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darkness, moonrise

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Cassian

Cassian pushed his sunglasses up into his hair and sighed, rubbing a hand over his grimy face.

“Sharpen up,” his striped cat dæmon said and he groaned. He had only had three hours of sleep in the last two days, after a long flight back to Brytain following two weeks trailing a dead end in Hispania Nova. There was no way he was up for this meeting. He tried to finger comb his hair into some kind of order, wishing he’d had a chance to change his clothes or maybe even shave. Rucía made a small sound of amusement, traitor that she was.

When they were finally ushered into the office, Cassian was relieved to find only Mon Mothma sitting behind the desk, with no sign of Draven. Mothma looked utterly composed and serene, her snowy owl dæmon perched on the back of her chair. Doubly aware of his own dishevelled state, Cassian tried to straighten his jacket and hoped that he didn't look actively grimy.

“Welcome back,” Mothma said, something like a smile flickering briefly across her face. “Sit down, Agent Andor. A drink?”

Cassian sat, trying to look attentive when every part of him wanted to slump in exhaustion. “Thanks, but no.”

Mothma studied him for a moment, and then pushed a file over the desk towards him. “Does anything here look familiar to you?”

Cassian flipped the file over and found himself looking at a photogram of a vaguely familiar young white woman. Dark hair, piercing green eyes, a fierce jut to her chin. There was a small bird dæmon on her shoulder. He ran his eyes over the stark details typed up beside the image.

“Lianna Hallik?” he said, as though testing the name. “She’s a – reporter, isn’t she?”

“An investigative reporter. She was involved in breaking the story about the Siberian labour camps, if you recall.”

Cassian did remember, though rather vaguely. The horrific details of the camps had been hard to read, and he had been in some awe that the reporter had willingly subjected herself to their conditions. “Is she a source?”

Mothma straightened another file on her desk, seemingly picking her words. Her dæmon’s tawny eyes didn’t leave Cassian’s face. “We have reason to believe that she is in danger. She may be in possession of information that the Magisterium is looking for.”

“And we want that information.”

“I believe so.” Mothma didn’t frown, exactly, but tension gathered around her sharp eyes. “At least, we do not want the Magisterium to have it.”

“What sort of information? Do we know?”

“Does the name Galen Erso mean anything to you, Cassian?”

Beside him, Rucía lashed her tail. “The experimental theologian? He disappeared,” Cassian said slowly. “Officially, no one knows what happened to him. I always assumed the Magisterium had declared him a heretic.” Galen Erso was hardly the first scholar to disappear, though he was certainly the most recent.

“As did we. I understand that his work had been getting too close to something important, and he certainly had links with Gerrera, so it seemed the likeliest solution. However,” Mothma hesitated, infinitesimally. “We now have reason to believe that Galen Erso is alive, and possibly under Magisterium control.”

Cassian’s curiosity burned, but he knew better than to press for more details now. It never worked. “And Lianna Hallik has been investigating this?”

“No. Lianna Hallik is an alias.” Mothma reached across the desk and tapped the photogram of the fierce young woman. “This is Jyn Erso - Galen Erso’s daughter. We need to bring her in.”


Finally, finally Cassian and Rucía had made their way to the small flat assigned to them by the Alliance. He had hoped they’d be given a night in Zone 1 at least, but there had been no such luck. They’d dragged themselves on the Cthonic all the way out to Tooting Bec, and by the time they’d stepped off the Overground, Cassian was dead on his feet.

The fourth floor flat was small and shabby, but serviceable. Cassian had just enough strength left to have a shower, eat something quick and microwaveable, and then fall into bed with Rucía curled up on his feet.

They woke in the early evening and set about doing some initial research on Galen Erso. Cassian cracked open a bottle of beer and sat at the small breakfast bar, eating spaghetti and clicking through various pages on the encrypted laptop. Rucía lay on the countertop beside him, her eyes following the screen.

It was all fairly basic, really. Galen Erso had been born in Denmark, and attended university in Copenhagen where he had studied Experimental Theology, with a particular focus on atomcraft. He had moved to Brytain as a postgrad, earning a Masters and a DPhil from Oxford, as well as numerous awards in the field. He had been presenting his research findings all over the world before he had even finished his DPhil, and had stayed on as a scholar at Merton College, Oxford. He had married a geologist, Lyra Skadi, and had one daughter. The family had moved around a great deal, following both Lyra and Galen’s research, until one day (the story went) Galen and his research team had been on an expedition in Cathay and had never returned. The official reports suggested that they had run into trouble - the area was known for its perilous terrain: treacherous cliffs, wide desert mesas, dangerously cold temperatures with high winds - and had never been found. Lyra had been killed in a car crash only a short time later which, Cassian thought suspiciously, should perhaps have been looked into more.

Cassian couldn’t find any trace of the daughter since then. It was as though she had disappeared into thin air, along with her father, until she had resurfaced as Lianna Hallik five years ago. He did unearth one photogram of the family, all wrapped in big coats and scarves, their shoulders dusted with snow. Galen had a slightly worn look about him, lines around his eyes and mouth, his hair greying prematurely, but his hooded eyes were kind. Lyra looked bright and happy, leaning into Galen with her arms around her daughter, who looked about six years old. They were all smiling, and Cassian thought he could see a faint resemblance between the beaming little girl and the sharp-faced woman in the dossier.

Much of Galen Erso’s later work appeared to have been scrubbed from the internet, though Cassian did manage to find some old papers. He couldn’t follow the theology particularly well, but he could pick out a general idea. Doctor Erso’s work had been focused on the properties of Rusakov particles, and how they might be used as an energy source. Beyond that, Cassian was at sea in the dense language and endless equations.

Still, the idea of the Magisterium getting their hands on anything that could be a powerful energy source was more than a little unnerving.

“If she’s trying to stay under the radar, why is she in Oxford?” Rucía asked later as Cassian went over his notes.

It was a good question. “Familiarity?” he suggested. “Or she thinks it’s too obvious, that they wouldn’t look for her there. Or that her alias is secure.”

Rucía made a small noise that suggested she didn’t buy those reasons.

“Or she’s looking for something. Her father worked at Oxford for years, maybe there’s something there that she’s looking for.”

“We don’t know she’s looking for her father. She might think he’s dead.”

Cassian sighed, scrubbing a hand over his short beard. “I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow.”


A fine drizzle was falling the next morning as he and Rucía sat on the train to Oxford. They felt much more refreshed after some decent hours of sleep, and even the trek across London to Paddington hadn’t felt too arduous. The train wasn’t too busy, thankfully, so Rucía could be on the seat beside him rather than wedge herself awkwardly onto his lap.

Cassian sipped his foul takeaway coffee and tried to read the cheap paperback he’d picked up at the aerodock in Hispania Nova. They were good at being casual, at looking normal, but it didn’t mean his mind wasn’t whirring. Beside him, Rucía was curled up comfortably, and only the twitch of her cat ears suggested that she was thinking as hard as Cassian was. He hoped they would be able to find Jyn Erso and persuade her, before the Magisterium got to her. How much did the Magisterium know? What if they had already made their move?

He pushed the thought away, to be dealt with when the situation arose. There was no point in fretting now.


Jyn

Jyn pushed her sodden hair out of her eyes, grimacing. On her shoulder, her nightingale dæmon shook out his feathers in distaste. Not bothering to kick off her wet shoes, Jyn crossed to the small window and glanced outside. The street was empty.

“He’s gone,” she told her dæmon. “You’re being paranoid.”

“I’m not,” said Aster snippily. “I’ve seen him a few times, him with the cat dæmon.”

“Plenty of people have cat dæmons,” she said, but she was still unnerved. She and Aster had good instincts, and there was definitely something off about today. She hadn’t paid any attention to the dark-haired man with the cat dæmon when he was at the nearby bus stop, but then Aster had spotted him opposite the gym in Summertown, and then again outside Costa Coffee. Jyn had cycled home a little quicker than usual, and now she felt tense, her skin prickly as though before a storm.

“Ugh, I may as well’ve not bothered with the gym,” she muttered. Usually kicking the shit out a bag for a few hours made her feel calmer, more focused, but now her muscles felt tight and knotted. She needed to get some work done, she had a pile of things to research and dig through before her editor started getting snippy, but she would never be able to concentrate feeling like this.

She yanked the curtains closed against the grey afternoon and went to change into dry clothes, dumping the wet ones in the laundry basket and picking up discarded jeans and a t-shirt from where she’d left them strewn over the floor the previous day. Aster perched on the bedside table and ruffled his feathers, clearly still anxious. Tying her hair into a messy, damp bun Jyn checked on the loose panel hidden in her wardrobe, pulled out the go-bag she always kept handy. Everything was still there: clothes, money, ID, a burner phone, a knife, emergency disguise options (hair dye, glasses, coloured contacts), and the precious bundle of letters and photograms. These last ones were risky, she knew, but she couldn’t bear the idea of parting with them. She held them to her heart for a brief moment, before setting them back into the bag.

Feeling a little calmer now that she knew she could cut and run any time she needed, she went back to check the window. The damp street was still empty.


Jyn tried to settle to her research, digging through old texts and wishing she had more of a head for languages. So much of this would be easier if she understood more than the most basic Cathay, or if the old texts had been translated better, but as it was it was difficult, tedious work. Her editor thought she was mad, wanting to focus on the destruction of an ancient temple over two decades ago, a temple to a failing religion barely anyone knew about or understood, but Jyn had earned enough trust in the past, particularly after the Siberia story broke. Jyn still had nightmares about the labour camps, but she still felt a fierce kind of pride in what she’d done.

She wasn’t sure she’d be given permission to expense a flight to Nijedha City just yet, but damn it this might be easier if she could. She'd need to request funds for a translator. She needed to find people who had lived in the area to interview anyway, maybe even someone who had been to the temple, as a worshipper or an initiate. Maybe even one of the elusive 'Guardians’ (as the translations called them). They couldn't all have been killed when the temple was taken.

She fiddled with the electrum pendant around her neck as she thought, biting her lip. Her interest in this story wasn’t entirely for work, though she hated to admit it to herself. The site of the old temple was mere miles from where her father had disappeared, and though she knew he was dead (he must be dead) she couldn’t shake the thought that she might find out… something. Not that her father had had much time for religion, though he had had to pay the usual lip service to the Magisterium, but it was said that the monks at the temple had known secrets about Dust.

Of course, Jyn knew that ‘Dust’ just meant Rusakov particles, the ones her father had studied. They were a known phenomenon, understood and explained through logical means, but she had always thought there was something so beautiful about them as well, something that couldn’t be captured in an academic research paper.

Perhaps that was why she had never become an experimental theologian.


Jyn fell asleep on the sofa that night, and woke with a terrific crick in her neck. Aster grumbled to himself, head under his wing, as she stood and stretched with a groan. She really, really needed to get into the habit of actually going to bed.

A hot shower and cup of strong coffee helped, as did the fact that yesterday’s mystery man wasn’t lurking inside. Nor had he broken in and murdered her in her sleep, so there was that. She was still feeling unsettled enough to stow the illegal flip-knife in the inside pocket of her jacket, but that was more for her peace of mind than anything else.

It was still early, not even seven in the morning, so Jyn decided to get outside and wake herself up a bit more before heading to the School of Oriental Studies. She hoped that someone there might be able to point her in the direction of a good translator, or at least have some more information on the temple. Failing that, she had an old contact at the Ashmolean she might be able to bribe with doughnuts.

The drizzle from the day before had gone, and the day was showing fair. The streets of Jericho were quiet but for the occasional cyclist and dog walker. At times like this Jyn could almost imagine that she was back in a past Oxford, walking the same streets as Lyra Belacqua, her father’s hero. Jyn and Aster had spent a lot of time playing at being Lyra when they were young, running around Port Meadow and down the canals, pretending to make discoveries and ride armoured bears, like in the stories. Now Jyn suspected that Dr Belacqua’s mysterious childhood probably hadn’t been that exciting, that the Magisterium was just hushing up something to do with her vanished uncle, the infamous Lord Asriel. Dr Belacqua was her father’s hero because of her peerless contributions to experimental theology and alethiometry, nothing more.

Lead by her memories of the past, Jyn strolled past the looming pillars of the Fell Press, the walled back of Somerville College, past shuttered pubs and shops, and turned towards the canal. Aster flew over her head, enjoying stretching his wings after being cooped up inside for most of the previous day.

The canal stretched ahead, empty and dark, as she headed down the ramp to the towpath, still lost in her thoughts. Then the breath was knocked out of her as something slammed into Aster, knocking him out of the air with a cry. A hand closed tight around Jyn’s wrist from behind and she reacted on instinct, smashing her other elbow back and up, feeling a satisfying crunch and grunt of pain as it collided with her attacker’s face. She stamped down, hard, on a booted instep, spun around and struck out with a flat palm, catching the guy under the chin and knocking him back.

Aster flew to her, the man’s kestrel dæmon stunned on the ground from the attack on her human. “Run!” Aster shouted, but there was a second man now, how had she missed him? She went for her knife, but this man was faster, more on his guard, and his fist slammed into her cheekbone, making stars burst in front of her eyes. He began to drag her, his grip on her upper arm merciless, and she tried to pull back, tried to remember how to break free, but her head was spinning from the blow. Aster flew to the huge dog dæmon, trying to claw at her eyes with beak and claws.

A snarling, yelping noise, a hissing and spitting, and the man holding her growled, “Who the fuc—” before breaking off with a grunt of pain. Jyn stumbled free as he fell, staring wild-eyed at the dark-haired stranger calmly pulling a fucking knuckleduster from his hand. Her attacker was sprawled unconscious on the ground, his rottweiler dæmon slumped next to him. The stranger’s cat dæmon lashed her tail, her fur on end.

You,” Jyn exclaimed, suddenly shaking and furious. “You’ve been following me!”

“Good thing too,” said the stranger. His accent wasn’t English. “We need to go.”

Jyn set her jaw. “I’m not going anywhere with you! I was just attacked!”

“And you’ll be attacked again, and next time they won’t be so sloppy.”

She glared at him. Aster flew to her, landing on her shoulder and pressing himself to her neck. She wanted to hold him in her hands, press him to her heart, but that would need to wait until they were safe.

The stranger held out a hand. “Jyn,” he said, and it was like being punched again. No one but Aster had called her that for nearly a decade. “Jyn, the Magisterium aren’t going to stop until they have you. I’m with the Alliance - we can help.”

The Alliance. The shadowy organisation that fought against the Magisterium’s draconian influence and power. Jyn had half-believed that it didn’t exist. It certainly wasn’t doing much good. And they knew who she was. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

She opened her mouth to protest, but the stranger suddenly held up a hand, eyes wide and fixed on something behind her. Jyn turned, following his gaze. Up on the bridge overlooking the canal, where she’d just been walking, was a sleek black car. She couldn’t see driver or passenger, but she could feel eyes on her.

“Jyn,” Aster hissed. “We should go with him.”

Putting herself in the hands of a stranger went against every instinct Jyn possessed. Gritting her teeth, she turned back to the stranger. “Lead the way.”

He nodded, something like relief in his dark eyes. “This way.”

They ran, along the towpath, up the steps of the footbridge, down into the narrow streets and alleys of Jericho. Aster flew overhead, keeping an eye out for pursuit. An icy sort of calm had come over Jyn, her fear and panic pushed down deep to be dealt with later. For now, she just had to run.

The black car caught up to them as they turned on to Bridge Street, jerking to a halt beside them. The stranger swore violently, and he and Jyn flung themselves over the road, but another car swerved up onto the kerb, nearly knocking the stranger down.

Cassian!” the man in the second car snapped, and the stranger stopped, grabbing Jyn to stop her too.

“Thank fuck,” he said fervently, flinging open the back door. Before Jyn could speak or protest, she was pushed into the car, the stranger was climbing in after her, and they sped off.

“Keep down,” the stranger (Cassian?) told her, hunkering down himself. To the driver he said, “Could have picked us up a bit earlier, Kay.”

The driver sniffed. “I would have done if you’d been somewhere sensible,” he said, his calm, sardonic tone at odds with the way he spun the car around corners, clearly trying to lose their pursuit. “I’d stay down for now, if I were you.”

“What the hell is happening?” Jyn hissed, holding onto the inside of the door and trying to keep the rising panic at bay. She’d been in plenty of dangerous situations before, ones she'd willingly gone into, but she’d never been bundled into a car by two men and then pursued by agents of the Magisterium.

“Now is not the time to explain,” said the driver.

“Oh, I think it is,” she snapped. “You just kidnapped me off the street!”

“Excuse me, I think I just rescued you from a Consistorial Court interrogation. There is still a seventy percent chance that they will catch us and take you in anyway.”

“Don’t, Kay,” said Cassian. He sighed, looking exhausted suddenly. He was half-lying on the back seat to keep out of view of the rear windscreen, his cat dæmon crouched on his lap as though ready to spring. “My name is Cassian Andor. Like I said, I work for the Alliance, as does Kay here.” He nodded at the driver. “The Magisterium have been looking for you, and I was sent to extract you before they could get to you.”

“Why?”

Cassian’s eyes searched her face for a moment. “When was the last time you saw your father?”


Cassian

They abandoned the car near Yarnton, at a drop-point just outside the village, and followed Kay to the next pick-up in the empty car park of the pub. Cassian could already feel the adrenaline come down affecting him, and shoved his hands in his pockets to hide the tell-tale tremors. Jyn was quiet and pale, clearly shocked by the events of the morning, but her jaw was set. Cassian had hoped that he’d have more time, that he could have made an approach and talked her into this, but when he’d seen the agents waiting to trap her at the canal he’d had no choice. He suspected that she was in some pain from the way she hugged her arm to her chest, and a fantastic bruise was blooming across her cheek, but she didn’t complain. Her nightingale dæmon was on her shoulder, his constant feather-ruffling and foot-hopping giving away some her tension.

They reached the Turnpike pub, and Kay unlocked an old silver Astra. It looked a bit banged up, but Cassian hoped it was at least one of the cars that had been upgraded with bulletproof glass.

“We’re going to an aerodock,” Kay said without preamble as they pulled away. “Command don’t want you going back to London. We’ll get more information when we get there.”

“An aerodock?” said Jyn. “Where the hell are we going?”

“I’m afraid I’m not privy to that information,” said Kay primly. The beetle dæmon on his shoulder raised and lowered her wingcases. Many people with small, vulnerable dæmons, like insects or beetles, opted to carry them in a small box clipped to their clothing or hung around their neck, but Kay generally didn’t bother.

Cassian found a bottle of water and a cereal bar in the glove compartment, and twisted in his seat to hand them to Jyn. “Keep your strength up,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. “I’m sorry about all this. You’ll know more soon.”

“So you hope,” said Kay, and Cassian elbowed him. He and Kay had worked together for years, ever since Cassian had recruited him away from the Magisterium. He could be hard to take, most people found his sarcasm and cold manner irritating, but Cassian had always liked Kay. He was refreshingly blunt.

Jyn was chewing on the cereal bar, looking thoughtful. Her pose was tense and wary, but Cassian could see the way her gaze flicked around the car, taking everything in. He remembered that she’d been in warzones, had gone undercover with drug gangs, had infiltrated a labour camp. She’d been taken off guard earlier, and he’d seen fear and anger in her face, but now she was completely under control.


To his surprise, Mothma herself was waiting aboard the small plane at the aerodock, her face inscrutable. Jyn followed him into the plane, Kay behind her, and she watched Mothma with a wary face.

“Thank you for coming, Ms Erso,” Mothma said, her voice calm as ever. “My name is Mon Mothma, and I am one of the leaders of the Alliance. I’m very sorry for the… unorthodox way we brought you here. I hope you appreciate that we had to remove you from the Magisterium’s reach as soon as possible.”

Jyn huffed a laugh through her nose. “I don’t think there’s anywhere out of the Magisterium’s reach, to be honest.”

“It is getting more difficult, it’s true,” said Mothma. “But we must keep on trying. Please sit down. Agent Tuesso, perhaps you would be so good as to ready the plane.”

Jyn perched on the edge of one of the seats as Kay moved to the cockpit, and Cassian stood by the doorway, keeping a wary eye out. Mothma would have reinforcements here, of course, and her own guard, but he felt better being able to survey the area.

“We have intercepted several Magisterium reports recently,” Mothma was saying behind him. “They concern some theological research they are focused on, particularly research connected with Rusakov particles. This was your father’s area of study, was it not?”

“Yes,” said Jyn, her voice tight. “But like I told your agent, I haven’t seen my father since I was ten years old. He’s dead.”

“We also believed him to be dead, until very recently. His work led him to dangerous places - and I don’t just mean geographically, but theologically - so it seemed the obvious conclusion. However, it seems that your father is alive. Alive, and using his research for the Magisterium.”

Jyn’s intake of breath was sharp, and she stood up. “How dare you,” she said. “My father - he never - he was a good man. He would never help them.”

Mothma did not seem perturbed by Jyn’s rise in anger. She opened a file folder and handed Jyn a photogram. Jyn snatched it from her hand and stared down at it, breathing hard. Her hand went to her mouth and she sat back down.

“Where- how- how did you…?” she trailed off.

“An agent sent us these photograms recently,” said Mothma. “He tells us that your father’s research is helping the Magisterium create a weapon, though what sort of weapon we aren’t sure.”

“He wouldn’t,” Jyn breathed. “He was researching the use of Rusakov particles as an- an energy source, not a weapon.”

“We don’t know where your father is currently stationed, Ms Erso, but we need to find out more about his research, and about this weapon.”

“I don’t know anything,” said Jyn quickly. “I don’t. I haven’t seen him since I was a child. I’m not a theologian, I don’t know anything about this.”

“Perhaps not. But the agent who sourced these photograms for us also gave us one more piece of information. Agent Andor, if you please.”

Cassian moved further into the plane, Rucía at his heels. “Ma’am.”

“There is a defector, one who claims to have crucial information. You need to bring him in.”

“Yes, ma’am. Where is he?”

Mothma looked from him to Jyn, who was clutching the blurred photogram of her father like a lifeline. “Nijedha in North Cathay. With Saw Gerrera.”


Jyn

Jyn stared out of the tiny plane window, feeling more than a little numb, and that was only partially due to the ice pack pressed against her swollen cheek. On her shoulder, Aster muttered, “Well, we did want to go to Nijedha.”

She laughed mirthlessly. How was this happening to her? How? She’d left her flat to go for a walk, and now she was on an illicit flight to Cathay with a swollen face, accompanied by agents of an illegal band of alleged terrorists. Agent Andor was sitting in the row opposite and seemed to be fast asleep, his head tipped back. The tall black man - Agent Tuco, or something - was flying the plane. Jyn was glad to be left alone with her thoughts for a bit.

“I can’t believe he’s alive,” she murmured to Aster, who pressed his small head against her jaw.

“How long has Saw known, do you think?”

She didn’t want to think about that, particularly. If Saw had known, and hadn’t found a way to tell her… she swallowed. Her feelings about Saw Gerrera were difficult and complicated, so she mostly kept them shut away inside her mind. She owed him a great deal, including her life, but she wasn’t sure how grateful she could be for the life she’d led with him and his band of insurgents. The last time she’d seen Saw had been nine years ago, when he’d been stationed in Berlin. She’d heard only vague rumours of him since then. How long had he been back in Cathay?

Nijedha, she thought slowly. The City of Dust, the subject of her recent research, mere miles from where her father had disappeared, and now the refuge of Saw Gerrera and this defector who knew where her father was. It felt like everything was converging, moving towards this one point. Was the temple and its study of Dust linked to her father’s research? It had fallen long before he had disappeared, but the compass needle kept swinging back there. She rubbed her eyes. It was all coming back to Dust.

Dust is all of us, Jyn,” her father had said once. “We come from it, and we go back to it. We are all stardust, in the end.

She curled her hand around the electrum pendant and closed her eyes.

Chapter Text

Baze

“Something is coming,” Chirrut said when Baze woke up.

It took Baze a moment, still blinking his way out of dreams and into the world. He groaned and lifted his head to look at Chirrut, who was cross-legged at the end of the rickety bed, hands cupped gently around his gecko dæmon. Light was pouring through the window of their small room, turning his skin golden. Sometimes, Baze still ached to look at him.

Chirrut’s face was the picture of serenity, but Baze could see the tightness around his eyes and mouth that said he’d been concentrating hard.

“What?” he said, sitting up and scrubbing at his eyes.

“I did a reading this morning. Something is coming,” Chirrut repeated. “A messenger. An attack.” He paused for a moment. “Hope.”

Baze had learnt long ago not to question Chirrut when it came to things like this. There was no point, as Chirrut was almost always right. But still… “Hope,” he repeated, the word like ash in his mouth. “I don’t think there’s much of that around.” His dæmon uncurled herself from the pillow and crawled into his lap. Baze ran his fingers down her hedgehog spines and she made a small, sleepy noise.

“It’s still here,” Chirrut said, unfolding himself and crawling up the bed to Baze, to touch his face and kiss him. “Hidden away, yes, but still here.”

Baze sighed, closing his eyes and kissing Chirrut back. “I wish I could believe that. I definitely believe the bit about the attack, though. Did you get more information than that?”

Chirrut rolled his shoulders and Baze cupped a hand around the back of his head, thumb stroking the tight tendons of his neck. He was always strung taut as a bowstring after a reading. “I’ll look again after breakfast.” His gecko dæmon crawled up the blankets to Baze’s Zin and nuzzled at her long ears. Chirrut nipped at Baze's lower lip. “And maybe breakfast can wait.”

Baze shook his head in mock despair. “Insatiable,” he muttered, smiling. Zin rubbed her head against Shyli’s body, making Chirrut shiver. Baze scooped Zin up and deposited her in the basket beside the bed, Shyli climbing down after her, then he pulled Chirrut fully into his arms. The other man was grinning, sightless eyes shining, clearly pleased that he was getting his own way as usual.

“One day,” Baze warned between kisses, “I’m going to turn you down.”

Chirrut’s grin broadened as he settled himself between Baze’s legs, hands in his shaggy hair. “I very much doubt that.”


There wasn’t much for breakfast, but then there hardly ever was. Baze emptied out their last sack of rice and cooked it over the small naptha stove crammed into the corner. They had owned an ancient rice cooker, but the thing had finally died a few weeks ago, and he hadn’t managed to get a replacement. That was the case for most things in the Nijedha these days, and they’d learned to get by.

He and Chirrut shared a cramped, two-room dwelling only a few hundred metres from the ruins of the Temple of Dust. They were lucky to even have that, really, but there were still people in Nijedha who treated Guardians with respect and kindness, despite the oppressive presence of the Magisterium. And now they were the only Guardians left.

Well, Chirrut was. Baze no longer counted himself as a Guardian, though he knew Chirrut did. The loss of the temple and its people had destroyed what remained of Baze’s faith, and he saw no point in giving himself the title when there was nothing left for him to guard. He didn’t discount that Dust existed - how could he, when he had seen such evidence - but he no longer believed that it could offer guidance, could steer the world towards goodness.

No, the only thing Baze believed in now was Chirrut Îmwe. And that was enough for him.

After their paltry breakfast Chirrut settled himself on the mat that separated their bed from the kitchen area. Baze sat at the table to watch him, a pot of tea at his elbow. He loved to watch Chirrut work, loved to see him use this vanishingly rare gift that had so shocked the Masters years before.

The alethiometer was a truly beautiful instrument: it shone gold still, even though it was no longer kept so reverently. The symbols around the edge of its face were exquisitely detailed, as though painted with the tiniest of brushes. The three moveable hands tapered to delicate points, and the fourth moved as elegant and balanced as a dancer. Baze had never been able to read its strange language, but he had always liked watching it, on the rare occasions that the Masters had allowed it. The Temple’s alethiometer was a desperately guarded secret, known only to those who had proven themselves worthy.

Shyli was perched on Chirrut’s wrist. “Ready?” she said, tilting her head up to him.

“Mm hm.” Chirrut closed his eyes, steadied his breathing in the way Baze knew from years of meditating together. Shyli kept her eyes open, and Baze thought he could pinpoint the moment her senses and Chirrut’s slipped together.

It was extremely difficult to truly share senses with your dæmon, rather than the usual brief thoughts and sensations. Baze and Zin had only managed it a handful of times, and only after long, long sessions of deep meditation. It had been a disconcerting experience for them, and not one they sought often. It came much easier to Chirrut and Shyli, but it was still taxing. Baze didn’t understand how they could share senses and follow the alethiometer’s dancing answers, but they could. Their reading of the instrument wasn’t perfect, wasn’t the astonishing fluency that hadn’t been seen in over a hundred years, but it was still true.

Chirrut’s long, elegant fingers spun the golden dials around the face of the instrument, turning the hands to the symbols he needed, forming the question in his mind. His brow was creased in concentration and he bit his lip slightly as Shyli’s red eyes followed the bouncing fourth needle. Zin nudged Baze until he picked her up, cradling her prickly little body against his chest.

It took maybe five minutes for Chirrut to surface, blinking and breathing a little fast, as though he’d run upstairs. It always took time for him to adjust back, to recentre in his own body. Baze went to him, kneeling on the mat with Zin in his lap and cupping Chirrut’s face, tilting their heads together. Chirrut was still holding the alethiometer, but he leant his forehead to Baze’s with a sigh, eyes closed.

“It’s Gerrera, I think,” he said, and Baze grunted. He should have guessed that this fight would have something to do with Gerrera and his insurgents. Sometimes it seemed as though his group were doing as much harm to the city as the Magisterium itself. “There will be a woman, and… the messenger. They bring hope. That was so clear - the anchor, you know. But there’s - there’s something else coming, Baze, and I don’t - I’m not sure—”

“The sun,” said Shyli, crawling up Chirrut’s arm to his shoulder. “The sun, the ant, the hourglass, the alpha-and-omega.”

Baze knew some of the most basic meanings of the alethiometer’s symbols. The sun: authority. The hourglass: time. Time, and death.

“The Magisterium has been working on… something,” Shyli continued, “and it’s coming here.”

“What?” asked Zin, her voice anxious.

Chirrut reached for Baze, cupping his jaw. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think we can stop it, Baze. But remember, my love,” he kissed Baze, quick and fierce. “Remember that there’s hope.”


Chirrut

Chirrut settled himself more comfortably on the stone steps of the temple, leaning his chin on his cane. The electrum affixed to the end shone in his mind, a little candle in the darkness. It helped him to orient himself; that, and the reassuring presence of Baze, glowing like a warm sun where he lurked behind him. It amused Chirrut that many passers-by would be intimidated by Baze, huge and surly-looking as he was, that they couldn’t see the warmth and kindness that swirled around him.

“Sit with me,” he called over his shoulder, and Baze grunted. He was a man of few words, his Baze, particularly in public, but Chirrut knew all of his various grunts and sighs. “Suit yourself,” he said. The step wasn’t especially comfortable, to be honest, and his robes were already dusty. Baze used to ask him not to wear them, afraid that Chirrut would be a target for the Magisterium if he continued to flaunt his beliefs, but Chirrut had persisted. The Magisterium agents in Nijedha these days mostly thought of him as a nuisance, a madman, or a swindler, which Chirrut was happy to encourage. It didn’t stop Baze worrying, of course, but nothing would.

Chirrut turned his attention back to the marketplace. There was an undeniable current of tension in the air, as though a storm was building. People’s voices seemed louder, sharper, their movements quicker. No one was lingering or taking their time. Though perhaps that was Chirrut imagining things, unable to shake the low-level dread thrumming under his skin after the alethiometer’s warning. The instrument itself was tucked into a leather pouch, strapped against his skin under his robes.

Shyli was sitting in his hair. He knew that her eyes would be half-closed and languid, but he also knew that she was paying attention, her gaze following the crowd, looking for anything unusual. Behind them, he knew Baze kept one hand openly on his holstered gun, a constant warning to those who might want to cause them any trouble.

Chirrut’s sharp ears picked up several arguments, some harsh cursing, the sizzle of frying noodles from the stalls around the market. A stallholder's voice rose above them, advertising her wares. Dæmons shrieked and cawed, snapping at one another as their people argued. Battered bicycles and rickshaws made their way through the crowd, heedless of pedestrians having to leap aside to let them past. The marketplace was one of Chirrut's favourite places in Nijedha; he didn't need sight to pick up information, not when there were so many sounds and smells.

Occasionally someone would throw a coin into his begging bowl, and he would call a blessing. Sometimes someone would ask for their fortune. Then Shyli would slip down to his shoulder and whisper details about their dæmon, and Chirrut would pull on his street-peddler charm, trace the lines of their palm and tell them something they wanted to know. If they paid well he would use his beloved old I-Ching set, tracing his fingers over the sticks to read their message. Baze often scoffed and told Chirrut he was a charlatan, but Chirrut just laughed. These people didn't want the truth, he knew, they just wanted reassurance.

The only sounds missing from the city these days, beside the regular bells of the temple, were the shouts and laughter of children. There were so few children, now. For years they had been disappearing, plucked away as though they had never been there at all. Many families had left, afraid, seeking better lives elsewhere. Chirrut and Baze had done what they could to help many of the vulnerable orphans escape the city, but it never seemed like enough.

The temple's children had been lost, taken by the Magisterium when they had sacked the temple. Chirrut had asked the alethiometer why they had been taken, but its answer had been confusing and distressing. The only thing he had understood was that there was nothing they could do. Baze had refused to believe that, furious with Chirrut, with the alethiometer, with Dust itself for giving up so easily. His faith crumbling, Baze had left the city on a fruitless search for the missing children. Chirrut almost hadn't recognised him when he had returned nearly two years later, his fury and grief burnt out, leaving him a broken shell. Zin had barely uncurled for a week after their return, closing herself off in a tight ball, until finally Baze had fallen to his knees and wept in Chirrut's arms, wracked with guilt, pain and loss.

Chirrut had held to his faith like a drowning man in a storm, his own grief almost too much to bear without it. Without Baze, faith had been all he'd had left. He and Shyli had clung to the bones of their dying city, clung to their faith, burrowing in deeper so the Magisterium could not take it away as they had taken everything else. Chirrut was nothing if not stubborn, and over the last twenty-five years he had patched together his faith, had patched together Baze, and did everything in his power to hold together the city.

If he had understood the alethiometer right, he just might fail at that last part.

But the alethiometer had kept coming back to the anchor, its meaning clear and bright in his mind. Hope, it whispered. The woman, the messenger, and hope.

And so Chirrut held on, even as the storm grew closer.


The day drew to a close, the temperature plummeting as dusk rolled over the city. Shyli tucked herself into Chirrut's collar as he and Baze made their rounds. They made sure to check on people regularly, bringing food, water, medicine to those who needed it. There was less of all three every day.

“Please, take these. I don't need all this rice,” Killi Gimm said, her voice hoarse and ruined from the damage to her lungs. Chirrut frowned, listening to the worsened rattling in her chest, knowing that the medicine they brought would not help much. Killi had been ill for a long time, but her health had deteriorated even further since her sister had left with the orphans six months ago. She pressed something into Baze's arms, and he began to protest. “Don't refuse,” she said firmly.

“I - thank you, Killi,” Baze rumbled.

Chirrut reached out for Killi, found her thin shoulder and pulled her into a gentle embrace. She was a tall woman, but where she had once been wiry and strong she now felt so frail, like a strange bird. She sighed, returning the hug. “We are all Dust,” she murmured, and Chirrut's heart lifted slightly at the old prayer. Killi had been a Disciple of the Temple of Dust, and still quietly held to the old ways.

“And to Dust we’ll return,” he said, squeezing her shoulders carefully. “We'll see you again soon.”

At their feet, Killi's terrier dæmon nuzzled Shyli and Zin, the three dæmons taking and giving what comfort they could. Chirrut felt Killi's sad smile against his cheek before she pulled away. “That's good tea,” she said, directing this at Baze. “I know you hate tarine.”

“I really hate tarine,” Baze said fervently, and Chirrut laughed. Baze didn't demand much, but he was particular about his tea.

It was after curfew by the time they made their way home, dodging the Magisterium’s patrols through well-known shortcuts. The patrols were generally easy to avoid: the heaviness of their boots gave Chirrut ample warning as to their approach. Chirrut led the way, ears pricked, and Baze followed closely, much quieter than a man his size should be. Near the goat market - always a distinctive smell - they clambered up into the rooftops to avoid the main thoroughfares.

He paused on the roof of the potshop near their home (the day’s sticky, sweet smell of roasting meats lingered), listening, with Baze crouched beside him.

“One patrol,” Baze whispered, and Chirrut nodded; he could hear them passing the alleyway. They waited, their breath misting in the cold air. When the sound of boots had faded away, he dropped off the side of the building. Baze followed, hissing a soft curse as he landed, and Chirrut knew he’d be complaining about his knees later. Not that he could blame him - his own body often reminded him that it was over fifty years old, no longer quite as supple as it had been twenty years ago.

“Come on, old man,” he said in Baze’s direction, and grinned at the annoyed grunt he received in response. “I don’t think anything is going to happen tonight. We should eat and rest.”

Later, he reflected, resting was easier said than done. The night was quiet but he struggled to sleep, as he so often did. He lay awake, straining to hear any sign of the city’s tension breaking. The alethiometer had been clear that a conflict was coming, and Chirrut knew that he and Baze must be ready for it. Baze himself was asleep, one arm slung protectively over Chirrut’s waist, his head tucked into the crook of Chirrut’s neck. His breathing was deep and heavy, and Chirrut curled one hand around his skull to sink his fingers into Baze’s shaggy hair, trying to distract himself with the sensation. Shyli untangled herself from the sleeping Zin and crawled up to the bed, settling herself on Chirrut’s chest. He pressed her to his heart, knowing her own was beating in time.

Chirrut sighed. He and Shyli had always preferred to talk over their worries and fears, unlike Baze and Zin who seemed able to go for days exchanging barely any words. Chirrut could feel Shyli’s anxiety, her need to comfort him, her fear and love for Nijedha, for Baze and Zin. He knew she felt the same emotions rolling from him.

They lay in silence, listening to Baze breathing, waiting for something to happen.

Chapter Text

Cassian

He woke up as they were flying over Muscovy. The plane was quiet and Jyn was asleep in her window seat, head pressed against the window. Her arms were folded and a stubborn frown was creasing her face. Cassian stood, wincing at the stiffness in his legs, and went in search of food and water in the small galley.

Supplies in hand, he knocked on the door of the cockpit and let himself in. “Hey,” he said, slipping into the co-pilot’s seat. “You need a break?”

“I’m fine,” said Kay, not looking at him. Despite everything that had happened, he still looked distinctly unruffled. “We have been on autopilot for the most part. A coffee would not go amiss, though.”

“Right, okay. We’re not flying straight there, are we?” The small plane wasn’t exactly the most suitable for long-haul travel.

Kay snorted, and his beetle dæmon flicked her antenna. “Of course not. Mothma has arranged for us to land just outside Moscow. We’ll pick up another flight from an Alliance cell there.”

Cassian nodded, stroking Rucía’s back as he gazed out at the grey sky, the vast expanse of Muscovy below them. “Thanks for the rescue earlier,” he said after a moment of silence.

“You’re welcome. You obviously needed backup.” Kay shook his head. “Mothma called me before the crack of dawn, said she’d been alerted to Magisterium movement in Oxford. She felt that they may have made a move sooner than expected.”

“She was right,” Cassian said. “I only just got Jyn away from the first agents, and I’m not sure we could have avoided the car. She was good though, can take care of herself.”

Kay made an unimpressed noise. “This seems an enormous amount of worry and resources to spend on someone who doesn’t actually know anything.” His dæmon clicked her wing cases in agreement.

“I’m not so sure she doesn’t know anything. And if nothing else she’d probably be great leverage for the Magisterium to have over Galen Erso.”

“Doctor Erso is already working for the Magisterium. I don’t see why they’d need more leverage over him. The greater risk, in my view, is that she has been given valuable information about us that she could sell to the Magisterium in exchange for her father’s safety.”

Cassian had thought of that too, but every mission contained an element of calculated risk. Mothma had her reasons, and he trusted Mothma; she hadn’t led him wrong yet. He didn’t push Kay, however; the other man had worked for the Magisterium for several years before Cassian had brought him into the Alliance, and many of his suspicions were well-founded. Instead, Cassian shrugged and stood up to go and find coffee. “We’ve got our orders,” he said. “But something tells me there’s more going on here.”

“‘Something’,” Kay repeated in disgust. “Honestly, Cassian, you of all people should know that we need to work with verifiable intelligence and logic.”

Cassian couldn’t help but smile. “If only everyone were as logical as you.”


Jyn was awake when Cassian stepped back through to the galley, kneeling down and poking around in the cupboards.

“Anything edible on this hunk of junk?” she asked. “Or any tea? Or booze?”

“Tea only, I'm afraid.” Cassian unearthed a dusty box of PG Tips and handed it to her. “There is food, though I don't know how edible it is.”

“Probably better than prison food,” she said, leaning against the counter with her arms folded. Her eyes glittered, and he suspected her mention of the prison was deliberate, a way to remind him that she was capable, able to take care of herself.

“Look,” he said, opening a box of protein bars. “I know you must have loads of questions. I can't promise that I can answer everything, but I can try. If you want.”

She considered him, clearly wary, then nodded. “Fine. But first you can make tea.” She grabbed a handful of protein bars and disappeared back into the cabin.

“Be careful,” Rucía whispered as they waited for the tea to steep. “Mothma obviously doesn’t want her to know too much.”

“I know that. But we need her on our side, and we need for her to trust us, at least a little.”

“We saved her life,” Rucía muttered. “That should earn us some trust.”

Cassian shrugged. He took Kay his coffee, and made him promise to let Cassian fly on the next leg of the journey. Begrudgingly, the other agent admitted that he could do with some sleep at some stage.

Jyn was sitting in the front row of seats, once again staring at the photogram of her father. When Cassian approached she hurriedly tucked it inside her jacket and took the proffered mug of tea. Her dæmon sat on her shoulder, bright little eyes fixed on Cassian as he sat in the jump seat opposite them. The little nightingale looked nondescript, but Cassian had seen how he’d flown at the huge rottweiler dæmon earlier that day. He and Jyn were fiercer and tougher than they appeared.

“What do you know about me?” Jyn asked without preamble. “No one’s known who Jyn Erso is in years.”

“I'm not sure how Mothma found out that you were Jyn Erso, I'm afraid. I found out some of your family's movements from when you were a child, up to your father's disappearance and your mother's death. After that…” Cassian spread his hands in a gesture of defeat. “Lianna Hallick seemingly came out of nowhere with an exposé on the Pyke Syndicate five years ago, unearthed several government connections with the Hutt family, and—”

“So you don't know anything. Nothing that’s not public record,” she interrupted, looking a little satisfied.

“What was your father looking for, in Cathay?”

She glared. “I'm asking the questions. How long has Saw Gerrera been in Nijedha?”

“A few years, it seems. He was in Tartary before. How do you know Gerrera?” Galen Erso had had known links with Gerrera before his disappearance, so it was entirely probable that Jyn was acquainted with him.

“An old family friend,” she said, something like sarcasm in her voice. “Why am I being taken to Cathay?”

“We needed to extract you before—”

“No, I understand why you dragged me away from Oxford, thanks.” She pushed her hair out of her eyes, scowling. “But why am I being taken to Cathay? Your lot can arrange to fly across the world on one vague tip, don't expect me to believe that you don't have safe houses set up. Why take a civilian on a covert mission?”

Behind Cassian, Rucía made a low, rumbling noise, warning him not to push it. “The defector's crucial information is, we believe, about your father. Apparently he will only release the message to one person. To you.”

He met her eyes. Behind her defiance and anger, Cassian thought he could see a glimmer of something deeper, something like grief. Her dæmon hopped down to her wrist and she stroked his back with the tips of her fingers.

“I've spent years avoiding all of this,” she said, casting her eyes down, looking at her mug of tea instead of meeting Cassian's gaze. “Building a new life, keeping out of this whole mess. I never wanted to be involved.”

“Yes, well, some of us have never had that luxury,” said Cassian, unable to stop the bitterness and anger rising in his voice. “We can't just carry on and let the Magisterium do its work.”

“The Magisterium is the reason I don't have a family. Don't you dare suggest I don't understand what they do,” she snapped. “But in case you hadn't noticed, agent, your little group of rebels isn't actually stopping them, is it? They've won, and even if they get pushed back a little, they'll come back and beat you down again.” She stood up suddenly. “I'll come with you and get your defector, because I want to know where my father is. But don't make the mistake of thinking I'm joining you.”

She stalked off down the aisle.

“That went well,” said Rucía.


They landed an hour later in the gathering darkness, at a frozen aerodock outside Moscow. Jyn has been cold and silent when Cassian had handed her a bag of cold-weather clothing to change into, and now she was fiddling with the end of a scarf wound around her neck. He wished he hadn’t snapped at her earlier, but he also couldn’t stop hearing her furious words. Your little group of rebels isn’t actually stopping them, is it? They’ve won.

They’ve not won, Cassian told himself. Not while there were still people fighting them. And he, for one, wasn’t going to give up.

The Alliance agent at the aerodock was a tall woman with an arctic fox dæmon who spoke with a strong Muscovite accent. She checked the papers that Kay handed her with a practiced eye before handing them a file.

“ID, passports, a flight plan,” she said shortly. “Weapons for you two, with documents.”

Cassian flipped open the new passport. Father Joreth Sward was an old alias of his, though he hadn’t used it for some time. It was a good one; you could get through a lot of doors with the right name and a Magisterium clerical collar. He nodded and handed the third passport to Jyn, who glanced over it with an unreadable expression. At least she was used to operating under an assumed identity.

The new plane was slightly larger than the previous one, though older. Kay checked it over with a pinched expression on his narrow face; Cassian assumed the plane wasn’t up to his colleague’s high standards.

“It’ll be fine,” he said, strapping into the co-pilot’s seat. Kay was the better pilot and would handle the take-off and landing. “It’s got two wings and two engines.”

“I’m sure that will be very reassuring when we plummet out of the sky,” Kay sniffed, flicking through the control panel’s pre-flight safety checks. His dæmon buzzed irritably around his head. “So I hear that you’ve already had an argument with our unwilling guest?”

“It wasn’t an argument,” Cassian retorted.

“It certainly sounded like one.”

“It was a… a disagreement. Everyone’s exhausted and stressed, it’s to be expected.”

“Hm.” Kay’s eyebrows were still a fraction too high, and Cassian glared at him. “Well, I just hope she’ll be able to keep her cool when we get to Nijedha. There is a very strong possibility that this mission is going to go wrong, and I’m not convinced she’ll do more good than harm.”

“We’ve got out of some pretty bad scrapes before,” said Cassian, stroking Rucía when she settled in his lap for takeoff. “We’ll be fine.”

“I shall believe that when I see it.”


Jyn

Her knee was bouncing up and down and she couldn’t seem to stop it. She very desperately wanted to punch something, or run until her lungs burned, or scream, but she was stuck on a fucking plane over the seemingly endless fucking expanse of Muscovy and so she could do nothing. She couldn’t even distract herself with writing, or her phone, because she didn’t have a notebook and Cassian had taken her phone away in case it was used to track her. The plane was silent as the grave: Cassian was at the controls, and the other agent, Kay, had stretched out across a row of seats to sleep, though not before watching her suspiciously for a few minutes. It had been a little unnerving; he didn’t seem to blink as much as most people. She had ignored him.

Jyn knew that part of her anger was just plain exhaustion: a few hours of sleep on her cramped sofa and a couple more snatched in the first plane weren’t exactly conducive to restorative rest, after all. But mostly she was angry with Cassian, with the Alliance, with the goddamn Magisterium… and with her father. Who was alive, had been alive this whole time, and had never tried to find her.

The photogram was in the pocket of the new, too-big winter coat, but she could see it clearly in her mind’s eye. His face was more lined, his hair greyer, but it was him. The same crumpled mouth, the same sad, kind eyes, his chough dæmon in her customary place on his shoulder. For the last fifteen years she had tried not to think about her father, locking her memories inside a box in her heart. Now she wanted to see him so badly it hurt, wanted to hug him, wanted to have him stroke her hair and call her stardust.

Aster made a small, sad sound and she cupped her hands around him, pressed him to her heart. He had settled when they were twelve, and she had been quietly thrilled that he had been a bird, like both her parents’ dæmons. It felt like a connection to them, one that couldn’t be taken away.

This whole confusing, maddening, terrifying day had given her one thing: the faintest, most delicate hope that she might see her father again. And now the most frightening idea was that she wouldn’t. That they would fail, and she would have to live the rest of her life with the knowledge of that failure.

Jyn stared out at the night sky, heartsore.


They landed in the early hours of the morning. Jyn had always counted herself as a good flier, but the small plane was buffeted by strong winds as they sank lower, making it suddenly plummet in heartstopping fashion several times. By the time they’d landed, rough and bouncing, her stomach was rolling and her hands felt clammy.

She drew in several shaky breaths, trying to get herself under control before she had to see the agents. She would not let them think her weak, not in any way.

There wasn’t much visible from the small window. Jyn knew that there was no way to land in Nijedha itself; it was a small, walled city built high on the cliffs over the mesa. They had to be a few miles outside the city walls, at least. When she had been in Cathay as a child she and her mother had lived in Hang Chow, a few hours to the south. Her mother had been a visiting scholar at the university, and Jyn had attended a small international school, while her father had travelled north with his research team. He had been gone for only two weeks when they’d received word of his disappearance.

Jyn swallowed, pushing the memories down. She couldn’t dwell, she had to focus.

Cassian ducked through from the galley, the tall figure of Kay behind him. They were both wearing the dark suits and collars of Magisterium clerics, with heavy wool coats. Jyn stood up, zipping the new jacket up to her neck.

“Ready?” said Cassian, and Jyn nodded. Her anger had abated somewhat: it didn’t matter what he thought, but she needed him on her side if there was any chance of finding her father.

The small aerodock was under Magisterium control, and Jyn’s heart was in her mouth as they passed through security. It was a familiar feeling: every time she’d travelled, every time she’d handed over her driving license for an ID check, she had half-expected someone to discover her, to rip away Lianna Hallik and reveal Jyn Erso. Now she was ‘Tanith Pontha’ (a stupid name, she thought. She’d have done better), assistant to Fathers Sward and Klein, and she willed herself to look calm, bored with all the red tape and security. Aster sat still on her shoulder, not drawing attention. She was, once again, pleased that he’d settled in such a common, nondescript form.

The man in security barely glanced at her passport. Cassian and Kay were both carrying guns, but their forged paperwork contained some official looking documentation that made the security agent sit up a little straighter.

“Thank you, Fathers,” he said, his tone suddenly more deferential, handing the documents back to Cassian. Cassian gave a curt nod and pocketed the papers, his face an unreadable mask.

Jyn frowned and buried her hands in her pockets. Even here, on the low-level of the mesa, the wind was bitingly cold; She dreaded to think how cold it must be up in the city. Nijedha reared ahead in the distance, perched up on the cliffs like some giant, misshapen bird. It was hard to make out much detail in the darkness, but Jyn could see the Temple of Dust, an imposing tower looming over the rest of the city, built into the very edge of the cliff. Her latest research felt insignificant, now, but she still hoped that she might get to see some of the temple itself.

The train was rickety, slow, cold, and smelt oddly of cabbage. They shared a carriage with a few other people who, from their quiet conversation, seemed to be bringing Magisterium supplies. Nijedha had very limited food production, very little manufacturing, and even its natural wells were beginning to run dry; those stationed here must be in constant need of supplies. Once, when the temple had been a destination for pilgrims and those seeking knowledge of Dust, it had almost prospered, able to rely on the money of tourists. Life in Nijedha must have become exceptionally hard in the last two decades. Many of its inhabitants had probably left for a new life in Cathay’s more prosperous cities.

The gates of the city were shut for the evening curfew, and nobody was allowed to pass until dawn. There were a few small hostels outside the gates where they managed to get a room and some bowls of cheap noodles and a bitter tea called tarine. None of them spoke much, all three exhausted and lost in their own thoughts. Cassian’s cat dæmon fell asleep in his lap during the meal, and he was clearly struggling to keep his eyes open. Jyn could feel Aster’s tiredness, and a dull headache had started up behind her eyes.

Their room was cold, cheerless, and uninviting, but at least they were the only people there. Jyn lay on the hard single mattress under the thin blanket, still wearing her coat, scarf and gloves in an attempt to keep the cold at bay. She thought longingly of the knife she’d had to leave on the plane.

The wind howled across the mesa, whistling against the cliffs. Jyn's thoughts drifted, despite her best efforts, to the last time she'd seen her father. The way he'd knelt in front of her, smiling in that sad, crumpled way he had. She remembered being pulled into her father's arms, the warm, dusty smell of him. He'd cupped her face in his broad hands, his thumbs sweeping across her cheeks. “My Stardust,” he'd murmured. “I'll see you very soon, I promise.” Aster, puppy-formed, had huddled up against her father's alpine chough dæmon. The last memory Jyn had was of clinging to her mother's hand as her father had walked out to the taxi, battered suitcase in hand, his dæmon on his shoulder.

Lying on the hard old mattress she clenched her jaw, willing the tears away. She had learnt long ago how not to cry. Aster nuzzled his small head against her cheek.

The next day dawned grey as dishwater, and the wind continued unabated. Cassian disappeared, entreating them to stay put until he returned, and Jyn found herself alone with Kay. The tall man regarded her with an unreadable expression.

“You should know, Jyn Erso, that I do not trust you.” His voice was calm, his tone almost sardonic. Jyn met his eyes, unblinking. She wasn’t going to be intimidated by him, even if he towered over her by almost two feet.

“Yeah?”

“I think this mission entirely unwise.”

She snorted. “If it helps, Agent Tuesso, I don't particularly trust you, either. Or Agent Andor. But if you're worried that I'd sell you out to the Magisterium, don't be. They took everything from me: I don't intend to give them anything.”

He did not look convinced, but before he could say anything Cassian returned.

“Ready?” he said, brusque. “We need to get going. Kay, we'll meet you back at the rendezvous.” He turned to Jyn. “This needs to be as quick and quiet as possible, understand? We do not draw attention to ourselves. We meet our informant, make contact with Gerrera, quick and clean as possible.”

Jyn nodded, suddenly nervous. This felt very different to her undercover work with the Pyke Syndicate, or in Siberia. She had been in danger then, of course, but she had been in some sort of control, had the option of pulling out if things went south. This felt uncomfortably like her time with Saw, heading into an unknown situation with limited information and resources. She swallowed, steeling herself.

“How's your Cathay?” Kay asked her.

“Basic,” she said, refusing to take the bait. “But it shouldn't matter. Nijedha’s been a melting pot for decades; most people speak Cathay, but it’s not exactly unusual for people to speak English.”

Cassian almost smiled, and for a moment he looked a lot younger. “Let's hope so,” he said. “My Cathay is appalling.” Then, to her shock, he handed her a shoulder holster, complete with pistol.

“I assume you know how to use one of these?”

Cassian,” Kay hissed, looking appalled.

“I - yeah. Yeah, I can use one.” Jyn pulled off her coat to strap the holster in place; its weight against her ribs was reassuring. “Thanks.”

As they left, she heard Kay mutter, “Don’t come crying to me when you get shot in the back.”


Cassian

Nijedha was busy, even early in the morning. People of all ethnicities pushed their way through the twisting narrow streets, most of them carefully not making eye contact with the Magisterium soldiers and agents who were visible at seemingly every corner. It was, thankfully, easy to blend in, but the presence of so many unfriendly, watchful eyes made Cassian nervous. He had the clerical collar buried in his bag; he judged that it would be easier to get what they came for if they could just blend into the crowd. He was glad of the GPS tracker hidden in his boot; at least it meant that Kay would know where they were.

He hoped he wouldn’t regret arming Jyn. He understood Kay’s apprehension, but Nijedha was a dangerous place now. He had to get her to Saw Gerrera safely, if they were going to have any chance of getting the information on Galen Erso.

Many of Nijedha’s once-beautiful buildings had clearly been abandoned. There were a lot of broken and hastily boarded windows, splintered doorways, holes in roofs. Some buildings seemed to have been partially-destroyed, and there was clear evidence of bullet holes in walls. Graffiti was rampant. Over everything, the temple still loomed, its empty windows dark and gaping. It was hard to imagine it as a place of peace and learning. Now, the whole city felt as if it were balanced on a knife edge.

Rucía stalked ahead of them, sharp cat eyes watching for danger. Jyn stuck close to Cassian; her eyes were wary, but he saw the way she kept glancing up at the looming temple with something like awe.

They made their way to the crowded marketplace, which marked out a rough semi-circle in front of the temple. It was busy, stallholders advertising their wares, people gathering in groups and talking with some urgency. Most of the speakers were using Cathay, but Cassian heard snatches of several languages: Muscogee, English, Tartary, some German, some Nipponese. Most of them, regardless of language, sounded tense and snappish.

“Exchange that necklace for your fortune?” A voice rose above the noise of the crowd, calling in English. Cassian felt Jyn hesitate and glance around.

“Hey!” the voice called. “Yes, I mean you!”

Before Cassian could stop her, Jyn had pressed through a group of people to find the source of the voice. Cassian followed, cursing under his breath.

A middle-aged Cathay man was sitting on the broken temple steps, wearing faded robes and a smirk. He had a staff across his knees, a begging bowl at his feet, and a striped gecko dæmon on his shoulder. His eyes were pearly and unfocused, but there was an intensity about the man that gave Cassian pause.

“Good morning,” he said, lifting his face to gaze vaguely in their direction. “My name is Chirrut Îmwe.”

“How did you know I was wearing a necklace?” Jyn demanded. “Did your dæmon tell you?”

“Ah,” Îmwe said. “That part is a secret. You are looking for something, I think. Would you like to hear your fortune?” He reached into the pocket of his robes and pulled out a bundle of small, slender sticks. “The I-Ching can tell you a great deal.”

Cassian took Jyn’s arm. “We need to go,” he hissed, looking around warily. They were definitely being watched: a huge man with shaggy hair was studying them from where he leaned against a temple pillar, his hand openly resting on the butt of an enormous pistol.

“I don’t need my fortune,” Jyn told the monk.

“I am not sure that’s true.” His dæmon was watching her very intently. When Cassian looked at her, her tongue flickered.

Jyn,” he repeated, urgent now. The huge man was glowering directly at them. Jyn seemed to shake herself.

“Thanks but no thanks,” she told Îmwe, and let Cassian pull her away.

“We are made of dust,” Îmwe called after them as they strode into the crowd. “And dust is always rising.”

Cassian glanced back, once, and saw that the huge man was now standing over the blind monk, his eyes burning a hole in their backs.

“He was a Guardian,” Jyn said, her voice low but her tone amazed. “I thought they’d all been killed.”

“Apparently not,” said Cassian. “He’s either very brave or very stupid, wearing those robes here now. Don’t get mixed up with them, Jyn, they’ll cause their own trouble.”

She didn’t respond, but Cassian saw her hand creep to her throat, touching the electrum pendant she wore. It was hidden by her coat and scarf, so how had the monk known she wore it? It troubled him, but he pushed it down; they had to focus.

A movement in an upstairs window caught Cassian’s eye. He glanced up, and caught a brief glimpse of someone ducking out of sight. A woman darted into a nearby alleyway. Two men nodded to one another and moved with quick purpose in opposite directions.

“Cassian,” Rucía said, but he didn’t need her warning. Every instinct was screaming at him.

Jyn had seen it too. “I don't suppose this is part of your plan, is it?" she asked.

And the marketplace exploded.

Cassian flung himself to the ground, acting on instinct, covering Rucía with his arms. Jyn had thrown herself down beside him, but she was quicker than he was, scrambling to her feet in moments and yanking at his coat.

“Come on!” she yelled, and her voice sounded oddly distorted by the ringing in Cassian’s ears. Shaking himself, Cassian let her pull him up. There were screams all around them, panicked people all running in different directions; they couldn’t get trapped here.

Run!” Rucía cried, and leapt away, Cassian and Jyn at her heels.

Jyn’s nightingale flew over their heads and called “Left!” Jyn seized Cassian’s sleeve and pulled him down a narrow alleyway. Others were running with them, some screaming, some weeping, but many ran with a resigned sort of focus, as though this had become an all-too-frequent occurrence.

Cassian glanced back. The opening to their alleyway was lost in a billow of smoke and dust.

“Shit!” Jyn swore and she stopped suddenly, pulling Cassian into an empty doorway. He was about to protest, but the sound of heavy boots stopped him. Black-clad Magisterium soldiers ran past, rifles at the ready.

“We have to get out of here,” he said softly, and Jyn nodded, her mouth set. They were on the wrong side of the city from the gate. Everything else would have to wait, now; the first priority had to be getting away.

Another blast sounded, back at the marketplace.

“Come on,” he said, seizing Jyn’s hand. They ran, back into the maze of alleyways, struggling against the press of the crowd trying to get away from the marketplace. Jyn’s dæmon guided them, calling down directions. Cassian’s heart was pounding, Jyn was breathing hard, but they were going to make it, they just had to keep moving—

They emerged from the alleyway into a large courtyard. Armed Magisterium soldiers were herding the panicked crowd towards the main thoroughfare, and a fucking tank was rolling ponderously forward, pushing at the crowd. Some people were throwing broken bricks and empty bottles at the tank; Cassian had seen this sort of thing before. It was only a matter of time before the soldiers opened fire into the crowd, and once that spark was lit, a riot could burn through the whole city. Cassian closed his hand around Jyn’s arm, hoping that they could quietly slip away.

They went down another passageway to a small, empty square, and Cassian had just breathed a sigh of relief when four Magisterium soldiers rounded the corner.

Their leader barked something at them in Cathay, gesturing to them with his rifle when they didn’t move. “You come with us,” he said, this time in English.

“No, please.” Cassian stepped forward, hoping against hope that he could talk them out of this. “We just brought in supplies, please, we need to get back to—”

The soldier was unmoved. He stepped forward, into Cassian’s range, and it was all he needed. He seized the rifle, jerking it out of the soldier’s hands and whipping it around to crack his head. The other three raised their weapons as their leader fell. Quick as a flash, Jyn launched herself at the knees of the nearest one, knocking him backwards and into one of his fellows. His head smacked sickeningly against the ground. Cassian leapt forward, pulling his gun from the holster at his hip. Rucía dodged the jaws of a nasty doberman dæmon and sank her teeth into its throat, her ears flat against her skull. The doberman yelped and her human swore; Cassian brought the gun down, hard, on his skull and he slumped insensibly. Jyn had rolled easily to her feet, and without a flicker of hesitation she pulled out her handgun and pulled the trigger. The final soldier fell, his fox dæmon fading away into golden smoke.

Cassian met her eyes, and she nodded, a quick jerk of her chin. He nodded back and they made to run, but then there were more soldiers, even more, these ones with rifles raised and ready.

“Hands in the air,” snapped the one in the middle of the line, his voice cold. “Drop your weapons.”

They were trapped. Cassian’s mind was spinning as he raised his hands, trying to figure out a way out of this. Kay would realise something was wrong soon, he hoped, and would send warning to Mothma. It wouldn’t be enough. After everything, he hadn’t been able to keep Jyn out of the Magisterium’s hands at all.

“Let them pass,” called a voice. Chirrut Îmwe, the blind monk, was strolling through the square, cane dragging back and forth in front of him, his face serene. He called out again, this time in Cathay. He placed himself between Jyn and Cassian and the rifles, his hands folded on top of his cane.

The soldiers stared at him, clearly confused. Cassian and Jyn exchanged worried looks.

“What are you doing, monk?” one of them snapped, loading derision into the word.

"He's blind—" another said, a little uncertain.

“Let them pass,” Îmwe said again, switching back to English. “They walk in hope.”

