The battleships loomed just above the planet of Mandalore, ready to strike at their enemy, positioned in the formation that could stop any ship from entering the atmosphere. The tactical display was somehow able to portray how deadly each ship was. Mandalore stood before many of his people’s clan leaders in the fortress-bunker that remained hidden from the enemy, staring at the tactical display.
‘Are you certain Relsor does not know about this hidden fortress?’ asked Clan Leader Emerick.
‘I am certain. I trust Clan Leader Talyc when he says that information was not accessed, not through his datapad, nor through his mind.’ Mandalore looked around. Talyc and the Jedi had not yet arrived, a few from Clan Kandera had, but most of the clan was absent.
‘This bunker goes deep underground,’ said Nriwe, who was sitting with Lashika, looking over a datapad, ‘I doubt even a Sith can search that deep into one’s mind.’
‘You’d think this place was a luxury hotel, the way it’s built and decorated,’ said Lashika. ‘No Sith would think at first glance this was a secret bunker. Just look around, its ancient architecture is marvellously beautiful.’
Emerick leaned over the two Twi’leks’ shoulders. ‘And what are the Life Day sisters looking at?’ he asked them.
Zaereg burst out laughing. ‘Life Day sisters? Because of their colours?’ The Cathar shook his head. ‘You need to be more original with your nicknames, mate.’
‘Hey, you’re lucky you’re even allowed on Mandalore, after some of the stunts you pulled.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Zaereg shrunk back into his seat.
Mandalore checked his chrono. ‘Have any of you heard news from Talyc and the others?’
‘A few of the other clans were still gathering some things,’ said Emerick. ‘My clan’s all here.’
Lashika raised a red hand. ‘Here and ready.’
‘I heard they touched down on planet a short while ago,’ said Nriwe. ‘Talyc and the others, I mean. They should be on their way.’
‘What’s the point of issuing an urgent message to gather at our secure fortress if everyone takes their time?’ Mandalore put his hands on his hips. ‘The enemy could be upon us now as far as we know. This is the most secure place we could be to devise a plan against the True Sith, but there can be no devising if all my clan leaders are not present for me to devise the plan with.’
‘They’ll be here,’ said Nriwe.
Mandalore looked at the tactical display of the Mandalorian blockade again. ‘I hope you’re right. If Relsor brings his superlasers, this is the only place that can protect us. And anyone out there…’ He left his thought unfinished. He knew the others knew what it meant.
* * *
The Sphere came out of hyperspace not far from the Mandalorian blockade. Master Usharr sat near Talyc and Fane.
‘And you’re certain you’re not Force-sensitive like Knarf is?’ he asked the clan leader.
‘Positively certain,’ Talyc replied.
‘It’s fascinating how you survived such an ordeal.’ Usharr genuinely looked impressed.
Fane smiled. ‘He had me to save his ‘hind…on several occasions.’
Talyc felt himself blush. ‘I don’t know what I would have done without you, Fane, to be honest.’ He looked back to Usharr. ‘Jedi Master Lian helped me heal a lot. He’s the one healing the Force.’
The Sith Master nodded. He seemed a cheery chap, aside from the fact he wore Sith robes, wielded a lightsaber, and possessed the ability to use the dark side of the Force. He was jovial with them and Shadie seemed to trust him.
Shadie and Knarf were whispering a little ways farther from where they sat. Knarf’s voice came louder all of a sudden, though it was still a whisper.
‘But can we truly trust him?’ he asked.
‘I sense no deception from him. He may be Sith, but there is a reason why he was so quickly overthrown and why he was mistrusted by many Sith. His heart is not pure evil and he is a genuine soul.’
Usharr smiled and the whispers died down again.
‘You did that with the Force, didn’t you,’ said Fane, scowling.
‘Just checking in,’ he replied. ‘Tell me, Jedi Fane, what is it I sense from you?’
‘I don’t know what you’re on about,’ said Fane.
‘There exists a triad in the Force. I sense you are part of it.’ Fane stirred uneasily. ‘I’m only curious, that’s all. I understand your preference to keep it secret from me.’
