Salutations my dear readers, Naintarlow checking in.
It took a long while and for that I sincerely apologize but here is the new chapter. Unfortunately with my other projects, life and work, my update schedule is gonna be hectic for a long while.
To be honest this chapter was especially hard to write and in the end I'm still a hundred percent happy with it but that's how it came out. While this constant switching between the two timelines was fun, I think I'm gonna retire this for a while. Next chapter will concentrate entirely on Malachor, and we will see a few more divergences from canon.
Until then enjoy and review. I always appreciate the feedback.
Chapter 6 turning point
"Looks like our pickup has arrived at the rendezvous already," Aleena remarked as they exited hyperspace, correcting their course toward the ship waiting for them.
Ezra who sat next to her in the copilot's chair had to fight down the nostalgia as he watched the hammerhead cruiser and the few Y-wings that were its escort. He had no idea if it was one of the cruisers the Ghost helped liberate with the help of Princess Leia, though from all the coincidences and reminders he encountered the last few days, he wouldn't bet against it.
"Unidentified ship, this is Maverick Squadron of the Rebel Alliance. State your business." came from the comms, from an unfamiliar male voice as the fighter subtly turned toward them, to respond if it turned out to be an attack.
"Hope Rex's codes work or it will be another crazy adventure to brag about at the Cantina." he laughed, trying to lessen the tension both of them could clearly feel.
"It's only you who brags, especially when it's me getting your ass out of trouble." she snarked right back, a smile on her face.
"Someone has to since you refuse to leave that ship of yours. One might say you are married to it, the way you never let it out of your sight." Ezra said, leaning back in his chair, he wasn't that worried about the codes. As much as he tried not to reach out to the Force, it was hard to ignore it, especially with the kid in the back of the ship making him painfully aware of the training he never really finished.
If they were about to be in trouble he would have sensed it, no matter his willingness.
"This is the Silent Grace, a neutral smuggling vessel. We are carrying a Rebel officer, Captain Rex of Phoenix Squadron, and what remained of his squad after picking them up in Nar Shaddaa. Standing by." Aleena spoke after the codes were transmitted and they weren't blown to smithereens, not that they could get through the Grace's shields that easily.
It never hurt to be prepared for a run for their lives.
After a moment the comms cracked, this time an older, more calm, and disciplined voice speaking up.
"This is Commander Harrison of Maverick Squadron. The codes check out, follow the directed flight path and prepare to dock into cruiser Monsoon. Do not deviate from the course and do not power up your weapons or we will open fire without question. A squad will meet you at the airlock." he spoke in a way that brokered no argument.
Two of the Y-wings took up positions next to the ship to escort them, as data was sent into the Grace's computers, Aleena softly steering the ship to the correct course.
"See? I told you, nothing will go wrong." Ezra said with a grin, carelessly crossing his arms behind his head. "Not everyone is out to get us, you know." his partner's response was to send a disbelieving look to him.
"That's coming from you? Mr. Paranoid who shoots down a paper plane because he thought that was a bomb?" she teased, sending him a smirk as he blushed in embarrassment.
"That was one time. I thought you forgot about it." he said, pointedly looking away as he stood up from the chair."Anyway, I'm going to tell Rex the good news and receive the boarding party with the warmest welcome possible. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"You do realize how few things that rules out, right?" she asked back as he left the cockpit, Ezra shaking his head in amusement.
He knew she had various questions, about him, about his past and even the young force-user they were about to take in. He talked with her during transit, explaining Rex's request and why it would be dangerous for her to remain with the rebellion.
She wasn't the most enthusiastic about taking on young Mia, despite her fondness for her. They weren't a charity after all but Ezra was able to sway her, telling her that she could be a lot of help, her small stature able to get into places they couldn't, and her force powers, even those she can only use passively could be a massive boon. In the end, she relented, insisting that she would teach Mira about maintenance so she could be useful on the ship.
Though as he walked away Ezra wanted to snort. In the end, Aleena just wanted to justify taking Mia in to herself. Both of them tried to appear cut-throat and ruthless but neither was able to stay in character for long. They had a soft spot for children and they ended up doing free work or even ending up in minus since they decided to help a kid or two to get away from slavery, a poor family to get enough funds for food and shelter, and the like. This was no different, especially how easily Aleena was taken by Mia's young and innocent charm.
