It began as a brook of beskar, running red and gold, and there’s your gray and blue, but that brook would soon become a river.
The Mandalorians streamed through the corridors, vods in the front and vods in the back, vods on the left and vods on the right, with their vornskrs and their anvils and the sigils and signets of warriors.
Two guards flanked the blast doors, regretted their posts as red bolts blasted them from Team Red.
Casany stood before the entrance, vods on her left and vods on her right.
Oska called as Taktik worked to bypass the panel.
There was agony in her voice, but there were no tears. “He’s dead, but what is dead—”
“May never die!” Chanted the crew of the Unwavering as they stood before the gates of hell.
With that, the Mandalorians all but kicked the door down as a river of red flowed between Red and Black and threatened to flood the bridge.
There was the blood in her eyes, the blaster bolts whipping around her head, the dye on her bloodied beskar, but then there was the red of vengeance, vengeance against the black.
“For Clan Praxor! Oya!”
“FORGED IN FIRE!”
Clan Praxor’s words echoed as two halves of a golden helmet fought to vanquish the other.
Battle waged on, some firing from behind cover, others storming forward.
Praxor’s sword was out now, it tore across the river, steel biting iron, as she reached her quarry.
The captain’s ready room adjoined the bridge, and the doors opened to release more Blacks, but Cas was banking on this.
“That’s my room, Ratheon!” “PRAXOR CUN—!”
Cried a Ratheon warrior as he launched from the doorway with his own sword. -CLANG!-
The two blades met, Cas parried, kicked forward, rolled into the room as her opponent met her blade across his chest.
Still in a crouch, the Mandalorian looked up, counted six with two in cover, swung one arm in front of her face as a plasma shield unfolded to block a barrage of bolts.
At the same time, Praxor’s other vambrace cast its voice as whistling birds greeted their targets with a song of death. Then there were two.
“Who is in command!?” A pistol pointed at either helmet, Cas had a kiss for each, but now there were vods on her left and vods on her right, and the two di'kuts crouched beneath her had better answer soon.
The Praxors were making good headway into the bridge. When she saw that no one else seemed to have their attention on her, she aimed a few more shots at those who looked to be getting a little too close to the others. With no helmet, she wasn’t going to be in the front lines, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t fight.
She saw Cas going alone into a room at the side of the bridge, and she sprung up to follow. She could hear blades clashing and blasters going off in there, and she wasn’t about to let her vod face them alone.
As she approached, one of the boarders came with her, attempting to fire a pistol right at Casany’s back.
“You’re not going anywhere.” Zaia’s gloved hand crashed on his helmet right at his temple while the other knocked the weapon out of his grip, and when he was still recovering, she kneed him in the stomach and tossed him on the ground. After a shot to the torso, he wouldn’t be moving anywhere. Inside, she saw Cas standing over the two remaining Ratheons, pointing a pistol at each helmet.
“He is!” both said simultaneously, pointing to the other, and Zaia scowled. Cowards.
“Tell us now, or both of you are dead.” If she didn’t do it first, Casany certainly would. Then one of them let up.
“I’m in command, Praxor dar’manda,” the one on the left admitted, practically spitting out the words. “And what are you going to do about it?” Zaia would have shut him up right then and there, but she would wait for Cas to make the move. The sounds of blaster fire had died outside, and pretty much the entire crew was watching their Alor.
It wasn’t cowardice that Cas heard in the voices of two Mandalorians.
Maybe they were brave enough to toy with death as it stared them through the visor and in the eye.
Maybe they refused to give the commander up and so each would take their turn pretending to be him.
Unfortunately for one them, neither man was the commander, so none of this even mattered.
One of Cas' pistols coughed as a bolt found its way through a helmet’s visor and into the face hiding behind it.
“Try this again. Who is in command?”
“You are, Captain.”
“Good. I’ve got a message for your alor. You will deliver it.”
She pulled something from her belt, the same item she had taken from a Black’s dead body.
