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Spectre One Rises

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Chapter 1 - Out of the Ashes

 

Kanan - Lothal (1 BBY )

Kanan braced himself on the shuddering metal of the exploding fuel pod, allowing the Force to flow through him as never before.  The engulfing flames raged, slamming into the immense shield of energy Kanan wielded to protect the Imperial gunship hovering behind him.  That gunship carried everyone that mattered most to him in the Galaxy.  Hera. Ezra. Sabine. You will live.

Kanan filled with an almost ecstatic certainty that eradicated the last shreds of self-doubt he’d harbored for so long.  He felt no pain. No fear. This is my moment.  This is where I am needed most.  Kanan pushed even harder at the relentless inferno, wringing out precious seconds to ensure his family’s escape to safety.

“Kanan!”

His focus split as Hera rushed up behind him.  Kanan instinctively reached back, lifting Hera into a Force embrace.  Turning slowly to face the woman he would die for, Kanan realized his only regret was the shock and horror she radiated, the grief she and the others would suffer.  If only Hera knew what was crystal, clear to him.   His death had a greater purpose. Lothal’s rising sun would illuminate irreparable damage to Thrawn’s TIE Defender program.  Hera’s mission would be complete.

Holding Hera aloft, Kanan reveled in her unique Force signature.  Her inner and outer beauty had always shone brightest to him no matter the source of his vision. Kanan hoped she’d finally come to understand she had been his life’s mission from the moment they’d met on Gorse. All he could do was envelop her with the love he felt, grateful for the years they’d shared.  In that moment, Kanan sensed a second, subtle Force signature pulsing within Hera’s body. Hera will bear our child!   

Indescribable joy ignited Kanan from the inside out.  Oh, if only he could stay! Every part of him longed to be a father, a husband, to protect his entire Ghost family for their future to come.  But his future…that remained to be seen.  Ignoring his thudding heart, Kanan hurled Hera into the safety of Ezra’s arms.

Now the Force crested within him, a rising tidal wave.  As the energy surged ever higher, Kanan felt thirty years of body aches and old scars diminish.  At the same time, the miracle of sight returned to his formerly blinded eyes, an unexpected gift of color and light from the Force.

Kanan’s eyes drank in Hera’s loveliness like sweet nectar.  Her eyes widened farther in stunned surprise—she’d realized Kanan could see her! I love you, Hera.  Kanan’s gaze shifted to include Ezra. You’ve got this from here, kid. I know you can do it.  So much more to say to them both, but his time had run out.  With a final look at Hera, Kanan Force-shoved the gunship away with all his might. 

Kanan projected his consciousness outward milliseconds before the fireball engulfed his body.  Soaring upward, Kanan saw the gunship zoom safely away as the fuel pods ignited in a chain reaction of bright, white light—

 

Ezra - Chimaera (5 ABY )

A knock. “Master Ezra, are you all right?” A louder knock.

Ezra rose groggily from the none too cozy floor of his cabin aboard the Chimaera.  His mind was still emblazoned with the image of Kanan’s milky, blinded eyes brightening to vivid teal.  My master saw me in the end.

“Master Ezra?” His droid, PZ-5 stepped through the now open doorway.  Her reflective visor and droning voice somehow emulated concern.  “I heard your cries outside in the corridor.”

“I’m fine, PeeZee. It was…another one of those visions.” Ezra shakily waved her outstretched hand away, wondering not for the first time how a protocol droid who looked so much like AP-5 could possess such a different demeanor.  Maybe it was a lucky combination of the droid parts he’d salvaged on Thrawn’s purrgil-wrecked Star Destroyer to repair her.  Ezra doubted Chopper would have been impressed with his handiwork, but he might have gotten a thumbs up from Sabine. Ezra’s heart thumped wistfully.

“The one about your former master, Kanan Jarrus?”

Ezra tucked away thoughts of Sabine and his Ghost family as he shuffled unsteadily toward his bunk. It did him no good to wallow in homesickness like a puffer pig. “Yeah, and the images get clearer each time. But I feel like I’m missing some important detail.” 

PZ cocked her head. “But, if I may say so, what is the point of revisiting your master’s demise after these many years? Surely that is only painful and changes nothing you both endured.” 

Ezra’s knees buckled right before he slumped onto the stiff mattress.  He had no answer for the droid.  Yet.  What he did know was the visions about Kanan began tormenting him shortly after he’d sensed the death of the Emperor in the Force.  That stunning revelation struck Ezra about five years after the purrgil joined Ezra in his determined battle to liberate Lothal by demolishing Thrawn’s blockade. 

While aboard the Chimaera as Thrawn’s now escaped prisoner, Ezra silently asked the Force sensitive creatures for one last favor. Take me where I’m needed most, a place where I no longer endanger my family.  The purrgil lit up for hyperspace flight—and transported the entire Star Destroyer to the farthest reaches of Wild Space.  Setting the badly damaged vessel adrift in the atmosphere of an uncharted planet, the purrgil vanished. 

Ezra felt abandoned, alone, an injured Jedi among enraged Imperials without even his lightsaber by his side.  He struggled to understand why the purrgil dumped him at the farthest edge of the galaxy, forced into an alliance with an equally reluctant and disadvantaged Thrawn for mutual survival.  Ezra reached out to the Force with a heavy heart.  Was my sacrifice made in vain?  As if in answer, things immediately got worse.

The scouting parties sent to the scattering of planetary communities in search of aid found only the remains of tens of thousands of inhabitants, all massacred over a standard year ago.  Any survivors must have abandoned their world. Or--more likely—been taken as slaves.  Shivers ran up Ezra’s spine as he explored war torn streets and realized any structure or object that could be associated with a spiritual, artistic or cultural purpose lay in savage ruins.  In contrast, technological and industrial elements stood untouched, as if they were beneath the notice of those who had decimated the population.  Ezra shared in the Imperials’ constant apprehension.  Was something far worse following behind, on its way to swoop in and claim its tribute?

Thrawn strategically used the precarious situation to his starship’s advantage.  For several months, Ezra and the crew scavenged supplies and materials to make the Chimaera space worthy again.  Very early on, Ezra and the others became too exhausted and overworked to spare much thought on the potential of impending doom.   Once the Star Destroyer was finally space bound, progress was painfully slow.  Without star maps to navigate the maze of destructive anomalies—and lacking reliable sources of food and fuel--the Chimaera limped forward system by system toward the Unknown Regions.

By necessity, the ship’s course settings also became more furtive.  The few habitable worlds they encountered all had the same thing in common: the annihilation of their population, and demolition of all religious and cultural artifacts.  Ezra’s heart twisted for the innocent dead, and harbored concern for the vulnerable Chimaera.  Every time Ezra attempted to gain some sense of the mysterious attackers through the Force, he hit a blank wall.  The grand admiral seemed to find Ezra’s lack of perceptive success intriguing.

Meanwhile, Thrawn’s cold red eyes missed nothing as his crew collected grim evidence of a new and significant threat to the known galaxy. Ezra loathed Thrawn for all the suffering he’d inflicted on his Ghost family and the Rebellion.  Yet, Ezra developed a grudging respect for the way Thrawn galvanized his initially shell-shocked crew to restore and maintain Imperial order and discipline.  Ezra covertly gleaned much about the grand admiral, who was systematically transforming his purrgil-induced defeat into a surveillance mission vital to the Empire.   Ezra had no doubt Thrawn envisioned a triumphant return with priceless data on the hostiles and star maps of the Wild regions to bestow upon Palpatine.  Although…Ezra increasingly sensed Thrawn’s loyalty belonged to the Chiss Ascendancy alone.

Ever practical, Thrawn elevated Ezra to spearhead missions to scavenge supplies and fuel from each corpse-filled settlement to sustain the Chimaera.  Unlike the Imperials, Ezra was hardened by extreme and lean conditions under the Rebellion.  Ezra found himself even relishing the dangerous work at times.  He knew full well his success in bringing back his scouting parties alive earned him Thrawn’s increasing trust as well as greater tolerance from the crew.  But with PZ-5 his only genuine friend on the Chimaera, Ezra’s loneliness and homesickness for his Ghost family remained a daily battle. 

About three months after the Chimaera was again space bound, Ezra’s Jedi abilities earned him something more than trust from the grand admiral.  During a mission debriefing in Thrawn’s office, Ezra’s jaw almost dropped when the Chiss opened a locked drawer and withdrew…a lightsaber?  No—Ezra’s heart lurched.  From what little Kanan had shared of being made a Knight during his Jedi Temple vision, this was a Temple Guard’s lightsaber pike. 

“You did especially well today, Commander Bridger. Your…communication with the reptilian creatures prevented several troopers from being devoured.” Thrawn calmly held the beautifully designed hilt out toward Ezra.

