First Trial of Knighthood
The name “Mandalorian” has a certain substance in the galaxy today. They are feared warriors, cunning and powerful. But it was not always this way. The beginnings of this proud culture began many thousands of years ago with a large group of colonists searching for a new homeland.
Following a failed jump, the band of colonists found themselves with one hospitable planet to make their crash-landing on. This place would come to be called “Mandalore”. Of those that managed to survive the crash, five distinct camps emerged. Ulyna the Wise traveled north with his followers into the plains. Opy're the Powerful took preference to the mountains in the south. Aconouran the Deft went into the vast desert in the east. Finally, Lyrr'va the Inventor traveled west toward the vast ocean. The fifth group, lead by Sti'va the Equate, stayed at the crash site. These five groups were the first five clans of Mandalore. Each of these groups numbered not more than eight hundred. Yet, from these few, a mighty power would emerge.
Those who had receded into the mountains with Opy’re were some of the best physical examples of all those who had landed upon Mandalore. The men were tall, averaging six feet three inches. The women were quite beautiful as well, each possessing a fine figure from hard work in the fields. Most had dark green eyes and sandy brown hair, but blue eyes became more common as time passed. Their skin had a slight tint of grey, an interesting feature that became a Mandalorian trademark.
Life in the mountains was hard at first. The first winter seemed unbearably cold, but the people banded together and made due with what they had. That summer, shelters were constructed to house the slowly increasing population. Each house was constructed upon an orderly grid. Each family was able to settle into a nice routine, setting up trades and allowing life to come as it may.
Many years passed on the mountain clan of Opy’re. They saw leaders pass away and new ones accede to take their place. The villagers maintained their strength with frequent competitions of strength and fighting prowess. The art of the Shadow Fist was refined and spread in these no holds barred battles. Some became more well known than others. Tiberius of the House of Rydack stood out above the rest in his skill and proficiency. His family would figure prominently in the history of the Mandalorian race.
Things on Mandalore inevitably fell apart, as they are prone to do. The clans were forced to band together against an incoming enemy. The war was won, but so much of their beautiful land lay in ruins. The neatly arranged cottages and streets of the Opy’re mountains were utterly decimated. The displaced people were forced deeper into the foothills, many taking shelter in caves or beneath crude tent shelters. Tiberius could not bear to see his family suffer like this. He took an offer to homestead on a nearby moon with a small group of other families.
Things went smoothly for the newly arrived party. The newly colonized moon was named Drakmus, in honor of the legendary Mandalorian general. Tiberius could not help but smile when he saw the happiness that his family could now enjoy. His son Valen would be safe from any danger on this distant place.
Valen was not as physically impressive as his father, but he seemed to excel in almost anything he tried. Fighting came as naturally as walking. Military maneuvers were an absolute joy for the small child to master. This was not lost on his father.
“Well,” Tiberius sighed. “He is still Mandalorian, through and through.”
At the age of 18, Valen left home, as everyone had expected. His brilliance just could not be fulfilled by the life of a simple homesteader. He bade his mother and father goodbye before heading off to the waiting transport. This ship would carry the young man off to a world of untold adventures as well as horrid dangers. Suffice it to say that the life of a soldier of fortune is always changing.
In eight years, Valen had seen things that no man should see. The horrors of battle had become all too real. At times, in the middle of the night, awaking drenched in sweat he would see his friends slip away. There was nothing he could do to help them now. This feeling drove the officer right into a nervous breakdown, and secured his discharge from the Mandalorian army. Valen had no choice but to return to his father on Drakmus.
There was a joyous feast following Valen’s safe landing. Tiberius looked down at his son with tears flowing from his eyes. The young man would never admit that he had gotten teary eyed as well. “It’s just the pollen.... It was in my eyes, ok? Jeez...” It seemed as if everyone living on that dreary rock had turned out to see Tiberius’ boy home in one piece. One particular person caught his eye.
“Father, wh...wh....who is that?” He said as his jaw neared the floor.
Tiberius gave a little chuckle. “That is Jena. She lives down the road. You probably don’t remember her, but she cried for days after you shipped out.” Valen looked over at his father, who knew exactly what was going on. The young man began to blush and fixed his gaze on the dark obsidian floors. “Oh...you get yourself over there right now! Come on, I will introduce you.” The old man cackled as he shuffled his son towards the small group of young women.
After clearing his throat, the old man began an almost royal introduction. “Excuse me, ladies. It is my pleasure to present to you, Colonel Valen Rydack, my son. Ah yes, and he is single” Tiberius cast a sly smile at Jena, who was now blushing noticeably. The other girls seemed to detect what was brewing and they quickly exited, leaving the two alone to talk. They proceeded on for hours on end, finally Valen noticed what time it was and they were forced to part ways quickly. It seemed that even brace Colonel Valen was afraid of Jena’s father’s shotgun.
The two continued their courtship, becoming the talk of the entire community. A dashing retired soldier and a stunning farmer’s daughter. The match was solidified with a marriage exactly three years after they first met. Valen bought the house next to his father Tiberius and he began to think that maybe he could settle into a farmer’s life.
Twin boys, Augustine and Emmanuel, were born two years following the marriage. Valen began to forget the horrors that he had felt before. It seemed like it was all a lifetime ago for his path had shifted so much since then. However, this happiness was not lasting. The wars of Mandalore had started again. All former soldiers were being recalled into service. Valen had no choice but to go, leaving behind a pregnant wife and two sons. Tiberius promised to look over the young family, asking his son only to return safely.
The day that young Tiberius Rydack entered the world one of the largest thunderstorms in the history of Drakmus pummeled the tiny moon. The crashes of thunder muffled the baby’s screams of infantile protest. His mother Jena had named him after his grandfather, who grinned from ear to ear the day young Rydack entered the world. The boy’s father was fighting an unnamed enemy on some dreary lonesome planet when his son came into the world. Until his second year of life, Rydack had never even seen his father, Valen.
The boy did not lack a male role model, however. He was the apple of his grandfather’s eye, seemingly sharing more than a name in common. Tiberius would often set his grandson upon his lap and tell him stories of the olden days. Of how Grandpa Tiberius won the Opy’re Shadow Fist championship years and years ago. Sometimes the stories would center on the “brave Colonel Valen, your papa.” No matter what story Tiberius decided to tell, it would always end the same way. Little Rydack would clap wildly with a huge smile streaked across his face. “Again, again!!!” he would scream.
