5 minutes later
1 year, 7 months BBY
Smoke rose from a large rectangular high-rise in the crowded cityscape of the Smuggler's Moon as a large ship took off from that same location, its occupants unaware they were being watched. Two keen silver eyes narrowed as they shot across the sky and out of view. A hand reached down and grabbed a holocommunicator, activating it a moment later and waiting for an answer at the other end. The device emitted a blue hologram, the imposing figure of Darth Vader on the other end.
"What is it?" he asked impatiently.
The man holding the communicator pursed his lips tightly. "A craft matching one that left Coruscant two months ago has landed on Nar Shaddaa. Its occupants are two Mandalorian bounty hunters currently on a job."
"What concern of mine is this?"
The man bit his tongue hard to keep from scowling at his master's tone. "Some time ago, I discovered a direct connection between that ship, the Kandosii'tal, and the presence you commissioned me to find. I believe that one of the vessel's owners is the person you seek." He could feel the narrowed eyes behind Vader's mask.
"How did you come by this information?"
"A contact of mine, an Anzati, was coerced on Coruscant the night of the disturbance—by two Mandalorians. The same pair was seen blasting through a loading dock in the industrial sector later that night. When I learned of this meeting, I had the last piece of the puzzle."
"And yet they evaded you for two months," Vader judged.
The man turned away to avoid showing his displeasure to Vader. "Yes," he said quietly. "I sense you were right about our target. He must be strong in the Force to have eluded me."
He couldn't help but detect the sarcasm in Vader's tone. "That same contact sent me a data packet when he detected that ship in Hutt-controlled space, and I traveled there with all speed. I have now confirmed both the identity and location of the targets, master."
The Dark Lord was silent a few moments, arms crossed, before nodding. "Well done, my apprentice."
"What must I do now?"
"Nothing. Only ensure that they do not leave that world."
The man's brows furrowed deeply. "May I ask why?" Vader's masked glare closed his throat shut.
"I will see to this matter personally."
"Yes, my lord."
10 minutes later
Xel's heart was beating out a furious rhythm as his father piloted their speeder through the busy air lanes.
"So," Xander started, "who exactly is this girl?"
Xel's face heated slight. "Uh…it's a bit of a long story."
"Gonna be some time 'til we reach our destination, so."
Xel stayed silent for a few seconds. "I met her here a few months back. We haven't really spoken since, but she left an open invitation."
Xander's eyebrows rose. "For what exactly?"
The boy gulped. "Um…"
"Oh. After one day? Really?"
Xel laughed nervously. "Like I said, could be nothing. Nothing special, anyway."
Xan nodded slowly. "So what's her name?"
The boy gulped.
"Xel? Who is she?"
Xel sighed and closed his eyes. "Maila Yar."
Xander stared at him before remembering to keep his eyes on the sky. "Maila Yar, as in the Maila Yar, as in the woman who tipped off your first bounty."
"Yeah," he responded quietly, looking away.
Xan was dumbstruck. "Why?"
"Why do you think we can trust her?"
"Because…because she said she'd do me a favor."
Xander looked at him with narrowed eyes. "Why?"
Xel let out an exasperated sigh. "Look, the day I bagged my first bounty was the day she sent me a holomessage. She congratulated me on the tracker move and actually thanked me for taking the Twi'lek off her hands."
"And she said she'd do me a favor if I ever came back to Nar Shaddaa."
"She actually said that?"
"Not…in those words, no."
"What words exactly then?"
Xel's face reddened more with the memory. "I think it was something like, 'if you're ever on the Smuggler's Moon again, I'll have business for you.'"
"So not a favor exactly. More like a job."
"Yeah, but I'm sure she won't blow us off."
"And why's that? She's a businesswoman. What's in it for her?"
Xel clenched his teeth.
"Hadn't thought that far?"
"No," he admitted. "But I'll think of something."
Xander pressed his lips into a thin line, turning toward a contoured high-rise and pulling to a stop on an attached landing pad. Slipping both their helmets on, the two Mandos exited their vehicle, giving the appropriate credit fee to a nearby valet before striding toward the entrance. They were greeted by two Zabrak guards and a human receptionist just inside.
