Song was on the hunt. The Free Worlds Alliance had released several bounties to the public, petty criminals and smugglers up for capture, and Song was all hands on deck. If she wanted to earn a reputation for herself, she needed to prove it.
For starters, she would have to deal with a spice dealer by the name of Duermo, who, according to bounty records, was laying low on a remote Outer-Rim world, assuming he was safe and out of reach.
He was dead wrong.
Her ship parked outside a small outpost, a resting stop for spacefaring travelers and native inhabitants, Song passed under a stone gateway and onto the gravel streets. One or two locals looked at her with a touch of suspicion but she could care less about what they thought. What she was after wasn’t their love and respect, but their cooperation. What she wanted was Duermo.
“Hey,” she said, in a deep and low voice, to a vendor on the street. “Where’s the cantina?”
The Rodian looked like he was going to piss himself. It took a second for him to recoup and point over to a wide building at the street’s end. Nodding gratefully, she tossed him a single credit in a rare gesture of generosity, then she went on her way.
At the foot of cantina, a door swished open. Grey light from outside mixed with the neon from inside, and as Song stepped past the threshold, she noticed more than a few eyes were looking at her. With nothing but the sound of her boots against the floor, she found an open seat at the bar and slipped in.
She flagged down the bartender. Not just for a drink, but she had a few questions to ask too.
After so many years on the job, one cantina began to look like the next, and this little whole in the wall was no different. From the attractive twi’leks serving as waitresses to the glow of the neon lights, it differed very little from any other cantina you could find scattered across the galaxy. The conversations were the same, the music was the same, the games of pazaak were the same, and even the people were the same.
All, perhaps, except for one. Kanan’s eyes had fallen on the Mandalorian right away. It was not every day that you encountered a Mandalorian, and their signature armor and helmet never failed to catch one’s attention. Kanan seated himself a few chairs down from the Mandalorian, on the other side of a bothan who looked like he might faint at any given moment.
As interesting as this Mandalorian was, the bartender was why Kanan was here. He was following up a lead, per usual. This bartender supposedly had information on Duermo, a spice dealer hiding in the area with a charge sheet as long as a Sandcrawler.
Underneath her helmet, Song was quick to inspect the room. In the corner, three homebound pilgrims stuffed themselves with bantha soup. In another, two smugglers gambled in pazaak, one of them sweating like a pig. An armed droid, metal finger tapping on the counter, watched her blankly. And near the end of the table? A bearded man who she caught staring. A Ranger, or a bounty hunter?
Neither meant good news if they were after what she was after.
The bartender, a kindly old woman, approached her with a smile. “Can’t say I’ve seen one of your kind around here often. What can I get for you, sir?”
Song pressed her elbows onto the counter, leaned in, and said, “Information.”
The lady stared at her a moment before answering, “I’m sorry?”
Her voice, deep and gravelly through her voice modulator, lowered to a whisper. “I’m here for a dealer. The name’s Duermo. Know where I might find him?”
“I’m sorry,” said the old bartender. “I’m afraid I don’t…”
Song slid a few credits her way and immediately, she could feel the air around her change. Nothing like money to change a girl's mind. That's just the way things worked in the Outer-Rim.
The older woman nodded, took the credits in one hand and answered, “He rode into town for repairs the day before. I don’t know where he went after, but I’d reckon the town’s mechanic, Tera, would know. You’ll find her by the scrapyard.”
“Alright,” the Mandalorian said, rising from her seat. “Thanks.”
She made her way to the door, fairly certain nobody else had cared to listen in or follow after her. But, naturally, someone always did, and once she was clear of the cantina, she would make damn sure her trail stayed clear.
The credits slid across the bar to the bartender confirmed Kanan’s suspicion: the Mandalorian was after the spice dealer as well. It was annoying but not unexpected. The Free World’s Alliance had begun releasing bounties to the public, and it only made Kanan’s job that much harder. Bounty Hunters interfering with his job was something of a regular occurrence now, from the youngest to the oldest of them out looking to make a name for themselves or to line their pockets with credits.