‘Well, it’s not a secret from Relsor anymore, so it doesn’t matter if the Sith Empire knows too,’ said Fane. ‘Lian and I can connect to Relsor’s malady and I can become him through the Force, take over his body.’ Usharr’s eyes grew wide. ‘It’s very taxing.’ Talyc took Fane’s hand.
‘I had heard rumours…’ began Usharr.>
‘How?’ asked Fane.>
‘My friend in the Dark Council. If I can reach him and plant some seeds, perhaps the Sith Empire can rescind on their alliance with the True Sith.’
‘And how would your friend know those rumours,’ asked Shadie, as she and Knarf returned to the group.
‘Because of a mutual friend of ours stationed on Relsor’s ship,’ replied Usharr.
Shadie smiled. ‘I know the very Sith you speak of.’
‘Small galaxy,’ the Sith master said.
Shadie lifted a finger to pause a moment. After a brief moment, she announced that the Sphere had navigated them through the blockade and had sent a coded message to the Mandalorians regarding their approach vector. Talyc was glad to be home; it had been a while. Besides, Mandalore’s message had seemed urgent.
‘So what’s the plan?’ he asked.
‘We see what Mandalore’s plan is, I suppose,’ said Shadie. ‘Then we try to figure out what to do and how we can help. Then we return to the Crypt and try to find whatever it is Relsor is looking for before he does.’
‘Oh, what’s this?’ asked Usharr.
‘Oh, just some ancient relic or something Relsor wants his hands on,’ said Knarf. ‘Apparently, it belonged to Kromus and he was trying to get us to summon Kromus’s spirit to find out where it is.’
‘That Kromus hid from him? That contains vital information that could change the entire galaxy? Information about Relsor?’
Everyone turned to look at Usharr. Talyc narrowed his eyes.
Fane spoke his very thoughts. ‘Something tells me you know more than you’re letting on.’
‘Because I do.’ Usharr sat upright. ‘Tell me, this relic, could it be a datapad of some sort?’
‘We don’t know what it is,’ said Shadie.
Usharr nodded. ‘I do. And I know where it is too.’
‘How?’ Shadie sounded eager.
‘I’m the one who hid it.’ Shadie’s jaw dropped. Usharr smiled meagerly. ‘Sometime after Kromus left to form his own faction, he came to me with a datapad. He had claimed he had not come to fight. He told me about Darth Gourd and he told me that this datapad had to be hidden. Gourd had tasked him to get rid of it, but Kromus wanted to keep everything that was on it. He told me to hide it, because if done so by someone other than him, then its secret location could not be extracted from him in the event he was probed for it.’ Usharr’s smile became somewhat sinister. ‘I hid it in plain sight, right where Kromus would never guess it was: the Crypt.’
‘So you’ve been there?’ said Fane.
Usharr nodded. ‘I don’t know what this datapad contains, I wasn’t able to slice it, but I know where it is. I hid it when Kromus was away, and he was none the wiser as to its location. In later years, he came to me in search of it and said it was vital information that now needed to be known. He said things had turned in a new direction, that the information was now of use. I told him I had hidden it in the Crypt. I wanted him to pay a price for its exact location, but he refused, thus I never told him where in the Crypt it was hidden. He must have shared the information with Gourd or kept a record of its existence, else Relsor wouldn’t have known it existed.’
‘Well, what do you know, the old Sith master is more resourceful than we had anticipated,’ said Knarf. ‘And Relsor knows it’s there, and now so do we.’
‘And you’re not just trying to get back into the Crypt?’ asked Fane.
Usharr shook his head. ‘If I tried, I know you’d all stop me, what with your powers and all.’ He smiled gingerly.
* * *
The Sphere landed planetside on Mandalore.
‘We’ll grab a few things and then head to the secret bunker,’ said Shadie. ‘We’ll have to meet back here, I suppose; Talyc’s the only one among us who knows where it is.’
‘It’s a clan leader thing,’ said Talyc. ‘Clan leaders and their most trusted clanmates know about it.’ He winced. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean… Nriwe knows its location and how to access it. She’s been a Mandalorian a lot longer than you guys.’
Knarf laughed. ‘Don’t worry about it.’
The air on Mandalore felt stifled and still, and there was an ominous aura about the place. It was strange; Fane had never felt this sort of energy here before.
