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The Sith Acolyte

Chapter Text

I

I didn’t know how long they had kept me in the interrogation room.

I didn’t remember being strapped into the chair.

It was uncomfortable. No surprises there. My head was tilted back too far. No matter where I moved my neck, I felt metal. The chair had clearly been made for someone larger than me. I was forced to brace my legs and press down with my feet to find any kind of comfort.

My wrists and ankles were held too tightly in the cuffs. Thankfully, I could still feel my fingers and toes, but my nerves were ringing with strain. I felt exposed, with restraints tightly cinched around my legs, my feet in stirrups.

I was still in my jumpsuit, the one I had climbed into at the start of the day...but there was no way to tell how long it had been since the crash… when our ship was shot down entering the atmosphere.

The room was sterile and cold. I was surrounded by metal walls, metal floors, and one metal door. There were no windows, not even one-sided glass. From what I could see, the room was big enough for three or four people to mill around in without bumping into one another. Dim light came from inset panels in the wall and ceiling. There was no way to track time in a room like this. All I had was my heartbeat and breath to separate one moment from the next.

Why all this show for a Resistance engineer?

The last thing I remembered was the ship breaking apart as we made our descent. There had been a sudden blast of heat, then rush of atmosphere, and the screams of my shipmates. The worst of it had been those minutes of freefall, 100 kilometers above the planet’s surface. Gravity-- that unchanging, impersonal force yanking my stomach to my backbone, making it impossible to breathe.

A cold realization suddenly washed over me. What if I was the only survivor?

The door to my cell whooshed open - a smooth, pneumatic sound. Two stormtroopers with blaster rifles marched in flanking a tall person dressed all in black, face covered by a heavy mask.

A Sith!

Fear pulsed through me, liquifying my insides - at the same time, my heart sped up in anticipation. But it wasn’t Ymir, he didn’t wear a mask. It must be Kylo Ren.

Why was he here to question me? Didn’t they have droids for interrogations?

Following the stormtroopers was some ranked officer in a smart black uniform and a tablet tucked under his arm - a military pencil-pusher here to observe the proceedings.

I tried to slow my heart and breathing. I couldn’t believe my luck.

The Sith approached me. His stormtroopers positioned themselves as guards on either side of the door. The officer stood in the back of the room.

“I’m Kylo Ren. This is Lieutenant Hoff.” His voice was gravelly and mechanical, fed through the speakers of his mask.

He came around to my right side and I craned my head to follow him.

“We found you in the wreckage. No one knows you survived. I need to know where your base is, and you’re going to tell me.”

“Well, I’m glad we got the pleasantries out of the way,” I said as casually as I could, and spat.

The fat gob of spit and phlegm landed right in front of his boots. I silently thanked my country upbringing. I could spit no matter what, even with my mouth dry and my heart beating its way out of my chest.

He stiffened. I could almost hear his eyebrow arching behind the mask.

“We’ll be here as long as we need to be to extract the information,” he said.

He strode over to a panel and I heard it slide out of the wall.

This was an interrogation room, filled with anything someone would need for torture.

I thought about my fingers and toes, my arms and legs - all the appendages that could be removed while leaving a person alive.

Ren came back with a small pentagonal diode. He held it up to my face. It was about five centimeters on each side with five short spikes sticking out of the back. With his other hand he roughly undid the front of my jumpsuit, opening it to the bottom of my sternum, pulling down my undershirt. He pushed the diode through the skin, right over the bone.

“What do you think this does?” he asked as he held up a small remote and moved his black-gloved thumb across a dial.

Pain lanced through me. Hot and cold, like lightning being forced through my veins.

I screamed and that bastard Lieutenant had the nerve to laugh, a hand travelling up to his mouth to stifle it.

Ren brought his thumb down on the dial and the pain fled, leaving behind a dull ache.

“It’s linked directly into your nervous system,” he explained, walking around to my left side, “That was just a first taste. We’ll start with the easy questions. The less cooperative you are the worse it will be.”

With his disconnected voice he might as well have been a droid. He loomed over me like a shadow, no face, nothing visible to tell if he was actually a man. He had a cloak around his shoulders, black gloves on his hands, and black boots on his feet.

Why wasn’t he hypnotizing me? Couldn’t he just reach inside of my mind and pluck the answer out?

He wanted the opportunity to torture.

“Now. What is your name and rank?”

“I’m surprised you don’t already know that,” I said, in as casual a tone as I could manage.

Pain flashed white hot through me. It had the same blinding sensation of putting a hand on a hot engine, but distributed equally through every fibre of my body.

A ragged scream worked its way from my lungs, escaping my open mouth. Then, relief as he turned the diode off.

“That was supposed to be a simple question,” he said.

“And I’m surprised you don’t already know,” I said, my jaw clenched, “I’m Private Siobhan Zhang. Your Master killed my father, Captain Wei Zhang.”

The room went quiet. They had all heard of my father. Rebel. War hero. A fighter pilot that had a list of Star Destroyers he had taken out. He had been a scourge to the Empire until he took his family into hiding. I heard the Lieutenant tapping away on his tablet.

“So, Siobahn, you’ve travelled in your father’s footsteps. You wish to die as he died?”

I spat again.

Ren turned to the three men in the room.

“Leave us.”

The stormtroopers turned and opened the door, departing obediently. The Lieutenant hesitated. Ren fixed him with a look, and he followed the stormtroopers out the open door. It closed behind him.

“Oh... he really wanted to be a fly on the wall for this,” I laughed.

Ren didn’t say anything, but he began to unlatch his mask. I heard the hiss and rattle of fasteners coming undone. He lifted it off and set it down on top of the panel he had pulled from the wall.

He studied my face and I studied his. Unsurprisingly, he was pale, with asymmetrical features and long, dark hair that fell to his shoulders. He was younger than I thought he would be. He didn’t strike me as a fighter, except for his jet-black eyes. He looked at me intensely, without giving anything away.

“So you’re Captain Zhang’s daughter…” he said trying to figure out how he could use this new information. His voice was surprisingly deep. I thought it had just been the audiofeed from his mask.

“So you have heard of me,” I said. I felt something stirring in the pit of my stomach, something hot and jagged. I grinned, letting the fire move inside of me.

Ren moved closer, right next to my face, “Lord Ymir told me about that day,” he said, and I could feel his breath on my cheek and my neck, “I want to see the memory.”

There were only four witnesses to my father’s death: Myself, my mother, my brother, and Ymir. When I joined up, I was an instant celebrity. I was the girl who survived a Sith Lord’s vengeance.

Ren plucked the diode off of my chest and replaced it with his black gloved hand.

He closed his eyes.

“I’m not going to let you just waltz around in my head,” I growled.

He ignored me, slowing his breathing down. I felt the warmth of his hand sinking through me.

Suddenly I was there, back to my fifteen-year-old self on the day when everything changed.

I didn’t mind him seeing that memory, but that was all I wanted him to know. I began to talk, focusing on the words and that one memory, while inside my mind, I began to close off everything else. It felt like running down a long dark hallway, trying to shut all the doors on both sides.

“My father knew they were coming for him a few hours before the ships arrived,” I heard myself say, “We were out in the fields herding our Shaaks into their grazing pasture. I saw my father’s face go dark…”

I opened my eyes for a moment, watching Ren, knowing he could see the memory in his own mind. Another part of me was back in the pasture, feeling the wind in my hair and the reins of my tauntaun in my hands.

The sky is low and gray. Wind is whipping through the fields and I watch the grasses ripple. I look to my father, bringing in a group of Shaak that had split off from the herd. I see his face suddenly change, twisting with worry. It frightens me.

I kept the memory going, dictating as it moved. I could feel the press of Ren’s mind in my skull.

“We finished our work in the field, then headed back to our house. I knew something was wrong, but my father wouldn’t answer me. We put our tauntauns in the stable just like any other day, not missing a detail.”

The saddle feels heavier than usual as I hang it up on its hook.

“Once we were inside of the house my father called my mother and brother to him.”

I had inherited my mother’s name. She was a soft, beautiful, woman.

I watch my mother begin to cry as he tells her the news. She begins quietly, then she can’t keep it contained and starts to wail, throwing her arms around him.

“He sensed that he had been found, that the First Order was coming. We didn’t have the resources to leave. He felt that fighting would just get us all killed, so he decided to sit and wait. I think he was just tired of running.”

The lights of the spacecraft blaze through our home. We cower in our living room. My older brother has his arms around me, trying to be protective, but I can feel him shaking.

My mother cries out in fear, pulling my father closer to her. He gently removes her hands and takes a step back.

“I’m going to talk with them outside,” he lies. “I love you.” He tells us.

“Nooo….” my mother protests. It’s a thin, strangled sound.

My father kisses her one last time and walks out the door.

“My father went out to meet them. I think he had wanted to be killed outside, away from us, but your Master had other plans. He entered our home while his stormtroopers skulked around outside. I could see them through our windows. They had their blaster rifles ready, hoping they were going to get some action,” I snarled.

I was deep in the memory, focused on it and nothing else. I was surprised at the wave of emotion. It felt just as raw as when it first happened.

I heard Ren take a breath. He watched through my eyes as Ymir - Lord Ymir - came into our house.

“Ymir walked in alone, behind my father. It felt like a violation to see him in our house. The man wasn’t what I imagined a Sith would look like. He was dressed plainly, no different than the bounty hunters that came to the bars in town. I saw the lightsaber on his belt.”

I was fascinated by him. He radiated power.

Ymir is the first to speak, “I’ve been waiting so long to meet the family that made Captain Zhang leave the Rebellion.”

I’m watching him watch us. My mother is sobbing, my brother runs to her side. He is two years older than me, but gangly and shy. They both hold onto each other in fear. I stand in the middle of our living room. My fists are so tight I can feel my nails dig in. There is blood in my palms.

“I’m going to kill Captain Zhang, then I’ll see what I feel like doing with the rest of you,” he continues.

His voice is calm, without malice.

“Take me,” my father pleads, “Have your vengeance. You know they had no part in the Rebellion. This planet is under First Order control.”

Ymir looks to my weeping mother and brother, both paralyzed by fear. They are soft, and I hate them for it.

“Don’t you dare hurt my father!” I screamed into the icy metal walls of the interrogation room, my adult voice combining with my child’s voice in the memory.

I saw a wicked smile flicker across Ren’s face, his eyes still closed in concentration

Ymir approaches me, and my father grabs his arm to stop him. He’s pushed back by an invisible wave. Ymir kneels and puts his hand under my chin, lifting my gaze to meet his.

His eyes are dark brown, warm. He looks at me intently, probing, beginning to reach into my heart...I hear his name...I feel his name...

“My father had gotten to his feet and tried to pull Ymir away from me. Ymir turned around and lifted my father into the air with a wave of his hand. I had only heard of the Sith as bogey men. I had never seen one firsthand. I had never witnessed power like that. My father was trapped, dangling in the air.”

“Don’t hurt him!” I scream again, and now I’m rushing Ymir, my arms bracing to crash into him, but before I reach him, his fingers twitch and I’m thrown backwards.

When I hit the far wall, the air leaves my lungs and my head snaps back. I’m on the ground trying to get air back into my body, trying to clear the stars from my eyes.

I could feel the weight of Ren’s hand on my chest as it rose with my next breath.

“My mother cried out my name, but was too afraid to move. Ymir was watching me struggle against the ground, letting my father twist and dangle in the air. I hated Ymir.”

Anger is pouring through me like fire. I’m snarling on the ground, furiously, like a wounded dog.

”And I was drawn to him.”

Those words had never left my mouth before. I had always known it in my heart, but I had never said it out loud.

I had been drawn to him. I was drawn to his power.

Ren was pulled into the memory with me. I felt something, some intensity, from him. His breath was faster now. He was feeling all the hate, all the anger, as it moved through me.

Ymir leaves me winded and dizzy on the ground. There is a buzzing as he turns back to my father and I see the yellow blaze of his lightsaber. He slices my father from his right shoulder to his left hip, letting him fall to the ground in two pieces. My father’s guts spill out and soak into the rug.

I’m screaming as Ymir comes to me. I batter at him with my fists. When he catches my arms I know he has the strength to snap my wrists like twigs.

I don’t know if he is speaking out loud or directly into my mind, but I hear him.

“Hold onto your hate girl, and we’ll meet again.”

I fluttered my eyes open and found Ren starting back at me. I had my mother’s hazel eyes. I knew the effect it had on people.

Except it didn’t... Ren dove right back into my mind, wide open with anger and exhaustion. The memory of my father’s murder lead right into other memories.

I run away.

I take jobs in the city. Jobs with the gangs.

I join the Resistance.

I become a military engineer.

I am in the mission briefing where we plan our route to our base--

“No!” I yelled, closing off my mind.

I looked up at Ren. I was helpless and angry, seething beneath him.

“Your father had a spark of the Force in him. That’s why he was such a good pilot. You’re the same. Lord Ymir felt it that day. That’s why he let you live,” Ren said, “You must have known that.”

“I do,” I replied.

“I’m surprised no one found you sooner,” he said, stepping away from me. He walked back to the panel and set down the small remote and diode next to his mask. He strolled back to me, looking relaxed.

“Well, Force or not, I still want the information on your base,” he said.

There was a sudden constriction in my throat. I tried to swallow, but choked. I pulled in air and felt only a small stream hiss into my lungs. I gasped, trying to resist it, trying to pull more air in. My chest heaved. I strained against the cuffs holding me down.

I tried to push back, my head whirling with panic and oxygen deprivation. I fought the invisible hand pulling the muscles of my throat shut.

Ren was smiling now - nothing hidden. He watched me gasp deeply at nothing and once again tried to push into my mind.

“Who is the leader on your base?” he asked.

Her face flashed through my mind in an instant.

Commander Bo.

Fuck! Ren had it.

He released pressure on my throat and I pulled in a ragged breath, feeling the muscles in my throat and chest twitching.

“Very good,” he said, cruel and pompous.

This wasn’t my first time being held captive and questioned. I had been put in lock-up for smuggling jobs. I had dealt with enforcers and foot soldiers in rival gangs.

None of them had the ability to torture without physical contact.

“What kind of defenses does your base have?”

I tried to keep my mind clear. I could feel Ren hovering just outside my thoughts, he would be able to see anything vivid enough.

“Fuck you.”

My throat was constricting again...I tried to resist it, push back against the sensation, but nothing worked. Dark spots swirled across my vision and my face felt hot. My heart was pounding, trying to get oxygen to my brain.

“You know how the Resistance operates,” I gasped for breath, “The forest is booby trapped… We can take out a third of what you bring in without even trying.”

It wasn’t accurate information, but Ren released control of my throat long enough for me to pull in a few deep gulps of air.

This continued for several more rounds. I wasn’t going to be able to survive extended bouts of oxygen deprivation. He returned the diode to my sternum - sharp electric pain coursing through my nerves as I resisted.

He asked me about the structure of the base. Who was there. What kind of artillery we had.

Ren kept the pressure on my mind, prodding for any images that came to me. I managed to push him away each time, but I knew I didn’t have much more fight left.

I had encountered men like him in the cartels, the dangerous men whose language was violence and fear.

Ren wanted to do more. His composure was slipping and he was running out of pretense that this was a normal prisoner interrogation.

He didn’t have leverage.

Ymir would want me alive. If Ren got information about the Resistance base, all the better for him, but I wasn’t about to give that up.

“I’m not telling you where the base is,” I taunted, shaking my head from side to side. I was on the verge of passing out.

He pulled away from me. His face tinged red with frustration, shoulders rising and falling with his breath. I met his gaze with fire in my eyes.

We were at an impasse. He didn’t want to damage me permanently before contacting Ymir and I wasn’t going to give in.

“This isn’t the first time someone has had me strapped down in a chair,” I said, baring my teeth as I smiled, “You’ll have to work harder if you actually want to call this torture.”

My throat was constricting again, and I hissed air into my lungs. Ren looked at me intently, trying to figure out what he was going to do to me, gloved fingers set in a pincer shape.

“You like this, me having power over you?” he said, voice smooth and monotone as he loomed over me.

He liked it too. It was the same desire that caused him to use the diode, torturing me first rather than reaching into my mind. He liked to make people feel helpless.

“You know I’m not going to give up the information...Why...waste the opportunity?” I said between breaths, egging him on.

I had always had this wicked streak. This need for pain. He could feel it rising hot in me. I felt my neck and face begin to flush. I was wading into dangerous water, but I knew his type. Lucky for him, I felt we wanted the same thing.

Ren’s face had fallen back into quiet seriousness and he released his grip on my throat. There were flickers of movement, his eyes flashing and mouth twisting as he wrangled with his desire.

I sighed and pulled in a grateful steady breath, closing my eyes for a second.

After a moment of thought, he yanked at the zipper of my jumpsuit.

I wasn’t wearing much underneath, but it was nothing fancy. My undershirt doubled as a bra and my briefs were standard issue. I was dressed for the military and working in an engine room, not to impress anyone.

He brought his leather-gloved hand to my right breast, scooping my flesh upward, pushing away the baggy shell of my open jumpsuit. He squeezed me hard, closing his eyes for a second, giving way to desire and violence.

Soon enough he was ripping my undershirt with his gloved hands freeing my breasts from the binding sheath that the military called a bra.

He saw the barbells in my nipples and made a sharp little smile.

Ren pulled my left nipple upwards, gloved fingers sliding underneath the metal stud, and slapped my breast with his other hand. It was an introductory slap, sharp and stinging. I began to breathe more heavily as he tugged and pulled and slapped my breasts. I made a grimacing moan when he began to hit harder, leaving a bloom of red behind.

I looked up at his face. He was focused on each movement, capturing my nipple and pulling upwards until my skin strained then slapping the flesh beneath. His eyes were dark, hair swaying with the movement. I was crying out in pleasure and couldn’t help my hips pushing upwards.

He sighed, “This chair is so crude. I usually use rope. I just don’t trust you out of these restraints.” He grabbed the cuff that was holding my wrist and shook it.

“You probably shouldn’t trust me even in restraints,” I said testily, lips curling.

This was foreplay.

Ren suddenly took ahold of my face, hand under my jaw, fingers digging into my cheeks, “I don’t trust you at all, Siobhan,” he growled, giving my head a little shake before releasing me.

He turned away, walked back to the panel, and put his mask back on.

His needs had betrayed him.

I could feel how badly he wanted me, but I was a Rebel prisoner. He had official protocols to follow. He needed to tell Ymir he had found me. He needed to make plans to destroy my base.

I had won ... the thought rose silently in my mind and I quickly walled it off before he could sense it. I had won, at least for the moment.

“This isn’t over,” he said as he strode out of the room, leaving the door open behind him.

“Clean her up,” he said to the guards, with that passive mechanical voice, “I’m contacting Lord Ymir.”

The stormtrooper scum could think whatever they wanted to about me. What they would know was that Kylo Ren was alone with me and that when he came out he didn’t have the information and I was still alive.

One of the stormtroopers actually closed the jumpsuit back around me. He fumbled at the zipper with his clunky plastoid gloves.

“Is this how Ren usually treats prisoners of war?” I asked mockingly, letting my head relax back into the cradle at the top of the chair.

Without a word, the two stormtroopers applied a different set of manacles as they removed me from the interrogation chair. A chain connected the new set of manacles on my feet. My arms were cuffed behind my back.

They hauled me out of the chair and I discovered that I couldn’t feel my legs. I toppled forward but the guards caught me before I hit the ground. Blood rushed to my head and dark spots surged across my vision. They had to carry me from the room, their forearms in my armpits, my feet dragging along the polished metal floors.

During military training, we had been told to keep alert of our surroundings to help build a mental map of any ship we are held on. This could be helpful when planning an escape. I was only able to stay conscious for two hallways.

Stormtroopers and staff turned to look at me as I was dragged past them. Word travels fast on starships, and the First Order wouldn’t be any different. I sneered at them as best as I could, but my head lolled and soon I was pulled into unconsciousness.

II

I blearily woke to a bright medical lamp and a woman’s figure above me.

I shook my head, feeling tubes in my arms and a new set of cuffs that attached me to the table. My jumpsuit had been removed. I was draped in a flimsy, white paper gown.

“Stay still,” she commanded, “You were concussed. I’m just now getting to the damage the diode caused.”

With the heavy light overhead I couldn’t make out her features, just the outline of her face. I squinted for a moment, but gave up.

“You’re lucky to be alive,” she added.

“Is Ren here?” I asked, turning my head.

“Kylo Ren went to the bridge with Admiral Clive,” she said, running an instrument over my wounds. “I usually only see these kinds of injuries on cadavers.” Her words were blunt, but her tone wasn’t rude.

I decided I liked her.

“He wants me good as new, huh?” I said.

“Those were his orders,” she replied.

I laughed and lay back, letting her heal me. There were bags of fluids dripping through a tube into a vein on my right arm. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten or taken a shit, much less had any water.

“How long have I been here?” I asked her after a stretch.

“It’s been ten hours since you were brought on board. You were given care by our troop medics when we first picked you up before your interrogation. I’ve been working on you for about an hour,” she said.

“Can I have some water?”

“When I’m done with you,” she said.

I definitely liked her.

I used the time to sit in my thoughts. Could there be any chance of rescue? I assumed I had been brought up into one of the orbiting starships, but we could easily still be on the surface of the planet. I had no idea.

“Can you tell me the name of the ship I’m on?” I asked.

“This is the Finalizer. Kylo Ren’s Star Destroyer.”

I definitely wasn’t going to be rescued. The Resistance probably didn’t even know I was alive. We had crashed thousands of kilometers away from the base. They would have picked up the battle and the impact, but there was no way they had time to scan for survivors.

But wasn’t this exactly where I wanted to be?

I had been chasing Ymir for ten years. He had sensed the Force in me when I was a child, sensed my pull towards him.

That’s why I had joined up with the Resistance. Fighting the First Order would get me closer to Ymir. I didn’t care about their rebellion. Not really. The cause was good, sure, but I was only using them to help me down my path of revenge.

But, it wasn’t just revenge I was after. I wanted training.

My father hadn’t talked to me about the Force. He had talked to me about the Jedi and the Sith as concepts, but he must have known about this gift we shared. We both had the spark. He trained me to herd, to understand engines, and to tend the machines we used. He told me about his life fighting with the Alliance.

When Ymir had stepped inside of my home I discovered that it was a dark seed planted in my heart.

The medic straightened up and began to pack her instruments into their case. She unhooked the empty bags of fluids and removed the needle in my arm last.

With the med bay lights off I could finally see her. She was pretty - as much prettiness as you could have on a First Order ship. Her red hair was cut in a short bob under her gray medical cap. Her blue eyes were surprisingly kind.

“I’ve done all I can for the moment. Kylo Ren instructed his valet to attend to you.”

“Thank you,” I said, turning to her, ”What’s your name?”

“I’m Astrid. I’m his medic.”

She left the room and I was alone for a few minutes.

I wiggled my fingers and toes, hoping I’d be out of restraints at some point today.

I heard the sound of the door sliding open and craned my head around to see a tall, thin, middle-aged man in a grey uniform approaching me. He was carrying something. He set items down at the edge of the table near my feet.

“I’m Hector. Kylo Ren told me to watch you while he attends to his duties on the ship. I’m going to release your manacles. You’ll be allowed to move freely in these quarters.” He didn’t seem terribly happy about the assignment. “I’m authorized to shoot you if you try to harm me, or make any kind of escape, or disobey my orders. Are we clear?”

From my prone position, I could see the blaster at his hip.

“Clear as day, Hector,” I replied cheerfully.

He undid the cuffs on the medical table and I brought my wrists onto my chest, rubbing one and then the other. Slowly I eased myself up onto my forearms, rolling my neck in circles, then sat all the way up.

I slung my legs over the side of the table in the valet’s direction. He had a glass of water for me. I took it and drank it all in one large gulp.

I brought my legs up to rub each ankle before trying to stand. I didn’t want to collapse again.

“Astrid recommended that you don’t sleep for the next few hours. She’s on call.”

“The royal treatment,” I said, slowly wiggling my toes.

“There’s a set of clothes for you.”

I turned to see a drab set of fatigues - probably what the stormtroopers got to wear when they were off-duty.

The valet simply turned his back while I changed.

The clothing was all too big. The pants were too long and I hadn’t been given shoes.

“I’m done,” I said, lifting up the pant legs to sag over my feet.

He turned around, making a mean little smirk at my appearance. “Follow me,” he said moving towards the door.

I exited the med bay and we entered a short dark hall. There was a large, open bathroom to my right. I could see a shower, a set of mirrors, and a sink.

We stepped through another set of doors and I found myself in what was clearly an officer’s sleeping quarters.

The ceilings were high. There was an actual bed, not just a bunk set in the wall. One large section of wall was a window. There were two chairs and a low table set in front of it. I could see the planet beneath me, lush and green, clouds swirling along the surface.

“All this for me?” I asked with a sly look towards the valet. I walked up to the glass, resting my palm against the cool surface.

“This isn’t for you. We’re in Kylo Ren’s quarters,” the valet sneered at me.

I turned around and gave him a look, raising my eyebrow. He pursed his lips in disapproval.

Kylo Ren’s quarters...I figured I’d be locked up in the brig…

I guess he did have more in mind for me.

This wasn’t my first time being brought up and held in a room. There had been gangsters and corporate men who wanted the beings they fucked to be kept like pets. They had all been the same, keeping control over everything, making sure the world around them was bent to their will.

I settled myself into the chair and took a moment to enjoy the view. I was exactly where I wanted to be.

Eventually my thoughts turned to the Resistance - my fellow soldiers - hidden on the surface. It had been a day since our ship had been shot down by the Finalizer. I assumed the First Order had sent probes down, maybe some ground troops.

They were going to have a hard time finding the base. I had done my basic training there and had been called back to help on an expansion project.

The base was built into the remains of a long-dead volcano. The mineral deposits in the rock had a unique composition. Most scanners wouldn’t pick up on the caves and tunnels running under the surface. The area was covered in jungle, most of the openings and entrances hidden by vegetation. The Resistance kept their comms activity to a minimum and carefully monitored the airspace. Their strategy had worked for over a decade.

I would give the information to Ymir if it would help me.

I hadn’t known if sharing my name would work. There was no reason to think Ymir had remembered me, but Ren had heard the story.

Done with planet-gazing, I twisted around in the chair to survey the room. The walls, ceilings, and floors were all made out of the same kind of sleek, dark metal. There weren’t any decorations, just functional furniture. The chairs were straight-backed. The bed was just a flat, square mattress set on a short stand, with a military trunk at the end.

There were two doors on either side of the room. The one I had come from lead to the bathroom and med bay. I craned my head in the other direction to look at the other door.

“What’s through there?” I asked, pointing at it.

“None of your business, Rebel,” the valet said sharply.

He clearly hadn’t gotten the message that I was soon to be the new Sith apprentice…

I stood up and began to stroll around the room. The valet stood planted, eyes following my every step.

There had to be something I could use in here.

“Is there music?”

“Excuse me?” the valet said with a disgusted frown.

“Is there entertainment?” I repeated, walking around the perimeter of the room, scanning for a computer or console.

He sighed and didn’t respond.

“All right,” I said with a shrug. “Is that all anyone does in here? Sit around and stare out the window?”

I didn’t know how long I was going to be up here. My guard didn’t seem like he was going to warm up to me anytime soon.

This was definitely better than the brig. Still, I wasn’t interested in waiting around, patient and obedient, until Ren came back.

I noticed a control panel on the wall next to the mystery door, and made my way over to it.

“What do you think you’re doing?” the valet said, his hand resting on his hip, right above the blaster.

“I wanted to see if there’s some entertainment, a game or something,” I complained, “Can’t a girl have some fun around here?”

“Shut up and go sit down!” the valet spat, “You’re a prisoner, and, for some reason, Kylo Ren has decided to bring you up to his personal quarters!”

I had managed to agitate him. All the better.

“Then maybe there’s something you don’t know. Maybe he likes me,” I smirked.

The valet allowed his eyes to roll with distaste, and took the blaster out of the holster, holding it at ease at his side.

I didn’t move. It would make things more interesting if I tried to take out Ren’s servant…

We both heard the doors open and turned our heads as Ren strode in, mask over his face, cloak streaming behind.

“That will be all, Hector,” he said, dismissing the man in his cold mechanical voice.

The valet nodded, putting his blaster back on his holster. “Watch out for her. She’s a snake,” he warned before leaving through the door Ren had entered.

I caught a glimpse of the room beyond. I could see fine furniture and First Order banners on the walls. Some kind of meeting room?

The door whooshed shut behind him and now Ren and I were alone again.

He walked to the windows and took one of the chairs, sitting heavily, elbows resting on the armrests. He surveyed me, face still covered in the mask.

“Lord Ymir is enroute. He’ll be arriving tomorrow,” he said, back to business.

“The sooner the better,” I said.

Ren sat, appraising me from his seat, the mask turning his face into a black void.

“Lord Ymir didn’t tell me what he planned to do with you when he arrives. He might just be coming in to kill you,” his voice was low and gravelly through the audiofeed.

I made a wicked smile. He was just trying to rile me up.

He still didn’t have the information about the base. I couldn’t imagine he had let go of that objective.

“Coming here just to kill me in person. I’ll try to make it worthwhile,” I replied easily, “How’s the search for the base going?”

I felt a ripple of anger move through the room and I wasn’t afraid.

“I had a feeling you were going to be mouthier once you were healed up,” he said.

It was becoming very apparent to me that Ren was young. He couldn’t be much older than me. His name was whispered around the Resistance barracks and bases. He seemed to be everywhere - always at the front of an attack. He had taken down our most powerful ships in battles, killed hundreds of soldiers fighting on the ground.

Now I was seeing that he was just a man, not a battlefield wraith.

I did the math in my head. Ren had been alone with me for however long and wasn’t successful in getting the coordinates. Afterwards, he had his own medic attend to my injuries. Ymir was travelling to meet with me in person.

And now Ren and I were alone in his quarters...

On starships, gossip was the main source of entertainment. It didn’t matter how well-trained the crew was. The tides of rumor and drama were the main way to pass the time.

It had been hours. People would be talking.

“So what did Ymir tell you about me?” I asked, sliding into the chair across from Ren.

I made myself comfortable, resting an ankle over my knee.

“Not much,” Ren said dismissively.

That was baanthashit. Ren knew my name. He had been interested enough to want to see the memory.

“Lord Ymir told me your father’s spirit had died long before he came for him. He told me your father didn’t fight back.”

I gritted my teeth and Ren inclined his head.

That had stung.

It was the truth.

My father hadn’t tried to save himself. We could have run. We could have done something. Instead, we sat in our home and waited for the inevitable.

“He told me that Captain Zhang had a daughter, a skinny farm girl, who had tried and failed to save her father.” Ren paused and I glared back at him, hot blood beginning to surge through my veins. “He saw your connection with the Darkside and left you alive.”

By now, I was gripping the armrests. My jaw clenched.

“And what have you done in the meantime, Siobhan?” Ren continued, knowing he had succeeded in getting me angry, “You became a gangster, then a low-ranking Resistance soldier?”

“At least I didn’t kill a bunch of kids,” I snarled.

That was the nerve.

Before I had time to react, a wave of energy sent me flying backwards, the chair tipping over, and I went sprawling out along the metal floor.

I was scrambling to my feet, and Ren was reaching through me, trying to immobilize me with the Force, but I was familiar with the feeling now.

My heart was pumping fire through my veins and I pushed his energy away from me, breathing heavy with effort.

Ren was moving towards me and I was acutely aware of just how much danger I was in.

I stood, bare feet on the metal floors, the baggy stormtrooper fatigues draping down my forearms and legs.

I could see the lightsaber hooked onto Ren’s belt.

He stopped right in front of me, standing a full head taller, radiating anger.

“Do you want to die?” he snarled in a low mechanical voice.

I was able to meet his gaze without flinching, feeling my own power surging in my chest.

“No,” I answered, letting jagged emotion move through my body, “But I don’t think playing nice is going to help.”

I remembered the familiar look in Ren’s eyes before he left the interrogation room.

“I’ll send you to the brig,” he threatened, pompous and condescending.

I gave him a roguish smile, “Yeah, but where’s the fun in that?” I said, putting a hand on my hip.

Ren loomed over me, draped in black from head to toe.

I had won our exchange in the interrogation room. I recognized the look he had given me. For all the show, he was still just a man.

Ymir wasn’t going to find me in a prison cell.

He grabbed my throat with his hand, pulling me close to him.

“I’ve heard of the Sith’s taste for fear and pain,” I gasped, his gloved hand tight around my neck.

“And you’re drawn to it, too,” he said, in his artificial voice, face covered with the mask.

“I am,” I growled, jaw jutting forward.

He released me from his grip roughly pushing me away.

“Get on your knees,” he instructed.

For the first time, I obeyed him, excitement coursing through me, my heart speeding up in anticipation.

Ren stood, appraising me, as I knelt on the hard metal floors in the baggy storm trooper uniform.

“Take your shirt off,” he said.

I lifted the whole thing over my head, without bothering to undo the buttons, tossing it at his feet.

Ren inclined his head, but instead of responding, he simply turned on his heel and strode to the trunk at the foot of his bed.

The metal floors were harsh on my knees, and my nipples were stiff in the open air.

I felt myself starting to get warm and wet.

Wordlessly, Ren took out two coils of rope, setting both neatly at the edge of the bed, then he took off his mask, fasteners rattling and hissing. With unhurried movements, he closed the lid of the trunk and set the mask on top before picking up one of the coils of rope.

There were butterflies in my stomach. There always were at the start. I didn’t know what he was going to do to me, but I was excited to find out.

“Hold your arms out,” he said, voice cold and face still as he approached me.

I lifted my arms in front of me and Ren knelt, beginning to bind my wrists.

He was careful and efficient, paying attention to his work, keeping the rope wrapped tight and neat, making sure he wasn’t going to cut off blood to my hands. His dark eyes were turned down the whole time, completely focused on what he was doing.

When he was done he stood up and took a step back.

“Stand up.”

I rose, a little awkwardly with my hands bound in front of me. He watched me wobble upright.

“Stand there,” he said, motioning to a spot just behind me.

I took two large backwards steps out into the middle of the room.

“You’ve thought about how you want me,” I teased. I was hot between my legs.

He gave me a wicked look, his first reaction, and raised a hand. Suddenly I was being pulled upwards at my bound wrists.

My arms rose above my head, pulled so far up they moved behind my ears and I was balancing on just the tips of my toes. I tilted and strained, trying to keep my balance, but I wasn’t going to fall. I felt my body held under his command of the Force.

I enjoyed the sensation of my skin stretching across my ribs and belly. I felt exposed, teetering in the middle of the room without a shirt on.

Ren watched me strain for balance, taking his time, enjoying my form.

He walked up to me and roughly yanked the baggy fatigue pants down my hips, and with a wave of his hand he sent them across the room, then he grabbed my breasts, squeezing them up and together.

He ran his gloved hands down my waist to my hips and spun me around, admiring his work.

“Did you tell Ymir you were going to fuck me first?” I taunted.

He slapped my right breast hard. I yelped, stomach squeezing in pain. I couldn’t bring my arms any lower. I tried to grip the smooth metal floor beneath my toes, anything I could do to offset the pain.

Ren brought his hands back to my waist to stabilize me. “I’m going to take that as a license to hurt you,” he said.

“Good, now you’re getting the picture,” I goaded.

He slapped the other breast, watching how they swayed, before grabbing me again, circling his fingers over my skin and tugging at my nipple with his hand before leaning in to take me into his mouth. As his teeth pulled at the barbell his gloved hand moved between my legs.

I was dripping already. He moaned in delight, the sounds muffled by my breast in his mouth.

He brought himself up to face me, fingers working in between my lips. He found my clit, the smooth leather gloves moving in small circles over the sensitive skin.

I whimpered, eyes blinking shut with pleasure.

He slipped his fingers inside of me and I squeezed my muscles around him.

“That’s right…” he murmured with approval.

When I opened my eyes again, Ren was staring at me with his intense unwavering gaze, his lips parted, breath warm.

I was already feeling myself move into that fuzzy peaceful place of subservience.

“I need you to be a good girl for me Siobhan,” he growled, taking ahold of my face again, “If you don’t do what I say, I’ll kick you out and you’ll sleep on the floor outside my quarters in shackles. Do you understand?”

I nodded, lower lip in my teeth, starting to get weak in the knees. His other hand was still between my legs, palm rubbing against my clit, fingers pumping a steady rhythm inside of me. I was already close.

“Do you understand me?” he repeated.

“Yes,” I gasped, trying to wriggle harder against his hand.

“Use my name,” he said. His voice was smooth and low.

“Yes...Kylo...Ren,” I panted, looking back into his jet-black eyes.

That was all I could handle. The wave he had been churning up inside of me finally broke. I spasmed on his fingers, curling my legs up. My arms burned as they took on the extra weight, still held firmly up in the air behind my head. I screamed, face still held in his hand. All of my pent-up fear and anger was finding some voice in the world.

Ren continued to pump his fingers into me until the last spasm subsided. I was trembling, vulnerable.

“Good girl,” he said, drawing me to his chest, gently allowing my arms to lower.

I rested my weight into him, head on his shoulder, my skin pressed against the layers of clothing.

Ren took me to his bed, laying me out belly-first over his lap, my hands still bound. My knuckles grazed against the floor by his boots.

I was limp, still feeling the aftershocks of the orgasm pulse through me.

He took the opportunity to undo his cloak and remove his gloves, dropping them onto the bed next to him.

With bare hands, he leisurely groped at my ass and breasts, giving me time to recover. Every now and then he would slip a few fingers into me and sigh to himself as I squeezed around him. His hands were calloused, but his nails were trim.

It didn’t take him long before he was slapping my ass, starting with firm direct hits. Soon, he was striking me hard enough to leave marks. I howled and kicked my feet up, twisting across his lap.

He began to grunt with effort as his slaps became harder. I thought I could feel his hard cock pressing at my side.

“I want to feel your mouth,” he groaned, slowing his hand, the slaps becoming strokes across my ass and thighs.

My skin was warm and tender, pain flooding across my body.

He brought his fingers to my mouth and I sucked on them, tasting myself, salty across my tongue. Then he helped me off of his lap, maneuvering me until I knelt between his legs.

It took some time for him to get undressed.

He started with the belt around his waist, then peeled off the layers of his robes, the long sleeves and high collar.

I waited patiently, swaying slightly, giving myself a moment to return to reality. I slowed my breathing down and watched Ren undress in front of me.

He was ghostly pale with smooth muscles moving underneath his skin.

I watched as he stood to work his pants down his hips and thighs to rest over his boots.

Finally, I got to see his cock for the first time. The Sith who kept himself masked and wrapped in black, finally exposed for the man he was. He was big. Maybe not as big as I expected him to be. There was a dark shadow of hair across his groin.

I adjusted my wrists in the rope cuffs so I could bring one hand under his balls and grip his cock with the other. He watched me with a satisfied smile as I struggled with the restraints.

He was dripping precum. He closed his eyes, leaning his hips forward and his head back as I stroked him.

I brought my mouth around him, bubbling spit around the head of his cock. I slid both of my hands up and down his length. I didn’t want to move too fast.

Some men only played a tough game until you had a hand on their balls and their cock in your mouth.

He wrapped his hand through my hair and pushed his way past my lips and across my tongue. I swallowed him and breathed through my nose as he rocked his hips against my face.

“Get onto the bed. On your hands and knees,” he grunted.

Now he moved quickly, unlacing his boots and yanking off his pants.

When he was fully undressed, he climbed onto the bed, pressing into me from behind, hands gripping my waist and my ass. He went slowly for a few moments, feeling me out, before starting to pound me. He was rough, bottoming out with most of his strokes.

I was yelling, gripping the blankets for leverage.

“Fucking...use me!” I moaned, relaxing into his heavy thrusting, arms braced awkwardly with my wrists bound.

He filled me up, and I felt myself stretch. He took ahold of my hair, wrapping it around his hand and pulling me back into him. His mask clattered to the floor and he didn’t stop thrusting.

I felt myself beginning to slip into a familiar, comforting space. I loved these moments where I became physically overwhelmed and my mind began to let go. Pleasure and pain weren’t separate for me when I got to this place. It didn’t matter anymore. I would accept whatever he gave me.

He only fucked me like this for a few minutes before pulling away. He rested a hand on my low back, breathing heavily. Both of us were sweating.

Ren helped me onto my side, where we lay almost nose to nose, catching our breath, collecting ourselves.

He brought a hand to the side of my face, stroking my cheek with the back of his fingers.

“I want to flog you,” he said, “Can you take any more?” his voice was surprisingly gentle now.

I nodded, eyes closed, almost sleepy.

“That’s not good enough,” he said.

I opened my eyes, my thoughts warmly pooling in my mind.

“Yes Ren, I want more,” I purred, my voice soft.

His smile was sharp and appreciative.

Neither one of us had expected this to be the outcome of the day.

My body craved pain. There was freedom in that release, in letting myself go - where I could just experience sensation. I had the feeling that Ren needed to keep control over me the same way I desired surrender.

It was time for the second coil of rope.

Ren secured my arms to my sides, one neat row wrapped across my chest and triceps, the other below my sternum, just above my elbows. My wrists were still bound in front of me. My tits were squeezed together, nipples jutting forward. He ran his hand across my skin, grabbing at my flesh.

He helped me out of the bed and made me kneel again. I was swaying, legs weak, and he extended his energy around me, capturing me, supporting me with the Force.

I felt the layers of it, my mind sinking into the energy. This was what I had been reaching towards, and I realized that I had only ever skimmed the sensation before. I took a breath, drawing it in, allowing myself to move deeper into it.

Ren approached me, fingers beneath my chin. His gaze was clear and serious, drawn out of his lust for just a moment.

“You’ve been using pain to connect to the Force…” he said, his voice gentle, “I can feel you so brightly now…”

I nodded, my eyes closed, my mind filled with a gentle hum.

I heard Ren pull his pants back on then his bare feet padding across the metal floor to the trunk.

When he returned to me, there was a wicked leather flogger in his hand, with one thick tail and knot at the end.

He held it in front of me, letting me look at it. I felt a thrill of fear move through me.

“This is going to hurt,” he said.

I nodded, pulling in my lower lip.

Ren was confident with the flogger, starting at my shoulders.

With my wrists bound in front of me, more of my back was exposed. There was more room for him to work.

The blunt impacts made me cry out. Pain was radiating along my body, overwhelming my brain, turning my thoughts to mush. All that existed was the moment. A moment of pain and moment of relief, barely separated.

I was begging for it, asking for more lashes.

Bruises became welts. Some spots across my shoulders were flogged raw with beads of blood welling up. I loved it, hissing in pain, cursing Ren, but never asking him to stop.

When he was done he pushed me to the bed and pounded me like an animal, his pants bunched around his knees. I came a second time, my hips pressed against the mattress, screaming and howling the whole time. I hoped I would wake the ship up.

Not long after that, Ren growled and shuddered, erupting with his own orgasm. I could feel his cock pulsing as he managed those final thrusts, filling me with his come.

We collapsed, sweaty and panting in the sheets.

“You were very good for me,” he said quietly, smoothing hair away from my face

“I was,” I purred.

Ren pushed himself upright and began undoing the ropes around my arms and wrists. I breathed in deeply as the pressure against my skin was lifted, blood flowing.

When he was done, I stretched myself across the sheets, belly down. Ren joined me, tenderly running his fingertips across the raised and bleeding welts he had left across my back. He studied the injuries with a silent fascination.

I was exhausted, tiredness seeping through every muscle, every bone. The adrenaline was running its course and there was nothing left behind. My eyelids were heavy and I let them close, hovering on the border of sleep.

Eventually I felt Ren’s weight shift in the bed. I squinted my eyes open open and watched him pulling up his pants and climbing out of bed. He picked up his mask from the floor and set it on a nearby chair. When he returned to the bed he gathered up his rope and started to wrap into neat coils with precise motions. He put everything back where it had come from and returned to my side with a small glass jar in his hand.

“This will help you heal,” he said, “Astrid can take another look at you tomorrow.”

He ran his bare hands across my broken skin. He took his time, covering my back, then my arms, massaging the places where the ropes had been bound.

The salve was cool and I found myself sighing peacefully, head cradled in my arms.

He took the opportunity to slip his fingers back inside of me, this time his touch was slow and gentle. Steadily, his fingers worked back inside of me and I felt myself beginning to warm.

“I think you have one more in you,” he said, low and rumbling.

With one hand he continued to work the salve into my legs. The other hand he kept rocking in and out of me. He blew across my back, making me shiver and then had me flip over. He kept the rhythm of his hands the whole time.

My nipples were puffy and tender now. I was rocking my hips against his hand, slick and open. I felt his gaze travel over my body as he kept that same, infuriatingly slow, steady rhythm.

“More,” I gasped, “Please, more…”

“Use my name,” he instructed.

“Please, Kylo…Ren...please...please…let me come...” I chanted, begging.

He drew it out of me, with steady strokes, rocking his hand against my clit. I came screaming and shuddering, pulling at the bedsheets. He kept working his fingers into me, giving me time to ride the feeling and to start to come back down.

We fell asleep curled up together in his sheets, the brig long forgotten.

There’s a special kind of sleep I always had on starships - deep and dreamless. On planets there’s constant movement - people and animals, the rhythm of stars moving across the sky. In space everything is still. You have the crew, the engines, and the machinery, but you are surrounded by stillness. Quiet is most of what’s out there.

I slept peacefully, letting my surroundings and situation fall away.

III

I might have started to wake up to the sound of boots on the metal floor, but what woke me up fully was the sheets being roughly pulled out from under my chin.

“What the fuck…” I murmured, grabbing for them back.

I opened my eyes, and found Ren still next to me, pale and blinking with surprise.

“Well, this wasn’t how I expected to see you again,” came a stern voice from the other side of the bed.

Even after so many years had passed, the voice was strikingly familiar.

I rolled back over and met the gaze of Sith Lord Ymir. He gave me a glance in acknowledgement before turning his attention to Ren, who was already scrambling out of bed and gathering up his clothes.

“I was surprised not to see you in the bay when I landed,” Ymir said to Ren, “Admiral Clive informed me that you haven’t left your quarters in over eight hours. I would hope that, after so much time with the prisoner, you would have some critical information.”

I turned to Ren, enjoying the show. He had his pants on and was buckling his belt in place. His face was red. His hair was disheveled from sleep, flopping across his face as he blustered.

“Maybe the location of the Resistance base?” Ymir suggested, crossing his arms over his chest.

He looked the same as he had a decade ago. Maybe more gray… yes, instead of brown, his hair was a rich iron shade, pulled back neatly at the base of his neck. There were touches of white around his mouth and temples. He still wore simple clothing, utility pants and a jacket over a plain, linen shirt. He had a green half-cloak slung over his shoulder.

“No. Then maybe you could enlighten me on why you brought a prisoner into your quarters?” Ymir continued.

Ren spluttered. Would he blame me for seducing him? Would he stand up to his Master?

Ymir waited as Ren tugged on the same clothing that he had dropped on the floor.

“No explanation, then?” Ymir said.

Ren stood, breathing heavily, his face as red as a child caught misbehaving.

“Then go,” Ymir sneered, “Have your valet conduct a sweep of your consoles to ensure that the ship’s computers weren’t compromised by your guest. I’ll join you on the bridge, in time, and I expect by then you’ll have plans for finding and taking the base.” Ymir turned to me, “It seems that Siobhan has earned my attention.” He looked me up and down, I gazed back at him levelly.

Ren nodded, stiff and anxious from the other side of the bed. He hurried from the room, taking a moment to collect his mask from the chair. I watched him pick his head up right before he left the room.

And, just like that, I was alone with Ymir.

I found some joy in being found naked in his apprentice’s bed with all the bruises and welts full display.

He gazed down at me, silent and patient. I could see amusement dancing in his eyes.

“It looks like we have some catching up to do,” I said.

Chapter Text

I

Ymir gazed at me, a hint of a smile playing around his mouth, his arms crossed over his chest.

“We should talk in the state room,” he said, eyes travelling across my body then around Ren’s quarters. “Did you have any clothing?” he asked with a wry twist of his lips.

“Somewhere,” I said, moving over to the other side of the bed to see if the shirt was on the floor.

I found the top half of the fatigues crumpled on the ground and reached for them.

Ymir was striding over to door on the other end of the room, not watching as I searched for my pants.

I found them on the other side of the room. As I bent over to pick them up, the scabs and welts along my back stretched. I felt the bruises on my ass start to complain.

Ymir waited for me by the open door and we entered the stateroom together.

It was the kind of place that would make Captains and Generals feel important.

On the wall to my right was a large, red, First Order banner. Beneath that was an expensive looking liquor cabinet with pricey bottles, crystal decanters, and heavy-bottomed glasses.

There were two sets of sofas across from each other, with a low table in between. On either side of the sofas were chairs, all made out of the same smooth leather, colored a deep shade of burgundy.

Ymir took a seat in an end chair and I sat across from him, the baggy uniform bunched up around my waist, and hanging low over my bare feet.

I had felt at ease moments ago, but now reality was setting in.

I was in the same room with the man who had killed my father. For ten years I had been waiting for this moment and now it was happening.

My mind was starting to kick into gear to figure this situation out.

“So, you managed to get yourself from an interrogation room to the finest quarters on this ship,” Ymir said, beginning the conversation. “Kylo Ren’s interrogation skills are only unmatched by mine. What did you do?”

I gave Ymir a pitying look, “Your apprentice is just a man.”

He knew I was telling the truth. I felt anger move through him and he took in a breath, jaw jutting forward. He looked back up at me, sitting in the too-large storm trooper fatigues, my hair falling messily around my shoulders.

“All it took was the potential for sex?” Ymir said, allowing his deep disappointment to show.

“Yes,” I confirmed, stopping a smile as it tugged at the corners of my mouth.

Ymir closed his eyes, collecting himself, “Well I hope he enjoyed himself. He’s not going to be enjoying anything for a long time…” he said with lips pressed together.

I didn’t respond.

“Why did you join the Resistance?” he asked.

“To find you,” I said without hesitation.

He barked a laugh, his head tilting back, “You aren’t following in your father’s footsteps?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No,” I said, “I had been doing smuggling jobs. That was leading nowhere. There was a Resistance sting on during a weapons job. I decided to help them and join up.”

Ymir’s eyes narrowed with skepticism.

“Let me see what you’ve done these past ten years,” he said abruptly.

I bristled.

Ymir matched my serious expression, leaning forward in the chair, “You were able to resist Kylo Ren, but you won’t be able to resist me. Let me see the memories.”

“Alright,” I said, jaw clenching.

I felt Ymir reach out me. We sat opposite of one another, staring each other down.

I let him in.

His energy felt so different from Ren’s. Ren was like electricity, powerful, surging. Ymir’s was deeper...more fundamental. His energy felt like the tide, like plates of earth moving, steady and undeniable.

It was that same impression I had when he had entered my home, his natural command. I was helpless then, just a kid, and now we were sitting apart from one another and he was tugging at some of the most painful moments of my life.

The memories began to flood by, starting with the worst of it.

After Ymir leaves, my mother and brother are frozen in grief, clutching onto each other, wailing out their fear and sadness.

I stand apart from them, looking at my father’s corpse.

The house smells like burnt meat. His blood is seeping through the rugs and spreading across the floor.

I go outside and grab a shovel.

I begin to dig a hole in between the house and the stables.

The impact of the spade against the hard earth sends shockwaves up my arm. My palms are raw against the handle.

Each push of my arms is a vow.

I will kill Ymir. One day I will be strong enough to kill him.

I drag the two halves of my father’s body to the grave in separate trips. Afterwards, I scrub his blood from our rugs and floors.

Tears were streaming from my eyes, even after all these years. I clenched my fists. Anger was a welcome relief from the sadness I felt.

“Good…” Ymir murmured.

My mother thought we were on a First Order watchlist. Her only moment of strength was getting us off the planet alive.

My mother makes plans for us to leave. We don’t know if the First Order is watching us.

We’re smuggled onto a merchant ship by one of my father’s old Rebel friends.

“I gave them orders to kill you and your family if you tried to leave through the normal channels,” Ymir confirmed, his voice became dreamy as he sank into my memories.

I had lived my entire life on a farm and then, suddenly, we were on a new world. A giant city.

My mother took us to stay with her parents, trying to bring normalcy back to her life. There was nothing familiar for me there.

In the city, life is a constant battle. The other kids start fights with me and I learn how to win.

There are bruises around my eyes, and my knuckles are scabbed.

I earn a reputation and I’m invited to join one of the street gangs.

There’s money coming in. More money than I’ve ever had before.

My mother and my brother don’t like the person I’m becoming.

When my brother confronts me, I break his nose. He’s screaming, hands to his face, blood pouring over his lips and chin.

I never see my mother or brother again.

I run drugs and weapons. I steal ships.

I have the opportunity to join a branch of the gang on another planet and I take it. I begin fucking their leader, a sadistic man who showers me in gifts and privileges.

When the relationship falls apart I leave. I work in the clubs, one of the dancers, one of the brothel girls.

There are boyfriends, men with specific tastes and needs. I can keep up with them and look good on their arm. I’m still playing smuggler on the side. Weapons, drugs, and money.

On one of the missions, we’re intercepted by Resistance. I help the Rebels take the payload and pretend that I was an unwilling participant.

I tell them my name, my father’s name. They overlook the holes in my story.

Ben Solo has defected to the Dark Side, betraying Luke Skywalker. They need a hero, and my name gives them hope.

I move through barracks, starships, and planets. There is always a new assignment, new places, new people.

No matter how far I travel - no matter what I do - I can’t put my father’s murder behind me and I wait for the day I can have vengeance.

Ymir opened his eyes. He could feel the hate in my heart, my desire to kill him. He steepled his fingers beneath his chin.

I wiped at my cheeks with my long sleeves, drying the path of tears.

‘You’re reckless,” he finally said, “The Sith become the masters of their fear and anger. You've only put yourself in the path of danger over and over again. That isn't mastery.”

I bristled, “I kept myself alive.”

There was that little smile again, self-satisfied and prideful.

“Indeed you did, Siobhan,” Ymir said, leaving a cool pause, “What are the coordinates of your base?”

This was the moment. The only thing of value I had to bargain with.

Ymir was trying to throw me off. He wanted to see how I would handle this situation.

“Oh I can do better than just base coordinates. I was on the Vangelis as part of an engineering crew. We were being brought in for expansion project. I’ve already had a full week with the blueprints,” I said with sly confidence in my voice, “But, before I tell you anything, I need an agreement from you.”

“Oh?” he said, with a droll glint in his eye.

“I expect you to take me on as your apprentice,” I said.

Ymir arched a brow, “I think you’re vastly overestimating my interest in you…” he began, “I already have an apprentice, a Skywalker. Besides, why would I train an enemy? I already have plenty.”

He was giving me a hard time. I expected it.

“You felt my connection with the Force ten years ago,” I said, “I was just a farmgirl then, but I’m more than that now. Kylo Ren might have Skywalker blood, but he doesn’t have experience. I’ve been surviving the Galaxy.”

Ymir laughed openly and deeply, his hands on his thighs, “Help me take your pesky Resistance base and then I’ll decide what to do with you,” he said warmly.

“No,” I said, and watched his humor turn back to seriousness, “You’ve had your mind made up for ten years. You’re going to train me, and, when the time comes, we’ll settle this point between us.”

His face remained calm, but I could feel his anger condensing in the room.

It all happened too quickly for me to think.

Ymir lunged forward, lightsaber in his hand.

There was a blaze of yellow and I reached out in desperation and fear. I had seen that blade before and it meant death.

As I lashed out, I could hear a high pitched cry leave my throat. I felt his grip around the weapon and I pulled it from his hand.

The lightsaber went flying to the left, connecting with the wall and leaving behind a jagged burn in the metal panel.

My heart was thundering in my chest and I realized I was standing. Ymir stood with empty hands and fire in his eyes.

He summoned the unarmed lightsaber back to his hand and I stood my ground, knowing I was out of range of his lightsaber at least.

Ymir hooked the sword onto his belt and held up his hands in peace.

My legs were trembling from the effort and I hoped he didn’t notice.

“You are still a bold one!” he said, teeth visible as he grinned.

Everything about him spoke to his power. His wide shoulders. his strong jawline, his easy posture. He was built like a prize fighter, but there was a refinement in his expression.

I stood across from him, my shoulders hunched forward, my hands empty.

“I’ll take you on, Siobhan,” he said and I felt myself stand straighter, “I expect your full cooperation in taking the Resistance base. I’m going to have you come to the bridge to discuss strategy with our officers. If you do anything that reflects poorly on me, I’ll kill you.”

“I understand,” I said with a nod.

“Good,” Ymir said, “Hector will be in to get you ready.”

He turned and left the room with a swirl of his half-cloak.

Adrenaline was surging through me. It took a moment for his words to connect in my mind. I had responded automatically. It hadn’t sunk in.

The valet entered the state room moments after the door closed behind Ymir.

I was standing in a daze, my feet bare on the metal floors, the stormtrooper fatigues sagging over my shoulders.

“Lord Ymir wants you on the bridge in half an hour. You’ll have time to shower and eat. Lord Ymir said you’ll be using these quarters to prepare. I’ll show you the facilities,” the man said crisply.

I shook my head, clearing my thoughts.

The valet lead me back into Ren’s room and I followed him into the showers.

He stayed at the entrance, while I dropped the fatigues and figured out the nozzles for water and soap.

I wasn’t used to this much water on a spaceship.

Usually we just got sanitizing cloths in a locker room. Most of the smuggling outfits I had been a part of were cesspits with dozens of species all rubbing shoulder to shoulder - everyone with their own particular grooming needs and habits.

I took time to adjust the dials on the shower, luxuriating in the water pouring over me. There was a nozzle for soap and I lathered up my hair. I spent time washing the wounds Ren had made. The soap burned on the raw spots and I twisted and turned to see what the damage was.

Ren had done a thorough job with the flogger. I was striped from shoulders to thighs.

When I was done, Hector had a towel and a uniform waiting for me. He also had a nutrition bar, wrapped in a foil package.

I really was getting gold star treatment.

The valet’s attitude and demeanor had completely changed from the previous day. He stood to the side of the door, face set in a polite mask, hands folded neatly in front of him.

It must be frustrating for him, to see me as a prisoner one day, and Ymir’s guest the next.

I wrapped the towel around me and took another one for my hair.

I ate the food quickly, stomach growling as I took the first bite. It had been more than a day since I had something solid to eat.

“Is there a mirror?” I asked the valet crumpling the foil in my hand.

He took the trash from me.

The walls were all made of the same black metal. There was nothing above the sink. The man who kept himself covered in a mask didn’t see much use for them.

The valet went to the wall next to the shower and deftly began opening panels. He revealed a mirror, and drawers with toiletries.

I grinned, leaning in to start poking through Ren’s stuff, but I was stopped.

“If you need anything to ready yourself you can ask me, ma’am.” His icy tone said it all.

He wasn’t going to let me go through Ren’s drawers.

I got myself into a uniform. The valet had done a good job with my size, but grunt uniforms were never flattering. I put on the military grade undergarments: beige underwear, another binding athletic bra, socks. The pants were straight-legged with a pleat down the center. I put the boots on over them. The shirt fastened to the side, and there were buttons all the way up to my left shoulder. I fastened the belt around my waist.

I looked at myself in the mirror, damp hair falling around my face.

It was only then I thought about the Resistance, my fellow soldiers. There were over a thousand people on the base.

I was about to betray them.

I had done my basic training there years ago. It was populated by old teachers and new recruits. They didn’t have many defenses beyond the booby traps around the perimeter. The base had remained undiscovered for over a decade.

The First Order was going to slaughter them. With my help.

I always knew that it would cost me something to have Ymir take me on as an apprentice.

He was the head of the First Order, the commander of their military and I was nobody. There was no reason for him to take me in. I would have to make myself useful for him.

I knew where the base was. I could show him I knew how to get my hands dirty.

With all my years of running in crews, smuggling, pirating, there were hundreds of casualties to my name. Some were rivals, some were people defending their ships and their cargo, but there were civilians too, people caught in the crossfire, trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ymir had been truthful, he already had an apprentice, the son of General Organa, the nephew of fucking Luke Skywalker.

My heart was cold and still in my chest. The Galaxy was a cruel place. Some people died peacefully, others died getting what they deserved, most of us died for no reason at all, victims of a world beyond our control.

That was going to be the fate of the soldiers on the base. I needed to make myself useful to Ymir and these were the cards I had available.

I felt a growling tug at my heart, something beyond myself. There was hunger there, an urge towards violence in the back of my mind.

I shook my head, bringing myself back.

I pulled my hair into a ponytail, smoothing it behind my ears, and tugged at the hem of my uniform before turning to the valet.

“Am I wearing this the right way?” I asked.

“Can I make a small adjustment to your shirt?” he asked.

I nodded. He pulled down the hem of the shirt, straightened the shoulders, and loosened the belt by a notch, then nodded in approval.

“All right. Lead me to the bridge,” I said.

II

The ship was incredible. It was the largest spacecraft I had ever been on.

Everything was top of the line. The walls and floors were spotless. All of the lighting worked.

I tried to memorize the route we took- a left, then a right, and into an elevator going up. I stood next to the valet, his hands neatly clasped in front of him. He hadn’t looked at me or talked to me since we left Ren’s quarters.

He had been ordered to get me ready and take me to the bridge and that was all that he was going to do.

We exited into a wider and busier hallway and continued forward.

The energy on the Finalizer was so different from the Resistance ships I had been on. There was a steady hum of routine and organization that I wasn’t used to. We walked briskly down the hallways, past helmeted stormtroopers and their commanders. It was strange to be surrounded by so many faceless soldiers.

In one alcove, I saw a group of droids repairing some serious damage, the first I had seen. There were deeply burned gouges in the metal walls, with sparking wires hanging out. There must have been some kind of electrical fire earlier.

The Vangelis was the opposite of the Finalizer. She was a rustbucket, a holdover from the war against the Empire. She was missing wall panels, all of her wiring had been replaced at least two or three times. It took all of the engineering crew’s skill and prayers to keep her flying. I had spent that entire trip in the barracks next to the engine room, getting interrupted or woken up at all hours to fix whatever the new problem was.

I could tell we made it to the bridge when we arrived at a reinforced door monitored by two guards.

“Lord Ymir is expecting us,” the valet said crisply.

One of them punched a code into the console next to him and we entered the bridge.

The room was buzzing with people. Consoles were dotted throughout the room, operated by officers of unknown rank, all wearing black uniforms.

The front of the bridge was all windows, looking out across the front of the ship, and beyond her to the planet and the Resistance base hidden on the surface.

Ymir and Ren stood at a central console. Between them was a tall man in a formal, jet-black uniform. I assumed it was Admiral Clive. The two men turned as I entered the room.

It wasn’t just them. I felt everyone’s attention as I stepped onto the bridge, but most of the officers were too well-trained to stare.

The valet lead me over to Ymir, Ren, and the Admiral.

A small, wheeled droid zipped by my feet and I made an awkward step around it, looking down before continuing forward.

“Private Zhang,” the valet introduced with a polite bow before excusing himself.

Ymir looked me up and down, an appraising glint in his eye.

I was in my First Order costume. None of the bruises, welts, or rope marks were visible. I looked perfectly respectable.

He introduced me to the Admiral, “Private Zhang was being sent to the Resistance base as an engineer to work on an expansion project. She is going to share her knowledge with us.”

I let myself appreciate just how handsome Ymir was. Dressed in his utility clothes, with his beard and long hair, he looked much more relaxed in the rigid atmosphere of the bridge.

The Admiral was another middle-aged man, with jowls and white hair buzzed short on the sides and bald on top. He had the pasty complexion of someone who spent most of his time on starships.

He managed to hide his disdain from his face, but not from his eyes. He shook my hand too hard and I gripped him back with a smile.

“Zhang, we’ll be meeting in the briefing room,” Ymir continued.

The entire time, Ren kept his attention on the console. He didn’t look up or try to speak to me. He didn’t acknowledge me at all.

I was quickly ushered into a side room. There were tiers of shiny, curving tables all facing a central stage. There were standing displays set up on the left and right side. A thin-necked officer wearing a small, glossy, black helmet was at the consoles.

“This is Lieutenant Janaczek. He’ll show you the controls and help with technology,” Ymir said.

We shook hands and I watched his adam’s apple bob against his tight uniform collar.

“We’ll be starting in ten minutes,” Ymir added, turning back to the Admiral.

“Can you show me the information you’ve gathered? I’m assuming there’s aerial surveillance by now,” I said.

The Lieutenant showed me what they had.

The First Order was fast and thorough. I was able to find the base from aerial shots and get the information organized.

People streamed into the room. Their leadership was all human men. They walked in, dressed up in their officer uniforms, talking to each other as they settled into their seats. I could feel their eyes crawling over me, but they would look away quickly when I met their gaze.

Ymir and the General were seated at a table on the stage to my right. Their table had screens built in and keyboards to make notes. They had their own display map they could mark on.

Ren joined us in the last trickle of officers. He took a seat next to Ymir. With his mask on and his hood pulled up there wasn’t any meaningful information I could take from him. He sat like an impassive shadow.

What a luxury to be able to hide in plain sight.

My ponytail was damp against the back of my neck.

Once the men were assembled, Ymir stood.

His warm, commanding voice filled the room, “Private Zhang is a military engineer who was being brought in for work on the base. She will be sharing information she has to aid our battle preparations,” he took his seat and leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. “You can begin.”

