I made my way slowly through wreckage of what had once been a perfectly serviceable freighter. It was bitterly cold. My breath misted the air in lace fine white which vanished as quickly as it had appeared. I could feel the gusts of icy wind sting my cheeks as it blew snow into what was left of the YU four-ten’s hull. My father used to joke that any landing you walked away from was a good landing but in this case I wasn’t so sure I’d have agreed with him. As I took stock of the damage done I was astounded that both my uncle and I were still in one piece. The ship’s cargo holds, port and Starboard, had been wrenched off leaving gaping holes on either side of the ship’s hull. The aft end of the ship, where the engines had been, was also a mass of torn and twisted durasteel. Only the midsection and the cockpit of the ship had actually survived more or less intact. What hadn’t been welded to the deck or attached firmly to the bulkheads had gone flying and lay smashed beyond recognition.
The air was rank with the cold, peppery smell of snow and the greasy, sweet stench of hyperdrive fuel, burnt durasteel and electronics. It made my eyes sting and my throat burn. I did my coat up and was careful not to touch the freezing metal with my bare hands. The temperature had dropped so rapidly that a white frost had settled on the parts of the ship which had been warm prior to the landing; the condensation had frozen in an instant. During my time on Hjal Navaari had taught me everything he knew about cold weather survival and as I looked around at what we had landed in I understood that unless help came, sooner rather than later, our chances of survival were slender.
I picked my way gingerly through the mess towards the aft section of the ship. If Jyrki had been in one of the lower gun stations he would be dead but I was certain he had chosen the mid section gun turret and chances were good he was still alive because it was still intact, although the ladder leading up to it was a mess. I tapped the rails with the vibro blade listening to the hollow clanking sound I made but there was no answer. I sighed and shivered. There were not that many places left intact for him to hide and if he had gone outside in this weather he would probably be dead inside of an hour. Turning away from the turret hatch I made my way further aft to see just how badly wrecked the ship was and sucked in a breath when I took in the sight. For as far behind us as I could see there was a trail of blackened snow, ship wreckage and fuel. It looked every bit as ugly as it had felt and I silently thanked what ever gods had been watching out for us because we shouldn’t really have survived this crash at all. The YU-four-ten were hardy ships used for long heavy cargo hauls but crash landings on a glacial planet during a blizzard after being shot to hell by Imperial TIE fighters was not a part of the specs. This ship had gone above and beyond the call of duty.
A noise from behind me made my heart jump and adrenaline surged through me. I turned around but there was nothing there, just flakes of snow as they swirled in through the various hull breaches. My heart pounded in my ears and in my chest so loudly I was certain it would wake the very dead. Fear will kill you faster than anything else Master Kjestyll had once told me and I could feel it work through my guts like maggots through a rotting carcass. I drew the deepest breath I could and the cold air made my lungs ache. I could feel the slow beginning tell tale tingle of ice burn in my fingers and my cheeks and I wasn’t sure what scared me more, the prospect of Jyrki killing me or the cold doing the job for him.
Keep moving, Navaari’s voice whispered in my head. The worst thing you can do in the terrible cold is stop moving. Your body starts to protect itself by withdrawing blood circulation from the extremities, your feet, your hands, and your face. These will feel the ice-burn first and if you wait too long you’ll lose them all together because without blood circulating through them the flesh dies.
I whapped my arms around my body and jumped up and down to get blood moving through my extremities. Women, by nature, tended to have poorer circulation in their hands and feet because the body wanted to keep the reproductive organs warm. In extreme cold this became even worse as the body tried to protect all the vital organs from freezing. Sometimes, I thought crossly, being a girl had its down points.
Again I heard a noise from somewhere behind me. I stopped moving and stood still for a moment trying to sort out the various sounds I was hearing, metal slapping against the hull of the ship and wind moaning through the cracks and breaches. Use the Force child, a familiar voice murmured in my ear. I jumped but no one was there. My ghosts, I frowned, they followed me everywhere but I did as the voice had commanded and opened myself up to the living force.
