Part 1As the alien woods closed in around her, Rey jumped at every sound, glanced sharply at every wind-rustled branch and falling leaf. Holding tightly to the blaster, she held off firing defensively in the direction of every movement for fear of alerting her pursuers to her location. Sensing something just ahead, she slowed and brought the blaster up. A figure stepped out from behind a tree.It was the nightmare, and he was wielding a lightsaber unlike any she had ever seen in the stories she had read. Its beam was an intense, burning red like a controlled flame, and near the hilt, a pair of shorter beams shot outward, perpendicular to the main shaft.She fired, again and again. Each shot from her blaster he deflected with the lightsaber’s beam. Almost as if it were a game, she thought in terror as she continued to fire. He was playing with her.Until, evidently, he tired of it. He raised a hand, held it toward her, palm outward. As she inhaled sharply, her hand froze on the blaster. She tried to turn, to run, but her legs refused to respond. She could only stand there among the trees, taking in slow, measured breaths, as he came toward her.Halting an arm’s length away, he studied her face from behind his mask. When he finally spoke, he sounded at once impressed and surprised. “You would kill me. Knowing nothing about me.”Finding that her mouth and lips worked, she replied defiantly. “Why wouldn’t I kill you? I know about the First Order.”“I would say otherwise. But that is a small thing. Simple ignorances are easily remedied.” As he spoke, he walked slowly around her paralyzed body. Frightened, she tried to follow him with her eyes, but her head would not turn. “So afraid,” he murmured. “Yet I should be the one who should be scared. You shot first. You speak of the Order as if it were barbaric. And yet, it is I who was forced to defend myself against you.”Having circled her, he moved even closer, peering into her face, her eyes. Then the red lightsaber he held came up: close to her flesh, close enough to cast a red glow on her skin.“Something.” He sounded mystified. “There is something…Who are you?”Shutting down and belting his lightsaber, Ren contemplated his immobile captive. Reaching up slowly, he touched her face. The pressure he applied was not physical. Refusing to meet his gaze, she looked away, straining with the agony of resistance, hardly daring to breathe. If only she could get a hand free, a leg-but no part of her body responded to her commands.Surprised by what he was finding, Ren lowered his hand. Relieved of the mental intrusion, she sucked in great, long draughts of air. His brows drew together and a reluctance to believe his own findings colored his comments.“Is it true, then? You’re nothing special after all? You’re just a-Jakku scavenger?”How did he know that? she agonized as she stared back at him. Surely she hadn’t thought it! She’d tried to keep her mind blank, her memory locked, and still he had wormed his way in. He touched her anew. This time the pain of trying to stave him off brought tears streaming down her face. He was within her mind and her thoughts, and there was nothing-nothing!-she could do to keep him out. To resist. But she kept trying, trying…“Hmm…,” he murmured softly. “You’ve met the traitor who served under me. A minor annoyance grown larger than he deserves. You find him more than tolerable.” He drew back slightly, bemused. “You’ve even begun to care for him. A weakness, such distractions.”Suddenly he put his face so close to hers that they were almost touching. “You’ve seen it! The map! It’s in your mind right now…”She could hardly swallow as she strained to pull away from him, anything to pull away, to get him out.She wanted to scream, but he would not allow it.At the sound of nearby explosions, Ren ceased his probing, but he did not remove his hand from Rey’s face as he turned toward the now ruined castle. She remained standing before him, unable to move, gazing blankly into the distance. A clutch of stormtroopers, breathing hard, came toward him through the trees.“Sir,” the leader gasped, his alarm and dismay evident, “Resistance fighters!”Ren considered. Though he was not technically in charge of battlefield decisions, no officer would attempt to overrule any decision he chose to make.“Pull our troops out. We have what we need.”The squad leader saluted, lingered a moment to look on in fascination as at a gesture from Ren the young woman standing motionless before him collapsed, and then he hastened to relay the command lest his interest in something that was none of his business be noticed. He had no wish to join the woman on the ground in a state of oblivion.The squad leader saluted, lingered a moment to look on in fascination as at a gesture from Ren the young woman standing motionless before him collapsed, and then he hastened to relay the command lest his interest in something that was none of his business be noticed. He had no wish to join the woman on the ground in a state of oblivion.The black-marked X-wing swooped low to take out yet another TIE fighter still on the ground. The retreating stormtroopers, rushing to board their transports, were easy targets for the castle’s survivors.Two, running from the furious defenders, were taken out by Finn, using a recovered blaster. As he looked around for more stragglers, Finn found his attention drawn to a singular figure striding through the edge of the forest. He almost looked away before catching sight of and identifying the burden the cloaked officer was carrying into a shuttle of atypical design. Finn’s spirits plunged.