Maia had left her at the foot of the stairway, with a curt nod in the direction she must take. It wasn’t a problem, she’d been dreading their silent progress all the way to Saw’s door. She’d nodded back and made her way down the passageway alone.
She lets her senses open out now, feels ahead into the network of caverns and chambers; and there he is, not too far off. This entire situation is so insane, Saw still the feared leader giving orders, yet confined to one floor of the monastery, and with things he seemingly can’t stop or even see going on all around, in the upper storeys. All anyone had to do, to rescue that poor sod of a herald, was bring him upstairs. But they’re all too scared of the old man to do it.
Liar. As if you’re not just as bad, still scared as a child of his rage, his power, for all it seems to have faded like a stain in running water.
Ripples of sick curiosity run through her. How was Saw injured, how did Maia lose her abilities? What became of the others – dead, or fled? She can feel no trace of their presence in the walls, the air. Long gone, whatever their reason.
Did Saw drive them off? – has he turned against the use of magic altogether, or those who wield it?
She’s at a doorway. Darkness beyond, but she knows he’s in there.
I’ve faced you once already and walked away fine. Unhurt, some would say even victorious, since I took your toy from you, told you out of my way. Why am I more afraid now than I was then?
My mother is alive, and serves the enemy, and you knew this. You said nothing. I have to know why. I have to know.
A whispered word serves to brighten the globe of light above her hand; she straightens her back, holds her head up, come on, yes, this is how you do it. Take a step, pass under that archway.
Into the dark of Saw’s chamber. She shapes the air with a flick of her hands and the shutters creak open on a wide window, a panorama of mountains under the moon.
I do not meet you as a challenger, nor a supplicant, but a survivor. An equal, asking advice of an equal. Advice, and truth. Not to be moulded, nor ruled, but to learn what I need, the better to rule myself.
He moves out of the darkness. Slow. Clumsy in his pain. His breathing is harsh. Pity fills her as once again he says wonderingly “Jyn, is it really you?”
The same words as an hour ago. “You know it is. You just spoke with me!”
“Are you the one she sent? Have you come back, to kill me?” The hand not gripping his staff flaps weakly, indicating his diseased foot, his exhausted body. “There’s not much of me left.”
“Saw, you know mama didn’t send me! I thought she was dead – you told me she was!”
“Yet today you come? Only two days after that false messenger with his handful of empty words? No, it’s too much coincidence. And who would you betray me for, if not the Empire? Just like all the others.”
He looks so broken and old. The bubble of magic round his wound has a shiver to it, like water barely held in a shaking hand.
She grabs at the one thing he’s said that made any real sense.
“I don’t believe the herald was false. I’ve spoken to him. He gave you a message from my mother!”
Saw gestures dismissively. “Traitors, all of them.”
“No-one here has betrayed you.” She can say that much with absolute certainty. There’s not a soul in this place but looks to him with devotion and fear, and the deep loyalty those bind.
A flicker of poison in his voice. Her temper flares in response. “You were trying to make me into something I cannot be! I was sixteen – I was a child, Saw!”
“You were already the strongest witch in my gang. You had the potential to be great, to be the champion we needed against the Empire, the leader who is a weapon, but you ran away!”
“No!” Maybe it’s true. She denies it anyway. Not a weapon not a weapon I am not I am not -
“You ran away from your abilities!”
“I ran away from you. From being made into a killer, a monster.”
His eyes go calculating inside their hurt. “Yet you come back to me, now you’ve become exactly that.”
It’s an uncomfortably perceptive comment, coming from a man who seems rambling and semi-insane half the time.
Jyn flinches. Makes herself hold steady again, breathe out calm. Unclenches tightening fists, relaxes her shoulders and all the little knots in her face. Give him some ground, let him feel he’s the one in charge of you and your fate.
After all, in so many ways he still is. He moulded me and taught me, built my fears, my dreams, and every wall I sought to climb. He shaped my childhood. But I’m not that child anymore.
“I need someone to help me learn. I’ve come into my power, as you told me I would. But I don’t know how to control it yet.”
“Control it?” Saw’s voice is ferocious even in a whisper. “I saw you blast through a set of steel chains and rise up unharmed from the Force itself running through you, and you say you can’t control it? Don’t mock me, girl. You are far beyond merely controlling it now.”
“But – I need to study, to understand, how to use it, how to – not be afraid of it –“ Damn it, she’s saying far more than she’d meant to. He sounds angry, mystifyingly angry when she’s giving him the control he always demanded; giving control and showing fear, to Saw who had always been ruthlessly unafraid. She struggles on, since there’s no turning back from the ascent. “I’ve felt the – the power – it comes through me, but I don’t understand how. How it works. How to shape it, guide it. More than just how to strike a blow. I need to learn how to heal, how to make things anew.” Swallow, draw breath, climb on; let him see his magic doesn’t blind you anymore. “You need that. I can see. You need me just as much as I need you. You’re alone and weak and the last of your gang are gone. Dead, or deserted you. But if you teach me, maybe I can heal you.”
“Alone?” Saw shuffles forward a pace. “Weak? You are presumptuous.”
