- "A long time ago, beyond a galaxy far, far away...."
- ―Opening text
Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising is a canon novel written by Timothy Zahn, and it is the first volume of Star Wars: The Ascendancy Trilogy. It was first published in hardcover by Del Rey on September 1, 2020, along with its audiobook adaptation. The novel is set prior to Zahn's previous Thrawn novel series, and it explores the origins of Thrawn within the Chiss Ascendancy.
Some events in the book are parallel to the flashback part of Thrawn: Alliances.
- 1 Publisher's summary
- 2 Plot summary
- 2.1 Prologue
- 2.2 Memories I
- 2.3 Chapter One
- 2.4 Memories II
- 2.5 Chapter Two
- 2.6 Memories III
- 2.7 Chapter Three
- 2.8 Chapter Four
- 2.9 Chapter Five
- 2.10 Memories IV
- 2.11 Chapter Six
- 2.12 Memories V
- 2.13 Chapter Seven
- 2.14 Memories VI
- 2.15 Chapter Eight
- 2.16 Chapter Nine
- 2.17 Memories VII
- 2.18 Chapter Ten
- 2.19 Memories VIII
- 2.20 Chapter Eleven
- 2.21 Chapter Twelve
- 2.22 Chapter Thirteen
- 2.23 Chapter Fourteen
- 2.24 Memories IX
- 2.25 Chapter Fifteen
- 2.26 Memories X
- 2.27 Chapter Sixteen
- 2.28 Chapter Seventeen
- 2.29 Chapter Eighteen
- 2.30 Memories XI
- 2.31 Chapter Nineteen
- 2.32 Memories XII
- 2.33 Chapter Twenty
- 2.34 Chapter Twenty-One
- 2.35 Chapter Twenty-Two
- 2.36 Memories XIII
- 2.37 Chapter Twenty-Three
- 3 Continuity
- 4 Media
- 5 Appearances
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 Notes and references
- 8 External links
Beyond the edge of the galaxy lie the Unknown Regions: chaotic, uncharted, and near impassable, possessing hidden secrets and dangers in equal measure. And nestled within their swirling chaos is the Ascendancy, home to the enigmatic Chiss and the Nine Ruling Families that lead them.
The peace of the Ascendancy, a beacon of calm and stability, is shattered after a daring attack on the Chiss capital that reveals no trace of the enemy. Baffled, the Ascendancy dispatches one of its brightest young military officers to root out the unseen assailants—a recruit born of no title but adopted into the powerful family of the Mitth and given the name Thrawn.
With the might of the Expansionary Fleet at his back and aided by his comrade, Admiral Ar'alani, Thrawn begins to piece together the answers he's looking for. But as Thrawn's first command probes deeper into the vast stretch of space his people call the Chaos, he realizes that the mission he has been given is not what it seems.
And the threat to the Ascendancy is only just beginning.
The story alternates between the main narrative and flashbacks (the "Memories" sections). All flashbacks take place before the Prologue.
Three alien warships attack the Chiss capital city of Csaplar, but are quickly defeated by the Chiss defenses. In the aftermath of the attack, Supreme General Ba'kif delivers a report to the Syndicure, the ruling body of the Chiss. However, many in the Syndicure are not impressed with the report, as it does not name their attacker, leaving them without someone to punish. While the speakers from the Mitth and Ufsa families verbally spar (their rivalry involving the establishment of a new mining field on Thearterra), Ba'kif notifies the Syndicure that four additional Expansionary Fleet warships have arrived from Naporar to boost Csaplar's defenses. While the politicians in the Syndicure take turns expressing their family's outrage, Ba'kif tries to decipher the purpose of the enemy's attack, eventually considering the possibility that it was meant to distract them from something else. When he returns to his office, one of his aides tells him that he was able to successfully locate Senior Captain Mitth'raw'nuruodo (Thrawn), who is in his final round of physical therapy on Naporar. Thrawn is recovering from injuries he sustained during operations against the Vagaari pirates, which despite being a successful military campaign, caused a great deal of political hassle. Despite the fact that the Syndicure would likely cause a fuss, Ba'kif prepares transport for him and Thrawn to Dioya to investigate a derelict ship.
Aristocra Mitth'urf'ianico (Thurfian) arrives on Rentor to meet with newly promoted General Ba'kif about a promising recruit named Kivu'raw'nuru (Vurawn). Ba'kif explains that the recruit's grades and aptitude make him a prime candidate for the Taharim Academy on Naporar. The Mitth family still have two appointment slots left for the year, and Ba'kif has arranged for Vurawn to be pulled out of class for an interview with Thurfian. If selected, Vurawn may become a merit adoptive of the Mitth family, someone from a different family (in Vurawn's case, the Kivu) who is adopted into a larger and more prestigious family (like the Mitth). Thurfian is intrigued, as Vurawn looks like someone who would make a name for himself (and by association, his family) in the newly formed Expansionary Defense Fleet. Plus, if the Mitth adopt Vurawn into their ranks, the Irizi family (their chief rivals) wouldn't be able to claim him. Thurfian decides to interview Vurawn.
After conducting his own interview, Thurfian takes Vurawn to a Mitth compound to begin the process of becoming a merit adoptive. On the way, Thurfian receives a message on his questis signaling that Vurawn has already been accepted. This startles Thurfian, as the process normally takes two to three months, and he wonders why he was sent to interview Vurawn if the selection had already been made. Vurawn asks Thurfian if something is wrong, despite the fact that Thurfian didn't visibly react to the message (demonstrating his exceptional observational skills). Thurfian informs Vurawn that he has been accepted as a merit adoptive of the Mitth, changing his name to Mitth'raw'nuru (Thrawn). Thrawn expresses hope at eventually becoming a ranking distant in the Mitth family, but Thurfian believes that someone from an "insignificant" family like the Kivu will never achieve that rank.
Ba'kif reflects on the history of the Chaos, the region of space surrounding the Chiss Ascendancy. Millennia ago, a series of supernova explosions and heavy electromagnetic flux caused the region to become unstable, with the hyperlanes constantly changing. While this serves to protect the Chiss from invaders, it also makes it difficult to find any enemies lurking within.
Ba'kif and Thrawn arrive in Dioya to investigate a destroyed refugee ship. Thrawn deduces that the ship was not attacked by pirates, as the damage inflicted on the ship was intended to destroy, not immobilize. The ship is also unrelated to the ones that attacked Csilla two days ago, as it shares no artistic or architectural similarities. However, both Ba'kif and Thrawn believe that the attack on Csilla was intended to distract them from the attack on the refugee ship. Their shuttle pilot, who was on the patrol craft that initially spotted the wreckage, says that they saw the ship's attacker, who fled into hyperspace rather than attack them. As Thrawn and Ba'kif prepare to board the ship, the shuttle pilot expresses doubts that they will find anything useful inside.
Onboard the ship, Ba'kif and Thrawn discover the bodies of the refugees, all of whom were slaughtered. Ba'kif tells Thrawn that the refugees are from an unknown species, and that analysis of the ship's log revealed that it had traveled to places in the Chaos unknown to the Chiss. Thrawn notes that the ship's design and the alien's clothing give him an "overall feeling", but he is unable to put it into words. Over Ba'kif's frustrations, Thrawn reassures him that he will be able to recognize the aliens if he sees them again. Ba'kif then outlines the next step of his plan: investigate the ship's origin. However, he anticipates that developing a task force will be tricky, given the current state of the Syndicure. Thrawn volunteers to investigate on his own, requesting his former ship, the Springhawk.
The Springhawk was taken out of Thrawn's command by Supreme Admiral Ja'fosk and the Defense Hierarchy Council following his campaign against the Vagaari pirates, which resulted in the death of Syndic Mitth'ras'safis (Thrass) and a loss of alien technology. There were also family politics involved, as the Ufsa family wanted someone from their family in command of the Springhawk. The Springhawk is to join Admiral Ar'alani in an attack on the Paataatus—who the Syndicure have blamed without evidence for the attack on Csilla—and Ba'kif believes that he can get Thrawn back in command after the attack. However, Thrawn wants to join the ship before the attack as an onboard observer. Ba'kif decides that if Thrawn is going to be on the ship, he may as well be in command, and says that he will run it past Ar'alani for her approval. Thrawn also confirms with Ba'kif that he will be given a sky-walker for his investigation. With that settled, Ba'kif leads Thrawn to the aft sections of the ship to continue their investigation.
After Ba'kif's lobbying, Mid Captain Ufsa'mak'ro (Samakro) becomes Thrawn's first officer aboard the Springhawk, with Senior Commander Plikh'ar'illmorf (Kharill) becoming second officer. Kharill is furious that command of the Springhawk has been taken away from Samakro and given to Thrawn, and he goes to Samakro to suggest they file formal complaints. Kharill also suggests obeying Thrawn's orders as unenthusiastically as possible. However, Samakro tells Kharill to prepare for the change in command, and that if he ever sees Kharill disobeying an order, he will personally bring charges upon him. Samakro (who is himself furious that his command has been taken from him), prepares to do his job as first officer, and hopes that Thrawn will not cause another political fiasco.
Thirteen year-old sky-walker Al'iastov exits Third Sight after leading the Chiss Defense Force Transport Tomra through hyperspace. As she returns to her quarters, she realizes that her life as a sky-walker is over, as she was unable to navigate the ship properly through hyperspace (the pilot had had to correct their course as they traveled). As she tears up, she runs into Cadet Thrawn in the halls, who is on his way to the Taharim Academy. After introducing herself and lying about her identity (she claims to be the captain's daughter), Al'iastov explains that she is concerned about her future. Thrawn reassures her that she will have many possibilities for her future, and that she has the power to choose her own path.
Their conversation is interrupted by Junior Captain Vorlip, who is angry at Thrawn for being in a forbidden corridor. Thrawn explains that he thought the "Authorized Personnel Only" sign was referring to non-military personnel, and that he just wanted to get a feel for the ship. Curious, Vorlip instructs Thrawn to close his eyes. She then spins him around a couple of times. When he stops, Vorlip instructs him to point towards the bow of the ship (while his eyes are still closed). When Thrawn points in the correct direction, Vorlip instructs him to return to his quarters, giving him nothing more than a light scolding.
As Thrawn leaves, Al'iastov apologizes to Vorlip, who reassures her that she has done nothing wrong. Vorlip muses that it took her fifteen spaceflights in four different ships before she was able to develop the spatial awareness that Thrawn just demonstrated (this was Thrawn's first spaceflight). Al'iastov asks Vorlip about her future, and she explains that she will be adopted into one of the Nine Ruling Families. Her new family will pay for her education and help her find a new career. When Al'iastov expresses concern that she will be abandoned, Vorlip assures her that she brings prestige to the family and will not be thrown out. Al'iastov expresses interest in being adopted by the Mitth family, and as she heads to Vorlip's office to fill out paperwork with her caregiver Mafole, she vows to remember Thrawn's name.
Mitth'ali'astov (Thalias) has her request to board the Springhawk denied, as she failed to file it before the deadline. Since there is no way she can board the ship as an observer, she asks if there are any other jobs available. The personnel officer tells her that a sky-walker has recently been appointed, but she does not have a caregiver. While Thalias doesn't have any experience with children, she is a former sky-walker. Because of this, she is unsure of whether she wants the job, as it will force her to relive past memories of unpleasant caregivers. However, she realizes that accepting the job of caregiver is the only way she will be allowed on the Springhawk, so she agrees. As the personnel officer is telling Thalias that more datawork will need to be filed, Syndic Thurfian appears and asks the personnel officer about Thalias. Thalias explains that someone in the Mitth family delayed her datawork, preventing her from boarding as an observer. When she explains that there is an opening as a caregiver, Thurfian begins filling out the necessary forms, explaining that every ship needs a sky-walker and caregiver as the Ascendancy is currently under threat. Hearing the urgency in Thurfian's voice, the personnel officer concedes and allows Thalias to board the Springhawk. As they approach the Springhawk, Thurfian explains that he has a favor to ask of Thalias.
After settling into her quarters, Thalias meets Che'ri, the Springhawk's sky-walker. They engage in small talk, with Che'ri revealing that she likes drawing. When Thalias expresses interest in her drawing, Che'ri comments that she isn't like her other momishes (her word for caregivers), who dismissed her talent as "silly". Che'ri explains that she had eight caregivers before Thalias, and is surprised when Thalias says that she herself had four. Thalias tells Che'ri about her time as a sky-walker, and they begin to bond. Eventually, Che'ri asks Thalias about their purpose aboard the Springhawk, as she was not told why she was onboard. Thalias reassures Che'ri that Senior Captain Thrawn will get them through any challenge they face, and sends Thrawn's files to Che'ri's questis for her to read later. Thalias then leaves to meet with the ship's first officer, and instructs Che'ri to think about what she wants for lunch.
As the Springhawk approaches its destination, Samakro doesn't see Thrawn on the bridge. As he is about to assume command in Thrawn's absence, Thrawn appears behind him, explaining that he has been on the bridge for the last hour overseeing work on a plasma sphere targeting computer. After complimenting Samakro on the quality of the maintenance crews, Thrawn asks if they have received new transmissions from the Vigilant (Ar'alani's flagship). With no new transmissions received, Thrawn orders the ship to exit hyperspace, where they are immediately swarmed by a large force of Paataatus fighters. Thrawn orders the Springhawk to break formation, and ignores calls from Ar'alani to return. Despite his initial protests, Samakro realizes Thrawn's plan: pretending to be damaged, drawing as many enemy fighters to them as possible. With fewer fighters attacking them, the other Chiss warships are able to defeat the remaining fighters, and they arrive in battle-wedge formation to defeat the fighters still engaging the Springhawk. Thrawn explains to Samakro that the hive mentality of the Paataatus causes them to swarm the weakest enemy first, which turned them into easy targets for their gunners.
With the Paataatus force defeated, Ar'alani tells Thrawn that he should have shared his plan with her first. When Samakro makes a comment under his breath about the enemy possibly overhearing their transmissions, Ar'alani scolds him and reiterates that Thrawn would have been responsible for finding a way to communicate his plan without the enemy listening in. Ar'alani gives Thrawn permission to continue with his next mission, which Samakro was unaware of. Thrawn requests an hour to inspect the ship and make repairs, which Ar'alani permits. Ar'alani states that she is traveling to speak with the Paataatus commanders, and Thrawn repeats his suspicions that they were not responsible for the attack on Csilla (a sentiment that Samakro privately shares).
While the Springhawk's crew gets to work on repairs, Samakro tells Thrawn that he hopes he's right about the Paataatus. Samakro states that it is possible that they used different ships to hide their identity, but Thrawn explains that the tactics of the Paataatus and the tactics of Csilla's attackers don't match up. When Samakro asks about the nature of their mission, Thrawn explains that they are tasked with identifying a possible new threat to the Ascendancy. Samakro asks permission to personally oversee the checks on the electrostatic barrier, which Thrawn grants. As he walks away, Samakro hopes that the barrier is in perfect order, as he is unsure if Thrawn listened to his superiors when they explained the protocols concerning preemptive attacks.
Despite her spotless record at the Taharim Academy, Senior Cadet Irizi'ar'alani (Ziara) is called to a disciplinary hearing with Colonel Wevary. Ziara had proctored a simulation in which Cadet Thrawn had been accused of cheating, and is asked if she has any words in her (or his) defense. Ziara feels bad for Thrawn, whose family representative had failed (perhaps deliberately) to show up at the hearing. Ziara is confused, as Thrawn would have no reason to cheat on the simulation, as his grades were already very high. Nonetheless, his score of ninety-five was well above the next highest score on the simulation, so Wevary assumed that he had cheated. Thrawn had pled not guilty to the charges, but since each simulation is unique, there is no way for him to prove his innocence by repeating it. The recordings of the simulation are also limited, and they appear to show Thrawn's patrol ship vanishing for several seconds. Ziara asks for more time to consider the evidence, which is granted by Wevary. As he leaves, Wevary tells Ziara that she had better have something when the board reconvenes, as he does not appreciate stalling tactics. Ziara and Thrawn are left alone in the room, and Thrawn states that he believes the board has already made its decision. After leaving the hearing room, Ziara goes to General Ba'kif's office to speak with him about Thrawn.
When the hearing resumes, Colonel Wevary is stunned by the unexpected presence of General Ba'kif, who explains that he and Ziara have found a way to resolve the issue. When Wevary explains that that is impossible, Ba'kif proposes that they perform a real-life exercise that matches the parameters of the simulation. While the Irizi representative states that the Taharim Academy is under Wevary's authority, Colonel Wevary agrees with Ba'kif and they leave to conduct the exercise.
As they prepare to start the exercise, Ziara reflects on how she has painted a target on her forehead. If Thrawn fails to prove his case, she will be in hot water too, as she went to all this trouble to try to prove his innocence. The exercise begins, with Thrawn's patrol craft facing three others. Thrawn confuses the "enemy" patrol ships with his maneuvers, and manages to cause one patrol ship to slowly spin around. Instead of using the opportunity to escape, Thrawn instead moves his ship behind the disabled patrol ship, perfectly matching its speed and rotation. Ziara laughs, realizing how Thrawn had managed to disappear. After Thrawn breaks out and successfully hits the other two patrol ships with laser blasts, Ba'kif ends the exercise. After Ba'kif congratulates Thrawn on a job well done, the Irizi representative is confused, claiming that Thrawn failed to disappear the way he claimed. Ba'kif explains that they were only able to see him because of their vantage point above the battle, as well as the fact that they were using weakened lasers.
