Turning Point: A Star Wars Story

by S. A. McCaffrey

Category: Novella

Disclaimer: I do not own Disney or Lucasfilm. The characters Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Ben Solo, Rey, Dr. Kalonia, all the creatures, and Endor are the property of Disney/Lucasfilm. I make no money from this work.

Naluma Fau and everyone else and the Jedi Academy on Khalkha are mine.

No portion of this story may be copied, transmitted, or used for other creative works without written permission of the author. All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 S. A. McCaffrey. (Unabridged version available on Wattpad: @SapphireAlena)

Time Period: Sixteen years after the Battle of Endor. Ben Solo is 15. Rey is almost 5. Luke and Leia are 38. Naluma is 37. Han is 48. Chewie has lost track of birthdays, but he’s over 200.

1

Ben Solo tossed his head back as his hover chair spurted into high gear. His umber mane drifted behind him as he maneuvered the seat around the Jedi Academy’s long corridors. His fingers flicked across the control pad on the armrest, jerking the chair around corners and Jedi Padawan alike.

Pale winter sunlight streamed through the courtyard windows that lined one side of the passageway. The reflection from the snow drifts warmed the passage so much that the fifteen- year-old sweated like he was in the swamps of Dagobah. He wiped the beads of sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his gray Padawan tunic.

After rounding another corner, he used the Force to activate the training arena’s sliding door. Darkness greeted him—blessed darkness pierced with streaks of colored lights. He welcomed the blackness that matched his dark mood.

Stale sweat assaulted his nose. The rubber mats and walls retained the stench, and no amount of sanitizer could neutralize it. Not even the air conditioning units could filter it out. “You’re late, Solo.” Master Naluma Fau leaned against the safety rail, her Jedi robes wafting around her legs.

Ben sighed. Master Fau. Great. So you’re feeling well enough to teach again? As if it wasn’t enough that Jedi Ahhzteen nearly killed me in the weight room today in physical therapy.

“What are you waiting for?”

What does Uncle Luke even see in her? Ben rolled his eyes at the Jedi Master.
The dozen humming lightsabers around the room illuminated her tense form. She looks ready to pop right now. When is she going to spawn?

“Engage.” Master Fau’s terse tone shook him out of his reverie.

The enemy, right. He huffed while he maneuvered the chair into the arena. Like I’m ever going to leave this planet while I’m still injured. And only ones who know where I am are my dad and Uncle Chewie.

He stared at the Padawan in the area. You’ve got to be kidding me. He scowled at his classmates. Humiliate myself for a defensive drill? No, thank you.

While he backed his chair toward the exit, Master Fau’s voice echoed around the chamber. “Padawan, I’m not going to ask you again. Engage your enemy. Soresu.”

She must have twisted her hair so many times that her brain cells are oozing out. He crossed his arms and glared at the Jedi in the dim light. ”I can’t. I’m in a hover chair.”

“You think the enemy won’t attack you because you’re an invalid?” She advanced one step and jabbed her finger at him. “Have you forgotten who you are? Skywalker’s scion? You’re a target. Now, engage.” The pregnant Jedi Master pointed toward the arena. “Or do you want to be the first casualty?”

Fau’s eyes narrowed and her spine stiffened. The two glared at each other for a long minute before Ben relented.

The boy grunted before steering his scooter into the melee and hoisting his weapon. His blue lightsaber snapped to life, adding another hum to the cacophony. The sapphire light cast his glowering features into an eerie hue, accentuating his long nose and large ears.

“Groups of three now,” she yelled. “Soresu drill five, two-on-one.”

The lightsabers halted as the Padawan adjusted positions.

“Count off.” The Jedi Master shuffled along the metal railing that separated the arena from the observation deck while the Padawan stepped into position.

The group sounded off the drill count. “One, two, three, four, five six, seven, eight.” With each count the blades locked together, the angry buzz of the blades overwhelming all other senses for a brief moment. The formation continued for two more passes before the trios rotated their stations.

A stocky young man with dark curly hair named Canoord paired up with Ben and a lithe girl, Kayenta.

Well, at least this ought to be easy. Ben laughed inside. No, this will be fitting. I still owe you two for ratting me out.

When they attacked Ben together, the malcontent boy pulled his saber up just in time to block the girl’s down swing. As they pushed against his single blade, Ben’s eyes widened and his nostrils flared. He huffed as he pulled his saber against the dual blades.

Canoord laughed at him. “What’s wrong, Ben? Forgot how to use a saber?”

“Canoord!” Master Fau’s voice rang from the sidelines. “Silence.”

Ben growled and charged at his partners. The compact girl pranced out of the way of his counter swing just as Canoord sideswiped the chair. Sparks lit up the darkness as the laser made contact with the metal.

Solo swiveled in time to beat the boy back. His second sally sliced through the other boy’s forearm.

The other boy shook his arm, his emerald saber flickering in the darkness.

Too bad we can’t practice with live weapons any more, but that tingling ought to slow you down a bit. You aren’t the swordsman you think you are, Canoord, and I’m about to prove it.

The smaller boy retreated two steps and pulled his blade back. With a groan, Canoord windmilled his saber, pushing Solo back five meters.

Anger flushed Ben’s face. A stream of cold passed through him as the darkness in his soul surged. He risked a glance at his reflection in the training mirror across the room. In the dimmed lighting, only his glowing yellow eyes appeared. As the hatred swelled, his irises burned brighter.

With a growl, the teen clenched his teeth and swung his blue blade against Canoord’s green blade with such force that the stocky Padawan’s saber flew across the room.

His other attacker pounded toward Ben. He rocketed out of his hover chair and stumbled toward her. As he advanced, her blue eyes widened.

Kayenta wailed and beat a retreat, backing into a platform support. Trapped, she smashed her eyes shut and scrunched her face. He held his hand out, manipulating the Force. Her body stiffened as her scream trailed off.

Heaving his saber high above his head, Ben staggered a few more steps . As he swung down, his blade halted in mid-air.

“Padawan, stand down!” Master Fau’s voice reverberated not only throughout the arena but right into his brain. The room fell silent as lightsabers extinguished and all eyes turned to Solo.

The hilt tumbled from his grasp as the saber died. Ben clutched his head and collapsed to the rubber mats. Curled up in a ball, he writhed like a Dianoga slithering in a garbage compactor. The lights blinded him as they popped on over his head.

“Get up.” Master Fau’s boot rested mere centimeters from his nose. Her protruding belly hovered over his face until he rolled over on the floor like a corpulent Hutt.

“I said, ‘Get up.’“

Level and steady. Typical Master Fau. That’s all anyone sees. Ben smiled as he felt the darkness rising within her. A chill settled on his shoulders. Hypocrite. You’re afraid of the enemy, but you’re too stupid to see that the worst enemy is within. Too bad you haven’t learned how to use it, Aunt Naluma.

Ben pulled the hatred and agony from within himself, reveling in it.

A gravelly voice interrupted his thoughts. Good. Let the hatred flow. Use it. Strike her down.

No. That’s wrong. I won’t kill again. Solo clenched his teeth.

Say it. You won’t kill whom again? The relentless voice always knew just where to push.

I won’t. He doesn’t deserve it.

But she humiliated you. She deserves it. The voice drew out each word.

Finding it impossible to resist, Ben fingered the chrome hilt of his saber.

Don’t wait.

I won’t kill again. Ben lowered his hand and sat up. I won’t.

“Apologize.” Master Naluma’s black eyes pierced into his soul.

He shook his head while gasping for air. “Self-defense.”

“You violated the sanctity of the drill by attacking her. You used the Force to paralyze your opponent. That is not the Jedi way.”

The rest of the Padawan had formed up around the Jedi Master and Ben’s sparring partners. All looked down upon the teen.

Hypocrites. All of you. He covered his laugh with a false cough. I feel the rage in you.

You think you’re so high-and-mighty. So pure. Yet it takes so little to get you to fear and to rage . . . and how long until you suffer with the guilt? How long until it will tear you to pieces from within? Ben could not help smiling, but he squelched the chuckle forming in his chest.

He jutted his chin upward and sneered. “Master Fau, I was merely adapting to my disability.” He gestured to his heart and leaned toward the Jedi Master. “You cannot expect an invalid to fight without accommodations.”

Naluma snorted. “Yeah, right. You’re as much an invalid as I am a protocol droid.”
He shook his head. “I couldn’t even take two steps before I fell.”
“If that’s what you want to believe.” She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. For a brief second the impassive mask she wore fell to reveal her fear.

I knew it. Let the fear consume you, Master Fau. You’re no better than any of us.

She looked around at the pairs of eyes watching this altercation. “You’re dismissed.” She pointed to the door.

“But—”
“Out.”
Ben crawled to his hover chair and climbed back in it. All eyes watched as the teen propelled himself out of the arena.
“Very well, back to where we were. Soresu five. Switch up on my command. Ready. Begin.”

The lightsabers hummed to life as Master Fau turned off the lights.

Ben peered through the doors as they slid together.

Just you wait. You’re all going down. Every. Single. One. Especially you, Master Fau. The blastdoors clanged shut behind him.

2

Padawan Tascama smiled at Master Naluma from the other side of the serving dishes. The girl reached below the counter. “While we don’t have any meiloorons, I do have . . .” She pulled out a plate with a triangle of dark cake. “. . . this.”

Master Fau’s eyes brightened at the treat. Her mouth broke into a wide smile.
“Last piece.”
Tascama handed the Jedi Master a large slice of seven-layer lishi cake. Lishi frosting,

lishi shavings, and lishi cake all in a slender wedge on white porcelain. The icing dribbled across the plate, leaving long streaks of dark ecstasy.

Naluma ran her finger through the icing and sucked the creamy lishi from her fingertips. “How did you know I’ve been cra—”

Boisterous cries behind her interrupted her. “Master Luke! Master Luke!”

She whipped her head around toward the entrance. Sure enough, Luke had arrived with Jedi Master Kalder Flo’et and his twin sister Jedi Knight Kallay Flo’et—a few glorious hours earlier than expected.

“Let me through. Urgent Jedi business.” With a warm smile on his face, Luke pushed his way through the crowd to the front of the line.

All eyes focused on him as he wrapped his arms around his gravid wife. With gentleness, he took her head in his hands and planted his lips firmly on hers. “Missed you, Naluma.”

“Missed you more.” She wrapped her hands around his head and settled in for a long kiss that not only spoke of long nights without him but also of the agony of a Force-bond long separated.

