padme. It was probably for the best that Bail Organa wiped him clean.

She stood up and put a hand on the droid's arm, "It's good to meet you again, I'm Ahsoka Tano."

"Well it is good to meet you, Mistress Tano", the droid replied in his polite way.

Artoo beeped again and came close to her, apparently craving attention from her like he used to. She happily obliged and knelt down to him, listening to his chirping about where he'd been and what he'd done. Apparently he'd ended up as Luke's personal astromech. Ahsoka had to laugh at that, truly no being was outside the will of the force.

"I don't believe it", Ahsoka breathed, "After all these years."

Rex laughed as he watched, "You think you're surprised? You should have seen Wolffe when he saw them. I thought he was going to throw himself out of the airlock."

Ahsoka looked back to the droids. So many memories were wrapped up in them, Artoo especially. It was only right that they'd found their way to serving Luke and Leia. In a way, both were Republic heroes in their own right and, remarkably, they'd manage to see the fight through in a way that almost no one else had.

"Come on", Leia said softly, "Let's all get aboard. We'll have plenty of time to talk later."

The two Skywalker children and Rex lead them off the bridge with Ahsoka hanging back with C-3P0 and R2D2, listening to their stories and inevitable bickering.

Rex looked back over his shoulder and gave her a heartfelt smile. Her closest and dearest companion was in front of her, two of her oldest friends were beside her and the children of two others that meant so much to her were there too. Other friends were nearby, having their own reunions among themselves. Obviously, the Empire was gone too, and a new age was dawning for the galaxy. An age where the memory of the Republic and the Jedi had a chance to rise again.

It was at that moment that Ahsoka felt something that she hadn't for a long time. Just as Ezra had been saved from the farthest reaches of the galaxy and returned to the people that meant most, perhaps she too had finally come back to where she belonged. Maybe Ahsoka Tano had finally found a home too.

Thrawn could have counted on one hand the amount of words he and the Fourth Sister had exchanged so far on this expedition. It had been approximately ten standard hours since they'd departed and it had given the Chiss ample opportunity to analyse his travelling companion.

Tension. Tension was the most obvious signal given off by the Inquisitor. Thrawn could ascertain the source of that tension with reasonable certainty. The journey they were on would put them on a path to what he knew would be the threat the Emperor had sensed. For whatever reason, the Fourth Sister had something to hide. Perhaps knowledge of its nature or its location or some other factor which Thrawn did not know. Either way, there were things she was keeping hidden ever since Bridger escaped her on that strange and broken world.

It was also possible that his own presence was making her unsettled. Their relationship had been abrasive at best in the previous four years but the last several weeks had seen them descend into public disagreement, open insubordination, and deception on both sides. Her hatred for him was obvious and barely masked by the facade of cooperation she was displaying since Ezra Bridger's final escape.

What intrigued Thrawn most was how those two concerns overlapped. She had something to hide regarding the threat and was unsettled by his presence. Was one exacerbating the other? Was the threat making her wary of him in some way? Perhaps she feared he would be able to uncover her secret. If she feared it then it was a possibility to be considered and he had been doing what he could to watch for any signs that could help.

"Enough", the Inquisitor snapped out of nowhere.

"Enough of what?", he asked calmly.

She took her eyes off the controls and turned to him in the co-pilot's chair, "You've been watching me this whole time. I can see you."

"Yes, I have. What of it?"

"Stop it."

He raised an eyebrow, "Why? Does it unsettle you?"

"Yes. It unsettles me", her voice dripped with contempt.


She gritted her teeth, "What do you mean 'why'?"

"What about my observations unsettle you?

Her fingers absently tapped on the controls as she ran her tongue around her mouth. Anxiety, concern.

"Must you question everything like a child?", she spat.

Thrawn kept his gaze on her, "Everything must be questioned if one is to properly understand the situation. A child asks questions often because it does not know and wishes to learn. In our situation, a situation we do not understand and wish to learn about, asking questions would be the logical course of action."

"Do you turn everything into a sermon?", she shot him a sideways glance. "Just tell me what that damn compass is saying."

The Chiss decided to leave it at that for now and oblige her. The compass remained still on the console, the central stone emitting a faint purple glow. Getting it to work had been a simple matter, as Thrawn had predicted. The inner mechanisms gave a complex form of symbols and dials that, with effort, Thrawn was able to understand. The presentation was unusual but he knew the results would have to be in the form of a hyperspace vector. To move in any three dimensional space required the same basic concepts that transcended cultures, species, and factions. It became a simple matter of determining the specific vectors through the so-called 'X, Y and Z' directions. A simple mathematical problem for a mind such as his. An unknowable puzzle for the Inquisitor.

Thrawn observed the compass, unchanged as it had been for several hours. "Our current course is the correct one."

"Of course it is", she muttered.

The Fourth Sister remained at the controls for the whole journey. Despite Thrawn's insistence that the course was set, she'd remained there in case anything needed to be done. An obvious sign of her lack of faith in him.

It was a long while before curiosity got the better of her contempt and made her speak again. "What do you expect to find?"

There was no delay, "Something of significance."

"Such as?", she looked to him again.

"I do not know", he said.

"Why are you so sure you'll find anything at all, let alone something important?"

Thrawn's eyes went over the compass as he spoke, "You told me that this was found wrapped in the hands of a body, did you not?"

She sighed, "Yes it was. Why?"

"Does that not answer itself? In the midst of a battle, between whomever it may have been, one individual decided, rather than fighting or attempting to flee, to seclude themselves in what you said to be a 'storeroom' with nothing but this. If this individual was cowering in fear, there would be a weapon in their hands and not a compass."

"What does that mean?", her anger couldn't disguise hints of curiosity.

"Obviously, this object was something significant. Worth protecting and preserving, even holding, as conflict closed in around them. This object was worth protecting, therefore it must be worth investigating. A compass' only function is to guide the user to a particular location, therefore this location must be of importance", Thrawn explained.

The Fourth Sister squinted at it, "How does it work?"

"I can only presume this stone is somehow linked with the force", his fingers ran over the purple centrepiece.

Thrawn watched for her reaction to his assessment. Fortunately, he got one. She shifted uncomfortably, as if debating whether to say what was on her mind, before she gave in.

"Impossible. The only things that are naturally linked to the force are kyber crystals and that", she pointed to the stone, "is no kyber crystal."

"Is that so?", Thrawn took the new information into account, "I appreciate your contribution."

"Don't patronise me", she muttered back.

The Grand Admiral inspected the object in light of the new information. Not naturally force related but somehow linked. He was still convinced it had something to do with the force and that the centre stone was somehow connected. Perhaps not a natural connection but an artificial one.

"Tell me, would it be possible to somehow imbue the force into an object?"

She went silent and looked at the object for a few seconds. Then she looked away, contemplating what to say and what she was going to share with him.

"Possibly", she answered.

Thrawn furrowed his brow, "Possibly?"

The Inquisitor sighed and released her hold on the ship's controls, for the first time since the journey began.

"Possibly. I don't know for certain."

"Why do you believe it's possible? Are you aware of a similar process?"

Again, her eyes looked away as she carefully considered her answer.

Somewhat reluctantly, she leaned back in her chair. "Something similar. Kyber crystals take on the colour of the Jedi who finds them. Most are blue or green and there's a handful of other colours like purple or yellow."

"And red", Thrawn continued.

She hesitated, "No."

Thrawn regarded the lightsaber slotted into place on her back, "And yet your lightsaber is red as was Lord Vader's and the other Inquisitors' before you."

"Red isn't a natural colour. To get a red crystal, a force user has to pour the dark side into it. They call it 'bleeding'", she explained.

The Chiss found it enlightening, "Interesting. So the kyber crystal is imbued with the dark side for the use of the dark side wielder." Thrawn looked to the dark purple stone, "Then there is precedent."

"It's possible. But kyber crystals are unique, they're already strong in the force. Colouring it with the dark side is a far cry from imbuing something with the force from scratch." She shook her head, "I've never heard of it being done on anything else."

"Just because you have not heard of it, that does not mean it is not possible", Thrawn said.

Her face hardened into a glare, "I didn't know you were an expert on the force. I know what I know, just leave it to me."

"Many arts are lost with time, the force would be no different. Different cultures, different eras, different minds, interpret and utilise their gifts in unique ways. Perhaps the art was lost to the Jedi or the Sith or maybe it was only ever discovered by beings out in the Unknown Regions", he reasoned.

The Fourth Sister huffed and returned her hands to the controls, "Assuming that's even true, why does it matter?"

"It is possible that supraluminite is not naturally a material that is receptive to the force. A technique to apply the force to the material could have been devised as an ancient tool used to navigate hyperspace lanes."

She laughed, "You're really reaching for it now. You can't use the force to travel through hyperspace."

"Yes. You can."

The bluntness of his answer caught her by surprise, "What do you mean?"

Thrawn remembered it well, "It can be done."

"And you know this, how?"

"Lord Vader used the force to help the Chimaera navigate through the Unknown Regions several years ago."

Thrawn intentionally left out the fact that his own people, the Chiss, had pioneered the technique using their own force-sensitives. Chiss did produce force-sensitives but the gift always manifested itself as precognition, rather than the telekinetic or telepathic powers he had seen in force users since. The gift also faded with age and could not be retained by adults, so children were used for navigation. The Chiss had explored the galaxy using these children and charted dangerous hyperspace routes that their neighbours and rivals could not. Interestingly, the gift was almost exclusive to females. Thrawn paused on old memories. Almost exclusive.

The Fourth Sister dropped the argument immediately, "Alright. Why would the people who made it do that? They'd have to have been advanced enough to have developed hyperspace computers."

"Not necessarily", Thrawn said, "But I understand your reservations. Computers retain information that can be used to chart a route to previous locations and are often dependant on using established routes."

"Unless they had a force user to guide them", the Inquisitor added, "Apparently..."

Thrawn paused. "Such an object might prove useful to chart the route to a location that the user wished to keep off the hyperspace navigation system, or perhaps even allow those not attuned to the force to chart those routes."

"That's a lot of trouble to keep somewhere hidden", the Fourth Sister said.

"Yes, it is indeed. Therefore, something must be worth the effort to hide. The only question is: what?

The Fourth Sister had no answer and instead let the question hang. The silence that had punctuated the journey so far returned but now Thrawn had another interesting piece of the puzzle. A force user must have created this object intentionally and, more than likely, it led to something that its ancient creator had wished to keep hidden from the galaxy.

The very brief shuttle ride over from the Corvette to the cruiser seemed like a lifetime. The closer Ezra got the longer it seemed to take. He was used to that feeling from the journey back to the known galaxy, and at least this time he had Hera here too. Well, here as in the pilot's seat of the U-Wing they'd taken to jump ships. The Corvettes couldn't land in the Mon Calamari ship's hangar after all.

Something was nagging at him though. It wasn't unlike what he'd felt when they'd met Luke, but it distinct enough for him to know that this wasn't the same feeling. He'd felt it as soon as they'd dropped out of hyperspace on the Corvette.

"Hey", Sabine nudged him with her arm, "What's up?"

"Something's... I don't know", he couldn't put his finger on it.

The Mandalorian gave him a radiant smile, "Just relax."

Ezra opened his mouth to answer but shut it soon after. He found himself reminded of Kanan's lessons again. Worrying and thinking about what was bothering him wasn't going to help anything.

The brief few minutes of the journey past quietly, Ezra too focused and excited to make much conversation. As soon as he felt the pressure change of the U-Wing entering the hangar he was on his feet and waiting by the hatch. He heard Sabine's humoured sigh from behind him as she got up to follow him.

"Home sweet home", Hera mumbled as she set aside the headset and came down from the cockpit.

"Almost." Ezra's hand reached for the door release button and pushed.

The U-wing door opened up and the hangar was bustling with life. The familiar sight of A-wings, X-wings, even some old Y-wings, greeted him as he set foot on to the hangar floor. Hundreds of people were running to and fro, attending to something or other, and Ezra was taken aback by the chaos of it all. He hadn't been around people for almost five years and stepping right into the middle of so many made his head spin.

As soon as his mind had calmed down, he scanned around the hangar urgently looking for it. Of course, it didn't take him long to spot it. There, on the far side of the hangar, was the Ghost. The ship he'd spent years of his life on and that represented all the time they'd spent together as a family. It didn't look any different from when he'd last seen it, but that was to be expected. Sabine had always nagged Hera to let her loose on the Ghost ever since he'd joined up with them and the Twi'lek still hadn't given in.

Without another word, Ezra barely registered the people in his way as he slid through the crowd, knowing Hera and Sabine wouldn't be too far behind him. The access ramp was wide open, inviting him back to his home and his family.

Sabine and Hera hung back as they approached, letting him have a moment to take in the sight before he went inside. Ezra hesitated at the bottom of the ramp as he saw inside for the first time in a long while. It was all still the same. The same walls, same yellow ladders, same everything.

"Don't just stand there gawking", Hera teased after a few moments.

Ezra stepped on board, feeling the hard metal of the ramp beneath his feet. His thoughts were overwhelmed with memories of all the good times he spent on the ship, as well as something else.

He ran his hands along the walls and looked around the cargo bay for another few seconds. The door that led to where the Phantom used to be was still there and the small walkway overlooking the main floor. Ezra couldn't remember how many times Hera had stood from that balcony, scolding him or Zeb or Kanan, sometimes even all three of them, for causing some ruckus down here. There was hours of lightsaber practice with Kanan here, this room was where he'd learned half of what he even knew about the weapon. Then there were all the memories of them limping back up through here after a mission. A lecture from Kanan about what he needed to improve on, a heart-to-heart with Hera, another shameless flirting attempt with Sabine or another bickering contest with Zeb. It all felt so long ago now, like a whole different life.

Kanan... That was what he was feeling. He'd never forget the presence his Master had in the force. Obviously, he wasn't feeling him directly, but his legacy, his presence, was stronger on this ship and with this family than it would be anywhere else.

Sabine poked him after a while, "Hey, you can explore later."

"Right, sorry", Ezra looked up to the ladder into the Ghost's main hold, Kanan's memory still lingering as he focused on the here and now.

He hesitated at first before grabbing hold of the rungs and pulling himself up. Hera and Sabine followed as he waited before the door, still nervous and unsure of what to expect. It had been so many years, so much had changed. He had to take the time to-

"Ezra!", a booming voice interrupted everything as the door slid open.

Ezra only saw the flash of purple fur, "Zeb!"

Before he could move, Zeb's massive arms grabbed him and pulled him into one of the Lasat's rib-crushing hugs.

Ezra was glad to see his friend but, "Z-Zeb... can't... breathe", he croaked out.

"Oh, hehe, right", the Lasat released him and let him back to the ground. Zeb sighed and ran his massive hands across the back of his neck, "Karabast, I can't believe it."

"You can't believe it? How do you think I feel?", he laughed. Ezra stepped into the common area, followed by Sabine and Hera.

Ezra finally got a proper look at his old friend. To be honest, not much had changed. Zeb wore the same armour as he always did with minor, if any, changes to it. His bo-rifle was still slung on his back and his green eyes and purple fur were unchanged.

"Eh, you don't look too worse for wear", Zeb punched his shoulder, "No worse than usual anyway."

Ezra hit him back, "You too, buddy. Glad you're still around. The smell is still there but, you know, can't be perfect."

Zeb chuckled, "Good to have you back, kid."

"It's good to be home, Zeb", Ezra sighed contently.

"You too, Sabine", the Lasat gave her a brief hug too.

As his two friends said a brief hello to each other, Ezra noticed the door to the cockpit and cabins slide open. There it is again... Kanan... He pushed the thoughts aside as Chopper wheeled in through the door, trailed behind by Kallus.

"Chop! Kallus!", Ezra stepped over to see them both.

"Whorp whorp", Chopper came right up to him.

Ezra knelt down, "Hey, Chopper. Did you miss me?"

The droid stopped warbling for a moment and his manipulators popped out. Ezra thought he was going to be hit but instead the droid stretched the arms out, almost like he wanted to hug him...

"Chop?", Ezra asked in disbelief. " Are you trying to- Ow!", Ezra yelled as an arm spun round and slapped him in the face.

