Friday, July 25, 2008

The Shin'ador

The people of Mandalore were a literal folk. When they said 'fight', they meant fight. And apparently, when they said 'circle', they really meant circle.


The room was a series of wide concentric rings of steel, alternately colored grey and black all the way to the round center platform, raised slightly above the rest. The small circle surrounding it was deep red, a reference to the name of the contest waged here - the Shin'ador, the "Crown of Blood". Along the walls curving around the chamber, there were weapons. Blaster pistols, rifles, even vibroblades and axes of antique styling.


Darus had checked the ship's history files with the aid of his Basilisk. He was allowed to use personal weapons in this fight; the wall-mounted ones were replacements if he was disarmed or if his armaments were broken during combat.


Though he would have been more comfortable fighting with his lightsaber, that was still safely concealed in his rifle and its appearance in the fight was a possible risk of exposure. He still was not up on current events but it seemed like the Jedi were extinct aside from a notable or two. He did not want to be revealed yet, not until he knew the attitude of the galaxy towards his kind. Once he knew how the Jedi would be accepted in this new age, he could approach this Skywalker and his people, but not before. He had learned the hard lesson of misplaced trust.

Right now, all of those were secondary concerns anyway. He was stepping out into the round room, decked in his armor and carrying the weapons of his choice in accordance with the rite of the Shin'ador. He has selected only one, the curved blade hanging at his waist. Even sheathed, he could feel its hum. The katana seemed to share his apprehension.

Apprehension and, truth be told, excitement. This was a fight he could devote himself to without fear of killing and without the need to hold back. The Shin'ador was a ritual combat, a battle to first blood only. And Tymor was an ally, a man fighting for honor and duty without a shred a malice in the act.

Darrus was not used to fighting when his life was not on the line. Aside from sparring with Maya, he had not been able to pit his skills against a living opponent without the heavy weight of knowing that someone would die before the dance was done.

The far door opened and his foe stepped forth onto the other side of the grey circle. Tymor was clad head to toe in armor, plates and ballistic cloth in an older style of Mandalore battle dress. His helm was a full piece that stretched from shoulder to crown with a wide triangular eye visor. At his sides, a pair of short vibroblades with over-long handles rested patiently. He did not recognize this sort of weapon and the uncertainly added a bit of spice to his already growing eagerness for the challenge to commence.

Tymor bowed and, assuming he should do the same, Darrus followed suit. Above them both, every hand aboard the ship was watching behind foot thick transparent plasteel. They would see every step, every swing of the battle, both with their eyes and replayed on hovering monitors in a ring above the canopy. Nothing would be hidden; there was little room to cheat.

Mandaloran honor, it seemed, was self enforcing. Darrus appreciated that.

Then the first of three tones echoed through the chamber. His basilisk's sliced files had prepared him for this. Each tone indicated three seconds of readiness. After the third, combat would commence. Seeing Tymor crouch into a fighting stance, Darrus did the same.

The second tone was the mark to draw weapons. Darrus slipped his songsteel blade from its scabbard with but a whisper of noise. The weapon emitted a gentle note of clarity, a first breath in the aria to come. Tymor reaches across his waist to pull each short sword with the opposite hand. As they passed in front of him, there was a brief flash of light between the handles. Then a crackling arc of energy linked the pommels, stretching into a line between them as he held them apart.

Darrus' eyes widened behind his faceplate. That were certainly unexpected. In a way, that energy looked much like the beam of a lightsaber. It was unfocused and wavered greatly from a lack of coherence but he suspected it would be just as effective at piercing armor and lancing flesh.

The intonation of the third note marked a flurry of motion. Tymor flicked his wrists, thrusting the pommel ends of both blades forward. Much to Darrus' surprise, the arc of power leapt free of the swords and fired across the arena!

His first reaction to any surprise in battle was to leap clear, an instinct that served him well as he vaulted over the curving beam of light and landed two rings closer to the center. The arc continued on to the wall behind where Darrus had been, shorting out in a black mark that pitted the metal bulkhead more than an inch deep.

Tymor certainly was not pulling any punches. That only made this better. Darrus dashed forward, blade to his side, moving as fast as he could without relying on the Force. He suspected anything beyond normal capabilities would be seen by the critical audience above. History was replete with incidents of hostility between the Jedi and the Mandaloran. Darrus had no desire to write another page of the same.

At the last moment, Tymor managed to catch Darrus' sudden strike with the edges of his blades, parrying the katana wide and avoiding a chest slash. The first mate's attempt to capitalize on the moment of open defense with a vicious snap kick failed as well, ducked as Darrus went down and under it.