The Mandalorian had gotten what he had come for, but Kanan had been unable to overhear a word of what was said due to the music playing overhead. There was no sense in paying for the same information twice. He certainly didn’t earn enough on his Ranger’s salary to justify the expense. It was ironic, really, that the Bounty Hunters were paid more for their captures and kills than he was.
Kanan let out a low, tired sigh and tore himself from his seat at the bar. It was a shame he hadn’t reached the cantina first. This would have been so much simpler if he had. Following the Mandalorian outside, he maintained a safe distance behind him, aware that the Mandalorian would be alerted to his presence sooner or later.
Although a newcomer to the bounty market, she was not new to outside interference or competing hunters. She clashed with one or two on several failed bounties. Mistakes she was quick to learn from, because one wrong move could mean the end for her, and Song wasn’t ready to punch out just yet.
She still had to find her brother’s killer, and the only way to accomplish that was to get into the Guild, and to get into the Guild, she needed to find and capture Duermo.
The spice dealer was her ticket in, and she’d fight tooth and nail to make sure it stayed that way.
While she neared the junkyard, marked by the charred husk of an old Imperial gunship, Song took a turn down a back alley. To anyone looking, she might have seemed like she were taking a shortcut, or meeting with the very dealer she was after, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Mandalorian knew she was being followed.
If, or when, her mysterious shadow slipped into the mouth of the alley, they would find nothing. Just a dumpster full to the brim, an old speeder torn open for parts and a gonk droid, shivering like it had seen a ghost.
But the moment Song’s pursuer would enter the thin alley was the moment she would strike.
From around the corner, like a viper out of the sand, she would raise her DL-44 blaster pistol to the man’s right temple and in a scratchy voice whisper, “Can I help you with something?”
Kanan remained in the shadows as he followed the Mandalorian, though his presence was bound to be known already. A large, old Imperial Gunship was coming into view. A junkyard, perhaps? If that was where Duermo was hiding, he had chosen aptly. Junk hiding in junk.
Up ahead the Mandalorian entered an alley. This was a trap no doubt.Kanan’s trailing of the Mandalorian had come to an end, but it was just as well. Better to have this fight over and done with before he reached Duermo. It wouldn’t do to provide the criminal scum a chance at escape while the two of them fought over him like children.
Kanan unhooked the leather strap at his side before entering the alleyway. No sooner had he rounded the corner than he felt the barrel of a DL—44 blaster pointed at his temple. This Mandalorian was quick. “I would think a young Mandalorian such as yourself would have much better things to do than chasing after the likes of Duermo,” Kanan replied calmly, his eyes not straying from the alley ahead. “But seeing as you’re already here... there is something you could help me with.” Turning and using his own leg, he swept the Mandalorian’s leg out from under him.
“Help you?“ said Song, cut off when she caught onto what Kanan was doing. But it was too late. She was swept off her feet, and literally, not figuratively. In a blur of movement, she fell towards the ground, the back of her head smacking into the crushed pavement. If not for her helmet, she might have plunged straight into unconsciousness, suffered a concussion, or worse.
Instead, she was left fully awake. Awake and angry.
Though her blaster had slipped from her fingers, clattering to the wall, she still had a few tricks up her sleeve. Aside from her knives and secondary blaster, that was. If this bounty hunter wanted to deal hand-to-hand combat with her, she was happy to oblige. Such was the honor of a Mandalorian. For now.
Back on the ground, she needed to level the playing field. She needed to get back up.
Gritting her teeth, she said, “Duermo’s mine.”
With the bola launcher on her wrist, she fired a durasteel wire at the man’s neck, hoping to temporarily entangle him or force him against the wall. Still, she had an inkling of a feeling he might narrowly avoid it, and she'd made good use on the distraction to get back on her feet.
And when Song did, she would be quick to land a hook across his face.
A punch like that sure ought to knock some sense into him, she imagined.
It had been wishful thinking to hope that the Mandalorian would give in and share the location of Duermo after one sweep of the leg. He was a Mandalorian; of course he would fight back.
