Star Wars: Kandosii'tal

Imperial Center

1 month later

The Kandosii'tal, deep space

1 year, 9 months BBY

Xel ran from the armory to the cockpit in a matter of five seconds, his helmet clutched under one arm until he got within five feet of the active holoprojector, when it went over his progressively scruffy features.

"Nice of you to join us," the man on the other side said.

"You'll have to excuse him," Xander cut in, "he was doing me a favor."

The man pursed his lips. "Well in that case." He linked his hands behind his back. "Your bounty is a Trandoshan named Brack Anthis." He tapped a key on his computer that projected an image of the target, a Trando with a red crest on the back of his head and sharper teeth than are usual for his kind. "Wanted for multiple counts of murder, extortion, menace, and illicit trafficking. We're not sure why he's left his usual stomping grounds in Hutt space, but now that he has, he's within reach of the law."

"If that's true," Xel interrupted, "and if you don't mind me asking, why aren't you going after him?"

The officer on the other end narrowed his eyes at the boy. "Manhunts for criminals like him aren't one-man jobs, and the Imperial Security Bureau isn't exactly known for its interest in such matters."

"So what's your interest?" Xander asked.

The man was silent for a while. "Let's just say I didn't always hang with spooks and government assassins. I was CSF before the Empire, and as long as I'm still in this business, I can't in good conscience turn a blind eye to fierfeks like this. Since the ISB doesn't share my…proactive attitude, this bounty's off the books."

Xel exchanged a look with his father before the latter spoke. "Understood. Leads?"

"Little to none. Bastard knows how to go to ground. There is one weakness of his you might be able to exploit, though." He hit another key, bringing up a registry of names. "Deathsticks. The Imperial Center underworld has been flooded by a storm of new types and dealers in recent months. In fact, that variety may be the express reason for his pilgrimage." Another manipulation of his computer and the officer sent over a compressed data packet to the Mandos. "I've compiled a list of the most popular dealers in the undercity, along with their usual dives. Hopefully it'll be enough to point you in the right direction, but I know you Mando boys. Help or not, you'll get the job done. Good hunting."

Xander nodded and closed the link, entering the coordinates for Imperial Center, AKA Coruscant, into the ship's nav computer. "Jaller Obrim," he explained to his son. "Friend of mine from Clan Bralor forwarded him to me when he came to them with this Anthis problem."

Xel nodded absently as he stared at his datapad, an image of the Empire's bustling capital world plastered on the front. His heart was going at a thousand beats per minute.

"Xel, you okay?"

"Huh? Mhm. It's just…Imperial Center…I've never been. It's exciting."

Xander sighed as he slumped into the pilot's seat. "Yeah, it's exciting all right. The first few times, anyway."

"Care to explain?" Xel sat next to him and began his pre-jump check.

"Let's just say that I'm glad we're mixing with the scum of that world's undercity, because they're the ones I can tolerate. The scum of the upper city? Not so much."

Xel arched an eyebrow in his helmet. "Politics?"

Xander let out a small growl. "Politics. Politics and di'kutla auretiise no matter where you turn."

Xel worked in silence for a few minutes. "You know something?"

"Hm?"

"I'm glad I was born when I was, Empire or not."

"Why's that?"

"'Cause no matter what the auretiise do or say, Mandalorians aren't anything like them. No bureaucracy, no osik'la politics…and no civil war." He gave his father a friendly punch in the arm. "You cleaned up real good, buir."

Xander smiled behind his faceplate and shook his head slowly. "Wasn't just me, but thanks. Ironically enough, we owe the Jedi a bit of thanks for softening up the Death Watch."

Xel scoffed. "Little good it did them in the end."

Xan's shoulders slumped a bit. "Right."

"You okay?"

"Hm? Yeah, I'm fine." Xander reached for the hyperdrive controls and initiated the jump, then rose from his seat after setting a proximity alarm. "Just need a little rest. If the alarm doesn't wake me when we get close, you can find me in my room."

"Yes, buir."

