A rumble of thunder woke Sashar. As always, it was raining on Dxun which offered a reassuring constant patter of the water hitting his armour and helmet – it was almost like a lullaby to him.
“We’ve got movement. Might be a Malraas and her mate.” Atin reported from his perch several meters above them in the nearby tree.
Sashar immediately rose and grabbed his LJ-50 Concussion Rifle, nudging his brother awake.
“Kier’ika, we got some cats.” He muttered.
Juda, who had been tapping something into a sturdy-looking datapad abruptly stiffened.
“That’s not a Maalraas pair. That’s...a swarm of someth-Osik! Orbalisks!”
Sashar didn’t even think to question Juda – he had unparalleled Force Sensing abilities and would easily be able to tell the difference between two large cats and a swarm of parasitic insects.
“What are Orbalisks?” Maaks asked, yawning.
“Bad news. Atin, get down and get in the tent. Now. We got Orbalisks incoming.” Sashar ordered promptly.
Mirta was already stepping over the lip of the tent, her body-language cool and collected.
“Too late for me, ner’vod. They’re already below. Seal up the tent.” Atin reported quietly.
“No!” Mirta screamed and immediately dived outside again.
“Shab!” Kieran spat as he sprang after her, drawing his pistols as he went.
The foot-long insects were already filling the air, encircling Mirta and Kieran when Sashar emerged, gesturing for Juda and Maaks to stay back.
Then, as one, the insects dropped to the floor and began advancing on the only female of the group. She wasn’t having any of it. Her carbine came up and she began firing indiscriminately about her feet, however the bolts merely bounced off their hardened carapaces. Kieran added his own fire, but met with similar results. Then, they were upon her, burrowing through the durable material, latching onto her skin. She pealed out a scream, prompting Atin to jump down next to her, yanking at the insect. He didn’t even notice one crawling up his leg until it bit through his boot, attaching itself to him. More and more insects swarmed onto them, smelling the blood and the Arconans could only look on helplessly – once an Orbalisk attached itself to a host, it was almost impossible to get off again without killing the host, as an electric charge had to be run underneath the hardened exterior shell of the bug. Once it was removed, the Orbalisk released a fatal venom into the host’s bloodstream – Sashar had never heard of a Mandalorian surviving an Orbalisk bite. He bit back another curse and glanced over at Kieran. The armoured Mandalorian nodded once.
Sashar fired a round off from his Concussion rifle, scattering the majority of the insects. It also tossed Mirta and Atin high in the air like rag dolls. They both landed at the same time, writhing in agony, their ears and eyes bleeding from the concussive force. Any of the Orbalisks that hadn’t already attached themselves had scattered. Kieran didn’t hesitate or offer any last words; he simply walked over to where Atin lay, drew his pistol and shot his clan mate in the face. He then did the same for Mirta.
Sashar watched him, then turned back to the tent. “Juda, oya.” He said shortly behind him. The red and grey armoured medic didn’t reply, he simply gestured for Maaks to leave the tent, then began packing up. The Miraluka couldn’t stop looking at the two corpses.
“What’s the matter? You never seen a dead body before?” Juda joked.
“...No, actually.” Maaks replied quietly, his voice barely audible over the rain.
Juda blinked in surprise, then shrugged. “Was going to happen sooner or later.” Was his only reply.
Typical Mandalorian sympathy.
Tthe group walked past the two dead Mandalorians, Maaks stopped. “You’re just going to leave them there?” he asked incredulously.
“We can’t cart them through the jungle, we’ve got enough to carry. They were taken by Dxun, and she’ll deal with the remains. Their souls will become one with the Manda.” Kieran said shortly, not breaking his stride.
“The Manda?” Maaks asked Sashar, who was walking next to him.
“A collective oversoul. The Mandalorian view of the afterlife. To become part of the Manda, you need only uphold the tenets of the Resol’Nare, and live as a Mandalorian. To not do so and then to die would make you dar’manda. A fate worse than death.” He finished quietly.
“So, because Mirta and Atin lived according to the Resol’Nare, they will make it to the Manda, and thus don’t need burying or cremating?” The Miraluka asked, trying to wrap his head around the unusual concept.
“Pretty much, yeah. We’re not a sentimental or nostalgic people. We have no need to have a physical reminder of our dead from the corpse itself – if we’d take anything, it’d be their armour or weaponry, but it was ruined by the insects, so there’s no reason to weigh ourselves down. We’ll remember them, regardless.”
“I think that’s the most I’ve ever heard you talk about your background before.” Maaks remarked, grinning to himself as he stepped over a large tree root.
“We’re also kinda private. This is a big honour, you know.” Kieran reminded the Acolyte – he obviously wasn’t too happy about taking another into the clan, however Sashar had asked him, and he couldn’t turn down a brother – especially given how Mandalorian Culture and genetics depended on their nature as compulsive adopters.
