Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

The Road to Rediscovery
Part 31 - Mandalore the Preserver

Heat and humidity pressed at Canderous through his thick armor, but it did not faze him. Complaining of discomforts was a sign of weakness, and he had long since shut weakness out of his life, long before even his test at thirteen years old, Canderous was wholly Mandalorian and wholly strong.

He grew up into what the Republic called the Mandalorian Wars. He gained honor and renown in battle. He crushed his opponents and lived out to the end of each day. He became a strategist and commander in Mandalore's armies for Clan Ordo, and they swept through the galaxy with unchecked victory.

Then Revan entered the battle, bringing with her only a handful of Jedi. The other Jedi were inconsequential next to Revan. Her decisive and bold strategies had the same subtleties, the same flexibilities as the Mandalorians. Canderous eagerly looked forward to the day that he would be considered worthy to lead and assault against Revan, knowing that that day would probably be his last. The glory and honor of fighting on the same battlefield as such an enemy was worth whatever the cost.

And then Revan and one of her top Jedi generals lured the bulk of the Mandalorian forces to the taboo world of Malachor V. Revan met Mandalore the Ultimate in single combat on the edge of the battle and emerged victorious. It was a duel that none could contest. And then, with Revan still far from the front lines, her general unleashed the most terrible weapon the galaxy had ever known. They called it the Mass Shadow Generator. Canderous did not know how it worked, nor did he want to know, but the aftermath of its power still remained in orbit around Malachor V, a floating graveyard around a dead world. It destroyed nearly everything, even much of the planet. Mandalorian ships imploded, Basilisk War Droids shattered, Republic Cruisers burned. Millions upon millions of warriors died that day.

Canderous could not count himself lucky to have been held in reserve on the edge of the battlefield. As his comrades died in the vacuum, he remained unscathed. It fell to him and the few remaining Mandalorians to take the surrender and call the war to an end. They faced ultimate shame at the hands of the ever-compassionate Jedi and Republic leaders. The clans would not be killed, finishing the job. They would not be imprisoned. They only would be stripped of their armor, their weapons, their war droids, and thereby, their honor. Left with nothing, the Mandalorian Clans were broken and scattered, left to be wandering thugs for hire.

Worse yet, Revan's carefully calculated war plan did not end with the war. She knew that felling one Mandalore would only leave another to rise up in his place, so she took the one think that assured that would never happen again: Mandalore's Mask. She had the Republic hide it away from the Mandalorians so that the clans would never be united again under one leader.

Canderous, ashamed as he was of it now, fell into the trap that so many Mandalorians did after the war, of becoming muscle-for-hire. He worked a number of jobs, eventually ending up on Taris, employed by the local Exchange lord, Davik Kang. Like most other jobs before, he found Davik's work without challenge or stimulation for such a great warrior and strategist as himself. Crushing Davik's rivals or extorting credits from his debtors brought neither glory nor honor. It rarely even brought battle. Most of the spineless lower-city types would spill out their pockets the instant Canderous showed up with his repeating blaster rifle.

The galaxy erupted into war again, but this time the Mandalorians stayed out of it. Revan and her trusted second Malak returned from the unknown regions as changed, dark Jedi. They attacked the Republic without warning, catching Republic leaders off-guard. Revan waged a calculated, devastating campaign against the Republic. Eventually, Malak became discontent at his position as only her second, and fired on her ship in the middle of a battle against the Republic. It was a cowardly move, unworthy of any warrior. He shot at her when she was distracted, when she trusted him to hold his part in the battle. Malak should have fought her in single combat and challenged her leadership openly, but he must have known he could not have won that way. Any respect Canderous might have had for Malak was shattered that day. He was an honorless usurper. Although Malak escaped that battle, becoming the leader of the Sith, Revan did not, and the Republic won the day. Malak sacrificed that crucial battle for his own gain.

