the delicate sound of thunder
That night, Rey did not get a single wink of sleep.
She lay awake on her hammock, staring at the metal wall next to her vacantly. She could not see her marks properly in the darkness of her shelter, but her mind was too occupied in recalling the events today, and reflecting on a certain man who was sleeping below her.
She made her guest, Kylo Ren, a make-shift bed out of many layers of clothes and rags she owned, plush dolls she made, and books to make it bearable. It was not the comfiest place to sleep, but tolerable for the night.
He watched her make his bed with wide eyes, too curious and polite to say a thing. He stood motionless until she was finished.
She reclined on her side as she recalled the moment when he was taking off his attire – his pauldrons, armour, and his under-clothes. She was granted with the most appetizing sight of male physique. There were scars here and there, etched permanently onto his skins. Mottled moles made an inky constellation across his alabaster skin. She had to look away before her eyes drifted lower to his very toned packs.
As she lay awake in the dark, she was accompanied by occasional huffs coming from Raqisa. Maybe he was too bored or he couldn’t sleep, she thought.
And how could she not? She was surrounded by a certain unfamiliar scent. It was not bad, it was very pleasant actually, but she wondered why she kept on smelling it. She had never experienced this constant awareness of a scent. If she sniffed something bad in Niima Outpost, she could tune it out of her mind. Forget it as she worked her ways for her rations. And this scent, it was of spices and something earthy she could not name.
After all, didn’t he say he was a Prime Alpha? An Alpha? Are there any differences? Rey wondered to herself. Is this how they were supposed to smell?
She shifted to her side to watch Kylo’s sleeping figure, she heard him breathing steadily, even if she could barely see him. Being around him made her more conscious of the strangeness of her own body.
What is it that you have done to me? She thought restlessly. A spell?
Her body was made hyperaware of something crawling inside her. While the changes worried her, it was not a bad sensation that she didn’t mind being swallowed into it. It was feral, but it owned a consciousness. It wished to exist within her, along with her. It did not want to overcome her but to be one with her.
And why is that? She questioned herself, too afraid to sleep for the fear of closing her eyes would result in her losing her own selves and senses.
Too long we lay dormant. Our beloved awoken us, it purred to her.
It is time.
Before she was able to ask more, she heard a whimper coming from Kylo. His body turned taut, his head shifted left and right. In his deliriousness he mumbled something in an unknown language, along with pleas like ‘Stop’, ‘Go Away’, and ‘Please’. With his closed eyes, his face showed an expression of panic and fear. He was having a nightmare.
He kept on thrashing tautly until Rey went down from her hammock and shook him awake.
“Kylo,” she urged him. “Kylo, wake up.”
She kept on shaking his shoulder. There was cold sweat she felt under her palm, while she was shaking him harder, he was nowhere to be awaken. He reeked of fear.
“Kylo!!!” she screamed, waking Kylo in the process.
Raqisa neighed angrily from the distance, he was made surprised by her.
She breathed the air deeper to calm herself down. In the dark, she felt him holding onto her hand.
“A’uzu billahi minash Shaytan-nir-rajeem,” he murmured weakly, it was almost unheard by her. “Thank you, Rey,” he said as his thumb swept over the back of her hand reassuringly.
“Go back to sleep,” she whispered in the darkness.
She sensed him staring at her, perhaps staring at where her voice came from. She waited for him to fall asleep, and no moment later, she could tell from his breath that it was deep and steady. He had gone back to his slumber.
What was that?
Unsettled, she took her pillow and blanket from the hammock above. She took it herself to set everything beside him. She would not mind experiencing stiff muscle tomorrow, she needed to follow a subconscious pull to be beside him. As she lay her head upon her pillow and pull her blanket to fend the cold desert night, a question came into her mind.
Why would you comfort him? Why would you make yourself vulnerable to him? It asked, this was a different voice from hers. This one was vicious and bitter.
Nothings good ever came to you every time you opened your heart, It reminded her. Why would he be different? A pair of pretty eyes? A tight stomach packs? More foods to eat?
Rey banished those dark thoughts away her mind. He has been kind to me and that’s good enough, she countered.