"Good afternoon, sirs," she said politely, her smile looking a little forced. "What can I do for you?"
Xander opened his mouth to speak before remembering this was Xel's idea and, by extension, his responsibility.
"I need to speak to Maila Yar," the boy said, his helmet deepening his voice.
"May I ask what about?"
"Tell her I'm taking her up on her offer, if it's still available. She'll know what I mean."
"Of course, sir."
A minute or two of waiting and a short conversation in Huttese, and the receptionist smiled at them again. "Head right in," she said, motioning to a pair of double-doors to her left.
"Thank you." Xel strode toward the doors, but stopped about two feet away. "Buir, I think it might be best if you stayed here."
Xander considered this for a moment before nodding. "She'll only know you anyway."
Xel nodded in thanks and strode in, the doors parting as he approached to reveal a large, semi-circular office with red curtains covering the majority of the windows, light streaming through three central panes and lighting up a door-facing desk on the far side of the room. The woman seated there was facing away from him, seemingly observing the flow of traffic outside. Smiling, she turned in her seat and locked her gaze on the approaching Mando.
"Xel Caden," she said sweetly, her voice lilting softly as she rose from her chair. The Zeltron strode around her desk, right toward her guest, as her hips swayed slightly, her form-fitting dress showing off her curves in all the right places. Her smile widened slightly at Xel's near-imperceptible intake of breath. "It's been quite a while."
"I've…been busy," he replied apologetically.
Maila fluttered her lashes. "Oh I know. See, I've done my best to keep track of you, and I must say, I'm quite impressed."
Xel cleared his throat, infinitely grateful she couldn't see how badly he was blushing. "I do my best."
She giggled slightly and took his arm. "Please, sit. Would you like a drink?"
"No thank you." He sat slowly, keeping his helmet on, the buy'ce his only protection against this woman's charms.
"So," she started, taking another seat across from him, "what brings you to my humble abode?"
Xel raised an eyebrow at the word "humble." "A bounty, actually. Since you, uh, have a knack for knowing things on this world, I thought you might have some information."
Xel could tell she was a little miffed by the way her smile dampened slightly. "You did say business or pleasure," he reminded her.
"So I did." Her entire expression changed, suddenly shifting from seductive to businesslike.
Xel knew it took some effort. "The man we're looking for, his name's Kell Hammer."
With that, her smile vanished instantly, replaced by widened eyes and a slightly open mouth. "Whatever you're being paid, I guarantee it's not enough."
"Well we've tangled with him twice already, and we're okay."
Her brows knitted. "We?"
He let out a long breath, mentally kicking himself. "Yes, my partner and I. I thought you'd been keeping track of me."
A small smirk graced her features. "I was. Just making sure you were paying attention."
He rolled his eyes. Women. "Look, do you know anything or not? It's just a matter of time before he finds a way offworld, and we'd rather not chase him across the galaxy."
She pressed her lips together. "Not to be crude, but…what's in this for me?"
Xel mentally cursed, thinking for a while. "Five percent of our bounty."
Maila raised an eyebrow sarcastically.
"Finder's fees are on average thirty percent. Anything lower is a friends and family discount, and I don't quite think we're there yet."
Xel heaved a sigh. "Twenty then."
She smirked. "Sold." Maila leaned back in her seat. "What did that earn me exactly?"
Xel did a quick calculation in his head. "Given that we fulfill all aspects of our client's demands, over 16K."
She raised an eyebrow. "Who's paying that kind of cash?"
"Durga," Xel answered with no small amount of disgust.
Her tight-lipped smile confirmed that she shared his opinion. "I see." She was silent a long time, hands in her lap as she averted her gaze.
"Can you help me?"
Her ice-blue eyes flickered to his eyeslit, and she smiled sadly. "Yes, but I can guarantee that you won't like what you find."
"On hunts with stakes this high, I rarely do." He rose to his feet as she did the same.
Maila strode behind her desk, her features forming a frown of concentration as she accessed her computer. "Does this have anything to do with that crashed shuttle?"
Xel struck a pose, hands on his holsters as a grin came to his masked face. "Maybe."
