1 year, 2 months BBY
A soft, lithe body rolled over under the covers of a common yet comfortable bed, its left elbow nudging against something hard yet pliable. Ice blue eyes opened to see the golden light of morning streaming through a crack between curtains, squinting against it and turning to the side to see the source of their host's feeling. A small smile came to Maila's face as she laid her head down against Xel's bare chest, one hand absently stroking a fading bruise. Things hadn't turned out quite as…out-of-control as she'd intended last night. For whatever reason, all her partner needed was the feel of someone in his arms, not the full ecstasy she was offering.
Not that I minded. She chewed on her lip. Okay, maybe I did a little. Regardless, it was…satisfying. He was clearly inexperienced with women, but his passion more than made up for it. She hooked a mostly bare leg over his hip and pulled herself closer, nuzzling his neck as she snuggled under the covers. Her eyes closed gently as she inhaled deeply in time with his breathing. The groggy woman was slowly falling back to sleep, halfway unconscious, when she felt his breathing change slightly. A moment later, a set of fingers weaved through her raven hair, fixing the rogue strands that were scattered along her living pillow's chest.
"Good morning," a deep voice said softly.
She smiled wider against his chest. "Morning." Maila looked up into his eyes, darkened even further by the shadows cast by his halfway-closed lids. "Sleep well?"
He looked away and seemed to consider it for a moment before nodding and wrapping his arms around her shoulders and pulling her closer. "I did. Very well, in fact."
Maila hummed in enjoyment as their lips met gently, pulling away a second later to look at him. "I give you enough amnesia last night?"
He smirked and pressed his lips to her cheek, then neck. "You did."
"And everything else?"
Xel pulled away as his smirk widened, eyes looking away contemplatively. "It was…" his smile widened, "adequate."
She outright gaped as he grinned, then smacked his chest playfully.
"Ow!" he protested.
"That's what you get when you insult a woman in bed."
"I—I did not."
"You certainly did." She turned away from him exaggeratedly, deliberately putting her back to him and crossing her arms.
Two warm arms were felt under hers, and she weakly pushed them away before they looped around her bare midsection, pressing her back against his chest as his head nestled against her shoulder. "Tyrant," she mock pouted.
Her left eyebrow raised.
"'Cause you're so sensitive."
"Pshht, please. I will have you know that I have quite the tolerance for pain."
His body tensed at her back.
"It's nothing," he assured, tangibly forcing himself to relax.
Her smirk faded to a concerned frown as she turned to face him, arms wrapping around his neck as their foreheads touched. "No it's not." Her eyes searched his, those dark pools full of mystery and hidden emotion. "Xel, talk to me. You…you trust me, don't you?"
He raised an eyebrow and smirked slightly. "I trust you enough not to put a knife in my gut." He smiled wider. "Although I guess I should be worried about blunt force instead."
Maila rolled her eyes. "Xel, I'm serious."
"I know." He was silent.
"So you still don't want to talk about it."
He looked away. "It's…not my secret to tell. At least, not mine alone."
Her eyes narrowed. "Just tell me something. Does it have anything to do with why you're in the crosshairs of Darth Vader himself?"
Okay, I'll admit it. She's good. As he trailed a hand down the skin of her back, a smile crept onto his face, memories of the night before flashing in his mind's eye. Quite good. Belatedly, he realized she was waiting for an answer and sighed.
"Yes," he answered simply, looking away.
"And I take it you can't tell me specifics?"
"No." He returned his eyes to hers, those ice blue orbs searching, trying to pierce his armor, then softening as she nodded.
He raised an eyebrow. "Okay?"
She chuckled darkly. "Xel, you saved my life last night. After I left you hanging and failed to warn you not to come back. Your father died because of me, and you saved my life." Her fingers stroked and smoothed his hair back. "I think you're entitled to more than a little privacy."
He opened his mouth to say something, closing it a second later and smiling. "Thank you."
1 hour later
After another twenty minutes letting their bodies wake up, the pair got dressed, Xel in his beskar'gam, her in the casual suit from the night before, and took a speeder to her half-ruined headquarters. Xel was overjoyed to see his ship still parked on the landing pad, no worse for wear. It seemed they were really were just after Yar. He had headed straight into the Kandosii'tal, giving Maila an impromptu tour in the process as he transmitted his coordinates over Telia's frequency found in Xander's datacron. As they descended the ramp, two familiar figures came into view, walking out of the building.
