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Distractions: A Reylo Fic

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The Upsilon-class shuttle vibrated and skittered through the thick atmosphere over Mustafar. Ben braced his feet as he stood on the command bridge, his hand tightening slightly on Rey’s, prepared to steady her should she lose balance. It would have been safer to stay seated, strapped in with his Knights and the bulk of their stormtrooper escort in the passenger compartment. But he wanted to see this. Needed to see it.

Just as he needed her here now.

Black clouds swirled outside the viewport. Even at this altitude, there was a grittiness to the thin air. Ben sensed, rather than saw or heard, tiny particles striking the durasteel around them: bits of minerals and ash borne on scorching air currents. His pilot, Lieutenant Tavson, was unaffected as always despite the treacherous flying conditions and the close presence of the Supreme Leader and a Jedi behind him.

Ben looked sideways at Rey and studied her profile. Her eyes were focused and her brow creased as she stared out at the darkening maelstrom. Her lips were parted, her breathing steady. Her very presence centered him within himself even as her emotions flowed over him: curiosity, revulsion, determination. She’d tied back her hair in a knot, and he found himself staring at that spot on her neck, just under her jaw, where he’d flicked with his tongue until she’d made a noise like-

“Ben, honestly,” she said under her breath, unsuccessfully trying not to smile. Her thumb traced the back of his hand, reminding him yet again of how much could be communicated - how much could be shared - simply though a touch of fingers. He’d forgone his gloves; maybe he’d never wear them again. At that thought she caught his eye as memories of the previous night flashed between them: quivering muscles, ragging breathing in the dark, the slide of black leather over skin…

So maybe he’d keep the gloves.

Rey laughed softly as he forced his eyes forward and shook his head. In all the countless times he’d envisioned finally journeying to Mustafar, never once had he considered it might involve trying to control his arousal while stealing glances at the woman he loved.

But maybe those powerful feelings were just the distraction he needed in order to confront this. Rey had been incredulous when he told her that he’d not yet been to Mustafar. It was true that he had felt the pull toward his grandfather’s adopted home many, many times. But first his uncle, then Snoke, had forbade him to go there.

With Luke it was understandable, as his entire family did everything they could to insulate him from the grimmer aspects of the Skywalker legacy.

Snoke’s motivation, Ben now understood, was more selfish. His former master tolerated his Vader obsession only as far as it tethered Ben’s loyalties to the Dark side. But Snoke was vain, jealous even of a dead man’s influence over his favored apprentice. Perhaps he worried that communing in Vader’s fortress would put dangerous thoughts in Ben’s head, even inspire him to follow the Sith tradition of gaining power through murdering his master.

His lip quirked at that thought.

Ben did not think of what he had done to Snoke as murder. The killing had been an act of war. Not a war between the First Order and the Republic or the Resistance, but the true war that lay beneath. The war between Light and Dark, which had torn him apart for as long as he could remember. Then Rey had come into his life, and he had immediately chosen his side, though it had taken him a while to acknowledge that. But really, from the moment he had chased her down on Takodana, Snoke’s days had been numbered.

The Dark side was not taking that setback lightly. If Ben had been the Dark’s favored instrument, Snoke had been the prism through which it focused its pain and wrath through the galaxy. Now it was searching, slithering through hearts and minds, hungry for a new master. And he wasn’t about to wait and see if it chose someone he cared about.

“Who are you most worried for?” Rey asked softly as the clouds beneath them took on a red glow. They were descending rapidly now.

He knew what she meant, but he answered, “You.”

She pursed her lips and shot him a glance. “I’ll be fine.”

He had to press, to be certain they were of the same mind on this. “But you’ve shown yourself to be open to the Dark side in the past.”

She just shrugged, and in that shrug was the truth of why he truly had no reason at all to worry about her. Rey didn’t fear the Darkness. She had the ability to observe it, perhaps even draw power from it. But because she rejected its tenants on a fundamental level, it had no hold on her. Her Light was simply too strong.

