Training while Force-Blind.
What a ridiculous idea, Kylo thought as he passed a pink-shimmering Stormtrooper and his green-shadowed partner in the corridor. The very concept was anathema to him but he trusted his Master to be right. If Kylo couldn't see the meaning of the exercise, then it only proved how much wiser the Supreme Leader was.
Kylo had his orders and he intended to carry them out to completion. A certain General be damned.
The doors to the command bridge slid open and he entered. Even if he hadn't been aware of Hux's golden-cold Force presence — which he always was, anywhere on the ship, like long nails drumming on his skin — it was obvious the General was there with the way the officers' auras were drawn to him. The gravitational pull elongated and blurred the Force signatures overlaying their bodies; the man was like a devouring star or a black hole. How fitting considering what his little pet project was.
Hux turned his thallium-flame eyes to him. While Kylo was the focus of his conal high beams, he was still keeping an eye on the bridge behind him with the rotating rays of his twin optic pulsars.
"Yes, Lord Ren?"
Kylo was temporarily distracted by the nebula in Hux's mouth. It was a weakness, but watching a planet or a star be born, live and explode into its primordial interstellar dust with each word was fascinating.
"Set the course for XWFK-60H."
It wasn't the planet's true designation; it didn't have one. His co-commander was, however, familiar with the codename of the well-kept First Order secret. Hux's magma lips' cycle of solidifying, fracturing and melting sped up with the words he held back but the way his hair spat solar flares and winds betrayed his displeasure.
"Wild Space? On whose authority?" Hux asked stiffly, transmission crackle scraping over the exospheric shrieks and tectonic roars of his voice.
"The Supreme Leader's."
Hux knew he had lost; oh, how that vexed him. His solar hair spun faster on its axis and hurled CMEs from its tesseract corona, striking the nearby officers who barely hid their winces of pain.
Hux turned his back to Kylo, providing him with an excellent view of another of his idiosyncrasies. It never failed to intrigue Kylo that despite the cold starlight of his skin, bright enough to produce a corona, his void-dark uniform never reflected anything but the universe passing by outside, as if the ship’s hull didn't exist. It almost made him wonder what Hux would look like if he were stripped of the shroud of his Force-presence; what would his bare face look like without the Force to conceal it?
That thought startled Kylo out of his reverie and he quickly banished it. He left the command bridge without another word.
Kylo knew the instant he was approaching the cave. He suddenly felt dizzy in a way that couldn't be attributed to the planet's atmosphere which, while viable, was low on oxygen.
He had disembarked on the craggy, barren world alone as instructed. Only he — and Hux, technically — had the authority; it was a necessary precaution to keep the existence of the Force-blocking mineral the Supreme Leader called xenonite a secret. Nevertheless, his Master had directed him to a cave where there was apparently an exposed vein of the ore.
As he grew nearer his destination, he felt how his perceptions started to unsettlingly change. He became more aware of the air in his lungs, the feel of the different fabrics against his skin, the weight of the vibro-axe, the encumbrance of the container he carried.
Conversely, he was becoming less aware of his other senses, his connection to the Force diminishing with each step. The multicolored overlays were fading, all the sounds were growing quieter, his sight was increasingly focused on just his ocular vision, his nerves deadened to almost all touch, the air losing tastes and scents.
Was this how non-sensitives experienced the world? It was so flat, empty, so... isolated. There was a screaming, echoing nothing where there should be Force. It wasn't right, he was drifting away, his existence was being erased, he couldn't breathe—
Kylo swayed but caught himself on a boulder, forcing himself to take deep breaths. The panic rushed through his veins with the rapid beat of his heart, so loud in his ears, much louder than ever before. The Supreme Leader was right to give him this challenge; if he'd reacted like this on the battlefield he wouldn't have survived long.
It took a frustrating amount of time for Kylo to beat back the panic. While he still felt disturbed and crippled, he was composed enough to continue on.
The nightmarish sensation did not relent and he felt more and more untethered. When he finally reached the mouth of the cave he sensed the last of his connection disappear. Abandon him.