The power of the Force never ceased to astonish me. It filled me up the way water filled a cup to a thirsty man. It tingled as it rippled through and over my body and I felt as though I could almost reach out and touch it even though it wasn’t anything tangible. If Jyrki had survived the crash he would feel me now, know where I was and, I hoped, come to me. I was tired of playing Hide and Hunt games with him and the cold was wearing my already raw patience to a razor thin edge. Gripping the vibro blade too tightly in my hand I turned to head back towards the cockpit, back towards my uncle.
When it happened it happened too fast for me to realise what was going on. He moved into my view, ghost like and pale. His black hair was flecked with flakes of snow and his blue eyes blazing with a fire that could outshine Tatooine’s twin suns. In his madness he was glorious, even beautiful but also terrifying. For a moment I forgot he was just a man, a man whom I had once loved and adored, who had taught me how to fix engines and believed in me, a man who had once saved me from being raped and shown me how to defend myself. He had been my whole world and I could not have imagined being without him. Now I could no longer imagine him being in my world at all, in fact I had set out with the notion of removing him from my world all together.
“Hullo Mouse,” Jyrki said softly, “Nice landing.” The blaster in his hand was pointed at the floor.
I stared at him unblinking. Flakes of snow fell on my eyelashes, obscuring my view of him. I looked at the knife in my hand and almost laughed. It seemed so pointless against the weapon he held, white knuckled, in his hand. He advanced towards me, his limp prominent, and I took a step back.
“Did yer call the TIEs down on us?” He asked
I shook my head. “If I had, do you think they would have been firing on us?”
His smile was cold. “Imperials have no loyalty. Not even to their own. Yer not that important no matter what yer think.”
There was another long silence which I broke. “So what happens now?” I asked keeping eye contact with him.
He shrugged slightly with one shoulder. “Now we dance, Mouse.” He said, “Yer always did like to dance so let’s see how good yer’ve become.” and he drew the blaster up to point at my heart but before he could shoot a blur from my right caught my eye and just as Jyrki fired the gun my uncle shoved himself against me violently. I fell, crashing against the bulkhead near a gaping hole, twisting my head in time to see the blast, which had been meant for me, hit my uncle on his right side. His body arced backwards gracefully, slowly. Pain contorted his features.
I ducked before Jyrki could fire at me again and swept my leg around in a move that Master Kjestyll had taught me, catching Jyrki at his bad knee. His second shot went high as he fell, the bolt bouncing off the bulkhead and ricocheting past his own head.
“Lei’lei!” I heard Uncle Vahlek cry and I turned to see him pull something out of his coat pocket. The movement was painful and he was as pallid as the snow around us. He tossed the thing he had kept in his pocket to me before passing out. I caught it in my hands without thinking wincing as a myriad of images burst through my brain. My birth mother’s lightsaber gave its knowledge violently. I had a moment’s grace to let the barrage of memories wash through me while Jyrki regained his balance and, momentarily distracted by my uncle’s voice, halted for a second before realising what I held in my hands. There was utter hatred in his eyes as he brought the blaster up to shoot at me. The lightsaber ignited with a dull pop and a deep throbbing hum filled the silence. Snow hissed against the brilliant green blade and as Jyrki fired his blaster I deflected the bolt back to him without thinking about it. The bolt caught the gun squarely, destroying it completely.
For a moment Jyrki held the dead blaster in his hands and stared at it then at me in disbelief. “Yer have no rights to wield that weapon.” He hissed, reaching at his belt to unclasp the one he had taken from my satchel.
“I have as much right as you do.” I told him sharply. “At least my mother made this one with her own hands; the one in your hands was just a training weapon, your training weapon. Master Yoda himself handed it to you.”
For a moment the madness that had swept him away seemed to leave and I saw the little boy he had once been, the man I had known and loved but the moment passed and whatever had been left of his soul was swept back up inside the terrible rage that was eating him alive.