I surveyed the sea of First Order officers in front of me. They must have all heard that I seduced Ren and now Lord Ymir was presenting me as an expert to help them take the base.

There was no reason for them to trust me. I was a fucking spectacle.

Good thing I loved an audience.

“Well, I can start with two pieces of good news,” I began, pulling up aerial shots on the displays, “The first is that this base is a training camp for new recruits. The second is that you already have footage of the base, you just didn’t know what you were looking at with your scanners.”

I zoomed in on a still image and pulled up the coordinates on the screen.

“When you shot down the Vangelis, we crashed about two thousand kilometers east of the base. They’ve now had two days to prepare for a potential attack, but they are going to bank on the planet’s geography keeping them undetectable.”

I pulled up a few more stills and added their coordinates on the screen.

“The base is underground in a dormant volcanic cavity. The mineral composition of the rock and soil deflect most kinds of scanners. They read it as solid rock and ore. The caves provide the perfect cover for their aircraft hangars.”

I pulled up a master map, and drew circles on the display to mark the base and hangar entrances.

“The base takes up four square kilometers inside a volcanic cavity. It’s surrounded by a one-kilometer perimeter of booby-trapped jungle.”

I drew three concentric circles and pointed to the outermost circle.

“This is dense vegetation. Think tree roots, vines, branches. Ground troops would only have a few meters of visibility. It’s humid too, if that affects anything.”

I continued, “There are sensors at the start of the defensive perimeter. There will be troops prepared to fly out and fire on anyone attacking by land. They’ve dug out deep pits. This will slow down AT-ATs and other kinds of land vehicles you have. There are lines of razor wire set at neck height and mines on the ground and in the trees.

“So we should just bomb the site,” an officer said impatiently.

“You must be a Group Captain,” I said, there was a humorous murmur through the group of men letting me know I was right, “Aerial bombing would seem like the easy choice, but the volcanic deposits in the ground provide a defensive shell for the base. You’d only be able to dent the roof.”

I turned back to the map and zoomed back in on the hangar entrances.

“I recommend taking your fighters directly into the hangars and bombing them from within. If your goal is to destroy the base entirely, you’ll need to get troops inside. There are hundreds of kilometers of tunnels underground. The Rebels will be taking the weakest people into them once the fighting gets too heavy.

“What kind of craft are we going to be engaging with?” Ren asked with that gravelly, artificial voice.

I turned to him, “It’s a training site for cadets. Most of the fighters are junk, stuff that’s about to be scrapped, and the cadets are all hotshots waiting for their moment to be a hero. I don’t think they’ll be more than a pain in the ass for your fleet,” I answered.

There was laughter in the room.

What a den of assholes.

“Excuse me,” said another man standing up from his chair. He looked the same as all the rest, “How do we know anything you say is true? I can’t be the only one thinking this.”

There were murmurs of agreement around the room.

“Captain Marlow, do you remember that I was the one who arranged for Private Zhang to conduct this briefing?” Ymir said, his voice was measured and I could feel the threat ripple through the room.

The men grew quiet.

“But she’s an enemy soldier,” the man continued, “We don’t have any verification of this information. Our scanners didn’t pick up anything that remotely resembles a base. If a base does exist, how do we know she isn’t leading us into an ambush?” He pounded his fist on the table for emphasis and there were more murmurs.

I crossed my arms over my chest and gazed cooly out into the crowd.

“Are you questioning my judgement, Captain Marlow?” Ymir’s voice was dangerously stern.

The murmuring died immediately.

“No...but I…” The Captain’s next breath was a rattle, and his hands scrambled to his throat.

Ymir sat calmly at the table with the Admiral and Ren, his gaze focused on the Captain.

The man had fallen back into his seat, face turning red. The rest of the officers sat still in their chairs.

There were a few more moments of silence, punctuated by the Captain struggling to breathe. Ymir shifted in his chair and the man’s first full breath echoed in the room.

“Kylo Ren, I’d like you to start planning the air attack. Private Zhang, please continue to provide guidance on the base and terrain.”

Ren climbed to his feet and took the stage, both of us on display in front of most of the commanders on the ship.

He did his best to avoid interacting with me. He only asked questions when he had to, and after some time I felt my mind wandering. My legs were tired from standing and I felt myself getting hungry again.

I made notes on the maps and by the end there was a thorough attack plan for ground and aerial strikes.

Admiral Clive stood up when the plans were completed, “We’ll be striking the base at 1900. You have six hours to prepare.”

The men stood up and began to filter out of the room. Ymir called myself and Ren to him.

“I’m going to meet with Admiral Clive. Ren, I’ll join you and Siobhan in your state room when I’m done.”

He left us alone together.

I looked over to Ren, swaddled in his robes and mask. He turned abruptly and left the briefing room. I followed him back onto the bridge, down the hallway and into the elevator.

“Thank the gods, I need a break,” I said leaning back against the wall, “How long were we in there? An hour? Two?”

Ren stayed silent, staring ahead as the elevator lowered us through the ship. When the door opened, he was the first out and began making long strides back to his quarters. I had to trot to keep up with him.

Fuck that.

I wasn’t going to run behind him like a lap dog. He rounded a corner and I hung back. I waited a beat and turned around walking back down the hallway and turning in the opposite direction we had come from.

Troops and droids marched past, following their routines.

I only made it down a couple of hallways before I heard Ren storming up behind me. He grabbed my arm, pulling me backwards to him.

“My patience is growing thin,” he threatened in that deep mechanical voice, right next to my ear.

“Then don’t be such an asshole,” I said, “I’m not going to run to keep up with you.”

He roughly let go of my arm and turned, walking at a more normal pace. He was crackling with aggression, his shoulders hunching forward.

After a few more hallways, we made it back to his quarters.

We entered the state room, those tall First Order banners hanging on the wall.

I headed over to the liquor cabinet and poured a generous glass from an expensive-looking decanter.

Ren was angrily taking off his mask.

“You made me look like an idiot!” he thundered, hair falling wildly around his face.

I took a sip of my drink. It burned sharp and clear on my tongue.

“I didn’t make you do anything,” I said, “I was in restraints for most of yesterday, if you remember.”

Ren was shaking with rage, “If the Resistance means so little to you, why didn’t you give me the information?”

I took a second glass and filled it, “You made it more fun for me not to tell you,” I winked, and slid it across the top of the cabinet to him.

He looked at the glass then looked up at me. He was moments away from starting a brawl.

“The base coordinates were my only bargaining chip. I wasn’t going to just give that up,” I said, taking a second sip of my drink.

Ren stared at me trying to figure out how he could keep arguing with me.

“You spend a few minutes with Lord Ymir and he agrees to take you on as an apprentice...what kind of game are you playing?” he snarled.

I bristled, “I spent ten years of my life trying to be in the same room with him! You began training with Skywalker when you were how old? Then Ymir sought you out. Don’t you dare make it sound like I just had this handed to me.”

I downed my own glass and stared at him.

To his credit, Ren backed down.

I took the decanter and poured myself another round.

The door slid open and Ymir entered, pulling his half-cloak off and draping it over the back of a chair.

“Ren, I told Admiral Clive you’ll be going down to the hangars to finalize plans for the aerial strike with the Captains once we’re done.” Ymir turned to me, “Go ahead and pour me a glass. We’ll be doing another scan of the surface to confirm the information you provided.”

He took a relaxed seat on the sofa, arms spread out along the back.

“They’ll be accurate,” I said, handing him the glass and taking the chair next to him, “Me and the team had been working through the blueprints for over a week.”

Ren picked up his glass and took a seat on the sofa directly across from Ymir.

I noticed the burn in the wall behind him. Someone had come in to do cosmetic repairs, but they would eventually need to replace the entire panel.

“I’m planning for you to be with me on the bridge tomorrow during the attack.”

“I won’t be fighting?” I asked.

Ren also looked to Ymir.

“I’d like to keep your survival a secret for now. I feel it can be revealed at a more opportune time.”

I grinned, “It’ll be interesting to see how they respond to the attack. They’ve had your ships looming over them for the past three days. They’ve seen the probes and scouts you’ve sent out. I know the commanders are hoping you don’t find anything and just leave.”

“Has that happened before?” Ren asked.

“There’s been a few close calls I’ve heard of, run-ins with smugglers and bounty hunters that got way off-course. Speaking of...how did you find my ship?”

We had been making hyperspace jumps as we picked up supplies, no one should have been able to find us.

“Your Captain bought supplies from one of our informants. He sent a message to us and we tracked your ship.”

Dreb...that fucking asshole...

“I knew it!” I said popping my fist against my thigh, “I fucking knew it! I warned the Captain about doing business with Dreb. He has a bad rap with the Smuggler’s Alliance.”

Ren gave me a smug look, lips pressed together.

Ymir turned to me, “Siobhan, we have set up a room for you. Hector will show you the way. I’d like to have a private conversation with Kylo Ren.”

I was being dismissed. I stood.

“I’ll call on you in a few hours,” Ymir said, and that was that.

I left the room and found the valet outside of the door. Wordlessly he lead me down to my new quarters.

We walked through another string of hallways, and down two separate sets elevators. We were moving towards the back of the ship to a lower level.

We came to a long hallway of sloping metal doors and stopped at one labeled 427. He pressed on the console and the door slid up, revealing a room that was more familiar.

It had to be made for a low-ranking officer. There was just enough privacy to make you feel like you weren’t a regular grunt anymore.

There was a bunk mounted into the wall, with storage drawers underneath. On the left wall there was a metal locker. On the right was a desk and chair, but no tablets or consoles. There was nothing for communication or entertainment.

“What do I do if I have to piss?” I asked, looking around the compact room.

“The toilets and showers are two hallways down.” the valet said primly.

Back to communal bathrooms it was.

I nodded and he left.

I didn’t want to sit in a cramped windowless room, but I didn’t feel confident wandering around a First Order ship all by myself hours before a battle.

I stepped inside and closed the door behind me, hoping it wasn’t set to lock me in. I pressed the console button and it opened back up.

Sighing in relief, I closed the door again and took a seat on the bed. I unlaced my boots, took off the belt and the outer jacket of the uniform and laid out on top of the tightly-wrapped blanket.

I ran my hands down my belly and the tops of my legs.

My body was sore and aching. I had survived the crash and Ren hadn’t gone easy on me.

Now that the excitement of the day was wearing off, exhaustion was spreading through me. My eyelids were heavy.

Without anything else better to do, I hit the lightswitch next to the bed and laid back for a nap.

III

When I woke up, I had no idea how much time had passed, but nothing seemed to have changed.

With the lights off I sat still, listening to the sounds of the ship around me.

I heard stormtrooper boots clacking on metal floors, the hum of the lights and machinery. I tried to go deeper, reaching out with my awareness.

My eyelids squeezed together in concentration. I felt my lips tighten and my nose scrunch as I tried to feel my way outside the room.

I felt...something...I was surrounded by soldiers about to go into battle, there was excitement, and dread, and resignation...but I knew all of that already, didn’t I?

I couldn’t tell if it was the Force or not.

I took in a breath and opened my eyes in the pitch black room. It took a second to find the lightswitch. I ran my hands along the walls until I found the button.

When the lights came on, I looked around the cramped, little room.

What was I going to do? Did I really want to sit here twiddling my thumbs until Ymir called for me?

I put my boots back on, straightened the uniform and decided to try my luck outside.

I closed the door behind me and confirmed I could open it again.

It felt strange to walk through the hallways alone. I was wearing a First Order uniform, but it was hard to shake the feeling that someone would know I didn’t belong here.

I walked with a purposeful stride, my face set in a rigid, military expression. I listened to the steady tap of my boots against the metal floor and was grateful for the time alone to think.

I had entered the ship two days ago as a prisoner. Now I had the attention of a Sith Lord.

Was Ymir tricking me? I felt my legs falter. I had given him all the information. I had performed for his officers like a trained animal.

Did I hold any value to him anymore?

Ymir said he was going to train me, but those were just words. What if he was just telling me what I wanted to hear?

What reason did he have to keep his word?

I had made his apprentice look like a fool yesterday. Was he really going to take me in with open arms?

I suddenly felt very exposed and very alone.

I needed a weapon. A blaster at the very least.

Troops and droids streamed past me. On a ship this big you couldn’t know everyone. They were making preparations for a battle the next day. People were distracted, doing drills, and completing checklists.

This was my opportunity.

I began to roam the hallways more strategically. The floor I was on housed low-ranking officers. The barracks for stormtroopers must be on a lower floor. They would probably have training rooms and weapons lockers close to them.

My intuition was correct. I needed to go down three levels, and I found myself in the thick of it. Units jogged by with blaster rifles, and other groups came by carrying heavy ammunition crates. It was organized chaos, but chaos nonetheless.

I stuck to the walls and made my expression impatient and focused. I moved past rooms and open hangar doors trying to spot the weapons room.

Finally I found it. There was a counter with a glass and mesh security barrier and one officer standing at a console behind it.

I ran up in a huff.

“I need my sidearm for drills,” I said very quickly to the officer behind the counter.

She looked at me with heavy eyelids, unimpressed with my anxious act.

“Unit number.”

I didn’t know what a fucking unit number was and tried to make my face look distracted while trying to find a clue. She had a number on her lapel badge.

“5874389,” I said changing the last two digits.

She frowned as she looked at the console screen.

“I’m already late. I can’t be late. My commander is going to kill me,” I said, it was my daily mantra with the Resistance.

She looked at the console, back to me, and then to the console.

“I need my blaster and a kit knife,” I said, pushing with my voice.

This time it worked, she turned and did what I asked. The weapons went through the rectangular opening in the the security barrier and I took them.

I tried to be inconspicuous, and found a corner to shield me. I tucked the small blaster into my waistband, and wriggled the sheathed knife into my boot.

Feeling more prepared, I went back to the hallway and started moving to the upper levels again, trying to figure out what my next move would be.

I was walking on a bridge overlooking one of the hangars when I suddenly heard Ymir’s voice in my mind, just as clear as my own.

Now how did I know you wouldn’t be in your room?

I stiffened, trying to close off my thoughts.

Don’t bother with that. Meet me at my ship in Hangar 1. Can you see the way?

I did. I saw the path in my mind as clear as a memory. I would wind down a few hallways and take an elevator. I found myself nodding, then tried to reply. Searching for Ymir with my awareness.

Yes.

I realized I had stopped moving and saw a few stormtroopers looking at me. I coughed and they looked away.

The directions to Ymir’s ship were clear in my mind. As I walked, I tried not to let my thoughts rush ahead. He had every reason to try to kill me or at least imprison me.

I was glad to feel the blaster in my waistband and the knife sheath against the inside of my calf. The handle stuck out just beyond the top of my boot.

There was a lot of activity in the hangar. TIE fighters and other spacecraft were in docks along the walls, receiving fuel and last-minute maintenance for the battle. Troops carried munitions crates. Flight officers and engineers scuttled around busily.

Ymir’s ship was at the center of the room with a wide berth around it.

It was a beauty, all smooth edges and curves made out of some reflective alloy. Stylish enough to be intimidating, but large and functional enough for long stretches of space travel. It would be fast and hard to track.

The entrance ramp was already lowered and I stepped inside. There was a hallway leading to the left and right. Ships like this tended to have sitting rooms towards the front with living quarters at the back. I headed left towards the cockpit.

It was dark inside. Lights were inlaid in the ceiling and cast a dim golden glow. The walls and floors were black metal.

I didn’t feel any more assured that Ymir wasn’t going to try to kill me.

I followed the hallway around until there was an open door to a meeting room.

Ymir was waiting for me, sitting in a low leather chair.

It was posh and stately, filled with expensive, understated decorations. I noticed the paintings on the walls, an abstract statue on an end table. The plush chairs all matched. There were even books all lined up in neat shelves built in the walls.

“Take a seat,” he said, indicating the chairs and sofas artfully arranged in the room, “You can take that blaster out of your pants while you’re at it.”

I shrugged and pulled the weapon out. I set it down on a side table.

“You can take the knife out of your boot as well.”

I had to undo the laces of my boot to get the knife out.

Good to know.

I set the sheathed knife next to the blaster and gave Ymir a wry look.

“You had good information. Our second scans found the defensive perimeter and we were able to get a rough read on the base. I’ve never encountered terrain quite like that before.”

“It was going to make the expansion project a bitch,” I replied, keeping my tone casual.

“Do you have any remorse about giving up your fellow soldiers?” Ymir asked, eyes narrowing.

I felt him reaching out and tried to keep him at bay, but it was like trying to push a wave away while already underwater.

“I don’t,” I answered.

He felt that I was telling the truth.

“You were ready to pay a high price,” Ymir said.

“I am,” I replied.

“Whatever happened to that sweet mother of yours?” he asked, pivoting.

We were back to playing games.

“I don’t know. I left nine years ago,” I answered plainly, not letting him get under my skin.

“After a few years of smuggling you joined the Resistance?” Ymir said, watching me carefully.

“When you put it like that it sounds so boring,” I said leaning forward with a wolfish smile.

“What do you know about the Sith?”

I didn’t know where he was going with these questions. Ymir sat in the chair, completely relaxed, elbows planted on the wide cushioned armrests.

“I know about Vader. I know about the Clone Wars.”

“So does everyone,” he said dismissively waving a hand.

“Then I only know what everyone else knows,” I said, teeth beginning to grind.

Ymir was happy to continue, “There isn’t a manual of Sith teachings. All that’s left of the old writings are scraps and fragments. The Rule of Two meant that a millennia of teachings were lost, revelations dying with the person who discovered them.”

The air felt tense between us. I tried not to let my eyes wander to my blaster.

“Since we lost Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, we have had to learn by experience,” he said, rising smoothly to his feet.

The lightsaber blazed to life in his hand and I was already thumbing the safety off the blaster.

We stood across from each other.

I was making calculations, automatic from all my years smuggling and pirating. I didn’t want to be the first one to fire. This still didn’t have to become a fight. I glanced to the lightsaber and started figuring out how much distance I needed to keep between us. My heart sped up in my chest, but I kept my expression calm.

“Go ahead,” Ymir said, “Try to hit me with your blaster.”

I fired without hesitation but he batted the shot away with the golden blade. It happened in the blink of an eye, but his movement was calm.

The shot banked into the far wall, destroying a painting, sparks and glass flying.

I fired again and he dodged the shot with another calm wave of the sword.

Ymir began to step towards me and I kept firing. We circled each other, moving around the furniture. He didn’t seem to care that we were destroying the room.

There was an edge of danger between us. He wasn’t making overtly aggressive moves towards me, but it felt like that could change.

I fired three more shots. I was good with a blaster. Usually, three shots would mean three dead men in a room.

I was sinking into that place of concentration where action and reaction were the same. I felt my face twist into a feral grin.

“That’s it, girl,” Ymir growled as he blocked my fire.

The first two shots I had aimed for his torso, the third shot I aimed right at his head, my arm and eye connected- my body and my mind completely in sync.

I was right on target.

Ymir threw out a hand and the last plasma shot stopped half a meter in front of him, hanging in the air, held under his control.

I felt dizzy, like time had stopped. I blinked, and then I was flying backwards until I connected with the wall behind me. I dropped the blaster, and heard it clatter against the floor.

I fell face-first onto the ground and heard a sizzle as the plasma bolt hit the wall above me, showering sparks onto my back.

I encouraged breath back into my lungs and brought my head up. Ymir hung his lightsaber back onto his belt and walked over to me offering a hand.

I took it and he hauled me to my feet.

“Five years of military training and you still fight like you’re in a back alley,” Ymir said.

“You know it,” I replied, putting my hands on my thighs and leaning forward trying to get more air into me.

“You have a lot to learn then.”

I spat on the floor and I heard Ymir sigh.

“Ren should be in a training room. Follow me.”

IV

We left the ship and Ymir paused with a group of troop mechanics and their droids. He arranged for someone to come and fix up the ship, then I was following him back into the maze of hallways.

I had time to think through the fight as we walked. I had never seen anything like that before. He had stopped a blaster shot in mid-air.

There had only been a few moments in my life where I had felt connected to that kind of power. Those times my mind had been humming, my body responding instinctively. It had always happened so quickly I was never sure exactly what I had done.

I noticed the hush that fell across people as Ymir walked the halls and realized it would be harder to be anonymous after this.

We travelled to another set of hangars on a lower level. The hallways were more heavily-populated with troops making battle preparations.

Ymir led me to a door and opened it with a code. Inside, Ren was seated in meditation, still in his mask, knees bent and feet folded underneath him. We entered and Ymir motioned for me to stand by the wall on the inside of the door.

The room was dim and spacious. The walls were heavily armored and there were large, unevenly-shaped metal barriers lined up around the perimeter. It was a combat training room. The troops could probably use their blasters and not damage anything.

Ren turned as he heard our feet on the metal floors.

“She fights like she was trained in a bar on Sarlucif. Care to show her what a real sparring match looks like?” Ymir said, lightsaber glowing to life in his hand.

Ren nodded, silently accepting and got to his feet.

Ymir had his lightsaber in hand, inactive and he waited for Ren to unhook his saber from his belt.

The two of them began to circle.

“You can begin watching us. I’m going to give you a cue to close your eyes and then I want you to feel for us,” Ymir instructed.

I put my hands on my hips.

They activated their blades. Ren’s was crimson, it crackled with energy, so different from Ymir’s humming golden sword.

Ren was the first to make an offensive move. He twirled the red blade around and lunged at Ymir. I heard the buzz as the blade sliced through the air and was easily deflected with a gentle swing of Ymir’s arm.

Ymir’s moves were languid and precise. He was the larger, with longer reach than Ren, but as the bigger man, he was an easier target.

They parried for a few minutes, warming up. Ren deflected blows from above and to the side. He swiftly spun and returned attacks, meeting Ymir’s blade each time.

Ren was fascinating to watch. Dressed in his black cloak and flowing robes, his movements were fluid, like watching a shadow under water.

“You don’t have to show off just for me!” I called out.

“You’re welcome to switch out if we’re making it look too easy,” Ymir returned.

Ren took that moment of distraction to try to land a blow on Ymir’s right shoulder. He was deflected with a broad wave of Ymir’s arm.

“I’ve already faced off with Ren. I’m good for at least another day,” I said.

The pace of the fight picked up.

“Close your eyes and keep quiet. I’m going to try to teach you something,” Ymir said and I could hear the exertion in his voice.

I closed my eyes and leaned back against the wall.

Keep standing. I want you to feel the room.

I couldn’t tell when Ymir had entered my mind. He was simply there, his voice in my head just like mine.

I stood, arms still crossed.

I felt my body sway a little. I heard the sounds of their boots on the metal floor, the rustling of their clothes, the sounds of their blades moving and connecting.

Try harder.

I dropped my arms to my sides and breathed a deep slow breath.

I felt Ren lifting his arms in preparation to strike, and Ymir coming from underneath to land a blow on his chest. Ren arched backwards and I heard him stumble.

I fought the urge to open my eyes.

“If you want to be that aggressive, you have to be faster,” Ymir criticized.

With my eyes closed and my mind - my awareness - reaching out, Ymir felt like a weight in the room. I could feel how his lightsaber was like a fifth limb. I felt the connection from his feet to his chest, down his arm, past his wrist and hand, to the handle, and the blade itself.

Ren’s movements flashed like flames rising and ebbing. For a moment there would be nothing, then a sudden rush of energy, then back to nothing again. Smoke and fire.

I felt my eyelids screwing shut and I reached my right arm out ahead of me, it gave me a focus point, a way to channel my energy. I probably looked like an idiot, but Ymir and Ren were concentrating on their sparring match.

Ren made a volley of attacks, coming from every side, trying to throw Ymir off balance, tire him out. He tried to attack from above again, but Ymir read the move easily. He brought his shoulder down in preparation, then lunged, knocking him backwards.

I heard him cry out and then there was a thud as he stumbled onto his ass.

I opened my eyes to see Ren on the ground and Ymir above him, the yellow blade close to his neck. He turned his lightsaber off and Ren did the same, hopping to his feet and dusting himself off.

There was something about him, the blankness of the mask and the fire that coursed beneath. I wondered if I’d have another chance to wind up in his rooms this evening.

I put that thought from my mind as Ymir approached me.

“You felt it didn’t you?” he said, hooking the lightsaber onto his belt.

“I did.”

“The Force is a constant presence. If you can tap into it, you will be able to feel the thought that spurs the movement and action.”

Ren walked up to us, “Lord Ymir, I’m going to the hangars to meet with the group commanders.”

“We’ll go with you. It’s been too long since I’ve seen you off in battle.”

It was time to destroy the Resistance base.

The Rebels didn’t stand a chance.

Chapter Text

I

I followed the two men out of the training room and through the hallways to the hangar where Ren’s pilots were preparing for battle.

The bay doors were already open when we arrived.

“Attention!” the group commander called as we entered.

There was an electric anticipation in the air.

Ymir and Ren were the highest ranking people on this ship, they had the unwavering respect of the crew.

Pilots scurried into formation, all in black jumpsuits. The ones who had left their helmets off were securing them over their heads as they got into formation.

I guessed there were one hundred people. Most were men, but I thought I saw a few women scattered in the ranks.

The droids and mechanics kept up their work on the ships, making sure they would be battle-ready.

Ymir and Ren pulled up in front of their troops. I followed in their wake, taking a place at Ymir’s side.

“At ease,” he announced.

As a unit, the pilots released their salutes, arms lowering.

“Commander Whitcomb,” Ymir said warmly approaching and giving his hand a firm shake, “Have you conducted the operation briefing?”

“Not yet Lord Ymir, we were just completing systems checks on our fighters,” the commander answered.

“We’ll be here to observe then. Zhang provided the intelligence on the base so she can be of assistance.”

Great.

“Separate into your squadrons!” the commander barked.

The men and women reassembled themselves into four units of twenty five soldiers each.

Kylo Ren approached the first squadron and they saluted him, “Krayt Dragons! Ka-To!”

“Our mission is to destroy the Resistance base on the surface,” Ren began, starting to pace down the line of faceless soldiers, “We will clear the way for our transport ships to land in the hangars. We are not taking prisoners. Our victory will be a message to the Rebels.”

“Ka-To!” the forces echoed.

The hairs on my arms stood up.

I had been on the receiving end of First Order attacks many times in my five years with the Resistance. The attacks had been overwhelming. We were always outnumbered and outgunned.

Now I was getting a window into what these battles looked like from the other side.

The First Order was rigid and organized. Their soldiers acted as a unit. In their helmets, there wasn’t much to separate them from droids.

After Ren’s announcement, the commander took over, giving the pilots the information we had covered in the briefing.

The pilots would be attacking the north side of the base first. It had the largest hangars and was closest to the barracks.

Once the initial fighting was over, they would send a signal to the transport ships to come in and drop off the ground troops inside of the base. Any unnecessary fighters would be returning to the Finalizer once all air combatants were defeated.

As the plans were made, it became clear that the first squadron in formation, the Krayt Dragons, were Ren’s team. He stood near their squadron leader at the front right-hand corner, and stepped in front of them when the Commander was done with the briefing.

“I’ll be landing in the hangar after our initial attack,” Ren told his squadron, “I want Captain Drexla to accompany me on the ground to assist our troops. The rest of the Krayt Dragons will remain in the air to provide assistance and defense until the base has fallen.”

It was overkill.

The newest ship on that base was at least a decade old. And, unless anything had changed in the past few years, they wouldn’t have enough transport ships to completely evacuate the base. The only option the Resistance soldiers had for escape were the volcanic tunnels running underground.

Once the initial wave of fighters had been defeated, they wouldn’t have anything left to use against the First Order.

We were fifteen minutes from mission deployment.

Beneath us, the stormtroopers would be getting into position in their transport ships, shoulder to shoulder, ready to be dropped into enemy territory.

In our hangar, Ymir saluted his soldiers with a familiar, “Happy hunting.”

“Ka-To!” came the response, loud and prideful.

The leader of their military was seeing them off personally. This was their time to shine.

The pilots hustled off to their ships, jogging up steep narrow steps to get to their TIE fighters. Ren’s was near the entrance, larger and more aggressive looking than the rest. The ship was jet black, with pointed, wedge-shaped wings wrapped around the central cockpit.

Fuel lines were being removed by droids and engines were roaring to life. There were warning alarms blazing in yellow, announcing the departure of the fighters, announcing the start of the battle.

They swooped out of the hangar in tight formation, Ren at the front of his squadron.

“The Resistance knows Ren is always in the first wave,” I told Ymir as we watched the TIE fighters rise up and begin to depart from the hangar.

“It sets a good example for the rest of our leadership,” Ymir said, gazing out the open hangar door, an edge of the planet just barely visible beneath us, “Too many men want the power of command without taking on the risks of battle.”

When all four squadrons had deployed, Ymir turned to me, “We’ll meet Admiral Clive on the bridge.”

II

The bridge was alive with activity as officers tracked the battle progress.

Officers sat at their consoles watching flight patterns, communicating with pilots and updating information in real-time.

Ymir strode directly over to Admiral Clive, who gave him a respectful salute.

They took their place by the central console and display screens.

I watched the battle through a screen.

Ren and his squadron were little red dots descending towards the surface.

Their first target was the northern hangars, the largest ones on the base.

After three days with the First Order looming overhead, they couldn’t have anticipated such a specific attack.

Ren and his troops tore through their pilots.

We watched blue dots pop up on the screen. The Resistance troops were flying in desperate and sloppy formations. The blue dots quickly disappeared.

“They must have planned for you to attack with ground troops,” I said, watching the screen.

“You think they put all their power into foot soldiers?” Ymir asked.

I nodded, eyes narrowing as I studied the screen, “They might have sent some units out to guard the perimeter. It won’t be hard for them to disappear into the jungle once they realize this attack is going sideways for them.”

Ymir pressed a button on the round console, “Kylo Ren, Zhang sees evidence they’ve put all their effort into ground troops. I’m sending an alert to Commander Harding. I don’t want any of these soldiers escaping.”

“Yes, Lord Ymir,” Ren replied over his comms.

My intuition was correct.

The Resistance had expected a ground attack. The First Order shouldn’t have been able to find their base. They had clearly planned on their enemy sweeping across the surface of the planet, stumbling across them in the jungle.

Ren and his stormtroopers had pincered them.

Once the Resistance pilots were cleared out, the transport ships had a smooth ride into the hangars. They sent two additional transports of stormtroopers in, landing just inside the defensive perimeter.

They were surrounded in their own base.

From the comfort and safety of the bridge, we watched soldiers fall, just dots on a screen.

Kylo Ren gave the bridge updates as they swept through the barracks, training rooms, and med bay.

It had barely been two hours and the battle was over. The stormtroopers had mowed through the Rebel soldiers. Now they were doing clean up, scouring the jungle and sending probes and troops down the tunnels to make sure no one had escaped.

Ymir put his hand on my shoulder, his wide palm resting heavily against me.


I want you to reach out for them.

His voice was smooth and clear in my mind.

Ymir lead me over to the floor-to-ceiling windows that made up the front of the bridge. We could see the ships returning to us, the small blot of smoke beneath them in the jungle.


Feel for them…

I could feel his energy guiding me, pushing me, showing how I could extend my awareness to the base, the same way I had felt Ymir and Ren as they sparred in the hangar just a few hours ago.

Taking in a breath, I closed my eyes and followed his direction.

Behind my eyes, lids screwed shut, I saw smoke and I felt pain...I felt fear...it was like a nightmare, emotions floating hazily around me. There were flashes of combat, blaster fire, the cries of injured soldiers, the panic of battle.

It was everything I had felt when the Vangelis was under attack. The Finalizer had appeared out of nowhere. Alarm bells were sounding, soldiers hurrying to their stations. I had been sent down to the engine rooms, deep in the belly of the ship. We had felt the enemy fire hammering at our ship until finally she began to break apart around us…

My throat was tight and my head was spinning.

I took a deep gasp for air, blinking my eyes open, returning to ordered chaos of the bridge. My heart was racing in my chest, beating a fast rhythm against my ribs.

Ymir’s large hand was still on my shoulder, helping to keep me upright.

There was panic swirling in my mind and I fought the urge to push his hand off of me.

“You have empathy for them,” Ymir said, “But I can’t feel any conflict in your heart.”

I didn’t know how to respond. The experience of reaching out to the base had been so brief but intense. I felt off-balance.

Ymir seemed to understand what I was going through, and gently steered me back to the central console where the Admiral and other officers were monitoring the updates coming up on the screen.

“You provided us with good information Zhang. This was a clean battle. Hardly any casualties on our end,” the Admiral said as we returned to them.

I nodded to acknowledge the praise and leaned forward on the railing around the console, trying to catch my breath without the men noticing.

Adrenaline was surging through me, clouding my thoughts. I gripped the railing, focusing on the sensation of my skin pressed tight against the cold metal.

Ymir was talking now, looking at the Admiral, “Have a team assembled to run through the files and records our intelligence officers bring from the base. After our debrief I’m planning for the Finalizer to travel to Taltua. Kylo Ren and I are going to meet with Superior General.”

He brought his hand onto my shoulder again, “Take a seat in the briefing room. I’ll have someone bring you water.”

I nodded again, grateful for the small kindness.

I shuffled myself over to the side door and a Lieutenant opened it for me.

I took a seat at the end of the first tier of desks.

It was dim and quiet in the room. I closed my eyes and rested my head on my arms. I focused on my breathing. My heart was still pumping quickly in my chest.

Moments later, the officer entered with a glass of water that he left next to me.

I waited to raise my head until the door slid shut behind him. I slowly sipped the water, coming back to the room, coming back to myself.

I had felt my fellow soldiers dying. I had felt their fear, desperation, and pain as clearly as my own emotions.

That was the Force?

Ren and Ymir had reached into my thoughts. They were able to sink themselves into my memories. I could read their physical bodies, sensing the flow of movement as they had their sparring match.

It was clear that Ymir was going to be testing me, trying to figure out the kind of person I had become these past ten years. I couldn’t let myself get wrapped up in the experience.

I only had a few minutes to myself before the doors opened and officers began streaming in for the debrief.

Ymir had me sit at his table with the Admiral. There was one chair left empty for when Kylo Ren returned.

The debrief happened in stages.

First, the commanding officers for air and ground troops presented their numbers, their wins and losses.

They reviewed their strategy, the troops, weapons usage.

Sometime during the debrief on ground troops, Ren entered the room.

With his mask on and hood up it was impossible to tell how he was doing.

The officers stood at attention as he entered and he dismissed them with a motion of his hand, taking the empty chair next to me.

Ren leaned back in the seat, legs sprawled out in front of him, arms crossed. He had to be tired, moving from the first wave of an airstrike to a combat role on the ground, then immediately up to debrief.

“Nice job out there,” I whispered, leaning over in my seat.

He made a small incline of his head.

When the ground troop commander was done with his segment of the briefing, Ren stood and moved to the stage.

“This was a complete victory against the Resistance. There are no survivors. I expect our probes to confirm that no one was able to escape us in the tunnels,” he began, “We attacked too quickly for them to destroy their records. They were waiting until the last possible moment. I was with the team that stormed their command station. We have all their correspondence with their Generals and should see where they are finding most of their recruits.”

Ymir stood and joined Ren on the stage, “We’ll be putting together a cable to feed to the news organizations and we’ll be monitoring Resistance communications afterwards. This was a serious loss for them. Kylo Ren, thank you for your superb leadership of our troops today.”

Now that the briefing was over, the Admiral stood, “The Finalizer will be setting course for Taltua. We’ll be departing four hours from now.”

The men stood and began to file out of the room. They were in better spirits now, talking amongst themselves as they headed out onto the bridge.

Ymir and Ren joined me and the Admiral at the table.

“Ren, I think the three of us should meet in your stateroom. Do you need time?” Ymir asked.

The Admiral made a polite bow, excusing himself.

“No, Lord Ymir,” Ren answered, his tone disguised through the audiofeed.

We walked together to the elevator.

Ren took his mask off as we descended. His hair was sweaty and he pushed it away from his face, tucking the mask under his arm. He looked tired, but was still humming with energy after the battle.

“You were accurate,” he said to me, “The pilots were all hotshots trying to become heroes.”

I smiled.

Inside of the stateroom. I went straight to a sofa. I had spent hours on my feet. Ren joined me on the opposite end, arms out resting across the back. He set the mask on top of a side table.

I was surprised to see him relaxed.

Ymir went over to the liquor cabinet and poured us drinks.

“Kylo Ren, you’re a fine leader of your fleet. The squadrons are improving under you,” he said, handing him a glass.

Ren acknowledged the compliment with stiff nod.

Ymir handed the other to me, “To my new apprentice.”

We toasted and drank.

I leaned over to Ren, “I’ve never seen you in action before. I’ve only heard the stories from other Resistance fighters. You’re an impressive pilot.”

Ren looked flustered for a moment before responding, “It comes naturally. I was raised on starships.”

He clearly did not know how to take a compliment.

“I believe it, with Skywalker and Solo blood,” I said taking a drink, “I’m better with engines than I am piloting.”

“You said you pirated ships,” Ymir said, settling on the sofa opposite us.

“I did,” I replied, “I can reprogram or hotwire almost anything. I just never really liked the getaway part.”

“You have diverged from your father’s path,” Ymir said, “Captain Zhang was one of the finest pilots in the Alliance.”

I raised an eyebrow, twisting my mouth to the side.

The valet and two service droids entered and began to set up the room for a meal. They pulled a table from a wall panel, unfolding the legs, followed by chairs that they quickly set up.

There was a small, wheeled cart next to the door.

I had hardly eaten anything since I came aboard. My stomach was growling and even my mouth was watering as I smelled the food being kept warm for us.

The valet ushered us to our seats, Ymir at the head of the square table, Ren and I on either side. I was the last to sit.

We were given wine glasses and the valet showed Ymir the bottle for his approval, “I found a Corellian vintage for you, sir.”

“Well done, Hector,” Ymir said as the valet poured.

The first course was a salad with slightly bitter leaves and large slices of sweet shuura fruit.

It had been almost a full cycle since I had anything to eat that wasn’t military-issue nutrition mash or vitamin bars.

I dug in gratefully.

Ren and Ymir were more reserved.

They probably ate like this every day.

“The Superior General has been informed of our victory,” Ymir said, after a slow bite.

He brought up the title so casually. I froze mid-chew.

“He knows that I’ve taken you on as my apprentice,” he added, looking over at me.

“Oh,” was all I managed to say.

I had to hold back a shudder. Snoke was discussed with fear and hatred in most corners of the Galaxy. It was well known that he had never been in battle, despite his flowery name. He and his cronies were the bank that funded the First Order. It was rumored that he had some connection with the Force, and that he had helped lure Ben Solo to the Darkside, but everyone knew that Ymir was the true head of the First Order.

“You look surprised,” Ymir said.

“It’s not a name I’m used to hearing in conversation,” I said, stabbing at the last chunk of shuur fruit on my plate.

“Did the Superior General mention any other assignments?” Ren asked.

“I’ll be meeting with him when we return to Taltua. You’ll have your next assignment after that.”

Ren put his forearms on the table, eyebrows knitting together, before he remembered himself and reached for his drink.

I felt out of my element. Was I going to be brought in front of Snoke?

I took a drink.

Ymir and Ren finished eating. The valet came and cleared everything away.

“I need to make a few calls before we enter hyperspace. You should both rest. I’ll be calling on you for training before we arrive,” Ymir said, getting to his feet.

He left Ren and I alone in the room.

III

The valet and a service droid cleared the table, the dishes returning to the cart before the table and chairs disappeared into their wall panels.

We moved to the sofas, finishing our wine.

When the valet left, I took Ren’s empty glass and poured fresh ones for both of us from the decanter. I passed the glass with amber-colored alcohol as I sat down.

I parked myself on the sofa on the opposite end from him and brought my legs around, setting my boots up on the leather.

My body was already feeling warm and fuzzy from the wine.

“So what can I expect after this? How does training work?” I asked.

Ren grew pensive, which was clearly much more comfortable for him. I watched him think. His face was the only visible part of his body.

Out of context, he could pass as a preacher, wrapped from neck to toes in black.

I loosened my own collar, unbuttoning the sides, folding the fabric down, holding my drink between my knees.

“Lord Ymir is working to rebuild the Sith Order. We only have scraps and our own experience to work with. I had years of Jedi training before Lord Ymir took me on as his apprentice. Your training is going to look different from mine. I have much more experience with the Force.”

For the first time he didn’t sound pompous, it was just a fact.

“Can you show me?” I asked.

Ymir knew what he was doing when he had me reach out to the Resistance base. He knew what we would feel. I wanted to get a different perspective.

Ren frowned a little as he thought. “Put your drink down and sit with me.”

We sat on a clear space in front of the door to his quarters.

Ren sat cross-legged, hands on his knees. He indicated I should sit in front of him and I copied his stance, our knees almost touching.

“You have to have your mind open to me if I’m going to guide you,” he said.

I nodded in acceptance and felt him reach out to me. I closed my eyes.

I felt a tug behind my heart.

“Pain and suffering are the most constant aspect of life. All beings experience it in one form or another,” he began, voice deep and smooth, “Think of something that caused you pain.”

It had been so recently brought up...I remembered my mother and brother sobbing, paralyzed by fear while my father was murdered in front of us.

I don’t think I had ever felt more hatred before or since.

Ren made a hum of approval, “That’s it. We’re going to follow that.”

I let the anger creep through me, making my fingers and spine tingle, anticipating, desiring violence.

I was a fifteen year old farm girl, facing a Sith Lord in my home. My mother and brother were too scared to help. They were too weak.

If my mother had been a stronger woman, she wouldn’t have made my father leave the Rebellion. We wouldn’t have had to hide in some backwater hellhole, one of the places first absorbed by the First Order.

She had been blinded by her fear, and at fifteen, I was stronger than her. Stronger than my father, who had chosen to live in the shadows to please his wife.

The memory gave way to inky blackness, and I felt my stomach drop. My skin felt cold and clammy, chills running along my arms.

“This is the Darkside,” I heard Ren say. I couldn’t tell if he was still speaking to me or if he was reaching into my mind.

Open your eyes.

Outside of this place, I could feel my lids tightly shut, but in this other space I blinked. Slowly a world began to grow around me.

There were rocks and puddles, strange glimmers of light, and raspy echoes. It was suffocating and vast.

I held my arms out and the glimmers of light grew brighter.


The Darkside is the space between the stars. It is the fabric of the universe.

We were floating in space. Cold, empty, and filled with life.

All we did was breathe and with each breath came fleeting sensations and images.

Here, Ren and I were connected and there was another feeling. Something that was bigger than us, something that flowed through us.

The images from the base sprang up in my mind and I realized I was seeing Ren’s recent memories. There was smoke and blaster fire, the immediacy of ground combat.


I am surrounded by smoke and blaster fire. The world is small around me.

I lash out at the enemy soldiers, my arms are strong and my red blade finds their weaknesses.

I felt a hungry kind of pride in my chest.

Ren had effortlessly cut through the Resistance soldiers, dozens of people falling under his blade as fire erupted around him.

The fight had gone so well because of the information I had given. I had sold out my fellow soldiers for my opportunity to train with Ymir.

I had given them up for power.

Ren could feel the realization in my heart and his own emotions were surging.

The base had felt familiar. He had been in places like that before, trailing his mother as she visited her soldiers…

Suddenly, I felt Ren pulling back, drawing both of us out of this shared space.

I heaved for breath, squeezing my eyes open and shut, trying to return to the room. I looked down and realized I was gripping my knees so tightly my knuckles were white.

Ren seemed to be in better shape than I was. His expression was neutral, but his dark eyes were boring into me,

“That’s the Darkside…” I heard myself murmur.

Slowly, Ren knelt forward and brought his gloved hand to the side of my face. He slid his fingers through my hair and kissed me tenderly.

I kissed him back, enjoying the feeling of his lips and tongue pressed against mine. He was pressing on me and I let him guide me down until we were kissing on the floor. I liked the feeling of his weight over me.

We broke apart and Ren rolled to the side, tucking a lock of hair behind his ear.

“How do you want to celebrate the victory?’ I asked with a smile.

Ren paused and sat up, his brows knitting and mouth twisting as he thought.

“Did Ymir tell you we weren’t allowed to fuck?” I teased, propping myself up on my elbows.

Ren shook his head, “He didn’t,” he answered seriously, and I barked a laugh in response.

He brought his hand under my jaw, fingers gentle around my throat, “I was thinking about what I wanted to do with you. Don’t rush me,” he said with a playful growl.

He let me go and I stood up, grinning.

“Well I’m going to pour us another round. We have what? Seven hours of travel once we’re in hyperspace?”

“More like ten,” Ren answered, returning to his seat on the sofa.

I carried the drinks over and sat back down on the couch, enjoying the liquor and Ren’s dark gaze.

“I’m imagining you on your knees, sucking my cock, with your hands tied behind your back,” he said after taking a slow pull from his glass.

I tipped my drink back and gave Ren a curling smile.

He leaned forward, pulling me on top of him, laying out along the sofa. I kissed him, his hands travelling up to grab my ass.

We moved ourselves to the bedroom and I started climbing out of the stuffy uniform.

“Wait,” he ordered.

I stood still, just a few steps from the bed. Ren approached and finished unbuttoning my shirt before ripping my bra at the front.

He roughly pushed the sleeves down my arms and I let my shirt and the torn fabric fall to the ground.

I stood topless, and he traced the pattern of welts and bruises that covered my torso with his gloved fingertips.

Goosebumps travelled up and down my arms and my nipples stiffened, barbells resting on either side.

Ren began squeezing my breasts, making approving growls, then he turned me around to examine the wounds on my back.

“You’re beautiful,” he said softly, expression intense as he pored over my body, over the wounds he had given me yesterday.

“There’s more to see,” I replied.

Ren knelt on the floor and began to unlace my boots, carefully taking them off while I held each leg up at a time, keeping one hand on his shoulder for balance. After removing both boots he peeled off my socks and then unzipped my pants, dragging them down.

He pulled my hips to his face. He was tall enough that his nose pressed into my low belly. He bent forward to kiss my mound through my underwear. Then he was tugging the clothing down and I shimmied it past my knees.

Ren ran his fingers between my lips, making me gasp. I was already wet. I pushed my hips forward. He rubbed and licked at me until I moaning, his fingers slipping easily inside of me.

I stood, relishing the sensation, one knee bent and my head tilted back.

I put my hands on his shoulders and he looked up at me, “Now for you,” I said.

He let me steer him towards the bed, where I straddled his lap, my arms around his neck.

I helped him get undressed, starting with his shirt. I swept his hair over his shoulder. The collar had small buttons in the back. I tried to make it look effortless, but felt my fingers slipping and catching on them. I pushed my tits into his face to keep him distracted while I worked on the fasteners.

Thankfully the rest of the shirt zipped down the back. I worked his hands out of his gloves to get the sleeves off.

Next came the wide belt.

I knelt between his legs, arms wrapped around him.

I ran my hands along the front of his pants, teasing his hard cock, pressed urgently against the fabric, before moving up to the top button.

He took ahold of my wrists to stop me.

“I’m going to tie you up,” he said.

He turned me around and had me kneel between his legs, my back to him.

“Hold your hands behind you,” he ordered.

I managed it easily. This was hardly my first time in this set-up.

He had me wait while he pulled a coil of rope from the trunk at the end of his bed.

When he returned to my side, he ran his hands down my arms, checking that my elbows weren’t locked, and started wrapping the rope around my wrists.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, still wearing his pants and boots, he bound my wrists behind me. He was meticulous, taking time to make sure the rope lay neatly and was pulled snug without being too tight.

When he was done, I had to awkwardly crab walk on my knees to turn around. We both laughed.

Ren leaned on his hands and let me nuzzle my face into his crotch. He sighed as I ran my tongue firmly across the fabric, following the outline of his cock.

I made two passes with my tongue before he was tilting his hips to push his pants down. I moved to the side so he could pull off his boots and the last of his clothing.

His cock pushed up towards his belly, resting against the dark hair shading his groin.

I started lapping at the head of his cock, giving him a show. I dragged the flat of my tongue slowly upwards and put pressure on the underside of his head. I made him push the head of his cock past my wet lips.

He groaned deep in his throat as I pulled his cock deeply into my mouth, then slurped on his head. I brought myself as far down as I could manage and tasted precum when I came back up.

I began alternating bobbing my head on the head of his cock and sucking on his balls, crouched down between his legs.

I was dripping wet by now, aching for some kind of pressure as I lifted my hips to swallow his cock. I had to put effort into swallowing him, without any hands to pick up the slack.

When I needed a break, I nuzzled against his hip, letting his length fall across my cheek, and I looked up into his eyes.

He gazed intently back at me, eyes clouded with need, mouth open in a gentle pout. He held my face in his hands and rubbed his cock across my cheeks then pushed my mouth back down on him.

With my arms tied behind my back, he could go as fast and hard as he wanted and I felt myself begin to slip into that space that could accept it.

I loved having him in control, using me for his own pleasure.

I was hot between my legs and I wanted to rub against him like an animal.

I bobbed my head more quickly and moaned around him. When I came up for air, he gently took the bottom of my chin in his hand and stopped me from going back down.

“Is this making you wet?” he asked.

I nodded, feeling my spit and his precum on my chin and cheeks.

Ren brought his hand between my legs, easily sliding a finger inside. I squeezed him, moaning with closed eyes. I rocked my hips against him and heard him sigh.

“Gods... I want to finish in your mouth though.”

I cried out as he removed his fingers.

He stood up and wrapped his hands through the back of my hair, right against the lowest part of my skull, and began thrusting into my face.

I kept my throat closed and the back of my tongue arched, creating resistance as he pushed deeper.

He moaned in response, gripping my hair more tightly. Pain flooded through me as he pulled my hair and I cried out between thrusts.

It was a lot to take. He was big and forceful. He gripped my hair tightly, bringing tears to my eyes.

I didn’t dream of asking him to stop.

He didn’t have long left. I could feel his cock, hard as I had ever felt it, filling my mouth. He was grunting and moaning rhythmically as he thrust.

“I...I’ll tell...you when...to...swallow. I want you...to keep my come...in your mouth,” he instructed, jaw tight as he used me.

Moments later he was crying out, shuddering and spasming into me.

I squeezed my mouth around him, bobbing my head around the rhythm of his pulsing cock. He continued to rock his hips into my face as he grew soft.

When he was done, he held my lower jaw in his hand and asked me to open my mouth. He looked at the mess he had made, his thick come resting the back of my throat, salty and a little sour on my tongue

He dragged his index finger down my tongue, over my bottom lip and down my chin. He gently closed my mouth with his hand.

“You can swallow now,” he said.

I made a show of it, eyes wide, staring up at him as my throat bobbed.

“You are such a good girl,” he said, and grabbed my face, kissing me.

“Did that make you hot? Do you need some attention?” he asked, bringing his hand between my legs again.

I nodded, grinding my hips against his hand.

He scooped me up in his arms and gently poured me into the bed and helped me to sit up.

He began undoing the ropes securing my wrists. He rubbed at the joints and I shook out my arms, raising them above my head for a stretch.

Ren idly grabbed a breast, roughly rubbing the nipple with his thumb.

“You should get us more wine,” he said sprawling out on the bed.

“Do you need a break?” I teased, running a hand down my chest, dipping my own fingers between my lips, pink and wet.

Ren turned to face me, with a mischievous grin. It made him look so much younger, almost boyish.

“Hardly, I’m going to figure out what I want to do to you next.”

“All right then,” I said leaning forward to kiss his cheek.

I sashayed my way out of the room and spent some time looking through the liquor cabinet. I picked a red that was a few years old and grabbed a bottle opener from a drawer.

When I returned to the room, Ren was sitting on the edge of the bed. He had put his pants back on and was coiling the rope he had just used.

I climbed on top of him, straddling his thighs, dropping the bottle on top of the sheets.

“Open that bottle and pour us a round,” he ordered playfully, nipping at my bottom lip with his teeth.

I stood up on my knees and started working on the cork. Ren motioned for me to come closer and moved my arms down. He rubbed his hands across my tits, squeezing them, tugging at my pierced nipples.

“That’s better,” he said and let me get back to opening the bottle.

We drank in bed, laying on our sides.

I was feeling bright and fuzzy at the edges.

“I want to try something on you, that I haven’t had the chance to do before,” he said, reaching out to stroke a lock of hair falling by my face, “Finish that drink and come here.”

Ren was pushing himself upright.

I grinned and tipped my glass up. I moved it to the floor next to the bottle, and made a show of bending over the edge of the bed, my ass high in the air.

“Oh you’re going to get it,” he said and I felt him crawling across the bed towards me.

He pulled his hand back and delivered a sharp smack on my ass, making me cry out, pain blooming across my cheek and thigh.

His cock was hard again. He pushed his pants down and sank into me. He gripped my ass, thrusting quickly and deeply before sliding out.

“Please fuck me!” I cried out, “I’m so hot right now. I want it.”

Ren obliged, flipping me onto my back, planting his hands beside my ears. He found sensitive spots to push into, making me gasp and scream underneath him. Then he was scooping my head into his hand, cradling me, rocking in and out.

“I’m not ready to come yet,” he groaned, sliding out of me.

I balled up my fists and clenched my teeth. I wanted to be filled up.

“Please Ren…” I begged, pushing myself up.

“Not yet, I have other plans for you.”

Ren rearranged me on the bed. He sat against the wall and pulled me between his legs, my back resting against his chest. My legs splayed open over his thighs. He groped at my tits with his left hand, while he played with my clit with his other. He dipped his fingers into me and I arched my hips forward, pressing against his hand.

He rested his chin on my shoulder. His hair tickled my cheek and I could hear his breath. His chest rose and fell behind me.

He was good with his hand, working me up with a steady rhythm, then sliding into me, filling me with his fingers, giving me something to grip. His hand and forearm captured my tits, holding them tight.

“You’re being so good for me,” he whispered and I felt goosebumps run down my neck, all the way down to my toes.

Then, a strange sensation. Ren began to enter my mind, my awareness. I felt a low rumbling growl in his chest as he ran slow circles around my clit with his hand. He could feel what he was doing to me.

“Do you like this?” he asked, voice low in my ear.

I nodded, whimpering, “Yes..”

I shook between his legs as he experimented, sinking into what I was feeling. His breathing grew heavier, matching mine, his chin resting on my shoulder as we curled together.

Then he started to play with me, stirring me up with his hands, finding the edge right before I would come.

“Oh please....please...let me come,” I whispered, barely getting the words out.

I was slick and pink, hips rocking forwards. I could feel desire working its way through my limbs, up my spine.

“You’ll come when I tell you,” Ren said voice hypnotic as he felt the pleasure he was inflicting on me, “When I know you’re ready.”

He curled two fingers inside of me, working deeper. I was crying out, trying to rub my clit against his palm.

“Please...Ren,” I groaned, twisting my head from side to side.

He hefted me up higher into his lap and brought his left arm underneath my leg, replacing his right hand on my clit, while fingering me with his left.

I was delirious and Ren moaned in response, knowing where he was taking me. I could feel my muscles squeezing in anticipation. I had a moment of awareness, where I could feel the wave inside of me, Ren’s connection to it.

“Come for me,” he ordered, pressing with his mind.

I spasmed, screaming and shuddering in his arms. He was able to keep the perfect rhythm going with his hands, drawing my orgasm along.

I felt another wave of sensation build and crash, my head leaned against his chest, my eyes tightly shut, the muscles inside of me spasming.

Eventually he slowed his hands down, letting me return to the world.

We toppled over, panting and sighing, spread out across his sheets.

“That was incredible,” I breathed, scooting myself forward and resting my head on his thigh.

“I think that made me come a little,” he said looking down at his lap, laughing at himself.

“Did you?” I asked, turning over to run my hands along his low belly.

He was still hard, and I brought my mouth over his head, licking him clean, then licked at the wet spot on his belly. Soon he had his hand on my head, guiding me down on him.

I swallowed him as deeply as I could and the next time I came up for air he paused me.

“I want you on your hands and knees,” he said.

He did not fuck me gently. After a couple of thrusts to warm me up he was moving fast, bottoming out in me. I fucking loved it. I was screaming and holding onto the sheets.

Very soon he cried out. I could feel his cock jump as he came. He rocked his hips against my ass and my thighs, keeping himself inside me as long as he could.

We lay quietly for some time, enjoying the silence, melting into the bed.

I lazily slid myself out to the side, seeing if there was any wine left.

“Nightcap?” I asked, holding up the half-full bottle.

I could definitely feel the alcohol. I wanted to celebrate. I had just been accepted as a Sith apprentice. After ten years of travel and searching I finally had what I had been searching for.

Ren looked at me and the bottle in my hand. His eyelids were heavy and he looked content.

“Sure,” he said slowly pushing himself up onto his elbows.

I searched for his glass and refilled it before topping myself of the remainder of the bottle.

We touched glasses.

“So is that little mind trick officially part of Sith training?” I asked, grinning as I drank.

He slid next to me, running his hand down my spine with his fingertips.

“I wanted to see if I could,” he murmured, voice low.

“I liked it,” I said, kissing his cheek.

As we finished our drinks we set the glasses on the floor and Ren pulled me close. We spooned, and drifted together, not quite sleeping.

I had half-expected him to kick me out of the room when we were done. Instead, he had his arms wrapped around me, his body warm and heavy against mine.

This couldn’t be a regular situation for him.

People on ships like this didn’t get a lot of time off. They had people brought to them.

I had girlfriends who had taken First Order jobs before. The officers would pick the girls they liked, and do whatever they could with the time they had. Sometimes a girl would be paid to stay and sleep, but more often than not, after a few hours, she would be herded out of the rooms and onto the transport ship and sent back with the rest of the women.

A life like this didn’t provide a lot of intimacy. Shit, it had been at least two cycles since I was able to spend the night in someone’s bed after sex. Usually, it was a scramble not to get caught. On good days, I got to share a cot or a bunk for a few minutes afterwards.

Ren began snoring gently, arm resting heavily over my waist.

He must have a lonelier life than his officers. Men like that could be unpredictable when it came to sex.

I had been with powerful men whose need for control never wavered. They were domineering in bed and cold afterwards. Other men melted as soon as I had their dick in my hand. They wanted to be told what to do, smacked around. Others shared secrets and lies once I was in their sheets. They would shower me in gifts and attention, but the price tag also tended to include jealousy and paranoia.

I didn’t spend too much time chasing these thoughts. I was exhausted and my head was swirling with alcohol. It was too soon to tell exactly what kind of man Ren was.

For the moment, I enjoyed his arm around me and steady breath lulling me to sleep.

Chapter Text

I

I was enjoying a buzzed, sweaty sleep, tangled in the sheets with Ren, when all the lights blazed to life around us.

“Wake up! Put your clothes on! We’re starting training,” Ymir called from the doorway.

I wanted to put a pillow over my head and ignore him, but I already knew that wouldn’t work. I sat up, rubbing at my eyes.

“I see this arrangement is working out well for you, Siobhan,” he said, an edge of sarcasm in his voice.

Ren jolted awake, pulling the sheets around himself as he sat up. He was frozen, caught red-handed for the second time.

“Can I get some caffeine first?” I groaned, pushing my hair out of my face.

The previous days were catching up to me. My body was sore, my head gummy from the alcohol. I wanted to sleep for the next few days.

“We’re training now,” Ymir said firmly.

Ren was already moving out of bed.

Ymir left the room and I sighed, flopping back onto the pillow.

“We just took over a Resistance base. Can’t we take a day off to celebrate?” I groaned.

Ren was opening a wall panel, his wardrobe tucked away next to his bed.

“You should have gone back to your room…” he muttered, his back to me as he pulled on briefs.

I stared at him, eyes narrowing, “What is your fucking problem?” I demanded, anger surging through me, pushing away my tiredness.

Ren turned to me, he was pulling his pants up. His eyes were puffy, his hair a messy curtain on either side of his face.

“He came in to see if you were here. I should have just kicked you out.”

“Well you didn’t,” I said, crossing my arms, lips pressing together.

What a fucking child.

Ren stared at me for a moment, then shook his head and returned to the panel for a shirt.

I made another irritated sigh and climbed out of bed, searching for the remains of my uniform.

“Will your person bring up clothes for me?” I asked, picking up the torn bra and tossing it at a chair.

“You can wait. Ymir wants us to meet him now.”

That didn’t sound good.

I was known for being late and unprepared with the Resistance, now I had the leader of the First Order telling me to come down for drills.

I didn’t want to show up after Ren.

“I need a shirt. Throw me something,” I said, pulling on my underwear, hopping on one foot.

Ren was pulling on his socks, sitting on the edge of the bed.

He looked up at me, eyebrows knitting together, surprised I had the gall to ask for clothes.

“You ripped my fucking bra. I want a shirt,” I said, holding out my hand.

I had been with men like him before, entitled little snots that expected everything to work out for them and didn’t take anyone else into account.

“Fine, take a shirt,” Ren said, pointing to the wall with one hand as he pulled on his boots.

I didn’t have enough time to properly enjoy going through Ren’s closet.

Everything was black and it didn’t look like he had anything beyond his robes and loose training clothes.

I pulled out a sleeveless, black undershirt and yanked it over my head, hopping into my boots and grabbing the uniform jacket as Ren strode for the door.

He grabbed his mask from the side table and secured it over his face.

His training clothes were less formal than what I had seen him in before, but he was still covered neck to toe. The shirt and pants were looser. He had his belt around his waist, lightsaber at his side. He had on a pair of shorter athletic gloves that secured at the wrist.

The valet was waiting outside the door, hands clasped in front of him, a prim, neutral expression on his face.

“Lord Ymir will be waiting for you in training room C-11,” he said.

We strode purposefully down the halls together. I made sure to stay at Ren’s side.

I could feel the beginnings of a hangover clouding my mind. Usually I could drink all night and be fine, but I hadn’t been drinking much or eating regularly. The past few days had just been one thing after another.

I wanted caffeine. I wanted greasy food. I wanted to still be asleep.

We made it to the training room.

Ymir was standing at a console near the entrance. He watched us enter with a look I recognized from my drill sergeant in basic training. This was going to be a very bad day.

“So we’re not allowed to celebrate a victory against the Rebels. Is that the lesson?” I said with a shrug.

I felt myself pushed back against the heavy metal door of the training room. Ymir wasn’t gentle. I could feel pressure bearing down on each square centimeter of my body.

I tried to resist it, jaw tightening and muscles tensing.

It was useless.

Ren didn’t move.

“We have five hours before you’re meeting with Superior General Snoke,” Ymir said, walking up to me, “I was planning on introducing you as my apprentice. Don’t make me reconsider.”

He turned to Ren, “I expected you to be able to exercise good judgement at least once during this mission.”

He was as still as a statue as he took Ymir’s reprimand.

“Ren, you’ll be doing drills 25-40 while I work with Siobhan,” Ymir said pointedly as he released his hold on me.

I stepped away from the wall shaking out my arms and rolling my neck.

Ymir stared at me, clearly unimpressed.

“You seem most comfortable with a blaster,” he said when I was done.

“I am,” I answered.

“I want to see what else you can do with one.”

Ymir motioned towards one of the large metal barriers and dragged it across the room. It was at least two meters high with uneven surfaces. It was a massively heavy object, but there were wheels along the bottom, and it rolled smoothly across the metal floors.

It looked like something stormtroopers would use for a climbing exercise. There were marks and discoloration across the metal.

To our right, Ren had his lightsaber activated and began moving through a sequence, red blade crackling in the dim room.

Ymir moved to a standing console near the hangar door. He set a pattern of projected targets moving across the surface. The targets were red and green circles. It looked like there were four or five of each. They tracked dizzily across the uneven surfaces.

Ymir walked over to me and put a standard stormtrooper blaster in my hand. I clicked the safety off.

“Hit the green ones first. Then the red ones,” he instructed.

I steadied myself and took a breath. I tried to take in the speed the targets were moving at, if there were any identifiable patterns.

I took aim and let out five shots.

Four of the green targets disappeared from the projection. A lone one remained, obvious among the red targets.

Ymir’s gaze was cold.

“I know you’re better than that,” he said.

I jutted my jaw forward.

My next burst took out the green one and three of the red. Two remaining.

Ymir looked at me with a judgemental glint in his eye. He clearly expected more from me.

I had never trained with technology like this. Put me in a room with ten people and that would be the end of them. I didn’t need to waste my time with fucking projected targets on a wall.

“Again,” he said, voice obnoxiously neutral.

This time there were eight of each target.

I felt my anger in my forearms. I watched the targets, letting my eyes unfocus, as they danced over the uneven surfaces. I moved my right arm in a fluid sweep, sending out eight shots.

All the green targets blinked out.

I turned to Ymir, gave him a look, then turned back to release eight more shots.

My aim was true. All the red ones disappeared from the wall.

“Now I want you to do that with your eyes closed,” Ymir said.

I turned back around, staring at him blankly.

Was he fucking with me?

“I want you to use your connection with the Force to hit the targets,” he repeated as if that would help me understand.

In the background, Ren was moving obediently through training routines with his lightsaber.

Fighting the urge to sigh and complain, I closed my eyes.

Behind me, I heard Ymir adjusting the controls on the projector.

I held the blaster in front of me hoping that would help.

I stood, feet planted, trying to make up my mind if I would just release sixteen shots blindly.

It’s a projection by a machine. Reach out for it.

Ymir spoke directly into my mind.

I frowned. He wasn’t going to let me get away with half-assing it.

I took a steadying breath and I felt through my body, my tired, hungry, and hungover body, and then I reached out past my skin to the room around me.

I could feel Ymir standing still by the console. Ren moving through his training sequences. I could feel the walls, the barrier in front of me, my relation to them...I could feel the regularity of the target movements and they suddenly felt clear. I could sense the pattern as easily as reading a sign.

