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Illuminations

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Havva Îmwe is a scribe, and a rather famous one at that. Her intricate copies of ancient illuminations are her sacred discipline, inherited from generations of fathers and mothers before her and despite the shift away from physical manuscripts a millenia ago. She rises from bed each morning and mixes her pigment bowls alongside Chirrut’s breakfast and then works all day long, adding water throughout to stretch her costly materials. Her quick, pale hands are always speckled with color, always industrious. Scrolls pile around her in various states of progress to dry before they can be continued. By nightfall, her paints are so diluted, they can do little more than make a faint sketch of the work for the next day.

  ~Not all destruction is an end, for all is as the Force wills it~

Mother might take a week to painstakingly replicate such a prayer, filling the body of each letter with meditative imagery while Chirrut stands on tiptoes to peek over the edge of her table. Depictions of ancient races and lost worlds shimmer under her brush, rendered in colors infused with kyber dust. Stars are captured from the sky and put to paper, and mighty beasts are slain by heroes bold and miniature. Such a piece will easily fetch 200 credits from a pilgrim at the market.

If Chirrut has been well behaved, he is invited to practice his hand letters with his mother’s brushes and the cheap juice of uteni leaves. Of course, if he has been restless and naughty, he’s made to practice just the same. Try as he might to emulate his mother’s style, Chirrut’s crude work is legible, but not so lucrative. He just can’t seem to find any more room in which to cram detail after a few hours, and his work is lucky to earn a second glance from a pilgrim, nevermind a fee.

Chirrut keeps at it. He improves. It comforts him that he, his mother, and indeed, his entire family for centuries has done the same. It makes him feel one with many, even though it has been only he and Mother for as long as he can remember. (If he asks what became of his father he is assigned more practice.)

“Good spacing, Chirri,” she’ll say, leaning over his shoulder and appraising. She corrects his grasp on the brush and supplies him with a fresh wash cup. “But by the Force, don’t suck on your brushes.”

At night when all the glittering pigments are put away Chirrut lays in bed, eyes shut tight, repeating the ancient prayers over and over as he falls asleep. He comes to venerate not only the meaning of words that he has so painstakingly etched hundreds of times over, but the shapes themselves, tracing their lines and corners through his dreams, like they are the bustling streets of NiJedha. Each letter’s path is a physical devotion, like the monks at the nearby temple, climbing its rough hewn steps on their unpadded knees.

The Holy Calendar is drawing to a close, and the influx of offworlders seeking relics means extra work and more credits for the little family. Mother is hoping to buy a speeder so that they can widen their range, but for now, deliveries to the temple must be made on foot. Now that he is eleven however, Mother agrees that Chirrut can make the trip alone.

“Don’t let those monks put any fool ideas in your head!” she calls as he skips out the door with his arms laden, fairly bursting from desire to escape the cluttered apartment. It’s simply been too busy to up with the housekeeping. Too many cups, too many pigments, stacked and scattered on every available surface. When he returns hours later, parched and weary from his trip, Chirrut mistakes a crystal enamel for water amidst the debris and poisons himself.

“Mother-” he croaks, having already swallowed. The grit of kyber dust goes down like needles, excruciating, and Chirrut sways with the pain before Havva has a chance to look up from her work. He tries, but he can’t speak, his choking mouth tastes of blood and bile. He drops to the ground, knocking over several more bowls of paint along the way.

“Chirrut!”

In a fever that seems never to break, Chirrut dreams of his city of letters, colorful and complex. They build the street on which he and Mother live, the arcade full of shops, the looming Temple of the Kyber, and the spaceport. He wanders for days, unable to wake, and when he does there is nothing but the white of a blank parchment.

Chirrut blinks painfully. The nerves behind his eyes are burning, his mother’s cool hand strokes back his sweaty brow. Her voice is joined in repetitious prayer by several other, young and old. He looks for her as she always is, cheek ludicrously smudged with paint...but there is nothing.

“...not all destruction is an end, for all is as the Force wills. The Force is both creation and destruction and not all destruction is an end, for all is as the Force wills. The Force is both creation and...”  

“Mother?” With weak hands, Chirrut paws around until he finds her wet face, but it doesn't register with an image. He expects her to smile as she always does when they greet each other upon waking in the morning. “I can’t-” He can’t be sure she’s really there, that he’s still really here. He can’t see the room, he can’t see her, he can’t see. He can’t see! Chirrut rubs his eyes and howls. “There’s nothing. I can see nothing, Mother, where are you!?”

“It’s been weeks, Chirrut. You were so sick. I took you into temple since they know kyber best, they’ve drawn out the sickness, but-” His mother chokes off in sobs.

