Chapter 1: prelude
Dorban Halisse was, without a doubt, the most jittery Twi’lek this side of Tatooine. He was all glass edges, paranoid, and frequently dropped things (his shaking hands never allowed for safe transport of datapads, credits, or, stars forbid, hyperspace fuel). Every exchange was conducted in a quiet corner of the cantina, with the other party’s weapons laid out where he could see them.
Dorban was also one of the few people alive that you could trust, and the feeling was, strangely, mutual.
“Safe passage, Cinder?” he asked, glancing over at the other disinterested patrons. He spared you a half-second of eye contact, and you allowed yourself to feel a little bit special. Willing eye contact and an inquiry about your trip? Very few people received that from him. You half-smiled, though it quickly dissolved into a vexed little huff.
“It was fine.” Besides, of course, the bounty hunter you’d shot down passing Florrum (second one this week), the relentless Imperial blockades springing up in response to the fledgling rebel forces, and – most worryingly of all – the dark-clad people you kept glancing back to find in your wake, on the edge of spaceports and always several yards behind. You didn’t need to say any of this, though. Dorban knew. He’d accepted nothing less than full disclosure.
“Thank you,” you tacked on politely, though it was more to fill the silent beat your too-clipped response left.
“Hm,” he returned, ignoring your courtesy in lieu of leaning slightly over the table. “Hard times. I’ve got you a package to deliver. Sum’s good, even halving it between us.”
A good sum was Dorban-speak for a very handsome reward. Needless to say, you felt your interest skyrocket a little bit. A decent payout was hard to come by. A good sum was absolutely serendipitous, and you felt like a little kid being handed a shiny-wrapped present.
Dorban did, too – his lekku curled in ever so slightly at the tips, enough for you to know that he was really rather enthralled by this job. Like a warning bell, though, your common sense kicked in enough for you to realize that when the seasoned fixer was surprised by something, there was usually more to it than met the eye.
You let out a short sigh, bracing yourself. “But it’s dangerous?”
“Very dangerous. I don’t know what the package is – it’s sealed. Lead-lined box. Death threats hanging around it.”
Oh, boy. You were good at what you did – scoundrel enough to put that dirtbag Han Solo to shame – but you weren’t infallible. Not to mention the other, less charming part of your personal makeup.
“Dangerous especially to you,” Dorban amended, brown eyes hardening slightly. “But also, I think, understandable only to you.”
Which really meant, you’re likely to get caught for being Sensitive, but you’re more equipped than the average smuggler to come out of this alive. You knew that. You didn’t know what that said about the content you’d be moving. You had a sinking feeling (instinct-intuition-premonition?) that somehow it was tied to the mystery people tailing you.
Kriff. It was a little unsettling. But also…
“It really does pay a lot?”
“Yes, it pays well.”
You gave Dorban a wan smile and nodded. “I’ll take the job. Wish me luck.”
Wordlessly, with his blue fingers trembling, he dropped a datachip into your palm. Within the hour, the two of you were outside in the dust and heat, and he was sliding the unassuming grey box into one of the secret hatches on your ship.
It was as you were about to bid him farewell that Dorban suddenly paused, scuffed his boots on the hard-packed sand, and half-turned to face you again.
“I don’t think you need it.”
“What?” you asked, surprised. He sure felt cryptic today, it seemed.
Dorban at least had the decency to look mildly chagrined at his unhelpful ambiguousness, a look that faded quickly as he shrugged. What could have been a grin but wavered too much tugged at his mouth, and you thought that he could be handsome if he smiled.
“Luck,” he said simply, and, walking back to the cantina without another word, melted back into the paranoid fixer with the shaking hands.
You laughed softly.
“Nah,” you said to yourself. “Not luck. Just common sense.” And maybe the Force, that little voice in the back of your mind breathed. It made you scoff. Ha. Sure.
May the Force be with me.
The Force was not with you, and you had no common sense.