As he watched Xander walk away, Xel felt something strange in his gut and going up his spine, something halfway between a tickle and a prod. It was only present for a moment before it vanished, but the feeling left an imprint on his mind, a gut instinct that he should recognize it. Try as he might, though, the answers continued to elude him even as he himself started dozing off.


Xander sat in his quarters, door locked, legs crossed as he sat on the cold durasteel floor. He breathed in and out deeply and repeatedly, hyperoxygenating his blood to allow for higher energy and brain functions, then clearing his mind of all distractions and focusing on the one thing he wanted most. After what seemed like hours but was actually minutes, he finally found what he was looking for and smiled as that familiar presence touched his mind.

I missed you. Silence answered his thoughts, as it always did, but he had never expected an audible response. A warm feeling of love and affection washed over him, and he drew as much in as he could, reveling in it and returning the feelings as much as he could. His smile broadened and eyes shut as tears of joy and relief came to them. Oh, my dear…how I've missed you. The long scar running down his left cheek tickled, and he pressed a hand to it gently. Excitement thrummed through him. It won't be long now.

Imperial Center/Coruscant

"Buir,you okay?"

Xander turned to his son and nodded once before returning his gaze to the tapcaf across the street from where they'd parked their speeder. Thus far, Xander had been somewhat underwhelmed by the connections shown by Coruscant's criminals. Seemed that living under the Empire's thumb somewhat discouraged cooperation or collaboration of any sort. Your allies became witnesses, and your friends became liabilities. It was most definitely a rancor eat rancor situation. Sooner or later, though, they would find someone who knew something, and when they did, he or she would talk. If there was one thing the master hunter had learned over the years, it was that one way or another, everyone talks.

"How long has this guy just been sitting here?"

"About an hour."

"How long have we been sitting here?"

"Patience, Xel. Not every hunt can be solved with fists and plasma. The best ones are the jobs where you never have to fire a shot."

"Something tells me a Trando isn't gonna go down without a fight."

"No…and especially not this one."

"What do ya mean?"

"I knew I recognized something about him when Obrim showed us that holo. Take a closer look." He held up the datapad to Xel's visor. "Notice anything?"

Xel squinted in concentration and strained his memory before shaking his head. "Sorry. I got nothin'."

"He was on Nar Shaddaa three months ago. Your first job. I'm surprised you don't remember."

"Wait…he was the gang leader?"

Xander nodded.

"Oh…sorry, buir." He was silent a moment. "Guess I was too focused on the target to notice."

Xan's mouth tipped up on one side as he watched color fill his son's face. Liar. "Rookie mistake. Always keep your focus on the job, but don't get tunnel vision and blind yourself to everything else. In situations like this, the person or thing you overlooked may be the key to a later hunt, or a potential asset in the future."

"Yes sir."

Another ten minutes passed before the deathstick dealer they were tailing, an Advozse by the name of Kreel Imar, gave a discreet nod to a pair of Weequays at the bar, who fiddled with something inside their jackets before striding over to a Twi'lek dancer currently in the middle of a performance and yanking her off the stage. Both Mandos straightened at the sudden action and watched as they dragged her off to a separate room.

"Did you just see—?"

"Yeah."

"They just—"

"Yeah."

"What do we do?"

Xander pressed his lips together. The target had been a no-show for the last hour, and staking out the dealers was a shot in the dark at best. His instincts told him that Anthis was nowhere near here, so a quick appearance from two Mandos wouldn't hurt them. Nodding to Xel once, he opened the door of the speeder and stepped out, Mandalorian shoulder cloak flapping in the air current from thousands of speeders streaking by at once. As his son followed, he noticed with absent interest the berth that most of the pedestrians gave them as they stalked toward the tapcaf. Half a dozen heads turned in their direction as they entered, and the dealer gaped at them as they strode unopposed into the hallway where they'd dragged off the dancer. Xander's senses led them directly to the door they were looking for, though the intermittent shrieks would have been enough of a beacon.

