Xel's Fury Unchained
5 minutes later
The Kandosii'tal, deep space near Kessel
8 months BBY
Caden seated himself at the pilot's station, heart pounding just a bit as he activated the nav computer and found Belsavis, programming the hyperspace coordinates and waiting for the computer to finish its calculations.
"We're going straight?" Alen asked from behind him, a slight frown on his face.
Xel looked at him with narrowed eyes. "Was there ever another option?"
The young Jedi pursed his lips. "Well, yes. We make a short stop along the way."
A black eyebrow raised. "And where would we be stopping?"
Alen crossed his arms defensively, and Xel knew he wasn't gonna like this. "Nar Shaddaa."
Surprise registered before it quickly turned to suspicion and slight anger. "I told you before," he almost hissed out, "this isn't a mission for auretiise."
"Yeah," Alen responded almost chidingly, "you said that before we went to Raydonia, and we both know how that turned out." The flare of anger from his brother kept him talking. "I'm not saying it's your fault, because I know better. The fact is that we were caught off-guard by those fighters and had to split up, but…" He bit his lower lip. "If Iola's gonna be a part of my crew long-term, and she will be, she's gonna have to learn our secret sooner or later. Might as well be sooner. You decided Maila was trustworthy enough to share our family's secret after just a few days in her presence, and I've been training in how to read people with the Force a lot longer than you."
Xel still didn't look convinced.
Alen sighed in exasperation. "Look at it this way. If we have to split up again, would you really be that far opposed to having an extra pair of hands? Or eyes?"
The Mando's expression darkened slightly, but he shook his head.
"That's what I thought." Alen didn't sound smug or judgemental, just understanding.
Xel was grateful for it.
Li-am amended the nav coordinates, programming a stop along the way and waiting for the nav to turn blue before engaging the hyperdrive.
The Kandosii'tal, hyperspace
Xel sighed heavily as he leaned back in his seat. "Alen?"
"It's gonna take you some time to find her. You'll probably have to talk to Maila, find out where she sent her. It's been a few days, almost a week by now, so she'll no doubt have put her to work. If she's as valuable as you think, Iola'll be on some pretty important tasks."
Alen's eyebrows furrowed. "What are you trying to say?"
Xel exhaled slowly, his eyes firmly on the controls. "I'm saying that I won't be sticking around to help."
Li-am gasped slightly. "You're going in…alone?"
"Woah, no. No-no-no, of course not. I'll be scouting out the prison, making sure we know how to make our entry when you arrive."
"Oh. Okay. That…makes sense, I guess."
"Just tell me you're not gonna do anything stupid."
Xel gave him an incredulous look. "Since when have you known me to be stupid?"
Alen raised his hands placatingly and smirked. "I'm just saying."
Caden scoffed and leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes and sighing.
"You should get some sleep if you're planning on scouting. Won't do us any good for you to get spotted while gathering intel."
Xel nodded drowsily and slowly got to his feet. "Right. Let me know when we're there."
"By the time you get there, I should have every inch of the place mapped out."
Alen smiled. "Got it. I'll contact you when we're on our way."
"Roger. Good luck—sorry, may the Force be with you."
His brother's smile grew wider as he bowed and turned to enter Maila's building, the Kandosii'tal's entrance ramp raising and separating them as Xel settled behind the controls. A chuckling voice came over their Bond a moment after he activated the ship's repulsorlifts.
"You sure you don't wanna say hello?"
Xel just rolled his eyes and shook his head at his brother's teasing tone, sending feelings of annoyance over the Bond. All he got was another laugh in return. The engines of the Kuat Heavy Striker shot him into space, the ship's nav computer locking onto Belsavis and hyperdrive rocketing him toward his destination.
The Kandosii'tal, hyperspace
Xel sighed as his heavy eyelids drooped once again, swiping a hand over his face as he sluggishly got up and headed back to his bunk. He'd gotten maybe two hours of solid sleep on the way over to Nar Shaddaa, the rest of it fitful and hardly qualifying as "rest." Much as he hated to admit it, his older brother was right sometimes, and being as exhausted as he was was most certainly going to make him a liability on this mission. He stripped off his armor piece by piece, the metal for once seeming more like a prison than a protective shell. The moment his body suit-clad body hit the mattress, he fell into a half-conscious state, the ship's dull hum fading into the furthest corners of his subconscious as another, far louder noise filled his mind.
