Act III: Supremacies
Chapter One: Survivors
The Academy was locked in its usual proceedings. As the bright and blistering sun watched over it with its enduring blaze, the next generation of Sith acolytes were in the throes of training. Humans of varying size and skill faced the trials readily provided by Korriban. The blades of its inhabitants, the claws of its predators, the shadows of its tombs.
But deep within the Academy, students of dissimilar make were progressing. Multiple classrooms, around ten students strong, studied and fought under the watchful eye of instructors satisfying the desires of their true master, Darth Tash. Things had changed for the peculiar bunch ever since the rousing appearance of the dark lord. The instructors had adopted a new lesson plan, one that progressed the atypical group faster than they thought possible.
And between these two groups was one accepted by neither. Lord Syrosk and his eight students. The acolytes were plucked from Tash’s classroom at the behest of their new alien master and placed into pairings of warrior and inquisitor. After facing trials unlike anything they had endured in their previous years, the eight individuals quickly proved themselves worthy of apprenticeship.
For more than a year the eight Sith had followed the wisdom and teaching of their master. They learned of their position in the Academy, and the Empire at large, as beings too imperfect to have been admitted to the establishment by traditional means. They did not yet know what Darth Tash had intended for them, nor what he intended for those who remained under the guidance of his instructors. Neither did they fully understand their own master’s intentions.
But whatever reservations they possessed for their peculiar master and their even more peculiar situation, they could not deny the results Syrosk’s teachings had imparted upon them. Greater strength and dexterity. Greater intelligence and wisdom. Proficiency with both Lightsaber and the Force. A mental acuity taught by select few. Such was the reason that even after months of agony, pain, and hardship, all eight apprentices still convened atop the same mountaintop, under the same sun, and listened with the same determination when their master declared he has prepared another lesson.
The eight apprentices stood as they did the first time they gathered at their master’s word, in a line, beside their respective partners. But for all that was the same, much had changed. Lord Syrosk now looked upon eight individuals, eight unique Sith. Each with a personalized weapon and outfit.
Lorrik stood at the leftmost spot in the lineup. The Human’s appearance suggested a maturing in the recent months. Though his face was still relatively soft and offered its usual pleasant visage, and his flesh had managed to remain amongst the lightest of his compatriots even under the constant rays of the Korriban sun, there was a focused presence in his eyes detailing the many months of progress he had endured. Meanwhile the once unkempt, dark brown hair atop his head had been tamed, slicked back and styled by a man who still found importance in personal appearance amidst Sith training. All of which was readily visible, as the Human had removed any head coverings from his new outfit.
The black robes weren’t dissimilar from the ones he had first received from his new master, but replacing the purple trim was a lining of a deep, dark blue. Sans hood, the outer coat merely possessed a thick collar that conveniently covered the brand on the back of the inquisitor’s neck. The clothes covering his torso ended at the sash that wrapped around his waist, below which rest a pair of form-fitting pants and sturdy boots. Gone were the suffocating gloves from the Human’s ensemble, offering his Force slinging hands freedom at the expense of protection. Most importantly, clipped to his sash was his lightsaber, completed a few short months ago. The weapon’s exterior was simplistically stylish, made up of silver casings and the occasional flourish such as an added emitter guard.
His companion Jresh stood by his side, ever the tall, adamant warrior. His face still displayed the same crimson stoicism, with the same allotment of fleshy tendrils hanging from his chin and cheeks. His hair, though, had been sufficiently shortened. After one too many occurrences of being dragged to the ground by a dueling opponent, he decided to sever the long braid that once fell past his shoulders. Instead, the black hairs stop his head had been styled similar to those of his partner, at his suggestion, slicked back in a formal yet fashionable form.
The Pureblood had all but abandoned any vestiges of robes and cloth from his outfit. No hoods. No cloaks. Nothing but a suit of form-fitting armorweave accentuated with heavier materials upon his legs and torso. The black bodysuit protected him entirely below the neck, heavy boots and gauntlets guarding his extremities, as well as a compact pair of pauldrons atop his shoulders. His head meanwhile went unprotected, as the warrior had never held hiding his face in high regard, and wasn’t about to change that. The lightsaber clipped to his belt matched his suit in appearance and function. The weapon possessed only an unadorned black cylinder as its hilt, utterly smooth and seemingly without buttons or dials.
