Trapped Part 3
The beast within
Numbness was beginning to spread through Ber’ik’s fingers, the tips already tingling with the stinging warning that heralded the onset of frost bite. So far he had been able to avoid using the force to sustain his core temperature, and being from an aquatic race, he was used to temperatures way below that of other beings. But he could also feel the moisture in his hands beginning to fail. His skin was becoming paler, the once smooth surface was now coarse and rough to touch.
It was times like this that he would have preferred to be on some other planet more suited to his physiology, somewhere wet and covered in endless oceans. A Jedi went where the force guided them, it was their calling to serve the will of the force. But sometimes, it did seem to have an odd sense of humour.
His memories of his home world were sparse, life in the order was all he had ever known. Taken from his family at an early age, he had always been surrounded by beings of hundreds of different species. He had trained along side them, he had worked with them and sparred with others in his quest to master the blade that was to become the symbol of everything he stood for. Jedi were taught that if there was a way to solve problems diplomatically, then they should always pursue that course of action. But Ber’ik did not want to be helpless when the words failed.
A flicker of familiarity shuddered through his mind once more, blurring across his force awareness, too fast for him to focus upon it. It was the same sensation he had been feeling since he had been tackled by the white armoured Mandalorian, as though it was someone he should know, or recognise. And yet, no matter how hard he tried to steady his mind and concentrate on the feelings, he could not isolate it. He had met a few Mandalorians in his missions along the rim, not all of them had been aware of his Jedi status. But thinking through all of them, he could not find any that wore heavy white and red armour.
The floor beneath him shook violently, and he stumbled into the walls.
His right hand shot out to steady himself against the icy tunnel walls while the floor continued to rumble beneath his feet - the glacier seeming to change configuration at a moments notices - he felt the drying skin scrape across the walls. A streak of red smeared down the crystalline walls, trickling down through the frozen, wave like surface. Drawing it away a little sharper than he had anticipated, he felt the skin catch and tear, small cuts and grazes appearing across his palm, weeping blood. He had not felt the pain, but as the blood rushed through the wounds, a flicker of feeling reappeared in his palm, and he hissed as the pain flooded his arm.
Reaching into his belt, he removed a canister of bacta and sprayed it lightly across the cracked skin of his hand. Scooping up the hem of his robes, he tore off a strip of brown material and wrapped it around his palm, stemming the flow of blood. Small dark patches began to seep through the improvised bandage, but soon the bleeding stopped as the bacta sealed the scratches.
From deep within the tunnels, Ber’ik felt something stirring. It was not a sound, it was not even a vibration through the frozen ground beneath his feet. It was a feeling, a sudden pulse of awareness that raced through the glacier and seemed to crash into him like a tidal wave.
It was not the same feeling he had felt before. That presence was still skulking around in the darkness of the icy labyrinth, sinister, foreboding and filled with white hot rage. But something else was now awakening, something primal and animalistic.
He had studied the files about Hoth before he had begun his mission, eager to know as much as he could about the planet and its potential risks. And the records had brought up many creatures that he would have gladly avoided. But physical descriptions and multi-paged worded research papers had told him nothing about the way they felt through the force. Without seeing the creature, he would never know what it was. And with the intensity of the feelings that were bubbling up through the force bombarding him with savage urges and a worryingly strong lust for fresh meat, Ber’ik was not sure he ever wanted to meet the creature.
The sensation that was flooding the force around him reminded him of the Gorgodons that hid in the icy caves of Ilum where he had journeyed on the final quest to construct his first lightsabre. His master, Toriea-Ki Val, had warned him about the creatures, but armed only with a training sabre, it was difficult to fight off the creatures and their death grip. Other padawans who had already completed their first sabres had told stories of the beasts and their own struggles with the ice bound monsters. But nothing could prepare him for his own quest.
As he had ventured deeper into the caves, his master forbidden from going further than the entrance, he had faced the visions and voices that haunted the caves. He could feel his fear and apprehension bubbling up inside him as it had on that day, each new vision forcing him to face some other aspect of his own uncertainties. Passing through each challenge, he found himself in the central cavern where the crystals had grown, and as he looked around, the glittering lights of a thousand shards twinkled in the darkness like the stars of a thousand galaxies. The force swirled around him, stronger there than any place he had felt before, and it seemed to drag him across the frozen floor towards a section of wall that seemed darker than most. There was a circle of nothing at its centre, and yet his hand was drawn towards it, and as he began to scrape away at the loose stone, a weak yellow spark faded into view.
Clawing at the walls, he revealed the golden crystal that had been buried in the stone.
