1 month later
Li-am residence, Obroa-skai
1 year, 3 months BBY
Leaps and bounds. It was the only metaphor that could be used to describe Xel's rate of progress to any sufficient degree, and even then both Alen and Telia agreed that it fell terribly short. Perhaps lightspeed was a better comparison. Whatever the case, Xel certainly felt like he was in self-propelled hyperspace, if the grin plastered to his face as he batted bolt after bolt aside was any indication. It was nearly effortless now, at least at this difficulty, as it had been for weeks. Xel had always done something to sharpen his assets in his free time, even before all this Jedi training, be it his equipment or skills.
Where most auretii boys were chasing after girls or screwing around with their friends, Caden was learning from two Jedi holocrons and dueling his brother. Where hologames were all the rage with young teenagers, Xel was deflecting bolts from practice remotes and levitating objects in the middle of casual conversation, just to prove he could. Though pride was ordinarily quite...destructive in training, Telia found Xel's to be far more inspirational, at least to him. She supposed that was because it wasn't pride in himself alone, but in his merits as a professional. Telia wistfully reminisced that Xander had been the same way during the Clone wars.
As she watched her son make short work of a level 3 remote drill, Telia couldn't help but feel a slight pang in her chest and pressed her hand against it with a grimace. It had been four months, four months knowing her love was gone and never coming home. Four months that she'd known they would never be a family again. The drawn-out sound of her own deactivating lightsaber reached her ears as she realized she'd been frowning at the floor. Xel made his way over to her a few moments later, having noticed her condition though he may not have known the cause.
"You all right, buir?" he asked, laying a hand on her shoulder.
She smiled at him slightly and nodded. "Mhm. You should...get on with your exercises."
He raised an eyebrow and gave her a sarcastic look. "I'm in better shape than Alen, so you'll excuse me if I'm comfortable enough to reduce my regimen a bit."
She rolled her eyes emphatically. Alen wouldn't take kindly to being called weak, or even being implied as such. As opposed to Xel, her older son's pride was far from productive, and sometimes got him into trouble, though not often enough to merit too much concern. For all his maturity in the Force and as a Jedi, Alen had not gotten quite as far as a human being. Maybe because you kept him stuck on this mountain all his life. Shoving that thought away for the moment, she refocused on Xel, who didn't buy her excuses and redirections.
"I'm fine, Xel. Just...thinking."
"Yeah, hard enough to bring down a ship. Even with your mental blocks up, I can feel how much your mind's running all over the place."
Her eyes widened slightly. "Well, in that case, I'll try to think less, keep from distracting you."
His lips tightened. "You're not distracting me. You're concerning me. Infinitely worse."
Her eyes softened as she smiled at him and drew him close in an embrace. "You know, for all your rough exterior, you're a big softie."
"Hey," he complained.
She smiled wider and added quietly, "Just like your father." That shut him up right quick. Slowly, they pulled apart and locked gazes. "Xel, you may not know it, but I see more and more of Xander in you every day." She ran her fingers through his recently-cut hair, the inch-long locks already starting to curl slightly. "His strength. His tenacity." She cupped his face in her hands. "His loyalty." A small tear streaked down her cheek as her voice cracked. "He would be so proud of you."
Xel's face fell slightly before he smiled a little.
She knew it was forced and sighed internally. For all her and Alen's assurances, Xel still blamed himself for Xander's death, even more so since he figured out he'd been the beacon that drew Vader. There was something...different about his guilt though. It wasn't just self-blame, that was maybe, maybe ten percent of what he felt. The rest...was something else she couldn't nail down, and wouldn't unless Xel opened his mind enough for her to see. And he hadn't, not for the past month and a half.
Despite her concern in this matter, Telia couldn't help but feel pride in her son's progress. Just a few months earlier, he couldn't have kept her out if he tried, not if she wanted to know something. Now, the only way she could glimpse his thoughts was by hammering on his shields, and she would never do something like that, not to her own son. As much as she wanted to satisfy her curiosity, Xel deserved his privacy, and if his familial concern for her was any indication, if he felt it necessary to tell her, he would. He trusted her enough for that, or at least seemed to.