As soon as little Rydack was walking, Grandpa Tiberius decided it was time for the tyke to learn the ways of the Shadow Fist. Each day, as his mother went to work in the village center, little Rydack went next door to Grandpa’s house. The two would spend hours outside working on the perfect stance. Every possible attack was attempted. Every possible defense perfected.
These days were the happiest the boy has ever known, before or since. He hoped the days would last forever, but each setting sun saw things begin to change. Rydack grew tall and strong, even for a child. His physique was chiseled by the daily rigorous training that he endured. The time on Drakmus was coming to a close. As each sunset falls, one is forced to see the darkness that consumes all light.
Augustine and Emmanuel had been transferred to their father’s battalion, fighting enemies half way across the galaxy. Little Tiberius read and reread each letter that he received from the front, enacting small battles in the forests surrounding his home. However, each day he began to see his mother grow weaker and weaker. Noone could diagnose the problem, leaving her family to watch helplessly as she withered away. Rydack saw his mother buried on the morning before his father and brothers returned home. They had not been able to get back in time.
His father and brothers in tears, Rydack walked alone into his room, slamming the door behind him. He faced the wall with tears freely flowing from his eyes. Every curse he knew was uttered in a helpless scream. How could this happen? His mother had done nothing to deserve such a horrid fate. And yet, Rydack knew how utterly useless he had been to save her. The tears came even harder now.
Valen entered the room to see his son violently screaming and throwing punch after punch into his wall. The blood from young Tiberius’ hands dripped onto the floor, each droplet collecting in a small pool. The boy collapsed weakly on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.
The early events that occur in ones’ his life forever shape the depth of their character. The stormy onslaught of woe and sadness was not inconsequential to the life of the young child. Motherless, filled with hate and anger, the oncoming path that would and lead to Rydack’s embrace of the Dark Side was filled with horrible pain, defeat and misery.
As he watched his father and brothers return to their transport, Rydack cried once more. Emmanuel walked back over to him. “Be strong little guy. Remember that you are a warrior. Concentrate your energy on what you need to get done. Mom’s spirit will always have a place in each of us.” Emmanuel flashed a smile and gave his younger brother a hug and hurried back to catch the transport. Valen and Augustine wiped tears from their eyes as the transport pulled away from Drakmus.
From that point on there was but one person that Rydack felt he could truly confide in and that was his Grandfather, Tiberius. His father and brothers were once again absent. The old man embraced his charge with affection and love, treating him like his own son. Training increased as the boy aged. Without a mother to divide his attention any longer, Rydack was focused primarily on the Shadow Fist technique of his Grandfather. However, he lacked the patience that a true master possesses. One must be able to lie in wait, wearing out an opponent and then striking. The boy seemed far too brash and angry to master such a technique. He often lost all control, firing off long combinations of punches. While sparring with his Grandfather, these outbursts would only lead to defeat. The old man simply waited for the boy to tire and then he gave him a quick thwap on the back of the head.
At the age of eight, Rydack first felt the grip of the Dark Side of the force. After his grandfather had scolded the boy for speaking out of turn at the dinner table, Rydack lost control of his anger. A pitcher of water that set in the center of the table began to pulsate with the child’s anger. The room was covered in water and shards of glass as the pitcher exploded. Rydack collapsed to the ground, exhausted from such a show of power. Tiberius brought him into his room and set him upon the bed. This would serve as a herald of the events yet to come.
By the time Rydack had reached ten years of age, his father had decided that he would become a soldier. Orders arrived home from a distant battlefield. If his training was to start, it should begin now. Rydack seemed excited, but he felt apprehension after seeing the pain his Grandfather’s face. This was the only true home he had ever known. Tiberius sat down upon his large rocking chair in the corner. A large tear drop fell from his cheek. “I knew this day would come.... I just hoped that it would not have come so soon.” Tiberius stood up and walked into the other room, quickly reemerging holding a small necklace. He handed it to Rydack. “I received this many years ago. It is the crest of Opy’re, a reward given only to those who have mastered the Shadow Fist. Keep it with you. It has kept me safe and happy for many years. I only wish that I had been able to complete your training.” Tiberius looked away for a moment. Rydack cracked a small smile as he put the necklace on. It shown brightly in the dimly lit room. The two sat there a long time, not saying a word. Three days later the two parted for the last time. A small transport ship had made a final stop on Drakmus, and Rydack was told to be on it.
Walking across the cold landing pad, Rydack fought back tears, remembering only that he was a man. He was a soldier. Still, he had a strange feeling inside that he would never lay eyes on his Grandfather again. Putting on a false smile, he turned and waved. Stepping up to the transport felt like miles. The gate slammed closed and the engines began a low, dull hum. The ship pulled away, leaving Drakmus as but a speck in the distance.
Rydack was sent to the Mandalorian Officer Training battalion on a distant desert moon. The place was certainly no picnic, especially for such a young boy. On this inhospitable and barren landscape, Rydack got his first glimpse into the tremendous strength and power that he had developed in his young frame.
Often regarded as weak because of his age, Rydack was routinely singled out by the Drill Sergeants who had yet to see the kid in action. One day, Rydack had received an especially rude comment from a Drill Instructor. Young Tiberius quickly returned with an insult of his own. Danto Arow would not hear such back talk from a young cadet. It was time to show them all who was boss. Danto squinted his eyes and pointed the boy out to the fighting circle. The two walked out onto the frozen turf. Rydack grinned from ear to ear, gazing deep into Danto's eyes. The boy was big for his age, but he was still dwarfed standing across from Danto. The elder man laughed, "Your confidence will be your defeat." Rydack said nothing, digging his heels into the ground and assuming his Shadow Fist stance. It was as if the child could hear each lesson that his Grandfather had taught replaying slowly in his head.
“You need to be patient. Wait for your opening. Do not be brash, young one.”
His fists were clenched as he charged forward. Danto had left his hands down at his sides. “Perfect...” Young Rydack thought to himself, as he readied to attack. Danto did not expect such speed from a small child and failed to move his hands forward in time. Rydack landed a punishing series of blows that sent Danto face first into the ground. By this time a small crowd had gathered, intent on seeing how this young upstart would survive against one of the Mandalorian armies' finest.
