2 weeks later
Li-am residence, Obroa-skai
1 year, 2 months BBY
Telia was excited. That much at least was apparent to her two sons, but the cause for such excitement eluded them until she approached.
"Well, Alen, it looks like our stay here finally paid off."
The brothers exchanged a look with raised eyebrows, returning their eyes to her.
"The Imps missed something."
Xel's eyebrows furrowed. "Huh?"
"The archives," Alen breathed out, some of her excitement filling him. "She's talking about the archives of the Jedi Academy."
One of Xel's eyebrows raised. "You mean…they found Jedi artifacts."
Telia nodded, smiling slightly as she placed a holoprojector on the table between them. "Yes, and one in particular."
A familiar cube-like object greeted the trio.
"A holocron," both brothers said in unison.
"Exactly. Under heavy guard and scheduled to be moved sometime within the week."
Xel gave her a confused look. "Moved? Why not destroy it like everything else?" "Holocrons aren't like normal devices," Alen explained. "They're crafted not only from metal and circuitry, but with the Force as well. That, like lightsabers, makes them difficult to destroy. Most of the time, they're even sturdier than lightsabers."
"Right," Telia said. "The holocrons they found on their first sweep also had to be moved offworld, all the way to Coruscant, for disposal."
Xel raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure about that?"
"What do you mean?"
"If they were moved to Imperial Center, that means that either Vader, the Emperor, or both, were involved. Why would someone as power-hungry as those two destroy potential weapons, even if they are of Jedi origin?"
The Knight's eyebrows raised and corners of her lips turned slightly upward. "Good point. It would take some time, but…history tells how the Sith managed to corrupt certain holocrons, thereby overriding the safeguards within. I have no doubt that the Emperor has access to such power, and given enough time, he could most certainly crack them."
Alen shook his head slowly. "I'll never understand the Sith. Never understand their insatiable hunger."
Xel had to suppress a smirk and forced his face to remain neutral as he spoke. "Considering we're both going through puberty, growth spurts and the like…"
Alen looked at him funny. "What?" He looked genuinely confused for a second before he rolled his eyes and groaned slightly as Telia let out a small chuckle.
Xel just leaned back in his seat, grinning smugly. "See? She gets my jokes."
"And on that note," Telia said, cutting into Alen's glare and thumbing the holoprojector, bringing up a series of maps and schematics. "The transport convoy will be taking it from the Celebratus Archive here—" she pointed out a large, regal building in the interior of Obron City, "—to Aurora Spaceport here." The holomap drifted several miles to the location in question, a red line indicating the transport's likely route. "The holocron will be kept aboard an Imperial Troop Transport." An image of a long, truck-like hovercraft with heavy armor and a small turbolaser cannon on the top replaced the city. "Ray shielded, heavily armored."
Xel stroked his slightly scruffy chin. "The Kandosii's cannons can crack that armor with one or two passes."
"And attract every TIE Fighter in the system," Alen added, voice almost scolding. "Honestly, vod, do you want us to get caught?"
"Well, no, but…"
A small, amused smile came to Xel's face.
"What? Why are you staring at me?"
"You called me 'vod.'"
Alen's eyes drifted off, mouth slightly open, before he shrugged and quirked a smirk. "So I did."
Returning their attention to the projector, the brothers watched and listened with professional attention as she laid out the plan.
1 day later
The Executor, Kuat mobile shipyard, location unknown
"The move is set to happen tomorrow at noon local time."
"And you were sure to supply just enough information to pique their interest?"
"I was, master. Every step has been meticulously planned."
Vader nodded and strode down the dark halls of his flagship's bridge, long, heavy strides taking him across the room. "Well done." He turned his head to an Imperial officer. "Lieutenant, prepare a shuttle to depart to the Retribution and tell the captain to plot a course to the Obroa-skai system."
"At once, Lord Vader." The officer saluted crisply and spun on his heel, fast-walking out of the Dark Lord's home.
"We will soon have the Mandalorian at our mercy, my lord."