But that didn’t mean the Darkness wouldn’t try for her. Perhaps if only to spite him.

“Ropalaa?” Rey asked quietly.

He considered that. “What do you think?”

“Never.” There was no doubt in her tone. “She cares too much for the others. That’s where she gets her strength.”

It was true. It had always been true, even back when they were all young together at Luke’s temple. Ben wondered how Rey had reached that conclusion so quickly. He longed to hear in more detail what had happened on Ahch-To. He was about to ask when the shuttle descended below the cloud line and the surface of Mustafar spread out before them like an open wound.

Ben felt Rey recoil slightly even as he leaned forward over Lieutenant Tavson’s shoulder, his heart suddenly pounding. It was a shock to realize that he had been to this place after all, in his dreams, through most of his life. On some level, it did feel like coming home. He drew a steady breath as the very air set his blood singing in his veins.

“Ben.”

Rey squeezed his hand, her fingers warm. His were now freezing, though he could already feel the heat of those endless fields of rock and lava that stretched to every horizon. The red currents swirled, pulling the shuttle along, painting pictures for his eyes only to see.

And in the distance, a towering black shape drew steadily closer. His grandfather’s fortress - Vader’s castle. Now his. His birthright.

“Look at it,” he whispered. The angular obsidian walls seemed to swallow the light, the high peaks sharp enough to disembowel. Power thrummed through the air like ion pulses. “Just look at it,” he murmured again.

But Rey’s eyes weren’t on the fortress. They were on him. He felt her in his mind, too, not probing, but… shielding. Entwining.

Ben tore himself away from the glistening black structure below and met her gaze. He expected reproach or worry but found neither of those things. Instead, Rey’s face was gentle. Understanding. She went up on her toes to put her lips against his ear. “You are strong enough for this.”

“Only because you’re here.” His voice sounded far away to his own ears. He looked out again to see that they were approaching the landing pad in front of the castle. There was a heartbeat coming from deep beneath that fiery surface, timed to his own.

“Stay close to me,” Rey said softly, squeezing his hand again. “That’s an order.”

“I’m never letting you go again.” He closed the small space between them so that he stood against her, stood over her. She had to tilt her head back to see his face as he looked down. Suddenly overcome by the intensity of his feelings, he felt as though he could swallow her whole. “You’re mine.”

The smallest crease formed between her eyebrows as she returned his look with equal intensity. She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted.

“Final approach now, sir,” Tavson intoned. A pause. “Shall we land?”

The question was outside of normal protocol. The officers and crew had gone quiet, their fear and tension saturating the command bridge. DN-3351 stood beside him; Ben sensed that his eyes were on Rey. He clenched his teeth.

“Proceed as planned,” he responded, not looking anywhere but straight ahead.

“Yes, sir.”

His fortress perched on a cliff’s edge and acted as a dam of sorts for the vast ocean of lava behind it. A smooth, molten cascade emerged from below the landing platform and tumbled hundreds of meters down before joining a bright red river below. Utterly unforgiving… infinitely powerful. Fitting for a true Lord of Darkness.

There was a warm tingling up his spine, cutting through the chill that had wrapped around his heart. It took him a moment to register the feel of skin on skin. Rey’s hand had slipped under his jacket and shirt and was pressed against the small of his back. As her fingers moved in slow circles, heat spread from the contact, relaxing his muscles, hardening his cock.

Her head was tucked into his shoulder, her face turned toward him; and as her eyes flashed, he sensed that her rising anger was not directed at him. “And you’re mine,” she whispered fiercely, throwing his words back and scraping her nails on him as he hissed in a breath. “If the Dark Side wants you, it’ll have to go through me first.”

