Rey felt an icy chill crawling up her spine. The group of ominous, masked figures seemed to be frozen in place, their unfaltering focus on the speed racer—on Kylo Ren and on her. Only when a flash of lightning illuminated the ground around them, did she notice the bulk of four or five still bodies slain along the pathway. All canyon miners. All dead. A river of crimson mingled with the cold rain and flowed down a thin stream of muddy water, not that color could be discerned in the gloomy grayness of the landscape.
Another volt of bluish light cast further detail on the Knights of Ren, and Rey noticed how one of them—one who by presence and stance stood out from the rest—was holding something in the hand that was not wielding a weapon. It took her brain a second to process what she had seen in the fraction of an instant the sky had illuminated the canyon.
Kylo Ren's mask.
As far as she could determine it was an exact, if not a very close replica of the one she'd seen him wearing on their first encounter. She'd had nightmares about that mask, about the monster behind it, about everything it represented. Its signature was a clear sign of damnation.
The menacing figure extended his arm in their direction—an offering. It was a gesture of subordination, an unspoken show of respect in the presence of a superior rank.
A call to their leader.
From a distance away, Ben stiffened, his heart thumping powerfully under the soaked, dark robe. Rey felt his hesitation, his wariness… his fear. And, though it only had lasted for barely a second, its intensity had pierced through her like a lance. To those not graced with the ability of force sensitivity, his inaction might have been interpreted as calculated indifference. But she knew better.
The speeder glided slowly towards the standing group of figures patiently awaiting instruction from their commander. Shakily, Rey dismounted the vehicle followed by Ben, who quietly accepted the grisly offer from what looked like his right hand man. His back still to her, the man she had known as Kylo Ren contemplated the iron cast helmet for a long moment before sliding it over his head, not a single word exchanged. The muffled sound of the sealing mechanism made Rey's throat tighten, and something unidentifiable shattered inside her chest.
When he turned around to face her, blood seemed to freeze in her veins. She stared at the emotionless, metal surface of the mask, as familiar as it was terrifying. In all the years Rey had spent alone in Jakku, she had never felt as lonely as she did at that very instant.
The moment seemed to stretch into infinity while her mind considered a handful of limited alternatives. She obviously didn't stand a chance in a fight against almost a dozen warriors, most likely duly trained in armed combat. Of course, she could also make a run for it. The speed racer had enough fuel to grant her a few miles up the canyon, though she doubted Ren would stand idle without botching her escape, and the nimble vehicle was no match to his dexterity with the Force.
She was still weighing her options when a desperate whimper emerged from the nearby hut, followed by a Knight of Ren dragging a terrified Nia out by the neck of her robe. He flung the girl as if she were a rag right in front of Kylo Ren, who simply looked down at the crying child attempting to crawl away from him over the sea of mud. Rey was already rushing to where she was when a series of angry growls echoed along the canyon and she noticed the herd of bulky, fast approaching monties hastening toward them. With barely enough time to grip her lightsaber and lighting it through the darkness, she managed to block a deathly strike from one of the Knights, saving Nia's life by a hairline. Frustrated by the boldness of her action, the masked figure turned his rage against Rey, who engaged in the fight as the jumble of canyon miners charged against the other intruders.
The unmistakable clatter of battle rose over the rain and the thunder, and she took on her adversary with fierce determination. Her saber struck the long, bi-pointed lance used by her adversary, which was clearly able to withstand the deathly heat of her own weapon. Rey knew instinctively she didn't stand a chance in the big scheme of things. Perhaps she might be able to take down this one warrior, but there were too many of them to delude herself into a semblance of victory.
A powerful blow in the aftermath of a swirl managed to slice through her enemy's arm and knock him to his knees, she raised her saber for one final strike and saw his beseeching motion, a final plea in total helplessness. For a moment she considered sparing his life, her heart tugging at some faint semblance of benevolence, but it didn't take her long to reconsider her decision.