“REY!!!”Ignoring the fire of retreating stormtroopers, paying no attention to the blasts that gouged the dirt around him, Finn raced toward the shuttle-only to watch helplessly as it lifted off and rose toward the clouds. Irrationally, he tried to follow the dark spot as it rose higher into the sky, running beneath it until it shrank to a dot and then finally disappeared.“No, no, no, no…Rey, Rey!”Ascending, other First Order ships formed up in the wake of the shuttle, creating a tight escort to seal it off from any pursuit. Utilizing oculars far more sensitive than those of any human, BB-8 tracked the battle group until it had receded even beyond his sight, lost at the edge of space. The droid paused for a moment, pondering.Out of breath, tears glistening on his cheeks, Finn slowed as he drew alongside Han.“He took her!” Finn managed to gasp. “He took her! Did you see that? She’s gone, Rey’s gone!”Reaching out, Han shoved Finn aside without meeting the younger man’s gaze. “Get outta my way!”Knocked off-balance, Finn slowed to a stop, stunned, his eyes fixed on Han’s retreating back. He was too shocked to know how to respond. As he stood staring, he noticed Maz a short distance away, speaking to BB-8.“Yes, it’s true, they have Rey now,” Maz said. “But we can’t give up hope.” She looked down at the droid, who beeped forlornly. “Go,” she told the droid. “Share what you have with your people. They need you.”Finn walked over to her, and together Maz and Finn watched the droid roll off. “Looks like I’ve got some cleaning up to do, hmm?” Maz said. Then the diminutive smuggler looked up at him and smiled in satisfaction. “Oh wow…I see something else now.”“See what?” Finn asked.“I see the eyes of a warrior.”
Part 2The complex restraining apparatus held Rey upright against an angled platform in the cell. She woke slowly. Disoriented, at first she thought she was alone. Her oversight was understandable, since the other person in the holding area did not move, did not make a sound, and at times scarcely seemed to breathe.Though startled by his unsettlingly silent presence, she took a moment to take stock of her surroundings. They were as different as could be imagined from her previous ones. The last thing she remembered was the confrontation in the forest on Takodana, the sounds of battle, and sending away the droid BB-8. That, and then the mind probe. The pain. Her efforts to shut it out, and the contemptuous ease with which her mental defenses had been brushed aside. Even now, there was a lingering ache at the back of her eyes.The forest was gone. So was Maz’s castle. Bereft of a point of reference, she had no choice but to ask.“Where am I?”“Does the physical location really matter so much?” In Kylo Ren’s voice there was unexpected gentleness. Not quite sympathy, but something less than the hostility with which he had confronted her in the forest. “You’re my guest.”With an ease that was more frightening than any physical approach, he waved casually in her direction. A couple of clicks, and the restraints fell away from her arms. She tried to take the demonstration in stride as she rubbed her wrists. The last thing she wanted was for him to think he could intimidate her any more than he already had. Looking around the room, she confirmed that they were alone.“Where are the others? The ones who were fighting with me?”He sniffed disdainfully. “You mean the traitors, murderers, and thieves you call friends? Consider carefully now: I could easily tell you they were all killed, righteously slain in battle. But I would prefer to be honest with you from the beginning. You will be relieved to hear that as far as their current status and well-being is concerned-I have no idea.”She stared at him. Though at the moment he was calm, she could not escape the feeling that a wrong word, an unsatisfactory response, might set him off. Be very careful with this person, she told herself.He looked at her as if she had just spoken aloud. For all the chance she had of hiding her emotions from him, she realized, she might as well have voiced her thoughts.