Chapter Seven: Duelists
Sweeter words could not have been spoken for some of the acolytes. Smiles even graced the faces of the more combative students, relishing the fact that they could prove themselves in a fight rather than with arbitrary mind games. Jresh managed to preserve his stern expression through the news and his injuries. Lorrik meanwhile, was less than thrilled at the entire prospect.
“I suppose, as this is the first of many times you shall fight in my presence, I should keep this first trial simple,” Syrosk stated. “A series of duels. warrior versus warrior. inquisitor versus inquisitor. Repeat. Now, since you managed to break up the convenient line formation you had going earlier, I am without a suitable form of deciding who should go first. I suppose volunteering would be-”
“I volunteer to go first, my Lord,” Kar’ai enthusiastically interrupted.
“I suppose volunteering would be the best way to proceed,” Syrosk repeated, managing to finish this time. The Sith Lord stared at the Rattataki warrior with an extremely dull expression.
“Oh, it would appear we have our first volunteer,” Syrosk stated, oozing with faux excitement. “Would anyone else like to-”
“I will face her!” Nesk snarled. After a pause, the Sith Lord released the heaviest of sighs towards the Trandoshan.
“Very well, we have our first set of combatants,” Syrosk said in a rather unenthusiastic tone. “Allow me to set forth some rules. Not just for this duel. But for your continued tutelage under myself.”
“Number one: Do not attempt to kill your opponent in my presence. I possess a very precise set of methods that will transform you all into worthy Sith, but it requires patience and the continued existence of your peers to bring out your true potential for the time being. That being said, outside of my presence, Academy rules still hold true… so be prepared to defend yourself to your last breath at all times.”
“Number two: Do not deviate from the rule sets I put forth during any and all trials. I have designed the tasks I assign with the utmost meticulousness. To break free from the confines I provide is to incur my wrath. But that rule was sufficiently explained mere moments ago was it not?”
“Number three: Do. Not. Inter. Rupt. Me. When. I. Am. Talking. Do. I. Make. My. Self. Clear?”
The petrified students could barely nod in agreement, but they did so as if their lives depended on it, because is all fairness, it very well could have.
“Simple enough, yes? Now, I believe there was word of two volunteers. Step forward.”
Kar’ai and Nesk shared a combative glance as they removed themselves from the crowd of acolytes.
“The rest of you, remain silent and watch the proceeding fights very carefully. On one hand, you just might learn something yourselves. On the other, I don’t want to be distracted by petty sideline banter. Understood?”
Once more, the students answered with a quick nod.
Syrosk walked toward the center of what appeared to be the remnants of a ring carved into the flat mountaintop. The dueling warriors began to follow him, but were motioned to stay put towards the circle’s edge. In his intended position, the Sith Lord took a deep breath as he focused his energies.
With an exhale, and the quick jut of a hand, an invisible energy radiated from the horned alien’s body. Like a violent yet perfectly oriented wind, the shockwave blew away all traces of overlaying dust that had nearly concealed the markings of the ancient arena.
“Before you, rests an ancient Sith dueling circle,” Syrosk stated. “Small enough to always keep you but a short distance away from your death. Large enough to accommodate even the most agile and acrobatic of combatants. The petty rings you may have used to duel within the halls of the Academy were nothing compared to the wonder you see before you. These shallow carvings have endured thousands of years of natural erosion. Endured the various planetary occupations and desertions. It is as much an artifact as any weapon or trinket held by a Dark Lord of the Sith. It demands your sacrifice. Your blood. Your pain. Your life. Therefore, in order to prove yourselves as my students, you must possess at least what little power is required to disregard the demands of stone.”
With no more words to give, the Sith Lord summoned forth the two dueling warriors. They were directed to opposing edges of the ring, twenty meters apart. The two combatants simultaneously adopted their unique battle stances as they activated their training sabers. Nesk stood tall, holding his weapon at his side, pointed toward the ground. Kar’ai gripped her weapon with two hands, its tip pointing toward the sky, legs slightly bent as she readied herself to pounce.
“Why so eager to face me, Nesk?” Kar’ai asked, a confident grin gracing her lips.
“Settling its argument from yesterday,” Nesk answered.
“There was an argument? All I remember is you refusing to admit I was the better duelist,” Kar’ai toyed.
“It lacked proof!” Nesk snarled.
“Well, the torn ribbon that’s probably resting at the bottom of the mountain right now was a good indicator,” Kar’ai smugly replied.
“Not fair! Was dissqualified from tourney!” Nesk shouted.
“I’m sure you’ll come up with just as good an excuse for when you lose this duel,” Kar’ai stated. The primal glare Nesk had directed toward his opponent reached its peak. The match was about to begin, regardless of their master’s position between them.
Syrosk raised a hand, prompting the students to hold whilst he exited the ring. Once beyond the boundaries of the circle, the Sith Lord cut the air with his falling hand, signaling the warriors to begin. The signal did not go unheeded, as Kar’ai rushed toward her unmoving opponent. Only at the last moment did Nesk bother raising his saber. The Trandoshan’s own physical strength was more than capable of permitting the effortless blocking of the initial strike. The colossal warrior stood less of a chance, however, in countering the Rattataki’s blistering speed.
Utilizing the push back from her opponent’s blade, Kar’ai maneuvered toward Nesk’s flank. The follow-up backhand swing of her training saber was only barely defended against by the Trandoshan. Weapons crossed, Nesk let out a forceful snarl as he shoved the other warrior away. Pushed back, Kar’ai now found herself on the defense. Unable to block Nesk’s bold attacks with physical strength alone, she relief on utilizing her greater maneuverability.