He wants something from you.
Don’t we all? She admitted. I’ll help him, even if he’ll leave me eventually.
He wants your freedom for himself. You’re just exchanging masters.
Take his blade. Drive it to his heart, take his horse and his belongings. Get away from here, It encouraged her.
You won’t be able to pay the price, after all I just gave you a solution, the voice smiled. Close your heart and you’ll never be hurt. You’re nothing like him.
This time, her whimper had woken him up from his slumber. “Rey?” he called her. He knew that she was lying beside him, but he scooted her closer to him and wrapped her in his arms till she felt the warmth of his body heat.
Does Alpha get to be this warm?
“You’re in distress,” he noted. “Are you alright?”
She nodded wordlessly against his chest and shifted closer. It felt so right to be held by him. But her mind reeled on the voice inside her head; she wondered what it was. Every time it spoke, coldness and dread spread all over her body. It was sinister, she concluded.
“Get some sleep. You need rest.”
He soon fell asleep again, faster this time. She sensed his deep breath sweeping the crown of her head. When she was about to lull into a dream, he subconsciously moved her again so that she could sleep on his chest. This caused her to be hyperaware of his pecs and his scent – stronger and mouth-watering than it was before. More concentrated. His skin was soft that she couldn’t help feeling like those perverts who fantasized the smoothness of women’s skin.
How am I going to sleep with these!?
Thus, that night, Rey did not get a single wink of sleep at all.
The next day, after giving Raqisa his hearty meal of the day, Kylo found himself seated on his make shift bed, watching Rey as she was braiding her caramel hair into a strange fashion of three buns. Both of them never mentioned what happened last night. His nightmare and her call for help. It was fine for Kylo, he did not want to recall it anyway.
Her hair was long with slight curl at its end and it was mesmerizing to look at. While he was watchind her stylizing her locks to her usual fashion – a childhood habit, he concluded – he picked his tracking device from his pocket and keyed in a message and coordinate numbers.
The item was silver, made of Alum steel. Its screen gave off blue-ish hue and it was almost as big as his palm. After he finished typing on its sleek touchscreen, he decided to put the device back into his pocket and found Rey who eyed him curiously.
“It’s a tracking device.”
He pointed her to a brooch he was wearing on his chest. It was made of brass and iron and consisted of upright hand between the horns of a crescent. There was midnight blue sapphire and ruby stones inlaid on the beautiful crescent filigree. On the back of the hand were a hexagram seal and a word ‘mabruk’ below it.
“The hexagram on the hand is Khātam Sulaymān. It symbolized harmony of two opposing sides – heaven and earth, for an example,” he drew the simple geometric star figure on the sandy floor of her shelter, “It also links science, beauty, and metaphysics with elements of medicine and magic, astronomy and astrology.”
“I see,” she nodded, seemed interested with his Mysticism explanation. But then her eyes widened as something dawned her. “But that device is here, and you’re wearing its tracker,” she pointed at his brooch.
“I can use this,” he patted on the device in his pocket, “To communicate with others who owned the same instrument and send them my coordinates. My second-in-command is the one who holds the other device.”
“Second-in-command. Then what are you?”
“I’m their leader.”
Her brows furrowed; her lips pouted for he could tell that she was puzzled. It was written on her face and her scent. “You’re a leader, then why are you in Jakku? You could have asked anyone to do your bidding here. What made you come to Jakku?” She slung her quarterstaff to her back and covered her head with a head cover. She raised to take Raqisa’s reign so that he would stand on the centre of her shelter.
“If I said I was called here, by a force that was unknown to me, would you believe me?” He took her findings and hung them on Raqisa’s back.
“What kind of force?”
“A pull, that’s a way to describe it. A pull you can’t ignore,” He fasten Raqisa’s saddle and patted on the equine’s flank.
Rey stroked the stallion’s nose bridge before moving to his neck. His mane was very long and shiny, which made Raqisa’s appear even more handsome. Just like his master, Rey’s inner voice supplied, making her blush as she ducked lower, closer to Raqisa to avoid Kylo’s gaze. The horse huffed as he was shaking his head, annoyed.