“You still want to kill me,” he murmured.Her true self got the better of her and she replied tactlessly, despite the danger. “That happens when you’re being hunted by a creature in a mask.”She had a moment to ponder his possible reaction and to fear it. But he did not do what she expected. Instead, he reached up, unlatched and removed his mask. She just stared at him in silence.In itself the narrow face that looked back at her was not remarkable. It was almost sensitive. If not for the intensity of his gaze, Ren could have passed for someone she might have met on the dusty streets of Niima Outpost. But there was-that gaze. That, and what lay simmering behind it.“Is it true?” he finally asked. “You’re just a scavenger?” She didn’t respond, and, perhaps sensing her embarrassment, he changed the subject. “Tell me about the droid.”She swallowed. “It’s a BB unit with a selenium drive and a thermal hyperscan vindicator, internal self-correcting gyroscopic propulsion system, optics corrected to-”“I am familiar with general droid technical specifications. I don’t need to acquire one: What I want is located in its memory. It’s carrying a section of a transgalactic navigational chart. We have the rest, recovered from the archives of the Empire. We need the last piece. Somehow, you convinced the droid to show it to you. You. A simple, solitary scavenger. How is that?”She looked away. How did he know that? By the same means he had used to learn everything else?“I know you’ve seen the map,” he repeated. “It’s what I need. At the moment, it is all that I need.” When she maintained her silence, he almost sighed. “I can take whatever I want.”Her muscles tightened. “Then you don’t need me to tell you anything.”“True.” He rose, resigned. “I would have preferred to avoid this. Despite what you may believe, it gives me no pleasure. I will go as easily as possible-but I will take what I need.”She knew that trying to resist him physically would not only be useless but would likely result in unpleasantness of a kind she preferred not to imagine. So she remained motionless and silent, her arms at her sides, as his hand rose toward her face. He touched her again, as he had in the forest on Takodana.And hesitated. What was that? Something there. Something unexpected.As she strained to resist the probe, he pushed into her, brushing aside her awkward attempts to keep him out. While he investigated her mind, he spoke softly.“You’ve been so lonely,” he murmured as he searched for what he needed. “So afraid to leave.” A thin smile crossed his face. “At night, desperate to sleep, you’d imagine an ocean. I can see it…I can see the island.”Tears were streaming down her face from the effort she was making to withstand him. Increasingly desperate, she did try to strike out. But just as on Takodana, her body refused to respond.“And Han Solo,” Ren continued relentlessly. “He feels like the father you never had. A dead end, that vision. Let it go. I can tell you for a fact he would have disappointed you.”All the rage and terror bottled up inside her came out as she turned to meet his stare.“Get-out-of-my-head.”It only made him lean in closer, enhancing her feeling of complete helplessness. “Rey-you’ve seen the map. It’s in there. And I am going to take it. Don’t be afraid.”Where the strength to defy him came from she did not know, but if anything, her voice grew a little stronger. “I’m not giving you anything.”His response reflected his unconcern. “We’ll see.”Narrowing his gaze and his focus, he locked eyes with her. She met his stare without trying to look away. She should have looked away. It would have been the rational thing to do. The sane thing to do. Instead, she just glared, trying not to flinch, not to blink.Ah, he thought to himself. Something there, of interest. Not the image of the map. That would take another moment. But definitely something worth investigating. He shifted his perception toward it, seeking to identify, to analyze, to—The barrier he encountered stopped him cold. And it was he, Kylo Ren, who blinked. It made no sense. He pushed, hard, with his mind-and the probe went nowhere.A look of amazement replaced the fear on Rey’s face as she discovered herself inside his mind. Stunned at the realization, she found herself inexorably drawn to-to…“You,” she heard herself saying clearly, “you’re afraid. That you will never be as strong as-Darth Vader!”His hand pulled sharply away from her cheek as if her skin had suddenly turned white-hot. Confused, rattled, he stumbled back from her. Her gaze followed him. Her eyes were the same, but something else had changed-something behind them, in her stare and in her posture. He moved to leave and, at the last moment, gestured powerfully in her direction. The restraints that had held her wrists snapped back into place, once again securing her to the inclined platform. Then he once again donned his mask and was gone.In the corridor, a stunned Ren found that he was breathing hard. That in itself was unsettling. He did not know what had just transpired in the holding cell and, not knowing, was left uncertain how to proceed. He was spared further bewilderment when a trooper appeared, coming toward him. Straightening, Ren gathered himself.The trooper halted. His evident discomfort at having to speak to Ren bolstered his superior’s shaken persona.“Sir! The Supreme Leader has requested your presence.”Ren nodded and headed off in the necessary direction, accompanied by the trooper. The latter did not pay any attention when the tall figure he was escorting looked back over his shoulder.In the holding cell, Rey relaxed against the platform. That she could relax at all was significant in itself. Something of great consequence had just taken place. How and what, she did not know. Even in her present situation she felt encouraged, though why that should be she was still uncertain. One thing was clear.She was going to be given time to contemplate it.