“It’s just a box!” you hissed at yourself when you found yourself crouched in front of it for the fifth time. “It’s just a box! Nothing special. Nothing new. Stars, there’s not even money in it. Let it go.”
But of course, that’s what you’d told yourself the last four times. And you kept circling back to examine it.
A grey metal box, three feet in diameter. Sitting innocuously in your cargo hold, as boxes were wont to do.
So why did it keep pulling you back to it? What were you smuggling so blindly, with no information as to who wanted it, where it came from, what it even was?
Take this package to some obscure rendezvous point a couple parsecs off from Lothal. Why there? You knew you weren’t in a career that valued curiosity, and you understood that. But for some reason, this was really nagging at you.
Open it, then.
The thought struck you unbidden and with so much force that you sat back on your heels. Oh, no. No, that was just bad business practice. If you opened the box, everyone and their neighbor would know that that pretty little smuggler Cinder was officially more scum than the scum she rubbed elbows with on a daily. Her career would sink. Boba Fett would track her down just to laugh at her.
That stopped you short. Such a simple realization, and yet, one with weight. If you opened this package, you’d know. You’d have an answer – or something resembling an answer – to why you spent your waking moments hunted by a threat you couldn’t begin to give a name to. To why you saw the universe with a depth and sense that you doubted the rest of the world could – else they’d be so much more lively, so much more afraid.
An answer to why you were such a threat just because you had the Force Sensitive label slapped on your chest like a brand of ostracism. Stars, you were nothing like the Jedi in the hushed stories; you couldn’t be trusted with responsibility or anything remotely swordlike. But there was that title that clung to you, that you tried desperately to hide because it made Dorban’s back hit the wall when he first met you, made his entire frame shake, made him gasp out you’re one of them because you’d dodged a blaster bolt you shouldn’t have…
You didn’t realize there were tears clouding your vision until you felt one of them slip down your face unbidden. Jeez. You had more pent-up feelings about your condition than you thought.
And you had a sudden and rash decision kindling in your head, an excuse you’d fall back on in court. My intuition made me do it.
You would blame your intuition on the startled swear that left your lips when you pried the box open. A burst of frigid air hit your face – why the contents were kept cold, you’d never know. They were just swords.
Even you’d recognize one of the fabled weapons.
Jedi client! You mentally shouted the realization, aware that it wasn’t quite a realization and more a theory at best. The Jedi were dead. More likely, some old rich guy was sentimental and decided to build a museum dedicated to the knights.
“Lightsabers,” you said aloud, pulling yourself back to reality. (All alone on a ship in the middle of hyperspace, remember? In a galaxy clutched in the Empire’s killer grip? Remember?) “Alright, curiosity sated. They probably won’t notice you looked. Ha-ha, just kidding, you’re a goner for sure.”
Now, in retrospect, you’d defend your intentions to your dying breath, even though you didn’t adhere to them. You meant to do the honorable thing, honestly, and reached out to close the lid on the sabers and your questions and your need to understand –
Except you didn’t do that.
Except instead of being the responsible scoundrel, you reached out and picked up the deactivated hilts, gasping at how cold they were, wondering what kind of stories they held. They felt lighter than you’d imagined, although that made sense.
“Ha. Lightsabers,” you snickered to yourself, perhaps a bit irreverently. “Because they’re light. Lightsabers.”
“That’s pretty good,” said a new voice, and you jumped out of your skin. The lightsabers clattered to the floor in your shock, and you were too frightened to turn around for a moment. How had this guy gotten on board? How long has he been here? This is a small ship – I would’ve noticed!
A subtle glance over your shoulder assured that the man was not leveling a blaster at your back, but you cried out anyway. This wasn’t a man any you’d ever seen. He was masked, dressed to the nines for the menacing convention, and he glowed – a faint, wondering blue.