Never give into your enemy's weakness…
It was fortunate that Rey was at the ready, had her guard come down she would have been impaled by the sharpness of his lance, which appeared out of nowhere, its aim straight at her jugular. She made a last minute turn, avoiding being pierced by the deadly weapon and bringing down her saber in one final strike that ripped her adversary almost in half. He was dead before he hit the ground.
Almost instantly, a second Knight of Ren took her on, and she clashed against him under the next flash of lightning. She was grateful for the hours of training that had allowed her to build up the sufficient stamina to keep up the fight. Still, it was mainly the adrenaline rush that kept her going. Exhaustion and fatigue was beginning to set in, and it might have been partly the cause of her momentary distraction when she heard Nia's chilling cry behind her. It was when she turned to look at the child that her lightsaber was knocked out of her hand, rolling into the mud several feet away.
Rey lost her footing and fell backwards, watching in horror how the masked figure poised himself to deliver his final blow. As his arm swung down to club her, a blinding, jagged red blade burst out through his chest, halting his movement mid-strike and killing him instantly.
You fools, we need her alive!
The heavy thud that was heard as the man fell to the ground marked the end of the battle. Rey took in her surroundings. A sea of massacred bodies plagued the murky grounds, silenced forever. Panting heavily, she focused on the group of people standing before her with Kylo Ren at its forefront, looking closely at her from behind the cold mask, his lightsaber the only source of color against the grayish landscape.
They stared at each other for a long moment, and then one of the figures behind him spoke, a female voice distorted by the robotic sound of a helmet.
"The shuttles are ready for take-off, sir."
Ren tilted his head once in acknowledgement before turning back to Rey.
"Good. Take her on board."
His voice had the metallic quality of the soulless—detached and incorporeal. It was deep, distant, almost… foreign. When two strong hands lifted her from the ground she shrugged them off in one disdainful move.
"I can walk on my own!" she snarled in Ren's direction.
It was then when she saw Nia being held by another tall figure. She also fought fiercely against his grip, but her struggle was futile. Rey wondered about Mac, pondered whether he might have made it out of that place alive, but she knew that not to be the case. She could just feel it.
"What about the girl?"
The deep voice that had asked the question came from the girl's captor. Before Rey could wrap her wits around begging for her life, Kylo Ren gave his final order.
"Put her on the ship. I'll hand her over to General Hux. She's at the right age to start training as a trooper."
About a mile down the canyon, near the place where Ben had spent hours in private meditation, four First Order shuttles, circuits ready and engines humming, awaited their boarding. Rey and Nia were led into the first one by two of the knights, followed by Kylo Ren. The rest spread out into the other three. In a matter of minutes everybody had taken their position and the shuttles took off one after the other.
During the rattling that took place as the ships broke atmo, Rey contemplated her situation, the uncertainty of her future, the misplacement of her trust… Her jaw tightened, refusing to give into despair. She had been in a similar situation before, and had managed to figure her way out of it. She was determined to keep a clear head and do what she had always done: survive.
But, what about Nia? What would become of her? Rey couldn't afford to be consumed by concern. They'd cross that bridge when they got to it.
In an instant, the rattling stopped and the shuttle felt weightless and utterly quiet. They had reached the tranquil reaches of space. The change in pressure was so tangible it was known to make some people giddy. The moment the shuttle's internal gravitational stabilizers blinked green, Kylo Ren stood from his seat and walked up to where Rey and Nia had been restrained.
"It will be a relatively short trip," he announced from under the mask. His voice was deep and steady, not giving away an ounce of emotion. "Just relax and enjoy the ride. We'll be jumping into hyperspace in a few moments."
"You bastard!" Rey spat, fighting against the restraints despite her better judgment.
Kylo Ren stooped before her, one knee to the floor, the other one bent to support his relaxed forearm. He appeared to be studying her like an insect, or something of even lesser consequence, the lack of expression shown by his mask was almost contemptuous. Her clothes were still wet from the rain. They stuck to her body like a second skin, uncomfortable and constricting, yet unworthy of her complaints.
