For the first time since Rey had accepted the truth of her parents' fate, for the first time since she had begun to cleave her own part in the story of which she had been told she had no place, she longed for the arid, hostile climate of Jakku. She wanted the lonely familiarity of scavenging parts off rotting imperial ships in the desert sands to bring to the disgusting Unkar Plutt and his roaming eyes for her meager portions for the day. She wanted to settle in the for the night and scratch another tick mark onto the wall of the AT-AT in which she had made her home, counting down the days of every miserable memory she had ever had.
She wanted to forget that she had ever rescued BB-8 and subsequently met Finn in the Niima Outpost, learning of the Resistance. She never would have seen the only father figure she had ever had fall to his death. She never would have made so many friends, or earned a mentor, only to lose him soon after, as well.
She never would have had the pain and agony—the grief—that Kylo Ren had brought her, had brought all of them.
But she never would have known the love that kindled deep in Ben Solo's heart, either, and if there was one thing that Starkiller would never understand, it was that: love. So no matter how difficult this was, no matter the fact that betrayal was now lurking at every corner, that she had more people to fear the loss of, she would overcome this, because she had an ace in her pocket. Love would keep her going.
Every strike of a lightsaber against hers was beginning to make her arms ache. They came from everywhere at once. Rey was barely fending them off. One of her clone illusions, she knew, had to be Starkiller. But who? And if she could figure it out, how would Rey be able to get to her? There was simply too many of them! Never mind that these blows felt very real—she had no doubt in her mind that if she ceased fighting, she would be sliced straight through by hot, unyielding plasma.
Starkiller was wearing down the clock. Eventually, Rey's stamina would give out.
Figure out where she is, Rey thought. Worry about the rest after.
What had she learned, the last time she was locked in an illusion?
Rey flung her arm to the left. Several of her clones went flying, smashing into one another, and they were replaced soon after. She didn't have time to look. She was busy parrying blows to her front, right, and back. It was down to pure instinct, since she couldn't feel the flow of the Force coming from any of them. One wrong move, and she would be flayed.
What had she learned?!
It's about time you remembered, a voice whispered inside of her. She didn't recognize it. When she had been locked inside of Ben's head during Anakin's maze, she had been listening to Ben's id and not her own. But it was her voice, that was indisputable. But if you want my help, you'll have to let me take over. This is a complex illusion. She is directly involved within it.
If you let me take over, you'll be surrendering yourself to your baser instincts.
It cost her a slash she barely dodged, earning her a graze that burned on her arm and made her cry out, the sleeve of her shirt singed.
Fine! she shouted inwardly.
Are you sure you can come back from that? The voice wasn't insidious, merely inquisitive, as if it had all the time in the world, and this wasn't a moment of life or death. You keep such careful control of me, after all.
Just—shut up! You're making it to where I can't think! Rey deflected a lightsaber coming straight at her face.
That's precisely my point. You won't be thinking anymore.
There wasn't any time for this!
There's never any time. Do you want to know which one she is, or don't you?
Why can't you tell me now?!
Because you're smothering me. I need complete control.
Rey remembered Ben's id, all the help he had given her.
He would pull her back from the brink. He would.
Ben isn't here right now, her id reminded her.
But he would be. He would.
She didn't like talking to herself. It was making her feel mad. However, she was tiring too quickly, and she didn't have any other choice. Ben had yet to appear, and she had no way of knowing which of the doppelgangers was Starkiller. She took a deep breath, making sure she understood what, exactly, was happening. It was an illusion within an illusion. This "arena," for lack of a better word, was within Starkiller and Rey's mind, but Rey had no doubt that anyone who would try to interfere would be trapped in an illusion of their own, just as Ben currently had to be. Meanwhile, Starkiller was dueling with Rey, wearing Rey's face, while attempting to distract Rey with multiple versions of Rey coming at her.
It was a psychological nightmare, and it had to end. Somehow, Rey had to get rid of this illusion, penetrate its core, to get rid of its doppelgangers to find the source. And they had learned that the only way they could do that was with the aid of their ids. It wasn't supposed to have been on this extreme of a level—they were meant to be able to pick out what was real by questioning the natural order of things, of what was out of place—but their training hadn't prepared them for this.
