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 him, 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.
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 the 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.
It 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 okay.”
Wow, do I suck.
She 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, an exercise in awareness as to 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 chamber, 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, it 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.
She 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 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 he became enraged at Snoke,” Rey had explained to the three of them. “And in his anger, Ben 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 again 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 had 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 she 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 physical appearance 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 actual 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, and the General’s familiar eyes indicated that 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 for some inexplicable reason, she’d never tire of fighting for him.
So she listened. And, just like that, she let go.
She was tumbling down the dark abyss into the total unknown, falling fast and away from her assaulted 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 recognized 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 he had 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 behind closed doors – Leia Organa, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and others – from those 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.
He learned that lesson when what remained of his carefully built dark fortress had suddenly 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, until he came back to his senses and realized that his gloves were soaked in her blood.
When he had looked at her wounded body as she lay limp on the medical cot, 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 eviscerate 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 (which was inevitably followed by physical and mental “conditioning,” his former Master’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 had 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 heard her panting desperately under her mask, her shallow breaths becoming quicker and more panicked as he’d sunk to his knees in front of her, hurriedly removing her mask in the hopes that it would free up her breathing.
His mind had raced faster than it ever had before, and he could feel as he had begun 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 had 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’d begun to lose all sense of control over his mind, flailing frantically as he drowned in the sea of his past.
It wasn’t until he had looked into Sebarra’s face – into her unseeing but horrified eyes, her body shaking with the strain of each breath – that the waves of the past had become less impossible, and he had been able to navigate himself back to the shoreline of the present.
“Sebarra.” He had been alarmed at the sound of her name; he realized how the pleading in his voice made him sound so, so young – as if he were sixteen again. He’d 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 the rebalancing exercise he had practiced was one that Skywalker had taught him as a padawan at the 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 had repeated her name as they’d knelt on the shiny tile floor … 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 had 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 felt 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.
She had 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 in 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’d 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, he had been unable to communicate with Sebarra either verbally or telepathically. Instead, He had reached out to her racing mind, catching 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.
It was then he had leaned into her sweat-soaked hair and whispered through trembling lips and the Force, “I’ve got you.”
Without another moment’s hesitation, he’d 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 soaking his leather-clad 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’d been standing in front of her bacta tank ever since: Sebarra’s unmoving sentinel. Lost to himself and his thoughts, he couldn’t begin to even estimate how much time had passed, and he didn’t care. He would remain 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, the medical orderlies had rushed to prepare the bacta tank as the Lead Doctor conducted a thorough examination, all while Sebarra was administered ample pain medication.
But as the doctor 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 examination,” she continued, “it appears as if her injuries 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, prolonged exposure to fire or another comparable heat source can be the only logical medical 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 and winced harshly. 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, proving to be too much - too exhausting - even for her. He felt her resolve waver at the thought of rest, of peace, of nothingness, three absolution that became more seductive as the emotional anguish continued its assault on her heart.
“Please,” he heard her begging, her quaking voice echoing through the winding hallways of his mind. She was desperate. Broken. Resigned. “Please…”
Her begging, wishing for death. Him on his knees, feeling her within him. Sebarra had been right. She’s his Other.
He knew what he had to do.
Let go, Rey. He reached out to her, actively fighting to suppress the caged animal in his chest as it frenzily tried to claw its way out of his rib cage.
She did not respond; did she hear him?
He reached out again, inhaling shallowly as another sharp pain struck him in the stomach, as if the fangs of an angry asp had pierced his skin and sunk into his intestines. Rey, you need to let go.
A new sensation overtook him as his skin began to itch and burn, the heat growing around him causing his heat to become slick with sweat. He felt - flames? - 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 women 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.
Foreign thoughts flew across his brain: 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 his silent pleas were met in turn with silence of its own.
He was growing unhinged. He needed to save her from whatever the fuck this was. His insides were racked with guilt and despair, but he held out hope that maybe, just maybe, this time Rey woukd listen to him.
And listen she did: she let go.
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. “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 whole and undamaged for the first time in his life.
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.
He reeled suddenly as an invisible fist collided with his chest, flinging him from her, from their Bond, from his everything. Caught off guard, he fell backward onto the floor of the medical bay with a dull and throbbing thud. His unwilling and unceremonious departure from their Bond fuzzed and jaded his mind. Discombobulated, vulnerable and confused, Kylo jumped to his feet and activated his lightsaber with a sharp snap-hiss.
He breathed heavily as he took stock of his surroundings: 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. Fully readjusted, his mind returned to the tangible world, he deactivated his lightsaber and hooked it back onto his belt. He became acutely aware of the resonant soreness throughout his body, as if he had absorbed Rey’s pain and made it his own.
He slowly made his way back toward Sebarra, walking gingerly, his head throbbing and his stomach churning. Overcome by an unexpected wave of exhaustion, he used his right hand to brace himself against tank’s smooth surface, pressing his palm firmly onto the thick and cool glass. He closed his eyes and bowed his head as he whispered. “You were right, Sebarra. You were right. She’s my Other.”
The tank vibrated.
Kylo lifted his head to see a matching hand from the other side of the glass aligning perfectly with his, slightly shriveled and delicate fingertips pressing against his own.
And 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 and 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 body erupt with relief 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, the only sound he could hear were the caretaking Nuns as they quietly shuffled about their centuries-old daily chores. They had paused only briefly in their work as the five Knights sauntered off of their sleek and modified Lambda-class shuttle, their heads tilting curiously. Ofir had reached out with the Force and found no fear or concern – the caretakers, it seemed, had somehow expected them.
Ofir had narrowed his eyes in surprise; he and the Knights were used to being met with terror, dread and suspicion. The carefree reception from the Nuns had been foreign to him, but it was of no matter. They had an assignment to see through.
Ofir signaled to the others to de-mask as he unlatched and removed his own, tucking it securely in the crook of his non-dominant arm. The Knights rarely bore their bare faces in public, reserving the tradition for occasions that required a display of the utmost respect and honor. In his opinion, the history and powers of this island, along with its most recent inhabitants, warranted nothing less.
His sleek mask now removed, Ofir felt the raw warmth of the sunlight rest upon his face. He detected the faint metallic scent of salt drifting from the surrounding sea. 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. Understated but undeniable, this island was something truly special.
He opened his eyes and smiled. It was exquisite.
Ofir led the way as the five black-clad Knights climbed the uneven, craggy steps toward the Temple Pinnacle in silence, only interrupted when their collective weight caused the stones to slightly shift, causing dusty debris and pebbles to haphazardly ricochet down the mountain face. He sensed the intrigue and excitement building among the Knights, and he had to admit he was just as much looking forward to seeing, sensing, feeling the energies of the oldest Jedi Temple, the very 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 he had met so many years ago at the Praxeum. The dark-haired boy with undefinable depth, a somber deepness that held mysteries very few, including Ofir, would ever truly know or understand. The grandson of Anakin Skywalker, of Darth Vader, who had surpassed the legacy of both to become Supreme Leader Kylo Ren. The more Ofir thought of Ben, the more morose and wistful he’d become. 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, Ofir looked up toward their destination on the mountaintop, craning his neck and squinting in the bright sunlight. He noted, to his slight annoyance, that their steady but seemingly unending ascent had yielded less progress than he had anticipated.
As if on cue, he heard Vasco Ren comment to no one in particular, “For fuck’s sake, how many stairs are there?”
Ofir bared his sharp teeth, an expression that appeared menacing to those who were not familiar with Dathomirian Zabrak facial expressions, but one that his fellow Knights now recognized as the equivalent of a good-natured smile. Turning his head toward the singly-filed Knights behind him and using the Force to ensure his balance as he trudged onward, Ofir responded. “Be at peace, Vasco. The Force rewards those who are patient.”
He heard the man snort as he spoke to the petite Togruta ahead of him, his voice carrying over their collective footsteps as their climb continued: “I am the epitome Of patient.”
“Leave me out of this,” came Jari Ren’s amused response, her smiling eyes focused on the tenuous terrain as she climbed.
“It’s wise to keep in mind,” began Aila Ren, joining the conversation, “that Ofir is technically Ranking Knight with Master Sebarra offworld. Okay nicely, Vasco, or you’re going to get an earful when she gets word of yet another one of your incidents involving insolence toward authority.”
Ofir couldn’t help but chuckle quietly as he eyed the several hundred steps that lay before them. Vasco’s reputation as a maverick had begun at the Praxeum, and it was a reputation he had worked diligently to maintain in the years since. 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 with sarcasm literally dripping from his voice. Primed from birth to take over the family business, Vasco had caused quite a stir when he renounced all his material belongings, stole one of his father’s ships, and flown 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 - if not somewhat emotional and occasionally unpredictable - Force wielder.
Vasco looked fakely affronted. “Me? Insolent?” asked Vasco grandly, as if the characterization was the most inaccurate statement he’d ever heard. “And to be accused of such a thing by a fellow Corellian,” he tutted. “I thought we were kindred spirits, Aila.”
Aila sighed exasperatedly, her footsteps striking the stone stairs becoming heavier with impatience. “We were from two different Corellias, you aristocratic buffoon,” she jabbed. “Imagine what your family would think knowing you chose the same station in life as me. They’d be horrified to know you were in the company of a former street urchin from the underworld.”
“Undoubtedly,” Vasco agreed, his voice ragged and breathy with the effort of the climb, but his straight white teeth gleaming behind a handsome smile. His voice darkened mischievously as he smouldered, “But just think of how much we can teach each other. Why don’t you let me make an honest woman out of you? I’ve been told one night with me will change your life.”
Ofir found himself pressing his lips together to keep from joining the rest of the Knights in genuine laughter. It was no secret that Vasco had been pining after Aila since the day they met at the Praxeum, and each of the Knights - organized by Jari and underhandedly encouraged by Sebarra - had placed a fair amount of credits as to if and when Aila would succumb to Vasco’s classically good looks and muscular physique. While there was no specific mandate that Knights could not become intimately involved – with each other or with others – it wasn’t specifically encouraged. Physical urges were considered important to both acknowledge and engage in, so that the mind was free and clear. But extraneous emotional attachment ran the risk of distracting them from their shared purpose, the creed they all bound themselves to and would die without batting an eye to uphold.
It was the very same doctrine they created the night the Praxeum burned, as Ben Solo presented himself to Snoke, who anointed him as Kylo Ren.
Ben’s induction as Master of the Knights of Ren required Cleansing, a closed-door hours-long ceremony consisting of such intense physical pain and emotional suffering that each respective Knight had actually felt it themselves, their bodies and minds aching as if they had just run an interstellar marathon while chronically dehydrated. Sebarra had suffered the most; Ofir remembered watching as she slunk to a dark corner of their holding room, shaking as she curled into a fetal position, the cold sweat trickling down her face causing her hair to cling desperately to her forehead and neck. Her connection with Ben had always been something of a mystery, but the Knights were of the opinion that in all likelihood, it was Force-sanctioned: 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 darkened strands of damp hair from her unfocused and hollow eyes. “He’s enduring Snoke’s punishment so we don’t have to be initiated in the same way.”
Ofir’s vow to remember Ben’s terrible hours of torture at Snoke’s hand was a solemnly serious one. He swore to remember the Kylo Ren that had emerged from Snoke’s chamber looked less like a Master and more like a lost and abused child. The red that had freely trickled from his head, nose, and mouth condtrasted violently with his pale skin. His entire body shook so violently that he had only taken a few steps into the room before collapsing into Sebarra’s arms. Too horrified to move and too angry to react, the Knights simply watched as he lay with head in Sebarra’s lap. She rocked back and forth, his dark hair peeking through her fingers as she cradled him, whispering soothingly and to our quietly for any of them to hear.
Ofir had shuddered when he looked into Kylo Ren’s unseeing and unflinching gaze; he remembered thinking that his eyes looked just as dead as Ben Solo was.
“OI -!” Vasco’s surprised shout from behind him dragged him back to reality, and Ofir turned sharply to witness a fist-sized Force-flung rock fly ominously close to where Vasco’s head had been only a second ago. “I think we both know if I ever get drunk enough to accept, I’d be the one making an honest man out of you,” Aila shouted toward a fazed Vasco.
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. Verbal sparring was one thing, but childish behavior was entirely another, and to Ofir, it was wholly unacceptable. Especially here. “This is sacred ground. You will conduct yourselves accordingly, as the Protectors of the Force you claim to be.” Ofir was pleased to note his command was respected as silence swept over them once more.
To Ofir’s chagrin, the quiet was, naturally, short-lived. And, naturally, it was Jari who spoke first: “You’ve been quiet, Erez.”
“It’s a bit overwhelming, this place,” came the soft but firm answer, and Ofir smiled fondly as he reminisced about the two youngest Knights.
Jari, had been the only Togruta at the Praxeum, and had fallen victim to the same bullying and teasing Ofir had for being 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 had been almost comically defiant, no tears to be found. Though one of the youngest at the Praxeum, she had an affinity for reading her opponents exceptionally well, able to quickly identify - and subsequently exploit - their weaknesses. Ofir had watched in stunned silence as she anticipated and countered one of the offenders’ oncoming attack, her smooth movements purposeful as she knocked his feet from under him, her body moving at light-speed to position herself to gain the overhead leverage necessary to elbow him in the chest as he fell to the ground. His two friends, girls who were both older and bigger than Jari, had charged at her in unison to avenge their fallen friend. Upon recollection, Ofir swore he saw the corners of Jari’s mouth curve upwards to form a knowing smile as she clotheslined one while upper cutting the other. Both fell to the ground, and Jari made sure that they stayed there by offering each a swift kicks to their kidneys, just for good measure.
She had sighed and dusted her hands off as if announcing her job was finished. But she’d made sure to stand over them for an additional few seconds longer than necessary so that they remembered who had bested them in an unfair match.
It was damn impressive, to say the least, and it was what spurred Ofir to take her under his wing, where she became the little sister he never had.
The best way to describe Erez, a quiet boy from Naboo with chocolate brown eyes and dust-colored 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 garnered the attention of students and Master Skywalker alike from the minute he arrived at the Praxeum.
But all had grown to know and respect that Erez’s peaceful nature was not one to be tested. He could more than hold his own in a fight, employing his noiseless nature even in battle to ensure he could decapitate his opponents before they ever heard or saw him coming.
As they bested the final set of stairs and reached the Temple Pinnacle at last, Vasco let out a huff of finality as he hunched over, hands on his knees as he tried to even out his breathing. Aila shot him a patronizing smile. “Out of shape, are we?” she asked innocently.
Vasco shot her a look of disdain before raising his eyebrow, straightening himself unsteadily and lifting up his sleeved arm. “Wanna see just how out of shape I am?” And he flexed.
Ofir set his jaw and growled, “Vasco Ren, that is enough,” his tone menacing enough to wipe the smiles from their faces, their gazes dropping to the ground. “You will show some respect for where we stand or you will leave, is that understood?”
“Yes, Master,” each muttered, embarrassed by the admonishment. It was out of place to hear himself referred to as Master, but as Aila had pointed out before, it was true: in Sebarra’s absence, he was in command.
Nodding curtly in acknowledgement of their compliance, Ofir looked around pointedly at the the simple stone huts surrounding them. He noticed one under construction as if it was being hastily rebuilt, the re-bricking sufficient but messy. His interest piqued, and as he approached the structure noted the surrounding debris pattern indicated that the hut’s walls somehow exploded from the inside out.
Removing the glove from his right hand and laying his palm over the unfinished patchwork, Ofir closed his eyes and focused on opening his mind and body, welcoming the Force to saturate his very being.
A human girl, dripping wet and shivering with the cold, sat across from a dark figure as a fire spit and licked between them, casting the surrounding walls in fluctuating light and dark. Facing her was a figure shrouded in shadow; Ofir was perplexed to realize the Force was unwilling to reveal the shadow’s identity, intentionally shrouding the figure in darkness to keep a Ofir from seeing more than a rough outline.
I’ve never felt so alone,” the girl said, her voice quaking as tears sparkled in the corners of her eyes.
“You’re not alone,” the distorted voice replied, as if the Force had warped it beyond recognition.
“Neither are you.” Ofir watched as the girl slowly reached out her hand toward the dark figure, slowly but with conviction, and the figure responses in kind. Their hands touched, almost imperceptibly brushing against one another, and as the girl gasped,Ofir felt the Force recalibrate and thrum with a vibrancy he had never known.
Ofir’s jaw dropped in amazement as the Force whirled around the girl and the figure. He felt as if he were watching the most intimate of moments but was overcome with such an incredible sense of equilibrium, of peace, of harmony, that he almost cried out in reverent amazement.
He heard a strangely familiar voice yell something indecipherable, but before Ofir had the chance to see to whom it belonged, he was blinded by a searing white light as the hut violently exploded around him.
Ofir was thrust back into the present, and he opened eyes eyes as his mind reeled. More confused than alarmed, he raked his brain for an explanation as to why the Force revealed to him that one strange interaction. Considering the history and importance and power of this place, what was it about those two figures that trumped all others?
He hadn’t noticed Erez standing beside him until the younger man spoke, his tone low, his voice subdued. “Did you see her?”
He needed no clarifying as to who "her" was, but there was no way for Ofir to be certain the girl in his vision was the girl they had all heard so much about. The Knights shifted behind him and Ofir felt an underlying trickle of impatience as they waited for further explanation. But as he opened his mouth to elaborate upon what he had seen, he felt a tweak in the Force - a clear sign that he needed to reconsider whatever it was he was about to do. A staunch believer in the Devine order of the universe, Ofir had never been one to question the Force's will, and he wasn't about to start now. His brow furrowed in thought and eyes wandering over the uneven brickwork of the Nuns, Ofir bid the Knights closer. He looked to Aila and Erez on his right, then to Jari and Vasco on his left, and nodded his approval. The Knights each removed the glove from their preferred hand and Ofir took several steps backward, noting with a sense of unease that the four Knights' movements were abnormally in sync as they gently placed their palms onto the uneven stones.
His eyes narrowed and his vision focused. While their backs were to him, Ofir felt the Force begin to vibrate as Vasco, Aila, Jari and Erez enmeshed their minds to fuel their consciousness and amplify their extrasensory insight. Ofir noticed his cloak, which had just seconds ago been flapping noisily behind him in the unforgivingly gusty winds, now fluttered gently in a calm, careless breeze.
Hmm. How odd ...
Born from both old paranoid habits and advanced tactical training, he intuitively re-assessed his surroundings, his senses augmented by the Force. The repetitive sound of anxious waves crashing against the rocky shoreline had vanished. The native birds, all which had been unapologetically vocal since the Knights had arrived on Ahch-To, were no longer chirping. A quick visual scan of the surrounding huts confirmed that the Nuns who had previously been shuffling to and fro were no where to be seen. His skin began to tingle, and Ofir realized with a start that he could actually feel the temperature dropping. He lifted his eyes to the sky; the sun, which had shown so brightly only moments ago, was now held prisoner by large and darkly ominous clouds that seemed to have materialized out of no where.
The occurrence of this sudden atmospheric shift just as the Knights began their psychometric analysis of the exploded hut was an eerie coincidence at best, but excessively perilous at worst. Ofir's heart began to thud in his chest, beating harder and harder with each passing second. He swallowed hard, his throat dry and itchy as the icy tendrils of anxiety slowly began to creep through his body. He forced himself to remain still, his face stoic, posture rigid, eyes unreadable. As this mission's Ranking Knight, the lives of the others were his to protect. He would honor their trust by keeping his mind clear, by refusing to succumb to the inexplicable panic licking at the edges of his mind. Ofir kept a wary eye on the four Knights in front of him - all of whom were fully engulfed in their telemetric trances - as he organized his thoughts into matching couplets.
Fact: something had just unsettled the natural symmetry of the Force.
Conclusion: the only reason Ofir had felt this occurrence is because the Force willed him to.
Fact: the Force only wavers when cosmic dynamics are in play and have shifted.
Conclusion: Ben Solo's conversion to Kylo Ren caused inequity within the Force. It has been foreseen that this inequity will be balanced by his Other.
Fact: the Force continually sought balance, and has been known to use any means to achieve it.
Conclusion: something was just set in motion that will alter the fate of the entire galaxy.
"Oh!" Aila's unexpected exclamation sent a jolt of adrenaline through Ofir. He watched as she wrenched her hand away from the stone hut as if it had suddenly scalded her fingertips.
"What the kriff." Vasco's familiar voice sounded almost painfully loud as it rang out into their strangely muted surroundings, but he was too busy staring accusingly at the gray stone hut to notice.
He knew Erez had emerged from his vision when he saw his head - which had been lolling a bit to the right - snap suddenly upright and recenter itself neatly inbetween his shoulders.
"Dammit!" Jari screeched as she stomped her foot on the ground, her fists balled tightly, her breathing rapid and agitated.
Ofir was awash with relief; all four Knights successfully emerged from postcognition and appeared to be unharmed. This meant, then, that the Force was responding to something else entirely ... but what was it?
To allow the Knights the chance to absorb and interpret what they saw, Ofir remained silent for several minutes, watching each of them as they turned away from the hut to stand in a semi-circle before him, as was customary. After scrutinizing the four faces in front of him, he made a few general observations of his own: one, he could tell from their puzzled expressions that their visions were not recollections: they were rooted in real events but shrouded in symbolism and secrecy; two, their reactions upon emerging from their visions indicate they each saw something significant; and three, they seem neither upset nor happy, but he could sense whatever they saw was deeply emotional.
He began to seriously wonder if perhaps they had seen the same conversation he had, the strangely intimate one between the girl and the dark figure.
“Were your visions all different?”
The Knights looked at each other wordlessly, but it was Aila who clarified: "We all saw the same event, but not the same things."
Ofir looked resolutely into Aila's bright green eyes before nodding slowly. "A girl," Ofir began, his voice low but his hopes high.
“It was her,” Vasco smiled, rubbing his chin in thought. “It has to be.”
Ofir's heart almost leapt into his throat, and he couldn't help but smile back. She had been here, they were so close ...
"Master Skywalker destroyed the hut."
Four heads turned toward Aila, who successfully avoided making eye contact with any of them by suddenly becoming exceptionally interested in the grass at her feet.
”Why?” Ofir barked, his voice harsher than he had intended or preferred.
Aila frowned and shook her head as she looked past the huts and beyond the ocean, toward the hazy horizon. “Emotions were high and on edge,” she said observantly. “Anger, fear, betrayal, hope ... love.” Pause. “They all were so strong, I couldn’t make sense of it all.”
"You saw Master Skywalker?" Jari asked, her unrelated question hanging disjointedly in the air between them. Ofir's heart sank at the strength of the sadness in her words.
Aila nodded, her gaze remaining elusive.
"How is - " Vasco barely said two full words before stopping suddenly, and Ofir felt regret wash over him like a tidal wave. While Vasco's question remained unasked, the damage had already been done.
They had all loved Master Skywalker, and he had loved each and every one of them. None of the Knights will ever regret their decision to leave, simply because their paths were designed to converge in order to serve a purpose that was more important than any one person, one Praxeum, or even one planetary system. But that didn't change the fact that their departure had required them to leave a piece of themselves behind to burn with their long-dead classmates, now buried within the forgottrn rubble of their beloved Praxeum.
Ofir was indescribably grateful for being torn away from his thoughts by Jari’s comment, which this time stayed true to topic: "I couldn't see who she was talking to," she grumbled. Ofir saw her hands clench into fists as frustration filled her eyes. "And it certainly wasn't for lack of effort. I tried everything -"
"The Force purposely kept this person's identity a secret," Ofir interrupted, but as he looked at the impatient Togruta spitfire before him, his eyes held nothing but kindness. "It was hidden from me, too."
“I saw it all.”
All attention flew to Erez, who even now seemingly couldn’t tear himself from his vision even now. His body angled party toward the group, but he had specifically positioned himself in a way that ensured he never had to remove his eyes from the hut’s cold stones. It was if he expected it to somehow reveal further secrets.
Nobody spoke, and for a brief second, it felt as if the island, the planet, the universe stood still.
Erez’s breathing was measured and deep as he turned to face Ofir squarely, his movements sluggish as if it were physically difficult to shift his focus onto anything else but the dilapidated structure itself. He began without preamble. “It was Rey, the girl from our visions. As we suspected, she is a scavenger from Jakku, with no real family ties or allegiances.”
Pause. Ofir’s heart beat strongly, his pulse causing a steady whooshing sound to ring in his ears.
“She came here to bring Master Skywalker of his self-imposed exile to help the Resistance, and to seek guidance for her own powers in the Force. But after Ben Solo’s turn, he vowed to end the Jedi Order, and willingly severed his connection with the Force.”
Vasco swore sharply under his breath, and Aila’s jaw dropped. Jari looked as if she had been rammed into my a Hammerhead Corvette. Ofir felt as sick, his stomach knotting and jaw tingling with nausea, vision grainy and pixelated. But Erez continued with a steady voice.
”After recognizing her strength in the Force, he relented. But he was frightened by her calling.” He paused and locked eyes with Ofir. “She yearned for the secrets the Dark could reveal. She was drawn to it, felt it, even before she felt the light,” he finished softly, his young face somehow older and hardened.
Only the wind moved, only the water made a sound.
Erez took a deep breath. “Master Skywalker refused to acknowledge her as nothing more than a danger. But she only wanted answers to the visions she’d been plagued with since she was a child. She felt hopeless and lonely, which is why she reached out to the only other person who she thought could understand, her only equal on the Force, the one she’s Bonded to, the one who sat across from her over the fire. The Force hid him from me too, at first. But then I saw him, as clearly as I see with my own eyes now.”
Ofir’s breath hitched in his chest as he watched Erez’s eyes glisten with emotion before the young Knight closed them before saying with finality, “It was Ben Solo.”
Ofir initially thought the loud roaring that engulfed his senses was simply his brain trying to grasp exactly what Erez had just told revealed, but Vasco immediately 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, gunning at maximum power straight for the island.
Ofir’s jaw set, his entire body rigid and on-edge. The First Order did not interfere with the business of the Knights of Ren. What they hellwere they doing here?
As if to answer, the transports opened fire, the Knights scattering for anything that could provide them with momentary cover from the seemingly endless volley of deadly green streaks. Crouching behind a boulder, Ofir scanned his surroundings and saw the other four on their feet but low to the ground in standard defensive position as they hunkered down behind their own boulders. The familiar warm tingling just beneath his skin brought his mind clarity as the Force interwove the Knights yo Bond them as one mental entity, one physical being, united against the impending threat.
“If i were a betting man - which I am,” Vasco yelled over the destructive impact of the cannon fire from somewhere near Ofir’s left flank, “I’d say this pleasant surprise is courtesy of our favorite friend Hux.”
Ofir snarled in agreement as Jari growled from off to his right, “I really hate that weasel.”
“Something’s wrong,” Aila concurred over the explosions of the continued bombardment from the transports as the ships moved into landing position. “There’s no way Kylo sanctioned this.”
Ofir ignored Aila’s lack of protocol when referring to their Supreme Leader, too consumed with the memories of how he had the Force drastically shift only moments ago.
Ofir plotted out the possibilities in his mind as cannon fire subsided significantly as three of the four transports descended toward the base of the island. The fourth circled above to provide cover for the impending ground assault unrelenting as in its barrage.
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. Shuddering away from the thought, Ofir reached out Sebarra’s mind. Distracted as he strained to hail her, he felt the heat of a cannon bolt fly by his shoulder, missing him by no more than a millimeter. Cursing under his breath, Ofir ducked lower and closer to the mossy boulder.
Sebarra, where are you? he called.
Nothing. Then –
The unexpected vision caught him offguard, and his lung released a strangled disbelieving cry. He felt the Force tendrils of each Knight reach toward him, inquisitive and alarmed, but he let 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 flung himself from the boulder to stand unprotected amidst the barrage of fire, one man against a fully armed transport. His face contorted with rage, Vasco extended his arm, manipulating the Force and stalling the ship in mid-air. Ofir watched Vasco contract his fingers into a fist, and the transport imploded, crushed beyond recognition like a rotten fruit in a vise. The ship hung suspended in mid-air, black smoke pouring from its cracked viewport, until Vasco released his fist, sending the craft and it’s inhabitants plummeting into the sea below.
Ofir emerged from behind the boulder, his eyes glued to Vasco, who stood panting with mastered effort and raw emotion. Now was not the time or place to discipline Vasco for putting himself in harms way, and if Ofir was being honest, he had been extraordinarily impressed with the bravery he had shown. Were Vasco’s actions foolish? Yes. But his intentions were selfless, genuine, just and loyal. So Ofir offered Vasco a curt nod as he rested a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
A quick assessment of the other Knights as they emerged from their makeshift trenches determined that while none had been harmed or injured, their faces all reflected deep concern but steady conviction: they needed to get to Sebarra and Kylo Ren. Now.
Ofir placed his mask over his head and his fellow Knights followed 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. Resonant.
The Knights activated their lightsabers and pointed them at the center of the invisible circle in which they stood. Goosebumps scurried across Ofir’s skin as his soul was slight with 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.”
With the moment past and time tuning short, Ofir switched his mindset from valiant Knight to tactical military leader in preparation. “Let’s move,” he growled, and the Knights took off running down the craggy mountainside 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 tilt at the sea of bobbing white helmets, dodging and deflecting the streaks of red blaster fire shrieking threateningly toward him and the Knights behind.
For their own safety and sanity, Kylo Ren had been ... kept out of the loop, for lack of a better term ... about their detour to Ahch-To, an unexpected deviation from their years-long assignment of scouring the galaxy for the historical records once housed in the Jedi Temple’s Archives on Coruscant. Most of the preserved material had been destroyed when Emperor Palpatine had converted the Temple into his personal palace, and whatever remained had proven difficult, if not impossible, to track down. Over the past five years, their collective efforts had been weakly received: they were able to uncover a few galactic maps, astronomical journals, and outdated engineering and technology documents - all of which deemed irrelevant by the passage of time, and therefore frustratingly useless. And as if to add insult to injury, 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 mission and associated efforts a secret from Snoke entirely. But as to a clear reason why his Master – Supreme Leader, he reminded himself – had been so dedicated to finding these texts? Well, the answer to that question was largely above Ofir’s pay grade.
He was surprised, however, when Sebarra announced over dinner one evening on their shuttle, the Statera, that she would be paying a visit to Kylo Ren – alone.
Her announcement brought the constant and familiar hum of casual and mundane conversation to a screeching halt; 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. The Knights’ faces had ranged from nonplussed to alarmed, but even in his surprise, Ofir had kept his face largely unreadable.
“I will be sure to send our Supreme Leader your regards,” Sebarra said with amusement as she sat at the head of the table, her light eyes twinkling. “Your mission, while I am gone, is to pay a visit to Ahch-To.”
Vasco had reclined in his chair, his eyebrows raised in surprise, his thick arms folded across his chest. Aila somehow had lost hold of her spoon, which landed clumsily into her bowl with a thick slurping sound that sent the purple chunky contents splattering across half the table. Expectedly, Erez had remained silent and observant as always.
And Jari, he recalled fondly, had been unable to keep her mouth shut … also, as always.
“It’s because of our visions, isn’t it, Master?” 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 had let the name linger on her tongue for a moment, as if tasting a foreign dish, which she decided she very much liked. She nodded eagerly, almost childlike, as she continued, “You’ve foreseen it too, Master, 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.”
A silence washed across the table as if a heavy sound-proof blanket had settled over their heads. Ofir knew they all were returning to their memories of seven years ago as students at the Praxeum, when something similarly unexplained had happened to the six Knights seated at that very table, something that changed not only the course of their lives, but of history itself of others across the galaxy.
When the othervisions began.
The visions of Ben Solo’s fall to the darkness.
“Rey is different.” Sebarra’s pointed and unexpectedly … charged? ... would have caused even Ofir’s eyebrows to rise, if he had any.
But as the others nodded collectively around him, Ofir had to admit that Sebarra was right.
For months - but what felt like years - each of them began to have visions of this girl, of Rey. They presented to and and manifested with each night differently, but with one commonality: she appeared as no more than a shadow, similarly to how Ben Solo had appeared to to Ofir on Ahch-To. None of them, Erez included, had been able decipher physical features or attributes of any kind.
But the power that emanated from her was real. Immeasurable, even. The visions had made thatexceptionally clear to them all.
In retrospect, being in the power of her presence reminded Ofir of the crackling electricity that had flowed from Ben the first time they had met and during every encounter since. It was a vigorous spark so palpable that itsent chills up his spine, a reaction Ofir had learned to anticipate but had never effectively grown accustomed to.
And though Rey's twin energy matched Kylo’s in power and intensity, it was equally as strikingly different: warmer, clearer, purposeful.
After hours of both meditation and discussion, and 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?” Jari had asked.
Sebarra paused only briefly to raise an assessing eyebrow. “I believe it’s where Rey had been training. With Master Skywalker.”
Ofir's body jolted awkwardly, an innate flight-or-fight response hardwired into him from his childhood as a male Zabrak on Dathomir, and Sebarra's gaze trailed toward him, her eyes patient and knowing. She knew that Ofir had worked tirelessly over the years to compartmentalize his emotions regarding his former Master, spending years building up an indestructible wall to separate his past from his reality. And yet, all it took was the mere mention of Skywalker's name, and it all came crashing down.
Vasco had been caught off-guard as well, but had the added misfortune of being mid-gulp from his canteen. He sputtered and gagged loudly, eyes watering and face red as he smacked his diaphragm a few times with fist in a vain effort to clear his airway. But aside from the occasional prattle from a recovering Vasco, the Knights had remained quiet.
The forceful stillness made it difficult to breathe, as if all breathable air had been vacuumed from the room and replaced with the viscous emotion that pooling between them: contrition.