The droid laughed and rolled around to greet Sabine. Ezra rubbed his cheek and smiled a bit. Not as hard as usual... I think that's his way of saying he missed me.

"Well, Bridger, long time no see", Kallus stood above him and offered a hand to help him up.

Ezra took the hand and gave it a firm shake, "Good to see you too, Kallus."

"You look like you're in one piece", Kallus cast a glance over him. "But if you're planning on keeping that then I'd better teach you how to maintain it", Kallus laughed and pointed to the beard.

"Kriff, really?", Ezra groaned and ran his hand across his beard for what felt like the hundredth time.

"He's fine, really. He's getting rid of it", Sabine chimed in and walked past him.

The girl winked at him as she went and stood beside the door that led to the front of the ship. Hera walked past with her and exchanged a brief smile with Sabine before disappearing through the door. Something is going on, but what? What are they hiding?

Zeb came up behind and slapped Ezra on the back, "You alright?"

"Yeah... I just...", the feeling was getting stronger now.

Kallus and Zeb both looked at him with a subtle smile. They knew too. What was going on here?

"Ezra, relax", Zeb assured him, "It's gonna be alright."

"What's alright?", Ezra shot him a confused look.

Sabine met his eyes before turning her back to him and standing ready by the door. They all waited, everyone in on something that Ezra was completely in the dark about. Then, the door opened.

"Aunty Bean!", an unfamiliar voice came from the door but Ezra couldn't see where it came from.

"Jac!", Sabine knelt down and seemed to hold onto something, "I missed you!"

"I missed you too. You went away for ages", the voice whined. A... child's voice?

Ezra saw a brief flash of green hair and tiny hands.

Sabine's happy voice cracked with emotion, "You know I promised to bring something back, right?"

"Yeah?", the voice answered.

What in the force is a kid doing on Hera's ship. Ezra looked at Hera to find her staring right at him, tears already running down her cheeks.

"Well...", Sabine stood up and stepped to the side, "Say hello..."

Standing in the doorway was a small child, no older than five. He looked up to Sabine and Ezra couldn't see much of him other than the strong green colour of his hair. Did Hera adopt a kid? At last, the kid looked at him with familiar blue eyes and everything made sense.

Ezra's heart skipped as he looked to Hera, trying to mouth the words.

The Twi'lek replied in croaky voice, "Ezra Bridger, meet Jacen Syndulla"

Kanan. The eyes, Hera's 'obligations' since he'd been gone, everything was just...

"I-Is that him?", the boy walked forward to Ezra with wonder in his eyes.

Sabine laughed softly, "That's him."

Ezra was shaking as the boy stepped toward him. He came down to eye-level with him but couldn't form a word. This couldn't be real. How was it possible?

"I... uh, hi?", the shaking didn't stop as Ezra looked into those familiar eyes.

Jacen looked at him quizzically and tilted his head. Then, with a toothy grin, he reached out his arms to him. "Uncle Ezra!", he yelled as the boy threw his arms around his neck.

The Jedi stammered for a few seconds, "Un...Uncle Ezra?"

"Uncle Ezra", the boy repeated and let go of Ezra while pointing a finger around the room, "Auntie Bean, Uncle Zeb, Uncle Ezra."

Ezra blinked a few times, "You know who I am?"

"Yeah! They talk about you all the time!", he said giddily.

Ezra looked around at his family, "Oh really?"

Jacen nodded eagerly, "Yes! Did you really beat Darth Vader?!"

Ezra rubbed the back of his head. Coming off his recent talk with Luke and the others, that wasn't the best memory to dwell on right now. "I... uh, I don't thin-",

"Can you really control animals?!", the boy pressed on, not caring about Ezra's hesitation.

"I don't really contr-"

"And Uncle Zeb said you'd steal TIE fighters!"

Ezra slowly turned and smiled at the Lasat, "Uh, yeah, sometimes..."

"Auntie Bean said you'd paint them too!"

"Yeah, she'd do the painting. I'd just make a mess for a while", he caught Sabine's mocking nod of agreement.

"You know they love you back on the Lothal! They're gonna be so excited!", Jacen's smile only grew with every second.

"L-Lothal? You know Lothal? You been there?", the sudden mention of his home almost caught him off-guard.

Jacen scoffed, "Yeah, loads of times! That's where Auntie Bean lives."

"So I've heard", the Jedi smiled and looked to her.

Jacen followed his gaze and looked at Sabine too. "Auntie Bean talks about you a lot", he said innocently, "I think she likes you."

Ezra's eyes went wide and Sabine's face flushed red while Zeb and Chopper just burst out laughing.

"Jacen Syndulla", Hera warned him sternly.

The clueless child looked back at his mother, "What did I do? You always sa-"

"Alright, come here", Hera stepped forward and took her son up in her arms.

Ezra marvelled at the sight. It was as Hera had said, 'better than good'. Hera was like a mother to him and she had all the care and love in the galaxy to give, it was only right that she had a child of her own to let her show it. And Kanan... Ezra couldn't put it into words right now. Everything was to fresh and too new to really get all of his thoughts together yet.

There was one thing though that was already on his mind. The thing he'd felt as he arrived on the cruiser, the presence in the force; it had to be Jacen. Jacen was half Kanan after all, and that probably meant... Yoda's words repeated themselves and left him without a single doubt. Those you have yet to teach.

Hera was watching him as he thought and something told him that she knew what was going through his head. This wasn't the time or place to talk about it but Ezra knew it was only a matter of time.

His thoughts were interrupted by a firm pat on his back, "Welcome home, kid."

"Kid?", Ezra pushed himself up to his feet, "You know I'm almost 24, right?"

Zeb shrugged, "Eh, still a scrawny loth-rat to me."

"Hey!", Ezra replied jokingly and punched his friend's arm.

The Lasat raised his fist to hit him back but Sabine put her arm out between the two of them.

"Zeb, don't break him, we only just got him back", Sabine admonished him.

Ezra shot her a sly grin, "Awh, I guess you did miss me."

The Mandalorian glared at him for a moment before rolling her eyes. "Come on", Sabine's hand grabbed his own, "Shut up and let me take you for a look around."

Ezra laughed and looked at their joined hands, "I do remember my way around, you know that right?"

"I know you do", she answered as she kept pulling him towards the door.

Ezra chose to ignore Zeb's whispering as the others fell in behind them. Sabine started to talk through things, pointing out the little things that had changed aboard over the last few years, Hera chiming in every now and again to help her out. Truthfully, Ezra felt like he'd been here yesterday and he still knew every nook and cranny of the ship like the back of his hand. Still, surrounded in every way by his family, it finally sunk in: he was finally home.


Chapter Text

They spent almost an hour showing Ezra around the Ghost again. Nothing much had changed on it, much like the outside, but each room brought memories with it. Ezra loved every minute of it, especially seeing Sabine giddily dragging him here, there, and everywhere to show him around. Hera loved it as well, Zeb and Kallus seemed to enjoy too. Chopper was acting his usual self but Ezra guessed that deep down even the old droid had missed him. Jacen, mostly clinging to Hera or to Sabine the whole time, was more interested in Ezra than the tour of his mother's ship.

At the end, Sabine had gone to her cabin to freshen up, Zeb and Kallus had stepped out to go and fetch a few things before they all left for Lothal, leaving just Ezra, Chopper, Jacen, and Hera on board. The old droid was tinkering with something elsewhere and Hera was putting Jacen down for a nap in the common area. That left Ezra alone to take a look around the ship for a bit. He knew exactly where he wanted to go.

Kanan's old cabin was now Jacen's room. The plain and empty room that Kanan kept was now full of clothes, drawings stuck to the wall, toys, and other things for his son. Ezra was standing in the middle of the room, silently looking around at what he could see. Ezra hadn't had a chance to come here since Kanan had gone, it was still all new for him to see it like this. It was so different but it still felt the same in so many ways.

Ezra took a few quiet moments looking around the room before he felt Hera approaching.

"It's really nice in here", he said to Hera as she reached the door, "At least Jacen puts up some decoration", he huffed a laugh.

Hera smiled and walked through, one arm rubbing the other. "It's the right place for him to be."

"I was just thinking, I haven't really been aboard since... since everything. We were on Lothal and then to Capital City, and then I just never came back for more than a short while", Ezra told her.

Her comforting hand came to his arm, "I know. It must be strange for you."

"Part of me hoped I'd open a door and he'd just be there. Like nothing happened."

"I still do the same. After a long day I just think that I can come in here and see his face again but...", Hera shook her head.

Ezra swallowed hard, "I'm sorry, Hera."

"But I find Jacen", Hera continued her thoughts, "I don't have Kanan but Jacen is there. And then I realise that I still have him, just a little bit. We still have him."

Hera's ability to power through the hardships and see the light still amazed him. Like usual, she was right. The pain of losing Kanan would never be fixed but the joy of having Jacen would never be ruined either.

Ezra thought of the boy as he took a closer look at some of the drawings. Obviously, there were loads of Hera. Chopper had more than a few and there were at least half a dozen of Sabine too. It had to be her that was encouraging him to draw and paint everything he saw. There were some of Zeb and Kallus, Cham, Numa and Gobi, the Ghost, even Rex. A few were of places he must have seen. There was one with two moons that must have been Lothal, another of what might have been Ryloth and one of a tall tower that looked vaguely familiar. My tower? Huh, Sabine must have showed it to him once.

"Come see", Hera had seen him looking and led him over to the corner of the room. "Here", she pointed at one of the pieces of paper.

Ezra squinted at the orange figure with black hair and blue eyes, "Wait, is that me?"

"That's you", Hera answered with a smirk.

Ezra laughed as he read the crude words 'Uncle Ezra' scribbled on the side. "Huh, looks just like me."

"It should, it's based off one of Sabine's paintings of you", Hera carefully adjusted the picture, double-checking that it was safely stuck to the wall.

"Woah, Sabine has a painting of me?", Ezra asked in surprise. "Didn't realise she missed me that much."

"She missed you a lot. We all did, but Sabine especially", the Twi'lek took a seat on the bed and invited Ezra to sit beside her.

Especially? Of course his best friend had missed him, he'd missed her too. Ezra didn't want to read too much into it but... especially?

He sighed, "Well I missed her a lot too."

Hera's hand found his back, "You should tell her."

"I've told her I missed her already", Ezra looked at Hera quizzically.

"You know what I mean", Hera's knowing eyes could see right through him, "Make sure she knows what she means to you."

Ezra didn't need her to explain what she meant. There was something about the way Hera had said it that told him she was disguising some pain behind those words. Hera had always been so busy that she'd left it so late when... Ezra didn't want to think about it. All he knew was that Hera regretted not telling Kanan sooner.

He bit his lip in thought. It had been almost five years. His thoughts hadn't changed, he'd accepted that they never would, but she was harder to speak for. Ezra hoped but he didn't know and there wasn't really a way to be sure without making things... risky. Ezra then looked at Hera, still meaningfully keeping her eyes on him. Maybe... maybe he'd just have to say it. It didn't matter what happened after, it only mattered that Sabine knew what she meant to him.

"I will, Hera", Ezra promised.

"Please, for both of you", she said quietly.

Ezra put an arm around his surrogate mother and held her close. They hadn't had any time to themselves since he'd come back and he'd missed her terribly these last few years. He couldn't count how many times he'd thought of what it'd be like to come home and see her, and yet none of those came close to the real thing.

There was one thing, however, that he never could have planned for: Jacen. Ezra was surprised he couldn't sense him before the Battle of Lothal, he was in there somewhere. Things were just to chaotic, too emotional, to have picked up on it. Like Hera said, another piece of Kanan was still here, and Ezra still felt the need to pinch himself every time the thought crossed his mind. He wanted to get to know Jacen, spend time with him, relax, play, show him the galaxy, tell him stories, be the 'Uncle Ezra' Jacen deserved to have.

But not just that. Master Yoda's words came once more. " Those you have yet to teach." The time to act on those words had come.

"Hera", Ezra took his hand and rested it on Hera's, "Is he like Kanan?"

The nodding of her head was the answer he already knew was true.

"How long have you known?"

"A while, about a year or two. It started with him just... noticing things quicker than he should have. Then he started knowing things before they even happened. There's not been anything big, just him sensing things", Hera's sounded nervous talking about it.

The Jedi thought of how he'd sensed Jacen as he arrived. "Does Luke know?", if Ezra sensed it then Luke might have to.

"Yes. He knows. He wanted to take him and train him."

"You didn't say yes?", he had his own suspicions to the answer,

"No", her voice was shaky, "I couldn't let him take Jacen away. Not yet." She hesitated again before continuing, "Luke thought that... and I did too... that maybe, when... when you were back..."

Ezra look her in the eyes, "Hera...",

"I'm sorry, Ezra. I just... I just couldn't. I'm sorry", she sobbed and turned her head back to the ground.

"No, that's not...", he sighed and put his hand over hers, "I understand why you said no." Ezra paused and thought of his next words carefully, "In a way, I'm glad you did."

Her head perked up, "You are?"

"When I was out there", Ezra began, "I had a vision or something like that, I spoke to Master Yoda. You know he told me about what's going on out there but that wasn't all he said. He said I'd come home and that, when I did... it'd be my turn to pass on what I've learned. He made me a Knight and then, as soon as I saw Jacen, I just knew that it's what I was meant to do."

The realisation dawned on Hera's face, "You mean...?"

"I'll do it, Hera. If you'll let me, I'll train him." A small smile came to his lips, "I don't know if I'll be good at it but I have to do it."

Hera breathed in shakily, "I don't want you to feel you have to do this."

"No", he intervened gently, "It's nothing like that. This is about what's right. Master Yoda said it, sure, but that's not why I'm doing it. I'm doing it for you, and for Jacen, and for Kanan."

Hera opened her mouth to speak but the words faltered. A smile grew on her lips and she squeezed his hand, "I am so proud of you."

"Thanks, Hera", Ezra let Hera pull him into a motherly embrace.

Ezra felt nervous and unsure about his ability to train Jacen, but that was understandably. Learning to be a Jedi from Kanan was one thing, passing that on was something else. Kanan went through the same thing when he started to teach. Still, even though he was technically still a padawan when he took Ezra on, Kana had ended up being the best teacher Ezra could have asked for. Ezra had Master Yoda's blessing before he'd even begun, had both Luke and Ahsoka to lean on for advice and support, and, above all, he had the greatest role model to follow from.

It wouldn't be easy and there'd be difficulties along the way, but he had to do this. He had to try... no.

A smile came to his face as he remembered Kanan's words. Do or do not, there is not try.

Thrawn found the long journey to be a useful respite from the chaos of recent weeks. It gave him time to process and reevaluate events and attempt to plan for the future. The Fourth Sister, on the other hand, got more agitated with every passing hour.

"Any changes?", she asked angrily yet again.

The Chiss looked at the compass and found nothing new, "No."

She muttered to herself and turned back to the viewport. The brief moments of cooperation they'd had when discussing the nature of the compass had not, as Thrawn had hoped, given way to any further revelations. She returned to being the tight-lipped woman that she'd always been, talking only to ask again about any changes to their course.

Thrawn was about to settle down again when he noticed a small change in the compass. One of the dials moved slightly and the central stone started to glow more intensely.

"Interesting...", he leaned forward to get a better view.

"What? What is it?", the Inquisitor looked over.

Thrawn stroked his chin as the dial kept moving, moving from the top of the compass in a clockwise direction down the side. The pulsing light of the stone continued to become more noticeable.

"A moment", Thrawn held up his hand to her as he kept studying the compass.

"A moment? What for?", she snapped.

The compass dial kept moving for a few more seconds. The Grand Admiral kept a careful watch, doing his best to judge the timing by eye.

"What are you up to?", the Inquisitor interrupted again.

"Disengage the hyperdrive... now", Thrawn told her.

The Inquisitor huffed but listened to what he told her. The dials started moving slower as the ship dropped out of hyperspace and the twisting blue outside their vessel shifted back to familiar black and white. As Thrawn anticipated, a planet was visible off the starboard side of the ship.

"Our destination", Thrawn pointed to the planet.

The Inquisitor looked at him sceptically, "Are you sure?"

"Certain", he replied, "Take the ship to the surface, we must not delay."

