An even longer time ago, in a galaxy just as far away...
The heavy rains that viciously pounded the tent gave a constant, unpleasant reminder that Dxun was no hospitable place. One of the four satellites in orbit around the planet of Onderon, Dxun was often referred to as the Demon Moon. Its inclement weather, dangerous wildlife and violent history were among the reasons for this name. One attuned to the Force could also sense the touch of the dark side here, fell energies crackling in the air alongside the bolts of lightning that shot down from the sky.
The storm reminded Videte of where her journey began, on the world of Dromund Kaas, also known for its relentless rain and fierce predators. There, she had been made the Eye of Jadus and given a mission by the Dark Councillor himself- to discover the secret behind the man who had killed her master, the previous Eye. It had been almost a year since that fateful day, and only now had she discovered what might be her first lead.
In the initial months, Videte found nothing. The subject of her investigation had traveled across various corporate worlds in the Tingel Arm from Bonadan to Ziost, but almost every step of his journeys were documented. There were records of every ship he traveled on, every inn he stayed at, every item he bought, and all of it indicated that he was nothing more than a soldier who had left the military but failed to find a life elsewhere. Videte even began examining all the people he had come into contact with to see if there were Force-users among them, but there was no possibility for him to have partaken in any form of Sith ritual that would have given him the powers he possessed. For all her training and experience, her efforts were in vain.
It was only after she had decided to focus on her other duties that she found what she sought all this time. Videte had gone undercover on Iridonia, searching for information on the elusive Republic Shadow Guard for Imperial Intelligence when she heard the rumours. There were whispers of a Mandalorian warrior who had apparently learned to master the ways of the Force, challenging and destroying all his opponents with the strength of his mind alone. When Videte went to the Citadel to look further into this matter, the Sith had already sent an emissary, hoping to gain the allegiance of the Mandalorian, whose people often fought for the Empire. The emissary, a fully fledged Sith Lord, never returned.
While the defeat of Jedi and Sith at the hands of Mandalorians was not unheard of, this particular Mandalorian, Volen Farr, was nothing special a few months ago and suddenly not only demonstrated the ability to use the Force, but could easily kill opponents that would be a challenge for even the most experienced fighters. Videte knew this had to be connected to the man that murdered her master, and finding this Mandalorian would bring her much-needed answers.
"Sith! We found him!" a voice from outside broke her thoughts.
Pulling her shadowsilk hood over the mask that obscured most of her visage, Videte stepped out into the rain, coming face to face with a tall and broad man clad in Mandalorian armour. This was Keenu Vex, long-time member of Clan Vex and father of Tara and Talerus Vex, who also hurried to the centre of the camp along with their droid, an HK-50 assassin unit. Videte had run into Keenu and his family during her search for Volen Farr. They had also been hunting Volen; like all Mandalorians, they sought a worthy fight, though their motivation for choosing this particular target was more complex. They viewed his use of the Force as a perversion of the Mandalorian ways, and wanted Volen more than just defeated, but dead.
Though the Vexes were not particularly approving of Sith either, Keenu had worked with the Empire during the war and was willing to join forces with Videte. Though she was not as spectacular a fighter as many other Sith who focused on martial employment of the Force, she had managed to garner some degree of respect from the Mandalorians though their travels. Ultimately, this hunt had brought them to the jungle moon of Dxun, where it appeared that they had finally located Volen Farr.
"Statement: The target is located in a valley four kilometres west of our location," HK-50 elaborated.
"Good," Videte nodded. "Let's go. We can't afford to let him get away."
"All of us?" Talerus questioned her. "We're three Mandalorians, one Sith and one assassin droid. This doesn't feel like a fair fight."
"I'm not even sure all of us would be enough," she responded. "If Volen is what I think he is..."
"Declaration: We specialize in killing Force-using organics," the assassin droid boasted. "I am quite familiar with how to counter their abilities."