The woman pressed a final key, deploying a data disc from the terminal and handing it to him. "That's a list of Hammer's known contacts on Nar Shaddaa. Since he visits here frequently, I keep tabs on him."
"Why him in particular?"
Her eyes narrowed. "I mind any particularly dangerous individuals hanging about in my territory."
Xel couldn't help but feel uneasy at the look she gave him. "I see." He waved the disc. "Thank you."
"Thank me with that thirty percent."
"Twenty-five," he corrected. "I have it on record."
She positively beamed at him. "Smart man." Her smile faded as he turned for the door. "Xel."
He turned his head toward her, noting her unease and tension.
"Be careful. Hammer is not someone to trifle with."
"I never trifle, Maila," he assured her, "but thank you for your concern."
Xander was pacing outside Maila's office. They're taking a while. Although it had been infinitely amusing to feel his son's embarrassment and distress during their conversation, the cold fear that had come from the woman just now unsettled him. Did she know something about Hammer that they didn't?
Xel exited the room, interrupting his thoughts and holding up a data disc. "Got the goods."
"How much did it cost us?"
"Ah…shab. Price of doing business, I guess."
"And now we know where to look."
Five minutes later and they were sitting back in their speeder, sifting through over a dozen names that were tied to their target.
"So…we pick a side of the list and start knockin' heads?"
Xander pursed his lips. He knew a much less tedious way of narrowing things down, but was he ready to let his son know what he could do? He deserved to know, surely, but would it be too much of a shock? Was it time he learned of his heritage, of his potential?
"Sorry. Just thinking." Oh Telia…I wish you were here. He stretched out to the Force and closed his eyes, the action invisible behind his faceplate as he dragged his index across the list. A mental nudge stopped his hand briefly, and his eyes flickered open for a moment to note the name before moving on. No one else gave him that feeling. Koris…that's all it says. He knew it would be suspicious if he picked a seemingly random name off the list and it just so happened to be right, so instead, he thought of a slightly more time-consuming approach. "Hammer's going to be looking for a new ride, right?"
"So, let's see about this ship dealer." He pointed to a name two away from Koris'. "And then just go down the list, 'cause there's nothing else coming to mind."
"Good thinking. Can I drive?"
Xander laid the datapad aside and scoffed as he gripped the controls and brought the speeder into a gentle climb.
1 hour later
As expected, the two people they interrogated first yielded no results, and now they were coming on the third. Xander seemed much tenser than usual as they approached a tall apartment complex. Xel's blasters came out of their holsters as they strode away from their ship, having landed on a pad directly connected to their target. The two Mandos strode through the door, the dusk sunlight casting a red sheen over the immediate entrance and illuminating a poorly lit hallway. Xan gave his son a nod, and the boy pressed himself to a wall while his father took the other, sweeping toward the room where they would find this Koris. Or, so they hoped.
Xander focused in the Force, sweeping the area for signs of life. By and large, this building was abandoned, left to decay by its few tenants, most of whom were either poor or vagrants. There was one, though, one mind who was not steeped in despair, but frustration and a small amount of anxiety. Xander motioned to Xel, who followed him closely as they approached the door. Xan tapped his helmet, activating its infrared function, only to find the door and walls insulated, either a precaution by the current tenant or an improvised climate control system to compensate for the building's shortcomings. Seeing that Xel was having the same difficulty, Xander motioned for him to stack up, drawing his DD6 and making a finger countdown. The door was kicked in by them both simultaneously, and barely a split-second later, blaster bolts were flying from six different sources.
Both hunters dove for cover as Hammer and three others laid down suppressing fire. The assassin was withdrawing toward the window, his men giving him sufficient cover. Xander motioned to Xel, then pointed at his own gauntlet and the enemy. The boy gave him a battle sign.
Xander gave him a single nod, drawing his Blackjack and laying down automatic fire as his son rose from cover. Xel raised his left arm and clenched his left index, the motion firing off a wrist rocket right into the middle of their attackers. Furniture and bodies went flying in a storm of flame and smoke, but as the Mandos approached, they only noted three bodies. Xan reached out with the Force, instantly tagging Kell, and stormed toward the open window, stepping out onto a narrow walkway. Xel followed as closely and quickly as he could.