Half of Nar Shaddaa would die of laughter if they ever learned that the young upcoming duo of smugglers were just big plain softies at heart. Yet, he still couldn't find it in himself to regret it, it was the one lesson from his time with the Ghost that he never was able to give up.
If all you do is fight for your own life, then your life is worth nothing. That's what Hera said to him when he ran after a couple of strangers to warn them of a trap, ending up captured in the process, timely rescue, and then joining his second family. Despite everything that happened to him, despite the things he turned his back on, the phoenix squadron, the rebellion, the force, these words were not something he could ever forget.
"Wonder what would you say to me, if you saw me right now?" he wondered out loud, eyes clouded with memories. The happy times he spent with his family, making a mess with Zeb and Chop, training with Kanan, sparring with Sabine, or repairing the Ghost with Hera.
But as it always happened his mind wandered off toward more dangerous memories, those tipping points where his whole life turned on its head, those moments where he lost more and more of the naive teen that wanted to be a Jedi, just like his Master.
This time, he arrived to a rather painful memory, where his path really started to diverge. Where he stopped being a Jedi anymore.
He remembered Malachor.
When he came to darkness greeted him. Ezra groaned in pain, his whole body protesting as he tried to move, his mind a mess. He felt a sense of urgency, a danger in the air around him but he was unsure where he was, how he got there, or what he might be running from.
He had blindly reached out, bumping into some kind of rubble above him and while it was rather hard with his head pounding like Chop after a recharge he reached out and tried to shift it. It moved with surprising ease, he didn't even need to use the Force and a moment later he was out of the rubble, light hitting his eyes and blinding him for the moment.
It was not daylight, his eyes told him after they finally cleared, though he spotted a lone ray of sunlight from above him. The light came from the strange crystal-like structures around him and he looked around in confusion.
It seemed he was in a large underground cave and considering the rubble around him and the large hole above told him he most probably fell down. Which was a little scary because looking at it from below, it was not a small drop at all and he had to ask how he even survived. Not to mention without breaking a lot of bones or other injuries, though his aching head would have liked to protest that last observation.
"Ezra!" a voice cried out, distress clear in them and he slowly turned his head in the direction of the voice, a feeling of familiarity rising as he blinked slowly.
He tried to sit up, to give some sort of response of where he was but he tried to do it too quickly and he only cried out in pain as his torso as well head heavily protested against the action, his body falling to the ground with a thud as he panted heavily, face contorted with pain.
"Ezra!" the cry came closer this time and as he opened his eyes he caught the sight of an armored individual running toward him.
He tensed for a moment but relaxed as a little of the light shone on the person, revealing a very familiar, colorful chest plate, and he couldn't help but give a small smile as felt armored hands reach down to him, carefully helping him sit up.
"Sabine." he breathed out in relief and as he looked into the black visor of his current partner in crime his brain slowly started putting together what happened, as if her mere presence was a trigger for it to start working again.
They arrived at Malachor and he remembered them touching down on a desolate plain, with stone monoliths littering the ground. They stepped out to examine them closer, him and Ahsoka leaving Rex and Sabine a few feet behind as they tried to find the way to reach the answer they were searching for.
A way to stop the Sith once and for all.
"What happened?" he found himself asking, despite his slowly clearing mind having a very good idea.
Judging by the rubble below him and the large hole above, the surface must have been hollow, and as too much weight was pressed on it, it simply caved in, sending them below and his landing didn't end up the most perfect due to shock.
"The ground simply caved in, and we fell. I got separated from Rex and Ahsoka but was able to land in one piece, and without making an ass of myself." he could practically hear the smile in her voice, the unsaid 'unlike you' but right now he couldn't find it himself to feel annoyed about it. "I have been looking around for a few minutes but found no sign of either of them, it seemed that fall separated them well. The Twilight at least remained above ground or we would have heard it crash." she explained as she finally stopped examining him and found him in a good enough state to slightly calm down, which Ezra appreciated.
Her worry echoed in the Force, and maybe because he was more attuned to her than to others or simply because of the effects of that planet with that dark feel but it was affecting him too and not in a good way. A calm Sabine is good, makes it easier to keep himself calm.
