Permanence at rest, and permanence in motion, are both active participants in the power that remains.
The vast darkness of space had always brought Kylo Ren deep absolution. Even as a little boy, riding in the Millennium Falcon with his father, a half an hour of watching the streaks of light dance across the cockpit visor would set him to sleep for hours at a time.
"He's got my skills but your interest in piloting," he remembered Solo joking with his – Leia Organa. "Kid helped me for ten minutes and slept for three hours.”
But as Kylo watched millions of star systems streak by outside of the floor-to-ceiling window in his living quarters, he felt no release, no forgiveness. The serpent that had always been tight around his heart now squeezed painfully, catching him off-guard and causing a hitch in his deep, steady breathing. The ache trickled down into the pit of his stomach, which is probably why he hadn’t been able to eat anything for days. The thought of food repulsed him. Sleep eluded him, and when it did come, his mind cruelly replayed her rejection of him, again, and again, and again, until he’d burst out of bed with a growl, hurriedly got dressed, and stormed off to the training pavilion.
Parrying, thrusting, side-stepping, attacking…training with droids until his body became numb. The lack of sleep and food didn’t mesh well with the physically demanding training sessions that lasted for six, eight, sometimes ten hours at a time. However long it took for him to erase her hazel eyes from his mind. To forget the disappearing gold dice in his hands as he was on his knees. To block out the sneaking suspicion his – Leia Organa was still alive. To remove the echoing of Skywalker’s final words to him on Crait: “See you around, kid.”
Twice in a row he had regained consciousness as he lay on his back on the training pavilion floor. His stomach growled in protest and his head thudded loudly in his ears. Fainting because of hunger, exhaustion, or both?
You’re a descendent of greatness, of Skywalkers. And yet you act like a Solo, the voice sneered.
Kylo had cringed. How the hell was that voice back? The voice that had eradicated his innocence, stolen his childhood. The voice that had broken his spirit, controlled his mind, ruined his soul. The voice that had commanded he kill his enemy, as she knelt in front of him with pleading eyes and trembling lips, who didn’t beg for her life or for his redemption, but only uttered one, beautiful, breathtaking word: “Ben…”
He let out an inadvertent growl as he turned away from the viewport, averting his eyes from the vastness of space to land in the middle of his quarters where she stood, staring at him.
“You haven’t eaten,” she said softly, raising her cerulean eyes to meet his. “You are not taking care of yourself, Supreme Leader.”
“I appreciate your concern,” Kylo responded, waving off her comments with a casual wave of his hand. “It is unwarranted.”
Sebarra Ren opened her mouth as if she were about to respond. When Kylo’s eyes challenged her own, she instead bowed her head and spread her arms in acquiescence. “Yes, Supreme Leader.”
Despite himself, Kylo rubbed his eyes with a gloved hand and sighed lightly as he sat down at the black lacquered table adorning what could be considered as his dining room. “Sebarra, we’ve known each other for quite a while.”
She nodded, her eyes meeting his as an eyebrow cocked amusedly. She remained where she was, hands clasped behind her back. “More than ten years. Since before the Praxeum.”
She said it so smoothly, like such an afterthought. The mere mention of Skywalker’s Temple brought his hand down from his face to pound on the table, his fist grasping as if he were snuffing the last remaining life out of the memory. “Yes. The Praxeum,” he growled through bared teeth.
As expected, Sebarra Ren did not react, remaining calm and collected. Her only movement was the soft blinking of her eyes and the occasional soft puckering of her lips as she chewed on the inside of her lip. That was her tell; she had been doing that ever since he knew her as a child padawan of Skywalker’s. She had something to say.
“Sebarra. Spit it out,” he said softly, gesturing for her to sit at the table with him. He couldn’t help the amusement that seeped into his voice. She was the first person he could call a friend. She shared his love of calligraphy, and they would often spend many late nights together re-writing ancient myths and reading them to each other. She was his first kiss behind the dormitory when he was sixteen. He was the first sparring partner who ever bested her in three matches in a row. His innocent childhood crush on her remained until he realized they both began to take notice of – and similarly appreciate – their fellow attractive female classmates.
He cared for her on a level that was deep-rooted and yet simple. He trusted her. Implicitly. Which is why with his ascension to Supreme Leader, his choice was easy in appointing her to be the new Master of the Knights of Ren. She was quiet, reserved, and calculated – all traits he lacked. He valued her council more than anything, which is why when she had something to say, he listened.
She cleared her throat as she sat down across from him, leaning across the table and folding her hands. Her eyebrow remained raised as she cocked her head, her lips turning up into a mischievous smile. “Tell me about her.”
Kylo’s head nearly exploded. Oh for fuck’s sake…
“Seriously?” he uttered, narrowing his eyes.
“Yes, seriously, Supreme Leader.”
“She’s a nuisance, and I’ll destroy her,” he spat out before he could control himself.
Sebarra leaned back and folded her arms, her grin widening. “Uh huh. Is that so?”
A cruel but joking smirk crossed his face. “If I were Snoke, I’d have wiped that smug smile off of your face with a nice jolt of pain.”
“But you aren’t Snoke,” she said, suddenly not amused. Her jaw set, and she became serious. Apparently, he had hit a nerve. “You aren’t nor will you ever be, Kylo Ren.”
Too nonplussed to correct her mistake in proper protocol, he leaned toward her, frowning. “What are you getting at, Sebarra?”
“The Knights of Ren are sworn to protect their leader. I have spoken with all of them to ensure that their loyalties have remained solely with you and you alone. Thankfully, I can report that they have; there has been no dissention or concern among the Knights with your ascent to supreme leadership.” She paused.
“…and?” he urged.
“And they, like me, want to know more about her. About Rey.”
The quick intake of air into his lungs made him cough briefly, and Sebarra grinned. “Apparently, you are not the only one who is taken with her, Supreme Leader. Nor are you the only one who has had visions of her role in all of this.”
He didn’t move. He didn’t speak. He just sat there, mouth slightly agape, trying to figure out what in the hell was going on.
“Yes, I expected this,” Sebarra nodded earnestly, but her eyes made it clear her playful nature wouldn’t be interrupted by her new station as Master of the Knights of Ren.
“Expected what?” he grumbled, voice low and jaw set.
Leaning across the table, so close that their foreheads almost touched, Sebarra whispered, “She’s your Other.”
Maker, she’s right…
Incensed and enraged that apparently Sebarra and his Knights had figured this out before he had, he couldn’t help himself. He launched: “She’s a nobody from a nowhere planet filled with scum and villainy and thieves and misfits. She has no formal training. She’s an impulsive, optimistic, doe-eyed scavenger who decided she was on a mission to Save Ben Solo,” he uttered the last three words mockingly, molding his mouth as if he had just spit out a piece of rotten fruit. “She knows nothing and she has no one.”
Sebarra leaned back, eyebrows raised, lips pouted. “But she’s not alone, is she?”
Kylo, exhausted from the back and forth, didn’t even bother to question how she knew about this intimate exchange between him and Rey. He just shook his head noncommittally.
There was a long, pregnant pause that the two shared, each deep in thought until Kylo’s comm beeped and expelled the repugnant, weasely voice of Armitage Hux. “Supreme Leader, may I kindly request your presence on the bridge?”
Kylo closed his eyes and waited a beat or two before responding. “Hux, is this necessary?”
“Quite, Supreme Leader,” came the languid, annoyed response.
“Fine,” Kylo snapped before shutting off the comm and standing up. He looked at Sebarra apologetically, and she shrugged. “Duty calls,” she remarked as she donned her sleek black mask.
Kylo gestured for Sebarra to lead the way, but her hand paused over the door release as she turned to look up at Kylo. Even through her face was masked, he could sense her mirth through the Force, and could hear the amusement in her voice as she spoke. “An impulsive, tenacious, optimistic maverick, huh?”
He rolled his eyes as he moved her hand out of the way to hit the control panel himself. As the doors hissed open, he heard her chuckle as she said, “I think I’m beginning to like her.”
Nothing in the universe can travel as fast as light, they say, forgetful of the shadow’s speed.
As he approached the bridge, he could feel Hux’s elation coursing through the Force, and Kylo braced himself.
Hux's presence was a constant thorn in his side, and he had to give himself credit for being able to keep his utter disdain for the man in check as well as he did. Self-important to an almost comedic degree, the general's favorite pastime, in addition to transgressing the bounds of his job description, was stepping on Kylo’s toes as hard and often as possible.
For the many, countless, inestimable culpabilities this man had, his greatest strength was, like Kylo’s, remaining composed in the most worrying of situations. In fact, he had never seen Hux's face convey much more than mild agitation at any point.
As he strode rapidly down the pristine corridors of the dreadnought-class star destroyer Retribution, he reached out with the Force, tendrils culling through Hux's brain to harvest any information he could. He flung aside the mundane operational day-to-day concerns occupying the majority of his brain, digging for something – anything – that would explain his rampant, concerning delight.
Kylo stopped dead in his tracks so abruptly that Sebarra Ren, who had been following him purposefully, nearly ran face-first into his back. He stood there, fists at his side, breathing heavily, jaw clenched, eyes wide and unmoving. He felt Sebarra side-step to come up next to him and felt her piercing gaze through her sleek, unrelenting mask. Yet she remained silent.
No, no, no. No, this is too fast. It can’t be happening.
Kylo’s thoughts were racing through his tired, sleepless mind, rushing through his conscience in a way that made them too opaque to ponder thoroughly, but vivid enough to cause the serpent coiled around his heart to tighten once more.
“Supreme Leader.” It was Sebarra, reaching out to him through the Force.
The thoughts continued to race. How could Hux have gotten there so fast? How were they able to locate them so quickly? And how was he, the Supreme Leader, unaware of this priority task? Was she with them? Was Leia? How many of them could possibly be left after Crait?
“Supreme Leader,” Sebarra urged again, pressing gently on his mind.
This is what he wanted, wasn’t it? To find her, to find the Resistance, and crush them permanently? Eradicate their forces and banish them to the future’s history lessons about the dangers of moral high-ground hubris? To finish what his grandfather had started, with her at his side? To –
“KYLO REN.” Sebarra’s voice bellowed through his conscience, pulling him from his frenetic reverie. He blinked, refocusing his eyes. She stood in front of him, still masked, but much closer than he anticipated. He could feel the worry emanate from her very being. He realized, with a start, that she was concerned for him.
He looked at her with eyes that made her breath hitch in her throat. “Those are Ben Solo eyes you’re looking at me with,” she communicated wordlessly. Which made him angry enough to jolt him out of it and snap at her.
Remember who you’re talking to, he warned.
She nodded curtly and stepped back, her mask still tilted up to him. He looked around and realized how ridiculous they both must look to the officers and Stormtroopers passing them by, but he had little care. He focused back on Sebarra.
Hux found them. The Resistance.
“Is Rey with them?” she asked.
Kylo nodded curtly, his jaw tingling from being set so firmly.
She audibly sighed, stepping to his right and gesturing him forward. “It’s one crisis after another with you Skywalkers. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Lead the way, Supreme Leader.”
He took the lead immediately, and while he didn’t respond, he knew Sebarra was aware of his true appreciation for and … tenderness? … regarding her loyalty – even though, he noted wryly, she still clung to that dry sarcasm that had drawn him to her all those years ago.
He rounded the corner and found Hux standing there with one of the smuggest smiles Kylo had ever seen. The redhead’s blue eyes twinkled with delight as he greeted the Supreme Leader with unctuous warmth.
“Ah, Supreme Leader. I have wonderful news,” Hux began, approaching Kylo with quick, light steps. He opened his mouth to continue but stopped as soon as he saw Sebarra Ren rounding out Kylo’s right flank. “May I ask to what we owe the pleasure of our guest?” he tersely asked.
Kylo didn’t take his eyes off of Hux. “General Hux, this is Sebarra Ren, Master of the Knights of Ren. Her presence is of no concern to you. Proceed.”
“Pleasure,” Hux said flakily, nodding curtly.
“Likewise, I’m sure,” Sebarra responded with equal disdain. Kylo had to suppress a smile; Sebarra was fiery, but damn was she loyal.
“You’ve found the Resistance,” Kylo began without preamble. He took particular pleasure in watching Hux’s face fall, his moment to gloat stolen. “Why was I not notified this was an established priority for the First Order?”
Hux frowned slightly. “Supreme Leader, it is automatically assumed that the end of the Resistance is – and always has been – a priority for us. As is the capture, trial, and execution of the scavenger girl who, by your account, single-handedly murdered Supreme Leader Snoke.”
Kylo’s stomach turned and time slowed. His thudding heart pulsed in his ears and he became astutely aware of the overwhelming nausea creeping up his neck. He hadn’t even considered the immediate and automatic prosecution and punishment of those who assassinate First Order executive brass – especially and namely, the Supreme Leader.
You fool, he thought angrily to himself. You blamed all of that shit on Rey. What did you think would happen?!
“...am I mistaken?” Hux’s pointed question shook Kylo out of his thoughts.
He cleared his throat and felt the lightest brush of Sebarra’s arm against his. “Of course not.”
“Excellent,” Hux said, a smile returning to his pallid face. “We have located them on Hoth, hunkered down in a former Rebel base –“
Kylo waved his hand impatiently. “Yes, Hux, I am very familiar with the Battle of Hoth,” he drawled. It took everything in him not to roll his eyes. “So familiar, in fact, that I wonder what the strategic logic is in exposing our limited ground forces to Hoth’s overtly harsh conditions.”
Kylo could sense the bridge freeze – officers stopped moving and communications coordinators turned just slightly in their chairs to observe the standoff. Apparently, this was not the reaction they were expecting of him. Probably because it made absolutely no sense, something that Kylo realized as soon as the statement came out of his mouth.
If it weren’t such a tense moment, Hux’s facial expression would’ve been one for the comic holos. His jaw dropped, eyes wide open, veins bulging at his temples. Regaining his composure and narrowing his eyes, Hux stepped forward angrily toward Kylo. He felt Sebarra Ren tense at his side, shifting her right hand ever so slightly to rest on the hilt of her lightsaber.
“I don’t know what your intentions are, Supreme Leader,” Hux spat, his voice low. “But I fear that your intentions may not be as linear as they had been under Supreme Leader Snoke’s guidance.”
Red flashes of anger engulfed Kylo as he grasped Hux’s neck in his hand, squeezing satisfying gasps of air out of the other man’s throat. “And just what are you insinuating?” he growled.
Hux was rapidly turning a bright shade of red. His veins were becoming more pronounced, and he could see the capillaries begin to burst in the corners of his eyes. But he kept squeezing. He’d had enough of this insufferable prick, this privileged swine who dared to question his loyalty –
“I hate to interrupt – particularly because I’m really not a fan of this guy – but you asked him a good question. It’d be unfortunate to kill him before he could answer it.” Kylo glanced over at Sebarra and unwillingly admitted to himself that she had a point.
He flung Hux halfway down the elevated bridge corridor, where the man stayed on his knees gasping heavily. But as Hux stood up slowly, Kylo saw a change in his eyes. An intensity, building in fire and exploding in hatred and suspicion, and it suddenly dawned on him. Kylo immediately reached out to Sebarra through the Force.
He knows. He knows everything.
Before she could answer, Hux drew himself to his full height, incensed rage sloughing off of him so intensely it hit Kylo in the face like a blaster bolt. “You, Kylo Ren, are guilty of high treason and the murder of Supreme Leader Snoke.”
Sebarra’s reaction was swifter than even he expected. Her lightsaber was drawn. Its piercing, white light reflecting valiantly off of her sleek mask. Her offensive stance placed her left foot in front of Kylo, her favored leg and arm diagonally behind her to provide her with the leverage and strength she needed to protect her Master. He could feel the Force humming through her, vibrating his very bones. That moment reminded him that she would truly die for him, without a thought in the galaxy.
The serpent relaxed around his heart.
The bridge was deathly quiet, to the point where he was certain every First Order staffer could hear his strangely calm, steady breathing. He could see eyeballs flitting between himself, Sebarra, and Hux. Almost amused, Kylo realized nobody knew what to do; it was one of the amazing byproducts of First Order conditioning, where independent thinking is punished and blindly following orders is held in the highest esteem.
Without removing his eyes from Hux’s face, he signaled Sebarra. Stand down, Sebarra.
“Funny.” She ignored him.
Stand down, Sebarra. He added an extra push of emphasis this time, communicating to her just how serious he was.
“Are you insane?” she shrieked at him. “You must be insane. You’re fucking nuts if you think I’m going to let him –“
He cut her off. I have a plan.
“Oh. Oh no”, she pleaded as he let her read his mind. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. You can’t just –“
“Guilty of high treason and the murder of Supreme Leader Snoke,” Kylo repeated slowly. He paused, took a deep breath, and felt the left side of his lips curl into a sanguine smirk. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
I was so overwhelmed by the response from the Preface/Chapter One I posted that I wanted to thank all of you lovely readers by posting Chapter Two as soon as possible. I intend to post a chapter at least every other day. Thank you for all of your support -- I truly hope you enjoy. :)
No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven, unless its roots reach down to hell.
The white radiance of her lightsaber contrasted with the dark blacks, violent reds, and dull grays of the Retribution’s bridge. Her heart was pounding, but her nerves were calm. Her adrenaline was elevated, but her hands were steady. The Force was thrumming through her, but its purpose was meticulous and sensitive.
By Sebarra’s estimation, she was surrounded by at least three dozen First Order officers – at least a dozen of whom were assigned standard issue blasters – while her Master decided to pick a fight on a dreadnought-class ship equipped with almost 10,000 stormtroopers and 1,500 state-of-the-art revamped battle droids.
Out of the two Force-users on the bridge, she was also the only one with her lightsaber drawn, and the only one with any fucking common sense.
Emotions unreadable under her mask, she bit her lower lip and crinkled her nose.
Sebarra had met her fair share of stupid people throughout her life. But in that moment, she was sure she had never met anyone straight up dumber than the Supreme Leader she was sworn to protect who had just admitted to high treason and the murder of his Master in front of an entire fucking bridge of First Order officers.
A warm liquid, metallic and tangy, suddenly filled her mouth, and she realized she had been biting her lower lip harder than she thought. Ironically – and, in her opinion, inconveniently – the sharp taste of blood in her mouth reminded her of the day she first met Ben Solo.
If she had to be totally honest, when she first met Ben Solo she couldn’t quite figure out how he was the result of Han Solo, the magnanimous smuggler, and Princess Leia Organa, the Galaxy’s ultimate badass.
Born with the travel bug and an insatiable inquisitiveness, Sebarra spent three years wearing down her mother’s resolve so she would allow her to travel with her father to Chandrilla during one of his many business trips. On the morning of her first trip she lost her last baby tooth, which she carried with her as an adult badge of honor. Even though he gave her a bit of a weird look while doing it, her father wrapped the tooth in a purple patterned cloth, which she had tucked into her back pocket as they walked together through the open-air market. Her excited eyes darted from vendor to vendor, looking for something – anything – to remove the awful taste from her mouth. Her gums had stopped bleeding a few hours ago, but her mouth still tasted as if she had sucked on a whole set of pewter pots and a copper mine.
Sebarra turned toward the sound of her father’s voice; she watched him quick-step toward a woman in a red gown with a genuine smile.
Leia Organa’s name was spoken of with nothing but the highest level of respect in Sebarra’s household. As a native Alderaanean, her father’s family had been close friends of the Organas – he and the princess had known each other for as long as either could remember. His favorite story to tell about Leia went as follows: “When we were both about seven years old, I wanted her to be my girlfriend, so I tried to kiss her on the cheek. She responded warmly – by taking a match and lighting my hair on fire.”
Sebarra remembered the strange cold sensation that creeped into her chest as her father beckoned her closer, particularly when Leia introduced her to her son.
Ben. Gangly limbs. Defeated shoulders. Downturned lips. Dark eyes. Wait, no – warm brown eyes, with specks of gold and hazel in them. But she was only able to tell because she waited for his gaze to meet her own, and only because she was patient enough to look closely.
And even as a young child, she remembered that when she looked even closer, even deeper, she saw someone who bore the impossible weight of the Galaxy on their shoulders.
Little did she know how their destinies would remain intertwined for years to come. How important he’d become to her, and how important she knew she was to him. How much they’d been through together, and how much they have yet to overcome …
… although, at this very moment, Sebarra had half of a mind to deactivate her lightsaber, whirl around, and punch Kylo Ren right in his moronic, impulsive, stupid face.
Sebarra could feel her heart in her throat, her breathing shallow in her constricted lungs. At this point, she’s absolutely convinced Kylo is literally the only person short-sighted enough to not even think this through, for fuck’s sake. Honestly, what was he thinking?! Or does he just, like, do things without any type of plan?!
Because if he calls what she read in his mind a plan, she’s going to need a pay raise.
Someone on the bridge dropped a holopad, and her skin jumped at the sound, her body ready to spring and her soul tuned into the Force. Ensuring she remain present and on guard – but not trigger-happy – Sebarra again analyzed the room for any threats (human or otherwise), and mapped out potential escape routes, accounting for two possibilities: a mobile or immobile Kylo Ren. She felt Force vibrate in her chest as she used it to enlighten her vision where her eyesight could not.
She saw and sensed nothing, but her body and mind remained ready. She took no chances. Not with Ben.
Sebarra had been so preoccupied with ensuring the safety of her Master that she sort of … forgot … that General Hux had been standing there the whole time, awkward as hell as he fidgeted, trying to figure out what to do with Kylo’s admission.
To high treason. And murder. Of the Supreme Leader.
She could feel the redhead’s questioning panic and uncertain hesitation; Sebarra found it amusing that apparently her Master wasn’t the only high-level male in the First Order who didn’t always think before they spoke.
If she survived whatever was about to happen, she made a mental note to point out this similarity with Hux to her Master as a way to thank him for almost getting her killed.
The General inflated his posture and lifted his chin; curiously, Sebarra sensed the Force drift slowly away from Kylo, flowing lazily toward Hux and pooling around him in a way she hadn’t felt before. She frowned, narrowing her eyes.
Hearing Hux’s shrill voice tore her from her thoughts, and the underlying nervous quake in his tone made her snort softly in satisfaction. “Well, then … you admit your guilt?”
Sebarra shifted her eyes to Kylo’s face; his attention hadn’t wavered from Hux, and his gaze was filled with a fiery challenge to anyone and everyone on this bridge, witnessing this exchange. His jawline fixed, his face placid…but those eyes. His eyes betrayed everything. They always did.
Ben Solo’s eyes, she thought to herself.
Kylo smirked, tilting his head ever so slightly as if considering how to properly discipline a pet. “Yes, General Hux, I admit my guilt.” Pause. “Anything else?”
Sebarra saw Hux’s nostrils flare as he rigidly clasped his hands behind him. Chin high, shoulders back, and spine straight, the General gave a terse shake of his head. Hux’s shame and embarrassment were so utterly palpable that Sebarra found herself almost feeling sorry for him.
Almost. Then she remembered what a sniveling asshole he was, and the fleeting feeling disappeared.
“Should you have any other questions I can answer for you, General Hux, please do not hesitate to let me know,” Kylo drawled. “In the meantime, you will instruct the fleet to maintain a holding pattern above Hoth, but you will under no circumstances act otherwise unless you have my express consent. Is that understood?”
Hux remained silent, as still as a statue.
Kylo squared his shoulders before repeating himself. “Is that understood?”
Yet Hux remained silent and steady.
Anticipating Kylo’s next move, Sebarra used her right leg to propel herself forward alongside her Master. She remained a half pace in front of and to his right, her steps in sync and in tune with his to ensure she could maintain her offensive advantage without compromising her defensive purpose.
She was his first line of offense, his last line of defense. And it would stay that way until the Force put air in her lungs no more.
Kylo stopped six inches from Hux’s face, leaning even closer as he growled the question once more, emphasizing each word: “Is. That. Understood?”
The General locked eyes with Kylo, answering calmly and no longer with the shaky, unsure voice he spoke with minutes before. “Yes, Supreme Leader.”
Resolution accepted and the victor clear, Kylo’s footsteps were even and calm as he left the Retribution’s bridge. Sebarra followed without so much as a backwards glance.
Despite her best efforts, Sebarra couldn’t help the grin glinting in her eyes as they walked side-by-side down the star destroyer corridor. With a small, conceding shake of her head, she opened up her mind to touch Kylo’s.
As you know, Supreme Leader, I’m all about giving credit where credit is due.
“It's okay, Sebarra. Just say it.”
Say what? There are lots of things I can say. For example, I think that you may need to freshen up on military strategy so the next time you have to stall for time, you don’t say some shit like, ‘Well, I don’t think our ground forces should pursue our ultimate enemy – the limping, diminished Resistance – because, y’know, it’s just so cold and harsh down there on Hoth.’
She shot him a sideways glance. His half-suppressed smile made her smile, too.
“Fair.” Pause. “But you know what I mean. Say it.”
Sebarra Ren rolled her eyes so hard that she’s pretty sure it sent ripples through the Force. I’m not saying it.
Sebarra audibly groaned.
Letting out the most excessively elongated, loud, and exasperated sigh she could manage, she decided to let him win. This time. Ugh, fine. You were right, but –
And then it happened.
And it hit her like a Bowcaster.
And the pain that radiated from her core was unlike anything she had ever felt before. She grabbed her chest as she sunk to her knees, gasping for air.
And was as if someone had poured gasoline on her rib cage and lit it on fire. Her eyes watered, her ears rang, her throat swelled, her vision so blurry and opaque that she could only tell Ben was kneeling in front of her because suddenly his hands were lifting the mask off of her head. She was pretty sure he was trying to say something to her, but everything sounded as if she were thousands of miles under water.
As her throat continued to swell and she grew more desperate for air, she began to lose control. She leaned forward and reached out for something – anything – and expected to be met with the cold, unforgiving hardness of the corridor floor.
Instead, she felt large, strong, steady hands reaching for her elbows as he pulled her closer to him. As she struggled to remain conscious, she bowed her head and tried to regulate her rushing mind. She reached out to Ben through the Force – she needed to make sure he was okay, that whatever this was wasn’t attacking him, that he could breathe and see and would be alright –
“I’ve got you,” Ben said as she felt herself being lifted from the floor.
Sebarra knew that there were few other ways she’d rather spend the last few seconds of her life than with Ben Solo, her first and best friend. But as she reached out to tell him, the darkness overtook her.
I hope all of you and your loved ones are having a wonderful, happy, and healthy New Year!