Her enemy visibly tensed as if ready to die. “Don’t worry. It won’t be this blade that kills you, but your leader should get the message.”
For a Ratheon to have their knife returned by their enemy was as good as burning a white flag.
I'll burn them all, and the banners too.
She took a step forward. “You tell your clan that Clan Praxor is coming.
Tell Endyr Ratheon that Casany Praxor is coming.
And the stars are not big enough for the war I’m bringing with me!”
There was no response. The shorter Mandalorian looked up, just looked, the way a black visor can only look.
Then he spoke and, were it not for the visor, his listener was sure he would have spat.
“Tell him yourself. You tell me that you are coming?
Listen, Lady Red, Endyr Ratheon is already on his way. Kill one hunter, another comes along.
So bring your best and bring your beskar, Praxor, but, if you do, remember the words of my clan. Ours Is The Wrath!”
“And you shall have it, Ratheon,” Casany promised, staring at black but seeing only red. “At the edge of a blade forged in fire!”
Steel flashed, a river of red followed, and a head rolled across the floor.
Then, for a moment, it was nothing Cas saw. Only the light. Only the dark.
Heard nothing. Only the screams…of their dead and of mine.
Then she saw Zaia’s eyes, but what was inside them?
So it was, a declaration of war. Zaia looked at the Mandalorian beneath Cas, and then at the Praxor Alor herself. What now? She got her answer when the blade went down and the head of the man came rolling, stopping at her feet. She didn’t move. Couldn’t move.
Cas? The rest of the group was silent.
She’d just killed an unarmed man. But hadn’t the Ratheons done the same? We’re better than that. I thought Cas was. She didn’t know what to feel or to say with the conflicting thoughts in her mind, and when the woman met her gaze, Zaia could only look away. We got the ship back. That’s what matters. Isn’t it?
She knew her answer, though she knew she didn’t have the courage to say it either. It was wrong, killing someone outside of active combat. A warrior was supposed to fight with honor, treat defeated enemies with respect. Although, even Zaia had to remind herself of that sometimes, and that was the only reason she didn’t directly confront Casany about it. Instead, she took a step back from the fallen Ratheon’s head, and made her way quietly out of the room as the Praxors gathered outside parted for her.
Zaia looked away. For a moment, it was all Casany could do to watch her sister walk away, and wonder how far.
Maybe, in a sense, one reason she had brought her vod along was because Zaia was a younger version of herself, her sister, a mirror to check herself, to keep herself in check. My sister...
She was there in that cantina where they had first met, two lost heads with Mandalorian helmets, trading clan names and clan stories.
She was there when ate peas in the ship, ate Oreo's, talked of the Orar'da'yadr.
Zaia Krodas was there when Casany Praxor, Adenn Rytt and Etr Wyara took to the stars and chased their bounties.
She was there when Darth Raze parked his muscled ass on their planet, their home.
She was there when Fenyang Ordo placed a bolt into their vod, and for the bolts that followed.
She was there when Kotii Solus called any who would listen to the stars and the suns, those sons and daughters of Mandalore, to become the True Mandalorians.
She was there when the three of them fought back, as rebels, as warriors. But she was not there for the bolts that followed.
Zaia could not know of that other conflict, that war within the war.
She was not there when the helms of Praxor and Ratheon collided, sparked a flame, broke the dam, unleashed the fire and blood to follow. But my clan was there. My crew was there. I was there...
In a sense, it had only just begun, but soon it would end.
Silence haunted the Unwavering’s bridge as Casany Praxor stood before the viewport, staring into the universe beyond the window, one painted black with pinpricks of white. Like sparks in the dark, from the hammer, from the anvil...
The woman stood in her beskar'gam, red and gold, gold helm and red cloak, before her helmet came off to reveal a head of brown hair, a long braid dropping over a pauldron.
In the window, she saw a face, a pale reflection, but she knew better than to stare for too long into this other mirror.
She turned around, searched for Zaia, but her gaze had to be on red more than blue.
