Chapter Six: Tests
Day two of training. Korriban. Exterior. Midday. Just as hot as the day before. Once more the eight students of Lord Syrosk found themselves upon one of Korriban’s local peaks. This time however, they each wore the robes that had been gifted to them, with their training sabers at their sides. Four warriors in black and red. Four inquisitors in black and purple.
Going from one set of uniforms to two only took several years, but the students were optimistic that apprenticeship would spell an even greater increase in individuality. Though it was hard for one of the students to not stand out from his peers. The relatively one-size-fits-all uniforms apparently didn’t for the Trandoshan. Sans boots and gloves entirely, sleeves rolled up, and his outer coat worn completely open, his clothing possessed equal parts too loose and too tight.
The eight students stood side by side in the same formation and order as the day before. This time, however, they waited facing forward, toward the cliff’s edge hoping to catch their master’s arrival should he use the same technique as the day before.
“You know, now that you mention it, the black clothes and hood don’t seem much hotter than the regular acolyte robes,” Lorrik stated, once again breaking the silence. “I guess it has to do with frame of mind more than anything. Or maybe the materials-”
“Not this again,” Jresh muttered.
“Honestly, there are Academy instructors who talk less than you,” Arlia said with a hint of animosity. Lorrik leaned forward to issue a harsh squint at his verbal attacker, prompting a grin from the haughty Twi’lek. “If you think staring at me is going to accomplish anything… well, you wouldn’t be the first, but you’d be just as wrong.”
“There’s a different between the idle gawkers disrobing you with their eyes and someone staring down his opponent,” Lorrik stated, still leaning forward.
“If you think you can affect my well-being with a harsh gaze, you’ve been sorely misled,” Arlia taunted.
Lorrik let out a light chuckle before returning to his regular standing position. “Give it time.”
“Time,” a raspy voice arose from behind the students, “is not something that should be readily given.”
Turning around, the acolytes discovered the Sith Lord standing only a few meters away. Once again he had managed to approach the mountain peak in silence.
“No… no… go back to the way you were facing,” Syrosk said as he circumvented the lineup of students. The acolytes complied, but at a slow enough pace that they could still watch their master’s every move around them.
The Sith Lord wore the same suit of armor beset by a heavy cloak as the day before. His hands folded behind his back, hidden beneath his sleeves, Syrosk slowly sauntered in front of the students before coming to a stop toward their median. His eyes drifted from acolyte to acolyte, as if studying them.
“Let’s see, since we started on the left last time,” Syrosk began, “it only makes sense that, today, we start on the left side again.”
The students were having trouble in masking their confusion regarding their new master’s eccentricities.
“Your task was to give your companion something of importance, and bring your received items here,” Syrosk stated as he made his way toward the edge of the lineup.
Once again he found himself in front of Kar’ai. Without words, the Sith Lord prompted the Rattataki to present her item. As the first to proceed, she was not entirely sure what the Lord was expecting, but her pride would not permit her to ask questions of him. Instead, she retrieved a simple silver locket from her pocket and placed in her raised palms for her master’s scrutiny whilst her head lay bowed. The size and shape of a large coin, though much thicker, the locket sans chain opened to reveal a portrait of Ryloh. The Sith Lord leaned forward slightly to examine the piece, but not actually touch it.
“Hmm, a locket bearing your partner’s image. Shows a genuine amount of care for the gift recipient, while also managing to keep the item fundamentally about the gift giver. Selfishly selfless,” Syrosk rasped. “Material and roughly cut photograph suggest it was a spur of the moment creation in response to the task given, not something held on to for years. Still, a picture in lieu of hologram indicates a taste for antiquity… or frugality. Overall, a fine sentiment.”
The Sith Lord paused as he waited from the acolyte to raise her head.
“Now destroy it,” Syrosk said.
The acolyte dared not question her master, but she couldn’t help but pass a glance toward Ryloh. Understandingly, the blue Twi’lek signaled for her to proceed. With a nod of her own, Kar’ai held the locket in her enclosed hand, audibly bending metal and shattering glass as she tightened her grip. As she relaxed her clutch, only a twisted bit of scrap lay in her palm. It was enough to earn an approving nod from her master.
Taking a step sideward, the Sith Lord found himself in front of the light blue Twi’lek, who was trying his hardest to keep a stern visage in light of what had just transpired. Syrosk produced the same silent glare as before, signaling for Ryloh to make his presentation. He followed his companion’s actions, retrieving a red ribbon from his pocket and laying it in the flat of his palm.
“Hmm, now this is different. A Korriban Academy Acclamation Ribbon. Rewarded to Kar’ai Tjensi for excellence in swordsmanship. Obtained during one of the annual tourneys by the instructors of your classrooms. Something that cannot simply be made, but must be earned. A declaration of skill to all who see it,” Syrosk evaluated. “As such, by giving it to your companion, you have proven yourself beyond keeping such petty qualifiers, yet each time your partner looks at it they will be reminded of your skill.”