She just hoped he would be around for the next few weeks. Her Death Star was ready to fire its cannon.

He ran his hand over her abdomen. “Hello, Anakin.” He palpated different spots across her midsection as a smile lit up his face. “He’s kicking.”

“Yeah. He does that a lot when you’re around.”

Luke smiled and massaged her stomach once more. “Hey, Little Boy, time to stop this. Let Mommy have some peace.”

Naluma nodded. “I don’t know how you do that, but he sure does respond to your voice.” Luke moved his hands to her lower back and kneaded her tense muscles.
She sighed in relief. “You have until tomorrow to quit that.”
The Padawan near them shifted their weight.

Kalder yelled from the other side of the room, “Hey, quit holding up the line. These Jedi just might turn Sith if you don’t feed them.”

Luke grabbed the tray from Naluma. She snatched it back. “Hey, give me that.” “You’re going to eat all that?”
“I’m eating for two.”
“Two what? Banthas?”

Naluma elbowed him in the stomach. “You’re going to be Bantha fodder if you don’t watch it.”

When he stretched out his lips and crossed his eyes at her, she burst into a giggle. “You goofball.”

“That’s ‘Master Goofball’ to you.” He winked and smirked at her. “Tascama, load me up. Same as Master Naluma.”

The girl loaded up his plate with the strips of nerf and vegetables.
“And the cake.”
“Sorry, we’re all out, Master Luke.”
He turned to Naluma’s gigantic slab. “Guess you’ll just have to share.”
His wife swiveled her tray from him as he swiped a fingerful of frosting. “Hands off, or

I’ll slice the other one off.” She grazed her hand on the lightsaber swinging at her hip. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Naluma winked at him. “Don’t get between a pregnant woman and her lishi.”

As Luke escorted her into the massive room with vaulted ceilings, he said, “So, how about we get away for a few weeks before the baby comes?”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Where?”
“Soaring trees, a babbling river and . . . Ewoks?”
“Sounds lovely.” The thought of Endor transported Naluma to the week they spent on the

forest moon on their honeymoon.
She sighed. Like on Khalkha, the Force swelled among the trees there, filling her to

overflowing. And it won’t be winter there. I think Bright Tree Village is in summer right now. Warmth. Blessed warmth.

She narrowed her eyes when she felt a prickling in the Force. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Luke cleared his throat and looked down at his feet. “Uh, well, Republic Independence Day is coming up.”

She narrowed her eyes and sighed.
“The Ewoks have invited the Senate to hold their convocation on Endor.”
“And?”
“They want the whole tribe there.”
“Wait . . .”
“Yeah, you, me . . .”
“And Ben.” She shook her head. “No way, Luke. I need a break from him.”
“Come on, we’ll hardly see him. Kalder will watch him.” He tilted his head and winked

at her. His smirk battered against her will, as it always did.
“What about Leia and Rey?” she whispered in his ear.
“You know Leia can’t say ‘no’ to Wicket. She’ll figure something out.” Luke nodded his

chin toward a table in the far corner of the dining hall where a lone, dark-haired figure sat in a hover chair. “Let’s go tell Ben the good news.”

She snorted. “If we must.”
“Hey, Ben, these seats taken?” Luke asked.
With a sneer, the scowling youth tossed his dark locks. “Of course, they are. Can’t you

see the Jedi Council is in session.” He motioned to the seats at the round table.
Naluma grimaced at the boy and sat in a chair to his right.
“Master Fau, don’t sit there! You’re squashing Master Yoda,” Ben whined. “For the sake

of the Force, show some respect for the dead.”
“Pipe down, Ben,” Naluma said. “I’ve had enough of you today.”

“Likewise.” He rolled his eyes at her.

The tension between the Naluma and Ben continued to rise until Luke raised both of his hands. “Peace.” He pulled his hands together in front of his chest. “Find your center
again. Both of you.”

Naluma struggled for that inner peace that seemed to evade her these days. Between her hormones raging out of control and Ben pushing her buttons, it was all she could do to rein in her emotions.

After a few moments of tense silence, Luke took a seat to Ben’s left. “So, how you feeling these days? Therapy progressing well?”

“A bit. Jedi Ahhzteen nearly killed me in the weight room today, though.”

“Why are you still in the chair? I thought you’d be running around by now. It’s been five months since the accident.”

The boy snarled and slammed his fork onto his plate. “You call it an accident?
Being tortured by Snoke is not my idea of an accident.” His lip quivered as tears formed in his eyes.

Master Skywalker waited for a full minute of silence while the boy composed himself. “Answer the question, Ben.”

The teen turned his head and scanned the room before addressing Luke. “I’d rather be in the chair than get laughed at when I stumble. Is that all right with you, Master Skywalker?” He picked his tray up and placed it on his lap before scooting the hover chair backward. “Now, if you’d just leave me alo—”

Luke waved his hand and stopped the chair. “I was just asking a question, Ben. Don’t assume everything is an attack.” He reached out his hand to the boy.

Naluma could feel the peace emanating from her husband to Ben and even to her.

After a few moments, Master Skywalker said, “The Republic is holding their annual Independence Day memorial and festivities on Endor. The Ewoks sent you this.” He pulled a rolled scroll of tanned animal skin from inside his tunic.

Ben untied the leather thong holding the scroll together and read the scrawled writing. He tossed the document onto the table. “They can invite me all they want. I’m not going. I don’t want anything to do with them.”

His uncle took another long moment before responding. “Your mom will be there.”

With a grunt, Ben turned his head. “So? She doesn’t care. She abandoned me yet again only five months ago. Hasn’t called. Hasn’t written. Couldn’t even stay long enough for me to get out of the med center. What do I care?”

Luke sighed. “Ben, you know that’s not true. She can’t call you, but I do know she’s sent you many messages—messages you haven’t returned.”

“Are you censoring my mail now?”
“I never said I read them.”
Naluma envied the serenity Luke maintained when his nephew was trying to provoke

him. Where has my control gone?
Since the med center, Ben’s become more withdrawn and even more surly. How much

longer is Luke going to put up with this attitude? I wanted to demote him last week, but, no, Luke had to give him another chance. And another. And another.

She sighed. Luke never gives up on anyone, especially not on his own nephew. She knew that. It was one of the reasons she loved him so much. He’d turn to the dark side himself before he ever hurt the boy.

Lowering his voice, Master Skywalker leaned toward him and said, “Well, you’re going, even if I have to pull rank on you, Padawan Solo.”

“We leave tomorrow morning. Don’t be late.” Luke stood and lifted both his and Naluma’s trays before escorting her to another table.

Ben murmured, “Good riddance.”
Naluma snapped her head back to the boy. “I heard that.”
Luke whispered, “Leave him be. You can’t reason with him when he’s like this, and

you’ll only end up looking like a fool.”
She smarted at the rebuke. Luke’s right. I’m a fool. How am I ever going to control Ben if

I can’t even control myself? She bit her lip and clenched her fists. Oh, what if Anakin turns out like Ben? What am I going to do?

3

Luke glided the shuttle over the river that bordered Bright Tree Village. The sleek white triangle fluttered over the raging waters, disturbing the wildlife below. The Jedi would be far enough away from the landing platform to avoid the senators and their courtiers. None of them enjoyed hobnobbing with the government. Besides, this location resurrected fond memories from his honeymoon.

R2-D2 beeped a trill from the rear of the cockpit. From the command seat behind Luke, Kalder said, “We’ve got company.” The compact Jedi Master with straight dark hair and olive skin leaned forward to peer through the cockpit viewscreen.

“Welcoming committee?” Naluma asked as she shielded her eyes from the bright sunlight.

Jedi Kallay pointed out the cockpit window. “Looks like an envoy and his guard detachment.”

Luke asked, “Anyone speak Ewokese?” After a moment of silence, he said, “That’s what I was afraid of.”

Naluma laid her hand on Luke’s arm. “You speak enough to get by, don’t you?”

“I understand a few words and try to figure out the rest from body language. Hope I don’t mess it up.” He sighed before extending his hand to his wife.

Naluma struggled to rise, pushing up on the arm of the command chair. The group exited the cockpit and joined the rest of their contingent in the main cabin.

The rest of the Jedi Knights—Jannah Witerspah, Wei’ahtt Ahhzteen, Tandolleau Duwamba, Zeke Leer, Pilar Iyochozu, and Benae Wuda—sat in the jump seats in the main cabin. The six Jedi dressed in their black utilities stood in unison, rising to attention.

Padawan Ben Solo in his gray utilities awaited them on deck in his hover chair. His petulant sneer still marred his face.

Luke led the group down the ramp to meet the Ewok envoy.

The welcoming party formed up in a straight line, holding their spears at their sides. The black-furred leader raised his staff in greeting. Feathers trailed from leather thongs attached to the top of the spear. “Yub nub!”

The Jedi Master lifted his arm in response. “Yub nub!” He pointed to himself. “Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. Tod modnee.” He bowed to the envoy.

“Chirtu. Tod modnee.” The short bearlike creature smiled, revealing a bright red tongue. The Ewok waved his arm toward him.

“What did he say?” Naluma whispered in Luke’s ear.

“All I caught was ‘tribe.’“ Luke turned to the assembled Jedi at the base of the ramp. “Think they want the tribal members right now.” He lifted his head and ranged out with his senses. “Set a watch tonight. I sense something big out there.” He reached out with his hands. “About two clicks out.”

He opened his eyes to see Ben maneuvering his hover chair back up the ramp. “You’re coming with us, Ben. Tribal members are required.”
The teen glared at Luke and then at the Ewok. “Is the Senate going to be there?” “Not ‘til tomorrow.”

“Then I’ll go tomorrow.”

Luke stepped toward Ben and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Don’t cause an incident.” His words came out in a measured rhythm as the two stared each other down.

Ben averted his eyes to his chair. He spoke into Luke’s mind, something he rarely did with anyone, not since the voices came. I’m not going to be treated like a freak, Master Skywalker. I may be stuck in this chair, but I’m not going to humiliate myself in front of these . . . barbarians. A sneer crossed his face just the same.

“Very well.” Luke turned to Kalder. “Not sure if we’ll return tonight or in the morning. Set a watch, and set up camp. Solo can stay aboard the shuttle.”

The Jedi Knights sighed in unison.

Kalder nodded and settled his hands on his hips. “Come on, everyone. Wei’ahtt and Tandolleau, take first watch. Set up a perimeter at the edge of the trees. Grab your rifles. We don’t want to be caught with our airlocks open.”

