Please upgrade your browser for the best possible experience.

Chrome Firefox Internet Explorer
×

The Academy: Acolyte Ascension


LaxKnight's Avatar


LaxKnight
02.26.2013 , 08:37 PM | #111
I just finished Act II in like 5 days of straight reading. I love this story, I love the characters, I can't wait to continue. Now if you excuse me I need to keep reading.
LaxKnight
"I'm not blind, I just see from a different perspective." - Serenity Williams, Miraluka Jedi Apprentice

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
02.27.2013 , 11:32 PM | #112
Quote: Originally Posted by Syart View Post
Glad this is carrying on, I was missing them
Quote: Originally Posted by LaxKnight View Post
I just finished Act II in like 5 days of straight reading. I love this story, I love the characters, I can't wait to continue. Now if you excuse me I need to keep reading.
Happy to hear it (or read it). I've been solidifying the details and events of the coming chapters, so all I need it time and the willingness to write. There's not much that can be done with time, but you all have played a big part in motivating me. As you can tell by looking at my other stories, I sometimes have a hard time finishing what I start. The fact that we're some 80 chapters in, can be attributed the the comments and feedback I have the pleasure of reading.

I should have the next chapter up soon, and as always, thanks for reading.

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
02.27.2013 , 11:59 PM | #113
Chapter Six: Prizes

Emerging from the shattered entryway of the tomb, Lorrik and Jresh winced as the light of the Korriban sun stung their eyes. Despite the bright rays and the consuming soreness that plagued the warrior’s body, the pair seemed to be in high spirits.

“Really? ‘I am the shadow amongst the light’?” Jresh teased before letting out a brief chuckle that was cut short by a coughing fit.

Lorrik scratched the back of his head in embarrassment, laughing alongside his partner. “I was in the moment…”

“So was I. Now if only the Massassi had let me get out my catchphrase before he decided to rearrange the back of my head,” Jresh sarcastically offered.

“Did you give it a silent, stern look beforehand? If so, then yes, you did manage to get out your catchphrase,” Lorrik joked. The Pureblood turned to offer a quick stare toward his companion. “Yes, that’s the one.”

The two continued their journey toward where their master waited. Even in the distance, the pair could see that more than a single figure stood beside the landed shuttle. In fact, it appeared that they would be the last to arrive. Syrosk and the other six apprentices turned to watch the pair's sluggish, wounded approach.

“Wow, looks like we’re last,” Lorrik muttered. “I lost track of time, how long do you think we were in there?”

“Again. Back of head. Rearranged,” Jresh offered in typical deadpan fashion. Lorrik leaned back to sneak a quick look at the aforementioned area.

“At least I seem to have been able to put everything back in its place. Although it’s hard to tell under the layer of… blood…” Lorrik trailed off.

“Surely this isn’t the first time you’ve seen someone shed blood on Korriban?”

“I know, it’s just… unsettling when it’s coming out of someone you care about,” Lorrik admitted. The Pureblood offered a knowing nod as the pair pressed forward.

The others stood outside the shuttle, each pair of apprentices possessing some item retrieved from their tomb, and a look of impatience upon their faces. Their various robes and armors were rustled and bared an assortment of scuffs and scratches, each pair suffering their own sets of injuries, though all less severe than the Pureblood’s. But despite any pains wrought, they each stood tall and proud, their prizes held firmly in hand.

Nesk and Vurt had delved into the tomb of the Nameless Ravager, and returned with a pair of ancient Sith war blades. The dueling swords were matte black, simple and unadorned, yet still in perfect condition and a sharp as the day they were forged.

Kar’ai and Ryloh had entered the tomb of the Blind Lord, and came back with the eponymous Sith’s facemask. The trinket was featureless and black as night, a shadow materialized in the form of a plate that covered the entirety of the wearer’s face.

Isorr and Arlia had explored the tomb of the Prime Collector, and took a handful of lightsaber crystals from its halls. The rare assortment came in a variety of colors, some the other apprentices had never seen in person or even referenced in archives.

Jresh and Lorrik took their place near the others, brandishing their holocron and severed hand. The other six’s eyes seemed immediately drawn to the Pureblood who was struggling to maintain an upright stance, a blackened claw resting firmly within his gloved hand.

“Yeesh, what happen to you Jresh?” Kar’ai asked, only a single, barely apparent cut visible across her left cheek.

“Tomb was guarded,” Jresh explained, momentarily raising and lowering the Massassi’s hand. “I take it ours wasn’t the only one?”

“No, ours had ancient battle droids,” Kar’ai replied.

“K’lor’slugs managed to dig their way into ours,” Arlia added.

“How about you, Nesk?” Lorrik asked.

“Only dead things,” the Trandoshan bluntly answered.

“Eloquent as always,” Lorrik said before turning to his master, who looked upon with apprentices with usual stoicism.