Ben blinked, exhaled, then blinked again. His blood still thrummed; his Force energy ramped up to where he could feel limitless potential. There was no end to it, this power. There was nothing he couldn’t do, couldn’t take. Whispers filled his ears and his head: ‘Slaughter them all,’ he heard, low voices overlapping all around him. ‘Kill those who would steal her from you. Send the ship into the fire. Stay here and learn. Take and keep the one you desire. She will turn, and you alone would have her.’

Hazel eyes bored into his, and her rage was glorious to behold. Ben dipped his head toward her.

“You can hear them?” he whispered, his lips nearly brushing hers.

Rey nodded. “They have never left you alone, have they?”

He swallowed. “No. Not since…” He didn’t finish, but she knew the rest. Not since forever. The darkness had been pursuing him since the day he was born. These voices had haunted and hunted him all of his life. His parents hadn’t understood. Luke had sensed it and feared him. Snoke had added his own voice to the cacophony, whispering placations and threats and false promises.

The shuttle darkened when they entered the shadow of the fortress. As the landing gear touched down, Ben saw that Rey was gripping her lightsaber tightly.

“What are you expecting to fight?” he asked softly, even as his free hand drifted toward his own saber.

Her stony expression never wavered as she stared out the viewport. “I don’t know, but I feel like kicking the shit out of something in there.”

The voices receded, hissing furiously at the Light she’d wrapped around him. Ben fought back his smile as the two of them led the way, arm in arm, down the ramp and onto the landing platform. DN-3351 and his team came next, taking guard positions around the shuttle. The Knights of Ren followed in masks and full armor. The six Knights hadn’t spoken to Rey or Kylo when they’d boarded. They said nothing now even as they formed a tight semicircle around their master.

He and Rey had discussed, late in the night, whether or not this was a good idea. They had come to the conclusion that it didn’t matter, because - good idea or not - it was necessary. Better that they all face this together, as a unit, strong and prepared. But now, with scorching air blasting them from all sides and geysers of lava splattering the rock and steel, Ben couldn’t help but wonder if they shouldn’t just re-board the shuttle, fly back, then aim every weapon on the Titan at this castle and keep shooting until it was nothing more than black rubble sinking into the planet’s core.

“There’s something here you need to do,” Rey said. Ben wasn’t sure if she was speaking to him, the Knights, or all of them. She hadn’t let go of his arm and was craning her neck to stare up at the high towers. “I can feel it.”

The only thing he needed was her. But something was calling him… he could sense it now, could hear it above the slithering whispers and howling wind. He nodded to his Knights and turned toward his fortress.

Though there was no door, total silence enveloped them the moment they entered the wide corridor that led into the castle’s interior. The temperature dropped as well, and there was something about the chill that felt unnatural. Ben glanced at Rey, who had accepted his offer of a loose white cloak to be worn over her clothing. She’d pulled the hood up so that it covered her hair and shadowed her face. The white suited her. He tightened his grip on her hand and felt her squeeze back in response.

They came to a split in the corridor and Ben turned to the right; they came to another and he led them left. Somehow, he knew where to go. He had followed this path in his dreams, and in his visions while meditating. So he was not surprised when they emerged into a massive, open rotunda. A catwalk led to a center platform, below which the steel substructure vanished into darkness, though a red glow was visible very far down. Another catwalk led from there to a window which provided a stark panorama of lava and black mountains beyond the fortress. It was here that Ben stopped, Rey close at his right shoulder, Jacen on his left. He felt the Force coalescing - a presence drawing near - as he stared out at the landscape.

“Adion!”

Ben turned as Ropalaa’s voice echoed off the smooth walls. Five of the Knights had followed him, but one remained behind in the room’s center. Adion crouched down on the platform and pressed one gloved hand to the floor; the other had drawn his weapon and activated it. The pole-style saber’s single blade cast a greenish glow that seemed to radiate high into the darkness above, though Adion held the weapon toward the floor as though using it to illuminate something there.

“Adion.” Ben started foward. “What is it?”