“Get out of the way, you blind fool,” the leader said. “Or we’ll have to shoot you.” They raised their weapons.

We don’t have time for this, Cassian thought. They didn’t have time for some madman to get himself killed for them. This had all got out of control far too quickly.

“No, don’t—” Jyn began, but before Cassian could do more than grab her sleeve to stop her launching herself into gun fire, Îmwe moved. One moment he had been standing there, calm and looking faintly puzzled, and the next he had knocked the closest soldier flat to the ground and had spun away, graceful as a dancer, his cane flying up to hit the next man who started forward, leaping away and striking at their dæmon in the same move.

Jyn and Cassian could only watch in utter amazement as the blind man tore through the soldiers like a wraith, dodging every blow aimed his way. They fired at him several times, but the bullets never seemed to touch him as he whirled. A minute later, all of the soldiers were laid out on the dusty ground, their dæmons slumped beside them, and he stood in the middle, poised and listening.

More soldiers rounded the corner – how can there be more? Cassian thought wildly – and now they were truly cornered—

Crack! Crack! Crack!

The soldiers all fell, dæmons fading into smoke. Cassian and Jyn whirled around and found the huge man from earlier, pistol raised in a steady hand.

“You almost shot me,” the blind monk said peevishly.

The other grunted something in Cathay that Cassian thought was You’re welcome. He strode across the square to Îmwe and, when one of the soldiers at his feet stirred, shot him in the back of the head. The soldier's wolverine dæmon winked out of existence. The new arrival glared over at Jyn and Cassian.

“You want to get out of here,” he rumbled in English. His accent was thicker than Îmwe’s, his mass of shaggy hair and the huge scar across one cheek serving to make him look even more intimidating. Cassian couldn’t see his dæmon.

“Who are you?” Jyn asked.

“We’re nobody,” the big man said, turning away. Îmwe looked rather petulant at this announcement.

“Can all the temple guardians fight like that?” Cassian asked, directing this at the blind man.

“There are no guardians any more,” his friend growled. “Only this fool here.”

Îmwe’s gecko dæmon flicked her tongue. Îmwe leant on his cane, something like a smirk on his face. “Dust guides and protects me,” he said.

I protect you,” his friend protested, and Îmwe sighed. It sounded like an old argument.

“Look, thank you,” Cassian said awkwardly. “You really helped us out. But we need to go—”

“We’re looking for Saw Gerrera,” Jyn interrupted, and Cassian felt Rucía groan. This is what he got for bringing a journalist on a covert mission. “Do you know him?”

The tall man glanced at Îmwe, whose face was unreadable. His gecko dæmon bobbed her head, and the tall man raised his eyebrows.

“You should keep away from Saw Gerrera,” he said, his gravelly voice flat and final. Îmwe made a humming noise that might have been agreement, but what else he might say they didn’t find out.

Figures appeared suddenly, from alley entrances and dropping from rooftops, all of them dressed in rough, practical clothing, hoods and masks obscuring their faces. Cassian felt the muzzle of a gun against the back of his head, and his own weapon was wrenched from his hand. Out of the corner of his eye he saw another masked figure holding a gun to Jyn’s head. Others were disarming Îmwe and his friend, both of whom looked more resigned than anything, as though this were a mere irritation for them. The person behind him had a leopard dæmon, who pinned Rucía with one large paw. Jyn’s nightingale was caught from the air by an eagle dæmon, and she gasped and snarled, pulling at her captor’s grip. Îmwe’s gecko whipped away inside the safety of his robes.

“Take them,” said the muscular woman who seemed to be in charge. Her voice was cold, her manner forbidding.

“What on earth do you want with us?” asked Îmwe as they bound his hands in front of him. “Do you think we serve the Magisterium?”

Jyn snapped an elbow back into her captor’s stomach and shouldered her way free. Her nightingale flew from the eagle’s suddenly lax claws and swooped to Jyn’s shoulder. She stared defiantly at the guns now pointing directly at her face. “You will not harm me, or any of my friends,” she said, “or you’ll answer to Saw Gerrera.”

Behind her mask the woman laughed. “And why,” she asked, “would Saw give a shit what happens to you?”

Jyn raised her chin, her eyes hard. “Because I am the daughter of Galen Erso. And Saw has a message for me.”

There was a very pregnant pause, and then the woman nodded. Cassian had one brief glimpse of the way Jyn's eyes blazed before a black bag was pulled over his head and he was dragged forward. He felt the leopard dæmon pick up Rucía, felt her hissing protest.

Behind him, he could hear Îmwe complaining, “What even is the point? I’m blind.”

Chapter Text

Bodhi, five days ago

“I’m just the messenger,” he tried to tell them again, his voice muffled by the hood over his head, but they wouldn’t listen. “I need to give a message to Saw Gerrera!”

The big one hit him again, hard, and Bodhi tasted blood in his mouth. The leopard dæmon had his hare dæmon in her jaws, and he could feel her barely-restrained panic.

“I need to speak to Saw Gerrera!” he gasped. “Please, we don’t have time for this, I need to speak to him before it’s too late.”

“And why should we listen to a Magisterium piece of shit like you?”

“Please, please, I’m not with them, not any more, we’re on the same side. If you could take me to Saw—”

“Lies!” a new voice rasped. “More lies from the Magisterium! Let me see…”

There was a rustle of paper, and Bodhi knew his papers had been handed over to the new voice. Was this Gerrera? Please be him, please

Bodhi hissed in a breath, wondering if his nose was broken. His ribs certainly felt like they were.

“Bodhi Rook,” the new voice said, low and rough. “An aeronaut, hm?”

Bodhi nodded frantically.

“This was found in his boot when we captured him,” said the man with the leopard dæmon, the one with her teeth in Aliya. The flash drive, Bodhi knew, the one he had given over willingly.

“Hey!” he protested. “I can hear you! I wasn’t captured, I defected! I defected, I swear!”

“Lies!” A hoarse cawing voice, a dæmon’s voice. Saw Gerrera had a crow dæmon, Bodhi knew.

“I am not lying,” he insisted. Why wouldn’t they listen? How much time had they already wasted? “I wouldn’t risk everything for a lie! I need to talk to Saw Gerrera before it’s too late.”

The hood was suddenly pulled from his head, and even the dim light seemed to lance into his eyes. He blinked, hard, and slowly took in the figure looming above him as he knelt on the hard rock. He looked almost exactly as Galen had described him: a tall, broad black man, with a shock of grey hair and a scar across one eye, a shabby great crow dæmon on his shoulder. He was holding the small flash drive that Bodhi had hidden in the sole of his boot.

Bodhi suddenly felt very small and vulnerable, as though he were withering under Gerrera’s stare. His gaze had an almost physical power to it. “Right,” he stammered. “That – that’s for you. They,” he jerked his head at Saw’s associates, “they didn’t take it from me. I brought it to you. From – from Galen Erso.”

Saw’s expression was unreadable. His eyes had widened, almost imperceptibly, at the mention of Galen’s name, but Bodhi could not tell if he believed him or not. The crow dæmon made a soft croaking noise in her throat.

“Pull them,” Saw said, pocketing the flash drive, and the man behind Bodhi seized his upper arms, dragging him to his feet.

“What – pull—” He didn’t know what that meant, but it couldn’t be good. Bodhi tried to struggle free, but his captor was too strong. The leopard dæmon’s jaws tightened over Aliya. “No, Galen Erso sent me! He told me to find you!”

He was dragged into another part of the cave, and a door slammed. It was dark in here, almost completely dark, and Bodhi struggled and struggled. There was a solid chair bolted to the floor: he was pushed into it, restraints wrapped around his wrists and ankles, and no matter how much he fought they were stronger.

“I’m a defector!” he yelled. “I defected, I’m not with them, I’m on your side—” The leopard dæmon was still holding Aliya, and she and her human began to walk away down a long tunnel, leaving Bodhi alone.

“Bodhi!” Aliya cried, and suddenly Bodhi realised what they meant by pull.

“No! Aliya!” He yanked at the restraints, tried to rock the chair. His dæmon was four feet away from him, five feet - the ache started up, the soul-deep hurt that everyone experienced when your dæmon was too far away – she was six feet away, eight – Bodhi was sobbing, Aliya was calling for him—

“This stops when we know the truth,” said Saw softly. He was outside the cell, watching with an unreadable expression.

“Galen Erso sent me!”

“How do you know Galen Erso?”

Bodhi could scarcely think straight through the pain of it, his heart felt like it was being torn from his chest. “He – I-I was stationed with him! I was just a cargo aeronaut, just cargo, but he – he spoke to me, was always kind, I—”

“Why would he speak to you?”

Please, please stop, please let my dæmon go—”

“Why would he speak to you?”

“He said… he said I reminded him of his daughter. His daughter Jyn.”

They dragged Aliya further, and Bodhi could only sob.

“The message – it’s for her! He said you’d know where to find her! Please, please, I’m on your side, I’m on your side… I’m just the messenger…”

Hours later, he was bundled into a new, darker cell, and Aliya dropped next to him like an abandoned stuffed toy. Bodhi curled around her, pressed her to his heart, and waited.


Baze

The back of the van was cramped and uncomfortable, and clearly not made for people of Baze's size. Every time they drove over a pothole his head cracked against the metal roof.

“Well, this is exciting,” said Chirrut's cheerful voice from where he was crammed against Baze's right side. He was using English, so clearly trying to show off for their new companions.

Baze grunted, then cursed as they jolted over yet another pothole.

“You never want to have any fun,” Chirrut complained, and he nudged Baze with his elbow.

“I am having fun,” he countered, and heard Chirrut snicker.

“Stop talking, monks,” snapped one of Saw's lackeys, and prodded Baze hard in the ribs with his gun. Baze fantasised briefly about knotting the man's arms behind his head.

That morning – which already seemed like days ago, though it was only a few hours – Chirrut had once again asked the alethiometer for guidance. It had repeated its earlier warning, but with one new piece of advice: follow the woman.

“Which woman?” Baze had asked, and Chirrut had just smiled.

The woman in question hadn't looked like much at first: small and wary, a nondescript bird dæmon on her shoulder (though Baze knew, deeply, that one shouldn't judge someone entirely on the basis of having a small, unassuming dæmon). By the time she had faced up to Saw's guns, her feet planted and chin jutting, Baze had changed his mind. The whole mad venture suddenly seemed worth seeing through.

And so here they were, captured by insurgents and being shipped off to face the whims of Saw Gerrera. Baze had hoped to never see the man again, utterly unable to forgive him for his willingness to sacrifice innocent lives to further his cause. He and Chirrut had been used by Gerrera once before, and he had no desire to repeat the experience.

Still, when had Baze ever got what he wanted?

Beside him, Chirrut pressed his knee firmly against Baze's thigh. Baze pressed back. They'd figure this out, just as they always did. Chirrut would follow the alethiometer, and Baze would follow Chirrut, and they'd come out alright. It was a comforting thought, even if he didn't really believe it.

Despite the hood and the jolting of the van, Baze thought he knew where they were going. He knew Nijedha like the back of his hand and, even though he was usually on foot rather than behind a wheel, he still thought he could recognise the route. Down back streets, through a disused tunnel that wasn't as blocked as it appeared, down a ramp into one of the old sewer works tunnels, huge enough to admit a vehicle. The sewer led to the east gate; Baze and Chirrut had used it plenty of times to avoid the Magisterium as they attempted to sabotage or steal their supplies. Saw's hideout was outside the city, built amongst the caves out in the mesa.

The whole journey took maybe twenty minutes. The van stopped and started for a while, obviously being waved past a security check, and finally the rattling engine died. The four of them were pulled none-too-gently out of the van, and Baze just let the insurgents lead him; if he tried he'd easily be able to break their grip on him, but it was hardly worth the trouble when they were armed and he was not. The bag was yanked off his head and even the dim light of the cave seemed unpleasantly bright for a few moments.

“Can I suggest better-smelling hoods in future?” Chirrut asked, and the man untying his wrists gave him a hard shove. Baze growled in warning.

“Keep your guide dog on a leash, monk,” the man snapped, and with that Baze and Chirrut found themselves hauled into a cell built into the cave, followed by the young man with the cat dæmon.

“Wait!” the man cried. “Wait – Jyn!” His dæmon pressed against his ankles, her fur on end.

The woman – Jyn – was bundled away in the opposite direction, and she sent one unreadable glance back at them. Their three guards settled themselves at a nearby table, watching something on a laptop.

“Now what, Cassian?” the cat dæmon asked, but her human just swore softly, leaning his head against the bars of the cell door.

Chirrut felt his way to the back of the cell and promptly made himself comfortable on the floor, clearly content to wait for whatever would happen next. Shyli crawled out from his robes to take a look around.

“Lovely,” she commented, still using English. “We've not been in this one before.”

Baze leant against the wall beside Chirrut. He put a hand in his coat pocket, felt the light prickle of a curled-up Zin against his palm. She unrolled enough to nudge at his fingers, but stayed put. That was fine by Baze: if she was hiding in his pocket he didn't have to worry about her. Instead, he folded his arms and took stock of the situation.

The cell had been built using the natural rock formations of the cave. The doors were thick and strong, with only one narrowly barred window. Cassian, their young companion, was leaning against the door staring out of the bars, his jaw set and his eyes worried. The bars were too narrow for Zin or the cat dæmon to fit through. Shyli would fit, but he doubted she'd be able to unlock the door. The only thing to do was wait.

Beside him, Chirrut was praying. Again. He held Shyli in one hand and pressed the other against his ribs, where Baze knew the alethiometer was strapped; thankfully the insurgents had not thought to search them beyond their weapons.

“I am of Dust, Dust is of me,” Chirrut muttered, over and over. “I am of Dust, Dust is of me, I am of Dust...”

Cassian glanced back at them, watching Chirrut with a confused expression on his face. Baze shook his head, grinning. “He’s praying for the door to open,” he informed their new companion.

Chirrut tilted his head vaguely towards Cassian. “It bothers him because he knows it’s possible,” he said, and Baze had to laugh. Chirrut would never quite give up his hope in Baze’s faith; he’d been without it for almost half his life, and yet Chirrut still thought he might come back to the fold.

Cassian was frowning between them. “Baze Malbus,” Chirrut informed him, “was once the most dedicated Guardian of us all.”

Yes, thought Baze, and he was a naive, optimistic fool.

“So... what?” Cassian said, looking at Baze. “Now you’re just his guardian?”

Baze grinned, baring his teeth, but didn’t respond. Chirrut was silent. Discussing the specifics of their relationship could get dangerous, very quickly. Their companion shrugged and turned back to his silent watch.

“Relax,” Baze suggested, settling back against the wall. “We’ve been in worse cages than this one.”

This one was at least clean. Well, sort-of clean.

“Yeah, well this is a first for us.”

Chirrut hummed thoughtfully, tapping his fingers on his knees. “There is more than one type of cage, Agent. I sense that you carry yours with you wherever you go.” Shyli bobbed her head, her red eyes on Cassian. His cat dæmon was crouched at his feet, tense and wary.

Baze would have told Chirrut off for his ridiculous, meaningless bits of philosophising, but this time he suspected that he was right. Cassian had a closed-off, hunted look about him; he was someone used to carrying secrets with him, to shutting himself away from the world.

“Who's in the next cell?” Chirrut asked.

Baze exchanged a glance with Cassian. “What?”

“The next cell,” Shyli said from where she was curled on Chirrut's palm. “There's someone else.”

Keeping his hand on the cave wall for guidance, Baze felt his way to the dark side of the cell. Sure enough, there was another small, barred window, and when he glanced through he could distinctly see a huddled figure. A huddled figure wearing a jacket marked with the Magisterium's cross. The old anger, usually kept at a simmer, flared in Baze's chest.

“He’s Magisterium,” he snarled, falling back into Cathay. “I will kill him!” He seized the bars of the cell as though he could wrench them out with his bare hands, then wring the man's scrawny little neck.

“Baze!” Chirrut snapped, a warning, and suddenly Cassian was there, grabbing his arm and pulling him away.

“Back off!” he said, pushing Baze away. Baze bristled and glared at him for a beat, then just as suddenly as it had flared his anger dimmed.

“Baze,” Chirrut said again, gentler this time, and Baze stumped over to him, jaw clenched. He put a hand in his pocket to touch Zin, and she nipped lightly at his fingertips.

“Hey,” Cassian was saying through the bars. “Hey, are you the aeronaut? The defector, from Galen Erso?”

“I- I–” The voice in the other cell was soft and shaky. “I'm the aeronaut,” it whispered. “Yes, I- I'm the aeronaut. I brought the message.”

“Where is it?” Cassian asked. “If you're the messenger, what's the message? Where is Galen Erso?”

It took Baze a moment to translate 'messenger' in English to Cathay, to link it to the alethiometer's message. “It's him?” he murmured to Chirrut, who hummed in agreement.

Follow the woman. Find the messenger. They bring hope.

The 'hope’ part couldn't come soon enough.


Jyn

The first thing Jyn thought on seeing Saw was, Shit, what happened to him?

He was as powerfully built as ever, but still Saw seemed haggard, almost diminished, as though he were slowly eroding away. He was leaning heavily on a crutch, his breath coming in broken wheezes as though his lungs were damaged. Jyn stared at him, a confused mix of love and fear, anger and terrible sadness churning in her breast. Saw had been everything to her, once upon a time. Her saviour, her hero, her mentor. Then, with no warning, he had left her behind with nothing but a knife and a loaded gun and the clothes on her back. It had broken her heart.

Now it was like looking at a stranger wearing a friend's face.

“Jyn,” he whispered. His voice had always been soft and a little rough, but now it rasped painfully. “Jyn, is that you?”

She willed her voice not to shake. “Must be a surprise, after all this time.”

Saw considered her, and his eyes were pained. “Are we not still friends?” he asked gently, and Jyn felt the question like a slap.

“You left me!” she exclaimed. “You left me in that bunker and told me to wait until daylight, and then ditched me!”

Saw’s crow dæmon shuffled her feet and made a soft, squawking noise. Aster bristled on Jyn’s shoulder. He had been a crow so often, growing up.

“Oh, child,” Saw whispered, stepping closer. “I was protecting you.”

Jyn almost laughed. “You abandoned me. I was sixteen, and you were all I had. And you left me.”

Saw shook his head looking disbelieving, as he so often did, that people didn’t see things the way he did. “You were the daughter of a Magisterium theologian, Jyn! People were starting to put it together, to talk about using you as a hostage. I couldn’t let that happen. I think about you, Jyn, every day I think about you…”

“You could have told me.”

“Ah, Jyn. You remind me so much of her, you know.”

She did know. People said that Saw had never been the same after the loss of his sister, a woman Jyn had never met, but he had spoken of her often. He had told Jyn so many times that she was like Steela, and Jyn had liked that idea. In Saw’s tales Steela was strong, and fierce, and brave.

“This is a trap, is it not?”

Jyn stared at him. “What?”

“This. Today. The aeronaut, the message, all of it. Have they sent you? Are you here to kill me, Jyn?”

She stared up into his sad, broken eyes, barely an ember of his old defiance left to him. When had Saw broken, she wondered. “The Alliance wants my father, and the message he’s sent. They think he’s building a weapon.” She shrugged. “I guess they hope you’ll co-operate with me, if you won’t with them.”

“And what do you want?”

I want my father back, she wanted to tell him. I want him back so much I can almost taste it. She wouldn’t hand that to knowledge to Saw. “I want out,” she said instead, tilting her chin up. “They’ve dragged me on this mad ride, and I’ll get them their message, then I want to get back to my life. I’m done.”

The disappointment on his face was terrible. His dæmon spread her wings with a rough caw. “Do you not care what they do, Jyn?”

“You know what? The Magisterium, the alliance, all of it – all any of it has ever done is bring me pain and grief. I’m done, Saw. I just need that message.”

He heaved a gusty sigh and nodded. “Come with me,” he said, and stumped away down another cave passage, leaning heavily on a crutch.


Jyn hung back as Saw fiddled with the ordinator, typing in passwords and encryption keys. She felt strangely nervous: her father’s message was here, the first she’d heard from him since she was a child. She folded her arms to keep from fidgeting, and Aster pressed himself to her neck.

“Here,” said Saw, loading up a video file from a small flash drive. “This is what he sent.”

Jyn couldn’t stop the small gasp in her throat as a video of her father loaded. She drank in the sight of him, all the new grey in his hair, the lines on his face. His alpine chough dæmon was in her customary place on his shoulder. He looked so tired, so much older than she had imagined him.

“Saw,” he began, and Jyn’s chest constricted at the sound of his beloved voice. “If you’re watching this, perhaps we have a chance to stop what’s coming. Perhaps I have a chance to explain myself and… though I don’t hope for it, maybe there’s a chance for Jyn, if she’s alive.” The sound of her name in his mouth was agony, and Jyn stepped closer, unable to stop herself. “Saw, if you can find her, if you can tell her… tell her my love for her has never faded. I have missed her, missed her so desperately.” He stopped for a moment, as though gathering himself. His dæmon murmured something, too soft for the video to catch, and he nodded.

“Jyn,” he began again, “my Stardust. I can’t imagine what you have thought, all these years. That I was dead, perhaps. I hope that you never thought that I had abandoned you. When they told me about your mother I… I despaired, but I could only hope that you had been hidden well enough that they could not take you too. Sometimes I think you must be dead. My very worst fear was that they would find you, Jyn. I knew that if I refused to work for them, if I took my own life, Krennic would soon realise that they did not need me, that the project could be completed without me. So I lied. I had to learn how to lie, how to play the part of the beaten man. I made myself indispensable for their project.”

A slow rumbling noise seemed to start under their feet. Jyn barely noticed, too transfixed by her father's face. She didn't dare look away, wanting to commit every moment to memory. Her eyes stung with unshed tears and she held Aster tight against her heart.

“The weapon is… it is terrible. Unspeakably terrible. Rusakov particles have always been so beautiful to me: they should be about love and learning and connection. But they have become something ugly and dreadful. They can be used to destroy entire cities, to kill millions, to unleash horrors, and that is what the weapon is. And it is almost complete. I have placed a weakness in the system, deep inside, in the hope that it can be destroyed. Jyn—” her father's voice shook a little, and his dæmon made a small sound of pain. “Jyn, my Stardust, I love you so much. I think of you, always, the only good thing in my wasted life.” He broke off, seemed to draw in a breath. “There is a reactor, Saw, that channels the energy they create. It is unstable, and if it can be destroyed the whole thing should explode.”

Dust and small stones shook from the ceiling, showering over Jyn and Saw. The sound of panicked movement and loud voices filtered in from outside, and the image on the screen flickered, the sound distorting.

“The Magisterium can travel between worlds. That is where they have me, that is where the bomb is held. It does not need to be placed, does not need to be moved; it can trigger anywhere, in any world. There is a window through though, though it is heavily guarded. You must find a way, Saw. There may be other windows – find a window, find the plans... the witches—”

The cave shook so violently that Jyn almost staggered and fell. The video glitched, the screen went dark.

“No!” There was more to the video, there had to be.

“Jyn!” Suddenly Cassian was there, seizing her arm. Jyn couldn't take her eyes from the dark screen. Her father was in another world. It was hopeless, how could she ever hope to save him?

“Jyn, we have to go! I know where your father is, come on!” Cassian pulled at her. The rumbling sound was getting louder. What was happening?

“Go with him, Jyn,” Saw rasped. “You have to go. Find the window.”

She turned to Saw, looked up into his tired eyes. Despite everything, she could not bear to lose him again. “Come with us.”

Saw shook his head. His dæmon made a soft noise. “I can run no more, Jyn.” He grasped her shoulders, his gaze intent. “Hear this, my child: there is a Knife. The Magisterium must have it. Find it, take it from them, and you can find your father.”

“Come on!” Cassian dragged her after him, stumbling on the shaking, heaving ground.

“Saw, please! Save yourself!”

He wouldn't move and she had to turn, run with Cassian, angry tears on her face.

“Go!” she heard Saw cry behind her as they fled. “Save the dream!”


Cassian

The rumbling started so softly as to be almost imperceptible. Dust drifted from the ceiling, and Chirrut's gecko dæmon flicked her tongue.

“Something has happened,” she said, and Chirrut frowned. Cassian, gazing out of the cell window, saw a frisson of worry pass through their guards. One of them stood up and left, as though to see what was going on.

The ground shuddered, sending Cassian stumbling into the wall. Behind him, Baze muttered some sort of curse. The worry outside was turning to panic; the first guard came back, yelled, “We gotta move! Now!”

“What about them?” One of the guards jerked their thumb at the cells.

“You want to die ‘cause of them? Be my guest.”

They all ran.

Another, more violent tremor rocked the earth, and a huge crack splintered across the cave ceiling. The sudden, disconcerting earthquake had one benefit: as the ceiling began to collapse, so did the doorway. Soon Cassian and Baze were able to shove it open, and Cassian stumbled out into the main cave. He heard Chirrut actually laugh.

“Yes!” the monk exclaimed behind him. “Yes, yes! I told you, Baze, you just need to have faith-”

“Move!” Baze growled, seizing his friend by the front of his robes and yanking him out of the cell.

Where was Jyn? They needed to find her and get out of here, fast.

“Get the aeronaut,” Cassian told Baze, who had begun sorting through the pile of weaponry. “We need him.”

Baze grunted, picking up the enormous pistol he'd wielded earlier. “Right, I'll get the aeronaut,” he growled, and shot the hinge from the second cell door. One well-placed kick from his boot knocked it down, revealing the aeronaut cowering behind it, eyes wide and terrified, a hare dæmon clutched to his chest.

“We'll meet you,” Chirrut told Cassian. “Find our young friend, let us take care of transport.”

Baze picked up Chirrut's cane and threw it to him. Without turning his head the blind man snatched it out of the air.

“Cassian, we must find Jyn,” Rucía urged, and he nodded.

Jyn needed to be dragged away, but finally she cursed and followed them. Cassian pretended not to notice the tears on her face.

Now they ran, dodging rocks crashing from the ceiling, choking on dust, before they stumbled into too-bright sunlight. Their companions were waiting by the van they had arrived in: Baze, it seemed, had some handy hot-wiring skills. He, Chirrut and the aeronaut were all staring out at the horizon as though carved from stone.

In the distance, Nijedha should have loomed over the mesa. Now there was an enormous cloud of dust and rocks, billowing hundreds of feet into the air. The city was gone.

The Magisterium had used its weapon. They were too late.

There was no time to think about that now. “We're here!” Cassian yelled, and the aeronaut spun around, horror in his face. “Go, go, go!” The three of them piled into the back of the van and slammed the door across.

Cassian bent and scooped Rucía into his arms and leapt into the driver's seat, as Jyn raced round to the passenger side. The dust cloud that had been Nijedha was getting closer, the ground cracking alarmingly under their wheels as Cassian put the van into gear and gunned the accelerator. Come on, come on, come on, he thought desperately, pushing the van as hard as he could; he knew their chances of escape were close to nil, but if they could get to the aerodock, just get to the plane…

“Cassian!” Jyn yelled suddenly. “Cassian, the plane!”

And he saw it. There, waiting in the desert like a magnificent mirage, was their plane.

“Thank you, Kay!” Rucía exclaimed from her awkward position around Cassian's shoulders.

“Thank you GPS trackers,” Cassian replied. The other agent must have realised something was happening and come to try and get to them. He floored it, the van's engine whining and roaring. The plane grew closer, and now he could see Kay in the doorway, watching for them.

They screeched to a halt and Jyn flung open her door before they’d even fully stopped. She grabbed the side door and dragged it across. “Come on,” she gasped to the others. “Into the plane, quick!” The wave of destruction was heading towards them with a hideous, deafening roar.

“Get a move on!” Kay yelled, his beetle dæmon buzzing frantically around his head. “We seem to have lost the damn horizon!”

Cassian and Rucia practically leapt up the stairs into the plane, Jyn and the aeronaut just behind them.

“You are a lifesaver,” Cassian gasped, practically shoving Kay back into the cockpit as Baze guided Chirrut up into the plane.

“Not yet I'm not,” Kay said crisply. “Thank me when I've got you and your new strays in the air. Quite frankly, I don't fancy our chances.”

Cassian watched in mounting horror as the wall of dust and debris swept across the mesa, swallowing everything in its path. The little plane picked up speed, bouncing and pitching as the ground underneath it split and collapsed.

With one final, desperate burst of power, the plane shot forward and leapt into the sky.

Looking down, Cassian could finally see how enormous the scale of destruction was. Nijedha just… wasn't there any more. The cliff, the ground, all of it was cracking and crumbling away and… falling. At the epicentre of the blast, at Nijedha itself, it was like an enormous sinkhole had opened up, everything collapsing and sliding into nothingness. And it was nothingness, just an empty blackness like the deepest depths of the night sky.

“What's happening?” whispered Rucía, horrified.

“This is what the weapon does,” said Cassian numbly, unable to comprehend what he was seeing. “This is what we need to stop.”

He felt Kay glance at him, but was relieved when all he said was, “We need to contact headquarters. We won't make it to London; we have enough fuel for maybe ten hours, at best.”

Cassian nodded, suddenly deeply, desperately weary.

“I'll make the call,” he said.

Beneath them, Nijedha fell, crumbling, into the void.

Chapter Text

Jyn

What had once been the ancient city of Nijedha was now a faint speck below them, the yawning abyss reduced to a small pinhole in the topography. Jyn couldn't look away. Saw's broken, desperate face kept swimming in her mind's eye. She had lost him, she had failed him.

There is a knife… go, child. Save the dream.

Her father was alive, and a prisoner in another world. He had helped the Magisterium do this, helped them build this… this thing that had just obliterated an entire city. But there was a fault, buried deep inside. A tiny shard of hope.

Finally Jyn tore her eyes from the airplane window and stood, unable to sit still. She paced the width of the cabin, her hands shaking. Aster tugged at her hair with his beak, trying to distract and comfort her.

Cassian was lurking in the galley, making a call to the Alliance headquarters. She hoped his Alliance had some sort of plan, somewhere they could go. Would they want her along now that she had the message, or had she served her purpose? She had meant what she said to Saw, but she knew staying with the Alliance was her best chance of getting to her father. And, though she hated to admit it to herself, she didn't want someone else to just leave. Cassian had come back for her, pulled her out of the caves, and she didn't want him to disappear just yet.

Three others were in the cabin with her: Chirrut Îmwe and his friend, and another man, who must be the aeronaut. The one who had brought her father’s message. He was huddled in the front row of seats, holding his hare dæmon tight. Chirrut's friend was staring out of the window a few rows behind, his face pale and haunted. His dæmon had finally made an appearance, and her form was a little surprising; a small hedgehog huddled in his palm, staring out of the window with him. Jyn had expected something like a scorpion, or a poisonous snake, something dangerous for this scarred, intimidating figure.

Chirrut sat a few seats along, clutching his cane in a white-knuckled grip. “Baze, tell me,” he demanded. “All of it? The whole city? Tell me.”

Baze looked at him, agony in his eyes. In his hand his hedgehog dæmon curled herself into a ball. “All of it,” he said with a terrible finality. Chirrut closed his eyes and leant his forehead against the top of his cane.

Feeling like she was intruding on their private grief, Jyn crossed to the man with the hare dæmon. “Are you the aeronaut?” she asked. The man was a similar age to her, his eyes wide and scared. His dæmon hid her face against his chest.

“I-I – yes,” his voice shook, and he nodded, eyes glancing at Jyn and away again. “I'm the aeronaut, I brought the message.” He looked back at her, something naked and vulnerable in his expression. “Are you her? Are you Galen's daughter?”

Not quite trusting her voice, Jyn nodded. The aeronaut almost smiled.

“I can tell. You - you look like him. In the eyes. I’m Bodhi - Bodhi Rook. And this is Aliya.”

“Thank you,” she managed. “For bringing the message. You know my father?”

Bodhi nodded. “Yes, a little. He told me that I could do some good, could get right with myself, you know? If I was brave enough, if I followed what I knew was right. He said I could do something about it.” His eyes darkened. “I guess it was too late.”

I have placed a weakness in the system… if it can be destroyed…

“It’s not too late,” she said, holding to her father’s words, trying to sound certain.

Further down the cabin Baze lifted his shaggy head. “Seems pretty late to me,” he said dully.

“No.” Her father was risking his life for this, Bodhi had risked his life for this. “No, we can beat them. I saw my father’s message, and there’s a way to destroy this weapon. And the Magisterium has no idea.”

“But he built it.” Cassian had joined them, leaning against the entrance to the cabin with his arms folded. “He helped them build it, and now they’ve used it. Thousands of people are dead.”

Jyn glared at him. “Yes, he built it. Because he knew they’d do it without him. He’s rigged a trap inside, sacrificed himself for your cause. That’s why he sent Bodhi, to bring that message.”

“And where is it?” Cassian asked, his dæmon’s tail lashing. “Do you have the message?”

It was like a blow. I should have grabbed that datastick, she thought furiously. Now she had no evidence. “Everything happened so fast,” she said, but it sounded like a weak excuse.

“Did you see it?” he pushed, and anger simmered in Jyn’s gut. How dare he? After everything he’d dragged her through, he was going to call her a liar?

“It’s the truth,” she snapped.

“I believe her,” said Chirrut from behind them, his voice soft. Baze grunted, which might have been agreement. Jyn’s heart rose slightly. They didn’t blame her, even though it was their home that was lost. Cassian looked unconvinced.

“We need to tell your Alliance,” she said.

“And we will.” Cassian turned back to the galley. “I just contacted them - we’re heading to our base in Norroway. Everyone should get some rest.”

He left, only the stoop of his shoulders suggesting any exhaustion. Feeling wrung out and defensive, Jyn turned back to Bodhi.

“My father said he was in another world. Do you know how to find it?”

Bodhi bit his lip. “There's a window,” he said softly. “Getting through it… it may be impossible. You have to find it, like a small space in the air that doesn't fit, and it's guarded. Not by men, not by people who can be tricked…” He swallowed, trailing off.

“Do you know anything about a knife?”

Bodhi shook his head, looking a little bewildered. “No. No, Galen never mentioned a knife. I'm sorry.”

She sighed and sat down in the seats across the aisle from Bodhi. Further back in the cabin Baze and Chirrut were talking quietly in Cathay, their heads close together. Jyn felt oddly guilty for dragging them into this mess. Why had they risked themselves to save her and Cassian? And yet, she knew, both men would be dead otherwise, wiped out along with their entire city. It was cold comfort.

Jyn felt as though she were holding several different puzzle pieces in her hand, but none of them fit together. There must be a key somewhere in all this, she just had to find it.


Baze

The plane was silent after the disagreement between Jyn and Cassian, everyone lost in their own thoughts. Baze couldn’t shake the image of what had happened from his mind, nor could he stop thinking about those who had been lost: poor, sick Killi; Dobias, who had always sold them such subpar food; Steya and Tok, who had taken in so many in need of a bed and a roof. They were all dead. Why had the alethiometer not warned Chirrut about this?

Chirrut’s whispered prayers had died down and now he was hunched over in his seat, clutching his cane, his face drawn and pained. Baze wanted nothing more than to hold him, kiss him, and try to lessen some of his grief, but they were trapped with four complete strangers. They had lived in secrecy for twenty-five years, ever since they had been cast out from the Temple, and fear of discovery had become second nature to Baze. Zin made a small, pained sound where she was huddled in his lap.

He picked her up and shifted into the seat beside Chirrut, pressed their shoulders together. Chirrut was shivering slightly, faint tremors running under his skin, and Baze’s heart broke a little further. With a quick glance to check that neither Jyn nor Bodhi were paying any attention, he gently pulled one of Chirrut’s hands from his cane and wrapped it in both of his own. Chirrut's fingers were freezing, and Baze suspected that he was in some state of shock.

“Here,” he rumbled, releasing his hand and unwrapping the scarf he wore to fend off Nijedha’s harsh winds. He wound it around Chirrut, tucking it close around him. Chirrut let out a soft sigh, leaning back into Baze’s shoulder. Their dæmons both crept onto the chair arm between them, curling up together. Zin nuzzled at Shyli, an acceptable intimacy.

“I’m fine, stop fussing,” Chirrut muttered, slipping back into Cathay. “How long until we reach Norroway?” He had never been on a plane before, had never even left Nijedha, never mind the country.

“Eight, nine hours, perhaps? You should rest.”

“So should you.”

Baze shook his head. “Later.”

Chirrut laughed softly, though there was no humour in it. “These people are on our side, Baze. You do not need to keep watch.”

“They are against the Magisterium. I don’t know if that means we are on the same side.”

“Always so paranoid.”

“Can you blame me?”

Chirrut sighed. “I suppose not. But the alethiometer told me to follow Jyn. We must trust her.”

Baze bit back all the things he could say in response. It told you there was hope. It didn’t tell you we’d lose everything and everyone. It didn’t tell you that we would be the very last. If he said those words, all he would do was hurt Chirrut, and Baze would never hurt Chirrut again if he could help it.

It used to be that he would do anything in his power to make Chirrut happy, to make him smile with all his gums and teeth, his face bright and lovely. Now, all he could do was try to protect him from more pain.

Chirrut took his hand again, heedless of the presence of others. “I know you cannot have faith, my heart,” he murmured, “but please try to have hope.”


Cassian

Somehow, miraculously, he dozed for a few hours in the co-pilot seat. When he woke he filled Kay in on what had happened in Nijedha, as much as he could.

“So we now have not only a Magisterium defector in our care, but two refugees from an outlawed religion?” Kay asked.

Cassian shrugged. “We wouldn't have got out of there if it weren't for them. They're the only survivors of Nijedha, I'm sure Mothma and Draven will want to talk to them.” He stretched his arms over his head, working out a kink in his neck. His mouth felt dry as the desert. “Let me take over, you should have a break.”

Kay snorted. “I'm not the one that was almost blown up. I think I'm the safest one to fly right now.”

They sat in silence for a while, each lost in their thoughts. Cassian stroked Rucía's back in a slow rhythm, trying to ground himself. Every time he closed his eyes he could see Nijedha collapsing into nothingness, the great yawning abyss opening in the earth. He had seen many terrible things in his life, done many terrible things, but he had never seen anything so appalling as the total destruction of the ancient city.

Why target Nijedha? He wondered. They had already ruined the temple, had clearly driven the city close to social and economic collapse. Why destroy it? Because of Saw Gerrera and his insurgents? Because they knew the aeronaut was there, with sensitive information? Did they know that Galen Erso had released a message to them?

“We must assume that they know everything,” said Kay, as though reading Cassian's thoughts. “You say Dr Erso is in another world?”

“Apparently so.”

“Interesting. Barnard and Stokes were right.”

“Who?”

“The early experimental theologians. They theorised that our world was just one of many, and they were… well. Silenced.”

“That's all very well, but did they explain how to get to other worlds? The aeronaut says he knows the entrance, but it's guarded and impassable. How do we even start?”

“Our chances of success are miniscule,” said Kay.

“Thanks for that.”

“But we still start with what we know. We speak to Mothma and Draven. We pool our knowledge and resources. Then we do the best we can.”

It was probably the most positive thing Cassian had ever heard from Kay, and somehow his spirits lifted a little. “The best we can,” he repeated. “And hope for the best.”

There was a pause.

“I’m still not very optimistic about our odds,” said Kay.

That was more like it.


Bodhi

He slept on-and-off, dozing for a few minutes and then jerking awake in sudden panic, never quite sure where he was. Aliya pressed herself close and nuzzled his cheek to soothe him.

“We're okay,” she'd murmur each time. “We're okay, we're safe.”

His ribs hurt, his shoulder hurt, his left leg hurt, but all of it paled in comparison to the deep ache in his heart from having Aliya held away from him for so long. It was like a fracture in his soul. He had to feel her against him to remind himself that she was still there. He thought of the Troopers, the Magisterium's special soldiers who had no dæmons, and shuddered.

Jyn was lying across three seats in the next aisle, her little bird dæmon on the arm rest by her head. Bodhi didn't think she was asleep; he could see her fidgeting with something that hung around her neck. Galen's daughter! He could scarcely believe he'd found her. It had been almost a surprise to find out that she was a grown woman; Galen had told him so much about her that he had almost expected to find a ten year old girl. He could see some of Galen in her, in the intensity of her gaze, the determined set of her jaw.

“I know you can do this, Bodhi,” Galen had said. “You are a good man, a brave man. Hold to your heart, and you will find your way.” He had put both hands on Bodhi's shoulders, his grip firm and warm. His dæmon had nipped at Aliya's ears with her beak before flapping back to Galen's shoulder. The contact had been fleeting, both of them afraid their plans would be discovered, but it had been better than the tightest embrace.

I've found her, Galen, Bodhi thought. She's alive. I'll get her back to you if I can, I promise.

He hoped the Alliance would believe his story. These people all seemed to, even the terrifying man who had threatened to kill him back in the cells. He didn't seem so frightening now: it was hard to be too intimidated by someone with a hedgehog for a dæmon. His blind friend was odd, but he had given Bodhi an encouraging smile and pat on the shoulder as they'd made their escape from the caves. “Have faith, young messenger,” he'd said, far too cheerful for someone running for their life. “Dust will guide us.”

The two of them were talking softly in their own language, leaning close together. Hot guilt bubbled in Bodhi's stomach: he had been too late, and because of that they had lost their home.

“Not our fault,” Aliya whispered fiercely. “It’s them who did this. We did our best, just like Galen asked. We can stop it happening again.”

She was right, just as she always was. “We'll stop it,” he promised. “We have to.”


Jyn

They finally reached the safehouse in northern Norroway, hidden up a long, muddy track reached only by two 4x4s. Grief, anxiety and just plain exhaustion were beginning to overwhelm Jyn, and she could see she wasn’t the only one; even Kay seemed tired, his stooped posture slumping even further.

They were escorted into the safehouse by the two agents who had met them from the plane. The house looked huge in the darkness, built of sturdy white wood. The six of them stumbled wearily to the door, Cassian and Kay in the lead. Chirrut was holding Baze’s arm, looking much less sure of his footing than he had in Nijedha. The interior of the house seemed almost homely, with wood-panelled walls and large, airy rooms. Everyone but Cassian and Kay were told to leave their weapons at the door, which Baze did with extreme reluctance. They were then led into a kitchen, where two people were sitting at the long, wooden table. One of them was Mon Mothma, her snowy owl dæmon perched high on a dresser and surveying the room. The other was a man, with a broad face, receding hairline, and calculating eyes. His dæmon was a brown monkey, her face fringed in white.

When they had all been ushered into the room, Mothma and the man both stood.

“Agent Andor, Agent Tuesso,” Mothma said by way of greeting. “I am very glad that you’ve returned safely. Same to you, Ms Erso.”

Jyn gave a terse nod, and Aster ruffled his feathers.

“This,” Mothma indicated the other man, “is Davits Draven. He is in charge of the mission to find your father, Ms Erso.” Draven did not offer any sign of greeting, though his monkey dæmon was gazing at Jyn with disconcerting intensity.

“I know you have all had a traumatic day, but I’m afraid we must discuss matters before you rest,” Mothma continued. “Decisions must be made. We would like to speak to all of you individually, please.”

The next few hours passed like some sort of horrible dream. Mothma and Draven interviewed each of them about what they had seen in Nijedha, beginning with Cassian and Kay. Cassian returned from his interview looking wan and haunted, and he refused to meet Jyn’s eyes. Instead he slumped into an armchair and closed his eyes, his dæmon in his lap. She gritted her teeth, still nursing her earlier anger towards him. Had he told Mothma that her father was a traitor, that she was a liar? She shouldn’t have saved him from those soldiers, she should have just looked out for herself.

Bodhi sat beside Jyn on the leather sofa as they waited their turn, and Jyn could feel him shaking. He still hadn’t let go of his dæmon.

“They aren’t going to hurt you,” Kay told him bluntly, and Bodhi flinched.

“What?”

“If you want to defect. They won’t hurt you. Give them the information you have and prove yourself a valuable asset.”

Bodhi snorted a little. “You’re one of them. You would say that.”

“I was not always one of them,” Kay retorted, leaning back in his armchair and crossing his long legs at the ankles. “Like you, I defected.”

That surprised both Bodhi and Jyn. “You were with the Magisterium?” Jyn asked. And he'd had the cheek to question her loyalty!

“Certainly. I did not especially enjoy the work, nor did I agree with their aims, so when Cassian offered to bring me over I accepted.” Kay was the picture of calm indifference, but his dæmon’s antennae were twitching. “You will, of course, be questioned a great deal – the Alliance cannot risk a mole – but they are fair. And if your information can lead us to Dr Erso then so much the better.”

Bodhi did not look comforted, though he went off to his own interview with a determined set to his face. Baze and Chirrut returned – having refused to be interviewed separately – and sat in silence, though their dæmons huddled together beneath the sofa and talked in an undertone.

“We really should learn Cathay,” Kay’s dæmon said. She had a very small voice. Kay made a noise of agreement.

“Do you still not trust me?” Jyn asked him, trying to sound careless.

Kay considered her for a moment, then sighed and pushed his glasses up his nose. “I do not trust easily, Jyn Erso,” he said simply. “Surely you can understand that.”

She could, but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of agreement. “I saved Cassian’s life,” she said instead. “With that gun you didn’t want me to have.”

“So he told me.”

“And that doesn’t mean anything?”

“Oh, it does. But I also think that, given the choice between saving your father and handing us over, the odds are still heavily in favour of your family ties.”

“My father is working against the Magisterium. He would never want me to jeopardise the Alliance like that.”

“No, perhaps not. But if it came to it, Jyn Erso, would you let him die? I don’t believe so.”

Jyn had no answer to that. She folded her arms and sat back on the sofa, confused and exhausted. Aster was falling asleep on her shoulder.

Later, she could barely remember any of her own interview. Her head was swimming, and though Mothma seemed almost supportive the new man, Draven, was brusque and sharp. It was clear that he did not remotely trust her.

“What sort of weakness, Ms Erso?”

“I don’t know!” How many times had she told them that? “A flaw, he said, and one direct hit to it would explode the whole thing. The plans would tell you—”

“And where are the plans? Are they also in another world?” There was a sarcastic edge to Draven’s voice that raised Jyn’s hackles.

“The aeronaut, Bodhi, he can show us how to get there.”

“Forgive me, Ms Erso, but this seems to be a clear Magisterium trap, luring us into their territory.”

Mothma frowned. “The existence of other worlds is, as I understand it, theologically sound.”

Jyn shrugged. “My father said it was, but I’m not an experimental theologian. All I can tell you is what his message said. You want the details, your best bet is to rescue him.”

Draven’s monkey dæmon made a disapproving noise. “Ms Erso, do not make the mistake of thinking you have an official position in the Alliance.”

“I don’t want an official bloody position!” she snapped. Aster was shifting from foot to foot in agitation on her shoulder. “I want to find my father, and I want to help stop that thing doing any more damage.”

Mothma and Draven exchanged glances. Mothma sighed. “We are considering attempting an extraction of Galen Erso. We will confirm our decision on this tomorrow morning. I cannot guarantee that you will be authorised to accompany our agents.”

Jyn bristled. “You sent me into one warzone already,” she pointed out.

“Yes, and we don’t wish to make a habit of sending civilians into warzones.” Mothma stood up, a clear dismissal. “Is there anything else you learned from your father’s message, Ms Erso? Or from Saw Gerrera?”

There is a Knife, child.

Jyn shook her head.


Bodhi

The safehouse contained three twin bedrooms and two bathrooms, so once the Alliance leaders had left everybody’s first priority was to wash and sleep. The two agents who had escorted them from the aerodock lurked in the hallway, their dæmons alert and watchful. Bodhi was utterly exhausted, an ache pounding in his skull, but he still wasn’t sure he’d be able to sleep. Adrenaline still seemed to be coursing through his body, making him feel even more nervy and anxious. The Alliance leaders hadn’t slapped him in cuffs or hauled him off for private interrogation, which he supposed was a good thing, but their questioning had still left him feeling raw. He had tried to stay calm, to meet their eyes, to tell them everything he knew, but he still saw suspicion in their faces.

“Bodhi? You okay?”

He jumped, looking up into Jyn’s face. Her eyes really were just like Galen’s, he thought with a pang.

“Yeah, I – yeah. Just…”

“Fucking knackered?”

He laughed a little. “Yeah, something like that.”

“Here,” she handed him a small pile of clothes and a towel. “No idea if they’ll fit you, but they looked about right. The Alliance doesn’t really go for fashionable, it looks like.”

Anything would be better than the Magisterium jacket, he supposed. “So long as it’s not something I’ve been wearing for three days straight I’ll consider it an improvement.”

Her mouth quirked, another thing that reminded him desperately of Galen. “I think you’ve drawn the short straw on sleeping arrangements, by the way.”

“What?”

“You have to share with Kay. Though I’m not sure if he sleeps. Perhaps he just plugs himself into the wall.”

A flare of panic surfaced at the idea of sleeping in the same room as a total stranger. He thought he’d prefer it if it were Jyn, rather than one of the agents. She seemed to read his thoughts.

“We’re the highest risk for them,” she pointed out. “So they want an agent with each of us. I guess the other two agents will be on guard all night.”

He supposed that made sense. Aliya nudged his hand reassuringly.

“What do you think will happen?” he asked.

Jyn shrugged, her face suddenly taut. “I don’t know. I want to find my father. I’ve come this far, I don’t want to abandon him now.”

“Me too,” said Bodhi softly. “He’s a good man, a brave man. I want to help him.”

The small half smile appeared on her face again, and her dæmon made a little chirruping noise. “I didn’t even know he was alive until a few days ago,” she said. “Until I found out about your message. Thank you.”

On sudden instinct Bodhi reached out, grasped her hand. “We’ll help him,” he told her, meeting her eyes properly for the first time. “We will.”


Chirrut

Chirrut sat cross-legged on the bed, waiting for Baze to return. The new clothes felt very strange, and he wished he had his old robes back.

It was easier to think about his robes than to think about his city.

“We can’t wear robes if we go with Jyn,” Shyli pointed out reasonably. “And we definitely can’t wear them if we have to go back to Cathay.”

She was right, of course, but he didn’t like it. He wished Baze would hurry up with his shower; the whole day had left him feeling extremely disoriented. Nothing was familiar, he had no sense of the space, he had no idea what time it was, and underneath everything was the new rawness of grief. He didn’t want to look at it too closely yet, the wound still too fresh. He wanted to ask the alethiometer for guidance, but it was too risky to take it out without Baze to keep watch. There were so many questions he needed to ask: what had happened to Nijedha, how could they find this window, who should they trust, what should they do next? How could they stop this happening again?

“What do you think we should do?” he asked his dæmon.

“The alethiometer told us to follow Jyn,” she said. “And that saved us.” She paused, then crept to his shoulder, pressing herself to his throat. “I don’t want to go back to Cathay, Chirrut. Where would we go? What would we do? I don’t want to hide any more.”

What indeed. The question was whether they would be able to follow Jyn: this Alliance didn’t seem especially willing to take on a pair of stray monks. And Chirrut was tired of hiding. He had spent all day wishing he could wrap Baze in his arms, even just hold his hand, but he wasn't yet certain if they could trust these people that far.

Finally the door creaked open and Baze came back, bringing a pleasant clean smell with him. Chirrut heard the click of the door lock, and the wooden floor creaked under Baze’s familiar tread. He was glad that the doors had locks; if they hadn’t, Baze would probably have insisted on sleeping in separate beds, and Chirrut very desperately needed to be close to him. The beds were only singles so it would be a tight fit, but they would manage somehow.

“Better?” he asked, and Baze sighed. The bed dipped as he sat down. Chirrut reached out to touch him immediately, running his fingers along Baze’s shoulder to his hair, slightly damp and freed from his usual braids.

“Meditating?” Baze asked instead of replying.

“No, just waiting for you. I wanted to do a reading, but not alone.”

The alethiometer was hidden under the pillow. Chirrut took it out and settled himself into his usual cross-legged position, Shyli crawling down to his wrist. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, trying to slip away from his exhaustion, his grief, his worry, to sink into that deep calm that let his senses join with Shyli’s. Just as they had that morning – or was it yesterday morning? – sitting in the beam of weak sunlight, listening to the chatter of passers-by in the street, Baze bustling around making tea, the faint voices from the nearby market—

Which was all gone.

“Chirrut?” Shyli said, and suddenly his chest felt tight, his deep calming breaths coming fast and sharp instead. Baze shifted beside him, and his hand settled on Chirrut’s shoulder.

“I can’t,” he whispered. “I can’t do it, I—” To his surprise and shame, hot tears burnt his eyes. He rarely cried - it was usually Baze who was reduced to tears by the depth of his feelings - but the enormity of Nijedha’s loss suddenly seemed crushing. Levity was impossible, and even prayer did not seem like enough.

Chirrut.” Baze took the alethiometer from him with gentle hands, and pulled him into a tight embrace. The tears spilled over then, and Chirrut clung to Baze and buried his face in his broad shoulder. The shirt he was wearing was new and did not smell properly like Baze. “I’m here,” Baze said. Shyli went to Zin and pressed against her, and Chirrut felt the warmth of the little hedgehog dæmon against Shyli’s skin. Desperately, he pulled back from Baze enough to cup his face and press a bruising kiss to his mouth. He tasted of tears.

Baze tensed for a moment, clearly still afraid of discovery, but then he leant into the kiss. “Baze,” Chirrut whispered against his mouth. “Baze, my Baze—”

Then he felt something that he had felt only rarely, something that never failed to make his heart catch. Shyli had disentangled herself from Zin and had crawled up to Baze, onto his knee.

“Are you sure?” Baze asked softly, and Chirrut nodded just as Shyli said, “Please.”

Oh so gently Baze picked Shyli up. Chirrut couldn’t help but gasp at the feeling of Baze’s bare hands on his dæmon, on his very soul. Baze tugged him close again with one hand, leaning their foreheads together.

“Chirrut —”

It had been a long time since both of them had needed this level of closeness and comfort. Breathing fast from the sheer sensation of Baze’s hands cupped so tenderly and protectively around Shyli, Chirrut held out his palm on the bed. Zin nudged at his fingers, and Baze’s breath hitched. Chirrut ran his fingers over the soft fur of Zin’s head, traced her over-large ears which were so like her human’s, stroked her quills, then scooped her gently to his chest.

They didn’t talk. They didn’t need to. Chirrut closed his eyes and let himself get lost in the feeling, the feedback loop of love and intimacy that came from holding one another’s souls so close. He felt himself steadying, his breathing coming a little easier. Baze was weeping, in the still, silent way he so often had when he was overwhelmed.

Much later, when they were crammed together in the narrow bed, Chirrut pressed his face into Baze’s thick hair. “Don’t leave me.”

Baze made a tired, rumbling noise and kissed his shoulder. “Don’t be such a fool. I go where you go.”

Chapter Text

Cassian

The six of them gathered in the kitchen in the morning light. Sunrise had come early, rousing Cassian in the early hours. The days were lengthening, this far North; within a month the nights would be only a few hours long. If they travelled further North, they would soon begin to see less and less of the night until it was lost entirely.

Cassian felt as though he had barely slept, and he suspected the same was true of the others. He had lain awake for a long time, feeling very aware that Jyn’s shallow breathing from the next bed probably meant that she too was staring up at the ceiling. Still, he felt slightly more human than he had last night, and decisions had to be made, fast. He and Kay had had a brief, urgent meeting before the others had entered the kitchen, and he could see tension in his friend’s narrow face.

Jyn was avoiding his eyes. Cassian tried to ignore the hot bubble of guilt in his stomach. He had trusted her in Nijedha, she had saved his life when she had shot that Magisterium soldier, and for a brief time he had felt as though they were, well, a team. His accusation towards her father had brought all her walls up again. He gave himself a mental shake: he couldn’t focus on that, he had to keep pushing forward.

“We need to get to my father,” said Jyn, her voice leaving no room for dissent.

“I agree, but how exactly do we do that?” Cassian leant against the windowsill, coffee in hand. Rucía perched on the sill beside him. Jyn did look at him then, seemingly surprised by his agreement. “Bodhi?”

The aeronaut rubbed his face with one hand. He looked slightly better today, though he still had deep circles under his eyes. At least he was no longer holding to his dæmon like a lifeline. “I know the coordinates for the window, but I… I don’t know how we’d get through. It’s guarded.”

“We have infiltrated Magisterium security before,” Kay pointed out.

“No, it’s not guarded by humans.”

“Technology can be hacked—”

“No, no, it’s… it’s hard to explain.” Bodhi scrubbed a hand through his hair, his eyes a little wild.

“Try us,” Cassian suggested, trying to be gentle.

“They’re called spectres,” said Bodhi, and there was a dull horror in his voice. Baze looked confused.

“‘Spectres’,” he repeated, slowly. “I do not know that word.”

Guǐ?” suggested Chirrut. “Ghosts?”

“No, not ghosts, really. They’re… you can’t really see them, it’s like they’re made of air. But they’re-” Bodhi’s hands clenched almost convulsively. Cassian frowned: he and Kay had come across many different Magisterium security systems. Kay had worked on the things. He felt confident that he knew his way around most of them, and while it was nerve-wracking there wasn’t anything that should inspire this degree of dread. Whatever ‘spectres’ were, there must be a way past them.

They needed the aeronaut with them, but Cassian was starting to doubt that his nerves would hold up.

“They’re awful,” whispered his hare dæmon. “Whenever they get close to you, you feel so cold and hopeless. It’s like they suck out everything that’s good in the world.”

“Appropriate for the Magisterium.” Jyn gave a short, humourless laugh.

“If they are made of air, how can they hurt you?” Baze asked, but Bodhi shook his head desperately.

“They can’t be tricked, they can’t be fought, there’s no way past them without a guard of Troopers. We could try that, but if – if there’s another way…”

“What other way?” Cassian asked, frustrated. Infiltrating a guard of Troopers, those strange, dæmonless creatures, would be very tricky and not something he particularly wanted to chance. “This is the window, this is the way in. It’s not like we’re going to be able to find another window to this world, is it?”

“Ah, well, perhaps…” Chirrut spoke, then immediately trailed off. Baze shot him a startled look.

Bì zuǐ,” he hissed. Cassian didn’t speak much Cathay, but he could recognise a “shut the hell up” when he heard one.

They had a quick, sharp exchange in their own language, which Chirrut seemed to win. Baze’s hedgehog dæmon curled herself up and the big man sat back with his arms folded, looking worried.

“Excuse me,” said Chirrut smoothly. “I may be able to help.”

Jyn and Cassian exchanged puzzled glances, and Kay said, “Unless you have a map of windows to other worlds, I fail to see what could help.”

With an enigmatic smile, the blind man stood and disappeared down the corridor to the bedrooms, cane tapping against the wooden floor. He returned with a small leather satchel, from which he pulled something like a small, golden clock, or a large compass.

Jyn’s nightingale leapt into the air, wings fluttering madly.

“Fuck me,” she whispered.

Cassian exchanged a slightly puzzled glance with Kay, and Rucía leapt lightly to the kitchen table for a closer look at the object. It was vaguely familiar. Bodhi looked extremely confused. No one other than Jyn seemed to really know what they were looking at.

“That can’t be real,” she said, shifting her chair closer to Chirrut’s to look over his shoulder. “It can’t be. There’s only two left in the whole world. The Berlin Academy have one, and Dr Belacqua’s is at Jordan College…”

The instrument gleamed in Chirrut’s hands. One slender needle swung gently from side to side, sweeping past the beautiful, delicate symbols inscribed around its face.

Baze’s dæmon uncurled enough to peer at Jyn with one bright eye. “Only two!” She snickered a little. “The West really think they have everything.” Baze snorted in response.

“People believe there are only two,” said Chirrut peaceably. “Jyn, you know we are Guardians. What do you think we were guarding?”

“You’re doing a very bad job,” Baze grumbled. “All our lives we’ve kept this secret, and now you are just showing everybody.”

Jyn’s eyes were wide, and her dæmon seemed to be trembling. “It can’t be real,” he said stubbornly. “There’s loads of fakes out there.”

“Even if it is real, how can it help us? I guess we can download the Books of Reading, but it could take days to decipher the answer, and even then it might be totally wrong,” Jyn replied.

“Excuse me,” said Kay, “but could somebody explain this? Is this instrument what is called an alethiometer?”

“It certainly is,” said Chirrut. “It has been in the care of the Temple of Dust for a very long time. When the Magisterium destroyed the Temple, Baze and I managed to save it and keep it from them. I would ask all of you to please keep this knowledge between us.”

Cassian took a seat at the table and peered at the alethiometer in Chirrut’s hands. It really was beautiful. He knew vaguely that an alethiometer was a truth teller, that it used symbols to communicate answers to questions. If it was real, it was definitely something to be kept away from the Magisterium. An entire religious order had existed to protect it – and had perhaps been wiped out in an attempt to find it.

“I thought they were stories,” said Bodhi, leaning forward and looking interested. “Does it actually work? It can tell you the truth about anything?”

“It can if you know how to read it,” said Chirrut.

“Can you?” asked Cassian, trying not to sound too doubtful.

Jyn almost laughed. “Of course he can’t, no one can, not since Doctor Bel-”

“Actually, we can read it,” said Chirrut’s gecko dæmon, sounding a little offended. “We aren’t as good as Lyra Belacqua, but it works for us. It told us to follow you, and to find Bodhi. This morning it told us to trust you, to tell you that we had it.”

“Aren’t you blind?” Kay asked, blunt as ever. “How does that work?”

Baze made a rumbling sound in his chest that might have been amusement.

“We can prove it, if you like,” said Chirrut. “I know it’s a rather unusual skill. I can look up something about you that I don’t know.”

There was a silence. “It doesn’t have to be a big, dark secret,” said Chirrut. “I don’t wish to pry. Just something I couldn’t know – which, surely, could be most things.”

“Alright,” said Cassian, curiosity getting the better of him. “I’ll bite. What was my father’s dæmon?” He never spoke about his parents, and he was fairly certain that most records had been redacted.

“Ah, a nice simple one. Alright, everyone be quiet please.”

Cassian watched, sceptical. Their dæmons, even Bodhi’s nervous hare, all settled on the table to get a better view. They fell silent, watching Chirrut sit with his eyes closed, hands clasped loosely around the alethiometer, seemingly doing nothing but breathing. Then he began to click the alethiometer’s three dials, moving the three shorter hands to different symbols for his question: the bird, Cassian saw, the wild man, the helmet. What those could mean he had not the faintest idea, but as soon as the third hand clicked into place, the long needle began to move, no longer swinging vaguely but with purpose, touching on different symbols in a pattern he could not follow. Chirrut still had his eyes closed, his brow furrowed in concentration, but his dæmon’s gaze followed the needle. Cassian realised that they must be sharing senses, Chirrut seeing through his dæmon’s eyes.

Everyone watched in expectant silence.

After a few minutes, Chirrut drew in a deep breath and his pale eyes flickered open. He seemed a little disoriented and reached to the side, grasping Baze’s arm as though to steady himself. His dæmon looked at Cassian.

“A wild dog,” she said. “Perhaps a coyote, or similar? And his dæmon was male.”

Shock hit Cassian like a blow. “That’s right,” he said. “He was a dhole, a kind of wild dog.”

“Ah,” said Chirrut, thoughtfully. “I knew coyote wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t see it exactly.”

“Happy?” Baze said grumpily. “Giving everything away like it’s new year?”

Chirrut patted him on the arm. “It told me to trust them, Baze. With everything.”

Jyn’s eyes were shining. “But this is amazing!” she exclaimed. “This is it! The alethiometer can tell us how to get through the window!”

“I can certainly ask it,” said Chirrut.

Not just that, Cassian thought, suddenly very aware of how much power they had. This thing could tell them everything: the Magisterium’s future plans. Its weaknesses. The best targets. This could change everything.

