Cleo is seven years old when her father demonstrates the Force in front of her for the first time.
She was a member of a high-class family living in Cloud City, royal in all matters except for what their social standing was labeled. She didn't remember much about the time before they lived there, only that they used to live somewhere else. Sometimes her family talked about a planet blowing up, so she guesses that's what happened.
That must have also been the reason she didn't have a mother. Cleo felt bad sometimes, because she didn't miss her, but then again, she had never really known her.
Her father's job had something to do with talking to aliens a lot. Sometimes, she would sit in and listen; it was morbidly fascinating seeing all the weird types of creatures that existed in the universe.
That day, the guest and her father were arguing with each other, their voices getting louder and louder. Cleo thought it was entertaining, until she saw something in her father's face snap.
She doesn't even remember what the reason was. She only remembers him lifting his hand, and the alien grasping at their throat, proceeding to fall to the floor in an unceremonious heap moments later.
She trembled and cried at the sight. It took a second before her father noticed her reaction; He approached her and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Don't be afraid, Cleo. The Force is powerful, but can be used to your advantage. You will learn one day."
Cleo is ten when her father shows her how to do what he did to the alien. She learned later that Nefera was the same age when it happened to her.
She was furious because she had dropped her favorite dessert on the ground. Unlike most children, she didn't cry for another; she instead stomped and whined and demanded.
Ramses pulled her aside by the arm, a little forcefully, and she wrestled out of his grip. He gave her a glare before he spoke. "Do you see this beetle?"
He then pointed to a small insect that was walking along the wall they were next to. She huffed. "Yes, father. It's a beetle. Now, tell the servants to get me another Tibanna split, or I'm going to scream!"
"You're angry right now. I want you to use this to terminate the beetle using the Force."
Her blood ran cold. She knew he was going to ask her to do this sooner or later, but she didn't think this soon. Her voice shook, losing its sharp quality it had seconds ago. "A-aren't I too young?"
"Apprentices are typically younger than even you. Now, listen."
He began elaborating on how to channel her raw emotions, and how she could crush the bug using sheer will and rage. It terrified and intrigued Cleo at the same time.
She furrowed her brow and stared at the beetle, focusing on her anger over her ruined dessert, and imagined the bug crushing under the weight of nothing. It stopped in its tracks, and its legs splayed out. It began struggling.
Cleo's heart flipped, and she lost her concentration. The bug regained its posture, and continued on, noticeably more frantic this time.
Ramses sighed quietly. "A start. We will continue this later."
The idea made Cleo tense up. She didn't want ice cream anymore.
Cleo is thirteen when she is assigned a body guard and an adviser.
Technically, they are both still in training under Cloud City's various programs since they are around the same age as her, but she needed to trust and form a bond with her right-hand people, according to her father. Therefore, they were introduced early in life.
Her future adviser's name was Ghoulia. She was a pale, droopy-eyed thing that spoke in a slow manner, and Cleo could never tell if she was human or not, and didn't think to ask. Ghoulia was devoted to her studies and spent more time at a desk than not, but she did make time to spend with the princess.
The bodyguard's name was Deuce. He was half Trandoshan, half human, but he took more after his human parent; there were scales that trailed the top of his feet to the middle of his neck, and there was something about his reptilian eyes that fascinated the princess. He was too kind for his own good, in Cleo's opinion.
Cleo acted cold towards the two at first. How dare her father pair her up with such people without even receiving her input? She should have been able to pick. After all, she'd be stuck with them for the rest of her life.
As the months went on, however, she found herself warming up to them. She didn't dare say it out loud, but she felt it.
She and Ghoulia would sit and talk for hours, Cleo telling the other girl the history of Bespin and Ghoulia scribbling notes to sort through later. They would also search the archives for any information they could find on Cleo's missing mother; nothing ever turned up. The only thing they found were conspiracies that the destruction of Cleo's former home planet was planned by someone who lived there, which was extremely unhelpful.
When the guards weren't looking, Deuce showed Cleo the techniques he was learning in the academy using rods they snatched from droid repair rooms. She thought he would do better without a weapon; he seemed more built for brute force, rather than precision. Not like she stared at his muscles or anything like that.
The three began spending time together as a group as well, instead of just one-on-one with Cleo, and their friendship became something that she clung to desperately in the time that wasn't spent with her father
She started seeing books in shops and thinking Ghoulia would enjoy reading this one, and seeing jewelry she liked made her want to buy it so she could flaunt her obvious beauty to Deuce.