I fired sixteen shots and opened my eyes.

Two of the targets remained floating across the barrier. One red. One green.

I blasted them with a disappointed frown.

“What’s next? Thirty-two?” I called.

Ymir turned off the projector, “That’s all I need to see for now. What kind of hand-to-hand combat training have you had?” Ymir asked.

“Enough to get by,” I said, putting the safety back on the blaster and tucking it into the back of my pants.

Ymir walked over to me and held out his hand. Reluctantly, I pulled the blaster out and handed it over. He pushed the barrier back to its spot against the wall and with his other hand he moved the blaster to the top of the console, far out of reach.

He made it look easy, like anyone should be able to control objects with the wave of a hand.

“Let’s spar, then,” he said.

I didn’t feel like sparring. Ymir was larger and better trained. He had at least half a meter in height on me and probably forty-five kilograms, probably more.

He was physically intimidating. He had left his hair down around his shoulders, that and his beard made him look larger.

He was dressed in casual training clothes. I still hadn’t seen him in an actual uniform. He wore military-green utility pants with large pockets, the ends tucked into sturdy leather boots that laced halfway up his calves. He had on a tan, long-sleeved shirt that clung to his shoulders and biceps. He had on a wide belt with his lightsaber hooked to his right hip.

“How are we doing this?” I asked, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to talk myself out of it.

I pulled off the uniform jacket and tossed it on the ground.

“No broken bones. No blows to joints. I want to see your technique,” he said.

I laughed as we got into position, “You’re about to find out how many bar fights I’ve been in,” I said, spitting to the side.

We began to circle.

I remembered Ymir’s sparring match with Ren. He knew how to use his size in a calculated way.

I had some experience fighting men as big as he was. Most beings his size knew they could rely on intimidation, or just barrel in, using brute force against their opponent. The only times I had ever won those fights was through tiring them out or fighting dirty and I already knew that wouldn’t work on Ymir. He had strength and technique.

I didn’t stand a chance.

My only hope was to surprise him...I could surprise him if I could predict his movements…

I reached with my awareness. I felt along the ground, our feet connected to the metal floor.

Ymir smiled at me, eyes glittering.

“It looks like you’re learning something,” he growled, before rushing me.

Everything flashed in my mind and I felt my body react. He wanted to take me to the ground. I was already crouching and sweeping out with my leg.

Ymir dodged easily and we returned to circling.

Ren had stopped his training sequence to come over to watch us.

I went in, wildly swinging, and was easily deflected with a well placed forearm. I threw a kick and he grabbed my leg, neatly twisting it into the air and sending me sprawling.

I climbed back to my feet, already panting.

“Again.”

I grudgingly started over.

I knew I couldn’t beat him. I could throw a punch. I could defend myself in a brawl. I didn’t know shit about formal martial arts sparring.

I moved in aggressively to grab hold of him and ended up on my back within a couple of moves.

Ren watched with his arms over his chest, that damned mask blocking his face.

“Again.”

I sighed and got to my feet.

This time I waited for Ymir to make the first move. I ended up on the ground with my arm behind my back.

I spent a moment appreciating Ymir’s weight on top of me.

“You’re giving up. It’s pathetic,” he barked, leaning in more heavily. “Again!”

He lifted off of me and I stood up, angrily readjusting Ren’s shirt.

He knew I didn’t have a chance of winning.

Ymir lunged at me as soon as I was on my feet. Ren stood on the sidelines, watching me get my ass beat. This was humiliating. I couldn’t even see his face, just that fucking mask and black clothing he hid behind.

This time, when Ymir got in close I threw a punch to the side of his head. He blocked it.

“Be careful girl. I’ll attack in kind,” he said.

I didn’t care if he knocked me out, at least I’d be done with the stupid exercise.

I hated this feeling of helplessness. I felt trapped.

We were back to circling. I moved left, then feigned being off balance. When Ymir moved in to take advantage, I thrust my knee up into his stomach, knocking the wind from him.

He coughed and smiled. I stayed too close, trying to flip him. I had managed it before with men his size, but his headlock was fast. He got his elbow under my chin. It was over.

Instead, he released me with a shove. I stumbled forward.

“You’re fighting like a cornered animal. You don’t think you’re going to win. Your fear and rage is impotent.”

I spat and turned my back on him, planning to walk out of the room.

His anger washed over me. I felt Ymir reaching out. He was planning to grab my hair, push me to the ground, punish me for my attitude.

I spun around, throwing an elbow and catching him in the sternum. In spite of the blow, he grabbed me and his eyes were wild.

This wasn’t a polite sparring match any longer. This was a real fight.

I went for his face with my right fist, wanting to catch his nose, but anywhere would do. He deflected me easily, but I was already bringing my left fist up underneath his chin.

It connected with his jaw and pain sang through my knuckles and wrist.

Ymir lost his grip and staggered backwards.

This was my first time hurting Ymir. It felt good.

I didn’t have the time to savor it. There was feral energy moving through my veins. I pushed forward with my attack while he was off guard and I landed a solid kick to his chest before he could fully recover.

Ren was now standing tense and alert, unsure if he needed to step in. I had a very distinct feeling that he was not going to be on my side if he entered this fight.

Ymir pushed me and I flew backwards, but this time it was less controlled. I landed on my feet and threw out a hand, dragging Ymir to me.

That caught him completely off guard, and I used the advantage to throw an elbow into his face. Blood erupted from his nose.

Ren cried out in surprise and Ymir made a dangerous noise, low in his throat. I felt my life was in jeopardy now, but there was a new energy swirling in me, around me. My forearms and legs felt heavy, powerful.

I bared my teeth and reached for Ymir’s lightsaber.

It flew into my hand and I thumbed the knob, the blade glowing yellow from the handle.

Ren immediately activated his lightsaber, blazing red to my right. I spun towards him.

There was a moment of tension, more sweet and perfect than anything I had ever felt before. I could feel my grin ripping at my face as I stood ready for whatever came next.

“Stop!” Ymir bellowed, blood pouring down his face.

I felt air filling my lungs. It was just enough time to think.

“We’re done!” he said.

Ren deactivated his lightsaber stiffly, like a toy soldier, but didn’t take his thumb off the switch. I followed suit as I exhaled and Ymir wrenched the lightsaber hilt from my hand.

I held my hands up and stepped back. My heart was racing and I wasn’t sure if another part of the fight was about to unfold.

Ymir put a firm hand on my shoulder, using the other to hook the lightsaber back to his belt. He brought up his other hand to my shoulder. His grip was tight, but not threatening. He met my eyes and I glanced up, watching blood pour down his mustache, over his mouth, to stain his beard. There were droplets across the front of his shirt.

“We’re done. Take another breath,” he instructed.

I pulled air into my lungs, and realized I was shaking.

Ymir turned to Ren, his hands still on my shoulders. “Call Astrid,” he instructed, voice calm, then looked back at me and tilted my face up with a hand.

“I can work with this,” he said, smiling raggedly.

I met his brown eyes without wavering, surprised by his response.

Ren hustled over to the console by the door, calling the medic up.

I straightened and Ymir let me go. He pulled the front of his shirt up to his nose, staunching the blood flow.

My legs felt weak and there were chills moving along my body, travelling down my arms and my legs.
I walked over to my uniform jacket and offered it to Ymir.

He arched an eyebrow and took the jacket from me, holding it to his nose, head tilting back.

This wasn’t a new experience for him.

I was trembling, teeth chattering. I took a seat on the metal floor.

Ren came over, putting a friendly hand on Ymir’s back, and he nodded in return. Then Ren looked down at me.

“What’s wrong with you?” he sneered, face covered by the mask, voice harsh through the audiofeed.

My muscles were twitching and trembling. I pulled my knees into my chest. I felt cold.

Ymir knelt at my side, setting the blood-stained jacket on the floor. He ran a comforting hand down my back.

“It’s your first time tapping into the Force so completely. Just breathe. The intensity will pass.”

Ren stood, looking down, arms folded across his chest.

That asshole.

I drew in a shaky breath and relaxed into the discomfort. Ymir’s hand on my back was an anchor.

That pull I had been feeling was stronger now. It was behind my heart, at the back of my mind. When I blinked, the darkness behind my eyes was deeper.

Ymir encouraged me:


Good...feel it…

Yesterday, he had pushed my energy towards the base, leading me right towards what he wanted me to see. This time, he hovered at the edges, giving me the freedom to explore what was there.

I closed my eyes and took in a breath, letting the darkness pull me down.

Behind my closed lids, the world fell away from me. I could hear the high keening of wind whistling through a deep, dark space. My chest felt empty and bursting with emotion at the same time.

I jolted, opening my eyes as the training room doors slid open.

Astrid stepped into the room, her uniform boots making a precise rhythm against the metal floors.

She looked at me on the floor, at Ymir’s arm around my shoulder, then to his face - smeared with blood.

“She’s all right. I took an elbow to my nose while we were sparring,” Ymir said with confident good humor.

I brought myself back to the room, giving my head a little shake.

Astrid was all business. She had Ymir sit on a supply crate and began examining the wound, black medical gloves on her hands.

“Ren you can go get ready. Siobhan, go to the console and have someone bring me a fresh shirt.”

“Yes, Lord Ymir,” Ren said smartly, brushing rudely past me as he left the room.

What a fucking prick.

I got to my feet and moseyed over to the console, trusting that I could figure out how to make the request.

I moved through the directory and found a service line and a droid answered.

“Unit number and request,” it said, voice crackling through the console.

“This is Zhang. Lord Ymir needs a shirt brought to training hangar…” I craned my head, looking at the wall before realizing the number was right above the console, ”...uh hangar C-11.”

“Right away, ma’am,” the droid said.

I joined Astrid and Ymir, sitting on the far end of the supply crate.

She had cleaned the blood from his face and was applying a salve to the bridge and sides of his nose. “This will take the swelling down in about two hours, and we’re already ahead on the bruising,” she said, hands moving efficiently.

There was an open case next to her with neatly arranged instruments and supplies.

“Thank you, Astrid,” Ymir said.

He wasn’t self-conscious at all.

“Lord Ymir,” she replied, with a polite bow of her head.

She stood up and removed the black medical gloves, looking over to me, “Private Zhang was concussed when she was brought aboard. The troop medics weren’t thorough. May I check her progress?”

“Of course,” Ymir said with a slight smile.

Astrid put on a fresh set of gloves and picked her instrument up.

Today her hair was pulled back, held in pins under her gray medical cap. Her eyes were startlingly blue in the dim hangar.

“Nice to see you again,” I said with a roguish smile.

She made a prim smile in response, not making an attempt to be friendly to me with Ymir in the room.

Ren’s valet arrived, politely passing a shirt to Ymir.

I knew treatment like this existed, but I had never seen it in action before.

She ran the instrument across my skull, asking me questions as she worked.

“Have you had any headaches? Any dizziness? Have you noticed any memory loss?”

The answer to each of them was no.

“You look to be healing well. I don’t think we have anything else to be concerned about.”

“Thank you, Astrid,” Ymir replied.

He shook her hand as she headed out, and I thought I noticed the slightest bounce in her step as she left the training room.

“So what’s next, boss?” I asked.

Ymir was standing and pulling off the bloodied shirt. I caught a glimpse of his well muscled stomach and pecs before he pulled the fresh one over his head.

“Well, we need to get you cleaned up and I want to have a conversation about what to expect with the Superior General.”

I shrugged.

I was not excited to be paraded in front of Snoke.

Ymir gave me a droll, disappointed look, an eyebrow raised and a corner of his mouth turning down.

“Follow me, Siobhan. We’ll talk more on my ship.”

II

We made our way back to Hangar 1 and Ymir lowered the ramp for us to enter.

“You’ll follow the hallway around. The first door on the left will be a guest room. Take a shower and comb your hair. I’ll have an appropriate outfit sent up for you.”

I fought the urge to scowl and did what he asked.

The room was gorgeous, all dark colors with gold accents. There was more art on the walls and a one-way window - I noticed the particular way it reflected light - I could see out, but no one could see in, and it blended with the smooth alloy exterior of the ship.

I took a moment to enjoy the luxury, running my hands along the smooth leather furniture, the wooden desk against the wall. The bed was a wide, plush bunk set into the wall, with dim, glowing, recessed lights and a curtain to pull across.

I lay back on the cushy sheets, my head cradled in my hands.

I wanted this. I wanted a top of the line ship, and servants to take care of me.

I savored the knowledge that I had managed to injure Ymir, but it would have all gone downhill if he hadn’t stopped Ren.

I had never held a sword before, much less a lightsaber. Ren would have torn me apart.

My mouth twisting to the side, I climbed out of the bed and made my way to the shower, through another door.

The water pouring over me gave me time to think.

I had had Ymir’s lightsaber in my hand, the weapon that had taken my father from me. I had had the sword in my hand, and still I was so far from killing him.

There was no question about how powerful Ymir was, but it was different experiencing it in person. It was no effort for him to move a one-ton piece of training equipment, or pin me to the wall.

Instead of being angry at me for the strike to the face, he had seemed excited. He had been giving me a hard time on purpose.

The exercise with the targets was nonsense. The sparring match was a joke.

He wanted to see how I would react.

I was wading into dangerous waters.

I had been doing it my whole life.

When I was done with the shower I took time to dry my hair.

I pulled on the old uniform and Ren’s undershirt.

A fresh uniform was waiting on the bed. Whoever had dropped it off had smoothed down the sheets.

This uniform was much more formal - jet black. The pants were wide-legged jodhpurs.There was a little military cap resting on top. There were sleek military boots, freshly shined and stacked next to the bed.

It was an officer’s uniform without any rank insignia.

I was going to look like a real asshole.

I took my time getting into the uniform and wrapped my hair into a braid.

Leaving the cap on the bed, I returned to the sitting room.

Ymir was in a chair wearing more formal clothing and had a tablet resting in one hand. He was in a high-collared black shirt with a long, charcoal-gray vest over it. His pants were also black and his well-polished boots went up to the knee. I noticed a fine burgundy half-cloak draped over the chair next to him.

“You look better,” he said neutrally as I took the chair across from him.

There was breakfast on the low table; fruit, vegetables, even cold cuts of meat.

I saw the plate and utensil waiting.

“Go ahead and eat,” Ymir said, noticing my gaze.

I loaded up my plate, starting to eat with my hands.

Ymir watched me. He still had the med tape across his nose, but Astrid was right; I barely noticed any swelling, and there wasn’t a hint of a bruise.

All my effort was for nothing.

“I don’t often have difficulty making up my mind about people, but you seem to be the exception,” Ymir said, a knuckle resting against his chin.

I put the plate down on the table.

“You’re rough. You’re unsophisticated. You’re not what I expected.”

I picked up a piece of meat and popped it into my mouth. I grinned as I chewed, “And what did you expect?” I leered.

“I expected a challenge,” his words were blunt.

I sat back in my seat, stomach beginning to churn.

Ymir wasn’t done talking, “After Darth Vader fell, the Sith fell. Now Luke Skywalker has retreated after his failure with Kylo Ren,” Ymir’s hands rested in his lap, fingers spread wide across his thighs, “I want to create the rise of Sith control in the galaxy. We’ve existed in the shadows, quietly pulling strings, influencing events. I’m not interested in hiding. I need people who can wield power as well as weapons. You’re barely more than a common criminal.”

“I’m not afraid of you,” I said, the words leaving my mouth before I could think them through.

Ymir grinned, toothy and prideful, “I know you aren’t. It’s part of your charm.”

I glared back at him.

“Have you heard of the Rule of Two?” he asked.

We were back to playing question and answer.

“No.”

“It’s been part of the Sith tradition for millenia. It’s an arrangement of one Master and one student. The Master teaches and the student completes his training when he kills his Master,” he explained. “That’s not the arrangement I have with Ren. I want to see the creation of a Sith Empire, not keep us restricted by arbitrary rules. But, for you and I, that relationship should suit us quite nicely.”

The memory flashed through my mind - “Hold onto your hate, and we’ll meet again.”

The words took on a deeper meaning now.

He had known what he was doing, even then. I was an opportunity.

“I haven’t had the chance to work with someone like you. The raw talent is there, but you are entirely untrained. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

I didn’t know what to say. The memory was so clear in my mind, tugging me away from the present, my emotions all stirred up in my chest.

He could see my anger and my pain.

“When we land on Taltua, you’ll be having an audience with me and the Superior General. I’ve been patient with you. If you mouth off to him, he will kill you and I won’t lift a finger to stop him,” Ymir said. “You haven’t made a good first impression. The Superior General knows you’re a gangster and a defecting Resistance soldier that made Kylo Ren look like a fool on his own warship.”

“My information helped you take the Resistance base. You wouldn’t have found it without me!”

“Let’s hope that’s enough to put you in his good graces,” he said.

Ymir put his hands on his thighs, standing up, tucking the tablet under his arm.

“I have some messages I need to have ready for when we leave hyperspace. You can do what you please for the next half hour.”

With that, Ymir left, taking the burgundy cloak from the chair.

I stayed seated, half-dazed by the conversation.

He had just torn me a new one.

I abruptly stood up, beginning to pace around the sitting room, trying to cool myself off.

What a fucking prick. What an asshole.

Who did he think he was to just march around, talking down to me like that…

He was the head of the fucking First Order. He had more money, more power, more control than anyone else in the Galaxy. I had been mouthing off to him since the day started - I was lucky to be alive.

But he felt my potential. He had felt it ten years ago when I had tried to protect my father, and in just a few hours I was going to be presented to Snoke as his second acolyte.

I was on my path.

Chapter Text

I

I paced around the room until my hunger caught up with me again.

I was in the chair finishing my plate when Ren entered the sitting room, dressed in his formal robes, his face covered by his mask.

He had a black kit bag slung around his shoulder and he dropped it next to the chair.

There was a muffled announcement echoing in from the hangar.

I couldn’t make out the individual words, but I got the gist of it. We’d be leaving hyperspace soon.

“You’re not piloting your own ship?” I asked.

“No reason to,” he said taking a seat, “Do you know where Lord Ymir is?”

I took the last bite of meat, chewing slowly as I answered, “I think he’s in his room. He said something about queuing up messages…”

Ren didn’t respond. I could feel his simmering irritation as I talked with my mouth open.

Good.

“Excited to meet with Snoke?” I asked, “Well, I guess not. I’m sure you talk all the time.”

“Mind your own business,” Ren snapped, “You should be the one preparing.”

I had touched a nerve.

I remembered Ren’s question when we had eaten together. He wanted to know what his next assignment would be.

We sat in an awkward, crackling silence for some minutes. Ren was the first to break it.

“You have an attitude towards the Superior General, even though you’re joining the First Order. How can you already dislike him?” Ren asked.

“He doesn’t get his hands dirty,” I said, “He just sends orders down the line. It’s all stuffed shirts and rubber stamps, trickling commands down to the grunts. He’s running a bureaucracy.”

“The Superior General is an adept with the Force. I don’t think you’ll feel the same way if you start a fight with him and his guards,” he cautioned.

“We’ll find out, won’t we?” I said.

Ymir stepped into the sitting room, looking between the two of us.

“Good, you’re both ready,” he said, “I’m planning for us to have our meeting as soon as we land. Ren, come with me, Siobhan, you can stay here or join us in the cockpit.”

I followed them to the front of the ship and hung out in the entranceway of the cockpit, arms braced against the walls. There were only two seats and they were taken.

Ymir and Ren worked as a unit warming the ship up. Their hands flew across the buttons and dials, conducting system checks.

The Finalizer smoothly exited hyperspace and yellow lights flashed in the hangar as they opened the bay doors.

Taltua lay ahead of us, a brilliant blue orb.

Ymir cleared the ship for departure and we sailed off the Finalizer, cruising towards the surface.

I began to feel nervous. The past few days were catching up to me, and I had no idea what was coming next. I didn’t have a good feeling about meeting with Snoke. I had been on the wrong side of the First Order for too many years. When I was with the cartels we diverted weapons, stole ships, stole parts. We went through the First Order’s entire supply chain, making money through theft and extortion at every point we could.

I pulled myself away from thoughts and memories to appreciate the planet beneath us. It was a water planet, a rare oasis. I had only heard about it. We made our descent through blue skies with green-tinged clouds, towards a deep, blue ocean.

“What island are we landing on?” I asked.

“Axos,” Ymir answered. He was steering, and activating various switches and blinking controls to prepare for landing.

I watched a city emerge, sitting out of place on top of the water. There was so little land available that every square meter had been developed, stacked high with towers. As we drew closer I could see airships buzzing at different levels, and walkways and balconies that connected buildings. There wasn’t any room left for natural vegetation on the planet, but there was greenery on the sides of buildings and roofs.

“This is the Centurion. Clearance for landing in Hangar Nine, over,” Ymir said, holding down a comms button.

A droid’s voice crackled back to us, “Hangar Nine cleared for landing, over.”

We were approaching a large, imposing building that extended over the water. First Order banners fluttered heavily between onyx columns. The hangar was made out of smooth stone and there were attendants lined up to greet us.

Ren stood and I left the cockpit, following him and Ymir out of the ship.

When we walked down the ramp there were ceremonial guards in shiny black and red uniforms holding pikes, and uniformed attendants lined up and ready for us.

A valet approached Ymir, bowing his head, “Greetings, Lord Ymir,” he said, “The Superior General has been informed of your arrival. Do you need anything before your meeting?”

I stood next to Ren, convincing myself I belonged here. The hangar was enormous with a vaulted ceiling, more columns, and First Order banners. I set my face into a neutral military expression.

“We don’t,” Ymir said simply.

The valet opened doors for us as we walked through the building. The palace?

Years of practice kept me from gaping as we walked. It was a drastic departure from the Resistance bases and starships I had been on. This was where the money wound up. All the spoils of war and conquest put to use on smooth stone and pretentious art.

The hallways were open to the air and I enjoyed the seabreeze as we walked. There were people in the halls. They could be government officials or industrialists. At the least, they were disgustingly rich, milling about in their fine clothes with their personal guards. The Finalizer seemed to have had an exclusively human staff, it was a relief to see more than one species.

I saw Klatoonians with their scaly skin and folds around their mouths. Three Ishi Tib stood in a group, chattering with their large beaks. I saw one Muun, standing in dark robes with several attendants and guards around him.

Eyes followed the three of us as we strode through the hallways. Everyone was too proud to turn their heads, but they wanted to watch the two Sith walking with some unknown girl in an officer’s uniform.

We were lead to a posh antechamber. The furniture was made out of polished wood. The ceilings were over four meters high. The wall to our left was made of stained glass panels, tracing abstract designs in red and gold. At the far end of the room were two guards in crimson uniforms standing outside heavy metal doors. They both held swords with some kind of electric prod at the bottom of the blade.

Ymir curtly nodded to them and they opened the doors. We walked into an even larger and finer audience hall. I had only ever heard about places like this before.

“Welcome, Lord Ymir,” Snoke greeted from the far end of the room.

He was seated on a large chair, a throne, underneath another First Order banner. He was flanked by six guards, three on each side, all in the same crimson getup the other two had been wearing. They all held a weapon at ease.

To our left were wide windows overlooking the ocean. Stained glass panels decorated the top. The walls, ceilings, and floors were made out of some black stone, shot through with ribbons of grey and flint.

“Superior General,” Ymir said evenly.

I noticed he didn’t bow or make any sign of deference, and I felt relieved.

Snoke’s figure wasn’t a mystery, but it still felt strange seeing him in the flesh. He was a tall, thin, twisted being. His head was bald, covered in wrinkled papery skin. There was a deep puckered scar down his forehead. His jaw and left cheek were crooked and mangled. He wore fine cream-colored silk robes, brocaded with gold and green.

I made eye contact with him, tamping down any shred of fear.

He motioned with his hand towards me. “So this is the girl who’s caused so much trouble,” he said, looking bored.

This was already going about as well as I expected.

“She is my new apprentice. Siobhan Zhang, daughter of Wei Zhang,” Ymir said.

“I read the report on her,” Snoke said impatiently.

Ren stood to my left, half a pace behind me.

“She spent years with the cartels and the Smuggler’s Alliance,” Snoke continued, running his fingers along a screen in the arm of his throne, “It looks like she was spreading her legs for half the minor bosses between Naboo and the Hosnian System,” he looked up at me and I indulged in a half-smile, “Then she joined the Resistance, and in five years, remained a Private.”

Snoke fixed me with a look, one gnarled finger still pointing at me, “The only reason why I know so much about you is that Admiral Clive contacted me, saying that Kylo Ren had been seduced by a Rebel prisoner and wasn’t attending to his responsibilities on the Finalizer.”

His gaze swung to Ren and he stared at him for a moment, then he turned his attention back to Ymir.

“I’m having difficulty understanding why you’ve chosen to take her in as an apprentice.”

Ymir smiled and put his hands on his hips, “She’s strong in the Force. She gave up her Resistance base without batting an eye. I’ll be taking her to Korriban to start training when we’ve attended to business here.”

Ren swung his head towards Ymir. His surprise was obvious.

My body began to lift off the floor. It was Snoke. I tried to resist him, grinding my teeth with effort. I kicked my feet uselessly in the air.

“Stop that, girl,” he said distastefully.

He reached inside my memories as easily as lifting a glass. I was getting tired of this.

The memory of my family was already stirred up, right up at the surface. Next were the newer memories, Ren guiding me towards the Darkside, then the fight just hours before.

Snoke’s face distorted into some version of a smile and he dropped me. I hit the ground in a crouch, hurting the bones in my feet, but trying not to let it show. I noticed Ren put one foot forward but then brought it back as he thought better of it.

“You could have asked me for any of that information,” I said, standing up and smoothing out my uniform.

“I’ll listen to you when I have proof you’re not just an opportunistic whore who happens to have a connection to the Force,” he snapped.

Frankly, I had been called worse things in my life, but I didn’t want him to think he could talk to me that way. I clenched my hands into fists and the guards turned their crimson-helmeted heads towards me, adjusting the grip on their weapons.

“That’s hardly necessary,” Ymir cautioned Snoke.

And he had said he wasn’t going to defend me...

“You can do with her what you like,” Snoke said, “My concern is the reputation and effectiveness of the fleet. We should discuss Ren’s next assignment.”

Ren stiffened ever so slightly next to me.

Snoke turned to him, “We’re assigning you to Anoat. You haven’t made any headway in tracking down Luke Skywalker and we have intelligence that a portion of his map is hidden away in the temple ruins.”

“I can be more useful elsewhere,” Ren began, the mechanical tone from his mask hiding some of his emotion.

“You’ll have time to reflect on your failure. You can pick any of your Knights that aren’t on assignment. Admiral Clive will be taking over operations on the Finalizer until your return.”

Ren rolled his shoulders back, clearly wanting to protest, but knowing it would be useless.

“The Superior General and I are in agreement,” Ymir said, turning towards Ren.

I could feel the anger beginning to radiate from him.

“When are you leaving for Korriban?” Snoke asked, now ignoring Ren entirely.

“The day after tomorrow. I’ll be having my ship resupplied and ready. After training, we’ll be able to send her out on assignments.”

“Lord Ymir, I’d like to speak with you further. Kylo Ren, Zhang, you’re dismissed.”

I met Snoke’s eyes for a moment and smiled testily before turning away, following in the wake of Ren’s cloak.

The new valet was waiting for us in the antechamber.

“We’ve readied your suite…,” he began crisply, but withered as Ren fixed him with a look.

Ren left the room with the valet scurrying after him. I trailed slowly behind. I didn’t know where the suite was, so staying close to the valet seemed like a good idea.

Ahead of us, Ren stormed through hallways that he was obviously familiar with. We passed beings who now turned their heads with alarm. His rage was palpable.

As we moved through more hallways people began to thin out around us.

Abruptly, he turned into an alcove, a scenic spot for looking out over the ocean. Ren activated his lightsaber and let out a gravelly scream, beginning to take massive, heavy strikes at the stone walls.

There was a decorative statue set above the stone bench, some kind of winged creature in robes with arms uplifted. Ren gouged it to pieces with his blade, and sparks and little chunks of stone flew out into the hallway.

I took a step back and stood next to the valet.

Was this a fucking temper tantrum? I watched Ren for a few moments before deciding that this was none of my business.

The valet was standing stock still, trying to hide his horror, and calculating whether he could get blamed for any of this.

I turned to him and said in a calm, direct tone, “I’m less familiar with this place. Could you take me to the suite?”

The valet blinked, looking at me in relief. “Yes Madam, right this way,” he said smartly.

Ren was still attacking the walls when we left.

II

The palace was beautiful, made out of the same smooth, dark stone. There were open hallways and terraces covered in vines with wide leaves and blood-red flowers. I took in the air coming off the water gratefully. It had been over a week since I had breathed non-recycled air.

“This is Lord Ymir and Kylo Ren’s usual suite,” the valet said, leading me into a room. He was clearly glad he could go back to his usual spiel, “We set up your bedroom in the office. Please let me know if there is anything we can do to make the space more comfortable for you.”

The sitting room was open to the body of water, with glass panels that could separate the room from the balcony at the end. Gauzy red curtains fluttered in the ocean breeze. The room was decorated with rugs, wall hangings, and plants with exotic flowers, all in shades of red and purple.

The valet guided me to a room on the left. There were bookshelves, a desk, and a door to the balcony. I stepped outside, leaning my forearms on the stone railing, breathing deeply.

“My name is Julian,” the valet was saying, “You can reach me on the console in this room at any time. Lord Ymir told us you were travelling light. We’ll be bringing up fresh clothes for you. Can I bring you anything else for the moment?” he asked.

“I’d like a glass of wine, something chilled,” I said without turning, looking out over the water.

He scuttled out of the room and returned with a glass filled with cold white wine. He waited for my approval after taking a sip. It had been so many years since I had this kind of treatment. It was almost enough to make up for the meeting with Snoke.

“That will do,” I said.

“We’ll be serving lunch in an hour,” the valet said.

I nodded and dismissed him.

There was a wooden lounge chair covered in white cushions. I settled myself in, leaning my head back and sipping my wine. I looked out at the blue ocean and greenish clouds, feeling the sun warm my face.

I undid my boots, peeled off my socks, and wiggled my sweaty toes.

This was all right.

After some time I heard the front door burst open, the sound of stomping feet, then the slamming of a door on the opposite side of the suite.

Ren had come back.

It was becoming harder to square away the idea of the powerful Sith, who killed the last of the Jedi apprentices and murdered Resistance fighters by the hundreds, with the man slamming doors and picking fights with stone walls.

After some time I heard the door to my room open. I craned around in the chair to see if it was Ren.

It was Julian, arriving with a small collection of clothing hanging from a rod. I stood up and walked into the room, looking at the outfits. He chattered about them, their sizes and kinds of fabrics. He hoped they would all be up to my taste. I was welcome to ask for other styles or colors. They were all simple, elegant tunics. There were casual leggings in neutral colors, along with undergarments, and light sandals on the bottom.

When he had left, I shucked off the uniform and chose a ruby-red tunic the same color as the flowers in the room. I put on a pair of white leggings and left my feed bare. I undid my hair from the braid and combed it out with my fingers, tucking it back over my shoulders. I left the room to search for more wine.

There were four servants in plain, slate-gray, collared uniforms setting up a table for lunch. They had a cart and were setting up a white tablecloth and laying out plates and utensils.

One of them took my glass and refilled it without me needing to ask. I looked at Ren’s closed door, shrugged to myself, and headed out to the main balcony.

I leaned on the railing and drank my wine. I had no idea what to expect from the coming days. I had never heard of Korriban. It sounded like Ren was getting sent on some shit detail while Ymir and I would be travelling to a planet for training. It had been a relief to see that Snoke wasn’t the one running the whole show. What a miserable creature.

I took a sip and heard the door to the suite open. Turning around, I watched Ymir stride directly into Ren’s room.

From out on the balcony I couldn’t hear anything, but it wasn’t hard to imagine what they were talking about. I gazed out over the water, letting my eyes unfocus as I absorbed the sounds of the waves and breeze.

After a while, Ymir joined me.

“You clean up nicely,” he said, giving me an approving look as he rested his hands on the stone railing.

“What, you don’t like a girl in uniform?” I teased.

“It didn’t suit you,” Ymir said thoughtfully. He took a breath. “You did well in the meeting with the Superior General. He was trying to rile you up on purpose.”

I took a cool sip of wine, “I figured as much. I’ve met plenty of men like him. They all use the same insults.”

I really couldn’t tell that I had busted his nose. That was disappointing.

“So, what’s on Korriban?” I asked.

“It’s the site of the old Sith Academy. Back when we had an empire of our own, before the Rule of Two.”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

Ymir turned to me. “That’s not surprising. I only went there after the war ended. Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine never made much use of it, and Luke Skywalker tried to erase all evidence of the place before he started his Jedi Academy.”

“So what’s there? Old books or something?”

“Most of the books have already been taken or destroyed. I’ve been hunting down texts for decades now,” he answered, “I’m taking you to Korriban because the planet itself is deeply connected to the Darkside of the Force.”

This did not sound like it was going to be a pleasant trip.

“I didn’t know what was happening to me in the training hangar, after our sparring match,” I said.

“That’s the reason I’m taking you to Korriban. We are going to work on your connection and mastery of the Force. And your combat skills.”

I took another drink and paused, thinking through my question before I asked it, “I watched Ren pick a fight with a statue after our meeting. Does he do that often?”

Ymir leaned forward on the railing, allowing his disappointment to show, “He does, even though it undermines his authority within the First Order. As Sith we can use our anger as a tool for power. Anger does nothing if it controls us.”

He pushed away from the railing, straightening up. This wasn’t a comfortable topic for him. He might see it as a personal weakness, or a point of embarrassment reflected on him by his student.

“They’ve prepared lunch for us. We can talk more while we eat.”

I was eating better than I had in years. Julian was waiting by the cart, and served us course after course. We had some kind of brothy soup, a salad made of delicate ribbons of vegetables and fruits. Roasted meat. Ymir ate like a gentleman, slowly and sparingly. I tried to follow his lead.

Ren didn’t join us - his door stayed closed, and I couldn’t hear any sounds coming from his room.

“So, how’s money going to work in this arrangement?” I asked while taking a bite.

Ymir tried to fight a smile, but gave in. “You’re joining an ancient spiritual order,” he said facetiously, “Money tarnishes our purity.”

“I’m working with the First Order. I’d like to know what I’ll be getting paid,” I said with a cocky smile, leaning back in my chair and taking a drink from a fresh glass of wine.

“You’ll be getting paid better than you were with the Resistance,” Ymir began.

That didn’t sound promising…

He continued, “I’m going to start you off at one hundred credits each cycle. When you’re trained and taking assignments you’ll have access to the funds you’ll need for your work and you’ll receive bonuses afterwards.”

“Bounty hunter pay, then,” I said levelly, not giving him a reaction to the figures, “How are the accounts going to be set up?”

Ymir had thought this through. That might have been what he was discussing with Snoke. He was right; compared to the Resistance, it was a lot of money; even when I was getting good smuggling jobs, I wasn’t making that much. The only time I had gotten remotely close to that kind of money was when I was fucking for it.

“We own the banking syndicates. It will all be arranged for you.”

“What does Ren get paid?” I asked, jutting a thumb towards his closed door.

“Something like 350 credits each cycle,” Ymir said easily.

I made a low whistle. “Well he definitely owes me dinner,” I said and leaned forward, setting my elbows on the table. “Y’all got a signing bonus?”

Ymir laughed, “You’ll take the one hundred credits and be satisfied with that for now. Once I actually see what you’re worth we’ll talk about paying you more.”

“I’m going to make the rounds with you later today and begin to introduce you as my new acolyte,” he said, moving the conversation along, “I hope it’s apparent that you are being shown to our allies here as well as the Superior General.”

I nodded seriously, but the truth was I hadn’t thought beyond the meeting with Snoke. Since I had been captured on the Finalizer, everything had been moving quickly and was completely unfamiliar to me. I didn’t know enough about what was happening to be able to think a step ahead. My main goal was not give away how ignorant I was.

Ymir was looking at me with a thoughtful, calculating expression. His mouth was set and eyes narrow as he thought.

“I don’t want you to use your name.”

“What’s wrong with my name?” I asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“You’re a recorded criminal,” Ymir began, “Also, your name gives me some leverage against the Resistance. I’d like to plan the moment when it will have the greatest impact.”

I shrugged, “I was just a private. It’s not like Commander Holdo defected.”

Ymir ignored me, “We should spend some time thinking of an appropriate name…”

“Lin Siniang,” I said, without hesitation.

He gave me a skeptical look, lips curling into a half smile, “What’s the significance?”

“It was the name on my documents when we were smuggled off of my homeworld. It hasn’t been used for anything else. It’s clean.”

I remembered my mother coaching us through the information as we travelled in the cargoship. Lin Siniang - Thirteen years old - born on Felucia.

“Hmmm…,” Ymir murmured as he thought, “What is tied to that name? Your mother? Any other family?”

“My brother is tied to the family name. We’re recorded as citizens of Felucia,” I answered.

“Alright, I’ll do a search. If it all checks out with me, we can use it.” Ymir clapped his thighs as he stood up from the table. “I have calls I need to make. Stay in the rooms. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for you.”

Ymir strode through his door, leaving me at the table.

Lin Siniang. I remembered keeping the ID card in my pocket, wrapping it in my palm. Skellig, one of my father’s Rebel friends, had helped us escape our homeworld. The captain had given us counterfeit documents at the first stop, and our identities were wiped clean as we travelled along the cargo route.

The story was that the captain had taken us on as short-term labor. He put us to work on the ship - small jobs cleaning and helping in the kitchens.

My mother hated it.

As I got older, I wondered if she had needed to fuck the captain for safe passage.

She spent the trip in tears. When she wasn’t working, she would be silent and unmoving in her bunk or lashing out angrily at my brother and me. She had lost the love of her life and, without him, she had lost her will to keep going.

If only they could see me now…

I brought myself back to the present, rising from the table and lounging on one of the balcony chairs. I enjoyed the sunlight and the ocean breeze. After being stuck inside a starship for over a week, my body was craving sunlight and fresh air.

Resting outside, I cradled my head in my hands, legs stretched out long in front of me. I let the sound of the waves and the warmth from the sun lull me to sleep.

I woke as the sun began to set, the cool air making goosebumps prickle along my skin. I opened my eyes to the brilliant orange glow of the sun staining the tops of the ocean waves and the undersides of clouds.

It was time to start moving inside. I stretched and rubbed my arms, chasing away the chill.

Inside, Ymir was set up at the table, holoprojector in front of him bathing his face in blue-white light. The side facing me was opaque.

“I was wondering how long you were going to sleep out there,” Ymir said, not sounding terribly happy with me.

He had changed into less formal clothes. There was a brown and navy cloak draped around his shoulders, accentuating their width, a gold pin at his right shoulder. He had a tan jacket on underneath.

“How long was I out?” I asked, stifling a yawn with a hand and rubbing my eyes with the other.

“Hours.”

Clearly, he was not impressed with my decision to nap. What the fuck did he expect me to be doing with my time?

I glanced over at the door to Ren’s room. It was still shut tight and I couldn’t hear anything.

“I’m going to take you around for first introductions here. Were you given any other clothes?”

I looked down at my red tunic, freshly wrinkled, and my bare feet on the rug, “It’s all pretty much like this,” I replied.

The corner of Ymir’s mouth drew down as he looked at me, “Change into something different then. We’ll need to get clothes made for you.”

I remembered Julian’s words as he walked me through his little introductory spiel, ‘We were told you were travelling light.’ What a fucking understatement. I didn’t have a scrap of clothing to my name, just what had been provided to me.

In my room, I changed into a different set of tunic and leggings. This time I chose dark colors, a black top with gold stitching up the sides and around the neckline and black pants.

I combed my hair out, leaving it loose around my shoulders. It had kept some of the wave from being in a braid all day.

When I returned to the main room Ymir appraised me from his seat at the table. “That’ll do,” he said, turning the projector off and locking it with a code.

He took the projector base into his room and then led me out into the hall.

Julian was posted outside the door and Ymir held up a hand to indicate he should stay.

We began to walk down the dim hallways and down wide stone staircases. Elegant lanterns hung from the ceilings and between columns, casting a warm light onto the stone walls and red banners.

The palace was settling into its evening routines. There were fewer people in the halls and more droids and servants now.

I smelled food, and I could hear conversation and music as we passed by rooms.

Ymir broke his silence with instructions for me, “We are going to make a circuit of the state room. You will be introduced to politicians and corporate leaders,” he began, “I want you to talk as little as possible. I’ll be guiding the conversations. You’ll be responsible for listening and learning.”

We were approaching a set of large double doors. Two expensive looking sentry droids were posted out front. They were a matched set, each with a gold chassis, their filigree inlaid in delicate curling patterns. There were sturdy looking-blasters affixed to their metal thighs.

“Lord Ymir,” they greeted in unison, and opened the doors for us.

We stepped into a large, posh room. It looked like a lounge. There was a stage at the far end. Two Cerean singers with flashy suits and long, flowing, silver hair were singing with a full band behind them.

A massive crystal chandelier hung over the stage and floor. There were tables set up around the perimeter with couples and small groups of people talking over their drinks. I spotted many different species, all of them dressed up, wealth on display as they mingled.

A servant appeared at my side with a drink, while another was attending to Ymir. They were Duros, short, green and looking trim in their black uniforms.

They lead us around the perimeter of the room, past the bar, to a wide, round booth with plush seats and a table with a white cloth on top. The spot was near the stage with a clear view of the whole room.

I got comfortable on the seats and took a sip of my drink. I couldn’t place what kind of liquor it was. It had a smoky taste and burned slow across my tongue.

It wasn’t long before a steady stream of people began to flow our way.

They moved casually, as if it was only by chance they found themselves in our vicinity.

Ymir knew everyone’s names and I began to see the range of languages he could speak. He even used different cultural greetings.

I followed Ymir’s directions and kept my mouth shut - it wasn’t hard. I understood the languages, but I didn’t understand half the things that were being discussed. They were talking business and sharing gossip or idle pleasantries.

I kept my ears open for information and watched how Ymir changed his approach with each separate interaction.

These people oozed wealth and status. They had come to this room to be seen, to network and impress - being able to interact with Ymir was exactly what they wanted. I watched people fawn and preen for him. He was well-respected, not just feared.

The most interesting interaction came near the end of our time in the state room.

A human male, somewhere around Ymir’s age, approached our table with a group of three women in tow. One was a blue-skinned Twi’lek, another a fabulously orange female Chagrian in a white silk dress, and the third was a human dressed in black with her hair set in an elaborate nest of braids and loops.

“Rajendra,” Ymir greeted him, and, for the first time ever, I heard a note of tension in his voice.

That immediately caught my interest.

“Lin Siniang, this is Rajendra Juall, the head of Juall Corp. Rajendra, this is my new acolyte.”

He took my hand, his companions gathering together behind him. I assumed they were all being paid.

“What a change,” Rajendra said with a playful wink as he took my hand. “I don’t know how these things work with the Sith,” he continued, turning his attention to Ymir, “What happened to Kylo Ren?”

It was the first whiff of disrespect I had seen anyone express towards Ymir. This conversation had my full attention now and I worked to keep my expression bored and aloof.

“The three of us will be meeting tomorrow. I’m sure you and the Superior General discussed those plans this afternoon,” Ymir said cooly.

“Hmmm…, yes, there’s a lot I need to think through,” he replied dismissively.

Rajendra was a handsome man. His hair was white, slicked back and trim on the sides. His face was clean-shaven and his skin was a rich, nut-brown shade. He wore a pale gray suit with a blue ascot - a deep-blue stone was pinned in the center.

He was a fox.

Back when I worked at the brothel, he was the kind of man I’d want to catch for the evening. I knew I’d have a fun time and a stack of credits when I was done. The three women behind him had made a good call.

“Well, we have much to discuss tomorrow. Pleasure meeting you, Lin Siniang,” Rajendra said abruptly, slinking his arm around the waist of the blue Twi’lek woman and steering the group away from our table.

It was the first interaction I had seen where Ymir didn’t end the conversation. I was going to need to find out more about this man and what kind of project they were involved in.

I could feel Ymir’s anger, a controlled simmer of energy just under the surface.

I didn’t risk looking over at him.

There were a few more people who came by to pay their respects.

Ymir called an end to the evening after our third drink. We did a circuit of the room and I could feel eyes on us.

The band was picking up their pace. Nighttime had settled, the lights were glowing, and I had confidence moving through my veins.

Our walk to the rooms felt friendlier - it could have just been the alcohol. We didn’t talk much, but the air felt more relaxed between us.

The rooms were silent when we returned. Ren’s door was still shut tight.

Ymir punched the code for his personal room, “I have meetings at the start of the day. We’ll work on our preparations for Korriban in the afternoon. You can sleep in.”

“Can do, boss,” I said and we entered our separate rooms.

I shucked off my clothes, leaving them scattered across the floor. I opened my windows and fell asleep to the breeze and gentle lapping of the ocean waves against the cliffs.

III

My dreams were distorted and heavy.

I moved through long, dark tunnels. There was a shifting pattern of darkness in front of me. I was jogging, my breath loud in my ears.

At the end of one tunnel was my mother, lit from above in stark white light.

She was just as I remembered her as a child. Her long, red hair travelled past her shoulders and down her back. She wore her plain linen dress. She was blinking in confusion, her eyes flashing green in the unforgiving light.

I was suddenly pulled backwards, out of the passage and into the main tunnel and I found myself jogging forward again.

At the end of another passage I found my brother.

He appeared to me as I remembered from the last day I saw him. He was tall - twenty years old, but he looked younger. He was skinny, wearing stained and ill-fitting clothes. His nose was smashed, blood pouring down his face to stain the front of his shirt.

He was rolling his head around in confusion, a look of terror on his face.

I was pulled backwards and returned to the main tunnel.

I moved down an endless number of passages, finding lost family, old friends and lovers. I saw Ahobri, green skinned, her headtails draped down her back. Jukhara, the Devaronian with filed-down horns. Tilisk, my friend, still on the base at D’Qar. Gromm, my most recent lover in my unit.

Each person was under harsh lighting, and after a few moments I was pulled back into the darkness. I felt like I had a rope around my waist and I was being pulled through my own mind.

I bolted awake, pushing the covers off of me and leaping out of the bed, eyes wild and heart racing.

I threw open my door and found Ren at the table eating breakfast.

“What the fuck was that! Were you doing that?” I demanded, instantly knowing it hadn’t been him.

“No,” Ren said simply, staring at me as I stood naked and disheveled in the doorway, “What happened?”

“I was having fucked up dreams…” I said, dipping into my room for a layer of clothing, pulling on my tunic from the night before.

I joined Ren at the table. He was fully dressed. His mask rested next to him on top of the highly polished wood.

“It was like someone was inside my head, steering me through my own mind,” I continued.

It sounded crazy, even to me.

Ren was eating as I talked. “It sounds like the Superior General,” he said.

“That motherfucker!” I snarled, popping my fist on the table.

“He doesn’t like you,” Ren said plainly.

“Yeah, well, he doesn’t seem too happy with you either,” I snapped.

Ren glared at me.

I sighed and stood up from the table and moved towards Ren’s rooms.

“What are you doing?” he asked, watching me with heavy-lidded eyes.

“I want to shower. My room doesn’t have one,” I said.

“Fine,” he said grudgingly, “Get ready quickly. I’m going down to meet with Lord Ymir, you should join me.”

I didn’t know why Ren wanted to wait for me.

I got ready at my own pace, taking time to dry my hair and trim my fingernails.

Ren was standing impatiently, fully dressed with his mask around his face, when I emerged wrapped in a towel.

“Come on,” he said in his gravelly voice as I pulled on clothes in my room.

I followed him through the hallways, his cloak flowing behind him.

People watched us as we moved past. Ren ignored everyone, striding with purpose, wrapped from head to toe in black and his lightsaber hooked on his belt.

We stopped at an open courtyard deep inside the building. Black paving stones made paths through the trees and hedges. There were more of the vines with red flowers.

Ymir was seated on a low stone bench.

“You kept me waiting,” he said, glancing between us.

Ren inclined his head apologetically.

He respected Ymir. He was completely devoted to the man. I could see it in his posture, how he didn’t push back.

“Siobhan, I thought you’d still be in bed. I’m surprised,” Ymir said, giving me a little dig.

“I had bad dreams,” I shrugged.

Ymir stood up, taking his lightsaber in hand as Ren was positioning himself across from him. They were getting right down to it.

“Siobhan, I want you to practice following our energy as we move,” Ymir instructed.

He activated his lightsaber, golden blade buzzing to life in front of him. Ren followed suit, with his red blade crackling in front of him.

They began their dance.

I took a seat on the bench and gazed around the courtyard as I let my awareness expand around me.

The courtyard was surrounded by open-air hallways, lined with decorative columns and railings. Anyone walking by would be able to glance down on the sparring match. I remembered the conversation I had with Ymir on his ship. He wanted to build a new order of Sith. He wanted to bring the practice out of the shadows.

This was a public display of power.

Ren and Ymir sparred for round after round. I reached out to them, following their movements. I could feel their energy like currents in water, flowing along a path.

I was starting to realize this was a skill I had been using for most of my life. It was the reason why I was such a good shot. I had only been skimming the surface of my abilities.

As I sank in, the feeling became more physical. I had a sense of muscles coiling and stretching - tendons and bone. I was pushed back.

I opened my eyes and Ren had his gaze fixed on me. Ymir used the moment of distraction to make a swing on his opposite side.

Ren deflected at the last moment and the sparring match continued.

“Alright, it’s your turn,” Ymir called out to me.

His face was sweaty. Ren had dropped his cloak on the paving stones.

“What? Me?” I asked from my comfortable spot on the bench.

Ymir motioned for me to stand up. I moved reluctantly.

“Ren, she’ll practice with your ‘saber,” Ymir said.

He was still catching his breath, shoulders rising and falling.

“Don’t break anything,” he grumbled through the audiofeed, passing the heavy object over.

“I’m more worried about cutting off my thumb,” I said, looking down at the three open ends.

“Don’t do that either,” he said and demonstrated how to adjust the dial.

I activated the blade, crimson energy crackling to life in my hands.

I made a few passes, testing the feel of it.

Ymir was watching me with a judgemental expression, his arms folded over his chest.

“Have you ever held a sword before?” he asked.

“No. Why would I have?” I shot back.

We did not get around to sparring. Ymir spent his time adjusting my stance and demonstrating basic movements.

This, clearly, was not the image he wanted to portray.

I could feel his frustration as he directed me, and I continued to make a minimum effort. I felt confident with a blaster. I didn’t see the need to rely on anything else.

Ren sat on the ground, legs splayed in front of him, propped up on his hands.

By the end of the lesson Ymir had a sour expression, his jaw clenched with disappointment.

He took the weapon from me and sent it over to Ren, who caught it easily.

“Ren, we’ll be meeting with the Superior General. Siobhan, go back to the rooms and stay out of trouble.”

I shrugged and spit to the side.

Julian was waiting for me at the edge of the garden. Ren and Ymir headed down a separate hallway and I was escorted back to the rooms.

I asked for breakfast and poured myself a glass of whiskey.

There wasn’t anything for me to do but lounge around and wait. Ymir had given me a direct order and Julian was posted outside the door.

I began exploring the space. I started with Ymir’s room, but it was locked up tight.

Ren’s room was open, but I couldn’t find anything interesting. He had a standard military trunk with clothes and basic personal items. Nothing good.

I rooted around in the wall panels and drawers, not finding anything.

I didn’t like being cooped up like this. I moved back to my room and laid down on the floor, cradling my head in my hands.

There was a big change looming ahead of me. I was being taken to Korriban - a Sith planet.

I had no idea what the fuck that meant. Ymir had said the planet had a connection with the Darkside. What did that even mean? Were we going to some kind of monastery?

The afternoon slowly passed me by. I ate a meal and went back for more whiskey, walking the line between a buzz and drunkenness.

I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling from my dreams.

Ren had sounded so certain. Snoke had reached into my sleeping mind and steered me around, searching for information.

I liked to keep my business to myself. I had the stories I would share with people about my life - versions that glanced the truth - close enough to sound sincere without being the real story.

My thoughts turned to Ahobri, my closest friend in the Galaxy. She knew the story of my father’s death and my goal of hunting down Ymir. I imagined what it would be like to tell her about everything that had happened.

What would she do when she heard that I had finally met with Ymir and had shared a bed with Kylo Ren?

It had been almost a year since we had seen each other. The last time we met was during shore leave with the Resistance. I had just got done with a side job, smuggling a few kilos of Spice and had some money to throw around. Now I was in a completely different world, soon to be on the First Order payroll and making more money than I ever had before.

Eventually, Ren and Ymir returned to the rooms. I was lounging on a sofa, my drink resting on the floor next to me.

Ymir glanced at me sprawled out on the furniture with a glass next to my hand.

Ren went to his room and shut the door behind him.

“I’m going to check in on my ship. Come with me,” Ymir said.

I pushed myself upright and set the drink on the table. I thought about finishing it, but Ymir still looked like he was irritated with me.

We moved through the halls, down to a hangar on a lower level. There were droids and mechanics whisking through the space, working on several ships.

Ymir strode over to a large, boxy one. Compared to the silver ship we had come in on, this was strikingly plain. She was a ship made for work.

The ramp in the back was lowered. There were several large supply crates and two speeders waiting to be loaded up.

“What kind of engines does she have?” I asked, moving around the back to take a look.

“T7-S84 fusial engines” Ymir answered.

I made a low whistle, “I can’t wait to see how she flies.”

Ymir led me onto the ship and gave me the tour.

We walked up the ramp into the cargo bay. There was a computer array along one wall. In the far corner was the kitchen, with actual counter space, and a sitting nook with a table and bench. I spotted the first-aid station mounted on the wall.

There were two sets of bedrooms on either side of the ship. The cargo bay, bedrooms, and cockpit were all connected by one wide hallway that looped through the ship.

Everything was simple and spare, but very high quality. I did the mental math, trying to figure out how much the ship was worth - probably more than I had ever been paid my entire life.

Ymir pointed out the room I’d be staying in. There was a black kit bag resting on top of the bunk, already packed for me.

“Go ahead and familiarize yourself with the clothing and gear. What we take with us is all we’re going to have on Korriban,” Ymir said.

This trip was sounding better and better.

I unzipped the bag and went through the clothes and supplies. It was all standard-issue stuff. I had military fatigues, boots, a campstove, lantern, sleeping bag and sleeping pad.

Were we going to be out in a forest somewhere?

When I was done in the room, I rejoined Ymir in the cargo bay. By now the crates and speeders were loaded up, stacked neatly in the space.

I wasn’t used to this level of organization and preparedness. Resistance supplies were always stretched thin. We usually had to supply our own gear. Certain bases were known for having problems with theft.

Now, everything was being done for me.

“We’ll be leaving at 0500 tomorrow. Korriban is far, in the Outer Rim. We’ll have seventy two hours of travel in hyperspace,” Ymir said.

“Fuck, that’s the opposite side of the Galaxy,” I said, trying to picture where we’d be travelling, “Where are we stopping to refuel?”

Ymir laughed, “This ship was made to my personal specifications. We won’t need to stop for anything.”

I was looking at him in a different way. We were going to be alone on a ship together for seventy two hours. I wondered what that was going to be like.

When Ymir was satisfied with preparations we returned to our rooms.

IV

Back in the suite, Ymir went directly into his room and shut the door. Ren’s door was still closed.

I moved to my room and sprawled out on the bed.

My mind wasn’t any calmer. It was impossible to focus on one thing at a time.

What had I gotten myself into?

I was going to be on a ship alone with Ymir for seventy two hours...

Was this my chance to kill him?

Snoke had walked around in my sleeping mind and I hadn’t been able to do anything about it. What chance did I have against Ymir?

The light began to change, filtering in gold and orange as the sun set.

I heard the sound of Ymir or Ren coming out of a room. I stayed on the bed and watched the light-change painting the ceiling a rich, gold color.

I thought about the Resistance soldiers I had betrayed just days before. It was my ticket to enter this world. I hoped Ymir had seen this as a gesture of commitment to the First Order. I couldn’t care less about their war games, but I didn’t want them to know that.

When I had given up the base it was to show my commitment to the Darkside, my desire to be trained as a Sith.

My thoughts were getting all tangled up now. I remembered the fantasies I had as a child and how it was clashing with reality.

I needed to stop mulling through this.

Ymir had taken me in for training. It was what I wanted. He had a plan for me. Imagining future scenarios or stewing in old memories wasn’t going to help.

I rolled myself out of bed and left my room.

Ren was out on the balcony, forearms resting on the railing.

I went to the liquor cabinet and poured two glasses of whiskey and carried them outside.

“So tomorrow’s the big day,” I said, handing him a glass and taking a spot on the railing next to him, “You’re shipping out to hunt the great Luke Skywalker and I’m headed to Korriban.” I held up the glass to toast, but Ren didn’t move.

He stubbornly looked forward, glowering into the distance. “It’s a fucking wild goose chase,” he said, “It’d be a better use of my time to go with you and Lord Ymir.”

He took a sip of the whiskey with a pensive frown.

“Can’t you just find him using your Force-sense or something? No one in the Resistance knows where he is. I didn’t think it was a mystery for you, too.”

“He cloaked himself. He ran away like a coward,” Ren said bitterly, taking another drink with a grimace.

With Ren this moody, I might be able to get some answers out of him.

“What happened between you two? I’ve only heard rumors.”

Ren snorted, a sharp exhalation through his nose, “Tell me what you’ve heard first. What does the Resistance whisper about me?” His eyes were dark and his smile was humorless.

This was painful for him.

“Oh they say all kinds of things,” I began breezily, twisting the knife, “They say you tricked Luke from the very beginning, that you were always working for the Darkside, and Luke was blinded by love. Others say you were good, but then you were turned, by Ymir and Snoke,” I was watching his face carefully, “They say you went crazy and that’s why you killed the other acolytes, and Luke is so ashamed of his failure he’s gone into hiding.”

Ren took another drink and I let silence lapse between us as he thought.

“Luke was the one who tried to kill me,” Ren finally said, still looking out over the water.

He felt like a stormcloud, dark and unpredictable next to me.

“Ymir had been trying to get through to me, that’s true, but I didn’t know him. I trusted Luke.” He frowned sourly, “When I tried to talk to him about Darth Vader, about his experience during the war, he turned me away. He felt it would encourage me, that having a conversation would send me straight to the Darkside…”

There it was, that edge of loneliness he carried around with him.

“...one evening I woke up to Luke standing over me with his lightsaber armed. I was sixteen, asleep in my bed, and he was on top of me, about to strike.”

Ren didn’t look at me while he told the story. His eyes were intense, focused on the indistinguishable line between the ocean and nighttime sky. His right hand gripped the glass I had given him. I watched his gloved left hand slowly wrap into a fist.

“He spent his days teaching me and the other students peace and non-attachment, but when I took one step out of line, he was ready to kill me.”

This happened at least a decade ago, and his anger was still raw.

“So do you plan to kill him?” I asked cooly, taking another drink.

Ren turned to me, jaw rigid, “I do.”

We stared out over the water for another moment.

“You’ve had something you love taken away from you. You know what that kind of pain is like,” Ren finally said, “I couldn’t imagine seeking out Lord Ymir for training, after what he did to you and your family.”

I smiled and finished my drink, “Oh I’m going to kill him,” I paused, “I’ve killed Ymir in my mind thousands of times. It was all I thought about for years.” I nodded to him, “Am I going to have to go through you when the time comes?”

Ren laughed and took a sip, giving me a look, “He doesn’t need my help to fight you. You don’t even know how to hold a sword.”

I finished my drink, pride rising hot through my veins. I’d been dishing it out to him, I could handle a jab or two.

“Got any tips for Korriban?” I asked, changing the subject.

Ren thought for a moment before responding, mouth turning down at the corners, brows knitting together. His thinking face…

“You’re at such a different place than I was. Lord Ymir isn’t going to do the same training with you as he did with me.”

I bumped him with my right shoulder and he looked down at me, “No help for the competition? I understand,” I said with a smile.

I walked back into the sitting room, leaving my empty glass on top of the liquor cabinet.

I felt the conversation with Ren had answered a lot of my questions. I didn’t feel the need to push further.

There was no telling when Ymir was going to be back.

“I’m going to that lounge downstairs,” I called from the sitting room, “Want to hit the dance floor?”

“No,” Ren said bluntly, not even bothering to turn around.

I shrugged and went back to my room.

I changed into a fresh tunic, this one was a deep garnet color. I flipped my hair forward and combed out my braid with my fingers, tousling it.

I checked myself out in the mirror. It wasn’t my usual evening look, but it would do.

V

I made my way down to the state room Ymir had taken me to the previous night.

My clothes really weren’t good enough for that crowd. Without Ymir I wouldn’t have any status markers. I would just have to hope people remembered me.

The two gold-plated service droids outside the door asked me for my name. They opened the doors for Lin Siniang.

Immediately, there was a servant at my side offering me a drink. I picked up a cocktail glass filled with some bright, emerald-green liquid.

It tasted sweet, the sharpness of the alcohol only biting my tongue at the end.

I began to make a slow circuit of the room. I kept my expression open, without being eager or searching. I pretended I had a purpose, scanning the room for any faces I recognized from the night before.

The singer wasn’t bad. She stood alone on a little circular stage in a glittering gold dress. Her hair was dark and long and her lips were painted red. She crooned into the microphone while the band played a mellow rhythm behind her. The drumbeat was a light patter and the bassy strings made a nice backdrop for her low voice.

I took a spot by a column and sipped my drink, taking a moment to enjoy the music.

It wasn’t long before someone approached me.

Rajendra Juall.

Tonight, he was in a crisp, blue suit with a patterned silk waistcoat beneath. He was lithe and tan, a relief from all the paunchy starship leaders I had been trapped with the past few days.

I didn’t see any of his companions from the night before. He approached me alone.

“Lin Siniang, we meet again,” he said warmly.

“Rajendra, here another night?” I said as he kissed me on the cheek. So posh.

“Just wrapped up business this afternoon,” he said, pulling up next to me and meeting my eyes, “You should call me Raj.”

His eyes were a gorgeous blue, more green at the center.

“Okay Raj,” I said with a flirty little smile, “What kind of business are you in again?”

Men like him were fun. He was rich. He didn’t have a care in the world. He had approached me because I was pretty and interesting - the mysterious new Sith apprentice.

“Weapons and starships,” he answered easily, “The Superior General brought me in for a project proposal.”

“Top secret?” I asked playfully, taking a sip of my drink.

“Very,” Raj replied, with a sly glimmer in his eye, “What about yourself?”

I wasn’t going to give up anything. I had no idea who this man was. We were going to share some flirtatious chit chat and a drink, that was all for now.

“Oh I just got back from hunting down Rebel scum with Lord Ymir,” I answered, casual and confident.

“I had my people do a search on you,” Raj said, his tone still light and carefree.

That was fast.

I turned to him, my mouth curling, turning my suspicion into a game.

He wasn’t done talking, “Lin Siniang pulls up nothing meaningful. No one noteworthy. Just some girl from Felucia , and she disappeared eight years ago. I hadn’t heard Lord Ymir had a new acolyte until yesterday. Where did you come from?”

This was escalating faster than I liked.

“I fell from the sky,” I answered coyly, “Why so curious?”

“I’m interested in the currents and tides of the First Order. Lord Ymir and I have known each other for a very long time.”

I kept my expression cool. It wouldn’t be a good idea to go probing into Ymir’s personal life, as much as I would like to.

Raj’s expression was changing and I felt someone else approach.

“Lin, Juall,” Ymir said, positioning himself at my side.

“I was just asking Lin how she came to be your new follower,” Raj was saying, his expression open and full of charm.

I could feel the air sparking with tension between them, but they were both too political to let it show. It would be all smiles and jabs.

I leaned against the column sipping my drink.

Raj was still talking, “She told me she fell out of the sky.”

Ymir made a smile and looked down at me, “That’s surprisingly close to the truth.”

“I’ll have to hear the story sometime,” he said, making eye contact with me.

“I’m sure you’ll have the opportunity,” Ymir said, “I have business to attend to with Lin.” He had his arm around my waist, guiding me away.

I didn’t resist. “Until next time,” I said, gently turning my head.

Raj nodded at me, sly as ever.

Ymir took me right out of the room, not saying a word until we had moved far down the hallway.

“All I have to do is think of the place I least want you to be and I know I’ll find you there,” Ymir said, mouth pursing with annoyance.

“I told Ren where I was going,” I said. “So, who’s Raj to you?”

“None of your concern,” Ymir said, in a clipped tone, “I don’t want to find you having private conversations with anyone else in this place. You’re a representative of the Sith Order now and talk here has ripple effects across the Galaxy.”

We finished the walk back to the rooms in icy silence.

I was now very interested in finding out more about Rajendra Juall.

At the rooms, Ren’s door was closed again.

“We’re leaving at 0500,” Ymir reminded me.

“I’ll be ready,” I replied, hoping I hadn’t fucked everything up for myself.

Ymir went to his rooms and I went to mine, setting an alarm for 0430 and putting a request for caffeine into the console.

I didn’t sleep easily. The dreams from the previous night had put me on edge. I didn’t want to give Snoke the opportunity to go probing around in my mind again.

Drawing breath into my lungs, I began to reach out into the world around me. I could feel Ymir next door, a calm current of energy.

He sensed my presence and I felt some kind of energetic acknowledgement, a sensation beyond words. He was pleased with the exploration and sent me along.

