As soon as Lilliya hit the edge of the jungle and was out of the sites of Luke and Ben, she made run for it. Running felt good, felt the wind on her face, felt the branches brush away her tears. Running felt just that—running from her past, from her future, and definitely from her present situation.
After a mile of pure sprinting, she stopped, winded, but feeling rejuvenated and free. She was deep within the jungle called The Forest of Ood. When the Jedi students created it, as they did with all the other green, blue, and orange planet life not inherit of Ossus, they named the forest jungle after the ancient Great Jedi Master Ood, whose spirit had resided within a tree on Ossus for centuries until Luke came upon it decades back.
Ood’s spirit was only a memory now, remembered by Luke Skywalker and other students of the Academy. And Lilliya had just come to learn about him briefly during one of her long conversations with Forra on the history of Ossus. Now, as she stood leaning up against a tree, alone and deep within the darkening jungle, she imagined what it would be like to talk to a Jedi Master in tree form. She wondered what wise things Ood would tell her.
She wondered when the hell she could get off this planet! Or if she should stay…
Maybe Ben was right, about her not belonging. She knew that was the root of it all. She had his father’s full attention, was his prized, mystery artifact. Ben was cast in the shadow she did not want to create.
But maybe Luke was right. Maybe learning the ways of the Force was something worth while. Just maybe…it would reveal something about herself she desperately needed to know.
Still leaning back against the ominous tree, the sharp edges of its bark gently pressing into her jumpsuit and bare skin, Lilliya watched the tops of the branches sway slightly in the breeze—a breeze she could not feel from where she stood—but felt a subtle warmth spread against her chest bone. Lilliya closed her eyes and soaked in the familiar heat she knew was radiating from her crystal buried underneath the jumpsuit’s shirt. It felt like home for a moment, the peace, the quiet, the movement of the trees and other life forms around her. Although, she noted, it was quieter than she would have expected for a jungle.
And her crystal never glowed for fun.
Lilliya let her eyes slowly open, leaning forward and away from the tree. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a white figure amidst the dark greens and blues of the jungle trees. She turned to look.
Standing just a few meters to her right stood a humanoid-like creature. Very gaunt and very white, it wore no clothing, but its body shivered with every twitch of a muscle. Its mouth hung open slightly revealing nothing back a black gape, and its eyes met hers with an unnerving, unblinking black glare.
It looked like a feral white human.
And it stood very still.
Lilliya didn’t move a muscle. She found that she almost couldn’t. She stood frozen, staring wide-eyed, waiting for it to make a move. She recalled for a second that she didn’t even hear the white humanoid approach in the first place.
It didn’t move. It continued to stare with its wide black eyes, hands hovering beside its hips, long, gangly fingers stretched like claws.
Lilliya thought about trying “hello,” but then already knew its intent. Its malicious stare said it all. Still frozen in place, Lilliya forced herself to unhinge her taut muscle, readying for a run. She was a good runner, at least she had that to be confident about. Her foot shifted about an inch in the other direction, knocking a tiny pebble, barely making a sound.
The white humanoid darted forward in a flash coming straight at her.
Lilliya was so surprised by the speed of the creature that she tripped over her own feet in an attempt to turn and run, falling flat on her back, her legs sticking up in defense.
The humanoid flashed to her side, stopping immediately at her feet, and looked down. Its mouth slowly opened baring silver metal-like teeth, terrifyingly sharp.
Lilliya let out a shout of horror and defiance as she punched her feet into the chest of the white creature, knocking it back a few paces. But it didn’t fall. Lilliya rolled back and onto the balls of her feet, rising slowly in a combat stance.
The creature stood hunched now, fingers clawing the air. The humanoid bared its teeth like an animal.
Lilliya knew she wasn’t prepared to fight something she didn’t know anything about, especially being weaponless. But that was the point of combat training, right?
The thing lurched at her and Lilliya charged, double kicking in the air towards its head. It moved with lightning speed—literally a blur of white—to the left side of her and punched her in the left kidney. She cried in agony and surprise, clutching her left side for an instant. The thing tilted its head to the side as if confused by her scream, then came towards her, mouth wide open.
Lilliya swung her fist up under and to the left of its chin, and felt her fist crack, as if it just contacted with durasteel. She had to bite her lip to swallow another cry. The humanoid retaliated by swinging its white fist towards her temple. This time she ducked and ducked again when the humanoid came for another swing. By the second dodge, she punched it low in the stomach, turning slightly and ramming her elbow into the center of its chest.
It backed away miming a howl. The humanoid made no sound and she faintly realized it hadn’t from the moment it appeared. And then it rushed toward her, another white blur, something she couldn’t even react quick enough too. It punched her square in the chest with a flat hand, but the force was strong enough to send Lilliya flying backwards and smash against a tree. She slid down, tiny blue leaves littering around her, and spat blood.
The humanoid made a sniffing sound and its black eyes widened at the blood on her lips.