The Trandoshan lashed out continuously with erratic attacks, fury the driving force behind each strike. Nearing the edge of the dueling ring, Kar’ai was forced to directly block one of her opponents powerful strikes. With a downward swing, Nesk was able to bring the Rattataki to her knee as their sabers clashed. Locked together, Kar’ai was barely able to roll to the side as her opponent’s clawed foot raced toward her.
The two warriors continued their bout with fairly predictable form. Their techniques were honed by the years of study and practice they had received at the Academy, but certainly lacking in refinement. Nesk relied on strength and endurance. Kar’ai, on dexterity and agility. The other students watched in awe as the talented contenders went on for minutes, neither seemingly holding an advantage over the other. The fighters themselves seemed to be reveling in the match themselves as passionate expressions graced their uncloaked faces. Their master watched patiently, noting every movement partaken by his students.
There was a lull in the conflict as the combatants found a widening gap of a few meters between them. Utilizing this space, Kar’ai leapt at her opponent intending on bringing her saber down with the mightiest of strikes. The other students could have sworn the ground itself shook when the two sabers connected. As if floating, the Rattataki had no footing to dodge Nesk’s twist of the blade, driving his saber’s handle into her face. The blow to the cheek connected with enough force to send the female warrior tumbling to the ground, putting an end to her acrobatic grace.
Nesk looked to his master, who’s expression bared no desire for the warriors to cease their match. With a nod, the lumbering Trandoshan approached the felled Rattataki. A sweeping leg from the fallen Kar’ai attempted to trip the warrior by her feet, but was unable to budge the firmly planted Trandoshan. Instead, Nesk ignored the trivial kick to his lower leg, gripping the Rattataki by her throat with his clawed hand. With his right hand holding his saber at his side, Nesk raised his opponent into the air with his left. Kar’ai’s weapon fell from her hand as she struggled to breath whilst hoisted in the air.
“Is it finished? Not impressed,” Nesk snarled.
Whilst gasping for air, sparse words seemed to emanate from the Rattataki’s lips.
“Oh? It tries to speak?” Nesk asked, slightly shifting his grip.
“I said… just needed… reach,” Kar’ai managed to mutter. Suddenly the Rattataki’s left leg stretched toward the sky. Nesk was only able to look up for but a moment before Kar’ai brought her heel down, smashing in the Trandoshan’s snout. Dazed, Nesk fell forward, releasing his grip on Kar’ai. Her opponent now lying face down in the dusty surface below, she promptly retrieved her training saber from where it fell. The Trandoshan could not recover in time to avoid the ignited weapon’s tip hovering only a short distance from the back of his neck.
From the sidelines, Syrosk initiated a round of slow applause for the warriors. With the Sith Lord’s normally sluggish movements, the students were not entirely sure whether his clapping was genuine or bordering on facetious. The horned alien bid the two combatants to rise and relax at their leisure.
“Well done my students,” Syrosk offered as the two warriors shuffled back toward the group. Ryloh seemed absolutely thrilled at his partner’s apparent victory. Complimentary remarks oozed from his lips as he affirmed his companion. Lorrik couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the positive display. Meanwhile, Vurt watched his partner’s return with the same permanently cold expression he always bore.
“Kar’ai,” Syrosk began, directing his full attention toward the Rattataki. “You were both the initiator and the concluder. You began strong and fast, and refused to let your opponents physical superiority deteriorate your flow. The embodiment of aggression. You show skill in a style of combat that would quickly drain others, but like all things, there is room for improvement. In your haste, and your reliance on acrobatics, you must ensure that you are never not in control of the situation. You must command your body in its entirety, whether it is on the ground, or in the air. Do not ‘jump at’ your opponent, for you can be stopped. Rather, aim to ‘jump through’ your opponent.”
“Nesk,” Syrosk continued, changing his focus to the Trandoshan still clutching his nose. “Though lacking the raw movement shown by your opponent, you fought with just as much energy. Bold and direct, yet equally chaotic. Though slow, you made up for it with powerful blows and a penchant for unpredictable behavior. The embodiment of ferocity. You draw upon an infinitely renewable emotional fuel to empower your attacks. That is where your greatest strength lies. But it is also your greatest limiter until you can master it. You must draw from your internal emotions. When you scream and shout on the battlefield, you are letting your true power slip away from you. The pressure inside of you lessens, preventing you from reaching your true potential. Your fury is your own. Let your opponent not see it in your face, but in your blade.”
“Overall, an adequate show from the warriors,” Syrosk continued, scanning the group from side to side. “Let us see how the inquisitors do. Would the partners of the two previous combatants please step forward.”
Vurt promptly left the side of his companion with his head held high. Ryloh was less than enthused. The two had seen each other fight for the favor of the warriors back at the Academy, leading to some predetermined estimation when it came the each other’s skill. The Twi'lek saw the Nikto shatter a student’s leg just the other day. The hesitance could be seen in Ryloh’s shuffle toward the dueling circle.
The two acolytes found themselves opposite each other, drawing their training saber’s at their master’s behest. The golden energy bands crackled as the sabers activated, eliciting a hum that would replace that of the passing winds. Syrosk raised a hand into the air, prompting the students to ready themselves for the ensuing battle.