At Ba'kif's insistence, Ziara explains that the first attacks against Thrawn would have caused oxygen and fuel to leak into space. When Thrawn fired his thrusters, those would have ignited, temporarily blinding his enemy's sensors. When he caused the other patrol ship to start spinning, Thrawn simply matched that pattern to hide from the other ships. When they looked elsewhere, Thrawn emerged from behind the disabled ship and took out the other two patrol ships. Satisfied that Thrawn is innocent, Wevary ends his inquiry, and Ba'kif instructs Ziara to continue to trust her instincts.
After their meeting with the Paataatus commanders, Admiral Ar'alani and her first officer, Senior Captain Kiwu'tro'owmis (Wutroow) walk down a corridor leading to an Aristocra hearing room to attend a tribunal. Wutroow declares the whole thing "bogus", and Ar'alani agrees. Despite the fact that they completely obliterated the Paataatus fighters and obtained a highly favorable peace settlement from their commanders, the Aristocra are still unhappy. Both Ar'alani and Wutroow know the only reason they are being called to the tribunal is because Thrawn is unavailable (as he is who the Aristocra are truly mad at). Because Thrawn's plan was successful, charges haven't been filed against him. However, some members of the Aristocra are still out for blood. Ar'alani and Wutroow discuss their strategy: answer all questions honestly, but spin their answers in Thrawn's favor wherever possible.
Arriving at the hearing, Ar'alani introduces herself and Wutroow to the six Syndics present, who are representing the Irizi, Kiwu, Clarr, Plikh, Ufsa and Droc families. Ar'alani finds it suspicious that no representative of the Mitth family is present, and she wonders if the family has decided that Thrawn is a liability. The Clarr representative asks if Thrawn disobeyed a direct order, but Ar'alani contends that he only disobeyed a "lesser order". Ar'alani explains that there are "greater" and "lesser" priorities, and that Thrawn ignored a lesser priority to address a greater one. Ar'alani continues by comparing the Expansionary Defense Fleet with Chiss family politics. As Wutroow continues the analogy, the Clarr representative interjects and asks why Thrawn was allowed to disobey a direct order without facing any consequences.
Before Ar'alani can respond, Wutroow states that she has a question. Despite his objections, the Clarr representative allows her to ask it. Wutroow asks why the rest of the Chiss force was ambushed so quickly and completely by the Paataatus fighters. Wutroow believes it was because the Paataatus were already aware of the incoming Chiss forces. Wutroow continues by saying that before their attack on the Paataatus, a Chiss emissary told the Paataatus delegation: "The next time you see Chiss ships come toward you through those stars, they'll be bringing your utter destruction." The emissary then pointed out into space, indicating the precise location that Ar'alani's force would later arrive at. Wutroow continues by saying that had Ar'alani known about the diplomat's action, she would have chosen a different attack vector. Since Ar'alani did not know, Thrawn's actions were necessary. Having made their case, the two women are dismissed, and Ar'alani tells the Syndics that she believes further action against the Paataatus is unnecessary.
As they head out of the room, Wutroow confirms that her story about the diplomat was true. However, her source was someone in her family, and she is unable to give Ar'alani any specifics. Wutroow also questions Ar'alani about taking credit for Thrawn's prediction that the Paataatus won't attack again for quite some time. While Ar'alani normally is against taking credit for other officer's ideas, she wanted to get the prediction on the record, and mentioning that it was Thrawn's idea would have angered the Syndics even more. Wutroow and Ar'alani discuss the importance of family connections, with Wutroow dismissing the idea that she could make flag rank someday.
Che'ri brings the Springhawk out of hyperspace above an unknown planet. Despite her growing headache (and fears that an overload spell is coming), Che'ri doesn't say anything, as she was taught that sky-walkers shouldn't show weakness. Despite this, Che'ri hopes that Thrawn allows her to rest instead of conducting another jump. Samakro and the Springhawk's bridge crew note that the planet seems dead, as there are no energy emissions or signs of life on the surface. Instead of moving on, Thrawn decides to take a break to give the crew some rest. Despite her relief, Che'ri blames herself, as she believes that the ship needs to stop only because of her. During their rest, Thrawn orders the sensors to remain active, as he speculates that they might find something. When Thrawn expresses concern for Che'ri's wellbeing, Thalias tells him about overload spells. Che'ri is comforted by the fact that she has a caregiver who understands overload spells and who does not get angry at her for having them. Thrawn says that he is not surprised that Che'ri was affected strongly by the system, and he reveals that the system contains four stars in close proximity.
Thalias then asks Thrawn what the purpose of their mission is, and he explains that they are investigating the origins of a refugee ship that was found drifting in the outer borders of the Ascendancy. Despite Lieutenant Commander Azmordi's objections, Thrawn believes it is important that Thalias and Che'ri know what their mission is, and calls them part of the team, which surprises Che'ri. Thrawn continues by explaining that he believes the refugees had a close sense of comradeship (noting how their bodies were clustered together aboard the destroyed ship). Because of this, he reasons that they were traveling with another ship. Their current system, with its four stars, is difficult to navigate, making it the perfect place for a rendezvous. Once Che'ri is well enough to stand, she leaves the bridge with Thalias to return to her quarters and rest.
Three hours later, Thalias returns to the bridge to find an alien ship floating nearby. Thalias speaks to Samakro, who tells her that Thrawn is currently aboard the alien ship with a survey team. The alien ship had been orbiting the planet, and became visible shortly after Thalias and Che'ri had left the bridge. Like the ship at Dioya, everyone onboard is dead. Samakro asks Thalias what her story is, and accuses her of being a Mitth family observer. Despite Thalias's assurances that she doesn't want to make trouble, Samakro states that she "just will", as the Springhawk's crew will be distracted by her presence and become more likely to make mistakes. Thalias strikes a deal with Samakro: she'll do her best not to make a mess, and he will be honest with her about whether or not she's causing trouble. Samakro says that the hyperdrive failed on the alien ship, stranding them and causing them to die once they ran out of air. Thrawn calls the Springhawk, and instructs Samakro to join him in Ready Room Two for an examination. Thalias follows Samakro, who reluctantly allows her to join him.
Shortly after Thalias and Samakro arrive in the examination room, Thrawn arrives with four alien bodies. Three of them are of the same species, with light pink skin, feathery head crests, and spindly but well-muscled limbs. The fourth alien is tall and thin, with large joints and gray skin. Tattoo scars are visible on its temple, and it is wearing a red jumpsuit. While the three pink aliens do not match any Chiss records, Samakro identifies the fourth alien as a Void Guide (its tattoo scars giving it away), a member of a group who act as navigators for hire through the Chaos. Thalias is also familiar with Void Guides, as she once had been aboard a warship escorting a diplomatic mission (the ship had hired a navigator to continue the illusion that the Chiss don't have their own). Samakro cannot identify the species of the navigator, and Thrawn comments that because the Navigator's Guild goes to great lengths to keep its member's species and systems secret, he would have been surprised if Samakro had been able to identify it. Nevertheless, the presence of the navigator gives them a lucky break, as some of the bridge recordings were salvaged from the wreckage of the ship. Because the wrecked ship's crew needed to talk to their navigator, they would have used a trade language, and because the Void Guides operate in the regions near the Chiss, it is very likely that they know whatever trade language they used. Samakro asks if any navigational records survived, and Thrawn explains that they were erased. It appears that the navigator was the last to die, and that he erased as many records as he could before doing so. Thalias theorizes that the Void Guide was working with their enemies, and didn't want anyone to know where they'd come from. As Thrawn prepares to start the dissection, he asks Samakro to make two copies of the surviving bridge audio. Samakro requests permission to make an additional copy for himself to review, which Thrawn grants. Thrawn prepares to start the dissection, commenting that the Void Guide went to great lengths to hide the aliens from them.
Thrawn begins the examination, focusing on the alien's clothing and jewelry. Thalias leaves once the medical team begins their surgical examinations. She returns to her quarters, where Che'ri tells her that she had a nightmare. While she initially doesn't want to talk about it, Che'ri opens up after Thalias tells her that she had nightmares too. Che'ri's nightmare is very similar to one that Thalias had when she was younger: she was lost, but everyone just kept looking at her instead of talking or listening to her. She describes the feeling as being stuck in a soap bubble, and Thalias explains that that had come from her bath. Thalias explains to Che'ri how her brain takes different things from her day and combines it with her feelings and fears to create a nightmare. Comforted, Che'ri asks Thalias if she ever got lost, and Thalias responds that she only got lost when her Third Sight began to fade. Che'ri expresses fear of getting lost, and Thalias tells her to trust herself. As Che'ri goes back to sleep, Thalias returns to her room, where her own sky-walker nightmares come back.
Wutroow receives a message from Thrawn and relays it to Admiral Ar'alani onboard the Vigilant. Thrawn wants them to meet as soon as possible. However, he wants only the Vigilant to be present. The coordinates are quite a distance away from their current location, and Thrawn does not want them to hire a navigator, meaning that it will take four to five days to reach the rendezvous without a sky-walker. Wutroow had signaled Naporar and asked for a temporary sky-walker, but was sent directly to Supreme General Ba'kif, who informed her that a sky-walker would be waiting for them. Ba'kif also requested that they ask Thrawn about Thalias, as there is confusion about who exactly she is and how she got onboard the Springhawk. As they set course for Naporar, Ar'alani has the weapons crews begin servicing their equipment. Since Thrawn is involved, Ar'alani believes combat is pretty much guaranteed.
The Vigilant arrives at its rendezvous with the Springhawk, and Ar'alani and Wutroow join Thrawn and Samakro for a briefing. Thrawn gives them a written proposal, which Ar'alani finds "inventive". While Samakro believes that Thrawn's plan is impossible, Ar'alani comments that Thrawn had pulled off a similar maneuver back at the Academy. However, she states that there is a difference between a patrol ship and a heavy cruiser. Thrawn believes that he can pull it off, as the thrusters on the Springhawk are more powerful to compensate for its greater mass. Thrawn believes that this is the system the refugees came from, but he won't know for certain until he investigates a nearby asteroid mining station. However, this will be tricky, as they are currently in a box system. Electromagnetic flux and solar wind interfere with hyperspace travel, and there are only around a dozen safe pathways into the system. The planet itself only has three routes that lead to it safely, and all three entrances are being patrolled by small warships. Thrawn believes that the planet is under an interdiction, and wants to spend three days observing the patrols so he can figure out how to sneak past them and into the nearby asteroid cluster.
Ar'alani asks about their exit strategy, and Thrawn explains that the system's gas giants create small holes in the solar wind that they can pop out of. Thrawn believes that the refugee ships exited the system through those holes in order to bypass the patrols. Wutroow expresses confusion as to why anyone would want to take over the box system, and Samakro explains that they are ideal staging areas and supply depots. Agreeing to Thrawn's plan, Ar'alani believes that Thalias and Che'ri should transfer to the Vigilant for their own protection. Thrawn agrees that Che'ri should go, but requests that Thalias remain with him. Based on the alien's clothing, Thrawn deduced that they hold females in high esteem, and he believes that having a female with him will cause any guards they encounter to be less likely to attack them right away. Ar'alani believes that Thrawn should send a female officer with him instead of Thalias, but Thrawn wants the Springhawk to be at full combat capability. As they have lots of inexperienced crew, they cannot afford to lose an officer. Reluctantly, Samakro agrees with Thrawn, and Ar'alani concedes.
Three days later, Samakro prepares the Springhawk for Thrawn's plan. The Springhawk will fly alongside the Vigilant, hiding in its sensor shadow. Eventually, the Springhawk will slip away and hide undetected near the asteroids, while the Vigilant draws away any pursuit and flees the system. They execute Thrawn's plan, and despite Samakro's doubts and approaching enemy patrols, they manage to make it to the asteroid cluster undetected.
Onboard the Vigilant, Che'ri spends time with its eight year-old sky-walker Ab'begh and her momish. The momish interrupts their playing time to insist they do some reading, with upsets Che'ri (as she hates reading). However, she obeys the momish so that Ab'begh doesn't get punished later on. Ar'alani stops by to tell Che'ri that the Springhawk has made it to the asteroid, and that she will have to spend the night onboard the Vigilant. Ab'begh offers to share her bed, but Che'ri refuses, saying that she kicks in her sleep. Ab'begh then asks if Che'ri's bed can be put in her room, and she sheepishly adds that she sometimes gets scared. Ar'alani approves, as long as the girls promise to get some rest. After Ar'alani leaves, the momish reminds the girls that they still have to read for half an hour, and Che'ri pulls up Thrawn's file on her questis (which Thalias had sent her) and begins to read.
After his acquittal, Thrawn invites Ziara out to celebrate and thank her for her help. As she was expecting a night of music, food and drinking, she is surprised when Thrawn brings her to an art gallery. He explains that the history of the Ascendancy is present in the art, dating back to Chiss participation in the conflicts between the Old Republic and Sith Empire. Thrawn comments that art shows how Chiss tactics have changed over the years, and explains that art reflects the strengths and weaknesses of its creators. Ziara doesn't believe Thrawn, so he invites her to pick a piece of alien art for him to analyze. Thrawn points out hundred year-old Scofti tableware, and asks Ziara what she sees. When she can't see past the colors, Thrawn points out the fragility of the materials. This reflects the fact that the Scofti change leaders and governments so frequently and violently that the artisans see no point in making items that will last longer than a year. As Ziara still has doubts, Thrawn points out nearby Brodihi flatware. From the design of the flatware, he is able to determine that the Brodihi have a social hierarchy and that their taste receptors are not at the front of their mouth. This translates to a preference for close-in combat (with their teeth being their primary weapon). Intrigued, Ziara asks Thrawn to show her more art.
An hour later, Ziara has come to regret letting Thrawn show her around, as her head is full of tactical information. However, she still believes that Thrawn had already read about alien tactics, and was shaping his analysis of artwork to fit what he already read. While Thrawn insists he didn't do that, Ziara proposes a test. She invites Thrawn to her quarters to study the wire sculptures she made, and afterward they will spar in the dojo to see if Thrawn was able to learn anything about her tactics through her art.
Thrawn chooses to spar with sticks, and they begin their sparring match. Initially, Thrawn is on the defensive, blocking Ziara's attacks and not countering with any of his own. Eventually, he counters and manages to get a hit on Ziara's head. Ziara switches up her combat technique and manages to get a hit on Thrawn's chest. She manages to get another hit in, but Thrawn unleashes a flurry of attacks that force her back. Thrawn forces her to the edge of the mat, but pauses so she doesn't slam into the wall. Ziara uses the opportunity to take back the offensive, but Thrawn blocks all of her attacks. Frustrated, Ziara stops attacking and asks Thrawn how he was able to defend himself so well against her.
Thrawn explains that her sculptures demonstrated a preference for wide-spaced combinations. Her favorite subjects (groundlions, dragonelles and predatory birds) represented short attacks, hesitation feints and aggression, with the shape of the open areas of her sculpture indicating that spinning attacks would likely confuse her. Thrawn invites Ziara to continue the analysis, and she realizes that after landing hits against Thrawn, she went back to her old tactics. Since Thrawn already knew how to counter them, she failed to land another hit. Ziara notices that she is standing close enough to Thrawn to attack him, and briefly considers doing so. She decides that that would not be the honorable thing to do. Thrawn then adds that the care she put into her sculptures indicates that she is too honorable to play "shoddy tricks" on a sparring partner. Embarrassed, Ziara begins to take off her protective gear and asks Thrawn if he thinks he can perform the same level of analysis on alien cultures. Thrawn expresses hope that he will someday get the chance to prove that he can.
Five hours after hiding behind the asteroid, Thrawn and Thalias board a shuttle and head for the nearby space station. Thrawn asks Thalias about her job as a caregiver, and Thalias explains how Che'ri's fears of failure and inadequacy are common among sky-walkers. During their conversation, it becomes apparent that Thrawn is aware that Thalias used to be a sky-walker, a detail about her that she hoped Thrawn would miss. Changing the subject, Thrawn points out a heat signature on their sensors, indicating a ship coming towards them. Worried that they've been spotted, Thalias suggests returning to the Springhawk. However, Thrawn believes that a direct conversation will be the fastest way to determine the origin of the refugee ships. Since they will arrive at the mining station well before the other ship, Thrawn plans to invite them onboard so he can speak with them.
Thrawn and Thalias dock at the mining station, and Thrawn states that the refugee ships came from there. Thalias doesn't understand how Thrawn is able to draw that conclusion, and they make their way to the station's control center. They activate the control panels, which Thrawn uses to turn on the station's exterior lights. Hoping to avoid combat, Thrawn and Thalias head to the largest equipment bay to await the alien ship's arrival.