“And so the last pair returns,” Syrosk declared. The Sith Lord panned his gaze to look upon the holocron the Human held within his hand. “I dare say this is a step up from the one you presented to me before,” Syrosk stated, recalling the small trinket Lorrik had brought to his second day of training. He turned to see the severed hand held by the weakened Pureblood. “And ironically, Jresh has maintained the same theme of bodily harm.”

“And in neither moment have I regretted my actions,” Jresh declared.

“Of course you haven’t,” Syrosk rasped. “Now, I’m sure you all are wondering the purpose of this trial. I did not desire the contents the these tombs, whether they be in my possession or yours. I had asked you to return with something, and stated that you would be judged on whatever that was. Now tell me, do you believe you should be judged on the trinkets you hold in your hands, or something else?”

The students were hesitant to speak. As proud as they were of the relics in their hands, they knew there was more to this trial than their material worth. Only one possessed the belief that he knew the answer.

“Something else,” Lorrik assuredly declared.

“Is that so?” Syrosk stated, feigning surprise. “Would you care to elaborate?”

“Inside that tomb, I came to a realization. One I might never have attained had I not faced what I faced in there. And the knowledge that’s come with that realization, is more valuable than anything material prize I could have walked out with.”

“And what, pray tell, was this knowledge?” Syrosk continued.

“Insight into the nature of our relationship,” Lorrik answered, motioning his hand between himself and his companion. “I realized and Jresh and I are connected.”

“Connected?” Syrosk repeated, intrigued.

“We share a bond. He lends me his strength, and I lend him mine. As he grows stronger, so do I. Together we can accomplish things we never could alone.”

“I see,” Syrosk stated, almost expecting the answer.

“But that’s not all,” Lorrik added, to the genuine surprise of his master. “Just as we share strengths, we also share weaknesses. Whenever he is in pain, I am in pain. When I am afraid, he is afraid. Our connection runs deeper than simple cooperation. Even when we are separated and locked in our individual tasks, our bond persists. I know whatever faults hold me back, will hold him back as well. If I cannot advance, no longer is it only to my detriment. But whereas other Sith would be afraid of such an arrangement, I am not. Together, we are more than just the sum of our individual talents. We bolster one another. Drive each other forward. Push each other's limits far beyond what either of us could achieve alone.”

Syrosk locked eyes with the Human, offering an enduring, cold stare. “Then it would seem that my teachings have had the desired effect.”

Some of the other apprentices began to stir at their master’s apparent support of Lorrik’s declaration.

“Wait, you mean that was the point of these pairings, to create some sort of Force bond?” Arlia inquired.

Isorr balked. “To be dependent upon one another? To sacrifice the self for another’s sole benefit. Such endorsement of reliance does not fit a Sith!”

“I have been Sith longer than the Republic has even known of our existence,” Syrosk harshly declared, shooting a cold stare at the Zabrak. “And if there is one thing that has become apparent in all my years, it is that no one, not even Sith, are free from the burden of reliance. From the lowliest acolytes to members of the Dark Council, they rely on something. Even if that something is as simple as a lightsaber, the Force, or even themselves, it is reliance.”

“But those cannot be taken away from you as easily as another living being,” Isorr countered.

“Can’t they?” Syrosk asked. “Can your lightsaber not be lost or destroyed? Can your connection to the Force not be outmatched or even severed? Can the sum total of your knowledge and skills not be rendered utterly insignificant in the face of a greater individual? All Sith rely on something, whether they realize it or not. And anything relied upon can be taken away, whether they realize it or not. I have provided you something worth relying on.”

“And what about you?” Arlia asked. “What do you rely on, or are you somehow conveniently different from the rest of us?”

“I am not foolish enough to think myself exempt from my own teachings,” Syrosk rasped. “In my earlier years, the focus of my reliance rested with my master, as it would with many Sith. He taught me, trained me, led me toward something I would have never sought out on my own. But he was more than a mere teacher. He was the father who raised me. The protector who shielded an alien within the Empire. But eventually the day would come when he was killed, and I lost more than his guidance. That experience is partly why I have not fostered the same bond between myself and you all. Sith are far too invested in the status of their superiors and inferiors. They utterly discount the presence of their equals.”

“That's because you’d be hard pressed to find a Sith who believes in the idea of equals,” Kar’ai lightheartedly added.

“Whether you admit to it or not, all eight of you belong to a distinct class of Sith, more similar to one another than any other in the Empire,” Syrosk declared. “And if you still hesitate to believe me, you should know, amongst those who knew of these tombs was Darth Tash, the man responsible for your tenure at the Academy. For years, he’s known of these tombs, and he is not the kind of man who would let such places slip from his mind. He feared what lied within this valley as much as any other Sith. And yet, here you all stand, each of you having entered and returned with evidence of your endeavor. You have survived the places where even Lords fear to tread. Do any of you believe you could have done so alone? Do any of you believe you could have accomplished the same had you stayed within Tash’s classrooms, or if you had been entered into the Academy proper?”