They continued on in the rain and silence for the next three hours, only stopping once for a few minutes so Maaks could rest. During their trek, they came across a pack of Cannocks, who Juda (who was travelling ahead as a scout) dispatched with ease. Finally, the undergrowth made way for a large, weathered citadel-like structure that had obviously seen much repair and incursion from the wildlife over the years.
“This is where you were brought up?” Maaks asked incredulously, looking over the ugly walls stretching up before him easily thirty meters into the air. Battlements ringed the encampment.
“The Kodiak Camp is around two and a half thousand years old. Most of the battlements are the originals still.” Sashar said defensively.
They walked up to the main gates, where another pair of armoured Mandalorians were stood overlooking the entrance from the battlements, each hefting a Z-6 rotary blaster.
“Su’cuy! Tion Kex?” Kieran shouted up to the pair. A moment later, another Mando appeared in dark red armour, this time with a small, delicate-looking rifle slung across his chest.
“Ner’vod! We were getting a little worried, thought your glow rods might’ve run out of juice. How’s the life of the werdajetiise treating you?” Kex, the gatekeeper shouted down.
“Open the shabla doors.” Kieran replied tersely as the rain intensified.
Kex didn’t move an inch. “Where’s Atin and Mirta?” He asked, his voice carefully neutral.
“Orbalisks got ‘em.” Kieran grunted.
“But at least the jetiise are fine, eh, ner’vod?” Kex replied, and stabbed his hand down savagely on the control board. The Doors slid open with a clamour – clearly the mechanism was very old and heavy.
The four Arconans proceeded into a large bailey, ringed again with battlements and another heavy set of double doors, but the latter pair started to open as soon as the outer doors began to close, so they could proceed into the camp proper without being accosted by the gatekeeper once more.
“Was he close to them?” Maaks whispered to Sashar, who turned to briefly glance at the Miraluka.
“Their Buir. Their father.”
“Oh. Rodder.” He replied, subdued.
His mood brightened as they slipped into the camp proper and he took stock of his surroundings. The structure may have been old, but it was clearly still functional. There was a well-worn paved courtyard that covered easily three hundred square meters, with weeds sprouting out from between the slabs at intervals, and all around the perimeter were various bunker-like structures with few windows. Armoured Mandalorians were everywhere – even the engineers were covered from head to toe in the stuff and most barely gave Sashar, Kieran and Juda a second glance. The majority of attention was directed towards the newcomer, but even that was only brief.
Almost behind them to one side of the Bailey was what looked like a supply depot filled with living essentials such as foods, judging by the large crates stacked outside – a pair of antique Binary Loadlifter Droids shifting them in. Next to it looked to be some sort of crude...bar, then as Maaks turned further around the courtyard, he sighted an infirmary, a command bunker (somewhat larger than the others – it probably housed barracks as well), a large hangar, an armoury, and finally as he turned full-circle, he saw a blacksmith’s workshop. And all around the perimeter were the massive walls with large watch towers at the octagonal points bristling with heavy weaponry. In the large openings were groups of Mandalorians, some arrayed in a circle watching two combatants spar, others running drills either in unarmed combat or with weaponry, and still others were gathered in loose semi-circles on the floor, oblivious to the rain, listening to an instructor explaining something the Miraluka couldn’t catch.
“Ner’vod, sort him out.” Kieran shoved Sashar backwards towards Maaks, who had stopped dead to take it all in, his mouth agape.
Sashar muttered a curse and jogged back, grabbed Maaks by the elbow and dragged him back to catch up with Juda and Kieran. They didn’t head to the command bunker, or even stop to talk to any of the instructors, they just went straight to the bar.
“You’re kidding me.” Maaks murmured to himself as he stepped down the entryway. Inside, there were a lot of grimy tables, booths and chairs, some flatscreens dominated one corner of the bar depicting a sporting fixture that held the majority of the occupants’ attention, and the bar itself and a small kitchen behind. There didn’t seem to be much variety to the drinks – either a strong, dark ale on tap or bottles of clear syrupy liquid was the only thing obviously being consumed, but the Miraluka wasn’t focused on that; this was the first time he’d seen anyone in the camp in anything less than full armour. Here, all of the helmets were off and neatly stacked under the tables of the occupants. They were predominantly human, however gender and sex weren’t discriminated, but to Maaks’ force-based vision, they all seemed...hostile. Each was a swirling maelstrom of barely restrained emotion, definitely dark, but not evil. It was alien, where usually the Miraluka didn’t have a problem adapting to human-based species such as Lorrdians or the Humans themselves with comparative ease – but this was a completely alien mind, not through physiology, but due to such...complete indoctrination.
“Cuir Ne’tra gale bal cuir Tihaare.” Kieran said, pulling off his own helmet and tucking it under one arm.
