“Bruiser, what in the haran have you done to your armour?” Ambu asked, goggling at his friend.
Varos “Bruiser” Bralor stood proud in his bright orange armour. At over two meters tall, he was by far the tallest of the group, and carried a war hammer made of pure beskar. He had, however, removed his vambraces and rerebraces, leaving his large, rippling muscles completely exposed.
Bruiser shrugged, “Why deny the galaxy my beautiful arms? It’d be a crime to try.”
In front of Bruiser, Ambu Kelborn could only stare. He was clad in predominantly white-painted armour. His T-visor and gauntlets were green, and there were stripes along his shoulder and leg plates.
“You’ve been spending too much time with Montross,” Darik, Ambu’s younger brother, said, shooting a glance at Montross’ similarly exposed arms, before shaking his head.
Much like Ambu’s armour, Darik’s was painted white. Unlike his brother, however, it was entirely so, with no other colours or markings adorning its surface, save for the yellow coloured T-visor. Instead, he had secured a pair of horns to his helmet. Attached to his belt was a pair of nexu-hide holsters, each one holding a WESTAR-35 blaster pistol. At that moment however, he held a blaster rifle. Stencilled onto its side were the letters S-N-O, written in the Mandalorian alphabet.
Behind them, Montross let out a short, derisive laugh “Too much time with me? No such thing.”
“If either of you di’kute gets shot in an area which you’ve left wide open, don’t come crying to me.” Bruiser’s cousin, Rav rolled her eyes.
Davik, Ambu and Bruiser let out laughs, but Montross just scowled. Further ahead of the line, Jaster threw a glance back their way.
“Can the chatter you lot, we’re trying to stay undetected here, and I don’t want to take a risk by assuming they haven’t tapped our frequency.” He ordered.
After that, they spend the rest of the day in relative silence. Following a few more hours of marching, with no sign of their Death Watch adversaries, Jaster eventually decided that they would set up camp for the night. There were to be no fires, or tents. Instead, they would subsist off of gihaal and sleep in their armour, under the stars, with only thin mats underneath them. It would not be comfortable, but it would be enough.
They had arrived on Concord Dawn only the day before. They were hunting the Death Watch, a splinter faction of the True Mandalorians. While Jaster and his men had wanted to turn to lives as mercenaries and forget their past as violent conquerors, Tor Vizsla and his men longed to return to it. They were violent savages who wanted nothing but bloodshed. It was, in Ambu’s opinion, destructive, shameful and pointless. They had lost millennia ago, and the Mandalorians of old had far superior numbers than their descendants. If they attempted such folly now, they would be easily swatted down, as they had been centuries prior, during the Mandalorian Excision.
Knowing the frivolity of Vizsla’s mission was not why Ambu had sided with Jaster and the True Mandalorians, however. Ambu had long been disillusioned with the Mandalorians, their history, their culture, but when Jaster had taken up the title of Mand’alor, he had promised reforms, that he would bring honour back to the Mandalorians, that they would cease to be violent thugs. It brought hope to Ambu, for he truly believed that Jaster could deliver his promises. He was a good man, an honest man, an honourable man, and Ambu was proud to fight alongside him.
“Dinner, dear brother?” Darik asked, holding out a piece of dry, unappetising looking gihaal to Ambu.
Ambu snorted “Thanks, I really appreciate it.”
“Eh, you get used to it,” Darik said, his voice muffled as he shovelled food into his mouth “It’s more tolerable if you shove it quick in and try not to chew,” He explained after Ambu shot him a questioning look.
Reluctantly, Ambu took the gihaal from Darik’s hand, and tried to force it down in spite of the awful taste. They sat in relative silence while doing so. Ambu was beginning to find the quiet stifling and was glad when Darik finally broke the silence.
“So…when we find them, do you think we’ll see Gerrick?” Darik asked hesitantly.
And now Ambu wished that the quiet had continued. Gerrick, their cousin, had signed up with Vizsla’s forces. So had some of their other relatives and former friends, for that matter, but to them, Gerrick was the most prominent. They had been close as children, but had begun to drift apart as they entered their teens. Gerrick changed, he grew harder, colder, more vicious. Whether it was because he had been pushed too far during his training, or because his mind had been poisoned by Vizsla and his sentiments, they did not know. Perhaps he had always been that way.
Ambu gave Darik a remorseful look “Perhaps. Vizsla has a lot of men with him.”
