Star Wars: Kandosii'tal

Operation Deathmarch, Part II

Imperial prison complex, Lannik

8 months BBY

A quiet groan brought Alen out of his meditative trance as he looked over to see Eran beginning to regain consciousness. He reached over to steady the rebel sergeant as he climbed to a crouch.

"Easy, friend," he said calmly. "You were out for a while."

Riilos rubbed the back of his head, eyes squinting. "Where are we?"

Alen smiled slightly and nodded behind Eran. "See for yourself."

The moment Sergeant Riilos turned around, his eyes went as wide as possible and face broke into a relieved grin as he tried to stand and run, toppling over barely a moment later as his legs gave out. His body fell into the arms of a young woman no older than he was, her arms encircling his chest under his shoulders and keeping him aloft as a large, burly Weequay assisted her.

"Linn," Eran breathed out, touching the girl's face tenderly. "You're alive."

She smiled and hugged him hard. "Yeah, big bro. I'm still here."

He held her back just as tightly, and Alen turned away with a small smile, not wanting to intrude on a private moment. He closed his eyes again, crossing his legs and falling halfway into another meditative trance before a voice brought him back.

"So who's he?"

Alen's eyes snapped open and turned toward the source, finding Linn Riilos and the rest of Eran's team staring at him openly. He rose to his feet and bowed solemnly. "Alen Li-am, at your service."

Eran noticed the arched eyebrows and quickly and quietly explained. "He's a Jedi."

Three pairs of eyes widened, but Linn spoke up first. "Are you sure, 'Ran? Aren't they all—?"

"Apparently not," he interrupted, smiling slightly.

She sighed in relief. "Then we're saved."

Alen's smile faded and he sighed as he resumed his cross-legged position, this time facing them.

"Well," Eran said, "it all depends on just how good he is, considering he's just a student."

"Wait…what?" The girl, a fiery redhead with the same striking green eyes as her brother, looked between her brother and the Jedi. "How did you survive this long?"

Alen's eyes snapped open as one eyebrow raised. Didn't expect that question. "By the skin of my teeth and the courage of myself and others."

Linn snorted. "Not much of an answer."

He shrugged. "It's not exactly a story to be telling in an Imperial prison cell."

She bit her lower lip and nodded. "Right."

"So what now?" the Weequay asked in Huttese.

"Now," Alen said authoritatively, "we wait."


2 hours later

"This isn't a prison. It's a shabla deathtrap."

Iola could only nod in affirmation, the both of them on a plateau overlooking a massive building. The "prison" was situated on a rock platform with gigantic sheer drops on every side that they were both sure was not natural. The Imperials had effectively created a moat around their penal facility with only one relatively narrow and retractable plasma bridge off. The only safe and viable way in or out was by air, but the building was equipped with sizable anti-air turbolasers. It would take a miracle of flying skill Xel didn't know he had to get inside…or someone disabling the cannons from the inside.

The Mando turned away and slumped down behind a boulder. "I knew I shouldn't have listened to that di'kut."

Iola frowned at him. "Give me a break. Tobin'll send his troops in a few days and we'll break them out together."

"They might not keep him alive that long."

"They've had almost four hours to do it. If they haven't ended him yet, then they need him for something."

"They needed my mother for something too."

Her face fell further. "He'll be okay," she said quietly, as if she were trying to convince herself. "I know he'll be okay."

"Yeah," Xel said, just as quietly. He turned to her and pulled off his helmet. "So what's the deal with your hair?"

She furrowed her eyebrows at him. "What do you mean?"

"It doesn't look 'dead,' like most sentients."

"Oh," she said, blinking rapidly and holding her hand up with a palm-full of her hair. "Well…it's not hair exactly. They're more like…antennae."

Xel's eyebrows shot up.

"I mean, not exactly, but…they can sense changes in weather patterns, vibrations, movement. It's part of why I can shoot so well."

He nodded slowly. "Useful trait to have."

"Yep, especially on my world."

