It had been a long time coming. Flanked by a wing of fighters and followed by two transporters, a TIE whisper began its descent towards a planet that used to display a dark and blood red surface. Now, however, grey spots that had started to appear a few decades prior had grown so large that Mustafar was unrecognizable. The ships penetrated the atmosphere. The temperature that the heat sensors indicated was still high, but manageable. It wouldn’t be anything of note to him. Very few things were, these days.
Supreme Leader Kylo Ren of the First Order got out of his ship and took a deep breath. The air reeked of burnt wood, of constant fire, but there was something else. He heard his troops take position around him. Naked, sinewy irontrees stood all around, a silent and motionless welcoming party to the heir of the one who used to reign on this world. He took a few steps on the ashy ground, his shiny black boots quickly surrendering to the overwhelming filth of the place. Exhaling through his nose, he pressed on. He peered through the smoky landscape but saw nothing except for tall and thin shapes that belonged to more half-dead trees. And then his focus shifted. Something was coming. He could feel it through the Force. From all sides he could now perceive a good number of life forms that were converging on him. Their intent was unmistakable. He was an intruder. Kylo stopped walking. He would let them come to him. And they did. They formed a circle around him and his troops. Fifty or so faceless silhouettes brandished crude weapons made of stained steel and blasters that looked so old that one could honestly wonder if they even functioned properly. Kylo could feel their trepidation, their will to destroy the trespasser that he was. If only they knew… There was another emotion emanating from them, though. Ah, yes. Fear. They were right to be afraid. He sensed his troops’ feelings as well. They were ready. Obedient. Loyal.
The light wind made his cape flutter. His hair was moving around his face, too. He centred himself in the Force, went down to his core, searched for his fuel. Anger, hate, pain. He channelled them, let them flow through him, let them give him strength. His hand went to his side, and he gripped his lightsaber firmly. Kylo Ren took his fighting stance. He grew the gap between his legs, stomped on the ground, thus producing a cloud of ash, and ignited his cross guard red blade. They charged. Blaster fire erupted. He slashed and hacked and struck. He punched and ducked and jumped. He had already killed five of them under ten seconds. He dispatched another. Too easy. He felt another running towards him behind his back. Kylo didn’t even bother turning to face him. He slid backward, slightly bent, angled his lightsaber, and felt power course through him as the blade penetrated the creature’s insides. A cry of pain echoed through the forest, among many others. Two more died so easily that his anger grew at the idea of fighting such lowly adversaries. There was no challenge, here. No difficulty. That wasn’t quite true, though. There was one challenge. Far from here. He didn’t know where, but he would soon find out. She had successfully evaded his prying through their bond, but it would all change soon. He would soon have the power he came for. Resistance was futile. The dark side would win in the end.
A blade came so close to his face that his heart skipped a beat. It had filled his whole vision for just a second, and it was only through instinct that he had avoided it. When the attacker, no doubt encouraged by this close call, swung his weapon again, Kylo simply lifted a hand and stopped the blow mid-air. The creature growled, unable to move. He gritted his teeth. A low grunt came from deep inside him, rose in his throat and came out as an unhinged cry of anger, hatred, and… fear? This masked being had made him afraid. He looked at it for a second, then cut its arm. The creature screamed. Kylo then plunged his lightsaber through its throat, to make the noise stop. Blind with rage, he threw his saber to his next opponent, ordered it to come back to his hand when it had hit, and repeated, again and again, until the only bodies left standing in this field of death were those of his white-clad stormtroopers. Panting, he breathed and breathed to slow his heartbeat down to a steady pace. His brow was sweaty. Hair was sticking to it. He removed it with the back of his hand and looked up. Far off into the distance, his destination towered over him. Turning back to his troops he ordered them to sweep the area, look for more enemies, and kill them on the spot. They obeyed without hesitation and spread out.
Darth Vader’s castle sat atop a large wall of black rock. The obsidian structure seemed to absorb light itself, trapping it inside its dead walls. He moved toward it still, walking on burning rock that could at any moment, he could feel it, give way under his weight and plunge him into an ocean of fire. There was no way this was going to happen, of course. He had a rendezvous with destiny. Letting the dark side of the Force guide his way, he walked under what used to be a lavafall to access the residence from below. Echoes of the dark flowed through the air, the rock, and sang to him of things that he could do, if only he surrendered completely. The light was a lie. Only the dark was honest.
