Chapter Nine: Validations
The time had finally come for Lorrik to prove himself in battle. To his new master and to his companion. As inevitable as the occurrence was, the inquisitor found himself hesitant. Not because of fear. His many years in the Academy had accustomed Lorrik to the usual hardships the life of a Sith.
He knew of pain. He knew of suffering. He knew of betrayal. Such things no longer left incurable wounds. Instead, self-inflicted matters bore the most influence. For deep within his mind, Lorrik still possessed one of the Sith’s greatest limiters. Doubt.
Even the rigorous upbringing of years past could not erase it. Perhaps, because it was never intended to be fully erased. Years were spent in combat, but only with fellow students and the occasional instructor. There was no power in proving yourself against your ‘equals’. No knowledge in the studying presented materials.
The Sith preached strength, but the classrooms demanded control. They could not allow mere acolytes to gain true power, true insight, lest they turn against their superiors. Notions of betrayal and usurpation worked finely as ideals, but not as a means of ensuring attendance. And so, the artificial weakness remained. The reliance. The doubt. The need for training replacing the want.
Every day they plotted their master’s downfall, but still they postponed any actions, lest they waste any potential not yet wrung from their tutor. That was the way of the acolyte. The way of the apprentice, however, trounced such notions, allowing selfish gleams of hope to permeate the mind and drive the young Sith forward.
But here, these eight student stood as enigmas, unsure of their own place in the system. They seem to have escaped the drudge of acolytes under paltry instructors incapable of becoming true Sith. And yet, by their new master’s own admission, they were not yet apprentices. There existed two paths for each student.
Rejection: to be cast back into the deep waters of worthlessness. Promise: to be deemed worthy. Not worthy of education. Not worthy of training. But worthy of apprenticeship. For that word held untold power in the hearts and minds of any student of the Academy. But alas, one unshakable force lingered. Doubt.
Doubt. The great snare of progress. And it gripped Lorrik’s soul now more than ever. For years, the only person he truly had to prove himself to was, in fact, himself. The instructors could threaten exile, torture, and death until their faces were as red as their Sith superiors. But such fates felt so unlikely that it eventually became a joke amongst the students.
Each student who possessed enough inkling of skill, it was simply a matter of persisting. But now, Lorrik had to prove himself not only to his new master, but his new partner as well. For the first time in his attendance of the Academy, the inquisitor actually found himself caring about what others thought of him.
“Well, we’ve but one duel left, I see no reason to simply stand around,” Syrosk rasped. “Arlia. Lorrik. Into the circle.”
The inquisitors shared a passing glance before making their way to the dueling arena side by side. An awkward silence persisted as each combatant awaited the other’s inevitable pre-battle taunts. Oddly, none were made before the two separated into their opposing positions within the circle. Even the most vocal of students knew when silence and preparation were most prudent.
The two ignited their training sabers and adopted their opening stances, with Arlia mimicking the one-handed low guard of her companion. Lorrik slid his right foot backward and his saber followed. His right hand gripping the weapon, he directed its tip directly toward his opponent. His left hand jut forward, parallel to his saber, adopting a clawed appearance.
One final drop of the Sith Lord’s hand signaled the duel’s start. Arlia would be the instigator, launching toward her opponent. Lorrik tried to keep his cool and study the charging Twi’lek in the mere moments he had before reacting. Arlia was using a very similar style as her companion, though failing to see each and every difference would prove disastrous. Subtle variations in footwork, her saber trailed her gait, her free hand instead leading the charge. Two seconds had not yet passed and the first move of the match was revealed. And it was not a mere swing of a training saber.
Arlia rescinded her outstretched hand with a frightfully quick gesture, attempting to telekinetically draw her opponent closer to her. Lorrik could not rightfully guard against the forceful tug of his entire person, upsetting his balance. The Human could only bring his saber in close, limiting the exposure of his torso. Weapons clashed in earnest, with Lorrik establishing a footing at just the precise moment. The Twi’lek withdrew, only to strike again a moment later.