His brows furrowed. "What's it like? Your world, I mean?"

Her eyes took on a dreamy glaze as she stared into the distance, sitting down next to him. "Jeros." She sighed. "It's been so long."

"Only a few months. You couldn't have forgotten it already."

"Oh no," she laughed, her voice ringing almost musically. "I couldn't. Jeros is…ah, it's heaven. Trees that reach into the sky and twist in spirals. Mountains that touch the clouds and seem to float on their own. In fact, I'm fairly sure there are significant gravitational anomalies there that cause that exact effect."

Xel's eyebrows shot up. "I'd love to see that," he said quietly, the image in his mind's eye. His mind started to cloud over and eyes closed as a sudden surge of drowsiness came over him, a cloud-filled vision filling it in live color. His eyes snapped open and returned to the Jerun at his side as everything refocused. "That was—" His voice cut off abruptly.

"What was what?"

He stared at his hands, then closed his eyes, seeing only darkness before opening them. "What else can your 'hair' do?"

She furrowed her brows and chuckled. "What do you mean? I already explained this."

Xel narrowed his eyes. "Think of your homeworld again, of your favorite place to go."

"Why?"

He shook his head slightly. "Just testing a theory."

"Well…okay."

"And just relax your mind. Focus on the memory."

"All right."

Xel closed his eyes as she did, reaching out to the Force and gently probing at the young woman next to him. His breath left his lungs as he was greeted by a waterfall and foliage all around. His vision shifted downward to see that the water was falling from the side of a mountain into a basin…over two miles down. Less than 200 feet down, the side of the mountain was nonexistent, and he knew he was looking at one of these "floating mountains" she mentioned. The vision shifted several times as Iola thought to different parts of her memory, climbing up this same mountain and standing close to the drop point of the falls.

When she fell backward into a bed of grass and flowers, eyes looking up and around, Xel lost his ability to breathe again. Twisting trees of vibrant reds, blues, and greens. Flowers that seemed to glow with life. It was almost as if the flora on this world was…sentient. Caden forced air into his lungs as he opened his eyes, breathing labored. He felt woozy.

"Are you okay?" Iola asked, a hand on his shoulder.

Moisture filled his eyes as he closed them and smiled serenely. "Thank you for that," he said in a near-whisper.

Her eyebrows furrowed. "For what?"

His eyes opened and met hers, and for the first time he noticed that her eyes were the same color and texture as the crystal clear sky in the vision. "I think…I think your 'hair' allows you to open your mind like no one I've ever seen. I saw…a mountain, suspended several miles off the ground, with nothing below it. There was a waterfall, and trees of every color imaginable."

Iola's eyes steadily widened with his description.

He noticed. "You were thinking of the exact same thing, weren't you?"

She was silent for a moment, both of them staring off into the distance. "How?"

"The Force allows you to look into someone's mind if you have the talent. I think your hair's 'sensitivity' is more than just receptive, it's projective. It's more like a holonet hub than an antenna."

"So…what you're saying is, you can see my memories?"

Xel let out a quick breath. "If you let me, yes, but I don't just see your memories. Hear, feel, smell, touch. I can relive your memories, though I'm pretty sure it'd be applicable with any Force-user."

Iola looked a little uneasy, right hand rubbing her left arm. "I'm…not sure I'm comfortable with that."

"You can block us out," Xel assured. "From what I know, you're not Force-sensitive, but there are still techniques for keeping unwanted presences out of your mind that don't require the Force."

She breathed out hard.

"Don't worry." Xel clapped a gloved hand on her shoulder. "We won't let anything happen to you." He smiled. "After all, you're one of us now."

The girl looked at him sideways, lips slightly parted as she regarded him pensively. "I think…maybe I misjudged you too."

Xel smiled wider and shifted position, turning to face her. "Well then." He outstretched his hand. "I say we start over. Cin vhetin. The white field of a clean slate."

Iola smiled back and reached for his hand only for him to grab her elbow. She did the same. When she raised an eyebrow at the gesture, Xel explained.

