Wrote up some stuff for fun after having recently bought and been obsessed with Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2, as well as Jedi: Fallen Order. As you might expect from these two universes interacting, things aren't going to be quite balanced. A friend has asked that I upload this even though it's very much just a cathartic writing experience during morning bus rides, without too much actual research put into their respective universes, so don't expect too much of this.
Haven't had the time (or money, for that matter) to play Trails in the Sky and the Crossbell arc or properly look up their plot details, so there will inevitably be some in-universe inconsistencies. If you do, for some reason, choose to read this, I'd like to ask that you refrain from spoilers. Thanks!
The howling winds tore through the vast Eisengard mountain range, the heavy winter snowfall swept along in its wake. The air was cold – far colder than any nine-year-old boy could endure – but still he continued running.
In front of him was an endless sea of white snow, so thick that he could barely even make out the footprints from the path they'd taken. Behind him, yet another guttural roar whose volume dwarfed even the thundering footfalls of the monster at his back marked what was sure to be certain death.
Between freezing to death while lost in the unyielding blizzard and being torn limb from limb by fang and claw, he'd gladly choose the lesser of two evils.
"R- Rean!" By his side, his sister shouted desperately, yet her words were just barely audible amidst the harsh wind that grated at his ears. Her fear was practically palpable. "W- we can't –"
"Just a little further!" He tugged at Elise's arm, dragging her behind him, not daring to look back at the beast that hounded at their backs.
His legs were numb. Perhaps it was from the arctic winds rushing all around them, or from the sheer exhaustion that felt as though his legs would crumple at any moment. Perhaps it was the terror that still gripped at his heart, its rapid thumping matched only by the smacking of his feet against the snow as he sprinted as fast as he could away from the monster.
Perhaps it was all of them.
His legs were numb, but still he moved.
He could just about make it out now. In the distance, faint orange glows from the torches and lamps of the town of Ymir were flickering in and out of his vision, masked by the thick curtain of snow still falling from above. He pushed himself to move faster, even as Elise continued screaming as the monster neared.
They were so close now. Just a little further –
Suddenly, he felt a heavy impact against his side, and he instinctively let go of Elise, a sharp shriek tearing through the air. His vision turned white for an instant, just before his world turned upside down. Then again, and again, before he finally crashed heavily against the ground, sinking deep into the frigid snow.
The pain came a moment later.
The monster. He had to move. He had to protect Elise.
He tried to push himself up to his feet, his hands clawing desperately against the snow, but fatigued as he was he simply couldn't dislodge himself from the mound he lay trapped within.
"RUN!" he shouted instead. He couldn't let his sister die here. "RUN, ELISE!"
Her protests were cut short at the monster finally paused in its chase, its prey cornered, savoring the final moments of its hunt. It stepped toward them on its two legs ever so slowly, its toothy maw stretched impossibly wide as it looked between Rean and his sister. She had fallen to the ground now, her knees finally giving way, and from where Rean lay in the snow he could just barely see the look of utter terror on her wide-eyed face.
It mirrored his own.
He was scared. No, he was terrified. There were probably other words far more suited to describe the dread running down his spine, but under these circumstances he didn't have the presence of mind to recall them.
The monster looked between the sibling pair – and that terror intensified.
It moved toward Elise, its expression never once changing.
"NO!" he shouted, desperately flailing his arms against the snow. When that again failed, he tried to throw snowballs at the monster, but even as they pelted against its skin, it showed no sign of stopping its advance. "Elise, RUN!"
His words were lost to her. She didn't even speak, simply staring wordlessly at the beast as it towered over her.
It raised a claw, the darkness of its skin peeking through the snow that covered it. Its claws ended in sharp points, and Rean knew that they could easily tear flesh apart.
No, Elise, please – he thought desperately. Aidios above, let her live!
It should have been him. He should never have brought his sister out of the town to see just what lay in the mountain range. He had been warned repeatedly by his adoptive parents and the other villagers of Ymir.
Why hadn't he listened?!
He was scared. He was fearful. He knew Elise was about to die – oh, how could he have been so stupid?! – and him joining her right after.
Above all, though, he was angry.
He hated how he'd dragged her sister into this. He was frustrated that he couldn't do anything against the beast, struggling fruitlessly in the snow while it advanced to his now-screaming sister. Slowly, it wrapped a hand tightly around her midsection, and time seemed to slow as it lowered its head down toward hers, mist trailing out of its wide maw.
He hated himself, hated the monster, hated his weakness –
-and in that instant, rage overcame dread, and something crystallised into being.