The scream that split the darkness preceded the arrival of a second pair of eyes, gazing out at what looked, at a glance, like the inside of a medical bay. Xel, however, had seen enough Imperial bases to know it was the furthest from. The interrogation droid at "his" right just confirmed this. The body these eyes belonged to shrieked again as pain ran through it, the intense sensation dulled to a mere sting from Caden's viewpoint, but the all-too-familiar voice of that shriek sent an equally savage jolt through him. When a hooded figure stepped into view, rage started to build within him, especially when the man crossed his arms and nodded to the droid. Wave after wave of agony rippled through the subject as she was subjected to the worst interrogation techniques the Empire had to offer—only they weren't asking her any questions.
Xel knew they wouldn't. He knew the true purpose of this "exercise," and couldn't stop the wave of nausea and immense loathing that rose within him before the eyes closed and the vision left. His own eyes snapped open a moment later, and he rushed into the cockpit to check his position. Still too far for my liking. He carded a hand through his hair and slumped into the pilot's seat, breathing labored as his head fell into his hands. I have to stop them. He chided himself. We have to stop them. He reached toward a datapad and pulled up a file he'd resolutely avoided, a holo of the three of them on Obroa-skai. I can't lose her again.
Personal holos weren't something he typically carried around. They were a liability when it came to his family. If they were found, they would automatically connect him to whoever was in the picture, and anonymity was their only true defense against being hunted. When he'd found this one in his personal datapad, however, an image of them on a snowy day, right after he'd been Force Thrown into a snow bank by his uncharacteristically petulant brother, laughing and smiling…he hadn't had the heart to delete it. He still didn't. Unbidden, his eyes stung, and he closed them resolutely, scowling slightly as he blocked out those familiar sensations.
He would not break. He would not stop. He couldn't. He owed her, owed them both. He couldn't fail again. He would bring her back, no matter the cost, and if the time came and he had to do it alone…so be it.
"Maila," Alen greeted with a smile, embracing her as they gave each other a friendly peck on the cheek.
"Always a pleasure, Alen. Please, sit." She motioned to a nearby chair and watched him as they both sat. "So what can I do for you?"
"You remember Iola Voss?"
The Zeltron's ice blue eyes flashed amusement and mirth, their color complemented by the deep red dress she was wearing. "Hard to forget, really. She's a valued employee of mine. Very resourceful." She dragged an index over an engraved plate on her desk. "I understand she came with your recommendation."
Alen smirked. "Glad to see it's paying off."
Maila looked away and smiled gently. "You're taking her, aren't you?"
"Alas," the Jedi sighed, "this isn't a social call, for either of you. She is a part of my crew, and I need her for an important mission."
"Let me guess, you found whoever you were looking for?"
Alen bit his lower lip and nodded.
"Say no more," she said, raising a hand to cut him off. "I don't need to know details, and frankly I don't want to know. Your business is your own."
He nodded with a thankful smile. "So when can I retrieve her?"
The woman glanced at her wrist chrono. "Should be here in five or so. It was an easy job," she explained.
Alen nodded and closed his eyes, leaning forward as his hands clasped loosely.
Ice blue met ice blue. "Yes?"
She looked hesitant. "Where's your brother?"
Alen sighed softly. "He went ahead to case our target's location, make sure we know all the ins and outs before going in to get her."
"And by get, do you mean capture or rescue?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Thought you said you didn't want details."
She chuckled softly. "Sorry. You both have a knack for making me curious, it seems."
"Clearly." He crossed his arms and stayed silent a while. "Can I ask you something?"
"Are you and Xel still…you know…talking?"
Her face was unreadable.
"Because I know he resolutely refuses to see you. I just wanted to know if he spoke to you at all, or even sent messages."
Her eyes lidded halfway. "Why do you ask?"
