Trapped Part 4
Taler felt the ice crack beneath his back as he slammed hard into the cavern floor, glistening shards flying into the gloom. The wind was knocked from his lungs as he grunted, his chest suddenly empty. He gasped desperately for breath, but his lungs remained stubbornly void of air. His face felt numb as the frozen air clawed at his unshaven skin. A dull thud echoed through the cave, and something skittered away across the ice, vanishing into the shadows. His eyes were wide in surprise, the blurry image of the Wampa howling in the darkness, its teeth and white fur like a spectre looming over him.
The DC-17 was already being raised, the barrel sweeping upwards towards the growling beast. His eyes flickered from side to side, searching desperately for the targeting icons to lock on. But it was not locking on. Nothing was working. A gust of painful air crashed across his eyes, and realisation began to dawn upon him. It had all happened so fast, and he hadn’t realised that his helmet was no longer on his head. He looked around frantically, his eyes scanning the darkness for his helmet. In the shadows, hidden beneath the ledge, something metallic glistened. As his muscles tensed, ready to throw himself towards it, the silence of the cavern was broken by a blood curdling scraping.
A moment of fear flickered across his mind, every muscle, every nerve ending, and even the blood in his veins frozen like the ice beneath his feet. Slowly, he lifted his eyes towards the ledge. The Wampa growled as it leaned down, its claws digging into the icy ledge, three inch deep gouges sliced through the grey-tinted ice. Yellow teeth were bared, coated in saliva, the dark eyes of the colossal snow beast like onyx spheres in the shadows.
Their eyes locked, piercing through the darkness, neither willing to break the connection, both waiting. Taler could feel his heart slamming against his aching ribs, each beat like a thunder-clap, hammering against his empty lungs. If he could stay still, maybe he could remain undetected. But his body had other ideas.
He still had not breathed, and the darkness around him was growing thicker as his eye grew heavy. Struggling to remain still, he felt his muscles began to convulse, a ripple of pain spreading through his chest. Without warning, his mouth shot open and he inhaled sharply, cold air rushing into his barren lungs, the sound of wheezing filling the cavern.
The Wampa reacted instantly. Its mouth snapped open and a growl louder than any he had heard before erupted from between the rows of glistening teeth, the sound slamming into Taler like the shockwave of a grenade, the wind blasting past him. Tensing its arms, it threw itself from the ledge, its powerful legs kicking out and sending it soaring down towards Taler, its arms extended in front of it, claws like darts racing towards him. Taler looked up into a gaping maw of razor sharp teeth, and in an instant, made a decision.
Kicking down hard, he threw himself forwards, tucking his arms close to his chest and rolling across the cavern floor. The Wampa’s feet slammed into the ice where only moments before he had been crouching, the long talons digging into the ice. Taler rolled away into the shadows, blinded by the gloom and his momentum, and came up sharp against the icy walls, his back suddenly halted by the barrier, and his head snapping back and cracking against the wall. His head throbbed painfully, and he felt something warm flowing down his neck from the bump at the back of his skull, but adrenalin coursed through his veins and he shook away the sensation, clearing his mind.
Whether by design of purely by luck, he had come to rest beside his helmet. He glanced down at it, and something looked different. Turning it towards him, he felt his eyes widen in surprise as he noticed the three claw marks ripped into the Mandalorian iron across the visor. It seemed that when the Wampa had hit him, he had been lucky not to lose his head. The creature tore viciously at the ice beneath its feet, confused by the lack of prey, and it began to snap its head wildly from side to side, its nostrils flaring angrily as it searched desperately for his scent.
A burst of light across the cavern drew Taler’s attention, and as he watched, he felt the rage bubble up inside him once more. In that instant, the fear he felt at being torn limb from limb by the abominable snow beast evaporated, and all he could see was the red mist of rage.
The Jedi was still alive.
His mind focused and became as sharp as a Hapan blade.