It hadn't taken into consideration that they could know they were in an illusion and still be trapped inside of it, unable to escape, their enemy right there with them, ready to deliver the killing blow at any moment.
Why Starkiller enjoyed playing with her food so much, Rey would never know.
Do it, Rey thought.
Gladly, her id replied.
Until now, Rey had been stuck inside of a circle, unable to move for fear of losing a limb. That fear had held her in check. It was gone now. The baser instincts had indeed taken over, and it was freeing. Concern fell away, and she lunged, calling all her might of the Force with her, confidence in every movement. It wasn't a confidence born of arrogance—it was simply survival. Kill or be killed.
"This isn't real," she snarled, cleaving through the midsection of a clone. It vanished like smoke, and she spun, her lightsaber following suit, as she moved from imitation to imitation. "This isn't real, this isn't real, this isn't real." Sweat began to trickle down her forehead and the back of her spine. That was good. That was real.
She moved quickly, blocking several swipes, plasma hissing as she shouted, before she fell into another circle. This time, she had the Force shoot out with her, knocking doppelgangers off their feet and sending them flying, and as she did so, she whipped around to find the one who wouldn't have—who would have resisted that effort.
Found you, she thought with a smile, narrowing her eyes.
Ben was at her side, panting. The darkness didn't dissipate, but the imitations didn't reform. Rey got a better grip on her lightsaber, twirling it. Ben's was ignited, as well.
What's happened? You're different— He hesitated. I remember you… you're the id.
Rey kept her eyes on her doppelganger. She won't change back. She's not moving.
Probably trying to pull us into another illusion.
Well, it won't work!
Rey ran forward, yelling and jumping into the air, swinging her lightsaber down at Starkiller.
Rey! Why are you acting so reckless—! Shit!
He was behind her as Starkiller raised the illusion of Rey's lightsaber, swiftly parrying the strike.
Ben didn't like this. He was thinking about how Starkiller was wearing Rey's face, and what might happen if he struck the wrong one. But that would be impossible, because he would be able to feel Rey, because they were connected through their bond—
You're distracting me! Rey snapped as she began her duel with Starkiller through the mostly darkness, her moves mostly mirrored, Starkiller's expression empty, her eyes entirely devoid of emotion.
Ben's mind retreated.
Then he was beside her again, and the two worked in unison to bring the vergence down.
Almost as soon as they converged on her, the blackness disappeared, and a jungle sprung to life around them, the sounds of animal life and the heat and humidity trapped beneath the trees tangled above them stifling. Ben and Rey were caught off guard, and they fell back-to-back, their lightsabers held before them.
A creature growled low to their left—
This isn't real.
The mantra that had been tracking through Rey's head pounded through her being, and she gave an uppercut with her saber in time to avoid a deadly attack from Starkiller. The illusion melted with it, but it took Rey's doppelganger with her and was soon replaced with sand that stretched in all directions. Granules flew in a storm, making her squint to see, and stung her skin.
She's trying to distract us long enough to attack us.
And it was entirely effective.
They dove apart from one another in time for Starkiller to collide with the ground, and laughter rang in their ears. The desert dissolved, leaving liquid darkness in its wake and Ben and Rey on either side of Rey's imitation as they battled with it, each of their blows striking harmlessly as it danced between them. The doppelganger jumped high, backflipping out of the way, and with her, the world rippled and twisted until Ben and Rey were standing in lashing rain and the burning remains of Luke's temple.
This was going to continue until they could manage to land a blow on Starkiller, and even then, it would have to be a devastating one.
We're not breaking the illusions fast enough. Let your id take over.
Where was she? Why hadn't she attacked yet?
You can't tell what it's doing to you, but I can—
Just do it!
If I give into my id, I'm not strong enough! I will go over to the dark side!
He had a point.
And, Rey—eventually, like this, you will, too.
The clock was ticking.
The environments were constantly changing, be it shards of a memory or entirely random.
Death was lurking around every corner. It was barely being batted away.