"Now's not the time to get overconfident," Tara joined in, speaking against her brother. "Charging in one at a time is just going to get us all killed."
"I'm not saying we charge in one at a time," Talerus rebutted her. "I'm saying we test his strength and if one of us can't handle it the rest of us will come and help."
"Your sister's right," Keenu shook his head. "Anyone taking him alone could be killed, and if he's as dangerous as the Sith claims, we can't afford to risk losing our full strength. We stick to the original plan. HK has the advantage of being a droid which means he's more difficult to detect for a Force-user. He'll take to the trees while the rest of us engage Volen. The Sith and I will get in close while you two provide us covering fire. If he's not distracted by the blades he'll be distracted by the blasters, and once HK finds a weak spot in his armour, he'll take the shot and finish it."
"I have been honing my aim with a sniper rifle on the native fauna of this moon," HK-50 assured them. "I will achieve deadly accuracy, master."
The rest of the group nodded to the plan, and like the coherent unit that the Vexes usually were, all moved out immediately. They trekked silently through the jungle- even if there was space for speeder bikes, the noise of vehicles would easily give away their approach, allowing their target to either flee or prepare for their arrival. The long walk felt even longer for Videte, who projected outwards confidence to match that of the Mandalorians but masked her true uncertainty of what lay ahead. The occasional disruption by Dxun's predators, small groups of Cannoks and at one point a Boma beast, were almost welcome. These proved easy kills for the band of experienced fighters.
As they approached the coordinates scouted by HK-50, Videte could sense a presence of the dark side stronger than the ambiance around Dxun. She was not like most others who had been trained as Sith; her weapons of choice were not hate and rage, though she knew full well how to draw upon the dark side where it was present. The energy she felt here was different- it possessed the power of the darkness, but none of its allure. It felt repugnant and repulsive, as if it was trying to push her away, as if it didn't want to be tapped into. She had heard of Jedi theories about the Force having a will of its own, a consciousness of the universe, so to speak, but she never had any reason to believe this was true, until now.
This feeling became almost overwhelming when they came upon the clearing they were headed towards. Even the Mandalorians seemed to know that something was off as their movements slowed to a more careful creep. Seeing a thick low branch, the HK unit grabbed it and hoisted himself up, finding a position among the canopy as he had been instructed. Meanwhile, the rest of them hid behind the trees, Videte doing her best to mask their presence using the Force. As they peered out into the clearing beyond, they could see a single man standing motionlessly in the centre of the area, clad in Mandalorian armour that had been painted completely black. Videte did not even need to cast her gaze upon him to know that he was the source of what she had been sensing. This was what she spent the past year searching for.
"We move as one," Keenu instructed through their private communications channel, built into the helmets of the Mandalorians' armour and fed through an earpiece to Videte. "When we're ready, Il lead the charge with the Sith, who'll try to keep any Force attacks off us. Tara, Taler- Talerus!"
The Mandalorian exclaimed as his son charged out into the open. Videte had focused all her attention on their enemy, trying to read him, judge his abilities, or get any idea on just exactly what he was. When she saw the younger warrior break formation, it was already far too late to stop him.
"Volen Farr!" Talerus shouted arrogantly, his voice almost as loud as the clap of thunder that followed. "I challenge you!"
He fired both his pistols, but the blaster bolts simply hung in the air, frozen in front of Volen's outstretched hand. He too stood immobilized as he slowly began to levitate upwards, hovering higher and higher above the ground. The others knew they didn't have time to formulate a plan to save Talerus; he would likely be dead before the idea even sprung to mind. Keenu was the first to run out after his son, drawing his beskad as he made for the black-armoured man. Videte followed behind him, a single, light-red blade of her lightsaber hissing to life as she sprang to her feet. Tara opened fire first before moving out, a few of the wild shots slamming into the chest of her target. He did not even budge as his armour absorbed the bolts.
