Kyr’am Galaar stood rooted to the ground, unable to move as the last few seconds seemed to replay over and over again in front of his eyes. His heart had stopped, and was struggling to restart as the seconds seemed to drag out into eternity around him. He tried desperately to breath, his lungs screaming in his chest, but unable to inflate.
Taler, his adopted son, had just thrown himself headlong into a Jedi, and both had vanished over the edge of the blizzard torn glacier. He saw it all happening in slow motion. They collided sharply, the lightsabre falling from the Jedi’s hand, Taler tumbling over the edge.
Time caught up with him, and he inhaled sharply, the cold air filling his lungs as his heart began hammering against his ribs.
“No!” He cried, suddenly able to move. He raced forwards, leaping the crates around him and ignoring the bodies that were strewn around the snow covered ground.
The snow was blurring his vision, and he skidded to a stop barely inches from the edge of the glacier. He glared down over the edge into the swirling vortices of snow and ice, searching desperately for any sign of his son, the ground hundreds of meters below hidden from his eyes. A gust of wind raced up the side of the icy walls and crashed against his worn and haggard face.
“Taler!” he yelled, his voice ringing out across the lonely ice fields, whipped from his frozen lips by the savage gale that swirled around him. It echoed through the howling wind, each repetition fading into nothing.
There was no reply.
Kyr’am fell to his knees, the soft, newly fallen snow cushioning his fall, his long, brown coat billowing silently behind him. The icy wind brushed across his cheeks, ripping away the tears that were welling up at the corners of his eyes. His grip on his blasters became slack as his arms fell limply by his side. All the strength he had felt a moment before evaporated and the hollow feeling of loneliness washed over him.
Memories of the past few days floated in front of his tear stained eyes, the falling snow like the static of a broken monitor blurring the images. Why had he not told Taler what was in the crates? They were supposed to be a family, and yet he had lied to him and deceived him. Where was the trust? He wished he could replay the events of the past week and do it all differently.
Sadness and remorse bubbled up within him, flooding into the hollow loneliness like water flowing into a darkened cave, the level rising rapidly and threatening to drown him in the dark embrace of guilt. He closed his eyes and felt fresh tears being forced from the corners, the warm trickle of salty water caressing the chilled skin of his cheeks.
The snow rustled somewhere behind him, and instinct took over. No matter how much he wanted to grieve, the soldier in him took over, and his grip tightened once more on his blasters. Spinning around sharply, he raised his hands until they were level with his shoulders, lining the sights up with his eyes. The storm continued to rage across the glacier, and everything seemed still. The wind was howling like the down thrust of a heavy freighter, and yet he had heard the tiniest of noises that had alerted him to possible danger. Some people would have put it down to the force, or some special gift, but Kyr’am knew otherwise. The human body was capable of amazing things, and he knew it was his subconscious warning him.
Rising quickly from the floor, he held his blasters out in front of him and edged closer to the stack of crates that was lying beside the idling speeders. The wind grew louder, as though it was trying to conceal whoever or whatever was hidden from him, but as a whisper can be heard above a storm, Kyr’am heard the shuffling of someone in the snow beyond the crates. Anger began to bubble up inside him. After everything that had happened to him, he was not even allowed five minutes to grieve. Where was the honour in attacking someone who had just lost everything?
Edging his way around rapidly, he spun around and glared down the length of his blaster, his eyes burning with rage and his finger tightening on the trigger. His own eyes locked onto the large, orb-like eyes of a Sullustan, and in an instant, his mind took in everything around him. The Sullustan’s rifle, his wounded shoulder, the snarling creature that was stood over him, his teeth bared. Kyr’am steadied his arm and drew back a few feet, giving himself space to manoeuvre, but in that split second, something flashed across his mind.
The Sullustan was wounded, the rifle clasped in his limp hand. There was no way he could use it. The creature, some sort of hunting predator he suspected, was also injured, its back leg hanging beneath its body, with no weight placed upon it. It was snarling at Kyr’am, obviously protecting the Sullustan. Neither was a threat. His mind had worked this all out in the space of a heart beat, but that did not mean he could trust them. He lowered his blasters but did not point them away, keeping them covering the Sullustan and his pet while watching for any sign of danger.
The hound continued to growl, baring its teeth angrily at Kyr’am. It whimpered noisily as it tried to put weight on its leg, but it never took its eyes off Kyr’am.
“Steady, girl,” the Sullustan hissed, reaching out to the hound.
“Who are you?” Kyr’am asked sharply, his eyes half closed against the falling snow.
“Juel Suund,” the Sullustan said breathlessly, whining in pain as the burnt skin on his shoulder was being covered by snow. The scorched edges were blackened and the scar was weeping clear fluid. “Communications officer on board the ‘Krayt Dragon’.”
“Looks like you’ll need to get a new captain,” Kyr’am said calmly. Looking around, while still keeping an eye on his captives, he noted the other bodies. “And probably a new crew.”
