3,919 years before the Battle of Yavin…
Mira had always been good at finding lost people. First, in her career as a bounty hunter, and then for many years as a Jedi, she had spent much time finding those who had been lost, at first returning them to those who were willing to pay for them, but then to those who loved them and wanted them back.
In the refresher station of her quarters in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, Mira propped her hands on either side of the sink and looked at herself in the mirror for a moment. At fifty-five, her long hair was still mostly red, though it seemed there was more and more white in it all the time. If she permitted herself the vanity, she would say she had aged well, her only wrinkles laugh lines around her eyes and mouth, evidence of a lifetime of mostly peace and happiness.
Peace and happiness she owed to her teacher, her mentor, her friend, Jennyrija Talmak, the Jedi Master who had once been exiled from the Order but thirty-two years ago had saved it from utter destruction at the hands of the Sith. Mira had only known Jenn for a few brief months, but the exiled Jedi had changed her life forever. Jenn had given Mira the priceless gift of touching the Force, showing her how to listen to it and follow its currents to start healing the fractured galaxy.
Along with Jenn's other students and the handful of Jedi who had survived the wars and Sith attempts to purge them from the galaxy, Mira had spent the last thirty years restoring peace and justice to the galaxy. She felt she had succeeded, for while there was still trouble here and there, and the Jedi were as needed as ever, the galaxy was again stable, peaceful, and prosperous.
Mira walked back into her bedroom and crossed the carpeted floor on bare feet to the bureau. Now it was time to repay the gift her Jedi Master had given her. It was time to find out what had happened to Jenn.
Master Talmak had left her and the others behind at the Jedi Enclave on Dantooine shortly after the final destruction of Malachor V, and had taken the Ebon Hawk into the Unknown Regions in search of Revan. Neither of them were ever seen again.
For thirty years, it had troubled her that Jenn had never returned, never sent word of where she had gone or asked for the help Mira would readily have given her. Jenn was lost, and now it was time to find her, for Mira's own conscience if nothing else. She had to admit that Jenn was most likely dead, and had been for a long time, but Mira was determined to at least learn her fate. She now had the time and the means to do so, and she decided she was leaving today on her self-chosen mission.
She pulled open the drawers of the bureau and looked down at the robes she had worn for decades as a Jedi, then at the neatly folded dark green leather jacket and trousers she had once worn as a bounty hunter, tucked into a corner. She touched the jacket, feeling the reinforced leather under her fingers, still smooth and supple even after not being worn for decades.
Mira smiled ironically. "I don't have the figure for it anymore," she joked to herself, reaching instead for a set of robes.
She quickly changed out of her pajamas and into a layered forest-green tunic and dark green trousers, which she tucked into the black knee-high leather boots that were the one holdover from her bounty hunter outfit. Over the tunic she buckled an intricately tooled black leather belt with aurodium fittings -a gift from one of her many students over the years- and onto it she clipped her lightsaber. Lastly, she pulled a dark green hooded outer robe off of its hanger in her closet and shrugged into it, brushing her hair back with her fingers to fall around her shoulders.
Almost as an afterthought, Mira grabbed the wrist-mounted rocket launcher she had used as a bounty hunter and secured it in place around her left forearm, then tugged her sleeve down over it. The Unknown Regions were a dangerous place, and her launcher had gotten her out of innumerable tight situations over the years.
After taking a few minutes to put some extra clothes and other odds and ends into a duffel, Mira left her quarters and headed down to the Temple's hangar bay where her personal starship, the Seeker, waited.
On the way, Mira sensed the distinctive presence of Visas Marr in the Force, and glanced over as the Miraluka emerged from one of the meditation rooms adjacent to the corridor and fell into step with her. As always, Visas wore her usual robes and headdress of dark red silk and black leather, her double-bladed lightsaber hanging from her belt.
"You are preparing to go find Master Talmak," Visas said; a statement, not a question.
"That's right," Mira said, raising her duffel slightly. "I was going to go back up and talk to the rest of the Council about it after I put my things on the Seeker."
Visas looked straight ahead as they walked, the lower edge of the gold-trimmed red silk headdress that covered her eyes and most of her head shifting with the movement. "I am going with you," she said simply. It was also a statement, not a request.
Mira glanced sidelong at her friend with an amused smile. "Sure. I wouldn't be able to stop you from coming along, anyway, would I?"
"You would not," Visas replied evenly. "Jenn left me behind, and if you are going to look for her, I will not allow you to do the same."
Mira let out a light chuckle. "Maybe we ought to just leave right now before the others volunteer themselves, too."
Visas turned her head toward Mira. "That would be most inconsiderate," she said disapprovingly. "You know they are as curious about her fate as we are."
Mira's chuckle became a laugh. "We've known each other for over thirty years, and you still can't tell when I'm joking."
"Oh," said Visas. "I see." Only because Mira knew her so well was she able to detect the slight hint of embarrassment in Visas' tone.
As they entered the Temple's hangar bay, Mira looked over at her ship, the Seeker. It was a Dynamic-class light freighter, the same as the Ebon Hawk, which she had chosen for admittedly sentimental reasons. The Seeker boasted similar armaments and systems, having been heavily modified by Mira and her friends over the twenty-five years she'd owned it, but was green and black where the Ebon Hawk had been red and white.
As Mira headed up the ramp, she heard whistles and beeps and the sound of Atton Rand's voice arguing with the droid.
"I'm telling you, I can hear the catch in the hyperdrive," Atton said irately. After a dismissive bleep, he growled, "I've spent twenty-five years with this ship, you beeping little trash compactor; I know what it's supposed to sound like!"