As the woman grumbled and adjusted their course, Thrawn began to check the scanners for any information that might be of use. Had he been shown the details of this world without context, he'd think little of it. Another arid world, not unlike the one Bridger escaped to in the Inquisitor's TIE, with no indication of habitation or wildlife. Most indicators were of little note; breathable atmosphere, temperatures comfortable to most species and so forth. There was no immediate sign that this world was worth the effort someone or something had gone through to hide it. Therefore, it was imperative that they made a closer inspection.

The stone flickered slightly as the ship changed course. He could only assume that is was still directing them to a specific location on the surface.

"What's it doing?", the flicker had clearly caught the Inquisitor's eye too.

"Guiding us", Thrawn took the device into his hands to get a better view. He watched the stone as it pulsed with its purple light. "Adjust your course", he told her, "Follow the compass, as we did before."

She sighed, "Whatever you say, Grand Admiral."

He grimaced as he inspected the surface, "I can see nothing obvious that may be of relevance."

"I'd have thought a man of your talents would have this all figured out", she said sarcastically.

Thrawn didn't take to the slight, "Might I ask if you, perhaps, sense something?"

Still focused on the controls, the Inquisitor didn't answer for a while. The Grand Admiral could see the concentration on her face and knew she was at least doing what he'd asked. She concentrated more and her expression adjusted slightly as she did so. The process was rather fascinating to watch and he wished there was a better way to understand how the force enabled such things.

About a minute of two later, her facial expression shifted quickly. Her eyes widened, her lips parted, and she inhaled sharply.

"Inquisitor?", he asked, seeing the obvious reaction.

"Uh, um", she cleared her throat and looked away from him, "I feel... something. I can't tell what but this is the place."

Thrawn paused, "The place for what?"

She kept her eyes away and focused on the controls, "I don't know."

She's lying. Thrawn already knew she was hiding things, she had been since a squad of his troopers returned from trying to capture Bridger with no memory of what actually happened on the mission. She'd sensed something that had frightened her, but what? If this was what she'd expected to find, why did it unsettle her so? The questions were concerning enough, even without the answers.

Their ship entered the atmosphere, following the directions from the ancient compass. The Grand Admiral looked in vain for anything more to inform him. It might be possible for some form of life to survive in these conditions, though there was no evidence of it. Nothing about the landscape was unusual either, not like the shattered planet that Bridger led them to at first.

The Chiss ran through a few potential scenarios in his head. Subterranean inhabitants? Possible, but to warrant such secrecy they would have to be advanced and there is no evidence to suggest as such. Something lost? It is possible that something or someone had become stranded here but why such things would be located through a compass remains to be seen. It is also possible that something was intentionally hidden to be recovered at another time, or forgotten.

Those questions would soon be answered. The pulsing colour of the supraluminite told them that they were close now.

"Here. Set the ship down", he ordered.

The Inquisitor landed the ship on the peak of a hill. As soon as the ship was on the ground, Thrawn took up the compass in his hands and slung his satchel around his shoulders. The Fourth Sister stood up and folded her arms, eyeing him carefully.

"Where are you going?", she had already regained her composure from whatever had startled her.

"Obviously, we are going to investigate", Thrawn replied without turning to her.

The Fourth Sister stood up and crossed her arms, "We?"

Thrawn turned back to her, "Surely you did not expect me to remain on the ship whilst you investigated this phenomenon?"

Her yellow eyes stared into him before she begrudgingly marched past and toward the freighter's exit ramp. The Chiss watched her contemptuous display without comment, knowing that it meant they were on the right path.

Whatever the Fourth Sister knew, it was making her tense. It seemed obvious then that they were almost within reach of some sort of revelation. Now it was only a matter of discovering it.

"After you, Grand Admiral", the Inquisitor motioned to the door.

He paid no mind to her sarcasm, "What we seek cannot be far."

The old freighter's door opened and retractable steps led down to the ground. The world was hot and rocky, as he'd been able to tell from orbit. Their shuttle had set down on top of a hill giving them a good view of the surrounding landscape. On one side of the hill, uneven peaks and mountains stretched out as far as they could see. On the other, the ground levelled out and opened up across the horizon.

Thrawn took another look at the compass to judge which direction it intended them to go. "This way", Thrawn pointed to the flat expanse ahead of them.

"If you say so", the Inquisitor muttered and pulled out her lightsaber but didn't activate the blades.

"The weapon is unnecessary", Thrawn told her.

"I'm not taking any chances."

She is on edge. Planetary scans indicated that there no signs of life and there was little evidence to suggest that anything could survive out here. Her anxieties do not stem from any simple creatures. Fascinating, and concerning.

Taking note of her unease, Thrawn then led the way down the slope with the Fourth Sister following cautiously behind him.

Damn that Chiss for being here!

The daunting expanse that stretched out before them could hide all sorts of secrets. Secrets that she had intended to uncover for herself. This was a mystery that she alone was going to unravel and that she alone would prosper from. It was only reluctantly that she'd swallowed back her hatred and worked with the intrusive Chiss. Every second she reminded herself that she needed his help if she was going to get to the bottom of this, and that wasn't going to be a long time coming.

As they'd arrived, she'd felt something in the force. The briefest but clearest twinge had touched her mind, reaching out from somewhere below them. This was it, whatever it was.

They'd only walked a few hundred metres from the hill where they'd landed when the Grand Admiral started his ramblings.

"It is unlikely that anything has managed to stay alive out here", he said to her as they walked.

"Your point being?", she huffed.

"Based on the current state of this world, we may not be here for an individual or a species."

The Fourth Sister planned her response, she'd already given him too much about what they were looking for. "Maybe someone has worked out how to survive in this place."

The Chiss' head shook, "You misunderstand. Even if an individual managed to endure this world, it does not explain the existence of this compass. Such a device would have to have been constructed by a species or a group with intent to return here. An intelligent race could conceivably have fashioned an existence out here but the evidence of such would be obvious. Even if they dwelt below the surface, some evidence of their awareness of travel beyond this planet would be present."

"Do you ever think this could just be some trinket? Not worth you exploring?", she suggested.

"Based off our arrival, you clearly feel it is worth exploring", his reply was sharp and immediate. "Besides, do you doubt that the Emperor sensed something out here as well?"

She bit her tongue and just focused on the comforting feeling of the lightsaber hilt still clutched in her hands.

Thrawn kept his eyes on the compass, only occasionally raising his head to look in front of him. "This object also appears not to have been degraded much by time. That could have implications for what we are expecting to find here..."

The Fourth Sister was tuning out his rambling already, bored to death of his ceaseless attempts to make sense of thing that he'd never understand. A few more steps and something started to draw her attention. Not from outside, but within.

What.. what is that?

Something in the force swirled unnaturally here. It wasn't like before, nor was it the same as when she'd heard the voice weeks ago. It felt like something was stirring somewhere nearby. It's close, whatever it is, it's cl-

"Ugh", she grunted as she walked straight into Thrawn. She glared at the back of his head in anger, "Just what do you think you're doing?"

He held up a hand but said nothing. The Fourth Sister then looked past his shoulder to the compass in his hands. The stone in the centre of the device had completely stopped glowing, like the light in it had just completely cut out. That can't be a coincidence.

She peered over his shoulder at it, "What happened?"

"It stopped without warning. I do not know why."

Her eyes narrowed at the object, "That can't be-", she paused abruptly as a strange bout of dizziness came over her.

"Inquisitor?", the Chiss turned to her with a concerned look.

She pushed him away with her hand, "It's nothing." The feeling seemed to abate but she was left feeling noticeably tried and drained.

Thrawn watched her suspiciously, "What is going on?"

"Nothing! Figure out that compass", she spat angrily at him.

The Inquisitor stopped to catch her breath. What was that? It was a sensation she'd never felt before and not one she'd ever want to again. She took a few moments to steady herself again as Thrawn went back a few paces, focusing his attention on the compass.

From his facial expression, the Fourth Sister could tell he wasn't making any progress.

"I have one idea", he said and knelt down to the ground.

She gritted her teeth, "What are you up to now?"

The Chiss placed the compass down and reached into the bag slung around his body. He pulled out a piece of electronic equipment, no larger than a datapad, with two large sensors sticking out of it.

"A scanner?", she recognised the technology.

The Grand Admiral held it to the ground and pressed several buttons, "Indeed. I have my suspicions."

After a few seconds, the device began to send pulses and waves down into the ground. The Fourth Sister didn't know what had possessed him to try this but she didn't hold out much hope of finding anything.

To her surprise, the scanner sent back a confirmatory ping.

"What's it found?", she went over to his side to see the screen.

"Most intriguing", Thrawn breathed as he looked at the screen.

There it is. There was a structure beneath them, buried deep underground. The scanner picked up a thick uniform stone slab about one hundred metres below the surface and a massive cavern below that. The scanner's range was limited to only a few dozen metres around them, but the slab was large enough to cover the whole area.

The Chiss stood up slowly, "I believe we have found what we came for."

"Down there?", she pointed at the ground, "How do we get down there?"

Thrawn looked back to their ship, still visible on the hill several hundred metres behind them. "I will contact the fleet, we shall need heavy equipment to excavate the site."

"Excavate?", she stared at him, "That'll take too long."

"Do you propose an alternative solution, Inquisitor?", he asked.

Her anger had gotten the better of her. "No, I don't", the answer grated in her mind as she said it.

"Excellent, then we are in agreement." The Grand Admiral slid the scanner into his bag, "I will contact Captain Pellaeon." He eyed her carefully for a moment, "You shall remain here until I return."

She didn't object nor make any response as he turned and walked back to their ship. The Inquisitor stayed staring at him for a while until he was far enough away.

Is this really where you wanted me? She knew who she was trying to talk to in her mind.

Looking around, she couldn't see anything that could help her out. Then she looked to the ground at her feet and sunk down onto her knees, assuming a typical meditative pose. There's only one way to find out.

The rest of the day was quiet and calm, exactly what Ezra had wanted it to be. Hera made some preparations and took the Ghost into hyperspace back towards Lothal. The trip would still take a few hours, but it gave them all time to relax as a family.

Ezra had spent a while with Jacen and Sabine, watching happily as the boy asked question after question to both of them. His earlier conversation with Hera still stuck with him but they didn't have to deal with it just yet. When Jacen had tired himself out, Hera tucked him away for the night after a long series of goodbyes. Ezra tried his hand at some dejarik against Sabine, testing his skills after all these years. He liked to think he put up a good show but the Mandalorian had little trouble beating him and enjoyed every second of it. Ezra didn't mind though; it was nice to see her happy.

Zeb and Kallus made their way back too, but the ex-Imperial had his own assignments to handle and promised to catch-up with them later. The Lasat sat with the two of them and soon after Chopper finished whatever he was doing and came to grumble at them all.

When Hera finally came back into the common area, she stopped in her tracks when she saw them all together. The Twi'lek leaned in the doorway, looking at her family with a warm and happy smile.

"I hope you lot are behaving", she warned jokingly.

Zeb laughed, "Heh, you know us."

"Come on, Hera", Sabine pointed to the empty space beside Zeb around the dejarik board, "Come join."

The pilot walked over and sat down opposite her, leaning back with a sign into the seat.

"Karabast, how long has it been since we've done this?", Zeb rubbed his head.

"Too long", Ezra sighed.

It really had been too long since the Ghost family had sat down together. Kanan had still been there when they'd last spent some time together that wasn't on the battlefield or planning some upcoming mission. It had been so long that none of them really knew what to do next.

After a while, Sabine laughed, "Really? Five years and no one knows what to say?"

Hera smiled and stood up, "Give me a second. I know how to fix it."

The Twi'lek disappeared into the galley and emerged a minute later with a tray of steaming hot caf for each of them.

"I should have guessed", Ezra shook his head as the tray went down on the table.

"Nothing like a warm drink to settle us back in to things", Hera said as she handed a mug out to each of them. She slid back into her place beside Zeb and sipped on the drink.

Ezra took a moment to savour the taste. It had been so long since he'd been treated to Hera's favourite drink and he'd forgotten how much he loved it. Not as much as Hera did of course, he swore that woman could run exclusively on the stuff.

"I don't know where to start", Ezra set the mug down on the table. "How's it been? The war, Jacen, everything."

"The war has been tough on all of us", Hera began, "No one is coming out without scars, but you know that already. The Rebellion grew in the months after you left. A lot of familiar faces makes for a lot of allies but a lot of pain when you lose them too."

"Sabine told me about Scarif, Hoth, Endor, and all the others." Ezra shifted uncomfortably, "And Alderaan."

Zeb winced and grumbled, "Karabast, Alderaan. Part of me still doesn't think it's real."

"I'm sorry", Ezra saw how much the memory hurt his old friend, "I can't imagine what it must have been like."

Sabine stared off to the side, lost in though, "For a while we weren't sure what was going to happen. Some people feared the worst, that any planet might be next. Lothal was openly independent and we all thought... you know."

The thought filled him with dread. His home destroyed by a planet-sized battle station while he was out in the middle of nowhere. And not just his home, his friends with it, even Sabine. He couldn't imagine what it must have been like to live like that. Ezra gave her a sympathetic look and somehow the Mandalorian managed to force a sort of smile through.

"But they didn't come. They lost, we destroyed that battlestation and that monster Tarkin with it", Sabine's anger at that man was still there even now.

"It's no use focusing on the bad parts. The point is that we won. The Empire is gone and we lived to see it through", Hera told them. "Things are getting better and the future looks good", she looked over to the door that led to the cabins, probably thinking of Jacen.

"I have to ask, where was Jacen in all this?", Ezra asked a question that had been on his mind since he'd come back. "I mean, Sabine told be that you were still flying but of course she didn't say anything about him before I came back."

Hera huffed a laugh, "He was at Scarif. I was heavily pregnant when I flew in the battle."

"Yeah, and I still haven't forgiven you for it", Sabine said unhappily, "You could have gotten yourself hurt."

"Sabine...", Hera's hand reached over to hers, "I told you before. If we didn't get those plans then it all would have been over."

"I know. I just... ugh", the Mandalorian sighed.

"What about later? Sabine said you were still flying at Endor so where was he?", Ezra continued.

Sabine let go of Hera's hand and took another sip, "He was with me at Endor."

Ezra furrowed his brow, "With you?"

"Yes?", Sabine looked almost offended, "Why are you surprised? Did you think I couldn't look after him?"

"No no no, that's not what I meant", Ezra raised his hands and leaned back from her.

Hera scowled at them both, "Knock it off, you two."

Sabine's harsh expression softened but not before her elbow jabbed into his side. He'd barely been back on the Ghost for a few hours and already he was finding ways to annoy her. Yeah, just like old times.

"Anyway", Hera continued, "Jacen went to a few places. I had him on Lothal and we stayed there for the first two or three months. After that, whenever I wasn't on missions then he'd be with me. If I was in the fleet or on base with Zeb and had to go somewhere, him and Kallus would look after him."

"Wait, Zeb? You looked after Jacen?", Ezra laughed in disbelief.

"Yeah, he and his boyfriend were quite good at it", Sabine teased.

"Hey!", Zeb growled, "You've been doing those jokes for years."

"And I'll keep doing them, big guy", she smiled back.

"As I was saying", Hera shook her head at the two of them, "Jacen went different places when I wasn't there. My father had him a few times and, I have to admit, he did a good job. Not what'd you expect from him but Ryloth was safe and, well, he loves his grandson."

Cham Syndulla looking after a baby? Ezra would pay to see that. The old revolutionary never struck him as the caring child-rearing type. Still, he was glad to hear Hera's father was doing alright and was still a part of her life. He knew first-hand that their relationship had been a tough one and it was good to know that those times had been put behind them.

"And then he was on Lothal with me too", Sabine said happily.

Ezra rubbed his head, "Don't take this the wrong way but... I just didn't see you as the looking after kids type."

"And why's that?, Sabine glared.

"She's great, a natural", Hera tried to defuse the situation. A sly smirk appeared on her lips, "You'll be great when you have kids of your own."

Sabine's ire turned to Hera, "Oh really?"

"Uhhh, so Zeb, how was life?", Ezra asked quickly to avoid making things worse.

The Lasat was just as eager to move things along, "Oh, you know, it's alright."

