Visions of Darkness, Part III
8 months BBY
The first thing Alen was aware of upon entering the room was a dozen pedestals alight with fire, creating a path similar to that in the Three's chamber, but leading to an elevated throne instead of a pedestal. On that throne sat the same hooded Voss he had seen in his vision, two slight violet glows the only evidence of anything behind the hood. With a slight gulp, Alen advanced on the figure with even steps, making his way across the large, rectangular room to face his enemy. Makar-Sei didn't move a muscle, but instead just seemed to stare at him with those glowing orbs, nothing else on his face visible.
Alen came to a stop some twenty feet away from the possessed Voss commander before speaking. "Makar-Sei, for the sake of your world and yourself, I ask that you give up the artifact and surrender to the Three."
For a few moments, the commander just sat there and glowered at him, eyes searching for any sign of fear or weakness. "So…those fools actually managed to do it."
An involuntary shudder passed through Alen at the resonating, inhuman voice that came from the body. "Do what?"
"Why, find a Jedi, of course. I had assumed there were so few left that it would be nigh impossible…but I was wrong." He chuckled darkly. "Not that it matters."
The Jedi's eyes narrowed under his own hood. "And why's that?"
Makar-Sei rose from the throne and stepped forward twice, standing at the top of the stairs and looking down at him. "Because you are nothing to me."
Alen smirked threateningly. "I beg to differ. The Three wouldn't have called on me if they didn't think I could get the job done."
This time he laughed loudly, the harsh sound reverberating across the room and sending a chill up Alen's spine. "Those fools would call for any help they could get. They're desperate and fearful. That makes them weak."
"No, it makes them sentient. Means they have a soul, because they fear for what you'd do given the chance, the kind of death and destruction you'd wreak on their world."
"Precisely. That fear separates the weak from the strong, and in this galaxy, only the strong are meant to survive. That is why your Order fell so easily."
Alen grit his teeth. "The Order fell because you Sith used trickery and deception to destroy us. Weren't honorable enough to do it yourselves."
"And since when have you ever known Sith to value honor? Honor is a lie, a fabrication of 'right' behavior brought about by the weakness of your morality. It is what gives us an evolutionary advantage, and if history, specifically recent history, has proven anything, it is that evolution always wins."
The Jedi shook his head resolutely. "Not here. Not this time. I won't let you." He pulled his saber off his belt but kept it inactive.
"Fool. You have no choice." Makar-Sei, or what used to be Makar-Sei, strode down the steps one by one as he spoke. "I've slain a thousand Jedi, Knights and Masters both. I was the right hand of my master, the instrument of his damnation and destruction until I was deceived and slain on this accursed world so many years ago. You are but a mere Padawan, boy. What hope do you think you have?"
Alen smirked. "Whatever you were, you are now but a shadow of your former self, no more than the angry ghost of a child starved for attention." He felt the anger rise in his opponent and ignited his lightsaber, holding it two-handedly in Offensive Neutral. "And like all ghosts, you are meant to be put to rest." The Jedi heard a slight snarl come from Makar-Sei before his feel turned from anger to one of amusement.
Makar-Sei chuckled again. "Really?" He leaned toward him, a ten-foot gap still separating them. "You and what army?"
Makar-Sei's eyes snapped upward as several shots rang out from a pair of Mandalorian APs, raising his hands one after the other as the bolts were reflected off his open palms. A flick of his wrist sent a flaming pedestal flying toward the shooter, who leapt from his perch in a twist-flip, firing his weapons rapidly as he fell and landed next to his brother. When they faced off, two barrels still pointed and smoking, Makar-Sei's hands were smoking as well, but undamaged.
"Damn," Xel said. "I've really gotta learn how to do that."
"With those gloves," Alen remarked almost flippantly, "I'm not sure you need to."
The Mando shrugged. "Fair point. So how do we play this?"
"Play? This isn't a game, Xel." Alen looked at him aghast, lowering his blade and turning to him fully as Xel lowered his pistols and faced him as well.