Volen retaliated, reaching out with his other hand and sending a stream of lightning at the one closing in the quickest. Sensing the attack before she saw it, Videte quickly shoved Keenu out of the way with a telekinetic push before raising her lightsaber to absorb the crackling energy. Her blade managed to keep her out of harm's way, but the force of the strike was so great that she was knocked hard onto the ground. Assuming that their enemy was distracted, Tara took the chance to aim her rifle and unleash a burst of bolts at his neck. The black-armoured Mandalorian quickly focused his power defensively, forming a shield around himself that absorbed the blaster fire entirely.
Keenu and Videte took the opportunity to stand, but the powerful defense did not seem to use up as much of Volen's concentration as they expected. Branches began to break off from the trees around them, lashing at them while Volen's Force grip began to tighten around Talerus, strangling him so strongly that he dropped his weapons and clutched at his neck. The branches did little more to distract the three still standing, Videte having thrown up a similar shield while the beskar armour of the Mandalorians made the barrage of wood little more than an annoyance, though an annoyance that significantly threw off Tara's aim.
Keenu managed to unhook a grenade and toss it through the chaos, landing right before Volen's feet. He tried to push the grenade away from himself, but he was not fast enough. The weapon detonated in mid-air, shattering the Force shield, though not managing to harm its projector. The loss of his defenses allowed HK-50 to fire a shot which penetrated the elbow-gap in the armour of Volen's still-outstretched right arm. The limb jerked back instinctively at the hit then fell limp as the joint was disintegrated, and for a brief second he lost his grip on Talerus, who started falling to the ground.
But the enemy showed no sign of pain or fear from the injury, and almost as soon as he had weakened, his strength returned to him even greater than before. A massive shockwave rippled through the jungle and the trees shook, knocking the HK droid from his perch onto the undergrowth beneath. All except Talerus were hurled several metres back; the young Mandalorian did not move at all, once again held helplessly in the air. As the others regained their footing they watched in horror as his armour caved in on itself, crushing the man it was supposed to protect.
The battle cry of Keenu rang out in unison with the agonized screams of his son as the older warrior charged a second time. He did not make it far before a bolt of lightning shot down from the sky. Once again Videte attempted to push him away from harm, but this attack was far stronger than the lightning that came out of Volen's hand earlier. Caught by the blast despite the push, Keenu was thrown to the ground with jolts of electricity coursing through his armour.
A second bolt came for Videte, but the Sith was more agile than the heavily geared Mandalorian. Calling upon the Force to augment her abilities, she leapt to the side further than natural for a human, breaking the fall with a roll. Even then she only narrowly avoided the radius of the strike, which set fire to the grass on the spot she had been standing just moments earlier. While Volen focused on the two attempting to close in to him, Tara fired wildly with her rifle. Throwing the mangled corpse of his brother in front of himself as a shield, the black-armoured man avoided most of the shots, but one pierced between his left knee-guard and the plating that protected his thigh.
Dropping down on his wounded knee, Volen called down a third streak of lightning towards Tara. She attempted to jump in Videte's direction, imitating the Sith's earlier maneuver, but Videte knew that the Mandalorian would never make it. She reached out with her hands to assist by telekinetically pulling Tara to herself. As Tara landed next to her, they realized that they had made a grave tactical error when a fourth bolt came for them, seeking to eliminate both of them at once. Videte quickly raised her arms, gathering the power of the Force to form a protective shield around them.
The lightning collided with the shield in a spectacular flash of light. The Sith's last-minute defense served its purpose, but enough of the energy slipped through to knock out her Mandalorian companion. Videte too was rapidly fading out of consciousness, desperately using her pain to connect with the dark side and keep herself awake. She managed long enough to witness the HK-50 unit sneaking into the trees behind Volen. As the Force-wielding Mandalorian moved to finish off his Sith opponent, a blaster bolt tore through the side of his neck and his head jerked around. The assassin droid tried to fire again, but his sniper rifle was bent out of shape with a flick of the Mandalorian's one good arm.