It trickled around the Knights like a babbling brook and poured into their very souls, threatening to drown them all in spiritual despondency.
It was not the first time the Knights had felt this way, although Ofir remembered praying to the Maker that it would be the last. As he ruefully acknowledged that history's sense of humor must be rooted in caustic repetition, he recalled feeling the same setting sorrowfulness years ago: the night Master Skywalker tried to murder Ben Solo as he fell to fearful temptation. The night Ben Solo turned, the night the seven of them had fled, the night Peleth Dol had burned the Praxeum to the ground as they stood, watching in horror, as their friends burned alive. He'd never forget those screams...
"Kriff!" Aila's startled exclamation encouraged Ofir to seamlessly transition from past to present. He turned his upper body away from the Stormtroopers ahead of him in a rather foolish, but desperate, attempt to check on Aila's wellbeing. He spotted her easily; her usually smooth and athletic gait had become irregular and disjointed as she dragged her right leg behind her lamely. The gaping hole burned into her pants just above her kneecap indicated that she had been shot at close range - two, three yards at most - with a blaster bolt. He saw Aila's right foot caught on an earthy outcropping,the uneven terrain enhanced the difficulty of her already limited mobility; but true to form and with otherworldly grace, she corrected her trajectory, arching her body inward to protect her internal organs while redirecting her momentum. Aila 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.
Impressive, Ofir thought approvingly, right before a blaster bolt exploded in the dirt directly behind him, where his foot had been just moments ago.
He chastised himself for getting lost in his head – again – and quickly took stock of his 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.
He joined the others as they 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 chests and permanently silencing their hearts.
An easing, a gentle recalibration in the Force – something that usually indicated the event at hand was at its end - washed over him, and his ears rang with the trademark song of death and destruction: silence. He surveyed the ground around him and noted that the Stormtroopers were dead.
All of them.
Ofir deactivated his lightsaber and returned it to his utility belt before eagerly removing 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 faces were worn and weary as they observed the unmoving bodies of the dead, their expressions somber and humble.
The Knights believed death was an integral part of life. The unspoken Code of the Knights of Ren specified that killing in self-defense was acceptable and 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.
Personally, 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.
Stowing his mask under the crook of his arm, Ofir walked over to where Aila leaned against Vasco, his arm wrapped tightly around her waist - for "balance" purposes, Ofir supposed Vasco would clarify. Her right knee was bent and swollen, but she offered Ofir a warm and gentle smile as he approached, reassuring him that her injury wasn't one of grave concern. He crouched down in front of her and surveyed the wound. Aila was right: it wouldn't cause irreparable damage, but it wasn't something to shake a stick at, either. A trickle of blood seeped through the mostly-cauterized injury, with white specks of bone visible where the skin had been burned off. All in all, it was quite the nasty hit.
“We’ll tend to it on board,” he said as he stood, pausing to lean toward her, cupping her cheek in his handand – a sign of familial affection from his homeworld.
Ofir had not forgotten the urgency in their departure, however; so without another moment of delay, he set off toward the Statera, his pace quick and his gait clipped. As the Knights fell in line behind him, he reached out to Sebarra again; 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, had his balance not been aided by the Force, would have caused him to go flying face-first into the shuttle.
Sebarra! What happened? he asked as he regained his composure and motioned for the Knights to quickly board.
Sebarra, tell me.
He found himself pleading with her: Tell. Me.
The tension reverberating through their connection settled heavily in his chest. 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.
Desperation steeped in anxiety creeped up his neck as he aggressively slammed the controls of the boarding ramp twice, as if the pressure applied would determine the speed at which the boarding ramp would retract to allow the shuttle doors to close. He leaned his body’s weight into it for good measure, baring his teeth instinctively.
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. Hurry, Ofir. Please.” He felt their connection surge as her emotions raged so violently that he became suddenly dizzy.
And then he knew why.
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What you seek is seeking you.
She never expected to be saying goodbye.
Not to her. And not like this.
Rey watched as Poe knelt by her bedside, his shoulders shuddering with silent sobs, his dark hair falling haphazardly over his bloodshot eyes. He grasped Leia’s hand so tightly with his own that his knuckles shone white against the red biting chill 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 something dark, and sinister, and truly evil.
But what the hell had actually happened to Leia, to her, remained a mystery to them all.
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. Malida's 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 said to her when she woke up. But she will never be able to forget the minute the soft guiding voice in her soul told her that Leia was gone.
It was the first time she had really fought against the voice's words, which had always rung true and served her well in return. She remembered the first time it spoke to her; she must've been six, maybe seven at the oldest. Her small hands and unfamiliarity with salvaging had been the reason she spent many nights tucked under her tattered covers, her stomach empty and rumbling in resentment. Rey had gone three days without food and with only minimal water, and on the morning of the fourth day, as she sat crumpled and crying in the stripped stomach of a Star Destroyer, it called to her. It showed her where to find the hidden pieces of valuable machinery and ushered her safely as she scaled walls hundreds of feet high. Some days it would be quieter than others, but it was always present, and Rey always listened.
But she hadn't wanted to listen to what it told her as she lay on the medical cot, desperately trying to ignore the truth she knew it told.
She had closed her eyes in an attempt to keep reality at bay, but she had only managed to shut out the glare of the harsh overhead lighting and the worried eyes of Finn. Her heart thudding in her chest, Rey urgently searched for the Leia, whose presence in the Force had always been familiar, enduring, bright.
She hadn't been able to find it.
She pressed on, desperately trudging through a galactic swamp of Force signatures for Leia's abiding flame.
But it was gone, and all that was left was severe and bleak, filled with shadows and uncertainty.
It was as if the Force had gone dark.
With the realization came a numbness Rey had never felt, engulfing and deadening in its all-encompassing blandness. It was an emptiness that now lived inside of her, surviving off of her sadness and guilt and loneliness.
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 until he was able to reach out and clasp her hand. His soft skin transmitted an unexpected amount of heat to her rigidly cold fingers, his grasp cozy and comforting and safe, just like Finn.
But his uninvited touch made her skin crawl and her stomach flop. With superhuman speed, Rey ripped her hand away from his thermal and secure grasp, shoving him unceremoniously away from her with the Force for both added emphasis.
Finn's touch had switched a flip in her brain, triggered something inside of her that had played dead within her for her entire life. She suddenly found herself drowning in sea of pure resentment and hatred and fresh fiery rage. 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, smirking as they collided against the snowy wall with a sickeningly dead thunk. She called her bowstaff to her, catching it in her right hand and pivoting 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 surface in front of her, her lunges gouging out chunks of the pure canvas, ripping apart its smooth surface piece, by piece, by piece.
She didn’t know how long it had been – seconds, minutes, hours? – but one particularly powerful strike landed at an awkward angle against the packed snow, and she felt her bowstaff shudder right before it erupted in a final crack.
Rey froze, staring at the fractured pieces of the inanimate object with which she had protected herself from so much for so long. One half in her right hand and the other laying at her feet, thr 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 yelp in pain as she felt the bones shatter beneath her skin. Cradling her hand gently, Rey watched as 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 broken fingers, a painful heat tearing through her mind that alleviated the overwhelming emotional turmoil within her. She felt herself careening into a void of unknown origin or purpose, its darkness pulling her closer, calling to her, welcoming her, bidding her to let go of all compassion and remorse, 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, challenging her to finish what she had started.
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 restrained her.
Her aim had been too low - she had not accounted for his towering height - and her fist ended up ramming straight into Ben Solo’s upper chest.
Her eyes met his - Maker, had she missed those eyes - and before she could even process the situation or her feelings or the way he looked at her, 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 caressing her skin:
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 him, counting the golden specks in his eyes, memorizing the lines on his forehead, the gentle twitching of his lips. As she studied him, like a work of invaluable art, she noted the horror, sorrow, confusion, and concern that flitted across his face as he eyed her bloodied and bruised hand warily.
But beyond that, simmering underneath those surface emotions, Rey was able to uncover Ben’s basest sentiments, which he had hidden from her in the past but now lay open and exposed for her to see: longing, need, fire, desire, passion, jealousy, possession, lust.
A primal instinct stretched itself awake as her belly grew warm, her entire body tingling with the desperate need to touch him. Her mind blank with sudden urgency, she reached up to his face with her free left hand. The light touch of her fingertips elicited a sigh from Ben’s lips, and he leaned into her touch, his heavily lidded eyes hungrily staring at her lips as she delicately, teasingly, traced the length of his scar.Maker, she wanted to heal each and every one of his scars with her tongue as she ran his hands through his hair –
The fuzzy roughness in his voice and the slight quake as he spoke her name confirmed what she had already known: he wanted her just as she wanted him. She smiled coyly in anticipation ...
His next move was not what Rey was expecting.
He stepped backwards, and Rey nearly growled in frustration as she realized he was purposely putting distance between them. When he spoke, his voice was once again clear, precise, genuine, but consumed with worry. “What the hell are you doing to yourself?”
She followed his gaze to rest upon her swollen and bruised right hand. It looked so small as it nested comfortably in Ben’s ungloved hand, now barely bleeding except for a slow trickle that flowed in between the banks of crusted and dried blood that laced across her knuckles.
“What?” she asked blankly. She blinked, suddenly disoriented, as she stared opaquely at her injured hand resting in Ben’s. “I was … angry …”
“… at your hand?” Rey saw a hint of a grin ghost across his lips, a smuggler’s glimmer in his eyes.
He was mocking her. How dare he?
Fine, then, she thought viciously. She’d wipe that smug smile off of his face.
“At everyone,” she spat ruthlessly as she wrenched her hand from his, backing away from him just as he did to her. 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 nothing more then to take him into her arms and into her bed until her body’s roaring ache for him had been satisfied.
Ben's intense gaze seared into her awareness, bringing a sudden color to her cheeks and uncomfortable heat to her neck. She shook her head in the hopes of rearranging her thoughts. They felt so foreign, so strange ... as if they weren't her own. But how was that even possible?
Rey’s chest began to heave. She felt as though her lungs were suddenly damaged and incapable of inflating, and the feeling of being unable to breathe began to send her into a full-blown panic.
Her eyes grew wide as her vision began to tunnel, and she could feel a cold sweat begin to pool at the nape of her neck and along her spine. She was falling, spinning uncontrollably downward and completely alone -
“You’re not alone,” she heard Ben say, his voice close, his breath whispily gliding past her ear. In her panic, she hadn’t noticed him close the distance between them, but she now felt his steady arm encircle her waist, his other hand coming to a gentle rest on her damp forehead.
”Let me in, Rey,” he murmured quietly as she felt him touch her mind, gentle and reassuring. Her natural instinct of self-protection and preservation kicked in and she pulled her mind away from his.
Her breathing was still heavy and shallow, the cold panic still gnawing at her insides and rising in her throat. But as she felt Ben wrap himself tighter around her, pulling her flush to him, she suddenly felt his heart beating in time with hers.
She closed her eyes against her blurred vision, and suddenly she felt his forehead rest against her, his lips lingering just above the top of her ear. And she felt a single tear roll down her cheek as Ben pleaded in a barely audible voice filled with pure emotion: “Please.”
She released a strangled cry as she opened her mind to him, her ironclad barriers crumbling like rotten wood in a rainstorm. His fingertips skimmed along her forehead as she felt him gently step into her consciousness, delicately shifting through its contents. She squeezed her eyes shut tighter, willing herself to be vulnerable, to trust the only person who was as broken as she was, the only one who had ever made her feel truly complete.
What’s wrong with me? she asked through the Force. She tried to keep herself calm as her question lingered unanswered, and it dawned on her that Ben was just as much at a loss as she was for what could be causing the uncharacteristic anger broiling within her.
”What is wrong with me?” she asked again, this time out loud, her voice trembling and raspy. She was becoming undone with trepidation, the anxiety overwhelming her so completely that she thought she may vomit. Her eyes were closed so tightly that she saw splotches of color exploding, bright reds and somber blues sparkling in front of a black canvas before fizzing out and disappearing.
She couldn’t breathe - why wasn’t Ben answering her? - couldn’t think - what was he looking for? - couldn’t keep herself at bay any longer - why am I letting him do this to me?
The voice that emerged from her mouth was not her own; it was demanding and ferocious, distorted, corrupted, and resonating with a hatred and power she had never felt or ever wanted to.
Her eyes flew open in alarm and shock as Ben abruptly withdrew from her thoughts, and the urgency in the way his mind rescinded from hers made her groan in pain as the invisible vise tightened around her heart.
She watched as Ben withdrew his hand from her forehead but kept his arm securely around her middle, their bodies so close that her nose almost rested against the nape of his neck. She craved her neck to look up at him, and as hereyes locked with his, her stomach dropped: disbelief and horror dominated his handsome face, his jaw slack, cheeks hollow. He began shaking his head slowly, his eyes suddenly glistening in the dim lighting of her quarters as he said one simple but terrifying word: “No.”
Rey had never remembered feeling so truly and utterly scared in her entire life.
Without warning, Ben enveloped her completely, both arms wrapped around her, hunched over, his forehead pressed firmly against her own, holding her so close that she expected to feel claustrophobic. But she felt nothing but warmth and bliss and yearning in his arms, and desperate for more, she flung her arms over his broad shoulders, standing on her toes to gain more leverage, drinking in the smell of his breath and the feel of his clothes and the sensation of his hair entwined in her fingers. His skin felt like bacta as he held her close to him, healing and cool and radiant.
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.” His voice was rough and grainy, as if he hadn’t spoken a word for years. She felt his eyes dance across her face, running repeatedly from her eyes to her mouth to her hair, and back again. Yet all Rey saw were his lips, and all she thought about was making them her own in every way possible.
Instead, she nodded gently and whispered, “Anything.”
“Never again seek me out.”
Her blood ran cold and her ears rang, her mind reeled and her insides twisted, her heart screamed and her chest emptied. No ... no. She couldn’t have heard him right.
She knew – knew, because she could feel it in her very soul – that this is where they both belonged. And she knew for a fucking fact that he knew it, too.
She shook her head mechanically as she struggled to simultaneously comprehend his request and formulate an appropriate well to tell him to fuck off with his bullshit martyr’s facade , because it was getting old and cheap and exhausting and all she wanted was him, and all she wanted to be was his.
“Rey, promise me,” Ben repeated, and his voice sounded as if it were thousands of light years away. “Never again.”
She opened her mouth to argue, to beg, to scream or shout or cuss at him 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.
“I don’t understand.” It was all she could manage to croak out as she drowned in sorrow, reeling from the waves of pain radiating from her heart.
Ben released her waist and brought his hands up to her cheeks, framing her face as he tilted her eyes up to join his own. She studied the light flecks of his irises, counting them, memorizing the way he looked at her as if she were the only thing that mattered in the whole fucked up galaxy, as if she were the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, as if she were invaluable, important, loved.
His gaze flitted back and forth between her eyes, eventually coming to rest on the curvature of her mouth. The subtle pursing and relaxing of his lips as he clenched his jaw told Rey that he was finding it difficult to answer her. Finally, he said simply, “I can’t explain …”
“Please,” she said softly, because that was their word, a word that was a vow, a contract, a new hope, a beginning. She needed him to remember their word, remember what it meant to them and what they had come to mean to each other, because just the thought of losing him had made her begin to cry, and she felt like she was back in Snoke’s throne room, begging Ben not to go.
As he closed his eyes and hung his head, Rey saw a tear fall from his eyelashes. She watched it run down along the ridge of his nose, glide over his lips, and trickle down his chin, where it hung precariously until he lifted his eyes and said, “I’ll be the death of you.”
Her ears roared as she felt the vacuum shift, and she knew she had only seconds - moments - before the Force Bond took him from her, possibly forever. She ignored the throbbing of her broken hand as she grabbed a fistful of his tunic, whining urgently as she pulled him to her so tightly that her arms began to ache with strain. She needed to feel him against her, to feel his hands caress her face, to wrap herself in his arms, to feel his breath on her bare skin.
She begged with every fiber of her being and prayed that the Force would hear her pleas: Just once more, only once more, please ...
But she knew it would be fruitless, and it was, just asit always had been. She felt as Ben disappeared from her arms, and she was left alone and shivering in the dark and empty room.
Ben, come back. Don’t do this. Please, Ben, come back ...
But she was met with only silence.
Rey fell to her knees, sobs wracking her body so violently that she heaved, vomiting what little she had eaten that day. Her cheeks and chin were soaked, coated with a mixture of mucus and bitter tears. When her screams died because her raw throat had run it’s course, she forced her eyes closed and told herself to breathe … just breathe … and slowly her sobs downgraded to miniature gasps for air, along with the occasional hiccup. Her body too tired and her muscles too sore to move, she looked around her small room; from her mangled hand to her broken staff to 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 whiteness.
She was broken. He was broken. They were both broken. But together, they were whole. And that was the most beautiful thought she’d ever had.
She wasn’t going to let him do this. Not this time.
Because this time, she was bringing home Ben Solo.
. . .
“It’s him,” he confirmed, barely above a whisper. Kylo chastised himself for his obtuse behavior. He needed to stop acting as if saying it out loud would make the situation worse.
It was fucking ridiculous to think so, mostly because it literally couldn’t get any worse than it already was.
Sebarra raised her unmasked face ever so slightly as she cocked her eyebrow. Her lips were set into a grim, firm line. “Peleth Dol?”
As stood across the table from him, her hands clasped behind her back, Kylo assessed her condition for the umpteenth time, running his eyes over the scars on her face, looking for any signs of pain or weakness in her gait or posture. Each assessment had produced the same conclusion: she had healed exceptionally well, to a better degree than expected and in one-tenth the amount of estimated recovery time.
She’s as stubborn as a Rathtar and twice as dangerous, he mused to himself – but Kylo had refused to let her out of his sight until he had figured out what had happened to her and whether it had anything to do with Rey’s similar episode. He’d had his suspicions, but he had never suspected this.
And he had found the answer, of all places, in the deepest depths of Rey’s mind.
Kylo hadn’t realized he had growled audibly until he glanced at Sebarra, who tilted her head and pursed her lips perceptively. She did not comment on his outburst, remaining silent and still, and he was exceptionally grateful for it.
“I thought he was dead,” Sebarra announced said flatly, but the vindictive distaste was visible underneath her seemingly innocuous words.
“As did I,” Kylo grumbled as he rubbed his eyes in a vain attempt at dislodging the soft curvatures of Rey’s lips from his thoughts. “But it’s him, Sebarra. I felt him - saw him.” His head ached with exhaustion, but thoughts of Rey stirred his adrenaline and cleared his mind. He could still feel her pressed against his chest, her silky skin under his bare hands, her delicate fingers running through his hair -
Kylo frowned at Sebarra’s question, confused. What had they just been talking about?
Sebarra rolled her eyes and smirked, as if she knew the very content of the thoughts that had distracted him so thoroughly. And yet she did not comment on it, instead clarifying her question respectfully and patiently: “You said you felt and saw Peleth. Where?”
Kylo took a long and deep breath in an attempt to steady himself before responding. “He was in her mind,” he spat through gritted teeth. Fire ran through his body at the thought of him playing on her emotions, tooling with her consciousness, invading her privacy, dissecting her most intimate and innermost thoughts in order to elicit the irrational and rage-filled behavior she had exhibited, inherently toxic behavior befitting of a Sith.
The same toxic behavior he was prone to, courtesy of Snoke’s decades-long emotional and mental barrage on Kylo’s psyche.
He’d fucking die before he let anyone do that to Rey; when he found Peleth Dol, 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 lost in his thoughts of Rey yet again. He shot her an apologetic look; she, in turn, offered him a knowing smile, and he braced himself in preparation for the inevitable questions that followed. “She missed you, didn’t she?”
Kylo pressed his lips together briefly before answering dryly, “I’ve always so very much valued your unapologetic directness.”
“My directness?” Sebarra’s grin widened and Kylo winced.
“Well, in that case...” As she paused dramatically for added emphasis, Kylo seriously considered throwing her down the garbage compactor.
”Did you two have your first kiss?”
Kylo groaned loudly and unable to help herself, Sebarra laughed - 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.”
The term of endearment rolled off of his tongue so naturally that he didn’t realize what he had said until a few seconds after the fact. He felt suddenly ill as he swatted away the memories that flooded forward, random snippets of times throughout his childhood his father had called his mother “sweetheart.”
He risked a glance at Sebarra, whose grin faltered slightly and eventually disappeared as her gaze fell to the ground before her. 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.”
Kylo shook his head, frowning. 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.
“To be honest, I have no idea,” he responded slowly as he considered the possibilities. “It’s virtually impossible to achieve,” Kylo thought out loud, folding his arms across his chest in thought. “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.”
“Who?” Sebarra asked earnestly, but the surprise behind her eyes revealed that she already knew exactly who he was talking about.
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?” The question was pointed, precise, meant to elicit both shame and defiance, and Peleth played into both with his answer.
“Darkness,” he would reply, without fail, 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. Of that he was certain.
And now that his Master was dead, Peleth would end Solo in the same way he had murdered the Supreme Leader: with the cruelest stroke. He would take away everything Solo had ever worked for, cared about, loved. Bit by bit, piece by piece, he would drive him mad with sorrow as the loneliness guilt crushed his soul. Make him realize what an utter piece of worthless trash he was. Make him regret, with every fiber of his being, for having ever been born. Make him languish and writhe in unimaginable pain as he watched his loved ones cry out in torment, wa helpless witness who could do nothing to save the very people he claimed to hate, but who he had always loved, would always love.
Because Ben Solo had inherited the same compassion that had, in the end, ruined Darth Vader in his final hours and crumbled the Sith Lord’s galactic legacy. The menacing mask Solo had hidden behind all of these years as Kylo Ren could never hide the Skywalker family flaw. Master Snoke had seen it, Peleth himself had felt it. And now, after years of watching patiently from the shadowed sidelines, Peleth would end Solo’s birthright by exploiting that weakness beyond anything the universe had seen.
He would beg for death. And only then - only then would Peleth consider giving that son of a bitch what he so longed for.
The act of breaking Solo completely had been the only purpose keeping him alive for all of these years. Constant pain and loneliness had been his nourishment, anger serving as the enzyme that helped to digest each faltering step Solo took as he failed his bloodline time, and time again. He hadn’t bothered disguising his disgust as Master Snoke had relayed the story of Solo’sdefeat to the scavenger on Starkiller Base, and he’d openly cursed Kylo Ren when he heard of his insubordinate behavior toward the Supreme Leader, his lack of appreciation to the very man who had built Kylo Ren into an interstellar icon through years of meticulous crafting and tutelage.
And Solo related Snoke for all of his trouble by slicing him in two, like the entitled brat he had always been.
Nonetheless, 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 the weaker man’s mind, heart, soul, and body.
What Peleth hadn’t anticipated was for Solo to betray his Master so suddenly, and he certainly hadn’t expected to witness the event itself. He had been caught by surprise the evening the Supreme Leader joined their minds, opening himself to allow Peleth to watch as Solo had presented his scavenger whore before him, unmasked and face scarred with the shameful reminder of his ultimate failure. He saw through Master Snoke’s eyes, unabashedly chuckling with glee as his Master toyed with the unworthy girl from nothing and nowhere, outright laughing as she was tossed around the throne room like garbage, like the tattered and useless rag doll she was. Peleth took lustful pleasure in her screams as she hung suspended in mid-air, her body convulsing with pain as his Master viciously and ruthlessly raided her mind, brutally and without the usual calculated meticulousness Peleth had come to expect.
It was clear to Peleth that Master Snoke hated this girl as much as he hated Solo, and it made his heart sing.
He was so distracted, so entrancedby the scavenger’s torture, that Peleth had failed to notice Solo’s intentions as he knelt on the pristine floor, unmoving and non-reactory, like a statue.
Peleth remembered tearing his eyes away from the girl to look at Solo’s bare face, a face that had remained largely unchanged and boyish, even so many years later. A face that had always acts as a truth serum, upon which Solo had always openly displayed his true intentions.
Peleth’s heart rate soared as he watched Solo stand before the girl and raised his lightsaber to her neck as Master Snoke narrated his innermost thoughts. He saw Solo’s jaw set, his face impassible except for his eyes.
A jolt of pure panic courses through Peleth as he Peleth jolted with shock and panic as he no longer saw Kylo Ren.
He was looking into eyes filled with compassion, with hope. They were Ben Solo’s eyes.
Peleth barely had time to process his Master’s fate before he was was thrown from the vision with finality, the connection severed permanently. His Master was dead, bisected by the lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker.
He felt bile rise in his throat as bitter, seething vitriol gnawed at his rib cage. Kylo Ren, Ben Solo, whoever the fuck he truly was, had taken his Master from him.
He had taken everything from him.
Because Nava had been, and remained, his everything.
He would never forget the feel the coarseness of her bluish black curly hair, just as he’d never forget her warm and welcoming eyes, the color of fresh honey and endless sunrises. From the moment of her birth, Peleth had shared a special connection with his little sister. 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 happy and content childhood ripped from him as he was assigned to a lifetime indentured servitude working alongside his sister and the rest of the planet’s children, made to live out their remaining days in the dark underground caverns, harvesting ore and other minerals from his homeworld’s core under the unyielding oversight of the Imperial Mining Institute.
His mothers had died in an underground mining operation. They were taken from him in the blink of an eye.
At fourteen, he found himself responsible for ten-year-old Nava, and the harsh reality of a life filled with backbreaking and soulless misery was no longer an option.
They escaped Lothal and haphazardly stumbled upon the Praxeum, where Luke Skywalker had opened his welcoming arms to them both. He remembered the (now) foreign feelings of contentment and peace each and every time Nava smiled at the Praxeum. His heart had swelled at 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.
Three years to the day they arrived, he had watch her burn alive as the flames of the Temple engulfed the Praxeum dormitory next to it, where she had spent so many nights sleeping soundly and safe.
Her screams had never left him, all these years later still as raw and piercing as if it had happened yesterday. Her wailing that had filled his ears as he clawed his way through scorching flames, breathing in the hot ash as the flames licked his skin from his charred bones and leaving raised blisters over 80% of his body that had, with time, turned into dark purple welts. They served permanent reminder of the night his world was set on fire, crashing down alongside the ruins of the Temple.
The light of his life had been snuffed out, unceremoniously and sudden, like a cruel afterthought. The dormant darkness had enveloped him, embracing him in its shadowy arms, gripping his soul and stoking the all-consuming hatred for the benevolent betrayer Ben Solo, his sister’s murderer.
Peleth had never trusted the gangly boy with dark, bottomless eyes. When he first met Solo, he was a socially stunted and awkwardly abrasive teenager with few friends and even fewer likes or qualities. But over the years the boy began to inexplicably change, as if some unseen catalyst had torn him from his cocoon and given him wings. Peleth had watched his transformation with amazement, which quickly turned into seething jealousy when with he formed an intrinsically inexplicable bond the Praxeum’s most beautiful and talented student. Her sarcastic and unapologetic brashness complemented Solo’s introversion, and as they became closer, Peleth’s spite grew. She was perfect for Solo, but he wanted her to be perfect for him.
Because Sebarra was truly perfection.
And Solo had taken her from him, too.
It had given Peleth momentary pause, in the beginning, to unleash the Force offensive on her, bringing her such mental and physical anguish. But he knew her suffering would resonate with Solo and would set him on edge and off-kilter, priming his mind and placing him exactly in the headspace necessary for Peleth to set his carefully plotted events in motion.
And as he had forced the blisters through her flawless skin, he remembered feeling his lips curl placidly, with vindication and retribution, as he reveled in the knowledge that the mauve scars marking her face would match his own.
He had branded her as his, and he had gotten off on the powerful sense of ownership over her.
His second order of business was Leia Organa. He’d heard stories of her unabated stubbornness, but damn did that woman refuse to go down without a fight. Poised and valiant to the very end, she had flat-out refused to act as Peleth’s pocket ace, denying him the ultimate leverage in the manipulation game of her precious son. Rather than see Solo suffer due to her condition, she had simply let go, and Peleth had sensed no fear as she separated herself from this world, gracefully moving on to the next. Her loss had upset Peleth greatly; had been frothing at the mouth to meticulously annihilate the Solo’s mother, giving the woman who had given birth to such a disgrace what she rightfully deserved.
Oh, but Rey … Rey had been his unexpected favorite of the three.
The method to his Peleth’s vengeful madness was both simple and personal: he wanted to share the pain and anguish he experienced that night with the loved ones of the man who had caused it all. He projected the memories of his sister’s dying screams and amplified them with the wailing of the other students, drawing upon the screams that echoed in his head as they followed him day and night. He projected the painful tearing of his lungs as he had desperately tried to reach Nava through the dormitory inferno, emphasizing the pain that had seared his chest with each breath he took. He shared with them how it felt to smell flesh burning and the agony of knowing that death was coming but wasn’t quite close enough, surrounded by unimaginable heartbreaking chorus of children screaming for their mothers, their fathers, Luke Skywalker, anyone to save them.
He wanted, neededto share the crushing burden that had laid waste to his soul for all of these years. of his soul he had been crushed under for all of these years. So he had; and in targeting the loved ones of the person responsible, he could both alleviate the pain of his memories while enjoying their suffering.
But of all three, Peleth had come to see that Solo loved Rey the most.
And she did not disappoint. Rey had proven his efforts worthwhile, because her reaction had been sublime.
The onslaught had sent her reeling, plummeting toward the border of incapacitation and insanity. The more she had struggled against the pain and agony, the harder he’d hit her, and the unexpected and instantaneous effect of his projected pain and agony had only encouraged his efforts. Peleth had been awash in an almost erotic degree of pleasure as he felt her crumble and fracture, as he listened to her wishing for death as her malleable mind split open, as if inviting him to enter. He had stepped across the threshold where he still remained, helping himself to her innermost thoughts and deepest secrets.
And he waited. He had learned all about waiting for the right moment to strike.
But because Solo had a penchant for literally ruining everything, Peleth’s plans had been derailed the moment the Bond reared its mysterious head, bridging Solo and Rey once again. His intentions to perform an Essence Transfer, which would have allowed him to to fully occupy Rey’s mind and control her every mov, had been thwarted as soon as the Bond came into play. It remained a complete mystery to Peleth as to how the Bond had not died with his Master who was its original creator, but at the time he didn’t have the luxury esoterically ponder the various possibilities. He had been too busy panicking as Solo had begun begging Rey to let go, as if he somehow knew that it would free her from Peleth’s grasp. He had watched helplessly as the scavenger listened and obeyed, handing her mind’s endangered safety and fractured security of to Solo, who in turn had caught it and coveted it.
Enraged, Peleth had somehow managed to fling Solo from her consciousness, but it had been too late. Peleth couldn’t deny his disappointment: what he wouldn’t give to have been able to watch the life drain from his pained eyes as Rey struck him down, acting on Peleth’s every command, the last thought in Solo’s dying mind the realization that he had been coldly murdered by the one he loved the most and never knowing why.
But Peleth had always been thrifty, and he was able to identify another possible avenue. As he wandered through the depths of her thoughts, Peleth had been struck by the depths of darkness within her, fueled by the subconscious fear of abandonment and loneliness. Whatever ghosts haunted this scavenger’s past provided Peleth with the foothold he needed to nestle cozily and solidly within her mind. He found that she was almost completely untrained, a blank slate with immeasurable power and intense inner conflict.
As his mind whirled with the many ways this could work in his favor, he decided to conduct a little experiment.
He chose Leia’s funeral to give himself a competitive edge, and he was delighted at how easy, almost too easy, it had been to manipulate and wield Rey’s deeply rooted negativity to his advantage.
Rey had become his marionette.
She’d performed like a perfectly trained pet as he harnessed her underlying darkness and pushed it to her internal forefront, setting her off in an absolutely beautiful way. One simple prod from Peleth made her reject her friend as he held her hand lovingly. One easy tweak of her mind sent her into a raging freefall as she broke her staff, and then her hand, against the snowy wall of her quarters, her crimson blood splattering across the pristine whiteness surrounding her.
But it had been short-lived, brought to an abrupt end when the fucking Bond resurfaced and brought Solo to her. He saw how he looked at her, how she looked at him.
The same way Sebarra looked at Solo at the Praxeum, the same way she still did.
Shoving aside the venomous malice rising within him, when Peleth objectively assessed the situation, he realized that she – Rey – was the key to Solo’s undoing.
But Peleth found he had misstepped by underestimating Solo’s intentions. The tenderness and care with which Solo had sifted through Rey’s innermost consciousness as he looked for the source of her uncharacteristic behavior had chilled Peleth to the bone. The rash, selfish, and seethingly impulsive Kylo Ren had vanished, replaced by a clear-headed, well-intentioned and loving Ben Solo. The clarity and pure intent with which Solo had searched Rey’s mind had led him straight to Peleth, where he had been crouching silently in the darkest corner he could find.
How endearing it was to hear Solo weakly weep as he begged Rey to stay away, as if he thought that such a thing would protect her. On the contrary, Solo had now handed Peleth the most valuable tool he could ask for, and he intended to do everything to leverage it.
Which even included somehow stomaching a collaborative venture with the intolerable and incompetent General Hux.
From the beginning of his apprenticeship, Master Snoke had shared with Peleth his premonitions that Solo was capable of grinding well-oiled machine of the First Order to a halt. Ever vigilant and proactive, his Master had specifically instructed Peleth to connect with Hux when the timing 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 Ren’s downfall if necessary. Is that understood?”
And that’s how Peleth Dol came to be where he was now, standing across from the self-important pasty ginger who eyed Peleth down his long, narrow nose. Suppressing a snort, Peleth’s gaze remained impassive as his amber brown eyes settled 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 drawled. “I don’t care about the First Order, its mission, or you.”
