Cuy’val Dar stared out the hole in the side of the Ravager, only a thin sheet of pure Force energy keeping the vacuum of space from sucking him and his companions out. A battle raged outside, the Sith snub-nose fighters and warships against the remains of the Republic fleet. He pulled off his gloves and bent to set the third of the proton charges that would blow this ship past the Outer Rim. Maybe they wouldn’t even have to face Nihilus; maybe they could just blow him away with his ship. Feeling weariness he did not want to acknowledge, Cuy’val muttered, “This ship looks like it should belong to Sion.”
Visas laid a hesitant hand on his shoulder, as though she could see his tired soul. Who knew? Maybe she could. “It did, Cuy’val. Sion commanded this vessel at Malachor V. He left it to my master when he came looking for you.”
The exiled Jedi looked up in mild surprise. “Figures. I’m sorry you had to keep company with those two.”
He finished carefully setting the charge and then stood; briefly squeezing Visas’ hand. Then he turned to Mandalore and said, “That was the third one.”
Mandalore pulled out his comlink, and Cuy’val found himself wondering why his mentor never took off his helmet. Was that part of the code of a Mandalore, or did he have a recognizable face? Cuy’val had learned much about the Mandalorians during the war, but he still had many questions. He hoped to have time to sit down with Mandalore and ask him more about his people.
Cuy’val’s opinion of Mandalorians as a whole had changed little since he left for the war ten years ago; he had always considered them a formidable force in battle, with a complex and intriguing culture. Now he had come to know the current Mandalore himself, and his respect for the man had grown every day. Not allied with evil, but not a shining pillar of lightside pacifism, Mandalore was the pinnacle of Mandalorian practicality and skill. His musings were interrupted by a painfully loud blast.
“What the hell was that? I told you to wait!” Mandalore roared into the comlink. Static and the cries of the wounded filtered through in response.
Finally they could hear the tinny voice of one of Mandalore’s lieutenants. “Mandalore… we have made contact with the enemy… and one of the cores has detonated prematurely.”
“Was it in the target zone?”
“No, Mandalore. We… have failed you. I offer you my…”
“Do we have another core?” Mandalore’s rage was barely under control; Cuy’val could tell by the way the hand holding his comlink shook.
“No, Mandalore. Even with the other two cores set in the ship, it will not be sufficient to destroy the vessel.”
Mandalore was quiet for a few moments as he calmed himself. “We need to find another proton core. Or we need to make one… all right, wait for my signal. This isn’t over. And don’t kill yourself before I tell you.” He muttered something that sounded like “Di’kut”, and Cuy’val suppressed a smile at the curse. Mandalore put the comlink back in his belt pouch and turned to Cuy’val.
“Well, you heard that. We need another charge.”
The exiled Jedi thought for a moment, remembering back to the last few groups of Sith troopers they’d fought. He had seen a missile bay somewhere. Yes, back in the hallway where they’d ambushed a group of poorly trained guards.
“We’ll have to go back to the missile room and try to unlock the one that we saw sitting in its bay. Do you think the proton core from that will be large enough for what we’re doing?” Cuy’val was a seasoned warrior, had fought in the wars and had spent many years on his own during his exile from the Jedi. Yet he could not help seeking advice from or double checking his plans with Mandalore.
The older man grunted. “Yeah, that oughta work.”
Cuy’val put his gloves back on and tightened up the Mandalorian armor he’d bought from Kex on Dxun. He motioned for his companions to join him, then headed off down the hallway of the ravaged Sith warship.
They were halfway back to the missile room when they met up with another group of Sith security troops. Mandalore opened fire from a fallback position, and Visas whirled between the Sith with her double yellow lightsaber blades. Cuy’val Force-jumped into the midst of a group of three Sith troopers, his powerful overhand swing cleaving one in half lengthwise and catching the other two with his backswing. The scrap was short; none of the trio had time to even work up a sweat before they were back on the path to the missile room.
