The Hunt Begins
2 hours later
The Kandosii'tal, hyperspace
1 year, 2 months BBY
The soft hum of a lightsaber pervaded the ship's armory, the most open space in the vessel, as Xel used his lightsaber for the very first time. Two shots from practice remotes were blocked with ease, followed by strikes from four others, as Xel kept up a conversation with his brother.
"So," Alen said, "Mandalore the Preserver came into power after the Mandalorians were scattered?"
"Yep," Caden replied, blocking another shot and transferring his saber to another hand to keep up his cadence. "If you're familiar with the history of the Jedi, then you know about Revan."
Alen snorted. "Of course."
"Well," Xel grunted, rolling under a simultaneous salvo and coming up in a horizontal block, "for a time, we called him Revan the Butcher." Xel spun his saber in a Circle of Shelter for barely a moment before using the Force to drive back two remotes temporarily.
"He almost singlehandedly slaughtered dozens of our finest warriors, including Mandalore himself. Mandalore the Ultimate was slain in single combat, a duel at Malachor V." Xel ducked another shot, slashing through the paths of two others before deflecting a fourth. "If that weren't bad enough, he took the Mask of Mandalore and hid it."
Alen's eyebrows furrowed. "What's the big deal about a mask?"
"There isn't one now, but back then, only those who possessed the Mask were acknowledged as true Mandalores. We were aimless, guideless, purposeless. Revan forced us to become assassins and mercenaries, and by so doing prevented us from conquering the galaxy or ever again assembling force enough to." Xel rolled backward, deactivating his saber while in motion and reactivating to block another four shots in rapid succession.
"So did your people just vote the tradition out?"
Xel shrugged. "Basically. Anyway…at some point, Revan lost his memory."
"Yes, I recall that in my studies. He became Dark Lord of the Sith before being betrayed by his apprentice, then came back and beat Darth Malak in his seat of power."
"And he traveled with the man who would become Mandalore the Preserver."
"So…you think he gave this guy the Mask?"
Xel waved the remotes to a stop before deactivating his lightsaber. "It's not a difficult deduction. Granted, the fact that he had amnesia would call the story into question quite a bit, but…" He shrugged. "At this point, it doesn't really matter. Our Mandalores are chosen by their traits, by who is truly most fit to lead. Strength, cunning, and, most importantly, courage are all paramount among us."
"So," Alen said contemplatively, "if you were to, say, hone your skills, both Mandalorian and Jedi, to a laser-fine edge, you could potentially become Mandalore."
He shrugged. "I guess. Never really thought about it." Xel leaned back against a workbench, hefting his new lightsaber and examining it closely.
"Have you integrated the Ruusan crystal yet?"
Xel looked up and shook his head. "Not yet. Still getting used to disassembling it without actually touching it."
"Well, I mean you can touch it, it's just…" Alen smiled and crossed his arms. "How much cooler is it to just put it together with your mind?"
Xel raised an eyebrow. "I'd rather not have something blow up in my face, thank you."
"The only way that'll happen is if you screw around with the power cell."
Xel seated himself in a nearby chair and reached into the hardcase on his belt, pulling out the Ruusan crystal and looking into its matrices. He released it and closed his eyes, focusing the Force and levitating both the crystal and his saber. The lower section of his lightsaber disassembled, exposing his Adegan crystal's protective skeleton and the extra slot he built in for any additions. The beskar sheath hovered several inches away as the Ruusan crystal floated up and mounted itself in the slot, rotating to find the perfect position and setting in solidly as he closed the gap behind it. The saber reassembled itself a few moments later, a few rough clinks demonstrating that Xel was still having a little trouble.
He chewed his lip a little at that fact before reaching up and snatching his lightsaber out of the air. Xel stood and strode toward the cockpit, clipping the saber to the left side of his belt using a magnetic seal similar to that on his helmet.
"What's our next move?" Alen asked.
"You're asking me? My ideas ran out after Dxun. Once we get your ship back from Maila…and I give her a long overdue payment, everything that we had yet to do will be done."
Alen pursed his lips. "Not everything."
An image of Telia flashed over their Bond. Xel nodded resolutely. "Right. One way or another, we have to find her."
"I—" Alen fidgeted and played with his hands nervously. "I don't know where to look, or how."
Xel smirked slightly before putting a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Vod, can we agree right here, right now, that age is irrelevant between us? You can do things I can't, and the reverse is true. Until we get Mom back, we're gonna need each other." He held out his empty hand. "Agreed?"
Alen barely glanced at his hand before shaking it and nodding. "Agreed."
"You weren't kidding when you said the trip was short."
