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Remastered: Memoirs of a Mandalorian.

STAR WARS: The Old Republic > English > Community Content > Fan Fiction
Remastered: Memoirs of a Mandalorian.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
01.17.2012 , 08:29 AM | #11
Chapter Nine: War.

My father was an excellent farmer, but Commander Decimus was a phenomenal leader. True to his predictions, the Hundar-Vace Coalition did not cross into Daue territory with the onset of snowfall. In that span of time we were given freedom to prepare for the coming storm and did so without relenting. I understand now that the occupation of a farmer only makes sense for a soldier: it keeps the mind focused upon the same principles. Just as a farmer must be diligent and disciplined, so too must a commander. We were his crop now and he was as attentive to us as would have been any potential harvest.

Those that had not gone to fight with Uncle Valgor were, for the most part, as committed to farming as my father had been. They were not the most violent or adventurous sort, but Commander Decimus’ earnest call for action had managed to draw them from their outlying communities. Order was established and regiments formed. There were veteran fighters who had been just as wild as my father in their younger days. These people were given the distinction of captains. Captains Aden, Holgar, and Setarin each commanded the respect of everyone beneath them. Underneath them were the squad leaders, of which younger but experienced Mandalorians such as Astra or Vasmus were designated. The youngest of the warriors fell within their squads.

Against the bracing cold of winter, we drilled and prepared for the approaching battles. Each Mandalorian was a competent warrior, but we had not learned to fight as a cohesive unit. Commander Decimus was mindful of this and quickly established a series of standardized commands that we were to learn. Hand signals, I found, were both interesting and frustrating to learn. You did not have time to recall what one meant, you had to know it and respond instantly.

A hand to the left of squad leader’s head meant that there was an ambush approaching: a hand to the right of the squad leader’s head meant to stop. If she jerked her thumb over her shoulder, well, we knew to retreat – immediately. There was no time to second guess or look to see what someone else did. We all needed to be prepared, and we all needed to know our heads from our asses. If we didn’t, then we were only placing our squad mates in danger.

When we were not drilling in the snow, we were being rotated to help with digging trenches. The Commander’s view was that if we were always working together then we would form even tighter bonds. Much to my delight I was assigned to Astra, who worked me as tirelessly as she did anyone else. I was shown no favor, nor did I expect to receive any. I was no longer a child to be coddled; no longer her little sister to be watched over. I was a soldier like the men and women next to me, and I earned my place with hard work and dedication.

I could state that it was pride in my people that motivated me to train as fiercely as I did, but that would be a lie. I wanted to be the best soldier that I could be when it came time to visit my vengeance upon those that had so harmed my family. I wished for more hours to be in the day so that I could work harder and longer, and the more that I accomplished the more I wished to see done. Even in the week after my verd’goten, when I was still injured from my fight with the nexu, I made my best efforts to fight through the pain.

Little by little, day by day, my family’s home was transformed into a stronghold. The fields were turned into a series of trenches to protect us from aerial raid, while the forest was filled with various traps designed to slow or even obliterate an enemy force. Several kilometers downwind from us was a land bridge through which an army could march; Commander Decimus had fortifications built nearby to offer support in the event of a raid. With little less than six months we could not become lavish with our defenses, but they were sturdy and relatively reliable. Through blizzards and freezing nights we worked. Some fell ill, but still others grew stronger.

While our homestead was converted into a worthy battleground, my father was not for a moment at rest. During the day he was Commander Decimus, but at night he worked on a separate project. There was no longer any “free time”; if you were not working to strengthen your body then you were working to strengthen the base. With the vast majority of Clan Daue’s warriors lost in the face of Uncle Valgor’s defeat, the rest of us had to pick up the slack. There were days when I would forget to sleep and still others where I would pass out and be near comatose as a result. Astra forced me to be more mindful of that and ordered me to take short naps on occasion.

The culmination of my father’s hard work was shown to me one day after we had finished digging pits in the forest. At the bottom of each pit was aligned a series of spikes. It was hard work to dig through frozen ground, but with machinery and sheer willpower we managed. I was fatigued, but satisfied to know that I had not another drop of energy in me. It was when I was returning to camp that he called me aside.

“You’ve been working harder than anyone else, Siana,” he told me with a trace amount of pride on his voice. “A shame it would for such a brave warrior to be without a proper symbol of her status.”

While I was prepared to say that it was nothing more than my duty, the latter part of the comment caused me to pause. Before I could question him further, he indicated a crate upon which a blanket was draped. I removed the blanket and saw glistening under it a brand new set of armor, a mixture of beige and white. Not only could I work like a warrior, but now I could look like one.

I was still growing and my father took that in mind when he outfitted my uniform. It was sleek and heavy, yet gave off enough room for me to move freely and without inhibition. There was still room for me to grow into it, and although I was uncertain that it would fit in all areas, I was more impressed by the craftsmanship than anything else. While most people would have been drawn to the helmet with its polarized visor and multiple visual systems, I at once paid attention to the shoulder pauldrons. Using the nexu teeth that I had collected, my father outlined the edges with them to give my armor a sharper and more ferocious look.

Like any Mandalorian, I was going to have to learn to wear my armor.

It was not necessary that we train in armor, but I did it out of a desire to further learn how best to move in it. When Astra saw me, with my brand new armor and self-satisfied grin, she couldn’t help but take a shot.

“Looking good,” she quipped. “Maybe one day you’ll even have a scratch on it.”
I couldn’t get a word in before Fendar chimed in after her: “She’d have to be ready for the frontlines first.”

The members of my squad: Fendar, Loktun, and Darol were like brothers to me. Fendar had come to us following the initial defeats that Uncle Valgor faced in the North and was instrumental in my training before my verd’goten. He was easy to talk to and generally reminded me of Cassir. Loktun and Darol were both distant cousins that were roused to combat by Commander Decimus’ call. They were well disciplined and took directions without question. Not surprisingly, as the youngest of the squad, I received the most flak.

We did not always get along. There were times, in fact, when we various members of our squad or of different squads would almost come to blows. Sometimes to resolve the tension Commander Decimus or a squad leader would order that the two people arguing settle it in a fight. Hidden tensions were a killer, but two people that fought said everything that needed to be said. If you won the fight, you won the argument – you’d still hug your brother or sister after it and say that you loved them.

I had my fights. I won some. I lost some. But I never hated anyone because of them.

My newfound position in the clan did not go without notice. Children that were a few years away from their verd’goten looked at me training with the others as though I was a mythical creature. They could easily see their fathers and mothers fighting as they were because they were older, but I was fresh from my verd’goten and looked not much different than they did. Before I had my armor in fact, one of the older clan members had called me ad’ika, a term often used for children. I hit him so fast that he was taken off balance and then followed up with a kick for good measure.

In the end, I lost that fight, but in defending my honor I won his respect. No one made that mistake again: they knew who I was.

More than anything else, I wanted to have stories to tell the children as I had done to me when I was younger. Those that fought with Uncle Valgor had tales of Vacian cowardice and Hundarii incompetence, and I felt just a little bit of jealousy when they wowed groups with them. I knew that in time I would have my own stories to tell, so I used their brilliant storytelling to give me cause to develop my own. I wanted to be able to captivate the minds of my juniors and win the respect of my seniors by speaking of my bravery. When the winter ended, I knew that I would be given that chance.

Slowly, we began to be able to read one another with an almost mechanical efficiency. When we did our physical training in the morning, we were in synch. When we ate, we were in synch. When went to sleep, we were in synch. The military discipline of Clan Daue, I believe, was on par with some of the Republic’s more distinguished regiments. We may not have had all of the weaponry and support that the Coalition did, but we were each champions in our own rights. Our strength would be in our efficiency and dedication.

Untested as I was, I couldn’t wait until I had the chance to prove what a warrior I was.

So it was that when the cold winds began to abate and the ice on the ground started to melt, that our squad was sent out to begin preparing for any signs of Vacians or Hundarii. No doubt that had expected us to have suffered through the cold winter and be weaker targets in the spring. After all, our bravest warriors were numbered amongst their kills. They were in the superior position and could pick off our holdout regime at their leisure. Thinking like that was only a natural conclusion for them.

It was also their gravest mistake.

We received word from Captain Setarin’s scouts that a contingent of Coalition soldiers had been spotted making their way toward the land bridge. As they were the ones hunting us, we had the advantage of being on the defensive but for the most part they had the advantage of surprise. Both sides were well rested, which left the fate of the battle up to who could impose their will with the least amount of effort. From what the reports related to us, the Coalition did not expect us to put up very much of a fight.

At the head of their march was none other a Vacian captain named Kogus. Although I had never before met the man or heard of him, Fendar informed me that he had been at the Battle of Traitor’s Reach – the same battle in which his clansmen had betrayed my mother. I became singularly focused on claiming his life for myself, but Commander Decimus refused to send our squad out to meet him. He said that it would be better to let them wear themselves down first on our defenses, and then swoop around and cut down those that remained.

Not surprisingly, I was outraged. The possibility that one of the men responsible for my mother’s death would be killed by anyone other than me brought me no joy. I attempted to bring the matter up to Commander Decimus, but as I had become aware during the winter when he gave an official command it was not one that I had any hope of getting him to change. His word was that of my leader, and I was out of place for daring to question it. I swallowed the bitterness of my rage and did as I was instructed.

Along with several other squads, we were sent to wait in the forest for the call to attack. It was a clear day and while we could see out of the forest, it would be difficult to see us in the shade. With my visor set to infrared vision, I could make out the distant figures of the Coalitions’ men moving for the land bridge. Once or twice, one even moved into range of my rifle. Each time that one did, Astra lifted her left hand back to stop me from taking the shot. I knew that just as much as I wanted to kill them, she wanted to twice as much. Perhaps she was gesturing to herself as well.

In addition to the soldiers that marched under Captain Kogus’ command, there were two battle tanks taking up the rear of their progression. Without a doubt those weapons would be invaluable to the Coalition’s planned assault. My father made a show of placing token regiments near the bridge. When the enemy engaged them they were to put up a small fight and then retreat back toward our base. Hopefully the arrogance of the Coalition forces would send them on the offensive and our trap could be sprung.

I distinctly remember not feeling fear as I waited for the call to attack. In coming battles I would know panic, terror, and horror, but as a virgin to war I didn’t comprehend that the training drills we had completed were but a small taste of what was to come. Kogus’ men continued to pass by us. I fit my hand against the blaster rifle I had been given. Although I said that I wanted to use a carbine and get “up close and personal” in the fight, Astra refused it and instead gave the role to Fendar. When the time came to battle, I knew I’d get my chance to do prove myself.

The sound of combat began not long after the majority of Kogus’ command marched past us. In the distance I could see the explosions of fighting and then heard across the com-link a call to retreat. We were to wait ten seconds after it to engage. By the time that I hit six in my head, I heard Fendar stand up beside me.

OYA, ALIIT DAUE!” He shouted.

And then the world became alive with combat.

I responded to Astra’s hand signal to move forward without needing to ask in which direction she wanted us to go. Crouched low as I was, I kept my blaster rifle level with my side until were within range. Kogus’ men had turned at the sound of Fendar’s shout, but were not prepared for the volume of fire that met them when we surged out to meet them. They had, after all, expected to find cowardly children hiding under the veil of a farmer. What they were introduced to instead was nothing short of a war machine.

Despite the sounds of combat that raced over my head, the only thing that I heard was my own breathing. I dropped to my knee when I was in range of the enemy and fit my rifle’s stock against my shoulder. My visor lined the shot up for me, but just as the reticule illuminated that I had one of the Coalition’s men in my sights, I hesitated and pulled up, discharging a shot just above his shoulder. He turned toward me, but before he could lift his weapon Loktun dropped him with two well placed shots to his chest. I felt his hand on my shoulder give me a pat, before he continued forth and went after the soldiers in the clearing.

I had the shot but I didn’t take it. Why did I hesitate – worse yet, why did I move my blaster away from the target? I knew that I could have taken his life: he was unawares when I sighted him, yet my finger refused to pull the trigger so long as my reticule was on him. I slowed my advance and tried to convince myself that the hesitation was a byproduct of simply being unlucky, but I knew that was hardly the case. There was a part to war that I had not yet learned, because it could not be taught.

I had yet to kill a man.

My contemplative state was shattered when the sound of an explosion to my right threw me to the ground. Everything went silent, and then a shrill cry pieced my ears. While I had heard an explosion before, I had never before been the target of one. Completely disoriented, I tried to remember how to use my legs and for a moment feared that they were gone. I began to struggle to my feet, my nerves frayed. Astra was at my side in a second and helped me up. I flailed a bit once I was on my feet.

“Are you alright?” She asked, her voice muffled by her helmet.

I nodded to her and took a testing step forward. Nothing ached, and other than my adrenal rush I didn’t feel like I was too bad off. I glanced over my shoulder and saw that three meters from me, an explosive had taken out a tree. I could have easily been that tree. War was not the place to lose one’s nerve.

“I’m good,” I told her. I was still shaking, but I knew that if I didn’t get back into the fight I never would be able to. She remained beside me, the blackness of her visor hardly concealing the worry she felt. I was still her kid sister, even if I walked like a Mandalorian. “I can fight, Astra.”

“Are you sure?”
“Damn sure.”

She knocked on the side of my helmet and then jerked her head toward the battlefield. When she started to run out to meet the others, I was right behind her. The source for the explosion became apparent when I saw that one of the tanks was turning about to fire at our new position. Kogus’ men were falling back from the bridge, but took heavy losses as the defenders turned on them to harry them across.

It became more than evident that they had been expecting us to fold under pressure. It also became more than evident that we were going to make them regret that. Caught between the bridge defenders and the forest attackers, Kogus’ men could only retreat back the way that they came if they braved our line of assault. I lined up for another shot and this time shot the leg out from a soldier. I knew that it wouldn’t gain me much credit, but it was better to take him down than leave him open to attack one of my brothers.

Captain Holgar’s voice crackled over my helmet’s intercom. “We need those tanks neutralized, now!

No sooner had his command gone out than did another one bombard the forest. I heard shouts of pain rise up from behind me, but to make my way any closer to the tanks would put me directly in the line of Kogus’ men’s suppressive fire. Even if we had them pinned in, they were making sure that they took as many of us out as possible. The Heads-up Display on my helmet flashed with Astra’s name followed by the word “Squad”. This told me that the command would be only shared amongst our group.

Fall back to the forest line and regroup. We’re going to try to take out the right tank out.
“Roger that, squad leader,” we all affirmed.

Once we had returned to the shelter of the trees, I looked toward the others. Loktun’s armor showed a bit of wear and tear, but otherwise they all seemed fine. Fendar punched me in the shoulder, an action that made me take a step back.

“Well look who’s got her first battle scars!” He cheered. I looked to my shoulder and saw that the bomb’s shrapnel had indeed marked my armor just a bit. Without knowing it, I had acquired my first mark as a warrior.

Astra lifted her hand to stop us from conversing. The sound of battle was still raging behind her. “Keep your mouths shut and listen up. Like Captain Holgar said we need to take one of those tanks down. I want Darol, Loktun, and Siana to give us cover fire. Once we have an opening, Fendar and I will go for the throat.”

I listened as the others affirmed but did not speak initially. Astra looked at me again.

“Siana, do you understand?”
I nodded, but didn’t speak.
“I need to hear you say you understand.”

The previous fearlessness that I experienced was fast disappearing. The battle scar on my armor may have been neat to look at, but it also meant that I had come dangerously close to dying. More importantly, if Astra and Fendar went in, there was a good chance they’d be killed. I tried my best to shelf my apprehension.

“I’ve got it, squad leader,” I said.
“Then let’s move it out!”

Before returning to the fight we made sure that our rifles were charged and then swung into position. Astra’s name once more appeared on my HUD, though this time “Forest-All” was in parenthesis beside it.

“[b]We’re moving to intercept the right most tank, I’m setting it as our primary now.” After she spoke her helmet transmitted the coordinates of the tank in question. On the HUD a small map opened, a red dot indicating just where she was speaking of. “Give us as much cover fire as you can.

Vasmus’ voice responded. “You’ve got it. Hit them with everything you’ve got!

We were cleared to move. As Astra had indicated, Loktun, Darol, and I moved first into position. The other squads were already firing on the Coalition’s men, which greatly took pressure off of us as we moved. Once close enough, I knelt and assumed the proper shooting position. Shooting blindly didn’t bother me at all: if I hit someone incidentally it wasn’t necessarily difficult for me to swallow. Our suppressive fire opened a direct path to the left, which Fendar and Astra took advantage of.

My breath caught in my throat as I watched Fendar and Astra move for their target. Loktun and Darol were faster shots than me and provided them most of the cover; for the most part my shots warded anyone away from melee range. Despite the fact that the battle was going in our favor, I knew that a life could be ended in a matter of seconds. I didn’t want Fendar to die. I didn’t want Astra to die even more. All I could hope for was that one of them would make it to the tank before its crew was alerted to their actions.

Astra’s heavy repeater came alive as she placed herself within distance of the tank. Although most small arm fire did little to deter one, her weapon fired enough rounds at a fast enough pace to place dents in its armor. The tank predictably began to turn. I unleashed as many shots as I could at the side of the tank, but my bolts did nothing to it. Watching the gargantuan vehicle turn in my sister’s direction was the last thing I wanted to do.

I saw Captain Kogus’ personal guard moving to escape our fire. The tanks were distracting the majority of our attention, which gave him the perfect opportunity to retreat. I recalled what Fendar had said, that he had been partially responsible for my mother’s death, and for a second considered chasing after him. If he escaped, someone else could and probably would kill him. I had the chance and the opportunity. Just as I began to shout a battle cry, I was brought to a halt by an unexpected event.

The sound of a powerful shot tore through the air and before I knew it, Loktun was thrown back into the ground. He cried out in pain and I turned away from Kogus and to him. The smoldering hole that had been opened in his armor told me everything that I needed to know. Loktun’s name appeared on my HUD.

I’m hit!

He coughed as he tried to sit up, but I could hear the wetness in his voice. From the sound of it, if he didn’t receive assistance soon then he would drown in his own blood. Both Darol and I looked in the direction of the blaster bolt and saw that it had come from the Coalition soldier that I clipped in the leg. He may have been slowed, but like any Mandalorian worth his salt he was not going to remain out of the fight because of it.

Kogus was no longer a threat and I couldn’t keep track of Astra’s mission. She was supposed to disarm the tank – my job was to get rid of this threat to our squad. Darol moved to shoot the wounded soldier, but lost out in the exchange. I heard him grunt as a blaster bolt pierced his chest armor. I do not doubt that the soldier picked the other two off before me because he knew I was the least experienced. He could smell my indecisiveness.

I trained my rifle to the fallen one as he moved his weapon in my direction. At the distance I was at there was no way that I could miss him. There was less than a second for me to make my decision: either I shot him, or he shot me. The glinting of sunlight against his visor instantly brought to my mind the image of the nexu with its malicious smile, salivating at the thought of finishing me off. There wasn’t time to think; there wasn’t time to rationalize. I had to do a single thing before he did. I had to pull the trigger.

I did.

The soldier’s body lurched before a crimson pool escaped the wound in his head.

I got him!” My shout was far giddier than it should have been, in retrospect. But I didn’t care – I had killed a man and protected my squad mates.

Just as I called out my shot, I heard the tank explode. Astra and Fendar came running back to our position and instantly took to dragging Darol and Loktun back. I picked myself up and helped carry them backward. With the destruction of the tank, the other tank’s crew abandoned their vehicle and ran with the fleeing masses of the Coalition’s forces.

We had turned the Coalition back. Clan Daue was victorious!

By the time that we made it back to base, Loktun and Darol were both in critical condition. We handed them over to the medical staff and prayed that they made it through the battle. There was, of course, no shame in dying in combat – but we had so many more conflicts left ahead of us. I was still too filled with the exhilaration of my first kill to contemplate how I could have prevented their injuries.

I thought back to the message my mother had given my father, when she had almost joked with him. “30 more and I’ve caught up to you,” she had said. I did not know how many kills my father had – I didn’t know how many my mother did before she died, but I did know one thing.

I lifted a hand to my pauldrons and ran my finger against the sharpened nexu teeth. My thumb ruptured and I sucked in before sliding the finger along the inside of the pauldron used to cut me. That was my first mark – my first step as a warrior.

One.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
01.17.2012 , 08:31 AM | #12
Chapter Ten: Stories.

The night following our victory over the Coalition’s expeditionary force, we partied.

Certain that the Coalition had not anticipated our spirited defense, Commander Decimus gave us leave to conduct a relatively civil victory rally. While I know that he would have preferred we remained disciplined, I think he was also keenly aware of the reality that victories were a rare treat and it was better to give us something to look forward to when times were difficult. Our reserves of alcohol were brought out and rations were doubled. I think the fact that we had captured one of the Coalition’s tanks probably also played a part in why the commander was in such a good mood. We had, after all, had a commendable victory.

True, the scale of the battle was in no way decisive for the overall war, but it was more than nothing. Several of our men had been killed, even more wounded, but the losses on the Coalition’s side were much graver. The Coalition still greatly outnumbered us and had superior weaponry, but if the day’s battle was any indication then the members of Clan Daue were going to give the Vacian traitors and the Hundarii dogs a run for their money.

What would have been a chilly night was turned quite warm when soldiers began to light bonfires. Our celebrations were tinged with sorrow for those that we lost, but their sacrifices were seen as all the more cause to cheer. They had become champions of our cause; proven heroes that had fought and died for their clansmen. Most areas of the compound were bathed in the warm glow of fire. Songs were sung in Mando’a and the more intoxicated people became the more prone they were to sing them even louder than the previous round had been. Overall, it was an extremely happy occasion.

But I fought to avoid the merriment as though it were a plague.

It may have been difficult to find a dark spot to sit in, but I did just that. With my back to the medical barracks that we had created, I watched a friendly spar that was taking place downhill of me. For all of my life I had romanticized the notion of winning a battle, yet once I had been part of one I found that my stomach was sour and my mind would not relinquish its hold upon all that had gone wrong. I rubbed my index finger against my healing thumb and looked to the ground.

Why had I not killed the Coalition soldier that had nearly ended the lives of two of my squad mates – of two of my family members? Had it been Mother or Cassir there, would I have been the cause for them to die all over again? Worse yet the soldier knew that I was the least threatening. Yes, I had found the impetus to kill him, but by then the damage of my foolishness was already felt. Neverminding that the man I had shot at could have killed even more people had Loktun not been there to correct my error, I simply couldn’t comprehend that I had so horribly failed my mission.

When we returned to camp, I made certain to avoid Commander Decimus. I may have claimed a kill, but it did not feel prudent to brag about it when my weakness had nearly cost two lives in exchange. Those that were now engaging in the festivities had earned their gaiety through acting as Mandalorians. Push had come to shove, and for far too long I acted like a child rather than an adult. I felt that I did not deserve my armor, my weapons, or even the designation of being a warrior.

The worst part of it all though, was that I had a story to tell. I had survived a battle – hell, a mortar had gone off just behind me. The children of the compound would have looked up to me with pride had I told them that, but though I could have I knew that I lacked the words to do it. I didn’t deserve their praise, because I hadn’t earned it. The series of fortunate events that kept me from being one of the people that the bonfires were lift for had not been a result of my training. Any of them could have done it. Anyone could have tagged along behind her comrades and soaked up a victory passively.

I saw a girl sitting on her father’s shoulders as they watched one of the spars. Her position was no different than mine: I watched the battle, but had I ever really been a part of it? The more that I thought of it, the more melancholy I became, and the more I hated myself for not being what I thought a warrior should be. I was so lost within my lethargy that I missed it when Bird pushed his head against my hand. The whimper that he gave me spoke to his concern, but other than pat him absently I could not think of anything to do. I wasn’t going to do what I wanted to do, that was for sure.

I was never going to cry again.

I picked up a nearby stick and pitched it down the hill. Bird gave me a warm yap and then raced after it. While most dogs would have brought the stick back, I knew that Bird would content himself with rolling around on the stick or trying to eat it for the next thirty minutes or so. Worse yet, I knew that he knew how to play the game: he simply chose not to. His antics did earn from me a very small smile as I hugged my legs to my chest.

“What a dumb dog,” Astra said as she came to stand alongside me. I instantly broke my hold on my legs and lowered them so as not to seem as weak as I know I appeared. I looked up to her, but as I did she sat down and gave me a pat on the knee. “How’re you holding up?”

The smile that she gave me seemed like one that any clansman would give another, but there was still attributed to it just a bit of warmth that I knew she reserved for me. “Fine,” I lied.

I know that lying to my sister was a pointless task: she could read me without even having to blink. I was, after all, the little girl that at one time had hidden in her arms when there were thunderstorms. If there was anyone that knew me it was her. She continued to look at me for a few seconds and then directed her eyes to the spar. “It was a good battle, wasn’t it?”

Her segue was not lost upon me, and I was thankful that she did not expose my lie. I heard her take a swig of from her cantina and was not surprised that in lowering it she was forced to let off a little hiss.

“It was,” I agreed emptily. “You did a good job in leading us.”
“All things considered,” she said. I expected her to yell at me then for getting Loktun and Darol injured, but she instead pressed her cantina against my chest. “Drink up.”

I had once been given a sip of her beer and nearly choked to death on it. The memory came back to me with such clarity that I couldn’t help but blush. Then I had practically begged her for a taste. Now, she was offering me it freely. I lifted my hands to the cantina and then shook my head.

“I don’t really deserve it.”
“Why?”
“Because I didn’t fight like a warrior.”

It brought me no pride to say those words; in fact, I wanted to crawl into myself and die. “If I had been braver,” I continued, “Loktun and Darol would be fine. I had a clear shot on the guy that hit them and I choked. I went for his leg instead of his chest.”

I preemptively flinched in preparation for her denouncement, but the only thing that she did was nod.

“It’s hard to pull the trigger,” she told me. I had been so engrossed within my own world that I forgot she had also not been in a battle before that day. Not only did she have to quickly overcome her fear, but she also had to command us through ours. I felt extremely childish when thinking of things in that manner. “But you did do it, and in the end Loktun and Darol are alive because of your ability.”

“I fixed my own mistake,” I protested.
“Which is a lot better than letting that mistake fix you. There was a lot going on out there, Sis.” She tapped the cantina and then jerked her thumb upward. “Now drink up; you’re hogging my booze.”