The boy followed his father's finger and nodded before triggering his repaired jetpack, both of them shooting toward their fleeing bounty. They dropped into a dive, cutting their thrust for a moment before arcing back up onto the catwalk their target was fleeing across. He rolled under a grappling hook shot his way and spun as he rose to a crouch, drawing two pistols and firing at them both. At that distance, Xel would have thought that he'd never land a hit, but surely enough, he got smacked in the faceplate by a random blaster bolt.
"Xel, you all right?!"
"Fine! This guy's really startin' to piss me off!"
Seconded, Xander thought as he fired his DD6 at Hammer's legs. The assassin had his reputation for a reason, though, and deftly avoided their shots, ducking into a storefront and eliciting several screams as he ran through. The Mandalorians were close on his heels. When he came out the other side, relief struck him as a speeder descended to his level, the side door opening to reveal a half-dozen Blazing Claw Pirates toting heavy blasters. A hailstorm of blaster fire cut across the catwalk, both pursuers diving for what limited cover they could get. It was a matter of seconds before that started getting melted.
Xel raised his right arm and flexed his index, sending another rocket toward the speeder's engine section. It detonated brilliantly, sending the vehicle into a tailspin as Kell dove away from the falling wreck. When it finally ground to a halt on the walkway, two of the men inside kicked the door open, giving Hammer the cover he needed to run.
"Dad, get after him! I got this!"
Xander pursed his lips and nodded, tossing a small thermal detonator at the wreck before jetpacking off toward Hammer.
Xel exchanged more blaster fire with the enemy, hating the fact that he always managed to be left behind to take out the trash. It was your idea, he reminded himself bitterly. A jetpack burst took him toward the remaining cluster of three pirates, and an automatic burst from his pistols put one down before he flew behind a building. Hovering in place for a moment, he launched his grappling hook into the side of his cover, diagonally below and toward the enemy. Smirking, he cut his jetpack as he swung in a pendulum motion, his movement too rapid for them to track as he came back into view.
His right-hand pistol fired madly, cutting smoking holes into the last two pirates before releasing the cable and jetpacking to the ground. Suddenly, a feeling of sharp dread smacked into him, his mind's eye flashing to his armored father, who looked like he was in a darkened warehouse. His head snapped toward a building in the distance, and he fell into a breakneck sprint, his jetpack activating and sending him rocketing toward it. He burst through a window on the second floor, revealing an inside exactly like the vision he'd had just a few moments ago. Before he could consider what that could mean, he heard Xander's agonized scream and looked around feverishly.
He spotted him a moment later, and his heart took a sharp drop as he saw the bloody knife driven between his armor plates. Before he knew what was happening, his pistols went into their holsters and his body flew toward the pair. A furious roar came from his helmet's vocabulator as he slammed into Hammer, pinning him to the ground until he was tossed off somewhat sluggishly. Hammer grabbed his knife from where it had fallen, the short vibroblade humming slightly as Xel drew his own. Xander had collapsed to his knees and was pressing his palm against his injury, trying to stem the flow of blood.
Burning hot rage filled him, and his right hand clenched around the durasteel knife's hilt as the assassin charged. Everything slowed to a stop as adrenaline filled his veins, his knife's blade skidding against Kell's as he reflected the blow, driving a hard hook into the right side of his face. He followed with a sharp roundhouse kick to his exposed gut, which, to both their surprise, knocked him back three feet. Xel felt more than angry, he was blacked out. How dare you…how dare you! Kell actually recoiled in fear before finding his nerve again and moving back in. Xel slashed several times, both of them parrying each other's blows as they dueled, the boy forgetting all about the fact that they needed him alive.
Everything blurred together as their fight dragged out, the boy somewhat shocked at how well he was doing against his much more experienced opponent. His durasteel knife clattered to the floor, but he didn't care. Xel battered Kell's face and torso, his gauntlets deflecting the vibroblade again and again as he slowly backed him into a corner. His success was a deception. Hammer deflected a punch with his knife-hand before dropping the blade into his other hand, the tip shooting toward Xel's exposed right shoulder…
Only to stop when the boy's lightning-fast left hand grabbed his wrist, his grip tighter than he ever thought possible as he squeezed it until something cracked. The Epicanthix shrieked in pain as his knife clattered to the floor, Xel leveling everything against him, fists, knees, boots, and finally, a head-butt. Hammer fell backward, sluggishly recovering his balance as his opponent kept advancing. There were three Mandalorians facing him, all blurry, all looking pissed beyond reason.