“How does it work?” asked Kay, ever the pragmatist. He was looking a little unnerved, his dæmon buzzing fitfully around his head. “How can a machine possibly know these things?”

“I asked it that once,” said Chirrut cheerfully. “It told me that it is guided by Dust.”

“That is hardly an answer.”

Chirrut shrugged. “We are all of Dust, Agent Tuesso, and Dust is in everything. I have faith that it can guide us in the right direction, and so far that seems to be true.”

Kay scoffed. “Your temple and city have been destroyed, Mr Îmwe. I hardly think that counts as being steered in the right direction.”

Baze bristled at Kay, his dæmon’s quills flaring along her back. “We are all alive because of what Chirrut reads from the alethiometer.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be an apostate?”

Baze bared his teeth in a wolfish sort of grin. “I am no longer religious,” he said in a dangerous sort of voice. “But I have faith in him.”

Kay opened his mouth to retort, but Cassian cut him off with a sharp, “Drop it.” Mercifully he did so, and Baze also subsided, glowering.

“How complicated a question can it answer?” Cassian asked Chirrut, who shrugged.

“In theory it can answer as complicated a question as you like. The real question is how complicated an answer I can understand. The alethiometer works for me, Agent Andor, but I am not Lyra Belacqua, as Jyn points out. My reading is not completely fluent, and it is… very tiring, to pose a great deal of questions. Reading it in the first place is difficult, and of course I must connect with my dæmon when I do.”

“Right. So, we need to be practical about what we ask.” Cassian’s mind was whirring. So many possibilities suddenly seemed open to them. It was obvious that Chirrut would need to be part of the next mission, if he would agree to come.

“What should we do next?” Bodhi asked. Cassian thought that rather vague, but Chirrut smiled.

“A good idea, to start with something more general. It is best not to be steered by preconceived notions.”

“Chirrut,” Baze said, concern in his voice, and Chirrut waved a long hand in his direction.

“I'm fine,” he said. “I can manage two readings in a row. Bié dānxīn.”

The reading took longer this time. Cassian could see the lines around Chirrut's eyes and mouth deepen; the mental strain must be significant. Baze watched his friend closely, clearly concerned. Eventually Chirrut blinked and came back to them, setting the alethiometer on the table and gathering his dæmon in both hands.

“I'm afraid it's not all clear,” he said. “But it says that the most important thing is to find a… a knife of some sort. It said to go North, find the knife, and then we can attempt a rescue.”

“Rescue Galen?” Bodhi asked.

“That is what it seems to say.”

“Saw mentioned a knife,” Jyn admitted. “One of… one of the last things he said. He told me to find a knife. But what knife?”

“I fail to see a connection between a knife and attempting an extraction,” Kay said, and Cassian could only agree. They couldn't afford to go haring off on a wild goose chase; he had hoped for something a little more concrete.

“Why North?” he asked. “And where North?”

“The Magisterium’s window is in the Arctic,” Bodhi said slowly. “Outside Svalbard.”

Jyn had stood up and was pacing a little, like a caged animal. “Jyn,” her dæmon said urgently. “Jyn, the video, before it cut off. Dad said—”

She turned to him, eyes wide. “The witches,” she said. “He was going to say something about the witches. Maybe they know something.” She looked at Cassian, her eyes hard and blazing. “Does the Alliance have contact with any witch clans?”


Jyn

“An alethiometer,” Aster whispered, for the fifth time in as many minutes.

“I know.” She could scarcely believe it. Alethiometers were extraordinarily rare, and readings were done by trained alethiometrists, who studied the Books of Reading for years and years. Even then, they could take hours, days, even weeks to pose questions and decipher answers. Her father had been given permission to study with Oxford’s alethiometer on a handful of occasions, even to watch the chief alethiometrists conduct their readings, and he had told Jyn about the beauty of the instrument, about its bizarre, arcane language.

While Lyra Belacqua’s childhood was swathed in mystery, one of the accepted facts was that – at least until her dæmon settled – she had been able to read the alethiometer as easily as others read words on a page. She had studied the instrument for the rest of her life, re-building her lost skill, and by the time she retired she was once again an astonishingly fluent reader. Jyn had never heard of someone else being able to do it.

Part of Jyn still thought that Chirrut must be lying. She remembered the way he had offered to tell her fortune, back in Nijedha; the simplest explanation was that he was something of a con artist. He had probably overheard them talking about the knife, on the plane.

“But how did he know about Cassian’s dad?” Aster pointed out, and she had to concede the point. And there was also the fact that, despite everything, she wanted to trust Chirrut. He had saved them from the Magisterium, and what would be the point of him lying about this? What was in it for him? This must be why the Temple of Dust had been so secretive, why there was so little information about the religious order there: they had been protecting a damn alethiometer.

She sat down on the bed and ran her hands through her hair. Mothma and Draven had shown up an hour ago, and since then they had been holed up with Cassian, Kay and Bodhi to discuss what to do next. Jyn had already decided that she was not going to be left behind, though she wasn’t sure how she’d best be able to argue her case. If all else failed, she’d follow them. Somehow.


A couple of hours later she was roused from a doze when Kay knocked on the door. She had been lost in an unnerving dream where she was stuck in the Siberian prison, walking endless dark corridors looking for something that was always just out of reach.

“What?” she snapped at him, unsettled. Kay did not seem perturbed.

“They want to talk to you,” he said. Jyn stood and tried to redo her ponytail, aware that she looked a tired, rumpled mess. Kay stared down at her unblinkingly, his eyes appraising, which did not help her mood.

Cassian was sitting opposite Mothma and Draven, his dæmon on his lap. He gave Jyn a nod when she came into the room, and his dæmon watched her with careful green eyes as she sat down. Mothma’s face was calm, almost expressionless, but Draven was frowning. He didn’t look at Jyn, but made a show of shuffling his papers into some sort of order.

“Ms Erso,” he said, still not looking at her. “We have officially authorised an extraction mission for your father. Agent Andor will lead a small party North to find this… this 'window', and attempt to cross to the next world. You will accompany the party.” Draven’s frown deepened. “I should say that this goes against all my better judgement.”

Jyn’s heart leapt.

“We are sending you in the hope that you can be of assistance in helping your father escape,” said Mothma, her voice quiet but firm. “However, I must emphasise that Agent Andor will be leading this mission, Ms Erso. You will follow his orders, am I understood?”

“Yes,” said Jyn, raising her chin. She wasn’t going to jeopardise this chance. “Who else is coming?”

“Agent Tuesso will be second-in-command, and Mr Rook, since he knows how to find the window. Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus will also accompany you, if they consent to go.” Mothma did not sound especially thrilled about that part, but Jyn was heartened.

“I’ve never seen anyone fight hand-to-hand as well as Chirrut,” said Cassian firmly. “There’s a chance that this mission may come to that.”

“The man is blind,” said Draven.

“That didn’t stop him laying out six Magisterium soldiers single-handedly.”

Mothma raised her hands. “Gentlemen. We have discussed this. I don’t particularly like it, Agent Andor, but if they agree to go with you then they are your problem, understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good. You will leave this evening.”

Kay sighed. “I would like everybody to know that I think this is a terrible idea.”


Jyn made short work of packing the meagre supplies provided for her – they would stop to pick up some proper cold weather gear in Trollesund – and found herself at a loose end. Unable to just sit still, she and Aster went down the corridor to knock on Chirrut's door.

Both he and Baze were in the bedroom, Chirrut sitting cross legged on one of the beds while Baze packed. The monk looked rather odd without his robes, the practical trousers and shirt looking somehow out of place on him.

“It's Jyn,” Chirrut's dæmon told him, and he smiled in her direction.

“I hear you're coming on this little adventure with us,” he said cheerfully. “Are you packed?”

“Yes, and ready to get going,” she said. Aster flew to the bed to greet Chirrut's gecko and Baze’s hedgehog.

“Are we almost packed, Baze?” Chirrut asked.

We?” Baze exclaimed. “I have nearly packed. You are being lazy.” He threw a shirt at Chirrut’s face.

Chirrut caught the shirt and threw it back. “You wound a poor blind man.”

Baze snorted. “That is an excuse. You just like making me do everything.”

“Hm. True.”

Baze gave Jyn a long-suffering look and she tried to hide a smile. They had obviously been friends for a very long time.

“I could help?” she offered.

“No, no, it is not your job.” Baze waved her off and began folding the shirt.

“He has a system,” Chirrut told her in a carrying whisper, and Baze sighed in a pained fashion. “Can we help you with anything, Jyn?”

“Actually, I wanted to ask you something.” She had a wealth of things she wanted to ask them, about the alethiometer and the Temple, but she suspected some of them might be a little painful right now. She perched on the side of the bed and Chirrut tilted his head vaguely in her direction; she was slowly getting used to the way he would turn his ear towards you rather than his face. “I wanted to ask how you knew I was wearing a necklace. You said it was a secret.”

He laughed. “Ah, it is not really a secret. I was trying to be mysterious.” Baze huffed in amusement. “Your necklace - it is made of electrum? Like this?” He picked up the cane that had been resting by his side and showed her the top, where a small piece of electrum was embedded.

“Yes!” Jyn ran her fingers over the smooth stone. “Yes, it is. But how did you know? It was under my jacket, your dæmon couldn’t have—”

“May I see the necklace?” Chirrut asked. “In a manner of speaking, of course.”

Jyn did not usually take her necklace off, but after a moment of hesitation she carefully undid the clasp, taking Chirrut’s hand to press the necklace to his palm. He ran his long fingers over the pendant, held it to his face as though studying it through his sightless eyes. Baze stopped his packing to watch with interest. Aster flew back to Jyn’s shoulder for a closer look.

“Where did you get this?” Chirrut asked.

“It was my mother’s. She gave it to me before she – before she died.”

Chirrut made a thoughtful noise, his brows contracting slightly. “Do you know how long she had it?”

“No. A long time, I think? She was a geologist, so I always just thought it was because she found it interesting.”

“This electrum has been shaped,” Chirrut said. “Shaped carefully, and treated, in much the way mine was.”

“Treated? In what way?”

A small smile quirked Chirrut’s mouth, and he handed the necklace back to Jyn. “I don’t know the details, I’m afraid. I am a monk, not a chemist. But you must know about Dust, Jyn, considering your father’s research.”

“I know a bit. I know Rusakov particles are attracted to people – to sapients, really – and to things that people create.” She fiddled absently with the necklace. “The Temple of Dust, was it just to protect the alethiometer?”

“Oh, no. Many people at the Temple didn’t even know about the alethiometer! Only those who were made Masters or Guardians. The Temple existed to study Dust. To protect it. To ensure its creation. It is essential, Jyn. Completely essential.”

“Dust is life,” Baze rumbled, so quietly Jyn almost didn’t hear him. She stared at him and he looked a little embarrassed, his dark eyes suddenly sad. On the bed his dæmon curled up slightly. A complicated expression passed over Chirrut’s face, and Jyn once again felt as though she were intruding on some private pain between them.

Chirrut’s dæmon crawled onto his leg and he seemed to shake himself. “My electrum was created at the Temple,” he said, “and your necklace seems very similar. That is why I asked where it was from.” He laid his cane on his knees, his thumb rubbing over the electrum. “Anything created with intention attracts Dust, but these – they attract so much Dust they glow.”

The implications of this statement were so astonishing that Jyn thought she’d misunderstood. “You can see Dust?” Rusakov particles couldn’t be seen, they didn’t even give off any kind of radiation.

His dæmon laughed softly, and Jyn felt herself blush. Stupid question.

“‘See’ is the wrong word,” Chirrut said gently, “but there isn’t really one that works. It is more that I can… sense it, when it gathers particularly strongly. Like a glow in my mind.” He looked thoughtful. “Close your eyes.”

Obediently, Jyn did so.

“Can you tell where the light is?”

“I– yes.” She could sense the brightness of the ceiling lamp over their heads.

“And if you closed your eyes, when outside on a summer’s day, you would be able to tell where the sun was? It is similar, I suppose. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s the closest I can explain.”

She opened her eyes, utterly fascinated. If she were an experimental theologian she’d be moments away from hauling Chirrut down to the nearest chapel to experiment further. She thought of the photograms she had seen, specially developed to show the golden haze of Dust around people and objects. “Is that how you can fight the way you do? You can sense the Dust around people?”

“Not really, no. That is more my excellent hearing, to be honest! I can’t sense Dust around everyone and everything, only those that are especially bright to my senses. Thank goodness, it would be entirely overwhelming otherwise.” He tapped the electrum on his cane. “This helps me to orient myself in the world, gives me a focal point. And I can always sense Baze.”

Jyn looked up at Baze, who was studiously sorting the canvas bag and not looking at them, though his prominent ears had gone red. Chirrut was smiling.

“Thank you,” she said. “For explaining, and… for coming with us.” She hesitated. “And I didn’t say it before, but – I’m so sorry, for what happened. For your Temple, and your home.”

Chirrut inclined his head. “Thank you, Jyn.”

Baze grunted, which Jyn assumed meant the same. She got to her feet, and Aster flew to her shoulder. “I’d best make sure I’ve got everything.”


Bodhi

It was well into evening by the time they left the safehouse, but the sun was only just beginning to set. They would drive back to the small aerodock they had arrived at (more a field than an aerodock, in Bodhi’s opinion), and from there fly into Trollesund. Tomorrow they would prepare for a journey into the furthest North, and try to meet with one of the representatives of the witches.

As far as Mothma and Draven knew, they would then get as close to the Magisterium’s window as they could, and attempt to infiltrate it. In reality, they were planning to consult the alethiometer for the best course of action.

If the alethiometer could guide them away from the spectres, Bodhi would follow it anywhere. He sometimes had nightmares about them, the way they seemed to oil their way through the air towards you, coldness and misery rising around them like a strong vapour. Even the unnerving dæmonless Troopers were not as frightening as the idea of the spectres. He wished he’d been better at describing them, had been able to properly convey the sheer horror of them.

Beside him in the jolting Land Rover Jyn was staring out of the window, one hand fiddling with her necklace. Bodhi wished he could think of what to say to her; something confident, something that would reassure her that they would get Galen back. The whole idea seemed insurmountably daunting to Bodhi now; in truth, he had thought he would deliver the message and that might, if he was lucky, have been the end of it. He had never reckoned on being sent back in. The Magisterium must know he had defected, they must be on the lookout for him. He’d be caught, for certain.

He swallowed, hard, and held Aliya a little tighter. He focused on the patter of rain against the car windows, the jolting as they hit potholes, on the back of Kay’s head as he drove. It was something he’d taught himself to do long ago, to distract himself from fear and anxiety. He would find something, some sight or sound, and focus on it very, very hard, to the exclusion of everything else. This time he focused on the tight, dark curls of Kay’s hair, the way it faded towards the base of his skull and around his ears. He felt the tension begin to bleed from his shoulders slightly.

“Can I ask you something, Agent Tuesso? Kay?” he said, unsure how best to address him.

The other man glanced at him in the rearview mirror. “Yes?”

“When you – left – the Magisterium, did they look for you?”

Beside him Jyn sat up slightly, clearly listening. Kay didn’t answer at first, but his dæmon buzzed a little fitfully on his shoulder, so presumably he was thinking over his answer.

“Yes, they looked for me. I worked on many of the Magisterium’s security systems,” he said eventually. “My specialty was strategic analysis, so I took a great deal of secrets with me when I left. But they did not find me, as you can see.”

If they couldn’t find a strategic analyst who knew their security secrets, maybe there was some hope after all. Surely they couldn’t care too much about a simple cargo aeronaut, especially if they didn’t realise what he’d taken. Bodhi’s heart rose a little.

“Weren’t you scared?”

“No.” Kay said it so quickly and firmly that Bodhi strongly suspected that he was lying.

“Did you work in another world?” Jyn asked, and Kay shook his head.

“I did not. I was not aware that this was even possible. I left some six years ago, so it is possible that these windows are new discoveries.”

Jyn looked at Bodhi, who shrugged. “I only started this cargo route a couple of years ago. I didn’t know about them before then.”

“I will tell you one thing,” Kay said. “We do not have anywhere near enough information to make properly strategic decisions on this mission. Our chances of success are extremely slim.”

Silence ballooned.

“Did you ever consider becoming a therapist?” Jyn asked and, despite everything, Bodhi laughed.


As long as he could remember Bodhi had always wanted to be an aeronaut. He had loved the idea of flying, of being able to explore new places, having the freedom of the air. Learning to actually be an aeronaut was enormously expensive, far beyond his means, so he had applied for scholarships, all sponsored by Magisterium organisations. He had never been entirely comfortable with the Magisterium – he had been brought up Muslim, something many parts of the Magisterium found even more distasteful than secularism – but its control over most aspects of life had been almost total for as long as Bodhi could remember. He was used to just keeping his head down and trying to get on as best he could.

To his delight, he had won one of the scholarships, and a place at the Brytish Aviation School. It had been everything he’d hoped for, though he had found it difficult. Where some of his fellow students immediately landed jobs at big airlines, or went on to exciting career choices, Bodhi found himself flying cargo. He didn’t really mind though: it was still flying.

Hot guilt simmered in Bodhi’s gut whenever he thought about who he’d been working for, all in the service of being able to fly. Sometimes he felt so completely ashamed that his own ambition had taken precedence over his morals that he was almost glad that his parents were no longer alive to see it. They had brought him up to fight for what was right, to put others before himself, and for the last few years he had failed.

As he clambered into pilot’s seat of the small plane he pushed away the bubbling guilt. Not any more, he thought. I’m doing the right thing now, and that’s what matters.

“Ready?” he asked Kay, who had strapped himself into the co-pilot’s seat. He had to slump to stop his head brushed the plane’s ceiling.

“Of course.”

Bodhi pressed the cabin address button. “Everyone strapped in?”

“Good to go!” Cassian called back.

Bodhi exchanged a quick look with Aliya, who was settled in the scoop beside his seat that was in place for dæmons her size. She nodded.

“Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Let’s do this.”

Chapter Text

Cassian

The town of Trollesund had once been much smaller, just a cluster of small buildings around its port, with the visitors mostly passing traders or those travelling to work in the fire mines. It was still not a large place, but it had expanded slightly over the last few decades. Now it saw its fair share of tourism from those seeking adventurous Arctic holidays, as well as many scholars visiting the Svalbard research station. This meant that they could adopt something of a cover story for their visit, should it prove necessary.

Cassian once again took on the role of Father Joreth Sward, this time posing as a Magisterium-appointed inspector of theological research. Kay, Chirrut, Bodhi, and Jyn had all agreed to be scholars, part of a research team heading for Svalbard. Cassian had asked Baze to act as his personal bodyguard: it was not an unusual arrangement for a high-ranking Magisterium agent, particularly in dangerous areas, and he hoped to head off too many curious questions. Having an imposing and well-armed man as backup would not go amiss. To his great relief, Baze had nodded his assent with a grunt.

They arrived in the late evening and, while Cassian booked everybody into rooms at a local guest house, Kay slipped away to meet with the witch-consul. He returned just as they had sat down for a dinner of reindeer, mashed potatoes and lingonberries, his face as unreadable as ever. As he joined them his dæmon flitted from his shoulder down under the table to speak to Rucía.

“We are in luck,” the beetle dæmon said, settling on Rucía’s head.

“They’ve agreed to help?”

“A witch from the Lake Lubana clan will meet with us, tomorrow evening. That is the earliest that she can arrive.”

At the table overhead, Cassian and Kay ate slowly and in silence, letting the others talk. It was extremely difficult to concentrate on anything when your dæmon’s attention was elsewhere, and even the simple act of using a knife and fork became more of a challenge.

“That will give us the morning to prepare our gear. I was worried we would have to wait longer.”

“Hm. And we are worried about Rook,” the beetle dæmon said. “His presence here, I mean.”

“We know, Exa,” said Rucía, slightly wearily. “But the chances of him being recognised in Trollesund are slim; he says he only came through the town twice, and then very briefly. We will make sure he stays indoors and out of sight as much as possible.”

Exa clicked her wing cases. Above them, Kay stabbed at his food a little too hard, his fork scraping harshly against the plate. “If the Magisterium knows he has defected, they will have circulated his image amongst their agents. The chances of recognition are much higher than you appreciate, Rucía.”

“We need him on this mission. That’s all there is to it.”

“Then we will stay with him. You and the others sort out all the gear, and we will keep watch over Rook.”

It was a surprising offer. Kay was not someone patient with what he often referred to as ‘babysitting’. “If you’re sure.”

“Yes. The sooner we are on our way the better, to be frank. I hope this witch will be helpful.”

“The alethiometer—”

“Yes, yes, I know. It still seems nothing more than fortune telling to us, even if it appears to be accurate. But you say we must follow it, so we will.”

“Thank you.”

Exa snapped her wing cases once more, and then buzzed back to Kay. Rucía leapt into Cassian’s lap, her attention snapping back into his. He met Kay’s eyes over the table and gave him a half smile. Kay just nodded, briefly, and turned back to his cold dinner.


The next morning was bright and cold, and was mostly spent arranging their necessary supplies. Cassian’s first stop was to hire three snowmobiles, just in case they had to travel further north following their meeting with the witch. The proprietor made something of a fuss about insurance, about needing to see papers, but on seeing the clerical collar around Cassian’s neck she immediately became much more helpful, and even agreed to take the snowmobiles to the cabin they would be travelling to later.

Chirrut, to Cassian’s faint amusement, took to his role as chaplain of their faux-research team with gusto, fussing over Jyn as though she were his favourite student. He completely took over when they were buying their cold-weather gear, terrifying the shop assistant and making Jyn hold everything for him; Cassian could just hang back and be the stern Magisterium overseer. He could sense Baze’s amusement as he lurked behind the group, though his face remained impassive.

They also needed to buy weaponry, and Cassian made Chirrut and Jyn wait in a nearby bar: a chaplain and his student did not need to wield guns, and Cassian was eager to avoid unnecessary questions. It was clear that Jyn was not particularly happy about this, but she gave in when Cassian handed her money for some drinks.

“Don’t let him get drunk,” Baze warned her, pointing at Chirrut, whose gecko dæmon stuck her tongue out at him.

The gun shop owner practically fell over himself to help an agent of the Magisterium, supplying them with rifles – necessary for fending off cliff ghasts, foxes, and other dangerous creatures they might meet in the Arctic – as well as other, more powerful weapons. Baze showed great enthusiasm for ridiculously overpowered firearms and Cassian, remembering the man’s pinpoint aim back in Nijedha, decided that there was no harm in making sure they were well-prepared on that front. If this mission went south, they would need all the firepower they could get.

He pushed away thoughts about Draven’s final order, given in a low, urgent undertone. Rucía butted her head against his ankles.

Back at the guest house they had to wait a few hours until they could meet with the witch. They all holed up in Bodhi and Kay’s room, wanting to keep as out of the way as possible. Chirrut took out the alethiometer to find out what they should ask the witch.

“It just says be honest,” said his dæmon, as Chirrut pinched the bridge of his nose, as though warding off a headache.

“I’m not sure I’d dare lie to a witch,” Bodhi mumbled.

Cassian, who had lied to a witch before and found it an exceedingly uncomfortable experience, just lay back on Kay’s bed, Rucía curled beside him. Kay, Bodhi and Jyn began to play cards on the other bed, and Cassian could tell from Kay’s various mutters and huffs that he was losing. Chirrut and Baze sat on the floor with their backs against the wall and talked in low voices until Baze simply fell asleep where he sat, his hedgehog dæmon curled in a patch of weak sunlight. Cassian closed his eyes with a sigh: a headache was building at the base of his skull, his shoulder muscles painfully tight. The more he thought about the task ahead of them, the more impossible it seemed. And he could not block out the memory of Draven’s last order. It echoed in his head every time he looked at Jyn.

There will be no extraction, Draven had said, pulling Cassian aside. Galen Erso is too valuable to the Magisterium. You find him, you kill him.

Cassian had killed so many people he’d almost lost count. People he’d had to kill to save his own life, people he’d been ordered to kill, people who were collateral damage. This should be no different. And yet…

“Stop it,” Rucía whispered from where she was curled beside his head. “One thing at a time.”

He sighed again, and tried to relax.

“Have you ever met a witch?” he heard Bodhi ask.

“Never,” said Jyn. “It’s not like there’s that many around.”

“I have met a few,” said Kay, “though only briefly. They have their own concerns, witches. Few of them bother with our affairs, and only inasmuch as it affects their own interests.”

“But the witch who’s meeting us, her clan is on our side, right?”

“They are opposed to the Magisterium, so our respective concerns may line up enough that she will offer assistance. Don’t mistake that as being on our side, Mr Rook.”

Cassian let himself drift a little to the sound of their voices. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept for more than a few hours at a time, he had jumped several time zones in the last week, and every part of him was suddenly heavy with exhaustion. Rucía had already drifted off, and her sleep pulled him down. The room was warm, Kay was here to keep an eye on things, and none of these people had tried to shoot him recently. A few hours of sleep, of properly deep sleep, couldn’t hurt.


Jyn

Jyn was feeling antsy and tense, as though an anbaric current was sparking beneath her skin. The last few days had been moments of adrenaline, terror and chaos followed by hours of inactivity, of being trapped in one place, and it was starting to wear on her. She would, at that moment, have given anything for a bag to kick the shit out of or, failing that, some hard liquor. They still had over an hour until their scheduled meeting with this witch, and it seemed an interminable amount of time. And while they waited in this shabby bedroom her father was out there, probably wondering whether his message had ever got through. He must have heard about Nijedha, must think all was lost. She clenched her fist on her thigh, staring unseeing at the cards in her other hand. They were risking so much, just for rumours and the faintest of hopes. It was madness, all of it.

Cassian was stretched out on Kay’s bed, fast asleep. Chirrut too seemed to be drifting off, his head drooping onto Baze’s shoulder. How could they all sleep? Jyn felt too tightly wound to relax, her nerves thrumming.

Kay’s dæmon buzzed close to Aster, and he snapped at her with his beak. Jyn glared at Kay as his dæmon flew back to his shoulder, her antennae twitching in a self-righteous sort of way.

“It’s your turn,” Kay said.

She flung down a card without looking at it. “There. Happy?”

“Rarely,” he said in a wry tone. Bodhi glanced between them. “The waiting is all part of this work, Ms Erso. You must have done a lot of waiting around during your investigations.”

She glared harder, but it was true. So much of her undercover work had involved waiting, biding her time, listening to pointless conversations just to hear that one, crucial piece of information. Assembling the puzzle pieces. “None of them were personal,” she muttered, looking away from Kay’s stare. It really was creepy, how little he blinked.

“All the more reason to do it right then,” he said. “If it matters more to you now because it's personal.”

“And why do you do this?” She threw the words at him like knives, wanting to see where the edges of his armour were. Kay irritated her in a way she couldn’t explain, his cold manner getting under her skin. “For noble reasons?”

“Jyn—” Bodhi began, but she cut him off.

“Actually, I don’t want to hear it.” She threw her cards down and stood up, suddenly needing to get out of here, to be on her own. She knew it was stupid, but for a moment she didn’t care. She stalked across the room and out of the door.

She hadn’t brought her coat, or gloves, or anything, but she still headed outside, needing some air and some space. She shoved her way out of the guest house, taking a deep breath that was so cold it burnt her throat. Aster leapt into the air, wheeling over her head at the limits of their range; Jyn squeezed her eyes shut and let herself feel his sweeping movements, willing her anger to dissipate. She was not entirely sure why she was so irritated: sure, Kay wound her up, but he hadn’t actually said anything that bad this time. No accusations, veiled or otherwise.

She leant against the side of the guest house, hands buried in the pockets of the oversize hoodie she was wearing. Her breath misted in front of her and she stamped her feet in an attempt to warm them. She thought suddenly, longingly, of her tiny flat back in Oxford. What would she be doing, she wondered, if none of this had happened? Maybe she’d be curled up on her second-hand sofa, beer in hand, terrible action movie on the old TV. Or maybe she’d be lost in her research, digging through old news reports, working on translations until her eyes ached. She missed being Lianna Hallik.

Aster landed back on her shoulder. “The Magisterium would have got to us,” he said quietly. “You know that.”

She didn’t answer, huddling further into her hoodie. It really was absolutely freezing, definitely below zero, and she was starting to shiver.

“Jyn?”

It was Cassian, wrapped in his coat and scarf. He handed Jyn her coat, and she took it from him warily. As she pulled it on he bent to pick up his dæmon and leant next to her.

Jyn waited for him to say something, to tell her off for leaving the room alone, for a lecture of some kind. He didn’t speak, and eventually she relaxed a little. They stood in silence for a while, staring out at the town and, beyond that, the open skies and lands of the Arctic, pale mountains marching into the distance.

“What did Kay do?” Cassian asked eventually.

She glanced sidelong at him, but he was still looking straight ahead.

“Ugh, he didn’t do anything really. He just winds me up, for some reason.”

To her surprise, Cassian laughed. “Yeah, he does that. I’m always surprised more people don’t just punch him in the face.”

“His face is too high up,” Jyn muttered, and Cassian laughed again. “How do you put up with him?”

This time Cassian did look at her, and he was still smiling slightly. It made him look much younger; he couldn’t have been much older than Jyn herself. “I like him,” he said simply. “I mean, he drives me mad, but I like that he always says what he’s thinking. It’s not my usual experience with people.”

Jyn frowned. “He’s definitely still waiting for me to stab you in the back.”

“I don’t think so, not any more. He didn’t have to agree to come on this mission, you know. He’ll complain about it the whole time, but he volunteered to be here.” When Jyn made a disbelieving noise, Cassian sighed. “It probably doesn’t mean much to you, but there’s no one I’d rather have with me in a tight spot than Kay Tuesso. You want to stop this weapon? We’re gonna need him.”

“Why did he leave the Magisterium?”

Rucía hissed softly in Cassian’s arms, and he met Jyn’s gaze steadily. “That’s for him to say.”

“He said you got him out.”

“I did. And he saved my life. But his reasons are his.”

Jyn huffed slightly and leant back against the wall, weighing Cassian’s words. What would it feel like, she wondered, to trust someone so implicitly, especially if they had once been your enemy? To just know that there was someone looking out for you, who would risk their neck for you?

The thought made Jyn uncomfortable. Saw had taught her never to trust, not completely, to always look out for number one. It had always worked for her, she had fought her way out of so many situations just by prioritising her own skin, not worrying about what other people thought or did. She was only alive because of that.

Something cold touched her cheek, jerking her out of her reverie. Glancing up, she saw that snow had begun to fall. Cassian nudged her arm.

“Come on. We need to get ready to move out.”

Jyn nodded, holding out a hand to let snowflakes melt against her skin.


The small cabin where they were meeting the witch was a fifteen minute walk outside Trollesund, and the snow had fallen thick and fast. Chirrut, who had seemingly never experienced real snow, had looked utterly delighted the moment his boots crunched into the new blanket outside the guest house.

“Baze!” he exclaimed. “Snow!”

“I know,” said Baze, dry amusement in his voice. Chirrut turned his face to the heavens, smiling as flakes of snow landed gently against his skin. His dæmon crawled out from under his scarf and flicked out her tongue to taste the flakes.

“Here,” Baze rumbled. “Let me show you.”

And he bent down, scooped up a pile of snow, and dumped it on Chirrut’s head. Chirrut yelped and cursed, smacking Baze’s ankles with his cane as Baze roared with laughter. At Chirrut’s expression of consternation Jyn had to fight her own amusement, but broke into laughter when she caught Bodhi’s eye.

“Come on,” said Cassian urgently. “Stop messing around.”

“Yes, Baze,” Chirrut said, brushing snow from his shoulders. “Stop being childish.”

“I thought you wanted to experience snow,” said Baze, still grinning broadly as they followed Cassian.

“Experience, yes. Wear, no.”

The sun still hung in the air as they made their way to the hut, their breath leaving clouds in the freezing air. Jyn was glad of the new clothing: the thick coat, the strong boots, the warm gloves. Brytain never got this cold, and her face was already going numb. Bodhi had tucked his dæmon into the front of his coat, and for a moment Jyn was jealous that his dæmon was so warm and cosy. Chirrut, though he still seemed delighted by the snow, was obviously a little disoriented by trying to walk in it; he held onto Baze’s arm after stumbling on another hidden rock.

The scenery really was breathtaking: wide open skies, and an endless blanket of white, broken only by mountains rearing their great heads over everything. Everywhere was quiet, a perfect silence broken only by the crunch of their boots and the sound of their breath. They could have reached the end of the world.

The cabin was bigger than Jyn had imagined, and was apparently mostly used as a final briefing room for groups going on Arctic tours. There were some shabby, threadbare sofas and armchairs, a ragged rug, and a fire grate. Kay knelt by the hearth and busied himself with the firewood, producing a crackling blaze within moments. Warmth washed over the cabin.

“I’ll wait for the witch outside,” said Cassian. Everybody opted to wait with him, eager to meet the witch and learn what they should do next.

Ten minutes later Jyn pushed her hands further into her pockets and tried not to shiver. The beauty of their surroundings was wearing off slightly, and now she was just focused on how cold she was. Aster huddled inside her coat pocket.

“How much longer?” Bodhi asked, shifting from foot-to-foot.

“I’m sure it won’t be long,” said Cassian. “It’s not as though witches are constrained by the schedules of normal people.”

A small speck appeared in the sky. “Look!” Jyn exclaimed, pointing. “There!” Aster struggled his way out of her pocket to see, fluttering over her head.

“I don’t see it,” said Chirrut, and Baze chuckled.

The speck got gradually larger. Jyn had been expecting a woman, flying astride a branch of cloudpine, but instead the shape slowly became that of a bird. No – a bird dæmon. Alone.

She had known, of course, that witches’ dæmons could go great distances from their humans, could operate completely independently, but that didn’t make the sight any less disturbing. It was like seeing a ghost. The rattled silence from the others told her that they were feeling the same thing. Aster flew to Jyn and she cupped him in her hands. Cassian’s cat huddled close against his ankles, her fur slightly on end. Chirrut’s gecko was murmuring to him, and he raised one hand to his shoulder to curl over her.

The bird dæmon had grey-green plumage and a white belly, with a swoop of dark feathers on top of his head. He circled above them for a few moments before landing with gentle grace in the snow.

“Good afternoon,” he said. “I am Jura. My witch will be with us shortly. Which of you is Kay Tuesso?”

Kay stepped forward. “That would be me, sir.” His beetle dæmon crept inside his collar, clearly unnerved by the witch's dæmon, here without his body.

The bird inclined his head to Kay. “Well met, Mr Tuesso. Please be assured that the Lake Lubana clan remains opposed to the Magisterium and all it stands for, and we will do what we can to assist you in your efforts. However, we must bear in mind the delicate politics and alliances of our own people. We will not do anything that will unnecessarily endanger our clan or allies.”

Kay nodded, his face serious. “We understand.”

What must it be like, Jyn wondered, for your dæmon to be so far away from you? To be conducting conversations without you? When your dæmon’s attention was divided from yours it was very difficult to focus on anything. In Siberia Jyn had used her reputation as a sullen, silent prisoner to good effect, so that Aster could have quiet conversations with other prisoners’ dæmons without giving anything away. Witches must just be made differently, and in so many ways: their long life spans, their immunity to the cold, their relationships with their dæmons, all of it was just slightly alien.

Minutes later another speck appeared in the sky, this one resolving into the shape of a woman. She swept down to the ground, sitting side-saddle on her branch of cloudpine. She wore only silk, her arms bare and pale. Her hair was golden and bound loosely away from her face. She looked to only be in her mid-thirties, but Jyn knew she must be far older. She landed lightly in the snow beside her dæmon.

“Greetings,” she said, her voice low and musical. “I am Anda Var. My apologies for not arriving sooner.”

“Please don’t mention it, ma’am.” Cassian stepped forward with his hand outstretched, and she shook it with a graceful smile.

“Are you Mr Tuesso?”

“No, ma’am, my name is Cassian Andor. This is Kay Tuesso.” He gestured at Kay, who stepped forward and shook the witch’s hand, bending slightly to meet her eyes. “And this is Bodhi Rook, Baze Malbus, Chirrut Imwe, and Jyn Erso.” Cassian indicated each of them. Baze and Chirrut both sketched small bows to the witch, and she inclined her fair head in return. When she looked at Jyn she seemed a little puzzled.

“I don’t believe we have met before, Jyn Erso?”

Jyn shook her head, confused. “No, ma’am. I’ve never met a witch before.”

“You seem rather familiar. It must be that you remind me of someone.” She smiled again, and stepped forward to shake Jyn’s hand, then turned to the group. “Shall we go inside? I am aware that the cold must be quite uncomfortable for you.”

The warmth from the crackling fire washed over them all, and Jyn’s fingers prickled painfully as feeling began to return. She lifted Aster out of her pocket and he fluttered to her shoulder as she sank onto the shabby sofa next to Bodhi. The witch made the patched armchair look as regal as a throne, her dæmon perched on her knee.

“We’re hoping that you may be able to help us, ma’am,” said Kay, getting straight to the point as usual. “Our mission is rather urgent.”

“Perhaps you can tell me what help you need.”

“The Magisterium has created a weapon, ma’am,” said Cassian urgently. “A terrible weapon that can destroy cities in an instant. We saw it, it was used only days ago.”

“Nijedha,” said the witch, and Jyn saw pain flicker across Chirrut’s face. “Yes, rumours have reached us.”

“It was our home,” Baze said, his rumbling voice soft. The witch turned to him, grief in her blue eyes.

“I am sorry,” she said. “It was a monstrous act. And perhaps worse than you all know.”

“Worse?” Kay echoed in disbelief.

“This is not the first weapon the Magisterium has created.” Anda Var took in their shocked expressions, and nodded sadly. “Many years ago, during the war for the Republic of Heaven, a similar one was built. This was created with the aim of killing one particular person, wherever she happened to be. It did not succeed in its goal, but the weapon was deployed. Its effect was catastrophic: it ripped a hole in the fabric of reality, creating an abyss. The great opening into the void drains Dust from the world.”

Chirrut and Baze both made noises of shock. Jyn's mind was reeling: this had happened before?

The witch looked at all of them in turn, her lovely face serious. “The essence of life, of consciousness, all falling away into the void... it was terrible. Though all hope was not lost: provided the windows between worlds were closed, and no more created, the loss of Dust into the abyss could be counteracted. But now, with this weapon, it seems that the Magisterium seeks not only to destroy those who oppose them, but also to complete its mission to destroy Dust.”

“No,” whispered Chirrut, and Jyn saw that he had seized Baze’s arm, his sightless eyes wild. “Nijedha, the Temple, it existed to protect Dust, to create and preserve it, and now—”

“Ssh, qīn ài de,” Baze murmured.

How, Jyn thought wildly, could this be so much worse than they had imagined? Dad, what have you done? Did you know? She imagined streams of golden Dust swirling down into the void that had been Nijedha, forever leaving the world.

“Why?” asked Kay. “Why do they want to destroy Dust? It's… particles, not some great evil.”

“Unfortunately they do see it as an evil,” said Anda Var. “To the Magisterium, the fact that Dust is more attracted to people once their dæmon has settled is evidence that Dust is what they call 'original sin’. As I understand it, they see destroying Dust as a way to destroy sin. They have tried many ways of doing this, each one its own horror, and this weapon must be the latest attempt.”

Jyn's father had always talked about Dust as something beautiful. Look, Stardust, see this photogram? It shows Dust. Look how it gathers, how it loves people.

“We’re going to stop it,” Jyn told the witch, squaring her shoulders. “That’s what we need your help with. There is a way to destroy the weapon, but it’s in another world. We need to get there.”

Both Anda Var and her dæmon looked at Jyn, and it took an effort of will to meet their gaze. “Why do you imagine we have such knowledge?” the dæmon asked. His voice was curious, not accusatory.

“We know there's one window near Svalbard,” Bodhi said, a little shaky but determined. “The Magisterium use it to travel to the other world where the weapon is hidden. But it’s guarded. We've been – been told that we can find another way there, by seeking help from witches and finding a – a knife.”

Anda's eyes widened in shock, and her expression hardened. “The Subtle Knife is an extraordinarily dangerous instrument,” she said. “And it was destroyed, many, many years ago. Serafina Pekkala herself ensured it. How do you even know of the Knife?”

Everyone hesitated, until Chirrut fumbled in his coat pocket. He pulled out the alethiometer and showed it to the witch, who leaned forward to look at the instrument. Her dæmon flew to perch on the back of Chirrut’s sofa, his head cocked.

“By the stars,” Anda breathed. “I had never thought to see one of these... may I?”

Chirrut let her take the alethiometer, and she cradled it with enormous care. “You can read this?” she asked, looking into Chirrut's pale eyes searchingly.

“I can, yes.”

“What an extraordinary gift. Tell me, do you have witch blood?”

Chirrut's lips quirked. “Not that I am aware of, no. The alethiometer has always led me truly, Anda Var, and it told us to seek this knife. But you say it is destroyed?”

“It was, yes.” The witch turned the alethiometer in her hands, studying each symbol. “The Subtle Knife is also called Æsahættr. The God Killer. It was so sharp that, if you had the skill, you could cut between worlds. But the Knife was enormously dangerous, in ways its users could not see. For each cut created a gap between those worlds, an infinitesimal space, where Dust could seep out into the void. The windows can be sealed, but so many were left open, for years, decades, maybe longer. Many angels, those who did not serve the Great Authority, took it as their mission to close these windows. If it has been rebuilt, and the Magisterium is using it… then I am very afraid.”

Angels, Jyn knew, were a theological phenomenon, natural beings of vast intelligence made entirely of Dust. She had always wondered if they were actually real; Doctor Belacqua had always maintained that they were, but no one had been able to turn up solid evidence for their existence.

“You’ve seen this knife before?” Kay asked, clearly determined to keep focus.

“No, no I have not. I was only distantly involved in the goings-on in the War: my place was at home in Latvia, protecting our people. My wife, Kaira, accompanied Queen Ruta Skadi for part of her great journey, and she has many tales of that time.”

“That must be what the alethiometer is saying,” said Bodhi. “If we can find the knife, we can get to the other world, without the Magisterium knowing. And even if… even if using the knife means Dust can escape, surely that’s better than the Magisterium using their weapon again?” He looked around at the rest of them.

“I would agree,” said Kay. “If these windows can be shut, we can at least ensure we don’t leave them open for any longer than necessary.”

The witch looked troubled, and her dæmon murmured something into her ear. She sighed and nodded. “We had hoped that all of these troubles were behind us,” she said, her voice full of a deep sadness. “However, it seems that is not to be our lot. Very well, we will help you. There is one other window, one which the Magisterium does not know about. It is, we believe, known only to a few witch clans. The angels have been closing the windows for many years, but have not yet found all of them; for now, this one remains. Where it leads I do not know, but if your symbol reader has told you to seek out a witch’s counsel… I do charge you, however, to make no more windows than are necessary, and to close them as soon as may be. Know that harm is coming to this world whenever a window is created.”

Everyone exchanged worried looks. Jyn felt as though a brick had settled in her stomach, the weight of this responsibility almost too much. Cassian pulled a paper map out of his pack and spread it on the wooden coffee table in the middle of the cluster of chairs. Anda Var studied it for a moment, and then placed a slender finger at a point just to the north of Trollesund.

“Here,” she said. “There are ice caves nearby, at this glacier, often visited by tourists. But there is a further path into the cave that is never visited. The window is there.” She stood up, picking up her cloudpine branch. “Are you able to travel by vehicle?”

“We have snowmobiles,” said Kay.

“Good. If you leave now and travel through the night, you will reach this place by the early morning. I can meet you there, to guide you.”

“Thank you,” said Cassian fervently, marking the place on the map. “We are very grateful.”

The witch gave him a faint smile. “We are only small pieces in this,” she said. “But even small pieces must do what they can. Travel safely, friends.”


Fifteen minutes later they had located the snowmobiles locked up behind the hut and were speeding away over the smooth snow. It was gone nine in the evening and still the sun hung above them. The clouds from the earlier snowstorm had dissipated, leaving the sky clear and bright. Jyn was glad for the goggles shading her eyes from the painful brightness of the snow; the shop assistant earlier that day had warned them clearly about the dangers of snow blindness and she was not keen to find out what it felt like.

She and Cassian were in the front of the group, following the coordinates he had entered into the GPS. Despite the warnings of the witch, even though their dire situation was somehow even more dire than expected, Jyn couldn’t help but feel a little lighter. At least now they were doing something. Speeding along under the open Arctic sky was far preferable to being cooped up in another anonymous bedroom or on a plane. Aster left her shoulder and swooped along above them, his small wings beating fast to try and keep up. Jyn glanced back; Kay’s face was serious, even more strangely blank than usual with the addition of his goggles, but behind him Bodhi was smiling. Jyn suspected that he was feeling much the same as she was.

Slowly, the sun began to set. The snow glowed eerily in the developing darkness, the sky turning all shades of pink and purple, like a new bruise.

As the darkness settled around them, Jyn began to yearn for a break: she was absolutely freezing, despite all the layers she was wearing, and her legs were starting to cramp from sitting in the same position for so long. Aster had huddled himself inside her coat an hour ago, and Jyn had to resist the urge to lean forward enough to rest her head against Cassian’s back.

“Look!” cried Bodhi’s voice suddenly, and Jyn jumped, immediately on the alert. Had they been followed? She reached for the gun concealed beneath her thick coat.

But Bodhi was pointing upwards, his goggles pushed up off his face. Jyn looked up at the sky, and her breath caught in her throat. They brought the snowmobiles to a halt and clambered stiffly off them, everyone staring at the sky in awed silence.

The aurora hung over them, curtains of pink and green fire swaying and dancing against the blackness of the night. Jyn had seen photograms of this phenomenon before, but none of them did justice to the otherworldly beauty.

“Wow,” Cassian murmured in front of her.

“Yeah.”

“What’s going on?” Chirrut asked, sounding confused. Baze, whose eyes looked a little bright, slung an arm around his shoulders and bent closer to him, murmuring in quiet Cathay. Chirrut’s smile grew as Baze presumably described the sight to him.

“I’ve seen them a few times,” Bodhi said, coming to stand by Jyn, “but it never stops being incredible.”

“They’re beautiful,” Jyn said, swallowing around a sudden thickness in her throat. She felt suddenly very small, standing in the middle of this empty wilderness, dwarfed by the lights sweeping across the heavens.


 

What Jyn had taken for a mountain turned out to be a glacier. It gleamed strangely blue in the morning light, though perhaps that was just exhaustion catching up with her. The cold and tiredness were sinking in, and she was mostly running on pure willpower and adrenaline.

Anda Var was waiting by the foot of the glacier, her expression concerned.

“There are Magisterium agents asking questions back in Trollesund,” she told them. “They arrived in the night, and have already begun asking questions. They are looking for an aeronaut.” Her eyes lingered on Bodhi, whose face was suddenly pale with fear. “I have disguised your tracks as well as I can, though I'm sure they will discover your direction before long. We must be quick: I do not believe the Magisterium know of the existence of this window, so once you are through you should be safe.”

“What about the snowmobiles?” asked Cassian, his voice tight with worry. “They'll know we came here, and didn't go on.”

“There is a shallow cave nearby that we can hide them in. If we pile up rocks and snow we may be able to disguise them from view.”

This took some time, and soon everyone was sweating under their thick layers as they tried to hide the vehicles. Chirrut sat down in the snow and consulted the alethiometer, his pale eyes gleaming the same curious shade of blue as the glacier.

“They know we have come North,” he said finally, tucking the alethiometer back into his pocket. “Though they do not know why. They are some hours away, at least.”

It had taken them the better part of seven hours to drive this far, with only a brief pause to admire the northern lights, eat, and refuel the vehicles. None of them had slept.

“Do they know who we all are?” Kay asked him, and Chirrut hesitated.

“I don't believe so. They are looking for Bodhi, I don't think they're aware of the rest of us.”

Selfishly, Jyn felt relieved. The Magisterium had been hunting for her, but didn't realise that she and Bodhi were in the same place. They had hopefully lost her trail. Bodhi's eyes were vivid with fear.

“They won't find you,” Baze told him, his voice reassuring. He clapped Bodhi on the shoulder, making him wince.

“They will if we don't get a move on,” said Kay, shouldering one of their bags. “Where is this window, Ms Var?”

There was a fissure in the glacier, partially obscured by an icy outcrop; the opening only became obvious from the right angle. It was narrow and dark, and not remotely inviting.

“There is a steep drop immediately, of a few feet only. Then follow the tunnel downwards, keeping your left hand to the wall,” Anda instructed them. “When you reach a dead end, there you will find the window. A space in the world that doesn't fit.”

“You're not coming?” Bodhi asked.

“No. I will ensure your tracks are covered, and then send warning to other witch clans. They must know of this weapon, and the threat it poses.” She plucked small spray from her branch of cloudpine, and handed it to Cassian. “If you are in dire need, hold this to your heart and call to me. I will bring what help I may.” Standing back, she took her cloudpine in hand, her dæmon sweeping to her shoulder.

“Thank you,” said Cassian softly, tucking the cloudpine spray into his breast pocket.

“Yes,” agreed Jyn. “Thank you so much.”

Baze and Chirrut both bowed, and the witch smiled at them all.

“Go with all good will and open hearts,” she said. “I hope that you will see victory.”

And with that, she leapt aboard her cloudpine and sped into into the lightening sky.


It took a while to get all of them and their packs through the crevice. Cassian went first, followed by Jyn. It was freezing under the glacier, the icy tunnel shining in the light of their torches. Bodhi came next, his dæmon tucked into the front of his coat to free up his hands. Chirrut leapt down with more ease than a fifty year old blind man should be able to manage, looking as though he did this every day.

“I'm not sure Baze will fit,” he said, re-securing his pack. “That opening was rather narrow.”

Privately Jyn had been concerned about the same thing for both Baze and Kay. They didn't need to worry though, as Baze joined them only moments later.

“See?” he said to Chirrut. “I told you I would fit. I'm not as big as you think I am.”

“I seem to recall you got stuck in an alley not six months ago.”

“That was a gap between buildings, not an alley. And I wasn't stuck.”

The disagreement was cut off by the arrival of Kay, and everyone fell quiet. The frozen weight of the glacier seemed to press down on them, and the torchlight threw strange colours across the ice and snow of the tunnel. Jyn could hear her heart hammering in her ears: if this didn't work, if the window wasn't here, they were as good as trapped.

“Ready?” said Cassian, shining his torch across them all.

“Well there's no turning back now, is there,” said Kay. “So let's get on with it.”

The tunnel sloped downwards, full of treacherous ice and loose rocks. It was slow, difficult going, everyone having to place their feet carefully. Cassian was in front and kept his left hand against the wall as Anda Var had instructed, leading them through the various twists and turns of the tunnels. The cold was terrible, their footsteps and breathing echoing horribly so it sounded as though they were being followed by many others. Aster was tense on Jyn's shoulder, jumping at any unexpected noise. The torchlight threw odd shadows against the icy walls, their own shadows mixed with those of the twisted stalactites that hung from the ceiling.

Cassian came to a halt so suddenly that Jyn ran right into him. He threw out an arm to stop them all.

“It must be here!” his cat dæmon whispered, her voice magnified in the tunnel. She leapt forward, light and sure-footed over the treacherous ground. “Yes!” she called back. “It's a cave, a dead-end! And…”

She trailed off, and they all followed her into the cave. Cassian's dæmon was staring transfixed at one of the icy walls, but Jyn couldn't see anything.

“What is it?” asked Cassian. “The window, where—?”

“You need to look at it the right way,” said Bodhi, stepping forward. “They're almost invisible from most angles, unless what's on the other side is really different.” He walked towards Rucía, edging sideways a little, and then his face brightened. “Yes! It's here, see, look here-”

At first Jyn couldn't understand what he was talking about, but then she saw it. It was as though a square of the cave wall was out of place, the torchlight not hitting it quite right. She stepped closer, and felt a cool air, more earthy smelling than the cold, blank smell of the Arctic. The space through the window was also a cave, but when she knew what she was looking for she could see that it was a different type of rock, with no evidence of ice.

She turned to the rest of the group. “This is it,” she said, unable to stop the smile spreading over her face.

And she stepped through the window, into the other world.

Chapter Text

Baze

Baze looked out over the rich forest of this new world and missed Nijedha so much it made his stomach hurt.

This world was beautiful, no doubt: the cave they had chosen for shelter was part of a rocky cliff overlooking a verdant forest that stretched out as far as Baze could see. He sat at the entrance to the cave, gun at his side and Zin on his knee. He stroked over her quills as he looked out at the strange, silent land below. Delicate mists hung over the tree canopy, shimmering like a blanket of cobwebs. The entrance to the cave was hung over with thick purple vines, their trailing tendrils blooming to enormous scarlet and yellow flowers. Everywhere he looked there seemed to be more colours, more than he could possibly name, and he found himself wishing for the endless desert browns of his home.

With a sigh, he pushed thoughts of Nijedha away, burying them in the lockbox of his mind where he tried to keep all of his guilt and pain: his parents’ deaths, the destruction of the Temple, the loss of the children, every bit of hurt he had ever caused Chirrut. Pointless, to linger on those things now.

The others were asleep further inside the cave, where it was dry and sheltered; they had travelled through the night to reach the window under the glacier, and everybody was utterly exhausted. They did not know when they would next have a chance to rest, so were taking this chance to recharge. Baze had slept a little back in Trollesund before their journey, so had volunteered to take the first watch. He was not sure he would have been able to sleep anyway, with the witch’s words echoing around his head. He had not understood everything she said, but he knew enough.

It ripped a great hole in the fabric of reality… they seek to destroy Dust…

Baze did not believe in the innate goodness of Dust, did not believe that it could help people, did not think it could guide people’s lives. But he knew that it was important, that it was a foundation of life and consciousness, and he knew that Chirrut loved it. He would try to save it for that alone. Guilt twisted Baze’s heart. He had sworn, long ago, to protect the Temple, to uphold its teachings, to preserve Dust, and he had failed at all of it. He picked Zin up from his knee and held her to his chest, trying to pull himself out of the mire of his own thoughts. He glanced back at the others, all fast asleep. He hadn’t been able to protect the Temple, hadn’t saved his city, but he could protect them, make sure they succeeded in their mission. He was becoming fond of these brave young people, particularly the young aeronaut and fierce, angry Jyn. He hoped that her anger wouldn’t burn her to ashes, the way his had.

And, if nothing else, Baze would protect Chirrut, who was all that really mattered now.

To his slight surprise, Zin interrupted his thoughts. “The witch,” she said, nuzzling at his fingers, “she talked about her wife. And none of them cared.”

That was something Baze had tried not to think about, though he felt ashamed of his own fear. He was not a coward by any means, except in this one way. But it was true: the witch had so casually, so easily, mentioned her wife, and none of their companions had reacted at all. Not even a raised eyebrow. Of course, it must be different for witches, as so many things were. Being that far from your dæmon would be unnatural and terrible for mortals, so why would anything else be different? And they were all women, so surely it was more understandable if they loved other women.

Baze was not an ignorant man. He knew that there were places with more open views than those he was used to, where – for now, until the Magisterium had its way – same-sex relationships were legal, accepted. He had once even tried to persuade Chirrut to leave and begin a new life elsewhere, but Chirrut had refused to leave Nijedha.

They had been safe at the Temple, during those first few years of falling for one another. Not everybody had been kind, of course, but the Temple's teachings said that love and connection were some of the surest ways of creating Dust, and so they were protected within its walls. That was almost half a lifetime ago now, and they had lived in fear and secrecy since, afraid that a casual touch, an endearment, a look, could be the end of everything.

Baze could have coped with being arrested for his long-lost faith, for his actions against the Magisterium, for any of his other views. He knew he could not have coped with arrest and punishment for loving Chirrut, and could never have borne Chirrut suffering such a fate.

“We’re not in Cathay now,” Zin pointed out. “We’re not even in the same world. And these people don’t care, Baze.”

He knew that she was probably right and wished it were that easy, that he could just stop the worry and fear that had ruled him for so long. Baze strongly suspected that this mad quest was not one they were likely to survive; infiltrating the Magisterium in this way without being captured or killed seemed completely impossible. And he did not want to spend his remaining days in secrecy and fear. If he was going to die, he wanted to die as fully himself as possible.

As that thought crossed his mind, Zin nipped at his fingers.

“Good,” was all she said, and he almost smiled.

A few hours later Cassian relieved him from the watch. As he kicked off his boots and unrolled his blankets Baze hesitated for a moment, then pushed his bedroll up against Chirrut's. He lay tucked close to him as usual, arm wrapped around his waist. Chirrut stirred slightly, wriggling closer. Zin curled up with Shyli, their heads pressed together.

“Baze?” Chirrut mumbled, voice thick.

Baze kissed the back of his neck. “Go back to sleep,” he whispered.

Kay woke them all some hours later. A golden light filled the cave, fractured into strange shadows by the vines. Chirrut turned over to face Baze, touching his face with fingers made clumsy with sleep.

“They’ll know,” he murmured, in Cathay.

“Yes,” Baze agreed, bringing one hand up to cup Chirrut’s jaw, feeling the rough of stubble under his fingers. “But I hope they won’t care.”

A smile bloomed across Chirrut’s face, and Baze had to press a gentle kiss to his lips. “Come on,” he muttered, giving him a push. “Get up.”

Baze caught Bodhi and Jyn looking at them as he sorted their packs, but there was no judgement in their gazes; just slight surprise and curiosity. Bodhi’s hare dæmon flicked her ears when Baze looked at her, and Bodhi gave him a tentative smile. “So you two are—”

“Yes,” said Baze.

“Over thirty years now. For my sins.” Chirrut’s tone was joking, but his face was soft.

“Huh,” said Jyn.

And that, it seemed, was that.

“Told you,” Zin muttered.


The alethiometer told them to go down, and towards water.

They had to pick their way carefully down to the forest floor, following a steep, rocky path that zigzagged down the cliff-face. Even though everyone had packed away most of their thick cold-weather clothing they were all sweating by the time they reached the bottom. Baze’s hair was sticking unpleasantly to his neck, and even Chirrut seemed to be wilting a little. Only Kay appeared completely unconcerned.

The trees were enormous, towering hundreds of feet above them, their giant leaves offering relief and shade from the sun. It smelled clean, like ozone and dirt after rain; despite everything, for the first time in months, Baze felt oddly peaceful. Zin, who was unusually not hiding in his pocket, whispered, “Let’s just stay here.”

He huffed a short laugh. It was tempting.

There wasn’t anything that could be considered a path, so they followed the gentle slope downwards, stepping, or sometimes climbing, over the roots that broke through the earth. Baze stuck behind Chirrut out of habit more than anything; Chirrut was always more sure-footed than people thought, and he usually only took Baze’s arm as an excuse to hang onto him. Shyli perched on his head, clearly enjoying the sunlight, and warned him about any roots he had to clamber over.

Jyn’s nightingale dæmon swooped in and out of the trees. They had a long range; he was able to fly well over six feet away from her.

“Nothing,” he said, flying back to her shoulder. “No birds, no insects… nothing. Just the trees.”

Baze caught up to Chirrut. “Can you sense anything?”

Chirrut shook his head. “Just these trees. Are trees in our world like this?”

“No, not that I ever saw. These seem almost as tall as the city walls.”

Chirrut tipped his head back, as though he could see to the tops of the tree branches. The sun dappled his face golden, and Baze had to rest a hand against his back for a moment.

They walked and walked, and the trees seemed never-ending. The other world’s sun moved overhead, though whether it was moving from east to west was uncertain; Cassian and Kay both carried compasses, but the needles of both just drifted vaguely. They paused only briefly, to eat and drink – they had supplies enough for seven more days, maybe ten at a stretch. If they did not find what they were looking for by then then they would have to hope that they would find a tree that at least bore fruit.

“Are you sure this is the right way?” Cassian asked Chirrut as they set off again.

“The alethiometer just said to go downwards, and to find water,” Chirrut said. “We are going downwards.”

“It didn’t say anything else?”

Baze bristled slightly at the implication that Chirrut might be keeping something back, and he saw Shyli flick her tail in irritation.

“No,” said Chirrut, his voice calm but with a glimmer of steel. “If you want me to help guide you, Agent, I’m going to need you to trust that I’ve told you everything I can.”

Cassian sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Yes. Of course. I’m sorry.”

Finally, as the light began to turn the deep gold of late afternoon, they stumbled across a muddy stream. They followed it for maybe an hour, and the water gradually grew deeper, its banks steep and tacky with a rich red mud like clay. The water ran cool and clear, and despite Kay’s warnings the rest of them took the opportunity to drink and wash the sweat and dust from their faces. Baze and Chirrut had grown so used to the water of Nijedha, which was scarce and usually dirty, that the beautiful cool stream seemed like a miracle.

“But how are we going to find the knife here?” Jyn asked, voicing the thought on everyone’s mind. “There don’t even seem to be any animals here, never mind people.”

“There must be animals of some kind,” Kay said irritably. “At least insects. All of these plants, how have they grown without any pollinators? How has the ecosystem developed?”

“Well, we've not seen any animals, have we?” said Jyn.

“Maybe this is a world without Dust,” suggested Bodhi, a little uncertain. “No living creatures, no Dust.”

That wasn't right, Baze knew instinctively. This world was beautiful and rich in its own way. A world without Dust wouldn't just be empty, it would be dead.

“This is just a small part of this world,” Cassian pointed out. “We don't know that there are no other living things. If you arrived on our world in the middle of Ahwahnee Park, or the Mojave Desert, you might think there are no people. This world won't all be like this.”

As the day moved towards evening everyone's energy began to wane. Baze, who was able to endure long treks across the desert and countless hours on his feet, still felt his eyes growing heavy. Zin, who had unusually perched on his shoulder all day, had crawled into his pocket and he could feel her falling asleep. Bodhi was stumbling ahead of them, and Jyn's dæmon was on her shoulder with his head under his wing. Chirrut tucked in close to Baze and took his arm.

“Tired?” Baze asked, a little surprised. Chirrut was usually even more unflagging than he was, and his blindness meant that his mind didn't start to turn off as darkness crept in.

“No,” Chirrut said with a smile, “just because I can, now.”

Baze felt his ears go red, something that he had used to hope he would grow out of. He was glad they were using Cathay; it was a relief to know that they didn't need to hide from their companions, but now he suspected he might have opened himself up to regular, embarrassing flirting.

He grunted and tucked Chirrut's arm close against his side. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“Better now that I'm not slowly freezing to death. This place feels much more pleasant.”

“You could have seen forests in our world. I would have taken you.”

Chirrut sighed, but didn't pick up the thread of the old argument. “Maybe one day. After all of this.”

Baze hoped very much that there would be an ‘after’, when he could take Chirrut to forests and oceans and new cities, but he doubted it. He tightened his grip on Chirrut’s arm and said nothing.

The trees began to thin at last, and a faint, soothing breeze stirred the leaves. The stream widened further, until it could more accurately be called a river, and they stumbled tiredly into a clearing. The ground underfoot had been soft and mossy under the trees, broken up with huge roots and scattered dead branches, but now it was a carpet of grass, covered in blue flowers the size of Baze’s palm.

“Wow,” said Bodhi. “This place is so pretty.” His hare dæmon cast herself down on the grass, rolling on her back, and he slumped down beside her with a tired groan.

“Let’s take a break,” agreed Cassian, throwing down his pack. His dæmon had already lain down, her eyes closed. “We came downhill, we found water – we need to figure out what to do next.”

It was a relief to sit down, though Baze knew his knees were going to crack painfully when he tried to stand up. He slumped down on his back, forearm thrown over his eyes to shield from the sun. Zin crawled out of his pocket and she and Shyli began to investigate the grass and flowers, nosing at the silken petals.

