Just as they had attained some measure of comfort, Graves and Fay saw their teammate exit Syrosk's office, his head held at a slight dip. Pausing, Asher offered a few rapid blinks as a shiver ran up his spine. Finally, his shoulders drooped as a low sigh slipped past his lips.
"Something wrong?" Graves asked.
Asher perked up, immediately straightening out his stance before releasing his blathering reply. "What? Wrong? No. Nothing's wrong. Why? What makes you say that?"
"Well, the fact that you were only in there a few seconds," Graves said.
"A few seconds?" Asher mumbled as he tilted his head, eyes narrowing.
"You okay?" Fay asked, more inquisitive than concerned. "You seem a little out of it."
"No… I'm just… tired?" Asher muttered, unsure of his own answer. "Anyway. Whichever one of you wants to go next can go ahead."
Graves and Fay looked to one another, neither jumping at the opportunity.
"If I go, can you keep an eye on him?" Graves asked.
"Sure," Fay replied.
The scarred Sith removed himself from the wall, his spot soon taken by the burned teammate. Graves disappeared into the dwelling, shutting the door behind him, leaving Asher and Fay alone in the hallway. As the tall Sith leaned against the wall, arms crossed, she shot a quick glance over to the burned man, the both of them consumed with silence. Asher's eyes were closed in a harsh squint as he rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"What happened in there?" Fay asked.
"He put me in my own mind," Asher replied, somewhat regaining his composure. Relaxing his stance, the burned Sith drew in a heavy breath before releasing it, finishing things off with a quick shake of his head. "He could access my memories. Show them to me. Make me feel them. The day Graves and I fought..."
"Made you relive the pain?"
"Made me live the memory. I experienced what I thought I experienced that day. What my mind assigned to our fight."
"So was it better or worse than how things actually went?" Fay asked.
"How could I possibly know? It's how I remembered things. If I remembered with more clarity, that would have been the memory instead," Asher declared.
"Hmm," Fay offered. A soft, almost dismissive, fascination.
Inside Syrosk's dwelling, Graves sat in the center chair as his employer circled around him.
"Now, close your eyes," said Syrosk. The scarred Human did so, drawing and releasing a calm breath. "Now, open them."
Graves had been transported to the same blank mindscape as the man before him. Pure, pristine whiteness stretched toward infinity in all directions. The two Sith stood atop a hard surface, but its border with the sky on the horizon was indistinguishable. Looking around, Graves eventually saw Syrosk staring at him, offering the firm arch of his brow.
"Now that… was unexpected," Syrosk rasped.
Graves looked down to examine his form. There were no robes nor armor encasing his body. In fact, he almost didn't possess a body to begin with. Staring at his hands, Graves saw only an ethereal outline of where he ought to have been, absent any organics or cybernetics, transparent and surrounded by a shimmering and undulating aura. Almost colorless, the Sith blended in with the surrounding emptiness. The humanoid shape had no features. No face. Only a wispy aura that surrounded and rose from his frame like steam.
"What is this?" came Graves' voice from the ethereal being.
"You. Rather, a representation of you," Syrosk explained. "We currently reside within your mind."
The ethereal figure looked around. "Is this… normal?"
"The place I have created? Yes," Syrosk admitted. "Your given form? Not quite. Usually a Sith's physical form is so embedded in their mind that they've only one possible representation. I guess your unique physiology has had an effect on your psyche."
"Is that… good? Bad?"
"That remains to be seen," Syrosk rasped. "It doesn't seem have negatively affected your mental capabilities. You're doing an excellent job keeping me from accessing your memories."
"I am?" Graves muttered, tilting the head of his ethereal form.
There was a pause as Syrosk arched his brow. "You mean you're not actively resisting me right now?"
"Should I be?" Graves asked, genuinely curious.
The Sith Lord scratched his chin, passing his gaze up and down his subordinate's vaguely humanoid form. "Did your previous master train you in the mental arts?"
"Drath? No, he pretty much kept up my training as a swordsman," Graves stated.
"Do you meditate?"
"And yet, you seem to have an almost unconscious mental fortitude. Why might that be?" Syrosk rasped.
"I'm as curious as you are," Graves plainly replied.
The ethereal Sith watched as the whiteness surrounding him warped and darkened. The infinite collapsed on itself, constricting and folding. Soon, the blank void had been replaced with the interior of Syrosk's office. The Human looked to his hands, clenching and unclenching his fists. They were without feeling, but they had substance. One of flesh. One of metal.
Lifting his gaze, Graves saw Syrosk circle around him. But his motions did not stop there. The Sith Lord continued to pace about, intently scratching his rough chin.
"Was that it?" Graves asked.
The alien offered no reply as he strafed back and forth, head dipped, eyes focused on the ground before his feet. After a few moments of silent contemplation, the Sith Lord's movements finally ceased.
"There's little I can do," Syrosk said with a low rasp. "I don't know how I can improve upon what you already possess. Especially if it stems from unconscious effort. Regardless, you're not a liability, so we're done here. You can send in Fay."
