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Of Blood and Honor - A Mandalorian Vacation

STAR WARS: The Old Republic > English > Community Content > Fan Fiction
Of Blood and Honor - A Mandalorian Vacation

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silvershadows
04.03.2012 , 09:21 AM | #1
Greetings once again, and thanks for looking!

Many of you have read my first story, In the Shadows - A Smuggler's Tale. It is with great pleasure that I bring to you my latest work, Of Blood and Honor - A Mandalorian Vacation.

As before, this story features one of my characters from the game, this time my main, the Bounty Hunter Apocalypsa Cadera and her husband, Torian.

Please be warned - this story is LONG - even longer than In the Shadows, by about five pages. Also, be aware that there are quite a few spoilers and references made to the Bounty Hunter storyline, though I try to only include things relevant to background and the story at hand.

If you get all the references (both in game and out of game) that I make throughout the story (especially the one very special reference!), then you get 1000 cool points and +100 internets.

Anyway, without further ado, here is Of Blood and Honor - A Mandalorian Vacation.
IllusiaApocalypsaAvatia
The Cadera Legacy
Project Mayhem

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silvershadows
04.03.2012 , 09:22 AM | #2
Prologue



The Resol'nare. The central tenants of Mandalorian life. To wear the armor, speak the language, raise one's children as Mandalorians, contribute to the welfare of your clan, defend your family, and rally to Mand'alor's cause were the Six Actions that defined Mandalorian culture. Those who dared call themselves Mandalorian but did not follow the Resol'nare were dar'manda - a term that meant one had forgotten their heritage or turned their back on it. To do this was to give up your place in the Manda, the afterlife. By turning their back on the Resol'nare, one would be giving up their very soul.

Apocalypsa Cadera had known all of her life that she wanted to be part of that tradition. When she was a little girl, she had lived in poverty, the fatherless daughter of a spice-addicted mother. When she was six, she had stood in the dirty, grimy window of her ramshackle home and watched as a group of Mandalorian mercenaries marched their way up the street. Their armor was shiny, they spent credits hand over fist, they drank together to celebrate victories and hard battles fought, and to the child that Apocalypsa had been, it sparked an interest that had remained with her and directed the course of her life.

She had heard that Mandalorian children went through a rite of passage known as the verd'goten - at the age of thirteen, they were tested on their fighting and survival skills, becoming an adult in Mandalorian society when they succeeded. Taking this as a cue for her own life, on her thirteenth birthday she had shorn her long, lustrous black hair close to her head so that enemies could not grip it in melee, dressed herself in the only serviceable outfit she owned, and walked away in the dead of night - leaving behind her brother and her spice-addled mother.

Making her way from city to city, Apocalypsa had stolen a couple blasters from some drunks she found in the gutter, and set out to make a name for herself in the galaxy.

That had been twelve years ago, and a name was indeed what she had made. Shedding her past like a reptile might shed its skin, she had thrown out her old name and taken a new - one which she had decided on after contemplating the nature of being a bounty hunter.

It was possible, she had decided, that by taking a name designed to be intimidating she might put herself at an advantage - if she sounded scary, maybe people would be scared. Now when she looked back at it, she laughed. It was the ignorance of a young girl, but the name had stuck - Apocalypsa she had become, especially after taking her first job - and buying her first tech.

It had been a simple job, really - perfect for the first-timer. But she had just gotten her first flamethrower, and when she walked into the cantina where her mark was known to be enjoying himself, she had failed to notice that in the process of his revelry, he had spilled a great quantity of potent alcohol all over the table he was sitting at, as well as the floor beneath.

Slightly nervous, but determined to never show it, she had marched herself right up to him and declared that he could come with her quietly or she would roast him like a nerf rump in a blast furnace on Tatooine.

Either it was the slight shake in her voice betraying the fact she had never killed a man before, or the mark was just too drunk to care. "What's your name little girlie?" he had laughed, leaning forward over the table and leering at the young raven-haired woman.

"Apocalypsa," she had replied, and lifted her arm, aiming the flamethrower mounted on her glove at his face. His laugh cut short as he stood, a glass bottle in his hand. He had swung it at her, stumbling forward slightly as he did so.

She had panicked when she saw the thick green glass coming toward her head and had activated the flamethrower, spewing fire at him and at the table, which being covered in alcohol, promptly burst into flames. They began spreading out over the floor, licking at her boots and igniting the man's clothing. He had started to flap his arms wildly and spun around screaming, bumping into booths, chairs, the bar. In short order many small fires had spread around the room and the cantina patrons, who had been up until this moment amused, began to run for the door.

As Apocalypsa watched with a mixture of amusement and horror, her mark lunged at her and fell short, falling to the floor, flames shooting up from his back. She had leaned down and grasped at a ring on his hand, tugging it off as he futilely tried to grab her boot. Then she had turned, and run out the door.

When she had returned to her employer, he had grinned at her and told her that he had heard about the mayhem she had caused and that people were talking about her. The rumor was that she had come looking for her target, and in a fit of bloodthirsty rage had killed him and ten other people, then set their corpses ablaze, burning down the cantina.

Of course that wasn't exactly how it had gone, but she didn't bother correcting him. She turned her mistake into an advantage, and let the story spread. Her next mark had come quietly. Apocalypsa preferred that - to bring her targets in alive. In fact, she had gotten a reputation as someone who could bring back a live body when you thought you would only get a corpse.

That wasn't to say she hadn't killed her share of people. She liked to think of herself as justice for hire, and there were always plenty of jobs where a corpse was worth more and often, her targets had done something so vile that killing them felt like righteousness rather than murder. If she had to kill someone, Apocalypsa liked it to be someone who deserved it.

Simply called "Apoc" by those who knew her best, she had matured into a skilled and knowledgeable fighter, always seeking to better herself, always keeping an image of those Mandalorian mercenaries in her head as something to strive for. As she gained more tech and more experience, she began to take on harder jobs, always pushing her abilities to the edge.

Then, it had seemed, fate had overtaken her, driving a series of events that would change her life and give her everything she had ever wanted - and a lot of things she had never wanted. When the call had come out for hunters to partake in the Great Hunt, she had answered. Here was a chance to mingle with some of the greatest hunters in the galaxy - Mandalorians included. She had won the Great Hunt, and gained a friend in Mako, the code-slicer who traveled with her and had become like a little sister. Though the competition had been tough - betrayal and adversity had threatened her chances of winning several times - she had prevailed.

They named her Grand Champion of the Great Hunt, and she had been called to stand before Mand'alor himself, to accept his congratulations. "Well done," was not the only thing he had offered her, and it was with great pride that she had accepted his offer to adopt her into his own clan and become a Mandalorian.

She had then begun taking bounties from the infamous Blacklist, bounties that were among the hardest in the galaxy - some considered impossible. It had been on one of those jobs that she had discovered destiny had not quite finished with her yet.

On the dark and twisted jungle world of Dromund Kaas, she had met Torian Cadera, a young man on a personal crusade to restore the honor of his family name and prove himself to be a true Mandalorian. While she was no Force user, she felt that there had been something more than coincidence at work that she had met him just before her first Blacklist mission - a mission that would have her tracking down Torian's own father, Jicoln Cadera.

She had traveled to Taris - a shattered world that the Galactic Republic was desperate to put back together. Searching for him through rakghoul infested swamps and tangling with Republic soldiers simultaneously, she had wondered a few times if she hadn't bitten off more than she could chew. That was when she had run into Torian again. He joined her in the search for his father.

When they had finally tracked him down, she had stood next to Torian as both of them held blasters trained on Jicoln's forehead. The man had begged her for a moment alone with his son. Apoc had turned to Torian, told him it was his choice. Torian had pulled the trigger, had fired the shot that ended Jicoln Cadera's life.

It might have been at that moment that Apocalypsa fully understood what it was to be a Mandalorian. When she had stood next to Torian over his father's body, the man that had given him life a forgotten corpse at his feet. Unworthy of thought. A traitor to the Mandalorian ways. Soulless. Dar'manda.

Shaking her head, Apoc drew herself out of her thoughts. She had been standing in the doorway of her little room aboard the D5-Mantis patrol craft she called Flameshrike, lost in her own mind for the better part of ten minutes. Stepping down, she moved across the grated walkway that led to a railed landing above the cargo hold. Her lips curled up in a smile as she glanced down into the hold.

"Su cuy'gar!" Torian grinned at her from where he stood below, his dark blue eyes meeting her emerald ones. Apoc laughed softly, stepping down the ramp into the main hold. Throughout all the time they had been together, she always could find him in there. It was quiet in the hold, and private. He liked having the space around him to practice with the techstaff he had strapped across his back almost all of the time.

They had even spoken their marriage vows to each other in the Flameshrike's hold. "We are one when together, we are one when parted. We share all, we will raise warriors." Mandalorian weddings weren't something that was fussed over, just a simple promise made to each other with little fanfare. They had, of course, told Mako - the girl would have never forgiven Apoc if they hadn't - but their lives had been far too complicated at the time for any sort of celebration anyway.

Apocalypsa had been trying to clear her name after being placed on the Republic's most wanted list, and doing so had put her in the employ of a Sith lord known as Darth Tormen. She had completed the task, taken her revenge on the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic - she could still recall the look in his eyes just before she planted a blaster bolt between them. Darth Tormen hadn't been pleased when she told him she was finished with him and walked away.

"You may regret those words, Mandalorian." She frowned slightly as she heard the Sith Pureblood's voice in her head. Approaching Torian, she decided that it - that Tormen - wasn't worth thinking about.

"You woke up early." Her command of Mando'a had improved greatly under Torian's tutelage, enough so that they now exclusively spoke the language to each other, only speaking in Basic to others.

"You slept late." He stepped forward and embraced her, then leaned back a bit to look down at her face. "Business is slow. You're getting lazy."

"I can't make people annoy other people into wanting them dead." Apoc shrugged her shoulders. She narrowed her bright green eyes at him. "I'm lazy? You trying to start something?" She moved fast, her arm shooting up and her hand snaking forward to run her fingers through his yellow hair, ruffling it until it stood straight up in clumpy spikes, then spinning her body away from him.

Not quick enough, though - he grasped at her arm and twisted it behind her back, pulling her toward him and hooking his leg around hers, intending to send her crashing to the floor. Apoc grinned, throwing her weight back. There came a loud thud as they fell, Apoc twisting her body so Torian landed beneath her while she straddled his waist.

"I'll show you lazy!" She aimed a flurry of quick, light punches to his ribs, a wide grin spreading across her face as his hands moved up to shield himself from her assault, and laughter shook his body.

A soft cough came from the top of the hold, and they both stopped wrestling to look up. A young woman with dark hair stood at the railing, leaning on it with her elbows, her hands cupping her chin. The fingers of her right hand brushed against the cybernetic implant that circled the corner of her eye. "Sorry for interrupting," she said, "but I heard something I thought you might want to know about." She eyed the Mandalorian couple speculatively. "You two are strange. You know, most people show their love for each other by some kind of romantic gesture. But not you Mandalorians. Why say it with flowers when you can say it with fists, instead?" Turning, she disappeared toward the bridge of the ship.

Apocalypsa looked down at Torian. "I think Mako needs a vacation." He didn't answer her with words, just shrugged slightly and nodded. Apoc sighed, standing up and leaning down to grasp Torian's hand and haul him to his feet. "Guess we should go see what she wants."

He brushed off his arms and legs, frowning as his fingers encountered fabric instead of metal. "Hate not wearing armor. Feel naked." He followed Apoc as she started toward the bridge of the Flameshrike.

"We just painted it last night." They had finally acquired what they had both been dreaming about for the past two years. Made of a series of blast-resistant plates attached to a lightweight armorweave flightsuit, the beskar'gam was crafted from Mandalorian iron, and was a gift from Mand'alor the Vindicated himself, to celebrate the honors Apoc had brought to his clan. She and Torian had discussed it extensively, and decided to color the armor red and gold in honor of Mand'alor. In addition, on the golden chestplate of her suit, Apocalypsa had painted the same marks Torian bore scarred on his cheeks. The twin crimson slashed crescents were her way of honoring the man who had taught her how to be a true Mandalorian.

"Should be dry now." Torian glanced at her as they walked side by side through the doorway into the Flameshrike's bridge. "Should put it on after we see what Mako wants." He leaned against the pilot's chair. Seated at the holonet terminal, Mako turned toward him.