“Actually,” the incorporeal man continued thoughtfully, “it’s not that good. But points for trying. Do you mind picking up my sabers?”
there’s a lot to unpack and revan isn’t much in the business of being out of the loop.
me, updating the most obscure story i have? more likely than you think.
every so often i just fall in love with lsm rev all over again. y’know, as you do.
There was a vast multitude of things he could not and was not willing to remember. There were fragments, yes, persistent bits and pieces of the person he used to be before they reached into his mind and tore the whole thing to shreds, but they were fleeting. Images of his Fall, of lashing out with the most deliberate precision and severing his friend’s jaw, stung like few other things he’d experienced, but since they were usually eclipsed by memories of Mission fawning over a gizka or Bastila’s perpetually irritated gaze, it was alright. He’d take his time spent on the Ebon Hawke over his vast and dark knowledge as a Sith Lord any day.
… Except for the fact that he never actually lost a bit of that wisdom. It still hummed in his bones, in the Force around him, ready to be called back to mind. Things he knew that he didn’t know he knew until he knew them.
Which was why Revan was wracking his brain for a shred of something helpful now as he floated in the cabin of a ship that was decidedly not Old Republic era. Come on, he chided himself, this isn’t right, and an explanation wouldn’t make it not not right, but it would sure make me feel better. Any minute now.
You, for your part, seemed to be just as stunned as he was – probably more so, actually. He could feel the Force around you spiking defensively, and he was almost bowled over by the sudden static of fight-or-flight you were projecting. Well, not really; he was too well-versed in shielding to feel anything other than a mild sense of whoa, there, you sure are projecting. Honestly, had none of the Jedi taught you to rein in your energy? Shameful, shameful. Revan sensed a change in management.
“Hey, are you still there? Are you upset that the joke didn’t land?” he asked, more to fill the silence and prompt some sort of change than anything else. Curious, he inched a bit closer - still strange, how he didn’t quite touch the ground - and was rewarded with a hand being flung up protectively between the two of you. He raised his eyebrows. From where you had collapsed to the floor in surprise, you stared up at him, almost-authority in the way you regarded him.
“Nuh-uh,” you said brusquely, apparently still processing. “No, okay, please not a word unless it’s an explanation. I am way, way too sober for this.”
It could have been funny, the gruff way you were deciding to handle this. It almost was. But Revan could feel the genuine confusion and distress swirling like a cyclone because of it, and even then, he didn’t need keen Force sensitivity to pick up on it.
Your hands were shaking.
“I... okay, listen. I’m not a counselor or anything and I feel you on the sobriety. But I think this is something that needs to be approached delicately. Right?”
“Right.” Mild skepticism clouded your tone, but you were listening. Good. Now to draw on that famed crusader charisma and establish a rapport.
“Okay. So let’s start simple, easy. What do I call you?”
Brows creased, but compliant, you gave him your name - stars, but he was so bad with names - and immediately saved him the trouble of asking for a repeat by adding, “But I go by Cinder. You know, like ashes. Code names and all.”
Oh, thank the Force. Nicknames were so much simpler.
“That I can get behind,” Revan mused with a nod, hand to chin. And without quite taking the time to consider the heavy weight that his own name carried, the historical shock value, the power in the syllables, he said, “Hi, Cinder, you can call me Revan.”
Oof. It was good he wore a mask; his wince was painful. Now he could watch you run screaming and figure out just what he was supposed to do now on his lonesome.
That was fine. He could deal with it.
He didn’t have to, though. You seemed to relax infinitely now that the big scary Force ghost in the cargo hold had a label, and even went so far as to stand up and dust yourself off. No recognition whatsoever in those hunter’s eyes of yours.
“Alright. Revan,” you said. “Are these your lightsabers?”
“Considering that I’m cosmically attached to them, that’s kind of a silly question.” His tone was dry and betrayed none of the unexpected hurt at your lack of a reaction to his identity.