As a first-time author, I am truly humbled by the knowledge that you enjoy reading this story just as much as I enjoy writing it. Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read.
To be honest, this chapter was a bit of a stressful one for me, as it's certainly different than the previous two. It made me second-guess myself a bit, but then I decided to just "Sebarra Up" and post it -- so here it is!
Xoxo, until January 5th. :)
Time is the fire in which we burn.
The past month taught Rey more about herself than the nearly fifteen years she had spent on Jakku. The past six days taught Rey that subzero temperatures can literally fuck off.
Since hunkering down almost a week ago on Hoth with the Resistance, Rey had only truly felt comfortably warm once. During her first watchman shift in the trenches outside of Echo Base, Rey was pleasantly surprised to notice that for some reason, as the minutes passed, her extremities began ache a little less from the bitter cold. After a half an hour, she frowned slightly and peered down at her gloved hands as the pads of her fingers begin to prickle uncomfortably. About one standard hour into her post, Finn came out to check on her – well, the official excuse he gave was he needed to “borrow her macrobinoculars,” the one tool the money and resource-strapped Resistance had in surplus – and as he took them from her hands, she found herself screaming out in pain. After ripping off her left glove, Finn’s eyes grew wide as he looked up at her.
“Frostbite,” he whispered in horror, and before she could even ask what the hell frostbite was, he had picked her up, flung her over his shoulder, and ran back toward Echo Base’s entrance, screaming for a medic.
“Am I going to be okay?” Rey had asked in a soft, uncertain voice as the medic inspected her aching hands. The medic stopped and looked up at her, blinking.
“This…this frostbite,” Rey continued, bracing herself for the terrible news. “Is it treatable?”
That was probably the minute it dawned on the young medic that Rey actually had never even heard of the condition, much less experienced it. And as she explained to Rey what frostbite was, Rey could feel her cheeks flushing right along with the tops of hear ears.
“What in the galaxy is wrong with you?” she had growled at Finn, marching up to him in one of the cold, windswept corridors. He looked at her in utter confusion; in response, Rey held up her hands, which were completely wrapped in bacta and gauze, from forearm to fingertip. “You literally made me think I was dying of some inexplicable and incurable condition,” she continued, her voice low, “when in fact, as Doctor Malida so kindly explained, frostbite is literally an uncomfortable but easily fixable problem.”
Finn jutted his head forward, frowning. “Rey, I’m sorry, but frostbite is no joke. When I was stationed on Starkiller Base, I knew a guy who almost lost a finger because he had forgotten his gloves in the barracks and –“
“You picked me up, flung me over your shoulder, and shouted for a medic like I was on the verge of death.” It took every last ounce of her to keep her tone even and her volume low. “I felt like a fool, and, just to remind you, I can take care of myself,” she emphasized.
Finn’s eyes dropped from hers to look at the floor. After a few moments, he shrugged dejectedly as he quietly said, “I just…I worry about you, Rey. And it’s important to me to always make sure you’re ok.”
Wow, do I suck.
Rey suddenly felt like the biggest asshole in the galaxy, a feeling made worse when he looked back up at her, holding her eyes with his deep brandy-colored ones, and said, “You’re my first friend, my closest friend. And you always will be.”
This confirmed two things for her: that she was, in fact, the biggest asshole in the galaxy, while conversely, Finn had the universe’s biggest and most genuine heart.
Without preamble or explanation, she threw her arms around him, and smiled in relief when she felt his arms immediately wrap themselves around her waist, squeezing honest and true. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, her eyes prickling with remorse and shame. “I’m still not used to people caring for me.”
“I don’t care for you, Rey,” he gently murmured back. “You can care for yourself. I care about you.”
She squeezed tighter as she wondered to herself what she had done to deserve the loyalty and love of someone like Finn.
Rey made a point to look back on that exchange with Finn every day, to remind her just how lucky she is to have people who love her in her life. She couldn’t help but smile even now, as she stood in Echo Base’s mostly-dilapidated Strategic Command room, teeth chattering and bones frozen.
There were a variety of reasons Rey had spent 98% of the past week in that very room, sometimes even curling up in a quiet corner with a heat lamp and a sleeping bag. First and foremost, the room provided extra insulation from the harsh temperatures and wind; two of the base’s four main weight-bearing beams were located in this room, and in an attempt to secure the base’s structural integrity, the Rebellion had added extra insulation and durasteel support to the walls surrounding it.
Second and most importantly, Rey refused to leave Leia’s side.
Rey told herself that it was because Leia is the mother she never had; that she was not only a smart and capable leader, but also a compassionate and veracious woman; that she owed it to Leia to be present and willing to help the Resistance in any and every way at each and every turn.
In reality, the main reason Rey was so relentlessly committed to being the General’s shadow was because being near Leia was like being near Ben.
She had no remorse for closing the door in his face on Crait – he had made his choice to remain loyal to Kylo, and she had made it clear she was loyal only to Ben. But she found herself haunted by his gaze as he knelt on the floor of the Rebel base, clutching his father’s dice, and looking up at her with such deep hurt and intense loneliness. Wounded eyes filled with innocence and betrayal. Dark eyes, which by now she knew contained small but clear specks of golden light. These eyes were the eyes she told her secrets to. These eyes were the eyes she looked deep into, the crackling fire spitting between them, thousands of lightyears apart but so close they could touch each other. Did touch each other.
She came to know these eyes, to recognize these eyes. To love these eyes.
The eyes of Ben Solo.
Desperate to push him from her mind, Rey immersed herself in work, from repairing droids, to reinforcing infrastructure, to ship mechanics and maintenance, to scouting and sentinel duties. Occasionally, Finn and Poe would make her take a break so they could compete with each other to see who could make Rey laugh first. After Rose had fully healed and was back on her feet, Rey found herself truly taken with and impressed by her unwavering dedication to doing no harm, but taking no shit.
Once in a while, she could feel Leia’s curious gaze fall upon her. Each time Rey would look up to meet her eyes. Each time, Rey grew more certain that Leia knew everything.
As the enduring remnants of the Resistance received much-needed medical care, provisions, rest, and rations, the long journey from Crait to Hoth provided Rey with ample time to update Finn, Poe and Leia on everything.
Well, no. Not everything. Not even close.
She was particularly certain to truncate her experience on Ahch-To, speaking slowly and carefully so as not to share anything other than the bare necessities. As she grew more connected to the Force, Rey explained, the stronger she believed that Ben Solo could still be saved. She was so strong in her convictions that she brought herself to him on the Supremacy, where Ben had then brought her before Snoke.
This was when Leia spoke for the first time. “Rey, help me understand: how did you know? How were you so certain there was light still left in Ben?”
She looked down at her hands. “I really don’t know,” she had said softly.
Maybe it was the way he looked at me when we spoke. Maybe it was that I truly saw him – his future, his potential, his heart and his soul. Maybe it’s because I feel as if I have known him for longer than I’ve been alive. Maybe it’s because after we first appeared to each other, I couldn’t stop thinking about him, dreaming about him. Maybe it’s because he made me feel complete – unbroken. He fulfilled a piece of me that I never knew I was missing.
But Rey knew better than to speak the full truth. She tried to ignore the way Leia’s stare became piercing with the passing seconds, as if she were shining a spotlight onto the secrets Rey kept locked in the shadowy depths of her mind. “It was while I was there that Ben became enraged at Snoke,” Rey had explained to the three of them. “He was so enraged that he killed him.”
Leia spoke again. “I felt it, when he killed Snoke. His Force signature, his energy, felt so … different. It was at peace. Calm, clear, purposeful.” Pause. Leia leaned forward, and Rey’s heart hitched in her throat. “Rey … why did he kill Snoke?”
Rey had never been able to look at people in the eye while lying to them. So she stared down at her feet and responded, “I don’t know.”
Leia inclined her head slightly, and leaned back in her seat. While she kept her discerning gaze on Rey, Leia remained silent as Rey continued on: moments after Ben killed Snoke, the Supremacy had been split in two by Vice Admiral Holdo. Luke’s lightsaber had been collateral damage, but Rey was able to gather the pieces and escape in Snoke’s private shuttle, rendezvousing with Chewie out of range of the fleet’s sensors and heading straight for Crait as soon as they received the Resistance’s distress signal with Leia’s personal signature.
The trio sat in contemplative silence for a few minutes as they digested everything Rey had just divulged. Leia’s gaze remained solely on Rey, unwavering in their gentle, but scrupulous, assessment. As her hazel eyes met the General’s chocolate ones, Rey felt her jaw drop slightly when she noticed them: the small, but clear, specks of golden light.
He has her eyes.
Rey’s heart dropped and so did her gaze. She did her best to ignore the sharp stinging in the corner of her eyes.
I told them the most important parts, she remembers thinking to herself at the time. I told them what they needed to know so that the Resistance can rebuild and fight another day.
She doesn’t know why she bothered trying to fool herself. Rey acknowledges that she was – and still is – in complete and utter denial about pretty much everything that has to do with Ben Solo.
Well, is it actually denial if I know I’m in it? she thought to herself wryly.
It’s not like this coping mechanism is new: she’s been in denial her whole life.
When she was a child, she survived the many days of futile scavenging where she failed to barter for any portions by plopping on Raeh’s helmet as she ran around her AT-AT, her arms extended in attack formation as she shouted orders into her commlink to her fellow Rebel soldiers. She’d tell herself – convince herself – that she wasn’t hungry because she had just come back from the mess hall where she and her best friends just had a gourmet meal, with endless helpings and the finest off-world dishes. Even as a five-year-old, Rey knew if she lived in the pretend, she could ignore the real.
When she was a teenager and her looks began bringing unwelcomed and unwarranted attention from others, she decided it’s because her body was too … exposed. It was absurd to think that any danger or harm could come to her; there was nothing to be worried about, she told herself, because all she had to do was make sure she was dressed properly. So she replaced her much more practical and comfortable shorts with a pair of much hotter, itchy pants that ended mid-calf. She bartered two portions for three yards of extra linen, which she fashioned to hang over her chest and her back, synching it with a belt so it wouldn’t get caught on any of the dangerous machinery while she scavenged. She used the remaining linen to design arm wraps, but ended up running out of material before she could get all the way up to her shoulders. If she pretended the solution was simple, she could ignore the real threat.
And when she had been brutally assaulted and raped a year later by a drunken scrap-metal trafficker, she told herself that it was because she had gone to the market earlier that day and had forgotten to wear her arm wraps. So, really, it was her fault. She’ll just have to be more prudent, that’s all.
Just ignore it.
The electricity that crawled over her skin and amplified as she looked up at him in the lift to Snoke’s throne room.
Feeling the Force mobilize to gather around her and Ben when Snoke tried to take credit for their Force Bond. As they both called out to the Force, it split evenly between the two of them as they shared and off of the other’s outrage, each angry for the same reason: how dare he cheapen what is theirs and theirs alone.
The way he looked at her – oh my god, the way he looked at her – as she knelt in front of him. The way she couldn’t hear Snoke over the screaming in her head and the ache in her belly at the thought that she – her death – could be the reason Ben would be lost to Kylo Ren forever. The way “Ben…” rolled off of her tongue and passed her lips before she even had time to stop herself.
The growl that reverberated inside of her when their eyes locked, facing each other, lightsabers gleaming, eyes wide, words useless. The sensation of moving together, seamlessly, two parts of a whole, driven by passion, united by the Force, as they cut down the Praetorian Guards.
She had to give herself credit: she was pretty good at this “ignore it” bullshit. After all, practice does make perfect.
But what she couldn’t figure out was how to deny the pull Ben had over her.
The demand she felt from the Force when one Praetorian Guard held Ben in a choke hold, the need to help him so strong that she literally threw Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber to him. To the man who almost killed Finn, who killed his own father, whose personal mission was to decimate his uncle. She gave this man her weapon so he could defend himself, all the while disarming herself in the process as she stood on the First Order’s flagship, in the Supreme Leader’s throne room, in front of a man who she circled like prey and maimed like an animal just two weeks before.
She’s really almost frightened of just how primal her urge was – is – to shelter Ben. Not just to keep him safe, but also to keep him all to herself…
“…are you in there?” Poe asked, waving a hand in front of her face. The lights, noises, and bustle of StratComm flooded her senses as she was brought back to the present.
Rey blinked and rubbed her eyes. “Oh, sorry. Just…lost in thought.”
Poe offered her one of his signature famous – and undeniably handsome – half smiles as he said, “Yeah, that’s why I try not to think so much. I may get lost and never find my way back.” He winked.
“You could do with a bit more thinking, Commander Cockpit,” came Leia’s dry response from behind them.
Rey couldn’t help but laugh out loud as Poe held up his hands in surrender as he said, “Don’t shoot, I yield!” Hearing Poe recount the story of his mutiny – and Leia’s no bullshit attitude when she re-took command of the bridge – had been one of the few times in the last month where she had been able to lose herself in the moment and feel almost normal again.
“Hilarious. Almost as hilarious as my memory of you flying across the bridge and into the wall when I shot you.” The words were harsh, but those who knew Leia could hear the true good humor and love behind them.
Poe grinned as he saluted. “Anything for you, General.”
Leia rolled her eyes, coming to a stop at Rey’s side. “I just can’t seem to quit them,” she muttered. When Rey looked at her quizzically, she clarified: “Flyboys.”
The grin on Rey’s face faltered when she felt … a ripple across the Force. She didn’t know what it was. She didn’t know why it alarmed her, but it set her entire being on edge. What the hell was that…?
Rey frowned as she looked at Leia. Her eyes indicated she felt it too.
“General!” Lieutenant Connix’s panicked voice rang out, and Leia tore her eyes away from Rey. “It’s the First Order. They’re here.”
“Full report, Lieutenant,” the General snapped, heading across the room to Connix.
“Give us all the information you’ve got,” Poe added from across the room as he surveyed a TechStrat Map at a different console.
As she scanned her screen, Connix rattled off: “Three standard class star destroyers, one dreadnought. Our sensors indicate they’re just outside of our atmosphere. They’re in screen formation, to protect the dreadnought, but the fact that they’re a bit more spread out than usual indicates they intend to fall into a holding pattern.”
Without warning, the rock that had been laying heavy in Rey’s chest suddenly shifted. It became lighter, smaller, easier…
She knew exactly what that meant.
“He’s here.” She had no idea she said it until she realized everybody – literally everybody – in the room turned to look at her. Normally, her self-consciousness would have caused her cheeks and ears to go red as she looked for the closest exit to sprint through. But at that moment, right then and there, she couldn’t care less about anybody else in that room. Because for the first time in almost a week, she felt unbroken.
“Yes. On the dreadnought,” Leia said quietly. Her eyes, usually precisely focused and brightly keen, were dull and lifeless, her gaze distant, her cheeks hollow, her face abnormally pale.
And then it began: Leia plummeted to her knees, her chest shuddering as she gasped and struggled for air. Poe screamed out her name as he ran toward her, full tilt.
Rey didn’t even have time to process (much less react to) what had just happened to Leia when the first explosions hit. Reacting on instinct, Rey hit the deck, face down, covering her head with her arms to protect herself from the projected debris. When she felt none, she shifted her arms to allow for one of her eyes to peek out and survey the destruction.
But she saw no destruction.
She did see Finn kneeling next to her, genuine, honest, non-frostbite-related concern lining his face as he held out his hand. His lips were moving, but they made no sound. Just behind him, she saw Poe kneeling over a prone Leia as he soundlessly yelled orders and gestured frantically. She felt Finn cup her face in his hands. He was trying to tell her something, but her ears heard no sound.
The silence was so deafening.
But then came the screams.
The bloodcurdling screams were the most horrific sounds she had ever heard in her life, noises that could only be made by those who were in true and pure agony.
And then, to her horror, she realized these were the screams of children.
It cut her to her core like a vibroblade. She felt her heart tear open and bleed into her chest. She was in unbearable pain, because she couldn’t take away theirs.
Louder, and louder, and louder. As the screams intensified their assault on Rey’s soul, the overwhelming smell of burning wood and charred debris filled her nostrils. She coughed as heavy, toxic ash settled in her lungs, making each breath more difficult than the next.
Please, she begged, to anyone – anything, please, make this pain stop. Please, make it stop…
A roar erupted from not so far away, as if a massive structure had collapsed in on itself, and the ground vibrated along with Rey’s bones.
And the screams were gone.
The ash that continued to invade her lungs made each breath feel like sand paper, but she hardly noticed, because her very being had been shattered. The agony, terror, suffering, and desperate cries of children would never leave her; her soul was fractured and she knew continuing to live would be too painful. Eagerly inviting death was a completely foreign thought to Rey, but the pain was so excruciating, the screaming so terrible, so real, so personal – that she found herself wishing for death, just so it could all be over.
Her senses had vanished into to the madness long ago; she had completely lost herself to the all-consuming pain.
Please, she begged again. Please…
The weakening of her body and the shutting down of her mind was interrupted by a voice that echoed to her through the nothingness.
“Let go, Rey.”
She knew that voice. She would never forget that voice.
“Rey, you need to let go.”
Let go? How could she, when all she knew how to do was fight? Fight for portions. Fight for water. Fight for shelter. Fight to live. She was tired of fighting.
His gentle but desperate pleas were the only thing that gave her purpose: she was tired of fighting for herself, but she’d never tire of fighting for him.
So she listened. And, just like that, she let go.
She was tumbling, falling down the dark abyss into the total unknown, falling fast away from her consciousness. She anticipated a hard, unforgiving landing, because it was the only thing she had ever known.
So she braced herself.
But she hadn’t needed to. A sudden warmness engulfed her, and she recognized these arms, had been held by these arms in this exact way, just weeks ago on Takodana. And while the surrounding darkness marched toward her to claim her for its own, she knew no fear; never before had she ever felt so protected.
But the darkness’ march was quick, and she felt the coldness glide up her legs, slide over her torso and creep up her neck.
And just before it totally consumed her, she heard him again … soft, almost a whisper, but a fierce promise nonetheless: “I’ve got you.”
Sebar, verb: To disseminate, to spread widely, to invigorate, to give strength or courage to.
Kylo Ren knew the feeling of fear well.
It was one that never truly left him; now that he thought about it, he doesn’t ever remember a time without it gnawing in the pit of his stomach, seizing his chest and ever so tightly squeezing his throat – not enough to render him incapacitated, but just enough to bring about a haze over his mind, fracturing his thoughts and hindering his ability to ever truly think clearly.
The constant, internal battle over control of his mind began before he was able to form memories. When he was older – roughly a toddler or so – he remembered lying awake, staring into darkness. And sometimes, he noticed the darkness staring back.
The voice didn’t make itself known until he was around seven or eight. At that time, he didn’t know it as an intruder, an unwelcome guest of his mind; instead, he knew it only as his innermost thoughts, his troublesome subconscious that always seemed to know when he was the most vulnerable. It would creep into his mind quietly and lay dormant, but Kylo always felt its presence. He could feel it waiting, could feel it crouched there, smirking in the blackness of his mind, just waiting. Waiting.
Until it would strike.
But the waiting for the strike, the uncertain timeline leading up to it, was the worst part. It would send him into full-blown panic attacks. Desperate to relieve himself of the insatiable sense of dread that clouded his every waking moment, he became irrational, prone to seemingly inexplicable bouts of anger. He found solace in destruction for destruction’s sake, taking out his pain on inanimate objects and droids so he could see a familiar reflection of his damaged soul in their smoldering and disfigured bodies.
He knew there were whispers – Leia Organa, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and others – who feared his penchant for destroying would extend beyond droids to more sentient beings. They didn’t know that he would never, ever take his anger out on a person in the way he did a droid; the few times he has, it has made the fortress of his legacy crumble, and slowly, brick by brick, expose more fractures in the veneer of darkness he had worked so hard for.
And what remained of his dark fortress had collapsed into a pile of rubble the moment, the second, he looked into Han Solo’s eyes and ran his body through with his lightsaber.
Kylo shook his head violently, as if the abrupt movements would eradicate any and all memory of what he had done. He would not revisit it.
Especially not now.
Sebarra floated almost peacefully in the bacta tank, her soft hair drifting gently, framing her face as if she were adorned with a halo. Her traditional black attire removed, Kylo scanned her with his eyes, relieved to notice that the inflammation of the blisters running up and down her body had subsided substantially. In place of the fiery red pustules, there were now purplish welts.
Kylo set his jaw, his eyes sharp and his nostrils flaring. He hadn’t known she had suffered any physical harm until he had gotten her to the medical bay and the assessment droids had cut off her clothing.
When he saw them, he had actually cried out. In anger. In fear. In retribution.
He will ruin whoever is responsible for this -- he fucking swore to it. They will suffer. He will delight in their screams, revel in their agony. He will sneer at their pleas for mercy as he systematically drives them mad with grief when he makes them watch as he tortures their loved ones one by one. Mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses. He will relish in their misery.
He will punish the ones they love the most – their family – because they tried to take away his. No quarter will be given. All will be punished.
All but children – never, ever children. Much to Snoke’s disappointment (followed by physical and mental “conditioning,” Snoke’s wonderful word for “pain”), Kylo had always refused to make children repent for the sins of their parents. He certainly knew better, all things considered…
His thoughts trailed off before they circled back to the woman in front of him.
There’s no question: blood will be spilt and Sebarra will have her justice. You don’t fuck with those he loved, unless you’re willing to pay an extremely steep price.
But there is an important question: what the hell had happened?
He sensed the slightest flux in the Force only a second before he saw Sebarra fall to her knees, desperately grabbing her chest as if she had been stabbed clean through with a lightsaber. He could hear her panting desperately under her mask, her shallow breaths becoming quicker and more panicked as he sunk to his knees in front of her, hurriedly removing her mask in the hopes that it would free up her breathing.
His mind raced faster than it ever had before, and he could feel as he began to lose himself to the utter panic that he hadn’t felt since he had found his uncle standing over his bed as he slept, lightsaber raised and ready to strike.
Memories of the Praxeum flooded his mind as if the meticulously maintained dam he had spent years building had suddenly broken, spilling forth unreconciled emotions and bits of memories, faces, smells, sounds – laughter, grief, love, fire. He began to lose all sense of control over his mind as he began drowning in the sea of his past.
It wasn’t until he looked into Sebarra’s face – her unseeing but horrified eyes, her body shaking with the strain of each breath – that the waves of the past became less impossible, and he was able to navigate himself back to the shoreline of the present.
“Sebarra.” He had been alarmed at the sound of his own words; he realized how the pleading in his voice made him sound so, so young – as if he were sixteen again. He closed his eyes and struggled to re-center himself, to sense how the Force diffused around him – where it gathered and pooled and where it remained absent. He prodded it gently, urging it to redistribute and come back to a balance.
Shit, seriously …?
He hadn’t thought about it at the time. But as he stood in front of the softly glowing bacta tank, he was struck with the sudden realization that this exercise was the very first one Skywalker had ever taught him as a padawan at his Praxeum.
“Good, Ben, that’s really good!” Skywalker had chuckled. Pleased that he had successfully completed the exercise, Ben looked up at the man with sand-colored hair and a young face, but very old and tired eyes. “We’ll make a Jedi out of you yet.”
Not fucking now, he growled violently to himself. And he shoved the thought completely from his mind.
He remembered repeating her name … four, five, six times. Each time his voice got calmer, deeper, more soothing. He knew she couldn’t hear or see him; as she began to waver in her lucidity, rocking unsteadily on her knees and sinking further and further toward the floor, he saw her extend her arms, palms out and ready to absorb the majority of the uncontrolled fall should she become unconscious.
But he’d never let her fall.
He grabbed her arms to steady her before he pulled her to him, closing the distance between them so she could lean into him, safe. He could feel her fighting to remain present as her head bowed, her forehead resting on his chest, her labored breathing now barely above a whisper. And then –
Then what she had done had stunned him.
He felt as she tried to reach out to him with the Force. To see if he was okay.
Never mind the fact that she wanted to make sure he was okay as she was lying almost prone on the floor of the dreadnought’s corridor, struggling to breathe, her skin erupting in blisters and her wounds so severe that the blood soaked clean through her robes and onto his. Her mind in agony and her body breaking, she apparently thought the person who required the most concern and attention was him?!
He blinked away the stinging in his eyes. Not now, dammit. Not again.
As she balanced on the verge of unconsciousness and unable to communicate with her, he reached out to her racing mind. He caught glimpses of their painful past, fleeting visions of their choices and the consequences. Of their sins and their victories and their struggles and their smiles and their friendship.
He leaned into her sweat-soaked hair and whispered through trembling lips and the Force, “I’ve got you.”
Without another moment’s hesitation, he scooped her up – her lifeless body hanging limply in his arms – and he ran as fast as he could, as he ever would, to the medical bay, her blood running down his hands.
And then the droids had disrobed her, and he saw the extent of her wounds, and the First Order’s Lead Doctor walked in and mumbled some bullshit he didn’t bother listening to or recalling, and then they were putting her in a bacta tank, her small body covered in wounds, her body streaked in red.
He had stood there, like a sentinel, unmoving, ever since. He had been lost to himself and his thoughts; he couldn’t begin to even estimate how long. And he didn’t care. He would stand there until the day he fucking died if it meant she would be okay.
The small turn of his head signaled to the Lead Doctor that she may approach. His eyes never moved from Sebarra.
“Supreme Leader, I’m pleased to report that her wounds are healing well. The extent of her wounds is significant; they cover over 80% of her body, and it seems as though she’d been exposed to the flames for at least – “
Kylo’s eyes snapped away from Sebarra, his body whirling to squarely face the Lead Doctor. “What?” he asked, his voice dangerous and low.
He hadn’t bothered to tell the Lead Doctor what had transpired in the corridor. There simply hadn’t been time to: after the assessment droids determined she was in fluctuating critical condition, they rushed to prepare the bacta tank as the Lead Doctor examined her thoroughly and administered ample pain medication.
But as she stood in front of him now, Kylo could barely register what she was telling him. These wounds – they were real. Very, very real.
“From my estimation,” she continued, “the injuries across her body were caused by prolonged exposure to extreme heat – it’s why they manifested as blisters instead of soughing off entirely. Her lungs were the most compromised, and we aren’t sure as to whether there will be any irreparable damage. Her airway, while swollen, has shown the most progress and is almost completely healed.”
“How secure are you in your assessment, doctor?”
She raised an eyebrow, and the serpent pinged his heart. “Supreme Leader, considering the combination of injuries she has presented, that is the only logical explanation.”