"Seems like nothing can destroy that rustbucket, not even a planet trying to kill us. It very might outlive all of us, despite our reservations." he found himself sharing, and from the way Sabine's shoulders trembled she was trying not to laugh.
"Well, it looks like you are alright if you can make lame jokes like these." She commented with a smile, shaking her head as she stood up, extending her hand to help him up.
"Any idea where we are or where to go," he asked as he gingerly stood up, though he had to grab onto Sabine's arm with both of his hands because a sudden sense of vertigo rushed at him. It looked like the head injury was a little more serious than he first thought. "I may need your help to walk for now." he admitted, not meeting her eyes, feeling a little ashamed about his weakness.
He expected a lot of things, indifference, laughter, or maybe a punny remark but none came. She simply pulled one of his arms over her shoulder, her own grabbing his waist and holding him close and bearing most of his weight. And though there was the rather durable and uncomfortable plate of her armor between them, the Jedi Padawan found himself blushing in embarrassment at the almost intimate picture the two presented.
His partner either didn't see it or chose to ignore it entirely as they began to walk slowly cautiously, her free hand pointing toward a nearby building.
"It looks somewhat important. There is no harm in checking out." she offered and as he followed his gaze and looked at it, he had to admit she was right. If there was anything around them that could hide the secret they were after, that would be the most suitable and at the same time obvious choice.
It was a temple-like pyramid, with dark, vein-like red lines giving it an even more malevolent feel. But even without that, to someone sensitive to the Force like Ezra that building evoked equal amounts of dread and excitement.
Eventually, the excitement won out, his mind ignoring all the warning signs that were shouting at him to be careful and nodded to the Mandalorian to tell her they should go that way. Unnoticed by her, a strange red light entered his eye, a reflection of something much more darker and dangerous but instead of feeling repulsed, he found himself welcoming it.
"Yeah, let's go there." he agreed, and the two began to walk in that direction, not knowing of the dangers that lay on their path.
They walked quietly, listening to any signs of movement, trying to look for Rex and Ahsoka as they were getting closer to the tower, as well as looking out for any animals or people that might be hostile.
Yet it seemed their caution was all for nothing. Not only there was no hint of their missing companions, but this place completely lacked signs of life, no plants, no animals, just dead stone and a hollowness around that tried to drain their own enthusiasm.
This place was wrong, an anathema of all life. Of the Force, that's how it looked to Ezra who was walking slowly but under his own power, freeing up Sabine's hand in case of an attack.
"Are you feeling better?" Sabine asked, her voice having that usual robotic quality to it thanks to speaking through her helmet's radio. She seemed to throw him a worried glance but eased up when he waved her off.
"My head is still ringing a little but I am doing better." he admitted before frowning up toward the ceiling, a sudden feeling of danger coming from the direction of the surface."This place has me all kinds of paranoid and uneasy but I can deal with it."
"Should we turn back? Try to get back to the ship?"
"No!" he cried out suddenly, both of them surprised by the vehemency of his objection. He cleared his throat, looking away from her. "I mean, we are already here. Just because I feel a little less than one hundred percent we can't turn away now. Not when we are so close to obtaining the answer we sacrificed so much." he told her, his voice and expression hard as he stared toward the temple.
"Alright then. But if you can't go on, tell me. We can come back later." she relented, though she continued to send him worried glances as they continued forward.
Ezra felt a little bad about the outburst but he couldn't find it himself to voice it, not when they were so close. To tell the truth, he wasn't sure why he was so adamant at getting to the people as soon as they could, especially separated from Ahsoka and Rex. By all accounts, it was reckless and foolhardy. Yet he couldn't help but believe everything would be answered when they got there.
He only hoped they would like the answers they would get.
"What is that?" Sabine's sudden explanation pulled him back to the present and he followed her gaze, only to gasp in shock at the view that greeted them.
After walking for so long, the rocky path surrounded by rubble that they followed so far opened into a large clearing with the promise of a much less winding and hard-to-traverse path leading the rest of the way to the temple.
Only when they stepped into the clearing, it was not as empty as they first assumed. It looked like a battlefield, a very old battlefield.