“Jedi,” he cried with anger and venom. The Quarren stopped on the far side of the cavern and turned towards him. The Wampa fell silent and turned towards him also, hearing his cry and glaring at him with murderous, hungry eyes. Taler did not care. All he could see was the Jedi and a big mass of teeth and fur standing in his way. The Jedi turned and began to flee.
Scooping up his helmet, he forced it back onto his head and felt it hiss as it sealed. He lunged forwards just as the Wampa turned and raced towards him on all fours like a rampaging dewback.
They thundered towards each other, Taler’s boots crunching on the broken ice, the creatures claws digging in deep with each bound. They were only meters away from one another, and Taler kicked down hard. He soared up into the air, gliding past the creatures head, and planted his foot firmly on the base of its skull, kicking down hard and using the beast as a launching post. Taler flew through the air, landing hard a few meters away, the Wampa stumbling, confused by the sudden disappearance of his prey, and crashing noisily into the icy walls. He did not care about the beast, and cast it from his mind, his eyes snapping towards the retreating glow of the lightsabre as it vanished down a tunnel.
Taler grunted in uncontrolled rage, and tore across the cavern, racing into the tunnel and disappearing into the darkness.
Ber’ik stumbled through the gloom, each movement becoming more and more difficult as he felt tiny ice crystals beginning to form in his veins. His skin had already begun to dry out, and painful cracks were forming across his hands and his face where the skin was exposed to the icy environment around him. His lightsabre lit the narrowing tunnel ahead of him, the sounds of the Wampa’s angry cries having faded away into a worrying silence.
The pit of dark hatred that was the presence he had detected was now following him at speed. Usually he would have stood his ground, but in his current state he was weaker, and his link to the force was wavering as his body was struggling with the cold. The familiarity of the presence also disturbed him. He knew he had felt that presence before, and he needed to work out where, but in order to do that he had to steady his mind. But as much as he tried, he could not focus. Each time he dipped into the well of the force, he could feel himself being dragged along by the currents, further and further away from the answers he sought.
His feet were growing heavy, and he was losing the feeling in his extremities. They felt like blocks of ferrocrete, and with each breath they became more difficult to move. They dragged painfully across the icy floor, and as a guttural scream of rage blasted through the tunnel behind him, he spun around sharply, his feet failing to move, and he stumbled into the frozen walls. His hand stung from the frozen touch of the icy walls, pin-pricks of pain stabbing at his nerves. Looking around, he saw the tunnel widen up ahead, and the light of his blade swallowed by the darkness within. It was risky moving into open ground, but at least it would offer him more room to manoeuvre, and another exit route may present itself to him in the meantime.
Gingerly rising to his feet, he shuffled painfully into the cavern and edged his way around to the left, sweeping the cavern walls for any sign of a way out. The ice above him seemed to glisten with a blue sheen. Focusing in the ice, he half closed his eyes and stretched out his perception towards it, feeling a glimmer of the force still permeating his body. It was weaker than it had ever been, and he had to focus to keep a hold of it, but he could still sense it. Touching the ice with his mind, he felt it quiver lightly, and with a gentle movement, he sent a sound pulse through the frozen ceiling. Following the sound like a tracking system, he watched it spread out from the source, and his heart skipped a beat as he realised that it was only a few meters thick, and above it was the surface of the glacier.
He was nearly free. Closing his eyes, he drew in all the strength he could through the force and stretched out his hand towards the ceiling, sensing the ice crystals pressing against his palm. His muscles aching and his power fading, he began to clench his fist, hearing the ice crack tens of meters above him. He was breaking through.
A flicker of danger rippled through the force, a ribbon of red slicing through his concentration, and as his eyes shot open, he darted aside mere micro seconds before a fist went soaring past his head and slammed into the wall behind him. Turning to face the Mandalorian, he saw his own face glaring back at him from the red reflective visor, his eyes wide in surprise. The familiar presence was still radiating through the force, shrouded in a cloud of unbounded rage, the environment around him seemed to be coloured red with anger and the darkside.
“Who are you?” He whispered.
