Chapter Twelve: Training
Two days later~
"Open your mind," said Vader's voice in Leia's mind. "Stretch out with your feelings."
Leia breathed out slowly, calming her emotions and pushing the unnerving voice of Vader to the back of her mind. Then, slowly, like a child tentatively reaching her hand out into the unknown, Leia stretched her mind out into the great swirling torrent of the Force.
It was like placing herself deep in the middle of an ocean, a living body that swelled and receded with powerful strokes. Leia quickly found she was intimidated by the vastness of it, but at the same time was fascinated and propelled onward. As if in response to her tentative presence, Leia felt the Force whirl faster and faster around her, its wind and brilliant colors mixing like paint and stirring up both excitement and trepidation inside of her.
Soon, however, the power and overwhelming strength of the Force was too much for Leia, and she pulled out of her mind's stupor with a gasp. When she opened her eyes once more, she was still seated cross-legged on the onyx floor of the practice room, and her father was watching her closely.
Leia took a few moments to soothe herself, trying to ignore Vader's unnerving, intense gaze. She calmed her breathing and forced her shoulders to relax. The whole ordeal had been stressful and taxing, both for her body and for her mind.
"You must learn control," Vader rumbled from where he was seated nearby. "You must learn to find peace."
Leia shook her head. She would rather face Vader's wrath than try to enter into the Force again and lose herself in its torrent. "It was too powerful."
"The Force was responding to your inner turmoil," Vader answered her, his voice impatient. "You must learn to let go of your emotions and release them into the Force."
Leia snuck a glance at Vader, his words surprising her.
"If you are not able to, you will breach upon the Dark Side of the Force," he said darkly, as if he knew what Leia was wondering.
Leia glanced towards her father's mask, taking in its grotesque corners and its blank eyes. She hesitated, and then asked, "How do you know the dark from the light?"
Vader took a few breaths before replying. "The Dark Side feeds on anger and pain," he answered. "As long as the Force wielder keeps his emotions peaceful, he will not breach upon the dark."
Leia hesitated once more, and then looked once more at her father. "Which side is stronger?"
Vader's helmet swiveled toward her, as if studying her intently before forming a response. "The Dark Side is easier to enter into, and provides many pathways that the light side of the Force does not teach. The sides are different, but neither is stronger than the other when the wielders have focus and control."
Leia nodded, and although she wished to ask more, she did not want to push her boundaries. She would space out her questions, therefore ensuring that they would be answered.
"Now," Vader commanded. "Pick up your lightsaber."
Not wishing to anger her father with any more distractions, Leia reached to her right side, where the shiny silver hilt was gleaming by her knee. She turned it in her hand once or twice, and then rose to her feet. Not for the first time that day, Leia was glad she had chosen to wear pants. She had quickly learned that practicing anything from meditation to lightsaber techniques required an extraordinary amount of flexibility and agility, both of which would be rather unmanageable in one of her dresses. Fortunately, they had been provided with new clothing soon after their arrival on the Executor, much to Leia's relief, and Leia had quickly made use out of the new garments.
Vader likewise rose, and headed towards the side of the practice room, seemingly in search of another training tool. Soon, after shifting around a few of the practice droids, he apparently found what he was looking for. When he turned back around to approach her, Leia could see a shiny black ball in his hand.
Instantly, Leia recoiled, horror spreading through her. No. Vader could not possibly see it fit to use torture as a practice technique. Her breathing quickened, her mind returning to those horrible days upon the first Death Star, when she had been viciously interrogated by a droid.
Vader halted when he saw her reaction. Then, looking down at the device in his hand, he seemed to connect the reason why.
"Princess," he rumbled. "This is a Training Remote. It will help you hone your lightsaber skills."
Leia did not reply at first, her eyes glued to the device.
Vader spoke again, growing more impatient. "This will not hurt you. The lowest setting will do nothing but cause discomfort."
Leia did not respond.
It was the first time Vader had spoken her name directly, without the title of 'Princess' or with the safety of her surname. Leia tore her gaze off of the droid to look up at the Dark Lord.
"Are you comfortable with this Remote?"
Finally, Leia nodded, swallowing her discomfort. She could not show any pain, and she would have to get over any unpleasant past memories. It is a Training Remote, she reminded herself. It is a Training Remote.
"Very well," Vader said, but he seemed wary. His thumb moved to turn on the Remote, and the droid lifted up in the air until it reached head-level. It turned in the air, as if studying Leia's skill.
Leia ignited her lightsaber, watching as the red blade sprang to life. She kept her eyes focused on the Remote.
"Opening stance. Concentrate. Do not depend on your eyes; they can deceive you. Instead, stretched out with your senses."
Leia attempted to clear her mind, but as the Remote began to turn and fire short lasers towards her, her emotions got the better of her, and soon Leia lost all concentration.
"Concentrate," snapped Vader impatiently. "You need to divorce yourself from-"
"From emotions, I know," snapped Leia back at him. Her frustration was mostly at herself, but she did not appreciate Vader's criticism. The combined stress of her uneasiness treading carefully around Vader and her frustration with her lack of progress was slowly getting to her and putting her on edge.
"From your fear, young one," Vader replied angrily. "You have great fear. The Emperor can use that against you."
Just as Leia was about to make a retort, she became aware that Luke was approaching them from the far end of the room. She shut her mouth tightly, not wishing for Luke to see that they were still arguing.
"How's it going?" Luke asked them when he drew up to them. He glanced from daughter to father, but when only a beat of silence greeted his question, he seemed to realize what was going on.
Leia met her brother's questioning gaze with a guilty glance, but she did not reply. She was already struggling to maintain a dignified, put-together appearance in the company of their father, and she did not need Luke's disappointment to add to her increasingly turbulent emotions. The truth was that being around Vader unnerved her and set her on edge, even as unwilling as she was for anyone to see it. He had so long represented fear and danger for her that it was difficult seeing him as anything but a threat. The more time she spent in his presence, the more she wondered how her mother could have ever loved him. Leia knew that Luke was always quick to say that Vader and Anakin Skywalker were different people, but Leia was growing increasingly doubtful. She could not imagine Vader as anything except how he was. He repelled her, and at every moment wished he were not her father.
"Your sister needs to learn concentration," Vader said finally, breaking the silence.
Leia clenched her jaw and lowered her gaze, knowing that at least partly her father was right.
"I can try to help with the training," offered Luke, glancing from Leia to Darth Vader. "I learned a few good tips for concentration through my training."
The offer surprised Leia, and seemed to surprise Darth Vader as well. The Sith Lord nodded briefly towards Luke. "Very well." He turned to Leia. "I must cut our time short today," he said. "I have other business to attend to."
Leia nodded, and the two watched the Sith Lord sweep out of the room.