Kalder continued his instructions. “Pilar, your turn to cook. Ben, you’ve got clean up. Everyone else, break out the tents and bedrolls—and stay alert.”

The Jedi Knights scurried into the shuttle to extract their gear while Luke placed his hand on Kalder’s arm. “If you have a problem, use the commlink. Village is only five clicks away.”

“Yes, Master Luke.” Kalder nodded. “We should be all right.”

Luke leaned in close to Kalder’s ear and whispered, “Pull the coaxium cylinders from the hyperdrive, and keep an eye on Ben. I think he’s up to something.”

“When isn’t he?”

4

The flames from the bonfire in the village square kissed the stars in the dusky sky. A soft breeze whistled through the trees, tinkling the wind chimes. Luke relaxed as the wind tickled the hairs on his neck. He listened to the birds hooting and chirping as they set the forest alive with song. This was the Force, in all its beauty, surrounding them, binding them together.

The squawk of a bird drew his attention to the village square a few meters away. A group of juvenile Ewoks danced in a circle beyond the fire while an Ewok granny hit a leather drum with her hand, marking the rhythm for the youngsters. On the opposite side of the square, his wife rested on a log bench after their strenuous climb to the tree-top village.

Ah, there she is. A warm smile broke out on Luke’s face in recognition of his twin sister Leia.

The petite former senator of the Republic conferred with Chief Wicket. The small bearlike creature with brown fur and a white stripe waved his hands and nodded to his friend.

Amid Leia’s tinkling laughter, Luke heard the precise clips of the golden protocol droid C-3PO translating the conversation.

The poor droid shuddered and turned his head from side to side each time an Ewok presented another sacrifice to him. “Oh, dear, please don’t. Princ—Senator Organa, please tell them my programming does not allow me to impersonate a deity.”

Leia laughed at him. “Tell them yourself, Threepio.”

“I have. They won’t listen to me.” The droid waved his arms and shuddered. “I believe one of my circuits is overheating.” He looked around the square. “Oh, Master Luke, please do something.”

Before Luke could reach the party, Wicket waved his staff and sent his tribe away. “Oh, thank the Maker!”
Luke chuckled as he crossed the catwalk. A tiny creature in Ewok garb intercepted him

before he had crossed five meters.
The creature propelled into his arms. “Uncle Luke! Uncle Luke!”
Luke pulled back the hood, revealing a young girl in a suit of brown fur with a hood

sporting round ears. After they exchanged a plethora of kisses on the cheek, he asked, “Is this really Rey? No, she’s too big. Rey’s a little baby.”

“I grew, Uncle Luke.” She extended her arm above her head before tugging on her hood. “And see, I’m an Ewok now.” She huffed and narrowed her eyes before steeling her mouth. “I’m going to be a brave warrior like Chief Wicket.”

A giddy smile broke out on his face as he rubbed noses with her. “Oh, you are, huh? And how did you learn about him?”

“Treepio told me all about the Ewoks.” She leaned in close to his ear and whispered, “But I don’t believe they are as fierce as he says.” She brushed his dark-blond hair out of his eyes. “See? They gave me this fur suit, and Granny Eepra made me these dolls.”

With a sticky fingers, she pulled the bundles out of her pockets. She waved the bits of fur stuffed with pupagi needles and tied with leather thongs. “This one is Wicket.” She held up a small tan figure with a staff. “And this one’s Paploo.”

The striped doll seemed just as wild as Luke remembered the actual Ewok. I wonder what ever happened to the speeder bike thief. He smiled at his niece and kissed her forehead before tipping her backward and pulling her back up to him.

“Whee! Again! Do it again.”

He rotated her up and down a few more times. At the end he tossed her into the air high above his head. When he caught her, he turned her sideways and blew raspberries on her belly where her fur coat had slid up.

She giggled and squirmed and squealed with glee. Then Rey looked around her. “Who’s that?” She pointed to the log bench.

“That’s your Auntie Naluma, my wife.”
The little girl thumped his shoulder. “Hey, I was going to marry you.”
He chuckled as he ruffled her brow. “Sorry, Kiddo. She stole my heart first.”
She shook his hand off her head and scrunched her face at him. “Well, I’ll just steal it

from her.”
“Doesn’t work that way, Sweetie.”
Rey crossed her arms and thrust her lower lip out.
“Come on.” He winked at the little girl as he lowered her to the rough planks. “I think

you’re going to like her.”
“Why’s she so big?” Rey asked as she twined her hand in Luke’s. When she tripped over

the uneven planking, he lifted her with a slight push from the Force. “She’s going to have a baby.”

“Really?” The girl jumped up and down. Her words flew out of her mouth. “When can I play with her? Do you think she’ll be my friend?”

“He won’t be born for a few weeks, but I’m sure he’ll be your friend when he’s old enough.”

Rey raced the last few steps to Naluma and crawled up in the seat next to her. The little girl tilted her head and placed her ear against the round belly. She whispered, “I’m Rey. Who are you?”

She listened intently while her aunt stroked her back.

“His name is Anakin,” Naluma said while she interlaced her fingers through the hair escaping the three buns on Rey’s head.

The girl adjusted herself, kneeling on the rough log. She placed both hands around her mouth and shouted at Naluma’s belly. “Anakin, this is Rey. Come out and play.”

The little girl looked up at her aunt for the first time. “Did he hear me this time?” “I’m sure he did.” A fatigued smile crossed Naluma’s face.
She balled her fists and scrunched her face. “I’m not happy with you.”
“Why? Did I forget your birthday?”

“No, it’s just you married Uncle Luke before I had a chance. It’s not fair.” She stomped on the planks and stuck out her lip.

Naluma giggled and pushed a stray lock from the girl’s face. “Oh, Rey, it doesn’t work like that. You can’t marry your uncle, anyway.”

“Why?”
“It has to do with biology.”
Rey crossed her legs and pouted. “Stupid bi-bi-biligy. I’m never getting mar—” The blast of a roaring freighter’s engines sent the village and the treetops swaying.

Naluma grabbed Rey while Luke reached out with the Force to soothe the forest.

5

Leia rose from the swaying deck and tottered to Rey who whimpered in Naluma’s arms. “Luke, what was that?”

“Ship of some kind.”
“They’ve found us!” Leia clutched Rey to her chest before turning to run.
Luke stretched forth his hands and closed his eyes. “No, Leia, wait. It’ll be all right.” “Luke, if Snoke finds Rey—”
“Relax. It’s not Snoke.” He took Rey from Leia’s arms and set her on the planks before

pulling his sister into a deep hug. “Nothing’s going to happen to Rey. I promise.”
Leia sighed in her brother’s embrace. When they finally separated, Leia sat beside

Naluma and wrapped her arms around her in a half hug.
Rey snuggled up on the other side of her aunt and traced designs on her stomach.
“How are you feeling, Naluma?” Leia asked.
“Better now.” The young woman smiled in serenity.
Naluma exuded a tranquility Leia craved. Pregnancy was never marked by anything close

to peace for her.
“You couldn’t have paid me to climb those stairs when I was eight months pregnant.”

The senator’s voice trailed off as she grasped Naluma’s arm. “Thanks for coming.”
Naluma winked at her sister-in-law while she rubbed Rey’s back. “That’s what family

does.”

Leia sighed. Not every family member is here, but maybe that’s for the best. Glad Ben’s not here. No way I could hide who Rey really is with him. If we can just get through
tomorrow . . .

The breeze picked up, clanging the wind chimes that dangled in the trees. Naluma grinned. “Besides, I’m glad I finally got to meet—”

A loud roar cut her off, followed by growls and moans from an approaching party. Leia’s heart raced. She narrowed her eyes at her brother. “Wipe that grin off your face.” “You’re jumping at shadows. Just breathe.” He chuckled.
“Stop laughing. This isn’t funny.”
A shaggy Wookiee pounded into the square with Ewok scouts climbing on the giant.

Chewbacca slurred his growls as he shoved delectable barbecued meats into his maw. “Great, Chewie! Always thinking with your stomach.”
With a lurch from behind, the Wookiee staggered to the side. A familiar figure burst

through the hordes of Ewoks marauding their favorite mascot. Han Solo halted at the edge of the Village Square. “Leia!”

She rested her hands on her hips and glared at the scoundrel she called her husband. “Look what the Wookiee dragged in.”

Han Solo lowered his jaw. “Haven’t seen you in that dress in some . . .”

“Sixteen years, Han, and don’t think that just because I’m wearing it I don’t regret what happened the last time.”

The bodice ties of the brown suede dress flapped in the breeze. The two braids that crowned her brow kept her long hair out of her flushed face.

She crossed the planks to the tall man with dark hair and a grizzled chin. Her eyes glistened as her mouth broke into an impudent frown. Rising on her tip toes, she reached for his neck and pulled his lips to hers.

He tasted like salt and Corellian rum. He smelled of rocket fuel and an earthy musk that drove Leia wild. She inhaled deeply as she brushed her lips against his.

He lifted her by the waist and wrapped his arms under her shoulders as he ran his lips down the back of her neck around the front to the notch in her collarbone.

Leia pushed away from his grasp. “Still scruffy looking.”
“You like me that way.” The trademark lopsided grin reduced her to a flame of desire. “No, Han.”
“What?” He stepped back with his arm extended toward her. “You get me all revved up

like this and just walk away?”
The tiny princess smiled demurely at him. “Not yet.” She turned on her heel and headed

toward Rey and Naluma. “And not here.”
Han followed her. “You mean?” His eyes widened.
She swiveled her head and winked before slinking away across the square. When she

reached Rey and Naluma, she found the girl playing with her aunt’s straight black hair.
Rey had undone Naluma’s chignon and had tried to braid the thick, long tresses. The girl

knelt on the bench and held up the twined hair. Bits and pieces stuck out everywhere with one strand much thinner than the rest.

Leia caught Wicket beckoning her from across the square. “Rey, Wicket needs you. Time for the ceremony.” She held out her hand to the girl.

The girl jumped from the bench, leaving her aunt’s hair a mess.

Leia grimaced. “Sorry about that, Naluma.”
Naluma was already smoothing out the kinks. “It’s okay.”
“Wait!” Rey ran back to Naluma. “Bye, bye, Anakin.” When she kissed her aunt’s belly,

Rey jumped. “What was that?”
“He’s kicking. He likes you.” Naluma smiled at her. “Here, give me your hand.” She took

the girl’s hand and placed it on her abdomen.
Rey’s eyes widened. “Mommy, he’s kicking. He’s really kicking.”
“Babies do that.” Leia smiled and held out her hand. “Come. The chief is waiting for

us.”
“Yes, Mommy.”

