Chapter Eight: Clashes
The two inquisitors readied themselves in silence. No words. No taunts. No insults. Only the shuffling of material as the acolytes awaited the dropping of their master’s hand. Vurt adopted a low guard, his weapon held in his right hand. Ryloh kept his feet firmly planted below him, saber held high with both hands.
The two mirrored the positions of the warriors who came before them, though with a veneer of overbearing calm instead of the ferocity that came beforehand. Both stood unmoving, in regards to Vurt’s lack of emotion, and Ryloh’s lack of wanting to move from his spot.
“Begin,” Syrosk called out, dropping his raised hand. By appearances, it could have seemed that neither of the combatants had heard their master. But in truth, this match would be vastly different from the once preceding it. The two acolytes watched each other, examining every minute movement and technique.
Slowly, the inquisitors began their approach toward the center of the ring. Step after step was taken in moderation. Once finally together, Ryloh was the first to strike out. A wide diagonal slash came down upon his opponent, but was promptly deflected. The move’s intention was not to harm, but to gauge the opponent. Vurt was known to be as close to a true duelists as an inquisitor could get, and his actions did nothing to dissuade the notion in Ryloh’s mind.
The duel continued like this for quite some time. One would let out an attack and the other would defend, each never breaking eye contact. Eventually the pace would increase, bit by bit, until the match had escalated to its peak. Attack and counterattack would transpire within a period of a single second, only to be followed by a new set the second after.
Ryloh utilized long, flowing arc movements. Vurt utilized short, precise actions. Both acted and responded with utmost fluidity. The two circled each other, never moving more than a few meters from the ring’s center.
To the untrained eye, it appeared that the acolytes had reached a stalemate, but any true saber duelist could see Vurt had the advantage, which he was pressing at every opportune moment.
This advantage seemed to have run its course however, when Ryloh found the perfect moment to strike. After an attack, the Nikto had left the hand gripping his saber completely exposed. The Twi’lek knew the duel would be over if he could just damage his opponents dominant hand.
Unfortunately, Vurt was aware of this fact as well. In fact, he was even aware that Ryloh aware of this fact. It was all a feint by the Nikto, driving his opponent toward an apparent weak point. Ryloh’s training saber was able to contact the other inquisitor’s hand, however without proper footing, he was forced to rely on the blade’s energy field to do the majority of the damage. And as Vurt expected, the blade did little more than leave a dark scorch mark on the surface of the reinforced gauntlet.
Vurt, however, was able to do much more than leave a surface mark as he responded with a proper upswing toward the Twi’lek’s torso. Possessing more than enough power behind his swing, the Nikto was able to drive his blow past the layered robes covering his opponents body. Ryloh was forced to endure a pain much like Jresh had endured earlier, only this time complimented by the searing energy of the activated training saber. Ryloh’s saber fell to the ground as he was forced to clutch his wounded stomach and chest.
“Looks like I’ll be sending up replacement robes sooner than expected,” Syrosk rasped. Vurt had already begun his silent approach back toward the group, without any signal from his master, but the Sith Lord offered no objections. The victor of the match was clear.
Ryloh managed to bring himself to his feet, a diagonal line burnt into his torso, past the robes and onto his once blueish skin. He retrieved his weapon and returned to the side of his companion, attempting to withhold any expressions of pain or anguish. Though disappointed in his defeat, Kar’ai couldn’t help but respect her partner’s display of skill and endurance. Meanwhile, Vurt merely shot a glance toward his partner, bearing heavy notions of ‘that is how you do it’.
“Vurt,” Syrosk began, directing himself toward the impersonal acolyte. “You showed great promise in your skills with a saber. On par with, and perhaps even surpassing, the talents of some of the warriors. A proper offense. A proper defense. A proper duelist. What might appear as hesitance was merely a matter of judging your opponent and reacting appropriately. You were one with your weapon, holding it near the blade, ensuring you would sooner lose your entire hand rather than let go of your saber. Living for the fight. The embodiment of contention. However, your reliance on your saber skills will eventually betray you. There will always be a stronger foe. There will be attacks you cannot defend and guards you cannot pierce. As an inquisitor, it is your duty to never rely on a single font of power.”