Ignoring every ounce of pain coursing through her body, Lilliya jumped up, turned and ran, deciding she was no match for this thing…at least without a weapon. She hoped, at least, that she was going in the right direction toward the Academy grounds. At this point, she really didn’t know.
She ran as fast as her legs could take her for about two minutes before she stopped. She quickly looked behind her. There was nothing but dark jungle, and considering how white that thing was, there was no way it could blend in. Breathing raggedly, she watched behind her to see if anything was coming. She was hoping it was just a random animal born of Ossus that she just happened to accidentally run into…
And then her hopes were lost as something slammed into her from the left, sending her skidding to the ground. Dirt and debris dug into her bare skin and tore open her jumpsuit. She looked up with bleary eyes and saw the white shape of the creature standing above her, perfectly posed for attack. At this point, Lilliya’s mind was out of ideas. She quickly scurried away on all fours, but the humanoid came at her in a flash, shoving her up against a tree, its fingers like ice, gripping her arms.
Lilliya closed her eyes and pushed all of her will into transporting her form from the vice-grip of the creature. She opened her eyes and was disappointed. She was still pinned against the tree, face to face with the humanoid. She thought this would be an ironic way to die. Not in battle, not from a Jedi too lightsaber-happy, and not from Ben Skywalker.
But from an animal lost in the Forest of Ood. Fitting.
It peered at her with its large black eyes. Lilliya could almost see her reflection in them, saw her dirtied face, her resignation, and for a moment, its eyes only seemed curious and gentle. It moved closer, their noses almost touching, and Lilliya cringed. But there was no smell to the humanoid. And no sound.
Interesting, she thought. “So you gonna eat me, or what?” she said, a little surprised she was so casual about the whole thing.
As if to answer her question, the humanoid leaned forward and bit her above the left shoulder.
“Ah!” she screamed in pain, the scream so loud it bounced off the trees and into the distance. The humanoid bit down deeper too, sinking all the way through skin, muscle and nearly to the bone of her shoulder. This made Lilliya’s scream raise in pitch. She wanted to raise her hand to slap it away, but found she couldn’t move. The pain was searing hot, burning through her veins, but that wasn’t why she couldn’t move. She was paralyzed.
Before she could even understand what was happening, the humanoid stood up, blood dripping down its chin, a stark contrast to its blinding white skin, took her by the left arm and started dragging her one-handed.
Lilliya’s ears were ringing and her vision was blurring. She could see the tops of the trees still, even though the sky was darkening towards sunset. She looked up to her captor and wondered vaguely how it was going to end. She couldn’t feel her body being dragged, couldn’t feel its hand grasping hers. She imagined it eating her alive and hoped that this paralysis would keep until the very end. She looked back up towards the sky and smiled, or at least thought she smiled. This was it. Lilliya Starr was done…
Something fast and dark flew above and past her, but out of the corner of her eye, she could see a glowing blade. Lilliya glanced up and saw the humanoid’s hand was no longer holding hers. Whatever was happening was happening outside her field of vision. She could barely make out the muddled humming of something powerful, but that was the only sound present. It could have been the ringing in her ears for all she knew.
And she didn’t know how much longer she could stay conscious. The venom that was injected into her was either going to kill her or knock her out to be a convenient dinner for this thing. She had no idea what to expect.
Suddenly she saw the white shape of the humanoid fly past her right, smacking against a tree. And a black boot stepped into her site, a barrier between her and the humanoid.
The humanoid charged in a flash again, coming straight for the person in the boots. But this time, it charged right into the glowing blade of a lightsaber, skewering itself through the center of its chest. It stood still for a second, shivering and twitching, and finally its black eyes rolled white, falling backwards to the ground.
The person in boots moved forward a bit, peering down at the humanoid, making sure it was dead, Lilliya was certain. And then, whoever it was, hurried over to her paralyzed form and knelt down to her.
Lilliya was surprised to find herself looking straight up into the distraught face of Ben Skywalker. She could tell he was trying to check her pulse and see if she was alive, but she couldn’t feel his fingers on her. His mouth moved and it looked like he was saying her name. Lilliya just stared back, feeling the darkness overwhelm her consciousness. And then she was out, the last image in her mind being the anxious blue-green eyes of Ben Skywalker.
“Lilliya!” Ben exclaimed, shaking her limp form in a sad attempt to revive her. He glanced hurriedly at the white form of the humanoid. He was certain it was dead, but it unnerved him that he couldn’t sense the creature in the first place. Just like Lilliya.
His gaze turned back to her pale form and noticed the deep bite mark above her left shoulder. Her eyes were barely open, but she wasn’t responding, though he was confident she would live. Her pulse was slow but steady. He cursed Lilliya for being invisible to the Force. It would be so much easier to monitor her life if she was apart of it somehow. And then he cursed himself.
For everything he knew he’d done wrong.
But there wasn’t time for self-pity. Ben lifted Lilliya into his arms with ease and ran at a Force-sprint back to the Academy. Though he’d denounced the Force in his life, he knew very well how to recall it when necessary. And he was quite aware of the hypocrisy of it all.