The chill that gripped at his heart abruptly morphed. The cold remained, yes, but now there was an almost unbearable heat to it. He paid it no mind. All that mattered now was getting Elise out of this alive. He would willingly sacrifice himself if it came down to it.
The flame yearned to be unleashed, to be let loose, and Rean obliged.
"LET HER GO!"
With that final word, he held his hands outward, glared hatefully at the monster, and pushed.
His world exploded.
He could just barely make out the wave of force that had left a deep gouge in the snow in its wake, the creature flung away from himself and Elise, while Elise had been blasted aside, and though he only had the merest of glimpses he distinctly saw her that her eyes were wide with shock. Her body flew like a ragdoll through the air, rolling over a few times before lying motionless on the ground some distance away. He stood within a venerable crater in the ground, entire arge of snow propelled away from the epicenter of whatever force he'd unleashed.
He tried to make his way toward his sister, to do anything to make sure she was safe. He had many questions, but nothing else mattered now.
He took one clumsy step. His vision blurred. He raised his legs once more, his feet trembling all the while. On the third, he fell over. The creeping darkness at the corners of his vision finally clouded over.
His last thoughts before unconsciousness claimed him were only of Elise.
He cursed once more as his internal systems fed yet more power to the heating lines that ran through his present chassis. The layer of frost that had built up melted near instantaneously, and he expelled the superheated water out from the spaces between his joints, steam hissing as it met the snow below.
Seriously, how had the world changed this much since he'd gone into hibernation?! The magnitude of snowfall that the blizzard brought could rival even the ice storms of Hoth!
PROXY sighed in annoyance. After the four thousand, two hundred and twenty-three Standard Galactic Years that had passed since he allowed his systems to enter hibernation, even the thorough self-repair mechanisms that had been meticulously installed into him by his creator couldn't correct for the weathering of his metallic skeleton that time had dealt.
It didn't matter that every part of him had been restored to a pristine state. After that long a period of rest, anyone would feel awkward in the realm of the living once more. Snow was hardly something he wanted to deal with at the moment.
Ah, the things he did for his master.
He liked to think that even if he wasn't beholden to his present primary directive, he would heed the final request that Starkiller had given him. He owed his only friend in the entire galaxy that much.
His circuits ran another logical pass of the information his sensors were feeding to him. Thank the Force that Darth Vader had thought to install sensors capable of detecting heat signatures emitted in the infra-red, otherwise he would no doubt be lost in the snow for hours. Starkiller's visions hadn't exactly been the most informative, as was par for Force Visions that were notorious among Jedi and Sith for their vagueness.
Find the boy, his master had said. Bring him to the Rogue Shadow. Teach him to harness his power.
It had seemed a much easier task all those years ago, when the land was green and fertile. When he'd piloted the Rogue Shadow back from the nearby asteroid belt after ending his hibernation, his sensors had indicated only a ninety-nine point five percent match with the records of the planet from when he and his master had chances upon it millennia ago. The similarity mostly stemmed from the fairly constant size and gravitational pull of the planet and its solar and galactic position; were it not for those, even his visual systems would have falsely determined this to be a different planet.
How in the Force's name had this world changed this much?!
Exactly twelve femtoseconds and that particular line of thought later, the analysis of the combined visual, audio, and tactile information fed by his systems was completed. A burst of kinetic energy had displaced a large amount of snow in a bearing of 12.4 degrees, 205.07 metres away, give or take an error range in the realm of 8 centimetres. It took another twenty-two nanoseconds to come up with a plan of action.
Finally. With a burst of speed, he fed more power to his legs, and allowed his locomotion subroutines to take him to exactly where the phenomenon had been approximated. A wave of amusement ran through his cognitive programming layer, and a wry smile spread across the face of the current form he'd chosen to take with his holographic systems. At least those long years of inactivity hadn't dulled his speed.
It took barely any time by biological standards (still an eternity to an advanced droid like himself, of course) for him to arrive at his destination. That smile spread as he caught visual confirmation of the boy. With his mop of black hair tinted with just a hint of blue peeking out from the snow that had been caught in it, alongside the approximate nine years of age his algorithms suggested (based on the feeding of the information his sensors conveyed unto him into an internal model of human biology), there was only a negligible chance that the boy could be anyone else other than the one Starkiller had seen in his visions.
Just as been foretold, he had made manifest his strong connection with the Force, if the crater he was currently lying in was any indication. Force Repulse would do that to his surroundings.
PROXY would have been impressed by the accuracy of the Force vision, but Starkiller had set a high bar with his previous achievements. The droid suspected that nothing much could top his master having defeated Darth Vader in single combat back on Kamino. In comparison, this just wasn't nearly as impressive.