Graves cast his steady gaze toward his superior. The alien seemed almost flustered, but the subordinate had no thoughts to add. Lifting himself from his seat, the scarred man made his way out of the office. Stepping into the hallway, the Sith found the eyes of his fellows fall to him.
"Wow, that was quick," Asher muttered.
"The man's efficient, I'll give him that," said Fay, arms still crossed, back still pressed against the wall. "I assume it's my turn?"
Graves offered a quick nod. With that, Fay pushed herself off the wall and moved toward the office without a second thought. The scarred man stepped aside to let her pass, before taking her place on the wall next to Asher.
The burned main turned toward his fellow, looking up and down the man's calm, steady frame. "How'd things go for you?"
"Alright, I guess," Graves replied.
"What do you mean, 'I guess'? What memories did he show you?"
"None," Graves repeated. "Said he was having trouble accessing them. Something about me unconsciously keeping him out. I don't know, this mental stuff's all new to me. Why? What did he show you?"
Asher waved his wrapped hand in front of his wrapped face. "Take a wild guess."
"Hmm. What was that like?"
"Well, I'd describe it for you, but somehow I doubt you'd understand what being set on fire feels like," Asher muttered.
The hall went silent as the pair stood with their backs against the wall, eyes staring at the door across from them. They had each adopted a constricted stance, arms crossed, head dipped.
"If we're being honest, I don't even remember anything about our duel after you cut off my arm," Graves admitted. Asher quickly turned his head, eyes wide as he stared as his fellow Sith. "Everything went dark, and I woke up back at the Academy being patched up. I only heard what happened to you later."
Asher opened his mouth, ready to speak. But as he stared at the scarred Sith beside him, he paused, releasing only an exasperated sigh.
Inside the office, Fay had taken her seat, already being tended by Syrosk. The routine was the same as the previous two. Syrosk would tell her to close her eyes. She would comply. Syrosk would tell her to open her eyes. She would comply, finding herself standing amongst the white void of the shared mindscape.
Surrounded by nothing in every direction, for every conceivable distance, the Kineticist stood resolute as always, arms neatly folded across her chest. She was utterly unfazed, and made as much clear as she cast her stoic gaze upon the circling Sith Lord. The circling turned to repeated strafing as Syrosk looked up and down his subordinate's form.
She possessed the same figure. The same clothes. The same demeanor. Not a single aspect had changed in the transition.
"Impressive," Syrosk spoke up. "You've a firmer grasp on your mind than the other two."
Fay offered a brief shrug. "I had good training."
"I know. I've read your file," Syrosk rasped. "You belonged to Military Strategy. You were expected to be more than a fighter. Expected to be able to keep the Empire's secrets. But your master covered only the basics."
"Is this the part where you make me relive my worst memories? Push me until I push back?" Fay tersely asked. "You'll find I'm not as easy to pick through as Asher."
"Of that I've no doubt. Even now, you're consciously keeping me out. But your efforts are too blunt. In protecting certain aspects of your mind you've drawn attention to them. I know exactly where you keep your most hidden thoughts."
"Doesn't do you much good if you can't reach them," Fay declared.
"A prideful thing, aren't you?" Syrosk softly rasped, neither praise nor condemnation in his delivery. "Very well, let us see what your training has afforded you."
All motions stopped. The two figures stood across from each other, eyes locked. Fay maintained her rigid stance, arms firmly crossed. Syrosk, meanwhile, tucked his arms behind his back as he narrowed his gaze.
All was still. All was quiet.
Suddenly, there was a fluttering amongst the white void. The tall woman's braided hair swayed as if caressed by a gentle breeze. But the calm would not last. The manifesting winds picked up, lashing out at the two adamant figures, but neither would budge. The swirling air soon carried an added grit, flakes of white that managed to stand out from the pristine surroundings. The air grew thicker and thicker as a fog rolled in around the pair. The floor beneath their feet began to vibrate as a new texture supplanted the perfect surface. The whiteness was tarnished, but not entirely missing. In its place, stone beset by ice and snow.
Nami had all but lost the feeling in her extremities. Her hands shakily gripped her weapon, the heavy rod struggling to stay upright. The winds had picked up, stinging her eyes and exposed flesh. Disoriented, she had lost track of the Trandoshan lurking in the fog. Sinking into the snow, the Jedi spun on her feet, anxiously seeking her foe.
A whistle cut through the air, and a sharp tingling ran up Nami's spine. She didn't even have time to turn, only duck, as a heavy piece of metal swung past where her head was only a moment prior. The swipe carried with it a wind stronger than any surrounding the combatants, one that shook the Jedi to her core. Nami knew she had to move, but found herself unable. She was frozen in place, stilled by the missed blow that would have otherwise separated her head from her body.