Danto stood and dusted himself off, offering a slight laugh but keeping his gaze down on his uniform. Before he could even raise his glance, Rydack had descended upon him once again, firing off a flurry of rights and lefts. Cheek bones were crushed, lips had been split and Danto's nose was severely broken before another officer could discern what was happening. He pulled the young Mandalorian away, to the cheers of all the young cadets.
Everyone saw a stretcher being brought out onto the field and Danto was rushed to the infirmary. Each young man offered a solemn smile to young Tiberius. There was never again a question as to whom the cadets followed as their leader. It was Rydack.
--Life in the Army–
After the training period was complete, Rydack entered the army as a lieutenant, controlling a fairly large detachment of newly trained troops. He and his men were chosen to join the main section of the Mandalorian army. Jaster Mereel had been killed a month earlier and a new leader had emerged. His name was Jango Fett. Rydack reported to Fett at once and he was happy to see that his father and both of his brothers had all been appointed their own units under Jango. The orders he received however, shocked Rydack beyond belief. It seemed that word of young Rydack's fighting ability had reached Jango and he had decided to test the young man's skill. Rydack would lead his unit in the attack the next morning.
As the soon rose on Galidraan, Rydack checked over his equipment. His armor was brand new, a beautiful color of grey with black trim. His rifle showed the scars of battle. It was a gift from his father and Rydack planned to use it well. Valen smiled as he looked upon his son’s face for the last time. “I have all the faith in the universe that you will make me proud, son. Never forget who you are. You are a Mandalorian. You are strong. And you are my son. Tiberius, I wish you luck on the field today.” Rydack saw a small tear fall from his father’s cheek. Augustine and Emmanuel stepped forward with a smile. “Go get ‘em kid”, they both echoed. “Thanks guys,” Rydack said with a smile. “It’s time to get to work.”
The lines formed and Rydack's men were placed squarely in the center of the Mandalorian army. If this was to be a test, he had better not fail for all eyes would be upon him. Jango gave the order to advance and the attack was underway. Rydack had his men moving at double time the entire way. As they moved closer to the native forces, resistance began to show itself. Men would fire and Rydack would shoot them down. It seemed almost unfair to the young Mandalorian. This was like target practice compared to his training. The resistance forces began to flee in terror from the Mandalorian troops. A rumor had spread throughout the Galidraan lines that the attackers were being led by a "Ghost” clothed in black and grey.
Rydack received a signal on his radio. It was Jango. "Good work Rydack, now halt your advance and wait for the flanking units." This was standard procedure but Rydack didn't want to follow it. He saw the enemy getting away. "They will only regroup, Sir" the young man protested, "I am going to end this now." With this hasty message the radio link was closed and Rydack spurred his men onward. As he thought, the further he pressed on the weaker the resistance had become.
All around him people were trying to surrender. They were met with a blast from the end of Rydack's rifle. No quarter would be given to cowards. Rydack had reached the edge of the city, when he saw a small group approaching him. They were all wearing light robes. In all Rydack could count 10 people advancing. He looked around. His men numbered well over one hundred. He ordered his men into a pincer formation. They moved around with stealth as they had been trained to do. Rydack took his place on a small bluff overlooking the oncoming force. He told his men to fire after he did. Carefully looking down below, Rydack acquired his target. It was a large man, and he had dark brown hair and a contented look upon his face. The sights of Rydack's rifle were fixed squarely on this man's face. He squeezed the trigger and saw the man collapse onto the floor like a rag doll. Then things went wrong.
As his men began to open fire, Rydack saw each of the strangers reach to their belts and at once nine light sabers were ignited. "Oh shit . . . " Rydack muttered under his breath. He had heard of the Jedi before, this would not be an easy battle. Every blaster shot seemed to be deflected by these cloaked enemies. Rydack saw his men begin to fall all around him as the Jedi moved closer and closer. Soon Rydack turned to his left to find that he was the only one left alive. The Jedi were within 50 paces now. He began firing his rifle wildly around, watching as the Jedi deflected each shot. One of the deflected bolts was returned directly at Rydack's rifle, destroying it and sending him to the ground. At this the Jedi closed in around him. Rydack became like a caged animal, lashing out at anyone who came near. One lone Jedi stepped forward, his hair was white with age, his voice was stern and unbending.
"You are under arrest by order of the Republic, “ he said as he turned off his light saber.
Rydack stepped forward to meet the Jedi and assumed his fighting stance. The Jedi laughed. "As you wish, Mandalorian, " he said with a wry smile. Rydack waited for the coming attack. The Jedi attacked with a reckless abandon that Rydack knew all too well. He waited for his opening and then floored his opponent with a vicious punch to the throat. The Jedi squirmed on the ground, gasping for air but finding none. Rydack jumped on the man immediately, throwing a flurry of punches to the wounded Jedi's face. He was completely blinded by rage. This man had killed his friends. This man had to pay for what he had done. But, it was not to be. Rydack never even heard the Jedi come up behind him and deliver a heavy blow to the back of his head with a light saber hilt. The young Mandalorian soldier lost consciousness.
Rydack awoke in a heap on the marble floor. Upon looking up he noticed that he was in a large meeting room. The Jedi that had taken him prisoner surrounded him once again. Rydack was brought to his feet and forced into the next room. Through the large window, he could make out the high rises and speeding ships. "Welcome back, Master Dooku" a seated Jedi spoke out, fully removing Rydack from his daze. "Thank you Master Windu" Dooku replied. Windu looked up at Count Dooku and noticed his black eye and cut lip. "What happened on Galidraan? We foresaw only Mandalorians there." Dooku looked up, "There were only Mandalorians there, Master Windu. However, I am afraid that we have underestimated them."
Rydack smirked for just a moment, raising his gaze from the floor. His head still throbbed, but he was glad that the Jedi was aware of his strength. Windu turned his attention to the captured Mandalorian. "Few men have ever gotten the better of Master Dooku. What is your name?" Rydack looked up. He certainly could not use his real name. He had shamed his entire family with his defeat on the battlefield. “I no longer deserve to bear my Grandfather’s name.” The despair began to bombard his thoughts in a vicious barrage.