In his disorientation, Chirrut doesn’t know what scares him more- that he can’t see, or that his mother was so desperate she turned to the monks whom she has always mistrusted for help. No, no- he can decide.

Why can’t I see ?!” he wails, feebly reaching out for his mother again.

“M-my fault.” Her trembling voice is no consolation.

He cries because his mother cries, but she lets him keep his shaking hands on her face. Chirrut tries very hard to draw her back in with his memory, lines and corners and color.

“I’ve cleaned all the cups. It will never happen again,” Mother promises. “I haven’t painted since. If it keeps you safe, I’ll never paint again, I’m so sorry.”

“But, if you never paint again, who will teach me my letters so that I can be a scribe, like you?” Chirrut pleads. It’s the only life he’s ever imagined. It’s the life centuries of his preceding ancestors expected for both of them. What would Mother devote herself to, if not her scrolls? How would they even survive? A wave of guilt crashes over Chirrut. He’s been stupid and gotten himself sick and now Mother will miss out on the most important season of work.

“You are still so weak,” she says, shushing him. She continues her prayers, and in a ragged whisper Chirrut joins.

The Force is both creation and destruction and not all destruction is an end, for all is as the Force wills .

Soon, the monks come to ply them with a sticky sweet drink that lulls them both to an untroubled sleep.

In time Chirrut understands there will be no complete recovery. Instead of continuing as his mother’s apprentice, when they return home she throws herself into equipping Chirrut with tools for his survival as fully as she had ever embraced her work. Havva sells her drafting table and least unfinished scrolls for a fraction of the credits they ought to make and stashes the rest in the rafters so that it doesn’t get in Chirrut’s way. She buys an emitter battery to help him navigate through this new, blank world, and spends months teaching him to recognize different materials under his fingers, how to count his steps and listen for interfering obstacles. People talk and tread, buildings muffle, and fabric flaps, Mother explains. Listen .

Sometimes at night before lulling himself to sleep with words of prayer to Force, he makes himself completely silent and waits for it to speak first.

Instead of practicing letters with his brushes, Mother breaks down the shapes of Jedha that he must learn. The walls of their apartment are shaped like the letter Enth from the top down. The way to the Temple of the Kyber is shaped like a Resh and then a Qek. The whole world is made of apexes and serifs, and Chirrut traces over the world to make it permanent in his mind as quickly as his mother sketches it. As with his previous scribe practice, Chirrut keeps at it. He improves.

Not all destruction is an end. This is what Chirrut repeats under his breath over and over for nearly a year. For all is as the Force wills it.

By the next end of the Holy Calendar, the last of their credit dries up, putting them on the brink of destitution. It clearly pains her to leave Chirrut alone in their apartment, but Havva accepts that it's time to look for paying work. At first, Chirrut expects his mother to return to her beautiful scrolls, but she refuses. It made you so sick , Mother agonizes. And now we could never afford the materials on top of everything else. Chirrut stands in the door as she leaves to go scrub some slumlord’s floors, unable to truly see her off, but somehow sure she keeps looking over her shoulder at him as she disappears down the street.

Too young and impaired to earn credits of his own, Chirrut fills the empty hours with meditation. He listens. He breathes. He feels. He recites every prayer he ever learned.

The Force finally replies.

It draws him out from under his physical limitations, introducing him to the miniscule details like the ones in his mother’s illuminations that combine into tangible wholes. When he attunes his focus and lets the will of the Force come before his own, he is magnified. He can hear the direction a foot may turn by the crunch of dirt below it, and the angle a stick is pointed by the whistle of air along its form. It’s like walking with the wind at his back, it propels his instinct. The Force teaches Chirrut to see potential all around him and best of all, within himself. By the seventh cycle of the calendar, he’s more independent as a blind adult than he ever was as a sighted child.

Chirrut tries to explain this to Mother, but she is wary.

“A Force-user? Are you trying to become a Jedi?” she asks, clearly upset by the prospect.

“I’m not using the Force,” Chirrut sighs, “-it’s using me .”

“This is impossible talk. Perhaps I’ve been leaving you alone too often,” says Mother. There’s a tiny crunch as she bites her fingernail in thought.

“If anything I should be on my own,” Chirrut says, bristling. He’s nineteen, after all. All the other young men his age have graduated from apprentice to journeymen. “The Force will protect me.”

Mother shakes her head, signaled to Chirrut by her tumbling hair. “You’ll leave me behind and follow the Force like your father and I’ll have nothing left. No husband, no son, no apprentice, no paints, no work.”