"Mako wants to tell you two about an interesting thing she found on the holonet." The young woman grinned at them as Apoc slid herself into the chair Torian leaned on. "There's some excitement on Taris. Apparently something has been coming into settlements and military camps and killing everyone there. Two settlements and three camps have been wiped out completely, and one other camp had three surviving soldiers."

Raising an eyebrow, Apocalypsa narrowed her emerald eyes at Mako. "What's being done about it?"

"That's just it." Turning back to the holonet terminal, Mako tapped away at the keys. "Apparently, nobody even knows what's doing it. Whatever it is comes in the night and attacks, then is gone. Even the people being attacked haven't seen what's killing them. But there's a bounty - five hundred thousand credits to whoever can take this thing out."

"Five hundred. Thousand. Are you sure?" Apoc's voice was skeptical. "That's a lot of credits for a beast."

"Hard to kill what you can't see." Mako turned her head back toward the others. "It seems the creature has destroyed valuable military equipment as well as soldiers. The Empire is paying top credits for someone else to solve their problems."

"Typical." Torian chuckled softly. He looked down at Apoc, sitting in the chair next to him, then reached out and tugged at a few strands of her hair. "We should go, cyare. You said Mako needed a vacation, but so do we. Hunting beasts instead of people - sounds like a Mando vacation to me. Promised you one."

"What do you think, Mako?" Apocalypsa linked her hands together and flexed them. The sound of her knuckles cracking and popping filled the air.

"Toxic swamps, rakghouls, and invisible monsters that eat up whole settlements? If it's all the same to you two, I'll take my vacation right here on the ship."

Apoc grinned at her and stood up from the pilot's chair. "Alright then. Plot us a navcourse to Taris. We're going to go suit up." She grabbed Torian's hand and led him out of the bridge toward their room.

Sighing, Mako returned to tapping at the keypad in front of her. "Mandalorians," she muttered, as she began to read more about the situation on Taris.




1


Apocalypsa and Torian watched as the Flameshrike lifted off from the surface of Taris, leaving them standing in the middle of an Imperial garrison surrounded by a lake of toxic water. The beskar'gam they wore shimmered crimson and gold in the dying light of the sun as it sank below the horizon, disappearing behind the massive twisted trees and ruined towers of the once great city-planet. Apoc glanced around at her surroundings, delighted by the information being displayed to her through the T-shaped visor of her helmet.

A marvel of technology, the helmet had been fitted with a wide array of sensors and computer programming, giving Apoc an ever-constantly updating HUD that splashed over her visor. The helmets display was programmed to give her a 360 degree field of vision, and show her range to a target or object in the distance. Life-form sensors warned her of the presence of any living being within a ten meter radius. In addition, the HUD would display information on whether or not a target was armed, injured, or dead, and allowed for voice activation of the flamethrower and missile launchers hidden within her gauntlets. Her armor's arsenal was completed by the jetpack mounted on her back, the miniature rocket boosters in her boots, and a utility belt that held a variety of small grappling hooks, grenades, and of course, her twin blaster pistols.

Together they marched through the Imperial garrison, headed in the direction of a Mandalorian encampment just outside. As they stepped through the gateway leading out, Apocalypsa's eyes were drawn to a pair of men standing next to a bounty board that had been placed on the wall. Both were tall men, both human, but their resemblance to each other stopped there.

One of the men was heavily muscled, brown-haired, with eyes the color of a cup of darkly brewed caf. The other was lanky and had pale blue eyes that seemed somehow empty. His jet-black hair curled down over the collar of the dark jacket that he wore and fell into his eyes slightly, where he pushed it back with an impatient hand. He was pointing at the bounty board and saying something to his partner when Apocalypsa and Torian passed by. Eyes narrowing, he glanced at them as they walked down the path to the encampment, and then turned back to the other man. He spoke quietly, out of the corner of his mouth.

"More Mandalorians. Damn mercenaries, can't trust 'em. They'll do anything for a credit - even their souls are for sale to the highest bidder. Like little dogs, begging the Empire for a treat." The heavier man chuckled softly, but it died in his throat as Apoc spun around on one heel, striding back toward the men. Torian followed her, grinning behind his visor - this should be a good show.

Stopping a meter in front of the offending pair, Apocalypsa reached her gauntleted hands up and tugged the helmet off her head. Silently, she shifted her gaze from one man to the other. The thinner one’s pale eyes widened slightly when he saw her face, but Apoc had been expecting that - she knew that her appearance startled those who weren't used to her.

Long ago, she had ceased painting her face like most women, instead choosing to have what she considered her war-paint tattooed over her eyes and lips. Reddish-black pigment encircled her eyes, which shone like bright emeralds from within an inky sea. Her full lips had been permanently colored a grey so deep they were nearly black. Pale skin contrasted with the dark colors, and with the closely cropped raven-colored hair that framed her face.

"Gar ganar jaro?" Apoc's inquiry was accompanied by a lifting of her left eyebrow. When the pale-eyed man just stared at her blankly, she moved a step closer to him, her hands hovering over the blasters she had holstered on each hip. "I said," she began in Basic, "Do you have a death wish?"

The guards flanking the entryway to the garrison had looked bored, but now were watching the confrontation with interest. Apocalypsa waited to see if they would interfere, then laughed inwardly as they began pulling things from their pockets - credit chips, trinkets, even some candy - laying their bets down on the outcome.

The thin man clenched his fists at his side, his gaze shifting from Apoc to Torian, standing behind her silently, then back to Apoc. "I just don't like your kind very much." He shrugged his shoulders slightly. "You don't care about the wars you fight or the people you hurt. You sell yourselves for profit, you fight for credits not causes."

She closed in on him swiftly, so quickly in fact, that neither man had time to react. She leaned up, tilting her head so she could speak directly into the thin mans ear, her face inches from his. "I fight," she whispered, drawing her elbow back and folding her hand into a fist. "For glory, honor, and Mand'alor." She drove her arm forward, her armored fist catching him directly in his solar plexus, right in the gut, all of her power behind it.

As her hand connected with his body, he doubled forward in agony. Withdrawing her fist, Apocalypsa turned on her heel again, and walked away. Torian threw his arm around her shoulder and grinned down at her from within his helmet as the sound of retching came from behind them. "Guess he shouldn't have eaten."

Apoc stared up at him for a moment, then began to laugh. "I guess not." A few moments later, they were walking through the entrance of the Mandalorian encampment. This late in the evening the camp was quiet, the occupants mostly tending to their meals. A few men were about, though, and Apocalypsa smiled as she recognized the camp commander.

As she stepped toward him, he turned to face her. His bare head was clean-shaven, and his skin was darkly tanned. He gazed at her with one ice-blue eye, the other having been replaced by a red cybernetic lens. The right side of his face was badly scarred, from his bottom jaw up and around the cybernetic eye, extending over his bare scalp. Apoc guessed he had once been a very attractive man.

"Commander Vorten Fett," she greeted him warmly, coming to stand in front of him. "It's been a long time."

"Ah, Mand'alor's chosen. Su cuy'gar." Fett folded his arms in front of his chest. "What brings the two of you to my camp today?"

Torian pulled his red and gold helmet off, tucking it under his arm. "Hunting." He shrugged slightly and continued. "Heard there's something out there killing people, nobody knows what it is."

Nodding, the commander moved over to a small table set up to the side. He picked up a datapad and pressed a few buttons. "That's true. Whatever it is, last night it tore up an Imperial military camp set up in some ruins about twenty kilometers to the north of here. Took apart buildings, walkers, men. Did a lot of damage to some valuable equipment. Two survivors."

Apocalypsa glanced up at Torian, then shifted her gaze back to Fett. "Where can we find them?" She lifted her arm, jerked her thumb back toward the Imperial garrison. "Getting medical treatment?"

"Yes," he replied, "Though you might have trouble getting in to see them. You aren't the only ones looking for this thing. Other hunters have been trying to talk to the survivors, but the Imps are keeping them behind closed doors."

"Other hunters?" Torian's hand came up to stroke his chin thoughtfully. "Lots of competition?"

Fett shook his head. "Not a lot, two other pairs and a solo hunter. None of them Mandalorians." He gestured around at the camp he was in command of. "We've been contracted to continue pressing the Republic while the Imps try to deal with whatever's killing their men. It's been keeping us busy."

Slipping her helmet back over her head, Apoc nodded at him. "We'll pay a visit, see if the Imp's won't let us have a nice friendly chat with those survivors. Then we'll probably be heading out on a scouting trip."

"Good hunting," Fetts voice came from behind them as they turned, making their way back out of the encampment and toward the Imperial garrison.


*****



Inside the walls of the garrison, two pairs of eyes tracked Torian and Apocalypsa as they headed toward the medical tents. The man who had been on the receiving end of Apoc's fist leaned heavily against the wall nearest him, while his partner fiddled with a datapad in his hands.

"They're going to the medical tents," reported the uninjured man. "Think they're going to see the guys who made it through the attack, Cavus?"

The thin man narrowed his eyes at the other one. "What else would they be going there for, Danven? Do they look like they need medical attention? You don't need to tell me anyway, I can see them myself."

"Armor sure is shiny." Danven shrugged. "Didn't know you were lookin'." Cavus shot him an irritated glare.

"Is that listening bug in place?" The smaller man reached out and snatched the datapad from Danven's hands. "Give me that." He began to tap buttons as he stared at the display. "It's working, no conversation yet." Cavus glanced up at the entrance to the medical tent, watched as Apoc's hands came up and she gestured emphatically at the guard blocking her way inside. He sneered in her direction.

"Why are we watching the Mandalorians?" Danven's question earned him another exasperated glance from the other man. "What?"

"We are watching them," Cavus spoke patiently, as if to a child. "Because they are going after the same creature we are. We have to make sure we get there first, make sure we get those credits."

"Credits, right." Danven nodded. "Because you owe boss Bruka for that load of spice you lost, or he's gonna kill you." For some reason Danven seemed to find this amusing. Cavus did not.

"That load of spice we lost, Danven. We. You and me. And he's going to kill us both." This sobering thought caused the larger man's amused expression to disappear. Cavus grimaced and pressed his hand to his stomach as it began to ache again. Danven's eyes shifted to follow the motion.

"That girl got you good, didn't she? Pretty good punch for a woman."

Cavus glared lasers at him. "She surprised me, that's all." He spit on the ground. "It's dangerous work, you know, Danven. Hunting, that is. Would be just too bad if a couple of high and mighty Mandalorian mercs had a little accident out there in the swamps." The datapad in his hand chimed softly. Pushing the hair out of his eyes, Cavus stared down at it as information began to flow across the display, relaying the conversation from inside the medical tent.


*****


Apocalypsa was glad she was wearing her helmet again. She stood at the foot of a cot in the medical tent, gazing down at the body lying there, covered with a sheet. Some sort of greenish stain was soaking through the fabric that shrouded the corpses legs, and Apoc was sure that her expression was one of pure disgust. She turned to look at the Imperial doctor who had been caring for the survivors. He was a short, thin man - gaunt-faced, with wispy tufts of grey hair seemingly stuck at random over his balding head, and spoke in a high pitched, nasal tone.

"You won't get much information out of these two." He stepped to the side where another man lay on an examination table, his eyes glazed over and lifeless, body limp. Deep furrows were carved into the flesh of his arms and chest, the skin peeled back, muscles separated to show glimpses of white bone beneath the red meat. "This one died just after they brought them in. The other..." He gestured toward the stains on the sheet. "Succumbed to his injuries only an hour ago. Some kind of venom that ate away at his legs."

Torian leaned over the uncovered corpse, eying the deep wounds through his visor. Despite her disgust, Apoc lifted the edge of the fabric over the shrouded body's legs. Her brow furrowed as she saw deep puncture wounds through the skin, the edges of which had turned black, necrotic. She could smell the rotting flesh through her helmet, nearly gagging her. She dropped the sheet and tapped Torian on his shoulder.

"I'm going out for some fresh air," she told him in Mando'a. "Meet me outside when you're ready." He nodded, occupied with studying the dead man's injuries. Apoc turned and pushed her way out of the tent, pulling her helmet off as she stepped outside, taking deep breaths of the cool night air. Even tinged with the poisonous scent of the lake, it was a thousand times better than the odor of putrid flesh.

She passed her gaze over the garrison. As the night deepened, very few were out and about other than the guards on watch. Her eyes were drawn to two figures against the far wall. She frowned slightly as she recognized the two men from earlier. They were standing close to each other, looking down at something the thin man was holding. She stared hard at the black-haired man, a slight shiver running down her spine. Something about him was unsettling, but she couldn't put her finger on it.