The tiny senator knelt beside her daughter as she glanced at Han across the square. Pulling Rey’s hood up and securing it under the girl’s chin, Leia whispered, “Remember what I told you at home?”

Rey nodded. “I’m Rey Naberrie of Naboo.” The girl scrunched her face. “But I’m not a Naberrie.”

Leia put her finger to the girl’s lips. “Today you are. Come now.”

Granny Eepra stopped her drumming. A hush blanketed the square with only the slight jangle of wind chimes disturbing the serenity.

Shaman Logray stepped to the fire and tossed a handful of flakes into it. The flames billowed three meters and morphed into blues, greens, and purples. He shook his head, the animal skin and feathers on his headdress bouncing with each movement. A trio of drummers stepped forward, beating a steady pace on their leather instruments.

“Wataana lau choa.” The shaman waved his medicine stick over the fire. The packed square groaned under the weight of the assembly. Little ones pushed in and climbed on top of larger Ewoks, while the adults in the back row hopped for a better view.

C-3PO presided over the proceedings as the Ewok Divinity from his wooden throne. “Dearest guests. Welcome.” He continued in Ewokese. “Tav-tai-ee morlino.”

Ewoks escorted their small children forward. Some were still babes in arms while others toddled on their stubby legs to their spots. Rey raced forward, sliding between the furry legs until she reached the center and lined up with the Ewoks.

“Bidda yenda.”
C-3PO said, “We are gathered here today to declare our newest tribal members.” While the shaman and chief continued the ceremony, Han shifted behind Leia. He

wrapped his arm around her shoulders and whispered in her ear, “Who’s the girl?”
Leia tensed. Do I tell him now? No, Han would blow up and ruin it all. There’ll be a

better time . . . I hope. “She’s a Naberrie. I’m taking care of her.” “What? Did you adopt her or something?”
“Something like that. She’s family—on my mother’s side.” “What happened to her parents?”

“It’s complicated.” Leia’s bit her lip to hold back her tears.
“Where’s Ben?”
“In the shuttle.”
Han sighed and lowered his head. “I don’t know why Luke puts up with that nonsense.” “Han.” Leia rested her hand on his arm. “Ben’s still in the hover chair.”

“He was doing just fine when he left the med center.”

Leia shook her head. “I know. Just give him time. It’ll be all right.” She leaned back against him and ran her hand over his arm.

The tension released from his back as he pulled her against his chest. She leaned her head against his white shirt and inhaled that musky scent as he wrapped his arms around her.

Han whispered, “Where are you staying tonight?”
She tilted her head up to catch the wicked smile on his lips. “The Falcon?”
As she dragged her fingernail down his cheek, he grabbed her hand and kissed her

fingertips. She hung her head down and smiled.
A few meters away, Chief Wicket and Shaman Logray passed in front of each new Ewok

and Rey, tossing yellow powder on each as they chanted the tribal greeting.
“Achana wahloa. Tedna ovgeena.”
“Wonderful! They are now members of Bright Tree Village. May their trees grow tall

and their needles never fall.” 3PO was in his element today. “Let the festivities begin.” Wicket stepped forward and moved his staff parallel to the deck.

“Chimeegueh! Chimeegueh!”
The group settled down once more.
“Nyeg eschlol.”
The female Ewoks gathered around Naluma and extracted her from Luke’s protective

grasp. They dragged her to the ceremonial plaza and sat her on an upturned stump. The women placed their hands on her extended abdomen and traced patterns with their hands across her belly.

One laughed. “Ter shigleseneh!”
The golden droid exclaimed, “He kicks.”

This ritual continued for thirty passes until the shaman brought a wooden cup to Naluma. He lifted the cup to her mouth and tipped it. With a cough, she spit out some of the liquid.

A wise woman brought a chain of herbs and draped them around the Jedi Master’s neck. The ceremony concluded with the shaman tossing powder on the pregnant Jedi Master and anointing her hair with oil.

As the drums transitioned from a steady beating to a frenzied call to dance, Ewoks and humans drank toasts to the newest members and celebrated the new life in Naluma’s womb.

6

The breeze picked up, releasing a shower of evergreen needles from the cathedral of trees by the river. The campfire crackled and hissed, filling the air with sparks as a plume of smoke wafted high above the tree canopy.

The forest sounds transformed at twilight as the nocturnal animals came to life. Rodents chittered as they scurried across the rocky river bank. Large avians dived into the river to catch their dinners while screeching their battle cries.

Ben combed the evergreen needles from his hair as the wind blew his fringe back from his face. He pressed a button on his hover chair to weave between the tents and move closer to the fire.

The centralized campfire kept the wildlife at bay while the churi meat gave off its sharp scent.

Jedi Pilar tied back her auburn hair before flipping the strips of meat. Flailing a knife, she turned to the Padawan who was encroaching on her cooking area. “Ben.”

He didn’t need any other warning. He wasn’t going to argue with the least-skilled swordsman of the Jedi Order while she was waving a knife.

The teen adjusted his chair a few meters out of range of that blade. He observed the Jedi as they changed guard duties and interacted with each other.

Despair pounded. Jealousy raged.

Punching knuckles together in some obscure ritual, Jedi Knights Benae and Zeke grabbed their rifles from the shuttle and swapped watch duty with Wei’ahtt and Tandolleau.

The fear of the recently promoted knights, Benae and Zeke, assaulted his senses.

Pitiful.

Wei’ahtt, the one that the Padawan secretly called “the plushy Wampa,” headed to his tent to grab his jacket, while Tandolleau sneaked up behind Jedi Jannah. The blonde woman sat cross-legged on a fallen log while polishing the hilt of her lightsaber.

The thin, dark-skinned man smoothed his wavy hair and flashed a cheeky grin as he wrapped his arms around the woman’s waist. The Senate liaison leaned back into his embrace and pulled his head down for a kiss.

Gag. I’d heard rumors about you two. I’m surprised Master Luke hasn’t done anything about it. Get a room.

Ben rolled his eyes and swiveled his chair toward Jedi Wei’ahht Ahhzteen, his torturer— um, physical therapist.

Wei’ahtt smirked while unzipping his tent. “About time you two stopped playing hard to get.”

“Oh, hush, Wei’ahtt,” Tandolleau murmured. “At least I had the guts to chase her.” He snapped his head over to his hulking friend and raised his eyebrows. “Besides, the chase was half the fun.”

Ben had no idea what Tandolleau was referring to, but he was pretty sure the Jedi was teasing his friend. Wei’ahtt’s cheeks blushed a deep red as he averted his eyes from Jedi Kallay.

He turned his chair once again to watch the river glint in the distance through the forest. The youth liked it out here where the Force moved so strongly among the trees and the wildlife.

The Force intertwined with the trees that surrounded them. The roots that twisted together underground gave the Force a new form to follow, and Ben wanted to be part of it all. But not if he had to be with the Jedi around him.

He was never “one of the crowd,” especially not with the original knights: Kalder, Kallay, Jannah, Tandolleau, and Wei’ahtt. More than once he had caught Master Fau and Master Skywalker referring to them as “their kids.”

But not me. They don’t even acknowledge that we’re related by blood. To them, I’m not even their nephew, and I’m definitely not their adopted son. I’m nobody.

Especially now.

Ben slammed his hand down on the arm of the hover chair, tipping it precariously. “Careful, Ben,” Kalder said from the shuttle ramp.
He snorted. “Just squashing a bug.”
Lies are so much easier than the truth.

Master Skywalker was his mission specialist, Master Fau his trainer, and Master Flo’et his Lothcat, always watching. It had been this way for over a year now. And all Ben wanted was some time alone—in a place like this, where he could merge with the Force and forget his troubles.

“Hm, that smells so good, Pilar. How long until dinner?” Jannah pulled herself out of the embrace and straightened her black tunic.

Well, at least Kalder had enough sense not to give you KP, Jannah. I don’t have to worry about food poisoning on this trip.

The slender Jedi over the grill tapped some pieces of meat from her tongs. “Another ten minutes or so. Can someone grab the salad from the galley?”

Kallay stood from her cross-legged position beside a tree. “I’ll get it.”
“Someone grab the dishes, too.”
Wei’ahtt’s bashful smile lit up his blushing face. The burly man with short, dark, curly

hair took one step. “I’ll help you, K-kallay.”

Hard to believe that guy’s nearly thirty. I hope I don’t turn out like him—afraid of rejection.

A sinister smirk crossed Ben’s face.

They’re all afraid. Kalder—someone getting hurt. Jannah—not being in control of Tandolleau. Tandolleau—losing Jannah. Benae—messing up. Zeke—having to speak. Pilar—still afraid of her lightsaber. How pathetic they are, still ruled by their fears.

Ben chuckled softly.
His eyes focused on Kallay as she exited the shuttle with the salad bowl in her hand. You’re the only one I can’t figure out. I could never read you. But you have fears.
The youth closed his eyes and reached out, sending his mental presence around her sealed

thoughts. Probing, a little here and a little there. Almo— “Hey, Ben, dinner’s ready. Grab a plate.”
Ben glared at Kalder for the interruption. “Coming.”

Well, Jedi Kallay, I’ll know your secrets soon enough.

The Jedi grabbed their food from the grill before sitting on the moist loam around the fire. Pilar took her plate and hiked down the path to the rushing river.

Ben moved his chair a few meters away. He was tempted to retreat to the shuttle. Their camaraderie grated on his nerves.

Jannah leaned on Tandolleau as they shared their meal, interspersing each bite with a kiss. Kalder, Kallay, and Wei’ahtt spread out around the fire, close enough to hear each other but not really sitting next to anyone.

Ben sighed and drove his hover chair down the path to the river.
Kalder yelled, “Hey, where you going, Ben?”
“Away from that. It’s ruining my meal.” He put his finger in his mouth and gagged. “Stay close. There’s something out there.” Kalder’s stared at him for a moment. “And

don’t forget you have dishes.” “I know.”

Can’t you let up for just one minute?

7

Before Ben reached the river, he took a different trail, one that led into the forest. Whispers on the breeze sent shivers up his spine.

Follow me. Deeper.

He had heard voices before, a raspy one he never wanted to hear again, but this one was different. Something about in the Force was familiar.