Arriving at the equipment bay just before the alien ship lands, Thrawn positions himself in front of Thalias. However, he suddenly slips behind her, much to her surprise. Four aliens emerge from the ship, identical to the bodies discovered on the refugee ships. Thrawn asks the aliens if they speak Minnisiat, and when they respond in their own language, Thrawn asks if they speak Taarja. One of the aliens speaks Taarja, and he asks what Thrawn and Thalias are doing. Thrawn says that they are explorers, and introduces himself and Thalias to the alien. After confirming that Thalias is a female, the aliens question Thrawn for hiding behind her. Thrawn clarifies that he was merely protecting her from the aliens who were sent behind them, having detected the change in the air when they arrived in the secondary hatch.
The aliens state that violence is not their intention, but that Thrawn's arrival made them concerned for their safety. They tell Thrawn that if he was looking to set up a home on the station, he chose unwisely. Thrawn says that he is looking for artwork, which surprises the aliens, who claim that there is no artwork onboard the station.
Thrawn asks the aliens why they abandoned the station, as it appears fully functional. The aliens reveal that they were forced to leave by a group calling themselves the Nikardun. The aliens also identify themselves as the Paccosh from the planet Rapacc. The Paccosh confirm that the ships that chased the Vigilant out of the system belonged to the Nikardun, and that their intention was to capture or destroy the ship. The Nikardun ordered the Paccosh to arrive at the station to see if its sensors picked up any useful information about the Chiss shuttle. The Paccosh identify the leader of the Nikardun as General Yiv the Benevolent, who has personally visited Rapacc to demand tribute. While they do not know if/when Yiv will return, the Paccosh state that more Nikardun will likely arrive in the system, and that failure to comply with their orders will end badly.
Thalias asks the Paccosh what they intend to do with her and Thrawn, and they turn and consult with each other. Thrawn uses this opportunity to tell Thalias that if the Paccosh intend to take them prisoner, they will need to use the charrics they brought with them, which upsets her. The Paccosh state that although their orders from the Nikardun only concerned the sensors, they believe that the Nikardun would have ordered the capture of Thrawn and Thalias if they knew that they were present. Thrawn says that if the Paccosh allow him and Thalias to leave, he will make sure they are not detected by the Nikardun. After realizing that they can explain the activation of the station's external lights by claiming they were activated remotely, the Paccosh allow the Chiss to leave in peace. The Paccosh also confirm that the station has no functioning sensors, meaning the Nikardun will not get any information about Thrawn's ship that could be used to identify its origin. Before departing, the Pacc leader, Uingali foar Marocsaa, gives Thrawn a ring from his hand, depicting the image of a chimaera.
As they head back to their shuttle, Thrawn comments that they now have all of the information that General Ba'kif sent them to find. Thrawn questions how the Nikardun were able to know where to ambush the refugee ship. He notes that the refugee ship left hyperspace too early, as it was too far away from any Chiss planet to communicate with them. They deduce that the ship's navigator must have deliberately brought them out of hyperspace early so the Nikardun could attack. Since there was no Void Guide body aboard the first refugee ship, Thrawn believes that the Nikardun took his body with them. Having learned all that they can, they prepare to return to the Springhawk and rendezvous with the Vigilant to pick up Che'ri. However, instead of returning to the Ascendancy, Thrawn wants to head to a Navigator's Guild concourse to hire a navigator. When Thalias asks if he's looking to hire a Void Guide, Thrawn clarifies that there is someone there who will be much more useful to them.
A Chiss diplomatic cruiser arrives at Guild Concourse 447 in need of a navigator to take them to Bardram Scoft. Despite his protests, Qilori of Uandualon, a Pathfinder, is chosen by his dispatcher Prack to serve as its navigator. Qilori arrives at the boarding gate and meets some of the Chiss, who take him onto the ship. Qilori does not like the Chiss, as he (along with most other species in the area) believe them to be extremely arrogant and condescending towards others. When he reaches the bridge, Qilori meets the ship's captain, who invites him to begin their journey through hyperspace.
Qilori leads the ship through hyperspace, using a sensory-deprivation headset to connect to the Great Presence and navigate. When he takes off his helmet, he is surprised to find himself alone on the bridge with a Chiss who he assumes to be a pilot, who explains that everyone else is preparing the ambassador for arrival. Since the Scoftic government has changed again, they are preparing for the possibility that there will be new protocols to learn. When Qilori asks about the previous Prefect, the Chiss pilot casually reveals that he was assassinated. When Qilori expresses alarm, the pilot dismisses his concerns, explaining that assassinations are common among the Scofti. The pilot then asks Qilori to identify one of the arriving ships. Qilori believes it to be Lioaoin, but he doesn't know for sure. He asks the pilot why he is curious about the Lioaoin ship, and he explains that it bears similarities to a group of pirate ships that have been attacking freighters on the borders of the Ascendancy. This alarms Qilori, who had heard rumors that the Lioaoin Regime had turned to piracy to boost its troubled economy. However, he keeps these rumors to himself, as he doesn't want to break the Guild's rules on confidentiality and neutrality.
The pilot then asks if Qilori could lead him to Lioaoin space, who confirms that he can. He asks the pilot if they will be traveling there soon, and he says that they may be traveling there in the future. The pilot asks Qilori his name, as well as if he can normally be found at Concourse 447. Qilori gives his name and confirms that his main station is Concourse 447, and the Chiss pilot expresses hope that they will work together in the future. When Qilori asks for his name, the pilot introduces himself as Junior Commander Thrawn, who says that he will ask for Qilori in the future.
To Qilori's surprise, Thrawn returns to Guild Concourse 447 and asks for him specifically. Qilori, who had hoped to never see Thrawn again, nevertheless isn't surprised, citing what happened at Kinoss a few years prior. After exchanging pleasantries, Thrawn asks Qilori if he is familiar with the Rapacc system. Qilori knows that the Rapacc system is currently under blockade by Yiv, but does his best to appear unfazed. However, he forgets he was asked a question, and Thrawn has to prompt him to answer. Qilori confirms that he can lead Thrawn to Rapacc. As he heads to the navigator's station, Qilori wonders if he should warn Thrawn about the Nikardun presence. He decides against it, as not only would it violate the Guild's code, it might also make Thrawn suspicious as to how Qilori knows so much about Yiv and the Nikardun. Qilori prepares to lead the Chiss to Rapacc, and he hopes that the Nikardun will at least take the time to pull him out of the Chiss ship before destroying it.
Samakro enters the bridge and speaks with Mid Commander Elod'al'vumic (Dalvu), asking if she has anything to report. She reports that Qilori came out of his trance an hour ago, took a short break, and then went back under. They also expect to arrive at Rapacc within three hours. When Samakro asks if Thrawn was made aware of this, Dalvu says that she sent him a message, adding a subtle dig at Thrawn in the process. Samakro sees this as evidence of Kharill sharing his displeasure with fellow officers, and assures Dalvu that Thrawn is highly capable. He asks her to bring the Springhawk to full combat readiness thirty minutes before arriving at Rapacc, which startles her. After Dalvu makes another dig at Thrawn, Samakro scolds her and tells her to keep her comments to herself. When she expresses concerns about their right to attack the Rapaccian ships, Samakro clarifies that they always have the right to defend themselves, and he believes that they won't have to spend much time in the system before they get attacked. When Dalvu states that she has heard stories of Thrawn's "recklessness", Samakro tells her to trust him, as Thrawn always has a plan.
Qilori exits the Great Presence as the Springhawk arrives in the Rapacc system. He keys his comm, having spent his rest periods recording messages for the Nikardun ships in the area. As he works on tapping into the Springhawk's short-range transmitter, three ships approach, which Qilori recognizes as Nikardun. He hopes that the Nikardun commander has chosen to spare his life. When the deck jolts, Qilori assumes it to be an attack. However, the jolt was made by a shuttle separating from the Springhawk. The shuttle speeds toward Rapacc, and two Nikardun ships break off in pursuit. The Springhawk turns away, pursued by the remaining Nikardun fighter. Qilori wonders if it was a coincidence that there happened to be three Nikardun ships at the coordinates Thrawn gave him, but realizes that Thrawn must have chosen those coordinates because he wanted the Nikardun to attack. Qilori begins to wonder what the Springhawk is trying to accomplish.
The pursuing Nikardun ship catches up to the Springhawk and opens fire, appearing to loose some debris from the larger ship. However, what appears to be debris is actually another Chiss shuttle, which slams into and damages the portside weapons cluster of the Nikardun ship. After its thrusters are disabled, the Nikardun ship is brought onboard the Springhawk via tractor beam and Crippler net, and Qilori finally realizes the true purpose of Thrawn's visit. Thrawn plans to travel to a nearby system to drop off the Nikardun ship, and then return Qilori to Concourse 447. Thrawn asks Qilori if he found the exercise "interesting" and Qilori does his best to keep his cheek winglets under control.
After returning to Concourse 447, Qilori uses a combination of favors and blackmail to requisition a ship for his personal use. He travels to the Primea system, capital of the Vak Combine. Primea is still in the early stages of Nikardun conquest, in which Yiv speaks to leaders about the benefits of joining the Nikardun Destiny while his warships orbit the planet. Six hours after his arrival, Qilori is brought to Yiv's throne room aboard his Battle Dreadnought Deathless. As Yiv greets him, Qilori takes note of his cleft smile and the fungal symbionts present on his shoulders. Qilori says that he brings news from Rapacc, but Yiv is already aware of the capture of one of his frigates. Qilori says that he can give him the name of the being responsible, which intrigues Yiv. When Qilori starts to tell the whole story, Yiv reveals that he already knows the ship was Chiss, and wants the name of its commander. When Qilori tells Yiv that Senior Captain Thrawn was in command of the ship, he is upset that Qilori did not obtain his full name. Yiv tasks Qilori with obtaining Thrawn's full name for him, and Qilori is relieved that he wasn't killed.
General Ba'kif finishes reading a proposal from Junior Commander Thrawn, in which he states his belief that the Lioaoin government is responsible for the pirate attacks near Schesa and Pesfavri. Thrawn also believes that Qilori either knows about or suspects Lioaoin involvement. When Ba'kif asks him about the ships, Thrawn remarks that they are different enough to avoid drawing obvious connections between them. However, he has observed a few notable similarities, which he believes are sufficient enough to make the connection. Having previously spoken with Ziara about Thrawn's abilities of artistic insight, Ba'kif decides to assume that Thrawn is right. He then asks Thrawn what his next step would be. Thrawn proposes that they deal out punishment, as the pirates have attacked Ascendancy ships. Ba'kif expresses concern that the Lioaoi might be innocent, as the pirates could have simply hired Lioaoin ships. Thrawn clarifies that he wants to attack the pirates, not the Lioaoin people or government. When Ba'kif expresses concern that it may be difficult to distinguish between enemy ships and neutral ones (as Ba'kif does not know enough about the Lioaoi to consider them friends), Thrawn states that he believes he will be able to clearly differentiate them. Thrawn promises to take no action if he cannot differentiate the ships, which pleases Ba'kif. Ba'kif decides to allow Thrawn to take on the pirates, believing that the threat of the pirates outweighs the danger of Thrawn's operation blowing up in his face. Thrawn requests three ships for his mission.
Qilori exits the Great Presence after leading Thrawn to the heartworld of the Lioaoin Regime. Thrawn confirms that the design of the Lioaoin patrol craft are similar to the pirate ships, even though Qilori spots no similarity. While Qilori wants to turn around and flee the system, Thrawn requests a closer look, suspecting that a patrol ship at a nearby repair dock is one that recently attacked the Massoss system. Qilori expresses worry that exposing the Lioaoin Regime might stir up a "massive stinger nest", and Thrawn asks him if he is confirming Lioaoin involvement. Qilori immediately regrets speaking up, and worries about breaking the Guild Code. However, he is even more concerned about the presence of other Pathfinders in the nearby ships, who can effortlessly follow him through hyperspace. Qilori worries that they might attract the attention of a corsair, who will not care about sparing his life. Qilori tries to backtrack his statement, but Thrawn ignores him. After another comment from Qilori, Thrawn decides to remove any doubts about his ship's mission, and keys his comm. He announces on an open channel that he has found the pirates, telling one of his ships to report back to the Ascendancy. While Qilori worries that they will be hunted down, Thrawn shows him one of their Chiss ships jumping into hyperspace. Thrawn then turns the ship around to leave, but is pursued by three corsairs. Thrawn announces that they are heading to the Kinoss system to deliver their message to couriers, but Qilori believes that they will all be destroyed before they can relay their message.
As Qilori leads the ship through hyperspace, he is disturbed by visions of the pursuing corsairs. Twice, he needs to return to space-normal to regain his connection with the Great Presence. Eventually, they arrive in the Kinoss system to find the other Chiss freighter already there. As both Chiss ships move towards the planet, four Lioaoin corsairs appear behind them. However, Thrawn appears to have been expecting this, which surprises Qilori. Thrawn explains to Qilori that he knew that his Pathfinder colleagues could track him through hyperspace, as he observed this method in a previous pirate attack. He was hoping to get to the Lioaoin heartworld before those navigators were brought back to their bases, in order to lure them into following them here. Because Pathfinders were guiding the ships by tracking Qilori, Thrawn could lure them to a precise point. Suddenly, a Chiss warship commanded by Mid Captain Ziara appears, who tells Thrawn to enjoy his view of the corsairs' destruction.
After reading Thrawn's report, Supreme General Ba'kif informs Thrawn that stealing an enemy ship is a serious breach of regulations under any circumstances. When Ba'kif expresses surprise that Ar'alani agreed to the proposal, she informs him that she went over the regulations beforehand and found nothing specifically banning the capture of an enemy ship. However, Ba'kif believes that it falls under the general heading of preemptive strikes, and that certain Aristocra will interpret it that way as well. He further believes that some of the Aristocra might even demand that the ship be returned. Thrawn comments that return of the ship without its crew might be awkward (as the entire crew had committed mass suicide before the Chiss could board), and Ba'kif decides to treat the capture of the ship as a gray area in the law. Thrawn comments that the Nikardun are likely to strike back, as they are aware of the Ascendancy and confident in their own strength. Thrawn believes the Nikardun have been in contact with the Lioaoin Regime, but Ba'kif can't see the connection, although Thrawn assures him that it's there. To confirm his suspicions, Thrawn requests to personally go to the Lioaoin heartworld. When Ba'kif reminds them that the Syndicure wouldn't allow it, Ar'alani asks him to keep it quiet. Ba'kif reminds her that he is no longer in direct command of the Expansionary Defense Fleet, and Thrawn suggests that he issue a directive instead, as he is still in charge of the fleet personnel. Ar'alani suggests that they take the Vigilant and bring Thrawn onboard as an officer (as the Springhawk is currently undergoing repairs). Before Ba'kif can object, two Syndics arrive at his office.
Ba'kif lets the Syndics into his office, and Ar'alani recognizes them as Thurfian and Irizi'stal'mustro (Zistalmu). Ar'alani is surprised to see Zistalmu there, as she is no longer a part of the Irizi family. Furthermore, she is surprised that Syndics from the Mitth and Irizi families are there at the same time, as there is an intense rivalry between their two families. When Ba'kif states that he was discussing an upcoming mission with Thrawn and Ar'alani, Thurfian asks if it is connected to Thrawn's recent report. Zistalmu describes Thrawn's capture of the Nikardun ship as an unauthorized intrusion and attack, but Ba'kif reminds him that the mission was authorized due to the attack in the Dioya system. Zistalmu states that because non-Chiss aliens were attacked, they should have been focusing instead on investigating the attack on Csilla, as that was a direct attack on Chiss citizens.
After Zistalmu expresses disbelief that Thrawn has not been scheduled for a tribunal, Thurfian cuts to the point, asking if the proposed mission relates to the Rapacc attack. When he reminds Thrawn that they have not forgotten his old fiasco with the Lioaoi, Thrawn expresses embarrassment. When Thurfian asks Ba'kif if he is considering sending Thrawn to the Lioaoin heartworld, Ba'kif states that he may as well, since the Lioaoi also share some of the blame for what happened. Thrawn reiterates his belief that the Nikardun have moved into the Lioaoin Regime, and he wants to know if they have been completely subjugated or remain defiant. Thurfian reminds him that they are not concerned with what happens outside of their borders, and he and Zistalmu express little concern about a possible Nikardun attack on the Ascendancy. Despite objections from Thrawn, Ar'alani and Ba'kif, the Syndics have already made up their minds. Since Thrawn's ship is undergoing repairs, and Ar'alani's is about to embark on a diplomatic mission, no one will be going to the Lioaoin heartworld. This surprises Ba'kif and Ar'alani, who were unaware of the diplomatic mission. Thurfian tells them that the Ascendancy is sending Ambassador Boadil'par'gasoi (Ilparg) to Urch, capital of the Urchiv-ki, onboard the Vigilant, which will depart in three days. Furthermore, Che'ri, Thalias and Thrawn have been transferred to the Vigilant, as the Springhawk will likely be grounded for several weeks.