The oldest brother went over to help his half-brother with the drinks, whilst Juda guided Maaks down to a small table near one of the edges of the room – clearly a habitual routine to make sure he could see both the entrances and all the other occupants without having to worry about anyone coming up behind them. In fact, now that Maaks noticed it, nearly all of the occupants were clinging to the wall side booths and tables like the floor in the middle of the dingy bar might give way.
There was an uncomfortable silence as the pair waited until Kieran and Sashar joined them, planting one large glass and one shot glass in front of Maaks.
“Vor’e.” Juda said, and the Miraluka guessed it was an expression of ‘thanks.’ He mirrored it, drawing a grin from the red-haired younger Dark Jedi and Sashar.
“What is this?” Maaks asked, looking dubiously at the two beverages before him.
“Ne’tra gal. Black Ale. Savoury. Alcoholic. Strong. It’ll put hairs on your chest. Drink.” Sashar, Juda and Kieran all picked up their own shot glasses and knocked them almost delicately together before throwing the contents back.
The ‘newbie’ hastily copied them, then nearly coughed up a lung in the ensuing few seconds, whilst the other three fought past gales of laughter.
“What the hell was that?! Is it whiskey? Is it honey? It burned a hole in my rodding windpipe!” He exclaimed, pushing the now-empty shot glass away from him.
“Tihaal. Fruit extract. Very strong, very sweet, very thick. It’ll put-“
“Hairs on my chest, yeah, I know. You said.” Dubiously, the youth picked up the large glass, and sipped. He grimaced and immediately swiped at the froth that stuck to his top lip. The ale was definitely strong and in a stark contrast to the Tihaal, it was completely devoid of sweetness, and, although cold, was not freezing.
“Do not want.” He muttered, glancing down.
“Kid, you’ll drink that if you don’t want your shebs kicked out before you’ve even hit boot camp.” Kieran said, looking up.
His eyes held absolutely no warmth, but it was the tone of voice the blind youth focused on – a lot could be heard in ones’ voice, and Maaks definitely did not like what he heard.
“Kier’ika-“ Sashar began, but was cut off with a look.
“My clan: my rules. I don’t tell you how to train your apprentices.” Kieran pointed out, his voice low but deadly serious.
“You did when it was you.” Sashar mildly pointed out.
“Well, I knew better.” Kieran grinned smugly, taking another long gulp from his glass.
All animosity was forgotten and Sashar shoved his brother none too gently on the side of the head, causing him to spill ale all down his front. Kieran just laughed and punched him back on the shoulder. The pair both continued laughing even as they drank and Juda rolled his eyes, watching them.
“Kieran and Sashar’s buir, their father, was the head of this clan until the Yuuzhan Vong War. Bralor, that was his name, and a team of Kodiak Clan members, Kieran included, answered the Mandal’ore call to defend Manda’yaim. Bralor died doing this, and entrusted the Clan to Kieran. He’s the new leader and is just defensive of his home.” He explained quietly to Maaks, who nodded and sipped at the ale.
“Isn’t Sashar older? How come he didn’t get the clan? Is it because he was adopted?”
Juda smirked to himself. “Aliit ori'shya tal'din. Family is more than a bloodline. In Mandalorian culture, adopted children are no different to blood-related ones. They’re raised identically, and adoption is encouraged – parents often die given our lifestyle, so having a culture of compulsive adopters guarantees that their kids will be raised properly: as Mando’ade. But in this case, it was more due to Sashar having enough on his plate. He’s the head of the Erinos clan, or at least he was, and he also handles Arcona. He’s away too much to run a clan back here as well. And...well, Sashar’s always been something of a black nerf in the Kodiak clan for a number of reasons. You’ll find out more down the line.”
Maaks nodded and sipped at the huge glass, barely noticing that he’d already downed half his ‘pint’ without even noticing while Juda was talking and the other two were brawling on the floor.
Three hours later, not much had changed. The bar had filled up with armoured bodies, most of whom had come over to welcome back the Arconans, but it was easy to sense the reluctance present in many when they welcomed the trio back. Maaks was, for the most part, ignored, as a lot of the conversations took place exclusively in Mando’a, however Sashar and Juda did occasionally offer partial translations, which became more and more sporadic the more they drank.
He sighed quietly to himself and slipped out of the bar, barely sidestepping an inebriated armoured being who was staggering back from the bar with a tray of drinks. Outside, it was a lot cooler. And wetter, but Maaks didn’t mind the rain too much. Not for the first time since joining the DB, the Miraluka really questioned if he’d just lost his mind and was actually in a padded cell back home, imagining all this. He wasn’t inherently evil, hell, he was a remarkably well-adjusted youth with no family problems or troubled history. He wasn’t running from any personal tragedies, yet still he’d stumbled upon the Dark Brotherhood and then decided that this was the group for him, signed up and survived the basic training in touching the force provided by the Shadow Academy, as well as the basic ‘boot camp’ they put all Initiates through. From there, he’d requested to be trained by the one other person that had so far gone out of his way to protect Maaks; Sashar. The Mandalorian had wasted no time telling him he wasn’t ready to be apprenticed, and needed to be ‘toughened up.’