Mira turned into the main hold and looked aft down the long corridor to the engine room in time to see Atton give the astromech droid a none-too-gentle kick.
"No, I'm not imagining it!" Atton shouted indignantly at J8-C5. "If anybody's got 'faulty sensors', it's you."
The boxy little orange droid hooted derisively at him, then fled as fast as its wheels could take it when Atton took a step towards it. Mira had to chuckle to herself; Atton's attitude toward droids hadn't changed and probably never would.
Atton pushed his fingers through his gray-streaked dark brown hair, then glanced up sheepishly as he realized his outburst had had an audience. "Yeah, yeah, I know," he said. "'There is no emotion, there is peace.'"
"I was going to say, 'don't kick my droid', but that works, too," Mira said mildly.
Atton shrugged his broad shoulders under his oil-stained gray coverall. "Keeps Jay-eight on his toes," he said dismissively. "Er, wheels." He wiped his hand on the leg of his coverall, adding yet another dark stain to the already-impressive collection. "The Seeker's all fueled up and ready to go whenever you are," he said.
"How'd you know I was planning to leave?" Mira asked curiously.
Atton gave her a frank look. "You've been thinking about it for three days, and not exactly hiding it, either." He held up a hand, raising his index finger. "And before you say anything, yes, I am going with you. Jenn meant just as much to me as she did to you, and I want to find out what happened to her." He frowned. "It's the least we can do, after not just ignoring what she told us and going after her anyway like I wanted to."
"Jenn had her mission, and we had ours," Visas said evenly. "She would not have permitted us to join her, even if it we were not needed to rebuild the Jedi Order."
"I know," Atton said somberly. Mira knew that he still cared for Jenn, even after all this time.
"All right," Mira said, tossing her duffel to Atton. "Stow that and get ready to go. Visas and I will be back in a few minutes."
As they rode the turbolift down through the central tower of the Jedi Temple away from the Council chambers, Visas turned to Mira. "Have we anything resembling a plan?"
"I've got a contact on Terminus who might know something," Mira said, idly watching the skyline of Coruscant through the transparisteel walls of the lift. "We'll start there."
"Do you think there will be any clues left after this long?" Visas asked. "Even though I still sometimes search for Jenn with the Force, I have been able to sense nothing for decades other than a faint impression that she might still be alive."
"Hey, I didn't say it was gonna be easy," Mira replied with a shrug.
Visas was quiet for a moment. "Jenn was particularly… memorable," she said with a slight fond smile. "There will likely still be some evidence of her travels we can follow."
"And we've got the Force," Mira said, looking over at her confidently. "I've got a good feeling about this, Visas."
Visas looked serenely straight ahead, her hands clasped behind her back. "As do I."
Atton was waiting for them at the base of the Seeker's ramp, now dressed in his usual dark brown robes. "The noisemaker says everything checks out and we're ready to go," he said, gesturing back over his shoulder with a thumb.
"Let's move out," Mira said as she ascended the ramp.
Once in the cockpit, she slid into the copilot's seat and worked in conjunction with her friend to activate the various systems in preparation for takeoff.
Atton reached out and touched the comm on his console. "Air Traffic Control, this is the Seeker. Requesting permission for immediate takeoff."
"Permission granted, Seeker. Safe travels, Master Rand."
"Thanks, Control," Atton said with a smile.
He put his hands to the controls, and the Seeker leaped up through the myriad lights of Coruscant for the starry blackness of space.
In the busy spaceport of Terminus, an Outer Rim planet near the Unknown Regions, the three of them were just part of the crowd, and no one spared them a second look. Leaving J8 behind to watch the ship, Mira, Atton and Visas headed for the Rowdy Rancor, the cantina where they were meeting Mira's contact.
Ostensibly, it was near the beginning of local night, though the light from three moons, flying airspeeders, ships, and a garish jumble of signs and streetlights made it easy to see. The local architecture tended towards lots of narrow spires and domes on the buildings, built to imitate the hardened magma deposits from some long-ago volcanic eruption on which the spaceport was built.
The Rowdy Rancor was, as could be expected, in the less-than-reputable part of town. Its roof was low and its walls were curved in a series of domes, all made of the local black volcanic stone. The cantina announced its presence through a large red holographic sign depicting a grinning, drooling rancor making an obscene gesture with one of its clawed hands.
"I do not know which assaults my senses more," Visas said as they stopped outside before going in, "the sounds… or the smell. Must we go in here?"
"Varykk has been the top information broker here for a hundred and fifty years, in no small part due to his holographic memory," Mira assured her. "If Jenn came through here, he'll know it."
"You ladies go talk to him," Atton said, rubbing his hands together eagerly. "I'll be at the pazaak tables."
"Predictably," Visas murmured to Mira, who smirked in reply.
The Rowdy Rancor was even noisier inside than the streets outside. A band had set up in one corner and was blaring discordant, cacophonous music that sounded like gundarks mating in a room full of gongs and horns. Mira tuned it out, assuming there were tones in the music that went beyond the range of human hearing; there was a bass tone she could feel only as rhythmic vibrations in the floor beneath her feet.
Like most cantinas Mira had seen, the ceilings were low and the lights were dim; most of the patrons were visible only as shadowy outlines against the garish neon lighting strips that ran around the top of the walls and a meter above the floor. Mira could sense a dozen sorts of illegal activity going on around her, but to openly intervene would only serve to draw attention to her and her companions, and that would bring trouble they didn't need.