Che'ri exits Third Sight as the Vigilant arrives at Urch. Thalias notes that Ilparg appears anxious to get to his new post, as Che'ri had to make a detour while navigating that has made them several hours late. While Thalias, Ar'alani and Thrawn are aware that detours are quite common, Ilparg is unaware of the complexities of traveling through the Chaos, and isn't shy about voicing his criticisms within earshot of Che'ri. In fact, it took every trick in Thalias's book to get Che'ri to sleep the previous night. While waiting to receive permission from the Urchiv-ki to launch the ambassador's shuttle, Ilparg expresses annoyance at yet another delay. However, Thrawn ignores him and points out a nearby ship to Ar'alani. While Thrawn isn't one hundred percent sure it's Lioaoin, there are enough similarities to make a connection. Just as Thalias is about to confront Ilparg for his treatment of Che'ri, they receive a message from Urch Planetary and Space Control stating that the Chiss ambassador is no longer welcome. This puzzles Ilparg, who states that a treaty was endorsed and approved by the Syndicure, and he requests that Ar'alani call them back and ask to speak to a member of the Tower Dimension. Ar'alani ignores him and discusses the newly approaching ships with Thrawn. They count one Lioaoin ship, six Urchiv-ki ships, and one Nikardun frigate (recognizable by its large bridge viewport). Wutroow believes that they are going for a mirror payback, in which they will try to capture the Vigilant to take revenge on Thrawn for capturing one of their patrol ships.
Ar'alani and Thrawn ask Che'ri if there are any paths out of the system that are easier to navigate than the one that brought them into it. When she identifies a possible escape vector, Wutroow worries that the path will lead them right into the enemy's net. However, Ar'alani proposes a risky maneuver to ensure that they avoid the enemy ships. They send the course to Mid Commander Octrimo, who is hesitant. However, he executes the maneuver, sending the Vigilant speeding toward the planet. After undergoing several course changes, the Vigilant travels through the planet's atmosphere, which strains the ship and causes their pursuers to break off. The Vigilant undergoes one final course change and exits the atmosphere, where Che'ri takes them into hyperspace. Safely out of reach of the Nikardun, Ilparg demands to know what's going on. Ar'alani explains that someone wanted to capture a Chiss ship, and invited Ilparg to Urch to do it. The invitation was a trap, and Ilparg was the bait. Ilparg angrily states that he is not bait, and Ar'alani asks him what he intends to do about the Lioaoi. Ar'alani and Wutroow explain that the Lioaoi didn't do anything to keep the Urchiv-ki back, and appeared to be part of the net that they were setting up to capture them. When Ar'alani suggests that they visit the Lioaoin heartworld, Ilparg agrees, and he intends to demand an explanation from them.
The Vigilant arrives at the Lioaoin heartworld, with Octrimo announcing their arrival and adding praise for Che'ri in the process. Ar'alani decides not to reprimand Octrimo for the comment, as the entire bridge crew had grown angry at Ilparg for his treatment of Che'ri (Octrimo was likely further motivated by the fact that his Droc family are rivals of Ilparg's family, the Boadil). Ar'alani observes several Lioaoin ships around the planet, and Senior Commander Obbic'lia'nuf (Biclian) reports that no ships in the area match the Nikardun ship from Urch. Wutroow reports that Traffic Control is hailing them, but Ilparg wants to speak directly to someone in the Regime Diplomatic Office, eager for answers over what happened at Urch. However, Ar'alani states that they are waiting for Thrawn to arrive at the bridge. Thrawn arrives and apologizes for being late, his studies of Lioaoin art having taken longer than he expected. Ilparg scoffs at this, as he believes that art is of little value to them.
As Wutroow leads Ilparg to the comm station so they can contact the diplomatic office, Ar'alani and Thrawn study the tactical display. Ar'alani wonders what the Nikardun are waiting for, as they must have heard about the Urch incident and recognize the Vigilant. Thrawn points out a newly-visible group of nine ships, and explains that their formation and flight pattern aren't typical. Since Lioaoi art favors vertical designs, they would normally place nine ships in a three-stack wedge formation. However, the nine ships are in a planar formation designed for a pincer maneuver. This formation is designed for attack, while the Lioaoin formations are usually defensive. Thrawn also notes that the pilots seem hesitant, possibly because they are flying in an unfamiliar formation. Ar'alani suggests that the Lioaoi may have changed tactics, but Thrawn dismisses her claims.
Just then, they are contacted by Lioaoin Orbital Command, and Ilparg demands answers for the incident at Urch. Ilparg reveals the identity of their ship, and Ar'alani is about to interrupt when Thrawn stops her. Thrawn wants to observe how the Lioaoi react to learning about their ship's identity. A Nikardun Battle Dreadnought suddenly appears, but Ar'alani orders Octrimo to hold course, since any incoming Nikardun attack would be well telegraphed. A different Lioaoi voice speaks to the Vigilant, stating that they don't understand what Ilparg is referring to. They welcome the friendship of the Chiss Ascendancy, and invite Ilparg to come aboard for a conversation. Ar'alani decides that it is time to leave, having gotten the information they came for (the presence of a Nikardun ship, as well as the fact that the Lioaoi don't want to talk about the Urch incident).
Before they leave, Thrawn asks Ar'alani for permission to run an experiment. Noticing that the nine gunboats are currently drifting in place (allowing them to spring into action at any time and in any direction), Thrawn comments that he sees no other reason (except for the Vigilant) for them to be on alert. Ar'alani asks Thrawn if his plan involves weapons, and he confirms it does not. He simply wants to make them aware of his presence and observe their reaction. After making sure that Octrimo and Che'ri are ready to guide the Vigilant away, Ar'alani allows Thrawn to conduct his experiment. Thrawn replies to Lioaoin Orbital Command, introducing himself by name as Ilparg's supervisor and politely declining their offer of a meeting. As soon as Thrawn mentions his name, seven of the gunboats begin to move towards them before quickly dropping back into formation. Realizing that their conversation with the Lioaoi is over, Ar'alani orders Octrimo to take them out, and Che'ri leads them into hyperspace.
Wutroow asks what they learned, since she was keeping an eye on the Dreadnought. Thrawn explains that because seven of the gunboats started moving towards them at the mention of his name, he must be known to the Nikardun. Thrawn theorizes that the Nikardun must have some kind of standing order regarding him. Furthermore, the fact that the gunboats quickly returned to formation suggests that someone countermanded that order. Ar'alani states that this shows the Nikardun are trying hard not to appear a threat. When Wutroow asks why the gunboats (which were Lioaoin) would care about Thrawn, Ar'alani explains that the Lioaoi must be learning new formations from the Nikardun. Thrawn explains that the Lioaoi in the gunboats knew the Nikardun's orders concerning him, and their ships still had visible weapons systems. As they learned from the Paccosh that the Nikardun disarm their subjects, this implies that the Lioaoi are not subjects of the Nikardun, but allies.
Thrawn states that they need more information, and asks Ar'alani to divert the Vigilant to Solitair, capital of the Garwian Unity. Ilparg objects, saying that he is already far removed from his mandate. Ar'alani reminds him that the Vigilant is her ship, and it goes where she orders it. Thrawn assures them that there will be little trouble for either of them, as he wants to travel to the planet in a shuttle while the Vigilant returns to the Ascendancy. Despite Ar'alani's concerns, Thrawn believes that the Garwians will want to speak with him. Thrawn also asks permission to borrow Ar'alani's office, which she grants. Ar'alani orders Thalias to bring Che'ri out of Third Sight when it is safe so she can guide them to Solitair.
Thrawn and Ziara are disciplined by General Ba'kif for their attack on the Lioaoi ships, having violated the Ascendancy protocols on preemptive strikes. Thrawn doesn't see how the protocols apply, as he believes that it is indisputable that the pirates are under Lioaoin control. When Ba'kif informs him that the Lioaoi have denied involvement, Thrawn states that they're lying. Ba'kif reminds Thrawn that they only have circumstantial evidence. Thrawn asks for permission to obtain direct evidence by entering the regime as a civilian, but Ba'kif finally snaps and reminds Thrawn that they will not attack those who have not attacked them. Calming down, Ba'kif tells Thrawn that he has been promoted two ranks to Senior Commander for his success against the pirates. Ziara also receives a promotion to Senior Captain, and Ba'kif dismisses Thrawn.
Alone with Ziara, Ba'kif asks her for her assessment of Thrawn. Ziara reports that Thrawn is an excellent tactician, but that he has absolutely no political shrewdness. Ba'kif agrees, and states that Thrawn will need a guiding hand. Ba'kif tells Ziara that she has been given command of the patrol cruiser Parala, and that Thrawn will be her third officer. Ba'kif dismisses Ziara and wishes her good luck.
Ziara meets with Thrawn outside Ba'kif's office and informs him of their new assignment. They congratulate each other on their promotions, but Thrawn is still hung up on the Lioaoi pirates. He worries about the merchants and systems that they will attack in the future, and Ziara tells him that they will have to fend for themselves. Thrawn asks if they are supposed to stand back and watch as others suffer, and Ziara tells him that the Ascendancy doesn't interfere in the affairs of others. She asks Thrawn if he wants the Ascendancy to become guardians of the entire Chaos, but Thrawn believes that there must be a middle ground between helping everyone and helping no one. Ziara reminds Thrawn that non-intervention is the current policy, and reassures him that his family's influence was not the only reason he got promoted. Thrawn states that he believes Ziara will become an Admiral one day, and she thinks that the word has a nice ring to it. She hopes that she is as good as Thrawn thinks she is, and that Thrawn will not do something under her command that ruins her career.
Thalias enters Ar'alani's office, having been summoned by Thrawn. Expecting to find artwork, Thalias is surprised to see Thrawn studying a star map. He points out various locations to Thalias, including the Ascendancy, the Lioaoin Regime, Rapacc, Urch and the Paataatus worlds. They observe that the three worlds they know to be under Yiv's control are on the borders of the Ascendancy. While this doesn't make them a direct threat, Thrawn notes that this could mean Yiv plans to target them in the future. When Thalias mentions the Paataatus, Thrawn states that he believes them to also be under Yiv's control. Analysis of Paataatus art and culture suggest that after their defeat at the hands of Admiral Ar'alani, they were unlikely to attack again for at least another generation. However, reports from Naporar suggest that the Paataatus are rearming themselves, suggesting that they have joined with or been subjugated by Yiv. Thrawn states that he needs more information, and has selected four systems whose status he wants to discover. He believes that he can convince the Garwians to take him to one of those systems, as they owe him a favor. Thrawn confirms that he has cleared this plan with Ar'alani, who isn't enthusiastic about it.
Thrawn tells Thalias that he wants her to accompany him as his family hostage. When Thalias expresses confusion, Thrawn explains that sometimes, rival families will agree to exchange merit adoptives, who will act as servants. If hostilities break out between the families, they will be immediately killed. Thalias states that she has never heard of family hostages, and Thrawn explains that he made it up. Thrawn believes that the Nikardun already know a great deal about the Chiss and their culture. He hopes that by presenting them with new information about the Chiss, they might decide that they need a new strategy, delaying their plans. When Thrawn asks Thalias if she wants to play along, she initially hesitates, worried that Che'ri will believe that she is leaving her. However, she resolves to do her best to act her part, and Thrawn informs Ar'alani that Thalias has agreed to his plan. Ar'alani asks Thalias who she wants to serve as her temporary replacement, and Thalias asks for time to consider her selection, which Ar'alani grants. Thrawn asks Thalias if she has already made her selection. Thalias replies that she has, but is not sure Ar'alani will approve.
Ar'alani, who was Thalias's suggestion for her replacement, arrives in Che'ri's suite. Ar'alani asks if Che'ri is upset, which causes her lip to twitch. Che'ri asks if Thalias is in danger, and Ar'alani states that there is danger everywhere. This causes Che'ri to start crying, and she says that Thalias is going to die. Ar'alani tries to assure her that Thalias isn't going to die, as she is with Thrawn. Che'ri blames herself for yelling at Thalias, and Ar'alani realizes that her goodbye with Thalias had been a lot more fiery than she thought. Che'ri says that she told Thalias that she hated her, and called her a terrible momish. Ar'alani tries her best to reassure Che'ri, and starts to leave to draw her a bath. Che'ri asks Ar'alani to tell her some stories about Thrawn, as she isn't very good at reading. As Che'ri continues to cry, Ar'alani muses that she is going to have a long night.
Thrawn and Thalias land on Solitair, even though the Garwians quickly order their shuttle to fly off. As they wait in the security office, Thalias begins to wonder if the Garwians have changed their mind about speaking with them. Thalias is also upset due to the fact that her face is coated in thick makeup, which Thrawn insisted she put on. Four hours after their arrival, they are led into the office of Second Defense Overlord Frangelic. Thrawn congratulates Frangelic on his promotion, who in turn congratulates Thrawn on his. Thrawn introduces Thalias as his hostage, which surprises Frangelic. Thrawn tells Frangelic that they rarely speak openly of their hostages, and asks him to keep it in his confidence. Frangelic agrees, and informs Thrawn that the Ruleri have mixed feelings regarding his return to Solitair, as they feel betrayed by him. Thrawn asserts that he is only interested in the future, as he believes the Ascendancy and Unity are facing a new enemy. Thrawn tells Frangelic of the systems they know to be under Nikardun control, and Frangelic says that they know of two other systems who have dramatically changed their governments and foreign policies. The Ruleri are currently divided on whether or not they believe the Nikardun pose a threat, and Frangelic believes the situation requires further study.
Thrawn proposes that he be allowed to covertly travel on a Garwian ship. Although Frangelic believes that it will be difficult for a Chiss to travel unnoticed on one of their ships, he informs them that a diplomatic mission to Primea is leaving in two days. Frangelic believes that he can get both Thrawn and Thalias onboard, although the Ruleri will require them to have a security escort. Because Frangelic knows Thrawn best, he offers to go along with Thrawn as his security escort. To explain his presence, Thrawn proposes that Frangelic identify him as an art expert interested in Vak artworks. When Frangelic expresses doubts, Thrawn explains that there is an academic theory that the Vaks and Garwians were in contact millennia ago. Finding similarities in their art might help to confirm those theories. Before Frangelic leaves, Thrawn asks him to bring a medium-sized shipping container with them for their return. Suspicious, Frangelic agrees to Thrawn's request, as long as he promises to explain himself during their journey. Satisfied, Thrawn and Thalias (who he refers to as his companion) head to their quarters so they can send Ar'alani a message detailing their plan.
Ziara and Mid Captain Roscu enter the bridge of the Parala to find that Thrawn has brought it to full battle readiness. Thrawn states that they received a distress call from the Garwian colony world Stivic. He spoke to Security Officer Frangelic, who stated that they were under attack by pirates. Ziara reminds Thrawn that preemptive strike protocols forbid their intervention, but Thrawn hopes that they won't have to take any action. He hopes that their sudden presence will be enough to frighten the pirates away, but if it isn't, he assures Ziara that he will take no action.
The Parala exits hyperspace and finds itself in the middle of a battle, as two Garwian patrol ships try to defend a merchant station from three larger pirate ships. A fourth pirate ship can be seen docked with a nearby Garwian freighter. Frangelic acknowledges their arrival and requests assistance, but Ziara orders them not to respond. Roscu expresses pity, as she liked several of the cafes on the merchant station. Ziara orders a check on the electrostatic barrier in case they are attacked, and Thrawn observes the change in the enemy formation as they acknowledge their arrival. He tells Ziara that he could take on the pirates and win, but she points out that they have no justification for an attack. Thrawn points out that if they move closer, they might be attacked, but Ziara reminds him that deliberate provocation is also not allowed. Thrawn reiterates that he could beat the pirates, even though they outnumber him four-to-one. For a moment, Ziara considers allowing Thrawn to join the battle, contemplating whether or not it would be worth giving up her career in order to help out the Garwians and all others onboard the station.
Unwilling to directly aid the Garwians, Ziara asks Thrawn if he could tell anyone how to defeat the pirates. Catching her meaning, Thrawn asks for permission to perform calibration tests on the ranging lasers, which Ziara grants. Ziara asks him to make sure that all other systems are at battle readiness. When Roscu expresses concern that Thrawn might be tempted to use the weapons systems, Ziara assures her that Thrawn understands the protocol. Ziara reminds Roscu that if the battle had been over when they had arrived, they would have been allowed to offer humanitarian aid, but Roscu reminds her that the battle is still ongoing. With Ziara back in command of the bridge, Roscu asks why the Parala is still there. Ziara explains that she wants to watch the pirate attack to see if they have changed their tactics since their encounter with them at Kinoss last year.
The operations officer reports activity on the ranging lasers, and Ziara assures him that it is just Thrawn running calibration tests. The officer mentions that the frequencies are also being modulated, but Ziara insists that Thrawn must simply be testing their full range. The Garwian ships suddenly begin to move into a corkscrew formation. When the pirates react, they overcompensate and expose themselves to the Garwians. Senior Commander Ocpior reports that the pirate ships have been hit, as two of them are crippled by Garwian attacks. A third pirate ship is also hit, and all four attempt to escape into hyperspace (only one of them is successful). The battle over, Ziara remarks that they can leave, and asks Roscu if she is relieved. Roscu is confused, and Ziara clarifies that she must be happy that the cafes onboard the merchant station are still in business.