Statues of people filled the clearing, some on the ground, some running, while another few stayed their ground or simply were in the process of standing up. It was as if in the middle of the battle time had stopped, their bodies covered in some stone-like substance, etching their last moments into the stone that trapped them for an eternity. The expressions of fear, rage, or resolution remained on their faces. their last cries echoing in the force, like a disjointed canon of suffering souls, causing him to grab his head in pain as his headache worsened.
Truthfully he didn't know how he managed to ignore their cries before physically entering the clearing. They were so loud, echoing in the force, he doubted he would have had any trouble hearing them even from the surface. Either his injury was worse than he thought or there was something that blocked this battlefield from afar.
Or worse, its presence was simply overshadowed by something much worse.
He walked over to one of the statues, a man in robes reaching a hand toward the sky in a wordless, desperate prayer. Looking at him, Ezra felt a kinship and pity that he had no idea where came from, yet found himself bowing his head in a moment of respect.
"A battlefield, of a forgotten time," he told her solemnly, though he was sure she figured most things out, just like him. His tone was low as if he feared disturbing the resting spirits. Feeling the dark side basically saturates the whole planet, it might be a real concern. "A battle between Jedi and Sith." he added as he noticed the pieces of lightsabers lying around, under a blanket of dust.
His eyes caught the sight of a large, long hilt that seemed intact. It was longer than any lightsaber he saw before, with two small openings just below where the blade would emerge.
He carefully picked up, weighing it in his hands. It was heavy, feeling a bit unwieldy, with the hilt more of a rectangular shape than a tube-like most sabers he saw. Carefully pointing the blade away from his face, he activated the blade, watching in amazement as a bright emerald green blade emerged, with two smaller ones coming from the opening, forming a strange crossguard.
A moment later he let out a disappointed sigh as the blade flickered before deactivating, the lightsaber giving out a mournful sound. Honestly, after who knows how many centuries, it was a bit foolish to expect it to work perfectly. Still, it looked salvageable, so with that thought he quickly put it into his backpack, along with two more that looked decent enough.
"What are you doing?" Sabine asked as she walked over to him, looming over his crouched state, while he could only give her a sort of embarrassed laugh.
"It would be a shame to leave them lying on the ground, you know? With how scarce lightsaber parts are, I thought I could use them for spare parts or maybe even a new saber if I need it," he admitted, scratching the back of his head. As he stood up, his expression became more somber as he looked over the battlefield.
"I wonder what could have happened here," Sabine spoke up softly as she pulled off her helmet. Ezra was pondering on the very same thing and only shrugged, his mouth forming into a thin line.
„From the direction they were looking, the way they tried to run away, it happened in an instant. And most probably came from there," he said with a rather heavy tone, raising his eyes to the very same temple they were trying to reach, the fearful looks of the statues not leaving many other potential sources to think of.
"And yet we are still going over?" she asked him but didn't expect an answer as she put her helmet back into its place."Is it a good idea? What will we find if it can cause something like that."
"Honestly, I don't know. Part of me wants to wait for Ahsoka..." he answered, trailing off as he thought of what his master would say in this situation. But he was not here, he never would be. "We don't have the luxury of time to wait. We have to get answers. It's our only chance." he replied stubbornly as he started walking forward, through the statues that lingered around.
"I hope you know what you are doing."Sabine could only watch his retreating back sadly, before following him with a heavy heart.
Neither of them noticed the figure shrouded in a black cloak and leaning on a staff smile as if he found something precious, staring at the unaware Padawan's back.
"Looks like it's time for us to part ways," Rex said with a sad smile as they felt the rebel ship dock with their own, a slight tremble going through the Grace.
"Well, it's not like you could have disappeared for a few months while running a job or two with me for old times sake." Ezra snarked with an easy grin, to mask the heavy feeling he too felt in his heart.
They were in the main room of the ship, sitting around, with Ezra leaning on a nearby wall. Wedge and his buddy were busy talking with each other, telling what they planned to do when they got back to base. They still felt a bit wary toward the reckless and outspoken smuggler but held a level of respect for them. HK was standing guard nearby while Mia was playing with a small puzzle that Aleena gave to her, to help the time pass while they were in transit.