Her dark brown eyes drifted to his dark blue ones, the orbs filled with a mixture of concern and forced mirth. The combination really didn't suit him, and a sudden flash of anger swept through her. Damn you, Vader. My son doesn't deserve this. Closing her eyes briefly, she took a deep breath and released her anger into the Force. Xel noticed.
"Still want to tell me it's nothing?"
Their gazes locked yet again until she sighed and sat in a nearby chair.
"It's about Dad, isn't it?"
She looked up at him in surprise. "How could you possibly have—?"
"It doesn't take a mind-reader," he explained, crouching in front of her and taking her hands. "I feel the same way." He hesitated a moment or two. "What the Empire took from us was unforgivable." His darkening eyes met hers. "And I have no intention of forgiving."
Her expression was carefully neutral, neither judgemental nor approving. Munit tome'tayl, skotah iisa. Long memory, short fuse. She squeezed his hands. You really are so much like your father. "I know, Xel, but you can't let it make you bitter."
His eyes narrowed slightly, the slight shadows making them look even darker. "And if it has already?"
She shook her head slowly. "Then root it out. That's not how my son should be. Ever."
He looked away, his expression turning passive. A few moments passed before he released her hands and stood, scooping up her lightsaber from where he laid it and returning to the remotes.
"Of course he is."
Her head snapped to a doorway where Alen was standing, arms crossed, a grim expression on his face. "How long have you been standing there?"
His lips tightened. "Long enough." He strode to stand next to her, eyes tracking Xel's progressively more fluid motions. "He's getting better. Much better. I think he's going to pick a long-term style soon."
She smiled slightly. "Think you can predict which one?"
He snorted. "With him, anything's possible...except Soresu." He smiled slightly. "He's way too aggressive for that."
"What about Makashi?"
He shook his head. "Makashi takes patience. Still too aggressive for it. Shii-Cho is too basic."
"So that leaves four, five, six, and seven."
Alen scratched his chin as Xel leapt across the room, deflecting a bolt to his side before rolling under another from his front. "See that move?"
Telia nodded. "Shien Deflection. You think he'll take form five?"
"Possible. He is Mandalorian, so 'walking tank' is kind of in the job description." Alen's ice-blue eyes widened as Xel employed a Circle of Shelter before leaping over a remote in front of him and spinning to face it midair. Alen let out a sharp breath and flung a hand up to motion to his brother's actions. "And then he pulls stuff like that."
Telia tightened her lips and nodded. "Swift Flank. Juyo."
Alen watched for a few more minutes before throwing his hands up. "I give up," he said aloud, slumping into a nearby seat.
Telia cocked her head, intrigued. "Since he keeps switching between styles, maybe he'll go for six."
Alen looked at her sideways. "Niman? I don't know. Balance doesn't really seem to be his thing. Not with saber combat, at least."
She shook her head slowly. "In whose opinion? Certainly not mine. His approach is aggressive, I'll give you that, but he acknowledges its shortcomings and tries to compensate with defensive techniques."
Alen cocked his head. "Maybe. I wonder, is it conscious or subconscious? His compensation, I mean."
She watched Xel for a few seconds, only half her mind actually present. "Well, the first time he faced the remotes, he employed a Soresu technique without even knowing it, so...no, I don't think so. I think he just acts on instinct."
Alen quirked a smile. "'Feel, don't think,' huh?"
She nodded slowly. "Precisely."
"Hooyah, gar mir'shebs!"
Telia's eyebrows shot up at Xel's whoop as he deflected a series of impressively difficult shots, flipping backward to dodge a second volley and landing with a flourish that intercepted two more bolts.
"Uh," Alen started, "what does that mean?"
Telia sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "You don't wanna know."
"So you guys want to keep whispering to each other or let me in on the secret?"
Telia looked up at him as her lightsaber deactivated. "It's no secret. We're just debating which lightsaber style you're going to choose."