Reaching down to his belt, he unclipped the lightsabre and held the slender cylinder in front of him, remembering the first time he had held it in the palm of his hand. It had felt so solid, so balanced, and even as the blade had flared into life and the golden glow of the yellow crystal illuminated the black walls around him, it had felt like an extension of his own arm. He let his hand drop away, but the hilt remained floating in front of him. It slowly turned around, showing him every side of the elegant weapon.
His master had been pleasantly surprised when he had seen the yellow blade. It was an unusual colour even for a Jedi, and it had always been synonymous with the Jedi Sentinels. It had been many years now since his master had become one with the force, and there was not a day went by when Ber’ik did not seek his guidance. He missed his master.
The memories of the past faded away rapidly as the first presence he had felt in the force, the sinister, familiar mind, suddenly grew tense and agitated. Something had happened that worried them, and Ber’ik let his lightsabre drop, scooping it up in his hand as it fell. The second being, the animalistic creature was on the move, and it was moving fast, slipping through the icy tunnels upwards from the darkened depths.
Ber’ik did not activate his lightsabre, but he did not return it to his belt either. He felt a shiver of cold sweep down his spine, or was it fear? Drawing his robes tightly around himself once more, he set off down the tunnels, letting the force guide his path.
The ration bar had settled in the bottom of Taler’s stomach, and his eyes had started to grow heavy when the thunderous roar ripped through the cavern, vibrating through the crystal walls like a passing hover train. His grip tightened instantly on his DC-17m, snapping it up to his shoulder and sweeping it across the opening to the alcove, his eyes widening in a moment of fear. The frozen darkness blurred as his eyes let in too much light from the night vision visor, and he clamped down on the surge of adrenalin, controlling its flow. The pale grey walls around him gave way to the almost perfect black beyond, the distant walls of the cavern hidden by the thick gloom.
Flicking his eyes rapidly from left to right, he took in all the information from his HUD, recalibrating the scanners to penetrate as far as they could. But the ice was thick, refracting the signals. Contacts were being found from all directions, the scanners unable to differentiate between the small burrowing ice worms and the larger beasts that roamed the caves. Some contacts were barely registering, the frozen air around them cooling them and making them almost invisible.
Grunting with frustration, he began to slowly shuffle forwards, moving closer to the entrance to the alcove, the darkness beyond growing bigger. Another spine-chilling roar tore through the vast cavern, and he could hear the tinkling of icicles high above him as they vibrated, some breaking free and falling like invisible spears through the gloom, shattering into a thousand pieces as they slammed into the cavern floor. The rumbling of the glacier’s movements could be heard rolling through the walls, the deep, ominous cracking following the ever changing mass of tunnels that laced the icy tomb.
Taler was only a few feet from the edge of the ledge now, and he could just about see the dull grey floor of the cavern way below him from his vantage point. The edges of the cavern stretched away into the gloom, and the far said was hidden by the thick darkness that inhabited the depths of the glacier. Here it dwelled, and fed on the fears of those trapped within.
His heart was starting to race again. In the darkness, and through the monochromatic filter of the night scope on his HUD, Taler found himself once again trapped, alone, beneath the dusty plains of Geonosis. The feelings he had felt that day were bubbling up to the surface, and as much as his logical mind tried to fight the memories, the same fear and uncertainty began to close in on his heart.
Another roar echoed through the cavern, this time off to the right. Whatever it was, it was getting closer.
He tightened his grip on his rifle, pressing it harder into his shoulder. Edging out past the last bit of cover the wall provided, he swept the rifle right across the cavern and down the side where he had heard the blood-thirsty cry. The scanners were still blinking away in the top quadrant of his HUD and small contacts were scurrying around all around him, and yet he could see nothing.
Frustration was building inside him, and it was getting increasingly difficult to control. With frustration came anger, and with anger came tension. His body was on a knife edge.
The ice cracked loudly off in the darkness, and the sounds of frozen boulder-sized chunks rumbling down a steep slope echoed out through the cavern.
Taler looked towards the sound and held his breath.
Ber’ik pressed his palms against the frozen floor of the tunnel, the feeling almost completely gone from the tips of his fingers, a throbbing, stinging pain coursing through his veins as the cold grew thicker. Struggling to extend his arms, he pushed himself off the floor, the layer of ice shards falling from his robes. shifting painfully onto his knees, he looked up and saw the hole above him where moments before he had been standing before the floor had given way beneath him.
The constant shifting of the glacier had weakened the tunnel, and the cold had dulled his reflexes. The floor had shattered beneath him, and he had fallen through the darkness, surrounded by the tumbling boulders. They lay scattered around him, sharp and jagged.