"Jeel!" Maila shouted warmly, smiling as she trotted over. "Yetha!"
Xel's eyes narrowed at the shorter woman, calling on the Force and focusing his senses on her. His eyes widened as the full verification of his previous suspicion verified.
"Maila," he said firmly, the sharp tone of his voice stopping her in her tracks. "Get away from her."
"Xel?" she asked, perplexed.
He stepped between them, one arm keeping the Zeltron back, his eyes boring holes in the other woman's eyes. As he looked at her, both with his eyes and with the Force, the cool malevolence and predatory intelligence behind her light brown eyes and benign façade were revealed.
As was the Luxan Penetrator hidden in her jacket.
Their eyes locked in an intense stare, both coiled as the others present realized something was about to happen. Xel reached out to the Force and merely raised his hand ever so slightly.
"Tell her the truth, Yetha."
The short woman twitched, her features twisting slightly as she subconsciously fought his influence.
Xel poured more Force into his hissed words. "Tell her the truth."
The hand that had slowly been reaching for her blaster stopped and fell to her side, fists clenched as she spoke. "I was the mole."
Maila's mouth dropped a little as feelings of betrayal flooded her. "W—What?" She shook her head, voice lowering in anger. "What did you say?"
Despite being under Xel's influence, Yetha leaned toward her and snarled threateningly. "I. Was. The. Mole."
Maila's teeth clenched. "Why? We've worked together for years, Yeth. I've never once mistreated you. Why in the Emperor's name would you sell me out?"
The woman's eyes narrowed. "You're right. We've worked together…for years. Years at your beck and call, as your assistant, as nothing more than a glorified house servant." She smiled malevolently. "Well, I decided to show you just what I'm capable of."
"And," Xel voiced dangerously, "I suppose you thought that selling her out to the Empire was a great way to do that."
She looked at him, genuinely confused. "The Empire? Oh, no…fierfek, no." Yetha looked back at her employer. "I had a friend in the neighborhood, someone who specializes in information brokering."
He must have been an agent of Vader. "Who?" Xel hissed, taking a step toward her.
She opened her mouth slightly and took a step back.
"A name, Yetha. I want…a name." Xel's hand dropped to his knife.
"I—I can't." She looked genuinely scared as he kept advancing, pushing her to the edge of the platform.
"You can, and you will." The knife left its sheath as he rushed forward, left hand gripping her neck, the right pressing his blade to it.
Her eyes went wide in terror, her whole body shaking as his young features twisted into a furious scowl. "I…"
"Speak now—" he added just enough pressure to draw blood, "—or die."
"He…he never gave me a name."
"I thought you said he was a friend."
"A resource, more like. An asset."
Xel narrowed his eyes. "No. You were the asset. How did you get into contact with him?"
"It was an encrypted Holonet frequency. One-way only. Trust me, I tried."
His teeth were clenched. "How did you get the frequency?"
"It…it landed in my terminal seven months ago, with a message."
She gulped, her skin sliding against the beskar blade. "The guy…on the other end…he wanted me to report every few days, send him information on Maila's clients and visitors. Nothing invasive, just summaries. In return, he paid me generously and promised that I'd be at the top of the food chain one way or another." She glanced nervously at Maila.
Xel chuckled darkly, pulling back his knife ever so slightly. "You idiot. You were never any more than a pawn." He looked away for a moment. "Do you think you could send a message to this…friend?"
"No," she answered with a shake of the head. "He, or she, stopped responding after Maila was attacked."
His eyes narrowed. "Unfortunate." For you. "Looks like you're of no further use to me, then."
Her body went rigid.
Xel's grip tightened around the knife. "I'd slot you out of principle any day."
Yetha closed her eyes and waited for the end.
Metal skidded against carbo-plas as a blade returned to its sheath.
"Unfortunately," Xel said almost wearily, "I'm not the one you knowingly hung out to dry." He turned away and strode back toward his ship, pausing to put a hand on Maila's shoulder and look back at the shamed woman. "Your life isn't mine to take." He started walking again, boarding his ship a few seconds later. The Force flared with sudden aggression from Yetha before a loud report issued from behind him, the feeling vanishing an instant later.
Maila looked up from her datapad, giving her interrogator a questioning look. "What about it?"
Xel was leaning back against a wall next to her desk, arms crossed, staring at the far wall. "It was…" His voice trailed off.
He sighed heavily. "I needed it."