Onboard the Garwian shuttle, Thalias reflects on her travels as a sky-walker. Whenever she traveled with aliens, she was not permitted to interact with them, as the Chiss sought to maintain the illusion that they don't have their own navigators. While she was allowed to watch other navigators through the bridge monitor, it was never as exciting as she hoped. However, now that she has more freedom, she hopes to get a chance to observe the ship's navigator and possibly sense what he is doing (although she considers this unlikely, as she is no longer able to access Third Sight). Thalias enters the bridge, and a Garwian officer asks for her purpose. Thalias introduces herself as companion to Artistic Master Svorno (Thrawn's assumed name for this mission), who asked her to memorize the tattoos on their navigator's face. The officer informs her that they are traveling with a Pathfinder, not a Vector One navigator. When Thalias looks at the Pathfinder to confirm that he doesn't have tattoos, she is horrified to see that Qilori is their navigator.
Returning to their quarters, Thalias informs Thrawn that Qilori is their navigator. When Thrawn doesn't appear concerned, Thalias panics and worries that Qilori will tip off the Nikardun if he sees Thrawn. However, Thrawn believes that their best course of action is to stir up any Nikardun on Primea. Thrawn also states that he doesn't plan on telling Frangelic, which concerns Thalias. Thrawn reassures her that their actions will not reflect poorly on the Garwians, while Thalias muses that it isn't the Garwians she is concerned about.
Qilori, who hates alien diplomatic receptions, nevertheless attends at the behest of Yiv, who wants him to deliver a report on happenings in his region of the Chaos. As he enters the reception, he overhears a male Chiss tell his companion that she needs to fix her makeup. As he looks at the Chiss' face, Qilori recognizes him as Thrawn. Resisting the urge to go straight to Yiv with the news, Qilori instead heads over to Thrawn by the food array. He starts a conversation with Thrawn, who introduces himself as Artistic Master Svorno, chief curator of the Nunech Art Collection. Qilori decides not to give his name, and believing that Thrawn does not recognize him, asks him why he is here. Thrawn explains that his purpose is to disprove a theory that the Vaks and Garwians had a trade relationship in the Midorian Era, and Qilori offers to introduce him to some of the Vak. Pointing to Yiv, Thrawn mentions that he is not familiar with their species. When Qilori identifies him as Nikardun, Thrawn asks for an introduction. Qilori excuses himself so that he can see if Yiv would like to speak with him.
Qilori approaches Yiv, who is talking to a group of Vaks, and informs him that Thrawn is there. Yiv immediately dismisses the Vaks, and Qilori informs him that Thrawn is traveling as an art expert under an assumed name. Yiv tells Qilori to bring Thrawn over, and he informs Thrawn that General Yiv will see him. Thrawn expresses disappointment that Yiv is a military man, and therefore unlikely to be interested in art. Qilori tells Thrawn that he should at least come over and ask, and Thrawn agrees. Thrawn also mentions that he can't leave anyway until his companion returns. This confuses Qilori, who had earlier overheard Thrawn call Thalias his hostage.
Qilori introduces Thrawn to Yiv, and Thrawn states that he doubts Yiv noticed a nearby tapestry. Yiv correctly identifies it and comments that it hangs by the private entrance to the premier's office. When Thrawn asks Yiv how he knows this, Yiv replies that he has been in the premier's office many times, and that his skill with architecture made it obvious where the door led to. At Yiv's request, Thrawn fetches him a drink, and Yiv holds it up to his shoulder, allowing one of his symbionts to test it for poison. Thrawn asks Yiv for his observations on the design of the tapestry, who comments on the colors and pattern. Thrawn adds that the tapestry was created by two weavers, and that it suggests the Vaks honor working for unity as well as celebrating uniqueness. When Yiv asks him if he got all that from just one tapestry, Thrawn states that he studied the rest of the Vak artwork present. Thrawn asks Yiv what he sees at the reception, and Yiv replies that he sees an opportunity to make new friends. Thrawn asks Yiv what would happen if the Vak don't want to be friends with the Nikardun, and Yiv replies that he would consider that rejection to be an insult that would need to be dealt with. When Yiv compliments Thrawn's observational skills, Thrawn comments that the inner tendrils of Yiv's symbiont sample the air around him, further impressing him. Thalias then appears, and Thrawn studies her face, telling her that she will need to continue to practice with the makeup. After introducing Thalias as "a person of no consequence", Thrawn excuses himself.
As Thrawn and Thalias make their way through the crowd, Yiv and Qilori discuss Thrawn, with Qilori commenting that Thrawn is more competent than he seems. While Qilori believes that their conversation was pointless, Yiv tells Qilori that Thrawn is very dangerous, and that he was wise to bring him into Yiv's presence. Qilori asks Yiv what he plans to do with Thrawn, and he states that he can either take Thrawn as he leaves the reception, at another time on Primea, or as the Garwian ship leaves the planet. However, Yiv does not wish to move against either the Vaks or the Garwians, leaving his options limited. Qilori reminds Yiv of the Chiss, but Yiv informs him that the Chiss will only respond if they themselves are attacked. While Qilori believes that the murder of a senior officer might qualify as an attack, Yiv tells him that the Chiss would only retaliate if they killed someone of flag rank or above. When Qilori mentions the hostage, Yiv tells him that it is a bluff designed to make him think they don't know certain aspects of Chiss culture, although he seems hesitant when Qilori pushes the point. When Qilori asks Yiv for his plans, he chastises Qilori for overstepping his bounds. However, Qilori reasons that if Yiv plans to take Thrawn while the Garwian ship leaves, he will need to know about it so he can take appropriate action. Yiv concedes the point, and informs Qilori that he needs to make sure the Garwian ship doesn't escape before the Nikardun engage it. Despite the fact that his participation is a serious violation of the Guild code (and could lead to his execution if his role is exposed), Qilori agrees, as he believes that getting Thrawn out of the way of the Nikardun is ultimately a good thing.
Ar'alani finds herself at a meeting with Supreme General Ba'kif and Syndics Thurfian and Zistalmu, all of whom are furious with her. While Ba'kif is upset that Ar'alani allowed Che'ri to be separated from her caregiver, the Syndics are more concerned with the fact that she allowed Thrawn to insert himself into Garwian affairs. Ar'alani asserts that Thrawn is not getting involved in politics, as he is merely on a reconnaissance mission to gather intel on the Nikardun. However, the Syndics remind Ar'alani that since the Nikardun have not directly attacked the Ascendancy, they are not concerned about them. Thurfian asks if Ba'kif authorized the mission, and Ar'alani states that he did not. Ba'kif states that the Syndics should question Thrawn's actions when he is present to defend himself, and shifts the topic to how they plan on extracting Thrawn from Primea.
Zistalmu doesn't want to pick up Thrawn, as he believes that he should find his own way out of the situation. However, Ba'kif believes that letting Thrawn have his way might be worse than going in and grabbing him. When Ba'kif asks her plan, Ar'alani says that she would simply take the Vigilant to Primea, where she would contact Thrawn and pick him up. However, if the Vaks are already under Nikardun control, retrieving Thrawn would become much more complicated. Because of this, Ba'kif wants to send Ar'alani off as soon as possible. However, Thurfian still wants to discuss the situation with Che'ri. Thurfian believes that Ar'alani's duties as admiral will prevent her from adequately caring for Che'ri, and proposes that she be given a new caregiver. However, Ba'kif informs him that all available caregivers are already assigned. Zistalmu suggests that his wife, who was a caregiver for two years before their marriage, be reinstated and temporarily assigned to Che'ri. Despite Ar'alani's protests (as she does not want to break her promise to Thalias), Ba'kif orders Zistalmu and his wife to report to the Vigilant.
After the Syndics leave, Ba'kif tells Ar'alani that he knows the situation isn't ideal. He only agreed to Zistalmu's proposal because he didn't have a choice. Ba'kif informs Ar'alani that Thalias isn't an official caregiver, and that she managed to sweet-talk her way onboard the Springhawk with Thurfian's help. Ar'alani and Ba'kif wonder what the cost of Thurfian's help was, and wonder why he didn't mention Thalias' lack of official status in their earlier conversation. When Ar'alani suggests family politics might have played a role, Ba'kif disagrees, commenting on how unusually united Thurfian and Zistalmu have been in their campaign against Thrawn (even though their families are bitter rivals). Ba'kif believes that Thurfian wants Thalias onboard the Springhawk, but he doesn't know why. Ar'alani prepares to head to the Vigilant for departure, and Ba'kif asks her to keep a close eye on Zistalmu.
Qilori panics aboard the Garwian ship, as they have decided to leave a day early. This throws off the timing of Yiv's plan to capture Thrawn, and Qilori hopes that Yiv notices the shuttle prepping for launch. Qilori is relieved when the Deathless appears nearby, and he prepares to execute his part of the plan. Qilori overhears one of the Garwian speaking to Frangelic, who tells him that Artistic Master Svorno and his companion are not at their quarters. This annoys Frangelic, who explains that if they aren't aboard the ship, they must be in their quarters. Qilori panics again, as Thrawn isn't even aboard the shuttle, and debates sending word to Yiv. However, he will be unable to send a message to the Deathless without being seen. Instead, he tells Frangelic that he observed Svorno talking to Yiv, and wonders if Yiv might know where he went. Frangelic orders the helm to contact Yiv and ask him about Svorno's whereabouts, and Qilori muses that while Thrawn might have escaped Yiv's trap, he has only managed to postpone his fate.
Thalias and Thrawn walk around on the streets of Primea, their hooded cloaks (which are worn by a majority of the Vak population) serving as a disguise. Thrawn leads Thalias into an art gallery, and she is concerned that they will draw attention to themselves. Thrawn speaks to one of the Vak inside and introduces himself as a friend. The Vak tells him that they have no friends, and Thrawn inquires about Yiv and the Nikardun, wondering how the common people see Yiv. The curator asks him to leave, as she does not want to discuss Vak matters with strangers. Thrawn and Thalias exit the art gallery, and Thalias questions the purpose of their visit, explaining that she doubts the common people have much say in their nation's affairs. Thrawn explains that the Vaks spend so much time listening to all points of view, referred to as thought lines, that it takes them forever to make decisions. He plans to inform as many Vak citizens as possible that if Yiv takes over, he won't give any value to their opinions. They will then retreat to a hideout Thrawn set up for them and steal a ship at the spaceport.
Thrawn leads Thalias to his hideout, which turns out to be the shipping crate he asked Frangelic to bring with them. Once inside, Thalias is surprised to find seats, food and drink supplies, and a bathroom. Thrawn reveals that he has scheduled their pickup with Ar'alani for the day after tomorrow, and that he plans to slip onboard a sentry fighter and simply fly up to the Vigilant. They will use the shipping crate to bypass the security gate, where they'll be able to slip out and grab a ship. When Thalias expresses concerns about beating up an innocent Vak, Thrawn explains that he has brought tava mist, which they can use to incapacitate (harmlessly) anyone who shows up. Thrawn reassures Thalias that they will get through their situation. Although she isn't confident that they will succeed, she decides to trust Thrawn.
Since they'll have to remain in the crate for another day and a half, Thalias asks Thrawn if he brought any cards. While Thrawn did bring a pack of cards, he instead wants to talk about why Thalias asked to come onboard the Springhawk. When Thalias states that she came to take care of Che'ri, Thrawn asks her if she was sent onboard by the Mitth to investigate his performance. Thalias asks Thrawn if Samakro told him that, and wonders why he bothered telling Thrawn in the first place. Thalias explains that Samakro may want the Ufsa family to help him regain command of the Springhawk, but Thrawn doesn't understand the family politics potentially involved. Thalias answers his question by clarifying that the Mitth didn't send her, as they routinely blocked her datawork at every opportunity. Thrawn states that because the Mitth didn't send Thalias to the Springhawk, she must have made the decision herself, and asks her once again why she wanted to come onboard.
Reluctantly, Thalias explains that Thrawn changed her life, and that she wanted to see him again. When Thrawn asks her how he changed her life, she begins to tell him about their encounter on the Tomra. To her surprise, Thrawn remembers the interaction, and tells Thalias that afterwards Captain Vorlip sent fifty downmarks to Taharim Academy, which he spent three months working off. This surprises Thalias, as Vorlip was impressed by Thrawn, but he explains that she had a duty as an officer of the Chiss Ascendancy to enforce regulations. He also states that judgment can only focus on actions, as intent and motivations are irrelevant.
Thalias tells Thrawn that he gave her hope, and that he told her she could choose her own path. Suddenly, Thrawn tells Thalias that he had an older sister. When she was five (Thrawn was three), she disappeared. His parents never told him her whereabouts, and he assumed that she had died. When he became a bridge officer, he was told about the existence of sky-walkers, and reasoned that his sister must have become one. Thrawn expresses sadness that he will still never see his sister again, and Thalias encourages him to consult records to locate her. Thrawn states that most sky-walkers want to disappear into obscurity after they conclude their service, and the Ascendancy often honors their wishes. He regrets not being able to find his sister, but insists that he needs to accept it and move on. Thrawn then pulls out the pack of cards, and invites Thalias to choose the first game.
On the bridge of the Vigilant, Zistalmu reminds Ar'alani that if the Vaks or Garwians refuse to give up Thrawn, they will leave. Ar'alani agrees, despite her intention to disobey Zistalmu's orders. After confirming that Zistalmu's wife (who had insisted that everyone call her Nana) is out of earshot, Ar'alani asks Zistalmu why he and Thurfian hate Thrawn. Zistalmu clarifies that they don't hate Thrawn, as they admire his military skill. Instead, he says that they "resist' him because he's a threat to the Ascendancy. When Ar'alani asks for clarification, Zistalmu tells her that she's spent enough time with Thrawn to understand. Despite the fact that Ar'alani is unsatisfied with that answer, their arrival on Primea draws her attention away from the conversation.
Ar'alani orders Wutroow to send a message to the diplomatic office asking for Svorno's whereabouts. When they receive a reply stating that a Garwian diplomatic ship left three days ago, Ar'alani asks for further details. As they wait for a reply, Biclian reports that fourteen patrol ships have begun heading towards them. Wutroow receives a reply referring her to the diplomatic office, and observes that the patrol ships are working into a lens formation. However, one of the patrol ships is breaking formation and heading towards them. Ar'alani orders Octrimo to begin drifting towards it, and when it gets close enough, the patrol ship launches a laser blast at the Vigilant, kicking the targeting sensors into rapid record mode. Zistalmu correctly deduces that Thrawn was the pilot of the patrol ship, and that he modulated the laser in order to send a message to the Vigilant. This disappoints Ar'alani, who had wanted to keep the method a secret (as Thrawn previously used it during the Lioaoi pirate attack on Stivic). As Zistalmu and Thurfian have it in for Thrawn, that could cause problems down the road.
As two patrol ships begin to pursue Thrawn, two Vak warships and one Nikardun warship appear. Thrawn sends Ar'alani the schematics of a patrol ship, showing the locations of the weapons and targeting systems. As Ar'alani orders the lasers to be targeted, Zistalmu reminds her that they haven't been attacked. Wutroow reminds him that they were attacked by a patrol ship, and Ar'alani adds that until they can confirm it was Thrawn, they are assuming that the Vaks have attacked them. Just before Ar'alani can order Wutroow to fire on the patrol ships, four Lioaoin heavy cruisers appear behind them. The Vigilant is hailed by the Lioaoi flagship, who tells them to leave immediately. When Ar'alani replies that they are only inquiring about one of their peoples' whereabouts, the Lioaoi ships open fire. As Ar'alani wonders why the Lioaoi have attacked them, she realizes that they have allied themselves with the Nikardun.
They shift fire to the Lioaoi cruisers, although Ar'alani knows that they don't have enough plasma spheres to disable all of them. She asks Octrimo to plot their best exit vector, who states that it takes them close to the cruisers designated Three and Four. She orders the Vigilant to concentrate fire on Three, even though Four is closer to them. As they get closer to the Lioaoi ships, Thrawn attacks Four in his patrol craft. By the time the Lioaoi open fire at Thrawn, he has already disabled the weapons on Four. As Thrawn heads toward the Vigilant, his thrusters are hit, and Ar'alani orders their tractor beam to bring him in. Ar'alani asks Che'ri if she is ready, and Nana answers for her. After asking again, and getting confirmation from Che'ri herself, Ar'alani asks Wutroow for the tractor beam's status. As soon as they receive confirmation that Thrawn is aboard, Ar'alani orders Che'ri to take them home.
Ziara and the Parala arrive to answer an emergency call from Thrawn. Thrawn is onboard the Boco, trying to pull a Chiss excursion liner out of a planet's gravity well. Thrawn asks Ziara to join him alongside the ship, but she notes that they don't have enough power to pull the ship out of the gravity well. Ziara asks Thrawn for the passenger's status, and he reports that they are still aboard the liner. Once Ziara gets into position, the Boco drops its tractors and swings around towards the liner. It opens fire on the liner's wings, and Ziara realizes that Thrawn is lightening the ship. Once both wings have been shot off, the Parala and Boco use their tractor beams to guide the liner out of the gravity well and the planet's atmosphere. After Thrawn thanks Ziara for her assistance, she thanks him in turn for his quick thinking, and warns him not to expect thanks from anyone else.