“Nihilus doesn’t seem to care whether he has well trained troops around him or not,” commented Cuy’val as they turned down the last corridor.
“It’s true,” Mandalore replied. “We’re not encountering the kind of resistance I expected.”
Visas shook her head, her veil shifting softly back and forth. “My master has little awareness of his immediate surroundings; his eyes are on the galaxy at large.”
They entered the missile room. Cuy’val briefly studied the missile bay, then headed for the room’s main computer while Mandalore took advantage of the weapons workbench. Visas took up a guard position at the door, stoically standing watch.
“I’ll have to override the system; it should only take a moment,” Cuy’val said over his shoulder to Mandalore. He received a grunt in return.
When Cuy’val finished slicing, there was a sharp pop and a slow hiss as the locking mechanism on the missile bay slipped open. Mandalore and Cuy’val pulled the heavy proton missile out of its bay, then disassembled the outer shell and pulled out the proton core. Just as they were finishing the needed adjustments to the core charge, Visas stepped inside abruptly, softly closing the door with the Force. In the corridor, the companions could hear the footsteps of a Sith patrol passing through. When the footsteps faded, Visas looked out again, and signaled the all clear.
“Where is the fourth target site, Mandalore?”
“Starboard side, up near the bridge.”
They hurried across the open center of the ravaged Sith warship; there was little cover here and they were somewhat vulnerable. They knew of at least one patrol of troopers still out on the main deck. Reaching the corridor on the starboard side of the Ravager, Cuy’val went in first. Seeing that it was clear, the exile allowed Mandalore to lead them to the target site. Carefully Cuy’val set the charge and stood.
“Visas, can you show us the way to the bridge?”
The lovely Miraluka nodded and silently glided ahead of them in the corridor. When they had gone nearly a hundred paces, she stopped abruptly.
“What is it, Visas?” Cuy’val put a protective arm around her when he realized she was trembling.
Turning into his shoulder, she said numbly, “This door leads to my…cell. I had forgotten.”
“Any weapons in there?” grunted Mandalore, practical as always.
Visas pulled away from Cuy’val and regained her composure. “No, there are no weapons. It was a place where I could center myself from the agony on board this ship. I do not have pleasant memories of it. If there is time, I would like to center myself. There is a meditation chamber within my cell that I would visit one last time.”
“Of course, Visas, whatever you need to do,” Cuy’val replied.
Visas disappeared through the door, motioning for them to rest in the outer chamber. Mandalore sat down on the hard pallet that passed for a bed in this grim place and put his helmeted head in his hands, catching a moment of rest before they took the battle to Nihilus.
Cuy’val had hoped he would have time to ask Mandalore some of his burning questions, and now seemed to be the time. “How did you become Mandalore?”
“When our leader falls in battle, the most worthy takes his place. So even though your army killed our leader, it was only a matter of time before we chose someone new. I came to Dxun, and my reputation preceded me. After winning several honorable duels in the battle circle, I took Mandalore’s helmet as my own.”
“Who were you before you were Mandalore? I fought your people for years; I’m sure I would recognize your name.”
“This is as good a time as any, I guess. Sit here, boy.” He motioned to a place beside him without looking up.
Cuy’val sat, his surroundings and impending battle with Nihilus momentarily forgotten. Even thoughts of Visas were banished as he listened to Mandalore.
“Do you know what Cuy’val Dar means, Exile? The name you carry now.” The old warrior’s voice was hopeful.
“Yes, I chose the name myself. It means, ‘those who no longer exist’ in Mando’a.” He shrugged. “It seemed fitting, after the Jedi Council cut me loose. I was dead to everything, even the Force. I felt that I no longer existed.”
Mandalore nodded. “Good, yes. Though I too, saw the name as fitting, I wondered why you would choose a name in the language of your enemy.”
