“I’m losing him,” Luke said, his voice a sad murmur in the darkened room. Leia sat by him, the two of them gazing out the large window, watching the last of the atmosphere fire shows. The banquet had ended an hour ago, but there were those that continued their own personal celebrations. Jaina, Han and some of the other TwinSuns pilots had gone out to one of the local cantinas. Han had, yet again, tried to persuade Luke to join them, but Luke graciously refused, explaining that the night had worn him out. Whereas, in reality, he was disturbed by his encounter with the new young woman and conflicted with his relationship with his son.
After Lilliya had passed out in his arms, Luke went to find Ben to see if he could convince him to come with Luke to Ossus, if only for a few months. He was able to find Ben inside his personal quarters. Ben was more aggravated than Luke expected him to be, and the conversation had quickly gone sour with no positive result in Luke’s favor. “I can’t even get him to listen to me for one minute.”
Leia sighed and took Luke’s hand in hers. “He’s just going through something,” she said. “And he needs to do it alone. He’s becoming a very talented pilot, you know.”
“I don’t have anything against him learning how to fly,” Luke said. “But he can get the same pilot training on Ossus and even better. He would be taught how to use his Force skills in conjunction with his physical training.”
“Ben has an aversion to the Force,” Leia said grimly. “It’s brought him nothing but pain…at least, that’s how he sees it.”
Luke’s jaw clenched and he forced himself not to say anything. He wanted to say, “everybody goes through pain in life whether you have the Force or not,” but the pain Ben had experienced, he experienced before he was out of his own mother’s womb. That mother, he lost to his mentor and cousin, Jacen. Luke could understand, he could sympathize, but he still refused to accept that his only son had disowned the way of the Jedi. Ben was his only son, after all.
“I wish I could help him,” Luke finally said, a wave of sadness rolling over him.
They stayed silent for a long time. Leia was busy thinking, however, and thinking hard. She was trying to think of a way to make her brother happy, to convince Ben to go to Ossus. All the while, Lilliya kept popping up in her mind and then she couldn’t stop thinking of her.
“I have an idea,” Leia said, turning to look at Luke. “What do you think of bringing Lilliya with you?”
Luke frowned, then immediately shook his head no. “I don’t think so…”
“Wait a minute, before you completely knock down my idea,” she said. “Maybe bringing her to the Jedi Temple, being surrounded by Jedi, will help shed light on what she is. She isn’t Yuuzhan Vong, I believe that now. If she were an intruder, she had her chance at the Crystal Ballroom to kill a lot of important officials, but she didn’t.
“Of course, she did have tight security on her, but even still, if she was a walking Vong bomb, she would have exploded by now. If she was a spy, she would have found a way to infiltrate the Alliance security network. Her identification checks out, and if we weren’t so adept in the Force, we wouldn’t be questioning her identity at all.
“There is something very different with her. I have a feeling…she is something we’ve never encountered before. I sense she is harmless, for now. But what if something changed in her, something we couldn’t possibly predict because we are blind to her?” Leia shook her head, uncomfortable with the thought of being attacked totally unawares. This must be how “normal” people felt all the time.
“No,” she said, reaffirming her plan. “We must find her out, understand her and know what and who exactly she is. She isn’t entirely human, but you and I are the only ones that know this. Other than the MD droid, of course. And I have a feeling that she doesn’t know it either.”
Luke sat silent, seeming to take it under consideration. And then he said, “How does this have anything to do with convincing Ben to come with me?”
“If I can get Ben to go to Ossus, you have to take Lilliya too,” Leia said, a slow smile curling up on her lips.
“You’re starting to sound more and more like your husband,” Luke grumbled, shaking his head in defeat.
Leia shrugged. “We are one in the same.”
“I’d like to know how you’re going to convince Ben,” Luke said.
Leia flashed a bright, mischievous smile, making her appear much younger and youthful. “I have my ways…”
There was a loud knock on the door and someone continuously pressed the door chime, till Ben finally pulled himself out of bed, angry and half asleep. He only wore shiny black pants that dragged slightly against the floor and didn’t care to cover his torso. Whoever was waking him at one in the morning had better have a damn good excuse.