She put the datapad down and leaned back in her seat, fingertips touching. "Okay? What is it you're trying to say exactly?"
He was hesitating, frustration and guilt warring in his features.
He looked even further away from her. "Maybe. Maybe not." He stayed silent.
"Was that your first time being…intimate?"
Xel half-opened his mouth when she cut him off with a pointed finger.
The boy broke into a grin. "I'm always honest."
She raised an eyebrow. "The last twenty-four hours have taught me that's a lie."
His smile faded.
"Sure, you're honest with most people. People you know, anyway, but…yourself?" She shook her head. "You're not honest with yourself, and that makes you dishonest to other people." From his intense, floorward expression, she could tell she was right. "I just wish you trusted me enough to tell me."
Xel looked back to her, reaching out with the Force and probing her consciousness for any signs of deception, of malevolent intent. He considered himself a fairly good judge of character even before his Force training. If neither of his arrays of senses was sending up alarm bells, that had to mean she was trustworthy…right? After all, the late Yetha was the one who sold him and Xander out, not her boss. He shook his head slowly.
"There's someone coming to meet me here. When he arrives…then I'll know whether or not to tell you."
A raven eyebrow raised. "That's awfully cryptic."
Xel shrugged. "Comes from being a hunter…and the hunted, I might add. You learn to say things without actually giving information. It's a useful skill for someone in my position."
They were both silent a while.
Maila chuckled. "Here I was, just this morning, telling you I didn't need to know and now I'm pressing again." She shook her head. "So when's this friend of yours coming?"
A loud beep came from Xel's helmet, and he picked it up, pulling it on and activating his comlink. "Caden here."
"Good to hear your voice, Xel. I got your coordinates."
Xel smiled and nodded. "How long?"
"Check your viewscreen."
He turned his head to look out the window, seeing a repainted T-6 shuttle hovering just off the surface of the landing pad. Xel grinned and shook his head as he nodded to Maila and strode out the door. Barely thirty seconds later, they were waiting in an artificial dust storm, the pale burgundy and gray shuttle touching down next to the Kandosii'tal. A tall figure strode out of the landing ramp, a dark brown hood over his features as he approached the pair.
The man nodded to the armored Mando. "Xel." They stopped in front of each other. "You have it?"
Xel nodded and reached to the left side of his belt, unclipping the lightsaber and handing it to him pommel first. "Kept it safe, vod."
"Vod?" Maila asked, eyebrows raised, both at the word and the exchange.
The hooded figure appraised her with narrowed eyes, his face shadowed by the hood's deflection of the noonday sun. "Who's this?" he asked evenly.
Xel turned to the Zeltron. "This is Maila Yar. She's my…friend."
Yar smiled at the figure sweetly and held out her hand. "A pleasure."
He shook it and bowed slightly. "Likewise." The man turned back to Xel. "Can we talk?" he asked, nodding toward the Kandosii.
Xel nodded and led him onto the ship, closing the landing ramp behind him. He popped his helmet and tucked it under his arm, Alen pulling back his hood as they faced each other. "What's up?"
Alen smirked ever so slightly.
Xel rolled his eyes. He hated that look. "What?"
The Jedi smiled mischievously and started poking his arm. "You and her…"
Xel pushed him away. "Ugh, you're such a kid!"
"Says the younger twin."
"Yeah, by fifteen minutes."
Alen grinned and crossed his arms. "Still counts."
"I thought Jedi weren't supposed to lord their power over others."
He puffed his chest out exaggeratedly. "We're the next generation. We break all the rules."
"Uh huh," Xel mocked, smiling crookedly and striding toward the ramp.
Alen gripped his arm firmly, stopping him. "Can we trust her?"
The Mando's lips pursed tightly. "She's given me no evidence to the contrary, either in action or in feeling."
The older boy nodded slowly. "I trust you, so if you trust her, so do I."
Xel breathed out heavily, and a weight he didn't know he'd had lifted off his shoulders. Ever since early childhood, secrets had never sat well with him. They walked off the ship together, Alen nudging Xel's side with his elbow as he grinned like an idiot, a confused Maila looking on as Xel kept pushing him away. When they reached her, Alen had mostly regained his Jedi calm, a small smirk still on his face as he looked at the Zeltron.
"Did I miss something?"
"Nothing important," Xel answered quickly, giving Alen a firm glare.
"So, about that thing you wanted to tell me but couldn't?"
Caden sighed and nodded, motioning to the building. This wasn't a conversation to have in the open. Entering the office, Xel swept the place for bugs.