Cuy’val paused a moment. What does this have to do with Mandalore’s identity? “I had a Mandalorian name, Tracyn, to begin with. It was a source of grievance for some of my troops.” Cuy’val shook his head, banishing the bad memories. “The longer we fought you, the more I grew to know the Mandalorians and the Mandalorian culture and customs. And the more I knew, the better I was able to fight you, but I also grew to respect the Mandalorians. That probably sounds…weak, to you.”
“No.” Mandalore said simply. “That is the way of Mandalorians, to fight the worthy enemy and respect him. One of the reasons you felt that way, I believe, is because you are Mando’ad yourself.”
Startled, Cuy’val snorted in disbelief. “Impossible. I was a Jedi; Mandalorians don’t become Jedi. Next you’ll be telling me you’re my father.” Anger tinged his voice; he had not expected Mandalore to make fun of him.
He started to stand and walk away, but Mandalore pushed him back down roughly, speaking with anger. “Listen to me, boy. Your mother was the only woman I ever loved, and I would have been lucky to have been your father.” Then the fire went out of the warrior’s voice. “She…she took in a stranger, a wounded Jedi knight that had fled the war with Exar Kun. Our clan leaders saw her mate as weak and unworthy, and they cast him out when you were a baby. He took you to Dantooine, and Sa’lys died while I was away at war.”
Stunned, Cuy’val sat in silence. Mandalore continued. “Not everyone agreed with the clan leaders’ decision, but no one did anything about it.
“I was Canderous of Clan Ordo, then. Long before I took on the mantle of Mandalore, when the honor of battle and the thrill of death were all that mattered to me.” He turned his head toward Cuy’val then, and though he still wore the helmet of Mandalore, Cuy’val felt that he could see right through his soul. “Sa’lys was the one that named you Tracyn. Fire, in Mando’a. I’ve kept tabs on you from time to time, though I lost track of you after the war with the Republic.”
Cuy’val stood and paced the room. The information had him reeling. It made so much sense, explained his affinity for all things Mandalorian and his respect and feeling of kinship for Mandalore himself. It explained why he had a Mandalorian name and why it had felt so right to choose an ancient phrase in Mando’a for his exile pseudonym. He realized how hard it must have been for Mandalore— Canderous— to be with him when his very presence must have provoked bad memories and hard feelings. Turning to his mentor, his clansman, Cuy’val said quietly, “I know now what it meant for you to accompany me here, Canderous of Clan Ordo. Your trust honors me. I will strive to be worthy of my clan name.”
Mandalore nodded. “You have proven yourself many times over. Now, all that remains is for you to decide whether you will be Cuy’val Dar, exiled Jedi Knight, or Tracyn Ordo, Mandalorian warrior. Or perhaps even something more.”
Visas returned as Cuy’val was digesting the challenge Mandalore had thrown down before him.
“Let us continue. This is not my place any longer. Let it stay forgotten; we need to keep moving.”
The companions continued to the bridge, each lost in his or her own thoughts and memories. Cuy’val realized how distracted he had become, and resolved to put aside his newfound heritage until the battle with Nihilus was over. Then he would have more time to talk to Mandalore and figure out his place in the galaxy. For now, he turned his mind to the more immediate concerns.
They fought through the security troops on the bridge level with relative ease, meeting little resistance and arriving at the prow of the Ravager quickly. The cloaked form of Darth Nihilus stood alone, staring out of the skull-like mask at the infinite maw of space beyond.
Cuy’val took Visas aside. “You don’t have to do this, Visas. He is no longer your master; you have no obligation to go in there. Let me take care of this, let me protect you.”
“You are of the utmost importance, Cuy’val Dar. I do not say ‘My life for yours’ for no reason. You stay, I will go.”
The firm set of her full lips told Cuy’val that he would not be winning this argument. “Then we will face him together. As we will face everything, from now on.”
Visas nodded slowly and gripped his hand. It was hard sometimes for Cuy’val to read her expressions because she did not have eyes; but she seemed pleased and her mouth had relaxed. He touched her lips briefly with a fingertip and then strode out onto the bridge platform.