He wasn't unaware of the fact that there was a large, yet-unknown creature that bore a vague resemblance to one of the Wampas of Hoth struggling within the snow, slowly pushing its powerful limbs against the ground in an effort to rise. He was also fully aware that there was a girl lying unconscious nearby, based on her breathing patterns and current heart rate.
"Stay… away… from… Elise…"
The words would have been barely audible to anyone else, but the working range of his auditory sensors was many orders of magnitude greater than a human's. He was mildly impressed. Even unconscious, the boy was still thinking only of fighting. He assumed that this 'Elise' was the girl lying nearby.
Her temperature fell yet another point zero one degrees. Another twenty minutes and hypothermia was going to be a distinct possibility. The creature was now feebly standing on two legs, glaring warily at the newest arrival.
Best to get a move on, then.
Wordlessly, he ignited the lightsaber in his hand, leaping forward to finish off the creature. It didn't utter a sound as its body was neatly bisected in the axial plane from a single strike. Both halves crashed unceremoniously into the snow moments later.
Right, then. He considered his next plan of action.
He could take the boy, and leave the girl to freeze in the blizzard…
He hesitated. He had seen how Starkiller had fallen apart after Captain Juno Eclipse's death at the hands of Vader. This boy clearly valued the girl. His master's last directives were to ensure the boy learned to harness his power. Ergo –
Ah, blast whatever passed as a heart in the logical loops of his. His internal programming must really have been messed up by the years, if he had gone from a primary directive of training Galen Marek by any means necessary to now somehow being willing to rescue a lone girl from certain death. He sighed, bending over as he draped the girl over a shoulder, and then the boy over the other.
He changed his form once again, altering the holographic systems that had been inbuilt unto him. Smoothly, his appearance morphed from Galen Marek's own to an entirely nondescript one, a random entry within the entire classified Imperial database that had been installed into him by Vader.
It wasn't like Stormtrooper TR-5706 could take offense, anyway, given that he was more than likely dead after the four millennia that had passed in his inactivity. He would deposit the girl back to the town he had seen in his flyby on the Shadow earlier (stealthed, of course), and then he would take the boy to be trained.
He hoped the boy had what it took to master the Dark Side as his master had done during his servitude to Vader. Whether he would fully immerse himself in it, or stray away from the paths of both Jedi and Sith as Starkiller had done, still remained to be seen. Regardless, it hardly mattered to PROXY. His master's final orders didn't require such considerations.
It was simple – the boy so similar to Starkiller, clone of Galen Marek, would master the darkness within, or he would die. PROXY wouldn't hesitate to follow through with Starkiller's order to kill the boy if he failed in his training.
Hopefully it wouldn't come to that. In the final years of Starkiller's life, the Force vision he'd glimpsed had been the only thing driving him. After his defeat and sparing of Vader for interrogation by the Rebel Alliance following the mission on Kamino, Starkiller had been devastated when he had finally registered the fact that Juno Eclipse was dead.
Disgusted by both Empire and the newly-formed Rebel Alliance and filled with rage, he and PROXY had abandoned the galaxy to their fate. He had seen how empty his master's eyes had been. He had simply keyed in a blind hyperspace jump – a suicide venture by all metrics – and pressed a single button.
When they'd stumbled upon an uncharted world, he had taken it as a sign from the Force that his torment was far from over, and the pair had silently settled down on the foreign planet.
Starkiller had never been the same after Kamino. He had been a shell of his former self, living day by day, slaying the monsters of this land without so much as blinking an eye whenever they had encroached upon their new home. It had only been the vision he'd glimpsed of a boy, cursed with the Dark Side and uncertain of his identify much like the clone of Galen Marek, that had brought a small fragment of the man that had been Starkiller back to himself.
For years, he had prepared for this exact moment, foretold for millennia in the making. His master had prepared recordings of lessons, of the ways of the Force, of Jedi and Sith, that the child that he had seen himself in would never suffer as he did; that he would be given the freedom that had never been shown to a clone raised for the sole purpose of assassination and betrayal. He had seen how the child's destiny would affect the world in either extreme, and he would make sure that the fate of Starkiller wouldn't befall the child.
How Vader must have been rolling in his grave, seeing how his secret apprentice had turned into a sentimental shell of a man. Even dead, Starkiller still continued his streak of defiance toward his former master.
The order had been given, and so PROXY would follow them. Time meant nothing to a droid, after all.
Of course, if the boy showed any sign of turning into another Vader, PROXY wouldn't allow the child to live. The galaxy didn't need another Dark Lord of the Sith. One had already cost Starkiller everything.
Wordlessly, he trudged through the snow toward the lights in the distance, a child draped across each shoulder.