"There aren't any," Maila assured him. "After Yetha…I made sure."
Xel blinked and nodded, laying his helmet on her desk again and standing next to Alen. "So…I wasn't entirely truthful when I said he was a friend."
A raven eyebrow raised.
Xel put a hand on Alen's shoulder. "This…is Alen Li-am. My brother. Twin, really."
Her other eyebrow met the raised one. "Fraternal, clearly."
"Well, yeah. He's…"
Xel gulped and nodded slowly.
Maila leaned back into her seat and exhaled sharply, eyes turning away. "I didn't think there were any Jedi left."
"That's the idea," Alen said, his voice tight and professional. "If people don't know about us, neither does the Empire."
She nodded slowly, turning to Xel. "So this is your big secret, the one your father died for? That your brother's a Jedi?"
"And mother," he added. "But…no, this isn't it. At least, not all of it."
Xel raised his arm and effortlessly called his helmet to his hand.
Her eyes matched the buttons of her blouse. "Oh," she breathed out.
"Yeah. Paints a real big bull's eye on my back."
"So your entire family—"
"Is Force-sensitive," Alen finished.
"That's why Vader's so interested," Xel added.
She nodded slowly, shaking her head a second later. "It all makes sense now. The secrets, the mystery, how you're so good at your job."
"Well, that you can attribute most to Mando training. I didn't even know about my Force connection until five months ago."
Her eyes widened slightly. "You mean—"
"It was his parting message to me."
Maila leaned back again. "Woah," she breathed.
Silence reigned over the room for a while.
"So," Alen said finally, "Xel, any idea what to do next?"
The Mando pursed his lips, contemplating their situation. They were two thirteen-year-olds, one a Jedi, the other a Mandalorian warrior, universally accepted as two of the most dangerous types of people to run across. Their mother had been captured by the Empire—scratch that, by Darth Vader himself. Their father was dead. They had two ships and a decent amount of credits. For once in Xel's life, there was no obvious path, no set direction. It was a vastly disorienting feeling.
"I…don't know." He looked to the side, then at his brother. Dark blue eyes flickered to the device hanging at his belt, and his eyes widened as an epiphany struck him. He approached Alen and pulled him aside, speaking in low tones. "Given that I have a body, power cell, and sufficient emitters, would I have everything I need to build a lightsaber?"
Alen looked at the wall in concentration. "You'd still need a core crystal."
Xel reached into a small hardcase at his belt and pulled out the Ruusan crystal.
The Jedi shook his head. "No. The Ruusan counts as a focusing crystal, which is meant to enhance the power of a lightsaber. The core crystal is usually one bearing a specific color. Adegan crystals are the most common, but there are others that can be found on planets across the galaxy."
Xel pursed his lips. "And I'm guessing Nar Shaddaa isn't one of 'em."
Alen shook his head.
The Mando sighed heavily. "Maila," he said, turning to her, "do you think…do you think you could watch one of our ships?"
She raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms with a smirk. "I'm not a long-term parking service, Xel."
"It won't be long-term, I promise. We just need to take a trip. It's important."
The Zeltron looked between them and thought for a moment before nodding. The brothers turned to each other.
"Your ship or mine?" Alen asked.
"We're taking mine. The Kandosii has everything we need."
He nodded and turned to Maila. "Miss Yar, a pleasure meeting you." Alen bowed respectfully.
She tipped her head in response. "Likewise, Jedi."
"Just for future reference, you might not want to say that too loudly."
Maila smiled sweetly and nodded, eyes closing momentarily. "Your secret is safe." She turned to the younger brother. "As is yours."
"My thanks," Xel responded, turning for the door and slipping his helmet on.
The Kandosii'tal, orbit over Nar Shaddaa
"So…where's our best bet?"
Alen thought about it for a moment, turning back and forth in the copilot's seat. "I'm not sure. I found mine on Obroa-skai, but…you've got virtually no ties there."
Xel looked at him confusedly for a moment before his mind drew out a particular memory. "Mom mentioned once that the best crystals are the ones that…resonate with you. Ones that you almost feel a connection to."
Alen nodded. "Exactly." He put his hand on his chin, thinking hard. "Tell me something. Have you ever felt…I dunno how to describe it. Like…weird?"
Xel gave him a snarky look.
"Okay, too broad. Uh…like…" He squinted at the ship's ceiling, eyes widening a few seconds later. "Ah! Drawn."