Darik sighed and gripped his shoulders “I always hoped that he’d stop fighting with Vizsla and come back to us. We’ve lost so many people to the Death Watch, it kills me to think that our own cousin could join them.”
Ambu felt the same way. The boy that he had grown up with, had played games with, might have killed his family, his old friends. He might try to the same to me and Darik, Ambu thought, clenching his hands into fists. Or, Ambu realised with a start, one of us might have to kill him. It was a sobering thought, the idea that he might have to kill his own cousin. Ambu felt his stomach churn. He hoped, that if it came down to it, he would be the one to do so. Darik had already lost so many of his friends, it would be unfair if he would have to live with the guilt of striking down a family member.
Ambu gave his brother a sideways glance “What do you think of Jaster?” He asked, hoping to change the topic.
Darik gave his brother a curious look “Jaster’s probably the best chance we have of regaining the honour we’ve lost.”
Ambu let out a long sigh and stared up at the stars “I’ve been thinking about that. Sometimes I wonder…did we even have it to begin with?”
Darik shot Ambu a surprised look “What do you mean by that?”
“It’s just…with all of the things we’ve done in the past, can we really say we have honour? It seems that what we called honour was just an excuse to commit atrocities. Look at the genocide of the Cathar, was that honourable? We rounded them up in the middle of the night, drove them into the ocean and vaporised them from orbit.” There was a disgusted look on Ambu’s face “And then there’s the nuking of Serroco, the orbital bombardment of Duros, how we set the native people of Zongorlu on fire for entertainment. The list goes on.”
“Well…that was a long time ago, vod. We were different people then…” Darik offered weakly.
“We used Basiliskan slaves for thousands of years after we took their homeworld, stole their technology and made them mindless beasts. We worked for the Sith Empire even after Mandalore the Preserver tried to redeem the Mandalorians, committing atrocities for them. Haran, the genocide of the Ithullans wasn’t even two-hundred years ago.” Ambu gave Darik a sad, weary look “We can say that we’ve changed, but we haven’t not really. But with Jaster, I think that we have a chance, a real chance of gaining the honour we’ve always claimed that we had. He’s a good man, an honourable man, he’ll do right by you.”
A confused look came across Darik’s face “Right by me? Don’t you mean by us?”
Ambu winced “Damn, slip of the tongue…” He sighed and faced his brother “Look, Darik, I’ve been meaning to tell you…”
“Tell me what, Ambu?” Darik asked, frowning.
“Look, you know that this mercenary life isn’t for me. I’m not a warrior like the rest of you. I only joined up the True Mandalorians because I couldn’t sit back and let the Death Watch rampage through the galaxy. If not for them, I’d have taken Iadee and left Mandalorian space altogether.”
There was a brief pause, before Darik began to frown.
“You don’t mean that, Ambu,” he said softly.
Ambu sighed “Darik, please, try to understand-”
Darik cut his brother off “You don’t mean it, I know you don’t. This is just like you, Ambu, your nerves have got the better of you.” Darik let out a soft, nervous chuckle “You were like this when we were kids too. Always complaining about our training, always whining to mum or Avry, you were so soft.”
Ambu frowned and grabbed his brother’s shoulder “Darik, please, we-!”
“We’ll talk about this later, when you’ve realised how stupid you sound. Night, vod.” And at that, Darik shook of Ambu’s hand and walked away, back to his mat.
Ambu sighed and laid down, his eyes on the stars. He would have to try again at some point, and hope that Darik would understand.
At first light, the troupe woke and resumed their march through the seemingly endless expanse of wheat. They trundled along in silence, Jaster once again at the lead.
After hours of walking, they finally reached the end of the wheat field, and found themselves in a rocky clearing. To his dismay, Ambu saw another wheat field ahead of them, it seemed that they would be crossing through it. It was very tiring, he found himself yearning for a change in scenery.
“Alright, we’re out in the open. Keep low and keep it quiet, but hurry. I don’t want to be out here for any longer than necessary,” Jaster ordered.
The Mandalorian directly ahead of Ambu snorted “Not like we need to be quiet, those Death Watch di’kutes couldn’t hit the broad side of a-”
It was at precisely that moment that the unfortunate man was struck in the side of his head by a blaster bolt. His smoking corpse sprawled onto the ground in an undignified heap.