Xel nodded as he walked toward the pair, offering Telia her weapon and cocking his head to the side. "I don't know. I was thinking Juyo for a while, because it's so unpredictable, but...I don't know. Seems really..." he shrugged noncommittally, "eh, just not my style."
He thought for a few moments. "I don't know. I want something that complements my armor but allows me to function outside it, you know?"
"Soresu could do that."
"Yeah, but it stresses too much defense. I need some offense." He was silent a while longer. "Ataru leaves me too open, and I'm not nearly acrobatic enough for it, especially in armor. No offense, buir, but Niman? Way too impure."
Telia raised an eyebrow, but Alen beat her to the punch. "So that leaves form five. Have you decided which tier to focus on? Djem So, maybe?"
Xel chewed his cheek for a moment. "Nah. Too flashy."
"The 'flash' is there for a reason."
"I know, I know, just…I don't have the aptitude to make it practical. Not yet. So Shien it is."
Alen leaned over to whisper in Telia's ear. She nodded after a second.
The two Jedi shared a furtive grin.
Xel crossed his arms and stared.
"It'd be perfect," she said to Alen.
"What would be perfect?"
"I'll go get it," Alen said with a grin.
Xel gave Telia a dubious look, and she smirked in response.
Dark blue and brown eyes swept over to Alen, who was holding a small brown box. He handed the container to his younger brother, who gave Telia a sideways look before opening it, his eyes widening as he perceived its contents.
"It's called a Ruusan crystal, extremely rare and quite powerful. According to the holocron, it helps its user focus the Force."
Xel picked up the crystalline solid and turned it over in his hand, feeling it warm ever so slightly at his touch. "And why did this come up when we were discussing lightsaber styles?"
"Because the more you can focus," Telia explained, "the better you can wield one. Of course, the crystal won't be nearly as powerful as it could be until it's actually installed into a lightsaber."
An excited twinkle leapt into Xel's eyes. "You mean…I'm going to build my own."
She smiled and nodded slowly. "Soon. We'll have to gather the materials, which, with Imperials looking out for any such acquisitions, will take a while. In the meantime, you should have Alen help you access lightsaber schematics on the holocron."
Xel nodded excitedly and glanced pointedly at his brother. "What are we waiting for?"
Alen looked to Telia for approval, to which she only smiled and shook her head at her son's antics. "All right then. Let's roll."
"This…actually doesn't look all that complicated. Basic power source, solid chassis, focusing lens. These are all basic components of standard laser cutters, just on a higher scale."
"The real trick is the focusing crystal," Alen explained. "Without it, the laser would just keep going, like a cutter."
"So, the crystal causes a polar shift to keep the light within a certain range from the hilt, making it more concentrated and powerful."
Alen smiled and nodded. "Exactly. How did you know about the polarity?"
Xel pursed his lips. "When I was learning about Force powers from the holocron, he mentioned something called Force Lightning and how to defend against it with a lightsaber."
Alen gave him a strange look.
"Nothing. It's just…it took the holocron guardian years to reveal that to me."
"Well, he didn't tell me any details, just the name and basics of defense. Not too hard to figure out what it is when you hear the name."
Alen raised an eyebrow and shrugged. "Fair enough. So, you think you can do this?"
Xel shrugged. "Sure. Be a little tedious, but I think the advantages more than make up for it."
Alen turned his own lightsaber over in his hands and smiled. "Got that right." They were both silent a while as Alen thought hard, looking at his brother, then toward the room where their mother was and back again. "Hey, I'll ask Mom, but…I think we can find at least a few of these parts at the local spaceport."
"Well, the energy cell's easy. In fact…" Xel's eyes narrowed and expression softened a little before he leapt to his feet and strode out the back door, Alen close behind him.
"Where you goin'?"
Xel didn't answer, but instead strode up the entrance ramp of the Kandosii'tal, through one doorway after the next until he reached the med bay, shuddering a little as memories of his last few visits arose, then shoving them all away. He'd hardly been on the ship in the last few months, and only ever to tend his armor, get some solitude, or update Uncle Teras on his progress. The Zabrak was quite enthusiastic about the possibility of coming to visit, and after much debate and concern, Telia had agreed. After all, Teras was a hunter too, and even if Imperials were tracking the movements of all Cadens in the hope of catching Xel, he knew how to lose them.
