Dha Wherda Verda
1 hour later
Li-am residence, Obroa-skai
1 year, 3 months BBY
"What were you thinking?!"
Like his brother, Xel couldn't meet Telia's intense gaze as he responded in a near-whisper. "I wasn't."
"Exactly. You weren't." Telia was pacing, her breath heavy with barely controlled anger. It was a side Xel had never seen before and Alen only rarely. Both could understand her state of mind.
"I'm sorry," Xel added in the same soft tone.
"You're sorry? You cut loose, release your anger, nearly kill someone, and you're sorry?!" She laughed mockingly. "Let me explain something to you. Even without our Bond, I felt your anger from halfway across the planet, so who's to say the Empire's Jedi Hunters couldn't feel you from halfway across the galaxy?!"
Xel kept his gaze directed downward as his mother glowered at him.
"Mom," Alen said quietly, surprisingly calm for his previous state of mind.
With effort, Telia took a deep breath and exhaled the majority of her anger, some still simmering under the surface. "Xel, you cannot afford to slip up like that again. Ever."
He gulped hard and nodded, eyes pricking and throat closing. When Telia reached out through their bond to see what was causing his reaction, her fury completely melted away.
"Oh, Xel," she breathed, her arms curling around his shoulders and holding him close. When she closed her eyes, the darkness was invaded by a clear picture of Xander's face, and Xel's monumental feelings of guilt and shame washed over the Bond. His face pressed against her shoulder, silent tears running into her tunic. He made no sounds, no movements. It was as if he were a crying statue. Telia nearly winced when she felt his feelings vanish and his side of the Bond slam shut.
Slowly, he extracted himself from her embrace and stood up, retreating to his room with a stone-cold expression and leaving both mother and brother gaping.
Inside, he was a complete and utter shipwreck. It was just like that day on Nar Shaddaa, except he knew he could use the Force and chose to, to such an extent that he practically threw up a flare to anyone looking. An iron fist tightened around his heart. I'm so weak, so foolish. So childish. He sat on his bed hard, head falling into his hands. That weakness is going to get them both killed, or worse. He looked up at his door. I can't put them through that. Can't lose anyone else. He rose slowly, as quietly as possible, and headed for his door, using the Force to lend silence to his steps and making his way down the hall toward the back, where his ship was waiting.
"And where do you think you're going?"
Xel stopped in his tracks, features setting as he turned to his brother. "I'm leaving."
Alen's eyes narrowed.
"I'm putting you both in danger being here. I can't control myself, not when I get like…that."
"And you think running away will change that?"
Xel turned to face Telia, who effectively cut off his path to the door. "No, but at least you'll be safe." His gloved fists clenched. "I can't lose anyone else."
"And you think we can?"
His blue eyes met her brown ones, flickering to Alen's for a moment before returning to the floor. So selfish. A small, bitter chuckle came from his throat as his fists relaxed. He blinked back the returning sting in his eyes, muscling his way through and keeping his composure. "There's been enough breakdown today." His eyes returned to Telia's. "I'm sorry," he added evenly.
Before she could respond, there was a loud knock at the door, and all three of them jumped a little. Telia unclipped her lightsaber and strode cautiously over, checking the peephole and widening her eyes in surprise before opening the door.
"So," the man on the other side said as the boys approached, "is this a bad time?"
Xel practically sprinted within view of the entrance and grinned as he saw who it was. "Not at all, Uncle Teras."
As it turned out, Teras wasn't the only one who came. He'd somehow convinced Elek to take a break from his foundry duties and bring Cerril as well. One of the first things Xel noticed was the new scar on Ril's left cheek and the slight smirk he always seemed to have whenever someone looked at it.
"I trust your trip was uneventful?" Telia asked.
Teras smirked and exchanged a look with Elek before shrugging. "Of course."
Telia rolled her eyes and sighed. "Teras, you've never been particularly good at lying to me."
The Zabrak grinned. "Only when I want you to ask about it. Before we left, we were…accosted by some Imps who wanted to hire us as trainers for the Imperial Academy on Mandalore. Told 'em to usen'ye."