"It's a Mandalorian handshake, meant to prove your ability to haul a comrade to safety."

She smirked and nodded slowly, locking eyes with him as her expression became a little more serious. "Would you trust me to do that?"

Xel too became serious. "Trust is earned, and the fact is, I haven't known you long enough."

She nodded in understanding.

"If I were in that position, though, something tells me I wouldn't have much of a choice." He released her and leaned back against the rock, her doing the same. "Besides, you've got Alen's vote of confidence, so time really is the only factor at this point."

Iola nodded again, turning toward the prison to take a long look before tapping Xel on the shoulder. "Come on. We've been monitoring this place for hours. Let's just place a camera and go. Nothing more we can do right now."

Xel just frowned and nodded, a sour feeling in his gut as he reached out over Alen's Bond. "Just hang on, vod. We're getting you out. Just stay alive."


3 days later

Imperial prison complex, Lannik

A small, serene smile came to Alen's face as another small voice reached his consciousness through his meditation. A sigh fell from his lips as he dragged himself back to the reality of his prison cell and opened his eyes.

"You're finally awake."

Alen nodded to Eran, though he was never technically asleep.

"Still don't know how you can sleep in that position," Linn said with a shake of her head.

He wore that same serene smirk as he answered, knowing it irritated the impetuous girl. "It's not sleep in the sense you know, but it is quite refreshing."

She rolled her eyes and slumped against a wall, opening her mouth to give a biting retort when the cell's laser gate opened, ushering two stormtroopers and an Imperial officer inside with four more troopers on standby outside.

"On your feet, Jedi scum." He spat out the last two words like venom. "The commander wishes to have a word with you."

The pitying expressions from every rebel except Eran sent a pang of fear through Alen as he got to his feet, suspecting exactly what this "conversation" would entail. He nodded to the officer and followed them without issue, his hands slipping into magnetic binders as they guided him through one drab gray hall after the next, ushering him roughly into a turbolift and dropping two levels before moving on. One minute later, his fears were realized, and he prepared himself for what was coming next as the stormtroopers strapped him to an Imperial torture table, the electrified needles and various pain-inducing chemicals facing him intimidatingly.

A massive figure in full Mandalorian armor, minus sleeves, strode into the room and faced him, hands crossing as he nodded to an Imperial technician at Alen's left. The table he was strapped to started moving, and he called out to the Force to calm his panicked nerves and start to dull his pain receptors a moment before agony tore through him like nothing he'd ever felt.


The Kandosii'tal, Lannik

Xel's eyes went wide as his hand went to his chest, double-checking it for injuries as the Force holocron's guardian facing him went still.

"Are you all right, Padawan?"

Dark blue orbs narrowed to slits as anger began to fill the youth in question. "Those bastards," he hissed in a near-whisper.

"Pardon?"

"The Imperials. They're torturing my brother."

The guardian, a Jedi Master named Orgus Din, looked away from him with an expression of solemn understanding, and Xel suspected that whoever this intelligence was based on had endured similar circumstances. "I take it you cannot help him?"

Xel clenched his teeth. "Not without risking both him and myself in the process."

Mann sighed heavily. "Then close your Bond with him for now. You cannot help him, so it is useless to have that connection open."

Xel nodded slowly before something occurred to him. "Maybe not." His eyes closed as he slowly accessed their Bond bit by bit until it slammed open and hit him with Alen's pain full-force. He nearly collapsed when it reached his consciousness, but even as the pain increased, so did his anger, giving him the power to block it out while still keeping the Bond open. Then he reached to the other side, finding more than Alen's feelings, but touching his mind and heart, sending as much love and support as he could before he had to shut the door or risk his own incapacitation.

The Mando breathed heavily for a while, arms bracing himself against the floor.

"That was risky."

He looked at Din. "It was worth it."

The Jedi Master nodded slowly. "It is…difficult, perhaps maddening to go through such agony alone. Anyhow, I think it would be best to distract your mind for now."