She gave me a warm smile that managed to penetrate my dejection. Timidly, I lifted the cantina and tilted my head back. Just as before the taste of the bitter fluid in my mouth was nothing to celebrate, but the moment that I swallowed it I knew that I was not going to gag again. I definitely gasped when I lowered it and tears came to my eyes as the spiced fluid worked through my system, but I didn’t gag! I handed the cantina back to Astra, who chuckled and stood up.

“Now come on. You’re missing out on the celebrations by sulking up here. Do you really think Loktun would want you to not be dancing over the fact that he’s alive?”
Astra’s smirk gained one from me, and I was soon standing as well. “I guess if you put it that way…”

There were aspects to being an adult that I still had not grasped, because they simply came with time. Children rarely had time to dance and while I knew that I should have been able to do what the others were doing, I could not from simply nervousness. There was nothing provocative to the dancing; it was a lively display of our vitality in the face of death. With the firelight illuminating the area for those that did dance, I was given the freedom of watching others dance.

Astra attempted to pull me into the midst of the dancers, but I shyly declined and stepped away. Over the laughter and singing of the others I could hear her call me a chicken, but other than smile meekly I wasn’t prepared to do anything. Hardly to my surprise, as soon as she was amongst the others they tried their best to be the ones to spin and jump alongside her. In many ways, I think that our style of dance was an exercise more than a show of delight.

My sister was like aflame and the men around her moths. They could not help but be drawn to her: she was in the prime of her life physically and militaristically a proven fighter. I often think back to seeing her bright red hair nearly glow as she twisted and turned with the others. The stomping that they gave off was nearly as loud as the blaster fire we had survived through earlier, and it only grew louder as those in the audience began to stomp their feet and clap in cadence with the songs that were being sung.

Lethargic, melancholy, downtrodden, or dejected – no person could withstand the vibrancy that came from so many people sharing their cheer. I may not have had the courage to dance with them, but I could feel the vibrations of the stomping and hear the rhythm of the clapping. The chaos of the dancing in front of me was breathtakingly beautiful. Men swung from the arms of men, women from women, men from women, and women from men. There was no order to it other than that they all wore bright smiles on their faces and laughed as they moved between partners. I clapped as well, overcome with the energy of the moment.

I felt something tap me on the shoulder and turned only to hear a laugh to my side. Without needing to look I shoved my elbow backward and was rewarded with the sound of hearing Fendar chuckle as he was moved by the nudge.

“I see that your sister found you,” he called over the din of those around us in their revelries. I had to fight to hear him, but raised my voice as well.
“Obviously!”

Fendar looked over to my sister then and nodded his head. “Why don’t you get in the mix?”
“Dancing isn’t my thing.”
Fendar grinned. “Then what is?”
“Not dancing!”

The deflection gained me another of his grins, which made me smile back in response. I really did like Fendar; he was smart and incredibly funny. There was an easygoing nature to him that made me wonder how he had been so completely detached from his killing, but I supposed that in time all people learned to just shelf their grief. More importantly, he was attractive in a way that I would come to appreciate more as I grew older. When he gave me one of his boyish grins, I’d be lying to say that I didn’t melt just a little inside.

“Well, I’m going to dance,” he told me. “If you’re too scared to do it, then that’s on you!”

I glanced to those around me and saw that there were no looks of judgment on their faces. We were all here to have fun, after all. I took in a shallow breath and followed after him. Fendar held out his hand to me and gave me another clever grin, which encouraged me to take the hand. He was strong – far stronger than I had imagined, as he pulled me further into the circle. I had watched the others long enough to know the general flow of things, although with so many taller people crowding about me it was a little daunting to get into the groove of things.

Fendar caught me by my forearm and spun around with me, then twisted me and allowed momentum alone to move me out, before bringing back inward. I was disoriented enough in simply being there, but his advanced moves did more than enough to confuse me. Despite how awkward I knew that I had to look, I gave myself over to the actions and was surprised when I felt him release me and Astra take my arm. She cocked her eyebrows at me as she smiled, then spun me around just as Fendar did.

I cannot properly describe the way in which the energy of one person flows into another in the midst of a dancing circle, but I was entirely engrossed in it. No sooner had I gotten used to dancing with one partner, or in one particular way, than was I spun to another and given a chance to learn their particular movements. In many ways, the gestures were like personalized handshakes. My throat was beginning to become sore and my head hurt from the laughter as I saw Astra effortlessly spin Fendar away from her and move onto another target. There was aggression to the dancing, but it was extremely fun.

It was as though the act of dancing transformed us all into one, single Mandalorian. The audience became the heart, whose beat filled us with the necessary energy to go on. Each person beside us was a different organ, working together to produce the functions necessary for life. The dueling nature of dance partners switching was akin to lungs compressing and inflating. Everything was so colorful; so alive. I may have been the odd girl out in all of it, but everyone made me feel as though I belonged.

Eventually I had to escape from the circle. I may have survived my first battle, but I didn’t have the mental endurance to keep up with everything that was going on. I looked back to see where Fendar was and found that once more he was dancing with Astra. I felt a pang of jealousy at that, but didn’t allow it to darken my mood too much. We may have both been adults, but I was certain he didn’t see me as anyone of interest.

The duality of that idea bothered me though, and although I tried not to let it sink in further, as I walked I found myself approaching dejection once more. How was it fair that I was old enough to die alongside, but people still didn’t see me as being their equal in all areas? I knew that in some places Mandalorians wed when they were young, but those marriages were generally between two freshly minted warriors. Fendar was much closer to Astra’s age than mine, and although I may have greatly desired his grins, I also knew that I was in no way a contender for my sister. I was still changing, but she was an already completed product of Mandalorian living.

I thought about returning to the circle to wash away my approaching dejection, but I feared that in doing so I might contaminate the others. Closer to the building that had once been our house, I could see another fire had been started and some older members of our clan were sitting around it. No doubt, the rowdiness of the younger generation was something they didn’t need to put up with. Across from them were a collection of children, who sat in and listened to whatever stories they were being told.

I had once been in their position – and to be honest, when I was there I knew where I was supposed to be. As an older warrior you were someone to look up to. As a younger warrior you were someone to respect. As a child you were someone that looked up to and respected everyone, but what about those like me that had just passed their verd’goten and had nothing to their names? I’d scrambled through a battle. I didn’t deserve to sit alongside any of the older soldiers, but I wasn’t tested enough to really connect with the other group yet either.

Despite my better wishes, I approached the house – now known as Command, with as much stealth as I could muster. When I heard the voices of the others, I slowed down and listened to what was being said. As I had expected, it was another story. The children that sat down were enraptured by it, and the admiration that they felt was something that I greatly desired to experience for myself.

It was Captain Setarin that spoke for the time being. I had very little occasion to speak with the commanders, but Captain Setarin always seemed exceptionally grim to me. He was older than my father, but lacked the ability to lead due to various injuries he had received as a youth. According to Fendar, the captain was kept up more from the grace of stimulants and engineering than his own body’s will to go on. Still, he was a sound tactician and more importantly, knew how to tell a good story.

I listened to him regale the children with stories of his exploits as a pirate, when he braved Republic space to harass whichever local government was in his path. I had a hard time reconciling the gray-haired, crease-faced countenance of the old man with the idea that he had at one time been young and dashing, but as I had also once thought similar of my father I knew not to deny him the benefit of the doubt. The children certainly ate up everything that he had to say, and I was smiling just a bit as well.

More important than how we reacted though, was what I saw upon the face of my father, or Captains Holgar and Aden. They were reliving the events through Setarin’s words. Even if they had not been there, it was a time period that they had all survived through and one that each held dear. The brotherhood and camaraderie that they knew was something that I wanted to have one day.

Bird barked at me and drew my attention away from the story. After taking so much effort to be stealthy, the damn mutt had effectively blown my cover. I hushed him with a wave of my hand, but when I looked back I saw that my father was looking in my direction. I thought to pretend I hadn’t seen him and walk on by, but just as I got the idea he waved me over. It would have been rude to ignore him. Muttering about Bird, I closed the distance between us.

“This is our youngest warrior,” he said to the children. “Siana. She survived her first battle today.”

Through the winter many of the children had seen me and come to understand that I was a warrior, but in hearing that I had lived through a battle their eyes brightened. I saw Captain Setarin give me a respectful nod, and I returned it with a salute.

“First one’s always the hardest,” the captain told me with fondness to his voice. “Scary as all get out, but that rush is what you need to get through it. Savor it, warrior, because in days to come you’ll wish you felt it that purely again.”

If I found it difficult to believe he had once been young, I was shocked to hear that he had too been afraid. I muttered something, probably an agreement, and tried my best not to reveal just how nervous I was to stand as I was: between children and adults. Bird nudged my hand.

“She has a story to tell us, too.” My father said.
“I do?”

My cheeks darkened. I didn’t want to tell the children about my battle – about how scared I was or how I’d almost let two people die. My father’s nod was indicative of the fact that he expected me to speak, but I had no words to share. He pointed at me.

“Tell them about what you wear around your neck. How’d you get that again?”

I lifted my hand to my neck and felt the thin cord on which my mother’s ring hung. With my back to the children I couldn’t help but smile at my father, who gave me a little smile and nod of encouragement in return. I turned around and looked to the children, who all watched me as stars did the moon. Focused, attentive – alert.

“You see this?” I asked as I pulled the cord out from my armor so that my mother’s ring could shine against the warm firelight. “This was my mother’s ring. Her name was Sala Daue and she was a brave warrior. Her ring was lost a long time ago, but I found it.”

For the first time, I didn’t feel sorrow when I spoke of my mother. Yes, she was dead, but when I told a story and included her in it, it was as though she gained life anew. These children would keep her name in their heads, and so she would go on to live through them, as she did through me. That realization was perhaps the nicest I had felt all day, and although the dancing circle may have warmed my mind; this one warmed my heart.

One of the children, a blonde with freckles, rubbed his eye and looked at me. “How did you find it?”

I thought back to Astra’s story and all that came with it. Bird pushed his head against my hand, so I patted him once for measure. “Well, I wasn’t much older than you are now… my sister told me that my mother’s ring was lost, and I decided I was going to find it. I snuck out late at night and Bird…”

I began to recall the event and saw that there was much more interest in the eyes of the children. I truly was someone that they looked up to, because I was what they would become, just as Astra was what I hoped to become some day. They would ask me questions in the middle of my tale and I would stop to answer them, often having to think hard on just what it was that I had done at the time. When a nonsensical question came up, I’d crack a joke in response and we’d all laugh.

The description of the cold water – of the octopus and its fight with me, were almost as frightening to repeat then as they were when they happened! But I animated the actions; I moved my arms or held them out wide to indicate sizes and encourage more interest from my captive audience. They called Bird over and gave him an endless tide of petting when I related how he bravely jumped into the water to fight the villainous octopus. Slowly, the numbers of those in attendance to my story began to increase until I couldn’t help but notice.

Older clansmen, those that I had looked up to or listened to, were now engrossed with my tale. I saw Astra’s delight in hearing me share my tale, and had to fight to blush when I saw that Fendar was just as engaged in my story.

The cheers that came when I mentioned how my father had come to my rescue were so great that I think he may have even become a little embarrassed for all the attention he received. To finish it all off, I held my mother’s ring up. Everyone applauded.

As it turned out, I did have a story to tell.
And it was a pretty damn good one, too.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
01.17.2012 , 08:31 AM | #13
Chapter Eleven: Half Truths.

Loktun recovered. Darol did not.

During the funeral service for our fallen brothers, I told myself I would not weep. In addition to Darol, three other men were killed in the confrontation between our clan and the Coalition’s forces. When you hear news like that – that four soldiers were lost on one side and fifty on another, it makes it seem as though everything is okay. In the sobering light of the next morning, I knew that that was hardly the truth. One casualty was one too many. Those were four lives that were over: four brothers that we would never again see.

I cannot speak to how every Mandalorian funeral is carried out, but I can shed some light on how the Clan Daue performed one. If the body was recovered, such as with the men that died during the Battle of Land’s Bridge, each body is lain out for all to see. The soldier is kept in his armor and whichever mortal wound that claimed is life left on full display. That was the last testament to his bravery: a gaping hole in the chest; the half of one’s head that had not been blown apart. We did not deny what we had happened to our champions, we instead immortalized them for it.

Unless the Mandalorian expressly stated that he wanted one of his clansmen to claim his weaponry, it was buried in his grave. Our belief was that when a Mandalorian died, his soul would go on still to fight greater and more inspiring battles. For a father to give his son a weapon was a sign of absolute love, for that would be one less weapon he had at his side when he fought within the afterlife. It is an odd thing, to move from warfare to eternal warfare, but it engendered within us a sense of purpose. We Mandalorians were meant to fight. We would literally die for the honor of doing it forever.

I suppose that in a way, the notion that we are meant to be fighters is why so many Mandalorians found my father’s views to be difficult ones to grasp. When I was told as a child that we were destined to join a never-ending battle, I asked him how we were preparing for it by tilling the land. His response was, as always, straight to the point and yet surprisingly profound: because soldiers need to eat too.

But the man that stood at the head of the funeral at that moment was not a soft spoken farmer informing his wide-eyed daughter about the afterlife. It was a stern commander that called the attention of his subordinates; a man whose presence demanded the unmitigated respect of those beneath him. Our lines were divided by position in the clan’s hierarchy. Closest to the fallen men were the captains, followed by the lieutenants, and then the rank-and-file soldiers like me. Behind us were the children, who would be given a chance to view the dead only after everyone else had.

Commander Decimus spoke to us about the horrors of war and how with every brilliant victory that we gained, so too would we experience a horrific loss. He detailed to us how even if we knew that our fallen brothers were in better places, that ultimately it was we who would suffer their absence. They had given their lives for us, and the least that we could do was ensure that their sacrifice was not an empty one. Hearing him speak, it sounded as though he was interring his own flesh and blood, and as the clan leader I knew that in many ways he was doing just that. While my father may have loved me, Commander Decimus loved all of us.

There was no room for favoritism in clan affairs.

After the commander finished with his address, the others that knew the fallen were given a chance to speak. For the most part they were references to how brave or heroic a member of the clan had been: how they had overcome many obstacles to prevent their brothers from coming to harm. At times a pained laugh was taken from us as we thought of a soldier’s antics. At other times, we all fell silent and commemorated the loss. Astra spoke of Darol, detailing how he had been a personality too large for this life. I admired my sister’s ability to speak without showing her inner turmoil; to act without revealing her sadness.

A final viewing was then given to those in attendance. One by one, we were each given to visit the remains of the deceased. Tokens were left all of them, many of which were tucked into armor or placed within their hands. When my turn’s squad turn came to pay our respects, I couldn’t move. I did not want to be close to Darol, whose life was lost as a direct result of my incompetence. It would have been easy for me to slip away, but Astra refused it.

I looked into her eyes, silently pleading for her to show me mercy, but she would have none of it. At the time I believed that she was punishing me for my weakness, but I now understand why it was she made me see what happened. It was simple enough to state that our actions hurt others, but actually seeing it brought a new level to that reality. I began to choke up when I saw Darol, pale as ash and with a blue tint to his lips. He almost looked as though he was asleep, and in disbelief I placed my hand to his cheek. He was cold and unbearable stiff. If I failed to act as a Mandalorian again, Astra wanted me to see what could happen.

Next time, it might be her on that slab, or my father. Next time I might be the one being forced to give a speech about how much I loved a person that had died. Astra forgave me as her sister, but as a squad leader she had to make certain that I understood what I had done. I kept my tears in check.

When the children were given a chance to view the bodies, many of them cried. To hear their wailing mingling with the sadness of the air was almost too much for me to stand. I began to sniff, but Astra shot me a heated glare. I didn’t have the luxury of crying – I didn’t have the right. Once everyone had been given their chance to view the fallen, the members of the given squad were assigned to carry him to the mass grave. This would become the fallen soldier’s new squad – his new unit.

I stood over Darol and fought not to cry as I looked down at him. Loktun was still in the hospital, which left Fendar, Astra, and I to carry him. Astra made sure that I had to carry him by the shoulders, thus forcing me to look down at what I had done one final time. It was a cruel thing to do to be certain, but her persistence in driving home her point was exactly what I needed.

“May the sons of Mandalore move from this world into the next,” Commander Decimus ordered from his position at the head of the funeral. He saluted and all in attendance did the same. Under the sound of their saluting I lifted a hand and covered my mouth to conceal a gasp. Looking at Darol was more than I could stomach, but Astra’s stare told me that I had no choice. “Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum!

The phrase that the commander said translated to “I am still alive, but you are dead. I remember you, so you are eternal.” It was the command that we had to prepare our bodies to be moved to the mass grave. When he called out the name of one of the fallen men, then we would move him from his platform to the grave. I forced myself to grab hold of Darol’s cold shoulders and kept from letting my tears fall. Fendar looked no less sorrowful than I did, but he held up under the pressure better. Of course, his pressure was not in knowing that he was responsible for the death of a brother.

“Faros,” Commander Decimus stated. The members of his squad carried him over to the grave and lowered him into it. One they had done so; each murmured a soft farewell. The squad leader took the fallen Mandalorian’s helmet and placed it on a stake, marking him as one of the braves that now filled it. I felt my stomach beginning to roil – I sincerely feared I would vomit.

“Varin,” the commander’s called was answered with another body being added to the grave. Once his helmet was added to the stake, the next was called. “Jadonir.”

And then it was our turn.

“Darol.”

I did not think that I would be able to find the strength to keep from breaking down if I tried to lift him, but despite my great fear when I lifted, he moved easily. I moved with the others to carry Darol gracefully over to the appropriate burial ground, and then lowered him against the side. He rolled, limply, down the pit and came to rest alongside the other corpses. To his right was his weaponry. I looked down at him as his lifeless eyes gazed back at me. My cheeks were wet, but I did not utter a sound of sorrow when I spoke.

“Goodbye, Darol,” I whispered. “I’m sorry.” Before departing I gave him a salute and followed after Fendar. When I looked back, I saw that Astra was kneeling alongside the pit. She did well to mask her distress; she was always good at concealing how she felt, but I knew that behind her stern face she was torn up as I was. She fit Darol’s helmet to his stake and said something that only he would know. Just like that, Darol Daue was no more.

Despite how stern Astra had been with me during the funeral, when it was all over she hugged an arm around my shoulder and gave me a kiss on the side of the head. I understood what she was saying: she never wanted to lay my helmet on a stake. There was to be more festivities to commemorate the dead, but I needed to get away. I excused myself from the company of the others and walked aimlessly away from the compound. If I was going to cry, I wanted to be alone when it happened.

I thought of the small funeral service that my mother, Cassir, and the other members of Uncle Valgor’s expeditionary force had been given. There were no speeches or long dirges. We had simply stated that they were going into a better place and left it at that. I knew that to delve deeper into it would have broken my father’s heart, and while he was still holding strong after all of it, there were changes to him that could not be denied. His heart was colder and I could not blame him for it.

The dirges that came from the somber celebrations were not lost upon me as I walked. With no one around I was free to cry, and so I did. Like an idiot, at first I told myself that I would only weep a little bit and let it go, but as soon as the floodgates were opened the tears would not stop coming. Each breath that I took became harder to grasp and each sob went deeper into my chest. I hated myself and vowed that under no circumstance would I ever allow another brother to die if I could help it. I would jump in front of a missile if need be, if only to prevent having to bury someone else I loved.

I stopped when I came to the tree that I had found Bird in so many years ago. When I told Cadim that I found him a tree, I had not been lying. How he got up there was a mystery to me, but he definitely appreciated his position. Further down the path were the outposts where members of the clan that had paid their respects earlier were now watching the horizon. As I had no intention of speaking to anyone, I looked up at the tree and began to climb it. Once I was seated on a branch, I allowed my tearful reserves to deplete themselves.

What I truly feared, what really made me cry, was the possibility that Astra would die because of me. I told myself a thousand times that it would never happen, but the more that I thought of Darol the more that I knew it could. I visualized her falling from my hands and tumbling down into a pit. I imagined that in the same pit were Mother, Cassir, and Cadim. The danger of fear is not that it addresses a perceivable threat, but rather that once unleashed it colors everything in its stain. I had killed the man that killed Darol, but it didn’t make a difference. He was still dead – I didn’t have the ability to change that.

I leaned my head back against the tree’s trunk and thought over the battle again. Was there a way that I could have saved Darol other than kill the man that I had shot in the leg? Everything had been happening so quickly. In training we worked to simulate the intensity of combat, but there was no way to accurately prepare the mind for live action and the rush of battle. The scars on my armor spoke to the fact that things did not happen in an orderly manner. All it took was a snap of the fingers and a person could die.

The report of the blaster rifles played in my head as I replayed the battle. Fendar and Astra were brave enough to take on a tank alone, and yet I had been incapable of shooting someone center mast. Loktun was fast enough with his blaster to pick off a kill for me, and yet I was incapable of doing it myself. I had so much more to learn about being a Mandalorian, but so little time to do it in. What concerned me most was that even after I had stopped thinking of the chaos of battle, the sounds of combat still rang out in my ears.

Was I going crazy?

I heard the sound of blaster fire increase and looked around my tree. To my dismay, crimson bolts streamed through the air as two men chased after a third that moved on a speeder bike. I knew that all of our men were supposed to be inside the base and for a moment thought that it was all a ploy to draw us out; however, when one of the blaster bolts struck the speeder and the man atop it fell forward, I knew that there was more to it. A plume of flames shot into the air as the speeder hit a tree, and the man that was knocked off of it struggled up to his feet.

I touched my hand to the side of my head, but recalled that my helmet was back at the base. Worse yet, my weapons were also missing. The explosion should have drawn the attention of the outpost, but by the time that they were in the area I was certain that the man being chased would be captured by the Coalition soldiers. My vantage point from the trees showed me that the ones chasing after the fallen man were catching up to him quickly. He turned and shot at them once, then came to the river within which I had fought the octopus.

I had to do something. Had I not just vowed to refrain from letting someone die while I watched? I began to scale down the tree, taking two branches at a time, until finally I swung off the lowest and landed at a crouch. I pushed myself up and started running toward the man as he dove into the river and began to swim across. I was still wary of going near the river, but when someone’s life was on the line I knew that I hadn’t the choice to pick and choose between what I was to do. Yes, it may have been a trap, but part of me was hoping that it was. If I died right there, I wouldn’t have to worry about being the cause for anyone else’s death.

The only weapon that I had on me was my dagger, and it would do little when placed against people with superior firing range to me. The swimming man cleared the distance of the river and stood. I had by then broken into the lightly populated woods that separated our previous farmstead from the river. I arrived to their edge in time to see the man take a bolt to the back. He let off a groan and fell down; his blaster rifle fell beside him.

I heard one of the Coalition soldiers cheer as he identified that he had made his shot. They paused to consider whether or not they should clear the river. There was a chance that the blaster bolt had been enough to end the man’s life, but something told me not to look at it with such a dispassionate view. For whatever reason he had been running for our base: it was only appropriate that I should help him the rest of the way if I could.

I scrambled across the clearing between the tree line and the fallen man. Not having expected me to show up, the Coalition soldiers were stunned for only a second before they began to fire across the river at me. I grabbed under the man’s shoulders and began to pull him backward. He groaned pathetically, reason enough for me to keep from giving up. Half way to the tree line and with bolts flying past me, I ran back to the river and grabbed his blaster rifle, slung it over my shoulder, and narrowly avoided being singed in the shoulder for my effort. It was obvious that the shot that hit the man had been a lucky one: they were going to need to cross the river to stop us.

I returned to the injured man as the two soldiers splashed into the water. If they made it to the other side before I got him into the tree line then we were doomed. If, by chance, we could make it and I could set up then we were still probably doomed, but there was a sliver of hope. The man groaned with pain each time that I pulled him, but I refused to slow down. He would eventually get over his pain. It’d be much harder to get over a blaster bolt in the head.

By the time that we made it to the tree line I looked up and saw that the Coalition soldiers had made it across the river. A bolt struck my pauldron with enough force to make me fall down. I reached out for the man’s chest armor strap and pulled him with me behind a tree.

“Whoever you are,” I muttered as I placed my good shoulder against the tree. “I really hope that you’re not a jerk.”

I unslung the blaster and placed it into position. Blaster bolts hammered the trees nearest me, but the two soldiers were not willing to rush blindly into what could have been an ambush. I popped up from behind the tree and compressed the rifle’s trigger three times. The spray of shots did not strike either of the soldiers, but they came close enough to prevent them from advancing. When I moved back behind the tree and crouched, I heard the tree’s trunk take on several powerful shot. It wouldn’t stand long under direct attack.

The sound of fighting had surely alerted the outpost, but I had no idea how close they were or how long it would take them to send support. The soldiers began to advance warily, and I took that opportunity to swing around once more. I thought of the Coalition soldier that had killed Darol and squeezed the trigger. The man approaching from the right lurched, his head leading the way as he struck the ground. I actually wondered to myself if headshots should be worth one point, or two.

A cry of rage emerged from the remaining Coalition soldier. I compressed my trigger but felt nothing happen. The battery was dead on the rifle. This was bad.

I threw the rifle down and huffed in frustration. There was still no sound of support coming and the Coalition soldier was almost to me. My ward was unconscious, but I saw that he was still breathing. With nothing left to do, I stepped around the tree with my palms exposed. The soldier paused in his advance.

“Giving up, ad’ika?” He asked me. He had the sort of smug amusement on his voice that you’d just love to wipe off with a backhand. Fortunately for me that was the plan.

“I don’t know how you Hundarii boot lickers do things, but we Daue don’t give up, shabuir.” It was a word that Cadim had taught me – a word that he said applied to a situation just like this. “Unless you’re afraid to get your shebs handed to you by a ‘little kid’, why don’t you put that rifle down and show me what you’ve got?”

It was a lot of trash to talk, but I had no idea what else I could do. He could have very well shot me then and there; I hadn’t a helmet and he couldn’t miss me even he wanted to at that point. But to drive my point home I did the most obnoxious thing that I could think of. I smirked.

The sound of his blaster rifle being thrown down directly preceded his battle cry. If nothing else, I had to admire him for wanting to beat me to death with his hands rather than taking the easy kill with his rifle. He was larger than me, more experienced, and more than likely trained to kill Daue. I was smaller, weaker, and more than likely going to die. But I didn’t back down.

