Home. A Dasha and Appius story

Mandalore
38 ABY
Middle of Nowhere

The ship rocketed through the atmosphere with a violence that only a vastly inexperienced pilot couldn’t handle. Falling to the ground like a comet, the Upsilon-class Command Shuttle suddenly lifted up before crashing into the planet and soared just above the coarse land before slowing to a complete stop, gently touching the ground before the ramp lowered to the outside world.

A Human stepped down onto the harsh, unforgiving terrain and stretched his arms and legs after the long journey from the Caelus System. He thanked the Force he chose to come at a time when the sun was beginning to set. What were usually hot and barren lands were blissfully cool as darkness began to descend upon the horizon. It left a pleasant orange hue which basked everything in its pleasant glow.

He was followed by a young, timid Sephi woman. She stroked her right arm tentatively as she quickly made her way down the ramp to join him at his side. She thanked her luck the pilot decided to remain in the ship, she wasn’t so confident around strangers.

“Here we are! Home sweet home!” the tall Human said as he spread his arms out in a dramatic pose. He shot her his best toothy smile as she glanced around at… well… nothing. No tree’s, no buildings, no sign of life as far as the eye could see. Nothing but rough, dry ground for mile after mile as far as the eyes could see.

“Ok, I realize it doesn’t seem like much, Dasha,” the Human said. “But this is my homeworld. Yep, that’s right. Welcome to Mandalore!”

This is Mandalore?

Even to her young mind, tales of the warriors of this system stretched throughout the galaxy. Mercenaries, soldiers, and credit hunters. Even during the Clone Wars and the reign of the Galactic Empire, they proved themselves to be fearsome. Hell, Appius wasn’t even the first Mandalorian she had ever met. That particular honour went to one particular sleemo that thought it would be funny to see how she handled a strong dose of alcohol. The answer, unsurprisingly, was not very well. Though at least she managed to get some sniper training out if it.

“Oh, cool,” Dasha said sheepishly.

“Cool?” the Human inquired. “Olaror bat, Dasha. It’s a wasteland and you know it!”

“Sorry, Appius.”

The Ektrosis Aedile rubbed the back of his head and sighed. Dasha’s confidence issues were an issue. An issue he intended to correct no matter what it took. Even as young and small as she was, she was deadly. She just needed to see it for herself.

“Is this really what your home looks like?” the young Sephi asked.

“For the most part? Yep,” Appius answered. Thankful that she was still willing to talk to him. “There were a few domed cities, but otherwise this is it. A result of generations of war and strife that for the most part has left the planet barren. Ironic isn’t it? Mandalore has produced some of the most legendary warriors the galaxy has ever known from Tarre Vizsla to Jango Fett, and yet basic irrigation is a logistical nightmare.”

Appius watched his young apprentice’s reaction. Even without the Force, the young Scavenger was fairly perceptive.

“There was some hope for a time with the New Mandalorians. But that didn’t last very long. Still, some settlements still exist from that time, albeit in secret.”

“Is that where you are from?”

Appius responded with a soft smile, but even despite it, Dasha could tell there was a hidden pain behind his expression. She hated seeing it, part of the man she met when she joined Taldryan was still in there somewhere, even behind the amber eyes and utter snark that most everyone else tended to see.

“Well, you wanted to know where I came from! You keep asking me questions, I thought it would be good to show you,” he said.

“But… we are in a desert?”

“Yep!” Appius replied. “Because I also had something else in mind.”

He pointed to the weapon at her waist, cylindrical in design and highly recognisable as the weapon of Jedi and Sith across the galaxy.

“That,” Appius said. “I’m going to teach you how to use that and I don’t want anyone interrupting us.”

Dasha’s heart dropped into her gut. She was going to get lightsaber training from a Force User, from her Master, from Appius!

“But I don’t want to hurt you.”

By Sephi standards she was still a teenager and her lack of confidence came to the surface full swing. Her body tensed, the sign of a young woman who had seen and experienced far too much. Abuse, neglect, self-worth issues and obviously, confidence. The woes of a hard start to life in an uncaring orphanage bared heavily on her shoulders like a pair of durasteel anchors dragging her down into the floor. These were all things Appius was very much aware of. Getting her to trust him was the first step, but if she was going to survive in the Brotherhood. She needed more experience, more confidence and above all else, she needed to move on from her past.

“Jala, trust me. I’ve been doing this a very long time. You won’t hurt me.”