He heard the gnashing of teeth. He saw a spurt of crimson blood. There had been an ear-piercing scream, his sister –
"ELISE!" he shouted, heart beating rapidly, pushing himself up to a sitting position before he'd even had a chance to reorientate himself to his present whereabouts.
Belatedly, he remembered the injury he'd sustained when the monster had batted him aside, wincing at the burst of pain that was sure to follow –
-except there was none.
He blinked in confusion. He pressed a hand against his side, and sure enough there wasn't at all any pain in that action. He frowned. At the very least, he surely had broken a few ribs from the impact.
Mind slightly clearer now, he looked around at his present surroundings. This place didn't look like any of the buildings in Ymir. The floor below was made of a hard metal, cook to the touch. In fact, now that his mind had caught up with what he was seeing, everything in the room around him looked to be made of metal. On the ceiling, walls and even the floor, panels of what looked to be electrical lighting illuminated the entire room.
Where was he?
More importantly, where was Elise?
He rose to his feet, looking around warily. He had heard of places like these from his father, in industrial cities like Roer or military bases like Garrelia Fortress.
He couldn't currently be in any of those places, though, seeing as they were a long distance away from Ymir. The last thing he remembered was how he'd somehow forced the monster away from his sister. He remembered his fear and desperation, how he wanted to do anything to protect his only friend in Erebonia.
He had simply pushed, and then he'd somehow blasted the monster away…
Gingerly, he raised his hand toward his chest, idly pressing down on that series of scars that had been there for as long as he could remember, where he had felt that unfamiliar sensation welling within as he faced the monster. It had seemed as though he made use of its sweet promises of power back in the blizzard, but now its presence had dissipated.
Had it just been a figment of his imagination? Had it all just been a terrible nightmare? But that wouldn't explain –
There was the sound of the hissing of gas, and Rean turned sharply toward the sound, his mind on high alert. He fell into a clumsy stance, one he'd seen his father practicing, even though he hadn't yet learned the proper forms of the combat style. If his kidnapper was here, and if he'd done anything to harm Elise…
What he had assumed to be part of the room's metal wall turned out to be a door, opening from ground to ceiling. A figure stepped inside, and Rean immediately lunged at him, swinging his fists wildly.
"Where is my sister?!"
Each fist was enclosed by his kidnapper's palms almost immediately, and before he could even begin to struggle, Rean was sent tumbling to the metallic floor below, thrown about his own centre of mass by his assailant.
"Well, I see that you are awake." A disembodied voice reached his ears as he lay on the ground, his vision blurred, yet he still quickly rose to his feet. "I imagine that you have many questions."
Rean didn't let his guard down, holding his fists before himself as he'd seen his father do. He shook his head, willing his vision to clear. The man's face came into focus – a young man in his early twenties, rugged features adorning his face, with short shaved hair and a warrior's physique.
Rean knew he didn't stand a chance against him, but he wouldn't go down without a fight.
"Where is my sister?" he repeated as threateningly as he could.
"Oh, quit with the posturing and relax, kid." The man rolled his eyes, looking around nonchalantly. "I was going to explain everything before you attacked me."
"You kidnapped me!"
"Huh. That statement is factually true," the man mused, tilting his head slightly to one side. "I do suppose that could lead to some misunderstanding."
"What misunderstanding?!" Rean retorted angrily. Who was this man? "If you've done anything to Elise –"
"Like I said, child, relax," he interrupted, stepping closer. Rean met his gaze challengingly, and he was proud to say he only flinched a little when he realised just how much his kidnapper towered over him. He sighed. "I suspect this will be much easier if we begin with what you remember."
Rean looked at him unwaveringly, even as he recalled the events of what felt only like moments ago. "I took Elise out to play in the snow… the storm got heavier, and we got lost in the blizzard, then the monster came and…" he recounted, scrunching his eyes as he drew on his memory. "We ran… I got hit by the monster, and it was about to kill Elise when I did…"
He paused, uncertain of what it was that had transpired.
"Yes?" his kidnapper prompted curiously.
"I felt angry," Rean said, uncertain of how to phrase it. "I wanted the monster to stay away from Elise, and I…"
His voice trailed off, and he looked at the man uneasily. He had openly admitted to having kidnapped Rean, but thus far he hadn't made any threatening moves. Was he to be used as a bargaining chip against his father, Baron Schwarzer? Was he going to be a burden to his adoptive family, yet again?
"I see," the man mused. "Master's visions are truly terrifyingly accurate."
"Master?" Rean questioned immediately. He may just be a child, but he knew that there were other factions at play in the world outside Ymir. Father always said that the situation in Erebonia was unstable.