He must have felt her gaze, because his head turned and his pale eyes met hers. He pushed strands of hair from his eyes, keeping them trained on her face defiantly. She allowed a small smirk to lift the corner of her lips as he spit on the ground in an obvious attempt to antagonize her.

At that moment Torian appeared at Apoc's side. She smiled up at him, and he pulled his helmet off to give her one of his own in return. "Not a pretty sight, was it, cyare?" His voice was low and soft, soothing to her ears.

"I've seen plenty of dead men, you know that." she sighed, leaning on the wall behind her. Torian moved to mimic her pose, standing on her right side with his back against the wall. She frowned as she continued speaking. "But those wounds - they looked incredibly painful. They must have suffered greatly before they died."

Nodding, Torian gestured with his hands as he spoke. "They did. The man with the deep gouges was clawed to death by our prey. The other - those black sores on his legs are from teeth. The edges of the teeth marks were ragged, so they're serrated. The claw marks are smooth, but very deep." He shrugged slightly. "Big claws. Venomous bite."

"What has big claws, a venomous bite, and is invisible?" She arched an eyebrow, tilting her head to the side and back to look up at him.

"A mutant, rabid, invisible gizka?" Torian's response was swift and deadpan. Apoc caught herself almost nodding in agreement, then burst out laughing. He grinned down at her. "Let's go scout the wreckage of the military encampment."

They turned together, each step in unison, helmets slung under their arms as they walked toward the gateway leading out of the garrison.


*****


Cavus watched as the conversation between the doctor and the two Mandalorians was relayed to him via the datapad in his hands. Danven kept crowding him, trying to see the display, but mostly just obscuring the other man's vision.

"Sithspit, Danven, will you stop that?" Cavus slapped the bigger man away, then frowned down at the datapad. "Nothing useful, anyway." He started to put it away, but froze when he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Turning, he saw the Mandalorian woman standing outside of the medical tent. She had removed her helmet and was staring directly at him, her face illuminated by a glow-globe hanging from the pole next to her.

That face. Cavus studied it for a moment, pushing the hair out of his eyes, which gradually became unfocused as memories swam through his mind, voices fading in and out of existence, whispering in his ears.

He shook his head violently as if to clear it. His fists clenched involuntarily at his sides. He knew this woman, this Mandalorian. He had once known her well. He could feel white-hot rage building inside of him, stealing reason, threatening his sanity.

In disgust he spit on the ground at his feet, not caring whether or not the woman was offended. When her attention was diverted by her partners return, Cavus slipped the datapad into his belt, watched as the two Mandalorians stood close to each other, heads bent together in conversation. He sneered, feeling his lip curl in disgust. It was obvious to him they were lovers, those two, and it made him nauseated to see it.

As they turned in unison and walked out of the garrison, Cavus tapped Danven on the shoulder. "Let's follow them. I have an idea, a way we can rid the galaxy of a couple of filthy mercenaries." He started walking, reaching the garrison exit just as Torian and Apocalypsa disappeared down the bridge that crossed over the toxic lake.

Danven trailed behind. His brown eyes were cast downward, his hands shoved into the pockets of his nerf-leather jacket. While not the most intelligent man in the galaxy, he possessed fairly good observation skills, and wasn't quite as stupid as Cavus thought he was. Danven had noticed the look in the skinny mans pale blue eyes when he was watching the Mandalorians. It was a cold stare, empty of all emotion other than hate, as if he wasn't really looking at Cavus, but a shell of the man, a shell with no feeling, no remorse.

He had only seen Cavus look that way once before, a couple years earlier, when a swoop bike gang had held them at gunpoint, taking the delivery of spice meant for a Hutts den on Nar Shaddaa. They had left both Cavus and Danven bound, and after they escaped, Cavus had disappeared, that strange look in his eye.

He had come back to their hideout that night with the spice delivery. His clothes had been bloody and torn, his knuckles raw, red, and bleeding. Despite Danven's inquiries, Cavus had told him nothing of what occurred. But the big man could hazard a guess, especially after he found the blood-stained vibroknife under a loose floorboard.

Danven couldn't help but wonder what sort of violence Cavus had planned. He shrugged. At least he would be a part of it this time.

Ahead of him, Cavus' eyes glittered like ice in the moonlight. His head spun with an onslaught of ideas - ways to make the Mandalorian woman suffer, as she deserved to suffer. A too-wide grin spread across his face, lips stretching taut. It's been a long time, Caelina. The words surfaced in his brain like worms crawling to the top of the soil after the rain. And now I will bring you pain, make you suffer. I will bleed you dry, and savor every moment of your agonizing death. He held in a maniacal laugh that threatened to burst from his mouth as he strode after the two Mandalorian hunters.

silvershadows's Avatar


silvershadows
04.03.2012 , 09:23 AM | #3
2



They had been walking for three hours, pushing their way through the darkness of the Tarisian night to reach their goal. Apocalypsa knew they had to be close to the military installment that had fallen to the mysterious creature the night before. She ducked her head as they passed underneath an enormous pylon that had once held up part of the massive city that had spanned Taris. Now it lay broken in half, jagged pieces of twisted metal reaching for the sky like crooked arthritic fingers from the bottom part, while the top lay at an angle, having sunk partially into the soil over time.

It was starting to rain. Torian picked up his pace, wanting to reach the camp before valuable tracking clues were washed away. Apocalypsa followed suit, matching her steps to his. As the darkness deepened and the clouds thickened, she was glad for the night vision afforded her by her helmet, allowing her to see in the darkness as if everything was bathed in moonlight. A bright flash of light flared white in her field of vision - lightning flickering across the sky, followed by a clap of thunder that roared through the swampy forest.

Grimacing, Apoc reached out and tapped Torian on his shoulder. The rain began falling harder, big drops that splashed down heavily, thudding against the trees and the ruins that surrounded them. She activated the comlink built into her helmet that would allow her to communicate directly to his. "We should have found it by now."

He ducked under yet another fallen pylon, grabbing her arm and tugging her with him into relative dryness. "We're getting close." His voice came over the link into her ears. "Something stinks."

She sniffed, but smelled only the rain and the swamp. "Doesn't Taris always smell this bad?" She chuckled softly, but stopped when he held his left hand up, reaching for his techstaff with his right and pulling it from his back. Instantly alert, she began scanning the area through her visor, cocking her head as if to shut out the sound of the raindrops pelting the top of the hard metal above her head.

There - underneath the sound of the storm, she heard it. A faint scrabbling sound, a scr aping noise and the sound of shuffling footsteps. She turned her gaze toward it, silently tapping Torian on the arm and pointing toward a yawning darkness ahead of them - an old sewage pipe, half buried in the dirt and covered over with wet, glistening, leafy vines. Suddenly she became aware of an odor - faint but growing stronger. Something like rotten eggs mixed with bantha dung and swamp gas...

"Rakghouls!" Torian spoke just as they came spilling out of the tunnel - over a dozen of the creatures, sprinting through the rain directly at the two Mandalorians standing beneath the fallen pylon.

"Great." Apoc drew her twin blasters, filling her hands with them, bringing her arms up to put them in line to fire. A flash of lightning lit the sky with blinding whiteness, then another only a second later. The rakghouls came closer, their white bodies gleaming through the darkness, slavering jaws held open to expose needle-sharp teeth. She squeezed both triggers.

The blue-white laser bursts flashed through the air, hitting one rakghoul in the middle of its face, and another in the arm, where it burned through and left a smoking crater in the creatures flesh. It let out a high-pitched scream and ran right toward her.

"Oya!" Torian's shout brought a smile to Apoc’s lips as she watched him leap forward into the middle of the rakghoul pack. With his right arm, he swung his staff in a wide circle, sweeping the monsters away. He twisted his body, turning to bring his left arm around. Blue, white, and orange flame erupted from his gauntlet as he completed his spin, catching a pair of rakghouls in a devastating stream of fire. They shrieked in agony as their skin began to blacken, char, and peel from their bones. Relentless, the staff came back around, bludgeoning one of the burned creatures, cracking its skull with a wet thump. It fell to the ground, twitching.

Before he could celebrate his kill, however, he turned to see Apocalypsa under assault by a trio of the monsters. They had managed to surround her, the one she had wounded clawing at her armor. She kicked out with her foot, catching the rakghoul in the chest, knocking it back a couple meters. As Torian ran toward her, he watched her bring her blasters to bear, sending the sky-colored bolts streaking through the air into the other two. She began to laugh, crossing her arms in front of her body and scything fire back and forth, ripping through the pair of rakghouls until their smoldering corpses lay limp on the soil.

Torian twirled his staff in front of him, then fell to his left knee, his right arm extending straight out to his side, bringing his weapon around in a devastating blow that crushed the chest of a rakghoul that had been attempting to run past him. As it flew through the air, Apoc’s blaster fire caught it and hurled it even further, its lifeless body crashing up against a tree trunk and sliding down to the swampy earth.

A soft grunt escaped Torian's lips as he felt something crash into his back and he fell face-down onto the ground. The soft soil beneath him had been turned to mud by the rain, splashing up over his golden armor, streaking over his visor and obscuring his vision. He heard Apocalypsa yell his name and felt the weight of at least two rakghouls pressing him down into the sticky mud. One began to tug at his helmet, attempting to pull it off to get at his bare face. He could see its sharp claws curling around his visor through the dirt.

Apoc watched as Torian fell, four rakghouls climbing on his body, holding him down as they tried to get through his protective armor. The rest of the creatures - three more in all - turned toward the downed man. Her eyes narrowed as she felt a deadly calm come over her when she saw the monsters swarming over his form.

The twin blasters came up, her fingers curled over the triggers. She began to fire, sending bolt after bolt of blue-white energy into the rakghoul that had hold of Torian's helmet. When it fell away, she spread her fire out, using her natural ambidexterity to her advantage as she took out two separate rakghouls at the same time.

As the weight came off his back, Torian rose up, gripping his staff with both hands and using it like a club, swinging it down at one of the remaining rakghouls. The creatures head exploded into a mist of blood and thick ichor. He turned, watching two of the remaining three rakghouls fall under Apoc’s constant hail of blaster fire. The last of the monsters leapt at him. He extended his arm, activated his flamethrower. The ragkhoul perished under the onslaught of flame.

The rain began to let up, splashing down gently over the still-smoking corpses. Apocalypsa walked over to stand next to Torian. She let her gaze travel up and down his mud-spattered body.

"That was fun." His voice came over the comlink in her helmet. She grinned and shook her head.

"You're covered in mud." She reached out to wipe some of the mud off of his chest, but only managed to smear it on her own gauntlet. She looked at it with dismay, flicked her wrist to send the wet dirt to the ground.

"I am." He looked down at himself, then back at Apoc. He stepped forward and threw his arms around her, pulling her to him and hugging her tightly against his body. "So are you."

She couldn't help herself, and burst out laughing.


*****



Roughly two kilometers to the north, Cavus and Danven crouched on top of what used to be a walkway that had crossed part of the massive city spanning Taris. Below them lay the wreckage of an Imperial military encampment. The fallen hulks of two small four-man walkers lay on their sides, gouges furrowed through the thick durasteel. Plasteel poles that had once held up tents were scattered on the ground like sticks, their covers twisted over the dirt. The camp had been set beneath an old tower that still stretched to the sky above, using the tall wall behind it as a partial barrier to the Tarisian wilderness.

The sky above them was still dark through the trees. Cavus sighed impatiently and resisted the urge to check his chrono. They had been waiting for the Mandalorians to appear throughout the short storm that had blasted through, and now he was not only angry, but wet and cold, too. Next to him, Danven fidgeted.

"How long we waitin' for them, Cavus?" The bigger man poked at the night vision macrobinoculars Cavus was peering through. "Lemme look."

Cavus lowered the macrobinoculars and turned his head toward Danven. "We're waiting as long as we have to wait. And no, you can't look. I need to see when they come." He picked them back up, held them to his eyes.

Danven frowned, then sat down heavily atop the wall next to the other man. "I still don't get it. We need the money for Bruka and we need it now. We're wasting time with these blasted Mandalorians."

"Sithspit, Danven, listen. I did some checking. I went onto the holonet and dug around a bit. Imagine my surprise when I find a picture of that Mandalorian woman attached to a Republic wanted notice." Cavus nodded as Danven's eyebrows shot up in question. "Not just any wanted notice either - suspected in the disappearance or deaths of the Supreme Chancellor and some high-up Jedi Master on Corellia."

"I thought we hated the Republic."