 “All those big lizards wanted was a fair share of grain in the silos.” Ezra did not reach for the pike. He eyed Thrawn accusingly. “You’ve had this all along?”

Thrawn nodded. “It is one of the many Jedi artifacts I’ve collected, along with the mask that accompanied it.”

“And you’re giving it to me now?” Ezra resisted the urge to snatch the pike from Thrawn’s blue hand and bash him over the head with it.

“You once advised me that the Force is not a weapon. That it is something I would never understand. Perhaps you are right, Commander. However, what I have come to understand is that a Jedi like you without his lightsaber is…far less efficient in the field.”

Eyes narrowed, Ezra took the hilt away. He immediately felt the minute vibration from the crystal within.  Igniting the pike, Ezra’s whole sense of being lit up with the bright, yellow blades.  I’s been so long since I’ve held a lightsaber. Recalling the red blades of Maul and the Inquisitors, Ezra gently twirled the humming pike, careful not to slice Thrawn’s desk—or Thrawn—in half. “I’ve never trained with a double-bladed weapon.”

“Then there is no time like the present.” With an aloof gesture, Thrawn dismissed Ezra. Ezra rotated the blades a few times on his way to the door, then switched the pike off to hang it on his belt.

“I’ll put this to good use.” Ezra was not about to thank Thrawn.  The Temple Guard’s pike never belonged with the arrogant Chiss in the first place.  Thrawn’s crimson eyes gleamed back at him, clearly neither expecting—nor wanting—gratitude.

“Indeed you will, Commander.”

For this moment and countless reasons, Ezra never told Thrawn the Emperor was dead. He’d kept the news even from PZ-5. The day the Force had shifted profoundly, Ezra and PZ-5 were using one of the Chimaera’s remaining Lambda class shuttles to orbit the latest decimated planet.  As usual, Ezra reached out with the Force to sense any dangers before landing. Ezra felt himself abruptly sucked into an abnormally deep trance. His skin beaded with sweat as if a fever had broken within him.  The Emperor has fallen. Astonished, Ezra probed harder for details--and gagged, recoiling from what burned like ichor spewing from a ruptured, deeply infected wound.

Ezra felt caught in an ocean of Force energy settling itself after the passage of a raging storm.  As the Dark receded, Ezra found himself encountering a subtle ripple of Light.  Who is that?   The Force signature felt vaguely familiar, but it was not Ahsoka Tano or Obi-wan Kenobi.  It felt nothing like Kanan.  His former master’s Force signature carried undertones of an elemental, primal energy.  Whoever this sparkling ripple was, their Force signature pulsed as a faint beacon to the known galaxy.  Ezra’s heart bounded. He’d rushed through the mission, countering PZ-5’s inquiries and concerns with rote responses.  Back in his cabin, one thought flared over and over.

With the Emperor dead, I can safely reach out to Sabine! It’s time for her to find me!  To Ezra’s surprise, the Force met this thought with firm resistance. You are not done here.  Too eager for home to be easily deterred, Ezra called out furtively to the purrgil for hours.  Silence.  Apparently, they agreed with the Force. That night, visions of Kanan’s death started ripping Ezra’s heart open again and again. PZ-5 had found Ezra passed out in the corner of his cabin and refused to leave until he told her what happened.

“Master Ezra?”

Dragged from his river of past thoughts, Ezra opened his eyes--to find PZ-5’s gleaming visor looming over his face. “Agh!”  The equally startled droid staggered back.

“I’m sorry, sir.  I’ve been relaying details concerning our mission to Ja’Ghar and it appeared you fell asleep.”  PZ-5’s head angled in a frustrated pose. “Did you hear a single word I said?”

“Uh, no. Could you repeat, please?” Ezra rubbed his aching forehead. Was the droid shaking her finger at him?

“I must first express how increasingly debilitating these episodes have become.  In fact, I should escort you to the—”

“You know what would really clear my head, PeeZee? A strong cup of caf.”  This was their longstanding code for:  I need you to go spy on what’s going on out there.  PZ-5 shifted into an anticipatory stance.

“Oh. Of course, Master Ezra. Would you care for any additives?” How nosy would you like me to be?  If droids had dreams, Ezra had a strong suspicion PZ’s would consist of her running amok as an intimidating KX-security unit. 

“Just an extra shot, please.”  Check on the Big Blue Guy if you can.  “Oh, and inventory the shuttle, make sure those supplies I asked for are on board. We should be coming up on the Ja’Ghar system anytime now.”

“That’s precisely what I was attempting to tell you.” With an exasperated gesture, the droid stepped out, the door shutting behind her. Ezra rubbed his chin, smiling.  My goatee could sure use a trim.  His smile faltered; Hera had loved to tweak Kanan’s beard. 

Is your master truly dead?

Ezra stiffened.  That voice had resonated through what Ezra half-jokingly referred to as his “nature channel,” the Force frequency he used most often to commune with wildlife. The voice was familiar, but he couldn’t place it. Hearing nothing more, Ezra sighed out a shaky breath. Why is all this happening? What does it mean?  Maybe PZ-5 was right.  The visions were digging up Ezra’s long buried feelings of guilt.  Yes, Ezra had let Kanan go…but some core part of himself still felt a vitally important task regarding his master remained undone. 

Interwoven with all his emotional baggage, Ezra sensed an underlying, expanding imbalance in the Force. With the Emperor gone, new evils were undoubtedly emerging from their shadows to fill the vacuum.  Already here in Wild Space, they faced a merciless horde butchering its way into the galaxy.  The Light desperately needed every Jedi it could muster against the encroaching Dark.  If only Kanan was still alive to help Ezra tip the scales. But Kanan was gone.

 

Thrawn - Chimaera (5 ABY )

Grand Admiral Thrawn paced the Chimaera’s bridge, overseeing his skeletal crew, each member grown long accustomed to working multiple positions efficiently.  His red eyes turned to the viewscreen…and flinched almost imperceptibly as he recalled vast, swarming tentacles shattering through the permasteel glass.  I see your defeat. Like many arms surrounding you in a cold embrace.  Not for the first time, Thrawn speculated about what had become of the Bendu and how the creature had predicted his situation.

Thrawn did not berate himself for being outmaneuvered by a sky full of berserk purrgil.  He doubted any tactical officer in the Empire could have predicted such a peculiar, supernatural assault.  Thrawn did acknowledge, however, that he’d underestimated young Ezra Bridger.  He would not make that mistake again.  When so many of the Chimaera’s crew clamored for the Jedi’s blood in payment for their exile to Wild Space, Thrawn logically reminded them that Bridger was, in fact, the only one among them capable of recalling the purrgil for a hastier return. 

Thrawn ferreted out soon enough that the unpredictable creatures had abandoned Bridger, apparently indefinitely.  But Thrawn kept that to himself.  By this time, he had (at least temporarily) set aside his disdain for Bridger’s Jedi witchery; it had proven far too useful time and again, especially with navigation around volatile anomalies, and warnings of impending danger.  Bridger’s Force sensitivity and unique ability to communicate with planetary fauna remained crucial to gleaning what little information was available on each war struck world they explored.  Thrawn was not easily shaken, but he did admit to himself the absence of sentient life in this sector was…disturbing.

Whoever or whatever this menace was, Thrawn noted certain intriguing similarities with the Yuuzhan Vong, merciless invaders who threatened the Unknown Regions and the Chiss Ascendency. The Vong despised mechanical technology; instead, they developed genetically engineered and organic technological innovations for their civilizations. When Bridger noted he felt nothing from the Force concerning the menace here in Wild Space, Thrawn pondered. He was aware that plundered Jedi records revealed the Vong had no Force signature, and the Jedi could only indirectly attack using their Force skills.

Yet, Thrawn’s gut told him that the menace here in Wild Space was something other.  This invading horde did not pillage, or loot.  There was no evidence yet of escaped prisoners or slaves.  What this menace did with incredible precision was terminate sentient organics. As an art connoisseur, Thrawn found the horde’s defacement of cultural, artistic and spiritual constructs a puzzling affront to his sensibilities.  Yet, by leaving the technologies of these worlds untouched, the invaders apparently considered these achievements feeble and completely beneath them.  Thrawn’s intuition hinted at a menace inorganic in nature, but he required physical evidence to prove his theory.  If this did turn out to be the truth, Thrawn contemplated what might occur if the Yuuzhan Vong and this mysterious adversary met head to head.  Who might be the victor? Or, better yet, no victor at all.

Regardless, it appeared fortuitous the purrgil had unwittingly provided Thrawn with an early warning signal for the known galaxy.  And he had every intention that the Chimaera would deliver her message.

“Sir, we have reached Ja’Ghar, but are now receiving an unidentified transmission from a beacon in Kkantu, the planetary system beyond.” The officer looked up at Thrawn, eyes round with puzzlement. “Admiral…it is a Republic code from the Clone Wars era.”

