Visions of Darkness, Part II
The Sanctuary, Voss-Ka, Voss
8 months BBY
Both brothers seemed stunned for a few moments, not quite sure what to say. In the end, it was Alen who spoke first.
"Yes. I see." His voice was nearly a whisper.
Xel was more enthusiastic, if only just a little, his low chuckle echoing through the chamber. "So it really is another bounty." He took a deep breath in and slowly let it out before returning his gaze to the Three. "Well then, you called for the right team. Consider us hired."
Alen half-expected the Voss to scowl at Xel's casual manner with regard to one of their own, but they instead seemed to respect his businesslike approach.
"Understood," the central Voss said. "Makar-Sei was last seen in Ken-La, a region not two kilometers from Voss-Ka. He is hiding somewhere in the mountains, consolidating his strength."
"Wait," Alen said confusedly, "consolidating?"
The female Voss spoke up. "When Makar-Sei fell, he took others with him, corrupted his friends among the commandos, those he did not kill."
"As his ranks grew, so did the rate of growth," the blue-eyes Voss said. "His total forces may soon be enough to challenge ours for supremacy over Voss, and if we send our own to fight him, we risk corrupting them as well."
"Hence why you were forced to ask for outside help," Alen added, exchanging a look with his brother. "So why do you think we'll have better success if you know him so well? After all, you'd think that being as familiar as you are with his tactics and abilities, you'd have the best chance of stopping him."
The central Voss shook his head. "It is that familiarity that counts against us. We know him, all too well."
"He was a personal friend of yours," Xel inferred, frowning at their nods. "I understand." His tone held a note of sadness to it, and his next words were even more hesitant. "Is...is it possible he can be saved?"
All present, Alen included, gave him a surprised look.
"With the Force," his brother said quietly, "anything is possible."
"But," the female interrupted, "considering Makar-Sei's actions up to this point, it is more than safe to say he is too far gone. His original personality and morality are all but destroyed. He is no more than a puppet now."
Blue-eyes spoke up. "It is for this reason as well that we are loathe to face him, for while our previous friendship may produce hesitation on our part, Makar-Sei's mind is so heavily warped that the same cannot be said of him."
Xel pursed his lips and brooded with his side to them as Alen spoke. "Understood. If nothing can be done for him, then..." Alen met his brother's pained eyes. "Then we'll do our best to end his torment. Being under the control of a Sith, being forced to watch as you slay your friends...I can see how he could deteriorate even faster after the initial fall. Such grief can only lead to madness."
"Too true, Master Jedi." A long silence passed. "What is your plan to defeat him?"
Alen shot Xel a glance, indicating it was his turn to speak. Such tactical decisions, after all, were the hunter's area of expertise.
"First, we'll need a layout of the area where Makar-Sei's holed up. No sense walking into a potential ambush without knowing where they might be coming from."
The central Voss nodded. "Agreed, but such matters are not to be discussed here, nor by the Three." He pulled a datapad from the folds of his robe, tapping a few keys before stowing it again. "I believe you have already met Captain Jor-Le," he said, motioning to the opening double-doors behind them.
Alen smiled and bowed slightly in the soldier's direction, Xel tipping his head.
"The captain will escort you to a forward command post set up to monitor Makar-Sei's movements in Ken-La. His commando teams will assist you in any way you need."
Xel nodded firmly. "Glad to hear it. If he's got as many troops as you think, we'll need all the help we can get." The Mando glanced back at the captain. "There any chance we can visit my ship? There's a few things I wanna get before heading out."
The Three nodded in tandem. "Jor-Le, see to it."
He saluted crisply. "At once, honored ones." Lowering his hand, he nodded toward the doors.
Xel donned his helmet and walked toward the exit when the Three spoke again as one.
"Go with our blessing, offworlders, and may the Force be with you."
Alen gave them one final bow and Xel a nod of respect before they left for the Kandosii'tal.
30 minutes later
Voss outpost, outskirts of Ken-La
Xel stared at the projection in grim concentration, his brother somewhat at a loss of what to do as he too adopted the position. The Jedi was far from a soldier, despite his prowess in lightsaber combat, so he was all too glad to see Xel take command. The Mando had a heavy assault cannon slung over his shoulder, the weapon easily weighing over 18 pounds but barely seeming to slow him down. Whether that was from passive use of the Force or his own considerable physique, no one could tell, just that he seemed perfectly at ease.
"So Makar-Sei is hiding in these ruins," Xel stated, pointing to a large cluster of half-collapsed buildings near the top of a large hill nearby.
Jor-Le's lips tightened as he leaned against the large holoprojector with both hands. "I would not call what he is doing hiding. His forces number in the dozens, and the majority of them are quite visible bustling about with some task or another. It is almost as if he is taunting us."