“Death Watch! Take cover!” Jaster cried out, ducking down to minimise his profile.
At once, his fellow Mandalorians rushed for whatever cover they would find. Fortunately for them, the area was littered with boulders and rocky outcroppings. Ambu and Darik both ran and pressed their backs to a particularly large boulder. Ambu ducked down, peeked around the rock and opened fire on the Death Watch soldiers. Two crumpled lifelessly as Ambu’s shots him them solidly in their abdomens.
“A fair bit more exciting than hunting, eh Ambu?” Darik asked as a chunk of rock the size of his fist exploded by his head.
“Yeah, well, the tuskcats never fired back!” Ambu shot back, blaster bolts whizzing by his head.
There was a roar from beside them, and Darik and Kelborn snapped their heads to see a pair of Death Watch soldiers running at them. Before either of them could react, their enemies were upon them. Ambu found himself on the ground, his weapon was torn from his grip and tossed aside.
“I’m gonna enjoy gutting you!” The Death Watch warrior growled, extending his forearm mounted vibroblade. With his other hand, he pinned one of Ambu’s arm to the ground.
Ambu’s free hand shot up and grabbed the man’s arm, struggling to keep him from bringing the vibroblade down. In the corner of his eye, he could see Darik in a similar situation, he and his assailant were rolling on the ground, trading blows. Ambu turned his attention back to the man who was trying to kill him. The muscles in his arm were straining to hold back his assailant, but he could feel the Death Watch warrior’s arm begin to weaken, his arm was starting to shake.
“Just…die already!” The Death Watch member snapped.
With a sudden surge of energy, Ambu’s arm broke free of the Death Watch’s grasp and he punched the man in the side of the head. He let out a cry of pain as he toppled sideways. Ambu’s eyes frantically swept across the battlefield, until he saw his blaster just a few feet away. As the Death Watch member lay dazed on the ground, Ambu rushed to the weapon, turned and fired on the downed man. He let out a brief cry of pain, before his life was extinguished. Ambu then whirled and did the same to the man who was still grappling with Darik.
“Hey, I could have taken him!” Darik exclaimed as he rose to his feet.
“Oh, just be grateful that I saved your life!” Ambu snapped as he slapped a fresh charge pack into the blaster.
Darik just growled, before picking up his blaster rifle and going back into the fray. It was madness as all around them, both sides fought and died. Ambu saw Rav Bralor firing into the unarmoured throat of a Death Watch warrior she had knocked down. Not far away, Montross was on top of another, his hands around their neck, strangling the life out of them. As if trying to outdo Montross, Skirata was viciously stabbing a third member of the Death Watch to death, the blood flying everywhere, coating Skirata’s armour.
“Looks like we might actually win this! We can finally wipe ‘em out!” Darik shouted in triumph, as all around them, the Death Watch were falling.
As if to spite Darik, it was at that moment that Death Watch reinforcements arrived. In the skies, a number of Balutar-class swoops came screaming into view, firing death and destruction into the True Mandalorian forces. The ground exploded from underneath them, dirt and bodies were sent flying and those being hit let out cries of pain and surprise. As if that were not enough, a battle tank came crashing onto the scene, firing a barrage of lasers into the already shocked forces. Riding atop it was the leader of the Death Watch, Tor Vizsla, unmistakable in his polished black armour and ragged, red cape.
“Are you kriffing kidding me?! A tank?!” Ambu shouted out in shock and frustration.
“Better get moving, ner vod!” Darik exclaimed as he made a run for safety.
Ambu nodded and made to follow his brother, both of them ducking and weaving to avoid enemy blasterfire. Suddenly, the two heard a loud whining noise. Ambu looked up in time to see a driverless Death Watch speeder come hurtling towards them, black smoke pouring from its back.
“Look out!” Ambu cried, shoving Darik out of the way.
Both of them were thrown off of their feet as the speeder crash landed near them. Darik was thrown clear of the wreckage and into one of the nearby wheat fields. Dazed, Ambu lay on the ground, his ears ringing loudly. He tried to stagger to his feet, but collapsed after going no more than a few steps. He groaned weakly, before trying again. This time, however, a boot knocked him back down. Ambu forced his head to look up, dreading what he would see.
Standing over him was a member of the Death Watch with a blue T-visor. He had a carbine in one hand, and the weapon was aimed squarely at Ambu. There was no pithy one liner, no cruel taunt, just a man who was going to kill him and the blaster with which to do it.