Yet, did Maaks want to sacrifice so much of himself and his values in favour of Mandalorian ideals? Thus far, he’d just seen a clan of drunken barves who’s only method of entertainment was drinking and beating the crap out of each other.
He had grown to like the Tihaal, though.
Indoors, he heard a rowdy chant begin.
“Naasad'guur mhi, Naasad'guur mhi, Naasad'guur mhi, Mhi n'ulu, Mhi Mando'ade, Kandosii'ade, Teh Manda'yaim, Mando'ade!”
The doors opened just as the last syllable finished and Maaks sunk deeper into the shadows of the walls. He needn’t have bothered.
“I know what you’re thinking.” The silhouette said and gradually Juda moved out of the doorway, not swaying in the least, which was remarkable considering the amount he’d drank.
“Really?” Maaks replied, his voice laden with sarcasm and scepticism.
“You’re wondering what you’ve got yourself into. You’re doubting yourself – just when you began to have reservations about the Mando cliché of barbaric savages, you get taken here, forced to drink then observe as a bunch of strangers get off their faces on drink and start a good old fashioned sing-along.”
“What are they singing?” He asked, momentarily shelving the more burning question: ‘how are you sober?’
The quieter Mandalorian grinned. “Kieran’s favourite. It roughly translates to: Nobody likes us, nobody likes us, nobody likes us, we don’t care. We are Mandos, the elite boys, Mando boys, from Mandalore.”
“How imaginative. How come you’re not as drunk as they are?”
“Force cheating. I detoxified the toxins in my bloodstream. I’m better at it than Sashar or Kieran, so it’ll take them a little longer to gain the focus to do it properly, but they’ll be fine in a bit too.”
They were quiet for a moment, and a distant roar from the jungle could be heard over the noise of the bar. A moment later, Sashar emerged, his helmet under his arm. His hair was dishevelled, and a cut ran parallel to his right eyebrow, matting the shaggy mane of hair to his skin, however he was otherwise unhurt.
“Come on, kid. Let’s get you bedded down. Big day tomorrow.” Sashar said, curiously closing his eyes as he walked. Juda waved distractedly and headed back into the bar, presumably to find Kieran.
He let the Miraluka into the command bunker and immediately went down a set of stairs and along a narrow, ill-lit corridor. At the second room to the end, Sashar tapped in a code to the hatch and let the door slide open. Lights flickered on slowly inside the chamber, however Maaks could already see through the force and wasn’t limited by lighting – he strode in directly behind Sashar and found a seat, taking stock of his surroundings. There were two pallets he assumed to be beds in the room, a small refresher off to one side, an armoire with some basic men’s toiletries atop it, but one wall of the room was dominated by a massive workbench and a weapons rack above it.
“Your room?” Maaks asked as The larger being placed his helmet on the bench and started unclasping the chest-plate.
“It used to be mine and Kieran’s, however since Buir was killed, Kieran’s got his room. We don’t have any spare accommodation for you at the moment, you’re going to take his bunk in here.” By now, he’d taken off the largest plates on his front and back and started to work on the shoulder-plating and gauntlets. Maaks suddenly felt uncomfortable and retreated into the ‘fresher.
When he was out again after freshening before bed, the armour was neatly stacked on the workbench and Sashar was in his bed, his attention focused on a datapad.
“Do you need some time alone?” the miraluka asked.
“Just Clan business. Making sure the Entars aren’t burning the shabla house down while I’m away. Get to sleep. Trust me; you’ll need it.”
The door slammed open without warning, waking up Maaks abruptly. Silhouetted in the entry was a masked Mandalorian, however the waves of undisguised hostility rolling off him easily identified him as Kieran.
“Get your shebs up and dressed for a workout. Now.” With that, he was gone, leaving Maaks completely disorientated.
Sashar didn’t even stop snoring.
Maaks shook his head. He hadn’t slept well, and was not well rested. Sashar snored like a gutshot rancor, and on top of that the unfamiliar sounds and sights of this jungle moon weren’t easy to get used to. The planet reeked of death. Groggily, he threw on his training robes and slipped the metallic visor down over his eyes, encircling his head. His unmade hair draped down over the reflective metal, but he still felt naked – it was hard not to when he was surrounded by a planet that wanted to kill him, and the closest thing to allies were a bunch of heavily armoured mercenaries with overdeveloped trigger fingers and guns so large they had to be compensating for something. Nevertheless, he found his way back up to the large courtyard and was unsurprised to be hit by a cool morning air and a wall of rain.