He never stood a chance.
Two of his lower ribs were broken when Xel used his right hand to add force to a left elbow, the boy using his Mandalorian iron to its full extent as he took Kell apart piece by piece. A bruised, bleeding mess, Hammer was limping away in seconds. A grappling hook went through his left hand when he tried to run, and he shrieked as Xel yanked him to the ground, pinning him there with his armored forearm, the gauntlet cutting off his oxygen supply as he slowly applied more and more pressure.
His father's voice, firm and authoritative, stopped him in his tracks, and as he looked down at his near-unrecognizable opponent, Xel took a sharp intake of breath. He recoiled, releasing him and stepping back several paces.
"Buir...I—I didn't mean to—"
"Yes you did."
A firm hand on Xel's shoulder alerted him to his father's approach and gave him a rough estimate of how well he was doing. Injured...walking...not critical. He sighed heavily in relief.
"It's all right, son."
He let out a ragged breath and looked at his blood-stained gloves, then at their target, who had passed out in pain. "We should...get some binders on 'im. And...get you some medical attention."
Xander gave him a small nod, his free hand pressed to his gut. "You take care of him, I'll take care of me."
Xel nodded numbly, taking another long look at his hands before reaching for the stun-cuffs in his belt.
2 minutes earlier
Imperial Dreadnought in orbit over Nar Shaddaa
All eyes on the bridge of the Judicator turned toward the new arrival, then quickly averted as they all went back to what they were doing as fast as possible. The captain was about to berate them when he too saw what they worked so hard to avoid and wished he could do the same. His stance sharpened and posture stiffened to avoid showing how badly he wanted to shake.
"Lord Vader. Welcome aboard, sir."
"You may dispense with the pleasantries, Captain. I'm not here to inspect your forces."
"Well then, my lord, what can I do for you?"
Vader strode past him without a word and stood in front of the bridge's observation viewport, his gaze directed at the planet below. A sharp tug in the Dark Lord's mind got his attention, and his eyes closed instantly in concentration as he tugged back, following it to the planet below. Whoever this entity was, he would not escape him this time. A small malevolent smile came to his face. "Ready a platoon of your finest men, Captain. I'm going to the surface."
30 minutes later
The Kandosii'tal, Nar Shaddaa
Xel had just left the ship after touching down on Maila's personal landing pad, the trip over and a few minutes after dedicated to getting Xander stabilized. Of course, he couldn't rightly tell his son that his injuries would be healed in a matter of hours. After all, he still didn't know about the Force. But he used it...on Hammer. And I didn't. Xander's lips pressed together tightly. He'd put Xel at risk, not only with a professional assassin, but with a force of nature he had no inkling of and no idea how to control. The very first time he had drawn on the Force directly, and Xel had done so out of anger...no, out of rage.
At least when I first did that, I was already a man well on in years. And he'd had Telia to help guide him. He'll have me to guide him, Xander promised himself. At least for now. His eyes closed as he opened himself to the Force, smiling gently as he felt his son's excitement. The mirth vanished as that excitement turned to surprise and then fear. His hazel eyes shot open and he leapt from the medical berth, his injuries raw but not in danger of reopening thanks to his timely healing trance. The landing ramp lowered at his touch and he was sprinting out onto the pad when he felt it.
No... His eyes widened in sudden terror, and he looked around himself, noticing his environment for the first time. Xan immediately snapped himself back to reality and ran toward the building. His son needed him, and as his wife had once said, the future was always in motion. Nothing is written in stone.
The imposing, black-armored figure in front of Xel couldn't be less concerned about the two blasters leveled against him. "The lady of the house? I convinced her to take a leave of absence." He slowly strode toward Xel, motioning to the slightly blackened walls and carbon scoring around them.
"Don't take another step."
Vader smiled behind his mask, but acquiesced. "You know who I am."
"Yes," he hissed. "Do I particularly care? No. What have you done with her?"