He hit me with enough force to spin my world around, then slammed his shoulder into my stomach and carried me into a nearby tree. I lifted my legs and clenched them on his sides, the pressure enough to gravely injured his ribs, but to deter me from further the constriction he hit me with in the thigh and forced my leg down. I felt his hand move for my throat, his fingers strong enough to squeeze the life out of me without effort.

“Got anything else smart to say?”

I let my knee do the talking.

The collision of my knee against his groin with forceful enough to make him gag in pain and double over. I coughed in an effort to catch my breath, then ripped his helmet down and slammed my knee directly into his nose. Blood sprayed from the injury, but as he wobbled backward he did not fall down. If I was going to take him down it would require more than a few dirty tactics. Hadn’t I trained for situations like this before?

I needed to do something to gain an advantage; something to give myself an edge over someone that was clearly a superior fighter than me. I tried rushing him, but he lowered himself and tossed me effortlessly over his body. I struck the ground, my injured shoulder taking the brunt of the damage, and began to rise only to have him kick me directly in my chest. If not for my chest armor I would have been disabled then and there, but instead I was sent rolling away from him and came to a halt just in time to avoid him knocking my head off with a kick. The air whooshed past my head as I lifted my hands to catch his leg and shoved backward, but once more he flailed and steadied himself. Before I could attack again, he connected swift uppercut into my abdomen, then punched me across the face with so much force that I was sent skittering away in a turn.

I hit the ground hard and felt his boot apply itself to my rib. He wasn’t holding back for a second. I rolled away and tried to regain myself, but I felt him grab the back of my shirt and toss me toward the river. My fear of its depths came back then as he dragged me along the ground, then shoved my face into the water. I placed my hands against the muddied silt along the sides, but could not push myself up. To show his sinister nature, the man did it for me.

He spat directly in my face.

“Not so smug now are you, ad’ika?”

There was no reply that I could come up with. I began to scream as he shoved my head back into the water, and felt some of it rush into my lungs. I struggled again against him, but the more I fought the louder he laughed. He pulled me up again and allowed me to gasp, then laughed and shoved my head down once more.

It was as though the octopus had taken the form of the brute that was now torturing me. The sadistic satisfaction he took from it was written all over his face. I wasn’t strong enough to break his hold, and each time that he dunked me I knew that I was even closer to death. I felt myself blacking out and gasped when he pulled me up again, some of the water spilling past my lips.

“Ready to say you give up?”

This time, I spat in his face.

“Your loss,” he chuckled.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to survive another round of dunking after the one he was giving me. Each time that he did it he made sure to hold my head down for a little bit longer; the seconds filling me with agonizing pain as my lungs strained. I saw spots before my eyes, and suddenly stopped struggling. My hands slipped against the silt and I went limp.

He held me down for an additional three seconds before he pulled me up. I coughed much to his delight. Whatever he was going to say following my cough though, never made it past his lips. The hand that I had slid against the mud – the one that seemed so feeble and weak? In one swift motion I ripped my dagger from my side and stabbed it into his leg. The roar of pain that came from him told me that I had only a few moments to recover myself and prepare for what was to come.

I crawled along the muddied banks as best as I could. When I got back up to my feet the stars in front of my eyes had faded, but there were still enough to keep me from feeling confident with what was coming my way. The Coalition soldier ripped my dagger from his leg and tossed it aside.

There was one lesson that I had left to use. If it didn’t work, then I was surely going to die.

I could see the anger in the man’s eyes – the rage on his voice, but I needed him to be livid. Despite how strained I may have been, I called out to him as I stood up straight.

“Tell me, hut’uun, when I kill an aruetycate dar’manda piece of Hutt filth like you, does that detract a number from my kill count? If so, I may just let you win. It’s bad enough your girlfriend over there has sullied my record.”

I wanted him livid and that was what I got. I wasn’t surprised that my ploy worked – who would be able to tolerate a smart-mouthed brat calling them a traitorous, soulless coward? He came at me like a hurricane, full of bluster and rage. When he was close enough to me to strike, I turned my back to him and caught hold of his hand, just as my mother had done to me the day that I fought her out of anger. Using his momentum to my advantage, I completed my turn and slung him over my shoulder and into the river.

This was where our fight was going to have to be decided.

I dove in after him, my fear placed aside as the contest entered its final legs. The Coalition soldier struggled to hit me, but I dove deeper and used my experience in swimming to my advantage. When I came up, I wrapped my arms under his armpits and clasped them behind his neck in a nelson, then clasped my legs about his back. It was the same manner in which the octopus had grabbed me, and as I took a breath in I could not help but hope that it worked.

The Coalition soldier was stronger than me, but he was also heavier. With him trapped on his back, I pulled down and then kicked out before wrapping my legs around him again. He surged and thrashed in an attempt to get free of me, but other than exhaust his own energy he did little to get me to release him. I had increased my time underwater to be within the three minute and thirty second range. I didn’t know how long he could hold his breath, but I prayed that it wasn’t much longer.

I felt his desperation fueling me as I tightened my hold on him. When finally I felt myself becoming lightheaded I let go of him and surged back to the surface. He broke the water when I did, but after I took two deep breaths in I was pulling him back down into the water. Just like the octopus had, I refused to give him time to reorient himself. My head may have been swimming, but I knew what I was doing. He took delight in nearly drowning me, hadn’t he?

I was going to let him experience the same thing before he died.

We broke the surface again, but I could feel that the soldier’s energy had all but left him. The wound to his leg was bleeding heavier than I thought it would, and I found myself hoping that I hadn’t nicked his femoral artery. I wanted him to suffer – I wanted all of the Coalition dogs to suffer. We went down one last time and I made an effort to kick my legs and take us even further down. I felt him go limp.

For another twenty seconds I kept him underwater, unsure if he was faking as I had been. When nothing changed, I released him and saw him float back toward the surface. I swam up after him and threw my head back once I breached to catch my breath. The soldier continued to float, face down in the water. I was certain that he wouldn’t be getting out of the water again.

Just as I made my way over to the shore I glanced over my shoulder. The soldier bobbed once in the water, and then suddenly vanished beneath it. Had he dove inward I would have been concerned, but the fact that he was pulled down by his feet told me all that I needed to know. I left the river and its protector to their meal, and made my way back to the injured soldier who’d pulled me into this mess.

“You had better not be dead,” I complained as I fell to my knees beside him. I could finally hear the support troops arriving, but by then the most they could do was give us a ride back to the base. My lungs hurt, I was certain that the soldier had popped my jaw out of socket, and it felt like two ribs were broken. If nothing else, I told myself that I would get to unmask the soldier before anyone else did. I lowered my hands to his helmet and wrenched it off. What awaited me caused my eyes to widen. I let out a bewildered gasp.

“Cadim?”

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
01.17.2012 , 08:35 AM | #14
Chapter Twelve: Bitter Medicine.

I have come to understand that there is a Golden Rule to Mandalorian Medical Care: if he can make it through the first night, then he should be okay. It was all that we had been told when Loktun and Darol were placed into the field hospital and it was repeated when Cadim was brought to their care. While I do not doubt the skill of our doctors, I believe that most of the healing is done by the Mandalorian himself. If his will is strong enough and his desire to live keen enough, then he will stabilize. The pain killers were just an encouragement to get better; they were not the cause of it.

I refused to leave Cadim’s side after he was placed on a cot. Our equipment was rudimentary, at best, but he was given as much care as possible. Seeing Cadim’s face was no different than envisioning Darol arise from his grave. To further add to that comparison, it was not lost upon me that the cot that Cadim now rested on had at one time been Darol’s. I had to assume that because Loktun lived and Darol died that there was a 50/50 chance Cadim would pull through. Perhaps it was foolish, but I believed that my being at Cadim’s side would tip the scales in his favor.

Much to my relief, I required relatively little medical assistance. A bit of salve was placed on my ribs to prevent the fractures from becoming more severe and my shoulder was wrapped, but overall Doctor Renasin said that he saw no reason why I should not be able to continue fighting within a week’s time. I thanked him for his advice and placed my pauldron back on. In most cases I would have been quick to ignore his advice, but it now gave me a convenient excuse to be near Cadim.

It had been three years since I had last seen him. His face had been harder in that duration of time: a scar now moved between his left nostril and his lip, almost creating a dimple even when he lay without a facial expression. I did not find it to be an off-putting look at all; in fact, I distinctly recall thinking that the scar and the stubble on his chin were authentically Mandalorian. He looked a bit malnourished, but that could easily be fixed with good eating.

A phantom of the sorrow I had felt over losing him lurked in the back of my mind, ever-ready to once more invite me to imagine that he would not make it through the night, but I refused to entertain the thought. I had vowed to myself that I would not let another person die, and in my mind I had the ability to make sure that proved to be true.

The sound of my father and sister entering the hospital tent drew my attention away from Cadim. It was becoming harder with each day to distinguish between my father and Commander Decimus, but the look of concern on his face answered that question for me even before his hug did. The embrace was quick and I hardly had time to return it before he had pulled back to look down at me. The words didn’t need to leave his mouth; I knew what to say.

“I’m fine,” I stated. “The doctor said I won’t need much more consideration.”

I felt Astra’s hand on my shoulder for a second in a comforting pat, but her attention quickly shifted to Cadim. The way that she looked at him was in a manner that I had not seen on her face for quite some time – since Cadim had left for the north, in fact. She was surprisingly quiet as she approached the side of the bed across from me and placed her hand to the back of his. My eyes lingered on that touch.

“And Cadim? Is he going to be alright?”
I looked away from their hands and to the side of Astra’s face. “If he makes it through the night,” I began. She nodded her head to indicate that she knew the rest of what I had to say. When she looked back to me, I could still see lingering traces of her affection for Cadim. I understood why it was there, but I didn’t like it.

Of course, I knew that I couldn’t let her know that.

“And you, Sis. How are you?”
“Fine,” I repeated. Obviously her attention had been so focused on Cadim that she had ignored what I said. I sat back down by Cadim’s side and placed my hand near his on the cot, a subconscious ploy to lay just a bit of claim to him. If Astra noticed, she didn’t seem to mind.

“Has he said anything?” My father’s voice was almost wistful and I knew that he had to be thinking what I did when I first saw Cadim’s face. If he had lived there was a possibility that others did, and if there were others still alive then perhaps those that we had funerals for were not all dead. Cadim, after all, was not.

I shook my head in response to the question. “He was unconscious when I found him and he hasn’t been awake since.”
“Two more kills to your record,” Astra remarked. Her thumb moved over the back of Cadim’s hand and for a moment I saw his eyes shift. It may have been an awful thing to think, but I hoped that he would continue to sleep until she left. I did not want her face to be the first thing that he saw. To my fragile psyche, that wouldn’t be fair. “You’re really off to a brilliant start.”

“I did what I had to do,” I said with feigned humility. It would be a lie to say that I wasn’t ecstatic in what had occurred. Were it not for the river I surely would have been killed by the Coalition soldier, but fate had placed me on familiar terrain. With my bare hands I had claimed his life, and that went a long way to banishing the stain of my previous trepidation. “You would have done the same.”

Astra nodded. My father placed his hand to my shoulder. “Nevertheless, it was a brave thing you did, Siana. You set a good example for the others.”

That was the closest that a Mandalorian could come to being called a hero. In Mando’a, we are noticeably absent the word “hero”, and most of our insults deal with traits that strip away qualities of being a Mandalorian. As I have come to understand it, for the most part the language is built up generalities and ideals that a person should aspire to, thus the absence of hero only means that every Mandalorian should be heroic. But when my father told me that I had set a good example – that I was something for others to aspire toward? That was as good as it could get.

“Doctor Renasin said that I should take a week’s worth of rest,” I told my father as he was already in such a good mood. “With your permission, unless you want me to keep up my training, I’d like to stay here with Cadim and make sure that he’s alright.”

“I’d say you’ve earned that,” Father stated. He looked to Astra, whose attention was still on Cadim. “Do you object to her remaining by his side?”

I watched the worry on Astra’s face recede as she was put on the spot. She looked from my father, to me, and then back to Father. When she spoke, her voice was a notch softer than it had been before. “Not at all. It’d be good if he has someone he knows close by when he wakes up.”

There was no denying that just as my fledgling feelings for Cadim had matured over time, so too had Astra’s much more involved ones. I did not like the way she looked at him, but I also knew that things were different this time around. I wasn’t her kid sister – I was a warrior and I had earned three kills. It was no longer such an empty dream to think that Cadim might like me; particularly because I was the one that saved him from death. Still, seeing her hold his hand and stroke it with her thumb did not assist my confidence.

“Has anyone told Fendar the news?” I asked obliquely. I had seen the way that Fendar and Astra interacted, and although I knew it was not as genuine as what she and Cadim shared, the introduction of his name was my most obtuse way to introduce their relationship into the environment. “I’m certain he and Vasmus would love to hear about the return of one of our brothers.”

“Word’s already spread,” Father said. I do not doubt that he could see the animosity growing between me and my sister, but he also did not intervene. At the time I had been so focused on Astra that I did not bother to conceal my envy, and Astra was so focused on Cadim that she did not notice it. Father had the best vantage point and I thought his inactivity meant he was unaware. I believe now that a more plausible explanation is that a man brave enough to dive into blazing fire, is less than willing to move between two Mandalorian women.

Two minutes passed before my father again patted my shoulder and reminded me to send him any word on Cadim’s state. The moment that he woke up, my father wanted to know about it. I agreed to keep him updated and was forced to sit quietly as Astra continued to hold Cadim’s hand. I thought of touching his other one, but I lacked the nerve to openly display that level of affection. Fleetingly my finger tips brushed the skin of his hand, but I dared not tenderly stroke him as Astra was. My impetus was a burgeoning creature and at that point it was too fragile to be put to a showing against my sister.

But I didn’t want to let her win. I was no idiot. If Cadim saw Astra when he awakened then they would fall in love again. Astra’s influence over the men of our clan was nearly unchallenged: to her credit, she never used it to her advantage, but she certainly could have. I thought back to the dance, when she had managed to take Fendar’s attention away from me, and chewed the inside of my lip. True, I had left the dancing circle on my own, but she did not need to claim his attention. She couldn’t have every man that I had feelings for – I wouldn’t let her.

“So how do you think things will go with you and Fendar now that Cadim’s back?” The question was asked in the same tone as the one before it. I put emphasis on Fendar’s name, but tried to keep my voice sweet. I would never be able to prove it, but I believe I saw her flinch just a little. Perhaps my imagination was getting the better of me; perhaps her conscience was getting the better of her.

When Astra spoke though, her voice was devoid any of the shame I had anticipated. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Siana.”

It was an obvious ploy of innocence, but I was feeling bold enough to address her feelings if not my own. I gave her a little smirk, almost to indicate that everything being spoken of was jesting. “Oh, come on. I’ve seen the way that you too look at each other. The way that he is when you’re around, and how you are when he is. When you two danced, I saw how his hands –“

“Enough,” Astra ordered without room for argument. She looked away from Cadim and to me. My mouth opened again, but she glared. “If you won’t heed my words as my sister, then do so as my subordinate. I don’t want to hear another word about that while I’m here, do you understand?”

I had absolutely no counter to her command. She was right on both counts: I was her younger sister, and I was her inferior in rank. I hadn’t any recourse and so I grew quiet. The way that Astra looked at me then was a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. Perhaps she was beginning to pick up on my protectiveness, but she did not make note of it.

It was a defining moment in our relationship. Militaristically she had come to accept me as a woman, but in our personal life I was still viewed as a child. That Astra even needed to wonder if I had intentions for her love interest; that the very thought dawned upon her at all, was indication enough that our dynamic was changing as well. I did not miss the fringe amounts of sadness that cropped up in her eyes at the realization, but at the time I was too focused on my own insecurities to pay it any heed.

We continued to look at each other, quietly, for more time than I know how to quantify. It could have been a minute; it could have been an hour. I believe that the look we shared then never truly ended, in all honesty. The only thing that brought our attention away was when Fendar entered the tent.

“The Octopus Wrangler saving the day once again,” Fendar said to me as he gave me a pat on the back. I looked away from Astra and up to him. I smirked just a bit and looked back down.

Much to my surprise, Astra had removed her hand from Cadim’s.

“I do what I can,” I attempted to respond in as cool a voice as I could.
Fendar grinned. “Well, you do it well.”
“I try.”

As shameful as it may be to admit, I tried to think of a way to push a confrontation between Fendar and Astra, but nothing came up in my head. Fendar approached Cadim and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“I can’t believe he made it,” he said with much less jesting in his voice than usual. “Handsome bastard always knew how to get himself out of a tight spot, though.”

I watched Astra’s face carefully in those moments when Fendar and Cadim were close. She noticed my expression and gave me one that I could not read accurately: annoyance, or perhaps disbelief. Whichever it was, it motivated her to stand.

“It’s probably best that we not crowd him,” she announced. “Siana can stay here, if she wants. I think Loktun can use some company.”

Fendar rubbed his neck and then nodded. “You’ve got it, boss.”

I wasn’t so childish that I didn’t know what Astra was doing, and I instantly felt it was an unequal response to my given stimulus. She knew how I felt about Loktun’s condition, and furthermore, she knew that I should have been attending to him as I was Cadim. To draw that comparison in my face and then indicate that it was up to me whether or not I left Cadim’s side? Oh, it was a burning strike. I had greatly underestimated my sister’s wit, and my fragile psyche paid for it.

“I’ll be over there later,” I almost murmured.
“Good job again,” Fendar said as he gave me a pat on the back. I looked up only after they were leaving and noticed that Astra made more effort to keep distance between herself and Fendar than she had in the past. She was no fool; I had to give her that.

I continued to sit by Cadim’s side throughout the night. At one point Vasmus brought me some food and we chatted about the funeral services. He took from them something different than I did. They made him proud: glad to be a Mandalorian. One day he wanted to be buried in a grave, and although I knew it was very likely that he would be, I told him that I didn’t want to think about it. The rest of the meal was done in silence until eventually he said he needed to head to bed. I thanked him for the conversation.

Our only other visitor that evening was Bird the Dog, who came whimpering in near midnight. He had undoubtedly missed me at supper and at long last tracked me to where my scent was. I patted him on the head and he sat down beside me. I liked having company that wouldn’t talk.

Because the first night of Cadim’s recovery was so important, I did not want to fall asleep. I had not been there for Darol when he died; I refused to let Cadim pass in the same manner. But although I had good intentions, a day filled with crying and fighting was one that took a toll on my body. I told myself that if I laid my head down against the side of Cadim’s bedding for a moment that I would be fine. I then convince myself that if I closed my eyes I could rest them for a moment.

Before I knew it, I was asleep.

I don’t think that I dreamed that night. At least, I don’t remember what it was. When I awakened there were a few hints of early morning light streaming through the tent. The chirping of birds caused me to stir, and for a moment I did not know where I was. I felt a blanket on me, and I had been hugging Bird in my sleep. It was only after I blinked and sat up that I remembered why I was there, and quickly had two conflicting thoughts race to the forefront of my mind.

I hoped that Cadim had not died in my sleep.
I also hoped that he had not yet awakened.

At a glance I could tell that he had not awakened. I could not be so sure that he was alright.

Other than the fleeting touch that I gave his hand with my nail when trying to bolster my courage in dealing with Astra, I had not touched Cadim at all. Seeing him in Darol’s bed had given me a certain level of fear, and that fear translated to the fact that the last time I touched Darol he was cold and lifeless. Cadim was still alive, I believed, but I did not want to touch him and find out otherwise.

But allowing fear to dictate my actions was what the old Siana Daue did, not the new warrior. Not the woman that Cadim would see when he awakened. I moved my hand slowly from my side toward Cadim’s hand. I hesitated as I lowered my hand, and then completed the rest of the touch. If he was cold, then I would kill myself then and there. Much to my relief, he was not.

A soft sound left his mouth when my hand touched his. He then stirred just a bit. Before I had time to take my hand away from him, his eyes opened and I was given view of the clear blue eyes that I had not seen in years. Recognition dawned on his face instantly, and he narrowed his eyes to make sure that he was seeing the right person. When he spoke, his voice was little more than a whisper.

“Astra?”

As you can imagine, that was the last name that I wanted to hear come out of his mouth. I balled the hand that had been on the back of his into a fist and pulled it away. “No,” I said. “Siana.”

I should have taken the comment as a compliment, but I wasn’t necessarily in that mindset. When he awakened I wanted him to say my name. I didn’t even think to imagine that as he had changed in three years into a different person, I must have grown to look more like my sister. I was, understandably, less than pleased. He didn’t seem to notice.

“No way,” he challenged as he struggled to sit up. It took him a moment, but he got to his elbows, at least. “When I left you weren’t much bigger than a shrub.”

I don’t know if it was his ridiculous method of measuring my height, or simply the fact that I could see the outline of his smile, but I quickly lost my will to be angry with him. “People grow, you know. If I hadn’t, who would have saved your sorry butt from those Coalition soldiers?”

It was then that Cadim noticed my armor. A fact I knew due to the manner in which his eyes widened. “You’re kidding me. You did it?”

“Alone.” My pride couldn’t be contained without giving off a winsome smile. “I guess this shrub has grown more than you thought.”

Much to my delight, I could see that he saw me as an actual warrior. His initial disbelief or confusion could be overlooked: when he was informed of what I was and what I had become, it was more than obvious that he respected me. Trying to keep from blushing is like trying to prevent a sneeze. The harder I worked at it, the more powerful it’d become. I looked down to Bird as an effort to hide my cheeks and gave my stupid, girlish smile to the floor. “Bird, tell Cadim hello.”

Bird’s inclusion into the conversation came about as he hopped up on the bed and started licking Cadim’s face. It was more than enough incentive for him to sit up so he could push him away. His laughter was like music to my ears and I couldn’t help but smile all the more idiotically

“Bird the Flying Dog, get away from me,” Cadim ordered. After Bird had his fill of Cadim’s face, he barked and plopped down.

A part of me wanted to belay telling my father or Astra that Cadim had awakened. The longer that I kept him to myself, the more likely he was to appreciate me for the woman I had become. I knew that when Astra entered the picture the same affection that she showed for him might appear on his face, and while I was willing to concede that I may lose him I didn’t want to expedite that reality in any sense.

Much to my chagrin, but the betterment of our cause, Vasmus arrived with my breakfast. When he saw that Cadim was awake he tossed it to the table and made his way over. The two embraced like brothers.

“It’s damn good to see you again,” Vasmus confessed.
“You took the words out of my mouth,” Cadim agreed.

Initially I attempted to keep my position at Cadim’s side, but I could feel that it was a futile endeavor. The moment that Vasmus went and told the others that Cadim was awake was the moment that more people would pile in. Worse yet, as I looked toward the food that I was brought I saw Bird snatch it off the table and begin to devour it. Things were not looking up.

True to my belief, Vasmus’ report instantly brought new faces into the tent. Commander Decimus entered first, followed by Astra and Vasmus again. There were undoubtedly more people that would have wanted to see the newly returned brother, but I understood that those three had the most purpose for being there.

“You look well,” the commander said as he drew alongside Cadim’s bed. He inoffensively moved me aside without a glance, and I accepted that my connection to Cadim was severed. I tried to catch one more glance from him, but my father’s handshake quickly took his attention.

“Thank you, sir,” he replied. Before another word could be spoken from him, Astra leaned over and embraced Cadim. Much to my disdain, when he returned the hug it was in no way with the platonic intent that he had shown Vasmus. Their embrace ended and he stared up at Astra, who looked back down at him with a warm smile on her lips. Just as I had suspected, their romance was rekindled in a moment’s notice.

I was less than pleased.

Commander Decimus took the seat that I had used the night before and sat down alongside Cadim. He placed a hand to his arm and looked directly into his eyes. “Where have you been? We sent scouts out during the winter, but they didn’t see any signs of Clan Daue outside of this region.”

After a moment to gather his strength, Cadim sat up and removed the few bio-meters that were on his body. They beeped in protest, but when Doctor Renasin came in to check on them he was waved off by the commander. Cadim scratched at his chin. I heard the crisp scratching of nails against stubble and thought back to how handsome he’d been when he was asleep.

“We’ve been pinned down in Yaedan since Commander Valgor made his move there,” Cadim stated with no lack of frustration. “We tried to get word out to you, but every scout that was sent out ended up being hung outside of our gates. Vacian scum have lowered themselves to being the dogs for the Hundarii. We were worried that they’d get the drop on you before word reached.”

Vasmus stepped up from behind Astra. “When the commander made the call to retreat, a few of us headed back here. It may not look like it from inside this tent, but we’ve built a damn fine base.”

“Not look like much inside this tent?” Cadim laughed and shook his head. “Brother, at least you have medical staff. We erected a barracks to protect against the elements, but it’s all but become a hospital. Food’s scarce, the weather’s terrible – how those cowards can survive the north I don’t know.” After he finished speaking, Cadim looked over to Bird’s now finished meal. “Even your dogs get food. I shouldn’t complain though, from what we could get out of Wesmer, Commander Sala isn’t doing much better.”

The room went silent. I wanted to believe that I had misheard Cadim, but I knew that I had not. The warmth that rushed over me; the sound of my heart beating in my ears; they were too real for any of this to be a dream. I couldn’t find words to speak, but I knew that I wanted to. Thankfully, Commander Decimus was there to field it for me.

“Commander Sala – my wife?” His tone dipped back into the uncertainty I had seen on his face when we brought Cadim into the room. Six months had passed since we believed that my mother had died, and in many ways we were just now overcoming the shock of that loss. Cadim nodded his head. “Sala’s alive. Are you certain?”

“As certain as I can be that she was alive when I left Yaedan,” Cadim answered. “The Vacians broke her position and took a good deal of her men, but they’ve been holed up in Wesmer for the winter. Snuck us a few furs and blankets to help us get through it. I can’t imagine how they pulled it off, to be honest.”

I looked away from Cadim and to Astra. The animosity that was building between us was forgotten when our eyes met. Our mother was still alive – the loss that we felt could be forgotten!

“Siana, get the man some food.” Commander Decimus ordered. I did not want to miss out on hearing anything else about the conversation, and so I opened my mouth to protest. When the commander looked back at me I saw that there was a grim finality in his eyes. I hesitated and then nodded in an effort to comply. Whatever he wanted to ask Cadim, he didn’t want me to be there to hear.

I ran as fast as I could back to the mess, and had a plate prepared. No sooner had the calorie enriched scoop of eggs and crushed cornmeal been added to my plate than did I run back and into the tent. Vasmus had pulled up another chair. He rose to take the plate from me, but I shouldered past him and presented it to Cadim with a bright smile. He returned the expression to me and took to eating eagerly.