The Jedi seated before him seemed truly interested, maybe more out of fear than anything else. After all, he was just a mere soldier, hardly a match for a Jedi master. "My name is Lt. Rydack, serial number 0053185235, Sir." Windu seemed lost in thought as he turned back to the other members of the council. "Have you ever been tested for force sensitivity?" Windu inquired. "No, I have not" Rydack answered. "We shall tend to that matter latter then, Rydack." Windu again looked to Count Dooku, "Was he the only one to survive your attack?" "No, Sir, several men survived and were delivered as prisoners the governor of Galidraan." Windu nodded. "That will be all for now. Guards, show Mr. Rydack to his room." Rydack shot a sharp glance back across the room. “Lieutenant Rydack... I am not a civilian.” Windu seemed even more impressed with the attitude this young man had. There was no reverence, even for an esteemed member of the Jedi Council.
And with that Rydack was brought to a small room in the large building. The door was locked behind him as he sat down upon the large chair. He removed his armor and sat it upon the floor. Rydack came face to face with the truth: He had lost in battle. Also, he had no idea what had happened to his father or his brothers. His heart began to race. Each moment of the battle began to replay in his mind. The hewn bodies of his men filled his thoughts. There was no escape from the hell that became Rydack's mind. Sleep would not come that night.
The next morning came and Master Windu arrived to find Rydack sitting awake in the chair. "Come with me Rydack," Windu stated, motioning him forward. "We have much to discuss." The two men started down a long, wide open hallway. "The Council is still unsure of your strength. No one has ever beaten Master Dooku in combat aside from Master Yoda." Windu pointed down the hallway, "We are going to see how great this power of yours is."
Rydack entered the room and sat down. The room was large and the walls were a soft tone of grey. He sat a large table, which had a division down the center. The man sitting opposite of Rydack would draw a card from a pile and Rydack was supposed to use the force and discern the value on the card. The tests were extremely boring for a soldier, so Rydack just gave the first answer that came to mind. He was led outside once again, this time he was followed by both Count Dooku and Mace Windu. They led him to a large open room.
Once inside, Rydack was handed a small silver hilt. He recognized it as the Jedi weapon. Dooku smiled at Rydack. "This is not a test that we normally perform, but your skills seem to be linked to combat. Have you ever used a light saber before?" Rydack looked puzzled. "Of course not," he replied. "Hit the button on the hilt," Dooku stated. As Rydack ignited the blade, the room lit up with it's green aura. "Now, Rydack, I want you to release all your feelings and use that saber," said Dooku. Windu remained silent in the corner of the room, observing anxiously. Rydack wasted no time. He moved the weapon from left to right, trying to get a feel for it.
After a few seconds, he felt comfortable and made a frantic slash towards the unarmed Jedi. In an instant, Dooku's saber had been ignited and brought forward, blocking Rydack's attack. "You can do better, Rydack. I have seen you!" Dooku looked perturbed. This was not the same man who had thrashed him on he battlefield days before. A thought came to Dooku's mind. The sight of his comrades had driven him into the rage, maybe that was the key. "Rydack, did I tell you the casualty numbers from the Battle of Galidraan? Hmm... Let me see if I remember... There was one of Jango Fett's General's and two of his lieutenants. I went to the trouble of identifying them from the reports. It seems as they were all related to you." This was a lie of course, but Dooku did not seem to mind using such a tactic to unearth his opponents true power.
Rydack could not believe his ears. "LIAR!!!." he shouted. His breath quickened and it felt as though a fire had been lit in his chest. Rydack leapt forward, heaving the emerald saber directly at Dooku. The attack was easily seen by Count Dooku, but the sheer strength with which it hit him drove him back several feet. The Jedi master began to wonder if this was such a good idea. Rydack's attack did not cease, but Dooku was able to halt each blow. Finally, in desperation, Rydack summoned up his strength and exploded in a fit of rage.
To his amazement, he looked up to find that Count Dooku had been thrown across the room and was lodged firmly in a wall. Windu stood from his chair, absolutely dumbfounded. Had this untrained soldier executed a force technique? No, it could not be true. Rydack collapsed onto the floor, absolutely exhausted. Dooku emerged from the wall and dusted himself off. He quickly grabbed the extra saber before Rydack could recover. He was picked up by the guards and brought to his room once again. Windu and Dooku informed the Council at once. The decision was unanimous. Rydack was far to dangerous to receive any training in the use of the force. He was taken from his room that night and unceremoniously dropped on the curb along with the trash. His armor was placed in a stack beside him.
--Life On Coruscant–
At the age of 17, Rydack had gone from a proud Mandalorian leader to homeless Coruscant street walker. The lower levels of the planet were a harsh environment compared to the luxurious life that people enjoyed above. However, the young man knew he would be forced to fend for himself in these slums or give in and die. The latter choice was simply not in his blood. Sleeping on the street one night, Rydack picked up a yellowed piece of paper. It was a classified ad. It seemed that one of the Huts was in need of a bouncer for their nightclub. Rydack decided that he would apply the next morning.
After spending two hours looking for the address on the paper, Rydack arrived at his destination. It could be described as seedy at best, but it was work. The listed pay on the paper would be enough to pay for a cheap apartment. Rydack twisted the handle and the door swung open. He couldn’t see any other applicants for the job and this heartened him. The Mandalorian walked up to a man and asked where he might find the proprietor of the club. The man motioned weakly to the large door atop a staircase. Rydack quickly made his way up the stairs and through the doorway.
Inside he found the Hut along with a group of others. Rydack entered and raised his voice. “ I am here for the job. “ The Hut muttered something and a translator plied his trade. “Mister Hawa the Hut regrets to inform you that the position has been filled by Rosco here,” the translator said as he pointed to the man. He wasn’t actually human, rather he was a blue hued humanoid of below average height. Rydack laughed aloud as he looked upon the man.
“I wasn’t aware that Mister Hawa was looking for such a weakling to secure his club. I am sure that little guy will suit you just fine, Sir.” The translator leaned over to translate these words to Hawa. The Hut laughed as well, looking over at Rosco. Once again, the Hut mumbled a short sentence and gave a big grin as he settled in to watch the impending show. The translator looked slightly perturbed. “ Um.... Hawa has agreed to allow you to fight Rosco. The winner shall be given the job. Good luck to you both.” The translator scurried away as other stepped forward to clear space in the center of the large room.