"How's Lira San?", Ezra forced a nervous smile as Sabine seemed to calm down beside him.

Zeb waved his hand, "It's good. My people are starting to go out into the galaxy again. It'll take time but things will get better."

"I can't believe you're such good friends with Kallus now."

"How do you think I feel? First time I met him he tried to kill me", Zeb laughed. "But he's worked hard to help our people. There's no grudge against him."

"He's family", Hera said, "Doesn't matter that he used to be Imperial. He's still family."

Zeb leaned back in his chair and slung his arms behind his head. "So, kid", he stretched out his back with an audible crack, "Where have you been all this time?"

That was a complicated question. From jungle exile to travelling Jedi Knight, it had been a chaotic few months. The time before that was calm enough, if more than a bit lonely, and it'd been an experience that he'd carry with him for the rest of his life, for better or worse.

Ezra settled in to tell a highly condensed version of the last few years. "Well I woke up after the jump and managed to get a shuttle but the hyperdrive was damaged so I, uh, ended up being forced down on a planet."

"Ezra Bridger!", Hera told him sternly, "What have I told you about always checking the diagnostics before take-off?"

"I know, I know. I was in a rush. I'm sorry", Ezra apologised to her. "Anyway, I ended up on this jungle planet with trees and wildlife. There were these tiny little creatures with two little legs and giant eyes that just took over the shuttle as soon as I arrived."

"What did you call them? Loth-lizards?", she laughed at the name again.

Ezra jokingly pushed her, "I missed home, alright? Yeah, the loth-lizards and I hung out for a while and I made another friend. This predator tried to attack me on my first night and I held him off but gave him some food. He ended up coming back and then", Ezra shrugged, "I made a friend, Argos. We hunted, we hung out, all that stuff."

Zeb listened with interest, "What happened to him?"

His mood soured and the painful memories started to come back, "I was there for years and then this ship arrived. I knew the Empire might come looking for me but... the was an Inquisitor."

"I thought there weren't any of those guys left?", Zeb

Ezra slumped his shoulders, "So did I. More troops came after and we did a good job holding them off but... Argos didn't make it."

Sabine's hand rested on his arm and Zeb leaned forward, "I'm sorry, Ezra. I didn't realise."

"It's alright", the Jedi told him. "I ended up stealing the Inquisitor's ship and escaping. The force guided me to a desert planet in the middle of nowhere. I landed and followed this call to an old temple on the surface. I went in then I had a vision or something of Master Yoda. That's when he knighted me and-"

"Wait a second", Zeb interrupted, "Knighted you?"

"Oh yeah", Ezra shrugged, "Guess a lot has happened and I'm losing track of if a bit." Between coming back, seeing them all again, meeting Jacen, getting the mission from Yoda and everything else, his knighthood wasn't the biggest thing on his mind right now.

Zeb slapped him hard on the back, "Karabast, kid. Congratulations."

"Thanks, Zeb. It was all Kanan's training."

"You know he'd be proud of you", Sabine squeezed his arm a bit.

Hera smiled, "He was already proud of you."

Kanan's memory had been at the front of his mind for most of the day. Seeing the Ghost was enough to do that, let alone meeting Jacen and trying to settle back into things. It would take time to adjust to life here without him but it was nice to think about Kanan now and again, just to appreciate everything he did for all of them.

Hera sipped her car and leaned back in her seat, "When we get back to Lothal, we've got to show you something. Ryder turned the old fuel depot into a garden for Kanan, it's... you just have to see it."

A memorial? It felt a bit odd to talk about Kanan in that way. Still, it was a fitting tribute. Kanan had given his life for Lothal and it was nice to know Lothal had something to remember that sacrifice by.

"We'll be back on Lothal tomorrow anyway, what we do when we're there is up to you", Hera had already set the Ghost on course through hyperspace.

"I bet you can't wait to go home. Five years is a long time not to see it", Zeb said.

Ezra took a moment to look around at his family. At the grumpy droid sitting under the table and probably thinking up ways to cause them problems. At his old roommate and brother-in-arms who went from his greatest rival to one of his closest friends. At the woman who managed to almost raise him and Sabine for years, as well as Jacen after them, whilst in the midst of a galaxy-wide conflict. At the Mandalorian by his side, the woman who he cared for more than he could ever put to words and loved more than he thought was possible.

"You guys are my family. I'm already home"

Sabine rolled her eyes with a smile, "Being sweet doesn't excuse being cheesy."

"Hey, it's me. What'd you expect?", he grinned.

Her disapproving sigh couldn't hide the smile on her face.

"Well then", Hera raised her mug of caf and held it above the middle of the table, "To family."

They all raised their mugs, "To family."

After the toast, they settled down and talked the rest of the evening away. Hours passed of them swapping stories, jokes, and anecdotes about their time apart.

Ezra didn't know when they'd drifted off but he did remember waking up a few hours later. The rest of the family was out cold. Hera, on the far side, slept peacefully with a hand resting on Chopper's dome. The droid must have been powered down, or he'd still be grumbling about something or other. Zeb was next to her and clearly his snoring hadn't gotten any better. Ezra was still used to it after sharing a cabin for so many years, and it was an odd reminder of happier times.

His attention turned to the weight leaning on his side. And then there's Sabine. The Mandalorian must have been fast asleep like the others with her head tipping lazily onto his left shoulder.

Hera's words from earlier that day played over in his head, "Make sure she knows what she means to you." Making every effort not to wake her, Ezra slowly moved his arm and gently put it around her sleeping form. He wasn't trying to wake her or deal with all those feelings right now, but they'd lost enough time already and it couldn't hurt to start to show how he felt.

"Good night, Sabine", he whispered and shut his eyes.

She started to stir and Ezra was scared he'd woken her. Instead, she leaned in a bit closer and drew her arm around him, clearly still awake the whole time.

"Night, Ezra."


Chapter Text



Ezra stood in awe in the cockpit of the Ghost, staring down at the planet he called home. The world had regained its beautiful bright greens and blues across the surface and soft white clouds enveloped much of it. It was so much different compared to the last time he'd seen it.

"Welcome home", Hera said as she flicked a few switches on the console.

"I still don't believe it", he breathed.

Zeb patted him on the back, "Believe it, kid."

Hera guided the ship down toward the surface. Ezra recognised the area from orbit and knew they were heading to Capital City. He stared out the window and took in the gorgeous landscape of the place he'd longed to return to for years. The clouds were light and clear, not stained orange by the Empire's industry. The oceans were clean and calm, covering large areas of the surface in a glistening blue. The land itself looked refreshed and healthy. It had recovered from the damage inflicted by the Empire and fields of lush grass stretched out into rolling hills along the horizon.

Then he could see Capital City. It looked so much better without the Imperial Dome looming over everything. In its place, new buildings stretched high into the sky, the whole city a beacon welcoming him back home. Ryder clearly worked hard to help clean this place up and the results were showing.

The comm blared with a new voice, "General Syndulla, welcome home. Governor Azadi requests your attendance in the usual place."

"Of course, on our way", Hera replied and steered the ship toward the space dock.

It was funny. In all his years of living here, he'd never once actually landed at the main city docks. It had always been reserved for Imperials and the Ghost wasn't exactly welcome above city airspace all those years ago.

Sabine tapped him on the shoulder, "Come on, let's get to the cargo bay."

He took another awed look at the city before following her and Zeb to the exit ramp, ready and waiting to set foot on his home world. Ezra was more than eager to get going as he felt the Ghost touchdown onto the ground. Hera came down soon after with Jacen tagging along beside her, holding onto her hand as they walked.

"After you", Hera pointed to the door control as she and Jacen came down the ladder.

Ezra didn't hesitate to enthusiastically smash the button down. It opened up to a small welcoming party was waiting on the landing pad. Ezra didn't recognise most of the faces but he could easily spot the trimmed white moustache of Lothal's Governor.

"Well that's a face I haven't seen in a long time. Ezra Bridger", Ryder said as they stepped down from the ramp.

"Ryder!", Ezra greeted him with a handshake, "It's good to see you."

The Governor shook back, "I was beginning to think you weren't coming back."

The rest of the crew walked up behind him, Sabine coming to the front to see Ryder.

"Some of us had to go out there and drag him back", Sabine winked at Ezra.

Ryder chuckled, "A job well done then, Captain Wren."

"Woah, Captain?", Ezra's mouth hung open, "You didn't say anything about that."

"I did say I was working with the militia", Sabine grinned.

"That's... wow. Congratulations, Captain", Ezra gave her an exaggerated salute.

She playfully hit him, "Alright, Mr. Jedi Knight."

"Jedi Knight?", Ryder gave an impressed huff, "It's only right. I'd say you earned it." The man put a hand on Ezra's shoulder, "What you did for Lothal, for all of us, gave this whole planet another chance. All of us owe you our lives and and a debt we'll never repay. And that's true for all of you", Ryder nodded to the rest of the crew, "But especially you, Ezra."

"It was a team effort", Ezra smiled at his family.

"Now, no doubt you want to see how we've spruced up the place. Follow me, this way", Ryder called to them all and pointed to two landspeeders parked nearby.

The rest of the welcoming party let them pass, their suits and attire suggested they were probably some politicians or officials from Ryder's administration. Ryder hopped in the lead speeder beside the driver, with Ezra and Sabine in the rear. Zeb called shotgun on the second, with Hera sitting in the back with Jacen and Chopper.

As the driver turned on the engine, Ryder turned over his shoulder and called to Hera in the rear speeder, "Now, General Syndulla, I have to tell you that this wasn't my idea but once word got out there was no stopping it."

"What wasn't your idea?", she asked suspiciously.

The Governor chuckled and winked at Ezra, "You'll see."

The two speeders drove away from the Ghost and towards the large doors that led out of the dock, slowing to a halt as they reached them. Sabine's hand found his arm and she gave him a reassuring smile. Again he remembered Hera's words, 'make sure she knows.' Before the doors opened fully, he placed his hand on top of hers but stopped short of intertwining their fingers, the contact was enough to let her know without pressing things too far. Ezra saw her smile brighten before the doors opened and a chorus of cheers, music, and shouting erupted around them.

Ahead of them, the streets of Capital City were lined with thousands upon thousands of citizens cheering as the speeders rolled by. They filled out the roadsides, the alleyways, the windows, even the rooftops were full of ecstatic faces welcoming their return.

"Ezra! Ezra! Ezra!"

"You hear that, Ezra?", Ryder laughed to him over the noise, "You gave them their freedom. That's your name they're cheering."

The crowds waved their arms as the convoy passed. Some had made banners with messages and pictures on them, trying to catch his attention. Placards showing the Ghost were being held up, helmets modelled after Sabine's, lightsabers like his own, even a few images of his own face with affectionate, admiring, and a few... less than innocent messages.

"I wasn't expecting this welcome", he shouted to Ryder and awkwardly raised his hand to wave at the crowds.

"Once word got out that you were on your way, there was no stopping it. Damn near everyone took the day off for this."

Sabine nervously waved back too and behind them Ezra saw Zeb's massive arms waving at the crowds. Jacen looked amazed, staring wide-eyed at the throes of people that had turned out for them.

The speeders went through a long lap of the city. Leaving the space dock, they drove down the main streets past thousands of people that had come out to see them. Then their convoy went through some of the old market sectors, where shopkeepers and staff all came out to watch them go by. The whole city seemed to grind to a halt from them and the Jedi was beyond humbled. Ryder was doing his best to explain what had changed and what they'd built in the last few years, but Ezra was too overwhelmed to take it all in. Next, they came through the residential district where everyone from the youngest Rodian to the oldest Ithorian waved their arms and cheered as the speeders went by. All the while, his hand rested gently on Sabine's.

The buildings and the crowds thinned as they reached the road out of Capital City. Ryder promised they'd come back to the city later, after they'd seen to a few things. Ezra immediately recognised the route they were taking as they turned off the road and went out over the plains. After all, how could he not recognise the route back to his old tower?

The open plains were beautiful again, just like they were when he was younger, growing healthily and naturally as far as the eye could see. Not far away from their convoy, Ezra caught sight of two oversized ears poking out from the grass.

"Hey look, loth-cats!", he pointed out to Sabine.

She leaned over and laughed, "Guess they missed you too."

A few more poked their heads up as they went, drawn by the noise of the speeder engines as they went by. The tiny creatures were every bit as adorable as he remembered. It wasn't long before he saw another familiar creature standing up on a hill far away, watching the convoy quietly as they passed. A loth-wolf? Ezra hadn't seen them so openly before.

"They're more common now", Sabine explained, noticing his surprise. "They're not all over the place but we're seeing more of them."

It was a sign of how much the world had recovered. There was probably still a long way to go but clearly Lothal was moving in the right direction. At last, Ezra saw the familiar tower rising up in the distance. In a way, he'd called it home for longer than any place he could remember. He'd been on his own for almost eight years and this place was all he had. Sure, the Ghost was more like home but the old radio tower would always have a special place in his heart. However, the closer he got, the more he could tell that something was different about it.

His friend's knowing smile caught his eye. "You figured it out yet?"

Ezra squinted at her, "What did you do to my tower?"

The speeders came to a stop a few dozen metres away from the base, giving Ezra a full view of it. He moved his hand off Sabine's and hopped out of the speeder. The others all did the same as Ezra looked up at the towering building. It was cleaner than he'd left it, which probably wasn't hard to do, with new panels and a fresh coat of paint, almost good as new. Someone had taken the time to not just repair it but also maintain it since he'd been gone. There wasn't a question about who that someone has been.

"Sabine?", the woman was already standing at his side.

"Got it in one", she answered.

"Why'd do you do all this?", Ezra still couldn't tear his eyes away.

Sabine shrugged, "It's your home, it was a nice thing to do. Besides, I wasn't going to live there in the state you left it in."

"It looks... wow. I can't imagine how much work this took."

"She did it all herself. All we did was give her some materials", Ryder chimed in.

Sabine must have seen the amazement in his face as he stood gawking at the tower. She nudged him gently, "Welcome home, Ezra Bridger."

Ezra peeled his eyes off the tower and set them on her. The urge overtook him and he slung his arms around her, hugging her close without a care for the others watching.

"Thank you", he whispered to her.

"Alright, love birds", Hera smirked and came up beside them, "There'll be time for that later."

"Hera!", Sabine groaned as she let go of him.

Ezra cleared his throat, "Ahem, yeah, let's go inside."

The young Jedi hastily lead them toward the tower and see for himself what Sabine had done with the place. Seeing Lothal again, the crowds out, the wildlife thriving and his home renewed, all with his friends at his back, made for an exhausting day - and Ezra treasured every second of it.

Meditation. An interesting choice. Thrawn watched the Inquisitor from the hill where their ship had landed, still able to distinguish her black form against the rocky environment. The Fourth Sister had made no attempt to return to the ship with him nor to use the scanner herself to see what else she could discover. That only strengthened the idea that she already knew far more than she was letting on. She felt she could learn more through meditation and tapping into the force, without relying on the two sources of knowledge that had already provided her with information.

What, then, was buried beneath them? Something trapped? Something forgotten? Something lost? Why was a compass constructed to enable one to find this location? None of the answers were clear, but they all pointed back to an old saying he'd learned long ago: some things in the galaxy were purely evil, beyond compromise and beyond understanding, and deserved only to be destroyed. Thrawn feared that this mystery might see this truth played out again. Whoever or whatever was lurking beneath them had to be found, identified and, if necessary, eradicated.

The Chiss climbed aboard the freighter and made his way to the communication terminal in the cargo hold. The small freighter had been taken from pirates by himself and Commander Vanto during the long search for Nightswan. It continued to be an experience that stayed with Thrawn and this freighter served as a permanent reminder of his opponent's talent during his early years with the Empire.

Thrawn keyed in the comm address for his fleet and waited for the three holographic figures to materialise. It took several moments for the figure of Captain Pellaeon, Commodore Faro, and Captain Sarlis to appear.

"Grand Admiral", Pellaeon saluted and the other two followed suit.

"Captains, Commodore", he acknowledged, "What is the condition of the fleet."

"The Invictus had been retrieved and is undergoing repairs", Sarlis said quickly. Proud of her contribution, a rare situation indeed. Thrawn did not despise the Captain but she continued to be a testament to the Empire's propensity for political promotion over military or strategic achievement.

