“Use the Force. Yes…” Athara didn’t look up from where she was sitting several feet away. At the moment, Yoda was working with Luke, working on his focus and his ability to move objects with the force.
He was making remarkable progress.
It was making Athara a little resentful though. She had been working with him for two years, and he had made more progress in the last two weeks than he had in all that time before. But she couldn’t deny that his progress had everything to do with having a true Jedi Master with years, well, centuries really, of experience teaching young Force-sensitives rather than any lack of ability on her part. She simply hadn’t had the knowledge to help him in a way that would’ve produced the kind of results she was seeing under Yoda’s tutelage. She couldn’t begrudge that.
Besides she was getting some training of her own out of the deal.
Yoda certainly wasn’t pleased about the fact that she had all but shamed him into teaching her. In retrospect, it was a type of manipulation, something that Yoda likely saw as further evidence of her unbreakable dependence on the Dark Side. She truly didn’t care though. Between her sessions in meditation and calming her mind with Qui-gon while Yoda put Luke through his paces, and the joint lessons on the Living Force and tapping into it with Yoda, she was learning a great deal.
She still had a long way to go, though. There were still many times when, if left to her own thoughts, she began to wonder if Yoda was right that she would never be able to turn from the Dark Side completely. It was moments like that when she questioned just what she was doing on the slimy little planet. She could tell that all of Yoda’s lectures and lessons were aimed at Luke, and anything she got out of them was pure happenstance. But there were moments, small moments, when Yoda would make a point for her benefit or guide her toward a truth that he wanted her to understand, but they were few and far between.
Still, he wasn’t ignoring her, which was something. He was slowly coming around to the idea that she was serious about learning to embrace the Light Side of the Force. From time to time, she would do something or say something that would cause him to look at her with consideration. For instance, shortly after agreeing to help her, Luke had managed to wrench his knee during his morning exercises. Without a thought, Athara had tapped into the Force as she tended to the injury, earning a surprised look from the Jedi when she didn’t rely on the Dark Side, but on the Light. After he had sunk into a healing trance, Athara had left Luke alone, only to run into both the diminutive Jedi and her ghostly mentor.
“That was very selfless of you, my young Padawan,” Qui-gon had said, his pride obvious in his voice. His eyes twinkled as his gaze shifted from her to Yoda. The Jedi Master looked as though he wasn’t quite sure what to think and was far from pleased that that was the case. Athara’s temper had been rather shorter than it should have probably been, but she managed to remain (somewhat) civil. She had merely shrugged. She really hadn’t thought much about her actions.
“If you insist. It needed to be done. Otherwise he wouldn’t really be in the best shape for his lessons, would he.” Yoda frowned. Qui-gon looked immensely pleased.
“You are making progress,” he had said, “you didn’t even have to think about clearing your mind of negative feelings, you just did it instinctually. You no longer rely on the Dark Side as you once did.” Athara frowned. At that point she hadn’t realized she didn’t use her anger or frustration to access the Force, not even unconsciously. Qui-gon had proceeded to explain that in order to heal, one needed to be free of dark feelings that would warp the benefit of the healing. She hadn’t known that, though it made sense. She had never given healing a second thought. Healing trances had always come easily to her, just as healing Luke in the moments previous had just come to her. There even had been one or two occasions before Dagobah when she had tended minor injuries Luke had acquired during their sessions with the help of the Force.
Yoda had merely watched on in silence, his expression shifting from one of concern and consideration to one of acceptance. By the time Qui-gon had explained the significance of her instinctual actions, Yoda appeared pleased, and even a little impressed. After that, he didn’t quite seem like he was trying to ignore her as he had before.
Thanks to that shift of opinion and fresh attention, she was making progress that, while not being as impressive as Luke’s, was substantial enough that she was beginning to feel a shift in herself.
It was promising. Now when she worked with Qui-gon, a look of gratification and pride always suffused his features. He was immensely pleased with her progress. It was becoming rare for Athara to reach for the Force through use of the Dark Side, and her temperament was becoming even more balanced than it had ever been. Her temper was still sharp from time to time, but provoking it was becoming far more difficult than it had ever been before as she learned to use the Force as a balm. She was beginning to let her anger and frustration cool and ebb away as soon as it boiled up.
