Chapter Seven: Connections
As the shuttle made its way back to the Academy, the nine Sith sat in silence. Syrosk stood at the back of the passenger bay, arms crossed, head dipped, and eyes closed, no doubt locked within his own thoughts. The apprentices meanwhile, sat on the benches to either side of the shuttle, quiet, but not utterly without conversation.
“I think the others are staring at us,” Lorrik mentally suggested to his companion. His gaze was fixed upon the floor, rising only to make a passing glance at his fellow students. None of the apprentices were willing to make eye contact but for the briefest of moments. Each pair kept to themselves, likely conversing through telepathy to hide their thoughts from anyone but their partners.
“It’s understandable,” Jresh mentally replied, himself situated much like his master, calm and composed even in his battle-worn state. “I’d say you managed to stir things up quite a bit.”
“You think so?”
“You were the first to uncover the true meaning of the master's plan, of course the other apprentices are going to have some feelings on the subject. You’ve earned his favor, and you’ve earned their interest. No telling if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
“Were we ordinary Sith, I’d assume it was a matter of jealousy and disdain. But we are far from ordinary,” Lorrik admitted. “There’s a part of them that wants to reject Syrosk’s idea, something deep seeded from our earlier years in the Academy. But it doesn’t seem to be controlling them. You feel it don’t you? The utter lack of anger or animosity here. Everyone is calm, even Nesk. Sure there’s some underlying confusion and internal conflict, but pride prevails. And not just singular pride. It’s like everyone suddenly realized the nature of their accomplishments. We convinced them of the benefits of cooperation back in the wastes. I’d say we managed to take that a step further today.”
“We? Lorrik, despite the current nature of our partnership, you must give yourself credit for your accomplishments,” Jresh advised. “Had it not been for you, none of us might have made it back from the wastes. I know Kar’ai definitely wouldn’t have. You’ve had as much an impact on this group as Syrosk has.”
“I don’t know if I’d say that,” Lorrik offered.
“Syrosk is a fine teacher,” Jresh admitted. “Our physical performance has improved beyond measure. Our knowledge and wisdom have been vastly expanded. He’s given a place and purpose that we would not otherwise possess if not for his intervening. But over the many months we’ve spent under him, have you ever believed yourself to be receiving all he could offer?”
“I know what you mean,” Lorrik stated. “It is in a Sith Lord’s nature to be mysterious, but Syrosk… after all this time, there’s still so many unanswered questions. The day we returned from the wastes, I thought that’d be it, we’d finally understand everything about our place in the Academy. It was an enlightening day for sure, but I’ve no doubt he's kept many things close to his chest. It’s been months since then, and we are just now figuring out the entire point behind putting us into pairs. We still don’t know why there are eight of us. Why he apparently leaves so many things to chance. We still don’t know what’s going on with the classrooms we were ‘liberated’ from. I hate that so many questions go unanswered, but I hate even more the prospect that some of these questions may not even have answers.”
“Answers are deserved only by those brave enough to ask questions,” Jresh declared. “And I believe that you are more than deserving. I'm sure you'll have them in time.”
“Thanks Jresh, that means a lot.”
“We’ve come a long way, Lorrik. We no longer need to fear the unknown. In our earlier days, we could not question Syrosk, lest we risk being cast from his sphere, losing our only perceived chance at apprenticeship. That time has passed. We stand capable of challenging our master, no longer blindly obeying and taking him at his word. And we are not alone.”
“The others are strong. Just as strong as us. And I’m sure our desires overlap,” Lorrik offered. “But I cannot say for certain whether they’d be willing to risk their relationship with the master.”
“We are not rejecting Syrosk, nor disposing of him. We are simply challenging him. Letting him know that we have advanced far beyond the level of mere acolytes. Letting him know that we are deserving of something more than the occasional cryptic bit of information. And you should believe the others would follow you. I know I would.”
“Well, of course you would.”
