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Author Topic: Tales from Camp Veshkgalaar  (Read 546 times)

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Offline Noth

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Tales from Camp Veshkgalaar
« on: 02/15/18, 08:48:30 AM »
(( Same deal as my new Imperial story thread, this one for my Mandos. I'm not the only one with Veshkgalaar toons out there, so @Dassalya and @Niarra if you want to post here feel free. This story is a repost from my main story thread. ))

The banquet of spiced and even-more-spiced foods leftover from the feast were packed into crates, and a fancy bottle of tihaar was left outside of Ange's office with a scrawled note of thanks in Urziya's hand. Veshkgalaar had enough food and drink now to last them a few weeks, even if the aruetii had not appreciated the food. Made up for their clan being the only true Mando'ade at the festival, Urziya reasoned... more leftovers, and it'd make Erran happy. Credits well spent, and less risk for the clan as they prepared to move to a new home.

Adeliey and Erran had both vanished by the time she returned to the balcony. They were also nowhere in sight when walking back to the camp. It didn't take much to put two and two together, especially after Adeliey asking her permission to make a pass at him. They had left together. Part of that made her feel content--Adeliey was happy, Erran would be wound a bit less tight, the clan would be closer to one another--but another part of it... felt confusing and upsetting in a way she couldn't quite place.

She marched up the ramp to her ship in a state of determination, shutting it behind her once inside. It wasn't that she was jealous, not of either of them anyway. Her clanmates were happy... She cared about her clanmates... She wanted them to be happy. Of all Veshkgalaar Aliit, she cared about Adeliey and Erran the most; if they were content, so was she, at least in theory. In fact... In fact it hurt, even if she wanted it not to. Why?

She sighed as she flopped down into the pilot's chair, not bothering to lose her armor just yet. She had been on her feet most of the evening, telling stories, wandering between tables, keeping herself cheerful and kind even when the evening's theme lent itself to grimness.  It was exhausting--but somehow having to think about this was even moreso.

Everything about telling Adeliey 'yes' made perfect sense. There was no reason to get in the way of her clanmate's happiness. She didn't know how she felt about Erran, exactly, not enough to get possessive of him. And Erran had told her to learn what was in her heart. He had meant about her fear of cowardice... but she felt like it applied here too. She had to know what was in her heart, and saying 'yes' meant time to do that. Time to think. Time to figure it out.

So figure it out, she thought, looking up at the transparisteel viewport.

She could just see the stars through the red fog of Nar Shaddaa. Stars like the old kings. Stars like windows to manda. Stars like the untraceable, aching hurt that was people who were gone and lights just out of reach. Erran 'thought the world' of Urziya, Adeliey said. 'Looked at her like she was stars.' And that... that was confusing enough as it is. That hurt enough as it was. It didn't hurt quite as much as catching only glimpses of an Erran that was open and honest, who laughed and swore and talked about his mind.

Maybe that was her wishing he was more like her, and maybe that wasn't fair to Erran. Or maybe it was like Hark had said, a while back, when she asked him about the Sith he'd left the Jedi for... that you know you love someone when you want to know what they're thinking, want to be part of their own inner world. She knew she cared about Erran, but was it enough? Did it match what he saw, the quiet affirmation that she was 'born to be alor'? What did that even mean?! It gave her headaches trying to imagine.

"Tion'jor cuyir ibic bid umaan, buir1?" she mumbled, slumping down in her seat with her boots on the dash, frowning at the stars. She was a good fighter. She cared about her clan. That did not make her alor material. For the almost innumerable time tonight, she felt an ache as she wished her mother were here.

What would she say, anyway? How would Kalada Veshkgalaar advise her daughter? She would say she admired Eshok. That his strength shone out among others, even if it was only apparent to her. That her daughter would know when she was in love. That was Kalada's way. Understated, unless she was fighting. Her mother came alive in a pilot's chair; stayed quietly fierce on the hunt; and adopted Mandalorian grimness, Veshkgalaar ceremoniality, outside of it. It was only because she had flown with her mother so often that she had learned to tackle life with the enthusiasm she did. Why was Erran somehow the exception to that? Normally, Urziya knew exactly what she thought and what she felt... and she had no reservations about moving forward.

She did know that when Erran did not shout from the rooftops that he was a genius, she wanted to punch something. Perhaps it was her unofficial role as clan storyteller, perhaps it was because she cared too much, but if Erran saw her as destined to be a chieftain... He hovered in her mind somewhere between legendary smith and discoverer of fire. This quiet, unassuming quartermaster who reverse-engineered basilisk droids in his spare time and seemed to work magic to her poor understanding of computers. He was indispensible, and the fact that he didn't brag about it, didn't see that it made him special, mystified her. That wasn't something Erran cared about. But it was something she did. So it had to mean something, something about how she felt... right?

And then there was Adeliey. And Adeliey made things about a thousand times more confusing. Erran, she had known since she was small. For as long as Urziya remembered, there had been Erran, tinkering with his machines, building computers, weathering all her questions about how things worked and what he was doing. Adeliey was new. She had only been with the clan for a matter of months, and yet... And yet she knew she would move mountains for either of them. Urziya had more or less sworn to Adeliey earlier tonight that she would remember Adeliey's family as if they were her own--that the dead of Adeliey were the dead of her clan, too. Her house. Her family. And that didn't make sense, if it was only honor. It didn't make sense that this woman who had found her way back to clan and Veshkgalaar's karyai was already so important to her... as much as Erran was.