"Never mind that, for now," he dismissed. "We will get to that soon enough. For now, you will be pleased to know that I have taken it upon myself to slay the foul creature and return your sister to the establishment known as the Phoenix Wings."
"Elise is safe?" he followed up quickly. "You're sure?"
"The establishment owner went to retrieve a 'Baron Teo Schwarzer' upon discovering her at his doorstep. I assume that is sufficient?"
He felt a burden lift from his chest. Thank Aidios that Elise was safe!
"Thank y–" he said automatically, before halting himself mid-sentence. He had no reason to believe the man's words just yet. His kidnapper raised an eyebrow in amusement.
If what he said was true, then Rean owed him greatly for having saved the lives of him and his sister. It didn't explain why he hadn't been returned to Ymir alongside his sister, though. This man had to have kidnapped him for a reason. Had he thought to leverage Rean's life as ransom, under the assumption that a male heir to the Schwarzer name was worth more than the daughter of the Baron?
If so, he was going to be sorely disappointed, Rean thought with only a slight amount of bitterness. Elise was his foster father's child more than he ever would be. At least he had repaid his family for having taken him in, allowing Elise to be reunited with them rather than having been killed from his own folly.
"Who are you? What do you want with me?" he challenged.
"Ah, right. I haven't introduced myself, have I?" He smacked his forehead almost comically, a stark contrast to the intimidating figure he'd been moments before. "Brace yourself, kid."
As those words left his lips, a strange blue light cloaked around him, and Rean stepped back in alarm. What was –
He watched, transfixed, as the man's features morphed, and when at last the light faded there was only a metallic humanoid figure staring at him. A dull iron-looking material took the place of what should have been flesh, with what looked to be wires running along what was exposed of his head, neck and body. A hand was raised in greeting, unnaturally stiff in its movements.
"PROXY, at your service," the… thing gave a mock bow, and his voice had changed to a coarse, oddly-pitched tone. "Prototype holodroid equipped with advanced hologram technology for the sole purposes of education, assassination, infiltration and subterfuge, not necessarily in that order."
Rean was proud to say that it only took several moments before he asked his next question.
"What are you?!"
"A droid?" The lights that took the place of what would have been eyes flickered rapidly, and Rean got the distinct impression of confusion from this 'PROXY'.
"Robots? Androids? Mechanical beings with artificial intelligence?" PROXY tried. Then, his tone shifted into incredulity at Rean's continued lack of understanding. "Has your civilization still not created droids after four thousand years?"
"What are you even talking about?" Rean asked, completely out of his depth. He knew that Reinford and Epstein Corporations created a great many inventions built from cutting-edge orbal technology, but he'd never heard of anything close to what PROXY was describing or demonstrating. Then again, Rean wasn't the most up-to-date in the field, only picking up what he could from the conversations of adults visiting his father.
"Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable." PROXY shook his head. "Four thousand years we've been gone, and this planet is still as backwater as it had been." Before Rean could even ask what that meant, he waved the boy aside. "The explanation will have to wait. For now, I believe it best to answer your initial query."
"My initial query?"
"Why I have elected to kidnap you, as you so eloquently put it," the droid clarified dryly. Rean stiffened. "Thankfully, Master has recorded an explanation for this initial meeting. He certainly is far more adept at explanations than I am."
With that, he withdrew a small, cylindrical device from his waist, holding it in his hand. He pressed a single button, and a grainy blue-white image appeared in mid-air. Once again, Rean started in surprise.
"Hologram," PROXY pointed out before he could even begin to ask the question at the tip of his tongue. The word's meaning was lost to Rean. "A projection of a recording that Master had prepared," the droid clarified. "Not important right now. Listen."
The figure began to move, and Rean noted that he looked as though an older version of the man that PROXY had taken the form of earlier. The light stubble had grown into a beard, and his neatly trimmed facial hair had been allowed to grow out slightly. He seemed to be in his mid-forties now, an imposing figure all around, radiating a sense of power and yet calm.
"If you are viewing this message, then PROXY must have done as I have requested," he began saying, and though it was a mere recording Rean felt as though the man was peering into his very soul itself. "Thanks, PROXY."
Off to the side, Rean heard the droid snort. The recording continued. "It likely also means that I have long-since died." PROXY hunched over at that. Was this his Master? Were they close? "I hope that PROXY has already given you an overview of events, but I will give a brief explanation in case he hasn't."
Rean turned, looking at PROXY accusingly. The droid merely shrugged. His earlier animosity had been forgotten; for a kidnapper, PROXY didn't seem too bad. Besides, he was being strangely honest in his communications with Rean.