"We do. But we don't hate their credits. We don't know if we can find this thing that's killing people, and the Republic doesn't even care if we just bring them a corpse. We kill her and her boyfriend, give their bodies to the Republic, take the credits to pay off Bruka. Then we use the favors we just earned from the Republic to get to Coruscant. Maybe join up with Black Sun, they can always use people who know the business."

Danven grunted softly. "Black Sun, huh?" He opened his mouth as if to say more, but stopped when Cavus held up his hand. Below them, in the darkness, moonlight glinted off of golden armor. A cruel smile twisted the thin man's face as he lowered his macrobinoculars and pulled a laser sniper rifle from his back.


*****


Torian led the way into the camp, his eyes scanning the ground for any clues that hadn't been washed away by the rain. Apocalypsa followed close behind him, remaining silent to allow him to concentrate. She stopped near the wreckage of the walkers, leaning down to take a close look at the gouges in the heavy metal exoskeletons. She shuddered slightly - the marks were deep enough for her to stick a vibroblade into them.

"Apoc." Torian's voice filled her ears. Moving over to stand beside him, she looked down at the ground where he was pointing. He knelt down, one knee on the ground as he leaned forward over the track he had spotted.

"What is it?" Apoc frowned. The track was deformed, smeared from the storm water running into it and draining into the ground.

"Three toes, pointed." His hand traced the outline. "Heel is clawed, see how it dug a hole? About a meter long."

"That's pretty big."

"Especially if it has four feet." He reached up and tugged his helmet off, handed it to her. Apoc took it, tucking it under her arm as he bent down closer to the ground. Reaching out, Torian took some of the soil from the center of the print into his fingers and brought it to his nose, sniffing it.

A tiny red flash blinked in the upper right corner of Apocalypsa's HUD, warning her that a life form had just entered the detection radius of her helmet. As Torian knelt on the ground next to her, she began scanning the area to find it, hoping it was just one of the many creatures inhabiting the woody swamp.

Above them, Cavus was slowly stepping forward, trying to line his sight up with Torian's bare head. He peered through the scope on his rifle, centering the crosshairs right above the blond man's ear.

Apoc saw Cavus just before the thin raven-haired man pulled the trigger. She leapt in front of Torian, saw the bright red laser bolt streak toward her. It screamed through the air, splashing against her abdomen. The plating of Mandalorian iron protecting her blackened and scorched, but the energy dissipated into darkness. Torian snatched his helmet from her hands, and she drew her blasters, aiming them at the man atop the wall.

Blue-white bursts of light erupted from the barrels, blowing away small chunks of the structure Cavus stood on. She saw his muscle-bound partner draw his weapon, aim it in her direction. Twisting her body, she ducked behind a broken-off walker leg as he fired.

"These guys again?" Her voice crackled through the com into Torian's helmet as he slid it back on over his head. "What's their problem, anyway?"

"Not smart." Torian shrugged, reaching his arm up to slide the blaster rifle he kept strapped underneath his staff free. Hefting it, he sighted down the barrel and squeezed the trigger. A brilliant emerald bolt sizzled into the trunk of a massive tree reaching through the broken walkway, centimeters from Danven's ear. Torian cursed softly, sliding his body next to Apoc’s under the cover of the walker rubble.

She lifted her head, then quickly ducked back down as a hail of scarlet blaster fire screamed toward her. "We're in a bad position. Can't get a clean shot while they have the higher ground."

"Maybe we should bring it down to our level." Torian's statement caused a soft chuckle to escape Apoc’s lips.

More crimson laser bursts splashed against the durasteel walker leg as she inched toward the side of it, half crouching and sliding her right hand blaster back into its holster. "Cover me."

He nodded, stepping out from behind the walker. Lifting the blaster rifle, he fired off shot after shot as he ran from cover and bolted toward the other side of the camp, heading for the safety of a stack of supply boxes.

As he ran out, Cavus tracked him with his rifle, missing narrowly while Danven filled the air with his blaster fire. Neither of them noticed Apocalypsa rise up from behind the walker leg, her right arm held out before her. She took careful aim. Blue-white flames erupted from her wrist as she fired several miniature missiles from the launcher mounted to her armor. The projectiles whistled through the air, impacting the ruined walkway just below where Cavus and Danven stood. The already unstable structure began to shake and quiver. The two men atop it stopped firing their weapons, gazes dropping to their feet as the walkway collapsed, sending them to the ground in a shower of rubble.

Slowly, Torian and Apocalypsa approached the men who lay groaning, bruised on the ground. Stopping in front of Cavus, Apoc aimed her blaster at his head. He lifted himself to a kneeling position, staring up at her with his cold blue eyes. Next to him, Danven had rolled to his stomach and lay panting.

Apocalypsa stared down at Cavus, a frown crossing her dark colored lips. "I think we've been patient enough with you. What's your problem?" Her gaze shifted to Torian as Cavus began to laugh, a high-pitched, hysterical sound. "Kaysh dini'la," she said in Mando'a, "He's insane."

The sound of the Mandalorian language coming from her lips caused Cavus to stop laughing suddenly, the sound dying off as his eyes sparked in defiant anger.

"You're my problem. You, Mandalorian." He began to rise to his feet, but thought better of it when Torian stepped forward. Instead, he raised his hand and pointed at Apoc. "I know who you are." He began to giggle, his voice rising into a sing-song pitch. "I know who you really are, Caelina. You don't know me, but I know you!" His thin lips stretched back in a hideous grin.

Behind her helmet, Apocalypsa's face was pale. She was never more glad for the darkened blast-resistant visor as she was at this very moment. On his knees in front of her, Cavus continued to giggle. The hand that held her blaster aimed at the thin man shook slightly. Torian was looking at her, his head cocked to the side quizzically. She took a deep breath, let it out.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." She took another step forward, pressed the barrel of her blaster against the man’s forehead, creasing his skin. "Give me one reason to not blast you right here, crazy man."

Cavus opened his mouth to speak, but before he could get a word out, there came a sudden flash and a wave of heat. The sound of an explosion rocked the air, setting ears to ringing and buzzing. Apocalypsa stumbled and fell forward, her knees knocking into the thin man’s face and bowling him over.

Barely managing to keep his feet, Torian turned to see two men - humans - approaching from the other side of the camp. He spoke into his helmet's comlink. "Company."

Groaning softly, Apoc picked herself up off the ground. As she turned to face this new threat, Danven finally gained his footing, grabbed Cavus by his arm, and began to drag the smaller man away.

One of the approaching men, a hulking brute with hair and eyes the color of mud, tossed a small round object toward Apocalypsa. It fell to the ground at her feet, a tiny red light blinking on the side. Still dazed, she stared at it dully.

In an instant she was airborne, falling to the side as Torian flew at her, his body impacting hers like a missile, knocking her over and sending her rolling across the ground a good three meters. She felt Torian's weight on her as he shielded her body with his own. Another explosion rocked the air, and she could hear a shower of small pebbles and dirt come raining down onto his armor.

The sound cleared the fog that had been clouding her brain. Torian rolled off her, coming up to his feet, staff in hand. As Apoc brought her knees beneath her and pushed her legs up straight, Torian took a leap at the brutish man who had thrown the grenade.

She lifted her blaster just as Torian's acrobatic movement carried him to his target. The man looked up as the staff came around, whipping through the air. The sight of the thick, knobbed end of the cortosis-studded span of phrik alloy screaming at his face was the last image the man saw as his head exploded with a wet smacking sound, skull collapsing from the force behind the blond Mandalorian's strike. Bits of blood and brain spattered across Torian's armor.

The dead man's friend, a short man with multiple cybernetics implanted into his face, stared at the grim sight of Torian standing over the corpse, gore-smeared staff held ready. He raised his hands, his blaster held limply in surrender. Opening his mouth to speak, he instead let out a strangled sound as two bright blue laser bolts caught him in the throat. They burned through his skin and exited out the back. His trachea seared, the cyborg gasped for air futilely, hands moving up to his throat as if to physically push oxygen through the wound and into his lungs. He fell forward, face slamming into the ground. His body twitched twice and was still.

Dropping his staff to the ground, Torian ran to Apocalypsa's side, reaching out with his hand to grasp her arm and pull her near to him. "You alright?"

"No permanent damage." Apoc looked over to where she had last seen Cavus and Danven. They were nowhere in sight. "Looks like we lost our friends."

"They ran as soon as these two showed up." Torian glanced back at the dead bodies. "Must be the other pair of hunters Commander Fett told us about. He said two other pairs, one solo."

"Crazy man and his friend are the other pair." She sighed. "Just once, I'd like to take a vacation that doesn't involve getting shot at."

"What's the fun in that?" He was grinning under his helmet, she knew it. Slipping her arm around his waist, she looked up at him.

"We need to rest. Let's find somewhere to hole up, you sleep for a bit and I'll keep an eye out for those two, then I'll wake you up and you can watch while I sleep."

He nodded. "Some sleep would be good, daytime rest. The monster we're after is active at night. Should hunt it then."

Suddenly, Apocalypsa felt very tired indeed. Silently, she started off down the path, seeking shelter so they could find rest.





3



Cavus leaned against the trunk of a huge tree, his ice blue eyes staring off into the distance. He heard Danven approach his side, and turned his head toward the other man. Danven's large hands were shoved deep into his pockets, his brow furrowed slightly as he stared at Cavus. The thin man gave him an exasperated look. "Just ask. I know you're dying to."

"You called her by name." Danven shrugged. "I knew there was somethin' else going on, not just you hating Mandalorians." His dark brown eyes narrowed. "You think I'm so stupid, but I'm not half as dumb as you think I am, Cavus."

"I know." Cavus sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. "I wouldn't have you come along with me if you were." He pushed his body away from the tree trunk, beginning to pace back and forth, his boots digging into the damp soil.

"Let me tell you a story," he began, his voice taking a far-off tone. "There was once a beautiful woman who lived in a rundown apartment in a rough neighborhood. She had a son and daughter who shared her home, and she loved them very much. She took care of her children, fed them and clothed them. Her son appreciated everything that she gave him, but her daughter... her daughter was an ungrateful child, who took and took and gave nothing back."

His voice bitter, Cavus stopped pacing to stare at the ground. "One day, she discovered she was sick, an illness that made her limbs shake and her mind clouded with pain. There was medicine that helped, but it was expensive, and she didn't have much money. She lay in her bed, quivering in agony, begging for anyone or anything to ease her suffering."

Danven frowned as Cavus continued to speak. "Her son was only eight years old, but he knew he had to do something to help. So he went out and found ways to make money, to get his mother the medicine she needed." His fists clenched at his sides. "Her daughter, however, ignored her mother's plight, believing herself too good to help, too good to do what needed to be done. While her brother was out trying to save their mother, she claimed the woman deserved to be sick, deserved to suffer, and talked only about living up to some code of honor, as if it was an honorable thing to watch the person who gave you life wither away. All she talked about was Mandalorians and how she would become one someday."

"That's why you hate Mandos?" Danven's question was quiet. "Because of this girl?"

Cavus nodded his head. "That started it. It was all she ever talked about, being a Mandalorian. Said that living by a warriors code was the best way to live - challenging yourself to be the best you could be, strong in body and mind. But all the while she claimed these high ideals, her mother lay sick and dying on a mattress in a dark room." He spit on the ground.

"She had a chance to do something to help, and didn't take it. Instead she ran off into the night, leaving behind her younger brother to take care of their mother all by himself. And he tried, for a year he tried to make her well, to bring her the medicine she needed. But it wasn't enough, he couldn't do it alone, and so he watched her die, watched her take her last ragged breath as the sickness twisted and contorted her limbs like some discarded rag doll."

He took a deep breath, let it out shakily. "The boy was left alone, to fend for himself. He had to do dangerous things to survive. But he knew it had to be done - he had to live so he could get revenge. You see, his mother wouldn't have died if only his sister had stayed, had done her part to give her mother the help she needed."

Danven wasn't sure that was entirely true, but Cavus spoke vehemently, each word from his mouth dripping with conviction. "Every Mandalorian the boy saw reminded him of the crimes his sister had committed against their mother. He watched them as they fought other people's wars for them, taking credits for the chance to spill blood, grasping at any opportunity to profit off of other people's suffering, ignoring the pain they caused, just as his sister had ignored his mother's pain. He vowed that if he ever saw his sister again, he would avenge their mother."

"And I will," Cavus grinned suddenly, a strange light gleaming in his pale eyes, causing Danven to shudder slightly. "I will avenge her. And you're going to help me. Then we'll have the reward from the Republic, and justice will be served."