Xel smirked malevolently. "Then let's not disappoint him." He leaned back, crossing his arms. "Captain, how many commandos do we have at our disposal?"
"Just over forty at present, with more flying in from other locations."
"Do any of your squads have specializations? Demolition, infiltration, and such."
"Aurek Squad is known for its capable snipers, and Cresh for camouflage."
"Guess that'll have to do," Xel muttered to himself, narrowed eyes scanning the projection as troop movements were shown. "Tell me, Jor. If it were you up there, what would be your move?"
The captain thought about it a while. "Given that I know I am outnumbered and outgunned, my priority would be to maximize my stronghold's defenses and post guards to watch for intruders. Home field advantage, you might call it."
Xel nodded thoughtfully. "You wouldn't happen to have any bombers, right?"
Jor shook his head. "No. Our starcraft are limited to transport vessels, as interstellar war has never been engaged in among our people."
"Then we do this the old-fashioned way. I want Cresh Squad to scout out guard positions, mark down any hidden troops, anywhere they might ambush us." He watched the Voss nod and turn toward one of his nearby soldiers before adding as an afterthought, "And tell them not to get too close to the fortress. If Makar-Sei's as powerful as you believe and has such complete control over his followers, he can detect any intruders with the Force and effectively transmit their positions to his men. They'll be outnumbered before they can even sound off."
Jor-Le nodded. "Understood."
As he moved to get his men ready, Xel turned to Alen, who was fidgeting with the plastoid armor plate hidden under his tunic. He had donned the armor piece at Xel's insistence, the Mando assuring him it was light enough to allow him the same freedom of movement. "You all right, vod?"
The Jedi nodded resolutely. "Fine. Just uneasy about going up against another Dark Force-user." He grimaced a little. "Last time didn't turn out so well."
Xel exhaled hard, their last confrontation with Vader all too vivid in his memory. "Well, you were caught off-guard, and I don't think this guy's quite as powerful."
"Probably not, no, but he was a commando and damn good at his job before his Sith enhancements. You saw what he did to those soldiers in the recording, and that was weeks ago. You can imagine how powerful he is now."
Xel frowned deeply, staring at the holoprojector. "Right," he said quietly before turning to his brother with a slight smile. "But, the last time he went on a rampage, the Voss didn't have a Jedi on their side."
Alen shrugged. "A Padawan. Talented, maybe, but...nothing special."
The Mando scoffed. "You're the son of an elite Mandalorian and a Jedi General. That automatically makes you special, and plus...you're not alone." He punctuated this statement by patting the hardcase at the right of his belt.
Alen stared at it with narrowed eyes. "You never explained to me why you don't carry it on the left side, like me. Or, on a clip, for that matter. Why the hardcase?"
"Well, it prevents the saber from falling off, or at least greatly reduces the chances. That, and it makes it somewhat difficult for another Force-user to pull it off."
"Hm. And the right side?"
"Well, considering the saber drops into my hand instead of me drawing it, it doesn't seem very practical. That, and it's faster and easier to just raise my hand to my side instead of reaching over. Also much less obvious."
"Sometimes, theatricality is necessary to defuse a situation."
Xel smirked. "That's your forte, not mine. My definition of defusing typically involves a much higher body count. Besides, so few lightsabers exist anymore that just activating one should be more than dramatic enough."
Alen was silent for a while, his mouth slowly curling into a smirk.
Xel noticed. "What?"
His brother smiled wider. "What are the odds that we go on a mission to find our mother and recruit a woman named Iola Voss, then on another job to do the same thing run into a world called Voss, not to mention they're both so obscure as to be nonexistent?"
An amused look passed over Caden's features. "Don't think the coincidence was lost on me."
Alen chuckled as he looked toward the entrance of the command tent and nodded. "Speaking of drama."
Jor-Le strode inside, a sour expression on his face. "You were right, Xel Caden. Makar found Cresh before they even got close. We have no closer visuals than this." He motioned to the projection from one of their aerial spy drones.
Caden cursed under his breath, scowling at the image. "Well...plan B then."
Alen raised his eyebrows. "There's a plan B?"
Xel stormed out of the tent, giving Alen a pretty good idea of just what he was planning and sending the Jedi running out to stop him. "I know what I'm doing."
"And what's that exactly, trying to get yourself killed?"
"No," he answered calmly, donning his helmet as he marched toward his nearby speeder bike. Xel straddled the seat and activated its engines, looking back up at his brother. "Making an impression." Powering up the repulsorlifts, he hovered three feet off the ground, sitting in place as he fine-tuned the bike. "Captain Jor-Le, ready your men for a full frontal assault. We're gonna soften 'em up."