“Ryloh,” Syrosk continued, directing his attention toward the wounded, but upright, acolyte. “You failed. And yet, you succeeded. We saw it in the beginning didn’t we? Any experienced Force-user should have. You were no match for your opponent to begin with. It was not a question of would you win, but how long would the duel last? And you did not disappoint. You fought whilst outmatched. You studied your opponents techniques. You continued. The embodiment of determination. I have seen your kind. The watcher. Never the first to strike without already being five steps ahead. Planning. Reacting. You possess a skill and technique with a saber that one would expect of any initiate given any set of proper training. The basics strikes and flourishes every student of the Academy learns, but you have refined them to a point resembling an actual fighting style. Be warned, however. All the planning in the world will not save you from defeat at the hands of someone wielding raw power.”
“A fine display from the two pairs. Then again it was to be expected. I know of the warriors’ backgrounds and the measures which they used to select their partners. A lackluster performance from you four would have nullified any excuse for your continued existence.” There was a pause as the Sith Lord studied his students for a moment. “Let us see how the warriors who fancy themselves ‘thinkers’ handle themselves in combat. Isorr. Jresh. You two are up.”
As the Zabrak made his way toward the circle, Lorrik noticed that his partner was still in pain. Without thinking, the inquisitor took a step forward, ready to unleash a comment, but was cut short by the hand of Jresh resting upon his shoulder. With a turn, Lorrik saw his companion subtly shaking his head.
“If you are hoping to delay my match in the hopes that I have more time to recover, you needn’t bother,” Jresh calmly said. “It matters not if I go into battle sooner rather than later. The damage has been done. Show that you respect me enough to allow me to fight for myself this one time.”
Lorrik responded with a dutiful nod. With that, the Pureblood flexed his shoulders before continuing toward the arena. Jresh’s stride yielded no overt signs of injury, but Lorrik knew he was not operating at peak performance. But the warrior would hear none of it. The two warriors faced off in the ring as the others did before them. In silence, they ignited their weapons.
Jresh gripped his saber tightly with both hands even with his eye line, angling the blade back as if ready to deal a crushing blow on any who would dare to take advantage of his wounded torso. Isorr stance countered his opponent, opting to keep a low two-handed guard in front of himself. Syrosk examined the two’s more subtle movements before finally calling for the match to begin.
The warriors closed in on each other, awaiting the inevitable confrontation in the center of the ring. They simultaneously struck out, Jresh bringing down his saber like an avalanche and Isorr sweeping upwards like a powerful gust. When the two connected, it brought about one of the greatest clashes the dueling circle had recently experienced. But instead of an explosive outburst, the connection brought stillness. For even the dust and the wind refused to budge until one of the warriors removed their weapon from the lock.
Jresh was the first to step back, adopting a defensive stance as Isorr pressed forward. The Pureblood blocked blow after blow, waiting for the perfect opportunity to parry and go on the offensive. But no such opportunity came. Even with his superior strength, the ache developing in his shoulder prevented Jresh from successfully overpowering his opponent. Instead, the defender steeled his defenses, reserving his energies.
Rather than continue a relentless assault, Isorr took a leap back. Seeing an opportunity, Jresh pressed forward with an attack. Unfortunately, the Zabrak did the same, only with a Force-assisted dash. This time, when the sabers connected, Isorr’s blow had enough power to drive past Jresh’s guard. While his own weapon may not have landed a blow, he did succeed in driving the Pureblood’s weapon against its wielder, and straight into his wounded shoulder. Before Jresh could properly recover, Isorr sought to capitalize on the situation with a downward swing.
His saber lowered due to his wound, Jresh could not provide a proper counter. So an improper one would have to suffice. Using his well-protected hand, he opted to swat his opponents saber to the side with his left gauntlet. His right fist followed with a blow to Isorr face, not bothering to waste time with a swing of the blade. The Zabrak spun away from his opponent after the hit. Using his free hand, Isorr thrust his open palm downward, telekinetically causing a plume of dust to rise between the two combatants.