“How did you make it down this far?” My father asked. Yaedan was a province of mountains and valleys. It was generally avoided due to its cavernous and dangerous terrain, little fertility, and the dangerous wildlife that roamed its treacherous steppes. It made sense to hide an army in it only because no one would be foolish enough to blindly venture in after them.

“We’ve been trying to re-establish radio contact with this area, but we’ve had no luck,” Cadim said between greedy chewing. I poured him a cup of water, but as I prepared to hand it over to him, Astra took it from my hand and did it. They shared another look, before Astra glanced back to me with an almost threatening narrowing of her eyes. So perhaps our animosity wasn’t completely forgotten.

“A few weeks ago we started picking up signals from the Vacians. They’ve been preparing to mobilize against you for awhile and sent a forward guard to feel you out. I’m guessing by the fact that you’re still here that you survived it.”

“Easily,” Vasmus remarked.

“We figured that you could withstand that, if you were still in the region – or at least, evade it. But when we started picking up transmissions that a joint strike force was being prepared Commander Valgor gave us the call to send a squad out to get word to you.” Cadim finished off his water and set it aside. Astra filled it without a word. “I’m the only one that made it from that group, I guess.”

“We’ll not let the sacrifices of the few be forgotten,” Commander Decimus said. “Do you know the logistics of their attack? Who or what they’ll be sending our way?”

“From what we gathered, most of the ground soldiers will be coming from the Vacians. The Hundarii are going to be sending additional tanks and airspeeders.” The latter part of that comment was not at all lost upon the commander, who I saw almost grimace. We had very little defense against aerial assailants.

“We should probably abandon this position and move for the hills,” Vasmus said warily. “I know that we’ve built a fortress, but I don’t know how we’re going to be able to hold off a protracted assault.”

Cadim cleared his throat. “If I may,” he began. “The Hundarii think that we’re defeated up north. If you’re willing to withstand their siege, we might be able to sneak around their rear guard and hit them at their core. I can’t swear to anything, but I know that Commander Valgor thinks it could be a successful move.”

“If Valgor does that, the Hundarii are certain to turn back on him. I wouldn’t doubt that they’ll abandon their siege and we can roll them up from behind. Wesmer will simply have to wait to be assisted.” Commander Decimus spoke of both possibilities without the fondness that I usually found on my father’s voice.

“That still raises the problem of holding out against the airspeeders,” Vasmus replied. When he didn’t speak out to prevent the potential sacrifice of my mother’s position, I looked to Astra. She remained silent.

Commander Decimus cleared his throat. “Astra, I have some… associates up near Fiarro. If I give you the coordinates, can I count on you to retrieve some anti-aircraft weaponry?”

“Of course, sir,” Astra nodded. They began to speak about the location of the area and what was expected; mundane things that could have well been a shopping list. The lack of passion in their voices – the readiness with which they seemed to be abandon the pressing topic of Wesmer and my mother’s position, truly infuriated me. I couldn’t keep my peace.

I knew that I shouldn’t speak out, but I couldn’t help it. I was, after all, a warrior. “What about helping my mo – Commander Sala? You said that her people are in dire condition, shouldn’t we make it a priority to relieve them?”

It wasn’t fair of me to make my father state that he was willing to abandon my mother, but at the time I didn’t think anything of it. As far as I was concerned, the only thing that mattered was getting her outside of the godforsaken Wesmer lands and back home. I could feel her ring pressing against me, its cold presence not at all different from her smile.

“It would be too risky and costly,” Commander Decimus answered drily. “If Commander Sala has held out this long, she can hold a little bit longer. We need to worry about breaking the back of our enemy more than saving the neck of our –“

“Family,” I finished the commander’s sentence impetuously. “We don’t have any proof that this plan will work. Astra, tell him that we need to help Mother.”

To my disbelief, Astra pulled me back by my armor and glared down at me. “You’re speaking out of turn, Siana. If Commander Decimus believes that we need to focus on breaking the Hundarii Siege, then that’s what we’re going to do.”

At that point I knew that I should have kept my mouth shut, but I was too upset to bother with protocol. In my immaturity, I believed that Astra was abandoning our mother just to spite me for my feelings in regard to Cadim.

“If Commander Decimus thinks that we shouldn’t help Mother, then he’s wrong. And if you agree with him, you’re wrong too!”

My vision went black for a second after that. I felt myself staggering back and didn’t realize until it was too late that Astra had punched me in the face. By the time that I was starting to move back for her, Vasmus intervened and wrapped his arm around me, effortlessly moving me away.

“Let’s get some air,” Vasmus suggested. I glared hotly at Astra, who looked back at me with no less frustration. Once I was outside, I broke free of his hold. “Just clear your head.”

I was horribly embarrassed. Not only had I spoken out against my father and leader, but I had been redressed by Astra and then removed from the meeting. Cadim had seen it all – I knew he felt I was still a child. Uncertain of what to do, I went to see Loktun for a less than a minute and then returned to the thoroughfare. I had not been standing for more than a second before Astra left the tent.

Our eyes met and I knew that something awful would happen if she said anything to me. I should have been the one to look away, but I didn’t. I felt that I was right – that she was being unreasonable due to her jealousy.

“Siana, I don’t know what’s gotten into you,” Astra began, “but it’s ending right now. Just stay away from Cadim until I get back from Fiarro. We can talk about all of this then.”

“We don’t have anything to talk about. You can’t order me not to be near him; the commander said I could keep watch over him until he’s better.” I was certain of myself when I said that; sure that I had blocked off Astra’s superior rank. Yet despite my confidence, when she began walking toward me I subconsciously took a step back.

She placed a hand to my shoulder and looked me directly in the eyes. I’ll never forget the sternness to her gaze. “I’m not ordering you to do anything, Siana. I’m asking you as your sister.”

It wasn’t an unreasonable request. In fact, it was a downright sensible one. But the clarity that I have now was not the clarity that a hormonally imbalanced teenager did. The world mattered only for the moment and at that moment I wanted to make Astra feel as badly as she made me feel earlier. I slapped her hand away.

“Then you’re not my sister.”

The hurt that flashed on her face was so genuine; so heart-wrenching, that even in my impetuous teenage angst I regretted what I said. Unfortunately, regret for me meant that I was not wrong but rather that the other party was trying to make me feel bad, which only steeled me all the more. I could even make out a trace amount of tears in her eyes, although she was far too strong a woman to let them materialize beyond that. When she spoke, her voice was damp with hurt, but carried its sternness all the while.

“Is that how it’s going to be, Siana?”
“Yes, that’s how it’s going to be, squad leader.”

And so, that was how it was.

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Gestahlt
01.17.2012 , 08:36 AM | #15
Chapter Thirteen: Half Kill.

I awakened the next morning at the same time that I always did. Although I had been given a week’s time to rest in order to recover from my injuries, I knew that the sooner I awakened, the sooner Astra would come and apologize to me. We had never before had a serious fight, and never one that came to the level of anger that the one the night before had. True, I had told her that she was no longer my sister, but that was only because she had not acted as one. It was not my fault that she hit me; if she had agreed with me I wouldn’t have the need to backtalk. At any moment she would come bursting through the doors and hug me, begging me for forgiveness. Graciously, I would accept.

Astra never came through the door.

When fresh sunlight began to peak through the windows of my tent, I became concerned. If Astra had to leave in the morning then she should be making her rounds soon, otherwise there would be no way that she would make it to Fiarro in time to complete her transaction. I had taken to sleeping in my armor, a part of our battle readiness protocol, and needed only to pull my boots on as I moved. Once I was out the door, I hopped in order to tie my laces while at the same time keeping forward motion. Surprisingly, I had no idea where to look for her.

In most cases Astra would have been in the field or with us in the barracks, but as we did not have orders to work in the field, nor did I see her in the barracks, I had to assume that she was visiting Cadim before she came to see me. It was quite possible that upon realizing she had to choose between her sister and his love she went to inform him of her decision. What a fool I was to think that was anything more than a misguided fantasy. I was in for a rude awakening.

Understandably I did not want to enter Cadim’s tent just yet. I had been thrown out of it last time and even if I had the commander’s permission to be there, I did not want to see that he saw me as a child. Nevertheless, if Astra was going to terminate their relationship for me then it only seemed right that I could meet her half way. The faster that I moved, the more likely it would be for me to run into her as she made her way out. I made it all the way to the field hospital and did not see her. Perhaps she was still in with Cadim?

As I walked toward Cadim’s tent I was only glad that I was becoming used to wearing my armor. No longer did I have to shuffle or overcompensate for my steps. I had once thought that I was without it in the field because I simply did not feel it on me, in fact. The confidence that it gave me encouraged me forward, and as I came to Cadim’s tent I pulled the flap back slowly and peeked inside.

There was no one immediately visible. I carefully craned my head to the side and peered deeper in, where I found Cadim’s cot but no sign of him. Just as I prepared to step away from the tent I heard the sound of breathing and peeked back inside once more. There were two things that I could have found.

For the sake of my sanity (and teenage desires), it was not the less becoming of the two.

While he probably should have been in bed, Cadim was not a man that sat around and waited to improve. I watched him continue to do his press-ups with an almost voyeuristic interest, incapable of looking away. I had become more than accustomed to seeing men exercising during the winter when we had our PT indoors; however, the sight of Cadim doing it stirred within me something noticeably unique. I assumed that it was simply my juvenile crush having evolved to the next level, and did not for a moment think that it might have had something to do with the fact I was maturing in ways I did not realize. Whatever the reason for the feeling may have been, I did not want it to stop. I continued to watch him.

I heard someone approaching the tent from the distance and began to pull away. In doing so, I let the flap go too soon and it made a soft, nearly imperceptible slap against the tent before folding back into place. That minute sound was enough to alert Cadim though, who sat up and called out.

“Who’s there?”

Did I stay or did I run? His voice sounded strained, which meant that either he was working out harder than he usually did, or Astra had not been gentle when it came to letting him down. Whatever the cause may have been, I opened the flap and stepped inside, a shy smile on my face.

“Hi,” I said as I attempted to think of an explanation. As I did not believe it would be prudent to admit I had been watching him work out, I instead spoke more directly to the point. “I was just hoping I might find Astra here?”

Cadim smiled when he saw me and stood up. In that simple gesture I could see that his muscles moved with a sleek, seamless ease that could only be gained through years of proper training. He pulled a black shirt back over his body and concealed the bandages that were on his shoulder. “You missed her by about an hour, I think. She should be on her way to Fiarro.”

I thought that I misheard him at first, so I canted my head. “Where did you say she is?”
“On her way to Fiarro. The commander wanted her to pick up some anti-air weaponry, yeah?”

So I had not misheard. Astra had decided to leave without apologizing to me. I was far more hurt than I should have been given the circumstances, but I did a good job of not showing it. I needed just a second to make sure that my voice didn’t relate any of my wounded pride, and spoke in as soft a tone as possible.

“Well, thanks. I should let you get back to whatever you were doing.”
“Don’t be silly, Siana. Come on, sit. I just had some ab stuff left anyway. Easier if I have someone to hold my feet for me, right?” To indicate that he was being serious, he laid down on the ground and drew his legs up. I thought to decline, but after a moment of indecision moved over and knelt before him. Once I had done so, I placed my hands on his feet.

I was feeling much glummer than I had anticipated feeling. Even when I told Siana that she was no longer my sister I felt better than I did in knowing she had left without me. Rather than sulk I tried to pay attention to holding Cadim’s feet steady. He rose completely and fell, twisting his body in corresponding angles from left to right in order to increase the isolation of his muscles. Having seen him shirtless, I knew that it was not a wasted effort.

“So how are you liking life as a warrior?”
I listened to the strain on his voice and smirked a little. “Isn’t that kind of like asking a caterpillar how it feels to be a butterfly?”
“Or a moth,” Cadim joked. No sooner had he begun to laugh than did I release his feet and let him fall back just a bit from the overexertion against a now much less pressured area. “What! It’s the same thing.”
“A butterfly isn’t the same thing as a moth.”
“What’s the difference? Two wings, antennae, legs – sounds like they’re the same to me.”

I instantly recalled why it was that I had given Cadim the benefit of the doubt as a child. He was easy to talk to and never missed a beat in conversation. I managed to push Astra from my mind and focused on what was good about the situation: Cadim was here and so was I.

“One’s pretty and the other isn’t,” I warned. “Are you saying that I’m not pretty?” I made certain to follow the question with a teasing smile. Obviously I did want to know the answer, but I didn’t want him to tell me flat out. If the answer was negative, there’d be no coming back from that.

If Cadim picked up on my interest, he was too skilled a conversationalist to show it. “I think you were a cute caterpillar as a kid, and you’re a cute moth as an adult. Who’s to tell me that a butterfly is pretty and a moth isn’t, huh?”

It wasn’t the answer that I was looking for, but it was an answer. Being ‘cute’ was like being ‘funny’. They were both desirable qualities, but only if they came with something else. When I was ten I was cute; I didn’t want to be cute at the age of thirteen. Yet to imply that I saw a problem with the qualifier would mean I had an answer in mind, so I gave him a little shrug and held his feet down for him again.

“I think you’re a skinny caterpillar,” I remarked glibly.
“Yeah,” Cadim answered, “but I’m working on it.”
I wasn’t going to argue with that.

“How do you get half a kill?” There were a number of subjects that I wanted to bring up to Cadim, but few that would not end with me blushing. The question asked was one that had been on my mind since I heard my mother mention it. Knowing that she was still alive – still fighting, made me wonder how she would have reacted if she knew Commander Decimus chose not to rescue her.

Cadim paused in his sit-ups and blinked. “Half a kill?”
“Yes, in a holo-vid you said that you had four and a half kills. How do you have half a kill?”

He stared at me for a few more seconds, then cracked a grin. “Oh.” Rather than complete his set he placed his hands down and leaned back against them. “Funny story there.”
“I think I’m the one that gets to decide if it’s funny?”
“Okay, story that may be funny,” Cadim corrected. “You were a lot nicer before you had that armor.”
I smiled. “That’s what they say.”

The smile was false – my sincerity was not. It was true that after I had passed my verd’goten I was beginning to become a different person. In many ways that was good, as Cadim’s presence showed; however, there too was the very real fact that I had burned bridges I never would have thought possible.

“What else do they say?” Cadim asked as he set back to doing his sit-ups.
“That you have a story that you think is funny.”

If nothing else, I had learned to keep him laughing. After the next set was finished, Cadim stood up and so I did as well.

“It was back when we were with Commander Valgor; when things were going good,” his qualifier to the statement came with a bit of a frown. I knew that the appropriate thing to do was pay close attention to his story, and so as he sat down on the bed, I made sure to sit in a chair. “We were really beating the pants off of those Vacians back then. It was hard to get a clean kill, especially with how fast your mother shoots.”

Not surprisingly, I smiled at the compliment. Cadim continued without needing to make note of it.

“So I’m racing Cassir to get the next kill and this Vacian goes streaming past us on a speeder-bike. I mean, if his own mother was in the way he would have run her over to get out of the way. Cassir took a shot – missed. I shot and grazed the guy’s bike. He swerves, hits a tree, and goes up in flames. Cassir said it wasn’t my shot that killed him, but I said it was my shot that killed his bike.”

“So you got half a point,” I finished with a shake of my head. In the torrent of emotions that had come up when both my mother and Cadim were revealed to be alive, I had not taken the time to ask after Cassir. “Do you know if Cassir made it out of that battle alive?”

Cadim’s expression darkened a bit and he shook his head. “He didn’t. Hundarii sniper caught him when he was moving for your mother’s position.”

I was only thankful that I had already cried over Cassir’s fate; if I did it then, I would have further embarrassed myself. Hearing a story of Cassir’s bravery did well to bolster my spirits though, and as I thought of him I could not help but smile. “He died like a Mandalorian, then.”

“Without a doubt,” Cadim agreed. “When I’m back up to speed I’m going to ask the commander to assign me to your squad. Astra said you were a man short?”

I wondered if she did that to indicate my weakness, but I refused to believe she was that malicious. Rather than let silence overcome us, I decided to share my own story. A story that I had not spoken of since it occurred.

“That was my fault,” I confessed. “During the Battle at Land’s Bridge, I hesitated and didn’t kill someone fast enough. One of our brothers, Darol, died as a result.”

I could have added in a plethora of excuses or reasons, but for the first time I did not feel the need to. It could have well been the understanding look in Cadim’s eyes, or that I wanted desperately to unburden myself of that grief, but as I told him what happened I saw that he did not for a moment judge me.

“The first time is always the hardest.” The statement was given as Cadim rubbed his chin. “It’s hard to realize the power that pulling the trigger has until you have to do it. When it isn’t a training session; when it’s live ammunition that you’re firing, then you understand what war is about.”

I nodded.

“But you killed the guy, right?”
“I shot him in the head,” I said drily. “Just like the one that was chasing you.”
“And you’d kill another one?”
“I’d kill a thousand of them.”
“Then your squad mate’s death was not in vain. You understand what it means to kill now.”

I had not thought of it that way. I had come to terms with the fact that I was responsible, but I never thought to honor Darol for giving me that strength and opportunity. As I had shown at the river I was now ready to kill a man, brutally if I had to, and that change was all the result of seeing Darol vanish into his grave.

A much more focused look settled on Cadim them, as though he was pulling up something he had been fighting to conceal. “You shouldn’t fight with your sister, you know. She cares a lot about you.”

I didn’t want to be lectured, least of all about Astra, but as I opened my mouth to reply I didn’t feel any words come out. What could I really say to defend myself? I decided to go for the only one that I could say without feeling guilty.

“She treats me like I’m a kid. I’m a warrior.”
Cadim shook his head. “I don’t think she treats you like a kid at all. When you were a kid she mothered you. Last night, she treated you like a warrior.”

I frowned at the recollection and felt the area that she’d punched pulsate with a phantom pain. I may not have needed to tell her she was no longer my sister, but she did not need to hit me, either.

“And you think that she’s right? That we should abandon my mother?”
“I don’t think she said that.” Cadim’s voice was soft, but his tone firm. “She said that it wasn’t your place to argue against your father’s orders, and she was right. There’s more to the position of being a warrior than saying you’re an adult, Siana.”

“Adult or not, she’s still my mother.”
“Do you think she’d want you to disrespect your father on her behalf?”

I liked Cadim more when he was telling jokes. In fact, I liked him more when he was doing anything other than being right. The last thing that I wanted to be was wrong, and Cadim wasn’t making it easy for me to avoid feeling that way. There was no way that I could deny he was correct. Even Astra, who had taken on the surrogate role of my mother, stated that being a Mandalorian woman meant sacrifice. As an ideal it seemed noble, but it was painful to think of my mother sacrificing herself.

Before I knew it, I felt Cadim’s hand on my shoulder. It was as strong as I had imagined it, and although my pauldron separated us, it still felt as though he were touching me. I blushed and looked up, uncertain as to what I should say.

“I know it’s hard to be a fresh warrior, Siana. Hell, it’s damn near impossible. You want to prove you’re as tough as the veterans, but you don’t feel like anyone notices it. You’re lucky in that your family is there for you. It makes you special.”

Hearing the word ‘special’ from Cadim was akin to hearing ‘good example’ from my father. The key difference was that while the latter made me feel like a good soldier, the former made me feel like an attractive woman.

“I don’t have to prove I’m an adult,” I muttered. My verd’goten had done that, had it not? The nexu teeth on my shoulders were proof enough to my aptitude as a fighter. “I know I’m an adult.”
Cadim frowned just a bit. “It’s about more than saying you’re an adult, Siana. Yes, you earned the right to be called an adult when you passed your verd’goten, but do you believe you deserve to be called one? Adulthood is about action, not words.”

I took his words to be a challenge. It could have been the feeling of his hand on my shoulder, the look in his eyes, or even the fact that I just wanted to prove that I was indeed an adult.

That was a week of firsts. I had killed my first man. I had attended my first funeral. I had my first fight with my sister. And at that moment, I decided that I would be able to cross one more off my list.

Cadim was going to be the first man that I kissed.

When it happened, I thought that everything was going well. I caught him by surprise, no doubt a result of my sudden shift in positioning, and for a brief second I thought that I felt him giving himself over to it. I did not know how to kiss; in fact, I had only seen it briefly between people. But there is an instinct to greet another person with one’s lips that is hard to overcome, and in that clumsy manner I tried my best to show that I really was an adult.

Thinking back on it, I have to feel sympathy for Cadim. He could not have expected me to do it, and once he did he was faced with the decision between forcibly removing me, and trying his best to talk his way out of it. For the sake of my fragile ego he chose the latter, and to this day I am thankful to him for it.

“Siana,” he protested as he finally managed to move me away. My face was flushed with heat, while his was torn between confusion and embarrassment. “What are you doing?”

I was on a high then. It was a sensation I had never before felt. “I’m showing you that I am an adult.”

“You don’t do it this way,” Cadim said hastily as he prevented me from reaching in for a second kiss. “We’re like family. You don’t go kissing family.”

“Astra’d be like family to you as well.” I know that my voice was hotter than usual, because Cadim tried his best not to look perturbed by my impetuous answer. “It’s okay if she kisses you though? She wasn’t much older than me when you met her. What’s the problem?”

“I wasn’t engaged when I met her.”

It was a statement I had not been expecting. All of the courage I had gathered up left me at that and I stood dumbly in front of Cadim. Breathlessly, I asked the only question on my mind. “What?”

“I’m sorry,” Cadim told me as he lowered his hands form my shoulders. “I didn’t mean to lead you on in any way. Before I left I promised Astra that when I returned I’d have gained enough honor to be worthy of her hand. This morning, she told me that I had done just that.”

If the initial statement was the knockout punch, then those words were the blows to my ribs. I stood there, horribly uncomfortable and yet incapable of moving away. It was not fair that through all that I had done, Astra still managed to win him over. I was the one that fought to save his life – I was the one that dragged him out of the river. If it wasn’t for me he would be dead, and still he picked Astra?

“You don’t even know her,” I snapped. “You knew her three years ago, but she’s changed – just like I have.”

Poor Cadim was in an uncomfortable position. “I know her well enough to know that I want to be with her forever, Siana.” Ever the gentleman, he tried his best to assuage my unfounded fears. “I was hoping to tell you this later, after the two of you made up.”

“We’re never going to make up,” I spat.

“Siana,” Cadim said my name with patience that only further irritated me. “I don’t think that this should be a reason or us to grow further apart. I’m not marrying your sister to distance us; I’m trying to bring everyone closer together.”

What he said made sense. We could have been a squad composed of three people related by blood or marriage. But I didn’t see things that way then, and I thought he was trying to pull something over on me. I was still horribly embarrassed and incensed at the knowledge of Astra having ‘won’ in our war that had never even had a remotely plausible outcome of my achievement of victory.

“You’re right.” My concession came as a surprise to Cadim, evidenced by his fleeting smile. “I shouldn’t let this come between us. You have always been my friend and I just made a mistake.”

My practical approach to things really seemed to please Cadim. “It’s alright.”
“I mean, in a way this works out for me anyway.”
“How’s that?”
“Well, now that she has you, I guess that means she’ll leave Fendar alone. Maybe I can marry him?”

It was one of the nastiest things I have ever done in my life, but when I said it I genuinely thought I was doing the right thing. The kind of lunatics that spout “If I can’t have him, no one will” would have been proud of how warped my mind was. I saw Cadim’s face drop as I spoke, and I made an effort to seem surprised.

“Wait, do you mean she forgot to tell you about that? But you know her so well?”
“You need to leave, Siana.” Cadim’s voice was testier than I’d ever heard it. “Now.”

I had nothing more to say; no additional card up my sleeve. The hurt and anger on his voice and face told me that he believed some of what I said, even if it was just a small amount. When Astra came back, he’d probably have lost himself in his anger and would call the whole thing of. A week or two later and he’d be thankful to me for exposing her little secret. We would be friends then, and eventually more.

The mind of a thirteen year old is a terribly dangerous thing.

I excused myself from Cadim’s tent and made my way back to the barracks. I may not have been the one to bring down Astra’s relationship with Cadim directly, but my little quip would surely be the defining point in why it’d go off course.

In a way, I’d just gotten my first half kill.

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Gestahlt
01.17.2012 , 08:37 AM | #16
Chapter Fourteen: The Ring.

While the mind of a teenager may have been a dangerous thing, it was not necessarily a nonfunctional one. Following my disagreement with Cadim I had not gone back to see him, which greatly diminished the only reason I had for resting for a week. Without anything to do other than enjoy the company of my own misery, I instead translated my frustration into incentive to exercise. Much to my surprise, the injury that I had believed to be benign did cause me some discomfort. Normally I would have slowed down, but that day I did not.

By midday the dull pain in my shoulder had become an inferno. Not so foolish as to continue working an appendage even when it was on the verge of collapse, I finally had myself examined by Doctor Renasin. Predictably he was upset that I had not heeded his advice and told me that for the rest of the week I would have to keep my arm well rested. For all of my life I had been told to do one thing or another. The thought of doing absolutely nothing was a nightmare.

Time crawled by slowly after that. I did not realize how many things in my life required the usage of my shoulder until I was forbidden from it. Most of the day was spent in exercise, and the duties around the compound were for the most part maintained by older Mandalorians that were no longer in their prime, but still assisted the war effort however they could. For a displaced soldier like me, the world did not have much to offer. Due to my rashness I had even ended any potential there was to speak with Cadim. There was only one thing left for me to do.

I had to assist with raising the children. At first, I saw this as something akin to a rite of passage. One day I would have children of my own and the sooner I learned to deal with them, the better. I had earned my stripes as a warrior and I wore my armor like one. It felt odd yelling at people that were almost the same age as me, but for the most part they obeyed my directives and tried to learn from the little experience I had. There was little to learn from them and even less I could teach with a wounded arm, but for an hour or two a day I had something to focus on.

The problem was that after those two hours, my mind was allowed to wander.

I had been incapable of looking my father in the eye after I spoke out against him, and much like Astra he had not taken the incentive to speak with me. I learned only after my conversation with Cadim that the entirety of my squad had left with Astra to Fiarro. I had not felt so alone since the night before my mother left to the north, and thinking about her still up there – cold and alone, called back to mind what she said about the fate of women. I did not take much succor from the irony in the situation, and wished she were back if only to give me someone to speak with. I had done a fairly good job of burning bridges.