Just as she regained control, she attempted to right herself, only to find the Trandoshan's scaled fist driven into her cheek. The strike sent the girl tumbling to the ground, her weapon slipping from her grasp. As Nami lay prone, half-embedded in the snow, Nesk stood over her, looming with his towering frame.
The instructor began pacing back and forth, emanating a low snarl as he looked upon his fallen student. Nami struggled to lift herself from the ground. She was tired. She was numb. Even as her cheek reddened, she had felt little of the blow itself. All that was left were motions. Motions and strength.
Nami began lifting herself, step by step. She dug her hands into the snow, locking her elbows. Slowly, she rose until her arms collapsed beneath her, sending her back to her prone position.
"Get up," Nesk snarled.
"I… I can't…" Nami muttered, still on the ground.
"Yes it can. Get up."
The Jedi dug her hands in once again, but instead used her strength to flip over. Her back against the ground, the girl looked up at her looming instructor.
"And then what?" Nami asked, finding the energy to speak. "I'm just going to… get knocked down again…"
The Trandoshan offered the arch of his scaly brow. "So?"
"So what do you want me to do?" Nami muttered.
"Get up," Nesk bluntly replied. "Get up and get good."
"What kind of advice… is that?"
"Best kind," Nesk firmly stated. "It is soft thing. Soft things die here. Become hard thing. Strong thing."
A soft groan emanated from the downed student as she slowly raised herself into a seated position. Hunched over, the girl released a series of heavy breaths, visible amongst the chilled air.
"Why do you keep calling me 'it'?" Nami muttered. "I'm not a thing."
Nesk took a few steps toward his student, before squatting at her side. "Is it not? What is it then?"
"A person," Nami stated, refusing to lock eyes with her instructor.
"And what does that mean?" Nesk asked. "Why does it consider that better? Hmm? Because it has name? Because it is Human? Because it is girl? Because it is youngling?"
"I'm not… a child."
"No. It is not. It is Sith. Or is Nesk mistaken?"
"What are you… talking about?"
"If it wants to be Sith, Nesk will treat it like Sith," the Trandoshan declared. "If it wants to be Sith, that is what it must be. Nothing else may take precedence. Being Sith must rest at its core, must flow through every fiber of its being. Do not be girl who happens to be Sith. Be Sith who happens to be girl."
Nami drew in and released a series of heavy breaths as she turned to look the looming Sith in his beady eyes. "That… oddly made sense. At least… some of it did."
"Then it understands. Good," Nesk said as he straightened out his stance. "Now, get up."
As Nami pivoted about her waist, the student felt what little control she possessed over her body steadily being sapped by the exhausting cold. "I can barely move."
"Don't care. Get up," Nesk directed as he kicked a pile of snow toward the girl. Nami's limp arms could do nothing to block the clumps as they struck her face and chest. She winced, mostly through unpreparedness rather than true discomfort.
"I think my body's gone numb," Nami muttered, snow still clinging to her upper robes.
"The Force flows through every cell in its body," Nesk declared. "A Sith controls the Force. Therefore, a Sith is always in control of its body. If it wants to move, it possesses the ability to make it so."
"I don't… I can't…"
"If it does not take control, the Force will abandon it, and its life will not be far behind," Nesk said as his bare foot delivered another pile of snow onto the student.
Nami shivered, not from the cold, but from her body's efforts to move itself from its stilled hunch. The girl gritted her teeth, clenching her numb fingers.
"Get up," Nesk continued.
Another kick, another pile of snow heaped upon the sitting student.
Another kick, but this time, Nami managed to raise an arm to intercede. The clumps ineffectually clung to her sleeves, but the Trandoshan would not relent.
Another kick. Nami opted to weather the snow. Her arm was better suited as a brace as she struggled to push herself off the ground. A low grumble began to slip past the girl's gritted teeth as she urged herself upward.
Another kick. This time, the snow would land upon her pants as she lunged forward. The grumble had turned into a primal shout as the student raised herself through sheer force of will. Eyes wide, nostrils flaring, the girl wound back her fist before delivering it straight into the Trandoshan's gut.
The strike came to an abrupt stop as it impacted against the instructor's sturdy hide. Nesk stood unwavering, unaffected by the haphazard blow. Nami, meanwhile, slipped and fell back to the ground where she would lay prone in the snow once more. The Trandoshan cast his sharpened gaze upon the now motionless student. Tilting his head, Nesk offered a few quick nudges with his foot against the girl's shoulder. No response.
The instructor release a quick sigh. Stepping away from the fallen student, he casually walked around the snowy field that surrounded them, retrieving the bag he had brought, and the rod Nami had dropped. Reclaiming his belongings, Nesk paused beside the stilled girl. Carefully, he removed the swords strapped to his back and placed them in the bag alongside the metallic rods. Resting his luggage on his ground, the Trandoshan finally turned his attention toward his student.
In one swift motion, Nesk lifted the girl's limp body and slung it over his shoulder. Making sure she was secure, the instructor then picked his bag up off the ground and began making his way back toward his home.