Xel nodded shakily, still fuming in anger. "Yes, I think that would be best." He took a few more heavy breaths. "Please, continue."

Din nodded again before speaking. "Where were we? Ah yes. Force Valor, an ability that gives its user enhanced response time and strength both mental and physical, through serenity. This also allows the user to endure more pain than is typically possible."

Xel blinked rapidly and frowned.

"Force Stun. Similar to Padawan Li-am's Force Constrict technique, but far more subtle, Stun is used to render an opponent instantly unconscious, either through subtle manipulation of their state of exhaustion or direct and instantaneous cut of blood flow to the brain. Force Heal. Fairly self-explanatory, I think."

Xel nodded.

"There are, however, two more advanced versions of this power, utilized for various different purposes. Force Cleanse removes all ill effects from its target, including persistent Force maladies and most poisons. This ability is extremely difficult to master unless one is gifted with the talent of healing."

"And the other?"

"Force Sacrifice. By utilizing the compassion of its user, Sacrifice allows them to give their own life force to another, either to heal them of injuries that would otherwise be mortal, or rejuvenate their Force reserves. Because of its high price, Sacrifice is typically only used as a last resort, and only by a few. Many Jedi have given their lives utilizing this ability."

Xel just grunted absently.

Din moved on. "Force Penance. This power channels its user's compassion and pity into a mind-influencing power that forces the target to contemplate and even relive the moments and actions for which they feel the most responsible or guilty. This is particularly useful when facing Dark Jedi, as it may allow one to turn them back to the Light."

Or distract them long enough to be put down, Xel added mentally.

"Finally," Orgus said, "there is a fairly new and controversial ability: Electric Judgement. Originally pioneered by the Jedi Master Plo Koon, this is a power that allows a Jedi to produce a rough facsimile of Force Lightning through serene focus. It's…not as deadly or harmful as Lightning, but still causes pain in victim, as well as additional weakness and eventually unconsciousness. This ability typically manifests itself as slightly green-tinged lightning, but has been known to be yellow, white, and even natural electric blue."

Xel's eyebrows shot up. "That sounds…useful."

"Yes, well, considering its resemblance to the Sith version, many Jedi consider it somewhat taboo."

"I'm not a Jedi," Xel reminded him, voice low.

"So I am continually reminded. These abilities are all typically associated with the Jedi and the Light Side of the Force based on their emotional triggers or mental requirements, but they can, theoretically, be used by anyone." He gave Xel a pointed look. "Even one who refuses to adhere to either side of the Force." There was no judgement in his voice, but a curious fascination.

"So," Xel said thoughtfully, leaning forward in concentration, "you're saying that I have the capacity to use both Dark and Light abilities?"

"Perhaps. Only time will tell."

The boy narrowed his eyes. "You said you had information on Sith abilities."

The Jedi Master looked at him suspiciously. "So I did."

"Could you teach me?"

The hologram crossed his arms. "Perhaps, although the records I built into this holocron were meant to aid in defense against such powers, and not in the execution of them. Besides, you already have enough darkness within you without anyone teaching you to revel in it."

"Revel?" Xel asked incredulously. "I'm only learning all of this—I've only ever learned this so I can protect myself and my family. I don't want power, but at this point, it's a necessity just to survive."

Orgus still looked skeptical.

Xel sighed. "Look…I came face to face with a Sith who'd successfully possessed men, Force-users, with more power and experience than I had and won. He offered me everything I wanted at the time, and I turned him down."

Master Din seemed confused, probably because he could see there was no deception in the boy. "How?"

Caden sighed solemnly and looked down. "My family. I made a promise to my father." He clenched his right fist and returned his gaze to the hologram. "And I always keep my promises."

Din still looked reluctant, but far less so than before. "Very well then. But we will take this slowly, and if I believe you must stop, then you will, no ifs ands or buts."

Xel nodded. "Agreed. I have no illusions about my limitations."

The Jedi sighed. "Then let's get started."