The Mandalorian growled angrily and swung his fist away from the wall towards the Jedi’s face, Ber’ik ducking sharply and felling the gust of air brushing past him.
A surge of power swept through his arms, and as he extended his hands, a pulse of force energy erupted from his hands, and sent the Mandalorian flying backwards. Ber’ik watched him double over, and his feet and hands sank into the ice, digging in and grinding him to a halt. The visor snapped up to glare at him again, and the Mando launched himself towards the Jedi.
Ber’ik focused again and reached out in the force, stretching out his open palm and wrapping his consciousness around the figure, pushing back hard and lifting him from the ground. The Mandalorian slowed, his feet now a few inches from the icy floor and his movements almost like that of a slow motion holo-flick, but they did not stop. Ber’ik’s strength was fading, and he could not hold him for long. Keeping one hand raised to control his force grip, he focused his mind and began to probe the Mandalorian’s mind, resisting the darkness that seemed to permeate every inch of the Mandalorian’s thoughts, hoping to find something that could explain the familiarity of this being. He didn’t remember ever seeing this Mandalorian before today.
But the bounty hunter was fighting back. He shook his head violently, feeling Ber’ik’s mind invading his own. The dark clouds of anger rushed in across his mind, and Ber’ik felt himself being forced out.
“Get out of my head, force freak,” the mandalorian growled, wave after wave of anger slamming into Ber’ik through his connection, his grip on the struggling figure weakening by the second. Ber’ik chose another tactic and spoke aloud.
“Who are you?” He repeated. “Why do you hold such anger towards me?”
“I’m not surprised you don’t recognise me,” the Mandalorian spat back, another wave of rage sweeping through the cavern. “I was nothing but cannon fodder to you and your kind. You used us, you threw us at an enemy outnumbering us seven to one and cast us aside as though we were nothing.”
“What do you mean?” Ber’ik replied.
“You cost me everything!” The Mandalorian screamed. “You will pay for your betrayal!”
Ber’ik was struggling to keep a hold of the figure, the cold starting to eat away at his dried skin. Pain spread through his whole body.
“I don’t... I don’t understand,” Ber’ik panted, his breathing becoming difficult.
“What’s the matter, Jedi?” the Mandalorian sneered. “Is your omnipotence failing you?”
A guttural roar shattered the stalemate, and the Wampa came crashing through the tunnel and raced between the two figures, its arms flailing wildly, its mouth open and its eyes black as night. Ber’ik reacted, flushing all his energy through the force grip, and throwing the Mandalorian clear across the cavern into the far wall. In one fluid motion, he spun away to avoid the rampaging snow beast, and he drew his lightsabre, bringing it up in a sweeping arc, slicing through one of the Wampa’s horns. The creature yowled in pain, rearing up to it’s full height. Ber’ik used all the power he had left and send himself soaring into the air in a controlled flip, half rotating at the apex and coming down facing the creatures back, sweeping the blade of his lightsabre through the Wampa’s spine. Another painful cry of agony seared the frozen air, and the creature fell to the floor, lifeless and limp.
Staring down at the beast, he looked up, suddenly remembering the Mandalorian. Something jabbed into the base of his spine, and his whole body convulsed painfully. His knees buckled, and his grip on his lightsabre failed, the metallic cylinder falling to the floor beside him.
The world around him seemed to tilt, and he fell into his side.
Taler let the last flickering lights of the shock staff fade away, the pulses of energy dissipating across the twitching body of the Jedi like a cage of blue-white lightning. He gripped the shock staff in his flesh and blood hand, determined to feet every sensation with his own skin. The Jedi stirred lightly and groaned as the last shreds of pain convulsed through his body, the effects of the staff wearing off quicker than Taler expected.
“What’s wrong?” Taler growled. “Too cold for you, Jedi?” The Quarren lay shivering at his feet, and Taler slowly walked around to stand in front of him. Taler watched him for what felt like hours, staring down at the feeble creature, the anger and rage he had felt at the Jedi and his kind still coursing through his veins. But it was joined by a feeling he had not been expecting.