Xel stepped past the empty berth to find what he was looking for: his father's discarded blasters. Everything had been left untouched, whether because it was too painful for him to do otherwise or it simply slipped his mind. Xel had a feeling in the back of his head that he was using the latter as a cover for the former. Pushing that thought aside, he reached over to Xander's DD6 and took it to the armory, disassembling it on a nearby workbench. Alen was looking over his shoulder, silently admiring his nimble fingers as they worked the small parts of the weapon until the energy cell was exposed. Reaching in with a pair of pliers, Xel tugged at the small part until it came loose, splicing the wires so the cell would go inactive and wrapping them around the cell.
He raised the device to Alen's view, its metal body still gripped in the pliers. "One high-energy Diatium cell acquired."
Alen's jaw dropped. "I thought cells with that level of output were only installed in blaster rifles."
Xel grinned. "Nope. This gun was my—our buir's pride and joy. Well, that and his knife."
"Which you now have."
The younger boy's smile faded a little. "Yes. Mandalorian iron—beskar. Extremely effective."
"As effective as a lightsaber?"
"Maybe not, but it can be used against one with no ill effect."
"Yeah…" Alen scratched the back of his head. "I remember the saber instructor mentioning something about that."
"Which means my armor'll come in real handy if I'm up against a saber-wielder."
Alen narrowed his eyes slightly. He didn't like Xel's tone when he'd said that. "I'll bet," he said evenly, stepping back into the hallway and pretending to observe the ship's interior. He would have to tell Telia about this.
"All done," Xel said, tucking the cell into a small oil cloth and tying it closed, the bundle going into a drawer in the armory.
They walked down the ramp together, and Alen suddenly felt the need to change the subject. "So, our uncle. When's he coming?"
Xel pursed his lips and shook his head. "Don't know. He didn't give me a date. So do we still want to go into town?"
"Maybe," Alen said pensively. "I'll go ask Mom."
Xel nodded and headed off to the 'fresher.
Telia turned toward him and smiled slightly, the mirth fading at his expression. "Alen, what's wrong?"
"I—" He hesitated a while. "I don't know. I think something's wrong with Xel. No, not wrong, just…" He sighed. "I don't know."
She took his hands in hers. "What happened?"
"Nothing, he just said something on the ship, that his armor would come in handy against a saber-wielder."
Telia gave him a sideways look. "And?"
"It wasn't what he said, it was the way he said it, like…I don't know, like he was some kind of predator."
Alen sighed and shook his head. "It's probably nothing, it's just…I could feel…malevolence laced in his tone. Hatred, even."
Her eyes widened. "Of us?"
"Woah, no. No-no-no…I don't know what exactly, but it's not us."
Telia's expression changed subtly as she put the pieces together, releasing his hands and pacing away.
"What? What is it?"
She sighed and closed her eyes. "How could I not have seen this?"
Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Vader."
Alen looked at her confusedly for a few seconds before his eyes widened to their max in realization. "He…he can't be serious."
"He's a Mando," she stated simply. "They're always serious about stuff like this."
"But…but that's crazy."
She opened her mouth to speak, but rapid steps from the stairs alerted her to Xel's approach.
"So can we?" Alen asked, mentally asking her if they could go to the spaceport to prevent suspicion.
She pursed her lips hard, gaze flickering to Xel briefly before nodding.
"Yes," Xel whooped with an arm-pump, running out back to the ship and returning in armor a few minutes later. "You ready, vod?"
Alen exchanged a look with Telia before nodding slowly and reaching for a jacket. "Ready."
Aurora Spaceport, Obroa-skai
"So, it's not just one lens, but a series of 'em."
