Saga - Legends Welcome to Mandalore

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Mia Mesharad, Jun 29, 2017.

  1. Mia Mesharad

    Mia Mesharad Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Sep 2, 2012
    Enter the Star Wars galaxy, and embark on a journey from Coruscant to the Outer Rim, as you take on the role of a tourist traveling to the planet Mandalore for the first time. Spend a few days on the Mandalorian homeworld, seeing the sights, sampling the food, and experiencing the day-to-day life of its citizens in cities like Keldabe, Sundari, and smalltown Enceri, with a knowledgeable local guide—and skilled bodyguard—at your side along the way.
    Inspired by those fun little tourism blog entries of 2016, and written for the
    Galactic Travel Guide thread in the Literature forum. Context should inform most minor Mando'a terms, but for several words and phrases throughout the piecebrown-linked for conveniencea quick and easy translation is just a simple click away. Standard blue links go to informative Wiki articles, or helpful reference images—all of which are completely safe for work. Comments are very welcome.

    The year is 22 BBY, just a few short months before the start of the Clone Wars...

    The wind whipping across the Coruscanti platform is bitter cold and penetrating, even for the smartly dressed. It's a far cry from the comforts of the Galactic City Spaceport. Nothing but an austere landing pad: all drab durasteel, caked over the repulsorlifts that keep the whole thing afloat over the planet's surface some five thousand meters below. Checking your wrist chrono, you can't help but wonder why exactly the travel agency sent you all the way up here instead of GCS.

    Then you see the towering vessel dropping down over the skylanes, and things start to make a lot more sense. The Coronet just wasn't built for flat-surface landings.

    It's hard to say just what the starship's engineers had in mind when they built her. From the top of the platform, waiting as droids ferry cargo aboard the newly docked vessel, all that can be seen of the Coronet is a sleek, aerodynamic hull adorned in diplomatic livery, the likes of which could be seen on any of a hundred other luxury liners. But below, hanging down and just out of sight from your current vantage point, is an unsightly ventral spine shaped like a bladed fin, where you've heard the cargo and crew and any poor soul too light on credits to afford the good seats were forced to bunk.

    Sometimes it paid to splurge a little. Like when booking a private, first-class cabin on the upper decks.

    A bright red airtaxi lands at the edge of the platform, offloading a striking figure in all-concealing Mandalorian armor. White plates with gold and wine-colored accents, and a black flak vest over a well-fitting, gray flightsuit. The helmet shares the armor's color scheme, but it's the gun belt that stands out most: twin pistols, and the Force only knows what else in all the various pouches. "You must be the client." Even from behind that stoic black visor, the voice sounds soft. Pleasant, even. In a single motion, the helmet's off, revealing the face of a sunny-looking young woman with a warm brown complexion and lively eyes, her dark hair tied back in a loose braid. She offers a hand to shake as she nears; she's shorter up close than you first thought. "I'm Ezgi Deshra. You can just call me Ezgi." Not a bad grip, either. "Pleasure to meet you."

    She clips her helmet to her belt, and fishes a palm-sized datapad from one of the many pouches. "So, the agency tells me you booked a full package, but insisted on hiring protection for the length of it. Just between you and me, Mandalore's not all that scary these days, ever since Fett wiped out the last of the Death Watch. But...hey, your money." Ezgi scans the 'pad, a faint smile on her lips as she watched the transaction light flash green. "Well, my money, now. And look, I know I don't exactly come cheap, so for whatever it's worth, think of me as your personal tour guide. I know stuff the brochures won't tell you. I'll try to make it fun. Or at least educational." She winks. "Hopefully."

    For what it lacks in exterior design, the Coronet more than makes up for in interior opulence. Living up to her word, Ezgi falls into the role of tour guide almost immediately, pointing out the walls are lined with top-quality tuft-oak from Jakelia, and decorated with finely crafted lapis from Draboon. Even the carpet, she says—plush and scarlet—has a story, imported from the renowned looms of Harswee, where a great Mandalorian war chieftain was born a long, long time ago.

    You scarcely have enough time to stow away your travel pack before a chipper blonde woman appears at the door to your cabin to direct your attention out into the hall. The guide's voice is high and nasally, and she introduces herself as Teersa. She speaks to the assembled guests with the manner of someone devoted to getting the legal limit of caf every morning, and welcomes you and the other passengers to make use of the Coronet's zero-gravity hydro-spa, fully-loaded gaming room, and grand theater. "The Coronet is known galaxy-wide for its fine dining opportunities, and each and every one of you has been offered a complimentary bottle of Kalevalan wine as a special thank you gift for purchasing a premium travel package."

    The deck lurches beneath your feet, and the faintest feeling of momentum lets you know you're on your way now. The smiling guide beckons you and the others to follow for a tour of the ship, repeating many of the things Ezgi's already said about the Coronet's décor but with more of a self-congratulatory flair. "The Coronet's furnished with the absolute finest the world's of the Mandalore sector have to offer! You won't find another ship like it for a hundred parsecs!"

    "I never could figure out why they named it the Coronet in the first place," Ezgi mutters at your side. She looks less than enthused by your new official guide and her more verbose manner. "Coronet's Corellia's capital, and this thing wasn't even built there. Now a CEC model, sure, I could understand that. But coming off the lines of Kalevala Spaceworks you'd think they'd name it the Tal'tar or the Kaylva or...well anything other than Coronet." She huffs and shrugs. "Cuy ogir'olar."

    You arrive at a wide viewing gallery, with an equally wide viewport. The guide pauses, her hand to her ear and the comlink therein, then directs your attention to the stunning field of stars sparkling beyond the pane of transparisteel. Each distant pinprick grows brighter, before streaking toward you in a rush of whooshing light and color that signals the jump to hyperspace. "Never gets old, does it?" you say to Ezgi.

    She smiles, nodding as she pats your arm, but then turns to the door. "Do me a favor and stick with the tour. I'll catch up."

    The Coronet seems more than safe enough, so you give her leave to go about whatever business needs attending. The nasally guide takes you and the others throughout the ship, pointing out assorted bits of finery and reciting notable guests who've come before as you walk the promenade, stopping at a grand library, a spectacular entertainment hall, and that hydro-spa she'd mentioned earlier, before finally touring the bridge. By now you must've passed an army of servant droids, puttering up and down the scarlet floors, and it's beginning to look like every corner of the ship's been assigned a striking guardsman armed with a polished electrostaff. Their armor couldn't have been more different from Ezgi's, but they have an undeniable air of menace that broadcasts a warning to anyone that saw them: these are not men to be trifled with.

    The tour finally comes to an end at the starliner's dining hall, where a modest banquet of hors d'oeuvres awaits. Platters laden with roast nuna leg, strips of melon, and sliced tomatoes were joined by dishes stacked with cubes of white soypro and cheese, interspersed with tall cups of wine. A silver TC-series protocol droid shuffles over, carrying a tray of cocktails that are immediately pounced upon by your fellow guests.

    "There you are!" Ezgi's back, but you notice the pair of guards stationed at the dining hall's entrance give her a synchronized look of disdain as she passes. What's that about? "Been looking all over." Everyone starts to set upon the table of hors d'oeuvres, but Ezgi holds back, arms crossed and lips pursed.

    "What is it?" you ask.

    Her face becomes a friendly mask. "Nothing. Haili ce—er, dig in."

    You pluck one of the small dishes with cheese and white soypro from the table and step back, popping a cube of mealy soypro in your mouth as you offer the dish to Ezgi. "Appetizer?"

    She smirks, suppressing a laugh at the joke you don't remember telling. "Thanks, but those aren't appetizers. Or at least they're not meant to be. That's what passes for a real meal around here."

    "You're kidding..."

    "Wish I was. Not exactly what you were expecting when Teersa mentioned the 'fine dining,' is it?"

    * * *

    The black of space turns red hot for a brilliant moment before cooling again to a natural atmospheric blue. Through the cabin viewport you catch a glimpse of water and dry prairie beneath a cloudless blue sky, before all the world below becomes white.

    So this is Mandalore...

    Across the suite, Ezgi's sitting in an abundantly cushioned chair, her arms crossed, helmet on, and her head tucked to her chest. She'd been like that for more than an hour. "Ezgi?" She doesn't move; maybe she's sleeping. You try again a little louder this time, but her only response is still unmoving silence. It's only when you get up from your seat that she finally budges, looking up at you from behind that featureless black visor. "We're landing."

    Ezgi lets out a little grunt and uncoils from her seat, stretching. "Jate. It'll be good to get off this ship." She lifts her helmet from her head, and you can hear the faint sound of glimmik music coming from within. So she wasn't sleeping, just too engrossed in her music to hear you. "Don't forget to take the bottle of wine they left for you. If it's Kalevalan, it'll be good."

    You gather what things you brought—and the bottle—and stuff them back into your pack as you head for the door. Stout little servant droids flock around you as you make your way down the promenade, asking to take bags or coats. At the top of the boarding ramp, a once over from a cluster of security sensors clears you and Ezgi to put boots on the ground. Only one of the other touring passengers is disembarking here with you. The rest are still in their cabins, bound for other destinations across Mandalorian space.

    The first thing that hits you as you make your way down the ramp is the heat. It bears down on you from the sun above, and radiates up from the sand below. And that sand is everywhere, gleaming white and hazy in the mid-morning sun, stretching as far as the visible horizon. Ahead, a great wall of black stretches up from the carpet of white. Standing on the docks jutting out of its side, it's a little hard to comprehend the scale of the enormous domed city sitting before you. The outer shell could swallow some Coruscanti neighborhoods whole.

    "It's not that amazing," Ezgi says, looking entirely unimpressed. She must've taken note of you staring. "Just an overgrown vheh'yaim with delusions of grandeur. You get over it. Everyone does. Size isn't everything." It's beginning to feel like there's some history here you're not privy to.

    You start for the portal that leads from the docks into the inner city, when a customs officer emerges from between two large cargo containers and catches sight of Ezgi. "Back again, skug?" he shouts over. Ezgi doesn't respond, doesn't slow down, doesn't even look at him. But her face crinkles into a frown. "They're still letting besome like you in the city?" He's on an intercept course now. "Kryze is too tolerant of you people. That's what happens when you put aka'liitosik in charge." Ezgi still doesn't answer, diverting her eyes from the doors ahead only for a moment to ensure you're still close. The officer aims a finger at her. "All right, halt! I've got to check your weapons, skug."

    It's a little surprising that Ezgi obeys. She stops dead in her tracks, eyes forward, arms loose at her sides. The customs officer saunters over, a victorious firaxa closing on Ezgi, but the moment he reaches for her belt—you're a few steps back, too far to see the specifics, but her hand goes down, his voice goes up, and it's not hard to fill in the blanks. "Ke sush, chakaar," Ezgi hisses, her voice dripping venom centimeters from the officer's ear. "Ner buir ru'cuyi Evaar'lad. I have the same citizenship rights as you, and I'm registered with the Guard to carry. Now, when I let your gett'ikase go, you're going to get the kark out of here as fast as you can." He nods, face contorted. "And if you ever speak to me like that in front of a client again, you'll be dinner for the desert scavs, tayli'bac?"

    "Got it," the officer squeaks, nodding emphatically before he's finally allowed to scurry off.

    It's several long, deep breaths before Ezgi turns to face you. "Sorry you had to see that." She adopts a little half smile. "Not a very welcoming welcome committee, huh? Don't worry, it won't all be like that once we get inside. You'll like it."