Xan's left fist clenched as his right hand reached for the MerrSonn DD6 pistol at his hip, years of training and experience guiding his actions as the weapon was drawn fluidly within the space of a half-second, his left fist hitting the release control on the door as he walked through it without breaking his pace and raised the weapon. What he saw on the other end of the door set his blood on fire, and Xel's feral hiss was plain indication that he felt the same way. The Weequays had shackled and collared the girl, but they weren't alone. Two thick-set Nikto bruisers were flanking what looked like a human male, but Xander had seen enough of his kind to know their true nature.

"Let her go," he hissed through his teeth, the barrel of his pistol leveled against the Anzati. "Now."

"This doesn't concern you, Mandalorian," he answered with a smooth voice and a raised eyebrow. "Run along now. Don't you have someone higher priced to kill?"

"At the moment? Nah. Brain-sucking monsters take the uj cake." He pushed the power slider on his pistol to max, a setting that used ten times the power and tibanna gas, but essentially ensured a smoking hole in whatever target he pointed at. "I won't ask again," he said as the gun charged with a whine.

The Anzati seemed to debate the matter for a few moments before nodding to the Weequays. The dancer made a hasty, whimpering retreat from the room only to be stopped by Xel, who gently held her arm until she stopped squirming, then dropped a hundred-cred chip in her open palm.

"You should know there will be repercussions for this, Mandalorian. Do you know who I am? Of course not. Suffice to say that I have powerful friends that owe me various favors. I'm very particular about my meals, and I don't take kindly to having them stolen, so if I were you, I'd look over my shoulder for the foreseeable future, because if you ever see me or any of my associates, we will kill you."

Xander laughed darkly as he lowered his weapon and leaned toward him. "Get in line, shabuir."


4 hours later

In the space of four hours, the pair had shaken down half the gangsters between levels 1340 and 1313, scouring every dirty nook and cranny for intel on their target. Finally, they had him. A massive series of high-rise loading docks in Coruscant's industrial sector had swiftly risen to the top of their lead pool, and both hunters were quickly becoming more and more focused. As usual, their anxiety, however limited, had risen to a fever pitch, as it always did at the time before a hunt drew to its inevitable climax. The confrontation with the Anzati had left a bitter taste in both their mouths, and despite his supposed indifference to the alien's threat, Xander really didn't know if he wanted that kind of extra heat, especially now that his son was his partner.

As he considered the matter further over the course of their search, though, he realized that Xel had proven more than capable of handling himself. On this planet, though, the center of Imperial power, old fears resurfaced, and he dreaded to think what might happen should he fail in the mission that he'd been given from the boy's birth. Telia had told him plenty about life in the Jedi Order, that inductees were taken from their parents at an early age, often before they had time to truly know them so as to avoid "emotional attachment." The thought of children, of any age, being taken from their rightful caretakers still brought a malicious snarl to his face, and a small, old Mandalorian part of himself was glad the Order as he'd known it had been destroyed.

What exactly made emotion so shabla dangerous? After all this time and numerous attempts at explanation from his wife, he still hadn't gotten a satisfactory answer. She had once told him that with Force-users, emotions became a double-edged sword if they weren't careful. Some, like compassion and gratitude, could be great motivators, and healers in particular were far more likely to draw on them. After all, both were conducive to long life, and the Force was nothing if not life. Bringing that emotional power to bear to heal a person in need was not only practical, but admirable, and Xander admitted that he shared her opinion. Other emotions, however, like rage and hatred, she'd said, blinded even the most conscience-driven men and women, and when combined with the teachings of the Sith, everything that person once held dear was consumed or cast aside by their lust for power.

Despite her caution against using such violent feelings when she first trained him to use his connection, he'd drawn on both on numerous occasions, always with the intent of protecting her or his men, and come out on top and in control. Telia had been shocked at this, but after the first few dozen times it happened, she started to fully realize that the Force was not as black and white as she'd been taught from childhood…and how much she meant to him. The fact that he could go into black rages in the middle of combat, blocking out any form of rationality or restraint in favor of sheer brutality, and come back to give her that caring, blush-prompting smile was a testament to how much self-control Mandalorians truly had. It also told volumes about their ability to compartmentalize, which, of course, was no surprise, given what he'd told her about their culture.