"By the will of the Force, I have foreseen flashes of events to come millennia after I will have departed this world. I have seen you, a boy lost within the snow, fighting a foe more terrifying than any you have faced before. I have seen the rage within, the fear and the uncertainty. I have seen the power you wield and the potential you possess."
Rean listened, hanging onto every word he said, each one resonating within him. How had he known his deepest thoughts? How could he have known that he doubted his place within the Schwarzer family?
What did he mean by having lived millennia ago? Was he a relic from the time before the Dark Ages? Surely that was impossible? And what was this Force he spoke of?
"More than that, child, I have felt your struggles. You do not know of your own identity. Expectations have been placed upon you, but you do not fit the many moulds others see you as. You are lost – will be lost – struggling against both the power within and the pressures of others without."
The words cut at him like knives. "How?" he breathed. "How do you know all of –"
"You have questions, I imagine. The visions I foresaw do not give me the answers. All I saw through the Force was a boy, much like Galen Marek had been on Kashyyyk, gifted in the ways of the Force. I saw someone strong in the Dark Side, yet clinging to the ways of the Light, one with the potential to both doom and save his world." In the hologram, the figure stepped forward, growing in size in the projection. "I offer you the opportunity to train yourself in the ways of the Force – both the light and the dark, a chance I never received."
There it was again. The 'Force'. What was this person talking about?
The hologram flared brightly, and though he wasn't physical present Rean felt the cold touch of dread run down his spine. "I say opportunity, but know that this arrangement is a mere courtesy. If you fail to master the Dark Side gnawing at you from within, or reject my offer of training, you will not be permitted to return home. I will not allow another Sith to run rampant through the galaxy."
He couldn't return home? He whirled toward PROXY, the droid nodding in confirmation. Rean narrowed his eyes, facing back at the person in the recording who seemed both friend and enemy. If they thought to cage Rean in, they had another thing coming.
The face of the unseen and long-dead mastermind of his kidnapping softened slightly. "I do not mean to be an enemy, but I will do what must be done. Know that I have tread upon the road you now walk. I know what it is like to not know who you are. I know how painful it is to fight to protect those you care for. Without proper training, the Dark Side will lash out at those you hold dear, as I'm sure you have already experienced."
The Dark Side. An apt name for that frigid, yet unbearably hot sensation that had coursed through him. He distinctly remembered how Elise had been sent flying in the aftermath of what he had unleashed, and the guilt he felt intensified.
Abruptly, all thoughts of escape left his mind. He had hurt his sister, hurt his family, one that had taken him in when they didn't have a need to.
He clenched his fists tightly. Never again. Never again would those he loved suffer because of him.
"Unlike you, I did not have such a choice. Galen Marek had been taken from his family on Kashyyyk, watching as Darth Vader slew his father before his very eyes, and raised as his secret Sith apprentice and assassin. I, Starkiller, was created as a mere clone, grown in a vat for the sole purpose of replacing him as the perfect apprentice. Trust me when I say that I understand how you feel."
Rean didn't know any of what the man was saying. 'Sith'? A clone? He had no idea what they meant, but he understood that this 'Starkiller' had been groomed to become an assassin against his will. In a strange way, he felt a sense of almost-pity for him.
"If you choose to accept, then I will begin your education in the ways of the Force. As Starkiller, I have learned from both Jedi and Sith, but I stand as neither. I will teach you both the ways of Jedi and Sith, that you will not become a tool of others as I had been. In these final years of my life, I have prepared a great many recordings in anticipation of your arrival. Master the darkness churning within, wield the calm strength of the light, and forge your own destiny. It will take a great many years, but if you desire to protect those you hold dear and act on the potential you hold, it would be wise to agree."
The man paused. PROXY looked at him beadily, the orange lights of his eyes focused on him with unwavering intensity, and Rean felt compelled to reply.
"I…" he said, hesitating. He got the sense that this answer would change everything. He wouldn't be able to see his family for a long time, and his heart ached at the thought of being separated from them.
It was fortunate that the thought of harming them once more from the 'Dark Side' he had accidentally unleashed weighed more heavily on his mind. Ultimately, there was only one choice he could make.
"Excellent!" PROXY chirped, breaking the sombre mood, and the hologram of Starkiller abruptly vanished. "A wise choice, apprentice! It would have been a shame to have to kill you!"
He had no idea whether the droid was kidding. It hardly mattered now, he supposed. If there was a chance to control this power that had already hurt his sister once, he would willingly grasp at it no matter what it took.