“Hah. Right, sorry. You’re... you were a Jedi, then? Some kind of Force user?”
“Well, by a certain definition of Jedi. What, can you not tell the difference between me and the Jedi back at your temple? That’s weird.”
“Never seen a Jedi,” you said with a shrug, brows furrowed curiously. Revan stilled.
That wasn’t right, not with your absolutely deafening Force signature. Surely the council would have sunk their teeth into the scruff of your neck by now and dragged you through initiation. They were funny like that, when it came to raw potential.
“Wait, wait, you’re not serious?” Hating the confusion in his tone a little bit, Revan folded his arms, leaned against the wall. You did the same, mirrored his stance with caution in your eyes. “The robed people? Always on their soapboxes? Galactic authority? The Dantooine brigade?”
Again, nothing resembling comprehension. Just growing bafflement.
“Never heard of Dantooine, either. The Jedi haven’t been a galactic authority for... ever, it seems like, these days. Hey, you’re kind of... old, aren’t you?”
“Hey, what year is it?” Revan asked in lieu of an answer, growing apprehensive as the seconds passed. Sure, he’d woken up time and again as his stuff was disturbed over the years, regaining consciousness in hundred-year intervals, but never in his time had he experienced such a gaping societal discrepancy. The Jedi were a fixture, dogmatic as they were. They were a constant, and for you to speak about them like they were a thing of the past...? “I’m not kidding. What year?”
There was a look in your eyes of startled acquiescence, and your eyes narrowed a bit in thought.
“About... kriff, I don’t really pay attention, like 3272? That’s Lothal time, though. Uh... 797-something CRC....?”
“That’s not ringing a bell. Are there no standard calendar systems?”
“Not ringing a - okay, what year are you from? I mean, what year were you last... alive?” You winced. “Yeah, this isn’t getting phrased delicately.”
“Oh, I think I’m far past getting touchy about my ghost status,” Revan replied absentmindedly. “But last I was alive...? About 32,497 TYA. Or thereabouts. Why do you look so blank?”
He could see the comprehension halting in your head as it happened, was hit with the realization that maybe he’d been dormant for so long, no one used the time tables he grew up with. If that was the case, then how long-?
“Hold up. I know a nerd,” you exclaimed out of nowhere, grabbing your communicator off your belt. He watched you fold your arm against your torso, as if warding off some sort of chill, and take on the universal ‘don’t disturb me’ stance of the occupied individual as you held the device up in your other hand. A couple moments, and the cabin lit up a bit with the blue of a hologram.
“Hey, DB,” you said without pretense, barely giving the blue Twi’lek on the other end a chance to speak. “You were a historian.”
“I... yes?” said the Twi’lek, brows coming together in concern. “What does that mean?”
“Means I need some epoch assistance. Galactic calendars are a mess. When was the TYA system last in use?”
You were quick and to the point, Revan noted. He could get behind it.
Quiet. There was something like bemused shock on the blue man’s face, overlaid by pensive focus. Huh. Come to think of it, he was a little bit like Mission. Maybe Revan was getting even more sentimental in death.
“Oh, that’s an old one. That’s from the days of the Old Republic. Several thousand years ago, I’d say. Why?”
“Just, you know,” you said, not elaborating on what he knew. “Out of curiosity, say we still used the TYA system. What year would it be?”
“Cinder, is this really-”
“Necessary? Absolutely. Crunch the numbers.”
Now, even if you hadn’t had your not-Mission crunching the numbers, Revan was clever enough to put the pieces together. He’d been roused from dormancy here and there, of course - holocrons were activated, his personal belongings were moved from time to time - but it had always happened in several-hundred-year intervals, and never had his waking felt so permanent as it had this time. But for thousands of years to have gone by? All the people he knew were double-dead. Triple, even. He grimaced, rolled with a wave of homesickness for his place on the Ebon Hawke.