When his hand moved up near her face, she recoiled like she had once done in the forests of Takodana. It was an involuntary reaction, one she corrected as soon as she grabbed a hold of her bravado, and she looked defiantly into the shiny metal reflecting her distorted image.
How could she have fallen into his trap so easily?
Moments later, she realized in horror how her surroundings began spinning out of control soon to fade into the background before absolute blackness claimed her into oblivion.
Her last feeling before succumbing to the darkness was desolation over her failure.
I'm so sorry, Han…
Rey woke up weak and disoriented. For a second, she didn't know where she was or how she got there. But, then, everything came rushing back in one swooping memory.
The canyon... The storm… The Knights of Ren… The shuttle…
She was once again Kylo Ren's prisoner…
She looked down at her wrists and ankles. They were free from any restraints. In fact, she was comfortably reclined in one of the crew's chairs. Her clothes were completely dry as was her hair. She had been woken by the noticeable rattling of the shuttle as it entered a planet's stratosphere. Turning her head, she discovered Nia lying peacefully on a chair beside her, stirring awake just as she herself had done moments before. There was no headache, no trace of the familiar pounding after having experienced a mind probe, no residual feeling at all.
The shuttle made its final descent with a gentle glide, touching down almost imperceptibly. Had it not been for the sound of engines fading into a low hum, Rey wouldn't have been able to tell they'd finally reached their destination. From the cockpit, she heard the deep cacophony she'd learn to recognize as Kylo Ren's voice.
"You will remain in the ship and await my return with the signal tracker turned off."
Two mellow voices, devoid of any emotion, repeated the order in unison like automatons.
"We will remain in the ship and await your return with the signal tracker turned off."
Confused, Rey watched Kylo Ren exit the cockpit, his massive size enhanced not just by the low ceiling of the ship itself, but the dark length of his full attire. He pushed the button that activated the down-ramp and a loud, swooshing sound marked the opening of the section of the ship as it sloped down, allowing the brightness of the planet's sun to seep into the cabin. But it was the smell what caught Rey's attention. She recognized the scent in the air almost immediately, her suspicions confirmed the moment she followed Ren outside into a place she had grown to consider her second home.
They had landed on a mountaintop not far from where General Organa's Resistance base was located. Rey half walked, half stumbled to the edge of the hill where she could discern the military hangars a short hike away. She felt the welling of tears in her eyes. Nia had followed her to the spot and was looking down at the first signs of civilization she'd seen in over a year.
Stunned, Rey turned to Kylo Ren, who stood silent and motionless by the shuttle. She walked back to him with a trace of uncertainty, confused by the unexpected turn of events. The tightening in her throat intensified the closer she got to him, and almost prevented her to voice the simple question.
The voice behind the mask was soft, it floated around them as tender as it was inhuman.
"Even monsters can be brought down to their knees on occasion."
She half laughed, half sobbed at his reply. Wiping a stray tear from her face, Rey looked up at the metal piece covering his face.
"Let me see you," she said softly.
Ren hesitated for a second, but slowly pressed the button that unlatched the mechanism sealing the helmet shut, and slid it off at her request. His eyes, just like hers, glistened with unshed tears that he immediately willed away behind that troubled frown she had learned to find oddly captivating.
"Stay," she heard herself begging in a tight whisper.
He lowered his head and his lips curled into a bitter half smile. "You know I can't do that."
Deep down in her heart, she understood the impossibility of her request.
Rey witnessed a trail of his thoughts—an observer, not an intruder: images that language could never do any justice, feelings behind key moments, desperate cries, endless victims... Responsibility over so many lives lost, including Mac's. He remembered every person, every fear-struck face, every last beseeching word sputtered in terror or agony. A row of people of different species, genders and creeds showed themselves from beyond, most pointing an accusatory finger at their executioner, yet others…
An old monk looked at him with kind eyes and, right beside him, Han Solo stood with a smirk of encouragement and understanding. When Ben lifted his head to meet her gaze, his eyes were haunted.