And she was alor'ad. And two people couldn't be more important than all the clan. Even if they were. Even if the thought of them leaving together made her feel horribly, illogically alone.

And that was it, wasn't it? The hurt. It was not jealousy. It was not sadness. Wasn't even anxiety that Erran would look at her differently, though the undercurrent was there. It was that she missed them both.

Somehow, that was worse.

Adeliey's world--the one where people just loved, without attachments or expectations--that was entirely foreign to her, even with the years spent on Nar Shaddaa. Love was marriage and family and children and clan... it was simple. Erran and Adeliey made things not simple. But what were either of them, if not her family? The only family she had left, except for Terrnock and the rest of the clan? She was spinning her wheels trying to explain why they were different, justify why these two were more important than everyone else, trying not to accept the simplest answer.

'People aren't simple,' Erran said. Maybe he was right.

Urziya made a pained, whining sound at nothing, slumping deeper into her seat, then closed her eyes to think. Her parents were gone. Her aunts and uncles were gone. Terr's only love was his clan and his wartable. Adeliey knew how to comprehend feelings, but Adeliey was... part of this. Hark's grasp on Mandalorian culture was lacking, at best. Who did she know who--

Her eyes drifted to the small crewman's room off the main hallway, still bare and now empty, where Iirim had spent the previous few years with his minimal backpack and his malfunctioning, endearing junkpile of a droid. Iirim would know, she thought. Iirim of all people would understand this... He was family too, even if it was different for him, different from clan; even if he could not follow through on what he understood, with him and Bren, now that he was Jedi again. He would know what to do with the feelings that made no sense.

She dropped her feet from the dashboard and reached for the holotransmitter.

1: "Why is this so difficult, mother?"
The Jedi: Bren (Archaeologist), Iirim (Healer), Zorru (Recruiter), Orans (Master), Aybekk (Padawan)
The Politicians: Varooth (Senator), Seirion (Aide/Spy), Ayrak (King)
The Mandos: Urziya (Rallymaster), Terr (Chieftain)
The Outlaws: Telen (Slicer), Majia (Pirate/Smuggler)
The Imperials: Athuuna (Agent), Zhekrazh (Lord), Z'ridia (Apprentice)

Offline Noth

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Re: Tales from Camp Veshkgalaar
« Reply #1 on: 02/15/18, 10:29:26 AM »
(( Thanks @Teska for the RP preceding this! Also paging @SivWysan because this ties into your plot a little bit and @Seraphie and @Lolermelon because of character cameos! ))

Urziya waited for her ship to be out of Rishi's orbit to boot up her communications. You could never be too safe with Rishi, with all of the people listening in to make a profit off of, and Terr was for some reason insisting that she keep their conversations out of the public eye. It was one of the things worrying her about him. Between the long periods of time spent at his forge, the sudden greenlighting of her Mare'cye'tuur hunt after emphatically making her postpone it, and his new insistence on secrecy, she knew something was wrong--for him or for the clan. Were they a careful and cautious people? Yes, they were. Was this a usual amount of caution for her cousin? Not particularly. Terr was quiet, focused, not paranoid. He rarely did anything without purpose. If he was insisting on keeping something under wraps, he almost certainly had a good reason for it.

She signalled a communication on his frequency, then sat back to wait for a reply back as it went through several layers of scrambling.

After a moment's pause, he appeared on the holo, looking deceptively small in the crackling image. He looked at her expectantly. "Urziya."

"Heya, alor. I have good news, okay news, better news, great news, and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?"

She saw his mouth crinkle as he folded his arms quietly. Annoyance, or impatience? Maybe both.

She took a breath and continued on. "Bad news first... Only got about half the meds and things you can make into meds off the list. Stores are short across the galaxy. Heard a story the Sith and Jetii are grabbing them up for their war efforts."

"Makes sense," he said, a note of gruffness under his voice. "What we expected. If you got any that'll be good."

She grinned. "That's the good news. I got most everything else off the list, and the other half of those meds. Even picked up some sprigs for Wapun's garden. That'll make the medics happy, yeah?"

He nodded. "How much did it cost?"

Her grin grew wider. "That's the better news. A friend covered the expenses."

Terr frowned, narrowing his eyes. "A friend."

"Relax. It's just Taelios."

"I'm not sure how that is the good news."

She frowned back. "We can trust him bevr1." She thought about that, then frowned a little deeper. "I mean... He's sweet on me, I think? So it's fine."

"It's fine?" he repeated, then shook his head. The faintest hint of a smile crunched the corners of his eyes and mouth, along with a single reek-like snort. "Okay. You had two more pieces of news?"

She hummed. "Yeah, the great news and the okay news. I'm not sure which is which, so I'll just go ahead and give you both of them... I got your guns. Well, maybe. Met an armstech who said she has sniper rifles that will punch through tanks. Saw her personal piece. I'm willing to give it a shot. You should have her contact information already."

He blinked, then his image wobbled as he picked up his holocomm, checking the screen for any new contacts. He went still a moment as he read, then wobbled again as he set it down. He looked at her more directly. "I would say that is the great news. Why maybe?"

"Said it might take up to a Standard month, but I think I cut a deal to get us a shorter time and a steep discount."

His eyes narrowed even more. "Ziya, what did you do?"

"I haven't done anything... yet."


She folded her arms with a sigh. "I said I'd help run them. And... maybe a few other things." She looked up, out the viewport. "Said she'd keep in touch, that there's some Ord in Hutt Space. And I've been scouting out the Spice Triangle, so..."

"You've been what?" Terr's frown deepened. "Why?"