He pressed the glowing blue button and the front door hissed open.
Jaina was standing outside the door, her hair a little disheveled, and her breath smelling of Corellian ale. Gavin and Wess were standing a little ways down the corridor, laughing quietly to themselves. The others must have gone home.
“This better be good,” Ben grumbled to his older cousin.
“It’s always good to chat with Benny,” Jaina smirked, as she leaned against the door panel. “I’ve come on a mission from Mom. But I’m not supposed to tell you that.” She snorted a laugh, shaking her head at herself.
“Are you drunk?” Ben said, more irritated now that he was woken up by his drunken cousin and that this also wasn’t the first time she came home like this. “Don’t you have to leave early for Endor tomorrow.”
She barked a laugh again. “Aw, Ben, you know I don’t need sleep. Besides, I’m not nearly as drunk as you think. Can I come in?”
“Maybe you should go to bed and get some rest,” Ben said, blocking the door frame with his muscular size, towering above the smaller frame of Jaina.
“Don’t need it,” Jaina said, brushing the suggestion off with a wave of her hand. “And besides, we need to talk. It’s important.”
“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?” Ben said, hoping maybe that would make her go away.
“Actually, no it can’t. You and I—we need to talk—right now.” When she emphasized now, suddenly her drunkenness seemed to disappear into total seriousness.
Ben forced himself not to say anything, pressing his lips together firmly. What could possibly be so important as to have a discussion in the middle of the night? And Jaina didn’t seem like she would be persuaded to leave. So he decided to let her in to get the “talk” over with as soon as possible.
“I won’t be long guys,” Jaina called out to Gavin and Wess. “Don’t go anywhere without me.” They waved at her as the sliding door hissed shut behind her.
“All right, what’s the problem?” Ben turned to her, leaning up against one of the lounge chairs.
Immediately and very surprisingly, Jaina went from being sloppy intoxicated to a deadpan sober. She didn’t move from the front entrance.
“The problem is you,” Jaina said, her voice clean of the inebriation.
That took Ben completely off-guard and he quickly jumped on the defensive. But before he could say anything, Jaina cut him off with a raise of her hand.
“Look, Ben,” she said, her tone low and serious. “I love you. You’re like a brother to me, and you know that. You and I have been through a lot of grish together and sometimes I still can’t believe we’re standing here alive.
“So with that said, there are a lot of things that I want to discuss with you, mainly about your situation with your dad.”
Ben stood up abruptly, understanding quite perfectly where the conversation was leading, and he wasn’t going to stand for it. “Oh, no. Not you too!” He whirled around to glare angrily out towards the glittering cityscape to gather his thoughts. He wasn’t prepared for this argument, that was for sure. “Come on, Jaina, you know I don’t want anything to do with the Jedi Academy.”
“It’s not just that you don’t want to go to Ossus with Luke—which is something I think you really need to do,” Jaina continued, still standing in the same spot, hands on her hips. “It’s the fact that you and Luke don’t act like father and son anymore. You guys barely talk and when you do actually speak to each other, it turns into an argument.”
“That’s because he won’t ever listen to me—”
“Oh, please!” Jaina interrupted with sudden fervor it shocked Ben into silence. “I am sick of hearing about this. You’re the one not listening and you know how I know this? Cause Luke has had years of training to be a good listener. It’s called JedI patience. And I also know you and how you argue. Besides no one wants to hear about your troubling, adolescent issues.”
Ben shot an icy glare in her direction, but then it suddenly turned pained.
Jaina took a deep breath as she watched her younger cousin sag in misery and forced herself to calm her own heated temper. Unclenching her fists, she slowly moved over to her silent cousin and leaned against the window opposite of him so that she could look him straight in the eye. His gaze never left the floor.
“I’m sorry,” Jaina said finally. “That was uncalled for.” She waited for him to respond and look up, but he didn’t.
When she spoke again, her voice was softer, more sympathetic. “Luke needs you, Ben. Badly. He needs to have his son at his side. You’re all he has. You should know this more than anyone.”