Thrawn ceased pacing as he processed the startling information. “Very good. Instruct Commander Bridger to disembark on his mission here. Set a course for the beacon. Bridger will rendezvous with the Chimaera at those coordinates once his mission is complete.”

“Aye, sir.”

 

Kanan - Lothal (1 BBY )

Kanan emerged from the incandescent light of the explosion, completely disoriented.  Slowly, he realized he was within the dim and empty mountain cave on Lothal.  Kanan felt weightless yet sensed an indefinable mass to his energy field.  He also tingled with anticipation. Kanan’s visions prior to Hera’s rescue had hinted he might temporarily retain his own consciousness to help guide Ezra through the next step in protecting Lothal.  But the Force had made no promises, not by a long shot.

Kanan wondered how long his individuality would stay intact. As if invited by his thoughts, a distant tug pulled insistently at Kanan. This way.  Curiously, Kanan immediately felt himself held in place by an opposing tug.  The overall sensation was indescribable; like being caught in a web, yet actually being a part of the web itself. 

Apprehensive that his consciousness might meld into the Cosmic Force at any moment, Kanan focused on finding Hera and the others.  I’ll at least check on them, offer any comfort I’m allowed.  Just thinking of Hera caused Kanan’s energy to vibrate intently, which helped him ignore the insistent tug.  Good. He’d be thrilled to keep Hera planted in his mind for as long as this took.

Moving his energy mass took some practice. Rotating slowly, Kanan noticed his mask and shorn hair on the alter.  Looking up, his gaze was captured by an array of mysterious, ancient hieroglyphs along the cave’s back wall.  The walls are telling a story.  Kanan recalled Ezra’s voice from the past.  There are people coming from the sky. I think they’re Jedi

Drifting closer, Kanan realized a cluster of three figures clearly represented members of the Jedi High Council.  Ezra might have recognized Yoda, but he wouldn’t have known Ki-Adi-Mundi and Mace Windu.  The three Jedi reached for a baby, who was surrounded by a halo of powerful Force lines.  Kanan felt an electric shock of sudden awareness.   That child is me.

YES. CALEB DUME.

The affirmation pulsed through Kanan.  The intensity reminded Kanan of Bendu, the way that Force entity’s voice permeated Kanan right down his molecules. Kanan tried to speak aloud—but he had no mouth. His consciousness reached out. Who are you?

I AM DUME.

That declaration sent imagery flooding through Kanan’s senses. He reeled, overwhelmed by this ancient, elemental Force entity.  Dume had to be at least as old as Lothal itself. Kanan struggled to understand Dume’s inhuman thoughts, feeling like an ant trying to converse with a god.   Hey, Dume, you’re going to have to keep it very simple.

I JOINED WITH YOU. FOR LOTHAL.

Memories inundated Kanan, all out of order:  He was a youngling training in the Coruscant Temple, he kissed Hera heatedly in the cockpit of the Ghost, he drunkenly beat the crap out of a loudmouth smuggler, he ran in shame while his master, Depa Billaba, died to save him.  Kanan clashed lightsabers with Darth Vader, he consoled Ezra after Malachor. The final memory was of his parents, apparently robust, simple farmers who handed him off tearfully to the three Jedi masters.  But why, Dume, why join with me?

Dume blasted Kanan’s consciousness with multiple layers of communication. Kanan stumbled through this maze of inhuman thought and managed to absorb the key points:  Dume, a planetary guardian, sensed the Force growing increasingly out of balance long before the Clone Wars. Lothal’s potential to be demolished was very high. Yet the ancients had prophesized the birth of a Force-sensitive child whose energy signature could safely blend with Dume’s embedded presence.  This combined being would protect Lothal.

Drawn to Caleb’s unique and powerful Force signature, the High Council members gained his parents’ blessing and took Caleb to the Coruscant Temple for Jedi training.

Embedded within Caleb, Dume gained direct access to the Jedi and its failing war with the Dark. After Order 66, Kanan’s innate strength of will, backed by Dume’s powerful presence, enabled him to survive the purge that thousands of Jedi did not.  Even during Kanan’s darkest years, Dume absorbed crucial knowledge through his underground existence as a smuggler.  As Kanan realized his destiny had always been intertwined with Lothal, his consciousness lightened.  He also understood more than ever that meeting and falling in love with Hera Syndulla had turned the tide. With Hera as his compass, and Dume at his back, Kanan slowly reclaimed his life’s purpose.

As if called by his thoughts, Hera shuffled into the cave, clutching the Kalikori tightly to her chest.  “Why did I take so long to tell him?”

Kanan had never seen her look so broken. Hera. As she wept over his death, blaming herself for it, Kanan desperately tried to envelop her in a tangible embrace, to assure her it had all been his choice.  But she couldn’t feel or hear him. What is the point of my consciousness being intact if I can’t even help the woman I love?  Dume didn’t answer. Perhaps the entity considered heartbreak a petty, private matter.

It was Chopper—Chopper!-- who comforted Hera when Kanan could not. Kanan felt deep relief he hadn’t reduced the murderous droid to scrap metal all those times it seemed like such a perfect idea. Those early years of shock prods, binary insults, and brutal knee bruises were a small price to pay to both see and sense Hera’s grief ease a little. 

And when Chopper suggested the idea of adding Kanan to Hera’s Kalikori, Kanan wished he could hug the stumpy astromech and apologize (sincerely this time) for letting Zeb gamble him away to Lando.  

Hera’s grief-filled eyes warmed and softened. “No one deserves that honor more than Kanan.” Those tender words ignited a cascade of joy throughout Kanan’s entire being. Hera was going to make him part of her Ryloth family tree? Her husband.  This is what he’d pushed for, what she’d resisted so long because of the war. He knew Hera loved him, everything she shared inside and outside of their intimate moments made her love clear as day. But she had refused to confirm her feelings during any talk of a their long-term future.  Kanan understood now that his usually steadfast Hera had been terrified of losing him the way she’d lost others dear to her heart.  She’d finally made clear her love and desire for a future together with Kanan—then watched as an inferno consumed him.

Kanan enfolded his beloved—his wife--into his energy and made a vow.  For whatever time the Cosmic Force grants me, Hera, I will remain to watch over you and our child.

But when Kanan attempted to follow Hera out of the cave, everything abruptly shifted to a purplish, interdimensional night. It was becoming infuriatingly clear to Kanan that he was as embedded with Dume as Dume was with him.  On one hand, this symbiotic relationship kept Kanan’s consciousness from dissipating into the Cosmic Force. On the other hand, Kanan felt like a tick clinging to a bantha—limited to whatever the mighty Dume wanted to do and see.

Speaking of that, what Kanan saw now was a truly enormous Loth-wolf.  Oh, so this how you choose to appear to mere mortals?  And is that my shoulder pauldron emblem on your forehead? 

“Kanan?” Looking down, Kanan was alarmed to see Ezra entrapped by the trio of smaller Loth-wolves. 

YOUR APPRENTICE. PROTECT TEMPLE.

The second mission! Consumed with concern for Hera, Kanan had neglected Ezra’s urgent task. His padawan looked so tiny and vulnerable under Dume’s divine-like scrutiny.   Kanan rushed protectively toward the teen, but it was like slogging through space waffle syrup. Can’t you see? You’re all just scaring him!  Let me talk to Ezra.

WE TALK TOGETHER.

What? How was he supposed to talk in tandem with a giant spirit wolf?  With no instructions offered—and apparently no choice--Kanan projected his will through Dume as powerfully as possible, his intent to create words the kid could understand. I’m here, Ezra. I’ll guide you the best I’m allowed through what is to come. What emerged:

I AM DUME.

Ezra looked perplexed. Kanan felt the same.  Great. The ensuing conversation pretty much went downhill from there. Kanan knew Ezra had the inner strength and cunning to carry out the mission, the grief-stricken kid just needed a little reassurance. Instead, he was berated for being afraid. Kanan focused harder, imagining himself moving Dume’s jaws to speak the right words.  I know you can do this, Ezra. You’re strong in the Force, able to channel Light and Dark like no Jedi I’ve ever known. It’s why this task fell to you. Dume rumbled:

FIGHT. TOGETHER.

Ugh!  It was the space waffle syrup all over again. Again and again, Kanan blasted his will through Dume like a foghorn, trying to relay both compassion and the scant details that had been imparted to Kanan previously by the white Loth-wolf.  The Jedi Temple is in terrible danger from the Emperor, Ezra. You must move quickly, keep its secrets safe or no one in the galaxy will be safe.  Everything boomed out of Dume’s razor-toothed jaws in cryptic fashion.

KNOWLEDGE. DESTRUCTION.