"Really? Because the way I see it, this is the oldest game in the galaxy, one power play against another, with us hunters caught doin' the dirty work."
"Hunters? You're the only 'hunter' here, and you agreed to take this job."
"That's only because the stakes are so high. After all, our fee is one-of-a-kind."
"Wow, so all you care about is the prize? I really misjudged you."
"Maybe you did!" Xel shouted childishly, noting the way Makar-Sei was just staring at the pair incredulously and smiling behind his helmet.
"You know, you would think that after all this time spent around each other, I'd know you better than this!"
"Well, I guess not!"
The brothers were actually getting up in each other's faces now, the possessed Voss seemingly forgotten in the "heat" of their childish argument.
"This is why Mom always liked me best."
Alen crossed his arms. "Yeah."
"Yeah," Alen responded as he leaned toward Xel, an additional edge to his tone. "What are you gonna do about it?"
"I think I'll just—"
"What are you two doing?!"
The brothers turned toward the source of the voice and looked at him quizzically, as if they had just noticed his presence. The Sith inhabiting Makar-Sei's body sounded genuinely peeved that he had been so easily forgotten.
Xel's reply was almost flippant. "Oh, we were just distracting you."
Before the Voss had time to consider this, the Mando tapped a key on his left gauntlet, activating the thermal detonator he had lowered from his perch with the Force during their "argument," the explosion engulfing him in flames as the pair looked on.
"Well," Xel said in a satisfied voice, swiping his palms across each other, "that was easy."
The voice instantly put them both on alert as the inferno in front of them curled and swirled in a flaming spiral, the fire illuminating the figure and part of the face of Makar-Sei, whose robes were somewhat charred but body was undamaged.
"Move!" Alen shouted as he pushed Xel away from him, a massive gout of flames flooding through their former position.
The Mando pumped shots left and right, most of them missing as his target started moving faster than the bolts were flying, reflecting the rest away from himself. A strong Force Grip on his body prompted the activation of his jetpack, the sudden thrust straining against Makar's pull. Alen's lightsaber again rang to life and swung at Makar's open back, the blade deflected by the rapid drawing of his electrosword. As the two skilled duelists locked blades, Xel dropped to the ground and took a moment to get his bearings, then activated his own lightsaber and stormed forward.
The Sith hadn't been kidding when he said he was an instrument of destruction. Every strike was blocked and countered, and he was still clearly holding back. When they attacked in tandem, he Force Pushed them both ten feet away, the brothers rolling to their feet and standing firmly. Two pairs of eyes drifted to his right hand, which had transferred the sword to his left before reaching for his belt and the artifact hanging there. They watched as he unclipped it and pointed the rectangular shaft in their direction, wondering at his intentions before he pressed a stone-like button on its body.
With a strange, hollow noise, an energy blade sprang from the artifact, thin, straight, and as long as their lightsabers. It took Xel a few moments to realize what was so strange about it. It's…black.
"Alen," he said quietly, "what…the hell…is that thing?"
"I have no idea. I've never seen a saber like that before, so I got no clue what it's capable of."
"Best not to find out by experience, yes?"
The Jedi nodded. "Right."
The brothers moved to opposite sides of the dual-wielding Makar-Sei, forcing him to look in both directions to keep track of them…or so they thought. A low chuckle came from his throat as Xel came at his back, his electrosword blocking a blow that would have bisected him and saber slashing at his shoulder. The Mando dodged the strike, countering with an upward cut that missed his chest by a hairsbreadth. Alen moved forward, stabbing precisely at his right wrist in an attempt to disarm him but finding himself on the defensive when his lightsaber was batted aside and Makar advanced on him, swinging with such strength that his entire form vibrated with the impacts.