Xel nodded slowly, helmet tucked under his arm as they browsed one of the many tech hubs on Obroa-skai, both imported and exported goods displayed. Xel reached down and picked up a particularly expensive lens, the curved transparisteel looking much like a light-splitting prism in the fading sunlight.
"Ah, ya got 'n eye f' quality," the booth owner, an inquisitive-looking Devaronian, drawled.
Xel eyed him with a raised eyebrow. "Oh? Do tell."
"See that there, that's 'n Uoti CL-7. First and only of its kind."
"What does it do exactly?"
"Well," he said, taking the lens and holding it up to the sunlight, "see that?"
The white light from Obroa-skai's sun was bent and refracted into a rainbow of colors. "Yeah?"
"Well, when ya put this li'l baby inta a lasa cutta, it automatically filtas out any impurities in tha light—"
"Finding the most powerful frequency available."
"Exactly." The Devaronian grinned in delight.
"So how much?"
"Well, considerin' 'ow I go' it, I'd say…13K."
Alen sputtered out water from the flask he'd been drinking from. "Thirteen? Could practically buy a ship with that."
"I agree," Xel said much more evenly and a little threateningly, the Mando mercenary shining through. "Not that I don't have the capital, but…that's quite a hefty price."
"Trust me, friend, if you knew what I had to go through to get this little baby…"
Xel's dangerously narrowed eyes stopped him midsentence.
"But, uh, of course, since you probably have such a busy schedule, you prob'ly don't wanna hear the…story." His expression continued to fall and morph into a frightened mask as Xel practically broadcasted his displeasure. The Devaronian gulped hard. "So we'll say eight and call it a day?" For a few moments, the Mando seemed ready to explode, but then his features softened and a small smirk crossed his face as he reached into a pouch at his belt.
"Pleasure doing business with you." He dropped the appropriate creds into the alien's open palm, then retrieved the lens and tucked it into an armored compartment on the right of his belt. They both strode away, Xel suppressing a grin, before rounding a corner and bursting into laughter. "Did you see his face?" Xel asked between breaths.
"Yes," Alen replied in the same tone. "That was mean, man. Even for you."
Xel shrugged and rolled his eyes. "Well someone's gotta be the bad cop in our relationship, and it sure as haran isn't gonna be you...like, ever."
Alen shook his head slowly, still grinning. "Come on, let's go before you decide to intimidate that Gran."
Xel glanced over at the alien in question, the large figure's triple eyestalks flashing back and forth. His smile faded slowly as he felt a ripple in the Force, opening himself to feel it more. It was coming directly from the Gran and a few others nearby, and although he still didn't have a full grasp of the gamut of emotions expressed by sentients, this one needed no study. Xel exchanged a look with his similarly disturbed brother, and an image of a coiled predator flashed into both their minds simultaneously.
"Crime imminent," Alen thought to him.
"Agreed. Let's get out of here."
As Xel started for the exit, Alen grabbed his arm. "What do you mean, 'out'? We're just gonna let them do it?"
"You do know we have to keep a low profile, right?"
"Doesn't mean we sit idly by and let scum do their work."
Alen turned back toward the Gran and took a few steps toward him, reaching for the left side of his belt before Xel grabbed his arm in turn. "You pull that saber and you might as well throw up a flare to the Empire."
Alen rolled his eyes heavily. "You think I'm that stupid?" He lifted the flap of his jacket that covered the left side of his belt, revealing a blaster holstered at his hip and an ever-so-slight lump under the folds of his tunic.
Xel's eyebrows raised slightly. "Okay then."
Alen slowly drew the weapon as the predatory feeling from the Gran and his partners intensified, Xel donning his helmet at the same time. The alien approached the Devaronian's stall slowly, a little too slowly, his right hand reaching under his coat to grab something. The moment he drew the blaster, three weapons rang out at once, none of them belonging to the brothers.
"What the hell?!" Xel yelled, diving for cover behind one of the stalls as the four thieves started shooting up the bazaar.
"I don't know! They don't seem to be targeting anything in particular!" A blaster bolt landed barely two inches from Alen's face, and his eyes widened as Xel's teeth clenched behind his faceplate.
