The blue surface of ach-to came into view as Rey exited hyperspace. Tiny islands dotted its surface, partially obscured by the hovering clouds. Having flown without a copilot, she strained to reach the controls to initiate the Falcon’s landing sequence.
Chewbacca had asked to be brought back to Kashyyyk to aid in the defense efforts against the First Order. With the New Republic leadership lost to Starkiller, Snoke had taken it upon himself to fill the vacuum of galactic power. His forces had taken system after system until his influence reached farther than that of the late emperor. To mark his achievement, he had elevated his title to match.
There was little the Resistance could do. With their location discovered and resources nearly depleted, the resistance had been forced to evacuate to the abandoned rebel base on Hoth. Even though Starkiller had been destroyed, it had fulfilled its purpose of crippling any opposition against the First Order. Since first arriving on Ach-to, Rey’s correspondences with Leia had been increasingly bleak, making her loathe to even pick up her holopad. If it weren't for Finn, perhaps she wouldn’t. Updates on his recovery always made it worth it.
Rey gathered up the supplies the wookies had gifted her and walked down the ramp of the Falcon. Night greeted her along with another of Ach-to’s frequent rains. While Kashyyyk had been sunny and humid, Ach-to’s bitter cold stung at her skin and breezed through her layers of clothing. As close as she was to the shore, the salt air filled her nostrils and her boots sunk into the damp soil. The heavy downpour beat against the rocky terrain, making her climb up the mountain’s stone steps even more treacherous.
Once she had reached Luke’s hut, she sat down the foreign foods and spices she had been given. Attempting to bite into the rind of one of the bulbous fruits raw had proven impossible. Hopefully, Luke would know how to prepare them.
Strangely, Luke wasn’t there. After sundown, he always returned to his hut to rest by the fire. He would stare into the flickering flame and pick at his dinner, offering her only the barest of conversation. Leia had warned her it might take time to convince him to return, especially after Han’s death. She’d been right. During Rey’s first week on the island, he had refused to take his father’s saber, then refused to even speak to her until she had claimed one of the adjacent huts, stubbornly declaring she wasn’t going back to the Resistance until he did. Eight weeks later, the stubborn old hermit still preferred silent meditation to saving the galaxy.
Rey stepped out of the hut, ready to call out for Luke, but froze when she saw the strange figure in the distance. He was facing away from her, clad in black armor and carrying a long club. Hoping to take the intruder by surprise, Rey slipped the Skywalker saber out of her satchel and crept toward him. The sound of her footsteps was lost in the heavy patter of rain. As she ignited the blade, the man spun at her, only to have her slice off the end of his club. It landed with a thud beside them. As Rey adjusted her form to counter his next blow, her feet shifted in the mud, giving him the opening he needed to slam the shortened club against her knuckles. Rey cried out as the force of the blow caused her unsteady feet to slide out from under her. The saber fell from her hand and deactivated as it rolled out of reach.
The stranger held his club over his head, ready to land another blow. Before he could strike, a fiery blade lanced through his chest as he screamed in pain. He went silent and his charred corpse fell at the feet of Kylo Ren. Rey stood upright, then froze when she saw Luke’s green lightsaber deactivated in his hand. She was too late.
Kylo stood over her, his blade casting a crimson glow over his scarred face. Six other men gathered behind him, each wearing a variation of the black armor her attacker had worn as well as a uniquely frightening mask. Kylo was the only one to bear his face.
It was then that Rey realized she had seen this all before. Some details were different, such as Kylo’s missing mask, but otherwise, it was exactly like the vision she had seen on Takodana—the vision that had set her on a collision course with Kylo Ren.
Kylo turned to his men, muttering something she couldn’t hear. He deactivated his saber and latched it to his belt alongside Luke’s before turning back to face her. Aside from the scar, there was something else in him that had changed. The intensity she had seen on Starkiller had morphed into something more refined, perhaps more dangerous. No longer was he a wounded animal lashing out at all who came near him. He regarded her with single-minded intensity, his eyes cold and calculating, and his posture like that of a stalking predator as he approached. He shot out his hand, his fingers flexing like a set of claws, and the world around her fell away.