Her lightsabre training helped. It was providing a bridge of sorts to allow her to begin relearning what she knew without drawing on the Dark Side. At Qui-gon’s encouragement and even Yoda’s on one occasion, she was finally able to let herself go and push herself during her lightsabre exercises. It felt good; the strain on her body and the work of her concentration cleansing and long overdue. On one particular occasion Yoda and Luke had come across her working her way through her exercises, Kenobi’s blue blade arcing and flashing around her faster than the eye could follow. She still hesitated to pull out her own lightsabre, no matter how her hands ached to feel the familiar hilt once again; she was still nervous to allow Luke to see just how tied to the Dark Side she had once been.
When the blue blade stilled she had met the diminutive Jedi’s approving gaze. Seeing how pleased he was with her sent a wave of satisfaction through her. Seeing how Luke stared at her in awe caused her cheeks to flush and her heart to race faster than even her exercises had managed. She had realized then that he had never seen her using a lightsabre when she hadn’t been tempering her abilities. For a brief instant she grew nervous that he would react poorly upon realizing just how much she had been holding back for his sake when they sparred, but a pleasing warmth spread through her when she realized he had been looking at her with nothing but admiration and astonishment.
Now, as Yoda had Luke practicing his ability to concentrate and manipulate solid objects with the Force while withstanding strain to his body, Athara was focusing on cleansing her thoughts of fear. Qui-gon had instructed her to sit in one of the Force-strong pockets that littered Dagobah’s swampy forests, open up her mind and let herself, and her thoughts loose. The idea was that the Force-pocket would take those thoughts and turn them back at her, providing the challenge of choosing which thoughts held the taint of the Dark Side and reacting to them in a way that didn’t push her further from the Light.
Dagobah’s natural Force-pockets were most definitely being taken advantage of by both Qui-gon and Yoda, though the Spirit Jedi seemed to prefer using it as a tool to teach while Yoda used them to test. Several days earlier, after completing their daily run through the forest, Yoda had steered Luke toward a Force-pocket within a deep cave that resonated with the Dark Side to test his resistance to its lure.
To put it simply, Luke hadn’t passed Yoda’s test.
Luke told her about it later on that evening, obviously still shaken by the experience. In the depths of the cave he had found himself face to face with Vader. Athara’s breath had hitched as Luke related the encounter, trying desperately to keep her emotions under control as he told her how he had challenged the Dark Lord and succeeded in defeating the phantom Vader. He understood exactly why it had been his face behind the Sith’s mask after Vader had fallen to the young Rebel’s lightsabre; he knew now that the Dark Side could twist him into the very thing he was fighting to defeat.
Athara had only listened and offered vague comfort to the shaken Farmboy, but she had no advice to give.
Regardless of the training she was receiving on Dagobah, and her desire to turn from the Dark Side, she still couldn’t bring herself to turn from Vader. Just as she had felt a pull toward Luke through the Force, now that she was separated from her former Master, she could feel a pull toward the Sith Lord as well. She was beginning to understand that their three destinies were to be inextricably linked. Eventually, there was going to be a confrontation between Vader and Luke; that much was clear. What wasn’t so clear was where she would stand, and she knew she was going to have to choose. She just couldn’t figure out yet which side of the line that was going to be.
“Now…the stone.” She looked up. Standing on one hand, Luke was focusing on lifting and balancing rocks while holding himself upside down. Yoda, sitting on one of Luke’s feet, was instructing the young rebel.
“Feel it.” Slowly, one rock was lifted to balance on another while Yoda’s quiet, encouraging voice wound through the misty swamp. Quietly whistling and whirring to each other, Artoo and N3 sat over across the small clearing, between the Force-sensitives and Luke’s half submerged ship. Athara watched the two Jedi in silence while the two droids stood as self-appointed sentinels guarding over their people and the ship.
The almost reverent quiet was abruptly interrupted when both the astro droids started beeping and whistling in panic, snapping the delicate thread of Luke’s focus. The rocks slid and rolled from the pile Luke had been trying to stack them in.
“Concentra—ate!” Falling in an ungainly tumble, Luke lost his balance, causing the diminutive Jedi to be flung from his perch as Luke hit the ground. Athara leapt to her feet, looking hurriedly from the two Jedi to the squealing droids. Luke grimaced as he began to pull himself up, though worry soon overrode the discomfort she saw on his face as he too scrambled upright. Yoda slowly pulled himself to his feet, an exasperated little moan coming from the Jedi Master.