“What colour are the flowers?” Chirrut asked. He traced his fingers over one, his fingers coming away dusted in thick pollen.

“Blue,” said Shyli.

“Like the sky over Njedha, just before the sun comes up,” Baze told him. Privately he thought they were the colour of Chirrut’s eyes, but he wasn’t going to tell him that.

They hadn’t been resting for more than ten minutes when a low buzzing noise filled the air. Everyone was immediately on the alert, Cassian’s cat dæmon on her feet with her tail raised. Baze sat up, casting around for the source of the buzzing noise.

A dragonfly was skimming over the surface of the river, its wings a blur, its body a beautiful luminescent green. “So there are creatures here,” Kay said, sounding pleased.

“I’ve never seen a dragonfly that big,” said his dæmon.

“Well, everything here is overlarge.”

“Dragonflies are good luck,” said Chirrut, and Baze resisted rolling his eyes with extreme difficulty.

Kay’s dæmon leapt into the air and buzzed towards the dragonfly, which did not appear to be concerned. The two insects danced around one another for a while, but the dragonfly was quicker. It zipped away down the water and then – vanished. As though into thin air.

Which could mean only one thing.

“That’s it!” exclaimed Jyn, and she scrambled down the bank to the water. Her dæmon spread his wings and swept down the water, Jyn following along the edge of the bank. The nightingale swooped low, almost skimming the river’s surface, and then he too vanished for a moment before he flew back into view.

“A window!” he called to them, excitement in his voice. “Another window!”

“See?” said Chirrut. “Good luck.”


Bodhi

The next world was almost stiflingly warm, the air so thick and muggy it felt like trying to breathe through a blanket. They stepped through the window into a marshland, a thick fog lying low over the swamps. Dragonflies, like the one they had followed through the window, zipped to and fro.

“I think I preferred the other world,” said Aliya in distaste.

The alethiometer had told Chirrut that they should go through the window, so they had filled up their water bottles and eaten quickly before heading through.

“Did it tell you anything else about this world?” Cassian asked. “Will we find the knife here?”

The blind man tucked the alethiometer back into its leather pouch, his brow furrowed. “It was telling me there was something here, but I’m afraid I couldn’t quite follow. We should be wary; I think the Magisterium is in this world, or it's perhaps their version of the Magisterium. But it kept pointing to the serpent as well – I think there is a rebellion here, of some kind.”

Despite the dense heat, Bodhi shivered. The Magisterium had taken over this world too?

Scrambling through the marshes was difficult, tiring work; the land almost seemed to move, so when you put your foot down on what appeared to be solid ground you soon found yourself ankle deep in swampy water. There was a pungent smell about the place, and little marshfires shone their alien lights through the fog, making everything even more disorienting. Bodhi, sensing Aliya’s distaste, picked her up. Cassian’s cat dæmon leapt nimbly from spot to spot, seemingly able to find the safest bits of land. The only creatures here seemed to be the dragonflies, little spots of beautiful colour in the dull, miserable landscape.

Mercifully, a few hours later, the swamp did eventually come to an end. Bodhi's feet were soaked inside his boots, his shirt sticking to his back with sweat under the heavy pack, his hair plastered to his forehead. He could not remember the last time he'd done so much walking, and he could feel huge blisters developing on the soles of his feet. He had been glad for Aliya's furry warmth in the Arctic, but now it was like carrying a hot water bottle.

“I never want to see another swamp again,” Jyn groaned when they reached firm land. She pulled off one boot and emptied it of the disgusting water, her nose wrinkled.

“I never really appreciated being dry until now,” said Chirrut, shaking drops of clinging water from his cane. “If the next world could be a desert that would be lovely.”

“I can’t imagine the Magisterium setting up camp in this world,” said Cassian, pushing his sweaty hair back. “Not if they have any choice. Let’s hope there’s another window out of here.”

A breeze picked up as they continued, but where the breeze in the previous world had been cool, gentle, and soothing, this one was hot and smelt almost sulphuric. Bodhi found himself fantasising about the cold snow of the Arctic, about freezing rain, about grey, overcast, drizzling London streets. Any of them would be better than this.

The path, such as it was, slowly began to improve in quality. At first it had been barely more than a faint trail, but soon there was evidence of an actual walkway, though it was broken and pitted. It was something of a relief to walk on, but everyone became more tense and wary at this evidence of people. Bodhi remembered the vague sense of warning from the alethiometer with dread. He had a rifle slung over his back, but he knew he would be no use in an actual fight. Cassian walked ahead, pistol in hand and his cat dæmon prowling in front of him, with Jyn just behind, her dæmon flying overhead. Kay stalked behind the group and Baze and Chirrut walked either side of Bodhi, which was a little reassuring.

“The Magisterium teach you to fight?” Baze asked.

Bodhi shook his head. “No. Just to fly planes.”

Baze grunted. “You stick with us then, little aeronaut.”

Part of Bodhi prickled at being called ‘little’, though Baze was built like a wall so he supposed it was all a matter of perspective. He wasn’t sure how he would manage to protect both Bodhi and his blind partner in a fight, but maybe he was just that good at shooting. He hoped so.

The trees thickened as the path became more of a road, smoother and better-maintained. They did not have the large magnificence of the trees in the previous world but clustered dark and oppressive. Up ahead they could see more evidence of some sort of civilisation: in the distance were towers, domes, other tall buildings. If anyone was watching from those towers, Bodhi thought, they would soon be able to spot them. They weren’t exactly the most inconspicuous group of travellers.

“We should use the trees for cover,” said Kay. “We don’t know what sort of place this is, we don’t want to be spotted too soon.”

Under the trees it was somehow even warmer, the air stiflingly close. The trees seemed to lean over them, blocking their view of the road and of the city. Where the road had felt exposed and vulnerable, now the back of Bodhi's neck prickled, as though unfriendly eyes were following him.


They didn’t hear the ambush coming. Later, Bodhi had no clear idea of what happened in those desperate few minutes. One moment they had been walking between the trees in wary silence, and the next moment there had been a soft thump and Kay had given a stricken gasp of pain.

Bodhi caught a brief glance of Kay staring down at the arrow sticking out of his upper arm before Baze had shoved him roughly back against a tree, gun in hand and pointing in the direction the arrow had come from. He fired once, twice, but there was nothing there.

And then the rain of arrows started.

“Run!” yelled Cassian, and Bodhi didn’t need telling twice. The next few minutes were confusing and terrifying and he ran blindly, dodging through the trees, Aliya streaking alongside him. He heard Kay shout “Cassian, go!”, heard Jyn swearing furiously, heard Baze yelling for Chirrut, and the arrows just kept coming, seemingly from nowhere. One swished past his ear and slammed into a tree, another struck the ground right by Aliya. His heart was in his mouth, fear pulsing through his veins, and he could think of nothing but run run keep running.

His foot caught in a tree root and he hit the ground hard. His legs were shaking, the pack on his back heavy and clumsy, and he had barely managed to get his knees under him before he felt something sharp against his forehead. No, he thought desperately. No, no, we can’t have failed already—

He dared to glance up; the person with the bow had a scarf across the lower half of their face, and a hard look in their eyes. They snapped something to Bodhi which he did not understand, but he suspected meant get up. Holding his hands up in a show of submission he carefully got to his feet, the arrow never leaving his face. Aliya scrambled to him and huddled at his ankles, shaking. He couldn’t see the dæmon of the person in front of him.

They called out in their language, and more people started to appear, as though materialising out of the trees. One of them was dragging Kay by the arm; he was ashen-faced, an enormous blood stain from the arrow in his arm, but he planted his feet and glared when he was dragged next to Bodhi. They exchanged a look; maybe the others had got away? They could only hope for it.

One of the masked figures stepped forward and pulled down the scarf. She was a woman, barely taller than Jyn, her blue eyes hard. She snapped something in a language Bodhi didn’t understand. He shook his head, bewildered. She frowned and tried again.

“I’m sorry,” he said desperately. “I don’t understand.”

Her expression darkened even further and she snapped something to her companions. Bodhi’s arms were yanked behind him and tied roughly, and a scarf bound tight over his eyes. He heard Kay’s muffled groan of pain as he suffered the same treatment, and winced in sympathy.

He thought of Jyn and Cassian, Chirrut and Baze. Of Galen. Please let them be alright, he thought, reaching for some of the old prayers of his childhood, of his parents. Keep them safe, give me strength, please. We can’t fail.


Cassian

“Cassian, go!”

Cassian did not want to leave Kay, but the other man was struggling to his feet, reaching for his gun. His thin face was drawn with pain, but his dark eyes were set and determined.

“Kay—”

“Protect them,” Kay snapped. “You’re leading this mission Cassian, so lead it.” His dæmon flew at Rucía, urging her to move.

Steeling himself, Cassian nodded. “See you soon,” he said, hoping it was true. He and Rucía turned and ran, dodging behind a tree just as an arrow whistled past them. The others were running: Bodhi streaking ahead, Jyn zig-zagging through the dense trees. There was no sign of Chirrut or Baze. And still there were more arrows from the treetops; Cassian dreaded to think how many people were perched up there, to fire so many so quickly. He couldn’t see anybody through the thick foliage and was unwilling to waste precious ammunition firing blindly.

He ran, Rucía at his side, weaving through the trees to try to throw off the attackers’ aim. Where was Bodhi? Where was Jyn? He knew he needed to protect Bodhi as a priority; Jyn was better able to take care of herself, and they needed all of Bodhi’s intel, but he seemed to have vanished.

He slowed, trying to take stock. The arrows seemed to have stopped, but he had no real sense of how far he’d run, or even of which direction. Idiot, he thought furiously. Kay would have some choice words for him, he was sure.

“Cassian!” hissed a familiar voice.

Jyn was staring around a tree, her eyes wide, gun still in her hand. Relief surged through him.

“Are you alright?” he whispered, and she nodded, her jaw set.

“The others?”

“I don’t know. Kay was hit—”

“I saw. I tried to follow Bodhi, but there was so much going on—”

“We need to find them. Now.”

She nodded. They set out warily, Rucía stalking in front of them, Jyn’s nightingale flying overhead, looking for evidence of people lurking in the trees. The trees grew so close together that the light beneath was dim and the air stuffy; it would be so easy to hide in the shadows.

They moved from tree to tree, moving in what they could only hope was the right direction. This far into the forest they couldn’t see the city, couldn’t see the road, had no way of knowing if they were getting closer to their companions or further away. All they could hear was their footsteps and their harsh breathing, the thick air seeming to swallow and deaden all sound. Cassian knew that the others could easily be dead or captured, that this whole mission could be just up to him and Jyn now. They should have just gone to the Magisterium’s window, tried to break in that way, not gone haring off on this wild goose chase. Were these archers with this world's Magisterium?

“Stop there.”

They both froze and turned. The figure behind them had a hood pulled up over her head, shadowing her face. She had an arrow nocked in a bow, drawn and pointing at them.

“Drop your weapons,” she snapped. Her English was fluent, her voice low and stern.

Slowly, Cassian and Jyn both knelt to set down their guns. Glancing across, Cassian caught Jyn’s eye. If one of them could distract this woman, maybe they could get out of this. She gave him a tiny nod.

“Your people were shooting our friends,” Jyn snapped as they stood back up, hands raised. The woman tightened her bowstring.

“Be quiet,” she said.

“What do you want with us? We’re just travelling, we’ve not done anything—”

The woman was focused on Jyn, and Cassian took his chance. He leapt forward, hoping he could be fast enough to grab her before she could fully aim. She loosed the arrow but it went wide, and Cassian was on her before she could reach another. He seized the bow, yanking it from her hands, but she was strong, and fast, and her fist smashed against his jaw so hard he saw stars. There was a soft snick noise, a glimmer of silver, and Rucía cried, “Cassian! Knife!”

He ducked away from the blade and aimed a strike at the woman’s shoulder. The first rule of knife fighting was to get rid of the knife, otherwise things were going to go very wrong, very fast. She was too quick though, spinning with his blow and grabbing his wrist, twisting his arm up behind his back. Pain burst behind his eyes as she slammed the haft of the knife against his skull.

He didn’t see clearly what happened next. Jyn leapt forward and landed a great blow to the back of the woman’s head, she staggered, releasing Cassian, who stumbled to his knees. She turned to Jyn, knife raised. Jyn’s dæmon flew around the woman’s head, trying to distract her, and Jyn seized her knife arm, trying to bend her wrist back. Reeling from the blows to his head, Cassian forced himself to his feet to help her. Jyn was grabbing the woman’s hand, they were both struggling, grunting with effort, and then Jyn gave an agonised cry and wrenched the knife away.

The woman froze as Jyn fell to her knees, clutching the knife, her left hand scarlet with sudden blood. Her dæmon flew to her with a desperate cry, and she sucked in great, heaving breaths.

“It’s you,” the woman whispered, her voice no longer stern but soft and disbelieving.

“W-what?”

The woman pulled her hood back. She was older, with dark skin, her grey hair in thick dreadlocks and bound away from her face, and her eyes were fixed on Jyn; there was nothing hard in her expression now, just disbelief.

“You,” she said again. “You’re the new bearer.”

“What are you talking about?” snarled Cassian. His gun was several feet away, but if he was quick...

The woman stepped forward and knelt in front of Jyn. Rucía hissed softly, but the woman just untied a scarf from around her waist. “We can use this to try and stop the bleeding,” she said. With a gasp of pain, Jyn slowly uncurled her hand to drop the knife, and Cassian - who had always had a strong stomach - felt suddenly sick as two of her fingers fell to the forest floor. Jyn paled, and her dæmon gave a small cry of pain. The woman wrapped the scarf tight around the wound, and within moments it was soaked and red.

“What did you mean, she’s the ‘new bearer’?” Cassian asked, and the woman turned her eyes on him.

“We cannot talk here,” she said. “Your friend is losing a great deal of blood. I know you have no reason to trust me, but I can explain everything if you come with me. They’ll find you soon.”

“Who will?”

“The umanu. The people in the trees. They’ll be back, and you won’t get far now, not without help.”

“Why should we trust you? You just attacked us.”

“Cassian,” Jyn said, her voice tight with pain. “Cassian, the knife.”

The knife. Was this it? Was this what they'd been searching for?

The woman gave him a small, sad smile. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen someone from my world,” she said, and held out her right hand. From her sleeve came a beautiful golden snake, who flicked his tongue and curled his way up her arm. A dæmon. “I have grown suspicious of strangers.”

Cassian thought of the alethiometer, pointing to the serpent symbol. A rebellion, Chirrut had said. Or a rebel.

“Who are you?” Jyn whispered, cradling her injured hand.

The woman turned to her. “My name is Steela Gerrera,” she said, holding up her left hand. Her last two fingers were missing. “I was, until a few moments ago, the bearer of the Subtle Knife.”

Chapter Text

Jyn

But you’re dead, Jyn kept wanting to say to Steela, but she felt very sure that if she opened her mouth she’d just throw up and then maybe pass out. It was all she could do to stumble after Steela, clutching her wounded hand to her chest, fighting against the rolling waves of agony. She tried not to think about the sight of her two fingers curled on the forest floor like a pair of gruesome quotation marks. She’d never thought much about those particular fingers before, but now she was sad to have lost them. They were hers, dammit.

For a moment her vision blurred, a hot, sickly feeling sweeping over her, and she staggered, only to be caught by Cassian.

“Steady,” he said, looping an arm about her waist. “Let me help.”

Don’t need help, she thought stubbornly, even as she leant against Cassian’s side. Fine, okay, maybe help was… helpful. Just until she stopped bleeding so much.

“We’re almost there,” said Steela. Maybe she was a ghost. Maybe she was dead, and so was Jyn, and so was Cassian. Did ghosts bleed this badly?

“Jyn, you need to stay awake,” Cassian said urgently, tightening his arm about her shoulder. “Keep moving, we can’t be found.”

The people with arrows. Right, yes. They’d already shot Kay, and maybe Bodhi. Probably not Chirrut; he could dodge bullets, so he could probably catch arrows in his teeth or something. Jyn hoped that they were all alive and not bleeding as much as she was.

Aster swayed alarmingly on her shoulder, just as she swayed alarmingly into Cassian.

“Maybe you should carry her,” Cassian’s dæmon suggested, and every part of Jyn protested vehemently. She hauled herself upright and soldiered on.

Steela’s hideout turned out to be a ruined tower, standing like a crumbling chess rook in between the close-growing trees. They had to reach the second floor by way of a ladder through a trapdoor, which was absolute agony to Jyn. Cassian climbed behind her, as though he might be able to catch her as she fell. She kept having to stop and take shaky breaths until the pain in her hand receded enough to climb again, hauling herself up one-handed. Aster, weak and exhausted though he was, flew up through the trapdoor to tug her onwards.

When she finally crawled into the tower room, Jyn couldn’t do anything except collapse on the floor and clutch at her hand, panting. Aster was trying to talk to her but she could barely understand him. It was so cold up here. Why was it cold? It had been so hot and clammy. Cassian appeared in her field of vision, touching her shoulder. It occurred to Jyn that maybe she should thank him for helping her.

Then everything went black.


She woke up to agonising pain and screaming. Her own screaming.

Someone was holding her down. Panic filled her brain and she struggled furiously.

“Get the fuck off me!”

“Jyn!”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck off!”

“Jyn, stop!” Aster. Her Aster. “They’re helping you. I know it hurts, but you need to keep still.” His voice was scared.

“I’m sorry,” said the new woman who claimed to be Steela. “I know this is agony, but we need to cauterise these wounds before you lose too much blood.”

Cassian was the one holding her down, and his voice was shaking as he said, “We’re almost done, Jyn. Hang in there.”

“Hold her down,” said Steela.

A few moments of blinding, all-consuming agony, and then the darkness swallowed her again.


When she came to, her head felt like it was packed with cotton wool. The pain had receded somewhat, to a terrible, throbbing ache. She stared up at the stone ceiling, lit with a faint yellow glow from a portable anbaric lantern. It must be night time. How long had she been here? She tried to remember what had happened. The window, the swamps, the arrows, the fight – the knife! They’d found it, where was it—

She tried to sit up, and regretted it immediately; her head swam and nausea rose in her stomach.

“Jyn!” Cassian appeared as though from nowhere, looking pale and drawn. “Thank fuck. Here, don’t sit up too fast, Steela says you lost a lot of blood…”

He put an arm beneath her shoulders and helped her sit up, slower this time. Jyn wanted to protest, but she was too dizzy and nauseous to sit up by herself. Cassian helped her sit propped against the wall and sat back on his heels, watching her with concern. Aster tried to fly to her shoulder but he seemed as exhausted and sluggish as she was, and could only flutter weakly to her knee. She touched his feathers gently with her good hand.

“Where—” she tried to speak, but her voice came out in a terrible rasp, and she coughed. The sudden jolt made her wounded hand throb with fresh, sharp pain. It was heavily bandaged and strapped in a makeshift sling. At least she didn’t have to look at the stumps of her fingers.

“Here,” said Cassian, handing her a bottle of water, which she gulped down gratefully.

“How long was I out?” she asked once her throat no longer felt full of razor blades.

Cassian sat beside her, his dæmon curled on his lap. “A few hours. How are you feeling?”

“Like shit,” she muttered, and Cassian almost smiled. “What next?”

“We need to talk things over with Steela,” he said, nodding at their companion. She was crouched over a small camping stove, stirring something in a pot. Despite the pain, Jyn’s stomach growled. “Maybe she can help us find the others.”

The others. God, she'd barely thought about them. And Kay had been hurt.

“Fuck,” she muttered. “This is a mess.”

“I’ve got out of worse messes,” said Cassian, in what was probably meant to be a reassuring voice.

Jyn glanced across at Steela. “She’s meant to be dead,” she whispered.

“Do you know her?”

She shook her head. “No. She died – apparently died – years ago. Saw talked about her.” She’d been trying not to think about Saw, about how defeated he’d looked, about how she’d left him to die. “Shit. Cassian, I need to tell her about what happened in Nijedha.”

He didn’t say anything, but he did meet her eyes for a moment, and his gaze was understanding.

“Here,” said Steela, crossing to them and kneeling in front of Jyn. “It’s not much, but you both need to eat something.” She handed them both tin cups of some sort of soup. Jyn took hers in one hand and sipped; it wasn’t much, but at that moment it was the most delicious thing she’d ever tasted.

“Thank you,” said Cassian, cradling his own soup. “We have a lot to talk about—”

“Eat first, talk after.”

“Alright, but those people in the trees. They injured one of our friends, they might have captured all of them.” Cassian’s voice was taut with worry, his dæmon’s tail twitching. Jyn remembered the way he’d spoken about Kay, back in Trollesund, and hoped that he was alright, if only for Cassian’s sake.

“I have contacted some people who will be able to help. They will be here soon. Just eat.”

Jyn felt a little stronger and clearer by the time she’d finished the soup, but the pain was also building again, a deep, persistent throb. Steela dug through a small canvas bag and brought out a small bottle of pills.

“You can’t take too many of these,” she said, “but they should help a little with the pain. We’ll need to change your bandage later, make sure there’s no infection setting in.”

The pills weren’t any that Jyn recognised, but at that moment she really didn’t care. She’d take anything if she thought it might help her hand hurt less.

“How are you alive?” she asked, once she’d swallowed the pills down. “You died twenty years ago.”

Surprise flashed over Steela’s face. “You know who I am?”

Jyn nodded weakly. “Yes. My name is Jyn Erso. Your brother was a friend of my father.”

Steela’s snake dæmon hissed softly, and pain filled her eyes. “You know Saw?” she whispered, and Jyn nodded. “Erso... you’re Galen and Lyra’s daughter?”

“I am.” The names of her parents was like a vice around Jyn’s heart.

“My God. How did…” Steela looked between Jyn and Cassian, and ran a hand down her face. “There’s something big here, I can tell,” she said, sounding suddenly weary. “My story is… long, and complicated, but I can tell you some of it. There’s a great deal you should know.”

“How is it that you’re alive? And in this world?” Cassian asked.

Steela sighed and sat down cross-legged. Her movements were stiff and slow, very different to the speed and strength with which she’d fought earlier. Her golden snake dæmon slid down her arm to her lap. “My brother and I led a group of rebels working against the Magisterium, trying to cut down their growing power base as best we could. We knew that there was a more formal alliance working to undermine them, but we preferred to work independently. We learnt that the Magisterium were developing many new, experimental weapons. They had taken control of governments, media outlets, universities, but this… this suggested that their plans were worse than we had feared.”

Jyn and Cassian exchanged a glance. This was twenty years ago; was this the Magisterium’s first attempt at creating the weapon they had unleashed on Jedha?

Steela ran her left index finger along her dæmon’s head, and his tongue flickered. Jyn tried not to look at the stumps that were all that remained of her last two fingers.

“We tracked them to Muscovy, and then to the mountains of Tartary. They were obviously trying to keep their work as secretive as possible. We found evidence of weapons-building: tanks, aircraft, gunships… we infiltrated the area, and began to hear whispers of something far worse. That the Magisterium had found a knife that would let them get to other worlds. I didn’t believe it, it sounded way too crazy, but Saw was convinced.” She gave a short, humourless laugh and waved at their general surroundings. “Of course, turns out he was right.

“We planned to rig explosives through the compound, to destroy as much of their work as possible. It was risky – there was every chance that we’d be caught, or that we’d be caught up in the explosion ourselves. And, well, that’s almost what happened. We were rigging up our explosive in one of the labs when we were found.” She shook her head with a sigh. “Ahsoka was meant to be watching the cameras, and at the time we had no idea how he’d got past her. He was a scrawny little thing, we thought we’d easily be able to fight our way out. Except that he had a knife.”

At this, Steela lifted a small leather scabbard and drew out the knife. Aster flinched on Jyn’s knee, and she scooped him up in her good hand, cradling him against her chest. The knife was actually fairly nondescript: a wooden handle, a short, dull blade. When Steela lifted it so it caught the light, the sharp edge gleamed cold.

“I tried to wrest the knife from him, just as you did with me, Jyn, and, well—” She held up her left hand, displaying her maimed fingers. “The pain was indescribable. I thought that was it, that this scrawny little man would kill me and be done, but he was just staring at me as though in shock. And then explosions ripped through the building. Thankfully I hadn’t finished setting mine, or we would both have been killed. I tried to run, despite the pain, but the man had pulled out the knife and used it to, well, to cut a gap in the air. I don’t know a better way to describe it.”

“We’ve seen them,” said Cassian. “The windows.”

“I had wondered. I’ve stumbled across open windows myself. At the time I had no idea what I was looking at. I thought I might be hallucinating from shock and blood loss, perhaps. The building was crumbling around us, fire everywhere, and this man just grabbed me and yanked me through the window. One moment I’d been standing in an exploding building in a Tartary mountain, and the next... I was standing on an empty beach under a purple sky.

“I’m afraid to say that I passed out. When I came to, not only had the man not killed me but he had bandaged up my hand. He told me that his name was Fenn, and that he had been the knife’s bearer for several years. He was missing the same fingers as I was, and that, unfortunately, you now are, Jyn.”

Jyn looked down at her bandaged hand. She had almost forgotten the pain during Steela’s tale, but the reminder brought it back all of a sudden. She held Aster a little tighter. “What does it mean?”

Steela’s face was sympathetic. “It’s the mark of the bearer. The Subtle Knife… it demands blood from the person it serves.”

“But I don’t want it to serve me.”

This time Steela smiled, though it was sad. “I didn’t want it either, but it is not our choice.”

Jyn was getting rather tired of not having a choice in things, but she bit her tongue.

“I managed to convince Fenn, the knife’s previous owner, that I was also a Magisterium agent, and that I’d been trying to remove the explosive when he found me. He showed me the ways of the knife, how to wield it, to cut our way between worlds. Despite the pain and my fear for Saw and my friends, I was thrilled – this knife could give us such an incredible advantage over the Magisterium, if I could learn to use it properly. But first I had to make a decision. One I’m not proud of, though it was necessary.

“Once I could use the knife, and could open and close windows at will, I knew I needed to get rid of Fenn. The Magisterium couldn’t know that the Knife was in our hands, they couldn’t know about me. The knife is extraordinarily sharp, and I was a stronger, better fighter, even injured. It didn’t take much to kill him.”

Her snake dæmon hissed, and she stroked a hand down his body.

“You did what you had to,” said Cassian bracingly. Jyn looked at him: his face was understanding, his eyes haunted. “I understand.”

Steela met his gaze for a moment, and then nodded. “It is not a decision I made lightly or with pleasure, but I couldn’t allow the knife to make its way back to the Magisterium.”

“But why didn’t you come back to our world?” Jyn asked. “Everyone thought you were dead. Saw he – he mourned you.”

“I didn’t stay away on purpose, I promise you. There are millions of worlds, Jyn. Billions, perhaps. I travelled so far, met so many people, but I never found the way to cut through to our world. It was… harder than I can say, knowing that my brother, my friends, the man I loved were all out there somewhere, and I couldn’t get to them.”

Silence fell after these words. Steela was breathing rather hard. Her face was ashen, with dark circles under her eyes. Jyn wondered suddenly if she was sick.

“I’m sorry,” said Cassian, and Steela nodded.

“My brother—” she looked at Jyn.

Jyn held Aster closer and swallowed hard. Dread sat heavy on her heart. “He took me in. The Magisterium kidnapped my father, they killed my mother.” That had never been proven, but Jyn knew it in her heart.

“Lyra… was killed?”

Jyn nodded. “I was with your brother and his rebels until I was sixteen. Then I didn’t see him again for nine years. Until a few days ago.” She couldn’t look Steela in the face, couldn’t bear to see her expression. She was so like Saw – the same determined gaze, the same strong cheekbones, the same set to her mouth. “He was in Nijedha, in Cathay. The Magisterium have a new weapon now, one that can destroy entire cities in one blast. They used it to destroy Nijedha completely. We only just escaped, but Saw, he... I tried, I tried to get him to come with us, but he wouldn’t. I’m sorry, Steela.” She blinked hard, forcing back sudden tears. Cassian put his hand on her shoulder.

Steela’s closed her eyes and took a shuddering breath. “He’s dead,” she said softly. Her dæmon slid up her arm to curl about her shoulders.

“Yes. I’m so sorry. He talked about you all the time, you know. He carried your photogram everywhere.” Steela smiled a little at that, small and painful. “He fought the Magisterium until the end, with everything he had.”

“Of course he did,” Steela whispered. “Stubborn idiot.”

“Before he died, he gave me a message from my father, about the weapon. He built it, you see. My father, I mean.”

“Galen? He’s working for the Magisterium?”

“He’s working against them. He built a weakness into the weapon, so it can be destroyed, and he got a message to Saw. The Magisterium have him prisoner in another world, and we need to get there, to save him, and to destroy this weapon before it can wipe out another city like it wiped out Nijedha. The last thing Saw said to me, he told me to find the knife, and use it to find my father.”

Steela nodded slowly. “Well, you’ve done that. How in the world did you get here?”

Cassian took over the story, and Jyn was grateful for it. Her hand was hurting abominably, her head swimming, her heart aching with fresh grief. It had hit her again that she would never see Saw again, that he was gone forever.

When Cassian was finished with his story, carefully skirting around the existence of the alethiometer, Steela sighed. “Only two windows away,” she said wistfully to her dæmon. “We were so close to home, and we didn’t realise.” Slowly, almost painfully, she got to her feet. “Well, it looks like we have a great deal to do. Jyn, I know you’re in pain, but you need to learn how to use the knife as soon as possible. I swear that I will do whatever is in my power to help—”

She broke off as a faint buzzing filled the air, looking up, and Jyn felt Cassian tense beside her.

“Exa?” he said in disbelief.

“No,” his dæmon said softly. “It doesn’t sound like her.”

“Lady Saveria!” cried Steela.

Jyn and Cassian stared as a magnificent anbaric blue dragonfly buzzed through the small tower window to land on Steela’s palm. It was enormous, longer than Steela’s hand, and sitting astride it was the tiniest woman Jyn had ever seen. She must only have been three or four inches tall. She dismounted from the dragonfly and murmured something to it; the creature buzzed away to land on a nearby windowsill.

“Good evening, Steela,” said the woman. Her voice was small, but strong and clear for all that. She spoke with a rich accent, one that sounded almost French to Jyn’s ears. “I came as quickly as possible.”

“I am very grateful,” said Steela. “Let me introduce you to my guests.” She knelt down again, the woman in her hand, and let her step to the floor. “This is Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso,” said Steela. “They are from my original world. Jyn, Cassian, this is Lady Saveria.”

The tiny woman stood with a proud bearing, looking up at Jyn and Cassian with a sharp, intense gaze. She was dressed simply, in brown trousers and shirt, her dark red hair tied into a plait down her back. Her small feet were bare, and there were curious spurs at her heels that looked to be a part of her body, rather like bee stings.

Cassian recovered his tongue first. “Pleased to meet you, Lady Saveria.”

“Yes,” said Jyn faintly. “Good to meet you.”

Lady Saveria’s sharp gaze travelled from Jyn’s face to her bandaged hand. “Ah,” she said. “You are the new bearer, I see.”

“Apparently.”

“They arrived some hours ago, Lady,” said Steela urgently. “They were ambushed by the umanu, and their friends may be captured. One is injured. They are all of the clan of Lyra Belacqua, working for the Republic.”

Jyn tried to look as though she fully understood this last part.

“I understand,” said Lady Saveria. “My people and I will do what we can. Can you describe your friends?” She directed this at Cassian. “Do they also have these - what is the word?”

“Dæmons,” said Steela. “Yes, they will.”

Looking a little baffled, Cassian described their four companions. Lady Saveria nodded her head. “Very well. Is there a message I can give them, to prove that you are safe and that I am there to help? They may be suspicious.”

“Kay definitely will be,” agreed Cassian. “Tell them…”

“Tell them Cassian's father had a dhole dæmon,” said Jyn quickly. It was something only the six of them knew. “They should know what it means.”

The lady nodded again, then gave a piercing whistle. Her beautiful dragonfly zipped down to her and she leapt onto its back, gathering up reins as thin as gossamer. “I shall do what I can to aid your friends, or at least find their location. Steela, I will contact you as soon as I may.”

“Thank you,” said Steela warmly. “We are extremely grateful.”

“You have helped us many times. This repays that debt.”

She urged the dragonfly into the air and out of the window, the buzzing of its wings fading into the night.

“Who - what - was she?” asked Cassian.

“One of the Gallivespians,” said Steela. “They are a native people of this world, along with humans much like ourselves - or umanu in the Gallivespian tongue. The humans are almost entirely loyal to this world's Magisterium, and they view the Gallivespians as… well, as I understand it they see them as devils of some kind, and continue to try and wipe them out. I met a few, including Lady Saveria, when I found this world. They didn't want to trust me at first, but they have a history of travelling to different worlds. They know of Lyra Belacqua and Lord Asriel, so when I convinced them that I was on that same side they began to trust me.”

“And she can find the others?”

“If anyone can, she can. The Gallivespians know this land very well, and can travel almost completely undetected. They’re technologically advanced in comparison to the humans, though there was some kind of disaster here, several generations ago, that destroyed a lot of both human and Gallivespian civilisation. That's why the humans are using crude bows and arrows, rather than more modern weaponry.”

“Lucky for us,” muttered Cassian.

“Why did she ask if the others would have dæmons?” his cat dæmon asked. “They’re human!”

“Ah. Well, I have found that many worlds have humans, but very few of them have external dæmons, as we do. Many of them have internal souls. Invisible ones. They often aren't even aware of them. That’s the case here.”

Jyn had to digest that idea. It was quite alien – a human without a dæmon was like a zombie, no more than a walking, breathing body. To not have a dæmon, to not be aware of your dæmon… it sounded lonely. Cassian looked just as unnerved by the idea, and his dæmon butted her head against his arm.

“Jyn, do you feel strong enough to stand? Now would be a good time to teach you to use the knife, so we can be prepared to move when Lady Saveria contacts us.”

Jyn felt weak and shaky, in truth, her injured hand throbbing dully, but she nodded determinedly and tried to stand. Her legs trembled and her head swam, but she ignored Cassian's attempt to help her, leaning against the wall until she was upright. She closed her eyes and sucked in some deep breaths until the nausea passed.

“Right,” she said, pushing away from the wall and standing straight. “Let's do this.”


The knife was beautiful, in a strange way. One side of the blade was just a dull steel, but the other was a strange metal that Jyn didn't recognise, its colour impossible to tell. In one light it was a stormy grey, in another a twilight blue, or forest green, even hinting at a deep, bloody red. It was almost hypnotic to watch the light play across it.

Steela held the knife in a gentle, practiced grip, and demonstrated the quality of the first edge, the one which glinted with the sharpness of perfectly honed steel. She placed the blade against one of the tin cups they had eaten from earlier, and it cut through it like butter. Within moments, the tin cup lay in pieces.

“This blade can cut through any material,” said Steela. “When you carry the knife, you have to keep it in its scabbard, strapped in place, otherwise it will just cut through.”

Any material. Any weapon the Magisterium had could be cut to shreds by this knife. Jyn's heart was pounding.

Steela showed her the other edge. It was so fine that Jyn could barely see it with her naked eye; it gleamed cold, and Aster shivered on her shoulder. “This edge can be used to cut between worlds. I don't know how it was made, or what this metal is, but it is so fine that you can feel the universe's very atoms.” Holding the knife before her, Steela took a steadying breath, seeming to drag the knife gently through the air, then slowly pressed it forward, up, and across. As she moved, a window opened as though a page had been peeled back from the world. The sound of thundering, rushing water filled the tower, and Jyn could see that the window had opened over an enormous waterfall, dancing with rainbows. Though she had seen two windows previously, seeing another world open before her eyes was astonishing.

Steela used her maimed left hand to close the window, seeming to touch the intangible edge to slide it closed, shutting out the roar of water.

Jyn took the knife cautiously. It didn’t weigh much, and the haft sat snugly in her right hand. Cassian stood nearby, his dæmon in his arms, looking a mix of interested and apprehensive. Jyn drew in a shaky breath and lifted the knife in front of her, the way she’d seen Steela do it.

“This is a mental exercise, more than anything,” Steela said, standing just behind Jyn. “The knife becomes an extension of your arm - it’s not truly separate from you, just as your dæmon is not truly separate from you. The tip of the knife becomes the tip of your finger. You search gently through the air, as though you are running your finger over braille.”

Jyn tried. She closed her eyes, holding the knife in a loose grip the way Steela had done, and moved it slowly through the air, trying to feel something. She felt vaguely ridiculous, very aware of Cassian’s eyes on her, and on the throbbing pain in her hand. She tried to block them both out, gritting her teeth and trying again.

She tried to focus on the tip of the knife, to let her mind focus on nothing but that. Chirrut would be better at this, she thought. She hoped that he was alright. And Baze, and Bodhi, and Kay. What if Lady Saveria couldn’t help them? What if they’d all been killed? If she couldn’t work the knife then this was all for nothing, they’d never be able to stop the weapon, or rescue her father. His face swam in her mind’s eye, tired and sad and crumpled. My Stardust… I think of you always, the only good thing in my wasted life…

The weight of it all seemed to drop into her chest all at once. She dropped to her knees and had just enough presence of mind to set the knife down on the floor before she buried her face in her good hand and wept. Grief and shame warred inside her, and Aster tried to comfort her, pressing himself to her neck.

A warm arm wrapped around her shoulder and she instinctively tried to pull away, but Cassian held her tighter. “It’s alright,” he said, his voice low and gentle. Aster fluttered to the ground as she leaned into Cassian’s side, and to her faint surprise his cat dæmon bent her head and nuzzled at Aster, then curled her warm body around him in comfort. The feeling of it calmed her a little, and she scrubbed the tears from her face, taking a deep, steadying breath.

“Sorry,” she muttered, feeling vaguely embarrassed, and struggling to her feet. Cassian helped her up, and she let him.

“Don’t be,” said Steela. “I know it’s a lot. I didn’t expect you to get it on the first try. It sounds impossible, but try not to force it. Let it happen gently, naturally.”

She tried again, let her mind slip down her arm to the knife. Her injured hand pulsed with pain, but she let it happen, didn’t turn her mind from the knife. She moved it through the air, trying not to be impatient, trying not to rush. Cassian’s dæmon was purring where she was settled around Aster, and the feel of it settled in Jyn’s chest. Move the knife steadily, gentle, feeling for… something…

There.

“Shit!” she gasped. “Was that - I felt something!”

“Well done.” Steela sounded pleased. Her dæmon hissed softly. “It’ll feel strange when you do it, but stay calm and steady. Whatever you do, don’t drop the knife. When you feel it again, slide the knife in and sideways to make a cut.”

She nodded, and held out the knife again. This time she found it much more quickly, like a curious little snag in the air. She closed her eyes and felt for it again, then slowly slid the knife in and along. She felt Cassian’s sharp intake of breath, felt his dæmon leap up. Aster fluttered up to her shoulder. The roar of water filled the tower room again. There was a cool breeze, a spray of icy water showering her skin.

She opened her eyes. There was a window in the air, opened above that same waterfall.

“You did it!” Aster exclaimed, and before she could stop him he’d spread his wings and darted through the window and back again, where he shook the cold water from his feathers. Jyn laughed, a little hysterically.

“Good job!” said Cassian, sounding more pleased than Jyn had ever heard from him. She couldn’t help but smile at him, and he grinned back.

“Well done,” said Steela warmly. “Now though, you need to learn to close. Put the knife down and come to the edge here. Now, you need to use the very tips of your fingers. Let your mind relax the same way, feel for the edges, and then pinch them together.”

It felt, bizarrely, like shutting a ziplock bag, if a ziplock bag was completely insubstantial. She found the edges, pinched them together, and drew the window closed. All that was left of the other world was a puddle on the floor.

“Wow,” she said, slightly breathless.

Smiling slightly, Steela handed her the leather scabbard. “And now you are officially the bearer. I would say congratulations, but I’m sure the honour is dubious.”

“Very dubious,” Jyn muttered, but she couldn’t help the faint flicker of pride.

“Some rules to keep in mind: always, always close a window you open. Never let anyone else use the knife, until you find the new bearer. And keep it secret - as secret as possible, that is.”

Jyn felt shaky and sick again, and her hand was hurting horribly. Cassian helped her to sit down and she gulped some more painkillers as Steela gently unwrapped the bandage. She had always thought she had a strong stomach, but couldn’t bear to look at her maimed hand for more than a few moments. The stumps of her two missing fingers were covered in gauze, and the rest of her hand looked swollen. Luckily there didn’t seem to be any sign of infection, but Steela still handed her a bottle of antibiotics just in case. Jyn closed her eyes and focused on breathing as Steela removed the gauze and smothered the wound in some sort of cooling cream, then rewrapped her hand. She held Aster to her chest and Cassian sat beside her, his shoulder against hers.

“Hope the others are okay,” she muttered, when Steela had finished. The older woman was sitting on the other side of the room with her back to them, talking softly with her dæmon. She had had no time at all to think through the news about Saw, and Jyn couldn’t imagine what she was feeling.

“I’m sure they will be,” said Cassian, sounding more confident than she felt. “Kay’s resourceful, and I wouldn’t bet on anyone against Chirrut in a fight.”

She nodded wearily. “Then what?”

Cassian looked at her. “Then we go and find your father.”

“‘s going to be difficult.”

“Yes. But we’ve got some things going for us now, with that knife.”

Her eyes were drooping. “Going to need to trust me.”

He was silent for a few long moments. “I do trust you,” he said, very quietly.

Jyn leant her head back against the stone wall of the tower. She hoped they wouldn’t be too late.

Chapter Text

Chirrut

When the arrows started raining down, Shyli snapped at him to get up a tree.

Chirrut had never climbed a tree before. There hadn’t been enough of them in Nijedha to learn, and the two shrunken, twisted trees in the Temple gardens hadn’t been tall enough to bother. But he’d climbed many, many walls, though the masters had often scolded him for it as a child, and the dense trees here proved much easier than them. As the arrows continued to plunge from above he clambered up quick and quiet, his cane tucked into the straps of his pack, until Shyli whispered, “Wait.”

He paused, listening. The swish of arrows continued down below, and he could hear voices: Cassian and Kay, Baze calling for him, and for Bodhi, desperately running feet, the rustle of trees. There was also the soft sound of breathing from an archer just above.

“He’s facing away from us,” Shyli breathed. “Two branches up, you can grab him. Now!”

Quick as a cat, he leapt - one branch, two - there was movement next to him, an unfamiliar voice giving a short exclamation before Chirrut grabbed him. One hand over his mouth, one arm crooked tight around his neck, pressing against his windpipe. The man struggled briefly, but soon slumped. Carefully, Chirrut let him down to prop against the trunk of the tree.

“His belt,” whispered Shyli, and it was the work of a few moments to belt the man to the branch, then pull the hood off his head and stuff it in his mouth.

He crouched low, trying to stay out of sight, and Shyli crept down from his shoulder and along to the edge of the branch to see what was going on. The arrow sounds were becoming less frequent, and he could hear footsteps and voices. None of them were familiar, and he didn’t recognise the language at all. Anxiety hummed under his skin, and he tried to keep his breathing steady. Where was Baze?

After a few minutes Shyli crawled back, and he lifted her back to his shoulder. “Kay was hit,” she told him, and his stomach dropped. “It looked like his arm, so hopefully he’ll be okay. They’ve dragged him off, though. Bodhi, Jyn and Cassian all ran, there’s no sign of them.”

“Baze?”

“I don’t know,” she said, and the reassuring tone fell from her voice. “If he’d been hit they’d have taken him with Kay. We’ll find him.”

“We need to go after them,” said Chirrut, and moved to climb down from the tree.

“No!” Shyli hissed. “If we get caught... we might be the only ones still free. We need to stay free to rescue them. And if these people catch us, they’ll get the alethiometer.”

He stopped, gritting his teeth in frustration. Shyli was right, but it rankled. He hated waiting, hated the idea that his companions were in trouble while he just hid out of the way. He had always been best served by throwing himself into whatever situation presented itself. Well, provided Baze was there as backup, which he wasn’t. Where was he?

“We’ll save them,” Shyli said gently. “We will.”

He nodded, taking a steadying breath. I am of Dust, and Dust is of me… I am of Dust, and Dust is of me… Thinking through the mantra calmed him, and Shyli nuzzled at his jaw in comfort. They waited for a few more moments, until the only sound was the rustling of the trees, then climbed cautiously down. The woods were as empty as they had seemed before, the air close and almost unbearably warm, nothing like the constant cold of Nijedha that he was used to. He couldn’t hear anything but the faint breeze.

The faint breeze, and footsteps – a slow, familiar tread. Relief crashed through him, but he kept his expression as blank as possible. “Where did you get to?”

Baze grunted once. “Following Bodhi.”

“Ah. But you don’t seem to have Bodhi with you.”

Another grunt. “They got him and Kay. Kay got an arrow in the arm.” Baze’s voice was steady and gruff as ever, but Chirrut could sense undercurrents of worry.

“I know. You didn’t shoot any of these arrow people?”

“Couldn’t get a clear shot, and I’ve only got so many bullets.”

Chirrut sighed. “Hopefully Jyn and Cassian got away. You’re not hurt?” Baze didn’t sound like he was in pain, but he could be annoyingly stoic when he wanted to be.

“Of course not.”

Baze’s big hand landed on Chirrut’s shoulder, and then cupped his jaw; clearly he’d been worried about Chirrut as well.

“Sap,” muttered Chirrut, though he smiled, and grabbed Baze’s wrist. “Come on, I need to ask the alethiometer what to do.”

Settling into the mindset required of the alethiometer was difficult. The exhaustion and stress of the last few days were taking their toll, and he had been finding it harder and harder to slip into the necessary state of calm. The alethiometer had tried to warn him before coming to this world, but he hadn’t been able to understand it fully – if he had, they might have avoided this ambush, or been better prepared for it. If he missed something crucial this time it could leave their friends in worse danger.

“Breathe,” Shyli murmured, and he nodded, trying again. He’d meditated through worse than this, back when the Temple had fallen. Baze didn’t say anything but he moved closer, standing right behind Chirrut with a sigh. Chirrut focused on the glow in his mind that was Baze, letting everything else fade away.

Though they had been doing it for decades, the moment his senses merged with Shyli’s never stopped being a little unnerving. Her sight was so different to how his own had been, with much brighter colours, and some colours that Chirrut had never experienced before. Even in darkness she could still see colour and tone, where working human eyes would see only dim shades. In some ways seeing things from Shyli’s low angle was the least disorienting part of the experience. The alethiometer sat heavy and golden in his hands, and he clicked the hands round to form his question, asking about their friends. The needle swung back and forth, the meaning slowly building in Chirrut’s mind. Jyn and Cassian were safe. Kay and Bodhi captured, but alive. Relief shook him, and he had to refocus for the next questions.

What should we do next?

Find the tower. Go to the edge of the forest, where the trees fail. Be stealthy.

Well, that was something. They could do stealthy.


The stifling warmth of the day had given way to a clammy evening by the time they reached the edge of the forest. They had travelled as quickly as possible, given their exhaustion, their wariness of another ambush, and their unfamiliarity with the terrain. Sneaking through a forest was much more difficult than sneaking through the familiar streets of Nijedha; with no recognisable sounds and smells to guide him, Chirrut found it all much more difficult than he would ever admit, relying more than usual on Shyli murmuring in his ear, or on keeping close to Baze. His ears were alert for every snap of a twig, every creak of a branch, and he had no way to tell whether it was from the breeze or from quiet pursuit.

The ground began to rise towards the edge of the forest, sloping into a steep hill as the trees thinned. They ended up crawling to the top of the hill, not wanting to reach the summit to find themselves silhouetted as easy targets.

“What can you see?” Chirrut whispered to Baze.

“A tower,” he muttered back. “Not that tall, looks abandoned – lots of broken stones and windows. Two guards outside, might be more around.”

Chirrut nodded, thinking. If there were only two guards that should be easy enough: they could probably sneak past them, or take them out pretty easily. The problem was if there were more of them. Raising the alarm might put Bodhi and Kay in more danger.

“Are we close enough for you to make the shot?”

Baze hummed thoughtfully, and Chirrut heard him unholster the new gun he’d picked up in Trollesund. “Maybe,” he murmured after a few moments. “No guarantee though, now it’s dark.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Chirrut quipped, more out of habit than anything, and Baze snorted.

“If we can get around the side of the tower without being spotted, we can take them,” Baze said. “Quieter than shooting them.”

“How far?”

“About five hundred metres straight on. But we can stick to the tree cover, come out further along the hill and get round the side...”

They crept along the edge of the treeline, keeping low. Shyli perched on Chirrut’s head and kept her sharp eyes on the guards, ready to alert them if they were spotted. If they had been in Nijedha Chirrut would know several ways to break into a building without being spotted, or he would at least be able to rely on his ‘I’m just a poor, lost blind man’ schtick, but he doubted that would go so well here.

After a few minutes, Baze stopped and tugged Chirrut down to a crouch. “It’s a few hundred metres downhill to the house,” he murmured. “We should probably run, quick and quiet.”

Running over unfamiliar terrain could be a bit of a hazard for Chirrut, but he nodded. Between the hill and the tower would be when they were at their most exposed, and they needed to move fast.

They ran, slipping a little in the damp grass down the hill. Chirrut stuck close to Baze, on the alert for any sound from the house, any alarm, any swish of a flying arrow, but there was nothing. They reached the house and pressed back against warm, rough stone, listening carefully. There were two voices nearby, speaking a language that Chirrut didn’t recognise, their tones relaxed and joking, and the acrid smell of cigarillo smoke on the wind. Chirrut wrinkled his nose. They edged closer to the sound, and Shyli crept onto the wall, clinging with sticky gecko-feet, and crawled silently around the corner of the building to see what was going on. Chirrut felt her wariness, and then her growing confidence. Two guards, she thought to him.

He fumbled for Baze’s hand and drew some quick symbols into his palm, part of a silent language they had adopted long ago, primarily for sneaking into the Temple kitchens after midnight. Two guards. I go first, he said.

Careful, Baze tapped back against Chirrut’s palm. Completely unnecessary – Chirrut was always careful.

He slipped silently around the corner, cane in one hand and the other against the wall, Baze lurking behind him. There was a brief exclamation from the nearest guard, and Chirrut knew immediately where he was. He lashed out with his cane, knocking the man off balance, and it was the work of a moment to render him unconscious. Baze had leapt past at the first blow from Chirrut’s cane, laying out the second guard with a punch like a steam engine.

As Baze tied the two guards up and gagged them, propping them against the side of the tower, Chirrut pressed back against the door and listened intently for signs of life inside. There were faint voices, though how many he couldn’t say.

“Chirrut?” Baze whispered, sounding uncertain.

“Mm?”

“These men, they don’t – I don’t think they have dæmons.”

It was as though he’d said I don’t think they have faces. It was nonsensical. “They must be small dæmons,” said Chirrut, trying to sound reasonable. “Hiding in their pockets or something.” He reached out for the reassuring glow of Shyli, still clinging to the wall, and she crawled onto his hand.

Baze’s faintly horrified silence said different, and Chirrut suddenly felt a little sick. Were these men like the Magisterium soldiers Bodhi had talked about? But they had been joking together moments ago, as though they were fully human.

“Come on,” Baze whispered, moving closer and touching his hand. “Let’s find Bodhi and Kay and get out of here.”

Chirrut nodded. Shyli ran up his arm to her customary place on top of his head, her small weight warm and reassuring.

The bottom floor of the tower was empty, The stone-flagged floor had clearly not been cared for; Chirrut could feel cracks under his feet, and weeds forcing their way through. There were muffled voices coming from above, and Chirrut thought he could hear five different people. He tightened his grip on his cane.

“Stairs on the left wall,” Shyli murmured to him. “Third one’s broken.”

He nodded. “Ready, old man?” he asked Baze, who grumbled and pushed him towards the stairs.

It was the work of minutes. Chirrut leapt up the stairs and through the trapdoor, Baze at his heels, and none of the people in the upper tower room were at all prepared for a sudden attack. Within the space of a few breaths they had all five people subdued. Baze tied their wrists and ankles and gagged them, including one that was slumped unconscious.

“Anyone else?” he asked Chirrut, who frowned, listening hard. The tower seemed silent now, except for the muffled protests from the tied-up archers. But that couldn’t be right. Where were Bodhi and Kay? The alethiometer had said they were alive and captured.

“We should look around,” he said.

Baze grunted. “There’s not much in here. Table, chairs, pack of cards. Doesn’t look like they lived here, it’s just a hideout.”

“Are they the people who attacked us?”

“Seem to be. Their bows are here, and one of them was making new arrows.”

“Take the knife,” said Zin’s voice, speaking for the first time that day.

They made a quick search of the tower room, but found nothing of any use except for some bits of food and a box of matches (which they stole), an old-fashioned naptha lantern, and a pile of unfletched arrows. The archers’ short, sturdy bows were in the corner, and Baze used the fletching knife to cut the strings.

The stairs continued up to another room, which seemed to be the top of the tower. It smelt dusty, like a disused classroom, and was empty of any life. No Bodhi, no Kay.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” Baze asked, confused. “It said they were here?”

“Yes,” said Chirrut, but realised suddenly that that wasn’t true. The alethiometer had said that Kay and Bodhi were captured, and it had told him to come here. He had linked those two things, but the instrument had not told him this is where their friends were. “It said to come here,” he said slowly, “so there must be something we need.”

“The knife?” Baze suggested.

“Perhaps… what is up here?”

“Boxes. Files. Books. Could take ages to find whatever it is.”

Chirrut groaned. Why couldn’t the alethiometer just give a straight answer? Honestly, sometimes it was barely any help at all.

Baze chuckled, and Chirrut heard him set down the lantern, the hiss of the naptha as he turned up the light. “You’re the one that wanted to come here. Let’s have a quick look. This is as good a place as any to hide out, anyway. Easy to defend.”

Resigned, Chirrut pulled out piles of papers for Shyli to cast her eyes over, trying to be at least a little methodical. Some of the piles had obviously been here for years; moving them disturbed huge piles of dust that made his nose itch, and some of the paper felt extremely fragile under his fingers. It was all written in languages they didn’t recognise, though Shyli thought a lot of them might be theological, as they were covered in incomprehensible diagrams. Not one of them was written in any kind of braille, of course.

On the other side of the room Baze was sorting through the books, murmuring to Zin as he did so. Chirrut was suddenly reminded of being sixteen, hopelessly mooning after Baze and spending hours in the library just because that was where Baze spent so much of his time. Baze had loved the library at the Temple, and his idea of fun was often to spend his evenings poring over old texts or ancient poetry or something else that Chirrut found unbearably boring, even when he could read for himself. Chirrut had usually only spent time in the library by necessity, or because he was trying to drag Baze away to do something more fun. But one of the most vivid memories he had was of studying in the library together, the lights low, Nijedha’s harsh wind howling at the windows. They had been only a few weeks into the tentative new truth of their relationship, and he remembered the quiet thrill of tucking his head against Baze’s shoulder, of Baze’s arm wrapping securely around him, their dæmons curling up tight together.

His heart twisted, and Shyli nuzzled at his hand.

Baze’s sharp intake of breath snapped Chirrut from his memories, and he almost knocked over a stack of paper.

“You found something?” he asked, picking his way across the room, cane sweeping the floor in front of him.

“Chirrut, these books… they’re Temple books.”

“What? What?” Chirrut’s outstretched hand found Baze’s shoulder where he sat at the desk. He was extremely tense.

Shyli leapt from his arm to the desk to take a look. “They’re written in Cathay,” she reported. “The Words of Dust. Dust in the Darkness. The Ways of Dust. They do sound familiar.”

“How did books from our world end up here?” Chirrut wondered.

“Not just our world,” said Baze, a wild edge to his deep voice. “I know these books, Chirrut. These exact ones.”

Chirrut wanted to point out that the Temple could hardly have had the world’s only copies of these books, but he knew that Baze wouldn’t claim such things for no reason. He squeezed his shoulder gently.

“How do you know?”

“Here.” There was a faint thump as Baze flipped a book open. “Handwritten, here, the date the book was put into the archives. Here, the sign of the Temple.” He pulled another book towards him and opened that one. “Here again, the date, in Master Yue’s writing. I remember it. In fact…” He flipped through the pages, “I made a note in this one. Right here. That’s my damn writing.” His voice was shaking.

You wrote in a library book? Master Yue must have been horrified,” Chirrut tried to joke, but his heart was pounding. Temple books. How had they got here? When? The Magisterium had burned their library. He still remembered the searing heat of it, the smell, the burning ash blowing about the emptied Temple.

“How are they here?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” said Baze, confusion and desperate sadness in his voice. His hand came up to grip Chirrut’s against his shoulder, and Chirrut had to press a kiss to the top of Baze’s shaggy head.

“This must be what we were meant to find,” said Shyli. “The Magisterium must have stolen some of the books before they destroyed everything. We know they can travel to other worlds…”

“Why these ones?” asked Zin. “The Magisterium think Dust is evil, why would they want these? They’re about creating Dust.”

“If you know how to make something, you can find out how to destroy it,” said Shyli darkly.

“We’ll take them,” said Chirrut firmly. He was certain that Shyli was right, and that the alethiometer had directed them to find these books. “We’ll take them and find Jyn and the others. Come on.”

Baze was still shaking as they packed the books into their packs, wrapping them in their abandoned cold weather clothing to protect them, and he pulled Chirrut into a desperate embrace when they were done.

“I can’t believe—” he began, but his voice failed.

“I know.” The Temple had been lost to them years ago. Then they had lost their city. And yet somehow, in this crumbling tower of another world, they had found something of their home.


Bodhi

They walked for what felt like two weeks but was probably closer to two hours. Bodhi was stumbling with weariness, his wrists rubbed raw by the ropes binding them, his shoulders in agony from being wrenched back at such an uncomfortable angle. He tried to swallow his fear – for himself, for Kay, and for the others – and focus on what details he could. It wasn’t much, when he was blindfolded and exhausted, but he hoped it would might help them somehow. He couldn’t tell where Aliya was, exactly, but he knew she was following closely; he could feel her anxiety.

Finally their captors let them stop for a brief respite. Bodhi sank gratefully to the ground, his stiff leg muscles protesting as they folded beneath him. Kay was pushed down next to him, and Bodhi could feel him shivering despite the stifling heat, his breathing frighteningly shallow.

“Kay? You with me?” he whispered.

“More-or-less,” Kay muttered.

A quick, sharp discussion between their captors ensued. Their language remained completely unfamiliar to Bodhi; sometimes he thought he caught hints of French or Italian, other times certain sounds reminded him of Arabic, but none of it was anything he could understand. The winner of the argument seemed to be in favour of treating Bodhi and Kay a little more gently, as the scarf around Bodhi’s eyes was yanked away. The light under the trees was dim, but his eyes still stung and watered painfully after hours of being blindfolded. The hard-eyed woman who had captured him held a bottle of water to his lips and he drank gratefully, soothing his parched throat.

Once he’d drunk some water he started to feel a little better, his head clearer. There were six captors in total. Just after they’d been caught the archers had split into different groups, so presumably some of them were off hunting for the others. Of their group, two were going through Kay and Bodhi’s packs; one of them flicked open a switch knife from Kay’s and tested the blade against his thumb, and the other was checking over the guns with interest. Others were stacking wood, as though to build a fire. They were all dressed in rough clothes of green and brown, hoods and scarves over their faces and bows slung around their shoulders. Bodhi didn’t think they looked much like Magisterium soldiers. Rather hysterically, he wondered if they were this world’s version of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

As he looked closer, though, his blood ran cold. He had assumed that these people had small dæmons – insects or tiny mammals or something – but now that he was looking he realised that he couldn’t see their dæmons at all. His gorge rose in horror. How were these people so… alive? They weren’t like the Troopers, who were so blank and obviously wrong. These people had life behind their eyes, they had personalities, they seemed… well. Real. Could it be that people in this world didn’t have dæmons? Were there dæmons invisible?

He shuddered, and wished he could hold Aliya. He knew she was hiding nearby, and this must be why – she’d seen that these people didn’t have dæmons, and was keeping her distance.

“Bodhi,” Kay whispered between pained breaths. “If you… get a chance… run. Find Cassian.”

Bodhi tried to glare at him. Even if he could get away from this armed group and escape from them in the strange forest that they clearly knew like their own back garden, there was no way he was leaving Kay behind. “Not without you.”

The hard-eyed woman snapped something at them, and pressed a finger firmly to where her lips were behind her scarf. They both fell silent, and she waved over one of her companions at the now crackling fire. They had a brief, quiet discussion, and she pointed firmly at Kay.

At first, Bodhi was relieved that these people were going to try and treat Kay’s wound. He had been worried about his blood loss, about possible infection, and had no idea how he was going to be able to help. His relief turned to miserable fear, however, when two of their captors tore Kay’s sleeve open to expose the wound, then held him still as a third yanked the arrow from his arm. Kay, who had been stoic throughout the whole walk, couldn’t contain his scream of pain as the thing was torn away.

God, there was a lot of blood. Bodhi wanted to look away, but he couldn’t make himself. He needed to watch, to make sure they were actually trying to patch Kay up, not making the injury worse. One of them poured a harsh-smelling liquid over the ragged wound, which made Kay yell again, until they shoved a scarf in his mouth to muffle the sound.

“Bodhi,” whispered Aliya’s voice, and he almost jumped. She had crept from the trees behind them to press against his side, her eyes wide. The archers were focused on Kay and weren’t paying much attention to Bodhi.

“Are you alright?” he whispered back.

“Yes. We need to get away from here.”

“I know. It’ll be hard, with Kay…”

“Ssh. Keep quiet, don’t draw attention—”

She wriggled behind him, and he felt her begin to gnaw at the ropes bound tight about his wrists. He leant back against the tree a bit more, to shield her from view, and hoped that no one would notice her. It took a while, but eventually the ropes around his wrists slackened, the pressure on his shoulders giving way. He tried to keep his face still and not look openly relieved, wriggling his fingers behind his back to try and restore some feeling. Slowly and awkwardly, he managed to knot the frayed ends of rope together and Aliya helped him to loop them around his wrists. Hopefully it would be enough to fool the guards for now, until he could figure out what to do. He could potentially leap up and run, but these people had bows and arrows, and knew the land where he didn’t. And he would have to leave Kay. There was no way Bodhi was going to just abandon him.

Their captors had packed material around Kay’s arm, which was quickly soaked in blood, and bandaged it tightly. By the time they were done Kay was visibly sweating and shaking, sounds of pain from between his teeth. Bodhi watched helplessly, fingers buried in Aliya’s fur behind his back.


Bodhi forced himself to stay awake as darkness slowly fell, the stifling day giving way to a clammy and uncomfortable evening. Kay was curled on his side, though whether asleep or unconscious was hard to tell. Bodhi had been given another sip of water and some sort of cured meat to chew, and luckily they didn’t discover either his cut bonds or Aliya, pressed up against his back. One of the archers stood guard over them, arrow notched to a bow, but the others all gathered around the campfire, talking and eating some sort of delicious smelling meat they’d roasted over the flames. Then they let the fire burn itself low and stretched out to sleep, leaving only a couple of people to keep watch.

Despite himself, Bodhi’s eyes began to droop, and he had almost fallen asleep when Kay began to groan in utter agony.

“Kay?” he whispered, terrified. “Kay, what—”

Kay just moaned again. One of the guards at the smouldering fire snapped something, and the one standing closest strode over. He gave Kay a hard nudge with his toe, and Kay made a bitten off sound of agony.