With an abrupt nod of his head, she was dismissed, and Kylo was left to turn back to Sebarra, his mind spinning.
What the fuck is going on?!
He had never before heard – or even knew – of any Force influence that could cause manifestations of bodily injuries, especially not to this extent. His eyes narrowed as he focused on Sebarra’s face, the right side covered in smooth, delicately light skin – the left side now left scarred and mottled in shades of mauve.
A fire, flames, heat, prolonged exposure. Kylo’s eyes froze in place, widening in thought. Was this just a coincidence, or did this have something to do with –
Suddenly, he felt her.
This time, the Force Bond presented her to him differently than ever before. Usually he could see her; this time, he could only feel her.
And she was in pain.
Her shock, her horror, her pain … oh my god, her pain. She was in so much pain – he knew it because he felt it within his constricted heart, within his shattered soul. He hurt in a way he had never felt before; grabbing his chest, he inhaled sharply at the piercing pain. Only half aware of his surroundings in the medical bay, Kylo staggered a few steps sideways before falling to one knee with the hope of alleviating the foreign, pulsing ache within him.
“Please,” he heard her beg, to anyone – anything, “please, make this pain stop. Please, make it stop…”
He could feel her reeling, staggering under the weight of the unbearable sadness and overwhelming helplessness of whatever this was. She tried to fight it, of course she did – when has she ever given up hope on anything – but the struggle was tiring her out, exhausting her to her very core. He felt her resolve waver as the thought of rest, of peace, of nothingness became more seductive as the emotional anguish continued its assault on her heart.
“Please,” she begged again. Desperate. Broken. “Please…”
Her begging, wishing for death. Him on his knees, feeling her within him. Sebarra had been right. She’s his Other.
Let go, Rey. He reached out to her mind, ignoring the caged animal in his chest trying to claw its way out.
He reached out again, inhaling shallowly as another sharp pain struck him in the stomach. Rey, you need to let go.
His back began to itch and burn, sweat sticking to his neck. Were those – flames? – he felt licking as his back as he knelt, illuminated in the bacta tank’s glow. Fear as he had never known it ripped through him – terrified of the thought of losing the two people who knew him – truly knew him – and who truly loved him anyway. He couldn’t live that way. He didn’t want to live that way.
It should be him. Any sins committed by Sebarra or Rey were done for him, on his behalf, or to protect him. This should be him, but it wasn’t. He wished – prayed – to every god in the galaxy: Let it be me. Let them live, take me instead.
But he was only met with silence.
His insides were racked with guilt and despair, but he held out hope that maybe, just maybe, this time she will listen.
And listen she did.
She was falling fast. He felt her pain lessening. Her mind slower, muscles looser, soul serene. “I’m falling,” he could almost hear her Force signature whisper closely in his ear. “But I trust you.”
He reached out to her as her body, guided by the Force, gently fell into his arms. She felt so warm, so at peace, so calm and content.
And he felt unbroken.
Not knowing when – or if – he would ever see her again, Kylo gazed down at Rey and memorized the freckles on her face, the sun-kissed highlights in her brown hair, the soft curvature of her mouth. Leaning protectively over her, his lips so close to her forehead he could almost taste the salt of her skin, he whispered his promise.
I’ve got you.
And then he was flung from her.
He felt an invisible fist strike his chest, and he reeled, falling backward, his back hitting the floor of the medical bay with a dull thud. Unceremoniously pulled from the Bond, his mind was fuzzy and his thoughts discombobulated. Feeling vulnerable and confused, Kylo jumped to his feet and activated his lightsaber with a sharp snap-hiss.
He was on the dreadnought. He was alone. He was in the medical bay.
Just to his right stood the bacta tank; he hadn’t moved much, but from where he stood now, Sebarra was shrouded behind the reflection of the harsh white medical lighting. Deactivating his lightsaber and hooking it back onto his belt as he walked toward the tank, Kylo was acutely aware of his aching body and pounding head. Overcome by an unexpected wave of exhaustion, he used his right hand to brace himself against the tank, palm pressed firmly onto the thick glass. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, whispering, “You were right, Sebarra. You were right. She’s my Other.”
And the tank vibrated.
So Kylo lifted his head.
A matching palm pressed to his, from the other side of the glass, fingertips slightly shriveled, hand much smaller.
There she was, this girl suspended in bacta, who hours ago had been bleeding out and burning alive in the hallway of the dreadnought corridor. This girl with unfaltering loyalty. This girl, whose palm against his was a promise. Whose nose and mouth are obscured by the required bacta respirator, but whose free bright blue eyes twinkled as she searched his own dark ones.
This girl who, after everything, had the audacity to literally just wink at him.
This girl, who had just made his face erupt into a smile as he choked out her name, barely above a whisper.
It is my pleasure to introduce: The Knights of Ren. :)
Faith is a fire that never burns to embers.
Ofir Ren stood at the base of the craggy cliff of Master Skywalker’s island on Ahch-To, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes.
Aside from the water rushing lushly all around him, making its presence known by lapping at the rocky terrain upon which he stood, the only sound he could hear were the caretaking Nuns, quietly going about their business. They had paused in their work as the five Knights sauntered off of their sleek and modified Lambda-class shuttle, tilting their heads curiously at them. Ofir reached out with the Force and found no fear or concern in them – they almost expected them.
Ofir had narrowed his eyes in surprise. Strange, but no matter.
He signaled to the Knights to de-mask out of respect for the history of the island and followed suit. As he removed his sleek custom black mask, he felt the fuzzy warmth of the sunlight and could smell the faint metallic stench of salt spraying off of the sea surrounding them. He reached out with the Force …
The hum of the Force reverberated within his very soul, the gentle buzzing starting in his chest and spreading to his arms, legs, fingers, toes. This place was intense, but understated, in its power.
He opened his eyes and smiled. It was exquisite.
Ofir led the way as the five black-clad Knights climbed the uneven steps upward toward the Temple Pinnacle in silence. He could sense their intrigue and excitement, and he had to admit he was just as much looking forward to seeing, sensing, feeling the energies of the oldest Jedi Temple. The place where Master Skywalker had spent so many years in exile after the fall of Ben Solo.
Ben Solo, the strangely awkward but incredibly powerful student at the Praxeum, who was now Supreme Leader Kylo Ren. As Ofir’s thoughts lingered on Ben, he found himself becoming morose and wistful. The things that could have been …
It is not your place, he thought as he snapped his conscious back to the present. All is as the Force wills it.
Without pausing his stride, he looked up toward their ultimate destination and noted, to his annoyance, that their steady trek upwards toward the peak had yielded less progress than he had anticipated. As if reading his mind, he heard Vasco Ren, rounding out the rear, call to no one in particular, “For fuck’s sake, how many stairs are there?”
Ofir had to suppress a sharp-toothed smile as he turned his head partially back toward the four Knights behind him. “Patience, Vasco. The Force rewards those who are patient.”
He could hear Vasco snort and say quietly to Jari Ren in front of him, “I’m patient! Come on, Jari, tell Ofir I’m patient.”
“Tell him yourself,” Jari responded amusedly. “Leave me out of this.”
“You know,” Aila Ren’s voice, right behind him, joined in the conversation. “Ofir is technically in charge with Sebarra offworld. You better play nicely, Vasco, or you’re going to get an earful when she hears about another instance of your repeated insolence toward authority.”
Ofir couldn’t help but laugh. Vasco had always been quite a maverick, even at the Praxeum. A human from Corellia, he had grown up in the luxurious lap of an established and well-known family of arms dealers – or respectable arms dealers, as Vasco would say as the sarcasm literally dripped from his voice. Primed to take over the family business beginning from birth, Vasco renounced all his material belongings, stole one of his father’s ships, and headed straight to the Praxeum.
Ofir still had half a mind that Vasco did it just to stick it to his war-mongering parents. But that still didn’t negate the fact that Vasco was a powerful Force wielder, indeed.
“Me?! Insolent?” feigned Vasco as he grandiosely acted surprised at the characterization. “Erez, can you believe that? And to be accused of such a terrible thing by a fellow Corellian,” Vasco tutted in mock disappointment, his green eyes sparkling. “Aila, I thought we were kindred spirits.”
Aila chortled. “We were from two different Corellias, you aristocratic buffoon,” she jabbed. “Your family would be horrified to know that you’re enjoying the same station in life as a former street urchin from the underworld.”
“Yeah, probably,” Vasco agreed. “But we have so much in common, Aila! You can teach me so much about … street urchining. Come on, let me make an honest woman out of you. You’ve been turning me down for too long. Just one date. It’ll change your life.”
Ofir found himself smiling widely as the rest of the Knights openly laughed. It was no secret that Vasco had been pining after Aila since they met so many years ago at the Praxeum, and it was openly joked about among them. While there was no specific mandate that Knights could not become romantically involved – with each other or with others – it wasn’t viewed favorably. Extraneous emotional attachment served to distract them from their shared goal – the creed they all bound themselves to and would die without batting an eye to uphold.
The very same doctrine they created the night the Praxeum burned, as Ben Solo presented himself to Snoke and was proclaimed Kylo Ren.
Anointed as Master of the Knights of Ren through pain and suffering, Ben’s agony had been so intense, so encompassing, that each had ached with it themselves; he remembered Sebarra had curled herself into a corner of their holding room, shaking in a fetal position, cold sweat trickling down her face and matting her soft hair to her forehead and neck. Her connection with Ben – Kylo Ren, he reminded himself – had always been unbreakable. Most of the Knights agreed that in all likelihood, it was a Force-sanctioned friendship: meant to be, unbreakable, and created for a greater purpose than the two people involved.
“He’s doing it for us,” she had muttered, barely above a whisper, as Ofir crouched in front of her and wiped her sweat-soaked hair from her shaking eyes. “He’s shouldering Snoke’s punishment so we don’t have to be initiated in the same way.”
Ofir vowed to remember Ben’s terrible hours of torture at Snoke’s hand, promised himself he’d remember how the Kylo Ren that had emerged, looked less like a Master and more like a punching bag. Blood dripping down his face and body shaking so violently that he had only taken a few steps into the room before collapsing into Sebarra’s arms, he lay there, head in her lap, as she rocked back and forth. She whispered soothing nothings to him, his gaze straight forward and unmoving.
He shuddered as he remembered Ben’s eyes: dead, unmoving, and blank.
Vasco’s surprised shout from behind him dragged him back to reality. He turned around to see a fist-sized Force-flung rock fly by where Vasco’s head had been only a second ago. “Lesson number one in ‘street urchining’: don’t be an asshole or I’ll knock your pretty little elite head off of your shoulders,” Aila called down to him, grinning.
Regaining his composure and brushing off his black robes in an attempt to save face, Vasco ran a gloved hand through his dark brown hair and offered a lop-sided grin. “I knew you were beginning to like me.”
“That’s enough.” Ofir’s tone was sharp. “This is sacred and holy ground. You will conduct yourselves accordingly, like the Protectors of the Force you claim to be.”
They continued onward in silence until he heard Jari whisper, “You’ve been quiet, Erez.”
“It’s a bit overwhelming, this place,” Erez responded softly.
As the two youngest Knights, Jari and Erez had formed a particularly close friendship that began back at the Praxeum. Jari, the only Togruta, fell victim to the same bullying and teasing Ofir had, as a Zabrak. As Master Skywalker’s only two non-human padawans, Ofir had first met Jari when he had rounded a corner and found her surrounded by students who were taking turns pulling on her head tails. Her face was defiant; there were no tears to be found. Though one of the youngest at the Praxeum, she had an affinity for reading her opponents and identifying their weaknesses. As a boy reached for her left head tail, Ofir watched in stunned silence as she had whirled around, knocking his feet from under him and elbowing him in the chest as he fell to the ground, air knocked out of him. The two remaining girls had charged at her in unison to avenge their fallen friend, and he could’ve sworn he saw Jari’s mouth curve upwards into a smile as she clotheslined one while upper cutting the other, making sure they stayed down with swift kicks to their kidneys.
She had sighed and dusted her hands off, standing over them for a second longer so they remembered who had bested them in an unfair match.
It was that moment that Ofir decided to take Jari under his wing. As the years passed, she became the little sister he never had.
The best way to describe Erez, a quiet boy from Naboo with chocolate brown eyes and mouse brown hair, was to point to Jari and say, “See her? He’s the exact opposite.” Quiet and observant, his strength was in Jedi lore and history, and he relished learning all he could about the mysticism surrounding the origins and downfall of the Jedi and their Council. Unassuming and small, Erez’s serene Force signature and sharp intelligence had caught Jari’s eye from the minute he arrived at the Praxeum.
But each of them knew full well that Erez’s peaceful nature was not one to be tested. He could more than hold his own in a fight – he employed his noiseless nature even in battle, ensuring that he could take your head off before you ever heard or saw him coming.
Vasco let out a huff of finality as they climbed the final set of stairs, reaching the Temple Pinnacle at last. Aila patted Vasco on the back as he hunched over, breathing heavily, hands on his knees. “Out of shape, are we?” she asked innocently.
Vasco glared at Aila before raising his eyebrow, standing up straight, and lifting up his sleeved arm. “Wanna see just how out of shape I am? Check this out.” And he flexed.
Ofir set his jaw. “Vasco Ren, that is enough,” he growled, wiping the smile off of both Aila and Vasco’s faces as their gazes returned to the ground. “You will show some respect for where we stand or you will leave, is that understood?”
“Yes, Master,” each muttered. It was jarring to hear himself referred to as Master, but as Aila had pointed out before, it was true: in the absence of Sebarra, he was in command.
Ofir looked around pointedly, eyeing the simple stone huts. He noticed one was being hastily repaired, the re-bricking sufficient but messy, and as he approached, he noticed it looked as if the walls had been exploded…from the inside out.
Closing his eyes and opening his mind and body to the flowings of the Force, he removed the glove from his right hand and laid his palm over the unfinished patchwork.
A girl, dripping wet and shivering with the cold, sat across from a dark figure as a fire spit and licked between them. The figure facing her was shrouded in shadow; the Force was unwilling to reveal his identity. “I’ve never felt so alone,” she said as tears sparkled at the corner of her eyes.
“You’re not alone,” the unclear voice replied, as if the Force had warped it beyond recognition.
“Neither are you.” And he watched as she reached out toward the dark figure, who reciprocated. As their hands touched, Ofir felt the Force recalibrate and thrum with a vibrancy he had never known. And then -
“Rey?” someone had called, a door had swung open, and the hut had exploded.
Ofir was thrust back into the present, his mind reeling and confused. Why did the Force, of all things, show him that?
He hadn’t noticed Erez standing beside him until he spoke. “Did you see her?”
Ofir nodded once. The Knights waited for further elaboration, but he would not give it. He gestured the Knights forward. Each of the removed the glove from their dominant hand, pressing their palms against the moist bricks of the half-rebuilt hut.
And Ofir waited.
And started to grow impatient until he heard a gasp. Aila was the first to remove her hand, which she used to cover her mouth, her eyes wide. Vasco followed shortly after, face scrunched into a frown. Next was Jari, who withdrew her hand sharply, as if the stone had burned her. Erez was last, and his movements were slow, peaceful, and calm, his face impassible except for slightly raised eyebrows.
Ofir let them absorb what they had seen before speaking. “Were your visions all different?”
The Knights looked at each other wordlessly, and nodded.
“It was the girl,” Vasco spoke first, rubbing his chin in thought. “Rey.”
Jari nodded, “I saw her talking to someone, over the fire. I couldn’t see who it was either,” she nearly huffed in frustration, her hands balled into fists at her side. Ofir had to suppress a smile; Jari was ever the impatient spitfire.
“I saw who destroyed the hut,” Aila said softly. They all turned to look at her, and she met Ofir’s eyes with her own. “It was Master Skywalker.”
Ofir frowned. “Why?”
“He was angry. Angry at Rey, I think. And afraid,” Aila said, shaking her head. “There was so much emotion, it was difficult for me to tell.”
“I saw it all.”
Erez hadn’t removed his eyes from the hut, as if he were waiting for it to reveal further secrets.
Nobody spoke, and the island itself stood still.
Tearing his eyes away from the hut, Erez looked at Ofir. “It was Rey, the girl we’ve all had visions about. The scavenger from Jakku.”
“She came here to train with Master Skywalker and to bring him out of exile to help the Resistance. He spurned her and refused to train her fully. She felt the dark before she felt the light,” he said softly, turning to look back at what was left of the hut, his face passive. “She was drawn to the dark.”
Only the wind moved, only the water made a sound.
Erez took a deep breath. “She had visions. Troubling visions that couldn’t explain who her parents were. She felt hopeless and lonely. Which is why she reached out to the only other person who she thought could understand. He sat across the fire from her, bonded by the Force. He’s her equal.”
He looked up into Ofir’s wide eyes. “It was Ben Solo.”
Ofir thought the loud roaring in his ears was his brain trying to grasp exactly what Erez had just told him, but Vasco disbarred that assumption: “Knights, it looks like we have company.”
Looking up into the cloud-splattered sky, Ofir saw four Stormtrooper transports entering Ahch-To’s atmosphere and gunning it for the island.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Jari muttered.
Ofir’s eyes narrowed. This certainly was not expected. What they hell were they doing here?
As if to answer, the transports opened fire, and the Knights scattered. Diving behind a boulder for cover, Ofir scanned his surroundings and saw the other four crouched in defensive positions, taking cover behind rocks and huts, the Force connecting each of them together to act as if they were one entity, one being, united against those who threaten the Knight’s Code.
“This has Hux’s name written all over it,” Vasco called.
“Something’s not right,” Aila concurred over the explosions of the continued bombardment from the transports as the ships moved into landing position.
No. No it wasn’t.
Sebarra would have let them know if Hux had made a grandstand for Supreme Leadership, and he’s certain he would’ve felt it through the Force if Kylo Ren had been injured, compromised, or … removed … from power. Ofir shuddered and pushed away the thought, instead reaching out to connect with Sebarra’s mind. Distracted as he strained to hail her, a bolt from one of the transport’s laser cannon missed him by a millimeter and he cursed under his breath, ducking lower and closer to the mossy boulder he crouched behind.
Sebarra, where are you? he called.
Silence. Then –
His vision caught him offguard, his disbelief catching in his throat and resulting in a strangled cry. He felt the Force tendrils of each Knight reach toward him, inquisitive and alarmed. He led them seek and search, availing his mind to them so that they may see exactly what he saw: Sebarra unconscious in a bacta tank, wounds running up and down her body; Kylo Ren, kneeling in front of it, gasping for air, face contorted in pain.
“NO!” Vasco roared, as he stood up from behind the boulder. Reaching out with his right hand, eyes ablaze and filled with rage, he grabbed a hold of the fourth transport – the one that had yet to land – stalling it in mid-air. Ignoring the surrounding blasts from the ship’s laser cannon, he curled his outstretched fingers into a fist. Ofir watched the transport implode, crushed by an invisible vise. It hung there, like a squashed bug, until Vasco extended his fingers once more; it plummeted to the sea below, disappearing into the unknown depths beneath the white capped waves.
The bombardment stopped; the other three transports had safely landed at the base of the island. Emerging from their respective covers, Ofir assessed each Knight quickly and noted they shared faces etched with concern, worry, horror, fear, anger, and resolve. They needed to get to Sebarra and Kylo Ren. Now.
Ofir placed his mask over his head, his fellow Knights following suit. There they stood, in a perfect circle, just for a moment, looking at each other through covered faces, feeling the Force flow between them as natural as if it were rain flowing down an embankment.
Ofir took a breath and nodded to each of them. “Remember why we are here.” The familiar statement was one that was poignant. Powerful. And meaningful.
The Knights activated their lightsabers and pointed them at the center of the invisible circle in which they stood. Goosebumps raised on his yellow skin as his heart clenched in pride for what he and his fellow Knights stood for, what they protected, what they had come to mean – both to the Force, and to each other. His chest swelled as he opened his mouth to join the other four as they responded in unison, voices rising to the heavens above: “There is only one truth. There is no light without the dark. There is only the Force.”
“Let’s move,” Ofir growled, and they took off running down the island, at full speed, lightsabers ablaze, toward the three dozen Stormtroopers awaiting them.
Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.
Perhaps going to Ahch-To wasn’t such a grand idea, Ofir thought wryly as he ran full speed ahead toward the sea of bobbing white helmets, dodging and deflecting the streaks of red blaster fire tearing toward him and the Knights that followed.
Of course, Kylo had not known about this detour from their years-long mission of scouring the galaxy for the historical records once housed in the Jedi Temple’s Archives on Coruscant. Most of the archived material had been destroyed when Emperor Palpatine had converted the Temple into his personal Palace. Over the past five years, their collective efforts uncovered a few galactic maps, astronomical journals, and outdated engineering and technology documents, but they had been grossly unsuccessful in even gaining a solid location lead on their true end goal: the sacred Jedi texts.
Kylo had demonstrated a surprising amount of patience with their repeated failures, and Ofir knew for certain that he had wholly kept their assignment and efforts a secret from Snoke. But as to a clear reason why his Master – now Supreme Leader – was so dedicated to finding these texts? Well, that was largely above his pay grade.
He was surprised, however, when Sebarra announced over dinner one evening aboard their shuttle that she would be paying a visit to Kylo Ren – alone.
The constant hum of casual and mundane conversation screeched to a halt as the Knights fell silent, waiting. Ofir’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly; the only sound was the viscous gruel dripping sloppily off of Aila’s spoon, which was paused halfway to her mouth as she stared at Sebarra.
“I will be sure to send our Supreme Leader your regards,” Sebarra said as she sat at the head of the table, her light eyes twinkling per usual. “But your mission, while I am gone, is to pay a visit to Ahch-To.”
Vasco had sat back in his chair, folding his arms and raising his eyebrows in surprise. Aila had clumsily dropped her spoon back into her bowl, sending the purple chunky liquid splattering. Erez remained silent and observant, as usual.
And Jari had been unable to keep her mouth shut … also, as usual.
“It’s because of our visions, isn’t it?” she asked, eyes wide as she leaned across the table toward Sebarra, her cheeks flushing with excitement. “Of the scavenger girl.”
“Rey,” Sebarra had corrected firmly. “Her name is Rey, Jari Ren.”
“Right … Rey,” Jari let the name linger on her tongue for a minute as if tasting a foreign dish and deciding she very much liked it. She nodded as she continued, “You’ve foreseen it too, haven’t you?”
“We all have.” Ofir had remained pensively quiet and non-reactory, but this was a point he wanted to make clear to his fellow Knights and his Master. “And we all remember what happened the last time we were privy to these unexpected collective visions.”
There was a heavy silence that surrounded them in that moment as each of them returned to the time, seven years ago, when something very similar had happened to the six of them as students at the Praxeum.
Back to when the other visions began.
The visions of Ben Solo’s transformation.
“Rey is different.” Sebarra’s pointed and unexpectedly … charged? … statement brought all of them back from the depths of their memories.
As the other Knights nodded around him, Ofir had to admit that Sebarra was right.
For months, the Knights had shared these visions of this girl, of Rey. She’d manifested as no more than a shadow; none of them could decipher physical features or attributes of any kind.
But the power that emanated from her was real. Immeasurable, even. That was clear to each of them.
It reminded Ofir of the crackling electricity that had flowed from Ben the first time they had met. A vigorous spark so palpable that it had sent chills up his spine, a reaction Ofir had grown accustomed to experiencing each time he was in the presence of Kylo Ren.
While Rey's twin energy matched Kylo’s in power and intensity, it was equally as strikingly different: warmer, clearer, purposeful.
With Sebarra’s seal of approval, the Knights had vowed to never mention these visions – or this mysterious girl from Jakku – to Kylo Ren. No, this needed to be handled by the cosmic fates that be.
This was destiny, after all.
“What’s on Ahch-To?” Aila’s voice rang clear and true, breaking him from his reverie.
Sebarra raised an eyebrow. “I believe it’s where Rey had been training. With Master Skywalker.”
Vasco was caught off-guard mid-gulp from his canteen, and he began coughing violently as his eyes watered, his face red as he hit his chest a couple of times with his fist in an effort to clear his airway. Aside from his sputtering, Vasco and the others remained silent, and Ofir could sense a constricting heaviness set over them, like a weighted blanket bolted to the shuttle floor.
Guilt. Regret. Sadness. Pain. They trickled through the Knights like a babbling creek as each thought of their old Jedi Master.
Ofir’s eyes flitted up to meet Sebarra’s; they were filled with sincere sorrow, profound grief. Over the ten years of friendship, Ofir had only seen Sebarra's eyes emote such true pain, a pain rooted in the depths of her soul, one other time: the night Luke Skywalker was tempted by murder, the night Ben Solo turned, the night the seven of them fled.
The night Peleth Dol burned the Praxeum to the ground as they stood, watching in horror, as their friends burned alive.
He'd never forget those screams...
"No!" Aila's wail of pain cut through him like a vibroblade.
Transferring his gaze to where her shout emanated, Ofir saw Aila stumble as a blaster bolt struck her squarely in the knee. She faltered but corrected her trajectory, arching her body inward to protect her internal organs while redirecting her momentum. She tucked and rolled, hitting the rocky ground with grace and ease, maximizing her forward motion to emerge on her feet. She flung her hand out in front of her and the Stormtrooper who had wounded her went flying into the face of the cliff behind him, slumping to the ground with a dull and final thud.
Chastising himself for getting lost in his head – again, he thought angrily – Ofir quickly surveyed his surroundings and took stock of his four. All masked and clad in black, it appeared that aside from Aila, none of them had sustained any injuries worse than a few scrapes and bruises.
The Knights cut their way through the sea of waxen bodies, communicating to each other through the wordless ways of the Force. Their movements flowed poetically, effortlessly, almost as if they were in a trance. Ofir navigated over and around the fallen bodies lying motionless on the ground as he lunged at one Stormtrooper and broadly swiped at another, his saber hitting true and eviscerating their armor, slicing through their hearts.
An easing, a gentle recalibration in the Force – something that usually indicated the event at hand was at its end – prompted Ofir to redirect his attention to his surroundings. His ears rang with the trademark song of death and destruction: silence.
The Stormtroopers were dead. All of them.
Ofir deactivated his lightsaber and returned it to his utility belt. He removed his mask, his sweat-filled brow finding relief in the gentle breeze skipping off of the surrounding waters. The others followed suit, and Ofir was relieved to note that their flushed and tired faces remained somber and respectful.