“Sashar’s already-low standards are dropping.” Kieran’s voice filtered through the helmet and the early morning rain. The sun wasn’t even properly up yet.
“You are a di’kut. A useless moronic di’kut.” The insults were only partly put on for show, Maaks sensed.
“Why?” He rose to the bait, not in the mood for a protracted argument; it was far too early in the day.
“You are not dressed properly. That jetiise crap won’t do you any good out in the field. Go back down, wake up Sashar, and ask him nicely if you can borrow a jumpsuit for today.” Kieran commanded, looking up above Maaks. Dimly, he was aware as he trudged back down towards the Barracks. Sashar still didn’t stir when Maaks came back in, but he did wake up as soon as the Miraluka prodded him on his bare shoulder. He was instantly awake, had grabbed Maaks by the neck with one hand, and the other pressed his thumb into the visor encircling his apprentices’ head. If he’d had eyes, Sashar’s thumb would’ve been pressing in it.
It took a second for him to wake properly, and as soon as his eyes recognised what he was doing, he loosened his grip.
“You gonna let go?” Maaks asked, struggling to breathe.
“Yeah. Yeah.” He growled and sat properly up, rubbing his eyes blearily.
“Kieran told me to ask if I could borrow a...jumpsuit to train in. He didn’t like the robes.” Maaks clearly didn’t like the idea of wearing a basic spacer’s utility garb rather than his own clothes.
“He doesn’t mean what you think. We wear armour-mesh flight suits which we can clip the plates to. I don’t think I have anything that small, though.”
The Miraluka sighed, still not fully awake and ran a hand through his hair as his Consul fished through the armoire until he abruptly turned around, holding a tan short-sleeved flight suit.
“I wore this when I was twelve. It’ll probably fit you.” He explained, handing it over.
“You were my size when you were twelve?” Maaks replied incredulously.
Sashar glanced over as he sat back down on his bed pallet. “I ate my vegetables. Don’t keep Kieran waiting; he’ll make this hard on you as it is.”
The Exarch was right. The ‘jumpsuit’ was a snug fit, but a fit nonetheless, however the Miraluka dreaded to think how big Sashar had been when he was born.
It was still raining when Maaks came outside again, but he could feel Kieran’s mood lighten as he caught sight of the newest entree to boot camp. He wasn’t sure if that was because he was going to put him through hell working on cardio, or because the Acolyte did look fairly ridiculous in a child’s flight suit without armour attached.
“Ok, before we begin, let’s get one thing straight. You will not use the force on this planet. Forget everything you learned at the Shadow Academy. You’ll do exactly as you’re told by anyone in Armour and we might just be able to make you into a soldier marginally less likely to screw up and kill everyone who relies on you. If you don’t do exactly as you say, you’ll get the shab kicked out of you, and if you use the force, you’ll be thrown into the jungle and left to die. No excuses.”
Maaks swallowed audibly. “Uhh, I can’t see without the force, and can’t exactly ‘turn it off’-“
Even though he was wearing a helmet, it was obvious he wanted to hit the Miraluka. “no physical augmentative abilities, such as speeding yourself up or boosting your strength and endurance.” He clarified, biting off each word before pointing to the bailey gates, nearly three hundred meters away.
“Run there and back in under one minute fifteen. Go.”
They stopped at lunchtime. Maaks could barely stand. Kieran had had him running most of the first few hours, then after a fifteen minute breather where he was told how useless he was at even the simplest of endurance training, they proceeded to work on Maaks’ upper body: weights. His arms ached, his legs ached and all he wanted to do was lie on the floor, gasping for breath. Instead, Kieran had sent him to grab a shower, then report to the bar for lunch. By the time he actually reached the bar he was famished and almost looking forward to seeing a friendly face, rather than Kieran’s stern expression. That was not to be. The bar was bustling with armoured bodies once more, all without helmets, all loud and all completely oblivious to him. He picked out Juda’s crimson hair and worked his way over to the table where Kieran, Juda, Sashar and another Mandalorian were sitting.
“Umm.” He began, but Kieran cut him off.
“Get some food, find somewhere to sit, eat the food, put your plate on the conveyor, and report to the armoury for 1330 hours. I’ll meet you there.” He spoke slowly as if he was speaking to a child or simple being.
Feeling shunned, the Miraluka turned without another word and proceeded to the bar. He was given a glass of water, a cup of caf and a plate of some undefinable brown stew that smelled good and then proceeded to find an unoccupied table. He ate in silence, watching the Mandos around him interact, oblivious to the little Miraluka in their midst. Eventually, his attention shifted to the repeater screens, displaying what he tentatively identified as a match of Boloball, though the commentators were also speaking in Mando’a.
“The Beautiful game. You a player?” Sashar asked, pausing by his apprentices’ table.
“Uh, no. Thanks for the flight suit, by the way.” The Mandalorian simply grinned.