“Help him!” Bodhi exclaimed, though he knew it was stupid and pointless. Every instinct told him to move, to try and help, but he couldn’t let the guards know he’d slipped his bonds. “Kay—”

The guard standing over Kay looked at Bodhi, and said something that probably translated to ‘shut up’. He bent down as though to look at Kay’s arm.

Kay reared up like a striking snake, and slammed his forehead into the man’s nose. The guard staggered, and Kay somehow hooked an ankle around his knees to bring him to the ground, then slammed a knee to his groin. The other guards began to yell in alarm, grabbing their bows and running towards them.

“Bodhi!” Aliya yelled, and he snapped out of his astonishment. He shook the rope from his wrists, scrambled to his feet and seized the guard’s dropped bow, throwing it out of reach. Then – amazed at his own daring – punched an approaching guard as hard as possible. It hurt, a lot, but the man reeled and it gave Bodhi the chance to scramble away.

An arrow whizzed past his head and stuck fast in a tree trunk. Kay was on his feet, his uninjured arm unexpectedly free, and he leapt at the closest guard before he could get another arrow to his bow, knocking him down with a blow that would have felled a tree.

Bodhi dived for where their belongings had been spread out and grabbed one of the rifles, lying next to Kay’s handgun. He had never used one before, and he fumbled with the safety catch as Cassian had shown him, his fingers clumsy with fear and panic. Kay had disarmed a third archer but she struck a blow at his injured arm, driving him to his knees. Praying desperately, Bodhi hoisted the rifle to his shoulder and aimed.

The shot went wide, but it shocked and startled the woman enough that Kay could knock her to the ground. Bodhi grabbed the handgun and ran to Kay’s side. He thought Kay might actually look a little impressed as Bodhi pressed the gun into his good hand.

They were outnumbered; Kay had managed to knock out two of their captors, but that still left four of them. But they only had bows, and they were clearly wary of the guns. Kay’s grip was surprisingly steady as he pointed the handgun at them, and Bodhi tried to look as though he knew what he was doing with the rifle. Aliya huddled against his ankles.

“Drop them!” Kay snapped, gesturing with his weapon.

A couple of their captors lowered their bows, clearly uncertain. One of them, the short, hard-eyed woman who had caught Bodhi, just tightened her bowstring and said something furious in return.

Bodhi really, really didn’t want to shoot anybody. His heart was pounding in his ears, a low buzzing panic filling his mind.

Except the buzzing wasn’t in his head. Some of their captors began to shift and mutter, looking around the clearing as though trying to spot the source of the sound. Then the woman still pointing her bow suddenly froze, her eyes widening as though with fear.

“What—” Kay muttered.

And suddenly the clearing seemed to be full of buzzing dragonflies, at least twenty darting, shimmering spots of colour. One of the archers collapsed to his knees with a strangled cry, clutching at his neck, and then keeled over, his limbs unnaturally stiff. The dragonflies zipped and spun around the archers as though diving to attack. Bodhi couldn’t understand what was happening; he didn’t dare pull the trigger. Beside him, Kay was staring in obvious confusion. Two more archers fell to the ground, and then there was a sharp cry. The dragonflies stopped their swooping and diving and all hovered around the one remaining archer as though deliberately surrounding her.

One dragonfly, a bright anbaric blue creature that must have been at least eight inches long, flew to hover in front of Bodhi and Kay. Sitting astride it as one might sit a horse was a tiny woman. Bodhi briefly wondered whether he had, in fact, gone mad. Maybe he was still locked in Saw Gerrera’s cells and everything since had been a bizarre hallucination.

“You are the friends of Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso?” the tiny woman asked. Her accented voice was small but perfectly clear. At the mention of Cassian and Jyn relief flooded Bodhi’s mind.

“Who are you?” Kay asked suspiciously, not lowering his gun. The lead archer was still standing as if frozen, surrounded by the humming dragonflies. Now Bodhi could see that each one of the creatures was being ridden by a tiny figure.

“My name is Lady Saveria, of the Gallivespian people. Your two friends are safe.”

Still Kay didn’t lower his weapon, and the tiny woman nodded as though in approval. “To prove their safety, they told me to tell you this: Cassian Andor’s father had a dhole dæmon.”

Understanding flickered across Kay’s face, and he slowly lowered his gun.

“Lady Saveria?” he repeated.

“Yes. You must be Kay Tuesso and Bodhi Rook?”

Bodhi nodded nervously. “What’s going on? Where are Jyn and Cassian? Who are you?” What are you sounded a bit rude.

“Answers later,” the lady said crisply. “We must get away from here. We have paralysed these people, but the poison will wear off in a few hours. You will follow me. Some of my people will remain behind to deal with the humans. Come. It will take at least two hours to reach the tower.”

Lightheaded with relief and confusion, Bodhi quickly gathered their belongings and shoved them into their packs. He hitched one onto his own back and carried the other; there was no way Kay was going to be able to carry one. His arm was bleeding heavily through the bandage already.

The woods were dark, but Bodhi dug out a torch and they followed the bright blue dragonfly through the trees. His earlier adrenaline had deserted him, leaving him shaky. Aliya stuck so close beside him that he almost tripped over her a few times. Beside him Kay was silent, his face set, and he was walking slowly.

“We should stop,” said Bodhi. “Your arm—”

“I will be fine,” said Kay firmly. “The arrow didn’t hit any arteries or tendons, and the damage is probably mostly muscular. I should regain most of the use of my arm, in time.”

Bodhi was most concerned that he’d been bleeding for hours, but suspected that Kay would remain immovable on this point.

“I should thank you,” Kay said abruptly. “I would never have been able to hold them off for so long without you.”

“Oh. Um. You're welcome.”

Kay looked at him sidelong, and the corner of his mouth raised a bare half an inch. It was practically a smile.


“Kay! Bodhi! Thank fuck – come here, we need to look at your arm—”

“Stop fussing, Cassian, I'm fine—”

“Yeah, being shot is definitely fine… Steela, can you take a look?”

Cassian dragged a faintly protesting Kay into the tower room, towards an older woman who was stirring something on a small camping stove. She looked a little familiar to Bodhi, but he couldn’t place her. She was dressed similarly to the archers, but the golden snake dæmon curled around her shoulders suggested she was not one of them.

“Bodhi?” Jyn approached him and touched his arm gently. “You okay?”

“Yeah… yeah, I’m not hurt. It’s just been… a lot, today.”

“Tell me about it.” She gave him a smile, small but genuine. She looked as exhausted as he felt, dark circles under her eyes and her face pale. Her hand was heavily bandaged and strapped up in a sling.

“What happened?”

She shook her head with a grimace. “Long story. Come and have something to eat and we'll tell you.”

The new woman was carefully cleaning the wound in Kay's arm, frowning. Kay's face was expressionless, but Bodhi could see him running his thumb over and over his dæmon's wingcases where she sat in his palm. Cassian's cat dæmon was crouched nearby, her green eyes watching every move the woman made. Bodhi sat gingerly, every muscle in his legs stiff and sore, and Aliya leapt into his lap.

“Chirrut and Baze?” he asked, without much hope. They obviously weren't here.

Cassian pressed a tin mug of soup into his hand, his eyes worried. “No sign of them, but I imagine they're alright. They're tough.”

He nodded wearily, taking a sip of the soup. He’d had nothing to eat for hours except the strip of dried meat he’d been given earlier, and the soup was a relief.

Lady Saveria had landed her beautiful dragonfly atop a wooden crate, and she was fiddling with a strange instrument: it looked like a slim, pencil-shaped stone propped against a wooden stand. As Bodhi watched her, she wrapped tiny threads of wire around either end of the stone, which must have attached to earbuds almost too tiny to see, as she inserted the ends of the wire into her ears. Her small, proud face was focused and intent, and occasionally she pressed something like a violin bow against the stone.

“What is she doing?” Aliya whispered, but Bodhi shook his head. He couldn’t imagine. Then again, he couldn’t have imagined anything about Lady Saveria before this evening.

After a few minutes, she removed the wires from her ears and turned to them. “My people have not found your friends, but there is a disturbance at a tower just outside the forest. They will investigate.”

“A disturbance,” repeated Jyn. “That does sound like Chirrut.”

“Hopefully in a good way,” said Cassian. He looked curiously at the instrument Lady Saveria was now carefully packing into a case. “What is that?”

“This is a lodestone resonator. We Gallivespians can use it to communicate over long distances. When I press to the lodestone, it creates a sound which is reproduced on another stone connected to it. I can hear messages from the other stone in the same way.”

“Like a mobile,” said Bodhi, interested. “Or a satellite phone.”

“I don’t know what those are,” said Lady Saveria. “This world lost a great deal of its technology some decades ago, but this technology has been a secret kept by the Gallivespians for many generations. It allows us to communicate safely, without the knowledge of the umanu – the humans.”

A million questions surged in Bodhi’s mind, but Kay interrupted.

“We need to decide what to do next.”

“Well, we need to find Chirrut and Baze,” said Cassian. “And then… well. We got what we came for, so the next thing will be to attempt to rescue Jyn’s father.”

What?” Kay exclaimed.

“You got the knife?” Bodhi yelped. “Why didn’t you say?”

“It’s been a hell of a day,” Cassian admitted. “We weren’t sure where to start. Jyn, you should show them.”

Jyn’s pale face looked even paler, but her jaw was set in a way that was becoming familiar. She unbuckled a small scabbard from her belt, and slowly drew out the knife. It was fairly nondescript in appearance, the blade dull, but it looked perfectly balanced in her hand.

“Does it work?” Bodhi asked shakily.

Jyn glanced at Steela, who was bandaging Kay’s arm. The two women exchanged a look full of meaning that Bodhi couldn’t interpret. “It does,” she said. “I can use it.”

“Jyn is the new bearer,” said Steela, speaking for the first time. “I wielded the knife for years, ever since I left our world, but it has passed to Jyn.”

“Why Jyn?” asked Kay, and Jyn snorted.

“What? Don’t trust me?”

Kay glared at her, and she smirked. Her dæmon ruffled his feathers.

“That is not what I said.” He pushed his glasses up his nose with his good hand. “But you make it sound as though there was no choice in the matter.”

“There wasn’t,” said Steela. “If there were, I would never have gained the knife in the first place. It chooses its own bearer – how, I couldn’t tell you, but it’s unmistakable.” She held up her left hand, which was missing the last two fingers. With a sigh, Jyn held up her bandaged left hand.

“Lucky me.”

“Oh,” said Kay. “I… am sorry.”

“Yeah, well.” She shrugged awkwardly. “Steela showed me how to use the knife, to open windows. So when we find Chirrut and Baze, we can make a plan to find my father.”

“This is amazing,” said Bodhi. “I mean, not that you’re hurt, Jyn – I didn’t mean – sorry. But it’s amazing that you found the knife. I thought we’d failed, when those people captured us.”

“As did I,” Kay admitted. “Who were they?”

“That particular group are little more than bandits,” said Steela. “The humans of this world almost all serve their Magisterium, unlike the Gallivespians like Lady Saveria. The people you encountered prey on any travellers; they steal their goods and food, to trade or sell, and try to kidnap anyone they can to sell into labour for the Magisterium.”

“Oh, wonderful,” said Kay sarcastically. “Slavers.”

“Shouldn’t have held back so much,” muttered his dæmon.

“Thank you for saving us, Lady,” Bodhi said awkwardly to Lady Saveria. “I don’t think we would have got away on our own.”

“Steela has been a stalwart friend to my people,” said Lady Saveria with a proud tilt to her chin. “I am happy to aid her compatriots. You should rest now. If I hear news of your friends I will let you know.”

Bodhi had never been so pleased to just lie down. He curled around Aliya, holding her against his chest, Kay a reassuring warmth at their back. “Let’s not get captured any more,” she whispered, and he laughed, squeezing her tight.

Chapter Text

Cassian

The morning had brought muggy, sweltering heat, three more Gallivespians aboard glimmering dragonflies, and no sign at all of Chirrut and Baze. It was as though the two guardians had disappeared into thin air. Or thick air, as the case was.

“The umanu at the old watch tower had been attacked and tied up,” said one Gallivespian, a stern-faced man called Lord Antone. He had urged his striped red dragonfly through the window as the first rays of sun broke through, illuminating the dusty tower room in a brassy light. “But there was no one else. If your friends were there, they did not stay long.”

“We’ll find them,” said Jyn through gritted teeth. Steela was wrapping her hand in a clean bandage, and though she set her jaw Cassian could see the pain in her green eyes. Her dæmon was shifting restlessly on her shoulder, a small sign of her distress. Cassian tried not to think about the way Rucía had curled around the nightingale yesterday, offering closeness and comfort in a way she never did with other dæmons. It was an unusual situation, he told himself. It was right to comfort a friend who was hurt so badly.

He wasn’t sure when he had started to think of Jyn as a friend.

He shook his head and turned back to helping Bodhi sort their packs, which had become jumbled and inefficient. Kay couldn’t carry as much with his injured arm, so Cassian packed a greater proportion of their gear into his own bag. Bodhi had lost the slightly wild-eyed look he had worn the previous night, and seemed none-the-worse for wear after his experience yesterday. Cassian had been more worried about Kay’s injury than he liked to admit, but Kay was being characteristically stubborn about the whole thing. Which, Cassian supposed, meant that he was feeling perfectly himself.

Kay was checking over their weapons, frowning. “If we cannot find them easily, we need to consider leaving without them,” he said bluntly, not looking up from the handgun he had disassembled. “We do not have much time; the longer we delay the greater the chances of the Magisterium deploying its weapon again.”

If he was being blunt and faintly tactless, he was definitely feeling himself.

Bodhi looked rather horrified at Kay’s suggestion, and Jyn angry. Her nightingale ruffled his feathers in agitation. “We aren’t leaving them behind,” she snapped, then winced as Steela tugged her wrist back towards her.

“I don’t want to leave them behind,” said Kay. “They’re undeniably useful. But time is of the essence.”

“Do you agree with this?” Jyn asked Cassian furiously.

Cassian could understand Kay’s point. Their main focus had to be on their stated mission. They had found the knife, and in theory there was now nothing stopping them from mounting their rescue mission (he carefully avoided thinking about his own mission). But both Kay and Jyn were badly injured, and Bodhi could barely hold a gun properly, which left Cassian as the only healthy, able fighter. Chirrut and Baze’s skills in that area would be invaluable.

And there was the alethiometer. They couldn’t afford to lose the advantage that could give them. Nor to leave such an invaluable instrument somewhere out there, where this world’s Magisterium might be able to find it.

“I would have thought you’d want to move quickly,” Kay said to Jyn as Cassian mulled things over. “It’s your father we’re attempting to rescue.”

Jyn scowled harder and opened her mouth to argue.

“Stop it,” Cassian said wearily. “Kay, I agree that we can’t waste time. But no matter how stealthy we are, the odds are that this is going to come to a fight.” He glanced quickly at Steela, who was watching the exchange with a thoughtful expression on her face. “And Chirrut has… intelligence, that we will probably need.”

Jyn looked a little triumphant, and Kay sighed.

“But,” Cassian continued, “We can’t look for them forever. If there’s no sign of them by sundown, we’ll have to move on. Okay, Jyn?”

She obviously didn’t like it, but she nodded. “Fine. Shall we go?”

Steela finished bandaging Jyn’s hand and stood up, her movements as slow and stiff as they had been the previous evening. “If you’ll have me, I’d like to help. I can fight, I’ve infiltrated Magisterium bases before. Galen is an old friend; I would not leave him in their hands.” She slung her bow over her shoulder and her snake dæmon hissed softly. “We have been fighting alone for a long time.”

Cassian exchanged a look with Kay. He could see suspicion in his friend’s eyes, but he trusted Steela after everything she’d done for them. He nodded. “Thank you.”


The woods were quiet and still as they walked. Steela led the way, an arrow nocked loosely to her bow. Jyn walked behind her, handgun in her uninjured hand, though she kept touching the knife at her hip, as though to check it were still there. Kay stalked at the rear, his dæmon buzzing above his head at the edge of their range. Lady Saveria and Lord Antone flew around the group, darting into the trees and back, their small faces alert and wary. Their dragonflies were the only splash of colour in the dull, oppressive forest. Cassian found himself longing for some open space, a cool breeze, anything but the stifling air.

“Who is she?” Bodhi asked, nodding towards Steela. “How does she know Galen?”

Cassian realised suddenly that they hadn’t told Bodhi or Kay Steela’s surname, and he mentally kicked himself. So much had happened over the last couple of days, with so much new information, that it had completely passed him by. He pushed his hair back from his face, already damp with sweat.

“She knew him through her brother,” he said, deciding to bite the bullet. “She’s Saw Gerrera’s sister.”

Bodhi actually stopped walking, his big eyes wide. His dæmon, who had been bounding lightly along beside Rucía, leapt back to him. “What?”

“I’m sorry, we should have told you. There was so much to tell last night.”

Bodhi’s knuckles were white around the rifle, and he swallowed. “Saw… I understand why he didn’t trust me, but what he did…”

Cassian didn’t know exactly what Saw had done to Bodhi, but he knew enough of the man to suspect that it had been uncompromising and ruthless. Saw Gerrera had not been above committing his own terrible acts in pursuit of the greater good.

It was a feeling Cassian was uncomfortably familiar with.

“Steela isn’t Saw,” he said instead, putting a hand on Bodhi’s arm, both as a gesture of comfort and to get him moving. “She’s been trapped away from her world for years. She saved Jyn’s life yesterday. From the way she tells it, she loved her brother but they didn’t always see eye-to-eye.”

Bodhi swallowed, and nodded. He picked up the pace again, though his dæmon stuck close to his heels.


They walked for a while, the day getting gradually hotter. Cassian was beginning to worry about their supplies of water; Steela had topped up their bottles, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious sources nearby. Both Kay and Jyn were looking pale, and Steela was slowing down, as though exhausted. Cassian suspected that she had had barely any rest the previous night.

“Let’s take a break,” he said firmly, and it was a sign of the pain he was in that Kay didn’t protest.

“Steela? Are you alright?” Jyn asked. Steela had leant against a tree, her eyes closed. Her dæmon hung rather limply about her shoulders.

“Yes,” she said, her voice a little weak. “Yes, I just need a moment.”

Lady Saveria reined in her dragonfly before Steela. “This next world you want to get to, is it your own?”

Steela sighed and opened her eyes. “It’s not.”

“Then you should not go. You know the risks.”

Cassian frowned, and Rucía flicked her tail. “Risks?” Kay demanded.

The Gallivespian looked at him, undaunted. “Steela should go back to your world,” she said firmly. “She has been away too long.”

“I’ll be fine,” said Steela firmly.

Lady Saveria sighed. “People cannot exist outside of their own world for long,” she said to the group at large. “They weaken and sicken. Steela has been away for many, many years; she needs to go back to your world.”

Well, that was an unpleasant surprise. Cassian wondered how long it took to feel the effects; were they in any danger, even though it had only been a few days? If the Magisterium kept people working in other worlds, what did that do to them? What sort of state would Galen Erso be in, if they could get to him? He looked at Jyn, and there was worry in her green eyes.

“I’ve been away this long,” said Steela, pushing herself away from the tree. “I can last a little longer. Come on, we need to move.”

Jyn looked like she wanted to say something, but her dæmon murmured something in her ear. Cassian tried to give her a reassuring sort of look, but she had already turned to march after Steela.


Past midday Cassian began to wonder whether Kay was right, and they should just move on. It would be a blow to leave the two guardians, and Cassian felt not a little guilty for considering it, but he couldn't help wondering what the Magisterium had been planning in the days since the attack on Nijedha. What if they got back to their world to find another city turned to ash, another appalling tear in the fabric of the world? They couldn't afford to waste time.

They made their way to the edge of the forest, where another tower loomed. It was taller and more intact than Steela’s hideout, and Cassian felt very exposed at the top of the hill.

“Do not worry,” said Lord Antone from aboard his striped dragonfly. “The umanu tied up here were… dealt with.”

“Dealt with?” Jyn asked sharply.

The man gave her a cold smile, but didn’t say anything else. Bodhi shivered, despite the heat of the day.

Regardless of the Gallivespian’s reassurances, Cassian couldn’t help but feel as though they were being watched as they made their way past the tower. The back of his neck prickled, and Rucía tucked close to his ankles, her tail whipping in agitation. The feeling only intensified as they moved away from the forest and into the remnants of what had clearly once been a town. There were obvious paths, broken and choked with weeds, lined with tall buildings. Every instinct in him was looking for concealed hiding places, for vantage points. They knew that the umanu preferred to fight from a distance, and from a height, and this city offered that chance. None of the buildings were as tall as the broken tower, but they had clearly once been impressive, with their domed roofs, arched windows, sweeping staircases leading to imposing doorways. The two Gallivespians flew ahead, checking down alleyways, swooping over rooftops. Jyn’s nightingale dæmon flapped over her head at the edge of their impressive range, sharp eyes on the alert.

“I don’t like this,” said Kay in an undertone, and Cassian agreed with him. There were too many places for unfriendly figures to hide here. He tightened his grip on his gun. This world had suffered some sort of catastrophe some decades ago, according to Steela. Had most of the population been wiped out, leaving only roving groups of bandits? The disaster must have made it very easy for this world’s Magisterium to assert its control; lots of vulnerable, frightened people with nowhere to turn, they would have been easy pickings. Was that what their Magisterium was hoping to achieve with this weapon? Generate even more fear and paranoia, drive people further into its grip?

His thoughts were swiftly derailed when Lord Antone shot back down the street with a cry of alarm. “Umanu!” he shouted, and Steela cursed, unslinging her bow and nocking an arrow.

At least they were more prepared, this time. Cassian dragged Bodhi behind a broken wall with him and threw himself to his knees just as an arrow clattered against the street where he’d been standing. He knelt up, propped his elbows on the wall and aimed his gun up at the building opposite, searching for the archer. The building had several floors and many smashed, darkened windows.

“There,” whispered Rucía, “Second on the left.”

“Got it,” he breathed, and squeezed the trigger.

The archer in the window slumped out of sight. Pressed against the building to Cassian’s right Kay managed to shoot down another on a balcony, his face grim. Jyn fired two quick shots before an arrow zipped past her face. Another arrow hit the wall right in front of Cassian and he ducked back only just in time.

“The other roof,” Rucía hissed, and he turned his attention to the roof of a building on the corner that looked like it had once been a grand hotel.

Crack!

The man he had been aiming for fell before he could squeeze the trigger, slumping over the guttering. A sudden thump behind them made Cassian and Bodhi whirl around.

Baze had dropped down from the roof behind them, gun in hand, a satisfied look on his face. He gave Cassian a quick nod, then ducked down behind the wall with them as an arrow whizzed past his ear. Profoundly relieved, Cassian nodded back.

“Okay?” Baze asked.

“Could be better,” said Cassian, and Baze grinned. “Where’s Chirrut?”

“Roof,” Baze grunted, taking aim again. He sounded supremely unconcerned.

Cassian shot down one more. Beside him, Bodhi’s shot went wide, but Cassian gave him an encouraging nod just the same. From their own shelters, Kay and Steela had picked off three others. There couldn’t be too many more of these people, surely?

“Jyn, cut us out of here!” yelled Steela, loosing another arrow. Cassian could see that she was running very low.

Now?” Jyn exclaimed.

“You got a better idea?”

Jyn swore violently and scrabbled at her belt, unbuckling the knife as she ducked into the shelter of a doorway. Cassian watched as she gritted her teeth and took a deep breath, lifting the weapon in front of her, seeking a point to cut. He hoped she’d be able to do it in the midst of all this.

Two more archers fell back, bullet wounds shattering their skulls. Then another fell heavily right behind Cassian, his neck broken.

Cassian only just didn't jump when Chirrut dropped suddenly from the roof, landing neatly on the body he'd clearly just thrown down.

“Good morning,” he said easily, as though this were a normal way to meet people. Perhaps it was, for Chirrut. He stepped off the crumpled body and poking it with his cane.

“Definitely dead,” his dæmon informed him. “Necks don’t go that way.”

“Show off,” said Baze, clambering stiffly to his feet.

“I could say the same about you.”

“We've been looking for you two for hours,” Kay interrupted, sounding a little peevish as he strode over.

“Oh? We've been looking for you since yesterday,” said Chirrut. “But now everybody is here, so we can move on.”

“Are you alright?” asked Jyn, rejoining the group. She looked a little shaky, and Cassian clamped down on the anxious flare in his gut. If she couldn’t cut a window...

“Fine,” grunted Baze. “You aren't, though.” His gaze fell on Jyn's bandaged hand, and his eyes turned worried. Chirrut frowned, and his dæmon murmured something to him.

“I'll be fine,” said Jyn stubbornly. “I'll explain later—”

“We need to go,” said Steela, stepping forward, the two Gallivespians hovering beside her. Baze immediately tensed, raising his gun towards her. Steela’s fingers tightened on her bowstring, and Lady Saveria made to urge her dragonfly forward.

“No!” cried Jyn, stepping forward. “No, she's a friend! She helped us find the knife!” She held it up for display.

Baze's eyebrows shot up to his shaggy hairline, but he slowly lowered the gun. Steela also let her bow drop, and exchanged a quick look with Lady Saveria.

“You must be Chirrut and Baze,” she said. “I'm glad we've found you at last.”

“We could say the same,” said Chirrut cheerfully. “Though we don't know who you are.”

Steela slung her bow back over her shoulder, her dæmon twisting down her arm. “I am Steela Gerrera. These are my Gallivespian friends, Lady Saveria and Lord Antone.”

Both Chirrut and Baze froze. “Gerrera?” said Chirrut, a slight edge to the question.

A humourless smile passed over Steela’s face. “I take it you have not had good experiences with my brother.”

Baze was glowering, and he hadn’t holstered the pistol. “You could say that,” he said.

Chirrut frowned, and laid a hand on Baze’s arm. “We worked with your brother back in Nijedha,” Chirrut told Steela, with the air of a man picking his words carefully. “Our paths… split, after a time. We did not agree with his methods, but he was also one of the only people trying to help our city.”

Baze scowled more, but his shoulders dropped a little. Chirrut gave his arm a gentle pat and then stepped forward, hand held out to Steela. She watched him with wary eyes for a moment, then shook hands.

“Thank you,” she said. “I was sorry to hear about Nijedha.”

Chirrut nodded. “And I am sorry for the loss of your brother.”

Baze sighed, and shoved the pistol back into the holster at his hip. Clearly he would follow Chirrut’s lead in this, though he did not look happy about it.

“Now that we’re all here, we should go,” Kay grumbled.

“Go where?” asked Baze.

Smiling wanly, Jyn held the knife up again. “How about another world?”

Without arrows and bullets flying around her, Jyn was much more relaxed and calm this time. Cassian thought he saw a brief expression of pride on her face when she successfully cut an opening to the world with the waterfall, but it shuttered quickly. Bodhi and Baze both looked impressed. Kay did too, though Cassian wasn't sure anyone but he would be able to read the minute eyebrow tilt. Chirrut beamed as though Jyn were a student who had impressed him. “Excellent work,” he told her, and her answering smile was genuine.

The waterfall of the other world thundered down hundreds of feet of sheer cliff face, the spray wonderfully cool on their faces after the muggy heat of the last two days. Everyone stepped through onto the soft grass and set their packs down with a sigh.

“Go well,” said Lady Saveria from atop her dragonfly. Lord Antone was hovering outside the window, watching for trouble. “I doubt that we will meet again, Steela Gerrera, but I am glad to have known you.”

“It's been an honour,” said Steela warmly. “I owe a great deal to you and to your people.”

“Continue your fight, and we shall continue ours. That is all we can ask. Farewell.”

And with a nod of her proud head, Lady Saveria turned her dragonfly and flew back to the forest of her own world. Jyn felt for the edges of the window, and pinched it gently closed.

“It seemed rude to ask,” said Chirrut conversationally, “but who was that tiny woman?”


Jyn

Her hand was in agony again, and she was sweating and shaking, though she tried to hide it. She hung back from the group as they walked away from the waterfall to a quieter area where the river ran into calmer pools. The others kept sending worried glances at her, but she gritted her teeth and ignored them. Now that they were all together, with the knife, she wanted to focus entirely on getting to her father. She would not waste time.

At the edge of a calm, clear pool, she knelt and splashed the beautifully cool water over her face and neck with her good hand, washing away the sweat and grime of the last two days. Aster perched in the shallows to wash, preening his wings and fluffing his feathers. Further along the bank the others were doing the same. Only Cassian’s cat dæmon was keeping her distance, licking her paws and smoothing them over her whiskers. Baze practically dunked his entire head into the water and shook his shaggy hair out like a dog, soaking Chirrut and making him yelp.

“Jyn?”

She looked up into Steela’s face. The older woman looked exhausted up-close, her eyes sunk in shadow and her skin ashy. The golden snake dæmon was coiled around her shoulders, his head tucked under her collar. Jyn was strongly reminded of her last meeting with Saw, when he’d looked so old and so tired.

“You’re in pain,” Steela said bluntly. “Don’t pretend otherwise – remember, I know exactly how much this particular injury hurts.”

Jyn relented. “Yeah,” she muttered. “It really fucking hurts.”

Steela almost smiled, and dug out some more painkillers for her to take. “It won’t be much, but it might take the edge off. Just dealing with the pain will sap your strength, and you need it.”

There was too much truth in that to ignore, so Jyn swallowed the painkillers quickly. “Thank you,” she said, not quite meeting Steela’s eyes. “For coming with us.”

Steela considered her for a moment. “I didn’t know your parents well,” she said, “but Saw loved them both. He wanted to help your father, and so do I.”


Once everyone was refreshed and feeling at least a little safer for the first time in a while, they wasted no more time filling Chirrut and Baze in on the story of the knife and their meeting with Steela. At the description of her injury, Chirrut reached out and grasped Jyn’s good hand, giving it a brief, tight squeeze. When the story was done, both men looked amazed and wary.

“The witch, she was right to be worried by this knife,” Baze rumbled. On his shoulder, his hedgehog dæmon’s quills flared a little.

Chirrut nodded. “It will be useful, but we should use it as little as possible. So much Dust is being pulled from our world after the attack on Nijedha, we cannot make that worse.”

“These windows would be a tiny drop in the ocean compared to that abyss,” Kay pointed out.

Chirrut looked uncomfortable, tapping his cane against his boot. “I don’t have a good feeling about that knife,” he said simply. “I cannot explain it.”

Cassian and Kay exchanged frowns, and Jyn understood why. Yes, they had first heard of the knife from a vague mention of Saw’s, but the alethiometer had told Chirrut that they would need it. It was true that the knife was dangerous, but surely it was a good thing that they had it?

“How are we going to get to Dr Erso?” Kay asked, changing the subject. “We have the knife, but there must be millions of other worlds. The odds of getting to the right one must be incalculably small.”

That had occurred to Jyn too. She had successfully cut two windows, both to the same world; she had been able to find the point that cut to this place, a small snag in the air, but she hadn’t been able to detect any others yet. Steela had used the knife for years, and had never been able to find the way to cut through to their own world, though she must have tried often. And now Jyn needed to cut her way into a world she didn’t know at all.

“Would you recognise the world if you saw it?” Cassian asked Bodhi.

Bodhi shuffled his feet, his hare dæmon crouched warily at his ankles. “Um. Perhaps? I would recognise the area of that world I used to fly into, but it probably looks completely different in other places.” That made sense. If someone’s only experience of their world was, say, the Brytish countryside, they wouldn’t necessarily recognise the Sahara as belonging to the same place. But they didn’t have a choice. It must be possible. The alethiometer had steered them this far, after all.

“There must be a way,” said Jyn stubbornly. “We knew we had to get the knife to find Dad.”

“You knew from Saw,” said Steela softly. “Jyn, Saw could place his hopes in the smallest possibility sometimes...”

But it wasn’t just from Saw. It seemed like weeks ago but was only a few days, when they had sat in the Norroway safehouse and watched Chirrut read the alethiometer. Find the knife had been the alethiometer’s advice. Jyn and Cassian had avoided mentioning the alethiometer to Steela, knowing it was not their secret to tell. She looked over at Chirrut, who was leaning on his cane, his dark brows drawn. Aster chirruped on her shoulder, and Chirrut’s dæmon flicked her tongue.

“No, we know this is the way,” said Jyn, watching Chirrut. They had to use the alethiometer to find the right place, and it meant he had to give the knowledge to somebody else.

Chirrut sighed. “I suppose we can’t keep this secret,” he said. Baze looked deeply unhappy. “I know you don’t like it,” Chirrut said to him, though Baze hadn’t spoken. “But do you have another suggestion?”

“No,” Baze muttered, and Chirrut nodded. He still wore the leather satchel strapped close to his body, and from this he pulled out the alethiometer. Though they had seen it a few times now, it was still astonishing to be in the presence of an actual alethiometer; despite herself, Jyn found herself drawn closer, and Aster fluttered into the air over Chirrut’s shoulder to get a better view. Steela actually gasped, her dæmon hissing loudly.

“How is this possible?” she asked, staring at the instrument in shock. “There’s only two of them in the world, under more security than the crown jewels! Is it real?”

“Of course it’s real,” said Chirrut. “To be fair, this one was under a decent amount of security, until the Magisterium moved on the Temple.”

Steela’s eyes were wide, and she stepped closer to look at the instrument. Baze moved imperceptibly closer to Chirrut, like a protective guard dog. “So this is what was in the Temple... how have you kept it from them since then?”

Chirrut shrugged vaguely. “Secrecy? It wasn’t common knowledge that it was in the Temple in the first place.”

“This told you to seek the knife?”

“Yes,” said Jyn. “Saw mentioned it first, and then the alethiometer also told us. It’s been right so far, Steela.”

“How long do you take with the Books?” Steela asked Chirrut. “And how – how do you—”

Chirrut gave her a slightly cocky smile. “Maybe a demonstration?” he suggested, and promptly folded his legs to sit down in the grass. Baze continued to hover beside him, clearly deeply unhappy that yet another stranger had been given knowledge of the alethiometer. His dæmon was bristling slightly on his shoulder.

Jyn sank onto her heels to watch as Chirrut closed his eyes, his gecko dæmon crawling down from her customary place in his hair to perch on his wrist. Steela crouched beside her, looking utterly fascinated. The others hung back, though their dæmons all crept closer to watch. For a few minutes nothing much seemed to happen, then Chirrut drew in a breath and his long fingers moved to turn the alethiometer’s dials, pointing the three hands to the horse, the compass, and the dolphin. Jyn thought she could guess at the meanings: the horse, for journeys; the compass, for her father the experimental theologian; the dolphin… one of its lower-level meanings was to give assistance. Where do we travel to aid Galen Erso?

The long needle began to spin, pausing briefly at different symbols as it swung around the alethiometer’s face. There were almost infinite possible meanings for each symbol, so it must be doing something more complex than just counting down the list, but she couldn’t imagine what. The gecko dæmon’s red eyes followed the needle’s dancing movement. Sword, horse, marionette, beehive, camel, cauldron...

Finally Chirrut’s eyes flickered open. He always seemed a little disoriented afterwards; Jyn supposed it must be odd to go from sharing his dæmon’s sight back into the dark of his blindness. Baze dropped a hand to his shoulder from behind, and Chirrut reached up to grasp it.

“It says the world will have lights,” he said, frowning. “Dancing lights. It says to persevere, and we will find it.”

“Dancing lights,” Kay repeated, sounding both puzzled and unimpressed.

“That’s what it seemed to say.” Chirrut shook his head as though to clear it and tucked the alethiometer away. “The alethiometer is not a map, it cannot give us exact directions.”

Bodhi spoke up, his voice surprisingly eager. “There are fireflies. Where Galen is, I mean. It’s a very, um, wet place, lots of rain, but after the rains there were always fireflies.”

Oh,” said Chirrut’s dæmon. “That’s what it was! Not lights!”

“Amazing,” Steela looked awed. She turned to Jyn. “Then we should start cutting to other worlds, and see if we can find these fireflies.”

It wasn’t much more to go on, but it was something. The pain in Jyn’s hand had abated a little, and she was impatient to move on. She stood and unbuckled the knife, steeling herself. Aster flew back to her shoulder, running his beak through the loose hair over her ear. “We can do it,” he murmured to her, and she nodded.

Jyn was not someone given to self-consciousness, for all that she was often closed-off and defensive, but she still felt like she had been placed under a spotlight when she began trying to cut a new window in the air. Everyone was watching expectantly, humans and dæmons both. After a few abortive motions, she snapped out through gritted teeth, “Can you all just talk amongst yourselves, or something?”

That did the trick. Jyn knew that they were all still watching, but it was easier to block them out when they were doing it from a distance. Steela stayed close, ready to offer assistance, and Jyn drew in a deep, shaky breath. She had to get this right.

“Different worlds feel different,” said Steela. “You found this one more easily the second time because you knew what you were looking for. Others may feel different: harder, softer, more brittle… the more you use the knife, the more you will be able to tell. Don’t worry about finding the exact world now, but see if you can find a new one.”

Jyn tried. She closed her eyes, trying to relax and let her mind slip down to the knife, to feel through the air. She felt a little snag, like she had felt before, and slid the knife in to make a small window, only a hand’s width across. She knew it was the Gallivespian world before she even opened her eyes, recognising the muggy heat and swampy smell. She fumbled for the window’s edges and drew it closed, frustrated.

“Now you know what that one feels like,” said Aster encouragingly.

“Exactly,” agreed Steela. “Try again.”

She tried. And tried. The next point she found took her back to the Gallivespian world once more. Gritting her teeth, she drew the window closed and raised the knife again. Come on, she thought furiously. Concentrate. You need to save Dad. Find the right world and you can see him again.

Sweat trickled down her brow, stinging her eyes. Her injured hand was throbbing. She tried to block it out. If she didn’t learn to use the knife properly, if she couldn’t find the right world, then her father would be left in the Magisterium’s clutches. They’d use the weapon again. More people would die. And Cassian, Bodhi, the others would be… what? Stranded, like Steela, away from everything they’d known. Save the dream, Saw had said. He would be so disappointed.

Jyn cursed, only just restraining herself from hurling the damn knife away from her. “I can’t do it,” she said furiously. She felt shaky and weak, and hated it.

“Jyn—” Aster began.

“No. I don’t want to hear. I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t want any of it. This can’t all be on me.” She brushed the mingled sweat and tears away from her face with her injured hand, and regretted it immediately. The wound throbbed anew, sending a wave of nausea through her.

“You can do this,” said Steela firmly. “You just need to focus.”

“I am focusing,” she muttered, aware that she sounded like a sullen teenager.

“On the knife, and nothing else. You are getting lost in your own thoughts.”

Jyn gritted her teeth and raised the knife again, trying to push away pain and grief and anger. She was good at compartmentalising, had become a damn expert on it in the years since she had lost her parents. She could do this, could push everything else away. She didn’t have to think about the horrifying power of the Magisterium’s weapon, or about Saw, or her father, my Stardust, you are the one good thing in my wasted life—

“Stop!” Steela exclaimed, and Jyn wrenched the knife away just as it jarred against a point in the air. She stared at the blade in her shaking hand.

“What was that?”

“The knife can break, if you don’t focus your mind on it properly,” said Steela, passing a hand over her tired face. “If your mind slips, the knife can slip, and shatter.”

Well, shit.

She looked away from Steela, suddenly unable to look her in the face, and saw Cassian making his way over to them. The others were sitting in the grass a few metres away: Bodhi and Kay were talking quietly; Baze was lying on his back, shielding his eyes with his arm; Chirrut was seemingly lost in meditation, his cane across his knees. Jyn wished she could sink into that calm state so easily. Cassian looked concerned, and Jyn glared at him. She didn’t need his concern or his pity right now.

“Take a break,” he suggested as he reached her.

“There isn’t time,” she snapped. “You and Kay are the ones that wanted us to hurry.”

She saw him bridle a little, but his dæmon bumped her head against his ankles and he didn’t snap back. “Look,” he said, “you’re trying to focus on what you’re doing, but you’ve got a lot on your mind. I do understand.”

“Great, thanks, now can you just—”

“You’re good at being other people,” he interrupted. “You’ve done it for years. Jyn Erso has a lot on her mind right now, but does Lianna Hallik?”

She stared at him. He regarded her steadily; his expression wasn’t worried or pitying now, but clear and understanding. For a moment she felt something similar to what she had felt last night, when his dæmon had curled around Aster. Something warm and strengthening. She nodded, and turned back to Steela, raising the knife.

Closing her eyes and breathing slowly, she let Jyn Erso slip away, much as she had done when working undercover on any of her investigative missions. She held herself at a slight remove, one part of her watching, documenting, paying attention to the details; yes, she was angry, yes, she was grieving, yes she was in pain. Those things were not important right now. She held out the knife, her grip relaxed now, and searched through the air. She picked out the snag she knew, felt the way it gave easily under the tip of the blade. She pulled away and searched further, not pushing for it now. Then she felt it. This point in the air felt tighter, somehow, like a taut stitch, and it took a little more effort to sink the knife in, but when she pulled the window open there was not the humidity of the Gallivespian world, but the sharp, anbaric smell of a threatening storm. Jyn opened her eyes and saw through the small window a world of heavy grey skies, a rolling green sea against a dark stretch of beach. As she watched, a jagged crack of lightning split the sky.

It wasn’t the right world, but it was another one. Aster, delighted, leapt from her shoulder and through the window, swooping in one big circle of the other world and then returning. Steela’s expression was proud, and Cassian smiled.

The alethiometer had said to persevere. Jyn pinched the window closed and held the knife aloft again. She would find it, no matter how many worlds she had to cut into.

She cut window after window, opening worlds that could have been her own, full of buildings and people, and worlds that could have been on other planets, full of strange sights and sounds. One window opened in a field of huge animals like hairy blue cows, and one nosed curiously at the space in the air, its yellow eyes placid and calm. Another world was a desert full of piles of rusted metal, looking like nothing so much as abandoned spaceships. None of them had fireflies, but she was getting better at locating the different points in the air, identifying which belonged to which world.

She persisted. Finally, bone-weary, starving, her hand in agony, she cut through to a world that smelled like dirt after rain. There was a glimmer of light, and Aster fluttered excitedly on her shoulder. Feeling his excitement, she opened the window wider.

They really did look like dancing lights. Miniscule points of gleaming gold, flickering like tiny candles, swayed and spun through the dimness as though choreographed. For a moment Jyn couldn’t speak. She pressed her injured hand to the electrum pendant at her neck, hope burning once again in her chest.

Chapter Text

Cassian

Cassian stared through the window at the Magisterium base. The dull, grey building squatted atop the cliffside below them, barely visible through the darkness and the thick curtain of rain. The fireflies were long gone, awaiting the brief reprieve from what seemed like an almost constant downpour. Thunder rumbled menacingly overhead. They had cut a window on the mountainside some distance from the base itself, needing to keep out of sight, but Cassian was still concerned that someone at the base would spot the small square of sunlight in the gloom.

It was a strange sensation, to be kneeling on the soft, damp grass of the waterfall world, with the sun warming his neck, looking out at a storm-ridden clifftop. It was night, in the world the Magisterium had claimed for this base.

The hike through the waterfall world had taken the better part of three days, stopping regularly so that Jyn could cut a window to check their progress. While the knife could cut into the fabric between worlds, unfortunately it could do nothing about distance, and they had been a long way from their destination; for a long time the mountains had not seemed to get any closer, the rocky plain seemingly endless. The walk had been difficult, for all that the waterfall landscape seemed peaceful and safe: everybody had been tense, deeply aware of how close they were to a dangerous and possibly fatal mission. And now there was no going back.

“They call it the Energy Conversion Lab,” said Bodhi, who was looking through the window beside him. Cassian snorted. The Magisterium loved to give its organisations these innocuous names, as though to obscure their dreadful purpose. “The window from our world is down the other side of that cliff, to the west. The mountains are basically impassable, so the only way in is by air – there’s a short runway and a gyropter pad at the base. They have a small aerodock down there. That’s where they process the soldiers and security patrols, and the supplies.” The aeronaut’s voice was tense but he looked determined, pointing confidently in the directions he indicated.

“Do you know your way around the base?”

“Um. A little? The main areas, yes. But there’s security protocols and passcodes, there’s no way we can get past…”

“We’re not getting past just yet,” said Cassian. “We need to have some idea where Dr Erso might be, then we can use the knife to get to him. You and I can go out and look around, get the lay of the land.”

“I’m coming with you,” said Jyn hotly from behind them. Cassian turned from the window to meet her furious gaze. Her hand was still tightly bandaged. Though the wound seemed to be healing well she was paler and weaker than he suspected she would ever admit.

“No,” he said firmly. “We can’t risk either you or the knife falling into the Magisterium’s hands. If Bodhi and I get caught, you and the others can still get to safety. You need to stay with the window.”

Bodhi’s face was vivid with fear at the easy way Cassian mentioned their possible capture, but he nodded. “If – if we get caught, you can try and rescue Galen again,” he said, only the faintest quiver in his voice. “If they catch you and the knife, Jyn, it’s game over.”

She didn’t like it, Cassian could see, but that didn’t matter. He had orders to follow, and a mission to carry out. The rifle over his shoulder was a heavy weight.


He and Bodhi made their way across the slippery rocks, having left the others to guard the window with strict instructions to close it should they be found. Cassian was uneasy; over the last three days Jyn’s wound had seemed to be healing, though she was often in dreadful pain, but Kay’s had turned angry and red, despite their attempts to keep it clean. Kay had borne the pain with his usual stiff-necked belligerence, but Cassian couldn’t help but be worried about infection setting in. Steela too had been flagging, looking more and more worn and weary as the days had gone on. He didn’t know her well, but after her long exile and the way she had so readily helped himself and Jyn he felt that he owed it to her to get her home. They needed to get this done.

Cassian bowed his head against the driving rain, focusing on keeping his footing over the treacherous ground. Bodhi was just ahead of him, and their dæmons bounded in front, much more sure-footed and picking the safest route. The only light was from the huge anbaric spotlights ranged around the compound’s perimeter. As they got closer Cassian could see the tall wire fence lining the place on three sides, topped with spirals of barbed wire. The fourth side was open to the cliff-edge, a runway jutting out into the darkness. They were approaching from the side, the sheer cliff dropping into the precipitous dark several hundred metres to their right. Dark shapes were moving inside the compound, any details almost imperceptible through the torrent. They stopped, crouching behind a large, mossy rock and peering into the gloom.

“Guards,” Bodhi whispered, pointing at the moving shapes. “Mostly just normal guards, but they usually have a regiment of Troopers too.”

Cassian nodded thoughtfully. Troopers could be a problem: without their dæmons they had no real sense of fear, they couldn’t be bargained with, couldn’t be intimidated. But they also had no sense of curiosity, instead just blindly following instructions they were given. Cassian had managed to get past them before, it just took a little cunning.

“Where’s the lab from here?” Rucía asked from where she was crouched atop the rock, her drenched fur plastered to her narrow body.

“It’s really deep inside,” Bodhi said. “I’ve never seen it, there’s like a hundred levels of security to get to it. I think Director Krennic is one of the only people with full clearance, except Galen.”

Krennic. That name was familiar to Cassian. Orson Krennic had been in Galen Erso’s file as a known associate; the director of the Magisterium’s ‘clean energy’ project, and a friend of Erso’s from Oxford. He was the one who had brought Erso into the Magisterium in the first place, supposedly interested in his research into Dust as a source of energy. The photogram in the file had shown a man with a clever face, a sarcastic twist to his lips, an orb-weaver spider dæmon perched on his shoulder.

“Cassian, look there!” Rucía hissed. Her cat-eyes were sharper than Cassian’s, and he fumbled for the binoculars he’d tucked into a pocket. The damned rain was numbing his fingers.

Striding out onto the runway was a man dressed in white. Through the driving rain he looked almost like a ghost, but as Cassian focused the binoculars he could just make him out, seemingly unbothered by the freezing downpour, his spider dæmon perched neatly on his shoulder.

“It’s Krennic,” he whispered, and felt Bodhi tense beside him.

Cassian’s fingers itched. One well-placed shot and they could be rid of a high-profile Magisterium official. The shot would be tricky, but not impossible. Krennic was standing out there bold as brass, a perfect target. He was so far out on the runway that the perimeter fence wouldn’t even be an obstacle.

Rucía hissed in warning, and Cassian pushed the thought away. She was right; he could shoot Krennic, but then what? Soldiers would be sent this way. Security would tighten. Erso might even be moved to a different facility, and they would lose any chance of getting to him. Krennic was not the focus of this mission, and Cassian had explicit orders from Draven.

He thought of Jyn, and swallowed. Guilt sat in his stomach like a stone. The others all thought this was a rescue mission. Would Bodhi be here, spying on the people he had escaped from, if he knew what Cassian had been ordered to do?

“We need to get closer. Do you know where Erso will be?”

“If he’s not in the lab he’d be in his quarters,” said Bodhi softly. “They don’t let him out of their sight much – we only managed to talk when he insisted on checking the shipments I brought, but I bet they won’t let him do that now.”

No. There was a small chance that they didn’t realise what Galen Erso had done, but considering the Magisterium had been hunting for Bodhi back in Trollesund… well, Cassian didn’t hold out much hope for that.

“Can we get onto the runway from here? If we could cut through there, we could bypass some of the security…”

“Maybe, if we just – wait!”

Bodhi pointed. A group of people were being herded out of the squat building by some armed Troopers and driven towards the waiting Krennic. Fumbling the binoculars back to his eyes, Cassian saw that the man at the front of the group was none other than Galen Erso. He was wearing a white chapel coat, his hair even greyer than in the recent photograms Cassian had seen, his chough dæmon perched on his shoulder. Even from here Cassian could see her restless fidgeting, a betrayal of her human’s tension. The other people in the group, also wearing chapel coats, huddled behind Erso. His team of theologians, Cassian guessed. There was fear and confusion in their postures as they faced the director, all standing very close together as the Troopers fanning out to surround them. Galen Erso stood straight-backed, and Cassian saw something of Jyn in the defiant tilt of his head.

This was his chance. He could do it, as easily as he could have shot Krennic. He touched the sniper rifle slung over his shoulder. He had never hesitated before: he had killed enemies, soldiers, faceless strangers, had even killed others in the Alliance when the mission called for it. Cassian Andor was not a sentimental man. He had his orders. Someone with Erso’s knowledge was dangerous.

Still he hesitated. He thought of Jyn, her fierce expression, her blazing green eyes, the pain and grief in her voice whenever she spoke of her father. She had come all this way, followed Cassian through so much, on the slight, shining hope that she could rescue her father.

“We should go back,” Bodhi urged, touching Cassian’s arm. “He’s there, he’s right there, if Jyn can make a window—” His voice was mingled hope and fear, and his dæmon actually began leaping eagerly back up the slope.

Cassian continued to watch Erso through the binoculars. He was arguing with Krennic, gesturing at the other people in chapel coats behind him. Krennic looked cold, furious. Erso was crumpled and grey and defeated looking, but there was something of Jyn in him. Some fight and fire.

Cassian made his decision.


Baze

Cassian and Bodhi were soon out of sight, their forms swallowed up by the darkness. Baze and Chirrut sat outside the window side-by-side, sheltering from the rain under a craggy overhang. It had rained rarely in Jedha, but when it had it had been in a huge torrent that flooded the streets, washing the city clean. This relentless, constant downpour was as alien as the icy north or the tall forests they had travelled through. Baze wasn’t sure he liked it much: it would be difficult to spot anybody’s approach, difficult to aim accurately if it was needed.

He checked his gun in silence, Zin tense and watchful on his shoulder. Chirrut chanted softly under his breath, his staff in his lap. To others he would look perfectly relaxed, but Baze could feel the coiled strength in him, like a tiger waiting to spring.

“Do not fret so much, my heart,” Chirrut said softly, breaking off his chant and leaning more into Baze’s shoulder. “Everything will come right.”

Baze huffed. “And how do you know that?”

“We have come this far, have we not?”

“That does not mean anything.”

Chirrut shrugged, a half-smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “From this moment I step into my next,” he murmured. “From this place I step into my next.”

Baze did not pick up the remainder, though it echoed in his head. “From this life I step into my next, for I am of Dust.” It had been comforting, once, a reminder that all was as it should be, to take things as they came.

Instead, he leant his weight more against Chirrut’s, turning his head to brush a fleeting kiss to Chirrut’s damp, bristly hair. Chirrut smiled again, and slid back into his old chant.

Steela and Kay both watched in the direction that Cassian and Kay had gone, their faces unreadable. Baze was still not sure what to make of the Gerrera woman; she was, after all, Saw Gerrera’s sister. Chirrut had decided to trust her, and Baze followed Chirrut’s lead in such things. She reminded Baze of the strange statues lying in the desert outside Nijedha, worn away by the sands and winds and time, remnants of a long-lost society. Steela too looked worn and faded, as though she were slowly eroding. Baze had seen the same in Saw, except that what had been stripped from Saw was all his care and mercy. Steela, on the other hand, had tended Jyn’s terrible wound each day with care and worry in her face.

Jyn herself was pacing, clutching the knife in her uninjured hand, her face pale and her eyes glittering. She had pulled a hood over her head to fend off the rain, and it cast her face in shadow. Her dæmon kept swooping up as far as he could, returning to her shoulder to shake the raindrops from his feathers before repeating the pattern. Baze couldn’t blame them; Jyn had come to rescue her father, and now he was within her grasp but still she had to wait, and she was pushing against it, fretful and angry.

“Cassian Andor,” said Chirrut, breaking his chant again and slipping back into English. “Does he have the face of a killer?”

Baze thought about it. Cassian had killed people, of course. Baze had seen him do it, not a few days ago. But there was no pleasure in it, no satisfaction, just a grim determination to get the job done. Cassian was a man locked in a prison of duty, but Baze could see that it was all built on a bedrock of hope, of a belief in something better. He saw how Cassian worried over Kay and Jyn, how he’d protected Bodhi. “No,” he said slowly. “He has the face of a friend.”

Jyn had stopped her pacing and was staring at Chirrut. “Why do you ask that?” she asked sharply.

Chirrut tilted his head. Baze recognised the gesture; it was Chirrut deciding how to phrase things so that other people might understand him. “There was a dullness around him,” he said, waving one long hand. “Dust does not move so strongly around those who are going to kill.”

He had told Baze that before, and it made Baze’s heart clench. Chirrut was forever saying that Baze glowed in his mind, and it scared him that one day that would fade away, and Chirrut would no longer be able to sense him. They had learnt to fight at the Temple, but never to kill. Dust was life, but both he and Chirrut had taken many lives now.

But Cassian hadn’t gone to kill, he had gone to map the lay of the land—

“He had his sniper rifle with him,” said Kay abruptly.

Jyn froze, staring at Kay in horror.

“It may not mean what you think,” said Steela, speaking for the first time in a while, but Jyn ignored her. Before any of them could speak or move, she had darted to the window and pinched it closed, then whirled away after Cassian.

“Jyn!” Steela called, but she was gone, her dæmon swooping over her head. She was out of sight in moments.

His face utterly calm, Chirrut stood up and stepped out into the rain. He made his way carefully over the slippery rocks, sweeping his cane in front of him to guide him. Zin groaned in Baze’s ear.

“What now?” she muttered.

“Where are you going?” Baze called at Chirrut’s retreating back.

“To follow Jyn!” he called back, sounding almost cheerful, the fool. “Her path is clear.”

Baze scoffed. “Alone? Good luck!”

Chirrut had almost disappeared into the gloom, still carefully finding his way over the rocks. “I don’t need luck. I have you!”

Zin sighed, and Baze sighed with her. Well, he couldn’t leave the idiot to wander off like that, he’d probably fall off the mountain. One of the Temple’s masters had once told Baze that he may as well have been Chirrut’s dæmon himself, and so it was still. He heaved himself to his feet, gun in hand, and set off into the downpour.

“This time we really will leave without you!” Kay yelled after him.


Jyn

The rocks were cold and slippery under her feet, and her hand was throbbing with renewed pain, but she ignored all of it. Rage and fear boiled under her skin. After everything they had been through, after fighting together, journeying together, after finding the knife (after his dæmon curled around hers, close and comforting), she had thought that she could maybe trust Cassian Andor. The first person in years who Jyn Erso – not Lianna Hallik, not Kestrel Dawn – had felt she might be able to trust. She had believed him, had trusted his judgement, when he said he was just going out for reconnaissance. She hadn’t even noticed that he’d taken a sniper rifle.

Idiot, she cursed herself. Idiot, idiot, should never have trusted him.

Where was he? He and Bodhi seemed to have disappeared. If Cassian shot her father, she’d kill him herself.

“Focus,” Aster whispered, and she nodded, wiping the cold rain from her face. In the dark it was hard to see where she was going, but she could just make out the glaring lights from the laboratory now, misty and unfocused in the gloom and the rain. As she drew closer, she saw the squat, grey base, the compound with its high wire fences, ringed with armed soldiers, and what looked like a runway, with a small group of people clustered under the bright lights.

She fumbled for the small pair of binoculars tucked into the side of her pack and put them to her eyes.

Her father was standing at the front of the group, his face haggard, and he seemed to be arguing with the man before him. His dæmon was rustling her feathers, clearly upset. They were surrounded by soldiers, all wearing helmets that completely obscured their features. Jyn’s heart lurched to see her father's face, not in a photogram or a video, but with her own eyes, as though she could reach out and touch him. A deep, painful longing swelled in her chest, thickening in her throat.

Hands shaking, trying to calm herself, she lifted the knife and tried to cut a window. She was close, so close, he was surrounded by armed soldiers, there was no time to waste—

The knife jarred, and she froze, panic rising. She couldn’t break the knife. Aster pressed himself to her neck, warm against her pounding pulse.

“We’re scared,” he murmured to her. “We’re scared and we’re angry and in pain. Don’t push it away, just… let it happen, in the background. Focus.”

She had to take in a few new deep breaths, reaching up with her injured hand to press her mother’s electrum pendant hanging against her collarbone. It took all of her mental strength to focus just on the knife, letting her churning emotions sink down, her mind slipping down her arm to the knife, which sank into the air like butter. Gleaming sunlight poured through the new window, and she flung herself into the next world and ran. If she could create a sort of tunnel, a window at each end... if she could reach her father, she could pull him through to safety and they'd never be able to get to him. How far away had he been? A few hundred metres?

She ran, leaping over tussocks of grass, Aster soaring alongside her, the freezing rain replaced with gentle spray from the plunging waterfalls. Finally she stopped, heart pounding, hoping she'd judged correctly. Trying to steady her breathing, she raised the knife again.

When she cut back through, it was to the sound of gunfire. Fear choked her, and Aster gave a cry of terror. No no no no no, she thought desperately. She couldn’t have come this far to lose him now.

She had cut back through behind the low building built along the edge of the runway, hidden from the glaring lights of the compound. Peering around the corner she could see the back of a guard, standing just outside the building’s shadow. From here she couldn’t see the figures on the runway, had no way of knowing if that gunfire had been meant for her father.

“Jyn, behind you,” Aster whispered.

She turned, knife in hand. Chirrut and Baze were jogging through the springy turf towards her, both soaked to the skin. Despite herself, she raised the knife as they reached her, though she wasn’t sure if she intended it as a threat. “I’m not going back,” she snapped. “I came to save my father, and I’m going to bloody well save him. I don’t care what Cassian wants.”

“Of course,” said Chirrut, inclining his head. His expression was calm and open, a small smile on his lips. Jyn’s hands were shaking.

“You will need a distraction,” Baze rumbled, hoisting the enormous firearm he carried. “We are good at causing trouble.”

Very good." Chirrut's face split into one of his too-big smiles.

Something warm and fond trickled into Jyn’s chest, easing her fear. She nodded and stepped away so they could exit the window. As the two men passed her, Chirrut reached out and grasped her hand, giving it a brief, tight squeeze. His dæmon flicked her tongue in Jyn’s direction, and then they were gone, slipping out of the window and round the back of the building, fading into the shadows.

Jyn slid the window closed and strapped the knife back into its scabbard. The guard didn’t seem to have heard anything, still standing to attention. She pressed herself to the side of the building, edging slowly forwards, her heart pounding so hard she was surprised nobody could hear it. She needed to see what was going on on the runway. If she could judge the distance properly, she might be able to cut a window right next to her father and pull him through before anyone realised what had happened…

An explosion ripped through the air on the other side of the building, almost knocking her off her feet as the ground rocked. She ducked, hands over her head, a thrill of fear and panic in her chest. The guard in front of her staggered and nearly fell, but managed to sprint off in the direction of the explosion, just as another one rent the air further down the runway towards the main base. What was going on? Was this Chirrut and Baze’s idea of a distraction, or was this something else? She grasped for the handgun strapped at her shoulder, tugging it free as she sprinted out onto the runway and into chaos.

The runway was partially destroyed, fire licking into the darkness from a nearby building, undampened by the pounding rain. There seemed to be bodies everywhere, limp figures in chapel coats strewn across the ground, blood mixing with rainwater. Someone was yelling orders, the soldiers in the strange, white uniform and full-face helmets were falling into line, yells and gunfire were drawing them away… Jyn darted through all of it, nobody paying attention to her, slipping and sliding on the wet runway, casting about everywhere for her father.

“There!” cried Aster, who was flying overhead, and she saw him. He was standing as though frozen, staring at the bodies at his feet, his face gaunt and white. His dæmon was flapping over his head as though trying to tug him away. Aster darted towards her with a cry.

“Dad!”

Jyn sprinted to him, seizing his arm – warm under her fingers, shaking, alive – and stared into his face, at once both familiar and so changed. He stared at her uncomprehendingly for a moment, then realisation spread across his features.

“Jyn?” he whispered.

“Yes,” she choked out, hot tears on her cheeks. She touched his face, soft and lined and grey, and he clutched at her hand. “I’m here, I’m here.”

“Stardust,” he breathed. “Jyn, how – how are you—”

“Bodhi found me,” she said, and saw the wonder in his expression. “I’m here to save you.” She wanted to gaze at him for hours, take him in, document every change to his face, but there was no time. She could hear more gunfire nearby. “We need to move, now.”

She was shaking. There was no way she could open a window here, she had to get him away from the open. He nodded, still looking completely astonished. “Lead the way.”


The compound was surrounded by a tall wire fence topped with barbed wire, but such a thing was no obstacle for somebody carrying the Subtle Knife. Jyn cut a gap in the fence, the knife sliding through the thick wire with no resistance at all. She seized her father’s hand in her own injured one, ignoring the pain, and dragged him through the fence and into the darkness. Aster and Lene flew above them, eyes sharp for anyone following as they half-walked, half-climbed up and away from the compound.

“Jyn.” Her father still sounded utterly bewildered. “Jyn, that knife – your hand, you’re hurt—”

“I’ll explain later,” she promised. “Once we’re safe.”

Safe. Could he actually be safe again? Would the Alliance shelter him, even now?

One thing at a time, she told herself. She could cut a window now, to the waterfall world, and they would be safe for a brief time. But Chirrut and Baze must still be down in the compound, possibly surrounded by the guards after causing a diversion. Bodhi was here somewhere, and had risked everything for her, for her father. And Steela, who needed to return home. She couldn’t leave them here.

She pushed away thoughts of Cassian, his betrayal burning like acid in her stomach.

“Stardust?”

She stopped, taking a deep breath. “I had help, finding you,” she said. “My friends… I can’t leave them.”

He regarded her, taking her in with a tired, thoughtful gaze. “You look so much like your mother,” he said. “She wouldn’t leave people behind either.”

Cold rain mingled with the tears on her cheeks. She led him further away from the base, scrambling over the wet rocks and loose shale. She thought this was the way back, to where she’d left everyone behind, but in the darkness everything in this craggy landscape looked the same. All the time she was aware of the base behind them, with its glaring lights and its armed Troopers and the bodies of those experimental theologians. Had they known what they were working on? Had they been held against their will, only to be disposed of when they were no longer useful?