Death was a part of life. Killing in self-defense is necessary for the preservation of the whole, for the achievement of the larger, more important purpose that surpassed them all. But killing for sport and enjoyment was blasphemous - a blatant “fuck you” to the Force - and it was an unforgivable affront that resulted in the highest penalty: death by one’s own lightsaber. This was an unspoken code of the Knights of Ren.
Ofir knew he would never get used to hearing the stunned cries and agonizing lamentations of those who knew death was upon them. Especially if it was he who was the harbinger of their demise.
He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, as if he could bring the Force into his body through intake of air alone. “May the Force bring you everlasting peace,” he spoke softly as his eyes lingered shut, the black outline of his tall, lithe body contrasting with the surrounding landscape of unmoving lifeless white.
Tucking his mask under his left arm, Ofir walked over to where Aila stood with her arm slung over Vasco’s shoulders. Her right leg was bent ever so slightly, her foot hovering above the ground behind her.
Ofir looked into her green eyes, the gentle smile crossing her lips letting him know she was okay. He crouched down in front of her and surveyed the wound: seared and bleeding, with white specks of bone visible where the skin had been burned off. Quite the nasty hit.
“We’ll tend to it on board,” he said as he stood and cupped her cheek in his hand – a sign of familial affection from his homeworld.
Without another moment of delay, Ofir set off toward their shuttle, his pace quick and his gait clipped. He hadn’t forgotten the urgency in their departure. As the Knights fell in line behind him, he reached out to Sebarra once more; desperately hoping for a response, his prodding was more urgent than normal, and certainly less gentle.
Sebarra, wh –
“My brain is not an overripe Starblossom fruit, Ofir Ren. And it’s been a fucking long day. Please be gentle.”
Sebarra’s response rang through the Force, startling Ofir so sharply that he misjudged the lip of the descended boarding ramp, which almost caused him to go flying face-first into the shuttle.
Seb! What happened? he asked, regaining his composure as he motioned for the Knights to quickly board.
Sebarra, tell me.
He found himself pleading with her: Tell. Me.
He could feel the tension reverberate through their connection, and his chest constricted in apprehension. She knew something. Something she didn’t want to disclose, but had to. Something she wished to keep hidden, but couldn’t. And whatever it was, it was really, really, bad.
He could feel it.
As if the pressure applied would determine the speed at which the boarding ramp would retract to allow the shuttle doors to close, Ofir aggressively slammed the control twice, leaning his body’s weight into it for good measure as he bared his teeth in anxiety.
But when Sebarra finally responded, it was worse than even he anticipated.
“Meet me in Docking Bay 418 of the Retribution. Bring the Knights, all of them. Ofir … please hurry,” and he felt her connection falter as her emotions raged within her so violently that his ears began roaring with chaos.
And then he knew why.
I continue to be overwhelmed with this experience, and I have loved responding to each and every one of your reviews. Keep 'em coming!
What you seek is seeking you.
She never expected to be saying goodbye.
Not like this.
Rey watched as Poe knelt by her bedside, his shoulders shuddering with silent sobs, his dark hair covering his bloodshot eyes. He grasped Leia’s hand so tightly with his own that his knuckles shone white against the red biting coldness of Hoth.
The General remained still, her movements lost to Rebellions and Resistances of old. Her life – dedicated to protecting the galaxy, to saving people and planets and entire systems filled with people whom she had never met – unceremoniously snuffed out by …
… by something dark, and sinister, and truly evil. But what the hell had actually happened to Leia, to her, that day in StratComm, remained a mystery.
She had woken up in the makeshift medbay as she was being tended to by Doctor Malida of “frostbite isn’t a fatal disease” fame. Hers was the first face she remembered seeing, followed by Finn’s tear-streaked and swollen one seconds later.
Confused and in a daze but physically unharmed, Rey didn’t remember anything Finn had said to her when she woke up. She did, however, remember knowing that the wetness on his cheeks and puffiness under his eyes hadn’t been all for her.
She had felt it, after all.
The warm, constant, abiding flame that Leia had always been within the Force.
It was gone.
All that was left was cold and bleak, filled with shadows and uncertainty.
It was as if the Force had gone dark.
With the realization came the numbness – engulfing, all-encompassing numbness – and it hadn’t left since. It was an emptiness within her, brought to her forethought with the occasional sharp pain of sadness, of guilt.
But in that moment – as she looked upon Leia’s lifeless body – all she felt was relentless, fierce anger.
Anger at her drunkard parents for throwing her away like she was a piece of fucking garbage, her existence worth less than a glass of cheap Corellian brandy. Anger at Unkar Plutt who had taken joy in seeing her on the verge of starvation, for all of those years. Anger at the scrap metal trafficker who had taken her childhood and her innocence, brutally and sadistically, without preamble or second thought. Anger at Luke Skywalker for failing them all, for going down in a memorable blaze of glory only to leave them, high and dry, yet again. Anger at Poe who looked so damn weak, sobbing in front of the body of a woman he had deliberately disobeyed just days ago, a man whose actions had killed Rose’s sister and 60% of the remaining Resistance fleet.
Anger at Finn who looked at her with pity as he awkwardly stood next to her, edging himself closer toward her until he was close enough to reach out and clasp her hand.
Without tearing her eyes away from Leia’s face, she ripped her cold, clammy hand away from his warm and secure grasp, and, for added emphasis, shoved him unceremoniously away from her with the Force.
She found herself drowning in resentment and hatred and pure fiery rage as she stood in front of Leia’s dead body. Her body shook as she balled her hands into fists, eyes watering with tears that refused to cascade down her reddened, hot cheeks. The Force flowed through her in unsteady spurts, crackling against her bones and setting her heart alight with spite and contempt.
Never before had she felt like this: powerful, quaking, unhinged.
And she fucking loved it.
All of those years of empathy, of compassion, of caring too much and receiving too little in return, of fighting simply to live, all of those emotions that had lay dormant inside her since she can remember were suddenly writhing, wriggling, clawing their way to the surface. She could feel them in her very veins, boiling her blood with their selfishness and unabashed hatred.
She could feel Finn’s worried eyes settle on her face as her brow flattened and her jaw clenched. Without a second thought, she whirled around, turning her back on Leia, on Finn, on Rose, on Poe, on Chewie, on the Resistance, marching out of the mourning room and heading toward her quarters, a matching heaviness in her footsteps and in her soul.
She was breathing heavily, her chest heaving against the new, constricting vise that surrounded her heart. It had been there the minute she had awoken from her … episode? … the same one that had taken Leia’s life.
She slammed the palm of her hand against the door key pad and walked into a very small room filled with the few things she could call her own – her quarterstaff, Luke’s broken lightsaber, the sacred Jedi texts.
Her gaze fixed on the old, decrepit books, and she felt the darkness claw within her again, desperate to be unleashed. This time, she didn’t fight it.
She reached out with the Force and flung them from the shelf they rested on, hitting the snowy wall with a sickeningly dead thunk. She called her bowstaff to her, catching it in her right hand and pivoted on her left foot to face the blank white wall adjacent to the entrance. She roared out in pure, unadulterated fury, as she had in Snoke’s throne room, as she launched herself at the wall, guttural cries of anger erupting from her throat as her bowstaff landed strike after strike on the bleached wall in front of her, her lunges gouging out chunks of the pure canvas, ripping its smooth surface piece, by piece, by piece.
She didn’t know how long it had been – seconds, minutes, hours? – but a particularly powerful strike landed awkwardly in one of the holes in the wall, and she felt her bowstaff shudder as it erupted in a final crack.
Rey stood there and stared at the inanimate object that had protected her from so much for so long, one piece of it in her right hand, the other lying at her feet. The jagged edges along where it had cracked splintering to show the decay that lay beneath the surface that had caused it to falter.
No, she thought, throwing down the remaining bit in her hand and balling her fists in front of her. We’re not done yet.
She flung herself at the wall as she punched it repeatedly with her right hand. One, two, three, four … a lowly scavenger with no family, no home, no one … nine, ten, eleven … who has no place in this story … fifteen, sixteen, seventeen … who has gone through more pain, suffered through more loneliness, than anyone could ever know … twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four …
Her twenty-fifth punch caused her to erupt in a howl as she felt the bones shatter beneath her skin. Cradling her hand, blood flowed freely over her jacket sleeve, down her forearm and trickled off of her bent elbow into a crimson pool at her feet.
She felt the pain, acute and terrible and envigorating, course through her body as she looked back up at the blood-splattered wall in front of her. She flexed her fingers, a painful heat tearing through her mind that alleviated the overwhelming emotional turmoil within her. She felt her mind careening into a void of unknown origin or purpose, its darkness sucking her toward it as it called to her, welcomed her, bidding her to let go of her compassion and remorse and willing her to just forget.
Wasn’t it easier on Jakku? it questioned, the voice cackling softly in her ears. No one cared about you, and you cared about no one. It hurt so much less, didn’t it? To just be alone, to care for yourself and yourself only?
Yes. Yes it had.
Her lips curled into a sneer as she pushed through the biting ache in her hand to form a fist again, honing in on one part of the wall that remained untouched and unburdened by her anger and blood, as if mocking her to do her worst.
The pain cleansed. The cleansing healed. The healing resolved. The resolution: apathy and hate.
But as she raised her fist and cocked it back, someone grasped her bent elbow tightly, spinning her away from her masterpiece of destruction. She cried out in surprise and anger, dipping her left hip and giving herself the leverage she needed as she powerfully swung her left and undamaged fist in the general direction of whoever had grabbed her.
Her punch too low, she realized her folly as her hand wailed into Ben Solo’s upper chest. Her head tilted up to meet his eyes, and before she could stop herself, it was out of her throat and across her lips, hanging softly in between them as they faced each other, so close that she could feel the heat from his body crash into hers:
His eyes were wide and his lips were parted as if words danced across his tongue but couldn’t be said. She found herself getting lost in his gaze as she counted the golden specks in his eyes. She could see the emotions dance across his face – horror, pain, worry, confusion; mixed with others that made her breath hitch – longing, need, fire, passion.
“Rey,” he said softly, and she felt that primal instinct within her gut purr itself awake once more. Her mind blank with sudden urgency, she reached up to his face with her free left hand, tracing his scar. Maker, how she wanted to run her lips up and down it, healing it with her tongue as she ran his hands through his hair –
“Rey.” Ben’s voice cut through her like an icicle, the gentleness replaced with an edge of – worry? “What the hell are you doing to yourself?”
She followed his gaze to rest upon her swollen and bruised right hand, the trickle of blood slowing as it flowed in between the banks of crusted and dried crimson that laced across her knuckles. It looked so small and delicate as it lay gently in Ben’s large bare ones.
“What?” she asked blankly as she blinked, frowning. She stared at her hand almost quizzically. “I was … angry …”
“… at your hand?” she looked up to find a hint of a grin trailing his lips. It vanished as soon as she spoke.
“At everyone,” she spat ruthlessly as she wrenched her hand from his, backing away from him. She could feel the fire within her soul begin to sizzle and crack once more, and she welcomed the accompanying high with a cruel smirk. “Even you. Especially you."
She didn’t know why she was saying this shit. I mean, for fuck’s sake, she had been ready to climb him like a beanstalk literally thirty seconds ago, wanting to take him into her arms as she healed the wounds that lay across his body with her lips.
It was this disconnect, between her rage and her love, that made her realize that something wasn’t right. Which is why when she felt Ben reach into her mind, she remained motionless, allowing him to gently cull through her thoughts and feelings in search of what the hell was going on with her.
She felt him suddenly withdraw, an urgency in the way his mind rescinded from hers, and she felt the vise in her chest constrict. And when she looked up into his face, she felt her stomach drop: his featured were etched with disbelief and horror as he quietly uttered, “No.”
“Ben - ?” she asked, her question cut off as she found herself suddenly enveloped in his embrace. He squeezed her tightly, his arms easily wrapping themselves around her waist, as he lowered his forehead to hers. His skin felt like bacta as he held her close to him, craning his eyes to look into hers as they held each other.
Nothing had ever felt so natural, so right, and the corner of her eyes began to sting at the thought of ever having to let go.
“Rey, you need to promise me something,” he murmured. She could feel his hot breath on her face, and longed to taste his lips on hers.
Instead, she just nodded.
“Never again seek me out.”
Her blood ran cold and her ears rang. She couldn’t have heard him right: they were standing there, arms wrapped around each other, eyes desperately searching each other, breathing in sync with each other. She knew – knew, because she could feel it in her very soul – that this is where they both belonged, and that he knew it just as well. She shook her head in confusion, her brain struggling to comprehend.
“Rey, promise me. Never again.”
She opened her mouth to argue, to beg, to scream or shout or cuss or kiss him or beg for forgiveness for whatever she had done or to tell him she couldn’t imagine living without him, not now, not ever, that life wasn’t worth it and she wasn’t whole unless he was there with her, why couldn’t he just understand?!
“Why?” It was all she could manage to croak out as she drowned in sorrow and pain – oh my god, so much pain.
She grumbled in protest as she felt him remove his arms from around her waist, but suddenly felt his hands cupping her face as she tilted up toward him.
She could see him struggle to answer her, his gaze flitting back and forth between her eyes and her lips. “I can’t explain …”
“Please,” she said softly. She allowed the tears to flow freely now. “Please … try.”
Her heart wrenched in her chest as she saw a single tear trickle down his face as he shook his head. “I’ll be the death of you.”
She heard the roar in her ears and knew that the Force would take him from her, and she cried out as she desperately tried to bring him closer, to feel him against her, to feel his hands caress her face, to wrap her arms around the base of his neck.
But she knew it to be fruitless, and it was. As it always had been, she watched as Ben disappeared, leaving her alone, cold, confused, and aching.
She reached out with the Force. No, Ben. Don’t … don’t do this …
And she was met with silence.
She turned and sunk to her knees, sobs wracking her body so violently she thought she might be sick. Wetness ran down her face, mucous smearing with bitter tears, coating her cheeks and chin. She closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe … just breathe … as her sobs fell away to gasps for air and the occasional hiccup. She looked at her mangled hand, at her broken staff on the floor, at the sacred Jedi texts laying in a disjointed heap across the room. She gazed up at the wall she had so relentlessly pounded against, and her stomach turned at the copious amounts of blood patterned against the otherwise pure, continuous white.
She was broken. He was broken. They both were broken. But together, they were whole.
She wasn’t going to let him do this. Not this time.
This time, she was bringing home Ben Solo.
“It’s him,” Kylo confirmed, in what was barely above a whisper.
Sebarra raised her unmasked face ever so slightly as she cocked her eyebrow. Her lips were set into a grim, firm line. “Peleth Dol?”
She stood across the table from him, her hands clasped behind her back. She had healed well – the woman was as stubborn as a Rathtar, and twice as dangerous, he thought to himself – but Kylo refused to let her out of his sight until he figured out what the hell was going on. His Bond with Rey had confirmed his worst suspicions.
Kylo nodded as he met Sebarra’s piercing blue eyes with his own tired ones.
“I thought he was dead,” she said flatly, but Kylo heard the vindictive distaste lying visibly underneath her words.
“As did I.” Kylo rubbed his eyes, desperately trying to get the picture of Rey’s lips out of his head. “But I felt him. I felt him in her mind,” he growled, setting his jaw and balling his fists. Fire ran through his body at the thought of him playing on her emotions, tooling with her consciousness, eliciting from her the type of irrational and rage-filled behavior befitting of a Sith.
Befitting of him.
When he found Peleth, he would bathe in his blood.
The frantic streaks of red across the snowy wall. Rey’s demonic growls filling his ears as she mercilessly punched it again, and again, and again. The haunted look in her eyes as she wheeled around to face him. And the clarity that filled them as she looked up into his face and uttered that word, the word that he had murdered his own father for uttering, but the word that sent shivers up his spine whenever she spoke it and created a longing in him that he wasn’t sure he could deny for much longer.
Sebarra cleared her throat, and Kylo realized he’d been ignoring her this entire time. He shot her an apologetic look, and she grinned. “She missed you, didn’t she?”
Kylo narrowed his eyes. “Is that what you cleared your throat so pointedly to ask me?”
Sebarra shrugged. There’s that damn twinkle in her eyes again, Kylo thought begrudgingly. That can only mean –
“Did you kiss?” she asked coyly.
Kylo audibly groaned and Sebarra couldn’t help herself – she laughed. It was an airy, soft, genuine laugh that Kylo realized he hadn’t heard in years. His heart swelled with tenderness, a tenderness he didn’t know he still possessed, and he shot her a mischievous smile.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. Your lips are the only ones I’ve kissed, so far.”
He noticed Sebarra’s grin falter slightly. Her gaze fell to rest on the ground before her, and she took a deep breath before speaking. “How did Peleth figure out how to utilize an Essence Transfer? From what I remember of him, he’s dumber than Bantha fodder, and that type of power requires some serious skill.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know,” he responded slowly as he considered the possibilities. Essence Transfer was a radical dark sided Force power that ancient Sith Lords employed to transfer their consciousness into another. It was their ingenious way of cheating death time and time again.
“You’re right. It’s virtually impossible to achieve,” Kylo thought out loud. “Not without guidance or an apprenticeship, at least.”
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
The realization struck him like a blaster to the face.
“That son of a bitch,” Kylo muttered under his breath as he looked at Sebarra incredulously. “He didn’t have just one apprentice. He had two.”
Sebarra shook her head, her brow furrowed in confusion. “Who?”
Kylo couldn’t help but grin forlornly at the genius of it all. That slimy, decrepit, disgusting bastard.
The cure for pain is in the pain.
“Kylo Ren is descended from greatness, from Skywalkers,” he recalled his Master reminding him, each and every time they would meet, connecting always through holovid or other secretive communication channels. “What can you offer that he cannot?”
“Darkness,” would be his answer, each and every time. “Hatred, vengeance, purpose.”
His Master would sit back, smiling sickly as he cackled and gestured grandly. “Yes … yes. I feel the hatred within you. You are powerful, my Shadow Apprentice. And when the time comes, you will not fail me.”
No, he wouldn’t – Peleth Dol swore to it.
He would avenge his Master’s death in the very way Kylo Ren had murdered the Supreme Leader: with the cruelest stroke. Peleth would take away everything Ren had ever worked for, cared about, loved. Bit by bit, piece by piece, he would drive him mad with regret and soul-crushing guilt. Make him realize what an utter piece of worthless trash he was. Make him regret, with every fiber of his being, what he had done. Make him languish and writhe in unimaginable pain as he watched his loved ones cry out in torment, helpless to do anything to save them.
Peleth would take everything from Ren and leave him broken and alone. He would beg for death. And only then would Peleth smile and consider giving that son of a bitch what he so longed for.
The thought of ruining this man was the only thing that had kept Peleth alive for all of these years. He fed off of his anger, took nourishment in the constant pain and loneliness, slowly digesting each faltering step Ren took as he failed time, and time, and time again. He could barely hide his disgust as Master Snoke had relayed the story of his defeat to the scavenger on Starkiller Base; he openly cursed Kylo Ren when he heard of his insubordinate behavior toward the Supreme Leader.
But Peleth Dol waited. His patience was his strength, and he knew, when the time was right, he would strike fast, hard, and true, laying waste to Ren’s mind, heart, soul, and body.
What he hadn’t expected, in all honesty, was when the Supreme Leader had opened his mind to let Peleth watch as Kylo Ren presented his scavenger whore. He saw through Master Snoke’s eyes, gleefully enjoying as his Master toyed with the girl, throwing her around like the useless rag doll she was. Peleth had smiled with pleasure as he heard her scream, suspended in the air, as his Master had viciously raided her mind, brutally and without preamble.
So distracted was he by the access to this real-time vision, so entranced by the pure pain of the scavenger, that Peleth had failed to take heed of Ren as he knelt, unmoving, like a statue.
Peleth remembered shifting his gaze to look upon his enemy’s unmasked, cowardly, scarred face, a face he had not seen in ten years, a face which was unchanged and still surprisingly childlike. A face that had always given away his emotions.
As his Master narrated Kylo Ren’s innermost thoughts, Peleth looked into Ren’s eyes and saw, to his shock and horror, that Kylo Ren wasn’t there.
He was looking into the eyes of Ben Solo.
It was at that moment Peleth knew his Master’s fate. As Supreme Leader Snoke looked down with shock at the lightsaber that impaled him, Peleth was thrown from the vision with finality, the connection severed permanently. His Master was dead.
He felt bile rise in his throat as bitter, seething vitriol gnawed at his rib cage. Kylo Ren, Ben Solo, whoever the fuck he was today, had taken everything from him.
Because Nava had been, and remained, his everything.
With bluish black curly hair and honey colored eyes, Peleth had shared a special connection with his little sister from the moment she had been born. Growing up on Lothal hadn’t been easy; located in the Outer Rim with a history of economic despair and disruption, its leaders had been enticed by the hollow offerings of prosperity and security the Galactic Empire. Peleth, Nava, and his mothers had been displaced from their self-sufficient farming community. His childhood consisted of working alongside his sister as they mined for ore and other minerals from Lothal’s core under the tight grasp of the Imperial Mining Institute’s overlords.
His mothers had died in an underground mining operation – taken from him in the blink of an eye.
So at fourteen, he found himself responsible for ten-year-old Nava, and the harsh reality of a life filled with backbreaking slavery and soulless misery was no longer an option.
They escaped Lothal and haphazardly stumbled upon the Praxeum. Luke Skywalker had opened his arms to them both. He remembered the now foreign feeling of happiness and contentment each time he saw Nava smile during practice. Each time he saw how peaceful she was during meditation. How passionate she was about the Jedi, about the Force, about the Light.
Everything he did, he did for Nava.
Until suddenly, she was gone.
Because she had been burned alive as the flames of the Temple engulfed the Praxeum dormitory next to it, where she had been sleeping soundly and peacefully.
He could still hear her screams for him, the utter remorseless wailing that filled his ears as he clawed his way through fire, breathing in the hot ash as the flames licked his skin raw, leaving raised blisters over 80% of his body that had, with time, turned into dark purple welts. A permanent reminder of the night his world was set alight and came crashing down alongside the ruins of the Temple.
That night, the light went out in his life. That night, darkness consumed him. That night, he found the deepest and darkest hatred of his soul, and reserved it for Ben Solo – the betrayer.
Peleth had never trusted the gangly boy with dark, bottomless eyes. Socially awkward and stunted, he had watched with amazement as he formed an intrinsically inexplicable bond the Praxeum’s most beautiful and talented student, a student he had admired and cared for and loved from the moment he met her.
Sebarra was perfection.
And Solo had stolen her from him, too.
It had given him pause, in the beginning, to bring Sebarra such pain. But he knew her suffering would resonate with Solo, with Kylo Ren, setting him on edge and off kilter, exposing his brash weaknesses and untidy mind in order for Peleth to exploit it.
And as he had forced the blisters through her flawless skin, he remembered smiling to himself placidly, knowing that she would share the same mauve scars as he did.
Now she was his, in a way. And he lived for that feeling of ownership.
His second target was Leia. Damn, did that woman refuse to go down without a fight. Scrappy and valiant to the end, she resisted becoming a pawn in Peleth’s manipulation game of her precious son. Rather than see Solo suffer due to her condition, she had simply let go. That had upset Peleth greatly. He had so been looking forward to annihilating the emotional and physical health of the woman who had given birth to such a disgrace.
Oh, but Rey … Rey had been his favorite of the three.
Peleth’s goal going into this whole debacle of torturing the women closest to Solo began at the most basic and natural level: his mothers had been taken from him, his sister had been taken from him, Sebarra had been taken from him. Peleth had lost all the women closest to him, who meant the most to him -- two of whom were directly stolen from him by Solo. It was his visceral reaction to pass on the torment to the one who tormented.
The method, while simple, was personal: share with them the pain and anguish he experienced that night. He projected his sister’s dying screams and those of the fellow students, screams that echoed in his head, following him during the day and bombarding him at night. He projected how he felt as the fire burned his lungs, the pain growing exponentially with each breath, as he had desperately throttled his way through the flames engulfing the dormitory, desperate to save Nava. He projected the smell of his own flesh burning, the agony of knowing that death was coming but wasn’t quite close enough, the horror of the sound of children – young teens and children – screaming for their mothers, their fathers, Luke Skywalker, anyone to save them.
He wanted to share the burden he had been crushed under for all of these years, so he shared it with those Solo loved.
And he loved Rey the most.
And Rey’s reaction had been sublime.
It had sent her reeling, plummeting toward insanity as she struggled against the unexpected pain and agony. Taken aback by his instantaneous effect, Peleth had lobbed everything he could at her, gleeful to an almost erotic degree as he felt her crumble and fracture, praying for it to end, wishing for death, her malleable mind cracking wide open and allowing him to sneak inside of her, where he remained.
Waiting. Just waiting.
Naturally, because Solo literally ruined everything for him, Peleth couldn’t truly complete the Essence Transfer to fully occupy her body. Solo had Bonded with her then – a mystery to Peleth, who didn’t understand how it was still occurring after Master Snoke’s death – and had begged her to let go, which freed her from Peleth’s grasp as she handed the safety and security of her mind to Solo, who caught it and coveted it.
He had flung Ren from her mind too late and ruminated in disappointment. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to have been able to strike Solo down with Rey’s hand, watching the life drain from his pained eyes as he was viciously murdered by the one he loved the most.
But Peleth found another avenue to exploit: the crack that had appeared in Rey’s mind was filled with darkness, hatred, resentment, pain. Whatever this scavenger had been through, it was certainly more than enough to provide him with the foothold he needed within her mind. She was untrained, a blank slate, with immeasurable power and intense inner conflict, and it was all too easy for him to feed off of her intense emotions and internal turmoil during Leia’s funeral.
She was his puppet on a string as he fueled the anger raging within her. Pushing away her friend who tried to hold her hand. Slamming those old books to the ground. Breaking her staff, and then her hand, as she pummeled the snowy wall of her quarters, her crimson blood splattering across the pristine whiteness that had surrounded her.
And then, again, that insufferable Bond brought Solo to her. He saw how he looked at her. How the scavenger looked at him.
The same way Sebarra looked at him at the Praxeum. The same way she still did.
Pushing aside his jealousy and anger and venomous malice, Peleth realized that she – Rey – was the key to Solo’s undoing.