Darrus seized on the chance for a leg sweep and kicked outward, catching Tymor hard in the side of his lower greave. The Mandaloran's leg gave way and he staggered back, barely managing to remain upright by falling against the wall.

To cover himself and regain his footing, Tymor slashed wildly, a hissing web of quick strikes that made Darrus pull back to avoid their sting. It was enough to get his back back under him and Tymor used the returned balance to reignite the line between his weapons. Not knowing what to expect, Darrus jumped backwards to give himself breathing room...

...and nearly fell from the playing field. One of the metal rings, a black one, was moving silently, revolving up over the battle. Only a few feet thick, it was now arching high overhead, its underside covered in hundreds of tiny electrical discharges. Darrus managed to catch the edge of the sudden pit and launch himself back to a stable ring before the black one finished its transit. Now flipped over, it stopped moving. Where its had been smooth metal, now it was a ring of storms, bolts of lightning surging between small emitters mounted in the steel.

Darrus took a second to get his bearings, assuming he was safe while the ring of electricity was between him and Tymor. He could not have been more wrong. With a shout, Tymor hurled one of his blades through the flickering barrier. It lashed arrow straight towards Darrus, trailing lightning as it flew.

Reflex proved unfortunate this time for Darrus. He dropped to the side and slashed a perfect parry, knocking the blade aside and avoiding its strike. Unfortunately, the contact of metal on metal send the vibrosword's borrowed current down his katana and into his arm. Darrus' armor protected him from most of the charge but it still shocked his hand enough to involuntarily spasm. His blade dropped to the floor with a song of protest and an eerie clatter.

The parried sword was not finished with Darrus yet. Tymor swung the one he was still holding sideways in front of him and the beam of power between them coiled brightly. The thrown blade reacted to the motion, reversing direction and slashing back towards Darrus. It was everything Darrus could do to avoid the riposte, falling flat and then leaping back up once it passed.

With a quick twist of his wrist, Tymor recalled the flying blade, its tether of energy pulling it back to his empty hand. Those weapons were as effective as they were exotic. Darrus resolved to take them and the man wielding them more seriously.

Twice more the thrown blade came, lashing like a dire arrow through the storm, and twice more Darrus dodged. He did not have a sword to parry with, nor would he have done so if he did. Though he evaded the attacks, Tymor's goal became clear. He was trying to get Darrus to dodge because each evasion made him move farther from his fallen katana. If Tymor could not hit him, he was intent on keeping Darrus disarmed.

Clever, but Darrus did not need his weapon to fight. With a quick run immediately following the third attack, he reached out and grabbed the vibrating blade as it tried to return to its skilled master. It was a risky move with that deadly line of energy behind it but Darrus was quick enough to avoid it and take hold of the handle. He was betting the thing had controls on both grips.

And the bet paid off as his finger clutched a sliding button and pressed it down. Instantly the line of light disappeared, severing the connection between the swords. Now both armed and no longer under fire, Darrus readied himself for whatever came next.

It was not a moment too soon. The ring he was on shuddered and began to move just as the black one had done before. Faced with the choice of jumping forward or back, Darrus instinctively vaulted backwards. It put more distance between him and Tymor but it also gave him more time to plan. This mobile battlefield was a new concept, one that had him off-balance. Against a man like Tymor, that was something he could not afford to be.

This new ring was not electrified like the one before. Instead, it was spiked with a very familiar kind of threat - force pikes of varying heights. These weapons were usually ceremonial but there were some worlds where law enforcement agents would use them to subdue targets. Tipped with micro-generators, they could generate anything from a numbing pulse to a lethal blast. Darrus supected they were cycled fairly high and had no desire to test the thory.

A few seconds after the pike ring clicked into place and stopped moving, the storm ring started to flip back over. Seizing his chance, Darrus pushed aside his misgivings about the spikes and picked a low enough spot to leap. With a quick running start, he jumped as hard as his body and the servos in his armor would allow.

It was barely enough. He felt the highest of the pikes discharge against his chest and leg plates as he tumbled over them, shaking from their impact as he landed. He knew Tymor would be coming fast.

He was right. A fast kick announced his opponent's arrival past the black ring. Darrus was still momentarily stunned by the pikes, a second's defenselessness that earned him a staggering blow to the head. He went backwards, nearly falling onto the pikes again. Forcing himself to steady, Darrus raised his stolen blade and managed a last second block against its twin.

Their edges whined as they clashed, steel biting against steel. Tymor was over him, Darrus forced by the strength of the blunted attack to one knee. Above them, the roar of anticipation could be heard from the crew. For a moment, Darrus could make out a gasp of worry, a mental wash of concern from Maya.