Alen shrugged with a sigh. "I don't know. He's just been so…cold lately. He's distant, even for him."
"Well, you're not the only one that's noticed."
He raised an eyebrow and made eye contact with her. "So he hasn't talked to you."
"Not for months, no. At least, not in a social way. It's all business with him." She smirked slightly. "He is taking me up on my offer…I'd just hoped he'd use both sides equally."
Amusement and curiosity struck the Jedi. "Yeah, what is that offer I keep hearing about? Xel refuses to say anything except it's something you told him on his first job."
She smiled gently, turning her eyes away as mirth and something he couldn't identify filled them. "I told him that if he was ever on Nar Shaddaa again, I would have business for him—" she met his eyes, "—and pleasure, if he so desired."
"Oh," Alen said quietly, his eyes widening. "Oh. Wow. So, when he came here six months ago—"
"Nothing happened," she interrupted. "Nothing like that anyway."
"So…what did happen?"
She shrugged noncommittally. "We kissed. Cuddled. Slept in each other's arms. Explored each other a bit. Nothing fancy, and nothing like how I envisioned that night turning out."
His eyebrows furrowed. "Why?"
Maila sighed gently and smiled. "Because he wasn't fully committed to me." Her eyes met his. "It's a Mando thing, I'm told." She leaned back in her seat and clasped her hands over her chest. "Frankly, I think it's adorable how much of a hopeless romantic he is."
Alen sputtered and choked on nothing before breaking out in side-stitching laughter, the Zeltron chuckling along with him.
"Laugh all you want," she chuckled. "It's true. For all his street smarts and bitterness, when it comes to women, he's hopelessly idealistic."
"Wow," Alen managed between laughs, laughing harder as he pictured Xel proposing on one knee. Tears actually streamed out of his eyes, and he realized he hadn't laughed this hard in a long, long time. Not since Obroa-skai. Pushing that to the far corners of his mind, he managed to get a hold of himself, still grinning. "I just…" He swiped a hand over his eyes. "I can't make the connection. It just seems so uncharacteristic of him."
"That's 'cause you haven't seen him around a woman he actually cares about. Like…that, anyway."
He chuckled again and nodded. "Right."
"I hope I'm not interrupting."
Both of them turned toward the open door, Alen smiling warmly as he spotted Iola standing in the doorway.
"Not at all," Maila answered. "In fact, you're right on time." She rose from her seat and approached the girl. "Do you have it?"
Iola smirked and rolled her eyes as she pulled a bag off her shoulder. "Really, boss, was there ever any doubt?"
Maila grinned and took it. "Nope." She walked behind her desk and opened a drawer, tucking the bag inside.
"So why is he here?" Iola asked with a nod at Alen.
The youth in question stood up and approached her. "I'm here to retrieve you. We've got a job."
Her sky blue eyes brightened. "Awesome. Haven't gotten to work with you for a while." She gave Maila a conspiratorial wink, to which the woman just chuckled, leaving Alen hopelessly confused. "Let's go, flyboy." Iola practically dragged him out the door, giving her boss a wave as she guided them to the landing pad.
"Why do I get the feeling that my ears have been burning for the last week without me knowing?"
She flashed a cheeky smile but kept silent as they boarded the T-6 Shuttle and made their way to the cockpit. "Hope you don't mind, but I optimized the ship to suit my preferences. Well, the crew quarters anyway." Iola tapped a few keys on the pilot's dashboard. "And I found a way to increase your sublight engines' vector thrust by 10%. Outdated inertial dampener was limiting your options."
Alen's jaw dropped a bit. "O…kay. I think I made the right decision."
Iola smiled cheekily again and dropped herself into the copilot's seat as Alen sat in the captain's chair.
"Here goes," Alen muttered as he brought the ship into a climb, noticing the increase in thrust and decrease in roughness as he accelerated. A small smile came to his face, causing Iola to giggle a little as they entered space, Alen programming their destination. "Standby…prepare for lightspeed."
They shot off a moment later.