The lineup continued, each apprentice having shed some part of their former selves to promote a sense of individuality. Arlia stood next. The violet Twi’lek had discarded the robe’s gifted by her master for a set that seemed even further beyond her station in opulence. The black and purple garb wrapped her body with both graceful flow and martial structure. The tight under layer was accentuated by looser outer layers, yet nothing seemed capable of inhibiting the wearers movements.
Her companion Isorr had adopted a style similar to his master, an dark hooded cloak worn over a suit of armor. Though without the funds of a Sith Lord or Arlia’s knack for acquiring goods, the outfit didn’t hold the same grandeur as Syrosk’s. But still, Isorr was Sith, and knew what was required of Sith, and the reinforced armorweave served him just fine. There were no new additions to the markings upon the face of the dark skinned Zabrak, but there was a fierce determination in his eyes, one distinguishable from the haughty superiority he held in previous months.
Vurt was next, and of all the apprentices, he was the only one who seemed to dress down from his old attire. His body was wrapped in a simplistic set of black robes. Form-fitting, with no excess layers. Almost a pitch-black variant of acolytes robes, with the added protected of sturdy boots and wrist guards. But in its simplicity it had managed to convey a message fitting its wearer, one with no tolerance for needless expressions. If there was one thing that would never change, it would be the cold, silent brutality that rest behind the eyes of the orange Nikto.
Nesk hadn’t lost his ability to stand out from the crowd. The sandy-scaled Trandoshan and his companion were of one mind, as he too returned to the basics with his attire. Discarding the extraneous layers, the warrior protected his torso with a simplistic armorweave bodysuit. The thick material ended at his elbows and knees, leaving the lizard’s clawed hands and feet unadorned. He had opted for simplicity, allowing his mere presence to speak for itself. One atypical addition was a necklace that draped around his neck, baring a number of teeth and talons taken from fallen prey from the wilds of Korriban since his apprenticeship.
Ryloh possessed probably the greatest departure from his fellow apprentices, but the most in line with his previous studies. Loose fitting black robes befitting an inquisitor. A hooded, long sleeve jacket wrapped around his upper body, while his lower half was covered by a more traditional robe skirt. The only color in the Twi’lek’s appearance came from his light blue skin, exposed only above his neck. While the female Twi’lek’s lekku were wrapped in black cloth, Ryloh’s remain unadorned, draped in front of him and over his chest.
Kar’ai’s outfit greatly differed from her companion’s. Whereas the inquisitor had chosen flowing, conservative garb, she had opted for the opposite. Her lower half was protected by a form-fitting armorweave leggings and sturdy boots, whilst her torso was covered by little more than a skin tight wrapping around her neck and chest. Her arms and midriff uncovered, the warrior proudly displayed her toned physique and the numerous tribal markings that graced her pale flesh.
The eight students stood, eyes glued to the back of their master as the alien lord stood watch over the horizon, the only one amongst them who's appearance had not changed one bit in his time at the Academy.
“Students…” Syrosk began. “It’s been quite some time since we’ve convened atop this mountain. You’ve all shown remarkable progress as Sith, You’ve displayed great strength and cunning, and a willingness to persist despite all obstacles. You’ve endured hardships not only physical, but emotional as well. You’ve been deceived, by others, as well as myself. You were delivered here by a man who never meant for you to be true Sith. And by removing you from his classrooms, I cannot say that I have granted you the status of a proper graduate of this Academy. But I have trained you in the fashion I believe you all deserving of. In a manner that cares not for your family, your lineage, or your species, but for your skills.”
Syrosk turned to face his students directly. “And you have all proven yourselves skilled individuals. But no matter the individual, you will inevitably find yourselves impeded by limitations. As Sith, we believe ourselves capable of surpassing any such limitation through mastery of the Force. But even our connection to the Force can prove insufficient. The Empire draws its strength from remarkable individuals, but it is the individual whom holds it back. Isorr, would you care to recite the Sith code?”