"Wedge, go ahead and meet with the others, I need to have a last talk with Dev," Rex ordered and the others only showed a little hesitancy, before quickly walking out, leaving Rex, Ezra, HK, and Mia the only ones here. Sensing the suddenly serious atmosphere the young mirakula put down her game and turned her sightless eyes to the two men.
"What's going to happen now?" she asked, undoubtedly curious. They came to Nar Shaddaa in the first place to find Ezra Bridger, a Jedi Padawan who disappeared a few years back, only for Rex's only lead to simply tell her that there was no way to find the man in question.
And with that, she lost the last possible teacher she had left from a very, very small list.
"Well kid, it mostly depends on you...and what you choose," Ezra said, choosing his words carefully as he watched the kid with his mind full of doubts.
Was he really considering doing it? Sure the kid didn't know that Dev Morgan and Ezra Bridger were the same people and he wasn't about to teach her Jedi philosophy or wave around a lightsaber but still. Taking in the girl and teaching her the bare minimum to hide her powers, was extremely close to something he never wanted to do. Taking on a Padawan.
"What do I choose?" she asked back, head tilted with confusion.
Rex and Ezra met each other's gazes, silently conversing, before the blue-haired young man sighed and sat down in front of the girl, looking seriously at her, even though she couldn't see it in the conventional sense.
"Gonna be honest with you kid. If you go back to the rebellion, they will use you, not caring about you or the fact that you have no master to teach you. You will either die horribly due to overestimating your abilities or you fall down a dark path that you could never turn back and you wouldn't even recognize yourself." he told her with a grim tone, deciding not to sugarcoat the situation. After what the kid went through, she deserved that at least.
"Dev!" Rex warned him but he only waved him off.
"There is no point lying to her just because you want to save her innocence or whatever. She deserves us, at the very least, to be honest," he replied with a firm tone, while Mia only looked down, conflict clear in her face even through her veil.
Rex simply harrumphed and crossed his arms. Ezra didn't need to be a mind reader to know that the old clone didn't like the comment about honesty when he was hiding his identity and past from almost everybody else. Too bad, he was very much aware of his constant hyperacusis and he made his peace with it.
"The rebellion is clearly in a tight spot at the moment, and Jedi have this larger than life presence about them, thanks to all the stories the older folk likes to indulge themselves in." he joked pointing at Rex who only huffed but his expression soon turned back into serious."It's not your fault kid, but whether you are trained or not, they will use you as they see fit and luck and talent can only bring you so far before you end up biting more than you can chew. So I ask again. What do you want, kid?" he asked her, a frown on his face.
In response Mia only looked down, looking like a puppy that was kicked, her shoulders hunching and her veil shadowing her face. Ezra felt a little bad but he knew he needed to be told. The young girl was naive and didn't seem to grasp how precarious her situation was, as a force user that wasn't loyal to the Empire. Most of the rebellion wouldn't hesitate to make use of her talents, uncaring or ignorant of the possible consequences on her.
He knew because at one time he was in the same situation. Without a master, lost and confused. He wasn't given a chance to properly grieve, to find a balance within himself, and was sent out at missions again and again, and the darkness inside him just grew and grew before it erupted in almost the worst possible way.
"I...I want to find Ezra Bridger. To find a teacher." she replied in a small voice but the internal conflict and confusion were easy to hear.
He let out a weary sigh as he leaned back. Her answer wasn't surprising at all but didn't mean he liked it.
"Is it really what you want and not what they told you that you want?" he asked knowingly and the lack of response was all the answer he needed."Listen, Rex asked me to take you with me. As strange as it sounds, running with a smuggler is less hazardous to your health than whatever the rebellion planned on you. If you agree, you can come with us. Aleena and I can teach you about ships, about how to keep a low profile from the Empire and all that."
He searched for the correct words but it was not easy. Simply looking at her reminded him too much of the past and the nagging feeling in the back of his head told him he couldn't run away from it this time. Didn't mean he had any intention not to try at all.
"It's not the most glamorous or legal way of life but it's better than dying. Still, ultimately the decision is yours."