Xel shrugged. "I rarely kid, but when I do, it has nothing to do with business." He lifted a hardcase and laid it on Maila's desk firmly, nodding toward it.
The Zeltron lifted the lid, eyes widening and eyebrows rising. "What's this?"
He just smiled and nodded at it again.
Her eyes narrowed as she leaned toward the case. "Wait…" She fingered through the cred chips inside, mouthing the calculations she was performing in her head. "Xel, this is—"
"16K, as promised."
A smile blossomed on her face. "It's been five months, Xel. There's no need to—"
"A deal's a deal, no matter how long it takes to fulfill."
She sighed and smiled wider at the case, closing it and tucking it into a drawer under her desk. They were both silent for a few moments, neither moving. "So…what will you do now?"
Xel chewed his cheek, a frown of concentration falling over his features. "I need to protect my family…so I will."
A raven eyebrow rose. "I get the feeling that means quite a bit of death."
He smiled wryly and crossed his arms. "What gave it away?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe it's just the look on your face."
He smiled wider, eyes narrowing slightly as he approached and slowly bent over her desk, laying his hands down on the edges. "And what might that be?"
Maila smirked slightly, leaning back in her chair to put a little distance between them. "Kind of how you're looking at me right now. Like a predator."
Xel raised an eyebrow. "Really?" he asked coyly, walking around her desk and approaching her chair with slow steps.
"Mhm," she answered, deliberately turning away from him.
He leaned down, lips brushing against her ear, as he whispered. "And what makes you think that's a bad thing?"
Her heart fluttered in her chest as she smiled widely. Oh, he is a fast learner. His lips brushed her neck as she craned it to give him easier access, the sensations deliciously tickling her skin. About five seconds in, it stopped quite suddenly, and she felt him pull away. A small frown creased her lips as she turned toward him, noting a much deeper one on his face.
"Xel? What's wrong?"
"I…" His voice was quiet and cracking, almost pained.
She stood and approached him, taking his hands in hers. "Xel?"
Those two words, plus his tone and expression, told her everything she needed to know. "I see." She pulled her hands away, taking her seat again.
Maila gulped and nodded. "I know."
"Where I'm going…there's no place for what we have. It's kill or be killed, and I won't leave ties back to you."
"You're trying to protect me?"
He hooked his thumbs in his belt and leaned back, breaking eye contact. "Not entirely. If no one knows we're connected—"
"Then no one can use me against you."
Maila pursed her lips. "It…makes sense." She nodded and forced a smile on her face, noticing him do the same. "Well…when you're done…if you're ever done, my doors will be open."
"I…doubt that." He looked away. "And I don't want you to do that."
"What are you talking about?"
He locked eyes with her. "If I come back…I won't be the man you wanted."
"I don't think anything could change you that much." She crossed her arms. "After all, I sent you that first message after you planted a tracker on my neck and tailed me to a warehouse that became the site of a shootout. For all I knew, you were planning to kill me if I'd been there."
Xel managed a small smile.
"So go, Xel. Besides, it's not as if we were going steady."
He smiled wider. "Right." He turned toward the door and started walking, stopping in the doorway. "I'll…see you later."
"I'll be looking forward to it."
As Xel walked out of her office and, for the moment, her life, Maila turned back to her datapad and uselessly tried to ignore the uncomfortable pang in her heart.
The Kandosii'tal, Nar Shaddaa
"So Xel, any ideas on where to start?"
The Mando pressed his lips together as he thumbed the Kandosii'tal's repulsorlifts on and brought the ship into an ascending hover, eyes flickering to the holoprojector showing his seated brother. "Not sure. I've never hunted a Darth before."
"You think he's taken that personal an interest in her?"
"Maybe, maybe not, but if the fact that he let her live is any indication, he's got plans for Telia."
"Alen? We'll find her. We're gonna get her back."
Alen's ship followed behind Xel's as he jetted out of atmosphere. "For the moment, we're going to treat this like any other hunt. Gather intelligence on our target, figure out patterns. Since this is Darth Vader we're dealing with, both are going to be difficult to do."
"Fear not." He looked at his right pauldron. "Dad taught me everything he knew, and if there's anyone who could find her, it's him. For now, just trust me and follow my lead."
Alen's hologram nodded and set his features.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Xel couldn't help but feet a slight flutter of excitement. Been a while since I've gone on a proper hunt. His hands tightened around the control yoke as a malevolent smile came to his face. His hand reached for the hyperdrive controls, engaging a course to Obroa-skai as Alen followed directly behind, one message drifting over their comlink before they shot into hyperspace.
"Oya, ner vod. Let's go hunting."