A presence suddenly revealed itself to him. It was the most unsettling thing he had ever felt. Except, maybe, for another one, of a very different kind. He was in a tunnel now, and there was very little light around him. He ignited his lightsaber again to see more clearly. For a few short moments more there was only hot rock around, until… a large cave, a room, dimly lit by small, circular pools of lava connected by concentric circles. He turned the saber off. There was smoke everywhere. No, not smoke. Steam. Steam meant water. Here? He moved his hands and the steam cleared. Kylo stopped moving. A dozen meters in front of him, at the very centre of the room, a larger pool, of water this time. The water was red, or at least that’s how he saw it. What was most troubling, unsettling, as he had felt it, was what was in the water. Disgust, discomfort, and fear rose in him. He was familiar with these emotions, having lived for many years under Snoke’s brutality and abuse, but what was coming out gave another meaning to these emotions. He steadied himself to look at it emerge from the ominously bubbly dark water. It started with two bright red eyes, thirty centimetres apart. Two long slits for nostrils followed, and then, a mouth like an old man’s: toothless and wrinkled. The body was white as a corpse, gross and thick. But that wasn’t the worst of it. There was something else beneath the creature. Its six legs were firmly planted, sunk, even, in what couldn’t be anything other than a giant, hairless baby’s head. It was red. More than the water, more than the planet’s surface: like blood. All that Kylo could see was its closed eyes, pointy ears, and nose like a snout. The mouth remained underwater. Another opened, though, belonging to the creature sitting on top of the child’s head, and when the words came out of it, they seemed to come out of the walls as well, and they resonated deep within his brain.
“Who… are you?”, it asked in a voice that was acute and deep, raspy and clear.
Kylo straightened, putting weight behind his own words. “Kylo Ren. Supreme Leader of the First Order.” he said.
“Hmm”, the creature slowly uttered, clearly unconvinced. “I am not here to be lied to, boy.”
Kylo swallowed, taken aback. “Who are you?” he asked, deciding to appear more confident than he actually felt.
The horror pronounced its name. It was impossible to repeat, impossible even to hold on to for more than a second. That language it spoke, it sounded more foreign to his ears than anything he had ever heard. It was ancient, so ancient that it felt like it came from depths of time so remote that even the stones around him had forgotten about it. He dismissed it quickly, however. It clearly wasn’t as important as what he had come here for.
“What you seek,” the creature continued, “the power… the knowledge… it is above, in the castle.” It paused. Kylo listened for more. “But it will not… bring you what… you… truly desire.”
What did it know of his desires? Nobody knew him. What he felt, what he wanted, nothing. There was no way through his soul, black as it was. There was no light.
“Know… that you are… mistaken,” the monster continued with its slow delivery. “Your feelings… for the other… will show you the truth…”
Rage soared through him like an angry snake. The other. The girl. Her name came to him, but he drove it out of his mind. She had closed the door on him forever. Lies. It was all lies. The only truth he needed was here. It was close. He could feel it. And with it, the power. He raised his hand toward the beast, seeking to hurt it with the Force. It didn’t flinch. It didn’t move at all. All it did was look upon him with an indecipherable expression. Kylo glared and tried again. Nothing. Without another word, the creature sank into the pool and disappeared, never ceasing to look at him. Through him.
When it had gone, red lines began to appear on the black wall behind the pool. From left and right, top and bottom, they drew complicated patterns, took strange turns, drew symbols, and finally joined in the centre. Kylo Ren stepped forward cautiously, his blade ignited for the third time. He walked around the pool, ready to strike at the slightest movement coming from underwater. His heart was racing. His thoughts moved at the exact same pace. That creature… everything about it made his skin crawl. The image of it was burned in his retina. And its words… Better not to think about it. About her. Better to stay the course.
He pushed what had become a door. It opened easily. There were stairs. He climbed them for a few minutes. Silence reigned during his ascension. He could only hear his own steps, could only smell his own sweat. When he finally emerged, he stood in a huge dark room. Dusty daylight came in from a large window in the shape of a triangle on top of a long trapezium. A circular platform was directly facing it, connected to where he was by a straight pathway reproduced on the other side. He walked slowly, taking his time to absorb the scenery. Vader had lived here. The dark lord of the Sith, in service to the Emperor. They had both failed and died. As powerful as Vader had been, it hadn’t kept him from being vanquished by his feelings, which Kylo did not intend to do. Feelings were the bane of power. He would be better. Stronger. More powerful than even his grandfather could have possibly imagined. Standing on the circular platform, he reached out to the castle itself, using the Force to talk to the obsidian, to make it obey his will, to make it reveal its secrets.