Canderous watched all of this from the sidelines of his mercenary work. He admired Revan's strategies and reviled Malak's. There were days when he longed to rejoin the war effort, on one side or the other, but he could not. A Mandalorian without his armor, without his honor, had no place on the battlefield.

But then Revan returned to the scene again, as a Republic soldier by the name of Evrue Pell. Canderous did not recognize her at the time, and she did not even know it herself, but Ev quickly proved to be one of the sharpest humans and keenest warriors the Republic had ever seen. Canderous should have recognized her for what she was immediately, except that Revan was supposed to be dead.

With Ev's help, Canderous stole Davik's prized ship, the Ebon Hawk and fled the Sith blockade of Taris, just as Malak decided to bomb the planet into oblivion in a desperate search for Bastila Shan, who had fallen to the surface from a recent battle overhead. They escaped with Bastila, a Republic Lieutenant named Carth Onasi, and two more hangers-on from Taris: a Twi'lek kid Mission Vao and her Wookiee friend Zaalbar.

Ev was ‘discovered’ to be powerfully sensitive in the Force, and so they went to the secret Jedi training enclave on Dantooine. Canderous went along, as he had no other place in mind to go, and Ev did not seem to mind having him along, whatever Carth or Bastila's objections might be. Then the Jedi commissioned Bastila and Ev to seek out the secret to the Sith's power. They followed clues—star maps—from planet to planet until they finally came to the Sith's super space station and weapon's factory.

The Star Forge supplied all of the Sith's new ships, fighters, armor, weapons, and droids. It was an ancient Force-powered space station built by an all-but-extinct race, the Rakata. Ev infiltrated the Star Forge, faced Malak in one-on-one combat as it should have been long before and emerged victorious. With the help of the Republic fleet, the Star Forge was destroyed.

Then there were the endless victory parties and tours for these heroes. It was bad publicity for a Mandalorian, to be seen on the Republic side of the war, even if it had been the winning side, fighting alongside Revan. Canderous slipped away from the tours as quickly as he could.

But he could not find is place in the currents of the galaxy again. Traveling with Revan had changed him. Her high morals yet complex motivations were disorienting to the values of anyone her influence touched. He tried to work for the Exchange on Coruscant again, but found even less satisfaction in it than before.

He had fought alongside Revan. Nothing could be as glorious again.

And then she came to find him again. Memories were returning. The line between who she was before and who she was then was becoming increasingly blurred. She suspected that there had been something more behind the Mandalorian Wars, and wanted to know what Canderous knew about it. Admittedly, he knew little, but he had heard the rumors of a deal with the Sith. That was all she needed to hear, setting herself on an obsessive quest to discover the truth of the suspicion.

She returned to him again, this time with the knowledge every Mandalorian hoped for and yet lost hope of years before. She knew where the mask of Mandalore was kept, and she wanted him to retake it. She wanted him to become Mandalore and to reunite the clans.

So, with her blessing, Canderous went with two of his new-found Ordo brothers on Coruscant, to the Republic Military outpost on Ruac II. They sneaked in and stole the mask. They stole weapons and armor, things they would need to rebuild the clans together. The Republic never saw it coming. And, thanks to the brilliant tech work of Zuka and a couple of high-end stealth field generators, the Republic did not see it going either. As far as Canderous knew, the Republic still did not know that their vault had been breached and that Mandalore's mask was gone.

Canderous was now Mandalore. Few of even his closest brothers in Clan Ordo knew who he truly was. He rarely took off his armor or his mask, even at night. Canderous’ association with Evrue Pell was widely known. It could produce some interesting politics among the Mandalorians if they knew that it was Canderous Ordo behind the mask. There was no place for politics among the Mandalorians, so he would avoid such a thing at all costs.

He traveled the galaxy following rumors of recent strongholds of Ordo warriors, where they gathered and hoped for a better future. He sought out names of old friends he knew must still be alive somewhere. Little by little, he gathered Clan Ordo back together.