"Whatever you say, boss." Danven frowned. "But how are we gonna do it? You shot at her, and it just bounced off that shiny armor they're wearin'. Don't think this is gonna be as easy as we thought it would be."

"We're going to follow them." Cavus spread his hands as he spoke. "We're going to watch them go after the monster. They'll fight it, maybe even kill it. They'll be worn down if the creature doesn't kill them for us. Then, when they're vulnerable, we'll strike. We'll rid the galaxy of a couple Mandalorian filth and one traitorous, selfish woman."



*****



"Caelina!"

The young girl lifted her head, tucking long strands of raven hair behind her ears. She turned toward the sound of her name, sighing as she saw her younger brother run toward her. "Mother is sick again," he said. She frowned, and shifted her gaze back to the street beyond her window. Garish neon lights splashed orange and red across her face as she spoke.

"You mean she's out of spice." She twisted her hands together in her lap. "She's not sick, Cavus, except when she makes herself sick." She winced as his fist drove into her back, but did not turn away from the window. "You're eleven years old, you're too old to keep thinking that she's just sick. It's time to face the truth."

"She is sick!" He stood behind her, his fists clenched tightly, eyes spitting venom at his older sister's back. Reaching out, he tangled his fingers in a fistful of her black hair, tugging her head back. Tears sprang to her eyes, but she did not cry out, instead pressing her lips together in a thin line. "She's sick and you could help her but you just keep sitting here, staring out the window! You're watching for those mercs again, aren't you?" He pushed her head forward, nearly bashing it into the window as he released his hold on her hair.

"Leave me alone, Cavus." Her eyes caught movement out on the street. There they were - three Mandalorian mercenaries, walking together toward the cantina down the road. Their strides were confident, their armor shone, and they spoke to each other in boastful tones. Her emerald gaze followed them, and she watched as they pushed through the cantina door, seeking fellowship and drink. She sighed softly.

"You're disgusting." Cavus' voice was disdainful. "Sitting in the window dreaming all the time while our mother suffers."

"She makes her own suffering." Caelina turned to face him, taken aback slightly by the expression of pure hatred that twisted her brother's face. "We each create our own reality, our own life. And one day I'll have one that's better than this!"

"You won't have anything." He grabbed at her arm, pulling her from her chair. "Mother wants to see you, now."

She pulled her arm away, rubbing it with her other hand. "What does she want? I'm not helping her get more spice."

"You should help her! It's her medicine, Caelina, it makes her better! Don't you care?" He stomped his foot onto the threadbare carpet. "Don't you LOVE her, don't you want her to be well?"

Sighing, she stood up and walked toward the doorway that led into her mother's darkened bedroom. Cavus followed close behind, dogging her footsteps. "I want that more than anything, Cavus, but it's not going to happen." She hesitated before the threshold, not wanting to enter the room, not wanting to see what she knew she would see. She stumbled through the door as Cavus pushed his hands against her back. Blinking in the darkness, she fumbled for the dimmer switch on the wall, illuminating the room with the barest hint of light.

Her eyes went to the walls, to the floor, the ceiling, anywhere but the bed on which her mother lay. Finally, unable to help herself, she lowered her gaze to the woman who had given birth to her. She lay there, twisted in the sheets atop the mattress, her arms and legs twitching spasmodically. Her once beautiful face had been ravaged by time and spice use, becoming hollow and gaunt. Her bones were visible beneath her skin, giving her a skeletal appearance. The dark hair she had given both her children was plastered to her skull by sweat, and her blue eyes were dull and lifeless. When she spoke, her voice was a harsh whisper.

"Caelina, come here." Reluctantly, the girl stepped forward to the side of the bed, holding her hands still at her sides as her mother reached out for her.

"Caelina, I need your help. Look how sick I am this time." She winced in pain as the muscles in her legs twitched in a violent spasm. Caelina only stared down at her, keeping her face blank. "You turn thirteen tomorrow," her mother said, a wan smile crossing her face. "That's a special age, you're almost a woman. And because of that, you have the chance to help me and your brother, as well as yourself."

The emaciated woman coughed, curling up on her side as another spasm tightened her muscles. "Givasi is looking for another girl to work at his place. I talked to him, you start there tomorrow. It'll be a good way for you to make some credits, help out around the house. His man will come for you in the morning."

Caelina's eyes slid closed. Suddenly, she felt as if everything around her was no longer real. When she spoke, it was as if she was listening to herself from outside of her body. "I won't do it. I won't -" she swallowed hard, "I won't do what those women at Givasi's do."

"You will, and you'll do it willingly because we are a family." Struggling to sit up, her mother reached out her hand. Caelina jerked away from her touch. "You'll help me, and you'll help your brother."

Suddenly, Caelina felt hands grasping at her arms, tugging them behind her back. Twisting her head, she caught a glimpse of Cavus behind her. She pulled away from him, bolting for the door. He moved quickly, grabbing up a small lamp that stood on the bedside table. Swinging it, he slammed it into the back of the girl's head.

Pain rocketed from the base of her skull down her back as lights burst before her eyes and she went down hard. Dazed, she couldn't resist as her younger brother leapt on her back, pummeling her head and the side of her face with his fists. Blow after blow rained down on her skull. The last image she saw as he dragged her away, unconsciousness threatening to claim her, was of her mother, laying there in a pile of wadded bed sheets, staring at her as if she were merely a possession to sell for spice.


*****



Torian leaned over Apocalypsa, his sapphire eyes full of concern. She had been sleeping fitfully ever since he had taken over the watch. Small sounds escaped her lips every so often, and she mumbled words he couldn't quite make out. He could see her eyes moving rapidly back and forth beneath her eyelids. She cried out, her hands balled into fists and beating at the air. He couldn't take it anymore, and reached out to shake her gently.

"Apoc. Wake up." He frowned. "You're dreaming."

Her eyes flickered open, unfocused and glazed over. Her breath was ragged as she slowly came out of sleep, and she reached out to grasp at Torian's hand. He twisted his fingers around hers and squeezed her palm gently.

"Torian." Her voice quivered slightly. "I'm sorry. I'm a mess." She pushed herself into a sitting position, keeping her hold on his hand.

"You were dreaming. Didn't look like a very good one."

"It wasn't."

He sat down next to her, leaning his back against the wall. They had found this abandoned settlement shortly after the incident at the wrecked camp. Several small pre-fabricated buildings of the type meant to fold and expand for easy movement were scattered around, deserted by whoever had put them here.

She stared up at him silently, her bright green eyes searching his face. Her free hand moved up, fingers tracing one of the scars he bore on his cheeks. He reached up and took her hand in his, holding them both tightly as he tugged her closer, snuggling her body against his in the darkness. She leaned on him gratefully, breathing in his scent as he wrapped his arms around her.

"Tell me about it." He spoke softly, staring down into her eyes in the dimness of the Tarisian twilight.

She shook her head slightly. "You don't want to hear about my bad dream."

"Apoc." He tightened his arms around her. "Something happened. Since the fight at the camp, you've been different. You've been quiet, and you looked like you'd seen a ghost. Now you're having nightmares. Your mind is distracted, and we can't afford distraction right now."

Biting her lip, she spoke quietly. "It's not important, it'll go away. We should get ready to leave." She tried to rise, but he held her tightly, his arms like a vise around her body. "Let me up, Torian."

He shook his head in silent denial. "Mhi me'dinui an," he said, speaking the words that had been part of their marriage vows to each other. "We share all."

Her eyebrow lifted slightly. "I thought that just meant you always got the last bite of tiingilar off my plate."

"It does." He smiled down at her in the darkness. "It also means that we share everything, cyare. Not just possessions, but all things - joy and happiness, pain and suffering alike. Tell me what's going on."

She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. "It's not that easy. The past is coming back to haunt me. I thought I had left it behind."

"Cin vhetin," he whispered. "White field. A clean slate. You got one when you became Mandalorian. Nothing from before matters anymore. Only what you've done since."

"That's easy to say. But the before is now the present. And now, my past could get me killed. And you, too."

She felt him shrug. "I don't think we're so easily defeated. Tell me what's going on, cyare. Can't help if you keep me in the dark."

Unwelcome tears sprang to her eyes beneath her closed lids. She took a deep, ragged breath. She hadn't cried since that night twelve years ago. She had vowed she would never cry again. Not wanting Torian to see her weakness, she bowed her head against his body, hiding her face as she fought with her emotions. The moment passed and she eased back a bit, looking up at him again.

"I was born on Nar Shaddaa," she began, nodding as his eyebrow lifted in question. "Nobody knows. When I went there with Mako a couple years ago, I just played dumb, acted like I didn't know anything about the planet, when truth be told, I know far more than I want to."

"My mother was a spice addict," Apoc said flatly. "A few years after I was born, she met a man she thought was the best thing in the galaxy. He got her into using spice, and when she told him she was pregnant, he left her. With him gone, she burned through what little money we had to feed her addiction. My brother almost died when he was born, there were so many chemicals pumped through his body in the womb." Her voice turned bitter.

"You'd think the sight of a sick baby would have gotten her to stop, but it just made things worse. I was only three, but I remember how he cried and cried when she brought him home, and she would get angry, throw things, break things, screaming at him to stop crying even though he couldn't because his little body was in so much pain." She fell silent for a moment before continuing.

"I was six when I saw Mandalorians for the first time. They used to come to our neighborhood because we had a cantina that served drinks they liked and didn't mind rowdiness or occasional violence. I saw them coming up the street a few times a week, the same group of three - bounty hunters, I learned later, that worked the cities of the planet seeking out people who didn't want to be found. I thought they were amazing. They did what they wanted, enjoyed life to the fullest, and weren't afraid of anything. I wanted to be like that. I scoured the holonet, learning all about Mandalorian life. And every night I would sit in the window, hoping to see them walk by again, hoping for the reminder that there was something else out there in the galaxy besides living the way I was living. That there were people out there who strived to better themselves rather than wallow in their own sorrow. People who sought glory and honor, and who would fight to their last breath to gain it or keep it."

"Big dreams for a little girl." Torian's voice was gentle. She laughed softly, humorlessly.

"Cavus - my brother, he didn't think much of it. When he got older, he would make fun of me for having those sort of dreams for my future. He was slavishly devoted to our mother. She was kind to him, until the spice ran out. Then she would turn vicious as the sickness set in, telling him it was all his fault she was alone and suffering. When he was eight, he started going out at night, using his youth to lure people into giving him things - money, food. If they didn't give him anything he would steal it from them. He brought the money home to my mother, who praised him and called him a good boy, then turned around and used it to buy more spice."

"She used a child to feed her addiction?" When Apocalypsa nodded, Torian frowned deeply at her. "What about you?"

"I told him to stop. It didn't seem to matter. Cavus was... different. Not like most children. Cold and cruel, even at eight years old. We had a neighbor, a girl with some kind of mongrel dog that used to bark at anything that moved. Cavus hated it, said it was a stupid creature. One morning, the girl found the dog dead in the street. Someone had stabbed it in the chest. I never told anyone, but I saw Cavus washing blood off his hands the night before. I know he killed that girl's pet, but I didn't want to believe it, not of an eight year old."

"But you were only what, eleven?"

She sighed. "I was. I asked him about it. 'Don't worry, Caelina', he told me. 'At least that yappy mutt won't wake Mother anymore.' As if that was the only thing that mattered. He never would admit that he killed that dog, but I know he did."

Torian's sapphire eyes narrowed at her. "Caelina," he said, "is what that man who tried to kill us called you."

Her breath hitched slightly as she swallowed hard again. "Yes. I didn't recognize him at first. Not until he said my name. It's been twelve years - his face is leaner, crueler. He's gotten tall."

"Why does he want you dead?" The question hung in the air for a moment before she answered.

"The night I left home - it was the eve of my thirteenth birthday. The money had run out again, and my mother was sick from the spice withdrawal. When she was like that, Cavus would take care of her, sitting with her and talking to her while her body twitched, holding a sick-pail for her to vomit into when she couldn't keep any food or drink down. He would sit with her a while, then he would go out and steal, buying the spice for her with the money he got, bringing it home and giving it to her. He called it her 'medicine', and I think he really believed he was doing right by her."

"Anyway, that night when he came home, he had gone into her room and sat with her a while. I was sitting at the window like I usually did in the evenings. He came out of her room, told me she wanted to see me. When I went to talk to her -" Apoc's voice trailed off.

"Tell me." Torian lifted his hand, stroked her cheek gently.