"You sure about that?"
Alen popped from cover in response, sending a trio of shots from his pistol into the nearest thief, a human male who dropped barely a second later as red plasma burned through him. Xel, not to be outdone, followed suit, drawing both MA pistols and pumping shots left and right, more in suppressing fire than actual attacks. It worked. The thieves were immediately forced on the defensive and broke off their attack on the merchants to get to cover. The Gran's backup focused their fire on Xel as soon as they saw the Mandalorian t-visor, which suited the Mando just fine. His jetpack triggered a second later, taking him in an arc over the entirety of the market as he spun his body in a circle, firing downward and tagging one of them.
He was stunned by his own performance. Before his training, Xel would never have even considered flying upside-down to throw the enemy off-balance. It was too disorienting, like zero-g. Now, not only was he doing it, but managed to down a target with ease. The Force really was amazing. As his boots planted on the ground, Xel rolled to the side, dodging a trio of shots sent his way by the Gran. The other remaining thief was nursing a leg wound, probably from Alen, and joining his comrade's firing line. Xel debated sending a wrist rocket into the mix but immediately decided against it. It would be no more than gratuitous destruction, and there was no way he was going to incur that much collateral damage on the shop owners. Instead, he reached out to Alen and told him to flank the bunch. The injured thief found himself on the wrong end of a stun blast when the Jedi got within range.
Realizing this, the Gran sprinted for the exit, barely dodging a shot from Xel and rounding cover as the Mando pursued. The alien thought quickly and ran toward a frightened family, snatching up one of their smaller children before any of them could act. The parents and remaining children shrieked in tandem as their relative was hauled off as a human shield between his captor and the chasing Mando. Xel's eyes widened behind his visor.
He did not just…
The Mando's teeth clenched as he scowled hard, raising his blasters and aiming carefully.
"Back off!" the Gran warned in his guttural language, his blaster pressed to the boy's neck. "Back off or he gets it!"
Xel scowled even harder, if that was possible, but lowered his weapons slowly.
"Fool." The alien raised his blaster and fired once, nailing Xel dead center.
He let the force of the blast knock him off his feet, playing dead when he had barely felt the impact. The Gran's coarse laughter reached his ears as he stepped closer, still holding the boy tightly as he raised the blaster to Xel's helmeted head. Idiot, Xel thought, that still won't hurt me. Faster than lightning, the Mando's armored legs wrapped around his blaster hand, angling the barrel away and sending his shot into the duracrete floor. Xel's right hand raised and index squeezed before he realized he'd dropped his blasters in his act. Cursing, his hand reached down to his hip and whipped out his knife underhandedly, the beskar blade stabbing into the Gran's leg.
Yelping in pain, the alien struggled harder and kicked Xel in the head, the impact jarring him enough to release his blaster hand. Xel delivered a sharp kick to the weapon itself, sending it clattering to the floor and him running again as he regained his footing. The alien ran toward a nearby door to a secluded maintenance tunnel, throwing the child aside as he limped through. The boy's head impacted against the hard duracrete wall, and Xel's heart stopped for a second as he reached out with the Force.
Caden glanced behind to see Alen running toward him, then looked at the open door and felt an unstoppable surge of hatred pass through him. A kid…he's just a kid. His teeth ground together hard as he ran after the escaping thief. "Take care of him!" he ordered his older brother, pointing at the immobile child as his family rushed to his side. Xel didn't bother looking at them anymore, a red haze beginning to cloud his vision. A kid! An animalistic roar came from his helmet's filters as he chased down the Gran, leaping to tackle the burly alien and pelt his shoulder and torso with blows. The alien shoved him off almost effortlessly and clambered to his feet, a fast hook knocking Xel back two steps despite his successful guard.