    An automated transport ferries you and Ezgi into the city free of charge, through a series of heavy blast doors that look prepared to keep out more than sand and the hot desert air. The transport zips through the durasteel corridor, and into an enormous cavern of shimmering transparisteel buildings that rise up a hundred stories from the surface below, and hang from the curved ceiling like glass stalactites. Navigating the packed skylines that weave between the buildings, it's hard not to be reminded of Coruscant. But where the towers of Galactic City merely used transparisteel, Sundari's skyscrapers seem to be made almost entirely of it. Transparent, translucent, and mirror-sheen panes by the thousand catch and play wonders with the dome's artificial light. Even the floors you see are sparkling glass, and you pass over a crowded merchant plaza that invites you to look several levels down through floor after floor.

    "It's all the beskar that makes it possible," Ezgi says, pointing over the transport railing. "Mandalorian iron. Sundari's built over a big beskar mine. It gives the buildings their core strength, so you don't have to worry about whether or not the shiny bits will hold up." She nods toward a large rooftop concourse coming up. "That's stop number one." The transport dips, and slows to a halt at the edge of the way, letting the two of you off. "Welcome to Peace Park."

    It seems strange to call this place a park. The grounds are devoid of any grass, instead made up of a transparent glass floor that's edged by an immaculate sandgarden. There are trees growing in the sand, and shrubs, though they've been meticulously trimmed into geometric shapes so stark they look about as alive as the decorative boulders they join in the dust.

    As you make your way along the concourse, you start to notice something strange about the people, as well. There's a striking sameness about them. The faces are all different, of course, they're not clones. But everyone here is human, every man, woman, and child. And their hair is a uniform a dull yellow if it isn't shaved clean, styled in ways that are all so similar it's as if everyone goes to the same salon. Their sense of fashion doesn't seem to vary much, either, nor does the singularly light tone of their skin. None of them looked anything like Ezgi, and for a city of this size, it stands out as sharply as Sundari's dome on the dunes.

    At the park's end is a large sculpture, shaped like a pale blue teardrop that's been split down the middle. A boxy droid on wheels rolls over, a digital smile on its flat screen face. "Welcome to Mandalore!" it says cheerfully, somehow recognizing you as an offworlder, there to see the sights. "This is the Memorial Shrine, commissioned by Satine Kryze."

    That's the second time you've heard the name Kryze since arriving. "Who?"

    Ezgi curses. "Now you did it."

    The tour guide droid lifts itself up a little straighter. "Why, Her Exalted Royal Majesty Satine Kryze, Duchess of Mandalore, Keeper of the Sacred Peace—"

    "Here we go..."

    "—Head of House Kryze—"

    "Clan Kryze."

    "—Leader of the Mandalorians—"

    "New Mandalorians."

    "—and Protector of Mandalorian Space."

    Ezgi folds her arms and shakes her head. "Di'kutla beskar'ad."

    From the park, Ezgi's tour takes you to the Sundari Art Museum. You walk the long galleries for nearly two hours, bouncing back and forth between the official museum guidebook and your own guide's unscripted commentary. Ezgi lights up as she points out several of her favorite pieces, among them a beautifully complex painting by a Morseerian artist named Nebron Leeru, and a surrealist Miralukan sculpture said to have been inspired by an ancient star dragon. There's little love for the dozens of New Mandalorian cubist works on display, however.

    Just down the street from the museum is a grand building with a steeply arched roof and a quartet of blocky glass towers. Ezgi explains that it's a cathedral that had been built over a century ago to honor the old Mandalorian gods, by those few New Mandalorians who still believe. Inside, the walls are lined with elegant stained glass windows and illuminated reliefs that tell a stylized history of Mandalore, from bloody war to a blessed peace, and the birth of Sundari from the smoldering desert sands. The display culminates in a chapel alcove, whose star-covered walls are built around a round altar topped with a neuranium sculpture of Mandalore held on the backs of two armored figures, while a third stands majestically atop the globe.

    "That's Arasuum," says Ezgi, pointing to the figure at the top, draped in a flowing cloak and showered with jewels. "In ancient times, Arasuum was seen as the personification of stagnation, tempting the Mandalorians toward idleness and decay." Her finger drops, to one of the figures that had been tasked with holding up the world, one dressed in ludicrously spiked armor and clutching an archaic war ax. "This is Kad Ha'rangir, who legends call the destroyer god, eternally pitted against Arasuum in a cosmic war to bring change. The old clans worshiped him, and waged war in his name in the hope of receiving his blessings and protection from Arasuum's machinations." Finally, she points to the last of the three, and the one standing alongside Ha'rangir beneath the globe. This one wears no armor—save for the same T-visored mask as the others—instead donning layered robes, though there's another ax gripped tightly in its hand. "And that is Hod Ha'ran, the fickle god of fortune whom the clans would pray to for luck."

    "So why are these two stuck down here, while Arasuum gets to stand on top?" you ask.

    Ezgi shrugs. "Interpretations change. Most Mandalorians don't worship the old gods anymore, and haven't for a long, long time, actually. The New Mandalorians—the ones who built this place, I mean, and even in Sundari they're a minority—they don't see Arasuum as a god of stagnation, they see him as a god of peace and protection. They worship him, rather than Kad Ha'rangir as the ancients did." Her voice is tight, and she starts fidgeting back and forth on her feet as she talks. "But they still credit Ha'rangir's influence with the destruction that 'cleansed' the old society and made their rise possible, and they thank Hod Ha'ran for their prosperity. So here they are, lifting up these people's idea of Manda'yaim."

    You take a moment to let it all sink in, and the more you reflect on it, the more the neuranium sculpture begins to take on a darker tone than its beautiful craftsmanship and place of reverence had first suggested. "You said most Mandalorians don’t worship the old gods anymore. Is it just these people, or are there others?"

    "There are scattered believers here and there," Ezgi replies, pacing the chapel's perimeter. "Some mercs still say a few words to Hod Ha'ran before heading out on a dangerous job, and once in a while a superstitious Mando who's down on their luck might lay out a few flowers and a credit ingot as an offering for the god of fortune's favor. Mostly you just get dead flowers and dusty credits doing that. Some Death Watch types were heavy into Kad Ha'rangir worship a while back." Her lip curls in disgust at the thought. "Not the 'bringer of change' concept of him, either, but as a full-blown, 'fire and blood' destroyer god that would help them tear this city to the ground and slaughter its people. Chakaare."

    "And what do you believe?"

    "Me?" She sighs, and you catch her rolling her eyes even as she looks away. "I believe people love having divine powers that agree with them. I enjoy the stories and the mythology of it all—the Akaanati'kar'oya, the Ka'ra, the Ani'la Akaan—but that's all they are. Take some allegorical value out of them if you really want, but at the end of the day they're still just made up stories."

    Once you’re finished looking around the cathedral, the shopping district is next, a shining commercial enclave comprised of a variety of clothing stores, markets for offworld foods, speeder lots, and upscale salons. There's even a small shop that sells homemade glassware, ranging from dishes and vases, to statuettes and hand blown artwork. After, Ezgi takes you to the Avenue of Founders, a concourse much like Peace Park, lined with bronzium statues of the first New Mandalorian leaders. More of those tour guide droids roll about, just waiting for a new guest to inundate with historical trivia. From there, it's a short airtaxi ride to the Royal Palace, the unmistakable central fixture of Sundari. The taxi lands on the far side of a lively plaza. Across the square, between two grand staircases leading up to the palace entrance, is a large mural depicting what looks to be an ancient battle between two armies of Mandalorian warriors and Jedi Knights, done in the same cubist style as the paintings from the museum. Climbing the steps is a chore, but outside the palace you find the other tourist who got off the Coronet with you, preparing to be taken inside on the official palace tour. You hurry to join her, but one of the Royal Guards moves to block your path.

    "She has to wait out here," says the masked guardsman, inclining his staff toward Ezgi. "The aka'liit are barred from the palace. No exception."

    Before you can say anything, Ezgi shrugs and turns her hands up in surrender. "Fine." She fakes a polite smile for the guard and gives you an affirming nod as she backs away. "I'll be here when you're done. People watching or something. It's fine." There's no hiding the practiced tone in her voice. This isn't the first time she's been through this. "Go ahead."

    You join the guided tour with your former ship mate, a dark-haired woman with vibrant green eyes, and the finely dressed guide takes the pair of you into the palace. The first room you enter is an elegant hall of transparisteel, with decorative windows and high ceilings. At the far end is an elaborate, high-backed throne with stained glass accents. "This is the formal throne room," your guide announces. "It's from here that Duchess Kryze dutifully attends to the needs of her people. Unfortunately, the Duchess is too busy to receive visitors today." The tour takes you through banquet halls and parlors, past offices and into a sprawling holo-book library. Most of the titles are in Mando'a, though you're assured they're some of the most well-received works this side of Obroa-skai. Eventually you find yourself in a large office, surrounded by detailed glass busts that bear the likenesses of Mandalore's past Prime Ministers, before moving on to royal gardens that don't look all that different from Peace Park.

    Sundari's day-night cycle is dipping into darkness by the time the tour finally comes to an end and you're escorted back out onto the main terrace. It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust enough to the diminished light to pick Ezgi out on the palace steps, sitting with her helmet on and her arms hugging her knees, rhythmically bobbing her head. You chance a touch on her shoulder and she turns quickly, taking her helmet off; you can hear a smazzo song still playing on the internal speakers. "So how was it?" she asks. "Did they let you meet Her Exaltedness, High Queen of the Many Titles?"

    As night falls, the New Mandalore hotel becomes the final destination of the day's odyssey. Like the rest of Sundari's buildings, it's a geometric glass tower, but the hotel hangs down from the dome's vaulted ceiling, accessible only from a series of landing pads near the bottom. Taxiing up to the New Mandalore, you enter the hotel to find an austere interior not unlike that of the museum or Royal Palace. A circular sandgarden that hosts a trio of small trees and rocks sits at the center of the reception area, ringed by a narrow band of water. Checking in takes only a few moments and your indenticard, as the room was already booked and payed for as part of your travel package. A droid porter is on hand to take your pack up to your room. You're due a complimentary meal as part of your stay, and given it's been some time since you last ate, food now sounds a lot more attractive than food later.

    The hotel restaurant is an aberration by classical standards, located at the very bottom level of the establishment rather than near its summit. It doesn't take you long to see why, though. The New Mandalore's polished transparisteel floor offers diners a spectacular view of Sundari at night, the lights of the city glittering below their feet. The trade off is the strange sense of vertigo that accompanies walking across a floor that doesn't seem to exist. You take a table with Ezgi, amid whispers and stares from the other guests, some of whom openly wear their disdain for an armored Mandalorian in their presence. A black-suited waiter soon arrives at your table, offering a datapad menu before zipping off to attend to another group of diners. Most of the food is the same as what you'd eaten on the Coronet.