The Mando leaned back against a bulkhead, eyebrows furrowing. "How do you mean?"
"Like, you can't explain it, but you feel a pull toward a certain place or object?" Seeing that his brother wasn't getting it, Alen got up and approached him. "Here, open your mind to me. Open the Bond."
Xel closed his eyes and complied, wincing slightly as he felt Alen's mind touch his own. Five months, and he was still getting used to having someone else in his head. Suddenly, he felt, as Alen so aptly put it, weird. His eyes snapped open.
"Truthfully?" Xel thought about it hard, squinting at the grated floor and letting his eyes wander aimlessly as his mind focused. Dark blue orbs were drawn to something in his peripheral vision, and his expression changed subtly.
"What? What is it?"
"Maybe…" Xel's voice trailed off as he walked into another room, his room, and opened a drawer, pulling out a sharp ivory tusk with a jagged end, turning around and showing it to Alen.
He smiled at the object. "My first true kill. This tusk is from a rare albino Boma, native to Onderon's largest moon, Dxun, also known as—"
"The Demon Moon," Alen finished, nodding. "I know it. As part of my training, Mom taught me the history of the Jedi. Most of it, anyway. Dxun was the site of a major conflict just over 3000 years ago."
Xel smiled. "And one of the major Mandalorian bases of operation in that era. Mandalore the Preserver used the moon and the mysteries surrounding it to cloak his operation and its objectives: to gather the scattered clans of Mando'ade and return them to their rightful place."
"If I'm not mistaken, they actually worked with a Jedi general."
He nodded and raised the Boma tusk. "But we digress."
"Right," Alen said with a nod. "So what's the big deal?"
"Dad took me to Dxun as part of my verd'goten, a…coming-of-age ritual among Mandalorians that tests all your skills, training, and courage. This was barely a week before I hunted my first bounty with him, right after I'd turned thirteen. He took me to the jungle and told me to find and kill an albino Boma as my test."
"Doesn't sound…too difficult. I mean, for an ordinary person, yeah, maybe, but a Mando?"
"Well, you gotta understand that Bomas are big normally. Massive tusks, with over 600 pounds of pure muscle. Most are large enough to ride. That's the normal ones. Albinos?" He motioned with his hands to indicate a massive difference. "Gigantic."
"Gigantic," Alen said in disbelief.
"Gigantic. You know Rontos? Think one of those, except without the long neck, carnivorous, massive tusks, and extremely pale green skin. Could swallow both of us whole and have plenty of room to spare."
Alen's eyebrows shot up. "Okay."
"And this was before I got proper beskar'gam. The armor was my gift for completing the trial."
"Okay, that's…yeah that's pretty taxing."
"It gets worse. See, the Boma would be challenge enough, but the jungle itself has evolved to kill you, to kill anything that shows even the slightest sign of weakness." Xel watched a dark expression cross his brother's face.
"And Dad sent you out into that? With no armor?"
"No, I had armor, but compared to beskar, it was substandard. I had my pistols, my knife—my previous knife, a couple thermal detonators, and not much else."
"And?" Alen asked anxiously.
"While I was hunting it, tracking it, I ran across this…cave. Just like you said, it felt…weird. I figured it was my instincts telling me there was something wrong, but…maybe they weren't."
Alen smiled slightly. "Sounds like a crystal to me. Do you think you could find it again?"
"I'd never forget." Xel strode to the captain's chair and seated himself, accessing the nav computer. "I found my prey right around the corner." His fingers danced over the keys. "Course to Dxun set. Prepare to jump." As soon as the computer flashed blue, the hyperdrive lever was pushed and the ship accelerated past lightspeed.
The Kandosii'tal, hyperspace
"So why Dxun?"
Xel turned to Alen, eyebrows raised. "Huh?"
"Why did Dad pick Dxun?"
"Because Mandalore the Preserver made it his base of operations. He and his group, his clan, tamed the jungle and made it their home. I guess Dad figured that if I could do the same on a smaller scale, it was good enough to make me an adult."
Alen shrugged. "Makes sense." They were both silent a while. "So, you said 'I have a body' in a hypothetical way back on Nar Shaddaa. Does that mean you actually do have one?"
Xel smiled and stood. "Follow me." He strode right into the workshop and punched the code to open a safe, pulling the door open and reaching for a container inside. He popped the lid off and let Alen peer inside the relatively small box.