Vader glanced at his apprentice before resuming his pacing. "No. I will retrieve the boy and eliminate his guardian. Alone. You will remain here and await my command."
The man's silver eyes widened slightly. "My lord, you attempted capture on Nar Shaddaa alone as well, and he escaped you." He didn't notice the stiffness in his master's stance as he halted. "If we take him together—" His next words were instantly cut off as his trachea slammed shut, his feet slowly lifting off the ground as he clawed for air.
"Did I stutter?" Vader asked, voice lowered dangerously.
"Because it would seem that you have failed to heed an order, and you are simply not stupid enough to do that."
"M-My lord—" he gasped.
"Since it would appear you misheard, I will repeat myself. I will go to the Retribution, journey to Obroa-skai, and capture Xel Caden…alone." Vader's fingers relaxed, dropping his apprentice to the floor in a coughing, gasping heap.
"V-Very good…master," he got out between coughs, eyes drifting up to see Vader's cloak billow with movement.
"So it is." Vader began walking with purpose, this time toward the exit. He halted in the doorway. "Defy me again, and your punishment will be far more severe."
Lord Keldon, apprentice of Darth Vader, grit his teeth and bowed his head as low as possible, using all his Force talent to veil and suppress his monumental hatred as he responded in a contrite tone. "Yes, my master."
1 day later
Obron City, Obroa-skai
"Xel, you linked?"
Caden tapped the side of his helmet. "Here, over."
"The transport should be getting loaded now."
His eyebrows furrowed inside his helmet. "Loading? Loading what? It's one holocron."
"Exactly," Telia responded. "It's one holocron, so adding more extraneous cargo—"
"Would decrease the chances of potential thieves finding it a dozenfold. How do we find it then?"
"Holocrons are made with the Force, so when in the presence of one, its signature will act as a beacon to your Force Sense. As long as one of us makes it inside, we should be able to pinpoint it within seconds."
Xel smiled wryly. "That's assuming my dear brother can get the ray shield down."
An adolescent snort was all he got over comms.
"Xel, don't tease him. He's been working with wires since he was old enough to talk. Speaking of, how's the alarm going?"
"Gimme a minute," Alen responded agitatedly. A soft metal clang came a few seconds later. "I'm in." A minute or so passed before his side of the link came online again. "Crap."
"What's wrong?" Telia asked.
"There isn't just one transport. There's three."
"Osik," Xel spat.
"This…is a setback…but not to worry."
"How is this not worry material?"
"Three transports, three of us."
"That wasn't the plan," Alen pointed out.
"Plans change," Xel responded, shouldering a Plex missile launcher.
A high-velocity rocket streaked from the weapon, smashing into the blast doors of the loading dock and carving a hole large enough for a transport. Xel leapt off his twenty-story perch in a swan dive, dropping ten stories before igniting his jetpack and arcing upward, turning his downward momentum into diagonal velocity and shooting through the gap within seconds. A half-second after he entered, a dozen E-11s and DL-44s rang out as both stormtroopers and local security mounted a defense. A well-placed wrist rocket silenced half of them either with death or heavy injuries, a full-auto burst from Xel's pistols taking out another two before the Mando made it to cover.
Quickly inspecting himself for injuries, an eyebrow raised as he didn't notice a single scratch or char mark. Xel hadn't even realized how fast he'd been moving. Another DL-model blaster rang out, but Xel recognized a slight difference in the noise and smiled, popping out of cover to lay down another salvo. The remaining eight Imps had quickly found cover, but the security forces were cut down within seconds, unequipped as they were for the simultaneous assault of a Mandalorian warrior and Jedi Knight. Sprinting to closer cover, Xel plugged a stormtrooper in the elbow, crippling his gun arm before he retreated behind a crate.
"Launch the transports!" one of them, a tan-pauldroned commander, said.
At once, the three armored hovercraft began moving, using the hole Xel made to make their escape.
"Get after them!" Telia shouted.
Xel nodded and fell into a sprint, using the Force to increase his speed threefold and catching up to the rearmost, and slowest, transport within seconds. Apparently they hadn't had time to activate the ray shields, as he boarded the craft with no issues. As he crawled toward its rooftop hatch, he put a finger to his helmet.