The water around Luke’s X-wing was churning and bubbling as the ship sank further into the murky lake. The droids had fallen silent, though Artoo made a small, dejected moan as Luke went to the edge of the pool, visibly frustrated by the turn of events.
“Oh, no. We’ll never get it out now.” Irritation and dejection of his own laced Luke’s voice as he gestured helplessly at the single wingtip that remained out in the open air. Athara was about to speak out in attempt to reassure him when Yoda beat her to it.
“So certain are you.” Athara and Luke both spun to look at the wizened old Master. He still stood in the centre of the clearing where he had fallen, looking as composed and wise as ever. Luke was obviously not impressed. After a moment the Jedi sighed, visibly disappointed.
“Always with you it cannot be done,” he looked up at Luke, “hear you nothing that I say?”
“Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is—totally different.” A faint note of despondency had made its way into Luke’s voice. Yoda was not moved, and for once, Athara was on the old Jedi’s side. Luke still didn’t, or maybe couldn’t, grasp just how powerful the Force could be…or how powerful he was. Yes, his ship sinking was a setback—well, a setback of a sort as they weren’t really going anywhere for the time being—but it was not the disaster Luke seemed to think it was.
“No! No different! Only different in your mind.” Yoda jabbed his gimer stick into the soggy ground to emphasis his point, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Luke looked appropriately chastened for a moment. Athara frowned; she could see where Yoda wanted this to go. Her Farmboy wasn’t ready for that yet; he didn’t have the control or the conviction. She wasn’t even sure she’d be able to do it if given the chance, especially as new to the Light Side as she was; if she were to allow herself to tap into the Dark Side as she had been conditioned, she’d most likely be able to do it, but still. In some ways, the little Jedi had been right about Luke being too old; he was already so set in his ways, so sure of what was and wasn’t possible. Unfortunately, many of the limitations he perceived were of no concern for a Force-user. He just couldn’t see that yet. Yoda was taking an awful risk. If Luke was disheartened too much….
Needless to say, the consequences would be severe.
“All right, I’ll give it a try.” Yoda and Athara both frowned at the resignation in his voice.
“No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” Again, Luke didn’t quite manage to hide his skepticism, earning another disapproving frown from the Jedi Master. Athara tried not to let her own disappointment at his attitude show. Even if lifting the ship proved beyond his current abilities, which she knew it was, approaching the task with the closed mind he currently had was certainly not going to improve his chances any. But she didn’t let that show; Luke needed someone to be openly supportive, and she could understand why that couldn’t be Yoda.
Taking a deep, cleansing breath as he had been taught, Luke cleared his mind, forcing himself to relax as he extended a hand toward the ship. Athara felt like she was standing on pins and needles as she watched the water begin to churn and bubble again.
The silence stretched, thick with anticipation as the former Imperial Agent and the Jedi Master watched Luke. Inch by inch the ship began to ease out of the water, cutting the mist that coated the lake’s surface.
Beside her, Athara could feel the hope and excitement that began to course through Yoda as the ship rose further and further into the air. The droids began to whistle with excitement of their own, and Athara herself began to hope that he might be able to do it. If he could…if he could still do it with that much doubt…
Their hope, though, proved premature. His arm and hand shaking from the strain, Luke lost his hold on the fighter, and the X-wing sank back below the murky waves, disappearing completely beneath the surface. Artoo’s disappointed whistle gave voice to the unanimous feeling in the small clearing. Yoda’s small form seemed to grow smaller as his shoulders sagged in disappointment, his large eyes sliding shut as he lowered his gaze, shaking his head slowly. Athara let out a sad sigh of her own, unable to hide her own feelings. He had been so close.
She watched her Farmboy turn, dejection and exhaustion written in his face and his posture as he sank onto the soggy leaf-litter beside Yoda, his breathing labored from exertion.
“I can’t. It’s too big…” Athara fought the urge to join them, to go and comfort him, but she didn’t move from where she stood apart from the two Jedi. She knew he needed to hear what Yoda had to say first.