‘It certainly feels like the brink of war,’ said Knarf. ‘Do you feel that?’
‘Let’s hurry,’ said Shadie, ‘we don’t want to linger around here too long. We’ve kept Mandalore waiting long enough.’
‘Yes, ma’am!’ Knarf turned to go and took his Lady’s hand.
‘We’ll meet you back here in a few,’ said Fane.
Shadie nodded to Fane as he and Talyc made their way in the opposite direction. Usharr followed Shadie and Knarf.
It didn’t take them long to reach the place and for Talyc to grab the things he needed: datapads, weapons, stims, medpacks. He loaded them onto a small hover-cart and headed out with Fane back towards the Sphere, the cart following behind like a monotonous pet.
Fane heard someone shouting from afar and right away recognised the hoarse voice of the lizard-like Dargoza.
‘So you’re not dead yet? That’s a shame!’
Talyc whirled to look in Dargoza’s direction. He shouted a curse in Mando’a and quickened the pace. However, Dargoza seemed intent on making trouble and he and his clan were on top of them in no time.
‘What have we here?’ said Wapita, approaching the hover cart.
‘Hey, that stuff belongs to Clan Kandera. Leave it alone!’ Fane put a hand on his lightsaber in warning. It had worked in the past, perhaps Dargoza would heed the warning again.
Dargoza got right in his face and clamped a scaly hand on Fane’s chest. The Trandoshan stared down at him. And then pushed him with such strength, one could have sworn it had been amplified by the Force, even though Dargoza was not Force-sensitive. Fane fell onto his back. Talyc stepped in front of Dargoza in warning.
‘Oy!’ Fane heard Shadie’s voice. ‘Someone’s got a death wish!’
Shadie, Knarf and Usharr hurried to Fane and Talyc’s side, as Fane stood up.
‘You stay out of this, Jedi,’ said Dargoza. ‘And you too, whoever you are,’ he added, eyeing Usharr up and down. ‘Not a fight for an old man. Not a fight for Jedi. This is a fight between Clan Leaders. A true Mandalorian feud.’
‘We’re part of his clan, Dargoza,’ said Fane. ‘You leave my man alone.’
Wapita burst into hysterical laughter. Dargoza chuckled.
‘Not much of a man if he needs his Jedi clanmates to keep him safe,’ laughed Wapita.
‘Mandalore has called all clans to the fortress-bunker and you choose to stall us with your pettiness?’ said Knarf.
Dargoza pointed a vibrosword in Talyc’s direction.
‘A duel. No Jedi intervention, no clan intervention. We settle this once and for all, and then we can all go about our business to the bunker. We fight until we come to a moot point or one disarms the other.’
‘And we’ll know if you Jedi are helping him. No Force powers allowed.’ Wapita spat on the ground. ‘Should have brought ysalamiri.’
* * *
Talyc sighed. Was this what it had come to? He was on Mandalore, his home, it should have been safe, he expected it to be safe, to feel safe. Yet the safest place he’d been was on Tython, and even there, he did not feel truly safe, not after what had happened.
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I agree to your terms. Now let’s make this quick.’
He took out his vibroblade and took a stance, eager to get this fight done and over with.
The two Mandalorian clan leaders circled each other briefly before beginning their duel, Trandoshan snarling and human grunting in aggression. Talyc managed a few fancy manoeuvres the Jedi had taught him, which he was happy to see had taken Dargoza aback, but the Trandoshan warrior was too strong and Talyc failed to disarm him. Dargoza laughed.
Talyc glanced to the side; Fane stood nervously, Shadie seemed as though she was scanning the area, and Knarf motioned with his hand. Talyc knew what his friend meant, to try one of his tricks. Talyc was nimble; he had that as his advantage.
Talyc rolled forward and kicked Dargoza in the back of his shin, sending him to the ground. Dargoza lifted his vibrosword and traced an arc in the air. It came crashing down next to Talyc’s leg. He saw Knarf wince. Talyc came up in a bounce and took a few steps back.
‘Come on,’ said Dargoza. ‘Kelbourn would have knocked me out already. He would be disappointed in you, Clan Leader.’