"Alen, where are you?"
"Kinda busy," he responded through a burst of static. "I'm taking the front transport. Did my shield hack work?"
Xel's eyebrows raised. "Well, I haven't been incinerated or electrocuted yet, so I'd say yes. Did you get all three?"
"Barely, but yeah."
Shab, he is good.
"I'll take the middle," Telia said from Xel's right, causing the boy to jump a little.
He hadn't even noticed her land next to him. "Woah, no. I'll take the middle. There's at least a twenty-foot gap between each transport. I've got a jetpack, you don't, and if you miss, there's no way you'll be able to catch up at these speeds."
She pressed her lips together and nodded in acknowledgement.
Xel turned forward and called on the Force for guidance, sprinting toward the edge and the second vehicle, taking a Force Leap and using his jetpack to add thrust. Hovering for a moment, he landed on his target with no difficulties. That is, until the roof hatch opened and released a stormtrooper commander. Two E-11 rounds pinged off his armor before he returned fire, stifling a curse at the portable energy shield his opponent activated on his left wrist. The 2-foot-wide blue disc deflected every round Xel threw his way, and although the Mando was faring just as well in his beskar, the collective energy of the shots was beginning to seep through. It was just a matter of time before the stormie's blaster found a gap.
Calling on the Force, he Focused hard, his body responding instantly and snapping in several directions, dodging the commander's shots for a few moments before he rolled under another salvo and closed the ten-foot distance. Xel fired his MAP, tagging the commander in the shin. The white plastoid was ruptured but held, and the commander managed to keep his footing. He swung his shield at Xel's neck as the Mando closed the distance, the blue disc sizzling over his head as he ducked the deadly strike, planting a solid uppercut on the commander's armored chest. He barely staggered before swinging the shield again, slicing through the supplemental antenna on Xel's helmet as the boy drew his knife.
The beskar sunk into the man's left hip, eliciting a harsh cry of pain before Xel ripped it out and shoved his helmet off, head-butting him solidly and tossing his agonized body off the side. The plastoid-clad soldier rolled to a stop as the transports streaked by, Xel making his way to the rooftop hatch and punching the controls. The portal hissed open a moment before he dropped in feet-first, both pistols drawn. Much to his surprise, the truck was driving itself. His eyebrows furrowed in confusion as he scanned the transport for any Force signatures. Instead, all he got was an image of a coiled predator. His eyes snapped open in alarm as he triggered his jetpack, shooting out the hatch a moment before the entire vehicle exploded.
"I'm okay!" he shouted back, hovering just forty feet over the flaming wreck, chest heaving as adrenaline rushed through his system. "I'm okay. Be advised, the decoy transports are rigged to blow."
"Got it," Alen grunted, the sounds of blaster fire coming from his end. "Don't think this one's a decoy though. They're putting up a fight."
"I heard," she replied instantly, her tan-clad form shooting out the roof of the rear transport as Xel approached, running toward the front of the vehicle and him. "It's gonna blow!"
"I gotcha!" he shouted back, outstretching his hands as he got close.
Telia Force Jumped with a grunt, reaching out and interlocking her fingers with his as he flew away, her former position now a flaming pile of durasteel. "Get us to the front!"
"On it!" Xel used his integrated HUD to trigger a strong burst from his jetpack, carrying them all the way to the air above the vehicle before it turned sharply, crashing into a nearby building.
"Alen, you all right?"
Several coughs preceded the Jedi's response. "Yeah, fine. One of 'em's got the holocron though."
"Got it." He dropped altitude and his mother a moment later, the Jedi rolling on impact as her son followed suit, absently noticing Alen sprint out of the wreckage to follow.
The three hunters ran after the courier, a fully armored scout trooper, pursuing him through one hall after the next and steadily catching up.