"To fly it, obviously."

He didn't respond to that, exactly, just made a gutteral, frustrated growl. She winced and explained quickly:

"You said it yourself. We need medical supplies, along with a whole lot of other things. Not having to deal with runners cuts out a lot of credits and risk--"

"--and puts you in danger! What do you think will happen, with your ship, if you try the Corellian Run? You think they will just tolerate it? Or did you strip all the clan emblems from the hull since I last checked?"

"I can paint--"

"And the Triellius Route? What did I tell you?"

"Nobody in Hutt Space learns the details of our armory," she grumbled lowly.

"Nobody in Hutt Space learns the details of our armory. Rangir!" He rubbed his forehead, then wobbled against as he picked up the holocomm, beginning to walk. "Wait a moment." The corner of a tent flap flashed through the blue-streaked image, falling behind him, and he sat again. "Is this what you've been so focused on in the Abrion Sector, hm? Trying to learn the way between Roon and Ryloth, listening in to spice traders?"

"It's really not as bad as you're making it out to be..."

"Is it not? To say the Death Wind Corridor is suicidal is understating it. But you want to fly it."

"Slavers and spice runners fly it all the time."

"They're part of the danger, ner'vod." Terr glowered and wave a hand near his head. "What are you thinking?"

"That I can fly for the clan again! That our ancestors flew that route once! You think I can't do what some ancient Taung in a rusted out archaic starship did thousands of years ago?" She frowned and picked up her datapad, waving it at his holo-image. "I've got maps, star charts, stuff from the old songs. I'm better than the spice traders."

"I don't want to lose you again!" he said, far, far too loudly. He turned his head, as if startled by the volume of his own voice, then leaned closer to the comm and pointed at it. "I cannot lose you again. If you do this, you take someone with you. Someone to fly your six."


"I am not arguing with you about this. It is an order. Do you understand, ner'alor'ad2?"

She frowned, going quiet.

"Do you understand?" he repeated.

"Elek, alor,3" she said quietly.

"Good." He leaned back, then sighed. "Good. That's good. You do this right. If you do this, you follow procedure." He squinted at her. "Gar suvarir?"4

"I got it, yeah." She kicked her boot against the bottom of the ship's controls, frowning as she thought this over. "But you answer something for me first."

He grunted affirmatively.

Figuring that was the best answer she was going to get, she continued, "Why did you promote me? Because I swear you act more like my parent than my chieftain sometimes." She shook her head. "I have the authority to decide my own missions."

He watched her quietly a moment, then began quietly, "I made you my captain because you have a way with people that I don't have, because you rallied our clan and led us to victory when I led us to retreat. And because I trust you." He paused, then smirked and said with more volume, "And I am the eldest of your bui'tsad5, so, technically, I'm the closest thing you've got. And authority does not mean independence. When you can let your family hold you up the same way you try to hold us up, you won't have to ask me that question. Pick your wingman, come back to camp, and we'll talk about this again."

"Sure." She sighed, sitting straight again, and looking into the holo. "... So who's holding you up, Terr?"

"Back to camp. Alor dayn."6

She let out a huff of breath. "Ziya ven'nar."7

Terr's image flickered out, leaving her to dwell on the conversation. Not exactly the enlightening conversation she had hoped for, but he said they would talk at camp. That was a start. Sighing as she sat back in her chair, she keyed in the coordinates for their current home base. Maybe when she got there, she could ask him what the super secret rifles were for...

1: cousin
2: my captain
3: yes, chief
4: You understand?
5: parent group/blood family
6: Chieftain out
7: short for ven'narir "will do" - made this up to have a Mando'a version of wilco since I couldn't find one
The Jedi: Bren (Archaeologist), Iirim (Healer), Zorru (Recruiter), Orans (Master), Aybekk (Padawan)
The Politicians: Varooth (Senator), Seirion (Aide/Spy), Ayrak (King)
The Mandos: Urziya (Rallymaster), Terr (Chieftain)
The Outlaws: Telen (Slicer), Majia (Pirate/Smuggler)
The Imperials: Athuuna (Agent), Zhekrazh (Lord), Z'ridia (Apprentice)

Offline Noth

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Re: Tales from Camp Veshkgalaar
« Reply #2 on: 02/21/18, 05:10:22 PM »
(( I made up a bunch of Mando'a military abbreviations out of frustration at all the canon ones being like five words long. This one's a double effort from both me and @Mei. Thanks for being such an awesome co-writer and the fun realization this is how these two met! The editing is a little inconsistent, but that's what I get for working on this over several days. ))

12 years ago...

The cold wasteland of Hoth made a good place to test oneself against the elements--or, as fate would have it today, the forces of the Republic. Both were reasons for the clan to be here. Veskhgalaar were hunters, pilots, and survivors of the wild... something both Mandalore and the Empire knew. An icy starship graveyard filled with wild beasts, then, was the perfect place to deploy. At least, that was the theory.

Terr's comm unit, wired into the extra space in his helmet which accounted for his montrals, buzzed to life: "Got a sight on their convoy, alor'ad. Five walkers, looks like only a squad protecting them."

He touched the side of his helmet. "Bait," he replied immediately. "Their al'verde is smarter than that. Recon their route and get back here"

"Can do. See you in an hour. Tayl dayn."1

The comm crackled off, leaving him to survey the group they had. General Gung'Chul Areum had been luring them out and blasting them up for the past few days, leaving Terr with a fresh group of warriors to lead through the wasteland while the others recovered in a medic's tent. He wasn't about to lead them into an obvious trap, no matter how badly he wanted to cut down on the persistent General's vehicle resources. Especially not with the skinny flash of orange armor among the group. Deciding to trust the scout's assessment of an hour, he made his way towards his young cousin, switching his comms over to a direct channel.