With the Mandalorian’s blaster knocked from his hands a a result of the fall, Kanan did not reach for his own blaster. Fair was fair, after all. He certainly did not want to kill this Bounty Hunter. All he wanted was Deurmo’s location. Well, that and maybe a good old fashioned fist fight to get the blood pumping.
The durasteel wire launched at his neck was quick, and it took every reflex Kanan had to dodge it. Even then, it was a narrow escape. The Mandalorian now on his feet, he landed a spectacular hook directly to Kanan’s jaw causing him to stagger backwards.
“You’re not to be underestimated, are you?” Kanan chuckled at the Mandalorian’s agility and heavy punch, wiping a trickle of blood from his lips. “Look, all I want is Duermo. He deserves to answer for his crimes.” He swung a punch toward the Mandalorian’s gut, more as a distraction than anything, and attempted to grab one of his arms and place him into an arm lock.
“Nope,” said Song, her armored fist retreating back though still raised to deliver another sickening blow. Indeed, she was tired of being underestimated. By her father, by her family, by other hunters. She was pleased to know the hunter before her, swiping red from his bloodied lip, wouldn’t do the same. She respected that.
Wouldn’t stop her from kicking his ass though.
Song spotted the punch coming from miles away, but it came faster than she could have imagined, and the muscled crack of his knuckles connected with her lower gut. While the thick plating of her armor absorbed the shock of his blow, she stumbled a foot back, like he had shot a slug thrower at her point-blank. Underneath the safety of her helmet, and through gritted teeth, she smiled.
The fun was just getting started.
The older man took her by the arm with a speed and grace that told her she wasn’t dealing with just any ordinary bounty hunter. He was experienced and he knew precisely what to do and how to do it. But strong as he was, Song was no different.
"Duermo will answer for his crimes," she would say at last. "Through me."
In other circumstances, she might have twirled around to escape his arm lock, or weasel her way free with her other available hand, but she wanted to hit him where it hurt. With her helmet still on, she butted her head against his. Metal against skin. Hoping the blow would free her from his grip, she would then spin around on one heel and, with the other, launch a kick straight to his groin.
If her foot did find its mark, she figured that ought to take him down a notch.
Perhaps it was true that Bounty Hunters and Rangers often searched and hunted for the same prey, but in Kanan’s mind, their motivations could not have been any more different. Rangers, if they were true to their position and oath, carried out their duties in the pursuit of justice and safety for the betterment of the galaxy, and perhaps a little bit for the excitement. Bounty Hunters were in it for the credits and the glory, plain and simple.
This Mandalorian spoke of justice for Duermo’s crimes as if that was why he hunted his quarry. Kanan had yet to meet a Bounty Hunter who was in it for justice, but perhaps this Mandalorian would surprise him and be the first. Or perhaps not. At present, he was an annoyance. An entertaining annoyance but still an annoyance.
With the Mandalorian firmly restrained from behind, Kanan intended to question him and continue to apply pressure to his arm. A good plan in theory, but it did not work out quite as he had planned. The force of the blow to his head caused Kanan to stumble backwards and instinctively raise his hands to hold the pained area about his scalp. He was going to have a headache for days—possibly weeks.
The Mandalorian then continued his assault by adding insult to injury, and Kanan fell to the cobblestone alleyway on his knees. He growled, seething with anger as his head continued to throb in pain and he struggled to even think clearly. That had been a low blow, both figuratively and literally.
Reaching a hand out, Kanan seized the Mandalorian by the ankle and yanked as hard as he could at that moment, hoping to pull the Mandalorian down to his level. He was tempted, if he got him to the ground, to crawl atop him and tear the helmet from his head and punch him face to face, but he knew that as a Mandalorian his identity meant everything to him. Instead, if successful, Kanan would have to settle for a barrage of punches to the weak links in his armor.
Both blows found their marks and Song wasn’t ready to pass up her newfound advantage just yet. Pulling on leg back, she fixed the other to slam her armored kneecap into his nose, the force of it enough to break bone. More than enough to knock the man out cold.