"Excellent work, Captain. Did they offer any further information on the intruders?", Thrawn asked.

She hesitated, "Well, I... uh"

"No, sir", Commodore Faro answered, "I ordered them to be interrogated but they knew nothing more of the attackers."

Sarlis shot her an indignant look, "You interfered in my operation without authorisation?"

Pellaeon's figure turned his head to her, "She had my authorisation and I act with the Grand Admiral's confidence."

"Captain Pellaeon is correct and I commend your initiative, Commodore."

Captain Sarlis' anger relented, "I apologise, Grand Admiral."

Thrawn raised a hand, "I assure you, that is unnecessary. Dismissed, Captain Sarlis."

The woman looked at the other two holographic figures that Thrawn had made no attempt to dismiss. She feels as if she is not trusted, that something is being hidden from her. For now, nothing more can be done.

"Y-yes, sir", she saluted and shut down her connection.

"She's not happy. I think even she can tell there's something going on that she's not seeing", Pellaeon grumbled.

"Our true objectives must remain unknown to as many people as possible. We cannot risk the Fourth Sister catching wind of our intentions." Thrawn glanced at the door, ensuring that the Inquisitor was not intruding on them. "What of the research into the items retrieved from the surface?"

His suspicions about the destruction they found on the world Ezra Bridger had escaped on seemed all the more justified with their discovery of yet another secret structure on a lost planet.

Faro grimaced, "It's like you said, sir. The bodies have no evidence of toxins, chemicals, or radiation. It's also clear that whatever happened wasn't down to temperature extremes or natural decay either."

Pellaeon's hand came to his moustache, "There's no explanation for how they died, certainly not a conventional one."

The culprit was now without question. "Then our suspicions have been confirmed", he said ominously.

"What's our next course of action?", Faro asked.

Thrawn held up the scanner that was still in his hands. "My reasons for contacting you are two-fold. I also have progress to report. The compass drew us to another empty world however our surveying suggests there is a colossal structure buried deep beneath the surface. I have no doubts that this structure is what we have been searching for."

"How can you be sure?"

"Several reasons, Commodore. The compass' mere existence suggests that this is a location of significance and there are no notable features elsewhere on the world." Thrawn cast another cautionary glance out of the door and toward the empty expanse, "Additionally, our Inquisitor has been troubled by something. She is tight-lipped, as was expected, but it is evident that she possesses knowledge of this world or what is to be found here that she is keeping from us."

Pellaeon took on the information with a concerned look, "Can you get into the structure?"

"Our scanners do not detect any access points although we have yet to cover the entire area. I do not, however, suspect that we will find one."

Faro shook her head, "Why bury something so far below the surface, block off any entrances, and then make something to help you find it anyway?"

Thrawn reached for the compass again and inspected it. The glowing of the stone had not returned and the device seemed to be defunct. "It is possible that those who constructed this compass and those who created the structure are not one in the same. Or, perhaps something had to be kept safe here temporarily but for some reason was never retrieved. At this moment, we lack the information to be certain." The Chiss looked again at the centre stone, "However, the point of the compass is moot. It ceased functioning not long after we arrived. There's some significance to that I'm sure, but I do not know what."

"Then what are your orders, Grand Admiral?", the Commodore asked.

The Chiss paused and considered his response. "I need a full accounting of all munitions, explosives, and heavy machinery amongst the fleet. We will need such tools at our disposal to reach this structure."

"Are you sure that's wise, Grand Admiral?", Pellaeon questioned, "If this is the threat the Emperor perceived, perhaps it's best to await reinforcements."

"Seeking alternative allies would cost us time that we do not have, and the Inquisitor is already ahead of us in her knowledge of what lies beneath. It is only a matter of time until this threat is uncovered and I intend us to be the ones to do so. If we, with the means and intent to oppose this threat, are the ones to discover it, then we avoid the risk of it falling into the hands of those unable or unwilling to do what is necessary."

"Hmm, fair point", the old officer conceded.

Thrawn tapped several buttons on the console. "We are in agreement then. I am relaying our coordinates now", he keyed in the coordinates and dispatched them back to the fleet.

"We'll depart immediately, sir", Faro told him.

Thrawn stood at ease and addressed both of them, "Rest assured, we shall unravel this mystery whatever the cost. And, when Skywalker and Bridger return, we shall ensure that any threat is dealt with severely and immediately."

"As you say, Grand Admiral. Whatever the cost", Faro saluted.

"Of course, sir", Pellaeon gave a gruff laugh, "Though I'm starting to think this is taking too long. I'm still counting on a peaceful retirement after this."

Thrawn's mouth curled slightly into a thin smile, "A well earned reward, Captain."

His two allies' holograms dissipated, leaving him alone once again with the Fourth Sister. Whatever the Inquisitor was hiding from them would soon be forced to the surface. In truth, Thrawn could not conceive of a situation where their alliance wouldn't collapse, but he did not regret it. This threat to the galaxy, to his own people, had to be stopped at any cost.

To that end, they were on the right path. It only remained to be seen how successfully they would all see that path through.

The day had been long and tiring in all the right ways. After their arrival and brief visit to his tower, Ezra and the others had gone back to Capital City where they'd been treated to more crowds and adoration. He'd been shown a few places, both new and familiar, across the city. The site of the old Imperial Dome had been replaced with a collection of new amenities and services. A hospital, schools, stores, and apartments were just some of the things that stood where there'd once been a symbol of Imperial oppression. They'd shown him the markets and residential areas and all the improvements that had been made since.

Daylight was finite though and there were several places that he'd still have to visit in the next few days. The rebuilt area of what used to be Tarkintown was apparently a thriving new settlement. Sabine had promised to take him to the old Republic Senate building where she had some sort of surprise waiting for him. Most of all, he wanted to see the Kanan Jarrus Memorial Garden. Built on the site of the old fuel depot, it sounded like a perfect tribute to his mentor and friend.

Now though, it was time for some much needed rest. Ezra had decided to take some time for himself in his old tower. He'd seen inside briefly earlier on but hadn't had the opportunity to just sit and take it all in. Hera had moved the Ghost over here and the others were going to be staying there tonight, leaving the tower for him.

It was crazy to think how far he'd come these last few years, and how much had changed in the last few months. Ezra couldn't remember the last time he'd sat up here and had time to reflect on things, he probably hadn't done that since his first months on the Ghost. The Ezra here right now was worlds apart from the Ezra of back then. He'd endured war, life and death struggles, grief, loss, hope, victory, defeat, isolation, and a bantha-load of other feelings that he couldn't even think of right now. There was still some bits of him that would never change though. The optimism, the sense of belonging he felt here, the love for his friends and his family - they were part of who he was and he'd never let them go, nor would anything take them from him in the future.

The Jedi brushed off the self-reflection, he'd done far too much of that in the last few years, and took some more time to appreciate what Sabine had done for this place.

The basic layout was still the same. A large room at the front with two smaller rooms leading off it. Sabine had the main room converted into a sort of living area, one of the rear rooms into a personal bedroom, and the other closed door was covered in paint and colour. Ezra hadn't looked inside yet but was split on it either being a personal studio or Jacen's room. Maybe both.

Sabine's art in its various forms was everywhere. She'd done an amazing job is sprucing up the place and giving its walls a bright new coat of light-blue paint. Her art was also there in another sense. On canvases hung to the wall or mounted on easels were paintings of landscapes and animals, just liked he'd hoped she'd make. There were some of flowers, a particularly striking one of a tall sapphire flower caught his eye, and there were others of people. It was sapphire again that drew his attention to the painting Hera mentioned, a carefully done image of himself. She'd done a remarkable job on it, if he had anything to say about it.

Of course, it was still originally his tower and she'd kept some evidence of that. He was surprised to find his entire collection of helmets spread out across the room. Ezra stepped over and took up one of them in his hands, a TIE pilot helmet he'd stolen from a crashed fighter not long before meeting the others.

"Those are gonna be worth a lot soon", Sabine's voice came from the open door to the tower. "No more Imperials to steal them from after all."

Ezra laughed and put the helmet back down in its place, "Yeah, I never really though of that. I'm surprised you kept them all."

She stepped into the room, "Of course I kept them. It's your home, I wasn't going to throw out all your stuff."

"Maybe it was mine, but you sure made it your own", Ezra looked around at the paintings again.

Sabine shrugged, "I got hit with some inspiration while I was here."

He smirked at her and pointed towards the painting of himself, "Oh really?"

"Ugh, you're impossible", she scoffed and rolled her eyes.

"What? I like it, it's good."

"Thanks", she replied meekly. She stood beside him and nodded to the painted door, "That's where Jac stays when he's here. Gave him a whole room to himself. I think he liked being in 'Uncle Ezra's' tower."

The Jedi leaned against a cabinet by the wall, "I have to ask, what did you guys tell him about me?"

"Oh you know, that you're annoying, an idiot, a constant pain", Ezra halfheartedly shoved her. "I'm only kidding. We did tell him a bit of that but we told him the good stuff too. Brave, kind, honourable, honest, and there were stories too. About how you crossed blades with Darth Vader, about how you mind-controlled space whales, about how you tried stealing from us the moment you met us..."

Ezra cut her off, "Hey, we were both stealing from the Empire."

Her mouth opened and her eyes narrowed, "This again? We had those crates!"

"But they were the Empire's", Ezra replied.

She huffed and didn't give him a reply, "We told him about loads of our adventures. Finding Rex, fighting on Mandalore, Geonosis with Saw, even Hondo."

There was more than a bit of contempt on her face at the mention of Hondo, either from past memories or more recent ones. The Mandalorian had never warmed to the pirate, and it was her loss as far as he was concerned.

"Jac loves it here, the whole planet. I guess because of Kanan and you that he just feels a connection with this place. Thinks it's the prettiest in the galaxy", she sighed happily, "Honestly, I can't say he's wrong."

Ezra intentionally kept his eyes on her, "Sure is beautiful."

Oblivious to his rather obvious attempt to flirt with her, she perked up, "Oh, you have to see Capital City at night. Without the power restrictions under the Empire, it looks amazing."

Sabine grabbed his wrist and pulled him towards the door and out to the balcony. They leaned side by side on the guardrail to take in the sight. The view was staggering, everything that he'd dreamed it could be. Under a perfectly clear sky, the bright lights of the city shone across the landscape, the towering buildings and bustling centres were awash with colour and activity. Neon lights showed where clubs and cantinas had sprung up and the lights of speeders through the streets showed that, even at this hour, the city didn't sleep. The land around was equally beautiful. The moons reflected on the sea across the horizon and its pale light was cast across the plains over the horizon.

The Ghost was sitting on the grass near the tower, Hera having moved it there earlier in the evening. The rest of the crew was using their quarters while Ezra, apparently, was having his tower back. Ezra loved the thought of that offer, he loved what Sabine had done with it, but he still didn't feel right kicking her out of her home.

"Hey, Sabine", he said after a while, "I appreciate what you did to the tower and it's amazing but I don't feel right taking it. You keep it, I'll find somewhere else."

Sabine turned her head to him, "No, it's yours. I did it for you, there's other places I can go."

Still as stubborn as ever. "We could always share", he offered jokingly.

The Mandalorian paused and glanced back into the tower. "Yeah...", she pursed her lips, "There'd be room."

The answer caught him by surprise. "I... I was joking, I mean..."

She looked flustered, "Oh, sorry... I didn't..."

Ezra rubbed his neck, "Well... if you're okay with it then I'd be alright with it. It means neither of us will have to find somewhere else."

The Mandalorian bit her lip and thought for a second, "Sure, I'm okay with it."

Well... that's that then. They'd been on the Ghost for years but in separate rooms on a big ship with other people around too. Living together was going to be completely different situation. Just the two of them, alone. Part of him was excited, moving in with his best friend on his home planet after years of isolation. On the other hand, part of him was a bit nervous. Not because of her, not really, or at least not because of what she'd be like. They'd have a blast together no doubt but living together might bring up some things that Ezra hadn't really dealt with yet. Sabine was his best friend, his teammate, his rescuer and his most trusted companion... and something more. What had begun as a childish crush of a beautiful girl had evolved into an unbreakable friendship, but one that still had some unspoken feelings beneath.

Ezra loved her. There was no question about it. He loved her completely, respected her, would lay down his life for her, and had kept those feelings alive even with years of separation. Going from complete isolation to living with her was going to draw those things out even more than they already had in the last few weeks. There'd been a few times where he thought he'd glimpsed something similar from her, but he'd learned long ago that there was no hope in trying to read Sabine Wren's feelings, and he'd never intrude on her privacy and use the force to sense her thoughts. If they were going to do this, Ezra had to face up to the truth.

Their friendship would endure regardless of whether she returned the feelinfs, their first few years had seen him get used to the sting of rejection. Still, if he was going to teach Jacen, his mind had to be clear and he had to be at his best. That meant following in Kanan's example and dealing with these feelings head on, no matter what. The best thing to do was not to sit there and pretend his feelings didn't exist but to accept them, accommodate them and, if the stars aligned, manage them alongside everything else.

"Make sure she knows."  Dammit, Hera. Why are you so good at making me listen to you?

Ezra's hand started to rub absently on the handrail, "Hey, listen... I know I already said it but..."

"If you're gonna say 'thank you' again then you're not staying with me", she threatened sarcastically.

He laughed at her, "Alright, alright. I just... I can't ever repay you for what you've done for me and Lothal and..."

"You don't owe me anything, it's me and Lothal that owe you." She looked him in the eyes, "Don't sell yourself short."

Ezra smiled back at her and held the eye contact for a few seconds. It was honest, heartfelt and again... maybe a little...

"Uhh, ahem", Sabine looked away quickly, "I... uh, I'll... we should go get your things."

The Mandalorian hastily got up off the railing and went to leave. Without stopping for a second thought, Ezra reached out and gently caught her wrist.

"Wait. Just a second", his voice was low and his nerves started to rise.

She swallowed hard and turned back to him, "Ezra?"

"Hera said something to me the other day", Ezra began and turned back out over the darkened horizon, "About making sure people know what you mean to them when you still have the chance. She told me to make sure I... make sure I don't make the same mistake she did."

Sabine's lips parted slightly as Ezra's hand went back to habitually rubbing his arm. She leaned back on the railing with folded arms, watching him intently and nervously. Ezra didn't know if the realisation had dawned on her yet about what he wanted to tell her.

He kept his eyes downcast, "It got me thinking... I've never told you how I feel."

Ezra let the words hang as he tried to find the right way to say it. She had to have figured where he was going with this by now.

"I think I know."

Her interruption took him by surprise. "Wh-what?"

"I think I know how you feel."

Ezra stood up and looked right at her, "You do?"

"I think so", she unfolded her arms and pushed off from the railing, "One way to be sure..."

Sabine closed the gap between them before he could react, grabbed the front of his shirt with her hands, and pushed her lips on to his. It took him a second to even realise what was happening. Sabine... Sabine's kissing me? What do I doWhere do I put my hands? Do I say anything after? Am I really here or am I kissing Argos in my sleep or something? Ezra didn't know what he'd expected it to be like. It was a bit awkward and a bit clumsy, but in all honestly that was perfect for them. There'd been no romantic admission over a candle-lit dinner, no well rehearsed speech or cheesy poem, just them awkwardly fumbling around the issue before Sabine went all in with the direct approach.

She pulled back and smiled confidently at the bewildered man, "Told you I knew."

"I-I-I.. I didn't think...", Ezra stammered, his mind still in shock.

"I knew you'd come back one day", Sabine moved her hands from his chest and slid them around his neck.

Ezra settled his hands around her waist, his heart still racing. "I should have told you before it happened."

"Ezra...", Sabine sighed, "What matters is that we're here now. We already lost five years, let's not waste any more time wondering about 'what ifs'."

He squinted at her with a teasing smile, "When did you become good at this 'emotions' stuff?"

"I might be adapting what Hera said to me...", she admitted.

"Wait? Hera knew?" So that's why she wanted me to say it...

"Of course she knew", Sabine said, "It's Hera. I'd be amazed if she didn't have us both figured after Concord Dawn."