Ren was an exposed nerve alone in his rooms. He pushed me away, like swatting at a pest.

I continued exploring, moving my awareness through the palace. It was alive with the energy of its occupants. Even the droids had their own electric imprint.

Snoke found me. I suddenly had the eerie feeling of walking through a tunnel. I could feel drafts and a claustrophobic webby sensation against my skin.

He growled in my mind:

Move on from here.

I froze - even though I was on my back in my bed.

There was a tick of anger in my heart. Who was he to tell me what to do?

An angry child is not a Sith in the making. You don’t belong.

I felt him push me back, returning me to my body.

My eyes shot open. I collected myself, starting up at the ceiling in the dark room. With fear and uncertainty bubbling in my chest, sleep stayed just beyond my reach.

Chapter Text

I

A hazy kind of sleep eventually came to me and the night stretched into morning.

I remembered waking to the sounds of doors opening and closing and boots across the stone floors, but I let darkness seep back across my mind.

The alarm started blaring sometime after that. With sleep still pulling at me, I got out of bed and poked my head out the door. I was greeted by silence and empty rooms, but there was coffee waiting for me on the table.

I poured a mug and looked out into the hallway.

Julian was outside, dressed in his crisp uniform.

“Ymir’s still here, right?” I asked, appreciating the warm steam on my face as I took a sip from the mug.

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be walking you to Hangar Four when you’re ready.”

It didn’t take long. There wasn’t anything to pack.

Everything that I was going to have was already on Ymir’s ship.

I showered in his rooms. They weren’t much different from Ren’s. He had a larger space and it was better decorated. There were more plants on the walls, plush furniture, and art.

I looked through the drawers, hoping to find a tablet, or holoprojector, or something personal, and came up empty. He hadn’t left anything behind.

In the shower, I took time appreciating the hot water pouring over me and the fresh towels.

It didn’t sound like there were going to be a lot of luxuries on Korriban.

Afterwards, I dried my hair, braided it, and pulled on the red tunic from the day before.

There wasn’t anything else left to do.

I stepped out into the hallway and Julian lead me down to the hangar.

It was still dark in the palace. The sky was just starting to glow with the morning light. Servants and droids moved across the stone floors, beginning their routines.

We headed down flights of wide stairs, draped in fine carpets.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

It was the same as when I joined the Resistance. That happened without any kind of plan. We had been boarded in the middle of the job, and I helped the fighters steal our payload. There wasn’t the opportunity to take my things. The transition from smuggler to Resistance fighter happened as I stepped from one ship to another.

Now I was about to board a new ship, still without anything to my name.

When we arrived in the hangar, Ymir was talking with a mechanic in a black jumpsuit. He was dressed well, but still in utility clothing. Ymir had on simple canvas pants, a tunic shirt, and a deep-green cloak wrapped around his shoulders.

“You’re early,” he said, letting me hear the approval in his voice.

“There wasn’t much to do,” I shrugged.

Ymir turned to the mechanic and warmly shook his hand before motioning for me to follow him aboard through the cargo bay.

“Did Ren already leave?” I asked as we walked down the hallway to the cockpit.

“He did,” Ymir answered, settling into the captain’s seat.

He began the warm-up sequence for the engines, movements fluid and reflexive, fingers running across the switches and buttons.

“This is Lord Ymir in the Adilfari, we need clearance from Hangar Four,” he said after flicking the comms button.

A droid’s voice came crackling over the speakers, “Lord Ymir, you are cleared from Hangar Four.”

We were on a lower level, exiting from the cliff the palace sat on top of, shooting out just above the surface of the ocean.

The waves were deep-blue and choppy beneath us. The sun was just rising over the horizon, staining the clouds gold and pink.

We rose over the water, smoothly arcing through the clouds and atmosphere.

Space enveloped us, cold darkness stretching in every direction.

Ymir began to pilot us out of occupied airspace.

“You can start the hyperdrive coordinates,” he said as we left the planet behind.

“Okay,” I replied, stifling a yawn and activating the copilot console in front of me, “I’ve never worked with technology this new.”

The ship was top of the line. I wasn’t familiar with the procedures, but figured them out after a few dead ends.

Ymir gave me the coordinates. We were headed far into the Outer Rim. It was a part of the Galaxy that still held some mystery - mostly unexplored and uncharted.

When I was done with the inputs and calculations, Ymir ran the final check.

The ship was so new he didn’t even have to manually add fuel to the hyperdrive. All he did was press a button and we accelerated faster than the speed of light, the stars growing long in front of us.

We were locked in for the next seventy two hours.

Ymir reached over and put a hand on my shoulder.

“Let’s eat something. We’ll do training after.”

I followed him into the kitchen nook. It opened into the cargo bay.

He went to a wall panel near the sink and pulled out two standard-issue meal trays and put them in the heating cabinet.

Back to military-grade calories.

I leaned against the counter and waited for the tray to heat up.

“So what should I be expecting with this trip? How long are we going to be on the planet?”

“That all depends on your abilities and how well you learn what I want you to,” Ymir replied easily, taking one tray out of the cabinet.

I took mine after and we sat at the table.

I started digging into my food.

“I’ve been wondering why you decided to become an engineer with the Resistance,” Ymir asked as he took a drink of water.

“What do you mean?” I asked around a mouthful of vegetable mash.

“You said you joined the Resistance to find me. Why didn’t you take a meaningful combat role or become a pilot like your father?”

“I wanted to stay alive,” I answered plainly, meeting Ymir’s eyes, utensil in hand, hovering over my tray.

Ymir laughed, teeth flashing and eyes crinkling.

“They definitely wanted me in combat,” I said, deciding to make conversation. “After basic, I was in a unit under General Holdo. She and my father served together in the war. She put a lot of pressure on me to take a more active role, so I threw all the qualifying tests.”

Ymir raised his eyebrows at that statement, “It’s good to know you’ve been a consistent disappointment with leadership.”

“Better a disappointment than dead,” I replied. “What about you? You fought with the Empire. Come from a military family or something?”

Ymir was shaking his head, an amused smile playing across his lips, “I was the first in my family to go into any kind of military service.”

He paused for a moment as he thought about what he wanted to share with me, “My surname is Danakar, but I don’t use it anymore.”

I knew the name from smuggling jobs.

“The weapons corporation?” I asked.

“Weapons and spacecraft. My father’s company was involved in the development of the first Death Star.”

“No shit…” I said, scraping what was left out of my tray, “So why join the military?”

“My ambitions went beyond making business deals,” Ymir answered. I thought he might tell me more, but he changed the subject, “We’re going to do physical training together. You’ll find appropriate clothing under your bunk.”

“Sure thing, boss…” I said picking up my tray and dropping it into the trash and the utensil in the sanitizing cabinet.

I moved down the hallway and found my quarters. There was only one other room to choose from on this side of the ship, and that door was locked tight.

My kit bag was resting on top of a desk. There were three panels under my bunk and I pulled them open.

There were a few days worth of off-duty military fatigues; undershirts, in black and gray; two pairs of drab, gray-green utility pants; matching, collared, button-down shirts. The corner locker had a pair of boots.

I dropped the tunic and leggings on the bed and changed into an undershirt and fatigue bottoms. I pulled on a new pair of socks, but didn’t feel like putting the boots on just yet.

Ymir was waiting for me in the cargo bay. He had draped his cloak over the back of a chair in the kitchen nook and was wearing a sleeveless shirt that showed off the muscles in his arms. I admired his wide shoulders and the narrowing of his waist. He was a handsome man. I let myself imagine what it would be like to be under him, in his quarters, gripping the sheets while he sank into me...

He was rearranging the supplies in the cabin to give us space to work. With a few easy motions of his hand he stacked the crates and speeders at the back of the space. I could feel the way he used the energy, pushing and capturing the objects. He did it naturally, without any visible effort.

Physical training with Ymir turned out to be just as miserable as I thought it would be.

He lead us through the kinds of exercises and routines I thought I had left behind when I finished basic. We did push-ups until I couldn’t lift my own body weight any longer, then we moved on to lunges, and then squats.

Ymir critiqued my form, watching with heavy eyelids and arms crossed over his chest as I strained through each set.

He was at least twice my age, and he moved through the exercises with grace and ease - muscles coiling powerfully, his breath smooth and deep as he worked through the strain.

My body was screaming at me to stop. I was drenched in sweat, watching droplets hit the metal floor beneath me.

We took a break on the bench in the kitchen.

I was pouring water down my throat. Ymir looked at me as I gulped down the liquid, trying to catch my breath and drink at the same time.

“What, exactly, have you been doing these past ten years?”

I brought the glass down and stared at him, lips and chin wet, mouth open.

Ymir continued, “You didn’t distinguish yourself in the military. From what I’ve seen, your combat skills and physical abilities are mediocre at best. What have you been doing?”

I scowled and spat to the side, earning a very slow, disapproving look from Ymir.

“I’ve been keeping myself alive,” I said, hating the defensive edge in my voice, “It’s not as easy as it looks.”

Ymir studied me. His hair was sweaty from exercising, strands plastered to his temples. The front of his shirt was stained dark in front and under his arms.

“What has your education looked like?” he asked.

I barked a laugh, “What?”

“Your education,” he repeated, emphasizing the word, “Someone taught you how to read, correct?”

I finished the glass of water.

“That was my mother,” I answered.

I looked over at Ymir and chose my words carefully as I answered his question.

“...You realize that my family was in hiding the whole time, ever since the war ended. We kept to our farm. After you killed my father, we ran to my mother’s homeworld. We always thought we were on some kind of watchlist. I’ve never been to a school.”

I had always just learned what I needed to.

My grandmother had talked about getting me and my brother enrolled in one of the city schools. We had our false identification, but my mother was too frightened for our safety and too withdrawn. My brother and I had been left entirely to ourselves.

Ymir considered my words, expression becoming thoughtful. He leaned his chin on his fist.

“I saw the broad strokes of your experience when you shared your memories with me. What kind of work did you do with the gangs and smuggling rings?”

I shrugged, “Whatever they’d pay me to do. I’m good with machines and talking my way through checkpoints. Believe it or not, I’m not bad with a blaster, either.” I added.

“I’m trying to figure out what natural aptitudes you have with the Force. There are probably skills that you’ve been using unwittingly.”

“I mean, it’s really only been something I can tap into in the moment. Usually during fights,” I said.

Ymir stood up from the kitchen table and moved two of the crates he had stacked at the back of the cargo bay, directing them with simple hand motions. He set them side by side, leaving a gap between. He took a seat on one and indicated I should sit across from him.

“How did you know you had a connection with the Force?” I asked as I crossed my legs, keeping my bare feet off the cold metal floors.

“I think I’ve always known…” he began, expression growing distant as he thought.

Of course he did. Uncertainty and doubt didn’t seem to match his personality.

“...I always felt I had a deeper connection with the world than the people around me. It started out with dreams and intuition, and as I learned about the Jedi and Sith I began to explore that connection on my own,” he paused, looking directly at me, “When did you realize you had a connection with the Force?”

My jaw tightened and angry tears sprang up in my eyes. My throat was tight. I didn’t want to say the words.

It was the moment he entered our home, the moment Ymir had approached me. I had recognized that the power he had was also inside of me. He had seen the potential in my anger and understood what it meant.

Ymir watched me calmly, hands resting in his lap. I could feel his awareness extending towards me, searching my emotions, for the words I couldn’t say.

“It was that moment…” he mused, “Not anytime before?”

“No,” I answered stiffly, hot tears running down my cheeks. I wiped at them with rough movements, the heel of my palm scraping against my eyes.

“This is good Siobhan. I want you to follow that emotion,” Ymir said. “Close your eyes,” he ordered.

I glowered at him, hating that he was riling me up like this.

He remained infuriatingly calm, “Don’t let your anger control you Siobhan. Use it.”

Grudgingly, I obeyed. I closed my eyes and gave myself over to anger and vulnerability.


Let your thoughts flow. Follow them.

We sank into that shared space of thought and emotion.

I reached out to Ymir, seeing if I could pry into his mind and found nothing. There was a wall, a complete blankness, but I could sense his amusement at the attempt.


You’ll have to be stronger if you want to get into my mind. What happened on your mother’s homeworld?

Those memories were jarring. Everything had been so new and I was still reeling from my father’s murder.

I remembered pain.


The kids on our block know we’re different. They smell fresh meat.

Heat rises off the concrete sidewalks. Sweat stings my eyes. My body is humming with feral energy. Anger is with me every moment of the day.

Fights break out for any reason. Sometimes for no reason at all.

A kid is teasing me about my ragged clothes, my backwater accent. A group tries to steal the credits in my pockets.

Knees drive into my stomach, knocking the air from me. Punches land on my nose and my jaw. My vision is blurred and spotty. I can taste my own blood in my mouth. I spit out a tooth.

I take the hits and return them in kind. I learn to strike where it hurts, no matter the species.

Ymir was responding to the memories. It was a snarling, hot, prideful feeling as he watched a skinny farmgirl adapt to the scrambling violence of the city.

I become known for my viciousness and lack of fear. No one dares try to jump me anymore. My brother benefits from the association with me, but he hardly ever leaves the house.

I get offered work as a supply runner and a lookout.

A specific memory rose suddenly in my mind, complete and clear as the night it happened.

I’m on lookout duty with a friend outside of a warehouse. We’re waiting for the deal to wrap up inside. It’s dark as we patrol. The streets are wet and garbage-smelling from the rain.

We see a speeder that shouldn’t be there. The colors and hand-painted insignia are from a rival gang.

Inside the enclosed cab is a small Gran trying to shrink down in the seat. He’s another lookout, for a rival gang. He has to be around our age.

My friend has the blaster. It’s tucked into the back of his pants. He’s a big Klatooinian that uses his size to intimidate.

The lookout in the speeder begins to whimper. Fear is twisting his face. He doesn’t want to run, but he can’t face the potential for danger.

My friend doesn’t want to use the blaster. He’s talking with the kid, trying to reason with him, but it isn’t working.

The Gran is panicking. Tears are flowing from his eyes, down his narrow snout. I want him to shut up. He’s going to get all of us caught.

He begins to scream and I can’t see any other options. I take the blaster out of my friend’s waistband and fire into the cab.

The plasma bolt tears through the window, bathing us in shards of glass, and hits the scrawny lookout in the temple.

Blood splatters the seat, and I smell seared meat and hair.

Shouts and blaster fire erupt from inside the warehouse.

With the weapon in hand, I rush into the building, joining the fight.

Everything happens in the blink of an eye. Each moment is impossibly slow and ripe with danger.

There is a connection between my hand, the blaster, and my mind. I fire easily and my shots land true.

I kill four people that night, including the scrawny lookout. My reputation is sealed.

I feel Ymir leaving the shared space of memory.

“How old were you?” he asked.

“Sixteen,” I answered, opening my eyes.

“I never had a reason to kill someone until I was much older than that,” Ymir said, and I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a compliment, “How did that event serve you?”

My mind was still off-balance from the memory. I didn’t think about it often. I had been so angry that the kid couldn’t keep quiet. Angry that his panic had completely clouded his mind, turning him into an animal.

“It got me work,” I said, “They knew I wouldn’t hesitate in a fight.”

“And after your mother’s homeworld. What did you do then, before joining the Resistance?” Ymir asked.

“More of the same,” I said, “I worked in a brothel for three years,” I volunteered.

Ymir had gotten a brief glimpse of that time when he had scanned through my memories.

“Where did you work?” he asked.

“Artrix, it’s the moon orbiting Zeltros.”

“I know the area, there’s a lot of wealth and powerful people in that corner of the Galaxy. Did you have any clients I need to be aware of? Politicians? Any of our leadership?”

I shook my head, “I didn’t have any big clients like that. There were a couple of First Order officers, but I can’t remember who, and I can’t imagine they remember me. That was over seven years ago.”

I had been on the run from a bad breakup with a gangster, blacklisted in the only corner of smuggling community I had access to. I wound up at the brothel without any options, and found a group of women who helped me to grow. They became the first real family I had had in years.

He ended the conversation, standing up, dusting his hands against his thighs.

“That’s all we’ll do for now. You can take a break. I’ll call on you later.”

“Sure thing,” I said, standing up.

I walked to my quarters. My mind was restless from the conversation. Too much stirred up, too many years of moving and struggling. It was too much to talk through with someone who barely knew me.

Inside the room, I sprawled out on my bunk, staring up at the gray, metal ceiling.

I didn’t like that Ymir could reach into my thoughts and emotions so easily.

The thought of killing him surged strong through my mind.

We were alone on a ship together. There wasn’t anywhere for him to go. Ren couldn’t get in my way, but Ymir was so much stronger than I was. He could sense my thoughts and could physically overpower me.

I didn’t have a weapon. I didn’t have anything I could use against him.

I willed my mind away from that idea.

II

Time stretched without any differentiation. Travelling through hyperspace on a small ship was always an exercise in resilience.

This time, I was travelling as far from civilization as I could imagine.

On trips like these I was used to wasting time, drinking and hanging around with the crew. In the Resistance and my smuggling jobs we’d all crowd in our bunks to gamble or watch something on a holoprojector.

Depending on how much I liked my crewmates, or how bored I was, I’d try to get laid.

This was not the experience with Ymir.

He kept himself to a schedule, sleeping and waking in regular intervals.

The second day, I woke up to the sound of his knuckles rapping firmly on my door.

We started out doing exercises in the cargo bay before eating.

I was sore and found myself feeling sick as he pushed me to keep going, my legs and arms trembling with effort. Afterwards I sat on the kitchen bench, drinking water, pulling in air, feeling my heart thundering against my ribs.

Ymir made me meditate. He started off having me do mental scans of my body, then practice expanding my awareness.

It was a slippery feeling. I knew what it felt like to reach out to an object or a body. It was different to just be open to the still room, without an action or an agenda. My focus kept sliding away from me with the monotony of my surroundings.

“What is this? What am I supposed to be doing?” I complained, after sitting for what felt like hours.

The only sounds were our breath and the machine sounds of the ship carrying us through hyperspace.

“Understanding and integrating yourself with the Force,” Ymir answered, sitting on top of a crate, legs apart, hands resting in his lap.

“Nothing’s happening,” I said, getting to my feet and walking to the kitchen.

“The Force is the interconnected energy of the universe. It isn’t something to entertain you. You need to learn to listen,” Ymir said, opening his eyes.

I shrugged. I opened a calorie pouch, snacking on vitamin and nutrient gel, squeezing the little foil packet from the bottom. “Were you keeping an eye on me? Did you ever try to find me?” I asked suddenly, surprising myself by asking the question out loud.

“No,” Ymir answered plainly meeting my eyes.

Emotion was rising in my chest and I was in the mood to keep digging in.

I knew it was prideful to think Ymir had been tracking me during all the years between. Sometimes I had sought comfort in the thought he might be watching my movements through the Galaxy. He would know that I was strong, that I refused to give into the fear that had taken control of my mother and brother.

Ymir waited a moment, watching me, before continuing, “I thought of you, from time to time. Occasionally I could sense you, like something on the wind, but I never sought you out.” He paused again, giving me time to consider his words, “That’s my relationship with the Force. If you were intended to be my apprentice, our paths would cross again.”

“What about Ren?” I sneered, “I know you worked to turn him to the Darkside. He didn’t leave Skywalker without a helping hand.”

Ymir smirked, unrepentant and uninterested in sparing my feelings, “Of course I fought for him. With his name and position I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity.”

I was just a girl on a backwater planet, angry that Ymir had killed my father.

I was a nobody, but look how far I had come.

III

It was during the last hours of our travel when I couldn’t push away the thoughts of killing Ymir.

We had spent days together and I couldn’t see any real weaknesses in the man.

Most people’s flaws and shortcomings were obvious. People overcompensated, drawing attention to their weak points, and many more were just unaware.

Ymir was different. His discipline was natural and genuine. It wasn’t an act, or a wall to hide his insecurities.

The only hint of weakness I had found was in the conversation he had with Raj. But that wasn’t going to be helpful here.

It was insanity, but I couldn’t shake the whispers in my mind. We were alone on a ship together. There was nowhere for either of us to run and no one to help.

I had no idea what lay ahead on Korriban.

This could be my only chance to kill him.

If I was successful, I would be an immediate fugitive. The First Order would descend on me with everything they had. I thought about what it would be like to have Kylo Ren hunting me down. He loved Ymir. Ren would do everything in his power to avenge his Master. My life would be forfeit.

I could take myself to the nearest outlaw system to drink and gamble my resources away until the First Order found me.

There were worse ways to go.

With these thoughts circling in my mind, I crept down to the cargo bay and tried to see what kind of weapons I could get my hands on.

The supply crates all had coded locks that I wasn’t familiar with. If I had tools I could probably figure them out, but it would take time. I turned my attention to the panel-storage set into the walls.

The ship had good security. I couldn’t find a way to open them. Everything was locked up tight.

My pride wasn’t going to allow me to give up. If I could get my hands on a blaster, any kind of weapon, I stood a chance against Ymir.

I had managed to disarm him twice now and I willfully ignored the fact that I had lost those fights - that he could stop a plasma bolt in midair.

The crates probably held weapons. I turned my attention back to them, and decided to see if I could use the Force to solve this problem.

When Ren and Ymir were sparring, I had been able to reach through his body, feeling the bones, and tendons and muscles all working together. Human machinery.

I settled myself down on the floor. The speeders were behind me, the black supply crates in front. I put my hand over the lock and began to reach into it, extending my awareness through the mechanism.

I could feel the latches, the pieces that needed to turn for the lid to open. I began to explore, pressing and urging them to move.

Outside of this inner place of concentration, I heard footsteps, and I felt Ymir as he walked down the hallway.

I opened my eyes, drawing my energy back towards myself, straightening up quickly.

Ymir leaned against the wall in a simple grey shirt and drawstring pants, hair loose around his shoulders, arms folded over his chest. It was the most unkempt I had ever seen him.

“You’re not going to overpower me on my own ship,” he said, with surprisingly good humor.

I opened my mouth to start talking, and Ymir held up a hand.

“Please don’t lie to me,” he said.

I closed my mouth and stood up, unsure what would happen next.

After several long moments of silence, Ymir spoke, “I have to admit, it’s good to see you exploring the Force on your own,” he said. “I'd like to see if you can actually manage to get that crate open.”

I looked at him, trying not to reveal how surprised I was by his response.

“Go ahead,” he said, waving a hand at me to continue, still leaning against the wall.

Hesitantly, I lowered myself back into a seat and began to reach into the lock again.

I was recognizing that this was what I had been doing as I worked on machines and learned to steal speeders and ships. At the time, it felt like intuition. Now I realized it was something deeper.

I pushed and prodded at the inner workings of the locks and heard the latches pop open.

“Good,” Ymir said.

I lifted the lid to find six spherical probes, all resting neatly in cushioned divots.

Not weapons after all.

I closed the lid and stood up, planning to head back to my quarters, but I wasn’t getting off that easily.

Ymir pointed to the kitchen table and I slid onto the cushioned bench. He took the seat opposite.

“I’ve gotten a much clearer picture of your life, over these past days together,” Ymir began.

Where the fuck was this going?

“You’ve managed to gain a wider experience than I would have expected, given your upbringing.”

Ymir paused to let his words sink in.

“When we arrive on Korriban, it will be the start of your formal training as a Sith acolyte. You’ve defected from the Resistance. You’ve given up your old life. I want to know more about what you’re leaving behind.”

I gave him a confused look, my brows coming together, mouth turning down.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The Resistance thinks you’re dead. You’re joining an enemy organization. What are you leaving behind from your old life?” he repeated.

I shrugged, “Not much,” I said, “Some credits, some debt, lovers that I hope are mourning my untimely death.” I flashed a smile that Ymir did not respond to.

He gazed at me, expression calm, but clearly unsatisfied with my answer.

I was not interested in performing for him. My jaw clenched and I stared back, “I told you about my life. I never set down roots, so there’s nothing to leave behind,” I said.

Ymir thought about my words and nodded his head, not giving away how he felt. He stood up and put a hand on the table, “You should get your rest while you can. I’ll make an announcement when we’re leaving hyperspace.”

With that he left the room, moving back to his quarters.

I sat alone at the table.

Ymir thought this was a big step, but it wasn’t any different than what I had been doing these past ten years. I was always on the move, chasing down opportunities to make a few credits and escaping bad situations. I had left my mother and brother and never looked back.

His question revealed a lot about him. He was the wealthy son of a corporate leader. He had left that life to join the Empire and had become one of the founders of the First Order.

I thought about Kylo Ren. He had given up his name and family legacy for the Darkside.

Both of these men had family and money behind them. They had something to lose when they started down this path.

I didn’t feel like I was leaving anything behind, because I never had anything to begin with.

Ymir didn’t have the same experience, so he didn’t understand my answer.

I got up from the table and walked down the hall to my quarters. My thoughts were swirling in my head.

After this, I would still have my friends from my smuggling and brothel days. Ahobri and Jukhara didn’t care if I was working for the First Order or the Resistance. They understood that the Galaxy was a big place, and we all had to make our own way with what was available.

They’d still be there for me after this episode was done.

I wasn’t leaving behind anything important.

Chapter Text

I

I napped for a few hours in my bunk and woke to Ymir sending an alert through my console.

I got out of bed, pulled on fresh clothes, and made my way to the cockpit.

Ymir was in his familiar utility clothes. He had showered. His hair was still damp, pulled back.

We exited hyperspace and I was greeted by the emptiness of the Outer Rim.

I had been to many different corners of the Galaxy, but I had never travelled this far out. There were hardly any stars. It was the darkest region I had ever seen.

We were approaching a mid-sized red planet. I watched clouds of dust swirl across the surface.

“So this is it?” I asked leaning forward in my seat.

“This is Korriban,” Ymir answered.

I couldn’t see a moon. There was nothing else around. It was one red dot in the expanse of black.

As we descended through the atmosphere I scanned the horizon.

I had never seen a place so desolate.

Clouds of red dust swirled up, blocking my view. Eventually, they gave way to red sand below and deep, craggy, red rock formations pushing unevenly towards the sky. I couldn’t see any lakes or surface-level water. No trees. I thought I could make out yellow swathes of dry grass in a few places.

As we continued to travel over the surface I realized Ymir was giving me a silent tour. He took us down low and we skimmed just above the terrain, following the hollows of valleys and rising along mountain ranges.

Everything was uneven. The hills and mountains were gouged through with valleys and canyons. Suddenly, I would spot a weather-beaten statue on top of a mountain ridge. I could make out the roofs of buildings sticking out of the sand. There were crumbling amphitheaters and temples half-buried in deep drifts.

“Six thousand years ago, this was an empire,” Ymir said, steering us over the landscape, “We had teachers and acolytes, books, formalized training through the Academy.”

“This is all that’s left?” I asked, gazing intently out the window.

Ymir, nodded, keeping his eyes on the terrain, “Now it’s all just ruins and scraps,” he answered.

We approached a wide canyon and began to descend in earnest into it. There was a massive vault of a building ahead of us, sandwiched between the sides of the canyon.

“This is the old Academy,” Ymir said, steering us to the open patch of sand in front, “It will be our home base while we train.”

Even though it was a ruin, I could feel something from the building. There was a weight to it, something that tugged at my senses.

Plumes of red dust swirled around us as we landed, completely blocking our view as we touched down.

Ymir turned to me as he began flipping switches to fully power down the ship, “If you assume all of the plants and wildlife are dangerous and poisonous, you’ll do just fine,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder as he stood.

“Great,” I muttered, and followed him out of the cockpit.

“You should pack your kit bag and meet me in the cargo bay,” Ymir said, taking the opposite hallway to his quarters.

I moved to mine and grabbed the bag, untouched since it had first been packed.

We walked into the cargo bay and Ymir lowered the hatch at the back of the ship. There was a blast of hot, acrid wind. I frowned and closed my mouth.

“Come out with me,” he called, motioning with his arm.

I squinted in the heavy sunlight as I stepped out the hatch. The air was so hot and dry that I could feel the tissue of my lungs crinkle as I left the ship. I immediately began to cough and wheeze. I doubled over and spat to the side.

He glanced up at me, still near the top of the ramp, “Your body will adjust.”

I brought the front of my shirt over my mouth and nose and straightened up.

“That won’t be much help,” Ymir said.

I craned my head around to survey the canyon.

The building ahead of us looked intact. The front was made from a large, blank slab of gray-brown stone with small, carved window-slits. An intimidating set of metal double-doors sat in the center.
I had no idea how it had been made. The front of it all looked like it was one piece of stone, perfectly cut to fit in that hollow of the canyon.

Ymir was striding towards the heavy doors. He opened them with a wave of his hand. They moved slowly with a loud, scraping sound, revealing only darkness inside.

What the fuck had I gotten myself into?

Our footsteps echoed inside the cavernous entrance hall.

The only light came from the open doorway behind us.

I tried to reach out with my awareness and was hit with swirling cascades of sensation: I felt pain; there were the faint sounds of screaming; blinding fear.

I made a pathetic, gasping sound as I brought myself back.

“There is old energy here. I’ll be teaching you how to parse through it,” Ymir said, not even turning to me.

The entrance hall opened onto a wide circular stone balcony that looked over the floors below. I walked to the edge and peered over. It was all vague shapes and shadows.

Ymir lead me to the right and reached into his bag. He activated a circular probe to light our way.

Dust moved in slow eddies around us as we walked through the deserted building.

There was graffiti on the walls. The pictures had faded to smudges in black and red. The script was harsh, all lines and angles, occasionally there were simple images of people, and creatures.

“The Academy fell during a civil war. It was looted by the remaining Sith, then by treasure hunters decades later.” His voice echoed in the hallway.

The walls were lined with closed doors. My skin was crawling. I wasn’t used to feeling nervous and on-guard. It felt like something - some unplaceable danger - was waiting for us.

I allowed myself to sink into the feeling, accepting the discomfort and the ringing in my nerves.

We walked to the end of the hall and then up several flights of stone stairs. Our footsteps kicked up centimeters of dust that had accumulated on the steps. My kit bag jostled against my side.

I was struggling for air as we climbed, but Ymir didn’t slow his pace so I kept going.

We took a hallway back in the direction we had come from. It ended in a wide room with wooden floors and a metal, spiral staircase in the far wall. The probe circled upwards through the opening above us.

“Go on up. Keep an eye out for shyracks,” he said.

I looked at him, not sure if he was joking.

He motioned with his hands for me to move. I started trudging cautiously up the stairs. I found myself in a circular chamber with a glass dome for a ceiling.

The view was staggering. I paused for a moment, looking out of the dome.

This must have been some kind of observation deck. It was the highest point of the building. The Academy had been built into the rock like a fungus, molding to the shape of the rocks beneath and to the side.

The valley behind us was a large, wide bowl; the canyon walls rising up red and jagged on either side, and hot, red sand between.

I stood soaking in the view, my kit bag resting heavily on my shoulder.

Ymir’s footsteps from below reminded me to climb off the top stairs and into the room.

I stepped onto the wooden floor and continued to stare at my surroundings.

Two giant statues stood atop the either side of the canyon walls at the far end: Stately men, of course, dressed in long robes. I could see crumbling ruins pushing up through the red sand. Between them was a huge door or gate of some kind. I guessed the structure was fifty meters high.

Ymir set his bags down against a far wall. I realized I was still holding mine.

“This is my favorite room. I usually sleep here.”

It must have been an observation tower. The walls were just over a meter high, made out of the same gray stone as the rest of the building. When it was in use, I imagined the room would have been lined with computers and consoles.

There wasn’t any furniture now - just wood floors, stone walls, and the glass dome.

“Room for two up here?” I asked.

“I was planning on it.” Ymir pointed out to the valley with its guardian statues, “That’s the Valley of the Dark Lords. It’s where the old Sith Masters are buried. We’ll be going there in the next few days.”

More things to look forward to.

We set up our sleeping spaces across from one another. I had no idea what sharing a space together meant. I usually found men much easier to read than this. He wasn’t distant and aloof, but he didn’t seem interested in fucking me, either.

I wasn’t opposed to the idea. He was big, handsome, and intelligent…- This didn’t seem like a helpful train of thought. I decided to focus on what I was doing.

The kit bag was expertly packed. I wiggled the sleeping pad out of it’s cover and inflated it with the push of a button. I unfurled the sleeping bag on top.

“How cold does it get at night?” I asked.

Ymir had some gear spread out and was organizing it by the wall.

“Cold,” he answered, “This building is well-insulated and the sleeping bags are good. We’ll be travelling and staying in some of the ruins, and I’ll prepare you for that.”

I went back to unpacking. I didn’t have anything beyond the basics. There was a small stove, fuel, bowl, multi-utensil, and standard-issue clothing.

“Where do we shit?” I asked.

“You are practical at the most unexpected times,” Ymir said, with humor in his voice.

“It doesn’t look like the plumbing is still working,” I said with a shrug.

“It isn’t. You can use the great outdoors or my ship, during the day. I don’t recommend leaving the Academy at night - there’s a set of buckets in one of hallway rooms.”

“You’ll have to show me your favorite latrine. I wouldn’t want to piss on a sacred artifact by mistake,” I said, pawing through my bag.

“The Academy was thoroughly raided during the wars. Ren and I have swept it since. If you manage to piss on something important, let me know.”

II

We went back to the ship for lunch. There were squishy packets of pureed vegetables and protein. I ripped two open, squeezed them into a bowl, and set that in the instant heater.

Ymir seemed distracted. He took his plate with him to the cargo hold and ate while doing a check on a crate of probes.

The kitchen nook was open to the cargo bay. I sat on the bench while he worked.

“What exactly do you want to find?” I asked, slurping the mashed vegetables off my spoon.

Ymir turned to me, not bothering to hide his exasperation.

“There is too much unknown about this place to be searching for any one thing,” he said, crouched on a low stool. He was activating the spherical probes and calibrating them. “Most of what we know about this planet is myth; passed down by people with an agenda, at worst, and flawed memories, at best.”

He fully activated one of the probes, and it hovered half a meter above its divot.

“I’m searching for the facts,” he said.

I took another bite, “Are we the only sentient species on this planet?”

Ymir deactivated the probe, letting it come back to rest in the crate.

“As far as I know, yes, but that wasn’t always the case.”

Ymir was a talker. I finished my calories and didn’t interrupt as he lectured.

“The Sith were a species all their own. A group of defected Jedi stumbled upon this planet. Their conquest of the Sith was what originally began the Order. They formalized training, established this Academy,” Ymir continued to work as he talked.

He wanted to see the same kind of glory. I could hear it in his tone.

“So you and Ren have done a full sweep of the Academy. What’s next?”

Ymir stood, and opened the back of the cargo bay from a button on a control panel. Immediately, another dry gust of wind entered the ship, causing my lungs to spasm. I coughed around a mouthful of food.

“I’m going to send the probes out into the grasslands to the north. I’ve only just started in the Valley. There are thousands of tombs. Some of them have been raided. There are more that haven’t been found.”

He levitated the crate and stepped outside, releasing the probes. They droned off through the passageways in the rock.

I had a bad feeling about this place. The air was stagnant and acrid, and there was an uneasy sense of danger that I just couldn’t shake.

I felt better once Ymir was back inside and the bay door was closed.

We cleaned up the remains of the meal. The food packets went into the trash storage. The plates and utensils were wiped down and placed in a disinfecting cabinet.

Ymir went back to the cargo bay and began doing a maintenance check on his speeder.

“I’m going to use the remainder of the day for my own meditations. I’ll meet up with you this evening. You’ll be fine if you stay in the Academy. I’d recommend looking around, and familiarizing yourself.”

He opened the bay door again and lifted his leg over the speeder’s saddle. With a blast of heat and a low roar of the engine he was gone, tearing off down a passage in the rock.

I spent a few moments thinking about stealing his ship. The idea sprang up reflexively. He had left me alone on his personal ship. What was he thinking?

After I closed the cargo bay door, I moved down the hallway to the cockpit. I dropped into Ymir’s seat and tried to start the engine. It needed an ignition code. That wasn’t a surprise - it was standard security. Some were easier to bypass than others. I began examining the systems, booting up the consoles and digging into the protocols.

I stopped.

Even if I got the ship started and flew off, I wouldn’t get far. Everyone who mattered knew where Ymir was going, the ship he was travelling in, and who he was with. It wouldn’t be as easy as flying away and leaving him for dead.

I’d definitely be caught and killed. Ymir would almost certainly survive.

Staying aboard would be too much of a temptation.I headed back inside the Academy and up to the watchtower.

I almost got lost in the hallways, but I followed the trail of disturbed dust, holding my light stick out as I walked.

Back in the tower, I thoroughly unpacked my bag, spreading the clothes and supplies across the floor. At the bottom were two curved swords, sheathed in black metal. One of them had a message written in a white wax-pen, like something a tech would use to make notes on a crate:


You’ll find use for this.
-KR

What a gentleman.

I smiled to myself as I unsheathed the weapons. Each blade was curved like a scimitar, with a prong at the bottom of the blade that would generate an electro-plasma edge. There was a small button on each hilt, close to where my thumb rested. I gave one a few test tries, and a line of blue energy spat and crackled, extending to the tip of the sword. It made a satisfying buzz as I cut at the air with it. These things could deflect blaster fire, or a lightsaber.

At the end of each hilt was a connection point. It took more than one try to figure it out but, when the weapons were connected, I had just over a meter’s worth of sword with the two blades curving opposite one another.

I stood in the watchtower and gave the sword a few experimental twirls. I dropped it the first time, gouging the wood. I tried it a few more times, keeping it in my hands at least. There was no way I was going to be able to use this thing in combat without training. I felt confident I could use one blade with my right hand. With the two ends connected, I’d be risking my own safety if I tried to use it in a fight.

I didn’t know if Ren hid the weapons in my bag because I wasn’t supposed to have something like this. It could just be a gift. I figured I would keep it to myself for now.

I separated the blades and sheathed them, wiping off Ren’s note with the hem of my shirt. They went back to the bottom of my bag, underneath my clothes and supplies.

I took time to look out the dome, kneeling on the floor, elbows resting on the low stone wall. I gazed out and scanned the landscape.

Everything was dry and red. The clouds were just low-hanging pockets of dust. The valley walls were uneven and crumbling. The statues at the end were being eroded by the sand in the air. There was something almost beautiful about it.

Still, I didn’t want to be on this planet for long.

When I was done staring out the dome, I headed back down the spiral staircase to explore the building. I didn’t put a lot of effort in - Ymir said he and Ren had already done a thorough sweep of the building for valuables.

I shuffled from room to room, opening doors.

The latrine was my first big discovery. There were two plastic buckets in one of the first few rooms down the hallway from the watchtower. Outside of the buckets, the room was empty, just scraps of dry wood and crumbled stone strewn on the sandy floors.

I had expected Sith training to be more glamorous. I definitely hadn’t imagined shitting in a bucket on a deserted Outer Rim planet.

I rambled my way down steps and hallways. The place was enormous. I could easily see thousands of people living, working, and training here. It really must have been something, but all that had survived was a shell.

Thankfully, the rooms were deserted. Sometimes there would be a broken piece of furniture, a scrap of fabric hanging on the wall, or black smoke stains on the walls, ceilings, and floors - the remnants of fires.

Graffiti randomly decorated the walls. I couldn’t make out any patterns. Most of it was written in a language I couldn’t read or recognize; It could be the history of the Sith empire, or dick jokes.

I moved deeper into the building. On the upper levels, the rooms on the outside of the building had small window-slits in the rock, each covered with a pane of weatherbeaten glass. In the lower levels these slits disappeared. I scanned the walls and ceilings with my lightstick. It looked like the only lighting had come from a strip inlaid in the hallway ceiling. This place must have been grim, even when it was occupied.

The hallways were lined with row after row of individual cells. The doors screeched and creaked as I opened them. They were two and a half meters deep, two meters wide. Just enough room for one.

I gave up exploring soon after. I wasn’t going to find anything new and didn’t want to meet any of the living inhabitants of the Academy, if there were any.

After the darkness and stale air I decided to try my luck outside.

It wasn’t much better. The sun was beginning to creep lower on the horizon. The hazy red light turned the rocks an even deeper shade of red, shadows stretching dark across the sand. The temperature was already dropping. I wrapped my arms around myself against the sudden chill in the air.

I looked out at the passageways cutting through the canyon. Channels spread in every direction past the clearing where the ship sat. I walked towards one, trying to see further in. Between dust and shadow I could only see a few meters in. I approached the dark entrance, ears and eyes tuned for the sounds of anything that might be lurking in the shade. I believed Ymir when he said that everything on this planet would be dangerous.

I stood still and began to reach with my awareness, to feel for what was there. I closed my eyes and stretched my right hand in front of me.

Sensation came to me in a low roar. I could feel the dark passage ahead of me, the chasms and openings in the rock. I could feel the Academy sitting behind me. I began to have a sense of the power in this space - the tens of thousands of beings who had forged their connection to the Force, and then the vacuum left after their disappearance. I wrenched my attention back to the chasm ahead of me.

There was something there, something hunting, something bad. I felt it reach out to me, rushing, a sensation like wind whipping at my skin…

I closed my mind off, crying out with effort. I stumbled backwards, falling heavily on my ass. Red sand puffed up around me. I flopped down, flat on my back, and closed my eyes. I tried to find it again, the creature reaching out to me...but I only felt the low roar.

I opened my eyes and rocked my head from side to side in the dust. I lay on the ground for a few moments. I blinked open my eyes to stare up at the red sky, and I felt tiny legs rolling across my right hand.

I turned my head slowly towards it, stomach sinking. There were four black, segmented beetles crawling over my skin.

They didn’t look dangerous. I didn’t see any stingers or pincers.

When I shook my hand, all four of them bit me hard.

“Fuck!”

Fire spread up my hand and forearm, a deep cold tingling followed.

I was on my feet, slapping my hand against my leg, dust flying around me. I managed to throw the beetles off, not seeing where they landed. I held my hand up, looking at the four red welts they had left behind.

Cursing, I hurried onto Ymir’s ship, fire and ice spreading up my wrist.

This was not going to be how I died. Four fucking beetles on a goddamned deserted planet.

I moved to the small, well-labeled, medical cabinet in the cargo bay, and began tearing through the shelves.

Panicking wasn’t going to help anything. I was nervously touching jars and vials, barely reading the labels. I didn’t know what I was looking for. Universal antivenom?

I forced myself to take a few breaths to calm myself.

My right hand was completely numb. I pinched my fingers and prodded at the small swollen red welts scattered across the back of my hand. I couldn’t feel anything. I didn’t see or feel a stinger - nothing remained in my skin to keep poisoning me. I worked my left hand over my right hand, up my right wrist and forearm.

Numb. I couldn’t feel a damn thing. I could feel my arm above my right elbow. I squeezed my bicep with relief, but there was a burning sensation in my veins.

I found an antibiotic and injected it on the skin of my belly, tossing the pen aside when I was done with it. I pored over the labels on the supplies to see if there was some kind of antivenom. Surely Ymir would have planned for this…

I couldn’t find anything that looked like it would help, and I didn’t want to ingest anything that could make the situation worse.

I took a seat on one of the black supply crates to wait and gather myself. Minutes passed and nothing felt any different. My right hand and forearm still felt numb, but it didn’t seem to be spreading. I held my arm in my left hand and looked down at it. It was like holding a stick. I tried to wiggle my fingers. It took some concentration and coaxing, but they moved.

Fuck this place.

I thought about calling for help, or reaching out to Ymir with my mind. I didn’t want to call out within hours of landing. I also didn’t know how to do it. When I had reached out before I couldn’t sense him.

I was still breathing. I didn’t feel sick. I wasn’t hallucinating.

Still holding my right forearm with my left hand, I moved to the bench in the kitchen and waited to see if anything would change.

There were moments in my life where I had imagined what Sith training might be like. I usually imagined being taught how to use a lightsaber, to move objects with my mind.

I imagined that it would be glamorous, that I would feel important.

Now here I was, alone on his personal ship, holding onto my numb hand, wondering if I had been fatally poisoned or not.

None of the symptoms had gotten worse or better as I sat and thought. I decided to return to the dome and wait for Ymir.

The sun was below the tall horizon of the canyon walls, and the valley was dark. I could see orange above the cliffs and rock formations. It felt like the temperature had dropped another ten degrees. I swiftly walked to the Academy, not wanting to find out what kind of creatures came out at night.

I headed up to the watchtower. I put my elbows up on the ledge and peered out, looking for signs of Ymir’s speeder.

Sometime after the sun had completely sank, I spotted a light moving along a canyon passageway, towards the Academy. It was so dark on this planet I was able to watch him approach for several minutes.

I set up some of the lanterns around the room. They gave off a gentle, diffused light.

Below, I heard the Academy door scraping open and Ymir’s footsteps when he came up the last hallway.

There wasn’t going to be any secrecy or privacy in this place.

Eventually, Ymir emerged from the spiral stairwell.

“Hey,” I greeted, sitting on top of my sleeping bag.

Ymir nodded in response.

“Are you hungry?” he asked.

I nodded.

“We’ll eat on my ship. I haven’t had too many problems with wildlife in here, but it’s better to keep food away from where we’re sleeping.”

III

We took our lights and returned to the ship. I held my light in my left hand. My right hand was still numb.

I hadn’t decided if I was going to tell Ymir about the bites or not. Nothing seemed to be getting any worse.

At night, the building was even more unsettling. It was pitch dark. It didn’t take a lot of imagination to picture beasts and ghosts wandering the dusty hallways.

“You’re quiet,” Ymir said, turning back to me, “What did you do this afternoon?”

“I took a walk through the building,” I said, wondering if he would notice that I was using my left hand instead of my right. “I found your old latrine and a bunch of broken furniture. What about you?”

“For someone who asked me to take them on as a student, you’re surprisingly resistant,” Ymir scolded.

I waited a moment before speaking.

“I felt something when I was outside,” I began, “I was standing in front of one of the passages in the rock. When I reached out, I felt...something. I don’t know what it was. I tried to find it again and couldn’t.”

Ymir grew more serious and slowed down a step, “What did you do when it sensed you?”

“I closed myself off.”

Ymir was nodding, “There are many creatures on this planet that feed off of Force-sensitive beings. If you closed your mind off we shouldn’t be in any danger tonight. The Academy’s energy protects us.”

“I also got bit by some beetles in the sand,” I added.

Ymir laughed at me, and I immediately felt relieved.

“Where’d you get bitten?” he asked.

“My hand,” I said, holding out my right arm and stiffly moving my fingers.

“It was just a pelko bug,” Ymir said, looking at the red welts, “They’re attracted to Force-sensitives, the bites will leave you numb for a few hours, but they’re otherwise harmless.”

On Ymir’s ship, he sat me on the bench in the kitchen and examined the bites. His hands were large, strong, and calloused. He ran his rough fingertips over the welts. I felt a wave of excitement move down my spine.

“It’s been a few hours and I still can’t feel anything,” I said.

“Their bites immobilize their prey. You’ll be fine by morning,” Ymir said, “They used to use the venom to coat training sabers.”

Ymir was the first to ready food. He seemed hungry, opening four packets and standing by the heating cabinet.

I hadn’t done much that day, but didn’t want to go to sleep on an empty stomach.

Making dinner for myself was a slow battle. I tried to do everything normally with my right hand. I could still move it, so it didn’t seem like a bad idea. I watched my hand carry out the usual steps.

Ymir ate while standing, hip leaning against the wall on the other side of the kitchen.

“So what were you doing this afternoon?” I asked, while I took twice as long to make a meal.

“Looking for relics in some of the ruins to the east,” he answered, after swallowing. “There were all kinds of objects the Sith used to channel the Darkside. I’ve heard of oracle stones, different kinds of lightsabers. Most of it is just myth. It’s nearly impossible to know what was real and what people made up.”

“How do you know all of this?” I asked as the heating cabinet beeped.

“I’ve been studying the Sith longer than you’ve been alive.”

“Did you train under Vader? Palpatine?”

The heating cabinet beeped again. I ignored it.

Ymir shook his head and set his plate on the counter so his hands were free. “I was your age during that war. Because of the Rule of Two, I knew there would never be a place for me to be trained, unless I killed one of them.”

The cabinet beeped again. I took the plate out and set it on the counter. This actually sounded interesting.

“But you were fighting for the Empire right? How could they not know?” I asked, looking up at him with my eyebrows knitted, trying to piece together the information.

Ymir looked pleased with himself - proud son-of-a-bitch.

“I told you, my father was the head of the largest weapons corporations in the galaxy,” he began, “I was given the best education money could buy, training in whatever I was interested in. I found the stories of the Jedi fascinating when I was a child. I absorbed everything about them like it was a fantasy story. As I grew older, I found myself drawn to the Sith philosophies. I wanted to have a deeper understanding of power.”

He was animated now, talking with his hands.

“I began training with the Force in secret. I was an ace pilot. My father planned for me to take over the business, but I convinced him it would help us if I enlisted.”

“Worked your way up from the bottom?” I said, raising my eyebrow.

“Of course not,” Ymir said dismissively, with a wave of his hand, “I attended an elite military academy and started as an officer.”

“So how did you hide from Vader and Palpatine?”

“Darth Vader and I were on the second Death Star. I kept my aura cloaked so he couldn’t sense me. He had more to worry about during those last days.”

This would have definitely put him in the path of my father, if they hadn’t encountered each other earlier in the war. My father had fought at Endor. He would tell the story on special occasions when I was a kid.

“So you taught yourself to use the Force in secret,” I said, nodding my head, “If Vader and Palpatine hadn’t been killed by Luke, would you have tried to join them?”

Ymir looked down, considering the question, “After I grew stronger I would have. At that time I would have been killed.”

“And how about now?” I teased.

“Oh, now I think I’d be a match for them,” Ymir said cockily.

“So now you’re the one in charge and you want to build a new Sith Empire. You have Ren and now you have me,” I returned, crossing my arms over my chest.

“It’s too soon to tell with you,” Ymir replied, picking up his plate, “That’s what we’re going to test tomorrow.”

I narrowed my eyes, watching him as he finished eating.

“What’s the plan?” I asked.

Ymir finished the last bite and set his plate and utensil in the cabinet to sanitize. “You’ll find out tomorrow,” he said easily.

Next he opened a panel and took out an instant kettle. As the water was heating, he took out a thermos from another panel and a clear jar filled with leaves. Herbs?

He motioned for me to come over, “It’s tea leaves. Give them a smell.”

I came close and took the jar, twisting off the lid. They were buds that smelled like citrus and fresh grass.

“That’s delicious,” I said, stepping back to give him room to work.

“They’re from my home planet. Make some tea and we’ll head out onto the roof.”

This guy was a real piece of work.

He had me put four of the buds into the thermos. I watched them expand as I poured water over them. The buds opened, revealing delicate pale yellow blossoms. I could smell the citrus more strongly as steam washed over my face.

Ymir took the thermos back, secured the lid, and we headed into the Academy.

We took a new path, kicking up frest plumes of sand and dust. This time we took a left around the entrance hall balcony. There were new stairwells and endless hallways.

Finally, we entered a stone tower and ascended a metal ladder built into the wall. Ymir held his hand out and the door at the top scraped outward. I followed him outside.

It was fucking dark. Nothing on the surface gave off any light. The planet didn’t have a moon. The only thing providing light was the stars, which were meager in the Outer Rim.

We walked with our lightsticks held out. I stayed close to Ymir’s side.

An uneasy feeling had been dogging me all day. I kept waiting for something to happen. It wasn’t like me. It felt like at any moment a fight could break out, or there would be some other kind of danger.

We walked for a few meters, then Ymir crouched. He sat back, legs splaying out in front of him. He unscrewed the lid of the thermos and took a drink before passing it to me.

I took the thermos and drank the hot tea; the temperature outside had dropped a few tens of degrees, and I enjoyed the warmth.

“It’s almost like being in space,” I said, passing it back to him, “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen darkness like this on a planet.”

“It’s beautiful,” he said.

I settled in next to Ymir, leaning back on my forearms. We set our lightsticks on the roof-tiles between us, giving our faces a gentle, blue, bottom-lit glow.

“I’ve been wondering about this,” I said, after letting a silence pass, “Ren killed all of the other Jedi training under Luke. Was that on your orders?”

“It was not,” he answered. His tone was hard to read, carefully neutral. I wasn’t sure if he’d be angry at me for asking. “That was his decision, to declare allegiance to the Darkside,” he continued.

“Do you have any other acolytes hidden away?” I pressed.

I didn’t actually want to test his patience, but I was too curious not to ask.

“None yet,” he answered, “I’ve encountered other beings sensitive to the Force, but no one has seemed right at the time that our paths crossed.”

He passed the thermos back to me.

“I just fell right into your lap, didn’t I?” I said, raising my eyebrows.

“You’re certainly confident, aren’t you?” Ymir replied with a small smile.

We sat in silence, passing the thermos back and forth until only the tea leaves were left.

After that we set up for bed, first tracing our path to the other side of the building, heading up to the watchtower.

Ymir started doing his nightly routine in the dark. I followed suit, but I didn’t have an actual routine anymore.

I had spent years in the military, sleeping and eating according to someone else’s schedule. Now I was on a new planet with clothing and gear that weren’t mine, sharing a room with a man I barely knew.

I peeled off my clothes in the dark room, and climbed into my sleeping bag.

I wasn’t sure how easily I’d be able to fall asleep. This building gave me the creeps. There was a sense of danger that saturated everything. I tossed and turned in the bag, trying to find a comfortable spot.

From across the room, I heard Ymir’s breath even and steady, but I doubted he was already asleep.

I hated the idea of being awake and alone on this planet. The only sentient being on a rock in the Outer Rim.

Thankfully, after a few more turns in the sleeping bag, I drifted off without a problem.

Chapter Text

I

My dreams roared and crashed through my mind.

I heard screams and murmuring voices. Sharp, grasping talons closed around me as I struggled to run through red sand. Enormous beetles followed me, their bellies dragging on the ground.

Suddenly I was alone in the vast, scorched desert. I was naked and my skin was hot, burning in the sun. I watched the flesh of my arms bubble then crack in the heat, bursting to reveal the meat and muscle underneath.

I was screaming, feeling my body on fire, watching my flesh melt from my bones…

I jerked awake, eyes jolting open - then squinting as I was greeted by the first rays of morning sunlight under the dome.

I was soaked in sweat. Every muscle in my body felt tense. I shook my head and realized there was a weight on my right shoulder. I rolled my neck and saw it was Ymir’s hand, resting calmly on my bicep.

“What the fuck…” I groaned, heaving for breath.

My heart was pounding in my chest and ears. The sleeping bag was damp with my sweat.

“You were screaming. It was a nightmare,” Ymir said.

I looked up at him. The world was just starting to come into focus.

The room was filled with a golden-orange glow. Ymir crouched next to me. He must have come over as soon as I started making noise.

He was shirtless and only wearing briefs, the same kind of gray, standard-issue stuff I had. He looked tired. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, his hair loose and unkempt around his face.

“You too?” I asked, propping myself up on my elbows before sitting upright.

Ymir brought his hand back to rest on his leg.

“The first night is always the worst,” he said.

I began to climb out of my sleeping bag and Ymir gave me some privacy, moving over to his side of the room.

I unzipped my sleeping bag and laid it out to dry. The sun would take care of it.

My right hand was back in action, just like Ymir said. I didn’t even think of it until after I opened the sleeping bag. I flexed my hand a few times, all in working order, the welts were just red spots now.

Next I started dressing, at least a shirt and underwear to start. I had no idea what the usual routine was.

I was used to working with men who spent their mornings wandering around scratching themselves until they were told to go to work.

I wondered what his usual routine with Ren was like...

“What did you dream about?” I asked, choosing between two identical pairs of tan utility pants.

“The acolytes who fought and died in this building,” Ymir answered in a clipped tone.

“There was a lot of screaming in mine,” I replied.

We dressed ourselves in silence, keeping to opposite sides of the room.

I heard Ymir clearing out one of his kit bags and repacking it.

“You’ll want to keep an eye on your dreams,” he said as he worked, “A lot of the time they don’t mean anything, but sometimes they can reveal deeper truths. It’s unpredictable.”

I cringed at the thought. I had never been the kind of person to put significance in dreams or omens.

“Can I know what the plan is for today?” I asked.

“I’m taking you to the grasslands in the south. We’re going to be out most of the day. You should wear your long shirt, gloves, and hat. You’ll need them to keep the sun off and protect you while we’re on the speeders. I’ll take care of the rest of the supplies.” He turned to me from his position on the floor, “You can bring those blades Ren snuck into your bag.”

I laughed, “So he did sneak them in. Am I not supposed to have them?” I dug around in the kit bag, taking out the jacket, hat, and gloves, before digging lower for the swords.

“It wasn’t part of my plan, no,” Ymir said, “But now that you have them, you may as well learn how to use them.”

I set the sheathed blades on the ground, changing shirts and tugging on the jacket.

“I think it’s sweet,” I said.

“He’s being more impulsive than usual,” Ymir said and I could hear the way his lips pursed together in disappointment.

Once his bag was packed we headed down to the ship.

I didn’t want to use the plastic bucket setup until I had to. I took a shit while Ymir made himself breakfast.

When I came back out, Ymir was at the computer in the cargo bay uploading information from the probes that had returned. I took a seat on top of one of the supply crates.

I hadn’t done anything since we landed except sit on a spaceship and wander around an abandoned building. I wasn’t hungry and was starting to feel antsy.

“We’re going to be travelling for a few hours and I’m not going to take any stops,” Ymir said standing up from the computer, and finishing the last of the food on his plate.

I shrugged, “I understand.”

He gave me a small day pack with first aid supplies, and a bladder to fill with water while he opened a panel in the cargo hold.

As he put together our gear he began to lecture me again.

“I’ve told you about the wildlife here. Most of the creatures that have survived on this planet feed on the energy from Force-sensitive beings. You’ll need to keep yourself closed off anytime we’re off Academy grounds. The energy from the building masks us and without it we stand out like a beacon. I’m going to give you a blaster so you can defend yourself. I don’t want you to attack anything without my explicit instruction.”

This just kept getting better and better.

The panel had a rack with several different blaster models. All were standard First Order weapons. He took out a mid-sized model and removed a holster from the bottom of the rack.

“Is this the one you’re most comfortable with?”

“Looks good to me,” I said, taking the holster from him first. It attached to my thigh, perfect for riding on the speeder. I secured it to my belt, cinched the straps down, and then took the blaster from Ymir.

We did a check on the speeders. They were fueled up and engine tests were good. I was actually looking forward to riding them.

Ymir gave me a facemask for the dust, a pair of goggles, and a helmet with comms.

He secured his bag to the back of his speeder and I tied the blades to my running boards.

“Since you haven’t asked, I’m assuming you know how to pilot this kind of speeder,” he said, climbing onto his saddle.

“Yeah, it’s what I’m used to,” I said, climbing onto mine and taking a look at the controls.

The pedals controlled my altitude, the tilt in the handlebars controlled my speed. This was a huge improvement from my last time on a speeder; that thing had been a deathtrap, held together by rusty screws and prayers.

“What should I expect with the terrain?” I asked, securing the helmet after I got comfortable in the saddle.

Ymir opened the cargo bay door from his speeder.

The planet just seemed to suck the good air out of the ship. I wrinkled my nose and pulled my facemask up.

“The hardest part will be travelling through the canyon,” he said. The dust didn’t seem to affect him at all. “We’re not opening them up, we’ll stick to a moderate speed. Rockfalls are common, so keep an eye out. I’ll be checking in with you over the coms. Once we’re out of the canyons it’s all sand and dunes. Let me know if you see or sense anything.”

I nodded and we started our engines.

Ymir took his speeder out first. His engines sent up clouds of dust that blew into the cargo bay.

I joined him more slowly and carefully. Once we were outside Ymir closed the door to his ship and we were off, skimming down a passage to the left.

Leaning forward on the handlebars, my feet planted on the pedals of the speeder, I began to feel better about the day. I played with the speed and tried to get a sense of my balance on the machine. She was top-of-the-line and responsive.

Travelling behind Ymir gave me a moment to relax and take in the scenery. I still scanned ahead for rockfalls, but felt confident Ymir would alert me to any danger.

The canyon looked like it had been carved out by water or some other liquid. The rock walls were striated with red and tan layers, shot through with deep cracks and shearing points. We navigated twists and turns, and the paths branched frequently.

After half an hour of this, I didn’t think I could navigate myself back to the ship on my own. We pushed onward.

We were shaded by the high walls, but the passage was beginning to widen and I could feel the sun on my back.

I remembered my dream, my skin bubbling and cracking under the heat.

The canyon opened up into gently rolling dunes. We shot out of the rock and began to make a descent through hills of soft red sand. Dust blew up around us and I couldn’t see a damn thing.

The dunes beneath my speeder seemed to merge with the dusty red horizon in the distance.

I wondered why Ymir was making such a stink about keeping my awareness closed off. Anything that wanted to eat us would be able to see us from kilometers away. The sound of our engines would travel farther.

We cruised down into the dunes. Ymir slowed his pace, and I pulled alongside him.

“We have at least another forty-five minutes,” Ymir said, through the com in my helmet, “We’ll keep the pace slow for visibility.”

“Roger.”

I could feel the sand and dirt getting into every opening of my clothes. Fucking desert wasteland…

What were we even doing out here? Was this a mission to retrieve some of the probes he had sent out? Were we looking for artifacts? We wouldn’t be travelling for hours just to practice sword fighting would we?

After another half hour, I began to see something new. Clumps of brittle grass began to poke up through the unforgiving red sand.

I remembered seeing dry swathes of grassland on the way down yesterday. I had taken note of the wood floors and ceiling beams in the Academy, but hadn’t seen any evidence of plant life until this moment.

The clumps of grass gave way to a field covering the dunes. I felt the wind pick up, pushing at my speeder and rustling the brown stems and leaves beneath me. I trailed Ymir, briefly dropping my speed.

There was a strange feeling dogging me. My heart was beating more quickly in my chest. Something was wrong.

I thought I could make out a human shape, a shadow of an outline, rising from the grasses to my right, but when I turned my head, nothing was there.

I was slowing, falling far behind Ymir. I shook my head and increased my speed, catching up after the lapse.

My speeder hummed beneath me, but I could hear another sound; that fucking low roar I heard in my dreams, that I had heard in the canyon the day before.

I clenched my teeth and allowed my awareness to race inside. I was walled off. There wasn’t anything to adjust.

Stems broke under the wake of our speeders. I remembered being out in the fields with my father on the day he died. This was nothing like the pastures of my homeworld. Everything here was dry and brittle under the harsh sunlight.

I felt my mind splitting and I struggled to stay in control of the speeder. I kept my eyes on Ymir in front of me, tan cloak flapping behind him, dust and chaff kicking up in his wake. Another part of me was back in the saddle of my tauntaun. I could smell rain in the air.

“I have to take a break, over,” I said into the com.

“We don’t have much farther. I don’t want to stop here, over,” came Ymir’s response.

I gritted my teeth, realizing I had slowed down again.

“Fine, over,” I growled back.

What was happening? Was this a side-effect of the pelko venom?

The grasslands were still dunes. We rose and dipped with the landscape, the grasses rising thicker and taller as we travelled.

My mind was screaming at me to turn around. We were in danger. The sun was beating down on me. Sweat dripped down my neck. I could feel my hair plastered to my head inside the helmet.

I remembered how the lights of Ymir’s ship had flooded our house when he came for my father. I was there, but also here, squinting into the sun, trying to keep up with him on his speeder.

Ymir took a turn to the right, following the curve of a dune. I almost missed it. I leaned forward and tilted, nearly hitting a human form rising from the grass.

I yelped and righted myself, stabilizing the speeder. I turned back, trying to see what it was. I couldn’t see anything. Nothing.

I swivelled myself to face forward and saw my father rise from the grasses directly in front of me.

I screamed and slammed on the brakes, tumbling heavily off of my speeder. I landed hard on my right shoulder, but didn’t hear anything pop or crack.

I lurched to my feet, struggling to pull air into my lungs. I was panicking, wildly swinging my head around, trying to find my speeder.

I avoided looking to my right, where the shape of my father stood.

He was just a few meters away from me.

I yanked off my goggles and helmet, dropping them in the dunes.

It couldn’t be my father. That was impossible, but I knew his face.

He stood in the chest-high grass. There was blood streaming from his eyes, nose, and mouth. He looked at me, unblinking. I could see the top of the gash in his torso - the wound Ymir had made with his lightsaber.

I staggered towards him and he held out an arm to me. I heard myself make a low grieving moan.

“Siobhan!” Ymir’s voice thundered behind me.

I turned to look over my shoulder.

Ymir was hovering on his speeder, goggles and mask still on. He had his left hand out to pull my speeder next to him, idling under his control.

“Siobhan. What do you see?” His voice carried over the wind and engines.

Over the roar in my ears.

I turned back to look at my father, standing and bleeding in the grass.

“It’s my father,” I cried, taking another step forward.

“Don’t go near him,” Ymir ordered.

My father hadn’t moved a centimeter. I could see the blood pouring from him, and the hurt and longing in his eyes.

“Why the fuck not?” I thundered in response. I felt the blaster on my thigh, beneath my hand.

“It’s an illusion and you know it!” Ymir called.

I took another step forward.

The sight of my father churned my stomach. I knew Ymir was telling the truth. He had been dead for ten years, but now I could save him. I could help him.

I took another step.

“You’ll lose yourself if you keep going. The grasslands will pull the life from you.”

I could hear the wind and the roaring, the whispers of doubt and fear, and I could hear my father’s voice echoing in my head as he moved his lips.