"Woah." Ice blue eyes went wide. "Wait, is that—"
"Beskar?" Xel grinned. "Yep. Elek taught me the basics of forging it and left some of the raw ore as a gift when he visited us. I totally forgot about it until my training resumed. Surprisingly enough, it was even easier to manipulate than durasteel."
"And it's a lot harder, I'd guess."
"Damn near indestructible, actually." He looked at the pieces, seeing in his head how they all fit together, each and every one of them forged with his own two hands. A gold plate of ciridium, used in the finest beskar'gam, was lifted in his fingers, its place around the activation switch visible in his head.
"So why the rush to get your hands on a lightsaber?"
Xel looked at Alen hard, expression hardening slightly. "One way or another, we're going to meet Vader again." His empty hand clenched. "And I'm not gonna be caught with my pants down."
"Right," Alen said quietly, turning away and walking back to the cockpit.
Xel's eyes focused on the box in front of him, fingers closing the lid after replacing the ciridium piece and legs taking him back to his brother.
An animalistic roar came from Xel, fingers curled in clawed motions as the two creatures in front of him turned and ran. Alen was staring at him, hand on his lightsaber.
"Zakkeg call," Xel explained. "Scares off most creatures on this world, since they're pretty much all preyed on by them."
Alen raised his eyebrows. "Smart."
The two brothers trekked through the jungle, making their way through one vine-tangled path after the other, ducking under wooden and rocky arches. Alen had never been on a world this lush and overgrown, so the currents of the Force were vast, twisting, and fascinating. Xel was looking at the world in a different light, his senses focused on caution rather than investigation. To his surprise, most of the usual predators had avoided them up to that point. The cave was in sight fifteen minutes after they landed, its dark, vine-covered mouth less than inviting.
"Well that's creepy," Alen pointed out.
"You don't say." Before the Jedi could whip out his saber, Xel unsheathed his knife and slashed through the first layer of vines like butter, doing the same to the next before rolling his eyes with a slight groan. A momentary focus of Force energy directed a Blast that shattered the rest of the vines. A finger went to his helmet, activating its night vision function and illuminating the tunnel before them. He winced when a bright spot appeared in his vision, the secondary vision mode deactivating as he saw a pale blue glow in his peripheral vision. "Thanks."
Alen nodded and took point, maneuvering through the cramped space until it came to a fork. "Are you feeling anything?"
Xel closed his eyes and focused, feeling a slight tug in his head. "Yes."
Another moment's focus was enough to confirm his suspicions. "Left." Another fork, another tug. "Right."
This process repeated for several minutes, taking them through a winding path through the inside of the cave so intricate, neither of them could retrace their steps once the tug stopped. Xel's eyes opened as he felt it go, realizing he hadn't been looking where he was going; he'd been relying on the Force the entire time. Dark blue eyes looked from behind his visor into the blackness beyond the confines of Alen's saber. His night vision activated to show a massive chamber in front of them, and as he started contemplating just how they were going to find the crystal in it, the tug returned, gentler but still as directive.
"Alen," he said as they kept walking, "something's been bothering me."
"Vader...Vader killed Dad, without a second thought, just because he stood between us. Mom did the same thing."
"So why did he take her alive?" Xel felt a chill over their Bond.
"I don't know," he said quietly. "And I really don't want to find out."
Xel could only silently agree as the tug became more and more insistent. His head turned in every direction, scanning for anything out of the ordinary.
"Feel, don't think," he could hear Telia saying. "Don't trust your eyes."
A small smile came to his face at the memory before he heard a small, predatory hiss. "Alen, if you'd be so kind, turn that thing off."
"Turn it off. Trust me."
The saber closed down with a hiss, leaving them in pitch darkness...or so it seemed at first. The more they looked, though, the more it seemed like there was a pale glow coming from somewhere in the cave. The brothers made their way toward it, the Force guiding their steps to an overlook. Ten feet below them, on the other side of the chamber, was a large, glowing crystal formation, blue in color.
"Gotcha," Xel whispered, crouching in preparation to leap down.
"Be careful," Alen warned.
"Don't worry. I braved this jungle once before, when I was young and foolish."
"You do realize it's only been ten months, right?"
He dropped down with a thud. "All the time in the galaxy." Firm, even strides brought him within twenty feet of the crystal. A push from the Force stopped him in his tracks, and he turned slightly to the left right before he heard that same hiss. Glowing yellow eyes peered out at him from the darkness, and he set his stance as he heard a snap-hiss from above and behind.