“Okay,” fake Mission eventually spoke up. “Supposing we still used the system, this year would be - give or take - 36,448 TYA.” A pause, wherein your eyes widened a bit and Revan felt the full weight of time finally settle on his shoulders. “Why, Cinder?”
“Sithspit,” Revan swore aloud.
Your head whipped to face him at his outburst; the motion didn’t go unnoticed by the Twi’lek.
“Someone else with you?” he asked. Intense worry began shaking his voice. “I hadn’t heard anyone. Is it safe? Are you–”
“Full disclosure later,” you cut in. “Swear it. I have to go. Thanks.”
“Wait–” was all Revan heard before you severed the connection.
“So. Three thousand years old, huh? How about that?”
From where you stood cross-armed against one of the bulkheads, you fixed the Force ghost with a mildly interrogative look. It rankled with him - he never did like being pressed.
“Closer to four thousand, actually,” Revan replied, maybe just a little bit too obstinately. “I’ve been out of it for a while.”
“But why are you here? Why now? Can’t you just... go back to being nonexistent?”
Your tone was more unsettled than intentionally rude. Still. Revan placed a hand on his chest as if deeply hurt - because hey, it wasn’t a very nice thing to say - and pretended to choke up a bit.
“Oh, ouch. You want me gone already? After all our bonding?” You blinked; he sobered. Time to play for real. “Listen. The Force is a bit nebulous in nature, so you’ll have to forgive me for hand-waving a little bit of what happened. I’ve woken up time and again before, and always by someone seeking something: power, fame, capital-A Answers. Whether you fit into one of those categories or not, I’ll figure it out soon. But there was also something else in common with the ones who brought me back.”
It was rhetorical, but you answered anyway.
“They were Sensitive. Force users.”
“Got it in one. Now, I can’t just turn over and go back to sleep. From what I’ve seen, I’m up until some purpose has been served, some end has been met. Then I’m one with the Force again. It gets dull quickly, understand, so I generally take whatever errand I get handed and run with it. Sometimes it’s as simple as wiggling my fingers around and ominously reciting the Sith code. You wouldn’t believe how little holocron scavengers really want. Smoke and mirrors, honestly.”
He could appreciate your ability to cram several tons of skepticism into two syllables. The raised eyebrows really sent the point home.
“So what does that mean for me?” you asked. Talk about selfish.
“Considering you dragged me out of dormancy without knowing anything about anything? I don’t know. There aren’t really any conditions to satisfy here. Oh, sure, there are circumstantial conditions I can complain about, because stars, this entire era seems to be a mess and a half. Other than that? You did this, not me.” Never to blame, that was him.
He watched a little muscle in your jaw tick, the way your brows flickered in and out of creased worry. He watched you open your mouth to speak, and then shut it. He watched you bite your lip, and then bend down and scoop up his twin sabers, holding them out to him as he could take them.
“I... have some questions, I think,” you murmured eventually, in lieu of completely freaking at the thought of having a permanent spectral companion.
“Good. So do I. Shoot.”
Hesitation. He watched you fiddle with a strand of your hair, worried eyes turned toward the cockpit.
“This isn’t some fate thing happening, right?” you asked. “Because I... I mean, I have reason to believe that this whole arrangement wasn’t an accident. I don’t mess with cargo like this; I’m a professional. But the pull I felt toward these,” you mused, hefting the lightsabers gently, “was unreal. It doesn’t feel accidental.”
“The Force works in mysterious ways,” Revan admitted, raising his hands innocently when you looked at him. “I mean it. The Living Force is bending strangely around everything right now. There are cyclones and loops where it should be steady, flowing. There’s something bigger than usual happening in the galaxy and I’m pretty sure you’re a piece of it.”
“Because I’m Sensitive, I bet.”
You kept coming back to that.