The Voss looked at him disbelievingly but nodded and strode away. Alen stared at the ranks of commandos snapping to attention at the approach of their commander, startled from his thoughts by a filtered voice at his side.
Alen blinked at him in confusion for a moment before the Mando motioned to another bike nearby. Reluctantly, the Jedi nodded and mounted it, following his brother's example and preparing for a high-speed entrance. "You got a plan?"
Xel nodded. "Just follow my lead." He reached for the throttle lever and yanked on it hard, rapidly accelerating as Alen followed a moment later. The two of them evened out and sped up the hill neck and neck, both mentally preparing themselves for a fight.
Alen spoke up somewhat hesitantly. "I know the Three were abundantly clear on what has to be done with Makar-Sei, but what about the people under his control?"
Xel blinked twice and breathed out hard. "If that artifact is as powerful as they say, they're most likely already too far gone to be helped." He could feel the disappointment over their Bond, so added, "But on the off-chance I'm wrong...I'll try to show some restraint."
"Thank you," Alen said quietly.
"That said, they won't be walking out unscathed, and if it comes down to a choice between me and them...well, I think you know my decision."
The Jedi nodded. "Understood."
The brothers zipped up the hill at a breakneck speed, passing trees and the local wildlife, which were a lot bigger and more dangerous-looking than they would have liked, and approached the ruined fortress with two separate dispositions. Alen's mind was mostly calm and collected, but he was far more nervous than he would have liked and more concerned about collateral damage than his brother. Xel was almost deathly calm, his professional façade only reinforced by the faceless helmet he wore.
Neither approach affected the veritable swarm of entranced Voss charging at them from the fortress. Blaster fire rang out repeatedly as the possessed soldiers assaulted their fast-moving intruders, the two Force-users deftly dodging the plasma as they streaked past, attracting the attention of every guard in their path on their way to the central building, a tall stone structure in far less disrepair than the rest of the buildings. Xel Force Pushed a Voss that came too close, and Alen drew his saber to bat away two bolts that would have tagged his chest, slashing through the barrels of two blasters in a passing blur of light.
Xel activated the underslung blaster of his swoop, firing at the main door of the building in the distance several times before a flurry of shots smacked into him and his ride.
"Xel!" Alen shouted franticly. "Xel, are you okay?!"
"Fine!" he yelled back, drawing a pistol to kneecap one of the snipers above and shoot the arm of the other.
"That thing's toast!" Alen pointed out, motioning to his now-flaming swoop.
Xel smirked behind his helmet as he reached down and planted a detpack on the side of his seat. "Then let them have it."
The Mando coiled up and called on the Force, springing off his doomed swoop and backflipping toward Alen, who ducked down as his brother landed on the space behind him in a crouch, one hand gripping the bike as the other steadied the assault cannon slung over his shoulder. The brothers watched as Xel's bike crashed into the damaged front door, exploding on contact as the detpack detonated, creating a massive hole that allowed them to streak through. Behind them, Jor-Le's Voss commandos were assaulting the fortress and using the possessed troopers' distraction to subdue many of them quite easily.
Xel leapt from Alen's bike and landed in a roll as a dozen Corrupted rushed them with electrostaves, the Jedi charging and drawing his lightsaber as he rode past, the blade colliding hard with several staves and knocking their users to the ground. Loading a concussive round into the underslung launcher of his cannon, Caden fired a single shot into a cluster of commandos that sent them flying in various directions with broken bones and bruised bodies, but heartbeats all the same. Alen had leapt from his bike, allowing it to glide to a stop as he engaged the rest, dueling several guards at once as his brother approached.
A single volley of automatic rounds at low power splashed over four guards, injuring most and critically injuring one. When Alen shot him a disapproving look, Xel just fired again, taking more pressure off his brother. I did say I would try to show restraint. Taking fanatical enemies like this alive wasn't in his nature, especially not when his family was threatened. Spotting another ten guards moving in from a hallway that led deeper into the fortress, Xel fired an explosive round at a nearby column that crashed and broke apart right on top of them. Alen cut the leg of a stubborn duelist and kicked him to the ground, then parried and redirected a strike from the last one remaining before clubbing him with the hilt of his lightsaber and rejoining Xel.
The pair proceeded into the bowels of the fortress, coming to a large, open atrium a few minutes later. Xel narrowed his eyes at the "empty" space in suspicion, making hand-signals for Alen to proceed further in. A hydraulic hiss was the only sound that indicated Xel's ascension into the rafters as his brother kept walking, saber drawn but not active yet. When he was halfway through, a sharp push from the Force led Alen to activate his saber and deflect a half-dozen blaster bolts away from him, spinning the blade in an intricate pattern to ward off a volley of incoming shots.