That was when I began to think. It was a slow process and one often riddled with the backtracking, equivocating, and self-apologetic ranting of a child seeking to deny fault, but not even I could rationalize everything as being someone else’s fault. Bird the Dog became my companion again – wherever he had been over the past few days must have been less amusing than following me about as I contemplated my actions. I tried with a clear head to think about all of the ways that I had been wronged. It was a difficult thing to accomplish.

Two days after Astra and my squad had gone to Fiarro, I felt downright wretched. I missed her and I feared that I might never receive the chance to apologize to her again. After all, how often do we say things only to have them be the last things we ever get to say? We were in a time of war and Astra was leading a relatively small force to an unknown destination for supplies. Who was to say that she wouldn’t be ambushed, or that the team wouldn’t be attacked by some of the wilder beasts that roamed the hills of Fiarro? In addition to being dangerous the mind of a thirteen year old was also extremely imaginative.

I had been wrong. Everything that I said came out as poorly as possible. When I told Astra that she was not my sister, I just wanted to say she hurt my feelings. When I said that my father was wrong, I just wanted him to know I cared about mother. When I stared at the starry sky at night, I tried to imagine that the stars would take my remorse and transform them into protection over Astra. If I never had the chance to apologize to her it would kill me. I knew that I should have been there with her and Fendar.

And poor Fendar, oh, I’d used him in a foolish ploy to upset Cadim. I lacked the courage to go and apologize to him, but Fendar had done nothing to deserve my misusage of his name. Even if he and Astra had been romantically involved, which I had no proof of; it was not something that I had any business discussing. I would come to learn years later that estranged spouses might even take on lovers, if only to maintain some semblance of their ability to feel. I had been a downright fool and the more that I thought about it, the worse I felt.

After five days of Astra’s absence, it began to rain. With each raindrop that fell I feared that Astra had been harmed in an innumerable amount of ways. Having fought the Coalition soldier at the river I knew that they were stronger than we gave them credit for. I had escaped with my life due to a superior knowledge of the terrain, what if Astra and Fendar were attacked and didn’t have that same advantage? Would they die, and we’d never hear of them ever again? Thoughts like that kept me awake and the longer I was awake the more I thought of them.

I do not know if it was the lack of sleep or my steady worry, but by the sixth day of Astra’s journey, I began to clutch my mother’s ring. It never seemed to heat, no matter the temperature, and kept a continuous and cool feel that reminded me of my mother’s voice. I don’t think that I was crazy, but I was hardly in the best state of mind. The only thing that I knew was that once Astra returned, I had to apologize to her. She may be angry with me for a bit, but it would be better to get that over with than let our relationship sour any more.

The seventh day came and went without any sign of Astra or Fendar. After the stars were well within the sky, I sought out my father and found him sitting with a few of the captains. They had been discussing how to best withstand the siege from the Coalition. When my father looked up from the maps they had drawn, I knew that he was Commander Decimus.

“It’s been seven days,” I said. “Shouldn’t Astra be back by now?”
It was the first time I had looked at my father in quite some time. The way he regarded me told me more than enough: Astra informed him of my angry outburst. It was like I was a different person – that I wasn’t the daughter he’d rescued from the river.

“When your squad leader returns,” he stated firmly, “she returns.”
“I’d like to search for her.”
“No.”
“But I c—“
“The answer is no, Siana. You’re dismissed.”

I’d never been dismissed by my father before; I’d never been spoken to like that in front of others, either. Like a fish out of water my mouth opened and closed, and I hurriedly turned about and left. He hated me, I told myself. They all hated me because of what I had done. Instead of returning to the barracks I climbed the tree that I had found Bird – the one from which I spotted Cadim in his race to freedom. It allowed me to work my shoulder slightly and at the same time got me away from everyone else. That’s where they wanted me anyway, wasn’t it?

Sitting in that tree, I began to understand why it was that so many people enjoyed war. It was a terrifying thing, but there was no need to apologize once it was over. If you shot someone, they died. You didn’t have to worry about how to tell them you were sorry, or worse yet, if you would ever get to see them again. In the thick of battle the only thing that mattered was that you kept going forward and that the person at your side was someone you could trust. I had that with Astra, Fendar, and Loktun. I was being an idiot to jeopardize it all.

After all, had it not been Astra that sacrificed her chance to go to the north to train me? She could have very well been the deciding factor in the fight to save mother, or killed the sniper that attacked Cassir. I felt disgustingly small and wretched by the time that I fell asleep. When I awakened I could only hope that Astra would be back and that I could tell her how much I was sorry for what I had done.

They returned on the eighth day. Somehow, I managed to sleep through the sound of the speeders moving in their supplies, but when I climbed down from the tree I was rewarded with the sight of new weaponry being distributed to everyone that was nearby. I clutched my mother’s ring again, anxious to find Astra and put the whole spat behind us. I found Fendar, but Astra was nowhere in sight.

That was a meeting that I would not be in control of.

I felt pressure on my bad shoulder and turned around, completely surprised that someone had grabbed me. When I looked up to see who it was I found a less than pleased Astra glaring at me. I had never seen her so angry with me before; so completely enraged. I had to assume she saw Cadim before I found her.

“I can explain,” I said weakly, but the words had not completely left my mouth before I was shoved backward and against one of the crates that had been used to transport the weapons. I may have had a week’s worth of apology in my head, but it didn’t matter if Astra didn’t give me a chance to explain it.

From the looks of things, she had no intention of letting me do that. Her face was still dirty from travel and her armor had a few dings on it that could have come from combat. I was alert enough to see her punch coming, but not fast enough to evade it entirely. The force behind it caused me to turn my head to the side. I deserved to be hit, there was no doubt, but I wasn’t going to stand by for much more abuse.

“I can’t believe you’d do this to me,” Astra snapped as she circled me to make sure that I couldn’t make an escape. Those around us had by that time turned their attention to the spectacle. “Do you think that my life is a plaything for you to manipulate as you will, Siana?”

I had never seen Astra that angry before. I had never seen anyone that angry before; not even the Coalition soldier. The words that I wanted to say weren’t coming out as I had planned for them to. In fact, with every strike that I had to avoid, I was beginning to lose my nerve. “Astra, I just want to talk with you!”

“I don’t talk with children,” she snapped back at me. “I especially don’t talk to children that I’ve given my life to, only to have them try to ruin mine with their lies.”

When she said that, I paused in my stride and stared at her. “I didn’t mean to do any of that.”

“Like hell you didn’t, Siana! You’ve been walking around like the world’s supposed to open at your feet! You think you deserve things that you haven’t earned: respect, honor – because you don’t understand them. I don’t know how you managed to pass your verd’goten, but with the way you’ve been acting I almost wish that you hadn’t.”

If anyone had the desire to mix in to the situation and break things up, they didn’t after that. I was hurt in a way that I had never felt before, and as a teenager I didn’t understand that it must have hurt Astra twice as much to say them. I stared at her dumbly.

“It’s not so nice to hear what people have to say is it?” Astra’s tone had not lightened; the fact that she saw tears in my eyes only seemed to strengthen her resolve. “All you do is stand around and cry. You fought in one battle and hesitated in it. Because of you, we had to bury a brother. But rather than learn from that and grow up, you did what a child would do – made excuses and felt better. You selfish little brat, if you had died in that gosh darn river then we’d all be better off.”

Each word struck me with a force I couldn’t comprehend. They were so fierce, in fact, that to this day I still feel their sting. It was like losing my mother all over again, although this time she chose to die rather than look at me. I tried to find the ability to open my mouth and apologize again, but my lips parted I felt a gasp beginning to form. I was ashamed; humiliated. Astra had exposed me to be much less of the adult than I thought I was.

She didn’t need to spit on me to let me know how she felt. In front of everyone gathered, she sneered and stated just how she felt about me. “You disgust me, you pathetic little girl.”

If ever I had shown strength in my life, it was in my ability not to cry when I heard her say that. Oh, I wanted to – in truth, I’d be lying if I said that a tear didn’t roll down my cheek. I clutched my mother’s ring with all of my heart and watched as Astra turned away from me. She didn’t feel that I deserved to be looked at; that I was just a little kid playing at being a soldier. It was the saddest point in my life, and yet the eyes of others on me did something that I didn’t expect.

I do not know if it is an alchemical change, but having a person witness your disgrace can change a person. More importantly, having an entire group of them do so can turn a sorrowful cry into a rage so blinding that we forget just who we are and what we are doing. From the depths of my sorrow I began to feel angry. Each pair of eyes that I saw focused on me, or hidden behind masks, was like another witness to my lack of courage in the face of Astra’s anger. Further back, I could see my father watching and doing nothing to come to my assistance. They all thought what Astra said and it made me hateful.

It made me stupid.

I said a word then that I had only heard when the rougher, older soldiers were drunk and didn’t know I was around. It was a word that although I didn’t understand, knew that I should never say. Whatever it meant, whatever its purpose was, as it left my mouth I could feel that I had just crossed into a new world. Of course, an impetuous and embarrassed thirteen year old doesn’t think in terms of consequences for her actions. As the last syllable left my mouth, everything went still.

Someone dropped the crate that he had been holding. Astra came to a dead standstill.

She turned around to face me, slowly. The sting of my tears in my eyes was red hot, but through them I could see that her rage was no longer worn on her face. No, it had become a concentrated pool of hatred that shifted between her left and right eyes. Not since the nexu attacked me had I seen something so malicious, and when she began to step forward I clutched mother’s ring to keep from stepping back.

“What did you just say to me?”
I didn’t dare repeat myself.

“That’s a grown-up word, Siana.” Astra’s voice had a surprising cool nature to it. “When you say grown-up words, you face grown-up responses. Are you ready for that?”

“I am an adult.” I told her with as much force as I could muster. She did not seem to notice that I was trembling.

“That word you just said – that thing you just shouted at me? It offended my honor.” After she finished speaking, Astra looked to all of those around her. “Do you agree that she’s offended my honor?”

The responses were unanimous. I felt smaller than ever as I heard them wash over me. From beneath the veil of my fear I spoke in a voice low enough that only Astra could hear me. “Astra,” I started. “I…”

“We’re beyond words,” she told me. “You claim that you are a warrior. I am a warrior. You have offended my honor and by proxy the honor of my clan. I could kill you right now and no one would be able to intervene.”

I do not know which scared me more: the thought of Astra fighting me, or the fact that she had already stated she would kill me if she did. In both cases I was being pitted against something I never imagined. Life did not seem quite so pristine when it was going against you, and at that moment it felt that everything in the world hated me.

When Commander Decimus stepped forward those that were in his way cleared a path. I looked away from Astra and toward him, but found that his expression had not changed at all. I had absolutely no idea what would happen.

“Astra Daue is correct,” he stated. “Siana has offended her honor. But we are in a time of war and the death of either of you would only further harm the Clan Daue. We must strive, at all times, to remain unified in our goals.”

I was uncertain as to how to take the proceedings. For the time being, they seemed better than having Astra kill me.

“That being said, honor must be protected. As both women admit they are warriors, there is no argument that can avoid conflict at this juncture. It is here and now that I declare they both enter the battle circle, and do not leave until one has capitulated to the other.”

I felt ill at the thought. While we soldiers had been put into fights in order to break up tensions, it had never been within the battle circle. Whatever happened in there placed the worth of a person’s honor on the line, and whoever emerged victorious was simply the clear and decisive superior. I wanted to beg Astra not to accept, but before I could speak she did so.

“I accept,” she said hastily.

What should have been an apology had now devolved into an honor duel. I still had the chance to step away from it all and accept that I was weaker than her, but there was more to it than that. If we fought and I lost, I would still show that I was a warrior. If I walked away from it, it would be clear I was still a child. I looked at my father but found that Commander Decimus was unyielding. When I looked back to Astra, I saw that her eyes were narrowed and her jaw set. You had better not cry, she seemed to be saying. I had only one choice.

“I accept.”

Everything moved quickly then. The murmur that went through those gathered, children and adults alike, was a wave that quickly culminated into our being placed in the center of a field, the circle outlined by people spreading it to properly accommodate us. There was nothing to it but flat ground. When Astra entered it, she began to unstrap her chest armor and tossed it aside. I did the same, albeit with much less desire.

Commander Decimus stood outside of the circle. Once we were both free of our armor, he spoke again. “The rules of the Battle Circle are simple ones. You may not intentionally kill or cripple your adversary. Neither combatant may leave the ring until one is defeated. You may use only the weapons that are stated by the senior. If any of these rules are violated, you become dar’manda, without exception. As Astra is the senior, she may select the weapons of choice.”

“Fists,” she said without needing to think it over. “But I don’t think taking her honor is going to be enough. If I win, I want my mother’s ring.”

“No,” I protested.

“It is so allowed,” Commander Decimus said over me. “And you, Siana, what is it that you want?”

What did I want? At that moment, I wanted not to be standing across from my sister in a dueling circle. I wanted her to look at me with love and adoration again, rather than hatred and contempt. I wanted my father to not be a commander and for our field to not have become a warzone. I wanted my mother and brothers back. I wanted a lot of things, but none of them seemed achievable.

I clenched the ring one more time.

“A second chance.”

My response seemed to take Astra by surprise. Although she never stopped glaring at me, I saw a vague softness come to her features for a moment.

“The match will continue until one of you surrenders or is rendered unconscious. Are you ready?”

Astra spoke instantly. “Yes.”

I looked over everyone in attendance and saw that their eyes were on me. When finally I looked back to Astra, I lowered myself into a combat stance and nodded my head. “I’m ready.”

“Begin.”

And so it did.

Astra and I had sparred before, countless times in fact when I was younger. I had believed myself to be close to her equal at the time; at times landing hits that she had not seen coming. Astra had taught me everything I knew, and so I even thought that in some regards I could sense what she would do before she did it. But when she approached me then, I was hit with a very cold and dark reality. She may have taught me everything that I knew, but I did not know everything that she did.

The first time that she hit me, I thought that I would vomit from the pain that raced through me. I swayed and staggered away, but before I could bring my hands up to defend, I felt her knee strike against my ribcage. I was winded on the spot, and hit the ground only to feel her kick me once, twice, and a third time in the stomach. Unlike my fight at the river, this time I had no trick up my sleeve – I couldn’t pull a knife, or dive into water. The only thing that was ahead of me was a world of hurt.

I started to stand, shakily, when she shuffled forth with a straight kick. I did my best to block it against my arm and pushed back out at her, but no sooner had I moved forward than was her hand around my throat and one of her feet behind mine. She shoved outward and released, slamming back into the ground. I rolled out of the way of her elbow as she dropped to a knee and tried to strike my chest. Hastily I struck out and caught her with a punch against the side of her face, but the pain that may have filled her only fueled her all the more. She grabbed me and lifted me, her superior strength displayed as I was tossed over head.

I coughed as I pushed myself up. Astra did not give me a second to recover. The sound of her running across the ground was all the warning I received. She swung at me, but I ducked beneath it and struck her in the abdomen. The power behind the punch was much weaker than it should have been, but my injured shoulder was not hurting as much as it had before either. When I tried to punch her again she caught me by the shoulders and pulled me forth, then lifted her knee to not only wind me, but flip me over the leg.

There would be no underestimation from her; she knew exactly what I was capable of. When I slammed into the ground I grabbed her leg and pulled outward, she was taken off balance but landed on her hands and kicked out, her boot catching me in the nose and instantly sending a crunching sound in my ears. The gushing of blood told me all I needed to know, and I retreated weakly with a startled cry. My show of weakness gained me no mercy.

As I think back on the fight, I have to wonder if Astra did not always want to fight me. I was her anchor for so long and she had missed so many opportunities because of me. She certainly did not hold back on me out of kindness.

She attempted a one-two punch combination and while the first strike landed, I dropped to my knee and avoided the second. Using my smaller center of gravity I grabbed for her legs and ripped upward. The strain on my shoulder was immense, but the payoff was that Astra was taken off her balance. She hit me in the back, but I slung her forward and was quick to follow up by wrapping my legs around her neck. The scissor hold that I applied was one of my last ditch efforts to keep from being hit again. She had reach, strength, and technique over me. All I had was that I could move faster.

Astra’s face began to turn red and I could see her rage swelling all the more. She slammed her hands into the ground and wrenched her head. I feared for a moment that she would break her neck, but rather than try to turn her body alone, she instead turned both of our bodies. She ended up on her abdomen, and I was in for a world of pain. I applied more pressure, but she pressed herself up slowly. Bent over as she was, she grabbed me around the waist and then pulled herself free. I tried my best to hit her in the face, a few of the strikes even landing, but by then it was too late.

She slammed me down. Hard.

I felt her turn me onto my side, but by then the match was already decided. Her knee struck me again and again in the ribs, each time drawing a cry of pain from me. I forced my hands up into her face, my thumbs aiming to gouge her eyes. I felt connection made, but she began to fight with my arms until she had pinned them and could straddle me. That was when the pain really started.

I know I cried out something, but it must not have been surrender – she didn’t stop, and no one came in to stop her. She hit me in the face. Again, and again, and again. Each time that she did it I felt her anger grow a little brighter; saw her eyes narrow a little more. She was ******* with rage and I was the justified target. I don’t know when she stopped hitting me. I just know that eventually she did.

I felt my mother’s necklace leaving my neck, but I was too weak to stop it from being taken. I believe I muttered for her to give it back, but by then the match was decided. I slipped into a deep, dark sleep.

When I awakened, I was sleeping on a cot. My head roared with pain and my body ached more than it ever had before. Each of Astra’s hits had been like being shot. I could barely open my eyes – the end of the fight had not been a kind one, but as I did I saw that Astra was sitting beside me.

I was understandably worried when I saw her, and started to move away, but she moved a hand to my shoulder and stopped me. Through all of the pain I felt – pain that she had inflicted – I could still be calmed when she touched me. More surprising than the fact she sat next to me, was the look in her eyes.

I began to cry.

“I’m so sorry, Astra.” It hurt to speak and breathing through my nose was hell. But I meant those words when I said them, and I was alright with being a weeping, bawling mess.

She lifted her hand and brushed my bangs. “I know,” she said softly. It was the same way she’d spoken to me when I’d been afraid as a child. The same way that I imagined she would always speak to me when I was in need.

Through my tears, I tried to speak with some degree of self-respect. It was not as successful as I had hoped. “I still want you to be my sister.”

“You couldn’t change that even if you wanted to.” Her smile was flawless, and if not for the fact that a few of my hits had managed to bruise her face as well, would have been as beautiful as always. “You’ll always be my little sister, no matter how great of a warrior you become.”

I tried to get up to hug her, but the act of moving reminded me of just how strong she was. Those hits weren’t going to go away over night.

“You need to rest up,” she said. “I didn’t mean to hurt you this badly, Siana, but you…”

“I know,” I cut her off. “I didn’t mean anything I said, ever. I thought… I don’t know what I thought. I didn’t mean to ruin things for you and Cadim.”

Astra placed her hand on my shoulder. “You didn’t, Siana. I was upset with you for the attempt, not for the result. We’re still going to be married.”

Much to my relief, when I heard her say that I did not feel even the vaguest trace of jealousy. Perhaps she had beaten the brat out of me, or I’d simply come to realize that my sister meant more to me than a lofty dream. Whatever it was, I could accept that. She held the ring out to me that she had taken, the ring that I’d pulled out of the river.

“You can have it back.”

I shook my head. “I want you to keep it. It’s a wedding gift.”

She smiled at that. Her smile made me try to smile as well, but the pain in my jaw came back with a vengeance.

I meekly asked her, “Are we okay now?”

That was when I saw her hesitate. I had come to learn that any sign of hesitation was a dangerous thing.

“I’m going to be transferring you to a different squad,” she explained carefully. “I love you, Siana, and I can never stop being your sister – but as your squad leader…”

She seemed to almost be in pain when she spoke. I was already in enough pain; I decided to lighten her burden. “I understand. I’ll earn back the right to be in your squad.”

We were silent after that. When the passing of seconds became a minute, Astra patted me on the shoulder as she always did and stood up. “Get better. I think you’ll like some of these toys from Fiarro.”

I watched her begin to walk away and sat up. I reached out, the pain in my side unbearable, and grabbed her hand. When she looked back at me my battered state said all she needed to know. Carefully, though not necessarily painlessly, she gave me a hug. I returned it.

As she made her exit from the room I said the only thing that I could think of. I had lost my mother’s ring, broken several ribs, shattered my cheek, broken my nose, bruised various parts of my body, and probably further injured my shoulder, but I had also regained my sister. It seemed like a fair enough trade to me.

“I love you, Astra.”
“I love you too, Sis.”

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
01.17.2012 , 08:39 AM | #17
Chapter Fifteen: Second Chance

The surprising thing about Mandalorian culture is that “winning” and “losing” hardly have anything to do with being a warrior. The only advantage to winning, in most cases, is that the victor gets to go on and battle further. It is the act of engaging another, of pitting one’s strength against another, which truly determines the worth of a Mandalorian. There was no doubt that Astra had defeated me, as everyone knew she would, but I did not receive any repercussions because of it. I had fought and lost. In the eyes of the veterans the matter was resolved, and to some of my comrades I had even gained authenticity.

I was given two days to recover from my injuries before being placed back into the field. The looming threat of the Coalition’s siege could not be forgotten and with each day that passed we were worked all the more diligently in preparing our defenses. Now without a squad, I filled my time with assisting in unloading and assembling weaponry. Astra had been more than successful in her negotiations: in addition to acquiring anti-air weaponry, we had also received two additional tanks and a speeder. In all, our ragtag army was beginning to look like it might have a fighting chance.

Positions in squads became tighter and I knew that if I was not assigned to one soon, I would be part of the defenders at the base with the next battle. While there was no shame in defending, there was also no inherent honor in it. I wanted more than ever to prove myself; not only so that I would be seen as a warrior, but so that Astra would feel she hadn’t wasted her life in training me. The only way to get into an advance squad would be to ingratiate myself with a member of high command and hope they gave me the chance to prove myself. I was lucky in that I knew the commander… somewhat.

I knew that my father was disappointed with me: I had seen that much on his face when he officiated over my fight with Astra. More than being shamed by my actions, he was ashamed by what I had come to represent – a spoiled brat, incapable of divorcing herself from the delusions of grandeur she had. I suppose that I reminded him of his brother, whose own vainglory had nearly cost our clan their existence, and wished nothing to do with me until I overcame that flaw. There was an obvious way for this to be accomplished, and so as I watched my former squad mates and the other soldiers venturing out on patrol, I remained back at the base and assisted with the assembly of weapons.

Allow me to be clear on this: there is nothing dishonorable about assembling weapons, cooking for soldiers, tending to the children, or mending the sickly. Each has a vital role in any society and particularly that of the Mandalorians where we depend so much on the readiness of our people. That being said, I was not quite as libertarian with my views after my fight with Astra. I was willing to accept my punishment, but that did not necessarily mean that I had to like it.

Not every Mandalorian is born strong or remains that way. While we are a hardy and capable people, there are individuals that through their own cunning or bravery manage to function without the full range of their bodies. One such person was a technician named Keller, who was neither the tallest nor the strongest of our group. At the age of thirteen I stood only a head shorter than him, while most of the Daue men were at least two heads taller than me. He was wiry of build and frail of appearance, but his mind was a sharp one. We respected him for what he could do.

And what he did, it turned out, was upgrade weapons. The semantics to the weapons were easily reproduced and we were given orders to assemble them with the new adjustments. Along with Saurek, a much more typical male of our clan, Keller led the efforts to configure the Fiarro weaponry before we were besieged. He often spent his time muttering about the shoddy craftsmanship of the armaments, but given how many we had been blessed with he devised a method of salvaging some and enhancing others.

The clicking and clacking of weaponry being placed together in an endless repetition brought to mind the recollection of my mother guiding me through the process. I no longer felt her ring around my neck, and although I had freely given it away there were times when I wished I could hold onto it just for a bit more courage. She had been so patient with me, calmly showing me what I did wrong and how to fix it. I wonder if she would have been impressed with me for being able to strip my rifle in the dark during my verd’goten, or if she’d have been irritated that I had not thought to check it before.

I had to admit she would probably be both.

“You’re slowing down there, Little Warrior.”

I knew at once that Keller was referring to me and gave him a pointed glare after I heard him. The look was not a necessarily genuine one, because for all of his teasing I knew that Keller did not look down on me. The title may have been a reference to the fight, but in a way it was more an acknowledgement that I had braved it, rather than that I had lost it.

“I don’t think you should be calling me little anything. I’m still growing – I can’t say the same for you.”
“Oh ho,” Saurek chimed in after my retort. “The rookie just nailed you with that one.”
Keller made a show of not being perturbed. “If her sister has her way, she won’t be growing much longer.”
“If you keep talking about it, you and I can meet in the circle.”
It was Saurek that answered my quip. “And she’d probably win this time, too.”

Keller laughed. Saurek laughed. Even I had to laugh. I may not have liked being kept from the field, but I nevertheless did my part in our war effort. If nothing else, I was given a chance to fire off some of the weapons before anyone else did, and although Keller told me he would give me the sign when he was clear of the blast radius, on several occasions I’d shoot just to see him scramble away.

Saurek and I usually laughed at that. Keller generally did not.

What stood out most to me about my service with the technicians was when Keller deigned to show us the latest of his experiments. I had earned my armor when I became an adult, but every adult would later go on to customize their armor specifically. Some outfitted wrist gauntlets with flamethrowers or missiles; others upgraded helmets to read specific vital details. When it came to Keller’s machinations, I could hardly understand them then – and I still can’t quite understand them now.

“When you’re old enough to play with the big dogs, I’ll give you one of these.” It was Keller’s way of saying that I’d never get to have one of his upgrades. The most impressive one that he had made to that point was a protective overlay that greatly increased the energy absorption of a piece of armor. It was short lived and shorted out after contact, but from even a close range it could save a person’s life.

“I am a big dog,” I challenged.
“You’re just a kathhound.”

And like that, I went from being the “Little Warrior” to the “Kath”. It wasn’t a particularly endearing title, but it was one that would have to do. As far as I was concerned it didn’t matter very much matter what two spanner-jockeys called me, because soon I’d be back in a real squad and fighting real enemies.

You can imagine my frustration when Fendar referred to me by the moniker.

We had just finished with another series of modified repeaters when the soldiers came back from patrol. By that point my bruises had mostly healed and with them, so had any hard feelings I felt for Astra. To the repeated irritation of Keller I made my way over to her.