As Rosco emerged from the group standing aside the Hut, Rydack began to study his opponent. His stature seemed to hide the strength that lie in wait. He wore a red shirt and dark crimson pants, contrasting harshly with his pale blue skin. A small tuft of black hair sat perched on the top of Rosco’s head. The man had stepped forward, offering only a sly smile and an audible chuckle to his opponent.
“It is a shame that I will be forced to beat a child, but you have sealed you own fate.”
Rydack remained calm, stepping forward into the light of the room. He cast his tattered black tunic aside to reveal a muscular frame under a black tank top. His dark black pants and grey boots seemed to blend in with the darkly lit room. The Hut grew more intrigued as the fighters stepped closer together. Rosco seemed far more worried now than he had before. Tall, strong and seemingly very angry, Rydack could sense the fear emanating from Rosco now. He settled down into the familiar Shadow Fist stance.
“Wha...wha...what is he doing?!? That is a Mandalorian style...” Rosco said, seemingly losing his courage. The Hut laughed with excitement. Rydack did not wait for his opponent to locate his courage. He leapt forward, throwing a right uppercut which found it mark on Rosco’s chin, lifting him a few feet into the air. A loud crash could be heard on the street as Rosco hit the floor. As he stumbled to get to his feet, a grey boot cut through the air and landed on the blue warrior’s rib. The humanoid screamed in pain. Obviously his ribs had been broken, but he managed to stumble to his feet. Rydack began to smile. He rushed forward, only to be meet with a fist in his stomach.
The quick attack had stunned Rydack and he scrambled backwards, gasping for air. He became very angry. The rage was building like a funeral pyre, soon spiraling out of control. A flurry of punches flew from the enraged Mandalorian, each finding their target. By the time his senses were regained, Rydack had been covered in the sticky violet blood of his advisary. The man before him was no longer breathing. Rydack turned hesitantly to see Hawa the Hut clapping with a large smile on his face. “You can start work tomorrow,” the translator said. Rydack turned for the door, stepping over Rosco as he left.
–A New Career Path–
After that first night, things settled down working at the club. Each night seemed to mesh together. Rydack was not allowed to hurt anyone, simply to remove them. It became so very monotonous, but then again, it was money. A small but clean apartment was far better than living on a bench in the seedy streets of Coruscant.
However, one night did stand out against all the rest. Rydack was standing at the door, wearing his black pants and a black long sleeve shirt, when he saw a group of men approach. They were wearing brown robes, almost like those of the Jedi, but somehow different. Each one had a queer little rattail braided out of their hair. There were four men in all, non appearing to be any older than Rydack, who was 17 at the time.
“We have orders from the High Council to bring the Hut in alive. Step aside, scum.”
Rydack saw one of the men reach down and part their cloak to the side, revealing the silver hilted light saber beneath. These men were padawan, not fully trained in the force, but obviously fully trained in stupidity. The others seemed to be taking orders from the taller one, who barely crested six feet. He had black hair, and a smart ass grin on his face.
Rydack broke into a full smile. “You...want to go in...and get Hawa? Oh, and how do you plan to do that?” The padawan did not seem to appreciate Rydack’s humor. The one in front stepped back and spoke to all the others in a small circle. They were trying to formulate their plan.
As Rydack stood there and waited, he suddenly wished that Hawa would have let him carry a rifle on duty. “It will scare away customers” he would always say. Rydack did remember that he carried an old Westar 34 tucked into the back of his pants as a last resort. He placed his hand on the handle as the Jedi in training returned to face Rydack.
The cocky one had stepped forward once again, ready to recite his carefully written speech. “Sir, unless you step aside we will be forced to...” A short burst from the Westar had cut the padawan short. The others turned to flee but Rydack hit each one, dropping them to the concrete. Rydack walked over to see the first man. He had a large wound right at his heart. “Kill shot...” Rydack muttered to himself.
Walking through the door, Rydack ascended the stairs and head straight into the Hut’s office. He explained what had happened. Hawa seemed to be fairly impressed with the young man. “We will have to move you to a job that better suits your abilities.” Hut’s translator stated.
The new job was certainly much more interesting than his old one. Rydack was now the official debt collector for Hawa the Hut, which granted him access to any thing he wanted basically. Any ship, any weapon and any woman for that matter was ripe for the taking. It seemed that Hawa basically owned a good portion of the lower quarters on Coruscant. Those living high above didn’t really care, so long as the poor stayed away from them. Rydack enjoyed this new job.
Each week it was a new group of faces with a new group of locations. Rydack never really seemed to care about who he was hunting or why they were sought. It was simply his job. Bringing in a target “dead or alive” was never a source of internal conflict for the Mandalorian. If the target didnt give up right away, he got shot in the head. That made things much simpler.
After returning back from Tatooine with a drunk that had ran up a sizable bar tab, Hawa gave Rydack some time off. The former soldier had been working almost non-stop for 3 months. Time off sounded like a good idea to Rydack. It would give him time to catch up on sleep and to check up on his grandfather. Before going to bed that night, Rydack looked up at the calender. Today had been his eighteenth birthday.
–The Last Trip to Drakmus--
Money talks when you are looking for a pilot to fly you halfway across the galaxy. Rydack didn’t have to wait long to get a flight back to Drakmus, flashing a nice wad of credits that he had received for his last bounty. The flight back home seemed to go quickly and Rydack bounded up to the lift like the child he had been when he left Drakmus.
Stepping down, Rydack ran all the way back to his Grandfather’s house, almost expecting to see old Tiberius standing there with a large smile on his face. But, noone was there to greet him. Noone at all. The windows were boarded up and the dust on the door handles seemed to show that Tiberius had not been home for a long while. Rydack immediately thought the worst, running as fast as he could to the small graveyard.
Yet, there was no running from the truth. Rydack walked over to see a new marker, sitting to the left of his mother. “Tiberius Rydack” the small headstone read. The date said that Tiberius had died only two years earlier. The boy collapsed onto his knees, tears streaming down his cheeks. “No... I let you down... I let everyone down. Grandfather, I have failed...”