Ben looked up, but didn’t meet Jaina’s gaze, rather he stared off into the cityscape again.
“You owe him these few months, at least,” Jaina said, and her tone sounded more pleading.
Ben sat silently for a minute, lost in thought. “What about my classes?” he finally said. “I can’t just not show up.”
“Actually, Mom has that all taken care of,” Jaina said, perking up casually. “She already requested a temporary leave of absence in your name.”
Ben’s eyes lit up in anger again, but he quickly pushed the feeling aside, not wanting to add to the already uncomfortable argument. Instead, he said, “Isn’t that illegal.”
“Yeah, sure, but Mom has her ways. And she figured you really wouldn’t make a court case out of it.”
Ben rolled his eyes. Of course he wouldn’t. What was he going to do, sue his aunt and the President of the Alliance?
“I guess I never really had a choice then, did I?” Ben muttered.
“With Mom involved?” Jaina laughed. “Not really.” Jaina pushed herself off the glass and made her way to the front door. Ben followed.
“I’m not gonna like this,” Ben admitted.
“Nobody said you had to like it,” Jaina said, pressing the blue button to let herself out. Gavin and Wess waited in the corridor. Jaina spun around suddenly to Ben. “Oh, and before I forget. You’re also flying with Lilliya Tentle. She’s going to Ossus too.”
“What?!” Ben nearly shouted.
Jaina ignored his outburst. “Surprisingly enough, she was much harder to convince than you were. She’s got nothing here, so I assumed it would be easy. Turns out, she’s not too fond of JedI either. Funny—you two seem to have a lot in common. You guys should get along nicely.” That last comment came out more sarcastic than Jaina meant it to.
“You seem to have been busy tonight,” Ben said wryly.
“Unfortunately.” Jaina glanced back at her waiting comrades. “And now I’m gonna be more busy enjoying the rest of the night.”
“Why do I have to take her?” Ben said.
Jaina cocked her head to the side, bewildered by Ben’s distaste in Lilliya. “Why not?”
“I just get a bad feeling from her, that’s all,” Ben shrugged.
Jaina leaned in and peered closely at Ben as if she was going to tell a secret. “So does everyone,” she said matter-of-factly, then stepped back. “That’s why she’s going, though she doesn’t know it. She thinks she’s going for investigative purposes, so that the JedI could help in uncovering the mysterious new enemy we seem to have.”
Ben crossed his arms defiantly. “Well, you and Leia seemed to have this worked out perfectly. It’s a wonder if anyone gets a say in anything at all.”
Jaina smiled roguishly. “Then nothing would get done right. Pick up Lilliya at her apartment in the morning. Uncle Luke will already have left for Ossus, so it’ll just be the two of you.” She smiled again, but this time, much more insinuating. “Sounds like fun,” she said silkily. “Love you.”
With that, she turned on her heal and disappeared down the hall with Gavin and Wess.
Ben stood in the doorway for a couple minutes more before sliding the door shut.
Morning came swifter than Lilliya wanted. She could have used a couple more hours of sleep, but instead she forced herself out of bed to face the day she knew she would dread. In an hour, she was dressed in a simple grey jumpsuit and black knee boots, and was packed for the trip to Ossus. She didn’t know what compelled her to agree to go to a place full of JedI, but she also knew she had nothing to lose by going. What else was she going to do, be trapped inside this apartment and constantly followed by GP droids? Lilliya came to the conclusion that traveling to Ossus, despite its population consisting mainly of JedI, whom she thought creepy and disturbing, was better than being stuck on Coruscant.
Lilliya gazed out the large window, mesmerized by the heavy air traffic flowing in and out in perfect zigzag patterns throughout the city’s spires. The two suns gave the city a dull, metallic look, lacking any of the color it had the night before.
Three days ago, she would have been looking out at Endor’s lush greenery. Three days ago, she had a family and a career. Now, she had nothing. She was vaguely amazed at how much could change in just a day. She wondered what was to happen to her now.