"Hoo-eee, you must have been quite a looker once," a drunken blue-haired young Zeltron said as he bumped into Mira. He grinned stupidly, eyes half closed from intoxication. "Still are, really. Wanna go meet some of my friends?"
"I don't think so," Mira replied flatly.
The Zeltron shrugged. "Your loss."
Mira stared intently into the Zeltron's eyes and made a subtle gesture with her fingers. "You want to go home and go to bed before you get into trouble."
The Zeltron yawned and belched, slurring a half-hearted apology before repeating, "I'm gonna go home before I get in trouble. Lotta weirdos around here." He stumbled off through the crowd.
Mira narrowed her eyes at a red-skinned Twi'lek female nearby. "And you want to go give him his wallet back."
The Twi'lek looked back at Mira. "I want to give him his wallet back," she said in a monotone, heading off after him.
Mira and Visas made their way through the crowded cantina to one of the back rooms, where Varykk waited. Varykk was a huge, corpulent six-armed being with yellow skin of a species Mira had never seen anywhere else. His garishly colored robes were decorated with a multitude of tiny lights that blinked in a variety of hues, ensuring he was the center of attention among the court of various beings gathered around him.
Varykk frowned as he saw Mira approaching, and one of his bodyguards moved to intercept her, but Varykk waved the guard off with three of his hands. The information broker's facial tentacles twitched in agitation below his bright orange eyes, which narrowed in displeasure.
"I had hoped to never see you again," he rumbled in an extremely deep voice.
Mira smirked. "That's no way to talk to the woman who saved your life, Varykk."
"My life wouldn't have needed saving if not for you," Varykk countered, crossing two of his arms over his enormous belly. "What do you want?"
"Nothing too complicated," Mira assured him. "Just some information on someone who might have come through here a while ago."
"How long?" the information broker inquired.
"Thirty-two Standard years," Mira answered. "She was a human woman about my height with blue eyes and light brown hair, would have been in her mid-thirties at the time." She lowered her voice. "She was a Jedi."
"Jennyrija Talmak the Jedi Master," Varykk said with a broad grin. "I would have remembered your friend even without my perfect memory. She broke up a slaving ring during her brief stay here and eliminated quite a few of my competitors in the process. I happened to have encountered the man she came here searching for, and was able to point her in the direction of the system he had gone to search, a place called Yotuunhym." His grin faded. "None dare venture there but fools and Jedi," he went on. "There are warnings against Yotuunhym on every chart, and with good reason: there are monsters there, creatures more terrible than anything you have ever encountered. If you go there, Jedi, expect no rescue, for no one will come after you."
"You have been there yourself," Visas observed.
Varykk patted his ample belly with three hands. "In my younger days, before I settled into my home here. There was a colony of my people there once, before the Moorwens destroyed it."
"Moorwens?" Mira asked.
"Monstrous creatures," Varykk said with a shudder. "I never got a good look at one; I know them only as lights in the darkness. They glow with an eerie light, use it to lure in their prey before they strike and rip them to shreds." He gestured up with two of his hands. "There are ancient temples scattered over the main continent of Yotuunhym, places built by an advanced race long forgotten. The Moorwens guard them with an unbelievable ferocity. The man who came here almost forty years ago, the one your friend the Jedi Master was looking for, asked me of this place, and after my description, said they must have been built by beings called the Rakata.
"I said also that I had noticed Sith glyphs in the temple I explored, and this interested the man even more. He pressed me for directions, and against my better judgment I gave them, though I warned him many times not to venture there. Your friend the Jedi Master paid as much attention to my warnings as he did, and set off after him. As I far as I know, the Moorwens must have killed them both, for I have heard nothing further from or about them since."
Visas turned her head toward Mira. "Do you wish to search this place?"
"Yeah, it's our only real lead right now," Mira replied. "We'll stay in the air and look for the Hawk with the sensors." She looked back at Varykk. "These Moorwens can't fly, can they?"
Varykk shook his head. "Not as far as I know." He reached into a pocket of his voluminous robes and produced a datacard. "As soon as I heard word of your arrival, I supposed you would come here to ask me about your friend the Jedi Master. Here is everything I know about Yotuunhym."
Mira accepted it and tucked it into one of her own pocket. "Thanks, Varykk."
Varykk pointed at her with all six hands. "This makes us even, Mira. If by some miracle you return from Yotuunhym to trouble me again, you pay for information like everyone else."
Mira grinned. "Unless I save your life again."
Varykk grunted and waved them away, frowning beneath his twitching facial tentacles.
They collected Atton from the pazaak tables and headed for the exit. He ruffled a handful of bills as they walked, grinning. "Got quite a nice haul today. Bunch of yokels."
"You are supposed to be a Jedi Master, Atton," Visas said reprovingly as they left the cantina and headed down the garishly lit street for the spaceport. "Pazaak is beneath you now."
Atton shrugged. "Hey, Jenn was always up for a good game. She saved us from going broke more than once on our little trip, in case you don't remember."
Mira smirked, unable to resist. "What I remember is that after we blew up Goto's yacht, you went down to the cantina to celebrate, and later that night Jenn and I had to go get your clothes back from that Rodian who won them off you."
"That damned Rodian was cheating," Atton said defensively. "And that was thirty years ago; you'd think you would let it go by now."
"You'd think," Mira said with a teasing smile.