Aha, Concord Dawn! He knew it! He knew something changed with them during that mission.

Ezra shook his head, "I should have expected that."

Hera knew them both better than they knew themselves. Mother's intuition... Of course, without the implication that he and Sabine were siblings.

"I still can't believe it", Sabine kept her brown eyes on his.

"How do you think I feel? I fell for you the moment I saw you almost ten years ago", Ezra laughed at the old memories of his awful attempts woo her. "It took time but here we are."

She smiled and brought a hand out from around around his neck. "Not that...", she cupped his cheek, "I can't believe I kissed you with this beard on your face."

"This again?!", he groaned.

"You're not getting another one until it's gone. I mean it."

Ezra sighed, "I thought girls liked men with beards?"

Sabine winced, "Yeah, not this one."

He reluctantly brought his hand up and rubbed the beard, "Alright, I'll get rid of it. For you."

"Well aren't you the sweetest?", she teased and hugged him tightly, resting her head against his chest.

They stayed unmoved for a while, taking a much-needed moment to relax and let the galaxy pass them by.

"So what happens now?", Ezra asked after a while.

"We live here. Hera is thinking of settling down too, maybe Zeb and Kallus as well. I said that maybe they could live nearby, our own little corner of Lothal."

Ezra planted a kiss on her head, "That's be nice. Besides, if I'm training Jacen then we'll need to be close by."

"Sounds good", Sabine nodded lazily. "I've still got my job with the militia, can't be too careful even with the Empire defeated."

"You know, Captain", Ezra had been using the title all day. Of course he was proud and impressed, but he couldn't help but tease her, "I could use your help for lightsaber training. You did say that you've been practising the forms."

She pulled her head back and glared at him, "We'll see."

"You mean, 'of course I'll help you, dear'", Ezra corrected her.

The Mandalorian rolled her eyes playfully and nestled her head back into him, "What about, you know, the thing with Ahsoka and Luke?"

His mission was still looming behind everything. He may be home now, but their following of the trail to whatever Master Yoda had sensed was only beginning. The time would eventually come where they'd have to confront that threat, even if it meant turning their backs on home and setting out once more into the Unknown Regions. But that was then and this was now. Ezra would do his part when he was here but right now, this was what mattered.

"We'll deal with it when it comes. For now, let's just have this", he held her close for a few more minutes, staring out at the view from the tower.

"Come on...", Sabine unwrapped her arms from him, "Let's go get your things from the Ghost. Might as well let Hera know that we're... uh."

"Committed?", Ezra suggested.

She clearly liked that choice. "Committed", she repeated. "And then we're coming up here and getting rid of that beard."

Ezra couldn't find it in him to be even jokingly offended. The Jedi just sighed and took a hold of her hand as she went. Sabine was right, they'd lost enough time and Ezra wasn't going waste another second.

Sabine led the way out of the tower and back down to the Ghost. The future was uncertain, for them and for the galaxy as a whole. The fall of the Empire, the restoration of the Republic, the rebirth of the Jedi - all of it made for a galaxy unlike anything he or Sabine had seen. The prospect of training Jacen in the ways of the force, passing down to him the things that Kanan had taught, would be as much a learning experience for Ezra as it would be for Jacen. Coupled with readjusting to life on Lothal and settling into his new future with Sabine, the next few months were set to be interesting ones.

Still looming behind it all was his mission. While he was here, he'd have to exhaust every source of knowledge he could find to root out any information on what was lurking in the Unknown Regions. Meanwhile, Luke and Ahsoka would do their parts, traversing the galaxy and trying to piece together what they could. Then, eventually, the time would come to face whatever was out there.

But that time would have to wait. Ezra was home on Lothal for the first time in years. Reunited with his family after years of exile. With the woman he loved at his side and his own new apprentice to take under his wing, the future, for now, looked bright. How long that would stay true was anyone's guess.

Beneath her, the force surged and flowed unlike anything the Fourth Sister had ever known. As Thrawn went to report his findings to his allies, she was committed to finding out what lay beneath them. The more she meditated, the stronger she felt it rising, awakening, stirring. Eventually, she tried reaching out once more.

"Are you the one I spoke with?", she whispered quietly even though the Chiss was nowhere near. "What is this place? I've come to find you."

Silence. The movement of the force was her only answer.

"Why did you speak to me? I heard your voice at the temple. Tell me it's you that drew us here."

It had to be the voice. Why else would she have been led down this path if not to find it? Those words: 'Find me'. She'd upheld her end of the bargain. She'd endured that insufferable Chiss and his cronies and committed herself to finding what it was that wanted her help. This had to be the place and now... there was nothing.

She gritted her teeth and cursed under her breath. "Talking to ghosts. Lord Vader would be ashamed", she admonished herself.


The voice came suddenly from within her own head, just as before.

Her breath hitched in her throat, "It's you. I knew it!"

"You found me."

"Y-yes. Who are you?"

"Name... long ago."

"What are you doing out here? Why are you here?", she asked the entity.

"I have been... imprisoned. For so long."

"Imprisoned? By who?"

"Jedi. Sith."

Jedi and Sith? That made no sense. Why in the galaxy would they imprison anything?

"Why?", the Inquisitor shook her head in confusion,

"Mmmmm... they feared me. Hated me."

"The Jedi are gone and so are the Sith", her voice became more irritated. Whatever this was, if it was even real, must have been here for a long time.

"For so long I've watched. So long..."

"So you keep saying", she muttered, "How long?"


The Fourth Sister scoffed, "Don't be ridiculous."

"With time, even death can die."

With a laugh she stood up. "I'm going mad. Talking to the empty dese-"

Her breath left her and unseen tendrils wrapped around her throat. The Fourth Sister's body raised up and her feet searched for ground as she clawed helplessly at her throat, struggling for breath.

"I assure you. I am real."

The Inquisitor struggled in vain as the edges of her vision began to darken and the being's grip tightened around her neck.

"But you are of use to me."

She dropped to the ground, gasping for air and shaken to her core. "I-I will not be ordered around like this! I was trained by Lord Vader himself!"

"Such fire. Such anger."

Without warning it used the force to throw her to the side, slamming her down onto the rocky ground.

"You will submit, child."

"I shall not be- ahhh!"

Her body flew back and she landed hard on the floor again.

"Join me. Serve my will and I shall grant you the power you crave. Power denied to you by the Chiss… and Lord Vader."

How could it know about Thrawn? Had it been watching since she arrived… or even before? The Inquisitor pushed herself to her feet and panted heavily. She felt her anger swell but knew there'd be no hope. The power, the hatred, the confidence, surging from this being were beyond what she had faced.

With a pained grunt, she sunk to her knees. "I will do as you command, Master."


Her voice was trembling, "How can I serve you?"

"Free me. Release me from this prison and you will be rewarded with a place in my new Order."

Power. That was its offer. Every fibre of her being said to run but she knew there'd be no point. If it was right, if the Jedi were the ones who imprisoned it, then they had a shared goal in destroying Bridger. Then there was Thrawn, it seemed to know she hated him, and maybe it could help her be rid of the alien once and for all.

Besides, it still needed her to be free. She was still the one with the real power and when it was free it would owe her a debt, one that she'd have paid in the death of her enemies. Thrawn would die, Bridger would die, and all who stood in her way would fall at their feet. Then, when the time came and this being had done all it could for her, she could take her rightful place over all others in this galaxy.

Slowly, she pushed her battered body onto her feet and took a weary breath, "How can I reach you, my Lord?"

"Patience. All shall come in time. Now, tell me of this Vader..."


Chapter Text

With today's publishing of Chapter 20, the first half of this story is officially over. What started off as two paragraphs of conjecture on a Discord server became a novel and a half's worth of writing, consuming months of my life, stretching my ability as a writer, and becoming something that I'm immensely proud of. It's messy in places, I made a few missteps, and I still have my characters sigh way too often., but I'm happy so far. There's a few things I want to ramble about so I'll chuck them here, mostly for my own closure than for anything else.

Story and Stuff

There's no use me repeating what happened in the story already and it'd take too long anyway. Going from writing Ezrabine garbage to writing more general garbage was an interesting jump, but people seemed to enjoy it. I had the opportunity to use characters outside of the Ghost crew and this story gave me a chance to experiment with a couple of different things. I wrote Ezra and Sabine in much the same way as I'd written them before, albeit with less focus on how much they make a damn near perfect couple. Using Hera wasn't too much of a change, and I didn't use her as much as some of the other main characters of this tale.

Thrawn, Ahsoka, Luke, and Jacen proved to be the most difficult characters to write, for different reasons. Ahsoka just had no exact frame of reference to base her character on since she could well have changed so much after Malachor. I wanted to do my best to keep some sort of mystery and power about her, hence the crazy force stuff she can do, but also keep the lighthearted person she has been since her Clone Wars days. Luke was mostly based of Jedi Outcast/Jedi Academy Luke since it's the better fit for his role than a more OT Luke or miserable old ST Luke. Jacen was hard because toddlers are difficult, not much to explain there really. Finally, there's Thrawn. I have to admit, Thrawn was the one I enjoyed writing most of all because he's just a fun character to play with. The eloquent language and sense of calm control is just really satisfying to engage with, no matter how well you capture it in the end. His plan for Ezra/Luke has to be my single favourite aspect of this story, it's definitely one of the things that took the most effort to work into dialogue and scenes without making it too obvious or compromising his motivations. Thrawn is sort of the anti-hero of this, he's still the same villain from Rebels but he's the lesser of two evils compared with the Inquisitor and the Voice talking to her.

Before I move on, there is one massive error/omission I made a while ago that I never corrected - Thrawn's journal entries. The first ten chapters had small introductory paragraphs similar to the first canon Thrawn book that functioned sort of as the 'message' of that particular section but I ended up forgetting to add one in for chapter eleven, then twelve, and then for the rest of the story. I don't think I'll pick them up again for the future, they started to get a bit samey in my head so that's probably why I dropped them, but I am sorry for the stylistic inconsistency in that regard.

The Future

The whole point of the second half of this story is to confront the Voice. I'm calling it 'the Voice' because I need something to call it in the author's notes until I get a name for it. The characters will refer to it by whatever they know it as, if they know it at all, but I'll just call it 'the Voice.'

I won't give any massive spoilers for the second half but I will give a general idea of what's to come. The focus moves away from Rebels a bit and becomes something that's more widely Star Wars than the first half was. Rebels is still a huge part of it, whole plot lines are rooted in it, but the second half isn't picking up from Rebels like the first half did.

The first half had three main story threads going on alongside two semi-major ones: Ezra, Thrawn, and Ahsoka and Sabine were the main ones that were in all/nearly all of the chapters, while Hera and the Fourth Sister had their own side-plots. Hera's was pretty self contained and mostly occurred in the first few chapters while the Fourth Sister's came more towards the end and was quite heavily tied to Thrawn's. The second half is focused on three threads, plus one that's deeply tied to another. It's probably no surprise that Thrawn's is one of the main plots and then the Fourth Sister's is linked with him. The other two will be made up of the other characters, but in what combination and what role they have will be kept quiet for now. Suffice it to say, it lets me explore some different character dynamics, as well as some familiar ones, and puts me in the best position to give them the sort of progression or resolution that I want.

My plans for the future of this story have crystallised as I've written, and several ideas that are now core to the story and its characters were barely thought of, if at all, when I set out. The general story is the same but there's a few character arcs and ideas that have developed and made themselves clear organically as I go. In the last few days I've nailed down the last decision I'd been unsure of so now pretty much every single story beat is set in stone. Some of the finer details are still WIP, and the story is pretty much the same as what it is when I planned it at the start, but with these last details locked in I'm clear about where I'm headed.

There's really nothing specific I can give about the future of the plot that I haven't already said. It will tie in to other areas of Star Wars and seek to explain or build on things that have been mentioned before, such as the idea of the compasses that I've started with in this half. I hope I've at least interested some of you enough to come back for the second half. The second half is going to wrap up most questions I've raised, and a few wider ones that I wanted to give an answer to, and I promise it's not a series of events that every character is going to make it out of...

Finally, I will say that work on Chapter 21 has actually begun so I have started chipping away at the remainder. I like to write several chapters in advance of what I publish so don't expect 21 next week or anything, but things are actually moving with it.

Specific Acknowledgements

Just before I go, I do need to mention one or two people in particular. I think the first has to be WestwardGlance not only for his own stories (I probably don't need to tell you guys to go read them now, who here hasn't?) but for all the support he has given to me over these last few months. He proof-read my first chapters, gave me advice on story decisions I haven't been sure on, and has diligently read and reviewed everything I've put out. He has also permanently infected me with the Oxford comma, so he's the one to blame if you love it or hate it. I owe him a massive debt of gratitude... and a whole lot of apologies for taking digs at beards so often.

There's also RagnarDanneskjold who I always owe a thank you to for getting me into fanfic in the first place. I think he was the first person I pitched this idea to months ago and he's also been following the last few months too. I also have to thank him for getting the word out about this story on Reddit. I really appreciate the extra publicity.

All the other writers in our little network deserve a shout-out. SweetSinger2010, ddaulton94, springfieldbluebird, and TheYellowLantern, as well as a few other non-writers whose names I'm not sure I should put here but are still awesome.

I'll Stop Now I Promise

I swear a good 10-15% of this story has been author's notes so I'll put a lid on it here. The last thing I have to say is a thank you to all the regular readers and reviewers who've given up their time to have a look at this. It's hard to communicate how nice it is to have feedback and to know there's people who check in every few days/weeks to catch up on the stuff you throw together. I'm extremely grateful for all the 25,000+ people who have dropped by since July and I hope I can see a lot of you again for when I get around to finishing this.

Until I get the chance to come back again, thank you,
- Lothcat1138

TL;DR - Loved writing this, work has begun on part 2 but don't expect to see it for a couple months, all you guys are awesome.

Chapter Text


Date: 6 ABY, just over one year after the Battle of Jakku, the signing of the Galactic Concordance, and the return of Ezra Bridger.

Operation Tarturus was proceeding much as Thrawn had expected. Slow, difficult, frustrating to others - but steady. Each cubic metre of rock they moved was one less in the way of their ultimate goal. Slow progress was an unfortunate reality, the structure was buried deep underground and it had taken almost a month simply to get the fleet here and organise their resources. Two months again went by for their initial surveying and planning of the excavation. Thrawn had been on the surface for almost four months before the first excavation began. Caution and care were essential to the operation. It was not a simple matter of setting explosives in the area and blasting their way down. Any poorly thought-out choice, any excessive force, could damage what they came for - or worse.

This tenacity had paid off three weeks ago when they finally cut deep enough to strike the roof of this structure. The dark black monolith offered little detail or information to help, but preliminary scans pointed to an entrance that couldn't be more than a few weeks worth of excavation away. The news had restored some hope to the tired legions serving on this expedition, and more importantly it had brought Thrawn within reach of the answers to this great mystery.

Captain Pellaeon and Commodore Faro had kept their focus on the task at hand in these last few months, not once had he heard or seen the slightest hint of discontent. If only that had been true for the rest of their fleet. Captain Sarlis continued to look despaired at every moment, thoroughly unequipped for and unhappy with their work. The rank and file were weary and confused about it all, wondering why they were being put to tasks better suited to archaeologists and academics.

None of these reactions were surprising, however, save for one: the Inquisitor. Impatient, arrogant, eager, vindictive - there were many less that favourable words Thrawn could use to describe her. Yet, interestingly, her discontent had faded rather quickly after he announced his plans. The first time he'd told her that they'd likely be here for months, if not years, uncovering this mystery, she'd launched into an angry tirade and stormed off. Then, after several days of irritability, she accepted her position. Soon enough, she'd abandoned her quarters on the Chimaera and moved into a solitary prefabricated accommodation on the surface not far from the dig site. Thrawn saw little of her any more, sometimes only at their mandatory progress meetings, and in recent weeks even her attendance to those had declined.

All the while, Thrawn watched for the slightest hints of what she continued to hide. The recent news of the discovery of an entrance had piqued her interest and Thrawn knew there was little chance that the discovery was unrelated to her increasingly sporadic appearances in public.

Even still, her intentions and knowledge eluded him. Although the time was coming soon where everything would be forced out into the open.