He sensed it long before he saw it. A blue light glowed in the dense undergrowth.
The teen followed the . . . footsteps? Are those really footsteps?
Dislodging kavak plants and small trifoil flowers in his path, he steered his hover chair

down the overgrown trail.
Deep in the forest, a pack of boar-wolves yapped as they moved through the trees. At first

they barked calm, ranging yaps to keep the pack together. Then an alert. And, now, an all-out call to flight.

Ben surveyed the area. Benae stood guard ahead of him. To his left, the tall Jedi braced herself for the attack. She held her rifle so steady that not even a braid swayed in the breeze.

What’s she waiting for?

But the young woman stood strong, not budging a centimeter. The pack flowed around her, swirling through the kavak plants and leaping over fallen logs.

“Shoot!”
Benae ignored him.

Something bigger was coming. He could feel it.

A few moments later, The rest of the Jedi pushed through the undergrowth and stood in a defensive line.

Ben retreated from the group and pulled out his lightsaber. He held the hilt low, ready to ignite it at a moment’s notice.

A saber hummed to life on Ben’s right. He snapped his head at the yellow blade and swallowed hard.

Great, Pilar. Don’t take this wrong, but I’m not going to be the victim of friendly fire.

The disabled teen withdrew further from the group.
With a low voice, Kalder said, “Warning shots only. Only engage if he won’t leave.” “That thing’s gigantic, Kalder,” Kallay said. “It must be at least seven meters tall. He’s

hungry. Must have smelled our barbecue.”
Always the empath, Kallay. Ben sneered. What was your first clue? The trees he’s

uprooting?

He activated his blue saber.

Purple, blue, green, and yellow lightsabers glinted in the twilight as the growling beast stalked closer. Zeke and Benae focused their rifles in the distance.

Kalder raised his blue blade. “Three. Two. One. Fire.” He sliced his lightsaber through the air as the rifles discharged.

Blast after blast propelled through the air near the beast that rose seven or eight meters. Fangs drooled spittle as the monster uprooted a gigantic tree. He roared as he swung it at the group of Jedi.

As the trunk swooped down with roots radiating in every direction, bathing them in detritus. The Jedi scattered away from the large crater that remained.

Ben screamed and zoomed his chair behind a burned out stump. He braced himself against the rough bark.

The Jedi regrouped in front of the log while the troll stumbled across the clearing to pluck additional trees. Kalder yelled, “Don’t let him pin you behind the log. Advance! Shoot to kill.”

Zeke and Benae fired at the beast’s head. The creature roared and swatted his hand, clawing for the Jedi. They jumped out of his way and stretched out together with the Force to toss boulders at the creature. Large rocks sailed from the forest floor and bruised the troll in his chest.

The fiend flailed at the rocks. He reached beyond the trees, his large arm span availing him of another tactic before he tossed a boulder at his assailants.

Benae and Zeke grabbed the oncoming stone with the Force and shunted it to the side.

When the beast reached for another rock, his arm stuck in the canyon crevice. He yowled as his shoulders flexed, trying to release his claw.

Zeke and Benae grunted as they continued their assault with the Force, holding the canyon crevice rocks in place and immobilizing the left arm.

Wei’ahtt and Kallay ran at the tree in his hand and propelled themselves with the Force on top of it. Clutching the red bark, they clambered up the side of the tree. Wei’ahtt swiped his saber at the creature’s paw, severing a claw.

The monster’s eyes widened at his missing claw. A low growl emanated from deep within his chest before he lobbed the tree toward the river a hundred meters away.

Kallay crawled beside Wei’ahtt and clasped his hand. They both nodded before jumping through the trees, slowing their descent with the Force. Branches scraped and battered them as they plummeted to the earth.

The troll targeted more trees at the group.

Ben watched from his entrenchment behind a log. He jostled his chair, pushing it into a berry bush, looking for anything to camouflage him.

Tandolleau said, “Attack his feet.” The lithe Jedi dashed under the creature’s hanging arm and sawed at the toes.

First one, then another came off, sending the beast crashing backward. His collapse smashed every tree in his body’s path. Red splinters of wood whizzed in all directions. The group of Jedi dropped to the ground until the assault had passed.

Jannah leaped forward and continued the attack. The monster rolled over onto its knees, taking her with him.

Tandolleau reached out with the Force and pulled her.
The beast would not let go. The woman flailed in his clutches.
Kalder and Pilar pulled with the Force at a fallen log. The monarch weighed as much as

an X-wing, but it had long since succumbed to the elements. Even feathery kavak plants had lodged in its bark. The two Jedi grunted as the log shuddered, lifting it from the soil a meter before dropping to the ground once more. The earth shook before they collapsed from overexertion.

Pilar wheezed. “It’s too big. I can’t.”

Kallay and Wei’ahtt sprinted onto the battlefield, not stopping even when they had reached the beast. With a Force-jump, they shot themselves into the air, landing on the creature’s arm. They hacked at the forearm with their green and blue sabers.

As they slashed through the tendons and bones, acidic ichor squirted onto their uniforms. Kallay screamed as the corrosive liquid burned a hole into her skin.

Wei’ahtt yanked off her tunic and ripped a piece of her burning undershirt from her. “Thanks.” Kallay closed her eyes and meditated a brief second to get past the pain. He nodded and returned to his task.
Once their rifles had overheated, Kalder and Pilar joined Tandolleau in pulling the

captured Jannah from the clutches of the monster.
The monster shook his arm high above the soil. He squeezed the breath from Jannah. The

beast shook his arm again, but Wei’ahtt and Kallay held on tight. A few more slices, and the arm would sever.

As they labored at their task with full concentration, the creature roared and pulled his left arm free from the canyon crevice. Zeke and Benae fell to the earth as they absorbed the fall with the Force.

The troll clawed at his right arm. Kallay ducked, just missing his swipe. However, his claw caught Wei’ahtt, scraping him off his arm and tossing him across the battlefield. The man howled as he collided with a tree and fell to the forest floor three meters below.

Ben watched from his chair, a dark spike of energy flowing through his body. He heard the voice again. The raspy voice he didn’t want to hear.

Good. A hideous cackle followed. Watch them die. Feed off their agony. Let it fuel you.

He studied the lightsaber in his hand, the blade humming and shining bright blue in the darkness. He glanced at the scene before him. He could feel Jannah’s life-Force ebbing. It wouldn’t be long now. The screams grew softer, the struggles weaker, and he could feel Tandolleau’s fear driving him into reckless actions.

And then there was Wei’ahtt lying pulverized by a tree. He shrieked in agony. Only a few strands of light sputtered inside him still. Only moments until he would be one with the Force for good.

Kallay screamed, “No! Wei’ahtt!” She jumped down from the creature’s arm and raced toward the crumpled lump. “No. No. No.” Tears trailed down her face as she examined him. Immobilizing his neck, she listened for breathing and took his pulse.

The large man moaned in pain and shook violently. His heart rate raced, his breathing labored, and a long laceration leeched blood and green toxins across his left arm.

She looked around for help. Her friends still engaged the creature to free poor Jannah, but she caught the Padawan behind a tree a few meters away. “Ben, get the med kit.”

He sat there, frozen.

The gravelly voice whispered once more. Why do that? Wait, just a little longer, and he’ll be dead. They’ll all be dead.

No!

Ben twisted his chair and sped back to the shuttle twenty meters away. Debris kicked up under his repulsor lift, but he didn’t care. He had to save them. He couldn’t watch them die like this.

8

When Ben returned with the med kit, the fiend was hobbling away, dripping blood along the trail. Whatever flora the blood touched shriveled within seconds.

Ben gasped when he didn’t see Jannah. “Are you just going to sit there and let that creature take her?”

Kalder glowered at him. “Take that kit to Kallay and Pilar.”
Ben zoomed his chair to the group around Wei’ahtt.
Pilar crouched low and pressed one hand on top of the laceration and another on

Wei’ahtt’s heart. She worked her hand from heart to wound, cleansing one drip of venom at a time with the Force.

I don’t get it. How can she be so clumsy with a lightsaber but so precise with healing? Ben closed his eyes and ranged out with the Force, observing, learning this technique. And where did she learn this? I thought only Master Fau—

Kallay opened the huge med kit. She pulled out an oxygen tank, nasal cannula, a bone knitter. “Take those over to Kalder—and don’t interrupt.” She turned back to her injured friend. “Pilar?”

“It’s taking time. The venom has already reached his heart.”

Wei’ahtt jerked under the grip of his medics. His moans grew fainter as his body twisted and turned.

“Can’t you go any faster?”

Pilar grimaced as sweat beaded on her forehead. “Not without one of those healing Kyber crystals, but no one has seen any of those for decades.”

How does the Force neutralize venom inside a person?

Ben had seen Master Fau set a bone with it before, but that was more like a Force-push. This, whatever Pilar was doing, was entirely different. A part of him wanted to stay and observe, but the other group needed the oxygen and bone knitter.

When Ben reached Kalder across the grove, he saw the contorted form of Jannah Witerspah sprawled on the ground.

Tandolleau squinted as he reached out with the Force. “That’s it. Nice and steady now.” Kalder pulled out a small tube from her chest. “Lung’s reinflated. How’s the seal?” “Holding together.” Sweat beaded on Tandolleau’s brow as he concentrated to use the

Force.
Kalder grabbed the oxygen tank and cannula . He attached the hose and inserted the

cannula into her nostrils with the tubing flowing over her ears. He turned the valve until the oxygen flowed freely. Kalder said, “I’m holding the bottom ribs.”

Zeke said, “Two up top.”

Benae said, “Got the rest. Quick now, someone get the bone knitter going, or it’s all going to collapse again.”

Padawan Solo held out the bone knitter.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Tandolleau snapped. “ If we can’t keep her lungs re- inflated, she’s going to die.”

Ben switched on the small box and ran it over the bones.

“Hold it still for two minutes over each break. Haven’t you had Field Med 4 yet?” Benae’s sharp accusations stung more than usual.

“Of course I have. I’m not stupid, you know.”

“Then do it right. This isn’t a training exercise, Ben. She needs you.” Tandolleau’s lips curled back. “Ben, the Force will guide you if you let it.”

Ben’s arm shook as he extended the device over the first crack.
“Hurry. Her life-force is fading. Can’t you feel it?” He wasn’t even sure who said that. He set the timer for two minutes and waited until moving onto the next fracture.
Three cycles later, Kalder said, “Get her back to the shuttle. Zeke, get the backboard.