The door chime snapped her out of her reverie and she strode over to open it. To her surprise, Ben Skywalker stood on the other side, tall and clad in a blue jumpsuit, typical of Academy pilots.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Hi,” Lilliya responded. “Where’s Luke Skywalker?”
“He left much earlier,” Ben said, and something close to irritation seemed to be struggling in his voice. “I’m supposed to take you to Ossus. You ready?”
Lilliya nodded, no longer certain if she wanted to go now. Shaking her uneasiness away, she grabbed a small bag of belongings she’d packed and followed Ben out. Again, to her surprise, the GP guard droids that stood at attention outside her door didn’t follow her this time. It felt like she was being released from prison.
It took about ten minutes for them to reach the docking bay where Ben’s small ship, a T4-9ner, brand new and sleek, sat waiting. Lilliya had heard a lot about them and mostly how they had yet to pass the air safety tests, meaning they weren’t entirely safe to fly because of how fast they were.
The two of them entered silently up the ramp and into the main cabin, Lilliya looking longingly at the little ship. She also always knew she wanted one.
“It’ll be just us two, but you can sit the trip out in here if you’d like,” Ben said, gesturing to the blue and silver swivel chairs that were bolted to the deck around a small lounge table. “Or there are the bed cabins down the hall there if you’d rather sleep on the way.”
“Sleep is tempting, considering I didn’t get very much of it,” Lilliya responded, glancing down the skinny pathway towards where a two bunk beds were hidden behind privacy doors. She assumed they were very claustrophobic, as were most bunks within ships this size. “I think I’d rather be up front in the cockpit. Much more comfortable that way.”
Ben shrugged, but Lilliya could tell he was trying to hide his disappointment. Maybe he wanted to spend the trip alone, but Lilliya never did like someone else flying her when she could do it herself. So he would have to deal with her company for a few hours.
Ben made his way to the cockpit—it was only a few steps more—with Lilliya close behind. The two sat in the forward chairs, Ben in the pilot’s seat and Lilliya in the co-pilot’s. The seats were comfortable and luxurious, melding to each of their body form and weight. Lilliya assisted Ben with the ignition and they were off in just a few minutes. The ship hummed quietly as it sped through Coruscant’s grey atmosphere, Lilliya watching the skyscrapers disappear beneath them, and burst out into the blackness of space. Security recognized Ben’s ship immediately so it didn’t take them long to get through and ignite into lightspeed.
The two sat side by side in awkward silence. Ben glanced over in Lilliya’s direction and noticed her long golden hair, laying in curls around her shoulders, and turned to silver once the stars’ lights no longer reached her.
“You weren’t kidding about your hair,” Ben said, breaking the dull silence. “That is an interesting trait you got going on there.”
Lilliya fingered one of her curls, glancing down at the opulent silvery color. “Yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve never been able to figure out,” she said, glancing in Ben’s direction shyly. “Among the many other things…”
Ben raised an eyebrow. He wondered exactly what she meant by that. The thought that went through his mind was the fact that she was invisible to the Force. Was she referring to that? Probably not.
“So, uh, tell me about yourself,” Ben said, forcing himself to make conversation. It was going to be a long trip and if she wasn’t going to ride it in the main cabin, then he’d better make something of her presence.
Lilliya shrugged, smiling crookedly. “There’s not much to tell,” she said softly. “What do you want to know?”
“Well, you’re a pilot, for one. Where’d you train?”
“My dad started teaching me to fly when I was a kid. He taught me everything I know. We lived most of the time on Endor, at the base, once it was established. Before that, I lived on Coruscant. But when my mother died…we moved.”
Ben was silent for a second. The two of them were staring off into the streaking light field. “What happened to your mother?” Ben asked.
Lilliya sighed, trying to recall the memory. It had been so long ago. “I remember that she was really sick, suddenly. My dad had her see so many doctors from all over, but none of them could give him a straight answer. They all said the same thing, ‘they’d never seen anything like it.’ She died in a week from the first day she got sick. It was…strange. One day she was perfect, the next…” Lilliya shrugged, remembering why she didn’t think about the memory in the first place. She was six at the time, but she never could fully recover from the loss of the mother. “I was really little and so I blamed it on myself for a long time.”
