"Commander," Rey said and Rex stepped forward.
"Commander?" Rex asked. She didn't need him to take off his helmet to know he was smiling. They were the only two who thought it was funny that they were both Commanders -- everyone, Master Skywalker included, said it was a chain of command issue, but they'd both agreed that experience outranked everything and so Rex outranked Rey. After all, the man had been fighting the War since it'd still been the Clone Wars, since it'd started, lo these sixty years ago on Geonosis.
"Have you heard from General Skywalker lately?" Rey asked.
"Was about to ask you the same." Rex put his helmet down on the table. He had the beginning of a frown between his eyebrows. She started when she saw how young he looked -- she hadn't known he'd gotten rejuvenated lately, but the needle tracks on the side of his neck were still red and raw. "I'd like to say this isn't like him, but..."
"Yeah," Rey said. It was exactly like him.
Rex was still frowning. His frown deepened as he looked at the starmap. He zoomed in on a nearby region of space.
"What's on Dathomir?" Rey asked.
"Hopefully nothing." He smiled, thin and wan. "Witches and mist, most likely -- and if we're really unlucky, one witch in particular."
With an invention like that, how was Rey to refuse? So Rey and Rex flew down to Dathomir with little BB-blue, the fleet's newest astromech.
The Force echoed with a taste of wrongness as they landed. It was even worse once Rey popped open the cockpit. When she jumped through the green mist to reach the ground, she nearly passed out. The entire planet was off. She leaned up against the ship. She stuck her hands in her armpits; this place felt colder than the great dark between stars.
Rex landed heavily next to her, helmet's aircycler working at full power, and held BB-blue out to her. Rey took the astromech. Its speedily whirring servomotors brought some warmth back into her fingers.
"Why have you come here?" The voice seemed to come from the mist itself.
BB-blue beeped in Rey's arm. She put it down and drew her sabrestaff.
"We're here to talk to Ventress," Rex said.
Ventress? Rey had heard that name before -- she'd helped Tano escape the Coruscant City Guard, hadn't she? That didn't warrant the level of hostility that radiated off Rex.
"I'm here. Talk."
"General Skywalker's disappeared. Was it you?" Rex had his hands on his blasters; the safety was off.
"I don't do that sort of thing anymore," a woman said as she stepped out of the mist. She had deathly pale skin, short white hair and a sharply handsome face. She had tattoos on her face and wore a blood-red robe. There was no mistaking her as anything but a witch of Dathomir. She then drew a red-bladed lightsabre and pointed it at Rex.
Rey lashed out. She slid her blade under the witch's and flipped it away, before her sabre bringing down. She stopped half a breath away from the witch's neck. "Threaten my friend again --"
"You and Skywalker are too much alike. Easily distracted." The witch had another sabre, poised over Rey's heart.
The witch turned off her sabre and called the other one to her free hand. "I suppose I do owe Skywalker a debt of sorts. If we are to look for him, the commander stays behind."
Rey looked at Rex. Rex lifted a shoulder in half a shrug. Rey nodded at the witch. She didn't like this, but it was Rex's choice. The witch jumped to Rey's side, the movement predatory in its deadly grace.
"Stay with Rex," Rey told BB-Blue.
Beebee bleeped in assent.
"You must Skywalker's latest padawan." The witch flicked Rey's padawan braid. "What's your name?"
"I'm Rey. And you are?" She knew the answer already, but it never hurt to be polite.
"Asajj Ventress, of the Nightsisters of Dathomir," the witch said. She didn't mention anything about being Dooku's former apprentice. Rey let her save face at least this much.
Rey nodded. They'd reached her ship. Rey stepped forward to get into the pilot's seat, but Ventress stopped her by putting a hand on her arm and physically stepping between Rey and the cockpit. Her fingers were cold, even through Rey's arm wraps. Rey bristled, even as she fought back a shudder.
"It's my ship," Rey said. "I fly."
"Do you know where you're going?" Ventress asked.
"You know something," Rey said. "You're going to tell me."
"What's in it for me?" Ventress slid a finger down the side of Rey's face.
Rey held her ground and shrugged.
Ventress smiled as she got into the ship. "This'll be interesting."
Rey followed her in and took off. Once the ship was safely away from the planet, she slammed Ventress against the bulkhead. Ventress smiled again. Rey was rapidly becoming incredibly frustrated by that smile. She wanted to wipe it off Ventress' face.
"What do you know?" Rey asked again.
"Have you heard from Kenobi lately?" Ventress replied.
That was a complete non-sequitur, but Rey shook her head anyway. As she did, she noticed someone had tried to comm the ship while she'd been away. A further glance, confirmed her suspicions. Master Kenobi.
Ventress tipped her head. Rey pushed her harder into the wall before letting her go to listen to Kenobi's message. He'd forwarded her someone else's message. It was an older Zabrak threatening Master Skywalker.
"Darth Maul? Darth Maul?" If Rey could have hissed the name, she would have. By all rights he should be dead. Then again, by all rights he should have been dead for decades, murdered before the War started.
"Dathomir's most... resilient son," Ventress said and Rey didn't need the ominous pause to know that wasn't the adjective Ventress was initially going for.
"Do you know where he is?" Rey's instincts were screaming at her that he wasn't on Naboo, despite it fitting in with Maul's Kenobi obsession.