The Kandosii'tal, orbit over Belsavis
Caden frowned at the world below him, spinning slowly in all its pale white glory. The Three weren't exactly specific about where this prison is. He activated a series of scanners on his ship, orbiting the planet to optimize his readings as he waited for any traces of electronics or life. He blinked rapidly as another thought occurred to him. When he'd faced Telia on Raydonia a week ago and snapped her out of that anger-induced haze, her Bond had been partially reopened, not so much that they could feel each other across the galaxy, but maybe, at this distance…
Dark blue eyes fluttered shut as he reached out to that third strand, expecting, as had happened every time previous, to find himself confronted by a solid black wall. Instead, his heart took a leap when a small hum went through his head, neither good nor bad. He focused all his energies on it, pouring his heart and soul into that hum and waiting as it started to become clearer, if only a little. With that clarity came connection, and with that connection came direction, general but still specific enough to narrow his search. He quickly adjusted his scanners and angled the ship to give them greater focus on the area in question. Five minutes later, a satisfying series of beeps alerted him to electronic and life signatures on the planet's surface.
Xel smirked as he brought the ship into a shallow dive, reentry barely phasing him as his smile faded, remembering all too clearly the vision he'd had. He thumbed on the holoprojector at his right, summoning his messages and finding the single text from Alen informing him of their departure. His teeth gritted. He'd better get here soon, he thought as he spotted the prison complex and set his ship down on a neighboring mountain, a fairly sizable blizzard obscuring his ship from view and likely scanners as well. He donned his armor and stepped outside, going prone as he spied out the facility with macrobinoculars, settling in for a long wait and long reconnaissance as his thoughts repeated.
He'd sure as haran better get here soon.
T-6 Shuttle, hyperspace
"So, what's the job?"
And with that, Alen's earlier amusement faded. Here we go, he thought as he turned in his seat to face her. "Iola…before I explain that, there's something you need to know about me. About…both of us, really." He gulped and continued, eyes down. "You see, I'm—"
His eyes widened and met hers, jaw dropping. "How did—oh wait, Maila told you, didn't she?"
Iola giggled childishly. "Actually, she was surprisingly reticent." She motioned to his left hip. "You don't exactly hide that thing as well as you think you do. At least, not to me." She smirked at the color that filled his cheeks. "And since you're so obviously not bounty hunter material, it must be yours."
"Right," Alen muttered, looking away before his eyebrows furrowed and his head snapped to her again. "Wait, how am I so obviously not a hunter?"
That giggle again. "You're too…refined." Her smile warmed and became gentle. "And compassionate."
Alen looked away, smiling slightly.
"Now your brother, on the other hand, well…" She laughed. "He's just all kinds of rough."
"You have no idea," Alen muttered, looking at the nav computer and willing their ship to go faster.
Even without their Bond, he could sense his brother's patience growing thin.
Osik! Xel pressed himself against a snow back firmly, willing the patrol not to spot him as he waited for them to pass. He'd had his Force Sense so completely focused on the wall of the prison, looking for guard patterns and any gaps, he'd completely forgotten to mind his own position. If he was discovered now, Telia would be moved before he could get anywhere close and they would be back to square one. Debt or no debt, he doubted the Mystics would be so eager to look again. Cynical fool, he chided, shaking his head as he felt the stormtroopers pass, no one the wiser to the heavily armed Mandalorian lying in wait.
Sighing, he returned to his reconnaissance, 80% of the prison already mapped out based on datapads he retrieved from roving officers as well as his own observations, and it had taken him little more than twelve hours. Just a bit more intel was needed before they were fully prepared for their rescue mission. He couldn't wait. He honestly couldn't.
T-6 Shuttle, hyperspace
Come on, dammit. Why won't this bucket go any faster? Alen scowled at the nav computer, showing them two-thirds of the way to Belsavis. Despite the fact that nothing tangible spoke to enforce this, he couldn't suppress the niggling fear creeping into his heart, the one that told him something would happen if he didn't get there soon.
"Stop worrying," Iola said once again, having been filled in on the specifics of their mission over the course of the trip. At some point, her hand had found its way to his right forearm and hadn't left for over twenty minutes.