“Really? You recall the man I was when we first met in the lecture hall. I was isolated. I placed only as much faith in the partnership as was necessary to please my new master. I believed there was something of worth within you, but back then, there was little I would have expected of you. Now, you have proven yourself far beyond anything I could have hoped to expect. You have proven yourself able to rise to the challenge, to overcome physical and mental strain that would demolish lesser Sith. You are still here, despite the fact that you could have left. But you didn’t. You stayed on Korriban because there was something you still needed to accomplish.”
“That doesn’t mean the others would automatically follow my lead.”
“You respect them, don’t you? Well, I can assure you, they respect you as well. You proved yourself out in the wastes. They realized you were more than just a gleeful acolyte hiding behind his collected knowledge. You were someone capable of converting plan into action. Someone capable of thinking beyond the self. You proved that there was no ulterior motive behind your kindness, your compassion, and that there was no weakness born from them, only strength. Syrosk is a sufficient guide, but you… you can be a leader.”
Lorrik remained silent as his gaze remained glued to the floor. His companion's words swirled in his head. He held the acquired holocron in his hand, thumbing the edges as his foot incessantly tapped against the shuttle’s floor. The hum of the ship’s engines overtook his senses, drowning out everything else. Time began to fly by. There were no more conversations to be had, no more thoughts to exchange, just the passing of the minutes until they would arrive at the Academy.
The vessel carrying the Sith Lord and his apprentices set down as the Korriban sun was doing the same. The eight students exited into the dulling light followed by their master. As the Academy stood in the distance, a strange feeling overcame the apprentices. Never before had they looked upon their home with such a feeling of accomplishment. They each had some item to their name, some relic that even the true students of the establishment would love to possess.
Though they had fought against forces old and received their fair share of wounds, the students felt warm amidst the cooling dusk. A warmness that had not been matched since the moment they returned safely from the wastes of Korriban. The pairs remained silent as they trekked back to their homes. Lord Syrosk faded from sight along the way, disappearing from the students’ notices as he often did.
Back at the suite, Lorrik input the door code and entered alongside his partner. The pair was home, free of the burdens of the outside world within their cozy domicile. Lorrik approached his desk and set the holocron next to his datapad. The Human jumped as the severed hand of the Massassi landed next to it with a soft thud, Jresh having tossed it from across the room. Lorrik turned to see the warrior limp toward his bedroom.
“You going to be okay, Jresh?” Lorrik asked with concern.
“Just need to clean up and meditate, I’ll be fine,” Jresh stated, trying to put his partner at ease.
“Need any help getting out of your armor? I mean… I don’t know how you put it on, let alone how you take it off, I just…” Lorrik struggled to articulate, thinking of anything he could do to help his partner.
“It’s okay Lorrik. Worry about yourself for a few hours. You’ve done enough for the rest of us today,” Jresh warmly stated before retreating to his bedroom. Lorrik smiled as he tried to reign in the concern in his mind.
Taking a seat at his desk, the inquisitor looked upon the items retrieved from the tomb. The pyramid-shaped holocron sat in its structural magnificence, but offered nothing of interest beyond its design. It neither glowed nor hummed, to any other it would appear an ornate model. Beside it rest the motionless hand taken from the undying guardian of the tomb. The four fingered hand still bore a pitch blackness that stretched up its forearm, showing only a sliver of crimson flesh before the cutting point.
The Human’s focus was on the hand, looking upon it with a perturbed visage. Slowly, he extended a finger to give it a gentle prod. It rocked back and forth upon his desk, stiff and hardened. Lorrik was relieved to find that the item had yet to leak onto his other belongings, but began to worry about the decision to bring it into their home. As well preserved as the ancient Massassi was, the inquisitor had no reason to believe the claw could last disconnected from its source. And he was hesitant in placing in the fridge next to his food.
He turned his attention to the holocron. He knew not what secrets rested within, only that they did. There was a chance it held nothing, but the inquisitor refused to belief such a notion. He knew the severity of the injuries his partner sustained, and he knew that it couldn’t have been for nothing.
