That was Luke. He stood off to the side of a training circle watching Ben who stood in the center. Ben had disengaged his lightsaber after a series of holographic battle simulations, with which he failed to defend himself during each level. His decision to no longer use the strengths and influences of the Force, ever since his mentor Jacen’s death, Ben’s skill with the lightsaber was no longer efficient against attack. But he was adamant to prove he could still win a fight without the Force.
However, the holographic simulations were programmed for Force-users; therefore much more difficult.
“Father, how many times must I tell you, I don’t fear the Force,” Ben replied, breathing heavily, “I refuse it.”
Luke crossed his arms defiantly. Then quickly relaxed his demeanor. So much like his mother, Ben was. Defensive, hot-headed, and stubborn. But even Mara had the sense of logic to use the Force, even after her haunting premonitions of the Emperor’s death and the task to kill Luke Skywalker so many years ago. And he knew that the death of Jacen and the death of Mara reverberating through the Force to the young teenage boy of Ben Skywalker had scarred Ben in ways a non-Force sensitive could never be.
“If you don’t start conditioning yourself to the Force now, it’ll be harder for you later. Possibly more dangerous. And I’d rather not have to be constantly worrying about your safety.” Ben’s posture quickly turned defensive, so Luke decided to rephrase that last part. “Remember that you’re Ben Skywalker, which means there are plenty of people out there ready to get rid of your existence.”
Ben snorted. “Maybe if they realize I’m not a JedI…” He let his sentence trail off, noticing the expression on Luke’s face turn dark, and decided not to push his father too far.
“Am I interrupting something?” A woman’s voice startled both Ben and Luke, but mostly Ben. They turned to see Lilliya standing awkwardly outside the training circle, waiting to be noticed. “I’m guessing you guys couldn’t sense me coming, huh?” That last part sounded bitter.
Which took both Ben and Luke by surprise. Luke knew she wasn’t aware of her “invisibility” situation and wondered who spilt the news. Father and son exchanged a cautious look, then Luke moved toward her, while Ben stood perfectly still, perhaps a little on edge.
“You’re right about that,” Luke admitted gently, his blue eyes showing concern. “We are…unaware of your presence in the Force.”
“Funny,” Lilliya said, crossing her arms, “you never mentioned it before.” She glanced from Luke to Ben. Ben kept his eyes on her, and looked more edgy than before. “And he looks like he’s ready to jump me.” She gestured to Ben.
Luke looked back at Ben, who twirled his lightsaber hilt and clicked it onto his belt, shrugging back at Luke faux-innocently. Luke wasn’t fooled. He turned back to Lilliya.
“Ben just finished a holo-battle simulation and probably still has adrenaline rushing through him. And I never mentioned your invisibility before because you never asked.”
“Ha!” Lilliya scoffed. Then turned serious. “Well, whatever your real reasons were for bringing me here, and despite the fact that you’ve withheld important information on myself and the way the other JedI react to me, I’ve decided to really focus on this whole thing. Meaning, I’ll be taking your training a little more seriously.” She leaned forward as if giving away a secret.
That took Luke by surprise even more. He was expecting a big argument coming his way, which was the last thing he wanted after having consistent arguments with his own son.
“Really.” This time it was Ben who spoke up, still standing defensively. Both Luke and Lilliya turned their attention on him. “The Force isn’t something you can just inherit through knowledge. It’s genetic and believe me, I’m paying for it because it runs wild in my genes.”
Luke made a gesture to Ben that seemed to try to quiet him. But Ben continued.
“I work really hard to block out the Force, to make it not a part of my life style. And even still, I find myself being touched by it somehow, through a dream during sleep, or while I’m flying a space fighter. But you—” Ben pointed at her accusingly. “The Force doesn’t touch you at all. You don’t exist in the Force. If it can’t touch you, how in the universe will you ever be able to touch it? And why would you want to?—”
“Ben—” Luke interjected.
“No, Dad,” Ben said, raising his hand towards Luke. “All the Force will ever give you is pain. Power, yes. Strength, sure. But mostly pain. You will have access to every person’s pain…including your own.”
Lilliya stared at Ben, hypnotized by his sudden passion, something she hadn’t seen before. She felt shaky just by looking at his furious stare. But something inside of her grew angry, knotting her stomach defiantly, an animalistic urge to fight him, to beat him to a pulp. Her hands clenched into fists and she bit her lip feverishly. She had to fight to control herself from lunging at him.
Luke watched the two of them stand their ground, like animals ready to spring, and was amazed at how much negative energy radiated off of Ben. It seemed to flow then bounce right off of Lilliya’s invisible “shield.” It shook him to the bone, the anger he felt from Ben. The anger…and the tormented pain caused over the years of his adolescences.
Lilliya took a shaky breath, then replied darkly, “I can handle pain.”
Ben paused for a moment, then said, “Prove it.” With a snap-hiss, his white-blue lightsaber ignited to life and gestured to Lilliya.