“Any signs of Coalition soldiers?” I asked.
“Not a one,” Astra replied. “I’m beginning to think they’ve given up the attempt.”
“And we brave soldiers,” Fendar continued, “are destined to a life of boredom, Kath.”

There was a clever little smirk on his lips when he said the word, and I instantly looked back at Keller. Never the fool, Keller had positioned himself behind Saurek and thus outside of my irritated glare. When I looked back at Fendar, I punched him the shoulder for good measure. “You’d better not call me that again!”

“Preserver, her bite is worse than her bark,” he joked and retreated behind Cadim. Since our spat I had not made peace with Cadim; now did not seem like the time to do so. I quit my pursuit and looked back to Astra.

“Have you heard anything from father?”
“About you?” She asked. I nodded. “Just keep working.”
It was not the answer I wanted, but Astra never lied to me. So I did what she asked of me.

I had the energy. Keller had the brains. Saurek had the strength. With the three of us working on a task we managed to perform things much faster than they normally would have been done. I was hungry to get back into the field and was afraid that if I slowed down, I would never have my chance. One week bled into two, two into three. By the time that the fourth week was approaching it had been nearly two months. Our weaponry was in excellent condition, but we still had not seen a single Coalition soldier.

That was all soon to change.

The scouting reports poured in like a landslide. The more of them that arrived, the more evident it became that there were three distinctive forces making their way toward us. One was headed by Captain Kogus, the failed commander of the assault on the stronghold; a second was commanded by a Vacian commander named Vexius, and the third and final arm in the assault was led by the Hundarii General Masaeron. Between the three were more soldiers than our compound had any hope of repelling. We had prepared for a storm, but this was a monsoon.

The approaching armies were a constant source of gossip amongst the men and women in the encampment. We had prepared as best we could, but from the sound of the machinery that would be meeting us there was little that would be able to stand in their way. Keller, Saurek, and I would often discuss it, with varying levels of interest.

“So what are we going to do?” Keller asked.
I didn’t realize the question was for me until I looked up from a blaster rifle. “Why would I know?”
“Because your sister is a squad leader and your dad is the commander?”
“Maybe someone should remind them of that,” I muttered.

Those words had not completely left my mouth when Fendar came over to our workshop. “Kath,” he said. I turned and looked at him with my best angry face. “Commander Decimus wants you at this meeting.”
I blinked. “Why me? Keller’s in charge here.”
“I don’t know why, I only know he wants you. Bad enough they have me playing messenger.”
Keller waved his hand disinterestedly. “I didn’t want to attend any meeting anyway.”

I didn’t know what to do other than comply with a nod. When I looked to Keller and Saurek, it was the latter that answered.

“Maybe they remembered.”

We hustled back to the command center and I found that there were a few people already inside. It called to mind when I had returned with Astra from the river and Uncle Valgor and his men was speaking with my father about the war. That felt like several lifetimes ago. I reached for my necklace and felt nothing. Perhaps it truly was several lifetimes ago.

Fendar nodded his head once we entered. I instinctually moved to stand beside Astra. To my surprise, Cadim stood next to me. The meeting continued as though I was not present. Only once did I see my father glance in my direction.

There seemed to be two popular ideas that floated around before the captains. Captain Aden believed we should retreat to Fiarro and wait for the Coalition to disband. Captains Setarin and Holgar, predictably, did not share his view.

“If we’re going to die, then we die like Mandalorians,” Captain Setarin stated hotly. “Mandalorians don’t run and hide – we don’t cower in the face of death.”

Captain Aden blustered under that. “This has nothing to do with cowardice. If we do not retreat, then we will be overwhelmed and destroyed. They have too many men and vehicles. We would survive a day, a week, and then what? Are you willing to see your child die for your ideals?”

“I’d sooner see my child die a Mandalorian than live a coward,” Captain Holgar thundered. “In death, we serve our clan the best that we can. I haven’t gotten so accustomed to this life that I’m afraid of losing it, Aden. Have all these years of soft living—“
“Don’t you dare question my ability, Holgar!”

“Enough.”

Commander Decimus held up his hand after he spoke and the room grew silent. “There are those here that would have us retreat strategically and gather our strength.” After my father spoke groans came from one side of the room, agreement from the other. “On the other hand, we have a group that believes we have gained as much strength as we ever will, and that if it is not enough then our time in this life has come to its end.” The reaction occurred again, but in reverse.

“Are there any amongst you that feel there is a third option – a way that these two dire extremes can be avoided?” The commander looked over those gathered, his face grave with somberness. “If not, then I will be forced to choose now from the offered suggestions.”

I looked between Astra and Cadim, who both seemed to be torn over what they should be experiencing. Three years ago I had seen this same situation and watched it tear apart everything I loved. I did not want to live through it again. I cleared my throat and stepped forward.

“I have an idea,” I said. I could feel Astra’s discomfort.

Captain Aden looked at me and then back to Commander Decimus. “I think that newly minted warriors of questionable worth should not be given the floor,” he said. “Particularly not those who still have the bruises from a beating on her face.”

I caught the look of derision in Captain Aden’s eyes and knew that it was shared amongst the others present. His words were harsh and cruel, but they had merit to them. I had hardly done anything to prove myself worthy of speaking. I saw the commander look at me and felt my resolve faltering.

“She deserves a chance to speak,” Cadim said from behind me. “If not for her bravery, I would not be here now.”

“That bravery, I believe, is what has her working with technicians,” Captain Aden drawled. “I do not believe we have enough time to entertain the folly of children.”

This time it was Astra’s voice that spoke up. “She has worked tirelessly with both Keller and Saurek and proven herself to be a capable Mandalorian. Call her a child again, Captain, and with all due respect I will be the one that kicks your ***.”

There was no doubt that Astra meant her words, and when I looked back at her she gave me a very small smile. Having those two at my back was more than I had anticipated, but I did not know if it would be enough. When I looked back to Commander Decimus, he was still studying me. Captain Aden was just on the verge of responding to Astra’s challenge when he spoke.

“What would you do, Siana Daue?”

I was on the spot. I knew what I didn’t want to do: I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want my family to die. I didn’t want my clan to die. I didn’t want Aden to be right about me, or for my father to always be ashamed of me. I didn’t want to be afraid anymore, and I didn’t want to let my mother remain in Wesmer because we couldn’t protect her.

My mother, who at that moment was probably cold and without anything save for a few men to fight against an army. My mother, who had carried on a fight long after others would have given up. My mother was the answer to the question. I spoke without hesitation.

“We persevere.”

To my suggestion, both sides of the room began to fume. Only Commander Decimus and those behind me were silent.

“She’s speaking in generalities!”
“We persevere against what? Three armies?”
“Precious time wasted on this one!”

Commander Decimus lifted his hand and they fell silent. “Go on.”

I looked back to Astra for support. She gave me a nod. I did not know why I was being given the chance to prove myself, but I had a feeling it had something to do with her. The murmurs of disbelief that floated around the room were hardly the most ambient sounds I could think of, but I would have to make due. I thought of how to best explain myself.

“When I was younger, I fought an octopus…”
“This isn’t the time for a story,” Captain Holgar began.
The commander silenced him with a glare.

“Continue, Siana.”

“I remember being afraid… because it had so many arms. Whenever I broke free of one arm, another one would grab me.” I let the memory wash over me again. “As a child I didn’t know what to do, so I thought of two things – I could either try to run away from it, or I could fight and die.”

I would like to imagine that I had been innocent in saying what I did, but the challenge I sent was not one so coy that the captains didn’t understand it. I did not care though. I had to make my case – I had to prevent them from being right.

“But I understand now that I had another option; an option that I didn’t grasp then because I was too entangled in the moment. I could have fought the tentacles instead of the octopus. If I removed those from the fight, what would be left?”

“A bloated head,” Vasmus said from his corner.

“Exactly. I could have killed a bloated head.” I agreed. I stepped a little deeper into the room then and looked pointedly at Commander Decimus. “But I had been lucky then. Because even though I did everything wrong, my father came through and saved me. In the end, it was his help that kept me from dying. He had the strength of a Mandalorian man – the strength of a clan, inside of his body. Mandalorians do not give up; we do not retreat. I think that we can fight the Coalition and we can win.”

Now, I don’t want to seem as though I was some master tactician. I was far from it. I had no idea as to how we could fight, but I knew that we could. After I spoke the room once more erupted into disdain, but I remained focused on Commander Decimus.

“And just how will we fight these tentacles? We don’t have the manpower to field three armies.”
“We don’t have the manpower field one and defend our base!”

Fortunately for me, where I was lacking in knowledge – Astra was not. “Then we don’t field an entire army. We break ourselves into a coordinated, swift squads and attack a particular point. If we can defeat the weakest of these ‘tentacles’, then we not only bolster the morale of our men but also expose the latter two.”

“And from there,” Cadim added in. “We can push them with everything we have. If the base can hold long enough, I will return to Commander Valgor and have him send his men down to meet us. A two pronged attack against either the Vacian position or the Hundarii position will give us more of a chance.”

Captain Aden did not like the sound of this. We were forming a plan – a plan viable enough to succeed. “This is childish foolishness and idealism, brothers. What will come of this plan? More needless death. We mustn’t allow their exuberance to cloud our judgment. How do we know that Valgor is even in the position to assist us?”

“Because my brother would not forsake me – just as I will not forsake him,” Commander Decimus stated definitively. “If we retreat, the Coalition will turn its attention back on Yaedan and Wesmer. We will bear under the brunt of their attack, and our gallant clansmen will see that the Coalition is defeated.”

I could hardly believe that my suggestion had gone through! Of course it would need to be fine tuned and worked over, but at least we had a real plan of action. I bowed respectfully to the commander, who returned the gesture. When he looked up, I saw a sparkle of my father in his eyes. He didn’t only approve of my plan as a soldier: he approved of my actions as his daughter.

To the credit of those who had been defeated in the discussion, none raised a fuss – now we had a course of action, and we would all make sure it worked. It was agreed almost unanimously that Kogus would be our target: he had proven to be incompetent and would probably be the least defended of the three.

“Astra, I want you to be my vanguard commander on this,” my father said. “Vasmus, you are her right.”
“By your command,” they each replied.
“Have your men ready to march by first light in the morning. You’ll need to cover a good deal of ground.”

At hearing mention of Astra gathering her men, I knew that there would be a chance for me to break away from the technicians. I liked them well enough, but I needed to be back in the mix of things. With Cadim once more leaving for Yaedan that meant that yet another spot was opened, and if she was shuffling ranks then there was no reason why I couldn’t go.

I made my wake back over to Astra, smiling expectantly. She did not seem quite as mirthful.

“Your plan may see us through this, Sis,” she said plainly. “But I can’t take you back into the squad.”

My heart dropped without skipping a beat. Just as I opened my mouth to accept my fate, she continued.

“With thinking like that, I need you to be heading your own unit. Get Keller and Saurek and tell them to suit up. I need you on point when we’re out there. If Keller’s gadgets are half as good as you’ve been telling me, then your squad’s going to be a deciding factor in all of this.”

I wanted to leap over and hug her, but I knew it wouldn’t be proper. Instead, I gave her a firm salute and then gave one to Cadim. He returned the salute to me and gave me a smile that I had not seen in quite some time. I returned it and knew that we were back to being friends. Things were looking up.

This, I knew, was my second chance.
I wasn’t going to let it get away from me.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
01.17.2012 , 08:40 AM | #18
Chapter Sixteen: Taking Point

There are few honors greater than being the Mandalorian to take point in an assault. It is a symbol of bravery and undying resolve: of courage in the face of near certain death. More than likely the soldiers beneath me would die in a blaze of glory and I would fall with them. If I did not die I would have an impressive story to tell: if I did die, people would speak of my actions for generations to come. Many people outside of our culture would have seen being placed on a suicidal mission as some form of punishment, but I felt reborn from the assignment. Without a doubt this would be my proving ground and I was not going to let it go without a fight.

By the time dawn was approaching we had already made it into position. Kogus’ army moved sluggishly, no doubt due to the many tanks that they had behind them, which left us with little to no reason not to strike them fast and hard. Reconnaissance had been correct in their assessments: the Coalition’s forces were spread into three separate armies and each arm was moving at its own pace. When we launched our attack the airspeeders under General Masaeron should have just been moving into position. While we could do nothing to prevent their bombs and payloads from claiming the lives of people back at the compound, we could certainly make sure that each death was met with ten from our opponents.

The collection of woods that we chose to use for our ambush was densely populated and gave very little room for our enemy to progress except for as a straight line. Most commanders would have expected an ambush in an area with high hills and dense cover, but Kogus seemed to believe that we were dedicated to waiting for his siege. After all, we had been certain to move under cover of night and since word of their approach came our scouting parties were drawn back. They were going to pull up and bombard us, and there was nothing that we could do. At least, that was what we wanted them to believe.

This time around, I was incredibly nervous. Not only did I understand just how quickly a life could be taken in battle, but I also knew that there were people relying on me. Men like Keller and Saurek did not often get a chance to fight, and now that they had one I did not want my inexperience as a leader to hold them back. There were dozens of men or women that could have been placed ahead of me as command, but when I informed them that they were in my squad they both took the news with gratitude. What was important was that they were once warriors and so again would they be. This was not only my chance to show my sister and father that they had not wasted their lives on me: it was all of our chances to show our ancestors that we would not fail them.

Kogus’ men are almost in position,” Astra informed us over the communication link. “Kathhounds, get ready to open them up.

I cringed just a little as she used that term, but once it was assigned to us there was no way I’d be able to get out of it. My left hand was held in the air, fingers balled into a fist. When I lowered it, the soldiers under me would know that it was time to attack. Theoretically we could have attacked the motorcade at any time and it would have had the same result, but if we wanted even the faintest chance of victory without death then it would have to come at just the right time. In the tree above me was Keller, his sniper rifle trained on his target. To my right was Saurek with his heavy repeater already warmed.

Time passed agonizingly slow then, as I watched each soldier march past me and saw their tanks moving into position. The best that we could do was hope that we would be able to jam their tanks into a single position so they’d lose range of motion, while at the same time giving them only a single direct in which they could fire. Keller had been quick to explain to me the radial attack patterns of the tanks, but I knew so little about the specifics that other than agree I did not know what else to say. What was important was that he said they wouldn’t be able to maneuver well, which could turn this into a killing zone if we did everything perfectly.

In the middle of the procession I saw Captain Kogus, astride his speeder. I did not know the man except for from his name, but as he was one of the people responsible for my mother’s stay in Wesmer, I would do whatever I could to make sure that before I died his life was the one I claimed. If we hit them with enough munitions then we would at the very least give Astra and her company an easy time in cleaning up. Kogus continued ever closer and I began to hold my breath. The HUD in my helmet read his position: -20 meters, -15 meters, -10 meters, -5 meters…

I lowered my left fist.

Astra had not been a fool when it came to ensuring that my group went in first. While anyone could have pulled off an attack from the front, our group had something unique to our initial attack: technicians. Keller’s sniper rifle may have been just as reliable as anyone else’s, but where others took one shot, his opened an entire salvo. Position on the trees along both sides of the forest were countless rocket launchers, and with the compression of his trigger they each came to life in an array of firepower the likes of which I cannot properly describe.

There was a possibility that Keller could have taken Kogus with his shot, but personal shields and preparation may have been more than enough to save the Captain. Instead, Keller’s shot impacted soundly with his speeder-bike and caused it to stall out. Before the captain could give his orders, the array of rockets were striking along the ranks of his men and filling the air with an array of plumes that climbed toward the sky. The confusion of the moment was only enhanced when Kogus began shouting in panic to his men that they were being attacked by a force far larger than they actually were.

“Oya aliit Daue!” I shouted.
The wave of shouts that backed me were like waves crashing against rocks.

From their positions in the trees, the troops under my command began to fire upon the left most portion of Captain Kogus’ procession. They returned fire, the tanks that were not blocked annihilating vegetation and man alike in an unfathomable array of explosives. I ran free of my cover with Saurek close at my side. This time, I was the one using the carbine, and I intended to get as up close and personal to the enemy as I possibly could. I heard the piercing scream of Saurek’s repeater come to life before all around me the spray of blaster bolts opened the enemy lines for me.

I had never felt the rush that I did at that moment when we converged upon the Coalition position. Without the option to stay at range with so many using explosives on the trees, we could only continue to surge forth. Along with a few of the younger warriors that we had recruited, I met with the Coalition’s soldiers head on.

There are those who are well versed in the arts of war and will say that my actions were foolish – childish, even. After all, if we kept our position in the trees even if we were systematically exterminated we could last longer against the enemy force. But to that notion I have to reiterate that our goal was to capture honor and that while none of us wanted to die, we did not necessarily fear it either. I certainly feared death itself, but the act of dying was something divorced from the end result to me. I suppose the best way to describe it is: I am not afraid of falling, but I do not want to hit the ground.

As it turned out, that sentiment was shared by most of my clansmen.

With the butt of my carbine I struck the side of a Coalition soldier’s armor, then hit him in the center of the chest. He fell and without even needing to look down, I unloaded a series of shots into his prone form. All around me similar actions were occurring and I could hear the battle cries of both Clan Vace and Clan Daue meeting it as feverish a battle as our own confrontation was.

The disorientation of the Coalition forces could only last for so long and as they drew themselves back together I knew that the second stage in our plan was moving into place. With our frontrunners having landed their strikes, Vasmus and Astra would next be leading their men forth, surely enough as I noticed an increase in Vacians about me, I soon too found that there were new Daue soldiers joining the mix. It was a bone-shattering battle royale, and we had to give it our all if we were to escape from it alive.

Saurek,” I said into my communication link. “You and I are going to take out the tank cluster.
You’ve got it, leader.” He replied.

If not for the fact that a Vacian bruiser came charging at me with his rifle held over his head like a club, I would have allowed myself to smile. It was the first time that I had heard anyone refer to me as a leader and it felt surprisingly accurate. Of course, the more pressing matter of the gargantuan man and his happenstance melee weapon came into play and as I did not want the last words I heard to be Saurek’s – no matter how wonderful they sounded. I ducked low and sprang forth, bowling through his legs and landing in a roll. When I turned around he was falling, and a few shots from my carbine made sure that he wasn’t going to get back up.

When a battle is at its thickest, the pressure is also at its highest. Just as when we danced and I felt the nature of everyone coming together into one sweltering sensation, I could feel the intensity and ire of both sides of our conflict form a single agent of chaos. To break the poetry of that down just a little bit: everywhere was the sound of death, and I was fighting to make sure that my violence wasn’t swallowed up by anyone else’s.

I’d like to think that I did a pretty good job.

Saurek and I began for the tanks. It was a difficult process to move through the Vacian line, but with each soldier that fell we made it just a step closer. There were times when I would have to beat someone back with my carbine only to have Saurek take a shot, or when one would miraculously drop with the expert marksmanship of Keller as the culprit. We forged through them though, joined at several times by various members of separate squads. More than once I saw a brave soldier move where I would have been only to find the mist of his blood in the air a moment later.

We had made it nearly to the tank position when I looked in Kogus’ direction. Previously he had been hiding behind his men, but it seemed something akin to a warrior’s spirit had blossomed within him. More importantly, from what I could see Astra and her men were closing in on him quickly. The moment that Kogus died I knew that his tanks would be put into retreat and so I ran even quicker. That was until I saw Astra fall when one of Kogus’ guards shot her in the leg.

Astra’s down!

The cry reverberated over the communication link with such clarity that I was forced to stop. Saurek said something to me, but rather than continue on my course for the tanks I instead broke away and ran with all of my speed for Kogus’ position. I jumped planted my left foot and faked to the right to avoid a charging coalition soldier, and dove over one that attempted to tackle me. The faster that I moved the more direly I knew that Astra’s situation was becoming. If she had the chance to kill herself and Kogus at the same time she would do it, and I knew she would much rather prefer that be her end than one where she died as a victim to his blaster.

“Oya manda!” I shouted with all of my heart and came crashing into Kogus’ side. It was not the smartest decision I had ever made, but it was the only one that was on my mind at the moment.

Captain Kogus was a large man, but I hit him in just the right spot. I managed to encourage him back just enough for the hill behind him to do the rest of the work. We both fell down the hill then, rolling and jouncing as it we both hit branches and rocks in our fall. By the time that it came to an end I was thoroughly disoriented and I felt my blaster rifle leave my hands. The incline was too great to climb back up without a good deal of effort, and I knew that Kogus would be up in a matter of seconds unless he’d died in the fall.

As luck would have it, he did not.

I began to scramble for my gun, but I felt his hand grab my leg. I turned over onto my back and kicked out at him, but just as I struck he grabbed my other leg and squeezed down. Excruciating pain ripped through me as his powerful hands all but shattered my bones. I cried out in agony and grabbed hold of a rock, then threw it directly at the center of his helmet. It was enough force to get him to let go, but as I got back up to my feet he was bearing down on me again. Like any warrior, even if I knew I didn’t stand a chance, I put up a fight.

Snarling as I was, I tried my best to achieve a better position against him, but he was in no way a slovenly fighter. He drew me into his knee, then grabbed me about the abdomen and effortlessly hoisted me over his shoulder. It was such a swift motion that I did not realize I was moving until I hit my back against a branch and was dragged back by my armor into a headlock.

“You Daue scum think that you can make a fool out of me,” he snarled at me with no lack of hatred. “You think that just because we Vacians didn’t keep our word to you that we’re dogs. Is that right?” He tightened the headlock, causing me to gag as I clawed at his hand. “But you were going to betray us anyway, weren’t you!?”

If we were sitting down and peacefully discussing things I may have been able to rebut, but as that was not the case I instead focused on what I could do. I struck out his ribs once, twice, and then slammed my hand down against his groin. I will never claim to be a clean fighter, but after at the very least encouraging him to let me go I spun around with a punch directly into his visor. It hurt like hell to do that, but the punch did make him take a step back. Unfortunately, that step gave him the leverage to tackle me to the ground. As we fell I lifted my knees so that the weight of his body on me would bring discomfort.

It wasn’t a long term solution, but it let me crawl away from him again.

When I got up I pulled my dagger out and held it in front of myself. It was no different than when the nexu paced about me: the dagger was for show; I wasn’t going to be able to outfight him with it. The gesture itself made Kogus laugh.

“What is this, a joke?” What truly concerned me was that despite the fact I could see blood on his face from where his helmet had shattered; he hardly seemed to be discomforted. “You’re too small to be a real warrior – probably someone’s bastard kid that’s playing at hero. Well here’s your chance, kid. Why are you shaking?”

The grin he gave me was in no way a mirthful one, and as he stepped forward I realized that I was indeed shaking. I swiped outward at him and looked up toward the hill we had fallen down. That he laughed at me when I struck at him was more than enough reason to be certain he could outfight me, but I was not about to surrender. The sound of a mighty explosion filled the air.

Tanks are down!” I saw the name Saurek flash before my HUD. That directly preceded the actions that were to follow.

Kogus lunged at me, no doubt certain that his army was defeated. I stabbed for him, but he effortlessly swatted my dagger side. Rather than swing at him again I threw the dagger and turned about and began to climb the hillside. It was quite possible that the others would come for me, but I did not know if they would be able to do quickly enough. My fingers were just digging in for my second handful of dirt when I felt Kogus grab me by my legs and drag me back down. I whirled about and threw dirt into his cracked visor, but he pressed down on me to prevent me from moving further.

I could hear the rage on his voice and feel his body shivering with anger. He had been given two chances – there was no doubt that even if he survived the Coalition was going to remove him from his command. I grappled with him as best as I could, but I could feel my helmet coming undone. Once it was removed, he gave me the darkest grin I have ever seen in my life.

“A trophy worth taking,” he sneered. I lashed out at him, but he was far stronger than me. I could hear the sounds of people shouting in my helmet, but did not know if they were asking me to call back or if they were telling me that they were on their way. In either event I had a more pressing matter to attend to, and it was not one that I wanted to think about.

Violence, I believe, is a natural part of Mandalorian life. Yes, we of the Clan Daue had taken to something more peaceful, but even in times of peace we trained ourselves as warriors in the event that one day our violence would be unleashed upon the world. Clans Daue, Vace, and Hundar were not so different; in fact, I am certain that we were all being driven by the thirst to survive. But there are actions of violence that are far darker than those we are born with, and there are actions of violence that should not be spoken of – and never experienced.

I do not believe that what motivated Kogus in his actions was in any way related to his being a Vacian, or the previous desire he had spoken of. He was in flamed with rage and I was the focus for his hatred. He was going to die – we both knew that, but before he died he wanted to make certain that his legacy would live beyond the blaster bolt that claimed him. He could have killed me, but in doing so that would have been a single mark in the face of the Clan Daue. No, his intentions went further than that, and as I began to realize what they were I could only scream and struggle all the more passionately.

Throughout my life I have tried to come to terms with what Kogus had in mind. Not because I wish to understand him, but because I want to excuse him for his plans. I know that within us there is a beast of discord, but generally that beast requires blood and nothing more. The past rationalization I made for him was one of m any that I thought of after the events that were soon to transpire did, but in each retelling I come to the simple realization that Kogus was a bad man, and that his was a heart far beyond understanding. I could see that he hated me, but not even hatred alone could motivate a man to act as he did.

He could have turned and fled for his life, of this I have no doubt, but his need to live out a final conquest against an enemy was far greater than his need to survive. I could feel parts of my armor falling slack against his motions, and the more that I struggled the more intent he was upon his goal. The same spirit that had seen me fight through the octopus’ tentacles reawakened in me, but as I began to lash out more harshly he struck me with such force that I was forced into a pacified stupor.

Just as with the octopus when I realized my struggling was futile, there came a cold reality that I was incapable of overcoming Kogus’ machinations. We were within enough foliage to prevent us from being seen from ease at any angle, and truly there was nothing I could do to change that. I resigned myself to a fate that I had never been prepared for, because no Mandalorian would wish to think that another Mandalorian was capable of it.

I think that was perhaps the worst part of it to me: that I had given up. We Mandalorians can fight and die; we can fight and live, but we never fight and surrender. I can think of a thousand reasons why I should have kept fighting, but only one reason why I didn’t: I was terrified. I was ashamed of myself then – I am ashamed of myself now. But I cannot redact this from my story, nor can I hide that at that point in time, I was nothing more than a scared, defenseless child.