“Did you sleep?” Maaks shook his head. “You will tonight. Kieran’s gonna show you how to handle a pistol, then you and me will grab some dinner. After that, we’re gonna take it easy and go over some Mando’a basics.” He began to move off again, but the Miraluka spoke up.
“What are you doing whilst Kieran’s training me?”
He grinned. “Sleeping in. Assigning contracts out to the various members of the clan as we get them. When you’ve got some training under your belt, you might come with us on a job.”
“So basically, the same [Expletive Deleted] you’re doing for Arcona?”
“Yeah. Hurry up, Kieran will kick your shebs in if you’re late.”
And with that he was gone again, just another anonymous Mandalorian, utterly relaxed and at home among the barbaric mercenaries. The rest of the day was spent with Kieran showing the newbie the basics of a DH-17 Blaster Pistol – the most common sidearm in known space. Republic and Imperial alike used it, due in large part for its durability, its inexpensive manufacturing cost and the ease of which it was maintained. It rained intermittently throughout the day, however thankfully they spent the afternoon in the armoury, but Maaks didn’t fire the pistol even once. All Kieran showed him was the fundamental safety rules of handling a blaster, common malfunctions that occurred with the DH-17 or blasters of a similar configuration, and how to draw from a variety of holsters. All too soon however, Kieran called an end to the blaster master-class and sent Maaks to find Sashar.
It didn’t take long to locate him. There were raised voices coming from what the Miraluka guessed was the command centre, as well as waves of hostility rolling off two people – one being Sashar.
“What the shab makes you think a di’kutla chakaar like you is even welcome back here, eh ner’vod? What level of arrogance do you have to presume you can just waltz back in here and start calling the shots?!” It was the Gatekeeper, Kex.
“Buir entrusted the Clan to Kieran. Kieran trusts me. Get out of my face.” Sashar didn’t raise his voice in return, he just moved in very close to the older man and pointed very hard into Kex’s chest plate with each syllable.
“So what? You’re a bathrobe brigade prodigy now and that makes you better than us? Bralor raised you, trained you and you honour his memory by forming your own bastardised Mando clan, abandoning both in favour of some aruetyc haran and then before his corpse is even cold you’re suddenly our shabla best mate again? Spare me.” Kex was raging now.
“K’atini, ner’vod. I never forgot my heritage, or my responsibilities. I’ll always be Mando, I just have different skill sets. I’m upset about Atin and Mirta too, I grew up with them, but I’m not going to lash out at my clan for no other reason than to blow off steam. We all know how dangerous this moon is. That could’ve easily been Kieran, then where would you be? Oh, that’s right: Clan Leader.” His voice dripped with sarcasm.
“You trying to say something there, Sash’ika?” Kex asked, his voice now deadly quiet. There was a small crowd in the ops room surrounding the pair, Maaks included. He was able to pick out Juda in the sea of armour, who was hefting his rifle nonchalantly, but there was no mistaking the readiness that emanated from the warrior.
“I’m saying you’re pissed that the mystic mob are leading the squad, and don’t give a toss about what Bralor wanted for the Kodiak Clan. You’re using your kids’ death as an excuse to try and divide the clan and get control.” Nobody moved.
Nobody even breathed.
“Arrogant Hut’uun. Battle Circle. Now.” Kex stalked past Sashar, his shoulder knocking into the other’s as he exited the command centre and proceeded outside, followed by the majority of the observers.
“Shall I get Kier’ika?” Juda asked, when only he, Sashar and Maaks were left in the room.
“No. He’s out tracking something on the west ridge today. I can handle this.” Sashar replied. “I’ll need you there as a force detector, though. People won’t believe I’m not cheating otherwise.”
“Of course. You want the kid to see this?” Juda queried, jerking his head towards where Maaks quietly stood, watching.
“What do you think, Maaks? Want to see me get my ass handed to me?” Sashar grinned.
If the Miraluka had eyes, he’d have blinked. “You really don’t think you can take him?”
Sashar shrugged nonchalantly. “He’s a long range fighter, but I’m used to using the force to augment my fighting. Without it, it’d be like fighting with one hand behind your back – it’ll feel unnatural.”
He gestured for the other two to follow, and followed in Kex’s footsteps.
There was a ring of armoured bodies already established by the time the three force users arrived. Kex stood in the middle. Sashar pushed through and faced the Gatekeeper.
“How do you want to do this?” he asked, pulling off his helmet.
“No force. No weapons. No armour. Hand to Hand.” Kex answered and pulled off his own helmet, throwing it to an onlooking colleague.
The Consul shrugged and started unclipping the various beskar plates until he was clad only in his sleeveless armourweave undersuit, belt and boots. He didn’t bother assuming a ready stance.
“I’ll shout if he uses the force.” Juda offered. Sashar’s armour was stacked neatly at his feet.