He expected something… a gesture, a thought directed his way. But Adion gave no response. His head dipped down, his fingertips tracing a pattern that Ben couldn’t see. A subtle vibration began in the walls around them, resonating in the very air itself. The hair on Ben’s neck stood up, and he quickened his steps.

Adion glanced up, then lifted a hand and clenched it. The catwalk at Ben’s feet tore away with a deafening screech of metal, twisting in on itself as it fell away into the darkness below.

Ben stopped short, unnecessarily pulling Rey slightly back and throwing his other arm in front of Ropalaa, who’d been about to charge past them. They watched as Adion pulled off his helmet and tossed it carelessly aside; it hit the floor with a clang, rolled, and fell into the void below. The voices had returned, but they were not speaking to Ben now. Entwined with the whispers was a woman’s voice that he didn’t recognize.

“Connix,” Rey whispered, and he sensed her rising concern as a mirror of his own.

“She’s not here, Adion,” Ben said in a low voice. He knew what the voices would say, what lies they would invent. “She’s safe, and she’ll want you to leave this place and return to her.”

Blue eyes snapped up and stared across at them, and even at a distance Ben saw a golden glow beneath the irises. The vibration around them intensified.

“No.” Martna backed up, shaking her head slowly. She had removed her helmet as well, and her eyes were wide, one hand splayed over her stomach and the other pressed to her mouth.

Rey gasped. Ben felt her shock of realization as she spun toward Talik. “Get her out of here. “NOW.”

Talik was already moving; he reached Martna just as she doubled over, retching. Ben searched the Force, seeking what was wrong, but he was met by cold currents of Dark energy. They were converging on Martna, bombarding her, targeting the-

“No!” Martna hissed again through bared teeth. She’d backed up against the window; Talik had encircled her with his arms as well as a Force shield that was so strong Ben could see it as a shimmer in the air. Kiona had positioned herself in front of the two of them, her saber drawn and glowing with purple light as she scanned the shadows, her helmet doing little to mask her shock. The tone of the whispers had changed; they were louder, and had taken on a mocking lilt. Ben’s attention was again drawn to Adion, who had fixed his now glowing eyes on Martna. But at Ben’s glance Adion looked back at him, and Ben’s blood turned to ice at the fury he saw there. Adion’s lip curled into a snarl; he stood up, ran the two steps to the platform’s edge, and leapt off.

“Adion…” Rey’s voice broke as she dragged Ben forward, and together they stared into the blackness below. But the young Knight was already out of sight. Ben felt a pull deep inside himself, urging him to follow. Rey tightened her death grip on his hand. “Don’t you dare-”

A shadow moved past them, quicker than they could react, and Rey’s cry of dismay echoed through the room as Ropalaa jumped. Ben reached for her with the Force but she had shielded herself, and he could only watch as she plummeted down and vanished from sight.

Ben couldn’t breathe. He’d intended to keep them all together, to combine their strengths and shore one another up. This failure was his. Snoke’s deriding laughter rang through his head.

But Rey was in his head, too, guiding his mind to places in the Force he had rejected in the past. Snoke’s visage receded as she whispered to him. “The Dark wants you to panic. To lose yourself in anger. Don’t give it that power. You don’t need it, Ben. The Dark Side needs you, but you don’t need it.”

He looked into her eyes and could breathe again. She had centered herself - had centered them both, once again - and she was not afraid.

“I know where we have to go,” he told her.

Rey turned to Martna. “Please, you can’t stay in here. Go back to the ship.”

The Knight’s beautiful face was pale beneath her tattoos as she looked at them all. “I… I didn’t know, Kylo. Until I felt it just now. I didn’t…” Her hand drifted to her stomach again, and Ben knew he’d never forget the expression on Talik’s face as he stared at her.

There would be a child. It was something they should all celebrate together. But already the Darkness was targeting the baby, as it had with him. And he wouldn’t allow that. None of them would.

