Before you can kill the monster, you have to say its name.
A boy with round glasses and a lightning-shaped scar sits across from his headmaster, a wizard with his silver beard tucked into his belt.
"Professor Dumbledore, sir," says the boy. "Let me see if I've got this straight. There are six Horcruxes that we know of –"
"Indeed, Harry," says the wizard, smiling.
"And each contains a piece of Voldemort's soul …"
"That is correct."
"And if we destroy them all, including the bit inside his body, we can kill him."
"It seems we understand each other perfectly."
"But then," says Harry, "that's not so difficult. Ron, Hermione and I are old hats at this sort of thing. We will have no trouble dealing with Voldemort."
Dumbledore's smile slips from his face.
"I believe you are forgetting something, Harry."
An old woman and a saint sit before the glowing hearth.
"I'm sorry, Baghra," says the saint. The girl, really. She is only a girl after all. "I know you once hoped that your son could redeem himself, but that will never happen. He will not rest until he has all of Ravka on her knees."
"No," the old woman rasps, "he won't."
"He would let the Shadow Fold swallow the world before ceding one bit of power."
The old woman's mouth twists with impatience. "I am aware of that."
"He's a murderer." Alina stares bleakly into the coals. "His crimes are unforgivable."
"What is your point?"
Her fingers rise unconsciously to the bone collar around her neck.
"He must die."
"I know that and so do you," Baghra growls. "Of course he must die. Of course you must be the one to kill him. What can possibly be holding you back?"
A woman with a staff sits by a sunlit pool, watching her teacher pace back and forth in his faded robes.
"Master Skywalker," she says, "we need your help because Kylo Ren is strong with the dark side of the Force. Without you, we don't stand a chance against him."
"You're wasting your time," says the grizzled old man. "I cannot help you."
"But you must! We need you to bring the Jedi Order back."
He stops in his tracks, and turns toward her. His face is grim.
"You don't know what you're asking, Rey. The Jedi are not the answer."
"Then what is?"
"Compassion," says Luke Skywalker. "Or so I once thought."
"It is not that easy," says Dumbledore, "to take away a monster's power."
"I don't understand, sir."
"Tell me, Harry. Why do you and I call him Voldemort when the rest of the world refers to him as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"
"Because," says Harry reasonably, as he has been taught, "we are not afraid of him. Because to fear the name is to fear the thing itself."
"Yes …" Dumbledore leans over the desk. "So what would make him afraid?"
"I learned his name," Alina says softly. "The one you gave him, not the title he took for himself. And now …"
"You know the truth," Baghra finishes. "The difference between killing a man and killing a volcra."
"There is no difference. They are both demons, creatures of shadow."
"Even demons have mothers. Even demons have hearts for your knife to find its mark." Shadows writhe in the black pits of Baghra's eyes. "It would be easier, wouldn't it, if he had none at all? Take it from me, girl – to kill him, you must acknowledge what you are killing. You must say his name and be able to do it anyway."
Alina shuts her eyes.
"Say it," says Baghra. "Say it."
Rey's eyes shine brightly.
"That's how you turned Darth Vader, isn't it? Compassion." She says it with such reverence. "You reached out to him even as you fought – appealed to his better nature, to the Light inside him –"
Luke scoffs. "Is that how they tell my story these days?"
She considers him.
"Why don't you tell me how it really happened?"
"I cannot," says Alina. "To speak his name is to honour him. To remind myself, and him too, that he is human. He does not deserve either."
"No," says Baghra. "But that's not the point."
"I went to confront him," says Luke. "I threw aside my saber …"
His gaze is drawn irrevocably to the setting suns, the dying rays of light winking out one by one.
"I spoke his name."
Harry's eyes widen.
"Aleksander," says Alina.
"Anakin?" whispers Rey.
Dumbledore nods. "His greatest shame. His greatest weakness."
"No," says Luke. "'Father'."
The Darkling's mother settles crooked hands over her cane.
"Yuyeh sesh, girl. Despise your heart."
Alina smiles, brittle. "I have no heart."