Kanan didn’t blame Ezra one bit for eyeing the keystone the wolves gave him with befuddlement, but Dume’s frustration built to dangerous levels.  Hey, you’re not exactly making it easy for him!  Ignoring Dume’s exasperated sigh, Kanan made a final effort.

RESTORE PAST. REDEEM FUTURE.

Ezra’s ensuing pleas for help were the last straw. Dume growled and rumbled ominously.  Don’t hurt him!  But the gigantic wolf snapped his jaws over Ezra, and everything shifted to blackness.

Well, that went well.  Kanan floated in the murk, sensing Dume fume all around him. Kanan discovered he retained his own formidable sulking skills.  Dume and Bendu might be godlike Force entities, but they sure shared a short fuse.  Who knew?  Maybe Dume and Bendu were ancient pals—and the reason why Bendu hadn’t blown him out of Attolon’s sky. As far as his puny human mind was concerned, both entities seemed to lack a bit of common sense in some areas.  Soooo, now what?  In case you’re interested, I have some suggestions that might actually work.  

As if in response, Kanan now found himself afloat alongside the white Loth-wolf who had guided him to destroy the TIE Defender program’s fuel supply. The grasslands rippled under the early morning sun.  Following the wolf’s intent gaze, Kanan could see Hera, Ezra, Sabine and Zeb studying the Temple keystone. Kanan felt himself vibrating with relief to see his apprentice so full of purpose again.  Looks like Dume and I got through to you after all.  And there was Sabine, head bent closely over the keystone.  Kanan’s energy brightened. Those two were an unstoppable team.

When Ezra called the Loth-wolves for a Force-assisted ride to the Temple, Kanan managed to flow alongside the group.  His journey with Hera, Ezra, Sabine and Chopper was bittersweet.  Everyone Kanan cared most about was so close, yet so far away. Every attempt to touch or communicate directly always hit a barrier like unbreakable glass. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could endure it.

 

E zra - Ja'Ghar (5 ABY )

Ezra looked out at the starfield, enjoying his temporary freedom from Thrawn. It was just PZ-5 with him on the shuttle to Ja’Ghar. So much the better.  From the moment he’d found mention of the system in the remnants of information culled during missions on the other destroyed worlds, he’d felt an irresistible pull to explore it. 

Based on the symbols and language decoded by PZ-5 and one of the remaining protocol droids onboard the Chimera, Ja’Ghar appeared to be a religious epicenter for this sector in Wild Space.  Thrawn agreed it was important to investigate the planet for any clues it might still hold on the attacking force. 

As a spiritual hub, Ezra and Thrawn both concurred the attackers had most likely devastated the planet’s artifacts and buildings…but they could have overlooked something vital.  Ezra couldn’t shake the feeling there was something crucially important awaiting his discovery.

“I’ve laid in the coordinates for our landing, Master Ezra.”  PZ-5’s metal hands moved smoothly over the controls.

“Thanks, PeeZee. Stand by, I’m going to proceed with my Jedi witchery.” Ezra winked at the droid before closing his eyes.  Reaching out, he probed for any dangers or other potential circumstances in their path.  Almost immediately, he felt a tug toward a different region of the blue-green world below them.  Eyes still closed, Ezra let his hands take hold of the shuttle’s controls.

“Sir, why are you entering different coordinates?”

By her tone, Ezra knew PZ-5 had her head cocked at a puzzled angle. “I’m picking up on a powerful energy signature.  In that region of waterfalls.” Ezra shivered, felt his consciousness slipping a bit. He focused harder, retaining control.  “Just trust me on this, okay?”

“Well…” The droid reacted as Ezra abruptly slumped.  “Master Ezra, are you all right?”

“Just…stay…on…course…” Ezra’s voice faded as a deep trance took him over.

Ezra knew he was in a dream-like vision, but everything felt intensely real. He floated in a purple black sky, staring up at a familiar, almost absurdly giant Loth-wolf. Dume’s dagger-like teeth flashed as he spoke.

RESTORE PAST. REDEEM FUTURE.

Ezra frowned, puzzled. But I’ve already done what you asked.  I opened the Gate to the World Between Worlds. I rescued Ahsoka Tano from Vader. I helped destroy the Jedi Temple to keep its power and secrets from the Emperor.

AGAIN.

What? How? The Temple is gone. Who are you, anyway? You have my master’s name, but you’re not really him. Are you?

CALEB DUME.

Ezra recoiled as fire and heat suddenly raged around him.  Not again!  But he was back inside the Imperial gunship gripping Hera.  Both of them stared incredulously while Kanan’s milky, blind eyes brightened back into teal.  It’s as if the Force itself is looking at me through his eyes.  Then Kanan flung the gunship to safety as he vanished silently into the enormous blast.

The scene suddenly shifted. Ezra lay inside the Imperial drill vehicle, feeling the Jedi Temple shuddering into destruction around them. Bright white light as the Force intensified with unfathomable power. And Kanan’s calm, assuring voice…The Force will be with you. Always. It reminded Ezra of the time his blind master saw him through a similar massive explosion of Force energies generated by the colliding Sith and Jedi holocrons.

Bright light dissolved into chilly dawn. Ezra and a sorrowful Hera faced barren ground where the great Temple once stood.  In the distance, the white Loth-wolf stared at Ezra, as if waiting for a signal.  Goodbye, Kanan.

“Master Ezra? Can you hear me?” Ezra’s eyes popped open to find PZ-5 propping him up in his pilot seat.  “Oh, there you are, sir.”  Warm sunlight filtered in through the viewscreen.  Ezra looked rapidly around, relieved to see the shuttle safely landed.

“How long was I out, PeeZee?” Breathe. Just breathe.  Ezra calmed his pumping heart. An intense wave of longing to be back on the Ghost with Kanan, Hera, Sabine, Zeb—even Chopper—nearly overwhelmed him. He took another deep breath. Relax.  When the time is right, Ahsoka will find me. Sabine will find me.

“Only for five-point-twelve minutes, sir. You made an interesting comment at the end of your trance.”

“I did?” Ezra hadn’t realized he talked aloud during the visions.

“Yes. You said, ‘I know what to do now.’ What did you mean by that?” The droid watched Ezra jump out of the pilot seat, then trailed behind him on their way to the shuttle’s ramp.

“I don’t know, PeeZee.  But I think I’m about to find out.”

Emerging from the shuttle, Ezra found himself surrounded by mystical, temperate woods.  The tall, slender trees encircled a beautiful body of water that was fed by a magnificent waterfall at one end.  Foaming water cascaded down a jagged cliff, creating a spray of mist below.

The plunging water cut deeply through the upper outcroppings of rock.  The effect resembled towers of a primitive temple jutting skyward.  Keeping the hilt of his lightsaber pike handy, Ezra explored the area, pondering overgrown vegetation that covered a variety of strange shaped lumps under leafy vines and moss.  He approached the largest lump, an angled semicircle that directly faced the waterfall.

“I think there’s some kind of monument under here.”  Ezra gestured for PZ-5 to help him tear away the clinging vines.  Their efforts revealed a tableau carved into a thick block of stone. Ezra’s eyes locked on the glyphs and primal images, excitement rising as he recognized geometric art, kindred in design to the cave paintings he’d seen on Lothal. “PeeZee, what do you make of all this?” 

“It appears the overgrowth disguised a ceremonial site from the invaders, Master Ezra. “These other hidden structures are assembled in a pattern to emphasize this particular tableau.”

“But what do these carvings look like to you?”  Ezra needed to make sure he wasn’t imagining things he wanted to see. 

“Processing, sir.” The tableau’s most prominent series of carvings depicted four different symbols set equally apart along a deep, circular groove. The droid focused silently a moment, scanning internal records for any matches. “It appears to resemble points on a compass.”

“That’s exactly what I thought.” Ezra touched each symbol in turn:  a square, a sail-shaped triangle, a bowl-shaped semi-circle, and a set of three very slender rectangles, the center one tallest.  PZ-5 cocked her head, observing.

“Sir, based on my data for comparisons, those carvings align with multiple cultural references to the four elements.”

Ezra’s eyes narrowed.  Yes, of course.  “Let me guess. The square is earth, the bowl is water, the triangle is air…that leaves these rectangles for fire.”  He turned his gaze to the small lake with its foaming waterfall. His heart beat faster.  “Looks like we’re at the water point.”

“It is a logical deduction, Master Ezra.”  PZ-5 gestured at the center of the compass.  Inside, a carved glyph combined all four elemental shapes within a series of interlocking circles.  “This infers a central connection between all four points.”

I’ve been led to a Temple that might connect to the World Between Worlds!  Ezra sensed the truth of this resonate deeply within him. Restore the past. Redeem the future.  He focused hard on the other three points, then placed his hand on the square.  Earth. Ezra could almost see and feel an endless sea of grassy plains, whimsical stone mountains protruding into a soft sky. Lothal is—was—the earth Temple.  