He made his base on Duxn, the jungle moon of Onderon. It was perfect for his purposes. The jungle tested his warriors. It kept them on edge. It made them respect the cycles of life and death and strive to win over them. Duxn was also the sight of one of the bloodiest battles in the Mandalorian Wars. The hollowed-out hulls of ships and occasional skeletal remains of soldiers from both sides of the war were a constant reminder of what they were once and what they could be.

The old outpost in the jungle had once been used by the Mandalorians as a command center for their war efforts on Duxn, and now they would use it again, not for war, but for training and preparation. Many of the Mandalorians had fallen far from their peak conditioning of the wars, of the glory days. Here, Canderous would whip them all into shape and into readiness for the day that Ev returned to the Republic and called for the aid of the Mandalorians.

Canderous surveyed the grassy field of their enclosed fort. Mandalorians in cobbled-together suits of armor sparred and trained. Others worked hard at the outposts defenses. This place was the start of something new. He was the start of something knew. He was Mandalore.

There were already a number of young Mandalorian clansmen who had never even had the chance to fight in the wars, but jumped at a chance to become what their forefathers had been. They were the least disciplined of his men—barely warriors at all.

Canderous' own armor looked hardly any better than the rest of them. It was salvaged from what they found at the Republic outpost. Canderous opted against the bright colored Neo Crusader armor. As Mandalore, he could not look the same as the rest of the Mandalorians. Unfortunately, there were very few samples of generic Mandalorian armor to be had. Silvery gray spiked pauldrons capped off a red breast plate. His leg armor was even darker red, while blackish-gray armor was fastened around his arms. On his head was the helmet of Mandalore, and he finished off the outfit with a garish red cape. It hadn't been his idea but Kex insisted that Mandalore needed a cape. Mandalore the Ultimate and Mandalore the Indomitable both were rarely seen without capes.

The cape tugged in the jungle breeze on his shoulders. It was another irritating inconvenience he tried to ignore. He watched clouds roll in from the north over the jungle and waited.

Right on time, Bralor and Kelborn approached his administrative building from around the corner. They walked tall and upright in their bright Neo Crusader armor, with the pride in their bearing that Canderous hoped every Mandalorian would soon learn. Though there were a number of other men at camp with red or yellow armor like theirs, Canderous could always recognize these two by their bearings.

“Kelborn reporting for duty, Mandalore,” he said, stopping crisply before his leader. Kelborn wore the red armor that he had managed to salvage several years back from a war-deserter and kept it hidden for the day when he might need it again. The day Canderous found him working as a scout on Duros was the day he had been long waiting for. He needed no urging to don his armor again and regain his honor as a Mandalorian again.

“Bralor reporting for duty,” Bralor added. His armor was the bright yellow of a field marshal in the Mandalorian armies. He was older even than Canderous and had been higher ranking during the wars. Somehow, he too had survived the final battle at Malachor V. This trip today was his idea.

“Alright then, let's move out,” Canderous said with a crisp nod, and headed out across the lawn towards the hangars to their shuttle.

Bralor had been present in the early war, when it had first started. He had been on the committee that cast out a false Mandalore in order to follow the war path of Mandalore the Ultimate.

Now, Bralor had his doubts. Mandalore the Ultimate won that contest unfairly, and now saw with the clarity of hindsight that outsiders had been involved in Mandalore the Ultimate's victory: the Sith. Immediately after he assumed the title of Mandalore, he initiated their campaign of war against the Republic and all of their aligned systems.

Most importantly, Bralor remembered where Mandalore cast out the 'false' Mandalore and his followers; to the fourth moon of their home planet Mandalore, Haranarpat. If they were still alive, this whole clan of cast-out Mandalorians would be among the best allies Canderous could hope for. He needed to begin reaching out beyond Clan Ordo, and this seemed to be a powerful place to start.

They boarded the shuttle and Kelborn took the pilot’s seat with Bralor at his right. Canderous was content to ride behind and bark out orders whenever he thought it appropriate. Thus was the position and privilege of Mandalore.