She was an instant too slow.
Before Song could land a third and final blow, the man grabbed her by the ankle and pulled with a surprising amount of strength, toppling her for the second time. Hook, line and sinker. Except, that time, she was ready for the spill and used her armored back to cushion the landing. Not that it made the fall any less infuriating. Her opponent had proved to be as good a fighter as she.
If he wanted to play hard, she’d show him how.
On the ground, she watched the man loom over her and begin launching one punch after another. They weren’t random strikes either. He aimed them carefully between the chinks in her armor: under arms, the lower torso. Places which stung the second his blows connected. Bruises she wasn’t too keen to carry.
So, she threw him.
Quickly, Song would use her free hands to grab him by the chest and press her legs, curled inwards, against his thighs to throw him off and over her. A brutish, forced flip to put him on his back too (like so). And if she was able to pitch him over, she would keep her left hand on one of his arms and use her right hand to grab one her vibroknives.
From there, she’d aim it right between his eyes. Not to burrow it into his skull, but to show him the Mandalorian meant business.
It was a short-lived advantage, but it was enough of an adrenaline rush to at least reinvigorate Kanan if not take away the immense physical pain he felt at the moment. He had been in enough fights over the span of his lifetime to realize that this pain wasn’t going to be going away any time soon; the Mandalorian’s blows had been too precise and forceful to grant merely a short-lived memory of this fight. No, reminders of this fight would be following him around for quite some time, of that he was sure, but it was some consolation that perhaps he had left a few reminders of his own on the Mandalorian.
It was a well executed flip, he must admit, an he had left himself open to it. The sudden contact with cold cobblestone against his back served as a painful reminder to the throbbing in his head. A small groan escaped his lips, a concession he wished he had not given the Mandalorian the satisfaction of hearing.
The Mandalorian’s left hand was holding his arms firmly in place now, but Kanan’s eyes followed the direction his right hand took—reaching straight for a vibroknife. Using the strength of both his arms combined, he was able to free one of them from the Mandalorian’s hold and latch onto his right hand, an attempt to keep the vibroknife from coming any closer to his person.
The Ranger and the Mandalorian. They were both on the ground now, struggling for dominance, one predator to another. Song was bruised, her lower torso aching for relief, and she could finally hear a soft ringing in the back of her head from when the man first sent her tumbling, but it was going to take a lot more than a few scratches and a concussion to put her down for the count.
While her opponent was on his back, Song had since turned onto her stomach, and her neck craned to see the chiseled edges of his face and the knife hovering a foot above it. Good reflexes. He managed to catch her wrist mid-jab. She pushed harder, closing the distance between the knife’s tip and the man’s forehead by inches.
But it wasn’t enough. It wouldn’t be.
Song was strong, a Mandalorian trained the moment she could walk on two feet, but the man she was dealing with was older, stronger. Lifting and flipping him over was already hard enough, and with her armor weighing her down, she was getting tired. She could feel her stamina slipping away through her clammy fingers.
It was then that she saw it, out from the corner of her eye.
Wrenching her right hand away, letting the knife escape from her grip and forgoing her original attack, Song snapped for the DL-44 pistol she left on the pavement. Once she felt her hand coil around the handle, she aimed it for his head.
Finally, Kanan felt he had the advantage over the Mandalorian. The unwelcoming glint of the knife’s edge had been growing closer to his person until he had begun to apply pressure. Now the knife was retreating, and perhaps he would even be able to snatch it from the Mandalorian’s hand a redirect it toward its owner. There was nothing like turning one’s own weapons against them.
Then something strange happened. The Mandalorian had abandoned his grip on the knife and willingly let it fall into Kanan’s hands. Realizing his rival must have been reaching for something better, Kanan knew he only had a second to react. There was no time to draw his own blaster from his side, so he took the knife firmly in hand and pointed it toward a small gap in the Mandalorian’s torso armor.