Ben frowned, but didn’t say anything. He continued to stare out the view screen. His expression was somber, from what Lilliya could tell.
“What about you?” Lilliya said, trying to turn the attention away from her. She could already feel the depression creeping up on her and she really didn’t want to deal with it. “Tell me about yourself.”
Ben shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I study at the Coruscant Flight Academy. My dad’s a JedI Master. That’s about it.”
Lilliya raised her eyebrows in disbelief. “Interesting. I would think you would have a whole novel to tell me.”
Ben shrugged indifferently, not meeting her gaze.
“Are you a JedI too?” Lilliya asked.
Ben’s jaw twitched. “Not anymore,” he said.
“You had that lightsaber,” Lilliya pointed out, but hoped it wouldn’t bring back any hard feelings about her intrusion into his home.
“Yeah, it’s more like decoration,” he said. “Or a reminder.”
“A reminder of what?” Lilliya prodded.
Ben glanced at her in irritation, and then quickly flickered his gaze back out the view screen. “Of stuff I don’t want to get involved in anymore.”
Lilliya was taken aback. “Really? Then why are you going to Ossus?”
Ben exasperated a sigh. “I owe someone.”
Ben turned a look on her that meant “none of your business” and Lilliya dropped the subject. The two sat in silence again, the ship’s gentle humming being the only sound in the cockpit. Ben began to twitch in his seat agitatedly.
“There’s food in the cabin behind us and hologames, if you’re interested,” Ben said, breaking the silence.
“Are you hungry?” Lilliya asked.
“Well, no,” Ben said, nervously glancing away from her. “But I mean, if you are? I thought I’d let you know you’re welcome to it…if you’re hungry…or bored.”
Lilliya stared at Ben curiously, then nodded slowly, understanding his meaning. He wanted her to leave the cockpit, to be farther from him. She felt her stomach get hot as frustration boiled inside her. A sardonic smile bent her lips.
“Why…” she said slowly, “do I get the feeling that you don’t like me very much? Is it because I was in your apartment?”
Ben didn’t answer or look in her direction.
Lilliya stared at him now, hoping that would get him to answer, if not annoy the sithspit out of him.
“You really don’t like me, do you?” Lilliya said, a little surprised and hurt by the idea.
Ben shot a glare at her, but he still refused to say anything. Although the icy look in his blue eyes said enough.
Lilliya felt heat crawl from her stomach and through her veins as she became flat out angry. She felt confused and offended that someone who barely knew her had already come to the conclusion that they didn’t like her. And for what? It angered her even more that she didn’t know why.
When Ben looked at her, he was surprised to see the strange diamond scar in her left eye flash a deep red.
“I think I’ll check out the hologames in the back,” Lilliya said darkly, her gaze not wavering from Ben’s.
“Sure,” Ben said quietly.
Without another word, Lilliya got up from her chair and calmly left the cockpit and Ben. They stayed apart like that for hours. Ben didn’t leave the pilot’s chair and Lilliya fell asleep in the main cabin, her head on the lounge table. It was the hyperdrive alarm, warning their arrival to Ossus, that woke Lilliya. She refused to not be present inside the cockpit during the landing, so she bit the insides of her cheeks and boldly walked back inside.
Ben glanced back in surprise, if only that he was reminded that there was another person on board, but quickly turned back to the controls. Lilliya slid quietly into the copilot’s chair as they came out of lightspeed.
Ossus was before them, a grey-brown of a planet. Much different than the green of Endor or the sparkling glitter of Coruscant. Once they were cleared by security, the ship began to make its dissent into Ossus’ atmosphere. It was daytime on the planet, which turned Lilliya’s silver hair back to gold.
They flew across desert, old brown forests, rocky cliffs, small grey lakes, until it seemed there wasn’t any civilization at all.
“Interesting place for a JedI establishment,” Lilliya muttered. “Pretty ugly.”