Mando'ade were vicious in war, honorable in victory and defeat alike, and ferociously devoted to family. Their entire culture was a paradox to her, a blend of dark and light if she'd ever seen it. The first trait she had long identified with the Sith and Dark Side of the Force, the second with the Jedi and the Light, and, well, the third was something she had never encountered to the degree Xander spoke of and, much later in their relationship, demonstrated. Telia had encountered boundless shock at the stark contrasts between the near-psychopathic soldier she knew on the battlefield and the impossibly gentle man that had bandaged her injuries or helped her cope with the nightmares that came from the horrors of war.

She wasn't a soldier, and he'd known it. It had been humiliating at first, being so…weak in her own eyes, and considering the rough, battle-hardened reputation shared by all Mandos, she'd expected disapproval or judgement from him when he'd caught her sobbing in a secluded hangar. Instead, he'd sat down next to her, back pressed against the wall like hers was, and popped his helmet off, revealing a frowning, scarred expression of grim understanding. His presence alone seemed to soothe her after a while, and looking back on it, he realized that he'd probably been subconsciously using the Force. When she tried to apologize for her behavior, he'd narrowed his eyes to slits and given her a good scolding for even thinking it appropriate to apologize.

She hadn't broken down on the battlefield, with men depending on her, and he more than most knew how much some things couldn't and shouldn't be suppressed. That, perhaps more than anything, had made his anger burn at any Jedi who touted their vaunted serenity, especially around Telia. Idiots. Truth be told, he'd nearly taken his knife to a "master" who had dared to accost her for showing her anger after a particularly trying week. Instead, he spent a week in the brig for breaking the man's nose, or, at least, he'd been sentenced to a week. Xander was released halfway through it when a critical operation required a skill set that only their resident consultant had, much to the injured Jedi's chagrin.

Serenity my shebs, Xander thought at the memory, slowly returning his focus to the present. His son was perched on another corner of their rooftop twenty feet away, his macrobinoculars pressed to the horizontal slit of his helmet. The father pressed his lips together and made a mental note to ask Cerril about integrating a basic macrobinocular function into his helmet's systems. Though he, like any practical Mando, stressed avoiding reliance on fancy tech, it didn't mean he shied away from it, especially if it improved efficiency. Activating such a function in his own helmet, he spied a pair of Klatooinians fingering illegal Tenloss Disruptor Rifles and hissed.

"Xel," he said over comms. "See those two?" He motioned to the snipers.

"Yeah…what the shab are those?"

"Tenloss DXR-6 Disruptor Rifles. Very nasty, very illegal. Rips the target apart at the molecular level, so they're favored by assassins."

"That's gotta hurt. Them first?"

"Read my mind." He turned to Xel and animatedly tapped the knife on his belt. "Keep it quiet."

Xel gave him a curt nod and pulled something off his belt that Xander recognized as a two-directional liquid cable launcher. Aiming one end at the rooftop they were on and the other at the roof of the loading dock, he fired it off, the device making barely more than a puff as the compressed liquid shot out like a bolt from a blaster. A sharp tug at the cable verified the connection was solid, and Xel disconnected the launcher and clipped it back to his belt, motioning his father forward. Xander pulled his beskar knife from his belt and angled the blunt edge down, orienting the knife so the angle between his hand and its blade acted as a hook around the upper edge of the cable. Xel followed suit and hooked in behind him, launching off a moment after his father and grimacing as his less muscular hand started to ache halfway there.

When the snipers came within range, Xander swung his body toward them and released the cable, landing feet-first on one of them with all the grace of a dancer and plunging his knife into the alien's neck. Xel did the same to his partner, albeit a little shakier, before he could charge his weapon halfway. A cursory search of the area revealed no other sentries this side of the building. The pair exchanged a nod before entering the building through its rooftop entrance, blasters coming from their holsters as they made their way through the dark, dirty corridors. Xander's enhanced audio systems fed a constant stream of noise from the building, and he fed a program from Cerril into the helmet's built-in computer that could isolate their target's voice based on the sound clip he'd recorded from Anthis on Nar Shaddaa.