In the aftermath of the liner rescue, Ziara and Thrawn are on board a shuttle heading to Csilla for a hearing. Ziara tells him not to worry, as Aristocra from five of the Nine Families were onboard the liner that Thrawn saved. When they pass by Csaplar, Thrawn asks why the city is no longer a cultural center, and Ziara avoids the subject. The hearing is as short as Ziara predicted. The Boadil family, who owned the liner, demanded that Thrawn be thrown out of the fleet, while three families whose Aristocra Thrawn saved demanded that he be promoted. However, Thrawn loses command of the Boco.
As they leave the hearing, Ziara reminds Thrawn that he wasn't responsible for the destruction of the liner, and that the captain should have been blamed. However, because the captain was Ufsa (allies of the Boadil), they used Thrawn as a scapegoat. Thrawn asks Ziara not to be angry on his behalf, and hopes that he will be quickly reassigned so he can get transport off Csilla. Ziara tells him that she put in a request to have him serve as an officer on the Parala, and Thrawn expresses his gratitude. When Thrawn mentions that he needs a place to stay, Ziara invites him to the Irizi family homestead. Despite his concerns about inciting the Irizi family's wrath, Thrawn is convinced when Ziara tells him that her grandfather is an art collector.
Ziara books passage on an aboveground tube car, and they head off across Csaplar. Even though Ziara is not supposed to tell Thrawn the truth about Csaplar, her anger over Thrawn's mistreatment has made her defiant. It doesn't take Thrawn long to realize that something is wrong, and he comments that there don't seem to be a lot of people in the city. When Ziara playfully tries to convince him otherwise, he asks her what happened to the capital. Ziara explains that Thrawn's lessons in school were mostly correct: that the surface slowly froze over and forced the population underground. However, the school left out the fact that not all of the city's inhabitants moved underground, as lots of them traveled to other planets such as Rentor, Avidich and Sarvchi. Syndicure and fleet headquarters, along with most of the cargo and merchant facilities, were kept on Csilla. Ziara tells Thrawn that only sixty or seventy million Chiss live on Csilla, even though official records list the population as eight billion. A few Chiss still live on the surface, and the tube cars and building lights remain running to give the illusion that a larger population lives there. Ziara explains that the majority of the population lives in underground caverns. When Thrawn asks Ziara why she told him the truth, she replies that it was because he feeds on information. When Thrawn asks her if her family knows that she is bringing a guest, she replies that they don't, but that she assumes it won't be a problem.
The Springhawk and Vigilant travel through hyperspace towards the Lioaoi heartworld to retaliate for the Lioaoi attack over Primea. Kharill and Samakro believe that their upcoming attack is madness, and Kharill comments that he wouldn't be opposed to a few years of peace. Thrawn arrives on the bridge to check on their progress, and speaks with Kharill on the nature of peace. Kharill states that he hopes for the kind of peace where no one is shooting at anyone else, and Thrawn asks him how that can be achieved. When Kharill brushes off the question, Thrawn sends him to check on the plasma sphere supply. As Kharill leaves, Samakro tells Thrawn that he's a good officer. Thrawn agrees, but states that his chief failing is a lack of curiosity. Thrawn asks Samakro how peace can be achieved, and he replies that it can be achieved through mutual respect and goodwill. Thrawn then asks him how that respect can be achieved, and Samakro responds that it can be achieved by proving that the Ascendancy will respond to attacks with force.
Samakro clarifies that they believe it is madness that only two ships are being sent, as they don't believe that they will be a match for the Lioaoi defenses. Thrawn explains that the Nikardun wanted to capture or kill Ar'alani at Primea. However, Yiv didn't want the Ascendancy's wrath to fall on him or the Vak, so he called in the Lioaoi to attack instead. Yiv's other goal is to determine the Chiss willingness to deliver a reprisal, which will help him revise his future plans as he prepares to go to war with the Ascendancy. Samakro believes that sending two ships was a bad idea, as it may make them appear weak or indecisive. Thrawn says that it could also be interpreted as overconfidence, and reminds Samakro that the Lioaoi will be interested in keeping the damage to their regime to a minimum. Thrawn believes that if they strike a balance between delivering their message and minimizing damage, the Lioaoi may remember their restraint. He also believes that the Lioaoi would not have attacked if not for pressure from the Nikardun.
When Thrawn reveals that it was Ar'alani's idea to send only two ships, Samakro is surprised. Thrawn explains that there is another tactical reason for taking only two ships, and he encourages Samakro to figure it out. Samakro reasons that it will be easier to evaluate the Lioaoin tactics since they will only be shooting at two ships. Thrawn tells Samakro that he is correct, which surprises him. Thrawn explains that it would be even easier to judge the Lioaoin tactics if they brought one ship, but they didn't believe that the Defense Hierarchy Council would have approved. However, he believes that the Syndicure would have approved, as some of the syndics were reluctant to retaliate (believing that Thrawn and Ar'alani deliberately provoked the Primea incident). Thrawn further suspects that a small number of syndics are hoping that he and Ar'alani are killed in the battle. Samakro tells Thrawn that if any syndics are expecting them to curl up and die, they will be disappointed. As Thrawn leaves the bridge, Samakro prepares to do his duty, despite the fact that he doesn't like Thrawn.
After one last briefing, the Springhawk and Vigilant arrive at the Lioaoi heartworld. As they arrive, twelve Lioaoi warships begin moving out of orbit to meet them. Thrawn remarks that they are only trying to frighten them away, as not all twelve warships are coming for them. Thrawn invites Samakro to explain why, and he explains that the Lioaoi will expect more Chiss ships to arrive, forcing them to keep a majority of their warships closer to the planet for protection. As Ar'alani hails the Lioaoi ships, Thrawn reasons that the Nikardun are present. When Dalvu reports that she sees no non-Lioaoin ships, Thrawn reasons that the Nikardun must be on the surface or in the Lioaoin ships. Because the Lioaoi have not attempted to excuse their actions over Primea, they must be afraid of Nikardun reprisal.
Ready to begin their attack, the Vigilant launches a probe (which is really one of its shuttles) to distract the Lioaoi. As the shuttle moves toward the Lioaoi ships, they begin attempting to jam and override the control signal from the Vigilant. The Lioaoi succeed, and bring the shuttle through their formation so it can move into the empty space behind them. As soon as the shuttle reaches the center of the formation, the Springhawk opens fire at it, destroying it and launching the breacher missiles hidden inside at the Lioaoi ships. Despite the minimal physical damage caused by the attack, the Lioaoi panic and begin rotating their ships. As the ships rotate, the Vigilant fires at a second shuttle (which was stealthily towed behind the first), which launches more breacher missiles at the Lioaoi ships. As two more Lioaoi ships break orbit to join the attack, Thrawn orders the Springhawk to prepare for battle.
In their quarters, Thalias comforts Che'ri during the battle. She explains that the thumps on the hull are likely leftover shrapnel from missiles that the Springhawk has shot down. Thalias also explains to Che'ri that the Chiss are the only ones who use breacher missiles, which launch globs of acid that eats into the hulls of enemy ships, disabling any nearby electronic systems. Despite the fact that she is likely not supposed to be talking to Che'ri about the topic, Thalias believes that knowing how the Springhawk's weapons work might comfort her. Che'ri asks why no one has told her this before, and Thalias explains that there are a lot of things sky-walkers aren't supposed to be told. Che'ri expresses frustrations at being treated like a child, and Thalias tells her that she has been through more stress in three years than most Chiss will experience in their lifetimes. After reminding Che'ri that she's tough, Thalias leaves to start preparing their dinner.
Senior Commander Thrawn reports to Aristocra Zistalmu's office for a meeting. After introducing himself, Zistalmu explains that he wasn't present at the Irizi homestead while Thrawn stayed there several weeks earlier. They begin talking about Thrawn's career, and Zistalmu tells Thrawn that there are certain people in the Mitth family who don't appreciate his talents. Thrawn explains that regardless of how his family feels, he has a duty to the Expansionary Defense Fleet. Zistalmu agrees, and tells Thrawn that the Irizi family recognizes his dedication. Zistalmu explains that the Irizi family want Thrawn to detach from the Mitth and become an Irizi Trial-born. While a merit adoptive brought into a family through military service would lose their relationship with the family once they ended their service, a Trial-born would get to keep that relationship and family connection. Thrawn's military service has also been deemed an acceptable substitute for the Trials. When Thrawn asks how his detachment from the Mitth would benefit the Irizi, Zistalmu replies that they could always use another high-ranking military officer. Even though Zistalmu doesn't agree with Thrawn's selection, he hopes Thrawn accepts the offer, as a successful recruitment will boost his prestige in the family. While humbled by the offer, Thrawn wants to take more time to consider it, which surprises Zistalmu. When Thrawn remarks that the Irizi already have a high-ranking officer in the family (Ziara), Zistalmu replies that they don't have her for much longer.
Ziara is promoted to the rank of Commodore. During the promotion ceremony, she is stripped of her connection to the Irizi family, and her name becomes Ar'alani. As she accepts her new white Commodore's uniform, Ar'alani looks at Supreme Admiral Ja'fosk, who seems to remember when he stood in her place and lost his own family.
At a party celebrating her promotion, Ar'alani talks to Thrawn, who arrives towards the end. Ar'alani has been assigned to Picket Force Six onboard the Destrama, and has requested that Thrawn be made her first officer. After expressing his gratitude, Thrawn asks Ar'alani for advice on whether or not to accept Zistalmu's offer. Ar'alani explains that the Irizi like having family members in the upper ranks of the military, as they feel it gives them prestige. She also explains that the Mitth are currently in a stronger position than the Irizi, and that it is possible the Irizi are trying to steal Thrawn from the Mitth, having belatedly realized his potential. Thrawn asks if Ar'alani believes the Irizi family would be a better fit for him, and she explains that what was good for her might not be good for him. Thrawn thanks Ar'alani for her advice, and further expresses his gratitude for her support of him after the Stivic incident. Ar'alani explains that her support was hardly necessary, as the Garwians went on the record stating that Frangelic spotted the pirate's weakness. Thrawn explains to Ar'alani how he managed to use the ship's lasers to send a message: he linked his questis to the frequency modulator and entered the script of his message. As the party winds down, Thrawn and Ar'alani head off to have a drink, and Ar'alani asks Thrawn to tell her about his goals.
Samakro spars with a bluedock foreman about the amount of damage the Springhawk sustained in the battle over the Lioaoi heartworld. The foreman states that it will be at least six or seven weeks before the Springhawk's repairs are finished, and Samakro says that he will work on getting a rush order from Ba'kif or Ja'fosk. As he rides on a shuttle toward Csilla, Samakro reflects on the battle over the Lioaoi heartworld. During the skirmish, Thrawn had led them closer to the enemy than necessary several times, and most of the damage the foreman had complained about came from those maneuvers. Thrawn is currently in a meeting with Ba'kif, and Samakro hopes that Ba'kif initiated the meeting to discipline Thrawn. Despite himself, Samakro fantasizes about being restored to command of the Springhawk.
In a meeting with Ba'kif, Thrawn proposes sending a small scout ship past Nikardun sentries to collect data on the Nikardun Destiny, including its size and how its subjects are being controlled. However, most of his intended goals, such as potentially starting a revolution, are not permitted as they are considered preemptive actions. Thrawn's last proposal, seeking unconquered peoples on planets occupied by the Nikardun to determine how they resisted, intrigues Ba'kif. Even though the odds of finding a group of people who are resistant (without Yiv's knowledge) to Nikardun rule are small, Thrawn believes that they should try to find them. Thrawn states that he has already asked Thalias and Che'ri to accompany him, and they have both agreed. Even though Ba'kif is skeptical about the plan's chance of success, he approves the mission. He reminds Thrawn that he is risking not only his life, but also Thalias' and Che'ri's. Thrawn states that he would rather be responsible for their deaths than put the Ascendancy at risk by doing nothing. Ba'kif tells Thrawn that no one will know about the mission but him, and wishes him good luck.
After exiting his meeting with Ba'kif, Thrawn approaches Thalias and Che'ri, who had been waiting outside. Before he can reach them, Thurfian appears and asks Thalias to come with him to his office. When Thalias tries to avoid the meeting by stating that she has a prior commitment, Thurfian asks Thrawn if he can borrow her for an hour. Thrawn agrees, and Thalias reluctantly travels with Thurfian to the Syndicure complex. Towards the end of the journey, Thalias comes up with a plan and executes it, hoping that she hasn't brought ruin on herself. When they arrive at Thurfian's office, he asks Thalias to tell him everything she's learned about Thrawn.
As Thalias tries to stall, Thurfian reminds her of their deal: he would get her aboard the Springhawk, and she would act as his spy. When Thalias continues to act hesitant to talk about Thrawn, Thurfian shifts the conversation to Thalias' original family. He tells her that the shift in certain mineral prices has caused them to fall on hard times, and that the Mitth could help them. Thalias asks if her membership in the Mitth family is dependent on her betraying Thrawn, and Thurfian clarifies that not reporting Thrawn's questionable activities would be the true betrayal. When Thalias tells him that she has never seen Thrawn do anything illegal or unethical, Thurfian expresses his disappointment in her. He tells Thalias that if they can't count on her to keep watch on a potential danger to the family, then she has no place with the Mitth. Thurfian decides to keep an eye on Thrawn himself, and tells Thalias that he will soon begin her rematching procedure.
Thalias pulls out her questis and tells Thurfian that he wins, and Thurfian plans to head over to talk with General Ba'kif. Thalias tells him that instead of going to fleet HQ, they are going to the Mitth family homestead. Thalias explains that she has made arrangements to give herself a more stable position in the Mitth family. On the way to Thurfian's office, she petitioned the Office of the Patriarch asking to take the Trials, which was approved. Thurfian reminds her that if she fails, she will lose her merit adoptive status, and Thalias states that it doesn't matter because Thurfian was going to kick her out anyway. Thalias tells Thurfian that the Patriarch's Office has requested that he accompany her, and Thurfian curses to himself, as he has been completely outmaneuvered by Thalias. Thurfian wonders if Thrawn is somehow involved in his reversal of fortune.
As they wait by the scout ship, Thrawn tells Che'ri that Thalias won't be joining them, having received a message from her on his questis. Che'ri asks him if they will continue with the mission, and Thrawn says that depends on her. He asks her if she is willing to travel alone with him into the Chaos, and Che'ri considers it. Despite the fact that sky-walkers aren't supposed to go anywhere unless they have a lot of people with them (as they are extremely valuable), Che'ri agrees. Che'ri asks Thrawn to get her more colored graph markers, and Thrawn informs her that there are already two boxes onboard, as well as four binders of paper to draw on. Pleased, Che'ri and Thrawn board the scout ship and prepare to depart.
As the shuttle departs, Che'ri begins to wish that she had a momish with her. Thrawn notices that she is troubled, and asks her if she wants to fly when her career as a sky-walker is over. Surprised, Che'ri asks Thrawn how he knew that. He explains that she likes drawing birds and flashflies, and often draws landscapes from a bird's eye view. Thrawn suddenly transfers control of the ship to Che'ri's board, and explains that he is giving her a flying lesson. Che'ri is hesitant, and she explains that she has nightmares about flying (more specifically, about falling). Thrawn explains that her nightmares are driven by fear, as Che'ri feels helpless in the air. Thrawn explains that he wants to take some of that helplessness away, and begins to teach Che'ri how to steer the ship. After they finish the lesson, Che'ri asks Thrawn to give her another one, and for the first time, she has a dream about flying that isn't a nightmare.
At the fifth system in their travels, Thrawn and Che'ri find droid fighters flying around. Che'ri is surprised that the warships are run by machines, and Thrawn explains that if the rumors are true, one side of the war in Lesser Space is being fought largely by droids. Thrawn orders Che'ri to increase power to Sensor Four, and they detect a strong energy signature. Thrawn explains that it is a shield, stronger than the Ascendancy's electrostatic barriers. Thrawn believes that the Ascendancy would greatly benefit from that technology, and Che'ri worries that they are going to try to sneak past the droids and grab it. Thrawn explains that their mission is to find allies, and points out another ship on their sensors. It doesn't match any Chiss ships or the droid fighters, and Thrawn believes that it might be a spy for the other side of the war. The spy ship suddenly disappears into hyperspace, and Thrawn asks Che'ri to follow it using Third Sight, hoping to get ahead of it.
Che'ri exits Third Sight just before the spy ship, which Thrawn hails. Trying out several trade languages, Thrawn finally receives a reply in Meese Caulf. When Thrawn asks for her name, the spy introduces herself as Duja. She asks Thrawn if the Chiss Ascendancy prefers the Republic or the Separatists, and Thrawn explains to her that they take no sides. Duja asks Thrawn if he has seen a Nubian ship land, which he has not. Duja ends their conversation and heads towards the planet, and Thrawn lets her go, much to Che'ri's confusion. Thrawn explains that Duja was not a warrior, and that he plans to wait until a warrior arrives.