As they walked back to the ship, Mira smiled to herself as she remembered the days Jenn and her companions had spent on Nar Shaddaa before Mira had decided to join them and learn the ways of the Force. At the time, she had thought Jenn unbelievably stupid, blundering around the Refugee Sector like a bantha, sticking her lightsaber into everyone's business. It was only later that Mira had realized Jenn had been attracting more attention than a fleet of Sith warships on purpose, trying to lure out the leadership of the local Exchange cartel so that she could eliminate them.
With the removal of Goto, Visquis, and the other crime bosses, Nar Shaddaa had calmed somewhat. It would never be as peaceful as Alderaan or Ithor, but at least now everyone there had a good chance to make a decent living. Mira had gone back there a few times over the years, and was pleased to note there was a life, a heart to the place where there had been none before.
Mira was still deep in thought as she and Atton took the Seeker up through Terminus' atmosphere and plotted the best course to the Yotuunhym system. She barely even noticed as her ship jumped to lightspeed and the stars outside were replaced by the swirling blue tunnel of hyperspace.
She got up and headed back into the main hold, then sat down in one of the chairs near the central holoprojector. Every detail of that last conversation with Jenn flashed through her mind over and over again, as it had many times through the years. The Jedi Master hadn't been specific; she had said only that she was going into the Unknown Regions to help Revan fight the true Sith, the remnants of Naga Sadow's ancient empire that had lurked in the shadows for the thousand years since the Great Hyperspace War. Terminus was near one of the very few places ships could pass through the hyperspace disturbance that separated the Unknown Regions from the rest of the galaxy, so it was only logical that both Revan and Jenn had come through here on their way in.
The holoprojector flared to life in front of her, and Mira looked up to see Visas standing at the control console.
"Please pull up Varykk's reconstruction of the Sith glyphs he saw and describe them to me," the blind Miraluka requested. Mira knew Visas could 'see' after a fashion through the Force, but could not make out intricate detail like this.
Mira pulled up the information and displayed it on the central holoprojector. "Just looks like a bunch of squiggles to me," she said, frowning at the holographic reproduction of the carved stone panel. "I don't know any of these symbols."
"But I do," Visas said patiently. "Describe them to me as best you can, and I will translate them."
They set to work as their ship hurtled through hyperspace.
Two days later, Mira and Visas had translated what Varykk remembered of the Sith glyphs he had seen in the temple he once explored on Yotuunhym. There were some surprising revelations, as well as some tantalizing hints of further secrets held in the ancient stone temples.
"So they definitely were built by the same aliens who made the Star Forge?" Atton asked, draped lazily over one of the chairs in the main hold.
"Correct," Visas replied from where she stood next to the projector. "The Rakata abandoned the planet during the collapse of their empire, and it was apparently left untouched for millennia. It is my best estimate that roughly eight hundred years ago, a group of Sith rediscovered the planet and explored a sizable portion of the main continent. The panel describes a series of attacks by the creatures Varykk called Moorwens, who were successful in driving the Sith away from all of the temples but one, where the ranking Sith Lord sensed an artifact strong in the Force."
"Being a Sith Lord, he commanded his followers to keep the temple secure while he explored it," Mira continued, seating herself in one of the other chairs. "The panel Varykk saw says it was carved during a brief lapse in the Moorwen attacks, where the Sith Lord declared his ownership of the temple and his intention to settle the planet despite the… extremely hostile wildlife."
Atton scoffed. "Sith Lord, all right."
"Hastily scratched at the bottom were a brief series of glyphs declaring that the Sith Lord had been killed by Moorwens," Visas went on, "and that whoever did the carving intended to leave immediately. The final words on the panel are a warning to any future visitors against attempting to explore that temple or any others. A rough translation would be, 'It is not worth it. The creatures are too strong.'"
Mira snorted. "If Varykk had been able to understand those glyphs, he probably would have high-tailed it out of there instead of going in. He hasn't stayed in business as long as he has by taking risks on uncertain rewards."
"Perhaps the most interesting feature of the panel is its mention of Star Forges, plural," Visas said, gesturing at the hologram. "Most of that line had been obliterated by damage by the time Varykk saw the panel, but the glyphs are certain; the Sith who carved that panel was aware of more than one Star Forge." She paused in thought for a moment. "I have gone over this with Mira many times, and the glyphs seem to indicate the Sith learned of this other Star Forge in the temple itself, perhaps in a carving or some surviving Rakatan computer. It is my supposition that the Sith Lord was attempting to learn the location of the Star Forges, and that is why he was determined to hold the temple against the Moorwens for a time."
"Makes sense why Revan would go there," Atton said. "If he learned of another Star Forge, he would definitely want to find it, either to use it or destroy it to keep anyone else from getting their hands on it." The console behind him beeped, and he looked over his shoulder at it. "Well, we're coming up on the system, so we're shortly going to find out for ourselves."
The three of them went into the cockpit to bring the ship out of hyperspace. Atton slowly pulled back on the hyperdrive lever, and the starlines blurred and receded to reveal a mainly white, green and blue planet orbiting a mid-size yellow star. The long-range sensor readings informed them that Yotuunhym was one of only three planets orbiting this star, and the sole inhabitable body; the others were a rocky inner planet too close to the star to support any kind of life, and an unremarkable gas giant with three frozen-methane-covered moons.
Yotuunhym itself had one spherical white moon with no atmosphere of its own and another irregular moon, likely a large asteroid or comet the planet's gravity had captured sometime in the distant past. The planet's snow-and-forest-covered northern continent was the only sizable landmass, being several thousand kilometers in area; everything else was mostly volcanic islands and atolls scattered around the rest of the small world.