The journey was not a long one, ten hours at best, but most of it was spent in silence between the men. Bralor briefed them on what he could remember of the struggle and of the exiles. Although many of the 'false' Mandalore's clansmen followed him into exile, so did others from other clans who believed that it was better to cast in their loyalty with him than with a usurper.

They dropped into the Mandalore system and skirted around the edges of the planet sensors. They did not need to confront any of the Mandalore government just yet. Canderous needed more allies before that day would come. They skirted around its orbit to the dark, fourth moon. Haranarpat was small, but its gravity pull was strong from its heavy metal core. Like his own home planet of Ordo, the moon's greenery was concentrated only in a wide belt around the equator. The exiled clan, if they still existed, could only be living there.

“Bralor, prep the scanners for signs of life,” Canderous ordered, “begin your scans as soon as we are through the atmosphere.”

“Understood,” Bralor replied crisply and set to work.

Kelborn continued to pilot his course deftly in silence. They rumbled through the atmosphere in their old, rickety shuttle, but it held together as well as it always did. Kelborn brought them lower and began flying a circle around the moon's center life belt.

“I've got something here, Mandalore,” Bralor announced after nearly half an hour of flying. “I think we've got people down there, ten clicks ahead.”

“Then bring us down, Kelborn,” Canderous ordered. Bralor was never wrong on things like these.

Kelborn found an open clearing in the scattered low brush of the forest, though it could hardly be called a forest. The trees were hardly taller than a man, low and gnarly with blackish-green evergreen leaves. It made ground visibility tough and gave plenty of cover for scouts and sentries. If there were Mandalorians here, Canderous knew that there would be scouts on them already. Their own bright colored armor would make easy targets of them, and that was part of the idea. Canderous wanted to talk, so he wanted to be seen. All the better if he got shot at and could shoot back at them. That would prove his honor and prowess as a warrior.

The three of them disembarked from the ship and locked it up tightly with all the security systems live. If these Mandalorians had been exiled here for decades, they would be eager to steal any form of transport to get off the moon and finally rejoin society. They might not even know of how the wars had turned out.

Kelborn wanted to lead the way as protection for Canderous, but Canderous would not have it. Mandalore would lead them, with all of the pomp of his ridiculous red cape and bright brassy mask of Mandalore. They would see him and know who he was. Mandalore did not cower behind others for protection like other leaders of the galaxy. He had his weapon ready in his arms. He might look like a walking target in all of these bright colors, but he would not make it easy for them.

Through the darkened visor of his helmet, Canderous caught sight of movement ahead.

“Mandalore,” Kelborn warned lowly, “There's someone up ahead.”

“I see him,” Canderous rumbled back. “Let's go say hello.” He continued at his same, brisk pace, without veering in his path or slowing. So they are still here after all these years. Good.

More movement in the low brush ahead identified at least six more warriors, all behaving like well-trained Mandalorians. “Weapons at the ready,” he warned into the private helmet channel between the three of them.

Suddenly, there was a yell and a gun fired. It went wide of their group, an intentional shot to scare them off, but Canderous would not be deterred. He leveled his blaster rifle at where the shot had come from and let off a volley of shots. There was another cry, this time a death rattle, and the other guns all ahead of them opened up in fire.

Canderous blazed forward into the denser trees, placing each of the six remaining attackers in his head. Bralor and Kelborn took to the bushes for cover and sniped off attackers one at a time. Canderous felt shots ricochet off his armor and the thrill of battle overtook him. His determined, plodding charge into the middle of his opponents was a daring move, but it proved his determination and bravery. He trusted Kelborn and Bralor with his back.

Soon enough, Canderous was right on top of the front line of their little group. They were Mandalorians alright, though they lacked the colorful, streamlined armor of Neo Crusaders. Their personalized armor spoke of an era before the Neo Crusaders. These were the soldiers he was looking for.