    "May I?" Ezgi asks, holding out a hand for the 'pad. You pass it over and she goes to work, scrolling and tapping in several selections. The staff are quick, the first plates arriving before she's even finished. When all's said and done, the table is covered by two bowls of plain white rice, a bowl of ruddy brown beans, cubes of cheese, a roasted nuna breast, tomato slices, and a pair of water glasses. "New Mandalorians might be mirsh'kyramude in the kitchen, but you can always find some raw potential laying around in the cupboards." She takes a small red bottle from one of her belt's many pouches, and begins to drizzle the contents over one of the bowls of rice. "Nothing a little pirjanad can't make better. It's, uh...what's'partayli te shabla..." She bites her lip, struggling. "Hot sauce!" A faint splash of water wets the hot rice, and she stirs the sauce throughout before adding in half the beans. The tomato slices are diced using one of the table knives, and the nuna breast is carved into rough chunks, with both ingredients ending up next in the bowl. The serrated edge of the blade makes for a rough cheese grater, and the ragged flakes top the entire concoction alongside another helping of sauce, and a generous amount of ground pepper from the table shaker. Finally, Ezgi turns the finished bowl over to you, fork poking straight up. "Moment of truth. Tell me what you think. And be honest, okay?"
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  2. Mia Mesharad

    Mia Mesharad Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Sep 2, 2012
    White sand dunes rush by outside, as repulsor downdraft kicks up grit that peppers the forward viewport. In the past few hours, you've traded a comfortable bed in a classy hotel for a cushioned seat in a rented airspeeder, leaving Sundari behind as fast as the Buirk'alor's powerful engines can carry you. The vast sand wastes surrender at last to dry prairie, and on to dull green grassland before you finally reach the coast. Across the crystal blue sea, the northern continent may as well be another world. Waves roll over warm golden sands below you, giving way to lush, green grass plains dotted with wide-branching trees. You pass what looks to be a nerf farm, and an oblong lake overrun by some kind of water fowl.

    The speeder swoops over the canopy of a silver-leaved forest, full of what Ezgi identifies as galek trees and vibrantly colored amber ferns sprouting throughout the undergrowth. On the other side, the rugged forest opens onto rolling hills, with expansive orchards and a walled city nestled among them. Eventually, Ezgi brings the airspeeder down, just a meter or so off the ground, and takes to flying one of the winding roads you've seen snaking across the countryside from the air. She reduces speed, and leads the two of you into another stretch of woods, this one a densely packed forest of evergreen trees with thick trunks. "These are veshok trees," Ezgi says, pointing to either side of the road. "They grow all over the north of Mandalore, practically all the way to the ice cap. With so many of them around, Mandalorians have taken to using veshok trees for everything we can. Construction, furniture, name it. It's good wood. Hard, sturdy. And it burns hot." A bend in the road takes you alongside a lazy stream, the water washing over well-worn rocks, just deep enough to allow a few small fish to make their home within the brook. Beyond it, you watch as a herd of shatual dash through the trees, stirred by the speeder's intrusion into their territory.

    What's more, in the distance you catch sight of a two-story tree house stretched between a pair of veshoks, with only a simple staircase and some pipes connecting the structure to the ground. Ezgi must have noticed it too: "You'll see a lot of kursh'yaime like that on Mandalore. There are some pretty elaborate ones just east of Keldabe I can show you if you want."

    "Kedalbe is where we're headed, right?"

    "Keldabe," Ezgi gently corrects, "but yes. It's the capital of Mandalore, no matter what the New Mandalorians might say. Best city in the galaxy." She pauses, checking the speeder's navigation. "Well, best in my opinion. I might be little biased, though. It's been home for most of my life."

    The road soon curves away from the stream, and goes on for another kilometer and a half before swinging around again, this time toward a rapidly approaching clearing. The moment you're through the trees, the viewport's filled with the sight of a city perched atop a granite plateau. There's no black dome or steelstone wall here to protect it, just a bend in the rushing river that nearly closes entirely around the flat-topped hill, forming something of a natural moat. The open skyline casts a diverse silhouette against the bright blue backdrop of the afternoon sky, one dominated by a tall tower featuring a beastly skull logo you recognize as belonging to the MandalMotors company. Ezgi takes the speeder over one of a number of wide footbridges that span the waters of the Kelita River, and up the sloping road into Keldabe.

    Just inside what could be considered the city limits, she pulls off the street and into a flat lot filled with parked speeders, small shuttles, and swoop bikes. "This is where we get out," says Ezgi. "You wanted authentic Keldabe, and you only get authentic Keldabe on foot." The moment the airspeeder's canopy lifts, you're struck by the sweet, woody scent of resin trees, mixed with a whiff of cooking spices. "Do me a favor and try to stay close, okay? I sent a map to your 'pad, but with all the twists and turns, Keldabe's still an easy place to get lost. Especially on market days like today."

    As you round the corner from the lot onto the street, you nearly barrel directly into the armored chest of a massive being with blue-green scales, finned ears, and long fangs. You stumble back to keep from crashing headlong into him, though the towering Mandalorian catches you by the shoulder, offering a steadying hand. "Excuse me, bur'cya," he rumbles, patting your arm before maneuvering around you down the street.

    That certainly never happened in Sundari.

    Ezgi gives you a nudge from behind. "First time meeting a Mandallian? They don't call them 'giants' for nothing." She's smirking. "Don't worry, though. That was just old Bev Shanka. Comes into Keldabe on market days to sell the narcolethe him and his cyare brew up at home. He's harmless...mostly."

    Mandallian Giants are only the beginning. You're not on the streets for a whole five minutes before you've seen a tattooed Houk, a trio of Togorians, a young Zabrak couple, a wiry Bothan with a braided mane, and a burly Devaronian whose horns have been filed down until they resembled a pair of dark goggles resting over his brow. Many are armored like Ezgi—in full or in part—while others are dressed in flightsuits, cloaks, simple coveralls, a variety of tunics, and other casual attire. There are humans too, of course, and in fact it looks as though they make up the majority of the crowd, their varied appearances running the gamut of human diversity.

    The other way in which Keldabe seems desperate to set itself apart from Sundari is through its eclectic architecture. There are no uniform pillars of gleaming glass here, and no wide lanes for speeders to navigate. The city is dense, its buildings erected in close quarters to one another with no standardized look to their design. A walk down the street is like a walk back in time, showcasing stonework pavement surrounded by stonework commercial structures, and apartment buildings possessed of old wood frames and plaster walls. Anachronism is quick to set in, however, as you discover a modern industrial warehouse and a durasteel workshop sitting side-by-side with a centuries-old tower of polished granite. Buildings of permacrete, plastoid, wood, and metal line the streets, capped by wood-shingles, tiled roofs, stone domes, and more. And above it all, the high-tech tower headquarters of MandalMotors looks down over the city.

    You pass a butcher's shop on one side of the street, and a tapcaf on the other. A sleepy looking Pau'un in deep green armor stands slumped near the tapcaf door, sipping from a hot mug. At his feet, you recognize a strill from a HoloNet documentary: a baggy-skinned hunting animal with six legs and lustrous yellow fur, it waits patiently, watching the crowd go by while its master drinks. Ezgi slows as the two of you go by a row of storefronts, scanning a rack of holozines behind the glass, or perhaps she's sizing up the vidscreen with the "half off" label. Most of this street seems to be shops of one kind or another, selling everything from speeder parts and power tools, to flightsuits and children's toys. Making your way onto an adjoining street through a cramped alley, you come upon a passage that's more like a tunnel than the open air avenue you came from, overhung by the surrounding buildings' second stories and lit by hanging lamps. The rough street sign reads Chortav Gotabore, according to Ezgi, and here you find a jetpack repair facility, several small workshops, a doctor's office, and a warehouse outlet advertising used droid parts and other specialty equipment for sale. A tall, dark-skinned woman carrying a box of scraps meets your gaze through the warehouse door. "Me'copaani, bur'cya?" she calls to you, brushing a harried lock of dark red hair from her face. "K'olar! Mhi gana mayen."

    Ezgi quickly takes your arm, flashing a smile to the shopkeeper even as she vigorously shakes her head. "Not today, ner vod. We're just out for a walk about town." As she pulls you away, her voice changes to a sharp whisper. "You do not want to go in there. The woman's a shabla snake charmer. She'll have you walking out of there with enough duse to give Raxus a run for its credits and, somehow, she'll make you feel good about it." She spots a sign up ahead, sporting violet Mando'a runes and multi-colored orbs, and her face brightens. "Come on. You can't come to Keldabe without visiting Hashar's."

    Hashar's turns out to be a rustic sweet shop at the end of Chortav Gotabore, with shelves upon shelves filled with a wide selection of confectioneries: chocolates wrapped in silver shimmerfoil, tranna nougat creams, bags of candied nuts, little sweetcream-filled cookies shaped like mythosaur heads, jars of sugar-coated fruit slices, and so many other treats. A middle-aged human stands behind the counter in warm robes, watching you and Ezgi expectantly. He has thin, piercing eyes, a neatly-trimmed beard, and time-weathered skin possessed of light golden tones. This must be Hashar. "Everything's discounted for market day," he says, lazily stroking a black-furred spukamas that's keeping watch over the store from its countertop perch. "See anything you like?"

    "Pare sol, Hashar," Ezgi playfully whines. "I like everything I see. Give me a minute so I don't try to buy the store." You browse the store's inventory while Ezgi pets the shop spukamas and has a few words with Hashar, picking up a thing or two and stowing them away in your pack for a later time, if not for yourself than as an edible souvenir to share with friends back home. Ezgi eventually settles on a bag of candied chooca nuts, tearing into them almost the instant her credit chip changes hands and munching happily as the two of you leave.

    From there, the tour continues onto Chortav Meshurkaane, a bustling street lined with dozens of market stalls, vendors, and shoppers. The numerous stalls feature an arrangement of precious metals and gemstones, some in the form of raw components, while others offer artisanal pieces crafted with an elegant simplicity. As you progress down the street, passing a general electronics store, the outdoor merchants' selection turns toward crafted leather goods, from boots and gloves to belts and jackets. There are even some selling those leather half-skirts you've seen hanging down from the belts of several Mandalorians in the city, draped across their backsides. Ezgi stops at one of the booths, chatting with the seller in Mando'a as she tries on one of the belt-spats; it matches the wine-colored markings on her armor and seems to fit her frame well, but she ultimately returns it to the disappointed merchant. "I've always liked the way a kama looks," she admits as you continue down the street, "but I hate the way the weight hangs. Makes me feel bottom-heavy. Clumsy." Ezgi stops suddenly, and swats your arm with the back of her hand to get your attention, pointing to a tapcaf just up ahead. "This place makes the best cup of shig, you've got to try it."

    The tapcaf is small and dimly lit, in an intimate pub atmosphere sort of way. You and Ezgi take a table near the door, next to a wide window that offers a view of Meshurkaane. She slides a laminated flimsi menu over the table for you, and you check the section in Basic for shig, finding a listing of cassius, behot, tarine, and jeru blends. "Wait, shig is...tea?" you ask, recognizing some of the herbs. Ezgi's into the bag of candied chooca nuts again, her mouth a little too full for an answer. Her cheeks color, and she opts for a nod and a little closed-mouthed mhmm in place of words. A male Myke in a dark blue sleeveless blast vest takes your order, and returns shortly with two steaming mugs of behot shig. The drink possesses a clear amber color and a warm citrus flavor. You drink slowly, passing the bag of candied nuts back and forth between you and Ezgi until it's gone, while the pair of you chat and people watch from the tapcaf window.