The soldiers in the bridge pits completely ignored the trio’s arrival, held in thrall by Nihilus. Busy with the dark apparition’s bidding, not one glanced up or gave alarm to the Sith Lord at the prow of the ship. Cuy’val did not hesitate. Lightsaber drawn and at the ready, he strode confidently up behind Darth Nihilus.
Turning with such speed that none of the veteran warriors had a chance to respond, Nihilus hurled dark Force energy directly at them. Forceless, Mandalore was stunned completely. Visas and Cuy’val fell to their knees in agony, standing again only after the great waves of pain passed.
Darth Nihilus began to speak to them. At least, Cuy’val was pretty sure that was what was happening. Cuy’val glanced quizzically at Visas and asked, “What did he say?”
“Nihilus has indicated that it is too late for the planet below; he is close enough to drain the Force from it.”
Cuy’val realized that Kreia must have contacted Nihilus somehow, drawn him to this place. Even after all the time he’d spent in the company of the old manipulator, Cuy’val was still somewhat surprised that she was their betrayer. Kreia had known he would be here; had known he would involve himself in a conflict between Republic forces and a Sith threat. It must be a diversion, to keep him away from what she was doing.
Cuy’val spoke calmly, as though to a skittish ronto. “Kreia lied to you, Nihilus. The planet below is already devoid of life, there will not be enough Force to sustain you. We have already placed proton charges on this ship. You will be destroyed before you can make it to the next Force-rich world.”
The odd sound again issued from the mask on the faceless nightmare. Visas shook her head. “He doesn’t understand…he thinks he will be able to survive the detonation.”
Cuy’val glanced at Mandalore, who was still in stasis. He knew instinctively that he would not be able to defeat Darth Nihilus at full strength, but did not want Mandalore to see him as a coward. He also had Visas’ life to think of. “Take me, then, Nihilus. Feed on me and let everyone else go.”
There was no time to react. With a mighty inhalation of breath, the Sith Lord began to suck the life, will, and energy from the exiled Jedi’s being. Cuy’val moaned in agony, but as suddenly as it had begun, the painful sensation ceased and Nihilus was the one on his knees.
“The hole, the wound you make in the Force,” Visas breathed. “He could not feed from you. You have irreparably damaged him.”
Cuy’val brought out his saber again and advanced upon the prone Sith Lord. Nihilus stood again and faced him, blade drawn. With Visas’ help, Cuy’val fought him back.
Even weakened, Darth Nihilus was a formidable enemy. In between blows he fed off his link to Visas, gaining strength and draining hers. Mandalore was released from stasis as Nihilus’s focus was shattered, and began to pump the black robe full of blaster bolts.
Sometime during the battle, Visas screamed and fell. Cuy’val stood over her body, holding Nihilus off. Mandalore continued to blast him, drawing the enemy away from his companions as Nihilus moved to attack the Mandalorian.
Cuy’val knelt beside Visas and took her limp hand. “Stay with me, Visas. Just hold on as best you can.”
Weakly she shook her head. “I can’t! He’s…too strong…for me…”
Cuy’val pulled her into his arms, helping her sit up. “Please. I need you.”
Cuy’val washed a wave of healing power over her and helped her stand, then returned to the battle. Mandalore was holding his own, having dropped his repeater and pulled out a vicious vibroblade. There were several deep slashes through Mandalore’s armor; but the veteran warrior did not seem to slow or even notice them. He continued to drive Nihilus back with Cuy’val’s help, blade and lightsaber whirling in an unstoppable dance of death. In a short time, the black-cloaked body of Nihilus lay at their feet, utterly defeated.
Visas came up next to them and looked at Cuy’val for a long time, apparently searching his face. Then she knelt beside the body of the fallen Sith Lord. “I need…I need to see his face,” Visas explained as Cuy’val watched her. “I have to see him with the Force.”