“Peace is a lie, there is only passion,” Isorr spoke up. “Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, power. Through power, victory. Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall set me free.”
“Very good,” Syrosk rasped. “Simple enough guidelines. However, where there is simplicity, there is room for misinterpretation. We take passions to mean rage. Power to mean dominance. And victory to be achieved by any means necessary. Too many Sith believe that for one to ascend, others must fall. But instead of focusing that energy on the enemy, they turn on their brothers and sisters within the Order. I believe the selfishness that currently plagues the Sith will be its downfall.”
“So that’s why you placed the eight of us in pairs?” Kar’ai suggested.
“In part,” Syrosk admitted. “As much as the Sith extol the virtues of the individual, they know that true strength cannot be gained without interaction. The bond between a master and his apprentice. A Sith Lord and his domain. The transfer of knowledge and skills from one person to another, from generation to generation. The new generation believes that anything beyond self-sufficiency is weakness. That couldn’t be further from the truth. More than half my life was spent within the Empire before the Great War started. Things were different back then. The entirety of the Sith Empire cooperated in anticipation of achieving their one, singular goal. Proving their superiority over the Republic. We had constructed the greatest military force in the galaxy, and not through the chronic backstabbings and betrayals that infest the Empire today.”
“So we’re your attempt at returning to the good ol’ days?” Arlia joked.
“If that were true, I wouldn’t have chosen you lot,” Syrosk corrected. “As much as I admire the state of operations back then, the Sith Empire possessed the same, if not more distaste of aberrant beings amongst its populace. My intentions are to merely consolidate the pasts, and futures, that I have seen, and use that knowledge to influence the next generation of Sith.”
“I understand the benefits of the eight of us remaining in such close contact over these past months,” Lorrik admitted. “Bouncing between cooperation and competition, it provides us with more than a single master could ever impart upon their apprentice. But you never did fully explain the reasoning behind the pairings.”
“Perhaps,” Syrosk rasped. “Then again, who’s to say it has a meaning beyond the one you assign to it? I mean, I have provided you no reason, and yet here you all stand, side by side with your companion, each pairing displaying the effect you’ve had on one another whether you realize it or not. You’ve each formed a bond unlike any other on this planet.”
“There is reasoning behind all things, whether we realize it or not,” Lorrik recalled. “That is what you told us after we returned from the wastes of said planet. I don’t believe you would cultivate something without a proper motivation.”
“I suppose you are correct,” Syrosk admitted. “In the inception of your previous classrooms, students were divided and parsed by certain elements. Species, background, gender, but the most important was your skillset. You all recall your first days after arriving at Korriban, being tested and assigned either the designation of warrior or inquisitor. I had the idea of pairing students years ago, but was cautious in carrying it out. I had seen firsthand the perils of certain types of Sith interacting with one another. Two warriors or two inquisitors with the same beliefs, same ambitions did not suit my plan. If you were to reach your fullest potential, I required you to face certain challenges.”
“But you put the warriors in charge of picking an inquisitor," Jresh declared. "We could have chosen anyone, regardless of how they compared to ourselves."
“Yes, you could have. But you didn’t,” Syrosk bluntly stated. “You all chose someone who ended up being a natural foil, yet compatible with the most integral aspects of your being.”
“By mere chance?” Ryloh asked.
“Surely by now you understand that there is no such thing as chance,” Syrosk declared. “But the main reason for these pairings will be revealed after today’s task. You’ve all constructed your lightsabers. You’ve all harnessed the power of the Force. In all capacities, you ought to be considered true Sith, regardless of whatever standing you may possess amongst the Empire at large. However, there yet remains a trial that you must complete. One that every acolyte or apprentice must endure at some point in their lives.”
Lorrik scratched his chin as his gaze drifted toward the ground. “Really? It seems like we’ve done practically everything in one form or another.”
“Is that so?" Syrosk teasingly rasped. "How familiar are you all with the surrounding tombs?”