"No signs of any major power sources," Atton said, looking down at his monitors as the Seeker drew closer to the planet. "It looks like there's maybe two dozen of those temples, and they're the only signs of civilization I've seen so far."
"There are traces of engine emissions, though," Mira said, looking at her own monitors. "Somebody's been through here within the last day or so."
She looked over her shoulder at Visas as she sensed the Miraluka's surprise in the Force.
"There is another ship here with many people aboard it," Visas said. "I sense them."
Mira focused on the Force, and a moment later detected the mass of lives herself. "It's over by that moon," she said.
"We've just been pinged by some kind of sensor," Atton reported. "Doesn't match any configuration I know." The console beeped, and he said, "We're being hailed."
"Put it through," Mira said, peering out at the system. Where was this ship?
An almost human-sounding male voice issued a query in a language Mira did not recognize. He sounded wary, but not overtly threatening. Mira exchanged a silent glance with her companions, both of whom indicated that they didn't know it, either.
"This is the Jedi starship Seeker," Mira transmitted back. "I'm sorry, but we don't understand your language."
There was a pause on the other end of the comm for a moment before the same male spoke again, this time in a different language.
"That sounds like Sy Bisti," Atton said. "Trade language used on the Outer Rim, mostly. He's using a weird variant of it, though." He responded in that language, which resulted in another pause from the other ship.
The male voice spoke again, and Atton frowned before translating. "He just asked us to clothe his pet mynock. Or identify ourselves. One of those."
"I'll go see if we have anything that'll fit a mynock," Mira said dryly.
Atton chuckled shortly before he hit the comm button again and said something in the trade language.
"He says he's never heard of Jedi," Atton translated the alien's next statement. "He says that he's the commander of a capital ship belonging to the Expansionary Fleet, and that we're trespassing in space belonging to his species, the Chiss."
"Very carefully explain to him that we are not hostile," Mira said. "Tell him we think one of our friends might have come through here, and we're looking for her."
Atton did so, and they waited anxiously for the reply.
Finally the alien commander transmitted again, and Atton translated. "He says he believes us. His ship came here to survey this system, and before he lost contact with them, his landing team reported that they had found evidence of a fairly recent battle near one of the temples." He waited for the commander to finish his next statement, then frowned slightly before continuing. "He says he doesn't have any more landing vessels, so he's requesting that we help him find out what happened to his survey team."
Mira decided immediately. "All right," she said. "What does he want us to do?"
The Chiss vessel's name did not translate directly to Basic; the most conceptually similar word was Sojourner, so that was what they called the alien ship. Sojourner was an exploration vessel, out on a three-year mission to map and survey the systems in this sector for possible colonies. It was not a warship, and though armed with some turbolaser-equivalent weapons, did not have a fighter squadron. The Sojourner's only atmospheric craft were two unarmed landing vessels and a lightly armed 'captain's yacht', which was currently offline due to damage taken during an encounter with pirates a few days previous.
The first landing craft had gone down to the surface of the planet earlier that day, but all contact had been lost a few hours later. A second team had been dispatched in the other landing craft to investigate, but they, too had dropped out of contact not long after touching down. The Sojourner's sensors said both craft were still parked near one of the temples, but there had been no contact on the communicators for approximately five hours, since the beginning of local night.
After boarding the Sojourner briefly to pick up the starship's executive officer and three troopers, the Seeker headed down to the planet.
The Chiss turned out to be a tall humanoid species with blue skin, black hair and subtly glowing red eyes. The four who boarded Mira's starship wore trim black uniforms with minimal decoration or insignia, and had a generally cold demeanor. Though their emotions were difficult to distinguish, Mira had the impression that the exec seemed to faintly resent her captain's request for their help, though nothing was said about it.
In fact, none of the four Chiss said much of anything; the three troopers maintained a professional silence, and the exec spoke only in terse statements. As the Seeker flew over the northern continent, passing over long snow-capped mountain ranges and dense forests of coniferous evergreen trees, the exec stood at the console between the pilot and copilot's seats, her hands clasped behind her back and her eyes roving over the landscape.
"We're coming up on the coordinates," Atton said.
"Keep us a few hundred meters up and do a sensor sweep," Mira said. "Let's make sure there are actually survivors to rescue before we risk running into those Moorwen things."
The Chiss exec said something to Atton, and Mira noticed him hiding a smirk as he translated. "She just said pretty much exactly what you did," he said.
"I sense life below," Visas said from one of the cockpit's passenger chairs. "Emotions; what seem to be fear, anxiety, determination? There are certainly survivors."
When she concentrated, Mira felt the emotions of the survivors herself, and further, that they were clustered together in one area.
The exec pointed down at the large, thin spires of the temple below as the Seeker's floodlights illuminated it, and uttered a terse statement.
"There are the landing ships," Atton translated. He squinted at them. "One of them definitely isn't taking off again; look at that damage to the rear section."
"It looks like something… clawed its way in," Mira said, peering at the shredded metal of the oblong landing craft's rear hull. She sighed and sank back in her seat. "Great. That's all we need: creatures with claws that can rip through starship hulls." She looked up and back at the exec. "How many people would be in each shuttle?"
Atton translated her question, then the exec's reply. "Twenty-five in each landing craft; they were both full survey teams, which included ten of their equivalent of marines."
Mira scowled at the temple. "There is no way we can fit fifty extra people on this ship, even for a short hop up to the Sojourner. We're gonna have to hope that other shuttle still flies." She thought for a moment, then decided. "All right. Atton, set us down. Keep the engines primed and keep one hand on the guns in case those creatures decide to show up while we're inside. I'm gonna have you on the comlink the whole time so you can translate."