Part 3“Come on.” Seeking a path through the snow, shadows, and increasingly dark forest, Finn finally slowed. Where were they running to? In any event, both he and Rey were out of breath. When he looked over at her, he knew the same realization had struck her. It was good, anyway, to stop. Even in the artificial darkness, in the shadow of the curtain of descending dark energy, the forest felt…clean.At least, it did until a singular figure came upon them and uttered a single word.“Stop.”The three stood staring at one another: Finn and Rey, Kylo Ren some ten meters away. As Ren reached for his lightsaber, Rey pulled her blaster, stepped forward, and took aim.Before she could fire, Ren raised a hand, halting her. She strained against him, her anger giving her strength. But she couldn’t fire. He was struggling also, against her newly discovered ability, as well as the wound inflicted by Chewbacca’s bowcaster. Gritting his teeth, he flung his arm sideways in a single, powerful gesture-and the blaster went flying out of her hand. Inhaling deeply, he gestured again, and this time it was Rey who went flying, to smash into a tree nearby and slide to the ground, dazed and hurt.“Rey-Rey!”Finn started toward her, but the sound of Ren’s lightsaber igniting made him turn. In the darkness, the hum and glow of the gleaming red weapon was mesmerizing. With nothing else to fall back on and unable to reach Rey’s blaster, Finn resorted to the only defense at his command: He pulled and activated the Skywalker lightsaber.For some reason, the sight of it was enough to give Ren pause. He stared at it for a moment before reacting.“That weapon-is mine.”Finn all but snarled his reply. “Come and get it.”Drawing himself up, a towering figure in the snow, Ren did not even bother to gesture. “I’m going to kill you for it.”He rushed forward.Despite his fear, Finn raised the beam to defend himself. Ren lunged, struck-and Finn parried. Shards of light flew, illuminating the snow and the surrounding vegetation. Drawing back slightly, Ren considered his unexpectedly determined opponent, then resumed his assault with a vengeance.Finn blocked him again and again, once letting the other man’s beam slide against his own and harmlessly off to one side. He counterattacked, to no avail. The longer the contest continued, the stronger Ren seemed to become. It was as if he was enjoying the challenge. Feeding upon it.At least, it appeared so until Finn parried, swung, and unexpectedly stabbed, the tip of his lightsaber beam grazing Ren’s arm. That made it more than a challenge. Taking a step back, Ren reconsidered his opponent. When he closed the distance between them anew, it was with a purpose that had been previously lacking. Expecting an execution, he had found a contest. Now he had been touched. It was time for play to end.Advancing relentlessly, he was driven by something that Finn could not even sense, far less counter. Still the ex-trooper fought back, until Ren landed a blow that cut across Finn’s chest and sent the lightsaber flying from his hand. It landed in the snow six meters distant.It was over.Switching off his own weapon, Ren extended an arm toward the device lying in the snow. It twitched and then began to vibrate as the Force called to it. Stretching out his hand farther, straining, Ren beckoned powerfully-and the lightsaber rose, to come bulleting toward his outstretched fingers.And past them.Taken aback, he whirled-to see the weapon land in the hand of a girl standing by a tree. Rey appeared equally shocked that her reach for the device had exceeded his. She gazed down at the weapon now resting in her grip.