Rydack gently closed his eyes and leaned over to touch the gravestone. He could hear a faint voice. It sounded disjointed, almost eerie. “That doesn’t sound like the boy I raised.” Rydack whirled around, extremely frightened. “Oh come now, don’t tell me you are afraid of your Grandfather’s voice now?” Rydack looked all around, but there was noone for miles. “Oh... You really didn’t listen to anything that I taught you, did you? There is far more to this world than the physical, my boy. Look at yourself. You could be an unstoppable warrior if you could simply look beyond physical strength and physical power. But you do not trust in what I taught you. You will never rise above a simple bounty hunter until you learn to trust something other than a blaster. Look deep within you! See, you never could do that. It is going to take a long time for you to trust in your own power, I am afraid. I just don’t have that much time to stay and help you. It’s up to you now...” The voice began to fade.
“No, don’t leave yet! I have so many questions!” Rydack pleaded.
“I can’t stay very much longer, but I will say one more thing. I will be with you always. Each time you enter a fight, I will be there right beside you, rooting you on. No matter if you win or lose, you are my grandson and I will always be proud of you...”
Rydack stood from the graveside, more determined than he had ever been.
–An Old Friend Returns--
The flight back to Coruscant was an extremely long and silent one. What was the meaning of his Grandfather’s words? There seemed to be no real why to answer the questions that welled deep within. Frustrated and angry, Rydack looked into his bag for something to take his mind off of the current anxiety. He found the light saber of the padawan that had been killed outside of Hawa’s. “A fun toy,” he thought to himself. But what good did it do for the Jedi in training?
The Mandalorian viewed the ancient order’s ways with complete skepticism. It seemed like complete witchcraft to a man raised in such a utilitarian climate. Yet, Rydack could not forgot the horrible efficiency with which the sabers struck down so many of his well trained and well equipped men. The interest began to grow. Looking deeper into the bag, Rydack discovered a small book. The title stated that it was a Jedi training manual. Rydack opened to a random page.
“A Jedi does not grasp at power.
A Jedi is not a dominator, not an oppressor.
To grasp for power is to abandon
the Ways of the Force.
Such a one ceases to know the Force, except
in his Dark Side.
To grasp at power is to take up the
path that leads to destruction.
The Dominator is the enemy, yes.
But the Jedi do not use the dark powers of the
dominator against him”
The passage was quite interesting to say the least. The Jedi did not seek power, but the followers of this “Dark Side” did. Tiberius’ words now seemed to make absolute sense. The Dark Side held the hope for power and strength. This revelation brought a large grin to Rydack’s face. Grandfather had been right. He was always right.
The transport set down on Coruscant and Rydack bolted from the opening doors like a man possessed. He was on a mission to find out all he could of this “Dark Side”, arriving at a small archive. A large cross was carved into the oaken doors. Rydack entered to see a seated old man.
Before Rydack uttered a word, the man simply handed him a small book. “This contains the answers you seek...” The Mandalorian looked down at the black book and the title screamed out to catch his attention. “Dark Side Compendium” the title said. If it was information he sought, Rydack had come to the right place. The first paragraph of the book was the most moving for the young man.
Code of the Dark Jedi
There is no peace; there is anger.
There is no fear; there is power.
There is no death; there is immortality.
There is no weakness; there is the Dark Side.
After a lifetime of searching, but not knowing what it was he was searching for, Rydack had finally unearthed his purpose. It was the goal he was born to fulfill. He would seek out those who could train him in the ways of the Dark Side, the Dark Jedi.
Many nights and weeks of searching had not provided any clues as to the whereabouts of a Dark Jedi Master. Rydack had not yet given up his hope, but his excess credits had ran out. He had stopped working for the Hut. No longer able to scour the galaxy on a whim, Rydack was confined to the the planet Coruscant for the time being.
At the moment when all seemed to be lost, Rydack found help from an unlikely force. Late into the night, as Rydack settled down in his tiny apartment, he heard a faint knock at the door. Clutching a cheap blaster in his hand, he opened the door. There stood a cloaked man. Tall and imposing beneath a pitch black robe, the man did not speak. He stepped inside. "Count Dooku?!?" Rydack exclaimed.
The man removed his hood and, yes, it was indeed the man he had known as Dooku. Only one thing had changed. He was no longer Count Dooku, the Jedi Master. He was Darth Tyranus, Sith Master. After renouncing his position as a Jedi, Tyranus had retreated to his Sith training. He had returned to Coruscant to attempt to recruit a new ally, under order from his Master.
“I hear that you have been looking for a Master to begin your training. I believe that I can help you.”
"You strength is immeasurable, young one. However, you must control it, or it shall control you," Darth Tyranus said. “I know of only one clan that could deal with a man of your strength. They are called Exar Kun. You must travel to the planet of Byfrost.” Tyranus tossed a small bag on the floor. “You will find an ample amount of credits in the bag. Remember, the earlier you begin training, the better. I wish you all the best, young one.”
As suddenly and mysteriously as Dooku had entered, he had turned and left. This left Rydack alone in his room, wondering if the preceding had actually occurred or if it was all some very strange dream. The cash on the table was quite real, as was the robe that was also in the bag. It seemed that Tyranus had decided to leave a small gift. The dark robe had a Mandalorian Skull on the back, emblazoned in orange. Beneath this symbol, there stood the name “Tiberius” written in the fiery orange hue.
It seemed as if every word that old Tiberius had said was coming to fruition. The road to power had been well established and, now it seemed as if Rydack’s past would no longer be such a disgrace.
–Entrance to Byfrost–
The mechanical hum of a hydraulic ramp was the only noise to meet Rydack as he slowly walked down to the inhospitable landscape below. Advancing toward the large fortress in the distance, the young Mandalorian officer carried with him a black duffle bag which contained the remainder of his earthly possessions. He turned around to see his transport ship pull away. It had taken days to find a ship that was willing to land anywhere near the Exar Kun hall. Rydack remembered the puzzled look on the face of the pilot, a small man in his late forties. “I tell ya what, young man. That place there . . . That aint no joke. I have seen people go down there and they have never been seen again. I’ll take ya there, but I aint gonna be held responsible for what happens.” “I can handle myself just fine,” Rydack said with a stare that could have bored a hole through the man. These memories brought a smile to the Mandalorian’s face as he approached the large wooden doors.