Ezra watched her pensively and he was a bit surprised. From what he saw from the kid so far, he figured she would make her decision pretty quickly, she seemed very much like going with the flow type, or following the will of the Force, if one wants to be extremely poetic. Yet there was stubbornness in the way she held herself, and ever so small but still their defiance against how the world works. Against the hand, fate dealt her so far.
"I knew Bridger," he said at last and he couldn't have missed the way her head snapped to him, the barest visible hope palpable on her face. "I might have learned a few things from watching him, meditation and stuff like that, that supposedly helps with concentration and keeping a lid on your powers. Mind you," he raised his voice slightly when she looked like she would interrupt."I know almost nothing about it, just what he did. But I imagine it might help to keep a low profile easier. So what do you say?"
He pointedly ignored the barely concealed snickering coming from Rex. He wasn't about to teach the kid, despite what the old clone might think. Really.
But showing her a few pointers so she wouldn't be a danger to herself and others, or that she wouldn't bring the inquisitors on their heads was another matter. He would give her the bare minimum of help but that didn't mean that he would be training her as a Jedi. Not at all. And that's if she even agreed to come with him.
He stood up, giving one pondering look to Mia before turning around and walking away. Rex looked like he wanted to stop him but in the end, he simply shook his head and let him leave. He said his peace, told her of her options.
From there it would be her choice.
"Captain Rex!" the rather dignified-looking Rebel commander saluted, but still couldn't hide the relieved smile as he shook hands with the old clone."It's good to see you. We were afraid for the worst when we lost communications with your squad."
They stood in the airlock, two armed men standing guard behind the commander while Rex and his squad stood opposite of them. Ezra was watching them from where he was leaning against a wall, arms crossed and a bored expression on his face. Mia was noticeably absent.
Rex's smile was a little strained and he couldn't help but sympathize with the man. Commander Harrison looked just as pompous as most imperial officers he met in his life. It was a real opening the first time he realized not everyone in the rebellion is a good man. Or likable for that matter.
You can take the imperial uniform off a man but you can't take the man off the imperial uniform.
"It was a bit touch and go, and we lost good men but we survived at least," Rex said, lowering his head in respect to the fallen. Harrison followed suit but he quickly raised it and sent a barely concealed look of disgust toward Ezra.
"It is really a shame but at least some of you got back Captain. This is the smuggler that helped you escape the imperial pursuit?" he asked and Ezra didn't fight against the urge to cheekily wave at him. "The Rebel alliance...appreciates your timely assistance, rest assured a reward will be given to you promptly." he informed the smuggler but it looked like he had to fight against every single word that left his mouth.
"No need for that." he waved him off with an easy smile on his face."I owed a debt to the captain which I have cleared. It's enough for me. And I already have a new job lined up for me, so I would appreciate it if we said our goodbyes quickly and everyone was on their way."
He internally enjoyed the sheer offense the commander took at the refusal of his 'generous' offer but he was not kidding. He wanted to be as far from him, as soon as possible. Only Rex recognized him so far but he didn't really want to play with his odds any longer. If anyone less understanding of his decision to quit would find him here, there would be no escape for him. Unless he tried to fight his way out but he would have preferred not to.
"I see." the man drawled before quickly dismissing him and turning back to Rex. "In that case Captain, we should be on our way to rendezvous with the rest of the fleet. We wouldn't want to...trouble our dear smuggler any longer." he still had time to send another look of disgust his way that Ezra bore with a smirk. "But I don't see the girl among your numbers." he noted, looking over Rex's squad with a stern eye.
"It's kind of classified. Let's talk about it away from prying ears." Rex's smile turned a little strained as he made to usher the commander back to his ship.
Ezra had no idea what cover story he had in mind for Mia's absence, since he doubted the clone would reveal that she joined a smuggler acquaintance of his, after accepting his offer to help her hide her powers. Not if he wanted to keep the girl away from the rebel commander who wouldn't think twice about using her and her powers.
"I see." Harrison hesitated a little before he nodded to himself, convincing himself of something or other. He straightened out, and the former rebel didn't know if he was aware of it or not but performed a classical imperial salute. "Let us be off man. Time is wasting and we wouldn't be safe until we reach the safe. Good day, smuggler." he gave a stiff nod to Ezra then turned around and marched back to his ship.