There was movement ahead of them on the path. Jyn tightened her grip on the knife, wishing she had two working hands. But out of the darkness came two familiar shapes: the tall, rangy figure of Kay, and Steela, a rifle in hand. They both had their weapons pointed at Jyn and Galen, who had raised his hands, looking resigned.

“It’s me, it’s me,” Jyn said quickly, lowering the knife before Kay could take her for an enemy.

“Thank God!” Steela exclaimed, dropping the muzzle of her rifle. She stepped forward to clasp Jyn’s shoulder and search her face. “You’re alright?”

“You had very basic instructions, Jyn Erso,” said Kay peevishly.

“Yeah, and they weren’t good instructions,” Jyn said. She reached behind her, grasping her father’s hand in her injured one again. “I told you, Kay: I came to rescue my father.”

“Galen,” Steela murmured, her eyes falling on him. “Galen, my god.”

He was looking more bewildered by the moment. “You... you are Saw’s sister. I thought you dead.”

Steela laughed humourlessly. "I believe many thought the same of you."

“Where is Cassian?” Kay interrupted. His dæmon was fretful, buzzing around and around his head. “We should never have split up. If we are found at this base…”

“They will be searching the surroundings,” her father said, snapping his gaze from Steela. “Those explosions back there, the gunfire… your friends, yes? They will be searching for them. Krennic already knows the project is compromised, and now this breach—”

Jyn made a decision. She turned to her father, still grasping his hand. “I need you to trust me.”

“Of course.” He smiled sadly and brushed her cheek with cold fingers.

"I need to leave you. Only for a bit, I promise."

"Jyn, be careful," said Steela, a note of warning in her voice. "I will come with you."

“No. I’ll leave it open – stay with him. Please. I’ll find the others.”

He grasped her shoulders in his big, warm hands, and pressed a kiss to her forehead. He smelt oddly of chemicals and antiseptic, as though from a hospital, but the kiss was soft and gentle. Jyn wanted to hurl herself into his arms, to take him back to the familiar world of her Oxford childhood.

“I’ll wait for you,” he said gently. “Be safe, Stardust.”

Jyn couldn’t speak, but she nodded. Steela’s face was grave, but she followed Galen through the window. She had a rifle as well as a bow now; if anyone found the window, she could protect him. Kay, however, planted his feet and glared down at Jyn through rain-smeared glasses.

“I am coming with you,” he said. It was a statement of fact, not a request. “I will not leave Cassian in this place.”

Well, fine. There was no time to argue with him, so Jyn turned on her heel and headed in the direction of the base, Kay striding along behind her.


 

A small contingent of soldiers and Troopers were pacing the compound, weapons raised. The soldiers’ dæmons – wolf, eagle, cheetah – were watchful. How could they bear to be around the Troopers, Jyn wondered, with the cold emptiness where their own dæmons should be.

“You should not hold this against Cassian,” said Kay unexpectedly.

The relief that had been coursing through Jyn seemed to dissipate, as though washed away in the rain. “What? The fact that he was going to murder my father? After pretending to be on a rescue mission?”

“Yes,” Kay said simply. “He is under direct orders. If he does not carry them out, that could well be counted as sedition. Cassian is an agent of the Alliance, and he does not have the luxury of picking and choosing what orders he will follow.”

Jyn didn’t want to hear it. “Cassian’s career is not worth more than my father’s life.”

“Your father, much as you may hate to think it, is a dangerous man, with dangerous knowledge. You may have had only one goal on this mission, but some of us are working to bring down the Magisterium entirely. One man cannot be weighed against that.”

Jyn couldn’t even look at him. Her heart was burning with anger. “Perhaps he should be. If you murder people for your cause perhaps you’re not much different from the Magisterium.”

Kay was silent for a moment. “You do not believe that.”

She grit her teeth. She didn’t believe that, of course, but she would not listen to him talk of her father’s murder as though it was some hypothetical moral quandary.

“Do you not have anyone you love, Kay?” she threw at him instead, stopping her scramble down the cliffside and turning to face him. He stopped too, his features barely discernible through the darkness. The lights and the fire at the compound glinted orange against the frames of his glasses. “No family, or friends?”

Jyn wasn’t sure if she really wanted to know, or if she wanted to hurt him. His face didn’t flicker. “That is not relevant.”

“Oh, I think it’s relevant.” Aster was on her shoulder, trying to tug her attention onwards, but she ignored him.

“This is not the time to discuss this.”

“So if it was your father out there, you’d just let Cassian kill him. For the greater good.”

Kay was silent and still, but behind the pounding of the rain she could hear the frantic little buzz of his dæmon’s wings. “I left everything behind when I… left the Magisterium,” he said eventually, his voice not quite as terse as usual. “Cassian Andor risked a great deal for me.”

It wasn’t really an answer, but it was the most vulnerable she had ever seen Kay. She didn’t respond, but turned away from him and continued to hurry down the slope. After a beat, she heard him begin to follow.


It was a few minutes later that she became aware that Kay was falling further behind. “Either keep up or go back,” she told him furiously. He didn’t answer. Frustrated, Jyn turned back to find him swaying where he stood.

“Kay?”

“I am alright.” His voice was strained.

“You definitely aren’t.” Jyn strode back to him and touched his injured arm, and he stiffened. Even through the rain-soaked jacket she could feel that his skin was burning. Shit. “You need to go back to Steela. Right now.”

“Not without Cassian.”

“Don’t be such a stubborn fucking idiot. You have a goddamn infection.”

“I am aware.”

“Then go back to the window.”

His mouth twitched in something like a smile. “I don’t think you can make me, Jyn Erso. You are wasting time.”

Dammit, Kay—”

“What’s he done now?” Cassian’s voice rang out from the darkness. He was climbing the slope, rifle hooked over the crook of his arm. His cat dæmon’s lamp-like eyes gleamed in the gloom. Following him, to Jyn’s utmost relief, was the skinny figure of Bodhi, with Chirrut and Baze bringing up the rear.

“Cassian,” said Kay, by way of greeting. “We were looking for you.”

Jyn wanted to storm at Cassian, to shake him, to snatch that damn rifle from his arm and beat him with it, demand to know what he had been thinking. He met her eyes, and before she could begin to speak he had stepped into her space.

“I told you to stay at the window,” he said, his voice low, his eyes glinting. His hair dripped into his eyes.

Jyn didn’t blink. “You lied to me.”

"I had orders, Jyn."

“I don’t give a shit about your orders.”

He regarded her closely. Jyn was very aware of the others standing nearby, of the soldiers that even now might be drawing nearer, of the desperate urge to get back to her father.

“Is he safe?” Cassian asked, unexpectedly. “Your father?”

No thanks to you, she wanted to say. “He’s with Steela.”

He nodded, looking suddenly exhausted. “We need to get out of here.”

He brushed past her, back up the slope, grabbing Kay’s arm to turn him around. Kay swayed, and was forced to lean heavily on Cassian as they began to walk.

Bodhi gave Jyn a sympathetic look, his big eyes bright.

"What was all that about? Is Galen really safe?"

She managed something close to a real smile. “Yes. He’s – he’ll want to see you.”

For a moment she thought Bodhi would hug her, but he just beamed and clapped her on the shoulder.

“Well done,” said Chirrut easily as they all began to climb back towards the window.

“Thank you. For the… distraction.”

Chirrut snorted. “Thank Baze. He was the one blowing things up.”

Baze shrugged his massive shoulders. “If they don’t want things to blow up they shouldn’t leave jet fuel lying around in barrels.”

“Anyone could have shot it,” agreed his hedgehog dæmon, poking her head out of his pocket.

Chirrut laughed, and Jyn almost laughed too, feeling almost giddy. It suddenly hit her that she’d done it. Just over a week ago – though it felt like months, in truth – her singular goal had been to pull her father from the Magisterium’s clutches. It had seemed utterly impossible. But now he was alive and in two pieces, waiting for her in the sun-warmed safety of the next world. Whatever the Magisterium did next, whatever the Alliance had planned to stop them, Jyn almost didn’t care.

The window gleamed ahead of them. The rain began to ease, and as it did so tiny points of firefly-light began to shine and dance in the air, like gold dust.

Chapter Text

Bodhi

The waterfall world seemed almost unnaturally bright after the darkness back at the base, the warm sun a welcome relief after the freezing rain. Bodhi’s hair was dripping a cold trail down his back, and he shivered. His hands were shaking; he buried them in his pockets to try to stop them. It’s just the adrenaline, he told himself. It had happened plenty of times before, and always passed eventually.

Galen had Jyn folded in his arms, was holding onto her as though he wanted to press her right into his skin. Jyn had her face buried in his chest, her shoulders shaking. Their dæmons were in the grass at their feet, Galen’s chough combing her beak through Jyn’s nightingale’s feathers.

Bodhi turned away to give them a little privacy. Baze, Chirrut and Steela were clustered nearby, talking in low voices. Steela kept sending worried glances at where Kay was slumped in the grass, Cassian crouched beside him. But before Bodhi could go more than a few strides, Galen’s hoarse voice called his name and he turned back.

“Bodhi – Bodhi, I truly cannot thank you enough.” Galen reached out, caught Bodhi’s shoulder with one broad hand. Up close he looked gaunter than when Bodhi had last seen him, though it had been barely three weeks ago, but there was a small, genuine smile on his face. Bodhi had never seen him properly smile before.

Somehow, all words failed him. “Oh,” he said, inanely. Aliya butted her head impatiently against his ankle. “I – you really don’t have to. It was… the right thing to do.”

Galen nodded, his smile creasing his eyes. “You brave boy,” he murmured. “You did brilliantly.”

Hot tears prickled behind Bodhi’s eyes and he blinked hard, suddenly not trusting himself to speak. He tried to smile, hoping it didn’t look too watery, and then Galen had pulled him into an embrace. Bodhi froze, his heart pounding. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had hugged him, or even really touched him with any kind of affection, and for a moment he didn’t know what to do with his arms. Tentatively he raised his hands and placed them on Galen’s back. His chapel coat was damp from the rain, his skin cold against Bodhi’s. Bodhi’s father had not been a demonstrative man; Bodhi could count on one hand the amount of times he’d been hugged by him, and they had been brief, tight squeezes. Nothing like this.

He managed to force the treacherous tears down before Galen pulled away, still holding Bodhi’s skinny shoulders in both hands. “Thank you,” he said again, and Bodhi could only nod.


“I can walk, Cassian,” Kay protested. Cassian and his dæmon gave him matching glares.

“You can barely stand. You are not going to last to walk for days on end, and we’re damn well not carrying you.”

The argument between Kay and Cassian over how to get home had been going on for a good few minutes. Kay insisted that going back to the Magisterium’s base would be too dangerous, that they would be even more on-guard after the attack, that they would be hunting for Galen. There was no way that they could make their way to the Magisterium’s window, and even if they could it was heavily guarded.

“And even if we do manage to sneak past guards, Troopers, these 'spectres', then what? We’ll be stranded in the Arctic. Our chances of survival are miniscule. Better to move in the safety of another world and cut our way back later.”

Cassian, on the other hand, insisted that Kay would not manage several days of walking. Their supplies were running low, and there was not even any guarantee that Jyn could cut through to their world. After all, Steela had not managed it in two decades of carrying the knife. Escaping through the Magisterium’s window would be a risk, but if it worked they would be in their own world and able to contact the Alliance.

Privately Bodhi agreed with Cassian, though the idea of returning to the Magisterium’s territory again left him cold with fear. But Kay was feverish and shivering, and it was obvious to everybody that he could not journey much further.

“We thought getting in through that window was impossible. How is getting out of it going to be any easier? I just need a few minutes and then I can walk—”

“We can’t,” Kay’s dæmon interrupted, her small voice almost lost in the argument. Kay froze, turning his head to where she sat on his shoulder. “We can’t go further, Kay.”

Kay slumped, clearly defeated, and rubbed at his face with his good hand, pushing his glasses up his forehead. “Our chances of being caught—”

“No worse than our chances of succumbing to sepsis in the next few days,” his dæmon retorted, her antennae twitching. Kay closed his eyes with a sigh.

“Good,” said Cassian, though his eyes betrayed his worry. “Now we can focus on getting out of here.”

“They have planes, back at the base?” Chirrut asked mildly. He had been listening to the argument with his head cocked, sharp brows pulled into a frown. Everybody looked at him. “Young Bodhi here said there was an aerodock on the other side of the base, yes?”

“You want to steal a plane?” Steela asked, her eyebrows raised.

"I don't want to steal one. But I thought Bodhi might be able to, yes.” He said it as though it were the obvious solution.

Baze gave one of his soft, rumbling laughs. “It won’t be like stealing a supply truck, qīn ài de,” he said. “They would shoot us out of the air.”

Steela looked thoughtful. “If we’re not seen getting to the plane, and if we can be fast enough – get in the air before they really know what is happening…”

“They will be on lockdown,” Galen said. “Nobody in or out. But it will be chaotic, and they do not have enough security to fully patrol the entire base at once. Krennic never thought it would be necessary, that they were too well hidden.” His soft voice had a bitter undercurrent.

Bodhi bit his lip. Would there be so much going on that they could get to a plane without being caught, even with tighter security? There were eight of them, four of whom were known and wanted by the Magisterium. They’d have to get to a plane, unseen, be able to take off without being shot down, fly through the heavily guarded window, and then back through the Arctic without being followed.

Maybe not strictly impossible, but it was close enough. “I… I think I have a plan,” he said hesitantly. “It might not work, but…”

“It might work,” said Aliya, craning her head to look at him. “After all, we have the knife.”

Cassian ran a hand through his damp, rumpled hair, leaving it sticking up in all directions. “This is where we could do with some backup,” he muttered.

None of their devices worked in these other worlds. There was no way to contact anybody from the Alliance. Nobody knew where they were or what they were trying to do. Except…

“The witch!” Bodhi exclaimed, a sudden, tiny spark of hope flickering in his chest. “Anda Var, she said—”

“'If you are in dire need',” Cassian’s dæmon finished, looking up at her human. “It’s worth a try.”

Cassian reached into his pocket and pulled out the spray of cloudpine, now a little squashed and forlorn. “What did she say?”

“Hold it to your heart and call to her,” said Jyn, speaking to Cassian for the first time since they had returned to this world. She watched him with narrowed eyes, her arms folded.

Cassian looked at her and then away, frowning. “Right. Yeah.” Looking rather uncomfortable, he pressed the small branch to his heart. He took a breath and closed his eyes, then spoke in a clear, carrying voice. “Anda Var! If you can hear me, we could really use some help right now.”

Bodhi wasn’t sure what he had been expecting. Something vaguely magical, at least. For the cloudpine to glow, or a ghostly sound, or... something. Instead, Cassian just shrugged awkwardly and put the cloudpine back into his pocket.

“We came this far. We can do this, even without the witches.” Jyn turned decisively away from Cassian towards Bodhi. Her jaw was set in a way that was becoming intensely familiar. “What’s your plan?”


Stealing a plane, Bodhi thought, should have seemed unthinkable. Stealing a plane from the Magisterium, while they were on a high-alert lockdown, should have been even more unthinkable.

Somehow, after the terrifying chaos of the last few days, it actually seemed almost… simple, when it came down to it. In comparison, anyway. Nobody had even shot at him yet.

‘Yet’ was the operative word there, because Bodhi did not for a moment expect that they would get out of this without someone shooting at them. He only hoped that this entire venture wouldn’t end with them plummeting from the sky and crashing in a spectacular fireball.

Jyn, Bodhi and Steela had managed, with some careful maneuvering and an inordinate amount of luck, to cut a window right inside a small Twin Otter plane. The base seemed to be in chaos, with soldiers running here, there and everywhere, the atmosphere one of barely-controlled panic. That was all to the good: if they could get moving before more order was imposed, they just might make it.

Once she had opened the window Jyn had hurried back to fetch their companions; nobody had wanted to make Kay move before they knew they had a possible means of escape. Everything had gone smoothly, but Bodhi couldn’t stop his hands shaking with nerves. He knelt in the aisle between the seats where Jyn had cut the window, watching for the others.

“We got this far,” Aliya said reasonably. “We never expected that.”

“So this is where it goes wrong.”

She huffed. “Some positive thinking might be helpful.”

Steela, who was hunkered down near the plane’s door with Kay’s rifle propped loosely against her arm, laughed a little. “If it helps,” she said, “I’ve been in plenty of situations I should never have got out of. It’s amazing what you can do with some guts and some wits.”

Bodhi gave her a humourless smile. “I don’t have much of either of those.”

Steela fixed him with an implacable stare that reminded him unnervingly of Saw. Pull them, he had said, when he had turned that stare on Bodhi. Aliya pressed herself against Bodhi’s leg and he curled his fingers in her fur.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Steela said simply. Bodhi shrugged, casting his eyes down. He knew that, on paper, he had done things that were brave. Galen had called him brave, not two hours ago. But mostly Bodhi had just felt frantic, shaky and a little sick.

Steela’s golden snake dæmon was curled in his usual place around her neck. Bodhi could feel his sharp eyes watching him even as Steela turned her steady gaze to the door, ready to start shooting should any Magisterium agent open it.

Bodhi tried to think positive, not to focus on everything that could go wrong. After all, he had thought it impossible to break with the Magisterium. Impossible to make it to Saw Gerrera. Impossible to rescue Galen. He was finding out that many things were far more possible than he had ever believed. And yet, stealing a plane from under the Magisterium’s noses, flying it out of the heavily guarded window – presumably even more heavily guarded now – past the Troopers and the spectres, into the frozen wastes of the Arctic without being shot down or followed…

“Can you think of a better idea?” Aliya asked.

He thought of Kay, who had saved his life. Galen, grey and exhausted. Jyn, injured and in pain. No, he couldn’t think of a better idea.

He nearly leapt out of his skin when Jyn hissed his name twenty minutes later, and he scrambled to help her through the window; the plane was above the grass of the waterfall world, so she had to jump and catch the edge of a seat to pull herself in. The others climbed through after her. It was lucky that Kay was so tall, as it was not so difficult for him to climb through, though Baze still had to grab his good arm to help pull him up. He slumped into a seat without protest, shivering and sweating visibly, though he insisted on keeping a gun in his hand.

“I can still shoot, if necessary,” he told Cassian, who just sighed and nodded.

Bodhi’s heart was in his mouth. His hands were sweating. So far there was no sign that the Magisterium soldiers swarming the aerodock had noticed anything amiss, but the moment the plane fired up they would realise. Even if Bodhi worked as fast as possible, getting a plane in the air was not as quick as putting a car into gear.

Cassian and Baze both stayed by the door, guns ready, just in case. Jyn closed the window, locking them into the plane, though if worst came to worst, she just might be able to cut them free. Everyone’s dæmons were on the alert, fur bristling, feathers ruffled, tails lashing.

Jyn caught Bodhi’s eye, and gave him something close to a smile. He tried to smile back, though it felt like a rictus.

“Keep out the way of the windows,” he said, trying to sound calm and controlled. “Don’t open the door, and try not to shoot anything in here. And… hang on.”

He ducked through to the cockpit, still keeping as low as possible so he wouldn’t be seen from outside until absolutely necessary. It was still dark, the flickering fireflies having faded away. Tall, anbaric spotlights cast harsh white pools across the aerodock, and up on the cliff the fires at the base had dimmed to a faint, orange glow.

The plane, thankfully, didn’t require a key to start, simply a push of a button. Sending up a desperate prayer to whoever, whatever might be listening, Bodhi ran through the absolute critical steps that would keep them in the air.

Master switch… fuel pump one… engage engine starter...

With a great whirring noise the first engine thundered into life and the propeller at the wing began to spin. There were shouts from outside immediately, and Bodhi forced down the panic, forced himself to concentrate.

Fuel pump two… engage engine starter…

“Bodhi! Hurry!” Cassian yelled from the cabin. There was a ferocious banging noise, someone demanding that they open the door, yelling something about clearance. The second engine roared, the propellor blurring.

Adrenaline was overriding Bodhi’s fear. He threw himself into the pilot’s seat, heart hammering, hands shaking, seizing the throttle over his head.

The shouts of anger and confusion from outside turned into shouts of alarm as they realised the plane was moving. He could hear orders being called, then the crack of gunfire, the shriek of bullets hitting metal.

“Down!” Cassian yelled from inside the cabin. “Everyone down!”

The plane’s ponderous movement felt horribly slow as Bodhi steered it away from the rest of the planes, lumbering forward like some great beast, far too slow to avoid its faster predators. People were running towards them, many of them armed, including a squadron of Troopers. Bodhi tried not to look at them, focusing instead on gathering speed. He’d never attempted a takeoff after such a short approach before, but he had no choice.

Three Troopers came to a halt in the plane’s path, raising their weapons. Bodhi fought the instinct to slow down. He didn’t want to kill anyone, not even these dæmonless half-people, but he could not stop. He closed his eyes and pulled the throttle.

And suddenly the Troopers fell, arrows flying out of the darkness to slam through their chests or throats, and dark shapes swooped down from the sky. Bewilderment turned quickly to dizzying relief.

“The witches!” he cried, voice hoarse. “They’re here!”

What?” Cassian stumbled through to the cockpit from the cabin, leaning over Bodhi’s shoulder, and he almost laughed. “It worked!”

The soldiers outside had turned their guns upwards, trying to hit the witches as they swept through the sky on their branches of cloudpine, but they were too nimble. One witch swept down to the plane’s level, her golden hair streaming behind her, a short bow held in one hand. Anda Var caught Bodhi’s eye and raised her bow in a gesture that obviously meant “get a move on”.

The sporadic gunfire intensified. The soldiers obviously didn’t know what to do, what to focus on: stop the plane, shoot the witches, retreat from yet another unexpected attack? Their pursuit was falling behind, and Bodhi began to hope that this could be possible. If they could get out of here before they could get another plane in the air, they might have a chance.

Finally, finally they reached a clear stretch of tarmac, and could truly gather speed. Cassian flung himself into the co-pilot’s seat, and their dæmons hunkered on the floor.

“Come on!” cried Aliya, crouched on the floor with her ears flat against her back.

“Everyone hold on!” Bodhi yelled back into the cabin. The plane hurtled onwards. Bodhi gritted his teeth, urging it on, and the ground fell away. Despite everything, the moment of takeoff always sent a thrill through Bodhi’s heart. For a moment he was untethered and uncaring, leaping up into the sky.

Back in the cabin he could hear Chirrut laughing, and he couldn’t help but laugh a little hysterically himself. The base was below them, the fires dimmed to a smouldering glow, its people scurrying like ants. Witches and their bird dæmons soared around the plane, fierce and elegant, sending swift arrows down to any soldier or Trooper aiming at them.

And there, straight ahead, was the window.

It was almost invisible from this side, the night sky of this world blending almost seamlessly with the night sky of the Arctic, but Bodhi could see how the stars didn’t line up, how they glowed all the brighter in the polar sky of his own world. The window was large, much larger than those that Jyn had cut, enough to admit light aircraft flying low. Built around it were scaffolds where armed Troopers stood, observing all comings and goings. They would know no one was meant to leave, would have been told to stop them. Some of them were already slumped, having clearly been attacked by the incoming witches, and the remainder were aiming their guns.

And then there were the spectres. They shimmered strangely against the darkness, like smears in the air, gathering around the window in clusters. Though, he noted, much smaller clusters than usual; normally they massed horribly, seeking the warmth of living beings. Perhaps some had been taken into the base as part of the hunt for Galen.

“Are they - the spectres…?” Cassian was staring fixedly out of the window, his eyes wide in a pale face. What the spectres were Bodhi had never found out, but just the sight of them filled him with a sickening dread. Aliya felt it too, of course, and she crept under his seat.

“Yes. There’s usually more of them.” Bodhi remembered Cassian’s scepticism, all those days ago. He didn’t look remotely sceptical now; his dæmon leapt into his lap and he dug his fingers into her grey fur. Back in the cabin there was a tense, horrible silence.

The spectres could fly, to an extent. Not the swooping, soaring freedom of the witches, but they could hover several feet in the air. Bodhi kept the plane as far above them as possible; they were not held back by solid barriers, and could easily drift into the plane if they got too close. Usually planes entering or leaving the window carried Troopers, who were unaffected by the spectres, and served as a kind of barrier against them. Clammy sweat trickled down Bodhi’s spine.

They flew closer to the window. Troopers on the scaffolds took aim. The witches swooped towards them, hair streaming, bare arms pulling back bowstrings and firing swift arrows. One Trooper fired their gun, and a witch was struck, tumbling from her cloudpine branch. Her tern dæmon dived after her as she plummeted to the ground. As she struck the dirt, the spectres swarmed around both her and her dæmon as eagerly as hyenas around fresh meat. Bodhi tore his eyes from the horrible sight, focusing on the window, and freedom.

Bullets showered against the plane’s body, a rattling metallic noise. Spectres swarmed beneath them, their horrible cold creeping through the plane. The window was here, the wide Arctic skies shining with stars. Bodhi urged the plane on, on, on, and then somehow, miraculously, they were through, pulling up into the clear, frozen air, several witches on their tail.


Jyn

The flight to freedom had probably taken only five minutes, and yet it had felt like hours. Jyn had gripped her father’s hand so tightly she thought her fingers would be crushed, but she didn’t care. Aster was buried inside her jacket, against her heart, just as tense and desperate as she was. At any moment she expected the bullets to break through the plane’s hull, for a sudden, heart-rending plummet. I can’t die now, she had thought furiously. Not after all this. The only sound had been Chirrut’s prayers, the same Cathay chant repeated over and over. He clutched his cane in one hand, the other twined tightly with Baze’s. Jyn tried to focus on his voice, not understanding the words but trying to find some comfort in the calm repetition.

And then it was like the temperature dropped several degrees. For a moment Jyn thought it was a blast of Arctic air from the other side of the window, but then cold fingers seemed to seize her heart, fear clawing inside her chest. She felt Aster shudder. Across the aisle Chirrut’s prayers intensified.

“Spectres,” her father said hoarsely, tightening his grip on Jyn’s hand. His dæmon gave a low, cry. “This is the spectres.”

Jyn understood, then, the dread in Bodhi’s voice whenever he spoke of the spectres. The fear seemed to grow inside her, a great black wave of terror and despair, and she could only close her eyes and try to force it back. She tried to focus on her father’s broad hand, on the tiny warmth of Aster, even on the pain of her missing fingers, sucking in huge, panicky breaths.

Just as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped. Warmth flooded back into her body, the fear fading away to be replaced with a giddy sort of relief. Aster wriggled his way out of her pocket and flew a full, joyful loop around the cabin. Jyn pressed her face to the window and saw the window disappearing behind them; stretching out beneath was the endless carpet of blue-white Arctic tundra.

“My god,” whispered her father. “I can’t believe it.”

Papa.” Jyn hadn’t called him that since she was a little girl, had begun calling him ‘Dad’ once she’d started primary school. She turned to him and he pulled her into his arms again, one hand stroking up and down her back. Then he pulled away to press a kiss to her forehead.

“Are we dead?” Kay asked from where he was slumped across two seats behind them. His voice was weak and pained.

“Not yet,” said Steela, standing up and peering through the airplane window, staring out at the Arctic stars.

“Dust guides and protects us,” said Chirrut. His voice was calm, almost cheerful, though his knuckles showed white where he gripped his cane.

“I think the witches did that,” Baze pointed out, though he pressed a fierce kiss to Chirrut’s temple, and Chirrut laughed in relief.

Cassian ducked back through to the cabin, running his hand through his already rumpled hair. The relief of their escape guttered in Jyn’s heart; she couldn’t even look at Cassian without a stir of anger. She gripped her father’s arm, as though Cassian might think to shoot him here and now, but he didn’t even look at her. Well, good. Fine. “Everyone alright?”

“Perfect,” said Kay, somehow still managing to sound cold and sarcastic.

“Where do we go from here?” Steela asked. They had been back in their world for all of five minutes, but already Jyn thought she looked a little stronger.

“I’ll contact the Alliance and get directed to the nearest safe house.” Cassian pulled his pack from where it had been shoved into an overhead locker and began rifling through it. “They’ll want us to ditch this plane as soon as possible. The Magisterium may be able to trace it.” He pulled out a satellite phone and powered it up, disappearing back into the cabin with his dæmon at his heels.

Jyn remembered the safe house in Norroway, how trapped and impatient she had felt. Now the idea of it seemed incredible: a hot shower. An actual meal. A real bed, with pillows. And after that… whatever came next. What would the Alliance want with her father? Information, of course. Everything he knew about the Magisterium and their plans. Everything about the weapon. Well, if they wanted to keep him, they would have to keep Jyn too.

I don’t want an official bloody position, she’d told Mothma and Draven, and it was true, but they weren’t going to take her father away from her. She’d damn well work for them, if she had to. Even if meant working with Cassian bloody Andor.


To her relief, Cassian stayed in the cockpit with Bodhi as they flew. Gradually the tension in the cabin seemed to ease when there was no sign of any pursuit. Baze somehow managed to fall asleep where he sat, arms folded, frowning even in sleep. Chirrut appeared to be meditating, murmuring his prayer to himself with his gecko dæmon cupped in his hands. Jyn was far too full of adrenaline to sleep, though she knew that she was exhausted. Her hand throbbed horribly, but they had no more painkillers, so she bore it as best she could, pacing up and down the aisle. Her father and Steela were talking in low, serious voices. Jyn remembered what Lady Saveria had said, about the effects living in another world for too long, and felt a little sick; what if it was irreversible? What if they were both too faded and broken to fully recover?

Kay was slumped across two seats with his eyes closed, his glasses askew, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. He opened his eyes as Jyn hovered by him, and his mouth twitched slightly. “Yes?”

She glared instinctively, then tried to force her expression into something a bit more conciliatory. “How are you feeling?”

“Dreadful.”

“Yeah. You look like shit.”

He snorted, which might have been a laugh. “Yes, well. With any luck the Alliance won’t let me die just yet.”

Jyn hesitated, then knelt in the aisle beside his seat so they were on a similar level. “You felt like this, but you went to help Cassian anyway.”

“He often needs help,” Kay said wearily, his eyes sliding closed again. “There is usually… too much gunfire, when he gets involved.”

“I’d noticed,” she said, and Kay’s mouth twitched again. “I wanted…” she trailed off, but Aster tugged at her hair and she forced the words out, hoping they didn’t sound too grudging. “I wanted to say thanks. For helping to save Dad. You didn’t need to.”

Kay didn’t respond for a moment, and Jyn wondered if he had passed out. His beetle dæmon twitched her antennae and spoke instead. “It is our job,” she said, in her small, steady voice. “But you are welcome.”


The rest of the journey passed in an odd blur. They flew for some three hours before landing in a deserted, snowy field in the north of Fireland. Here they met a cheerful Scottish Alliance agent, who Cassian greeted with obvious relief. The man, Agent Melshi, teased both Cassian and Kay, insisting that he was going to lose money on the fact that they were actually alive. “Though only just – what the hell have you been doing, Tuesso?”

Despite his teasing, he worked with a sort of calm efficiency. Jyn liked him immediately. He introduced himself to all of them with a quick, firm handshake, his dæmon, a stolid black labrador, watching them with considering eyes. Within fifteen minutes he had loaded their packs into the massive SUV and they had crammed inside. It was a tight squeeze, and it was lucky that most of their dæmons were very small. Agent Melshi’s labrador had to lie on top of the luggage to keep out of the way.

"What about the plane?" Cassian asked from the front seat.

“Dameron’s being sent out to get rid of it, whatever that means. I was just told to grab you guys and get you safe and secure.” Melshi rolled down his window. “And showered, preferably. When did you last change your bloody socks, Andor?”

Their last journey in a pair of Land Rovers felt like a million years ago. Jyn remembered how nervous Bodhi had been, how she had teased Kay for his terrible attempts at reassurance, the fear in her heart that they would fail, that she would never see her father again. She gripped his hand tightly, and he gave her a tired, reassuring sort of smile. Whatever happened now, at least he was safe.


Chirrut

He had never much liked any mode of transport that wasn’t his own two feet, and the last few weeks had done nothing to change his mind on that. Cars, planes, snowmobiles: all of them were uncomfortable experiences that left him utterly out of control. He had used to think it was just Baze’s terrible driving, but apparently not.

The drive seemed to take hours. Chirrut tried to take his mind off the horrible bumping and swaying of the car, focusing on his breathing, thinking through his old mantra. Shyli nuzzled at his jaw, trying to keep him grounded. Baze, alert as ever to Chirrut’s moods, rested a big hand on his knee, thumb stroking in gentle circles.

It wasn’t just the drive that was making him tense, Chirrut knew. There was a pressure in the air, something stretched taut between Jyn and Cassian. She had acted out of grief and anger back at the Magisterium’s base when she had abandoned their plan to run to her father’s aid, but she had been treading a clear, true path. Cassian, however, was conflicted. Chirrut had sensed it in him from the start: a man of hope and ideals, who had broken himself again and again to fight for them until he could no longer see his way. He reminded Chirrut rather painfully of Baze in the time after the Temple fell.

But Cassian had not killed Jyn’s father, as he had evidently been ordered to do. Perhaps, Chirrut thought, this could lift the murk from Cassian’s eyes, could steer him back to the path he sought. But Jyn’s anger still simmered between them.

“They’ll find their way,” Shyli murmured in his ear. “Dust will guide them.”


Nobody spoke much on the drive, everyone too busy with their own thoughts and their own exhaustion. It was a relief to reach the safehouse. A chill breeze stirred Chirrut’s hair as he stepped out of the car, and he smelt the tang of salt. There was a steady rushing sound in the air, the call of gulls.

“Is that the sea?”

“That’s right,” said the new Alliance agent cheerfully. “That’s the Arctic sea right there. Pretty enough, I suppose, but not somewhere you want to go for a beach holiday.”

The safe house itself was warm and, judging by the way his cane echoed against the wooden floor of the hall, spacious. The agent, Melshi, took all their weapons (though not, as far as Chirrut could tell, Jyn’s knife), though he sounded apologetic about it.

“This place is stocked okay,” he said, locking the front door with a firm click. “There’s food in the fridge, clean clothes in the bedrooms. It’ll be a bit of a squeeze for eight of you, but you’ll have to make do. You know the drill, Andor,” he added. “No one’s going anywhere until someone from HQ debriefs you tomorrow. Though I guess you guys just want to get some rest, huh?”

“Tomorrow?” Cassian echoed.

“First thing,” Melshi said reassuringly. “They'll bring a doctor too.”

Tomorrow?” Bodhi protested, seeming to lose some of his habitual nervousness in his indignation. “Kay needs a doctor now, he’s really sick! And Jyn’s hurt—”

Melshi sighed. “I’m sorry. We’re stretched really thin these days. Believe me, I’d have brought a medic if I could. There’s decent medical supplies here, so we can do what we can.”

“It’s fine,” Kay said stubbornly. “Tomorrow is fine.” But then there was a sound of alarm from Cassian, and Baze moved from Chirrut’s side, grunting as he seemingly caught Kay’s weight.

“You are not fine,” Baze said gruffly. “You must lie down now.”

“Bring him through here,” said Melshi, sounding worried. “Someone go to the bathroom down there, grab the med kit under the sink. And a cold cloth or something.”

Bodhi hurried off to do just that. Cassian and Baze supported Kay to what must have been a bedroom, accompanied by a worried sounding Melshi. Chirrut hoped that Kay would be alright. The man was brusque and sharp, but he was brave, and clearly fiercely loyal to Cassian. He felt exhaustion in every limb all of a sudden; here was another new, unfamiliar place to work out.

“Chirrut?” Jyn touched his arm. “Are you alright?”

He smiled, hoping that it was mostly in her direction. “Yes, yes fine. Just tired. Are you alright? Your hand—”

“It’s not so bad,” she muttered, though Chirrut knew a lie when he heard one. “I’ll take some painkillers. Come and sit down, there’s a kitchen through here…”

Chirrut liked Jyn very much, but he did not relish the idea of getting between her reunion with her father. And, frankly, he was not sure what to make of Galen Erso himself. He was crucial to any plan to destroy the weapon that had obliterated Chirrut’s home and the remnants of his life, and Jyn loved him, so for that Chirrut was glad that he was safe. But he was not sure he could make polite conversation with the man responsible for that dreadful weapon.

“I am alright, Jyn,” he said gently. “I’m sure you and your father have a great deal to talk about.”

She made a small huffing sound that Chirrut thought was amusement. “Alright. If you’re sure.” She was probably just as desperate to be alone with her father as Chirrut was to be alone with Baze. He smiled and waved her along.

“Thank you,” Galen Erso said softly before he left. Chirrut could only nod.

“Do you think they have tea here?” Steela said, the first words she’d spoken in some time. She sounded as weary as Chirrut felt.

He remembered Baze’s consternation on finding out that he and Saw Gerrera had shared taste in tea and smiled despite himself. “We can certainly find out.”


He heard Baze’s boots against the wooden floor and sensed his Dust-glow as he entered the kitchen. He raised his head from where he had been breathing in the delicious steam from his tea. “How is Kay?”

Baze sighed. “Not good. He needs a doctor. But he has been given medicine now.” He pulled out a kitchen chair next to Chirrut and sat down heavily. “Cassian will stay with him.”

Chirrut nodded, frowning. He remembered the horrendous flu that had swept Nijedha some ten years ago, how it had even struck down his stalwart Baze. He had spent hours stroking Baze’s hair, pressing cold cloths to his forehead to try and keep the fever at bay, fretting over him until he had been run ragged himself. “Cassian needs food and rest also.”

“He will not rest until his friend is out of danger.” Baze sighed, and Chirrut heard him run his hand over his beard. “You also need to – is that tea?”

Chirrut grinned. “It certainly is. And, you’ll be pleased to hear, it’s not tarine.”

Across the table Steela chuckled. “Gods, I remember tarine tea. Disgusting stuff.” There was a gentle rattle as she pushed a mug and the teapot over the table. “Help yourself.”

Chirrut smiled to himself as Baze groaned in appreciation. The three of them sat in a strangely companionable silence for a few minutes.

“Will you go back to Cathay after this?” Steela asked, setting her cup down.

They hadn’t talked about this at all. Chirrut had tried not to think about it. The right path, he was sure, would become clear in time. Dust would guide him, and Baze would follow. He felt Baze shrug. “We do not know,” he said simply. “I do not feel that this business is finished yet.”

Chirrut hummed in agreement. “The weapon is still there,” he said.

“You will help the Alliance destroy it?”

“If we can,” agreed Chirrut. “Though whether they need a pair of old monks remains to be seen. What will you do?”

“I have fought the Magisterium since I was young. I lost my friends, my home, and now my brother.” She sounded unspeakably weary, but there was an edge to her tone. She was well-named, Chirrut thought. Steel ran through this woman, even when she had been worn to the bone. “I see no reason to stop now.”

Once the tea was drunk Baze heaved himself to his feet once again, his knees cracking. “I will find some food.”

“I can help,” Steela said, but Baze told her firmly to stay put.

“Let him,” Chirrut told her. “He likes being useful.”

“Unlike you,” Baze retorted, cuffing his head lightly. Chirrut kicked him in the ankle.

He cupped Shyli in his hands and closed his eyes, drifting slightly to the sounds of Baze searching through cupboards and chopping ingredients, to the sizzle of heating oil and the rich smell of cooking garlic. All of it was intensely familiar. If he didn’t think about it too hard, he could almost have been seated at their own rickety table listening to Baze bustle about making dinner.

He was jerked back to reality by the sound of Bodhi drifted into the kitchen, his slightly shambling gait and the soft scurrying sound of his dæmon giving him away. “That smells amazing,” he said. “God, I can’t wait to eat something that’s not a protein bar. Can I help?”

“You can find dishes,” Baze said. “And tell the others. They all need to eat.”

“Yes, they must,” Chirrut said. “Or Baze will flap about them like a mother hen.”

Steela laughed at Baze’s sound of consternation and Chirrut grinned. “You’ve been together a long time?” she asked.

“Too long,” Baze muttered.

“Thirty-six years,” Chirrut informed her. Longer than some of their little group had been alive. It was enough to make him feel old. “So yes, far too long.”

“You’re very lucky,” she said, sounding a little wistful. Chirrut wanted to pry further, curious about who this steel woman had been before she had become lost between worlds, but Shyli nipped at his hand to quell him.

Dinner was a quiet affair, everybody too hungry and tired to make much conversation. Cassian refused to leave Kay alone, so Steela took a bowl of food to him, promising to make sure he ate everything. Everybody drifted away to wash and rest, and finally, blessedly, he and Baze were left alone. Chirrut could tell that Baze was flagging as he tugged him to his feet.

They found the remaining empty bedroom – with, thankfully, a bed large enough for both of them – and a bathroom. Baze dug out some of the nondescript, practical Alliance clothing that looked like it might fit. Baze washed up first, and Chirrut tried to do an alethiometer reading, wanting some guidance on their next steps, but he knew quickly that it was pointless. He was just too tired.

"Tomorrow," Shyli said soothingly, and he nodded, tucking the instrument back into its leather pouch. There was no rush right now.

The shower felt wonderful, the hot, clean water pounding at his sore back and shoulders. Walking for days, carrying a heavy pack, constantly sleeping on hard ground, several hard physical fights… all of it had left its mark. Chirrut was a remarkably fit and healthy man, but he was also fifty-two years old and his back was sometimes not averse to reminding him of this. Afterwards he shaved carefully, by feel and with Shyli as a guide.

Back in the privacy of their room he finally felt himself relax a little, no longer on the alert. His mind felt fuzzy with tiredness and he wanted nothing more than to fall into bed and sleep, preferably with Baze as a pillow. The bedroom was not large, and he found Baze sitting hunched at the small desk in the corner, head in his hands. Chirrut wrapped his arms around him from behind and rested his chin in his damp hair. He could feel the tension in Baze's back and shoulders and tightened his grip on him.

"What is it?" he murmured.

"Nothing," was the grunted reply, but he knew anyway. This close he could smell the dust of the books. He knew they had been weighing on Baze as much as they had been weighing on himself. The mystery of them, and the memories they held.

"You need rest. Look at these tomorrow. I'll ask the alethiometer."

Baze didn't say anything. Shyli crawled down Chirrut's arm to jump onto the desk, touching noses with Zin. Chirrut leant his cheek against Baze's hair and waited for him; sometimes Baze got so lost in his own head that it took him a while to put words together.

"It doesn't matter," he said eventually. "Why the books were there, how they got there… it doesn't matter."

"Of course it matters."

"It won't change anything. It won't bring the Temple back. It won't bring the people back." His deep voice was tight and unhappy. “I don’t even believe this stuff any more.”

"Someone saved those books. Someone left them there. Baze, what if we aren't all that's left?" It was a hope he had scarcely dared voice to himself.

Baze stood, unfolding like a great oak tree, and turned to pull Chirrut into his arms. "I'm glad you can have such hope," he said sadly. Chirrut touched his face with one hand, finding the lines around his eyes, the downward turn of his mouth.

"My only hope right now is for a good night's sleep," he said, trying to steer Baze away from this gloomy path. "And that the next place we end up also has hot showers."

Baze's mouth twitched against Chirrut's fingers, a ghost of a smile. "You will get a good night's sleep. I will get elbowed in the ribs, and you will steal all the blankets."

Chirrut made a sound of mock outrage and reached up to tug Baze's ear in reprimand. "How dare you. You're the one that kicks me in your sleep."

"I do no such thing."

"I have the bruises to prove it. And your dæmon spikes mine."

"That's not my fault," Zin protested from the desk. "Don't drag me into this."

Baze laughed, and Chirrut's heart lightened. He tilted his head up to kiss him, missing slightly. Baze cupped his jaw to guide him into a proper kiss, turning quickly from tender to something deeper.

Chirrut slid a hand under Baze's new, clean shirt and stroked up his broad back, tracing the familiar raised scars and flex of muscle. The haze of exhaustion still hung in his mind, but he hadn’t been able to really touch Baze in what felt like weeks. He curled his other hand in Baze’s shaggy hair and deepened the kiss further, feeling Baze's chest rumble with a groan. Broad hands pushing under Chirrut’s shirt to stroke over his skin, every scar and callous deeply familiar. On the desk, Zin pushed her head against Shyli, nuzzling at her face.

“Take this damn thing off,” Chirrut muttered against Baze’s mouth, tugging at his shirt. Baze fumbled with the buttons for a moment before cursing and yanking the thing over his head, then pulling off Chirrut's shirt as well. Chirrut was dizzy with tiredness and desire, trying to touch as much of Baze's warm skin as possible.

He felt Shyli clamber down from the desk, heard Zin's squeaked oof as she jumped from desk to chair to carpet, felt Shyli bowl the little hedgehog over to nuzzle at her face. Baze growled Chirrut's name, tilting Chirrut's head back to kiss at his jaw and neck, his beard rasping against Chirrut's skin. Their dæmons were laughing, chasing one another and trying to pin one another to the ground.

Chirrut slid his hands down Baze's back and lower, to grab him and squeeze hard, making him groan. "Want you,” he gasped, angling to kiss Baze again, biting at his lower lip. His tiredness was falling away, his aches and pains forgotten, the exhaustion and terror and adrenaline of the last few days all coiling up in his body and fuelling this sudden desperate desire. They could have died, so easily, so many times, should have died with their city, but somehow they were both alive, Baze was alive and here, with his beating heart and his warm skin and his lips and all Chirrut wanted to do was push him down on the bed and take him.

Baze practically lifted Chirrut off his feet as he pushed him towards the bed. There must have been a dæmon basket nearby because he felt Shyli tumble onto something soft, his own heightened emotions increasing the sensations he felt from her. The backs of his knees hit the bed and he sat, trying to pull Baze with him, but Baze dropped to his knees instead, hands coming up to cup Chirrut’s face. Chirrut reached for him, running his fingers over Baze’s features in return, tracing the lines around his eyes, his soft lips, the scar across his cheek.

“My heart,” he murmured, tenderness overriding passion for a moment. “I want you so much.”

Baze laughed softly. He pressed a gentle kiss to Chirrut's mouth. “Patience,” he teased, kissing his neck. “We have time.” Kisses along his collarbone, the rough of Baze’s beard anbaric on his oversensitive skin. Then down his chest, big hands at the waistband of the ill-fitting trousers, tugging them down. Chirrut’s heart was leaping in his chest. He shivered as Baze mouthed at his taut stomach, his hips, his thighs, something almost worshipful in the slow, deliberate way he tasted Chirrut’s skin. Chirrut buried his hands in Baze’s damp curls, felt Shyli pin Zin down and rub her head against her soft stomach.

“Mine, mine, mine,” he murmured helplessly, stroking Baze’s hair, tugging at his ears, needing more.

“Yours,” Baze agreed, biting at the soft skin joining Chirrut’s hip and thigh, his voice dark and rough. “Always yours.”


Cassian

Outside the blackout curtains the sun was only just setting. Cassian slumped in the comfortable chair and watched the faint red line of light against Kay's face, trying not to fall asleep. Melshi was on guard in the corridor outside; Cassian could hear him shifting his weight and occasionally exchanging quiet words with his dæmon.

Kay was asleep, thankfully. They had managed to get some antibiotics into him, and some water, but he hadn't eaten for hours. He was shivering under the blankets, and his fever was still alarmingly high. Cassian kept placing fresh cold compresses against his forehead and chest, trying to bring his temperature down. Damn Mothma, damn Draven, damn whoever had called the shots on this. He had been absolutely clear when he had contacted headquarters, that Kay needed urgent medical attention.

"He'll be alright," murmured Rucía. She was curled on the bed beside Kay. Not touching, of course, that was unthinkable, but still close. "He's only been really bad for a few hours, really. If that arrow was poisoned it would have acted a lot quicker than this."

Cassian didn't say anything. Kay's dæmon was lying against his collarbone, her antennae occasionally twitching slightly. Her wing cases, usually a glossy, iridescent green, were dull. Kay had always seemed like the sort of person who would always be there, like a monument or a mountain. The idea that he might die, that he might be eaten away from the inside like this, seemed incomprehensible.

"You need sleep," Rucía said, her voice gentle but firm. "You need to eat."

"Later. After the doctor's been."

"Then we'll need to debrief. We'll be reassigned." Rucia stood and leapt lightly into his lap, her green eyes serious. "You're no use to anyone if you collapse yourself." She spoke in Spanish, which got Cassian's attention. It was their native language, but outside of relevant missions they mostly operated entirely in English, even with one another. Spanish reminded Cassian too much of what he had lost, and who he had been.

"You sound like Mamá when you speak like that," he muttered, and Rucía laughed.

He dipped another clean cloth into a bowl of cold water, wringing it out before settling it against Kay’s hot forehead. Kay shifted slightly, mumbling something incomprehensible, then lay still. Cassian sighed and stood, wincing at the stiffness in his back. "I'll change this water, then I'll try and sleep for a couple of hours. Okay?"

Melshi gave him a look of deep concern when Cassian stepped out of the bedroom. "No offense, but you look like shite. Get some sleep, Andor."

"In a bit. Can you keep an eye on him?" he jerked his head towards the door. Melshi sighed, but nodded. He and Kay did not get along, but Melshi was a good man.

"He'll be alright," he said, in much the way Rucía had. "He's a stubborn bastard. This won't get him. Kay's going to die by annoying someone to the point of murder."

The rest of the house seemed quiet, though it was still technically early evening. Everybody must be asleep, making the most of their real beds and the relative safety. None of them had snatched more than a few hours a night since they had left Norroway.

A single lamp was burning in the kitchen, and Jyn was slumped at the kitchen table, staring into a mug clasped in her uninjured hand. Her left hand was freshly bandaged and held in a sling. Beside her was an old, mostly-empty bottle of whiskey. She looked up as Cassian entered, and for a moment her expression was… vulnerable. Then the shutters came down and her eyes hardened.

Cassian had been avoiding looking at her since she had rescued her father, since she had looked at him with such pure anger. I didn't do it, he wanted to snap. He was alive for you to rescue because I didn't kill him. He held his tongue though, holding up the bowl in his hand. “Just getting some water. Should you be drinking when you’ve taken painkillers?”

"It helps." Jyn shifted slightly in her seat, dropping her gaze to her mug. “How is he? Kay?”

“Not good.”

She bit her lip, and her dæmon ruffled his feathers. Then she shoved the whiskey bottle towards Cassian. “Have a drink.”

“No thanks.”

She glared. “Have a damn drink, Cassian. It’s been a crap few days.”

Was this an attempt at a peace offering? It was hard to tell; Jyn’s face was still closed and hard. Cassian’s eyes ached, his chest was tight with worry for Kay, and the morning’s meeting with Draven loomed. He had disobeyed a direct order. He could be facing a charge of insubordination. This might end up being his last Alliance mission for a while.

Rucía twined herself around his ankles, and he sighed. Under Jyn’s watchful gaze he found a chipped mug and poured a finger of whiskey. It burned his throat as it went down and he had to stifle a cough. Jyn smirked.

“Where did you find this stuff?” he asked, setting the bottle back on the table. “There’s not meant to be alcohol in the safe houses.”

She shrugged. “Back of the cupboard. Guess the last person trapped here smuggled it in.” She grabbed the bottle and poured another measure for herself. “You staying?”

He shouldn’t. He should check on Kay. Get some sleep. Plan what he was going to tell Draven.

He pulled out a chair and sat down. Jyn raised her mug to him in a sarcastic kind of salute.

“Why aren’t you asleep?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Not tired.”

“Because you’ve been so well rested lately?”

A humourless smile crossed her face. “I’ve never needed much sleep. Saw trained it out of us.”

Cassian didn’t know how to respond to that, so he took a swig of the burning whiskey instead. They sat in silence, both absorbed in their own drinks and their own thoughts. Jyn stared determinedly anywhere but at Cassian’s face, but her dæmon’s bright eyes were fixed on him. Rucía jumped up into Cassian’s lap, her own eyes settling on Jyn. For the first time in hours she didn’t look angry, just thoughtful.

“How’s your father holding up?” he asked eventually, needing to tear away the bandaid.

A muscle in her jaw jumped. She grabbed the whiskey and poured herself an even more generous measure. “He’s fine,” she said shortly. “Sleeping.”

This didn’t seem right. Back in the sunlit world of waterfalls she had clutched at her father like he was her last lifeline. She had held onto his hand, had barely taken her eyes off him. Did she think Cassian was still a threat to him, that he would assassinate the man in his sleep?

“I never wanted to kill him,” he said. “I had orders. I didn’t want it.”

"I don't care what you wanted," she said, her low voice simmering. "I trusted you. Like a fucking idiot. You – you blow into my life, somehow knowing who I am, then you drag me away telling me you know where my father is."

"Jyn—"

"I thought he was dead. And you gave me hope for the first time in years… but it didn't matter, did it? I should never have trusted you, never."

No, thought Cassian dully. You shouldn't have. A lot of people were dead because they had trusted him. He remembered the shock on Tivik's face before he'd crumpled to the ground, dæmon disappearing into smoke.

"This fight is bigger than us," he told her. "There's not really room for people's feelings."

She made a contemptuous sound, staring off into the shadows. "That's almost exactly what Kay said. And it sounds a hell of a lot like Magisterium talk to me."

Cassian's temper flared, and Rucia hissed softly. “I’ve been in this fight since I was fifteen," he said, trying to keep his voice under control. "And this is nothing like what the Magisterium do." He scraped his fingers through his hair, gritting his teeth. She didn't understand at all. "The Magisterium started to get more and more control in Hispania Nova when I was a kid.” She still wasn’t looking at him, her face shadowed, but he could tell she was listening. “My parents were religious people. Church every Sunday. But they hated what the Magisterium was doing, how it was using their faith as a way to control people. There were local rebellions. Small uprisings.” He spoke carefully, trying not to let the memories rise too close to the surface. “One day, there was a protest. It was meant to be peaceful, but the Magisterium wouldn’t have that. Things got out of hand. It was violent. I got separated from my parents and managed to get away from the worst of it.”

He stared at the electrum-coloured liquid in his mug, the warmth of the alcohol in his stomach doing little to quell the memories. The crush of bodies, the yells and screams, the guns, the gas, the bricks and bottles thrown against riot shields. Rucía leant her warm weight against his stomach and he curled a hand around the back of her neck. He could feel Jyn’s eyes on him now.

“My parents never came home. Rucía settled that night. And we said we’d do anything – anything – to stop the Magisterium.”

He looked up, and met Jyn’s eyes.

“I’ve done terrible things,” he told her. “All to bring them down. I had a clear shot at your father. I could have done it, Jyn. I had my orders, I had the opportunity, and it would have taken out a dangerous target. But I didn’t. Because you’d been through so much to get him back, and I couldn’t take that from you.”

It wasn’t quite the truth, but Cassian was not sure how to begin articulating the truth, which was a complicated, twisted, contradictory mess of emotions, but it was close enough. He’d been trying to talk himself into it as he’d watched Galen Erso through those binoculars, and he’d seen the set of his jaw and the tilt of his head that had reminded him so strongly of Jyn.

She regarded him warily, like a wild animal unsure if it’s going to be trapped or not. “I’m sorry,” she said slowly. "About your parents."

He nodded. “It was a long time ago.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“No.”

She tapped the fingers of her right hand against the table. “We’ve lost fifteen years. Me and Dad, I mean. I was ten when he was taken. I thought – I hoped – that we’d just… be the way we used to be. We could talk about anything when I was a kid. But he doesn’t know me, now. And I don’t know him. I couldn’t wait to be alone with him, to talk to him properly, but… but he’s like a stranger.” She lifted her mug to drink, as though to disguise the emotion playing across her face.

“It’s only the first day. You'll have time”

“Will we?” Jyn set the mug down sharply, and her dæmon fluttered his wings in agitation. “Or will your Alliance take him away and lock him up? If he’s so dangerous that you were sent to kill him, how do I know they won’t get someone else to do it? Be easier now, wouldn’t it?”

“They won’t.” Cassian wished he were more confident about that. “Draven gave me the order in secret. It didn’t come from Mothma. The official mission was still an extraction. Your father will have to convince them that he has valuable information – and he does. How could he not?”

She pressed her lips together, frowning. “I’m not letting them take him away from me.”

“No. Of course not. They’ll want to make sure you’re safe, anyway. They won’t want to risk the Magisterium getting to you, using you as a bargaining chip against your father.”

Her shoulders slumped and she suddenly looked very tired, running her hand over her face. “I used to miss being Jyn Erso, when I was pretending to be Lianna Hallik. But right now, I think I’d quite like to be her again. It was less complicated.”

Cassian laughed, and she actually smiled at him, showing her rather large front teeth.

“Thank you. For, you know, helping me rescue him. Even if—”

A sharp tapping noise interrupted her, extremely loud in the hushed quiet of the kitchen, and they both jumped. Jyn’s dæmon fluttered above her head in alarm, and Rucía leapt to the floor, fur on end. The tapping came again, from the kitchen window.

Cassian and Jyn exchanged glances. Neither of them had weapons close at hand. He pointed to the corridor, where Melshi stood guard, and she nodded, padding silently across the kitchen in socked feet. Cassian picked up a kitchen knife from the draining board and edged towards the window, Rucía prowling at his heels. Pressing himself against the wall, he twitched the curtain aside.

Two birds sat on the windowsill. One was unmistakably Anda Var's dæmon, and beside him was an unfamiliar robin dæmon. Relieved, Cassian set the knife down and scrambled with the latch, pulling the window open just as Jyn and Melshi entered the room.

"It's okay!" Cassian raised a hand to still Melshi as he went for his gun.

"What – who – what's going on?" Melshi had paled at the sight of the two lone dæmons, his own labrador whimpering with his tail between his legs. Even though Cassian had met Jura before, it was still deeply unsettling to see a dæmon on its own. Rucía kept her eyes averted, not comfortable looking at these odd creatures, here without their bodies.

"This is Jura. He's a witch's dæmon."

"I am glad to find you awake, Mr Andor," said Jura, fluttering over to perch on the back of the kitchen chair, along with the robin dæmon. "Anda Var and Kaira Ozols are on their way; they have things they must discuss with you. You should tell the guards outside to stand down."

"This is a safe house," Melshi protested, still not looking directly at the two dæmons. "Cassian, you can't just have people show up. You know how this works—"

"The Lake Lubana witches saved our lives," said Jyn. "They want to stop the Magisterium too."

"We should hear them out," Cassian agreed, and Melshi looked pained. "Look, do you want to turn a witch away, Melshi? I'll explain it to Mothma, don't worry."

He scowled, but relented. "On your own head be it," he muttered. "I don't suppose witches have healing magic, do they? Kay's temperature's well up."

The two witch dæmons glanced at one another. "Your companion is sick?" asked Jura.

"Yes. He was hit by an arrow in another world, and it's infected."

The robin dæmon cocked his head. "We have some skill in healing," he said. "When my witch arrives, we will look over your friend."

Relief made Cassian's knees watery, and he had to lean against the kitchen table. "Thank you. You've done so much for us already—"

"Yes," agreed the robin dæmon, his bright eyes on Cassian. "Jura has assured me that you are working to strike a great blow to the Magisterium. I hope this is true."

"It is," said Jyn. "We'll do everything we can."


Anda Var's wife, Kaira, was tall and forbidding, and when her robin dæmon spoke to her about Kay she drew herself up to her full height, throwing her chestnut curls back.

"We lost three sisters to help your escape," she said coldly. "And you ask for more?"

"Yambe-Akka called our sisters to her," Anda said gently. "They came willingly, to help the work against the Magisterium."

Kaira's eyes glittered. "Men are so fleeting, my love. You know this. He would have only scant years left anyway."

Cassian knew that human lives were extremely short compared to those of witches, that they flickered in and out of existence like mayflies compared to their long centuries, but it still stung to hear Kay dismissed so easily. Rucía bared her teeth.

"He was hurt fighting the Magisterium," snapped Jyn. "Just like your sisters. You'd let him suffer, just because he's human?"

For a moment the new witch looked like she might sweep from the room. Anda touched her arm, murmured something in their own musical language.

"Very well," she said coldly. "Take me to him. But then you must listen to us."

Chapter Text

Jyn

She floated through the next few hours on clouds of pink exhaustion. Her eyes felt hot and heavy, her hand hurt like fuck, and Cassian kept looking at her with a strange, still expression that she didn’t understand. Aster made occasional irritable little noises in her ear and her head swam.

Kay was shivering and sweating under the covers, his dæmon huddled against the pulse point at his throat, her antennae twitching feebly. Don’t die, Jyn thought, looking down at him. Come on, you git. She didn’t want to feel guilty for the rest of her life about Kay dying from a fucking arrow wound like some sort of medieval soldier.

The new witch, Kaira, observed him as though he were a fascinating specimen under a microscope. She pulled away the gauze taped over Kay’s wound, which looked small and innocuous, a small red slit in his upper arm, and pressed her fingers around it. Kay jerked and gave an inarticulate cry. Kaira seemed to listen to the wound, not noticing or caring that she was hurting him. Cassian’s cat dæmon lashed her tail, crouching beside Kay as though ready to spring.

Jyn’s stomach swooped sickeningly as the witch pulled a knife from her belt and touched the tip to the wound, and she glared down at her own bandaged hand. She had been trying to maker herself to look at her own wound whenever Steela changed the bandages, forcing herself to ride out the nausea that rose in her gut whenever she saw the stumps of her fingers. Said stumps throbbed dully, and she gritted her teeth. Aster tugged her hair.

The witch’s face was impassive, and Anda looked thoughtful, her face smooth like a marble sculpture. They spoke quietly in their own language. Cassian was impatient, Jyn could see, emotion rising in his dark eyes like smoke. “Can you help him?” he demanded.

“Yes,” said Kaira, cool and unruffled. “You, girl, get me hot water and bandages. Now.”

Jyn baulked at being addressed so abruptly. She looked at Kay’s shuddering form, at the careful mask of Cassian’s face, his dæmon’s tail still going like a whip, and swallowed her protest.

The rest of the house was absolutely silent apart from Melshi, who was talking softly with his dæmon further down the corridor. He caught her eye and nodded, but she ignored him. Paused for a moment outside the room she was sharing with her father until she heard his deep, heavy breathing. She released her own breath. She might have been six years old again, working up the nerve to creep into her parents’ bed after a nightmare.

Aster nipped at her ear. “Stop dawdling,” he muttered.

“Don’t snap at me.” Aster had been snippy and bad-tempered all evening, and she was getting fed up with him. His irritation was like little pinpricks under her skin.

When she returned with bandages and a bowl of hot water she found Kay sort-of awake, sitting up a bit against the pillows, his unfocused eyes like dark glass. Cassian’s mouth was set in a grim line.

The next hour passed like a strange dream. Jyn leant against a wall out of the way, feeling like she was watching herself. The witches unrolled bundles of herbs from a leather pouch Kaira had strapped to her waist, and they sang and chanted as they tore them, rubbed them between their hands, cast them into the steaming water. Their dæmons perched on the bowl’s rim and sang in their clear bird voices. The air smelled fresh and clean, like a summer morning before the dew had burnt off new grass. The throbbing in Jyn’s hand eased.

The herbs and hot water mixed together into a sort of gloopy paste that didn’t look the least bit magical, though the chanting and singing must have done something. Kaira took the bowl over to the bed.

“This will sting,” she told Kay, who muttered something inaudible, his head falling sideways, eyes closed. His dæmon’s wings fluttered weakly. The line between Cassian’s eyebrows deepened.

