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Trying for the doors behind him seemed to have little effect. For all intents and purposes, Ben knew, he was trapped here. He couldn’t believe how foolish he had been, just to walk into something like this, as if there would be nothing bad happening? He could remember the horror holos he’d watched with Annie and Thomas and Michael, and how when the protagonists were stupid enough to investigate a strange noise, he had scoffed at that. What a moron! I’d never, ever do that...
It seemed some things were easier said than done.
But there was no time to mope about it. It seemed that the only way to go now was forward. Forward, forward, forward, until you found the way out, and even then, Ben couldn’t say that he liked it in the slightest. There was something about it that felt cramped, too small, too vulnerable, even as he continued through. The light streamed down from the roof, pale purple, casting bruise-like shadows on the floor ahead of him, on the hallways ahead of him.
Ben kept his lightsaber at the ready all the while. There was no telling who could be in there, honestly. There was no telling what could be in there. Strange creatures like shyracks, or rathtars, or tu’kata, or even phantoms...
It seemed that when you were in almost complete darkness, your mind seemed to find it a good time to start playing tricks on you. Wouldn’t it be great if there were something behind you right now? a voice in Ben’s mind said. Wouldn't it be great if you were being followed by a pack of tu’kata or something...
Only the Force provided enough grounding for Ben to know for a fact that there was nothing behind him. That was a plus, at least.
It was ahead, from the shadows that Ben could hear some heavy breathing, breathing that he knew too well, from nightmares. And then the figure materialized from the shadows, black-suited, menacing, all but ready to spring upon him.
It was Vader. The same shade that had haunted his nightmares when he was a boy. Breathing heavily all the while, lightsaber raised -- and Ben was suddenly very afraid.
No. He could not afford to be afraid. Even though fear had all but frozen him even as the figure headed towards him. Even though his breath hitched with fear.
Ben ignited his lightsaber. The two blades clashed, blue against red, red against blue, and they lit up the cave in flashes of color. He would do what he could to beat this Dark Side spirit, he really would. He truly would.
The matter of driving Vader back seemed almost like an impossibility, as everything Vader did seemed designed to drive Ben back. Even though Ben knew that realistically, Vader was a Dark Side spirit, the lightsaber pushing against his seemed too real, driving him against the wall. Ben lashed out, trying to drive Vader off him, trying to drive the horrible feeling of Vader’s horrifically heavy breathing away from his neck, away from his face --
Ben’s lightsaber touched Vader’s shoulder at the same time Vader’s lightsaber touched his.
The lightsaber burned through his clothes and into his shoulder, and Ben cried out in pain, falling to the floor of the cave even as the pain overtook him. It wasn’t just the burning -- even though, honestly, it wasn’t even a corporeal lightsaber -- but the horrible feeling as if the Dark Side was now running through him.
Ben got to his feet, punching his right shoulder. Goddamn you. Stupid, stupid boy. Should have been strong enough. Weak boy, stupid boy, should have been quick enough.
The cave ahead was quiet now without the specter of Vader in it. Unsettlingly quiet, actually. But Ben could still feel the taint running through him, throbbing in his shoulder like a wound that hadn’t been treated.
It didn't matter. He had to go forward. Simply had to. Needed to.
Up ahead were the sounds of voices. A filtered voice, female. “Sir. The villagers.”
And a male voice, muffled and menacing. “Kill them all.”
“On my command,” said the woman, “Fire.”
Ben practically sprinted towards the scene in that moment, towards the smell of smoke that seemed too real. The village up ahead, in flames, and he saw stormtroopers
somehow, Ben thought, they had recruited stormtroopers all over again. Somehow
firing on civilians.
“Stop it!” Ben’s voice barely seemed to carry over the cacophony that was the scene. “It’s wrong; stop it!”
The hooded, masked, Revan-like figure turned to look at Ben. Then, to the chrome stormtrooper, “Shoot him.”
Ben raised his lightsaber. The chrome storm trooper fired at him, and he barely managed to deflect her bolts in time. They flew back at her, but barely managed to dent her armor.
She took a grenade from her pocket. Ben dodged in time, covering his ears even as it went off around him -- it seemed too real, actually, that sound, that awful sound of the grenade going off --
He got back up, and, just in time as she threw another grenade at him, he froze it.
The chrome stormtrooper stared at him in what Ben could only assume was calm curiosity. Then she began shooting again, Ben deflecting every bolt, letting it bounce back onto the other phantoms. The chrome stormtrooper took out a vibroblade and began slashing at Ben.
Ben barely managed to deflect the blade, until his own cut through her arm.
The chrome stormtrooper vanished.
Now the masked figure was the only one there. He ignited his lightsaber, spun it, and there was something about it that reminded Ben almost of something he’d do. He didn’t know if the masked figure was doing it to taunt him, what exactly the masked figure was trying to do, actually.
The duel didn’t help, for that matter. This figure -- it was as if every move Ben made was like looking in a mirror. Practicing in a mirror, for that matter. Every move he made, this figure seemed to deflect all but flawlessly.
“I’m disappointed in you, Solo,” said the masked figure. “Your masters must despise you as much as I do if they saw you failing in such a way.”
“I’m a slow learner.”
“Yes,” said the masked figure, “I know.”
They continued to duel, and lightsaber clashed against lightsaber. Red against blue, blue against red, and Ben was already wondering how, exactly, one fought an enemy who seemed to know their every move.
His blade connected with the masked figure’s head.
The head rolled away.
For a moment, Ben could swear that his face flashed under the mask, and he stepped away, feeling like he’d been stabbed in the gut. It couldn’t be. It was some sort of sick joke by the cave -- or a could be. It couldn’t be set in stone, could it? This couldn't be it. He couldn’t possibly become this monstrous, murdering --
It’s okay. It’s okay. There is no emotion, there is peace. But at the moment, Ben doubted he could feel peace. What if it wasn't a sick joke, but a --
No. No, I’d never kill civilians. They were all so scared, weren’t they; I would never do that to them.
I just couldn’t.
The opening was near. Ben stepped towards it, and he could swear that his legs could have turned to batter.
The sunlight was the most welcome thing that Ben could ever see in that moment and yet, stepping out into it, Ben knew, somewhere deep in a place he could not even acknowledge to himself, that he would never be the same again.