...Siobhan...Siobhan...help me…

I unholstered my blaster and swung around toward Ymir.

“You were the one that killed him!” I screamed.

Tears were pouring down my face.

My father was dead. I had buried him in a hole that I had dug alone. I had scrubbed his blood from our floors and our rugs, while my mother and brother clutched each other in fear, sobbing while I worked.


Siobhan...my daughter…

It was my father’s voice, strained and thin with pain.

I turned back around to look at the figure. He seemed to be sliding backwards, pulling away.

“It’s all in your mind Siobhan. I can’t see what you’re looking at,” Ymir called behind me.

How dare he. How fucking dare he.

I spun and fired a quick volley of shots at Ymir. He raised his other hand and they bounced away easily, like I had fired on a deflector shield.

I didn’t wait to see how he would react. I took off towards my father, tearing through the tall dry grass.

I was sobbing as I ran.

Nothing else mattered. Nothing else existed.


Siobhan...help me…

It was all I ever wanted. I wanted to save him. To save him from the people who had hunted him. I wanted to save him from the Sith Lord who came into our home.

I was stronger now…

But that time had passed. I had buried my father in a hole that I had dug, alone. I had scrubbed his blood from our floors, alone.

I drew my blaster and fired on my father’s form.

I thought he would vanish like smoke, like a bad dream. Instead, the blaster had the same effect as it had on real flesh and blood.

I watched my father’s right temple burn and liquefy under the plasma bolt. His skull and brains were exposed and bleeding. The other shots had landed in his chest. He looked at me with pain in his eyes, collapsing helplessly into the grass.

I sank to my knees, blaster held limply in my right hand. I sobbed like a child. Freely, uncontrollably. There was something comforting in the torrent of emotion.

I clenched my fists and screamed. Despair sank through my stomach and my legs. It was pressing down on every centimeter of me, warm and enveloping. Grief had turned my legs to lead and tightened my throat, working its way through my body and my mind.

I had never felt a sadness quite like this.

There had been dark nights, times where I had sobbed quietly in my bunk, tears rolling down my cheeks while I tried to control my breathing, but it always passed. This felt deeper, intoxicating.

Here, I could mourn.

I carried around a hole in my heart. It had followed me from one corner of the Galaxy to the next, insatiable in its sadness.

My breath caught in my throat. This wasn’t me.

This wasn’t who I was.

I wasn’t the girl sobbing in a field while her father’s murderer looked on.

Ymir was right there, just a few meters away. I could feel his eyes on me.

I pulled in breath and struggled to my feet. I wasn’t going to be killed by this baanthashit planet. I was stronger than that. I had never given way to pain, never allowed it to paralyze me before. I could have died a thousand times over and I wasn’t going to die here.

Anger surged through me, that familiar electric feeling in my legs and forearms. This time there was something more. I felt powerful. Energy swirled inside of my chest. I screamed, squeezing my fists at my sides, my mouth twisting in anger.

The spell was broken.

The crushing sadness and grief dissipated, leaving me standing empty in the grasses.

I whirled around to scan my surroundings.

Ymir was behind me, still hovering on his speeder, watching me carefully. With the goggles and helmet on, I couldn’t read his expression.

I holstered my blaster and walked through the tall grass back to him. He had retrieved my helmet and goggles and had them waiting for me in the saddle. I put them on and climbed up into the seat.

He watched me as I settled back on the speeder, not saying a word. When I had readied myself I gave him a nod.

We set off.

II

Everything felt muted now. My muscles twitched and trembled at random intervals. I focused on my speeder and the terrain and tried to slow my breathing.

The grasses began to thin until we were moving among red rocks and sand. A large rock formation loomed ahead of us.

A massive stone arch created a shady overhang. It was at least four meters high, sloping over a flat rock at the base. There was a pile of boulders surrounding it.

We pulled our speeders into the shade and cut the engines. Ymir reached around to undo the bindings on his kit bag.

With heavy feet, I followed him up the craggy boulders to a flat rock beneath the overhang.

I pulled off the goggles and facemask and set them inside the bowl of my helmet and took a cross-legged seat.

“Was that the fucking test you were talking about?” I asked darkly, looking up at Ymir.

He had set his kit bag on down on the rock and was unzipping it.

“You did well,” he replied, and I fought the urge to stand up and push him off the ledge.

My fingers itched for the blaster on my right thigh.

“Fuck you,” I snarled, “What’s the point of all of this? You take me to the Outer Rim for nightmares and hallucinations? This is supposed to be fucking training?” I pounded my fist on the rock.

Ymir didn’t react. He brought over his water pouch and set it in front of me.

I was seething.

Ymir crouched in front of me, resting his forearms on his thighs, not flinching under my heavy gaze.

“The grasslands will show you whatever has caused you fear, pain, or loss. It has fed off the flesh and bones of weaker acolytes for millenia.” He paused for effect, the bastard. “You didn’t succumb.”

His eyes were warm and brown. He seemed sincere.

I thumbed at my nose and spat, “What? You had to save Ren or something?”

Ymir nodded, “I waited until he wasn’t moving. He almost died the first time he went out.” He relaxed his crouch and sat down across from me, “I want you to tell me what you saw and what you did.”

I was not in the mood.

“You already know I saw my father out there,” I said, brushing his question off, “You were by yourself the first time you went to the dunes, right? What did you see?”

He must have. He said he had first gone out here after the end of the war.

“You’re correct,” he began, “I first travelled to Korriban after the fall of the Empire, when I felt I could do so freely. I had heard about the grasslands, but I wasn’t sure what to believe.” He took a measured breath, eyes growing distant.

This was new.

More than a minute passed without Ymir saying a word. His expression darkend.

I waited.

Finally he spoke, and when he did, his words were measured and careful.

“I had a wife. She was a fellow officer and pilot. We had married in secret, thinking the war was coming to a close. We expected a victory for the Empire.”

That got my attention. I found myself leaning forward, my posture softening.

“We were going to start a life together. We thought the biggest obstacle would be the Empire’s policy and protocol, and I had enough money to smooth that over.” He smiled bitterly. “She was pregnant, and the Rebels were gaining power. She didn’t want to leave her position, not when she was still needed on the battlefront. We were torn. We both wanted the child, but she was needed in combat. Her last mission was over Endor.”

Ymir looked up at me. “Every time I’m in those fields I see my dead wife and unborn daughter.” He frowned, “It was too early for us to know, but she always appears as an infant in my visions.”

Shit…

I was silent for some time, taking in his words.

I had colleagues in the Resistance with similar stories. There were thousands of widowed fathers and mothers, orphaned children. Everyone had a story of loss- of spouses, friends, and lovers all taken away by war. The pain never truly left them.

I imagined what Ymir saw in the fields: a woman with a baby in her arms, covered from head to toe in blood.

The pieces all came together.

“My father killed your wife,” I said slowly, eyes narrowing with certainty.

For the first time, I saw respect in Ymir’s expression, “He did.”

“I had always wondered why a Sith Lord came into our house to kill my father, why you did it in front of my family…”

Those weren’t questions I had asked when I was younger. The event had been so overwhelming I had just accepted it. It was too painful to analyze. It took years before I was able to go over the facts in my head.

Why would a Sith Lord personally come to kill my father? I had never expected to get an answer.

“I was planning to kill the rest of you while he watched,” Ymir admitted, with a shrug of his shoulders, “But you know what happened.”

“Don’t fucking bait me,” I warned.

Ymir flashed a grin and fluidly climbed to his feet, “It’s on purpose. I’m going to teach you how to use those ridiculous swords Ren gave you.”

I scowled.

“Drink some water and eat something, then we’ll start.”

I drank water and emptied a food pouch, thinking while I ate.

Ymir had brought another set of probes and was readying them on the other side of the rock.

His story didn’t change anything. In war people lost what was dear to them. He made the decision to look for vengeance, and he made the decision to leave me alive.

After I was done eating I retrieved the swords from my speeder.

“We’re going to start off with just one,” Ymir said, as I knelt, connecting the hilts.

“Don’t hold me back,” I said with a grin.

“You’re less likely to hurt yourself with just one,” Ymir replied.

In the shade of the stone arch Ymir taught me practice routines with my sword.

He had his lightsaber armed in front of him and walked me through the basics, the placement of my feet, the direction my hips turned, the connection of my arms to the weapon.

He walked me through routines, step by step, then had me practice on my own, making critiques and adjustments.

I did drill after drill after drill.

Then we moved onto very gentle sparring, practicing parries and defense.

By the end of it, my arms were shaking. I wasn’t sure I had enough grip left to pilot the speeder back to the Academy.

We took a break together. I laid out on the rock and I stared up at the dusty red sky, a hand on my forehead to shield my eyes.

“You are not a natural sword fighter,” Ymir said.

I could hear the tiredness in his voice.

“No shit,” I said, turning towards him, the back of my skull resting on the rock, “Is it mandatory? Is there some fucking rule somewhere that says I have to use a lightsaber?”

Ymir sighed, “There isn’t, but it’s a tool to help you channel the Darkside. Building a lightsaber of your own is a tradition.”

My ears perked up, “Now that sounds interesting,” I said, rolling over and sitting up, “Can you show me how you built yours?”

“We’ll get there,” Ymir replied, craning his neck towards me, “We should head back to the Academy. There are only a few more hours of daylight left.”

We packed the speeders and set off into the desert. This time, we avoided the dunes. I was relieved when I noticed we were taking a different route. I never wanted to go out there again.

My father’s bleeding face haunted me.

Now I knew the full story. A life for a life.

I followed in Ymir’s wake, losing myself to my thoughts.

There wasn’t much landscape to pay attention to. Rusty red sand hills and rocks as far as the eye could see.

There were two different stories about the Rebellion in my family: My mother’s, and my father’s.

When my brother was celebrating his first birthday, my mother had made sure my father was celebrating retirement. The Rebels had won, and now my father should be at home, providing for his wife and children. The way she told it, the war only created more danger and chaos in the Galaxy. They had moved to a quiet planet where they could live a peaceful life far away from war.

I learned not to ask my father about his life when my mother could overhear. When we were out herding or tending the gardens, I could ask him whatever I wanted. He was proud of his contributions. He fought so that others would have a chance at peace and freedom.

I held onto the memories of his smiles as he talked about liberating labor camps and helping people who had been oppressed by the Empire. He was quieter about the battles. He had lost friends, even his younger brother, but he had said it was worth it for freedom in the Galaxy.

The First Order sprung up around us two years before my father’s death. At first, I noticed the banners set up in the square and armored soldiers at the margins of town. As the cycles passed, we saw more soldiers and more ships. We began to hear rumors of conscriptions, people’s land was being taken, the First Order began setting prices and raising taxes.

I was too young and too inexperienced to really understand what was happening. All I knew was that dangerous men wanted my father dead, so we had to keep our heads down, we had to stay in hiding, there was never a day that threat wasn’t hanging over us.

Skellig, my father’s old friend from the Rebellion, started coming around more often. He and my father would go off to talk. Some evenings they would build a fire out back and drink together, talking about the old days.

I would hang around for as long as they would let me, listening to their war stories.

My mother and father began to fight. He wanted to rejoin the Rebels. He didn’t want to watch a new Empire establish control in the Galaxy.

My mother had threatened to leave.

They didn’t mean for me to hear.

The two of them had gone around the back of the house, trying to keep their voices down, but I could hear their hushed and serious tones. I was in the stables and hid against the door to eavesdrop. Tearful and angry, my mother threatened to take me and my brother back to her parents if my father joined with the Rebellion again. That was just a few weeks before his death.

My father hadn’t even tried to fight Ymir. Maybe he had felt trapped. My mother, the love of his life, said she would leave if he joined the Rebellion. I don’t think he could have tolerated seeing the resurgence of the Empire, under a new banner. He was going to lose his family either way.

A life for a life, waging war for peace. It all just went ‘round and ‘round.

III

Sunset was falling as we arrived at the Academy.

We parked the speeders in the cargo bay and unpacked our supplies. Ymir made me hand the blaster over and stored it in the wall panel. I confirmed that it required a key code.

“I need to contact the Generals and Admirals,” Ymir said, taking his gloves off and stretching his hands, fingers interlaced, “Do as you please in the meantime. Don’t wait on me if you get hungry.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” I said, leaving my gloves and face mask in my helmet on the saddle, “I’m interested in the data you’re gathering from the probes. Can I give it a look through?”

“Sure,” Ymir said, going to the kitchen and pouring a cup of water, “You can use the code, S7-PQ489. I’m going to catch it if you try anything with the ship’s systems,” he warned.

He headed off to his quarters, leaving me to my own devices.

I was covered in sand.

I took a break in my quarters on the ship. I took off the layers of clothing and shook sand into the grates on the floor of the bathing closet. I flipped my hair over and shook out as much dirt and grit as I could. My hair managed to feel both greasy and dry at the same time. I pulled it back into a braid and wiped myself down with a damp sanitizing cloth.

I spent some time examining the new round of injuries. I explored my right shoulder and ribs with my fingertips. My muscles were bruised and sore, but there didn’t seem to be any other damage from the fall or sword training. Next, I checked the welts on my right hand. They looked more like normal insect bites, red and raised, a little itchy, nothing more.

The other bruises were fading. I was becoming a fresh slate.

I put my sweaty dusty clothes back on. I hadn’t expected this to be a glamorous trip, and already it was lower than my expectations.

Feeling slightly refreshed, I headed to the kitchen and grabbed a calorie pouch before setting up at the console in the cargo bay.

Ymir was thorough.

He was putting together a comprehensive map of the planet. I opened files that had details of different sites and points of interest. The valley behind the Academy was all marked-up with notes and questions. He had data from soil analysis, weather patterns, geological surveys. He had clearly been putting years into this project.

I wound up getting sucked into the archive of found objects and graffiti. I was at the console for at least an hour.

“Anything strike your interest?” Ymir asked as he came into the kitchen and took a seat on the bench.

“You have way more information than I was expecting. I thought you were just interested in history,” I said, turning around in the chair and leaning my arm over the back.

“I find almost everything interesting,” Ymir said.

“What plans were you making with the Generals?” I asked with a wink.

I had no idea what information Ymir wanted me to have. I was surprised he had let me onto the ship’s computers.

“There’s not much going on that’s for you to know. The Resistance has been scrambling after the destruction of their base. Everyone has been reported dead and they’ve been tightening their communication channels.”

I grinned wickedly, “Any thoughts on how I should make my big comeback?”

Ymir shook his head, “We’re a long way from that. You need much more training before I think you’re ready for a mission. You haven’t impressed me with your combat skills and, frankly, I don’t trust your judgement.”

“My judgement has served me well enough…” I muttered, picking at a nail.

“It may have served you well enough as a criminal.”

Ouch.

I balked, frowning at Ymir, not appreciating the insult.

He leaned forward, making eye contact with me. “We’re in the middle of a war for control of the Galaxy. I need people who are political and that I can trust in combat. Kylo Ren is a warrior, he is the best fighter pilot of his generation.”

He left the question unspoken. What use was I to him?

“Okay. Firepower. I get it. Sword drills from sunup to sundown,” I said, waving my arm.

“More than that. Tomorrow we will be doing training on your connection to the Force,” Ymir replied, putting his hands on his thighs as he stood up, “We’re going back to the grasslands.”

I went cold.

Every fibre of my mind and my body was resistant. But this wasn’t the time to let it show.

“Why? You said I did well,” I tried to keep my tone neutral.

“Our connection with the Force is honed through pain and suffering. We all start out reactively. You’ve only used your power under duress. My goal is for you to be able to wield the Force as easily as you use your blaster.”

My first instinct was to complain, to argue, but how could I? This was what I wanted. We weren’t going to be mucking around.

“Okay,” I said with a nod.

I wanted the training, but the thought of going back out to the grassland terrified me.

Ymir walked to a panel in the cargo bay, punched in another code, and took out a tablet. He activated it and began pulling up files with precise taps of his finger.

“I’ve made records of ancient Sith texts,” he said, bringing the tablet over to me, “Don’t think of these as a manual. They hold general formulas, meditations, and personal experiences.”

Fantastic, the scrawlings of old mystics. They must have aged well.

I scrolled through a few of the pages he had pulled up, seeing writings interspersed with drawings and diagrams.

“I started translating these decades ago.” Ymir clapped his hands together. “I’m going to work on my own projects now. You should go back to the Academy.”

I didn’t argue. I took one last opportunity to piss, then gathered up my bag, swords, and tablet and left the ship.

I closed the ramp behind me and just stood in the darkness for a few minutes, breathing. I was on a planet without a moon. Floating all alone in some forgotten corner of the Outer Rim.

My muscles felt stiff and sore as I walked to the Academy. It had been a mistake to sit in front of the computer.

Up in the watchtower, I turned the lamps on, changed out of my clothes, and put on a fresh shirt and underwear. I gave each piece of clothing a few good whacks against the floorboards to shake off as much sand and dust as possible, then laid them over the stairwell railing to air out.

I tried not to think about returning to the grasslands, but my thoughts kept circling back to it, filled with fear and anticipation.

I wondered what Ren had seen out there, the first time. What had he seen that had pulled him down so deeply that Ymir had to save him? I remembered the look on his face as he talked about Luke. Even after so many years that betrayal was still raw for him.

I had a sudden thought: What if my father had known all along that I had a connection with the Darkside of the Force? He had never talked to me about the Force directly, but what if that was the reason why?

There was no way to know.

I took time to stretch. It was the first time in over a week. I went slowly, starting with my legs and working up. I did side bends. I stretched my arms and wrists. My arms were already starting to yell at me for all the work they had done today.

Afterwards I was feeling ready to look through the tablet. I shimmied into the sleeping bag first, then opened it, holding it on my chest, close to my face.

Most of the writing was gibberish to me. The drawings were cryptic. There were a lot of humanoid forms with lines, numbers, and symbols radiating around them. The writings themselves talked a lot about energies, different places in the body where power was supposed to be.

I read with my lips pressed together, shaking my head. I did my best not to be skeptical.

As I scrolled, I felt my eyelids get heavy. It was too much. I was too tired.

I closed the readings and poked around on the tablet. Maybe there was music, something fun to watch. Maybe there was a communications link. Ymir was smarter than that. It looked like this tablet only had Sith writings on it. There wasn’t even locked information. There wasn’t anything I could break into.

I heard the Academy door scrape open, and then footsteps as Ymir made his way to the watchtower. Soon he was ascending the stairwell and emerging, with his kitbag slung around his chest.

He began taking off layers of clothing as soon as he set the bag down, starting with his gloves.

“Any of the reading seem useful to you?” he asked, as he was taking off his shirt.

“I don’t know. None of it made any sense to me.”

Ymir stretched his arms out before changing into another shirt. I watched his muscles move under his sun-darkened skin.

“I’ve found different parts useful. It was written for a different time,” he said.

I idled on the tablet while Ymir settled into his side of the room.

When he had a fresh set of clothes on, he headed back to the stairwell. “I’m going out to the roof to watch the stars. You’re welcome to join me.” He held up his damned thermos as an invitation.

I smiled, “Let me get another layer on.”

I climbed out of the sleeping bag and dressed on my side of the room, only bothering to half-lace my boots.

“How does your shoulder feel?” Ymir asked, as we walked down the stairwell.

I brought my left hand up and around to rub it. “Fine,” I said, “I was going slow when I fell off the speeder.”

The building was starting to become more familiar. We moved through the same hallways and stairwells, up to the same door as the previous night.

I sprawled out on the roof tiles, head resting in my hands. Ymir sat, knees bent in front of him, sipping his tea. We set our lightsticks off to the side, keeping them on so we wouldn’t be entirely lost in the darkness.

They sky seemed clearer than yesterday. I gazed up at the faint speckling of constellations above us.

“Who was your wife?” I asked, when Ymir passed me the thermos.

He took a few moments to respond. I took a drink. This was a different tea, more earthy.

“I met her at the military academy I attended. She was one of the few women in our class.”

“I can imagine,” I replied.

He exhaled. “She was an ace pilot. If it had a working engine, she could fly it. We were neck and neck in the rankings all through the program. At the end she beat me, top in class.”

I looked over to Ymir and he was grinning like a boy. “She made me listen to her, at a point in my life when I wouldn’t listen to anyone else.”

I found myself grinning in return. “That sounds like my kind of girl.”

“Did you ever work under General Organa?”

I shook my head and passed the thermos back, “I was never high-ranking enough. She’s something special. No matter what side you’re on.”

Ymir took a drink. “There’s never been anything quite like the Skywalkers and their connection to the Force,” he said thoughtfully, “I felt the moment when Darth Vader died. It came at me like a wave.”

He stretched out on the roof, laying his head back. “Ren struggles with himself. He’s torn between the Light and the Dark. He sees two paths, Luke or Darth Vader. His mother a war hero, his father a smuggler.”

“What about you?” I asked.

I could hear fabric rustling as Ymir shook his head, “It never held up, past my fascination as a child. It feels like a sham. Peace and non-attachment can only work in seclusion and distance from the world as it is. The Jedi Council was just as fickle and corrupt as any other political group.”

“Money, guns, drugs, and flesh,” I said with a cruel smile.

“You understand.”

I barked a laugh, “I’ve worked in all of those fields. Doesn’t matter where you are in the Galaxy, it all turns on the same axis.”

We sat silently and traded the thermos until it was empty.

I hadn’t expected something like this. The simplicity of hot tea and star gazing.

That night, I drifted easily into sleep. There was still that infernal howling as I sank into darkness, but this time I floated above it. Separate.

Chapter Text

I

Ymir’s movements on the other side of the room woke me up.

I blinked a few times, looking through the glass dome above me. Before dawn, the light was more gentle, the sky a dusty rose color as the sun made its way over the horizon.

I rubbed at my eyes and shifted over in my sleeping bag to let him know I was awake.

We had the same routine as the previous day.

I pulled on the same set of clothes, retrieving them from the stairwell and giving each piece a hard shake before putting it on. It was going to be another long day on our speeders. I didn’t see the point of mucking up a fresh set of clothes.

My body ached. My arms and hands were sore and stiff from the sword drills. I moved gingerly, squeezing my forearms.

I gathered up my swords, daypack, and tablet. Ymir had his black canvas kitbag thrown over his shoulder. We headed to his ship for breakfast.

While I ate, Ymir took care of the next round of probes, uploading data and preparing them for another sweep. I felt withdrawn, eating alone in silence on the bench.

Dread wasn’t a usual feeling for me. I was used to dealing with my nerves before a job or a battle, but this felt different. The fear was in my bones now, making me feel heavy and weak.

Yesterday I had managed to resist the illusion. Would I be strong enough today?

“...Siobhan...help me…” The creature’s voice gave me chills. It knew exactly how to worm its way into my heart.

When Ymir was done at the computer, he sat down for breakfast. We finished our preparations for the day. We filled our water containers and did another round of checks on the speeders, looking at fuel levels, engines, and electrical systems.

There was a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was time to go.

I started up my speeder and followed Ymir out into the canyon.

Today, I put more effort into mapping our surroundings. I opened up the compass display on the center console of the speeder. As we wound through the narrow passageways I took note of landmarks and paid attention to time.

It was just over half an hour before we made it out of the canyon and entered the dunes. Another half hour and I started to spot the little patches of dry grass ahead of us.

This time, Ymir stopped us right at the edge. I pulled my speeder beside him and we let the engines idle. I stared out at the dry, brown stalks, rustling in the wind.

“You may have already figured this out, but the grassland is one large organism,” Ymir’s voice was clear over the comms in my helmet.

I nodded, still staring out at the dunes.

“It exerts a radius of energy, and it’s stronger when you are in physical contact with the ground. That’s why I stayed on my speeder yesterday...”

My heart was already speeding up. I was jumpy and alert. It was becoming difficult to focus on Ymir. Over the hum of our engines I could hear something else, another loud droning buzz....

“...It feeds off of your Force energy. You saw your father because it was able to reach into your mind. It was able to see your memories and emotions. Do you feel it here?”

I swallowed and nodded.

“We’re going farther in today. There’s a landmark, two kilometers in, where we’ll be training.”

It was uncomfortable enough here at the border. I didn’t think I was going to make it.

“How do I keep this thing out of my head?” I asked. I could hear the strain in my voice.

I turned to Ymir. We both had our goggles and face masks on so I couldn’t read his expression. He straddled his speeder, covered head to toe, hands resting on the top of his thighs while we idled. His green half-cape flapped in the wind.

“You don’t,” he said simply. “I told you. I see my wife and child every time I’m out there. You’re going to have to learn how to sink into those emotions without succumbing to them.”

I didn’t want to.

I hadn’t felt victorious when I had escaped the grassland’s influence yesterday. Just tired. What else was I going to do, though? I had asked for this.

Knowing that Ymir was going through the same thing gave me some relief.

“Understood,” I said curtly.

We pressed forward.

It remembered me.

My father’s form rose slowly out of the grasslands to my right. I grimaced, trying not to look at him, but I couldn’t help it.

This time he had been conjured up with the head wound I had inflicted the previous day. His face had a C-shaped chunk taken from it, his right temple and eye socket were open and seared from the laser burn. Blood seeped from his left eye, nose and mouth.

He watched me blankly, like a puppet or a doll. His mouth was slack and open. Blood stained his lower lip and chin, dripping onto his chest.

Even though we were moving quickly, he seemed to stay at the same point, just three meters to my right. It looked like the grasslands were rushing past him while he stayed in the same spot, watching. His bleeding left eye stayed fixed on me. I could feel the weight of his gaze and it made my skin crawl.

I gripped the handles of the speeder and squeezed the saddle with my legs, trying to keep myself tethered to reality.

The grasslands weren’t content with that trick alone. I began to hear whispers in the back of my mind, a constant stream of words and half-thoughts, pressing into my mind.


Why did you hurt me?...I needed you...I asked for your help...Why are you with that man? Why are you sharing a room with my murderer?...Have you forgotten me?....

Sadness and shame crept through my bones. Already there were tears welling in my eyes. I couldn’t take the goggles off. I shook my head, hoping that, somehow, it would help clear my thoughts.

With my hands firmly wrapped around the handlebars, and my legs gripping the saddle of the speeder, I tried to remember my father as he was, pulling from my closest memories, knowing the illusion would feed off of my pain.

There were memories I had clung to, ones that comforted me during difficult times: My father’s wide, crooked smile as he told me stories; the way his eyes would crinkle at the edges when he heard a good joke; I remembered his forearms, strong and brown - how his muscles and veins stood out as he tied down hay bales…


You destroyed a Rebel base...your fellow soldiers...my fellow soldiers...to train with the man who murdered me...

My breath caught in my throat. Tears ran from my eyes, becoming trapped in the rubber seal around the goggles. My vision blurred.

It was all I could do to stay astride the speeder, following in Ymir’s wake. His green half-cloak flapped in the wind and I stayed fixated on it, fighting my own thoughts.

One by one, different versions of my father began to rise up from the grass at various angles and distances. One was of him in his Rebel pilot jumpsuit, proud and bold, with his helmet tucked under his arm. Another version rose with an infant in his arms, probably meant to be me. There was one version of him at my age, a defiant jut to his chin that I recognized.

Each of these figures rose up, fixed me with a look, then receded into the tall grass to be replaced by another.


This is how you honor my memory…

I hadn’t lived a life my father would be proud of. There was no denying it. I had felt betrayed by my mother and brother after his murder, and it made me push them away. I left them without a second thought. It would have broken my father’s heart for him to know this was how I turned out.

Ymir was slowing down and it took me a few seconds to realize it. I pressed hard on my brakes to avoid crashing into him. My head was spinning.

We had arrived at a large craggy rock, sticking up a few meters above the tops of the grasses. Ymir had us park the speeders on the surface. This took some coordination. Speeders like this were built for skimming, they didn’t just rise up and down like an elevator. I felt myself tense as I tried to keep my balance and increased the hover, using a pedal by my right foot.

When I had parked my speeder on top of the rock. I killed the engine, but left the ambient hover engaged. The speeder remained suspended half a meter off the ground to keep the chassis safe.

I took off my helmet and goggles as I climbed off. I pulled my face mask down under my chin and began roughly wiping at my eyes with the backs of my gloved hands. I bent forward with my hands above my knees, taking deep breaths, staring down at my tan utility pants.

Even though we were barely three hours past dawn, the sun was already beating down hot on my back. I could feel heat rising up against my face from the sandy surface of the rock.

When I looked back up, I made direct eye contact with my father. His figure stood in the grasses, just tall enough where I could make out his damaged temple and bleeding eyes over the ledge of the rock.

I shuddered.

Ymir approached me, water bladder in hand. “How are you doing?” he asked.

I turned to him, away from the illusion. My eyes were wet and puffy. My eyelashes stuck together from crying into my goggles.

“That was about as terrible as I expected,” I said, my voice choked and stuffy.

Ymir’s face was drawn. His brown eyes looked darker, haunted. His mouth was set in a line, framed by his iron-gray beard, looking more serious than usual. He had pulled up the hood of his cloak to shield his face from the sun.

I wiped at my eyes with the heel of my left hand, and smoothed back my hair before taking the water bag from Ymir.

“Did the illusion present anything new to you?” he asked, after I had finished taking a large pull of water.

I frowned, not wanting to talk to him about this. “There were more of them… yesterday when I fired, the plasma bolt caused an… injury… that was what I saw. My father, with half his head blown off… by me.”

Ymir put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Take a moment to collect yourself. Keep drinking water and get food if you need it. We’re going to do a meditation together afterwards.”

The thought of food instantly turned my stomach. I grimaced and turned to the side, spitting onto the sandy, mottled surface of the rock. Ymir let me be and took a cross-legged seat on the far end.

I straightened up and walked to the edge, crossing my arms defensively over my chest as I gazed out over the stalks of grass. The figure of my father stared up at me, weakly raising a hand, fingertips brushing against the edge of the rock. Brown skin. Red blood. I could see his brains through hair and pieces of skull. He made a low, whining noise as he reached for me.

The sky was red and the grass was brown and dry. I watched it move in the breeze, rustling like a snake’s rattle. I spit once more over the edge of the rock and walked over to Ymir, taking a cross-legged seat in front of him.

Now he looked more like a mystic than a warlord. His hood was pulled around his face, casting a shadow on his wide features. His eyes were closed, face neutral. I could feel a thrum of energy from him.

He acknowledged me by opening his eyes. I could see the strain in his face. Being in this place wasn’t easy for him, either.

“I want you to tell me what your understanding of the Force is,” he said firmly.

This wasn’t a trick or a test, not this time.

I came to my answer as I spoke, “It’s a power running through the universe. You can use it to control objects, to push yourself beyond the limits of your physical body.”

Ymir nodded, “Your understanding is a common one.”

He took a breath. “The Force is what makes up the fabric of the universe. Some beings are sensitive to it, and can tap into that power. I want to help you access that fundamental connection, find the root. It’s always there. You’ve felt it in the heat of the moment and then it closes again. I’m going to help you open the pathway. This is not going to be easy or pleasant.”

He looked at me squarely. I could feel the power rippling from him.

“Close your eyes,” he instructed.

I obeyed.

There was a tug in my sternum, like a piece of me was being pulled from my body. I felt myself become rigid, pulling away.


We won’t get anywhere if you resist me. I need to guide you.

I took a breath and reached out for Ymir, feeling him across from me. There came the tug again, and this time I allowed it.

We were in a dark place. It was almost like sleep paralysis or being stuck in a dream. I could feel my physical body, my legs resting on the rock, my hands on my thighs.

There was another tug and my awareness expanded to the rock beneath us, its uneven surfaces, sloping sides, the way it settled into the sand and earth.

Then I felt the immensity of the grassland beneath, surrounding us. This wasn’t just grass and roots fighting for survival in the dunes. It was a mouth, a chasm, and it was hungry.

It keened and howled for us. It could feel our presence, our energy. We were so close. The creature reached upwards and I could feel tendrils of power pulling at my feet.


Ymir. It has me.

Without my physical voice my words existed purely as emotion. I couldn’t hide my terror.


Your fear is attracting it.

I felt the tendrils wrapping around my toes and ankles. It stung like a chemical burn. I could feel it pulling at my energy.

I tried to calm myself and slow my breathing.


Your fear is an open wound. You can’t breathe through it. I’m going to show you what to do.

I felt Ymir across from me. His energy was a weight, something stable and solid. He wasn’t immune to the effects of this creature, but he didn’t fear it.

My father’s face swam in my memory, his temple blasted open to skull and brains, the pain in his eyes…


Is that helping you, girl?

Ymir’s voice was sharp with disappointment.

I flinched. The tendrils from the creature had moved farther up, winding to my knees. Everywhere it touched burned.


I need you to find a memory of anger.

The moment I had hurt Ymir rose up in my mind. I felt the wildness in my heart as I watched blood pour down his face.

Ymir was watching the moment with me, and he made a booming laugh.

The tendrils retreated a few centimeters down my legs.


Will that do?

I volleyed the thought back to him.


Follow it. Bring up every detail.

I tried. It had all felt so sudden and instinctual. I was out of control, defending myself. There hadn’t been a plan. I had only reacted to Ymir when he pushed me.

I remembered my childhood anger. What good had it been? It hadn’t been enough to stop Ymir from killing my father.


Stay with me Siobhan. Follow the other memory.

His voice inside my head was low and encouraging.

The tendrils from the creature steadily crept up my leg. The pain was impossible to ignore. What if the creature wasn’t creating illusions? What if it was speaking to the truth buried deep in my heart? I was dishonoring my father through my path for vengeance...


You’re feeding it Siobhan. Your fear is a place where others can control you. I want you to move past it.

Ymir paused long enough for me to shift my attention and actually take in what he was saying.


Go back to the memory. Follow it. How did you pull me to you?

I did it reflexively. It was all jumbled flashes in my mind.


You know how you did it. Think, girl!

The tendrils had crawled their way up my hips and the sides of my legs, and now I was being pulled down. It was pulling the life from me and I cried out, reaching my arms up.

I was already trapped in its grip. How could I not be scared?

Ymir was right about me. I was reckless. I chased danger. What did I have to show for it?

I felt the tendrils… tentacles… tongues of the creature. They were moving up my neck and beginning to wrap around my face. It had dragged me far away from Ymir.


The Force isn’t a temporary flash of power. You have everything you need to fight it. You have to find the threads. They are yours.

His voice was urgent and fierce, but he wasn’t helping me.

My heart was racing and my breath was weak. I could feel myself, my body, out in the sun, still seated on the rock. I could feel myself begin to seize.

The tendrils wrapped around my face, covering my nose and eyes. My body burned and I writhed helplessly...

I couldn’t feel Ymir. I couldn’t feel my body.

The world became silent and dark around me.

***

I had almost drowned when I was nine years old.

My brother and I had gone down to the river after days of heavy rain. We had promised our parents we would only play in the fields. We promised we wouldn’t go near the river.

We had followed those instructions for a couple of hours, until we got bored.

We had climbed out to our usual diving rock, the swollen river foamed and swirled beneath us. It was meters higher than usual, brown with silt. Logs, branches, and debris rushed and churned past.

My brother dared me to jump in.

I wasn’t going to back down on a dare from my older brother. I walked carefully to the edge of the rock. I only took a second to look down at the choppy, rushing water before I dove.

The current sucked me right to the bottom.

At nine, I was scrawny, not that being larger would have helped. Water closed in around me. I tumbled and spun, crashing into rocks and broken wood. There was no visibility. I couldn’t tell which way was up or down. I flailed against the current, gasping for air and filling my lungs and stomach with water.

My limbs were useless. There was nothing I could do to save myself.

All I had was my will to live.

***

In this deep dark space, captured by the creature in the grassland, sensation began returning to me. I began to return to my body and my awareness. The creature’s howling began to fill my ears and it gripped me more tightly.

The pressure was enormous. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like my bones were being crushed. My skin was on fire.

I had been here before.

In the river, another kind of awareness had opened up. I remembered the feeling of surrender, as I gave myself over to a power moving through me.

It all became so clear. The river current moved on its own path and rhythm. I could sense the different influences, the rocks and logs that created new patterns in the flow of water. From this deep place of understanding, I had reached out with my hands, reshaping the currents, freeing myself from the water.

This creature was hungry and it was simply hunting a meal. Its tools were currents of fear, just as impersonal as the floodwaters I had been trapped in so many years ago.


That’s it.

I could feel Ymir again, his encouragement and elation.

The size of the creature didn’t matter. The vastness of its hunger didn’t matter.

I began to rise up from the grasping tendrils, moving them away from me, peeling them backwards. They twisted, tightening their grip. I heard a grating shriek of hunger beneath me.

It didn’t matter. I shed the last of the tendrils, rising higher. My heart was hot in my chest, thundering awake. I could feel every muscle in my body. My hands wrapped into fists as I continued to rise.

I felt Ymir, his strength, the steady hum of his energy. I captured him in my ascent and felt him allow it, making another booming laugh. I could feel the rock beneath us, its connection to the earth.

Grinning wildly, I captured it in the web of sensation and it began to rise along with us.

I opened my eyes and met Ymir’s fiery gaze. His cloak floated around him like he was in zero G, his hair flying around his face. I had the two of us suspended a meter above the surface of the rock and the whole rock itself hovering maybe two meters off the ground.

I grinned wickedly.


So, how do we get down?

Ymir smiled fiercely in return, teeth showing.


You can carry us back to my ship if you’re feeling this confident.

I threw my head back and laughed, releasing us gently onto the surface of the stone, before lowering it back to its hollow in the dunes.

Once we were down, I allowed myself to fall backwards, resting my skull on the rough surface of the rock. I stared up at the dusty red sky and felt the wind tug at loose hair that had escaped from my braid.

Suddenly, I felt cold. Long waves of chills began rolling through me. I was freezing.

“It’s happening again,” I said, voice straining, teeth beginning to chatter.

“Let it pass through you,” Ymir said calmly, coming over to my side.

I was shivering now, my muscles spasming as chills moved from my toes to my scalp.

Ymir scooped my head up in one of his large gloved hands and rested it on his thigh. I could feel muscle beneath the sturdy fabric of his utility pants. It was a huge comfort to have contact with another body.

I felt myself torn between two planes. There was my physical body, the one I used everyday to move around in the world, and now there seemed to be another body made of electricity, resting on top of me and inside of me.

My eyelids flickered and my breath was short and shallow.

Ymir put a hand on my forehead. The reinforced fabric of his speeder gloves was rough against my skin.

“All you need to do is breathe,” he said patiently.

“Is… this going to happen… every time?” I asked, voice shaking.

I wasn’t trying to fight it.

“For your sake, I hope not,” Ymir replied.

He smoothed my hair back with a hand. I appreciated the warmth from his leg, how my head subtly moved side to side with his breath.

I let it sink through me.

The sun warmed my skin, filtering in red through my closed eyelids.

The world seemed to bloom open around me. My awareness was growing wider. I could sense the interactions around me of sand and roots and grass, the patterns of wind that moved the clouds of dust in the sky. It was all laid out. It was all within my reach…

Eventually, the chills and muscle spasms subsided, chased away by the heat of the sun.

I turned my head to the side and carefully opened my eyes, feeling my pupils contract at the sudden invasion of light. I sat up slowly and Ymir put his hand on my back, helping to steady me.

I felt the same jagged sense of accomplishment that came after surviving battles or pulling off a successful job - the kind you have when there’s dirt on your face and blood in your mouth, but you made it.

I grinned at Ymir, slapping him on the thigh.

“You almost fucking killed me,” I said.

“I told you it would be hard,” he replied calmly.

I stood up and stretched my arms over my head. My vision blurred as blood rushed to my head, and I had to steady myself.

“So what’s next?” I asked, dark spots moving across my line of sight.

“We should get out of the sun. The probes discovered some ruins to the east of here that I wanted to explore,” Ymir said, climbing to his feet.

“They aren’t haunted, are they?”

Ymir smiled, “Not to my knowledge. We can find out once we get there.”

We finished a bladder of water before climbing onto the speeders. The saddle was scorching hot under my ass and I lifted forward as I turned the engine on.

Speeders like this were even less stable on the descent. We pushed off from the rock, carefully lowering ourselves down.

I wobbled a little while Ymir smoothly transitioned and gunned his engine, shooting off to the east. I followed him, skimming just above the tops of the grass.

Now my father appeared to me without a head injury, but blood still dripped down his face. He stood slack and motionless, just another part of the scenery.

I had won another round.

II

As we travelled, I congratulated myself on this successful day of training. My body felt open and powerful. My mind was free. Everything around me felt new.

I had a stronger sense of connection with the world around me, with the speeder between my legs, the ground beneath me, and the sky above.

We had been travelling for about fifteen minutes when I noticed a flickering shadow out the corner of my left eye. There was a fluid, rolling movement, like a snake, just grazing the top of the grass.

For the next few minutes I kept noticing movements in the grass out of the corner of my eyes. Was that the flick of a long tail? A spiked ridge of backbone? It happened so quickly I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it or if it was another trick from the grassland. I wasn’t reacting to the illusion of my father, so it was upping the ante?

Ymir’s voice came over the comms, low and serious, “We’re being tracked by some of the wildlife. Have your blaster ready, but don’t fire until my signal, over.”

His tone was stern, clipped. I hadn’t heard him sound like that before. I sensed we were in genuine danger.

“Roger, over.”

I kept my speed up, unhooked the clasp on my holster with my right thumb, and flicked the safety off.

I began actively scanning the horizon, sweeping left to right, watching for any kind of movement.

I was their first target.

Some kind of beast jumped onto the back of my speeder, almost flipping me over.

The world shrank into individual moments.

My body was responding before my mind fully absorbed what was happening.

I had the impression of a giant, muscular, gray-blue dog. Large paws with sharp nails were scraping gouges into the back of my speeder, and sharp teeth flashed from a broad snout.

My blaster was ready in my hand, and I was twisting to face it while Ymir was telling me to fire.

The creature had made a mistake in jumping onto the rear-end of my speeder. It howled in pain as the engines burned its chest. I tore its face open with my first shot.

I was off-balance, but I enveloped myself in the Force to stay upright.

Ahead of me, Ymir was being flanked by two more of the creatures. I saw the rolling muscles of their shoulders, then their long spiny tails whipping through the grass.

I straightened and fired on them, catching the one on the right in the head. I hit the one on the left in its hind leg, but it didn’t break stride.

Ymir had activated his lightsaber and he wrenched his speeder around, decapitating it in one fluid swing.

I paused. Ymir pulled up alongside me.

There were more coming. I saw the grass rustling and spiny tails rising above the dry grasses. I thought I counted four of them.

Pack hunters.

I fired at the ones barrelling down on us just as another rose from the side, diving at Ymir’s leg. It was howling and slavering, with red foam coating it’s teeth. It was the one I had shot in the head. It refused to go down, spending its last seconds of life to continue its attack.

Ymir had his lightsaber ready and sliced its head in half. I could smell the blood and burning hair.

“Behind you!” he called.

One of the beasts was leaping at me. I threw my left hand out, trying to push it away, but I felt resistance as it descended, its mouth stretched open, wide and red, teeth blazing white.

At the last moment I reversed the speeder, trying to make sure my path was clear. The animal landed on the ground, snarling and rearing up on its hind legs to pounce again. I was firing at it with my blaster. I heard myself roaring with effort. Another was rising up from the grass and I wrenched my speeder around, trying to stay out of reach.

“We need to run,” Ymir said, voice straining as he kept two of them at bay with his blade, buzzing golden against the red landscape, “Turn northwest. I’m behind you.”

I peeled away, accelerating as I turned, hoping I wouldn’t fall off. I still had my blaster in my right hand and I leaned forward, watching my speed rise to 60… 90… 120… 140…

I craned my neck, looking behind me to make sure Ymir had made it.

He was catching up with me, lightsaber deactivated, half-cloak flapping behind him.

“What the fuck was that?” I yelled as he pulled ahead of me.

I let him take the lead. We weren’t slowing down. I hated moving this fast on a speeder, but I did not want those things to catch up with me.

“Tu’kata, Sith hounds,” he answered, “We need to keep our speed up. They are tenacious trackers and out here we are completely exposed, over.”

“Roger, over.”

A crash at these speeds would mean shattered bones at best. The helmet wouldn’t stop my neck from breaking.

I took a breath and allowed my awareness to expand around me again. I felt the wind rushing past us, the sand and rocks blurring, the landscape falling away. I felt a little safer.

“You need to reign yourself in. They can track our energy, over.” Ymir said firmly, but without criticism.

“Roger, over,” I sighed, and I brought myself back in.

We had made it out of the grasslands and were rushing through the sand dunes. This was the route back to the Academy. It looked like Ymir was skipping the detour to the ruins. That told me how much danger we were in.

The large rock walls of the canyon rose on the horizon and we entered a passage, slowing our pace, weaving our way back to relative safety.

I started to give out during the final half hour of the ride. I was hot and dehydrated, my arms and legs were heavy with exhaustion.

It was a huge relief when we emerged from the passage, stirring up clouds of dust as we slowed to enter his ship.

Once we had parked inside I slumped over the center console, letting my covered face rest against the smooth glass. It was hot, but not unbearable.

“Are you alright?” Ymir asked as he removed his helmet.

I straightened up reluctantly. “I’ll be fine,” I said. I began unclipping my helmet. I rolled the facemask under my chin, and tugged the goggles all the way down around my neck. “Those things came out of nowhere!” I said, carefully swinging my right leg over the saddle and sliding off the speeder.

“I should have been more careful,” he said, not hiding the tiredness in his voice.

That was unexpected. I stopped to watch him while he talked.

“Tu’kata hunt Force-sensitives. We must have looked like a spotlight to them when we were working out there.” He paused, face drawing together in thought, “I’ve never seen them anywhere near the grasslands before. Their species has a connection to the Force. That place has a similar effect on them as it has on us.”

“I tried to push one of them away and I felt it resist me,” I told him.

I left my gear on the speeder and walked to the cushioned bench in the kitchen. I slumped down heavily, leaning my head against the cool metal wall, letting my arms dangle between my thighs.

Ymir poured water for both of us and handed me a glass.

“You’re welcome to take time to rest. I don’t have anything else planned for you today.”

How generous.

I wondered if Ymir was just trying to save face. He looked exhausted. His hair was plastered to his skull and his face was tinged with red. I know I didn’t look any better. I could feel the hair stuck to the sides of my face. I gave him a tired smile and drank the water.

“What about you?” I asked, standing up and shuffling over to the faucet to refill the cup.

Ymir took a seat at the table, allowing himself to sprawl out. “I’m going to take a moment to rest then get back to work on the data from the probes.”

I drained the cup at the faucet and refilled it. “Well, I’ll be in my quarters. Wake me up if I sleep in too late,” I said, and moved slowly down the hall.

Ymir hadn’t retrieved my blaster.

Inside my quarters I unstrapped the holster, confirmed the safety was on, and set it on the shelf inside my bunk. I set the cup down next to it and unlaced my boots, kicking them off into a corner and peeling the socks off of my sweaty feet and throwing them in the same direction.

I fell backward onto the bed and fell asleep instantly, free from dreams and thoughts.

III

I woke in stages, letting myself turn over in the bed to find a comfortable spot and drifting back to sleep, then repeating the process. After four or five rounds of this I decided I was ready to wake up.

I had no idea how long it had been.

My muscles were stiff as I reached out for the cup of water and I chugged it in bed, trying not to spill water on myself.

I stood up and shucked off the dusty, sweaty clothes. I went to the bathing closet and rubbed myself down, shaking out my hair, feeling how greasy it was as I combed my fingers through.

I wasn’t about to put my old clothes back on. I searched the room for something else to wear.

The panel underneath the bunk still had a few sets of leisure clothing left. I pulled on fresh underwear, a sleeveless black shirt, and loose, gray pants with elastic at the waistband and ankles.

When I ventured back out to the cargo bay, Ymir was set up at the computer, hunched forward, reading the display.

He had also bathed and changed. His hair was damp, a darker shade of gray. He was wearing a thin, long-sleeved shirt that hugged his shoulders and waist. His pants were loose, made out of some kind of homespun, red fabric. The red was faded with age. This was some of his own clothing, not standard-issue stuff.

“What time is it?” I asked, stifling a yawn.

“Past sunset. You were in your quarters about four hours.”

I stretched my spine, using the wall as leverage while I twisted, “Feels like it,” I said, rolling my neck a few times.

I moved over to the kitchen and pulled a meal tray out from a panel. Meat, starch, and veg. I unwrapped it and put it in the heating cabinet, mouth watering as I waited.

“Can I bring you anything?” I asked.

“I already ate. Thanks,” he said, clearly absorbed in his work.

I took my little food container over to the kitchen table and tried to take time enjoying it, not just inhaling calories.

When I had finished my meal and cleaned up, I walked over to Ymir and took a seat on a supply crate, watching him work.

He didn’t give me any attention and I felt my eyes start going out of focus as I sat.

I shook my head and stood up. “I’m going back to sleep,” I announced.

Ymir turned around in his chair and looked at me, blinking and stretching his arms over his head.

He was made of muscle. The shirt stretched across his chest and outlined the contours of his arms.

Suddenly I was imagining him fucking me against the wall, what it would feel like to have his hands on my hips, pushing deep into me…

I squashed that thought quickly.

“I should do the same,” Ymir said, yawning widely and pushing his chair back from the console, “Start heating water for tea.”

I shrugged and went back to the cabinet.

When the tea was made we walked to the Academy together.

There was an easy, relaxed feeling between us.

“Do you play Dejarik?” Ymir asked as we climbed the stairs.

I laughed and gave him a look, “Sure thing. Is that how you like to waste time?”

“I don’t waste my time,” Ymir replied with a little curl to his lips. I sighed.

Up in the watchtower, he set up a holoprojector. It was the board and pieces I was used to. There were dozens of regional variation. We’d be speaking our commands for the pieces to move.

“Playing Dejarik, huh,” I said with a smile, settling onto the floor, using my sleeping bag as a cushion, “This reminds me of being in the barracks with nothing to do.”

“The first move is yours.” Ymir passed me the thermos with a smile and I took a sip.I made a classic start, a defensive move that protected my other pieces. “What are you used to doing when you have downtime on an assignment?” he asked.

His opening move was aggressive. I’d have to respond to it.

“Oh, as much nothing as I can get away with,” I said, countering, moving up a piece from the back of the board, “How about you? When you were a hotshot pilot, what were you getting up to?”

“Nothing particularly interesting - there was my reputation to consider - but I had a betting ring going with a few of the officers. We’d play for money or contraband,” he said, and made a move that looked to me like he was laying a trap.

After everything that had happened today, I was grateful to be playing a game. It gave me the chance to clear my head, to do something that felt familiar.

I had always been part of a crew. These were the moments I liked the most. We’d all be having our own time, jostling with one another. There’d be someone singing or making music, someone else trying to start a card game. We’d find out who had the booze, who wanted to party. There were always different personalities, the little clashes and annoyances. But no matter where I was, no matter what crew I was with, I always found a way to make it my home.

We played the game in a friendly way, both of us putting in some effort without being deeply invested. I was right about Ymir trying to set a trap for my pieces, and I let him think he had me until I countered with four decisive moves.

I won by the skin of my teeth.

“Next time we’re playing for money,” I said with a wink.

Ymir laughed and shook his head, turning off the projector.

We settled into our sides of the room, our sleeping bags rustling as we got comfortable.

Before I knew it, my eyes were closed and I had drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

I

I woke up to the dusty-rose sky as the sun began to slide over the horizon.

I stretched my arms and legs out, yawning loudly before I noticed I was the first one awake. Ymir was breathing peacefully on the other side of the room.

Moving as quietly as I could, I propped myself up, trying to get a look. The head of the First Order was completely absorbed by sleep, just a few meters away from me.

I could make out the side of his face, half covered by his hair and the black sleeping bag. His broad face was relaxed, mouth slightly open.

Was I wasting the perfect moment to try to kill him?

Ymir had left me with the blaster, but it was all the way back his ship. My swords were still strapped to the speeder.

What would I do without weapons? Climb on top and try to strangle him?

I thought about how it would feel to straddle his hips, my hands on his chest…

I stayed buried in my sleeping bag watching him, studying him.

And here I was without a fucking blaster.

I didn’t want Ymir to catch me watching him. It wasn’t going to do me any good to keep fantasizing like this.

Quietly, I shimmied out of the sleeping bag and went to take a piss. I found the room with the buckets and picked one.

When I returned to the watchtower Ymir was beginning to move. He was propped up on his elbows, shirtless, the sleeping bag pushed down to his hips.

“Morning,” I said, standing in my underwear at the top of the stairwell.

“Morning,” he replied.

I walked back to my sleeping bag and sat on top.

Ymir was on the move, climbing out of his.

“I we’re going to travel today,” Ymir began, once more the authority in the room, “I still want us to get out to the ruins southeast of here. The dunes have shifted since my last visit and I believe it’s the site of the old Library.”

“Think we’ll find anything good?” I asked, pulling on a fresh shirt and the other pair of utility pants.

“It’s hard to say. This entire planet was dismantled during the civil war. There have been countless raids, excavations, and burglaries,” he answered, starting to get dressed for the day. “This will be good preparation before I take you to the Valley of the Dark Lords. I am looking for artifacts there. There’s a real chance we can find something of interest. The rancors in the valley have kept the site somewhat intact.”

I frowned, “There are rancors in the valley?”

It made sense. This planet was a scorching-hot hellhole. They thrived in the worst conditions.

“These are a special breed, created through Darkside alchemy. They were made specifically to hunt Sith.”

“Why would anyone do that? Aren’t they dangerous enough already?”

Ymir laughed.

I pressed on, “The Hutts haven’t given up on feeding people to rancors. I’ve had the pleasure of watching a man get eaten alive by one. It was fucking horrifying.” I allowed my mouth to twist with disgust.

“Then you understand how cautious we need to be when we visit the valley,” Ymir said easily, adjusting his jacket and securing his half cape.

Each day kept getting better and better…

“What did I sign up for again?”

Ymir ignored me, “I want us to go and hunt down that pack of tu’kata this evening.” He was starting to pack up his side of the room, deflating the sleeping pad, “You should pack your things for a stay overnight. I have the tent in my ship.”

He didn’t sound like he was joking.

I stared at him with disbelief.

Yesterday we had almost been killed. He was the one who had given orders to retreat. Now he wanted to pick a fight?

“I seem to remember us needing to run away,” I said, arching an eyebrow.

He looked at me from across the room. “I was taken by surprise yesterday,” he admitted, “I’ve never seen them in the grasslands before. Now we can be more prepared.”

I didn’t want to start an argument with Ymir, but this plan was insane. Everything we had done on this planet was insane.

I reminded myself I was here for training, and that it was working. Yesterday I had felt so in touch with my power. I felt complete. Even now I felt more connected with the world around me. My body awareness in the room was sharper. I hadn’t felt the same amount of unease in the Academy as I did that first night.

Keeping my mouth shut, I started packing up my things, arranging the gear and clothing so they’d fit in the bag.

“You haven’t had any real training on cloaking yourself. That’s how the tu’kata found us,” Ymir said. He thinking out loud, pausing as he put the information together, “They probably sensed us the day before, and hung around the area in case we returned. When you broke free yesterday it must have looked like a beacon to them.”

I stopped what I was doing and turned to Ymir, “You’ve used that term a few times now. What do you mean?”

He strode over to my side of the room and took a seat on the floor. He was fully dressed in his usual outfit: sturdy boots, a fresh pair of utility pants, jacket, the half-cape wrapped around his shoulders making them look even wider. He had his lecturing expression on, but his eyes were distant as he thought.

“Being able to mask your connection to the Force used to be a basic skill for survival for the Sith. Back when we were at war with the Jedi, discovery meant death. When we used the Rule of Two we kept ourselves hidden. We developed ways of masking our auras.”

“Like how I kept myself closed off when Ren was interrogating me?”

Ymir was thoughtful. “Yes. It’s similar to that, but with your energetic aura, not just your thoughts. Try to reach out for me.”

I obeyed, closing my eyes and sinking into that shared space of the Force. Ymir’s energy was familiar to me by now. It was solid and heavy, unwavering. I reached out for him, sitting right in front of me, and I couldn’t feel a thing.

I tried again, teasing and pulling. He was there, a living breathing person directly in front of me, but I couldn’t get a read on his energy.

“Now that seems useful,” I said, opening my eyes.

Ymir smiled and relaxed. I could feel his transition.

“We are living in a very different time. Skywalker has put himself into exile. We don’t have to hide from the Jedi anymore. Still, we’re hardly the only Force-sensitive beings in the Galaxy and I can’t imagine that he will stay in hiding forever.”

“And he’s hidden himself well enough that you and Ren can’t sense him.”

Ymir’s expression was grave, “Skywalker is one of the most powerful Jedi that has ever lived. He has decades of experience, forged during a time of war. He won’t be found unless he wants to be found, at least not through that method.

I thought about Ren and his assignment to track down the map to Luke, a shit detail if there ever was one. Poor bastard.

“Are you sure you want to teach me this? Disappearing is a powerful skill to have,” I said wickedly.

“It takes years of practice and training to be undetectable to beings like the Supreme Leader and myself,” Ymir said dismissively, “This will help keep you alive while we train here.” He clapped his hands together. “Now let’s practice. Show me how you usually close yourself off.”

I took a breath and drew inward, that feeling of closing doors in a dark hallway. I felt Ymir reach out for me, hovering at the edges.

“You do a passable job,” he said. “We need to go a layer deeper. Can you feel it?”

I nodded. After yesterday, this practice made more sense to me. I could sense the edges of my awareness, of my power, and I began to fold it inwards.

Ymir was prodding and tugging as I went, showing me where the weak spots were. I rushed ahead of him, pulling inwards, containing myself. I breathed and explored what else I could do.

I hadn’t packed my little camping stove yet. I tried to lift it while keeping my aura muted.

It took effort, like trying to lace up a pair of boots while wearing mittens. The small black box rattled and shook, rising a few centimeters off the wood floor.

“Good...you understand,” Ymir said.

I sighed and released my control over the box. It clattered against the floorboards, falling over on its side, and Ymir gave me a look of disapproval.

“We’ll continue to work on this while we travel. You have a grasp of the idea and that will do for now.”

I released everything, rolling my shoulders back. It felt disorienting to move between these different layers of awareness.

Ymir rose to his feet in one fluid movement. “Finish packing your things and meet me on the ship.”

He shouldered his two kit bags and headed downstairs.

This part of the day was beginning to feel routine and, for once, I was grateful to be working on something boring.

We ate breakfast at the small, round table in the kitchen, getting a decent amount of calories in us before we headed out into the wilderness for a day and a half.

Next, we packed up our speeders, distributing weight equally. Ymir had prepared us with sturdy, reinforced, travel packs that attached to the front and back sides of the speeder. The ones on the back end were small crates. We’d keep our food and water there, protected from the wildlife - fifteen liters of water, in addition to our water bladders, and three days worth of calories..

On the front we had our sleeping bags and pads, extra layers of clothes, our lightsticks, a camp stove, bags to store our trash and human waste, and one tent.

Ymir had us armed to the teeth. He had me pack the swords, a large hunting knife that I attached to my belt, and a long-range blaster rifle.

I gave him a look when he handed it to me.

“Is this all to hunt down a pack of wild dogs?” I asked. The rifle had a strap, and I slung it across my chest, adjusting it around the small daypack.

“I can take it back if you don’t want it,” Ymir said with a smile, holding out his hand to take the rifle from me.

“I’ll find a way to make it useful,” I said, patting the stock.

I went to my quarters and retrieved my blaster and holster, strapping it to my right leg.

We did engine checks and did one last verbal checklist of supplies. Once everything was confirmed, Ymir opened the cargo bay door and we headed out into the world.

I cloaked myself as we left, folding in the edges of my awareness.

As we skimmed through the narrow passageways in the rock I began to feel small and vulnerable. If anything turned ugly there was no one else to help. We were just two humans on an empty desert planet.

This time we headed southwest through the canyon, not taking the usual route to the dunes.

We had taken our time getting ready, and the sun was up and blazing by the time we exited the canyon. Today felt hotter than usual. I was sweating under my jacket and could feel a slight lift under the speeder as heat radiated off the sand dunes.

We traveled for half an hour, and the landscape began to look less alien. The terrain became flatter and dustier. After another hour we were in a proper, rocky desert.

The landscape was a less aggressive shade of red. There were boulders scattered around us and short, gnarled trees, long dead. They stood less than two meters high, with twisted trunks ending in a few stumpy branches emerging at the top. They were just skeletons, bleached from the sun and sand.

Ymir began to slow down. “Let’s take a break,” he said over the comms.

We parked our speeders by a clump of boulders and tree trunks. They created a pathetic amount of shade, but it was more than nothing.

I swung my legs around and climbed off the speeder, pulling my face mask down and taking long pulls of water, then I unhooked my helmet and dumped some over my head.

It was so fucking quiet out here. Usually there would be sounds of animals, things that flew, things that crawled. Out here, there was almost nothing. There was just oppressive heat and the currents of air high above us.

“How are you holding up?” Ymir asked.

“I’m okay,” I said, appreciating the cool water running down my hair and neck, soaking into the collar of my shirt. “How much longer do we have?”

Ymir was taking a long gulp of water himself. “Probably another hour,” he answered when he was done. “Any trouble keeping yourself cloaked?”

I shook my head, “It’s tiring, but what else is new? Should we be keeping an eye out for those dogs?” I asked, putting my helmet on.

“Frankly, I don’t know. We’re many kilometers out from their usual territory, but after yesterday it’s hard to say that with any certainty.”

I closed my eyes and began to reach out for them, keeping myself cloaked, seeing if I could scan for them. Ymir put a hand on my upper arm, stopping me.

“Not yet,” he said seriously.

I stepped back and he let me go.

“Alright, alright,” I said defensively.

We drank more water, then it was back onto the speeders.

The landscape was flat. We kicked up dust, dodging boulders and twisted, brittle tree trunks. Everything was dry and sun-bleached.

After another forty-five minutes we slowed our pace.

“We’re getting close, but my maps are rough, over,” Ymir said.

The land began to look different, and it took me a second to realize what had changed.

“Are we on a road? Over,” I asked.

“Looks like it to me. We’re on the right track, over.”

The road began to lead us downhill. Hard, packed sand gave way to steep red hills. The road was unmistakable now, a carved path with rocks lining the sides. I realized the meager trees had completely disappeared from the landscape.

We approached a steep drop-off in the road. A large, black, stone building sat at the bottom. It was an enormous, looming thing. It glittered and shone in the dusty sunlight.

Ymir was a more adventurous pilot than I was. He nosed his speeder down the drop-off. I followed, fighting to keep my balance on the speeder, attempting to use the Force to keep myself upright. I went as quickly as I could, trying not to let Ymir get too far ahead.

We pulled into the valley floor, parking our speeders by a pile of boulders a few meters from the entrance.

“Well ain’t that somethin’,” I said, pulling down my facemask and unbuckling my helmet.

It was a beautiful building. The front was made out of giant slabs of black marble, maybe fifteen meters high.The slabs of marble were arranged as sharp triangles of stone, the same shape as a mountain range. The peaks of the facade were asymmetrical, the sloping sides jutted out like the blades of a fan. I didn’t want to think about how hot the stone must be, polished and shining in the sun.

Next to me, Ymir was also transfixed by the sight. We both sat on our speeders for a moment. Taking it all in.

The entrance to the building was an empty arch. I couldn’t see any evidence of a door, but there must have been one at some point. A pile of red sand created a ramp inside, almost filling the doorway.

I climbed off my speeder and drank more water, waiting for Ymir to make a decision.

He approached me, helmet tucked under his arm. His sweaty hair was stuck to the sides of his face. His eyes shone with excitement.

“It’s incredible to finally find it. This was the library that served generations of Sith acolytes.” He wiped his gloved hand down his face, clearing sweat away, “I wasn’t even sure it was real. This place held all written Sith knowledge at one point.”

I handed my water bladder over to Ymir, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.

I wondered if I was about to be put on excavation duty.

“So are we just going to stand here, or are we going in?” I asked cheekily.

Ymir turned to look at the entrance. “We’ll need to be careful. There’s going to be at least once nest of shyracks inside,” he said, narrowing his eyes, “They’ll be less aggressive during the day, but that’s not going to help if they try to swarm us.”

I patted my holster with my right hand, “Unless you’re dead set on me practicing my swordsmanship?”

Ymir gave me a droll look.

Before entering, we hooked our lightsticks to our belts. Ymir activated a couple of probes he had brought along. They floated gently in our wake as we approached the building. I let Ymir take the lead.

As we walked towards the entrance, our feet sank into the soft, loose sand, red like a tongue splaying out from the building. I sensed the faintest whisper of energy from Ymir as we passed through the open archway.

It was dark inside. I stood at the top of the ridge of sand, squinting into the shadows. There weren’t any windows built into the facade. The only light came from the entrance behind us.

Ymir was looking around, hands planted on his hips.

I hit the button on my light stick, unhooked it from my belt, and held up my arm.

This place must have been magnificent in its time. Vaulted ceilings rose above us, supported by large, black, marble columns. I noticed that there were skylights built into the ceiling, but they had all been covered in sand.

Ymir stepped into the entrance, easily sliding a couple of meters down the other side of the embankment that blocked the door. I craned my head, shining the light around me. I turned to face the entrance and saw red symbols painted around the curve of the arch.

“Is that blood?” I asked, frowning as I stared at the writing.

The script looked like it had been made with wide brush-strokes, it was rust-colored and irregularly sized. There was something else, just a feeling I had looking at it. I felt some kind of heavy energy seeping from the writing.