“I think the pull is you,” Kylo said solemnly, pulling Rey’s attention away from Raqisa.
“I was about to head back to the Seat after securing a conflict at the border nearby. I felt the pull first when I was above Kitel Phard. The pull was so loud that I got a very bad headache. I knew something was not right. I had to investigate it,” He began. “I asked for a detour to Jakku. When we were about to head here, it was getting louder and louder. I asked them to wait above the Sinking Fields skies while my carrier ship landed on the Carbon Ridge. Raqisa and I journeyed for the night until I met you.”
“And the pull?” her eyes seemed to bore deeply to his.
“The pull was there, but the loudness was gone as soon as I met you.”
Silence fell upon them. Him, waiting for her response, and her, thinking of his implications all over again. It was he who moved first to put his fingers under her chin.
“You have that look in your eyes. From that graveyard,” his tone was soft, but she could not stand looking at him right now, not when she was torn with confusion and want. “You don’t believe me when I said that you’re my mate,” he accused her, but not unkindly.
Her incredulity must have been written all over her face that he had to gently shifted her chin back to face him. “I’m a Beta. I’ve never presented before. How can I be an Alpha’s mate? And let’s just say that if I were, would I have a say in this? I don’t know you,” she asked thoughtfully.
“We can start to know each other; you can take your time for your answer. You have all the say in this. You have the power to decide,” he responded. “After all, I only acknowledge you as my mate, you were the one with power to decide to allow me to court you and mate you properly. As it should be, just like the old times,” he explained, he let go of her chin to pull Raqisa out of the shelter.
“What do you mean I have the power to decide? What do you mean by ‘just like the old times?’” she jogged to stand before him.
“Proper courtship of Alpha and Omega began when an Alpha decided who his potential mate was. If an Alpha get a proper permission from an Omega, then he can start courting his intended and hopefully, be allowed to mate her. This is the old way, the proper way.”
His explanation was so different from what she had known about Alpha and Omega courtships.
It was always full of violence, they said. Dirty and vulgar.
From what she had heard and seen in Niima Outpost, it was a common knowledge that Alpha and Omega were lower than Beta – the normal human. They carried too many animal-like qualities and very much connected to the otherworld neighbours, the Djinn-kind.
No Djinn were a Beta, Old Mashra told her a long time ago. It was a quality that made them exceptional, best when it came to Sihr. Though it was also one of many reasons that made them segregated from Humankind and enslaved in the first place.
Magic and animal-like senses, a quality that made Alpha and Omega different. Though normal human could practice the Crafts and reach heightened senses, they would never be as good as Alpha and Omega. Even their segregation in the first place was fuelled by Beta’s malevolence and jealousy, made even easier by their small numbers compared with the abundant Beta.
She had seen Alpha’s aggression and Omega submissiveness. But courtships, that was an uncharted area for her. She only knew that Alpha could mate more than one Omega, that they would bite a ‘mating gland’ once they decided to be monogamous, and that they had their period of heat and rut, the same way as Beta woman got their blood moon, though heat and rut were more of a mating period and lust-addled sex marathon. From what she had heard, heat and rut happened two to four times a year, and it could be very painful if it were to be done alone.
“You’re thinking,” he said, he led Raqisa to avoid her traps.
“There are a lot to think,” she said as she tightened her grip on her quarterstaff. “It’s not that simple.”
“Yes. Nothing has been simple.”
The desert wind blew strong that they had to slow down to carefully pass Rey’s traps. Steps after steps, they finally made it to the steel junkyard. She looked up to the skies and saw rows of dark clouds.
“A storm is coming,” Kylo noted, he too, was watching the weather. His amber eyes found her before he put on his helmet. “I hope whatever happens later will go well,” he prayed with his voice distorted by the vocoder.
And that you don’t fear me.
That was the only appropriate word to describe Jakku’s Niima Outpost. From the distance, gloomy air pervaded from the merchants’ worn-out tents. Most of those merchants sold lamps and questionably edible cuisine, along with stolen items, exotic animals in poor conditions, and outmoded clothings. They would come and go as they signed contract with Unkar Plutt who would allow them to stay during their limited period of time, with protections provided by his thugs and with little share of profits from the trade.