3 days later

Imperial prison complex, Lannik

Alen hissed in pain as Linn gingerly applied a bacta patch to his lower chest, the burn under it raw and bleeding.

"Thank you," he said with a small, grateful smile.

Her lips barely twitched in response, her entire expression, and that of everyone else in the room, screaming of despair. "Why are they doing this to you?"

He shrugged. "They're the Empire. They don't need a reason." He snorted and crossed his arms over his chest as gently as possible. "Didn't even ask me any questions."

"And no one else here has been getting that kind of treatment," Eran cut in, patching up their Weequay compatriot while the fourth man, an Epicanthix, tended to his own minor injuries. "At least not to that extent. Hours of relentless torture on end." He shook his head. "I don't know how you can stand it and keep your sanity."

"The Force is my ally," Alen replied firmly, forcing down the anger that had slowly been building within him over the last couple of days. Without his consent, both his hands clenched into fists and his voice came out harsher and more like a growl than he intended. "And a powerful ally it is."

Eran noticed it and smirked slightly. "Well, if you're gonna do something, Jedi, we're right behind you."

"We can't do it alone."

"Well who else is gonna help?" Linn demanded. "If the Alliance hasn't come for us by now, they never will."

"Don't say that, Linnie," Eran said.

"Don't call me that! And you know it's true. No one is coming for us."

Alen's eyes narrowed. "My partner is."

All eyes turned to him, but only Eran spoke. "Your partner?" He asked it somewhat incredulously. "Your partner is a mercenary. Works for the highest bidder. What's worse? He's Mandalorian."

The others immediately had alarm written all over their faces, and Alen pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. "It's not like that at all," he said quietly, trying to keep himself calm.

"Oh yeah?" Linn asked. "Well what happens if he does come, and has to face down one of his own people, huh? When he hesitates, and that Mando scum makes him a better offer than we can, what do you think he's gonna do?"

Alen's teeth clenched involuntarily, anger rising.

"No mercenary I've ever seen is loyal to any more than a paycheck," Eran snarled. "Sorry to break you the cold, hard truth, Jedi, but you've been duped."

"Shut up," Alen muttered inaudibly through clenched teeth.

"If Caden hasn't already abandoned us, he will the moment he gets here."

"Shut up!" the Jedi roared, silencing all of them instantly as the force of his anger reverberated throughout the cell, his body shaking. "Xel Caden is one of the most loyal, honorable men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing."

"That's just what he wants you to think so he can stab you in the back," the sergeant insisted.

Alen snarled right back, voice rising to even more intense volumes. "If he wanted to stab me in the back, he's had ample opportunity. A year, actually."

"How do you know he wasn't just playin' the long con, huh? You read his mind?"

"No," he spat disgustedly.

"Did you check up on him? On his past? On his contracts? You know what he keeps in that hardcase on his belt? A lightsaber. Saw it when he started twirling it on that perch. He killed a Jedi, Li-am."

"No, he didn't," Alen growled.

"Yeah," Eran yelled, getting to his feet and approaching Alen, "and how do you know?!"

Alen flashed to his feet and grabbed him by the collar as he roared, "Because he's my kriffing brother!"

Silence.

Slowly, as his breathing slowed from the feverish pace his anger had driven it to, Alen released him and stepped back, slumping back against a wall and sinking to his knees.

"Your…brother?" Linn asked uncertainly.

"Yes," Alen snapped. "My brother."

"I'm sorry," Eran said softly. "It's just…with all the interrogations, torture, the abandonment. It's getting to me, just like the Imps want it to." He stared at Alen's fuming mask, the Jedi resolutely refusing to look at him or anyone else. "If you think he'll help us…then I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt."

Alen met his gaze and nodded with a sarcastic smile, putting himself into a Jedi healing trance a moment later, as he had after every torture session.


3 hours later

The Kandosii'tal, Lannik

"What do you mean you can't get here any faster?"

Commander Tobin sighed heavily and shook his head. "I mean we don't have as much manpower as we should, so consolidating it all will take weeks, maybe a month."