As soon as the Seeker touched down, Mira was off toward the boarding ramp, clipping her comlink to the collar of her tunic as she went. She drew her lightsaber but didn't ignite it yet, holding it tightly in one hand. She slowly descended the ramp, all her senses on full alert.
"I can't tell how many survivors there are," Mira said to Visas as they made their way toward the temple's massive stone door, their footsteps crunching over fallen needles and twigs from the trees. "They're just a big, terrified mass to me."
"Forty-one, I believe," the Miraluka replied evenly. "Several seem to be critically wounded."
Mira kept a wary eye on the dark, unquiet forest beyond the range of her vessel's floodlights. She could sense something out there, definitely more than one, though the numbers were difficult to determine.
The exec and her troopers easily kept pace with the Jedi, glowing red eyes also watching the murky forest. It was cold here, bitterly so, and that lent an odd crispness to the air. It seemed to heighten the faint traces of blood Mira could smell around the damaged shuttle, a metallic tang to the air that suggested it had been freshly spilled.
Before they even got to it, the massive stone door of the temple rumbled open, and a Chiss man in an earthy brown uniform stepped out and called something to them urgently. The exec responded, and the man switched to the trade language to say something else.
"He says to hurry up, and to watch for the creatures. His people will carry the wounded to our ship first," Atton's voice said from Mira's collar.
"Something approaches," Visas said, warily drawing her own lightsaber.
"Of course it does," Mira said wearily. She turned to one of the troopers standing nearby. "Hey you, give me that light on your gun."
She gestured to it, and the man detached the light from his rifle and tossed it to her. Mira examined it for a moment, then adjusted it so that the light's beam became broader. She hurled it out into the darkness, watching its arc with anticipation bordering on dread.
The light finally landed with the emitter facing upwards, the weighted bottom end lodging itself in a pile of needles and other forest detritus.
What it illuminated with startling clarity was a huge, muscular, vaguely reptilian quadruped with sharp spines at the joints and on its back where its shoulders met its neck. A long prehensile tale with multiple tendrils curved up above the creature's head.
It snarled, baring its teeth, and then slowly, deliberately, reached out and stomped on the light, plunging it back into darkness.
However, a moment later, neon-bright lines of red appeared where the creature had been, and as they grew in intensity, Mira realized they were on the creature itself, some form of bioluminescence. The glowing lines outlined the Moorwen in intimidating detail, making its eerie silence all the more unsettling.
In the next second, Mira did two things: first, she ignited her lightsaber's luminous viridian blade, bathing herself and her immediate surroundings in pale silvery-green light; then, she turned her head to look at Visas, sending a message to the Miraluka through the Force.
Keep them away from the ship, and get as many of the Chiss aboard as you can. The wounded are top priority.
What will you do? Visas replied.
Buy you as much time as I can.
And with that, Mira hurled herself in a long, spiraling Force jump at the glowing, snarling creature. Its tail lashed at her, and she batted the razor tendrils away with her lightsaber. To her surprise, the blade did not immediately sever the creature's tendrils; when it pulled back its tail, the majority of them were burnt and smoking but still largely intact.
The two of them eyed one another suspiciously, having gained new knowledge and respect for the other's capabilities.
High above the forest canopy, a cold wind swept down from the clouds, carrying the first pale flurries of an oncoming snow-storm. As the swirling flakes danced between them, Mira tensed, her senses stretched to their limit.
"Let's hope you don't have any friends coming to back you up for a while," she said to the creature.
The Moorwen snarled, twin silver clouds streaming from its nostrils, and charged.
Mira leaped straight up and, even as the creature's body passed under her and its razor tail ripped her outer robe to fluttering shreds, slashed down with a powerful, two-handed strike, putting her entire upper body into the blow.
As her boots crunched into the increasingly snow-covered forest floor, Mira heard the Moorwen's almost outraged howl, and watched the cauterized stump of its tail thrash ineffectually in her direction.
She cocked one eyebrow in challenge and dropped into a defensive position, angling her blade in front of her body.
Jaws spread wide, the Moorwen let out an ear-shattering roar, its deep-throated bellow rumbling into the cold winter night. The lines on its body flared red, and it charged again, leaping up and over Mira as if to crush her beneath its muscular body.
Mira carefully calculated the angle, drawing deeply on the Force, and took two quick steps backward, spinning her lightsaber into a reverse grip. She planted her feet wide, dropping into a tense crouch, and extended her arm, bracing the pommel of her lightsaber with the palm of her other hand.
The Moorwen's leap carried its head right onto the tip of her gleaming viridian blade, which stabbed up through the roof of its mouth and through its brain, killing it instantly.
As the creature slumped to the ground, groaning out one last breath, Mira deactivated her lightsaber and stepped back, glancing briefly at the rips in her loose sleeve caused by the creature's teeth. No injuries.
"Whoa!" Atton's voice shouted from her collar. "The motion trackers just went crazy! Something, a lot of somethings, are converging on our position."
"Can you tell how many?" Mira asked, jogging back to where her ship and the Chiss shuttle waited.
"Couple dozen at least," Atton answered. "I recommend getting the hell out of here as quickly as possible."
"Seconded," Mira replied. "How many of our blue friends have we got on the Seeker?"
"Close to a full load. I don't think we can carry any more, not if we want to break orbit."
Mira frowned out at the whirling storm, squinting at the stream of crouching figures racing for her vessel. "All right, you'd better take off, then. Tell the exec to start sending people back inside the temple. Hopefully we can hold them off from in there until you come back."