Benae, prep the med bay.”
Tandolleau said, “Ben, we need a thermal blanket, a saline IV, and the pain meds.” The boy sped away in his chair and rummaged through the med kit over by Wei’ahtt. Kallay asked, “How’s Jannah?”
“I don’t know. They’re getting ready to move her to the med bay.”
“We’ll bring Wei’ahtt after you guys get her settled. Pilar’s almost done with the

venom.” Kallay rummaged through the kit for a blanket and IV.
Ben dropped the bone knitter into the center of the kit and sped off to Kalder, eager to get

away from Kallay’s probing questions.

She knows I froze. She knows it. If they die, she knows it will be all my fault.

When R2-D2 flicked a switch in the main cabin, jump seats disappeared into the fuselage, and two gurneys took their places. The Jedi secured both patients into the shuttle’s med bay as oxygen hoses, IV hooks, and vitals monitors lowered from the ceiling panels.

Ben sat motionless in his chair at the back of the cabin. He breathed a sigh of relief when Master Kalder headed to the cockpit. “Artoo, get Master Luke on the line and find out what that beast was.”

The little droid beeped.
“Yes, Artoo, I know the coaxium cylinders are missing. Just contact Luke.”
A trill directed the Ben’s eyes to the display screen above the droid.
That thing was a Gorax?
Ben shook his head as his early memories on Endor returned to him.
“Master Skywalker.” Luke’s voice crackled over the line with static. Sounds of tribal

music and Ewok voices bled through the background.
Ben struggled to maintain his concentration on his uncle’s voice. The Ewokese in the

background filled his mind. He was shocked at how much he understood.
Kalder cleared his throat. “We had a visitor. Something called a Gorax. Attacked the

camp.” Kalder wiped his brow. “Jannah’s got crushed ribs and a punctured lung. We’re holding her together with the Force right now. Wei’ahtt got slashed and took some venom. They’re critical.”

“First cruiser arrives in two hours. Meet us at the landing platform.” “Copy that. Elenium out.”

9

In the distance, Leia could hear the party dying down. The drums had stopped, and she thought she could hear the Wookiee snoring even here. This distant catwalk seemed to be in a world of its own.

“Hard to believe it’s been sixteen years,” she mumbled. She traced her hand up his stubbled chin. She’d never tell him this in a thousand years, but she liked him scruffy.

“Hm?”

“Sixteen years since you proposed . . . right here.” She pulled his arms around her torso, the rough fabric of his jacket electrifying her skin.

His fingers brushed her chest, eliciting an exhilarating exhalation from her. “Do you ever wish we could go back and do it all over again?”

After a long minute, he whispered, “Yeah. Every day.”
“Where did it all go wrong?” she asked.
Han sucked in his breath. Then he turned her around and stared into her eyes. “Do you

really—” He shook his head. “No. I don’t want to fight. Not tonight.” He bent over and pulled her chin up.

When his lips met hers, it was like their first kiss on the Falcon so many years ago—or even that kiss right before the carbon freeze. His strong mouth met her softened lips, molding them to his, teasing her with his tongue, reminding her of the love they once shared—dare I hope we still share?

She pushed away from him. “I don’t want—”
Han pulled her back to him. “Yes, you do. I can feel it in you, Leia. You can’t deny it.” “Let me finish.” That came out sharper than she had wanted. She pulled away from him

and stepped against the railing. Looking him in the eye for once, she said, “I don’t want a fly-by, Han.”

He tilted his head. “Well, I wasn’t the one who kicked me out.”
Leia stepped closer. “You were the one who kept running away.”
“You didn’t need me.” Han advanced on her, extending his arm as the ire rose in his tone.

“You were married to your career. I was just your smuggler husband that no one mentioned in polite company.” He moved away, taking a deep breath. “No one respected me. Not even you.”

She felt the heat rising in her cheeks. Some of this was true, but he could be so impossible at times.

“Well, if you stuck around a little longer after you shot your coaxium—”
Han grabbed her hands and kissed her fingers.
She pulled back from him. “No.” She pointed her finger at his face. “Not this time, Han.

Either you’re in it for good, or this is it. You can go back to paying for your pleasure for all I care.”

“Is that what you think I’ve been doing all this time?” He turned his back on her. She crossed her arms and tapped her foot. “Well, didn’t you?”
He scowled as a slight blush crept to his cheeks.
Who would have thought that Han Solo could blush?

“Once.” He sucked back a groan. “But I couldn’t . . . I couldn’t get you out of my head. I couldn’t do it, Leia.”

He sighed and walked a few steps down the catwalk to exit, but he turned at the junction of another path. “What do you want?”

She stepped toward him a few paces. “A real marriage, not just a physical one.” He stared at her and then looked out into the trees across the bridge.
“You know what that is, don’t you?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
Han nodded. “Do you?” They locked eyes for a long moment. “Leia, I don’t want

anything less than what Luke and Naluma have. Sure, they’ve had their problems, but they talk. Even when they lost the baby, they both thought it was over, but they worked through it. Can you commit to that?”

Leia nodded. “If you can.” She crossed to him and folded herself into his embrace. “No fighting.”

“Ha! Yeah, right, Sweetheart. And miss all the fun?” Han kissed her head and looked at the stars above her. “How about not going to bed angry?”

“You just want more make-up sex.”
Han smirked. “Maybe. Those always were our best moments, Your Highnessness.” She lowered her head, hiding a secret smile. It had been so long since she had felt

wanted, desired, and she couldn’t believe how much she needed this in her life. “But no more lies. No more secrets.”

He let her go and placed his hands on the railing beside her. As he stared out at the bonfires gleaming through the trees, he said, “I’m not the only one with secrets.”

Leia sniffed and turned her back to him. “I know. I’ll tell you everything. I promise. But not tonight. Tonight, let’s just pretend it’s sixteen years ago on our wedding night.”

“It is our anniversary, isn’t it?”

“And you didn’t get me anything . . . again.”

Han drew her into his warm embrace and reached into his pocket. He held out a palm- sized holofield to her. When it activated, a collage of her parents from Alderaan scrolled past. They were all official pictures from state functions and senatorial events, but they brought tears to her eyes.

“Even a scoundrel has his moments . . . sometimes . . . occasionally.” He winked at her.

As the tears rolled down her cheek, she wiped them with the back of her hand. “You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“I think I do.” Han tilted his head at her. “So, what do you say? The Falcon awaits. I think I owe you something more for our anniversary.”

She turned off the holofield and handed it back to him. After shoving it in his pocket, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and headed down the catwalk.

“Hey, Chewie’s not going to be there, is he?”
Han chuckled. “Nah, he’s sleeping in the trees.”
As they turned down the catwalk that led toward the landing pad, Luke yelled, “Han!

Leia! Wait!” They pivoted to see Luke and his wife hurrying toward them with Rey in Luke’s arms.

“Luke, what’s wrong?” Leia could sense the darkness clouding him. Something had happened.

Luke shook his head. “A Gorax attacked our camp. Two Jedi are seriously injured.” Leia asked, “Is Ben okay?
Naluma nodded. “He’s fine.”
“Who got hurt?” Han asked.

“Jannah and Wei’ahtt.”
Leia inhaled sharply, her eyes widening.
“Shuttle’s coming in right now. As soon as the cruiser gets here, we’re transferring the

injured,” Luke said. He handed the sleeping Rey toward her mother. “Sorry, didn’t want to leave her with Chewie.” He grimaced. “He’s been enjoying himself a little too much.”

Han stepped forward and grabbed the little girl. He hoisted her in his arms as she mumbled and rested her head on his shoulder. “Thanks.”

Leia smiled when she saw Rey in his arms. How am I going to tell him? How will we keep Ben from finding out?

10

Naluma watched as the medical crew took Wei’ahtt and Jannah away. Luke and the rest of the Jedi followed them, but she returned to the shuttle.

Ben waited on deck in his hover chair. The boy stared at her without the normal animosity. She felt something in him that she had never felt before.

He finally spoke in a low voice. “Are they going to make it?”

She sat beside him on a jump seat and wrapped her arm around his shoulder. “I don’t know, Ben.”

He strangled a sob and rubbed a tear away. “I don’t want to care.” Tears dribbled down his cheeks. “Why do I care? I can feel them dying, Aunt Naluma.”

“That’s the burden of a Jedi, Ben.” She wiped the tears from his cheek. “If we feel the life the Force gives, we also feel the life it takes.” She sniffed back her own tears.

His lip quivered as more tears dripped from his face. His body shivered. A normal Padawan never connected with life and death at such deep levels, but Ben was never normal— not with that Skywalker blood running through him.

Insight stung her in the heart. It’s not that he doesn’t feel—it’s that he feels too much. She wrung her hands, silently berating herself.

He hung his head and studied his boots. “They were protecting me. I—I—” “It’s okay, Ben. They were doing their duty.”

He shook off her arm. “You don’t understand. I did nothing. I ran away. I could have helped, and I did nothing.” He gasped a few breaths and dissolved into wracking sobs for a minute.

Naluma allowed him time to control himself, ready to console when he was ready to receive it.

He staved off the hyperventilation and pushed back the tears. “I’m a coward.”
She whispered, “We all have to face our moments of failure, Ben.”
“Not you. Not Master Skywalker.” His trademark sneer crept onto his visage.
Naluma nodded. “Especially Jedi Masters. We fail every time you have a setback.” She

grabbed his hand and smiled at him. “But don’t let these setbacks be your stumbling blocks. Make them your stepping stones.”

“I guess.”

She shook her head. “You must believe, Ben—in the Force that gives you power and in yourself.” She grasped his hand and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Otherwise, you will fail.”

11

The heat in the meadow amphitheater blasted Rey. She tried to pay attention, just like Leia had told her, but it was so hard to see the platform.

“Today marks fifteen years since we claimed our Independence from the Empire in the deserts of Jakku. Fifteen glorious years of the New Republic shining brightly, an icon of justice and liberty throughout the galaxy.” 3PO yammered through the translation of some alien tongue Rey could not identify.

The little girl yawned. She wished she could be in the forest with the younger Ewoks. They all got to play during this boring ceremony. But not Rey. Leia had to make a speech, and Rey had to watch it. She squirmed and looked at the thousands of different lifeforms around her in the field. “Han?”

The smuggler shifted repeatedly in his seat, rubbing his fingers over a pair of golden dice on a chain. He tossed them in the air, brushed his fingers over the carvings, and mumbled something she couldn’t quite hear.

Solo was pretty nice, she decided, even if he couldn’t cook very well. Her stomach grumbled at the thought. Breakfast was a long time ago, and the aroma from the Ewok barbecue floated over the audience. Dinner was too far away.