I can remember the smell of the area and the sound of my breathing. My heartbeat was so loud then that it threatened to drown out each breath I took, but my breathing was matched by the labored sound of Kogus’. It is an odd detail to remember about such a horrific episode, but as the moments ticked away I can even distinctly recall the manner in which sweat dripped down his bloodied face and came to tap against mine. It was as though my brain was seeking to protect me: it was searching for a way to make me focus on anything other than what was in front of me; what would soon occur.

He looked me in my eyes. I looked him in his.

I will never forget the rancor in his eyes. It was almost sad in a sense, so completely engrossed within its need to be hateful that it abandoned any trace of its own humanity. Even the nexu had seemed more sentient than he did then. He was willing to do whatever it took to hurt me, and I was simply without recourse against him. Was it a power struggle? Was it something more? I do not know. I have spent time in libraries all about the galaxy researching the topic, and even now I am without a concise answer.

He said one thing to me.
“Long live Clan Vace.”
And then all I saw was red.

For a moment I feared that what was in front of me was the sensation of being dehumanized; perhaps my mind blanking out what was occurring. The smell of freshly spilled blood washing over me though was too familiar, and the vapor of pulverized bone floating about in the air did well to bring me back to reality. Kogus had been holding himself above me, but he slumped forth without a sound as the hole in his head began to pour out what blood had been previously pumping through his body.

I pushed him off me and scrambled away as best I could. Above me I saw Keller making his way down the hill, with his sniper rifle in hand. By the time he made it to the bottom of the hill I had not yet placed all of my armor back on completely. He looked down to Kogus and then back to me.

“Siana,” he began.
“I’m okay.” I answered.

That was all we had to say about the matter. Once I had completely refashioned my armor, Keller tried his best to keep concern from his voice. A few hints of it escaped through, but I was thankful for the effort. He informed the others that I had been located and reported that Kogus was dead.

I recalled the reason that we had fallen down the hill. Rather than tempt Keller to ask me what had happened, I instead started back up the hill. “How is Astra?” I asked.

“Wounded, but she’s going to make it,” he said. “Casualties on both sides were high: they’ve lost, but we’re hurt.”

I thought of the men that had died and could not help but feel saddened. If the tears that were forming in my eyes were for them or me, I did not know. Keller was kind enough not to ask. We continued up the hill in silence after that. Keller with a question he wanted to ask: me with a question I didn’t want to answer.

When we made it back to the top of the hill, I could see that it had indeed been a bloody and brutal battle. The losses on our side were much heavier than they had been at Land’s Bridge, but we were also without the threat of one of the arms. True, it was the lesser of the three, but it made a difference. I saw Astra being carried away and rushed over to her.

“Good fighting out there, Sis,” she told me as I came into range. I hugged her. “I’ll be fine.”
“I know,” I whispered. She returned the hug and I fought the urge to cry into her shoulder. I wanted to remain strong, but all of the fear and shame I had accumulated was more than I could keep back. If Keller had arrived a second later then I would have been an entirely different person.

Although Astra never addressed it, I think that she knew something happened. She did not chastise me for weeping and held me long after I had stopped crying. When finally I was ready to pull away, she even held me just a little bit longer. She whispered a single question to me.

“You’re okay?”
I nodded.

Finally, I managed to pull myself away from her.

“Good,” she said. “Because they’re going to need you even more now. Vasmus has command of the operation, but you’re the one that plotted this all out. Make sure that we fight them – and that we win.”

It only made sense that Vasmus would take command. I glanced in his direction and then back to Astra. “I don’t know if I can do this without you.”

“Of course you can,” Astra reassured me. “Vasmus is battle-hardened. It’s time for you to show that you are as well.”

I could have blubbered on about how I needed her by my side, but as I glanced down to the wound in her leg I knew that it was futile. It was miraculous enough that she was not screaming; the bolt had fractured her bone. If she could bear up under the pain, I had no excuse not to do the same.

“Trust your instincts and you’ll be fine.” Astra ruffled my hair and offered me a parting smile. “If nothing else, they’ve gotten you this far.”

I tried my best to return a smile to her, but the torrent of emotions that I felt was difficult to master. As Astra limped away with the assistance of Fendar, I looked to Keller. Behind him were Mandalorians gathered around Saurek, giving the technician pats on the back. I knew that was what he always wanted and did not want to take away from his moment of joy.

Keller and I continued to stand there. When Saurek gave me a wave I knew that I should go over and join him. I felt Keller’s hand on my shoulder and stopped. I was hardly surprised to see the look in his eyes.

“Siana,” he said as comfortingly as possible. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
I nodded. “I am.”

Mandalorians are not the type of people to sit down and share their feelings. Although I did not confide in him, the fact that he was letting me know that I could was perhaps the kindest sentiment I had ever received from one of my brothers-in-arms. I gave him an appreciative smile.

And that was the last I heard him mention it. He shouldered his sniper rifle.

By the time that we made our way over to Saurek, Vasmus and the others had gathered as well. I listened to Saurek excitedly explain how he had used the positioning of the tanks to set off a chain reaction of explosions, but felt my attention pulled away to Vasmus. He was a capable fighter and a loyal Mandalorian – I had no reason to doubt him. I touched his arm and he looked toward me.

“What is the plan now?” I asked. He seemed to think over how best to reply to me, and then gave me a cool shrug.
“The new plan’s the same as the old one: we kill Vacians.”

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
01.17.2012 , 08:43 AM | #19
Chapter Seventeen: The Struggle.

I quickly came to understand that our merry band was not quite as merry without Astra in the lead. Vasmus was in no way an incompetent leader, but his was a style of leadership that demanded quick actions with little thought. Changes to the structuring of the squads were made and for his valiant showing against the Coalition’s tank forces, Saurek was given a promotion to squad leader. That the promotion came with a demotion to me was not at all met with hostility: I was willing to step aside if it meant giving Saurek a chance to prove himself.

Surprisingly enough, I was comfortable with following for the time being.

The battle with Captain Korgus’ forces had been a definitive victory for Clan Daue, but it had not come at an easy price. While our spirits were an indefatigable resource, the bodies that came with them were not.

I do not know how many of us there were at the height of our community, but by all accounts we were the largest of the clans upon the planet. Had Uncle Valgor’s men not been ambushed and defeated, we would have been capable of meeting the Coalition at a 1:2 ratio. Unfortunately, the nexu’s share of our manpower went with my uncle on his doomed campaign and were either slaughtered or forced into hiding. This alone reduced our number dramatically, but there was still more to be considered.

If we were to place all of our available men into the field, it was possible that we might match either the number of the Vacians or the Hundarii; however, the rigors of war are not bourn upon the shoulders of warriors alone. Those that could potentially fight were kept in fields and repair shops, constantly working to upgrade the defenses of our fortress. Furthermore, there was the garrison of stalwarts that awaited the siege so they could repel it and buy us more time to fight. When these things were factored together, it only further dwindled the amount of soldiers that could be in the field.

And then there was the battle that we had just fought, where although we vanquished Captain Kogus’ forces, we nevertheless exhausted our own forces. It had been a costly battle in both the element of surprise and sheer manpower. Time and terrain were on our side, but the sluggishly moving armies of the Coalition could not be forgotten. We were a ragtag team of expeditionary soldiers against a legion of foes.

From that point on, it was certain to be a struggle.

The redistribution of forces was not done solely to establish Vasmus as the new leader of the vanguard. His view was one that dealt with less bulk in exchange for more efficiency in movement. The squads were broken again into smaller cells and each given a specific area to harass. Although we could be given the call to change our objective and assist another region at any time, it was better that we know our patches of terrain so that when the Coalition’s forces made their way through it we could strike them quickly and move on retreat.

Initially there was a predictable backlash against Vasmus’ tactics. Many felt that our stealthy attacks were cowardly: that we were abandoning the valor of battle for the comfort of subterfuge. In his first showing as a leader in his own right, Vasmus addressed those claims directly.

“Then think me a coward and tell it to your children. But that you will have children to insult me to says enough as to the value of this plan.”

And in that way, Vasmus reminded many that we were fighting for more than personal glory – we were fighting for the honor of our clans. The most important thing that we could do was continue to buy them time. The bombardments over the fortress had already begun and the longer we kept ground troops from arriving, the better. I did not want to think of how scorched the earth would be when I returned home. I made myself focus on the present, and in doing so removed the phantom of dread that would have otherwise compromised my ability to act.

Just as Vasmus was a natural selection for leader, so too was Saurek an ideal candidate for becoming a squad leader. The change in power from my hands to his was handled seamlessly, and although a childish spat of pride did make me resent him for a day or two, he never sought to establish himself directly as my superior. It became more a matter of two friends sharing a title, rather than one subjugating the other. I had been even and kind with him when I was in charge, and he returned that as best he could.

The pettiness of politics had to be forgotten in the face of the approaching Armageddon.

But although we had become smarter in attacking the Coalition, so too had their forces become wiser in dealing with our antics. Attacking them in densely forested areas was dangerous enough, for rather than risk being overtaken they would simply unleash waves of flame against the underbrush and let the ensuing fire flush out any Dauen clansman that may have been within the area. Commander Vexius was no fool: he had learned well from the two defeats handed to his subordinate.

While we worked on stalling the forces that accompanied Commander Vexius, the base was left to handle General Masaeron and his Hundarii soldiers. Although I was never given the chance of seeing the opening salvos, I have been told it was as though the heavens came crashing down and the stars were at the command of the Hundarii general. For days and nights they shelled and attacked our stronghold with everything they had, and through it all we managed to stand firm. It does me proud to think of the brave men and women that fought to survive through the siege. Even if the stronghold was to fall, their sacrifices would live on forever.

Vasmus’ decision to turn us from a standing army into a guerilla attack squad necessitated that changes in munitions be made. My carbine was exchanged for a sniper rifle, and alongside Keller and others in my squad I worked with tireless precision in picking off however many soldiers I could. It was not that we were given any advantage from actually killing them: whenever a sniper was sighted, the groups were forced to halt and sweep the area. By the time they found our nest we would be long gone, but it continued to buy us valuable time.

Soldiering in this manner may have been effective, but it was also filled with lulls in activity. There would come times when a designated target might hunker down and leave us with nothing to do. More importantly, once the siege was erected against our stronghold, we were effectively cut off from supplies. To fill the void of time, we would often assign pairs of soldiers to hunt for game while the others waited out the enemy until they took to moving again.

Fall had come at long last and with it so too came the chill of winter and the promise of snow to follow. Captain Kogus’ forces had not been vanquished so long ago, but already our rations were depleting even with the supplement of game birds or local fauna. To compensate we were often given to reducing the amount of food that we could eat per day. The caloric intake of a Mandalorian is near religious, but in hard times concessions must be made. Sluggish or not, we had a duty to accomplish and it could not be forgotten for the simple pains of hunger.

My birthday came without a word from anyone back in the stronghold. I knew that sending a transmission in or out of the compound was difficult enough, but part of me had hoped that Astra or my father might have sent word back to me. There was no doubt that Astra would be incapable of assisting us in the forest: once her wounds were healed she would undoubtedly become a commander for the base’s soldiers. Although it was an honor, it nevertheless left me feeling somewhat abandoned.

I was filled with that feeling of dejection as I lay within tall grass, watching a collection of Coalition soldiers through the scope of my rifle. I could have taken a shot several times, but in killing one of them I would do nothing more than encourage them to move. For the time being they were keeping their position and there was no reason for me to hurry them along.

Saurek cleaned his rifle, while Keller took to carving a branch with his dagger. I had come to realize that in addition to being insatiably talkative, Keller’s other irritating quality was that he could not seem to keep his hands still for a long period of time. As a sniper he was an excellent shot, but assign him to watch a target and you could set your chrono to the amount of time it would take him before he took a shot at someone. If it came between having to listen to him chatter and carve, or being forced to move several kilos to clear ourselves from suspicion, we begrudgingly accepted the former.

“You know why they call it pi, right?” It was a question that had no real purpose, and I groaned almost as loudly as Saurek’s stomach was at that point. To stave off talk of food we had encouraged Keller to talk about things. Of course, his decision to speak in turn led him to a topic that no one wanted to hear – for two reasons.

In his increasingly tired voice, Saurek replied. “No, but I’m certain you’re going to tell us.”

“It’s because if you were to lay a strip on any circle and calculate its circumference, then divide that by its diameter, you end up with a number,” Keller went on to explain without bothering to stop to hear if we actually cared further. “It’s a number that has no end: 3.1415…”

And he kept going. I did not know if he had memorized the formula in his head or if he was actually doing the math to pass the time, but the sound of his voice droning on and on was enough to lull me into a partial stupor. When mixing the cold with my hunger there was little to keep me from finding an escape from reality, and whenever it presented itself I grabbed it if only for a moment or two of solace.

I thought of my past birthdays, when I had something to look forward to other than cold nights and the threat of Keller talking my ear off. It was a time different than simply not being hungry or irritated: in the past, each year of my life brought me closer to something. I had been striving for a goal that I had by now achieved, and that the age of thirteen was behind me I was uncertain how I was supposed to handle the passage of time. Was the next important day in my life when my life ended?

For a moment I thought to ask Saurek how he dealt with passing his verd’goten, but as I looked in his direction I saw that he was fighting hard enough to keep from snapping Keller’s neck.

“…919530…”

I saw no reason to add to this burden.

Still, I missed having something to work forward to. We may have been fighting to stave off the Coalition, but win or fail that would happen regardless of my age. Eventually either we would die or they would: the least important thing was my age. The world seemed to be without any real guiding force except to keep the war going after one’s passage of the verd’goten, and while that may have seemed like a romantic notion as a child I could not help but wonder how it was that brave men like my ancestor Roga, or even Mandalore the Preserver, had been able to rise day after day knowing that the only thing they would find was more of the same.

Perhaps that was why they rushed headlong into battle, because they knew that the labors of life did not ever become easier. We may have won battles, we may have lost battles, but at the end of the day I would be a young woman hiding in grass no matter what happened. I knew that I was being unnecessarily macabre, but it was the first birthday I experienced in which I realized there was no goal – no end point.

“If you say the word pi one more time, Keller,” Saurek finally began to grumble as he had reached his limit. “I’m going to rip your head off your scrawny little neck, shove it all the way up your hindparts, and pry your eyes open just so you can see how badly I’m going to kick your tailbone in.”

The comment caused Keller to come to a stop. “Well if you didn’t like it, all you had to do was say so.”
“I don’t like it,” Saurek said quickly.

Keller waved his hand dismissively but did not speak again. He often made a show of being upset: it would last five minutes before he was yammering again.

There was a report between Keller and Saurek that I had once shared with members of my immediate family. I knew that it was vain to think that I had a closer tie to Astra or my father than anyone else, but it was a thought that comforted me in the darkest of hours. I wondered if a similar thought kept my mother safe – if it was what she fought to relive once more.

The night was starless on my birthday, but through the tree branches I could make out a clear and brilliant moon. Knowing that my mother could see the same moon as me, four years after we last spoke, was in itself something of a comforting thought. We could share that, if nothing else. Her strength to keep fighting had not wavered and so I knew that mine should not either.

But was that not the problem?

My mother had lived her life like a Mandalorian. When her clan leader gave the call to battle, for whatever reason, she answered it. She lived her life for her children and at that moment was fighting for the idea that we would survive because of his sacrifices. But in the end she was in the same position as me: looking through a sniper rifle and hoping that the enemy would make a mistake. I heard Keller begin to talk once more and looked back through my scope. It may have been better to resign myself to my fate.

“We’ve got motion,” I said in an attempt to break through Keller’s monologue. It was not the first time that our group had moved, but whenever they did I was forced to report it. If they began approaching a certain portion of the forest it meant that they were going to try to move, and that we had to stop them however we could.

Saurek pushed away from his tree and lifted his scope to judge their distance. “They’ve got another good two kilometers before they’re in the killing zone. A few of them probably just want to get their legs warmed up for the night.”

“Preserver,” Keller snorted, “I wish I could warm my legs. At least back at the compound we had the fire to keep us warm.”
A predictable snort left Saurek. “With all the calories you burn yammering, I’m surprised you ain’t broken a sweat yet.”

I zoned the two out and continued to watch my quarry. Just as Saurek said, it was more than likely nothing more than a simple warm up exercise. The winds of winter were fast approaching and while I was given to shivering, I knew that there were others that handled it worse than I did. The Coalition soldiers were by and large more comfortable when dealing with the cold, but I suppose the breed of cold that we have is different from what they are accustomed to. I am told that hail is the most common form of precipitation in Hundarii and Vacian lands. By contrast, while we may receive snow, most of our winters are filled with frigid days and glacial nights.

I was not looking forward to hunkering in the cold when winter arrived.

The soldier in my sights crouched for a moment and then stood back up and walked toward his comrades. My heart began to fall as he turned around, but I knew that it could be a diversionary tactic. The advantage that a sniper had was surprise; if they could fool one of us into giving away our position, it would be only a matter of seconds before rockets and bolts were flying in our direction. My finger may have itched to pull the trigger: the grid on my HUD centered in on the man’s neck with a 95% accuracy rating, but I knew I should not take the shot.

I began to wonder what the soldier was thinking at that moment. His life was in my hands and more than likely he had absolutely no idea that he was a centimeter away from death. I could pull the trigger and end him: end everything that he would become and everything that he would have done. It was a powerful feeling, but it did not come without its drawbacks. In knowing that I could end his future, I also knew that I could change his past. I highly doubted that he was in our territory because he had an aversion for Dauen men and women. More than likely his clan leader gave him a call and so he answered – just as we all had.

Even Captain Kogus had stated why he fought us: he felt that we had betrayed his people, and in a way he was correct. My father had told Uncle Valgor that treachery begot treachery, and yet Uncle Valgor ignored him. Now we were facing nearly certain doom and the only people that we could blame was ourselves.

Of course, thinking of Captain Kogus did not at all make me feel better. Until that point in time I had not thought of many things involving war, and that in particular was one that kept me awake at night. Keller’s arrival had been timely and I thanked the Preserver for that, but I did not know how I would have been able to go on had he not. There was no one to speak to about it, and even if there was I would have been too embarrassed to do so. If sleepless nights meant keeping my dignity, I would suffer through them. The only people that knew about it were me, Kogus, and Keller. One of them was dead and the other was a man that though talkative was wise enough not to bring it up again.

Was that what I had to look forward to in the future? More near death experiences or worse? At the age of six I had not worried about either, yet at fourteen I was now wary of any passing shadow or rustling in the night. My mortality was a fragile thing and while Mandalorians were taught to race it as fiercely as they could, I do not know how we should view what had been on the horizon. If all I had to look forward to was the depravity of mankind, then I was even less willing to go on.

Perhaps the soldier in my crosshairs was the lucky one – perhaps I was the one that hadn’t any power. For if he died, then he would never have to experience the hardships and the pain. He would not need to know the toil or the misery that was life. There were so many downs and so few ups, after all. The only thing I had to look forward to was the past: my only happy memories were the thoughts of a family that had been shattered by war. How long would it be before a blaster bolt finally killed Astra, or a bomb landed on the command center and removed not only my father from life, but also the home I had once known?

Much to my surprise, I did not cry. It was not that I was not sad, or that I did not want to cry, but there were no longer any tears left in me. That realization was a bittersweet one, for although I had always hated how easily I wept, it had been a sign that I was still capable of feeling. Now there was only a harrowing emptiness that ran through me with the same dolorous chiming as the wind rustling through the fading trees. War had not bred within me a flower: it had created a weed. I was a contemptuous and wretched growth that had no purpose other than to strangle the life from others.

And with a single pull of the trigger, I could remove the life from the man in front of me. It would be so easy – so unfathomably easy, to both alleviate his pain and bring to an end his happiness. We could easily make the run from our nest to another section of the forest. Perhaps Vasmus would be upset with us, but I was beginning to feel that there was little reason to listen to Vasmus either. What would really come of it?

I could end up like Saurek: past my prime and clinging to glory by whatever scraps I could get. I could end up like Keller: a social pariah that chattered to himself because no one wanted to hear him. I could end up like Cadim, who now ran through the wilderness if he had not already been captured, or I could have ended up like mother and be cold and estranged from those I loved. The potential outcomes were all bleak and empty.

It was a struggle to want to keep going. It was a struggle to find a reason to take in another breath and then let it out. Why did I continue, when inevitably the end goal would always be the same? I could affect a change now.

All I had to do was pull the trigger.

It was then that something unexpected occurred. With my nerve all but built and ready to end the man’s life, I saw the HUD on my screen shift. In the uppermost corner, the name “Astra – Base” scrawled across my vision.

“Happy Birthday, Kathhound,” I heard her say in a distorted voice. The scramblers from the Hundarii position must have been strong – I would not have expected to hear from her at all. As close as I had been to terminating the soldier, I relaxed and spoke in response to my helmet.

“I thought you forgot,” I admitted with a tinge of my concealed sorrow floating away from me. “Thanks.”

Hearing Astra’s laugh surprised me: it was a warmth that I had not known for quite some time. “How am I going to forget your birthday? I’ve spent the last five something years preparing you for it!”

I could hear explosions in the background, but they were distant. The fighting was still going on, but the lack of panic in Astra’s voice soothed me just a bit. “You’ve got a point,” I whispered. “It’s different without you out here.”

Astra was silent then. I waited to hear her voice and then spoke carefully. “Astra?”

“Sorry,” she said hastily. “The Hundarii were doing their daily bombing run. They lower their scramblers for a few minutes before and after, so I took the chance to contact you.”

“Instead of Vasmus?”
“Someone else can contact Vasmus,” Astra chuckled. “I wanted to tell my sister happy birthday.”

I did not need a present or a new lesson in martial arts to mark the day: hearing Astra say those words to me was nurturing enough. I knew that if I thought too long on it I would get choked up, so I tried to push forth in the conversation.

“How are things there – with the Hundarii and all?”
“Tough,” Astra quickly answered, “but manageable. Keller’s anti-air magic is keeping them from hitting anything major, and the soldiers are going to the front regularly to keep them from advancing on us.”

“I miss having you out here,” I confessed. “The soldiers are lucky to have you leading them.”
“I’m not leading them,” Astra said. “In fact, I won’t be leading anyone for awhile.”

It was difficult for me to reconcile the notion of Astra with the lack of ability to lead. While her blaster wound had been gruesome, I had seen people recover from worse. She could have cybernetics placed in if need be – cloned flesh could be flown in, couldn’t it? There had to be a way to keep her from becoming a sideline soldier.

“Your wound wasn’t that bad.” I gave voice to my thoughts, although I tried to sound jocular there was a doubtless level of despair to my voice. “We need you out here – I need you.”

“It isn’t that, Siana,” Astra said. Her voice was different then, I could not quite read it. Perhaps it was the distortion, or simply that she was speaking in a way I had never before heard. “When I returned to base, Doctor Renasin gave me a full bio-physical. He wanted to make sure that I hadn’t gotten an infection.”

Infection was a gruesome killer. While we had antiseptics in our med-kits, there were always dangerous bacterium that could resist even the most preventative of medicines. I had seen gaping holes torn into the flesh of people from the silent killers of infection. I did not want to see that happen to Astra.

“You’re sick?”
“No,” Astra said. “I’m going to become a mother.”

It was similar to when the grenade had gone off near me during the Battle of Land’s Bridge. For a moment everything went silent, and then as sound came back to me I felt a rush of emotions. All of the dejection and torment that I had felt moments before melted away and in its place was a new emotion, raw and unrestrained. I could instantly identify the sound in Astra’s voice, because it was bleeding into my own: giddiness, happiness.

“What? How? When?” The words left me without any supporting sentences. Thankfully, Astra understood exactly what I meant.

“Before we left for the frontlines, Cadim and I were married by Dad. I don’t think that you need me to explain to you where babies come from, do you?”

“Mom did that before,” I said with a mixture of embarrassment, irritation, and sheer exhilaration. “But you and Cadim – a baby?”

“Hey, congratulations!” Keller shouted loud enough for my helmet to pick up.

“Tell Keller I said thank you.”
“She says to shut the hell up, Keller.”
“Siana!”
“—Believe me, Astra. If you heard what he’s been talking about, you’d agree.”

I was so overtaken with my joy that I felt blood tingling all through my body. The white-hot excitement that came with Astra’s news was so brilliant that it did well to banish the doubts I had previously felt.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you about the wedding before we left,” Astra said uneasily, “but I didn’t want to upset you before our march.”
I knew her meaning immediately. “Upset me? I’m so happy for you! Do you know what you’ll name him?”
“Why are you so certain it’ll be a boy?”
“I think Father’s had his fill of female Daue for a lifetime.”

We both laughed at that.

“We’ll worry about names later,” Astra said as her laughter came to an end. “Anyway, I should get going before the scrambler comes back up. I hope that you’re taking care of your hounds.”

“The hounds are being as well taken care of as this forest allows,” I answered glibly.
“That bad?” She asked.
“Even worse.”

There was a pause then. I knew that Astra wanted to be back out here with us, just as much as I wanted to be back home with her. In that situation, only one thing could really be said:

“Love you, Sis.”
“I love you too, Astra.”

And then the communication link went dead.

I sat silently for a moment after that, filled with the aftershock of Astra’s news. I was going to become an aunt – Astra was going to be a mother! I did not have a shred of doubt that she would be able to pull it off: she had raised me and would only be able to do even better the second time around.

Saurek and Keller both seemed to have absorbed just a bit of my happiness. Although we did not have any fire to keep us warm, that joy was like a flame in itself. It protected us against the biting cold and reminded us of the warmth that waited for us when we returned home. They had as much reason to celebrate as I did – a new member of the Clan Daue was a new family member for all.

“So what’s she naming her?” Keller asked.
“Why do you think it will be a girl?” Saurek’s voice broke in before mine could.
Keller shrugged. “Cadim doesn’t seem like a guy to produce sons.”
“I bet you wouldn’t say that to his face,” Saurek challenged.
“Why not!” Keller scoffed. “There’s nothing wrong with girls!”

As the two of them took to bickering (for at this point I had come to understand it was how they expressed their love for one another), I felt my mind go on a journey. It left my body; it left the soldier whose life was still in my scope; it left the forest and the squads that roamed; it left the war zone and fell upon my home, where Astra and her future child were to be protected and sheltered. For all of the ills in the world: for all of the horrors I had seen and was yet to see, there was a beauty within that concept that banished even the darkest of shadows in its light.