A wave of lightning emanated from the still outstretched fingers of Volen Farr, electrocuting HK-50 and frying every system in the droid. The husk that remained collapsed to the ground, lifeless. The Mandalorian turned back to Videte, his head lolled to one side, his body hunched from all his wounds. The black of his armour was now trimmed with the red of his blood as he stumbled towards the Sith. Mustering the last of her strength, Videte activated a blade of her lightsaber with the Force, hurling it towards his side, where there was a gap in his armour. Before she could see whether the blow connected, she felt an invisible grip seize her neck, and then darkness ensued.
Videte only realized the extent of the damage around her when she woke. Almost the entirety of the clearing was blackened, with the occasional touch of colour from painted Mandalorian armour. Some distance beside her was the corpse of Talerus Vex, which had been brutally mutilated into a mess of metal, blood and flesh. To the other side, Keenu Vex stirred as he also began to come to his senses. Far away from her on the other end of the clearing, the charred chassis of HK-50 lay among the grasses which were in a similar state.
In the centre of the clearing, Volen Farr knelt beside Tara Vex, the gauntlet on his wounded arm removed. He pulled off the other Mandalorian's helmet before reaching to his belt, drawing a small vibroknife. Videte struggled to gather her focus and snatch the weapon from him, but to her surprise, the black-armoured man did not attempt to finish off his enemy; instead, he merely cut a gash down her cheek before moving the knife to his own wrist, slitting it wide open. He held his arm over Tara's face, allowing his blood to mingle with hers as if he were conducting some disturbing ritual.
Keenu sprung to action before Videte could, jumping to his feet and slicing his blade down, severing Volen's hand. The clearing was unusually quiet, and the thud of his body hitting the ground was audible despite the rainstorm around them. Videte stood as well, breathing a sigh of relief as she sensed the putrid energy fading with the life of the Force-using Mandalorian. Her relief did not last long.
As the darkness left Volen Farr, she began to feel it elsewhere within the clearing. It stirred within Tara, a wisp at first, but quickly expanding with each beat of her heart. She could hear silent cries of anguish through the Force as Tara's own life was devoured by this darkness pulsating throughout her body, as if it was seizing control of her. Could it be?
Videte had heard of Sith plagues, powerful weapons of the dark side that could spread from body to body, creating hordes of loyal minions or hideous monsters. The most infamous of those were the rakghouls, beings transformed into ravaging creatures by one such plague. The rakghoul plague certainly did not grant people the ability to use the Force, but Videte had no doubt that what she was dealing with here was something similar, but not quite identical.
Reaching to her side, Videte summoned her lightsaber into her open palm, activating the blade, "She's infected."
"What do you mean?" Keenu turned to her, the confusion in his voice clear even though his expression was masked by his helmet.
"There was something in Volen, like a disease," the Sith tried to explain. "It's what drove him mad and gave him his abilities, and now it's in your daughter."
"The blood," he came to the same conclusion. "If we get her to Onderon soon-"
Videte shook her head, "There's nothing doctors can do for her. No one even knows what this really is."
"Then we do what needs to be done."
As Videte raised her blade to strike, Keenu suddenly stepped in front of her, his beskad held defensively in front of his daughter.
"Not now," he stated flatly. "When she wakes up."
"What?" Now it was Videte's turn to be confused.
"I already lost one child to a foolish and dishonourable death. I won't have Tara suffer the same fate."
"You saw how difficult it was for us to defeat Volen. We can't possibly face her with the two of us!"
"She...she might not have her full strength when she wakes up. She might not know how to use her powers but she can still fight. She can still go down like a Mandalorian should."
"We can't take that risk. If she kills us, worse, if she infects us and this...thing is allowed to spread, it'll pose a risk to the Empire, the Mandalorians, all life in the galaxy. We have to end her while we still can."