The captain had her crew’s eyes, did not need to ask or demand. “We took back our ship. We killed our enemies. Our enemies killed us. A few of their names: Kratle. Nama. Agerin. More will come. They always do.” Always the same war.
“I killed two of the last who boarded this cruiser.”
Spared a glance at Zaia. “In cold blood. In hot blood.
These raiders, these bounty hunters, came to capture my clanmates, my crewmates, my kin.
For Clan Ratheon, for this Mandalore or that one, for the Sith.
To in turn execute you. So I executed them instead.”
She would do it again. She would not feel sorry.
A hand came up, held a helmet, another one beside it.
They were empty, but never hollow. “Praxor. Ratheon. Black and red, but both are gold.
Gold is vengeance, and Mandalorians share that like we share our tongue, but sometimes talking is not enough and a Mandalorian knows that too.”
“Endyr Ratheon wants to claim his vengeance?”
Cas searched Zaia’s eyes, searched for strength, searched for doubt, looked away. A friend guides, but a leader must decide.
“Fine. I'll claim mine too."
A helmet fell, clanged upon the iron floor, but there was no red beside its gold. "Against the coward who calls himself a man, who backed Fenyang, who bled for dar’jetii dogs, who burned my home and murdered my mother, and dares to call himself a Mandalorian!”
She saw naked eyes, saw dark visors, faces forged in fire as she held her helm like a sword, like a shield. “We are warriors, Mando’ade, and the stars are already at war. We're just late."
Jedi, Sith, coalitions and syndicates, world wars and star wars.
The Mandalorians at large were already paving paths, but theirs was a different destination.
“But I have returned…”
Cas looked to her left, to her right. “For Kenji Taktik and Levet Roth.”
Looked down. “For Evla Praxor and Adenn Rytt.”
Looked up. “For Zaia Krodas and Kotii Solus.” For the living. For the dead.
She had their eyes but, more than that, they had hers.
“So sharpen your beskar, Praxors, and strengthen your hearts, because you are the best. You are Mandalorians. True Mandalorians!”
A fist crossed her chest, and the woman swung so as to feel.
The bridge began to flood.
“MANDALORE! MANDALORE! MANDALORE!”
The cry swelled, became a roar.
“PRAXOR! PRAXOR! PRAXOR!”
Then it was her own name she heard, from Keron Taze, Davyd Praxor, Adenn Rytt, even Endyr Ratheon, from her allies, even from her enemies.
“CASANY! CASANY! CASANY!”
But, look hard as she might, it was Zaia’s eyes that Casany tried to hear before her gaze returned to a sea of red.
When the hammer strikes but the Anvil is not there...what does that make me..?
Casany stood up in front of them all, and spoke. Zaia watched along with the others, standing in the back of the group a little away from everyone else. To her, the moment seemed intimate as the clan bonded over their Alor’s words, and she didn’t want to intrude with her blue in a sea of red.
But as her friend spoke, she began to understand why she’d done what she’d done. It didn’t make it right, but she could understand why. Endyr Ratheon. Cas threw down her helmet, and the sound caused Zaia’s head to jerk up. She could see fire in her vod’s eyes as she spoke and the hatred in her voice, and she had no doubt that the man had caused her friend much pain. Thinking about it honestly, were she in the same position as Casany, she would probably react the same way. She couldn’t hold it against her.
When Cas listed names and looked at various faces in the crowd, Zaia silently did the same. It was as if her friend had shared some of the flames in her eyes, lighting up the torches of her clanmates and preparing them to march onwards. Into battle, into war, she knew that these people were going to stand behind Casany no matter what.
And so would she.
As everyone else began to cheer, Zaia looked up to meet her vod’s gaze. She wouldn’t speak, but she dipped her head just slightly, a single nod of approval. Whether or not Cas would know it, she would always have Zaia’s blasters if she needed them. Against Clan Ratheon, against the Sith, anyone who dared to threaten Clan Praxor… she would be there.