It could only be described as pity. He pitied this being. Off all things that Taler had been denied in the galaxy - whether because of who he was or how he had been created - he had been given more than this wretched excuse for a creature. He had been given a family, he had been given a purpose, and he had been given a second chance. The Jedi had no such choice. Gifted the power to manipulate the force, he had been cursed to a life of servitude, taken from his family before he had even been old enough to walk.
But since then, he had been responsible for his own actions. He had been given the choice to do what was right, and yet the Jedi still acted as though they were better than everyone else, as though their existence was more vital than those of the people they served. They had become arrogant, and blinkered.
Yes he pitied them for their shallow existence, but that did not excuse what they had done.
The Jedi seemed to move, and began to stretch his hand towards the lightsabre that lay on the ice a few meters away from him. Taler watched it twitch in reply, the Quarren trying to draw it to his palm using the force. In one sharp movement, Taler stepped onto the hilt, and stopped it in its tracks. The Quarren seemed to sigh heavily.
“Do you know why you are here, Jedi?” Taler said, leaning down and scooping up the lightsabre hilt. It felt light in his hand, beautifully balanced, and yet radiating a feeling of alienness he had never felt before.
“The force has guided me here,” the Jedi whispered.
“Wrong,” Taler snapped, even the mention of the ‘great and powerful force’ seemed enough to anger him. Squatting down in front of the Jedi, he made sure the Quarren could see him in the gloom. “You are here, because of what you have done. What your kind has done.”
“The Jedi are arrogant, roaming the galaxy stirring up hatred and jealousy, leaving a trail of shattered lives in their wake,” Taler growled.
“We serve the will of the force,” the Jedi wheezed.
“You serve only yourselves,” Taler barked sharply. “You claim to be peaceful, and yet you fight in a war. You claim to advocate freedom and yet you create vast armies of slave soldiers to shed their blood in the service of a galaxy they have no stake in.”
“The republic must be protected...”
“The republic is dying,” Taler said silently. “It is corrupt from the very core, and nothing will save it now. Your republic turned it’s back on me and my kind on Geonosis. And I will make the people of the republic see what you have done.”
The Jedi struggled up onto his elbows and looked up into Taler’s face. Tears were stinging the edges of the Quarren’s eyes, and they half closed as he tried to focus.
“Who are you?” He whispered.
Taler reached up and removed his helmet, letting the dim light of the cavern wash over his unshaven face. The eyes of the Jedi widened in surprise and confusion.
“You’re just a clone?” He gasped. It was the wrong thing to say. Taler felt the rage bubble over in his heart, and the red mist descended across his eyes. He replaced the helmet over his head, and stood up, towering over the Jedi.
“I’m a Mandalorian, like my father, and my brothers before me,” he spat back angrily. “And you will pay for taking them from me.” Taler felt the lightsabre hilt in his hand, and lifted it up above his head, the blade igniting at the lightest touch of the switch. Taler swung the blade down. The Jedi’s eyes widened, and his arms stretched out, summoning the last few shreds of power he could muster.
The blade stopped mid swing, the Jedi pushing against Taler’s strength with all his might.
“You’re becoming weaker by the second, Jedi,” Taler hissed, feeling his own strength defeating the pressure against him. “The force has abandoned you.”
“It will never leave me,” the Jedi groaned painfully.
“I can see it leaving you,” Taler yelled. “You do not have enough to beat me.”
“No, but I have enough to stop you,” the Jedi whispered. His other hand shot upwards and his fist clenched suddenly.
A thunderous cracking sound erupted from far above them, and Taler looked up just in time to see the ceiling of the icy cavers shatter and crack, boulders as big as the Wampa falling to the floor around them.
“NO!” Taler cried, robbed of his chance at vengeance by the cowardice of the Jedi. He snapped his eyes down to the Quarren and saw him smile. The light from the storm-filled sky was visible beyond for a painfully brief moment, before the shattered remains of the ceiling rained down around them, and both were buried in darkness.