“It is you,” Ren murmured.His words unsettled her: Not for the first time, he seemed to know more about her than she did about herself. But she had no time to ponder his comment, nor was she inclined to do so anyway; she was too consumed with rage. Holding the haft of the lightsaber in both hands, she ignited the beam-and charged.Ren met her with his own weapon alight. Expecting weakness, he encountered only strength. Her skill with the device was raw at best, but it was backed by a fury that was as new to his experience as it was unexpected.When the beams of their lightsabers crossed, the resulting burst of energy lit an entire section of forest.To an observer at a distance, it would have appeared as if a series of small explosions was going off in the depths of the forest. Blow after blow landed as lightsaber struck against lightsaber. Though Ren was bigger and stronger than Rey, their struggle had nothing to do with physical size. What she lacked in mass, she made up for in ferocity.For a while she actually drove him backward, until he regained his self-assurance and in turn pressed her. The fight continued to shift back and forth; first he gained the advantage, then an enraged Rey took it back.There was a vast rumbling, as of a continent sighing, and a gigantic chunk of forest behind Rey simply collapsed downward, leaving her fighting on the edge of a cliff so high that the newly formed surface below could not be seen through the rising cloud of dust.Ren held his lightsaber, poised to strike. “I could kill you right now. But there is another way.”Breathing hard, Rey looked up in disgust at the man looming above her. “You’re a monster.”“No. You need a teacher.” He was beseeching and insistent all at once. “I can show you the ways of the Force!”Slowly she shook her head. “The Force?” That was what this was about? Instead of moving to defend herself, Rey closed her eyes. Ren hesitated, confused by her actions. A long moment passed, in which Ren sensed a change in the air, a change in her. Then she opened her eyes and attacked, viciously, in a way she didn’t know she was capable of, striking again and again as Ren was slowly driven back. The flaring energy from the interacting lightsabers was more pronounced than ever in the flurry of her attack. And-Ren went down.He was up again in an instant, but not in time to fully deflect a following blow from Rey’s weapon. He succeeded in blocking it, but he still took the full force of the strike against the haft of his own lightsaber. The weapon went flying into the snow. Unarmed, he raised a hand and utilized the Force to fend off one slashing blow after another, until finally her fury penetrated his remaining defenses. Taking a glancing blow to the head and chest, he went down, a prominent burn slashed across his face. Weakened, he reached out toward his lightsaber, trying to draw it to him.One downward cut, she saw. One quick, final strike, and she could kill him. The landing lights of a shuttle appeared in the distance, coming over the trees in her direction. She had to make a decision, now.Kill him, a voice inside her head said. It was amorphous, unidentifiable, raw. Pure vengeful emotion. So easy, she told herself. So quick.She recoiled from it. From the dark side.The world shook beneath her as the ground began to split. Turning away from the injured figure, she ran back to where Finn lay badly wounded. A deep gully formed, separating her from General Hux and the arriving troopers. Utilizing the tiny position sensor emplaced in Ren’s belt, Hux had tracked him to this spot. He would have taken Rey and Finn, as well, if not for the command that had been issued by the Supreme Leader. That took precedence over everything. There was simply no time left.The two renegades were going to die here anyway, he told himself as he followed the troopers carrying Ren into the nearby shuttle. As soon as he was aboard, it lifted off, its occupants desperate to flee the dying planet.Below them, Rey huddled beside the unconscious Finn. Turning him over, she recoiled from the wound Ren had inflicted with his lightsaber. The blow had cauterized instantly. In the dim light she couldn’t estimate its depth, nor if it had passed through any vital organs. Holding the unresponsive body in her arms, she started to cry. There were worse ways to die, she told herself as the ground continued to shake and trees began to topple around her.No, she corrected herself bitterly. There was only one way to die. She steeled her thoughts.The glow that enveloped her and Finn did not come from the planetary core. It was too bright, too localized. Raising a hand to shield her eyes from the approaching glare, she squinted into the brilliant light. It took a moment to resolve itself into the scanning beams of a ship. A ship she recognized.Rising from the vicinity of the new canyon that had appeared behind Rey in the course of her battle with Kylo Ren, the Millennium Falcon came toward them. Considering the general conditions and the unstable surface, its pilot made a surprisingly smooth touchdown.She would have thrown herself into Chewie’s arms had he not stooped immediately to pick up the limp body of Finn.Given the chance, she would have remained in the medbay, where the Wookiee set his burden down. But despite its added modifications, the Falcon still flew better with someone in the copilot’s seat. In moments they were beyond the atmosphere of the imploding planet. The jump to lightspeed was accomplished without incident, preventing them from observing the final cataclysm. Which was just as well.A moment after they fled, Starkiller Base system became a binary.