Peleth paused, cocking his head and narrowing his eyes. “My only objective is to destroy Solo.”
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 goal we share, and one I believe we can work together toward achieving.”
Peleth erupted in a toothy smile as he clapped his hands and rubbed his palms together eagerly. “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 Kylo knew how those words would haunt him now.
Not that he ever found sleep easy to come by. 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 just enough to allow for 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 he was foolish enough to confront Kylo 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. He 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 Chandrillan cotton bedsheets caress his bare back as he shifted slightly. 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 get get dressed and march to the training pavilion to destroy yet another training module.
He opted instead to close his eyes and allow his thoughts to aimlessly drift to Rey. 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 when 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 compromised her mind. To what degree, he was unsure. But one thing with which Kylo was very familiar 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 set the universe on fire just to see her smile, but in the end, as always, he would leave devastation in his wake, a galaxy on fire. And he knew her better than to think that any smile he’d coax from her would be anything but temporary.
She deserved everything. And he could offer her nothing.
But 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 cupped her small face as he 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 a life of 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 with awe as she stood over him, her face contracted and eyes alight with anger, her power palpable and fierce.
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?”
Reacting purely on instinct, Kylo flung 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 blindsided him as elemental hatred pulsed in his chest, his lips curling into a snarl. He couldn’t see anyone in the room, so he unleashed the inquisitive 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.”
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 his body remained completely still, lightsaber poised at the ready. As his eyes darted 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 a 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.
But he wasn’t expecting the second bolt that struck his chest, right above his heart, and he cried 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 as his lightsaber’s blade burned into his sheets, and he tried to slow his ragged breathing, center himself, feel the Force flow through him –
The third bolt that struck his left flank set his rib cage on fire. He growled as he attempted to harness and convert the throbbing pain into the adrenaline he needed to launch himself forward to take the offensive –
But the fourth bolt was 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, skidding to a halt as a pair of boots stepped out of the nothingness. Astutely aware of how vulnerable he haf left himself, Kylo channeled all of his energy to roll onto his side, but as he propped himself up unsteadily with a shaky elbow, he was met with yet another streak of lightning, and he was again flung onto his back. Sweat rolled down his forehead and trickled down his neck, pooling on his rapidly-rising bare chest as he struggled to refill his lungs with air.
He had misjudged indeed.
As his weak body coursed with throbbing numbness, he watched as a gloved hand reached to retrieve the hilt of his lightsaber from the floor. Blinking swear from his eyes, Kylo watched the figure rotate it in his hand carefully, as if performing a routine inspection.
“You modified your old lightsaber. How adorable.”
Compartmentalizing the agony engulfing his body and deliberately ignoring the way his limbs trembled with exhaustion, Kylo spat as he snarled out the name. “Peleth.”
Stepping forward from the darkness like serpent from the grass, Peleth ran 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.
Apparently remembering himself, Peleth suddenly moved with conviction to cross the room with lengthy strides, stopping at the edge of the bed and grabbing Kylo around his throat, squeezing with both brute strength and the Force.
Kylo gurgled as he was lifted upright by his neck. His body protested in vain and his lungs screamed for air as he came face-to-face with the man’s black and unforgiving eyes, welt-like scars covering his neck and the lower half of his face.
Kylo’s chest heaved fruitlessly as his vision darkened. He had the fortitude to recognize when he had been bested, and he prepared himself for the impending unconsciousness, or possible death. He began to feel euphoric, a biological response to his body’s the diminished oxygen intake, and he found himself suddenly overcome with a sense of peace in the knowledge that his corrupted and lonely life would soon be over.
Kylo was barely aware of the shuddering explosion, the eruption of the metal doors to his quarters sending jagged projectiles flying threateningly close to his head. Caught by surprise, Peleth’s grip around his neck slackened to allow Kylo the opportunity replenish his lungs, coughing and sputtering on the metallic smoke that filling the air. As he gulped down several deep, ragged gasps, Kylo saw a familiar white lightsaber blade cut through the hanging cloud of debris, followed only seconds later by Sebarra herself.
She screamed violently, her lead shoulder down and masked face unreadable as charged squarely at Peleth, 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, flinging her effortlessly against the far wall, causing her head to whiplash into the reinforced concrete with a sharp crack. She crumpled to the floor where she remained in a momentary daze before recovering quickly. In seconds, she was back on her feet and standing at the ready, her sleek black mask basking in the glow of her lightsaber’s blade as she leveled it with her shoulders in striking position.
Kylo sputtered and heaved as he felt Peleth’s hand on his neck return, his unyielding grip so forceful that Kylo found himself concerned that his eyeballs would pop out of his skull. Peleth laughed like a giddy schoolgirl as he turned his head toward Sebarra. “Ah, my tenacious love,” he crooned mockingly. “Thank you for joining us. I’ve missed you tremendously.”
Sebarra’s voice quaked with emotion. “Let him go, Peleth.”
“Oh, please forgive my rudeness,” Peleth continued, ignoring her. “I have yet to introduce you to my apprentice, a true prodigy with Force lightning, as you both can now attest to first-hand.” A young woman stepped forward unseen from a corner of his bedroom, her tan skin and a slight frame cloaked in black stepped forward. Her stoic angular face and dark purple hair emphasized 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. Full attention now focused solely on Sebarra, his expression intensified and became serious, his dark eyes tapering menacingly. “Take off your mask.”
But Sebarra hesitated. And Kylo reaped the consequences.
His knees buckled as Peleth began crushing airway with such force that he was surprised his spinal cord hadn’t been snapped in two. The energy rushed from his body and his head began to list to the side, his skull too heavy to hold upright. His eyesight erupted in colorful explosions as his capillaries popped and bled. His slackened jaw and useless tongue hung vacantly as drool cascaded down his chin.
Resentful desire punctuated Peleth's words as he repeated himself sharply: “Take. Off. Your. Mask.”
The crisp snap-hiss as she disengaged her mask's locking mechanism was followed by a hard thunk as Sebarra let it fall from her gloved hand, where it came to rest at her feet.
Kylo hacked brutally as the pressure relaxed, his abdomen rigid and sore from the intense coughing spells. His body nourished itself with each breath, and Kylo felt as the haze over his mind slowly began to clear. Taking immediate advantage of the situation, he took stock of his surroundings: he was on his knees and Peleth was crouched in front of him, his gloved hand still wrapped around Kylo's bruised neck. He followed Peleth's gaze to Sebarra, her blond braid frizzy and askew, her blue irises illuminated by her ignited lightsaber hanging resignedly at her side. Her cheeks and lips were feverish with adrenaline and fear, and Kylo watched as her slight shoulders quickly rose and fell with each anxious breath.
Taking exception to Sebarra's unwavering gaze, which was transfixed on Kylo, Peleth growled, "Get up."
He was lifted upright neck-first. As Kylo's feet steadied on the ground, he locked his knees and widened his stance defiantly, hoping Sebarra recognized it for what it was: a bold declaration that they would get through this together, scarred but steady, just like always. For emphasis, he offered her a lop-sided grin - a gesture that sent Peleth into a fit of rage.
He grabbed the back of Kylo's neck and savagely shoved downward. A spasm of pain sliced through his skull as his face collided with Peleth's kneecap, blood pouring from his broken nose and split lip, its sticky warmth trickling lazily dribbling down his bare chest.
He had reached a tipping point where the pain became secondary to resistance. As he leveled out, Kylo couldn't help himself from offering Peleth a wan smile. Blood oozed between his white teeth and frothed over his chapped lips. He could only imagine how utterly insane he must look: widely grinning into the face of his enemy, his body drenched in blood and sweat, his eyes blazing with hatred.
Kylo found himself well beyond his capacity to think logically or strategically. Running on adrenaline and driven by enmity alone, he leaned toward Peleth and spit, splattering his face in a viscous mixture of blood, mucus, and saliva before he jeeringly said, "Fuck you."
Peleth paused a moment or two before wiping his face with his gloved hand in one slow and steady swipe. Kylo braced himself in anticipation of some sort of retaliation; it never came.
But when Peleth spoke to Sebarra, Kylo's heart dropped with dread. “Disengage your lightsaber,” he said casually. “And do it now.”
Her lesson learned, Sebarra did as she was asked without hesitation. Her lightsaber flew across the room into Kiva’s ready and outstretched hands. Kylo had nearly forgotten about her; she had been standing quietly in the darkest corner of the room, seamlessly blending in with the silent shadows surrounding her.
“Come," Peleth said to Sebarra, his tone detached as if he were largely bored of this whole ordeal.
Sebarra's gait was steady and light, as if she were on an afternoon stroll in the garden valley of Naboo. She reached out to him through the Force although her tone was filled with scolding exasperation,
“For the love of the Maker and all things holy, do not fucking pull another machismo act like that blood spitting shit again." Kylo could hear the scolding exasperation in her words, even though she spoke them through the Force. "Please remember that you can’t show off your amazing vibrant masculinity if you’re fucking dead.”
He conceded that she had a fair point, but was nonetheless angry at her audacity. So he lashed out: This is quite the rescue attempt. I thought your standards would be higher now that you're Master of the Knights.
She shot a stare full of daggers his way as she responded, "You certainly get your talent in the Force from your mother's side of the family. But I have to admit, your mastery of exacerbating an already tenuous situation is a testament to your smuggler's heart."
Her comment landed right where she wanted it to, and it left an ache in his chest that cut deeper and more painfully than any weapon ever could.
Sebarra slowed her stride, stopping a foot or two away from where Peleth stood. He reached out and grabbed Sebarra's chin, smiling as he tilted her head in a way that her lips parted for him. "This time," he murmured eagerly, "you'll look at no one but me." Stepping forward and pressing against her, Peleth voraciously eyed her from top to bottom, pausing only to lick his lips and smile as his gaze lingered on her breasts and mouth.
Incensed beyond reality, Kylo saw nothing put red and felt only the lava-like adrenaline running through his body. Refusing to subject Sebarra to another second of this bullshit, Kylo united the Force around his body and pushed with every ounce of energy he had left. He lurched forward, shoulder tucked and head down, leveraging his weight and pure fury as he plowed into Peleth's sternum.
Kylo's hard fall to the ground was cushioned by Peleth, who had taken the brunt of the fall. Wrestling his body into position, he quickly straddled Peleth and used the brute strength of his legs to lock the man's knees in place. He grabbed Peleth's throat with his left hand and watched with satisfaction as the man's face filled with blood, the veins in his forehead bulging and throbbing.
Sebarra wasted no time springing into action, taking advantage of Kylo's momentary diversion to retrieve her lightsaber from Kiva’s grasp. She ignited the white blade with an affirming thrum, and Kiva responded in turn, her double-bladed lightsaber’s low purple hues offsetting Sebarra’s blindingly bright one.
Peleth gasped pitifully as he fought to breathe, and Kylo responded graciously by releasing his neck, balling his fists and converging his limited remaining energy as he unleashed a furious volley of punches. Each met Peleth’s jaw without restraint, and Kylo mentally committed to butchering the man’s face so completely that the morgue wouldn’t be able to identify his species. Each punch landed harder than the last, and Kylo was sure he would emerge with a severely broken hand. But the pain quickly turned into pleasure as he heard Peleth begin to gurgle as he choked on his own blood pouring from his split lips, lacerated cheeks, and bent nose.
Kylo whirled his upper body toward the voice, his muscles screaming in protest against the sudden movement. General Hux stood in what remained of the entryway, an unimpressed look on his face and an entire battalion of Stormtroopers standing behind him, blasters raised and aimed squarely at his head.
He ceased his assault on Peleth, but made sure to position his locked knees in a position that would make it as difficult as possible for Peleth to roll out from beneath him. Kylo eyed Peleth as he crawled across the floor on all fours, coughing up a gory mixture of blood and tooth fragments.
Hux scrunched his nose in disdain as he surveyed the scene, his gaze coming to rest on Kylo. “Get up, Ren.”
As Peleth slowly dragged himself to his feet, Kylo’s eyes darted to Sebarra. He was stunned as he noticed she had not disengaged her lightsaber, but instead had angled herself so that her blade was securely hidden between her body and the wall.
He reached out to her: Don’t.
“I beg your pardon?”
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 and more impatient: “Ren: Get. Up.”
Kylo remained on his knees in an effort to buy 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 her panic at the thought of 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 into her 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 hardly noticed as Hux ordered Kylo be remanded, announcing his charge of high treason and murder of Supreme Leader Snoke, but 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.
A single tear wove down Sebarra’s pale cheek as she stared resignedly at her feet.
As he was remanded into custody and placed stun cuffs, Sebarra lifted her head and 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 then she offered him the most beautiful words he could have imagined.
“The Knights and I will protect Rey with our lives. I swear to it.”
Monsters are scared; that’s why they’re monsters.
No one would ever argue with the fact that Rey was stubborn as hell.
One of her earliest memories of her life on Jakku was sitting in front of a reflector plate she had managed to somehow retrieve from the bowels of one of the many decaying Star Destroyer corpses that littered the barren and dry landscape.
It had been her first major salvages ... the first one of any real value, at least. She had seen Sanj, a boy in his early teens, trade one just like it to Unkar Plutt for two whole portions.
Her tiny empty stomach had growled excitedly as she eyed her prize. It was only the size of a dinner plate, but Rey was young and tiny for her age, and the thing had been heavy as hell due to the durasteel rim that protected the delicate workings and mechanics inside. One side of it had been corroded and covered in a thick crust of orange rust, but the other side had been preserved by the arid climate, remaining untouched by the ravages of time. She remembered her confusion as she stared at its smooth surface, eyeing the child with engine oil smudged across her forehead, with hollowed out eyes and malnourished cheeks, lips chapped and cracked from dehydration. The face’s uncertain expression had been identical to her own, and Rey realized with a start that she was looking at her own reflection.
Using the logic befitting of a seven-year-old, Rey traipsed straight back to her AT-AT and propped it up against the wall lined with tally marks, the lines carved wobbly and unevenly into the plating serving as the only way Rey was able to keep track of the passage of days, weeks, and months until her family came back for her.
She grabbed three strings of twine, tied them in a loop, and plopped down in front of the reflector plate with her legs crossed. Running her fingers through her stringy and sun-bleached hair, she sectioned her hair into three parts - bottom, middle, and top - and began kneading her whispy hair through the loops of twine.
She hadn’t been good at it.
She remembered howling in frustration as she tried time and time again to get her hair just right, the way it had been when her family left her a few months - years? - ago. Her small calloused fingers struggled to harness the dexterity Rey required of them, and she remembered the angry bubble that filled her chest, hot tears running down her cheeks, as she sat there for hours in front of her reflection, knotting and re-knotting, tying and untying. Her back began to ache and her stomach murmured in protest at the thought of the many forgone portions the reflector plate could have yielded.
But she refused to move until she got it perfectly, just how she wanted.
As the dawn broke over the hilly wasteland of Jakku, the sunlight pouring into the rusted out holes of her home, she yanked the top portion of her hair through the last loop of twine and paused: she had done it.
It had taken her all night, but she had done it. As her heart sang with victory, the ache in her belly and the sleepiness in her mind seemed to vanish, deemed inconsequential next to the her achievement, a task she set forth to do and had done, seeing it successfully through to completion.
As she thought back on it now, Rey had never considered exactly why this endeavor had been so important to her. She had been driven by the high of proving to herself that she could do it, her determination growing more and more desperate the harder it became. She was unrelenting in her pursuits, regardless of how trivial they may seem.
It was simple, really: Rey wanted to win.
She smiled grimly as she realized with chagrin that she hadn’t changed all that much.
The trouble she sometimes found herself trailed from her insane impulsiveness, trait born from years of boredom coupled with an innate and insatiable drive to prove herself.
And as she eyed the freshly applied bacta cast enveloping her broken hand, she realized dejectedly that her uninhibited doggedness bore significant consequences, especially when she when she lacked a real, true, and clear purpose.
She noticed the inquisitive glances from Doctor Malida as she had tended to her broken bones, her hand bloodied and bruised and shredded from the repeated punches she lobbed against the wall of her quarters. The slow trickle of emotions through the Force had confirmed that the good doctor was trying to figure out what the hell was going on: perhaps Rey was the most unfortunate member of the Resistance because of her propensity toward frequent injuries. Or maybe she was just fucking crazy.
Rey was beginning to think the latter of Malida’s suppositions was the most accurate.
But she couldn’t help but acknowledge the guilt she felt at the fiery current running through her body. It had been brought on by the temporary but hugely powerful, high she felt while rolling on the sensation of pure unabated rage.
For the first time in her life, Rey had felt formidable. Commanding. Unforgiving. Voracious.
Maker, she had felt glorious. She found herself wanting to chase that feeling, wanting to bottle it, ration it, drink from it whenever she could, savoring every last drop. The passionate flame that had roared within her had been reduced to cold ashes that fluttered about her insides uncomfortably. She swallowed heavily in response to the bile repeatedly rising in her throat as she stood shivering in her room, staring st the bloody and crumbling wall.
She vividly recalled the violent shivers that swept her body when she stood frozen in the windswept snowstorm on Starkiller Base. Kylo Ren, unmasked and young and eyes wide, had stared unflinchingly at her as he’d unforgivingly pounded on the bowcaster wound at his side. She had watched confused, disgust and horrorvon her face, as his aggravated would leaked scarlet blood, the slow trickle pooling resolutely in the white snow.
She had looked at him as if he were a monster. But she now recognized that monster inside of her. It had always been there, but now it was awake. And she had cradled the creature lovingly as she fed with her fury.
Once fully nourished, the monster had converted her pain and anger into indifferent lucidity and ultimate authority, 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 wanting, yearning, needing.
Rey’s fists clenched at her sides. As she glared at the bloody wall, she wondered just how many other ill-informed and inaccurate assumptions she had been making. About Kylo Ren. About Ben Solo.
There was only one way to find out: she needed to go to him.
She needed to run her eyes – her fingertips – over her mark she’d left across his handsome face. She needed his low and somber voice to warm her soul.
She needed to know why.
Why he left her sobbing and broken on the cold floor of her empty room.
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.
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 thought that together they could be anything but perfect.
Why he loves her ...
Their unspoken and unconsummated feelings threatened to drive her utterly mad. Her thoughts of him were all-consuming, and she was unable to think or feel or care about anything – or anyone – else. She felt like a shell, a cheaper version of who she used to be just a few short weeks ago. Ben Solo had reconfigured her whole being, her whole life. Without him she was a shell, a cheap and empty version of herself.
She needed this. She needed him.
Once again, she would 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, and Finn had been his unsurprising choice as his second in command. But the promotion had only been a perk: Finn’s true pride and joy was Rose. Rey saw how his eyes lit up each time she entered the room, how his smiles were no longer forced or simply for show, how the confidence he carried himself with was no longer a facade. Their happiness was so palpable that it was almost impossible for Rey to be jealous of what they had.
In Rose, Finn had found his center, his true self. Her first friend had finally found his home.
The only place Rey had ever truly felt at peace was at Ben’s side. He was her home ...
“Rey?” Finn’s voice was muffled from the other side of her closed door. She remained silent.
“Rey, are you in there?” He pounded on the door once, twice, three times.
He sighed when once again she didn’t answer. “I hope you’re decent, because I’m coming in.”
She heard the override code being typed into the command console, and the door slid open seconds later accompanied by an ear-splitting screech as the durasteel scraped against the solidly packed and icy floor.
She didn’t acknowledge Finn as he crossed the room to stand next to her. Rey felt his eyes follow her gaze to rest on the decimated wall, and the Force fluxed with recognition as Finn looked from the wall, then down to her cast, then back to the wall again.
It took everything within her to hold back the guttural “Get out!” threatening to hurl itself from her chest. She didn’t want his judgement, didn’t want to have to talk about her broken hand or what made her shut herself away for the better half of the past two days, when she had turned her back on Leia’s dead body and the Resistance.
But Finn didn’t utter a word as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, moreso with her than for her, offering his silent solidarity like an unspoken vow.
Finn, her first friend. A friend who had, since day one, faced his fears without question if it meant her safety, security, and happiness.
His loyalty required no apologies or explanations, even after she had literally and metaphorically shoved him aside, without a second thought or explanation as to why. Finn offered her his friendship under no pretense, even when he had no reason to do so and every reason to cut and run.
He was a friend who had no reason to still be a friend, but was, and would be, until the very end.
Rey hadn’t noticed that she crying until a warm teardrop slid precariously down her lips. She licked it away and the salt on her tongue tingled as she whispered softly, “I’m sorry.”
Finn looked at her, his face pained but soft. “Rey.” The way he said her name was gentle and quiet. “Tell me.”
Her brow furrowed and she shook her head. “Tell you what?” she asked quizzically. But Rey knew that he noticed how she couldn’t meet his eyes, and Finn knew her entirely too well to be fooled by her deflection. “Tell you what?”
After a few moments of silence, Finn responded. “Why you’re in so much pain.”
The tenderness in her voice was all it took to completely unravel her whole.
She cried out with torment and anguish as she buried her head in her hands, hating her vulnerability, inundated with waves of shame and guilt how she had treated Finn him. The half-choked sobs emanated from her soul grew in intensity and her knees shook, threatening to buckle. But Finn wrapped his steady arms around her waist before she collapsed, and she let him hold her in place, the gentle rocking of his body slowly lulling her convulsing cries to sleep. She was so warm in his embrace – warmer than she had ever been, even on Jakku. It was a glowing warmth, as if a fur-lined blanket covered her from head to toe. Her breathing steadied and slowed, interrupted only by an occasional uncomfortable hiccup.
Finn’s muscles stiffened 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. He looked at her blankly, his usually expressive features unreadable, and Rey found herself panicking at the shift. She reached through the Force to touch his mind, reeling with trepidation.
Finn shook his head lightly and looked down at the ground. as he tilted his head lightly. “You don’t have to do that,” he said.
She heard the disappointment in his voice. “Do what?”
His gaze bore through her, and Rey felt utterly transparent. “Rey, it’s me. I’ll tell everything, if you just ask. You don’t have to try to take it from me like that.”
Her sharp intake of cold air irritated her lungs and she sputtered, which only enhanced how stupid she felt. She had entered his mind to take what was not rightfully hers, negating his trust and violating his privacy, just as Kylo Ren had done to her on Starkiller Base. She felt sick to her stomach; never in her life had she been more disgusted with herself.
”Rey.” Finn looked at her with nothing but kindness in his eyes and selflessness in his soul. “Tell me.”
Enough, she thought. Enough lying.
She harnessed the stubbornness and impulsivity she was so prone to, but this time she reminded herself of her purpose: truth.
“I love him.”
Rey froze. She certainly hadn’t meant to just out and say it, especially because she hadn’t even realized she’d been thinking it. But before she could take it back, before she could modify or to justify or lie, she felt a strong, rooted resolve grow within her begin to sprout, a resolve she had never possessed. She didn’t need to survive. She needed to trust.
And in the process, she would also own her truths. She was done living in lies, in alternate realities that were neither true nor happy. She had used them her whole life to ignore hunger, rape, abandonment. But she was tired. Tired of running from 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, and tops of Rey's ears burned bright red as Finn surveyed her critically.
“You love him,” he repeated. His words were precise and slow, as if he was looking to ensure he hadn't misheard her.
She nodded, and she felt an uncomfortable prickling in her cheeks as she blushed.
Rey could tell how much effort he put into each word, desperately trying to keep his tone flat and devoid of judgement. She was certain it was taking every ounce of self-constraint he had to avoid freaking the ever-living fuck out at the fact that his best friend was in love with The Supreme Leader of the First Order. The murderer of Han Solo. The slaughterer of young Jedi students. The torturer of Poe. And, not to mention, the man who had nearly killed him when he bisected Finn's spine.
“You love Kylo Ren," Finn said evenly, and Rey winced.
“No, not Kylo Ren.” Her response was immediate harsher than she had intended. "Ben," she clarified, her voice now tranquil. "I ... I love Ben."
"Oh, boy," he exhaled. He stared at her analytically, as if he was looking past her skull, through her soul, and straight into her heart. “Rey, are you sure you can 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 talk her through it.
And I thought this whole fucking thing couldn’t get any weirder, she thought dryly.
As if on cue, sirens began blaring throughout the base so loudly that they both covered their ears and cringed. “What the hell is that?” she screamed at the top of her lungs.
He shook his head and 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, and the alarms seemed suddenly muted. “I’m with you, all the way.”
And she was grateful that he turned around when he did, because the tears had returned to fall without abandon as they sprinted toward StratComm, hand in hand.
. . . . .
“Where the hell have you two been?” Poe looked less than pleased as he yelled over the incessant din of the shrieking alarm and yelling staff.
“Guess this isn’t a drill, then, huh?” Finn shouted in response 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.
Connix shot Poe a look before jumping straight into debriefing Finn and Rey “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 hell of an update.”
Connix nodded in agreement. “Especially for a Lambda-class. Whoever it belongs to took concerted efforts to make it as fast, invisible, and as deadly as possible.”
“Who does it belong to?” Finn asked, and both Poe and Connix looked at each other.
Rey felt an unexpected tug at the Force: something unfamiliar sent energy rippling toward her, the resulting waves oddly open and sincere.
As her name echoed through her mind and she felt herself being pulled gently toward the main hangar bay. She hesitated as she reached out, cautiously searching for who or what had called to her through the Force. She closed her eyes and saw six indistinct blurry figures, none of which she could identify, but all of which 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 ran toward to door and 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 full sprint 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, 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 Resistance’s terra ion cannon fire into the distance. Her eyes trailed the vivid streak 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 ran up to her. Her grabbed her elbow urgently and gave it a soft tug. “What are you doing?! You need to get inside!”
Another bolt shot from the ion cannon, framed by the peppering of quad turbolaser fire, all aiming clear and true at the shuttle. She watched, highly impressed, as it made what seemed to be impossible evasive 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 pull her back by the elbow 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 try and tell Poe to stop firing on that thing!” he yelled. As if to answer her request, the Resistance released their most ferocious volley yet, and the air around them turned crimson.
She felt the Force pinging with 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. As she contracted her fingers to ball 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?
Rey gently opened 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 – hung suspended in mid-air. The only movement was the smooth approach of the shuttle as it lowered its trajectory to fly under the frozen 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, a mixture of disbelief and amazement. But the nearness of the shuttle was enough to jolt him from his reverie. “Rey,” he began imploringly, but she interrupted him.
“Go inside. I need to stay here.”
“Are you insane?! Rey, come on – “
“Finn,” she spoke his name lovingly but firmly, and he fell silent. “Trust me.”
She could tell he 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 it was where she needed to be.
Rey’s imploring word had an instantaneous effect on Finn, who tore off his jacket and handed it to her. “Okay. 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 nearly jumped at the unexpected sound of the boarding ramp as it unlocked with a sharp clank,
Her eyes fluttered closed gently as she focused on the feeling of her lungs expanding with every intake, contracting with every exhale. “Breathe,” she heard the familiar voice echo through her subconscious. “Just … breathe.”
Her heart slowed and her mind quieted. She was ready.
She opened her eyes and greeted by the sight of a slender figure descending the ramp. Their black attire was minimal; black slacks, black boots, black shirt, a familiar cowl draped around their head and cascading down their back, flapping recklessly in the Hoth winds. Their silver utility belt was simple and bare, all except for –
Oh, shit, - except for their lightsaber, attached securely from its designated loop. A lightsaber was not something she expected to see.
As Rey mentally reinforced her steely resolve, the figure slowed to a stop a few feet in front of Rey. They both stood in silent assessment of each other, and Rey felt as if she were in a vacuum, an alternate world devoid of time and space and reality.
The figure in black spoke first. “Was that you?”
The woman behind the mask to pointed at the cannon fire hanging in limbo over their heads.
Rey nodded, and the woman in the mask sighed pointedly. “You both certainly share a flare for the dramatic.”
Her blunt sarcasm dampened Rey’s fear, and she suddenly became overwhelmingly curious. “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 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 shuttle, and Rey watched as five similarly dressed black figures, all in masks, descended the ramp, where they stood behind Sebarra in precise formation. “My fellow Knights and I are here on direct orders from Supreme Leader Kylo Ren.”
Rey felt as if she had been smacked in the face by a durasteel two-by-four. “Ben sent you?” she asked, and she saw Sebarra’s eyes widen at the hopefulness and emotion interwoven within her words.
Knights shifted slightly, their heads almost undetectably swiveling as they stole idle glances at each other, but Rey saw a softness in Sebarra’s face as she softly answered, “Yes.”/p>
Pause. Then: “I’m Rey.”
Sebarra smiled gently, but Rey saw a glimmer of sadness in her eyes as she responded. “I know.”
“Did he -“ Rey stopped herself, deciding this, if any, was an occasion to choose her words wisely. “Why did he send you?”
Sebarra raised an amused eyebrow and gestured toward the western horizon, where the First Order fleet had been maintaining a holding pattern. Rey’s heart skipped a beat when she saw the change in their formation: they were preparing to launch a ground assault. When Rey turned her attention back to Sebarra, she was surprised to see her grinning mischievously.
“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 decisions she does,” Ofir growled, staring through the viewport as their shuttle 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. But 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. 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 to the rest of them. It just so happened that this was 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.
“I appreciate your input, Vasco Ren,” Ofir commented, desperately trying to keep his frustration in check. “But our orders are both clear and understood, are they not?”
In unison, they respectfully answered, “Yes, Master.” Vasco’s eyes darted warily over to Aila, who met 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.
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, Master Skywalker had welcomed her warmly and with no questions asked.
“Steady,” Aila murmured as they decelerated, entering the bay. “Shift auxiliary power to ventral stabilizers.” She responded to Vasco's puzzled look: “It’ll make our repulsors quieter to minimize the attention we draw as we, you know, just awkwardly 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.
“Who – ?“
“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 took solace in the immediate uncomfortable silence that followed as the three of them peered through the ship’s viewport at the closed blaster doors that separated the docking bay from the Dreadnought’s corridor.
He felt the sharp caffeinated sensation of adrenaline flooding his bloodstream, an indication that the momentary stillness wouldn't last long. And it didn't.
Ofir felt Sebarra before he saw her, and the red aura that surrounded her Force signature served as a clear sign that she was in trouble. Wasting no time, secured his mask and locked it in place. He released his lightsaber from his utility belt and activated it, the red blade sprung to life with a marvelous thrum
“She’s being pursued,” Aila commented, her gaze unmoving from the closed blaster doors.
Ofir nodded, turning his back on them. “She’s tired but appears to be mostly 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 long strides were purposeful as he walked to the door release panel, his jaw set and breathing heavy behind his mask. 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, heart thumping, and saw Sebarra hurl herself head-first through the small opening in between the opening blaster doors, clearing the space and hitting the ground with a tuck and roll.
Now at a full sprint, Ofir parried and blocked the deluge of fire coming at him as he skidded to a halt next to Sebarra, who had deftly risen to her feet, the light of her lightsaber dancing across her mask as it cut through the air, deflecting bolt after bolt.
Stormtroopers began pouring into the Docking Bay. They reminded Ofir of an army of obedient ants as they formed a semi-circle around the two Knights, constricting the available space and pressing Ofir and Sebarra closer together in an effort to minimize the risk of misfire.
“This is quite the welcoming committee,” Ofir rumbled as they bobbed and weaved, ducking bolts left and right as they slowly began to walk backwards toward the Statera.
“You can thank fucking Peleth Dol for these festivities,” Sebarra said resentfully.
Peleth Dol is here?!
Ofir was unprepared for the immediate surge of concern and anger that accompanied Peleth's name, and he nearly tripped over his own feet as he sloppily sidestepped an oncoming bolt. He bared his pointed teeth behind his mask in embarrassment; Sebarra considered Ofir to be a formidable warrior, a reputation he would very much like to keep.
Thankfully, Sebarra proved herself to be in a merciful mood, deciding to not only ignore his clumsiness, but also to answer his unspoken question. “Yes, the bastard is here, on the Retribution.”
Ofir's heart plummeted when he heard the ragged emotion in her voice. “Where’s the Supreme Leader?”
He was met with silence, which, when it came to Sebarra, almost always translated into nothing good.
His heel collided with the metal lip of the boarding ramp. Ofir signaled Sebarra, and she fell back as he took point position to cover her as she sprinted up the boarding ramp. Ofir began to perspire with effort as the Stormtroopers' volleys became less spread out, now concentrating only on Ofir as he stood, trapped, in the narrow entrance corridor of the shuttle.
He felt Sebarra's solid grasp on the back of his cowl as she unceremoniously pulled him backwards into the shuttle's corridor. “Punch it!” she yelled as the boarding ramp retracted, and the Statera's urgent departure jolted Ofir from his feet. He slammed to the floor and landed next to Sebarra as the shuttle dipped and rolled, adeptly evading the First Order's advancements.
Ofir’s neck twinged as he removed his mask; the hard floor must’ve slightly offset his shoulder. He rolled his head back and forth, hoping that his neck would crack and release the pressure near his collarbone, stopping only when the shuttle leveled itself enough to ensure he was able to hoist himself to his feet securely.
He reached out his hand to Sebarra, who nodded gratefully in turn as she grasped his forearm and leveraged herself upright. As she unlocked her mask and slowly lifted it from her head, Ofir’s whole being shook with rage as he erupted in the traditional Zabrack war cry, his yellow eyes pulsing with fury.
He openly stared at the interwoven scars, which formed an ornate pattern of purple as it laced along her neck and chin, reaching up past her eye and disappearing behind her golden hair.
Her face was tight as she stared at him with hollow, unblinking eyes. As she tucked her mask under her arm, she muttered dismissively, “It’s nothing.”
