Chapter Nineteen: Progressions
Lorrik Velash’s Journal: Day Five, Entry Three.
Today was a brand new day of training, seemingly in more ways than one. Our meeting with the master was surprisingly different this time. It seems as if he possessed a little something extra inside of him. A certain determination. A presence of emotion. I think he’s starting to recognize all of us as his students. Forgoing his usual monologue preceding the issuing of tasks, Lord Syrosk seemed utterly focused on putting us through our rounds. Maybe he was going easy on us for the first few days.
Then again, he did say that the first couple of tests were for his benefit instead of ours. Maybe the time has come in which he plans to test our limits, push us forward or cast us aside as he narrows his choices on who to take on as his apprentice. It would seem that from this point forward, we’ll have our work cut out for us. It’s funny, usually I’d abhor the prospect. But I find myself welcoming the upcoming challenges, even the physical ones. I guess Jresh is starting to get through to me.
And today’s challenge was certainly physical. A dual duel. With a few tricks thrown in…
The eight students of Lord Syrosk stood in their respective pairs atop the usual trainings grounds the group usually utilized. As they stood rigid, trying their hardest to keep their stance upright, they looked forward at their master with beads of sweat beginning to form across their brows.
“My students,” Syrosk began, “you currently wear, upon your wrists and ankles, weighted bands, designed to limit your mobility. You will be forced to carry these burdens for the remainder of the day, and they will certainly play an important role in the upcoming test, which will be a series of duels. Two against two. You and your partner will be tested on your ability to combine your abilities, and defend against two opponents.”
“Heed my words, students. This is the start of a new type of training. Before, you would be tested by the merits of your body, or your mind, or your spirit. No more. No more will such aspects of your person be separate. From this day forth, every exercise will test the entirety of what defines you. As students. As acolytes. As Sith. And you WILL be tested. Every mistake you make could lead you to your death. Your instructors in years passed have been lax, incapable of producing anything of true worth. Now, the time has come to break you down and rebuild you, over and over, until you are worthy of apprenticeship. Shall we begin?”
The rigid students offered neither positive nor negative responses. Lord Syrosk offered a quick, low chortle at his students apparent dismay toward their weighted limbs. Burdening metallic weights clamped over the acolyte’s usual gear, heavy enough to even affect the usually steadfast Trandoshan. A fact that brought further delight to the Sith Lord.
“Nesk and Vurt. Since you were last to complete yesterday’s challenge, you will be the first to duel. Now… who should you face?” Syrosk asked of no one in particular. Lorrik saw Jresh’s eyes narrow eagerly awaiting his master’s answer as if possessing a preference. The Pureblood seemed to desire a particular matching, rather than wanting to go first.
“Isorr and Arlia. Step forward,” Syrosk called out. “You four will compete.”
A smile surfaced on Jresh’s face. Lorrik was particularly confused with his partner’s behavior.
“Hmm, figured you’d want another shot at Isorr,” Lorrik admitted.
“Oh, I do,” Jresh confirmed. The Human puzzled for a moment before being interrupted by his master.
“Given the limited mobility you will be experiencing, there’s no need to limit ourselves to the use of the dueling circle. Therefore, the other four acolytes will duel as well,” Syrosk explained. “Ready yourselves. The duel is finished when your opponents are forced to the ground. However, in order to be declared the winner, both opponents must lie on the ground simultaneously.”
The two groups of four made their ways to separate ends of the cliff before the pairs put a short distance between them and their opponents.
All eight students engaging in combat at the same time, there was no time for passive observations, only the intense focus to be laid upon one’s foe. And meanwhile, Lord Syrosk would be watching all of us simultaneously. Keeping track of our movements and techniques, it would take someone of sufficient training to perceive such a chaotic scene. Then again, maybe he was done with in-depth analysis, and just wanted to stand back and watch us wail on each other. But somehow I doubt that, given the Sith Lord’s habits. He presents himself like someone utterly sure of himself and others. Little seems to pass by him without acknowledgement. Then again, the stunt Jresh pulled would be hard to miss by any instructor.
In the beginning, I thought Jresh would have wanted nothing more than to face Isorr in combat, entering without the injury that inhibited him before. If our pairs were grouped, we could combat them fresh, without the weights and duels striking us from the peak of our performances. Since we had to go through Kar’ai and Ryloh first, however, there was no way to ensure that. Except for one.
Lorrik and Jresh stood side by side, facing their opponents who did the same. Unable to break their gazes from one another, the four acolytes drew their training sabers and adopted their respective stances. Bearing the same movements as their first duel under Syrosk, each acolyte had little time or reason to modify their combat techniques. As the winds of the high cliffs bustled, the students were ready to begin their duels.
“Lorrik, I’m going to have to ask you to follow my lead,” Jresh whispered to his companion.
“Well, I was planning on doing that anyway,” Lorrik joked.
“I just don’t want you to be too surprised.”
The conversation between the two acolytes was cut short by the immediate call to begin by their master a short distance away. Jresh wasted nary a moment to make his way toward his opponents. Kar’ai matched the Pureblood’s haste step for step. The two warriors clashed at the midway point between the two inquisitors. Lorrik was unsure of how to proceed.
Given Jresh’s request, he thought to charge Ryloh, but the Twi’lek remained on the far side of the dueling space, preparing himself for whatever future actions might unfold. Pressing forward, Lorrik saw Ryloh match his movements. As the two inquisitors drew ever closer, they remained on the defense, neither bringing their saber against the other. Glancing over to his partner, Lorrik saw Jresh locking his saber with Kar’ai’s, each pushing forward. Looking over for but a moment, Jresh offered only a nod of his head.