As that ran, Xander motioned for them to split up, the boy taking higher ground as his father descended a level. A group of human and Rodian workers were loading and unloading crates of building supplies, or so it seemed. Legitimate operations didn't usually have snipers with illegal weapons posted on the roof. One of the workers dropped a crate, cracking it open as the foreman bellowed insults at him. A quick activation of his macrobinoculars revealed the slightly smaller inside compared to the appearance of the outside, as well as the stark differences between the material of the crate's internal walls and the rim of the container, all telltale signs of a false panel or panels.

They're smugglers, and if Anthis is here, I'm pretty sure I know what they're hawking. He snapped several holos with his helmet, making a note to get his hands on one of those crates. Obrim would appreciate it. Xel's radio-distorted voice came over the comlink, interrupting his thoughts.

"Buir."

"Have you got him?"

"No, but there's something else you should see."

"On my way." Xander scrambled to the upper floors within a matter of seconds, using the familiar presence in the back of his mind to lead him to his son. It barely took him a split-second to stare at what Xel had meant. "What…is that?"

"A bunch'a kids, by the looks of it."

"I know, but…what the hell are they doing with them?"

A Twi'lek was busy examining a small boy, no older than ten, Xander would wager, with a very critical eye as two Nikto and a Quarren looked on dispassionately. Slaves, Xander concluded with no small measure of disgust, his old anger at the Jedi Order eclipsed by the sheer loathing he had for the creatures below. The boy was roughly shoved back, and as one of the other children stepped forward to defend him, one of the Nikto raised a hand as if to backhand him. Despite being on the other side of the room, the boy flinched as if he'd actually been struck and moved back to his place. A tumult of emotions warred within the Mando father, hatred and pity foremost among them.

"Not to sound cold, buir, but…are we planning on helping every waif and stray we run across?"

Xander pursed his lips. On Coruscant that'd be a death wish, if not for all the dangerous scum they'd have to go through, for the exhaustion of running themselves ragged with such an impossible task. "No, but if something had happened to me when you were younger, you could've been one of those waifs and strays." The two t-visors met gazes. "We help." He could hear the smile in his son's answer.

"Of course."

Turning back to the children and the hut'uunla Twi'lek currently inspecting them like a prized podracer, he snarled and thought for a moment. "We'll help, but one of us needs to find Anthis first." He gave his son a pat on the shoulder. "You stay here. Keep an eye on them. If it seems like they're gonna move the kids, let me know and I'll come running. We can track down Anthis again if he goes to ground. The kids, on the other hand…"

"I got it," Xel acknowledged with a nod.

Xander rose to his feet and sprinted off as silently as was possible in heavy armor. He had searched the massive building for two more minutes before debating another course of action in his head. He pressed his back against a wall and thought hard. He could find Anthis quite easily if he so desired, but the risk… He pressed his lips into a thin, white line. The risks were worth it if they got both their bounty and a second chance for the children about to be sold into slavery. If worse came to worst, he knew they could kill Anthis and book it off the planet within a half hour. At least they would get the "dead" fee.

With a final nod of decision, Xander closed his eyes and took a deep breath before letting it out and opening his mind completely to the Force. The sheer extrasensory overload nearly decked him. He had barely used his Force senses in past years, rarely to the degree he was now, and even then never in such an impossibly dense metropolis. The lives and feelings of a billion sentients at once flooded his consciousness in a tidal wave of contrasts and parallels, hopes and dreams, gripes and grievances. It was utterly overwhelming, and only through sheer force of will was Xander able to rein in his senses and close the floodgate he had so foolishly opened.

When it was done, he instead probed at that gate, widening it crack by crack until he could feel the lives in his immediate area, fuzzy blips in the back of his head that became more and more focused as he concentrated harder. He remembered what Anthis felt like from before, the calculation, the keen intelligence behind his savage eyes and appearance. Like a strainer separating solid from liquid, he laid down mental filters in the Force, peeling away the souls around him layer by layer until he found what he was looking for. Two floors down…he's not alone. Not that he had expected him to be.