He knew Martna sensed both his joy and his concern, and her eyes shone as she looked back at him. Then she nodded and took Talik’s hand, and both of them sprinted down the one remaining catwalk. He watched until they were out of sight, but even afterward he could still sense them safely traversing the corridors back out to the landing dock. The Darkness was looking elsewhere now.

Adion. Ropalaa. The two most powerful of his Knights had disappeared into the deep heart of the fortress. And in that heart was an ancient Sith temple.

Jacen had remained silent and had not drawn his weapon. He’d stayed tight on Ben like a shadow, his Force energy steady and cold. He still wore his mask, but Ben felt his stare through the black mirrored lenses. He knew his oldest and most loyal friend would protect him with his life. And he knew that Jacen had now taken Rey within the scope of that protection.

Kiona’s energy, in contrast, was manic as she paced from them to the catwalk. She jerked off her helmet, too, and flung it across the room as she stared down into the void. “Dammit. I can sense them both. They feel…”

She didn’t have to finish the thought. Ben knew what she meant, because he felt it as well. Both Adion and Ropalaa were gathering power to themselves, drawing from that infinite well that pulsed beneath and all around them. But to what purpose?

They had to go down into the temple. He’d known all along they would end up there, but… not like this.

He glanced at Rey, who had closed her eyes. She was reaching out, searching the Force for their friends, getting the feel of this place. She was now their most potent weapon. The Dark Side could not affect her, could not seduce or influence her. But that which gave her the greatest strength also put her in the most danger.

She opened her eyes suddenly, as if startled, and blinked up at him. “You have to take us there, Ben.”

He knew the way. Of course he did. The hidden door that only revealed itself when he pressed his hand against it. The narrow staircase that started out black and smooth but became rough and crumbling as they continued to descend. The heaviness and heat in the air. The thick currents of the Force swirling around them, drawing them down to where it wanted them. Wanted him.

Rey never loosened her hold on his hand.

The heat and stench of sulfur were nearly unbearable as the stairs ended in a narrow corridor that was crudely hewn from the obsidian bedrock. A low rumbling reverberated; it reminded Ben of the sound and feel of the gas mine on Generis before it had blown. He heard the whispers, felt the invisible eyes on them as they quickly walked toward the source of the red-orange glow that lit their way.

“We’re not alone,” Kiona murmured behind him. She walked backward, guarding their rear, her saber ready.

“I’ve felt something like this before,” Rey said, looking around and above as she quickened her steps to match his. “On Ahch-To.”

Another temple, another focus of the Force. The opposite extreme of this one, no doubt.

“Will you take me there?” he asked her. He hadn’t wanted to go before, afraid of what he’d have to face on Luke Skywalker’s island. But now he felt its pull. And he wouldn’t be alone.

Rey read his thoughts. “We’ll all go,” she said, her voice tight, as a blast of hot wind whipped past them. “Together.”

Ben sensed the movement a split second before he found himself and Rey pressed against the rough stone wall. Jacen was in front of them, legs spread wide and saber activated, blocking them in. He was the only Knight who matched Ben in physical size and strength, and his slow-burning anger was collecting Dark power. His voice hissed through his vocoder with the first word he’d said since they’d left the Titan.

“Kiona.”

She was gone. Ben’s heart skipped as Rey swore beside him. “Kiona!” he called out. There was no answer and no echo as his voice was swallowed into the blackness.

“Don’t leave him, Rey,” Jacen said, not looking back at them. “Whatever happens to me or anyone else, do not let him get away from you.”

“I won’t-”

A scream split the air, cutting through Ben’s head like a blade. He felt both Rey and Jacen flinch.

“Kiona!” Jacen yelled.

Rey pushed the Knight aside and tried to pull Ben down the corridor. “That was Ropalaa.”