"My partner," he hissed between clenched teeth, "doesn't have a month. They are torturing him. Every day. No doubt the others are going through the same thing. Eventually, one of them is going to crack."

"As cold as it sounds, none of them have anything important enough for Alliance Command to run the risk of expediting the process."

"And what about you?" Xel asked accusatorily. "You promised me you would send your own men if you had to. Was that an empty assurance too?"

For the first time, Tobin actually scowled at him. "I don't make empty promises," he spat out. "But you need to be patient. I've already sent two squads of my best commandos to Lannik. They'll be arriving in a day at most."

Xel sighed in relief but kept his stern tone. "And you didn't think to tell me that? Communication is key in war, and I don't want to be making decisions on the battlefield based on wrong assumptions."

Tobin's expression softened. "I understand. I should've realized how much this would mean to you and let you know help was coming. I apologize."

Caden nodded. "Understood. Do they have the intel I sent you on the prison?"

"Yes, I made sure they received your report before leaving."

"Good. I'll…stay on standby."

"Thank you."

"In other matters, the rest of the Imperial facilities are still mysteries, their functions unknown. After we perform this rescue mission, we'll need to recon every one of them and report back to Command."

"Agreed. The Imp presence here is clandestine, but with that many facilities, there have to be a lot of them." Xel frowned. "Much as I hate to say it, we'll need those reinforcements."

Tobin nodded slowly, then fell into a long drone about the state of the Rebellion that Xel selectively began to tune out, but kept nodding and looking like he was paying the appropriate attention as he reached out over Alen's Bond. To his surprise, his brother had reached out first.

"Xel." His "voice" almost sounded panicked.

"What is it, vod?"

"There have been whispers around the prison, and they were just confirmed."

"What rumors?"

"Apparently they've either gleaned all the information they can from us or they've decided we don't have anything of value."

Xel's eyes widened. "No."

"We're slated to be executed at 1300 hours local time tomorrow. If you're gonna do something, Xel, better do it quick, 'cause I can't break out of here on my own, not with all these people."

The Mando's teeth clenched. "Understood." He closed the bond and refocused on Tobin.

"And the forces around Hypori are—"

"Excuse me, sir, but I'm afraid something's come to my attention."

Tobin frowned at him. "What's wrong?"

Xel scowled slightly. "The rebel prisoners inside that prison are gonna be executed tomorrow afternoon." He couldn't exactly tell over the blue-tinted link, but Xel could've sworn he saw the commander pale. "When exactly are your people getting here?"

"If they stay to the prescribed route, just after 0900 Lannik time."

Xel let out a relieved sigh. "Then we've got six hours to plan our jailbreak."

"Roger that," Tobin said grimly. "Let me know when my teams arrive. I want to be in on this operation."

"Copy. We'll get it done," Xel said with certainty. "Caden out." He thumbed the holoprojector off, turning to a similarly pale Iola. "We have to get some rest. Gotta be at our best for them tomorrow."

The girl gulped and nodded slowly, the two of them sidling off to separate quarters as they both tossed and turned until exhaustion took them.


Next day

1250 hours Lannik time

Imperial prison, Lannik

"Rise and shine, rebel scum!"

Alen nearly unleashed the full repertoire of Mando'a cuss words he'd picked up from Xel before realizing that the disturbance had come from a fully armed Imperial stormtrooper who would probably carry out his execution early should he resist. Groaning in pain and exhaustion, he shakily rolled to his feet as the rest of his fellow rebels did the same, letting him take the lead as the laser gates came down, revealing two columns of stormtroopers standing at attention.

"Curtain call, worms."

Alen's Jedi patience was all but gone at this point, so he didn't even try to suppress the audible hiss or snarl he threw at the speaker. He obeyed them nevertheless. Jeers and whoops came from one cell after the next as hardened criminals cheered the impending deaths of the rebels, the stormtrooper escort practically parading them around the prison before taking them two floors above the main prison block. They were led one by one into a large circular room with several transparisteel windows, a high-vaulted ceiling, and cameras and screens everywhere.