Telia grit her teeth as the trooper slammed a blast door in their faces. Can't let him escape. She held her hands at her sides, building power for a Force Blast before Xel laid a hand on her arm. Her eyes drifted to see Alen slicing into the door controls, opening them barely a second later and initiating the chase once again. The two Jedi and Mando kept up pursuit, the trooper barely fifty feet ahead of them. When he took a wrong turn, landing himself in a dead-end, a window at his front and his three pursuers at his back, the scout stopped in his tracks, holocron in a secure case at his hip, and spun toward them, drawing his sidearm in a flash.
Before Xel could plug him, Alen raised his right hand and made a clenching motion. To their surprise, the scout seemed to seize and choke for a moment before falling over. Mouth open, Telia scanned the man with the Force, finding him alive but unconscious. Both turned to the younger Jedi.
"What in shab was that?"
Alen fidgeted a little. "Little something I started working on after the…incident a few weeks ago. I saw how you knocked the Gran unconscious by choking him and started researching anatomy. Turns out if you cut off blood flow to the brain for just long enough, you can knock most species unconscious without doing permanent damage."
A small feeling of professional admiration came from Xel as they approached the trooper's immobile body. "Any idea what you want to call it?"
"Do I need to?"
The Mando shrugged as Telia crouched and retrieved the case, using the Force to begin unlocking it. "Don't need to, but…if I created a Force technique, I'd want to make sure everyone knew it."
"So what do you suggest, 'Alen's Force Sleep?'"
Xel sputtered out a snicker. "Where the shab did you come up with that? 'Course not."
Telia cut in, half her concentration kept on the container. "How about…Force Constrict?"
Both boys chewed it over for a few seconds before the move's creator shrugged. "I'd say it works."
The case popped open and holocron was revealed.
"And so does our buir."
Telia could feel the smiles on both their faces as she raised it and stood, her own smirk slowly fading. Something's wrong. Her eyes closed, and she focused on the holocron in the Force. There's…nothing.
"No way," Xel said, agitated.
"All this way," Alen started in the same tone, "all this effort…for a decoy?"
Telia's eyes remained closed, scrunching even tighter as she focused in the Force, a supremely bad feeling in her gut until it was verified. Her eyes flew open as her expression turned fearful.
"No, Alen," she practically whispered. "Not a decoy." She spun around, facing a side door and igniting her lightsaber in one fluid movement, a slight scowl on her face. "A trap."
When the boys turned to face her object of focus, they too felt fear engulf them before snapping to separate emotions, one calm determination, the other fiery anger. Xel's blasters left their holsters and Alen's lightsaber joined Telia's, two glowing, humming blades and a pair of warm barrels facing off against Darth Vader and the two stormtrooper squads flanking him.
"Greetings, Jedi," his metallic voice boomed, bending slightly at the waist in a mocking bow.
"Whatever you want, Sith," Telia hissed, pointing her blade at him threateningly, "you won't find it here."
"Ah, but I already have."
She felt his gaze drift to Xel, whose aura was slowly but surely morphing into a vortex of black hatred. "You will not touch him, Vader."
"And who will stop me?" he asked, taking a step and shifting his gaze toward her, lightsaber in hand but inactive. "I have slain a hundred Jedi, Masters, Knights, and Apprentices. What chance do you and your protégé think you have?" His focus went to Xel again. "And you, Mandalorian. What place do these Jedi have in your life? They slaughtered your people at Galidraan, humiliated you, chased you across the galaxy. They have done so for centuries, millennia, ever since the time of Revan. They are not deserving of your loyalty or mercy."
"And you think you are?" the Mando snarled. "Buir, give me the order. Let me plug this chakaar."
Suddenly, Vader's threatening feel changed ever so slightly, suddenly wrapped in a cloak of darkness and ambiguity, something that set Telia's nerves even more on edge. She wasn't sure whether Vader knew the meaning of the first Mando word from years of working with clones or simply the tone in which it was spoken, but one thing was for sure. The Dark Lord now knew they were related.
"Mother," he said softly, confirming her fears. "I see now that I've misjudged the situation." He actually seemed amused by the fact. His black, unyielding gaze went to Telia's eyes after drifting over the boys, seeming to bore into her skull. "Surrender, Jedi, and you will all be spared."