“Humph,” Ben sighed, turning the ship around a rocky bend and down a canyon where a small river ran. “Well, you’d better get used to it. This is where we’re staying for a few months.”
“We?” Lilliya cocked an eyebrow in Ben’s direction.
Ben smiled cynically. “Yep. You and me. We’re gonna get to know each other really well. The academy is a pretty small place. Not much in the way of escape.”
Lilliya looked at Ben and allowed her expression to turn into a sour smile. “Great,” she muttered, and turned back to look out the viewport as they sped down the river. Suddenly, the cliffs and river seemed to drop off ahead of them, leaving only the blue skyline. As the ship got closer, she noticed the river dipped down into a massive waterfall. Lilliya’s sour expression slowly turned into astonishment.
Beyond the waterfall, past the rocky cliffs, there stood an impressive white and silver tower glowing in the center of a valley surrounded by a canyon and other falls. Birds of all kinds soared past them and disappeared into the jungle below. Lilliya could see little rivers flowing all throughout the wild green trees and flowers. Surrounding the glowing tower were little square-shaped structures she assumed were homes for those who resided here.
“Wow,” Lilliya whispered, as they circled the tower, its skin seeming to reflect into the cockpit. She couldn’t tell if there were windows or outlets along the outside. The material seemed so surreal. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“No one has,” Ben said. He set the ship down on one of the landing platforms at the edge of the tower. As soon as the ship powered down, Ben got up from his seat to gather his bags. When he left, Lilliya could have sworn she heard him give a nervous sigh. Before she went to get her things, she saw outside the cockpit’s window a gathering of people in various robes making their way to greet them. Lilliya gulped nervously as well.
She moved into the main cabin and grabbed the bag she had secured in one of the cubbies. Ben was already on his way down the ramp, so she had to hurry to catch up with him. He waved a short greeting at the group of robed people as Lilliya tried to stay close. The two entered through a double sliding glass door and into the central chamber of the tower. It was filled with people, and Ben was moving so fast Lilliya could barely keep up with him.
“Where are we going?” she called, her voice echoing in the reverberating chamber. Her voice nearly drowned out amongst all the other voices with people bustling around busily.
“Not sure where you need to be, but I’m heading off to my quarters,” Ben called back without stopping. “Good luck to you. See you around.” With that, he disappeared into the crowd.
Lilliya stopped following him and allowed herself to be engulfed in the crowd. She was beginning to wonder why she ever came. Someone bumped into her and she barely heard his or her apology. She also wondered why everyone was in such a hurry considering all the rumors she heard about the JedI Academy being a very peaceful place. Her first impression of it now was very hectic and confusing. She decided that she needed to find Luke Skywalker. Once she found him, everything would be okay.
“Excuse me,” she called to someone who moved by her, but they didn’t stop. So she continued down the hall, pushing herself through some of the congested passageways. “Excuse me,” she said again, and grabbed a male Bothan by the arm, her fingers sinking into his deep fur.
He turned and looked her up and down curiously.
“I’m looking for Luke Skywalker,” she said. “Can you tell me where I can find him?”
“He’s at the Cliff Sprie outside with his students,” the Bothan responded. “That way.” He pointed out towards an exit.
“Thanks,” Lilliya said and quickly made her way through and out of the congested lobby.
There were a lot less people here and it was much quieter, only the sounds of insects and wing-bearing animals could be heard. She started to walk in the direction of where the Bothan pointed and hoped that she wasn’t going in the wrong way. Or that she would get lost. Thankfully, she heard some voices in the distance as she walked down a stony path. As she neared, she saw about six people, all in tight-fitting jumpsuits, standing at the edge of a small cliff. Underneath the cliff was a river and across the gap was another cliff where more people stood waiting.
Lilliya held her breath as one of the students on her side jumped off the ground, flew into the air, and landed on the other side, clumsily falling to one knee. She was almost all the way to edge of the cliff, and at the end of the line of students, as each one made the jump. Some were more graceful than others and each time they leaped, Lilliya’s heart skipped a beat.