With a roar and flash of his cape, Canderous lunged forward at the man nearest to him. The man flinched, giving time for Canderous to shoot him through the sensitive gap in the armor at his neck. Not waiting a moment to see if he was dead, Canderous rounded on the next nearest attacker. Soon, he too was dead.

It was not long until all seven of the advance guard were dead. Canderous suffered a grazing shot in the gap in his armor on his upper arm, but he had had far worse. Kelborn and Bralor seemed to have escaped mostly unscathed. If they had been injured it all, neither would admit it.

They left the dead behind them and continued as they were through the scrub forest belt. Up ahead, there was movement again. This time, it was a figure jogging towards them. Canderous stopped and trained his weapon on the approaching man. Kelborn and Bralor followed his example. The man, also armored from head to toe in silvery gray Mandalorian armor skidded to a stop in an opening in the small trees ahead of him. He raised his hands to the sky and called, “Peace, brothers. Who are you and why have you come for us after all this time?”

Canderous lowered his blaster rifle but his two companions did not. “I am Mandalore and I am here to call for support of this exiled clan. I come to bring you back out of exile,” Canderous announced, stepping forwards towards him. “Take me to your leader, messenger.”

“Mandalore would want to see you then,” the messenger in silvery-gray said, lowering his hands, “Come with me, 'Mandalore.'”

“Lead on,” Canderous replied, and motioned to Kelborn and Bralor to lower their weapons. Again they fell into step behind him as the old Mandalorian guided them through woods.

The scrubby trees gave way to broader clearings and to small huts built up out of the gnarled wood, forced into woven walls. There were several guards in old, but well-kept Mandalorian armor around the perimeter. If they really were the first guests to the moon in all of these years, the vigilance of these guards on the small settlement was impressive. The true ethics of proud Mandalorians even in Exile. Canderous liked them already.

Mandalorians scrutinized them through darkened visors and unarmored men, women, and children of the village watched them pass with curiosity. Some acknowledged their presence with looks of respect while others seemed to harbor bitterness.

Locked up on this barren rock for this long without a transport for this long, I'd be bitter too, Canderous thought.

Finally, their guide led them to the largest of the gnarled huts in the center of the settlement. Here also were two more guards at the door. The first real sign he had seen of technology beyond weapons in the settlement were two large antennas protruding from the roof of the hut. This must be the home of their leader.

The two guards watched their movements carefully the three outsiders as they passed trough the doorway and inside.

The hut was lit with gentle glows, hardly enough to read or work by, but this was not a place for work. On the far wall was a wide bed frame piled high with blankets. The figure of a slumped man lay propped up on several pillows. Although he lay in bed like a weakling, his posture fought to appear alert and his gaze followed them as they approached through the visor of a polished black helmet.

“Dar'mand'alor,” the guide announced with a respectful bow and hand to his chest, “This man has come to us via shuttle. He claims to be Mandalore, here for our alliance and to bring us out of exile.”

“And why should I give my allegiance to another pretender?” an old voice rattled from beneath the helmet.

“Dar'mand'alor,” Canderous stepped forward, closer to the bed. “Mandalore the Unknown?”

“Unknown and unseated by that pretender 'Mandalore the Ultimate',” the old man snapped, “I am the true heir of Mandalore the Indomitable, and he took my claim from me from behind my back. He had me and my people exiled here, refused my challenge, saying only that I was unworthy to lead the clans if I would not move with the times, if I would not take the deal of the Sith. Who are you to call yourself any better?”

“I am the new Mandalore,” Canderous said impressively, “Mandalore the Ultimate is long dead, at the hands of one of the greatest warriors the universe has ever seen: Revan. She took his mask from his and hid it, knowing that it would break the clans without a leader to gather us together. I have found this mask and I am reuniting the clans. They will come together and the Mandalorians will be a force to be reckoned with in the galaxy once again.”

“You talk big for a scavenger,” the old Mandalore on the bed scoffed. Turning to his guard, he ordered, “Leave us.” He turned his visored gaze to Kelborn and Bralor as well, “You too.”