"How you doing, Verd'ika?" he said, stopping to put a hand on her shoulder.

She looked up suddenly, as if startled. "Huh? Oh... Hi Terr." She tapped the spiked 'ear' of her armor. "My montrals are freezing off. Need more padding in here. Rather be flying."

He nodded. "New paint?"

"What? Oh yeah." She tilted her head and gestured across the bright orange armor. He could practically feel her grinning. "Shereshoy!"

"Uhuh." She was much too excited about this. He tapped her pauldron with a fist. "Don't get used to it. You're painting it again. White and pale blue."

"No! C'mon..."

"Ice colors. Or you really will be living like it's your last day."

"I'll kill a wampa and make a cloak."

He sighed, folding his arms. Had he been like this as a teenager? Throwing his lot up against a wampa did sound like him. Maybe not the bright orange. If only Kalada could've encouraged some of her cool-headedness in her daughter. "You're not behind a steering console today. Live cautiously so that you get to live."

"You... are no fun." She slouched a little. "Who's got the paint?"

"Duini. Over by the supplies tent. Your tech-head friend's there too." He pointed. "And you stay behind me, lek?"

"Yeah, yeah..." She started walking, sticking her thumbs into the loops of her gunbelt. "I'm painting it again after we get off this rock."

"Paint. Go." He pointed again. "Grumble when we're all drinking after, alive."

He saw a brightly colored gauntlet wave over her shoulder as she disappeared into the munitions tent. Taking Urziya down here sat badly with him, but they needed the manpower. Even manpower in new, shiny armor she barely filled out. Not that she thought so. Hit and run clearing out snow beasts and scattered Republic troops had given her a jolt of confidence on the ground, and she already had the swagger and recklessness of an experienced pilot. But this Areum wasn't going to go down with hit and run forever. Her friend, Erran, was barely older. He needed hardened warriors. Not the children of his clan with armor just a few years old... But it wasn't his call.

This was worry. There would be time for that later. He tapped his comm, opening up the channels to the scout again. "Terr again. Mevtigar."2

Back at the Republic base, Corporal Rosh Leina stared at their recon holos. Some clan of Mandos had been giving them a run for their credits recently... Which mean they'd called in some hot-shot general to help out. She was meant to deliver all they had on them to the man, and that meant reviewing it, organizing it. Gave her some time to relive the past few days in unpleasant detail.

At least half the clan were something with non-humanoid skulls. Togruta, maybe, or Chagrian. Their helmets reminded her of a pack of Ice Trompers or stalking Whitefangs with their ears pricked. Most of them had painted their armor white and blue, too. It made it hard to tell what was a Mando and what was an animal until they were shooting at you. But their ships... Those were easy to spot. Not that it mattered. This clan had an annoyingly good squadron of pilots, who liked to lay down air cover while their ground forces struck hard before disappearing into the snowdrifts. These "hawks" were adding Republic shuttles and low-atmo gunships to the corpses of hulls dotting the frozen landscape at an alarming rate. General Areum already had them switch to walker convoys, but she had a feeling it was only a matter of time before they divebombed those too.

When the middle-aged human walked in, Leina straightened and saluted. "General. Corporal Leina here. Was told to hand over all our intel to you when you got here." She offered him her datapad with a stiff motion.

General Areum gave a sharp nod to Leina, taking the folder. “Thank you, Corporal,” he said, opening the file as he walked to the front of the room. All eyes fell on him as he paced back and forth, quietly reviewing, silently analyzing. “They are impressive,” he finally said, looking up at the other.

Leina nodded, though not sure she would call their enemy impressive... “Yes, sir.”

Areum set the folder down and leaned on the console. He observed the display a moment, his thoughts processing. “They use the elements…” he mused. “They are one with their surroundings,” he continued, pressing himself off the console and pacing again. “They have made this insufferable rock their own while we are trying to put machines in the field.”

Gung’chul Areum was old fashioned. He knew, from experience, that technology can and will fail you. What they needed was to match the raw combative skills of these Togruta Mandalorians.

He turned to the Corporal. “Have you ever been to Shili?”

“No, sir.”

“It's beautiful. Colorful, but the beasts there are…” he gave a slight chuckle and shook his head. “Massive. Huge. It's why the Togruta have a natural camouflage. It's in their genetic makeup to blend in. Survival.”

All eyes remained at the front of the room as he spoke.

“It's why they have been like ghosts here,” he continued. “Adaptation, and never one man on his own. Always together. Hunting. Seamless in their execution. Big game, tight numbers,” he paused briefly. “We've seen that on the ground and in the air.”

He turned to the window overlooking the vast landscape. All he saw were blinding snow drifts. Were they out there? Were they watching them right now? It would be fatal to assume any different.

“I do not accept another fallen soldier in that icy graveyard,” he stated. There was anger in his voice. “Engineering,” he turned to the team. “Rig the walkers. I want them out there unmanned.” There was a collective ‘yes, sir’ to confirm the order. Areum turned to his ground forces. “We're goin’ in silent, but we're goin’ in hot.” he paced in front of the unit. “Those walkers are expendable. You. Are. Not. That's the distraction. Let those hawks blow them to pieces. Their cover fire is our cover fire!”

A collective hoorah! filled the room.