"I'm sure she will be just fine. You, however, will not unless you lower those weapons."
"That you can see."
Xel clenched his teeth. "Where—is—she?"
Finally deciding enough was enough, Vader barely waved his hand, sending both blasters clattering to the floor.
Well that's...unfortunate. Xel and the Sith Lord in front of him stared each other down for a few moments, the former's hands clenching into fists.
The boy and his enemy whirled toward the source of the voice. Xel dove for his blasters. Vader strode toward them both. Xander stepped between them. Vader stopped in his tracks.
"I see now," he said after a long while, looking at Xander, then Xel. "A son."
A rush of fear went through them both, Xel in ignorance, Xander in knowledge. What is he talking about?
"Yes," Xander answered him, "my son." He outstretched his hand and, to Xel's shock, his son's knife flew to his open, gloveless palm. "Xel, get back to the ship."
"Go, I'm right behind you."
Xel reluctantly obeyed, and they sprinted out the door one after the other only to be greeted by a half-dozen Imperial stormtroopers.
"There is no escape."
Like hell. Xel triggered his jetpack, shooting into the air to fire off two wrist rockets. Half the squad managed to get to safety, but three of them were either blown apart or knocked off the side of the landing pad.
Xander made for the last three, but an all-too-familiar sound from behind stopped him in his tracks.
Xander slowly turned toward Vader, who now held a crimson lightsaber in his right hand, and tried hard not to gulp.
"The boy's power must be cultivated."
The Mando snarled and faced him. "Yes, but not by you." They faced off for a few moments, Xander absently noting the blaster fire behind him as Xel engaged the enemy.
"You cannot win."
"I don't need to." And with that, Xander cut all the shackles, all the mental restraints, and completely opened himself to the Force. Power, pure and unadulterated, rushed through him, and he smiled malevolently at the strange but familiar feeling. It's been far too long since I've cut loose. His eyes opened and glared at Vader before he threw his knife. Adding power to his throw with the Force, the knife shot toward the Sith, who sidestepped it faster than he thought possible. The weapon returned to his hand a moment later as Vader closed the distance, lunging forward in a stab. Xander juked around the strike, but the master duelist anticipated the move and spun counterclockwise, slashing in a horizontal arc that would have bisected him had he not ducked.
Xan brought the knife upward in a stab, but Vader's left hand grabbed his wrist and started to squeeze. Not used to being on the receiving end of such a crushing grip, Xander released the knife in pain before channeling the Force into his left arm and delivering a powerful blow to Vader's helmet. The Dark Lord stumbled back a step, swinging his saber upward as his opponent sidestepped and rolled away, using his superior dexterity and mobility to his advantage. Xander focused and held his hands close at his side, channeling his frustration and anger into a Force Blast that was released a moment later.
His jaw dropped a little when Darth Vader not only wasn't affected, but reflected the strike back at him in a wave. Xander Force Jumped over the worst of it, but was still buffeted and thrown off-balance. He recovered in a rough roll on the hull of the platform, spinning to face his enemy and charging toward him…or so Vader thought. When Xan was within striking distance, the Dark Lord slashed diagonally upward and right, but his opponent leapt into the air at that exact moment, twisting his body so that the saber skidded across his shin plate as he flipped over Vader. Once again supremely glad for beskar, Xander sprinted for the Kandosii'tal.
"Xel, let's go!"
The boy flew over from where he was pinning down two stormtroopers to ascend the ship's ramp with his father in tow. The craft powered up and started to lift off mere seconds later, jolting to a stop despite their best efforts. Confused, Xander desperately looked for the problem until he reached out with the Force and felt it. He looked at his son, heart sinking as the truth finally dawned. A few keystrokes on the dashboard later, and Xander rose from his seat, his expression solemn, retrieving his jetpack and strapping it on.
"Dad, where are you going?!"
He lowered the ramp and stood on the edge as Xel finally realized what he was doing.