Rey awoke, a heavy fog still clouding her senses. All she could feel was a pair of hands holding her under her knees and supporting her back. She opened her eyes to find Kylo staring back at her. She shoved against his chest and tumbled to the floor, then hissed as her freshly bruised sword hand hit the ground. She stood to glare up at him as she rubbed the sting from her palm. “Where am I? what have you done with Luke?” Glancing around, she saw they were in a tightly confined space with a rhythmic rumbling beneath their feet. A turbolift, she realized.
“Skywalker is safe for now. Ultimately, his fate relies on you.”
The lift lurched to a stop and opened on a pair of Stormtroopers. Kylo stepped out between them, his cape swirling behind him, and strode down the dark hallway. Rey called out to him but he ignored her. If it weren't for the armed men blocking her way she might have gone after him. Balling her fists, she turned to the Troopers. “What’s going on?”
“His Imperial Majesty wishes to have a private audience with you,” one answered.
“His Imperial Majesty commands it. Come with us”
She stared up at their reflective eyepieces, thoroughly fed-up with masks. What choice did she have? Kylo could be bluffing. He could have already killed Luke, but in case he wasn't, she needed to behave until she knew for sure.
She followed them down the hall, silently fuming. Thankfully they kept their hands off her and let her walk of her own volition. The halls were the same black and gray steel she had come to expect from the First Order and all the doors were sealed shut. But unlike Starkiller, where she had snuck around groups of troopers and uniformed personnel, these halls were empty, like she was back inside an abandoned starship on Jakku. Their every step echoed around the hollow space. After a series of turns, which Rey committed to memory and filed away for later, they stopped in front of a door. It was the only one in the expansive hallway.
One of the troopers inserted his passcard into the wall console beside the door, commanding it to slide open. “Wait in here,” he said.
Rey stepped into the darkness. Before she could ask for further explanation, the door slid closed behind her. The locking mechanism hissed and the lights switched on around her. She blinked as the artificial bulbs stung at her eyes.
A viewport ran along the far wall and revealed the star-studded blackness beyond. Evidently, they were onboard a starship. The room was enormous, with a wide bed, a sitting area, and rows of storage compartments—all bleak and rigid like the halls she had passed through. This certainly wasn't a prison cell. Nor was it was an audience chamber for an Emperor.
Rey hugged her arms. It was freezing and her rain-soaked clothes weren't helping. Granted, everywhere felt freezing to her after Jakku. Hopefully, her body would adjust at some point. She tried to keep herself from trembling, telling herself it was just the cold. She could get through this. Staring at the door, she wondered how long she was expected to wait, and why here of all places. Before she could further speculate, the door slid open and Kylo Ren stepped inside.
With his face unobscured by darkness or rainfall, Rey could get a proper look. The scar she'd given him ran between his brows and along his cheek before disappearing into his cloak. It was raised and inflamed, standing out against his pale, freckled skin. Even when it healed, he would bear the mark forever. She shouldn’t pity him. He had more than earned it after all he’d done.
“Are you here to take me to Snoke?” Rey demanded.
His jaw twitched. “Lucky for you, that won’t be possible.”
“But the troopers said the emperor wanted to meet with me. What’s going on?” She crossed her arms and kept her chin held high.
Kylo smirked, his full lips curling in a way that was hauntingly similar to his father. However, something darker lurked beneath. “I did want to see you. That’s why I had you brought to my quarters.”
Rey’s arms fell at her sides as his meaning sunk in. “You’re lying.” All the bluster was gone from her voice, leaving it quiet and trembling.
“Afraid not. It is a time-honored tradition for adherents of the dark side of the force to depose their masters once they no longer require their teaching. It was inevitable.”
Rey inched away from him until the backs of her knees hit the edge of the bed. “So you—”
“Yes. I’ve taken my rightful place in the galaxy. If you hadn’t been stuck with Skywalker on that damp rock, you would have known that by now.”
Rey’s fury rose to the surface once more. “How did you find Luke? Who told you where we were?” Surely, no one with the Resistance with that level of information clearance would have betrayed them. Not willingly, anyway. Images of her comrades restrained and tortured for information filled her thoughts.
“You did. I could feel your blinding light from across the galaxy. Following you was easy. You may not have given me that map, but with you to guide me, I didn’t need it.”
Rey’s mouth fell open. It was her fault. Instead of bringing Luke back to the Resistance, she had unwittingly aided in his capture. She bit her lip, refusing to give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry. “And why did you take me? You had already found Luke, why kill one of your men to spare me?”