It was even darker here than it had been above, and Ber’ik struggled to see anything of the environment around him. A black hole seemed to lead away from him towards the west, and a solid wall of boulders and ice blocked his progress towards the east. With his energy fading, and his emergency rations back at the starfighter, he knew he would never make the climb back up to the tunnel. His only option was to proceed onwards in the direction available to him.
The caves had fallen silent, the eerie cracking of the ice around him the only sounds he could hear. And yet he could feel something, the ever present sensation of familiarity he had detected up on the glacier top was growing stronger by the minute. Somewhere ahead in the darkness, the malice and anger was pulsing like a flare, red hot and blinding. But each time he reached out to it, it was becoming more familiar, and yet just as alien. It had changed from his first contact with it.
Back then it had been powerful and stubborn, a grey cloud of mistrust hanging over his head. But now, in the darkness of the Hoth underworld, it was becoming more and more like the dark side, savage and wild and uncontrollable. He reached out to the force, hoping to get some answers, but the more he tried to focus on it and pin point its location, the more diffuse it became. The cold was making it hard to concentrate.
Despite the certainty he felt that it was something best avoided, the force was drawing him forwards, towards the darkness beyond his vision. The call of the force was weakening, growing silent within his heart. Whether it was because of the power of the dark side, or because his body was slowly shutting down in the frozen environment, he did not know. It worried him, and he knew the only choice he had was to keep moving.
Stepping towards the gloom, he grabbed his lightsabre from his belt, and pressed it hard into his palm until he could feel it against his frozen skin. As the tunnel opened out, and his eyes struggled to see anything, he activated the blade and the golden glow of the sabre flooded out into the cavern beyond.
Taler’s night vision crackled suddenly as a burst of light from across the cavern tore through the darkness, the helmets systems compensating rapidly and deactivating the low light filter. He was plunged into sudden darkness, everything around him vanishing into nothingness. He froze, the walls and the ground beneath him disappearing, leaving him with no way of knowing where the ledge ended. His eyes blurred with the sudden change in light, and as he struggled to focus once more, he glared across the cave and there, emerging from a tunnel, he saw the Jedi appear.
He was bathed in the amber glow of his lightsabre, the Quarren’s orange skin bleached by the pale light, and the tendrils that emerged from his mouth hanging limply on his face. His shoulders were hunched, and he walked with a definite shuffle of his feet. There was none of the confidence that would usually be associated with the Jedi, the air of unreserved arrogance seemed to have evaporated.
None of this mattered anyway. Taler did not care for the Jedi. Kneeling where he stood, he detached the nose of the blaster and replaced it with the muzzle of the DC-17m sniper rifle. The holographic sight flared into life, and the image zoomed in on the face of the Jedi as he walked slowly around the edge of the cavern.
He stopped sharply. Taler watched as his hand on the hilt of his lightsabre grew tighter, and he lifted the blade in front of him in a defensive stance. Taler held his breath. Had he been detected? Had the Jedi known all along that he was in the cavern? The Jedi were supposed to be omnipotent, able to detect anything from great distances and see into the truth of things. Taler feared he had lost his advantage.
The Quarren looked directly up at him, his eyes starng straight down the scope of his DC-17m, and Taler felt a ball of ice form in the pit of his stomach as his eyes widened. He could feel his focus bearing down on him, as though his eyes were tearing through the darkness between them and slicing through his helmets visor, fixing him with a stare that would leave him paralysed. Taler could not move. He was not afraid of the Jedi - in fact his hatred of them and their entire order was rapidly melting the icy feeling in his stomach - but there was something in the way he stared that unnerved him.
But just as suddenly, the Jedi looked away, turning to look back over his shoulder towards the tunnel he had emerged from. Taler felt confusion crease his brow, and his rifle dropped for a moment as he stared across the cavern towards the distant figure. None of it was making any sense.
Shaking his head, he cast aside the doubts and raised the rifle one more time, lining up the sights with the centre of the Quarren’s chest and easing his finger against the trigger. This was payback for what had happened on Geonosis, for what the Jedi had done to his brothers, and to him. Vengeance would be his.
Exhaling slowly, he began to squeeze the trigger.
The silence of the cavern was torn by an ear-splitting roar, closer than any Taler had heard so far. Close enough to actually be...
He snapped his head around and found himself staring up at a giant white beast standing beside him on the ledge. The rifle fell limply to his side and Taler glared up at the massive, fur covered beast, directly into the gapping maw of a Wampa. It bellowed once more, the force of its cry like a gale-force wind tearing across the ledge, and Taler saw it swing its mammoth paw down towards him.
The claws slammed into the side of his helmet, and Taler was sent flying from the ledge to the cavern floor below.