    Just as you empty your cup, the door of the tapcaf flies open and a small party of Mandalorians pours in, comprised of a towering Besalisk, two Rodians, and half a dozen humans, young and old. There are smiles all around, at least from those capable of smiling, and the excited wave of Mando'a that arrives with them quickly proves infectious. Multiple patrons shout out, while others lift their drinks in countless toasts or rise from their seats to shower one of the humans—a young boy, no more than fifteen—with attention, shaking his hand, slapping his plates, or just tousling his dark hair. The boy soaks it all in, beaming, and returning the rough affections in kind.

    "What's going on?" you ask. It's easy to pick out several words for their importance through the sheer repetition of them, but without any context, they may as well be discussing yesterday's limmie game.

    Ezgi's grinning now, too, wearing the same look of pride as so many of the tapcaf's other customers. "He just completed his verd'goten," she explains. "The rite of passage into adulthood. It's a big day for any Mando." She raises her cup as the young man's gaze turns your way, and shouts, "Oya manda!"

    "Oya!" he calls back, raising a triumphant fist.

    "Normally, the proper thing would be to buy him a drink," Ezgi says, still smiling. You watch as the hoard of well-wishers ushers him up to the bar, and a collection of bottles begins materializing in front of him. "But somehow I get the feeling he won't be going thirsty any time soon."

    By the time you're back outside, the afternoon sky has shifted toward overcast gray, and the air is heavy with the scent of distant rain. You continue down the street with Ezgi, past more small stores and outdoor stalls, until she stops at the mouth of a narrow alley and waves you over. The alley shrinks to an impassably narrow width at the other end of the buildings, and the middle section's become a gathering place for old trash tossed along by the wind, but here at the open end you find a small table that's been transformed into a makeshift altar of sorts. Purple and marigold flowers have been laid out on top of the rough wood table, gathered all around the base of a wooden statue that had been hand carved and painted to resemble one of the old Mandalorian gods you saw in the Sundari cathedral. Someone had left a trio of silver ingots for the shrine, as well, arranged in a neat line.

    "Don't people worry that the credits they set out will just get picked up by somebody walking by?" you ask while looking the display over. The carved icon had been sanded smooth and painted to delicate detail, a labor of love that must've taken days to complete. Most of the flowers seem to have been picked from the wild clumps that grow along the edges of the roads and up between the cracks in the stones, making for convenient offerings.

    "I don't want to say it never happens," Ezgi answers, picking her words carefully, "but it's extremely unlikely. Even if most of us aren't the religious type, there's still a general respect for a person's right to their own beliefs. It's kind of a necessity, what with all the different walks of life Mandalorians come from, and how many choose to bring the beliefs of their ancestors with them. We've got Mirialan spiritualism, Gand mysticism, Trandoshans who still worry over their name it. So if you want to put down a few creds at a shrine, chances are they'll be there when you come back." She squats down in front of the old table shrine and plucks a violet flower from the dirt, setting it onto the pile. "Or a flower."

    "I thought you said—"

    Ezgi springs up with a lopsided smile and a little shrug. "What? It never hurts to stack the deck, and one little vormur bloom is right in my 'divine favor' price range."

    Nearing the end of Chortav Meshurkaane, the smell of smoked meats wafts out from a small grill shack on the corner, one with a wide service window but only outdoor seating for patrons. Beyond it, the street opens onto a large paved square, packed with more merchant stalls. Walking the makeshift aisles, you find vendors selling textile rugs, glass vials of yasamin perfume, knives of both the kitchen and combat variety, bottles of black-label narcolethe, and more. Several booths are stocked with all manner of guns, blasters and slugthrowers alike, while others offer crafted armor plates, and aftermarket weapon mods. There are tables laden with troughs of fruit—shuura, varos, jogan, and bofa—packets of multiple varieties of spiced leathermeat, hot roba pies, and pastries in flexiwrap packaging. A stall devoted solely to a myriad of spices sits next to a stand saddled with nothing but bins bearing of an assortment of nuts, rice, and different grains, from bas neral to shuneral.

    There are food carts, too, with portable stovetops crowned in smoke and steam, where Mandalorian cooks serve up quick meals of fried food to paying passersby in flimsifoam cups. You linger near one staffed by a jet-black Sakiyan with elaborate gold tattoos, manning a large wok filled with sauteing noodles, chopped mushrooms, and little hunks of savory brown shaak meat.

    After picking up few things from the improvised marketplace—nothing more than a few credits worth—you follow Ezgi to a nearby stone balustrade, a barrier that rings the city's outer edge and guards against the sheer drop down into the Kelita River, whose fast-moving waters are hard at work cutting a ravine into the granite outcrop below, one thousands of years in the making. "Where to next?" Ezgi asks, taking a seat on the stone railing. "The Oyu'baat's just over there, or we could take Chortav Zenlav for a tour of MandalMotors."

    You search the sky for the MandalMotors tower, more on reflex than intent, finding the Keldabe landmark just as a split in the cloud cover lets a fleeting ray of sunlight strike the company's white logo. It's as good a sign as any. "Let's try MandalMotors."

    The corporation's Keldabe complex is larger than you expected, spanning most of the length of Chortav Zenlav, and encompassing a number of hangars, sheds, and engineering workshops that spread out from the base of the central tower. There's even a private landing strip, currently home to the CEO's personal Aka'jor shuttle, according to Ezgi. You're not on the premises long before a wide-framed woman in grease-stained coveralls spots the two of you from under a speeder manifold and hurries over, pulling Ezgi into a crushing embrace. "Su'cuy, ad'ika! What brings you 'round?"

    "Udes—udesii, ba'vodika," Ezgi coughs out, prying herself from the other woman's iron grip. "I brought my friend here for a tour." She turns to you, trying to wipe a wobbly grin from her face. "This is Nasadi. She's on the director's board here. And she's my aunt, ever since she married Aunt Vhala a couple years back."

    "And I'm her inside woman at the company." Nasadi winks, and fishes an access card from one of her coveralls' many pockets, flinging it to her niece. "Don't get into any trouble, okay?"

    "Who, me? Never," replies Ezgi, hugging her chuckling aunt before taking you further into the complex. She leads you past the off-limits research hangars, and an outdoor detailing area on the way toward the main tower. A bald man with welding goggles and a blond topknot looks up from a half-cannibalized starfighter and waves as you go by. Inside the tower lobby, you're met by an old RQ-series protocol droid at the front desk, one with a faded red and green paint scheme and Mandalorian runes scrawled across the plates of its arms and torso. It scans Nasadi's card, offering a greeting in Mando'a, before granting you access to the turbolift. Ezgi takes you through several showrooms, where display models of BAX-7 and LUX-3 landspeeders are joined by the latest Shadow-series airspeeder designs, in addition to a Buirk'alor like the one that brought you to Keldabe, and a number of sleek Balutar swoops. You tour the tower's production facilities, your arrival coming just in time to see a finished Kom'rk-class fighter roll off the assembly line. Ezgi gives an appreciative whistle. "I'm going to own one of those some day," she says, tracing the fighter's sharp lines in the air with the tips of her fingers. "Ori'meshla."

    Near the top of the tower, you emerge onto an outdoor landing that overlooks the city and kilometers of countryside. From here, you can watch the flow of ship traffic at the Keldabe spaceport, and the commotion of the livestock market at the edge of town. "How far up are we?"

    "About a hundred meters. Give or take," says Ezgi. It was a shack by Coruscant standards, but there, among the wide open, undeveloped land, you may as well be standing on the roof of the 500 Republica. The only thing even approaching the tower's height in all the city is a large, square apartment complex several blocks over, and it still doesn't come close. You point out a small cluster of houses and those grassy, dome-shaped homes Ezgi calls vheh'yaime in the distance, littered with trees and surrounded by patches of farmland. "That's Bralsin. Sort of a...suburb, I suppose you could call it, of Keldabe. A couple of local clans, quiet and easy going. It's a nice place. Clan Onyo's talked about developing a vineyard in the area."

    The MandalMotors tour winds down from there, though by the time you're back outside on solid ground, the gray sky's grown dark, threatening a storm. Ezgi rushes back to her aunt, returning the borrowed access card just as the first roll of thunder rumbles over the city. The two of you hurry back down Chortav Zenlav, reaching the square at the same time as the rain starts to fall. Most of the market stalls have been packed up, or temporarily abandoned under the cover of tarps. Without the crowds, you're left a clear path to the Oyu'baat on the other side.

    The Oyu'baat is a large, three-story structure built of wood and stone, with a sloped, tile roof and a facade of painted plaster. The exterior features an array of irregular windows with odd angles, and a large portico at the entrance of the hotel and cantina. You dip under the portico's roof and out of the rain, making sure to wipe your feet off on the mat before stepping inside through a pair of heavy doors. A wide but shallow staircase leads into the Oyu'baat's main hall, a large chamber of dark-colored wood. The air is warm, keeping the chill of the storm at bay, and smells of a wood fire and cooking food. Striking tapestries hang on several walls, depicting people and events long past in vivid colors—red most prominently—and a heated smashball game plays on a large vidscreen to the interest of a dozen Mandalorians. Tables are spread about the cantina floor, while booths line the outer walls; two long, curved bars serve as the centerpiece of the main hall, one apparently dedicated to serving food, while the other is allocated to serving drinks. Across the great room from the entrance, an alcove hosts a large, open log fire and several patrons are gathered around it, drinking and talking.

    The doors of the cantina swing open again from behind you, and a pair of soaking wet Mandalorian men dart inside, though the hall and toward the stairs located at the rear that lead up to the Oyu'baat's second and third floors. Broad galleries overlook the large main chamber from the upper levels, where the establishment's hotel areas offer rooms to rent. Ezgi mentions something about them rushing off to dry off before jor'haa ti murecye in a sly tone, but doesn't bother to translate.

    You take a booth along the wall with her, watching as the cantina's already flush crowd swells. "Is it always this packed?"

    "Sometimes. The Oyu'baat's sort of the big hub of Keldabe. It's the oldest cantina on the planet, and everyone knows that if you need to meet someone, or you want to get a drink and some decent skraan, or if you're just looking to kill some time playing cu'bikad, this is the place to do it." She taps the glass window, peppered with droplets. "Not a bad spot to get out of the rain, either." Ezgi spots a green-skinned Twi'lek near the fire, and waves. "It's also kind of our unofficial center of government."


    "Apart from the New Mandalorians, we don't really have any devoted government buildings. Definitely no palaces. Too pretentious. Wasteful. But everyone knows the Oyu'baat. So if the chieftains need to work something out, or if the Mand'alor's got something to say, they come here to do it. Usually over drinks." Ezgi smirks and shrugs. "We're an informal people."

    The Twi'lek makes her way over, datapad in hand. She nods to you, before bending down and giving Ezgi a more friendly hug. "Su'cuy, Ez'ika! Missed you around here. What can I get you two?"

    With your permission, Ezgi orders for the both of you, and grabs an unfamiliar game board from a nearby table. There are a pair of blades with short, colored handles resting in corresponding slots carved into each of the thick board's four outer sides, and the checkered wood surface is scarred by old stab marks. She introduces the game as cu'bikad, and sets about teaching you the rules while you wait. You just finish a practice round when the Twi'lek waitress returns, setting a pair of glass tankards down on your table, each filled with a black beverage with a foamy head.

    "What exactly are we drinking here?" you ask, eyeing your glass with some skepticism.