The discovery of this entrance was not the only thing that had become a matter of time. Bridger's allies, the young Skywalker and whoever else the Jedi had drawn into this affair, would soon be upon them. Thrawn knew that the enigmatic will of the force would force a confrontation between them and whatever it was that lurked under the surface below.

But such thoughts were not helpful to the situation right now. At long last, though many months too late to be the most useful, a message had been beamed to the Chimaera. 

"I don't know where it's from, sir", Commodore Faro sighed through the comm, "Just that it's marked as priority."

Thrawn observed the defunct compass in one of the alcoves of his office, as he often did in recent months. "Not to worry, Commodore. Patch it through to my office."

She hesitated, "Are you sure? It could be unsecured. What if it's... Bridger?"

"It is not Bridger. Only a high-ranking Imperial Officer could have acquired the necessary codes to contact us", the Chiss explained as he moved back to stand in front of his desk.

"A high-ranking Officer?", Faro asked. "Who?"

"I do not know", he replied.

Faro went silent, her cautious disposition holding her back momentarily, and then she sighed, "As you say, sir. I'll patch it through."

The comm cracked as the Commodore broke the connection. A few moments later, the hologram projector flicked and struggled for a while to process the incoming message. A combination of distance, encryption, and interference was making it difficult. Thrawn glanced at the signatures and took note of them. Interesting.

Finally, a figure materialised above the table - one that Thrawn had certainly not expected to see again. A woman in a pristine white Imperial uniform appeared, with dark olive skin and long black hair tied firmly behind her head. Thrawn had seen her face in his research on Phoenix Squadron and had seen cursory reports of her in the years before events above Lothal. Focused, loyal, intelligent, efficient - she was definitely one of the best officers in the Imperial Navy. Noticing her rank slide, her efforts had clearly paid off; the rank of Grand Admiral was only held by a select few individuals after all.

"Grand Admiral Sloane."

Rae Sloane's name had first crossed Thrawn's desk after his assignment to the pursuit of Phoenix Squadron. She had been a Captain during a mission on Gorse and had unknowingly crossed paths with Jarrus during her work. The man she'd initially reported as a nuisance had, unbeknownst to her, turned out to be one of the few remaining Jedi in the galaxy. Sloane had pursued Jarrus sporadically for several years after, and the intel she later gave to the Grand Inquisitor had been the basis for much of the Empire's initial data on the man.

The women smiled thinly, "Grand Admiral Thrawn, I see my reputation precedes me."

"Indeed, I'd heard of your achievements several years ago. Besides, you were the first Imperial officer to encounter the Jedi Kanan Jarrus."

"While you were among the last", Sloane replied.

Thrawn nodded, "Such is the way of things. It seems our paths have now crossed again."

The woman narrowed her eyes and inspected him further. "Word around the Empire was that you'd been lost above Lothal. I have to admit, I hadn't expected to see your communication details among the Emperor's records. Even when I did, most of the details are classified beyond even my authority."

"And what authority would that be?", Thrawn asked.

"The highest authority", she answered, "Up until I discovered you, I was the highest-ranking Imperial left in the galaxy. After Jakku anyway."

He raised an eyebrow, "Jakku?"

Sloane let out a sign and Thrawn saw the faintest strain as she gritted her teeth. "I should have known you'd have been cut off out here. Several months ago the Rebel and Imperial forces met at a backwater planet in the Inner Rim called Jakku. All you need to know is that almost the entire Imperial fleet was wiped out."

So there had been one final confrontation. Thrawn had known the remaining Imperials would scramble for leadership and to mass their forces again, vying for another battle after Endor. As was always the case in such situations, the endeavour would be doomed to failure due to a lack of clear leadership, the strength and cohesion of their enemy, and internal strife within their own ranks.

She regarded him carefully before she continued, "A peace treaty was signed after the battle. This New Republic is the power in the galaxy for now, at least until our missions are complete."

"And what, might I ask, is your mission?", the Chiss asked.

"An important one. Almost certainly more important that yours", the woman countered.

Thrawn's hand went to his chin, "Given your rank and the cassified nature of my mission, you must have already determined that my mission can only have come from the Emperor himself. Therefore, if you still believe yours is more important, then your mission must also have come from his authority."

He thought back to the communication dispatch he'd had over a year ago that told of him of the defeat at Endor, glad to finally have some answers to that puzzle too.

"I can only assume that your mission is some component of the Emperor's contingency, Operation: Cinder, and the result of that is a revived Imperial presence in the galaxy."

"Not revived, Grand Admiral. Reborn", Sloane didn't seem in the least bit bothered or surprised that he'd worked out so much of her mission. "The galaxy needs the Empire if it's to have order."

Thrawn once more glanced at the communication signatures, "The Emperor would agree, and evidently he seemed to believe that the key to that order lay out here, in the Unknown Regions. Hence he sent me, as well as his personal flagship, and then you."

The signatures had given away the identity of where she was broadcasting from: the Super Star Destroyer and Emperor's personal flagship the Eclipse. No communication signal would be strong enough to reach the Chimaera's current location unless the other ship was also in the Unknown Regions. Given that the entire available Imperial fleet would have been mustered at Jakku, and that the New Republic wouldn't have allowed such a powerful ship to escape, Thrawn knew that the ship must have been sent out some time before the Emperor's death.

Once more, Sloane took his deductions in stride, "The Eclipse was sent out here to be a rallying point for Imperial forces if it was ever needed. I suppose we should thank you, it was your hyperspace trajectories that allowed us to construct the path out here."

Thrawn shook his head, "Rallying your forces will mean nothing if survival cannot be guaranteed."

She scowled, "Survival? In the face of what?"

"We do not yet know. Only that survival is what's at stake."

Sloane chuckled briefly, "You like making things mysterious, don't you Grand Admiral?"

"If you could provide additional resources then that mystery could soon be dispelled", Thrawn suggested.

"I can't join you, I have my own work to attend to." She paused and looked away for a moment. "However, I can spare a very limited amount of resources if you truly believe your mission is that important."

His eyes narrowed. "You're awfully quick to trust, Grand Admiral", he said cautiously.

"I've been in this service long enough to tell a good instinct from a bad one. Even on reputation alone, you're just about the only other person I'd hand over anything to." Sloane folded her arms and seemed to look him up and down, "I don't know why a Chiss found his way to the Empire but your record speaks for itself. If kicking some resources your way can free you and your fleet up for my mission, I'll bite."

Thrawn didn't offer an explanation for why he made the choices he did, those answers weren't for most Imperial ears to hear. Instead, he kept his composure and nodded politely, "Any resources you can spare will be most appreciated."

Sloane looked at something off to her side and let out a sigh. "I can spare two Star Destroyers, the Solicitude and the Cunctator, and whatever personnel are on them. The Eclipse was only accompanied by a few escorts so I can't afford to compromise any more of our fleet."

"My mission requires equipment not just orbital defence", Thrawn said.

Sloane ran her tongue around her mouth, "There'll be some people there too. The Cunctator's Captain for one: Brendol Hux."

It wasn't a name Thrawn recognised. "Will he be of use to me?"

She huffed a laugh, "Hux is a coward but he follows orders, show him you're the one in charge and he won't cause trouble. Truth be told, I only put him in command of a Star Destroyer because we're so short of officers these days. He won't personally be much help, but I doubt he'll be much trouble either."

Thrawn furrowed his brow, "I assume there will be more... reliable assistance among these reinforcements."

"General Maximilian Veers. He'll be assigned to oversee the personnel and ordnance. A soldier through and through, bit dry but his head is in the right place and he commands loyalty. There'll also be the Solicitude's Captain, Canady. Young and inexperienced but sharp, thinks for himself. He'll be useful to you."

Veers was a name that Thrawn had heard, but not someone he'd personally met. Sloane's description seemed perfectly in line with what Thrawn had heard of him long ago. This Canady was new however, but Sloane's recommendation was at least encouraging.

"Very well, I'll make preparations for their arrival", Thrawn thanked her.

"Hopefully this won't take you long. The Empire could really use your expertise if we're to become strong again."

The Chiss kept up his passive facade, "My only concern for the mean time is dealing with my own mission."

Thrawn could see the faintest hints of dissatisfaction with his answer, but the other Grand Admiral had already learned that he'd never give up anything he didn't intend to show. The Chiss did appreciate her willingness to defer to his judgement. Even when details of what he was doing were sparse, she trusted his word enough to impede her own efforts. In the unlikely event that she could inspire similar farsightedness in her subordinates, rebuilding the Empire would be far easier than one might expect.

"As you say, Grand Admiral. They should be with you within several rotations, and from there I trust you'll get the job done."

"It shall be done, I assure you."

Sloane straightened up, "Until we meet again, Grand Admiral."

Thrawn bowed his head slightly, "Until we do."

Her hologram faded and the blue light it cast over his office went with it. The turn of events had been unexpected but not entirely unwelcome. Additional reinforcements and resources were to be welcomed in the short-term, the sooner they reached the bottom of this issue the better, but the long-term consequences might prove to be far less pleasant. Sloane, despite her talent and sharp mind, was an Imperial loyalist, endlessly devoted to the success and continuation of the Empire. Her reaction, or the reaction of these new allies, when they realised that he was willing to sacrifice Imperial interests for those of the Ascendancy might prove problematic.

But for now, those questions were academic. Dealing with this threat itself was the core objective, the fallout of that success was a matter for another time.

The Grand Admiral pulled his comm into his hand, "Commodore, summon Captain Pellaeon and meet at my office."

"Aye, sir", she answered almost immediately, "I take it that this is good news?"

"For now, at least", Thrawn replied.

Faro breathed out heavily from the other end, "That's good enough for me, sir. We'll be with you shortly."

The low-hanging sun on Lothal still took Ezra's breath away even after all these years. It cast a beautiful glow over the Spectre Compound that they'd built here over the last year. It had been Hera's idea, a little dream that they'd all pitched in for to make a reality. Around Ezra and Sabine's tower were a number of buildings as well as a nice wide space for the Ghost and the Phantom to be kept. Three of those extra buildings were houses: one for Zeb, one for Kallus, and one for Hera and Jacen. There was a store-shed too, mostly for food, fuel, and their speeders. In the middle of the buildings was a large courtyard that had become the usual place for Ezra's introductory lightsaber lessons for his apprentice.

Jacen's training was much different to his own, but most of that was down to the age difference. Jacen was still young, barely more than six, and Jedi training at this point wasn't much different to a normal kid's education. At least Jacen was allowed to have a childhood as he learned, balancing an innocent childhood with a steady Jedi education. It baffled him that the old Jedi Order had began these lessons so young, drilling an education on history, meditation, philosophy, and doctrine from the moment they could walk. Lightsaber training, however, was easily the one that struck Ezra as the most odd for a child, and the one that caused them the most trouble - just as it was doing today.

"No, you have to bring it higher."

Jacen raised the stick barely an inch, "Like this?"

"No", Ezra sighed, "Higher."

His student raised the stick as high as it would go, "Now?"

"That's too high."

Ezra let his own stick, or 'training saber' as he liked to tell Jacen, drop as he watched his apprentice look curiously at him. The Jedi of old had started lightsaber training at this age, building up the muscle memory and discipline early to make the proper training later easier, but Ezra still struggled to see how a six year old needed this already, and more importantly how they could even manage it without a serious injury

"I'm sorry", Jacen hung his head.

Ezra looked sympathetically at him and lay a hand on his shoulder. "It's alright, you'll get it. Let's go again."

Once more, Ezra stepped back and went in to the ready position. His young apprentice hesitated and tried to copy him, but again the posture just wasn't right.

Before Ezra could correct him for the dozenth time, Sabine's voice came from the sidelines. "Hey Jac, just a little higher with your saber and put your feet a little further apart."

Sabnie was leaning against the wall of a house, arms folded, watching the two of them like she always did. Hera was there too, the Twi'lek never missed seeing any of her son's saber lessons.

The boy scrunched his nose and shuffled his feet, bringing the saber up in front of him a bit more. Perfect ready position.

"There, you've got it", Ezra laughed, "But don't think I haven't seen you listening to Auntie Bean better than you listen to me."

Jacen shrugged his shoulders shyly, "I don't know... I just..."

"It's because I'm a better teacher", Sabine said smugly, "Or just because I'm his favourite."

Ezra rolled his eyes at her, "You know you're welcome to try teaching, Captain. It's not as easy as it looks."

"Come on now, you two", Hera intervened "If Kanan could teach you then you can more than handle Jacen."

Ezra loosened his stance. "I don't know if that's a compliment or an insult", he grumbled

Hera laughed and strolled towards them, "Well you can work it out over dinner, Kallus should be done any moment."

Jacen unceremoniously dropped his stick to the ground and started to run to Kallus and Zeb's house. Kallus' meals were his favourite, somehow the ex-Imperial had picked up culinary skills somewhere along the line. Ezra was just glad someone on the compound knew how to cook. Him and Zeb had long worked out that they were no good at making food, and Hera's talents lay in the cockpit not in the kitchen. As for Sabine, Ezra had learned that her artistic talents had one limit, but also that it was best not to ever risk telling her that.

Ezra kept his mind on the mundane topic as Hera and Sabine walked over to him. He still wasn't used to worrying about who'd be cooking for them tonight rather than who'd be shooting at them. While Ezra missed the excitement and adventure sometimes, it was quiet moments and little things like this that reminded him just why they'd fought so hard for this life. Peace, quiet, calm - all things they'd had far too little of in their lives... and would soon be short of again.

Sabine scooped up Jacen's discarded training saber and handed it to Ezra as she and Hera reached him. "Jokes aside, you're getting good at this."

"Thanks", Ezra replied meekly as he took the stick from her.

Both women could see the anxiety from him, and Ezra could see it in them too.

Hera broke the silence. "We all knew it was only a matter of time."

She was right, as always. Only yesterday, they'd learned that Ahsoka and Luke were heading to Lothal. It wasn't said specifically, but they all knew what them coming here meant: it was time to get back out there and deal with whatever it was Master Yoda had warned him about over a year ago.

"It's been a year and yet it still feels like yesterday", Ezra said. His mind started to swirl with memories of what he'd gone through for those five years and with thoughts of the challenges still to come.

This last year had gone by far too quickly. Ezra had spent hours pouring over some of the old Jedi texts Ahsoka and Luke had sent his way, and he'd scoured all the fragments of the Jedi Archives that they'd recovered from the Imperial databases. Even then, there was nothing. Luke's search had turned up little too, the Emperor's remaining observatories contained plenty of interesting mysteries of their own but nothing relevant to their own endeavours. As for Ahsoka, Ezra had no idea what she'd even been doing out there. Rex had gone along for old time's sake, but even then Rex couldn't give much of an explanation either.

"They won't be here until morning, we've got some time", Sabine assured him.

"But not enough", he replied. Ezra looked over to the building Jacen had disappeared into, "It's too soon, Jacen's training has barely begun."

Hera cast a glance in the same direction and sighed. "I know it's not ideal but we do what we have to do. If... if you have to go back out there, if we all have to go, we'll do it."

Ezra still admired her determination, even peaceful settled life hadn't worn down Hera's resolve in the slightest. The Twi'lek looked off towards the setting sun for a moment, as Ezra noticed her doing from time to time. It wasn't hard to guess what, or who, she was thinking about when she did it. As usual, she smiled slightly and brought her attention back to the present.

"But that's tomorrow. Right now, let's just have a quiet evening", Hera turned toward the house, "Don't take too long you two."

They watched her go, leaving the two of them alone for a moment.

"He's not ready for me to up and leave him, Sabine", Ezra admitted.

The Mandalorian took the training sabers from his hand and dropped them to the ground, placing her owns hands into his instead. Ezra shut his eyes and focused on her presence, letting it soothe his worried mind.

Her voice came softly and quietly, "We have to do what's necessary, you know that."

"I know, but I can't leave him now. He needs a teacher and he can't just drop this at this stage, it's too dangerous for him." Ezra sighed, "I don't know how long I'll be... or if I'll even-"

"Don't say it", Sabine moved her hands up his arms and wrapped them around his neck, "Just don't."

"But what happens when I have to go?", Ezra kept his voice low and quiet.