"Oh these sick bastards."

The Jedi turned to Eran, the speaker, then followed his disgusted expression to a half-dozen badly mangled bodies. They looked like they'd been mauled by a wild beast weeks ago, as they were already half-decomposed.

"They recorded it," Alen said, tone horrified.

"Probably played it for all the prisoners too," the Epicanthix, Treyvan En, said in a disgusted tone. "As some sick form of entertainment."

"Considering who comprises the majority of this place's population," Linn said, "I think they'd give it a thumbs up."

The troopers led the five of them onto the center of the room as all the cameras and screens powered up, showing them from several different angles as the stormtroopers withdrew and shut the blast doors behind them.

The Mandalorian, Jes Tenau's voice boomed over the base's loudspeakers. "Attention, denizens of Imperial Prison Aurek. This is your warden speaking. Today I bring you the plight of five captured rebels. In the spirit of…Imperial metaphor, you will be given an example that represents not only these five, but the entirety of the rebel cause…just in case any of you were thinking of going to them for amnesty."

The creak of a massive door at the far side of the room drew all of their attention.

"As always, I present to you your champion, the White Devil spawned by the Demon Moon. Enjoy, scumbags." Tenau's voice vanished as the door's opening reached completion, the gigantic figure inside growling at the rebels from eighty feet away as it started to move forward.

Alen's eyes widened as it came into full view. Twenty feet tall, massive tusks, pale green skin, red eyes. He recognized it immediately.

"What…the hell…is that?" Linn breathed out.

The Jedi's eyes narrowed. "It's an albino Boma, native to the moon of Dxun. Aggressive, carnivorous, and tough beyond reason."

"How the hell do you know that?" Eran asked, voice and body shaking.

Alen pursed his lips. "Because my brother killed one when he was thirteen."

Three gasps sounded at once.

"How?" Linn asked dubiously.

The Jedi shrugged. "I never thought to ask."

"Well," Eran said mock flippantly as he watched the Boma advance, "ya probably should have."

Alen just smiled and walked toward the massive creature, the others looking on in barely restrained terror as he noticed a remote-controlled electric collar around its neck.

"Jedi, what the hell are you doing?"

"Just watch," he responded quietly but firmly, raising his right hand as the beast closed to ten feet. "And be quiet," he added. "I'm focusing."

Ice blue eyes fluttered closed as he breathed in deeply, reaching out with both the Force and his right hand, feeling the presence of the Boma in front of him. There was rage and aggression there, but more than overwhelmingly fear and pain. This creature was as much a tortured prisoner as them. An overwhelming pity filled him as he felt it lower its head, smiling warmly and opening his eyes when he felt its scaly muzzle press against his palm.

"Hello, my friend," he said warmly, comfortingly. "I know how much you've suffered. I can feel it." His face twisted in sadness for a moment. "But you won't suffer anymore, not at their hands." His left hand raised toward its neck and clenched hard, the collar buckling hard and snapping in pieces a moment later. He put both hands on the albino's head even as he felt the aggression of a dozen approaching stormtroopers, channeling the Force into the beast and both numbing its pain and lifting its exhaustion.

Almost immediately, its posture straightened and head raised slightly as it bared its massive teeth. Its feeling in the Force mirrored Alen's resolute expression as he nodded to the creature and it kneeled to offer its back. He smirked and climbed on, holding onto the base of its horns for support as it rose to its full height. His smirk turned into a grin when he saw the openmouthed expressions on his former cellmates' faces.

"Destroy them all!" Tenau roared over the loudspeaker.

The rebels formed up behind Alen's new friend as it stepped between them and the door, each of them taking ready stances and preparing themselves to fight. The blast door started to hiss open, white-clad stormtroopers fanning out in a firing squad pattern, all blasters aimed at him and the beast.

Alen just smiled nastily as he responded to Tenau's order.

"Good luck."

And he spurred his mount into a roaring charge.

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