Ymir took a couple of steps back up the sandhill, holding up his light. “It has to be blood,” he said, brows knitting together.

He could feel it too.

“Can you read it?” I asked. It was just scribbles to me.

Ymir nodded, face pensive.

“It’s our code. The Sith code,” he began, “Someone must have done this during the war. It’s sealed into the stone through some kind of alchemy.”

He directed the probe to do a sweep over the writing. The black orb was smaller than most of the letters.

Ymir began to recite or translate the writing. It was clearly something he was familiar with. There was no hesitation as he spoke.

“Peace is a lie, there is only passion
Through passion, I gain strength
Through strength, I gain power
Through power, I gain victory
Through victory, my chains are broken
The Force shall set me free.”

My skin prickled as I listened, chills moving from the top of my head down to my toes.

I wasn’t much for codes or screeds, but it was clear that Ymir believed this. I watched the revererent expression on his face.

We stood silently and I tried to imagine the circumstances that would lead someone to writing their code on the wall in blood.

I waited until Ymir was done examining the writing, then we did a sweep of the first floor together.

We pushed through deep drifts of sand into the central hall. I had never been inside a library like this. We stood in a central room, where seven rows of balconies rose above us. I made a low whistle as I looked around.

“This is really something else,” I said, mostly to myself.

We stood in sand that was half-covering the large, empty, marble bookshelves. Each had decorative carvings along the sides, patterns of complicated vines and knots, sometimes symbols or figures woven in. Each was different.

I watched Ymir run his gloved fingers along the designs. He was in his element here, face drawn in concentration, not missing a detail. He kept his lightstick floating by his face, moving it using the Force as he explored. The probe shone a small light as it moved along, taking pictures, sometimes heading to a floor above, then returning to us.

It was nice to be out of the heat. Inside the shadowy building it felt relatively cool. I was getting hungry, but wanted to wait for Ymir before eating.

We were approaching the end of the central hall when there was a sudden change in the air. I heard the sound of leathery wings flapping, coming from the hallways on either side.

Shyracks.

I turned to Ymir and saw he had his lightsaber in his hand, not activated yet.

I hooked my lightstick to my belt and drew my blaster.

Ymir motioned for me to get behind one of the huge bookshelves.

“They’ve heard us and they’re spooked. Most are just wanting to leave,” he said calmly and directly.

He was in the aisle across from me, his back to the stone shelf.

I had my blaster held at the ready, with the safety off.

“Only attack the ones that attack you, and they shouldn’t try to swarm us,” he instructed.

The sound was louder and now they were close enough for me to smell them. The shyracks burst from the hallways, a seething cloud of musk, open jaws, leathery skin, and bulging eyes.

I was familiar with how to handle them already. I had done plenty of smuggling jobs where we had to share our tunnels with the bastards. They were disgusting, dumb animals that attacked unpredictably and shat on everything.

They barreled over us, making low, grating screeches. One swooped down to me, talons reaching for my face and I fired. I saw Ymir’s lightsaber, flashing golden as he defended himself.

His movements were calm and fluid. I was firing wildly, my usual method against these things.

I realized I didn’t have to react so mindlessly. I steadied myself, doing my best to stay cloaked and reached into the wave of beasts overhead. They knew we were a threat. Only some wanted to attack.

I found myself able to focus on individuals, putting a blaster shot right through the skull or chest. Corpses fell around me. The motions and patterns of the swarm were clear to me. Then they were gone, flying out through the entrance.

Ymir deactivated his lightsaber. I put the safety on my blaster, then holstered it. I patted myself down, making sure none of them had managed to shit on me in their escape.

“I fucking hate those things,” I said, screwing up my face and putting my hands on my hips. I turned towards the entrance they had flown through.

“You’re starting to use the Force much more effectively,” Ymir observed, ignoring my opinions.

“It feels more a part of me,” I agreed, “Think that’s all of them for now?”

“For now. We’ll need to stay alert, though.”

Now that the shyracks had been flushed out, we started exploring the side rooms. They had a dank, animal smell. I dodged piles of shit the best I could. The rows of shelves stretched on forever.

“Was there really this much writing here?” I asked, running my hands along one.

Ymir looked up. “There was. It’s all scattered across the Galaxy now. The Jedi destroyed everything they could get their hands on.”

“And you’ve been translating what you’ve found?”

“It’s slow work. Especially with the more esoteric texts. I’d like to have a team working on the translations one day.”

When the sand drifts were too high, Ymir used the Force to clear sand from the room. I watched sand move like water as he directed it with his hands, clearing pathways for us to go farther into the building.

I tried to read his energy while he worked and couldn’t sense a thing. There was no evidence of his Force powers outside of his physical actions.

“I can feel you,” he said. “Be more attentive. You can reach out to me without being noticed.”

I tried as I followed. He would raise a finger when he could sense me. It was hard. It was like having the best ship in the Galaxy and only being allowed to pilot it with my hands tied behind my back and a blindfold on.

We moved through rooms and I kept trying, all attempts were unsuccessful.

“Want to show me how you do it?” I asked, trying not to sound huffy after he raised his right index finger for the eighth time.

He shook his head, smiling playfully, “Disappearing is a dangerous skill to have,” he said, “You’ll have to figure it out yourself.”

By this time my stomach was growling. Ymir had clearly forgotten to eat, completely absorbed in this project.

“Hey uh, I’m going out to the speeders for food and water. Can I bring anything back for you?”

Ymir gave his head a shake as if coming out of a trance. He was currently kneeling at the corner of the room, examining more graffiti written in blood on the walls. This batch was close to the floor. I imagined it was written by a group of people huddled for safety and cover.

“It has been a while hasn’t it?” he said. He had definitely forgotten. “Do what you need to. I’ll meet you at the entrance when I’m ready.”

I walked through the rooms and main hallways, letting myself gape now that I was alone. How had they managed to build all of this? I hadn’t seen any stone that looked remotely similar to the marble the building was made from. The pillars and ceilings all had different kinds of carved decorations.

All their knowledge had been gathered under one roof and it had all been taken away.

I emerged into the blazing, late-afternoon sun. I threw my hand over my eyes, looking to the speeders. I wasn’t sure if the shyracks had managed to get into our stuff.

The crates did their job. It didn’t look like anything had been touched.

I unlocked one and took out some packets of food, sticking three into the large, buttoned pockets on the side of my pants. The crate had acted as an oven, and the pouches felt warm through my gloves.

Well, at least the food would be hot…

I decided to unstrap the swords from my speeder. Maybe I’d practice while Ymir explored the building. We definitely weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

To get out of the sun, I headed inside the library and slid down the sand embankment at the entrance. I used the sheathed swords to poke and sweep through the sand, checking for any pelko bugs.

I waited a moment, watching the small grains shift and settle...nothing. I stuck the swords upright and sat down, resting against the slope. I ate, sucking calories out of the pouch.

I stared into the hall in front of me, all those rows of empty shelves. This place was beautiful, but it was just a husk. If there weren’t any books or valuables left, what was the point?

When I was done with the pouch, I rolled it up and stuck it into the pocket on the other side of my pants. I didn’t want to leave food lying around here, but I knew I’d need to take care of it later. I was not interested in learning more about any of the wildlife.

I yawned and looked at the swords. I didn’t feel like running drills. Ymir was nowhere to be seen. He had probably forgotten he was going to join me out here.

My eyelids were heavy and I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I dozed, nestled into the red sand of the embankment, arms folded across my belly, my chin resting on my chest.

II

I jerked awake as Ymir took a heavy seat next to me.

“No pelko bugs here?” he asked.

I blinked, wiping at my eyes. “None so far,” I said, making a wide yawn, “I’ve been doing a thorough check for you.”

I reached into my pants pockets and took out the food pouches I brought for him.

“Thanks,” he said, taking them and ripping one open immediately. He glanced over at the swords, raising an eyebrow at the set up. “Did you do any drills?” he asked.

“Not even one,” I answered, leaning forward, propping my elbows on my knees.

Ymir was not impressed. He looked at me with his eyelids lowered, the right side of his mouth twisting down.

I tried to fix it, “I could help you survey the place. I can go down the east wing of the building or get to some of the upper floors,” I suggested.

Ymir narrowed his eyes. “Do you know what you would be looking for?” he asked, condescension dripping in his voice.

I had managed to irritate him.

“Not really,” I admitted, keeping my tone even, “Books? More writing on the walls?”

“I still plan on engaging with the pack of tu’kata this evening. You should practice drills while I work.”

That was an order.

“Okay, okay,” I said, putting my hands up.

Ymir raised his eyebrows, ready to test me. “Then lets see drills one through five,” he said, settling himself into the sand embankment.

Sighing, I picked up a sword and went through the motions while Ymir watched.

I mixed up the directions on two of the drills so badly that I needed to stop and start over. Ymir provided the rest of the critiques for me.

I wasn’t putting the right amount of weight in my back foot. My swings were sloppy and wide. He made me repeat drills four more times, growing more critical with each repetition. I bristled. Anger gummed up my movements, making me forget where I was in the sequence.

Exasperated with me, Ymir got to his feet. He picked up the second sword and unsheathed it, tossing the cover into the sand.

“Here, give me your sword. You can have my lightsaber,” his words were clipped, “We’re going to spar.”

I stared at him dumbly. He unhooked his lightsaber from his belt and passed it to me while I handed him the other sword.

He activated the electro-plasma edge on both blades and I thumbed the dial on his sword, watching it buzz to life, glowing golden in my hand.

There was something dangerous about his tone and attitude. I didn’t have a good feeling about this practice. I wasn’t sure what the consequences would be if I fucked up.

I took a breath, swallowing my fear, and using that spark of tension to connect me with the Force.

It started off like a dance. I hadn’t seen anything like what Ymir was doing with the two swords.

He combined defensive and offensive moves with each arm. He alternated tucking a sword to protect his head, back, neck and side, while the other arm would strike out, making graceful patterns of attack. At the same time, he was directing drills for me, counting off time, providing direction, as he slowly came at me whirling both swords.

I was sinking into the moment, removing myself from thoughts of fear and failure. I followed Ymir’s instructions, the ebb and flow of his energy and movement.

We made it through the drills without any major mistakes.

We separated.

“Your swings are still wide. You’re leaving yourself open to attack most of the time and I have two swords at my disposal. We’ll do this again.”

This time he didn’t guide me and moved at a more realistic pace. He was also using more of his true strength. I could feel the impact in my forearms as I blocked his blows. When I left myself open I received a warning pass as he brought his blades in close to me.

We broke apart at the end of the sequence. I was sweating and heaving for breath.

Ymir stood, appraising me, “That’s not much improvement. Again.”

With two swords in his hands, Ymir was a force of nature. It was all I could do to keep him off of me. He had picked up the pace and aggressively drove at my weak points.

I had the lightsaber and I was losing. He directed me through the entrance hall, clearly in control of this fight. My arms ached. I wasn’t able to catch my breath.

Every time we ended a sequence he was squaring off, telling me we were going to go again.

I couldn’t give up. I couldn’t resign, but there was no way I could win. I blocked his attacks at the last possible moment. The swords came at me from overhead, then at my sides. It was like fighting a demented windmill.

He was just trying to prove he was better than me, stronger than me. I remembered all of my nonchalant conversations about killing him, the fights I had played out over and over in my mind.

We were just practicing sword drills and he had complete control over me.

Fuck him.

I tried to go on the offensive and he made a growling laugh, changing his technique. It was then I realized he had only been using limited moves to complement the drills he was teaching me.

As I tried to push, he was ready, making me respond to attacks I hadn’t seen before.

In my hands the lightsaber was an added source of danger. As Ymir connected with the blade he pressed it down, towards me and I became acutely aware of how I could be injured by my own weapon. I could feel the heat of the blade when it was near my head and chest. One wrong move and I could slice off my own nose.

I was backed into a corner, out of options. Ymir didn’t show any sign of tiring. His eyes were wild, caught up in the fight. His moves were perfect. He moved between combinations of offensive and defensive moves, creating an impenetrable wall.

I made one final scramble, swinging the lightsaber up for an overhead attack. He caught the downward blow with a scissor move from his two swords and pushed me back. As a bonus he brought his leg up, kicking me in the chest.

I went sprawling, the lightsaber spinning out of my hands.

I screamed, not knowing if it was going to catch one of my limbs. I rushed to my feet, panicking.

The blade had landed half a meter away and was scorching the sand beneath it. Plumes of smoke rose, acrid and dry. I lunged towards the lightsaber, managing to turn it off without cutting off a finger. There was a sizzling trench of red glass left behind, smoke wafting from it.

“I need you to be better than this Siobhan,” Ymir said, standing in the same spot.

He deactivated the plasma edge on the swords and transferred both them to his left hand, summoning his lightsaber out of my grasp to land in his right hand.

I stood dumbly, seething with useless anger.

My first thought was to mouth off. He had kicked my ass at something that I didn’t know how to do. What a fucking accomplishment.

I kept my mouth shut.

Ymir approached me. “Your obstinance isn’t helping you,” he said firmly. “I’m going to take the next few hours to continue my work. You can take a short rest, then I’m going to expect you to be practicing drills when I return. Understood?”

I nodded, jaw set.

He passed me my swords and left the room, heading down the central hall.

What was his fucking problem?

I was angry at myself, at how easily he controlled the fight.

I brought a hand up to my chest, rubbing my sternum. It was definitely going to hurt more as the day went on.

He was going to expect me to be practicing drills when he returned… I rolled my eyes.

I had always balked at taking orders. Even as a child, I could be a stubborn little shit. In the cartels, it had worked out just fine for me. As long as I got the job done, and didn’t rat, I had the freedom to do what I liked the way I liked. Now I was being ordered to do drills like I was a grunt.

Fighting with a sword was ridiculous anyways. It was showy and impractical. I was good with my blaster. Then I remembered Ymir had deflected every blaster shot I had sent his way. Out in the grasslands, he had deflected them like he had a personal shield.

I gritted my teeth. It would be better to do drills than sit around on my ass feeling sorry for myself. It wasn’t like there was anything else to do.

With frustration and anger thrumming in my mind, I went through the drills.

One step closer to killing Ymir. I’d be one step closer. I’d be stronger. That would make this all worth it.

Eventually I decided to try some of the two-handed techniques I had seen Ymir use. It felt awkward and I kept getting confused, almost slicing myself as I tried to coordinate my arms, one behind me in a defensive position, the other in front on offense.

Ymir returned as I was in the middle of a sequence. My arms were screaming at me with exhaustion. He silently appraised me, arms crossed over his chest. I was attempting a sequence with both swords and felt self-conscious under his gaze.

When I was done, he approached and held out his hands. I passed the blades over and he walked me through another sequence. This time he was patient, guiding me through each step, explaining the movements. I followed along, positioned to his side, copying the motions.

Afterwards, we took a seat and rested. I shook out my arms and hands, stretching my wrists then massaging my forearms.

I noticed it had grown darker in the entryway. It was going to be evening soon.

“So what’s the plan, boss?” I asked, looking towards the entrance.

Ymir followed my gaze to the archway with the code scrawled in blood.

“There’s an armory west of here. It’s close to the tu’kata’s usual territory. We’ll have to clear them off to stay overnight safely. It should only take us an hour to get there.”

We drank more water, ate a snack, locked our waste away in the crate on the back of my speeder, and began travelling west.

III

We cruised through the desert landscape. Our shadows stretched in front of us as the sun set in the east.

It was just becoming dark when we arrived at the armory. It was a battered shell of a building, looking even more pathetic to me after spending all afternoon in the Library. Half the roof had caved in. All the windows were gone, leaving large square holes in the wall. There was a low, handmade, stone wall that wrapped in an arc in front of the building.

We parked our speeders in a section where the wall had collapsed.

“We don’t need to set up camp right now,” Ymir said, as I began to unpack, “I want us to get the excess weight off the speeders and get our weapons ready. Do you have any kind of hunting experience?”

I arched an eyebrow, giving him a bit of attitude, “I was raised on a farm, remember.”

Ymir was unfazed. “Excellent. Bring both of your blasters. You can provide cover for me while I fight them on the ground.” What a fucking show-off. “The tu’kata are Force-sensitive. I need you to keep yourself open and pay attention. This will be the best training I can provide before we go to the Valley of the Dark Lords.”

Our gear went on the floor of the armory. After that we did a cursory check on the speeders and gathered up our weapons.

The long-range blaster was slung around my back. My other blaster was at the ready on my thigh.

We left the armory on the speeders and headed out into the flat desert ahead of us. Ymir wanted our headlights off. It felt like we were flying through space. The starlight was so faint out here; without even a moon to reflect light, we were surrounded by darkness.

Ymir lead the way, the sound of his engines guiding my path. As we travelled, my thoughts began to wander.

We were starting a fight that didn’t need to happen. It felt vain and wasteful. Growing up, we would kill only to protect our herds and put food on the table. Ymir was clearly used to hunting for sport.

He was the son of a weapons magnate who viewed himself as a noble warrior. He had probably been shuttled around, hunting exotic game all across the Galaxy - trophy hunting to prove he wasn’t soft.

I followed in his wake; a train of two, humming just above the desert floor.

After twenty minutes, Ymir spoke.

“I want you to uncloak yourself. Scan the landscape. We’ll need to be vigilant, over.”

I unfolded myself and it felt like a delicious stretch after a nap. This was freedom. I could feel Ymir ahead of me, steady and clear. As I reached out, I was able to place myself in the desert. I could feel my relationship with the ground beneath, the mountain range to my right, and the sky above me.

Connected deeply to the Force, I didn’t miss the light. It was exhilarating.

The Force will set you free. Those words rose in my mind, echoing true.

We slowed our pace, coming to a gentle cruise over the sandy terrain, still pushing west. It was another half-hour of travel before there was a change.

I felt a wave of energy rolling towards us, hunger and desperation. The feeling was heady. I was swept up in it.

Then came the howling.

It was a chilling sound. I hadn’t realized just how quiet this planet was until that terrible chorus began to rise from the dunes ahead of us.

These were physical sounds, animal sounds, not the screams and echoes that droned in the back of my mind - the ghosts of dead Sith that haunted the Academy.

The tu’kata were starving. They were drawn to us. They knew we were prey but they were inexperienced. It must have been generations since they had hunted flesh and blood Sith. Ymir and Ren couldn’t have made that many visits to this planet.

“Do we know if this is the same pack from yesterday? Over,” I asked.

“It is. You can’t feel it?” Ymir replied, “I want you to stay back and keep an eye out. I’m going to engage them on the ground.”

Show-off.

We headed directly towards the howling dogs, covering the distance fast.

I was nervous, but I found myself feeling more excited. My jaw jutting forward, I leaned over my handlebars, sticking close to Ymir.

My eyes were useless out here, in the pitch black night time. My ears were pricked up and I could sense the pack of tu’kata.

Not needing to hide my aura from them, I reached out into the pack. I felt they were fifty or sixty meters from us, coming in hot.

I had counted seven of them in the grassland. I felt like there were fourteen or sixteen now. The full pack.

They were hungry. They were angry. We had killed their own. They would kill us and eat our corpses. Revenge for their fallen.

My heart was beating and I found myself snarling, even in the darkness. Next to me I could feel Ymir’s battle hunger.

When we were within twenty meters of each other, the pack slowed.

We had killed four of them. They were going to be cautious.

“I’ll get off here,” Ymir said, “Keep both your blasters armed. I’m going to be their main target, but you’ll definitely see some action.”

“Roger,” I said, lowering my speed alongside him.

We stopped and he leapt nimbly off of the speeder, landing in the sand.

Without another word, Ymir began to walk towards the pack. Unlike me, he didn’t have a blaster, just the lightsaber hooked onto his belt. He was going to fight them close.

The tu’kata had come to a halt in a loose, wide semicircle, figuring out their attack.

I hung back on my speeder, slowly moving my long range blaster rifle around my front and clicking the safety off.

Ymir activated his lightsaber, glowing golden at his side, the only light in this wasteland.

There was a chorus of yips and howls in response.

We were all here to kill.

I couldn’t see anything besides Ymir’s blade. I was going to have to rely on the Force.

The pack moved decisively. Surrounding him.

A group of maybe five immediately began to fan out from the sides moving towards me. They weren’t going to let me off the hook.

Ymir’s blade began to whirl, humming arcs protecting him from attack. I could feel his awareness extended around him like a net. He moved just as calmly as if he were in a sparring match, like he wasn’t facing real danger.

I was letting myself sink in. The blaster rifle was armed in my hands and I didn’t even bother with the sights.

I let out two shots and heard pained howls from the group approaching me. There were fewer attackers now and I could feel their fear, stoking their urge to kill.

Down on the ground, the fight had gotten underway. Ymir’s blade was making contact. I saw the brilliant arcs dance around him, changing the pattern and direction as he tore through the tu’kata’s flesh.

Howls rose through the desert, cries of pain and fear and anger.

I let out three more shots and my work was done. With the blaster and the distance between us, they never stood a chance against me.

With the rifle resting in my hand, my finger on the trigger, I looked out at Ymir and his brilliant golden lightsaber dancing just a few meters away.

“This could be my chance...he’s distracted,” my mind whispered.

My finger began to tighten on the trigger.

But I could feel him, feel his energy extended.

This could be my moment.

I hesitated.

Ymir had deflected every single shot I had taken at him. If I fired directly on him and didn’t kill him, where would that leave me? Dead in the desert, scattered in the middle of the corpses of dogs.

I lowered the blaster rifle.

The fight was over moments later.

With fluid motions of his arms and body, Ymir cut through the bulk of the pack. For the very first time, I saw Ymir truly fight. I had seen him sparring earnestly with Ren, but they weren’t fighting to the death.

The energy of the pack began to shift. The remainder knew they didn’t stand a chance. Their strongest and bravest were already dead on the ground.

Two more tried to kill him and two more failed.

With mournful howls the remainder of the pack turned tail and fled, galloping away into the darkness.

I hopped off my speeder and approached Ymir, the blaster rifle slung around my back.

He stood in the middle of his work, surrounded by the smell of burned meat and hair.

His lightsaber was still armed. Maybe he had sensed my impulse from earlier.

As I approached his side, he took a step forward, leaning down to the corpse at his feet. He neatly sliced off a paw then deactivated the blade. “How many did you kill?” Ymir asked.

“Five. None of them even got close,” I answered.

Wordlessly, we walked back to our speeders. Ymir dropped the paw into one of the saddlebags and smoothly lifted himself onto his seat.

I was right behind him. We started the journey back to the armory, leaving the rest of the corpses behind us.

IV

My thoughts were churning in my mind.

The fight hadn’t been difficult for me. We showed up. I fired off a few shots and that was the end of it.

But I had seen Ymir in his element. He had cut through those beasts like they were nothing, fighting within arm’s length.

My recent hesitation weighed heavy on my heart. I wasn’t strong enough to face him.

Back inside the armory, we set up our camp in silence.

Ymir had chosen one of the rooms that still had all the walls and ceilings intact.

We set up a lamp, filling the space with a blue glow. It came together quickly. The tent took no effort; with a few tugs on corner tabs the thing unfurled itself. Ymir unpacked his sleeping pad and bag, pushing them through the zippered door.

I was kneeling by my kit bag, starting to pull my gear out. “I’m not used to having equipment this good,” I said.

Ymir grinned at me, relaxed and genuine, “Enjoy it. Get your stuff set up. I’ll start dinner.”

He stashed his kit bag inside the tent and went to the next room. I crawled inside the tent, unfurling my sleeping bag and stashing my kitbag in the opposite corner. I looked around the small space. Our sleeping pads were side by side, the tent was just over a meter high.

It was going to be a cozy fit...

I finished arranging my things and climbed out, zipping the door shut behind me. The temperature was rapidly dropping and I pulled my jacket around me more tightly.

I stepped into what was left of the armory. Ymir was set up in the entrance, shielded from the wind by three and a half walls. He had arranged a couple of rocks as seating and had a lantern next to him. He crouched in front of the camp stove, stirring slowly.

“It smells good,” I said, taking a seat next to him.

I stuck my nose over the pot, looking inside. I smelled spices and saw meat and veg.

“I think we earned it today,” Ymir said.

He was in good spirits now, still high from the battle.

“Are you going back to the Library tomorrow?” I asked, sitting down on the cool stone seat.

“I’m planning on it, at least for the morning. I left a probe there to collect data on the area.”

“How’d a landmark like that stay hidden from you?”

“Me and Ren were looking for it on our last trip out. That was years ago now. It must have been covered in sand until a storm came through and exposed it.”

I shook my head in disbelief, “That building is enormous. It’s hard to imagine a storm that could move that much sand.”

The food was ready and Ymir began divvying it out between our two bowls. “The weather is a lot like Jakku or Tattooine, storms come on suddenly and can completely change the landscape in a day or two. I got stuck inside the Academy on one of my first visits.”

“Beginner’s luck?” I winked, and gratefully took the bowl of food.

We were both hungry and gratefully dug into our food.

“You said you’d show me how your lightsaber worked,” I said between bites.

“I did, didn’t I?” Ymir mused.

He scooted over on his rock and patted the space beside him. I sidled over and set my bowl down between my boots as he passed me his lightsaber.

I turned it over in my hands.

It wasn’t fancy: a tube of metal with a black, rubber handgrip, a round dial, the side grooves worn down from use.

“It’s powered through kyber crystals and your personal connection to the force. Think of it as a conduit for your power.”

“I thought kyber crystals were just a myth,” I said, activating the blade.

It hummed to life, one strong golden beam, steady as the sun. I deactivated it, the room growing dark around us.

“They’re rare, but they exist. I think the crystal chooses the individual,” Ymir mused.

“That’s why they don’t sound real,” I said with a smile, “How did you find yours?”

I handed the lightsaber over to Ymir and picked my bowl of food back up.

His face grew serious, “I didn’t make this lightsaber until after Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader fell. I had the crystals ever since I was fourteen. They travelled with me everywhere I went.” He made a wry smile, shadows emphasizing the lines around his mouth and eyes, “I had them with me when I was working under Darth Vader. It was a stupid, prideful decision. I was always worried that they might sense them. Thankfully they never did…”

I finished my food while he told his story, watching him grow animated, casting shadows with his arms as he gestured.

“I found my kyber crystal on Utapau. I had planned a cave diving excursion.”

I arched my eyebrow. “We had very different childhoods,” I said around a bite of food.

“We did,” Ymir agreed, moving right along. “I planned to do the diving trip by myself. The island was one day’s journey from the mainland. I was a teenager, ready to become a man and very far away from it. I had begun to explore my connection with the Force and put into practice the different philosophies I had been reading about.

“I was the only person on the island. The caves could only be accessed through tunnels in the rock and coral, entirely submerged in the ocean. I wanted it to be a test for myself. I didn’t bring along oxygen. I didn’t bring along gear - just my breath, body, and the Force.”

I tried to imagine Ymir as a child. Smaller, beardless, swimming through underwater tunnels by himself. Suddenly, his stunt out in the grasslands and our battle with the tu’kata made sense. He had been putting his life on the line to test his strength ever since he was a child.

He continued, “I could have easily overlooked it. It was just a stone, one amber-colored crystal sitting in a shallow pool of water. Something called to me - resonated with me. I swam back to my camp, clutching it in my hand. My wife was the only other person who knew about it.”

I stretched my arms in front of me, cracking my knuckles, “What are the odds of that even happening? You find those crystals right at the moment you’re testing yourself?”

Ymir smiled warmly, “The odds don’t matter.” He hooked his lightsaber back onto his belt. “When you establish your connection with the Force, events will come together when the moment is right.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. It was easy for him to say that. I had to make my own luck these past ten years - the Galaxy didn’t just deliver.

We scraped the cooking pot clean and rinsed the cookware. Ymir had brought a tea tin out with us and set about making a thermos-full. I sat on my rock while he worked.

We took the warm container outside and sat on the low, stone wall out front, looking up at the dim stars overhead.

“This wall has been the first thing I’ve seen that makes me think people actually lived out here,” I said, my feet dangling just above the ground.

“Why’s that?” Ymir asked, indulging me, taking a drink.

“It’s just so humble. When I was a kid, I helped my family build walls like this on our farm. It’s just stones placed on top of each other. I don’t know how the Academy and Library were built. Where did they find all that black marble? Where did they find enough wood for the floors and ceiling beams?” I patted the stones, “This is simple. Anyone could have done this, and it’s still standing.”

I could feel Ymir smiling next to me and he passed me the thermos, “That is the most thoughtful statement I’ve ever heard you say.”

Our hands grazed. We were sitting close on the wall, thighs touching.

I took a drink and I recognized the grassy taste from my first night here. I stared up at the sky, feeling warm and comfortable.

I passed the thermos to Ymir when I was done. When he turned to take it from me, I brought my hand up and tucked a lock of his hair behind his ear. He met my gaze in the dark and I lifted my hand to the side of his face, feeling his cheek and beard, guiding him towards me for a kiss, my other hand moving to the top of his thigh.

Ymir put his hand on my forearm, leaning away. “I’m not interested,” he said firmly.

I dropped my hands immediately - stunned.

“Well this is embarrassing,” I said, scuffing my bootheels against the wall.

My face was hot and I was grateful for the darkness.

His tone was gentle, “I’m sure you don’t have many people tell you they’re not interested.”

“That’s the truth,” I said. I sat awkwardly on the wall, cringing as he gave me an explanation.

“I should have been clear with you at the beginning,” he continued, “You’re my student, and that’s not a line I cross.”

Ymir didn’t seem like Ren’s type...I couldn’t imagine that this had come up before.

He stood abruptly, thermos in hand, “I’m going to bed. I’ll see you in the tent.”

I stayed where I was, dying of shame. The evening had been going so well…

He was right, I wasn’t used to straight men turning me down. Now I was going to be stuck in a sleeping bag right next to the bastard.

I briefly considered finding a different room of the armory to sleep in, but I really didn’t want to be exposed out here.

I had completely misread the situation. I hoped he’d let it die. I didn’t need this hanging over my head for the rest of the trip. How fucking embarrassing.

The wind was picking up and I shivered, reflexively taking hold of myself with my arms.

I was done with this horrible place.

I had never stayed on a planet this hostile, with its dry air, scorching heat, unfriendly wildlife.

Each day was getting harder and harder, but what were my options? Tell him I was quitting?

I wasn’t strong enough to kill him. After today, I knew I was never going to win a fight against him, unless I got stronger. If I quit now, I’d never get what I wanted.

Quitting wasn’t an option. Not for me. I’d rather die.

Sitting out on the wall, I allowed my thoughts drift and settle.

Eventually, I hopped down from the wall and made my way inside the armory. I crept into the tent, half-waking Ymir with the rustling of fabric and zippers.

He rolled over.

I tried to move efficiently, zipping the door shut and taking off my boots before getting into the sleeping bag. I definitely wasn’t going to leave them outside overnight.

“Are we good, girl?” Ymir asked, voice husky with sleep.

I nodded, setting my boots in the corner opposite where I planned to lay my head. “We’re good,” I said.

I tried to keep myself as far from Ymir as I could in the enclosed space. I clutched myself in my sleeping bag, head turned away from him. Tonight the desert felt even darker and colder.

Chapter Text

I

Ymir was up before sunrise. He woke me as he unzipped his sleeping bag and climbed out of the tent.

I stayed still, feigning sleep in the dark. If he wanted me up, he could tell me. I exhaled with relief as he zipped the tent door closed behind him.

As my body became fully awake, there was a familiar ache between my legs. My thoughts kept circling back to sex.

I rocked my hips against the ground, warming up. I debated opening the sleeping bag to give myself more room to spread my legs, then decided not to. Ymir could come in any second. I didn’t need to make a whole production out of it.

My thoughts wandered, and I let myself fantasize about whatever I pleased. I just wanted a good, hard fuck, someone who would push me down, hands on my hips, keeping me in place. I wanted someone to climb on top of me and use me, stroking deep, giving me something to grip.

I flipped onto my back and unzipped my pants, wriggling my legs apart in the confines of the sleeping bag. I moved my hand lower, traveling over my hair, down between my lips, and settled my fingertips on my clit.

I was wet and hot to the touch. I pushed my hips up.

Years of living in bunks and barracks had allowed me to perfect the art of getting off quickly and quietly.

I alternated rubbing my clit and sliding fingers inside of myself. I got a good rhythm going, feeling myself getting wetter.

My mind flowed where it wanted; I was thinking about getting filled with cock hands around my throat, sucking on fingers while getting fucked from behind, climbing on top of Ymir, straddling his thighs, taking him inside me…

Embarrassment flared sharply and I stopped moving. I paused, taking a breath.

The rejection had stung.

It was a few moments before I started rubbing myself again, going slowly at first.

When I fell back into my rhythm, there was heat in my low belly and I squeezed down on my hand and fingers with my thighs.

I imagined brief moments - my hands secured behind my back while someone fingered me - degraded me - told me I was too eager while their fingers slid through my wetness. I thought of my tongue lapping at someone’s clit, tasting her soft and hot beneath me, hearing her moans.

My orgasm was one hard wave. I shuddered, clamping down, catching my own cries in my throat. I worked my hips against my hands, eking out moments of pleasure.

Not eager to see Ymir again, I let myself doze, enjoying the quiet time. I felt cozy in the sleeping bag, satisfied.

After a few rounds of dozing I knew it was time to get up. I yawned and stretched, dragging my fingers over the front of my underwear before zipping my pants up.

I climbed out of the tent and began looking around the armory, but I couldn’t find Ymir anywhere. His speeder was still parked next to mine, so I knew he hadn’t left for the Library without me.

I walked to the doorway and scanned the horizon. Wind whipped at my hair and I pushed it behind my ear. This was my first sunrise outside of the canyon. I watched the heavy reddish glow stain the horizon.

The armory existed in a flat expanse of sand. In the distance there were mountains, an uneven range of bare rock rising up to the north.

After a few minutes, I stepped outside the armory and took a walk around the building.

I found Ymir seated on a large rock, facing the sunrise to the west. He looked like a mystic, with the hood of his cloak pulled up to cover half his face.

I approached carefully, not wanting to interrupt him.

“Come on over,” he invited, without moving.

I walked up to the rock.

“I’m doing a meditation. You should join me.”

As I lifted myself up, he moved over so there was room for me to sit. He crossed his legs and sat with his hands on his knees.

I copied his posture.

“I’m doing a meditation on the Code. Let me guide you.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding.

This was starting to feel familiar. Two days ago I needed Ymir to pull me into this shared space of the Force - now I followed him, sinking into my heart and my awareness.

Ymir’s voice echoed in my mind.

Peace is a lie, there is only passion

Our thoughts moved together, linked. I began to see images briefly flashing in my mind’s eye. Memory, impressions, and emotion all weaved together, joining and separating. I was along for the ride, feeling off-balance and unguarded.

Peace...

Peace is temporary. My mother did everything in her power to escape from war, and still it found us. There are soldiers in our markets and red banners rising up against our skies.

Ymir’s visions joined mine.

As long as there are beings who want power there will always be war. Passion is a hunger to be cultivated and developed.

Through passion, I gain strength.

I drew in a breath. I could feel my expression tightening.

My will to survive had never faltered. Ymir approaches me as I gasp for air, snarling at him like an animal. My anger kept me alive.

Ymir continued, moving steadily through the mantra.

Through strength, I gain power.

Power is respect, admiration, fear, and wealth. Through my power I will execute my vision. The Galaxy will bend to me.

Through power, I gain victory.

His thoughts utterly eclipsed mine.

Where millions have failed, I will succeed. The machinations of the Galaxy are clear to me. I command the largest armies. Kings and Queens submit to my will. There is no one above me.

I was shrinking, faltering in the meditation. I felt insignificant next to him. I could feel the desire in his heart, true and strong. I was still the child, snarling on the ground.

I refused to give myself over to fear and doubt. I took a steadying breath and sank back in.

Through victory, my chains are broken.

I felt Ymir tugging at my awareness, guiding me beyond my body and my mind.

There were sensations I had never felt before. The planet was spread around us and we could touch it, seep across the landscape, over the mountains, through the air. My awareness traveled along the sand and rock, through all the living inhabitants.

We moved up and up, through the atmosphere, into space beyond, reaching through the Outer Rim, through the star system.

Everything was vast and overwhelming. I was small, too small for this.

I faltered, suddenly dropping off.

Seated on the rock, I gasped and pulled inwards, arms and legs drawing towards my chest.

Ymir radiated power, his face serene, lit in the dusky red light of dawn. He was still deep in the meditation.

Galactic conquest. Complete dominion.

Fear pushed cold through my organs, like a sickness.

I wanted to be strong enough to kill Ymir.

Ymir wanted to be strong enough to control the Galaxy.

I remained on the rock, intimidated. I felt his meditation draw to a close; his energy ebbing like a tide, washing inwards.

“The Force shall set me free,” he whispered, like a prayer, before opening his eyes.

We sat side by side in silence for many minutes.

Ymir spoke first, “You are the only one holding yourself back.”

He met my eyes - they were shining, warm and brown in the morning light.

I didn’t know what to say. I spat to the side.

Ymir responded with silence. He didn’t need to criticize me with his words, instead, he clapped me on the shoulder and returned to our camp, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

I felt shaky and uncertain.

I didn’t know what I was doing here.

For ten years, I had told myself that I was on a path to find Ymir and kill him. I would avenge my father’s death.

My hesitation last night was eating at me. The blaster rifle was in my hand. He was directly in my sights, and I hadn’t pulled the trigger.

I wasn’t strong enough…

Wrapped up in my doubt, I stayed on the rock, gazing out across the horizon. The morning sun on my face.

When I returned to the armory, Ymir had already eaten and packed the tent. My things were in a pile next to my kit bag.

I finished packing, sucking on a calorie pouch while I worked.

After securing our gear and running the daily engine checks, we set off for the Library.

Following Ymir through the dusty red landscape, I lost myself in my thoughts.

What had I gotten myself into?

I had seen right into Ymir’s head. He wanted to be in control of the Galaxy. The entire fucking Galaxy.

He might be able to do it. He had survived a war and sparked the rise of the First Order. He was gathering acolytes, the start of a new Sith Empire.

And where did I fit into this? Was I really going to be a pawn in his game? Would I let that happen to me?

When we arrived at the Academy, the sun was blazing overhead.

Today, Ymir swept the sand from the entrance with two waves of his arm, and we parked our speeders inside.

I trailed him like a ghost as we moved farther into the building, slowly exploring the east wing and upper floors. While Ymir searched rooms for artifacts, he left me in the larger halls to practice drills.

I did as he asked, going through the motions with the two swords Ren had given me. I left the electroplasma edge activated for light.

During breaks from excavating, Ymir would join me to provide critiques.

I kept fucking up. He kept making me repeat the sequences.

Hours passed like this. He wasn’t finding anything and I wasn’t getting any better.

I was sore, tired, and hungry.

I flopped heavily into the sand after a round, panting for breath.

Ymir appraised me with a cold expression, “You are the most undisciplined person I have ever chosen to work with.”

I couldn’t keep myself from scowling.

He shook his head, “You’re not being useful. You’re not taking this practice seriously. Go. You’re dismissed for the day.”

I looked up at him in disbelief. His expression was tight and closed. I opened my mouth, then shut it again. Without anything to say, I sighed and climbed to my feet.

Ymir turned on his heel and left me alone in the hallway.

II

In the entranceway of the Library, I took the time to calm down before climbing onto the speeder.

I was blowing it.

I remembered how judgemental I had been towards Ren when he attacked a statue with his lightsaber. Was I acting any differently?

I was scared. I was alone on a planet with a man who wanted to be a god.

I was sweaty and covered in sand. I poured water into my mouth and over my head.

What was I going to do?

I strapped the swords onto the speeder and did a quick check on fuel and the engine before zipping out the entrance.

I began moving in the general direction of the Academy. I had to rely on the Force for navigation. The building was shining like a star at the edge of my awareness.

There was fear that I could encounter more wildlife, but I didn’t know how to extend my power while hiding my energy.

I stayed alert, my body engaged in piloting and my mind focused on the terrain.

Thoughts of anger and failure still found the space to bubble up, distracting me.

This wasn’t my first time being around power-hungry men, but all of them had been small-time. I was used to men that acted like tyrants, trying to keep hold of their little corner of nothing. Those men were easy to manipulate. They were predictable.

Ymir was different. He was powerful. He could send out his awareness beyond the planet, feeling all the threads and connections that ran through the Galaxy.

Two days ago, my big victory was lifting a rock in the air.

I had ratted out my fellow Resistance fighters to train under Ymir. I had betrayed my friends. I was directly responsible for the destruction of the base. They would have at least stood a chance if I hadn’t told the First Order everything they needed to know.

Was I going to throw this all away because it was hard? Because I was scared?

Anger was coursing in me. I sped up the pace, taking turns more tightly than I needed to, avoiding rocks on the canyon floor at the last possible moment.

I was surrounded by the stone walls of the canyon - the red sand and rocks below, and the dusty red sky above. I imagined I had been swallowed by a beast, red organs squeezing around me. Swallowing me whole.

I could feel the Academy coming up, sitting like a dam between the canyon walls. It held the energy of thousands, tens of thousands of acolytes turning their fear and anger into power.

Instead of stopping at the Academy, I pushed down a set of unfamiliar passages, travelling northwest. I wanted to get closer to the Valley of the Dark Lords, see it for myself before Ymir took me there.

I weaved through openings in the rock, taking any openings that were in the right direction.

It was ten or fifteen minutes of riding before I found a promising spot in the canyon wall. There was a rift that didn’t look crumbly and had plenty of uneven surfaces for handholds. I pulled my speeder over and used the ambient hover to lift myself to a ledge a couple of meters off the ground.

I was going to try to climb to the top of the canyon.

Using the speeder wasn’t an option. It didn’t have enough power and there was no way I would be able to lower myself down afterwards.

The rock walls were nearly vertical. I craned my neck, eyeballing the distance. I guessed that it was forty meters high. I tried to map out the route I would take, looking for obvious handholds and ledges where I could rest.

Parked on the ledge, I readied myself for the climb, taking a deep pull from my water bladder and stashing a calorie pouch in a pocket. I took off my helmet, then put it back on again.

This climb was going to be terrible, but I needed to do it.

The rock was hot beneath my gloves and the sun beat against my back. I was sweating underneath the helmet, stinging my eyes and dripping down my collar.

My breath was ragged as I climbed, legs and forearms burning. I was already exhausted from the sword drills. My muscles cramped and complained. I wedged myself against the wall to shake out my arms, trying not to look at the ground below.

Fear and frustration poured out of me as I moved upwards.

I tapped into the Force as I climbed, handholds and footholds becoming apparent to me as I moved upwards. The world melted away. The past and future didn’t exist anymore. All that existed for me was the next place to put my hands and the next place to move my feet.

Finally, I was at the top.

Heat shimmered up from the sandy stone. It was scorching, the sun blazing from the east.

I leaned forward on my thighs, pulling dusty air into my lungs and hocked phlegm onto the ground. I imagined that I heard it sizzle in the heat.

After I caught my breath, I moved towards the far edge of the rock wall. A wide valley stretched out beneath me. To my right was the Academy, nestled between the walls of the canyon. To my left, there was an open expanse of sand and dust before the entrance Valley of the Dark Lords.

Two massive statues guarded two doors, standing on either side of the canyon walls. They were bearded men in robes, both with outstretched arms and a sword in hand. The wind had erased most of their features, the lightsabers had been whittled down to almost nothing. Thousands of years of sand would wear down anything.

From this vantage point, I could see into the burial valley. I could make out the roofs of buildings, the tips of obelisks and statues near the entrance.

It was the final resting place for people who had taken themselves very seriously.

Many of the buildings were destroyed, their roofs caved in, walls crumbling.

Did Ymir really plan to start another Sith Academy out here?

The heat was unforgiving. I could feel my face cooking underneath the mask, but I wasn’t ready to climb back down to the speeder.

I took the time to stack three rocks at the lip of the wall where I had ascended, then began to walk along the flat top of the canyon.

My thoughts swirled formlessly in my head as I walked.

Ymir’s connection to the Force eclipsed mine so completely.

He had told Snoke that I’d be ready to take assignments when I was done training on Korriban. I had never felt so uncertain. I didn’t feel ready to do anything.

I felt like an ignorant farmgirl who had gotten herself in way too deep.

Heat radiated up through my shoes, reflecting up towards my face, beating down on the top of my helmet and my shoulders.

Peace is a lie, there is only passion. The words came to me as I walked.

How did the rest of the thing go?

Passion to strength, strength to power…

Strength, power, victory.

Victory for Ymir was uncompromising. He wanted the entire Galaxy under his control.

Was my idea of victory really as shallow as one death?

What if I got into line? What if I let Ymir shape me into the Sith warrior he imagined? I could rise alongside him. I could get to the top.

Passion, strength, power, victory.

I began to move more quickly, starting to run. My heart was speeding up.

My whole life I had gone from one thing to another, always drifting. The hunt for Ymir was my only anchor. I kept telling myself I was doing this to avenge my father, but all I had done was lie, cheat, and steal along the way. An entire base of Resistance fighters were dead because of me.

I didn’t know what victory was. I didn’t know what it meant to me anymore.

The Force shall set me free. The words echoed bitterly in my mind.

I thought that training would give me answers. I thought that I would have money, power, and respect. Instead, I was more lost than ever.

Ymir scared me.

Next to him I felt so small, like I was still a powerless child.

I had hesitated because I knew he would kill me if I failed.

I was running now, struggling for breath in the heat and the dust.

Anger was rising through me.

I ran towards the edge of the canyon wall, my arms pumping at my sides. I scrambled to a stop, right at the last possible moment, and used the momentum to lean myself forward.

I let out a scream into the valley below.

I screamed with everything I had, all my pain, fear, and confusion.

My toes were centimeters from the lip.

As soon as my breath gave out I was pulling more air in, deep and clear and free. I screamed again.

My heart was pounding in my chest. I could feel each surge of blood in my temples.

When I had freed every last ounce of air in my lungs I toppled backwards onto my ass, pulling breath back into me.

I was shaking. My hands were braced on my knees.

My awareness extended around me, I felt a new kind of pull coming from the east, from the burial valley.

It was a steady low roar, a cascade of energy. It felt ancient. It felt hungry.

Tomorrow we would be going there, into the Valley of the Dark Lords. I needed to get it together.

Ymir was willing to train me. He saw potential in me, why else would he bring me here?

My anger was fading, exhaustion rising up in its place.

When my heart had slowed and my breathing returned to normal, I slowly rose to my feet and began the return trip to my speeder.

III

The sun was beginning to set as I got to the little stone marker I had built.

The climb down was awful. My legs and arms shook the entire time. Even my teeth were chattering with effort.

I took longer breaks, finding ledges and places to brace myself. I watched the darkness settle over the canyon.

Soon my vision was useless.

I kept my awareness extended around me, my body and mind working as a team even in the haze of exhaustion.

Handhold. Foothold. Handhold. Foothold.

There were close calls, a few slides and scrambles, but I caught myself each time.

When I arrived at the speeder, I climbed on and allowed myself to slump forward. My arms and legs draped over each side. My face pressed against the cool glass of the display screen.

I barely had the strength left to pilot. I nearly flipped myself over trying to lower the speeder off the ledge to the canyon floor.

Thankfully, it was only a few minutes until I was at the Academy.

As I pulled up, I heard the pneumatic hiss of the cargo bay door opening.

It looked like Ymir was on his ship.

He was seated at the computer, and turned to me as I parked my speeder next to his.

“I was wondering when you’d be back,” he said. He sounded friendly, his irritation from the afternoon had softened.

I was pulling off my helmet, facemask, and goggles. I set them in the saddle and climbed off, legs shaking. I slumped down onto one of the supply crates.

Ymir looked fresh. He had showered and changed into loose, casual clothes. He watched me for a moment, then went to the kitchen and filled a glass of water.

He handed it to me and took a seat. “What did you do out there?”

I downed the glass in a few large gulps, gasping for air when I was done. I hunched forward, resting my elbows on my knees, feeling the water cooling me as it flowed down my throat into my belly.

“I went for a climb,” I answered,”I wanted to take a look over the valley.”

Ymir gave me an approving look, “I could feel you.”

I nodded, too tired to do anything else. How much of it had he felt? I was vulnerable, raw at the edges.

“You look exhausted. Take a rest. I’ll heat up food for you.”

“Thanks,” I said with relief.

In my quarters, I took time in front of the mirror. My face was darker, sunburned. My eyes were red from the daily sandblasting. There were dark circles underneath. I was covered in fresh bruises, from sparring practice and the climb.

I looked like shit.

I frowned at the mirror before shucking off my clothes.

In the shower, I scrubbed my armpits and feet. I soaped up my hair twice, running my fingers through it to get out as much sand as possible.

Feeling a little better, I pulled on loose pants and a sleeveless shirt, luxuriating in how soft and clean they felt against my skin.

I padded back to the kitchen on bare feet and was greeted with a dish of identifiable starch and veg. My water glass was refilled. Ymir had returned to his computer and was working. I ate in silence, reminding myself to go slow.

“How was the rest of the excavation?” I asked, as I returned the tray to the sanitizing cabinet.

Ymir stretched his hands in front of him, letting out a sigh, “I was hoping to find something notable, but it’s just been more sand and shyracks. I’m looking through the data from the probe, but it looks like everything of value is gone.”

“So we’re going to the Valley of the Dark Lords tomorrow?” I asked, stifling a yawn.

“We are,” he answered, “You’ve seen how close it is, so we won’t need to get too early of a start. We’ll spend at least one night there, maybe two. Come over and I’ll show you the map.”

I pulled up a chair to the computer bank while Ymir made us tea. We drank together while he went over an aerial map. I struggled to keep my eyes open as I listened.

“The purpose of this trip is to meditate on the Darkside. Our strongest leaders are buried there,” Ymir began.

“I felt some energy while I was climbing. It was different from the Academy,” I said.

Ymir nodded, “We’ll be exploring that together. I want to be able to guide you through,” he pointed at the map, “This will also be a practical application of your skills.The rancors that guard the valley will be our biggest threat. Tomorrow, your cloaking skills will be an invaluable tool.”

I rested my chin on my hands, trying not to get discouraged by this news, “So what’s the strategy?”

“We’re going to move fast, and stay out of their way,” Ymir said evenly.

Perfect. More to look forward to.

“How do they live in there?” I asked, “It looks like they’re locked in.”

“That’s right,” Ymir said, “They were created through alchemy. My theory is that they sustain themselves through the energy in the valley. I’ve wanted to study them for years, but I’ve never managed to kill one.”

They sustained themselves off of the energy of the valley? I felt like I had entered a world where none of the usual rules applied.

Ymir had more to say. He walked me through the map and the route we would be taking through the valley.

I was slumped in my chair, fighting to keep sleep at bay. I shrank at the thought of setting up camp in the watchtower again. I just wanted to go to bed.

“Are you staying in the Academy tonight?” I asked when he was done.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet. Why do you ask?”

“I’m dead tired. I could just pass out in my quarters here.”

Ymir looked at my face, haggard and lined with exhaustion. “Go ahead.”

I put my cup in the sanitizing cabinet and dragged myself back to my quarters and fell asleep on top of the sheets.

That night the nightmares returned. I dreamed of tunnels and alleys, gigantic beasts with long claws and sharp teeth. This time I had a lightsaber in my hand, red and true in front of me. I returned the monster’s screams with my own.

Chapter Text

I

Ymir rapped his knuckles against the door to my quarters and I jolted awake.

My muscles were tensed and the sheets were damp with my sweat. I didn’t feel confident that I had actually slept.

I rolled onto my back, sighing loudly in the empty room.

I couldn’t wait until we were off this planet.

Groaning and grumbling to myself, I pulled on the same clothes from the day before and shuffled down the hall to the kitchen.

Ymir was eating breakfast, dressed in a fresh set of utility clothes. He had his tablet resting on the table in front of him. It looked like he had a newsfeed pulled up.

“What’s happening in the Galaxy these days?” I asked, leaning over the screen.

Ymir let me take a look. “There was an explosion on one of our mining colonies. We’re not sure if it’s an accident or a guerilla attack.”

“Locals not too happy with the First Order taking their resources?” I said with a wink.

It was the wrong thing to say.

Ymir gave me a stern, heavy-lidded look.

“What kind of work do you think you’ll be assigned, Siobhan?”

I held up my hands, “I don’t have a problem with those jobs. I’ve had enforcement gigs.” I met Ymir’s eyes, unflinching, “It’s just a fact. You take something from people and some are going to try to take it back.”

He studied me for a few long moments. He was trying to see if I was being sincere, or if I was coming from a Rebel’s perspective. “Then what do you propose?” he asked, pivoting.

“Huh?”

“What is the solution for placating those who would fight back?”

I was surprised by the question, but it wasn’t difficult to answer. This was one of the things that the cartels did very well. “Keep the locals employed. Offer the guild leaders - or bosses or whatever - more pay and maintain their status. The people will keep working for their crews,” I said.

Ymir was looking at me with a thoughtful expression, so I continued.

“If you promote some of the people at the bottom, it looks like they still have options.” I paused, thinking of all the conversations I had with Resistance and what motivated them to join up, “People fight back when they feel trapped, when they feel something has been taken away from them.”

I let those last words settle in.

Ymir gave me a cold smile, satisfied with my answer, “That’s the kind of thinking I need.”

Approval from the man who wanted to control the Galaxy…

My heart felt hard in my chest.

He stood up, folding the tablet under his arm, “We should get moving.”

We needed to pack for two nights in the valley. I ate as we worked, sucking calories out of the little foil pouch while we arranged our things on the floor of the cargo bay. I shook out my clothes and sleeping bag. All my stuff looked and smelled like I had been living in it for a week.

Ymir talked me through his plan while we were packing and running engine tests on the speeders.

“We’ll be travelling north through the canyon to reach the gate. That is the only way in or out of the valley,” he said.

I had been falling asleep while he talked me through the plan last night. Now that we were about to travel out I was listening much more closely.

“Once we enter the tunnels we won’t have much to worry about. The hardest part will be a two kilometer run from the tunnels to Darth Bane’s tomb.”

I looked up at Ymir, trying to keep my expression in check, “The tunnels don’t go all the way there?”

“The tunnels only connect the tombs of the lesser masters and acolytes. Our leaders didn’t want their graves robbed after their death.”

This was fucking ridiculous. Ymir was purposefully making everything harder than it needed to be.

“Why run? Why can’t we just take our speeders?” I asked, shoving my sleeping bag in to the bottom of my daypack.

“The tomb’s only entrance is on the roof. Unless you want to take your speeder up thirty vertical meters with all of your supplies on the back,” he was scornful, leaving a long pause while I did the math, “We’ll carry the essentials in our daypacks, and leave everything else in the tunnels”

“It was just a logistics question,” I said, standing up, clapping my hands against my thighs, “We’ll take a two kilometer stroll to the tomb. How fast are the rancors?”

He didn’t keep up his condescending tone, “They aren’t very fast, that’s one of our only advantages. But they have a connection to the Force, so we won’t be easily able to restrain or manipulate them. The rancors have powers that they can use against us.”

I scowled, keeping my head down as I packed my supplies. We could just take the ship into the valley and park it on the roof of the tomb, but apparently we had to do things the hardest and most dangerous way possible...

Ymir’s personality was clear to me now. He had gone swimming in ocean caves, without oxygen or other supplies, or so he said, to test his connection with the Force. He had come to this planet alone, visiting these dangerous places without help or backup. For him, the risks were calculated, purposeful. He was constantly testing his strength and abilities.

“Do we know how many rancor there are?”

“I’ve confirmed ten in the valley from my last visit.”

“Do I get a bonus if I kill one?” I asked with a roguish grin.

Ymir barked a laugh, “If you manage to kill one, you’ll get a reward from me personally.”

Once our bags were packed, Ymir distributed our weapons.

The short range blaster went in the holster on my right thigh and the long range blaster and I slung it around my chest, to the side of my daypack.

We did a final check on our speeders and left the safety of the ship.

II

We headed northeast through the canyon, the same direction I had gone yesterday. The sun beat down on us and we kicked up dust. We were travelling for about twenty minutes before a passage spit us out into the wide valley floor behind the Academy.

Ymir had us pause at the border. I stared out at the wide expanse of red sand. We were in a bowl, the Academy to our right and the burial valley to our left, maybe thirty kilometers of empty space between them.

I gazed over at the entrance of the burial valley, the massive set of double doors, the statues perched on either side at the top of the canyon walls. It was even more intimidating from the ground.

We approached the gate slowly. I could feel the heat radiating off the doors as we got closer. I tried not to think about what lay beyond - a graveyard filled with monsters.

Ten or fifteen meters outside of the doors Ymir stopped and began giving me instructions through the comms.

“I’m going to open the doors. I haven’t found a way to do it without catching the attention of the rancors. If luck is on our side, they’ll be far from the entrance as we enter. Once we’re in, I’m going to close the door behind us, then we’ll be moving to the right. Have your blaster ready and follow my lead.”

“Copy, over.”

Ymir began drawing power to himself. It was a strange sensation. I could feel the energy coming to him and tried to explore it without uncloaking myself. He held out his gloved right hand and I thought I could feel the wind picking up around us.

I tried to expand my awareness, breathing through the changing energy.

I could feel Ymir, and I could feel the set of doors. There was some kind of resistance that wasn’t physical. The doors were massive, thousands of tons of metal, but the physical weight wasn’t the challenge. There was something deeper at work. It was the same kind of heaviness I had felt at the entrance to the Library.

He began to pull open the doors. Drawing breath into him like a water wheel, pulling with a constant stream of energy. The sun was hot against my back. Sweat was dripping down my temples and my neck.

I could feel Ymir’s strain and took a deep breath. I reached out to the doors, a small gesture.

He turned to me and gave me a look of recognition.

We pulled together. The doors wanted to be closed, it was their natural state.

I was straining, releasing the control I had over my aura. I couldn’t use my full strength while cloaked.

I had both my arms outstretched. My muscles were tense with effort.

I felt like a lunatic - out in the desert, trying to open a door with my magic powers.

Finally, there was a giving way, a terrible reverberating screech echoed through the valley as thousands of tons of metal scraped against one another.

Cloaked or not, there was no hiding our entrance into the Valley and I wondered again why we didn’t just fly over in Ymir’s ship.

We didn’t need to open the doors as far as they would go, just wide enough to get our speeders through. Ymir pulled until there was a two meter gap.

He moved first, darting through the narrow gap, and I followed after, crossing the threshold. Ymir paused a couple of meters inside, head swivelling as he looked around us. I pulled up beside him.

We were greeted by high keening shrieks in the distance. Rancor.

I was on high alert and didn’t know what information to take in first.

“Let’s get this door closed, over,” Ymir said, his voice low and urgent over the comms.

We spun around. The door closed much more easily than it opened. With one strong pull from both of us they scraped shut.

Once the doors were shut behind us we didn’t waste time darting down a road to the right.

I finally gave myself the chance to absorb my surroundings. I thought places like this only existed in stories.

We skimmed just over the surface of an ancient road. To my right were the sheer walls of the canyon, and to my left were large mausoleums, statues, and obelisks. The place stank of decayed glory.

We passed maybe five or six buildings, each constructed from a different kind of stone, some with massive columns rising ten or fifteen meters high. They all showed damage from time and combat. Some had burns from blaster fire, chunks taken out of the walls. Beneath us was rubble, broken pieces of statues and ornamentation.

I followed Ymir tightly. We took a branching passage between two buildings and-

There it was!

Down the road, standing six meters high, was a rancor.

We were moving so fast I was only able to get a glimpse of it. It didn’t look like any rancor I had ever seen before. The beast was a mottled red and purple, with claws that almost dragged the ground. It had the same smashed, ugly face of a rancor, but had a large protective crest of horns fanning out around the base of its skull and neck.

We were already turning into a passage between buildings, and I heard its shriek as it spotted us.

Ymir was leading us around the side of a tomb. There were large boulders and rocks in front of a reinforced metal door. He pushed the rocks aside with a swipe of his hand, pulling the door open at the same time. It was a hurried movement, less careful than usual. He remained at the entrance and motioned for me to enter first.

I braked a couple of meters in. It was pitch black and I turned around. Ymir was closing the door behind him, and I heard the sound of stones rolling to their original spots, forming a barricade.

We sat on our speeders, panting with relief in the dark, musty hallway.

It was a narrow space. There wasn’t enough room for our speeders to fit side by side.

I unbuckled my helmet and pulled my facemask and goggles down around my neck.

Ymir activated a light stick.

There was a shriek outside of the metal door and I heard the sound of claws scraping against the rocks.

“Let’s keep going,” Ymir said calmly, guiding his speeder around mine.

They clanked together awkwardly as he scraped by.

We entered the main chamber and parked our speeders against the wall.

There were skylights in the ceiling and dusty light filtered through the room. It was lined, floor to ceiling, with burial alcoves; dust, bones, and tattered robes filled each space.

Ymir was elated. He began talking to me about the chamber and burial practices. It was fascinating to him.

I feigned attention, nodding while he talked.

We were in tomb forgotten by everyone except a handful, less than a handful, of zealots. The space was dim. The air was stale and dry. It looked like a dead place, but I felt whispers of energy tugging at my awareness.

Goosebumps traveled down my arms and legs.

“We’ll leave our speeders here. Make sure you have everything you need in your daypack,” Ymir instructed, “You should take care to cloak your energy. We don’t want to continue attracting their attention in here.”

I paid attention as Ymir cloaked himself. Today, I could actually feel the difference. It was subtle, a folding inwards. I hadn’t realized that I could sense his energy so consistently until it vanished. I watched him, feeling off-balance as it happened. I could sense his energy muting while nothing changed in his physical appearance.

I took special care as I cloaked myself, drawing my energy in, settling tightly in my chest.

Ymir reached out for me to test my work. I could feel his awareness grazing over me, like fingertips over skin.

Next we took care of our supplies.

Each of us would be carrying thirty meters of rope and three liters of water. Ymir’s pack was bigger than mine. He had the campstove and bowls. I assumed he had packed his tea. We left extra water and food with our speeders.

Between the rope, the water, and the long-range blaster I felt completely weighed down. On top of that, I had kept my helmet, goggles and facemask, knowing we were going to be outside later on. I was not excited about the potential of running two kilometers carrying this much weight.

I shouldered my pack, the long range blaster slung around me, the short range one strapped to my thigh.

All loaded up, Ymir led us through more tunnels and tombs, talking with genuine excitement.

This was what he wanted - power, glory, monuments dedicated to him. He wanted people to be speaking about him thousands of years from now. He needed it. He was hungry for it.

I followed him through tunnels and rooms, nodding and making sounds of agreement and interest. This kind of show was pathetic to me. Death was death - a statue and a fancy building didn’t change that.

The energy here was undeniable though. I could feel whispers tugging at my mind. There was an ambient roar of sensation in these spaces.

I was not looking forward to sleeping here. The nightmares in the Academy had been bad enough.

“How many tombs are out here?” I asked as we travelled through a fourth tunnel.

“I’ve counted over one hundred so far,” Ymir said as he walked in front, lighting the way - his lightstick was suspended in the air under his control.

“That many?”

“This was a true empire once,” he answered.

“How’d the whole Rule of Two thing happen with this many Sith?”

“It was started by Darth Bane,” Ymir said, that familiar lecturing tone in his voice, “Our order had grown decadent and complacent, the teachers and acolytes had become soft. He felt that instilling this rule would bring discipline to our Order. Only the strongest teachers would survive, and they would have to be selective with who they trained. As the student developed their power, the teacher had to keep one step ahead. The constant tension and struggle would lead both to continually grow.”

I thought about it as we walked.

“I think that brings out the worst in both,” I finally said, “I saw that play out with the leadership in the gangs and cartels. They groom their underlings to rise in the ranks, but they’re constantly trying to make sure they don’t rise too high. They just wind up killing each other.”

“The Rule of Two wasn’t sustainable. It might have been a solution in the short term, but it pushed us into the shadows while the Jedi Council rose to power.”

I flashed a grin to myself, three or four steps behind Ymir, “So you’re going to teach me everything you know?”

Ymir laughed, not bothering to turn, “You’re lucky I agreed to train you in the first place. You’ve already told me you plan to kill me one day. I don’t have any incentive to teach you everything I know. Kylo Ren, on the other hand…” he trailed off purposefully.

“That’s what I get for showing my hand,” I replied.

I was just another of his calculated risks.

III

After an hour of navigating tunnels and crypts, we were in the last burial chamber on our route.

Ymir had us break for water and food.

We did a final reorganization of our supplies. He wanted us to keep the rope out, coiled around our shoulders. With the rancor aware of our presence, there wouldn’t be any room for mistakes. Everything had to be ready.

“It’s a straight shot down the path to the tomb,” Ymir said, sitting cross-legged and working on a calorie pouch, “We’ll need to move quickly. I’ll anchor the ropes for us, you’ll hold them off with your long-range blaster. After that, it’s a thirty meter climb to the roof.”

I did not like this plan. My arm muscles twitched in protest, still tired from the day before.

“Got it. We’ll run two kilometers, weighed down with all of our supplies, then climb straight up a vertical wall, and not get killed by rancor on the way,” I said, adjusting my pack on my shoulders.

This sounded like a shittier and much more dangerous version of basic.

Ymir looked over at me, eyes narrowing, “You never fail to amaze me with your resistance to training.”

He spoke directly. There was a threatening calm in his voice.

I bristled, hands moving to my hips, “We’ve just spent a day wandering around in a graveyard. Now you want us to run in exposed terrain with ten fucking rancor all wanting to eat us,” I was angry, pushing back at him, “We could have just taken your ship to this tomb you’re so excited about. I don’t know why you have us running around in the desert like this!” I was going too far and I knew it.