    Ezgi laughs, steering the tankard into your hand. "It's ne'tra gal. The Oyu'baat's home-brewed black ale." She lifts her glass in a toast, and you surrender your own to a friendly clink. "K'oyaci!" A tentative sip reveals a sweet, creamy tasting ale, tingling with carbonation. "Not bad, right?"

    You play several rounds of cu'bikad with Ezgi, and drink even more as the evening goes on. You're either getting better with time, or the ne'tra gal's slowly leveling the playing field. Eventually, the two of you are joined by another Mandalorian by the name of Harik, a brawny Lasat with violet fur, sleeveless brown armor, and one of the foulest mouths you've ever heard in any language. He pulls up a spare chair to the edge of the table, asking to be dealt in as he sets an open bottle on the table next to him. Cu'bikad can accommodate up to four players, and neither you or Ezgi see any reason to deny him. The Lasat's drink of choice is a strong but acridly bitter ale called kri'gee that he gulps straight from the bottle after every turn; Ezgi is adamant in her refusal to so much as touch the stuff, almost comically so, even after you try a drink. The rain holds steady as the sun sets, pounding on the window next to your booth, and pattering loudly on the Oyu'baat's recessed skylights. It's late by the time Harik decides to call it quits for the evening, drunkenly patting, back-slapping, and half-hugging you and Ezgi as he gets up from the table and makes for the bar to settle his tab.

    Another game and another round of drinks go by before Ezgi slumps back in her seat with a yawn, her fingers knit over her stomach plate. "We're going to need to call it a night pretty soon if we're going to get things going on time tomorrow. I'm thinking we get some food—definitely food first, yeah—then some sleep. Sound good to..." She trails off as the Twi'lek waitress returns to your table with a repulsor tray loaded with plates and baskets of smoked roba sausages and spicy gihaal cakes, butter-baked mealbread, roast shatual and amber-root, peppered potatoes and diced quench-gourd, and two bowls of a spiced meat and vegetable stew. "Well how's that for quick service?"

    The Twi'lek laughs. "Ulorade's treat. Paid the tab for all three of you, and put down the creds for a table meal."

    Ezgi beams. "I'm going to kiss that shabla Lasat next time I see him, ori'haat!"

    * * *

    You wake to the warmth of the sun shining across your face and the sound of a busy cantina a floor below you. Dragging yourself out of bed, nursing a faint hangover from the previous evening, you make your way across the modest lodgings of your rented room on the Oyu'baat's second floor to quickly shower and change into a set of spare clothes from your pack. Once you're refreshed and dressed, it's a short walk downstairs to look for Ezgi, who you find drinking a cup of spiced caf at the food counter. She's still wearing her armor, but her hair's different, bound in two tight braids that hang down over her chest plates like lekku.

    "Good morning," she says, smiling as she catches sight of you. "Hope you slept well." The barkeep emerges from the kitchen carrying a plate of flatcakes and fried roba strips out to Ezgi, setting it down in front of her along with a jar of muja fruit sauce and a bottle of a thick syrup she identifies as uj'ayl while drowning her flatcakes in the stuff. "Better get something in you before we go. They've got most everything here. What do you feel like? Eggs? Bowl of hot shuneral? Just a cup of caf and some toast?"

    After breakfast, you and Ezgi take a walk back through Keldabe to the lot where you left the speeder parked. A thin layer of wispy fog floats atop the stone streets in the early morning hours. Now that it's not market day, it's almost a different city. Calmer. Less foot traffic. There are still plenty of people about, the shops are open, and the tapcafs are in business, but you're not ducking between durasteel-clad Herglics and beskar-wearing Mandallians just to make it down a street choked by merchant stalls anymore. At the lot, you stash your pack back in the rear hold and settle in before Ezgi powers up the drives and takes the speeder out, up and over the outer edge of the city and down into the Kelita valley. She loops around the small settlement you spotted yesterday from MandalMotors tower, Bralsin, offering you a better view of the Keldabe suburb before steering north along the path of the valley's namesake river.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  3. Mia Mesharad

    Mia Mesharad Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Sep 2, 2012
    More forests line your path, under the distant gaze of an ice-capped mountain range; Ezgi points out the tallest peak as Cerar Kandoruus, named in honor of the great Mandalore the Preserver. The temperature drops several degrees as you go, until your breath starts to fog the passenger viewport. The road weaves free of the Kelita, and cuts deeper into a sprawling grove of galek trees. Ahead, through the silver leaves, you can see what looks like an old grain silo, just a moment before the speeder slows and the forest gives way to the town of Enceri. Ezgi sets the speeder down near the silo at the edge of town; the metal siding is marked with faded Mando'a runes, and a pack of brown-furred rodents Ezgi points out as vhe'viin are patrolling the base for a way to get at the silo's contents, though they scatter when you open the speeder's canopy.

    Enceri is a small town, barely a quarter of Keldabe's size. The entirety of it could probably be stacked completely inside one of Sundari's skyscapers. According to Ezgi, the town had started out as little more than a local waystation, a minor trading post that had expanded over the centuries with the needs of the northern clans who sought a more convenient alternative to the long trip down to Mandalore's capital. As a result, modern Enceri revolves around a large, open-air marketplace, one that's far more permanent than the haphazard collection of collapsible stalls that spring up in the early hours of Keldabe market days.

    The many booths and stands are all built to last, and covered by a collection of colored awnings, draped with banners donning a diverse lineup of sigils and logos. The heavy rain from the previous night has turned the market grounds into a muddy swamp, though it's done little to dampen the day's commercial spirit, with Mandalorians of all shapes and sizes making their way along improvised pathways of wood planking that were laid out to shore up the more obvious aisles. Others trudge outright through the ankle-deep muck, carrying flexiwrap bags of food and other supplies with little concern for the soggy earth that sucks at their boots with each and every step.

    You and Ezgi circle the outer edge of the market rather than walk through the bog. The selection's similar to what the stalls in the plaza outside the Oyu'baat had to offer yesterday, though there's less overall variety, more of the basic necessities, and far more options to buy in bulk. The two of you come across a stall selling spices and homemade sauces, and another stacked with shelves stocked with jars of preserved vegetables and fruit jams. There's a large booth bearing enough parts and tools to cobble together a speeder, staffed by a heavyset Pantoran with an unkempt beard who's busy haggling with a giant of a Wookiee in ancient-looking armor; the blue-skinned vendor seems to be holding his own, by the look of things, but the Wookiee's keen to get her way. Another stall nearby is selling Korun-rolled cigarras and gruu pipes packed with flavorful havao tabacc, with a sign promising shoppers they would find nothing of the like anywhere in Keldabe. There's also a kiosk covered in odd snacks: caramel-covered mystery objects, speckled biscuits shaped like birds, and some kind of nut-filled cream cakes that smell like sweetroot.

    Ezgi stops at a table tucked under an improvised tent made from a dark blue tarp. A short man with deep brown skin and fluffy black curls mans the stand, packing up a five-liter container of some kind of clear liquid for a lithe Togorian customer with striped yellow fur. "Tihaar," Ezgi answers before you can even ask the question. "It's a local favorite. Kind of a, uh..." She bites her bottom lip, searching for the words, brow furrowed. "...a papurgaatyc—ugh...fruit brandy! Shab." Her cheeks color slightly, and a sheepish little smile creeps across her lips. "So, anyway, it's a, uh, pretty strong brandy. High alcohol content. It'll burn going down, but the flavor makes it all worth it." She picked up a liter bottle from the table, and examined the Mando'a on the label. "Hmm, 'made from locally grown liwi fruit.' Nice. You can make tihaar out of pretty much whatever fruit you've got on hand, but you don't see a lot of liwi brews. Ooh, and triple distilled. Fancy."

    Around the opposite side of the open market and across the street, the two of you stop at a metalsmith's shop, one with a simple metal ring for a sign. Facing the street is an open storefront, tended by a dark green shopkeeper droid with silver accents. The rhythmic sound of ringing metal being struck again and again chimes out from a door at the back of the shop, tucked away behind the sales counter. At the sight of your approach, the shopkeeper droid zips around the counter, moving quickly despite its waddling gait. "Olarom at Briirud Beskar. Tion ni'vaabi par gar?"

    "Uh...ner bur'cya ne'jorhaa Mando'a," Ezgi responds, patting your shoulder. "Tion gedet'ye ke'jorhaa droten'joha?"

    "Ah." The droid's cylindrical head tilts slightly, and it stands as though it was were going to plant its hands on its narrow hips before reconsidering. At the same time, the metal pounding from the back of the shop comes to halt, making the droid's silent pause seem all the more stark. "We don't get many customers who can't speak Mandalorian." The droid turns to regard you personally, bowing it's head, though the trace of condescension in its tone did not go unnoticed. "My apologies. Welcome to the Iron Circle forge. Is there something in particular I can help you find today?"

    "Just browsing right now, vor'e."

    The droid bows its head again, and returns to its former place behind the counter while you and Ezgi take a few moments to look around. Display busts adorned with gray-bronze armor plates—raw and unpainted—are spread about the show floor. Weapon racks on the walls house sharpened sabers Ezgi identifies as beskade, and traditional hunting spears the shop droid pointedly notes are called bevii'ragire. A row of bronzium daggers rest inside a glass case, next to a group of vibroknucklers and spiked cestuses. On a nearby countertop is a simply-made warhammer: resting in an open package due for delivery, the hammer is little more than a solid brick of acid-washed beskar attached to a leather-bound handle, but the polished head is covered in finely engraved letterwork that had no doubt taken a great deal of time and skill to complete.

    A small hand with a firm grip catches your shoulder from behind, and Ezgi gives you a tug toward the back of the store. "Come on, the workshop in back's where the real magic happens." Without a second thought, she leads you around the sales counter and toward the rear door.

    The droid moves quickly to bar your way. "I'm afraid there can be no aruetiise in the workshop. Store policy."

    Ezgi rolls her eyes and raps her knuckle plate on the door. "Kala? Kala, it's Ezgi!"

    From somewhere beyond the door, a woman's voice shouts back: "Come on back, Gi'ka!"

    The droid remains resolute. "You may go back, but I'm afraid your..." It fixes you with the best attempt at a glare the droid can manage. "...friend will have to wait out here."

    "Ne'johaa bal duumi kaysh de, di'kut!" the voice yelled again. The droid practically deflates, and shrinks from the door without a word as if the exchange had never happened in the first place.

    Through the door and down a short hallway, you find a chamber that's smaller than the front showroom tucked away at the rear of the building, oriented around a grand forge. The air inside is stiflingly hot, and the smell of scorched metal and some sort of chemical wash pervades the area. Workbenches and weathered, sheet metal tables are spread throughout, their surfaces littered with half-finished projects and an array of smithing tools, including some that hadn't been used in modern craftsmanship in well over a thousand years. But like so many other aspects of Mandalore, the archaic stands side-by-side with the cutting edge: a modular turbosaw, plasma welders, and an industrial power hammer that looks as though it could crush the hull of a capital ship all sit amongst a dozen other top of the line tools.

    In the middle of it all, resting on a metal stool, is a brawny woman with a self-satisfied smile, covered in a sheen of sweat, and clapping dust from her hands as she strips off a pair of nerfhide gloves. She's dressed in rough brown smithing leathers, over a once-white tunic and a pair of maroon work pants blackened by char. "Been a while since I've had an aruetii walk into my shop," the woman says, looking you over. She's at least a decade older than Ezgi, and it shows in the lines around her mouth and eyes. But there's an air of youthfulness to her—in her smile, in her eyes, and in the tone of her voice—that belies those years. "Kala Wren. I'm the owner of the Iron Circle, even if my droid out there forgets that fact sometimes." She offers you a simple nod in place of a handshake, but it's Ezgi that has the nexu's share of her attention. "What brings you 'round, Gi'ka?"

