A familiar gray haze stretched in every direction, interrupted only by jagged peaks of frozen stone. The winds had died down, only a gentle breeze passing over the fields of rock and snow. But even without the bellowing air, the scene's inhabitants would have succumbed to the cold, if not for the fact that none of it was real.
"Ziost," Syrosk spoke up, continuing to cast his sharpened gaze upon the subordinate across from him. "I didn't expect to be returning here so soon."
"Is it really that surprising?" Fay bluntly asked, stance ever rigid. "This is where I received most of my training. I'm sure most Sith have unpleasant memories from their time as an acolyte."
"But you hold the power to forget. To just let go. What is it that you're holding onto?"
"You're the telepath," Fay offered with a light scoff. "You tell me."
The alien's eye's sharpened. "Very well."
The winds hastened, kicking up a veil of snow that washed away the cold wastes. As the flakes drifted and fled, the scene was replaced with that of the Ziost Academy. Rigid and imposing architecture welcomed a group of trudging children. Gray slabs of stone and metal rose high atop the already tall ridge, casting no shadow and yet basking the new acolytes in its darkness.
A lone adult led the group of children, all Human, out of the cold Ziost exterior and into the cold Academy interior. The adult stood out from the younglings bundled in their many layers of robes and winter attire, standing tall in his Sith garb over all but one. In the rear of the group, a girl not yet even in her teens was tall enough that her head reached the adult's shoulders. She kept her head dipped, her stance slouched, allowing the long, dark hair atop her head to fall and conceal her face.
Fay watched her younger self move into the unwelcoming bastion of the Academy halls, whilst Syrosk gently scratched his chin.
"Came as a child to study in the ways of the Sith," Syrosk began. "Despite efforts to mask your presence, your size immediately made you stand out from your peers."
Inside, the group of children advanced not only in place, but in time. The students found themselves in an oppressive chamber, confined to small desks as an instructor stood at the head of the class prattling on about codes and doctrines. The large girl was barely contained in her desk, and as she sat hunched over, it felt as if all eyes were upon her. Sideward glances fueled by sharpened eyes weighed down upon the isolated student.
"Alone and a target," Syrosk continued. "The worst possible things a Sith can be. A lesser being would have been utterly crushed. But not you. You persisted. You endured."
The classroom faded, its gray walls contorting from a squared chamber to a winding hallway. The sounds of conflict echoed throughout the halls. Years had passed. The young girl had only grown taller, stronger. She had pushed herself physically, training her body to resist the constant trials of the Academy, those issued by instructors and students alike. Backed into a corner, the girl's tall shoulders rose and fell with each heavy breath. Her nostrils flared as she offered a firm scowl. Her knuckles were stained with the blood of her fellows, those who now lay unconscious in front of her.
"It would seem you were more than capable of fighting," Syrosk rasped.
"I didn't have a choice," Fay plainly said.
"I suppose not. Unless…"
Fay arched her brow. "Unless?"
"While we are often forced to defend ourselves," Syrosk said before a pause, "defending another is entirely voluntary."
Behind the standoffish girl, another faded into existence. Curled up into a ball in the hall's corner, the girl peeked through her fingers at the defeated acolytes that lay before her and her tall defender.
"An excellent tactic," Syrosk rasped. "Instead of hiding the memory away, you willingly offered a piece, hoping I wouldn't notice the parts you left out."
Fay remained silent. Looking at the girl cowering behind her younger self, she narrowed her gaze, only this time, instead of a harsh glare, she offered something much softer. As the woman gently sank her teeth into her lower lip, the scene faded once more. The gray walls shifted and expanded, turning from the winding corridor into a central hall.
Fay and Syrosk watched as a pair of teenagers walked side by side through the Academy, shoulder to much lower shoulder, both garbed in the plain gray robes of an acolyte. The pair were contrasts. One Human, one a red-skinned Pureblood. One tall, one short. One hard, one soft. But where they did not differ, was in emotion. As the smaller Sith wore a beaming smile, the larger one released a giggle of her own.
"You found a companion," Syrosk said, a surprising warmth to his usual rasp. "Two Sith who desired each other's company enough to risk the potential outcomes of such a relationship."
The walls of the Academy collapsed and fell as Fay and Syrosk found themselves standing amongst the cold exterior of Ziost. Before them, a number of acolytes stared one another down in pairs, training sabers firmly grasped within their hands. Meanwhile, an instructor cast his discerning gaze from duelist to duelist.
The tall girl kept one hand wrapped around her weapon as she offered a silent glare to her opponent. The boy across from her seemed inferior in all aspects, trembling from a mixture of fear and exposure to the cold winds. Nearby, the tall girl's friend readied herself against a foe much more confident in his standing. With the drop of his hand, the instructor signaled for the acolytes to begin. In an instant, the gray figures did battle amidst the equally gray haze that dominated the field. Boots stamped across rock and snow. Metal rods clashed against one another, sparking as the energy bands running their lengths collided.
As the isolated duels progressed, the tall girl and her friend managed to occasionally sneak a peek at the other. They would lay eyes upon one another for an instant, before returning to focus on their duel. The tall girl made short of her opponent, batting his weapon away and sending him face down into the snow with a balled fist rather than her training blade.
As the acolyte writhed on the ground, the tall girl quickly turned toward the nearby duel her friend was engaged in. The pair of duelists brought their metallic sabers together time and time again. The two Sith were unrefined, sloppy, but such was to be expected of the teenagers. They were raw emotion, lashing out with wide swings and harsh yells. But as the combatants released all manners of shouts, a third source provided one of her own.