As the DL-44 was once more pointed at his head, the knife served as some small measure of comfort, should the Mandalorian decide to shoot him. The knife was not terribly threatening in comparison to the DL-44, but it was something, and at the moment it was all Kanan had.
They had come full circle now, and they were both worse for wear because of it.This had been one of the most enjoyable fights he’d ever been in, and he didn’t mind admitting it. Allowing himself a good chuckle, he laid his head back against the cold pavement and stared up at the sky, undecided if he wanted to continue to fight or not. He respected this Mandalorian, and at this conjuncture Kanan would almost be willing to hand the reigns of capturing Duermo over to him. Almost.
Rallying a bit of strength, Kanan propped himself up on his free elbow and stared at the Mandalorian, still smiling a bit in amusement at the situation. He wanted to say something clever, but his head hurt too much.
Song had the barrel of a blaster fixed against the man’s head. One click of the trigger and she would leave a gaping hole in his skull, and she figured the threat would be enough to convince him to back off, until she noticed her own knife pressed between her armor.
She could kill him in a blink. An instant death. But with an easy push, he could slide the knife in deep, and she’d be left slowly bleeding out onto the pavement, before she too joined the halls of the dead. That was the last thing she wanted, and she had a feeling the same went for her unnamed rival.
As he sat on his elbow and smiled at her, Song couldn’t help but smile back.
Though the best he’d see was the tilt of her helmet. A sign of respect. She had to hand it to him, it had been a long time since she was bested like that.
At the mouth of the alley, a shadow loomed. Someone was watching them. Slowly, Song turned her head to find the same vendor she tipped on her way to the cantina. A wide-eyed Rodian, staring at them and chewing on a stick of deep-fried claw fish, like he had been spectating their battle for sometime.
The Mandalorian turned lazily back to her opponent.
“Hungry?” she said.
If they couldn’t come to terms over the bounty by fighting, then she might as well try a different approach, and over a plate of food.
The Mandalorian was the first to break the silence between them, and Kanan couldn’t have been more relieved. It had been an exhausting battand he felt that his elbow would give out on him at any moment.
The Mandalorian’s choice of words were a bit baffling, however, until he spotted the Rodian at the end of the alleyway. Kanan had not noticed him until that moment, and he wondered how long he had been standing there.
Turning back to the Mandalorian, he nodded his head, signaling his agreement with the idea.
The Rodian was only too happy to serve them a fresh serving of his deep-fried claw fish, wether this was because of his impeccable customer service or because he was terrified of them was up for debate. Regardless, it was the best deep-fried claw fish Kanan had ever tasted, and he felt his strength beginning to return to him.
Realizing he still held the Mandalorian’s vibroblade in his hand, he extended it to its owner and said, “I believe this is yours.”
He continued, but not before wiping another drop of blood from his lips. “It isn’t often that I come out of a fight respecting my opponent more than when I went in. Mind if I know your name, Mandalorian?”
One minute, they were engaged in a fight to the death. In the next, they were talking over a stick of roasted claw fish. Call it whiplash, but Song was content with the fact she wouldn’t have to sully her hands, or her own chest, with blood.
Neither of them might not leave unscathed, but they could with their lives.
Starved as she was, the Mandalorian ate nothing. That meant removing her helmet, and even if it was for a second, or by an inch, it was still against her creed. Although Song was afraid more about being exposed as a woman and dishonoring her late brother than breaking tradition.
The only time she’d ever remove that helmet was when she found River’s murderer.
Song took the small dagger back like she were plucking a piece off his food, nodded gratefully, then slipped it back under her sleeve. She had a feeling she would be needing the weapon later when she found Duermo.
Still, she had a newfound respect for her foe. Not enough to give him her true name, but enough to give him a name most would not receive.
“Same to you, stranger,” she said with due respect. “But my name is River.”
From under her helmet, she glanced between his rugged outfit and sculpted features, then asked, “You’re with the Free Worlds Alliance, aren’t you?”