"She told me she had gotten me a job. Said I had to go the next day to 'work' for Givasi, a Weequay employed by one of the Hutts in the cartel. He was slime of the highest caliber. I was young, but I wasn't naive. I knew what kind of 'work' waited for me at Givasi's place. He sold women - young ones - at high price to be... to be used by the cartel's employees. My mother had mentioned before that Givasi had told her I would fetch a premium price, but I had really thought that was a line she wouldn't cross. I was her daughter, after all."

She felt Torian's body tense up, and lifted her head up to look at him. His deep blue eyes were hard, his jaw clenched. He stared at her, rage building in his gaze. "And your brother?"

"He... he was eleven. He knew what it meant, what... working at Givasi's meant. When I refused, he jumped on me - beat me unconscious. I was so shocked that this was actually happening that I couldn't fight back. He threw me into my room, shut the door, blocked it with furniture. We lived on the tenth floor. That night, I climbed from my window and made my way down the side of the building, using cracks and windowsills for handholds. I thought I was going to fall so many times, and it was such a long way down. When I reached the ground, I just took off. I had read about Mandalorian children going through a trial when they were the age I was, so I decided if they could do it, so could I. I killed my first man a week later, became a bounty hunter."

"You put yourself through the verd'goten." When she nodded at him, he frowned at her. "The trial of survival - and you succeeded."

"I did. I cut my hair, changed my name. I wanted to leave that life behind me, wanted to throw it away and start fresh. I wanted to pretend I was anything but the scared little girl who thought she could be a warrior. I tested myself, tried to better myself, to hone my skills."

"You were a warrior." Torian's voice took on a hard edge. "You are a warrior, cyare. You fight with conviction, you never back down, and you can't be bought. You are everything you ever wanted to be, and then some."

"Am I?" She shook her head. "Or am I still pretending?"

"Don't start doubting yourself now." He tapped her forehead gently with his index finger. "You're smarter than that. This man, Cavus, he's nothing. Less than nothing. He's not your brother anymore."

She let the words soak into her brain. In the silence that followed, she saw many images running together in her mind. Her mother, lying in the bed, deep in the throes of the spice euphoria. Her brother's cruel face as he taunted her for her ideals. Everything she had been through in the past few years since she had met Mako and Torian.

Her ear was pressed to his chest, and she could hear his heart beating strongly, in perfect synchronization with her own. Here was the one person in the galaxy who truly knew her and understood her. With that simple statement - "he's not your brother anymore" - he had released her from her internal struggle. She knew what she had to do to finally be free from the chains of her past.

"Torian," she whispered softly. He slipped his fingers beneath her chin and tilted her face to look down into her emerald eyes.

"Give the signal," he told her. "They're dead."

silvershadows's Avatar


silvershadows
04.03.2012 , 09:23 AM | #4
4


It had rained again while Torian and Apocalypsa were resting. The muddy soil of Taris sucked at their boots as they made their way down a dark, twisting path through the trees. Moonlight filtered down through the leaves and splashed cold light in patches that didn't serve to illuminate much of anything.

As the master tracker, Torian took the lead, walking a few paces ahead of Apoc. She followed after him, her mind swirling with thoughts even as she scanned the area for danger. Her helmet's HUD displayed nothing other than a few non-sentient small life forms within its radius. In the distance, a varactyl screeched its haunting cry.

Torian had found a set of fresh humanoid tracks that crossed and re-crossed the main path that served as a road through the swamp, but so far no sign of the mysterious creature they sought. If it hadn't been for the gruesome evidence of the corpses back at the Imperial garrison, Apocalypsa would have dismissed the monster as a myth conjured by overactive imaginations or the inhalation of too much swamp gas.

She sighed beneath her helmet. Things were getting complicated. They had come to Taris to relax and enjoy a good hunt, and it had turned into a mess. Apoc stared at Torian's back as he walked before her. Unconsciously, her hands clenched into fists - it wasn't fair that her past was putting him at risk. Though she had felt better immediately after their talk earlier, doubts had begun to trickle into her mind as they traveled through the night. The fact that he would gladly face death for her, and she for him, was irrelevant in this case as far as she was concerned. Cavus was her problem, and hers alone.

Anger began to build within her as thoughts continued to roil inside of her head like a wind-swept sea. All of the work she had done - the trials she had been through, the sacrifices she had made. In her mind she heard her mother's voice again telling her that she was to be given over to be used by men of the most vile sort, felt her brother's fists pummeling her body into submission. She remembered the panic that threatened to overcome her while scaling down the side of her building's wall - the fear she had felt as she hurried down the street, praying to all the stars Cavus wasn't looking out of the window.

"Blast!" Her armored fist shot out, smashing into a tree trunk, sending bark and wood chips flying from the impact. Torian turned to look at her.

"Apoc?" He pointed at the damage she had done to the tree. "What's this about?" Her gaze followed his finger, and she sighed.

"Nothing. I'm fine." He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her from his visor. Apocalypsa pushed ahead of him, resumed walking along the path. Her boots sunk slightly into the mud with each step she took. Shrugging in exasperation, Torian followed after her.

"Do you remember when we met?" Torian's soft question filled Apoc's ears as he spoke over their direct communications link.

"On Dromund Kaas?"

"Right, at the hunter's camp. We were there hunting sithspawn when you showed up with Mako." He picked up his pace slightly to walk side by side with her. "You were after the biggest, toughest monster you could find. Jogo thought you wouldn't make it back."

"I remember him calling you arue'tal - traitor's son. I didn't know what it meant then, but I still wanted to punch his teeth down his throat for it. He was so smug and condescending. You told him I was more of a warrior than he was." She laughed softly. "He didn't like that much, did he?"

"No." Torian shook his head. "Cooled his hot head when you came back, though. You proved him wrong."

"Then I went after your... after Jicoln."

"Right. And when we caught up with him, you let me do the honors." He stopped walking and squatted down, looking at the ground, where the outline of a booted foot was visible in the mud.

"You shot him," she said. "You thanked me for it after. I remember, I watched you do it - when I saw you pull that trigger - I think I fell in love with you right then." She chuckled wryly as he looked up at her. "You were so determined, so focused on what you wanted - what you needed to do. You would do anything to get back the honor you felt you lost, and you did."

"I did." He stood up, stepping off the trail, leading her forward in the direction the footprints were traveling. "What I'm telling you, cyare, is that you are like that, too. You are a warrior, a Mandalorian. If your past won't leave you alone, kill it."

His words hung in the air between them. She knew he was right - he usually was. "I really should have known it would come down to this."

He nodded. "This galaxy wasn't made for love and peace." A few steps later, he stopped. A dark shape huddled on the ground in front of them, at the base of an old, ruined wall that had separated one part of the old ruined city from another.

Instantly alert, Apocalypsa's left hand went to the blaster at her hip. She hesitated before drawing - her HUD wasn't reporting any life forms. "A corpse?" She stepped forward, looking down at it. "Ugh."

The body lying on the ground before her had belonged to a human, but had been ravaged so badly that species was the only sort of identification possible. The man's face had been torn off nearly completely. One of the eyes was missing, a deep gouge was carved from skull to chin. Tattered cloth and leather had once covered the corpse's chest and abdomen, but had been ripped away, exposing large wounds from which the white of bone could be seen gleaming as ribs peeked through the mauled flesh. The entire stomach area was gone, so far as Apoc could tell - a huge hole gaped there, no intestines or other organs remained in the cavity. One arm had been violently pulled from the body and lay to the side, missing huge hunks of flesh.

Torian picked the severed limb up, inspected the jagged stump. Wordlessly, he held it out toward her, displaying deep gouges carved into the exposed bone.

"Teeth?"

He nodded in answer to her question. "Definitely the work of our monster. Tracks all over the ground. They go north."

Apoc cast her gaze to the ground, eying the tracks herself. "Then north is where we're going - hang on." A flash of movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention. A severed finger lay on the ground, and next to it, a tiny lizard. As she stepped toward it, it stared up at her with beady black eyes from within a dark scaly head. She leaned down and picked it up. "Look at this little guy."

"You interrupted its dinner." Torian grinned at her. She shook her head at him, then gave a soft exclamation as the reptile in her hand suddenly vanished. Torian raised an eyebrow. "What just happened?"

"I'm not sure." She stared down at her palm. "I can feel it in my hand still." With her other hand, she jabbed a finger at the empty space in her palm. As she did, she felt her glove connect with the lizard's body. Nudging it, she noticed that it seemed the paint on her gauntlet became smeared in a vaguely reptile-like shape. "Camouflage?"

"Never seen anything camouflage itself that well. Almost invisible."

She frowned beneath her helmet. "Invisible. Like whatever's killing people." She poked at the lizard again, gently. Suddenly, it came into view again as it latched itself onto the tip of her armored finger, trying to sink its teeth into metal. The red and gold coloration that had perfectly matched Apoc's glove faded back into the reptile's natural dark greenish-black pigmentation. Cursing, she shook her hand and dropped the creature onto the ground. Immediately, it vanished as it took on the appearance of the mud at her feet.

Thin wisps of smoke curled up from Apoc’s fingertip. Holding it up, she frowned as she noticed tiny pits in the crimson paint. She bent down, wiped her hand in the grass, then straightened. Her gaze went from the ground where the lizard had disappeared, to the corpse lying nearby, then to Torian. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Probably.” He raised his hand, pointing to the north. “Let’s get going. Tracks are still fresh.”

She nodded, and together they walked away, leaving the body to the swamp.


*****


Ten men marched down the trail toward Olaris, their heavy booted feet drumming out a cadence as they stepped over ancient paving stones. As they traveled toward the Republic settlement, they talked among themselves, discussing the upcoming battle they would fight for the Empire’s credits.

Mandalorians all, they looked forward to the thrill of the fight, to the rush of adrenaline that came with being under fire. Their armor shone in the moonlight, their boastful declarations ringing through the night air. They cared not if they were spotted – after all, it was one thing to see them coming, and an entirely different thing to do something about it.

The man in the lead stopped suddenly and held up a hand. Behind him, the others came to a halt, each of them drawing their weapons. They cast their gazes around in the darkness, trying to find whatever had alerted the leader.

A loud, rumbling roar filled the air, and a blast of heat washed over them. The ground heaved, and they were thrown off their feet, tumbling across the ground. Before the sound had faded away, another explosion rocked the air, and then another. The stones beneath their feet cracked, shattered, and became flying projectiles of sharp rock glowing red with heat that pierced armor, sizzling into the skin beneath. Roiling flames shot up from the widening cracks, engulfing the startled men.

Several more detonations buckled the earth beneath them. Shouts and cries of pain filled the air as their bodies were ravaged by the explosions, severing limbs and blowing off chunks of flesh. A few moments later, all was quiet. Smoke and gritty dust obscured the grisly sight of the mangled bodies.

As it settled, two men scrambled down a nearby tree, stepping forward to examine the destruction they had wrought. Danven shook his head slightly as Cavus clapped his hands together, laughing.

“It’s so beautiful!” Cavus was so happy he could almost dance. “The only good Mandalorian is a dead Mandalorian.”

A soft groan drew his attention. Picking his way through the body parts on the ground, he found the source of the noise. A young male Zabrak lay curled in pain, hands over the smoking hole that used to be his gut. His tattooed face was covered in blood that dripped into his eyes. Several of his cranial horns had been broken off. Drawing his foot back, Cavus kicked him, hard, in the side. Leaning down, he drew his blaster pistol and held it to the injured Mandalorian’s forehead.

“Good riddance.” He pulled the trigger. The Zabrak’s hands relaxed and fell away from his wounds as death claimed him.

“If this doesn’t tick off those two we’re after,” Danven began, shoving his hands into his pockets, “then nothing will.”

“I want Caelina to suffer.” Cavus gestured over the broken bodies. “These men wouldn’t have died if it wasn’t for her.” He paused for a moment as Danven began to go through what possessions still remained from the dead men. The big man picked up a disembodied hand, slipped a ring off its finger.

“Hurry up.” Cavus tapped his foot impatiently. He really didn’t want to be there when the bodies were discovered.


*****


A kilometer away, Apocalypsa and Torian pushed their way past a barrier of leafy vines that had grown down from an overhanging tree branch. In unison they lifted their heads as the sound of a distant explosion reached them. Words were unnecessary as they turned their steps in that direction, breaking into a run. Their boots sunk deep into the muddy soil, slowing them down.