He hadn't even noticed. "Sorry. Can't help it." He blew out a breath and ran his left hand through his hair. "Despite all my Jedi training, I've never been very good at dealing with uncertainty. I get anxious and worried and…" He sighed and breathed in deeply, trying to calm himself down and using the Force to help. "We need to get there. We just need to get there." He frowned at the nav computer. "I have a bad feeling about this."
Forget. Forget, you miserable shabuir! Xel had his palm on the forehead of a de-helmeted snowtrooper who'd had the misfortune to spot him and been Constricted a moment later, and was now trying to wipe the blonde man's memory of any traces of him. Thus far, it wasn't working. Breathing in deeply, he released the breath slowly and calmed himself, understanding that wiping memories was different from crushing a man's windpipe and required calm focus rather than anger. With some difficulty, the last five minutes were eradicated from the man's mind, and his helmet went back on as Xel rolled him onto the road, dropping his rifle next to his unconscious body.
Xel sighed heavily, letting his heart rate slow as he put his back to a rock wall, hiding himself from view. Crisis averted. He peeked around the corner as the snowtrooper regained consciousness and looked around for a bit before moving on. Barely. Making his way back to the ship, he dumped his helmet unceremoniously on the armory deck, slumping into a chair and carding a hand through his hair.
"Shab," he breathed out as exhaustion filled him, his body sluggishly picking up the helmet and moving him to his room before checking for any messages. He scowled when he found his inbox empty, falling backward onto the bed and feeling the slight chill of despair fall upon him. Come on, vod. We need to get in there now. His eyes closed as he forced himself to sleep, arms crossing as his head laid back against his pillow.
He had feared sleep ever since landing, refusing to do so for the day he'd been on Belsavis because of his visions. They were real, and they were terrifying, because he could feel her rational mind slipping away once again. Much as he wanted to avoid it, however, he needed to sleep, so submitted to the blackness with a scowl. The black didn't last long, but as usual, the first sense to be hijacked was his hearing, and it wasn't at all what he'd expected.
The second pair of eyes snapped open, showing Xel a pair of stormtroopers who turned toward "him" with raised weapons before being cut down by a green blade. The shaft spun repeatedly, batting away several fired bolts from other targets before it deactivated as its owner found cover. Xel's heart pounded as, unbidden, hope rushed through his system. She's fighting back! Then a voice sounded in his head, and he completely froze.
It was the same gentle tone he'd come to love and cherish over the course of months, the same one he'd found in a broken state just one week ago. It sounded unsure but strong and determined. Something had changed from the last time they met. The anger was still there, he could feel that clearly, but it was no longer directed at her. The more he felt of her state of mind, the more he saw the cloud that had fallen over her soul before they'd met on Raydonia. His breath caught as he realized the full truth.
"I…opened your eyes."
Her only response was a warm feeling he had been afraid to accept, afraid to ever feel again because he knew it could be taken from him at any moment. Xel clenched both hands around it now, wrapping his arms, his entire being around that feeling. He had preached and debated about the wrongness of emotional suppression, and there he had been, doing just that, and hurting both himself and his brother in the process. He could almost feel her hand being pressed against his cheek and longed to feel it in person when he felt in vanish much too sharply, replaced with an overwhelming sense of fear. His focus returned to her vision and heart hammered in his chest as he saw the source of her newfound terror.
In the moment after his crimson lightsaber hissed to life, his Jedi mother facing off with this Imperial agent, the moment before her vision winked out of existence and his own returned, eyes snapping wide open, he knew he could wait no longer. Jedi had no fear, and even when they'd faced Vader and Telia realized she absolutely could not win, he had never sensed the kind of blood-chilling terror she felt now. His armor was realigned and helmet retrieved as he did a rapid weapons check, not bothering to grab anything heavier in his haste to get to the prison. He had to reach her now.
As he reached the exit ramp, he paused at the bottom, helmet tucked under one arm as he reached out to his brother in the Force.
"I can't wait any longer, vod." His eyes closed and he let out a close-mouthed sigh. "Forgive me."
His helmet went on and legs pumped at a mad pace as he sprinted toward the facility, Force Speed giving him impossible acceleration as his desperate rescue mission commenced.