Xel pressed the attack from his other side, bringing down several hard vertical strikes before withdrawing a pace and flipping forward, swinging his saber down even harder with the force of his spin and fall. Makar-Sei simply dodged to the side and slashed his electrosword across the youth's chestplate, kicking him back and reengaging his brother. The Jedi was having difficulty keeping up with the Sith's dual-wielding style, as Makashi was intended primarily for one-on-one dueling with single-blades, and his opponent knew it. With a shunting strike, he knocked Alen's blade to the side with his saber, then slashed at his midsection with the electrosword, missing by a millimeter when Alen thrust his hips backward.
An angry yell preceded a flying kick to Makar's head from Xel, the boot actually knocking his hood off and him to the ground. The Voss's normal blue and orange skin markings were now pale and somewhat faded, his normally orange eyes now glowing a dark violet. Seeing his opportunity, Xel pressed the attack, bringing his lightsaber down hard and meeting both the Sith's blades as he blocked the strike and kicked him away. Makar flipped to his feet and swung his weapons in tandem in opposite directions, nearly taking Xel's head off and forcing him to duck out of the way.
The electrosword fell again and collided with Xel's left gauntlet, which deflected the strike and allowed him to stab at Makar's head. The blue blade sped past as the commander ducked and spun clockwise inside his swinging range, slamming his right elbow into the Mando's armored abdomen and Force Pushing him away. Alen leapt over his brother's flying body to land a falling vertical strike on his sword, knocking the weapon from his grip and locking sabers with him.
"You cannot win, boy. You're a fool if you think you can."
The Jedi grit his teeth and pushed against him harder. "You're the bigger fool if you think I won't try."
To his surprise, the Sith actually gave ground, his dark blade drawing dangerously close to his own neck. Seeing his opportunity, Alen kept pushing, unconsciously putting himself off-balance. When Makar's resistance faded completely and he withdrew, Alen pitched forward right into a hard knee. A pommel strike from the Voss sent stars flashing through his vision and his body to the ground.
"As I said," he laughed. "You cannot win." He was about to deal the killing blow when another fire-bowl broke on his chest, sending flames up and across his robes. Makar-Sei snarled in pain as he used the Force to smother the flames just in time to catch Xel's falling blade. "Enough!"
A massive Force Wave blew them both back, and random loose articles from around the room started flying at them. Executing a Circle of Shelter, Xel tried to press forward and reach their attacker, but stopped when Makar raised his left hand in a familiar gesture. Violet tendrils shot from his fingers as Lightning coursed through the air, leaving the smell of burning ozone and Xel barely holding his ground as his lightsaber took the brunt of the attack. The man he'd met on Raydonia had nothing on this Sith's abilities with Force Lightning, and he found his boots skidding across the hard stone floor.
Alen managed to get cover and levitate another fire-bowl, chucking it at their opponent to try and distract him. It worked, for a brief time, but quickly backfired as he once again channeled the flames in Xel's direction. The boy had no time to dodge, and instead put up a Force Shield around his body, the fire scorching his armor and causing pain, but no permanent damage. Alen channeled his energies into a Force Blast that slammed into Makar-Sei and sent him flying across the room into a vertical pillar, the impact making a small crater. The Sith rose to his feet, baring his teeth at the Jedi hatefully and calling on the Dark Side.
The disturbance he created was palpable in the Force, and Alen barely had time to blink before he and Xel were lifted off the ground and rocketed through the air. Both their bodies slammed through stone pillars—pillars, plural. Their Force Shields were battered to nothing, and the pair could only grit their teeth and try to block out the pain as they were smashed through one object after another, dumped unceremoniously in the center of the room when Makar-Sei decided they'd had enough. Alen groaned and hissed as he tried to push himself up, yelling loudly when massive pain shot up his left arm. As he slumped to the ground on his right side, he looked over at the appendage to see his forearm bent unnaturally, broken.
