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beyond the stars

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

5 AFJ (After the Fall of the Jedi)

Xisuma double checks that the door has locked behind him before he starts to remove his armour. The windowless room is dark, save for the little light coming from a lamp on the table next to his bed. First to come off are the gauntlets, vambraces and greaves, green paint chipped and dirty. Then, the pauldrons, and then the chestplate, a dent from a blaster bolt striking the beskar metal, right over his heart. And finally, the helmet comes off with a quiet hiss of air, and he places the helmet next to the rest of the armour on the floor. There’s parts of the dark grey paint on his helmet chipping off too, revealing the dulling raw beskar underneath. He’ll have to find somewhere to buy some paint, soon. Or maybe he can ask Beef for some.

Xisuma kneels on the ground, cloth in hand as he carefully cleans the dirt off the armour. He can hear the sounds of drinking and talking echoing up from the cantina downstairs through the vents in the walls. As he works through the repetitive motions of taking care of his armour after another successful mission, he reaches out through the Force, meditating as he has done daily since he was part of the Jedi Order. He feels the Cosmic Force as it flows around him.

The Force used to be so much easier to read, back before everything changed. Now, though, the Force feels like a vast, unending, open sea, hard to predict and navigate through. But Xisuma has felt something shift in the Force over the last few weeks - something big is about to happen. He just wishes he knew what it was.

He reaches down to his utility belt, and removes the pieces to his disassembled lightsaber one by one, polishing them carefully. He allows himself the luxury of holding the piece containing his kyber crystal a little longer than he normally does, gloved fingers wrapping around the cylindrical piece to feel the hum of the crystal inside. He tries not to linger on the thoughts of the old Jedi Order, or the Republic that once was.

With his armour all cleaned up, he stands and fits the pieces back onto himself, feeling much more comfortable once his helmet is firmly back in place. He can feel Keralis’s Force signature moving closer, and sure enough, there’s a knock on his door a few seconds later.

“Shishwammy!” Keralis calls from the other side of the door. “Want to come downstairs and join us?”

“Sure,” Xisuma replies. He opens the door to see Keralis standing in the hallway, wearing an orange and yellow poncho.

“Successful sabotage as always, yeah?” Keralis says as they walk down to the cantina.

“Yeah,” Xisuma replies. “But the mission was horrible. The bounty I had to save? It was a child! And the bounty hunter had been sent by the Empire.”

“What would the Empire want with children?” Keralis asks quietly as they sit down at the bar. Xisuma nods a greeting at Beef, who sits down next to him as the bartender droid serves Keralis a drink.

Xisuma frowns under his helmet. “I don’t know.”

“You know, I heard rumours that they’re abducting little kids to become Sith lords.” Beef shrugs. “But who knows? Those kids never get seen again.”

There’s a sinking feeling in Xisuma’s gut that he knows exactly what happens to those children, but he doesn’t tell them about it.

“What’d you do after you got the kid?” Beef asks.

“Returned him to his parents. It took me ages to find them, they were on a backwater planet with nothing but farmland.” Xisuma smiles as he recalls the events after. “Then I went after the bounty hunter and blew his ship up. The kid’s got one less bounty hunter after him now.”

Beef laughs. “Now that must’ve been a sight to behold.”

Keralis downs the rest of his drink. “Hey, Shishwammy, I found a nice place down the road that sells really good shroomchips, wanna come with me and buy some?”

“Sure.” Xisuma stands as Keralis fishes out his credits and pays Beef, and then they step outside into the crowded streets of Ord Mantell City.

“How was your day?” Xisuma asks as they navigate through the narrow roads, pushing past customers haggling with shopkeepers.