“You hide that wound, pretend it isn’t there, though you know it will kill you without a healer’s hand. You require blind loyalty of people you can no longer protect with the magic you once had. You refuse even to let me see my mother’s message! I’m not the only one who presumes upon others!”
He’s wheezing and she knows it comes from anger. She longs to spit out a spell and conjure the good air back into his lungs. Force him to face his own frailty, and cure him in the same instant.
No. Be calm, be calm. Don’t force him to anything. You’ve resented being forced for so long, why do it to another now you have the power?
Saw is forcing himself, anyway. Slowly he raises his right hand; his lips move, forming familiar words, and a glowing sphere almost the twin of hers blooms above his palm. “The magic I’ve lost?” he rasps.
The ball of light is brilliant silver, bright as the moon over the valley. Every cell in his body is shaking with the effort of keeping it so, but he battles through implacably. There’s still the heart of a war-mage in him, and the anger of one too. But so weak. So old. Staking his strength on a pointless game of power with her, when he should be saving it, and sparing himself from these fantasies of enemies all around him.
Outside the window, a bank of cloud slips over the moon and the room darkens. Jyn blows a thread of air over her own light; it expands, splits, becomes a dozen small circling globes. A planetary system, dancing round her upraised hand. The dim chamber fills with glimmerings and shadows. She says nothing, only watches Saw as he takes it in, the complexity and beauty of the spell, and the lack of effort it costs her to spin and hold it.
Abruptly he turns away. “Follow me. Or leave, like all the others.”
“My mother’s message, Saw. You owe me that much.”
“There was no message.”
“Bodhi Rook says otherwise!”
“The herald lies!” Saw half-turns back, wheezing with pain at the movement. “There was no message. Only a stone. An empty stone.”
“Let me see it. Saw, listen to me. I am not your enemy! Maybe we can still find a way. Maybe I can learn to heal you, if you’ll let me.” He turns his back again with a grunt. She snaps. “Or maybe I will leave, since you keep telling me to! Go back to the woods and keep my magic to myself!”
It’s risky to offer a threat, but trying to follow the erratic jumps of his mind is exhausting and she’s angry and frustrated, and so, so tired now; and he can’t just walk away from her now without even letting her see her mother’s words -
But Saw is only crossing the room. Slow, his wounded foot dragging. Every step must be painful. He thumps his hand to the wall above a rock-cut niche, and the sphere of light he’s conjured wobbles and sticks there, innocently bright; and he reaches into the hollow, and draws out a crystal like her own.
“The messenger said I should listen to it. But it’s silent. Thirteen years a servant of the enemy, and this is the only message she sends! I raised you! I loved her child and raised you as my own and she mocks me with an empty stone!”
The crystal has been drilled and mounted on a silver chain. It swings from his hand. The links shimmer in the magic light. It’s a thing far more beautifully made than her own pendant; a necklace fit for a princess.
Jyn’s hand goes to the bosom of her shirt, the hard lump of her own shard of kyber. Slowly she draws it out. Is it imagination that makes the stone seem warm to the touch?
My mother sent him that. She lives, her hands touched this thing and she sent it to him as a message. I do not believe she would do such a thing simply to jeer at an old man.
“Give it to me.”
He draws back, pulling the necklace in against his body. “Why? She sent it to me, it’s meant for me! You’re just trying to take everything from me, betray me just like the others.”
“Saw. Saw! What happened to the others? Who betrayed you?” She edges nearer, keeping her hand outstretched, the globes of light drifting to the side so that all she’s holding out is a plea, to be given her mother’s last gift, the stone Lyra sent him. Why would she send something so precious, for no reason, and at so much risk?
“Three of them died,” Saw says “and three deserted me. That’s how I knew. No loyalty! Only that poor broken girl Mai had the courage to stay for the cause. When the enemy attacked in the river valley, on the banks of the Onderon. Three of them died and three of them left, and only one came back to the fortress of my heart.”
It’s no good, he makes too little sense; and the necklace dances just out of reach, tantalising her, so near. “Give me the crystal. Please, Saw.”
The heat from her pendant is unmistakable now and the room brightens in the growing light. Saw jolts at the sight, thrusts his hand out at her abruptly. “Go on, then, if you must. Take it.” He sighs. “Do what you’ve come to do.”
“All I came to do was to try and get your help,” Jyn whispers. But her hand reaches for the stone and closes round it, and the light wells up like tears. It floods out of the crystal, and her own stone, and out of her.
“I tried,” Saw says faintly. “I tried, but there was no light in it for me.” He sounds heartbroken.
It’s hard to breathe, hard to stop herself from shaking; sunlight and moonlight and starlight all thrumming through her bones, and a deep dark-light like the fire within the earth, burning, and there’s burning in the waters and in the very air. Jyn clutches her mother’s message and brings it to her breast, to rest against the worn stone she’s carried so long. The light is almost blinding.
She drops to her knees, holding the unimaginable.
A voice speaks, in the darkness within the light, and it is not Saw’s, nor her own.
“Saw, if you’re listening to this, then perhaps there’s still a chance.”