The journey had been an arduous one. Grade Ardeen had always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as a boy, but his training had been a bit unorthodox. Training while on the run from the Empire with his father and mother had taught him how to wield the Force, but it was his time living with his father’s unlikely best friend, Iske Ahi, that had taught him how to survive and fight. As a Mandalorian, Iske’s training had been downright brutal at times. Grade had railed against it as a boy, decrying it as a path to the Dark Side since much of Mandalorian culture was based on violence.
As he got older, though, Grade came to see the Mandalorian culture as less about violence and more about honor. The ideals of the Jedi and Mandalorians were certainly at odds when you looked at them from the outside, but once you got down to the core of what each fought for, they became more in line than either side wanted to admit.
The Jedi sought peace and balance. The Mandalorians sought honor for their families, and honor came in many forms. Iske had taught Grade how to use the environment around him to survive. He’d learned farming, how to care for and domesticate animals to improve quality of life when there was no technology available. He’d learned how to care for others around him and to protect his assets through martial techniques.
His father had shown him how to feel the Force in all those things and draw strength from it at the same time as embracing the inner peace needed to focus. And yet, both men had the same basic lesson. Never start a fight…but always finish it.
That lesson now replayed in his head as he stood inside the Jedi sanctuary, alone in the wilderness, with only his still nascent command of the Force and his will to survive serving as his armor. His emerald lightsaber blade cut through the darkness and glinted off the black special ops stormtrooper armor of his foes.
Grade knew the armor well, as he had seen them all too often while being hunted by his father’s and Iske’s nemesis, Rhaze Durile. Grade had heard rumors that Inquisitor Durile was on the move following the deaths of Palpatine and Darth Vader. The Rebellion’s Intelligence network had revealed Durile was operating in the Outer Rim, but with no clear evidence, they didn’t have any resources to direct toward his advances while still dealing with the aftermath of Endor.
Without the oversight of the Emperor, the Empire had started to swarm like angry insects, with every Moff in the galaxy moving to assert their power. It was only a matter of time before Durile made his move.
Grade steadied himself. His curly close-cropped straw-colored hair was already damp with sweat from his heightened sense of anticipation. “You don’t belong here,” he said as he stepped into the single shaft of light coming from the planet’s moon at its zenith, which cast Grade in a brilliant shaft of light.
The lead stormtrooper lifted his weapon and barked, “Identify yourself!”
“You don’t belong here,” Grade repeated. The stormtroopers didn’t move and they were certainly not going to leave. They had come for the same thing he had…the artifact. He could feel it in the Force. A fight it would be then.
Grade called upon the Force to add speed and strength to his charge, then launched himself at his enemies. A hail of blaster fire surrounded him. Most of it was fire for effect, a standard tactic by the Empire that was meant to unnerve an opponent they meant to subdue, rather than kill. Grade had no doubt Durile had given these men standing orders for no prisoners, but a “Jedi Cultist” was always something Durile cherished, and trumped any orders he gave to kill.
It was an old tactic of the Imperial Inquisition. Capture a Force Sensitive if possible. Kill only when necessary, because a turned Force Sensitive was more valuable than a dead one.
Well, that was their folly. They weren’t just dealing with a Force Sensitive. They were dealing with someone who had been taught to fight by a Mandalorian. Grade pressed a button on the remote attached to his belt with his free hand while he batted away blaster fire with his saber hand.
There was a rumble, and then the ceiling came raining down on them.