The pounding beat of the waterfall resonated in Ezra’s ears like a never-ending drum. Maybe the vegetation wasn’t the only thing hiding something important from the attackers.  But if that’s the water Temple, how do I get inside?

Reaching out through the Force, Ezra felt his hand drawn to the center of the tableau’s compass.  He held it there and closed his eyes. Opening his mind fully, Ezra felt the Force flow strongly through him, surging outward in an energetic wave, directly at the plunging waterfall.

Something deep within the rocky cliffs groaned, stone slowly grinding on stone.  The roaring of the waterfall altered with it. Ezra opened his eyes wide, both astonished and gratified at the sight of the waterfall parting like foaming curtains.  The waters churned and plummeted now to either side of a deep and gaping hole in the cliff face, diverted by some unseen mechanism Ezra had activated through the Force.

PZ-5’s blank face somehow managed to look stunned.  “Sir…it’s a cave.” Ezra gazed at the dripping, jagged entrance above them.  It resembled nothing other than the gaping maw of a huge, wolf-like creature.  Stone stairs cut into the cliff face led upward into its darkness.

Ezra’s stomach knotted with eagerness, and a hint of foreboding. This time, I’m going in prepared.

 

Thrawn - Chimaera (5 ABY )

Thrawn waited patiently while his orders were carried out to the letter. The Chimaera’s tractor beam hauled in a small, derelict asteroid, then anchored it in place near the outer hull of the starship’s main cargo hold.  The unimpressive hunk of rock had been hurtling through the outer regions of a system known as Kkantu according to the surviving records of its massacred inhabitants.

The retrieval team carefully extracted the Republic era beacon found lodged in the asteroid, sterilizing the slim device before bringing it aboard the Star Destroyer.  The team deposited the beacon in Thrawn’s office, then reluctantly departed.  Thrawn had no intentions of allowing anyone else to view the beacon’s data before he analyzed it first.

Thrawn found the decryption code easily enough.  After all, the Republic had become the Empire, so retained prior codes within the Imperial database, whether or not they were still actively used.  Curious to see if this message in a bottle would prove worthy of its retrieval, Thrawn activated the data cube.

The holographic image of an aging Clone War trooper took shape. Thrawn couldn’t see much of the clone’s surroundings, but he appeared to be piloting a fighter craft of unknown alien design.

“My original designation was CC-Five Six Seven Five.  I am a defector of the Grand Army of the Republic. My chosen name is Sulis. I leave this message as an urgent warning for the Senate and the Jedi--or whatever entity may now oversee the civilized Galaxy.”  The clone paused, gathering his thoughts. “It is imperative that the Senate heed my words. Do not disregard me because I chose to leave a war that killed so many of my brothers and held no desirable future for any brothers who might survive.”

Thrawn studied the clone’s heavily bearded face and pain-filled eyes. This soldier had sacrificed honor and duty to eke out a bleak existence in Wild Space.  In his last moments, the clone clearly sought to redeem himself.

“Those Separatist clankers we fought by the thousands are a pitiful lot in comparison to the horde raging through these systems.  I don’t know much yet, except they came from outside our Galaxy.  I suspect these artificial creatures wiped out whoever was foolish enough to create them in the first place.  What I do know is they are like no enemy I’ve ever faced.  Their only cause seems to be exterminating us organics like we’re a virus to be cleansed from our own Galaxy.”

Sulis paused to alter his craft’s course.  “I’m no Jedi like my former general, but my wife, H’ida…was a Force-sensitive healer.  She got part of a message to me before…before they massacred her and the entire settlement while I was off planet to trade wares.”  

The clone wiped his eyes with his blocky hands. “She said they seemed to despise the living for being part of the Force. It’s something they have no ability to understand or connect with--so they destroy what they can’t have.” 

Sulis pressed various buttons, arming his guns. In the tense silence, Thrawn’s mind filtered and stored every bit of information with growing excitement. I was right. It is not the Yuuzhan Vong. 

Sulis spoke again, his voice hard. “The worst part of her message was…these butchering clankers are only clearing the way for more of their kind.”

The clone increased his craft’s speed.  Thrawn absorbed the ominous words.  If this were indeed true, the threat was dire for any system this vanguard targeted.  Thrawn’s thoughts were disrupted as the clone shifted his holo recorder’s direction.  The image now revealed what lay outside CC-5675’s viewscreen. Thrawn’s body stiffened.

A countless multitude of huge, metallic forms careened directly forward.  But these were not starships.  These streamlined entities were inorganic individuals: coldly glowing eyes topped their menacing, humanoid shapes. Every appendage bristled with weaponry.  High intensity energy beams lashed the alien craft mercilessly. 

CC-5675’s voice rose in volume.  “I’m not going to make it back to Coruscant, obviously! But I’ll take out every bastard clanker I can!”  Accompanied by the clone trooper’s war cry, the small craft dove headlong into a dense cluster of the terrifying assailants.  The holographic image abruptly died out.

Thrawn stared at the empty air, brooding.  He slowly realized his fists were clenched so tightly, he’d left nail marks in his blue palms.  Thrawn focused, relaxing his body and mind, allowing his calculations to flow.  One thing was clear. He had no doubt the Vong and this vanguard would take immense pleasure in decimating each other.  However, it was far too risky to lure the vanguard toward the Unknown Regions.  He would have to find a way to lure the Vong to Wild Space.  Not only would his strategy remove the immediate threat to the Chiss Ascendancy, but the Vong would throw themselves against the vanguard…and whatever was following in its wake.

We must reconnect with the  Greater Galaxy at all costs. Too much was at stake.

 

Kanan - Lothal (1 BBY )

Kanan now hovered in the dark night some distance from the Jedi Temple, sickened by the sight of its precious arts and knowledge laid out on the ground like butchered meat from a kill.

Yet, he was more concerned about Hera.  She was uncharacteristically fragile, so fearful of losing Ezra and Sabine to the Emperor she wanted to abort the mission.  Instinctively, Kanan reached out to lend his strength and support.  For the first time, Hera’s hand reached upward, her fingers intertwining with his.  She can feel my presence!  Every part of Kanan radiated his confidence, his love.  Hera, I’m here with you. I know the kids can do this. Have faith.  Under his touch, Hera relaxed.

Kanan watched alongside Hera and Zeb while Ezra and Sabine stealthily examined the magnificent Temple painting to decipher it and open the Gate.  Sabine’s capture by the minister was a very dicey moment, but Ezra managed to enter the portal.  Kanan attempted to follow—and was yanked back by Dume like a Loth-kitten by its neck.

STAY.

Ow. Fine.  Kanan’s prior visions had been hazy about what lay in store for his padawan, but he’d guided Ezra on this mission knowing inside the Temple existed a chance to save Ahsoka from Vader on Malachor.  If rescued, Ahsoka would be a powerful ally to help protect Ezra and the Temple against the Emperor. She’s certainly more skilled at combat than me.

For now, Kanan contented himself with supporting Hera and Zeb’s rescue of Sabine. Not that those two need much help.  In typical Ghost family style, Sabine escaped from the minister with Hera and Zeb in the nick of time to help Ezra close the Gate. It was unclear what happened with Ahsoka, but Kanan felt only gratitude for Ezra’s safe return.  Kanan both sensed and shared Ezra’s deep regret the Temple must be destroyed, but it was the only way to keep power hungry Palpatine out of the Temple’s pathways through time and space.  As the Temple’s energy exploded around them, Kanan called upon Dume to help him shield his family.  The Imperials…well, they weren’t so lucky.

Before Ezra lost consciousness, Kanan channeled love, strength and calm to boy who’d long ago become far more than a padawan to him. The Force will be with you. Always.

And rejoiced to know Ezra heard him.

 

Ezra - Ja'Ghar (5 ABY )

Carefully treading the last treacherous step, Ezra entered the cave, his movements hampered by his heavy stormtrooper armor and helmet.  Behind him, PZ-5 carried a pack filled with bacta wraps. Moisture pitter-pattered everywhere, fed by the mist from the waterfall’s parted curtain outside.

“Look, PeeZee.” Ezra walked toward the back of the dark cave where deep carvings in the rock glowed with the eerie light of phosphorous microorganisms. He removed his helmet, eyes glittering with excitement.

The array of primal, geometric shapes created three large, bipedal figures, all wearing headdresses decorated in an alien, amphibious style. The hand on the female figure to the left was open to the sky. The tallest, central figure faced forward, his webbed hands stretched out to either side. The figure to the right pointed his closed fist at the ground.

Ezra’s breath escaped him.  “It is a Gate.”  PZ-5 eyed the stone carvings blankly.

“A gate, sir? I see a wall.” 

Ezra grinned at the droid. “Let’s see which one of us is right.” Ezra stood next to the female figure, then placed his gloved hand on the softly glowing stone hand that stretched upward to the sky. 