She took a deep breath, his words calmed and soothed her. He had that effect. Like an older brother to a younger sister, he was perhaps one of the few men she trusted completely.

Ah, to hell with it!

If Appius had faith in her, then she would certainly try! She grabbed the hilt from her waist and held the weapon firmly in her right hand. She pressed the activation switch as a distinct green blade hissed to life. She steeled herself as she watched the Force user in front of her smile and retrieve one of his own weapons. His own emerald blade snapped out of the hilt and he smirked, ready to face her attack head-on.

“Good,” he said. “That’s much more like it!”

Dasha’s heart thumped hard in her chest as her mind was clouded with worry. She hasn’t really used this new tool before, but she knew to not touch the green, glowy blade. With a bit of fiddling, she decided a regular forward grip and basic stance was probably wiser. The lightsaber felt a bit heavier than her usual vibroblade, of which she had also brought along, as well as far less balanced between blade and hilt.

The young Sephi looked carefully at her Master to make sure he’s ready before hesitantly attempting a simple slash. Appius, on the other hand, raised an eyebrow at the weak attempt while just turning his wrist slightly to block the blow, “Come on now, I know you can do better than that!” while Dasha staggered in surprise at the screeching sound of the lightsabers.

She gritted her teeth and tried again, bracing her ears while doing the same slash but harder. Appius didn’t even move as his physical strength naturally held up the block.

Another slash came this time from her bottom right into an upwards slash. Appius easily tilted his lightsaber and parried.

Dasha dug into the memories of the last war where she saw various force users fight using their lightsabers and tried a few things, mimicking their various stances to make the blows work and adjusting as needed. This caused the Mandalorian to raise an eyebrow, but he fluidly adjusted to block and parry as the forms changed almost randomly. Soon, it was noticeable that some of the partially refined attacks were being strung together, known forms changing fluidly, but not without large holes throughout.

Sweat started to appear on her brows and clothes as the desert environment took its toll as her breathing grew heavier and her already great stamina was depleting. Appius didn’t seem to have really broken a sweat on the outside as he almost casually blocked or deflected each blow.

Epic

This was the kind of person Dasha was. Improvisational, resourceful, and a survivor. Even without the Force, the fact she was able to imitate parts of the seven forms of lightsaber combat was certainly impressive. Shii-Cho, Makashi, even some light Ataru and Djem So made it through, though it was obvious that these were imitations rather than the pure skill of a swordsman. Even so, there were Acolytes in the Shadow Academy that struggled to do such things, even despite the glaring flaws in her style.

However, there was one major problem.

“Dasha,” Appius said. The young woman raised her head to meet the look in his eyes. For the first time since they arrived, he looked deadly serious. A look that made butterflies dance in her stomach.

“Why are you fighting like that?”

The question confused the young woman. She’d watched Appius, Vodo, Rian, Erinyes as well as many more Force users in Taldryan fight with their signature weapons. She observed and learned from it and honestly? She thought it would make Appius beam with pride. This, after all, was something he knew an awful lot about. But the look on his face wasn’t that, and it rocked the young Sephi to her core.

“I… thought…” she said between gasps of air. Her lungs begged for oxygen amidst the Mandalorian sunset.

“You thought what? Thought that you could fight like a Force user without access to the Force?”

Her cheeks went a rosy red, and suddenly, she felt a whole lot smaller than she actually was.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice meek as she responded to him. She lowered her face and was suddenly unable to look him directly in his amber eyes.

“Dasha, do me a favour?” The Human said. He approached her and knelt beside her and gently placed his spare arm on her shoulder. She tensed at the touch and willed herself to look at him once again.

“Don’t try to be something you’re not.”

She turned away from him.

“Hey. It’s ok.” He said, rubbing her comfortingly like an older sibling.

"I’m trying to be better… " she interrupted.

“Better? Than what?” Appius inquired.

“Better than me.”

The words stung as she spoke like little knives across her soul. She felt water well up in her eyes as every single moment she felt worthless in her life flashes to the front of her mind.

Appius deactivated his lightsaber and sat next to her. He beckoned her to sit beside him and she followed suit, albeit hesitantly.

“Do you know why I took you on as my apprentice?”

She heard his question though remained silent. Truthfully, she hadn’t given it much thought.