Other than sands and crumbling landmarks of Niima Gate, there were a number of permanent constructions notably used as a pleasure house with its recognizable oxidized red brick, an auction house, public baths, and a laundry centre, with rows and rows of string-hanged dull-coloured clothes. Each of them was colour coded in weather-word peeled off paint. Plutt’s Palace, on the other hand, was the biggest and the only towering building in Niima Outpost. It was made out of the combination of a light freighter airship’s frame, terracotta walls, fire-repellent tent, and metal crates, with pipes and tubes made of copper and Alum steel spread the building’s structure here and there. It was the closest thing that resembled a castle in Jakku, and it looked like an architectural disaster.
No person, including Rey, would call it a Palace. Most called it as concession stand and people would only call it a Palace to please Plutt.
“What do you think?” Rey asked him mockingly, “Grand don’t you think?”. Her mood had gone for the better after they spent the whole journey here in silence.
They were standing in front of Plutt’s building, located at the centre of the Niima Outpost, next to the merchant’s bazaar and the auction house. People were staring at them head-to-toe – Kylo’s unusual armours and towering height and Raqisa the horse. The cantankerous stallion did not diminish the Jakkuvian’s curiosity, even after he almost kicked one of the exotic animal traders with his strong hind legs. The poor old man must have gotten the scare of his life.
“The garbage is not worthy of judgement,” he said coldly.
There had been something that put Kylo on the edge ever since they arrived at the Niima Outpost, and it was more evident after they entered Plutt’s Palace. The scent that permeated the place stank of corruption, decadence, and misery – everything he had been familiar with in the past. He noticed a queue forming as soon as they went inside, lines of scavengers after scavengers. They came with various findings; one brought a very big generator and the other brought small batteries and useless yet a recyclable metal plate.
Other than the lines, when he looked to his left and right, there were mountainous heap of dead machines. They were sorted in categories by their kinds, functions, and sizes. None of them was new, they were all scavenged items from the dead airships. But what surprised him were the humans, caged inside a miserable box with bars that were commonly used to coop up large animals. They were cramped as well as inhumanely.
Those men and women were of various ages; the oldest was a thirty-year old man and the youngest was a toddler girl of three-years old. They did not come from one races or tribes; there were dark skinned men along with tanned women with curly hairs. They looked so thin that they seemed too weak to fight. He saw some of them scratching wounds on their skin and from their mated hair, it seemed that they were not given proper hygiene. No sooner than later, Kylo notice the eyes of some of those slaves – glossy – because of the drugs given to them. He took a deep breath and his temper flared. Many of these men and women were Alpha and Omega, along with a number of Beta.
“Kylo,” Rey pulled his gauntlet-covered hand while indicating him to come closer since the queue was getting shorter. “What’s wrong? You’ve been acting strange since we came here,” she asked him.
She had been trying to calm Raqisa who had been neighing and whining angrily. He had been restless, the scavengers behind them were meters away for the fear of getting kicked. Being desperate, Rey decided to take her findings off the horse in an effort to calm the agitated Raqisa before getting an unwanted attention from Plutt and his thugs.
“Who the fuck brought a horse here?” she heard someone swearing at them. She saw some of Plutt’s thugs eyeing them curiously.
“Old Bobbajo would get a field day if he saw that horse,” the others commented.
“Kylo,” she implored him. Her eyes were wide and beseeching as she tried to get his attention to help her. But something was wrong, he stood really still and there was a thick stench of anger coming from him.
“Oh, Rey, I’m going to bring this place down,” he swore at her, his altered voice made him even more intimidating.
“Next,” they heard Plutt called them.
The man behind the caged window of the concession stand was a fat middle aged man with bulbous broad nose and skin condition that was likely to be caused by psoriasis. His appearance was of melted blob fish, with sags of fats and gout, and acute rheumatic arthritis. His face brought no joy to be looked at, for in the midst of thick sorrow and hunger grew in this queue right now, he exuded thick stench of greed.