    "Work," Ezgi replies, her fingers gliding over a rough bar of metal that might one day be a sword. Maybe a beskad, like the ones up front. "I'm playing bodyguard and tour guide for my friend here." She points a thumb your way. "Thought it would be fun to get a look behind the scenes. You don't mind, do you?"

    Kala's smile dims, but doesn't entirely fade away. "I suppose not. I'm not doing anything with beskar today, anyway."

    "A naur'alor's skills being wasted on durasteel? How tragic," Ezgi teases.

    "What's a naur'alor?" you ask. Context would seem to imply it was the Mando'a word for metalsmith, but you distinctly remember Ezgi using the term "goran" when the subject came up back in Keldabe.

    There's a moment where neither woman answers. Kala's gaze washes over you, critical and appraising; Ezgi instead watches her, waiting, before finally growing tired of the silence that had been left hanging in the air. "It means 'forge master.' A Mandalorian with the skill to work beskar to it's full potential," she explains.

    "Oh. Is that...special? I just mean, this is Mandalore. I would've thought—"

    An irritated groan rises up from Kala, and she crosses her wide arms over her chest. "It's not that simple. Everything you've ever heard about Mandalorian iron being the toughest metal in the galaxy? That's only half the story. Dig the ore out of the ground and you've got something good, but it won't keep you any safer from blasterfire than a slab of durasteel will, and it sure as shab won't keep away a lightsaber. Our ancestors figured out how to make the most of beskar, how to make it the metal everyone knows. That skill and knowledge has been passed down for generations, from one Mandalorian to the next, for millennia. It's ours by tradition, and we're careful about who we pass that information to." She cocks an eyebrow your way. "No aruetiise. No offense. The Gree have the secrets of material synthesizers, the Jedi have their holocrons, and we have beskar. Think of it as sacred...if you're into that sort of thing."

    By the time the impromptu tour of the Iron Circle's workshop is through, you and Ezgi are both nearly soaked with sweat from the heat of the forge. Returning to the street, Ezgi hooks a finger in the high collar of her flightsuit and tugs it away from her glistening neck, letting out a huff as she surveys the marketplace. Passed midday now, the afternoon sun's chased away the chill in the morning air, leaving the both of you with little in the way of natural relief. "How 'bout a drink?" she asks. "I know I could use something cold right about now." Rather than wade into the throng of stalls for something the vendors had to offer, Ezgi takes a sharp right down a narrow alley of a by-street, waving you after. Her path takes the two of you by a hole-in-the-wall holobook shop—complete with a pair of outdoor stands covered in old holobooks and flimsi-print editions for sale—and a physician's general surgery, before finally arriving at a small grocery.

    The inside is reminiscent of some of the ethnic specialty stores you've visited before on Coruscant, from the Corellian Turhaya in Jabi Town to the Duros Vendi Bodge on the south side of the Boribos Prefecture. Display tables hold fresh produce nearby in a section surrounded by conservators, stocked with containers of water, milks, ales, and flimsiwrapped meats behind wide glass doors. Nearby, a stony-faced Mandalorian man stands on one side of a repulsorcart topped with a thick butcher block, hacking open a large meiloorun with a heavy blade and handing off carved wedges to a cluster of younglings gathered around while their parents shop. Ezgi leads you toward the conservators where she fishes a pair of glass bottles from a crowded shelf. "Bilaberry or juicemelon?" she asks. Handing off your pick, Ezgi slips a thin knife from her belt and punches a hole straight through the bottle's plastoid cap, releasing a small candy ball from the underside into the drink. Covering the hole with her thumb, she shakes the bottle vigorously until the orb dissolves, passing you the knife as she takes a long gulp. You follow her lead with the knife and give the bottle a good shake as she did, before finally discovering a spicy-sweet fruit soda when you take a drink.

    The two of you wander the store as you drink, pacing up and down a couple of the aisles. Unlike the shops in Keldabe, nothing here is in Aurebesh, only Mando'a, and some of the store's odder-looking offerings could certainly use a bit more in the way of Basic-language labeling. Ezgi pauses at the edge of the store's seafood section, holding her cool bottle to her forehead while inspecting a package of frozen coin-crabs that had been imported from Taris. All around here, display troughs filled with crushed ice chips host a variety of fish and some manner of gnarled crustacean with four pincer-tipped arms. Several others swim around in a tank of water that looks as wide as you are tall and nearly twice as high. Younglings gather to watch the fish, oohing and aahhing every time a pair of the larger ones snap at each other. While you and Ezgi take a moment to watch the fish over the little ones' heads, an elderly man with light brown skin and woolly white braids steps up to the counter and places an order with the Togruta manager. A second later, the Togruta hoists a black and gray scaled choru'gi onto a sheet of butcherplast, and unceremoniously begins carving it up for the customer.

    "Hope you're not squeamish," Ezgi deadpans, making a face at the bloody meat. The Togruta's blade comes down again with a loud, wet thwack. "Right, about we move on?"

    Returning to the front of the store, Ezgi steers you toward the in-house bakery, situated on the opposite side from the produce and drink section you'd visited on arrival. The area is ringed by tall shelves stocked with loaves of different types of flavored mealbread; their packaging reveals their Concordian origin, and they're all cheaply priced to be moved quickly. Further shelves host a variety of fresh pastries, some filled with fruits and creams and powdered with sugar, while others offer more savory options—buns filled with saucy roba meat, jakrab and demayda pies, or doughy bean dumplings. Rolls of haarshun bread that were baked earlier that morning rest in a small display atop the cashier's counter, and a number of round, flat cakes Ezgi identifies as uj'alayise sit within a glass case below, covered in crushed nuts and a syrupy topping that compliments the cake's amber color.

    Ezgi gives you a nudge, and holds out her hand. "Creds for your drink. I'll pay while we're over here, rather than wait in the front lines." You pass her a credit chip and she plucks a box of Drabooni cookies off a small table on her way to the counter, including them in her purchase. The box ends up stashed in her helmet, upturned and clipped to her belt at the small of her back.

    "Saving those for later?" you ask, recalling how quickly she'd attacked the candied nuts from yesterday.

    She shoots you a little half smile and the ghost of a wink. "Don't want to spoil my appetite."

    Leaving the grocery, you wander the streets of Enceri with Ezgi for a while, stopping every now and again to look through the window of a artisanal shop or chat with a friendly local. Eventually you come upon a small, grassy square of a park, where a petite woman in simple coveralls wrestles with her akk over a thick piece of rope, while a wiry, cobalt-colored Terrelian practices going through the fast-flowing forms of what looks like zama-shiwo. In the shade of the park's sole tree stands a strikingly large man—naked from the waist up, his copper skin blanketed in a spectacular series of black, patterned tattoos—demonstrating the steps of some kind of dance for a pair of children. A blonde woman watches from a short distance away, heavily pregnant and dressed in the same fashion as many of the New Mandalorians you witnessed in Sundari. The man stomps and let's out a shout in Mando'a that his children imitate, before using his fists to beat a deliberately slow rhythm on his muscular chest and armored thighs, one that both kids try to match.

    Ezgi joins you in watching the family scene, a wistful smile on her lips. "It's called the Dha Werda Verda. It's..." She pauses, trailing off as she watches the children singing along with their father. "I guess 'an ancient war dance,' is probably the most succinct way to put it," Ezgi says at last. "It's thousands of years old, dating back to somewhere around the Mandalorian Wars." She juts her chin toward the dancers. "This is how it stays alive. Passed down through the generations, person to person. Like the knowledge of beskar forging. Living history. My mother taught me the Dha Werda when I was that age, and her grandparents taught her."

    "What do the words mean?" you ask.

    She hooks both thumbs into her belt, her fingers absently patting a light imitation of the beats against the leather pouches just a moment later, the impulse too strong to resist. "You've heard about the Taung, right? Probably learned about them in school, most Republic kids do. The Dha Werda's all about their last battles against the Zhell on ancient Coruscant. How they fought and died, how the gods gifted them the great shadow to take vengeance on their enemies, and how they went on to settle Mandalore and gave rise to the Mando'ade. We sing to honor them, and we dance to call upon their strength." Ezgi clears her throat, and runs her palm over the back of her neck. "That's how my ba'buir put it, anyway. Personally, I love the Dha Werda just for the beauty of it all, but she always had a way of making it sound so much...bigger." She finally manages to tear her gaze from the dance, flashing you a smile. “I’ll send the lyrics to your ‘pad later, okay?”

    Moving along, a few more minutes of walking brings you to an old cantina. Most of the exterior looks a bit worn down from age and in need of maintenance, save for the double doors at the building's entrance that are both covered in a fresh coat of glossy black paint for some strange reason. Maybe they had just been replaced. By now, it's been more than a few hours since breakfast, and you decide to head inside and see what they have available for a late lunch. The cantina is smaller and less crowded than the Oyu'baat, and in the quiet afternoon hours, a new and unfamiliar arrival is enough to turn more than a few heads. The whole way up to the bar you can feel eyes on you, sizing you up with all the tact of an especially rude bantha.

    Reaching the counter, Ezgi turns and leans with her back against the bar, staring down some of the more blatant observers until they decide their drink or the limmie game being shown on the holoscreen is more interesting than you are. "Don't take it personally," she says quietly as she turns around. "It's a small town. Everybody knows everybody, and new folks—especially new folks with no armor and an aruetyc look about them—get noticed."

    The barkeep shuffles over, an elderly woman with a lean, angular face and tired eyes. "Su cuy'gar. Me'copaani?"

    "Su'cuy. Ni copaani skraanshun nervh bal buy'ce ne'tra gal, gadetye," Ezgi replies. She gives you a nudge, and you take your cue to order. There's a menu hanging on a wide post board behind the counter, with both Mando'a and Aurebesh posted one above the other. Fish or red-gourd soup, spicy nuna wings, grilled shatual steak, and more. You find something to your liking and place your order, but in Basic, eliciting a cautious stare from the old barkeep. "Kaysh ne'teh oriya," says Ezgi, offering the old woman an apologetic smile and laying down a credit chip. You quickly do the same.

    "Uh-huh," the woman grunts, taking the chips and your orders back into the kitchen.

    Ezgi pats your arm. "I think you can guess most people tend to speak Mando'a around here. Not a lot of Basic the further you get away from the 'ports." She spies an open table near a window, and beckons you to follow.

    Among the other patrons, you notice a woman about the same age as you on the far side of the cantina hall, gesturing back and forth with an older man who you'd wager a guess is her father. "Is that sign language?" you ask quietly. The movements fit, but you don't recognize any of the imagery.

    "Yeah. Gaanjoha. You're probably familiar with the Core Standard form, but there are all kinds of unique, culture-specific styles once you move out beyond the Colonies," says Ezgi, unclipping her helmet from her belt before taking a seat. She points to the other woman's helmet, stacked on the empty chair next to her. A pair of runes set within a ring are picked out in bright blue against the cream-colored paint job. "See the letters there? That sigil let's people know she's deaf. Any Mando who sees it understands that no, she's not ignoring you, she just can't hear, and yes, you're going to have to have tosign or get out a 'pad if you want to talk. Saves time on stupid questions and awkward misunderstandings."