Ymir gave me a heavy-lidded look and I could feel a ripple of anger from him, “Siobhan, you are free to do what you would like. You can choose to accompany me or not. If you’d like, you could meet me back at the Academy.”

I didn’t like his tone. The Academy would be giving up. It would be a death sentence. I could see it in his eyes.

I shut my mouth and put my hands around the straps of my pack, remaining silent while Ymir finished his food and made last-minute adjustments.

We started down the final hallway, tension crackling between us.

Why couldn’t I keep my thoughts to myself?

I knew what the deal was. Ymir wasn’t the kind of man who saw questions as a threat to his authority, but he expected respect. I just kept needling him.

I was at his mercy out here. He could kill me anytime he wanted to. I needed to keep my thoughts to myself and shut the fuck up for once.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

I hated saying those words, but I needed to clear the air.

Ymir turned his head to acknowledge me, face stern.

I continued, “I’ve never been good at following orders, and I haven’t been around a lot of people I can respect.”

It damn near killed me to say something like that.

Ymir listened to my apology, then nodded, granting me a degree of wordless forgiveness.

A few more minutes of walking brought us to the end of the tunnel and another metal door.

He deactivated his lightstick and hooked it to his belt. He pressed a gloved palm against the door and closed his eyes. I could feel him reaching out to the landscape beyond.

“We’re clear for now. There’s some rubble around the entrance we’ll need to climb over. Follow me and keep the long-range blaster ready.”

I took a breath, steadying myself.

Ymir opened the door and I was surprised to see it was already dusk.

We climbed over an uneven hill of rocks and debris and then began hustling down a path to the right. My pack swayed as I jogged, the coil of rope heavy against my right shoulder and left hip. I had the blaster cradled in my arms and tried to move in sync.

We had a few moments of peace. Then there came a series of shrieks as the rancor became aware of our presence. We pressed forward and I could hear them following us, their feet shuffling through the sand, claws dragging along the ground.

My heart was speeding up. Two kilometers. Ten minutes and we’d be at the tomb.

I turned back and saw two rancor galloping towards us, one hundred meters away.

They were fucking enormous. Six meters tall with crests of black, twisting horns making their heads larger, protecting their necks. They propelled themselves on their front limbs, clawed hands curling up, putting weight on their knuckles.

Right now we were slightly faster than them, but once we started the climb we’d be slower, dangling like bait over their heads.

They shrieked and roared, alerting any other rancor that might be nearby.

The tomb was coming up, a massive, rectangular building with a glass dome on top. There was an arced row of obelisks in front.

I hustled after Ymir. When we were ten meters away from the building he stopped and gave me a few steps to catch up to him. He began giving me orders, while I watched the rancors closing the distance we had created. Two more had joined them.

“I’m going to anchor the ropes. Stay here and slow them down with your blaster. I’ll call you over when I’m ready.”

I was hauling the coil of rope over my head and passing it to Ymir. He took off towards the wall and I swung around with my blaster at the ready. This was the kind of shit I liked to do.

The rancors had closed the distance, now seventy meters away, too close for comfort. I began firing on them, a wild grin on my face.

I tore out a chunk of one’s shoulder and it screamed in pain, a terrible high-pitched sound that echoed off the buildings and valley walls. The other rancor didn’t even pause. Fifty meters.

I wanted to hit an eye or a hand. It would make it harder for them to attack us as we climbed the ropes.

There wasn’t enough time. I landed a body shot on another one and Ymir was calling me to him. I slung the blaster around and bolted towards the building.

He had the ropes set up next to one another, a few meters of distance between. He had already begun his ascent.

A vertical climb of thirty meters. My lucky day.

I didn’t waste any time and began hauling myself up, feet planted against the wall. The rancors had long arms, but they didn’t have great shoulder mobility. I needed to be at least eight meters off the ground to be out of range of their claws.

Ymir was much faster than me. Exhausted from drills and the climb yesterday, my muscles started screaming in the first minutes of the climb, but adrenaline and anger pushed me upwards.

I had time to notice the claw marks gouged into the wall next to me.

The rancor weren’t far behind.

They cried out and clawed at me. But we were out of reach and only getting farther away.

I braced myself on the wall and wasted air to laugh. While I paused, I sent a fat gob spit down on them.

They got more creative after that.

I heard a piercing screech beneath and felt a shudder when one butted its head against the stone wall. A wave of energy pulsed upwards. They were using the Force against us, just like Ymir had warned.

I lost my footing and slammed into the wall, only barely managing to keep hold of the rope.

I was gasping for breath, shaking with effort. I risked a glance upwards. Ymir was only a few meters from the top, but he had curled into a defensive position against the wall as the rancors made their attack.

I held on as a second wave passed. Fueled through terror, I managed to scramble myself back into a climbing position. I seemed to be getting heavier. The daypack and long-range blaster each felt like they weighed at least a ton. My hands and arms were beyond pain, the muscles and tendons felt like they were ripping with effort. I could feel my palms bleeding inside the speeder gloves.

My only option was to climb. If I fell, I was going to die, if not on impact then by being ripped to shreds by the rancor beneath me. I could feel tears of rage and fear streaming down my face.

They pulled their stunt again. It was more powerful. I felt that others had joined in. I could hear their feet and knuckles shuffling in the sand, their irritable cries of hunger.

I curled into a desperate ball, clutching the rope in my bleeding hands.

Ymir had made it over the edge of the roof after the first round. I had to weather the rest alone.

I completed the last meters of the climb, making pathetic little cries as I moved.

At the top, Ymir held his arm out to me and helped me over the edge. I collapsed against him, tearful and shaking. He let me rest against him, face buried against his chest. He brought an arm up to rest against my back.

The rancor continued their assault on the building. I took a giant, shaking breath and stepped back, taking a moment to collect myself. The next thing I knew, I was spinning around to the edge of the roof, blaster in my hands. I propped it over my right knee and began firing down on the beasts below.

I landed a few shots, hearing echoing cries of pain.

Ymir put a cautioning hand on my shoulder. I turned to him with wild eyes, blaster still pointed over the edge.

“They can’t do anything to hurt us from here, and you won’t be able to kill them all with that blaster. Follow me.”

I waited a moment before standing down. Adrenaline was still surging through me. I wanted to keep going.

Taking a breath, I engaged the safety and slung the blaster around my back.

We pulled up the ropes, coiling them over our shoulders.

The sun had retreated below the canyon and we were almost completely enveloped in darkness. A dusty orange glow was tingeing the horizon. I activated my lightstick on my belt.

We were standing on the flat base of the roof. Taking up most of the space was a massive, red stained-glass dome, framed with protective spires that curved inward, like brittle leaves around a flower.

I walked over to one of the spires and pulled my right hand out of my glove, resting my torn flesh against the smooth stone. I could feel my muscles twitch and tremble, ready to keep fighting.

“Let me take you inside,” Ymir said.

He lead me around the perimeter of the dome. I grazed my fingers against the glass.

“This is incredible. I’ve never seen anything like this,” I said.

“It’s even more beautiful in daylight,” Ymir replied, “You’ll see tomorrow morning.”

He lead us to a panel in the dome and we stepped down a simple, metal-rung ladder onto a balcony that formed the perimeter of the burial chamber. There was a massive, rectangular stone sarcophagus in the center of the room. I leaned over the railing to stare down on it, dimly illuminated in red light from the dome.

A spiral staircase took us down to the main floor.

I sprawled on the ground near the base of the stairs, pulling the blaster off and resting my head on my daypack, dropping the coil of rope to the side.

I was exhausted. My muscles were throbbing and aching, hands completely worn out. I was ready for the day to be over.

Ymir had started setting up in a corner of the room, laying out his sleeping bag and pad.

Outside, I could hear the sounds of the rancors still shuffling around. The stone muted most of it, but I could hear the shrieks and the occasional, heavy thud as one rammed its skull against the walls.

“They can’t get in here, right?” I asked, lifting my head off my pack.

I needed to start setting up or I’d just fall to sleep on the floor.

“They haven’t managed to before,” Ymir answered.

He was preparing the campstove.

I pulled off my boots and jacket and unstrapped the blaster holster from my thigh. After I was comfortable, I rifled around in the daypack for food. I set up my sleeping gear a few meters from the stairs, then carried my food and water bladder over to Ymir.

We carried out our little tasks in silence.

I tried not to think about tomorrow. We were going to need to leave the building. How the fuck were we going to manage that when those things knew where we were?

Ymir put food into my bowl and passed it to me. I wasn’t hungry. My body had been through so much already that the thought of adding anything else made me nauseous.

I carried my bowl over to my sleeping pad and sat down heavily, gazing out across the space.

The sarcophagus felt like a gravity well. It sucked the air from the room.

Ymir was eating cross-legged in front of the stove, looking completely unfazed by the day. His lightstick was casting a blue glow upwards.

I stood up. “I’m going out to the roof,” I said.

I put my jacket back on but pulled my sweaty socks off. I was willing to risk going barefoot. I took the bowl and trudged back up the spiral stairs, up the ladder, making my way outside.

There was an emboldened roar as the rancors caught my scent on the wind.

I approached the lip of the roof, setting my bowl against the half-meter-high ledge, and peered over, elbows resting heavily on the stone.

I counted five of the bastards milling around. They scuffled and snarled amongst themselves. There was one, bigger than all the rest. In the darkness, it cranked its head upwards to look at me, roaring and lifting a claw.

My heart was beating faster and I roared back at it, leaning over the edge, and hocked a fat wad of spit down. The big rancor butted its head against the wall with its heavy bone crest. I felt the reverberations and spun around, leaving the edge.

“Fucking piece of shit animals on this fucking piece of shit planet…” I murmured, taking my bowl with me.

How the fuck were we going to get out of here? I had to believe Ymir had a plan. He had done this before.

I didn’t want to keep stewing. I took a breath and walked around the roof, looking for a place I wanted to sit. There was a spot against the dome where I could look out over the valley walls.

I leaned against the cool glass of the dome, legs splaying in front of me. My toes were cold. I hadn’t touched the food. I knew I needed to eat, but I couldn’t muster up the will.

Eventually I heard the squeak of metal hinges and Ymir’s footsteps on the roof.

“Over here!” I called from my seat.

Ymir came from my right, lightstick hooked to his belt. He took a sat down next to me, turning off the light.

“It’s pretty out here,” I said, taking the cup he offered.

I meant it. The quiet here in the valley was different than the other places we had been.

“I agree,” Ymir sighed contentedly, taking a sip from his cup.

I took another drink from mine. The tea was earthy and gritty.

Ymir glanced down to the bowl next to me, “You haven’t eaten?”

“I still need to cool off a little bit,” I said. “So what’s the point of visiting this tomb? You didn’t agree with Darth Bane’s philosophy.”

Ymir was pensive, “I don’t have to agree with every person I respect,” he began, “He was a powerful Sith and took action against what he saw as a failing order. He helped us survive and was a fearsome enemy of the Jedi.”

We lapsed into silence, drinking tea and staring out over the valley.

“Are you planning to kill Luke eventually?” I asked.

“Eventually,” Ymir replied, “Turning Ren had a different result than I expected. I thought I was sparking a war, but instead Luke retreated. He isn’t interfering with our plans. I don’t have any evidence he is gathering students or followers. He’s simply vanished.”

I sipped at my tea while Ymir paused, thinking of what he wanted to say.

“I want Ren to be the one to do it. He has too many ties to the Light. It’s going to be a good test for him.”

Killing Luke Skywalker as a test. What the fuck had I gotten myself into?

I laughed, leaning my head back against the dome. It was ridiculous. I felt giddy from exhaustion and lack of food. My head was spinning.

“So who should I kill as a test? General Organa?” I asked wickedly.

“You could. It would be a great help to the First Order,” Ymir agreed casually. “But I don’t need you to kill someone to demonstrate your allegiance to the Darkside. We’ve spent almost two weeks together and I haven’t seen you express any remorse for the deaths at your Resistance base. When you realized the grassland was showing you an illusion of your father, you fired on it. I’m fascinated to see the kind of Sith you are going to become.”

“Me too,” I said with a grin, “Who did you kill? What was your sacrifice to the Darkside?”

Ymir was quiet for a long time. Long enough that I thought he wasn’t going to answer me. The wind was picking up, stirring his hair around his face.

I stared patiently off into the distance, drinking my tea, soothed by the sight of the mountain ridges blending in with the sky. There were so many layers of darkness on this planet...

“I think I’ve sacrificed myself to the Darkside,” he finally said, “I could have been the head of one of the largest weapons corporations in the Galaxy. I already had power and wealth. I had a clear path, following in my father’s footsteps, but I’ve always needed more than that. The world always seemed deeper to me.”

What a fucking narcissist.

“Gave up the highlife to shit in a bucket in the Outer Rim?” I said, laughing.

Ymir clapped one of his large hands around my shoulder. “That’s precisely what I was thinking,” he said good-humoredly, climbing to his feet, “I’m going inside. I’ll see you when you’re done out here.”

He left, taking my empty cup but leaving the bowl of food.

I leaned against the dome, sighing heavily.

His sacrifice was himself. What an asshole.

He had been sincere. He believed it, deep in his heart. He probably felt he was being noble. He had rejected his inheritance to go rough it with soldiers and people like me. He felt he was sacrificing himself to a mystical order.

I sprawled out on the ground, relaxing into the cool stones beneath me. I rested my head into my cradled hands and watched the stars twinkling above me in the dusty sky.

What kind of Sith was I going to become?

That was a big question. I hadn’t ever thought of it that way before. I had only thought in terms of Ymir. I was going to track him down, have him train me, then I was going to kill him.

What kind of Sith was I going to become?

The wind was picking up and I felt the stars were shining brighter tonight. I watched the little pinpricks glowing pink and gold and blue, a cascade of color. Faint, chiming sounds drifted down into the valley, carried in on the breeze.

I was grinning to myself, loose and relaxed, melting and spreading across the cool stone roof.

I jerked suddenly. Reality was slurring around me.

The stars couldn’t be twinkling different colors, and there wasn’t anything that could be making chiming sounds.

When I tried to climb to my feet, my limbs all felt disconnected from one another. It took concentration to push myself upright.

The fucking tea…

I stumbled as I walked, leaning against the dome. I flowed through the panel and clambered down the ladder and the spiral stairs.

My foot slipped at the bottom and I felt myself slide into it, landing heavily on my ass. I pointed at Ymir, sitting on his sleeping pad with his tablet out.

“You fucking asshole,” I growled, accusing him.

He calmly looked over to me.

“Did you drink it too?” I said, too loudly. I managed to ease my heels onto the ground and moved forward into a crouch.

“No,” Ymir answered.

“You’re a fucking asshole,” I repeated, on my hands and knees.

The room was pitching around me, colors and patterns washing across my vision. I rolled onto my back, not trying to fight it.

Ymir came to my side, taking my hand as my head lolled on the ground.

“The tea was made from Utan root. You are going to have powerful hallucinations. It will wear off by tomorrow.”

“And you don’t want to get high with me?” I asked laughing and shaking. The sound was loose and untethered, rising above me.

Ymir held my hand, breathing slowly, watching me.

My laughter stopped. An echoing silence fell around us.

“You should use the Force if it comes to you. Follow the open paths,” Ymir said, smoothing my hair off of my forehead.

My senses blurred; thoughts and physical sensations, all twisted and swirled together, combining and recombining in dizzying patterns.

I was laughing again, laughing on the floor of a Sith Lord’s extravagant tomb.

My stomach cramped suddenly, from asshole to throat, my guts clenching and churning around the poison I had drunk.

I crawled behind the spiral staircase and dry heaved on my hands and knees.

After I was done throwing up, the next stage of hallucinations kicked in. The walls of the tomb were blanketed in swirling lights and patterns.

My mind moved elsewhere, exploring my newfound awareness and connection. I felt that electric body, as real as my nerves and bones.

I laid out on the floor - unbounded. The usual separation between my physical form and the world around me had given way. Skin, stone, air, bones, and light, all blended together.

It took effort to remember to breathe. My heart kept beating, almost magically, pumping blood steadily through my veins.

The world was an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of imagery and sensation and I marveled at it. My thoughts twisted and swirled around me, always moving, never quite landing on anything.

There was something bigger, a rising tide of energy that swelled and lapped at me.

“It’s the tide…” I heard my voice rise into the air, into the walls, joining up with colors and patterns dancing around the space.

The hallucinations were punctuated by brief moments of reality.

The moments were all separate, and I couldn’t tell what order they came in.

Ymir was at my side, his steady body was comforting. He was a fixed point of energy. A life contained in muscle and bone. Two fingertips came to rest on my forehead, the expanse of skin between my brows.

The point became an anchor. I felt myself return to that spot over and over, like home on a map.

“You feel the energy like a rising tide,” he said, voice soft and low.

Each word he shared with me was a vision, a journey.

Who was he talking to? Was he talking to me? I was so far away. I hoped he didn’t need me for anything important. Those thoughts might have been words. It was so hard to tell. Too hard to focus. There was too much happening.

There was laughter coming from Ymir, flying up into the sky.

Feeling. There was too much to feel, too much to explore there.

“It’s pulling me,” a familiar voice- my voice - air and muscles moving ideas out into the world.

“Meet it. It doesn’t pull. It’s already there.”

Ymir was talking, but words were useless for this. Words were flat. Words were limits, artificial, and concrete.

I pushed outwards to that steady body next to me - electric nerves, an expanding and contracting heart - expanding and contracting lungs.

There!

We were bonded - two bodies - two hearts - mirrored and shared. It was all there - threads and connections between us.

Interconnected.

Gentle.

Ymir had his hand wrapped around mine.

I rode the sensation, revelling in it.

There is more than just this.

I felt a push that took me out of my body, weightless and free.

Currents and paths were drawing me in all directions… and I didn’t need to choose.

Exploring one line of energy didn’t prevent me from exploring the others.

There was one body on the floor of the tomb and another body made of light and energy.

Two bodies.

Separation is an illusion.

Sinking, pulling, the world condensed, drawing and folding inwards until it expanded once again.

There was no end to it. Every contraction was just the beginning of another expansion.

Air was pushing from my body, sounds of revelation and freedom escaping from my lungs and throat.

My body and mind felt connected in a way I had never experienced - even though I wasn’t sure what I was.

The walls pulsed and hungry roars enveloped the room. They joined with my own roars and laughter.

Identity without separation.

An image filled my mind. If I went outside, the rancor would eat me and I would be dead, but there was no separation between us. Our energy was connected.

I was still myself, deeply sunk in my awareness. The connection with the Force was an undercurrent, constant, unchanging.

Ymir moved his hand to my sternum, over my heart and lungs.

The connection is always there and through that connection you can drive change. You can decide the shape of the world.

The moment moved on, time stretched me to other events.

At another part of the night, a sudden call to movement pulled at my limbs. My arms and legs felt like a complicated and tangled machine.

I returned to myself for a moment, unsure if I was moving or the room was pitching.

I climbed to my feet and rested my face against the wall, communing with the stone.

It was impossible to stay fixed to one spot. My awareness was travelling beyond.

I found more currents and channels of energy in the valley. The tombs that had felt so stale and dry to me earlier, now felt bright and alive with the impressions of past lives. I visited each, sending out my breath and heartbeat to whatever called to me.

It was a well of power for me to draw from.

I recognized each in turn, the same way Ymir recognized the spark inside of me. As I had recognized myself in him.

The night kept moving.

At another point, there was blood-red light spilling across the floor. Did that mean it was morning?

Ymir was kneeling in front of me, fully dressed, with a coil of rope over his chest and pack on his shoulders. He turned my face to him, taking my chin in his hand, speaking directly into my eyes.

“I’m leaving,” he said. “You’ve been stubborn and resistant, so I’m going to let this planet be your teacher. I promise I’ll return for you.” He leaned forward and kissed my forehead, his beard wiry against my face.

“I promise,” he repeated, meeting my eyes one last time, “I will return for you.”

Then he was gone, vanished.

IV

I woke on the cold floor of the tomb.

The world was achingly silent around me.

My head was filled with cotton. Every joint in my body was sore.

When I opened my eyes I could only see different shades of red. I blinked over and over before I realized that it was light coming in through the dome above.

I rolled onto my side, groaning around my stiff muscles.

I fell asleep again.

This happened several times, my thoughts screaming at me then fading, “You’re all alone here!”

I was too tired to do anything - too strung out to put together a full train of thought. There was something wrong with the situation, but I wasn’t in immediate danger.

I could figure things out after I was fully rested…

Dreams came and went behind my eyelids.

I woke to the sound of a rancor shrieking. I lurched upright, head spinning, black spots moving across my vision. My stomach clenched and I tasted bile in my mouth.

I managed to roll over before I threw up. I painfully dry heaved, coughing and spluttering.

With that out of the way, I climbed unsteadily to my feet, bracing myself against the stone sarcophagus.

My sleeping bag was where I had left it, near the stairs. My daypack was on its side.

Ymir’s things were gone.

I refused to think more about what that meant. I couldn’t deal with it right now.

I moved unsteadily over to my pack and pulled out my water bladder, taking small, careful sips.

When I was done, I flopped back onto my sleeping pad.

I thought I had experienced every kind of hangover there was. I had been on benders that left my nerves screaming, every muscle in my body tense, my mind wracked with lingering hallucinations and paranoia.

This was worse.

My body was sending me messages that something was terribly wrong, but it felt like it was happening to someone else. I felt like a ghost.

I lay on my sleeping pad, taking slow sips of water.

Time passed.

I listened to the rancors come and go outside the walls of the tomb. I watched the light in the room change as the day dragged on.

I was alone.

Ymir had left.

I was all alone, in a tomb surrounded by rancor.

“I promise I will return for you,” I remembered his words and the feeling of his lips pressed against my forehead.

The thought of him leaving me alone on this planet was more than I could handle. I had to ignore it for now. The fear would be too overwhelming if I let reality sink in.

All I knew for certain was that I was alone in the tomb.

Eventually I ate, slowly pulling calories in from a pouch.

I chose a corner to piss in.

As the sun began to set, I took a walk around the interior.

After I made it around the perimeter of the ground floor, I moved upstairs, doing a circuit of the upper balcony.

My steps were hesitant and shaky.

Memories from the previous day kept coming back to me. They were disjointed and confusing. I mostly remembered sensations, rather than visual memory.

I made my way out onto the roof, looking out at the mountain range backlit in the dusk. I panned my head across the dusty red landscape.

I was alone. I was all alone out here.

Tears began streaming down my cheeks.

I leaned against a spire, right shoulder poked by the scrollwork.

Up on the roof, in the fading light, I let the tears come, blurring my vision, dripping down my face.

I felt very, very small.

When I was done, I moved back inside. I hadn’t remembered my lightstick and needed to walk carefully down the ladder and stairs.

I pissed in the corner again and ate another pouch of food.

It all felt fuzzy and unreal.

I took off my clothes and climbed into the sleeping bag.

There wasn’t anything I could do to change my circumstances now. I let sleep pull me under.

V

My dreams were restless, full of fire and howling.

I woke to the sun creating a red glow in the tomb.

I was a part of reality again. The world felt solid and stable around me. I climbed out of the sleeping bag, appreciating the cool stone underneath my feet.

Still alone.

I drank more water, rinsing my mouth out.

In the designated corner, I took one of the worst shits of my life. The tea Ymir had given me was more of a poison than a party drug. My insides were liquified. There was the tug of a headache behind my temples.

I gave myself a sand bath before putting my clothes on. Three days in the same outfit.

Yesterday had been a wash. I needed to start figuring out what my circumstances were.

Ymir hadn’t left any of his gear behind. I turned my daypack inside out, wanting to see what I was working with. He had taken supplies from me. Both blasters were gone.

That piece of shit.

I still had my kit knife and half of the three liters I had carried in. I had three thousand calories of food pouches. That could last me three or four days if I really needed to.

The daypack wasn’t big, the sleeping bag and sleeping pad took up most of the space.

I still had the rope and multi-tool hook.

I was going to make it back to the Academy.

Had Ymir really left?

I took a kneeling position and closed my eyes, reaching out for him. My awareness spread from the tomb, through the valley, and out to the Academy.

I knew what he would feel like.

The Academy was a dark blur on my horizon and I pushed through it. There was nothing for me. I pushed outwards, beyond the canyon and into the dunes.

I was dizzy. I couldn’t sense anything.

Outside, the rancors were becoming more active. I could feel them gathering around me, snarling and screeching. One restarted the assault against the building. I felt the impact against the stone walls.

I could feel them reaching for me with the Force, a strange, webby feeling running over my skin.

This wasn’t like the creature in the grassland - it was made of energy, it had pulled at me directly with its power. This felt like being caught in a net.

I was attracting them. I withdrew, cloaking myself. I pulled inwards, folding in all the edges of my power. I waited.

There was no telling how long it had been until I felt them start to disperse and lose interest.

Leaving wasn’t going to be easy, but I couldn’t stay here.

I laced up my boots and then buckled my helmet under my chin. The pack went over my shoulders and the coil of rope across my chest.

I made my way out onto the roof and took stock of my surroundings in the daylight. I had only been out here when it was dark.

This tomb was at the ass-end of the valley. To the west there were the roofs of other tombs, scattered obelisks and statues. To the east were the valley walls.

I was two kilometers away from a tunnel that would lead me to my speeder. I traced the route in my head. Down the road, scramble over rocks, open a metal door and I’d be in.

What if Ymir had taken my speeder too?

The thought chilled me, but I couldn’t go down that path. I’d figure it out when I got there.

After that was the problem of opening the gate. Ymir had trouble opening it. How the fuck was I supposed to be able to do it alone?

The urgent business was climbing down. Everything else came after.

I needed to make it down thirty meters of vertical stone wall, then make it across two kilometers of open road while all the rancors knew exactly where I was.

It didn’t matter how well I cloaked myself, I still smelled like prey.

If I still had my long-range blaster I would have taken a position on the roof and fired down on them, killing as many as I could and scattering the rest. Seeing as how I didn’t have a blaster, I moved my thoughts on to the options available.

I had my rope, a knife, and the Force. I had powers at my disposal.

Climbing down the rope wasn’t going to work. Even if I waited for the rancors to break away, they could return by the time I reached the ground..

There weren’t any other roofs I could jump to. I made a lap around the perimeter, looking carefully at my surroundings. Three rancor were monitoring this tomb, now. I didn’t spot the giant one among them.

My thoughts raced, trying to come up with a solution.

I could go back downstairs and see if there was a tunnel entrance. Ymir might not have been truthful about the tunnel.

He brought me out here to drug me and leave me. It was another fucking test.

I went back downstairs and spent time reaching out to the stones beneath me, trying to find something hollow, something that meant there was a protected way out.

Nothing.

I retrieved my belongings. The roof really was the only option.

I made two laps around the top of the building, trying to put together a plan, pushing away fear and frustration.

I stopped at the front of the building and took a look over the side. There were seven obelisks set in a semicircle at the entrance. Most were crumbled, broken. Two stood, weather beaten, but intact. The middle one at the top of the arch, closest to the tomb, was whole. I leaned against the back of the facade and stared down at it.

I eyeballed the center one, trying to guess its height relative to its distance from the tomb. If I could tip it towards me, it could be a small ramp. I wouldn’t drop right into the rancor.

There were many drawbacks to this plan. I wasn’t sure I could bring down the obelisk. I was at my limits lifting a rock a meter off the ground. I definitely wouldn’t be able to keep myself cloaked. The rancors would instantly know where I was.

I’d have to be fast. The obelisk wasn’t tall enough to meet the top of the roof. I’d have to jump off the edge, run down the stone ramp and fucking sprint two kilometers to the tunnel.

I really wished I had the blaster.

The day was passing as I thought. I didn’t want to spend another night here and I didn’t want to try this escape in the dark.

I took another lap around the roof, thinking through the plan, trying to see if there was any other way.

It was stupid, but it was the best thing I could come up with.

I returned to my starting point with resolve in my heart.

I got myself into position. I climbed over the ledge and gripped the stone with my left hand, feet planted against the wall, right hand free to channel my energy. I needed to be able to drop down towards the obelisk right when it hit the building.

I steadied myself and focused on the center obelisk. I wanted it to tilt towards me, the point falling against the front wall of the tomb. I was going to give it a shot while staying cloaked. It could give me the seconds I needed. I reached. I pulled.

I could feel the rock. I knew what I wanted to happen. With my awareness hampered, all I could eke out was a wobble.

The rancor were still scuffing around the sides of the building, snorting and dragging their knuckles in the sand. They weren’t going to leave until they ate me or I escaped.

I tried again, using my fear as a spark. I pulled air into my lungs. I could feel my heartbeat pulsing in my right temple. I did my best to keep my energy tamped down. This time I sent a tremor up from the base of the obelisk.

My left arm was screaming with exhaustion. I wasn’t going to be able to hold on much longer.

Doing this cloaked wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t going to be able to hide from them. What did it matter anyways? When the stone fell, it was going to catch their attention.

I let my breath out, opening myself up, letting my fear and frustration and anger move through me.

I stretched out my right hand and pulled the tip of the obelisk towards me.

It fell smoothly forward and I was ready.

There was fire in my veins.

If I fucked this up I’d be lunch for these bastards.

I let go with my left hand, dropping down as the stone point of the obelisk crashed into the front of the building.

My feet made contact with the stone ramp and I was moving, momentum carrying me towards the sand below. I had my awareness spread around me, my body and mind synced.

The rancors were responding to the crash. I could hear their shuffling steps steps rounding the corner to my left.

I didn’t stop running when I landed on the ground. My shins were going to hurt tomorrow, but it was better than being dead.

I bolted down the path, hoping I wouldn’t overshoot the tunnel entrance.

Two kilometers.

I could hear the rancor behind me, their shambling gallop was loud against the hard-packed sand.

I stumbled, a tangled sensation around my feet and ankles. When I looked down I couldn’t see anything.

Those motherfuckers were using the Force again.

I whipped around and pushed back at the energy from the rancor in front. I scowled at its ugly snub face, foam in its jaws.

I needed to keep moving.

The next tomb was my landmark, the first building rising up on the left.

I could see the pile of rocks and bounded up and over, sliding down the opposite side. I wrenched the door open and shut it behind me, letting the cool darkness of the tunnel envelope me.

I caught my breath, safe on the inside of a metal door. The rancors had a tantrum outside.

So far so good.

I jogged through the tunnels, holding my lightstick out in front of me. The pack jostled uncomfortably and the rope was steadily feeling heavier as I moved.

I managed to make some wrong turns in the tunnels, meeting dead-ends or piles of debris blocking the way. I was cautious about using the Force. I didn’t want to show the rancors my path as I moved towards the gate.

Here in the tunnels, I could maintain an element of surprise.

The next problem would be getting that fucking gate open.

The walls were too high to climb, even with the rope. I definitely didn’t have the supplies to try to make it over the walls that lined the valley.

Maybe it would be easier opening the gate from the inside, but I doubted that. I remembered the resistance I felt as Ymir and I pulled together. I had no idea how I was going to manage it alone.

He said there were ten rancor in the valley.

I was going to have to stand at the entrance, get the doors open, and close them again before they caught me. And I might have to do it on foot.

At least it was a straightforward problem.

Finally, after what felt like hours of jogging, I reached the first tomb.

When I made it to the entrance hall, I almost kissed the ground in relief. My speeder was right where I had left it. I jogged over and dropped my pack and coil of the rope on the ground.

I did a thorough examination of the speeder. Did I have my weapons? Was there a note?

The blasters were nowhere, but I had the swords. I still had all my extra food and water.

I began running the engine checks. This wasn’t the time to overlook anything. I collected my thoughts as I worked.

I needed to be able to react to whatever opportunity became available. I couldn’t go in scared.

I reorganized my supplies, strapping the sleeping gear on the back of the speeder next to the crate and water jug. I kept the daypack and rope slung over my shoulders; if I needed to ditch the speeder the rope might come in handy, and I’d still have some water and food on my person.

Once everything was secure and I knew the engines weren’t going to give me any surprises, I travelled slowly down the last stretch of hallway, rehearsing the route I would take to the gate. There were rocks I would have to move, then I’d be out on the road, hanging a sharp right, following the valley wall to the gate. Less than five minutes of travel.

When I got to the door, I could feel a rancor waiting on the other side.

Brilliant.

They might have been able to sense me the whole time. Maybe this one had heard my engines idling.

I had thought about keeping myself cloaked, but with a rancor already outside it didn’t matter. They knew where I was and I didn’t feel like trying to wait them out.

I was going to fucking go for it.

Ymir had pulled energy to himself. I was going to try to do the same thing.

I exhaled all my air and took a mighty breath in, pulling the ambient energy of the valley towards myself. I was expanding, unfurling, drawing power into myself.

The rancor screamed as it sensed the change.

I directed my awareness towards the door and the rocks blocking the entrance, pushing them away as violently as I could. If I was lucky, I could hit the rancor waiting on the other side. At the same time, I revved my engines and flew through the opening, darting out into the world.

The rancor was to my left, howling and screeching. I slipped past it, pressing my body forward on the speeder. I was pulling more energy to myself while expanding in every direction.

I came thundering down the path along the canyon wall, pushing my power around me like a wave. When I reached the gate, I saw that there were five more rancor gathered in the wide boulevard.

They knew there was only one way out, and were waiting for me.

I was ready for them.

They began galloping toward me, fifty meters away.

I slowed my pace, pulling up in front of the doors. I had to get them open.

I directed my right hand at the gate and began to push with everything I had.

The rancors were closing in, thirty meters away.

I expanded to the boulders and heavy debris around me.

With my left hand I captured whatever was near me, and began to hurl the large chunks of rock and jagged pieces of statues at the rancor. I heard meaty thuds and cries of pain behind me.

That would slow them down.

Pushing at the doors, I felt the same impossible resistance. It was like trying to push my physical form through a solid wall. It was immovable.

I was roaring with effort, spit flying from my lips.

The rancor weren’t ready to give up just because I hit them with some rocks.

The big one was part of the group. It shrieked and I whipped my head around in time to see it drop its massive, crested head and start to charge.

I surrendered myself to the Force. My whole being slipped into that deeper place of awareness. I reached into the ambient energy around me - the lines of power I had felt in Bane’s tomb.

I sank in so deep that I couldn’t tell my senses apart. There was no separation of sight, sound, taste, or touch: just one heady stream of sensation. I was connected to this place, to the power of the dead Sith masters. This was everything I had in me - everything I was capable of.

I gathered another volley of rocks, and launched the stones with all my might. In this deep place of awareness, I could feel the impact - crushing flesh, and cracking of bones.

A couple of rancor had managed to deflect my attacks.

The big rancor was bearing down on me now, less than twenty meters away. I was still trying to push at the door, my muscles trembling and spasming with effort.

It was too close. I swung towards the rancor, capturing the broken point of an obelisk and raising it up high.

The beast made an angry snuffling sound as it sensed my attack and I felt a wave of energy rock against me, almost knocking me off my speeder, just like a boat in choppy water.

It wasn’t enough to stop me. I managed launch the pointed end of the obelisk, pushing through the rancor’s resistance and burying the point deep in its skull.

The beast sprawled out in front of me, dust swirling up from the impact.

There was blood and animal screaming. The remaining four were frenzied, but now they were just as scared as they were angry.

I was laughing, still drawing power in. I was out of my body.

I was out of my goddamn mind.

I turned my full attention on the doors and heaved with everything I had, my senses going dark as I exerted myself.

There was the sound of metal scraping, an uncomfortable reverberating sound.

I kept pushing forward.

With the gate moving, I sent another volley of rocks and debris at the rancor starting to approach.

I only needed the doors open wide enough to get my speeder through.

Everything was chaos.

I barely remembered I had a body, but somehow I managed to keep myself together and slip through the narrow gap.

Out in the valley I made one final push to close the door.

That was the easy part. The doors moved back into place with a boom.

I slumped forward on the speeder, my energy and power draining from me as quickly as it had come. I was empty and exhausted. My awareness was shrinking back, elastic. Before I could catch myself, I had slid off the speeder, landing face first in the hot sand.

Darkness ebbed in and out of my vision. I managed to turn my head to the side.

Time passed.

The heat radiating down on me was the reminder that I was still a person - that I was going to die if I stayed out here, cooking in the sun. It felt like I was underwater. The world was fuzzy around me.

I managed to push myself up and climb back onto my speeder. It took more effort than anything else I had ever done before.

VI

When I reached the Academy, Ymir’s ship was gone.

It would have been a bigger surprise to me if it had still been there.

If I hadn’t been so strung out, maybe I would have been shocked or outraged. Instead, I just shrugged and continued towards the Academy door and went inside, powering down my speeder in the entrance hall.

I lifted the coil of rope over my head and let the straps from the pack slide off my shoulders, then pulled out my sleeping bag and unfurled it on the ground. I unbuckled my helmet and threw it aside, hearing it skitter against the hard, stone floor.

I sprawled out on top of the sleeping bag and passed out right there in the entrance hall, boots still laced on my feet.

Chapter Text

I

I woke up to a full-body hangover. My thoughts were slow and hazy. My eyes hurt and my bones were heavy. I rubbed at the corner of my mouth.

I rolled over in my sleeping bag on the hard stone floor and spent some time just blinking, letting the world return to me.

Ymir was gone.

I was alone in the Academy.

I was alone on Korriban.

Ymir’s words echoed through my mind - “I promise I’ll return for you.”

It wasn’t enough to hold on to. My memories from that night were confused and jumbled. I had traveled along the lines of energy left behind by dead Sith masters....

For a while, I ignored the world beyond my sleeping bag. I stayed curled on the floor, my temple resting hard against the cool stone. I allowed my thoughts to twist and circle inside of my skull.

I was alone.

There wasn’t a way to escape the planet.

Suddenly, I felt overwhelmingly hot. The sensation moved across me like a wave, making my skin prickle and my thoughts stall. The sleeping bag was constricting and I wriggled halfway out. I realized I was still in all my clothing from the day before. I hadn’t even unlaced my boots.

I pushed myself out of the sleeping bag, my muscles resisting every motion.

I began removing unnecessary clothing, starting with my boots. My socks were almost completely adhered to my feet. I peeled them off and threw them across the room pressing my toes against the cool stone floors. I shucked off the rest of my clothes, angrily tossing them away.

When I was done I hunched forward, naked on top of my sleeping bag, catching my breath.

I felt heavy, completely drained of energy.

Finally, I sat up and pulled open my daypack. I began pulling items out. There were still three thousand calories, all contained in little foil packets. One liter of water left.

My mouth was dry. I opened the lid of the water bladder and drank carefully. I needed to eat, but I couldn’t summon the will.

It was so fucking quiet in here.

I had no idea how long I had been passed out. It could be two days as easy as one. It could have just been a few hours. There was no way to tell.

I didn’t need to piss, which was concerning.

I picked the water bladder up again and slowly drank, taking simple pleasure in the act.

A quarter liter gone.

There were layers to my exhaustion. Some new kind of dried-out feeling was creeping behind my eyes, beneath my skin.

I took another few gulps of water before opening a food pouch. Five hundred calories. A start.

Memories were coming back to me. I had killed a fucking rancor with the Force; well, the Force and a really big rock.

I had opened the gate all on my own.

A warm feeling of accomplishment spread through me. I hauled myself to my feet, wishing I had taken the time to lay out the sleeping pad. I was sore all over, my joints complained as I moved.

I stretched upwards, rolling out my neck and shoulders, then dipping low to touch my toes.

Standing again, I sucked the contents out of another calorie pouch. Two thousand calories left. I took another few mouthfuls of water. Less than a half-liter left.

I gathered up my clothes before taking a walk-through of the Academy. Maybe Ymir had left a note. Hopefully he had left supplies.

Fucking asshole.

The watchtower was the most obvious place for Ymir to leave something behind and I headed straight there.

I wasn’t disappointed. Sitting on the wooden floorboards was a small pile of gear and supplies. I tore through everything, desperately looking for a note or some kind of communication, anything that could explain this.

Nothing.

I sat down heavily on the floor and took a few breaths. The image of Ymir as a teenage boy, swimming blind through underwater caves, rose up in my mind.

A test. This was the kind of test he would set for himself.

I started going through the supplies more carefully, re-organizing items into groups.

Food and water was my most immediate concern.

Ymir had left one of the secure travel crates with twenty thousand calories, all saved in pouches of five-hundred-calorie and three-hundred-calorie increments. Enough for a very comfortable week. There were a pair of ten-liter square jugs of water, and the water bladder I had from the trip to the valley. Something like twenty-one liters in all.

A week’s worth of water.

Seven fucking days alone in this hellhole?

All I knew was that I had seven days worth of food and water.

There was no guarantee Ymir would return in seven days.

I pushed that thought aside. It wasn’t going to help me right now.

The blasters were nowhere to be seen. Unless he had hidden them somewhere, it looked like the swords and kit knife were my only weapons.

There were two sets of military-issued clothing; shirts, pants, socks, underwear, bra. Including the clothes I was already wearing, that made three sets.

I also found a small container of sanitizing fluid, and one square washcloth. Next to those was a minimal first aid kit; a collection of antibiotics and bandages, no painkillers.

I was left the tent, camp stove, a pot, a bowl, and a utensil. Cooking for one.

It was bare-bones, enough to take care of my most basic needs for a few days. I prayed my period was still a few weeks off. I’d be shit out of luck if it was on the way; I didn’t have any supplies that would stop me from bleeding all over myself.

There was nothing I could use for communication.

There wasn’t one fucking word of guidance.

Was this a punishment? Was he leaving me to die out here?

I had enough supplies to give me hope, to make me think there was a chance.

It couldn’t make sense for him to do all of this just to leave me to die. He could have killed me at any point up to now with no consequences. He could have killed me the moment he had found me in Ren’s quarters. It couldn’t make sense for him to go to all this trouble just to leave me to die.

This was a test.

One week of solitude.

It was classic, right? This was something that monks did. They isolated themselves on mountains and did shit to get close to their gods - forge a spiritual connection.

One week.

I could do it. I mean, I had just killed a rancor using my Force powers. I had escaped the valley all on my own.

Feeling better about the situation, I returned to the entrance hall and carried my sleeping gear up to the watchtower.

***

I wasted the rest of the day, moving aimlessly through rooms, taking long breaks to sit and think - staring at nothing.

The past year had been spent soldiering and travelling - non-stop. I received orders that I would be part of a crew working on a building project on a Resistance base. I had been blown out of the sky, and then taken in by Ymir the next day. It had only been a week on Korriban, but he had managed to pack in an entire year’s worth of misery and hardship.

I counted the days off on my fingers, each one marked by its own special challenges; I was bitten by venomous insects; I was taken to a haunted grassland, twice; we fought a pack of wild dogs; I was taken into a graveyard; I was drugged and left to fight my way out.

Now I was alone here in the Academy, with one week of supplies.

One week without Ymir driving me around on insane tasks.

I walked back up to the watchtower, picking up the clothing I had left in the hallway. I took my clothes off and shook out as much sand as possible, beating the fabric against the metal railing, then draping each article over the railing to air out.

I used the washcloth and soap, taking a layer of dirt off my skin. I imagined I was scrubbing the last of the awful tea Ymir had given me out of my pores. Last, I wiped my face down.

Even that much made me feel refreshed.

Above me, the planet had swung towards dusk, the sky a low, dusty red.

I flopped onto the sleeping bag and closed my eyes.

***

My mind wandered, teetering between sleep and thought.

Idly, I crept my right hand down between my legs. I pressed against my hand, a little pressure, a little heat.

I moved slowly. For the first time in ages I was alone in my bed and I knew no one was going to come in unexpectedly.

I spread my legs and tilted my pelvis forward, against my hand, slowly building heat, letting myself moan.

This felt similar to the mornings or lazy late afternoons with Ahobri at Jukhara’s brothel. Moments of peace and quiet were rare at that place. We took whatever opportunity we could to share selfish pleasures. When we were lucky enough to have a slow morning or afternoon we would move like honey together, kissing softly in bed, hands taking the time to travel over curves and sensitive skin.

I wrapped one arm under my tits, circling a nipple, tugging at the barbell.

I sank into the comforting memory of those times with Ahobri. She was a Twi’lek. I had never been with one before her. She taught me how to work her up, running my fingertips down the two sensitive fleshy tails that draped down from her head. I would start there, then travel lower, my head between her legs, still using my fingertips along the ends of those tails.

She had a way of running her hands between my legs, barely touching my clit. Her teasing drove me wild. Under her hand, she would turn me into a hot, panting mess.

Now I was dipping my fingers between my lips, pushing deeply and curling forward, rubbing those spots that made me gasp and buck.

Alone in the watchtower I took my time to get myself off; moving myself closer, then backing away. I wanted to make it last.

My thoughts moved to other places, other memories and fantasies.

I wished I had something other than my fingers to grip. I pressed into myself, using my other hand to rub small circles around my clit.

I rolled onto my belly and rocked my hips against the ground, bunching up the sleeping bag beneath me. Then I rolled over again, sliding my fingers back into me and rubbing my clit in a rhythm I knew well.

I couldn’t hold it off any longer.

I cried out, filling the room with my shouts and yells as I came. I shook and spasmed against my two hands, cries melting into satisfied moans.

Afterwards I dozed, snuggling myself into the sleeping bag, the sky now dark overhead.

Some time later I woke up with the need to piss. I hustled down the stairs to the latrine and squatted over a bucket.

When I returned to the watchtower I stayed awake for a little while, resting my elbows on the ledge that supported the dome.

I gazed out into the darkness, focusing on the stars.

Could Ymir be in orbit? Was he circling above me, ready to come back after I was good and scared, after I had learned my lesson?

I knelt there for a while, gazing up at the dark sky.

Eventually, with heavy eyelids, I curled up in the sleeping bag and gave myself over to sleep.

II

The next day I woke feeling rested.

I came to as dawn broke, the red sky warming my eyelids. I took time to stretch as I got to my feet. In the still air of the watchtower, I felt the silence pressing around me - stifling and horribly empty.

I changed into a fresh set of clothes and rebraided my hair, greasy and unkempt. I tried to find a hair-tie and came up with nothing.

Next came breakfast. It would be one less packet of food to have later.

Afterwards, I wandered around the Academy, trying to become more familiar with my new home. I moved to the backside of the building and stood out on the wide stone patio, directly facing the entrance to the burial valley. A shudder moved across me as I stared at the gate and the guardian statues. I went inside.

On the lower levels I found large rooms that could have been training halls. The lower levels of the building were lined with hundreds of tiny cell rooms. I found the remains of the old showers and even a kitchen and dining hall.

The graffiti was inconsistent. Some halls were covered in marks and drawing, in others there wasn’t even a smudge. There was no telling what had happened here.

Everything was covered in a fine layer of sand and dust. There wasn’t any furniture left, just broken pieces and debris.

In the afternoon, I moved to the back of the building and did sword drills in the shade on the wide stone patio.

That night, I climbed out onto the roof and sat underneath the dark and moonless sky. I gazed up, wondering if Ymir could feel me out here. Since fighting the rancor, I hadn’t bothered cloaking myself. Using my full power, I closed my eyes and began to reach out around me. This time there was clarity I had never felt before. It was like standing under a waterfall, the world passed over and through me and I took it all in.

A smile spread across my face and I held my arms out.

My awareness moved across the landscape. The Academy hummed and keened, spurring me on across the valley and mountains pushing out from the sand. I climbed up the atmosphere, through the heavy dust clouds and beyond.

It was all there for me. I was reaching upwards, searching for Ymir. My concentration faltered as I spread myself out, trying to push beyond the planet.

Everything began to blend together. I could feel the pelko bugs burrowing in the sand, the nests of shyracks in the canyon. The smallest change in the wind was loud to my senses. In this space, everything was significant.

I wrenched my attention back towards the sky. Was there a ship in orbit? Was Ymir close? I lost the thread again, emptiness crashing down around me.

Nothing. There was nothing.

Loneliness had been dogging me since I had woken up in the tomb.

How long had it been? Three days?

Outside of screaming at the rancor, I hadn’t spoken a word this whole time. It might be a record.

I spat on the roof tiles and stood up.

Unable to think of anything else better to do, I walked back into the watchtower and went to sleep.

III

The next day I had recovered enough to start feeling bored.

I had an exciting morning of cleaning out the latrine buckets, scraping them out with sand, wearing gloves in case of pelko bugs.

I thought about going out on the speeder, but it was midday and I’d just wind up wasting water.

Every drop of water I took in, every drop I sweated or pissed out, would be one that I wouldn’t have later.

In the shadowy chamber beneath the the watchtower I practiced sword drills, sinking into the Force as I worked. My motions became more fluid, as easy as a dance. For the first time, I felt graceful; arms working in unison, offense and defense coming together.

Still, I couldn’t do sword drills all day.

Boredom began to carve a path right through to the loneliness I had been pushing down.

When I was done with the swords, I took a seat on the floor to think.

I hadn’t been able to feel Ymir last night; not on the surface, not in orbit.

It was just me and the rocks and the dust. I was at the mercy of the planet.

I was at the mercy of Ymir.

I clenched my fists.

He had absolute power over me. He had chosen how much food and water I would have, the weapons that would be available to me.

It was fucking demeaning.

How far ahead had he planned this baanthashit? When we first set out? When he was talking with Snoke?

Had Ren known? He had snuck the swords into my bag. Maybe Ymir had told him. The gift seemed more disturbing now. I had asked him what to expect. Had he known the whole time?

I frowned, sitting alone on the floor.

I closed my eyes and tried to reach out again, for something, for anything.

With my heart beating fiery blood through my veins, I ran my awareness across the planet. The feeling was expansive and surging. I pushed my senses upwards, through the atmosphere and into the void of space.

More nothingness. It surrounded me. There wasn’t even a moon above. A fucking lonely planet.

I drew myself in. I drew myself back down.

Ymir was so much stronger. He might be able to feel me searching for him.

I felt small, like an animal in a cage, reaching through the bars.

I continued to draw myself in, folding and contained. Cloaked.

I wouldn’t give him the pleasure of watching me.

What if he had left probes on the planet to watch me? That could turn out to be useful. I filed the thought away for later.

That evening, I went through my shrinking supplies of food and water. I stared at the collection of calorie pouches - silver-foil packets, each with a black label that listed nutrition and whatever flavor I was supposed to pretend it was. All I had was my water bladder and the two square jugs.

There wasn’t any evidence that Ymir was going to be back in a week. It didn’t seem like a good idea to freely use the food and water.

What if he planned on two weeks, and was just fucking with me? What if he didn’t come back for a cycle?

For a year?

Fear was rising in me and I shoved the thought away. It wasn’t going to help me right now.

If I didn’t make a back-up plan, I could be in a world of hurt in just a few days.

A human could survive three days without water, right? I tried to remember survival training in basic. Three days without water? A week without food?

I was going to need a plan.

I hadn’t seen any real living vegetation since we arrived. The pelko bugs were venomous, and the only other animals I had seen were predators.

What the fuck were they eating?

Hunting shyracks seemed like my only real option for calories. It was a disgusting thought, but I remembered old smugglers telling stories about eating them on jobs gone wrong - when they had gotten stuck in tunnels and caves. If it was the choice between death and eating shyrack, it wasn’t going to be difficult. I had two swords. There was a nest in the Library, and more in the canyon walls.

Feeling better about my food options, I turned my attention towards the issue of my water supply.

This was a building that had housed thousands of people. I couldn’t imagine them shipping in water. They must have tapped into an aquifer, or some kind of naturally-occurring water source.

I took another seat on the floor and began to reach down through the building, attempting to keep myself cloaked while I explored.

I followed my awareness down to the space beneath us.

The canyon had been formed by water. I had seen the twisted trunks of trees. It couldn’t all be gone, could it?

Staying cloaked, it was hard to reach beyond myself, but my stubbornness gave me an edge to work with.

I pushed downwards, feeling sand and stone.

Emptiness.

There was a vast emptiness beneath me. I poured my awareness through tunnels and open, drafty spaces underground.

I was cloaked, drawn in tight.

There was water, deep below, in a black, echoing space. I could almost smell it - stagnant, collected in inky pools.

I sensed life. There were creatures in the underground caverns, scaly beasts with long, muscular, limbless bodies, and wide milky eyes.

They draped themselves in the brackish pools of water, and raised their heads to sniff the air as my awareness moved over them.

I winced. This wasn’t going to be my ticket to water, it was too far down, too dangerous.

I pushed my awareness out beyond the canyon, seeping through the dunes.

Water! I felt the tug of it through the sand, a narrow trickle. Long fibrous roots hungrily moved through the sand towards it. The grassland.

My water source was at the grassland.

Seated on the floor of the chamber, I frowned to myself.

Fuck that.

I moved beyond, prodding the landscape, trying to find something, anything else that could work.

There were far away whispers, nothing more.

My face was worked up in a nasty scowl. I returned my awareness to the grassland; my only real option, I didn’t have to be happy about it. This was survival or death.

I found the spot within moments. There was a slurry gently roiling its way underneath the dunes. I explored it. It was near enough to the surface for the roots to connect, just a few meters. I attempted to trace it back to its source - to find another access point farther away.

The stream was an anomaly; it came from deep underneath the canyon, deeper than I could possibly reach on my own. It rose up as it approached the dunes, then sank back down again, moving far under the sand.

Was it artificial? Had someone created it?

I pulled my awareness back to me, and opened my eyes.

I needed to drill a well. I was going to have to drill a well, without any real tools or supplies.

And who said this wasn’t going to be any fun?

We had built wells on the farm. I knew how to make one. I just needed to figure out a way to do it with the available materials.

With a renewed sense of hope, I got to work on plans.

IV

On the farm, we were always repurposing tools and equipment. We didn’t make many trips into town. When a tool or appliance broke, we fixed it. When a machine wasn’t repairable, it was stripped for parts and became something else.

I started making a mental list, counting on my fingers as I thought of the different things I would need. I had the entire Academy at my disposal. I was sure I’d be able to cobble something together from what was left.

I was going to need a pipe long enough to sit in the water table - two meters long, at least. It would need to have holes drilled in the last half-meter. I needed a filter to keep sand from clogging up the whole thing.

Next, I would need to make a drive post. That would mean welding. The electro-plasma edge of my sword might work. It wasn’t ideal, but it was what I had.

What else? What else?

I’d need to be able to load everything onto the speeder. I’d have to adjust my water storage system.

I’d need something to filter and boil the water. I was going to be exposing myself to all kinds of unknown substances. I just hoped that boiling would be enough to handle any contaminants.

It would have to be enough.

I was starting to feel good as I worked through these problems. This wasn’t going to be glamorous, but it would be something real to do.

Finally, I felt like I had a plan. I had a general idea of the supplies I’d need, and what I’d need to do with them.

I stood up and moved to the watchtower to retrieve my lightstick and the lantern. It was already dusk and I wound up working through the night.

I began by exploring the bathrooms first. They were three levels down, and I found five separate sets of community toilets and showers between the cell rooms. With the lantern on the floor, and my lightstick held over my head, I surveyed the state of the pipes. I dug through crumbling walls and cleared away debris. Most of the pipes were corroded and brittle, covered in layers of rust and mineralization. Maybe I could sandblast them clean?

How was I going to get them apart? It wasn’t like I had a toolkit.

The kitchens turned out to be a treasure trove for materials. There were pipes, appliances, metal pots and pans. Everything was weathered and ancient, covered in layers of rust and mineralization.

I began using my powers to dismantle the kitchen. I sat down next to my lantern and began to play. I gathered a collection of pipes, pulling them down from the ceilings, clearing out holes in the walls. I urged rusty, brittle screws to turn themselves loose, took ovens apart. I was reaching into my surroundings, trying to keep myself cloaked the whole time.

It reminded me of working with my father. He had taught me how to keep the farm running from the time I could stand. My brother was handy with machinery, but it never came quite as easily for him as it did for me. I could hold the entire system in my mind; the way the pieces fit together, how they all worked as a unit. I had a good sense for where the problems were, what needed to get fixed. My father had the same skill. When I was having trouble, he encouraged me and never let me give up.

Those skills came in handy on my mother’s homeworld, when I started hotwiring speeders and stealing ships. I could always figure out how a machine worked.

In the depths of the Academy, I had no way to tell how much time was passing. I worked steadily into the night, glad to finally be doing something that felt useful. At the end of it, I had assembled a variety of materialson the floor of the entrance hall.

There were pipes of different lengths, widths, and level of decay. There was some heavier plumbing that I was going to turn into a drive post. Some mesh grating from the oven vent I thought could become a filter. A collection of large, dented, rusted pots that I could hopefully use to boil a few liters of water at a time.

Tomorrow I’d see if I could turn the electro plasma blade of my sword into a welding tool.

I still needed to think through a lot of factors; there was soil density, and water pressure. It wasn’t like I’d be able to work off of survey data. There were more unknowns than I wanted there to be, but if this was what stood between me and death by dehydration, I’d take these odds.

When I returned to the watchtower dawn was steadily rising. I moved my sleeping gear down to the chamber below and fell into the most peaceful sleep I’d had since arriving. For the first time since Ymir took me on for training, I felt completely satisfied and proud of myself.

I was going to be okay.

Chapter Text

I

I woke up in the chamber beneath the watchtower. I had spent the previous night putting together supplies to build a well, working clear through dawn. Now it was sometime the next day, and I didn’t feel like leaping out of bed. I rolled around, dozing with and arm over my eyes.

Eventually, I climbed out of my sleeping bag to use my freshly cleaned latrine buckets. The all-paste diet was not doing any favors to my intestines. This was a familiar problem. This wasn’t too different from long smuggling jobs. A lot of eating industrial-grade calories and sitting around with nothing to do.

Afterwards, I drank some water and slowly ate another food pouch.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, slurping paste from a little foil packet, I thought about my period. It was irregular at the best of times and space travel only made it worse.

I did a rough calculation of days. It had been somewhere between forty-five to fifty days since my last one. That didn’t help me predict when it would start up again. I could start tomorrow or I might have another twenty days left. These circumstances didn’t help.

I wasn’t worried about being pregnant. At the brothel I had gotten an implant, paid off in my contract with Jukhara. I couldn’t get knocked up, and everything else stayed in working order.

If my period happened here I wasn’t going to have many options. I would probably just have to bleed into a sock and sleep on the floor. It would be better than ruining a pair of pants or my sleeping bag.

I wasn’t going to be able to do a lot of washing out here.

If it happened, I’d deal with it. It wouldn’t help to stew over it right now. There were more urgent problems to work on, like how I was going to keep up my water supply.

All the materials for the well were gathered in the entrance hall. If I kept up at this pace, I could have everything ready to go by the end of the day.

***

At the back of the Academy was a wide stone patio. During the day, it was protected from the sun by the building’s shadow. I decided to turn that space into my workshop.

Using the Force, and doing my best to stay cloaked, I gathered up all the materials and levitated them outside. I set myself up in the shade and got to work.

I decided to start by welding the drive post. I figured I would be able to get my bearings using the plasma edge of the sword as a welding tool. It didn’t need to be pretty. All I needed was a heavy pipe with a closed end and two handles.

The project wasn’t as straightforward as I thought it would be.

In the daylight, I saw that more than half of the pipes I had gathered were too corroded to work with. Others didn’t look weak on the outside, but when I attempted to cut them with the plasma edge they shattered.

It wasn’t a good tool. The filament was small, and it was attached to a sword. I worked slowly and carefully, doing my best not to cut off any fingers or toes.

It was slow going. I cursed under my breath each time a pipe broke or I carved one into an unusable shape and had to start over.

I finally found enough pipes that could survive the heat of the blade. I made my drive post.

The welding job was shoddy, but it should work.

An old sewer line became the tip of the well: I carved holes in the last half-meter of pipe and began manipulating the metal into a conical shape that I could drive through the sand.

I took breaks, crouching in the shade, staring out at the massive doors and their guardian statues in the distance, a veil of shimmering heat in front of them. There was a dead rancor just a few meters inside. Ymir told me he had never managed to kill one. Would the corpse still be lying there? I didn’t know if the other rancors would have eaten it, dragging pieces of the carcass off with them.

What if I went back in to collect a tooth or a claw? Ymir liked trophies. That was his language. But there was no guarantee that there would be something left for me to take.

I sure as fuck wasn’t going to do anything like that today. I’d let the thought simmer. I took a drink of water and moved on.

My next task was to clean the pipes, taking out as much rust and mineral build-up as possible.

Since I didn’t have access to water, a metal brush, or any other tools I tried my hand at sandblasting them using the Force.

I took care to keep my energy cloaked. There were a few moments of awkwardness and strain as I pulled at the sand, but soon I got into a groove.

It was unexpectedly fun. I collected the pipes, large pots, and lids, and took a turn with each, holding them up in my left hand while I gathered a stream of sand and pushed it around and through.

I caught myself laughing while I worked.

You can take a girl off the farm…

II

When I had all my supplies cleaned and assembled, it was time for a test run.

In the valley just beyond the patio, I tried using the drive post to send the pointed drill head into the ground.

I wound up aggravating a nest of pelko bugs. They swarmed up out of the ground after my first swing. I screamed and bolted away, leaving the pipes where they were. From the safety of the patio I watched the little black bugs swarm across the metal pipes.

Motherfuckers!

I stood with my arms crossed over my chest and a scowl on my face and waited for the bugs to clear out. Then I gathered everything up, piling my supplies just inside the back door of the Academy.

Darkness was falling in the canyon. I felt like everything was ready to go.

With the day’s work complete, I trudged towards the watchtower for some shut eye.

I had tried to keep myself cloaked for the entire time, and my reward was a massive headache. There was a searing pain between my eyes and temples.

I was going to have to keep it up tomorrow. There could be tu’kata out by the grassland and I didn’t want to do anything that would attract them.

Tomorrow would be the next real test.

Back in the watchtower I uncloaked myself, sprawling out on top of my sleeping bag. My mind kept circling around to my plans.

Should I pack the tent and sleeping gear just in case? The speeder was already going to be weighed down with pipes and equipment - did I really need to weigh it down more?

Would I really be able to sleep alone in the Korriban wilderness?

Could I handle the grassland alone?

This wasn’t helping. I turned my thoughts to other things.

I thought about Ahobri. What would she say if she could see me now?

When we met at the Outpost, I had been even more of a hothead. I was always mouthing off and stirring up shit. We had gotten along fine, but she didn’t have a very high opinion of me. One night I told her the story of my father’s murder.

It was at the end of a long day. We were both drunk after our shift, and she invited me back to her room to keep going. I had never talked about my family before. The closest I ever got to the truth was saying that they were murdered by the First Order. It wasn’t a unique story to have.

Wrapped up in the sheets, faces close together, I had drunkenly told Ahobri about the Sith Lord that came into our house and murdered my father. She scoffed. Back then, half of what came out of my mouth was bullshit and lies, but as I kept talking she realized that I was telling the truth - that I was just drunk enough to share something personal.

“So you’re going to kill the evil Jedi that killed your Dad?” she asked.

I nodded as seriously as I could, completely hammered.

She didn’t even pause.

“Girl, you’re going to need to a ship. You’re going to need a lot more money to do that. You better earn more tomorrow.”

We burst into laughter together. After that night, we started to become friends.

Now here I was, training to be an evil Jedi.

I still didn’t have a ship, and I still didn’t have any money. I didn’t know if I even had enough food and water to see me through the week.

III

The next day I made final preparations for the well.

I was going to travel out to the grassland towards dusk. If I went out earlier in the day I would be wasting water and energy. I hoped there wouldn’t be a new kind of horror out there during the evening. I worried that the grassland might be more powerful during the nighttime.

I’d just have to deal with whatever happened.

Water storage was the first task. I emptied the remaining water from the ten liter jug into a couple of deep pots I had found in the kitchens. There weren’t lids for all of them, so I cleaned off some wide, flat tiles to put on top. I hoped that would be enough to keep it safe.

I packed a food pouch, rope, my kit knife, and one of the swords. Just in case.

It had been a few days since I used the speeder, so I ran engine checks before loading it up with supplies in the entrance hall.

The hardest part was arranging all the pipes and supplies on the speeder. I was bringing extra, expecting a few of the pipes to break as I worked with them. I had found some wire as I explored the Academy, and I tied down my supplies to the running boards.

I played with weight distribution. She was going to be riding low and I didn’t want to tip over. If I injured myself out there, there would be no one to help me.

I finished the prep with a few hours to go until dusk.

Time passed slowly, and I tried not to let my thoughts turn to worry or fear.

I didn’t want to go back to the grassland. If there were more tu’kata I wasn’t sure I’d be able to take them out all by myself.

What if I managed to get lost? The speeder didn’t have a map. I wanted to keep myself cloaked, and that would make it harder to navigate.

When the sun began creeping down towards the horizon, I opened the Academy doors. I got comfortable in the saddle of my speeder, cloaking myself, drawing breath in. Drawing my power in.

For the first time since Ymir abandoned me, I left the safety of the Academy and set out into the canyon.

I pushed the Academy doors shut behind me and spread my awareness out around the speeder.

I had to rely on my memory and senses to find my way back to the grassland. The console gave me a topographic layout of my surroundings and cardinal directions, but that was all.

I used the Force to help guide me through passages as daylight faded.

I kept my headlights off as I travelled, doing what I could to minimize my presence in the landscape. It was a small gesture. I was the only thing on the surface making this much noise.

Now that I was outside the boundaries of the Academy, I realized just how empty this planet was.

The Academy had a steady kind of energy, like the hum of starship engines. It was a constant background sensation that I had gotten used to. Now, stillness pressed around me and I felt exposed.