His guards quickly followed and after a few hesitant waves, Wedge and the rest of Rex's squad followed suit, until only Rex and Ezra remained in that temporal connection of two spaceships.
"You gonna be alright old man?" the younger man spoke up with a cheeky grin that finally managed to get a small smile from Rex.
"I should be asking you about that," he replied but it wasn't enough to put Ezra's worries at ease. The life of a rebel was not an easy one.
"I know how to keep myself out of trouble, Rex. Probably have to teach that to the kid though." his words prompted a large laugh from the old clone captain as he patted his shoulder a little roughly.
"What nonsense am I hearing? Ezra Bridger, keeping out of trouble? That's impossible." he gave a few more pats much to Ezra's chagrin before he grew more somber. "But seriously. Thank you, for taking the kid in. I know you didn't need to, I know your feelings on the rebellion and the Jedi. So thank you, Ezra."
The blue-haired teen suddenly looked away, completely red in the face as he tried to say something but could only cough in discomfort.
"Don't mention it. No really, don't mention it. The less is known about me or the kid, the less chance either the rebellion or worse the empire and its inquisitors would try to track us down."
"Alright. Don't worry, I talked with the others, no more than the mention of your fake name will be mentioned and I will make sure that Mia can't be tied to you. The rest will be up to you." he stepped away and performed a quick salute, pride shining in his eyes."May the Force be with you, Commander."
Ezra ignored the slight sheen of wetness in his own eyes as he let out a sardonic smile and returned the salute a bit sloppily.
"I'm no longer a commander, captain. Nor do I really believe in the Force in the way I did. But for what it's worth, may the Force be with you."
There were no more words needed. They just nodded to each other before Rex left as well, and Ezra stood there silently as the airlock closed and the rebel ship disengaged off their own.
He didn't move even when he heard the other ship jump to lightspeed, just looking ahead with a contemplative look on his face.
"Dev? Are you coming?" Aleena's voice came from the end of the hall, looking at him with worry."We should be moving out as well, no need to let the imperials track us down. And we have a job to take on, remember?"
"Yeah, you are right," he answered solemnly, still a bit distracted as he shook his head, trying to get back into the present. He walked towards her, the frown not disappearing on his face."Let's go."
"You alright?" she asked softly when he stopped next to her, the young man forcing a smile on his face but she could easily see how fake it was.
"Don't worry about me. It's just some old memories."
From the look in her eyes, Aleena was very far from convinced but in the end, decided to let it go. While they trusted each other a lot, both had their past they tended to never speak of, Dev a little more than her. But he never let it endanger them, so she could only trust in the fact that he would talk to her if it ever became anything serious.
"Alright. I'm going to plot out our course with the navicomputer. Keep an eye on the kid will you?" she said before she left him, going back to the cockpit.
Ezra stayed in that place for a long moment, before sighed to himself and made to go back to Mia, only to stop as a strange feeling assaulted him, and he turned around, eyes wide.
There was something in the air, no in the Force around him. A heaviness that was both familiar and alien. A feeling of trepidation, the calm before the storm. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand, and on instinct alone his hand immediately went to his belt, trying to grasp a weapon that was no longer there.
He knew there was no one there, there was no enemy in sight, yet the sudden flare of the Force around him made him try and grab his lightsaber. As he lowered his hand, he scoffed to himself. He remembered Kanan saying that Jedi were meant to be keepers of the peace, yet here he was, his first instinct was to reach for a weapon.
Another proof that he failed his old master in every possible way.
Yet even amidst these self-deprecating thoughts, he couldn't help but feel like something was changing. As if he was at the point of no return. Like his life would change drastically by the path he was about to step into.
It felt like they stood at the point of no return. No backing down, the only possible path laid ahead of them.
The two of them stood before a massive stone gate that blocked their entry to what might be the lower part of the temple they chose as their destination. Both Ezra and Sabine looked a little bit more tired and bruised than earlier, with good reason. The path that led them here was not without its troubles.
