Hi all, Here's a wee short story for you set around the time of KOTOR. Since this is mostly a character study with some action I won't say much about it, I'll let you read it for yourself and decide what you think. As always I welcome feedback and criticism. Thanks for reading! A Cold Day on the Pike Tok heard the whine of the approaching ship and he knew that they had found him. Looking up, he watched the clouds tear open and the bulky grey form descend. With a screech air foils extended from the main hull and he recognised the crest on one bruised and dented wing. The Republic. He did not need to see the sigil of his enemy to know where the ship had originated. Even from this distance he sensed the anger emanating from within, the boiling desire for revenge screaming in the cool mountain air. For a moment he stood, using the force to probe at the minds of the crew. They felt sharp, jagged like broken glass and he recoiled, coming back to himself. They had heard him. Overhead the ship roared. It circled the mountain, no doubt searching for a place to put down. Tok turned away. The only place was far downhill in the valley. He still had time. The Pike was a treacherous bastion of rock, thrusting up from the plain like a finger pointing towards the stars and nobody knew its cliffs and gullies better than he. It would take them some time to get here. Hoisting his pack onto his shoulders he started down the steep slope, putting his feet down carefully, reaching out with the force to test the strength of the path before putting his full weight on it. Rockslides were common on this part of the Pike. Loose scree had carried away dozens of climbers and even the herds of rasku, the woolly mountain-dwelling animals common in these mountains, stayed well away. Using the stunted trees to steady himself, Tok stumbled and tripped his way down towards his cabin. He was not a young man and he moved with the ponderous caution of old age. His eyes, buried within folds of wrinkled skin, peered at the ground. In the past few years his sight had worsened, clouding his vision just as the mist snared around the Pike. It was a shame. On a clear day when the sun burned the mist and fog away he used to look down from the ledges of the Pike and stare across the vast mountain range spread out below him. Now he carried only the memory of white-capped pinnacles and deep green valleys, treasuring them in the haze which had wrapped around him as he grew older. His cabin stood on a ledge, sheltered by an overhang and a sparse band of trees. He had built it into the cliff itself, carving out a home from the living rock. He smiled, remembering with fondness the first few years of his life on the Pike, eking out a miserable and cold existence. It had taken him a lot longer than he thought to learn the art of hunting, and he had nearly starved to death eating the few roots and berries which grew at his altitude. The Pike was a harsh environment for plant life and animals alike. Now he could look back at his naivety and laugh. It had taken years but he had learned how to survive even the cruel winters which dug into the Pike for months on end, when every drop pf water froze and the animals either migrated to lower less inhospitable slopes or went into hibernation. A stone slipped under his foot. He stumbled, almost losing his balance. His gasp of surprise billowed out in the cold air and was snatched away by the wind. How ironic it would be, he mused, if he fell to his death or tripped and broke his neck before the hunters who had arrived in their ship got to him. They would be so disappointed. Tok had covered his tracks well. The people on the ship were not the only ones who would kill him given the chance. He didn’t blame them for coming. He had earned this fate. He had grasped it on the battlefield, in the blood and smoke of war. The memory of who he had been haunted him in his dreams. Warrior. Killer. Murderer. Stepping out of the treeline, he inhaled the sweet scent of the trees. They always smelled good at this time of year, just before winter took hold. In a cruel way the Pike was beautiful. Perhaps that was what had drawn him here all those years ago. It was different from the palaces and fortresses where he had lived most of his life. Its majesty dwarfed even the deep canyons and jagged peaks of Korriban, where he had been raised. Walking to his cabin, he crouched down and stroked the grey back of his hound, Carak. ‘Did you miss me old friend?’ The hound raised his great shaggy head towards Tok’s voice. For decades they had hunted side by side on the ridges of the Pike, but like Tok age had crept up on his faithful companion. He was blind now, his fur hanging in matted clumps from his once-powerful frame. Twitching his head, he yawned as Tok scratched behind his ears, and padded after his master into the cabin. Tok’s home was simple, sparsely furnished with rough tables and chairs cobbled together from the stunted trees which grew on the Pike. He swung the pack from his shoulders, wincing at the stiffness in his back. He stretched, reaching up to brush the low ceiling with his fingertips. Despite his age he was still lithe and strong, like an old timber wolf. Years of living in a harsh environment had hardened his bones. In his youth he had trained hard, pushing his body to the limits of its endurance, and his excellent physical conditioning had served him well in his new habitat. Picking up the pack he removed the herbs and roots he had been gathering and placed them carefully away. It had taken him a long time to learn how to add the herbs to his basic cooking to improve the flavour of a wild rasku, which was not a tasty meat at the best of times. Twice a year he made the decent to the small town in the valley for supplies. The people knew nothing of his past. To them he was simple Tok, the old man living high up on the Pike, who kept himself to himself. He turned and looked at the only piece of furniture that seemed out of place in the hovel of a mountain hunter. The battered plasteel chest sat hunched in the corner, daring him to open it and let the memories out. Tok had worked hard to shut them away, just as he had shut the chest all those years ago in a feeble attempt to forget the man he had been. He laid a hand on the metal lid, feeling the darkness within straining to be let loose. Taking a deep breath, he opened the lid. Heaped inside were the scarred and pitted plates of his battle armour and the tattered remains of his robes. He had worn them as he brought fire and death to a hundred worlds. Lying on top of the bundle, his lightsaber shone in the dull light. He picked it up, feeling the cool metal beneath his skin. Despite the arthritis gnarling his fingers the weapon still fitted his hand, as though it belonged there. Thumbing the activation switch he ignited the blade. A shaft of energy leapt up, filling the cabin with an eerie red glow, as if all the blood from his victims had stained the crystal at its core. Carak growled, adding his voice to the drone of the blade. ‘It’s alright boy.’ Tok shut the blade off and scratched his friend behind the ears. Carak craned his head back, enjoying the attention. Tok bowed his head, holding the lightsaber loosely at his side. He had heard them again. The voices. So many voices. All of them screaming. Many times he had taken the weapon to the edge of a cliff and made up his mind to cast it into the deep chasms beneath the unclimbable south face of the Pike, but always he returned it to its home in the chest, unable to part with it. He had been little more than a boy when he had built the weapon and it had been in his hand for every battle, every victory and every defeat. It was a part of him. He wanted to shut the lightsaber back in the chest, but he could sense the presence of the approaching hunters and instead clipped it to his belt. ‘Come on boy, he said, patting his leg. Carak padded after him, following the sound of his boots. Tok whaled in a deep breath of the mountain air and closed his eyes. Carak flopped down over his feet and Tok felt the warmth of his body against his leg and his deep rattling breathing. He could feel the Pike around him teeming with life and energy, pulsing in the force. The mountain was alive. That was part of the reason he had settled here in the first place, hoping cacophony of life-forms would mask his shadow. He had not been prepared for what it would feel like to be so surrounded by the Pike’s presence. At first it had been overwhelming but after thirty-six years he had become a part of the whole. Stretching out his senses still further he touched the primitive minds of the rasku and the mountain foxes, feeling their instinctive minds, the simplicity of their thoughts. He listened to the sound of wind blowing through the tree tops on the upper slopes and high above he felt the wingbeats of a Pike falcon as it searched for prey. The hunters were close now. He sensed them in the force, bubbles of chaos amid the tranquil balance of the mountain. Their anger screamed in the silence. He knew them all, not by their faces or thoughts but by the stain he had left on their souls. He had taken loved ones from them and they had filled the void left by their loss with pain and a thirst for vengeance. He could not blame them. He had been like them once, driven by passion and rage. Carak hauled himself to his feet and stuck his nose into the air, growling deep in his belly. He had caught the scent of the intruders. Tok stroked his back, calming him. It would not be long now. The first man emerged from the line of trees to Tok’s left. He carried a long-barrelled blaster in his hands and wore the motley combination of armour and ragged clothing that Tok had come to associate with bounty-hunters. He was followed by several more figures, three of whom wore the flowing brown robes that marked them as Jedi. His suspicion was confirmed by the glint of lightsabers on their belts. The fur along Carak’s spine rose and Tok felt the hound’s muscles quiver, ready to fight. The tallest of the approaching figures stepped forwards and spoke. ‘Darth Cozus.’ Tok said nothing to either acknowledge or deny the man. The name was a rhetorical accusation. For twenty years Darth Cozus had ruled as a dark lord of the Sith, bringing destruction to planets across the galaxy. Although he had discarded that name a long time ago, Tok felt the weight of it crushing him, grinding him down like one of the glaciers which had chewed up rock and stone to form the Pike millions of years ago. It was inescapable. ‘You are wanted for crimes against the republic.’ ‘Crimes against sentience,’ said another voice from the back of the group. The figures behind the Jedi gripped their weapons. Perhaps, thought Tok, they were thinking about his reputation as a warrior. They eyed the lightsaber hanging from his belt. Reaching towards them he felt the boiling fury which had carried them across the galaxy in search of him. Some of the faces he recognised. Batu, a farmer from Ord Mantel. Tok had killed his family. Mureeka of Iridonia. Her entire clan had been put to the sword by the Sith contingent under Tok’s command. He turned his gaze on the leader. He had a fresh, youthful face. He examined the blemish on the young man’s soul that Darth Cozus had left. ‘I killed your master,’ he said. The young Jedi nodded. ‘At the battle of Qualor V.’ ‘You should leave,’ said Tok. ‘Killing me won’t bring her back.’ The young Jedi unhooked his lightsaber from his belt. ‘We have all come to put an end to you.’ Tok sighed. There was no point in reasoning with people like these. They had allowed themselves to become polluted by hatred, just as he had. He could not make them see the path they had begun to walk, the same path he had trodden for so long. Ultimately their hatred would destroy them. He saw whispers of their future through the force, saw them written in fear and grief and sorrow. The noble thing to do would be to let them kill him. But Tok was not a noble person. The young Jedi did not even have a chance to ignite his weapon. The blood red blade cut him in half from shoulder to hip. The man fell, a shocked expression on his face. Tok pulled the force to him, using it to enhance his speed and strength and for a few moments he became that which he had tried so hard to put behind him. The hunters didn’t stand a chance. Blaster bolts zipped across the clearing, fired wildly against the onslaught of the Sith lord. Three hunters died instantly as their own reflected bolts hit them. A fourth fell, decapitated by Darth Cozus’s blade. Mureeka of Iridonia died screaming, impaled through the heart, and two more hunters shrieked with fear as a force push sent them spinning out over the edge of the cliff, tumbling to their deaths a thousand feet below. The two remaining Jedi raised their lightsabers. Darth Cozus turned towards them. He seemed to have grown. Age sloughed from his shoulders as he gathered the dark side to himself, wrapping it around his body like a cloak. He saw the fear in their eyes. A bark echoed around the clearing as Carak threw himself to his master’s aid. One of the Jedi raised her lightsaber and cut him down. Darth Cozus looked up from the smoking corpse of his friend. ‘You will die for that.’ The red blade crackled, spinning in a glowing arc towards the two Jedi. The lightsabers hummed, sizzling where they struck each other. The two Jedi were excellent swordsmen, but they were no match for the power and raw ferocity of Darth Cozus. Blue lightning burst from his fingertips, smashing into the two Jedi and bringing them to their knees. His lightsaber licked out and sated its hunger. The bodies slid to the ground and once more the mountain became quiet. Darth Cozus, Dark Lord of the Sith, stood for a moment looking down at the corpses at his feet before closing down his lightsaber. He fell to his knees, holding his head in his hands. Once again he had failed. He deserved to die, he knew that, but the fear which drove his very existence would not allow it. The despair of his miserable existence deepened and once more he became Tok, the simple man who lived on the Pike. Tok turned his head to the sky and screamed. He did not know how long he remained there, surrounded by the dead. Before long the shadows began to lengthen and he forced himself to his feet. The weight bearing down on his soul felt heavier than ever. Walking to the cabin he gathered a few possessions and some food, and the heavy rasku fur cloak he had made last winter. He shrugged off his simple clothes and clad himself once more in the armour from the plasteel chest. Clipping his lightsaber to his belt he left the cabin, shutting the door behind him. The night air felt good on his skin. He flexed his shoulders, feeling the ache of his most recent battle in them and knowing that he would feel worse tomorrow. The snows would come soon, covering up the bodies, and the timber foxes would dispose of the rest. Nobody would ever know what had taken place here, how these people died or who had murdered them. Hoisting his pack higher on his shoulders he set off, picking his way down the rocky slope towards the roots of the mountain and the hunter’s ship. He was no longer welcome on the Pike. So he would run and hide as he always did. Until his next failure.