Jresh threw out a quick shockwave of his own to clear the inhibiting cloud, just in time to see Isorr performing another dash. This time, the Pureblood was capable of defending without injuring himself, though only barely. With an upward block, Jresh sent his opponent soaring past him while he was brought down to the flat of his back. With a cartwheel, Isorr managed to recover first. As Jresh struggled to pull himself off of the ground, he found himself moving against his will. The Zabrak clenched his fist tight as he telekinetically drug his foe toward him. In mere moments, the Pureblood lay at his feet.
Before he could bring his saber down upon his opponent, Isorr found himself compelled downward. Jresh Force-pulled his opponent toward his grounded state, but interrupted his fall with a swift kick of his boot. Releasing his grip, the Pureblood found his opponent staggered. Spinning from his grounded position, Jresh swept Isorr’s leg with his own. Rather than avoid falling, the Zabrak brought himself down with all his might, delivering a strike with his elbow against his foe’s chest. As Jresh writhed in pain, Isorr was able to regain his footing, and his dominance over his opponent. With a training saber directed toward his face, Jresh had finally lost the match. The slow clap emanating from the sideline signaled the true cessation of the duel.
“Congratulations. You two have earned the honor of doing the most damage to each other sans weapons,” Syrosk stated. Isorr managed to make his way back to the group with relative ease, thought his entire body seemed to ache with each passing moment. Jresh on the other hand, rested firmly in his spot on the ground. When Lorrik went over to help him, he saw the most pondering look of serenity on his companion’s face as he gazed upwards toward the Korriban sky.
“That was impressive,” Lorrik complimented his fallen friend.
The warrior merely closed his eyes with a sigh. “It was never my intention to impress you.”
“Great! You’re succeeding at things without even trying,” Lorrik joked as he extended his hand.
Jresh stared at the hand with a few long, hard moments before finally accepting it. The inquisitor slowly helped his companion to his feet. Jresh promptly began dusting off his robes until he was overcome with a searing pain in his chest and left shoulder. Clutching at the singed fibers on his torso, he made his way back to the group with Lorrik by his side. The Sith Lord offered a curious stare at the duo as they integrated with group’s ranks.
“Isorr,” Syrosk began, focusing his attention toward the victor. “You obviously had the upper hand going into this duel. It would be foolish to say that this didn’t affect your fighting style. Just as it would be foolish had you not permitted your fighting style be affected. You adapted to the situation as you saw fit, not focusing on a single technique for more than a moment. You attacked and defended when it proved prudent. You used not only your saber, but your entire body and spirit. The embodiment of moderation. You relied on intuition and adaptation. However, will such a reliance aid or hinder you? There will come a day when creativity will not breach your opponent’s defenses. When quick thinking will not prevent a blade from plunging through your chest. Just as one must not rely on a single skill, one also mustn’t expect the sum of all their efforts to unanimously push them in the right direction. A warrior must be ready to end any confrontation in a single move.”
“Jresh,” Syrosk continued, focusing on the heavily breathing warrior. “You had the misfortune of entering battle while injured, disabling you from fighting at your best. Luckily, you have learned one of the most valuable lesson a Sith can learn. You will never be without your flaws. Some will be your own fault, but most will come from those who wish to keep you down. And you will meet many of such people in your lifetime. You will be beaten mercilessly. Time after time. In rapid succession. In war, the only true preparation comes from knowing that you will always be unprepared. All of you should heed this lesson well. Fortunately, it only took the beating of one student to illustrate it. Although, I will happily repeat the lesson myself lest any of you forget it.”
“But alas, such musings actually have little to do with how you performed in the duel,” Syrosk continued. “You were injured. Your swings lacked backing. Your guard lacked fortitude. But you continued. You bided your time, waiting for the opportune moment to block, parry, and strike. Unfortunately that moment never rightfully came. But still you did not yield. The embodiment of perseverance. However, one can only persevere whilst they hold enough power to do so. The second your attacks begin to weaken, or your body begins to tire, or your mind begins to falter… you’ve already lost.”
The warrior accepted his master’s lesson with a dutiful nod. Lorrik could not help but feel proud for his partner, at least until he realized it was now his turn to duel, at which point that became the sole focus of his mind.