But Peleth underestimated him this time. As Solo had tenderly sifted through his whore’s innermost consciousness, looking for a reason for her uncharacteristic behavior, he found Peleth as he hid, crouched quietly in the dark corners of Rey’s mind.
How endearing that Solo thought that keeping this bitch away from him would protect her. On the contrary – she was now the most valuable tool Peleth had, and he intended to do everything to leverage it.
Even putting up with the intolerable and incompetent General Hux.
Master Snoke had premonitions that Solo was trouble, which is why he had specifically instructed Peleth to reach out to Hux when the time was right: “He knows of you, my Shadow Apprentice, but he does not know much. As a non-Force wielder, he will never be able to defeat Kylo Ren without you by his side. You will work with him to fulfill Kylo Ren’s downfall if necessary. Is that understood?”
And that’s how Peleth Dol came to be where he was now, standing opposite of General Hux: the pasty ginger eyeing Peleth down his long, narrow nose; Peleth’s gaze impassive, his amber brown eyes set on Hux’s uniform.
Gesturing slightly toward the other man’s insignia, Peleth spoke. “I notice you are no longer wearing the designation of General,” he said amusedly, a half-cocked grin gliding across his face. “If I’m not mistaken, you are wearing a designation that reflects sole ownership over the First Order’s forces.”
Hux sniffed loudly, and Peleth was pleased to note that he had struck an uncomfortable chord. “That is correct. The designation is that of Sovereign Ruler.”
Peleth rolled his eyes and dismissively waved his gloved hand at Hux’s clipped and agitated response. “Supreme Leader, Master, Sovereign Ruler, whatever,” he chortled. “I don’t care about the First Order, its mission, or you.”
Peleth paused, cocking his head and narrowing his eyes. “I care only about destroying Kylo Ren.”
Hux’s posture became a little straighter as he clasped his hands behind his back, his thin lips curling into a smile. “That is a common goal I believe we can work together toward achieving.”
Peleth erupted in a toothy smile as he clapped his hands together in front of him, rubbing his palms together in eagerness. “Excellent.”
“When would you like to begin?” Hux asked, and Peleth’s grin widened.
“There’s no time like the present.”
Oh, Peleth. He's no good...no good at all. But I hope his introduction and a bit more of the backstory has given you answers re: what happened to Sebarra/Leia/Rey, and why Sebarra urgently called the Knights back from Ahch-To!
Thank you all so much for continuing to enjoy the story. You all mean so much to me, and your support has been beyond wonderful. I appreciate each and every one of you. :)
It does no good to wash a wound with blood.
“At night, desperate to sleep…”
If only he knew how those words he spoke to Rey only weeks ago would haunt him now.
Not that sleep ever came easily to Kylo. It would usually take an intense training session, lasting several hours or more, to tire out his body enough so that his frenetic mind would quiet and still itself to allow him at least one or two hours of dreamless sleep.
But with the threat of Peleth Dol looming large and foreboding, Kylo had forgone his usual evening workout to ensure his body would be lithe and well-rested, just in case Peleth was foolish enough to confront him on his own ship. While unlikely, it was nonetheless important to be prepared. It was a mentality he and Sebarra shared, which is why she recalled the Knights from abroad. Kylo was looking forward to reuniting with them when they arrived – it had been too long since he had seen them, and he found he missed their company greatly.
Staring unblinkingly at the gunmetal gray ceiling of his quarters, he felt the soft Chandrillian cotton sheets of his bed as they caressed his bare back. Unfortunately, they offered little in the way of comfort. There was too much at stake.
Rey was at stake.
Kylo squeezed his eyes shut and inhaled deeply, fighting the urge to set his jaw and clench his hands resting neatly at his side.
He could still feel the smooth skin of her forehead as she rested it against his own, could still smell the brine in her hair as it brushed against his cheeks, could still remember the warmness of her soft and quick breaths on his chin, could still see her gentle lips shudder as he had asked her pleadingly to never seek him out again.
He couldn’t risk it … couldn’t risk her … now that he knew Peleth had successfully permeated her mind. To what degree, he was unsure. But one thing Kylo was very familiar with was how devastating internal malicious voices can be to one’s soul. He had lived that reality for his entire life, and he’d be damned if he were to see Rey suffer the same fate.
She deserved it all: deserved utter happiness and blissful joy, whatever form that took for her. Friendship, peace, love, family, children … all things he so desperately wanted to give her. He would burn down the universe just to see her smile, but in the end, as always, all he would leave is devastation in his wake. A galaxy on fire. And he knew her better than to think that the smile he’d coax from her would be anything but temporary.
She deserved everything. And he could offer her nothing.
But if he was being honest, he suspected that she thought differently.
The way she looked at him, vulnerable and shivering, over the softly curling flames as she reached out her hand to him. The way she looked at him as she stood facing him in Snoke’s throne room, Skywalker’s lightsaber ignited in her hand. The way she looked at him, her hazel eyes desperately searching his own as he wrapped his arms around her waist and told her to stay away …
He could see it in her eyes as plainly as if her soul was screaming out to him. And he knew his eyes reflected the same.
An instinctual need.
They needed each other. They were each other’s equilibrium, offering each other earnest and pure solace through permanence, working in sync to serve as an intricate natural system of checks and balances.
But there was also an undeniable primal want.
They craved each other. Something had stirred within him when he first lay eyes on her in the Takodana forest, something so powerful he couldn’t help but to drink her all in, from head to toe, and back again. The string that had wound around his stomach tugged at his insides during her interrogation, his lips so close to her flushed cheek he could almost taste the salt on her skin. The pull became stronger, more insistent, as he lay wounded and bleeding in the snow on Starkiller Base, watching the power emanating from her as she stood over him, face contracted and eyes alight with anger.
But then he had touched her hand on Ahch-To, had felt her skin on his. And then he had held her on Hoth, had felt her body flush against his. And the strange sensation in his stomach was no longer subtle: it had morphed into a vicious caged animal, desperate to taste freedom.
To taste Rey.
There were so many ways he could use her body to provide her with such elicit pleasure, and so many ways she could elicit pleasure from his …
A guttural snarl escaped his throat as he shifted onto his side, desperate to think about anything but those urgent feelings, feelings he hadn’t felt since stealing kisses – and sometimes a lot more – with Sebarra at the Praxeum.
“Exactly how many whores do you have, Solo?”
Kylo immediately acted on instinct, springing himself upright to stand on his mattress in full defensive posture, calling his lightsaber to him and igniting it with a soft double hiss. The red blade sizzled next to his ear as it cast an eerie glow around the perimeter of his bed aiding him as he searched the dark corners of his room for the owner of the voice.
“Oh, come now, don’t be offended. You come by it honestly. I hear your father enjoyed quite a few women in his day. Especially while married to your mother.”
Pure red rage clouded his vision as elemental hatred pulsed through him, his lips curling into a snarl. He couldn’t see anyone in the room, but was not about to lose the minimal high ground he had provided himself perched atop his mattress. Staying put, he unleased the acquisitive tendrils of the Force, reaching out for a signature or an indication that he was host to an unwelcome visitor
But he sensed nothing – no one. His mind swam: was this another voice? It was different than Snoke’s, than the one that had visited him since he was a child. Were his subliminal thoughts rising to consciousness, brought forth because of the strange emotions of love and affection drifting through him, the presence of urges that had been long lost to him?
Was this even real?
“I can assure you, Solo, I am very, very real.”
One thing was for certain: whether real or not, the voice was able to read his thoughts. Kylo flung up his mind’s defensive durasteel wall to act as a shield around the innermost workings of his brain. It was a tactic that had taken him years to perfect, one that he had used most effectively as Rey knelt before him in the throne room, as Snoke narrated the thoughts Kylo had falsely projected to hide his true intentions: to protect Rey, as no one had protected him.
He heard a chuckle – was that in his mind? He could’ve sworn the laughter resonated from his ears as a tangible sound – and Kylo reached out again with the Force, searching. Feeling. Looking …
“Tsk tsk, Solo. You think you would have learned from Anakin Skywalker. Your compassion for her shows you for who you really are: a weak, vulnerable fool.”
Kylo’s eyes narrowed, his muscles tense and beginning to strain as he stood as still as a statue, lightsaber remaining at the ready. As his eyes continued to cull through the shadows, his piercing gaze enhanced through the Force, he caught a shift in the darkness in his right periphery. He pivoted sharply to face the perceived threat head on, realizing his mistake too late as the familiar constricting coldness creeped up the back of his neck: the Force’s way of telling him he had misjudged the advancing danger.
The first bolt of Force lightning struck his lower back, knocking the air out of his lungs as he fell to his knees. The familiarity of the pain allowed his mind to stay clear, and his eyes remained open as he retracted his right arm to hold his lightsaber close to his side.
What he wasn’t expecting was the second bolt that struck his chest, right above his heart, causing him to cry out in shock and pain. He was now on all fours, desperately trying to keep his head from hanging between his shoulders as floating spots of light filled his vision. He inhaled acrid smoke from the sheets burning under the ignited blade of his lightsaber as he tried to slow his ragged breathing, center himself, feel the Force flow through him –
– and then the third bolt struck his left side, setting his rib cage on fire. He growled as he attempted to feed off of the pain to harness and convert it into the adrenaline he needed to launch himself forward to take the offensive –
But the fourth bolt that struck was so powerful and agonizing that it flipped Kylo onto his back, his grip loosening just enough to send his lightsaber flying off the edge of his mattress. He watched helpless and panting as the hilt skidded across the floor, stopping abruptly as a pair of boots stepped out of the nothingness. Realizing how vulnerable he was, he channeled all of his energy and to roll onto his side. But as he propped himself up unsteadily with a shaky elbow, he was met with yet another bolt. Sweat rolled down his forehead and trickled down his neck, pooling on his bare chest, which rose rapidly as he struggled to refill his lungs with air.
He had misjudged indeed.
His body weakened and coursing with throbbing numbness, he watched as a gloved hand reached to pick up the hilt of his lightsaber off of the floor. Kylo blinked sweat out of his eyes as the figure rotated it in his hand carefully, as if he were pensively inspecting it.
“You modified your old lightsaber. How endearing.”
Pushing aside his body’s agonizing screams and ignoring the way his limbs trembled with exhaustion, Kylo spat as he snarled out the name. “Peleth.”
Stepping forward from the darkness as if he were a serpent emerging from the grass, Peleth stood still, pausing to run his eyes up and down Kylo’s prone body, smiling sickly as he paused to survey the variety of scars spattered across Kylo’s bare arms, neck, torso and chest.
Then, as if remembering himself, Peleth moved with conviction, crossing the room with quickened and lengthy strides to grab Kylo by the neck, squeezing with both brute strength and the Force.
Kylo gurgled as he was lifted by his neck. His body protested in vain, lungs screaming for air, now fully upright to look into the face of a man with black unforgiving eyes and welt-like scars covering his neck and the lower half of his face.
As Kylo’s chest heaved fruitlessly and his vision blurred, a sudden shuddering explosion erupted, catching Peleth off-guard. As metal debris zoomed threateningly close to their heads, the grip around his neck loosened just enough for Kylo to attempt to replenish his lungs, coughing and sputtering on the smoke that filled the air. As he gulped down several deep, ragged gasps, a familiar white lightsaber blade cut through the hanging cloud of smoke.
Sebarra screamed violently as she charged at Peleth Dol, the Force viciously swirling and enveloping her in red anger, dark fear, and unbridled passion.
She didn’t make it far.
A wave of lightening hit her square in the chest and flung her against the far wall with a sharp crack. She crumpled to the floor, momentarily dazed, but true to fashion recovered quickly to stand at the ready, her sleek black mask basking in the glow of her lightsaber’s blade as she leveled it with her shoulders, in prime position to strike.
Kylo sputtered and heaved as he felt Peleth’s hand on his neck return, squeezing so tight he thought his eyes would pop out of his skull. Giddy with glee at Kylo’s suffering, Peleth laughed genuine and true as he turned his head to Sebarra in greeting. “Ah, my tenacious love,” he crooned mockingly. “Thank you for joining us. I’ve so hated being away from you for all of these years.”
Kylo sensed a rage within Sebarra that he had never felt before, and her voice quaked with emotion. “Let him go, Peleth.”
“Oh, please forgive my rudeness,” Peleth continued. “I have yet to introduce you to my apprentice, a true prodigy with Force lightning, as you both can attest to first-hand.” Kylo was shocked to see a woman step forward out of nowhere, her tan skin and slight frame cloaked in black. Her stoic angular face and dark purple hair aided her aura of severity, but her large lilac-colored eyes told Kylo she was nineteen or twenty years old, at most.
Rey’s age, he found himself thinking, and Peleth snickered. “I can assure you, Solo, that Kiva is much more powerful than that scavenger bitch you’re longing to fuck.”
Kylo roared, too livid to care about the precious air he wasted in doing so. Weakened from oxygen deprivation and electrocution, Kylo struggled pathetically against Peleth, who merely chortled heartily in delight.
“Let him go,” Sebarra repeated, her voice low and dangerous.
The smile vanished from Peleth’s face as he stilled, turning his full attention toward her. His expression suddenly serious and intense, he narrowed his eyes. “Take off your mask.”
Sebarra hesitated, and Kylo paid for it.
His knees buckled as Peleth began crushing his neck with such force that he was surprised his spinal cord hadn’t been snapped in two. His head began to list to the side, his skull becoming too heavy to hold up as the energy drained from his body. His vision was marred in blackness, colors exploded behind his closing eyes as his capillaries popped and bled, saliva cascading down his chin as his jaw went slack.
“Take. Off. Your. Mask.” Lust flowed through Peleth’s command as anger punctuated his words sharply.
Kylo heard the familiar crisp snap-hiss as Sebarra disengaged her mask’s locking mechanism and heard the cold thunk as it fell to the ground.
Peleth’s grasp eased again, and Kylo heaved violently, coughs wracking his body so viciously that he felt several of his ribs fracture and crack. As his vision slowly returned, he found himself on his knees, Peleth crouched in front of him, his gloved hand still wrapped around his bruised neck. He followed Peleth’s gaze to where Sebarra stood, her blonde hair askew and eyes wide, her blue irises illuminated by the lightsaber still ignited in her hand which now hung resignedly at her side. Her cheeks and lips were flushed with adrenaline and fear, and Kylo could see her shoulders heaving heavily as she struggled to steady her breathing.
But her gaze never wavered from Kylo.
“Up,” Peleth sneered, and Kylo was lifted neck-first to his feet. Keeping his eyes on Sebarra, Kylo locked his knees in place and widened his stance, hoping to signal to her that he was fine, that she needn’t worry, that they would get through this, scarred but steady, just like always.
Peleth took exception to the way he and Sebarra were looking at each other. With an angry snarl, he shifted his hand to grip the back of Kylo’s neck, pushing his head down until his face collided with Peleth’s kneecap. Blood poured from his broken nose and split lip, and he felt its sticky warmth trickle down his bare chest.
Kylo levelled himself and, looking straight into the bastard’s soulless eyes, used the remaining air in his lungs to spit in Peleth’s face. The other man stood unmoving for a moment or two before wiping the rosy mixture of spit and blood with a slow and steady swipe. Kylo braced himself for the retaliatory pain. But it never came.
Instead, Peleth turned to look at Sebarra. “Disengage your lightsaber,” he said slowly. “And do it now.”
This time, Sebarra did as she was asked without hesitation. With a flick of Peleth’s fingers, her lightsaber flew into Kiva’s ready and outstretched hands as she stood in the shadows, where she had been silently watching, waiting.
Peleth stared at Kylo with daggers. And Kylo stared right back.
Peleth did not use the Force to compel her, yet she did as she was told, her face impassive and her gait steady and sure. Kylo felt his body course with fury as he realized she would do anything this son of a bitch asked in order to keep him safe.
Of course, as always, it was like she knew when he was thinking about her.
Reaching out through the Force, her sharp tone was filled with exasperation. “For the love of the Maker and all things holy, do not fucking pull another machismo act like that blood spitting shit again. You can’t show off your amazing vibrant masculinity if you’re fucking dead.”
She had a fair point.
Their gaze met as she stood next to Peleth, and suddenly he was overwhelmed with guilt, love, sadness, anger – so much emotion – as he felt the all-consuming concern she carried for him.
Peleth’s jaw set as his narrowed eyes darted between Kylo and Sebarra. “Look at me,” he barked as he grabbed her by the chin, yanking her face toward him. Kylo watched as Peleth voraciously eyed her, looking her up and down, licking his lips and smiling as his gaze lingered on her breasts and mouth.
And suddenly, a switch flipped inside him.
Kylo didn’t give a shit what happened to him, but he would fucking die before he let someone – anyone – demean Sebarra like that.
Adrenaline running like lava through his veins, Kylo gathered the Force around himself and pushed with every ounce of energy he had left, lurching himself forward, shoulder and head down. He leveraged his weight and pure fury as he plowed into Peleth’s sternum, sending them both careening.
Kylo landed on top of Peleth and quickly straddled him, using the brute strength of his legs to lock Peleth’s knees in place as he placed his left hand around his neck, because turnabout was fair play, in his book. Sebarra used the momentary diversion to recall her lightsaber from Kiva’s grasp, igniting it immediately. Kiva responded in turn, her double-bladed lightsaber’s low purple hues offsetting Sebarra’s blindingly bright one.
Kylo unleashed on Peleth’s face without restraint, committed to ruining the man’s face so severely that the ship’s morgue wouldn’t be able to identify his species. He was pretty sure he had broken several bones in his hand, but the pain quickly turned into pleasure as he heard the man begin to gurgle on his own blood as it poured from lips, cheeks, and nose.
Caught off-guard, Kylo whirled to his right, where he saw General Hux standing with an entire battalion of Stormtroopers stood with their blasters raised.
Kylo froze, remaining on his knees as Peleth rolled out from beneath him, crawling across the floor on all fours as he coughed up a mixture of blood and tooth fragments.
Hux eyes surveyed the scene, scrunching his nose in disdain as he looked down his nose at Kylo in silence. Then: “Get up.”
As Peleth slowly dragged himself to his feet, Kylo noticed Sebarra had not disengaged her lightsaber, instead lowering it and angling herself so that it was hidden between her body and the wall.
He reached out to her: Don’t.
“I beg your pardon?”
I know you, Sebarra, and you’re going to try to fight our way out of this. But this is a battle we can’t win. Not now.
Hux repeated his order, louder, impatient: “Get. Up.”
Kylo remained on his knees, buying more time. Hux is going to go after Rey with everything he has. Redirect the Knights and rendezvous with them on Hoth.
“I’m not leaving you.”
He could sense the pain it caused her to even think about leaving his side, especially now, and tenderness swelled inside his aching, broken chest.
She needs you, Sebarra.
“She can have the Knights.”
Hux’s voice: “This is the last time I will ask this of you, Ren. GET. UP. NOW.”
Kylo ignored him.
“I’m NOT leaving you!”
He locked eyes with Sebarra as he knelt there, pain radiating through his body, brain hazy and muscles strained, and it escaped his lips before he could stop himself: barely above a whisper, but loud enough for her to hear it: “Please.”
He barely noticed as Hux ordered Kylo be remanded for the charge of high treason and murder of Supreme Leader Snoke. He couldn’t prevent himself from hissing in pain as the Stormtroopers roughly grabbed him under the arms to stand him straight. His mind was numb as he prepared himself for what was to come: not death – death had never scared him – but the inevitable fun he knew Peleth was going to have with his mind and body before his execution.
He turned and watched as a single tear gently trickled down Sebarra’s pale cheek, her eyes staring unseeingly at the floor in front of her feet, her jaw set on edge as if she were ferociously fighting back the urge to sob.
As he was placed stun cuffs, Sebarra lifted her head to meet his stare. Squaring her shoulders and setting her jaw determinedly, she gave him the same look she had all of those years ago on Chandrila, when they first met and she saw something in his soul no one else ever had.
And as the lone tear fell from her chin, she offered him the most beautiful words he could have imagined.
“I will protect Rey with my life. I swear to it.”
Monsters are scared; that’s why they’re monsters.
Rey was tenacious; when she made up her mind to do something, she did it.
The trouble that followed was usually because, if anything, Rey was also impulsive. And she had the bacta cast on her hand to prove it.
She noticed the piercing look Doctor Malida gave her as she tended to Rey’s right hand, bloodied and bruised and shredded from the repeated punches against the wall of her quarters. The slow trickle of emotions through the Force confirmed to Rey that the good doctor was trying to figure out what the hell was going on: either Rey was the most unfortunate member of the Resistance because of her propensity toward frequent injuries, or she was just fucking crazy.
Rey was beginning to think the latter was the most accurate.
Rey couldn’t help but feel guilty for the insatiable current running through her body. It had been brought on by the temporary – but powerful, oh so powerful – high she experienced while rolling on the pure, insatiable rage she’d felt.
Formidable. Commanding. Unforgiving. Voracious.
Maker, she had felt glorious. She found herself wanting to chase the rage, wanting to bottle it to drink from whenever she could, savoring every last drop; the passionate fire that had burned in the pit of her stomach had been reduced to cold ashes that fluttered about her abdomen, causing her to swallow heavily as bile repeatedly rose to her throat.
As she stood in her room staring at the bloody, crumbling wall, she vividly remembered the violent shivers that racked her body as she stood frozen in the windswept snowstorm on Starkiller Base. Kylo Ren, unmasked and young, eyes wide, had met her gaze as he had unforgivingly pounded on the bowcaster wound at his side. She had watched in disgust, rage, and horror as scarlet blood trickled down his side to rest resolutely in the pure snow.
She had looked at him as if he were a monster.
But she had found that same monster inside of her.
And she had loved it, loved the clarity and power she felt in the pain and anger. She had cradled it delicately, feeding the creature with her fury, and the loneliness she now felt at its disappearance made her pine for its return. The very thing she had hated Kylo Ren for, the very reason she had once considered him an irredeemable force of evil, was the one thing she now found herself longing for.
She frowned at the bloody wall unseeingly, her fists clenching at her sides as she wondered what other ill-informed and inaccurate assumptions she had made about Kylo Ren, about Ben Solo, and about herself.
Well, there was only one way to find out.
She had to see him. She had to look into his deep eyes, had to run her eyes – her fingertips – over the scar she had left across his handsome face, listen to his steady, low voice as he explained to her why.
Why he had completely shut her out, why she had been met with silence the tens of times she had tried to reach him through the Force, through their Bond, since he had disappeared from her arms, leaving her sobbing and broken on the cold, hard floor of her room.
Why she would be the death of him, why he thought that together they could be anything but perfect.
Why he left her after looking at her the way that he did. Why he refused to acknowledge that they were meant to be each other’s. Why he just won’t let go.
Why he loves her.
The unspoken, unaddressed, and unconsummated emotions between them was almost enough to drive her to utter madness. It clouded her thoughts and corrupted her mind, leaving her unable to think, feel, or care about anything – or anyone – else. It left her a shell of herself, a cheaper version, throwing off her internal centrifugal force that had been keeping her body in stable orbit.
She needed this. She needed him.
And she hadn’t wavered in her conviction since making the decision to, once again, show up at the First Order’s doorstep and present herself to him – to Ben. But this time, it would be different.
This time, if he asked her to stay, she would. Because there was nothing left for her here, not anymore.
Poe had ascended to leader of the Resistance. Finn was his unofficial second in command, his most trusted and loyal compatriot. Rose lit up Finn’s eyes whenever she walked into a room; their happiness was so palpable that it was almost impossible for Rey to be jealous of what they had.
Everyone had found their place, their home. Everyone except her.
And the only place she had truly felt at home was when she was with Ben …
“Rey?” Finn’s muffled voice called out from the other side of the door. Rey’s jaw clenched tighter, and she remained silent.
“Rey, are you in there?”
Silence, then: “I hope you’re decent, because I’m coming in.”
She heard him punch the override code into the command console and seconds later the door slid open, the durasteel erupting in a high-pitched screech as it scraped against the solidly packed, icy floor.
Rey showed no acknowledgement of Finn as he crossed the room toward her, coming to a stop on her left. She felt his eyes follow her own, and she felt the Force flux in recognition as Finn looked from the wall, to her cast, back to the wall again. It took everything within her to hold back the guttural “Get out!” threatening to hurl itself out of her mouth. She didn’t want his judgement, didn’t want to have to talk about her broken hand or why she did it or what made her shut herself away for the better half of the past two days, ever since she had stormed away from Leia’s dead body and from them all.
To her surprise, Finn didn’t make a sound. He stood there with her, shoulder-to-shoulder, arms at his side, as if he were there to stand guard not over her, but for her, joining her in solidarity to help her fight whatever it was she was fighting.
Finn, her first friend. A friend who had, since day one, faced his fears without question if it meant her safety, security, and happiness.
A friend who she had treated like absolute shit for reasons she couldn’t truly identify. A friend who didn’t give a fuck that she had literally and metaphorically shoved him aside without explanation or hesitancy.
A friend who had no reason to still be a friend, but was, and would be, until the very end.
She didn’t know she was crying until a warm droplet landed on her downturned lips. She licked her lips, the salt on her tongue as she said, in almost a whisper, “I’m sorry.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Finn turn toward her, his face pained but soft. “Rey,” he responded, gentle and quiet, “tell me.”
Her brow furrowed and she shook her head quizzically, refusing to meet his eyes. “Tell you what?”
After a few moments of silence, Finn responded. “Why you’re in so much pain.”
And that was when she broke apart.
A howl filled with torment and anguish escaped her chest as she buried her head in her hands. The shame, regret, and guilt for how she had treated Finn consumed her soul, growing more intense as she felt his arms wrap around her waist, holding her upright despite her shaking, buckling knees.
He held her – for minutes, hours, days? – the gentle rocking of his body slowly lulling her convulsing sobs to sleep, his strong and wordless love slowing down her hyperactive and confused cognizance. She was so warm in his embrace – warmer than she had ever been since they arrived on Hoth – as if a fur-lined blanket had wrapped itself tightly around her. A calm peace enveloped her and her breathing slowed, her steady intake of air only interrupted by the occasional abrupt staccato hiccup.
She felt Finn’s muscles stiffen as he slowly pulled away from her, his warm brown eyes searching her own as she half-heartedly wiped the wetness from her face with the back of her hand. His face, usually so expressive, remained impassive and unreadable, so Rey reached out through the Force, culling through his mind, in an effort to identify what he was thinking and feeling.
His eye twitched as he tilted his head lightly. “Don’t do that,” he said, still tender and gentle.