"Now that that's all done, I suppose introductions are in order!" He heard a whirl of metallic parts as PROXY stretched, extending a hand toward Rean. "You already know me as PROXY – Prototype Ten – but Master's visions hadn't granted him a name for you."
Belatedly, Rean realised that he had, in fact, not yet introduced himself.
In his defense, he had been working under the impression that PROXY had been kidnapping him for influence over his father.
"Rean Schwarzer." He accepted the handshake. "What is a droid, anyway? Where am I? And what is the Force?"
"Explanation of the former will have to wait, alongside other aspects of your sorely-needed education." PROXY waved him aside. "Regarding your location: we are within Master's personal transport starship known as the Rogue Shadow, parked on the moon in orbit around your planet below."
Again, he didn't know what a starship was, but Rean did know enough to once again ascertain that the latter half of his statement was flatly impossible.
"We're on the moon," he said flatly, clearly disbelieving the droid. "Right."
PROXY shrugged. "See for yourself." He reached over to a control panel of some sort, pressing a few buttons, and one of the shutters that he had thought to be a wall opened.
Rean gaped at the sight before him.
He most definitely had to be dreaming. Through the clear windows made of glass of some sort that had to be more durable than what he'd previously come across in his life, he could very clearly see the vast expanse of space stretching endlessly in every direction, stars scattered amidst the darkness. Nearby, far larger than any over celestial body, he saw the planet below, a green and blue sphere with scattered land masses, and even with his very rudimentary understanding of geography there were far more continents than he knew existed. One of the larger ones he recognised as Zemuria, but many more he had never seen or heard of before.
Even the most renowned of astronomers and astrologists of Erebonia had likely never experienced what he was currently seeing. For PROXY and Starkiller to have been capable of traveling through space, when by all accounts the pair had somehow arrived on this world even before the Dark Ages…
It was a good thing he hadn't thought of escaping, then. He doubted there was any way he could return home without PROXY's help.
When at last it finally sank in that yes, he was currently on the moon (as bizarre as that sounded), he looked back toward PROXY. The droid's 'mouth' was wide open, wires exposed underneath, and there was no mistaking that amused smirk on his face.
"Yes, I daresay that such a sight must be impressive to a fleshbag from a primitive society such as your own." PROXY nodded sagely. "As for the Force, Master Starkiller has prepared a lesson for you. I suggest that you get yourself comfortable."
Once again, a second projection began to play, and Rean eased into one of the chairs in the room.
"If you are watching this, then you have accepted my offer of tutelage, just as the Force has willed it to be. I know not your name, apprentice, but you have made the right decision." The holographic projection folded his arms, stepping forward. "With that, we shall begin our first lesson in the subject of the Force."
She buried herself deeper within the already-damp sheets, gripping them tightly around herself.
It had been already been five days since she and Rean had ventured out of Ymir. Five days since her entire world turned upon itself.
She'd been unconscious for two of those days. Elise had been fast asleep, lying within the safety of her own home, while Rean was still lost in the blizzard. He had been hurt by the beast while protecting her, and yet she was the one who made it to safety, all while he could still be injured in the snow, or worse.
She remembered that look of rage she'd glimpsed on Rean's face, and that strange red mist that had surrounded him just before he'd rescued her when the monster had been about to kill her. As hard as she tried to remember of what happened next, she just couldn't recall how the beast had finally been slain. She didn't even remember being brought to the Phoenix Wings, having fainted some time after witnessing her brother's display of power and being inadvertently caught by what he'd done.
She was safe, while he was all alone in the blizzard, and that thought alone hurt her more than anything that monster could have dealt.
He could even be-
No. He couldn't be dead. She refused to believe that.
When she'd finally awoken in the safety of the Schwarzer estate, her parents had been beyond relieved, immediately tending to her as soon as she'd stirred. She saw the dark rings around their eyes, and the sorrow hidden underneath the joyful smiles they kept for her sake.
Rean was gone. He could have run ahead and left her behind, but he chose to stay with her. It was her fault that he was missing.
Missing, or dead, a voice in her head reminded her. Try as she might, it was impossible to block that dark line of thinking from intruding upon her thoughts.
The kind uncle over at the Phoenix Wings had ran to call for her father when they'd discovered her at their doorstep. They had sent out search parties as soon as she'd been brought home. During all that wasted time, there might have been a chance that Rean could have been saved.
Instead, they had merely found the body of the creature, its massive form split cleanly into two halves by a blade far sharper than any she had heard of before. She had heard her parents whispering between each other when they thought her to be asleep, discussing how the creature's flesh had been burnt where it had been cut.
Was Rean responsible for that? Had that red mist and the power he'd wielded allowed him to somehow slay the monster?
But in that case, where was he?