She stood up and pointed around her. “Who are all these people?” “Senators, their lap dogs.”
Rey squinted, but she couldn’t see any dogs anywhere. “Huh?”

Han rumpled her hair. “Don’t worry about it, kid. This will be over in a few hours, and then we’ll see the sky rockets.”

“A few hours?” The little girl couldn’t hold back a whine. “But I’m hungry.”

He rummaged through the pockets on his black vest and pulled out a half-eaten ration bar. “All I got, kid.”

After peeling back the metallic wrapper, she bit into the chewy bar. She gnawed on the mouthful for a long time. “How old is this thing?”

Han laughed. “Don’t ask too many questions.”

She settled back against his side on the blanket. The nettles underneath the fleece poked through her Ewok costume. She dug out her two small dolls and played with them while the speakers droned on. Why doesn’t Threepio add in the sound effects, like he does for me during lessons?

She yawned and settled against Han’s chest, trying her best not to doze off. Her mother had warned Rey that she could cause an intergalactic incident if she fell asleep during the ceremony. Apparently, the Neimoidians, whoever they were, took offense at everything.

A few speakers later, Rey tugged on Han’s jacket sleeve. “Han.”

His eyes focused on the female Twi’lek on the stage. The purple woman’s lekku flowed around her body as she spoke and gestured. The traditional dress of a short skirt and chest bindings left nothing to the imagination.

Rey tugged again. “Han.”
His eyes did not waver. “What?” “I need the ‘fresher.”
“Didn’t you go earlier?”

Rey climbed into his lap and held his cheeks between her hands. “I need the ‘fresher.” The smuggler sighed as he stood up. “Come on, kid. Make it quick.”
A line of portable refreshers stood under the trees at the edge of the festival meadow. He

stopped in front of a vacant one. “Well, go ahead. I’ll be right here when you return.”
Rey shoved her dolls her in pockets and entered the compact unit while Han turned

toward the stage and shaded his eyes from the sun with his hand.
Once the little girl had finished her business, she slid out of the refresher unit quietly.

Han still focused on the Twi’lek on stage, but a Wookiee also stood with him now, drinking out of one of the Ewok’s leather skins. She looked around, the cool shade of the trees and the delectable scent of the barbecue called to her.

Rey.

The girl jumped at her name.
Rey. The words elongated now, almost in a whisper.
She crept away from Solo and slithered between two refresher units. Glowing blue

footprints hovered over the forest floor leading her deeper into the foliage. She ran in her Ewok suit, tripping over roots and colliding into kavak plants until she was scraped, bruised, and filthy.

Ben maneuvered his hover chair around an overgrown knoll in the middle of a small field. He swiped his glowing lightsaber at the weeds.

“Grandfather! I need you!” He slashed at the foliage covering the mound.

With each strike, the rage swelled within himself. “Why do they have to die? Why didn’t I help them? I could have saved them.”

Slash.

Slash.
Slash.
He severed another long stalk of grass, revealing a few charred logs appeared behind

them. He turned off his lightsaber and stared at the hilt. “Grandfather, can you hear me?”
The boy threw his lightsaber across the field. “I’m not a Jedi! I never will be!”
A small Ewok cried out in pain from behind him.
The youth turned his chair to her. “Who’s there?” He rummaged in his brain for the right

words, but all that came out was “Yub nub!”
Great, Ben, what a polyglot you are. Probably just insulted her.
The little Ewok whimpered and waved her arms around in the high grass.
Ben closed his eyes and built his tightest shield.
If I don’t feel, I won’t care. No one else will have to die because of me.
The cries sounded almost like a human. The fear from the little Ewok battered his

shields. Let me in. Let me in. Let me consume you. This is all your fault. Do something!
The cries transformed to wails and shrieks laden with emotions he could not keep out. It was too much. He couldn’t bear the pain anymore. “Aarghh!” After he steered the

hover chair to her, he reached out with the Force and picked her up, placing him in his lap. “Shut up! Leave me alone.”

She quieted at once. The affectionate little girl wrapped her arms around him and snuggled her head into his chest.

“Look, Little Ewok, whoever you are . . .” he trailed off as the small beast squeezed him. At least she had stopped crying.

He gingerly wrapped his arms around the small furry body in his lap. He stroked the pelt from top to bottom, just as he remembered Uncle Chewie liked. Ewoks weren’t that different from Wookiees, after all.

The creature cooed and purred, burrowing her silky coat against his chin. Ben inhaled and closed his eyes, enjoying the contact. Before he realized it, she had wormed past his shields. Pure, child-like love channeled from her heart straight into his.

He squeezed her tighter, extracting the love she so willing gave. Intoxicating. Is this what the other Jedi feel for each other? Love without any conditions?

He opened his other sense, watching the Force move around them, through them. It’s all connected. The tendrils between us are so strong—stronger than even between me and Uncle Luke.

Without thinking, he sent his own emotion down the threads. He hadn’t dared to love for so long, afraid he would be hurt yet again.

The thoughts raced back into his mind, the thoughts he had buried for the last six
years. I’ve never had a bond like this before—except . . . Mom . . . before she sent me away. How I’ve missed this.

He pulled the little Ewok close to him and kissed her on the top of the head. The pelt felt loose. He lifted the small head as the furry scalp slid down to reveal three disheveled buns on the back of a brown head. “You’re not an Ewok at all. Where did you come from?”

“Am, too!” Rey balled her fist and scrunched her nose. “Wicket made me one last night. I am an Ewok of the Bright Tree Village.”

The teen smiled his first stress-free smile in years. “I am, too.”
“Really?” Rey asked with suspicious eyes. “Why weren’t you at the ceremony?”

Ben looked down at the chair. “Couldn’t make it up the stairs in this thing.”

“I’m sorry.” The girl spread her finger across his face, connecting the moles that stood out on his pale skin. “I’m Rey. Who are you?”

“Ben.”
“What were you doing?” She dragged her finger across his nose and down his neck. “Cleaning up my grandfather’s grave.”
She ran her fingers through his hair. “Why?”
“He was the greatest Jedi to ever live. It’s not right that he’s been forgotten.”
She turned around in his lap and pulled her hood back. “Fix my hair.”
“Why?”
“We’ve got to look our best at m’oriams. Mommy said so. Then we’ll get some flowers

and make the grave real pretty.”
Ben pulled the three ties loose and combed his fingers through her hair while she

chattered.
“Then you can say ‘good-bye’ to him, real proper-like.”
I wanted to say “hello.”
He pulled her hair tight across her scalp before tying it off in a bun.
“You’re real good at this.”
Ben smiled. “Thank you. I used to help my mom with her braids sometimes.”
“Me, too, ‘though I’m not very good at it yet.”
As soon as he had tied the last one, she jumped off his legs and ran into the forest. “Come

on, Ben. I can’t carry all the flowers by myself.”

Humming the Ewok song from the night before, the little girl scampered down the trail. “Yub nub. Eee chop uh yub nub.”

Ben reached out through the Force and pulled his discarded lightsaber to his side before zooming after the little girl. The setting sun cast eerie shadows in the forest. Warm amber light shone through the trees to the west. Even though he couldn’t hear the girl, their connection through the Force was still there. All he had to do was follow it.

Horrifying screams and shrieks jerked him from his reverie. He shoved his chair into high gear and sped through overgrown path. Kavak fronds and tiny flowers jammed into the fuselage of the chair.

“Ben! Ben!”
A large growl rumbled through the forest. The ground shook. Trees flew.
As the teen rounded a bend in the trail, he came face-to-face with the injured Gorax. The

creature lift the tiny girl in his left paw toward his mouth. “No!”

Ben froze.

The beast was uglier than he remembered. He must have broken off the last tendons as only the stump of his arm remained. The Gorax tottered off balance without all of his toes.

But what petrified Ben was what the creature clutched in his left claw—Rey.

I can’t. He’s too big. I’m going to fail. She’s going to die. I can’t watch.

The boy swiveled his hover chair around and hid his head.
A voice echoed in his head. Skywalkers aren’t cowards. Blue mist surrounded him. “Solos are. We’re really good at running.”
The mist formed into a hazy figure that Ben could not quite make out. I can’t hold him off

forever, Ben. Only you can save her.

“I’m afraid.”

You should be. If you don’t do anything, you’ll be next. The hazy figure surrounded his chair and shook it. It threatened to capsize.

Rey’s screams grew weaker as the beast clutched against the blue mist holding him back. “I’m only a Padawan. Even the Jedi couldn’t save Jannah and Wei’ahtt.”
The mist morphed more into the shape of a man. Ben discerned dark Jedi robes, dark

curly locks, a lightsaber swinging at his belt. Search your feelings, Ben. You love her.
“No, I don’t. I don’t love her.” He hid his head and covered his ears in a vain attempt to

shut out Rey’s terrifying screams.

12

If you don’t do something, she will die. Even if you fail, at least try.

Tears flowed down his eyes.

“You’re a Skywalker. Skywalkers don’t let Skywalkers die.” This time, the words echoed in the grove, not just his head.

“Why does love have to hurt so much?” Ben craned his neck at the form. “Who are you?” “Skywalker.” The mist dissipated.
“Grandfather?” Ben closed his eyes and sat up straight, pulling the Force into him. He

swiveled his chair and rolled toward the Gorax.
Rey’s squeals pierced his ears. “Help!”
With the Force, he tossed a rock at the creature’s head. “Hey, Big Fella, you wouldn’t

want to eat her.”
The troll growled at Ben.

“Yeah, that’s right. Look at me.” With his hands shaking in fear, he steered the hover chair into the monster’s line of sight. “I don’t move that fast. I’m bigger. You wouldn’t even taste her going down. What’s the point?”

The beast lifted his arm in the air and shook the little girl.

Rey screamed as he took her higher. The blue mist fought against the arm, but the arm still inched higher.

Ben gulped. He inhaled a cleansing breath to steady his nerves. “Easy, boy. Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” Padawan Solo struck at the beast’s small toe, the only one left on his right foot. His lightsaber barely made a dent.

“Ben, help me!”

“I’m trying.” He closed his eyes and stretched forth his hand. With the Force, he slammed a discarded tree into the giant’s arm. “I’ll catch you!”

“Ben!”
“Trust me.”
He picked up a boulder and then another tree. He pelted the creature with whatever he

could find.
The Gorax roared and waved his arm, shaking Rey up and down as he tried to block the

onslaught. With his right hand out of commission from the previous battle, the beast struggled to hold onto the girl.