Choking back a new wave of panic, Kylo dug his nails into his palms, almost piercing the leather, and entered.
It was an exercise in patience and humiliation. The cave was pitch dark, the weak sunlight not straying far within, and without the Force Kylo was truly blind for the first time in his life. Each stumble fed his frustration, accumulating down his spine, leaving him full of rage with nowhere to go but racing underneath his skin.
When he finally saw the faint green glow of the exposed vein he now so hated and desired, the relief nearly made his knees give out. Instead he unstrapped the vibro-axe and activated it. Then he lunged at the cave wall.
Kylo was only rewarded once he was clammy with sweat and trembling. He had, however, completed his objective and procured a sample of xenonite crystal. He put the softly glowing ore in the insulated container and sealed it carefully. He slung the vibro-axe's strap over his shoulder and proceeded to finally leave cave. The container was cumbersome to carry in his arms but he was grateful for it; as soon as he stepped into the hazy sunlight he felt the faintest shiver of the Force return to him.
Drawing a shaky, grateful breath, he set off to his ship.
It was in a way astonishing how the absence of a Force connection rendered the lightsaber a completely different weapon. It was also horrifying.
Not only did the sword feel lifeless in his hands but somehow its center of gravity had also shifted. As he performed Jung ma in the empty gym, Kylo was having very uncomfortable flashbacks to Padawan training and the first year under his Master's tutelage. Fighting Forceless was a whole new discipline he had to learn.
The container holding the xenonite was open and concealed behind a rack of bo staves. Yet Kylo was still within the Force-nullifying bubble of the crystal, several meters away on the training mats. It was an unnerving thought which Kylo banished from his mind as he went through the first katas of each Form.
Shii-Cho. Makashi. Soresu. Ataru. Shien. Djem So. Niman. Juyo. Vaapad. Tràkata. Second katas. Shii-Cho. Makashi. Soresu. Ataru. Shien. Djem So—
The sound of the doors unlocking and opening shocked Kylo to the core. How had he not heard them approach? Just how vulnerable was he in this state?
Kylo whipped around, brandishing his lightsaber on instinct, before he realized that there was only one person who could override his security command. It was fortunate indeed because he might not have recognized the intruder otherwise.
Hux stood military straight and leveled the lightsaber with a disdainful look. Kylo lowered it slowly, almost an afterthought, too busy staring at the General.
He looked... small.
Much too small to contain all of him; like a biological neutron star. Such a strong presence in such a willowy stature should be against the laws of physics.
Hux's appearance was surprising as well. Without his blinding Force signature superimposed, he looked distressingly normal. Human. As Kylo observed the previously concealed face, however, he noticed some distinctive features.
Slicked, unusually vivid copper-gold hair. Vibro-sharp bone structure. Axinite freckles dusting achromic skin like constellations. Full lips and star-bright lashes. Eyes which were radiant if not ablaze and coloured like crystals of iodine, chlorine and antimony.
"You are staring," Hux said, jarring Kylo from his scrutiny. White teeth and pink tongue peeked through his lips as he spoke and his voice was oddly shrill, lacking strata and depth. At least his crisp accent was the same.
When Kylo failed to reply in a timely manner, Hux raised a pointed eyebrow and continued, "You're late for your inspection of the ES troops. The one you requested."
Kylo did not need the Force to read Hux's displeasure in the sneering twitch of his lips.
"I will be there, presently," Kylo said, keeping himself curt. He hated the sound of his natural voice; too soft, too gentle, by far. It belonged to him, not to Kylo.
Another twitch. "You have five minutes."
Hux turned sharply on his heel and left the gym with quick, long strides. Kylo watched the defined lines of his silhouette until the doors shut close and he was left only with matte durasteel.
Perhaps Kylo should continue studying the concept of Force-Blocking, possibly even practice controlling it on his own. Not completely; just enough to dim the Force signatures to better see the physical flesh. It would be a useful technique and he had the perfect subject to practice on.
After all, it was all part of his training, sanctioned by his Master.