T-6 Shuttle, hyperspace
Alen's eyes were shut, his body half-unconscious and slumped in the pilot's seat when two words drifted through his mind in a whisper.
Ice blue eyes snapped wide open as a half-dozen emotions hit him, most of them not his. "We need to get there," he said sharply, his entire form suddenly tense. "We need to get there now."
Iola blinked at his sudden change of manner. He had clearly been worried before, but now he was practically radiating anxiety. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Remember what I told you about me and Xel, how we share a Bond in the Force?"
"It just lit up, and something is very, very wrong."
Iola checked the nav computer and a smile flickered across her features. "Well, good news. We're here."
The ship dropped out of hyperspace a moment later, the icy globe of Belsavis hovering outside their viewscreen. Alen feverishly worked over the controls, bringing them into a steep dive that brought them in-atmosphere a little too fast for Iola's liking. A quick glance at the pilot turned into a long, eyebrow-furrowed stare. It wasn't just anxiety, it was desperation. Despite not having anything visible or tangible to guide him, Alen zeroed in on one specific region of the planet, revealing a large complex in the mountains, surrounded by high winds and ice storms. Expecting to be shot at as soon as he got within range, the Jedi activated the shuttle's laser cannons, but furrowed his brows in confusion a few moments later.
"There's…no one on those guns. No one controlling them."
It was beyond strange, but there was no sense of malevolence or hostility…at least, not directed at them. It was like they couldn't even tell the ship was there, or maybe they just weren't looking. Alen exchanged a look with Iola before bringing the ship into a landing procedure, taking an exposed landing pad and setting down just out of range of those cannons, in case they decided to power up at some point.
"Come on," Alen shouted as he sprinted down the exit ramp, almost jumping at the cold before finding his center in the Force.
Iola was not so fortunate or distracted, so she made sure to grab an extra layer before joining him.
"There's the entrance," Alen said, pointing at a large door two stories down. He pulled a grappling hook from his utility belt and plugged the sharp end into the pad's metal surface, holding out a hand for Iola as they rappelled to ground level. His drawn hood masked his features, but the worry was still there in full, especially when they approached the door—which looked like it had been caved in from the outside.
"What the hell?"
Alen looked where Iola was, coming out of his anxiety-induced haze to truly observe his environment. Ice blue eyes widened as he crouched by the charred bodies of three snowtroopers, two others slumped over against a wall, burning holes in both their chests. "Xel," he said quietly. His eyes closed as he reached out to the Force, his Bond with Xel all but closed off and preventing him from tracking his location. He had other ways of doing so, however. His mind reached out, trace feelings of fear, anger, and pure unadulterated rage flitting through it like ghosts as his mind's eye began to show the exact same location just a few minutes earlier.
3 minutes earlier
Imperial complex, Belsavis
The snowtrooper hadn't stood a chance, and neither did his two comrades, who had both made the mistake of approaching him at point-blank range. The center man had a burning hole in his chest the moment after they closed the distance, and before the other two could fire, Xel had yanked the blade free and slashed both of them in the chest with diagonal strikes, one upward, the other downward. Two other sentries charged at him from opposite sides, one of them trying to unjam his weapon, which had malfunctioned in the cold, the other pouring rapid shots in his direction. His sapphire blade became a blur as he spun the sword repeatedly, putting a wall of light between him and the crimson bolts as they reflected off with a whine.
Immediately after the spin, Caden thrust his hand out, pinning the soldier against a wall with the Force, then Throwing him into the other snowtrooper, their bodies stacked against another wall as he threw his lightsaber, the shaft stabbing through them both then returning to his hand as he thumbed it off and returned it to a clip on the right side of his belt, not bothering to put it in the hardcase. He would, after all, need it again very, very soon.
Alen followed his brother's steps, eyes still closed as he watched the Mandalorian stride inside, calm by all appearances but inside a raging tempest of anger that just kept building to a fever pitch. Iola felt left out, he could tell, but didn't question him as she drew her blaster and he his lightsaber. As they made their way through the halls, Alen couldn't help but notice that the feelings kept getting stronger, especially as he went through the door in front of him. His vision of Xel mixed with over a dozen stormtroopers, all of them raising weapons as a malevolent smile made its way onto his brother's face.