"Walkers are peeling off," said the Mandalorian scout, lifting up the viewfinder on his helmet. "Marching out without their guards. Still think it's bait?"

Terr scanned the area himself. "... Without guards? Definitely." Still, he saw nothing but snow out there, even on his helmet's heatfinders. "The al'verde wants us to forget them, look for their main forces. But no reason to make them think we haven't taken the bait."

"Yes, sir." The scout nodded and headed back to the group.

Terr switched his comms again, signalling the commander flying above them. "Alor, al’verde, this is Terr..."

A short, quiet conversation ensued, after which the large Mando straightened and nodded, before motioning for the rest to gather. He spotted Urziya, small stripes of orange showing under newly painted snow-colored armor, and gave her a nod of approval.

"Listen up!" he shouted, just in case some idiot's comms weren't on. "The alor's giving us a distraction. While they take an airbound group to the walkers, we stalk under them. Distraction or not, taking out their vehicles is our second priority... First priority is finding the group they don't want us to find. Small group of you are heading to make the walkers look good. Rest of you are with me. We're going to stalk behind the first wave and kick them in their shebs while they're watching their fronts. Stay close. Watch for ambush. When we're done with the walkers, our hawks are circling back to the base, and we will ride their wake. Fight well. Oya Manda!"

Cheers of Oya! circled around the hunters, who scattered to get to their speeders and beast mounts. He waited for the first group to bound off on the same trajectory as the walkers, then circled around and led the bulk of the warriors left to circle around in another direction. Areum was smart... but the Mando'ade knew the territory. There would be Republic blood on the snow by the time those walkers fell. Comm chatter fell silent as they left, save for one voice chattering nearly incessently against his montrals.

"... If they take down a walker, can we claim it for the clan? I mean-- it's a walker. Think what we could do with that. Could shoot down their front door."

"Ziya, focus on where you're going."

"But imagine."

The ice landscape made for good cover, at least the way they were going. Frozen cliffs and jutting spears of ice made natural obstacles for walkers, speeders, and soldiers on foot. It was a good place for an ambush. The question, of course, was who would be doing the ambushing... He spotted the dark shapes of the walkers far ahead, along with the green and red trade-off of blaster fire between the ground and the sky as their fighters swooped past the armored vehicles. A moving storm of powdery snow signalled the presence of the ground unit bearing down on the combat zone.

A red beam lanced from the ice sheets in front of them to cloud of snow. Somewhere in the distance, a speeder exploded in a short-lived blast of gold and orange against white.

"GEV! TAYLIR!"3 Terr stopped his speeder short, watching the new trade off of blaster fire, this one coming from the ice sheet and their forces in the distance. He turned the nose of the machine, kicking the engine into gear. "Change of plan! Follow me!"

The Republic forces were spread out across the ice cliff, providing a good range of cover fire for the walkers. If the Mandos hunted in packs, the Republic knew it had the numbers to cover ground and pick those groups off cluster by cluster. Which made it easy for Terr's group to take down a few of them before their unit head even noticed.

The first indication something was wrong was sudden radio silence from the rear of the group. The second was when Gung'Chul got a panicked, staticky holo from the commander he had left at the southern outpost, a scarred Zabrak appearing on the communicator shooting his rifle at some distant opponent.

"--General! They figured it out! Ground forces coming up the--"

Whatever the commander was about to say was cut off as an explosion rocked him off his feet from barely a foot to his left. The image shook, then rested at an angle as the communicator fell to the ground. He raised his blaster to shoot up, just as an armored hand carrying a wicked beskad slammed down into his armor from somewhere above him. The blade tore through the neck of the man's armor easily, dropping him and his rifle into the snow. Gung'chul caught a glimpse of an unusually large Mandalorian, jets jutting out of his back like coral spikes, bristling with two swords in his hand and small flames flicking out of his gauntlets and boots, before what looked like a captured Cathar Warblade pierced the image... obliterating their eyes to the rear Republic guard.

Leina, holding the unit's comm, blinked at the static image. "Are... do they usually have such large rockets strapped to their gauntlets, sir?"

Areum didn't answer her question, his mind was on the savages that were taking down his men. “Get Hawkeye Five on that man!” he ordered and turned to Leina. “Who is he?” he demanded, walking over to the armory.

She sorted through her datapad, handed him the recon images. "He's one of their captains. On a fast track to becoming a commander, if the number of squads he's leading is any indication. He fights like he has something to lose... Look here." She zoomed in on his armor. "Black stripe. Mando colors mean things, right?"

“Justice,” he answered sharply, gearing up. “Get my shuttle ready,” he ordered. “He's about to meet that sweet justice he's looking for.” There was a steady anger in his voice, but even still he remained in control of his emotions. “Get Dorn Unit to choke them from the north. Bottleneck them.” He hooked his blasters to his hip and returned to the command center. “Scavo!” he addressed the chief engineering officer. “Those walkers rigged and ready?”

“Yes, sir,” Scavo confirmed.

“I want walkers three and five to rain hell on them! Get ‘em clustered together, then detonate in my command.”

“Aye, sir.”

With his sniper in place, Dorn Unit on his heel, and his walkers ready for a choke hold, Gung’chul lead the way to his shuttle. He was more than ready to meet this savage face to face. In the distance, two walkers engaged in air strikes paused, turned around, and began to fire a volley at the ice wall.