His lightsaber lay some seven feet away, and he channeled the Force into retrieving it, but between the agony and his own fear, nothing happened. Xel was immobile without his helmet, unconscious, and he had nothing left to fight with as Makar-Sei's glowing eyes drew closer and closer, the Sith taking each step slowly, almost mockingly as he relished his victory. The sounds of the room faded to a dull hum, the explosion of a wall behind the Sith only a muffled thump in his ears as a dozen Voss commandos flooded the room and opened fire on their former commander.
Makar-Sei deflected the shots effortlessly and brought one of the damaged pillars down on three of them with a gesture before engulfing another two in Force Lightning. Their charred corpses fell to the ground a few moments later, the Sith charging at his former comrades and cutting two of them down before they could draw electrostaves and engaging the last five with malevolent relish, a mocking smile on his face the whole time. He slashed, crippled, choked, and dismembered the commandos without so much as a second thought, without even breaking a sweat. Barely a minute after their entry, the entire squad lay dead at Makar-Sei's feet.
Belatedly, he turned his attention to the prone Force-users and strode toward them with purpose. Renewed terror swept through Alen at his proximity as black spots swam in his vision. He desperately called on the Force to keep the pain at bay and watched in horror as Makar stood over him and raised his saber over his head.
A ringing snap-hiss preceded a loud clash, black meeting blue as Xel held back Makar's strike, their blades hovering barely two feet from his brother's body as he strained against the Sith's impossible strength.
"You fool," the Voss mocked as he pushed the blade down another couple inches. "Your partner lies crippled and weak, and your body aches with injuries. You've lost all backup and hope of rescue. Whatever slim chances you had before are gone, so why do you persist?"
"Because," Xel hissed out in strain and anger, "he's family." To his surprise, their sabers started to rise away from Alen's body. Xel pushed up once more, adding Force to the effort and snapping Makar's blade away from him entirely before locking blades again and shoving him back. His sapphire blade angled diagonally toward the Sith threateningly. "And family always comes first."
Black met blue again and again, their shafts flashing and crackling loudly at every contact as Xel unleashed his anger and used Shien for all it was worth. Makar-Sei actually looked taken aback by his sudden fury and strength, and withdrew several steps before holding his ground and locking blades with the Mando. The sabers twisted and pushed in the lock, each duelist trying to find some advantage and getting none as they strained against each other until Makar managed to angle his blade horizontally—almost within range of Xel's neck. As he pushed the lock closer, the humming black approached slowly but steadily with deadly intent, and Xel started to panic.
"Xel!" Alen yelled painfully from behind him, the image of a flying hilt flashing through Xel's mind.
His left hand left his lightsaber and extended to the side, stretching out to the Force and calling the thrown weapon to his grasp. Another snap-hiss filled the air as the Mando slashed Alen's lightsaber diagonally at Makar's side, the surprised Sith barely dodging in time by leaping into the air. He was surprised again when a spinning disc of blue light chased after him, the deadly circle barely missing his falling body as he twisted out of the way and returning to the right hand of its owner. Makar-Sei hit the ground and gazed at his opponent, who crossed both blue blades threateningly and scowled at him before charging.
The Sith met each strike with the same strength as before, but Xel was relentless, hammering his defenses again and again with incredible speed and force, his style unrefined but still deadly as strikes came from every direction. When he swung both sabers in opposite directions, Makar ducked and slashed at his left-hand blade, disarming him of Alen's lightsaber and putting him on the defensive. One strike followed the next as he steadily pushed his Mandalorian opponent back, the youth giving more and more ground until a rock smashed into his head from a Force Throw and he was disarmed of his own lightsaber.
Staggering back, Xel could only keep his hands up as a torrent of rocks and debris pelted his chest and arms, hammering him with blunt force so hard, he could feel ribs breaking under the shocks. When it finally ended, he kept limping back, away from that deadly black blade as he rapidly considered his options. I can't beat him. It's impossible. He's faster, stronger, and far more skilled than I am. His power dwarfs mine. Xel kept withdrawing, the Sith advancing at a walk with a confident, mocking smile on his face. Dark blue eyes widened. Confidence…or overconfidence?