The apprentices fell silent, lowering their heads before turning to one another, focusing on their partners. Lorrik and Jresh shared a confident look of mutual appreciation. Kar’ai and Ryloh gazed into each other’s eyes, fully embracing their newfound realization. Isorr and Arlia shared a look, each aware of the other’s selfishness, but slowly admitting to themselves the worth of their companion. Nesk and Vurt offered each other only cold, vacant stares, but even they had come to respect and appreciate one another’s skills.

“But if this was the purpose all along, why not just tell us earlier?” Lorrik asked.

“The nature of the bonds you each possess cannot be forced. It is a symbiotic link in the Force between two individuals. Because a Sith’s connection to the Force relies on and rewards conflict, each pairing has thrived due to the nature of its construction. Different skillsets. Different backgrounds. I knew that if you could resist destroying one another, you could become something great. Plus, Jedi are simply told things. A Sith ought to be expected to figure something out for themselves every now again. And are we not Sith?”

Each apprentice offered a confident, affirming nod to their master.

“Good. Then our training is done for the day,” Syrosk declared before turning to board the parked shuttle.

“Wait…now that we know all this, what impact does it have on our future trials?” Lorrik asked.

“For one, it means I can stop taking it easy on you all,” Syrosk bluntly said as he entered the vessel. The eight apprentices shared a quick round of looks before following their master’s lead, boarding the shuttle and preparing for the trip back to the Academy.

FlashDeShiro's Avatar


FlashDeShiro
02.28.2013 , 12:34 AM | #114
man i love seeing that there is a new part to the story dont want to see it end!!!
maybe dive into each pair's trial like u did the backstories on everyone that'd be cool

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
02.28.2013 , 07:42 AM | #115
Quote: Originally Posted by FlashDeShiro View Post
man i love seeing that there is a new part to the story dont want to see it end!!!
maybe dive into each pair's trial like u did the backstories on everyone that'd be cool
Well, the good new is that just because it's the end of this story, doesn't mean its the end of the characters' stories. Lorrik and Jresh have a part to play in certain events after the Treaty of Coruscant. As for the other apprentices, well, that all depends on who survives the next 20 chapters.

I'd like to give the other pairs some of the limelight, and they'll have their roles in the chapters to come. And while I'd prefer moving forward to focusing on past events, I think it'd be fun to go back and fill in some of the gaps and expand certain areas I skimmed over after the story is finished.

LaxKnight's Avatar


LaxKnight
03.02.2013 , 11:02 AM | #116
Finally got to the end. The story is brilliant but I noticed in the last chapter you used the word belief where believe should be used.
LaxKnight
"I'm not blind, I just see from a different perspective." - Serenity Williams, Miraluka Jedi Apprentice

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
03.02.2013 , 04:25 PM | #117
Quote: Originally Posted by LaxKnight View Post
Finally got to the end. The story is brilliant but I noticed in the last chapter you used the word belief where believe should be used.
Maybe I should have titled that one 'Beliefs' then. Heh, thanks, I went back and edited them. I manage to miss something no matter how many times I look it over before posting.

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
03.02.2013 , 04:26 PM | #118
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.

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
03.11.2013 , 02:13 PM | #119
Chapter Eight: Relics

Lorrik opened his eyes to find himself no longer within his apartment. He now stood on familiar, yet unfamiliar ground. The skies above and dirt blow suggested a Korriban landscape, but the exact spot he had never laid eyes upon before. The sky was still. No wind blew. Everything was silent. The inquisitor had been transported to the top of a rocky plateau, overlooking the surrounding bareness of the orange planet.

But what immediately caught the Human’s attention, was that he found himself standing in the shadow of three towering statues. Lining the opposite half of the plateau, three figures carved from stone looked upon him with their frozen gazes. The left statue was of a lithe figure, garbed in heavy robes that concealed much of its body. But its face was that of a Sith, tendrils and spurs sprouting from its cheeks and brow. The right statue was that of a larger, stockier figure. A warrior, clad only in a loincloth and battle-harness crossing its torso. Its unadorned face exhibited Sith traits much like its opposite, and in fact appeared to be the natural basis for the guardian Jresh had battled in the tomb.

The center statue stood taller than its neighbors, a magnificent representation of a Human aware of his own stature. Though he still did not know his name, Lorrik recognized the form. Before he could study his surroundings or his place within them further, the inquisitor’s attention was drawn straight ahead as a figure began to materialize at the foot of the center statue. The figure condensed until it was completely corporeal, an image without errors or flaw. An image of the holocron’s creator, more realistic than the real thing.