The hatch between the ramp and cockpit slammed shut, magnetically sealed on a four-hour timer as the ship automatically adopted a programmed flight pattern. Xander looked down at the pad, spotting Darth Vader holding the ship in place with the Force, both hands outstretched. His upper lip curled into a snarl, and he encased his body in a cocoon of kinetic energy, diving from the ramp to trigger his jetpack and slam shoulder-first into the Darth. His saber went flying as they both rolled to a stop inside the building, Xander looking briefly to see the Kandosii take off and leave the atmosphere.
Xel was slamming on the rear hatch, looking out of the small viewport to see his father and Vader vanish in a tangle of limbs, the ship starting to increase its altitude. "No. No-no-no…" He rushed to the cockpit and slammed on the stick, on the controls, on anything and everything to undo whatever his father did to the navigational systems. "No, no! Nothing's working!" A few flurried, heavy breaths escaped him before he rushed for the armory, yanking a heavy assault cannon off a rack and hefting the heavy weapon as he ran to the hatch, raising it to hip level and firing a half-dozen heavy bolts before realizing that was hazardous to his health.
Given that the exit was magnetically sealed, the bolts just ricocheted around the cabin, one of them nearly tagging him in the back. He dropped the cannon and slammed on the hatch in impotent fury and frustration, angry tears falling from his eyes as he poured out his desperation. The engines of the Kandosii flared up, and he watched the building grow smaller and smaller in the distance until the ramp closed of its own accord, its safety systems responding to the vacuum of space.
No words came as he slumped to the ground. His throat was closed, sealed with the force of his grief.
Buir…what have you done?
Xan turned in time for Vader's gloved fist to cave in his nose, knocking him back several feet. The Mando desperately tried to recover, but his opponent was furious. Never before had he felt such blatant, powerful hatred, either as Vader tore tiles off the floor and walls to chuck at his opponent, or as the Dark Lord dashed toward him with a one-handed blow that rendered his x-block useless. In fact, since his left arm was the first appendage impacted, it got the worst of the damage, and he looked in horror as it fell limp at his side, the joint partially reversed. It was then that he stumbled backward, vision blurry and reddened. The saber that had fallen returned to the hand of its master.
Xander clenched his teeth through the pain and continued his limping retreat outside. "You've lost," he hissed. "He will never be yours!" His eyes widened slightly as he realized exactly where he was standing, and although the doorway wasn't nearly as dark as he remembered, he knew very well that visions from the Force were rarely, if ever, crystal clear.
Xan smirked sardonically. Guess there's no waking up this time.
"Never is a long time, Mandalorian…like death. Tell me," Vader mocked, "how does it feel to know you're about to die?"
Xander grinned. "There is no death, shabuir, there's only the Force." He reached over to his left arm and painfully reversed the joint to the right direction, channeling the Force into the torn muscles and numbing the pain. His gaze returned to Vader. "In this case—" he fell into a ready stance, "I prefer the word 'sacrifice.'" Xander yelled as he sprinted at the Sith, the Force giving him an acceleration no one could match, his body becoming an armored blur in his final charge.
Vader's saber raised.
The glowing red shaft found the exact gap that Kell's knife had just hours before, bypassing the armor entirely and plunging through his chest. The smell of burnt flesh filled Xander's nostrils as agony tore through him.
But he kept pushing.
Another step, and Vader was forced closer to the edge of the platform. Invisible fingers closed around Xander's throat, followed by real ones as Vader choked the already ebbing life out of him. Xander bared his teeth and roared into Vader's faceplate as he triggered his jetpack in tandem with a Force Leap, catapulting both of them off the side of the platform into a 4000-foot drop.
The world around him slowed as Xander fell to his death, his grip around Vader's torso ensuring that the Sith would at least feel it. All feeling left him, and his vision grayed, the usual neon and lights of Nar Shaddaa dulling to a dim glow in the presence of what he saw. His eyes widened.
So…this is what dying is like for Jedi.
A small, sad smile came to his face as they fell from view of the cityscape, his eyes fluttering shut. I love you, Xel. I always will. Take care, my dear boy…
A sharp, unbearable pain tore through Xel. His eyes bulged, lungs stopped breathing, heart stopped beating. Everything in him halted for just a moment, yet that was all it took to confirm what he knew deep down. His father was dead.
As the ship jumped to hyperspace, all feeling left his body, and the contents of his stomach expelled a moment before he passed out.