Tymor was good, very good, but he had one vulnerability in this fight. He was a Mandaloran and as such, he fought like a Mandaloran. This attack was called the Gundark's Surprise, an overbearing move where the first step was to take a weapon in both hands and force an opponent to the ground. That part has been successful.

But Darrus had trained, at his own insistence, along side his troops as they sparred during the war. He knew knew their moves. He knew their Mandaloran-based fighting style. And he knew what came next.

Tymor suddenly let go with his left hand and unleashed a crushing punch to Darrus' face. He had strength, height and momentum advantage over Darrus. A punch like this could drive a target's faceplate back against him nose, bloodying him instantly and sending him reeling, open to a strike to the back. It was a powerful attack...

...assuming it ever hit. Darrus released his blade at the exact same time, caught the incoming fist and fell to the side, all in the same motion. Tymor went flying past, impacted the pikes and shook violently as two of them discharged, one in each of his shoulders and another along side his pierced helm. The stench of ions and burning blood hit the air as the pikes retracted and the lighting along the walls went from red to white.

It was over.

Darrus quickly dropped his blade and turned to Tymor as he slumped to the ground. It took one second to get the man's helmet off and another to check his vitals. Tymor was alive, though shocked unconscious and bleeding from three wounds. The worst were probably his shoulders, the slash across his cheek was not terribly deep.

That was a relief. This was not supposed to be a battle to the death. Darrus was glad to see that, for once, a fight turned out as planned.

The doors opened again and dozens of armored men poured into the chamber, quickly arranging themselves into an honor guard around the outermost ring. Two white armored figures, one male and one female, entered and bore Tymor away on a hovering sled, presumably to a medical bay and well-earned rest.

Maya was at the doorway, watching him with her helmet off, eyes wide. he slowly stood, looking around the assembly, unsure what would happen next. In the several seconds of silence and stillness, he retrieved his songsteel weapon and returned it to its sheath. Darrus turned as a third door, one he had not seen before, slid open and a trio of Mandalorans walked in, approaching him slowly.

The one in the lead bore a small pile of shimmering black cloth in his armored hands. He stood, hands out but cloth tightly gripped, right in front of Darrus. Several tense seconds passed with no reactions from anyone in the room.

Finally, Darrus felt Maya's mind brush his. "Kneel. They are expecting you to kneel."

He did so, even bowing his head slightly. He felt very exposed this way, unable to defend himself well should the room turn violent. When the man with the cloth spoke, his apprehension faded fast.

"Hail, victor of the Shin'ador. You have earned the right of command." The cloth unfurled in front of him, revealing itself to be a mantle and cloak, connected at a pair of inscribed silver discs. "Rise."

Darrus did so, head still bowed in respect. The other two men near him each took a disc and stepped close, draping the cloak over his shoulders and the mantle over his upper chest. The discs attached magnetically to his armor, one just below either side of his collarbone. Looking down, he could see that the black cloth had countless motes of reflective light, stars hanging in the void of the cloth.

In that same moment, the ring of men around him and the three in front all dropped to a kneeling salute. "Hail, Silverlord Wraith, our captain and commander. Where you lead, we will follow. Where you strike, we will slay. Your word, our duty. This we swear."

The words were those of the man who had borne the cloak but the last three were echoed in whispers by every one else. Then they were spoken aloud. Then they were shouted in unison, everyone standing and saluting with a clenched fist.

"THIS WE SWEAR!"

Darrus just stared at them all, their enthusiasm and fervor more than a little overwhelming. He faced the man who had spoken first and returned the salute, more an act of instinct than of any real understanding. It was the right thing to do, as the entire room followed suit again.

"THIS WE SWEAR!"

Yes, these men would fight for him. They would die for him if he asked it. They were like the Clones, but not slaves to his will. They were the soldiers he had always wished for and never quite felt the Clones could be. With this small army, this battered warship, what could he accomplish? No, what couldn't he accomplish?

Quietly, he felt Maya again. "Darrus, this is still just until we can get away, right?"

In this moment, with thoughts and plans and possibilities raging though his mind, Darrus simply could not give her an honest answer.


4 comments:

Lethane said...

Hhmm.. Siren's call. ;)

erisraven said...

The commander trap. Now how can he rationalize leaving these people? But will he turn his back on his Jedi heritage to do it?

Tarek said...

Yep... good question. And it's the lure of power too.

August said...

Indeed it is. The road from hero to despot can be very, very short indeed.