The Voss attackers started spilling out of the woodwork, descending from raised doors and passages and coming from both main entrances as well. Li-am's eyes widened at the overwhelming numbers facing him, knowing he couldn't defend all sides at once. As it turned out, he didn't have to. Two explosions rang out as the rear entrance collapsed on the Voss pouring in, crushing some and trapping most on the other side. A squad of guards fell victim to an extended burst of automatic fire as Xel sniped them from the rafters, his cannon spitting out plasma at a feverish pace as it started to run hot.
Though Alen frowned at his blatant use of lethal force, Xel knew he knew it was necessary. There was no way they could hold back against such overwhelming odds. A moment later, Caden found out Alen realized this. The Jedi leapt twenty feet toward a commando trying to snipe his brother, lightsaber flashing and cutting a line across his chest as he spun, juking around two shots and deflecting two back into their sources. A Force Push blew back three of them at once, followed by a quick series of shots from Xel that put them down for good. Alen stabbed through the midsection of a guard with an electrostaff, then pulled out to finish him with a spinning strike across the chest.
A plasma bolt struck far too close to Alen for Xel's comfort, and he popped the last tibanna gas clip into his cannon before opening up on a crowd of Corrupted in an automatic salvo that cut through their armor like butter, the few shots they managed to send his way absorbing harmlessly into his armor. Alen's blade was a deadly blur, his precise deflections and counterattacks against close-quarters opponents followed by redirections against numerous gunners. Alen's blade was his cover, as was Xel's armor to him. Finally, the Mando's weapon beeped empty, and he dropped the heavy device in favor of his blasters, ducking and weaving around enemy fire and returning a great deal of his own.
The enemy's ranks finally began to thin from the twenty-plus troopers that had confronted them to less than six, most of which were down to their electrostaves.
"Surrender," Alen said, voice quiet and nearly breaking. "Please."
"Makar-Sei demands your destruction, nonbeliever," they all said in tandem. "We are honor-bound to obey him."
"What honor is there in pointless slaughter?" Xel sounded like he was snarling behind his helmet.
"Makar-Sei demands your destruction," they repeated.
Xel looked over at his brother, blasters still trained on them. "It's hopeless, Alen. I told you. They're too far gone."
The Jedi pursed his lips tightly. "Maybe. Maybe not. Listen to their language. They say Makar-Sei wants us dead, as if it isn't even their choice."
"There is always a choice."
"Xel," Alen said quietly, deactivating his saber and clipping it to his belt, "not everyone is as strong-willed as you."
The Mando turned back to his targets and looked into the eyes that, though compound and alien, revealed heavy amounts of emotion nonetheless. As he kept staring, he realized what was so wrong about them. They're…empty…but not empty. Almost… His own eyes widened as the memory of Telia's broken expression flashed in his mind and the same tortured feeling was felt through the Force. With a heavy sigh, his blasters lowered and holstered. Xel could feel his brother relaxing over their Bond as he raised his hand.
"Sleep," the Jedi said evenly and authoritatively, hand curling and causing one of the commandos to spasm briefly before falling unconscious as Xel did the same to another.
The others, seeing what was happening to their comrades, charged at the pair. Alen deftly sidestepped a swing and delivered a wheel kick to the soldier's head, knocking him out with one blow. Xel snapped his head away from high shot and went for the more direct approach, grabbing the staff and swinging its user off-balance before pulling him close into a kov'nyn and knocking him out. His electrostaff went inactive and dropped to the floor a moment later. Alen nodded to him solemnly and strode toward the main door, stopping in the doorway and looking back at the pile of corpses left behind. Though he didn't share it, Caden couldn't help but feel his brother's sorrow over so many lives lost and put a hand on his shoulder as a result.
The Jedi's expression toughened as he nodded and turned his mind back to the task at hand, marching straight toward a set of double-doors that vaguely resembled those in the Three's chamber in the Sanctuary. This door, however, showed the same three hooded Voss lying at the feet of a fourth, most of them partially dismembered and all looking quite dead except the fourth, who stood over them with a black blade. The image unsettled both brothers, the Jedi looking far paler than he had a few moments ago.
"You feel that?" Alen asked quietly.
Xel closed his eyes briefly before nodding. "Yes. It's...it almost feels like Vader. The same feeling of a black hole."
Alen nodded slowly. "We need to be careful. I have no idea what we're going to face in there."
"Me neither." Xel let out a long, thoughtful breath. "You enter first. I'll hide my signature in the Force while you distract Makar-Sei, then hit him from above when he's vulnerable."
"Right," Alen agreed with a nod. "Be careful."
"Always." The Mando launched his cable again, reeling himself up a story and pushing into an air vent, the grating bending backward with a constant Force Push so that it would open slowly and quietly. He gave Alen a glance and a nod before disappearing into the air ducts as the Jedi pushed open the double doors.