Xander put a finger to his helmet. "Xel, I've got him."

"'Bout time," his son answered agitatedly. "The Quarren and Twi'lek are talking now, very intently."

"Deal's going down," Xander said with certainty, running back through the corridors and narrowly avoiding being spotted by two of the loaders as he silently returned to Xel's position. The boy was fingering his blasters nervously, the tense poise of his crouch clearly indicating eagerness to get it over with. He laid a hand on Xel's shoulder. "Patience, son. The slavers might want their cargo, but I know their type. They're perfectly satisfied with losing one or two as long as they get the best of the haul."

Xel gave him a horrified look from behind his visor. "You mean they'd—?"

"Use them as human shields?" Xander finished with a great deal of anger. "Yes." His Force Sense still functioning passively to keep track of Anthis, Xander felt something from Xel, in him, a deep, black void. Eyes widening slightly, he drew back slightly as the sheer force of his son's hatred flowed through their bond. So that's what I feel like when I'm angry. No wonder Telia—

"Sold!"

The single word sent a universal shudder through the nine kids below.

"We do this quickly and cleanly," Xander told his son. "Once the slavers are dead, I'm trusting you to keep them safe here."

Xel's eyebrows furrowed. "Where are you going?"

"To take down Anthis. He'll start running the moment he hears blaster fire, and if we can do this without letting our bantha run free, we will."

"Got it."

The boy's Mandalorian APs came out of their holsters as Xander drew his DD6 and thumbed the power dial to medium. "3—2—1—go!"

They both leapt in tandem, Xander landing in a roll and firing as he came up, his son opting to stay high as he jetpacked toward the slavers' exposed side. Xander's pistol fired at a rapid rate as he made full use of the blaster's hair trigger, bare squeezes sending streams of plasma at the enemy. One of the Nikto fell immediately, followed by the Quarren when Xel dropped on top of a large storage crate and gave him a double-tap through the skull. A blaster bolt smacked into the boy's left shoulder, the armor deflecting the energy but the impact knocking him off-balance all the same.

Xander laid down suppressing fire on the Twi'lek as he eyed the remaining Nikto carefully, noting his quick withdrawal behind a smaller storage crate. Recovering quickly, Xel rolled off his crate and drew his knife left-handed as he swung it toward the Nikto's neck. The stronger alien smacked his hand away as he leaned away from the strike, leveling his blaster against the Mandalorian iron before a quick shot from Xel's right-hand pistol fried his. The young Mando immediately holstered the weapon and transferred the knife to his right hand, taking a ready stance as his father looked in with slight trepidation. He knew Xel was a good fighter in close quarters, hell he was a natural, but he wasn't as strong as his father, and only Xander had a chance of hammering his way out of the iron grip of that Nikto if he ever got hold of him.

Intermittent fire from a very irate Twi'lek snapped him out of his worries and back into his Mando mercenary mode, a cold hatred settling into his gut as he returned fire and kicked in his own jetpack. Flying toward the enemy, he was surprised when the alien threw a cable from his belt and wrapped it around his ankle. He realized what was so special about it a second later as electricity coursed through him, his jumpsuit's insulating properties only doing so much to mitigate the pain. Blinking hard to clear away the sudden blur caused by his body hitting the deck, Xander snarled as his opponent ran toward him, firing madly. Holding up his left forearm, he let the beskar take the incoming damage and bull-rushed him, right hand missing the presence of his dropped blaster but moving with years of training and experience nonetheless.

Xander smacked his weapon's barrel aside with his left hand, sending his next shot dangerously close to the terrified children, then brought a right cross on the side of his skull hard. He stumbled back with the blow, aiming a sloppy kick at the family jewels and rebounding instantly when his booted foot met solid Mandalorian iron. Mandos prepare for every scenario, Xander thought with a malicious smirk. Withdrawing quickly, the Twi'lek's vision flickered to his left. Xander's eyes widened as he saw his line of vision, then narrowed as he watched the blaster's barrel raise to match it.