3 minutes earlier
Xel smiled nastily behind his faceplate, hate, anger, and a slew of other emotions flowing through him as he channeled it all into his connection to the Force. Once again, two troopers approached him closely and reached for his blasters, completely missing the cylinder that had found its way into his hand. The Mando spun as they got within range, the ring of his blade splitting the quiet air as he made a 360 degree turn, beheading both troopers and deflected a dozen blaster bolts within the space of four seconds, rushing toward the firing line as they scattered and cutting down two before they got the chance to dive out of the way.
His blade whirred and hummed with deadly intent as he lopped the firing arm off another, almost lazily twirling his lightsaber up and back into position four, reflecting a bolt headed for his jetpack into its sender. The rest of the squad fell in a matter of seconds as he reflected another bolt, firing his left pistol with his empty hand, cutting down two more with headshots as he holstered the pistol and Force Choked another before Throwing him into a pair of troopers, throwing his lightsaber and slicing through the three of them before the blade returned to his hand.
A snap-hiss filled his ears through the helmet, and he scowled as his head turned in its direction, spotting a red-clad Imperial Royal Guard holding a lightsaber pike and flanked by four shadowtroopers, black-armored assassins toting long, saber-resistant vibroblades. His upper lip curled into a snarl as his legs propelled him toward them, roar building in his throat as he unleashed his fury on them, spinning his entire body in a diagonal strike that slammed into the guard of a shadowtrooper.
Alen kept moving, following his brother's latent Force signature through the large room and into a long hall, watching as he expertly cut down one shadowtrooper with a feint and pivot before engaging his other four opponents with some difficulty, the rage building within him before he released it in a Force Repulse, the first time he had ever seen him use the power. The Mando sprinted into another room, more open than the last, and faced off with them, falling into a half-crouch as he raised his saber hilt to his side, the blade pointed horizontally toward his opponents as he adopted a two-handed grip.
The Jedi's eyes snapped open at the breathed comment by Iola, releasing his connection to this place's latent Force energies to stare wide-eyed at the room around him. Tan duracrete debris was scattered across the room from craters in the walls and chunks that looked like they had been torn out with brute force. Four bodies littered the ground, all of them peppered with the blackened char-marks of a lightsaber.
Xel spun again and again, constantly shifting his blade's position as he utilized several Sarlacc Sweeps, slashing at the neck level of a shadowtrooper and barely missing before turning his blade underhandedly and stabbing back into one that rushed forward, the blade shooting out to block a blow from the one he'd just been fighting as the Royal Guard lunged toward his side. Xel Force Pushed him away as the last two shadowtroopers engaged him at once, spinning counterclockwise around a stab to plunge his blade into the assassin's abdomen, then yanking the blade free and spinning in the other direction, cutting a deep line across the lower chest of the last trooper in one fluid, rage-driven motion.
His head shifted to the side, spotting the Royal Guard standing some fifteen feet away, stance wholly defensive. He smirked, then snarled as he leapt into the air, closing the distance and coming down in a Falling Avalanche, blade slamming against the Guard's as he pushed him back step by step, locking blades to shove him back further. The Guard made one last-ditch attempt to win when he feinted a lunge at his chest. Xel purposefully intercepted the feint before it got halfway to him, knocking the red blade to the side and robbing his following blunt strike of its force. His empty hand caught the rear end of the lightsaber pike and his body spun clockwise to slam an elbow into his helmet, shoving him back and off-balance as the weapon slipped from his grasp.
Xel immediately kept moving and used the long metal shaft of the pike to sweep out his legs before raising both light-weapons and roaring as he brought them down hard, two deep lines cutting through his chest and neck before the pike fell to the ground and both blades deactivated.