There was a moment of quiet before Kex waded in. The younger mandalorian backed up a pace as Kex advanced, but then checked his motion and took a half step forward, prompting the Gatekeeper to backup again. Strangely though, Sashar did not attack. Instead, he stood his ground, his arms still loose at his sides – not a very good ready stance. Kex frowned, but didn’t try and out-wait his opponent; he closed the distance between them and offered a punch that would snap Sashar’s jaw. An open palm redirected the punch away, and an elbow crashed down on Kex’s wrist, snapping it. Sashar pressed his advantage and moved even closer, driving his knee up into the Gatekeeper’s abdomen, then finished with a punch that must’ve started half a mile behind him that connected solidly with the older Mandalorians’ temple. He staggered back, dazed and Sashar let him get his bearings.
“You know how I was able to do that? Not with force assistance. This is Stava – the Noghri martial art. They specialise in counters and moves that instantly disable their foes through grappling and throws. I spent six months training with them to learn this. As I said before, I have different skill sets, but that doesn’t make me less Mando.”
Kex had regained his composure, but his face was red, his eyes wide and wild. He thew himself at Sashar with the speed and agility of a much younger man and caught the Consul with a punch to the gut before he could deflect it, then followed through with a heavy-booted kick to the hip. It unbalanced Sashar, who tripped to one side. Before he could regain his balance, Kex’s fist smashed into the side of his face, spinning him to the ground.
Maaks immediately moved to help, however almost as soon as the thought entered his mind, Juda’s wrought-iron grip tightened on his arm, pinning him in place.
“Not a chance. You can’t interfere.” He whispered, his eyes not leaving the pair of sprawling clan members.
Kex was on him, his knees landing heavily on Sashar’s biceps, pinning his arms down as the Gatekeeper straddled him and started raining punches down on his head. The Exarch countered by savagely kneeing the older man in the spine, sending him tumbling over Sashar’s head. He rolled onto his back and scrabbled to gain purchase, then threw himself atop Kex before the older man could get up. Instead of trying to pin him, Sashar simply headbutted him, causing his nose to explode with blood and gore. For the first time in the fight, Kex shouted out in pain. He didn’t stop fighting, though. The Gatekeeper threw Sashar off him, then staggered to his feet and over to where Sashar had landed. He waited just long enough for the Mandalorian to pull himself up onto all fours, then planted a savage kick in the stomach. The Consul threw up a little from the impact, but instead of rolling into the foetal position, he grabbed a handful of dirt and vomit, then threw it behind him, directly into Kex’s eyes. He shouted out, more from surprise than anything, but Sashar had tackled him before he could clear his vision, slamming him heavily back to the ground. This time, Kex headbutted Sashar to get him off and they both lay on the ground, panting.
“Feel better?” Sashar gasped, looking over at Kex.
“A lot. Thanks, ner’vod.” The older man replied, grinning. He rose, then offered a hand to Sashar, pulling him up from the floor.
The Mandalorians dispersed whilst Juda moved to help Sashar stay upright. Maaks followed him. “What the hell? I thought you two wanted to kill each other?” he said, dumbfounded.
“Kex was grieving. We both knew he didn’t really blame me for his kids’ death, but he needed to let it out. I gave him the reason to by calling him a power hungry di’kut.” Sashar explained, wincing slightly.
“Mandalorians aren’t right in the head.” Maaks muttered to himself as he shouldered Sashar’s other arm and with Juda helped him back into the Command Bunker and into his quarters.
Sashar peeled down the top half of his flight suit and winced slightly, looking down at his stomach. It was already showing signs of massive bruising.
“Do you need a med pac?” Maaks asked, hearing the Mandalorian’s reaction
Sashar shook his head, then grimaced from the smell. “I’ll be in the ‘fresher.”
The Miraluka busied himself by stacking up Sashar’s armour neatly on the workbench whilst the Consul cleaned up and found himself sitting on the Exarch’s bed, turning his helmet over in his hands, letting his fingers follow the smooth contours of the heavy metal.
So, they have affection, and ‘normal’ emotions, but even that’s steeped in violence. Where does their culture start and all this fighting end?
Sashar emerged a minute later, dripping wet with a towel wrapped around him. He had a large bruise over one side of his stomach and a black eye, but otherwise seemed fine.
“You’d better get some sleep, kid. Kieran will be working you hard tomorrow.” Sashar said, taking the helmet back from Maaks and turning off the onboard electronics.
“Where’s Kieran been this afternoon?” Maaks asked, repressing a yawn.
“He was out on the West Ridge. We saw something on the cameras that didn’t make sense, so he had to check it out. Didn’t find anything. Me and Juda will be going out tomorrow for a more thorough search.” Sashar said, pulling on a pair of boxer briefs (he didn’t bother to preserve his modesty, as Maaks didn’t see ‘visually’, being a Miraluka).