Memories flashed through his mind of the Force holocron teaching him about the Sith and their traits, about their arrogance and irreverent attitude toward the Force, and all life for that matter. He looked at his hands, one of them holding his broken ribs and the other hanging at his side…and he knew what to do. Caden kept moving backward as Makar advanced, intentionally backing himself into a corner as he felt a wave of gratification come from the Sith.
"And so it ends," Makar-Sei said as Xel's jetpack hit the wall, the boy's eyes widening in terror. His saber raised and arms moved to a stabbing position, shooting forward at lightning speed, right toward a gap in his armor that would ensure entry.
The only thing it entered was the stone wall behind him, and even then not so far. Violet eyes widened in sheer shock as he saw the cause of the stop. Near the end of his blade, just before the shaft tapered off into a tip—was Xel's closed left hand. He had all of a split-second to register this before Caden's right beskar-armored elbow slammed into his nose, breaking it instantly and causing him to yell in pain. A strong hook to the Voss's right wrist made his fingers go limp and drop the artifact's hilt, allowing the saber to swing free. Xel kept his counterclockwise motion going, spinning 360 degrees and grabbing the blade with his right hand as well, slamming the hilt into Makar-Sei's left temple.
The Voss dropped to the ground with the artifact a second later, the black blade going inactive some fifteen feet away from him as Xel threw it away and recalled both blue lightsabers to his hands, the blades crossing on either side of a kneeling Makar-Sei's neck.
Breathing heavily, Xel spoke. "It's…over."
The Voss didn't acknowledge him, but instead kept his eyes closed for a few seconds before turning his head up and opening them. The violet in them was gone, replaced by his normal bright orange. "It is not," Makar said quietly, his voice far less booming and sinister. "Not yet." His eyes drifted to the inactive artifact, and Xel mistook this as hostile intention, so drew the blades a bit closer together. The former commander locked gazes with Caden. "You must end this. You must kill me."
"No," a pained voice said from some distance away, revealing that Alen had reawakened and managed to climb to his feet. "You've been separated from the artifact now, escaped its influence. Once we get you further away from this place, you'll be fine."
Makar-Sei frowned and shook his head. "No, I will not. Even now, I can feel him calling to me, whispering inside my head." He looked at the ground in shame. "He…played on my insecurities when I was assigned to keep his evil at bay, told me my failure as a Mystic was not my fault, but that of the other Mystics, who saw my power as a threat. In my mind, I knew he was wrong, but…my heart was not so resolute, and eventually…I gave in." Tears streamed from his eyes as they closed and his face twisted in pain. "So many dead…so many lost to my blade, to my hand…all because I wasn't strong enough."
Xel's resolve actually started to falter, and the blades drew further apart in response.
"I understand what you're feeling," Alen said as he slumped down to one knee in pain. "I do. We do. But blaming yourself for his actions won't help you heal, and it won't bring your men back."
"I don't deserve to be healed, nor do I think that it's possible." Makar grimaced yet again and looked at each of them in turn, small flecks of violet swimming across his eyes. The blades drew closer again. "I must die, not only because I am guilty, but because I can no longer resist his influence, not for long."
"Then we'll get you away from here," Alen said desperately. "Far away, take you off Voss if we have to."
He shook his head mournfully. "I do not think I could be on the other side of the galaxy and not feel his presence in my head. Not anymore." He looked at the ground. "The damage…has already been done, and it is irreversible." His eyes met Xel's. "The Jedi does not understand…but I think you do, Mandalorian."
Caden's eyes narrowed.
"The choice…my choice, to live or die, to flee or fight…is no longer mine."
Dark blue eyes widened. He…he really is just like me. The thought chilled him.
"Xel, don't," Alen said, voice cracking as he no doubt tried to figure out a way to save Makar-Sei.
