Rey feels him before she sees him - a dark blot among the webbing of the Force surrounding her, a curious sort of empty yet full hanging heavy within it. She’s with a squadron of fighters that is attempting to position itself to attack the right flank of the First Order forces, cresting a low hill directly beside their artillery line. The feeling of being watched is strong and he glances around as the fighters surge forward, anti-tank blasters firing, but she can’t see him. He is there , she knows it, and the weight of his presence is quickly becoming heavy in her senses.
It isn’t until the first Resistance fighter is flying over her head and crashing to the ground yards back that she sees him.
The fighters are a flurry of movement in her sight and sudden cries in her ears, but they are noise on the edges of her perception. Her eyes are drawn directly ahead of her, and there, standing before the lines of artillery, is Kylo Ren. Even at that distance Rey can hear the fitful growl of the lightsaber in his hands, the red plasma blade spitting angrily. He is blocking blaster bolts with refined ease, movements fluid, he is moving smoothly the swath of land before the artillery units to block as many as he can while Stormtroopers pool out to face down the fighters, She is struck by the change from the last time she’d faced him, the way he moves almost gracefully now. She thinks wryly, for a short moment, that he might have actually learned some control - then a bolt makes it past him and strikes the artillery unit behind him, and she retracts the thought when he lets out and angry, guttural yell. The artillery unit behind him is out of action from the blast, sparks scattering from the damaged connection between the barrel and the body of the machine. Kylo Ren spares it a glance, and apparently decides he has a better use for it.
Rey is caught off guard by the speed with which he lifts the damaged machine with the Force, the ease of it when he spins back around and launches the massive hulk of metal directly at a small group of retreating Resistance fighters. She scrambles to cover them, reaching out her hands and the Force towards a ruined wall and wrenching pieces of it out of the ground to launch at the machine. The projectiles hit in midair - there is no way for her meager stones to stop the artillery unit, but she puts all of herself into it and manages to knock it aside enough that it misses the retreating fighters and crashes to the ground several yards away. She can feel its impact from where she stands and sees several fighters stumble.
There’s a sensation like a cold dagger in her mind, she’s overwhelmed by a sudden sense of panic. She’s taken her eyes from the field for only a moment but all her Senses are screaming sirens in her head. She isn’t thinking - she is movement and she is the hand pulling her lightsaber free of her belt and the finger pressing the button its side, she is her body twisting around and her arm angling up and her fists clenching around the hilt of the saber as she lifts it to meet the descending bar of raging red plasma aimed at her.
The lightsaber blades meet and catch, crackling and spitting and raising the hair on her arms and the back of her neck. Kylo Ren stares her down, his helmet visor reflecting blue and red. How was he there? Rey could swear he’d been dozens of yards away only a moment earlier and now he was next to her. She tears her saber blade free and backs away a few steps, falling into a defensive position. There is unease, there is a sliver of panic rising in the back of her mind, something dark and twisting inside her. Though she tries to ignore it, tries to fight it down it continues unnervingly. She shouldn’t be scared, she reminds herself. She’s faced Kylo Ren many times before and she’s come out no worse for it. She’s been training and she is capable of holding her own against him. She forces her mind to calm, lets herself rely on her training and her instincts and watches him warily as he advances on her, trying to read his movements and anticipate his attack.