"To what end?" she retorted. "Capture and torture? Months of agony and brainwashing to break us into being slaves for your emperor?" She smirked sardonically and shook her head, setting her stance. "I don't think so."
Vader stood immobile for a few seconds, his presence alone beyond intimidating. "As you wish." A flick of his left wrist spurred his guards into action, half of them opening fire at once as Xel leapt sideways behind cover, the two Jedi batting bolt after bolt out of the air. The Dark Lord himself just stood there with crossed arms, admiring the skills of his opponents and focusing on one in particular.
Telia slashed through a commander's E-11 as she closed the distance, disarming and Force Throwing him into a pair of his troopers. A blaster bolt nearly tagged her in the leg, but a quick deflect by Alen saved her. She Force Pushed another trooper into a nearby wall, returning the favor and glancing sideways to see Xel laying down a crippling array of fire on the second squad. Two bolts tagged his shoulder and chest plates, causing her to wince, even though she knew he hardly felt it. A wrist rocket slammed into the wall behind one squad, showering them with molten rocks and shrapnel as he continued his pattern of fire.
Telia slashed her saber across a stormtrooper's chest, pushing him back into a cluster of his troops, then pulling another soldier into the path of her blade and tossing him aside. Her lightsaber was an emerald blur as Alen's was sapphire, one crimson bolt after the next deflected or redirected into the shooter until only four were left. Xel quickly gunned one down, sending the other three behind separate cover with another automatic salvo, his pistols running near empty. Alen charged for a pair, twist-flipping over their cover to deliver a horizontal slash to one's arm and a downward cut to the other's weapon.
Before he could do more, the young Jedi froze and dropped his saber, the weapon shutting off automatically as it hit the ground.
"Alen!" Telia shouted, eyes darting to Xel, who was engaged hand-to-hand with the commander, then back to her son, who was slowly being lifted into the air.
"You were correct when you said blood flow was the key," Vader boomed, one hand raised as he strode toward Alen. "Your method, however, is…unrefined. Allow me to demonstrate." Vader's fist clenched slightly, and the boy instantly went limp.
"Alen!" both of the others screamed in tandem, watching as the young Jedi's limp body slumped to the ground.
Telia stared in horror at her unconscious son, then looked at Vader, upper lip curling into a snarl as anger rose within her. Without warning, she leapt at him, twisting midair to land behind him and perform a sweeping cut at his legs. Vader leapt over the strike in a black blur, a sharp snap-hiss heralding his entrance of the fight. Two fast horizontal cuts were deflected off the Darth's blade as he held her back effortlessly, his saber a red blur as Telia kept advancing. He gave ground slowly, intentionally, forcing her to extend herself more and more until he caught one of her strikes and shoved her blade aside, slashing at her neck and meeting empty air as she rolled to his side and once again tried to take out his legs.
A rapid sidestep on Vader's part once again got him out of her reach, and falling diagonal strike pounded her crouched guard, knocking her back into a roll with the powerful blow. She ran toward him in a diagonal motion, ducking another neck strike and running on a nearby wall, then springing off in a counterclockwise spin, adding force to a flying horizontal strike. His guard took the blow easily as he countered with one of his own, twisting his hips in tandem with a two-handed swing that nearly knocked her saber from her hand. Telia withdrew rapidly, eyes widening and breathing becoming labored as a slight degree of panic filled her.
He's impossibly strong, and it's like he can see my attacks coming. The massive Sith approached, striding toward her at a quick, even pace. Her eyes widened further as she felt his intent in the Force, leaping backward to avoid a diagonal strike and diving to the side to dodge another lethal blow. As she scrambled to her feet, he slowly turned to face her, standing immobile just eight feet away.
"You cannot defeat me alone, Jedi."
Her gaze drifted around the room, looking for Xel, for any signs of Alen reawakening, any indication that she could make it. Her brown eyes met the unyielding black orbs of Vader's mask. "I don't need to," she said resolutely, igniting her saber again and setting her stance.
"You're right," another filtered voice said.