They both knew it was impossible. The artifact and the Sith Lord residing within had too much influence on Makar. He would be a danger to everyone around him, no matter where he went, and if he ever made his way to the Empire, he would be an impeccable Jedi hunter. Not only that, but when the Emperor discovered the existence of the Voss, he would no doubt either enslave them or bombard the planet into ash. The artifact could not be destroyed, so that left only one option.
"Please, Xel," Makar pleaded, hands raised slightly as he closed his eyes. "End my torment."
Caden's throat closed before he opened it with some effort and spoke. "As…you wish." He closed his eyes and turned his head away as his blade and Alen's drew together with a ringing hiss, two thumps following a moment later. A shuddering breath left his body as both lightsabers hissed off, his own returning to his belt as he clipped Alen's to the Jedi's belt.
Suddenly, a breeze seemed to pass over Xel, and a small, sinister whisper entered his consciousness. His eyes turned to the fallen artifact and stared at it, glaring hard as Alen sensed something happening. The Mando's head cocked to one side as his gaze held, his body turning to face it as well after a few seconds. Maybe it was the whispers, maybe the sudden rush of feelings and emotions from the events of the day. Maybe it was pride, or arrogance, or the need to prove something to himself. Maybe it was a morbid curiosity that surpassed all reason. Maybe it was all of the above.
Whatever the reason, Alen's weak yells of protest were drowned out and sent to the back corner of Xel's mind as he scowled and strode over to the artifact, reaching down with his right hand and wrapping his fingers around its metal surface.
Immediately, he felt the effects, a million thoughts rushing through his mind at once and carrying him to worlds he had never seen before. Battles raged in every corner of his mind, and all the hate and rage of a thousand lives burned in his heart. An overwhelming sense of fear rushed through him, and from fear was borne anger, and from anger rage, and from rage loathing. As the room around him faded into a mixture of dark red and black clouds, Xel turned toward the densest cluster of shadows, the clouds condensing into the figure of a man with no features, just burning violet eyes.
"Welcome, Xel Caden."
His eyes narrowed at that same booming, echoing voice. "Who are you?"
"My name is irrelevant, a relic of days long past and long forgotten, when this world was contested by ancient Jedi and Sith. As for what I was, as I told your…" he cocked his head in thought, "brother, I believe?"
"Yes, as I told your brother, I was an instrument of death, sworn to serve my master until the end of my days. I slew a thousand Jedi in heated combat, only to be brought low and destroyed by trickery." A smile could be heard in his voice. "Ironic that your brother accuses the Sith of such things when the finger could be easily pointed right back at him."
"What do you want from me?"
"I want to walk the galaxy again. I want to leave this accursed world and return to the life that was so wrongly taken from me."
"Wrongly?" Xel hissed out his next words. "You're a murderer, and a psychopath."
He simply chuckled. "So judgemental considering your numerous failures, Xel Caden. The Gran, the Epicanthix. You too have tasted of the Dark Side's power. Why not embrace it entirely?"
A rush of sheer power flowed into Xel, and he closed his eyes, fighting against just how good it felt.
"Why do you resist? Is this not better than the life you had before? You thought you were strong by nature of your Mandalorian roots, but against one like Darth Vader, you were weak, helpless. I will give you the power to destroy him and save the ones you love…if you but serve me."
A shuddering breath left Caden as he stared at the object in his hand, closing his eyes a moment later. It would be so simple, so easy to slay his father's killer with this Sith at his back, giving him strength and power beyond anything he'd ever dreamed of. His Lightning would engulf and torture Vader. He would hear the Sith Lord scream in pain, as his mother no doubt did during her conversion. He would break every bone in his body, destroy him with his own power. He had wanted Xel to embrace his hatred and join with the Dark Side of the Force. How sweet it would be to show him the consequences of his wish?
How joyous would it be to finally be reunited with his mother, who would praise him for his defeat of their long-hated enemy? How much would he relish living as a king when he and his family confronted and destroyed the Emperor, taking his place themselves and becoming the absolute rulers of the Empire? How proud would he feel when the corrupt Imperial order was brought to heel by his clan and subjugated under the iron fist of their might? The depraved would have nowhere to hide, the corrupt nowhere to run. He would be the face of vengeance, the source of all order in the galaxy.