‘Don’t bring Kelbourn into this, Dargoza,’ Talyc snapped. ‘At least my family never gave me up or abandoned me. They died honourably. They were true Mandalorians, not Sithspawn like you.’
Dargoza grunted and took out a battle baton, extending it to its full length. This seemed unfair, but Talyc would manage, he had to. He wanted to represent his clan honourably. Yet, he knew if Dargoza disarmed him, at least the duel would be settled and Dargoza would have bragging rights. Talyc’s pride would suffer, but he could live with that, especially after what he had suffered at the hands of Relsor.
The Trandoshan came at Talyc, waving the baton about. Talyc ducked and shoved the vibrosword aside. He grabbed it with his hand at the hilt and yanked it out of Dargoza’s grip. Talyc tossed it to the ground, far enough from the fight; he could move better with one weapon than with two. Now the fight was fair again.
Dargoza yelled in protest in his language and pivoted. He grabbed Talyc and threw him up into the air. Talyc twirled and landed in a crouch, not as elegantly as he’d seen Fane do it, but it cushioned his fall, somewhat. He was beginning to feel bruised, though.
The two fought a while longer; Talyc noticed Dargoza closing in more and more and becoming more aggressive. Talyc attacked Dargoza’s hands, trying to make him drop the baton. Dargoza retaliated by shoving the baton into Talyc’s armour. Talyc’s beskar armour took the brunt of it, but he staggered back nonetheless, a bit winded by the sheer force of the attack.
‘Hey, you said, fight to disarm!’ Fane called out, taking a stance with his lightsaber at the ready.
Dargoza brought the baton up and cut to head. Talyc parried, crouching as Dargoza pushed further, holding their position.
‘You are not fighting according to your own rules, Dargoza,’ said Talyc.
Talyc managed to break free from the lock and rolled to the side, coming up in a stance ready for any type of attack now.
Dargoza grinned and whispered just loud enough for Talyc to hear him.
‘It’s a shame your armour has been fixed. That shoulder doesn’t seem entirely healed though.’
Talyc stopped. He did feel a cramp in his shoulder. It had healed, though the lingering pain from his ordeal at the hands of the True Sith would take even longer to heal. However, it was not his shoulder’s lingering pain that alarmed him.
‘How do you know about that?’ asked Talyc. Several people knew, but it wasn’t public knowledge.
Dargoza snarled. ‘That much dark side energy and lightning should have killed you. The honour now falls to another.’
Talyc’s stomach lurched, as the realisation came crashing down like a bantha in a sandpit. Dargoza had created a ruse to lure Talyc into fighting him in front of an audience; Dargoza meant to kill him.
Right away, Talyc took a defensive stance. Dargoza grinned, his teeth shiny and pointy. The Trandoshan whipped the baton about; Talyc defended himself. Next thing he knew, his vibroblade went flying out of his hands and onto the ground. He saw Fane stir. Dargoza had been quick, but that had not felt like the pull of a Mandalorian warrior; it had felt like the pull from the Force. Dargoza had help.
Talyc searched the area as he raised his hands in defeat, hoping the others would come congratulate their clan leader, which would allow Talyc to move away before Dargoza could attack him again. The Sith Usharr seemed to have a stern look on his face.
‘You win, Dargoza. You have disarmed me.’ Talyc looked nervously about, his hands up still up. Everyone’s gaze seemed distant.
Dargoza lunged at Talyc and the human fell onto his back. He cursed himself for not having put his helmet on as his head hit the ground hard. Dargoza placed his baton on Talyc’s throat and started pressing.
‘Why are you trying to kill me?’ Talyc managed croakily.
‘I have to, it is my duty. Scorekeeper will reward me for doing it.’
Talyc managed to push the baton away a few inches. He realised that Dargoza’s clan was blocking the view from the others, and wondered why no one was using the Force on Dargoza. He began to feel panic. What was happening? And why were his friends doing nothing?
‘I always knew you had it in for me,’ said Talyc.
Dargoza started choking him again with the baton. Talyc tried pushing it off. He saw in the corner of his eyes the others finally approaching. By this time, others from clan Kandera, and from other clans, had arrived on the scene. Talyc focused on keeping the baton as far away from his throat as possible.