Before he knew what was happening, the alien suddenly found himself clutching at his pained wrist, his blaster clattering to the floor as the enraged Mando strode toward him at a steady pace. Xander grabbed the man by the scruff of his jacket and lifted him off the ground, throwing him bodily against a wall. Hard. The once-confident slaver now stared at him with terrified eyes as he gripped his throat and lifted him off the ground as if he were no heavier than a sheet of flimsi. It was then that he realized the man's hands, no, the gloves, were vibrating slightly as he clenched slowly. The alien's neck gave bit by bit as Xander squeezed at a steady rate.

"You are a worm, not worthy to lick the dirt off the boots of these ad'ike." With no further words, his Mandalorian crushgaunts lived up to their name and crushed his neck like a twig. His grip loosened and dropped him to the ground, and Xander was tempted to spit before coming out of his black rage and realizing he was still in his helmet. Glancing around him and letting out a sharp breath, Xander saw Xel standing over the bloodied corpse of his opponent, and a small swell of pride filled his chest before his Force Sense triggered a mental alarm. Focusing quickly, he felt Anthis bolting for a speeder on a level halfway between them.

Seeming to sense his sudden tension, Xel nodded to him. "Go."

Xander sprinted toward the door of the dock and ran for the speeder at max speed, remembering belatedly that he'd left his DD6 with Xel and cursing under his breath. His powerful legs propelled him two levels down, and he saw Anthis clamber into his speeder a moment before his bodyguards opened fire. His teeth gritted as he gave himself to the Force, sprinting straight for his bounty and triggering his jetpack, flying over them and dropping a thermal detonator among the grounded guards as he went straight for Anthis. The Trandoshan spun in his seat as Xander tackled him off the speeder and flew back into the building, landing hard and rolling to a stop with his quarry.

The Trando recovered his footing a little quicker than Xander and slashed at him with his claws. Using what little leverage he had, Xan rolled away and stood, his right hand unsheathing his knife underhandedly.

"I know you, hunter," Brack snarled.

"Makes two of us. End of the line, Anthis."

Two rows of razor-sharp teeth greeted him as he grinned madly, then charged and chomped at his shoulder. Xander brought his forearm between the Trando's jaws, the unyielding metal breaking a fair few teeth as he bit down hard. Anthis shrieked in pain as he withdrew, Xander taking advantage and slashing a bloody line across his chest. The alien brought a closed fist into the side of Xan's helmet, knocking him back a few steps as he reeled from the sheer force of the impact. The Mando and Trando traded blows before Anthis retreated to another structure, a massive, five-story conveyer line connecting their building with another.

Xander gritted his teeth, both at the pain of the powerful blows the reptilian had delivered to him as well as his hesitation. I need to stop playing around and finish him off. Anthis climbed aboard a droid-operated levitating platform transporting crates from one level to the next, taking off into the air and leaving his pursuer behind. Xander activated his jetpack, flying up to a higher conveyor belt and sprinting toward a tower linked to all the belts. He jetted upward another floor and grabbed a pipe for a handhold, bracing his legs against the hard metal it connected to and calling on the Force as Anthis passed below him. A Force Leap propelled him twenty feet through the air, arcing down to land solidly on the platform. Anthis spun toward him, mouth hanging wide open as his mind reeled before focusing on killing him.

In short order, Xander sheathed his knife and engaged him barehanded, trading blows until the Mando caught a powerful fist in his left hand and gave Anthis a proper kov'nyn, a Keldabe kiss, the hard metal of his helmet's forehead slamming into the reptilian's scaly face. Anthis hissed in rage and pain, slashing his claws through the shoulder joint of his jumpsuit and digging them in. Warm blood trickled down his arm as he snarled and brought his helmet into the Trando's head once more, kneeing him hard in the lower chest and clenching his left crushgaunt around Anthis' hand, breaking the thick bones inside with relative ease. He shoved him back and laid into his chest and face with a series of powerful, rage-driven blows, breaking scaly skin and bones and driving his target toward the edge step by step before thrust-kicking him within a foot of a deadly drop.