Soon after they explored the abandoned battlefield, they were attacked by a new inquisitor, one that apparently was able to fly with their lightsaber of all things. If he had the luxury to think about it, Ezra would have found it beyond ludicrous. Sure the whole wheeling motion of the inquisitor's signature lightsaber was dangerous at first and could easily catch off-guard others, it was already something that in closer inspection was to cover the lack of skill. But a flying one? What's next? It's going to reach lightspeed too?
Still, no matter how ridiculous he found it, it didn't mean the inquisitor was any less tricky to deal with than their predecessors. It took the honed teamwork of Mandalorian and Jedi to push them back, ultimately gaining the upper hand but he should have known better.
He was never that lucky and inquisitors don't fight fair if the odds are against them. Using their ship, the inquisitor fired several blasts at them, Sabine and Ezra barely jumping into cover before they joined the ossified Jedi and Sith around them who were slowly turned into mere dust. If he had time for it, he would have mourned the loss of so many possibly unique lightsabers of old, with only a few stored in his backpack.
Of course, their trials didn't end there. Before either of them could think of mounting a counterattack, the ground became unstable, probably because of the relentless shots from a starship's guns. He couldn't even cry out in frustration before the floor under their feet caved in, and the two of them were once again falling into the darkness.
Just how bad his luck could be to end up falling into some hollow cave slash tunnel twice in a day? Was Malachor the planet of pitfalls and unstable ground?
They ended up in a dusty tunnel, the inquisitor for some reason refraining from chasing after them, granting them a break finally. Despite the fall, they came out with relatively few bruises but there was no way they could climb back up. Which meant they could only follow the tunnel, hoping to either reach the sith temple or the surface. Or anything really that could serve as a way to tell them where they were exactly.
Not to mention there was still no sign of either of their companions, which was worrying in and of itself.
"You alright?" Sabine's worried voice cut him off from his reminiscing.
Shaking his head to clear it, Ezra offered her a cocky smile, deciding to hide his mounting unease and uncertainty. He tried his best to emulate Kanan's daredevil, confident attitude, hoping to reassure both her and himself but he doubted it was working much. He certainly didn't feel confident.
"Yeah I'm just happy that we finally found something other than dusty, old tunnels," he admitted honestly.
They spent a long while trying to navigate a maze of tunnels, ending several times at a dead end, forcing them to walk back and try to find someplace. It's gotten to the point where Sabine simply offered that they could try to bust their way through the walls but a simple warning from the Force told Ezra that their surroundings were brittle and compromised structurally enough already, that they would end up in more trouble than it was worth.
Still didn't mean the sight of a gate, and not a bare wall standing in there wasn't a massive relief. Even when they saw no visible way to open said gate.
"Though it would be nice to know where exactly we are and if we are going the right way," he said his thoughts out loud, not expecting an unfamiliar voice to answer from behind them.
"I know where you are." a frail, old and barely used voice answered the unspoken question as a figure stepped out of the shadows.
Ezra and Sabine reacted in an instant, jumping back, their back to the gate. Sabine raised her two pistols and pointed at the new arrival while Ezra ignited his saber and took a defensive stance, in case the figure started shooting at them.
"Please put your weapons away. I mean you no harm." the figure called out in a weary, fearful tone as he slowly and carefully stepped closer, revealing himself in the dim light of the tunnel.
It was a rather old and frail-looking man, his back hunched and leaning heavily on a short cane. He wore a dark cloak that hid most of his features, though as he raised his head, the two teens were surprised to see black tattoos cover what might have been red skin if not for the dust that basically blanketed the old man.
He looked honestly harmless and that just made it even stranger as to what he was doing here on this dead planet.
"Who are you?" Ezra couldn't help but ask, a suspicious frown on his face.
Slowly, gingerly the man raised his hand up to his hood and slowly pulled it back, revealing his face. He was bald with small horns coming out of his head. Yellow eyes stared at them, unnerving both of them.
"Call me, Old Master."
Ezra's hand grabbed his blaster as he looked around warily, even if he knew there was no one around him. He stood alone at the airlock, he was breathing heavily as the hair stood up at the back of his neck, warning him of great danger.
Of the past, that was determined to haunt him to the end of his days.
"The time has come, apprentice." a bodiless voice echoed in his mind, followed by a dark laugh that had him break down in sweat. No, he couldn't have survived. Not after what went down at Dathomir."I'm coming for you."