For a tense few seconds, Ambu waited for his end to come, for that single shot. Instead he saw a blur of orange and silver, as Bruiser’s hammer slammed into the man’s back. The Death Watch member let out a scream of agony before collapsing bonelessly onto the ground. Bruiser pulled Ambu to his feet.
“Thanks, Bruiser, I owe you one!” Ambu exclaimed as he and Bruiser ran for cover.
“Buy me a pint later and we’ll call it even, ner vod!”
“In here!” A voice hissed at them.
Bruiser and Ambu looked in the direction of the noise. It had come from one of the wheat fields, and peering closely, Ambu could just make out Darik, staying low to the ground. Bruiser and Ambu traded quick glances, before they both hurried into the cover of the wheat. At that point, the battle was dying down, most of the True Mandalorians had been slain, yet those that were still alive were fighting ferociously. A surge of relief washed over Ambu when he saw that Jaster was still alive, still firing at the Death Watch soldiers.
Jaster, Montross and three others made a dash for the wheat field. Montross was covering the rear and would periodically turn and fire wildly in the direction of the Death Watch. Most shots sailed wide, but a few found their mark, striking the pursuing warriors in their heads, their abdomens, their arms. Those unlucky few were sent sprawling to the ground, those that were still alive were howling in pain.
“He’s making them work for it,” Bruiser murmured, his voice filled with approval.
“Montross is a scary shabuir, but you can’t doubt his skills,” Ambu whispered back.
From their position, they could clearly see Vizsla as he raised his blaster and fired at the fleeing figures, and they could certainly hear him.
“You can’t escape me, Jaster! I’ll burn all your hiding places to the ground and execute anyone who helps you! And when you have nowhere else to run, I’ll have your head!
Before Vizsla could take more than a step, a hand weakly clutched at his leg. Glancing down at it, he saw a badly injured member of the Death Watch. With a start, Ambu realised that it was the same one that Bruiser had struck in the back minutes earlier. He was alive after that? Kelborn could not believe it. Bruiser had struck that Death Watch member with enough force to shatter bones; the man’s spine would have been destroyed.
“Lord Vizsla…help…me…” The man gasped out, faintly.
“Get up, chakaar,” Vizsla commanded dispassionately.
“Can’t…my back…it’s broken…”
Vizsla let out a grunt of annoyance. Ambu’s eyes shot open in surprise as Vizsla unholstered his rifle and...
“You are of no more use to me,” Vizsla said.
The downed Mandalorian motioned weakly “Wait…don’t-”
And at that, Vizsla fired into the injured man’s head. He looked up and faced the other members of the Death Watch, gesturing to them with his still smoking blaster.
“Let that be a lesson to you all. If you can’t fight, you’re just dead weight. The weak and the useless will be shown no mercy.”
The remaining Death Watch members did not react at all; they did not even spare the dead man a glance.
The grim sight reminded Kelborn just what he was fighting for.
Who he was fighting for.
After a moment, the surviving Death Watch forces ran off after Jaster and those with him. Vizsla cast a look over the area, before he followed his men. For a few tense minutes, Ambu, Bruiser and Darik remained in their hiding places, worried that the Death Watch might double back and discover them. When they were sure that none of the Death Watch would return, they hesitantly rose. Ambu surveyed the area, casting his gaze over the dead, Death Watch and True Mandalorian alike.
“Is…is there anyone still alive? Besides us?” Ambu whispered in horror.
As if on cue, several forms came out of their hiding places, either in the wheat field or behind rocks. Rav was one of them, and at the sight of her, Bruiser rushed over and the two butted heads, relieved that the other was alive. Skirata was another, and he held that knife of his clenched firmly in one hand. Ambu saw that it was dripping blood, no part of the blade was clean.
“What do we do now?” Darik asked, looking at Ambu uncertainly.
Ambu cast his eyes towards the direction that Jaster and his men had run off, closely followed by Tor Vizsla and his forces.
“Now, we go after them. I refuse to let Jaster die at the hands of some Death Watch dog. Come on, we’re moving out.”
And at that, Ambu rushed off after his leader. After a moment, Darik ran to catch up with him, and one by one, the other survivors followed. Their blasters were raised and they were ready. This time, they would not be caught off-guard. This time, they would finally finish off the Death Watch.