‘Why now?’ Talyc asked hoarsely.
‘It’s either me or you.’
‘I won’t kill you, Dargoza. I never had the intention of doing so, no matter how much I despise you.’
‘No, but she will finish it.’
‘Who?’ Talyc’s eyes narrowed.
Dargoza was lifted into the air and started choking. He dropped his baton and put a hand to his throat. Talyc stood and looked at his friends. Their hands were by their side. Shadie shook her head, scanning the area with her eyes. Talyc turned back to Dargoza.
‘The Jedi are killing him!’ cried Wapita. ‘Murderers.’
‘He was trying to kill me!’ Talyc shouted back.
Dargoza looked at Talyc. ‘Miri…’ He fell dead as dread filled Talyc’s entire being.
‘Helmets off, everyone, now!’ He was frantic; his voice was hoarse. He coughed.
Everyone in Clan Kandera who wore a headpiece instantly took it off as soon as Talyc had issued the order. Other Mandalorians did the same. Dargoza’s clan stood staring at their dead clan leader and back at Talyc.
‘You killed a fellow Mandalorian!’ said Wapita, his jaw tight, expression unreadable.
‘Your clanmates need to remove their helmets,’ said Talyc urgently.
‘Most of us are aliens anyway, helmets don’t fit on our heads,’ said a Devaronian. ‘Look at us, you think we will obey an order issued by a murderous clan’s leader?’
‘There is a Sith among you; a Sith is present! A Mirialan!’
‘What?’ said Fane. ‘She is here?’
‘We don’t harbour Sith!’ Wapita retorted.
‘Then prove it!’ Talyc’s voice was firm and commanding.
The rival clan members reluctantly followed suit in taking their helmets off, except for one. Talyc whipped his head to look at the armoured being’s slim and tight-fitting silver and green armour.
‘Jassahmi!’ he said, hatred in his voice.
He heard a snap-hiss and Fane jumped into the air, shouting in anger, and came down on Jassahmi who used the Force to push him away from her. Before he could recover, she had used a speed none had seen before and was out of sight. She had run away.
‘Stang!’ said Talyc. ‘Sithspawn!’
‘Something doesn’t fit here,’ said Usharr. ‘One minute the duel is going well, next thing the Trandoshan’s on top of you trying to kill you.’
Knarf shook his head. ‘No, Talyc won the duel fair and square.’
‘What?’ Talyc said slowly. ‘That is not how the duel went at all.’
Shadie closed her eyes, looking pained. ‘We didn’t see what was happening.’ There was sorrow in her eyes when she opened them again. ‘We all saw different illusions.’
‘That’s why you didn’t intervene sooner,’ said Talyc. He gulped. ‘He’s here on Mandalore, isn’t he? Is all this even real?’
Usharr was motioning his hands through the air. ‘I’ve created a temporary barrier that will follow us and will hold long enough for us to reach your secret bunker. But it is only temporary. My powers aren’t up to par to elude such Force illusions.’
Fane stood panting, his lightsaber still humming, held out at his side. He let out a loud, angry sigh.
‘She took you,’ he said, staring into the distance. ‘She brought you to Relsor. And they almost just killed you, using Dargoza as their tool.’ Talyc walked to him. Fane stared back at him; he powered off his lightsaber. ‘She took you away from me.’
Talyc took Fane’s face in his hands. ‘That’s in the past now,’ he said. ‘I’m here with you. You’re here to keep saving my life. The Force protected me, even though there was an illusion happening. No one’s going to take me away from you again.’
Fane closed his eyes; Talyc could almost feel his anger. He was not Force-sensitive, but ever since he had begun his healing, his connection with Fane had grown a bit telepathic. Fane had the power of the Crypt, and thus used the Force to allow Talyc to feel him, since Talyc existed within the Force. In this way, they could subtly feel each other in the Force. Talyc also knew his man well.
‘Is your anger truly towards her?’ Talyc asked. Fane sighed, shaking his head. ‘You need to forgive yourself, Fane. None of this is your fault, nothing that happened was your fault.’ Fane looked up at him. ‘I love you. You’re my man, and I promise you, nothing is taking me away from you ever again. Let us focus on healing, and on what’s happening now.’