“Like hell it is,” he growled. The shuttle listed, rocking slightly against the thudding of ion cannon blasts that whirred past them into the nothingness of space.
Sebarra took an authoritative step toward Ofir, her eyes 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 I will suspend you from your post. Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, Master.” He kept his eyes averted as he responded.
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, for whom he would die without a moment’s hesitation.
A shallow smile crossed her face. “Your thoughts betray you.”
Ofir began to apologize, but she cut him off, and the familiar kindness had returned to her voice. “It is truly good to see you again, my friend.”
Sebarra rubbed her eyes, and Ofir’s heart softened as he realized just how truly exhausted she must be. “There are more important matters at hand than my face, Ofir,” she said, and he heard the tiredness in her voice, too.
He cupped her elbow gently 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 offset the distribution of weight on her right ankle, and Ofir wondered onerously just how many hidden injuries Sebarra’s body harbored.
They entered the galley to find Jari and Erez with their heads tilted toward each other as they spoke in secretive low voices - almost conspiratorially, Ofir noted wryly. But when they noticed the presence of their superiors, their gazes averted as they waited to be addressed.
“Jari Ren. Erez Ren,” Sebarra smiled.
The two youngest Knights looked up in unison. Erez’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly, the rest of his face remaining expressionless. But just as Ofir anticipated, Jari’s reaction was very much Jari-like: her eyes grew childlike and big her jaw hung so low that Ofir was shocked it didn’t unhook itself from her skull and fall off.
He knew she was on the verge of saying something unbecoming of a Knight, but he knew her well enough to know that she’d listen if he put that notion to a preemptive halt.
Quiet, Jari Ren, Ofir hissed to her through the Force. Our Master’s scars are hers alone to share, if she so chooses. Remember yourself.
Jari blinked hard, her oval mouth snapping shut. But she remained silent.
Sebarra shot Ofir a sideways glance, her eyebrows raised knowingly. “Speaking out of turn, huh?” she asked wordlessly. “I can’t imagine where she gets that from.”
Ofir brought a gloved hand to his mouth and coughed shallowly in an attempt to hide his chagrin.
“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 visible on either our close- or long-range 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, correct?”
“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 indiscernible remarks from both Vasco and Aila. After a few moments, Sebarra flattened her lips 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. Please set our course accordingly.”
A heavy silence followed as the Knights 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, but also hopeful and protective over those she cared about – namely and primarily, Ben Solo. But 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 each of them as well.
“A mother hen with a smuggler’s mouth,” was how Aila fondly referred to her. The accuracy of the statement always brought a smile to Ofir’s lips.
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 and how she’d look up at Ben 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 a particularly contentious 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 particularly because he had been dumb, Ofir had decided to ignore all the very clear signs warning him to back the fuck off, instead saying the one thing he knew would goad her above all else: “As an unbiased judge, I’d say your babies would be extremely cute.”
He had grossly underestimated her reaction.
Before he could blink, she’d hooked her left foot behind his knee. As he stumbled forward and struggled to regain his balance, she’d landed a roundhouse kick squarely on his lower back, and he had cried out in pain as the top of her foot aligned perfectly with his kidneys. Ofir’s knees gave out and he’d tumbled headfirst 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 cause significant damage, but just hard enough to make a point.
She’d stood over him, her words 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, and her swift kick flung the arm he had been using for leverage from under him. He fell back to the ground, landing unceremoniously on his face. She had repositioned her on his upper back. “Take. It. Back,” she snarled.
A Zabrak to his core, Ofir had remained stubbornly silent. In response, Sebarra had shifted the majority of her weight to press his chest into the ground, incrementally increasing the pressure 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, Sebarra?”
“About what?” she’d asked guardedly.
“About Ben Solo. And you.”
She’d remained silent for quite a while, and Ofir had watched her stare off into the distance, recalling ghosts and reliving memories long since gone. And after she had taken the time needed 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 stsbilizers in the off-chance the Statera could lose altitude too quickly, sending them plummeting to Hoth in an uncontrollable freefall. Ofir and Sebarra sat in the passenger chairs behind the pilot and co-pilot seats, Jari and Erez occupying the row directly behind them. The all stared grimly through the viewport at the unceasing hostile fire coming their way.
In crass honesty, Ofir was actually grateful for the Resistance’s unfriendly reception, serving as a distraction from what Sebarra had told them during their 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.
He’d been floored at the fact that despite all of that, both the Supreme Leader and Sebarra had somehow decided that their number one priority was Rey, the scavenger from Jakku.
He didn’t know really what the hell was going on; in all actuality, none of them did. It’s what the six of them had been struggling to put together since their visions began at the Praxeum. Their visions of fire, destruction, death, sadness, devastation; changing into silence, hesitation, uncertainty; creating a shifting tide, which transformed into a balance.
What wasfor certain is that Ben Solo was at the center it all.
All things taken into consideration, Ofir chose to sit there in silence and communewith the Force, subconsciously hoping that the Knights were not destined to 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.
It appeared he wasn’t the only one who harbored these sentiments. “This girl better be worth it, he heard Vasco mutter under his breath.
Aila bristled harshly as she glanced from Vasco to Sebarra. “Stop it, Vas,” she hissed.
“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,” snarled Sebarra dangerously. “You will be wise to remember there is much you don’t understand.”
Vasco hunched his shoulders and sunk down in his seat in an attempt to shield 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 matter-of-factly. “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 as renewed barrage of fire headed their way. Ofir felt his stomach turn over at the innumerable cannon, blasters, and lasers rip-roaring through the swirling snow, heading straight toward 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 reassured herself, “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, searching for the source of the disruption –
He hadn’t needed to search long.
It was bright beacon of light, nearly blinding, around which the Force lively danced and bowed, ebbing and flowing as needed as if it were the most beautiful performance he’d had ever witnessed.
Ofir’s eyes shot open and he scoured 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, kind but commanding. Her beauty was unmatched as her windswept hair framed her young face, her cheeks and lips red, her eyes dark but honest. He was so intrigued by her, so amazed at her ability to literally 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 as they assessed 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, celestial energy 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. “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, in collective awe of what they had just witnessed.
“Sebarra was right,” he muttered, shaking his head. “For all these years, she’s been right.”
“It’s true, then,” came Erez’s soft voice.
Ofir nodded slowly as he let himself believe – truly believe – for the first time in a very long while. “It’s true. 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 guest.
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. As a descendent from a legacy of aristocrats, she had been initially appalled at the “conditions” of the Praxeum’s living quarters.
As one of the older students, she had grabbed Sebarra’s attention from the start. “She’s cute,” he joked with her once at supper, when he’d noticed Sebarra staring at the adjacent table where Exia sat.
“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 looked at him conspiratorially. “Apparently I have a thing for chasing aristocratic tail,” she murmured with a wink.
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 as he calmly assessed his students sitting cross-legged and quiet before him, exchanging confused glances. 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 Exia 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 Sebarra had softly snorted. Ofir had always been direct and unapologetic in his approach. 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 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 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 Kylo’s eyes had gone wide with recognition. The first Dark Lord of the Sith, Pall had discovered the secret to creating and shaping life and was rewarded for his efforts by the with expulsion from the Jedi on official orders of the High Council.
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.”
Peleth’s voice had interrupted the momentary pregnant pause, his young voice light but precise. “Who did Pall use it on, Master?”
“He’s Sith garbage,” Vasco had snorted, his arms crossed, his heavy brow failing to conceal the angry eyes that lay beneath. “Probably got his rocks off using it on anyone and anything. Like a sick hobby.”
“It wasn’t used indiscriminately,” Skywalker had said as he shot Vasco an admonishing look. “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 had 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 bodily exhaustion, proved itself very effective at enhancing its victim’s feelings of futility.”
“It turns you to the Dark Side,” Sebarra has said suddenly. Kylo remembered turning to look at her, eyes unseeing and still, staring straight ahead of her as if she were lost in a trance. “It encourages an inner darkness to rise.”
A chill 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 rectify, but always too clear to ignore. Only now, as his body screamed in abject anguish, does he realize she had been haunted by the Force’s foretelling that day at the Praxeum. It’s why as he’d 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 at the hands of Peleth.
And yet she did as he asked, breaking free from her stun cuffs as they were escorted to the holding block and summoning her lightsaber from Hux unsuspecting grasp. She’d cut down the two flanking Stormtroopers with one sweep of her white blade. Her eyes had lingered heavily on his face, as if it would be the last time she saw him, before turning and sprinting down the narrow pristine corridor, deflecting the barrage of blaster bolts that followed.
“Let her go,” Peleth had said to Kiva, when she moved to pursue Sebarra. His eyes had glistened as he looked straight at Kylo, his lips turning upward in a crooked smile. “We have what we need.”
The absolute direness of the situation had suddenly become hilarious, and he laughed - a breathless cackle erupting 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 and without purpose, any semblance of coordination long ago when he had been jolted with a supercharged bolt of something. The electric fury had funneled durectly into his spinal column and awoke every pain receptor in his body, causing them all to simultaneously burst. It had been the first time of many that Kylo had bitten clean through his bottom lip in a futile attempt to dampen his visceral guttural screams.
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. They slowly radiated across his body, incrementally growing in intensity and duration, causing his muscles to contract tighter and tighter until he was sure he would implode. He struggled to breathe, his face red from the blood pooling in his head. His mouth frothed like a rabid animal as he groaned pitifully. But he channeled any and all energy he had left to open his sluggish eyes, his vision slowly focusing through his delusional haze.
Kylo was face-to-inverted face with a maliciously grinning Peleth, close enough 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 something was injected into his throbbing veins. It licked across the length of his body, the sensation was similar to condensed battery acid as it hatefully but hungrily devoured him like predator stripping the meat from the bones of its prey. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he eagerly welcomed the unconsciousness that usually followed, however brief it would be, before he was awakened again to endure another round of the sadistic cycle.
But he whined as he felt himself being pulled back from the precipice of nothingness, issuing 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 he watched Kylo break piece by piece. “Biotoxins,” he explained detachedly, his eyes roving over the caked blood covering Kylo’s face.
He dimly felt the Embrace reposition itself across his bare back and torso. Each movement elicited deep grunts and sharp gasps from him, as if pain itself leeched 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 lashed out at Peleth’s implication that he owed anything to Skywalker, aside from demonstrating 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, the perceived right to instill their skewed moral compass across the galaxy. The fucking hubris of it all was disgusting, and Kylo felt a wave of nausea wash over him, although he was unsure if it was brought about by thoughts of his family or by the calculated initiatives of the Embrace.
“Oh, come now, Solo, don’t be so dense,” he chided. With a casual wave of Peleth’s hand, Kylo felt the constant agony begin to ease, bit by bit, as if the ocean of torment washing over his body had reached low tide, and he nearly cried out with relief.
“The Praxeum is where you first felt her, isn’t it?” Peleth hissed as he leaned forward.
Through the subsiding pain, Kylo once again felt the serpent encapsulating his heart as a familiar 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 into his thoughts, rattling through his mind with such ferocity that Kylo yelped despite himself. He scrambled to throw up the impenetrable 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.
As Peleth culled through his exposed brain he gritted his teeth and desperately tried to at least shield his most coveted thoughts and most private memories. The attempt backfired, only serving to direct Peleth’s attention. “What are you hiding back there, Solo?” he muttered as his interest piqued. Peleth 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 of which even Snoke had been unaware.
“No ... don’t ...” Anxiety began simmering beneath his skin as Peleth crept 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, an entire lifetime of despair and emptiness. “Peleth,” he implored shakily, and he suddenly felt exposed and fragile.
He felt the footsteps pause within his brain and Kylo repeated his plea. “Peleth.”
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 bloody lips and hung between them uncertainly. “I’m begging you,” he continued, the rawness in his voice propelled by the churning ocean in his chest. “You can’t …”
Peleth smiled terribly, and Kylo’s heart shriveled. “Oh, but I can,” he snarled as he cracked the vault, awashing them both in vivid and real and soul-shattering and life-affirming memories.
Kylo wailed in defeat, too overwhelmed to be angry, too defeated to retaliate. He watched the clear and cool water of his past life swirl through his consciousness until he found himself submerged entirely in the girl who had unknowingly saved his life.
He had always felt her on the most painful nights, the most difficult nights. His feet extended beyond the uneven, lumpy mattress of the Praxeum’s standard issued cot, unable to accommodate his unusually tall and lanky frame. He had always been particular sensitive to the cold, and each night he would wrap 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 as a sixteen-year-old he could clearly read the childlike innocence that demarcated her Force signature. As a boy who had been haunted by ghosts since birth, he had been conditioned to believe every whisper had a demand, every allowance a penance: these are the lessons he learned from the darkness, from Snoke.
But she had been a completely mystery to him. 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 and increasingly persuasive.
She’s a figment of your imagination, the voice 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 and retreated 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 their 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 volatility was not as unheard of as others 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.
The voice remained insistent, but he’d been less inclined to act upon its commands. As his inter turmoil calmed, he had been able to fall into a routine, establishing a courteous repertoire with acquaintances and even falling into a strong and comfortable friendship with a handful of his fellow classmates. On the increasingly rarer days when 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, and 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 into Snoke’s open and waiting claws. On the same night that the Praxeum burned, He 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 very being.
She’d gone dark, and so had his soul.
Peleth’s unpleasant and intentionally sloppy withdrawal dragged Kylo back to reality, his spent body trembling. Tears stung his eyes as they seeped from his closed eyelids, saturating his lashes and rolling past his temples to finally mix with the blood and sweat 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.
He had never felt so debased, degraded, and utterly destroyed.
“Ugh, amazing,” Peleth grunted obscenely. His comment elicited no response. Kylo was numb.
Sighing and rubbing his hands together, Peleth turned away from Kylo and walked toward the cell door. “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, his intense stare biting into the back of Peleth’s skull.
Peleth paused in front of the door release panel. 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 in a bored voice. “I’ll be sure to tell her you send your best.”
“No!” Kylo roared. He was thrown into a violent red rage, forgetting himself entirely as he flailed without abandon. The Embrace responded in kind as it wrapped itself firmly around his body, it’s tentacles constricting in anticipation.
“Rey,” Peleth groaned erotically. “What a sumptuous name.” Now tired of the conversation, Peleth revived the Embrace with a quick flick of his wrist.
And Kylo 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
If you don’t use the light given to you, you’ll never be able to see through the darkness.
Sebarra had always had a bad habit of crossing her arms and tapping her foot when she was impatient.
She adopted the habit as a young girl no older 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 as her bare foot tapped rhythmically against the ornate tile floor. It’s steady beat would only occasionally be interrupted by one of her heavy, pointed sighs.
Her father would laugh, sending 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 her to petulantly whine as her stomach rumbled uncomfortably in protest.
“Your father and I are not finished discussing it,” she remembered her mother explaining, 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 and folded her arms. She ignored the discomfort as her shoulder blades rested awkwardly against the decorative Alderaanian wood as her right foot drummed mutedly against the padded area rug beneath the dining table.
“I don’t know if we should keep doing this,” Ben had said, his voice quiet and eyes soft, his breath hot and sweet against her cheek as they stood 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 face reddening against her assessing gaze, and she had leaned back as much as the confined space would allow, the toe of her heavy boot brushing against Ben’s leg as it tap, tap, tapped against the bare concrete floor.
Considering her track record, Sebarra was unsurprised to find herself employing the same habit as she tried to ignore how fucking abominably frigid she was, her unmasked face stinging as her snow-dampened hair whipped across 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 and in front of her Knights, ruefully 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 had been refusing to permit the Knights entrance for the good part of an hour.
“As I said, 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.
It had taken about a decade for Sebarra to acknowledge her impatience as a weakness, and she had worked hard to overcome it, learning to dampen and compartmentalize the fiery anxiousness within her chest, 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.
Her mind reached out to connect with Erez, one of the most impressively patient and calm people she had ever known. He was cold, watchful, and at peace; but her eyebrow raised as she sensed that he, too, was quickly tiring of this bullshit.
That was her sign. Enough of this.
But before she could intervene, Sebarra heard an angry growl erupt from Rey yelled,
Rey yanked the videosensor violently, almost ripping it from its hinges as she tilted it toward the hazy sky to where the First Order Star Destroyers were moved sluggishly out of formation.
Pointing emphatically with a bandaged hand, her words edgy and with a scowl on her face, 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.”
It was impossible for Sebarra to fully suppress the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth. I can definitely see why he likes her, she mused. But as she thought of Kylo, her stomach clenched and her heart ached. She reached out to him through the Force, and again was met with nothingness – no Force signature, no presence, no indication that he was even alive. He had been torn from the Force’s web, whether by his design or not.
“You have little time and fewer resources,” she began as her chest clenched against the bitter and biting sensation of urgency. “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 this girl had no idea how much Ben cared for her, had always cared for her, or even why he cared for her.
Diligently hiding her growing desperation, 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 ignored the cold goosebumps sprouting across her body. She disallowed herself the luxury of shivering, preferring to remain motionless as she awaited Poe’s response. But she did allow herself to hope that he would see the logic in her proposal via the simple fact that that this was truly the Resistance’s only chance at making it through another day. Sebarra wouldn’t hesitate to take Rey and her Knights and flee to the Outer Rim so that the First Order and the Resistance could blow each other to smithereens over the right to flex their moral fortitude and impart it on the rest of the galaxy –
Sebarra reacted instinctively at the unexpected screeching of metallic friction, sending her right hand flying to rest on the hilt of her lightsaber. Her grip relaxed as the blast doors opened, revealing a ragged band of twenty or so Resistance fighters with defeated and curious faces, their blasters held high and aiming straight at Sebarra’s head.
She barelt resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she moved her hand away from the hilt of her lightsaber. “Faces forward,” she ordered, hoping to avoid an all-out brawl caused by some trigger-happy cadet afraid of the intentionally-menacing masks of her Knights. There was a soft rustling of robes followed by the familiar chorus of snap-hissesas the Knights removed their masks to reveal the faces underneath.
A young man with dark way hair and a squarely set jaw stepped forward. His confident eyes were 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, his eyes flicking between Rey and the Knights, who had assembled into their traditional formation behind her. “I’m Lieutenant General Poe Dameron of the Resistance Fleet.” His voice was raspier than she anticipated, as if he was in need of a few glasses of water and some 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 emanated from him in heated waves.
“Sebarra Ren, Master of the Knights of Ren,” she responded with a formal nod. “My second-in-command, Ofir Ren.” The Zabrak took a customary half-step forward in recognition as Sebarra continued. “My fellow Knights: Vasco Ren, Aila Ren, Jari Ren, and Erez Ren.”
Poe nodded at the Knights and gestured to his left. The handsome man who stepped forward looked extremely familiar, but she struggled to place where she had seen him before.
“This is Finn, my number one,” Poe said. Sebarra tilted her head in recognition: 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’s face was firm, but Sebarra made a mental note at the gentle smile Rey offered when she caught Finn’s 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 was aware of something the rest of the Resistance wasn’t.
“Lieutenant General,” Sebarra addressed Poe as her eyes scanned what remained of the fleet, ignoring the blasters still pointed squarely at her face. “Where is General Organa?”
The Force reacted so violently that Sebarra winced and audibly gasped as she succumbed to the wave of emotions bombarding her senses. The edges of her vision blurred as the answering silence became too deafening for her to remain stoic as she turned to Rey with frantic eyes. “Where is General Organa?” she asked, hating the unpreventable vulnerability of her words as dread clutched at her throat.
Rey’s hazel eyes drooped and Sebarra saw 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 - more likely couldn’t– answer.
Sebarra wholly forgot herself as she abruptly stepped toward Rey, only barely noticing - and certainly not giving a shit - as the twenty-some-odd blasters followed her with renewed focus. She reached out and cradled 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 reserved but firm. Where’s Leia?
The corners of Rey’s mouth shook, her chin trembling in Sebarra’s hand.
She’s gone, Rey whispered.
Her hand fell limply away from Rey’s face and she swallowed clumsily, her throat strangely heavy and her mouth as dry as sandpaper.
How had she not felt it? How had she not even noticed ? 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 loved Ben unconditionally and had looked at him with nothing but complete 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. She ignored him as he approached with dark searching eyes. She twitched involuntarily as he gently put his hand to her elbow and repeated himself, his whisper meant only for Sebarra’s ears. “You knew her.”
She finally met his gaze. “I knew her,” she responded cooly as she repositioned herself away from Poe’s imploring and unexpected touch. She was not of the habit of forming haphazard emotional connections withanyone – especially not with 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.
But Sebarra harnessed her penchant for strategic diplomacy and, positioning it in its rightful place above her distaste for the man, she decided to elaborate. “My father is – was – Alderaanian. Her name was always spoken with the utmost honor in my household. I carry this same reverence of her, today and always.”
Her words had the intended effect. Poe signaled his soldiers to stand down, each of them lowered their blasters slowly with confused expressions as they stared at her. She suddenly became aware of the single tear rolling down her cheek and she brushed it away unceremoniously. Maker, she fucking hated showing weakness. She could name only six people she had ever granted permission to see beyond her hardened exterior, and five of them stood soberly behind her, their robes rustling softly in the frosty winds of the open blast doors. The sixth was currently suffering in solitude in the hands of the Embrace, just as she had foreseen it, all of those years ago.
Her heart stopped in her chest at the possibility.
She turned to Rey sharply. “Does he know?”
The question made her physical recoil. Rey's shoulders slumped and her rosy cheeks whitened as her face hollowed in panic.
Oh, no ...
“Rey,” she said again, trying to keep her voice level and doing a shit job of it. “Does he know?”
Her piercing gaze bore into Rey, unapologetic and fiery, as she anticipated one response but still frantically - beseechingly – prayed for another.
“I – I - there wasn't time,“ Rey stammered. Her head shook in disbelief as tears streamed down her face. “It – it all happened so fast – “
“What happened?” Sebarra interrupted commandingly. She needed answers, and she needed them now. “Tell me what happened."
“They were both attacked.”
It was FN-2187's voice – Finn's voice, Sebarra corrected herself. He stepped toward her eagerly and with such a look of infinite trust that it sliced through her exhausted cerebral haze. She was impressed with his conviction, and Sebarra made a mental note that this man was something different, something special.
"With what?" she asked prudently.
“With … with the Force, or whatever," he answered vaguely as his hands gestured wildly, as if he was attempting to point to the Force itself.
“How?” Sebarra narrowed her eyes in assessment. She sensed that Finn was restless, almost excited, as if he had been desperate to speak to someone about this incident for some time but was hesitant to do so out of fear that he'd be perceived as nothing less than completely crazy.
“We were just standing in StratComm, and all of a sudden Leia goes down, Rey goes down. They’re rolling around on the ground, screaming, clearly in pain – but nothing had touched them.”
“It was awful,” Rey added said as she wiped her runny nose with her bacta cast.
"What did you feel?"
Rey's face darkened. "I felt like I was on fire," she whispered. "And I heard screaming. Children screaming. As they died painfully."
The hangar bay filled with a heavy and horrified silence, and Sebarra felt the purple scars on her face tingle as Rey murmured, "I've never felt anything like it."
With a wary lift of her eyebrow, Sebarra gestured to her face. “Neither have I.” Pause. "This attack is what killed General Organa?”
Sebarra's lips curled into a snarl at the sea of Resistance heads all nodding somberly in agreement. Ofir bared his sharpened teeth as he growled, “Peleth.”
“What’s a Peleth?” Poe asked, looking so utterly confused that, under any other circumstances, it would have amused her greatly. But the ache and anger churning in her chest made it difficult to breathe, let alone laugh.
“That’s a story for another time, Lieutenant General Dameron,” she said conclusively. Looking through past the open blast doors to the First Order fleet swarming in Hoth’s atmosphere, she commented, “Presently, we have more pressing matters to address.”
Sebarra surveyed the Resistance soldiers with shrewd calculation before shooting Poe a significant look. “So … may we come in?”
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 categorically designated piles. But with his small coup came tons of paperwork, the manageable piles quickly 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.
His eyes flitted over to the security video feed and he let out an audible groan. Instead of the expected sight 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 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 upper crust of Arkanis had viewed them as crazy hermits, obsessed with the Force and all the more dangerous for their penchant for ... unexpected ... powers. Supreme Leader Snoke, for all of his short-sighted Force freakery, had possessed astrategic militaristic mind , and had at the very least done a fairly good job at keeping Kylo Ren at bay and out of Hux’s hair.
Hux sniffed. Kylo Fucking Ren.
What an exhausting waste of a man. He had played as nicely as he could with Ren and even tolerated him as Supreme Leader, up until Hux took notice of his alarming obsession with finding that scavenger girl from Jakku. It appeared that Ren had decided to place his wanton needs over those of the First Order, and as one of the founding officers, Hux simply could allow it.
Therefore it had been necessary, he told himself, to seize the opportunity Dol had presented. Snoke’s Shadow Apprentice had not disappointed, managing not only to deliver Ren in timely fashion but also keep him wholly indisposed in that ... contraption ... for the better part of a week.
The Embrace, Dol had called it, as he’d opened the cell door to reveal Ren, suspended upside down, bleeding and sweating and grunting like a wounded 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 the screams 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 he did not wish to repeat: 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 – many painful, awful, terrible things.
But those screams …
And he wasn’t an idiot; 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 much worse with far less to someone like Hux ...
The door notifier sounded again, and Hux steadied himself as he slammed the door release. Peleth sauntered into Hux’s office, grinning like a wayward child. Kiva’s downturned face was mostly shrouded by her hood as she followed her Master, the rustling of her long robes swishing distractingly in Hux’s ears.
“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 took notice of the Sovereign Ruler’s desk and began to consider 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 his eyebrows. “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 here 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 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 Hux, and his 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 pitchy for his liking, so he remained silent, the only possible giveaway to his increasing panic the reddening lobes of his ears.
“You are familiar with Arkanis?” Dol asked in a way that indicated he already knew the answer.
“Yes. Arkanis is my homeworld.” Hux sighed internally with relief when his voice remained steady and unimpressed.
Dol removed his hand and donned the glove once more, pulling it taut deliberately, resolutely. He looked up to meet Hux’s eyes and lips widened into a predatory grin. “Fate, it seems, has a sense of irony.”
Even in his rising dread, Hux 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 pointed and back rigid. “How may I be of assistance to you, Dol?”
The other man ran his tongue along the front of his teeth as his eyes burned into Hux’s skull, but the Sovereign Ruler refused to indicate subordinance by deflecting his glare, so he stood there unmoving and enduring, eye-to-eye with Dol.
“The ground assault on Echo Base. You will delay it.”
Hux nearly laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of the statement. He was reminded of when Ren had stood on the bridge with one of his Knights and ridiculously questioned Hux's deployment of ground forces because Hoth was too cold. For Maker’s sake, both of them sounded nearly identical to one another.
What is it with these assholes?! he opined internally.
Eyes narrowed in disdain, Hux lifted his chin and replied, “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 snickered. “Yes, I have Solo,” he responded good-naturedly. Hux blinked as he recalled 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 anyone else in history.
“But,” Dol continued, “I can only do so much without his Other.”
Kiva shifted her weight several times as if she were trying to get comfortable, her averted gaze bouncing in between inanimate objects around the office.
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. To the untrained eye, Kiva’s behavior was I consequential. But Hux interpreted it as such a clear indication of discomfort 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 this time Dol shot her a pointed and commanding glance, and her body steadied.
“The Force seeks balance, always,” he began seriously. “It is an all-knowing energy, but is not without its faults. Anakin Skywalker, Solo’s grandfather, had been gifted great potential by the Force in 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 moved to speak, but Dol cut him off. “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 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 said as he warily eyed the toppling piles of holopads.
Dol chuckled, 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. The Force created an equal but opposite, a counterweight.”
“Right, fine,” Hux remarked, his words clipped and impatient. “I suppose Ren is one half of this … scenario. And I’m assuming his Other is in 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 beneficial toward the achievement of 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 rubbed his chin as he searched Hux’s analytically. Apparently finding what he had been looking for, Dol indulged the request. “The supremacy of the First Order very much hinges on what the Force does or does not do. The galaxy is currently imbalanced, drawn into conflicting sides, perpetuating inequality, continued violence, suffering, death. The First Order versus the Resistance.” He leaned heavily over Hux’s desk, his dark eyes searching and important. “It is not the natural order of things. And the Force wants to rectify that.”
“Dol, please don’t speak in code. 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 nearly screeched. “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 the girl, why he defied and murdered Snoke, why he allayed any attack on Echo Base. He had misread Ren’s obsession with her by 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.
His potent 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; Ren’s momentary look of panic when Hux reminded him that Rey would be tried and executed for her crimes against the First Order …
Fuck, it all fits. Well, almost all of it …
“This still fails to explain why keeping Ren’s scavenger safe is of the utmost importance,” Hux commented warily. “Wouldn’t destroying her be the ideal resolution?”
“The Force is cyclical,” Dol 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 will begin anew.”
“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,” Dol said simply and 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 Dol’s tone sent shivers pinging off of Hux’s vertebrae. His skin erupted in unexpected goosebumps from the sensation and his light hairs stood at attention, 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.
Dol smiled and his white teeth appeared almost fang-like in the dim office lighting. “Ben Solo’s soul.”
. . .
Kiva focused on how her quick soft footsteps synced perfectly with Peleth’s heavier and unapologetic ones as they left Hux’s office, desperate to ignore the parched, empty roughness rising in her chest. The familiar yet unpleasant feeling had plagued her throughout her life, since before she could even remember.
Her mother somehow always knew when the sensation reared and would hold Kiva close, rocking her back and forth as she sang the same song over and over - a melody Kiva 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 one day returning there, 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.
Hers had been a peaceful childhood albeit 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 position.
That, of course, had all changed, in the blink of an eye.
Kiva felt her tan cheeks redden in 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 had been hoarser than she had hoped, but she was mindful to keep her footsteps even and light, fighting the urge to quicken her pace.
Peleth places a commanding hand on her upper arm and yanked her 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 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 chose her words carefully before responding. “You hadn’t mentioned the scavenger was his Other.”
Peleth snickered as his thumb stroked the soft skin between her bottom lip and her chin, his eyes running 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 as he pressed down with his thumb and tightened his grasp on her chin. “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,” she said as the imaginary grains of sand filled her chest, rubbing abrasively against her ribcage. “I am, and always will be, humbled to have been chosen as your apprentice.”
Peleth’s features lightened, and Kiva was relieved that her her well-rehearsed and 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 roughly.
“Come,” he said as he turned away from her. “We have business on Hoth.”
Kiva tugged at her hood and repositioned it closer to her face before following her Master. She tried her best 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.
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. ;-)
My lovelies -
Thank you all for your continued support and patience with this story! I hit a bit of a hurdle, spending the majority of last week suffering from a severe bout of writer's block. I used that time to heavily edit previous chapters and wrote some new sections that elaborated upon already-existing themes through backstories and personality quirks. In my opinion, it creates a much more thorough and complete picture of the characters in the story, and I would absolutely love to hear your comments and opinions should you decide to re-read it. :)
Things have settled down for me, and I look forward to responding to your comments this week. I truly cannot thank each and every one of you - commenters, kudos-ers, and readers alike - for making this experience an amazing one.
We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love.
“I’m begging you,” she cried desperately to anyone, everyone, as her small frame shuddered violently with each intense sob erupting from her soul.
“Please,” she gasped. “Take me back to Jakku.”
. . .
It wasn’t the actual planet she missed, that wasteland of nothingness that had scorched her skin and parched her lips. She certainly didn’t miss scavenging; the daily laborious work from dawn till dusk ripped away at the tender skin of her palms until all that was left were hard callouses and rough scars. Nor did she miss the soul crushing loneliness born from years spent in almost total isolation, living out her days in the pits of Star Destroyers and her nights in the stark AT-AT she called home.
But in that solitude her mission had been simple: self-preservation, surviving at any cost and by all means necessary. If she was successful, she’d live to see another day. Temporary failure meant she’d remain hungry and thirsty until she was able to either barter for food and water or steal it. Permanent failure meant the mundane and pointless life she led would finally come to a merciful end.
There had been no ancillary goals, no secondary or tertiary lines of bullshit she had to traipse through. She never had to question her purpose, or why she did things the way she did, or how her actions affected anyone other than herself.
The burden she bore was ensuring her own the well-being. While the weight of it all had rested heavily on her shoulders, especially as a child, it didn’t hold a candle to the crushing strain her heart struggled to sustain now that she had others that she both deeply cared for and loved.
Han’s death had ricocheted through her like a supercharged blaster bolt, pinging off of her bones and laying waste to her tender heart. She remembered screaming in vain as Kylo Ren’s lightsaber rammed his heart clean through, and she had sworn she’d seen the crackling red blade sparkle with the sticky shimmer of blood. She had tried to heal by channeling the strange new aching sensation of loss into revenge, and she had reveled in the glory of retribution as she parried and thrusted brutishly at the man responsible for her pain. The tides of the Force had turned in her favor and she was washed in power, stalking Han’s murderer like prey until she marred his handsome and evil face with a permanent reminder of his sins and her anger.
Luke’s death had been starkly different. He had been ready to die years ago when his failure had driven Ben straight into the awaiting grip of the darkness, but the Force knew the Jedi Master had his own sins for which he must repent before he could truly be at peace. As she’d ushered the remaining Resistance fighters aboard the Millennium Falcon during their evacuation of Crait, Rey had sensed the Force’s resolve as it allowed Luke’s final fate to come to fruition. His signature had been alight with the knowledge that he had done what was needed to acknowledge and atone for his mistakes, and she had smiled as she felt his soul being welcomed into the other realm with dignity, grace, and love.