He swung high as he ignited the weapon and it hissed through the air like an angry hornet. Snow sizzled in the wake of the blade’s passing but he missed his target because I had already moved away. Backing towards the gaping maw in the side of the ship I wanted to take this fight outside, away from my wounded uncle, away from the deadly durasteel debris and out into an environment I knew and understood far better than Jyrki realised.
The wind was savage. Snow blasted like needles at us both, so cold it felt like fire upon my skin. I was grateful to feel solid ice beneath my feet, here the wind had blown most of the new snow away and what we stood on was hard packed and firm on an ancient glacier. I could see him fight with the cold on his hands and face. His hair, like mine, was being whipped about, the ends stinging the skin they struck. For a moment we stood like two statues to a timeless, never ending theme, good against evil, black against white, our arms and weapons raised just like the heroes and villains of stories old and past except once upon a time we had been on the same side. It broke my heart but I pushed my sorrow aside. The storm howled about us as if to urge us on, covertly trying to bring us into its own form of madness, to drown in the swirling snow and seductive cold.
It was Jyrki who moved first, swinging his lightsaber in a single sweeping arc leaping towards me so fast that I almost didn’t block it in time. The gritty sound of blade upon blade set my teeth on edge as it had so many times before but I was used to seeing red on blue not blue on green and for reasons I could not identify this made me sad.
Use the force girl! This time the command was stern and familiar. “I taught you better than this!”
This voice, his voice, stirred up too many emotions but I did as he told me and opened up to the powers that surrounded everything and found a little warmth in its strange guidance. Memories that were not mine seeped into my brain, into my body. My birth mother’s embrace through a weapon she had not touched in over twenty years. This was her legacy to me, her gift, knowledge of fighting in way I had only ever seen one other person do and he, too, was dead. I twisted the blade with my wrist so that Jyrki’s slid away and move around him, a pirouette on one foot to sweep my blade in a deep semi circle that, had he not blocked, would have cut him in two.
Surprise flickered through his features. “How did yer learn to fight in this manner?” he whispered.
“You would never believe me if I told you.” I said, gritting my teeth against the unrelenting cold. I could feel the death kiss of ice burn and knew that we were not only fighting each other but time and the environment as well.
He swung his blade in circles with one hand, warming his hands, fighting the chill. He wasn’t used to this sort of weather and I could see the tell tale signs of cold fatigue in his movements. It was his anger, our anger which was keeping us going. I drew a deep steadying breath, allowing the force to flow through me, and giving up the rigid fire of hatred that was burning in my gut. There wasn’t enough room for both.
Jyrki stepped forward and pushed his lightsaber towards my face, I blocked and parried but he never stopped moving, swinging at me again and again. Now the fire which burned in his soul burned through his eyes as well and I could feel the force ripple through him as it did me. He wasn’t using his anger to give him more power in the force but it was there, just as mine was, waiting like an alluring mistress in the wings.
I blocked and swung. The lightsabers crashed together, their grating sound adding to the cacophony of the storm. The glow from the blades lit up the area around us in an eerie blend of blue and green which made the scene surreal. It never seemed to end, the back and forth of offence and defence. I could feel my limbs tire from working against Jyrki’s strength as well as the cold but I could see he, too, was tiring. We struggled in the drifting snow; some places on the glacier were clear others were not. It hampered our movement and changed the dynamics of the fight. I could tell that the cold made his knee ache just as my shoulder felt as though it were on fire. Old wounds which we had given each other or helped to worsen, the legacy of two lives entangled forever.
“Why won’t yer stop, Mouse?” He yelled above the howling winds.
“You stop! You were the one who couldn’t leave things alone, couldn’t leave me alone!” I answered smashing my blade towards him, sweeping low to try and cut his legs out from beneath him. He saw the move and countered it so quickly I barely had time to react to him, swinging my saber up just in time to prevent my own head from being sliced in two. We stood there for a moment his blade perpendicular upon mine which I held parallel above my head. “I loved you!” I yelled at him feeling my strength wane.
“Then yer only have yerself to blame!” he hissed. “I never asked for yer love.”