Chirrut doesn’t have to see the tears in her eyes to understand her heartbreak. A guilty lump develops in his throat, no less sickening that that fateful concoction of kyber dust.

“My father was a Jedi, wasn’t he?”

It astonishes Chirrut that it has taken this long to piece together the idea. His mother's simultaneous but conflicting reverence for the Force and mistrust of holy Orders, the absolute secrecy of his father’s identity, Chirrut’s own latent sensitivities...

“He- he made a mistake, he said,” Mother admits. “He went back to the Order before I even knew about you.”

The inside of Chirrut’s head spins and insight he's been long deprived of unfolds itself. His existence has always been forbidden, and Mother had borne that guilt long before he was ever blinded. How tiring that must have been. How can he give her peace? 

Chirrut gathers his mother into his arms apologetically and her hands lock tight around his waist. It troubles Chirrut to imagine that her busy hands are clean of paint splotches these days, unrecognizable compared to his memory of her. "I will not leave you with nothing," he promises.

Laying awake that night, Chirrut thinks on how Mother had given up her work and devoted all her attention to his blindness, and all he did was consume resources that she might have better use for. He is a burden, he concludes. But there might be something he can do to make it up to her.

When he’s certain that Mother is sleeping, Chirrut slips away from the apartment as silently as only a student of the most indetectable sounds can manage.

Like a thief , his conscious says.

Well what of it? Kyber had cost Chirrut his sight and his mother her legacy. That ought to be payment enough.

He walks the streets of NiJedha purposely with his stick pointed ahead of him and encounters no one but a few weary workers on their commute home. If this works out, Chirrut thinks- his mother would have to be like one of them anymore, drained and miserable. She'll have back something that makes her proud.

As his mother had taught him, he navigates a Resh and then a Qek towards the temple he was taken to when he was first blinded. There’s guaranteed to be kyber inside- and he wouldn’t need much. He could steal one shard and keep half for dust and sell the other half for pigments, a new table, and fresh parchments. One shard! They probably wouldn’t even notice it was gone, considering there was rumoured to be a whole mine full of the stuff below the foundation.

Closer and closer to the Temple of the Kyber the current of the Force becomes stronger, like wading down a river, and Chirrut knows he has come to the right place. He stands in the street before the grand entrance of the temple and lets the mighty feeling lap around him while the howl of the night wind across the mesa carves the towering edifice into his mind’s eye. As a child he only came here during the day when the streets were full of life forms, all partaking of the temple’s outpouring, but now Chirrut is the sole receiver of it’s attention.

This is holy ground.

The presence of the Force strikes him to his core in a way that he cannot unknown. Chirrut shudders, suddenly appreciating the chill of the night air.

“Well?” asks a expectant voice.

With a start, Chirrut realizes. “The Force can see me.”

It will know what he has done, always, if he makes the dishonorable choice. As he treasures the love of his mother, he couldn’t live with such a fracture in his relationship with the Force either.

I can see you,” the voice answers with a bark. Another young man, standing six paces to his left, Chirrut determines. “Why are you here?”

“I- I was going to steal a crystal from the temple,” Chirrut declares. He drops to his knees in the street, ashamed.

What had he been thinking? Even if he managed to break into the temple, how would he explain to his mother where he had got the credits?

Heavy footsteps approach, ominously accompanied by a third beat. A quarterstaff? A forcepike? Or maybe just an executioner's axe?  Perhaps it's better not to know. Chirrut slows his breathing and tries to center himself so that at least he will not die in terror.

Just then, the other man halts and the balls of his feet grind the earth as he crouches to match Chirrut’s eye level. “Aren’t you the boy who was blinded by his mother’s paints? The scribe’s son.”

“Chirrut,” he admits, surprised by the recognition.

“Chirrut,” the other man repeats, savoring the name. “I remember. It was our great honor to be of service to Master Îmwe.” A light puff of breath- maybe a grin? It can be hard to tell with someone he doesn’t know well.

“You were there?” Chirrut feels his face flush. It wasn’t exactly his finest hour.

“I was just an acolyte then,” the man confirms.

“What are you now?”

“Baze Malbus, A Guardian of the Whills,” he says gruffly, standing up again. “You can’t steal from the temple.”

Chirrut sighs, already resigned. If he is hauled off to a Republic jail at least his mother won’t have to support him anymore. “Of course not. You would stop me.”

Baze huffs. “You can’t steal, because-”

The heel of his staff disconnects from the ground.

Ready to strike, Chirrut thinks. He does not avoid the swing of the guardian’s staff, suddenly whizzing through the air and coming down with a crack. Strangely, he does not feel pain, either.