When I entered the dunes, I paused to find a better read on the aquifer.

I wanted to be as far from the grasslands as possible. I didn’t want to find out what that creature could do at night.

Sitting in the saddle, engines purring beneath me, I closed my eyes and reached into the landscape. I could feel the water trickling from deep in the canyon to the east. I followed the path, feeling the roots above as it moved closer to the surface.

I guided my speeder along, moving slowly. The water was sluggish as it filtered its way through the red sand. It seemed intentional, like irrigation. It must have been created by someone.

Why the fuck would anyone make a monster like this?

About twelve meters away from the tall grasses, I found a spot that should work. Too close for comfort, but hopefully far enough to avoid trouble.

I parked the speeder, facing the grasses, and turned the headlights to their dimmest setting. I put my lantern in the sand and began unloading supplies. With the drill point in hand I sank my awareness below me, trying to find an ideal spot to begin.

It wasn’t like I would have depth measurements to work with. All I could sense was the general path of the water.

The grassland was already pulling at me; a tug, a frustrated keening. It could feel me. It knew I was there, but I was just out of reach.

I drew my awareness back to myself with a breath, sensing its tendrils reaching out for me. I did my best to mask my aura and hoped it would be enough to shield me while I worked.

The actual construction was familiar. I had shitty parts and substandard conditions, but drilling a well was still drilling a well.

I began to assemble the pieces, attaching the first length of pipe to my drill point. I picked up my drive post and got to work, hauling the thing up as far as my arms would go and bringing it down hard, urging the pointed tip down through the sand towards water.

I had worked in much worse terrain, like rocks and clay, but I always had machinery to help. Manually working the drive post was exhausting, even in sand. I heaved the pipe up and down. Up and down. It was heavy.

After a couple minutes I paused, wiping the back of my hand across my forehead. I was already out of breath.

Wait… there was a better way to do this…

I took a step back and I gathered the drive post in my awareness. Concentrating, I began using the Force to guide it up and down.

It fucking worked.

Moving my right hand up and down in a consistent rhythm, I was able to use the Force to pound my well pipe down towards the stream of water beneath me.

I felt a wide stupid grin spread across my face as I imagined looking at myself from the outside. Here I was, all alone, backlit by my speeder headlamps, waving my arms around like a madwoman, trying to drill a well in the desert.

The grassland was picking up on my energy. I could feel its tendrils snaking out for me, hungry and vicious. It reached out as far as it could, falling short of me each time, stretched to its breaking point.

I could hear my father’s voice floating over the nighttime breeze.

Siobhan...Siobhan…

It was so hard to remember that it was an illusion.

I scowled and closed myself off to it, trying to use my power effectively. I was going to make this work. I wasn’t going to let this place kill me.

With resolve, I brought myself inward, focusing on my task.

I reached into the sand beneath my boots, still driving the well tip deeper into the earth, hunting for the aquifer. I tried to urge the water upwards, to bring the flow towards me.

The water felt sluggish and sleepy. It was used to the constant tugging of hungry roots. All I could do was coax and pull.

Finally, I felt the drill hit the vein. I urged water upward, and put the water jug underneath the spout end.

It took a lot of effort to pull water up the pipe. The gurgling and spluttering stream shook the pipe. I worried that I was going to rip it apart.

In the speeder headlights, I saw there was as much sand as water coming out of the spout. It was a slurry, flowing in fits and starts, red-tinted. I was definitely going to have to filter it, boil it, then clean out the fucking jug…

My headache had returned. It was gripping my skull and pounding in my temples. I gritted my teeth and tried to be happy that I had managed to find water in this shitty desert.

When the jug was filled to the top with sand and water, I released my control.

My eyes were watering from the pain, and I wiped at my cheeks after securing the jug to the speeder.

I left the extra pipes on the ground and surveyed the area for anything I might have forgotten. I double-checked the straps around the jug and climbed into the saddle.

On the way back to the Academy, I heard some howls and yipping in the distance. I kept my pace, my heart beating a tick faster in my chest.

I was exhausted when I arrived. I left everything in the entrance hall, and made my way up to the chamber beneath the watchtower falling asleep instantly on top of my sleeping bag.

IV

The next day, I headed down to the entrance hall and was glad to see that most of the water had separated from the sand. There had been a chance that I had spent all that time and effort collecting mud.

I kicked the side of the jug, watching the water slosh around. Maybe four or five liters total.

Two days worth.

It would mean two more days alive - if everything else went my way.

I couldn’t remember exactly how many calories I had left. I hadn’t been eating much, maybe a thousand calories each day.

I’d need to plan a hunting trip soon.

If my supplies were an indicator, Ymir could be back in two days. I wouldn’t need to eat shyracks. I could be off this rock soon, but I refused to put my hope in that idea. Hope wouldn’t keep me alive.

I spent the afternoon filtering and boiling the water. I had my small collection of pots - all sandblasted clean. I stretched a shirt over the mouth of one and ran the water through it several times, discarding the collection of red sand between rounds.

While I worked, my head was swimming. I was exhausted. Keeping myself cloaked in the desert had drained me. I thought about Luke Skywalker - powerful enough to disappear from Ymir, Snoke, Ren, even his precious Resistance.

I wanted to get better at hiding my aura. Disappearing was a powerful skill to have...

When the water was as clean as it was going to get, I started the process of boiling it. At first, I tried working with just the campstove. I had my small bowl, which held maybe a quarter-liter. I crouched in front of the setup, waiting for each round of water to boil.

It was fucking tedious.

I decided to build a fire to take care of the rest.

I moved through the Academy, gathering scraps of wood. There was plenty scattered around. The floor beneath the entrance hall had all kinds of debris. It looked like a bunch of furniture had been thrown over the rotunda railing at some point. There were broken pieces of desks and chairs, splintery and incredibly dry. I was going to need a lot to keep the flames up.

I brought a small collection of wood onto the back patio, where I made a ring of broken paving stones.

My sword was still strapped to the speeder. I took it outside, capturing the pot of strained water in my awareness and levitating it in front of me as I walked. I was careful with my movements. It had taken so much effort, just for four or five liters of water that I didn’t want to lose a drop.

I created a little stove. By stacking up some bricks and putting a metal tray on top, the pot would rest directly above the flames.

Now it was time to set the fire. I was about to activate my sword when I paused. An interesting thought crossed my mind.

I sat in front of the pile of wood, reaching out to it.

Could I urge it to catch fire?

I sat cross-legged on the paving stones, staring at the pile of dried wood and kindling. I imagined flames licking at the wood. I felt the heat of the sun radiating on my back and up from the stones around me, and I visualized that heat transferring to the kindling. There was something... a whisper of energy… I squinted in concentration, focused on the pile of dry wood, but it slipped away from me....

This was insane. I was trying to start a fire with my mind. What was the matter with me?

I sighed and stood up abruptly, clapping my hands against the side of my legs.

Back to business.

I started the fire with the plasma edge of my sword, trying to get a strong base of embers going. I fed wood into the fire and waited for the water to boil.

Once the boiling started, I let it roll for a while. There was no telling how much time had actually passed.

It was hot on the patio. I felt my face getting red, and sweat trickling down my temples.

I lifted the pot off the fire and gently levitated it inside the Academy doors. I dipped my bowl into the pot, filling it and setting it aside before putting the lid on top.

I threw sand on the fire to put it out, then went back inside with my little bowl in hand.

When it was cool enough, I drank it. There was a strange mineral taste to it, but it was water.

Now all I could do was wait and see how good my filtration system was. If the water was really bad, I’d be shitting myself before nightfall.

Even if I didn’t shit myself, that didn’t mean the water was actually safe to drink. There could be heavy metal concentrations, or something else that I couldn’t test for, something that would kill me slowly.

Dusk was settling over the canyon and I activated my lightstick. Sword and bowl in hand, I trudged back up to the watchtower. I pulled my med kit out, looking through the supply of antibiotics.

There was the basic military-grade stuff. I wasn’t going to use it if the water gave me the runs, but they’d help if I got seriously ill.

I stopped rustling around in the kit bag, pausing where I was. I stopped moving entirely.

Silence surrounded me.

Complete stillness.

I clicked the button on my lightstick, turning it off, allowing myself to be swallowed up in the darkness.

I felt my body turn to stone.

I was alone.

I had never been alone like this before.

Not ever.

There had always been other beings around. I might not have liked the people I was with. I might not have been able to trust most of them, but there had always been others.

Smuggling jobs had put me in close contact with all kinds of characters. I had shared bunks, barracks, and cockpits with more species than I could remember. Many became friends, some enemies, others I forgot about as soon as we parted ways. But I had always been with other people.

My emotions were bubbling up in my chest.

I curled forward, face resting on the ground, tears silently streaming down my cheeks.

I cried on the floor, forehead against the stone, face twisting, mouth open wide. I felt the air squeeze out of me as I grieved.

I sobbed on the floor for a long time.

There was no way out of this desert. I was going to be trapped here until Ymir came back and if he left me here for long enough I would die. The planet would kill me eventually.

When I could move again, I slipped down the stairs and wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, drifting into an uneasy, sniffling sleep.

V

I was in a listless mood the next morning. I lay in my sleeping bag, watching light move across the floor, filtering in from the watchtower stairwell.

I stared up at the ceiling.

I didn’t know what to do.

I should get out of bed. I needed to take care of the water I had left inside the doorway, and I needed to plan a hunting trip.

It took time to come to myself. My eyes were red and itchy from crying.

There was one bright point - I realized that my stomach felt fine. I didn’t have the runs. So far so good on my water purification.

Slowly, I rolled out of bed.

I dressed myself with care. I picked out a bra and a pair of underwear I hadn’t worn yet. I pulled on the shirt that I hadn’t ruined straining water.

I ran my hand through my hair - limp and greasy between my fingers. I shook sand out of my scalp with my fingers and wrapped it into a braid.

Next came food and water. I drank the last half-liter in my water bladder and slurped a small, silver pouch of food. I was beginning to feel like a person again.

Keeping this momentum, I walked up the stairs and grabbed my second sword and headed towards the back patio.

In the shadow of the Academy I began to practice sword drills, warming up my body and my mind.

It was dangerous to be alone like this for this long. People’s thoughts became their own worst enemies.

I was going to stay alive. This situation was bad, but it would end.

I ran drills over and over again. I was beginning to move fluidly, naturally even, with the two swords in my hand.

During breaks I’d stare out into the valley at the massive gate and two statues.

I thought again about the dead rancor just beyond the gate, the tip of an obelisk buried in its skull.

It would be stupid not to take a trophy.

VI

That afternoon, I looked at my shrinking supply of calorie pouches.

The time had come to try to hunt for shyracks.

I wasn’t excited.

If I had my blaster, I wouldn’t even need to think about it. I’d just find a nest and knock a few out of the sky. Without the blaster, I was at a distinct disadvantage. I was on the ground, and they could just fly away from me.

They lived in the canyon, and there didn’t seem to be a shortage of them. I had no idea what they ate. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were cannibals, eating each other for sustenance. Nasty animals.

For weapons, I had two swords and a kit knife. They only worked if I was in close proximity. I couldn’t imagine how useful they would be.

I decided to head out into the canyon on my speeder and start getting an idea of where the biggest nests were. With my weapons strapped to the running boards, and my knife sheathed on my belt, I cruised into the passages.

I kept my headlights off and my speed down. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a nest. I had seen them near the Academy at dusk.

It was getting easier to keep my aura under wraps while using my awareness.

I reached into the canyon, searching for prey.

After ten minutes of traveling, I began to sense shyracks above me in the passage.

I slowed my speeder, letting the engine idle into ambient hover. I watched a pack of four flap their leathery wings, screeching irritably overhead.

They had to be hunting something, but I had no idea what. For all I knew, they ate pelko bugs.

This place was a mystery to me. I couldn’t understand how anything stayed alive out here.

The shyracks slowly disappeared over the rock walls, off on their nightly routine.

Paused on my speeder, I reached into my surroundings. I could feel pelko bugs tunnelling through the sand beneath me. The Academy loomed with its static energy to the east. I pushed into the rock walls surrounding me.

There had to be a nest somewhere.

Passages and hollows ran through the stone. I could feel the segmented bodies of insects crawling through the spaces, moving on hundreds of tiny legs.

I shivered.

Then I found it. A nest.

Dozens of shyracks hung upside down in a dank, little cave. They snapped and squawked, jockeying for space, fighting over the scraps they lived off of.

I did not want to eat them, but I didn’t have a choice. The food pouches would not last forever and soon I’d be completely out of options.

Grumbling under my breath, I set off towards the nest.

It wasn’t visible from the ground. I couldn’t see an opening in the rock, but every now and then a few would fly in or out.

This first night, I decided to watch them, thinking through my options for hunting.

They were flying at least thirty meters overhead. They noticed my presence, but they were smart enough to know I wasn’t prey. This nest wasn’t as large as the one in the Library, so they didn’t have the capacity to swarm me. They stayed out of reach, squawking and screeching their way across the night sky.

I tried to snag one out of the air using the Force. With a hand stretched up, I tried to reach through the animal’s body.

It was awful. I tried to pull the muscles and bones inwards, to draw its wings in. The shyrack let out a confused scream, struggling against me, my unseen hand. I could feel its heart speed up, the panic that flooded its tiny brain. It let loose a stream of shit, only barely missing me.

I let it go. The shyrack swooped down, claws extended, but it stopped far short, still ten meters overhead. It couldn’t find the bravery to fight me.

I was not interested in trying that again.

Maybe I could throw something at them from the ground…

I unsheathed my knife and held it in my hand. The blade was the length of my palm, the handle was half the length of the blade.

Concentrating, I captured the blade and began to levitate it over my open hand.

This seemed promising…

I turned my attention upwards and launched the knife towards the hidden entrance to the shyrack nest, using my left hand to guide the motion. Held in my awareness it sailed upwards, soaring smoothly through the air.

At the top of the canyon wall I stopped it then brought it down again to rest in the open palm of my right hand.

That was enough for tonight.

I returned to the Academy.

This was the most unglamorous situation I had ever been in - throwing knives at shyracks so I wouldn’t starve to death.

I fell asleep cursing Ymir’s name.

***

The next day, I needed to return to the grassland for water. The last trip had yielded somewhere between four and five liters - closer to four after it had been filtered and boiled.

I would need to be making regular trips. It didn’t seem like a good idea to wait until supplies got low. Filtering and boiling the water had been a solid day’s work, not to mention the actual journey to get it.

I decided that I would combine trips, travelling out to the grassland before dusk gathering water, then hunting shyracks on my way back.

That gave me the morning and afternoon to practice my knife skills.

I decided to practice in the Academy. At first, I set up in the entrance hall. There was a balcony that overlooked the floor below. I arranged debris on the railing for target practice, chunks of wood and stone.

I had my knife in hand and was getting ready to start throwing it when I caught myself.

This was asking for trouble. I couldn’t afford to fuck up the blade - I would need it sharp and intact. I sheathed the knife on my belt and practiced with rocks. There were plenty around.

I started out focusing my aim. I realized that I could use the Force to control the trajectory and speed of whatever I was using. I wasn’t hampered by aerodynamics the way I thought I’d be.

With stubborn determination, I kept myself cloaked. I would need to shield myself in the canyon so I kept my awareness closed inwards as I practiced hitting targets.

Slowly, I developed a system. I’d suspend the rock in my palm and use my left hand to direct the motion. Using the Force, I could connect with the movement of the stone and the location of the target.

The objects, the projectile and the target, weren’t separate. It was what I had felt in the tomb. All I had to do was connect the objects, shaping a natural path for them to follow.

This was how I had been such a good shot my whole life. Those moments had always felt reflexive, instinctual. I just thought I was a natural marksman. I had never given it any thought until now.

As I made progress I decided to construct a more realistic scene.

I moved downstairs and set up targets on the railing above me. They weren’t moving, but it was as close as I could get.

From the shadowy lower floor, I practiced launching a rock towards a target and keeping it under my control so it didn’t fall down on my head.

After a few rounds of practice, I felt confident I could down a few shyracks.

The added bonus of this work was that I didn’t have time to dread returning to the grassland.

The afternoon passed me by, and soon it was time to make the trip out.

I checked the knife on my belt, loaded up the speeder with a clean, empty jug, and left the Academy.

***

It was still light out when I arrived, the sun just starting to dip towards the horizon.

I parked my speeder, grabbed the jug, and set it up beneath the mouth of the well.

I wanted to get this done fast. The less time I was here, the less the creature could do to fuck with me.

My jaw was clenched as I stood at the well, reaching into the earth to urge water up the pipe.

The creature was waiting. I could feel the tendrils of its power tugging at my awareness.

I tried to close myself off, but there was nothing else I could do.

To my right, the grasses began to rustle, and my father’s form staggered out. He was completely naked, sparse black hair across his chest, groin, and legs. This time, the only injury was a seared red line across his torso.

The figure took a seat in the dunes, sitting between scattered tufts of dry grass, getting as close as it could. My father’s form watched me with glassy black eyes as I urged water from the sand into my jug - silent and still. Its body, even the shape of its face, was exactly how I remembered him.

I did my best to ignore it, concentrating on pulling water up into the jug. Red-tinted slurry dripped and sputtered from the pipe. But, as I connected with the water, I left myself open. I was connected to the grassland as I tried to divert its water source.

The creature began to talk to me in a creeping voice that wasn’t entirely inside of my mind.

You left your mother and brother to die…

The words drifted to me in whispers, reedy and faint. My father’s mouth gaped slightly open, but the lips didn’t move.

There was no escaping this baanthashit, was there?

I kept my attention on pulling sand and water up the pipe.

What do you think happened to them Siobhan, after you left?

I scowled and tried to ignore the words, but it was impossible. My mother’s and brother’s faces swam in my memory.

I remembered the shitty apartment we moved into after my grandparents said they couldn’t continue to house us. We had shacked up in a dingy one-bedroom that came with insects and exposed wiring.

You were always the strongest. It was your job to protect them. Why did you abandon them?

I gritted my teeth.

It was because they had stood by and watched while my father was cut down inside of our home. They were too afraid of getting hurt, too afraid of dying.

The water had stopped coming up. I was distracted.

“Fuck off,” I growled.

My face twisted in anger and I sent a wave of energy towards the figure of my father.

The illusion vanished and I was left alone to finish pumping water from the well.

***

I was distracted as I rode my speeder through the canyon.

Painful memories bubbled up in my mind and I pushed them aside.

I still had work to do.

Night had just fallen by the time I arrived at the shyrack nest.

There was anger in my heart and a tightness in my jaw.

It had felt fun to do target practice in the Academy this afternoon, but after the run-in with the creature in the grassland, my mood had soured.

I was stuck on this fucking planet, forced to pull up muddy water from haunted dunes, killing shyracks to sustain myself.

I made quick work of the hunting trip.

Seated on my speeder, I waited for shyracks to come flapping towards the entrance to their little cave. My knife was ready in my palm.

The first one was quick. As a shyrack screeched its way into the darkness I launched the knife upwards, catching it underneath the jaw.

With swift motions, I guided it down towards me, yanked the knife out and draped the corpse over my running boards to bleed out into the sand.

Not wanting to discover what that would attract, I readied the knife in my hand and quickly took aim at my second target.

This time I caught the animal in the gut. It would be messier, but just as dead.

I decided to stop at two. It would be enough for a meal, and now I knew my system worked.

I secured their bodies to my running boards with wire and travelled the ten minutes to the Academy.

***

Shyrack for dinner.

I decided to prepare them on the back patio. If my cooking attracted wildlife, at least it would be outside.

With a lightstick activated I got to work, removing the leathery wings and head, pulling the skin off, and cleaning out the guts with my knife. I threw the unused parts as far as I could into the sandy valley beyond.

The fire was ready to go from boiling water. I reignited it with the plasma filament.

I used a long broken piece of pipe and impaled the bodies. While the meat was roasting over the spit, I carefully washed my hands, using the sanitizer from my supplies.

What a miserable evening.

I turned the animals on the spit until the meat was blackened on the outside. I did not want to find out what happened when a person ate undercooked shyrack. When it couldn’t be roasted any more, I unhappily dug into my meal, tossing the bones into the sand beyond the patio. The meat was stringy and tough, but it was calories.

VII

When I was done eating I washed my hands again and sat near the fire, watching the embers die down. The nighttime breeze pulled at my clothing and my hair.

I needed time to cool off. My experience in the grassland was bothering me - my father’s accusation.

Darkness settled over my heart.

Ymir wasn’t going to be returning anytime soon.

I was stuck here.

“I promise I’ll come back for you,” his words echoed in my head.

It could have been part of my hallucinations, something that my brain tricked me into thinking was true. Still, I remembered the feeling of his hand beneath my chin, and how he made sure I was looking into his eyes.

He would be back. He had to come back.

Siobhan, what the fuck have you gotten yourself into?

I gritted my teeth.

I was so desperately alone out here.

I sucked in a breath, feeling my lips trembling.

Tears trickled down my cheeks.

The days were starting to blur together. I was losing track of how long it had been. I was losing track of myself.

I disturbed the fire with the curved tip of my sword, stirring up little red sparks, appreciating how the wood crackled in the heat.

So much had happened, and I was already so much stronger.

I was starting to be able to use the Force reflexively. It was becoming another aspect of myself that I had control over.

Ymir was right, the fucking bastard.

I had given him shit at every turn - when he was coaching me through sword drills, when he took me out to the grassland, in the burial valley. Every step of the way I had dragged my heels, bitching and moaning.

Now I was using my power as I saw fit, in the ways that were useful for me.

I kept stirring the ashes with my sword tip, making circles and swirling lines as anger, fear, and pain competed for space in my chest. My heart felt tight.

I realized that I didn’t know how many days I had been here.

It must have been over a week by now.

With my brows knitted and mouth drawn in, I tried to do the math on how long it had been since I had woken up in the tomb.

I had spent two days in the valley before I escaped, then a day in the Academy fucking around, then wasted a day before I started the well...

Ten days.

It had been ten fucking days.

Ymir had left me with enough supplies for a week and it had already been longer than that.

A sob escaped from my throat, rattling my shoulders.

There was no way to know when he would be back. There was nothing I could do…

I cried in the dark, drawing my knees into my chest. I felt so helpless. I felt so small.

All I could do was keep myself alive.

The thought was overwhelming. Just maintaining the basics of water and food took so much work, and there was no endpoint in sight.

There was nothing to hold onto, just a memory of a promise.

Grief and pain dug into my heart. It felt hard to breathe.

I needed to do something. I couldn’t just sit here, curling inwards. I had to keep track of the days. I wasn’t going to lose myself here.

The idea of tattooing myself rose up clearly in my mind. I would make a mark for every day I had been here alone.

It couldn’t be that hard. I had seen people tattooing themselves with their crew affiliation in lock-up.

I took my kit knife out of my daypack. I poured a splash of water into the bowl and set it in the flames to boil. I scraped ash off the stone floor and mixed it in, making a sludgy paste.

After that, I set the knife in the flames - a minimal attempt to sanitize the blade.

This wasn’t a good idea, but that didn’t matter.

It felt right.

I removed the bowl and the knife from the flames and set them on the ground. I looked at my arms.

I decided to start on my left wrist.

It had been ten days since I woke up in the tomb. Ten hatch marks.

I dipped the point of the knife into the ink and began to press the edge of the blade into my skin. There was a bite of pain as it broke through the first layer of skin and I continued to press down, urging ink into the cut. The sensation was red and sharp. I could taste metal between my teeth and tongue.

Pain had always made sense to me. The vividness and clarity of the feeling had soothed me for as long as I could remember.

Ink and blood began to flow down my arm and, after a small eternity, there were four lines marking my wrist, each a few centimeters long.

My thoughts became more focused as I worked.

The pain was blooming into a deeper experience. I let myself get absorbed in it, allowing the sensation to flood through me.

Pain could be explored and understood, the same as any other feeling.

Now there were seven lines on my skin, uneven and crooked, circling my wrist.

Three more to go.

The pain in my heart was deeper, connecting with the physical pain I was inflicting on myself.

I remembered digging my father’s grave; how hard the earth was, my forearms and biceps straining to push the shovel into the tight-packed dirt.

I hadn’t stopped.

My palms had been bleeding from when I dug my nails in earlier that night - the wounds were raw and open against the handle of the shovel. My muscles had screamed at me while I worked.

I dug a hole large enough for my father. I made two trips for his body then I filled the hole with earth.

There was power in pain - in understanding it.

My awareness was swirling around me. Captivating.

I breathed and worked, the eighth line complete.

Pressure, pain, blood, water, and ash.

Afterwards there would be bruises and scars.

I was going to live.

Whatever Ymir had in mind, I was going to survive it. I wasn’t going to fail out here.

Unless I got an untreatable skin infection from doing this shit…

There were eight lines around my wrist. The ninth started a new row, already creeping up my forearm.

I was going to become as strong as I could, as powerful as I could.

Ymir had some kind of plan for me, some ideal Sith he wanted to mold me into.

I wasn’t going to bend to his will.

He wasn’t going to break me here.

When the ten lines were finished, I gently dabbed sanitizer along them, gingerly touching the wounds.

I kicked sand onto the last embers of the fire and shuffled upstairs to curl up on my sleeping bag. I clutched my left wrist protectively to my chest, drifting away into the darkness.

Chapter Text

I

Ymir didn’t return the next day, or the day after that.

My life had shrunk to the most basic functions - eating, drinking, pissing, and shitting - sandwiched between sleeping and waking.

Every other evening I would travel out to the grassland to pump water. The following day would be spent straining and boiling it.

On evenings I wasn’t gathering water, I would be out in the canyon hunting shyracks. I was reserving what was left of the calorie pouches. When I was done with them, I had no idea how I would get vitamins.

At the end of every day I would tattoo another line into my skin. My left forearm became a mess of bruising and scarring. Each day there was a new wound to heal. Thankfully nothing looked or felt infected. The arid climate was good for one thing at least.

For a little while I tried to stick with a routine, hoping it would help me keep my sanity.

At the start of my day I would exercise, just like in basic. In the afternoons I would either go hunting or take care of my water supply. I did all the tasks in the same order, aiming for the same time of day.

After a week I realized that forcing myself into a daily routine was maddening. I gave it up and just started doing whatever I felt like doing whenever I felt like doing it.

***

The grassland was doing its best to figure me each time I returned to my little, homemade well. Its range seemed to expand every visit. The tendrils were always there, lapping at the edges of my awareness.

I did my best to keep myself cloaked while drawing water up the pipe.

During the first few trips, the grassland conjured up images of my father. He sat and watched me while I worked. He might be clothed or naked, or wearing his orange Rebel flight-suit and helmet. One time he even looked like a teenager; proud, with an aggressive jut to his chin that reminded me of myself.

I started to get used to the illusions, and that’s when the creature changed its tactics.

It treated me to the figures of my mother and brother holding hands. They stood just outside the perimeter of the tall grass.

My mother appeared exactly how I remembered her from my childhood, the same russet hair, the same beige linen dress. She was curving and warm. It was easy to see how my father had fallen so hard for her.

My brother was in the form of his twelve-year-old self. He looked a lot like my father, with angular cheekbones and a spikey mop of black hair. He wore shorts and a simple shirt. His knees were scabbed.

They watched me in complete silence.

I went about my work, a cloud of anger condensing in my mind.

Then the figure of my father stepped out of the tall grasses;blood was dripping from his eyes, his skull was caved in from my blaster shot, and the gash of a lightsaber blade ran across his chest.

He put his arms around the shoulders of my mother and brother, and all three stared at me vacantly.

“Oh, fuck you,” I murmured with a clenched jaw.

My thoughts spiraled inwards.

My father would have hated how I turned out.

I should have been responsible for my mother and brother. They weren’t equipped to live the life we were forced into - on the run from the First Order.

Within the first week on my mother’s homeworld, I got into a fight. My brother and I had been given the task of travelling three or four blocks to the convenience store for groceries. My grandmother had given us a couple small coins so we could each get a piece of candy - a special treat for two kids fresh off the farm.

As we walked the short distance, two boys tried to mug us. They were older, maybe eighteen or nineteen. One was a human with a thin face, wearing stained and ragged clothing. The other was an Arcona, with a small, wiry build. When they cornered us against a wall I went off, lashing out with my fists and my feet.

I took a couple good blows to my face - first to my jaw, then to my nose. It didn’t slow me down, even as I tasted my own blood in my mouth. I didn’t stop fighting, even after the Arcona ran, leaving his friend behind. I had the human boy on the ground and I was stomping on his face, screaming and cursing at him.

My brother stood by, horrified.

I ended the fight by spitting a fat wad of blood and phlegm on the attacker - telling him to never fuck with us again.

I finished the walk to the store, my brother trailing after me. I had the collar of my shirt pulled up over my nose to slow the bleeding. I remembered grabbing a satchel of neon-colored sugar dust from a shelf and opening it into my mouth - sweetness and copper washing over my tongue.

By the time we were walking home to the apartment, the boy was gone. The only evidence of the fight was a few splatters of blood drying on the cement.

My mother and grandmother were at a loss for what to do. Blood was leaking from my nose, staining my shirt, and my jaw was swollen.

On the one hand, I had defended myself and my brother from a robbery. On the other hand, I had beaten a boy to a bloody pulp.

My grandmother sat me down in a chair. My mother alternated between crying and pleading with me to be good. Grandmother was calmer; she told me that what I had done was dangerous - we were in a big city, not out on the farm - the boys could have had a knife, or even a blaster - I could have gotten me and my brother killed - the next time we needed to run or to just give them the money.

I stared at the floor, not really listening.

I continued to come home with black eyes, split lips, bloody knuckles, and, every now and then, a missing tooth. Every act of violence I committed was what I wanted to do to Ymir. My anger gave me power. I wasn’t going to stop.

I shook my head, coming back to myself.

I was standing with my arms at my sides - the jug sat, half-filled with sand and water under the dripping pipe.

The grassland was fucking getting to me.

It was breaking me down.

I pushed up a wall of sand through the figures of my family and the illusion disappeared again.

I finished pumping water and began the return journey to the Academy on my speeder, the memories chasing me as I rode.

My mother and brother were dead to me. I was dead to them.

The last day I actually saw my family had been a complete shitshow.

It was our second year on my mother’s home planet. I hadn’t been home for at least a full cycle. I had been working with the gangs most of that time.

I was fucking one of the small-time leaders, a large Trandoshan named Drago. I was sixteen and he was much older. We had called it a relationship, but really we were just fucking. I looked good on his arm and was even better with a blaster. He was getting moved up the ranks to a position off-planet, and I was going with him.

I thought it would be simple. I’d go into the house to grab the last of my stuff, tell my mother and brother I was leaving, give them some rent money, and be gone.

Instead, I found myself standing in the cramped box we called a living room while my mother sobbed and begged me to stay.

I remembered the uneven, peeling floors beneath my boots.

I was wearing my large coat with the fake fur collar, and a tiny skirt that barely covered my ass. I had makeup smeared across my face and rings on every finger. I was either high or hungover - those days it all blended together. Everything I owned was in a bag slung over my shoulder.

I looked like a mess.

My mother promised to forgive me. She told me I’d get myself killed.

Her words washed over me. I pushed the credits into her hands.

My brother blocked the door.

He wasn’t going to let me leave. He told me our father would be ashamed to see me like this - a criminal and a slut.

I broke his nose.

The clearest part of the memory was the sound of his bones cracking under my knuckles. There was blood on my rings.

He had backed down immediately, hands rising to the broken skin. My mother was hysterical, pulling him to her, clearing my path.

I walked out the door and down to the street, where Drago was waiting for me on his speeder.

It wasn’t my proudest moment. I knew it at the time, even as I was swinging my leg over the saddle and wrapping my arms around Drago’s waist.

I never saw them again.

***

Back at the Academy, I left the water and my gear on the speeder in the entrance hall.

I went right up the stairs, out to the roof, trying to clear my head.

I was the only one here. There was no one to talk to - no one to share these feelings and memories with.

I knew I had hurt my mother and brother.

I had felt betrayed by them - we had lost our father and I was the only one who had tried to stop it.

Ymir had recognized the hate and anger in my heart. He could see where it led - my potential. His words on the roof of the tomb came back to me, “I’m fascinated to see the kind of Sith you are going to become.”

II

I began doing meditations on the rock in the center of the grassland. I needed to draw water every few days, so it became another ritual, like my nightly tattoos. Either at the beginning or end of my trip to pump water, I would travel out to the rock on my speeder.

Sometimes I’d set out at sunset, but mostly it was at night.

I’d park my speeder on top of the flat stone, sit in the darkness and silence of the planet, and let the grassland dredge up whatever forms it wanted.

Alone, under the moonless sky, I confronted my open wounds.

My pain wasn’t special.

The Galaxy had been ravaged by war for decades, long before I was born. I wasn’t the only person who carried hurt and loss in their heart. When I was in the Resistance, everyone in my unit had some kind of terrible story in their past. The smugglers and gangsters I had been with before weren’t any different.

We all had lost someone. We had all given away some part of ourselves to survive.

I thought about Ymir, carrying the memory of his dead wife and unborn child. I thought about Ren, betrayed by his uncle. I tried to imagine the fear and pain Luke Skywalker must have felt, a wound deep enough to make him turn against his own nephew.

I would never lose the memory of dragging my father’s body out to his grave - the two separate trips, each taking a lifetime. I remembered the way his blood and guts smeared across our floors and carpets, and the smell of burned meat that lingered in our home afterwards.

As I buried my father’s corpse, I vowed to kill Ymir, each shovelful of earth was a hardening of my heart.

But he had revealed the seed of darkness inside of me that transformed my anger and pain into strength.

Ymir was a catalyst, opening a wound in my heart, showing me my connection with the Force -, with the Darkside.

That connection had helped me to survive.

***

As I meditated and practiced, my confidence grew.

The grassland conjured up my family, over and over.

I had entire conversations with my father, mother, and brother. I admitted to the pain I had caused them. I railed at them for their failures. All the hurt I had done to myself or that I had done to them was laid bare.

I began to toy with the creature by cloaking myself.

Sitting cross-legged on top of the rock, enveloped in darkness, I let it get a taste of me, feeding from my energy, then I began bringing my energy inwards, pulling myself just beyond its reach.

It was a dangerous game. I set myself out as bait and it did its best to consume me.

I was getting better. I found that I could retreat to a place where it couldn’t touch my aura. I would feel its tendrils lapping around me, knowing I was there, but unable to find anything. I could sit in a deep, inward place, listening to it keening and whining.

I practiced keeping myself cloaked, turning the action into a reflex. I even tried to maintain that inward pull even while I was sleeping.

III

What kind of Sith was I going to become?

The thought followed me as I moved through the days; as I hunted for food, strained and boiled water, and through all the empty stretches of time between.

It had been twenty-two days now. Twenty-two hatch marks circled my left forearm.

I was catching myself lapsing into long periods of thought - standing on the back patio, sitting on the floor of the watchtower, or out on the roof tiles at night.

As I wandered through the days, I began to realize that I had never been fully attached to anything after my father’s death.

I hadn’t wanted to be a gangster - I was just trying to get money an an outlet for my anger, so I fought and I stole. Fucking the leadership pulled me farther into that world. Men showered me with attention and gifts - privileges always came with strings attached, but it was how I managed to escape my mother’s homeworld.

Everything before this had felt temporary - just another step in my path towards Ymir.

Now I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing.

As we travelled to Korriban, Ymir had asked what I was leaving behind. I had been so defensive - we had just left a palace filled with the elites and their servants, he was one of the heads of the First Order, and we were traveling in one of his many personal ships.

I was leaving behind whatever was still in my barracks locker on D’Qar. I couldn’t even remember what was in there - maybe some clothes, probably a few credits tucked away for beer and gambling. That was the whole of it. All those things would be cleared out by now; given away, stolen - it didn’t matter.

I had lived my life on the move, never holding onto anything.

Whenever I had parted ways with boyfriends, I sold the jewelry and clothes to help fund my next step. When I had defected to the Resistance, I didn’t have time to take anything. They just stuck me in a jumpsuit and shipped me out to basic.

I came to Ymir empty-handed.

There were people I was leaving behind, though. There were people who would still be in my corner. People I could rely on, no matter what. Not my Resistance friends - Val, Leran, Tilisk, Gromm. I had betrayed them. They were going to be out of my life forever. But I knew that I could always go back to Ahobri. She had been with me through it all. She knew my plan to find Ymir.

Jukhara was another important connection. Once you were in her book, you stayed there until you fucked it up. I could always go to her for work or advice.

There was Vin Esso. I had met him during my time with the Resistance. We had worked together on smuggling runs for years now. He was a decent man - a father of two kids, with a wife who was tough as nails.

I still had friends in the Smugglers Alliance. They hated the First Order, but they would understand what I was doing. I knew I could make them understand.

I might not have possessions, or money to my name, but there were people I could rely on who had my friendship and loyalty.

Ymir was a powerful man, and his position in the First Order made him even more formidable.

I was going to need friends to defeat him.

I needed to pull people into my corner.

It’s what Ymir was doing. He was building a team that he could use like Dejarik pieces. He had brought Ren over to the Darkside, dealing a massive blow to the Resistance. It was a deep, personal wound against General Organa, Han, and Luke.

I could do the same thing.

It wouldn’t be easy.

It would take time, but I could make a team of my own.

I just had to get off of this fucking rock.

IV

Eventually my period came, on day twenty-six. It wasn’t a complete surprise. I had felt cramps rolling through a couple days before. I had hoped that it was just stomach problems - maybe undercooked shyrack meat.

I couldn’t afford to ruin my clothes with blood.

Water was so hard to come by. I knew I wouldn’t have enough to properly clean anything, and having dried blood on my clothes seemed like a terrible idea.

The next few nights I slept on the floor so I wouldn’t fuck up my sleeping bag and sleeping pad.

The worst day of it was spent with a sock in my underwear, moaning and groaning around the Academy, cursing Ymir’s name.

He had planned all this shit out in advance. He couldn’t throw a fucking tampon in with the supplies that he had so carefully measured out for me?

Fucking asshole.

For four days, I was stuck in the Academy with nothing but my thoughts to entertain me.

I had never missed plumbing more.

I passed the time wandering around the building, doing sword drills, lost in my thoughts.

A plan to retrieve a piece of the rancor slowly came together in my mind.

The massive guardian statues were a daily reminder, standing watch as I moved through my routine.

When Ymir came back, it would help me to have something to show. He responded to trophies and grand gestures. I wanted proof that I had killed a rancor.

Returning to the valley would be risky. I’d need to get the doors open, take whatever was left, and get out, all without getting eaten.

I was growing stronger. I was better at navigating the rhythms of the planet. After my meditations in the grassland, I thought I had a chance.

My memory of escaping the valley was hazy. It played out as a series of impressions, all strung together in an order that shifted and changed depending on the day. I had lost myself in the Force, drawing power towards me, stretched beyond my capabilities.

This time I was going to have more control.

Crouched in the shade of the patio, I stared out at the expanse of red sand between myself and the burial valley.

There was no guarantee there was going to be anything left for me to take. There were twenty eight marks on my left arm. It had been weeks since I had escaped the valley. The other rancor couldn’t possibly have enough to eat in there - they might not have cannibalized their fallen brother immediately, but I couldn’t see them passing up fresh meat for very long.

I had killed the thing with the pointed tip of an obelisk. I remembered the sensation of the heavy rock punching through skin and bone. I was so absorbed in the Force there wasn’t a separation between myself and the rancor. The cries of pain I remembered could have easily been my own.

That afternoon, I sat out on the patio and thought through scenarios.

***

I waited two more days. When my period was completely done, I was ready to put the plan into action.

I prepared to leave at dusk. It didn’t seem like the rancor were any more powerful at night, and in the evening I wouldn’t have to deal with the heat.

I put together a small collection of gear. I had my swords and kit knife, lightstick and rope.

Instead of travelling through the canyon passages, I worked my speeder through the Academy guiding it down stairs and hallways under my power. It was going to be easier to just make a straight shot from the back of the Academy to the doors.

I did a final check on the engines and looked through my meager supplies. I slung the coil of rope around my chest and hooked the kit knife onto my belt. I strapped the swords underneath the speeder.

Without Ymir as my taskmaster, I didn’t think I’d be doing something like this. But, it was still his voice in my mind that was driving me to do it.

I pulled my face mask up, brought the goggles down over my eyes and made a rude gesture towards the dusky red sky, just in case he could see me...

I set out towards the gates, sand billowing behind me in a thick, red cloud. The sun was sinking behind the canyon walls and the somber statue faces were bathed in orange light.

I kept my aura cloaked until the moment I arrived at the gates. I let it go as I skidded up, sand and dust surrounding me. I began extending my awareness towards the solid metal doors, still radiating heat from the day.

As I dropped the inward pull on my energy, I reached into the burial valley, drawing the currents of energy towards myself.

Sitting upright on my speeder, I began to pull the doors open.

The last time I was in a frenzy. Now I didn’t have to resort to panic. I drew air into my lungs, pulling power to myself and pushing through the layers of resistance that kept the doors shut.

My muscles were straining with effort as I pulled, harnessing the doors in my awareness.

The last time, the energy had felt like a weight settled over the doors. Now I was able to reach into the sensation and peel back each layer of energy that kept the doors shut.

I heard far away shrieks of the rancor as they sensed my presence. Metal was scraping loudly as the doors began to open.

I fought to keep my mind clear. I needed to be ready for anything.

I pulled the door open, leaving extra room to get the skull through. I darted through the gap, not bothering to close the doors behind me. I wanted to be able to make a quick getaway.

Inside the gates, I scanned my surroundings, reaching out to see how close the rancor were. I could feel six of them, moving my way from farther inside the valley. I would have several uninterrupted minutes to work.

My prize lay twenty meters ahead. A ray of orange fell across it like a spotlight. The gates were blocking the rest of the sun.

I looked at the obelisk, sticking up at an angle from the skull.

I zipped my speeder alongside it to see what remained of the carcass.

The other rancor had gone to town on their brother. Large bones were scattered across the sandy boulevard. I didn’t feel like hunting through the remains for a claw. The skull was intact. The massive crest of horns fanning out from the base.

I needed to move.

I hopped off the speeder and lifted the stone point out of the skull, letting it drop to the side. It fell with a heavy thud and a puff of sand.

The shrieks were getting closer.

With the crest and horns, the skull was almost the same size as my speeder.

The hole from the obelisk had taken out some mass, slightly reducing the weight of the thing.

I lifted the skull and gently brought it to rest on my speeder, keeping some of my awareness extended towards it for balance. Even with my help, I could hear the speeder engine ramp up under the load, and the machine sank half a meter towards the ground.

That was going to be a problem.

Moving quickly, I uncoiled the rope and began to secure the skull to my speeder. I made a knot around one of the running boards and used a couple of the horns as anchor points to secure the other side. I dumped the excess rope through the large hole in the temple.

I could hear the shuffling gallop of the rancor getting closer. I felt their fear and anger spurring them towards me. I had killed one of their own. They knew I wasn’t easy prey. I could feel their desire for vengeance.

Time was running out.

I leapt back onto my speeder, my ass competing with the front of the skull for space.

Sitting awkwardly, I jetted towards the open gates, supporting the machine with my energy.

The skull was bigger than I thought. The doors weren’t open wide enough. The horn crest made the thing over two meters wide. I’d need to open the doors farther.

I could hear shrieks directly behind me. I dared to ignore them and focused all my energy on opening the doors.

I strained against the energy keeping it shut. I didn’t need much more clearance, maybe another meter.

A pulse of energy surged across me, knocking me off my speeder.

I went sprawling face-first into the sand.

Panic began to flood through my body and I scrambled to my feet, running a hand down my face, wiping sand away from my raw skin.

I saw four rancor charging towards me, heads lowered. Their large bodies looked like a wall of death in the dim twilight.

Without my support, the speeder had tipped over, the running boards and pedals were sticking up in the air, the skull buried in the sand.

I was going to need to deal with my attackers before getting the speeder figured out.

Screaming furiously, I extended myself to the rocks and debris in the boulevard, raising up as much material as I could. I launched everything at the charging rancor.

There was a gruesome cry of pain as one of them went down under a large jagged hunk of stone. A second one was clawing at the sand, trying to raise itself up after a shot to the head.

“Back the fuck off!” I heard myself roaring at the two beasts still standing.

I had gathered up a second round of debris and sent it hurtling at them, listening to the meaty thuds of stone impacting flesh.

I was stronger here. The leftover energy of the old Sith masters was at my fingertips and I was happy to make use of it.

The second volley of stones made the two remaining rancor pause, wary of me again. Fearful.

I didn’t hesitate.

My speeder engine was whirring with strain. I couldn’t afford to let the engine to burn out. I didn’t have a way to repair it and I wouldn’t be able to get water without it.

I bolted over to my speeder, carefully lifting it and setting it upright.

The skull was leaning even farther sideways, and I struggled to keep the speeder upright.

I leapt into the saddle and sent another volley of stones at the two rancor in case they were working up their courage, then I whipped around and focused on the doors again, angry, frightened, and tired. I pushed as hard as I could, feeling blood coursing through the raw skin of my cheek.

My loud cries of effort echoed in my ears.

It was enough.

The doors scraped open as wide as I needed, and I pressed my body flat against speeder. I popped out on the other side and immediately directed my energy to closing the doors.

For what I hoped was the last time, they shut behind me.

Panting with effort, I leaned forward. The speeder was listing down towards the sand again, and I caught it before it hit the valley floor.

I gave myself a couple of moments to catch my breath before heading back to the Academy.

From the other side of the door, I could hear the rancor cry out, the sounds of their claws dragging against the metal.

I felt a mean grin twisting my face and I spat into the sand.

Night had fallen. The sky was dark, the headlights from my speeder the only source of illumination.

The return to the Academy was slow and awkward. The skull took up so much room on the speeder I was practically sitting on its face, the long twisted horns stuck up like some ridiculous fan behind me.

One of the longest horns had snapped off when the speeder flipped over, another bit of damage to match the big hole I had made in the temple.

I was feeling just as ragged. My face was all scraped up. Thankfully, it didn’t feel like I had broken my nose.

At the Academy, I untied the skull from the back of the speeder and left it on the patio.

I took the speeder inside the door. I dipped into my water reserves to rinse off my face, tenderly exploring the skin of my cheek and temple with my fingertips.

It felt like a friction burn. Nothing too serious.

My dinner was shyrack jerky and I made my nightly tattoo outside on the patio when I was done.

The skull sat watchfully while I went about my routine in the darkness.

After I was done tattooing my arm, I walked over to the skull, my lightstick dangling from my belt. I had never felt the need to keep trophies or mementos. I knew who I was and what I had done.

This was all for show. All for Ymir. I was bending to his will, even in his absence, shaping my actions towards his worldview. I hadn’t seen him or felt his presence in over thirty days, and he was still controlling me.

I spit onto the skull, a fat gob of mucus and saliva. Scornful and angry, I walked into the Academy.

V

Forty five days had passed. An eternity alone.

By now I was talking to myself. That should have been concerning, but what could I do about it? I let myself move according to my whims.

I made up half-conversations while I walked through the halls. When I was in the mood, I danced through the empty Academy, singing songs to myself while shaking my ass.

I started to think more about the trajectory of my health.

My diet wasn’t good. Shyrack meat made up ninety percent of my meals. I was losing weight - nothing dangerous yet, but it didn’t seem like a good sign. I could feel my ribs and hipbones easily. I was colder at night.

Once my calorie pouches were gone I had no idea how I was going to get vitamins. Outside of the grassland, I hadn’t seen any living vegetation. Without them, it would be a slow descent into all kinds of physical problems.

I tried to keep my muscles in shape. I moved myself through physical routines I had learned in basic. I ran the Academy halls.

Sword practice became improvisational. I practiced the drills I had learned from Ymir, reconstructing the sequences he had tried to teach me and filling in the gaps with whatever felt right. I wasn’t going to leave this planet a swordmaster, but I was going to have some practice and experience under my belt.

By now, my clothes were uniformly filthy and half-ruined. The shirts were completely stretched out and stained from straining water. I had given up on the bras and underwear long ago. If I was in the Academy, I was naked - just wearing boots and socks to protect my feet. It was going to be a sad day when my jacket and pants fell apart. I did not want to be riding around naked on the speeder.

My hair was a losing battle. I combed through it with my fingers, limp and greasy. I would find myself idly playing with my leg hair. I couldn’t remember the last time it had been that long.

I looked like shit.

By now, I was mostly nocturnal. It was just too hot during the day, and my skin couldn’t take any more abuse. My lips and face and arms had burned and peeled over a dozen times.

I tried to keep my mind intact. There were dark moments - storms of anger and despair that passed through me, taking over my thoughts, carrying me away, leaving me screaming and crying. I always came out the other side, but there was no telling how long I was going to be able to last under these circumstances.

VI

On the fiftieth day, I did something different during my grassland meditation.

I had arrived at sunset to fill my water jug. The light was rosy over the dunes.

When the jug was full, I strapped it to the speeder. Instead of riding in, I walked to the rock, a couple of kilometers.

My cloaking ability was now at the point where I could walk completely uninterrupted. I wasn’t bothered by the figures of my family as I strode through the chest-high grass. The images of my mother, brother, and father stood silently, watching me with vacant eyes. The grassland wasn’t able to get anything new from me. It could only use its old tricks. It couldn’t see into my heart.

When I reached the rock I made a little jump, planting my hands on the ledge and pulling myself up. I took a meditative seat.

This time, I decided to make a deliberate exploration of the memories of my father’s death.

I pulled up images and feelings in my mind.

The grassland rewarded me with the figure of my father, blank and needy, standing at the edge of the rock.

I let myself sink into the memory, the hurt and fear rising openly in my mind. The creature in the grassland made a low howl of delight as I fed it. Emboldened, the figure of my father clambered up onto the rock, looking exactly how I remembered him on the day he died.

He took a seat facing me, wearing a tunic shirt, open at the neck. His hair was disheveled, skin browned by the sun.

I sat on the rock, across from the image of my father, pulling myself deeply into the memory, addressing what had stood out in the moment.

I remembered how his face had grown dark when he sensed Ymir’s approach. We had grown up with the shadow of the First Order hanging over us. We had all known that this day might come

Ymir had entered our home so easily. His presence had felt so wrong, like a violation.

I had been so scared, but there was that undeniable pull towards him. There was something familiar about his power and he had recognized that same darkness in my heart.

I meditated with my eyes open.

I watched as blood began to well up and stain my father’s shirt - the diagonal slash that Ymir had made with his lightsaber.

In the swiftly fading twilight, I watched the figure of my father slide into two pieces with a wet, meaty sound. Blood seeped towards me and I let pain and anger consume my heart.

Sunk deeply in the between-space of the Force, I felt the creature take hold of me, eagerly wrapping my body in its tendrils. I reached into it, closing my eyes. I let myself become the girl snarling on the floor, gasping air into her lungs, helpless except for her anger.

I had turned my back on my family. I had turned my back on everything my father had taught me.

He had survived so much, just to be cut down in his own home.

In the end, he had been defeated by the evil he had fought against for so long.

My father’s two loves were my mother and the Rebellion. He couldn’t have them both.

My mother’s fear had ruled our house.

I had refused to let her fear consume me, so I had left her and my brother behind.

The creature had completely enveloped me now. My skin was burning. I was struggling for air.

For years I had told myself that the path I walked was to avenge my father. Only now was I seeing that it was a story, a half-truth.

I had chosen this path for myself. I was drawn to Ymir’s power from the moment he set foot in our home, and he knew it.

My father would be horrified if he could see me now. I was a Sith in training, working for the First Order.

I couldn’t keep pretending this was about him.

Ymir had terrorized our family in pursuit of his own vengeance - the death of his wife and unborn child. He had found a kindred spirit in me, a fifteen year old girl, seething with rage, trying to save her father.

As I child, I was too weak to stop him, but as I grew, I had never given up my pursuit.

I let sensation flood me - anger pouring white-hot through my veins. It was clear and bright and powerful.

I could feel the fire overflowing from my heart spreading outwards.

I began to hear screeching cries of pain from the creature in the grassland.

It was burning.

When I opened my eyes, there was smoke rising all around. I heaved for breath, stoking the sensation inside of my chest.

The flames whipped up through the dry grass around the rock, spreading outwards in a circle.

Across from me, my father’s form was burning, thick black smoke billowing up into the sky.

I pulled up my facemask to protect my lungs and stood, surveying my work.

The grassland was burning.

I set an energetic barrier around myself to shield me from the smoke and heat.

I laughed quietly to myself as I heard the creature shriek in anguish. I could feel it twisting and writhing in pain.

The flames spread quickly, devouring the dry grass. When I was certain the entire area had caught fire, I stepped down off of the rock, keeping a bubble of energy pushing outward.

Smoke rose in large black clouds above me - the flames were crackling, consuming everything.

There was a proud heaviness in my heart as I walked back to my speeder.

I was giving up a story about myself - the story about how my father’s death changed my life.

A sacrifice.

My father was a Rebel war hero, and I was a Sith.

At the edge of the grassland, with the well and speeder in sight, I felt something hard and sharp under my boot, jabbing up into my thick rubber soles.

I knelt down to find out what I had stepped on. I rooted through the sand, my speeder gloves still on.

I pulled up a green crystal the size of my pinky finger.

How was this possible? I frowned at the object in my hand.

I dug up three more crystals, sifting them out of the red sand and ash.

It took effort to keep my shield up, and the flames were pressing hot around me. I got moving, the four crystals wrapped tightly in my palm.

When I returned to my speeder, I dropped them in the breast pocket of my jacket and patted it with my hand to make sure they were secure.

Half a kilometer away, I parked on top of a dune and climbed off the speeder, taking a seat in the sand. I watched flames stain the horizon orange, smoke billowing into the nighttime sky.

I took the four crystals out of my pocket and stared at them. They were fascinating. I could feel their energy against my skin - bright, like the opening chords of a song. They glittered a deep emerald-green in the firelight.

With four Kyber crystals resting in my palm, I sat and watched the fire consume the grassland until only ash and smoke remained.

VII

With the Kyber crystals in my possession, my training seemed more real.

I had never been attached to the idea of having a lightsaber. Jedi and Sith were the only beings that used them. It seemed outdated, a marker of rank and class more than anything else.

Why would you use a sword when you had a blaster?

Now I wanted to make one.

I did my sword drills with new motivation, imagining what it would be like to have a pair of lightsabers in my hands.

I made a little pouch out of dried shyrack skin for the crystals. I tied it shut with a leather string that I looped around my neck. It rested against my sternum - a comfort, a reminder of my power.

I found myself thinking about the future more and more frequently. I imagined what I would be doing once I was off this terrible rock.

Making plans felt dangerous. There was no telling how long I was going to be trapped here. I didn’t want to get sucked into a fantasy.

I began thinking about what I wanted to do when Ymir came back - what our reunion might look like.

I wanted to be strong when he returned. I knew I looked awful. I was thin and dirty, my hair wild - my braid well on the way to turning into one matted dreadlock.

My imagination ran wild.

There was no shortage of time to dream up scenarios. In some of them we fought and I killed him, in others he praised me for surviving. I imagined him shrinking in fear at my power after he saw the rancor skull and what I had done in the grassland.

More than anything, I needed him to know that he couldn’t break me.

VIII

The days and nights dragged on endlessly.

Fifty-six days now.

I pumped water in the ash-stained dunes. It came even more sluggishly now, as if it knew there were no longer roots that needed it.

I ate the last calorie pouch.

Time was running out.

I would need to start traveling to see if there was anything else on this planet. I was going to need to find some way to eke out a living in this red wasteland.

What the fuck had Ymir been thinking? How did he expect this to go?

I had been left with enough supplies for seven days and now it had been almost sixty.

Had he done the same thing to Ren? Was that why Ren had refused to tell me anything about training? Was that why he had given me the swords?

Was Ymir hoping to break me? Did he expect to come back and find me grateful and obedient? Fearful of him?

I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. No matter how bad things got, no matter how bad of shape I was in, I refused to let him find me broken.

IX

There were sixty three marks on my arm when Ymir returned.

I had noticed something different in the air the day before. I felt a faint, tugging sensation at the edge of my awareness, but I couldn’t find anything that had changed.

That night I dreamed about spacecraft - I heard footsteps, my footsteps, echoing on metal floors, and I could hear the sweet hum of engines and machinery.

I bolted awake, heart thundering in my chest.

I scrambled, naked, up the spiral staircase to the watchtower - just in time to see Ymir’s ship fly over the Academy and land out front.

I was still cloaked - it was constant now, a habit.

My brain was adjusting to the new information while my body was springing into action. I was flying down the stairs to put clothes on - pants, shirt, jacket, boots. I brought my hand up to the little pouch I kept the Kyber crystals in.

There was a tremble in my fingers.

I had imagined this moment so many times.

Don’t fuck this up, Siobhan…

I couldn’t afford to be afraid.

I grabbed my belt and the two sheathed swords, shoving one between my belt and my pants. The other sword I carried in my right hand.

I was bounding down the hallways and staircases, wanting to make it to the entrance hall ahead of him. I needed to be there when he came in.

My thoughts were all crashing together. Fury, anticipation, and relief all crowded together in my mind.

I stopped for just a moment, gathering a deep breath into my lungs, steadying myself.

I was moving down the last stretch of hallway when I heard the Academy doors scrape open.

I heard Ymir’s footsteps - his heavy boots - against the stone floor. I didn’t hear the door close.

I slowed my pace, hugging the wall, moving as silently as I could. The sword was ready in my hand.

Ymir was going to be greeted by the rancor skull in the entrance. He’d see my speeder and whatever shit I had left lying around.

I stopped just inside the hallway that opened to the entrance. I reached out for Ymir’s aura and heard the swish of his clothing as he spun around, trying to find me.

“Are you there?” he asked. His tone was even.

The sound of someone’s voice, the voice of another sentient being, almost brought tears to my eyes. I was so lonely.

Don’t fuck this up.

I stepped out into view, still hanging in the shadow of the hallway - my sword visible, but still sheathed.

“I am,” I answered, voice stiff and hoarse.

We stood apart, the air crackling between us.

Ymir was next to the rancor skull, his gloved hand resting on the bone crest.

He was beautiful - his iron and silver hair pulled back at the base of his neck, his beard freshly trimmed. His clothes were clean; a forest-green half-cape slung over his shoulder, a brown utility jacket, and a plain, white shirt beneath. His pants were some military shade of brownish-green - the ends tucked into the tops of his freshly-shined boots.

His right hand rested on his hip, just above the lightsaber hooked onto his belt.

His expression was gentle and open.

His broad features looked like home.

“I lost my read on you over forty days ago,” he began, “I didn’t know if you were alive or dead.”

It took me a long time to process the words.

I stood in the entranceway trying to turn my own thoughts into sentences, but I was out of practice. The words all jumbled around in my mind.

Ymir was patient. He turned his attention to the rancor skull, patting it with his hand.

“How did you kill it?” he asked.

“I broke its skull with a rock,” I answered. My voice sounded stilted and reluctant in my ears.

Ymir nodded, running his fingertips along the jagged hole in the temple.

I stood planted in the hallway, keeping to the shadows.

When I didn’t say anything more, Ymir straightened up and faced me, his hand still directly above his lightsaber.

“I’m impressed,” he said, “Your aptitude with cloaking yourself is proof enough of how much you’ve grown, and this...” he gestured towards the skull, “I’m very interested in hearing your story.”

I didn’t respond. I simply stared at him, not acknowledging his praise.

Ymir was catching on. He met my gaze, speaking slowly and easily, “I see a few options for today. One of them is where I help you pack up your things, we do a debrief on my ship, and we’re off this planet in a few hours.”

I wanted to be gone. More than anything, I wanted to leave, but it was going to be on my own terms.

I took another steadying breath, gathering my energy and resolve.

“We have unfinished business,” I said, my voice just as cold and certain as I wanted it to be. As the words came out, I was reaching for the doors, pulling them shut.

The room fell dark as the door closed.

I unsheathed my sword and activated the plasma blade. Ymir brought his lightsaber up.

His face was underlit in the golden glow of his blade. He was smiling, wolfish and hungry. He was glad to see I still had some fight in me.

I was first on the offense. I advanced with my single sword, the electroplasma edge a brilliant, crackling blue. I thrust forward and was easily deflected.

I wanted to corner Ymir between the skull and the balcony railing. He quickly saw what I was doing and pushed me back with a volley of attacks, freeing himself.

The fight was a reintroduction.

We started off slowly, measuring each other, seeing what had changed.

I had improved with my swordsmanship, but I wasn’t used to combat.

Ymir was still the better fighter, but for the first time, there was give-and-take.

We moved around the room, circling the rotunda balcony.

Ymir would see this as another exercise - to test me, to see how I had grown.

I was fighting because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say.

I couldn’t bear to ask him the question pulling at my heart. Why did you leave me here? I knew why, and I knew that he was right.

I was so much stronger than when he had left me, but it had hurt so much. I had been so alone.

As we moved around the balcony I tapped into my awareness, remaining cloaked. I was feeling out for Ymir, sensing his movements and rhythms, trying to get ahead of him.

Our blades connected, both of us searching for openings. Ymir tried to feign, but I didn’t fall for it and I leaned into his motion.

He was grinning, loving every moment of this.

“I can’t feel anything from your aura, even this close,” he growled with approval. He went on the offense, trying to drive me towards the entrance.

It was time for the second sword. I drew it out, discarding the sheath. I managed to do it without slicing my belt off.

With two swords in hand, I bore down on Ymir, striking aggressively.

I had fire in my eyes. My muscles were coiling and powerful. This wasn’t a sparring match.

I was a challenge for him.

“That’s it girl. Use your anger,” he encouraged.

I was backing him towards the railing - a four-meter drop to the floor below.

Ymir blocked my swings, giving up ground.

I was relentless with my attack - switching arms, fluidly moving between offense and defense.

My mistake was trying to strike with both swords at once, attempting to drive Ymir over the railing.

He brought his knee up and kicked me in the guts, stopping my progress. I let out a heavy groan. He straightened himself and leapt backwards over the railing, landing solidly on the lower level, just to prove I wasn’t as clever as I thought.

Fucking show-off.

I was pulling in a breath and leaping down after him, my foot pushing off the railing. I could feel the stone slide and wobble under my weight, but it didn’t matter because I was already vaulting over the edge, wrapped in my awareness, swinging at Ymir.

He tried to push me out of the air, but I resisted, bringing my swords down, making him block.

Dust swirled up around us as we moved.

This level of the building was even darker. The balcony above was supported by crumbling columns. Chunks of rock debris littered the floor.

I was driving the fight. Our blades hummed through the air, sparking and crackling as they connected. I was ready to accept the consequences.

I was ready to kill Ymir.

If I actually managed it, I would be marked for death. The First Order would be descending on me with everything they had. I’d definitely have Kylo Ren hunting me down, if he wasn’t already on the planet, waiting in Ymir’s ship.

I was prepared to accept that fate.

As I continued to press, Ymir started using more of his power.

A large chunk of rock came zipping at my head. I flinched and diverted it, while also blocking Ymir’s lightsaber.

I returned the attack, both swords singing in my hands, searching for an opening.

He blocked me with his lightsaber each time.

Ymir understood that I was fighting to win. He was still stronger than me, and more skilled, but I was committed. I wanted to feel his fear. I wanted to feel him fighting for his life.

Finally, I found an opening. He was making an overhead swing and I caught his blade over my head with one sword, while I whipped the other across his belly. I felt Force-resistance stalling my hand as I began to cut through his flesh and muscle. Ymir was bellowing in anger and pain and my sword was pulled violently from my hand, flying across the room, skittering somewhere into the darkness.

Ymir cried out, falling back for a moment. I had one glimpse of the blood blooming across the front of his shirt before he gathered himself for a renewed attack.

Now Ymir was hammering at me, blows coming fast and heavy from every side.

I didn’t have an opening to summon my lost sword back. I didn’t have the space to think. I was just reacting to him, blocking his attacks. I heard myself panting, crying out with effort as our blades connected.

Ymir was driving me backward.

My heel caught on a large stone behind me and I tumbled onto my back.

He was on top of me now, lightsaber coming down towards my face. I swung my sword up to block him. The blades locked, and I strained with effort as he pressed down. The tip of his amber blade was searingly hot at my left cheek.

Pained, desperate sounds escaped my throat. I was reaching to the railing above, pulling at the loose stone.

My skin was burning.

My left eye was blinded with brightness and heat.

Ymir was roaring at me, “Stand down! Stand down, or this goes through your eye!”

I was screaming, pulling at the balcony above. The railing came loose, crashing down on us, forcing Ymir to leap back. I barely avoided crushing myself, rolling out of the way at the last moment. A shower of smaller stones pelted me.

Dust enveloped us.

I was curling inward, clutching the left side of my face in panic.

I could smell my own burnt flesh. I tried to blink and it didn’t feel right.

Ymir was approaching, lightsaber still activated.

“Have you had enough?” He growled. I could hear the pain in his voice.

“Yes,” I croaked, sitting up. My left hand cradled the injured half of my face.

Had I just lost my eye?

Ymir deactivated his lightsaber and hooked it onto his belt.

He offered me his hand, the other wrapped across his belly. I could see blood seeping through his shirt.

Our hands closed around each other and he helped me to my feet.

We supported each other out of the Academy. Processing the shock of our injuries, we slowly moved up the stairs, returning to the entrance hall. We headed for Ymir’s ship.

My eye. If I had lost my eye…

The ramp to the cargo bay was already lowered. We shuffled on board together.