Finally, Lilliya was at the very edge and was close enough to see Luke Skywalker’s black-suited form on the other side. She was about to wave to catch his attention, but her foot caught a pebble that trickled over the edge of the cliff. She glanced down as she heard an electrical charge and noticed the pebble bouncing off a force field below.
Simultaneously, the last student to jump heard the crackle and glanced at Lilliya, was surprised to even see her standing next to him, and in mid-jump fell over the cliff’s edge.
Lilliya gasped and tried to reach out to him instinctively, and her heart stopped as she watched him fall, screaming all the way. And then he suddenly was caught by the force field, right above the river, and he lay there motionless.
Lilliya heard a synchronized moan emanate on the other side. She glanced up to see some of the other students shaking their heads and staring at her, confused about her presence. She felt her cheeks flush. Great entrance, she thought in annoyance.
In that moment, she heard something land in the gravel behind her. She turned and nearly fell backwards into the pit herself when she saw Luke Skywalker standing there.
“I didn’t do that,” she blurted, motioning towards the space where the last student had been. Then she wanted to smack herself for saying anything at all.
Luke smiled greatly, his sapphire eyes glittering in the hot sunlight.
“It’s all right, everyone,” he said, calling across the pit, and again she heard synchronized murmuring. “This is the guest I’d been telling you all about.” He glanced back at her, as she made a conscious decision to move away from the cliff’s edge. “I’m so glad you decided to come.” His smile creased his eyes, and suddenly Lilliya seemed to feel better immediately.
Lilliya heard more muffled landings as the students came back from across the pit. Even the boy who had fallen had already gained his strength back to levitate himself back to the group.
Luke stood beside Lilliya and gestured to his group of young students.
“I would like you all to meet Commander Lilliya Tentle,” Luke announced. “She will be with us for a few months, learning the ways of the JedI.”
Lilliya shot a surprised look at Luke, who seemed completely unaware. Suddenly, she didn’t feel so good anymore.
The murmur grew louder. The students were giving Lilliya a strange look that made her feel very exposed and very alien.
“Yes, I know it’s a little late to except a new student,” Luke continued, and Lilliya made a point to keep her mouth shut. “But I have strong hopes that Lilliya will become a great addition to the JedI.”
Lilliya’s jaw clenched tightly and willed herself to not throw a fit.
“Welcome, Commander,” one of the male students said, his voice smooth and chime-like.
Lilliya couldn’t seem to find her voice, so she just nodded in response.
“I think we can call for a recess today,” Luke said. “We will begin this exercise again tomorrow.”
The group dispersed immediately, some going off alone into the jungles, others going off in pairs towards the apartments and tower.
Lilliya, fists clenched, teeth grinding, met Luke’s smiling gaze.
“Well, now that you’re here,” he said, taking her bag from her hand. “Let’s get you settled in. I wasn’t sure if you were really coming, but I did reserve private quarters for you. This way.”
Lilliya followed him down the stone path and towards the grouping of small structures Lilliya had guessed were the apartments, still keeping her mouth shut.
Luke must have keyed into her silence and so kept talking.
“So did my son fly you here?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she muttered. “He so conveniently ditched me in the lobby too.”
Luke cocked an eyebrow but didn’t comment. “I wasn’t sure if he was coming either. He must have gone straight to his quarters. I’m surprised you were able to find me.”
“I had to stop one of your students and ask,” she answered. “By the way, how come it’s like a field day in there? I could barely move.”
“You came on a convenient day,” he said. “Today was visitor day. As a JedI student, you don’t get to see your family too often, so today is when the family members can come see their son or daughter. A student isn’t technically aloud to leave in the middle of training.” Luke gave Lilliya sideways glance. “For various reasons, of course.”
“Well, it was like hell trying to get through there,” Lilliya grumbled. “What is that place anyhow?”
“That?” Luke glanced at the glowing tower. “Is the JedI Temple. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? The metal is made from the sentient planet called Zonama Sekot. The remaining Yuuzhan Vong reside there now, in peace.”
“Why does it glow?”
“It’s an enigma, but we think it’s because the metal is alive and filled with the Force. It emanates a light reflecting its life. Maybe its aura.”