Lorrik picked up the relic, turning it over in his hand, examining each face of the holocron. No switches, no buttons, nothing to interact with. The inquisitor closed his eyes and studied the item with his mind, pouring over each surface, penetrating the outer layer to examine its interior workings. After minutes of close scrutiny, Lorrik decided the Force was needed to activate it. But even after allowing the Force to flow through it, it offered no response.
“He didn’t want just anyone opening it. It’s not enough to be Force-sensitive. He would only share his knowledge with those unafraid of the darkness.”
Gripping the pyramid in the palm of his right hand, Lorrik sharpened his eyes and furrowed his brow. His breathing intensified as he attempted to channel dark energies, to bring about a spark of Force lightning and surge it through the device. But nothing came from his hand. He tried again, focusing, trying his hardest to conjure the smallest spark, but it was to no avail. The Human couldn’t even muster the charge he was able to as an acolyte.
Lorrik pondered at his inability. His first thought was to blame the holocron, but his mind was too clear to jump to such a biased conclusion. He looked inward, searching his own mind for an answer. Upon delving into his own memories, the inquisitor realized that it had been months since he last had to use the technique. He had passed on the ability to others, trained them in its usage, but he himself had no need for it. And no matter how hard he tried, something prevented him from channeling the dark energy. Whereas before, he was inhibited by doubt, he knew that could not be the reason this time. There wasn’t an ounce of doubt left within his body. Gone was the doubt, the uncertainty, the pain.
That’s when he realized it. He had nothing to draw upon to summon the lightning. Even with all the techniques, all the shortcuts, all the knowledge he possessed, he could not overcome the source required to channel such dark forces. Lorrik set the artifact down upon the desk with a loud thud. Scratching his brow, the inquisitor pondered what he could do. He was frustrated. Angry. Picking up the holocron, he tried once more, focusing on such emotions, but still nothing.
Slowly, he released his grip and raised himself from his desk. The Human began to pace about the living room, circling the meditation mat that rest beneath his feet. He was confident he knew how to activate the holocron, he just lacked the method. He thought to ask Jresh, but knew the warrior’s mastery of the force to be inward, not outward. He thought to ask one of other students, but without knowing what lied within, he couldn’t risk the proliferation of the relic’s secrets. But most of all, he couldn’t admit failure.
He knew what he had to do. Lorrik relocated to the kitchen, opened one of the drawers, and snatched a cutting knife before returning to his desk. He sat motionless for a moment, holocron in front of him, knife resting firmly in his left hand. The inquisitor opened his right hand and began eyeing its palm. The lightning needed a power source, and that power source was anger and pain.
He opened and closed his right hand, stretching his fingers and calming himself. He raised his left hand, knife held firmly within his clenched fist, tip pointing downward. The Human steeled himself, taking a couple deep breaths. His nostrils flared. His face tightened. He closed his eyes, and without another moment of hesitation, drove his left hand downward.
The tip of the knife dug into the desk’s surface, landing just shy of the inquisitor’s other hand. The tool stuck straight up as he removed his grip, leaned back in his chair, and ran his hands through his hair. Lorrik looked upon the knife, and holocron, the severed hand, letting out an exasperated breath.
The Human remembered the bond between himself and his companion. Jresh had endured enough pain for the day, and couldn’t risk adding to that, either physically or mentally. But as he realized the pain he might cause his partner, a revelation dawned upon the inquisitor. He did indeed share a bond with the warrior. And Jresh indeed had seen his share of pain that day. They were connected, both ways.
Lorrik took hold of the holocron, cupping its base with both hands. He closed his eyes and focused on the bond that existed between himself and Jresh. The warrior had not yet fully healed. His body was still wracked with pain. Opening himself to the connection, Jresh’s pain became his. He experienced what his partner had, he felt what he endured. It was an overwhelming sensation, one that encompassed his entire body, as well as his entire spirit. Sparks of electricity began to arc from the inquisitor's fingertips to the holocron. More and more Force lightning passed from the Human to the relic, and a glow began to appear under its dull red facade.
The holocron had been activated.