The ice wall behind Clan Veshkgalaar exploded. So did a considerable portion of the cliff, sending one warrior tumbling down with their whitefang mount scrambling for a handhold, another activating their jetpack and floating down to retrieve their fallen comrade. The crumbling cliff-face--and the heavy blaster fire continuing to pound into it--made an intimidating obstacle.

"Alor'ad!" one of the warriors shouted over comm. "Orders?"

The blaster fire began to creep, steadily, towards them. This Areum loved his traps, it seemed. Terr caught his breath, holding it as he thought, then gripped the hilt of his sword tighter. "Trust our people below and in the air. He wants to drive us out? We show him how the Mando'ade fight. Move on!"

The troop nodded, then followed after their captain, firing away at any Republic soldiers too brave to get in their paths as they rushed ahead. Soon, their near-unimpeded charge was slowed as a new squadron formed in front of them, blocking the path, wing-like emblems emblazoning their pauldrons. Without so much as a pause, they began to fire at the Mandalorians, who fired back just as quickly, the clean scent of blaster discharge and the acrid, metallic connection of plasma and armor filling the air between them.

Areum stood side by side with Delta Unit. Each member was dressed in full body armor with helmets equipped with technical data that fed them an analysis of the chaos. Their rain of fire was precise and unrelenting. A constant cloud mixed of crimson light and settling snow.

'Stay behind Terr,' Urziya thought, trying to focus through the fire. Everything was too bright. She darkened her visor with a quick voice command, targeting the soldiers ahead of them through the snowy haze. It didn't last long. Terr, true to form, rushed forward with a blast of his jets and came down on the other side with swords whirling like a cyclone. She watched two soldiers die immediately, while the others further from Terr started firing at the opening he left... and at her.

”Green Wesk! Seven Cresh!” Areum commanded his men and two soldiers leaped into the fray; their focus was back near the smaller Mando in the opening the captain had made. But Gung’chul blasted forward, a boost from his boots propelling him towards his main target… the Mandalorian captain himself. He landed with a thud in front of Terr, feet planted firmly on the icy terrain. There wasn’t time to think, there wasn’t time for hesitation. He fired at the vortex of blades. 'Oh yes,' the General thought, 'There would be justice for the men this savage had cut down.'

"Terr, you liar!" Urziya shouted over comms, then ducked behind a snowbank to think, holding her blasters close. Hawkeye Five, the sniper hidden somewhere above, delivered a precise kill. To her right, she watched a brother get hit with a red bolt and go down hard, specks of blood seeping from under his helmet.

'Think. Focus.' This was nothing like flying a starship. You couldn't fly up, couldn't dive down, couldn't spin and blast through your enemies like so much space debris. It was more chaotic than a training spar, and offered less freedom than flight. But what it was like...

She looked around, focused on the mounted battery her clanmates were quickly making from shot-up speeder parts. 'This is like the Zero-G training rig. Spin around, boots to the ground, get your bearings in less than a second while the world spins.'

She took a deep breath and turned, spun around, fired off a shot, and ducked down again. A muffled cry told her she had found her mark. She grinned, then gripped her blasters with looser fingers, relaxing as she repeated the process. One down. Then two. Then three. 'Forget Terr.' This snowbank was her new hiding place. But snow was only so thick, and soon enough her location was discovered and blaster fire began to chip it away…

She risked poking her head up to see the situation. Two members of the Republic squadron--Dorn painted on their armor in Republic blue--fired away at her hiding place. Near them, Terr's swords slashed away at a stocky man in Republic armor painted with officer's markings, cold metal biting chunks deeper and deeper into the protective composite, trying to drive him back and away from the clan. In the distance, two Republic walkers reared out of the snowy haze and fired a bright red volley at the cliff, followed by a brief spark of flame as something screamed towards them...

"NOW!" Areum's muffled voice came distantly through the protection of his helmet, but Terr, close as he was and aided by the sensitive hearing of his montrals, picked it up anyway. He didn't have time to process it before the screeching missile launched an instant before collided with the cliff.

Down on the floor of the snowplain, the small group of Mandos who had split from the main group had their hands full trying to take down the armored behemoths shooting at their brothers on the cliffs. Walker One went down with a surprisingly small fight, something the pilots and the ground force had cheered victoriously--a small vengeance for the riders cut down by sniper bolts on their way to the convoy. When Walker Two went down with a dramatic explosion, dropped by a precise run from two of the Mandalorian "hawks", they thought nothing of it, save to celebrate their superior ordnance. By the time Walkers Three, Four, and Five were headed to the cliff-face, the small hunting party was feeling cocky.

Duini--Ruus'alor, medic--watched the blaster fire from a distance, heard the crackle of "Oya vode! Let's cut them off at their legs!" over his comms as a spray of speeder fumes and snow circled around to the front of the walkers advancing on the cliff. The painted Mandalorian fighters dipped and spun over his head, weaving between blaster fire and shooting back in return.

But something sat poorly with him. He applied a heat pad over the kolto patch he'd just placed on one sister's torso, protecting her burn from an exploded speeder from frostbite as well, and turned his attention to the dogfight above him. 'It's the fire pattern,' he thought, 'It's too regular.' He brought up his gauntlet, beginning to mess with the settings on his helmet's sensors. Highlighting the blaster fire, he watched it closely, feeling his heart sink. The Republic was definitely missing more often than they hit.

Following the hunch, he activated the biosensors in his helmet--the most sophisticated in the clan, or at least he thought so, to do his job properly--and turned them on the walkers. When he did, his sinking heart leaped against his ribs. 'You have got to be kidding me.'