“Wasn’t that keen on them anyway,” the Sullustan laughed, but the laughter quickly descended into pained coughs. The hound backed towards him, standing almost on top of him like a living barrier.
Kyr’am had never thought himself to be cold-hearted. In fact it was his weakness when he saw injustice that had caused him a lot of trouble in his youth, and he knew that one day it would return to bite him in the ass. It was a trait that all Mandalorian mercenaries had, they knew what was right and they knew what was wrong. Some chose to ignore this, but they could still differentiate between them. It was something that a lot of the galaxy did not understand, and they found it hard to balance the image of a ruthless, cold blooded killer, with the thought that they were capable of acts of compassion. And it was that thought that was battling in Kyr’am’s mind at that very moment.
He had just watched his son fall from the top of a cliff, and probably to his death. Every instinct was screaming at him to return to the ship and begin scanning for him, the last few glimmers of hope burning in the dark corners of his mind. But in front of him was a being who was suffering greatly, and would probably not make it back to his own ship alive.
He knew the right thing to do, but anger was still coursing through his veins, and it was bursting to be released. Kyr’am lost control, screaming loudly and kicking the pile of crates, watching them fall to the ground, the contents of blasters and pistols scattering into the snow.
“Why should I help you?” He hissed, not addressing the Sullustan directly. “Why?” He paced back and forth through the ankle deep snow, his blaster still gripped in his hands. “If I hadn’t taken this job, he would still be here. But now he’s gone...”
“No, he’s not,” Juel whispered. Kyr’am froze, turning sharply to the Sullustan. Juel’s eyes were half closed, and he seemed to be staring into the middle distance, his eyes unfocused.
“What do you mean?” Kyr’am barked, striding rapidly towards him. The hound growled louder, seeming to pick up on Kyr’am’s threatening sounds.
“He’s alive,” Juel continued. “About two hundred feet down, beneath us.”
“How do you know?” Kyr’am cried. Juel just looked up at him and smiled, tapping his ear with his hand. It seemed the stories about a Sullustan’s hearing were well founded. Kyr’am grabbed hold of the tiniest grain of hope and buried it in his heart, letting it warm his frozen veins.
“We can help you find him,” Juel offered. Kyr’am felt the familiar pang of suspicion flutter up his spine. No one offered to help without an ulterior motive, but the Sullustan’s voice had seemed genuine. It was easy enough to fake, but Kyr’am took a leap of faith and decided to trust him, for now.
“Let’s get back to my ship,” Kyr’am said calmly. “But no funny business,” he warned.
“I never was the funny type anyway,” Juel smiled painfully.
It took a few moments for Juel to convince the hound that Kyr’am was going to try and help, and once the creature moved away from his master, Kyr’am was able to help him stand, pulling the Sullustan’s arm over his shoulder and hauling him to his feet.
Scooping up his helmet from the snow where it had been thrown earlier, the three limped slowly across the glacier and up the loading ramp of the ‘Trail-breaker’. He directed them both to the galley and reached out the medi-pack from one of the compartments and set to work on their injuries, making sure his blaster was always within reach.
With Juel’s shoulder covered in bacta spray, and the hounds hip popped back into place - no mean feat considering the struggling of the creature, and its teeth - Kyr’am seemed to notice something was wrong. The ship was silent, the usual excited tweeting of his eccentric astromech nowhere to be heard. Confusion building inside him, he turned to head towards the bridge and found himself staring down the barrel of a modified Dekro-7 blaster.
“Hello, Kyr’am,” a soft yet cold voice said.
Beneath the Lnteel Glacier
Brushing away the snow and ice that had covered his body on impact, Ber’ik struggled up the last slope towards the dim grey light that was filtering through the tunnel. His shoulder was throbbing from the impact after falling from the top of the glacier, and as he slowly scrambled towards the howling wind, he reached into his belt pouch and drew out his comlink. It chirped as it linked to the starfighter he had left many kilometres away.
“Ar-seven, open a channel, scramble code five to Coruscant, care of the ‘Old Folks Home’,” Ber’ik said loudly, struggling to be heard over the howling wind that rushed passed the opening in the glacier wall. A wild, excitable tweeting rang out through the ice caves, as the droid responded to its orders somewhere off in the white wilderness. In his hand, Ber’ik held a small holo-projector that lay dormant for a few moments, before a burst of light flared into life, and he found himself staring down at the image of a robed Cerean who seemed to be seated in a high backed chair.
“Report,” the figure said cleanly, getting straight to the point.
“I have tracked down the weapons smugglers to Hoth, master,” Ber’ik announced, the wind making it difficult for him to be heard. His four facial tentacles were getting number by the second as the temperature of the air around him seemed to be dropping rapidly. “They were in the middle of the hand-off, but unfortunately I was unable to ascertain their final destination. There were... complications during the negotiation process.” The Cerean leaned back in his chair and slowly stroked his chin as he thought, the white hair on the very top of his high head and the small beard that clung to the underside of his jaw were immaculately groomed.