Dead it is, Xander decided, sprinting toward him and leaping into the air as he planted two flying kicks on his center mass, one after the other in a staggered drop-kick, launching Anthis off the side and himself backward toward the center of the platform. Recovering his balance, Xander strode to the side of the platform and gazed as Anthis' bloodied form vanished into the bottomless depths of Coruscant's underworld.


1 hour later

The Kandosii'tal

Over the last hour, several things had happened. Xel had officially added a half-dozen kills to his record. The kids that had once been in peril of being sold into slavery were delivered to a few contacts of Obrim's, along with some very incriminating and irrefutable evidence of deathstick trafficking linked to several Imperial politicians, either in consumption or corruption. Though he had about as much love for the ISB as the Death Watch, Xander knew Parja Bralor, and he knew she'd never recommend him to anyone who didn't meet his professional and moral standards. Truly, something about the man relieved him enough to just let things go.

Xander flinched and let out a long hiss as Xel gingerly laid an ice pack on his upper right ribs. The series of stitches on his right shoulder stung, but the bacta coating both them and the injury itself was helping.

"Ad'ika, make a mental note never to hold back when you're fighting a Trando."

Xel vainly suppressed a smile. "Do as I say, not as I do, eh, buir?"

Xander gave him a mock scolding look.

"Face it, Dad. You liked the challenge, even if it's gonna leave you a bruised mess for a month."

Xander frowned. His son's estimate wasn't all that far off. Between the lacerations on his shoulder and the bruises that resulted from Anthis' relentless and feral pounding, he wasn't going to be getting into another fight like that anytime soon. Mandalorian iron or not, Trandoshans were strong enough to go toe-to-toe with Wookiees, depending on how big both they and their opponents were. Under any other circumstances, he'd be insane to take one on that close, especially one in his prime and crazed with bloodlust. At least, that would be the case if he didn't also have another very powerful tool at his disposal, one that, thankfully, had remained a secret thus far.

"So maybe I did. Gotta cut me some slack, Xel." He tested his arms, giving them a few experimental and painful swings before rising from the makeshift medical berth. He gave his son a devilish grin. "This old body starts to feel useless after a while."

Xel played right along, crossing his arms with a raised eyebrow. "Can I trade you mine, 'cause between the scars and the strength, I'm pretty sure I'd have a line of cyar'ike lining up for my hand in marriage."

Xander looped an arm around his shoulder, walking to the cockpit and trying not to hiss in pain. "Son, I'm surprised you don't already."

Xel quirked a small smirk. "Well...there might be one..."

"Oh?" Xander raised an eyebrow. "Do tell."

"Nope. Not yet." He shrugged. "Might be nothing."

"Could be everything."

Xel pressed his lips together as they separated and took their respective seats. "Was it that way with you?"

Xander held a breath for a few moments before making a decision. "Well...no, not really. It was...complicated."

Xel nodded slowly and looked away despondently, flicking a few switches as they prepared for takeoff in their usual routine.

"She and I were—are...different. About as different as fire and ice."

The boy instantly froze. He had expected more silence, more secrets and no explanations. Now, for the first time, his father was opening up about the other side of the family, and there was no way he was going to screw this up. "H-How do you mean?"

Xander wore a small smile as his eyes turned wistful, his hands coming to a stop as all other tasks ceased. "When we first met, she was no soldier. She was kind...compassionate...innocent. Had a...light in her eyes that I'd never seen before."

"Do I...look like her?"

Xander quirked a smirk. "No, not at all. In fact, when you were born, she specifically said you took after me."

"Oh."

Xan's smirk widened. "Got her spirit though. And her sense of loyalty...one of the few things we shared—share to a tee."

Xel faltered for words. His father had opened up for the first time in almost 14 years. There were so many things he wanted to ask, wanted to know, and something, a niggling fear in his gut, told him he wouldn't get a second chance. Only one question came to his mind.

"Will I—?"

"Get to meet her? Yes. Someday." Xander smiled widely and locked gazes with his son. "And your brother."

Xel's face was a study in shock.


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