Her eyes twitched as new fear rushed through her, not for herself, but for the new combatant. Her dark gaze shifted to Alen's immobile body, to his fallen lightsaber, which shook and vibrated before flying behind her. A snap-hiss reached her ears with a new and familiar hum, a dark feeling settling into her gut at its approach. The silver-and-blue clad figure of Xel Caden stood beside her, Mandalorian armor gleaming in both the noonday sun and pale blue light cast by his procured saber.
Telia's eyes widened at the sight, seeing the slightly taller Xander with her own lightsaber in her mind's eye, surrounded by flames and death. By the Force…it really is like he never left. Refocusing on the Dark Lord, she was surprised to find…amusement. It was hard to imagine, but somewhere behind that mask, Darth Vader was smiling.
And it terrified her.
Xel gripped Alen's lightsaber in both hands, the last five months of training coming back to him in a whirl of memories and feelings as a cacophony of emotions swirled within him like an unstoppable vortex. On one hand, there was fear, fear for his mother and unconscious brother, fear for himself against such an enemy, an enemy that had so easily disarmed him during their last confrontation. There was iron determination, as strong and resolute as the finest beskar. There was anger, anger at the man who had taken his father and now threatened to take his mother and brother as well, to rob him of the last traces of happiness he had.
Above all, though, there was hatred. Outright, black hatred that sunk its fiery claws into his heart and soul, twisting them around as they burned away at him, threatening to drag him into an inferno of agonizing pain. It was fighting him for control, and he it, but it promised power, the power to avenge his father and protect his family. If he simply let it take over…
His teeth slammed together as the three of them faced off, immobile, the battle now seeming to take place in the mind. Xel wanted to kill Vader. No, he wanted to cripple him, dismember and disarm him so that he could make him suffer before the end, inflict all the pain he'd been feeling for months because of what he'd done. A shuddering breath left him. This…this isn't me. He looked at his hands, as he had twice over the last few months after losing control. I'm no sadist. His teeth clenched determinedly. And no slave. With a strong blow, he shoved his hatred back, yanking the reins of control from its hands as easily as from a child. It's my choice.
An angered hiss came from the black-clad figure in front of him, and Xel instantly knew that his hate was exactly what Vader was after. A smirk made its way onto his face as he mockingly saluted Vader with his saber. A sharp pang of fear from his mother's bond was the only warning he got before his enemy drove a vicious blow toward his torso. Xel snapped backward and raised his blade defensively, the sapphire shaft battered away by the Darth's horizontal strike. Shab, he's strong! Vader didn't stop, repeatedly assaulting Xel as the boy struggled to keep up, his mother's side attacks batted away as if they were mere annoyances. Realizing he couldn't match him in a show of brute strength, Xel backpedaled. Before I knew about the Force, I was a hunter.
He smiled confidently. And a damn good one. His jetpack carried him backward, well out of his reach, as his left hand drew a pistol and fired repeatedly. Vader deflected several shots with his blade before pivoting to the right to lock his saber with Telia's. That's it! Xel fired at his exposed side, watching as the ionized plasma streaked death toward this long-hated Sith.
Only to gape in shock as he simply lifted his free hand and redirected the bolt into a wall. Reflected it…he knows Force Reflect. His teeth gritted as he reached out over Telia's bond.
"Get away from him!"
She glanced in his direction in confusion, barely holding her own in the lock despite Vader's obvious restraint, before pulling their blades apart and leaping backward.
Xel raised his left arm and clenched his index. Reflect this you son of a—
A wrist rocket shot toward Vader, who simply stood there calmly, raising a hand as it exploded in his face.
Xel outright stared as the smoke cleared, revealing an intact, albeit scuffed and scratched, Darth Vader.
"A pitiful attempt...by a desperate opponent." The Dark Lord reached out, latching onto Xel with the Force and yanking him closer, into the path of his blade.
The Mando recognized the move, as did his mother.
"Xel!" she shrieked, unable to do a thing though she tried to alter his course with the Force.