He looked up to see the crest of Exar Kun. “Well, this is definitely the place,” Rydack thought to himself. He set his bag down and reached up to knock on the door. A lump had found its way into his throat and his heart felt as if it would leave his chest at any moment. Three loud knocks echoed off the door and down a long hallway. The ensuing silence was unnerving. Suddenly the door swung open. Rydack was startled to see two men standing before him wearing the cloaks of the Dark Jedi. On the left was a tall human, pale skinned but a definite physical presence beneath his black robes. His face was warm and welcoming. On the right stood another human, who was also donned in the black robes of the Dark Jedi. His physical presence was not as great as the other man, but there was something about this man that made Rydack extremely tense. Power and strength seemed to radiate from him. This internal strength was unlike anything the young Mandalorian had ever encountered.
After a long and tense silence, the man on the left stepped forward and introduced himself. “My name is Godo Nurok,” he said with a smile, “and this is Braecen Triadus Isradia. We will be your guides as you enter Clan Exar Kun.” Rydack seemed relieved that someone had broken the silence. He did not like the uneasy feeling that he received from Braecen’s hard stare. The men motioned Rydack forward and he leaned down, picked up his bag and ran to catch up with the elder men, who had set forth down the long corridor. The young Mandalorian stayed silent as they processed through the hallway, but his eyes began to take in all the aspects of his surroundings. Each face he passed in the hall seemed to be filled with that same power that had emanated from Braecen earlier. Rydack was anxious to find out the source of this power. He could not seem to find anything that was abnormal or special. Braecen was of a moderate build, far shorter than Rydack. “He is only a human,” the proud young Mandalorian thought disdainfully, “Now, where does all that power come from?”
As his thoughts began to race, the men came upon a door in the hall. “This is where you will be staying, Rydack,” Godo said as he opened the door. The room was very small but it was not uncomfortable. There was a small cot against one wall and a small desk against the opposite wall. Rydack moved into the room, sat his bag on the desk and then flopped down onto the bed. With a crack, the legs on the cot broke and there was a loud thud as Rydack hit the floor. Braecen’s head popped through the doorway and Rydack saw him break a smile. “I guess they don’t build those with Mandalorians in mind. I will see if I can get someone to fix that later. Until then, get yourself unpacked and be ready to start your training tomorrow morning.”
Rydack’s face lit up at the thought of the upcoming training. He jumped from the floor with renewed enthusiasm. The black bag was opened and the contents were dumped upon the desk. The young Acolyte grabbed his armor and set it down ceremoniously in the corner of room. He took a long gaze at his helmet before he placed it on top of the other pieces of armor. “I guess those days are gone now . . . ” he thought to himself. A smile came to Rydack’s face when he removed the long black cloak from his bag. It had been a gift from his former employer, Darth Tyranus, and it was specially made with an orange Mandalorian skull on the back. Although he knew that he did not have the rank to wear a black cloak, Rydack decided that he would wear it anyway. Maybe Braecen and Godo wouldn’t notice.
After being ordered back into his quarters to change into an Acolyte’s robes, Rydack emerged onto the training field with an immeasurable grin on his face. The lesson this day would be centered on hand-to hand combat. As the other pupils groped around blindly to assume the correct Shadow Fist stance, Rydack slipped into it like a glove. This had been part of his training as a youth and he was excited that there was a chance to show off.
Under the watchful eye of Master Braecen the apprentices began to spar in the large courtyard. Rydack decided that there was no room for a nice guy in Exar Kun. He would not go easy on any of his opponents. As each young student approached to start the sparring session, the young Obelisk trainee assumed the Shadow Fist stance. A terrible fire burned in his eyes as he easily defeated each contender that stood opposite him. Rydack decided that he would switch to a Teras Kasi style he had begun learning from an old patron back on Coruscant. The other students became puzzled, but Master Braecen took great interest. Rydack moved into the Aryx Slash position, showing a slight smirk across his face. His opponent seemed to grow very anxious, almost scared in his demeanor.
The young man began to chant a Mandalorian verse very softly, channeling his power internally and preparing his attack. A quick movement was followed by a loud crash and a cloud of dust that arose from the sandy soil. The dust cleared to show Rydack standing proudly, while his opponent went into convulsions. The Shenbit Bonecrusher Blow had worked quite well against such a weak opponent. Rydack turned to see Master Braecen staring at him. He was obviously not pleased and Rydack knew it. “If you ever try something like that again, I will not hesitate to knock you out myself. Is that clear? ,” Braecen said. The young Acolyte lowered his eyes. “Yes Master,” he said sheepishly. Rydack walked off the field with a new lesson. He would always work for the benefit of Exar Kun. Each apprentice out on the field that morning was his new brothers and sisters. Nothing would ever distort that truth again.
–The Trainee Finds a Master–
There was nothing here, only a dark and dusty plain. The flashes of lightning could be seen far off in the distance. The sands were still damp from the passing storm, but Rydack did not seem to mind. The images seemed so vivid and real that he felt like he could reach out and touch each rock. The Protector’s mind drifted far away, seemingly awash in the senses radiating from the deserted plain. Almost immediately, Rydack was started from his meditation by a sharp knocking at the door.
The door opened to show the form of a small Krath Priest. Rydack rose immediately and bowed to the purple robed master. The air became tense, neither man said a word. Finally, Rydack brought his gaze up, trying to discern the face that lay beneath the hood of the cloak. “Rydack,” the Priest said, slightly above a whisper, “My name is Esca. I have received word that you seek a master to complete your training.”
The young Mandalorian nodded, then fixated his gaze upon the stone floor. Esca took a step forward, saying “Are you willing to exercise the patience that I shall require? This training will not be easy, I assure you.” The young Protector raised his eyes to the Priest and his resolve strengthened. “I am willing to do whatever it takes to be the best.” Rydack said confidently. “Very well then,” Esca replied, “Your training will begin soon. I suggest that you rest now because you will need all your strength.” Rydack bowed again as Esca turned and left the room. The door slammed shut and Rydack returned to his desk.
The desktop was covered in various items, many no longer necessary. Rydack began to sort through the items knowing that he would need to be prepared for what the next morning would hold. He began with his old armor. “Not fitting for a Dark Jedi,” he thought to himself as he set it down in the corner. All except for the boots, which he decided to keep because they were extremely comfortable and warm. Next came the Prax-Arms AXM-50 blaster. It certainly was not a pretty weapon, but functionality was key when it came to combat. This two handed rifle was extremely effective in the hands of a professional soldier. This would be brought along for training (just in case).