She hadn’t processed the loss of Leia, and she was desperate to ensure she never had to. Rey was aware of the endless magnitude of her churning grief, and in her terror of being lost over its precipice, she had hastily compartmentalized and hidden it within the least accessible corners of her mind, hoping beyond logic that the vault in which it was secured was never opened.
But for the first time in what seemed like years, Rey felt her body recalibrate against the emotional and cerebral upheaval in which she had been lost for so long. A lightness returned to her step - one that she didn't even noticed had disappeared - as she walked toward StratComm, sandwiched in between Poe on her left and Sebarra on her right, Finn and the rest of the Resistance staff in the lead and the five Knights in tow.
"How's your inventory looking?" Sebarra had asked without preface, placing no delicacy in emphasizing the urgency in the task at hand.
"There's twenty-three of us, seventeen blaster pistols, six blaster rifles, three heavy blasters," Poe rattled off the itemized list from memory.
"Hmm," Sebarra muttered in thought. "What about ground weaponry?"
"Two ion cannons, three terra turbo laser cannons," he'd responded, "one of which has a faulty ignition spark, so it's not the most reliable."
"What's the recharge time?" Sebarra asked as they rounded the snowy corridor.
Poe frowned as he admitted, "Not sure." He arched his head and surveyed the sea of bobbing Resistance heads, calling, "Connix?"
There was a shuffle in the group ahead of them as the blond woman emerged. She fell in line next to Poe and peered at him expectantly.
"What's the recharge time on our ions and terras?" Poe asked.
Connix shot a wayward glance toward Sebarra before answering reticently. "Five to six standard minutes for the ion cannons, once they're hot. About two-and-a-half to three minutes for the terra turbos."
Rey heard Ofir grunt from behind her. "That'll only do intermittent and minimal damage to the All Terrain MegaCalibur Six walkers," he'd mumbled.
Sebarra nodded in agreement, chewing her inner lip absentmindedly as she paused to consider the dilemma. "Fighters and transports?"
"We were pretty much wiped out by the time we reached Crait," Poe commented, and the brief silence that followed had been loud and awkward as it hung between them all, an unspoken resentment rising in the air. "We've got two T-70 X-wings and one shifty transport with a broken compressor."
"And the Millennium Falcon," Rey had chimed in. "Chewie and I were able to fix the faulty ignition line, and we've been running routine maintenance on the fuel pump."
Sebarra had raised an eyebrow and turned to look at her amusedly. "Well," she said to Rey, her voice low and conspiratorial even through the privacy of the Force, "that certainly is interesting."
Rey shot her a perplexed look. What?
"Ben spent his entire childhood working on that severed ignition line," Sebarra recalled, and Rey felt the heat rising in her face, prickles of warmth poking at her flushing cheeks. "He told me he'd work on it day and night, up until he arrived at the Praxeum." She had paused, and Rey saw a small smile spread across her lips. "It seems like you can fix the things that others consider to be irreparably broken."
Or maybe he's just a shitty technician, Rey had responded slyly as they arrived at StratComm. Sebarra rolled her eyes and let out an accompanying terse snort.
"I'll let you two sort that out," she whispered aloud to Rey, who in turn had caught Sebarra's bright cerulean eyes with a roguish grin.
A sudden wave of dread crashed into her, slamming her so forcefully that Rey froze, her head reeling. A dense uneasiness seeped into her belly, twisting her insides slowly, and she swallowed thickly as her mind raced, her eyes widening in panic as her vision began to tunnel, a familiar roar filling her ears as the world began to spin wildly.
She slammed her eyes shut as the floor tilted and her stomach lurched, and she'd felt like she was somehow both falling and drifting at the same time, just how she had felt on Takodana when she had touched Luke’s lightsaber and was transported to an alternate dimension, where she heard voices of the past and saw visions of the future.
She was dizzy and confused and her head throbbed and her body ached and all she wanted was for it to stop.
Which it had, just as abruptly as it began.
She took several deep breaths, steadying her footing and ensuring that her wits were about her before she carefully cracked open her eyes one at a time. She stood face-first with an ocean of gunmetal gray and she took two small steps backwards, her gaze running along the length of the bleak durasteel wall. She rotated slowly, following the angular shape of the windowless room, its sharp edges and precise configuration specifically designed to elicit a sense of claustrophobia from its inhabitants.
Rey heard the distinct hiss of a heavy door release, and she darted to a shadowy corner of the cell in the nick of time. Two Stormtroopers entered the room, their bodies awkward and movements burdened from the unconscious man they carried between them. His red shirt and black pants fit snugly around his well-build frame, his long and muscular arms slung sloppily over the two troopers' shoulders, his dark - wet? - hair obscuring his face as his head hung limply, his chin to his chest.
The Stormtroopers unhooked the man's arms from them and heaved forward, and he dropped to the floor with a horrible thud, remaining where he landed, lifeless and face-down on the cold cell floor. Without so much as a backwards glance, the troopers turned and exited, shutting and locking the thick doors behind them.
As Rey stood there uncertainly in the dark corner, she noticed the man's back rising and falling, just barely, as he took ragged and shallow breaths. The beat of her pulse marching forcefully in her neck, she stepped forward slowly, and as she drew nearer she heard the distinctly dire tattered breathing of someone who would most likely not live through the night.
She was no more than three standard feet from him when her quiet steps faltered. She choked back a horrified cry as she looked at the destroyed man lying in front of her. Thickly layered blood crusted over the skin of his bare back and arms, so thoroughly opaque that Rey had mistaken it for a red shirt. Her eyes widened in terror as they took in the dozens of fresh wounds covering his body, and her hand flew to her mouth to stifle a whine at the sick luster of newly drawn blood, which trickled lazily down his bare sides to pool idly on the ground beneath him.
This was what the darkest nightmares were made of.
The man shuddered and began to stir, coughing rapidly, spewing blood from his mouth that was alarmingly viscous and dark, almost black. He whimpered like an abandoned child, a piercing plea born of pain and exhaustion and the defiant depravation of death. Shakily leveraging himself up on his left arm, his body convulsing with the effort, the man flung himself onto his back and shrieked with such yielding anguish that Rey's heart wrenched in her chest, tears stinging the corners of her eyes. His dark wavy hair clung to the forehead of his misshapen face and he sputtered incoherently, his cracked lips and dehydrated tongue useless.
Her heart shuddered to a halt. She must have misheard him, he could've been saying anything, a billion words rhyme with her name, she didn't know this man and it made no sense that he would be calling out to her -
“Rey ...” he whispered again, and this time there was no use in denying it: her name had been spoken with clarity and purpose.
His heavy head rolled the right, and she could see his face for the first time, saw the exaggerated jawline and the full lips and the freckles that lay like dark discs under the sheen of sweat and blood. She looked into his barely-opened eyes, dark and brooding and ancient beyond his years, except for the specks of light gold that shimmered and danced across his irises.
"Rey," Ben gasped as his eyes locked onto her own.
And she screamed with such pure and violent abandon that she felt her entire body break.
. . .
“This is penance for your foolishness,” the voice had sneered as her mind was torn away from Ben and sucked through the vacuum of time and space.
“And he will atone for your shameful recklessness until you return to Jakku.”
She was incoherent, wading slowly through a pool of endless pain toward the deep where she knew she'd be enveloped in the merciless embrace of the water. Her short nails would claw at her burning chest and neck as she drowned, desperately fighting to fill her lungs until the cool and expected trickle of death seeped into her blood, freezing her movements and surrendering her to the abyss below.
She was suffocating as she knelt on the snow-packed floor of StratComm, and she dug her fingers into her throat, long streaks of crimson forming from the scratches left behind, blood smearing liberally across the soft skin beneath her chin.
She could sense the small crowd gathering around her, and it hurled her into panicked claustrophobia. She flung her arms around her torso, wrapping them tightly, the blood she had drawn from her neck smearing across her tunic as she rocked back and forth, hoping against logic she could make herself smaller and smaller until she disappeared.
“I’m begging you,” she cried desperately to anyone, everyone, as her small frame shuddered violently with each intense sob erupting from her soul.
“Please,” she gasped. “Take me back to Jakku.”
She felt smooth fingertips at her pulsing temples, the cool touch soothing her feverish despondency enough for Rey to focus her tear-soaked eyes on the light blue ones hovering so close to her own that she could see her swollen face reflected in the depths of their pupils.
He’s dying, she screamed thorough the Force as her heart shattered into a million jagged pieces that ripped through her chest, fast and brutal.
“I know,” came the soft voice.”All is as the Force wills it.”
She shrieked in utter despair as she stared into Sebarra’s eyes, eyes that matched the same tormented hopelessness aching within Rey’s very being.
No. She wouldn’t - couldn't - accept that Ben’s torture and eventual death was the will of the Force.
And if it was, she'd rather die.
So Rey resolutely reached toward the black nothingness that had been lingering over her, and it responded with a sharp-toothed smile before stretching its large dark mouth around her frail and shaking body, swallowing her whole with one final and futile whisper:
* / *
My lovelies -
This chapter was written specifically to help prepare yourselves for the Rey-Kylo Ben reunion! Huzzah!
[Apparently my writer's block has officially made itself scarce, and its disappearance has blessed me with the ability to write this chapter, for which I am truly and utterly grateful.]
I have my responses to your comments queued up for roll-out by the weekend; as always, I have loved your questions, comments, and criticisms alike, and (also as always) continue to welcome them with open arms!
Thank you all for being so amazing and supportive.
Destiny is not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice.
“I need for you to explain this to me again, but much slower,” Poe said as he paced, unsettled, between the cot and the door of his personal quarters. Sebarra watched him idly; her considerations were otherwise preoccupied.
The remaining Resistance personnel had hunkered down in StratComm to run defensive schematics with Vasco, Aila and Erez, who led the brainstorming session alongside Lieutenant Connix and Commander D’Acy.
But Sebarra had personally assigned Jari to oversee Rey as she lay unconscious and limp on the cot in her quarters.
“You will notify me of any developments, Jari Ren,” Sebarra had told her firmly, “no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.”
“Yes, Master,” she’d responded earnestly, a bit somberly, as she nodded. “You have my word.”
Sebarra sighed despite herself.
Sebarra had described her as an “impulsive, tenacious, optimistic maverick” to Ben only a few short days ago, days that now felt like it had been a lifetime.
She was no longer sure about the optimistic characterization, but impulsive and tenacious rang true now more than ever.
As her fingertips had rested lightly against the girl’s throbbing, feverish temple just over an hour ago in the StratComm room, Sebarra had watched with amazement as Rey beckoned the Force to her, blending its energy with her mind and body to slip into a Hibernation Trance.
A fucking Hibernation Trance, of all things.
She was at a loss as to how Rey had managed to employ a tactic that only the most advanced Jedi were known to have been able to master.
It was a lesson reserved only for the older students even at the Praxeum, and over the years only one of them had been able to achieve it. She remembered standing with her fellow students, their faces highlighted with amazement as they stood in a semi-circle around twenty-year-old Ben, his hands resting on the knees of his folded legs, his breathing unnoticeable and his body unmoving. Master Skywalker had watched his nephew starkly, his blue eyes sparkling, his lips pressed into a firm, grim line.
"Did he do it?" Jari had whispered to no one in particular. "Is he in Hibernation?"
Master Skywalker had closed his eyes. "Yes," he confirmed with an oddly weighted sigh. "He's reached a state of perfect Hibernation."
Sebarra remembered how her heart grimaced uncomfortably at the way Ben looked frozen in time, his expressive eyes closed and face blank, as if he were a marble statue, a shell of his former self ...
“... which is why we are here,” Ofir finished.
She'd been lost in her memories, her thoughts wandering completely away from the present. Her lack of focus was unbecoming as a Master Knight, and she chastised herself inwardly, forcing her mind to return to the task at hand and refusing to repeat her lapse in awareness.
Ofir had apparently noticed that she had been otherwise distracted; he reached out to her through the Force: “I've repeated to Dameron the basics as to why the Supreme Leader wishes for us to be here.”
And what basics did you include?
“Only the necessary ones.”
Nothing about the Othership, I trust.
“Of course not, Master. Simply that Peleth is a threat to Rey, and we were dispatched to ensure her safety since the Supreme Leader has come to be concerned for her well-being.”
“But why?” Poe asked. The connection between Sebarra and Ofir fizzled as they both eyed Poe questioningly.
“You said that Ren is concerned for Rey,” he said to Ofir bluntly. “But he kidnapped her on Takodana, fought her on Starkiller. So what changed? Why now?”
Finn shuffled uncomfortably as he stood just behind Poe, his gaze intentionally cast elsewhere. Well, that was certainly unexpected ...
Sebarra reestablished her connection with Ofir: Finn knows.
"The Stormtrooper?" came his stunned retort.
His name is Finn, Ofir Ren, and he is clearly no longer a Stormtrooper. You shall refer to him by his rightful designation.
"Yes, Master." A brief pause, then: "And what does ... Finn ... know?"
Sebarra's specialty had always been mind probing. Even as a youngster, she would use her talents to anticipate her parents' possible discipline in the aftermath of one of her (many) unruly bouts of circumventing authority. She'd reach into their minds, using her discoveries to proactively redirect her efforts and mitigate their likely reprimand. It had worked better on her father, who would wait until her mother was out of earshot. "You're certainly a free spirit, nightbird,” he’d whisper with a wink and a loving smile, “but I wouldn't have it any other way.”
Focus, she reminded herself.
Sebarra tenderly entered Finn's mind, subtly and respectfully sifting aside his private memories in search of how much he knew -
There it was.
Oh. Well, then.
It appears Rey told Finn about her feelings for the Supreme Leader, she responded via the Force to a seemingly-mystified Ofir.
"Which are what, Master?"
Sebarra paused before responding. She’s in love with him.
Ofir's surprise rippled through the Force, rebounding off of her mind in gentle bumps. "In love with the Supreme Leader?"
No, Sebarra responded as evenly as possible. She’s in love with Ben.
Ofir’s mind was boggled, for sure; his signature’s offline static indicated as much. But it made absolutely perfect sense to Sebarra, who grimly acknowledged just how perfectly the unfolding events aligned with the Son of Suns.
The Son of Suns prophecy foretold of a galactic Savior, descended from a war-torn familial legacy of extreme darkness and hopeful light. As with all prophecies, it was unclear what, exactly, the Savior would bring. The Old Jedi Order interpreted it to mean the end of the Sith and the restoration of Light throughout the galaxy. They’d assumed Anakin Skywalker was the Savior ... and their presumption had been their downfall.
Master Skywalker had different beliefs, many of which he shared during their Applied Jedi Lore lesson, on the very day she and the future Knights began having visions of Ben’s downfall. She had thought it was a coincidence, but she had come to know better.
She knew now that coincidence was just the Force making its intentions known.
As Master Skywalker had explained it, the Savior would not be the harbinger of light, but of a balance, and only with his equal in the Force standing by his side, serving as a constant permanent counterweight. It was foretold that as two matching but opposite energies, the Savior and his counterweight would not be able to rectify their differences to unite their powers on their own. The so-called Sentinel of Permanence's entire purpose was to act as a catalyst that kept the cosmic energies separating them at bay, keeping the path toward each other clear and free from the differences and difficulties working to keep them apart.
Sebarra endured many sleepless nights after she'd learned of the Son of Suns prophecy, watching dusk turn to dawn as she huddled shivering under her itchy wool blanket, ignoring the lumps in her standard-issue Praxeum cot as she thought back on the dreams she'd begun to have the night she met Ben Solo on Chandrila all those years ago, the dreams she'd been haunted by ever since.
Dreams she had not shared with anyone - not with the Knights, and certainly not with Ben. Dreams that revealed she would fall in love with the Savior, but charged her with a purpose that was greater than that of her own happiness. Dreams that she knew now were actually visions from the Force, divulging her destiny and disclosing her place in all of this.
Her place as the Sentinel of Permanence.
The Force purposely instilled Ben and Rey with a greatness that could not be rivaled by any, save for one: each other. And it was Sebarra's destiny to unify them, to bring about a celestial balance that had never before been realized.
Everything that had happened over the past week had been so reflective of the prophecy, so suddenly clear and so ridiculously linear, that Sebarra could have laughed had it not been for the heaviness in her heart: Ben was suffering, on the verge of death, as she stood there feeling bad for herself like a lovesick schoolgirl, looking into the waiting eyes of Poe Dameron.
A sudden wave of exhaustion crashed over her, and she moved to put an end to this line of conversation as quickly as possible. “Why the Supreme Leader's feelings have changed and what has caused that shift is not ours to understand." Sebarra’s words were punctuated with both temperance and conviction. “His reasons are beyond the breadth of what we are able or wish to understand. The Knights of Ren are sworn to ensure his safety and to protect the interests of those he deems worthy."
“And Ren deems Rey worthy,” Poe finished dryly with a sigh. Remembering himself, and seeing Sebarra’s unimpressed arching eyebrows, he shrugged and spread his hands. "I've witnessed what he's capable of. Murdering Lor San Tekka and the villagers on Jakku in cold blood, nearly killing Finn on Starkiller, the way he offers no quarters or permissions to captives, what he's done to his family, to Leia." Sebarra's stomach knotted and churned at the mention of General Organa, and Poe paused to look down at the ground, pouting like a surly child as he grumbled, “He’s a monster.”
Sebarra noted with interest that Poe's own capture and torture at the hands of Kylo Ren had been left off of the list, and she proceeded accordingly. "I understand your misgivings considering how you have interpreted the Supreme Leader's actions," she said, her words spoken with a foundation of such genuine insight that they caused Poe to frown and made Finn look at her with surprise. “But you must remember that he is still Leia Organa's son, and has her blood coursing through his veins.”
“Is that why you devoted yourself to him?”
The tone of Finn’s question made Sebarra bristle with initial outrage. But as she noticed the way Finn looked at her with his deep and dark eyes, almost suggestively significant and with such secretive eloquence, she saw a well of knowledge within his soul, knowledge that he had also kept deep inside of him, away from anyone else.
Ofir sneered defensively. “The reasons as to why Master Sebarra has taken the vows of Knighthood is a personal decision beyond the scope of your interests.”
Sebarra held up a calming hand to Ofir, who fell quiet. She regarded Finn keenly with a slight tilt of her head. “It's one reason of many.” She paused in thought before elaborating. “He was and is my closest friend and confidant, just as Rey is to you.”
Finn inclined his head with glistening amber eyes, and she felt his body swell with both appreciation and respect; certainly not for the Supreme Leader - no, she could actually feel the hatred Finn had for him. His appreciation and respect was for Sebarra's acknowledgement of his care for Rey, and the high esteem in which she held it.
She smiled gently as she admitted to herself that she was starting to like Finn. Quite a lot, in fact.
“Sebarra.” Finn’s voice was deep with concern and urgency. "What happened to Rey?”
She sighed and glanced at Ofir before allowing her eyelids to flutter closed. She maneuvered her way along the illuminated path in the Force, the one that led her straight to Rey. Sebarra considered the emptiness of her mind and the stillness of her body, save for the intermittent and infrequent rising and falling of her chest.
There was no denying it. She opened her eyes into Finn's apprehensive face and took a deep, steady breath.
“She’s in a Hibernation Trance.”
Poe balked and Finn's brow furrowed. “A Hibernation Trance?” he repeated with a shake of his head. “What the hell is that?”
Sebarra noticed the long sideways glance Ofir shot her, but she chose to ignore it. “Hibernation is an advanced Jedi tactic that allows an individual to slow his or her own bodily functions to a near standstill," she explained slowly, recalling her lessons from the Praxeum. “Metabolism, breathing, pulse; all become measured and deliberate and remain in that state until the person willfully and mindfully emerges."
Finn remained motionless as he asked flatly, "When would the Jedi use it? What does it do?”
"It was most commonly used when a Jedi was either at risk of physical danger or had already been severely injured. While suspended in Hibernation, the Jedi would be able to take the time necessary to fully heal bodily wounds, while wrapping themselves in the Force to act as an impenetrable shield against any further harm."
Sebarra hesitated, unsure as to whether she wanted to be completely and fully forthcoming about the realities of Hibernation. But as she felt the Force lightly brush against her skin, its warm touch running across her neck, she knew that she had no choice in the matter.
“It can be dangerous,” she added darkly, and when Ofir turned to look at her in alarm, his glare was too piercing to ignore. She glanced at him and nodded once as she said through the Force, They have a right to know.
Ofir diverted his eyes and did not respond.
"Dangerous?" Finn asked. "But if the person is in control –"
"The biggest mistake Rey could make is to believe she’s solely in control of anything,” Sebarra snapped, and she immediately regretted her unexpected and emotional outburst. After silently admonishing herself and with a brief apologetic shake of her head, she continued.
"The danger is not when Hibernation is used for physical protection,” she said. “It’s when it’s used for mental and emotional survival.”
“And that’s what Rey’s using it for,” Finn clarified.
His face dimmed. “Why?” he asked hesitantly, as if he wasn’t sure he wanted the answer. “What did she see that made her think this was her only way out?”
As the girl knelt broken and beyond reprieve on the snow-packed floor of StratComm, Sebarra had connected with her mind in search of the cause of her distress. The image had been at the forefront of her consciousness, bare and exposed as if waiting to be shared: Ben’s body laying prone on the harsh floor, covered in blood and sweat, whining and groaning in agony at the thousands of wounds covering his body and soul, using what little air his lungs could hold to cry out Rey’s name ...
She was eternally grateful to Ofir for answering in her place. “She saw the Supreme Leader in distress.”
“Distress?” Poe asked. “What kind of distress?”
“There was a coup,” Ofir continued. “General Hux, with whom I am sure you are familiar, and Peleth, the Shadow Apprentice I mentioned earlier, usurped Kylo Ren and remanded him into custody for high treason and the murder of Snoke.” Ofir paused and reached out to Sebarra, steadying her mind for what he was about to say next. “He is currently being systematically tortured, and Rey saw the extent of his injuries.”
Finn’s eyes widened, and Sebarra reached out to read his thoughts: “If Rey was that upset over seeing him hurt …”
“How injured can he be?” Poe retorted dismissively. “He’s the most powerful Force wielder in the galaxy. It’s not like he’s -“
“He is dying,” Sebarra interrupted blandly, void of emotion, because she knew it was the truth, a truth she had known since her visions of the Embrace and the Savior at the Praxeum.
Her detachment was also a way to ensure she didn’t break down at the thought of it.
“So ... what makes it dangerous?” Finn asked, awkwardly shuffling his feet.
Sebarra cleared her throat, frowning in confusion. “What makes what dangerous?”
“The Hibernation. When it’s used for mental protection.”
She thought she’d steered the conversation in a direction that wouldn’t require her to be completely candid. But apparently Finn didn’t let things slide past him.
Not when it came to Rey, at least.
"When one hibernates to protect their mind and feelings, it can go one of two ways: they can either be successful and regenerate their mental strength, or unknowingly succumb to the very thing they’d been trying to defeat.”
Their blank stares meant she had to further flesh out her meaning, and she grumbled inwardly.
"She could lose control of her emotions by trying to preserve them.”
She was again met with vacant stares. Well, she’d come this far; she might as well just lay it out for them: “She has unknowingly made herself the most vulnerable to being easily influenced and controlled.”
“But … who wants to control her?” Finn asked, his eyes darting between Sebarra and Ofir, who remained ominously silent.
“The very person trying to destroy her because the Supreme Leader cares for her.”
Sebarra inhaled sharply as a seething anger rose in her throat, a hatred she had never known clutching her consciousness for its own as she spoke the name of the man she swore would meet his end at her hands: “Peleth Dol.”
. . .
He had seen her.
Worse, she had seen him.
He had been stupid, delirious with pain and not thinking clearly when he had called out to her.
What was he thinking?
Had he been of any sounder mind, he would have hidden his face and protected her from witnessing his fate. But he had not been strong enough, and he had needed her, longed to feel her skin against his, smell her earthy hair as it tickled his cheek, look into those deep, hazel eyes.
He had so badly wanted to do those things one last time. Before he no longer could.
Retching with nausea, Kylo forced himself through the agony to roll onto his side, where he vomited a slimy concoction of bile and blood. He hissed with pain, low and shaky, as he returned to his back, forcing himself to ignore the shooting pain climbing up his spinal cord which sent his eyes rolling into the back of his head.
When he heard the dull hiss of the door release, he made the conscious effort to still his throbbing body, but made no other acknowledgement of the heavy footsteps that entered the room.
"I have wonderful news, Solo," Peleth sneered joyfully, and Kylo closed his eyes in wretched anticipation.
"We will be paying your whore a visit."
Kylo’s eyes shot open and he attempted to scream, but his lungs were too filled with blood and fluids to effectively communicate his unyielding rage and endless horror, so he let out a high-pitched groan instead.
No ... no.
"Oh, yes," Peleth answered cheerily as he easily read Kylo's frail and defenseless mind. "I thought you would be excited to see her, even in the state she's in."
"Wh-what?" He winced as he clumsily bit his swollen tongue, the warm and familiar metallic taste of blood filling his mouth. Spoken language seemed foreign to him, his liquid and eviscerated brain slopping messily inside of his throbbing skull. Save for Rey's name, he had not uttered a single word since his initial confrontation with Peleth, just after he had been placed in the Embrace’s arms.
Kylo could feel His sick smile as Peleth’s teeth grated hungrily across the surface of his brain. "It seems that in her devastation over witnessing your current condition, she used her Jedi prowess to put herself into a Hibernation Trance."
Kylo whined and desperately tried to leverage himself into a sitting position. He strained against his broken bones and torn muscles, his abdomen aching with hunger, his body screaming for water. But Peleth had other ideas for him, approaching and putting his boot firmly on Kylo’s bloodied and cracked chest to apply the little weight it required to send Kylo sprawling back down to the cold floor of the holding cell of the Xi-class light shuttle he had been loaded onto just before Rey had appeared to him.
"You needn’t worry. I promise to take just as careful care of her as I have you,” Peleth said casually, shifting additional weight onto the boot that pressed harshly into Kylo’s sternum. "I have a feeling she'll be a particularly difficult nut to crack, so I've already started to work my talents on her mind."
What was left of Kylo’s awareness flashed vibrant red and he flailed helplessly, grunting like a rabid animal as Peleth simply laughed, patiently waiting until Kylo had thrown enough of a tantrum to tire himself out.
"She has a gorgeous mind, Solo. Almost as gorgeous as that tight little body of hers, which I look forward to getting to know on a much more ... intimate ... level."
Kylo’s soul shattered: he had done this to Rey. He had put her in this position, had sealed her fate, had doomed her because he had tried to save her. His bodily anguish met his mental wrath, blending into an insatiable sense of regret and pain that sent him careening from reality, from his body, from this realm, from this life.
He barely noticed as Peleth smoothly withdrew his deactivated lightsaber and cocked back his arm. But just as Peleth brought the hilt down viciously, and just before it made contact over his left eye socket, Kylo closed his eyes and reached out to Rey, following the vibrant and sparkling path that had always led him to her, propelling his love and sadness and passion and humility with every fiber of his being, along with one final and languishing message:
"Rey...I'm so sorry."
My lovelies -
Put on your runnin' shoes; this chapter is over 9,500 words long.
Up until now I've been posting shorter chapters (ranging from about 3,000 - 5,000 words apiece) twice per week, but I figured I'd try my hand at a longer chapter, because why not?
Please be sure to let me know if you prefer the shorter chapters twice per week, or one longer chapter which I'll post every Friday.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Light is easy to love; show me your darkness.
It was a strange feeling, being suspended in nothingness.
But what Rey relished most was the detachment. She delighted in the blankness filling her mind as the seemingly endless void caressed her mind and body like soft Chandrillan silk, slowly drifting in the oblivion of the dark vacuum’s embrace, gently drifting, easily drifting.
She reveled in the blissful knowledge that at that moment, nobody could reach her. Or talk to her.
Or hurt her.
The distress that had consumed her soul over the past weeks had proven unsustainable, at least for her. Han’s murder. Finn’s near-death. Facing - for the first time, truly facing - the reality of who her parents were, and the overwhelming waves of abandonment that followed. Hearing from Luke’s own mouth of Ben’s betrayal. Finding Ben, and then losing Ben, and then seeing him disposed of like a heap of garbage on that cold floor, shattered beyond recognition. She had been able to identify only when she looked closely and saw the gold sprinkles in the irises of his timeworn eyes.
She had never heard her name spoken like that. Full of passion and need and fire and agency and submission.
Rey knew she would go to the ends of the galaxy to chase the feeling of hearing her name on his lips, longed to have her name be the only one he ever spoke like that, the only one he would ever beg for, the only one he would ever groan with pleasure, the only one he would ever whisper with devotion.
She had heard of love, of course, but it had always felt like an unattainable fantasy, like in the holoromances she’d read whenever she was able to barter for one. She’d never witnessed it up close, never had the opportunity to see it in motion.
She was not all that foreign to lust, either, although THAT was an experience she’d done her best to forget at all costs. The sight of her rapist’s pupils blown wide as he ripped her clothes of, the stench of alcohol inundating her nostrils as he ran his tongue along her neck and jawline, down her sternum, over her breasts, the sound his grunts of pleasure in time with his thrusts echoing in her ears, the feeling of hot blood trickling gently down her exposed back as it chafed against the rusty metal of the utility closet that he had forced her into after ambushing her in one of the secluded alleyways of Niima Outpost.
Lust had been nothing short of frightening; love, completely foreign.
Until she felt his unexpectedly soft fingertips brush against hers, heard her ragged breathing sync with his heavy and measured ones, saw the same recognition and urgency in his searching eyes as the flickering fire between them illuminated his solid jawline, his raven hair, his full lips.
Until she found herself alone with him on The Supremacy’s lift, as she ran her eyes over his tunic and greedily remembered what lay beneath: his glistening chest and muscular frame she had been privy to during their third connection through the Force. She’d leaned toward him, close enough to smell the sharp First Order detergent, but also a trace of something softer and subtler, like that of the gentle rainstorm on Ahch-To. His eyes had run hungrily over her, pausing over the curves of her body and the lines of her face, and she’d watched his gaze fill with both desire and fear as she whispered his name.
The tingling warmth that stroked in her lower belly when she thought of Ben - touching him, smelling him, tasting him - had begun to surge, even as she dangled aimlessly in the suspended state of consciousness? – or something like that, whatever it was …
“Rey ... I’m so sorry.”
She heard him through the Force, his words filling her body with longing and love and regret, and his voice echoing through her mind, whipping around her soul, and landing firmly within her heart.
How could he ever apologize for the way he loved her, the way he held her, the way he made her feel? He had been her refuge as the one person who shared the same seed of vulnerability which had been planted in the rejection of those who should have loved them the most, a seed watered by reproach and resentment that sprouted into insecurity, loneliness, instability.
But Rey began to suspect he was apologizing for something far more devastating, something that would shatter the soul he had single-handedly mended, scattering the fragmented pieces far and wide, destined to remain incomplete and meaningless.
Perhaps he was sorry for ever having bothered with her in the first place. Perhaps he had finally realized what a true inconvenience she was. Perhaps he saw her for who she was, for who she is: an unwanted and scruffy stray from a backwater planet, an insignificant girl who he had mistakenly invested time and effort into, only to have been left with less than when he began.
This has been her biggest fear, one that she had been able to temper and compartmentalize through the lens of optimism and hope.
But now she felt it gnawing away at her thoughts, its sharp teeth violently stripping away the certainty and the confidence and the assuredness with which she had made herself believe that Ben actually and truly cared for her.
Her, a scavenger from a useless world. Her, an orphan with no one, with nothing.
She desperately fought against this resurgence of the ideas she had so adamantly put to rest. But the more she reflected, the more sense it made: Ben Solo, a dynastic galactic symbol of power and prestige, had finally come to believe his own words: “You had no place in this story.”
Perhaps what he had meant to say was, “You have no place in my story.”
His words began to take on a new meaning, words that had been shrouded in her innocent naïveté now unveiled by sensibility and logic.
“You. A scavenger.”
The truth in his words began to reverberate reverberated against the boundaries of her mind, turning into an indecipherable cacophony as they echoed and overlapped.
“You come from nothing.”
She had been left utterly defeated and wholly defenseless, a victim to her own mind. Desperate to escape, she flung herself against the barriers of her consciousness, the walls she had painstakingly built and within which she sought shelter, the walls that now served as her own personal dungeon, as she served time for a crime she hadn’t committed.
Despondently hurling herself with full-force with the hope that she’d find some weakness or defect in the walls of her prison, Rey began to panic as she realized she was trapped. There was no breaking free, there would be no liberation. She would die in the depths of her mind, a casualty of her inexperienced aspirations and shameless dreams, just another victim of the Skywalkers, just another example of a nobody who would pay the ultimate price.
But no matter how much it hurt, Rey couldn’t deny it was true: she was nothing, she was no one, and she had no place.
The thundering roar had become so thunderous that it was unendurable, and she let out a disjointed scream despite the knowledge that it would only add to the noise that swallowed her whole.
What followed instead was total silence.
But she found no relief as she adjusted to the ominous stillness: she felt the darkness staring menacingly at her, patiently assessing its next move.
Ben had said it to her as his face had been framed by fire, illuminated by the soft glow of destruction and death that surrounded them. She had only noticed the softness in his eyes and the compassion etched across his handsome face. She had only seen concern and care when he told her never to seek him out again. She hadn’t seen what had been there all along. Her feelings had blinded her to his true intentions, her naiveté forbid her from identifying his motivations.
She would have given him her future and her love and her devotion and her dreams. He admonished her instead for holding on to past, for not letting go. He’d fought her fiercely when she’d called for Luke’s lightsaber, not because if it’s intrinsic value as she had once thought, but so he could leave her unarmed and defenseless, so he could force her to stay against her will, so she could be subjected to the same ruthlessness he had shown to every other person who had dared to care for him.