Three days later, a Nubian ship appears and lands near Black Spire Outpost. A few hours later, Duja's ship flies away from the planet, being pursued by local patrol ships. Still waiting for a warrior to show up, Thrawn learns all he can about the planet, and continues to give Che'ri piloting lessons. Eventually a warrior arrives, and he identifies himself as General Anakin Skywalker. Thrawn assures Anakin that he means no harm to him or his equipment, and explains that he only wanted to look at Anakin's hyperdrive ring. Anakin warily orders him to pull back. Thrawn asks Anakin what he is doing in this region of space, and Anakin replies that it's none of his business. Thrawn asks Che'ri if she thinks Anakin will be a good ally, and she says that she does, as she has sensed confidence, strength and commitment in him. Thrawn offers to help Anakin on his quest, and Anakin says that he is on a Republic mission ordered by Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, not a personal quest.
Thrawn tells Anakin that he knows the location of the ship Anakin seeks, and he also knows that the pilot is missing. Thrawn proposes an alliance with Anakin in order to find answers. Thrawn explains that he seeks to more fully understand the war, and identifies himself as Commander Mitth'raw'nuruodo, despite the fact that he actually holds the rank of Senior Captain. Anakin accepts Thrawn's offer, and Thrawn asks the true nature of Anakin's quest. Anakin explains that the Nubian ship carried a Republic ambassador who came to meet with an informant (Duja). When the ambassador failed to make contact, Anakin was sent to look for her. Thrawn asks if the informant was trustworthy, and Anakin replies that the ambassador was certain of it. Ruling out betrayal, Thrawn believes that the most likely scenarios are accident or capture, and states that they should travel to the surface to investigate. Thrawn invites Anakin to come aboard so they can travel down together, but Anakin insists on taking his own ship in case they need Artoo. Thrawn accepts, and tells Anakin to call him Thrawn, since Chiss names are difficult for many species to pronounce. Anakin tries pronouncing Mitth'raw'nuruodo, but gets the pronunciation wrong several times before agreeing to use Thrawn.
Before leaving, Thrawn asks Che'ri if she will be alright. Che'ri assures Thrawn that she will be okay, and asks for instructions. Thrawn tells her to go back to the system with the energy shield, staying away from the robot ships. When Thrawn signals her, she is to come down to the building with the energy shield and use decoys to keep the robots away from her. Che'ri asks Thrawn if he will be alright, and Thrawn says that he believes General Skywalker will be a powerful ally.
Thalias and Thurfian travel to the Mitth homestead, speaking only once. When they arrive, Thalias is amazed, as the cavern is much larger than she anticipated. Thurfian reminds her that this is her last chance to back out of the Trials, but Thalias is determined to see them through. One hundred meters from the front of the house, they reach a large mosaic in the ground. Thurfian informs Thalias that her first Trial is to find her path. If she succeeds, she will be invited inside the homestead. If she fails, she will be taken back to the spaceport.
Thalias recognizes that the mosaic is a stylized map of the Ascendancy, and realizes that she is supposed to trace the path that had brought her here. Since she was born on Colonial Station Camco, she steps on the appropriate icon. The nearby area lights up with a green glow, and Thalias remembers that she was then taken to Naporar to begin her sky-walker training. Stepping on the Naporar icon, she receives another green glow. Thalias recalls that after finishing her training, she took several voyages outside the Ascendancy in her role as a sky-walker. Since none of those planets are represented on the map, Thalias is unsure what to do. Realizing that she needs to focus only on her journey within the Ascendancy, she walks over to the icon representing Rentor, where she met Thrawn on her last trip as a sky-walker. From there she went to Naporar, then to Avidich (to meet with the Mitth), then Jamiron (for her schooling), then three other planets. Stepping on each icon reminds Thalias of her past, and she finally steps on the Csilla icon to mark her current journey. A voice from the mosaic welcomes her, and invites her to enter the homestead to begin her next Trial.
Thalias passes the first couple of Trials relatively easily, as they were written tests of logic, problem solving and Ascendancy history. For her next Trial, Thalias needs to cross a three-meter-wide channel without getting wet, using two and a half meter long boards. She then has to climb a tree to reveal the answer to an ancient Mitth riddle, and then solve another riddle by finding a subtle pattern in the flowers outside the homestead. While Thalias assumed that the Trials would end at sundown, she continues to take more written tests and solve more logic problems after waking up. Throughout the Trials, Thalias has seen no other Chiss, as she has been receiving her instructions via the same voice she heard from the mosaic. She finally receives instructions for her final Trial, climbing to the top of a nearby mountain.
As Thalias starts her climb, she believes that it won't take her very long. However, as the mountain becomes steeper, the path becomes almost horizontal, meaning that her hike up the mountain will now take considerably longer. About an hour into her climb, Thalias begins to notice groups of spikes sticking up out of the ground. Continuing to climb, Thalias begins to look for a pattern in the spikes, but finds none. As she continues to observe the spikes, an old man sitting on a nearby bench speaks to her, startling her. He explains that he isn't part of the Trials, and that he wanted a chance to speak with Thalias in private. He asks Thalias what she thinks of the spikes, and she replies that they are impressive. Thalias realizes that the spikes represent Mitth family members, and the smaller spikes represent the people they brought into the Mitth from other families. Thalias finally recognizes the old man as Mitth'oor'akiord (Thooraki), the Patriarch of the Mitth family.
Impressed that Thalias recognized him, Thooraki asks her to explain how she beat the water-channel challenge. She explains that because the channel was only about a meter deep, she angled two boards against the edges and laid a board horizontally between them. Since the board didn't clear the water, she did the same thing again, which allowed her to walk across. The Patriarch comments that he always liked elegance, and that was why he personally made the decision to bring Thalias into the family. Honored, Thalias expresses hope that she will someday live up to Thooraki's trust in her. Thooraki explains that she has already repaid his trust, as she stands between his greatest achievement (Thrawn) and those who seek to destroy him (Thurfian). Thooraki explains that he told Ba'kif (at the time known as Labaki) about Thrawn and encouraged him to point Thurfian (who he describes as a fool) towards him.
Thooraki is concerned that Thrawn will not survive, and Thalias assures him that he will survive because she has seen him in battle. Thooraki clarifies that he was referring to threats from within the Ascendancy, especially those from the Mitth family. He explains that as he is close to death, members of the Mitth family are preparing to challenge to be the next Patriarch. Thooraki is worried that someone who sees Thrawn as a danger will become Patriarch. When Thalias asks how anyone can see danger in Thrawn, Thooraki explains that some are worried that Thrawn will overreach himself or make the Mitth vulnerable, and they would rather trade the potential glory Thrawn could bring for the assurance that he won't bring them infamy. Thooraki believes that this is foolish, as the Mitth must take risks if they are to remain one of the Nine Ruling Families.
Thalias asks Thooraki what she can do to help, and he tells her to help Thrawn gather his friends and allies when necessary. Thalias says that she will do her best, assuming that she is still in the family. Thooraki tells Thalias that she has passed the Trials and is now officially a Trial-born. He tells her to continue her climb to the top, and asks her to meditate on the lives, triumphs and failures of the Mitth memorialized by the spikes. Thooraki thanks Thalias for speaking with him, and reiterates that he believes Thrawn holds the key to the Ascendancy's future. Before leaving, Thalias promises to look after Thrawn to her own life or death.
As Thalias heads back towards the homestead, Thurfian meets her and leads her to the tunnel car. He informs her that he is needed back at the Syndicure, and was told to bring her with him. Ar'alani has requested that Thalias be returned to the Vigilant as soon as possible, and Thurfian expresses disappointment that Thrawn was able to slip away while he was distracted. Thalias asks Thurfian if she passed the Trials, and he informs her that she is now a Trial-born of the Mitth. As she travels to the Syndicure complex, Thalias reflects on her conversation with Thooraki, and on how a new chapter in her life is beginning.
Councilors Thurfian and Zistalmu meet in the March of Silence in the Convocate Hall. Thurfian asks Zistalmu if the Irizi have approached Thrawn about joining their family, and he confirms that the offer is still open. Thurfian tells Zistalmu that if Thrawn hasn't already accepted, the answer is no. Thurfian clarifies that he did not call the meeting just so he could gloat, and asks Zistalmu if he has any interest in bringing Thrawn down. Thurfian explains that while Thrawn could do great things in service of the fleet, he has an equal potential to bring ruin to the Mitth and the Ascendancy. While Zistalmu doesn't care if Thrawn brings ruin to the Mitth, he is concerned about the Ascendancy, and sees the same potential in Thrawn that Thurfian does. Zistalmu asks for Thurfian's proposal, and he explains that for now, he merely wants to keep a close eye on Thrawn. Zistalmu remarks that it won't be easy, as Thrawn has made allies of Ba'kif and Ar'alani. Resolving to focus their attention on Thrawn and his other allies, Zistalmu and Thurfian part ways.
Five weeks after their departure (and after the events of the Clone Wars storyline of Thrawn: Alliances), Thrawn and Che'ri return to Csilla with a Republic shield. Thrawn and Ar'alani discuss the shield, which is much stronger than the Ascendancy's electrostatic barriers, and how it gives them a temporary advantage. Ar'alani wonders why Yiv hasn't also obtained a similar shield, as Thrawn had said there was a group of aliens involved with the Separatists. Thrawn points out that they appeared to have no connections with the Nikardun. Thrawn believes that they need to use the shield against Yiv before he realizes that they have it, as his adventures with Anakin on Batuu and Mokivj won't be kept quiet for long.
Thrawn believes that Yiv still isn't ready to take on the Ascendancy, as when they encountered him over the Lioaoin heartworld, he let them leave in peace. Thrawn also believes that Yiv is still working to bring the Vaks under his control, as he called in Lioaoi ships to fight them over Primea when he presumably had Vak ships at his disposal. Thrawn plans to convince enough Vaks that Yiv only intends to use them as expendable soldiers. If that doesn't completely halt Yiv's plans, it should buy them enough time to convince the Syndicure to let them deal with the Nikardun threat. Che'ri worries that Yiv could just leave Primea and go somewhere else, but Thrawn explains that Yiv has put too much effort into trying to win over the Vaks for him to just leave. Ar'alani adds that Primea is also a diplomatic hub for the region, which would give Yiv opportunities to meet other alien species. If Yiv were to attack them again, Thrawn believes that he would send the Paataatus, but that the crucial battle would be at Primea. He plans to show Yiv's weakness and treachery to the Vaks, and outlines his plan.
After Thrawn outlines his plan, Ar'alani remarks that it is illegal and insane. Thrawn agrees, and asks her if she wants to be a part of it. Ar'alani worries that Thrawn is misreading Yiv and/or the Vaks, and reminds Thrawn of his failure with the Garwians. Nevertheless, Ar'alani agrees to Thrawn's plan, as she believes that the Nikardun need to be stopped. Ar'alani asks Thrawn if he is sure Che'ri can fly the Vak fighter they brought back from Primea, and Thrawn replies that he is. Thrawn says that he doesn't plan on telling Ba'kif or Ja'fosk about Che'ri piloting the ship, and Ar'alani asks Thrawn if he is worried about what they'll do to him when they find out. Thrawn states that he is more concerned about Ar'alani, but she replies that as an Admiral, she is harder to get rid of. Ar'alani sums up what they need to do: prep the Vak fighter for flight, teach Che'ri to fly it, get started on the customized freighter, work out the message for the Vaks, get the Republic shield ready for the surprise attack, and get the fleet ready. Thrawn adds that they will need to get Ba'kif and Ja'fosk to sign off on their mission, and Ar'alani replies that she planned to ask after Thalias and Che'ri left. As they get to work, Ar'alani tells Thrawn that she hopes his assessment of Yiv is correct.
Che'ri and Thalias travel to Primea, with both of them wearing hostage makeup. Thalias tells Che'ri that she's awfully calm, and Che'ri reassures Thalias that everything is under control because they trust Thrawn. Thalias remains skeptical, and Che'ri tells her it is because she doesn't trust herself. Che'ri tells Thalias that she trusts her, which reassures her. The Vaks hail them, and Thalias responds by delivering the speech Thrawn prepared for her. Thalias introduces herself as Thrawn's companion, and explains that she is there to return a fighter that he inadvertently took with him when he escaped. The Vak ask her why she believes she won't be punished, and Thalias replies that she can explain from Thrawn's thought line his reasons for taking the fighter. After a pause, the Vak allow them to land. As they head towards the surface, Thalias and Che'ri tell themselves that they will succeed.
Ar'alani and Thrawn are invited to Solitair to meet with the Ruleri. When they arrive, they are greeted by Security Chief Frangelic, who leads them through the nearby Creators' Market. He explains that the booths are laid out in concentric circles, and they see vendors selling kitchen utensils and historical costumes for remembrance parties. Thrawn asks about remembrance parties, and Frangelic explains them. He explains that they are parties in which attendants wear outfits that combine features from different eras in Garwian history. The goal of each attendant is to create the most unique design, while also identifying the features of other garments. Frangelic introduces them to Dame Mimott, a master designer, and asks her to explain her artistry. She shows them a cloth of the same style as those used in the Twelfth Era. The stitching style is from the Fourteenth, the dye from the Seventeenth, and the edging style from the Eighteenth. Mimott explains that there will also be two more outer layers, plus a shoulder wrap, gloves and a hat, all for just one garment. They thank Mimott for her time, and as they move on, Ar'alani tells Thrawn that she never saw aliens as people before. Thrawn tells Ar'alani that while he certainly sees aliens as people, he mainly sees them as assets.
As they approach the planetary security center, Frangelic reports that Solitair is under attack. When they reach the underground situation room, they see two Lioaoi ships approaching the planet. A Garwian general asks Ar'alani to assist them as she did previously, but she refuses. Thrawn reassures Frangelic that their orbital defense platforms should be enough to repel the Lioaoin ships, but he begs Thrawn for information on the Lioaoi. While Thrawn comments that he sees two additional weaknesses in the Lioaoi attack, he agrees with Ar'alani and says that it is not the Ascendancy's fight. As Frangelic continues to plead with Thrawn, he starts to outline the Lioaoi weaknesses. However, Ar'alani interrupts him and tries to contact the Destrama. When she gets only silence, Thrawn asks the Garwian general to lift his jamming. Frangelic protests but Thrawn asks again, and the general complies. Able to communicate with her ship, Ar'alani orders them to stand by. Ar'alani realizes the Garwians' plan: pretend to be raided by pirates and manipulate the Chiss into assisting in their defense. Once the Lioaoi are weakened, the Garwians can take back one of their planets from them. Thrawn asks for permission to order the Destrama to fire on the Garwian defense platforms, but Ar'alani refuses (although she is tempted). As they leave, Ar'alani tells the Garwians that they should hope the Chiss don't return.
As Thalias and Che'ri land on Primea, they are greeted by Vak soldiers. One of the soldiers demands that Thalias give him her message, but she says she was instructed to give it directly to the Vak military leader. When the soldier asks again, Thalias gives him the envelope containing the message. While Thalias offers to meet the Vak leaders and explain the circumstances that led Thrawn to steal their ship, the Vak soldier informs her that they have a navigator and ship waiting to take them back to the Ascendancy. Their navigator appears, who is revealed to be Qilori. He leads them to their shuttle, and they travel towards a group of docked civilian transports. As they approach the ships, Qilori explains that he is taking them to the Deathless instead. When Thalias tries to escape, Qilori urges her not to, as Yiv wants them undamaged. Qilori reveals that Yiv plans to meet with Thrawn on the bridge of the Deathless and kill him.
Thurfian heads to the Convocate Hall for an emergency meeting of the Syndicure. Thurfian is surprised that Thrawn has stepped so far over the line, and believes that he and Zistalmu can finally get him kicked out of the fleet. Seated at the witness table are Ba'kif, Ja'fosk, Ar'alani and Thrawn. As Thurfian takes his seat, Ja'fosk informs the assembly that he has received a message from Yiv. The message states that he has taken Thrawn's hostages captive, and demands that Thrawn travel to his coordinates with two hundred thousand Univers. Thurfian asks for the identities of the two hostages (even though he already knows, as he wants the whole chamber to hear it), and Ja'fosk tells him that Thalias and Che'ri have been taken captive. Thurfian asks if Yiv is aware of Che'ri's status as a sky-walker, and Ja'fosk replies that they have no indication Yiv knows about sky-walkers. The Speaker of the Plikh family asks Thrawn's reasoning, and he replies that he never intended to put Thalias and Che'ri in harm's way. He explains that Che'ri was onboard because she could pilot the fighter, and the Irizi Speaker warns Thrawn that they will want all the details at some point in the future. Ja'fosk states that they must use whatever means necessary to retrieve the hostages, and Thrawn adds that taking a sky-walker constitutes an attack on the Ascendancy. Convinced that this is all a set-up to get the Aristocra to order an attack on the Nikardun, Thurfian hopes that Thrawn has finally outsmarted himself.