“I’m going to give you a crystal,” Baze concludes, having split the staff in two over his knee. He bends close again and folds Chirrut’s hand around the shorter end. “There’s a shard in there,” he confides quietly.

Tentatively, Chirrut examines the offering. The oiled uteni wood under his hands is capped with a carbonite finial that belies its contents. It’s not unlike the hilt of a lightsaber in size and weight, though it would be unusual to have one made with a wooden sleeve. Chirrut's heart swells treacherously for a moment as he imagines a Jedi weapon, but he banishes the thought. This is not destruction, this is creation. It will be new life for Chirrut and his mother. The Force of the crystal his grasp pulses in agreement, warm as a living thing. 

“But why ?”

“Somehow I think you’ll come back and earn it, Chirrut,” says Baze. Another light puff of breath. Definitely a grin. “I look forward to it.”

Mother is right about monks, this one is crazy if he thinks Chirrut’s ever coming back after admitting intent to rob the temple.

Flustered and altogether unsure what to make of the encounter, Chirrut scrambles for his stick and takes to his feet and darts off before Baze can change his mind. His mirthful laughter echoes in the street but he does not give chase. Only when Chirrut safely puts three turns of the street between he and the guardian does he pause to slip the broken chunk of staff into his pocket for safekeeping. He wanders the rest of the way home wondering at Baze’s meaning.

The next morning Mother inspects Chirrut as he makes them each a bowl for breakfast, perhaps trying to discern his strange mood. He ignores her, skating his fingers over the ingredient jars, finding the desired one and measuring the mella grains inside by hand.

“I swear you’ve shot up a foot this summer. You’ll need new clothes,” Mother says, tugging on the fit of robes that Chirrut can’t appreciate aesthetically.

The piece of staff in his pocket thumps at his hip and Chirrut takes a sharp breath. “Mother, please.” He needs to hurry his mother along to work so that he can fence the crystal in the markets, unnoticed.

She ignores him and adjusts the fold of his robe at the neck. “There’s a weaver at Soof Denn, do you remember where that is?”

“Two long Esks, end to end,” Chirrut says, quickly. “I know where everything in NiJedha is, even the bantha flies.” Betraying himself, Chirrut reflexively covers the lump in his pocket.

“What’s that?”

Chirrut freezes as his mother withdraws the piece of staff from his pocket. “Nothing.”

“Chirrut?”

He attempts to swipe the thing from her, but is unwilling to be forceful. “I’m going to sell it, it doesn’t matter what it is,” he says lightly.

“Sell it? You don’t have to worry about credits, Chirrut,” she says, a familiar refrain. “It may take awhile, but whatever you need, I-”

“All I need to make all things up to you! Before this-” Chirrut waves a hand at his eyes, exasperated. “You had been a scribe all your life, it was your vision,” he tells her. “I don’t want you to be without it, just as you have done all you could to restore mine.”

Mother lifts her hand to his face, touching him kindly. “Chirri...a lump of wood could barely match the cost of a single grain of kyber dust.”

With a sigh, she places the staff back in his hands. Defiant, Chirrut twists the carbonite finial from the rod, revealing its contents. He runs a finger up and down the small, smooth crystal to be sure it’s real. Having only ever been exposed to kyber flakes and dust before, he’s so nervous to touch the naked stone that his hands shake. It changes all the air in the room somehow and fills him with the same awed humility he felt kneeling in front of the Temple of the Kyber the night before. It’s a piece of something worth devoting himself to- like Mother’s dedication to her art. He knows what Baze Malbus had meant now.

“Use this. There will be enough to finish all the unfinished scrolls you have. If you sell those you’d have enough to get started again,” Chirrut tells his mother. There is no need for her to punish herself on his behalf any longer. Not when there is an opportunity for them both to find better purpose.

Plucking the stone from his hands, his mother gasps. “How under NaJedah’s shadow did you get this?”

“A monk at the temple gave it to me, because I’m going to become a Guardian of the Whills.” Even though he’s only just decided, he knows it as certainly as one of his recitations.

Mother stands agape for several moments- Chirrut can only imagine the look of confusion that plays across her face. She gathers his hands into her own, shaking. “But would they still let me see you?”

Chirrut grins. “From the sound of it, I think there’s more than one guardian who would be glad for the company of the last Îmwe scribe.”

With her arms suddenly flung around him, Chirrut can feel his mother’s excitement and relief, all glowing in the light of the Force. He remembers her face the most vividly since he first lost his sight and soon, he knows she’ll be just as he prefers to picture her again, paint smudge and all.