“Oh, you know, always the same,” Keralis says, rolling his eyes. “I ran some spice over to Kijimi, and the traders over there, man, they were such meanies! Just paid me and told me to get off their planet! I can’t believe…”

Suddenly, the Force pulses with danger, and Xisuma is reacting before he even sees the threat. He shoves Keralis aside just as a sniper bolt whizzes past them, right in the spot where Keralis had been standing. He scans the surrounding area, and sees two snipers positioned on the rooftops above them. There’s a Trandoshan pushing through the crowd, and people are shouting as they notice the primed blaster in his hand. There’s a signet painted onto the Trandoshan’s pauldron, identifying him as a bounty hunter.

Shit.

Xisuma knows he probably can handle the three of them at his full power, but right now, he can’t afford to use the Force or his lightsaber. And Keralis is with him, eyes wide and looking to him for help. He’s going to have to run this time.

“Follow me,” he tells Keralis, and pulls him through the crowd, trying to get to somewhere more open in case it comes down to a fight. He doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt. He pulls out the blaster tucked in the holster at his hip, laying down cover fire as he runs. A shot rings out again, and this time the sniper bolt strikes his armour, and he stumbles for a moment before regaining his footing.

“Shishwammy! What’s going on?” Keralis shouts at him as they weave through the crowd.

“Bounty hunters from the guild, I don’t think they liked how I ruined their bounties!” Xisuma shouts back, and then slams Keralis into a wall to save him from the blaster bolt that flies past their faces. He helps him back onto his feet. “Come on!”

They finally manage to push through into the open square outside the space port. The bounty hunters on the roofs jump down, landing with a clank of armour. Xisuma points his blaster at them, then looks over at Keralis who is standing next to him. “Go back to the cantina. I’ll handle this.”

The bounty hunters fire at him, and he ducks behind the fountain in the centre of the square. He fires back, and manages to score a hit on one of the snipers. The sniper stumbles, and he fires another shot, cleanly hitting him in the head and taking him out.

Shots from the other sniper force him to get down behind the fountain again, and he hears the sound of heavy footsteps running towards him. The Trandoshan hunter rounds the corner, and a shot from the hunter’s blaster rifle pinging off his chestplate. He shoots back, causing the Trandoshan to drop his rifle, but the Trandoshan knocks the blaster out of his hand and it skids out of reach. The Trandoshan’s claws scrape against his armour, tearing into the unarmoured part of his bicep and drawing blood.

Xisuma tackles the hunter, discreetly using the Force to aid him as he slams him into the ground. The Trandoshan reacts quickly, though, and flips them over, pinning Xisuma against the cobbled ground, armour scraping against the stones. Xisuma reaches down to grab the blade he always keeps strapped against his calf, but before he can get it, shots ring out, and the Trandoshan slumps over, dead.

When Xisuma looks over, Keralis is standing in the square, Xisuma’s fallen blaster from earlier in his hands. Before he can say anything about Keralis still being here, his senses flare with danger, and he hears the shot ring out before he can warn Keralis.

Heart pounding, Xisuma does the only thing he can - he spins around, arm outstretched, and reaches out with the Force. The blaster bolt headed towards Keralis freezes in mid-air, just long enough for Keralis to realise and duck away, before Xisuma loses control over the bolt and it continues on its path.

Panting from the exertion of the stunt, Xisuma staggers to his feet, grabbing the Trandoshan’s rifle and firing a clean shot towards the remaining sniper. The sniper falls over, dead as well.

“Shishwammy?” Keralis is saying in a small, trembling voice. “What did you do? What was that? How could you stop the blaster bolt?”

There’s movement out of the corner of his eye, and he sees an imperial probe droid hovering just outside the square. He fires another shot, hitting it dead in the eye. But now, as the adrenaline of the fight fades away, it’s replaced by dread as he realises exactly how much danger they’re all going to be in. The Empire knows.

“Keralis,” Xisuma says, trying to keep his voice steady for his friend. “I know there’s a lot I need to explain, but right now, you and Beef are in huge danger. The Empire will be hunting me and anyone I’m associated with. I need you to go to the space port and get my ship running. I’m going to get Beef and I’ll meet you at the ship, alright?”

