Chapter One THE ROOK, E'RONOH For the first time in five years, the sky over E'ronoh's capital was clear of fighting ships. When errant debris pierced the atmosphere, it was little more than ash by the time it settled over the stone arches dotting the landscape like great giants of the planet's dawn, frozen against the red morning. The war was not over, but life went on as life always does. Though parts of the city still smoldered, mourners hurried to inter their dead. As news of the latest cease-fire attempt with Eiram spread, the market of the Rook, E'ronoh's capital, flooded with citizens anticipating the promise of the day's water shipment. Among them, Serrena, a slender figure dressed in a gray cloak, slipped through the haggling crowds. Tip-yip ten pezz a kilo! Thirty per barrel! Bargain asterpuff--dream the dream of the dead! A mother bargained for a carton of eggs while keeping an eye on the sky. A girl, days short of the draft, shouldered her hungry baby brother on one side and cheap fatty cuts from the butcher on the other. A beggar waved an empty cup. A vendor shooed flies away from his spoiled fruit. A palace guard jumped at the resounding crunch of metal--only to turn and find that a speeder hauling scrap had overturned. Serrena tugged at the hood of her cloak, but nothing, save for a breath mask, could stop anyone on the forsaken planet from eating a mouthful of dust, even when the winds were still. Snaking through the market and down a narrow underpass, she stopped at the fringe of the hangar bay. Here the canyon's natural archways made it the perfect architecture for the royal launch pad. Locals liked to say the cavernous opening was the petrified yawning mouth of an old god. To Serrena it was just another place, another opportunity to serve the only entity truly committed to keeping the galaxy in balance. As crewmembers flitted back and forth, readying a squadron of starships for flight, Serrena crept along the undulating walls of the canyon, invisible as the pilots huddled almost protectively around their captain. The young woman's face was half cast in the canyon's shadow, but Serrena could just make out the calm intensity on her regal features. The promise in her fist she pounded over her heart. Words that cut through the cacophony like E'roni gems as they all shouted--"For E'ronoh!" "Thanks for the rousing pep talk, Captain A'lbaran," Serrena muttered as she crouched behind one of the astromech droids and inserted a slender program chip into its front panel. A sharp thrill of victory coursed through her, but the moment was short-lived. A soldier with an eye patch rounded the corner and halted. Confusion, then alarm twisted his face as he closed their distance in long, swift strides. "You're not authorized to be here!" Serrena cowered, let herself sink toward the floor, but he yanked her upright and shoved her against a stack of crates. There was the hard plunk of an empty canteen hitting stone. Dust, always so much dust, lodged between her teeth, the back of her throat. "What are you--" "Please," Serrena whimpered and coughed. "Spare a pezz for a poor farmer? Some water . . ." "There's a ration distribution at high noon," the soldier said, releasing her with a frustrated huff. His medals boasted the rank of lieutenant, though she hadn't noticed him at his captain's side. Pity, then frustration flitted across his scarred face as he reached into his pocket and fished out a bronze coin. "Now get out of my sight." Serrena clasped the coin then sprinted away from the launch pad, merging back into the sea of dusty cloaks in the market where a fight was breaking out. The desperate citizens of E'ronoh shoved one another to secure a better place in the queue for water rations, which had doubled in size in the time it took her to fullfill her mission. Serrena pushed harder, shielding her face against the current of sweaty bodies, until she broke through the throng. Tossing the bronze pezz into a beggar's tin cup, Serrena straightened and made for the road leading out of town. "It is done," she spoke into a short-range comlink. A worried voice crackled back, "Are you sure . . . it was . . . the right . . ." "Yes, yes, I'm certain." She bit back the ire at being questioned. She had been chosen for this mission. "Hurry back. Got a . . . perfect spot to see . . . the fireworks." As Serrena broke into a jog, thirty starfighters rocketed into the sky. Serrena let her hood fall, welcomed the heat of the rising sun, and smiled in anticipation of the will of the Force--because if the Force willed it, none of those starfighters would return. Excerpted from Star Wars: Convergence (the High Republic) by Zoraida Córdova All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.