She was met at the door of the huge stone temple by the exec, who was arguing with both Atton on her comlink and a Chiss man in a uniform similar to hers, presumably one of the expedition marines.
"If I'm understanding this right," said Atton, "the exec wants to do what you said and barricade the rest of you inside the temple until we come back, but the other guy says one of the creatures got in earlier through an entrance they haven't found yet, and he doesn't want to risk that again. He says a couple of his men can get the shuttle running if the rest of you hold off the creatures for a few minutes."
"That's all we're left with, marines?" Mira asked, glancing up at the swiftly departing outline of her ship.
"That's right. They got all the civilians, especially the wounded, in here. Visas is working to stabilize a couple who might not make it back to the ship."
"At least I'll have some help," Mira said mostly to herself.
"We'll be back as quick as we can," Atton said, already starting to break up as he passed out of comlink range. "Good luck."
"May the Force be with you," Mira murmured, knowing he probably couldn't hear her.
She looked back around the group of blue-skinned men and women in dark uniforms, holding a variety of weapons. There were perhaps seventeen people still clustered around the shuttle, including herself.
"All right," she began, keeping half an eye on the tree line, "we don't speak the same language and a whole herd of nasty monsters is going to be here any second, so I'm going to keep this short and hope that you get my general meaning."
The Chiss looked back at her blankly, clearly not understanding a single word, but retaining an air of professional determination anyway.
Mira gestured emphatically toward the shuttle. "Concentrate on getting that thing off the ground as quickly as possible." She made a circling motion in the direction of the rear hatch. "We'll stay near the rear section and keep them away from the ship. You can plainly see what they did to the other one," she finished with a gesture toward the wrecked shuttle.
More blank looks.
"I suppose it's too much to hope that any of you speak Mandalorian," Mira said in that language, looking hopefully at the group of soldiers.
One of the marines' blue-black brows rose in surprise. "I know that language," he replied. "My old unit sometimes traded with armored men who used it. We all learned it in case we ever met any more of them."
"The Force is with me today," Mira exulted in Basic, then switched back to Mandalorian. "You just became my new best friend," she said, leveling one finger at the marine. She quickly repeated her earlier request, then waited impatiently as the marine relayed it to the others in his native tongue.
One of the other marines raised her hand and shouted urgently, pointing into the trees.
"They're here!" the Mandalorian-speaking marine translated, snapping his rifle up into position.
Out of the trees came a surging, snarling tide; dozens of glowing, growling Moorwens sprinting neck-and-neck for their position.
Mira ignited her lightsaber and leaped atop the shuttle, gathering the Force to herself. Unbidden, memories of her teacher surfaced in her mind.
"When you need to quickly regain your strength in a fight," Jenn's voice said in her mind, "this form is most useful…"
A powerful Force Wave erupted from Mira's fingers, knocking back the first line of Moorwens. She quickly drew the Force to herself and sent out another telekinetic shove, watching as the creatures tumbled back and tripped one another. To further keep them off-balance, she fired a rocket from her wrist launcher into the densest gathering of creatures. Flash-melted snow hissed around them, and several stumbled into one another, blinded.
She leaped from the top of the shuttle with her lightsaber gripped in both hands, stabbing into a charging Moorwen which had nearly reached the clustered group of frantically firing Chiss marines.
"This is a more aggressive form, and its power is unparalleled, but it narrows your focus to a single opponent. Never use it if you are alone and being attacked by a group of enemies."
Claws ripped through Mira's billowing outer robe, leaving it in further shredded tatters. She quickly shrugged out of it, ignoring the cold, and tossed the remains of the garment over the nearest Moorwen's head. As the creature thrashed, she swept in and plunged her lightsaber through the top of its skull.
A memory of Jenn doing the same to an attacking boma on Dxun flashed through Mira's mind, and for an instant she was back there in the oppressive heat and thick vegetation of Onderon's jungle moon, using her newly constructed lightsaber in combat for the first time. At her side, Bao-Dur poured fire from his blaster rifle into a leaping maalras, which fell back with a whimper.
The vision faded away as quickly as it had come, leaving Mira standing beside a steaming corpse in the swirling snows of heavily forested Yotuunhym.
Behind her, the marines continued to fire. A Moorwen leaped in and clamped its jaws around the torso of one man, and he screamed in pain, but in the next instant, jammed the barrel of his rifle into the creature's eye and loosed a punishing burst of fire. Predator and prey died at the same moment, slumping to the snows stained with their mixed lifeblood.
Mira paused, sizing up the battlefield in an instant. From her position, she could see more Moorwens pouring out of the trees. The shuttle's engines rumbled to life behind her, but she could see that this fresh wave of creatures would reach it before it could take off.
Unless she stopped them.
With a dreadful certainty, Mira saw the angles and made the calculations in her head. She was only a few seconds' sprint from the shuttle's hatch, but she knew that the creatures would reach the craft moments after she did and rip it to pieces. She would not be able to fight them off from inside, she knew.
Mira made her decision, and she had no regrets.
"Go!" she shouted at the marines. "Take off now!"
"Come on, you can make it!" the Mandalorian-speaking marine urged, gesturing her to the shuttle with one hand.
But she knew he was wrong.
"I'll be fine!" she lied. "My ship is on its way back already. Now don't argue! Close the hatch and go!"