Next came the robe. It had already gotten him into trouble with Master Braecen, but something about the robe seemed to scream out. Maybe Rydack was ready to reunite with his past. Maybe he just liked the way it flowed when he strode about. He did not really know what role the robe would play, but he refused to set it aside. “I am bringing the damn cloak,” he finally announced to the empty room.
Rydack went over the final checklist in his head. “Boots, check. Pants, check. Rifle, check. Robe, check. Hmmm.... What am I forgetting?” The apprentice struggled mightily to remember what it was that he was neglecting. “OH! That’s it!” Rydack exclaimed as he removed his Grandfather’s necklace from the bag. He smiled and put it on, feeling very proud.
That night was the most restless Rydack had experienced since arriving to Byfrost. There was something odd about his Master, but Rydack couldn’t put his finger on it. Esca reminded him of Braecen. Both seemed to emanate that strange heat and power. All this new strength made Rydack extremely nervous. However, he made up his mind that night that, no matter what happened the next day, he would follow Esca’s teaching to the letter, doing whatever was asked. After hours of contemplation, Rydack finally slipped into a shallow sleep.
–The First Trial–
His sleep shattered by the violent opening of the door, Rydack sprang up from his cot. He immediately recognized Master Esca standing before him. Esca had a wry smile on his face. He seemed happy, maybe contented was the better word for it. Rydack had been hearing stories about Master Esca since he first came to Clan Exar Kun. Many people felt that Rydack would never survive the Krath Priest’s intense training. But Rydack wanted to prove everyone wrong. He knew that, whatever the cost, he had no choice but to succeed.
Esca motioned Rydack forward to the doorway. “Get your things and follow me.”
Rydack rushed to his bag. He slung it over his shoulder and chased after Master Esca, who had already started down the long hallway. The Mandalorian tried to keep pace behind his Master. The two walked onward towards a large, open room that had a huge window. From this vantage point, Rydack could see the spread landscape of Byfrost. As far as the horizon stretched, snow and ice covered the ground. The planet had a pleasant glow about it. It felt warm and cozy, despite the inhospitable conditions. Perhaps this was why the Clan had chosen it all those years ago.
Rydack turned his glance from the window to see that Esca was waiting on him. The two stayed silent for a short time, each focused intently. Finally, Esca spoke up. “You can drop your things on the corner. You will not need them today. Now, I shall give you one last chance to quit.” Rydack responded without hesitation. “No, I am willing to do whatever it takes.” “Very Well,” Esca said with a smile, “Follow me...”
Esca pointed to a small stairway in the corner of the room. Rydack followed once again, taking care to not to fall behind. The spiraling staircase was very damp and dark. It seemed to descend forever, distancing the master and apprentice from the hum of activity that went on above.
The stairs ended in front of a large door. It was braced with steel, quite impressive to behold. Esca stepped forward, pulling a large key from his pocket. The key was turned in the lock and the door opened wide. A foul stench flew forth from the large room.
“This is the crypt of Clan Exar Kun. It holds many of our greatest warriors and leaders.” Esca stated softly. Rydack peered into the darkness, trying to maintain a state of reverence. There were many symbols inside. He could see a large tomb, inscribed with a Dark Cross.
As fascinating as all this was, Rydack could not help but wonder what the reason was for his Master to bring him here. Esca felt the apprentice’s apprehension, quickly turning to his charge. “This is the venue for your first trial, Rydack. Noone can move forward without first looking back. The past can be a powerful ally. You must harness it’s power, leaving nothing to divert your attention from the Dark Side. Your first trial will be this. You will stay within the confines of the crypt for the next fifteen days. Look at each of the inscriptions on the tombs inside. Each one is a motto that the Jedi adopted. These beliefs shape who we are, and who we shall become. Upon completion of your stay here, you too will be expected to give your motto. The graves of fallen Jedi shall serve as your inspiration. Good Luck, my apprentice.”
Rydack nodded and walked forth into the dark crypt. His eyes took a while to adjust, but finally he was able to discern the shapes in front of him. There was a deep sense of loneliness here. Rydack had felt it come onto him with the cold breeze. However, there was also a sense of comradery deep within this place. Each tomb was occupied by a person who had made the same decision as Rydack had made. This gave the Mandalorian inspiration to work hard at his task.
Without a herald to show where one day ended and the next started, Rydack lost all track of time. He was not sure if he had been in the crypt for a few hours or for several days. Rydack tried to focus himself on the task at hand. He wandered around the entire crypt, stopping to kneel and read the inscription on each tomb. The young Mandalorian began to despair, becoming frustrated with the giant scope of his task.
“How the hell do I abridge my life to a few words...”
Rydack thought of the words his grandfather had told him. He tried to let go of the physical world. That was it! The physical world was the only thing limiting his strength. The force could not be manipulated with strength.
Rydack began to think of a motto to embody his new found revelation. Sitting in a corner, his eyes closed, Rydack began to meditate. He sought an answer to the question that had plagued him for so many years.
The answer shot into Rydack’s mind like a bolt from his blaster. “Credo!!!” he screamed, not seeming to care that noone there could hear him. This simple word embodied all the high brow concepts he wanted to convey. The word means “to believe, to trust, to commit or trust in.”
At that moment, Rydack could hear a key turn inside the door. He stood and tried to make himself presentable for his Master. The young Mandalorian could not wipe the smile from his face. Esca entered the crypt and seemed slightly puzzled to find his apprentice standing, gaunt and haggard, but still having a smile streaked across his face. “You okay, Rydack?”
The Mandalorian simply nodded and stepped forward to the doorway. Master Esca seemed to sense that Rydack had fulfilled the task that was set before him. He had never seemed so contented. This was the first instance that Esca could peer into the apprentice’s thoughts without seeing a storm of self doubt or fear. The apprentice was fully relaxed, only one thing stood out in his mind: his new motto.
Esca smiled, understanding fully the change that had occurred in Rydack through his first trial. The master seemed to be happy with the outcome of this first trial. Esca placed his arm around the Mandalorian, asking him a few questions as they ascended the stairs, back to the rest of the Clan. Rydack smiled, offering answers whenever he could.
The light of the newly christened day stung the apprentice’s eyes. He realized that it had been fifteen days since he had last seen the sun rise over the frosty mountains. The sight brought a slight grin to his face. Each passing day had made the young man feel more at home on Byfrost. Remembering the matter at hand, Rydack glanced over to Master Esca, waiting to hear the verdict of his first test.