Kylo’s nostrils flared. “He had to me made an example of. Perhaps instinct kicked in when you took him by surprise, but that does not excuse insubordination. The order was to capture you, unharmed.”
“Because I have a proposition for you.” He replied.
Rey stared blankly, unsure of how to react.
“My intelligence probes have located the Resistance base on Hoth. I could order an invasion whenever I please, and judging from what my scouts found, your friends would be ill-equipped for such an attack. You are fighting a losing battle. I trust you will prefer my bloodless alternative. Should you agree to my terms, I will allow the Resistance to keep Hoth and all remaining Republic territories. I will relinquish all claim to them and declare a permanent ceasefire. Any prisoners we currently house, including Skywalker, will be delivered safely to their friends and families.”
They were haggling over planets and lives like bits of scrap metal. Rey had never needed to bargain for anyone’s survival but her own and the responsibility weighed heavily on her shoulders. “What’s your price?”
“You.” He took a step closer. “You will remain here. With me.”
“So I’m to be your hostage?” Rey asked.
When he lifted his hand, she flinched, expecting a mental invasion like the one she had experienced during her first time as his prisoner, but the pain never came. His wide palm cupped her cheek.
“Not exactly. More like my companion, an apprentice of sorts. It would be a shame to waste your potential. I wasn’t lying when I said I could show you the ways of the force.” His thumb traced her jaw and brushed over her lower lip. “There’s so much I could show you.”
Rey batted his hand away. He let his arm fall to his side without retaliating or shifting his conceited expression. “I’m being more than generous. Do you accept my offer?” He asked.
Since Rey had reached physical maturity, and even a few times before then, numerous offers had been made on her by the lecherous patrons of Niima Outpost. She had refused them all with harsh words or a swing of her bo staff. But this was different. This wasn’t a handful of portions or canteen of water being dangled before her eyes, but the fate of millions. She had to take it. And perhaps, with her on the inside, she might obtain information that could give the Resistance a fighting chance. Until then, she would endure. “I accept.” She felt a piece of her break away as she said the words.
Kylo’s smile broadened. “Wise choice.”
Rey’s gaze flickered to the bed behind her.
“That can wait,” Kylo said. “For now we should find you some dry clothes, perhaps something to eat. It will be a couple hours before we reach Mustafar.”
“Yes. That’s where I live when I am not on a mission. We’ll be staying there for a short while.”
“And what about Luke?” Rey asked. “You said you would let him go.”
“He will be delivered to the Hoth base along with the terms of our agreement.” He walked across the room and slid open a drawer to pull out a wad of fabric. He handed it to her before walking over to a wall console and punching something into the keypad.
Rey unraveled the bundle. It was a simple, black shirt that was obviously one of his. Refusing to needlessly disrobe, she slid it on over what she already wore. It was heavy and warm, driving the chill from her shaking limbs, and would have been comforting if it weren’t for the faint smell of him that clung to the fabric. She would need to get used to that smell, she reminded herself.
After a moment, Kylo stepped away from the console to face her. “That’s taken care of. His shuttle will launch shortly. I had no doubt you would see things my way and had everything prepared beforehand.”
“How do I know you aren’t lying?” Rey asked. “You could have killed Luke and lied about all of this.”
“I will give you access to my hyper-transceiver so that you can contact the Resistance. I’m sure they will want proof that you are both alive and compliant.” Kylo walked over to the viewport and offered her his hand. “If you want immediate proof, allow me to give you your first lesson.”
Rey went to his side but refused his hand. He took her by the shoulders instead and shifted her to face the viewport.
“Open your mind,” he said. “Search for Luke’s signature in the force. He isn’t far.”
Rey felt him at the edge of her mind, nudging her in the right direction. She allowed him to guide her until she felt Luke’s presence below them. It was faint, but it was unmistakably him. It was a strange, fleeting sensation, like she had caught a glimpse of him in the corner of her mind’s eye. She could feel his sadness and resignation. Then, his presence shifted and the hull of a small ship appeared outside the viewport that reminded her of an old imperial shuttle she had once picked apart. She could feel Luke onboard.
“There he is,” Kylo whispered. “Safe and sound, like I promised.”
Luke’s shuttle entered hyperspace in a burst of light, taking his force signature with it.