Her eyebrows shot up as Xel and Ril giggled in the background. "Bet that went over well."
"Well, they came to us to give that 'offer,' so trying to force the matter would have ended…badly."
"For them," Elek added.
As they chattered on, Xel turned to Ril and whispered, "So what's with the scar? You get in another drunken fight?"
Cerril's smirk turned into a full-on grin. "Nope. Well, not drunken, anyway." His gaze locked with Xel's.
Barely a flicker from his Force Sense was enough to give him a clue. "Ril, no." His friend nodded emphatically. "Her?" He nodded again. "You do know that girl's trouble, right?"
"Yep, but she's my kind of trouble."
Xel sighed and shook his head. "What happened exactly?"
Xel's brows furrowed as he looked back to see his brother leaning his head between them. "Never took you for the gossiping type."
Alen grinned as he summoned a chair with the Force, visibly unnerving Cerril. "Never really had the chance to. Please, don't stop on my account." He rested his chin on his palm, looking at them both intently.
Sighing heavily, Cerril returned his attention to Xel. "Well, you see, ever since that night, I've kinda been the laughing stock of Clan Vizsla, so…I decided to go for a rematch."
"And let me guess, she beat you even while sober."
Ril grinned wider, if that was even possible. "Nope. It was actually a draw. I had reach, she had flexibility." He laughed heartily. "You shoulda seen the looks on some of the Vizsla kids' faces. They were actually betting on our match."
"Di'kute," said Xel with a shake of the head. "For or against you?"
Cerril snorted. "What do you think?"
"So that draw must have been quite a slap."
"Yep. And they weren't the only ones upset about it."
"So you went back for round three."
"Mhm, just not in front of the others. That's how I got this scar." He punctuated this statement by drawing his index across the indent on his cheek, cocking his head to one side. "Well…not exactly during the match, more like…immediately after."
Xel's eyebrows knitted until both he and Alen reached out with the Force, whereupon both their expressions changed, Alen's in confusion, Xel's in fierce embarrassment.
Ril laughed at them both, his cheeks starting to hurt from all the smiling. The seventeen-year-old was clearly on Cloud Nine.
Xel shook his head, the red still failing to leave his face after a good twenty seconds. "So you two are—"
"Very much together." Cerril leaned back, using his knitted fingers as a headrest. "And very happy."
"Clearly," Xel muttered as Alen turned to him in confusion. They locked gazes. "You don't wanna know."
Ril looked at Alen in disbelief. "You mean older brother doesn't know about—"
"I'm sure he knows, he just doesn't know what it feels like."
Ordo's eyebrows shot up. "And you do?"
Xel blushed again, scratching the back of his head. "Well, no, I mean…I've never—"
"I know your expressions, and with that feeling, it's not too hard to put together."
"Okay," Alen interrupted, "would you two stop being so inside-jokey and tell me what's going on?"
The disoriented Jedi looked between the two young Mandos, eyebrows raising as they gave each other very different looks, Ril's a kind of mad glee, Xel's a flustered grimace. "Okay," Alen said finally, raising his hands placatingly, "fine, I don't want to know."
Cerril looked genuinely put out. "You sure? I mean, you're a jetii, but I'm sure we could find you a—"
"No," Xel interrupted sharply. "Absolutely not."
"But come on."
"No, Ril. He's still innocent of your…debauchery, and I'd like to keep it that way."
Alen's eyebrows shot up. "Debauchery?"
"B-But—" Cerril protested.
"No, Ril. I mean it."
Ril sighed heavily and slumped in his chair. "Fine. Fine, be a spoilsport."
Xel shook his head as his eyes rolled. Desperately trying to change the subject, he turned to Elek and Teras and made a decision. "Hey, Uncle Teras!"
The Zabrak looked his way. "Hm?"
"Should we show them?"
His eyebrows furrowed. "Show them what?"
"Oh. That." Teras glanced at Telia. "Well, she's already seen it."
"Alen hasn't," Xel pouted.
Teras sighed as he got to his feet alongside Elek. "But these old bones—"
"Are gonna hold up just fine." Xel smiled wider at his brother's confused expression and winked as he and the other three Mandos lined up in the open central room.