Once more the Sith Lord paused.
“Now destroy it.”
Ryloh promptly ripped the ribbon into several thin strips before releasing them into the wind. With a nod, the Sith Lord continued down the line. One after another the acolytes would present their items, and the Sith Lord would analyze what it meant for the contributor and the recipient. Then promptly tell them to destroy it.
The Trandoshan smashed Vurt’s music box beneath his clawed foot. The Nikto snapped Nesk’s fang necklace, a prized hunting trophy. The Zabrak crushed Arlia’s ampoule of Ryll, a type of spice mined from her species’ homeworld. The violet Twi’lek held Isorr’s procured Sith Medallion, an archaic form of entry into the Korriban Academy, in her hand. Unable to break the medal with her bare hands, she decided that throwing the trinket over the nearby cliff would suffice.
“If that lands on anything important, you are taking responsibility,” Syrosk stated in his usual raspy tone, before moving on to the Pureblood.
Jresh followed the standard procedure, placing his companion’s holocron in his hand, ready for the master’s examination. Of peculiar note was the fact that this was the first item the Sith Lord felt the need to examine with his hands. Having manipulated it in silence, the horned alien ended his inspection with a ghastly chuckle before returning it to Jresh.
“It is a useless trinket of no significant monetary worth,” Jresh stated, offering his own analysis before the Sith Lord could offer his. “However, it does symbolize my partner’s ideals and motives regarding his quest for knowledge. It is the guiding principle of Lorrik’s continued studies at this Academy, and by giving it to me, he trusts me with a glimpse into his prolonged intentions and the inner machination of his psyche.”
A heavy silence fell across the mountain peak as the winds themselves stopped blowing.
“Hmm, not what I would have said, but that will suffice. You did leave off a bit at the end, however,” Syrosk rasped. “Shall I say it, or-”
Jresh clenched his gloved fist before the Sith Lord could finish, collapsing the hollow trinket onto itself. Syrosk let out another grisly chortle as he approached the last acolyte. One final silent look, as Lorrik was ordered to offer his item. He complied by showing his empty palms.
“You’ll have to forgive an old man’s eyesight, but I do believe your hands are empty acolyte.”
“Exactly,” Lorrik stated.
“Did your companion deem you not worthy of his possessions?” Syrosk asked in a rather accusatory tone.
“Not at all,” Lorrik stated. “It’s just that he had no possessions to give. He gave away his belongings, signaling the beginning of a new life under the training of a new master.”
“Oh? Did he give them away before or after I gave you this task?” Syrosk asked.
“Afterwards,” Lorrik answered with slight hesitance.
The Sith Lord persisted. “He could not save even the tiniest of items for you? He wanted to start his new life, but not have you be a single part of it? He had all day to procure something in his ‘new life’ to give you.”
The Human’s head dipped. “It’s not like that.”
“It’s not?” Syrosk asked.
“He didn’t give me anything physical, but he did give me his respect and his trust. It is the intangible that proves the lasting bonds of a partnership. You cannot simply order me to destroy respect or trust,” Lorrik firmly stated.
“You would not believe how wrong that statement is,” Syrosk quietly rasped. “And what of respect? Is it truly as effective a measure of connectivity as you presume?”
“It must be earned.”
“But how easily is it earned? I respect the Emperor. I respect the Jedi Grand Master. I respect my students,” Syrosk listed. “It is but the lowest indicator of having proved oneself.”
“Even so, trust is not as easily attainable.”
“How so? I’m sure you promised not to stab him in the back, and now he trusts you. Simple as that. Whatever he may have told you, it matters not. What you hold in your hands does represent something your partner has given you, that much is true. However, it is not trust, or respect. It is evidence, of the selfishness and the willingness to permit you no power in holding anything he could possible find attachment to.”
The inquisitor’s nostrils flared. “That’s not true.”
“It is true,” Jresh spoke up. Confusion dwelled beneath the outermost layer of Lorrik’s visage. Taking a few steps sideward, the Sith Lord once again found himself in front of the Pureblood. The horned alien’s piercing eyes pleaded for the acolyte to continue. “To give my partner an item of significant worth would have given him control over a part of me. If I am going to advance as a Sith I cannot allow such weakness to influence me.”
“That, is the correct answer,” Syrosk expectantly said with an expression only slightly resembling a smile. “As Sith, we are taught that allowing ourselves to controlled and manipulated will prohibit the attainment of power that will inevitably allow us to control and manipulate the unworthy. However…”
The Sith Lord’s half-smile quickly faded.
“The correct answer in not always the right answer. Or rather, it is not the best possible answer.”