The bioluminescence intensified, outlining all the figures with eerie light.  Ezra moved away, watching intently while the female lowered her hand and faced the central figure.  He raised his outstretched arms high overhead.  Ezra heard faint voices speaking in a language he couldn’t understand.  Outside, the roar of the waterfall shifted in tone.

On the right side of the cave, a paper-thin sheet of water cascaded from the ceiling mere inches from the wall, creating a continuous, transparent curtain.  The water at the bottom flowed along the stone floor to spill out the cave entrance.   In the cave wall behind the sheet of water, phosphorous light grew brighter and brighter.  It formed the shape of a serpentine, amphibious creature with wolf-like jaws.

Ezra and PZ-5 watched in fascination while the glowing creature circled faster and faster.  Its arc of light reflected in the water’s transparent curtain.  Finally, the creature’s wolf-jaws clamped down on its own tail, creating a wavering, glowing circle within the thin sheet of watery curtain. 

“I…I don’t understand,” droned PZ-5.  “Is it a gate, or isn’t it?”

“It’s a portal, PeeZee, to a place I don’t really have time to explain right now. What I do need you to understand is this:  If I don’t come out of there within three Lothalian rotations, you’re to use the shuttle’s cannons and destroy this cave and everything around it.”

The droid practically staggered.  “What? But why, Master Ezra?”

“Because Thrawn and his Imperial cronies can’t know about this place. Once I’m gone, what you’re going to do first is secretly record all the symbols in this cave and the ones outside with the tableau.  Then you’ll take the shuttle to our original coordinates and complete the mission. If Thrawn calls in, you tell him everything is fine, and we’ll rejoin the Chimaera shortly. Got that?”

“But…I…yes…”

“And if I don’t come out in three rotations, you’ll tell him I attempted to Force connect with some very large Ja’Gharian carnivores, only I must have insulted them because I wound up as dinner.”

“What large carnivores, exactly, sir?”

“Trust me, they’re out there.” He patted his pike hilt.  “Be glad you’re a droid.”  Ezra took the big pack away from PZ-5 and hoisted it onto his back.

“I still don’t understand why you must enter this portal, sir.”

“PeeZee, this is a mission I was given over five years ago, but I couldn’t complete it then. It wasn’t the right time.  But now I think the Force has given me a second chance. If I don’t try, I’m not sure I can live with myself.”  Ezra smiled softly at PZ-5. “Hey, don’t look so glum.  I made it back the last time I did this on Lothal.”

“I…will miss you if you don’t return, Master Ezra.”

Ezra fondly patted the droid’s shoulder. “You’ve been a trusted friend to me, PeeZee.  As a friend, I hope you’ll do me one more favor.”

“I would be honored.”

“If anyone can get the Chimaera back home, it’s Grand Admiral Thrawn.  But if I’m no longer aboard, it’s urgent that you find my friends, Ahsoka Tano and Sabine Wren.  Tell them all the times we’ve shared together, everything we’ve discovered about the invaders.  But the most important thing you must tell Ahsoka and Sabine is that I found this Temple.  Show them your secret recordings. Tell them I did it for Kanan.  And Hera.  Only they can safely know, and only they will understand.  Do you promise?”

PZ-5 nodded solemnly.  “I promise, Master Ezra.”  Ezra nodded solemnly in return.

“Thank you, my friend.” Ezra’s face lit up with a smile. “Remember, I plan to be back. For now, enjoy playing spy droid. I know how much you like it.”

PZ-5 waggled a finger at him. “I cannot argue with you on that point.”

Ezra put his helmet back on, settled his pack.  He gently pushed his gloved hand through the sheet of water, felt the portal give under his touch. “See you soon, PeeZee.” And then Ezra slipped through the glowing circle…and vanished.

PZ-5 stared, processing. “It is indeed a gate.” The swirling serpentine figure slowed to a stop but stayed aglow. “Very well. Now commencing recordings and Lothalian rotation countdown.”

Inside the portal, Ezra found himself in an interdimensional place almost identical to the one he’d explored in the Lothal Temple.  Both strange and familiar voices echoed around him while he walked the twisting pathways.  There were differences.  The pathways rose and fell much more steeply, more frequently circling upside down.  Ezra had no trouble falling off, everything around him shifted to his own perspective. The portals were more primitive in design, some vaguely disturbing. Other dimly lit portals made Ezra’s skin crawl as he walked by.

How do I find the portal to Kanan? He’d been avoiding this question as he’d grabbed his various supplies from the shuttle for the pack.  The Daughter’s bird had guided him to Ahsoka.  The portal to Kanan before had only been a trap set by the Emperor, one that Ezra had barely avoided thanks to Ahsoka’s intervention. Well, now the Emperor’s dead. He can’t try that again.

Ezra searched the surrounding starfield, searching for the Wolf constellation.  He was surprised to find it in the “sky” much farther back.  He didn’t recall seeing it earlier. He turned back, walking faster.  At least it will be closer to my exit. Ezra listened more carefully, ears tuned to the distinctive sound of Kanan among the echoing voices. And then Ezra heard it, deep and soft.

Nobody ever pays enough attention to the world around them.

The voice came from a portal with artwork on top that reminded Ezra of the Lothalian cave paintings.  It was a small figure, likely a child, surrounded by radiating lines.  The circle of the portal itself depicted the open jaws of a very large wolf.  Okay, I get it, this has to be the one.  But something inside him now hesitated to proceed.  Ezra knew Kanan’s sacrifice would be worthless if he was pulled away before the gunship was hurled to safety.  Everyone on board would die in the explosion, and Ezra wouldn’t even exist to be here now. And if Kanan didn’t die, his spirit--his will--wouldn’t have been able to guide Ezra via Dume through those three days to ensure the Jedi Temple disappeared from the Emperor.  I told PeeZee I know what to do now. But do I really? Was it the Force at work here, or his own wishful thinking for a second chance?

The future, by its nature, can be changed.

Ezra froze.  He recognized that immortal voice.  It was the Son from the Gate.  It had been this same voice who asked Ezra not so long ago: Is your master truly dead? But, if the Son was guiding him now instead of the Daughter…was it a good thing?  The Son represented the Dark side.  And yet…if the Force was balanced between Light and Dark, and needed both to exist…was the Dark innately evil?  After all, the Son spoke through his “nature channel.”  In Ezra’s experience, most of nature and its animals, including more sentient creatures like the Loth-wolves and purrgil, did not seem to exist for one side of the Force over another.  If they were part of the balance, didn’t it stand to reason he must be tapping into both Light and Dark to communicate with them?

Is your master truly dead?  The voice and its question echoed again around Ezra.  But what Ezra sensed was the Light had opened a portal on Lothal…and now the Dark wanted its turn here on Ja’Ghar.  A balance.  If this meant Kanan could be saved like Ahsoka, so be it.  And with that thought, Ezra’s mind cleared, and he realized that he had known all along exactly what to do.  Ezra set down his pack, opening it to pull out the bacta wraps.  He adjusted his helmet, gloves, and armor, making sure everything was secure.  

He stood before the portal, reaching out calmly with his mind. If this is the will of the Force, you will open.

The circular wolf mouth began to glow, brighter and brighter.  Inside the portal, intense heat and flames.  And just visible through the inferno, Ezra could see Kanan from behind.  His master had already turned his face toward the gunship, one hand stretched to hold back Hera, the other splayed before Ezra to keep the intense fire at bay.

Ezra didn’t need to see Kanan’s face.  This scene was burned into his memory forever.  In just a moment, the Force would fill Kanan so completely, its healing energy would regenerate his milky eyes to blue-green.  That healing power should protect Kanan  enough from what Ezra was about to do. But he had to wait, just a moment longer…wait for Kanan to turn completely… to shove away the gunship.  And in that next fraction of a second, if Kanan slumped, it meant he’d projected his consciousness outward before the explosion could ignite his body with agony…Yes! There he goes--NOW!!!

Ezra grabbed Kanan through the portal, the intense, raging inferno searing his gloves and armor.  Ignoring the pain, Ezra yanked Kanan’s inert body back into the interdimensional realm, out of time and space.  Heat and light and fire blasted, then the portal closed.  Ezra fought unconsciousness, calling upon the Force for strength. With shaking hands, Ezra lay Kanan on the pathway, then clumsily cocooned Kanan’s singed body in bacta wraps.  Gently wrapping Kanan’s head and scorched fringes of hair, Ezra managed a weak smile.  “Good thing you already shaved most of that off.”

Ezra dragged off his helmet, grimacing at the agony in his hands.  He slowly peeled off his damaged gloves and armor, relieved to find none of it melted to his skin.  Wrapping the remaining bacta wraps around his lower arms and hands, Ezra sank back with a shaky sigh. He let the soothing mixture ease the worst of the pain.  Kanan remained unmoving next to him, the slow rise and fall of his chest the only proof he was still alive.