His words made me suddenly angry. It gave me a burst of strength and warmth allowing me to flip his blade with mine, to dance out of his range and gather my energy for the next blow.
“You’re a bloody idiot!” I told him. “You’ve spent your whole life running away from a ghost.” I swung at him, the hiss of the blade through the blowing snow sounding like sand across the desert of the Dune Sea.
Hatred crossed his face as he caught the edge of my move and countered it with his own. “And yer served my ghost as handmaid!” He screamed. “Why, Mouse, why?” he asked, pleading, “Why did yer never leave him?”
I understood then, his fears, his deepest darkest secret. It wasn’t Lord Vader or even Palpatine he had spent his entire life running away from it was himself. It was his terror of turning to the Dark Side of the force and becoming like Anakin, so consumed by his lust, his greed and his fear that he would eventually become the monster he had had nightmares every night about.
Oh Jyrki had kissed this dark side of the force, even danced with it a few times but unlike Anakin, he had never truly coupled with it, never lain in bed and thrust himself whole and forever into the sweetness of its seduction. Even now, even in his madness, he understood that this was a line he could never, ever cross because if he did he would be truly lost. I watched his ice blue eyes stare at me, demanding an answer, demanding a counter attack but when it came it was not what he expected, it wasn’t what I had expected to say either but it was the truth.
“Because I loved him too.” I said softly, so softly that I wasn’t sure he had heard above the winds until I saw it in his eyes. His sudden disbelief and utter repulsion physically hurt to watch.
“No, Mouse.” He whispered. “That’s not possible, he was a monster…” I did not hear the words only saw them form on his lips, lips that had gone blue with the cold, lips I that had ached to kiss with mine once upon a time.
“Yes he was,” I agreed quietly, “But I loved him anyway.”
His hatred was fanned by my words from a spark to a flame, contorting his once handsome face into something ugly and twisted. I watched in silent horror as finally he stepped over that line which he had drawn and plunged headlong into the darkness he had feared for so long. I knew this dark lover’s touch. I had felt its caress when I had fought in the Rite of Tet’ against the Griff boy. I knew the sweetness of its voice, the power its embrace gave because Lord Vader had encouraged me to do so but I also understood it was a choice one made and I had stepped away from it, choosing consciously not to feed it’s never ending hunger. Jyrki did not see it this way, he had been taught it was absolute with no way back. When he fell into the dark side’s open, waiting arms I watched helpless and in awe.
The fight blossomed then. He used his anger well and was ferocious. I drew upon the living force, as well as my birth mother’s gift of memories, to stave off the terrifying flurry of attacks. He was relentless and fighting him took all my strength. It didn’t matter that I had been well trained and become proficient in various combat styles, he had been my first teacher and he knew me too well. I was cold as well as beyond tired, these two things working against me. Where his anger warmed him, I felt only icy fear.
Our lightsaber blades crashed together again and again, sending the stench of ozone and steam into the ferocious air around us. The light from our weapons caught the snow as it whirled about, making it twinkle in greens and blues, tiny stars swirling around us, beauty in darkness. Ghosts whispered in my ear so that I found a measure of strength in the memories passed on to me from my birth mother through her lightsaber’s touch, showing me how to fight, each step and counter step, each thrust and counter thrust. She had been very good at her craft and had I followed in her footsteps so too would I have been.
We waltzed in the terrible cold, fighting as only embittered lovers could. Our emotions flaring about us like the corona of a sun. I no longer felt the sub zero temperatures or heard the winds. I no longer cared that I could not feel my fingers any more or that my feet had gone numb in my boots. All I knew was the sweetness of perfect movement and counter attack as Jyrki and I danced through the snow in a duet only one of us would walk away from. When I faltered, stumbling backwards, betrayed by snow which had drifted, I thought it was I who was lost.