“Why are you capitalizing the S in sensitive? How are you doing that, more like, it’s impressive.” Getting sidetracked. “No, okay, it’s probably because you’re Force-sensitive, but actually, it’s probably because your Force signature is so kriffing loud. How have you not been picked up by the Jedi, even if they’re not the end-all of galactic hierarchy anymore?”
You didn’t even deign to spare him when you crossed your arms and told him, sans buildup:
“The Jedi are all dead, Revan.”
“Joke,” he claimed on impulse. “Right? Funny joke?” No, you were too serious. “Oh. You’re not kidding. But that doesn’t make any sense! The Jedi were plenty garbage, but they were a part of the galaxy, one side of the Force coin, as bad a metaphor as that is.”
What had happened? What could have wiped them out so completely that untrained people like you were allowed to kick around freely?
“Was it war?” he asked, almost demanded. “It had to have been. Mandalorians again? It’s always some giant galactic conflict. But on a scale like this...”
You regarded him a little bit sadly, but with a strange amount of clinical removal in your eyes. It wasn’t a good look to see, on anyone.
“Officially?” you said. “Well, history isn’t very well regarded anymore, but from what I remember, the Jedi were found guilty of conspiring against the Emperor. After the Clone Wars, they just got wiped out, along with the Republic. Some of them ran, and there are rumors about some still hiding out among the stars. Not that it matters, I guess. Now that the Empire is in power, it’s a death sentence to even have Force capabilities.”
That was a lot to unpack, and Revan had questions. Actually, he was starting to feel like a kid again with just how many questions were swirling in his head. Clone Wars? The Republic, gone? Force-sensitive genocide? He could sense a multitude of sentient rights violations already, not that he was ever in a position to scoff at those. At least he was a conscientious sentient rights violation on legs.
Before he could ask, though, he suddenly stiffened, his entire essence suddenly thrumming with the knowledge that the two of you weren’t alone anymore. In a crowded markef square, not such a big deal. Out here, cruising in the middle of dead-silent space? With that kind of malicious intent pooling off of the fast-approaching newcomers?
You’d said the Jedi were gone. It was probably too much to ask that the Sith be gone, too.
“We’ve got company,” announced Revan, right as your head shot up, eyes wide in alarm like a startled tooka kitten.
“Oh, no,” you breathed, “they’re here already? But - I could’ve sworn I had more time...”
Anything else you might have said was lost to him when you suddenly made a mad dash for the pilot’s seat, sabers still gripped in your hands as if you’d forgotten they were there.
“Hold on,” you hissed at Revan as he followed you into the cockpit, glancing over the radar that indicated three incoming vessels, “this is going to get really messy, really fast.”
“I can handle messy,” he replied as you set the blades on the copilot’s chair, switched the controls to manual and began prepping for a hyperspace jump. “But also - what’s going on?”
“Shadow people,” you tossed over your shoulder, looking spooked. The metal structure of the ship creaked with the effort of swinging through a small cluster of asteroids; Revan could almost feel the dizzying pull in his stomach as you pulled up and away from the entourage that had begun opening fire. “I dunno. They’re Empire? I think?”
He didn’t mean to sound so touchy, but you snapped back instantly.
“I’m Sensitive,” you nearly snarled, “and they are going to kill me if we don’t get out of here now, and I’d really appreciate anything useful you can pull out of those edgy sleeves. Okay?”
Whoa. Talk about a wakeup call. Revan focused his senses on the other ships, glancing warily back at you and your undulating fields of adrenaline.
“Okay, okay. There are two strong Force signatures that I’m sensing, both in the lead vessel, but I doubt they have my kind of experience. I’m going to try something; keep your head down, fly the ship, and if you feel like you’ve gone completely blind in the Force, that’s just going to be some aggressive shielding on my part. Got it?”
“I - yes, got it. Thanks?”
“Thank me later. Stars, you stick out like a Wampa on Tatooine,” Revan muttered, expanding his shields to fit over your massive spikes of fear. “Soon as things settle down a little, you are going to learn what subtlety is.”