"I won't allow her to be executed like this," Keenu stood his ground.
"That's not your call to make. I'm sorry."
The Mandalorian was strong, but the Force was by far a more powerful ally. Immobilizing Keenu as his son had been earlier, Videte pushed him aside and brought her lightsaber down across his daughter's neck, the searing weapon severing her head in one clean swing. As the darkness dissipated for good, she released her grip on Keenu, expecting the attack that came instantly for her, parrying it with her own blade.
"I had no choice!" she attempted to reason with the Mandalorian, sensing the grief and anger swelling up in him.
"I have no family," he countered as he struck again.
The pair exchanged a series of blows, Keenu advancing aggressively while Videte warded him off with her defensive moves. He was clearly the more experienced swordsman; as a Mandalorian warrior he had no doubt spent much of his life honing his combat ability while Videte had focused her studies on the stealth and deception aspects of the Force. These skills were more than enough to bring a quick end to this melee, but she would rather avoid using such tactics against the already enraged Mandalorian.
It did not take long for Keenu to break through her defenses, pushing her blade aside while arcing his down to swing at her legs. With the assistance of the Force she stepped back with unnatural speed, the beskad only managing to cut through her robes. The Mandalorian followed through with a skillful thrust which would have ended her had the Sith not activated the second blade of her weapon, twirling her saberstaff to deflect the blow and form a wall of bright red light between the two of them.
"This day doesn't have to end in more bloodshed," Videte used the brief pause to speak once again.
"One of us will slay the other," Keenu insisted. "Today, tomorrow, years from now, it matters not. You promised us glory but instead, you destroyed our family. Mando'ad draar digu."
Videte was not fluent in Mando'a, but she knew enough to hold a short conversation in the language, perhaps even enough to pass as a native speaker to an outsider. She understood the meaning of those words- 'A Mandalorian never forgets.' Here it acted both as a warning and a vow, telling her that Keenu would hunt her for as long as one of them was alive.
"Better to finish this now," he continued.
"If you insist."
Their blades clashed once more, plasma against beskar. Videte held her own for another minute, but she knew that she could not play the Mandalorian's game forever. Even with both blades of her polesaber active, she could barely hold Keenu at bay. When she seemed to find an opening to strike, it was always a clever lure set up by her opponent; her lightsaber would only strike his armour and do no damage while opening herself to attack.
Keenu was right. This needed to end here, but the only way Videte would emerge alive was to fight to her strength. Calling out to the Force to touch the Mandalorian's mind, she created a illusion of herself in front of him while she tapped her waist, engaging the stealth field generator that doubled as her belt. To be safe, she also shrouded herself in the Force, leaving herself completely undetectable- there was nothing of her to see, hear, smell, touch or sense. Keenu fell for the mental image of her as expected, slashing his beskad at the phantasm while the real Sith spun behind him, plunging her lightsaber through a gap in his armour. As the blade deactivated, the Mandalorian stumbled forward in a daze before giving a yell of pain and anger as he fell, clutching his side.
"Mhi partayli, gar darasuum," Videte muttered before delivering a fatal swipe across his neck.
For the briefest of moments, a wave of sorrow and pity swept through her as she felt Keenu's life snuffed away. She looked around her at the corpses that now littered the clearing, three of which had fallen against her blade. Three lives taken that she had been personally responsible for, as opposed to the single man and droid felled by the enemy she came to vanquish.
But as soon as the feeling came to her, it was gone. Her mission was complete; she had learned much about what she had been tasked with searching for and eliminated the most imminent threat. Due to the lives lost here, the Empire, if not the entire galaxy, was a safer place. Though these deceased may have been of value to the Empire in the future, their sacrifices were worthy considering what had been gained and what was prevented through their deaths. That was what really mattered. The fact that they died at her hand meant nothing.
She was a weapon of the Empire. An instrument of Imperial Intelligence. The Eye of Jadus.