Jyrki raised his blade high, the gleam of victory in his eyes, and swung it with all his might downward to cut me in two but instead he met only snow and it hissed as the blade sliced through the place I had managed to roll away from. Coming to my knees I knelt there, my birth mother’s lightsaber in my hands between my legs, its blade barely above the ground. I understood what true weariness was. Cold beyond belief I watched as Jyrki staggered, trying to recover from the momentum of his previous move, trying to catch his breath. He saw me on my knees and without a pause he lunged towards me. I looked up at him, staring directly into his face. Our eyes met and for one single, perfect moment we shared everything, a second of clarity in the midst of the tempest, like the stillness in the eye in the storm and then he raised his arms. He began to arc his blade downwards in a movement that was almost perfect but before he could complete the motion and slice me in two I rose up on my knees and thrust my own blade deep into the heart of his chest. His back arched involuntarily and his arms reversed the movement he had started. His fingers splaying in unexpected pain, allowing the lightsaber he held to drop behind his back, its blade vanishing with the automatic switch off before it hit the ground.
In slow motion I watched as he sank to his knees never taking his eyes away from mine. I mirrored his movements because my blade, which had pierced straight through his body at his solar plexus, was still ablaze. This was how Qui-Gon Jinn had been killed, I thought absently. For a moment I thought I saw Qui-Gon’s body superimposed over Jyrki’s but shook the hallucination away. As though seeing it for the first time I yanked the lightsaber backwards out of his flesh and sat back on my knees, his mirror image before him. The fierce green light from my birth mother’s weapon illuminated Jyrki’s ashen face and he stared at me in disbelief.
“Mouse…it hurts…” He whispered, his hand reaching out but never managing to touch me.
I shook my head. “Why?” I asked, “Why did you do all of this? Why?”
But he opened his mouth but no words came out, puzzlement crossed his features as if he had suddenly woken up from a terrible dream only to discover it was not a dream at all. The madness in his eyes receded and I saw only the man I had adored once upon a time.
“I loved you so much, Jyrki, more than you will even know, more than I will ever understand in spite of everything.” I gulped a deep breath, the cold hurt my lungs. My voice trembled as I told him these things but they seemed hollow because there were no words to describe what I felt. I wasn’t sure if I actually felt anything at all. Tears formed in my eyes now and I wished that this was one of my terrible nightmares and I would wake up to find that none of the events had taken place. “I forgive you for what you did to me.” I whispered but I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to forgive myself.
His face was whiter than the snow, making his pale blue eyes seem more brittle, more fragile than ever before. He didn’t speak but a strange serine expression passed across his features. His hands clasped over the wound and he gasped in pain, exhaling his last breath slowly, the white of it misting the air and fading as though it had never truly existed. I watched silently as he died. It was mercifully fast. He didn’t fall but stayed on his knees, slumped over like a Bunduki Master in deep meditation. Blowing snow landed upon his head and stopped melting, turning his black hair white. I switched off the lightsaber I held in my hands and realised that the day was waning.
The storm which had raged around us was slowly dying off and it had stopped actually snowing. I looked up and saw the mountains behind us back lit by the edge of the storm clouds as they gave way to the light from the setting sun. The jagged mountains seemed to me to be on fire. The fine, powder snow being swept of the peaks looked like macabre wedding veils flapping in the wind. I drew a slow, deep breath and the tears that had welled up in my eyes now ran down my cheeks freezing to the skin before I could wipe them away.
Get up child, before you freeze to death!
I felt the subtle brush of a ghostly hand across the back of my neck. The touch was warm. I struggled to get to my feet realising now how cold I truly was. I staggered back towards the wreck of the ship to find my uncle. He was unconscious and nothing I did could wake him. He was cold to the touch and I could not feel a pulse. Suddenly it was all too much and I had no strength any more. I curled up beside his body, trying to share what little body heat I had left with him.
“I’m so sorry.” I whispered over and over again as I wept into his coat. When the false warmth came, bringing its seductive drowsiness with it, I didn’t fight against it. As I drifted into the no man’s land Navaari had called the snow siren’s kiss I could have sworn I heard voices, shadowy figures moving around us but I was too tired to fully open my eyes, instead I surrendered to the cold and was grateful that its embrace was painless.