“Do what?” she sniffled, wiping her nose with her arm wrap.
His gaze bore through her. “I’ll tell you everything, Rey, if you just ask. You don’t have to try to take it from me with the Force.”
She coughed slightly as her sharp intake of cold air irritated her lungs. How had she not realized that she was invading his privacy by circumventing him and going straight to his mind – the most intimate part of a person? Had she become so ruthless, so driven by the desire to protect herself from anything and everything, that she could no longer put the needs of others before her own?
She had never been more disgusted with herself in her life.
“Rey.” Finn pulled her from her self-deprecating thoughts as he stood in front of her, nothing but kindness in his eyes and selflessness in his soul. “Tell me.”
The happiness and thankfulness and freedom she felt was incomparable to anything she had ever felt before. Her comfort brought clarity, and with clarity, came that phenomenal impulsivity she was so prone to:
“I love him.”
Rey froze. She certainly hadn’t meant to say it, especially because she hadn’t even realized she’d been thinking it. But as she opened her mouth to take it back, to modify or to justify or to lie, she felt a strong, rooted resolve grow within her – a resolve she had never possessed. Until now.
Now, Rey would own her truths. She was done living in lies, in alternate realities that were neither accurate nor happy. She had used them her whole life to ignore hunger, rape, abandonment. But she was tired. Tired of running from the actual – her actual feelings, her actual situation, her actual friends, her actual place in all of this.
So she remained silent as her revelation hung heavily in the air between them. Finn surveyed her with an intense stare, the tops of her ears growing as red as her cheeks.
“You love him,” he said slowly, as if looking to ensure he hadn’t heard her incorrectly.
“Kylo Ren. You love Kylo Ren.”
“No,” her response was immediate and her voice louder than she had intended. “No. Ben.”
Finn spoke his next words carefully, as if it was taking everything within him to not freak the ever-living fuck out at the fact that his best friend was in love with The Supreme Leader of the First Order, murderer of Han Solo, slaughterer of Jedi students, torturer of Poe, and the man who nearly murdered him by slicing his spine in half.
Inhaling deeply, his brow deeply furrowed as he stared at her, as if looking past her skull, through her soul, and straight into her heart. “You can’t love one and not the other.”
Rey found herself staring impolitely, jaw agape and eyes unblinking as she struggled to reconcile two things about this whole situation: one, that Finn hadn’t run screaming in horror for the hills as soon as she told him; and two, that not only did Finn seem measured about her truth, but he actually seemed as if he were trying to give her advice.
And I thought this whole fucking thing couldn’t get any weirder, she thought dryly to herself.
As if on cue, sirens began blaring throughout the base so loudly that both Rey and Finn covered their ears and winced. “What the hell is that?” she screamed at the top of her lungs. He shook his head as he shouted, “It sounds like the Perimeter Breach warning alarm.” Removing one hand from his ears, he held it out to Rey as he yelled, “We gotta go!”
She met his outstretched hand with her uninjured one, giving him an earnest grateful squeeze. With the deafening ringing in the background, Finn pulled her toward him, leaning close into her so that their foreheads were almost touching. “It’s going to be okay, Rey,” he said, searching her eyes. “I’m with you, all the way.”
And she was grateful that he turned around when he did, because the tears had returned to her cheeks, falling without abandon as they sprinted toward StratComm, hand in hand the entire way.
. . . . .
“Where the hell have you two been?” Poe yelled over the din of the shrieking alarm. He looked less than pleased.
“Guess this isn’t a drill, then, huh?” Finn responded as he and Rey jogged over to where the Resistance leader stood with Lieutenant Connix, who was wrapped head to toe in thermal scouting gear, a pair of macrobinoculars hanging from her scarfed neck.
“Good guess,” Poe retorted, and Rey felt an unexpected tug at the Force: something unfamiliar, but sincere and open.
Connix shot Poe a look, but began to debrief Finn and Rey without preface: “One Lambda-class shuttle, modified with what looks to be duralloy reinforcements and ferroceramic coating. They’ve also added two flank guns – from what I could make out, they may be point-defense laser cannons.”
Poe whistled under his breath. “That’s one helluva update.”
Connix nodded, a puzzled look on her face. “Especially for a Lambda-class. Whoever it’s carrying took concerted efforts to make it as fast, invisible, and deadly as possible.”
“Who is it carrying?” Finn asked, and both Poe and Connix looked at each other.
Her name echoed through the Force and she felt herself being pulled gently, cautiously, curiously toward the main hangar bay. She hesitated as she reached out, searching for who called to her. She saw six indistinct blurry figures, none of which she could identify, but they all shone brightly, outlined by the unmistakable light of Ben Solo’s Force signature.
Her heart skipped a beat as her stomach dropped in excitement.
Shoving all of her remaining uncertainty aside, she turned toward to door and walked purposefully out of StratComm, ignoring Finn’s shouts that followed her down the corridor.
“Rey of Jakku.”
As they called to her again, she broke into a run and smashed her palm on the hangar door release, the bitter cold biting at her exposed shoulders and calves as the wind whipped her hair around her face. She squinted her eyes, searching the snow-filled air for any sign of the shuttle. Her colorless surroundings were interrupted by a violent bolt of red as Rey watched the terra ion cannon fire into the distance. Her eyes trailed the vivid red of the blast until she saw the unmistakable bat-like shape of the Lambda-class shuttle easily evade direct contact, pitching to the left and into a barrel roll as it dropped altitude and bottomed out just above the surface, flying straight for her.
“For Maker’s sake, Rey,” Finn shouted over the whirling winds as he grabbed her by the elbow urgently. “You need to get inside!”
Another bolt shot from the ion cannon as quad turbolaser cannon fire peppered the air, all aiming clear and true straight at the shuttle. She watched in amazement as it made impossible maneuvers over, around, and beneath the hostile fire, as if it were nothing but an afterthought.
“Stop firing,” she whispered, almost to herself. She calmly turned to Finn, who was still trying to yank her back into the safety of the base. “Finn, you need to tell Poe to stop firing.”
Ah, there he was – the Finn she knew and loved. His face contorted dramatically, incredulous. “YOU tell Poe to stop firing on that thing!” he yelled, tugging at her elbow again. As if to answer her request, the Resistance released their most ferocious volley yet, the air around them turning crimson.
She felt the Force swirl in alarm around her, and she reacted in a split second, the throbbing in her broken right hand disappearing as she reached out in front of her, spreading her fingers wide as if she were attempting to touch the hazy white horizon. Closing her eyes and ignoring the bone-deep brutal cold, she called for the Force to reveal the location of each blaster, cannon, and gun bolt hurtling toward the shuttle.
“Just like lifting rocks,” she muttered to herself as she contracted her fingers, balling her hand into a fist. The rocky waves of the Force that had been breaking against her mind eased, and she felt the Force redistribute itself, falling back into its usual balanced, calm flow.
Holy shit, had she actually done it?
Cautiously, Rey squinted open her right eye and couldn’t help but grin as the volley in its entirety – each cannon blast and laser bolt and everything in between – froze in place. The only movement she saw was the shuttle as it lowered its trajectory to fly under the hostile fire, kicking up powdery snow from the ground, the menacing blackness of the ship contrasting with the soft whirling white of the snow.
She turned around to look at Finn, the grin on her face widening at his absurd expression – somewhere between disbelief and amazement. But the quickly approaching shuttle seemed to snap him from his reverie. “Rey,” he began imploringly, but she interrupted him.
“Go inside. I need to stay here.”
“Are you fucking insane?! Rey, come on – “
“Finn,” she spoke his name lovingly but firmly, and he fell silent. “Trust me.”
She could tell Finn was torn between the cries emerging from the hangar bay, where Rose, Poe, and Connix stood screaming at them to get back to base, and Rey, who stood there, defenseless in subzero temperatures because, for some reason, she felt that’s where she needed to be.
The word had an instantaneous effect on Finn, who tore off his jacket and handed it to Rey. “I trust you,” he said in a low voice, offering her a half-smile before turning around to run at full speed back toward the hangar, where he spoke briefly to Poe, who in turn caught Rey’s gaze and nodded to her in acknowledgement. She watched as the ship-sized blaster doors slammed shut, leaving her alone, exposed, and fucking cold.
Forever grateful to Finn for fretting over her body warmth like a concerned grandmother, Rey flung on the oversized parka, zipping it up all the way to her neck before turning back to watch as the shuttle landed gracefully several yards in front of her. She couldn’t tell if her teeth were chattering because of the frigid temperatures, her anxiety, or both.
She jumped at the unexpected sound of the boarding ramp as it unlocked with a sharp clank, using the remaining few seconds of its descent to focus on centering her breathing in order to keep her nervousness in check.
She closed her eyes lightly, her lids fluttering gently, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. “Breathe,” she heard the familiar voice echo through her subconscious. “Just … breathe.”
Rey opened her eyes and was greeted by the sight of a sleek, black-clad figure descending the ramp. Their attire was minimal; black slacks, black boots, black shirt, a familiar cowl draped around their head and neck, blowing recklessly in the Hoth snowstorm. Their silver utility belt was simple and bare, all except for –
Ugh, shit, Rey thought to herself: except for the lightsaber, attached securely from its designated loop. A lightsaber? Who the hell is he?
Rey steeled her resolve as the figure stopped a few feet in front of Rey. They both stood there in silence for a heartbeat or two as they assessed each other.
She was surprised to hear a female voice from behind the mask as the figure partially turned to point at the cannon fire still hanging in limbo. “Was that you?”
Rey nodded, and the woman in the mask sighed pointedly. “No wonder you two get along. You both have a flare for the dramatic.”
The woman’s blunt sarcasm caught Rey off-guard, and she almost smiled despite herself. Her overwhelming curiosity dampened her fears as she stood, unarmed, facing a mysterious masked woman who had both a lightsaber and the Force at her disposal.
“Who are you?” she asked inquisitively.
The woman reached up to the sides of her mask, removing it with a snap-hiss to reveal braided blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. She was gorgeous, Rey thought, regardless of the purplish scars that dotted the left side of her face.
She was not what Rey was expecting, and the twinkle in the other woman’s eyes told her that this wasn’t the first time someone had expressed surprise at what lay behind her mask.
“I’m Sebarra Ren, Master of the Knights of Ren.” Tucking her mask under her arm, she gestured toward the Lambda-class shuttle, and Rey watched as five similarly dressed figures, all in masks, descended the ramp to stand behind Sebarra. “My fellow Knights and I are here on direct orders from the Supreme Leader.”
Rey felt as if she had been smacked in the face by a two-by-four made of durasteel. “Ben sent you?” she asked, unable to keep the emotion from seeping into her voice.
She noticed the Knights shifted slightly, their heads almost undetectably swiveling as they stole idle glances at each other. Sebarra’s eyes widened, and Rey saw her face soften at the use of his name. “Yes.” Her response was kind and genuine.
Pause. Then: “I’m Rey.”
Sebarra smiled softly, but Rey couldn’t help but detect … sadness? … in her eyes and in her voice as she responded. “I know.”
“Why did he send you?”
Sebarra raised an eyebrow and paused before gesturing up toward the western horizon, where the First Order fleet had been maintaining a holding pattern. Rey’s heart skipped a beat when she realized that their formation had changed: they were preparing to launch a ground assault. Rey turned back to look at Sebarra, who grinned mischievously as she answered.
“Someone has to save your skins.”
The candles may be different, but the light is the same.
“Aila Ren, it is not my position to know the reasons our Master makes the decision she does,” Ofir growled as he stood staring through their shuttle’s viewport as they rapidly approached the Dreadnought-class Star Destroyer. “And it is not your position to question either of us. You will follow my orders: keep the repulsor lifts running as you pull into Docking Bay 418. We need to be prepared for immediate departure.”
“I acknowledge that, Master. All I’m saying is that if we’re doing a grab-and-run, it would be much easier if we didn’t do it in such a centralized bay,” Aila responded evenly as her hands flew across the Statera’s navicomp dashboard. “There are TIE Fighter embarking bays on either side, which leaves us vulnerable from both flanks if we’re pursued.”
Ofir remained silent. He knew Aila had a point – a point he agreed with – but it wasn’t in his purview to question his Master’s orders. He knew by now that Sebarra had a method to her madness, even if it wasn’t always apparent. Now just happened to be one of those moments.
“It’ll be a headache and a half,” Vasco Ren agreed from the co-pilot’s seat, and Ofir’s eyes narrowed.
“Thank you for your input, Vasco Ren,” Ofir commented, trying to keep his frustration in check. “But our orders are clear and understood, are they not?”
In unison, they respectfully answered, “Yes, Master.” He saw Vasco’s eyes dart over to Aila, who caught his gaze with a wink and a shrug. “Here goes nothing,” she grinned, and Ofir shifted slightly on his feet as the ship accelerated straight toward the First Order flagship, straight toward Bay 418.
Ofir found himself again impressed at how effortlessly Aila was able to truly command the likes of any ship. An orphan growing up in the underworld of Corellia, she had kept from starving by teaching herself how to repair and modify less-than legal ships for less-than savory individuals. By eleven, she was a business owner; by thirteen, she was known throughout the Galaxy as The Mechanic; by fourteen, she had three bounties on her head and was forced to flee her homeworld. As he did with them all, Skywalker greeted her with open arms and no questions asked.
“Steady,” Aila murmured to Vasco as they decelerated, entering the bay. “Shift auxiliary power to ventral stabilizers.” He shot her a puzzled look, and she responded, “It’ll make our repulsors quieter so we won’t draw too much attention as we, you know, awkwardly just hover here.”
“I thought you liked awkward,” Vasco retorted with a smirk.
Aila rolled her eyes. “As if you have any idea of what I like.”
“How about you tell me, and we go from there?” Vasco asked. “From what I hear, no one has ever walked away from me disappointed.”
“I hear differently,” she responded flatly, a small grin playing across her thin lips.
“I finally understand why our Master has threatened to lock you two in a room until you have consummated your mutual attraction,” Ofir announced loudly, and Aila and Vasco shut up immediately.
Ofir couldn’t help but smile at the immediate uncomfortable silence that followed, the three of them quietly staring through the ship’s viewport at the closed blaster doors separating where they hovered in the docking bay from the Dreadnought’s corridor.
But he knew the silence wouldn’t last long. And it didn’t.
Ofir felt Sebarra before he saw her, and he discerned she was in trouble. He wasted no time, grabbing his mask and securing it with a snap-hiss. He shrugged off his cape and released his lightsaber from his utility belt, igniting it with a marvelous thrum as the red blade sprung to life.
“She’s being pursued,” Aila felt through the Force, her gaze unmoving from the closed blaster doors.
Ofir nodded, turning his back on them. “She’s tired but unharmed. I’ll shield her flank, so keep the ramp down. Vasco, let Erez know he’s on point in case one of us is injured, with Jari as backup.”
Ofir’s brusque, long strides were purposeful as he walked to the door release panel, his jaw lined and breathing steady but ready. As the boarding ramp descended, he could hear the faint pinging of poorly-aimed blaster bolts, followed shortly thereafter by the heavy sound of multi-ton durasteel doors opening. He jogged down the ramp, lightsaber up, adrenaline pumping, and saw Sebarra clear the small space in between the opening blaster doors, hitting the ground with a tuck and roll.
Now at a full sprint, Ofir parried and blocked the deluge of fire coming at them, skidding to a halt next to Sebarra who was now on her feet, white lightsaber reflecting off of the sleek mask that covered her face.
Stormtroopers poured into the Docking Bay, swarms of obedient, shiny ants filling in line behind each other, swarming around them. “This is quite the welcoming committee,” Ofir rumbled as he and Sebarra weaved and deflected bolts left and right, slowly backing up toward the ready and willing shuttle behind them.
“You can thank fucking Peleth Dol for these festivities,” came her harshly fierce reply.
Ofir’s breath hitched in his lungs, a rushing sound filling his ears as he struggled to focus on the task at hand. He sidestepped a bolt sloppily, nearly tripping over his own feet but recovering just in time. He bared his pointed teeth behind his mask in embarrassment and frustration; Ofir was not known to lose focus, and he preferred to keep that reputation.
Sebarra was merciful, and decided to not only ignore his clumsiness, but answer his unspoken question. “Yes, the bastard is here, on the Retribution.” Her voice was ragged, weirdly emotional, and Ofir knew what that meant.
“Where’s the Supreme Leader?”
He was met with silence, which, when it came to Sebarra, almost always translated into nothing good.
He felt the hard metal lip of the boarding ramp at his heel, and he shouted, “Go!” at Sebarra, who whirled around and ran up the ramp as Ofir continued to back up as he parried, thrusted, sidestepped, deflected, his face perspiring as the Stormtroopers’ volleys became less spread out to focus on Ofir as he stood, trapped, in the narrow entrance corridor of their shuttle.
“Punch it!” he heard Sebarra yell and he felt her grab the collar of his cowl solidly, yanking him backwards just as the boarding ramp retracted. The sharp lift and jolt of the shuttle sent him careening to the floor where he landed, sprawling and panting, next to Sebarra.
They both sat there in the cold corridor wordlessly, catching their breath for a few moments as the shuttle dipped and rolled, adeptly evading enemy fire. As the ship levelled out, Sebarra reached up to remove her mask, and Ofir followed suit, both standing up gradually, muscles slowly unclenching as their adrenaline subsided.
Ofir rolled his head, wishing for the releasing crack of his neck – the hard landing on the floor had offset his shoulder slightly, and he winced in discomfort. Turning to Sebarra to offer his Master the respectful welcome she deserved, Ofir’s whole being shook in rage as his eyes rested on her face, a strangled cry emanated from his dry throat.
He stared openly at her, eyeing the scars that formed an ornate pattern of purple, lacing along her neck and chin, reaching up past her eye and disappearing behind her golden hair. His lips curled past his teeth as he let out the traditional Zabrak cry of war, his yellow eyes pulsing with fury.
Her face was tight, her eyes hollow, as she stared at him unblinkingly. Tucking her mask under her arm, she said dismissively, “It’s nothing.”
“Like hell it is,” he growled, stepping toward her protectively. The shuttle listed, rocking slightly as he heard the soft thuds of ion cannon blasts whirring past them into the nothingness of space.
Sebarra’s light eyes snapped up to meet his as she took a step toward him, her jaw set and her gaze alight with anger. Although a foot shorter, she stood chest to chest with him as she locked his stare. “You forget your place, Ofir Ren.”
He lowered his eyes and bowed his head acquiescingly. “I apologize, Master.”
“You will control your emotions or be suspended from your post. Have I made myself clear?”
He kept his eyes averted as he responded again. “Yes, Master.”
But her scars were seared into his eyes, burning their way into his mind as he sought refuge in thoughts of revenge against whoever had dare hurt Sebarra, a friend who had become like his sister, a sister who had become his leader
He looked up to see a wan smile cross her face as she commented in amusement, “Your thoughts betray you.” Ofir opened his mouth to apologize, but she cut him off, the familiar kindness returning to her voice. “It is truly good to see you again, friend.”
Ofir’s face softened as Sebarra rubbed her eyes, sighing heavily. “There are more important matters at hand than my face, Ofir,” she said, the exhaustion in her voice so palpable that he could almost cut it with a vibroblade.
He grabbed her gently by the elbow and gestured for her to lead the way toward the common room, a large open space used interchangeably as a galley, meditation chamber, and training facility. He noticed a slight hitch in her stride, the tender way she distributed her weight on her right ankle, and Ofir wondered onerously just how many hidden injuries Sebarra’s body harbored.
Sebarra and Ofir entered the galley to find Jari and Erez speaking secretively, their heads close together and voices low – almost conspiratorially, Ofir noted wryly. Both snapped to respectful attention immediately in the presence of their superiors, their gazes down as they waited to be addressed.
“Jari Ren. Erez Ren,” Sebarra smiled.
The two youngest Knights looked up in unison at their Master. Erez’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly, the rest of his face remaining expressionless; but, as Ofir had anticipated, Jari’s reaction was very … Jari: her eyes widened, her fingers clenched into fists, and her jaw hung so low that Ofir was shocked it didn’t unhook from her skull and fall off. Ofir knew that Jari was on the verge of saying something unbecoming of a Knight of Ren, but he knew her well enough to know that she’d listen if he intervened.
Quiet, Jari Ren, Ofir hissed to her through the Force. Our Master’s scars are her own to share, if she so chooses. Remember yourself.
Jari blinked hard, her jaw snapping shut and her eyes easing. She remained silent.
Sebarra shot Ofir a sideways glance, her eyebrows raised. “Speaking out of turn, huh?” she asked him through the Force. “I can’t imagine where she gets that from.”
Ofir brought a gloved hand to his mouth and coughed shallowly in order to hide his chagrin.
“Hey, Master! Welcome aboard,” rang Vasco’s voice from the internal comm system. “Happy to report we’re now out of range of all hostile fire. Even better news is that the First Order fleet doesn’t seem to be interested in picking a fight – no TIE Fighters are in sight or on our scanners.”
“Thank you, Vasco Ren,” Sebarra replied, and Ofir sensed a solid sense of relief flow from her signature. “You’ve received our landing coordinates on Hoth, yes?”
“Plugging them in as we speak,” came Aila’s voice. “Good to have you back, Master.”
Ofir could hear the clicking of the navicomputer in the background, followed by low, muffled remarks from both Vasco and Aila. After a few moments, Sebarra raised an eyebrow as she pointedly asked, “Is there a problem?”
“Ah – no, no problem, Master,” came Vasco’s hesitant answer.
“Master, these coordinates are triangulating on Echo Base, the former Rebel hideout,” came Aila’s straightforward and unapologetic response. A loud, exasperated sigh erupted in the background, courtesy of Vasco.
“That is correct, Aila Ren. Please set course accordingly.”
The Knights of Ren waited for further explanation as to why they were going to Echo Base, but none came. Sebarra continued: “Once our trajectory is set, deploy autopilot with point of action evasive maneuvers and join us in the galley.” She locked eyes with Ofir, and he saw an ocean of sadness behind her steely blue eyes. “I have much to debrief you on.”
. . . . .
Sebarra had always been one of Ofir’s favorite fellow students at the Praxeum. Attractive as far as human standards went, she was meticulous and strategic, while hopeful and protective over those she cared about – namely Ben Solo. But as their personal friendship grew, and as the six future Knights began to have similar visions foretelling Ben’s fall from the Light and the transformation of the Force, Sebarra became fiercely protective of them as well.
“A mother hen with a smuggler’s mouth,” was how Aila fondly referred to her. The recollection would always bring a smile to his lips – it was certainly accurate, after all.
Sebarra was a particularly popular student at the Praxeum, and one of Master Skywalker’s favorites. Ben’s, too – he remembered catching them holding hands while walking along the lake after supper, remembered how their hugs would linger just a bit longer than simple friendship would dictate, remembered how he’d peek at her from under closed eyelids during meditation and how she’d look up at him with the most genuine smile he’d ever seen gliding across her young face.
He’d once made the mistake of teasing her about it after an evening sparring session, as they’d walked back together to their respective rooms. She’d beaten him handily in each of their four spars; he didn’t care for losing, and was looking to take out his frustration on the one who had embarrassed him.
“Did you know,” he’d said dryly, “that you’re referred to as the Princess of the Praxeum?”
Sebarra had snorted and rolled her eyes, and came back with her usual quick retort. “Princess? I’m a goddamn Queen, if anything.”
Ofir had ignored her as he continued. “And they call Ben Solo the Prince.”
She’d stopped dead in her tracks, and Ofir ran his tongue across his sharp teeth, grinning as he’d stopped next to her. “Sebarra Solo has a nice ring to it.”
He was met with silence, but the hair on his arms stood at attention, the Force cackling with power as her emotions began to swirl with ire. But because he had been young, and because he had been dumb, Ofir had ignored all the very clear signs warning him to back the fuck off, deciding instead to say the one thing he knew would goad her above all else: “As an unbiased judge, I’d say your babies would be extremely cute.”
Her reaction had not been what he had expected.
Before he knew what hit him, she’d hooked her left foot behind his knee, causing him to stumble forward. As he’d struggled to regain his balance, she had landed a roundhouse kick squarely on his lower back, and he had cried out in pain as the top of her foot made contact with his kidneys. His knees gave out which had sent him reeling into the frost-bitten grass. As he had lay there on his stomach, trying to catch the breath that had been knocked from his lungs, he’d felt Sebarra’s boot press down on the upturned side of his face – not hard enough to do significant damage, but just hard enough to make a point.
As she’d stood over him, her words were crisp and clear. “Take it back.”
Ofir had roared as he struggled to push himself up, but she had been one step ahead of him: she switfly kicked his arm from under him using the foot that had been resting on his cheek, and he fell back to the ground, landing unceremoniously flat on his face. This time, she had placed her boot on his upper back. “Take. It. Back,” she snarled.
Ofir had remained stubborn and silent, so Sebarra had shifted her weight to her foot, pressing his chest into the ground incrementally harder until weak, gasping noises escaped his mouth, despite his best attempts to silence them. He had seen no alternative. “I yield.”
That was the first – and last – time Ofir had ever disrespected Sebarra’s relationship with Ben Solo.
And it wasn’t until many years later, well after Ben Solo had become Kylo Ren, that Ofir asked the question he had been pondering ever since: “What do you know that we don’t, Seb?”
“About what?” she’d asked.
“About Ben Solo. And you.”
She’d remained silent for quite a while, and Ofir had watched as Sebarra stared off into the distance, as if recalling ghosts and reliving memories long since gone. And after she had taken the time she needed, she had turned to him, offering only a small, sad smile and a short, ominous response: “You’ll know soon enough.”
. . . . .
“Another welcoming party,” Ofir commented through gritted teeth. “Lovely.”
Aila pitched and rolled the ship away from Echo Base’s ion cannons as Vasco worked to increase the power flux to the stabilizers in order to keep the Statera from losing altitude too quickly, potentially causing them to plummet in an uncontrollable freefall into the unforgiving ice desert of Hoth. Ofir and Sebarra sat in the passenger chairs behind the pilot and co-pilot seats, Jari and Erez occupying the seats directly behind them, each staring grimly out the viewport at the unceasing hostile fire coming their way.
If he were honest with himself, Ofir was actually grateful for the Resistance’s unfriendly reception – it prevented his mind from ruminating over what Sebarra had told them during the debrief. Peleth Dol, his apprentice Kiva, his attack on Sebarra, Hux’s mutiny, Kylo Ren’s captivity and inevitable torture, trial, and execution for Snoke’s murder.