“A minor setback,” he said casually. “It would have been beneficial to find the source of the weapons traffic, but at least there is one load less going to the Separatists.”
“Yes, master,” Ber’ik agreed.
“Well done, Ber’ik,” the Cerean said, his voice always seemed to be lacking in warmth and sincerity. “We have another assignment for you. We need you to head towards Teyr and aid Master K’Kruhk and the 416th star corps. The situation is getting a little heated, and...” The holo-image began to shudder, the edges shattering as if the wind was tearing at the small figure.
“Master?” Ber’ik called out. “The signal is failing. Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, do you copy?”
The voice crackled and hissed, and the image vanished. Ber’ik adjusted his comlink, locking it onto his starfighter frequency.
“Ar-seven, do you copy?” Ber’ik said, holding the comms unit up to his mouth.
There was no reply, only the noiseless static carried on the hollow, icy winds that snuck through the frozen veins of the glacier.
“Ar-seven, respond.” The comlink blinked feebly, the signal struggling to penetrate the storm as it grew wilder, sparks finally erupted from one of the broken relays. It had been damaged in the fall and his attempt to repair it had begun to fail.
Ittimea Ber’ik, Jedi Knight, stood at the entrance to the dim tunnels that had been carved out of the ice by the force of the wind over countless centuries, and felt mildly irritated. Of all the planets for him to be stranded on, Hoth was not near the top of his list. Being a Quarren, suited to life beneath the waves in the sunken cities of Dac, his kind were used to extreme temperatures, the depths of the oceans got quite cold. But they needed to keep their skin moist to prevent it from drying out and cracking. The icy chill from the wind was slowly drawing out the moisture, and Ber’ik could already feel it crystallising at the tips of his fingers.
In front of him, the ground fell away into white nothingness as the tunnel emerged onto the sheer face of the icy wall. A blizzard was raging across the glacier, slate grey clouds hanging low over the icy plains, making all communications difficult, if not completely impossible.
The wind tore at the hem of his brown robes, the edges fluttering silently around his legs, revealing two silver cylinders hanging from his belt. Both were wrapped with strands of leather, creating a band of tan brown around the silver, and the shorter of the two had a small horn at the end of the hilt. Another gust of wind blew suddenly up the side of the frozen cliff, chilling his already cold skin. Sinking away back into the cave, he backed around the first bend in the tunnel, shielding himself from the wind, whilst still keeping a clear line for his communicator.
“Ar-seven, are you receiving?” He repeated. Looking down, he watched the last few blinking lights fade, and the communicator finally died. He let his arms fall down beside him, and with a sigh, he tucked the remaining parts into the pouch on his belt. The ominous, grey clouds were growing thicker around him, the air becoming like soup. Stepping towards the edge of the tunnel and looking down, he tried to see if there was any way down. But the ground was hidden by the swirling clouds, and without knowing how far down it was, there was a chance that even the force would not help him descend safely. Looking up, it was the same. The summit was shrouded in the storm, and there were no other ledges that he could see.
A tingling sense rippled across between his shoulder blades, and he knew it was not merely he cold seeping through his robes. The force was speaking to him, trying to warn him of something he had forgotten. It took a few moments of silent thought before he finally understood what he was missing.
He had not been alone when he had fallen from the glacier top. He had been tackled by the white armoured Mandalorian, and they had dropped down into the white abyss together. And yet when he had awoken, he was alone. Where was the other?
Kneeling down in the soft snow at his feet, he rested his hand against his lap and closed his eyes, slowing his breathing and steadying himself, opening out his senses to the force. Like most beings, he interpreted the force in his own way, swirls of coloured smoke billowing around in his mind, opening and closing, revealing flashes of half complete images. The colours changed and swirled wildly, the calming greens and blues shot through with strands of orange and red. Slowing his heart even further, he let the force take him deeper, soaring between the images in his mind and letting himself be lead towards the path he was to take.
A fleeting sensation of familiarity rippled beneath the swirling smoke. He tried to move towards it, but it evaded him.
Multiple strands of smoke seemed to swirl around him, each breaking off and heading towards their own cluster of images. Paths lead in all directions, but the current of the force continued to drag him onwards, the feeling of something familiar still piquing at the back of his mind.
The smoke was becoming darker, the greens and blues fading into crimson and black. His eyes clenched as he struggled to maintain a steady heartbeat, the tension around him in the force seeping through into his veins like a poison. Screams echoed around him, the hissing slash of a lightsabre sliced through the commotion, and a red, bloodied ‘T’ visor emerged from the darkness, a flash of familiar eye staring back into his soul from behind the mask.
A deathly, animalistic roar crashed through into his meditation, and he felt himself being dragged back to the icy caves once more, his eyes opening sharply. His hand dropped instantly to his light sabre on his belt and he felt the cold cylinder press against his palm. Another roar rippled through the caves, and a feeling of danger sliced through the force, the familiar warning tingling between his shoulder blades once more.
Danger lay within the caves, but he also knew that it was the only way out.
Slowly, he stepped away from the opening and ventured deeper into the caves.