She was faster than her considerably quick companion. Swings and strikes from all angles slowly encroached on Lorrik’s tightened defenses. Things appeared to take a turn for the worse for the Human when the barrage sent him to one of his knees. Capitalizing on her opponent’s weakened stance, she readied a finishing overhead swing. However, at the apex of her weapon’s rise, Lorrik let out a powerful Force-push up from his free hand, sending Arlia stumbling backward.
Rather than fight her movements, Arlia carried herself with the momentum, rolling backward until she could rise again within the blink of an eye. She sprung to her feet ready to face the advancing foe she had expected, but instead found something much different. Lorrik stood only a few meters away, unmoving, awaiting the Twi’lek’s recovery in a guarded stance.
Arlia renewed her assault, switching from wide swings to jabbing attacks. Precision was met with precision. Subtle parries and sidesteps ensured that nothing breached the Human’s defenses. The two combatants continued as such for minutes. Arlia would attack. Lorrik would defend. The roles would never change. A curious pause fell upon the arena once Arlia withdrew her assault. Once more, the two inquisitors found themselves staring at each other silence, though the silence could not last.
“Why aren’t you attacking?” Arlia harshly asked, showing signs of exhaustion.
“I’m just doing what I’m good at,” Lorrik casually answered.
The Twi’lek furrowed her brow as she gritted her teeth. “How?”
“Um, with this,” Lorrik said, gently waving his training saber in front of himself. “I thought that was pretty obvious.”
“No! I mean, how are you this good at something?” Arlia countered.
“When you’re as skilled at attracting the ire of classmates as I am, you learn a thing or two about defense,” Lorrik casually stated.
Arlia offered an exaggerated roll of her eyes. “Congratulations, you managed to draw some form of strength from your inherent weakness.”
The Human countered with a shrug. “It doesn’t look like weakness on my end.”
“Oh, then why don’t you bother attacking?” Arlia taunted through drawn out breaths. “Scared to swing your saber at someone who actually has a chance to retaliate?”
Lorrik only offered a jocular scoff.
“Would you like for me to stand still?” Arlia asked. "Maybe close my eyes? Put my hands behind my back? Maybe then you could actually take me down, I mean, you’ve done that before haven’t you?”
The Human couldn’t help but have his mind wander to his partner’s condition. Though seemingly recovered, the Pureblood remained slightly slouched on the sidelines, his normally prideful stance missing.
“If it makes you feel better... even after you lose, you will have technically defeated at least one person today. Granted it was your own partner-”
“Are you done yet?” Lorrik asked, finally showing signs of depleted resolve.
“I don’t know, am I?” Arlia countered. The Human found a genuine hate brewing in his innards. Once more he directed his saber’s tip toward his opponent. The Twi’lek resumed her combat stance as well, though certainly lacking the eagerness she displayed before.
Once more, Lorrik studied his opponent. He noticed a subtle bobbing in her training saber’s guard, evidence that he had finally driven her to exhaustion. Finally sensing an opportunity, Lorrik rushed forward, bringing his weapon down from above. Arlia’s guard suddenly raised in retaliation and the Human’s swing was promptly parried.
Realizing he had horribly misjudged his opponent, Lorrik drew his saber closer for a tight defense. Predicting this action, Arlia closed the gap between the two, grabbing her foe’s weapon hand and maneuvering herself to his back. Tightening her grip, the Twi’lek pinned the Human’s weapon hand to his chest, his free hand caught underneath. Bringing her own right hand around his other shoulder, Lorrik found two sabers crossed directly below his neck.
Lorrik was trapped. Bound by Arlia’s grip, the Human dared not move lest he be scorched by one of the two sabers caught beneath his vision. In a desperate position, Lorrik could only think of one means of escape. His gaze turned to his opponent’s hand griping his own. He focused his mind. All the anger that had been building up. His contempt for his opponent. His disappointment in himself. His regret. Lorrik lashed out at the vile hand that still trapped his with all his emotion in his mind.
Then suddenly, with a crackling shock… absolutely nothing. No matter how hard he tried, nothing came. His form stayed as it had been, and would persist like that for however long Arlia wished it to. Lorrik had been utterly defeated.
“Next time you try and play mind games with someone, make sure you’re not completely outmatched,” Arlia whispered, having dropped her faux-exhaustion. With the beckoning of her master, the Twi’lek released her grip and shoved the Human away before making her way toward the gathering of students. With hesitance, Lorrik deactivated his training saber and followed suit.