She didn't bother waiting for his reply. Mira hurled herself into the cluster of Moorwens and let the Force guide her hands, stabbing and slashing with her lightsaber, sending out wave after wave with the Force, doing anything she could to keep the creatures from reaching the shuttle. She fired rocket after rocket into the charging lines of Moorwens, until at last she ran out.
There seemed to be no end to the creatures. Even as she wielded her shining blade with all the skill she possessed, claws and tails found their way through her guard, and Mira moved a little slower each time, fighting off the red waves of pain threatening to overwhelm her senses.
Dimly, Mira heard the screaming whine of the shuttle's engines ascending through the atmosphere, and this emboldened her. The marines were away, safe; she had saved their lives. Even as the end crept closer, her spirit soared on the winds of the Force.
Finally a razor-sharp tail slipped through her guard and stabbed through Mira's chest. She groaned and slashed through the tendrils with her brilliant, gleaming blade, then shoved the creature away with the Force.
She pressed one hand to the wound, knowing it was mortal, knowing she would not leave this planet alive, but still she kept her feet, blade held out before her in warning to the gathering creatures circling around her. Her life seemed to slip out between her fingers, running in hot rivulets over her knuckles to splash in steaming drops to the new-fallen snow at her feet.
Breath panting out in argent, crystalline clouds around their heads, the Moorwens eyed her warily. The lines on their bodies gleamed with scarlet light, bright against the driving, blinding snow. Only Mira's lightsaber and the glow of the creatures' bioluminescent lines lit the night now, leaving details blurry and indistinct.
"Come on!" she challenged, fighting to keep her lightsaber steady, leveled at the closest creature. "Finish it! It's just you and me now. No more prey for you to hunt. Just me. Finish it!"
The world around her went blurry in a haze of pain, but it seemed to Mira that the creatures were withdrawing, disappearing like phantoms into the streaming snow.
Long moments ticked by, and as she allowed herself to slump to the ground next to one of the dead hulking bodies, Mira knew she was finally alone. Slowly, painfully, she hauled herself up into a sitting position and leaned back against the cold, dead flesh, watching the flakes above her dance in the dim silver moonlight.
After the violence of just a few moments before, it now seemed peaceful here, almost… beautiful. This really was a pretty world, especially with the beginnings of a soft coating of snow beginning to gently drape the boughs of the trees.
Mira felt her lightsaber slip from fingers no longer able to maintain their grip. She looked down at it, at the well-worn hilt she had built with such care and pride so many years ago, under Jenn's instruction.
The exiled Jedi had finally built herself a new lightsaber only a few days before, using parts she'd scavenged from all over Nar Shaddaa. She'd helped Mira hunt for parts the same way, insisting her new student also build for herself the weapon of a Jedi. Both Mira and Atton had accepted their destinies there on the smuggler's moon, the first of Jenn's many students over the course of their travels.
Mira still remembered the moment Jenn had shown her that she could touch the Force, that instant that had changed her life. During one of their long talks in the days following the destruction of Goto's yacht, as they rested and resupplied before moving on to their next destination, Jenn had put forth a preposterous idea: Mira's innate talent for finding that which was hidden was actually a manifestation of her untrained connection to the Force. Mira had scoffed at the time, but after the things she'd seen Jenn do, how she'd also showed Atton his own connection to that which bound all living things together, Mira was willing to at least listen.
Jenn had taken her out to a place she'd passed hundreds of times, a spot she'd previously thought utterly insignificant, and showed her how to listen, how to hear the currents of life on Nar Shaddaa. Mira had marveled at that; she'd never been able to do it before, but somehow it felt so right, as if she should have been able to hear the Force all along and had just never had the opportunity. From that moment on, her life was different, now with meaning, purpose. She could use her new power to help, to heal, to finally start putting the fractured galaxy back together and find those who had been lost.
In that instant, she had chosen the path that would end here, bleeding into the snow, alone in the midst of a heap of dead creatures while those whose lives she had saved climbed the sky up into safety.
She wouldn't change a single thing. Her choices in life had made her who she was today.
She was sorry she hadn't been able to find any real trace of Jenn, but even as she thought this, Mira felt a reassurance from the Force that wherever Jenn was, she was still alive and safe, her story not yet over.
With her last bit of strength, Mira fished her holocron out of her pocket, the one which she'd been meaning to use to record her knowledge and experiences as a Jedi like so many Masters had before her. She stretched out to the Force, and felt the little device respond, indicating its readiness.
Mira used the Force to pour everything she had into the holocron, all her thoughts, her experiences, everything that made her who she was. She was about to die, she knew, but some small part of her would live on in the holocron, and that was a comfort. She would never see those she knew and loved again, but they would remember her, even as she had remembered all those she had lost in her own life.
She felt the warm life leaving her limbs, the darkness closing in, but in the last moments it seemed as if there was light all around, warm and pure.
Mira was, at last, at peace.
Author's Note: This short story has been rattling around in my mind since the first time I played 'KotOR II'; out of all of Traya's predictions, the one for Mira was most interesting to me. I knew I had to try to write it eventually.
The Moorwens are unfortunately not the product of my imagination; I've borrowed them from the 2008 film 'Outlander', the best 'Vikings vs. Aliens' movie I've ever seen. ;)
This story can stand on its own, but it also ties into my novel-length fic, 'One Missed Strike: The New Jedi Order,' which is as of this writing still ongoing. That story chronicles in part what happened to Revan and the Exile(I started developing and writing it long before the 'Revan' novel came out) and their adventures in a new but familiar era of Star Wars.
Major thanks to my beta reader, hairyhen, and to all of you for reading. Please, let me know what you thought of this story.