Ezra unwrapped the fingers of his right hand to carefully open the lid of Kanan’s nearest eye.  Vivid teal stared back at him.  Ezra felt tears well, and he gently closed Kanan’s lid.  He rewrapped his hand, then completely broke down into sobs of relief.  A nagging part of his mind reminded him: Kanan still needs his essence back.  What if he can’t find his body? Ezra shoved that away, giving thanks to the Force for his success so far.  He whispered a thank you to the Son as well.

Ezra realized he had no way of knowing how much time was passing in the outside world.  Perhaps it had been one Lothalian rotation already.  And he needed to get Kanan into a bacta tank as soon as possible.  Then, scattered through the intermittent voices always echoing in the World Between Worlds, Ezra suddenly heard Zeb say, “What do you mean gone?”

Listen.  Ezra emptied his mind, reaching out.  “I thought we had more time.” Hera. 

And then it was Sabine, “I agree with you, but only because we can’t let that thing track us back to our base.”

“It talks with its eyes.” Zeb again.

And so their voices periodically faded in and out, giving Ezra clues as to how much time was passing.  It also reminded him how greatly he missed them all. With a weary start, he realized he better move Kanan to the Ja’Gharian portal before time ran out and PZ-5 blew the cave apart.

Ezra’s hands had recovered enough to heave Kanan up.  He dragged Kanan by walking backward; it was ungainly, hard work, with Kanan’s bootheels trailing behind on the twisting pathways.  Right now, I sure wish you were a lot shorter, Master.  Ezra stopped for a rest every now and again, listening intently for the voice clues.  When the Ja’Gharian portal came into view, Ezra hauled Kanan with renewed energy.

Several steps away from the portal, he heard Sabine say, “That one! The Son!”  Ezra frantically pulled Kanan along.  It was almost the third dawn on Lothal, and Ezra’s time was running out.

“The Force will be with you. Always.” Kanan.  Time was speeding up! Ezra winced in pain, fumbling as he almost dropped Kanan.

“He’s gone now, isn’t he? I mean, really gone.” Hera’s sad, resigned voice echoed around him. Ezra toppled backwards through the portal, yanking Kanan along with him.  As the duo hit the cold and wet stone floor…the cave began to shake. Recharged by the sheet of chilly water, Ezra blinked upwards to see the circling serpentine creature slow and dim as the bioluminescence in the cave wall behind died out.  The cave shuddered harder.

“No, PeeZee, not yet!”  But Ezra’s commlink had been fried with his armor.  The sheet of water cut off like a closed faucet.  Desperate, Ezra Force-pushed Kanan’s body along the slippery wet floor as gently as he could.  “Sorry, Kanan!”  Ezra stumbled toward the cave entrance, shouting wildly.  He stuck his head out of the entrance, the bright sunshine hurting his eyes.  “PeeZee, stop!!”  Except, there was no attacking shuttle outside.  Ezra saw the Lambda parked at a distance, the engines starting to fire.  Ezra waved his arms desperately…and sagged with relief as PZ-5 waved back from the cockpit.

But the shaking was still intensifying.  All the figures on the back wall went ominously dark. Why is this happening? I didn’t close the Gate. And then it hit him.  I pulled Kanan out of a different portal.  Ahsoka hadn’t come with Ezra back on Lothal for her own reasons. Well, a little heads up from the Son would have been nice!  Too late for that now. The groan of rock sliding on rock disrupted his thoughts.  The waterfall curtains started to cascade inward.  Ezra grabbed Kanan--and jumped off the cliff, splashing into the foaming water below.  Still underwater, he dragged Kanan along, headed for the surface as far as possible from the incoming torrent. Ezra broke the surface, gasping for air. 

“Master Ezra!  Are you all right?” PZ-5 had hustled to the shoreline. 

Ezra plowed through the water, keeping Kanan’s head above water. I sure hope he’s still breathing.  How ironic to save his master from fire only to drown him instead!  Behind them, the jagged spires of the Temple collapsed inward, chunks flying.  Ezra Force-blocked a few smaller particles that plummeted directly at them. By then, PZ-5 reached out and Ezra shoved Kanan into her arms. “PeeZee—meet Kanan Jarrus!” The perplexed droid goggled, managing a nod.

“We must get up the ramp immediately, sir!” Ezra and PZ-5 propped the blissfully unconscious Jedi master between them. Several of the bacta wraps hung loose, fluttering as the trio escaped up the ramp of the shuttle.   

Inside the cockpit, Ezra leapt into the pilot seat, launching the shuttle skyward in a steep turn just as the Ja’Ghar Temple blew its top like a water-filled volcano. The shuttle barely missed the tremendous flood of water and rocky debris.  It soared up and away, spattered with mud and droplets.

 

Kanan  - Lothal (1 BBY )

Kanan hovered, watching Ezra and Hera where they stood in the distance, surrounded by barren, beautiful landscape where the Jedi Temple once stood.  Next to Kanan, shrouded in the misty light, was the white Loth-wolf.  It glanced from Kanan to the others, silently waiting.  For what?

Feeling uneasy, Kanan tried to move closer to embrace the two,  but the relentless tugging increased dramatically.  And there was no responding anchor against it from Dume.

WE MUST GO.

No!  Let me stay. They could finally feel me, hear me.

STAY AND VANISH.  OR GO TOGETHER.

And then, with an undertone of respect:  YOUR CHOICE.

All this time since the explosion, Kanan had felt himself pushed and pulled, fighting upstream to accomplish what his will had desired.  Yet, here his family was. Safe. And he sensed Hera and the others were going to be okay…or as okay as any war would ever let a family be. 

Dume said it was his choice, but Kanan decided it would be their choice.  Like the white wolf, he waited.  In the distance, Hera gently touched her shoulder. “He’s gone now, isn’t he?  I mean, really gone.”  Kanan twisted inward, barely hearing anything again until Ezra’s voice cut through with its reluctant resignation.

“Goodbye, Kanan.”

Kanan hung there in the dawn’s light for a moment.  He expected to feel sorrow wash over him, but their ultimate acceptance eased an inner ache he didn’t even know he’d had.  Did he really want to remain here, not even a ghost of himself?  If they could accept his departure, so could he.

Whatever Dume or the Cosmic Force now needed of him—if anything—he would do it.  His time here was complete, and Kanan let go with simple gratitude for all the love he’d been able to share with those whose time had not yet come.

Beside him, the white Loth-wolf melted away into the rising sun.  And Kanan’s consciousness abruptly tumbled and spun, released from Lothal to spin faster and faster into a blazing kaleidoscope of time and space—

—Bright light, so bright it hurt to look.  Kanan squinted, his eyes desperately working to focus. He was floating, floating in…a bacta tank?  He convulsed reflexively, sucked air through the respirator, almost gasping as his startled heart kicked into overdrive.  Through the thick liquid, he could hear alarms sounding.  Suddenly, intense blue eyes pressed up to the tank wall.  A young man with dark hair, a goatee, and a growing smile on his face.  Ezra.

“Kanan?” Ezra’s eyes widened and he placed both hands on the transparisteel, the closest thing to a hug he could give. Ezra’s thoughts were written all over his face: Kanan is…Kanan!

Feeling trapped in the tank, Kanan called upon the Force to center himself with peace and calm.  It wasn’t easy.  Intense emotions seared through him like the inferno that had taken—nearly taken—his life.  Kanan had presumed all along it was the Cosmic Force tugging away on him, but it had turned out to be his own not-so-dead body.  Leave it to Dume to keep him in the dark about the Force granting him a second chance.  Then again, maybe Dume hadn’t wanted to raise false hopes.  Ezra had succeeded despite almost impossible odds.

Kanan would be with Hera again. And I'll be staying on that Kalikori.  He would finally meet their child, be a father.  Kanan was returning to everyone and everything he loved. On top of all these miracles, he’d been restored the gift of sight.  Salty tears blended with the fluid surrounding him.  And then the med droid injected a solution, sinking Kanan into a deep healing sleep.

 

Ezra - Chimaera (5 ABY )

Thrawn paced his office, striving for calm, but these were certainly the most unusual of circumstances.

“Commander Bridger, how does a Jedi Knight who died five years ago—in an explosion that derailed my TIE Defender program, I might add—wind up in my ship’s bacta tank out on the edges of Wild Space?”  Before Ezra could speak, Thrawn snapped out, “And why should I let him stay in it?”

Thrawn’s eyes flamed so red, Ezra almost expected them to catch fire.  Ezra folded his arms, finding himself abnormally peaceful.

“I actually have a question for your first, Admiral.  Do you ever wonder why the purrgil dumped us out here together?”