“When I met you on Chyron, initially I saw nothing more than a frightened little girl trying to survive in the lowest slums of society. No family, no home, no hope. But you very quickly proved me wrong. Do you remember all those traps you set? And the weapons you attacked me with?”

She did, and she rubbed the back of her head sheepishly.

“The Force is dangerous, yes. But there is nothing more dangerous than someone who is intelligent and resourceful. Someone like you. Look at what you did in the war! I caught glimpses of a confident young woman in you, the real you. I know she’s in there waiting to give me an untold amount of hell when she gets out.”

Dasha chuckled and Appius could see he was finally breaking through to her.

“My point is… just be you. Because who you are is special. You don’t need to be anyone else. Ok?”

She sniffled and wiped her eyes before responding to him with a warm smile and a slight nod.

“Shall we get back to it?” Appius asked as he returned to his feet and drew upon his lightsaber once again. The emerald-coloured blade returned and he spun the saber haphazardly in his right hand before pointing it at the young woman.

Dasha jumped up to her feet with a spring of energy she didn’t think she had in her. She activated her own weapon and she leapt at Appius with newfound vigour in her bones.

That’s more like it. Appius thought.

Yet, she surprised him. Instead of attacking him directly, she moved around his flank she knelt down and grabbed a fistful of dirt before throwing it into the Sorcerer’s eyes.

“Agh! What the hell!?” He exclaimed.

She moved in with a horizontal swing towards Appius’ shin, but the Force was still with him and warned him of the attack. He deflected the strike aside and quickly gained some distance between himself and Dasha before she could strike again.

He squinted, his eyes irritated from the dust. Although he couldn’t help but smile.

This is MUCH more like it. He mused as he braced himself for her next trick.

Dasha side-stepped around her Master, cautiously going for openings as she saw fit. The lightsaber was definitely weighted differently than her own blades, but soon it started feeling more natural.

Using Appius’s temporary blindness, she picked up a few stones to toss back the way she came further and further to trick his sense of hearing that she backtracked before going for his shins again. Every single time she tried another trick, she became more and more surprised how he was able to deflect and parry everything.

She found a stick and decided to try dual-wielding, aiming to use the hum of the lightsaber to trick Appius into blocking an overhead strike from his flank just to smack his waist with the stick. Needless to say, Dasha ended up with half a stick that ended up being an incinerated projectile later.

Another trick was to just his movements to try to make him lose his footing in a shallow pothole in the ground. The Mandalorian knew his homeland well and that didn’t work well. Using her very marginally higher ground, she threw a stink bomb at him like a baseball which exploded on contact with Appius’s lightsaber and put him into a coughing fit.

Stink bombs? Really!?

He gagged profusely as the stench clung to him like an unwanted bounty on his head. Dasha immediately took advantage of Appius’ distraction and made her way further up a small hill. By the time Appius could concentrate on her once again, she was at the very top, gleaming down at him with a face splitting grin on her face.

“It’s over, Appius!” She cried. “I have the high ground!”

Appius glared daggers at her, his jaw went slack from the utter gall that his apprentice had.

“Oh, hell no! You are not doing this to me!”

Appius raised his spare arm and immediately, Dasha felt an invisible tug on her body. It was like a rope had wrapped itself around her as she flew off the top of the hill down towards Appius below.

Yet, despite her youth, despite her inexperience, Appius’ teachings began to get through to her. Instead of being frightened and scared at the possibility of injury, she held her lightsaber in front of her in an effort to defend herself from Appius’ attack. Green clashed on green as sparks flew between them. The young Sephi’s momentum halted as she fell back first onto the floor.

Then, just like that, she felt it again. The invisible grip on her body. Appius’ hand hovered over her and she felt herself yanked upwards a few feet, shifted into an upright position and tossed over to the side. She landed on her feet and stumbled a few feet before placing her hands tightly back onto her lightsaber hilt.

Appius smiled at her, and beamed with pride at the progress she had made in a night. If she kept this up, she would be a true threat to anyone who came up against her.

She readied herself, and prepared for whatever was about to come next. Yet, to her surprise, Appius deactivated his lightsaber and placed it back on his waist.

“Excellent. Much better. That fire, that determination, that creativity that only you have. That’s exactly what I am looking for.”

Dasha, in response, deactivated her own weapon. The glowing emerald blade retracted into the hilt as she carefully holstered it at her hip.

“Well, that’s it then for today. Let’s get out of here,” Appius said.

“Wait, that’s it?” Dasha replied.