She ignored these urges, of course. She needed to be close with the two, but not so much that they were having sleepovers every night and giggling together.
Regardless, whether Cleo wanted to admit it or not, Deuce and Ghoulia's presence was something she could lose herself in and forget her all-consuming training for a while.
Cleo's father told her that the training would get easier as it progressed, but it only became more difficult.
It didn't sit right with her, killing innocent things, even if it was something like a bug. Bugs were disgusting, of course, but they didn't really deserve to die in such a way.
More days than not, Cleo would have bags under her eyes from the nightmares she endured. She didn't tell anyone about them, not even Deuce and Ghoulia, because it would make her seem weak.
As time went on, her father kept insisting they try new things with the Force all the time. The older she got, however, the harder it was for her to muster the rage she needed to make it work. What he was asking of her was too much for her to achieve.
When she was seventeen years old, her father informed her that contact with Deuce and Ghoulia would be limited to once per month now.
His reasoning was that she was getting too friendly with them, and it was impeding her training. "You would be so much closer to the end of your path if you weren't so soft. Nefera is far ahead of you."
Cleo doesn't remember what he said after that; her head was swimming at that point. She left his wing of the mansion in a daze.
Minutes after the exchange with her father, Cleo contacted Deuce and Ghoulia and commanded them to meet with her immediately in her bedroom.
When they arrived, she informed them about the situation, and came close to breaking down several times, but her upbringing won over and repressed the tears.
Both of them tried cheering her up by telling her that it wasn't goodbye, it just meant they would see each other less. However, neither of them could hide the sadness in their eyes any better than she could. Not one of the three teenagers was convinced; they all knew that Deuce and Ghoulia would likely be replaced by others in their training program, ones that Cleo wasn't attached to, ones that couldn't make her forget her anger, but would instead increase it.
Cleo gripped one of each of their hands in both of her own. She asked them if they knew about the Force.
She didn't know why it all came pouring out of her in that moment. She wasn't supposed to discuss her training with anyone, not even the two people she was supposed to be the closest to. She had managed to keep it a secret for so long.
But she told them the entire story in hushed whispers, looking over her shoulder to see if anyone was coming to her room.
Deuce's reaction was sympathetic, and looked as if Cleo's pain was hurting him, too, even thought he didn't entirely understand what he had just heard. He kept his hand in hers and stroked his thumb against her hand occasionally. She ignored how warm it made her feel.
Ghoulia's reaction was entirely different. She listened with intense curiosity. This didn't hurt Cleo's feelings, she knew this was just how her friend was; never turning down an opportunity to learn about something new.
But she looked almost determined, somehow. After Cleo was done, there was no sound in the room except for the three's breathing. Ghoulia broke the silence by saying, "If you know about the Force, you know about Jedis, right?"
"I've heard of them. Father says they're cowards who don't want to embrace the Force for what it is." She felt sick. "Although I'm starting to think he may be wrong about some things. Even if I wanted to find out more about the Force on my own, I couldn't. I don't have the means. He was my only means."
"But I could learn about it. And I have. And I can tell you." Ghoulia grinned.
Cleo thought it sounded like something out of a story. A princess running away from her evil father to join the forces of...good? She wasn't sure exactly what to call the Jedi. She only knew that whatever they were doing was better than what her family was doing, and didn't know why she didn't realize it before.
She didn't remember exactly how it happened, but now she was sitting behind Deuce and Ghoulia in a starship they had... borrowed... from Deuce's aunt. All she recalls is grabbing her mother's hairpin and making a run for it alongside her friends on a decision made in a split second, her heart pounding so hard in her chest she thought it might fall out.
She knew she wasn't being rational. She knew she wasn't thinking. She just had to get out of there.
Her father telling her that she couldn't see her friends is what finally made her break, what made her realize what he was doing to her, how he was breaking her. Well, he had broken her before, but he was going to take away the only things (rather, people) that made her happy.
Seeing how willing the two of them had been to help her, Cleo thought to herself that she loved Deuce and Ghoulia, but then scolded herself, and scolded herself for scolding herself, because she was rebelling, dammit.
As the ship whirred to life and they lifted off the ground, she had an epiphany.
Her father had thought he could prevent Cleo from straying off the path he laid for her by choosing two people who weren't like her at all to be at her side. In reality, he had accomplished exactly what he had tried to prevent.
Cleo felt triumphant; in a pure way, instead of a spiteful one like she had been accustomed to. All of a sudden, all her fear left her. They didn't have a plan, but this was somehow more comforting than knowing where they were going.
It was the happiest she had ever been.