And he would break his last promise to Xander.
Dark eyes snapped open resolutely as his grip over the artifact clenched and mouth opened to utter his answer.
For the first time in millennia, the Sith was actually shocked, stunned into silence, but his fury returned barely a moment later, full-force and slamming into Caden. "You…dare to defy me?!" he roared, the clouds around him sparking with bolts of violet lightning.
Xel simply raised an eyebrow. "Defy you?" He chuckled darkly. "What is there to defy? The angry rumblings of a spiteful child? The useless pull of 'ultimate power'?" He mimed quotation marks before scowling at the Sith. "News flash, hut'uun. I don't want power. I never have. All I've ever wanted is to live freely, on my terms." He jabbed a thumb into his chest. "I won't serve you for that, or anything, for that matter. I am nobody's slave." He smiled malevolently. "And certainly not that of a forgotten ghost."
"How dare you!"
Xel had the audacity to actually look bored. "Rage all you want, but you have no power over me except what I give you." His fist clenched harder around the artifact. "And I'm not handing over a single inch."
"You will pay for this! I will—"
"You will do nothing but writhe in impotent rage, trapped in this saber, where no one will ever hear you again, for all eternity." Xel turned and started to walk away, stopping a few strides later and looking over his shoulder as he unclipped an empty hardcase from the back of his belt and placed the artifact inside. "And in time, you'll be nothing more than a bad memory…if that."
One final yell of defiance preceded the snap of the case's hinged lid shut, sealing the artifact away behind three layers of durasteel plating. The clouds vanished, and Xel was suddenly back in the throne room, surrounded by armed Voss commandos and being observed by all present, his injured brother, who was being tended to by a Mystic healer, included.
His chin tipped upward confidently as he clipped the hardcase to his belt, his voice ringing out clearly. "It's over. This thing—" he tapped the case, "—has no power here anymore."
"I can sense that he speaks the truth," a Voss said from behind the circle of commandos, stepping forward to reveal himself as one of the Three. "The darkness is contained, and our world is saved." He hesitated a moment before bowing low. "We cannot thank you enough."
Xel simply pursed his lips and nodded respectfully, adding after a few moments, "And what about our deal?"
The Voss inclined his head. "A bargain is a bargain. Our Mystics will do what they can."
Caden let out a sigh of relief and looked down. "Thank you."
3 hours later
As the entire world recovered from the damage done by the "Darksaber" and its inhabitant, the Three explained how things had turned out elsewhere. Jor-Le and his commandos had pierced the enemy's outer defenses and subdued a great number of affected soldiers without casualties, thanks to their diversion. Once the enemy caught on, however, the battle became a heated contest for supremacy over the rubble-littered ruins. At some point during the conflict, a Mystic present at the time of the assault informed the captain that something was amiss inside the stronghold's center, so he sent several teams to punch a hole through the Corrupted's battle lines and help them out. The Corrupted themselves had fought fanatically before becoming suddenly confused and disorganized, then ceasing all hostilities just minutes later—the exact moment Xel had slammed the cover of that hardcase shut. Despite the former Corrupted's near-universal despondency, the Three were optimistic about their full and speedy recoveries.
Alen's arm had been mostly healed by the time they returned to Voss-Ka, and the Three had spoken to the both of them about the results of their Mystics' visions. Apparently, one of them recognized the world she was on as Belsavis, an ice world mostly uninhabited due to its extreme climate with only a token force of Imperials. Xel had thanked them for the intelligence and submitted to the Mystics' offer of healing at his brother's behest. Now, they were on their way back to the Kandosii'tal, the first traces of light coming on the horizon as dawn approached. The Three, much to the brothers' surprise, had insisted on accompanying them to their ship and seeing them off personally.
As Xel stood on the lowered entry ramp, he turned at the voice of one.