Kaira pressed a handful of the herb poultice against Kay’s arm. He didn’t make a sound, didn’t even flinch, but Jyn saw the way a muscle in his jaw jumped. Undaunted, the witch did the same to the exit wound, then wrapped her long pale hands around Kay’s arm, covering the poultice, and chanted softly, her low voice rising and falling like an ocean wave. Then she wrapped it in a strip of silk, followed by the bandage, and rose to her feet.

“You will change the dressing come morning,” she told Cassian firmly. “And I will give you a bloodmoss treatment, for once the infection has been drawn out.”

“He’ll be alright?” Cassian’s hand tightened almost imperceptibly in his dæmon’s fur.

“Yes,” said Kaira, steady and unconcerned. “You can give him your human medicine, but do not disturb the poultice. He will be stronger after some sleep.”

Warm relief trickled through Jyn’s body, her knees turning to water, and Cassian actually seemed to sag where he stood. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

Kaira threw her chestnut curls over her slim shoulder. “If we need your aid, Mr Andor, we shall ask for it. And now, we must talk.”

Cassian tore his eyes from Kay, whose breathing had evened out into something that looked like sleep, and looked up at Jyn, something questioning in his face. Like he was throwing another rope across the bridge they’d started to rebuild. Her eyes ached, her head ached, her hand ached, but she nodded. Caught the rope.

“Okay,” said Cassian. “Let’s talk.”


She lay in bed later, head pounding, the whiskey sloshing in her stomach. Her hand, thank fuck, no longer ached; Kaira had insisted on tending to it.

“You are the bearer?” she had asked, eyes and voice like winter. "Will Parry had this same wound.” Then she had smeared some bloodmoss ointment over the shiny red skin of the stumps, and a warm, soothing sensation had seemed to soak through Jyn’s hand, up her arm, through her whole body, wiping away the pain, until she could have cried with the relief of it.

Jyn knew she should probably care who Will Parry was, but she didn’t. She lay awake, listening to her father’s soft breaths and the rustle of his dæmon’s feathers, to the steady tumble of waves and wind outside, the creak of floorboards as Melshi paced the hall outside, and thought about what the two witches had said.

Kaira had snuck into the base after they had made their escape, using some kind of invisibility spell (“True invisibility is impossible,” the witch had scoffed. “We are able to hold ourselves with such strong modesty that nobody pays attention to our presence.” A useful trick, but it sounded like invisibility to Jyn). She had found Director Krennic – cold eyed, ambitious, spider dæmon threading webs between his fingers – in conversation with a very tall man who seemed to be his superior, a golden lioness dæmon pacing around them as though stalking her prey. Krennic had addressed him as My Lord.

“Tarkin,” Cassian had muttered. “That must be Bishop Tarkin. Dammit.”

Bishop Tarkin had ordered the evacuation of the base, and withdrawal to a place called ‘The Citadel’, as searchers were sent out to hunt for Jyn’s father. They believed he had escaped with help from somebody inside the base, so everybody was to be questioned.

“They also discussed the removal of the ‘oblates’,” said Kaira, “and the need to maintain highest security around them.”

“What are oblates?” Cassian asked. “Some sort of equipment?” He looked at Jyn, as though she might know. She shrugged.

“We do not know,” said Anda Var. “But it seemed of great importance to them that these be moved, with great speed and security.”

“We’ll ask Dad,” said Jyn firmly. “Tomorrow, he’ll tell us everything he knows.”

The witches would not stay much longer. They would travel back to their clan to mourn their sisters, and to receive news from their queen, Ruta Skadi, who had travelled to try and contact some angels.

“The void at Nijedha must be closed, if possible,” said Anda Var sadly. “Only the angels may be able to do so. This weapon must be stopped, before it can do such a thing again, or all will be hopeless.”

Before she left she had kissed Jyn’s forehead, her lips cool and soft. “Have hope,” she murmured. “Hold the course, Jyn Erso.”

“Where’s the Citadel?” Jyn whispered to Aster, who had his head under his wing. “In this world, do you think?”

He grumbled a little. “No. That would be too easy.”

“Where, then?”

“How should I know? Get Chirrut to ask the alethiometer tomorrow. Go to sleep, Jyn.”

She went to sleep. In her dreams, her hand was whole again, and she and Aster flew through the Northern Lights as effortlessly as witches. Below them, golden Dust fell away into darkness.


Baze

When Baze woke up he had no idea what time it was. There was a soft grey glow around the edge of the curtains. In the distance, the calls of gulls, the gentle rush of waves. His back and shoulders ached, but other than that he was more comfortable than he’d been in weeks. Months, even. This bed was a damn sight more comfortable than the one they’d had at home. The huge weight he’d been carrying in his chest seemed to have eased somewhat.

Possibly that had something to do with actually sleeping properly, in an actual bed, with no unnerving dreams about fire and collapsing cities. Or maybe it was the sex. Or both.

Chirrut was still asleep, for once not sprawled half across him. Baze watched him for a moment, just enjoying the sight of Chirrut safe and peaceful. His hair, grown longer than usual, was sticking up every which way, and there was a pillow crease across his cheek. He was mostly buried under the blankets, but Baze could see bruises marking his skin like stormclouds; there had been a lot of fighting over the last week, and even someone as good as Chirrut couldn’t avoid being hit sometimes. He was often covered in bruises and scrapes, and every single one still made something in Baze’s chest feel tight and angry. He considered pulling Chirrut close and kissing him awake, kissing every one of those bruises as though he could take them away. But Chirrut hadn’t slept for more than a few hours at a time for the last week, so Baze just watched him, drinking in the sharp lines of his face.

He was a work of art, even with the pillow creases.

Baze felt Zin tug at his attention, and rolled clumsily onto his side so he could reach down and pick her up from the basket. Shyli was still asleep, half-buried under the cushion, only her striped tail sticking out. Zin settled herself on his chest when he lay back down and considered him thoughtfully, her ears twitching.

“Did you know,” she began, “that you have a bite mark on your neck?”

Dammit, Chirrut. He glared at his dæmon, who yawned and stretched, digging her little claws into his chest. “I just thought you should know,” she said sleepily.

Baze considered dumping her back in the basket. She walked her way up his chest, claws like tiny pin pricks, and tucked herself under his chin, her spines snagging in his beard. Beside him Chirrut mumbled something incoherent and burrowed further into the blankets, kneeing Baze in the thigh as he did so. The grey light seeped slowly into the room, slowly bringing all of Baze’s worries with it. The comfortable bed suddenly didn’t feel so comfortable. The old tension began building at the base of his skull.

He knew, from long and irritating experience, that the only thing to do was to get up and keep himself busy. He sighed and slid out from under the covers, careful not to wake Chirrut, and dumped Zin on the desk so he could get dressed. His hair felt like a tangled nest, so he just knotted it at the back of his head to keep it out of the way. The house seemed quiet. Peaceful. Like it was waiting for something.

The books sat on the desk, battered and stained and dusty. He sat down and ran his index finger over the characters embossed on the front cover of one. His heart squeezed, and his stomach tried to fold in on itself. He hadn’t dared look at them properly since the night they’d found them.

Zin pushed her little head against his wrist. “You’re stalling,” she grumbled.

The pages were stiff and yellowed with age now, some of them stained with water marks that had rendered sections of text unreadable. If Master Yue could see them she would have a quiet fit.

Except Master Yue was dead. Baze had found her bleeding out in the library when the Magisterium had sacked the Temple. He had tried to save her. Days later he had still had blood stains under his fingernails.

He forced the memories down, turning the delicate pages. “I’m sure the writing didn’t use to be this small,” he muttered, picking the book up and squinting.

“No, we just used to be twenty,” Zin retorted. “You need reading glasses.”

“Well, when we’re done trying to take down the Magisterium I’ll make an appointment.”

She snickered her very annoying snicker and went to push at the second book in the stack. “You know what all these have in common?”

“Hm? Dust, obviously.”

If she could have rolled her eyes she would have. “Besides Dust.”

He frowned at her, and then at the volume in his hand. The Words of Dust. The one Zin was trying to push open with her nose was The Ways of Dust. The first was about creating Dust, about how people could best understand and preserve it, how they could build their lives to create as much of it as possible. The second was a study on how Dust gathered around people once they had settled: how fast it happened, what encouraged more of it. The books had been required reading for the children of the Temple, after their dæmon settled, once they had gone through the tests and measurements with one of the Masters, having their photograms taken and developed in the special emulsion that showed how much Dust they had begun to attract, how golden they looked. Baze had read the books long before Zin had settled; he remembered almost longing for her to settle, so that Dust would begin to gather around them, surrounding them with its goodness and its love. He had once given The Words of Dust to a young Temple student when she had confessed to him, upset and embarrassed, that she didn’t want her dæmon to settle, scared of the huge unknown that lay ahead. It had comforted her.

As though Dust had cared one bit. If Dust had cared, if it were anything other than a mindless force of the universe, the Temple would never have fallen. If Dust had cared, it would never have let the Magisterium murder those sworn to create and preserve it, would never have let the children be taken away. Loving it was like loving gravity.

“Baze.”

He set the book down and pinched the bridge of his nose. Zin sighed, a fluttery little noise, and pushed her nose against his knuckles. “They’re about settling,” he muttered.

“Right. About growing up.”

“So?”

“Just interesting. That the books that were saved, somehow, are the ones about the thing the Magisterium hates the most.”

He opened his eyes and stared down at his little dæmon. “So why would the Magisterium save them, when they burned the rest?”

“Maybe it wasn’t them. Maybe someone else saved them.” She hesitated, her whiskers twitching. “Like Chirrut said, maybe we’re not the last.”

Baze laid the books out on the desk, flipping through the pages as though there might be some sort of clue. Stared at the theological graphs and equations that calculated different Dust behaviours, remembering how easily he had used to understand such things. It all looked like some sort of gibberish now. And there, there was the handwritten note he himself had left, back when he was seventeen. It was like a note from a stranger.

“Baze! Baze, here—”

Zin was pawing at the dust jacket of one book, her little claws scrabbling at the lining.

“What are you doing?”

“There’s something in here.”

He picked it up and felt along the fold of the jacket. She was right; sealed inside he could feel something, like a folded up piece of paper. He still had the knife he’d stolen from the tower where the books had been hidden, hadn’t handed it over with his other weapons, and he dug it quickly out of his pack. Sorry, Master Yue, he though, slicing through the book’s sealed jacket. His fingers were too big to fit in the gap, but Zin scrabbled into it with her little paws and tugged out an old piece of paper, folded over and over into a small, tight square.

The characters were tiny and cramped, and the ink faded. Baze held the paper up and squinted at it, trying to bring it into proper focus. He really did need reading glasses.

As he read the short note a hollow roaring sound started up in his head. Zin watched him worriedly, but didn’t say anything.

We have put off the Magisterium for too long. It is inevitable that they will come for us, with force. They wish to destroy our knowledge and our people. We do not have time to save everything, but the Masters wish to save as much as possible.

We will hold to our greatest treasure for as long as possible, and seek its guidance.

I am to be sent to the Thin Place, north of the Temple, there to meet with the dragonfly riders and to pass some of our knowledge into their protection. One day we may retrieve it. Only a few others have ever passed through the Thin Place, and I do not know what to expect.

We will lose much, when the Magisterium come for us. Our knowledge, our traditions, our people. Already I mourn. But we will not lose everything. And what is lost can be rediscovered. What is broken can be rebuilt.

If you are reading this, you have found our books, and some of our knowledge. I hope that you will use it well. May Dust guide you truly.

— Master Aida, of the Temple of Dust

That which surrounds us, binds us.
In our connection to one, all is connected.
This is the truth of Dust, no more, no less:
Dust binds the living.
That which rises must fall, and that which falls must rise.
From the first breath of the infant
To the last breath of the aged,
We are one, together

The Masters had known. Or suspected. The words seemed to drift before his eyes. He read it again, slowly, taking in the familiar old poem, like being stabbed in the heart. Hands shaking, he folded the page back along its creases. It was dated some two years before the Temple had been attacked, the Masters killed, the children taken. Neither Chirrut or Baze had been Guardians yet.

Master Aida. He remembered her, the second Master of Experimental Theology. Wiry, clever, fast enough at sparring that even Chirrut had sometimes had to work to keep up with her. She should have been a Guardian, really, but she had lived for her research. And died for it.

He should wake Chirrut. Chirrut would make sense of it, or at least spout off some trite, pointless bit of mysticism that could pass for an explanation in bad light. Chirrut could read the alethiometer and find the truth. Chirrut would hold him tight and stroke his hair and dig his bony knees into him and let him sleep for a million years so he didn’t have to think about this.

Chirrut was still asleep, barely visible under the blankets. He had rolled into the warm spot Baze had vacated and Baze’s heart stuck in his throat.

He stowed the note in his pocket, picked up his dæmon, and went in search of tea.


He found tea, and he also found Galen Erso making it. The man looked a little less grey in the lemony morning light, and he gave Baze a careful, assessing look.

“Tea?”

Baze nodded, trying to drag his brain into English mode. He had hoped not to have to make any conversation yet, to have time to mull everything over a little. He particularly did not want to make conversation with this man. Baze looked at his lined face and his moss-green eyes that were so like Jyn’s and instead saw Killi Gimm’s gaunt smile.

“I should thank you,” Erso said, setting a mug of tea in front of Baze and sitting down. He had, unlike many Europeans, not ruined the tea with milk. “For helping my daughter. For, frankly, saving my life.”

Baze wished that he had woken Chirrut up. He was better at navigating awkward conversations. Or at least at making pointed remarks. “I am happy to help Jyn,” he said slowly. He didn’t sit down.

Erso’s mouth tipped slightly and he sipped his tea. “I understand that you may not be inclined to warm towards me. Jyn tells me that you and your – partner are from Nijedha. I know it doesn’t help at all, but I am dreadfully sorry.”

'Partner', Baze had learnt, was apparently the accepted English word for what he and Chirrut were, though it felt strange to have somebody actually use it so matter-of-factly. “It doesn’t help,” he said bluntly. “But Jyn says you built a trap into the weapon. So you must help to stop it.”

Erso regarded him, thoughtfully. Baze stared right back. Usually people looked away when Baze stared at them, but Erso just tapped a finger against his mug. His bird dæmon fidgeted a little where she was perched on the back of his chair. Baze felt Zin’s quills flare slightly, their points brushing his jaw. “I will do everything I can,” Erso said. He hesitated. “My wife… she visited your Temple, once, a few years before— well. She had been interested in it for years, in Rusakov particles as something… spiritual.”

Baze did not want to talk about this. This is the truth of Dust, no more, no less. The folded letter seemed to burn against his thigh. He dropped his gaze to his tea, and Zin half-curled into a miserable ball.

“You may have met her? Dark hair, blue jay dæmon.”

He shrugged. “There were many pilgrims, once. I met a lot of them.” Most of them hadn’t been true pilgrims but fascinated tourists, particularly those from the West. Lyra Erso could have been any of the young, dark-haired white women who had passed through the Temple’s halls.

“Of course. I can’t expect you to remember one person from three decades ago.” Erso sighed. “She brought back a necklace of electrum, and she never took it off.”

That made Baze look up. Chirrut had sensed Jyn’s electrum necklace in the same way he sensed the electrum embedded in his cane. The electrum deposits deep in the caves below the Temple had been a source of interest to many, and some of the masters had studied them, trying to understand why they attracted so much Dust. Baze wished he had learnt more about it.

“Your wife was given the electrum?”

“I believe so. She said one of the monks gifted it to her – Master something, though I’m afraid I don’t remember the name.”

If Lyra Erso had been given the electrum, she must have shown a genuine interest in the Temple and its beliefs, and a sincere desire to explore their knowledge. The electrum had not been handed out to just anybody, particularly not to visitors. Baze himself had worn a leather cord around his wrist, onto which were threaded four small chunks of electrum.

He had sold it long ago. It had bought rice and vegetables and medicine. More important things.

“She was fascinated by Rusakov particles,” Erso said, when Baze didn’t answer, though Baze suspected that Erso was not really speaking to him anymore, his eyes flat and distant, one finger tracing patterns on the tabletop. “Not necessarily for their theological properties, but for their… greater significance. Of course, she was named after Lyra Belacqua, so perhaps it was only natural that she should seek what Dr Belacqua sought.”

Baze nodded. Seeking understanding of Dust had been his life, once. Others had spent their life learning how to use it, control it, or destroy it. Perhaps everything would have been better if everybody had just left it well enough alone.


Jyn

The sound of gulls woke her. The curtains had been half-opened to let some cool morning light spill into the room, and her father was sitting at the end of her bed, stroking his dæmon’s black feathers and murmuring to her in Danish.

Jyn lay quietly for a moment, watching him, her heart skittering. He was really here, and really safe. Maybe Cassian had been right, earlier. Maybe it didn’t matter that they were so strange to one another now, because they would have time to rebuild. The Magisterium had stolen fifteen years from them, but they could have more than that. Many more.

She had hated Cassian back there, a burning, blazing hatred. But sitting across from him last night, watching his night-dark eyes as he talked about his family, as he watched the witches murmur over Kay, the hatred had slipped away like a thief, leaving only something small and burnished and uncertain. She hoped he would help make her father’s case to the Alliance.

“Morning,” she murmured, and her father looked over to her, his face breaking into a small smile. He had some colour in his face today, the shadows under his eyes faded. He had trimmed his beard.

“Good morning, Stardust,” he said, shifting up the bed and tucking her hair behind her ear, the way he had used to. “Sleep well? There’s tea—”

She sat up awkwardly, trying not to put too much weight on her left hand, and accepted the mug he offered her. Her mouth felt full of rough sand, and she sipped the tea gratefully. Aster fluttered to her shoulder and began to preen his feathers.

“Did you sleep okay?” she asked, remembering all the chanting and singing from the witches. They had probably woken the whole house.

“Like a rock. Much better than I have done in days.” He patted her knee under the covers, watching her as she drank her tea. He touched her hair again, gently, then his fingers slipped down to the electrum pendant against her collarbone. “Your mother gave you her necklace?” he asked, the question light, pain curled underneath.

Aster tensed on her shoulder. “Yes. She – she gave it to me just after we heard that you’d – gone.” After scrambling away from the crash, her mother’s voice ringing in her ears, telling her to run, Jyn! I’ll come for you, run— she had trembled and cried and clutched at the necklace and at Aster, crouched in the tiny hidey-hole in a dirty, smelly alleyway in Hang Chow, waiting for her mother to find her.

It had been Saw Gerrera who had pulled the door open, who had picked her up in his big arms and murmured to her in his gravelly voice.

Her father lifted the pendant gently with one finger, his eyes creased. “It is from the Temple in Nijedha. Did you know?”

She stared at him. Chirrut had asked where it was from, and she hadn’t known. “Mum went to the Temple?”

“Before you were born. She was given it there, and never took it off.” He smiled distantly. “I asked your friend – is it Baze, the big fellow? – if he had met her there. He didn’t remember her.”

Jyn’s heart was high in her throat. The Temple, long destroyed and now obliterated along with its city. Her electrum pendant, calling to Chirrut’s odd senses, before he had saved them from the Magisterium soldiers. “Small world,” she managed to say. Her head was spinning and aching. The threads of questions and answers in her mind, all of them in a tangle.

There was a knock at the door and Melshi stuck his head in.

“Best look sharp,” he said. “Mothma and them’ll be here soon.”


Mon Mothma looked as calm and unruffled as ever where she sat opposite Jyn, her snowy owl dæmon’s fierce tawny eyes surveying the room from the back of her chair. Did she ever get stressed? Upset? Mildly put-out? The woman looked as though she’d just returned from a yoga retreat.

Draven did not look remotely as serene. A muscle was jumping in his jaw, and he kept fixing a furious stare on Cassian, who looked resolutely ahead. The second man had a kind, curious expression, his dæmon an enormous bear-like dog. He looked vaguely familiar to Jyn, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on where she knew him from.

The Alliance had brought a doctor with them, to look over their injuries. Kaira’s witch-treatment, thankfully, seemed to have worked; Kay looked stronger already, his temperature normal, his skin back to its usual warm brown colour, and he had stubbornly insisted on being up, dressed, and present for this meeting. The doctor had sighed and forced some antibiotics down his throat, but otherwise seemed to accept that he would do exactly as he wished. Jyn had reluctantly let her examine the shiny red stumps of her missing fingers.

“You’re lucky this cut was so clean,” the doctor had said. Her tone was mild, though Jyn suspected she didn’t believe that it was from ‘just a knife’. “No sign of infection. You could use some physio on that hand though, make sure the other fingers work their best.”

Now Jyn wished she had reapplied some of that bloodmoss treatment before coming into this meeting, as her hand was throbbing again. She clenched her right fist, digging her nails into her palm to try and distract herself. She was sure that the Alliance had wanted to talk to her father alone, and she had been prepared to stand her ground, but Cassian had quietly suggested that she be part of this meeting. So now she sat beside her father, heart pounding in her ears, trying to think clearly. She really shouldn’t have drunk all that whisky last night.

“I am glad to see you safe, Dr Erso,” Mothma began, folding her hands on the tabletop. “My name is Mon Mothma, I am one of the leaders of the Alliance. This is my colleague Davits Draven—” Draven gave a curt nod, his monkey dæmon glaring suspiciously over his shoulder— “And this is Senator Bail Organa. He typically co-ordinates Alliance missions in New Denmark.”

Jyn knew where she recognised him from then: Senator Organa had been in the news not long ago because of his outspoken criticism of the current New Danish administration, and people thought he might be moving toward a presidential bid. He leaned over the table and shook her father’s hand, his voice warm as he said, “I hope you can help us out, Dr Erso.”

“I shall do my best, Senator, I promise you.”

Mothma sat forward a little. “You took quite a risk sending that message, Doctor.”

Her father nodded, his mouth twisting slightly. “It seemed worth the risk. I felt that I was running out of time.”

“Yes. So, Dr Erso, let's not beat around the bush. This weapon – you have planted a weakness? How?”

Jyn watched the three Alliance leaders as her father talked. He was a little hesitant at first, gathering the threads of his story, but soon he slipped into what she thought of as his ‘lecture’ voice.

He explained his long acquaintance with Orson Krennic, how Krennic had always been more interested in the application of experimental theology and had always shown an aptitude for engineering. That what Krennic wanted, more than anything, was power and recognition. He had been adept at glad-handing, at worming his way into meeting the right people, at working his way up the ladder. Galen, on the other hand, had been interested primarily in research, and in using that research to help people.

“Using Rusakov particles as an energy source is not a new idea," he explained. "Lord Asriel himself made some cursory studies in the area. But the problem was always the same: how to create enough Rusakov particles, how to contain them, how to direct them. My research was in this area. Theoretically, if Rusakov particles could be harnessed in this way, they could be a source of constantly renewable, completely clean energy.”

He moved his hands as he spoke, as though drawing on an imaginary blackboard, his eyes suddenly bright. He looked, for a moment, twenty years younger. Everybody was watching him: Organa looked fascinated, Mothma considering. Draven was frowning, his arms folded.

“Oxford is a rich University, of course, but money is not limitless. I was constantly applying for funding, and it got more and more difficult. I was… frustrated. My work could be revolutionary, if only I had the money to do what I needed to do. Another grant application was denied, and I had hit a brick wall. Then I had a call from Orson.” His face went distant, his eyes like ghosts.

“What an absolute fool I was. I knew he was involved with the Magisterium, working on their projects. But he said it was about investment in clean energy, that it was apolitical, nothing to do with the Magisterium’s agenda. I believed him because I wanted to believe him," he gave a soft, self-deprecating laugh, pushing his hair back. "Lyra never trusted Orson, and told me so, but I thought I knew better. I should have listened to her." Jyn remembered the worry that always seemed to linger on her mother's face, the lines gathering around her mouth, the tense, hushed conversations when they thought Jyn was in bed. She dug her nails into her palm again.

"Orson wanted me to bring my research aboard something called the ‘Celestial Power Project’. It looked above board, completely in line with what I wanted to do… and the budget was incredible. I could have the team I needed, the equipment... it was a dream. We began to make exceptional progress. Even when I asked the project to fund a trip to Cathay, to investigate reports of anomalous Rusakov particle activity near Nijedha, nobody batted an eyelid.”

“And they turned on you, in Cathay?” Mothma asked. She had steepled her fingers under her chin, a slight frown on her face.”Or did you go with them willingly?”

“The former. We travelled into the mesa past Nijedha — the Temple had been gone for a good decade, but reports about the odd behaviour of Rusakov particles nearby continued — and there, in the middle of the mesa, we found a… a window in the air. It’s the only way I can describe it.”

“A window?” Draven repeated. Jyn’s stomach clenched in on itself. Her hand throbbed. "Like the one near Svalbard?"

“Yes. And through the window there was another world. You stepped through it, and you were no longer in the cold desert, but in a balmy forest. It was… indescribable. The wonder of it. The excitement. Do you know of the Barnard-Stokes hypothesis? The many-worlds theory? Barnard and Stokes were silenced by the Magisterium, of course. It was heresy. And here I was, standing in what seemed to be absolute, incontrovertible proof of their work.

“We investigated for a few days. Studying the window, measuring the Rusakov activity, collecting samples, planning to bring more teams out here to study further. It wasn’t what we had come for, but it was huge. A discovery that could change experimental theology forever. And then, on the fourth day, the Magisterium arrived. With Orson in charge. They were armed. I tried to reason with him, thinking they were concerned with the discovery of the window, with the heretical nature of other worlds, but that wasn’t it. They killed two of my team, and dragged the rest of us away. When I woke, I was in another world entirely.”

“And they had you building the weapon?”

Her father nodded, pushing one hand through his greying hair. His voice, which had become so animated as he explained his research, became soft and tired. His dæmon gave a soft croaking noise, stirring on his shoulder, and he glanced sidelong at Jyn.

“The weapon itself already existed, in some form. The main body of the thing. But they were missing the energy source, and all previous work on it had failed. They wanted to use Rusakov particles; contain them, channel them. The Magisterium believes that Rusakov particles are the ultimate evil, and wish to rid the world of them. If they can do that whilst striking fear into others, advancing their control, so much the better.” He passed a hand over his beard. Nobody moved or spoke. Jyn touched his arm.

“I learnt, very quickly, that they would one day be able to do this without me. So I tried to make myself indispensable. Drew things out for as long as possible. Introduced complications, mistakes. I knew, by then, that my wife was dead. An accident, they told me, but I did not believe it. They made me believe that they knew where my daughter was, that they could harm her if necessary. So I continued on. And slowly I began to introduce a flaw. It had to be small, easily overlooked by the other theologians and by the engineers. But I succeeded. The reactor in the centre of the weapon is extremely unstable; if it could be destroyed, a small explosion, anything, the entire weapon would be destroyed. It was all I could think to do; they could build it without me, if they killed me. Or if I killed myself. So I had to stay alive, stay working, so that one day it might be brought down.”

Organa shifted in his seat, crossing one leg over the other. His huge dog dæmon lifted her head from where it had rested on her paws. Draven uncrossed his arms and leaned forward.

“This is all very well,” he said, “but how are we to know where this reactor is, or what it looks like? How are we to find this weapon?”

“For the latter, I know it is in another world. I’m afraid the Magisterium kept me very well protected, and the weapon is in a different world entirely.” Her father’s mouth turns into a humourless smile. “They do not put their eggs in one basket.”

“And for the former?”

“That I can help with.” His dæmon flapped from his shoulder to the table, her sharp red feet skittering on the wood, and lifted her wing. He untied something small from the underside of Lene's wing, a black thread invisible against her feathers, and held up a tiny memory card. “The data is encrypted,” he said, “but this contains the weapon plans I designed. I can show you exactly where the weakness is.”

Jyn caught Cassian’s eye, and a faint smile played over his mouth. Hope rose in her chest like warm bread.

Senator Organa smiled broadly. “That will do very well, Dr Erso.”

Jyn couldn’t contain herself. “So you’re going to destroy it?” she asked bluntly, looking right at Organa.

“We would need to look more closely at—”

“That thing destroyed a city! It can destroy more! You’ve got the chance, you need to—”

“The weapon is in another world, Ms Erso,” Draven snapped. “It may yet prove impossible. What will be done about it is not for you to say.”

“Then what’s the point?” she blazed. “You just let the Magisterium do what they want?” Aster stretched his wings and gave a nightingale cry. Her dad put a hand on her arm. She could feel Cassian’s eyes on her, but she just glared at Draven.

“Ms Erso, you told me, and I quote, that you did not want an ‘official bloody position’ in the Alliance. You have helped a great deal, but this decision is for the Alliance council to make.”

She opened her mouth to argue more, but her father squeezed her arm and she subsided, glowering. Cowards, she thought furiously. They had all risked so much for this. She thought of the subtle knife, tucked under her mattress. Other worlds were no barrier. If they didn’t do anything, then she would.


Cassian

It was an exhaustingly long day. After speaking with Erso the three leaders wanted to be filled in on their journey and why exactly it took them so long to retrieve him. Cassian did most of the talking; he was better at skirting around the gaps in a story than Kay, who tended towards brutal honesty. He carefully avoided mentioning the alethiometer, or the subtle knife, making it sound as though Anda Var knew about more of the windows, a back door into the Magisterium’s world. Rucía lay in his lap with her eyes half-closed, digging her claws quietly into his thigh if she thought he was saying too much.

Mothma’s owl dæmon watched him throughout, and he knew she knew that he was leaving out details, but she didn’t say anything. Draven was quietly furious, though he could not complain now; his order to kill Galen had not been run by Mothma or Bail. Cassian wasn’t sure if they even knew about it. And now Galen had provided the actual plans for the weapon, proving his usefulness. Jyn’s outburst had irritated Draven even more, though frankly Cassian agreed with her.

Finally, after talks and talks and talks, as the oranging sun dipped towards the sea, the three of them prepared to leave. “We will move you in two days,” Mothma said. “You all need rest, and we need time to prepare a long-term safehouse for Dr Erso.”

“And Jyn,” he said firmly. He had all but promised her that they wouldn’t be separated. He couldn’t break her trust again.

Mothma tipped her head. “Of course. And I will make contact with our cells in Cathay. They may be able to assist Mr Malbus and Mr Îmwe, if they wish it.”

Bail shook his hand heartily. “Rest up, Cassian,” he said, his expression friendly and his eyes keen and searching. “You’ve got us to a good spot.”

Cassian gripped the man’s hand. “With respect, sir, I’d like to continue with this mission if possible. I’ve started it, and I want to see it through.”

“Hm. We’ll see. We need time to study these plans, go over them with the doctor. Then we’ll decide what to do.” He glanced over Cassian’s shoulder, to where Jyn was standing with her father. “She could be useful, you know. I should introduce her to my daughter. Keep an eye, will you?”


The conversations couldn’t stop there, of course, no matter how tired he was. Everybody gathered in the living room, crowding onto the sofa and available chairs. Bodhi perched on the arm of the sofa, chewing nervously on his thumb nail, holding his dæmon under one arm. Baze leant against the wall, arms folded, his hair hanging in his eyes. Cassian remained standing, feeling rather like a teacher about to address a class. Kay – exhausted, though he would not admit it – slumped in the nearest armchair, sinking as low as his long frame would allow. He had borne up well all day, an enormous improvement on the feverish trembling of last night, but it was clear he was reaching the end of his rope.

Trying to keep things concise, Cassian told everybody about the late night visit from the two witches, and their news from the Magisterium’s base.

“Who is this Tarkin man?” Chirrut asked, hands folded and propped under his chin.

“He’s the head of the College of Bishops,” said Kay. “Very close to Palpatine, it’s said.”

Galen gave one of his soft sighs. “Krennic is officially in charge of the weapons project, but truly it is Tarkin. Krennic is useful as the face of the thing. If anything goes wrong, it will be him who takes the fall.”

“Do you know where the ‘Citadel’ is?” Cassian asked him. He spread his broad hands in a gesture of defeat.

“Unfortunately not. It is in another world, but it is very much a need-to-know basis. I was not deemed one who needed to know. The weapon is held there; my team would work on it piecemeal, and it would then be taken to the Citadel for assembly by another team.”

“Bodhi?”

Bodhi shook his head. “Sorry, Cassian.”

He blew out a hard breath. It was fine. Hopefully Chirrut could get some sort of answer from the alethiometer.

“They were also moving something called ‘oblates’.” Jyn picked up the thread of the discussion. “Are they something to do with the weapon, dad?”

Galen frowned. “I don’t know that word, Stardust. Is that what the witch heard? Oblates?”

“It’s what she said. This Tarkin was talking about moving them, pretty urgently.”

Steela, who had been sitting quietly, running her fingers down the length of her snake dæmon, sat up. “The Oblation Board,” she said suddenly.

“What?”

“Years ago. Before we were lost—” she indicated her dæmon— “we infiltrated a Magisterium base and found all sorts of redacted records, from long ago. There was some… experiment they were conducting, a century ago or more, by some offshoot branch called the Oblation Board. I don’t know what it was, but they scrubbed out all mention of it not long after it was set up.”

Kay frowned, adjusting his glasses. “I have never heard of this,” he said, as though offended that the Magisterium would keep knowledge from him.

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time the Magisterium have pretended something didn’t happen,” said Jyn sourly. Baze snorted. They had learnt that the catastrophe in Nijedha had been reported as a disastrous mine collapse, and all official media reports and photographs carefully edited. Anything that deviated from the official story was being quickly wiped away.

“But what does it mean?” Bodhi asked. “I mean, obviously nothing good, but…”

“Oblate…” muttered Kay, rubbing the spot between his brows. “Oblate, oblation…”

“It sounds Roman,” his dæmon piped up. “Oblatus. Oblatum… like an offering.”

Galen’s breath hissed in through his teeth, and everybody looked at him.

“Dad?”

He put his face in his hands for a moment. “An offering,” he muttered into his palms. “Of course. Trust Tarkin to put it like that.”

Dad.”

He rested his hands on his knees and drew in a breath. Looked at Jyn for a moment, as though she were the only person in the room. “I only found out the truth recently. It’s what made me realise I had to move, quickly.”

“Something you didn’t tell Mothma?” Kay asked shrewdly. “You would have done better to be honest, Dr Erso.”

“Maybe so. I’m afraid I’ve been a terrible coward. You must understand that this is not something I knew until very recently.”

“Perhaps you should explain, Galen,” said Steela steadily.

Galen’s dæmon murmured something to him and he sighed, twisting his hands together as though trying to rub out a stain. “The Magisterium wishes, in a fundamental way, to destroy Rusakov particles. They believe them to be the root of all evil in the world. A ridiculous idea, but a powerful one; destroy Dust, and humanity can be without sin. And Dust gathers most strongly around people when their dæmon settles.”

A stone of dread dropped into Cassian’s stomach. Rucía pressed herself to his ankles, her ears flattening against her skull.

“The link between human and dæmon is, as far as we can tell, made of pure Rusakov particles. That link is so strong, so fundamental, that…” he trailed off. Everybody was staring at him. Bodhi visibly tightened his grip on his dæmon, hugging her to his heart.

“Dad?” whispered Jyn. Her face was white as she stared at her father, her eyes impossibly large.

“The weapon is powered by Rusakov particles. In my research I found ways to store them as energy, to be released at just the right time. My initial research was into how the particles created by day-to-day life could be harnessed; those generated by universities, by theatres, by libraries, anywhere people were creating and learning. But the Magisterium wanted quicker, stronger results.

“Krennic took my research for containing Rusakov particles and learnt that it was possible to isolate human from dæmon. Then that it was possible to – to separate them. Severing the link released an astonishing burst of energy, greater than anything we had ever been able to measure.”

“Is that what the Troopers are?” asked Kay, in a horribly calm voice, belied by the way his dæmon had crept inside his shirt. Cassian clenched his fists, a wave of horror beginning to rise in his gut.

“Yes. They are willing, to a point. They are led to believe that the procedure will purify them.” Galen sounded utterly disgusted. Rucía’s fur was on end, and Cassian could practically hear her heart leaping in time with his own. “But then I learnt… that they were severing children.”

Chapter Text

Chirrut

When he was a child, long before the Magisterium came to Nijedha, he had asked the Temple’s Master of Experimental Theology why people had dæmons.

People have always had dæmons, Master Hara told him. For as long as there have been people. Without our dæmons, what would we be? A dæmon is a part of yourself to love and care for, to talk to, to help you learn who you are.

Master Hara’s sand fox dæmon had watched Chirrut through his clever, narrow eyes, his blocky head cocked to the side. Shyli had become a fennec fox in imitation of him, prowling closer to see if he would react. Chirrut couldn’t imagine not having her with him all the time. How lonely it would be, not to have her to talk to! His soul, sharp and stubborn and compassionate. Even when Baze had left Nijedha and he had been lonelier than he could ever have imagined, Shyli had been there. To have her taken away…

And there were children out there, as young as Chirrut had been when he had asked Master Hara that question, who had had their beloved dæmons ripped away from them. The idea made him feel very cold and sick. Shyli – always there, always knowing what he needed – wrapped her tail around his wrist as though to anchor herself to him. He curled his hands around her. She was a warm little glow in his mind. A Dust glow. The Magisterium was ripping that away from people. From children.

Had the Temple’s masters known? Or suspected? The note that Baze had found suggested that they had known something was coming. But nobody had been able to read the alethiometer well enough to fully understand it, back then. The books they had found were concerned with dæmon-settling, and the behaviour of Dust – exactly the thing this monstrous act was meant to negate. It could not be a coincidence.

Galen Erso was still talking. His rough voice, with that gentle Danish accent, was full of bitterness and horror. It seemed to Chirrut that it faded in and out, like a badly-tuned radio.

“Once I knew what I was looking for, I managed to break into more of their systems,” Erso was saying. “I found that they had been doing this… this terrible thing for years. The only new thing was that it was being used in conjunction with my research.”

“They’ve done this to children for years?” Cassian’s voice was tightly controlled, and Erso’s dæmon made a sound of distress.

“Yes. Believe me, I had no idea. I knew that it was done to the Troopers, and I despised it, but I told myself that they knew what they were agreeing to. Then I found accounts of this process, ‘intercision’ they call it, being used on children going back decades.”

Decades. Shyli stirred in Chirrut’s hands, and he knew the same dreadful thought had occurred to her.

Where did they take the children? He had asked the alethiometer that twenty-five years ago, hands shaking, blood trickling down his face. He had not been as familiar with the instrument back then, not so proficient in his reading, and barely able to think straight through the fresh grief and trauma, just about holding onto his sensory connection with Shyli. The answer that had come had been confusing and distressing all at once, and all he had understood was that there was no hope of getting them back. After Baze had left, Chirrut had barely touched the alethiometer for two years, except to ask it if Baze was safe. He had never dared ask it if Baze would come back, or if he loved Chirrut still. The idea that it would say ‘no’ was too much.

“Where do they find the children?” Baze asked. To the others he probably sounded much as he ever did, a little gruff and sullen, but Chirrut could feel the depth of fear in his tone, could sense it in the Dust-glow around him. He uncurled one hand from Shyli and reached out to where Baze stood beside the sofa, touching his arm. He was very tense.

“I-I don’t know. The children of Magisterium agents, perhaps. I don’t know.” Erso sounded despairing, and Chirrut tried not to think too poorly of him. He hadn’t known. He hadn’t been the one severing children.

“Does it matter?” asked Kay. “It is monstrous, regardless of where the children are from.”

Little Fara, who Chirrut had taught to juggle. Kai Lee, fiercely protective of her younger brother, constantly getting into fights. Jarik, stealing into the kitchens to satisfy his sweet tooth. Yan, who had constantly had her head in a book... all of them gone. And this was what had happened to them. He could see it, now: the alethiometer’s needle leaping gracefully between the apple, the sword, the bread, and the baby; the childrens’ dæmons had been cut away, sacrificed, and they had been helpless to stop it.

The old anger and grief bubbled softly under the surface of his skin. Shyli was tense in his hands, her tail coiling and uncoiling from around his wrist. Beside him Baze was silent and wary, the Dust-glow around him full of sadness and fury. Chirrut fought his own emotions down, breathing slowly. I am of Dust, Dust is of me… I am of Dust, Dust is of me…

Dust would never have collected around those long-lost children. They were cut off, forever, from growing and learning, from their real place in the world.

“They still have some kids as prisoners?” Steela asked. She sounded utterly calm, though that thread of steel rang through her voice.

“If that’s what ‘oblates’ means, then yeah,” Jyn said. “The witches said this Tarkin bloke wanted them moved with high security. Moved where, though?”

“Maybe to where the weapon is?” Bodhi suggested tentatively. “That would be the most secure place now, surely.”

“We need to give this information to the Alliance council,” said Kay firmly. “We cannot make decisions ourselves about what to do. We don’t have the intelligence, or the resources.”

But we do, thought Chirrut. The alethiometer was strapped snugly to his torso, underneath his clothing. He could find out where the children were, where the weapon was. And Jyn had her extremely useful knife. Intelligence, and resources. He had so far refrained from letting Galen Erso know about the alethiometer, but if it became necessary...

Mothma had offered to put them in touch with an Alliance cell in Cathay, who would be able to help them. Chirrut had vaguely entertained the idea of tracking down Kaya and Dennic, who had left Nijedha with a group of orphans some six months ago. They, along with Chirrut and Baze, were all that remained of Nijedha. But now, with the knowledge that more children were in terrible danger, Chirrut could not imagine turning away. The Alliance might be too late to save them by the time they made their move. He knew Baze well enough to be certain that he would feel the same; Baze had loved the Temple’s children as though they were his own. May Dust guide you truly, Master Aida’s note had finished. It had always guided Chirrut, and he would continue to trust in it. Shyli rubbed her head reassuringly against his fingers.

Behind him, Baze dropped a hand onto his shoulder, giving him a steadying squeeze.

"We will find these children," Chirrut said, and felt the rustling and stirring of the others turning to look at him. Baze's thumb brushed against his neck. "We will find them and bring them home, whole."

"It's not that simple—" Cassian began.

"The Magisterium stole the children from the Temple when they destroyed it. We did not understand why. Now we do." He heard Baze's breath catch, very slightly. "They are beyond our help now, but these other children are not. We will find them."

Dust will guide us, he thought. It must.


Bodhi

“We didn’t know,” he said again, and Aliya sighed.

“No,” she agreed softly. “We didn’t.”

It didn’t help.

Bodhi held her tightly, and she rubbed her head against his neck. His heart twisted, a phantom pain, the memory of the wrenching agony of having Aliya dragged away from him. How relentless it had been, no matter how much he screamed and begged.

The meeting had broken up not long ago, with everybody drifting off to rest or, possibly, dwell and fret over what they had heard. That was certainly what Bodhi was doing, now alone in the living room. He had felt so exultant yesterday, sure that rescuing Galen had struck a huge blow to the Magisterium, but the reality of everything still loomed dark over everything. They had Galen, yes, and they had his knowledge, but the Magisterium had the weapon. And they were cutting people’s dæmons away.

He couldn’t sit still any longer. The large house felt oppressively small all of a sudden; he wanted to go outside and get some air, but they were stuck indoors until the Alliance confirmed that they could be moved. Melshi was resting, but there was a new guard by the front door, and there were other guards outside. Bodhi nodded vaguely to the new guard, whose name was Pao, and she nodded back, her red setter dæmon sitting straight and alert beside her. He could hear voices from Galen and Jyn’s room, low and intense, as though they were arguing.

The kitchen was empty, the reddening evening light spilling over the floorboards. He wished he could just… talk to someone, about all of these confusing feelings. He thought longingly of his mother, long dead, who had always been ready to listen and be calm and practical in response. What would she say?

Let’s have a cup of tea, beta. Everything looks better after a cup of tea.

He sighed. “This might be a bit big for tea, Ammi,” he muttered, but he put the kettle on anyway. He wasn’t sure what his mother’s advice would have been in this situation, anyway. I’ve been working for an organisation that I knew did terrible things. I’m trying to help stop it, but the terrible things are even worse than I could have imagined.

You do the best you can, he imagined her saying, firm and fond at once, her fishing-cat dæmon regarding him with his large eyes. You’re doing differently now, yes? You continue on that path. Do what you think is right, beta.

That was what Galen had said. But it was all just so big, and what could Bodhi really do about it? He was just an aeronaut, and not even a very good one at that. Now that they’d rescued Galen, what could he possibly do to help? He had told Mothma that he wanted to work with the Alliance in whatever way he could, though he was not at all confident that he could be useful. It wasn’t as though he knew Magisterium secrets, not like Kay.

He froze at that realisation, almost dropping the teaspoon. Kay had left the Magisterium too. He had worked for them. Of everybody in their odd group, Kay was the most likely to understand. He pulled a second mug from the draining rack and made another tea, hoping that Kay might be awake enough to talk for a bit.

Thankfully he was, sitting on the edge of his bed and frowning as Steela cleaned his wound and treated it with more of the witch-medicine. The strange herbal mixture smelled wonderful, somehow clean and warm and fresh all at once, and Bodhi felt his anxiety ease as he breathed it in. Kay’s arm looked much better already, no longer red and swollen, and the wound itself was finally beginning to stitch together. He glanced up as Bodhi pushed the door open, and though he didn’t so much as blink his dæmon buzzed briefly around Aliya’s head before flying back to him.

“You look better,” Bodhi said. “I, uh, I made tea. Sorry Steela, I didn’t realise you were here—”

“Don’t worry,” she said easily, wiping the mixture of her hands. “I’ve barely drunk any caffeine for two decades, I should probably ease back into it.”

Kay took the tea one-handed with a brief nod. The bedside lamp threw a golden glow against his bare chest. “I certainly feel improved. Though I don’t believe any of this treatment has been through a double-blind medical trial.”

Steela snorted. “And yet you’ve made a miraculous recovery. Maybe just count your blessings.”

“More things in heaven and earth?” Bodhi suggested, sinking into the shabby armchair that Cassian had occupied for most of the night. Cassian himself was crashed out on Bodhi’s bed, finally getting some actual rest.

“I don’t believe Shakespeare knew much about proper medical testing either.”

Steela caught Bodhi’s eye and shook her head, though her expression was more amused than annoyed. She looked a lot better now than she had done, with more colour in her face and energy in her movements. It seemed that Lady Saveria had been right: being out of her own world had been slowly sapping Steela’s health. “Are you alright, Bodhi?” she asked, picking up a fresh bandage from the first aid kit open on the bed.

Bodhi opened his mouth to say yes, but caught himself in time. He sighed, and took a sip of tea instead. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. “What Galen was saying back there, about – about what the Magisterium’s been doing to people. To children. I just – I never knew about that, but long before I left I knew they were doing terrible things. And I stayed. And now—”

“You left,” Steela said bracingly. “That’s more than a lot of people can say. You left, at great personal risk. You were essential for getting Galen out.”

He drew an aimless pattern on the frayed arm of the chair. “It doesn’t feel like enough.” He forced himself to look up and meet Kay’s eyes, steady and no longer bright with fever. “Did you feel like this, when you left?”

Steela raised her eyebrows as she tucked the end of the bandage into the place. “You were Magisterium?”

Kay glanced between them, and his broad shoulders slumped a little further. His dæmon buzzed to his bandaged arm, as though to inspect Steela’s work.

“I was, yes. Until six or seven years ago, when I discovered that a new colleague of mine was actually an Alliance agent.” He drank some of his tea, looking a little thoughtful. “He was good, Cassian, but not quite good enough at that point. If I hadn’t been having my own doubts I could very easily have turned him in. As it was, it was the opening I’d been looking for. I got Cassian the information he needed, and he helped me leave.”

Kay set down his tea, his hand a little unsteady, and shrugged his shirt back on with a barely-concealed wince. “I had no idea that the Magisterium had been severing children. It must only be some of the highest authorities who know about it. But severing in general… well.” He trailed off for a moment, fumbling with the buttons of his shirt. The word ‘severing’, said so casually, made Bodhi’s heart constrict. Aliya leant reassuringly against his stomach. He sipped his tea, trying to look as calm as Steela did.

“There are those who undergo it willingly, hard though it may be to imagine,” Kay continued. “Other times it is used to… keep people under control. Severed people cannot be given roles that require a great deal of complex thought processes and decision making. I am quite certain that Galen Erso would have been under threat of it were that not the case. But if the Magisterium feel that somebody needs to be firmly controlled, that they maybe know a little too much, and if they’re expendable enough, then severing them is the neatest way to solve that little problem.” His voice was as calm and emotionless as it ever was, but his fingers slipped a little on a button, and his dæmon crept inside his collar. “If the Magisterium had found me, after I left with all of the security secrets I could take… well. They would have severed me from Exa as quick as you please.”

Bodhi’s hand trembled so much that he spilled tea on his thigh. He set his mug down and buried his fingers in Aliya’s warm fur instead. He saw Steela’s snake dæmon twine himself closer about her shoulders. Kay managed to secure his last button and looked up, meeting Bodhi’s eyes and pushing his glasses up his nose. “No matter the guilt you’re feeling, do not let that drag you into infiltrating them again, Bodhi. They know you have knowledge they need, about Dr Erso, about the Alliance. The probability is extremely high that they would sever you, and you would then tell them whatever they needed to know. You would see no reason not to.”

A hot, sickly feeling swept through Bodhi at this blunt pronouncement. His heart was pounding uncomfortably fast. He swallowed, trying to breathe normally and not give in to panic. “They’re doing it to children,” he said. “They’ve been doing it for years. I want to help stop them. And I-I can’t just do nothing, just because I’m scared.”

“Quite right,” said Steela. “But Kay is right that you shouldn’t put yourself in danger because of your own sense of guilt. Trust me, Bodhi. I’ve seen where that leads.”

Bodhi looked down at his dæmon, taking in her russet brown coat, her long, velvet-soft ears, the faint, nervous tremors under her skin. “I went to your brother for help,” he said slowly. “I knew that he would have no reason to trust me, but Galen thought he was the best person to go to. He – Saw – he didn’t believe what I was telling him. Why would he? To – to prove that I was telling the truth he… he had my dæmon dragged away from me. For hours.”

Steela looked appalled, and then grim. “I’m sorry,” she said. “My brother… he fought for what he believed was right, but I won’t say he wasn’t ruthless.”

Bodhi shrugged. He woke up most nights, sweating and clutching at Aliya. Maybe that would never go away. “It was the worst thing I’d ever felt,” he said. “And even that is better than what they’re doing to innocent little kids. Besides,” he sat up a little straighter, trying to look more confident than he felt. “I talked to Mothma earlier. I told her I want to work for the Alliance. I want to do everything I can do help. I can’t do much, not really, but I can fly. I’m not the best aeronaut, but that’s got to count for something.”

Kay’s expression almost seemed to soften. “You are a far better aeronaut than you give yourself credit for,” he said simply. “I may have been rather worse for wear at the time, but I seem to recall that our flight to freedom was entirely your doing.”

"And that counts for a great deal," Steela put in.

He couldn’t help the small, pleased smile that tugged at his mouth. “I just want to help stop them. Saving Galen is the start, but that can’t be the only way I try to make amends. You must understand that.”

"I do not work for the Alliance to work through any particular feelings," said Kay haughtily. "I work for them because it is the right thing to do."

Bodhi suspected that plenty of people were put off by Kay when he drew himself up like that, and spoke in that dismissive, sarcastic manner. But Bodhi had been intimidated by worse than Kay Tuesso, so he just looked at him until Kay sighed.

“Fine. If you must know, I was not… I was brought up in the Magisterium. My parents both worked for them, and believed in that work. I knew nothing else. Oh, I questioned a great deal as I grew up, as I’m sure many young people do, but I did not really see another way." He reached for his cooling tea, and his dæmon buzzed softly around his head. "By the time my doubts were serious I did not really know where to turn. I am, if I say so myself, intelligent and resourceful, but intelligent and resourceful enough to know that I would have great difficulty escaping alone, and with nowhere to go afterwards. So I suppose the Alliance has given me some... new purpose.”

“Well then.” Bodhi picked up his own mug, raising it in front of him. “To defecting?”

Kay’s smile was almost visible on his face this time. He clinked his mug against Bodhi’s. “To defecting.”


Jyn

She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, hoping that that would somehow make all of this not be happening any more. All it did was hurt her injured hand and hurt her eyes. When she took them away, dark spots danced across her vision and her father was still watching her, his eyes sad.

“Children,” she said furiously. In her mind’s eye she saw Nijedha crumbling away into the void. That had been terrible enough, but to find out what had powered it…

“Stardust, I swear to you that I didn’t know.”

“You must have known something. Where did you think they were getting the Rusakov particles from, if you hadn’t been able to make enough before?”

He spread his hands helplessly. “My worst suspicion was that it was from severing the Troopers. But I hoped, naively, that it was… something else. We had been experimenting with using electrum to channel the energy, and it certainly showed an increase in power, so I hoped…” he trailed off. His dæmon rustled her feathers, raised and lowered her dark wings. “It never crossed my mind that Orson could be doing this, Jyn. He is ambitious and ruthless, yes, but I could never have imagined that he would do this. As soon as I found out I accelerated my plan to get a message to the Alliance. I had hoped to for a long time, but finding someone who might be able to get a message out without turning me in… Bodhi came along at just the right time.”

She chewed on the inside of her cheek. Aster kept flitting around the room, moving from the curtain rail to the dresser to the door, giving away her own tension and confusion. She wanted, more than anything, to believe her father. Oh, she understood his explanation well enough, and it made sense, but…

"Why didn't you say anything? To Mon Mothma? Were you planning on saying anything at all?"

He looked appalled, and reached for her. She wanted to go to him, but held herself still. She had to know. The man she remembered had usually been caught up in his work, it was true. He had often been so absorbed that he'd missed or forgotten important things, like birthdays or days out or parents’ evening at school. But this… this was different. "Of course I was going to tell them. And you. Jyn, I won't deny that I have been a coward. I needed to know what the Alliance were thinking, what they would do. I feared they would hold me entirely responsible for this weapon, and that it would be much worse should they know the full extent of the truth. When I meet with them to go over the plans, I swear I will tell them everything."

"It might be too late by then!" Jyn exclaimed. "Those kids might be…" She couldn't say it. Aster flew back to her, his tiny claws pricking her shoulder through her shirt.

"We couldn't do anything for them now, Stardust. I know you have that remarkable knife, but we don't know where they are."

We could find out, she thought. For a moment she toyed with telling him about the alethiometer. They could find out right now, and try and save those children. But Chirrut had kept his silence in front of her father, so Jyn held her tongue.

"But it's not just kids, is it? They do it to adults too. Those Troopers… I always thought they were some kind of… of aberration. People born without dæmons. Or maybe they were from another world. But they had their dæmons cut away, and you knew! It's not better just because they're not kids!" The thought of Aster being cut away from her, of losing him and herself, made her blood run cold. Even when she'd lost her parents and been abandoned by Saw, she'd never been alone. She clenched her fists and her hand throbbed horribly.

He pushed his greying hair from his face, looking exhausted again. His dæmon gave a soft caw. "I did not think I had a choice. If they thought they didn't need me they would have removed me from the project, and then I couldn’t build in any weakness. And Orson was forever insinuating that he knew where you were, Jyn. He would have used you against me in an instant, and I could not bear it."

"Mum would never have gone along with it."

She almost regretted it the moment the words came out. They seemed to hang in the air between them, huge and insurmountable. Her father looked as though Jyn had slapped him. But it was true; her mother had been a woman of principled conviction. Saw had always spoken very highly of her strength of will.

"No.” His voice was a cobweb whisper. "She wouldn't have. And they would have killed her."

"They did kill her. And I was left with Saw. You wanted me to be safe, Dad? I was never safe!"

Tears stung her eyes and she dashed them away furiously. This wasn't what was meant to happen. It wasn't. She didn’t know how to reach him.

“Your mother wanted to leave,” he said, looking away. The gathering darkness cast his expression in shadow. “She didn’t like Orson, and suspected his motives. I persuaded her to take the opportunity she was offered in Hang Chow – Orson’s work, of course. I should have let her go, should have let her take you and keep you safe. Keep you both safe.”

“Why didn’t you?” Jyn began to ask, but before she could finish there was a huge crashing sound; the window exploded inwards, shards of shattered glass suddenly everywhere.

A great, droning humming noise filled the room. Jyn had frozen in shock, heart beating wildly, but then instinct took over. She saw the thing that had come blasting through the window: a large metal beetle, larger than Kay’s dæmon, its horrible mechanical wings whirring. A spy-fly. It had smashed into the wooden floorboards with the force of its entry, leaving a splintered dent, but it leapt back into the air and shot straight at her father.

Jyn threw herself in front of him, pushing him back towards the door, and at the same time tried to grab hold of the spy-fly. The thing was too quick, darting away from her hands. Aster flew to her aid, but it slammed right into him, knocking the breath from Jyn’s body.

“Jyn!” Her father’s hands were on her shoulders. No, no, there was no time for this.

“Get… the fly…” she wheezed, forcing herself upright and making another leap for the little creature. This time she managed to catch it, enclosing it in her hands and throwing herself to the ground, trying to pin it under her own weight. It was horribly strong, its mechanical wings and metal legs almost impossible to hold, the spirit pinned to its clockwork winding itself tighter and tighter as it struggled. Her left hand was in agony, but she couldn’t let it go. She heard footsteps, voices.

“Jyn!” Suddenly Cassian was there, gun in hand, Rucía at his side with her fur on end. “Your father said—”

“Spy-fly,” she gritted out. She couldn’t hold the thing for much longer. Understanding spread across Cassian’s face.

“Don’t let it go,” he said, and if she’d had the energy to spare she would have rolled her eyes. “Dr Erso, wake Melshi, right now. You can’t be in this room.”

The spy-fly forced two of its legs out of Jyn’s grip, and drove them hard into the stumps of her fingers. Blinding agony took over, and she cried out, unable to hold the thing any longer. It sped into the air, its awful buzzing filling the room again. Cassian’s dæmon leapt for it, pinning it for a moment before it wrenched free of her paws and slammed into her face, making both her and Cassian cry out. And then the spy-fly was gone, out of the broken window, up into the darkening sky. The whole incident had taken maybe two minutes.

“Shit,” Jyn hissed, clutching her hand. “Shit, shit, shit…” Dread sat in her stomach like a stone. There was only one place that spy-fly could have been from. And now it had seen her, and seen her father.

“It’ll tell them where we are,” said Cassian, his voice slightly muffled through the hand pressed to his face. “We need to move.”

Jyn nodded, struggling to her feet and staggering toward the bed. The knife was hidden under the mattress. How long did they have? Minutes? Hours?

“What the fuck is going on?” Melshi appeared in the doorway, pillow creases on his face, his labrador dæmon’s teeth bared. Pao, the other Alliance guard was behind him, her red setter dæmon growling audibly.

“The Magisterium sent a spy-fly,” said Cassian, drawing himself up. “It saw Dr Erso. We need to evacuate.”

Melshi nodded. “I’ll contact HQ. Grab everything you need.”

Her father’s face was pale. “Stardust. Are you alright?”

“Fine. I’m fine.” Her hand was still smarting, but the immediate agony had dissipated. She swiftly buckled the knife around her waist. How long did they have? Were Magisterium agents coming towards them right now?

She met her father’s gaze. His mouth was a straight line, his expression troubled. “I never wanted this for you,” he said.

She felt her heart collapse a little. Grasped his hand briefly in her good one. “I know. But we have to move.”

Not five minutes later, as Jyn shoved clothes haphazardly into her pack, there came the steady thrum-thrum-thrum of gyropter blades. Her stomach dropped into her knees.

“They’re coming!” she cried, heaving the pack over her shoulder and racing into the hall, almost colliding with Bodhi.

“Gyropters!” Bodhi exclaimed, his face pale. “We can’t leave in a car, they’ll see us for miles—”

Jyn dashed to the kitchen window. The two gyropters were close, hanging low in the darkening sky. They couldn’t escape without being seen.

She thought of the knife. She could cut through to another world, seal them away, and the Magisterium would never be able to follow them. They’d never catch her father then. But she hesitated; Steela had never found her way back home, not once in twenty years. What if it was the same for her? What if she could never cut back, and all of them were lost forever?

“Jyn, come on!” Her father was there, Cassian beside him. He grabbed her arm and tugged her towards the hall.

“Where are we going?” she asked, letting herself be hurried out of the kitchen. Everybody was gathered in a tight cluster, hastily-packed bags on their shoulders, weapons in hand.

“Away,” said Kay, who looked grim and exhausted. “If we can keep ahead of them for long enough, Alliance reinforcements will arrive.”

Jyn took the gun Melshi handed to her, awkwardly strapping the holster around her waist so it sat opposite the knife. The gyropters already sounded like they were directly above them. There was no way they’d be able to escape overland.

“Heart up, Jyn,” said Chirrut, briefly closing his long, cool fingers around her wrist. “Dust is always rising.” It was the same thing he had said back in Nijedha’s marketplace. He smiled in her direction, and she tried to return it. His dæmon flicked her gecko-tongue. When Chirrut let go of her wrist Jyn brushed her fingertips over her mother’s electrum pendant.

Steela was standing just outside the front door, staring up at the slowly approaching gyropters. Despite the approaching danger, her face was absolutely calm. The waves were quiet, the air tinged with salt. It would have been peaceful, but for the approaching forces.

“We won’t be able to run from them,” Steela said simply.

“We have to try,” said Cassian. “The Alliance are maybe fifteen minutes away.”

Steela looked over her shoulder at him. “I think three or four people might be able to hold them off from the house,” she said. Her dæmon bobbed his head in agreement. “But it would be foolish to risk Dr Erso falling into their hands.”

“What are you saying, Steela?” Jyn’s father asked, an anxious note to his voice.

She turned her steady gaze to him, her head slightly on one side. “Escape, Galen. You are too valuable to risk. The weapon must be destroyed, and those children rescued. Jyn, cut a window.”

“I’m not leaving you here!” Jyn exclaimed. Steela had saved them, had made it possible for her to rescue her father in the first place. She couldn’t just abandon her to face the Magisterium soldiers. She thought of Saw, solid and immovable amongst the collapsing ruins. Go, child. Save the dream.

Steela turned and put her hands on Jyn’s shoulders, bending slightly to look her in the eye. “I’ve been away from this world for too long,” she said simply. “I will not leave it again, if I have a choice. These people know that somebody is here; if I can meet them here, and capture one of them, we may be able to find out something useful. And I would like to find the remains of the Partisans, if I can.” She smiled, cool and incisive. “Don’t worry about me, Jyn. I have hope that we'll meet again.”

Swallowing hard around the sudden stone in her throat, Jyn nodded. She unsheathed the knife. The Magisterium soldiers were getting closer, the pounding of their boots on the gravel track getting louder. She let the sound drift to the back of her mind, lifted the knife, and felt for the familiar snag. Some worlds were becoming easy to find, the tip of the knife drifting unerringly to them, like well-worn muscle memory. She slid the window open, bringing the golden light of the waterfall world into the dim evening.

The others had come out of the house, looking between the window and the approaching soldiers. Melshi and Pao looked astonished, their dog dæmons nosing interestedly at the edge of the window for a few moments before they turned their sharp attention to the approaching forces.

“What in bloody hell is this?” asked Melshi, gesturing at the window with his gun.

“No time to explain,” said Cassian. “It’s our best chance of getting away, Melsh.”

“A strategic retreat?” asked Chirrut, leaning easily on his cane as though they weren’t moments away from being shot. “Good idea. Come along, Baze.”

Baze looked to Jyn, a question in his deep eyes. She nodded, glad that the two guardians were coming with her.

Her father was watching Steela. He stepped forward, and held out his hand. “Thank you,” he said. “For everything. I hope I’ll see you again.”

Steela shook his hand, a faint smile playing at the corner of her mouth. “So do I,” she said. “Destroy that damned weapon, Galen.”

He inclined his head. “I shall do my best.”