Alen didn't need to use Force Sight anymore. Xel's anger was almost palpable no matter where he went, and even if it hadn't been, the trail of bodies was easy enough to follow. One room after the next was filled with corpses, either white or gray-clad with the armor of stormtroopers or the posh uniforms of Imperial officers. Alen nearly stopped in his tracks when he felt that anger turn to fear, then started when both his Bonds opened fully, the sheer terror coming from Xel again sparking the desperation in his older brother. The Jedi sprinted through one hall after the next, fear overwhelming him and dulling his senses. His sight became tunnel vision and everything except his efforts to trace Xel's location in the Force halted.
Iola barely managed to keep up, breathing heavily as he finally reached his destination, a small but well-stocked hangar. She stopped in her tracks a moment after Alen did, jaw dropping slightly as she saw the cause of his halt.
Alen's ice blue eyes went as wide as they could as he stared at Xel's back, mind barely registering the whimpering words coming from his brother's mouth and the discarded helmet on the floor as he cradled their mother in his arms. Her brown eyes searched Xel's face as her mouth tipped up into a slight, heartbreaking smile, those same orbs shifting to Alen as he felt her emotions over their Bond. There was love and satisfaction, relief and gratitude at seeing them both. His entire being froze as he felt the sadness, the regret. She wasn't grateful because they had saved her. She was grateful because they tried.
Her smile grew a little wider, none of them saying a word though the messages spoken by their emotions in the Force were as loud as orbital bombardment. Alen's body began to shake as he saw the way her eyes glazed over, eyes turning from hers with effort to see the burning hole in her chest, heart stopping as he realized the truth. Both brothers looked into her eyes, pleading, begging in their own ways that this be just a dream. When the light went out of her eyes, they knew for sure it wasn't.
Dreams never hurt this damn much.
Alen's heart stopped for barely a moment, but his breathing halted for a much longer time as his right hand clamped onto the space over his heart, his knees buckling and giving way as they hit the ground, his free hand shaking even as it braced his body and kept him from falling further. No words came to his mind or his lips. There was no peace, there was no knowledge, there was no serenity, there was no harmony…and what now stared him in the face was most certainly death. His lungs burned as he turned his eyes away, reminding himself to breathe. Air wheezed into his lungs as he forced them to work just a few moments later.
With oxygen came clarity, and with clarity all his senses in the space of a split-second. The ones that told him he could very well be having a heart attack. The ones that left him feeling empty and severed from a life-giving soul he had relied on and loved for so long. The ones that told him he was shaking like a skyscraper ready to fall. The ones that told him Xel was doing the exact same thing…and the other one that told him it was for a different reason. Three of his senses lit up as he felt a small duracrete obelisk his left hand had fallen on begin to splinter and crumble. His eyes lifted to Xel as he watched the shaking of his body rise to a fever pitch, stretching out to him with the Force only to recoil at what he felt.
More duracrete—and metal—objects around the room started to bend, collapse, and break as an animalistic roar built in Xel's chest, releasing into the open air as he dragged it out, head rearing up as he unleashed his fury and grief, chunks of the walls and ceiling falling and smashing against the ground as Iola shrunk back in fear and Alen could do nothing but watch. When Xel finally had no air left, he gasped in another breath, heaving in oxygen as he swiped his left hand over Telia's eyes, closing them as he laid her body down with reverence, rising to his feet slowly as a metal cylinder rose with him, floating and spinning through the air on his left before he turned and snatched it in his right hand, a snap-hiss filling the air as Telia's lightsaber activated.
Xel stared into the blade for several seconds, an insatiable fire alight in his dark blue eyes as he scowled into the shaft. Alen stared at him, almost timidly reaching out with the Force as he braced himself, shuddering as he felt the full force of Caden's hatred, mind flashing back to his conversation with Telia months ago.
"How could I not have seen this?"
Alen sluggishly rose to his feet as he stared at his brother, feeling and understanding for the first time why Telia had wanted to halt his training. He could feel the darkness inside him, feel it expanding and feeding off his rage. It wasn't the same black hole as Darth Vader or the Darksaber, but even with his limited experience with the Dark Side, he knew it could easily become that. He could easily become that. The open rage faded to a simmering malevolence as Xel thumbed the blade off.
And for the first time in his life, Alen feared him.