The boy threw his saber up in desperation. Ruby and sapphire collided for an instant as Xel flew past, rolling several times only to keep going as Vader slammed him against a wall, saber deactivating. Telia was smacked aside with a Force Push when she tried to intervene, the Darth resuming his telekinetic assault by slamming the Mando into one wall after the next, the boy's frustrated grunts and yells indicating his rising anger.
A blur of green entered Vader's peripheral vision, and he ignited his saber to meet it, catching her blade for barely an instant before she snapped back and aimed a thrust at his chest. A twist of his wrist redirected her strike, and he lunged at her neck as she ducked and planted a firm kick on his midsection. He was barely fazed, and advanced toward her, broadening his shoulders and raining down strike after strike, powerful vertical blows that took advantage of his superior size and strength to batter her defenses into nonexistence. Telia rapidly withdrew, practically heaving for breath as she considered her options.
When her gaze drifted to the open door, Vader leapt toward it, barring the way as surely as if he had been a phrik alloy wall.
"There is no escape," he boomed. "Not as you are." His head tilted slightly. "There is darkness in you, Jedi; I can feel it. Anger, fear, resentment, hatred even." He puffed his chest out tauntingly. "I destroyed your love. I slew him with my own hands." He paused to let it sink in, watching the expression on her face darken. "Now, release your anger! Do not deny the fire raging within!" He clenched his left fist for emphasis. "Embrace it, as your son has!"
Her gaze drifted over to the boy in question, who was dazed and desperately trying to regain his footing. It went to Alen, who was still out. To the exit, still barred by Vader. Her teeth gritted as all her Jedi training strained against the monster begging to be released. In her mind's eye, she saw the Sith's black form lying in a smoking, charred heap at her feet, a mocking expression on her face as she severed his miserable head, taking vengeance for all the lives he'd destroyed, for her husband, her Xander. She looked back at Xel and narrowed her eyes, the urges faltering with every passing second before returning her eyes to Vader.
"No. That's not my way. Not my choice."
"So be it."
Vader raised his saber vertically, and Telia prepared herself for an attack, but not for what came next. Several tiles tore themselves from the walls, streaking toward her in a storm of ceramic hail. She dashed backward out of the way only to be smacked in the head by another object. Immediately, the Knight defaulted to a Soresu drill, her saber bursting one primitive missile after the next in a whirlwind of light until a candelabra tore itself from the wall and smacked solidly into her nose.
Telia shrieked as blood filled her face from the broken appendage, stumbling backward and leaving herself open to a Force Push that landed her on her back. Vader rapidly closed the distance, raising his blade for the finishing blow as the sound of jets was heard.
The crimson shaft raised and fell in a flash—smacking right into Xel's back as he flew between them. The sizzle of metal being cut reached the ears of all present and conscious, and even Vader seemed to hesitate for a moment. That was all Telia needed to blow him twenty feet backward, well away from her potentially fatally injured son.
"Xel," she said frantically, cradling his body. "Xel, talk to me, please!"
A firm grip fell on her shoulder.
"Udesii, buir." Xel rolled out of her grasp to show the damage. "See? Didn't even scratch me." Vader's blade had indeed cut through metal, but only the metal chassis of his jetpack. The beskar underneath was blackened and slightly indented, but intact.
Telia heaved a sigh of relief, glancing back to see Vader storming toward them. The pair went in opposite directions, lightsabers igniting as they attacked in tandem.
But their opponent was no longer playing games.
Xel's rage-driven strikes were knocked aside like leaves in the wind and Telia's entire body shuddered with the force of the Dark Lord's deflects and counterattacks. Vader's crimson blade left two more char-marks on Xel's armor, in locations that would have killed him had he been wearing inferior material, before the boy was thrown against a wall and kept there by sheer force of will, the Sith locking blades with Telia and pushing her back step by step. She set her stance, but her feet slipped on the tiled floor as he pressed his saber against hers relentlessly, pushing her closer and closer to the window.