"Ready," all three answered in unison as their postures and stances straightened, each of them mimicking the other.
Xel's grin faded to a small smirk. Hold onto your hat, Alen, 'cause you're about to see one of my skills.
And all at once, they began.
Fists beat against chests, both of the men and the men next to them, alternating in a rhythmic beat of drums, armored fists on chest plates, that matched the cadence of their chant perfectly.
"Dha Wherda Verda a'den tratu, Manda'yaim kandosii adu! Duum motir ka'tra nau tracinya! Gra'tua cuun hett su dralshy'a!"
The fists kept beating, firm blows that were so perfectly and precisely executed, Alen began asking himself whether they were Force-users. As if sensing his train of thought, Xel just gave him a feral grin, slowing his beats to a low drone with the others.
The beat picked up again with loud, resounding strokes, each of them once again in perfect cadence.
"Dha Wherda Verda a'den tratu, Manda'yaim kandosii adu! Duum motir ka'tra nau tracinya! Gra'tua cuun hett su dralshy'a!"
The beat kept going as they fell silent, rapid and unyielding, like a Mandalorian charge on the battlefield, and in the throes of the chant, Alen felt a slight chill run down his spine. The…dance, for lack of a better term, was truly intimidating. The discipline required, the coordination…he hadn't thought them achievable to such a high degree without the Force, and at that moment, he realized he'd read Xel all wrong. As the drumming again rose to a fever pitch, they all began chanting again, their voices even louder and more forceful.
"Dha Wherda Verda a'den tratu, Manda'yaim kandosii adu! Duum motir ka'tra nau tracinya! Gra'tua cuun hett su dralshy'a! Dha Wherda Verda a'den tratu, Manda'yaim kandosii adu! Duum motir ka'tra nau tracinya! Gra'tua cuun hett su dralshy'a!"
The drumbeats went choppy to allow the chanters to employ more force, the resounding blows ringing through the whole house as they finished with a universal and powerful expulsion of breath.
I don't think he realizes how far open his mouth is hanging. Xel couldn't help but grin as he and the others broke their line, his armored arm going around his brother's shoulders as he kept staring, his gaze wandering to each of them until he shook himself.
"Wow. Just…wow." Alen shook his head again. "I don't think I've ever seen anything like that."
"Nor will you outside of visiting Mandalore," Elek responded, clapping his son on the shoulder.
Telia was smiling at her sons, arms crossed.
"And you said I was too sloppy and uncoordinated," Xel teased, jabbing Alen in the ribs with his index.
Alen scrunched up his face and shoved him away playfully. "Shut up." His grin belied his "fury."
Xel shrugged. "Just saying."
"Well, you always make me feel inferior, I just figured I'd return the favor."
Alen arched an eyebrow at him. "Revenge is never the best course of action."
Xel's smile faded to an almost imperceptible degree, but Alen noticed. "Maybe, but in this case, I'm willing to settle for second best."
"So what brought you here now?" Xel asked. "I mean, you've wanted to come visit for a while, so…"
Teras mirthful expression darkened a bit, and he reached for a bag on the floor near the dining table, lifting and setting it on the surface, then opening its flap and reaching in. He hesitated for a moment before drawing out something curved and metal and offering it to Xel. It took the teen a few seconds, but eventually the truth dawned on him and his eyes widened in recognition.
"Is…is that—?" he choked out.
"Yes. It's…all I could recover. I'm sorry."
Xel took the metal in both hands, his gloved thumbs running across the surface as his eyes welled up. "How did you get a hold of this?"
"Apparently, a bunch of beskar was suddenly floating around Nar Shaddaa's undercity markets after the fact, most of it being bought up almost immediately. That was the only bit I got back."
Xel gulped and nodded slowly, a small, sad smile coming to his face. "Thank you." He got up and pulled the larger Zabrak into a bone-crushing hug. "Thank you so much."
The six of them stood in a semicircle in the house's rear courtyard, the light of their small bonfire illuminating the metal surface of the item in Xel's hand. He knelt solemnly.