Maaks stopped halfway through peeling off his own flight suit. “What did you see?”
“We’re not sure. That’s why we’re sending in the mystic-mobbers to try and flush it out. Juda’s got excellent force sight and I’m not bad either. Kieran...not so much. He’s better at boosting physical attributes with the force, whereas Juda’s all about affecting stuff other than himself.”
“Heh.” Sashar paused for a moment, glancing almost longingly back over at the workbench. At his lightsasber. “I have a natural affinity for forging force melds. Linking minds together in combat situations for better unit cohesion. I’ve also been part of several force bonds, but that’s subconscious and I can’t really control it.”
“What’re force bonds?” Maaks asked, frowning at the unfamiliar term.
Sashar thought for a moment before answering. “Come here.” He indicated to his bed, then shifted so that he was sitting cross legged.
Curious, Maaks crossed over to Sashar’s bed and mimicked him, sitting opposite.
“Close your eye-right. Never mind that.” He grinned sheepishly. “Okay, focus on my voice. Listen to it along with your heartbeat, then keep time with that beat, and push outwards with your mind until you can feel my heartbeat too.” His voice got softer, as if he were fighting off a yawn and Maaks did find himself relaxing, listening to his own heart pumping away, his mind intuitively dipping deeper into the force until he stretched out and could feel life pumping through Sashar, his heart beat strong.
“You see those...strings, the links? Two should be clearly visible.” Sashar whispered, breathing deeply. Maaks watched his chest rise and fall rhythmically, his own pulse quickening.
It took physical effort to focus on what Sashar was talking about. Sure enough, as Maaks took a good luck at the Mandalorian’s force aura, there were two...lines coming off him, out into the wider complex.
“...Yeah. What are they?” Maaks answered, willing himself not to focus on Sashar’s psyshique.
“They.” He breathed, smiling slightly, leaning closer “Are force bonds. They’re a visible manifestation, in the force at least, of an intense connection. They’re formed through life or death situation, or through relation, or a lifetime spent together. Who am I bonded to?”
Maaks considered this for a moment, marvelling in the sensation of being fully immersed in the force, rather than letting his usual senses clog up his senses. Slowly, inexorably, he stretched out his senses until they encompassed the entire building. There were nearly a hundred beings in the building alone, however through Sashar’s perceptions, whilst a lot of the other sentients in the building were close to him, only two were linked: Kieran and Juda. Their force signature was unmistakable.
“Kieran and Juda?” the Miraluka asked, drawing his perception back in and focusing on Sashar, who he noticed was completely centred on him.
His pride blossomed in the force, washing over Maaks like a reassuring wave. “Yes, now, can you see if there are any other bonds?”Sashar kept his focus squarely on his apprentice, noting the oscillations in the force as he dipped his toe deeper and deeper into the pool. Maaks could have sworn he could feel a heat emanating from the force from Sashar – visibly, he pushed it out of his focus and concentrated instead on the force pouring from the mandalorian; he didn’t have a vast force pool, there didn’t seem to be an endless reservoir that he could call upon, however every single iota was focused on his will. It was like a laser beam. Try as he might, though, he couldn’t pick up another force bond.
Sashar frowned, sensing the Miraluka’s apprehension, and stretched his hand out, resting it on Maaks’, letting his fingertips graze the top of his thigh. “Focus on my head. On my mind.” He urged, pouring his own force reserves through their physical connection.
Instantly, everything became so much clearer. The mandalorian was a maelstrom of emotion, all deeply buried beneath a veneer of nonchalance and disaffection, however it was there. Oh boy, was it there. A deep red, almost fuchsia vortex was swirling inside the consul, controlling him. It was even harder to drag his focus back and see his mind. There, like faint silvery traces, were three more threat-like lines leading off.
“Well done.” Sashar breathed. The Miraluka hadn’t even noticed the Consul moving his head closer until he was resting his forehead on Maaks’. A flutter ran through him – it was the first time he’d ever been so close to another sentient without them being another family. It was exhilarating. Almost subconsciously, Sashar moved his lips down, grazing them over the Acolytes’ cheek until they rested on the hollow of his neck. Slowly, almost with reverence, they moved slightly; he was kissing the Miraluka’s neck. Maaks moved his head over to one side, giving Sashar more room to move and moaned softly, his fingers tightening on the Consul’s.
Abruptly, Sashar pulled away, looking flustered. “Sorry. Sorry, yeah, well done. You picked them up.” He grinned, despite blushing profusely. “You’ve demonstrated considerable focus in the force. You’re ready to be promoted. It’ll need to be put through, but I’m promoting you to the rank of Protector. Well done.”
Maaks grinned despite himself and obligingly got up as Sashar stood, heading back to the refresher.
“Busy day tomorrow kid, get some sleep.”