The soldiers were almost on them. Jyn heard one of them yell, “Spread out!” A few bullets ricocheted off the wall in a shower of sparks.

“Dad, come on!” She grabbed his hand, and Aster fluttered around his dæmon, nudging her to move. With one last, unreadable look at Steela, he stepped through onto the grass.

“Everyone, through the window!” yelled Cassian. “Bodhi, Kay, come on!”

“What about you?” Jyn asked him, as Kay practically propelled Bodhi through. Suddenly she couldn’t bear the thought of closing the window on Cassian, perhaps to never see him again. He had come back for her. She couldn’t leave him. “You’re the leader of this mission, remember. You said you wanted to see it through.”

He hesitated, glancing between the window and the approaching soldiers. Another bullet hit the brickwork, close to his head.

“Go, Cassian,” Steela said sternly. “We can hold them off.”

Pao gave a grim nod. “That’s your team, Andor. You’ve got a weapon to destroy. Leave this to us.”

“Someone’s got to tell Mothma what you’re bloody playing at,” said Melshi, offering Cassian a slightly sarcastic salute. “Maybe I’ll see you in another life, yeah?”

Cassian hesitated once more, then nodded and stepped through the window, Rucía leaping lightly after him. Relief rose in Jyn’s chest as he met her eyes.

Heart in her mouth, Jyn bent to begin pinching the window closed. The gunfire on the other side had intensified. She caught Steela’s eye once more, saw the determined glint in her expression. “Good luck,” her golden dæmon called. And then the window was sealed, and she was gone.

Chapter Text

Cassian

"If we get out of this, I am transferring to a desk job," said Kay.

"Yeah, and you'll murder someone within the week," Cassian retorted. “They’d make you work with Cecil Thrapnell.” Thrapnell was an exceptionally talented linguist and translator. He was also prim, fussy, and thin-skinned, and his very presence seemed to cause Kay physical pain.

Kay made a grumbling noise. “You’re right. I think I’ll choose death.”

They were sitting in the cool grass and sorting out their very hastily filled packs, making sure everybody had food and water. Bodhi, thankfully, had had the presence of mind to ransack the safe house kitchen in the small amount of time they'd had to prepare. After that panic, and the wrench of leaving Steela, Melshi and Pao to face the Magisterium agents alone, it was strange to sit in the grass calmly discussing the events.

"That was some quick thinking," Cassian said to Jyn. She looked a little startled by his praise, her eyebrows lifting. "With the spy-fly. Not many people could have pinned it that fast."

A muscle jumped in her jaw. "Didn't matter though, did it?" She shoved a bag of trail mix into her pack with rather more ferocity than necessary. "It still got away."

He shrugged. "There's a reason people still use them. They're difficult to trap. You bought us some time. We needed all the time we could get."

This time she gave him something like a smile, though her green eyes were still a little wary. Cassian could feel Kay watching him, but ignored him.

The sun was starting to set in this world. They needed to make a plan and rest, and then tomorrow they could do… whatever it was they were going to do.

He got to his feet and crossed to where Chirrut and Baze were having what seemed to be an argument in rapid Cathay. They stopped when Cassian approached and Baze raised a questioning eyebrow at him.

"How can we help, Agent?" asked Chirrut, leaning on his cane. He always managed to make the (unnecessary) title sound like a friendly nickname.

Cassian glanced over his shoulder. Dr Erso was talking to Bodhi and helping to fold clothing up into small, tight packages. "I know you're careful about who knows about the alethiometer," he said, "but I think we need to some answers. Would you be willing to let Dr Erso know about it?"

The guardians' dæmons were at their feet, and they exchanged glances full of meaning. Baze frowned, but Chirrut nodded.

"It is necessary, I think. I don't know that we have a choice."

Cassian nodded, relieved. "Will you be able to ask it something this evening?"

"Of course, of course." Chirrut waved a hand, as though Cassian had just asked to borrow some sugar. "When we are ready to plan, yes."

Once the packs were sorted they all sat in a loose circle in the grass, their shadows cast long by the setting sun. The nearest waterfall was several hundred metres away, its tumbling water white noise in the background.

"Alright," said Cassian, running his fingers through Rucía's fur. "We need to be clear on what we're doing. Melshi, Pao and Steela have given us this chance, so we need to use our time wisely. As I see it, we have three considerations. One." He held up one finger. "Rescuing the children they're holding prisoner, before they can be – severed, and the energy used to power the weapon." He stumbled, very slightly, over the word 'severed'. "Two: destroying the weapon, before it can be used again. And three: getting to Krennic and Tarkin. They're the ones behind all of this. Does that sound right?"

"But which do we do first?" asked Bodhi.

"Well, we may be able to find out the best way forward. But our primary goal has always been to destroy that weapon. It would be no good if we spent time trying to find those kids, or hunting Krennic, only for the weapon to be used again. Millions of people would die. More Dust would be lost."

"I would agree with that," said Kay, as Cassian knew he would. He was even more of a pragmatist than Cassian was.

"But the kids would be used to power the weapon," Jyn pointed out. "We can't just leave them."

"That would be my view," said Chirrut calmly, and Baze grunted in agreement. Cassian had expected that; the revelation that the children from the Temple had been severed must have struck them a hard blow.

"Destroying the weapon means preventing more Nijedhas," Kay argued. "There are only seven of us. We can't do everything, so we should focus on the thing that will help the most people."

Cassian agreed with Kay, but he could see that knowingly leaving children in danger was not sitting well with the guardians or with Jyn. Bodhi chewed on his thumbnail in silence. Dr Erso was watching them thoughtfully, though he said nothing; perhaps he felt that his input would not be welcome at this stage. Cassian wasn’t sure that that wasn’t true.

"We need to know the best course of action," he said firmly. "And then stick to it. Chirrut?"

"Yes, yes." Chirrut unstrapped the satchel and opened it. "What would the question be? 'What should we do next?'"

"I suppose so, unless you think we need to be more specific."

"Specifics can usually come later," Chirrut murmured, and pulled out the alethiometer. Dr Erso startled as though he had received an electric shock.

"That is—!"

"Yes," said Jyn, a very slight impatience in her voice. "And yes, it's real, and yes, Chirrut can read it."

"Where is it from? The others were all lost."

"Or hidden," rumbled Baze, eyeing Dr Erso with obvious mistrust. "And protected."

"The Temple," murmured Erso. "Of course. The Rusakov anomalies! If they had an alethiometer…"

"Yes, yes, it is all fascinating," said Chirrut. "But I cannot read it if people insist on chattering."

Dr Erso looked as though he were barely restraining himself from reaching for the alethiometer, his face alight with curiosity as Chirrut settled down, sightless eyes closed and his dæmon focused on the instrument in his hands. He was obviously itching to ask a hundred questions.

The reading seemed to take a long time. Chirrut was motionless, as though carved from stone, but his dæmon's red eyes flicked back and forth, following the dancing needle. Baze watched Dr Erso like a suspicious guard dog. It seemed that the earlier revelations from Erso had made everybody suspicious of him. Cassian was not sure what to think; suspicion was his default state, for the most part, but he also knew something about making hard choices.

Finally, Chirrut surfaced. “The weapon and the children are in the same place," he said after a moment, once he'd recovered himself. "It says that… in saving the children we will… gain something we need."

"What thing?" Cassian asked, but Chirrut shook his head.

"That's all it says. Something we need."

"Right. Alright. So we need to find this place, the Citadel. Can you—?"

"Another world," Chirrut confirmed. "There is sand, and an ocean. A tower. The alethiometer says to follow the knife."

"Follow it?" Jyn echoed. "But – how? It cuts where I ask it to cut."

Her dæmon gave an agitated little flutter. "It decides things for itself, though," he said. "It chose us. It chose Steela."

“How accurate is your reading?” Dr Erso asked Chirrut, leaning towards him. “I have never heard of somebody able to read the alethiometer by simple understanding, not since Dr Belacqua.”

Chirrut tucked the instrument away, to the obvious disappointment of Dr Erso. “It has always been accurate, as far as I have been able to tell. As for my skill… well, how many people are given the opportunity to test their ability to read the alethiometer? It seems to be a rare talent, but who is to say it is that rare? I imagine there are many people walking around under the sun who would be able to read it, were they given the opportunity to try.”

Dr Erso looked distinctly sceptical, but Kay cut across them. “Philosophical discussions can happen at another time,” he said. “We have some idea of our purpose now, but how far do we need to travel? Could we find the Citadel tomorrow? In a few days? Next month? We have some supplies, but certainly not enough for a long journey.”

“I can ask,” said Chirrut. “But tomorrow. Before we leave, I will find out.”

Kay didn’t look especially happy at this, but he didn’t press. The sun had almost completely disappeared now, and there was a chill in the air.

“We need to rest,” said Cassian firmly. “We should eat, and rest.”


He almost found it more peaceful to be in this strange world, staring up at the alien stars, lulled by the sound of the nearby waterfall. He had slept a little back in the Fireland safehouse, but he had been consumed with worry about what was going to happen, alert for any out-of-place sound. Here, at least, nobody could find them.

Slowly, the sounds of sleep filled their small camp. Cassian was exhausted, having slept less than any of them save Jyn, but he just stared up at the stars, tracing their patterns, willing himself to drift off. Rucía was curled up by his side, and he felt her stir. She felt curious though, not wary, so he lay still.

“We wanted to thank you,” he heard Jyn’s dæmon murmur from nearby, and Rucía’s attention fell on him.

“For what?” she asked, her head on her paws.

“For coming with us. You could have stayed with Steela. We know the Alliance might not be happy that you left.”

Rucía laughed softly. “They aren’t always happy with our choices. But this… was the right choice, we hope.”

Aster hummed in his little bird voice. “You always speak of hope,” he said, and Cassian thought he sounded a little wistful. “Every time we find out more information we learn that the Magisterium are more powerful than we thought.”

“Hope is often all we can have,” said Rucía. “Jyn gives Cassian hope.”

Cassian lay very still, suddenly very aware of how loudly his heart was beating. Pretended to be asleep. He hadn’t realised, until then, how true that was.

“We have never given anybody hope before,” said Aster, his wry tone settled over something more uncertain. “It has been a very long time since we trusted anybody but ourselves. We have always been… left behind. But you have always come back, even when you didn’t need to.”

“We did need to.” Rucía was talking very softly now, soft enough that even Cassian had to strain to hear her words. “Of course we did.”

He felt a gentle connection, Rucía touching her nose to Aster. A brief moment, one he felt in his own skin. And then Rucía curled up at his back again and he lay, awake in the dark, his heart in his throat. Very aware, all of a sudden, that Jyn’s breathing was not deep or steady enough for sleep.


He woke first, when dawn touched the edge of the sky. Dew beaded his sleeping bag, and he had to stamp his feet to warm them when he stood. Rucía stretched out, flexing her claws, then settled to licking her paws and smoothing them over her whiskers. She kept sending him sharp glances, but he pretended to ignore her.

The others were still asleep. Jyn was curled up almost in foetal position, a frown on her face, her uninjured hand resting on the haft of the knife, secured in its leather sheath. Her father, beside her, lay on his back, completely still, his dæmon’s head under her wing. Baze and Chirrut slept very close together, their dæmons wrapped around one another, Chirrut with his face pressed to Baze’s broad shoulder. Kay and Bodhi were facing one another, as though they had fallen asleep in the middle of a conversation; Kay was still wearing his glasses, which had been pushed up into his curly hair. He was, thankfully, no longer feverish and sweating, but Cassian was still worried. He hadn’t had remotely enough time to recover yet, and they couldn’t expect another visit from a medically-inclined witch.

Sure that everybody was safe for the moment, Cassian picked up the collapsible cooking pot from his pack and trudged off to the river, leaving dark footprints in the soft, dewy grass. He was poking a small fire into existence when the others started to stir, and Jyn came and sat beside him, looking suddenly very young with the sleeves of her over-size jumper pulled down over her hands. She gave him a smile, small but genuine, and they sat in oddly companionable silence as the fire slowly licked into life.

Breakfast was meagre, as they were not yet sure how long they had to make their supplies last. Then Chirrut went and sat in the grass some distance away to consult the alethiometer, the rays of the rising sun reflecting golden in his dark hair. As they waited, Bodhi helped to clean and re-dress Kay’s arm, using the last of the witch-poultice.

“We shouldn’t use it all,” Kay protested, his dæmon buzzing around his head. “It would be better to keep some back.”

“We still have some of that bloodmoss stuff,” Bodhi told him. “Now stop complaining and bloody sit still.” He said it with such unexpected stubbornness that Kay actually shut up, though there was a faint smile on his face.

Chirrut came back to them, his sharp brows pulled into a frown. “It is very vague,” he said, sounding a little petulant. “Follow the knife, and go down. Keep going down.”

Cassian tried not to sigh. The alethiometer had given such vague directions before, and they had always steered in the right direction in the end. “Alright,” he said, picking up his pack. “Let’s get moving.”


Jyn

She was not entirely sure how this was supposed to work, but Chirrut had always steered them the right way before. She weighed the knife in her hand for a few moments, trying to let her mind slip into that calm, slightly removed state. Lifted it.

She didn’t seek, this time, didn’t drag the blade through the air looking for the right place. Instead she tried to just… wait, for something that felt right. When the knife snagged in the air, she didn’t hesitate, just pushed it in and across.

The world that opened was one full of the strange, blue, cow-like creatures. A couple of them looked at the window with a mild sort of curiosity, then went back to eating the grass.

“Is this… right?” asked Bodhi, looking through the window.

“Must be.” Jyn sheathed the knife, trying to feel as confident as she sounded. “This is the window the knife found first.”

“This all seems very vague,” said her father, his voice loaded with scepticism. Jyn didn’t blame him; he spent his life seeking absolute certainty.

Kay sighed, like an exhausted racehorse. “It does. But it seems to work, somehow.” As though it was doing it entirely to spite him.

The world of the strange blue creatures was quite pleasant. They were extremely placid, their yellow eyes full of a quiet animal intelligence, and one of them even let Chirrut scratch the top of its head, despite Baze’s attempts to steer him away. The grass was soft and covered in large pink flowers; huge bee-like creatures that were almost the size of Jyn’s palm were buzzing around with a sort of languid grace. Aster tried to catch one, and it stabbed at him with a huge stinger.

“I wish I could take notes,” her father said in wonder, gazing around himself. “These creatures, are they domesticated? They seem very tame."

"Hopefully no one will be mad if we're trespassing on their land," muttered Bodhi. "Imagine if this ended with us all being shot by an angry farmer."

They followed the sloping hill downwards for a couple of hours. No one talked much, though Chirrut and Baze kept picking up the threads of what appeared to be an argument, walking shoulder-to-shoulder at the back of the group. Bodhi kept sending them nervous glances. Were they regretting their decision to come? Jyn toyed with the electrum necklace and stared out at the rolling hills.

After a few hours they reached a grassy plain that stretched out as far as they could see, disappearing off into the horizon.

"Follow the knife downwards," said Chirrut, leaning on his cane. "What do you think, Jyn?"

The next world had winds stronger than Jyn had ever experienced, whipping her hair back and making her eyes stream with tears as soon as she opened the window. She held Aster to her chest as stepped through, worried that he’d be blown away if he tried to fly through. This proved to be a good idea, as Kay’s little beetle was buffeted horribly, and he had to dive to catch her before she could be blown too far from him. It was impossible to talk, the wind stealing their voices the moment they tried to call out to one another.

Cassian waved his arm, holding his dæmon with the other, and gestured down the hill. They struggled down a hard, rocky slope, barely able to walk against the howling wind. Jyn tucked in behind Baze, and his bulk did barely anything to shield her. The only good thing was that the slope was short, leading them to a featureless rocky desert.

Cutting a window was difficult. She had to grip the knife extra hard, the wind trying to rip it from her grip, turning the blade. But finally she found a snag and, not caring if it was the right one or not, cut a window.

“Bloody hell!” she gasped when she’d stumbled through into a small glade that was, mercifully, wind-free.

“That was most unpleasant,” said Chirrut, wiping tears from his face. Baze grunted in agreement, his wild hair even more wild.

“Everyone okay?” asked Cassian, setting his dæmon down in the grass.

“Just about,” said Bodhi. “God, I’m glad I didn’t have to fly in that.”

They began to walk again, slower this time, following a faint path the meandered downhill through the trees.

Her father caught up to her. “That knife,” he murmured. “What is it made of?”

Jyn hadn’t really thought about it. She unsheathed it and held it up to the cool sunlight, which glinted off the blade. “It’s sharp enough to cut anything,” she said. “What could that be?”

“May I?”

She hesitated, knowing she wasn’t meant to. “I suppose so.” She handed it over carefully, reluctantly. “You won’t be able to use it, I don’t think.”

Holding it almost reverently, her father lifted it to his eyes. “I may be wrong,” he said slowly, “I would need to run tests to confirm, but… this appears to be a manganese-titanium alloy, on the edge here.”

“What’s that?” Her father had clearly not lost the habit of assuming everybody understood the same things he did.

“Nobody is sure why, but Rusakov particles are unable to pass through this particular alloy. It makes it particularly useful in studying them; we use something like a Faraday cage to isolate Rusakov particles, all the better to study their behaviour.” He handed the knife back to Jyn carefully, and she resheathed it. “It is also what is used in the intercision process. Rusakov particles cannot penetrate it, and so it serves as a… a shield, between person and dæmon.”

This world was warm, but a shiver went down Jyn’s spine. Aster, who had been flying overheard, fluttered back to her shoulder. “Why do people do it?” she asked, low and furious. “Why do they do things like that?”

Her father sighed, and shrugged. “Why do people do anything, Stardust? Because they can, often. Or because they feel it is the right thing to do.”

“Could severed people be fixed?” she asked. “If you can – can isolate Rusakov particles, using this stuff, could you… gather enough of them, and use it to fix the broken link?”

To her surprise, her father looked a little stunned. He stared at her, his lips slightly parted. “I… do not know,” he said, wonderingly. “I don’t believe anybody has ever attempted it. Those who would sever people would not be interested in putting them back together.”

“Well, someone should try it. If you have the person, and the dæmon, maybe it would work…” Did dæmons disappear when they were severed, the way they did when someone died? Or did they just exist, like strange, empty little puppets?

“Hm.” His eyes took on that distant, considering expression that suggested he was running rapid calculations in his head. She suspected he was itching to pull out a pen and paper to scribble down his ideas.

If anyone could figure this out, Jyn knew, it was her father.


After seeing so many worlds devoid of people, it was a shock to cut through to the next one and find a marketplace. Jyn swore, drawing the window closed, hoping that they hadn’t been noticed.

“What is it?” asked Bodhi nervously.

“People,” she said. “Lots of them. It’s like a – a town, or something.”

“Our world?” asked Baze, frowning.

“I don’t think so. Hold on.” Tentatively she cut again, a tiny hole at her face height so she could peer through. It was definitely a marketplace, though it looked to be the near closing-up time. A number of stallholders were packing their wares up into boxes and baskets. The buildings looked almost Mediterranean to Jyn’s eyes, and she caught the scent of grass and hot sun on stone. The people had tanned skin, dark hair, colourful clothes, and – her heart quailed a little – no dæmons.

“It’s not our world,” she said. “It’s like Steela said, about other worlds. No dæmons.”

The silence behind her was uncertain.

“But this is where the knife cut,” she said, pushing away her instinctive reaction. These people were whole, they must be. Just… different. “So we need to go through. And there’s a market, maybe we can buy more supplies, and find somewhere safe to sleep.”

"That seems dangerous," Kay complained. "There is a far greater chance of being found if we interact with people. What if the Magisterium has found this world as well?"

“If the alethiometer says we must follow the knife, then we must go into this world,” said Chirrut firmly, his tone reasonable.

Cassian was frowning. “Alright,” he said. “Jyn and I will go ahead and check the area. The rest of you stay here.” Jyn glanced at him, surprised by this suggestion.

“Cassian—” Kay began.

“Stay here,” Cassian said, firmer now. “We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

Kay gave him a very flat look. “I will wait for the explosions.”

“Be careful,” Baze said in a low voice, his brows drawn. “We will come to find you if you are not back soon.”

“It’ll be fine,” Jyn said, more confidently than she felt, sheathing the knife. “It’s just a marketplace.”

“So was Nijedha,” Kay muttered darkly.

“Shut up,” Cassian suggested to him. “And keep an eye out. Come on, Jyn.”

“Be careful, Stardust.” Her father touched her cheek, and she tried to give him a smile.

The window opened at the top of a rocky path leading down to the marketplace, and Jyn was relieved to see that it was only visible when stood right in front of it. As soon as they moved a little way down the path, it seemed to vanish. The sun in this world was setting, shining redly just above one of the low, stone buildings, though the air was still warm and heady. Some small, scrubby trees lined the path, laden with small green fruits that looked rather like olives.

Jyn tried to look relaxed and calm, and not like she was one jump-scare away from pulling out a weapon. Aster flew overhead at the edge of their range, and she could feel his watchfulness. Beside her Cassian moved with that steady focus she had seen in Nijedha, his dark eyes flickering back and forth. His cat dæmon kept her distance; if the people of this world didn't have dæmons, they didn't want to draw too much attention. Not that it helped much, as it was obvious from their appearance that they were outsiders. All of the women Jyn could see were wearing simple dresses, the men loose shirts and trousers, and everyone was in dusty leather sandals. Their boots and jackets were as obtrusive as flamenco outfits.

It didn't seem like much, just a market at the end of a busy day. Much the sort of thing Jyn had seen in Gloucester Green back in Oxford, the stallholders packing up their wares, or standing easily together chatting and smoking. One woman was laughing at something her friend had said. The language was alien to Jyn’s ears, though she thought it sounded a little like Greek. They didn't have cars, but piled their crates and boxes onto carts harnessed to creatures that looked like donkeys. Except there was something very odd about them.

"Look," she murmured to Cassian, touching his arm and nodding slightly to the nearest donkey. They paused, pretending to consider a stall piled with rough bolts of cloth. The donkey – it must be a donkey – was flicking its long grey ears lazily, its eyes half closed, and resting a hoof. A middle hoof. Because while it had the standard four legs, they seemed to be arranged in an odd, diamond shape. One in the front. Two in the middle. One at the back.

"Different world," Cassian murmured. "Different evolution."

Her dad was not going to be able to restrain his excitement.

"That's not all," Cassian said, and linked his arm with hers. She startled for a moment, shooting him a look, but he ignored her, casually steering her down a side street as though they were two sweethearts on the way home. If sweethearts usually went out with concealed weaponry. Aster fluttered to the nearest roof, and Rucía slipped beneath a stall. "Look at the people."

"No dæmons. I know."

"No. Not that. See that woman, there." He turned her so her back was near a wall, bent his head towards her. Passers-by might think them sharing a secret tryst.

Cassian was very warm, Jyn noticed. His eyes dark as a summer's night. She tore her gaze away and glanced at the woman he indicated. Olive skin, dark hair, strong nose. Wearing a faded red dress, her hands on her wide hips. And curling over the top of her right ear was a rose.

Jyn glanced at the other stallholders. One man had a violet. Another an orchid. All of them had flowers that seemed to bloom from their skin.

"What is it?" she asked quietly, frowning. "Some kind of emblem? A badge?"

"Their dæmon?" Cassian wondered.

She considered it. Maybe he was right. Maybe the people of this world had their souls flowering from their very skin. She shivered, despite the warmth.

"I don't think this place is dangerous," she said slowly. It was hard to tell, of course, and harder when the people had no dæmons to read. But these just looked like normal tradespeople. There was no sign of weapons, no real tension in the air. It wasn’t like the Nijedha marketplace, with an atmosphere waiting to boil over.

"No," Cassian agreed. "But we'd all stand out like a sore thumb. We should wait for things to be quieter, not draw attention to ourselves."

As they climbed the path again, away from the curious gazes, the red of the setting sun at their backs, Jyn’s head was buzzing, her legs aching. Were they going the right way, or just wandering aimlessly through all these strange, distant worlds? Were they getting closer to the Magisterium, and the weapon? Was Steela alive?

Cassian was ahead of her, and he stopped to look back. “What is it?”

She shook her head. The back of her neck prickled. “It’s nothing. Just… do you think we’re doing this the right way?”

He considered her, his hair falling in his eyes. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But this is the only idea we have.”


Cassian

Darkness rolled over the small town. The streets were empty as they made their way down the slope, the empty marketstalls standing like skeletons in the warm air. He kept a hand on the butt of his pistol. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Baze openly carrying his own weapon, Chirrut holding his staff not like a blind man in need of a guide but like he was ready to strike. They kept Dr Erso at the centre of their small group. The place was calm, quiet, but none of them were willing to let their guards down.

Rucía darted ahead, a silver shadow in the gathering darkness, her eyes gleaming. She was wary, but continued on confidently.

On the other side of the marketplace the streets continued to slope downwards. They were narrow and smoothly-cobbled, clearly built for pedestrians and carts and nothing more than that. The buildings looked like houses, the shutters all closed. There were no street lights. Rucía’s ears twitched, and tension started to creep up Cassian’s shoulders.

“Where is everybody?” whispered Bodhi.

“Home?” suggested Baze in an undertone.

“Everybody?” Kay asked, doubt in his voice. “No bars, no restaurants, no one out visiting friends?”

“Curfew?” Chirrut said slowly. “Nijedha had a rather strict curfew, in the end.”

Baze made a rumbling noise in his chest. "Plenty of people ignored that curfew."

The shutters were all locked, Cassian noticed. He drew his gun. “Keep moving,” he whispered. “And keep an eye out.”

“I’ll try,” said Chirrut wryly.

They saw no one. Occasionally they heard voices from inside the houses, all sounding rather hushed. Once there was a shriek of laughter, but it was nervous and quickly cut off. The easy, warm, curious atmosphere of earlier was gone. But this wasn’t a curfew, Cassian knew. Nothing was being enforced, there were no officials on the streets. Everybody had just locked themselves away.

The town was small, and the winding street soon opened into a broader thoroughfare and into a dusty, open country, the houses further apart and soon failing all together. Ahead the street became a path, slipping downhill into a grey countryside. There were fenced fields, and grazing in them were some of the strange, diamond-legged donkeys, the first living things they’d seen since arriving. They were grazing peacefully, one of them walking along the fenceline with an odd, rocking gait. It flicked its ears at them in interest.

“Fascinating,” breathed Dr Erso. “Evolution diverged from a central spinal cord—!”

“Would their middle legs have hip bones?” his dæmon murmured.

“Ssh,” Cassian hissed, coming to a halt, feeling suddenly exposed with the fields opening up.

Opposite the field was the largest house they’d seen so far. One-storey, built of a pale stone that gleamed oddly in the darkness. A large barn stood beside it. The farmhouse, Cassian guessed.

“Should we cut through here?” Bodhi asked, also sounding wary.

“We could try—” Jyn began, but cut off as a horrible cold swept over them. It was a cold very like that they had felt when escaping through the window of the North, the cold of the spectres. Cassian’s heart froze in his chest, and Rucía hissed and spat. But there was nothing there. Just the empty street behind them, the empty path ahead, and the donkeys in the field. They weren’t grazing peacefully now, but were clustered together in a nervous herd.

“Something is here,” said Chirrut, his voice very tense. He was holding his staff ready, poised as though ready to strike. Beside him Baze flicked the safety from his gun. But there was nothing there, nothing to fight, nothing to protect themselves from, there was only this cold, hopeless despair. What were they even doing? Traipsing through different worlds, no real plan, no backup, just on the hope that they could strike a blow at the heart of one of the most powerful organisations in the world? It was hopeless—

“Cassian!” Rucía cried, and there was fear in her voice. He snapped back to himself and realised that was standing completely still, arms limp at his sides.

“What the hell is this?” Jyn had the knife in her hand, but there was still nothing there.

“Spectres,” Bodhi moaned, his dæmon shaking by his ankles. “We need to move, right now—”

And the door of the farmhouse slammed open, revealing a tall figure. They waved desperately, and called something in that almost-Greek language. Light spilled out of the doorway, a welcome little square in the night.

“Come on,” he gasped. He had no idea if this person was friend or foe, but was more confident that he could overcome a human assailant than the spectres, if spectres they were. He scooped Rucía into his arms, tucking her into his jacket. They ran, the cold still creeping at the edge of his mind and his heart

Ela!” the tall woman called, and stepped back from the doorway to let them all in. Once Baze, bringing up the rear, had shoved Chirrut inside she slammed the door and locked it, then pulled down a strange cloth blind, into which small red flowers were woven.

T’ekanes?” she demanded, rounding on them all with her hands on her hips. She was tall, strongly-built, with the same olive skin and dark hair as the other people they had seen at the marketplace. A purple thistle curved around her ear. Cassian didn’t understand her language, but it was obvious that she was demanding what the hell they had been doing.

“We’re sorry,” gasped Jyn. “We didn’t know.”

The woman asked something else, and Jyn shook her head. “I don’t understand,” she said.

“From here?” the woman said this time, frowning. Her accent was extremely heavy, but the words were recognisable. This world had some form of English.

“No,” Cassian said. “Not from here.”

She touched the purple flower at her ear, an almost unconscious gesture, and gave them all a deeply suspicious look. “Where?” she demanded.

“Far away,” said Jyn.

This did not seem to help, but the woman grunted and pushed past them to move further down the stone-flagged hallway. “Stay,” she said. “Until light.”

Relief flooded Cassian. “Thank you.”

Lamia at night,” she said firmly. “Not safe.”

Rhea – as she introduced herself – kept giving them all suspicious looks and harsh words, and was even unswayed by Chirrut being charming and smiling. But she also gave them some food that consisted of some hard bread, very salty cheese, and some of those olive-like fruits that were sweeter than expected, and a fresh drink made of some sort of tart red fruit. She pulled out some dusty blankets that looked like they were probably usually worn by the donkeys, and let them sleep in a sitting room that didn’t seem to be used very often. Before she left them to it, she pulled an exceptionally sharp axe from a bracket by the wall and displayed it to them. Cassian, taking in the strength in her arms, had no doubts about her ability to wield it.

“So it’s being attacked by spectres or by an axe-wielding maniac.” Kay muttered. “I don’t know which I prefer.”

“Definitely the axe,” said Bodhi, fervently.


Even though they were, seemingly, safe, they still set a watch for the night. Just in case. Kay watched first, but Cassian found that he just could not get to sleep. It was cramped in the sitting room, with all seven of them, and he couldn’t quite shake the cold, creeping despair from earlier. Spectres. But apparently only at night? That didn’t seem right.

After about an hour, when everyone else seemed to be asleep, he got up and went and sat by the door with Kay. He had his long legs drawn up, elbows resting on his knees, the faint glow of the naptha lamp glinting on the frames of his glasses.

“You can sleep,” Cassian told him. “I’m wide awake.”

Kay glanced at him. “You’ve barely slept in days.”

“And you were at death’s door two days ago. Go and rest.”

“In a moment.”

They sat in silence for a little while, the room full of nothing but steady breathing and soft snores.

"Are you planning to infiltrate the Citadel?" Kay asked, eventually.

"If that's what it takes."

"Alone? Cassian, no one else here is trained for this. They would be caught, immediately."

"With the knife—"

"We cannot rely on that,” Kay hissed, and Exa buzzed around Rucía’s head in irritation. “No one else can use it, and Jyn can only be in one place at once."

Dammit, Cassian hated it when Kay had a point. "What do you suggest, then?"

"I don't see that there are any good options."

"Great. Thanks."

Exa was agitated, crawling back-and-forth between Rucía’s ears until Rucía batted her off.

"If we do end up taking civilians undercover, they need to know the risks.”

"I don't think any of them think it won't be risky."

"No, Cassian. They need to know specifics." Kay was tapping his thumbnail against his index finger, a tic Cassian hadn't seen in a while. "I tried to persuade Bodhi not to go into a Magisterium base again, but he's stubborn. There's every chance that someone will be caught and…"

“Severed. Or reprogrammed,” said Exa, in her tiny, forthright little voice. Kay hunched his shoulders.

Cassian didn't say anything for a moment. Reprogramming. Another of those safe Magisterium words that disguised its true nature. Kay never talked about it, of course, though Cassian knew he had been subjected to it before he had broken with the Magisterium.

"You're right," he said. "They should know what the danger is."

Kay nodded, jerkily. Cassian felt Rucía press herself against him, and ran his hand down her back. They had gone through advanced trained in withstanding interrogation, had endured being held beyond their range for hours, but they had never learned to withstand the possibility of someone else's hands touching Rucía. The taboo was too huge, too all-encompassing, that no one could ever be persuaded to lay their hands on another person's dæmon.

He swallowed. He knew it was a risk, taking untrained, untested people into the depths of the Citadel. But with the alethiometer and the knife, he hoped they would have enough of an advantage.

“If you’re sure you’re awake enough, then I’m going to sleep,” Kay said, sounding more like his usual self.

“Sure.”

Kay unfolded himself from his slumped position and stepped over the sleeping bodies to find a space to sleep. Cassian stroked Rucía’s back, weighing their options. This whole endeavour was dangerous. There was every chance that none of them would survive. But then he thought of Nijedha, falling into the horrifying void. Of children, cut from their dæmons.

“We have to try,” said Rucía, firmly. “We must.”


Jyn

She woke, suddenly, as though there had been a loud noise. But there was nothing, just the darkness, lit by one lamp, and everyone sleeping. Cassian was on watch, sitting by the door with his dæmon in his lap. Her hand was throbbing a little, and the pain intensified as she came more awake. She rolled into a crouch and carefully picked her way to where Cassian was sitting.

“Hey,” she murmured. “I can take over.”

He rolled his head to look at her. “I can’t seem to sleep,” he said simply, so she just sat by him instead, wincing.

“Your hand?” he asked, and she nodded, gritting her teeth.

“It’s not too bad, mostly. That witch stuff helped. But it still hurts.”

Cassian reached over to one of the bags, pulled out their hastily put-together med-kit. “Let me.”

“No, it’s fine, it’s—”

“You’re in pain,” he said firmly. “And you don’t need to be. Don’t be like bloody Kay, just one of him’s bad enough.”

She had to laugh a little at that, and acquiesed. Cassian undid the bandage with gentle fingers. She was still not used to the sight of her maimed hand, and had to cut her eyes away. Cassian, however, didn’t even flinch. He cleaned away the old bloodmoss ointment carefully, then smoothed some more of it over the clean, reddened stumps. The relief, as before, was immediate, and Jyn felt tension unwinding from her muscles as the pain eased.

“Who needs modern medicine,” she muttered, and Cassian almost smiled.

“Not witches, apparently.” He began to wind a bandage around her hand, his movements easy and practiced. He was sitting very close, to do this, and his knee pressed to hers. He was very warm. His dark eyes focused.

“Listen,” he murmured. “If we’re going to do this – get into the Citadel, destroy the weapon… it’s going to be dangerous.”

“No shit.”

He huffed another laugh. “I mean, very dangerous. Even more than rescuing your father. I know you’ve done some undercover work before, but you would be a valuable hostage—”

No. He wasn’t going to bloody send her away. She was here, she was seeing this thing through. “Cassian.”

He looked up from her hand to her face. The dull naptha light put a soft, golden glow in his eyes. He leaned towards her, frowning slightly.

“I’m not going back,” she said. “You need the knife. You need my father’s knowledge. And we have a chance! A chance to beat them!”

“You told me they’d already won.” His voice wasn’t accusatory. She remembered. Your little group of rebels isn’t actually stopping them, is it? They’ve won.

“Well, maybe they’ve not. Not yet.”

“Jyn—”

“I know I said I didn’t want to be involved. But I am, now. And we can stop this.” She grabbed his hand in her good one, needing him to believe her. Needing to see the defiance in his eyes, that stubbornness that had infuriated her. “This is my fight, as well as yours.”

Aster was staring down Rucía, his feathers ruffled. Rucía crouched before him, careful, considering. Then she moved, stepped forwards, and curled herself around his little body as she had done back in that tower. It felt like years ago. As Cassian’s dæmon wrapped around hers, she felt him squeeze her hand.

He really was very close. “I’m not giving up,” she said fiercely. “Not even if I die trying.”

He kissed her. A little clumsy. Warm. His lips soft and his beard rough. Her heart in her mouth.

Chapter Text

Bodhi

At first, Bodhi could convince himself that the low, moaning sound at the window was the wind. That the soft scraping was a tree branch against the glass.

There had been no trees outside the house.

“It’s alright,” Aliya murmured, over and over. “We’re safe in here, it’s alright.”

The heavy drapes over the windows were stitched with the same tiny red flowers that covered the front door. The low light from the naptha lamp caught them sometimes, and they shone like little scarlet stars. Bodhi stared at them, and held his warm dæmon, and listened to the sound of the others falling asleep. Tried to breathe steadily, and not think of the spectres and the slow, thick dread rising in his stomach, the voice in his head whispering you knew, you knew what they were doing, you knew and you did nothing—

They were outside. He imagined them clustered around the house. Why couldn’t they get in? Why did they not come out during the day? What kept them back? The first time Bodhi had experienced the spectres had been in broad daylight, the sickening horror sinking into his skin. His co-pilot had taken control, and thrown him an almost-sympathetic look afterwards. “You’ll get used to them,” she’d said. He hadn’t got used to them, he’d just got better at enduring them.

He fell into an uncomfortable sleep, Aliya tense and twitching beside him.

“Shēng… jiàn…”

Bodhi opened his eyes. His dream – stumbling through a long, dark cave, Aliya always calling to him just out of sight – slipped away in the grey dawn. He felt like he had barely closed his eyes, but dull morning light was creeping into the room. His dæmon nuzzled at his jaw, her soft fur rasping on his beard, and he stroked her back. There was a gentle, clattering noise, as though someone had dropped some small objects.

“Xiè… bǐ…”

The soft voice of Chirrut’s dæmon was the only sound in the room besides the steady breathing of the others. Bodhi sat up, wincing at the ache in his back and shoulders. Beside him, Baze murmured something in his sleep and shifted onto his back, hands folded over his stomach. Chirrut was sitting cross-legged by the door, his dæmon perched on his head. As Bodhi watched, he picked up bundle of small sticks and dropped them to the floor.

“Lí,” murmured the gecko dæmon, seeming to consider the sticks, and then her red eyes flicked to Bodhi. “Good morning,” she said easily, and Chirrut shifted slightly, clearly coming out of deep thought.

“Morning,” Bodhi murmured, trying to cross the room without waking the others.

Chirrut gave him one of his warm, welcoming smiles, the one that made Bodhi feel as though he could confide anything to him. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“No, no, it’s fine.” Bodhi sat down, picking up Aliya. “What – what are you doing?”

“Ah.” Chirrut gathered up the sticks again, forming them into a neat bundle. “This is the I Ching.”

“The… what?”

“Well, if you ask Baze he'll tell you it’s a fraudulent bit of fortune-telling.” He threw a little smirk in Bodhi’s general direction, and let the sticks fall into a pile on the ground again. “But it’s another way to… learn the truth.”

“Like the alethiometer?” Bodhi tried, and failed, to keep deep scepticism out of his voice. Chirrut could read truth in the odd symbols of the alethiometer, yes, but could he really do the same out of a pile of sticks?

“Exactly. Shyli?”

Chirrut’s dæmon cocked her head, studying the sticks. What she could possibly be learning from the random pile Bodhi couldn’t fathom, but then she gave a nod. “Qián,” she said.

“Hm.” Chirrut folded his hands under his chin.

“Does it – say something different to the alethiometer?”

The older man sighed. “No, not especially. There is difficulty ahead, Bodhi. However,” he reached out and, unerringly, grasped Bodhi’s shoulder, “we shall all hold together, and Dust shall guide us.”

Bodhi wished he could be confident. He forced a smile, and Aliya leant reassuringly against his stomach. He looked from the small pile of sticks to their sleeping friends. Jyn was sleeping beside Cassian; her uninjured hand lying loosely by her head, Cassian’s fingertips against hers. As though they had fallen asleep holding hands. Bodhi felt a pang, and pushed it furiously away.

“How does it know what’s going to happen?” he asked. “Dust, I mean? Surely we… we have a choice. It can’t all be decided already.”

Chirrut smiled. “I don’t believe so,” he said gently. “We all need to decide, Bodhi. Dust simply… guides us to the right path, if we can listen. Never think you don’t get to choose. You’ve already chosen, haven’t you? And you continue to do so, every day.”

The light was slowly brightening from grey to yellow. Outside, they heard one of the strange donkeys bray loudly. Footsteps upstairs suggested that their stern host was preparing for the day.

The first to stir was Galen. Bodhi saw him sit up, greying hair tousled, and look immediately to Jyn. Something sad and fond crossed over his face; he touched her hair, smoothing it back behind her ear. She shifted slightly, but didn’t wake. Bodhi looked away, back to the light at the window’s edge, feeling like he was intruding. Chirrut gathered up the I Ching sticks and got to his feet, looking much less stiff than Bodhi felt. He picked up his cane where it leant against the wall and poked Baze with it.

Zǎoshang hǎo!” he said cheerfully. “It is dawn, my friends, and we don’t appear to have been eaten by ghosts.”


The stern woman who had sheltered them for the night seemed very glad to see the back of them. She stood in her doorway and watched them go, touching her index finger to her thumb over and over again. They had tried to thank her, but she had seemed to want nothing more than their absence, snatching her hands from Chirrut’s when he had grasped them in gratitude.

“I think she thinks we’re bad luck,” Aliya remarked, bounding along at Bodhi’s side.

“I’m not sure she’s wrong,” he muttered, and his dæmon tsked slightly.

The day was already showing fair, and before long it was becoming very warm. The dusty path they were following at least wound through an avenue of trees, which offered some shade. Jyn and Cassian led the way, her dæmon fluttering in and out of the trees, his stalking ahead. They kept glancing at one another and then away again.

Galen drew level with Bodhi, gazing around at the trees in fascination. “I wish I had time to study these worlds,” he said, tone light and conversational. “Those animals, back there. These trees… they are like plane trees, but they cannot be the same as those in our world. I would love to bring a team here. Biologists, botanists… I suppose it may be possible, one day.”

Bodhi nodded. He hadn’t really thought about it; of course these new worlds were interesting, but he had mostly been concerned with surviving in all of them. They had mostly been new sources of fear and stress and exhaustion, so far.

Galen studied him for a few moments, his green eyes as piercing as though Bodhi were under a microscope. It wasn’t a new experience; he had done much the same before first suggesting, gently and meaningfully, that Bodhi should consider another path in his life. “Why are you here?” Galen asked. Curious, not demanding. “You have already done so much more than you planned. You do not need to be here.”

Kay had said much the same thing. Bodhi was getting a bit fed up of being underestimated.

“I’m trying to do the right thing,” he said firmly. Straightened his shoulders.

Galen’s dæmon rustled her feathers and gave a soft, low caw, but he just nodded. “You’re a good man, Bodhi.”

Something prickled up his spine. “Not really. I’m just… not a bad one.” That would have to do, for now.

“I hope that one day I can say the same,” Galen murmured, as though confessing to something. Bodhi glanced at him, but he was looking at Jyn. He wanted to say something reassuring, but the words stuck beneath his tongue. Hitched his pack further up his shoulders, and walked in silence.


Cassian

The dusty path wound between the trees, the sun beating overhead.

Jyn was walking ahead, next to her father now, and she’d barely said a word to him all morning. He had woken that morning, tired and aching, and saw her sleeping face, a bar of pale light shining in her hair. She had stirred, and for a moment she had looked… soft. Open. Her mouth lifting in something like a smile. Cassian had found himself smiling in return, curled his fingers briefly around hers.

And then Chirrut, damn him, had insisted that they should get moving, and her expression had shuttered again.

It didn't mean anything, Cassian tried to tell himself. He couldn't get attached, not like this. He had never, ever let himself get attached. It was a mistake.

He watched Jyn's back, and didn't think about the warmth of her mouth, her hand in his. Rucía butted her head against his ankle, and he tore his gaze away.

"Cassian," Kay began in a significant tone of voice, and he groaned internally. Kay, for all that he lacked a lot of social graces, was annoyingly observant.

"Don't."

"What?"

"Don't say anything. I don't want to hear it."

His friend made a sceptical noise. "Fine."

Then, after a few beats, "This is a dreadful idea, you know. You don't need distraction."

"Kay. Shut the hell up."

Mercifully, he did shut the hell up, though Cassian could feel his eyes on him. The worst thing was, Kay was right. They couldn't afford distraction. A closer connection, with anyone, could be dangerous.

And Jyn wasn't just anyone.

After the woods, they walked through more farmland, with only a quick stop for food and water despite their weary feet. They saw few people, all of whom regarded them with varying levels of suspicion, and several odd animals, all of them with that diamond-legged anatomy. Into the afternoon, the path forked. To the left it began to rise slightly, leading to what looked like a small village, smoke rising as though from a chimney. To the right it continued down, becoming narrow, steep and rocky. It became more and more difficult to traverse, until it was barely a path at all, loose stones skittering and slipping under their feet. The sun pounded down overhead and soon Cassian was sweating and miserable, trying to keep his feet.

“This is most unpleasant,” said Dr Erso through gritted teeth. “Couldn’t we cut through here, see if there’s a better path in another world?”

“I’d vote for that,” said Bodhi, scrambling down a particularly steep slope and nearly falling over. “We’ll break our necks.”

“The alethiometer said to keep going down,” Chirrut pointed out, following Bodhi with a great deal more grace. “So we should continue.”

Cassian looked to Jyn. “What do you think?” he asked.

Jyn pushed her sweaty hair out of her eyes. “Let’s keep going,” she said firmly. “If we haven’t reached the bottom by sunset, then we can cut through.” She turned to continue, and immediately slipped on a loose stone. Cassian caught her arm to stop her falling, and she grabbed his jacket to steady herself.

“You alright?” he asked.

She nodded. “Fine. Thanks.” Her hand squeezed his before she let him go.

“Are you lot coming?” she called over her shoulder. “Get a move on.”


Baze

The treacherous path led to a cliff, that plunged off a knife-edge to a rough sea. The wind was strong, the path narrow, and they had to pick their way in careful single file as it wound down the cliff-face, keeping as close to the wall of rock as possible. Baze was strongly reminded of the cliffs out in the mesa around Nijedha; he and Chirrut had climbed many of them, in their younger years, usually as some sort of dare. True to form, Chirrut was walking with confidence along the narrow path, Shyli skittering along the sheer wall. Zin had poked her head out of Baze’s pocket, taken one look at the huge drop, and curled back up again.

The sun was starting to sink, growing redder and redder as it dropped towards the wind-tossed sea. There was no sign of the end of the path.

“We should cut through,” Baze muttered uneasily to Chirrut, who cocked his head to show that he had heard. “If those spectres come out at night, we do not want to be trapped here.”

“Hm.” Chirrut stepped easily over fissure in the path. “We must continue down, Baze. Trust Jyn; she will cut through when it is right.”

It wasn’t that Baze didn’t trust Jyn; he was just unwilling to leave this entirely to instinct. They needed to find somewhere safer. The sun was setting fast; already the sky was turning from blue to purple. Baze had seen Bodhi’s pinched, worried face, the shadows beneath Jyn’s eyes, the set of Cassian’s jaw. They needed to rest. Tomorrow, they could go on. And on, until they finally found this Citadel, and hopefully were not too late.

The wind grew stronger, and colder. The sky grew darker.

“Bloody hell,” Bodhi muttered from behind Baze, pressing as close to the cliff wall as possible. “This is awful. I feel like I’m gonna go right over.”

“You won’t.” Baze tried to sound reassuring. The cliff was not as steep as the one Nijedha had perched on, so the height of it didn’t bother Baze much, but the crashing waves at the bottom were disconcerting. “I’ll catch you, little aeronaut.”

Bodhi gave a soft little laugh. “Let’s hope you won’t have to,” he said grimly.

The red sun was the size of a new penny, its rim touching the horizon. The wind dropped, but the cold remained. It crept against Baze’s skin, settling inside his chest. He felt Zin curl up tighter in his pocket, just as Bodhi whispered “no, oh no…”

“Jyn, we must leave here!” called Dr Erso, an edge to his voice.

“Okay!” she cried back, her voice sounding high and thin. She was a shadow at the front of the group, and Baze could see her fumbling with the knife, her little dæmon huddled on her shoulder.

“Oh god,” Bodhi whispered shakily, and Baze grabbed his arm to steady him.

“It’s alright,” he said, but he didn’t believe it. They were stranded in a strange world, far from help. He and Chirrut were the last of their home, two old men who had failed at the one thing they had sworn to do. How could he tell Bodhi that it was alright? He had failed to protect enough people already, he couldn’t promise any one else that they would be safe.

“Baze.” Chirrut’s hand closed around his. “Baze, listen to me—” His voice sounded very far away. Something was moving in the darkness, something shimmering oddly against the air. Bodhi gave a hopeless little moan.

“Jyn!” Was that Cassian’s voice?

“I can’t!” she choked. “I can’t, I’m sorry, I—”

It wasn’t her fault. They had asked too much of her. This was too much to ask of one person. Chirrut had said that she brought hope, but Baze’s hope had failed long ago. No home, no family, no Temple, and no hope.

Baze!” Chirrut’s fingers tightened on his, painfully. “Baze, please.”

“You can do this, Stardust. You can.” Dr Erso’s voice was barely audible over the wind, and the dull roar in Baze’s ears.

The odd shimmers were getting closer. Beside Baze, Bodhi sank into a crouch, his hands in his hair. Baze held to Chirrut like a lifeline, put his other hand in his pocket to hold Zin’s curled-up form, her quills digging painfully into his palm. There was nowhere to turn, nowhere to go, they were trapped on this cliffside.

And then bright, silvery moonlight spilled over them.

“She did it!” exclaimed Shyli’s voice.

The spectres were closing in, moving towards them like an oil spill in clear waters. Zin uncurled in his hand and bit down hard on his thumb. Baze dragged his mind back to the present, to Chirrut tugging at him to move.

“Bodhi, come on!” He yanked the younger man to his feet, and his hare dæmon leapt forward her ears flat to her back. Bodhi was breathing fast, but he stumbled after Baze. The window on the path opened onto a calm beach, a calm sea, all of it shining under the moonlight.

As soon as Jyn pulled the window closed, warmth seemed to settle back over them, like a blanket. Bodhi sank into the sand and pulled his dæmon into his arms with a sound of utter relief. Jyn was visibly shaking, still clutching the knife.

“I’m sorry,” she said, in a hollow voice. “I should have cut through earlier, I should – I’m sorry.”

“We’re safe,” said Cassian firmly, though he was holding his cat dæmon rather tightly. “We’re all here, we’re all fine.”

“That was very unpleasant,” Chirrut murmured in Cathay, leaning into Baze. “I think I would rather wade through the swamps again.”

“Perhaps you should be careful what you wish for.” Relief coursed through Baze’s body, his knees feeling rather weak. He wrapped an arm about Chirrut’s shoulders – warm and solid and safe – and kissed his temple.


Cassian

The sandy beach was lined with dry caves, which were perfect for shelter. They found one that would be large enough for all of them, with an entranceway that gave a wide view of the empty beach, in case anybody approached. Cassian and Kay left the others to set up a camp, and went in search of some suitable firewood.

Kay at least waited until they were out of earshot of the cave to start. “What are you doing?” he said.

“Looking for firewood.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.” He grabbed Cassian’s shoulder, pulled him around to face him. Exa buzzed irritably around Rucía’s ears. “This isn’t like you, Cassian. We’re on a mission, you can’t afford to be distracted like this.”

It wasn’t like him, Cassian knew. “I’m not distracted,” he said, stung. “The mission is still my priority, and it’s going to stay that way.”

Kay dropped his voice, now sounding more confused and worried than put out. “Everything for the Alliance, you’ve always said. Nothing personal. Do you want to know our chances of surviving this ridiculous mission, Cassian?”

“Kay—”

“They’re low. They’re very low.”

Cassian sighed. There had never been anybody, for him. Just… flings. Quick trysts. Nothing important, because he could not afford to have anybody important. The only person he had really even considered a friend, before all this, was Kay, and even that still felt like a risk. Had, in fact, been a risk, on more than one occasion.

Attachments were dangerous.

But Jyn… understood all of that. She was in this, just as much as he was. I’m not giving up, not even if I die trying.

His heart was slamming against his ribs. Kay was watching him, unblinking. He didn’t think he could get Kay to understand this; he shunned attachments just as much as Cassian did. “Jyn’s different,” he said, simply. “She’s thrown her lot in with the Alliance, completely. Do you still not trust her?”

“That’s not – of course I trust her. Now. But what happens if you need to leave her behind, Cassian? If you need to choose between her, and the mission?”

He hoped it would never come to that. But it might. Of course it might. And Jyn would never forgive him if he compromised destroying the weapon to save her. “The mission comes first, Kay. Always.”

Kay regarded him sullenly for a few moments, then gave a short nod. Exa flew back to his shoulder, crawling under his collar. “Come on,” he said, terse. “There’s a treeline ahead.”


Jyn

With a merry fire burning, their bellies rather more full, and the new world seemingly empty of any threat, the group’s mood improved a little. They even managed to talk about things other than their mission: Chirrut told a funny story about being lost in the Nijedhan desert (regularly interrupted by Baze, insisting that things had not happened the way Chirrut suggested); Bodhi, in his wry, self-deprecating manner, talked about his first, terrible attempts at flying a plane. Jyn found herself smiling and even laughing a little, though the weight of everything still seemed to sit on her breastbone.

She glanced across the fire at Cassian. He was scratching his dæmon behind the ears, the firelight dancing across his features. Jyn had been very… aware of Cassian all day. Could still feel the ghost of his lips on hers. The warmth of his hand. She’d woken that morning and just looked at him for a few moments, taking in the angles of his face, the sweep of his dark eyelashes. He’d come with her, when he didn’t need to. He’d stuck with her, on the impossible hope that they might be able to make a difference.

No one ever stuck around, when things went bad. Not even Saw.

Kissing Cassian back had been stupid, though. Ridiculous. Impulsive. They had far more important things to worry about. Aster, on her shoulder, made an unimpressed noise and dug his little claws into her shoulder.

“How much further do you think we have to go?” she asked, once the conversation had died out. “I hope we’re close.”

“Do you?” Bodhi asked, sounding slightly amused. “You’re looking forward to breaking into a Magisterium base again?”

She shrugged. “The sooner we find it, the sooner we can stop them.”

Bodhi’s mouth turned up in a humourless smile. “You make it sound easy.”

“I can certainly find out,” said Chirrut, reaching under his shirt for the alethiometer. “Shyli, come here.” The little gecko dæmon had been lying on her belly beside the fire, clearly enjoying soaking up the heat, and she grumbled a little as she crawled to Chirrut.

It was odd, how she had become so used to watching Chirrut work. Her father’s face lit up at the sight of the alethiometer, shifting closer so he could follow Chirrut’s hands. He sat quietly for a few minutes, his face strangely lit by the flickering tongues of the fire, and then took a deep breath, pale eyes sliding open.

“What is it?” her father asked immediately, his dæmon fidgeting on his shoulder.
“We’re close,” said Chirrut. “Very close. Perhaps one more world away. There is… a mountain.”

“I thought it was a beach?” said Cassian.

“Yes.” Chirrut frowned. “There is. It says to go down again, and to find the mountain.”

“It would be nice,” said Kay, “if this instrument could give a straight answer for once.”

“You’re welcome to try,” said Chirrut, rather waspishly. Kay did not look remotely abashed, and just poked at the fire.

“So we are close,” said Bodhi. “Oh. Good.”


Outside, the moon set, leaving the calm beach in total darkness but for their own little fire. Despite the quiet, Cassian insisted on setting a watch, and Baze offered to go first.

Jyn unpacked her bedroll, trying to keep some distance from Cassian. He kept looking at her; his gaze seemed to have some material weight. By the fire, her father was talking quietly to Chirrut and Baze.

“I’m not tired yet,” she muttered, once she’d spread out her sleeping bag. “C’mon, Aster.”

She didn’t look back at Cassian as she picked her way across the cave.

"How long have you been reading the alethiometer, Mr Îmwe?" her father was asking as she reached them. "I have never known anyone with your skill. Even Oxford's head alethiometrist must take hours with the Books of Reading, and she trained with Dame Hannah Relf's last pupil."

He clearly meant this to be impressive – and it was, Dame Hannah Relf was widely recognised as one of the most important alethiometrists of the last century – but neither Baze or Chirrut seemed to react to the name. Jyn sat down beside her father, and managed to return his small smile.

Chirrut spoke in a warm, easy tone, the same one he’d used when offering to tell Jyn’s fortune back in Nijedha. The one that made him seem like a harmless eccentric. "In theory I first read the alethiometer when I became a Guardian, when I was twenty-two." He threw a sharp grin in Baze's direction. "What the masters did not realise was that Baze and I had already broken into the top tower and found the alethiometer when we were ten years old. Even then I knew that I could understand it."

"You say this as though we both planned to break in," Baze protested, tearing his gaze from the fire to scowl at his partner "I wanted to stay in bed." Jyn had to laugh; she could just imagine Chirrut as an adventurous little boy, not caring about being out of bounds.

"Nonsense. My plans were always more exciting."

“Have you considered offering your services to Oxford? Or the Berlin Academy? An alethiometrist who can read by instinct… Mr Îmwe, you could almost name your price.”

Jyn saw Shyli switch her tail back and forth in sudden agitation. Thought of Chirrut sitting on the broken Temple steps, begging for coins, of the depravation of Nijedha. Her dad had never been motivated by money, except when it came to trying to fund his research, but he was right: an alethiometrist as talented as Chirrut would be in huge demand out in the real world.

“Dr Erso.” The warm tone left Chirrut’s voice. “I don’t think you understand. I am a sworn Guardian. I go where Dust guides me, that’s all.”

Jyn glanced at her dad. His face was impassive, but his dæmon fidgeted on his shoulder, shifting from foot to foot. “How did an alethiometer come to be at the Temple? I understand that Rusakov particles are seen as spiritual by some, but in terms of theological research—”

Baze’s dæmon bristled where she was perched on his knee. “The Temple had masters of experimental theology,” Baze said abruptly. He reached for his pack and began to dig around inside it.

Chirrut said something in Cathay, a sharp question, but Baze ignored him. He pulled a book out of his bag: it was fairly old and heavy, with an embossed leather cover and faded, yellowed pages.

“What’s that?” asked Jyn, leaning towards him. There were Cathay characters marked across the front, and she thought she recognised the character denoting Dust. Her attempts to translate Cathay documents about the Temple seemed very long ago.

“We found them,” said Baze, in a low voice. “In that world with the dragonfly riders.”

“You found them?”

Baze explained, haltingly, about the tower. The boxes of abandoned books and papers. That some of the books were, impossibly, from the Temple of Dust itself. About the note he had found, folded up inside it.

“So this is the research your Temple was doing?” her father sounded sceptical. “May I look?”

Chirrut’s mouth tightened, and Baze looked extremely reluctant, but he handed the book over. Her father took it gently, opening the cover with careful fingers.

“These books,” said Chirrut slowly, “are concerned with the relationship between Dust and dæmons settling. Given what we've learnt, it seemed… pertinent."

"Did the Temple know?" Jyn asked, faintly horrified. "Did they know what they were doing? Is that why they hid these books?" They couldn’t have done. She had not got far in her research on the Temple, but everything she had learnt said that they had revered Dust. They wouldn’t have kept quiet, if they had known what the Magisterium was planning.

Chirrut spread his hands. "The Temple knew as much as the alethiometer could tell them. And, if I say so myself, no one was able to read the alethiometer half so well back then. They knew the Magisterium would come. I don’t know what else.”

Her father was absorbed in the book, running his finger over a complex theological chart. His dæmon was leaning down from his shoulder, just as fascinated as he was. “My word,” he said softly. “Have these ever been translated, do you know? I didn’t know the Temple did research like this.”

Baze snorted. “The Temple had masters of experimental theology. We had to understand Dust in every possible way, Dr Erso. Every way.”

Jyn saw scepticism in her father’s face, but he returned his gaze to the book. “I would need to read a translation, of course, but this looks like solid work. There was extensive research done, then, on the behaviour of Rusakov particles around the time of settling?” Without waiting for an answer he turned the page, studying another chart. “Am I reading this correctly? The amount of Rusakov particles around individuals increased enormously immediately before settling, before falling back into normal parameters…”

He was barely aware of Jyn, or Chirrut, or Baze; Jyn had seen her father absorbed in some new research enough times to recognise this behaviour.

“These Rusakov levels,” he said slowly. “They are… significant.”

“Far greater than anything we managed to gather,” said Lene, clicking her beak fretfully. “These are the sort of levels Orson was looking for.”


Jyn couldn’t sleep. The fire was burning down, filling the cave with a flickering red light. Baze and Chirrut were talking softly in Cathay, their voices worried. Someone at their Temple had known, she thought. Maybe not the specifics, but they’d known something. Had known that the Magisterium was interested in Dust. And in settling. But they hadn’t been able to stop it.

Or hadn’t tried?

She sighed, and rolled onto her side. Found Cassian watching her. “Can’t sleep?” he murmured.

“No.”

“Nor can I.” He looked troubled. “I’m sorry, Jyn.”

“For what?”

“I shouldn’t have kissed you. It wasn’t fair.”

Something seized in her heart. “Cassian—”

“Everything has to be for the mission. That’s all.”

“What?” she glared at him, shifted closer. On her other side, her father grumbled something in his sleep. “So, what, that’s it? You kiss me, and then it’s a mistake because of the mission? In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m here too. I’m not going to throw it away for you, Cassian. Don’t flatter yourself.”

“You understand this,” he protested. His dæmon hissed softly, her eyes glowing in the firelight. “Your Lianna Hallik file said you hadn’t had any real known associates. No one you were properly close to. This is the same. I can’t…”

Jyn’s stomach twisted. “And what good did that do me?” she asked. “I didn’t have anyone I could trust. No one I could turn to.”

He sighed. “If things were different… even if we somehow do destroy the weapon, I’ll just be sent out again. Undercover, maybe. I can’t have attachments.”

“If things were different,” she murmured. “But they’re not, Cassian. They’re how they are.”

“Right. So we can’t do this.”

“Or maybe we’ll both be dead by next week, so we should make the most of what time we have.” Hardly daring to believe herself, she reached across the space between them. Aster fluttered across to Rucía, perching in front of her. Hopped closer, as though defying her to retreat. “I told you. I’m in this, whatever it takes.”

“Even if you had to leave me behind? Or I had to leave you?”

“To stop them? Yes.”

His eyes were shuttered, his expression unreadable. Jyn’s lungs felt full of cement. Then his fingertips touched hers. Rucía stepped forward, rubbed her head against Aster, a deep purr that Jyn felt against her own skin.


The morning air was cool and crisp. Jyn rolled her shoulder, balancing the knife in her hand. She felt oddly clear-headed; on the other side of the next window was… whatever came next. The Citadel. The weapon. The end of something, one way or another.

“Ready?” she said to the gathered group. Met Cassian’s eyes, and he nodded. She lifted the knife, a gesture that now came as easy as breathing. Let it slip through the air, waiting for a snag.

When it came, it was oddly tough, and she had to lean her weight against the knife to make the cut. Warm light spilled through. Palm trees waved serenely against a cloudless sky. Gentle waves rolled against white sand. It was like a scene from a postcard.

And there, on the horizon, a mountain. Huge, and dark, and wreathed so heavily in clouds that its summit was hidden. There was only a faint breeze, but the clouds seemed to swirl and buffet around the mountain, as though raging in a storm. Jyn swallowed.

“Okay.” She straightened. Aster spread his wings and gave a clear, bright nightingale-cry. “Let’s do this, shall we?”