Then there was the alternative, and one that she had heard her parents discussing and hoping for: some unknown party had rescued her, while taking Rean alongside them. Perhaps one of her family's enemies, or a jaeger corp operating within the region. Those were the optimistic scenarios, since she knew that her father would acquiesce to any demand if it meant that Rean could be reunited with them.
That hope faded when five days passed, and there was still not even so much as a whisper as to what happened to her brother.
She had been useless. She had merely been a burden weighing Rean down. If she was just a bit stronger, just the slightest bit faster, if she hadn't been so utterly worthless –
The door creaked open slowly, and she stilled within the fortress formed of thick blankets, feigning sleep. Alas, her trembling hands gave away her ruse, and try as she might there was no way she could stop the gasping hiccups from escaping her lips, her tears long since drained dry.
"Elise?" her mother's words were warm and kind, yet laced with worry. The bed sunk in slightly, a sign that she had come to sit by her side. "Darling? Is everything alright?"
"'m fine," she murmured from beneath the sheets, her words slurred. "Go away."
"My dearest daughter," she said slowly, and Elise felt a gentle hand press down against her. She stiffened. "Please, talk to us. You've barely left your room for the past three days. Everyone's worried about you."
She rolled over away from her mother, not saying a word. It shouldn't be for her that they worried over. They didn't understand –
"Elise –" her father spoke now.
"I said I'm fine!" She threw the blanket aside, bolting upright, glaring at her parents with red-tinged eyes. They recoiled, and Elise knew that she must have looked like a mess.
"You're not fine. Please, Elise –"
"What do you want me to say?" she interrupted her father before he could continue. "That I'm sad? That I'm angry?" She spoke with vitriol, directed more-so at herself than her parents and the circumstances that had led to all of this. All the pent-up emotions she'd kept bottled up released as though from a dam, made all the more turbulent by the whirlwind of uncertainty and fear they had faced over the past few days.
"Rean's gone. He's dead, and it's all my –"
She couldn't finish the sentence. She barely even registered the fact that she had acknowledged the significant likelihood that her brother was dead. The words caught in her throat. And she clenched her eyes shut tightly. She couldn't cry, not right now –
Strong, warm arms enveloped around her. A pair from each side, both her parents sitting next to her on the bed.
That broke the last of her resolve. The floodgates opened, and the tears and stream of words came anew.
She didn't even know what she said. She vented about the injustice of it all, at how everything was her fault, at how it wasn't fair that the world would take Rean away from them when he had protected her.
When at last there were no more words to say, when the tears had again dried, and only a heavy hollowness filled her heart, she opened her eyes. Mother and father were waiting patiently, still hugging her tightly, and she saw that they too had trails of tears on the sides of their faces.
For a long while, they simply say there, unmoving, basking in their joint sorrowful silence.
"It isn't fair that the world would take away those we love the most," her father finally agreed, after they broke away from their huddle. He looked more tired than Elise had ever seen him before. "Our family will never be the same without Rean. I know that I will never stop searching for him, as long as I still live."
Wordlessly, Mother placed a hand over his own, squeezing it supportively. Elise held onto the other. He continued to speak, voicing out what was clearly on their minds. "But we must learn to overcome this. We must rise above his loss. I'm sure that Rean would want us to remember him by all the good times we shared together."
His loss. They were beginning to accept it as truth, now.
Rean was gone, forever.
Rean was dead, because she was too weak and needed his protection. Her ineptitude cost her brother his life.
Two heads snapped toward her at those words. "What?"
"Train me," she repeated, glaring with determination at her father. "It's my fault that Rean is gone. I don't want to continue being weak."
Her parents exchanged glances. "Elise –"
"I want to learn how to fight," she interjected before her mother could dissuade her otherwise. Her mind was set. "I owe it to Rean."
Those words gave them both pause. Her father looked right into her eyes, and she returned his stare unflinchingly.
Finally, he relented. "I will teach you some of the basics," he said slowly. "It will be a difficult road."
"I can take it." She meant what she said. Rean's death wouldn't be in vain.
"Fine," her father said after seeing that she remained resolute. "I want one thing to be made clear, though. None of this is your fault. Don't ever tell yourself that."
"Okay," she lied. She didn't know whether or not he believed her. "When do we begin?"
"I will begin your training from tomorrow. If you want to continue down this path, I will see if Master Ka-fai would be willing to take you as a student in the years to come."
Tomorrow. She knew her life would never return to how it had been before. She would make sure that this tragedy never repeated itself again.
Next time, she would be the protector. She would fight for Rean, for the both of them. When next they met, Aidios willing, she would make sure that he was proud of her.