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm?” Luke, at least, had the grace to look ashamed, but a spark of defiance had lit in his eyes. He was not yet convinced. “Hmph! And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.” Unable to hold the Jedi’s gaze, Luke lowered his eyes, appearing suitably chastened. Athara watched her Farmboy closely, silently begging for him to be receptive to the old Jedi’s lesson.
“Life creates it, makes it grow.” As he spoke, Athara felt more than heard the clearing grow hushed, as if in that moment, Yoda’s voice held everything under its spell. “Its energy surrounds us, and binds us,” for a moment, Luke seemed to straighten, caught up in the Jedi Master’s soft voice, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” He reached out, pinching Luke’s shoulder to emphasis his point before continuing.
“You must feel the Force around you.” His quiet voice and strange syntax seemed to swell and fill the small clearing. “Here. Between you, me, the tree, the rock.” His words alone had power, though he barely spoke above a murmur. “Everywhere.” Luke’s gaze once again rested on the small Jedi, his expression holding the same awe that coursed through Athara as she listened. Somewhere, deep within her, it felt as through a something had clicked into place.
“Yes…even between the land and the ship.” Luke thought for a moment, before shifting, his gaze dropping as dejection once again appeared on his face. Athara realized that Yoda hadn’t quite gotten through to him. He had missed something. Standing, frustration and a shade of humiliation bloomed on the sandy-haired pilot’s face.
“You want the impossible.” The words were dulled by disappointment, their bite gone. Turning away, Luke walked slowly past Yoda and then Athara to where they had stowed their jackets as they attended to their lessons. As he passed, Athara reached out to lay a hand on his arm, trying to give some measure of reassurance. He shrugged her off, not even able to meet her eye. Walking past her without pausing, he snatched his jacket from where it was draped on a nearby tree and stuffed his arms into it before sinking down apart from the others, his face in his hands. This was what Athara had been afraid of. He was beginning to doubt just how strong he was. Tears began to prick at her eyes. Hurt and shame was coming off Luke in waves, and he wouldn’t let anyone near him; she didn’t even need to try to know he would only push her away.
She spun toward the wizened old Jedi, her carefully cultivated calm beginning to crack as an instinct to protect Luke surged forward. She wanted to tear a strip off the puny Jedi for encouraging her Farmboy to do something he was far from ready for, something that could cripple his confidence if he failed. But she was stopped in her tracks when she focused on the Jedi again.
He was still standing facing the lake with his back to her. He was a beacon of focus and quiet power amid the gloomy mistiness of the swamp, his small three-fingered hand outstretched before him even as his shoulders remained hunched. Out across the small lake, the surface began to surge and foam as Athara watched, her mouth parting in awe as the ship began to rise gracefully from the depths of the gloom. Artoo and N3 both began to whistle enthusiastically.
“Luke!” She was barely able to get out his name, and was reluctant to tear her eyes away. Still, she glanced back to see if he had heard her, looking back to Yoda and the ship when she saw that he was walking slowly up behind her. As he passed her, she noticed out of the corner of her eye that he was similarly entranced by the Jedi Master as she was.
Slowly, the diminutive figure straightened, his shoulders squaring and his head lifting as the ship itself lifted free of the water. Streams of liquid coursed from exhaust ports and out of the engines while water plants clung to the landing gear and the hull. Slowly, the ship turned, gliding over the rippling mist to the clearing where they stood, watching in a mixture of wonder and disbelief. Time stood still as the X-wing was lowered to the ground, its landing gear touching down without so much as a sound in front of Luke. The only sound as the ship came to rest was the celebratory sounds coming from the two droids. The forest around them even seemed to fall silent. The Jedi opened his eyes, relaxed and satisfied.
Luke looked how Athara felt as he all but dashed around the ship, touching it tentatively as though to make sure it was indeed real. Yoda sighed, his eyes lowered again. It was a sad and disappointed sound. Luke’s astonishment clear on his face, he finally looked to Yoda and raced to his side. Athara watched from a distance, knowing the Jedi was grieved that Luke needed the proof in the first place.
“I don’t—I don’t believe it.” Luke watched the small figure with wide eyes. Yoda was quiet for a moment before he looked up. His large brown eyes were clouded with melancholy and regret.“That is why you fail,” he whispered sadly.