Propelling himself backwards, Jresh unlocked himself from the clash. To the shock of both his partner and his opponents, Jresh continued backwards, falling, until he lay upon his back atop the dusty grounds. The other three combatants were momentarily stunned, as Lorrik processed that his companion had no intention of rising. Suddenly, the Human saw the subtle movement of Jresh’s hand, commanding him to fall as well. Understanding the Pureblood’s previous words, Lorrik followed, falling upon the ground will little more than the wind affecting him. Kar’ai and Ryloh continued their puzzled countenance as Syrosk quickly declared them the winners a short distance away.
Jresh did have his eyes set on Isorr. And only on Isorr. He knew that with duels separating their conflict, it was inevitable that the fights would begin to take a toll on the warriors’ resolves. Jresh wanted to be fresh when he eventually faced the Zabrak, and knew he could ensure that by throwing the fight. He seemed willing to accept defeat, at least in the eyes of Syrosk, if it meant furthering his own goals. Isorr meanwhile, was utterly too prideful to adopt such a course of action.
Honestly, I’m proud of Jresh. It reminds me of the conversation we had, on the cliffs after our first defeat. He took it somewhat hard. Then again I had just truck him across the chest and insured his defeat not too long beforehand, but the man was, and is, determined to win. It was I who tried to convince him that an untrue defeat is still a defeat in the eyes of our master. Funny how he turned that around on me.
“True victory lies not after a single battle.”
It’s amazing how different he could be, yet remain dedicatedly the same. It makes me happy to see it. I was beginning to wonder what our extended consequences on each other would be. I was afraid that neither of us might be the person we were entering into this pairing. But now I see, that remarkable individuals can survive this Academy without being forced to abandon what they think, what they believe. I can still gain strength, knowledge, understanding, and not compromise what makes me, me.
As short as our duel was, the other two groups continued for some time. We watched from the sidelines, while Kar’ai and Ryloh conversed out of earshot. The Twi’lek seemed relieved to have escape unscathed, and the Rattataki didn’t seem to admonish or reject her partner’s feelings. I’m almost disappointed our duel didn’t last longer. I would have loved to gain some insight into their behavior. Combat has a way of revealing such things.
When the other four did finish, Syrosk organized a new set of duels, without commenting on any of our performances. He declared that the victor would face the victors, whilst the losers face the losers. This meant we had another duel between us and Isorr. It was about then that I realized that I would soon be facing Arlia yet again. I didn’t harbor any real feelings of animosity. And I doubt she thinks of me the same way that Isorr and Jresh think of one another.
I’d like to think we have a rivalry, but her feelings of superiority seem to propagate an utter dismissal of those she views as below her. Isorr is similar. However, with him, I get impression that he views others as nothing more than objects, tools, or pests. Arlia seems to acknowledge the inherent worthiness of humanity and sentience present in others. I’d say this gives her a wider spectrum with which to affect those around her. She feels, and understands the feelings of others. A positive trait. However, her ability to manipulate those facets to her benefit is remarkably dangerous.
But we still had to get through Nesk and Vurt before we could face our rivals. Jresh seemed intent on continuing his strategy. It seems the monstrous pair was too focused on their previous duel to have broken away to catch a glimpse at our prior antics, as they possessed the same stupefied expression when we did it again. It was quite amusing, I must admit, seeing Nesk doing his usual snarly emoting when presented with something he didn’t understand. Vurt on the other hand, remained the expressionless, cold, brutal figure he always was, though I could have sworn he raised an eyebrow at the events that took place in front of him.
Once again, Syrosk declared our opponents the victor, without a comment directed toward our actions. Given the ridiculousness of our surrendering to two duels, I tried my hardest not to make eye contact with our master, but when I did make an errant glance over to him, I saw that he bore no inherent signs of disappointment. In fact, it seemed like he just wanted to understand our motives, and what we were ultimately hoping to accomplish. The next duel, he got his answer.
For the third time, Lorrik and Jresh found themselves standing opposite a new pair of opponents. The last swap, the final duel in this series was to begin in a short moment, to the delight of Jresh. Across from the pair, Isorr and Arlia looked to be standing ready and able to compete, but the signs of exhaustion were beginning to show. Lorrik studied Arlia closely. Having fallen to her trickery before, he made important note of the differences in her stance between now and the faux-exhaustion she displayed in their previous duel. It was the genuine thing. Meanwhile, Lorrik and Jresh stood resolute, ready to proceed at peak efficiency.
“Looks like it’s time for a rematch, Isorr,” Jresh plainly stated.
“You think I didn’t notice what you were doing, Jresh?” Isorr shot back, noticeably angered with his predicament.
“It makes no difference whether you are aware or not. I still intend to defeat you this day,” Jresh explained.
Isorr sharpened his gaze, staring down the Pureblood. “What will that prove? You still lost two of your duels. You can’t statistically come ahead.”
“Today was never about statistics. Today, I will strike you down, and we will be even. We will enter combat, one of us at a disadvantage, just as before. Once this has been settled, we can begin our training in earnest.”
Lorrik and Arlia watched their partners go back and forth. Arlia was intent on not allowing herself to waste any more energy on pointless banter, and Lorrik was intent on allowing Jresh to receive the full satisfaction of what he had set out to do that day.
In the end, all Isorr and Arlia had to do was lie down, use our own trick against us. Then, we wouldn’t able to experience the satisfaction of beating them in a proper duel. What they lost would be made up in the fact that our entire ruse was for not, and we effectively wasted a day of training, possibly earning the ire of our master. They just had to take a step back, and remove themselves from the monumental pride that drove their every action. Jresh and I, however, knew better.
They did not disappoint.