Star Wars: Hello, From the Other Side
The crying is quiet, but still draws him from his thoughts, a snuffling that sends a sharp taste of pain into the Force. His hands still shaking from his duel with Uncle Luke, he pauses to listen, to sense…
She is a child. That much he knows. Children have the run of the place, most of them snot-nosed brats, taken from their families and given over to the Jedi for training… a ruthless method that removes all fear, self-interest, and anger, turning them into soulless containers for the Force to flow into and through, an empty shell for a greater vessel.
He starts forward only to pause as her whimpering tugs on his heart. No one comforts anyone here. The Jedi leave them to cry on their own… alone, abandoned, separated from their families. No one comforted him, when she left him here to complete his training at four years old. It is ten years since he ceased crying, channeling his emotions into the Force.
Closing his eyes, he reaches out, sensing her, feeling her, her vibrations strengthening and prompting him to move nearer. She makes little noises as he draws near, wiping snot on the back of her hand, pawing at her eyes as he looks down on her, a child with arms clasped tight around her knees, frail and thin, her dark hair in a tight sequence of buns. Misery shines in her beautiful eyes, the eyes of a four year old.
"I want papa," she says softly, and new tears well up in her shamed gaze.
Her anguish mirrors that in his own soul, his resentment at his own abandonment, condemned to a fate he did not choose.
She is… so much like him. He senses it. Her presence is strong in the Force and as he stretches out his hand, applying a gentle pressure to her thoughts, testing her, he is shocked at the response. Her mind pushes back gently but with determination, as if she is determined to shut him out. She does not even know she is doing it; in her, it is effortless. She cannot resist him, and he could step in further if he chose, but the raw pain flickering at the edges of his consciousness makes him retreat.
Sinking down beside her, he looks at her but does not touch her. "Papa left you here to become strong," he says flatly, not believing it.
Her scrawny shoulders shake as she frantically swipes at more tears. "I d-don't care… I want Papa. I want to go home!"
Damn the Jedi. Damn them all into oblivion.
The small voice he has grown accustomed to slithers into his thoughts. She would be better off dead. Here, she will become a slave to their will. This is what the Jedi do… remove free choice. Block your anger, your fear, your sadness, your pain… but those things make you stronger in the Force.
Right now, all she feels is fear and sadness. One day, it will erode into calm… or it will shift into hatred as fierce as that raging in his soul.
They are alone in the remotest corner of the Jedi temple, distant sounds of light saber training buzzing in the distance. It will be years before they teach her to wield a real one, the one tucked into her belt merely a training tool, a light that deflects harmless laser blasts.
He unhooks his saber from his belt and ignites it, the pulse crackling into a long sphere of deadly luminescence with a cross hatch on the hilt. Luke sneering at it burns into him a second time. It is unstable, like you.
No, it is the way he designed it, a weapon for defense, the hilt to protect his hand. The child looks at it with a hint of fear and wonder, and he says, "You are upset, because you had no choice, because you are powerless… but one day," and he gently probes her mind for her name, "Rey, you will have one of these… and you will never be powerless again."
She reaches toward it and he stops her. "Never touch the blade."
The scarlet light glows pink against her tear-stained cheeks as she nods and wraps her little fingers above his on the hilt. Compassion digs at him and he resists it. Her pain and fear fades a little, caught up in fascination, and he senses her potential, the tremendous power flowing in her.
No wonder they wanted you.
The saber makes her feel safer, comforting her in the midst of her pain. She is so small, weak, and innocent. He lets her hold on until some of her anguish retreats. Rey lets go with reluctance and he turns it off, the scarlet blade vanishing with a crackle.
"I can have one of those?" she asks hopefully.
He allows himself a hint of a smile. "Yes, one day. I'll help you make one."
"Like yours?" Her enormous, delighted eyes stir his sympathy.
Heart tightening in his chest, he says, "If that's what you want."
Rey nods. He helps her to her feet and pushes her in the direction of her dorm. She moves away several paces and looks back at him with a furrow in her brow. He feels a gentle push in his mind and, astonished, a little curious about her instincts, does not throw up a defense. Her eyes bore into him and she says, "Thank you… Ben."
It sounds so innocent on her lips, without the harshness of his uncle's tone, condemning his every action, trying to stamp out the darkness Luke sees like an insidious sickness in him, instead of a tremendous power that frightens the others. He is more powerful than they are.