He had chosen Kylo Ren over Ben Solo. Over her.
Because she was nothing. No one.
"Ah, my dear, and now you understand.”
It was a whisper from the innermost depths of her mind and was spoken by a voice that was not quite kind, but was patient, knowing, understanding.
She chose to let it continue: “Luke Skywalker saw it. Han Solo saw it. Leia Organa saw it. Snoke saw it. Yet you have been deprived of sight for so long, blinded by your mercy and empathy.
Part of her wanted the voice to stop but the larger part of her found its sympathy soothing and serene. So she remained quiet and listened.
“You have let Solo take you for a fool. You made it easy for him to manipulate you into thinking that he would ever care about a girl like you: a man who can have any woman he chooses, can have anything in the galaxy he wishes, can influence destinies and has his own to fulfill.”
It was true. All of it.
“You’re a momentary distraction, an easy conquest. And when he’s done with you he’ll dispose of you just like he did to the children at the Jedi Praxeum, like he did to his own father, like he did to Snoke.”
She had been a fool, just like when she’d believed that drunk scrap-metal trafficker when he asked her to show him the shortcut to the shipyard, just so he could lead her into a dark and isolated alleyway, shove her into a utility closet, and savagely rape her.
Her blood bubbled hot with rage and shame; she had sworn she would never allow herself to be taken advantage of again.
And yet here she was.
“Don’t let him underestimate you again,” the voice whispered with confidence and strength. “Don’t let him continue to do this to others.”
She had found the validation she sought and the conviction she needed, and she reached out to the voice who had given her both, the sound of her words strangely warped and crooked: I know what I have to do.
Victorious laughter filled her mind, torrid vengeance surging within her veins as the voice offered its permission.
“Then do it.”
. . .
She barely heard Connix’s exasperated exclamation over the piercingly shrill siren that had suddenly filled the room. Her senses affronted and her bones vibrating, Aila cupped her gloved hands and pressed them firmly against her ears, her golden-brown eyes straining against the throbbing in her head in protest.
“What in the hell - ?!” Aila muttered to herself as she looked toward the rickety cubicle in which Connix stood, dark eyes frantically surveying the glowing TechStrat map in front of her.
She swore that the teeth-gratingly obnoxious whooping was increasing in intensity, growing louder and more agonizing with each passing second, and Aila set her jaw and braved herself for the bloody mess it would make of her perforated ear drums.
“For Maker’s sake, what is that?” Vasco whined to nobody in particular, and Aila bit back laughter as she watched the usually cocky and vain man hunch forward dramatically with his broad shoulders comically raised, as if they could barricade his tender ears.
Apparently, Connix found his antics much less amusing. “It’s the Perimeter Breach Warning,” Connix judgmentally, shooting a shrewd glare in his direction.
Every single person in the entire room struggled to be shield their ears: the less creative using their gloved or bare hands, the more imaginative employing thermal ear muffs, scarves, hoods, and even holopads, which didn’t strike Aila to be an excessively smart choice.
But then there was Erez. His extrasensory perceptions were so finely tuned and accurate that on many occasions even Sebarra had sought his advice and counsel. His ability to hear and comprehend every nuance of the Force provided him with an intuition that none of the other Knights possessed.
Aila rolled her eyes endearingly. What a weirdo.
Jabbing Vasco in the rind with her elbow, she shot a pointed glance toward the young Knight, his ears bare and his stride even as he walked across the room toward Connix’s cubicle, as if he were completely impervious to the symphony of awfulness rebounding off of the snow-packed walls.
Erez had been able to sleep through anything - literally, anything - at the Praxeum. He gained such notoriety for his resistance to sound that Aila and a handful of her fellow students a group of students would place bets on who could wake up Erez the quickest, using the least amount of noise possible.
She’d never won. But she had lost a hefty amount of credits in the process.
She watched Erez fondly, remembering how short and slim he had been when they first met: though only two years older, she’d stood a solid foot taller than him, a height difference that had markedly shrunk in the years since.
Shoulder-to-shoulder within the extremely limited and confined space of the cubicle, Erez and Connix reviewed the TechStrat Map closely, their faces illuminated in the gentle glow of the monitor. Aila watched with piqued interest as Erez’s eyes narrowed, zeroing in on one of the Map’s upper quadrants. He tilted his head toward Connix to speak closely into her ear and over the shrill wailing of the warning system, and Aila was highly amused at the light pink blush that spread widely across the Lieutenant’s cheeks.
She made a mental note to mention it to Erez.
As Erez’s confirmation through the Force echoed through Aila’s mind, her stomach knotted in apprehension, her insides writhing unnaturally within her abdomen, and she heard Vasco curse violently under his breath.
Connix’s sturdy voice shot across the room: “Xi-class shuttle, mark ten.” She paused as her eyes flitted in between the three Knights inquisitively. “Friends of yours?”
“No.” Aila felt the foreboding finality in Erez’s response just as much as she heard it, his voice quiet but sure, and as Connix’s eyes widened with alarm, Aila had to concentrate all of her energy on choking back an irritated groan.
If she had a credit for every time an angsty soldier overreacted to a situation unnecessarily, she’d be relaxing luxury’s lap, lounging in the penthouse of a Coruscanti high-rise. Closing her eyes briefly as she sighed inwardly and doing her best to allow the Force to dampen the ringing in her ears, Aila braces herself for Connix’s inevitable next move.
“Attention!” she ordered loudly. The excited bustle slowed to a minimum. “Essential intelligence personnel are to remain in StratComm. All fighters and groundmen: get your external defensive stations immediately.”
The reaction was instantaneous; men and women began shuffling about frenetically; intelligence officers scattered in every direction, sprinting toward they sprinted toward their designated cubicles as foot soldiers checked their blaster charges and hastily stepped into their protective thermal gear.
“Lieutenant Connix.” Amplifying her voice with the Force, Aila’s words carried easily over the revitalized and hectic din. The pace of the room’s rushed frenzy slowed to a near-standstill, hooded heads turning and faces popping up from behind cubicle walls.
She and Vasco quickly crossed the room toward Connix, and Aila leaned her head forward, speaking privately and low. “I urge you to reconsider. This is not a fight you want your soldiers to partake in.”
The Lieutenant’s eyes narrowed with renewed distrust. “Erez has made it clear that this shuttle is a threat to our base,” she responded. “Do you expect us to just sit here and allow them to threaten our stronghold?”
Ever the thespian, Vasco let out a prolonged and elaborate sigh. And as tempted as she was to join him, Aila remained steadfast and tempered; she was the ranking Knight in the room, and she would conduct herself accordingly.
“Are you familiar with the Xi-class shuttle?” she asked bluntly.
Connix paused to contemplate the many pairs of eyes and ears staring and listening in their direction before clearing her throat and hoarsely responding, “It’s a newer model that the First Order just began rolling out. The first time I’d seen one in person was on Crait. I don’t know much beyond its basic navigational capabilities and cargo capacity.”
Aila smiled gently in appreciation of her blunt honesty, especially within earshot of her own troops. “The Xi-class is a light transport shuttle with extremely limited weaponry and minimal shields.”
She nodded. “It’s used for ferrying officers, it sounds like.”
“Correct,” Aila agreed. “It can do no major damage to the integrity of Echo Base’s infrastructure. But its forward-facing wing-mounted double-laser cannons are notoriously accurate and DO pose a threat to personnel, especially considering the limited coverage of a shallow entrenchment. I believe it would be prudent to position all forces at their designated internal monitoring stations, with orders to engage only if there is a foreseeable threat to your encampment.” She paused briefly. “The Knights will, of course, respect the final decision made by your command.”
Connix’s eyes softened in appreciation of Aila’s deferment to the Resistance’s purview, and with a curt nod, she inclined her head in acknowledgement.
“All forces to internal stations for continued monitoring,” came Poe’s booming voice from StratComm’s entryway, and Aila returned Connix’s wry smile before turning toward the Resistance leader. As he and Sebarra jogged toward them, he added, “I want every gun we’ve got trained on that ship. Get ‘em hot, locked, and loaded.”
Aila frowned with concern at the exhausted shadows dancing across Sebarra’s face, more pronounced and darker than she had remembered ever seeing. She reached out to connect with Vasco and Erez, who stood side-by-side behind her: Sebarra doesn’t look too great.
“Well, it’s certainly been quite a day,” Vasco reminded them unnecessarily.
Erez’s contribution was much more helpful. “She’s feeling the residual effects of Kylo Ren’s torture.”
Aila mentally kicked herself for her lack of intuitive foresight: Sebarra and Ben Solo had always shared an otherworldly connection. It only made sense that the extended physical and mental trauma caused by Peleth would manifest within Sebarra.
The blossoming icy frost clinging to the base of Aila’s spine contradicted the piping hot anger churning in her stomach
Peleth would pay - of that, she was certain.
She exhaled with relief upon hearing the familiar sturdiness in Sebarra’s voice before responding with a respectful bow of her head. “Master.”
“Bring me up to speed.”
“One Xi-class light shuttle mark ten, approaching at steady trajectory toward Base.” Aila glanced briefly at the glowing TechStrat Map, adding. “Its vector is set for landing.”
Sebarra’s steely expression set firmly along her jawline. “And the First Order fleet?”
“They’re maintaining a traditional ground assault formation but have not indicated any further intention of dispatching troops,” Connix replied. She glanced at Poe, creases of confusion drawing across her brow line. “Which is strange,” she said quietly, as if it were an afterthought.
“Is there a way to shut that damn thing off?” Vasco gestured grandly toward the ceiling, where the vaulted semi-speakers continued their incessant shriek. Sebarra bristled at Vasco’s superfluous and off-topic comment, and Aila couldn’t help but be impressed by his truly consistent complaining.
“No!” Poe and Connix yelled in aggravated unison, and Vasco sulked in annoyance.
Aila shot him her own admonishing glance as she reached out to him. You’re acting like a child. This is serious, Vas.
“I get that, but I literally can’t even hear myself think, Tooka.”
While Aila was able to remain outwardly stone-faced, the giddy girl within her grinned; her chest always fluttered with emotion when he used her nickname, one that he had given her at the Praxeum. When she’d asked him why, he’d responded with a simple shrug: “You’re cute, but lethal.”
She wasn’t sure about cute, and she hadn’t always been lethal. That was a lesson she learned courtesy of the Corellian underworld in which she grew up.
Unsurprisingly, it had not been a kind place to orphans. Aila had learned quickly to emotionally detach from anyone and everyone by the age of seven. She was as hard as durasteel by the time she’d been dubbed as “The Mechanic,” the moniker born from her innate knack for engineering and troubleshooting, a reputation that propelled her into an almost infamous status by fifteen.
She was the girl you couldn’t find unless you knew where she was, the girl who could techstrip any ship in the galaxy and would do so without asking any questions. She had reveled in the reputation and the credits that followed, but it had only been a simple facade, a vain attempt by a child to protect her abject loneliness and ripened feelings of abandonment.
Underneath it all, she had been too young and too foolish to understand the dire consequences of her inability to politic with the likes of both her unsavory clients and reputable government officials. Each had turned on her, and she had been broken and desperate upon her arrival at Luke Skywalker’s doorstep. She was unsure of what had guided her there or what to expect, but the Jedi Master had welcomed her with a gentle handshake and a smile as a group of fresh-faced students peered curiously at her.
The sea of unknown faces that greeted her caused her anxiety to surge beyond mollification, and she had half a thought to turn and hightail it straight back onto the T-6 shuttle she had hastily hot-wired the same night she’d learned of the three bounties on her head, two planetary and one intergalactic. The ancient and dilapidated ship had no weaponry, no hyperdrive, and a busted navicomputer. But if anyone could have salvaged it, making it serve its purpose as a means to an end, it was her.
“That’s an interesting choice of transport,” Master Skywalker had said as his blue eyes sparkled in amusement. She had shrugged noncommittally, unimpressed and defiant, even as her heart thudded so violently she was sure it was seconds away from jumping out of her chest and plopping onto the ground.
He’d turned to his students and beckoned them closer, and she had taken specific note of the awkwardly tall boy with dark soulful eyes as he stepped forward, his steps sure and heavy.
“That’s a T-6,” he’d said, his deep voice mismatched to his lanky frame. “That old thing belongs in a museum.”
Master Skywalker had chuckled and nodded in agreement. “A Jedi relic of the Clone Wars,” he’d said warmly. “It seems that the Force has a sense of irony after all. What is your name, young one?”
Such a simple question had been shockingly impossible for her to answer. She had so many to choose from: her callsign, her moniker, the seven aliases she’d purchased by way of illegal scandocs.
To this day, she still had no idea as to why she chose to tell her birth name to the odd man with the curious students. She’d committed to letting it slowly fade into oblivion and obscurity, right alongside the family who had abandoned her out of ignorant superstition and fear of the “evil powers” she’d possessed.
“Aila.” Her voice had been shriller then she would’ve preferred, but the Jedi Master didn’t seem to notice or care.
“Welcome to the Praxeum, Aila.”
“Cannons hot and terras are fully online.” Aila blinked harshly as she was brought back to the circumstances of the present by D’Acy’s voice.
“Enable laser tracking and watch it like a hungry Edgehawk,” Poe responded before adding, “but hold fire.”
“You can’t be serious.” Connix’s jaw hung loosely, her brown eyes unblinking and vast as she stared at the Resistance Leader incredulously.
Poe glanced at Connix briefly before returning his attention to the TechStrat Map, his eyes following the glowing blip of the shuttle as it veered closer to Echo Base. “My orders stand, Lieutenant.”
“On what grounds?” she shot back. Aila noticed the fire in Connix’s eyes, the slight flare of her nostrils, the way her shoulders squared as her hands perched solidly on her hips.
“Well, you could start with the grounds that I am your commanding officer and the leader of this fleet.” His usual friendly lilt had vanished, replaced by solemn confidence and stern seriousness. “You will follow my orders, Lieutenant, or I will demote your rank and remand you into custody until we have neutralized this threat. And any additional complaints can be formally lodged right over there,” he stressed as he pointed toward the trash disposal unit in the corner of the room.
Aila suppressed an amused smile; for all of his faults, Poe Dameron certainly had style.
Vasco’s biting irritation filtered through the Knights’ Force connection. “Looks like our pal Peleth is getting a warmer reception than we did.”
“It is with good cause, and one for which you should be appreciative,” Sebarra commented pointedly. “Lieutenant General Dameron has been made fully aware of who is on that shuttle, and he had graciously agreed to respect my wishes for minimal engagement.”
The short and uneasy silence that followed was, of course, interrupted by Vasco, because who else? “Uh, Master ... I think I missed something. Is there a reason we don’t want the Resistance to blow this asshole out of the atmosphere?”
“There is a reason for all of my actions, Vasco Ren, lest you forget,” responded Sebarra, her tone clipped.
“Kylo Ren is with them.” Erez’s soft voice falsely represented the painful electric jolt of his words, a sensation that reminded her of the first - and last - time she had made the mistake of touching a frayed hyperdrive sparkplug without proper grounding or protective gear.
“Yes. Which is why all current and future engagement, whether offensive or defensive, must only be used as a last resort and must be meticulous in execution. Am I understood?”
“Yes, Master,” each responded.
“And you will listen to what I am about to say before you react.”
Their Force connection faded into a momentary lull as Sebarra spoke her next words out loud. “Jari Ren’s Force signature went offline just before the Perimeter Breach Warning sounded.”
The tempered measurement of her Master’s words failed to dampen the panicked bile rising in Aila’s throat. She hadn’t noticed any Jari’s absence, and the shocked faces of Vasco and Erez indicated that they hadn’t sensed it either.
“Ofir has gone to verify that all is well with her and Rey,” Sebarra continued. “The four of us will meet the shuttle beyond the hangar bay entrance. Aila will serve as point until Ofir is able to rendezvous with us, and Erez will act as a secondary with Vasco until Jari has returned.”
Sebarra paused in wait for any questions, but all three Knights remained silent, their heads bobbing in collective comprehension.
“I expect absolutely no engagement until we can assess Kylo Ren’s mobility and overall condition. Our main goal is to gain clarity as to what Peleth’s intentions are in bringing him here.”
“Probably to parade him around for everyone to see,” Vasco snarled with hatred in his eyes.
“No,” Sebarra responded plainly with a shake of her head. “Peleth is smarter than that, and it is both foolish and dangerous to underestimate him.”
Aila felt the Force reviving to life as Erez activated their connection once more. “Peleth knows about the Othership.”
She struggled to dampen the cold creep of terror as it crawled up her neck, but her mind was too clouded with the blur of the thoughts, memories, and emotions as they careened through her head and rebounded off of her skull, leaving a dull and pulsing ache in their wake.
“Son of a bitch,” Vasco spat viciously. She locked his gaze, seeking the familiar warmth and comfort and nonchalance his eyes had always offered. But instead she had found only a reflection of her own pure panic and fearful frenzy.
Sebarra was apparently just as unpleasantly startled by the revelation; her features seemed oddly disjointed and forced as she sought verbal confirmation. “You are certain of this?”
Erez’s gaze was steady but his eyes were sad as he answered. “Yes. I felt it just now ... I had no idea ... I’m not sure how he knows ...”
Aila whispered the dirtiest Huttese curse she knew. The guttural language served as a perfect fit for the burning river of fire coursing through her veins.
But, just as Aila expected, Sebarra remained nothing less than composed, her face emotionally disconnected, as if she was listening to someone rattle off their grocery list. “Then Peleth and Kiva’s methods are more treacherous than we had anticipated. Keep your sensory outreach specific to Force lightning.” Aila felt the urge to ask about that specific point of direction, but there were significantly more important things at stake, all of which took precedence over her curiosity, so she decided it was best to remain silent.
“I will again stress the importance of engagement only as a last resort,” Sebarra said as she looked into the eyes of each Knight. “Unless it is to protect Kylo Ren, you are not to react to any other threats, even ones specific to me.”
Aila’s heart pounded in her ears: thunk-thunk.
“If you do not follow my orders, I will personally perform both your excommunication and your execution myself. Is that understood?”
Sebarra nodded at each of them in turn. “Faces covered.”
As she reached for her mask, Aila realized that aside from the continued ringing of the warning alarm, the entire StratComm room had fallen utterly and completely silent. She carefully curled her hair into a makeshift bun, expertly tucking the stray auburn waves into her mask as she pulled it over her head and secured it with a snap-hiss. Using her visor’s opaque tint as cover, Aila surveyed the room: Poe, Connix, and D’Acy stared as if the Knights were a previously undiscovered alien species, while the Resistance troops appeared as if they had stopped dead in their tracks, their attention to their duties forgotten, their expressions ranging from fear to confusion to disgust to intrigue.
“Forward on,” Sebarra ordered, her voice tinny and mechanized through the voice modulator.
Aila took her designated place as point, falling in line directly behind her Master.
And as she marched out of StratComm, the confidence in her steps both false and misleading, Aila wrestled with the grim knowledge that not all of them would make it out of this alive.
. . .
Kiva’s eyes stung unpleasantly as stared unblinkingly at The Reprisal’s navicomp dashboard, as if she was waiting for it to tell her what she should do.
She’d spent the majority of the brief journey to Hoth in taciturn numbness, trying desperately to ignore the discomforting restlessness of the Force as it twisted discontentedly within her.
The energy’s agitated disorder was not something she’d ever experienced and it was certainly not something she hoped to ever experience again. It’s natural and constant ebb and flow had been suddenly replaced with jarring and vibrant bursts, dark and daunting, followed in turn by a lethargic, sinister emptiness. She felt so detached from the Force, so out of touch and purposely removed, that it unsettled her completely.
Her mother had warned her of this.
“Beware of great disruptions in the Force,” she’d said one evening after a particularly long cleansing meditation, a mandatory clan ritual and one that Kira had always dreaded.
Kiva has peered deeply into her mother’s lilac eyes, their rare color a genetic trait that she had inherited. “You must learn to discern between when the Force is alerting you and when it is cautioning you.”
Her nine-year-old brain struggled to understand. “How can I tell the difference, Mama?”
She had smiled down at Kiva warmly, reaching out and pulling her close. She’d nestled in the crook of her mother’s arm and closed her eyes, deeply inhaling the oaky scent of her skin, familiar and calming.
“The Force flows through all living creatures, but it trusts some of us with its keeping,” she said, softly running her delicate fingers through Kiva’s coarse hair. “It allows us to use it as we see fit, but it is not yours to own. But when the Force feels it has been taken advantage of, or disrespected in any way, it will tell you. And you must always listen.”
It had been an oddly timely conversation: a year or two later, she’d experienced her first Force tremors when the Desert Sickness brought an untimely end to her mother’s life. She’d felt it again, only months ago, when her father been murdered, and again shortly thereafter, when the Hosnian system had been destroyed.
But along with the increasing frequency of Force disturbances came its persistence. A foreboding apprehension had taken a hold of her in Hux’s office when she’d heard of Ben Solo and Rey’s Othership, and it refused to let go, even now.
Now it was stronger than ever.
“Promise me,” her mother had whispered tenderly in her ear all of those years ago. “Promise me you’ll always listen to the Force.”
“I promise, Mama.”
Kiva slammed her fingertips against the buttons of the course corrector a bit more forcefully than she had intended. She huffed in frustrated silence, disdainfully eyeing the seemingly endless list of scrolling numbers as the navicomputer calculated the recommended trajectory leading straight to Echo Base.
“What’s troubling you, pet?”
Kiva scolded herself inwardly for allowing her emotions to get the best of her, especially in the presence of Peleth. She should’ve known better than to think he wouldn’t notice.
He always noticed ...
“Nothing, Master,” she responded virtuously, hoping that he would believe the feigned transparency with which she spoke. “I am only anxious to ensure all goes as planned.”
Peleth turned toward her, his focus sharp and penetrating, and Kiva struggled against the urge to awkwardly squirm.
“It is unwise to deceive me,” he said darkly, and her heart dropped. “I have chosen to award you with the agency to be forthcoming. Do not make me regret my kindness. You know I can take whatever I want.”
She knew this to be true.
Peleth had always taken what he wanted: her mind, her loyalty, her body. And Kiva had given each to him, willingly and freely ...
She quickly weighed each of the options available to her.
One, she could be honest about her misgivings, but she would have to mitigate his resulting skepticism regarding her dedication to their mission and to him, as her Master.
Two, she could be deceitful and withhold any and all of her skepticism, but then, as he had said himself, he would take the truth from her anyway.
Three, she could be honest about her concerns specific to the strangeness of the Force, which he could then independently verify. It would allay the majority of his harbored anger and would help her steer the conversation away from the depth of her personal doubts.
Option Three it is, then.
“The Force has been behaving … unexpectedly,” she said slowly. “One moment it’s erupting with energy and the next it’s listless, almost lifeless.”
Peleth smiled unctuously, his words smug. “It is the sign that we are on the verge of greatness, my apprentice.”
Kiva rolled her jaw and remained quiet, refocusing her eyes on the landing chronometer as it counted down the standard minutes and seconds until their estimated time of arrival.
11 minutes, 24 seconds.
“Are you doubtful?”
“Let me remind you of what Ben Solo is, just in case,” Peleth spat harshly, and Kiva felt her quickened pulse drum angrily against the thin skin of her neck. “He is a liar, a thief, a betrayer of his own blood, a prince that was crowned only because of the very lineage for which he had nothing but contempt and disrespect. He is a mistake of the Force, and it is our right, our duty, to correct it.”
10 minutes, 53 seconds.
“Perhaps I need to also remind you that Ben Solo was the reason my sister spent her last moments of life screaming in pain and agony as she suffocated slowly on fiery ash, as her skin blackened and peeled away from her small bones.”
10 minutes, 39 seconds.
“But I surely don’t need to remind you,” Peleth began so softly, so menacingly, that Kiva tore her gaze away from the chronometer to look into the empty, black, bloodthirsty eyes of her Master, “that Ben Solo murdered your father and slaughtered your entire clan, all in the name of finding Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber.”
No, there certainly was no need to remind her.
Kiva had just begun training under Peleth’s tutelage after accepting the apprenticeship only a month before. But as the days turned into weeks and as one week turned into two then three then four, she had begun to grow excessively wary of her new Master’s methods, had begun to warily question his true intentions. At the time, she had been uncertain that she’d stay.
But loss changes the soul, and Kiva had lost everyone she had ever loved or cared about in a matter of minutes.
Her clan’s death sent Kiva careening into a dark and deep depression, so cavernous that Kiva feared she’d never find her way out, so treacherous that she feared she’d never emerge alive. It began with the insomnia and escalated to the refusal of food only a few days later. It took only two weeks for her to be driven completely mad with exhaustion and hunger; by day fifteen she had fully detached from reality and begged the Force, the Maker, and all the deities and gods in between to release her from this curse; and by day eighteen, she had begun to fantasize about her own death.
But Peleth had saved her.
She had spent every night in his arms, and he had rocked her gently in his arms and whispered sweet nothings in her ear, had kissed her forehead and told her everything would be as it should in the end. But even Peleth couldn’t soothe away the lingering terror of her visions, the visions that since her father’s death had haunted her each and every night without fail. The Force had compelled her to unceasingly bear witness to her father’s brutal murder.
And Kiva had seen his death so many times that she could recount it by memory:
It always began with the sound and smell of Jedha’s torrential seasonal rain – which had normally been a cause of celebration for her people. As the vision focused, Kiva would watch the rain splatter against her father’s traditional Toribota helmet, the droplets slowly trickling across its smooth surface. She would survey the ground around him, the rocky mesa littered with the bodies of the dead, men and women and children lying prone and unmoving, the limbs of mothers and fathers splayed wide as they had tried to protect their sons and daughters from the inevitable.
Her father had been the last of their clan, the only one still alive, and Kiva would watch as he turned to face the sea of the dead and raise his arm to salute them in a traditional sign of memorial tribute. She would notice the ceremonial club clutched in his shaking fist, the one that had been her mother’s, passed down through hundreds of generations. And as her father opened his mouth to bless the Force and its will, she would watch Kylo Ren’s lightsaber run his heart clean through, leaving his last words unspoken as they died instantly along with him.
8 minutes, 18 seconds.
“He has taken much from us,” Kiva whispered, and Peleth nodded with approval.
“Yes,” he sneered. “Yes, he has. And the Force has chosen us to fulfill its will. We are charged with restoring balance, which can only be achieved once Solo is dead and gone.”
Kiva fell silent once more, her thoughts turning to the man lying unconscious, nothing more than a crumpled heap of bloodied and bruised flesh on the detention floor at the rear of the The Reprisal.
He had murdered her father along with hundreds of others with whom she had been raised, with whom she had played, with whom she had laughed and cried and everything in between.
She should be reveling in his misery, should share an identical obsession in bringing about his demise and anguish, in doubling his pain by bringing unforgiving and insurmountable suffering to those he loved.
But Kiva had looked into his eyes the day they had ambushed him as he slept. And instead of a monster, she had seen a man.
5 minutes, 31 seconds.
. . .
“You’ll only make yourself worse,” Ofir growled at Jari as she stubbornly tried to stand up, resisting his futile attempts to assess the severe laceration that covered half of her forehead.
Deep violet blood flowed freely from the wound, clashing brilliantly against her pale green skin. Jari shook her head, shakily wiping the daze from her rust-colored eyes.
“I’m fine, I’m fine!” she growled as she shoved aside Ofir’s imploring hands, her lekku twitching with embarrassment.
“We need to find her,” Finn yelled over the wailing siren, the one that Dameron had said was the Proximity Breach Warning.
Well, the Stormtrooper wasn’t wrong.
Momentarily stalling his personal concern for Jari, Ofir focused his energy to reach out to Sebarra: Rey is gone.
The brief but significant responding silence was a clear indication Sebarra was either incredibly incensed or very distressed. It was probably both. “Elaborate. What do you mean gone?”
She was able to neutralize Jari and fled her room. Her whereabouts are unknown.
“In what condition is Jari?”
Deep wound across her forehead, most likely concussed. She doesn’t remember much, but her injury looks like it was the result of blunt force trauma from a metal or steel object.
“The shuttle has just entered the atmosphere and will began its final descent shortly. If Jari Ren is incapable of fighting, assign her to stand watch over StratComm. If she is able, leave immediately to meet us outside of the hangar bay.”
Yes, Master, Ofir responded as he helped Jari to her feet. He was relieved to see that her balance and mobility were unaffected.
“Stay here,” he told the Stormtrooper, who in turn glared him with an unspoken challenge: make me. But Ofir had no time to argue.
With an encouraging nod from Jari, Ofir abruptly turned and took off running down the frigid corridor. He was unsurprised to hear two sets of footsteps behind him.
Jari is able bodied. We are on our way.
“Upon your arrival you will replace Aila as point. She will join Vasco in second formation, Erez and Jari in third.”
“I have made it clear that there will be no unsanctioned engagement. Ensure it is clear to both you and Jari that failure to comply will be under pain of excommunication and execution. I needn’t remind you that Kylo Ren’s safety trumps our own, and he is the most compromised. We must be diligent.”
Ofir was surprised at the seriousness of the punishment, but he made no indication of it as he asked, What of Rey?
“She just joined us,” Sebarra answered, and Ofir nearly collided with the snow-packed wall as he rounded the corner, misjudging the sharpness of the angle. “But you need to get quickly - something isn't right with her."
He had a bad feeling about this. A very bad feeling.
Ofir drew upon the Force and sprinted full speed ahead, the bitter taste of adrenaline dancing upon his tongue, his heart pounded in his chest, Jari on his heels, the Stormtrooper falling behind but still managing to hold his own.
Jari on his heels, the Stormtrooper falling behind but managing to hold his own.
If the urgency of their rendezvous had been any less, Jari’s sudden shout would have stopped him dead in his tracks. Instead, he fell back until they were running shoulder-to-shoulder. He eyed her curiously and noticed that her face had somehow suddenly become sunken, her eyes hollowed out and wide.
Concern roared to life within him. "What's wrong?" he half-asked, half-yelled.
Jari responded in a shaky, mortified whisper, “My lightsaber is gone.”
. . .
Peleth had gotten to her.
Sebarra could see the blackness of his eyes reflecting within Rey’s hazel ones; they were now dim and distant, blinded by seething red rage, staring starkly at the swiftly advancing shuttle.
Sebarra’s eyes narrowed calculatingly as she watched Rey ardently marched toward where she, Aila, Vasco, and Erez stood, the howling winds nipping at the girl’s exposed shoulders and calves, where her tan skin had blotted pink with the cold. She was seemingly otherwise unaffected by the frigid temperatures, her jaw firmly set and jutting forward, her low-set brow creating tension lines along her forehead and in the corners of her eyes.
She looked absent, as if she were missing from her body, just as Ben had looked back at the Praxeum when he had achieved full Hibernation.
This was not good.
She reinvigorated the Force connection with her Knights: Beware of Rey, she urged. Peleth has influenced her mind. Remain on alert, but do not advance.
To the untrained eye, the subtle shifting as the Knights squares their bodies toward Rey would appear to be nothing more than a greeting, but Sebarra new better, saw more, as she noted the slow synchronized movements of their dominant hands as they drifted easily to their utility belts to rest on gently upon their lightsabers’ hilts.
Rey showed no interest in acknowledging any of them as she walked heavily but calmly past the three Knights to stand next to Sebarra. Her gaze had not shifted from the Xi-class shuttle as her shoulders methodical rose with each inhale, the delicate tufts of frozen breath that trailing from her nose and mouth with each exhale.
Rey, she spoke through the Force, her tone careful but gentle. You must get back inside. It isn’t safe.
The girl responded out loud, unmoving, still staring straight ahead. “You lied to me.”
For the first time in years, Sebarra was unsure of how to answer or what to do. This situation must be handled delicately but strategically; any misguided words or muddled movement would be perceived by Rey as a threat. She must be diligent and diplomatic, in order to ensure –
“You lied to me,” Rey repeated with a snarl, her words quaking with fury.
“I wouldn’t lie to you, Rey,” Sebarra answered calmly.
She smirked. “That’s exactly what Ben would say.”
What the hell was she talking about?
“You all took me for a fool,” she growled vehemently, her eyes still trained toward the horizon, moving slowly as they trailed the shuttle, which was so close now that Sebarra could hear the monotone whirring of the landing calcifiers.
“You made me believe he care about me. He made me believe he loved me.” Rey paused to laugh loudly, a hollow, shrill, unhinged laughter that grated against Sebarra’s mind like nails drawing across a chalkboard. “But I never was anything more than a fun distraction. A plaything. A joke.”
“But well done,” Rey sneered as she finally turned to toward Sebarra. “I didn’t see it, at first. I was too hopeful, too wrapped up in the excitement of feeling like I was someone special, like I had something special, because I was cared about by someone special.” Her tone was mocking, cruel, severe. “The silly little girl from Jakku who didn’t know any better. Ben was right about one thing: I have no place in this story.” Rey paused, and Sebarra’s skin crawled with alarm as Rey finished: “But neither does he.”
The familiar sensation of the Force connection resurged as Ofir reached out to her and the Knights, his unspoken words more frantic than she’d ever heard from the Dathomirian Zabrak: “She’s armed with Jari’s lightsaber.”
Sebarra’s heart screeched to a halt so abruptly that she was actually concerned she may drop dead. Her blood froze solid with dread, and she couldn’t keep the pleading intonation from her voice as she desperately appealed, “Rey, listen to me - “
“I’m done listening,” she sneered and Sebarra backed slowly away, her face frozen in horror as she saw Rey’s eyes shift suddenly, the softness gone as they clouded and darkened into solid black.