"He is a son of Dathomir," Ventress said. Rey's anger must have shown on her face -- good -- because Ventress added, "If we meditate together we should be able to locate him."
Rey gave a quick nod and pointed Ventress towards the meditation room. Ventress went. Rey set the ship on autopilot and on a hyperspace course to Naboo. If she was wrong, they'd win time. If she was right, they'd just drop out and plot a new course.
Ventress was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the meditation room. She'd taken off her cloak and her robe, the clothing spread around her like a pool of blood. She was left wearing the same sort of clothing Rey remembered from history lessons on the early years of the war, if only in shades of red instead of shades of purple.
"Like what you see?" Ventress asked.
"Yes," Rey replied, which seemed to surprise Ventress. Rey wasn't Master Kenobi, she wasn't good at flirting -- but she wasn't Master Skywalker either, she knew she wasn't good, so she didn't try. Ventress was beautiful and Rey had been asked a question, so she'd answered honestly.
Rey sat, cross-legged and facing Ventress. She held out her hands. Ventress set her fingers delicately into Rey's palms. Rey rolled her eyes. Ventress pretending to be delicate, that was rich.
Rey breathed in deep. Meditating like this wasn't her strong suit, but she could do it if she needed to.
Ventress breathed in time with Rey and soon they both fell into a deep trance.
To Rey, the edge of meditation always felt like being back on Jakku, standing at the top of a dune, nothing to see but endless sand and the unforgiving horizon. It wasn't the vastness of the space between stars that reminded her of her place in the universe -- it was a favoured metaphor of some Jedi, that every Jedi was a star and the Force the galaxy -- it was the desert, immortal and infinite. Every Jedi a grain of sand, the Force the desert.
She wondered what meditation and the Force felt like, for Ventress. She did not ask. It was a question too intimate for mere acquaintances and even more so for reluctant allies. Was that what they were? Allies, yes, but reluctant? Rey didn't know.
She breathed in again. Went back to her dune and the desert inside her mind. There was the green mist of Dathomir winding between dunes and footsteps in the sands. She too, a step forward and the Force showed her what she wanted to see. There was a storm of images and feelings and suddenly she knew where her master was.
She got to her feet. She ran back to the cockpit and dropped them out of hyperspace. She inputted the new hyperspace coordinates with perhaps more force than was strictly necessary.
Ventress joined her soon after. She'd put her cloak back on, but not her robes. Rey sensed a Dramatic Decloaking coming soon -- spending time with Kenobi gave one a sixth sense for that sort of thing.
"Looks like we have several hours in hyperspace ahead of us," Ventress said. "However shall we pass the time?"
"Sparring," Rey said. Then, with a smile to match Ventress' she said, "And 'sparring'."
There was indeed a Dramatic Disrobing. The trip felt shorter than it was.
Rey landed the ship under cloak. They made it into the building easily -- too easily. Rey drew her sabrestaff seconds before the trap activated and Ventress managed to jump out of its way, back into the corridor they'd been coming down.
Rey slashed at the energy barrier in front of her. Ray shields. She really should have expected that.
"What a glorious rescue." That was Maul. In the dim yellow light of Rey's sabrestaff, he looked like a skeleton in red and black. He shoved Anakin forward, into the light and continued, "I must say I was expecting Kenobi."
"He's busy," Rey said. She snarled. She punched at the shield, then paced when that yielded no result. Stopped. Took a deep breath. Spread her feet.
When the shield came down, she was ready.
Maul was not.
He managed to block her attack anyway. He was pretty spry for an old man, even discounting the prosthetics, but she had upper body strength over him. And yet, when she slashed and stabbed, he parried every blow. Ever so slowly, she drove him away from Anakin.
Ventress jumped into the fray.
For an instant, everything went still and Rey held her breath. She did not trust Ventress, not as far as she could throw her.
Ventress Force-pushed Maul into the back wall.
Rey pulled Anakin forward. Rescue achieved. Now they needed to get the fuck out of here. Maul would live to need chill pills another day -- even if they chopped him in half and tossed him down a reactor, Maul would live, so they might as well not bother and just speedily make their escape.
Rey tried to sling Anakin's arm around her neck to support him, but he slipped away from her. His prosthetic was missing -- Rey checked the interface. It was intact. That was something, at least. The prosthetic had been a work of beauty, and Rey had never felt prouder than when Anakin had let her help design it, but it was just a thing and could be remade. At Anakin's age, damage to the interface might have been fixable.
Rey slung his other arm around her neck and ran back up the corridor. Halfway up, she heard footsteps behind her. She whirled, sabre ignited.
It was only Ventress.
Rey turned her back on her and kept running. Behind Ventress, the corridor was collapsing.
The cold night air outside was like a slap to the face.
Anakin woke up when they reached the ship. Rey set him down carefully on the floor. Ventress jumped over both of them to reach the cockpit. Rey turned to go after her. Anakin caught her arm.
"Was that Ventress?" His voice was rough, but sure. He was out of danger.
Rey nodded. She pulled on her arm. He refused to let go.
"Can't believe I'm getting rescued by Ventress. If I hadn't already decided to never take another padawan ever again this would have convinced me," he said. It was a blatant lie. The longest he'd ever gone between padawans had been a year and that had been after Tano.
"Whatever, old man."