His slash is not a surprise; it is slow and well controlled, he’s testing her, and she parries easily, sliding from one position to another as she returns with a thrust to his midsection. He blocks it and follows with several thrusts, the aims an acrobatic swing at level with her head. She ducks aside and swings at his midsection, and attach he sidesteps easily. He swings his red blade and aims at her head again, but she is prepared this time. She could duck and tuck under his reach but she chooses to block instead, a heavy block with the edges of the lightsaber blade that sends the two plasma beams bouncing away. She spins, using the force of the bounce to her advantage, and swings her blade fast at level with Kylo Ren’s shoulders. He is slightly off balance from the unexpected throwback, just barely open, and her blade -
She swears she could feel a tug where it should’ve met his shoulder, maybe sees something like a tiny smear of smoke as her blade passes him, but no. Kylo Ren backs away a step, unwounded, and she pulls her blade back into a defensive pose once more. He watches her, his own lightsaber lowered. He is leaving himself open and she should take advantage of it - why he has dropped his blade is something she does not have the time to wonder about - but her mind is fitful with panic and she still can’t tell why. The unease has been rising steadily throughout their fight and she can’t pinpoint where it comes from. There is nothing about him that is radically different than before, nothing that should have such an effect on her, and yet there is darkness deep in the back of her mind and something twisting her gut as she looks at him. Her palms are sweating around the lightsaber hilt and she is breathing hard. She is too caught up in trying to parse her growing unease, and the moment where his defenses are dropped and he is inviting attack passes. Kylo Ren swings his red blade back up into a ready position.
“You’ve improved.” He says. His voice is as it always was, low and bordering on haughty. Yet through the modulation she could hear a tone of … approval? She grits her teeth.
“I can’t say the same for you,” She says, because from what she’s seen his fighting is much the same as it was. He tilts his head at that, and though still nothing has changed she is suddenly, irreversibly and shockingly, frightened .
“We will see about that…” Kylo Ren’s voice trails off, low and sibilant. Her mind screams at her as he advances, and it is with arms shaking and body trembling that she reacts, swinging the lightsaber towards the advancing dark figure.
Blue meets red again, the saber blades lock but Kylo Ren pulls back and lets Rey stumble forward. She corrects her stance, forces herself to focus on what is going on and to ignore the pulsing thread of fear that is wrapping itself tighter around her mind. She is at a loss, however - Kylo Ren pushes the attack and she is left scrambling to defend herself. Her long and dedicated practices serve her well, however, and though she is unsettled she can meet his strikes and parry his thrusts. He is putting himself bodily behind each swing, however, using his greater size and power against her. The meeting of their blades jolts her arms each time, and she is thankful that the ground they stand on is relatively flat and unobstructed. She cannot afford to stumble here, not when with each blow Kylo Ren seems to become more focused, more driven, so much more difficult to avoid. She is faster, she reminds herself. Faster and more agile, and those are the strengths she must work with.
Once she finds her rhythm she begins to give back as good as she takes. The terror in her mind is manageable as long as she has something to focus on, as long as her mind is working on movement. She parries, she slashes, she dodges his attacks and rebounds around a pile of stones, leaps over it in an attempt to catch him off guard. Several times she moves a tad too fast for him, her lightsaber blade winging under his arm or around his back in what should be hits - direct or glancing. Each time she misses , and it angers her. It is the anger that fuels her onwards to more intricate maneuvers, risky maneuvers, and after a particularly gymnastic attack she leaves herself open a few seconds too long. Kylo Ren swings his saber, and she blocks it, but then he thrusts out a hand and she is sent flying back. She hits the ground hard, her lightsaber bouncing away from her. She is calling it back to her hand as she rises, however, gasping for breath and moving on pure reactive instinct.
And then Kylo Ren is just there again, like he was before, appearing to have moved several feet in seconds. She doesn’t have her lightsaber on and instead she pushes out with the Force. He jerks back, as if buffeted in a strong wind, and that’s when she notices it-
His edges are out of focus, his form indistinct. She’d been so intent on his lightsaber blade, on that terrible beam of crimson and on keeping it away from herself, that she hadn’t noticed the change in the rest of him. Rey is suddenly reminded of the stone pillars she’d come upon in her treks on the desert, tall and solemn among the desert sands. Some had been carved at one point in their history, intricate designs she could sometimes make out when she stared at them long enough. But desert winds were merciless, and many of the sharp reliefs were worn by the passage of time, the edges of the pillars softened and the images on their surfaces blurred.