Rey dragged her findings to the concession stand, and one by one, she showed Plutt her Naamite batteries and generator.
“Heard you beat Teedo and the others huh?” he chuckled as he reviewed her items.
“He started it first, I’d done nothing wrong,” she said tartly.
“Watch your tone, girl,” Plutt warned her before he went back eyeing the generator, “You’re making my business slow. If I don’t reach my target this month, you’re to blame. Everyone will get a cut of their usual portions.”
She heard collective groans behind her. Some scavengers screamed at her, shouting they did not deserve the cut and one of them even threatened her with a beating if that were to happen.
“You said it to me that I would be left alone, I thought I was your best scavenger,” Rey gritted her teeth. In her little heart, she knew Plutt would find a way to cut her portions, even if that was not caused by her fault. It was his way of controlling her.
“Yes, yes, I did. I did say that,” he agreed.
“Then why did Teedo attack me? The others followed him too! If you want someone to blame, it should be them! They’re the one who does not follow your words!”
“So, you want them to be punished?” Plutt smiled at her, heartlessly.
Her face turned pale. If Teedo and the others were punished, they would not get their portions for a week and they would be beaten by his thugs. Even if they were the one who made the mistake, it would not be a fair price to pay. She was angry with Teedo, but she was nowhere cruel enough to get him punished that way.
They’re desperate, that’s why they attack me.
“No,” Rey said weakly. Plutt would cut my rations, and those were good findings, she cursed herself. Damn him.
“Then fifteen and a half portions should be fine,” Plutt put the portions on the stands and implored Rey to take it, she wished she could punch the smile out of his face.
“Stop.” Rey turned her head to look at Kylo who had been silent throughout her banter with Plutt. He came closer and took Rey’s findings from Plutt and handed them back to her.
“What do you think you are doing?” Plutt bristled angrily. “They are mine!”
“You practice deception and slavery. Those are outlawed by the rules of the Alliance and the Black Empire,” he accused antagonistically. Kylo eyed his sides and saw Plutt’s thugs coming closer to the concession stand. If there would be a fight then be it.
“Pfft. Did you not hear what you’re saying? Alliance and the Black Empire?” Plutt laughed at him and wiped a tear running down from the corner of his eye. “Jakku is never a part of the Black Empire, nor is it a part of any other empires and kingdoms around! Certainly not Alliance!”
“You’re not educated, are you? This dump site,” Plutt gestured to the surroundings around him, “holds little values, just a big empty pocket of sands, not even a worthy trade route! I made this garbage heap thrived with my trade! And what’re you gonna do? You wanna set up a government, huh? Wanna make a riot?”
There were roars of laughter coming from Plutt’s thugs, along with Raqisa’s angry bristling neigh. Rey gritted her teeth; she swung her quarterstaff in front of the thugs who kept on prowling closer to back them off and grab Kylo’s hand to walk away. “Kylo, enough! We’re going back!” she barked at him.
“No,” he resisted her. He raised his arm high and snapped his fingers. The snap was loud, it was followed by a sound of locks opening and chains falling down to the ground.
A scavenger queueing behind Rey watched them make a commotion against Plutt and heard that particular sound. He turned his head to look at the slave’s cages.
It was opened.
And they were coming out.
“They’re out!” he screamed. “The slaves are out!”
It was an uproar. Many scavengers backed away to avoid slaves attacking them out of rage. But even if they were fearful, many of them still crowded the entrance, curious with the current turn of event. Those slaves who had only come out stood motionlessly and occupied the concession hall, watching Kylo Ren carefully and with reverence. They’re waiting for his order, especially the Alpha and the Omega.
They easily outnumbered Plutt’s force by six to one.
“W, What? What are you doing? Cease your sihr!” Plutt demanded. “You, get them back into the cages!” he ordered his thugs.
The thugs aimed their guns and weapons at the slaves, but Kylo snapped his fingers again. Their guns fell down to the ground in the forms of parts of screws and springs, magazines and bullets, stocks, cylinders, and many unassembled parts. The thugs began to panic for they were looking for non-automatic weapons such as spears and swords. They needed those if they were to suppress the slaves.