The tall girl called out words of encouragement, urging her friend onward. As the duelists locked their blades, the Pureblood turned her head as she maintained her guard. Her crimson eyes locked with those of her tall friend, and a determined smile crept across her lips. The girl shoved the boy away, and found the opening she needed to send her training saber crashing into her foe's abdomen. The other acolyte fell to his knees, clutching at his stomach with his head hung low, hands raised so as to yield.
The Pureblood's smile widened until it had morphed into a toothy grin. Baring her sharpened teeth, the girl offered a giddy bounce as she deactivated and hooked her weapon to her belt.
She and the tall girl abandoned their foes, running to meet each other with a warmth in their eyes. A warmth strong enough to combat the surrounding cold. As they met, the tall girl wrapped her arms around her friend, lifting her into the air and locking her in a strong, yet comforting, embrace.
As the tall girl spun on her heels, she swept her friend around with the greatest of ease, the both of them releasing laughter into the flowing air. In conjunction with the movements, the winds hastened once more, kicking up snow until the scene was obscured from view. One by one the duelists faded into the snow, the last of which being the embracing pair. Finally, Fay and Syrosk found themselves staring into the familiar gray haze.
But as the winds calmed, as the snow settled, the pair were granted sight to a most pleasant vista. Gone were the bleak flatlands and wastes of Ziost. Instead, the tall girl and her friend sat upon the precipice of an overlooking ridge, watching the sun lower on horizon. Breaking the gray monotony of frosted stone, the teenagers basked in the orange luminescence of the fading sun.
Gone were the harsh winds and debilitating cold. Winter had passed, and there was almost an air of comfort as the two acolytes sat together, legs dangling over the cliff's edge.
All was silent as Fay and Syrosk stood behind the teenaged pair. Even as she could only see the back of her head, Fay knew that her younger self wore a smile, one that caused her own lip to quiver. The silence persisted as the two acolytes were content with merely one another's company.
After a few seconds, the smaller girl began to lean, resting her head against her tall friend's arm. There, the teenagers would remain as they continued to gaze toward the Ziost sunset.
Fay's firm crossing of her arms began to rescind. Her limbs had loosened, but as she gripped her elbows, the tall woman began unknowingly tapping her index finger. It moved as a shiver whilst she looked toward her younger self with soft eyes.
Meanwhile, Syrosk offered only the stoic scratching of his chin.
"Hmm," he muttered. "I see now why you took such a liking to Nami. I suppose she reminded you of this girl?"
There was silence as the woman continued to stare at the pair of acolytes. Only after a long pause did the faintest of noises slip past the her lips.
"No..." Fay slowly whispered. She most certainly did not."
Just then, the orange warmth of the setting sun was washed away, replaced by the familiar gray haze. Fay perked up, panning her gaze amidst the bustling winds as if searching for something. When the scene finally cleared, it barely did so, heavy winds carrying flakes of ice and snow clouding her vision.
Suddenly, she could make out two figures trudging across the wastes. The same pair. And yet, different. Acolytes, one a Human, one a Pureblood. But instead of their gray uniforms, their bodies were wrapped in black robes. They had each aged, progressed, grown.
The two teenagers were older, advanced in their studies. Together they marched, feet sinking into the heavy snow with teach step. The tall girl dragged behind her friend, following as the other blazed a trail. There was a tempered haste in the leader's gait, and the tall girl was more than capable of keeping up. But their final destination she did not know.
"How much further, Dess?" the tall girl called out. Her words were filled with wonder, and only a hint of trepidation.
"I told you, Faera, it's just at this next ridge," the other girl replied, voice filled with bubbly amusement. "Now come on, stop asking questions. This is supposed to be a surprise!"
"I guess I should thank you for not blindfolding me," the tall girl replied, a subtle smile upon her lips.
The two acolytes continued their trek across the frozen wastes, as Syrosk and Fay watched from afar. The Sith Lord was atypically silent as he surveyed the unfolding scene, but Fay's breathing was growing faster and heavier with each passing moment.
The snowy winds coalesced into an impenetrable wall of frost, before fading to reveal something besides the usual flatlands the observers had seen. A tall ridge sprouted from the ground, cutting into the sky with its jagged peak. In front of the wall of stone, two statues lay crumbled, ancient monuments to some forgotten Sith Lord. Crumbled, broken, and cast from their pedestals, the statues had long since been claimed by the planet and rendered utterly unrecognizable. But between the remains, was something far less so.
Inlayed with the jagged, imperfect stone, a square archway stood buried in the snow, only a hint of the darkness beyond revealing itself to the pair of acolytes. In front of the archway, the smaller acolyte turned to face her friend.
"It's a tomb!" Dess shouted with glee. The other girl was speechless. Gazing upon the half-buried structure, it was small, hidden, but still somehow magnificent to behold. "This is it, this is our chance to prove ourselves to the Overseer!"
Fay could sense the wind picking up again, threatening to overtake the scene in yet another consuming blur of gray snow. The tall woman's hands were already trembling, and the moment the wind began to die down, the moment she saw the first glimpse of the cavern walls beyond, she shut her eyes with all her might, just as the echo of a scream graced her senses.
In an instant, the mental connection was severed. Ziost had been replaced with the calm of Syrosk's chambers back at the Citadel. The Sith Lord stood in front of his seated subordinated, head dipped with almost a wince upon his face. As he recovered, he looked to see Fay glaring at him, eyes red and on the verge of watering.
"Are we done here?" Fay muttered, a harsh scowl upon her face.
"Yes..." Syrosk calmly rasped. "We're done here. For now."
Fay immediately pushed herself up from the seat and stomped toward the room's exit. Passing beyond the threshold, she didn't even acknowledge her compatriots as they offered their waves and words of welcome. Instead, she kept her sights firmly down the hall as she marched, intent on putting the Citadel behind her.
Graves watched the tall woman round a corner, disappearing into the dark halls as he was left tilting his head. "What do you suppose that was about?"