With a bow and without any protest, the three other men left. Mandalore pushed himself up on his elbows to sit higher in the bed. For the first time, Canderous saw the gray pallor of the skin on his hands. He was either very ill or--

Slowly, Mandalore pulled his helmet from his head and set it on the bedding beside him. He had a gray-green face of sharp angles with piercing eyes. He was a Taung, perhaps one of the last living Taung in the entire Mandalorian Clans. “Do you know who I am?” he asked, his rasping voice now free of the echoes of the helmet.

“You are another Mandalore,” Canderous answered, “One who defied Mandalore the Ultimate's battle plan and was exiled for it.”

“History forgets so quickly,” the old Taung shook his head, “He was not even named Mandalore then. His name was Yant Vizsla. He was one of my senior strategists. When those red-faced Sith appeared out of nowhere, telling us to attack the Republic, offering raw materials, factories, and weapons for our effort, he was there. I was new, the old Mandalore having just fallen to my hand, but I knew that Mandalorians answered to no one. To fight for a secret master, it was the beginning of the end. I saw what became of my predecessor under the slavery of Exar Kun. That is why I challenged him in the first place. I would not allow the Mandalorian pride to be enslaved to the Sith again.

“Yant thought differently. In fact, many of my circle did. He used his supporters to overwhelm me,” Mandalore continued, “They pried the mask off my face, but they would not kill me. For greater shame, they would exile me to a moon in my very own home system, where I could see the world I had once ruled, but never again touch it. They did the same to my followers. Others chose to follow as well, not from my clan, and thus we formed a new clan here in this barren place, the Unknown clan. We are never lax in our vigilance.

“We know what has gone on out there, 'Mandalore',” he continued warningly, “We listen to the broadcasts. We know that the pretender has fallen. We know that there was another war, fought without us. We know that the galaxy is in shambles, a the point of tipping past rescue. Had I been at the head of the Mandalorians, this would never have happened. It is my shame and it is my pride. Do you understand that?”

“I understand as any other Mandalorian who has fallen from glory and seeks to see it rise again. We are Mando'ade,” Canderous replied firmly, “It is my shame and pride that I survived to see the day that the Mandalorian clans were defeated in brilliant battle and strategy. I am glad that I was able to live for that glory, even if losses caught up with us in the end. As long as I breathe, I will never forget what that felt like or forget my promise to rebuild the clans to their former glory. If the clans fragment now, if our sons' generations lose their loyalties and history, the Mandalorians will never again stand as one. We will forever be seen as an army that failed and remained broken, the mockery of the galaxy. I will not stand for such a history.”

“Good,” the old Mandalore chuckled. “I heard that you and your two men defeated seven of my best scouts. Your senses are keen and your drive is keener 'Mandalore'. You are a great warrior, and it shows in your bearing and in your words, but do I trust you to lead the clans?”

Canderous waited quietly for the answer. If he took the mask that Mandalore the Ultimate wore but had the blessing of the Taung who Mandalore the Ultimate sole it from, he could ask for little more. That was all that could be given. The rest, he would have to earn for himself.

“Who are you under that armor, 'Mandalore'? What is your clan? Where do your loyalties lie?” Mandalore asked, his gaze was piercing.

Canderous hesitated, but knew that he could not go forward with this old Taung with anything less than honesty. At least to the questions directed at him. He reached up with thickly gloved hands and removed his mask and then his helmet. “I am Canderous of Clan Ordo,” he replied.

“Ordo,” Mandalore mused, “Fine warriors with true spirit. There are some of Ordo Clan among my exiles. And you are not young and foolish as many Mandalores have been before you. What drives you, Canderous?”

“To see the clans reunited to their former glory,” Canderous replied mechanically.

“To wage war on the galaxy again, is that it?” Mandalore asked shrewdly.