    Your food and drinks arrive shortly, delivered to your table by a boy who, by the look of him, might just be the old bartender's grandson. Both plates smell of fire roasted spices, but that doesn't stop Ezgi from claiming a tableside bottle of sauce and pouring a generous helping down the length of her cheesy nerfsteak sandwich. The next few minutes pass in relative silence, each of you too engrossed in the flavorful food to make any real attempt at conversation. When the plates are finally bare, Ezgi retrieves the box of Drabooni cookies she'd tucked away earlier, tears it open, and puts it out for the two of you to share.

    While working your way through the cookies and enjoying your drink, you notice a young Iktotchi in scraped up Mandalorian armor enter the cantina, a hood pulled up over her head. Judging by the length of her downturned horns, she can't be more than seventeen. The woman approaches the counter, speaking with the barkeep in a soft voice. Though you can't understand what either says because of the language barrier, the older woman's response is nearly the exact opposite of her demeanor toward you. She repeatedly pats the young Iktochi's hand, nodding sympathetically, before saying something that puts the horned Mandalorian at visible ease. You turn to ask Ezgi for a translation but before you can speak she gives you a quick but subtle shake of her head. It's only after the barkeep returns from the kitchen with a bowl of soup and a mug of something hot for the Iktochi woman, and she subsequently retreats to a table in the corner—without paying, you note—that Ezgi scoots her chair closer to speak.

    "She just arrived here from Kol Atorn, on her way through to Cheravh," she says, adopting a hushed tone. Her expression and posture betray her unease at having eavesdropped in the first place, let alone gossiping about the woman behind her back now. "I didn't catch why she left, but she's looking for family. Had a bad run in near Cestus, and doesn't have any money, so she asked if the place could spare a meal."

    You chance a look at the the old barkeep, who's busy refilling a pair of snack bowls with the same sour look on her face that she had earlier. "Funny, I wouldn't have taken her for the charitable type."

    Ezgi shakes her head. "That's just how we are. It's not charity, not really. It's duty. Mandalorians are taught from a young age to look out for one another. If you see a fellow Mando in a tight spot and you've got the means to help, you're expected to. No questions asked, even for a stranger. And if the boot's ever on the other foot, you can expect somebody will do the same for you. It's how we keep the community strong through hard times. Besides..." She leans over and gives you quick jab in the arm with her elbow, smiling. "...I think it's just you she doesn't seem to like."

    The time finally comes to leave, but when you stand up to go, Ezgi heads for the bar rather than the door. She puts down another credit chip on the counter and places an order accompanied by a sideways nod toward the Iktochi. From below the counter, the barkeep retrieves a covered cake dish and a knife, cutting a slice that Ezgi takes over to the down on her luck Mandalorian. The two exchange a few brief words, all smiles between them, and a handshake—the traditional hand-to-wrist grip Ezgi showed you on the way to Mandalore—before she returns to your side and the two of you make your way out of the cantina. But no sooner are you through the doors than Ezgi takes a firm hold of your arm and pulls you close, her bearing rigid.

    "What is it?"

    "Stay close," she whispers. "And don't turn around." Ezgi steers you down the street and takes a left turn, leading you back to the edge of the Enceri marketplace. "Someone from the cantina's following us. One of the same shabuire that wouldn't stop eyeballing you when we came in." Now in a more public space, Ezgi rounds on your pursuer, in the same fluid motion putting herself between you and potential danger. Though she doesn't draw, her hand is planted firmly on the grip of one of her blasters. "Tion'i kar'tayli gar? Ni paguur aruetiise shekemi ni."

    Your tail turns out to be an unassuming human man in brown and gray armor, one with pale skin and auburn hair that's shaved at the sides but almost comically combed over from left to right at the top. His eyes are small and dark, and his gaze is mocking as he surveys the two of you. Spreading his arms, palms upturned in a gesture of peace, he replies, "Udesii, vod. And don't be rude." He wobbles a one-handed gesture toward you. "Speak Basic for the aruetii. Wouldn't want it to feel left out."

    "I'm not your vod. What do you want?" Ezgi growls.

    The man crosses his arms, adopting a smug look. "I just wanted to know if you had a leash for your pet, there. Mandalore is no place for aruetiise. If you want a proper animal, I suggest you get a nice strill. They smell better, too." Ezgi doesn't take the bait. "Why are you leading your pet aruetii around Enceri anyway? It's not as if it can appreciate our ways. They don't learn, they just want to be given everything. Aruetiise like this are why we have to put Aurebesh on all of our signs, and why our din'waade all have to speak Basic for fear of losing credits." He jabs a finger past Ezgi's shoulder, right at you. "No one invited you here. This is our world. Go back where you came from!"

    Ezgi's grip on her blaster flexes, but she still doesn't unholster it. "Take your Death Watch rhetoric somewhere else. Oh wait, that's rightwe killed the last shabuire who talked like that. Had a whole war over it and everything. So I'd be careful where you run your mouth about such things. It would be a real shame if something bad happened."

    The man's features darken. While his arms are crossed, you notice his thumb brush briefly against the handle of a combat knife he has strapped to his chest plate. "Vizsla had it right, and it's a crime that strayfilth like Fett should get to be our Mand'alor after murdering him. Where even is Fett? No one's seen him step one foot on Mandalore in years! Tor Vizsla never abandoned us. With him, we were poised for a comeback. Vizsla was going to purge all those desert-dwelling dar'mandase that have dishonored the Mandalorian name for too long, and raise an army powerful enough to make Mandalore great again."

    "I heard he got eaten by dire-cats." Ezgi's tone is utterly conversational, almost bored even, but the other Mandalorian looks as though he'd just been slapped. "Vizsla," she continues, as if he hadn't heard. "I heard that's how he died. Eaten by dire-cats. A real ori'jagyc warrior, that one. So glorious."

    The gleam of sunlight on polished metal is the first and only warning of an attack. The belligerent Mandalorian darts forward, slashing right at Ezgi's throat with his knife. But he's slow, and from so far away, the move is as subtle as a haymaker. Rather than draw her weapon, Ezgi swings her arm upward as a disk of bright blue energy blooms from her vambrace, deflecting the blade with ease. Now off balance, the hasty attacker staggers and attempts to latch on to her gauntlet, too concerned with Ezgi's right arm when he should have been keeping an eye on her left. Her gloved fist hammers into his nose, drawing blood and an undignified yelp that accompanies the wet snickof breaking bone. The knife falls away as the man hurriedly cups his hands to his face, retreating, even as he continues to spew insults through his fingers.

    That's when you notice that this is no longer a scuffle between two people. The brief altercation has attracted an audience, and a well armed one at that. In moments, your attacker has become the target of of a score of blaster-wielding Mandalorians, all of whom appear more than ready to pull the trigger if he makes another move toward Ezgi. Her gauntlet's energy shield flickers and fades, and she takes a step back, placing a hand on your back. "You okay?" she asks.

    "Me? I'm fine. What about you?"

    "Pfff, never better." She grins, looking around at the crowd of Mandalorians who had all drawn their weapons on her behalf, and at the bleeding failure who had lost his bluster when the reality of his situation set in. "See what I meant about looking out for each other? Vode an. It’s a hell of a thing."

    What's truly amazing is how fast everything seems to go back to normal. With little doubt that the knife-wielding Mandalorian had been about as firmly dissuaded from trying anything else as a still living man could be, the twenty or so blasters that had so quickly sighted in soon return to their holsters, as their owners just as easily go back to whatever it was they had been doing in the moments prior. The broken-nosed bleeder takes his leave to slink off back around the corner and down the street, not even bothering to recover his blade from the dirt where it fell. You can't help but get the feeling that none of them—not even Ezgi—sees the attempted stabbing as anything more than a minor inconvenience on an otherwise fine day, barely even worth a mention come dinner.

    So this is Mandalore...

    With no further interruptions, you and Ezgi make your way back toward the old grain silo where the speeder waits. The vhe'viin are back, and they run for cover under the speeder as you approach, before zipping back into the bushes when Ezgi activates the drives. She takes the Buirk'alor up and over the abundant treeline rather than stick to the roads, angling the speeder on a southern heading before gunning the engines. This far away from Sundari, and at this hour, it'll take everything the Buirk'alor has to see you returned to the city before sundown, when the Coronet is scheduled to return. To miss it would mean finding some other way off Mandalore, and out of Mandalorian space.

    * * *

    Twilight shines new life on the docks of Sundari. The landings are cast in competing shades of light from the reddening sunset, Mandalore's moons, and the harsh rays of more spot lamps than you can count, creating a fascinating interplay of color framed by evening shadow. The sweltering heat has receded, leaving the air cool—cold, even, when the wind blowing up from the desert plains below finds you. Ezgi stays with you while you wait for the Coronet's arrival, joined by a pair of dignitaries, the only other tourist to get off at Sundari with you, and a handful of other prospective passengers. The same customs officer that had accosted Ezgi just a few short days ago now moves from person to person, inspecting their luggage. He comes to you last and asks to see your pack, performing a cursory examination of its contents while never once speaking to, or so much as acknowledging Ezgi's presence at your side. She'd clearly made her point during their last encounter.

    It isn't long before the unmistakable profile of the Kalevalan starliner comes soaring over the moonlit sands. The vessel slows and pivots with the grace of a Mon Calamari dancer, before backing gently into its berth. As the boarding ramp lowers and two identical armored guards come striding down its length, electrostaves in hand, the others quickly begin gathering up their belongings and making their way toward the ship. The rush just ends up being another case of hurrying up to wait, as the guardsmen hold the gathered crowd back in a jumbled, informal line in order to allow the Coronet time to offload its current passengers before taking on any new people.

    "I bet you're happy to be headed back to civilization again," Ezgi says with a self-depreciating smile.

    "I don't know, a change of scenery's always nice," you reply, getting a chuckle in return. "I wanted to thank you for everything these last couple days."

    Ezgi gives a nonchalant shrug. "Ehh, just doing my job. Besides, it was fun." She pauses, her face scrunching a little. "Well, mostly," she adds, laughing. "To be honest, I actually liked showing you around. First time I've ever had a client that wanted to see what Mandalore is really like outside Sundari's walls. And it was nice to talk with someone who genuinely wanted to learn about the culture—my culture." A quiet moment passes, where the two of you watch a trickle of travelers disembark the Coronet and make their way for the city gate. "So, any idea where you might want to go for your next 'change of scenery'?"

    "I think I have a few."

    She smiles and pats you on the back. "Well, you've got my comlink code. If it ends up being somewhere dicey, don't be afraid to call me."
  4. Cantankerous Ordo

    Cantankerous Ordo Jedi Padawan

    Jul 2, 2017
    i like this, this was cool. good character work, and a lot of great detail. felt like reading the republic commando books over again for the first time. the links were a really good idea too, i don't see that a lot in fanfic but they ended up being really useful for visualizing stuff. i hope you write more.
    Mia Mesharad likes this.
  5. Chyntuck

    Chyntuck Force Ghost star 5

    Jul 11, 2014
    Welcome to fanfic Mia, and with a great first entry too!