Kylo walked to a turbolift. The old machinery creaked a lot, but the cabin eventually came to him. It climbed through the structure, and with it, his apprehension. He was finally here. The room he arrived in was smaller and darker. Dust covered everything. He removed it with a wave of his hands. In the middle of the room, a pedestal, and on top of it: his prize. He realized that he was shaking. He stopped it. This was childish. He steeled himself from it. The pyramidal object at the centre of the pedestal had a red glow to it. A Sith holorcron, home to forbidden knowledge. What he could gain from it was immeasurable. Ultimate power. More than Snoke, more than Vader, more than Palpatine himself. His journey into the dark side of the Force would see him come out invulnerable. No one would resist him. Especially not her.
He took the holocron and looked at it for a moment before focusing his energy on it. Closing his eyes, he poured everything he felt into it. Anger, hate, suffering. He heard a metallic sound, then another. It was opening. Dark colours came out of it, swirled around him. The room had disappeared. He turned. Kylo Ren saw Kylo Ren, sitting on a large throne of black metal. He looked at himself and was content, for he was seeing what he had wanted to see. But there was someone else, standing close to the throne. He couldn’t see who it was but was intrigued. As if answering his unspoken question, the person stepped forward. Rey. But she looked different. Her hair was tied in a tight, single bun, and her outfit greatly resembled his own. Her facial features were still vague. She took a few steps in his direction, watching him curiously.
“Look at him,” she said to the Kylo that was sitting on his throne, “he looks so… I don’t know…disappointing?”
What? This didn’t sound like her. Didn’t look like her either. Her face was thinner, bonier, and her skin was pale, devoid of the sunburnt tone he knew it to have. Her lips moved but carried no life in them. And her eyes… where were they? Where was the brown, so like his own? There was nothing. Just white. Blind white. He took a step back, and for the first time in months, pronounced her name.
“Kylo Ren” she replied in a smile.
He swallowed. This was wrong. Something told him that it was. Something deep. But then something else told him that it wasn’t. This was what he wanted. Him and her, side by side, ruling the Galaxy. No Snoke, no Skywalker. The Resistance, once found, obliterated. Everlasting peace. Unlimited power. Rey turned her back on him.
“What do you think?” she asked the other him.
“I think he’s weak” he heard himself say. “I think he should prove himself worthy of this chair. Or die.”
“You’re so right.” Rey laughed, pivoting back, a double-bladed red lightsaber in hand, ready to attack him. She came at him with such speed that he barely avoided the first slash. His saber countered hers and they started clashing. She was ferocious. Her limbs moved recklessly, each time coming extremely close to one of his. He was panicked. It was the forest all over again. Pain surged through the scar she had left him. He winced and closed his right eye, stepping back from the fight. She laughed again and insulted him, called him weak, cowardly, unworthy, an imposter, a failure, a sad little boy. She kept going while at the same time attacking, targeting his face, his belly, his arms and legs. This couldn’t go on. This was too much. Rage flowed through him. Anger exploded in him. How could she do this to him? He counter-attacked, having completely submitted to his fury. The hand that held her lightsaber fell to the ground and she cried in pain. His own hand started hurting too, but he didn’t stop, refusing to listen to anything that wasn't hate, anger, or fear. He took another step forward and plunged his weapon into her stomach. Rey gasped, her blind eyes going wide. She lost her balance and fell backward to the ground, taking him with her. Colour came back to her face. Her white eyes found their brown again. She looked at him, and him at her. She was crying, pain inscribed on her soft, sunburnt face.
“Ben…” she managed to say, her remaining hand reaching for his face, for his scar.
She stopped breathing. The hand fell. Her haunted gaze went up to the dark ceiling.
He sat there, in complete shock. What had he done? He shook her, but she didn’t move. She was dead. A hollow place had just appeared where is heart had been a second before. But... she wasn't real. None of this was real.
“It can be. If you want it to”, he heard. It was Kylo Ren, standing high above him, eyes filled with contempt. He knelt and looked at Rey, then at him. “Do you see, now? This is the weakness you’re clinging to. I never needed her, or anyone. And neither do you. She’s the past, now. The past must die. And if it refuses to… you know what you have to do. For your sake, I hope you have the strength to do it. Fulfil your destiny”
He didn’t say anything. He couldn’t. Instead, he watched himself walk away. When he lowered his eyes to looked back at Rey’s lifeless body, she had disappeared. There was nothing in his arms. The room had come back, old, dusty, inhospitable. He stood up. Unaware of his tears, he left the room, left the castle, left the planet.
Deep beneath the steamy waters, in a place that was nowhere and everywhere, red eyelids trembled.