“No,” Canderous replied, meeting the old Taung's steely stare, “To show the galaxy what true warriors are—what true discipline, brotherhood, honor, and glory are. To set and example and to be ready for when battle does find us. The Mandalorians will never be a people of peace. We are a people of battle and we must live as if each next day will bring war to our fronts whether it comes or not.”

“Well spoken,” Mandalore said approvingly.

“And if you take my people back with you, what will you do with them? Will they be subordinate to your Ordo brothers?” he asked, scrutinizing Canderous closely.

“They will be equal to all of the others in my camp,” Canderous replied, “Until they prove otherwise. If they are strong and great warriors, they will become my leaders. If they sloth about, they will be put back into training with the pups that are Mandalorians in name only. A man earns his place in my camp.”

“As you have earned yours, Mandalore,” the old Taung said with an approving nod. “You will lead the clans well. You will follow that drive until it kills you. You are loyal beyond your own knowing. I can see that all. But what will they call you? You are no Mandalore the Ultimate. You are no Mandalore the Indomitable.”

Canderous waited. It was never Mandalore who named himself. His actions earned a name for him. Canderous had not yet earned his name, but to receive a name from this dying Taung, a previous Mandalore who yet lived, that would be an honor.

“You seek not to wage war or seek victory over the galaxy but to reunite and preserve all that is Mandalorian,” he observed, “You shall be Mandalore the Preserver. I retire the name of Mandalore and give it to you. From this day, I shall just be The Unknown.”

“Thank you, Dar'mand'alor,” Canderous replied, “I will bring honor and loyalty back to the clans where it was lost.”

“Take my people back to your Ordo clan-mates,” Mandalore urged, “They have suffered exile with honor for me all of these twenty-five long years. It is time for them to live the life of the redeemed. Redeem them, Mandalore.” He gestured to a woven stick closet at the other end of the hut, “And take what is in there, my armor, and this helmet. Show the galaxy that you are my successor, Preserver.”

“I will make your legacy mine, and I will bring it glory,” Canderous promised.

“Now put on your mask and never take the name Canderous again,” the old Taung ordered, “You will never be just a man any more. Mandalore is so much more than just a man, but you know that. I will remain here on this moon, to live out what little time I have left of my exile in honor, but I order the rest of my people to go with you. There is more glory in the future than in the past.”

“I will take my men to the nearest free spaceport and arrange for transports,” Canderous told him. “Have your men ready to travel at a moment's notice. Pack their armor and weapons away. The galaxy is not friendly to the clans in these days. It is not yet time to reveal our presence. We are still to fragile to bear the brunt of the Republic's paranoia.”

“I will see it done,” the old Mandalore promised, “Today is the day they have all longed for. Te Taylir Mand’alor, your armor.” The old Taung again gestured with a shaking, gray hand.

Canderous stepped to the cabinet and pulled the creaking door open. Polished as pristine as Madalore’s armor should be, a full set black and silver armor hung ready for use on an armor rack of gnarled wood. Canderous stripped out of his armor with ceremonial solemnity, setting each piece aside at the foot of the cabinet, starting with the garish red cape. He fastened on the black and silver armor from toe to head. Seeing his cape piled with the mismatched armor he had shed, Canderous could not dawn it again. Mandalore the Ultimate and Mandalore the Indomitable may have favored that particular item for drama, but he was neither. He was Mandalore the Preserver, one who would walk in his own footsteps.

Finally, he took the mask of Mandalore and approached the dying Taung’s bed. Wordlessly, he knelt before the bed. Mandalore the Unknown hefted the helmet that still rested on his lap onto Canderous’ head and then Canderous fastened the mask over it. The visors did not quite line up, but the effect was important. He would incorporate the two pieces better later.

“Ret'urcye mhi, Mandalore the Preserver,” Mandalore the Unknown said with approval, “Remember, a warrior is more than his armor..”

“Ret'urcye mhi, Unknown,” he replied and rose. He turned back towards the doorway then stepped out into the dim daylight as Mandalore the Preserver. This era was his.

- Next Part -


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