Hogwarts Castle lies in ruin, smoke and fire torching the violet sky of dawn. The boy who lived and the Dark Lord circle each other in the wreck of what was once a courtyard. Harry speaks first.
"Are you afraid, Tom?"
The serpent-man laughs a high, cold laugh, dripping glacial water. "Afraid of what?"
"Of dying," Harry says quietly, his voice barely carrying across the broken cobblestones. "You must have felt it. We've destroyed all your Horcruxes, and now you're just a man again. That was always your greatest fear, wasn't it, Tom?"
Voldemort hisses, his red eyes going to slits. "You – dare –"
"Yes, I dare."
"I am the Dark Lord, master of Death -"
"You are master of nothing but self-delusion." Harry steps forward, realizing that for once in his life, he knows exactly what Albus Dumbledore was talking about. "Tom was an orphan's name. You cast it off as if you could as easily cast off your mortality – for if you can be named, you can be killed. And I name you Tom Riddle."
A hideous screech rips from Voldemort's throat as he raises his arms from black robes, long white fingers wrapped around the Elder Wand. There's a flash of green light, an answering flare of red –
But you already know how this one ends, don't you?
In the gray sands of the Shadow Fold, a man in a black coat stumbles, folding over the knife driven into his ribs. He looks down at it in surprise. Blood spurts over his lips as he laughs, incredulous.
"Like this?" he says, and collapses.
Alina kneels by the Darkling's side, an ache in her throat.
The war is won. Ravka is saved. And here is her final duty: to look this man in the eye as he dies, because his blood is on her hands; because even monsters have mothers; because once upon a time he offered her the key to his charred and blackened heart.
His hand drifts to her face, brushing a thumb under her eye where the tears spill over. "Someone to mourn me," he breathes.
She clasps his hand against her cheek. Despise your heart.
She cannot despise him.
"Once more," the Darkling says through numbing lips. "Speak my name once more."
It's all right, Alina tells herself. She can forgive herself this. If she's to snuff out this dark candle, she must do Baghra this final honour.
"Aleksander," she whispers.
This final act of mercy.
The barest smile touches his mouth, fleeting. Then he closes his eyes, and the Shadow Fold dissipates above them into a brilliant blue sky.
They stand across from each other in a vast prairie. Rey lets the wind blow strands of hair into her eyes as she holds her enemy's dark gaze, fingers curled lightly at her sides.
Kylo Ren stares back at her, hollow-eyed and haggard.
"Are you here to strike me down?"
The grass around them ripples and shivers in the gale. Rey's serene expression doesn't waver.
He takes a single step forward, hurling the words in her face: "To finish what Luke started?"
"Father, please. Help m—"
"—still good in you."
"…thing wonderful has happened. Ani …"
She nods, slowly, her eyes never leaving his. "Yes."
Something flickers across his face, like the shadow of wings on the ground. Then with a single, lurching movement, he unclips the lightsaber from his belt and ignites it. And though there's no mistaking the challenge in how he levels it at her, there's a defeated slump to his shoulders. He already knows how this is going to end.
Rey takes a deep breath.
(What do you see?)
Kylo Ren is locked in an endless loop of his own making, just like a little girl who waited in vain for her family to come back for her. Who might have waited forever if a shooting star called Finn hadn't knocked her free of her orbit.
She exhales. Takes a careful step forward, then another, and another – first it's crushed grass under her boots, then the metal clang of a bridge over that shining, yawning chasm – and shouts out with every Force-sensitive fiber of her mind,
Ben, stop, stop and look at me. B E N
His eyes widen. The tip of his saber falls, just a little. Just by a fraction. And she sees.
"Then what is?"
"Don't be afraid, I –"
"Tell your sister you were right."
"… truly, deeply …"
She sees the door, chained and padlocked and run through with fissures, its edges glowing with light as though it's holding back the sun.
"No," Kylo snarls, his eyes wrathful fire behind the crackling saber. "There's no going back, scavenger. Let's finish this."
Rey's mouth curls into a wondering smile. Do you hear me? she thinks. Can you hear me?
Luke was wrong. Or Luke was right, depending on which Luke you were talking to.
Kylo Ren will lose this battle.
Just not in the way that he thinks.