Apoc had no idea what had caused the blast, but would have bet every last credit she owned that Cavus had something to do with it. As she skidded through the mud, she drew her blasters, taking slight comfort in their reassuring weight in her hands.

They burst out of the swampy wood to behold a gruesome spectacle. Apocalypsa stopped short, observing the charred earth, the scattered bodies and mangled limbs that littered the trail before her. Her knees felt weak, legs threatening to give out beneath her. A piece of twisted metal lay at her feet. Picking it up, she stared at it dully. Beneath the charring, she could make out the outline of a stylized horned skull – the emblem of the Mandalorians.

Torian had already moved forward to inspect the remains. Finding the dead Zabrak, he frowned. “Apoc,” his voice came over their direct comlink. “This one was shot.” She moved to his side, kneeling down beside the corpse. Sure enough, a blaster bolt had burned a hole through his skull.

“Cavus.” She looked up at Torian. “It had to be. The Republic would have sent a squad and they would still be here.”

He nodded. “These are Fett’s men.”

She sighed. “What do we do with them? I don’t feel right just leaving them here for the scavengers to pick over, it’s not – wait.” A red light flashed on her HUD. Gesturing for silence, she stood. Her gaze moved around, settling on a large tree that reached for the sky at the side of the trail. Stepping toward it, she moved around the trunk.

Danven stood there, his hulking body pressed up against the rough bark. When Apoc came around, blaster at the ready, he held up his hands, palm open. The ring he had stolen tumbled from his grip to the ground. Coming around the other side, Torian bent down to pick it up. Examining it, he found a Mando’a inscription on the inside of the band – “kote o'r ijaat.” Glory in honor. Wordlessly, he passed it to Apocalypsa.

Her fingers closed around it as her other hand held her blaster trained on Danven. The big man opened his mouth as if to speak, but before he could get out a word, Apoc had shoved the barrel of her pistol between his lips. She pushed it deeper into his throat, choking him.

“Understand this,” she said flatly, coldly. “You’re dead. No matter what happens here, you are finished. Am I clear?” He nodded. “I could be persuaded,” she continued, “to kill you cleanly. Where is Cavus?” She yanked the blaster out of his mouth, scr aping it against his teeth as she withdrew it. Keeping it pointed at him, her other fist remained closed around the ring he had dropped.

Danven coughed, his throat raw. “He took off as soon as you showed up.” He shrugged. “Kill me already. I’m dead anyway. Me and Cavus owe some people some money and we’re not going to get it.”

With her closed fist, she gestured at the carnage on the road. “Why this? Why kill these men, they have nothing to do with me!”

“Cavus said he wants you to suffer. Can’t say I don’t enjoy a little mayhem, myself.”

Something inside Apoc snapped. Her booted foot came up, caught Danven in the gut. He fell to his knees, groaning. Reaching down, Apoc grabbed him by the hair, yanking his head back. Her armored fist drove into his face, turning his nose into a bloody pulp. Holstering her blaster, she forced the fingers of her hand into his mouth, prying it open. With her left hand she dropped the ring she held into his throat, shoving it down with her fingers. He choked and sputtered as he instinctively tried to breathe. His hands came up, pushing at her futilely while she drew her blaster again, slamming it deep into his mouth. A line of drool escaped the corner of his lips, his dark brown eyes wide in panic.

Vercopa gar mar'eyir naasad udes o'r kyr'am”, she whispered. “May you find no rest in death.” She squeezed the trigger.





5



Torian stood outside the gateway of the Imperial garrison. He leaned on the wall, face tilted toward the stars as he waited for Apocalypsa to join him. She was still inside the Mandalorian encampment, speaking to Vorten Fett. Unable to bring the bodies of the slain back, they had piled the body parts together and set them ablaze deep within the Tarisian swamp. Not content with a holocall, Apoc had wanted to return to Commander Fett and tell him of the fate of his men personally.

Torian knew she felt directly responsible for their demise, and that it was fueling a desire for revenge within her. More than just vengeance, it was skira she was after – settling the score between herself and Cavus – a blood feud that could only end when one of them lay dead.

He heard her approaching and turned to face her. As she came around the corner, he smiled. While they were in the encampment, she had decided to repaint their armor. Her beskar’gam was now jet-black from head to toe, except for where golden paint had been used to outline the T-shaped visor and to create the markings on her chest that matched his scars. On her shoulders she had painted in gold the stylized horned skull that was the symbol of the Mandalorians. Torian’s own armor had been colored to match, minus the chest markings.

“Black for justice, gold for vengeance.” She smiled grimly at him as he spoke. “I approve.”

“Glad to see you’re so happy,” she said dryly. “Fett is trying to contact the clans of the men Cavus killed. I told him we’re going back on the hunt. He said he wished he could join us.”

Nodding, Torian pushed himself off the wall and began to walk forward. Apoc fell into step next to him. They walked in silence for a while, winding their way northward. Night had fallen, blanketing the swamp in velvety darkness. Every once in a while, Torian turned his head and looked down at Apoc at his side. She took each step with determination, her hands hovering over her blasters as if ready to draw them and blast anything that stepped in their path.

The night was quiet, filled only with the sounds of wildlife. Varactyls cried out in the distance, filling the chill air with their haunting screeches. The ground beneath their feet, while still muddy, had hardened somewhat and made their passage easier.

After traveling for a few hours, they came into a break in the path that opened into a small clearing of flat, hard, rocky ground. Beneath her helmet, Apocalypsa’s brow furrowed in slight confusion. Her HUD was showing the presence of a life form – a large one, if the display was to be believed – about ten meters ahead of them. Her gaze traveled over the rocky ground and up into the twisted trees that surrounded them, but found nothing. She drew her blasters.

“I think we have company.”

Torian nodded, his hand moving to pull his staff from his back. “Think so.”

Frowning, Apoc took a few more steps forward. She could hear a sound, a scr aping, like claws over rock. “This could be tricky, huh?”

The words were barely out of her mouth when suddenly a large shape appeared, black against the darkness of night. She caught a glimpse of razor sharp teeth in a gaping maw before she went flying through the air, impacting against a tree trunk and sliding down to the ground. Her stomach ached from whatever had hit her.

Torian was swinging his staff wildly, hitting nothing but air. “Can’t find it!” Apoc shook her head – the creature had vanished. She picked herself up off the soil, lifted her blasters, and began firing them, sweeping them back and forth.

The blue-white bolts flew forward, impacted something – the monster roared in pain. Turning toward the sound, Torian swung again. This time his staff hit home, and he could feel the vibrations travel up to his hands as skin and muscle gave way beneath his blow. A few large black scales flew through the air and landed at Apoc’s feet.

A high-pitched shriek filled the air, and suddenly the creature was visible again as it struck out. Apocalypsa’s eyes went wide as she stared at it. Four and a half meters of scaled muscle and sinew loomed over Torian, maw opened wide to display teeth as big as her hand. Venom dripped from a forked tongue, and it reached out with a taloned foreleg, swiping razor-sharp claws inches in front of the blond man’s armored face.

Ducking under the sweeping claws, Torian danced around the overgrown reptile’s side, hammering a series of blows with his staff along its dark-scaled body. The monster’s long, ridged tail came around, slapped into his abdomen. Torian went down, tumbling across the ground to land at Apoc’s feet. The creature disappeared again, vanishing into the darkness.

Reaching down to haul Torian to his feet, Apoc fired off a few shots with her other hand at the spot where the lizard had been just a few moments earlier. The laser bursts hit nothing until they reached a tree across the clearing, sending bark and wood ships flying.

“It’s only visible when it attacks.” After making this statement, Apoc ran forward, offering herself as a target. Her HUD showed the creature a bare five meters away, and she skidded to a stop as it lunged at her, flashing into existence with its head diving down at her. Acidic venom dripped from its jaws, spattering over her armor and causing it to smoke as the paint began to dissolve. She fired her blasters, sky blue energy splashing against greenish-black scales. The scent of charred lizard filled the air, mingling with the ozone odor of blaster fire.

As the lizard’s head came down, Apoc leapt back to avoid being impaled on the wicked teeth. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Torian come running forward, taking a flying leap at the creature just as it disappeared from view again. He landed solidly on top of its hindquarters, appearing to Apoc to be hovering in the air as he scrambled forward, straddling the monster’s back and lifting his staff above his head. With a wild cry, he brought it down toward where he imagined the lizard’s head to be.

An ear-splitting roar erupted from its throat as Torian’s strike connected. Aiming her pistols just below where Torian rode atop the creature, Apoc let loose with a hail of blaster fire.

Oya!” The shout came simultaneously from both Apoc and Torian’s mouths, ringing through the swampy wood.


*****


Cavus walked through the swamp, hunched over against the chill air with his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jacket. He had left Danven back at the scene of destruction they had caused when Apocalypsa and Torian had come bursting into view. His comm unit had been silent, no word from the big man had come to him. He decided it was safe to assume Danven was dead – no Mandalorian would allow him to continue living after the carnage he had helped cause.

Cavus didn’t mourn his friend, his mind was too delighted by the thought of the suffering he had surely inflicted upon Apocalypsa. How he longed to see the proud Mandalorian woman brought down a peg or two, put in her place with the rest of the galaxy’s mercenary scum.

He wasn’t stupid, though, and knew that without Danven, his chance of taking down the pair of Mandalorian warriors was slim indeed. He had decided to trail them and wait for an opportune moment, but had lost them a short time ago when they had stepped off the path into the darkness of the swamp.

He cocked his head to the side as the sound of blaster fire reached his ears. He hurried in the direction it came from, then slowed his steps as he got closer, finding himself at the edge of a clearing ringed with trees.

Oya!” The Mando’a cry - “Let’s hunt!” - came to him from the clearing. He peered around the edge of the tree he stood behind, eyes widening as he noticed Apocalypsa firing her blasters at the empty space in front of her. Her male companion was floating in the air in front and above her, his staff lifting and falling over and over as he brought it down on top of something Cavus could not see.

The terrible roar of something split the air, and to Cavus’ continued amazement, a huge reptile appeared underneath the blond Mandalorian, its green-black scales shimmering under the moonlight. Blue-white laser bolts splashed off its chest as Apocalypsa fired her blasters again.

Crouching behind the tree, Cavus watched the battle unfold, waiting for his moment.


*****


Apoc fired again and again, sending streams of blue energy toward the monster. It reared up, roaring in pain. With a surprised shout, Torian suddenly lost his grip and went tumbling down the lizard’s back. He hit the ground hard and rolled to his feet. He had just regained his balance when the monster’s powerfully muscled tail came around, slapping him hard in the side. He went flying, landing on the rocky soil with a groan. He could feel sharp pain shooting from his chest to his back, like a hot knife lancing through his body. Broken ribs, he decided, as he struggled to push his arms down on the ground and lift his body up.

Apocalypsa’s gaze followed Torian’s involuntary flight. She could feel white-hot rage building inside of her as the reptile appeared in front of her, bleeding from wounds to its chest. One of its eyes was a mess of blood and sticky ichor from Torian’s staff smashing into it repeatedly. She lifted her arm, brought her blaster up and in line. Firing several bolts, she watched them fly through the air and lance into the creature’s ruined eye socket.

In a rage, it reared up again, gathering its legs beneath it. Apoc felt her heart pounding in her chest as time seemed to slow, almost stop. The lizard lunged at her with its head held down, slamming into her and pushing her back into one of the huge trees that ringed the clearing.

She lifted her fist, beating on the creatures snout as it held her pinned against the rough bark. Stars danced before her eyes as she began to lose the ability to breathe, her armor slowly being crushed beneath the enormous pressure being exerted by the powerful reptile. Her blows became weaker as her strength began to drain. Across the clearing, she could see Torian struggling to stand and come to her aid.

Suddenly, the pressure on her chest was gone as the giant lizard pulled its head back. Giant maw gaping, it prepared to take a bite out of the woman in front of it. Apoc held her left arm out, blaster in hand.

Swirling pain suddenly enveloped her as the creature’s head came forward, swallowing her arm nearly up to her shoulder. A haze of red covered her vision as she felt the serrated teeth puncture her beskar’gam, punching through the strong Mandalorian iron as if it were a thin layer of aluminum. She could hear popping and grinding sounds as the powerful jaws broke her bones. Her mind whirled, the pain so great that it threatened to take consciousness away from her. Dimly, she heard Torian calling her name. A high pitched ringing filled her ears. Her arm burned as the creature’s venom worked its way beneath her skin.