"Alor! Al'verde! Don't go in!" He opened his comms, practically shouting over them. "There's no one piloting those walkers, but I'm getting heat signatures all over them! Do you read this? Gar sus?"4

Too late. The first walker exploded, taking out an entire cluster of Mandalorians and the two ships lined up to make a pass along its sides. The radio silence went on for three awful beats as fire and debris rained down on the snow between the cliffs and Duini's location. Then, the alor's voice came over comms, signalling to all the clan:

"Peel back! Get to our brothers on the cliffs! Go now! Ca'galde, focus on that walker!"

The surviving ground forces sped away from the walkers at breakneck speed, while the ships climbed high, then began to fire a volley as one at the walker closes to the cliff. It took three lurching steps forward, almost closing the gap to the main force of the clan, before it exploded in a ball of flame.

The blast from the walker shattered the protective ice wall separating the cliff fight from the snow plain, leaving the cliff face exposed and taking out several soldiers--Mandalorian and Republic both--on the edge of the wall. Debris fell down around them. Fire, twisted metal.

Urziya's two foes from Dorn squadron paused once as the explosion lit up the air next to them. She took the advantage to stand and fire off a quick burst of blaster fire at the two pinning her down. One went down with a cry and a hole in the next of his armor. The other one recovered enough to get off a round of fire in return. The shots brushed past her helmet harmlessly--but dangerously close--as she sent one massively overcharged shot into his chest. He went down and didn't get up. Wounded or dead? It didn't matter. He wasn't shooting back anymore.

A clansman, lifeless, dropped between Areum and Terr, along with several pieces of charred walker. The Togruta hissed and bared teeth behind his helmet, then charged forward with a rocket-assisted blow of his weapons in an upward slash from the officer's weapon to his helmet. He wanted this General dead and far away from the too-young clansmen behind him. It was as if Areum knew they would predict the ambush... The walkers were never bait. They were a double feint. He slammed his two swords against the base of Areum's helmet with almost supernatural force.

Areum heard his helmet crack under the Togruta’s force. The General stumbled back a step, the savage nearly knocking him off his feet. To fall now was to die, he thought, and the blades were at his neck. This wasn't how he was going down. He felt a surge of adrenaline rush through his body. They were equal in mass. Near equal in strength. It was a matter of who wanted to live the most. And for kriff’s sake Areum wasn't going to be taken down by this Mandalorian. He pushed back, his weakness agility, but his advantage fierce strength, jabbing the end of his rifle into the Mandalorian's shoulder. It was an unsuspected jarr at best, but enough of an opportunity for Gung’chul to break free. Two steps back as he stumbled free and caught a breath. He aimed his rifle and fired.

He made the hit, the strike chipping away plating on the heavy armor. But it wasn't a win. Terr felt his armor absorb the bolt and surged forward with another whirling strike. This one slammed hard into the man's helmet, snapping his head back with an electronic spark.

Visual went black in Areum’s helmet and the only sensory he had was the muffled chaos of the battle around him. "For kriff’s sake!", he cursed, knowing the Mandalorian was practically on top of him. He threw off his helmet on time to see the Togruta above him. Would he be quick enough?The Mandalorian wound up to jab his blades into the new gap emerging between the helmet and the breastplate of his armor. There was brief panic from Areum on the ground.

A red bolt from above slammed into the weakened spot on Terr's armor and cut through. Searing heat. A burst of lingering pain. On the ridge above, Hawkeye Five saluted his General, then aimed another shot. The Mandalorian captain lunged forward anyway, favoring his other arm as he struck in wide slashes. His blades swept down, gashing the General across his face. Areum didn't feel it, not at first. All he saw was Terr going for another strike. The General went for the blaster at his hip, blood seeping down into his eyes and obscuring his vision... But he did see a second red flash as Hawkeye Five found a chink in Terr's armor. The large Mando fell in a spin in front of him.

On the other edge of the firefight, Urziya froze, watching Terr fall, then snarled beneath her helmet and abandoned the snowbanks, running forward and firing shot after shot at the sniper on the cliff-face. The shots that had downed her cousin revealed the rifleman's position. She had him now. Areum was right about one other thing: Even as Mandalorians, there was still something innately Togruta about the clansmen he faced. She let inborn spatial sense and agility guide her as she darted clusters of combat on her way towards Terr and the General, staying just out of the rifleman's scopes. The blaster bolts were not enough to knock him from his perch, but they were enough to make the sniper reconsider staying still long enough to line up another shot.

Areum was lucky. The General had found his feet and his eyes searched through the haze, spotting the smaller Mando darting through the firefight. His pale blue eyes squinted, and he thought she looked too young to be in the middle of this. The space in her helmet for her montrals were smaller, if not a little stubby. 'Kriff! They put a child in battle?!' He picked up his comm, about to bark a command order when he heard them....

Those dreaded hawks that had been dropping their ships from the sky. The Mandalorian fighters loomed into view, making a sideways pass and blasting away at the Republic side of the cliff-face. Above them, two more spiraled by, firing at the sniper's perch on the cliff. The Mandalorians had called in air support.

Areum clicked his comm just as a rain of fire shot down at them. He sought cover, down the crumbling wall of the cliff-face, his heavy armor taking the hits before he disappeared under the cover of a downed walker. He looked up at his men on the ridge just as it came crumbling down, and his men along with it. The Republic was overpowered. And as his men fell, he saw the rest of the Mandalorian forces coming from the south.

It didn't take Areum long to know his only option, and he finally ordered: “Fall back! Send in Black Squadron!”