“Ben, what are you thinking?” Luke said sternly.
“I’m not gonna cut her arm off or anything,” Ben said to Luke defensively. “I just wanna see what she’s got. I hear you’ve been training her with a lightsaber for about a week now. If she can somehow harness the Force even in the slightest, then she should have been able to pick up on a simple lightsaber exercise. And it‘s not like I‘ll be using the Force to help better my chances of winning.” Ben gestured to Lilliya again.
“That’s enough.” Luke struggled to hold his anger with his son at bay. “You two won’t be—”
“It’s okay, Luke,” Lilliya said, finally, her voice calm and clear. “I’ve been fighting with a stupid laser ball this whole time. Ben will be no different.” She wanted nothing more than to fight Ben, ever since his bad attitude on their way to Ossus.
Ben chuckled lightly, taking note on the subtle insult.
Lilliya stepped into the training circle, a wicked smile crossing her lips.
“This should be fun,” Ben said.
Luke shook his head, hating the whole idea, but at the same time, was ashamed at his curiosity at the outcome. He tossed his own lightsaber at Lilliya, who caught it neatly out of the air, and knew that this was probably a very bad idea. Might as well let the kids fight it out, Luke almost heard the voice of Mara whisper in his ear. He shrugged and stepped farther back from the circle.
“So be it,” he said, giving both Lilliya and Ben the go-ahead. “The first one to fall to the ground loses.”
Lilliya ignited the green-bladed lightsaber and the two of them saluted each other.
And then they struck, blue and green lightsabers colliding for just a moment, then separate. Another clash, blue and green melding into instant blinding light, and they continued, testing each other’s strength, pushing each other gently. Lilliya tentative but strong. Ben, holding back.
They continued like this for a few minutes, pressing lightsabers, pulling back, and quickly colliding over and over. Their speed quickened as they got comfortable with one another, and they began to take bolder strikes. Luke caught his breath as Ben swung his lightsaber at Lilliya’s midsection—which she deftly batted away—but then the saber swung back around towards her legs. Lilliya pushed off the ground, neatly jumping over the blue blade, all the while swinging her green blade at Ben’s shoulders.
He spun away and took a moment’s pause.
“Nice one,” he said, his breath light.
“Thanks,” Lilliya said, breathing much harder.
Then they attacked again, each push and swing more aggressive than the next, their eyes locked onto to each other like targeting computers. The only sounds within the training chamber were the electric hum and clash of the lightsabers…overpowering Lilliya’s heavy breathing.
Ben swung, dipped, and thrust his blade at her, and was very aware of the Force tempting to creep into his thoughts, to guide his movements. And as he glimpsed at his target through the Force for only a second, he saw nothing, and the Force could give no help. Lilliya was the perfect defense against a JedI. This challenged him further and he attacked harder. He swung his lightsaber in a series of parries, which Lilliya fought against, and got close enough to kick at her outer right thigh.
Lilliya felt the impact of Ben’s heel on her thigh, felt the pain surge through her leg, and nearly toppled over, which would have been a win for Ben. But then she quickly regained her balance on her left leg, spinning around and wielding her blade fast—though rather crude—against Ben’s, swinging in random directions as she learned Ben could not second-guess her.
“Good,” Luke said, though neither Ben or Lilliya was really paying much attention. He watched them both, but pushed out with the Force in an attempt to search for Lilliya within it, to see if she shed any light at all, not matter how small.
Lilliya swung her heel around to Ben’s hip this time, with which he shifted neatly out of the way.
“You’re not bad,” Ben muttered. “For someone who’s never used a lightsaber.”
“Dad taught me fencing when I was a kid,” Lilliya replied blandly.
Their lightsaber dance continued, Ben luring her in and then pummeling her back.
“You’re still as ghostly as ever, though,” Ben grinned sardonically. He heard his father groan in the background. “And this is getting boring. I’m gonna win.”
“Oh yeah?” Lilliya said.
“I’m barely exerting any strength on you. If I wanted, I could get you on your knees right now.”
This time Lilliya smiled. “So do it.” As she said that, she shifted to a two handed grip on the hilt and swung right, left and down.
Ben followed with two hands, batting each swing away, then twirled his lightsaber around hers, yanking it free of her hands. The green blade disappeared into the hilt.
Ben swung towards Lilliya, unarmed. She side-stepped, the blade entering the space she just occupied, and Lilliya punched Ben in the face.
He took a stumbling step back, a look of pain and shock crossing his face as he grabbed his jaw with his free hand.
“Hey!” Ben cried.
“Sorry,” Lilliya shrugged smugly.
“You know, punching isn’t part of the game,” Ben grumbled.
“Oh?” Lilliya smiled. “I didn’t know. I just know I’m gonna win…without a lightsaber.”