She will be more powerful too. He knows it. The desire for a light saber burns within her like a flame, sending vibrations into the Force. Her tears soon dry and she tackles her training with childish determination. He senses her every push and pull with the force. Sometimes, she runs after him as he crosses the courtyard, not to talk but to walk beside him, feeling safer with him nearby. She is a ragged kitten trailing hopefully after him, desperate for a drop of attention. She is just as alone as he is, the Force clawing at both of them, flickers of darkness and light.
Two years pass before she receives a light saber for practice. It is old. She has a natural knack, even though she is clumsy and aggressive. Her blows resemble his, more out of desperation and a determination to win than any interest in sophistication or style. He sees the yearning on her face as she gives it up at the end of her lesson, knowing her desire to keep it close.
Compassion is weakness, the voice hisses at him. Fondness is weakness. You must cut both loose to give yourself wholly to the Force.
Fingering the cold hilt of his unlit light saber, he shakes his head. She is strong in the Force. Very strong. She will be a powerful ally.
That is all that matters. It is not compassion. It is common sense.
He senses the Sith's arrival in the midst of a storm, the Force stirring as they emerge from darkness. Donning black robes, he hesitates, his hand suspended over the box hidden in his room. The back of his neck tingles and he looks toward the door, the empty rooms beyond, the Jedi dining. Removing the mask, he clicks it into place and lifts his hood. It refines his vision and forces him to rely on the Force to sense his opponents.
The last bit of Ben Solo vanishes as he strides out into the corridor, his cloak rippling in his wake. He senses the Sith's approach through the downpour and knows the moment of their attack, as their sabers power on, the buzzing competing with sheer panic and screams. He ignites his own saber and waits, the first throng of students rounding the corner, fleeing directly into his path. Scarlet reverberates in the air, cutting a swath through them, silencing them, each death a jolt into the Force that strengthens him. He cuts with deliberation, kill strokes. There is no sense in prolonging their deaths. One has the wits to draw a saber but he throws her into the nearest pillar; she crumples, her saber speeds away from her spinning, and he delivers a kill stroke.
He cannot be sure if the screams are real or inside his head. He is numb.
They're fleeing, the voice hisses at him. Go after them! None will survive!
Students dart out into the rain, the Sith cutting a swath through them in the courtyard, the buzzing increasing in his mind. He has lost count of the dead, but the Dark Side is overpowering, consuming him, giving him such power, as he has never known, all it promised and more.
The Jedi are weak.
Bodies fall around him as he advances and senses her… a pearl of light amid endless night. Lightning flashes across the sky and thunder drowns out the screams as Rey runs into the woods surrounding the temple.
Where is Luke Skywalker?
He reaches out with the Force, trying to find him and then a bright blue streak of light comes out of nowhere, striking his with such force it sends him staggering several paces. His saber crackles and burns hot as he defends himself, Luke's pale face illuminated under his hood by each deliberate strike. The Force hisses and coils around them with every merciless blow, both of them spinning and slicing, Luke narrowly missing his legs and severing his cloak. It raggedly flutters they lock hilts.
"Not weak anymore, am I, Uncle?" he snarls, burning with hatred.
Luke looks at him with horror. "This isn't you, Ben."
"You told me to be rid of my fear… but am I not your fear?" He kicks and his uncle goes down hard into the mud. Looming over him, the rain nearly drowning out his words, he shouts, "Isn't this what you and my mother feared all along, that I would find the strength to go on without you?"
The saber crackles and hisses as he brings it down. Luke manages to deflect it, rolling out of the way. The Jedi Master turns his saber off and in the darkness that floods in around the absence of its light, runs away.
"Like a coward!" he shouts after his uncle, "a Jedi coward!"
The blade flickers as he lowers it, listening, reaching out with the Force… and hears Rey crying, those sniffling, snot-filled sobs he has long since tried to forget. He turns his head, drifting into the Force, reaching out…
"Rey!" Luke cries, "come with me now!"
His eyes open, constrained by the mask, and he goes after them, ignoring the flicker of happiness in his soul that she is still alive. You will not have her, Skywalker… she is mine.
An older student darts into his path, his blows unskilled and awkward, without the rage driving them that he needs to win. Stepping over the boy's dying body, he marches into the darkness, into the trees, into the driving rain, his saber casting a sick red glow across the ground.
His connection to Rey is so strong he can feel her, her fear, her terror, her anguish as Luke says, "Stay here, I'll come back for you."
Abandoned again, the voice hisses, running away… sentiment driving him… the weakness of the Skywalkers…
Rey cries out in fear, stumbling in the woods alone. "Where are you?"