When I returned my attention to the fore I noticed that the soldier was still in range of me. A moment prior I had been willing to kill him to end his suffering, but now I could not help but imagine what he would be missing out on if I did. There would be misery, but there too would be joy. He may have a child on the way – or he may have had several waiting for him back at home.

I switched off my scope and sat up; the frigid air was like a blanket and shifted on me after I moved. No longer was I weighted down by it though: it was just a reminder of my being alive.

There was still more to look forward to in life. I would be able to see Astra’s child be born and perhaps even help raise him or her when their verd’goten came around. I would be able to teach them the things that Astra had shown me, and help them whenever they were in need. I would be a good aunt, because Astra had shown me how to be a good Mandalorian woman.

And then, maybe, one day, I would have my own child. Maybe I would have several! I would be able to teach them as I had been taught, and they would in turn go on to teach their children as well. The options were limitless, because the future was always in motion. It was simple to be bogged down in the pains of the present, but the glowering light of the future was all the more appealing.

I looked over my shoulder and saw that Keller and Saurek were still arguing. I could not help but smile at the sight of them.

We were all in for the fight of our lives, but the struggle was not something we needed to hear. It was the act of struggling that proved we wanted to live: that we were willing to prevail where others had failed. Watching Saurek place Keller in a headlock, I gave off a giggle. It was a sound I had not heard from myself in quite some time, yet as it left me I couldn’t help but do it again.

“You know what I want?” I managed through my giggling.
Saurek looked up from his hold on Keller. “What’s that?”
“Pie.”

Saurek’s groan could not prevent Keller from wrenching himself free and holding up a finger as he began to ramble.
“The funny thing about a pie is, if you divide its circumference…”

Preserver. It felt good to be alive.

Gestahlt's Avatar


Gestahlt
01.17.2012 , 08:44 AM | #20
Chapter Eighteen: The Siege.

There is an aspect of these memoirs that needs to be told; however, I cannot speak of it personally. While we worked our guerilla warfare against the Coalition from the cover of the forest, their forces inevitably made their way toward the stronghold. Although we managed to stall Commander Vexius’ soldiers from adding into the melee, it was General Masaeron’s Hundarii veterans that claimed the initial victories for the Coalition. Fresh and well rested, the Hundarii descended upon the battle-weary Dauen front with an unyielding temerity. In the first few days of combat, we were handed resounding defeats.

This dark period in our history, in which the stalwart champions of Clan Daue were pushed to the brink of extinction, is referred to only as the Siege. While we Mandalorians greatly encourage the retelling of a story, the Siege has become an event so steeped within misery and bloodshed that there are few willing to speak freely of the horrors they experienced. There are those that I could ask, but I am loathe to hear their answers. There are others that I have asked, but they only give me a dark and distant stare.

The Siege was a horrible event, but like all horrors it must be explored if we are to understand the entirety of the Clan Wars.

It took me several years to find someone that would be willing to discuss the Siege with me. Long after it had occurred – long after the Great Clan War had come to its end, I happened across a couple that I had not seen since my childhood. It was rare that I might encounter a member of Clan Daue away from our planet, but as I have come to find as time wanes so too do the nomadic origins of our people return. They were on a quest of their own and in the sea of unfamiliarity it was nice to find someone that I could trust.

The husband and wife, Arestes and Maeda respectively, had been veteran soldiers before the Siege occurred. As former members of Uncle Valgor’s campaign much of the stronghold’s defenses fell on their shoulders. We freely spoke of things leading up to the battle itself, but as it began to approach I could feel them turning away from me and growing cold. Rather than encourage them to shut down completely, I instead accepted when they offered me a dinner at their home. It is very rare, and near heretical, for a Mandalorian to turn down a meal offered by another.

That is one convention I have no problem abiding by.

When we arrived to their home, I found that their youngest child had become a warrior in her own right. Lyth, but a girl when last I saw her, was now nearly four years past her verd’goten. I did not recognize her immediately, but I could see in her eyes a glint of familiarity that played upon my heart. As a family we ate our dinner, the meal far less important than the oneness it represented amongst us. I was fairly certain that if I allowed the chance to pass me that I would never have my glimpse into the Siege and thus my story would forever be incomplete.

So I asked them one final time what had happened during the Siege.

They did not shun me initially. Their faces turned cold and their expressions darkened, but unlike in times past they did not immediately change the subject. When they spoke, it was in a voice detached. I began to understand that the reason why people did not speak of the Siege was because they did not want to be the people that lived through it. Whatever had occurred, it had uniquely broken a part of nearly everyone that encountered it. It was as though they were speaking of an event that happened to someone else, a lifetime ago.

“That was a very blood time,” Arestes began.
Maeda agreed. “The bloodiest that I have ever seen.”

It was a glimpse into what had occurred, but nothing more. I understood their pain and dejection, yet from it I could not properly extract information or details. But to force their hand further – to make them relieve those horrific moments, would be a task far crueler than I was capable of. I relented in my questions and I saw them visibly relax.

“I suppose it does not matter what transpired,” I lied. “You survived it.”
They both gave me a look that spoke for itself: Did we really?

I was invited to stay with them that night and did so out of a lack of desire to sleep in the confines of a ship. The decision was not one I would regret for near midnight I heard a soft knocking on my door. As anyone that has survived a war would have done, the first thing I did was check to ensure that my blaster was nearby and then that its safety was not engaged. There are some scars that we wear but others cannot see – scars that mark us for who we are, even when we wish they did not.

“Come in,” I said.
The door opened.

The anxiety I felt when that door opened was the same as the anxiety I have felt for the entirety of my life. It calls to mind the primordial fear of a rustling bush or a trembling tree. That there is something I cannot see intently focused on me forces a desire for protection that saved me in the Wilds and has nearly cost innocent bystanders their lives on countless occasions. When I saw a hand, palm exposed, appear through the side of the door I knew that the person understood my plight.

I relaxed visibly.

“I’m sorry if I awakened you,” the voice said as its owner slid further into view. The couple’s daughter, Lyth, had been surprisingly quiet throughout the evening. I had seen her give me a few vague glances, but never actually include herself into the story. “I just wanted to talk.”

“A whisper awakens me,” I chuckled. While I am no telepath, over the course of my life I have learned to read a person fairly well. The manner in which she would not meet my eyes – the way that her hand lingered by the door. She was fighting against the desire to tell me something and the fear of doing so. On young men it was pronounced with a forceful tone of voice, but when Lyth spoke she truly did whisper. “Please, come in, sister.”

And so she did. I was quite uncertain what it was this young woman had to tell me, but I knew she greatly wanted to do so. I managed to give her an encouraging smile, and she returned it fleetingly.

“You probably don’t remember me,” she said meekly.
I did not want to admit that she was correct. I was certain I had seen her before, but did not recall ever exchanging words. “Of course I do. We are both survivors – you and I.”
The answer caused her to smile. “Yes, we are.”
“Then why would I not remember you?”
“Because the girl I was is not the woman I have become.”

It was not the first time I had heard that sentiment, nor would it be the last. Just as I had been forged by that war, so too had others been broken in its fires; there were women who would never become mothers for fear of what they had experienced – men that would never become fathers out of shame for what they had done. I did not pass judgment as I heard her speak, though. If I would not recognize her for who she was, then I would have to consider who she had been.

Her black hair and green eyes were familiar, but they did not speak to me of anything in particular. She was paler than most of our clansmen, but that could be accounted for by the fact she did not work on the farms as we had. The sad nature of her smile was not at all like what I had seen before. I had to evade it if I was to recall who she was – I had to look beneath the surface of her pain.

“I was a little girl the first time we met,” she confessed with another of her dry chuckles. “We all looked up to you. When you told us your stories, we lived them through you.”
I should have felt horrified in not remembering the girl, but as she specified that bit of information I immediately had a flash of acuity. “After the Battle of Land’s Bridge?”
“Yes.” Her amazement managed to shine through her dejection. “I remember every word of it – your struggle against the octopus.”

That had been the first story I ever told: a story that I held so dear that it had not been told many times after the first. When she said that, I could not help but think back to the glow of the fire and the warmth that it basked us in that night. There had been a blonde boy with freckles – Qiras, was that his name? He asked more questions than I could answer, but his inquisitiveness kept me alert and focused on the story’s minor details.

“You sat near the boy, Qiras,” I wagered. I could distinctly recall a little girl now, with green eyes and black hair, who clutched a small doll in her hands. Lyth nodded.
She blushed as she spoke, her voice nearly aflutter. “I did. Qiras is one of the Ge’verd Te’raysh, you know.”

I was not at all surprised by the sorrow that I heard on her voice when she said Ge’verd Te’raysh – the Ten Little Warriors. The brutality of the Siege could not be completely understood without mention of them, and while few would speak directly of the Siege, we had all come to learn the names of Ge’verd Te’raysh.

. “Xemona, Zahana, Walara, Fesima, Anara, Codaris, Thorne, Yana, Actim, and Qiras.” Lyth repeated the names without needing to think. She repeated the names as though they were spoken through her by their previous owners. The sadness that was on her face made perfect sense to me then. As with all those who had survived a tragedy, the young woman’s guilt for prevailing where her friends did not was oppressive.

I patted the bed beside me and she slowly made her way over. When she sat down, I placed my hand on the back of hers. “It isn’t your fault,” I told her. “You survived – your friends would be proud of you.”
Although I cannot be certain of it, I believe they were words she had never heard. She turned to me and gave me a hug, and I returned the gesture readily.

“You wanted to hear their story – our story,” she said to me in a whisper. “I’ve never told it before, because no one has ever wanted to hear it… but I believe that if I do, then they will be remembered and honored.”

The strain in her voice was so great that I could only pat her on her back until she had recovered herself somewhat. Once she did, I allowed her to depart from the embrace and looked comfortingly to her. “You needn’t speak of it if you do not wish to. In all of my travels, none have been capable of doing so.”

But she did not accept the honorable out I had given her. Lyth, for all of her supposed weakness, was a stronger woman than she gave herself credit for. “Xemona, Zahana, Walara, Fesima, Anara, Codaris, Thorne, Yana, Actim, and Qiras,” she said to me once more.

“I want to tell you my story, big sister. I want you to know who we are.”

And so I listened.
This, she informed me, was the story of the Siege.

_____________________________________


At first, we did not know what was happening. We were all playing outside – something that our mothers hated, but never stopped us from doing. Our verd’goten were so far away then that it didn’t make sense to make us train, and as the world was already a dark enough place I guess they didn’t see a reason to keep us from having a little bit of fun. So yes, we were outside when it began. And when it did, we didn’t really know how to respond.

The ground was moving. It wasn’t like an earthquake, which I had experienced once before. No, it was like the ground was moving because the air told it to. We had survived through bombing runs already. Your father’s decision to build bunkers and trenches saved us countless times from those. And then there were Keller’s turrets, do you remember those? They had a little chime on them whenever they picked up the approaching sound of a speeder. We used to sing a song to them. In fact, we were singing it when the ground started to shake:

Here they come, once again
Airspeeders, zooming in.
Turrets go boom, they go boom.
I sure hope this is over soon!


Hah, morbid wasn’t it? But that was the world we knew. I think that our happiness actually gave our parents something to look forward to: if we could find a way to enjoy our lives, then so could they.

When the shaking started, I thought that the turrets had forgotten to turn on, but they never had – and never would. So I ran to my mother and she told me to go inside. I normally would have disregarded what she said, but when she spoke to me I could see it in her eyes that she meant it. I ran hurriedly back to our house and hid inside of it. My mother was close behind me, but half way to the house she stopped and looked out over the distance.

Captain Setarin was shouting at Adagar and Adagar was moving as fast as he could. You knew how Captain Setarin’s voice was – so bitter, yet loud. He was cursing up a storm for Adagar to move faster, and that poor boy was moving as fast as he could! Once Adagar climbed to the top of the tree and looked over the side of our walls and then shouted something back down. After he did, I saw my mother’s face turn white. She ran back to our home.

“Stay put,” she commanded. I didn’t dare disobey her.
“What’s wrong, mom?” I asked.
“They’re here.”

I know that you guys were fighting out in the Wilds then. You held Vexius’ men at bay, right? Whenever we heard how you had managed to chase him off, we cheered! I really did want to be like you – you were so like us, and yet not. But even though you gave it your all, what could you really do to stop the storm? Yes, you prevented it from coming at us full force, but it was only a matter of time before they showed up.

My mom and dad were armed and ready to defend the fortress before I had time to ask them what I should do. Your father was already prepared as well – Old Decimus, what a man he was. When he walked we all knew that we were safe, and together with Captains Setarin, Holgar, and Aden he led the soldiers out into the field. I was just about to go out after them my dad turned to me.

“Stay here,” he said.
“I want to go with you,” I answered.

He shook his head at me. “You’re not yet a warrior.”
“But I can fight!”
“Then defend our home.”

I took that order with pride. I understand now that he didn’t expect the fighting to go the way that it did, and that the thought of protecting our homes was not quite as realistic as it would later become. When he left, I stood on a crate and looked out the window as he moved. I saw them all vanish out the gate then. They were going to beat back those Coalie bastards and make sure they didn’t ever show their faces again!

I heard the fighting – we all did. It was distant at first, but it became closer as time went on. I wanted nothing more than to see what was happening, but as a soldier I had been given my post. I had to protect our home, no matter the cost! So I stood on that crate and continued to watch for them to appear again. That was when I heard the sirens and this time, there was no song accompanying them.

The ground where we had previously been playing was sent into the sky when a bomb struck it. I had seen explosives before, but when they had gone off I always had someone to share my giddy giggling with. Something about that day told me that there was no reason to be giddy or giggling. The air felt darker; the wind colder. I didn’t want to sing anymore – I didn’t want to dance in the bunkers. I just wanted my parents to come home as quickly as they could.

I saw something in the distance that I had forgotten when I was rushed inside; something that I was never without. The doll that my mother had made for me when I was a child sat on the ground that I dropped her. I knew that I had to protect the house, but I was also certain that if I left her she’d be hurt.

It’s weird to think of, but that was the first time I really had to make an adult decision. Would I follow orders or would I follow my code? I couldn’t leave behind anyone, and to me that doll was as much a Mandalorian as any friend I had at the time. So I made an executive decision – or as an executive a decision as a kid can make – and sprang out the window and ran for my doll.

I hadn’t taken more than twenty steps away from my house when I heard the most ear-piercing sound in the world. The world was really quiet after it, and then there was a flash of heat. I turned around and saw that the house I had been ordered to protect – the home that I had come to call my own, was now smoldering in flames from an airspeeder’s payload. I did not know if I should be thankful for what had occurred or if it was my fault for leaving the building, but I knew I had to get my doll now before anything bad happened to her.

I snatched her up as another airspeeder approached. The turrets were firing off a hundred shots a second, but the Coalies were bolder than usual. All around us there were fires and that sound of screaming in the distance only grew louder. I looked down at my doll and suddenly realized I had no idea where to go. She was missing an eye and a leg, but at least she wasn’t dead, right?

That was when I felt something hit me. Hard. So hard in fact that I was thrown from the ground. I didn’t know what to think at first, but when I looked up I saw your sister looming over me. Astra gave me a look to see if I was okay, and then she snatched me up just as I had my doll. One of the turrets struck an airspeeder and it exploded against the other side of the wall. Astra shielded me with her body and then carried me without slowing to the bunker.

“Your friends are inside,” she told me. “Stay here!”

So I did. This time, I knew I had to.

We all looked up to your sister then. She never looked like she didn’t know what to do – never stopped for a second to think because she always had a plan. She told us not to look out of the widows and to keep our heads down. Without waiting to see if we complied she ran back out into the village. I know that she was looking for more people to pull into the bunker.

There were a lot of us in the bunker. Most of the adults had gone out into the field, but there were some that stayed behind. Doctor Renasin was there; he looked much less composed than Astra. I don’t think that he was scared; I just think he wanted to be out there, but he made sure that we didn’t abandon our position as I had in our house.

I hugged my doll to my body and waited for the fighting to end, but it kept going. Even after Astra brought more people into the bunker, there was no sign that it would ever stop. I looked to one of the newly arrived boys – Qiras, the one you mentioned earlier. He was four years shy of his verd’goten then, but he already thought he was a warrior.

“I want to go out there with you,” he told Astra.
She didn’t bother to humor him. “No.”
“But I’m almost a warrior,” he told her.
“Not if you’re dead.”

That was the first time that we considered that we might die. As children we believed ourselves in a world apart from the war and the warriors. We thought the bombs were meant to scare us, not kill us. But when Astra said that, the shield of invincibility died away. I cried – I know others did too.

“We’ll need you all to grow strong and avenge us if we die,” Astra said after we started bawling. Of course, the logic in it worked. Odd thing that revenge is – it’s horrible to consider, but if anyone is to get it you want to make sure it’s your finger that catches the Hutt-loving bastard that took away your loved ones. So we huddled together in the bunker and we waited for the fighting to die down.

I fell asleep with my doll in my arms.

When I woke up, my mother had me in her arms. I saw tears in her eyes and asked her what was wrong, but she only shushed me and told me that it was all fine. I was worried that my dad had been hurt, but later I saw him helping the wounded back into the village.

We had lost a lot of men that day: nearly half of those that went out into the field didn’t make it back. There were some children that lost both of their parents – I was lucky enough to have mine with me.

Your father was dragging Captain Holgar in when we left the bunker. Mom told me to stay outside, so I did. I peeked into the doorway and saw that they were trying to rescue Holgar, but it was no good. The Hundarii blasters had torn him to pieces, and the mess of a man that was left wasn’t going to be rescued. Your dad had to pull Doc Renasin off of Holgar when he wouldn’t revive. We all said a prayer.

But there was more to the deaths than just fathers and sons. Brothers and sisters also died. Qiras, who had been so eager to go out into the field, lost both of his siblings to the Coalie offensive. It was the first time that we had experienced a defeat and it was a terrifying thing. I suppose we could call it a victory – those lives lost bought us another day to survive, but it was no simple task. Those that came back were all covered in blood, and I heard Old Decimus telling Captain Aden to prepare the turrets on the walls.

The Coalition had never been close enough to use them before. I knew this was bad.

I remember going to sleep in silence and waking up to the sound of battle. The second day of the Siege looked like it would be just as gruesome as the first. Instead of meeting them in the field, this time Old Decimus said we should wait for them to tear themselves apart on our defenses. I could hear the explosives going off and the turrets firing at wild, but the fact those two things never ended told me just how many of them there were out there. By noon, they had made their way to our walls and the soldiers were ordered back into the field.

Astra stayed with us and this time, she didn’t have to leave us to find survivors. She told us stories of her childhood to pass the time, but each time a bomb went off I knew she was wondering whether or not our position would be overtaken. Night was approaching when the fighting began to wane, but didn’t die out just yet. As the others were enthralled with a story I took my doll and snuck up the stairs to see what was happening outside.

The fighting was inside of our base – worse yet, it had become it. There were fires wavering in the wind and smoke billowed from each patch of flames. Where the enemy had broken through our walls, we had taken to patching up the holes by adding their bodies to it. But even with all the bodies being stacked as they were, there were still more on the ground. I didn’t want to look at the faces, because I knew that I would know them, but I was afraid that if I didn’t I wouldn’t see my parents again.

I could see vermin moving over the dead bodies, eating what they could. I wanted to vomit but I had not eaten all day, so there was nothing to give. I began to pull back into the bunker when I noticed something familiar on the ground.

I shouted for my mommy, but she didn’t get up. I shouted for my daddy, but he didn’t move either.

Before I could call out to them again, Astra pulled me back into the bunker. I turned to her and cried. I didn’t want to think of my parents being dead – I didn’t want to see the way those rats were eating them.

When the third day came, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to believe that I had been dreaming and my parents were alright, but they did not return for me. I cried and I cried.

The Coalition had been driven back enough to give us a time to recover but there was little that we could do. While Old Decimus fought in the fields, Astra commanded us at home. I believe that your sister’s presence was all that kept the men fighting. If they had to look back to their children they would not have been able to fight as mightily as they did, but in knowing that she would protect us – well, they gave it their all.

I heard that the fighting on the third day was just as bad as the second, but I couldn’t find it in myself to care. I wanted my mom and my dad and neither were ever going to come back to me. Even though he always said he was too big to hang out with kids like me, Qiras gave me a hug and I gave him one back. I didn’t let him go for the remainder of the day and he didn’t seem to mind.

But it was that night that we found out just how badly the Coalition wanted their victory. I didn’t know what was happening to me until I felt my leg being pulled. As with most of the orphans I had been placed in the main room of the home to prevent us from feeling alone. So when the Coalition’s soldiers snuck into our base at night, I was one of the first people that they saw. I screamed and fought back as the Hundarii tried to take me away, but I was too small to stop him.

That was when Qiras and Actim moved in to action. They threw themselves on the Hundarii, little champions that knew they had to protect their sister. I managed to get away from the soldier, but when I did he turned and shot Actim. The moment that Actim went down, Astra and the others came out of the bunker, but by then it was too late. Qiras was shot just as Actim had been, and the Hundarii retreated into the darkness.

While I had been lucky enough to escape being taken, there were others that had not been so fortunate. Throughout the night we heard their screams of terror as the Hundarii attempted to draw us out and into the trap they had waiting. I tried to cover my ears, but I couldn’t forget the looks on the faces of those I had seen killed – nor could I stop hearing the sounds of blasters.

Old Decimus kept everyone inside the gates though and had extra guards posted to make sure no one else made it in or out. He said that if we went out into their trap we’d only be sacrificing those that had not been taken. That night was the worst of them all – it was the night that broke many of us. Having to hear their sorrowful cries, or their gasps until finally they were quiet. The Ge’verd Te’raysh were born on that day.

Xemona, Zahana, Walara, Fesima, Anara, Codaris, Thorne, Yana, Actim, and Qiras.
Xemona, Zahana, Walara, Fesima, Anara, Codaris, Thorne, Yana, Actim, and Qiras.

My friends. My family. Taken into the night and never seen again.

The fourth day, they didn’t come back quite as strong as they had before. We were all tired from staying up that night, but when they could have landed their killing blow they did not. It turns out that you Kathhounds were out there making quite a mess, huh? Oya, when we found out that the Hundarii were getting their hindparts handed to them from the Wilds, we knew that we had at least a glimmer of hope. And you know, that’s all a person really needs to go on.

After that, the fighting became infrequent. While they hunted you guys down, Old Decimus made certain that the wounded were treated and the dead accounted for. I saw my mom and dad for the last time that day, being buried along with all the others that had died. The smell of death was strong then, because we did not bother to take down the Hundarii corpses. They were festering while our loved ones were given the sweet resting place of good soil.

That day I was adopted by my mom and dad – the two you saw out there. There were so many families that were broken then, it only made sense that new ones be formed. Sons without fathers. Daughters without mothers. We were forged anew from that. I may not have become the woman I was meant to be, but they made certain that I didn’t stop trying to live.

But the battle was not over. When you guys finally had to give up the fight, we were left with the very real fact that the Hundarii weren’t going to give up without giving us everything they had. And so they did.

We could all see the fighting this time – I refused to hide in a bunker any longer. If we were going to die, then I wanted to die seeing Mandalorians fight the way that they knew how. Old Decimus took his men into the field and Astra commanded the few that stayed behind. The fighting was so intense – I don’t think a second went by when there wasn’t blaster fire. They kept fighting and took down our turrets: they kept fighting and burned down our walls. I was so afraid, but I knew if I looked away then everyone I loved would die.

I saw Astra kill three men that day without having to look. I saw Adagar get sniped from the top of his tree and go plummeting to the ground. I saw men and women give their lives to prevent the Hundarii from breaching our village. I saw Old Decimus fighting with everything he had to keep their tide back. I saw brothers die for brothers; sons sacrifice themselves for their fathers. The more that we pushed back, the more the Hundarii approached. We may have taken five of them for every one of us, but we were dwindling.

They started to pull back slowly. We kept chasing them. When finally they had been pushed out of the village the soldiers gave chase. Your father was at the lead, firing with everything he had as they moved away. They had made it no further than the outside of the village when from their ranks emerged something that we had never before seen.

General Masaeron.

I didn’t know what to call him at the time other than a monster. He was bigger than any man I had ever seen before – bigger than anything I could imagine. He looked so smug as he stared down at your father, who was a large man in his own right.

Mandallian Giants, they call his people. Big. Green. Evil. I couldn’t think of anything in the world that could stop that monster, but as he approached your father he did not back down.

We climbed trees, scaled walls, or sat over the dead Hundarii to get a better view of what was to follow. I could feel Astra’s tension as your father stared down that monster of a man, for what daughter wouldn’t have been afraid? We all saw Old Decimus as our leader and we didn’t know how he would be able to defeat that thing.

General Masaeron charged your father. Your father charged right back at him. It was like seeing the moon fight the ocean – two forces of nature that couldn’t be stopped so long as they held to their element. General Masaeron was a powerful fighter – you know, the kind that looks to end a fight with a single blow. Your dad on the other hand was swift and used his training to land hits that may not have been as damaging, but added up.

Back and forth they went, man against man. We kept expecting to see Old Decimus fall in the middle of the field, but as he fought we felt that glimmer of hope returning. He should have been defeated in two minutes – in three minutes – in four! But he kept fighting. We started to count their engagements in rounds then. I had never before seen such determination or power in a fight. Your father would not give up, no matter how hard Masaeron hit him – and Masaeron would not stop swinging no matter how much your father withstood.

One round became three – three rounds became nine. By the sixteenth round we did not know how your father could keep moving, but he dug in deeper than ever and did just that. It was like the very land upon which he stood refused to let him fall and so he had to keep moving. For everything that Masaeron offered, your father had an answer.

There came a point when Masaeron realized the fight was not going his way. He threw a flash grenade at your father, but in doing so left himself open. I don’t know how he did it – I don’t know how your father was able to pull through it, but I’ll be damned if Old Decimus didn’t strike that filthy Hundarii bastard down. It must have been a blow that could shatter stone, because it brought Masaeron down like a rockslide.

And then there was silence. Then there was a pause. The Hundarii had placed all of their hopes in General Masaeron. To see him defeated was too much for them. One by one the Hundarii tanks began to pull away from our walls. They retreated back into the forest.

We cheered as they ran away. Astra ran out to your dad – we all did. It had taken everything he had to defeat that Hundarii bastard, but in the end he had won. They had taken many lives with them – shattered many families. Great men fell those eight, harrowing days.

But our clan did not fall.
Clan Daue did not fall.

And that, big sister, was the Siege.