What the hell? This hut'uun's kriffing strong. With that in mind, Xel feinted with a right cross, instead opting for a low kick to the alien's injured leg, his knife coming loose even as the Gran roared in pain. As Xel crouched to retrieve the weapon, his opponent kicked him in the head—hard. The boy's head spun as he tried to reorient himself, instead finding his enemy driving him back further and further. His anger kept rising with every passing moment, every fiber of his body telling him to fight back while also screaming its pain. A hastily aimed shin kick landed in the alien's lower ribs, temporarily jarring him out of his rampage and allowing Xel some breathing room. Using the Force to dull the pain, he leapt toward the Gran with a flying cross, the blow landing solidly on his left cheek and staggering him.
But his opponent was not to be so easily defeated. The blows they rained down on each other nearly shook the deserted room they were in until Xel was thrown against a nearby pipe, the metal denting heavily with the impact.
"Ow," he groaned quietly as he tried to stand, his limbs shaking with a mixture of pain and adrenaline. Before he could respond, the Gran hauled him to his feet and yanked his helmet off one-handed, that same hand curling into a fist and driving straight into his head. The world spun as he fell, the alien allowing him to stagger to his knees as red filled his vision completely. Get up, he told himself. Get up! His body refused to obey. The Gran bodily lifted and threw him across the room, his body rolling to a stop a second later. The massive alien advanced slowly, savoring his victory as blood streamed from Xel's face, the Mando struggling to a kneeling position.
Caden's eyes shut and teeth clenched in a mixture of pain and frustration. I've taken on Nikto before. Why am I failing? The image of the young boy's limp body filled his mind's eye, and his heart wrenched painfully. Why have I failed…again? Distantly, the click of the Gran's boots against the metal floor reached his ears, the steps getting closer by the second. I failed him. Xander's face replaced the boy's. I failed him…
And in an instant, that defeat, that despair, was replaced by an inferno, a raging tempest of heat fighting to be released. And he did.
"Enough!" he roared, his right hand raising toward the alien, fingers curling in a clawing motion as the Gran sputtered to a stop, both hands going to his neck.
His three eyes kept opening and closing haphazardly, the eyestalks turning every which direction as his fingers desperately tried to loosen the invisible grip around his neck. Which was when he felt his feet left the ground. All three eyes widened in horror as he saw a foot-long gap between him and the floor, those invisible fingers tightening even further as Xel's fingers drew closer together. His outstretched hand, his entire body was shaking in white-hot rage.
"A child," he said in quiet menace. "You assaulted a child. You are a worm, not even worthy to fall at his feet and beg forgiveness!"
If possible, the grip around the thief's throat tightened even further, and black spots swam at the edge of his vision.
A small part of Caden recognized the voice, but he never took his focus away from the miserable chakaar floating in his grasp.
"He's all right, Xel! The kid's okay! Let him go!"
The pieces started to click in his head. Kid's alive…family's intact…attempted murder, not successful. His eyes widened slightly as the red cleared and he realized where he was and who was talking to him. Immediately, his hand relaxed and dropped, the Gran falling flat on the ground as a result. Alen's brown-clad figure rushed past him, his right hand going over the fallen thief's head as he searched for life in the Force. A relieved sigh left him before he stood and slowly turned to Xel, his eyes glaring daggers at his brother.
Xel, for his part, was staring at his hands much the same way he had on Nar Shaddaa. Again. I did it again. He looked up and met his brother's harsh gaze. "I—I didn't mean to—"
"Yes," Alen interrupted sharply with a scowl, "yes you did." A few tense seconds passed before the Jedi kneeled again and put his hand on the Gran's head. Fifteen seconds later, and he got up again, looking a little more tired than before. "Let's go."
Xel nodded numbly, recalling his helmet with the Force and tucking it under his arm as he followed. "What did you do to him?"
Alen looked at him, still glaring. "Force Persuasion. Made him forget you used the Force."
Xel gulped hard. "Thanks."
"I didn't do it for you. If anyone finds out there are Force-sensitives on this planet, we're all in jeopardy." He scoffed. "I expected you to know that, but I guess you lost too much control to care."
He couldn't meet his brother's eyes all the way back to their speeder, or on the ride back home. Alen was right, and he knew it. He had well and truly failed, just like before.
And he could only hope his actions hadn't been noticed by anyone else.