While the lovely Miralukan woman knelt there beside her former master, Cuy’val turned to Mandalore. The big Mandalorian had slumped against the bridge railing, apparently wounded and hurting badly. “Do you need healing, Mandalore?”
“Don’t bother…with me,” the older man growled. “The wound is…deeper than it looks, and you’ve got to get back to the shuttle. Set off the charges.”
Taken aback, Cuy’val knelt beside his mentor, the man who could have been his father. “Canderous, the Force lies in all living things. I have watched my people die, not knowing they were my people. I— I killed them myself. But you will survive.” Hot angry tears welled up in the young warrior’s eyes, but he would not let Mandalore see them. “You have been wounded before and lived, Mandalorian. Rise… many battles do you still have left in you.” He let Persuasion fill his voice, and prepared to heal the fallen warrior.
A chuckle escaped Mandalore’s helmet. “You… sound like Revan. At…the end. Do you know what she told me, in those last days on the Outer Rim?”
Cuy’val shook his head. There was a reflective tone in Mandalore’s voice that Cuy’val had never heard before.
“That the Mandalorian Wars were our…doom and that we had been…deceived. That it had never been our decision to wage war on the Republic. Revan said the Mandalorians…didn’t invade Republic space ten years ago because it was our choice. We were tricked… our entire people sacrificed as pawns… and never knew it.”
Cuy’val swallowed a lump in his throat. “What did she mean? That can’t be true.”
Mandalore ignored him. “She said there was a war coming. That it was waiting out in the Unknown Regions, in the dark, waiting for us to destroy each other.”
“A war? This war?”
“No, not this one— another one. More terrible…against an evil we couldn’t begin to comprehend… a war of belief, which had been fought for thousands of years.” The fire, the life, went out of Mandalore’s voice. “Revan went off to fight it…”
“And left you here.” Cuy’val finished.
“Revan…was one of the greatest military leaders in the galaxy…in history. She knew what she was doing. Revan was…my Mandalore.”
Mandalore groaned with pain, and he was having more and more trouble breathing. Cuy’val helped him lay down and asked, “That is what burns in your heart? Why clan Ordo was reborn? To prove Revan wrong?”
“The Mando’ade are many things, but never pawns, Tracyn.” Cuy’val thrilled to hear his real name spoken, instead of the painful reminder of past failures. Mandalore began to cough. “Take…my buy’ce. Finish what I have begun, bring kote, glory, to the Mando’ade. You have proven…yourself worthy…of the title of Mandalore.”
“What? I— After all—”
“Promise me. You may…you may have to fight for it…” Mandalore gasped. “The Mando’ade… worth it…”
Mandalore slowly pulled off one of his heavy gauntlets and took Cuy’val’s hand in a firm, fatherly grip. He spoke his last words in a strong voice. “Haat, Ijaa, Haa’it.”
Cuy’val repeated them. “Haat, Ijaa, Haa’it.” Truth, Honor, Vision. Their pact was sealed.
The last breath escaped the fallen warrior, and Cuy’val loosened the helmet that had hidden Mandalore’s face for all these months. He looked long upon Canderous Ordo’s features, vowing to honor the clan name he had never dreamed he had. He stood when he felt Visas’ loving touch on his shoulder.
They walked away silently, hand in hand; Cuy’val with Mandalore’s helmet in the crook of his elbow, Visas with Nihilus’ mask in her hand.
Cuy’val turned to Visas, a note of awe and wonder in his voice. “What…what was he, Visas? What did you see?”
Visas shook her head. “A man. Nothing more. What did you see?”
They headed for the shuttle, and Cuy’val detonated the proton charges remotely once they were safely away. The Ravager exploded in a furious ball of flame. Mandalore’s death pyre lit the surrounding space with a spectacular flare; a fitting funeral for a magnificent warrior. Cuy’val put the helmet on, breathing in the last essence of his mentor as he faced his future as the new Mandalore.