And the fact that despite it all, both the Supreme Leader and Sebarra had decided that their number one priority was Rey of Jakku.
He’d be lying if he’d said he understood what the hell was going on; the truth is that none of them did. It’s what the six of them had been struggling to put together since their visions began at the Praxeum: dreams of fire, destruction, death, sadness, devastation; changing into silence, hesitation, uncertainty; creating a shifting tide, which transformed into a balance. With Ben Solo at the center of it all
So, all things considered, Ofir decided to sit there in silence, communing with the Force and hoping that this was not how they would meet their end: on an uninhabited planet with subzero temperatures as they tried to make friends with some girl from a backwards planet, who was hiding out in the base of the notoriously trigger-happy Resistance.
As if he read Ofir’s mind, Vasco muttered, “This girl better be worth it.”
Aila rustled angrily as she glanced from Vasco to Sebarra, who sat behind him with a less than friendly look on her face. “Stop it, Vas.”
“I mean, I just don’t get it,” he continued, and Ofir held back a sigh: if Vasco was anything, he was consistent. “I don’t understand what’s so important – “
“That is correct, Vasco Ren, you don’t understand,” hissed Sebarra in a dangerously low voice. “You will be wise to remember there is much you don’t understand.”
Vasco sunk down slightly in his seat, as if shielding himself from Sebarra’s wrath. “I apologize, Master.”
“I will remind you that if you believe yourself more capable of leading the Knights of Ren, I welcome you to submit your official challenge so that we may sort out our differences,” Sebarra continued darkly. “But I think we both know how that will turn out.”
“Yes, Master.” Vasco’s voice had gone up at least two octaves and was now at half its normal volume. Ofir looked askew at Sebarra, who caught his gaze and pointedly rolled her eyes.
“Oh, shit,” he heard Aila mutter, and he looked out the viewport at a renewed barrage heading their way. Ofir felt his stomach turn over at the innumerable cannon, blasters, and lasers rip-roaring through the swirling snow, heading straight at them.
Aila glanced back at the four Knights behind her. “Secure your safety harnesses and double-check your individual life support systems.” Inhaling quickly and squaring her shoulders, Aila muttered, “I can do this, I can do this…”
He’d always hated flying, and missions like this reminded him as to why. Ofir’s fingers tightened around the arm rests of his seat and he locked his knees in place to brace himself for the unavoidable onslaught –
– that never came.
The Force rippled around Ofir so suddenly that he reached out, his tendrils searching for the source of the disruption –
It was a bright beacon of light, around which the Force lively danced and bowed, ebbing and flowing as needed as if it were the most beautiful performance Ofir had ever witnessed.
Ofir opened his eyes, scouring the obscure horizon for the source.
There it was.
There she was.
Standing with her arm outstretched and summoning the Force in a way that Ofir had never seen before – calm, but purposeful. Commanding, but kind. Her beauty was unmatched as her hair whipped around her, cheeks and lips red, eyes dark but honest. He was so intrigued by her, so amazed at her ability to alter the Force, that he didn’t realize she had stopped the entire barrage of fire in mid-air until he heard Aila gasp, Jari cry out, and Sebarra whisper, “It is her.”
The Statera dipped below the Resistance’s unmoving volley, slowing its velocity until it gently settled down on Hoth’s surface with finality. They all sat in silence for a few moments, looking out the viewport at Rey, her small figure shivering in the cold despite the comically oversized parka she had zipped up to her nose. Even now, while at rest, the Force played upon her skin, weaving in and out of her body intricately and intimately, as if the Force itself had found its home.
Sebarra stood so abruptly that Vasco let out a startled grunt. She donned her mask and tightened the cowl around her neck to protect against the blisteringly violent and frigid winds whipping across the surface. “I will greet her alone,” she instructed. “You will only join me if and when I indicate.”
“Yes, Master,” they spoke in unison. But they continued to stare at the girl from Jakku, each of them in awe of what they had just witnessed.
As Ofir watched Sebarra approach Rey, he couldn’t help but grin. “Sebarra was right,” he muttered, shaking his head. “For all these years, she’s been right.”
“It’s true, then,” came Erez’s voice.
“It’s true,” Ofir nodded slowly, as he let himself believe – truly believe – for the first time in a very long time. “All of it.”
Come say hi on Tumblr: faithren :)
My heart recognized you before my eyes knew who you were.
Kylo was dead.
His conclusion was born of two truths: one, he had a hard time believing anyone, even the grandson of Anakin Skywalker, could survive in this amount of pain; two, that if there was a hell, a place of punishment in the afterlife for those who committed unspeakable and unforgivable sins, then he was, without a doubt, its newest acquisition.
His intermittent moments of consciousness were filled with the brittle sound of his bones breaking, the metallic smell of his blood, and such insurmountable physical anguish that he really couldn’t assess where he was injured or to what extent.
The first time he’d heard of the Embrace of Pain was from Exia. An only child with red hair that was somehow both fiery and dark, she was the only daughter of a Coruscanti diplomat. She descended from a legacy aristocratic family and had been initially appalled at the “conditions” of the Praxeum’s living quarters.
One of the older students, Exia had grabbed Sebarra’s attention from the start. “She’s cute,” he joked with her once at supper, when he’d followed her stare over to the adjacent table.
“Cute?” she had repeated with disdain. “She’s the most fuckable woman I’ve ever seen.”
He’d laughed. “Maybe it’s her never-ending bullshit of self-important entitlement you find so sexy.”
“It could be. Or it could be those curves,” she’d retorted dryly. She winked and looked at him conspiratorially. “Apparently I have a thing for chasing aristocratic tail.”
That very same evening, Exia had raised her hand during their Applied Jedi Lore lesson on the morality and history of coerced confessions, and asked about the Embrace.
Skywalker’s face had darkened, the soft twinkle gone from his blue eyes, his mouth flat and grim. He had calmly assessed his students as they sat cross-legged and quiet before him, exchanging confused wordless glances between each other. Kylo remembered catching Sebarra’s eyes with his own narrowed ones, offering her only the slightest shake of his head. He hadn’t known anything about it, either, not at that time.
Not like he does now.
“You are familiar?” It was a statement but an inquisitive one, and Skywalker had waited for the student to elaborate. After clearing her throat daintily and sitting up a bit straighter, she did.
“My father told me stories,” she began without pause. “We were too .... refined ... to use such methods on Coruscant, but wealth traders and arms dealers would speak of it often in diplomatic meetings. It was a device, some type of cage, that would use a person’s own body to cause endless pain.”
“How?” Ofir’s gruff voice had pierced the air, and he’d heard Sebarra snort. Ofir had always been direct and unapologetic in his approach toward gaining knowledge about which he was curious. It was a quality that had drawn Kylo to him, all of those years ago.
Skywalker had inhaled deeply. It was one of his greatest tells – a signifier that what he was about to share was information he wished to avoid. He had always been overprotective over all of his students. All of them except for his nephew, apparently.
“It’s a living organism that has been cultivated for centuries and bred for one purpose: the perfection of pain.”
Skywalker had paused. The silence had been thick with interest an apprehension. “Its origins are unknown, but rumor is that it was the creation of Ajunta Pall.”
Murmurs sprouted among the students, and his eyes had gone wide with recognition. The first Dark Lord of the Sith, who had discovered the secret to creating and shaping life, rewarded for his efforts by the High Council with expulsion from the Jedi Order.
Skywalker had continued. “As a sentient being, it can access the electrochemical output patterns of its victim’s nerve impulses. It then collects and analyzes the data in order to customize its torture methods specific to what would biologically cause the most pain.”
The pregnant pause that followed had been interrupted by Peleth, his young voice light but precise. “Who did Pall use it on, Master?”
“He’s Sith garbage,” Vasco had snorted, his arms crossed, his eyes angry under his heavy brow. “Probably got his rocks off using it on anyone and anything. Like a sick hobby.”
“It wasn’t used indiscriminately,” Skywalker began, shooting Vasco an admonishing look before returning his gaze to Peleth. “Standard interrogation chairs and analysis grids can be a persuasive enough experience for most. The differentiator is that the Embrace wears down not just the body, but the mind.”
Skywalker has taken another deep breath. “In answer to your question, young Peleth, you must remember that with physical pain comes psychological turmoil. The hopelessness of the struggle, of fighting against the Embrace, coupled with the bodily exhaustion, proved itself very effective at enhancing its victim’s feelings of anger, hurt, futility.”
“It turns you to the Dark Side,” Sebarra has said suddenly. He remembered turning to look at her, eyes unseeing and still, staring straight ahead of her as if she were lost in a trance. “It encouraged an inner darkness to rise.”
Kylo remembered the chill that had travelled the length of his body at her words, the heightened, borderline panic that had clawed in his chest when Sebarra had broken from her daze and turned to look at him with eyes full of pain and lips full of words that never materialized.
Only now, in full retrospect, does he realize she had foreseen the future, as he had so many times about so many things, great and small, usually too hazy to prevent or fix, but too clear to ignore. Only now, as his body screamed in abject anguish, does he realize she had been haunted by her vision that day at the Praxeum – the Force foretold her. It’s why as he begged, pleaded with her to go to Rey on Hoth, she’d fought him so violently, harder than she’d ever fought him before.
She knew this would be his fate, were he to fall into Peleth’s hands.
And yet she did as he asked. It was why she had broken free from her stun cuffs the moment Kylo had caused a diversion, as they were escorted to the holding block, summoning her lightsaber from Hux, who cried out in surprise and anger. Why she cut down the two Stormtroopers on either side of her with one sweep of her white blade. Why her eyes had lingered on him, his face, as if memorizing it because it would be the last time she saw him, before taking off at full tilt down the narrow, pristine corridor, deflecting the onslaught of blaster bolts that followed.
“Let her go,” Peleth had said to Kiva, his apprentice, when she moved to pursue Sebarra. His eyes had twinkled as he looked straight at Kylo, his lips upturned in a crooked smile. “We have what we need.”
The sheer ridiculousness of the thought made him laugh – a breathless cackle erupted from his lips as his lungs pleaded with his broken ribs to allow them to expand. He felt blood – or was that drool? – ooze from his mouth, past his nose, and over his forehead, entwining in his knotted black hair which had been matted and drenched in sweat for Maker knows how long now. Suspended upside down in the slimy but firm tendrils of the Embrace of Pain, Kylo’s head lolled drunkenly, without purpose, his coordination lost long ago when he had been jolted with a supercharged bolt of something, funneling the electric fury straight into his spinal column, awakening every pain receptor in his body, causing them all to simultaneously burst.
This had been the first time of many that Kylo had bitten clean through his bottom lip in a futile attempt to dampen the guttural screams that originated from so deep within him, they were unrecognizable as his own. Luckily, he’d usually pass out before too long. Unluckily, the Embrace was able to revive him moments later to ensure he could continue to enjoy the never-ending blitz of pain.
A sudden onset of severe tremors accompanied the smug question, radiating across his body, increasing in intensity and duration, his muscles contracting without his permission, tighter and tighter until he was sure he would implode. He struggled to breathe, his face red from the blood that pooled in his head, his mouth frothing like a rabid animal. He groaned pitifully, like a petulant child, channeling any and all energy he had left to open his eyes sluggishly into the maliciously grinning face, slowly coming into focus through his delusional haze.
They stood face-to-inverted face, close enough for Kylo to detect the sterile scent of First Order medical disinfectant. Shuddering against his will and trying desperately to keep the pain at bay, Kylo snarled, “How long did it take medbay to fix your face?”
Kylo cried out in pain and surprise as he felt a – knife? – stab his neck, his heart seizing in terror as he felt something inject into his throbbing veins. It felt like condensed battery acid, and it licked across the length of his body, hatefully but hungrily devouring him, as a predator strips the meat from the bones of its prey. He felt his eyes rolling into the back of his head and eagerly welcomed the unconsciousness that usually followed, however brief it may be, before he was awakened again to endure another round of the sadistic cycle.
But he felt himself being pulled back from the precipice of nothingness, and he whined, a nonverbal plea to whatever gods could – or, would – save him. He expected the silence that followed, but it wasn’t any less devastating.
Peleth chuckled good-naturedly, as if he had no care in the world, as he watched Kylo break piece by piece. “Biotoxins,” he explained detachedly, his eyes roving over Kylo’s face which was crusted in dried blood from their exchange in his quarters. Kylo dimly noted as the Embrace repositioned its grip across his bare back and torso, each movement eliciting deep grunts and sharp gasps. It felt as if pain itself had been thickly slathered across his skin, and was now leeching into his muscles, tendons, bones, organs.
“Master Skywalker inspired me to seek out this gorgeous beast,” Peleth continued as beads of sweat cascaded down Kylo’s chest, dripping from his trembling chin in a steady, constant trickle. “Yet another thing you have to thank him for.”
“The fuck …?” Kylo grumbled incoherently, his tongue rolling uselessly in his mouth, his teeth chattering feverishly. His mind growled at Peleth’s implication that he owed anything to Skywalker, aside from showing him the true fallibility, pure worthlessness, of all he had known and been brainwashed to love since birth. His family’s insufferable facade of light and truth, rooted in legacy and the perceived right to instill their skewed moral compass across the galaxy. The fucking hubris of it all was absolutely disgusting, and Kylo felt a wave of nausea wash over him, although he was unsure if it was brought on by thoughts of his birth family or by the calculated initiatives of the Embrace.
“Oh, come now, Solo, don’t be so dense,” chided Peleth. He waved his hand dismissively, and Kylo nearly cried out in relief as he felt the constant agony begin to ease, bit by bit, as if the ocean of torment washing over his body had reached low tide.
“The Praxeum is where you first felt her, isn’t it?” Peleth hissed, leaning so far forward that their noses almost touched.
Through the subsiding pain, Kylo once again felt the serpent encapsulating his heart, waiting. Just waiting …
A familiar feeling of panic rose in his throat. “Fuck off!” he roared, resisting the urge to struggle, lest his movements awaken the Embrace from its momentary lull.
“Tsk tsk, Solo, you’re transparent in your anger,” came Peleth’s amused response. “It’s where you first connected, isn’t it? Where you first felt her.” He repeated the last two words with particular emphasis, and Kylo suddenly felt his mind split in two as Peleth shoved himself into his thoughts, rattling through his mind with such ferocity that Kylo yelped despite himself. He scrambled to throw up the impenetrable durasteel walls he had always used to protect his mind from Snoke, but he was too weak in his exhaustion and Peleth was too powerful in his determination.
Peleth culled through his exposed brain and Kylo gritted his teeth as he desperately tried to at least shield his most coveted thoughts, his most private memories. The attempt backfired: it only served to pique Peleth’s interest. “What are you hiding back there, Solo?” he muttered as he redirected his trajectory to hone in on the stillest corner of Kylo’s brain, a corner that contained an impenetrable vault, protected at all costs and forbidden to everyone. A corner even Snoke was unaware of.
“No, don’t …” He felt the anxiety begin to simmer beneath his skin as Peleth crept slowly but purposefully toward the only pure memories Kylo had left, memories that resonated within the core of his soul, memories that had gotten him through the last decade, the lifetime, of hurt and emptiness and despair. “Peleth,” he implored, his voice shaking and suddenly fragile.
He felt Peleth’s footsteps pause within his brain and Kylo repeated his plea. “Peleth.”
The other man narrowed his eyes and tilted his head slightly. In a voice no more than a whisper, as if they were two lovers engaging in loving pillow talk, Peleth responded. “Beg me.”
Kylo’s momentary hesitation was enough, and he felt the heavy footsteps march adamantly on, closer, closer, closer. Closer to the thoughts, the emotions, that had been so diligently organized and locked away that even Kylo couldn’t say with absolute certainty what was hidden.
But he did know who Peleth would find, and the mere thought of her discovery sent him reeling with dread.
Fuck his pride, fuck his self-importance, fuck his ego. “Please.” The word escaped from his dehydrated, flushed lips and hung between them, heavy and uncertain. “I’m begging you,” he continued, the rawness in his voice propelled by the churning emotions in his chest. “You can’t …”
A terrifying smile smeared across Peleth’s face. “Oh, but I can,” he snarled, and the vault had been cracked, and the memories rushed out, like a dam breaking, washing over each other excitedly, vivid and real and soul-shattering and life-affirming.
Kylo wailed in defeat, too overwhelmed to be angry, too defeated to retaliate. Resignedly, he watched the clear, cool water of his past life swirl through his consciousness until he found himself submerged entirely in memories of the girl who had unknowingly saved his life.
He would always feel her on the most painful nights, the most difficult nights, his feet extending beyond the uneven, lumpy mattress, the Praxeum’s standard issued cot unable to accommodate his unusually tall and lanky frame. Particularly sensitive to the cold, his skin would be covered in goosebumps as he wrapped the thin wool blanket around himself in a futile attempt to lessen the damp chill.
It was her warmth that had given her away, her presence in his mind so powerful she could alter his physical reality, her glow soothing his shivers and bringing calm to the stormy sea that frothed and billowed within him.
He hadn’t known her name, not then. She was a feeling – a somatic presence without a body. She had been young, so young, when they first connected; even at sixteen he could clearly read the youth and innocence that demarcated her Force signature. She had been a mystery to him, a boy who had been haunted by ghosts – real and not – since birth. Every whisper had a demand, every allowance a penance: these are the lessons he learned from the darkness, from Snoke.
But with her, there were no expectations. No judgement, no conditions, no disappointment. She would simply – be, and it was always more than enough for him.
Her presence was a beacon of hope, a light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel as the familiar blackness, the shadowy voice that had kept him company since childhood, gradually became louder, more vicious, increasingly persuasive.
She’s a figment of your imagination, it would sneer, and for a time, it convinced him. He’d spent years telling himself that she was a made-up solution to the continuing disconnect he felt from his family, his classmates, the entire galaxy. By his late teens, he’d even come to believe it.
But then came the dreams that shook him so deeply that even the ever-present voice fell quiet, retreating into obscurity. For a while, at least.
In these dreams, he saw her core. And in her core, he saw himself.
The same ache, same abandonment, same loneliness. Identical feelings of detachment, leading to a larger-than-life inferiority complex. A shared non-specific hatred simmering just beneath the surface, kept in check through fear and insecurity and isolation, but always there, like an insatiable itch resistant to scratching.
This girl had unknowingly shown him – proven to him – that his kinetic volatile emotions were not as unheard of as Skywalker had led him to believe. That what he felt wasn’t because he was inherently ungrateful, or insufferably spoiled, or a privileged little space prince.
He had seen his own demons reflected in her soul. And it had saved him.
His inner turmoil calmed. The voice remained insistent, but he’d felt less inclined toward its suggestions and commands. He’d been able to fall into a routine, established a courteous repertoire with acquaintances, even falling into a strong and comfortable friendship with a handful of his fellow classmates. And on days where the whispers in his mind were able to weaken his resolve, he would return to his quarters, curl up on his mattress, close his eyes, and open his mind. And she’d be there, time and time again, radiating, hopeful, constant.
The hatred and doubt that had plagued his mind dissipated. He began to notice Sebarra, and she began to notice him. In stark contrast to Rey’s ethereal shelter, Sebarra offered him tangible, solid refuge. They grew close quickly, fell for each other even quicker. He was the happiest he’d ever been.
But then Skywalker had betrayed him at his most vulnerable, sending him down an irreversible path and driving him into Snoke’s open and waiting claws. On the same night that the Praxeum burned, Ben Solo had gone before the Supreme Leader and endured his first mental “conditioning,” during which Rey’s light had been exorcised from his mind, his spirit, his being.
She’d gone dark, along with his heart.
Peleth’s unpleasant and intentionally sloppy departure from his mind brought Kylo back to the present, his spent body trembling, his eyes stinging with the tears he hadn’t realized had been shedding. They seeped from between his closed eyelids, saturating his lashes and trickling past his temples to finally mix with the blood and spit in his matted hair.
He felt as if he had just been brutally violated, splayed wide-open, his innermost personal experiences forcefully shared and dissected. Debased. Degraded. Destroyed.
“Ugh, amazing,” Peleth grunted, breathlessly, obscenely. His comment elicited no response: Kylo was numb.
Sighing and rubbing his hands together, Peleth smiled. “I know there’s more in there, Solo, and I’ll be back for it. But for now, I think you’ve given us plenty to talk about.”
Kylo’s eyes snapped open. “Us? Who is us?” His voice was lower and steadier than expected even as his thoughts raced, his vision distorted and blurry. The disorientation was nauseating, but the overriding fear of Peleth’s answer gained him forced clarity.
Peleth paused in front of the door release in consideration of Kylo’s question. He turned his head only slightly, just enough so that his mangled scars seemed to skitter excitedly across his face under the harsh interrogation lighting.
“I look forward to meeting her,” he drawled lazily, his voice bored. “I’ll be sure to tell her you send your best.”
“No!” Kylo roared, thrown into violent, red rage. He forgot himself as he violently flailed against the tentacles of the Embrace, which responded in kind, slithering coldly to wrap firmly around his body, positioning themselves in anticipation.
“Rey,” Peleth cooed erotically, licking his smiling lips slowly. “What a sumptuous name.”
Tired of the conversation, Peleth revived the Embrace with a flick of his wrist, and Kylo Ren was plunged into deafening, despondent anguish once more.
For more information about the Embrace of Pain: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Embrace_of_Pain
For more information about Ajunta Pall: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Ajunta_Pall
[Note: neither the Embrace or Pall actually have anything to do with each other; that was my doing.]
Until next time, xoxo
It is easier to believe it when you see it, as long as you aren’t worried about making it through the night.
Sebarra had always had a bad habit of crossing her arms and tapping her foot when she was impatient.
She began doing it as a young girl of no more than five. On days where her father had taken too long to cook dinner, she would stand in the corner of the kitchen, chewing the inside of her lip, her bare foot tapping rhythmically against the ornate tile floor, the steady beat only occasionally interrupted by a heavy, pointed sigh.
Her father would laugh as he sent her a backwards glance before returning his full attention to the stove top. “You have your mother’s patience,” he’d chuckle, which would usually cause an impatient grunt to escape her throat as her stomach gurgled, rumbling uncomfortably in protest.
“Your father and I are not finished discussing it,” she remembered her mother telling her, an edge to her words, when she had asked her parents for the umpteenth time about attending the Praxeum. As a pre-teen girl with the sass of a fully-grown woman, she had leaned back in her chair, her folded arms causing her shoulder blades to rest uncomfortably against the decorative Alderaanian wood, her right foot drumming mutedly against the padded area rug beneath the table.
“I don’t know if we should keep doing this,” Ben had said, his voice quiet and eyes soft as they studied her own, his breath hot and sweet against her cheek in the extremely limited space of the storage closet, their designated location for sneaking away for a quick make out or, occasionally, if they had more time, a bit more than just a kiss. She had cocked an eyebrow skeptically as he looked away, his cheeks reddening against her assessing gaze as she had leaned back as much as the confined space would allow, the toe of her heavy boot brushing Ben’s leg as it tap, tap, tapped against the bare concrete floor.
So she was unsurprised to find herself employing this very habit as she tried to ignore how fucking abominably frigid she was, her unmasked face stinging as her snow-dampened hair whipped against her cheeks and intertwined with the lashes of her narrowed eyes. Her shiny, black booted foot thumped repeatedly against the hard-packed snow as she stood behind Rey but in front of her Knights, eyeing the dented but withstanding closed blast doors that acted as the entrance to Echo Base.
“But I am vouching for them,” she heard Rey growl through gritted teeth into the microphone attached to the videosensor, through which some moron named Poe was undoubtedly eyeing them as he refused to permit the Knights entrance.
“They have no business being inside of this base,” came Poe’s mechanized voice, slow and distorted due to the aging technology through which it passed.
Over time, Sebarra had come to fully acknowledge her impatience was a weakness and had worked hard to overcome it, learning to dampen the fiery anxiousness within her chest and compartmentalize it, only letting it loose when the occasion necessitated it.
As the wind howled shrilly in her ears, Sebarra began to suspect that this occasion very much necessitated it.
She reached out with her mind to connect with Erez, one of the most impressively patient and calm people she had ever known. Her assessment: he was cold, watchful, and at peace; but her eyebrow raised as she recognized that he, too, was quickly approaching being over this back and forth bullshit.
That was her sign. Enough of this.
As she lifted her previously tapping foot to stand next to Rey, Sebarra stopped abruptly mid-step, caught off guard as she heard Rey literally growl, “No business?!”
Rey yanked the videosensor violently, almost ripping it from its hinges as she tilted it upward toward the hazy sky where the mess of First Order Star Destroyers moved sluggishly out of formation, in clear preparation for a ground assault.
Pointing emphatically with a bandaged hand, her words edgy and her face scowling, Rey snarled, “Dealing with that is our first priority of business, and the Knights are here to help us with that business, so for fuck’s sake: Let. Us. In.”
Sebarra found it wholly impossible to suppress the impressed smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. I can definitely see why he likes her, she mused, but her stomach clenched and her heart ached as she thought of him, at the mercy of Peleth and his bitch of an apprentice. She reached out subconsciously, as she always had to him, again finding nothing – no Force signature, no presence, no indication that he was even alive. He had closed himself off to the Force, whether intentionally or not, and she felt angry panic rise in her throat.
“You have little time and fewer resources,” she began without preamble, her jaw clenched but her voice steady. “Trust Rey, and we will do everything within our power to ensure your survival. We are here with clear orders to protect her, and her alone – the Resistance’s wellbeing is secondary, but out of respect for her, we will aid your efforts in every way possible.”
She paused to risk a glance at Rey, who stared at her wide-eyed in shock, and Sebarra realized with a start that she had no idea how much he cared for her, had always cared for her, why he cared for her …
Pulling herself away from her meandering thoughts and keeping her growing desperation invisible, she continued. “Decline to trust her and we will be on our way. But make no mistake: I will not stand here and subject my Knights to the onslaught of the First Order due to your lack of conviction.”
“The choice is yours, but decide now.”
The wind howled, the snow swirled, and Sebarra forced the cold goosebumps from her body. She disallowed herself from shivering in order to remain motionless, but did allow her neck to tingle with the hope that whoever this Poe character was would see the logic in her proposal, would understand that this was truly their only chance at making it through another day, that she wouldn’t hesitate to take Rey and her Knights and flee to the Outer Rim, allowing the First Order and the Resistance to blow each other to smithereens as they vied for the right to flex their moral fortitude and impart it on the rest of the galaxy –
The unexpected screeching of metallic friction caught her off-guard, and she instinctively moved her right hand to rest on the hilt of her lightsaber, her grip relaxing as she watched the blast doors slowly part to reveal a ragged band of twenty or so Resistance fighters, their faces both defeated and curious, their postures exhausted as they aimed their blasters straight at Sebarra’s head.
Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Sebarra slowly moved her itching hand away from her utility belt, where her lightsaber hung lightly. She turned her head slightly. “Faces forward,” she ordered out loud, hoping to avoid an all-out brawl caused by some trigger-happy cadet afraid of the intentionally-menacing masks of her Knights. She heard the soft rustling of robes followed by the familiar snap-hiss chorus as faces were bared, masks removed and tucked securely under each Knight’s respective left arm.
A young man with dark hair and set square jaw stepped forward, his brown jacket ragged, his confident eyes surrounded by dark circles that Sebarra recognized as a true-to-tell sign that this man was exhausted, malnourished, and emotionally spent.
He cleared his throat as he stopped a few yards in front of Sebarra, Rey to her right, the Knights assembled into their traditional formal configuration behind her. “I’m Lieutenant General Poe Dameron of the Resistance Fleet,” he spoke, his voice raspier than she anticipated, as if he was in need of a few glasses of water and a nice, warm Corellian brandy. Well-built and stocky, he made up for being a head shorter than her with the shocking amount of amplified energy that coursed through him, sloughing from his body in waves so warm that Sebarra felt the cold diminish ever so slightly.
“Sebarra Ren, Master of the Knights of Ren,” she responded with a nod of her head. “My second-in-command, Ofir Ren,” she gestured behind her as Ofir nodded his head curtly. “My fellow Knights: Vasco Ren, Aila Ren, Jari Ren, and Erez Ren.”
Realizing he omitted the formal introduction of his own command structure, Poe gestured to a handsome man on his left, and Sebarra squinted at him, struggling with a recognition gnawing at the corner of her mind. She knew that face …
“This is Finn, my number one,” Poe said, and Sebarra’s eyes widened imperceptibly as she remembered who this man was. FN-2187, the vigilante Stormtrooper, the man who had wielded Master Skywalker’s lightsaber, the man who her Master had sliced in two on Starkiller Base. Finn stepped forward, his face firm but his eyes accepting as they flitted between Sebarra and Rey, and Sebarra noted the gentle smile Rey offered him as she caught his eyes with her own.
“Lieutenant Connix, my offensive strategist,” Poe continued as a young blonde lowered her blaster – only slightly – to offer a shielded nod. “Commander D’Acy, my defensive strategist,” he said as a slight woman stepped forward, so surely and borderline welcoming that Sebarra wondered if this woman knew something the rest of the Resistance didn’t.
“Lieutenant General,” Sebarra addressed Poe as her eyes scanned what remained of the Resistance fleet, ignoring the blasters still pointed squarely at her chest. “Where is General Organa?”
Sebarra’s abdomen was struck with such a violent wave of pain and regret through the Force that she inhaled sharply to prevent herself from doubling over and clutching her belly. Her eyesight blurred around the edges and the answering silence became so deafening that she couldn’t help but turn to Rey, eyes wide in panic. “Rey,” she said, and she hated the unpreventable vulnerability of her words, her voice wobbling faintly as dread clutched at her throat, “where is General Organa?”
The girl’s hazel eyes dropped to the ground, but not before Sebarra saw the tears welling in the depths of her long, thick lashes. She shook her head quickly, once or twice, as if to indicate she wouldn’t - or possibly couldn’t – answer her question.
Forgetting herself, and only barely noticing the renewed focus of the twenty-some-odd blasters that followed her, Sebarra stepped toward Rey, reaching out to cup Rey’s delicate chin with her gloved hand, tilting her young face upward until her eyes inevitably followed. Their gazes locked and this time, Sebarra spoke to her through the Force.
Rey. Sebarra’s tone was soft but wistful. What happened to Leia?
The corners of Rey’s mouth turned downward and she blinked, several tears fighting past her lashes to cascade down her smooth cheeks, flushed crimson with the harsh coldness of the air, her chin trembling in Sebarra’s hand.
She’s gone, came Rey’s response, and Sebarra’s hand fell limply back to her side as her chest seized in sobs that she would not let manifest, her throat strangely heavy as she struggled to swallow, her mouth as dry as sandpaper.
How had she not felt it? Had she been so preoccupied with her own life, her own tasks, her own challenges and shortcomings and self-importance that she hadn’t even noticed Leia Organa’s passing? The woman whose honor and decorum and purpose and dedication had been upheld and revered by her father, the woman who had smiled so kindly at Sebarra each time they had met over the years, the woman who had brought Ben into this world and looked at him with nothing but complete love and devotion but sadness too – this woman was gone? Just like that?
“You knew her,” Poe said incredulously, and Sebarra was struck with the unfamiliar sensation of being easily read by someone who neither knew her nor was Force sensitive. His brow furrowed and dark eyes searching, Poe approached her and gently put his hand to her elbow as he repeated himself, this time softer, almost a whisper, meant for just Sebarra. “You knew her.”
“I knew her,” she responded cooly as she met his gaze, her jaw set defiantly and firmly as she repositioned herself away from Poe’s imploring and unexpected touch. She was not of the habit to make herself vulnerable to anyone – especially not this idiot who had made her stand out in the fucking freezing cold for goddamn near thirty minutes while he scratched his ass like an indecisive oaf.
Strategically, she elaborated, “My father is – was – Alderaanian. Her name was always spoken of with the utmost honor in my household. I carry this same reverence of her, today and always.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Sebarra saw Poe signal for his Resistance fighters to stand down, and each of them lowered their blasters slowly, their faces confused and mouths agape as they stared at her. It was only then that she noticed the single tear rolling down her cheek, and she brushed it away brusquely, nonchalantly. Maker, she fucking hated showing weakness to those who had not yet earned her vulnerability. There were only a handful of people who had – five of whom stood stoically behind her, the open blaster doors rustling their robes softly – the other, suffering silently at the hands of the Embrace, as she had foreseen it, all of those years ago, when Kylo was Ben …
“Does he know?” Sebarra’s sharp question made Rey jump slightly, and the girl’s face fell, her cheeks hollowing and her rosy lips whitening in horrific realization.
Oh, no …
“Rey,” she began again, trying to keep her voice level and doing a shit job of it. “Does. He. Know?”
She saw Poe’s confused face jump from her own to Rey’s and back again, but Sebarra was in no mood to elaborate. Her piercing gaze bore into Rey, unapologetic and fiery, as she anticipated one response but desperately – pleadingly – prayed for another.
“I –“ Rey began softly, her head shaking slightly incredulously, as if she couldn’t believe she hadn’t told him. “I – there wasn’t time,” she began, her voice quivering with emotion as more and more tears fell, wetness dripping from her nose that she didn’t even bother to wipe away. “It – it happened so fast – “
“What happened?” Sebarra interrupted Rey’s bumbling explanation, growing tired of the lack of clarity, eager to dampen that raw, chafing sensation in her stomach, a sensation she only got when she knew the answer to a question before she asked it. “What happened to her, Rey?”
“They were both attacked.” It was FN-2187 – Finn, Sebarra corrected herself – who spoke, stepping forward toward her with such a look of infinite trust that through her mental haze, she made a note to find out what, exactly, this man was made of. “With … with the Force, or whatever,” he added blandly, his hands gesturing wildly as if trying to point to the Force itself.
“Attacked with the Force how?” she asked, her eyes narrowing as she looked into his amber eyes.
“We were just standing in StratComm,” he began eagerly, as if he had been desperate to speak to someone about this incident for some time, but was hesitant to do so for fear that he’d be perceived as nothing less than completely crazy. “And all of a sudden Rey goes down, Leia goes down. They’re rolling around on the ground, crying out, clearly in pain – but nothing had touched them.”
Sebarra felt the purple scars on her face tingle as she turned toward Rey. “Fire, screaming, death, destruction. You felt these things, when you were attacked.”
Rey nodded as she shot Sebarra a quizzical look. “It was awful,” she said as she wiped her nose against her bandaged hand. “I’ve never felt anything like it.”
Sebarra allowed herself a dark smile as she gestured to her own face. “Neither have I.”
“And this attack … this is what killed Le – General Organa?”
Finn, Poe, and Rey all nodded somberly, and Sebarra’s lips curled into a snarl as she turned to look at her Knights. Ofir bared his sharpened teeth as he growled, “Peleth.”
“What’s a Peleth?” Poe asked, looking so utterly confused that Sebarra felt an overwhelming urge to laugh through the ache and the hurt and the regret and the anger swelling in her stomach and churning in her chest.
“That’s a conversation for another time, Lieutenant General Dameron,” she said nicely but conclusively. She looked past the open blast doors to the First Order fleet, swarming almost lazily in Hoth’s atmosphere. “Presently, we have more pressing matters to address.”
She turned back to Poe and gestured towards her Knights, allowing herself a mischievous smile. “So … may we come in?”
My lovely readers,
This last week has been a hard one for our family. My husband unexpectedly lost his grandmother, with whom he was very close. We live out of state - in another part of the country, actually - and have been dealing with organizing hospice care and making end-of-life arrangements.
It has been brought to my attention that some were disappointed in my inability to update on the date I promised, and for that I sincerely apologize. I had every intention of doing so, but was quickly unable to due to the unexpected circumstances.
This chapter is a bit shorter than others, but I would prefer posting a shorter chapter in lieu of a longer one that wouldn't be as coherent or well-written due to lack of sleep and a bit more stress than normal. That being said, writing this chapter has made this unexpected loss much easier to bear -- I loved writing it, and it would mean the world to me (as it always has) to hear your thoughts about it too! :)
Thank you to all who have understood not only my delay in posting, but have been equally as patient and supportive in my lack of response to all of your amazing comments. I intend to do so as soon as possible.
You all are amazing. Thank you.
You can’t study the darkness by flooding it with light.
“No, you may not come in.”
That’s truly what Sovereign Ruler Hux wanted to say as his door notifier beeped. He was neck-deep in holopads, and had tried to remain painfully organized, as always, by stacking them neatly in controlled little piles over the several days since his little coup. Unfortunately, those manageable piles became unwieldy towers, tipping and sliding unceremoniously over each other until he could no longer discern which ones were which. They were, in essence, a painfully constant reminder that the administrative side of Supreme Leadership was a fucking pain in the ass.
But when his eyes flitted over to the security video feed, he let out an audible groan. In place of a pesky aide or a subordinate officer, Hux found himself looking at the towering form of Peleth Dol, his lapdog Kiva standing beside him.
He wanted to crawl under his dolomite crystal desk and die.
Hux had never been fond of Force wielders, but had recognized them as a necessary part of his end-game strategy of achieving a new galactic order. The aristocrats of Arkanis had viewed them as crazy hermits, obsessed with the Force the more dangerous for their penchant for ... unexpected ... powers. Supreme Leader Snoke, for all of his short-sighted Force freakery, had at least a strategic militaristic mind, and had done a fairly good job at keeping Kylo Ren at bay and out of Hux’s hair.
Hux sniffed at the thought: Kylo Fucking Ren.
What an exhausting waste of a man. Hux had played as nicely as he could with Ren, even tolerated him as Supreme Leader, up until he noticed his alarming obsession with finding that Scavenger bitch from Jakku. Ren had placed his wanton needs over those of the First Order, and Hux, one of the founding officers, simply could not let that happen.
It was necessary, he had told himself, to seize the opportunity Dol had presented. Snoke’s Shadow Apprentice had not disappointed, delivering Ren in timely fashion, keeping him wholly indisposed in that ... contraption ... for the better part of a week.
The Embrace, Dol had called it, as he opened the cell door to reveal Ren, suspended upside down, bleeding and sweating and grunting like a wounded and dying animal, barely conscious and almost dead.
“Now,” Dol had whispered excitedly, “watch this.” And with a flick of his hand, Ren had begun screaming.
Hux couldn’t erase them from his mind, inhumane, rustic cries that sounded less like a full grown man and more like a child being beaten with a durasteel two-by-four. It was an experience that Hux did not intend to relive again. He now took the long route to the bridge every morning, adding a good ten minutes to his walk, in a deliberate attempt to circumvent cell block 0322.
In all honesty, Ren deserved many things – lots of painful, awful, terrible things.
But those screams …
And if Dol could elicit that type of agony from one of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy, logic followed that he could do worse to him …
The door notifier sounded again, and Hux clenched his jaw as he slammed the door release button, allowing Dol and Kiva to step inside his office. The girl was hooded, her face downturned and her dark robes flowing easily behind her as she trailed Peleth, who sauntered in, head bare, and grinning like a wayward child.
“Ah, Hux,” Dol began, as Hux stood to formally greet them with a terse nod. “It’s always so wonderful to see you.”
“Likewise,” Hux responded, attempting to offer Peleth what he hoped was a professional smile, but what he suspected looked more like an unadulterated grimace. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Dol glanced down at the Sovereign Ruler’s desk, considering it delicately as if he were going to offer to purchase it. Removing the glove from his right hand, Dol ran his fingers along the smooth surface, his eyes narrowing in what Hux could only assume was recognition. His smile faltered only momentarily, but had returned by the time he asked, “Dolomite crystal?”
“Yes,” Hux responded, caught a bit out of sorts. He raised an eyebrow. “You are familiar?”
“Oh, certainly,” Dol drawled, his fingertips continuing to caress the edge of his desk. “I am very familiar with the minerals of Lothal.”
“Oh?” It was all Hux could say to avoid an awkward, impatient silence. Why the hell had Dol so urgently barged in if all he wanted to talk about were the fucking mining operations on Lothal? That planet – and most of its inhabitants – had been deader than Alderaanian dust for almost two decades –
“I grew up on Lothal,” Dol sneered, and Hux realized all too late that the man had been inside of his mind as he felt the icy tendrils of the Force retract themselves from his brain, slithering silently back toward their owner. “My mothers died mining the very materials required to make such ornately beautiful items for the Core World’s wealthiest inhabitants … namely aristocratic families from Arkanis.”
Dol’s viciously threatening tone was not lost on him, and Hux’s blood began to somehow feel both too hot and too cold as it pumped through his body in time with his rapidly beating heart. He didn’t trust himself to speak, sure his voice would be too high pitched for his liking, so he remained silent, his face impassive, the only possible giveaway to his increasing panic the reddening lobes of his ears.
“You are familiar with Arkanis?” Dol continued, asking in a way that indicated he already knew the answer.
“Yes, in fact. Arkanis is my homeworld.” Hux sighed internally with relief when he heard the steady, unimpressed nature of his voice.
Dol removed his hand and donned the glove once more, pulling it taut deliberately, resolutely. He looked up to meet Hux’s eyes, his lips widening into a sharp, almost predatory grin. “Fate, it seems, has a sense of irony.”
Even in his rising dread, Hux decided he’d had just about as much of this esoteric bullshit as he could handle. He cleared his throat and clasped his hands behind him, his shoulders rolled and back rigid. “How may I be of assistance to you, Dol?”
Dol ran his tongue along the front of his teeth as his gaze bore into Hux’s skull, but the Sovereign Ruler refused to indicate subordinance by deflecting his gaze or fidgeting, so he stood there, eye-to-eye with the robed man, unmoving and enduring.
“The ground assault on Echo Base. You will delay it.”
Hux nearly laughed out loud despite himself at the ridiculousness of the statement. For Maker’s sake, this man sounded nearly identical to Ren, when he had stood on the bridge with his Knight lackey and ridiculously questioned Hux’s deployment of ground forces because Hoth was too cold.
What is it with these assholes?! he screamed internally.
His ears burning and his eyes narrowing with disdain, Hux lifted his chin and replied steadily, “I urge you to remember your place in all of this. You wanted Ren, and you have him. Our agreement was that you will remove him as a problem for me, and I will fulfill my duties as leader of the First Order.”
Dol chuckled as he folded his arms and tilted his head amusedly. “Yes, I have Solo,” he responded good-naturedly, and Hux blinked in momentary recollection that Kylo Ren was, in fact, the son of Han Solo and General Leia Organa. It never ceased to confound him that such an insufferable prick was the result of the union between a smarmy-smuggler-turned-Rebellion-Hero and a woman with more tactical militaristic prowess than he’d ever seen before.
Dol continued: “But I can only do so much without his Other.”
Hux may not be privy to the extrasensory benefits of the Force, but he had learned well enough during his time at the Arkanis Academy, and throughout his prolific military career, to observe body language in order to identify when there was dissention among the rank. Kiva’s uneasy shifting of her body weight from her right dominant foot, back to her left, and then again to her right, along with her averted eyes and hooded head was such a clear signal that she was uncomfortable with what her Master was saying, that she might as well have been screaming it out loud.
He tagged and bagged that observation for later as he turned his full attention back to Dol. “His Other?”
Kiva shifted again, but Dol shot her a pointed and commanding glance, and her body steadied.
“The Force seeks balance, always,” Dol began, no longer smiling, his eyes dull. “It is an all-knowing energy, but is not without its faults. Anakin Skywalker, Solo’s grandfather, had great potential, given to him through the Force, as an effort to balance the continuing struggle between Dark and Light. It was hoped by many – the Jedi Order, the High Council, and the Force itself – that he would bring stability to the galaxy and its inhabitants.”
Hux opened his mouth to speak, but Dol anticipated his response and continued. “Yes, in the Imperial and First Order academies, you’re taught that this prophecy was fulfilled – that as Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker brought order and peace to those he ruled over with violence and hatred. But,” Dol spat, as if he had taken a sip of spoiled bantha milk, “that is incorrect.”
Hux couldn’t help the curt sigh that escaped from his lips, but he certainly didn’t regret it, either. “This history session is enthralling, Dol, but I would prefer to hear what this has to do with Echo Base,” he drawled in annoyance, eyeing his toppling piles of holopads, growing wary of this unnecessary lecture about Jedi and Sith lore.
Again, Dol chortled, but obliged him with an answer. “The Force learned its lesson from Anakin Skywalker. To ensure a check-and-balance system, it no longer places such cosmic power in one being alone. So the Force created an equal but opposite being, a counterweight.”
“Right,” Hux said, his words clipped and impatient. “Fine. Ren is one half of this … scenario. I’m assuming his Other is on Echo Base, which is why you’re here.”
“Very good,” Dol leered, and Hux blanched at the blatant condescension. “Yes, his Other is on Hoth, hunkered down in Echo Base with the Resistance. I need for you to delay the ground assault in order to ensure she is not harmed before I can … collect … her.”
She? Her? That was not what Hux was expecting, but he wasn’t a man necessarily known for giving a shit about politically correct gender roles. “You’ll have to convince me this is of benefit to achieving my own end goals, Dol. I have no regard for whatever the Force does or does not do. My only mission is the ascendency of the First Order.”
Dol responded slowly, “The supremacy of the First Order very much hinges on what the Force does or does not do. Remember: balance. The galaxy is unequal, drawn into conflicting sides that perpetuate inequality, continued violence, suffering, death. The First Order versus the Resistance – this is not the natural state of things.” He looked up and leaned heavily over Hux’s desk, his dark eyes searching and important. “And the Force wants to rectify that.”
“Dol, please be more direct,” Hux drawled, grinding his teeth in frustration. “I can’t assume to follow – “
“Solo and Rey will bring a balance to the Force, eradicating the need for the First Order, for the Resistance, for conflict. If they unite – truly unite – you are going to find yourself out of a job.”
Hux blinked. Once, twice, three times. The only thing running through his mind: Um. What?
“Rey, the scavenger?” he replied incredulously when he regained his voice, shaking his head as his mind reeled. “She’s going to – with Ren, who – that’s why he – “
Hux knew he sounded like a bumbling idiot, but he couldn’t seem to stop stammering. So that was why Ren was so cautious with her, why he defied and murdered Snoke, why he allayed any attack on Echo Base. He had misread Ren’s pubescent obsession with this girl, assuming it was because that man could certainly use a good fuck, and perhaps she was the only one who had hinted at being either ready or willing.
The omnipresent distrust for the Force and its users roared within Hux’s consciousness as he waded through the scraps and bits of information coming into focus, from all corners of his mind. Snoke’s obsession with the destruction and eradication of Ren’s equal in the Light, Ren’s obsession with finding the map to Skywalker, which had been shoved unceremoniously aside when he encountered that girl on Takodana, taking her instead of the map, facing her alone on Starkiller Base, the momentary look of panic that passed his face when Hux reminded him that Rey would be tried and executed for her crimes against the First Order …
Fuck, Hux swore internally. It all fits, it all makes sense. Well, almost all of it …
“This still fails to explain why keeping Ren’s scavenger safe is of the utmost importance,” Hux spoke warily, coolly. “Wouldn’t destroying her be the ideal resolution?”
“The Force is cyclical,” Peleth explained, as if he were speaking to a child, and Hux found himself struggling to keep his emotions and severely suffering ego in check. “Anakin Skywalker was bested by Darth Vader, who was bested by Luke Skywalker, who was arguably bested by Snoke when he absconded with Solo. Sure, we could kill her, but that would only result in the rise of another Light-sided equal to Solo. And then, these incessantly pointless power games begin anew.”
Kiva shifted again, but Peleth’s eyes didn’t move from Hux’s impassive face as he added, “And I assume you’d like for the First Order’s reign to be a bit more permanent than the Empire’s.”
“Ideally,” Hux intoned languidly.
“Then leave it to us,” Peleth gestured to the space between himself and his apprentice. Hux’s gaze meandered to Kiva, whose head remained down, her face shielded by the black confines of her oversized hood. “We shall guarantee the longevity of the First Order’s galactic rule.”
Something about Peleth’s tone sent shivers pinging off of Hux’s vertebrae, his skin erupting in unexpected goosebumps from the sensation, his light hairs standing on attention and brushing against the coarsely starched wool of his uniform.
“And what spoils do you walk away with?” Hux asked as offhandedly as he could manage.
Peleth grinned, his white teeth bared, appearing almost fang-like in the dim office lighting as he snarled: “Ben Solo’s soul.”
. . .
As Kiva strode from the Hux’s office, her quick soft footsteps syncing perfectly with Peleth’s heavier and unapologetic ones, she tried desperately to ignore the parched, empty roughness rising in her chest, a familiar yet unpleasant feeling that had plagued her since before she could remember.
Her mother somehow always knew when the sensation reared its ugly head and would hold Kiva close, rocking her back and forth, always singing the same song, one she could barely remember now, even if she tried. It was a folksong, written in one of the ancient dialects of Isde Naha, a world trailing on the edge of the Outer Rim in the Western Reaches. She had never been there, although her mother and father would often talk about returning, one day, to their family’s ancestral homeworld.
The only home she had ever known had been in the Desiccated Tablelands of Jedha, a barren wasteland filled with massive ragged mesas, a destination too remote to have been subjected to Imperial occupation and too far from the Holy City to have incurred the wrath of the Death Star’s first operational test.
It had been a peaceful childhood, but a strange one; as the only daughter of the Clan Monarch, Kiva had spent most of her days meditating and studying the ancient religions of the Force in preparation for her eventual ascension to her mother’s leadership position.
That, of course, had all changed, in the blink of an eye.
“You’re troubled.” Kiva felt her tan cheeks redden with discomfort at Peleth’s observation. She pressed her lips together – a nervous tick she could never truly shake – and shook her head slightly.
“No, Master. Just pensive,” she responded softly, her voice hoarser than she had hoped, and she was mindful to keep her footsteps even and light, fighting the urge to quicken her pace.
She felt Peleth’s hand on her upper arm, firm and commanding, yanking her gently to a standstill. She shut her eyes firmly, briefly, before turning to look into the eyes of her Master, eyes that had become the only ones she had been able to look into since … the incident.
As he peered down at her, Kiva was reminded of just how small she had always felt next to him, how his well-built body and height had made her feel both powerful yet oddly weak, protected but somehow exposed.
“Kiva,” he murmured as he lifted a gloved hand to delicately caress her cheek before cupping her chin. “What’s bothering you?”
She could feel his hot breath on her forehead, and again she felt herself unraveling as she always did when he looked at her like this, like he would either soothe her soul or devour her whole, and she shivered as she realized she would be okay with whichever he chose.
She inhaled deeply, steadying herself and choosing her words carefully before responding. “You hadn’t mentioned the scavenger was his Other.”
Peleth chuckled, his thumb stroking the soft skin between her bottom lip and her chin as his eyes ran greedily over her face. “But you knew she was of importance. I trusted you with that knowledge when I had no reason to.” He paused, and Kiva’s breath hitched in her throat as she saw a darkness pass over his features and felt his thumb pause in its movements, his grasp on her chin tightening. “Was my trust not enough?”
Kiva quieted her panicking mind and forced herself to speak. “I am honored, Master, that you have shared with me anything at all. I am, and always will be, humbled to have been chosen as your apprentice.” The imaginary grains of sand filling her chest rubbed abrasively against her ribcage, weighing her heart and burying her whole, from the inside out.
Peleth’s features slowly lightened, and Kiva was relieved that her her well-rehearsed demure response had been deemed satisfactory. He shifted his strong grip along her jawline slowly, his lips curling into a smile as he leaned in to kiss her, his familiar soft lips lingering covetously on her own. Her eyes fluttered closed as she softly exhaled, relishing this uncharacteristically public display of affection. But it was over too soon, it was always over too soon, and he pulled away from her with a soft chuckle, his eyes twinkling.
“Come, Kiva,” he said as he turned away from her. “We have business on Hoth.”
Her lips pressed into a fine line, Kiva tugged at her hood, repositioning it closer to her face before following her Master, trying desperately to disregard the foreboding tingling behind her ears, a sensation rooted in premonition that had, without fail, always meant something was about to go terribly, horribly wrong.
To the most amazing readers in the world:
I cannot express to you how much your kind words and encouragement mean to me. In fact, they are the reason why I have defied the odds (and surprised myself!) and posted sooner than I anticipated. From the very beginning of this experience, you have inspired me to write fearlessly but passionately, and today, supported by all of you, I was able to sit down and hammer out this chapter.
I know I have not responded to your amazing reviews, but it is my top priority for this weekend, as we will finally be back home.
You are all amazing and mean more to me than you know. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
PS -- Let me know what you think of Kiva! This chapter was just a teaser/introduction; there's certainly more of her to come. ;-)