“No.” Ben felt a presence approaching them. He heard another voice, pleading in a way that wrenched his heart. A woman, desperate: “Anakin, please…”

He glanced at Rey to see if she’d heard, but he saw her widened eyes and caught the echoes of a different woman’s voice in her mind: “I’ll come back for you, sweetheart…” A vision that he’d shared of a starship and the people on it leaving her behind… He felt that confusion and grief flood through her again, felt the sharp terror of the child she’d been…

Jacen stepped toward him but then froze in place as a swirl of voices surrounded him: “Kanan! I know what to say now… I love you…” He saw an explosion in the Knight’s mind as the Dark Side fed him images of his parents… two rebels, one a Jedi knight… sacrificing himself. He felt Jacen’s loss and guilt and conflict as though it was his own.

“Father!” Luke’s voice shouted above all the others, the emotion in it resonating through the foundations of the fortress. “Father, I won’t leave you…”

Hot wind howled around them, ash and grit scouring at Ben’s skin, forcing his eyes closed. He sensed the moment when Jacen vanished… to where, he didn’t know. But he would find him. He’d find all of them. There was no way in hell he would leave here without every one of his friends. This place, this Darkness, would not take a single soul-

Rey. Invisible fingers scrabbled at the place where their hands locked together. He felt his feet sliding as the thick air tried to push them apart. He clutched at her, pulling his way along her arm until he found her shoulder, her chest and neck… and then her arms were around him and his were locked around her. And though he couldn’t see her, Ben could feel her breathe, could feel the tension in her muscles as she pressed her face into his chest and pushed her body into him-

And then it all stopped. The wind and the noise and the grit fell away, and Ben opened his eyes to find the two of them standing in a long, low chamber bordered on one side by a river of lava. A stone table stood in the hall’s center. It was a platform for meditation, he knew, and an altar upon which unspeakable acts had been committed. He could smell old blood that had soaked deep into these rocks, could smell the terror and pain and despair embedded with it. He recoiled at the familiarity with which the Darkness welcomed him; it caressed him with probing fingers and whispered imploring secrets in his ear.

The Dark Side had not given up on him yet.

Rey pulled away enough that she could look around, but she still grasped his hands tightly. “Ben. Someone’s coming.”

Ben’s heart thumped in his chest as he heard rasping, mechanical breathing; a moment later a black-robed figure emerged from the shadows. Taller even than him, walking with long strides, cape flowing behind as the lights from his life-support apparatus glowed in the darkness… it was a vision from years past, its horrific perfection broken only by the helmet and mask. This Vader wore the very mask that Ben had kept for all those years, the one melted and distorted from his funeral pyre. But that relic had been left on the Finalizer.

Rey activated her lightsaber as Vader drew near. Ben thought of telling her that it wasn’t necessary, that this wasn’t real, but…

“It feels real enough,” she whispered to him as his grandfather stopped a few meters before them. He heard voices in the distance - not ghosts in the Force but real voices - calling to him and Rey and each other.

“Where are our friends?” he asked the towering figure in front of him. Despite the enormity of this moment - a moment he’d waited a lifetime for - Ben felt no emotion, no connection with this man. Only coldness.

There was a long beat of silence as the half-melted lenses of that grotesque mask stared back at him, then gloved hands (so like his own, until Rey) reached up and slowly removed the helmet. Ben planted his feet and gripped Rey’s hand as he and his grandfather locked eyes.

Anakin Skywalker looked to be about Ben’s age. His hair was lighter but of similar length, his features closer to Luke’s than to Ben’s mother’s. His eyes were dark, assessing, critical.

“Your friends have served their purpose in bringing you here,” his grandfather said, his voice surprisingly young, though harsh. “And in bringing me this.” He held the mask, studying it and turning it over in his hands. He looked back at Ben. “Not so long ago, this meant something to you.”

“A link to the past,” Ben said. “To our legacy.” He remembered the long hours meditating with that mask, begging his grandfather for guidance, when he’d thought such things as legacy were important. When he was still searching for his place within it.