"Firstly, I go with you, just like I promised the last dozen times you asked."

Ezra held her tightly, rubbing his hands soothingly up her back, "I can't let you do that."

"Excuse me?", she answered sharply and pulled back to look at him, "I can't let you go without me."


"Ezra", it was Sabine's 'don't answer back' voice. She let it hang for a moment to make sure he'd listened. "We're in this together. Until the end."

Ezra brushed her purple hair from her eyes, now back to the same length it had been before the Battle of Lothal, letting out a sigh as he did. "I just don't know what the right choice is anymore."

"You do, cyar'ika", she answered, "You'll do what's right, I know you will."

Ezra smiled at the Mandalorian endearment, a little piece of her own culture that had become a constant part of their relationship. He took her hands in his own, brushing her bare fingers as he did so. It reminded him of a piece of his own Lothalian culture that he'd want to introduce her to soon enough.

"Hera's right", Ezra leaned down and picked up the two training sabers. "That's for tomorrow. Let's just enjoy tonight."

Sabine led him towards the house and began talking about her latest piece of work. Ezra listened intently, shutting out all the other worries from his mind. She never failed to put him at ease and her love could bring peace in the face of any worries. When things loomed on the horizon, like this mission in the Unknown Regions, her support reminded him exactly why he had to do his duty - for the people he loved and cared for.

Ezra took another look at her bright hazel eyes and beautiful smile. "There is no emotion", or so the Code saidThose words were starting to ring even more hollow by the day.

The Fourth Sister rubbed her eyes and tried to shake off the tired haziness from her mind as she sat up from her bunk. This wait was wearing everyone else down but seemed to be taking a toll on her even more. The anticipation and frustration was leaving her more drained with each passing day as she waited for Thrawn's dig to actually turn up something of value. Their first glimmer of progress came a few weeks with the first signs of an entrance to the subterranean structure, and a sign that her wait was finally coming to a close.

The Chiss had remained oblivious to her communications with her Master below. She'd moved out of the cramped quarters on the Chimaera and into a small prefabricated cabin on the surface, as close as she could manage to the dig site. It kept Thrawn out of view, allowed her some privacy, and ensured there'd be no eavesdropping on her activities, especially her communing with her Master.

Her Master was growing stronger, she could feel it from him, and their communication was becoming easier and more frequent. There were limits though and that was part of why she'd moved to the surface. They could open a bridge quite quickly but she had to be close by. However, despite the growing interaction, she still knew so little. Its name, where it came from, what it's doing down there, and a myriad of other question were still as obscure as they'd always been. One thing that was still clear, however, was that it knew far more than it should for something trapped in a prison beneath the ground. Her Master could feel her thoughts but also those of the other Imperials. Thrawn's mind still proved elusive, but her Master could still get vague ideas of his mood and intent.

But she was getting restless. What she'd expected to be a weeks-long affair had rolled into a year of minimal progress and tedium. It was no wonder that she'd spent so much time on her own, seeking to unravel all the mysteries through focus and meditation. What is this place? What happened here? Why is my Master trapped here? How long must I wait?

Sliding out of the bunk, she fell into a kneeling position on the floor. Once again, she turned to him for answers.

"Master?", she whispered quietly, "Hear me."

There was a long pause before a guttural sigh came as an answer.

"Once more you call."

"Y-yes, Master. I only wish to know... how long until I can reach you?", she stammered and tried not to incite its anger, she knew all too well what would happen when her Master was frustrated.

"I struggle to see beyond these walls."

"But you've grown so much stronger, every day I feel your power growing."

"Indeed. Your senses are sharp, my young apprentice."

"Surely there's something I can do? Anything rather than sitting here waiting?", she asked.

Another low sigh came from her Master and the force started to shift around her. He was reaching out, like he had done many times before, and each time she felt it stronger and clearer.

"I sense... hmm, yes. Most interesting."

The Inquisitor opened her eyes on instinct, "What? What do you sense?"

"I sense... allies. Yes, the Chiss is expecting aid from allies."

"Allies?", she questioned, "What allies does he have?"

"I cannot see, but he is preparing. There is new purpose in him."

The Fourth Sister furrowed her brow, "Should we be concerned?"

"Hmm, perhaps. But I sense their presence could be a useful tool for us."

She bowed her head, "How, my Master?"

"Patience, my young apprentice. The Chiss' allies may yet become our own."

A smirk came onto her lips. Something about the idea of turning Thrawn's own allies against him was too satisfying to resist. "Tell me what I have to do."

"For now, nothing. The Chiss watches your movements with caution. We must tread carefully."

The Inquisitor let out a frustrated sigh, "As you say, Master."

"Keep me appraised of things as they unfold. An opportunity will arise, my apprentice, and you will know when to act."

A deep rumbling sigh signalled the end of the conversation as her Master broke the connection and retreated back below. She braced herself for the brief bouts of lightheadedness that always came with the break, let them pass, and then got to her feet.

New allies? Unexpected, but not unwelcome. Even she could see the stranglehold Thrawn had over most of the others here. Pellaeon and Thrawn were almost one in the same, and the Chimaera's Commodore served at his feet in everything she did. Sarlis was little more than a political pawn, loyal to Thrawn through protocol and habit more than her own choices. These new allies could be useful, as they didn't owe loyalty to the Chiss already. That left her room to manoeuvre like she hadn't had since she'd joined this expedition almost six years ago.

With her Master's guiding hand, all she had to do was wait and listen, and soon everything would fall into place.

Morning came far too soon for Ezra's liking. Before he knew it he, Sabine, Hera, Jacen, Zeb, Kallus, and Chopper were standing in the courtyard of their Lothal compound watching as Ahsoka's familiar red shuttle touched down just outside the fence.

It wasn't long before two figures stepped out of the shuttle. Ahsoka led the way with the same staff still in hand. Her long knee-length cloak was cast back over her shoulders, now more a cape than anything, and the outfit beneath was now the exact same one she used to wear before Malachor. Rex, following closely behind her, looked very much the same. His old clone armour was still kept in as good a condition as he could manage, as were the blaster pistols still on his hips. The man himself looked mostly the same, although the signs of his advanced ageing were getting a little more noticeable with each meeting. Still, the two old friends greeted them all with glad smiles.

"You actually did it", Rex chuckled and glanced around their compound as he and Ahsoka walked through the gate. "Your own little corner of Lothal."

"It's really something", Ahsoka added happily.

Sabine stepped forward first and pulled the Togruta into a hug. "It's good to see you in person at last."

"You too", Ahsoka replied and looked at Ezra, "Though I think you've had plenty enough company in the meantime."

"Thanks to you", Ezra smiled at her.

Zeb greeted Rex with a well-meant slap on the back. "I see you're still holding together."

"Yeah, just about", Rex laughed as he pushed back his shoulders with a loud crack.

"Luke shouldn't be far behind us." Ahsoka turned to look behind her just as Ezra peered over her shoulder, "In fact..."

On the horizon, the sun glinted off a fast-moving speck coming towards them. Luke's X-Wing came closer set itself down on the grass outside the compound, just beside Ahsoka's shuttle. Luke hopped out while his astromech came down from the socket and followed him, chirping and beeping about something as they went.

The other Jedi hadn't physically changed much at all since Ezra last saw him. However, the way he carried himself had changed. Since Ezra had met him, Luke had a sense of authority about him but now there was something more to it, a sense of purpose that hadn't been there before. It could have been down to their mission, or simply his focus on helping Leia and the others guide the New Republic, but Ezra thought the most likely reason was similar to his own: a student, a nephew in fact. Luke hadn't taught him anything yet, Ben was still far too young, but there was no question that Luke would take him under his wing when the time came.

At least it'd be another Jedi, Ezra thought to himself. The cynical part of his mind added on: but five still isn't enough of us.

"Ezra", Luke greeted him with a firm handshake, "It's good to come and see Lothal at last."

"Good to see you again, Luke", he replied.

Luke looked over to Jacen, standing close to his mother behind Ezra. "How have things been?"

"It's been alright." Ezra cast a smile back at his apprentice and saw the young Jedi shy away from the attention, drawing a bit closer to Hera. "I swear he wants to be a pilot as much as he wants to be a Jedi though", he chuckled.

"His mother's influence, I'm sure."

For a moment, Ezra wondered if that was part of the reason Jedi were taken from their parents at a young age back in the Republic. Ezra didn't see the harm in it though, Jacen was doing well enough in his training anyway.

"Well, mother's influence makes two of you", Ahsoka chimed in towards Luke.

"I hope that's meant to be a compliment. "Luke's hand met hers too, "Good to see you."

"How's Leia and Ben?", the Togruta asked.

The man shrugged, "My sister is my sister, never a moment's rest. Ben is okay, he's with Han most of the time for now."

Hera stifled a laugh, "You're telling me you leave the baby alone with General Solo?"

"Never alone", Luke corrected, "Not without Threepio or Chewie too, preferably both."

Ahsoka shook her head with a grin, "I hope he turns out alright from that upbringing."

"Eh, the kid'' be fine", Rex laughed. "I mean, come on, a wookiee and a smuggler's better than the scientists and computers that us clones had."

"Yeah yeah, old man. Blame the Kaminoans for how you turned out", Zeb joked.

"Oh really?" The clone folded his arms amusedly, "Maybe you and sideburns over there can show us how to raise some kids."

"Gentlemen", Ahsoka stepped in before Zeb and Kallus could reply, "You can have a go at each other later."

"I'm sure Zeb and Kallus will", Sabine mumbled under her breath.

The Lasat and the ex-Imperial broke into yet another defence of their entirely platonic friendship as Sabine and Rex prodded them for all they had. Ezra wasn't sure how serious everyone was about it anymore, it'd become so normal to joke about that they never thought about it. He liked that it'd come to that, that the whole family had become so closely-knit and could enjoy each other's company so much.

Ezra saw Ahsoka turn back to him and Luke from the corner of his eye. "We should get to business sooner rather than later, if only to get it out of the way."

He nodded slowly, "Agreed. We'll go to the tower." Ezra cast a look over at the others and spoke up, "The three of us will catch up with you later."

The banter died down and was met with a few mumbles of agreement. Everyone knew what they'd all come here for. Hera locked eyes with him briefly before leading the rest of the group towards one of the houses, leaving Luke, Ahsoka, and Ezra to themselves.

He caught Sabine looking at him with those hazel eyes that never failed to draw his own. Ezra knew she was going to be at his back on matter what would happen, half the time she seemed to be the one who had a better handle on things, but she couldn't hide her own worries from him. Fittingly, their stare was broken as Jacen eagerly walked back and tugged at her, dragging her into the house with the rest of them. His apprentice didn't look over at him, and didn't see the concern on his master's face. Jacen hadn't been told everything yet but the young boy had no idea how important he was in all this.

"Ezra, you coming?", Luke's voice snapped him out of his trance.

He cleared his throat, "Uh, yeah. Sorry."

Ezra turned and stepped past Ahsoka and Luke to lead the way to the tower. As he passed, he saw the look Ahsoka gave him, she clearly knew something was bothering him. Not that it mattered to be honest, it'd all be out in the open soon enough.


Chapter Text


The sight of two new Star Destroyers and two light frigates was not the source of joy that Pellaeon had long imagined it would be. For years he'd thought of what it'd be like to see other people again, though he'd hoped that they'd be going home to do that. The reality was that they were still stuck out here, and Pellaeon didn't find himself particularly thrilled to meet them as he and Faro marched a few paces behind Thrawn towards the assembly area.

"Brighten up, Captain. At least they're not shooting at us", Commodore Faro joked beside him.

Pellaeon huffed a laugh. "A few months of being stuck here and they might just want to."

He cast a careful look at Thrawn a few paces ahead of them. Pellaeon couldn't tell if the Chiss could hear them, but to be honest he and Faro didn't make much effort to hide their grim humour from him anymore. The Grand Admiral met it with the same aloof indifference that he did everything, but the old Captain had a sneaking suspicion Thrawn sometimes enjoyed his subordinate's banter.

They reached the assembly area just as the incoming shuttle started to appear several clicks to the south, the glistening silver craft easily spotted across the plain, bleak landscape. A number of their troops were formed up in parade to greet the new arrivals, a formality they hadn't had to use for many years. To his surprise, the Fourth Sister was already waiting at the assembly area, her back toward the three of them. On her right was Captain Sarlis, who snapped to attention when she heard them approach.

"Not like you to delay, Grand Admiral", the Inquisitor said coldly as the Chiss fell in beside her.

"There is no delay. Standing idle in this heat serves nothing, I would not waste my time doing it", Thrawn responded.

Pellaeon saw her fingers tighten behind her back but the force user held her tongue. They stood in a long, uncomfortable silence as the Sentinel-Class shuttle came closer and came to a hover above the landing area. It descended, sending up a small cloud of dust from the ground as the landing gear made contact. After several seconds, the ramp opened and three uniformed figures appeared from the hold, trailed by the expected contingent of guards.

The first of the new arrivals was hardly an inspiring sight - a pale-skinned middle-aged man with unkempt red hair. That'd be Brendol Hux, Pellaeon reasoned, based on the limited description Thrawn had given beforehand. To Hux's left was an older officer, a General by the rank-slide, with greying brown hair and the solemn composure only ever seen in disciplined soldiers. Maximilian Veers, Pellaeon told himself, a name he'd heard even before he'd left the known galaxy. The younger man on the right then had to be Canady, the youngest of the Imperial leaders Rae Sloane had sent them.

"Grand Admiral Thrawn", Hux said as he approached, blatantly ignoring standard protocol when meeting a superior officer, "It's good to meet you."

"Commandant Hux", Thrawn acknowledged him and the two others behind him, "General Veers, Captain Canady."

The two other officers came to attention just behind Hux, both silent and content to let Hux talk for them for now.

"Allow me to introduce Captain Pellaeon of the Myrmidon", Thrawn said and motioned to him, "And Captain Sarlis of the Imperator." Thrawn then glanced over his shoulder, "As well as Commodore Faro of my Chimaera."

There was barely a moment to say anything before the Fourth Sister stepped slightly forward. "And I'm the Inquisitor."

"Inquisitor?", Hux stepped back half a pace, "I didn't know there were any of you left."

She stepped forward again, clearly interjecting herself between the two groups of Imperials. "I welcome your support, the sooner we achieve our mission the better."

A sloppy display, Pellaeon muttered to himself. The Fourth Sister had her gifts but subtlety wasn't one of them. The obvious display of enthusiasm seemed to take the new arrivals by surprise, unsure exactly how to react to her.

The Grand Admiral instead took control and raised a hand dismissively. "The Fourth Sister was assigned for a different mission although her failure has left her under my command. However, we do welcome the assistance."

"I see...", even Hux appeared to sense the friction between the two of them.

"With all due respect, sir, just what are we here for?"

The unexpectedly direct question had come from the young Captain Canady. Few officers would have the courage to ask so blunt a question to a commanding officer, especially one they weren't familiar with.

Commandant Hux stammered for a second, "Y-yes, what are we here for?"

"Forgive me, I'd assumed Grand Admiral Sloane would have filled you in. Come." Thrawn turned around and began to walk towards the dig site.

Pellaeon and Faro let Thrawn and the others pass, with the Inquisitor giving Faro a sideways glare as she did. He and the Commodore shared a look before falling in behind them. The Grand Admiral led them away from the landing area and towards the edge of the hill overlooking the plain below.

"We've been engaged in an excavation for several months", Thrawn explained as they walked, "Our supplies are limited and our equipment ill-suited for the task. Your aid will provide the tools and personnel we need to finish the final stages."

"Excavation?", Canady repeated, "What in the galaxy are you excavating?"

Before an answer could be given, they reached the top of the hill overlooking the dig site. For as far as they could see, the rocky expanse was littered with various small dig sites that they'd tried over the last few months. The underground rock in most of the sites had been too difficult for their limited tools to work with, so they'd had to constantly retry new sites. Oddly, the layers above this structure were unusually inconsistent, and moving a few metres either way would give you a completely different type of material to work with. Pellaeon didn't want to think about why that was the case, he had enough unanswered questions without thinking about the geology.

"It remains to be seen", Thrawn answered at last.

"You don't know you're even looking for?", Hux scoffed.

"Must be imp