    I read this last night and I'm amazed at the work you did. First of all, I have to congratulate you on the formatting -- it's impeccable, the in-text links are very helpful (most of us here in Fanfic usually put endnotes, but it wouldn't be convenient for translations) and this is all very nicely edited. Second, and most importantly, I loved how your world-building. I saw that you said in the Lit thread that you borrowed heavily from various reference books, but borrowing bits of info is one thing, bringing them to life is another, and you definitely succeeded on that front. I particularly enjoyed the crowd scenes, which I found very lively.

    Ezgi is an interesting character that I'd like to see come back in stories of her own. It was a great approach to have a Mandalorian in full garb who is just a "regular" person by Mandalorian standards -- not a New Mandalorian, not a Death Watch type, but simply someone who is deep into Mandalorian culture and who handles all its aspects in a casual way, whether it's about preparing food or dealing with a thug wielding a knife. I hope your little foray on this side of the boards won't stop here and that we'll see more of you -- and her!
    Mia Mesharad likes this.
  6. Mia Mesharad

    Mia Mesharad Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Sep 2, 2012
    Thanks again, man. I'm glad you enjoyed it. That "first time through RepCom feeling" is all I could ask for.

    Thanks Chyntuck! I really appreciate the kind words.
    The in-text links—especially for the translations—were a bit of a pain, I have to admit, but it's nice to see that the effort's been paying off in reader enjoyment. Hearing you enjoyed all of the elements of the surrounding world and the crowd scenes is a huge relief, as well. I don't really write much in the way of fanfic like this, but the atmosphere and sense of being on the street in these places was a big part of what I wanted to convey. It's good to know that came across.

    As for Ezgi, once I had a face and a voice in mind for her, the character really wrote herself. It's nice to know she made a good impression. I finally get people being attached to their OCs because of her. :p I don't know when, but I'd like to follow up on Ezgi and some of her other jobs and clients someday, too.
    Ewok Poet, Contessa and Chyntuck like this.
  7. Contessa

    Contessa Jedi Master star 3

    Nov 28, 2013
    Nice, I was hoping you'd do more. Just what I wanted to hear!
    Mia Mesharad likes this.
  8. Cantankerous Ordo

    Cantankerous Ordo Jedi Padawan

    Jul 2, 2017
    and you're welcome, again! count me in the group hoping you write more soon, too.
    Mia Mesharad likes this.
  9. Findswoman

    Findswoman The Tol Fanfic Mod (in Pink) star 5 Staff Member Moderator

    Feb 27, 2014
    Very glad I got to know this story! You’ve created such an incredibly immersive setting here—it really felt like being right there on board the Coronet or on the streets of Sundari or Keldabe, or out among the sand dunes, or through the halls of the MandalMotors plant, with Ezgi and the narrator, and I could almost taste the food they ate (those Mandos and their hot sauces and their belly-burning brandy!—but I loved that they had such a wonderful sweet shop too). I don’t know enough about the Mandos to know what is fanon and what is established, but it’s all so seemlessly integrated here that those distinctions almost don’t matter (and I appreciate your providing the various links for reference). The cathedral and the statue of the three deities (and its much humbler counterpart on the street in Keldabe) was especially interesting to me, as I knew nothing about the Mandalorian religion before.

    Various little details stood out for me; I’d be here for a long time if I tried to list them all. Life-affirming local customs like the young man’s verd’goten are always neat to see; I enjoyed the convivial atmosphere inside the Oyu’baat, the beskar lore in the metalsmithy in Enceri (run by a Wren, no less!), and the outdoor performance of the Dha Werda Verda—details like that contribute so much to the atmosphere of the story. I was struck too by the very significant differences between the two major cities here: the homogeneous, squeaky-clean, all-Human Sundari vs. the much more chaotic and colorful Keldabe with its many species; it all ties in, of course, with the Old vs. New Mandalorian political tensions that run throughout the story. And that encounter with the Vizsla sympathizer in part three—definitely a scary moment for both our protagonists! But yes, as the narrator notes, “this is Mandalore.” ;)

    Of course, one of the biggest wild cards here, and one of the most intriguing aspects of the whole story, is the second-person narrator character, the “you.”

    We don’t really know anything about that person yet, or about what brings him or her to Mandalore to start with, or even why he or she went to the trouble of hiring Ezgi as a bodyguard and guide when, as Ezgi points out at the beginning, things are generally pretty safe. (Though we see with that end encounter, that that isn’t always so.) Any number of interesting speculations are possible, of course—and even if the answer is just that it’s some random person out traveling and exploring somewhere new, the results are no less enjoyable!

    Thanks so much for sharing with us this colorful, immersive journey through Mandalore’s history, culture and color. =D= I would love to see more in the same vein from you—so by no means be a stranger! :D
    Mia Mesharad and Ewok Poet like this.
  10. Mia Mesharad

    Mia Mesharad Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Sep 2, 2012
    Thanks a lot, Findswoman! I'm really glad to hear you were able to get so thoroughly immersed. That on-the-street feel was my main goal, and it was really important to get across the everyday aspects of casual Mandalorian life, right down to the food and drinks.
    While almost everything's been drawn from genuine canon, there's admittedly a bit of fanon spread throughout, though mostly to flesh out things that were canonically discussed in passing—like the nameless candy store mentioned offhand in Order 66 growing into Hashar's sweet shop, or the Sundari Art Museum being developed out of a brief mention of a Mandalorian art gallery from Sabine's Rebel Sketchbook—and, of course, to bring a bit more life to the very sparsely detailed city of Sundari. Without a bit of embellishment there, the tour would've either included a not very touristy visit to a school, hospital, and prison...or it would've spanned a single paragraph. :p

    So glad you liked those! When writing, I felt like a big part of what would really make a visit to Mandalore had to go beyond the typical sights, you had to see the people. The celebratory, the mercantile, the familial—not just what was on those streets, but the who. One of my favorite things about visiting new places is getting to know the people, and that seemed really appropriate here, too.

    And I just couldn't help slipping in a Wren. I adore Sabine, both on her own and as an excellent representative of traditional Mandos in the new canon, and like the reference to Clan Onyo's presence in Bralsin, I love to imagine Clan Wren being a part of the original canon Mandalorian society as much as any Fett, Ordo, or Shysa.

    Yeah, there was definitely an intent to contrast the two capitals and their respective factions. Sundari is such a beautifully designed city, I can't help but be impressed by TCW's ability to realize it on screen. But once you move past the visuals and start looking at the larger implications of everything we see there—and what we decided don't—there's an ugliness that's increasingly difficult to ignore. Ever since its debut, it's been fascinating to compare it to Keldabe, finding where it comes out more favorably and where it doesn't. Trying to look at it all through the eyes of someone like Ezgi, who's actually living in both worlds and bearing the weight of this dual heritage, was a particularly interesting exercise.

    The confrontation with the wayward Vizsla supporter was a part of the story I initially went back and forth on whether to include it or not. Is this a tour piece or an adventure? Does this bloat the Enceri section? So on and so forth. But ultimately I felt like it needed to be there, for the same reason I included the father teaching his kids the Dha Werda and the down on her luck Iktochi Mando: it's a part of Mandalore's truth, as unpleasant as it is inextricable in this era. It felt wrong to highlight Sundari and the New Mandalorian's many flaws without shining a light on the dark side of the traditional warrior clans as well. We're also only a few months out from the events of The Mandalore Plot by my reckoning, and it'll be guys like that who flock to Pre Vizsla's new Death Watch.

    Additionally, Star Wars hasn't exactly been subtle about comparing the Death Watch to neo-Nazis over the years, either, so that also opened up an opportunity for a bit of commentary and a cathartic smackdown. Plus, Ezgi got to trash talk Vizsla getting eaten by cats, and that just made it all worth it anyway. :p

    Well, I hate to be a wet blanket, but JJ Abrams I am not, and I hate to fuel needless speculation when the answer's far less rewarding: [You] really is Given that this piece was born from the travel and tourism thread on the Literature board, our nameless viewpoint character is just an avatar of the reader, enjoying a bit of wish fulfillment in traveling across far off worlds. They only reason they have any independent speech or hints of personality is because the "Dora the Explorer" approach simply comes across more awkward and hollow than its worth. So yeah, you pretty much hit the nail on the head with your last option, and hopefully it really is just as enjoyable that way.

    You're very welcome, and thank you for such kind feedback!
  11. Seldes_Katne

    Seldes_Katne Jedi Grand Master star 3

    Mar 18, 2002
    This reminded me of the Lonely Planet Travel Guides from Star Trek (one for the planet Vulcan and the other for the Klingon homeworld), but with more personality and a better insider's view. Thank you for the embedded links -- I spent some time looking up non-human races which were unfamiliar, so got both Mandalorian culture and information on new species. (Bonus!)

    I appreciated the diversity of what we saw here -- not just the big museums and tourist attractions, but the family restaurants and the little market around the corner. When my family goes on vacation, we frequently ask the hotel desk clerk where s/he would go for just a casual family dinner -- we've found a lot of nice little restaurants that way, and this piece has a similar feel in many places.

    I'm hoping for more travel guides like this one -- to see the GFFA as experienced by everyday folks, not just the important and famous.
    Mia Mesharad and Findswoman like this.
  12. Mia Mesharad

    Mia Mesharad Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Sep 2, 2012
    I've never read those personally, but I'll happily take the compliment! :p

    That's awesome, and exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for. I'm really glad you enjoyed those.

    Thanks, Seldes! That's the feel I was going for, and I'm the exact same way when I travel.

    There were supposed to be a bunch more from that Lit thread as people tackled their favorite worlds: Coruscant, Naboo, Mon Calamari, Alderaan, and a handful of others. I was really looking forward to them, too, but unfortunately it didn't really take off. [face_dunno] Maybe someday...

    Either way, thanks for reading! It was great to hear your thoughts, Seldes, and I'm glad you liked it. On the off chance you wanted to follow Ezgi on another adventure, there's a sequel over here. Less a guide and more your standard Star Wars tale, but it does go to some interesting places.
    Seldes_Katne and Findswoman like this.
  13. Seldes_Katne

    Seldes_Katne Jedi Grand Master star 3

    Mar 18, 2002
    That would be great! I will happily read them if they ever happen. :)

    Thank you. I have time to do some extra reading before summer starts (I'm a Youth Services Librarian -- summer tends to be very busy!), so I'll be sure to take a look.
    Mia Mesharad and Findswoman like this.
  14. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Dec 21, 2016
    I remember reading this before, and I thought I commented on it, but I guess I didn't. Anyway, I like.
    Mia Mesharad and Findswoman like this.
  15. Mia Mesharad

    Mia Mesharad Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Sep 2, 2012
    Thank you! And thanks for taking the time to come back and leave a comment saying so, even after all this time. It's nice to know it made a lasting good impression. [face_peace]
    Findswoman likes this.
  16. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Dec 21, 2016
    Funny story, shortly after I read this the second time, I came across a question in a thread in Community, "if you lived in the GFFA and had to hire a bounty hunter to protect you, who would you hire?"

    And my immediate mental response was "Ezgi Deshra", because she's so well written that I forgot for a minute that she was an OC.
    Mia Mesharad likes this.
  17. Mia Mesharad

    Mia Mesharad Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Sep 2, 2012
    That just might be the best kind of compliment right there. I honestly had the biggest smile reading that, Cowgirl. Thank you!
  18. Cowgirl Jedi 1701

    Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Force Ghost star 5

    Dec 21, 2016
    You're welcome.