Her legs gave out beneath her, sending her to her knees with her arm held up in the maw of the monster. She shook her head violently. This could not be her end. She stared up into the reptile’s one remaining beady black eye, its mirror-like surface reflecting her helmet in the moonlight. Gritting her teeth, she ground out a single word.

“Toast.”

The voice command activated the flamethrower hidden in her gauntlet. Blue-white flame erupted from the sides of the monster’s mouth as fire streamed down its throat, scorching it and rendering it useless for breathing or swallowing. With a hideous, shrill cry, the reptile released her arm and fell back to the ground, rolling around in agony. Its dying spasms carried it across the clearing to where Torian lay, and he tried to get out of the way, his own injuries slowing his movements. The creature thrashed about, finally coming to a stop partially atop the blond Mandalorian, who struggled to free himself.

On her knees by the tree, Apoc struggled to breathe through the pain that lanced up her useless arm. With her healthy right hand, she reached up and tugged the helmet off of her head, closing her eyes and taking in deep gulps of the cool Tarisian night air.



*****


Behind the tree Apoc leaned against, Cavus had watched the whole thing. For a moment, he thought the monster would deprive him the chance to kill Apocalypsa himself, but watching her struggle for her miserable life brought him such intense pleasure that he didn’t mind. When the reptile had latched itself onto her arm, a sadistic smile spread across his face.

Now the creature lay, dying or dead, atop the other Mandalorian. Apoc was hurt, grievously so, and Cavus decided now was the time for him to make his move. He stepped out from behind the tree and moved to stand in front of Apoc. She had her eyes closed and her head leaning back against the bark, raven hair slicked with sweat that poured down her pale face. Her dark lips were parted slightly as she attempted to breathe through the agony that was shooting through her entire body. Her helmet was lying on the ground next to her, and her body shook with violent shivering that had nothing to do with the cool night air.

“Hello, Caelina.” His voice, soft and sinister, caused her to open her eyes. She stared up at him, uncomprehending. Her emerald eyes rolled back in her head slightly as he leaned down and gripped the wrist of her shattered left arm.

“Cavus…” she gasped his name, then screamed when he yanked on her arm. Bright red blood poured from the holes in her armor, running down the black-painted beskar’gam in a scarlet river. That sadistic smile painted on his face, he began to twist the ruined gauntlet around her arm, digging the jagged metal underneath into her skin. Across the clearing, Torian watched helplessly as he tried to drag himself out from under the reptile’s corpse.

“My dear sister,” Cavus leaned down to whisper into her ear. “Your time has finally come.” With those words, he straightened, then snapped his foot out to kick her in her stomach. His foot impacted her armor where it had been weakened and dented from the battle with the giant lizard. Her bruised ribs sent waves of anguish through her body.

Cavus kicked her again, hard, and she fell to the side, rolling onto her back. He stood over her, bending down to land a blow with his closed fist to the side of her head.

Apocalypsa had never thought it was possible to be in this much pain. Her mind was swirling with random thoughts as her vision blurred and she felt the punch to her head snap her neck sideways. In her mind’s eye, she was a child again, being beaten by her brother in an attempt to subdue her and force her to sell her own body for her mother’s spice addiction.

She heard Torian yell her name again, bringing her back to the present. Cavus stood above her, one of her own blaster pistols in his hand, aiming it down toward her face. She narrowed her eyes, trying to clear her vision of the haze that threatened to obscure it.

“How does it feel, Caelina?” Cavus sneered at her, his finger tightening around the trigger. “Do you know now how our mother felt as she lay in that bed? Can you feel her suffering?” Suddenly, he dropped the blaster to the ground, reaching to his belt and pulling out a long, thin vibroblade. Dropping to his knees next to her, Cavus took the tip of the knife and held it to her jaw just below her ear.

“I don’t think you’ve suffered enough.” With those words, he began to giggle hysterically, drawing the vibroknife over her skin, dragging it from her ear to her chin, leaving a thin trail of blood behind it. Reaching out with his other hand, he traced his finger along the wound, then lifted it and watched the blood drip down onto her face.

She had been lying there, unable to speak for the pain that washed over her. The sight of her own blood falling from Cavus’ finger seemed to clear her mind, leaving her focused, determined. So obsessed was he with the sight of the red liquid and the knife cutting through her skin, that he didn’t notice her right hand moving to grasp the blaster pistol he had dropped. She curled her fingers around it, taking comfort in the feel of it within her grip.

Across the clearing, Torian had finally managed to escape from underneath the dead creature’s body. He started to run toward Apocalypsa, aiming himself at Cavus’ unprotected back.

With another sinister giggle, Cavus pressed the tip of the vibroknife against the base of Apoc’s throat. He nicked her skin, applying pressure slowly. Her pain was intoxicating to him, and he wanted to drag out every last moment of her death. She just stared up at him, her emerald eyes shining in the dim light.

“Time for you to die, Caelina. And as your life slips away from you, know that it was your brother who took it.” He prepared to slide the blade into her throat.

“My only brothers,” she gasped out, swiftly lifting the hand holding the blaster and pressing it up against Cavus’ stomach as he leaned over her. “Are the men who lay in pieces because of you.” She pulled the trigger.

His pale blue eyes went wide as he tumbled backward off of her. Falling to the ground, hands coming to cover the smoking hole in his stomach, he rolled around, crying out in pain. Torian finally reached them, and without any fanfare lifted his staff and slammed it into the side of Cavus’ head. His skull shattered and collapsed, and he lay still.

Kneeling beside Apoc, Torian slipped his arm underneath her and helped her to sit up. She leaned on him gratefully. “It’s over,” she whispered softly. He nodded, then frowned as he examined her wounds. Blood continued to trickle out from her gauntlet, and pooled on the ground next to her. Her emerald eyes stared dully at Cavus’ body.

“It’s over,” she whispered again, then her eyes rolled back in her head and she went limp in Torian’s grasp.

“Apoc!” He shook her violently, but she didn’t respond. He swallowed hard, pushing his panic down as he scooped her up into his arms and stood, turning toward the Mandalorian encampment ten kilometers distant. He began to run.

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silvershadows
04.03.2012 , 09:24 AM | #5
Epilogue


The Flameshrike’s engines thrummed powerfully as the ship made its way through hyperspace. Torian stepped up the ramp leading out of the hold and moved toward the small medbay that occupied one corner of the compact starship. He paused in the doorway and smiled.

Apoc lifted her head and smiled back at him. The cut on her face had faded into a thin line that was nearly healed, and she held her left arm submerged in a basin full of kolto. The large, jagged holes in her skin were partially closed, and she was able to flex her fingers again.

“Probably another few days of soaking it like this before I can use it,” she said in answer to Torian’s questioning look. “The bones are mostly healed, the flesh and muscle is taking longer.”

“Was a lot of damage,” he said softly, coming to sit next to her. “Commander Fett thought you might need a cybernetic when I brought you in.”

“No offense to him,” she chuckled, an image of the cyborg Mandalorian surfacing in her head, “but I’m glad I didn’t.”

“Same.” They sat in silence for a few moments, then Torian frowned at her thoughtfully. “You alright?”

“You mean in here?” She tapped the side of her head with her good hand. He nodded. She sucked in a breath, blew it out in a sigh. “Yeah. Cavus is dead, my past is buried again. He was the last link to it. I can finally move on. Feels good.”

Torian smiled at her again. “That’s great. I was worried. Thought you might die on me. Glad to know you’re going to be alright.” He leaned over, kissed her softly. As he pulled away, her hand came up to stroke his cheek gently.

Ni kar’tayli gar darasuum,” she whispered. His sapphire eyes sparkled at her.

“I love you, too.”

A soft cough came from the door. They turned to see Mako standing there, smiling at them. “Hey guys,” she began, leaning against the arched doorway. “How’s the arm?”

“Good,” Apocalypsa answered, raising an eyebrow at the other woman. “Don’t think I’ll be wanting to stick it down a lizard’s throat again anytime soon though.”

“Well that’s probably a smart idea.” Mako giggled softly. “Came to tell you that there’s a holocall for you. It’s… well, it’s Mandalore.”

Apoc and Torian stared at her, then at each other. Wordlessly, they stood, kolto dripping off of Apoc’s arm as she wrapped a soft towel around it. They headed toward the bridge of the ship and the holotable that stood there.

Pressing a button, Apocalypsa smiled as the image of Mand’alor the Vindicated flickered to life over the table.

“Heard you two had quite the adventure,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Took in a big bounty on Taris.”

Nodding, Apocalypsa gestured with her good hand as she spoke. “We did. I gave the credits to Vorten Fett, to give to the families of the men he lost.”

“A worthy act.” He paused for a moment before continuing, “Once more, you bring honor to our clan.” Apoc bowed her head slightly at this praise. Torian just grinned at her.

“I only did what I thought was the right thing to do.” She spoke quietly. “I can always make more credits.”

“Indeed. But before you do,” Mand'alor uncrossed his arms, pointing a holographic finger at the couple standing in front of the table. “How would you two feel about a Jedi hunt?”

Apocalypsa looked at Torian, who nodded at her. She turned her gaze back toward the hologram. “As soon as my arm heals, we’d be glad to do whatever you need.”

“Good to hear.” He smiled grimly at them. “This is what you’ll do…” He began to outline the mission to them. As they stood before the holotable, Apoc couldn’t help but feel a rush of happiness that spread from her head all the way down into her toes. Once more, she had gone through a trial of survival and succeeded. She took a deep breath. She was alive. Truly, wonderfully, alive.
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SpoeMeister
04.03.2012 , 10:05 AM | #6
Signed for later reading. Today I will finish my Bounty Hunter's class quest, so in order to avoid spoilers I will read this story probably tomorrow... So right now, all I can say is, nice picture of the main char and the hubby... matching gear is the best way to show love! :-)
Everything will be OK in the end. If it's not OK, it's not yet the end.

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SpoeMeister Orrusos Do'chan Nadobo

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silvershadows
04.03.2012 , 10:20 AM | #7
Quote: Originally Posted by SpoeMeister View Post
Signed for later reading. Today I will finish my Bounty Hunter's class quest, so in order to avoid spoilers I will read this story probably tomorrow... So right now, all I can say is, nice picture of the main char and the hubby... matching gear is the best way to show love! :-)
Hope you enjoy it!

And yes, even though in the story they are wearing different armor than in the picture, it still matches
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silvershadows
04.03.2012 , 02:44 PM | #8
75 views and no real comments so far? :/

Come on people, the comments are what make me want to write more. Without any, I feel like I worked for a month for nothing!
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Achraya
04.03.2012 , 03:49 PM | #9
I loved it. You did a great job with Torian and Apoc was more than interesting enough as a character to keep me tuned in. I liked the elements of Manda culture you brought in to the story, both with their language and traditions, and the thought/research that clearly went into it. I enjoy stories that give the characters background and you did yours very well, making me feel for Apoc but also feel for her brother, insane and twisted though he was, and getting your reader to sympathize with the 'villain' is no mean feat.

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silvershadows
04.03.2012 , 04:07 PM | #10
Quote: Originally Posted by Achraya View Post
I loved it. You did a great job with Torian and Apoc was more than interesting enough as a character to keep me tuned in. I liked the elements of Manda culture you brought in to the story, both with their language and traditions, and the thought/research that clearly went into it. I enjoy stories that give the characters background and you did yours very well, making me feel for Apoc but also feel for her brother, insane and twisted though he was, and getting your reader to sympathize with the 'villain' is no mean feat.
Thank you

This is exactly the kind of feedback that makes me want to write more.

Mandalorian culture, much like it's RL counterparts - Spartan/Celtic/Viking culture are very interesting to me and something that I'm really into.

One of the most important things, to me, was to show how different Mandalorians are with each other as opposed to how they are with non-Mandalorians. Stepping into Apocalypsa's shoes, both in game and out, has really given me a lot of insight into the culture, and how strong a belief a 'devout' Mandalorian might have.

Cavus, poor, delusional, sociopathic Cavus, never really had a chance - from birth he was doomed. If Apoc hadn't taken him out, some spice lord or hutt's gangster would have. I really wanted to make his mental illness as true to form as possible - having dealt with sociopaths irl, I know that they (unlike psychopaths) do have feelings - they're just often twisted and warped feelings, and they tend to blame everyone else for their own problems.

The biggest problem I had with this story was keeping it small! If I hadn't kept pushing myself to condense time, it would have been novel length, lol!

In a few days here, I'll begin working on my next story. The only question that remains about that one is which character(s) it will center around - Apoc, Darth Umbral, Jedi Master Isad'ia, or Lillian Riggs!
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