Ben looked up to see Rey opening her mouth wide. “Rey! No! He’s poisonous! Don’t bite him!”

She pulled away just in time.

The boy sped his hover chair into the monster’s leg, colliding with it, backing up, colliding with it again. “Hey, stupid! I’m down here.”

The beast kicked at the small chair, sending it careening against a tree. Ben tumbled out of it while smoke spewed upward.

He planted his feet firmly in his favorite opening position and ignited his lightsaber. The blue blade glowed in the dusky forest, humming throughout the grove.

With a speed he had never used before, he charged the beast’s legs. He swung his lightsaber with all his might, following the Djem So lightsaber drill patterns.

The beast didn’t even budge.

Panting heavily, he attacked again, climbing the beast’s leg. A second later, he flew across the the grove. He sprawled in front of a trunk, not daring to look at Rey. A few more seconds, and the little girl would be only a memory.

“Help!” he cried with all his might sending it forth with the Force.
He scrambled to his feet and charged once more.
You’ll never win that way. Quick!
Ben looked behind him for the source of the voice. Blue footprints traveled up the side of

a pupagi tree. The monarch tree extended seventy meters above the forest floor, with the first branches extending around the giant’s arms.

“Ben!” The panic in Rey’s voice shattered him.

Oh, no. I was too late. His heart twisted into a knot that sent a sharp pain through his intestines.

The Force stirred.
A second scream came, and his being filled with joy.
He slashed at the beast again, but the lightsaber failed to cut deeply enough. Flesh sizzled

while the tang of singed hair flooded the area.
As Ben reached for the next handhold in the rough bark, the strip peeled off the tree and

sent him tumbling to the ground. His lightsaber extinguished as he rolled in the dirt.

Use the Force, Ben. Jump!

He stared at the nearest limb, twenty meters away. “I can’t. It’s too far.”

She’s going to die if you don’t do something. Jump! His grandfather materialized in front of the youth. Now! Only you can save her, Ben. Jump!

The teen watched as the beast brought the little girl to his mouth. He growled and yawned, stretching his maw wide open.

“Never!” The Padawan ran toward the tree and leaped into the air. Propelling himself with the Force, he grabbed onto the limb and pulled himself onto it.

The wide branch extended over ten meters and was at least a half meter wide. Ben ignited his blue saber and charged at the beast.

The neck, Ben. The weak spot is on the back of the neck.

Ben raced across the branch, barely touching it as his legs pumped. He jumped onto the arm and sprinted over the shoulder to the hulking back of the creature.

Sever the spinal cord.

The youth spared a glance for the girl, still grasped in the clutches of the monster. The beast swatted at Ben. When it struck, the Padawan ducked behind the creature’s neck.

The boy grasped the saber in both hands and punctured the thin skin at the junction of the skull and spine. He pulled the blade from side to side, sawing at the spinal cord, until the creature fell limp.

As the Gorax crumpled in on himself, Ben lost his balance. He clutched at the skin and yelled, “No!”

Rey tumbled from the giant’s grasp.

As Ben plummeted, he reached out with the Force and caught the little girl before she hit the ground. His own body crashed to the forest floor with a thump. Battered, he grabbed her in his other arm and rolled out of the way of the toppling troll.

The forest shook as the beast impacted the ground, leaving a large depression.

“Ben, you saved me.” Rey lifted her bruised face and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re my hero.”

As the forest fell into darkness, the last thing he saw was the ghostly image of his grandfather. “Mine, too, Grandson.”

Ben stretched out his hand toward the spirit as he faded into oblivion.

13

Ben woke to approaching voices. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious, but the little girl in his arms still slept. The shadows under the trees had grown darker. He scanned the grove and reached out with the Force toward the voices.

He sighed. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see Master Skywalker.

He could discern the glow of humming lightsabers and faint shouts of “Rey” in the distance.

He nudged the little girl. “Come on, Rey, time to wake up.”
She grumbled and rolled away from him.
He grabbed a broken kavak frond and teased her ear. “Rey. Time to wake up.”
She batted the frond away and moaned.
He tickled her side. “Rey, people are coming.”
She rolled over and sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “But I was playing with

Ani.”
“It was a dream.” Ben stood up and brushed the dirt from the front of his uniform as the

Master Skywalker broke through the undergrowth.
“Rey!” Leia followed closely behind Luke.
The little girl ran across the grove into Leia’s arms. “Mommy! Mommy!” Leia knelt in the dirt, smudging her white gown as the little girl hugged her.

Han and Chewie thudded into the area. The smuggler stared at his son and then at the little girl in his wife’s arms.

Kalder led the rest of the Jedi Knights into the clearing. “Secure the area and report any disturbances.”

The Jedi dispersed, each taking a different compass point. Except Naluma. She panted and clutched her belly before leaning against a tree.

“Are you hurt?” Leia asked Rey.

Rey shook her head. “No. Ben saved me.” She pointed to the lanky teen who now stood at the center of attention.

Leia stood and pushed Rey behind her. “Ben!” She turned to Han. “This is all your fault! If you hadn’t been lusting over the Twi’lek—”

Han moved closer to her and gestured to his chest. “My fault? Look, I’m not the one who left her in the care of a stranger. If anything had happened to her, it would ha—”

Rey whimpered. When the argument turned into a bawling match, even Chewbaca took a step away from the confrontation.

Ben pushed in between his parents and dragged the little girl away from them. “Stop it! Cut it out! Haven’t you two done enough already?” Rey clutched his leg and hid behind him. “You ruined my life. I’m not going to let you ruin hers, too.”

The fire in his parents’ eyes focused on him now. “Who do you think you are?”

“Your son. And I won’t stand by and let your unresolved emotional turmoil destroy another person’s life. “

Chewie moaned his agreement. Luke motioned to the Wookiee to stay out of it. They both stepped back from the family.

Leia blushed and squirmed. Han put his hands on his hips and turned his back on them.

“That’s just like you, Dad, turning your back on your family. Swoop in, get what you want, and slide out when no one’s looking. Leaving a disaster in your wake.” Ben stepped forward and poked him in the back. “You know what you taught me? Huh?”

His father kept his back to him until Ben yanked him around by his arm. “Not to trust anyone, especially if they’re family. Take care of number one.” Ben stabbed his thumb at his own chest.

He looked at Rey as tears came to his face. “And, I almost believed it for too long. I almost was a coward for too long, just like you.”

“Ben, you take that back. Apologize to your father. He’s not a coward.” Leia’s eyes narrowed at her son.

“No. I learned this from him, Mother, but I’m not a coward. If it weren’t for Grandfather today, it would have been too late. Too late for me. Too late for Rey. Too late for everyone in this family.” He waved his arms at them in frustration.

“But at least I listened.” Ben crossed toward them, motioning his hand to his chest. “At least I stepped up to my responsibilities. And at least I know the truth now.”

Han pointed to Ben with his hand as he asked Leia, “Do you know what he’s talking about?”

Leia’s stare riveted into Ben. She pursed her lips together and settled her hands on her hips.

“Tell him, Mother. Or shall I?” “What?” Han asked.

Leia inhaled and exhaled three times before relaxing her stance and stepping closer to Han. She whispered, “Forgive me.”

He held his neck firm and furrowed his brow.
“Remember when you took Ben to the Jedi Academy?”
“You mean when you kicked me out?”
Leia nodded. She moistened her lips with her tongue. “I was pregnant.” She stroked his

lapel. “Rey’s yours.”
Han turned to the little girl peeking out from behind his leg. “What? Why didn’t you—”

Han spun to Luke, then Chewie, both giving Han his classic shrug in answer.
“A daughter?” He broke into his lopsided grin before wrapping his arm around Leia’s

shoulders. “A daughter. Who would have thought?”
A laughing series of grunts came from Chewbacca.
“Oh, yeah, Fuzzball. Well, if you knew all along, why didn’t you tell me?”
A long sympathetic howl filled the silence.
“She smells like me? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re not mad?” Leia asked, pulling Han’s face back to her.
He closed his eyes and smirked before answering. “Mad, maybe. Angry, no.” He turned

to his children. Deep in thought, he paced a few steps with his hands on his hips, stopping a few meters away. “Look,” he said holding out his arms, “I know that I haven’t been the best father.”

“That’s the understatement of the year.” Leia rolled her eyes.

Han glared at her but continued anyway. “I was always afraid I’d mess it all up. Every time we were together, we fought. We could never agree on anything, Leia.”

Tears glistened in her eyes. “I know. I’m sorry. But you can be so difficult sometimes.”

He took a deep breath and moved closer to her. “I know. I’ve never been able to trust anyone, not since Q’ira. I’m afraid, Leia.”

“Of what?”

“Everything.” He was next to her now. “The future. The present. I had no idea how to raise a Jedi. I can’t even feel the Force. It scares me.”

Leia weaved her arm under his. “Me, too.” He looked down at her in question. She nodded. “Well, what about now, Solo? You still scared?”

“Only a fool wouldn’t be, but I’m not giving up this time.” He pulled her into an embrace. “You with me on this, Sweetheart?”

Leia snaked her arm around his waist. “Always.”

He kissed her on top of her head. He stared at his kids, meters away in fear. He held out his arms. “Well, if we’re going to be a real family, you two had better get over here.”

Rey ran to the smuggler and jumped into his arms. She clutched her arms behind his head and kissed him on the cheek. “Daddy?”

“What, Princess?”
“Will you teach me how to fly the Falcon?”
“Absolutely.”
“Better have him teach you how to fix that hunk of junk first,” Ben said with a snort. “Why you—” The smuggler spread his hands in front. “Yeah, maybe I should.” Han

grabbed the girl by her sides and zoomed her like a spaceship. “Prepare for landing.” He lifted the giggling girl above his head and settled her on his shoulders.

Ben followed his parents as they exited the grove. “All right, you two. No more fighting.”

Han turned him to his son and winked at him. “Son, there are a few things I still need to teach you. Fighting’s your mother’s love language. She gets all fired up in every way imaginable.” He wiggled his eyebrows at his wife.

Leia playfully slapped Han on the rear.

“Dad, that was too much information.” Ben stalked down the trail. “Next rule, keep that sort of stuff in the bedroom.”

“Daddy, what’s Ben talking about?” Rey asked.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
A wave of cold passed through Ben.
Good. Good. Everything is working as I have foreseen, my apprentice. Now, fulfill your

destiny and bring the girl to me.

“Never! You’ll never have Rey! Master Skywalker, it’s Snoke! He’s here for her.”