They walked down another stone path surrounded by numerous flowers this time. The path cut through the small apartments and then Luke stopped at one of the doors, punching in a code and stepping into the studio. He set Lilliya’s bag on the plain metal desk that stood by the door.
Lilliya stepped in and looked around. The room was plain. It had one window looking out towards the other apartments and gardens. It had one bunk bed, a closet and a bathroom, and then the desk near the door. It was small and simple, and not unlike her bedroom on Endor. It fit her quite nicely, actually.
“I won’t be under house arrest here, will I?” Lilliya asked, as Luke made his way out the door.
He smiled. “No. You’ll be free to go anywhere you like without having any guard droids at your back. I’ll let you get settled in. All you need to do is relax for today. Tomorrow is going to be a long day for you.”
“Oh, yes, about that,” Lilliya said, trying to keep the bottled up anger from entering her voice. “I was quite surprised that you volunteered me as a student. I was not told that was the plan when coming here. In fact, I was told something completely different.”
Luke’s smile faded for the first time, which kind of unnerved Lilliya. She had gotten so used to Luke having a smile plastered on his face. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry about that. I assumed that you wouldn’t have any aversion to learning about our ways considering I sense in you the potential of being able to use the Force.”
Lilliya’s mouth nearly dropped. She remembered Jenar telling her that he thought she might have had the Force, but she really never took it seriously. As far as she was concerned, she’d much rather not have anything to do with it.
“I know that enrolling into the Academy is probably not an option for you at the moment,” Luke continued. “But if you would consider sitting in on some of our lessons and maybe trying one or two of them out…well, who knows?”
“I don’t know…” Lilliya shook her head, feeling very lost, confused, unprepared, and not in her realm at all.
Luke’s expression grew very solemn. “Look, Lilliya,” he said quietly. “I know what you’ve been through. I know how you must be feeling right now. Maybe this would be good for you. I don’t know what will happen today or tomorrow, but…what else…do you have?”
Lilliya’s diamond scar turned a dark green and she made herself shove away the flood of tears that threatened her. So this was why she was here. To give her something to do, to make her feel useful. And why not? She didn’t have anything or anybody anymore. She was a lost soul. A nobody. And he was right. They were all right. She had nothing left.
The rims around her eyes burned red as she fought back tears.
“There’s a data pad on the desk that’ll help you get to know the area and also has the training schedules logged into it, in case you change your mind,” Luke said. “In the meantime, we will be investigating the incident at Endor and will be asking you some questions that could help us. Right now, the TwinSuns squadron is on their way to the system. We should hear from them in a few days with an update.”
Lilliya nodded, not meeting Luke’s prominent gaze.
Luke frowned sadly, knowing how awful she must have been feeling. He wanted to hold her and comfort her, but something pushed him away. He still couldn’t sense her presence, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t see her fighting back the tears. And yet, Luke could feel something else emanating from her. It was like warm liquid and the closer he got to her, the more it flowed over him like an intoxicating drug. This unnerved him. He had never felt this sensation coming from someone before, and especially someone who’s life signs didn’t exist in the Force. What worried him more was that no one else mentioned the warmth he felt radiating off of Lilliya. Leia mentioned she felt like she was being pushed away from her. So did Jaina, but the feeling wasn’t so strong. Ben said he couldn’t get a sense out of her at all, but that she reminded him of the ysalimiri, the species that strangely blocked the Force from reaching anyone who stood nearby.
Luke, however, felt a mixture of things, one of which was the warming sensation, and one that also matched everyone else’s description. To him, she resembled a light that seemed devoid of life. Not unlike the Jedi Temple and its glowing metal skin. Like she had the aura, but lacked the soul.
Luke noticed Lilliya fidgeting and decided he’d better leave her be.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said. “Whether you decide to join us in training or not. Get some rest and things we’ll start to shape up quicker than you think.”
Lilliya watched Luke go and continued to stare at the door even when it slid closed. All she knew was that her life had ended. She didn’t know the one she was leading now.