And all Rey could think about wasn't the fact that she might go over to the dark side. It was that, if her movements didn't considerably speed, she would have no way of bringing down Starkiller. They would be trapped in this dance until either they were too exhausted or Starkiller was, and with how Starkiller was pulling on the Force-users, Rey had no doubt in her mind that Ben and Rey's stamina would fall first.
There had to be some way to break Starkiller's illusions that she wasn't thinking of. They were stacked on top of one another, like layers to a puzzle. This arena had to end somewhere. It was no longer an option to believe that it must come from Starkiller's death—they would be dead before that happened.
But what could they do?
What if it's possible to form our own illusion? Rey asked suddenly, dripping wet and covered in seaweed, breathless from the beating against the waves of Ahch-To. Starkiller had attempted to use those waves to slam her into one of the many cliff faces lining the island. Her surroundings changed, and she was back on Solaris, except now she was knee-deep in grimy swamp water with invisible creatures with sharp teeth coming after her.
Starkiller was getting increasingly creative.
Ben and Rey leapt onto dead trees, lightsabers circling widely to bar any attacks, before the illusion broke and they were in a dusty arena with a particularly nasty android. He was larger than the one Wabba had originally had them face.
We don't know how to do that.
It wouldn't have to be anything complicated. She can't feel us in the Force, just like we can't feel her. If we faked your death—
Now the terrain wouldn't stay consistent for longer than a moment at a time, and it had nothing to do with Ben and Rey breaking the illusion first. Starkiller was trying to disorient them before she leapt in for another attempt at a kill. Sadly, it was beginning to work. After the fifth time, Rey couldn't tell up from down. She forced herself to stay where she was, her back to Ben's again.
It would distract her long enough to reveal herself.
Right, right, right.
Now, how to go about it?
At that exact moment—arguably their most dire moment of need—an old friend came to their aid.
Rey! Breeze exclaimed, resounding loudly within Rey's mind. I can help you!
Where in hells have you been? Ben snarled.
Would you like an explanation later, or do you wish to perish now? Breeze replied dryly. When it became clear that Ben's trust was hard to come by, with the illusions they were being pummeled with, she went on urgently, It became too dangerous! Anakin and I knew that should we continue to aid you, you would not be able to face Starkiller on your own! So I have been helping to reinforce the shield that guards this fortress!
Yet here you are!
Only because you have solved a piece of the puzzle!
Can we argue the logistics later?! Rey raged.
Yes! And then we can discuss how to repair your mind! Breeze, staying out of sight, must have been working on something within the Force with the illusions, because they stopped in their fast-paced madness. Pretend you are still overwhelmed! It will buy us some time, and you will more accurately able to predict where she is coming from, should she choose to strike again!
Breeze, did you not flee from your vergence planet because Starkiller found you?!
Ben Solo—I have lived for millennia, and while we share a great dislike for one another, I am unable to let your other half die when I am capable of doing something about it!
The plan was, as far as plans went, not some of their best work.
But, amazingly, it did its job long enough to distract Starkiller.
Breeze had been a master of illusions from the second they had landed on her abandoned planet all those years ago. She had been a "master" of them thousands before that. The people there, still petrified and reaching for her in their equally stone city, all thinking they were grabbing for what was their greatest desire shining brilliantly before them, could attest to this.
Ben's fear had been that Starkiller would see through this, that she would know it was the Force knot. But perhaps she was so distracted in playing around with them that she couldn't tell the difference in reality anymore, in the ripples of the Force. For when Ben was "struck" down, sprawled on the shifting sands of some new desert planet, a hole burning through his chest—a sight Rey found difficult to stomach, despite the knowledge that it was fake—everything melted back into the fortress.
"NO!" Starkiller screamed.
Things moved seamlessly. Starkiller's form was masked as Ben's, Ben's was dressed as Rey's, and Rey disappeared into nothingness, camouflaged into stonework. Snarling, Starkiller, still wearing Rey's face, whirled on "Rey." Ben twirled his lightsaber and raised his free hand, gesturing for her to come at him.
"That was thoughtless," Ben taunted in Rey's voice.