"Tell my mo—," he bit his lower lip, pondered his words for a moment. "Tell General Organa that I…"
But he was incapable of getting any coherent thought out, so he gave up with a deliberate shake of his head. Rey understood, and offered him a reassuring smile that faded almost the instant it had materialized.
Nia watched the whole exchange, enthralled by the rare display of emotion between the two. Ben's eyes traveled to her and she shied away, lowering her stare to the ground as if having been caught doing something she wasn't supposed to do. He squatted down to her level and hooked a finger under her chin, gently forcing her to face him.
"Promise me you'll take care of this one, kid," he quipped, motioning towards Rey with a nod. "She tends to get into trouble."
A slow grin spread across the girl's face, and she nodded timidly. Ben reached into the inside pocket of his robe and produced a perfectly polished red stone.
"Maybe you can start a new collection," he said, handing her the gem. "Might still take you a while to—"
He was stunned into silence when the girl practically threw herself into his arms to hug him. Visibly uncomfortable, Ben simply frowned and patted her back as if she had some sort of easily spreadable contagious disease. He was about to extricate himself from the sudden embrace, when a thin, innocent voice pierced through his tough façade.
Two simple words that hit him in the gut as hard as Chewacca's bow caster. He tightened his jaw and pulled away, standing up without saying a word.
He cast a glance past them, to where the roofs of the hangars peeked over the edge of the low cliff, towards an illusion that might have been his future. It was Rey who eventually broke the prolonged silence.
"Snoke… Will you go back to him? Can't you break free?"
"I don't remember a time when I wasn't seduced by the Dark Side," he told her. "For a while, in the canyon, I thought myself capable of finally breaking those chains. I was wrong. The Supreme Leader is back. I began sensing his presence again. Soon, it will consume me."
"He would come looking for you," Rey uttered, understanding the colossal risk.
"And for you," he said softly.
His eyes trailed down to her abdomen, his hand reaching out to linger over her midriff. Her own hand traveled up, instinctively protecting that area of her body where a small cluster of cells was giving way to a new life inside of her. Their eyes locked on their way up, no words or assurances necessary. They could feel both sides of the Force converging in the genetic buildup of their unborn child, one acting in perfect counterbalance to the other.
Tears were now streaming freely down her face. "I don't know if I can do this alone."
"You're stronger than you know," he said quietly. "Stronger than I ever was… And you won't be alone."
"Don't!" he hissed between clenched teeth, struggling to hold back the tsunami of emotions that assaulted him. "Please, Rey..." He let out a long sigh, barely able to keep from crumbling under the weight of the moment. "It will make things so much harder if I heard you say it."
Strangely, she understood. In the end, there was nothing left to say, really. Their eyes, their very souls, had said it all already.
With a tight nod, Kylo Ren turned his back to her and walked into the shuttle without looking back. The engines roared to life a few seconds later, and the ship took off in a wave of fire, leaving a cloud of dust and smoke in its wake.
Only after the shuttle had disappeared into the vastness of sky, did Rey fall to her knees, shoulders shaking as a series of sobs wracked her body.
The eyes of a newborn gaped at the stars, curiosity and wisdom all rolled into one.
It was a galaxy that had been familiar so long ago, so far away, yet there it was: a majestic scene to behold. One that could render the poet speechless and humble the boldest warrior. It had witnessed the rise and fall of empires, had withstood cataclysmic events, the cruelty of manmade weaponry and, through it all, had encompassed the power of an ancient energy for as long as time had existed.
A prophecy, fulfilled against all odds. The very fabric of the Force, rattled.
Oblivious to its latent power, the newborn blinked and smiled up at the Universe, innocent and unafraid.
Okay, so it had to come to an end eventually. I have no clue how many people I might have lost along the way, but I'm grateful to those of you who stuck with it. I don't know how many of you would be interested in a sequel. It wouldn't be right away due to time constraints, but if there is any interest… And, if you liked the story enough to make it a "favorite", it would make my day. ;-)