‘What’s happening now,’ began Wapita, ‘is that there’s been a Sith among us and Dargoza is dead. She duped us all.’ Talyc and Fane turned to Wapita. ‘Dargoza recruited her some time before Darth Gourd attacked Mandalore.’
‘That’s a long time ago,’ said Knarf. ‘Relsor truly had everything planned out, didn’t he?’
Wapita turned to his clan. ‘As was decreed by Dargoza, in the event he should die, I am now the new clan leader of Clan Dargoza. Clan Kandera is our witness that I fulfil our leader’s wishes upon his death.’ Wapita turned to Talyc. ‘You exposed the truth to us. You have our gratitude. As much as it pains me, we are Mandalorians who respect our traditions. As the new leader, Clan Dargoza extends a hand of respect to you, Talyc Kandera.’ Wapita held out his hand. ‘This doesn’t mean I like you, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to punch you every time I see you, and it certainly doesn’t mean we’re friends.’
‘Same goes for me,’ said Talyc. ‘To that effect, Clan Kandera accepts your hand of respect.’
‘Very well,’ said Wapita. They shook hands. ‘Now if you’ll excuse us. I rather not have to be in your presence if I don’t have to. See you at the bunker.’
They picked Dargoza’s body up and walked away. Talyc turned back to Fane, who was still holding his lightsaber.
‘The Force needs my healing, remember? I need you to forgive yourself, Fane.’
‘I’m going to kill him,’ said Fane. ‘I swear, I’m going to kill Relsor. I hate Jassahmi for the part she played in all this. I hate her, I hate him, I hate…myself.’ He broke down and began to cry. ‘I returned to the Order because I thought I was ready. I feel as lost as I felt during my exile. I can feel the dark side swelling inside of me.’
‘Then you have to face it,’ said Shadie. ‘I can guide you.’
‘I thought you weren’t my master anymore,’ said Fane, trying to smile.
‘No, but I am your friend.’ She hugged him. Fane wiped his eyes.
‘Oh, Fane, my man, what am I going to do with you?’
‘Oh, I’m sure the two of you could think of a few things,’ said Knarf. He smiled teasingly. Fane and Talyc laughed.
‘Well, at least now Jassahmi’s exposed herself. We need to find her,’ said Shadie. She and Knarf began walking, others followed.
Fane took Talyc’s hand. ‘Talyc,’ he said, ‘I’m sorry. I froze. I sensed Dargoza was trying to kill you and I thought it was a brawl of some sort, but then when I realised he might kill you, I just froze. And that was before the illusion. I felt shattered, powerless, I felt…’ Realisation came to his face. ‘The dark side. I felt him and I didn’t recognise him. How can I destroy him if I can’t…’ He turned and hurried to catch up to the others. ‘Relsor and Perce are on Mandalore!’
‘Well, if the illusion wasn’t a clear indication,’ said Shadie, ‘mild and short as it was. He’s definitely lurking somewhere, probably in his ship.’
‘I felt him, I felt his malady. That’s why I was powerless to save Talyc. Even before the illusion. He’s not just nearby, he’s here, planetside, and so is Perce.’
‘What I don’t understand is what are they doing on Mandalore?’ said Knarf.
‘Beats me, but the Mandalore needs to know,’ said Talyc. He turned to Fane. ‘Fane, you’re not powerless. You are so much more powerful than you give yourself credit for. And you’re my man.’
Fane squeezed Talyc’s hand. Together, they took the lead and hurried towards the fortress-bunker.
“Protectors of the Force” is written by Celinka Serre (2021).
Disclaimer: The Characters in this Fan-Fiction are new and have original names. The story is an original written work. The story is derivative and consistent of Fan-Fiction since it borrows the franchise world of Star Wars. Certain jargon and places, or concepts mentioned, along with the SW Old Republic universe belong to Lucasfilm Ltd. and Disney. No characters or story lines from the films are used. No story lines or characters from the games or books are used. A handful of characters from the games may be referenced, but are not the main focus in this fanfic story. This fan-fiction story falls under Fair Use.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.