Kanan had not expected the Mandalorian to remove his helmet to partake of the claw fish, and yet he still could not help but feel a twinge of disappointment when the helmet remained in place, as expected. He would have loved to have seen the face of the Mandalorian that fought so hard, so swiftly, and whose every move was a surprise and challenge.
On the other hand, the Mandalorian’s refusal to partake of the claw fish only left that much more for Kanan to eat. The Mandalorian was starving too no doubt after such a depletion of energy, and Kanan could sympathize with that, but there was no reason to allow that to interfere with his own appetite.
All of the claw fish now properly disposed of, Kanan brushed his hands off before crossing his arms to properly study the Mandalorian whose name he had just learned. Provided that was his real name. “River,” he said aloud, neither a positive nor negative implication to his tone. Merely a statement.
“Kanan,” he then answered, uncrossing his arms as he finished studying the Mandalorian and extending a proper hand in introduction. Perhaps he didn’t have the best manners or etiquette after years of traveling and living on the road, but he did know that a handshake would never be outdated in his book. “I don’t usually shake hands with Bounty Hunters, but...” Upon second thought, he did not finish that sentence. It would have sounded too much like a compliment—perhaps even been a compliment. There was no need to take this mutual respect too far, after all.
“Now, back to business.” Kanan took a step closer to the Mandalorian River, less out of intimidation and more to get the point across that he wasn’t going away. A little (or perhaps in this case big) beating and full stomach were not enough to satiate him. “I want Duermo.”
Still, neither stood on common ground. Both wanted Duermo and none were willing to share, especially for Song, who needed him alone and alive to join the Guild. She ought to shoot the Sector Ranger now, if only to prevent any future problems.
Her honor refused to go through with it.
Song shared a begrudging respect for Kanan, and she accepted his handshake with another reverent nod. As a Mandalorian, she even considered moving on and letting the other man take Duermo himself. But it had taken her weeks to get a hold of an easy target with a clear trail, and the bounty hunter inside her was unwilling to let her mark go.
As a shadow passed over his sharp eyes, Song knew he was just as unwilling.
They were back at a standstill.
“And I need him,” said Song, crossing her arms. Even with her helmet and boots, Kanan was marginally taller, and she was forced to lock eyes with him at a slight tilt.
“Listen Ranger,” she said, relaxing a bit. “In any other case, I’d let you have him, but I need this job to get into the Guild and I don’t plan on going anywhere until I do.”
“Why don’t we cut a deal?” The Mandalorian tilted her head at him. “Give me Duermo and you can have the reward… and my gratitude.” Which, in her case, was a lot. A favor for a favor.
Besides, she’d be cleaning up house for him. It was a deal worth taking.
The Bounty Hunter’s Guild was not a group Kanan had ever thought highly of. Thus, to help initiate someone into its numbers went against his grain. The Mandalorian had put the work, time, and effort into capturing Duermo, and Kanan respected that. He knew only too well how difficult and tiresome it was tracking down leads, sorting through all the lies and corruption you came across, and finally coming face to face with your mark and the fight that almost always resulted. He only wished that a man of this Mandalorian’s talents and intelligence had directed his pursuits elsewhere rather than the Guild. But there was no changing this Mandalorian’s mind, and it was not Kanan’s business nor place to do so. Perhaps, instead, this Mandalorian would do the Guild some good.
Kanan studied River’s helmet, motionless and devoid of any emotion. One of the benefits to the wearer, but a hinderance to Kanan at that moment. His voice sounded sincere though, and Kanan supposed he had no real reason to doubt him, although several distinct, shooting pains traveling throughout his body seemed to protest at that moment.
The reward. Kanan couldn’t help but smirk at that. Indeed, the Mandalorian was thinking like a Bounty Hunter. If Kanan had been in it for the credits, he certainly would not have become a Sector Ranger. “I don’t want the reward,” he replied, “I want to see to it that Duermo pays for his crimes.”
He took a step backwards from the Mandalorian and scratched his beard, offering a playful, only-slightly mocking half smile. “But the everlasting gratitude of a Mandalorian warrior...? That I will accept.”