“Well, yeah? What were you expecting?” The Sorcerer asked.

Dasha didn’t say anything in return. Her eyes darted down towards the floor.

In response, Appius sighed. He knew exactly what she wanted, what she always kept asking him.

Why did you leave?

He never gave her a straight answer. He never gave anyone a straight answer. But this time, he knew he had too. If she was going to trust him, he had to trust her. A relationship between a master and a student worked both ways, and Dasha was the last person he wanted to distrust him, especially after everything that had happened.

“Follow me,” he said as he brushed past her and waded into the desert. Concordia hung above in the sky, and the moon shone overhead in the cool Mandalorian night.

Was that how long they had been training for?

She followed closely to him, never saying a word as the ship they arrived in faded out of view. She wanted to ask where they were going. Inquire what they were going to do, but stayed silent. As did Appius, which was certainly uncharacteristic for him.

After a thirty-minute walk, the pair arrived at what appeared to be an old compound. It lay completely in ruins with scorch marks seared across the ground and rubble. But the most disturbing detail of all, were the charred skeletal remains that were dotted helplessly around the area.

“What is this?” The young Scavenger asked with a slight tremble in her voice.

“This, Dasha, is all that remains of my family. Clan Clars ran a weapons compound here with my brother, my only blood relative, in charge of the whole thing. It’s gone. All gone,” Appius forced himself to look at it, a stern reminder of what he is. “My father and I were attacked by a group of anti-force sympathisers when I was about fifteen years old, he died and allowed me to escape. After joining the Brotherhood and surviving the Lyra System, I finally summoned the courage to reconnect with them. I hadn’t seen my brother in twelve years, Dasha. I finally found my home again and then…”

Appius clenched his fists at his side, he shook and tensed whilst his lips quivered ever so slightly.

“It was all gone. I found out it was attacked. Again, because of me. Because of what I am. My home, my family. All gone. There was nothing left of it. I left to try and help, to stop this from happening but by the time I got here it was too late. I watched as fire swept over the land as smoke blackened the sky. I watched the Clan Clars servicemen and women burn like raw meat under the fire of everything they had built together. I stared helpless and alone whilst it all sunk in, that my brother was dead and I was once again all alone. It seems my destiny has come full circle, wouldn’t you say? No matter what, I’m always going to be alone…”

Dasha didn’t know what to say. What could she say? This was a completely different side of Appius than she had ever seen. He was always so forward, so full to the brim with determination and guts. It never seemed like anything bothered him, yet right here, right now, for the first time, Dasha saw underneath the surface, she saw underneath the mask he put in front of himself. Despite all of his power, he was still a man longing for somewhere to belong.

And for the first time, she saw the real him at his soul.

Dasha’s jaw loosened though she made sure her jaw wasn’t dropping by keeping her lips together. She couldn’t stop surveying the carnage in hopes that someone or something was still alive. The recent war had bothered her to start with, yet this seemed more… gruesome. It made her wonder about the other kids and what that bunk room in her own past looked like yet it made her shudder.

He was lost, just like she mostly is. He’s found where he was from, yet she couldn’t name the planet or system she was from. He was so close to finding his blood family yet this was what he found. Seeing how he is right now, was it worth it for her to search for her own?

She had no words to give to him even if she may only know part of his pain for she never even met her blood family, how could she know?

Dasha did the only thing she could think of, she moved in to his side and tried to give Appius a comforting hug.

Was the orphanage her temporary family in a way? Is Clan Taldryan her new family? She couldn’t decide on it in the past nor even currently.

What should she do now? They say it’s a good idea to bury the dead to allow them rest, yet she’s close to exhaustion with many graves to dig. How do you take care of remains such as these? Perhaps she should stick with digging.

She had been on the run for so long… just to escape; yet here is what Appius was running to only to be too late. Where was she running?

Dasha rested her cheek on his outer arm as her head started to hurt as she couldn’t figure out what to do or say.

Perhaps she could find a shovel on the ship and start digging early in the morning before Appius wakes up. Help at least her Master find some closure whereas she herself could not. Should she tell him her story now or find more information before then? The latter sounded like a better idea.

Maybe he just needed to hear a few words, honest ones of how she felt to someone she saw as an older brother figure as past father figures were always negative in her eyes. In a somewhat timid voice she stated, “I’m still here.”

Would it help him? She felt him turn to look at her briefly before turning back to look at the charred compound.