Keralis nods shakily, evidently still shell-shocked. Xisuma takes off in the direction of the cantina, blaster still clutched in his hand. Distantly, he hears the sound of imperial alarms going off as he enters the crowded cantina, shoving past patrons to get to Beef.

“The Empire’s coming for both of us. Get your things. We have to leave, now!” Xisuma instructs, before running upstairs to his room. He flings the mattress on his bed aside, reaching underneath to get his sole possession - a cube of glowing blue etched with intricate gold patterns on the edges. A Jedi holocron.

Gripping it tightly in his hand, he rushes back downstairs, looking for Beef in the back room of the cantina. His friend has just finished shoving his belongings into a bag and looks up as Xisuma enters the room.

“I’m ready, where are we going?” Beef asks, slinging the bag over his shoulder and grabbing a blaster from under his bed.

“Space port,” Xisuma answers, before pushing open the back door of the cantina. “Let’s go!”

As they sprint towards the space port, Xisuma can feel the Force coming alight with more danger - the Empire is closing in. There’s the sound of footsteps running in unison behind them, and Xisuma steadies himself for the fight he knows will come. He holsters the blaster and shoves the holocron into the bag hanging at his hip. Then, he reaches to his belt and pieces together his lightsaber. With a final twist, the parts click into place, and he prays that it still works like it did five years ago.

“Are you mad? What the hell are you holding?!” Beef is shouting at him, confusion and panic radiating off him in the Force, but Xisuma ignores him.

“Get to my ship, dock 31A. Keralis is already there,” he tells Beef as they get to the doors of the space port. Beef nods and takes off running.

The stormtroopers burst out from the crowd into the open square as Beef ducks into the space port just in time. A shot pings off his pauldron, and another just barely hits his arm. He grits his teeth and ignites his lightsaber. Brilliant blue illuminates the entryway to the port as he parries shot after shot, backing away from the stormtroopers.

Once past the doorway, he slices the control panel with his saber, shutting the door closed behind him before he races towards the docking bay. He flips the thermal scanners on his helmet on, looking through his heads-up display to monitor the movements of the troopers just outside the walls of the deserted port. He can see another squad of stormtroopers running towards him - they must have gotten in through another entrance.

He rushes forward, turning and using his beskar armour to shield himself as he thrusts his blade into the first trooper’s chest, and then slashes through the one next to him. Using the momentum, he leaps forward, taking down another two troopers, before parrying a shot with his saber. He barely registers the blaster bolt that hits his thigh as he uses the Force to pull a trooper towards him, stabbing the trooper mid-air with his lightsaber. He blocks another shot from the last trooper remaining before he cuts the trooper down as well.

Breathing hard, Xisuma takes a second to centre himself once again before he starts running again. A glance to his back tells him that the troopers from the square have managed to break through the sealed entrance, as they are now only two hallways away from him.

Finally, he finds the docking bay and sprints inside, sealing the door behind him with a slash of his blade. His shuttle is already hovering just above the ground, engines lit up and roaring, and Beef stands on the boarding ramp, waiting for him to get inside. He uses the Force to leap upwards, and he lands inside the ship.

“Keralis! Go!” Xisuma shouts, and then they’re taking off, shooting towards the atmosphere. Disengaging his lightsaber, Xisuma stumbles into the cockpit, and keys in the coordinates for their hyperspace jump as Keralis pilots the ship. There’s the terrifying sound of a TIE fighter cutting through the air behind them, and Xisuma slides down the ladder into the gunner’s position.

“Get out of atmosphere, and then jump to the coordinates I keyed in!” Xisuma shouts as Keralis tips the shuttle down to avoid the lasers being shot at them. He aims the turret at the TIE fighter and squeezes the trigger; the fighter explodes behind them just as they leave the atmosphere.

Two more TIE fighters are below them, speeding upwards out of the atmosphere and firing at them. Xisuma isn’t sure how long the shields on his ship will last, and he isn’t sure if he can take them out in time. But then Ord Mantell is whizzing out of view, and Xisuma feels the ship jerk forwards as they finally enter hyperspace.