Caden saw what he was doing and widened his eyes in renewed fear. No…no! Fire rose within him yet again, the old hatred he had denied before. Now, he took it in both hands, not releasing it like a wild strill, but taking hold of it as he did Alen's lightsaber. A guttural roar rose within his chest and released, shattering Vader's hold on him as his feet hit the floor, instantly falling into a sprint as he dashed toward the Sith Lord, saber flashing with his steps as he rapidly closed the distance. Xel leapt at his exposed back, blade held high and falling like a Force-powered avalanche on his enemy.
Only for his entire body to be slammed into the floor, creating a small crater as Vader pinned him with the Force, shoving Telia's blade aside and backhanding her solidly. Xel, just within reach, swung at his legs from the ground, missing wide as the Dark Lord flicked his wrist, flipping and smashing him into the ground back-first, then tossing him directly into his mother, driving them both to the edge of the window ten feet away. Sore, exhausted muscles worked overtime as the Mando fought to regain his footing, only managing to rise to one knee as Telia staggered to her feet and ignited her saber, body shaking violently.
"You are beaten," Vader growled. "It is both foolish and useless to resist further. Surrender now, and you may yet be allowed to live."
"Live?" she asked shakily. "Again I say, for what? Torture and agony at your hands and that of your emperor? A life of perpetual humiliation and servitude under our sworn enemy?" Her teeth clenched. "I. Don't. Think so."
"You. Have. No. Choice."
There's always a choice, Xander's voice said from a memory. Is there? she thought, looking around herself frantically. Xel had all but collapsed. Alen was out of commission and only starting to show signs of waking. Her exit was blocked by Vader. Her saber shut off as she finally understood. There could be no victory for her and no escape. Realization flashed through her. For me. She looked at Alen again, at his position just beyond Vader and between her and the exit door, looked at Xel, who was between her and the window. Her eyes widened. The window! A quick glance confirmed her fears. A fifteen-story drop awaited anyone crazy enough to try it.
Crazy enough…or brilliant enough? Xander's voice again flowed into her thoughts as she closed her eyes. A plan instantly formed in her head, cool confidence settling into her gut as she opened her eyes and stared at Vader.
"You will not have my sons," she said firmly, voice stronger than it had been throughout the whole fight. "You will never have my sons." Her dark brown eyes met Xel's t-visor for barely a moment as she gave him a mournful look. That one glance was enough to confirm his fears. "I'm sorry."
"No. Buir, no!"
That was all he managed to say before she extended her hands in opposite directions, pushing Alen's waking form through the doorway and catapulting Xel through the window into the open air, her right hand slamming a blast door between Vader and her eldest son before her lightsaber ignited threateningly. Love for her sons filled every fiber of her being, every cell and pore. She smiled.
I gave them my love. All I can give them now is time.
Suspension. That one instant where you're floating midair, weightless. It was always a disorienting feeling whenever it happened. In this case, disorientation instantly gave way to panic and terror, then anger as Xel considered what had just happened before he started to fall. You can't make this decision for me, buir! Not this time! His left arm raised and right index lifted off his brother's saber, firing his grappling hook into the wall of the building just below the window. In a rapid pendulum motion, his booted legs slammed into a supporting wall just five stories lower. He punched a button on his gauntlet, reeling in the cable as he ran back up the wall, desperation lending strength to his taxed body before he saw the flash of a green lightsaber.
His eyes widened. No. Fear filled him as the blazing shaft sliced through his cable.
"Noooo!" he roared in rage, angry tears rushing down his face as he fell eleven stories, igniting Alen's lightsaber on instinct and plunging it into the building underhandedly, slowing his fall until his feet unexpectedly hit a divot. His focus faltered for barely a moment, but it was enough to send the blade spinning out of the wall and the saber out of his hand.
Another rage-filled cry left his body before it knocked against an outcropping near the building's lower supports, tumbling another two stories as he Shielded himself instinctively, bouncing off one ledge after the next, landing with a hard smack in Obron's lower city. He absently heard the distinctive clink of a lightsaber against the stone floor next to his body as black and red warred for control in his vision. Collective rage and grief filled him as the darkness began to win.
Buir…I've failed you…again.
He blacked out a moment later.