No. This can’t be happening. This was not how it was supposed to go, this wasn’t how it was foretold to end ...
“Rey!” Finn cried, and Sebarra watched out of the corner of her eyes as he overtook Ofir and Jari for the lead as the three of them charged from the hangar bay toward where they stood. “What are you doing?!”
Sebarra slowly raised an open hand in warning, a message lost on Finn, his warm eyes confused and concerned and transfixed on Rey. Ofir lunged forward and grabbed him by the elbow so resolutely that Finn was yanked to a standstill.
Stay back, Sebarra wordlessly warned her Knights. And do not move unless I explicitly direct you to do so.
Each obeyed her orders and remained in place, as still as statues. The groups were positioned as the three points of a triangle: Aila, Vasco, and Erez parallel with her, Ofir, Jari, and Finn further, approximately half the distance between the hangar bay and where she stood facing Rey.
“What am I doing?” Rey laughed again, her voice shrill and deranged with madness and fury. “I’m setting things right.”
Sebarra used the eerily quiet silence that followed to strategically assess the situation.
Fact: this was Peleth’s doing.
Counter-fact: she didn’t know what, exactly, he was doing. She and Ben had determined Peleth had been unable to fully complete the Essence Transfer during his original attack on Rey. He shouldn’t - couldn’t - have this much control over her. It wasn’t possible.
Subsequent fact: these sentiments and her consequent behavior could not have originated from Peleth’s influence alone.
Conclusion: these sentiments and her consequent behavior originated from within Rey herself.
The conclusion was one that Sebarra had never thought she’d be forced to accept. She reeled, blindsided, like a sucker-punch to her soul. But still, she fought it. This wasn’t right. This can’t be right.
She needed to know more, she needed to know if she had been mistaken, needed to know if she had unknowingly protected the very person who could bring the entire prophecy to its knees, needed to know if Rey was truly the Savior’s counterbalance or if Sebarra had been blinded by her optimistic haste to fulfill her own destiny as Sentinel.
She needed to know if Rey was someone for which she should sacrifice the lives of her dedicated Knights, for which she should sacrifice her own.
She needed to know.
Sebarra subtly approached Rey’s mind, flexing the Force’s fingers gently as she delicately prodded her outer layers of unconsciousness -
“No,” Rey whispered menacingly, and Sebarra felt a rancor-sized fist collide with her sternum, the impact so unexpected and violent that she stumbled backwards, her eyes watering as she gasped to regain the air that had been driven sharply from her lungs.
“You don’t get to do that to me anymore,” Rey jeered, her face contorted in sick satisfaction as Sebarra continued to sputter, one hand on her knee, the other kept free in case she needed to quickly detach her lightsaber from where it hung gently swaying from her utility belt.
The distinct whirring of compulsor lifts filled her ears. Sebarra glanced to her right and saw the closeness of the shuttle, heard the mechanized sound of its landing gear as it descended along with the ship itself, only yards away.
She swore under her breath and turned back to Rey, who had begun to advance, her movements calculated and smooth, like a staving predator stalking its prey, as she unclipped Jari’s lightsaber from her belt.
“You underestimated my powers,” she said, her fingers curling and tightening around the hilt, the whiteness of her knuckles standing out against the cold redness of her hands.
Sebarra speculated these words did not belong to Rey, but the they had come from her mouth and were spoken in her voice, and she grimly realized that she could no longer be sure about anything or anyone.
Embracing the natural tactician within, Sebarra looked at the situation through newly judicious lenses.
Fact: regardless of what Rey thought, Sebarra had never underestimated her powers. She knew better than to dismiss the Force capabilities of one half of the Othership.
Fact: if Rey were truly Ben’s Other, Sebarra was irrefutably certain that she could kill each and every one of them singlehandedly, including Ben, who was especially vulnerable in his weakened state.
Fact: if Rey was not Ben’s Other, then she was an exceptionally talented Forcestress, one of a kind and thus could still easily take out Ben and several of her Knights before she was neutralized.
Conclusion: she needed a fucking vacation.
Goosebumps prickled across Sebarra’s body at the shrill metallic wailing of the boarding ramp as it descended, hitting the snowy surface with a muffled THUNK. Refusing to take her eyes away from Rey’s slow advancement, Sebarra let the Force guide her senses. The Force projected Peleth in her mind’s eye, his gait aligning with the clanking of heavy footsteps against the durasteel ramp. Viscous hatred coursing through her blood, she watched as the Force showed Kiva follow after him daintily, her footsteps almost imperceptibly silent, her hooded face hidden from view.
But when she heard the familiar footsteps begin to shuffle awkwardly down the ramp, Sebarra mentally braced herself. Tearing her wary gaze from Rey’s unhinged face, she locked her eyes on Ben. Limping and haggard and shirtless and covered in filth, he was restrained by both stun cuffs and a fucking shock collar, which was secured so tightly around his neck that she saw the distinct outline of veins at his temples, bulging and straining as if threatening to burst. His dark hair fell into his bruised and swollen eyes as he stared down at his bare feet, his posture limp and resigned.
Her vision began to tunnel as her mind threatened to black out from murderous and merciless rage. She felt a thirst rise in her throat, compelling her to drink the blood of those who had done this to him. She envisioned voraciously tearing Peleth and Kiva apart, limb from limb, until they were nothing more than unrecognizable heaps of mutilated flesh ...
Ben stirred at the sound of Rey’s voice, lifting his head gingerly and incrementally, as if the task was draining him of whatever energy he had left.
The sound of Jari’s lightsaber igniting wrested Sebarra’s attention away from Ben. Rey crouched low, her preferred foot placed behind her for powerful leverage, the lightsaber’s purple blade extending from the center of her torso to point right at Sebarra’s chest. She was still and unmoving, in perfect Ferocity Form, her face taught and even behind the lightsaber’s flickering violet light.
“Rey!” Ben’s strangled cry sent shockwaves through Sebarra’s soul. But she couldn’t afford any distractions, especially not now, so she kept her gaze solely on Rey, her eyes tuned and sharp behind the tinted visor of her mask as she slowly positioned her body into the traditional low defensive position of Form Five, her right hand firmly on her lightsaber.
Rey snickered. “I promise that you won’t ever underestimate me again. No one will.” But she remained steadfast and steady, unmoving despite hectic gusts of wind that sent powdery snow twirling into the air, where it danced between them.
She was waiting.
But waiting for what?
Peleth’s voice answered her question: “Now.”
And Rey attacked.
Xi-class light shuttle: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Xi-class_light_shuttle
Desert Sickness: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Desert_sickness
T-6 shuttle: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/T-6_shuttle
Clan of the Toribota: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Clan_of_the_Toribota
Rainstorms of Jedha: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Jedha
I truly poured my heart and soul into this chapter, and I cannot thank all of you enough for your support, love, guidance, and loyalty.
You would have gone to hell for him; oh, but darling – he would have stayed to burn with you.
He couldn’t feel.
Not the frigid winds of Hoth as they whipped against his bare, bloody torso. Not the radiating ache of his fractured ribs or his broken nose or his dislocated shoulder. Not the permeating breathlessness due to his fluid-filled lungs that refused to expand. Not his muscles that twitched in tenderness, an after-effect of the Embrace’s toxins, which continued its painful presence as they blended with his blood and coursed through his veins. Not the smooth metal of the stun cuffs or the buzzing electrical current of the shock collar that was clamped securely around his throat.
He couldn’t hear.
Not the foreign bloodcurdling cry that erupted from Rey’s throat. Not the deep, discordant laughter emanating from Peleth’s belly. Not Kiva’s unexpected and horrified gasp. Not even his own futile and terrified screams.
He couldn’t think.
Not about the absence of his mother’s Force signature from Hoth, the missing warmth of her glow, which he’d noticed ever since Kiva had revived him aboard the shuttle. Not about his aching heart as he struggled with the unpredictable sorrow that filled his chest as he tried desperately to reconcile the knowledge that she had been ushered by the Force onward into the next life. Not about what it meant, that he was now alone and forsaken, the last of a small but powerful family, because he had, in one way or another, killed them all.
But he could see, and what he saw was hell.
He saw Rey charge with Jari’s lightsaber without abandon, using the Ferocity Form, his form, the most vicious style of lightsaber combat, a form which required complete internal focus and incredible technical kill, employing sweeping movements and seemingly unrelated attack/defense combinations to confuse and overwhelm. Its use been Restricted by the Jedi Council, believed to lead its practitioners to the Dark Side, because it required the user to adopt an actual state of mind to harness its power.
He saw Sebarra crouch low, anticipating Rey’s strike, abandoning her preferred stylistic approach to adopt the Resilience Form, which was focused on tactical bladework to provide the user with a full range of defensive coverage but minimal opportunities to strike. It was a particular favorite of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker, because of its true representation of the Jedi Order’s non-aggressive philosophy, it’s goal to tire out the opponent through consistent pacing and to disarm peacefully.
He saw Jari spring forward like a coil wound too tightly, sprinting toward Rey and Sebarra at full tilt, her eyes alight with fear and guilt. She took no notice of Ofir’s cries for her to stop, gesturing to Aila and Vasco and Erez to remain where they were, which they did.
He watched it all numbly, the events unfolding in front of him in slow motion, as if he stood in the wake of the gravitational pull of an invisible Black Hole, time and motion and the laws of physics warped beyond recognition.
But he could also see what would happen.
Predictive analytics, aided by the Force’s foresight, dictated that Jari, unarmed and young and pure, would try to rectify her guilt over the loss of her lightsaber, an extreme faux pas that was unacceptable and punitive. It dictated that Sebarra had, in all likelihood, ordered the Knights to employ minimal engagement with the hopes of protecting both Kylo and Rey, an order it was clear Sebarra was committed to following herself. It dictated that Ofir would try to intercept Jari’s involvement, but that he would arrive too late, because Rey was unhinged and powerful - Maker, was she powerful - and her vengeful and clouded mind wouldn’t allow anyone to prevent her from taking advantage of Sebarra’s offensive hesitations to unleash her visceral hatred on Jari. The young Knight would be cut to pieces, killed by the cruelest stroke: by the blade of her own lightsaber, and at the hands of Rey.
And then, he knew, everything would implode.
A principle tenant of the Knights’ code is to protect each other. It is a decree upheld to the highest degree and without question, unless the Knights has been explicitly directed otherwise - something that had never been done, but which Sebarra had chosen to do and for which she was willing to take responsibility, all because she knew of his love for Rey.
But Jari’s death would override Sebarra’s direct order, and they would collectively attack in an act of both defiance and mutiny. Rey may be able to hold her own, at least in the beginning, but most likely could not sustain it, at which point Sebarra would be forced to choose between Rey and her Knights.
But he knew who Sebarra would chose, and she would do it for him.
No, he would not sacrifice Rey.
No, he would not sacrifice Sebarra.
No, he would not sacrifice Jari or his Knights.
No, he would not allow any of this to come true.
“No!” Kylo roared, and the Force flocked toward him like metal to a magnet, rushing over him like ocean water through a broken levy.
He strained against the stun cuffs and they burst to life, smoldering and sizzling against his wrists, leaving harsh burns that he neither noticed nor cared about as he pulled, breaking them clean in half, their powerful electric charge dying with one final low whistle.
He grasped at the stun collar and yanked, channeling the nearly debilitating waves of electricity into feeding his thriving urge, his unbreakable willpower, to right his wrongs and protect the ones he loved. As it crushed beneath his titan grip, he felt it loosen and crumble into pieces, all of which fell to the durasteel boarding ramp in a series of metallic clanks.
Peleth lunged, looping his thick arm around Kylo’s neck in an attempt to place him in a chokehold, but Kylo was fueled by the Force in a way he had never known. Quick on his feet even for a man who hadn’t sustained his extensive injuries, Kylo had brought his forearms up to protect his neck in anticipation and was able to easily wrench his way free.
But he hadn’t anticipated that Kiva would remain steadfast and unmoving as Kylo hooked his foot behind Peleth’s knee. The man flailed his arms widely as he tried to regain his balance, but employing both his brute strength and the Force, Kylo whirled and elbowed him squarely in the face, sending him careening backwards where his head hit the edge of the ramp entryway. Peleth rolled awkwardly and fell to the ground with a satisfactory thunk, his jaw broken, head lacerated, and totally unconscious.
Desperately fighting the urge to beat the prone man dead, Kylo instead called his for lightsaber, which swiftly unhooked from Peleth’s utility belt on command and flew into his open and hand expectantly. He felt the blade spring to life, felt the powerful and comforting thrum within his steady grasp, as he turned to Kiva, ready. Ready to carve her body in half, ready to watch her bisected torso fall sloppily onto the ramp upon which they stood, ready to revel as the life drained from her secretive violet eyes.
His muscles burned with expectation as he raised his arm menacingly, his saber held over his head in the High Guard position, just like when he’d killed Lor San Tekka on Jakku. Kylo’s anxious anger had abated almost immediately once he’d made the determination to kill that foolish old hermit, and in a split second, the deed had been done.
Kiva hadn’t moved, peering curiously from underneath dark hood of her cloak, her eyes bright with intrigue, as if she were just seeing him, truly seeing him, for the first time. Kylo prodded gently with his mind and was taken aback: there was no threat, no intent to unlatch the lightsaber hilt from her belt or ignite its purple double-blades or shower him in furious currents of Force lightening as she had during the ambush back in his personal quarters.
They both simply stood there, facing each other, their eyes locked in quiet assessment, and Kylo inexplicably felt more agitation at the thought of killing her than he did at the consideration of letting her live.
But there was no more time.
It only been moments since Rey charged at Sebarra, but it had felt like decades, and he wasn’t about to waste any more valuable seconds on the likes of Kiva, whether she posed a threat to him or not. The Force still revving his soul like a newly oiled engine, Kylo deactivated his lightsaber and sprinted down the boarding ramp.
His bare feet slid across the slick snowy terrain, as he adeptly calculated his trajectory, keeping his strides even to position his body for impact. He intercepted Jari only several feet from where Rey and Sebarra sparred, easily encircling her tiny waist with his lengthy arms. She had been so lost in concentration, so focused on protecting Sebarra, that she hadn’t even noticed Kylo’s approach, and she let out a startled cry from behind her mask as he pulled her into his chest and hunched his shoulders, shielding her from the ragged landscape of pure ice.
As they rolled and skidded to a halt, he tightened his hold against Jari’s instinctive struggling. She was deceptively strong, and her small frame made it increasingly difficult for him to keep her from wriggling her way out of his grasp.
He sensed the unclear turmoil within her, her mind blazing in anger, so he pressed his cheek next to the side of her sleek black mask and whispered, “Jari, it’s me.”
He sensed her alarm subside into almost a relieved confusion as her body stilled. “Ben?”
Kylo’s muscles clenched in protest, but he knew there were bigger banthas to bake and allowed for the severe lack of protocol with which she addressed him to go unmentioned. But his voice was commanding and firm as he ordered, “You will remain where you are.”
She huffed in frustration, but her reply was respectful as she remembered herself. “Yes, Supreme Leader.”
“You will not disobey direct orders again.”
“No, Supreme Leader.”
They were on their feet as soon as Kylo released his arms from around her, satisfied that she would no longer act out of turn.
He transferred his intent gaze to Rey and Sebarra, who were clashing brilliantly only a handful of feet away from where he stood. He felt the clammy and creeping fingers of dread crawl up his neck, but he refused to allow himself the luxury of concern or worry for either woman, because if he were being honest, it was those very same emotional attachments that got him in this situation to begin with.
Kylo felt his chest seize uncomfortably in recollection: Snoke’s admonishment from only weeks ago, his grotesque form leaning toward him, his ancient scarred face twisted in disgust. “You have compassion for her.”
His former Master had warned him that his feelings for Rey would be his undoing, and for more than just a fleeting moment, Kylo wondered if he had been right.
Wiping the blood-soaked strands of hair from his eyes, Kylo watched with bated breath as Rey unleashed an onslaught of ferocious thrusts, her movements a perfect blend of grace and brutality, contrasting starkly with Sebarra’s defensive parries, her calm consistence maintained as she blocked - but never reciprocated - Rey’s advances.
He reignited the Force connection with his Knights: Remand Peleth immediately and neutralize Kiva at all costs. But under no circumstances will you engage with Rey unless I specifically tell you otherwise.
His selfish love for Rey had deprived him of reason and disoriented his priorities, and it was his responsibility to rectify the mistakes he had made.
Kylo continued, no longer speaking as their fearless leader, but as their longtime compatriot, their loyal friend. This is mine to handle, he communicated, soft and pleading and reflective of the ache in his heart that accompanied the realization and reconciliation of the inestimable consequences of his actions.
And his heart swelled with affection and pride as each responded, their voices united in devotion and sincerity. "Yes, Supreme Leader."
But again, there was no more time.
Reigniting his saber, Kylo cautiously approached Rey from behind, out of range of her peripheral vision, camouflaging his Force signature as he observantly analyzed Rey’s movements, calculating her multi-pronged series of thrusts and flourishing swipes.
He needed to transfer her attention from Sebarra onto himself, strategically altering the focus of her channeled anger. He spotted his chance, timing his arrival perfectly, and Rey was caught off-guard as he intercepted her strike with his own, their clashing blades crossed in perfect form as he placed himself between her and Sebarra.
He saw the darkness of her eyes lighten as she looked at him, saw the eyes of he remembered not from Takodana, not from Starkiller, but from the hut on Ahch-To, from her room on Echo Base. He felt his resolve solidify, bolstered by hope and faith and the drive to fix everything he had broken.
“Rey.” His voice carried over the crackling of their crossed lightsabers, and he watched her eyes go wide and misty, her lips parting slightly, as if she had just had the wind knocked from her lungs. But she showed no other indication of backing down, and continued her tight grip on the hilt of Jari’s saber.
As he always did in the heat of battle, Kylo took a moment to assess his surroundings. He could feel Sebarra behind him on his right, her white saber held at the ready, her passive approach traded for her preferred Form V, Perseverance Form, an adaptation that allowed for defense but also for immediate counter-strikes and fluid attacks in order to disarm and disable an opponent.
He peripherally watched Vasco and Aila roughly prop up Peleth’s still-unconscious body against the shuttle entryway as Ofir crouched to secure the personalized Force shackles he always carried at his side. Jari and Erez flanked Kiva, each holding the girl’s arms at the crook of her elbows, her own hands bound, her head hung low, her dark violet hair and angular face swallowed and hidden by the hood of her cloak.
Watch her, came Sebarra’s voice in his mind, and his attention snapped back to Rey. He felt the serpent in his chest sink its venomous fangs into his heart when he saw that the unending void of blackness had returned to the eyes that had softened at his voice only moments ago.
“Rey,” he said again, and although this time the sound of her name did nothing to change the bloodlust in her stare, he continued, “this isn’t you.”
“Liar,” she snarled, her jaw setting angrily. “This is me.”
“No,” he countered sharply, and he quickly did his best to moderate the germinating frustration beginning to roll inside of his abdomen. “You’re not a murderer, Rey.”
Her eyebrows lifted mockingly as her lips curled into a cruel smile. “You don’t like what you see?” she sneered. “Well that's a surprise – I learned it from you.”
“Stop,” he said, shaking his head warningly, trying desperately to keep his voice low and calm, because he knew what was coming.
She snickered. “You murdered your own father.”
Kylo shivered as his blood ran cold.
“Killed him after he begged you to come home. Pushed him away from you as he held your face, watched his body fall.”
Kylo flinched. She need to stop.
“Your own uncle sacrificed his life to apologize to you, and you tried to slice him in half, just like you did to Han.”
He gritted his teeth and tightened his grip upon the hilt of his lightsaber, feeling the pulsating vibrations beneath his bare hands. She needed to stop, now.
“And your mother.”
His heart stopped beating, frozen in place just as his body was, as if both were waiting for the confirmation of Leia’s absence from the Force, the absence he felt as soon as they had landed on Hoth. He tried to keep breathing, but found that he couldn’t, as if each of the internal systems necessary to sustain his physical life had paused, waiting for Rey to finish, which she did.
“She died because of what you did to those innocent children at the Praxeum.”
As his body convulsed in fury, Kylo struggled to wade through the viscous cruel thoughts that sludged through his mind, struggled to block out the red tinge of red seeping into his vision, slowly and methodically, as the resentment and anger filled his chest, struggled to remember the woman in front of him was Rey, not simply another amorphous or ancillary opponent that he could cut down easily, silencing them forever with one fell swoop of his saber.
But his lack of outright reaction only served to further enrage her.
“Murderer!” she yelled as she broke free from their interlocked blades, wheeling the saber over her head in a wide sweeping motion aimed straight for Kylo’s midsection. But he caught her blade and flung it from him, amplifying his strength with the Force, and she stumbled backwards, sliding clumsily on the slippery ice beneath her feet.
He was failing to subdue the clawing rage rising in his throat, encountering increasing difficulty in silencing the constant echo in the back of his mind as the voice that had remained dormant for so long, the voice that he thought had died with Snoke, began its rhythmic chant: kill her … kill her … kill her.
He advanced on her quickly and took advantage of her imbalanced steps, extending his arm and pushing with his mind. She staggered wildly but her grip on the lightsaber was firm, and in seconds she whirled to face him, lunging purposefully straight toward his heart. He parried and countered with his own strike, the tip of his red blade making contact with her left shoulder, no more than a graze, but a true wound nonetheless, a wound that he found to be darkly appropriate, as it matched the one she had given him during their first battle on Starkiller.
Rey cried out in both pain and frustration, her face crazed and pinched as she squared her body to his and bared her teeth. “I’ll destroy her,” she growled, her narrow eyes flickering menacingly to Sebarra. She took a sure step forward, forcing Kylo to retreat slightly in order to keep Jari’s blade from veering too close. “And you,” another step forward, another step back, “and all of them."
It had been a very long time since he’d teetered so close to the edge of the precipice of infinite rage, but Kylo knew himself well enough to notice when he was about to fall. He could feel his conflicted mind slowly beginning to recede, replaced with a black predacious drive, carnivorous and hungry for pain.
It was true: he was a murderer, had killed hundreds, including Han Solo, and had ordered the slaughter of hundreds more. And he hadn’t denied it when Rey had called him a monster, a murderous snake, because he knew who he was.
But he also knew that he hadn’t killed the students at the Praxeum, knew that he hadn’t wanted to harm or hurt any of them, knew that it had been Peleth, who had always hated him so much, who had accidentally sparked the fire when he had tried to stop Kylo from and the others from leaving, when his lightsaber singed the drought-ridden grass outside of the Temple, setting the old structure ablaze and dooming the sleeping students in the attached dormitory.
He knew that despite his hatred for Han Solo and Skywalker, he had never been able to deny his constant love for his mother - not to himself or to Snoke, who had judiciously chosen to avoid requiring Kylo to confront Leia at all costs, because even his former Master knew the consequences that would follow.
He knew the extensive hurt and anguish that tortured his soul, knowing that he would never be able to see his mother again, never be able to touch her or speak to her, because he felt it, like a cavernous hole in his heart, gaping and empty.
His birth family was dead and gone, but his other family – Sebarra and his Knights – remained steadfast and true and unwavering in their loyalty and honor, which was more than he could say about Rey, who had turned on him in the blink of an eye, unappreciative of all he had done for her and unapologetic for making him choose between her and his Master. She had left him for dead after she had gotten what she wanted, had made him believe that she cared for him, loved him, when it was all a fucking lie.
And now this entitled brat had the audacity to threaten to destroy the only family he had left.
This - all of it - was her fault.
She had caused the rift between him and Snoke, had been the reason why his Master doubted him and made him prove his loyalty by ridding himself of Han Solo. She had been the reason Snoke had further lost faith in him, having to send the likes of Armitage fucking Hux to save him as he lay there like a wounded child, while Starkiller collapsed around him. She was the reason he had murdered Snoke, a putrid excuse of a being, but a Master who had believed in him, welcomed him despite his faults and his weaknesses, when everyone else had turned away. Including - especially - Rey.
He felt as his grasp on the fraying string of reality began to falter as he sprinted toward her, his lightsaber held high, no longer confused as to where his loyalties were now, where they always should have remained. He was incensed, deranged, his thrusts unyielding, Rey blocking and dodging as she struggled to protect herself from the onslaught of his blind rage and brutal retribution.
She took the bait as he feinted to her right, opening herself to him, and he whirled blade in an arched semi-circle circle, slashing the left side of her torso just below her ribcage, right where Kylo had been shot with Chewbacca’s bowcaster.
She cried out with a wounded and anguished yelp as she doubled over in pain, and he seized the opportunity, lowering his lightsaber and landing a kick squarely against Rey’s sternum, the force of which sent Jari’s lightsaber flying out of her hand as she landed on her back, her face contorted in agony.
He circled her, stalking, panting, taking in the sight of his helpless prey, his spirit awash in misery and hatred, and his soul desperate to share it with her.
“You’re no one,” he screamed, his voice breaking with emotion at the realization that he had been a fool for thinking she was his Other, this scavenger, this filthy orphan from Jakku, this ignorant girl who he had let take so much from him.
He stopped to stand over Rey, her bent knees in between his spread legs, her arms wrapped around her abdominal wound, her breathing ragged and shallow. He blinked against the hot tears prickling his eyes, ignoring the tears that already streamed down Rey’s cheeks, refusing to look into her eyes, afraid of what he would find.
“You’re nothing,” he annunciated meaningfully, his voice unsteady and hoarse.
Pointing his lightsaber so that its tip was rested only centimeters from her throat, he steeled his resolve to do what had to be done, because she had given him no choice, had forced it to come to this just like she’d forced him to lie when he sorrowfully cried, “Especially to me.”
But as he lifted his blade to end it - end his pain, his meaning, his life, his Rey - a white searing light filled his vision as his saber’s trajectory was skillfully intercepted. He reeled, perplexed, but recovered quickly to crouch low and survey his surroundings, attempting to locate from where the unnoticed threat had originated ...
... and he found himself looking straight into Sebarra’s unmasked face, her light eyes and deep scars highlighted by the brightness of her white blade.
“You’re doing it again,” Sebarra said evenly.
“What?” Kylo growled, angrily wiping the wetness from his eyes and frowning in confusion.
He set his jaw and stared. Why did she insist on making this more difficult than it already was?
“Disengage, Sebarra. This doesn’t concern you.”
But she was quicker than him, she always had been, and before he could stop her, Sebarra had placed herself in between Kylo and Rey, her lightsaber held mid-range, unthreatening but at the ready.
Kylo seethed. “Disengage, Sebarra Ren. That is an order.”
But Sebarra simply shook her head and pressed her lips into a somber line. “What are you doing?”
Kylo raised his lightsaber, his heart thrumming in his chest, propelling burning anger and aching hurt and resentful resignation through his veins. “I will not repeat myself again.”
“Nor will I,” she responded grimly.
He blinked, stunned and unsure of what to do. Never had Sebarra disobeyed an order so directly.
“You are in no position to question my methods.”
“Section II, Article III of the Code of Conduct states that when the purpose of the Knights of Ren is inhibited or threatened by a Ranking Knight, the remaining Knights have a duty to challenge it.”
He wanted to punch her. “Are you honestly rattling off the Code to me?”
“I merely wanted to explain to you the justification for my actions, Supreme Leader,” Sebarra responded coolly but respectfully.
“She has nothing to do with the Knights’ purpose,” he spat heatedly, pointing to Rey accusatorially, growling with disdain as he watched Sebarra’s grip tighten around the ridges of her hilt. “She has done more damage than - “
But Sebarra suddenly extended her lightsaber and whirled away from him, stomping her boot firmly on Rey’s outstretched arm, which had been reaching toward Jari’s lightsaber laying only a few yards away. Rey howled in surprise and struggled, but Sebarra remained steady as she stared coldly at the girl laying injured in the snow. Jari’s lightsaber sprung to life, freeing itself from the ice to fly obediently into Sebarra’s open palm. She clipped its hilt to her utility belt, all the while keeping her eyes trained solely on Rey.
He had been so caught up in his own emotional whirlwind that Kylo hadn’t even noticed that Rey had even so much as shifted, much less was plotting to rearm herself. But Sebarra had always been perceptive, had always observed things he had been blind to.
“You know,” Sebarra began languidly, eyeing Rey critically, “while I am extremely tempted to fulfill your earlier wish and take your stubborn ass right back to Jakku, I’ve decided to focus my efforts instead on saving your life. But you are making this exceptionally difficult, even by my standards.”
Rey stopped struggling and remained still, her chest rising and falling rapidly, her trembling lips pursing into a pout.
Sebarra lowered her voice menacingly as she challenged, “If you move again, I will disembowel you myself.”
And without waiting for a response, Sebarra flicked her wrist and Rey fell into a deep unconsciousness, completely silent and starkly still.
Under any other circumstances, Kylo might have taken pleasure upon hearing the token wry sarcasm return to Sebarra’s voice. But the numbness he felt in his heart was somehow both empty and overflowing with resentment, and he couldn’t bring himself to react at all. His head began to throb as his bodily pain began to slowly build in intensity; the combination of the Force and pure adrenaline had kept the severity of his wounds at bay. But now that things were still, now that Peleth and Kiva had both been remanded by the Knights, now that Rey lay unmoving in the harsh frigid winds, both physically injured by his saber and mentally crushed by his rage-filled words, Kylo let himself begin to break.
He deactivated his lightsaber and closed his eyes, breathing as calmly and deeply as his punctured lungs and fractured ribs would allow, fighting the urge to succumb as the world began spinning, faster and faster and faster, his stomach twisting in nausea, the searing pain behind his eyes causing multi-colored spots to dance across the insides of his closed eyelids. His knees began to shake violently, and he arched his back, placing his hands firmly upon his thighs in order to do what he could to prevent himself from passing out.
He retched, cringing at the putrid thick green bile that emerged, spitting angrily in an attempt to remove the aftertaste, in an attempt to at least appear less vulnerable, less weak, than he actually felt.
But then his arms began to tremble on their own, only further adding to the shuddering of the knees upon which his hands rested. He was exhausted, beyond the brink of stability or sustainability, his body and brain both inundated with disconsolate dejection as the reality of his life, both past and present, began to come into focus.
He was five years old, writhing on the Chandrilan silk sheets of his parents’ bed, his head resting on the ornately billowing pillows, his body trembling with laughter as his father tickled his sides and belly, his laughter pure and innocent and filled with the ecstatic joy that he only felt when Han arrived home from a mission, his crunched and tear-filled eyes occasionally darting from his father’s face to his mother’s as she stood resting against the doorframe, smiling lovingly as she gently shook her head.
He was twelve years old, Luke’s eyes twinkling in tender pride, his firm bare hands ruffling Ben’s dark and unruly hair as he showed his uncle the Kyber crystal that had called to him, blue and radiant and clean, both of them unaware that it would soon be tainted and marred and fractured to create Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, would soon be left broken and bleeding, just like his family.
He was twenty years old, sweaty and panting on his back as he lay on his cot at the Praxeum, his eyes wide and frightened in the aftermath of yet another horrific nightmare. He had felt her light - Rey's light - call to him, and he had reached for it, allowed it to encircle his heart in emanating warmth, the shrill whine dying in his throat, silenced by the knowledge that someone in the galaxy who he had never met could somehow always make him feel so safe and so whole, could quiet the constant unrest in his frothing mind, could ease the pain of this life and probably even the next.
He is twenty-nine years old, shattered and rough, his eyes brimming with tears as hot as coals, watching the woman for which he’d burn the galaxy to the ground laying still and unprotected, white flakes of snow collecting delicately upon her eyelashes, her right arm resting across her torso to rest limply upon the gaping wound he had sliced in her side.
Kylo’s legs gave out and he fell to his knees, listening to the whistle of the whipping winds as it shuffled his hair across his eyes, the pain in them hidden, but the tears streaming down his cheeks still visible, the droplets clearing away the encrusted mixture of blood and grime, leaving intertwining stripes of white smooth skin in their wake as they pooled and trickled from his chin, which hung low over his chest.
“I’ve got you.” Sebarra’s soft voice was loving, her breath hot against his ear as she crouched in front of him, her gloved hands cool but firm as they framed his face, cupped just beneath his ears, her fingers light against the back of his neck as she rested her forehead against his.
“It hurts,” Kylo muttered. He didn’t know if he was referring to his body or his mind or his spirit, and in reality, it didn’t matter, because it was true to all.
And Sebarra said nothing, because there was nothing to say.
My lovelies -
I hope this update finds you all well!
I sincerely apologize for the delay in posting, but I made sure that this update was a long one - a bit over 7,000 words in total - as an apology for my tardiness. :)
I already have half of Chapter 21 written, and I am aiming to post by Wednesday of this week.
Things have settled down quite a bit, so I anticipate being able to much more regularly update. Thank you SO much, as always, for your amazing comments and support. I will be circling back to answer them tomorrow afternoon. :-*
I heart you all.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.
She felt cold and small as he gathered her lifeless body in his arms.
The roaring in his ears engulfed him whole as he panted, struggling to carry her across the uneven but barren terrain. His airway burned with each heavy breath, his throat scraped raw from screaming her name over and over, again and again.
His right foot slid treacherously as he hit a hidden patch of ice, but he couldn’t fall, not now. He used every ounce of his remaining energy to regain his balance, his eyes fastened on the slowly opening door of the hangar bay, refusing to reward so much as a backwards glance at the blood-covered monster kneeling in the snow.
The heat of the lightsaber’s blade had cauterized Rey’s wounds immediately, but it did nothing to diminish the severity of her injuries. He could hear the rattling in her lungs, could feel the feverish heat of her body, could see the cold sweat pouring from her temples.