Before Ben could recover from his surprise, Lilliya did a quick sprint toward him, slid forward on her right leg, but without touching her left knee to the ground. She continued to slide under the blue humming blade, passed Ben’s side and elbowed him hard in his right kidney. He yowled, falling to his knees, and as his lightsaber fell with him, Lilliya deftly snatched it out of his hands, nearly breaking his wrist in the process, swung it twice for show, and placed the blade’s tip under Ben’s chin.
Giving a big toothy grin.
Ben, gripping his side tenderly, stared up at Lilliya in irritation.
Luke covered his humored smile with his hand. “Lilliya wins,” he said, trying to hide the smile out of his voice.
But Ben could sense it from him, Force or no Force. He felt humiliated and very annoyed.
“My dad also taught me self-defense,” Lilliya’s voice smug.
“If only your dad could see you now,” Ben muttered softly. And then he caught himself, knowing Lilliya had just lost her father on Endor. He knew he thought it, but was surprised with himself for verbalizing it. But it was too late.
Lilliya’s smug smile vanished immediately. “I wish he could,” she said darkly, her eyes glittering. “So he could see I beat the stang out of a JedI wanabee.”
Luke groaned again.
“Wanabee?” Ben scoffed. “I think you got it all turned around. You fit that description a whole lot more than—”
“How could you mention my father like that?” She cut him off, Ben’s lightsaber still humming in her hands, though she pulled it away from his chin.
Ben paused for a moment, regulating her expression. It was hurt, but he could tell she was holding a lot more hurt back. Then he shrugged. “Oh come on. Everyone dies. And everybody loses somebody. It’s not like you’re the only one who’s lost someone.”
Visions of Jenar and her father flashed through her mind like daggers. She blinked hard. She knew she could feel her tears rebel against her will. The last thing she wanted to do was cry in front of Ben Skywalker.
“Yeah, well—” she gritted through teeth, “doesn’t make it easier. Still hurts.”
“You just said minutes ago that you can handle pain.” Ben slowly stood up as he said this.
“I can handle it just fine!” Lilliya spat. “What I can’t handle is you trying to get a reaction out of me. So I’m gonna give it to you. Don’t ever mention my father again.” Lilliya took a menacing step toward Ben, pointing a finger in his face.
“All right, fine!” Ben said defensively and started to turn away. “Good luck with becoming a JedI. You lose a lot in that career field.”
Lilliya sniffled and hated herself for doing it, but the tears were coming down without control.
“I don’t know what the hell I did to offend you, but from the start you’ve been a jerk,” Lilliya said, despite him walking away.
He stopped, and turned back around for the challenge. “Maybe if you hadn’t broken into my house, messed around with things that don’t belong to you, I wouldn’t even have a problem with you.”
“You can’t be serious,” Lilliya scoffed, despite the tears running down her cheeks. “I didn’t even break in. And besides—”
“There is no besides!” Ben spat. “I don’t need a reason to not like you. I just don’t. So accept it or get over it. And maybe go back to where you came from.” Whoops, that came out wrong, Ben thought. Again, her home was destroyed, so she had no other place. He couldn’t believe what got into himself either.
“That’s exactly where I wanted to go in the first place!” Lilliya cried. “I belong on the team with Jaina Solo. And I shouldn’t have agreed to come out here.” That last sentence was directed at Luke, who still sat quietly on the side on the training circle, watching. She turned directly to him. “So thanks, Luke. For your son, for the students who hate me, for this whole damn place. It’s been a great—a great—” She started choking on her tears and humiliation. She put a hand over her red face, and for a moment, it felt like she was alone, away from Ben and Luke’s critical eyes. She was amazed at herself. She hadn’t had a good cry since she was a young teenager. And as the tears burned her cheeks, all she could seem to think about was Jenar. He would have held her. He would have made her laugh. He loved her. And she never knew.
Her gut twisted in agony as that fact weighed on her mind. He never knew…she loved him. Instead, he died saving her, or trying to.
“I wish…you were here…” she murmured so quietly, she thought Ben and Luke couldn’t hear.
Dropping her hand, she remembered Ben and Luke staring at her, and that Ben‘s lightsaber was still gripped with her other hand. Thoroughly embarrassed, but not able to do anything about it, she let out a short, mocking laugh of defeat and dropped the unlit lightsaber to the ground. Then she turned around and walked out of the training circle, towards the nearby jungle, not caring what the Skywalkers thought.
Ben and Luke silently watched her go, both men a little taken aback by the sudden rush of emotions. Luke understood it though, knew she had kept it bottled up for so long that it wasn’t surprising it all came flooding out.
Then Luke turned toward Ben. “Go after her and apologize.”
Ben turned to Luke in surprise and was about to debate it.
“Now,” Luke said, pointing firmly in the direction she went.
Ben sighed, resigning all argument, knowing he was in the wrong, and nodded silently, not meeting his father’s very stern stare. He followed after Lilliya.