"We can never truly repay the debt we owe you."
The female spoke up. "As such, if you ever find yourself in need of sanctuary, consider Voss free and open for you both."
"Thank you," Xel said with a nod.
"Thank you, honored ones," Alen added.
The Voss that had stood in the center of their platform the previous night spoke up. "We…underestimated you, offworlders. You in particular." He pointed a long, thin finger at Xel.
The Mando's eyebrows raised and he pointed to himself. "Me?"
"Yes," the blue-eyed male said. "You did what no one else had done, or perhaps could have done. You resisted the power of the Darksaber and the rewards it offered you, resisted its corruption."
"It…wasn't easy," Xel admitted hesitantly, looking away.
"We are sure it wasn't. Regardless, you have proven yourself quite…resilient against the lure of the Dark Side. We can only hope that your determination holds in the days to come." The central Voss's expression darkened as if there were more to his statement that he was holding back.
Alen and Xel exchanged a look and knew they had the same thought.
"Thank you for your help," Alen said, bowing slightly. "We may never have found her without you."
The Three bowed in respect before speaking as one. "Go now with the blessing of the Three, honored guests. May the Force be with you and ever light your path in the midst of darkness, as you have ours." They bowed once more and left, the Kandosii'tal lifting off a few minutes later.
Xel took the ship into a steep climb, taking them into the void of space not long after, a dark feeling in his gut. He looked down at the hardcase at his belt and scowled at it.
"So what are we doing with that thing?"
Caden turned toward the copilot's seat and raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"You don't really want that thing to stay here, do you?"
Dark blue eyes turned toward the hardcase as he frowned again. "No, I don't. Damn thing creeps me the hell out."
"But how to deal with it…we can't destroy it, and we can't give it to anyone else." Alen threw his hands up and scoffed. "And it's not as if we can jettison the damn thing into space. Someone could find it, and trust me, stuff like this—" he nodded at the case, "—always finds a way of getting found."
"True," Xel answered quietly, staring at it and feeling its limited effects in the Force. Its power was an echo of what he had felt before, but he could still feel the thick darkness radiating off it, just like Vader and Makar-Sei. That same feeling of a black hole. Xel blinked twice, eyes widening. A black hole…now there's an idea. A small, conspiratorial smirk came to his face as he turned his attention to the nav computer. "Tell me, Alen. Have you ever heard of Kessel?"
The Jedi scoffed. "I don't there's a soul in this galaxy that hasn't heard of Kessel."
"And do you know what it neighbors?"
Alen narrowed his eyes in confusion before widening them in realization. "The Maw."
Xel smiled wider. "Exactly." He pulled the hyperdrive lever, rocketing them into hyperspace and sending them toward the Imperials' favorite prison world.
The Maw. A tear in the fabric of space and time. Or, rather, a whole bunch of 'em. The Maw was Kessel's defining feature, a cluster of black holes in close proximity to one another. It was also the perfect garbage chute. As Alen watched Xel pack the hardcase containing the Darksaber into a larger durasteel crate and load it into the ship's airlock, he couldn't help but smile at his brother's ingenuity.
"Like I said," Xel said with a smile, looking at the hardcase and holding the crate's lid in his hand, "no more than a bad memory." He snorted, his smirk growing wider. "If that."
The moment before the lid slammed closed, Alen could've sworn he heard a roar of rage coming from that hardcase.
Xel sighed as he closed the airlock door, sealing them off from it. "You know, after we get Mom back…" He sighed harder and slumped against the wall. "I need a vacation."
Alen grinned and slapped his brother on the shoulder. "You and me both…vod."
Xel smiled widely and let his hand hover over the hatch release switch, eyes on the crate. "And to you I say, usen'ye gar di'kutla hut'uun." His open palm slammed on the button, ejecting the crate into space and the very center of the Maw, where the intense forces of gravity would either destroy or imprison it forever.
Xel sneered at the impossibly dark blots visible through the airlock's window. Good riddance.