Jresh’s eyes sharpened as he digested his master’s words. Uncertainty persisted not only in the warrior, but in his partner as well. Syrosk continually glanced between the two acolytes in front of him. Only the soft whispers of the Korriban winds could be heard, softly knocking at the acolytes’ ankles with the drifting sands carried therein.
The Sith Lord turned his back to the pair, longingly staring at the cliff’s edge. “The task I gave you was a direct order, from master to student. From judge to contender. As an acolyte it is your duty to follow through with it. Even if it makes you hurt. Even if it makes you yearn. Even if it makes you weak. If you have the nerve to stand up for yourself, to disobey me, you had better possess the will to directly oppose me. Maybe someday, as an apprentice, I will allow you to provide insights and objections. For now however, you are far too weak to possibly challenge me or influence my decisions.“
The Sith Lord turned around to directly address his student.
“You were true to the Sith way of life. Good,” Syrosk rasped. “You disobeyed a direct order from your master. Bad. However, by doing so you showed true strength. Good. However, by doing so you took away my chance at destroying something precious to you. Bad.”
The Sith Lord then directed his attention toward Lorrik.
“Not to mention, poor Lorrik was the only acolyte who didn’t get the chance to crush something of his partner’s.”
Before the inquisitor could reply, Syrosk raised a single gauntleted hand, ordering silence.
“If you would be so kind, could you unhook your saber Lorrik?” Syrosk not so much asked, but insisted. The inquisitor complied, though with substantial hesitance. The Sith Lord stared down the acolyte as he held the training saber loosely in his hand. “Jresh has proven that the thing he values greatest is himself. Therefore for the purposes of the previously issued task, his body will act as a substitute for his given item.”
A deep shiver ran down the inquisitor’ spine, almost making him drop his weapon.
“If the others could take a few steps back,” Syrosk requested, shooing the other six acolytes away. They promptly complied. “Now, take your saber, and strike your partner with the same conviction the others had in completing their task.”
Lorrik stood, unmoving, in a daze, unsure of how to proceed.
“Lorrik, this is a punishment for not following an order. Are you telling me that you too are going to disobey me? The alternative is me enacting the punishment myself.”
With those words, Lorrik had no choice but to step forward. Turning to his right, he locked eyes with the warrior for but a second. Jresh took a deep breath and closed his eyes, having accepted his fate. Holding the inactive training saber with two hands, Lorrik followed his companions lead before letting lose a swing toward the Pureblood’s chest. The strike connected. But lacked even sufficient force to cause Jresh to shift from his spot in the slightest.
“Now, now, that’ll never work,” Syrosk stated, shaking his head. “You are right handed, are you not? Your swing should have more impact from the other side. Try again.”
His head lowered, Lorrik relocated to Jresh’s right side. Eyes still shut, the warrior waited patiently for the next blow. Another swing, this time strong enough to force Jresh to take a single step back. Looking to his master, Lorrik saw the Sith Lord baring a displeased expression.
“If you are too weak to leave a proper impression ,you could always activate the saber’s energy array,” Syrosk coldly offered.
Emotions began to rise from the bottom of the inquisitor’s heart. Anger. Rage. Fury. At his master. At his companion. At himself. Not even thinking, Lorrik swung once more with passion, letting out a righteous battle cry. The saber came into contact hard with Jresh’s shoulder and chest, forcing the warrior to take a knee.
“Good. Good,” Syrosk said.
Lorrik bent down to render aid to his partner, but Jresh brushed the inquisitor away. Re-hooking his saber to his belt, Lorrik couldn’t help but notice the other acolytes silently whispering amongst themselves a short distance away.
“Oh? I ask my students to take a few steps back and suddenly they think they think the lesson is over,” Syrosk rasped as he peered toward the uncouth gathering.
Without hesitation, any slack in the other acolytes’ postures was immediately remedied as the students stood once more at full attention. His master’s attention elsewhere, Lorrik offered a hand of assistance to his partially felled companion. Jresh merely batted the hand away once more as he arose of his own accord. The warrior’s piercing eyes seemed to lash out at the surrounding scenery, but they harbored no ill intentions toward the progenitor of his wounds, instead bearing a sense of intense determination.
Standing once more, Jresh brushed the dust from his knee and ventured toward the gathering of students. Lorrik remained frozen in place, until the warrior beckoned him to follow with a subtle wave. The inquisitor heeded his companion’s call, but certainly lacked the exuberant presence that was his norm. Once more, the Sith Lord and his students were all together, ready to continue.
“Day one was special,” Syrosk stated. “From here on out we will train. Day in. Day out. Even during your spare time, your bodies, minds, and skills will be put to the test, whether you all know it or not. Regarding your first test, I now possess first-hand knowledge of how each and every one of you thinks. Now, the time has come for you to prove yourselves to me in combat.”