Republic soldiers picked their way out of piles of snow and fallen ice, running back in a shooting retreat. Areum followed, blood dripping from the gash across his face, laying down a blast of cover fire before he, too, followed his troops. In the sky above, black specks sped to meet the Mandalorian pilots, growing clearer in the snowy cloudcover, Republic fighters on their way to meet battle. With the airy burst of pistons and the scream of engines in atmo, several hawks broke away and sped towards the approaching squadron. They were retreating on the ground, but this was far from over...

"You underestimated him," Terr growled, sitting hunched at the edge of the fire's light, a sling holding one arm. Duini had barely given him enough kolto and the go-ahead to start walking again, but he wanted to be here, beside his clan, as they mourned their dead. They had gathered who they could, but the ice wastes would serve as burial for the rest. They had also hauled back the corpses of several starships--their own, some Republic--to repair and put in the sky again.

Beside him, a woman with greying hair and the decorated sash of the Veshkgalaar'alor sat quietly, watching as a sunny-colored Togruta spoke over reclaimed armor, his own shrouded by a rust-colored cloth decorated with beads and the fangs of beasts. She stirred and looked back at Terr. "But we learned much."

"We lost much," he replied, gesturing at the ceremony. He spotted his cousin, sitting with her knees folded up, leaning into her mother's side as she watched the speaker intently. Kalada's arms encircled her daughter protectively. Eshok spoke over the dead. Urziya had survived. But he wondered if her exuberance had, too. He looked back at the alor with a frown. "You made a bad call."

She tilted her head, considering him with an almost wry smile. "And what would you have done?"

"... The walkers were a trap. We could have taken their base, rather than wade through their army. Turned their ships and cannons against them." He hissed and put a hand on his wounded shoulder. "Still, gave him a scar he won't forget. Next time, I'll get his neck."

"Hm." She thought about this, then stood up. "You'll get your chance. I'm promoting you. Sending that second group was a good call. You'll use your brain while you nurse that arm. Meet me in the command tent when this is done." She waved a hand at the ceremony, then walked over to another cluster of warriors.

Terr blinked at her, then nodded slowly, turning his attention back to the camp. He met Kalada's eyes, saw the older Togruta look at him, then the fire, then back at him. Speaking a few quiet words to her daughter, she got up and walked over, settling back down on the ground beside him.

"How's the arm?" she asked, tilting her head appraisingly.

"It'll heal," he grunted, then turned to her. "How's Ziya?"

"She'll be fine. Getting a taste of a ground battle will sting, but she'll get over it." She smiled fondly. "She has a strong spirit."

"That she does... Had her armor painted up like Eshok's before I made her change it."

Kalada laughed, nodding. "Oh... Well, perhaps she will learn from him, and make this into a song we don't forget." She shook her head, her smile fading away. "We lost pilots."

"And ships."

"And we will keep losing them." She paused a long moment, then looked up at him. "I want you to promise me something, vod'ika."


"You looked out for her today. If something happens to both of us, will you keep looking out for her?"

He frowned, studying her face. Kalada was more like his older sister than his aunt, the baby of her parent group and only a decade older than Terr. He had grown up with her as a friend, even a mentor. If she were disturbed by what had happened here… But no. Seeing no deep-seated fear, or sadness, just well-placed concern, he nodded. "As if she were my own."

"Good. She trusts you." She stood up again, sighing. Pausing a moment, she added, "This promise has a second part. You can't be so reckless. Ziya won't have anyone to look up to if you're dead."

"... I understand, Kalada." He shifted, holding his shoulder. "Alor has me stuck at camp until this heals anyway. Plenty of time to learn patience."

The Republic base was quiet as the sun dipped below the icy mountains. The haze had lingered over the battlefield in the distance like the ghosts of the fallen soldiers. Would they be damned there for eternity? Their souls trapped reliving their deaths a thousand times over?

Gung'chul Areum could only pray to his Ancestors that they did not. Their troubles were over. Let them rest in peace. But the same could not be said for the living. The mental and physical stress would stay with him and his men. He looked down at the casualty list in his hands. A range of emotion passed over him. Sadness, anger… guilt.

They were his responsibility. This was his failure.

It was too late in the game to call this a lesson. The lesson should have already been learned. He had underestimated the Mandalorians. They were tough, fierce, and everyone was one hell of a fighter, even their children. His men would have to train harder, be sharper, and he had to be a better general.  Black Squadron was gone. Hawkeye Five, the best damn sniper the Republic ever had, was gone. Hundreds of soldiers… all on his watch.

Never again. This was the last he would ever underestimate an opponent.

But now he had to explain why these sons and daughters had to die. The Republic would question him. That, he didn't care about. He cared about the families back home who would never see their loved one again.  He sat at his desk, retrieved the first sheet of flimsi, and began writing the first formal letter.

Never again.

1: Hold out./Standby.
2: Sitrep. Abbreviated version of "Me'vaar ti gar?" which means... sitrep, supposedly, but is way too long.
3: Stop! Hold!
4: You hear? Abb. version of "Gar susulur?"
The Jedi: Bren (Archaeologist), Iirim (Healer), Zorru (Recruiter), Orans (Master), Aybekk (Padawan)
The Politicians: Varooth (Senator), Seirion (Aide/Spy), Ayrak (King)
The Mandos: Urziya (Rallymaster), Terr (Chieftain)
The Outlaws: Telen (Slicer), Majia (Pirate/Smuggler)
The Imperials: Athuuna (Agent), Zhekrazh (Lord), Z'ridia (Apprentice)