He, he could do that, Rey thought in surprise.
She ran to Kylo to cover him, thinking that he might need a protection in case he wanted to cast a spell. She saw Plutt about to take his shotgun, the one he kept under his stands. And when he was about to aim at them, Rey ran toward him and thrusted her quarterstaff to Plutt’s shoulder so hard that it pushed Plutt back into his workspace.
A thug ran towards Rey and Kylo but was thwarted by the Alpha men who slam their bodies and proceed to beat the said thug. Soon the Alphas made a circle around them with the women and children in the centre. Kylo, Rey, and Raqisa stood near them, facing the concession stands. All of those Alphas displayed their gritted teeth to show their resistance, the Betas were wrestling spears and swords out of thugs and handed them to the Alphas and to themselves. No scavengers dared to side with Plutt’s and his thugs, most of them only stood, watching a rebellion happening.
Some thugs successfully ran away from the concession hall, others tried to seal Plutt’s workshop door helplessly. They were quickly outnumbered and their effort was in futile. But when a slave managed to open the door, a shot directly hit his chest, killing him instantly.
“Move,” Plutt came out of his workspace bearing a heavily modified blaster-rifle. “Move! Get the fuck out of my way, chelb!”
There were shouts coming from the children and women. Most fell back, giving Plutt a way to walk around, the others who tried to wrestle Plutt off his blaster-rifle were too weak to fight him and one of them even got shot. The slaves were benefited by their number, but certainly not strong enough to fight in an extended time.
“You,” he pointed his blaster-rifle at Rey and Kylo. Rey was standing in front of Kylo, her quarterstaff armed as she still holds on to her stances. Plutt’s eyes were manic and he was breathing heavily, there was a heavy patch of sweat on his apron and his armpits, and one of his hands strayed to scratch his skin.
“You trouble maker, you’re plotting against me! I’ve taken care of you since you’re young! This is how you paid me! You’re an ungrateful bitch” he spat on the ground angrily.
“You’re enslaving me!”
“You think you could live in the desert free, out of charge!? I could’ve left you dead, but I took you in! I took you in and gave you a job!”
“You bought me from my parents! You’ve fed me with fantasies that they would come back until I was too vexing!”
“So what!? You should’ve thanked me that you’re not living a lie,” Plutt smiled antagonistically. “Who wants a forgotten child anyway? Any parents who got a girl like you were right to throw you awa– “
His speech was cut short, he suddenly kneeled down to the ground and dropped his blaster-rifle. A slave girl was fast enough to take the arms away from Plutt while he was busy clawing his throat and torso, making pitiful noises as he was slowly being choked to death by an invisible force.
Rey watched Plutt in surprise, no slaves and scavengers dared move their muscles. Plutt’s body suddenly flew in front of Kylo and Rey, dragged to the hard ground, still wheezing painfully.
“Apologize,” Kylo punctuated the word, his vocoder made his voice sound even graver. His hand flew to choke Plutt’s neck.
“I thought so,” Kylo said nonchalantly. He took his scimitar out of its scabbard and was ready to slash Plutt with its angry red fiery blade when Rey suddenly stopped him by standing between the two men. “Rey?”
“He’s not worth it,” she pleaded, there were lines of tears coming down from her eyes. “Let him go.”
“It would be justice to those scavengers and slaves to have him executed,” he reasoned.
“If you want justice, punish him accordingly, any rule I don’t care. Let him rot for all I care, but don’t kill him,” she begged.
It took a while for Kylo before he finally relented. And when he did, he put his scimitar back into its scabbard and threw Plutt away, to the ground out of his Palace’s entrance. He lay on his back as he grunted heavily, his body ached and felt raw. He gulped the air plentifully, being grateful that he was far away from that dark stranger. When his eyes opened, he was granted the sight of rolling dark clouds and lightning and multiple various kind of Star Destroyer airships along with a Mandator IV-class Siege Dreadnought fleet killer.
Fuck, he thought before he passes out.