"What's going on?" Alen asked Teras almost inaudibly.
The Zabrak leaned toward him. "Since Mandos die on the battlefield, and very often in explosions, there usually isn't much of a body left to identify, so their memories are commemorated with armor pieces." He nodded toward Xel. "That pauldron is all I could find of Xander's."
"Oh," Alen said quietly, bowing his head in reverence.
Xel closed his eyes and opened his mouth, his voice ringing clearly through the still night air. "Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum." His eyes opened and he stayed crouched for a while, absently listening to Teras explain the ceremony to Alen.
"'I'm still alive, but you're dead. I remember you, so you are eternal.' It's a traditional Mandalorian remembrance of the fallen."
A small hand laid on Xel's shoulder as his falling tears sizzled in the fire. His free hand grasped Telia's, and he stood slowly, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. "Thank you, Teras. All of you. I…I don't really think I came to terms with it until just now."
Teras laid a hand on his other shoulder. "It's the least we can do, ad'ika."
As they all went inside one by one, Xel stayed behind and opened his right hand, staring at his father's right pauldron and the red symbol of Mandalore emblazoned on it. His eyes narrowed and fingers closed around it as he reached to his own right shoulder and disengaged the grip-seal on his pauldron, pulling it off and fastening his father's to it. The curved plate was a little bigger than the one he had before, but to such a small degree that he hardly noticed the weight. The spare pauldron went into a pouch at his belt as he walked inside the house, his mother having noticed his absence. When she and the other Mandos saw the new shoulder piece, they all smiled solemnly and nodded to him.
Alen once again felt utterly left out.
As they all headed for bed, Xel felt heavily bittersweet. His father's funeral had given him some closure, true, but there was still the matter of his killer. Not only that, but Teras and the others were leaving in the morning, after being there barely a few hours. All three of them apparently had other business to take care of and couldn't stay. He couldn't blame them. As he leaned back in bed, his armor stacked in a corner of the room, his mind wandered in every which direction, sleep slowly taking control, or so it seemed. He slipped into a half-conscious state, his eyes fluttering closed as he started hearing eerily familiar voices in his head.
"Dha Wherda Verda. The chant they performed. It means 'Rage of the Shadow Warriors.'"
"I see. Why do you seem a little…disturbed by that?"
"You definitely feel that way."
"Maybe…maybe it's because it reminds me of where he gets it from."
"What, his rage?"
"Yes…he was brought up learning to use it."
"So do we just train him not to?"
"We've been trying that, and not only does he refuse to, but he has consciously chosen his anger."
"So what do we do? If he has another outburst like today—"
"I know the stakes, Alen. I just don't know how to help him. Maybe we should stop his training. At least for a while, until he learns to control his anger properly."
"What reason would we give?"
"The truth. For all his irrational and emotional decisions, Xel listens to cold, hard reason."
"I hope you're right…Mom, I don't ever want to have to fight him."
"Well of course not, but…why do you say that?"
"I just…seeing him today, outside of training, in his natural element…it unnerved me just how good he is. I can only imagine what his skills were like before, but with the Force…I'm not sure I could stop him if I tried."
"Then let's hope we never have to."
"Hope, Mother? That's something we haven't got a whole lot of these days. And if Vader—"
"Vader won't touch him. Or you. I'll die before I let that happen."
"Mom…if you do that…you know he'll hate you for it."
"Yes...I know, and I need you to be strong, because if it does happen—"
"Wait…do you feel that?"
"No…wait, yes. It feels like…oh Force!"
With that, Xel's eyes snapped open, and he realized with startling clarity that he'd been eavesdropping on his family. He'd subconsciously accessed their Force Bond in his sleep, a touch that didn't give away his presence because it was so light. He bit his lower lip as he felt them both outside his closed door, tension flowing off them in waves. He forced his body to relax and turned over, feigning sleep while furiously suppressing the urge to cry. How could they think I would ever betray them…to Vader? Tears fell silently, soaking his pillow as he drew the covers around him like a Force Shield.
The two Jedi outside his door left believing he remained unaware.