Yiv speaks to Thalias and Che'ri onboard the bridge of the Deathless, telling them that he will miss Thrawn's ability to read his opponent. Yiv asks Thalias what was in a container they confiscated from her belt, and she identifies it as tava. Yiv asks Thalias if she knows what Thrawn's message was, and she says she doesn't. Yiv pulls out the envelope and tells Thalias that Thrawn was offering the Vaks an alliance with the Ascendancy in exchange for the opportunity to challenge Yiv. Yiv reveals that he sent a letter to the Vaks which he claimed to be from Thrawn, in which he simply asks for forgiveness for the stolen fighter. Yiv asks Thalias and Che'ri to get some rest, as he wants them there when he meets with Thrawn. Yiv explains that Thrawn will want to hire a navigator, and that his navigator (Qilori) is likely boarding the freighter now.
Onboard the freighter, Thrawn gives Qilori a cup of Galara tealeaf to celebrate their last voyage together. Pretending to be confused, Qilori asks for clarification. Thrawn explains that he is traveling to Primea for a confrontation with Yiv, and that he doesn't expect it to go well. Qilori asks Thrawn if he is planning any tricks, and Thrawn assures him that he isn't. Having previously checked the ship's hull, Qilori is convinced, but there is still something odd about the freighter's shape he can't quite put into words. As he prepares to lead the freighter through the final leg of the journey, Qilori reminds himself to thank Yiv later for allowing him to watch Thrawn die.
As they approach Primea, Wutroow reminds Ar'alani that they are trusting Thrawn's assumption that the Vaks haven't completely sided themselves with the Nikardun. If the Vaks have joined the Nikardun, the Vigilant will be unable to fire on their ships until they are attacked directly, which would make the likely battle even more complicated. Wutroow asks Ar'alani about the Republic shield, and she replies that she has no idea how strong it is. Wutroow then asks permission to run one last weapons check, which Ar'alani grants.
Thrawn and Qilori arrive at Primea, and Thrawn remarks that Yiv has one final surprise for them. Yiv had decided to bring three additional Battle Dreadnoughts to his meeting with Thrawn, but Thrawn is referring to the fact that the Nikardun ships aren't at the coordinates Yiv gave him. While they were supposed to meet in orbit above the planet, it appears that Yiv has changed the location of their meeting (and given Qilori the new coordinates). Thrawn hails Yiv, and Yiv shows Thrawn that Thalias and Che'ri are unharmed. Thrawn explains that he has placed Yiv's ransom money in a shuttle, and will send it over when Thalias and Che'ri are on their way back to him. Yiv informs Thrawn that he, not the money, is the ransom, and Thrawn asks if he plans to shoot him down. Yiv explains that he would rather bring Thrawn onboard the Deathless and kill him there, but if Thrawn insists, he can shoot him down. Thrawn asks Yiv if the other provisions of their agreement are no longer in effect, and Yiv replies "probably". Thrawn commends Yiv for his insight in moving the meeting away from Primea, and Qilori notes the sudden hesitation in Yiv's voice when he replies. Thrawn tells Yiv that he wants to revisit the part of their agreement where he agreed to come to Primea alone.
The Springhawk, Vigilant and Picket Force Six arrive at Primea. Ar'alani contacts Primea Command and asks them if they've received Thrawn's message. They reply that they have, and are merely waiting for Ar'alani to locate and identify the Nikardun vessels orbiting the planet. After running the sensors, Dalvu reports that she detects thirty-two ships, which matches the analyses from the Vigilant, Grayshrike and Whisperbird. They also notice that the Nikardun ships are deployed in a blockade formation to prevent any ships from stumbling upon Thrawn and Yiv's meeting. Ar'alani sends the analysis to Primea Command, and they agree to hold their ships back while the Chiss clear out the blockade. Having received their orders, Samakro orders Azmordi to move them towards their first targets.
Surprised by the arrival of the Chiss fleet, Yiv states that Thrawn is not important enough to be rescued by that large a force. Thrawn explains that it is more likely the Vak Combine called for aid from the Ascendancy. Yiv scoffs at Thrawn's suggestion, and Thrawn tells him that his lack of understanding of the Vak will prove his undoing. Thrawn asks Yiv if he wants to know what his message was to the Vaks, and Yiv replies that he already knows because he swapped the messages. Having anticipated this, Thrawn reveals that he left an additional copy of the message in the computer of the returned fighter. He informed the Vaks that if the message they receive from Thalias differs from the message on the fighter, then they should assume that General Yiv conspired to keep the message from them, denying them access to an important thought line. Yiv then curses, as he screams that the Vaks consider all thought lines. When Thrawn moves to correct him, Yiv disconnects, and Thrawn states that Ar'alani must have finished her negotiations and opened fire on the blockade ships. When Qilori feigns surprise at the mention of a blockade, Thrawn explains that the Vaks will view the blockade as Yiv denying them important thought lines.
Thrawn asks Qilori if he believes Yiv will stand by and watch the fleet be destroyed. Qilori reasons that it depends on if Yiv can afford to lose the ships, but Thrawn replies that Qilori has asked the wrong question. Thrawn says that the true question is whether or not Yiv can afford to have the Vaks see him bow to the Chiss. Thrawn explains that Yiv cannot afford to show weakness, and Qilori looks out the viewport to see the other three Nikardun Battle Dreadnoughts heading towards Primea. Yiv reconnects and threatens Thrawn with the total destruction of the Chiss Ascendancy, but Thrawn merely suggests that Yiv restart his conquest in a different part of the Chaos away from the Ascendancy. Yiv looks down at Thalias and Che'ri, and tells Thrawn that he will show him what he has planned for the entire Chiss species.
As the Springhawk destroys its third Nikardun patrol boat, the three Nikardun Battle Dreadnoughts arrive. Ar'alani orders the Springhawk to keep one of the Dreadnoughts occupied, and Samakro tells Kharill that he has a plan to keep it distracted.
As Yiv threatens Thrawn, Che'ri begins to worry that she will be hurt. However, she is reassured by the fact that Thrawn still seems to be in control. Yiv continues to freak out onboard the Deathless, and they listen in on Samakro communicating with another Dreadnought. Samakro notifies the Dreadnought that he is in command of Thrawn's personal ship, and Yiv angrily disconnects. As Thalias begins to smile, Che'ri realizes that the Nikardun are scared of Yiv. Thrawn informs Yiv that if he doesn't surrender, he will be destroyed. Yiv calls Thrawn arrogant, as he believes his Battle Dreadnought will easily defeat Thrawn's freighter. Thrawn invites Yiv to come and finish things, and Che'ri notices that Thalias is still smiling.
On Thrawn's freighter, Qilori still has no idea what Thrawn is planning, but he is disturbed by the fact that Thrawn is smiling. Qilori then realizes that Thrawn is keeping Yiv focused on him, leaving the rear of the Deathless open to attack. As Qilori tries to think of a way to contact Yiv, Thrawn assures him that he does not have another force lined up to attack. Thrawn tells Qilori that he knows he substituted the coordinates for the ones Yiv gave him, and that he also knows that Yiv has been using the Pathfinders to coordinate his attacks. Qilori tries to deny it, as direct cooperation with a military force is a violation of the Navigator's Guild Code. Thrawn offers to keep the Pathfinder's involvement a secret if Qilori agrees to forget everything he sees from that point on. Qilori agrees, as Yiv would also likely want him to forget the day's events. Thrawn explains that he has no reason to launch another attack, as Yiv has been left with only two options. He can either stay and try to destroy Thrawn (making it appear that he is hiding from the battle over Primea) or he can head to Primea to reinforce his other ships (making it appear that he is fleeing from Thrawn). As they wait to see what Yiv will do, Qilori still thinks that Thrawn will soon be dead.
The Springhawk continues its battle with a Nikardun Battle Dreadnought, and disables two attacking gunboats. As they swing around to use the gunboats as temporary shields, Samakro formulates a new plan: get as close to the Dreadnought as possible and fire breacher missiles at the viewport. If they get close enough, the acid contained in the breachers won't have time to dissipate, hopefully destroying the viewport. They approach the Dreadnought and fire the missiles, and the acid speeds towards the viewport. However, a Nikardun patrol craft maneuvers itself in front of the acid. While it isn't big enough to block all of the acid, the Battle Dreadnought destroys the patrol craft, and the debris clears the acid.
Their plan having failed, Ar'alani arrives and asks Samakro if he remembers the maneuver Thrawn used against the Paataatus. Samakro replies that he does, and Ar'alani orders him to head towards low orbit. As they approach the planet, Ar'alani orders them to go dark, rendering them practically helpless. Ar'alani contacts the Vaks and asks for humanitarian aid. Initially hesitant, the Vaks agree to send two ships to aid the Springhawk. As Ar'alani and the Vak tell the Nikardun not to fire on the incoming Vak ships, the Dreadnought shoots them down. In response, the Vak ships begin to attack the Nikardun ships. Samakro orders the Springhawk to remain offline so the Vaks don't realize they were manipulated. Samakro and the rest of the Springhawk's crew watch as the Vak continue to attack the Nikardun Battle Dreadnought.
Onboard the Deathless, Yiv angrily asks Thalias what Thrawn's plan is. Thrawn replies that his plan was to put Yiv in a box, and he has succeeded. Thrawn explains that Yiv has spent enough time away from the battle for the Vaks and Nikardun to conclude that he didn't want to join. If Yiv decides to run, they will think that he is fleeing Thrawn. Thrawn tells Yiv that he has succeeded in permanently damaging his reputation. Thrawn explains that the only way for Yiv to salvage his reputation is to bring Thrawn's ship aboard with a tractor beam, face Thrawn, and return Thalias and Che'ri. Yiv replies that he would rather have Thrawn onboard to watch him dismember Thalias and Che'ri, and begins to lock onto Thrawn's freighter.
Thalias signals Che'ri, and they begin tearing off their thick hostage makeup. As they break off their makeup, the tava mist that was compressed inside is released, and Thalias begins to lose consciousness. As she begins to drift off, she is able to make out Thrawn's freighter breaking free of the tractor beam, and it begins to accelerate towards the viewport. While the Nikardun are under the effects of the tava mist, they still manage to hit the ship with a barrage of lasers. Normally the ship would have been destroyed, but the freighter is protected by the Republic shield Thrawn brought back from Mokivj. Thrawn crashes his freighter into the viewport, using the customized nose on the freighter to seal off the vacuum. Thalias notices Che'ri holding onto Yiv's arm, as he has pulled out a blaster. Thrawn appears, disarms and disables Yiv, and gives Thalias and Che'ri breath masks. Thrawn asks Thalias to retrieve Yiv's questis, and Thrawn works to copy as much data from the ship as he can before the rest of the Nikardun crew arrive. As Thrawn binds Yiv and brings him onboard the freighter, he explains that he never intended to destroy Yiv's ship, as all he needed to do was destroy Yiv. Thalias asks Thrawn if the bridge crew will die once the freighter leaves, and Thrawn reminds her "no witnesses".
Thrawn and Ar'alani have a meeting about the incident at Solitair, and Thrawn says that he should have seen the signs that they were being manipulated by the Garwians. Ar'alani tells him that it was her who should have noticed the signs, and she explains that Thrawn doesn't get politics. Thrawn agrees, and asks Ar'alani why he can't understand politics, which he describes as a different form of warfare. Ar'alani explains that military warfare is straightforward, while in politics, goals and allies are constantly shifting. Thrawn vows to master the art of politics, but Ar'alani knows that he will never succeed. Ar'alani hopes that Thrawn remains in the military, as that is where he will be of lasting value to the Ascendancy.
Thurfian speaks with Mitth Speaker Thistrian, who informs him that Thrawn is being elevated to Trial-born. Despite the fiasco with the Lioaoi and Garwians, the Irizi have been trying to steal Thrawn from the Mitth, and are preparing to offer him ranking distant. Thurfian believes that the Irizi are bluffing, hoping that the Mitth draw Thrawn closer to themselves so they will be damaged by the political fallout of his next mistake. Thistrian reminds him that Thrawn could bring glory to the Mitth, and they can't afford the Irizi getting that glory instead. Thistrian informs him that while Thrawn has been demoted to Mid Captain, he has been given his own ship, the Springhawk. There is also talk of giving Thrawn command of Picket Force Two. Thurfian asks who is behind Thrawn's good fortunes, and Thistrian replies that it must be someone close to the Patriarch, maybe even the Patriarch himself. Thistrian notes that being assigned to Picket Force Two would put Thrawn on the outskirts of the Ascendancy, away from the Lioaoi and Garwians. Thistrian encourages Thurfian to look on the bright side, as whatever Thrawn does next will be entertaining to watch. Thurfian hopes he will live through it, and resolves to work with Zistalmu to bring Thrawn down.
Thrawn has dinner with Thalias and Che'ri, and Thalias tells him that some of the Aristocra want to bring charges against him for putting a sky-walker at risk. Thrawn explains that it was Yiv's decision, not his, that put them at risk, and he has already explained this to the Aristocra. The Aristocra are also grateful that he returned Yiv alive for questioning, so it is unlikely that Thrawn will be charged with anything. Thalias congratulates Thrawn for beginning to understand politics, but he explains that Ar'alani and Ba'kif are handling the Aristocra. He also states that his plan with the Vaks was never strictly about politics. Che'ri expresses confusion, as she thought the Vaks liked to see all sides of things. Thrawn explains that the solution came from Ar'alani, who had noticed something that Thrawn missed.
Thrawn explains that while the Vaks like to see all thought lines, not all thought lines are given equal weight. He explains that the Vaks prioritize the thought lines that they trust, and when he exposed Yiv as a liar (by sending them a different message) the Vaks lost their trust in Yiv. Thalias asks what Ar'alani saw, and Thrawn explains that she had been looking into Vak history and noticed that their neighbors were always careful to never kill a Vak in combat. Killing a Vak would remove their thought line forever, which robs the Combine of information. Thalias realizes that an attack on an individual Vak would be seen as an attack on the Vak Combine, and Thrawn explains that by luring the Nikardun to fire on Vak ships, Ar'alani was able to get the Vaks to focus on the most important thought line: protecting their planet and people. With the battle coordination plan they received from Thrawn, the Vak and Chiss were able to efficiently defeat the Nikardun.
Thrawn explains that while he sees non-Chiss as assets, Ar'alani sees them as people. Thrawn believes this makes Ar'alani a better commander than he is, as her officers follow her with confidence and eagerness. Thalias suggests that Thrawn change to be more like Ar'alani, but Thrawn doesn't believe that he can. Che'ri reminds Thrawn that he taught her how to fly, and Thalias tells him that he has been helping her learn to observe and think. Thalias assures Thrawn that they are confident in his abilities, and Thrawn tells her that the Ascendancy owes her and Che'ri. Thrawn calls Thalias Trial-born of the Mitth, and Che'ri congratulates Thalias on her accomplishment. As Thrawn prepares to leave to speak with the bluedock foreman, Thalias thanks him for speaking with them. As Thalias begins to prepare more food, she hopes that she will be allowed to remain Che'ri's caregiver.
Two months after Yiv's capture, Qilori exits the Great Presence, noticing that the ship he is navigating has powered down. As he notices that the bridge is deserted, Qilori is greeted by an unidentified voice coming through the speaker. Qilori asks the speaker's name, but he refuses, instead asking Qilori about Yiv. While Qilori feigns ignorance, the voice tells him that Yiv disappeared. There are rumors that he was killed in action, that he defected to the Chiss, and that he retired to the far reaches of the Chaos. The voice wants to know what Qilori thinks, and when he remains hesitant, the voice threatens to kill him. Qilori tells the voice that Yiv was captured by Thrawn and the Chiss, and the speaker asks about the current state of the Nikardun Destiny. Qilori explains that Yiv was the undisputed ruler of the Nikardun, and that there was no one to take his place. Uncertainty over Yiv's fate prevented any remaining Nikardun from acting, and the Vaks started telling nearby systems that the Nikardun had fired on them, causing the Nikardun Destiny to collapse. While some chiefs want to restart their conquests, Qilori believes that it will just lead to more in-fighting.
The voice asks Qilori if he wants to continue to have a bright future, and Qilori replies that he has already answered the voice's questions. The voice states that the Nikardun were fools, and Qilori asks if the voice is Yiv's master. The voice states that if they were guiding Yiv's efforts, he would have been much more successful, and remarks that since a frontal attack on the Ascendancy has failed, they will need a more subtle plan. The voice asks if Qilori approves going after the Chiss, and he replies that he wants revenge, as the Chiss have taken his life away from him. The voice tells Qilori to continue their journey, and the ship powers back up. Qilori asks what he should call the voice, and the voice introduces himself as Jixtus, the one who will finally and completely destroy the Chiss Ascendancy.
- Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising adapts a scene from the earlier Star Wars: Thrawn novel Thrawn: Alliances. In the scene, Thrawn meets Jedi General Anakin Skywalker over communications. Chaos Rising reveals that Thrawn's statement about being a commander, a military rank he claims to have throughout Alliances, is a lie, as he is really a Senior Captain.
- ISBN 9780593157688; September 1, 2020; Del Rey; US hardcover
- ISBN 9780593157398; September 1, 2020; Del Rey; US hardcover, Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition
- ISBN 9780593157695; September 1, 2020; Del Rey; US eBook
- ISBN 9780593157701; April 27, 2021; Del Rey; US Paperback
- ISBN 9781529124583; September 1, 2020; Century; UK hardcover
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