"No!" he shouted. "This is my fight."
Alen kept his saber on but didn't interfere, a small pang of fear coming over their Bond.
Xel slowly drew his knife, the metal glinting in the pale glow of the crystal on his right as the creature drew closer. He had his suspicions about exactly what this thing was, but only the spines and plates confirmed them once it came closer. An ever-so-slight shudder ran through him at the recognition. Zakkeg. His teeth clenched.
"It must have been drawn to the crystal," Alen commented.
Xel merely grunted. "Whatever the case, it's in my way." All his attention focused on the massive creature, its teeth baring at him. "Come on then," he taunted, circling it slowly. "You think you're the king of this cave? Of anything?" He laughed derisively. "You're nothing, just a simple, stupid beast."
It almost seemed to understand him by the way it snarled.
"You think I'll fall like the others?" he asked, motioning to a pile of bones near the crystal. "No. I'm not the prey here." He pointed at the Zakkeg with his knife. "You are. And if you tangle with me, you will fail. I haven't fought through the dark corridors and bright citadels of the galaxy to fall here, to the likes of you. So come on." When it continued circling, he snarled and growled at it animalistically. "Come on!"
The creature roared and charged straight for him, mouth wide open, teeth bared, as Xel called on the Force and leapt straight onto its back, twisting midair to land with his legs around its neck.
"You—" He punched the tip of his knife under an upper neck plate and pushed it up like a lever. "Are—" He grabbed onto its bony head plate for stability as it tried to buck him off, rearing up his knife arm. "Nothing!" The beskar plunged between the crooked plates, punching into the soft flesh below and bypassing all its natural defenses to pierce its brain. The Zakkeg swayed on its four legs for a few steps before falling forward, dead. Xel landed ten feet away, having leapt off a moment before, blade dripping. He cleaned the weapon, sliding the metal across a nearby rock, before returning it to its sheath and approaching the source of the light.
His gloved hand touched the crystal formation as his eyes closed, reveling in the strange sensations coming from it in the Force. He could almost feel it pulsing under his hand as he felt along its surface, taking a knee and reaching down until he found something odd. His eyes opened to look down at the deep blue crystal resting against his fingers, a single, small object at the center of the formation, disconnected from the rest. His head cocked to the side.
"Crystals don't just fall off," he said quietly, an eerie feeling in his gut. He picked it up, turning it over in his hand and letting it settle in his open palm. The structure of the crystal was incredibly intricate, and it seemed to just draw him in. It just...fit him. He smiled.
"Looks like you've been chosen."
Xel looked up to see Alen standing beside him and nodded.
"That's an Adegan crystal, specifically..." Alen took a long look. "Mephite, I believe."
"Certainly uncommon, especially with the Empire cracking down on all viable crystals. If it fits you, then it fits."
Xel turned it over in his hand, pulling off his helmet with the other and crossing his legs as he sat by the light of the formation. He unclipped a box from his belt, flipping the top open. "Let's see just how well."
"A lightsaber is more than just a weapon."
A blue crystal raised from the ground seemingly on its own, a skeleton of frames, wires, and lenses forming around it.
"As you grow in power, so will it."
Metal plates attached to the joints of the skeleton, turning and pivoting to find their proper places and angles.
"As you mature as a person, so it will as a tool."
A switch attached to a circuit between a high-energy Diatum cell and the wires, a power adjustment knob regulating the current.
"Your actions define what it symbolizes."
More plates formed around the skeleton, sealing around each other in a network of interlocking shields.
"It is your life, a mirror of who you truly are."
The end cap screwed on as the emitter head came in from the other angle, the notched grip layering in on the lower half of the hilt.
"It is your strength, your will, your passion."
Ciridium plating sealed the last piece of the hilt, the notched, golden metal comprising the upper grip around the exposed switch.
"It is the torch that lights up the darkness...or embodies it."
The beskar hilt glinted in the faint light of the cave, spinning slowly and rising with its owner as he stood, floating gently into his waiting hands. The Mando slowly opened his eyes, looking at the starkly practical yet elegant design of the device in his hands, dark blue eyes drifting to the activation switch next to his right thumb. One push of the digit sent a three-foot, sapphire-tinged blade shooting from the hilt with a loud ring, his lightsaber activating for the first time.
Xel cocked his head at the glowing shaft, head spinning in wonder as a small smile crept to his face.
Who says it can't do both?