“What does that have to do with my inquiry? You know full well you deceived those weak-minded creatures into doing your Rebel warfare. “

“I had zero mind control over them or where they brought us. I’m sure you’ve noticed they haven’t come back.”  Now Thrawn’s glare turned icy.  Ezra shrugged his shoulders.

“So here we are…by the will of the Force, not so conveniently discovering a huge threat to the galaxy.” Ezra held up his hand to hold off a retort from Thrawn.  “And also through the will of the Force, a ‘poorly trained child’—that would be me—pulled Kanan through time and space thanks to a convenient space anomaly right where PZ-5 and I happened to be.”

Thrawn stopped pacing. “I don’t believe a word of your ‘space anomaly’ explanation, Bridger. It is absolutely ludicrous and entirely undocumented.”

“Fine. Then I’ll stop talking about it.  You can’t deny my master is here and very much alive. It seems very obvious to me the Force thinks the galaxy—and you—need Kanan and me back together.  Don’t tell me you can’t find an efficient use for two Jedi in those big plans you’re cooking up to wow the Chiss Ascendancy.”

Thrawn’s eyes penetrated Ezra for a very long moment.  Ezra could almost see the wheels within wheels turning.

“Oh, indeed I can.”  Thrawn’s lips curved ever so slightly.  “And I will.” He gestured at the door. Dismissed.

Ezra turned to leave, then a thought occurred to him.  “You don’t happen to have any other lightsa—” Thrawn cut in smooth as silk.

“Kanan Jarrus must earn it first.”

Ezra departed, feeling a bit less peaceful. Perhaps substantially less peaceful.

 

Kanan - Chimaera (5 ABY )

Kanan rested quietly in the medical bay, still adjusting to not being dead while savoring the visual details of everything around him.  Even the bossy XT-92 med droid didn’t annoy him too much.  Some areas of his skin needed further healing, but most had returned to its light russet brown color.

Closing his eyes, he could still tune in his highly developed Force-sight. He’d need to actively use it to make sure his advanced abilities didn’t weaken.  He looked up as Ezra came in, clutching a cup of caf.  “Sorry…I’d get you some, but that hovering droid won’t allow it.” 

“I think saving my life pretty much makes up for it.” Kanan’s mouth quirked.

Ezra plopped down next to Kanan’s bed with a sigh, his blue eyes darkened with shadows. “Yeah, well, I’m not so sure I’ve done you any favors, Kanan. We’re stuck out here with Thrawn, one step behind a new enemy that could shred this ship like a rabid Loth-wolf. “

“Ezra.  Being here—even for a moment—to see the man you’ve become…it’s worth any danger.” 

Ezra ducked his head, cheeks flushed.  Kanan gripped Ezra’s forearm, feeling the Force resonate between them.  “Always remember. We are the balance, Ezra. We are supposed to be here now. Where Lothal needs us most.”

Ezra lifted his gaze back to Kanan, brightening again.  “Yes, Master.”

Kanan’s lips curved.  “You know, I’d say you’ve grown waaay past the apprentice stage.”

“Are you saying…you’re no longer my Master?” Ezra’s brow furrowed.

“More like I’m sensing the Force reunited us to become a new kind of team.  We’ll just have to figure it out as we go along—like we’ve always done.” 

Ezra’s thoughtful expression eased into a teasing smile.  “Well, don’t get too bossy about it. You’re not all that much older than me anymore.”  Ezra’s grin widened.  “I just realized—won’t you be a little younger than Hera now?”

Hera. Kanan’s heart swelled with an almost unbearable longing to hold her—and our five-year-old!—tightly in his arms and never let go. He forced the lump in his throat down with a laugh. “And I look forward to reminding her of that every day.”   

Ezra’s grin slipped away.  “I wish I could tell you when we’ll make it home.”  The unspoken if we’ll make it home hung silently between the two Jedi. 

Kanan sighed deeply, then his somber expression shifted into his signature smirk. “Hey, at least it’ll give me time to grow my hair out.”

 

Jacen, Hera and Sabine - Lothal (5 ABY )

Jacen Syndulla skipped along the beach, trailing behind his mother and Aunt Sabine.  The sea lapped gently against the sand and stonier outcroppings.  Jacen zigzagged among scattered debris washed up by yesterday’s unusually fierce storm, searching for pirate treasures hidden in the kelp and rocks.  Hondo will be so jealous!  The breeze blew Jacen’s bright green bangs into his eyes and he flipped his hair aside with a grin. Although sometimes he wished he had long, curving lekku like Grandfather Cham, Jacen felt nothing but pride whenever anyone said he looked like his father.  I’m the son of a Jedi Knight.

“Jacen, don’t run off too far,” Mama called out.

She and Aunt Sabine stood looking back at a gleaming, spiral form that stretched into the blue sky.  Mama had explained Aunt Sabine worked with others on the City Council to build a memorial to Lothal’s freedom from the Empire.  They’d come for a few rotations to join other family and friends for the grand opening.  Jacen liked any excuse to visit Aunt Sabine.  She told great stories about all her explosive adventures. Plus, there was supposed to be a huge party.

“Okay, Mama!” Jacen really did mean to obey her this time, but then he saw huge Loth-wolf prints in the damp sand.  He knew immediately those led to something exciting.  Making sure Mama’s pretty face was turned away, Jacen dashed off. Oh, yeah, he’d have plenty to tell Hondo later today.

Jacen followed the tracks around a mound of sea-rusted permasteel.  I bet this is from the dome that got blown up in the sky.  That was one of his favorite stories, especially when Uncle Zeb told it.  But right now, he was more interested in the pit the Loth-wolf had dug.  Avoiding all the piled-up sand, Jacen slipped into the damp hole.  And landed on a storage container.  It was pretty banged up, but still shut tight.  I wonder what’s inside?  Jacen lay his hand against the lock.  He closed his eyes…and reached out with his mind to open it.

Huddled together in private conversation, Hera and Sabine didn’t see the feisty five-year-old disappear behind the washed-up wreckage. 

“Truthfully, I’m not sure what to do, Sabine.  Just the other day, Jacen managed to lock Zeb and Kallus in the cargo hold.  About five minutes after I left.” 

Sabine stifled a smile. “I’m pretty sure Chopper played a role in that.”

Hera managed a wan chuckle. “But he’s always knowing things he shouldn’t, getting into places and things that should be beyond him.”

Sabine gestured at the Liberation of Lothal spire. “You have to admit, his parents happen to be well known troublemakers.” 

The two women shared a wry grin before Hera’s expression tightened again.

“I know. But now that’s Jacen’s getting older, the safest thing seems to send him to stay with the few other Force sensitive younglings. He could learn from Luke…but then I’d hardly see him.” Hera’s graceful hands clenched.  “I’m just not ready for that.”

Sabine eyed Hera with concern. “Are Jacen’s Force abilities becoming a danger to himself or others?” 

Hera sighed. “He got teased again the other day for not looking Twi’lek enough. Jacen didn’t hurt the boy…but he did Force push the toy they were arguing about hard enough to stick in the wall.”  Hera’s lekku slumped. “If only Kanan or Ezra were here to teach him.”

“Hera, there may be other options.” Sabine tried to contain her excitement. “I haven’t had a chance to tell you yet. Ahsoka Tano is returning soon.”

“Ahsoka’s coming back? That’s, that’s…welcome news” Hera smiled, recalling the Togruta with both fond and bitter memories. “But she’s not a Jedi anymore, is she?”

Sabine planted her hands on her hips. “Hera, she’s a Force wielder…Surely, she can at least offer some useful advice about Jacen.” Sabine did not add before Ahsoka and I go looking for Ezra.  She would share that significant news with Hera and the others later.

“Yes, of course, you’re right, Sabine.” Hera squeezed Sabine’s shoulder. “Speaking of my son, where did that little Loth-rat go?” 

Hera and Sabine scanned around, calling out Jacen’s name.  Hera now spied the Loth-wolf paw prints leading away.  “Jacen!”

Distant movement caught Sabine’s eye and she pointed. “There he is, he just jumped on top of that wreckage.” 

She and Hera rushed toward Jacen, relief on their faces. Hera beckoned imperiously.

“Jacen Caleb Syndulla, you get down from there before you fall through!”

Jacen waved back from his precarious perch with a gap-toothed grin. Then, he ignited the lightsaber upraised in his hand.  The brilliant blue blade stopped Hera and Sabine in their tracks.

“Is that Kanan’s…?” Sabine’s voice choked up.

Hera’s own voice tried to scream, cry and laugh at the same time. “Jacen?!”  Her legs unfroze, and she raced across the last of the sand just as Jacen jumped down with a flourish of the humming blade. 

He switched off the lightsaber, placing it obediently in Hera’s commanding hand.  “Better put it somewhere safe, Mama.” Jacen looked off into a distance only he could see and smiled. “I think Daddy’s going to need it back.”