Move! Breeze said in Rey's mind.
As though Rey needed to be told twice.
Ben and Starkiller went at it, and Rey was relieved to see Sitrine and Rellen slumped against the walls of the fortress, unharmed and unconscious. Ben notably steered the fight away from their bodies. Starkiller was so enraged that her intent was only on destroying Ben/Rey. Rey needed to move fast.
Though she wanted to give a mighty yell, she was silent as she warned Ben—who leapt backward in a neat flip—and ignited her lightsaber, neatly severing her head from her body.
They both panted, the sudden silence only broken by the hum of plasma.
Together, they stared at one another over Starkiller's lifeless form. Slowly, the illusion of Rey's body dissolved, and the duo stepped closer to see who had been hounding them so desperately all this time. Dark eyes stared sightlessly to the side, equally dark hair tangled around a pale face. She wasn't pretty—nor was she ugly.
"I don't know what I expected," Rey whispered.
Breeze was a glowing ball of light, swirling around them both, trailing dust. She flickered.
Golden eyes. Twisted features. A body ravaged by so much use of the darkness?
Rey didn't know what to say or do.
It was, it seemed, finally over.
We should burn the body.
Just in case, Rey agreed.
The last thing they needed was some otherworldly rift left from Starkiller's massive vergence of darkness.
Sitrine stirred. "What'd I miss…?" he slurred. And then, a moment later, when his arms were full of Rey, he gave Ben a bewildered look. "A lot?" His eyes caught sight of the mangled corpse on the floor feet away from him, and he clutched onto Rey.
"You could say that," Rellen said dryly. "Oh, I have a wicked headache."
"Like you know what's going on anymore than I do," Sitrine snapped.
Rey choked on a sob and wriggled closer into Sitrine's arms.
The two Knights of Ren lifted bewildered eyes to Ben.
Since his own eyes were a little misty, they gave it up as a bad job and set about to comforting Rey.
We have to find everyone, Rey thought. We have to find your mother. We have to— She stopped abruptly and lifted herself from Sitrine's grasp. She stood, using Ben's hand to help her up, and twisted her head wildly back and forth, but never found who she was searching for.
"Breeze!" she called.
There was no answer.
And something told her that, this time, there wouldn't be.
They were dead, Rey realized. Sitrine and Rellen. They were dead. She covered her mouth with a shaking hand. She brought them back?
No, Ben thought, shaking his head slowly. They weren't dead. She doesn't have that kind of power.
Rey burst into tears.
She used up the last of her energy with her illusion.
"BREEZE!" Rey yelled frantically. "BREEZE, COME ON, THIS ISN'T FUNNY!"
Your id is suppressed, too. And she said something about how she'd been hiding away in the shield for the fortress… Rey—Rey, she's gone…
Rey dropped to her knees, but Ben caught her before she could fall completely. She fell into him, sobbing. He clutched her head, cradling her against his chest. No—no. It wasn't fair; this wasn't right. How could this have happened? After everything Breeze had done for them? After everything they had gone through together? They had finally brought Starkiller down! And now… and now Breeze was gone?
"No," Rey gasped. "No—"
Her grief flooded the bond. Victory, shining so brightly, had been submerged in shadow.
She wouldn't want you to feel this way. You know she wouldn't.
Rey didn't care about that.
The galaxy is saved. Come on. Let's deal with Starkiller's body and then find the others. Ben's voice was not lacking pity. His thoughts curled around hers, comforting in every place that they could.
But Rey felt so hollow and empty.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
They weren't supposed to lose something in order to gain something.
"Balance," Ben murmured into her hair. "She was saving you."
She was saving the galaxy…
He pressed a kiss to her temple and rocked her slightly. You know she cared about you more than she cared about the galaxy. She's a part of the Force. She can't die. She finally found her peace.
B-But she w-won't answer…
She will someday. She will.
Rey shook her head against him.
She's resting within the Force. She'll answer your call again one day. She will, Rey.
I just… I need a minute…
And, because he loved her, and he knew how much Breeze had done for them and had meant to her, he gave it to her.