“I heard you, then,” Anakin said, his lip curling.

“But you never answered. You didn’t come to me before Foerost. Why?”

“Why should I have? You had set your own path.” Anakin motioned to him and began walking toward the stone table. Ben glanced at Rey as they followed behind. Her eyes had narrowed, her Force energy snapping with power. There was no Light to draw from here, but she carried it with her. She offered it to him and he wrapped it around himself like a shield.

Anakin’s back was to them, but his low laugh echoed off the walls. “And there it is. My only grandchild. You’re finally here, at the very peak of your strength and potential. I stand in front of you, willing to teach you what you need to match my power and then exceed it.” He turned, and his eyes went straight to Rey. “Yet you bind yourself to this one. To the Light.”

“Is this a test?” Rey’s voice was biting, in the way it had been when he’d interrogated her on Starkiller Base. “You chose to save him at Foerost. Him and Leia and the X-wing squadron. Why test him now?”

The way Anakin glared down at Rey made Ben glad she’d activated her weapon. He resisted the urge to draw his own as his grandfather stepped nearer.

“You shouldn’t be here, young Jedi.” Anakin’s voice softened as his gaze traveled over her. “Dressed in white, even. Such purity. An illusion you hope to maintain even after you writhed beneath him just hours ago?”

“That’s enough.” Red flashed across Ben’s vision. He did grip his lightsaber now but didn’t activate it. “If your intention was to turn me, why did you save us on the Finalizer?”

“You know nothing of my intentions, grandson.”

“Then enlighten me.”

“Ben…” Rey’s face had changed; he sensed that she was puzzled by… something…

But Ben’s own thinking was clouded by his rising anger, and the effect was instantaneous. Power flowed into his blood, its source so near and so very eager to feed him. He’d spent years attuning himself to the Dark, and it offered itself for him now, seeking those entrenched pathways into his heart and mind.

“Leave him alone,” Rey snarled. Her feet had shifted into a fighting stance. She’d attack to defend him. He held her back.

“If I had left him alone, Jedi, he’d be dead.” Anakin placed a hand on the stone table, and Ben saw that there were makings across it. Once seen, they were visible everywhere… on the floors, engraved in the walls. Countless pictures and symbols entwined with text written in an ancient language.

“You can see it now,” Anakin murmured, stepping closer even as Rey brought her lightsaber in front of them. “Adion saw it first. But that’s how his mind works. He’s been dreaming about these images from when he was a boy. It’s why he understands so well the power of the Dark Side.”

“That’s how you drew him down here.” Adion had been examining something on the floor in the rotunda. Something the rest of them hadn’t noticed. “Where is he? Where are the others?” Ben could still sense them all. The Knights were nearby.

“Does it matter? Their stories are finished. They were important only in bringing you to where you are. Here. Now.” A humorless grin. “The same can be said of the entire First Order. Though their weapons will be useful in achieving our goals. You will rejoin them eventually, once you’ve been… reconditioned. But not yet.” A slow, mocking tilt of the head. “It was necessary to destroy your shuttle to keep you from leaving too soon. Your stormtroopers and the others are dead.”

“No.” Ben was rapidly losing focus as his rage threatened to consume him. Desperately, he cast out his mind into the Force, searching for Martna and Talik, for Dan and Lieutenant Tavson and their crew, but the Darkness around them was impenetrable.

Anakin’s eyes flashed with triumph as they again slid to Rey. “You think of this Jedi as your equal, grandson, but see how your power here eclipses hers. Subsume her, and you may keep her. But now it is time, Kylo Ren. No more distractions. You WILL take your rightful place.”

Ben finally activated his lightsaber, gripping it in his left hand while he held tight to Rey with his right. “And what place is that?”

The eyes staring at him glowed yellow-gold, and in them Ben saw the truth of what stood before him even as Vader answered, “Your place as the new Lord of the Sith.”