“Arlia,” Syrosk began. “It would seem that Isorr made an excellent choice in his partnership. You possessed skill enough to break the unbreakable. Capable in areas of strength, speed, and defense, but ultimately it was your cunning and the combination of your skills that saw you through to victory. The embodiment of moderation, much like your partner. Whereas you might lack the raw strength of a warrior, you possess an mind capable of great tactical prowess. However, while your mind may be your greatest strength, it is also your greatest weakness. You seek control, for control is what will decide your battles. The second you lose even a single facet of that control, others will follow. It is one thing to fool your opponent. It is another to fool yourself. Don’t tell yourself that you are unaffected by notions of thought that are counterproductive to your goals. Doubt stalls those who see it within themselves. It destroys those who don’t.”
“Lorrik,” Syrosk continued, diverting his gaze toward the defeated inquisitor. “You would do well to heed those words as well. For the most part, you were carrying out your intentions with a fine degree of success. You defended. And defended. And defended. A fine tactic to wear out the rather inordinate amount of overly-hasty opponents you might face. You do not strike out of turn. You do not make unnecessary moves. You keep your guard closed and your mind open. The embodiment of resilience. But perhaps you kept your mind just a little too open. Your ability to block and parry a saber will do you no good if you are still susceptible to a sharpened tongue. If you wish follow the path of resilience… you must know what it is to persist. Your body must fail you. Your mind must falter. Your spirit must waver. Only then can you recover… learn… persist. You must suffer before you may endure. And after said suffering, you will still find yourself incapable of striking out against your foes in any meaningful manner. Ask yourself… is that a path worth following? Is it a path you are even capable of?”
Lorrik did not know how to take his master’s words. He had failed. Perhaps failure could lead to knowledge and improvement, but it was also a sign of weakness. Could strength born from fault be considered true strength at all? It would have to be. Lorrik desired strength. He needed strength. For strength was the only way anyone could make a difference within the Empire.
Because of that fact, Lorrik would persist. Endure. Survive. He didn’t know how, but he would. And for the first time he saw promise from external sources. His master was no mere Academy instructor. His companion was no mere Sith hopeful. But much more work would be required. Years of study yet remained until he would consider himself a worthy Sith.
With all of the duels out of the way, Syrosk looked over his students one by one in silence. The majority of them has lost the vigor and poise they had once possessed in their stances. Even some of the victors were drawing heavy breaths and bore sweat upon their brows.
Student after student tensed for a brief moment as they found their master’s scrutinizing eyes pass over them. Eagerly, they awaited whatever words of wisdom the Sith Lord must have been formulating in his head. Instead, they received a rather casual dismissal.
“That was a fine display from all of you,” Syrosk stated, drawing from no apparent pool of enthusiasm. “Class dismissed.”
The students glanced at each other in confusion. The day was still young. They still stood upright. This was far from the manner of teaching they expected from their new ,aster. The Sith Lord took a few steps toward the cliff’s return path before stopping.
“Something tells me you expected more,” Syrosk rasped, not bothering to face his students. “I suppose I could throw together some more physical trials. Make you run to the Academy and back, throw the slowest from the edge of the cliff. But I am not in the mood for such things. Your bouts today were for my own benefit. Not yours. I wanted to see what your bodies were capable of. Any experience or knowledge gained from these exercises were a mere bonus. My intentions rested solely in gathering information to be used in the months to come regarding your training. There is little more I could learn from you all in your various conditions, so I grant you the rest of the day to yourselves. Another test will be ready by the next midday. I would advise you to take this time to get to know your partner. Such a course of action would prove prudent for tomorrow.”
With that, the Sith Lord silently made his way back to the Academy, hands resting together behind his back. Some of the students began to follow, but deemed it awkward to be forced to pass their master, or match his slow pace. But such an act of avoidance only led to an equally awkward silence persisting between the eight students. With half having just been defeated by the other half, desire for pleasantries was understandably low.
Instead they divided into their various duos and recuperated their psyche while awaiting the initiative to descend the mountain.