That was how Kylo Ren became in her vision, blurry and windswept. A cold dread stirred in her gut, the fear in her brain that she’d been just managing rising with a terrible jolt. She steadies herself and activates her lightsaber, the cool light bathing her but failing to fight away the rising unease that assaulted her. Before her Kylo Ren was a figure, but a figure rapidly becoming something else. In her tremulous mind, he was dark as empty space, dark as a void, a void, a black hole - she is feeling drawn towards him in some horrifying way, not in a physical way. No, it wasn’t that, it wasn’t a gravitation - it was eventuality , it was inevitability , it was something that suddenly became very clear in her mind - there would be no escape, maybe not this time, or the next, maybe not until the hundredth time they met and crossed blades but it would come. She cannot escape the inevitable outcome, and the knowledge of it spikes her mind into heavy mind-consuming panic, the panic becomes terror, engulfs her, her body shakes at the thought.
NO, she screams in her head, fights to banish the thoughts and the fear from her mind. Gripping her chilled fingers ‘round the hilt she grits her teeth and leaps forward, bringing her blade into a deep sweep at the dark figure before her.
Kylo ren parries clumsily - he seems caught off guard, somewhat off balance, and she presses her advantage. Slash after slash, stab, swipe, she attacks with fury borne of a desperate attempt to outrun the panic in her mind. Kylo Ren is not the same, she thinks as she watches him move, watches the shudder of his form and the strange way it seems that bits and pieces of him detach to float away in the air. He parries, catching her blade against his own, and she glares at him, directly into the visor. She can not see beyond it; her view is not obscured by the dark lens but rather by what seemed to be a reflection of a starry expanse, a pulsing star, the colorful gasses of a nebula. She pulls back in surprise, something deep and terrible gnawing at her, and Kylo Ren presses in attack now.
Heavy slashes jar her arms as she blocks them, swift swings at her midbody are barely avoided. She is in full retreat now, the sight of Kylo Ren becoming something strange before her is shattering all sense of control. He is no larger than he was but he seems massive in her sight, he is still a man before her but her senses are picking up something far too deep and far too heavy and far too dark and with far too many limbs .
She parries a thrust and slashes forwards towards him. She feels her blade connect this time, a deep shudder that echoes all the way inside of her. He is knocked to the side by the blow, and she spins, breath harsh in her throat and eyes widened, to see what damage she has wrought.
Kylo Ren is slouched a few paces from, and he straightens up slowly, bringing his lightsaber back up before him. The side she has hit is steaming gray smoke, the edges of his body there flicker. Pieces peel away like ash from a fire and waft up into the air. She is shuddering, Rey realizes. She is shaking all over and she has to fight to tighten her grip on the hilt and hold her lightsaber steady. For a long moment they stand like that, Rey shaking and staring at the dark man-shaped form before her and Kylo Ren watching her in silence, the smoke from his side dissipating slowly and fading away.
The scream of a tumbling TIE rends the air. Rey staggers back as chunks of metal shower the ground, followed by the rent and burning hull. The crash is staggering, the ground jumps beneath her feet and she is thrown to the ground. She scrambles to her feet again, her lightsaber in hand as she spins around searches for Kylo Ren. The air is filling with dark smoke from the TIE wreckage, flames leaping from the cockpit. Coughing on the thick smoke, Rey dashes away, back to where the other Resistance fighters had retreated to.
The cold blade pierces her mind again, and she spins around, lightsaber at ready, expecting to find Kylo Ren by her again. He is not. She blinks burning, watery eyes and peers around herself. The TIE wreckage, the line of artillery, the milling Stormtroopers who are now heading out to investigate the wreckage - she sees all of that, but no Kylo Ren. Was he trapped? She considers the thought, but dismisses it almost instantly. That dark presence in the Force persists, she feels no pain or distress within it. If anything, there is only anger - there is always anger - and a chill feeling like nothing she’d ever felt before.
And inevibility .
She shudders, and with a last harried glance behind her, flees.