He willed his aching legs forward, faster.
He watched as Rose burst through the barely-open blaster doors and sprinted toward him, her arms pumping furiously. Her eyes open wide with shock and horror as she grew closer, her hands flying up to her mouth as she saw the massive tear in Rey’s side.
“What happened?” she shrieked, skidding to a halt a few yards in front of him.
“Ren,” was all he could breathlessly spit out. “She - she needs a - a medic, now,” he wheezed.
Rose’s face set with the fierce determination, the fiery resolve, that he had come to know, to love, to admire, and she abruptly about-faced, sprinting all the way back to Base, screaming for a medic, her voice becoming softer and indecipherable as the distance between them grew.
As Finn staggered through the bay doors, he was met by Doctor Malida, suture kit in hand and a blood-stained stretcher in tow, carried by two young medtechs.
Finn’s trembling legs finally gave out, and he drew Rey closer to his chest, shielding her body as he fell to the ground, his knees smacking painfully upon the unforgiving concrete floor.
He watched as the soft flakes of snow dissolved against the heat of her skin, their remnants blending with her beading sweat and dried tears to trickle down her chin and pool in the center curvature of her neck. The remaining droplets of ice refracted the yellowish glow of the overhead lights, highlighting her in a beautiful and ethereal glow.
Rey’s lips were parted, only slightly, and Finn wrapped his arms around her, enveloping her tighter with each futile gasp and painful pant, hoping that somehow, some way, he could heal her with his love and his loyalty and the warmth of his body. Maybe he could - maybe he could save her, because he needed to save her, because he had failed to protect her, and the guilt of it had disintegrated the very fabric of his heart and soul.
It was a voice, peculiar and strange and faint, as if it had rippled across time and space and reality itself.
“...let her go,” it said again. Closer.
But it didn’t make sense.
Finn didn’t – couldn’t – understand , couldn’t comprehend why anyone would try take her away from him, why everyone had always tried to take her away from him ...
His chest heaved with aching sadness, and he bowed low to rest his forehead against hers, his mind playing and replaying Rey’s horrible agonizing cry as Ren’s blade landed true, splitting the soft skin underneath her ribs with one fell swipe. Finn had violently thrashed against the Zabrak Knight’s grasp, like a Dolo-fish out of water, frantic and hysterical and desperate to run to Rey’s side. But the Zabrak’s grip had been shatterproof and immobilizing; it had been useless, all of it had been useless, and Finn had been powerless to do anything other than scream her name and the Zabrak’s grip had been shatterproof had been unable to do anything but scream her name ...
Rose’s voice was small and pleading and loving as she squeezed his shoulder gently, but insistently. “You need to let her go.”
He shook his head fitfully.
“Come on, buddy,” Poe said quietly over his other shoulder. “She’s in good hands.”
Again he shook his head, kept shaking his head, wouldn’t stop shaking his head, wasn’t sure if he could stop shaking his head, even if he’d wanted to …
He felt his mind begin to break, shattering into a million serrated fragments.
But then he felt the gentle touch of several sets of hands upon his back, shoulders, arms. He felt the hazy mental fog begin to lift, felt his grasp on reality begin to return, and he recognized that yes - yes, he had to.
He had to let her go.
He slowly released his covetous embrace, grimacing painfully, each movement away from her feeling like nothing short of a complete betrayal. But he was drained and weary and empty, and he knew he had no other choice.
He watched, dazed, as Malida’s hands efficiently glided across Rey’s body as she applied freshly cut strips of bacta across the wounds on her torso and shoulder, softly pressing the adhesive into place with her fingertips before calling the two young medtechs over. They quickly but gently set Rey upon the fraying canvas of the stretcher before hoisting it between them and rushing toward the corridor that led straight to medbay. Malida offered Finn and reassuring but solemn smile before she turned and followed, breaking into a quick-clipped jog.
They needed to heal her.
They needed to make her whole again.
And if they couldn’t, he would, somehow. He swore to it.
And then he would fucking tear Kylo Ren apart limb by limb.
He now knew what true hate felt like.
It set every fiber of his being on fire, its power hot and intoxicating and unstoppable as it spread across his body like a metastasizing cancer, infiltrating every cell, every atom, leaving them shriveled and dark and brimming with rage. He shuddered uncontrollably, as if he had been stabbed with an electro-shock prod, and if it hadn’t been for Poe’s steady hands under his arms, he wouldn’t have been able to stand.
Rose reached up to tenderly cup his chin, tilting his eyes down to meet hers. The rapid movements of her profound and sincere irises searched his, hunting for a sign or semblance of serenity or sanity, but he could offer her neither.
He felt as if his entire world had crumbled around him, where it lay at his feet in heaping piles of smoldering and twisted debris.
“There’s nothing more you can do,” she whispered, her delicate breath warmly caressing his lips.
Finn peered down at Rose, lovingly running his eyes along the exquisite curvature if her lips, carefully memorizing the dainty lines of her chin, still amazed by the he way her eyes were somehow both eternally youthful and wise beyond her years. He had been blessed by the galactic gods the moment he met her, and he would forever treasure her kind heart and her unbreakable spirit and her unending grit and the way she snorted when he made her laugh too hard.
Damn, did he love her.
Forgoing the desire to think of what their future could’ve been, he instead reveled in the indescribable joy she had brought into his life, relished each and every memory they had shared. For one moment, he basked in warm recognition of just how truly lucky he was to have been loved by, and in love with, someone like Rose.
Which is why he had to protect her.
He couldn’t let the monster take her, couldn’t let him take one more person from him, couldn’t let him destroy anyone or anything else.
He couldn’t let him win.
And Finn was willing to pay the ultimate price to ensure that he didn’t.
He fixed his glare upon the brooding form of Kylo Ren as he crossed the bay’s threshold. His head hung tiredly as he shuffled lamely, his lengthy arms slung slackly over the shoulders of the two Knights flanking him: unmasked Sebarra and the masked Zabrak, whom Finn was able to easily identify because of his massively towering frame.
His brain screamed for him to be rational, for him to be logical, told him that what he was about to do was reckless and stupid, that the consequences would be irreversible and permanent. But his decision had been made. There was no turning back.
Finn only hoped that Rose would understand and, in time, forgive him for what he was about to do.
He bolted straight toward Ren.
The Zabrak spotted Finn’s intentions immediately. With one fluid and masterful motion, he wedged himself to stand in front of his Master, using his massive body to as a blockade as his gloved hand securely fastened around the hilt of the saber at his hip.
Sebarra reacted with equal expertise, her slender figure darting nimbly to intercept Finn’s projected trajectory. But her hands remained clear of the utility belt around her waist, upon which both her saber and Jari’s were secured.
It sounded like a whisper, at first, but Sebarra’s voice soon began to echo within his very BRAIN, the eerie warning accosting his senses. As he shook his head from side to side, hoping to dislodge the strange sensation, he watched with trepidation as her right arm extended, her fingers outstretched toward him.
He braced his mind and his muscles against what he knew would come: the inevitable manipulation of the Force, manifesting as an invisible but deadly push, or a neck-snapping choke, or an agonizing jolt of pain.
But he had misjudged, and instead, Finn felt his movements slow, as if he were traipsing through the thick quicksand of Kelvin Ridge in full Stormtrooper armor. He strained against the invisible weight that overtaxed every inch of his body. He floundered fruitlessly, his movements lethargic and sluggish, incapable of deflecting or lunging out of the way as Sebarra walked toward him.
She placed her palm purposefully upon his chest, and a strange, calming coolness trickled soothingly from her fingertips, as if an egg had been cracked against his sternum. He resisted the persuasive waves of tranquility enveloping him, channeling his anger and desire for retribution to fuel his internally raging inferno, stoking its flames with thoughts of Rose and Rey and Poe and Han and Leia.
But he found it impossible to unleash any of it on Sebarra.
He had grown to respect her, had even decided he likedher, regardless of the Master she served and the company she kept. She had Rose’s doggedly constant loyalty, Rey’s pure and true optimism, Poe’s impressive penchant for military strategy, Leia’s honorable diplomacy and invincible prudence.
But he refused to let his personal feelings sway or manipulate him. He wouldn’t back down. He had to end this, once and for all.
Finn ignored the continual chant of … calm … peace … purpose … that flowed from Sebarra’s body but made no attempts to circumvent her efforts to protect her Master.
He glared ferociously at Ren. “Who’s the traitor now?” he spat with contempt.
The haughty accusation in his voice extracted a growl from Ren. “I should’ve killed you when I had the chance,” he sneered, his black eyes irredeemable and menacing.
“And yet, here we are,” Finn retorted mockingly. “Another day, another failure, right, Ren?”
The monster bared his teeth and stepped forward, pushing his chest flush against the Zabrak’s back, who did his best to keep Ren in place without overstepping his station.
Finn felt Sebarra press against his chest a bit more firmly. “Gentlemen,” she said discerningly, “this will accomplish nothing.”
The calmness and clarity in his voice was sharply inconsistent with the fervent animosity in his veins. “No,” Finn agreed flatly. “But this might.”
He imagined aiming his heavy blaster at Ren’s head and firing. He imagined the bolt striking true, slicing across his face and leaving a complementary scar to the one Rey had already left. He imagined putting down the monster that had been riddled with twisted purpose and entitled grandeur, his death serving to recompense the thousands who had fallen victim to the sick cyclical legacy set in motion by Darth Vader -
Sebarra ripped the blaster out of his hands, cocked her arm backwards, and drew its hilt down to land firmly against his neck.
Finn reeled, erupting into a fit of such intense coughing that he thought he may pass out. He doubled over, placing his hands on his knees to brace himself as he sputtered and gagged, desperately trying to refill his lungs with air.
The blow had been soft enough to ensure no permanent damage was done to his airway, but hard enough to temporarily incapacitate him. Finn was vulnerable, and he knew it.
He lowered his shoulder and lunged, but Sebarra snagged him by the elbow and yanked, twirling his arm up and around so that it was bent at an unnatural angle. The pain that radiated rapidly up and down the length of his arm sent him to his knees.
Finn repressed the defeated cry that threatened to emerge from his throat. He seethed as Sebarra secured her superhuman grip, one hand placed inflexibly on his bicep, the other unyieldingly wrapped around his wrist.
“Don’t.” Sebarra’s voice was as fierce as fire itself, but Finn wasn’t done.
“Do you even care that she loves you?”
Ren’s face fell, his lips white, his face pallid.
Finn smirked cruelly. “Or are you so caught up in your own galactic importance that she’s just another expendable casualty, like the villagers you ordered slaughtered on Jakku?”
“That is enough!” Sebarra bellowed indignantly as she glared at Finn, her piercing eyes somehow as cold as the emptiness of space and as hot as the volcanoes of Mustafar.
“Look around you,” she instructed.
He ignored her.
She twisted his arm by no more than an inch, but the resulting discomfort was enough to break his resolve, and Finn did as she asked.
Wincing against the ache in his arm and the stiffness in his shoulders and the throbbing in his neck, Finn began to stake stock of his surroundings.
His heart dropped.
Poe stood stiffly only several yards away, his hand gripping the holstered blaster at his hip, his usually smooth features uneasy, his eyes alert. Rose was to his right, her face grim and tense her arm extended, the blaster in her hand charged, primed, and aimed at Sebarra’s chest. Surrounding both of them were fifteen-some-odd Resistance fighters, each and every one of whom had their blasters drawn and targeted toward the group of Knights across the room.
Brilliant swaths of color illuminated their masks, the vibrant lights from their ignited sabers casting an unnerving glow across the hangar bay. The four Knights who were able had drawn their lightsabers. Jari, while unarmed, had joined her fellow Knights to stand in a triangular defensive formation around Ren, his protection of the utmost importance and only concern.
Kiva stood silently, placed off to the side, just far enough away so as not to pose a threat, but close enough to ensure she couldn’t flee. Peleth lay unconscious at unmoving at her feet, his robes wrapped awkwardly around his body, as if he were a heap of trash waiting to be incinerated.
“Is this how you avenge Rey? Is this how you honor her?” hissed Sebarra. “Your impulsiveness just put everyone Rey cares about at risk.”
He flinched at her scathing words, but he couldn’t deny the truth in them.
As she released his arm, Finn let his head hang low wishing beyond feasibility that he would simply disappear. He squeezed his eyes shut and watched as bright bursts of light flickered and twirled across the insides of his eyelids.
He heard Sebarra mutter something, but not to him, which was good because he hadn’t been listening anyway. A familiar chorus of snap-hissesfilled the quiet room as the Knights disengaged their lightsabers.
Sebarra’s voice rang across the hangar bay, ambassadorial as always and decidedly discreet.
“So as to avoid any further escalation, the Supreme Leader has graciously agreed to wait aboard The Statera," Sebarra’s voice rang across the bay, echoing briefly before being swallowed by the whistling of the wind that howled at them from beyond the open blast doors. “He will be joined by the Knights, who will secure the prisoners in the brig. I will assume any and all responsibility for their detainment.”
“I appreciate that.” Poe’s response was rough and unsteady, as if he was still processing and had not yet determined how he felt about the events that had just transpired.
Finn kept his eyes soundly shut.
His mind churned as he attempted to reconcile the compromising position he’d created, the danger in which he put everyone.
People thought of him as a hero for saving Poe from the First Order ... but none had yet realized what his defection had truly required of him. He had been taken from his family at too young of an age and indoctrinated too thoroughly to have any memories of them, but his division had been the closest thing he'd ever had to one.
And yet he’d blasted each of them to bits as he and Poe fled, had slaughtered the men and women with whom he’d grown up, had shared stories and drinks and laughter and memories and triumphs and failures. He had turned on them, had cut them down without a second thought, too absorbed in his own desperate need to save himself, too concerned with his own wellbeing to think of theirs ...
It haunted him, and always would.
Rose considered him to be a hero for what he did on Starkiller Base, and she wasn’t the only one. But no one knew that he’d lied to Leia, to Han, to them all, pretending to know about the Base’s shield generators when in reality, he spent his days mopping floors and cleaning lavatories. He’d deceived the entire Resistance without so much as a guilty thought, putting them all at risk because he was unwilling to lose Rey, unwilling to let the First Order take one more person from him.
And then, only days afterwards, he’d tried to jump ship, willing to abandon the Resistance, to desert Poe and Leia and all of those who had harbored him and kept him safe. And when Rose confronted him by the escape pods, he’d lied to her too, because he had been unable to own his decisions even then, even when he was convinced it was the right thing to do.
“Traitor!” Ren had screamed at him, only a few short weeks ago.
Perhaps the monster had been right after all.
He heard the rustle of her cloak as Sebarra crouched down beside him, felt her radiating warmth rebound off of his shivering chest and slouched shoulders.
“Finn,” she said again.
He bit his tongue hard enough to draw blood.
The disgust and disappointment and shame were all too overwhelming. He wanted to be left alone so he could wallow in the miserable reality of what he had done, of what he was willing to do, of what he WAS ...
“Look at me.”
He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. So he didn’t.
The sincerity of her voice compelled his eyes to open. Sebarra leaned forward, whispering so only Finn could hear, nothing but sincerity and compassion in her voice.
“I can’t do this without you.”
. . .
Small, stale, and dimly lit, the Confab room was located off of a quiet and mostly unused passageway.
Sebarra figured that its four interior walls would provide at least some additional warmth, but contrary to all logic and reason, she was somehow even colder there than she had been anywhere else since she arrived on Hoth, including when she was outside and exposed directly to the elements.
She rubbed her gloved hands together rapidly, hoping to alleviate the stinging in her fingers, only to end up disappointed and irritated by the minimal amount of friction heat produced by the black Chandrilan leather.
But, as always, Sebarra refused to let herself be distracted by such trivial bullshit. Especially considering the amount of significantly pressingbullshit that needed to be addressed.
“Make yourself comfortable,” Dameron offered as he gestured toward the center of the room. She glanced toward small scuffed table, warily eyeing the questionable discoloration of the padded seats on each of the surrounding four chairs, but she graciously accepted his invitation with a small nod.
She chose a seat at the far side of the table, dragging the decrepit chair across the grimy floor and angling it so she had clear line of sight toward the room’s only entrance. She ground her teeth as she lowered into the chair, steeling herself against the throbbing aches that radiated across her entire body.
She knew was sorer than she should have been, and knew it was because she was once again privy to Kylo’s pain, undoubtedly duller and less damaging than his, but limiting and uncomfortable all the same.
It was by and large the lastfucking thing she needed to have to deal with, especially now. But she was a Master Knight, not a child, and she knew better than to think self-pity had ever fixed anything for anyone.
“Grab a chair, Buddy,” Dameron called to Finn, who had planted himself against the wall of the doorframe.
He sulkily shuffled forward, pulling out the chair across from Sebarra. “Thanks, but I’ll stand,” he muttered, and pushed it behind him.
It was a shame, not only because she happened to like Finn, but because she knew he was capable of better.
“Come on, Finn,” Dameron said. “You should sit and rest a minute. It’s been an insane day.”
Finn snorted, his amber eyes flickering toward Sebarra. “We we’re doing just fine until Ren showed up.”
Sebarra would rather submit to a hundred root canals performed by an angry Hutt with a rusty hydrospanner than to have to sit there and listen to this topic of conversation yet again.
The Force, in all of its wonder and wisdom, was seriously fucking testing her patience today.
But there was too much at stake, and she was the only one who could set things back on track. It had all been derailed in an instant, with one swoop of a red lightsaber, and she could not afford to exacerbate the situation any further than Kylo already had.
That man had royally fucked up beyond all recognition. But, in all fairness, it wasn’t his fault. At least not entirely.
As she had suspected he would, Peleth used Rey as an efficient and effective instrument of pain. He fed upon the darkest parts of her soul, drudging up old and new memories alike in order to twist them into an unstoppable cyclone, a whirlwind of mistrust and anger and fear and loneliness and abandonment. He maximized the damage by tapping into the lifelong resentment she and Kylo shared, using their mutual pain to cause even more agony and grief.
Through Rey, Peleth had been able to tap into Kylo’s deepest and most tender vulnerability, one that had been locked away since the night Master Skywalker betrayed Ben. It was a weakness only apparent to those who knew him, who saw him for who he really was, for those very few who has ever paused long enough to notice the gold, sparkling flecks in his otherwise deeply dark eyes.
Forsaken by his mother, his father, his uncle, his mentor, the galaxy. Neglected and exposed to suspicion and preconceived notions, his choices made for him, his destiny unavoidable.
Ben had finally succumbed to the common belief that others held his entire life: he was marked, stained, born with an original sin he neither asked for nor understood, his life’s path laid before him by those whose minds echoed with the memories of a time long gone, when the galaxy was ruled by the unforgiving durasteel fist of Darth Vader, a creature in a mask who was powerful enough to bring entire worlds to their knees.
Kylo Ren had killed Ben Solo to permanently silence the light that he’d always felt within him, the light that no one, in his mind, could see.
Except for Rey, the girl she’d heard so much about for so long.
It had been only a couple of days since he was anointed as Kylo Ren, and she’d been in her personal quarters aboard The Supremacy, preparing to depart for an extended and intensive conditioning trek, designed specifically by Snoke to “acclimate” the six Knights of Ren to their new stations and responsibilities. They’d been explicitly ordered to refrain from contact with any outside individual or entity for the entirety of the year-long journey, and when Kylo had showed up at her doorstep, she thought he’d come to say goodbye.
He’d in fact said much more.
“I don’t know who she is,” he’d mumbled, the tops of his ears burning with embarrassment as he rubbed his neck awkwardly.
She remembered her detachment, her complete disassociation, as he told her about the girl. He didn’t know her name or who she was or where she was or why it was happening, but he did know that she was able to make him feel at peace in a way nothing else and no one else had or could or ever would.
He described the inexplicable pull he felt toward this girl, his cheeks growing red and his voice halting and jumbled as he struggled to explain, to put into words what this all meant. He couldn’t stop thinking about her, he’d said, hadn’t been able to sleep or eat or function, driven mad by an insatiable burning need to find her.
But she’d known what it meant: he’d found his Other, just as the Force had predetermined.
She thought the inevitability of it would somewhat soften the painful blow. But had been very, very wrong.
The rawness of his rejection compounded with the realization that all the while, through all their late-night conversations and their spirited sparring sessions and their secretive rendezvous and their laughter and their tears, she had in actuality only been a stopgap, a way to mitigate his immediate needs and urges until he was able to find the girl who had saved him, the girl who he’d really and truly wanted.
She’d stared at him blankly, unable and unwilling to speak. and when she’d found her voice, it sounded foreign flat and reticent and unfamiliar.
“I take a back seat to no one.”
Sebarra departed early the next morning with the other Knights without another word to Kylo. She’d refused his appeals through the Force and eventually shut herself off completely to him, her signature dark and unsearchable.
It wasn’t that she didn’t want to speak to him - she’d yearned for it, each and every second of each and every day. But she had grown to know herself well, and she knew she deserved more than what was possible with him.
His confession had left her broken, and she needed time to work through the hurt so that she could fully heal.
She knew Kylo better than he knew himself, which is why she could see through Peleth’s manipulation and deception, could see what he was doing and why he was doing it.
For all their powers and prophecies and passion surrounding them, Peleth knew, just as she did, that Kylo and Rey were damaged, and he’d leveraged that fact to his advantage. He played upon their common feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, off-setting their innate balance and amplifying their rage to a boiling point to ensure that they’d lash out at the person closest to them, the only other person who could understand them.
It was simple human nature.
The brutal nature of their confrontation made perfect sense to Sebarra, because she understood them both as individuals and as two parts of the same whole. But while their actions had been completely linear and plainly clear to her, it had left confusion and fear within others, within Dameron and especially Finn, because they thought they knew and thought they understood, when they actually hadn’t.
The muddied waters needed to be purified before any forward progress could be made. But she needed to do it her way, secretively, away from the Knights and certainly out of range of Kylo, whose emotional state and ego had been harmed enough already.
It hadn’t taken much to convince him to retreat to The Statera; Kylo knew, as much as she did, the intrinsic cost of what he had done. His and the Knights’ departure was necessary to limiting any additional “incidents” that could further fracture the limited trust that had been built.
“I don’t want to sit,” Finn repeated in irritation for the umpteenth time.
Her entire body burned red-hot, as if she had been doused with hyperdrive lubricant and set on fire. Their inane bickering wasted valuable time, a commodity that that they simply did not have.
Since these two fully grown men didn’t seem capable of resolving it on their own, she decided to offer her assistance.
Sebarra reached out with the Force to grip the chair Finn had moved aside and pulled. The edge of the seat collided with the backs of his knees, the force of which caused his legs to bend. He let out a startled cry as he plopped down involuntarily onto the decrepit padded seat, and the chair’s legs whines in protest with an elongated creak.
“If you even thinkabout getting up from that chair,” Sebarra said sharply, “I’ll tie you to it.”
Finn’s face set defiantly as he shot an affronted look at Dameron. But the Resistance leader read the situation and read it well.
“At this point, I’d let her,” he admitted with a simple shrug, and Finn glowered.
Sebarra sensed that the two men, while not necessarily pleased, were at least both ready and willing to listen to what she had to say.
So she began.
“I am grateful for your willingness to provide us with supplementary medical supplies so that we may tend to both Jari Ren’s wound and to the Supreme Leader’s injuries aboard our shuttle,” she began. “We are happy to compensate the Resistance for all incurred costs.”
Dameron shook his head. “Something tells me it’s not the best look for us to be accepting payment from the Knights of Ren.”
Sebarra nodded expectantly. “Understood.
“I’d like to explain the events that transpired with regards to Rey, myself, and the Supreme Leader,” she began. “As I suspected, Peleth was able to infiltrate Rey’s mind while in the Hibernation Trance. Her actions were growing increasingly reckless, putting both herself and others in direct danger. It was my obligation to neutralize the damage she could potentially cause to herself and to those in my charge. ”
“Rey’s currently floating in bacta gunk in our medbay tank,” Dameron said flatly. “The damage has been done.”
She had expected Dameron’s terse disapproval.
“I fully regret the extent of Rey’s injuries,” she responded evenly. “I never intended for her to be harmed in any way. And I can assure you neither did the Supreme Leader.”
Finn scoffed, but Sebarra ignored it, maintaining the standard indifferent professionalism she adopted in meetings of this nature.
Dameron sighed, turning toward Sebarra and resting his arms upon the crusty tabletop.
“I saw what happened,” he said slowly. “I watched it on our holovideo stream from the hangar bay’s the security linkvids. I agree that Rey was definitely not herself, that much is obvious.”
Sebarra looked at him patiently, waiting.
“I get that she attacked you, and you had every right to defend yourself, which you did. But Kylo Ren attacked Rey,” he countered with particular emphasis. “Your Master has quite the reputation around here, one that’s well-deserved but certainly not doing you any favors.“
The familiar abrasive itch of rampant irritation began to rise in her throat.
“I don’t know what happened, and frankly, I don’t care,” Dameron said. “What I do care about is that he nearly killed Rey, which makes no sense considering what you told us earlier about his feelings for her.”
Sebarra needed a drink ...
“We can’t trust Kylo Ren,” he declared matter-of-factly, “and we have no reason to, especially now.”
... or twelve ...
“Yeah, I’d personally love to hear why your boss decided to slice open the woman you say he cares so much about,” Finn muttered.
... or an entire bottle of the strongest liquor in the galaxy.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t anticipated this - she very, very much had - but she found herself once again explaining the esoteric nuances of a situation that she had difficulty making sense of herself.
She had no intention of bringing up the Othership, or the Son of Suns prophecy, or her role in any of it, the likes of which even Kylo and the Knights knew very little to nothing about.
But she would do her damndest to interpret as much as she could within those boundaries, because she could, because she wanted to, because Ben and Rey and the galaxy deserved what could be, if all of this came to be as the Force willed it.
“It’s more complicated than it appears,” she said.
"Complicated?" Finn snapped incredulously, apparently deciding to join the conversation. His eyes burned like a pair of twin suns on the brink of exploding into supernovae. “Poe, we’re sitting here chatting as our medics patch up the very person who tried to kill Rey.”
His tirade unfinished, he rounded on Sebarra.
“Kylo Ren is evil,” Finn snarled. “He’s a monster and a murderer and a liar. And he doesn’t give a shit about Rey.”
Sebarra clenched her fists tightly, her fingers digging into her palm. “You know nothing,” she hissed.
“I know enough,” he countered. “I know that I care about the Resistance and I care about Rey.”
She took a moment to check herself before she spoke out of turn. But Finn had stepped out of bounds, and she would see to it that he was put back in place.
“This line of conversation is excessively counterproductive,” she challenged. “The reality of the situation is this. The First Order will launch a ground assault, with every weapon and every soldier available to them. They have you grossly outmanned and outgunned, and they will use that advantage to completely wipe the resistance out, once and for all. And as much as I hate to pay the man any compliments, Hux is and always has been a master strategist, and beyond that, he has too much hinging on this campaign to lose.”
She was met with silence, which at least meant they were listening.
“Adding to your exceedingly dismal odds are the two very angry and very powerful Force users currently being contained on The Statera, kept at bay only due to a direct order from the Supreme Leader,” she emphasized, shooting a pointed look toward Finn.
She continued: “Peleth and Kiva couldn’t care less about either the Resistance or the First Order, because their vendetta is deeply personal, as I have already mentioned. And if you consider them to no longer be a threat, you are devastatingly incorrect, because they are actually doing exactly what they intended. They know that Rey and Kylo Ren act as a central hub of the turning galactic wheel. And they know that if they play their Sabaac hand correctly and successfully pin them against each other, they can and will easily and permanently destroy us all.”
Finn’s jaw dropped so low and so suddenly Sebarra found herself mildly concerned that it may unhinge itself and fall off.
“Make no mistake,” she said, leaning across the table, eyeing the two men conspiratorially, “Rey’s survival depends upon Kylo Ren’s, and vice versa.”
Finn started to say something that sounded unsurprisingly like the beginnings of a retort, but she hedged him off, in absolutely no mood to further listen to asinine and misinformed qualms born from grudges and moral hubris.
Sebarra took her time, enunciating each word slowly and meaningfully. “If you want to protect Rey, then you’re going to have to help me protect Kylo Ren.”
A potent mixture of equal parts dismay, disgust, and confusion danced across Finn’s face. “Whoa, whoa. Wait,” he said with a shake of his head. “You want me to believe protecting Ren is going to somehow protect Rey? He was the only one I saw trying to kill her.”
And then it happened: she hit her limit.
Sebarra slammed her fist on the table loudly, and the two men nearly jumped clean out of their skins at the unexpected noise.
“Apparently you are misremembering a few milestones of the confrontation,” she snarled reproachfully. “Allow me to remind you with the utmost clarity: Rey was the aggressor. She physically harmed one of my Knights, attacked me, and attacked my Master, and under any other circumstances I would have lobbed off her head in less than a blink of an eye without a second thought. But,” she raised her voice as Finn’s face fell slack with dread, “I am fully aware that she was not in her right mind, and that she wouldn’t have done any of those had it not been for Peleth Dol. I am therefore overlooking her actions, as the accountability does not rest solely on her shoulders.”
It was Dameron who ended the uneasy hush that had settled over the room. “Is it true, Finn?” he asked.
Finn frowned. “Is what true?”
“What you said in the hangar bay. Is Rey in love with Kylo Ren?”
Sebarra couldn’t stop herself from raising her eyebrows at the utter unexpectedness of the question. Finn, on the other hand, had to clear his throat once, twice, three times before he was able to collect himself enough to answer.
“I mean, I don’t know about now,” Finn muttered, his forehead creased and eyes wide.
But Dameron’s subsequent glare made it quite clear that his answer hadn’t been sufficient, and Finn’s shoulders slouched in resignation. “She was, yes. And if I know her, she probably still is.”
Dameron turned to Sebarra with an unreadable expression. “And is Kylo Ren in love with her?”
She flinched at the casualness of his voice.
This was not the conversation she was interested in having, but the direct question had left her with little choice, so she chose her words carefully. “I can no longer vouch for the Supreme Leader’s feelings.”
“Fair enough,” Dameron conceded with a nod. “Do you believe he’s in love with Rey?”
For a fleeting but serious moment, Sebarra heavily considered choking Dameron until his lips turned blue as punishment for the intrusiveness of his irrelevant and inconsequential question.
But she didn’t, because she knew his question was relevant, and was hardly inconsequential.
No matter how she sliced it, the facts spoke for themselves:
Fact: She needed Dameron and Finn in order to save Rey.
Fact: She needed Rey in order to save Ben.
Fact: Dameron and Finn needed to hear her say it.
And so she did.
“Yes, I believe he is.”
Finn rolled his eyes and grunted. “He’s got a really messed up way of showing it.”
Sebarra’s eyebrow cocked in amusement. “If that’s the case, then so do you,” she pressed.
Finn narrowed his eyes in confusion, genuinely baffled and highly affronted by the comparison.
She confirmed his unspoken question with a curt nod. “Do you honestly not see that you share many of the same faults you continually find with the Supreme Leader?” she asked with a tilt of her head. “Because, for some reason only the Force could understand at this point, Rey happens to care deeply for both you and Kylo Ren. And both of you have chosen to repay her love and loyalty with self-importance and selfishness.”
She had never before spoken irreverently of her Master, and she never intended to do so again. But something – the Force, her gut, a deity, or a combination of all three – told her that she needed to be nothing short of fully honest and completely forthcoming.
And her intuition had never led her astray.
“It is clear to the Supreme Leader that if this is the path you both choose to follow, then you will both lose Rey in the process,” she advised. “That’s not a risk he is willing to take. Are you?”
It was in that moment, that very moment, she knew Finn had finally heard her, finally understood.
“Malida to Dameron, over.” Her voice sounded warped and tinny as it crackled through the speaker on Dameron’s commlink. He reached into his jacket pocket and extracted the outdated cylindrical device.
He flipped the transmit switch. “Dameron present. Go ahead, over.”
Heavy interference blasted across the link, obscuring the majority of Malida’s response. “ – oren, over.”
“Interference heavy, Malida. Please repeat, over.”
The link sputtered. “ – id, and she’s asking – “
Dameron cursed under his breath and smacked the commlink against the tabletop. “That should do it,” he muttered before transmitting, “Interference still heavy. Please repeat, over.”
“Rey’s conscious and lucid, over.”
Sebarra’s eyes grew wide in surprise. There’s no possible way for that to be true. Never had she seen or heard of someone heal so quickly from such serious wounds. And yet Rey was already awake and coherent ...?
Sebarra couldn’t help but grin. This girl really was full of surprises.
Finn sprung from his seat with such vigor that his chair went flying halfway across the room, where it tipped over and landed on its side with a clank. Without so much as a word or a wave or a backwards glance, he sprinted from the room at full tilt, and Sebarra could hear his quick footsteps gently fade as he ran down the corridor to medbay.
Dameron looked extremely skeptical. “Please confirm previous transmission: Rey is conscious and lucid, over.”
“Confirming previous transmission regarding Rey.” Pause, then: “She’s, uh, she has a request for you, over.”
He shot Sebarra a sideways glance. “Okay,” he responded hesitantly. “Please relay Rey’s request, over.”
“Poe, it’s me,” Rey answered. The sound of her voice drowned Sebarra’s entire body in an ocean of overwhelming and welcome relief.
Dameron grinned from ear to ear. “It’s good to hear your voice again, kid,” he laughed kindly. “What can I do for you, over.”
“I need to see him,” Rey blurted, and Sebarra could actually feel the color draining from her face, could actually feel the cold beads of sweat collecting along her forehead.
Dameron’s smile faded fast. “Need to see who, over.”
“I need to see Ben.”