His uncle has gone for a ship, trusting they will not find her. His voice trembles through the Force. "I'll come back, sweetheart. I promise."
"I'm here!" she shrieks, terrified. "Right here! Where are you?"
He steps from behind a tree as she runs toward him, the light from his saber showing her terror once she beholds him in the mask. Rey screams and stumbles back, sitting down hard. Shapes materialize behind him, approaching Sith drawn to the powerful tremors of the Force. His own emotions arise powerfully, conflicting in his mind as he looks at her.
It would be so easy to end her life… but she is Rey.
Kill her, the voice commands. Kill her now!
Lifting the saber, he advances as she desperately claws away from him, trying to pull herself across the wet grass, shivering from terror and cold. One blow is all it will take, one blow. She will feel nothing.
She is a kitten again… terrified, soaking wet, mewing piteously as she claws her way through brambles, cutting herself as the wolf advances.
You must! Put sentiment to death! Kill your compassion! Kill her! NOW!
Rey has nowhere to go; tears fall freely as she looks up at him, her eyes glinting with the certainty of her death. Does she know it is he? She must. She knows his light saber, the cross blades. Once her shining silent hero, he is now her darkest nightmare.
One of the Sith advances to strike her and without thought, he reacts, sparks flying as their light sabers meet; the Sith is caught off guard and sliced in half with the second stroke. Bodies surround them, slain Jedi turning blue in the haze as rain turns to snow. Scarlet sputters and sings through the air as he fights all six, snapping one's neck with the Force, impaling another on a tree. His rage is such that his saber cannot be seen, only its flickering arcs slicing in the darkness as the last three fall.
Silence rings in his ears as he looks at her again, huddled in the mud, shaking with tears running down her cheeks.
Good, the voice says deep in his mind, good… your hatred is making you strong… feel it…
He slams a door on the voice, silencing it and removes his mask, the wind and damp blowing through his ragged locks. The tenderness in his voice surprises even him. "No one will ever hurt you while I am here, Rey."
Inward, her battle rages between love for him, trust in him, and fear, repulsion at what she has just seen him do, at the Sith lying dismembered in the snow around them. She wants to trust him, but fear holds her at bay, the same fear he felt until tonight. "Ben?" she asks fearfully.
A name he never wants to hear again. Distant screams enter his mind, the numbness beginning to fade as he remembers their deaths… "Yes," he answers, dropping the helmet and extending his hand. "Come with me. It is time for your training. It is time to make your light saber. It is time to teach you the ways of the Force."
"You killed them," she whispers, trembling.
He takes another step toward her, halting as she flinches. "They wanted to hurt you. I protected you. I will always protect you. Do not fear me, Rey."
Uncertainty rages in her, so powerful he can taste it. The wind snaps at her loose hair. Her eyes widen and she cries out—almost too late. He spins around to deflect the blow, Luke's anger magnificent as sabers clash. "Do you feel it, Uncle?" he taunts. "Give in. Kill me. Kill me in front of Rey. Show her how the Jedi differ from the Dark Side!"
She screams at them, her words lost in powerful hissing blows. Breaking their saber hold, Luke throws him with the Force but he deflects, the echo sending his uncle back several paces. Luke turns on him, his technique so merciless that he cannot fight them and the cross hilt saves his hand at the wrist. "Not such a foolish design after all," he snarls.
Luke reaches into the Force and gives a mighty pull. He flies off his feet, crashing through branches and striking the nearest tree with such force that he nearly feels his back break as he drops to the ground below, his light saber lost in the falling snow. He hears Rey screaming as he rolls over, trying to focus, the breath knocked out of him.
"Ben!" she wails, running toward him. "Ben!"
Humming fills his ears, the buzzing of Sith light sabers as they advance. He is so dazed that their forms are mere shadows as Luke snatches her up and runs toward the distant ship, its lights glinting in the storm. Tasting blood, he struggles to his feet, summoning the saber and igniting it as it touches his fingers. Red light bounces off the snow as the ship takes off, Rey's tearful face plastered against the glass of the cockpit, her silent cries filling his thoughts as Luke flees.
He reaches into the Force, and finds Luke as he slowly begins to fade. I will find her, Luke, no matter where you hide her. You can wipe me from her mind, erase what happened here, but I will find her.
The Force shifts and slithers, consumed by the Dark Side as Sith emerge into the clearing, framing him as he retrieves his mask. Settling it over tousled, wet black curls, Kylo Ren turns and fades into the darkness.