And yet Lorrik knew the figure and all his surroundings were a fabrication. A construct. But one of such detail that it astounded the inquisitor, whose last mental venture offered nothing but a white void. Alone within unfamiliar territory, the inquisitor found himself stricken with wonder, rather than worry or fear. The materialized figure that stood before him cast his stoic gaze upon the intruder.

“This one is the keeper of the holocron. What is your purpose?” he asked in monotonous fashion. The keeper offered a clearer image of the relic’s owner, a man in simplistic black robes that hid his body. His head was shaved and his face was cold, but there was little in the way of presence Lorrik expected of one of the first Dark Jedi to step foot on Korriban.

“I seek the knowledge held within this holocron,” Lorrik emphatically stated, not entirely certain how to converse with the keeper. From what the inquisitor knew of holocrons, the figure that stood before him acted as the interface between himself and whatever secrets the relic’s creator hid within. A program, but more than a simple artificial intelligence. Any Force-user that goes through the effort to create a holocron leaves a bit of themselves with it, a fraction of their psyche to act as a gatekeeper. An advisor. A judge.

“This one requires clarification. What knowledge do you seek?” the keeper asked in the same monotonous tone. There was no life within the figure, he was driven only by the set of instructions left to him by his creator.

“Oh, you know. Secret teachings. Techniques. Powers. Histories. Tales. Lessons. Errata and the like,” the inquisitor jokingly listed.

“This one requires clarification. Please make a specific inquiry,” the keeper clarified, steadfast in his presentation.

“Hey, you asked, I answered. Not my fault if you take everything seriously,” Lorrik muttered.

“This one requires clarification. Please repeat.”

“That wasn’t a… I wasn’t being…” Lorrik stammered.

“This one requires-“

“Yes, I know!” Lorrik shouted at the figure, still steadfast in his neutral stance and monotonous verbiage.

Whatever part of himself the holocron’s creator infused into the relic, it wasn’t one concerned with convenience. The inquisitor groaned and ran his hands through his hair. Lorrik found himself no closer to uncovering whatever knowledge rest within the artifact whilst the keeper continued to batter his senses, bringing about an increasing discomfort.

“Stop. Reset.” Lorrik directed, holding out his hands for emphasis, not entirely sure it would even have an effect. The keeper fell silent, staring off into the distance before reaffirming his gaze toward the inquisitor.

“This one is the keeper of the holocron. What is your purpose?”

Lorrik let out a bellowing sigh as he dipped his head, carefully searching for the right words.

----------

Back within the confines of the apartment, Jresh had emerged from his shower. Stepping into the living area, the only covering he possessed was a black towel wrapped around his waist, Imperial insignia sewn into the cloth with trademark red fibers. His torso exposed, few blemishes graced his crimson flesh, most of his surface wounds appearing to have healed.

“Lorrik, I sensed something peculiar in-“ Jresh began as he saw his companion sitting at his desk. His speech drifted to silence as when saw the Human holding the acquired holocron within his hands, continuous streams of electricity arcing from his fingertips to the relic.

“Lorrik,” Jresh repeated, trying to get his attention. But the inquisitor offered no response.

The warrior took a cautious step toward his partner, slowly placing a hand upon his shoulder. Still no reaction. The Pureblood began to worry as he sensed something missing within his partner, as if he wasn’t whole. As hard as he tried, Jresh could not get a firm grasp on his companion's mind. He sensed no emotion, no thoughts, only emptiness. But more than emptiness. Nothingness. A void, created through displacement. Jresh realized that though Lorrik sat right in front of him, he wasn’t there.

Jresh slowly removed his hand from his partner’s shoulder before stepping away. He turned his attention to the meditation mat in the center of the living area. Kneeling, the Pureblood closed his eyes and focused his thoughts. Though Lorrik’s mind seemed elsewhere, the bond between him and Jresh still remained. Calling upon that bond, the warrior meditated. Though for the first time, he searched outward, rather than inward.

The Pureblood’s senses grew dark as he pushed out everything of insignificance. He reached out with his mind, searching for where his companion’s had gone. The warrior traversed unfamiliar territory, unsure of how to accomplish the task he had set for himself. He wasn’t entirely sure what that task was in the first place.

As he meditated, Jresh sensed something peculiar. There was a void amidst the darkness. And yet, that void distinguished itself from the surrounding emptiness. There was a barrier, beyond which rest something of substance. The warrior concentrated his efforts in pushing past that barrier, searching, wading through something darker than darkness. And eventually, he managed pierce that veil.

Jresh slowly peeled back the layers of darkness, cracks of light beginning to shine through. The cracks widened and stretched, until the shadows were no more. Regaining control of his senses, the warrior found himself standing atop a mountainous plateau, basking under the Korriban sun. Three statues graced the opposite side of the mesa, a robed figure standing in front of them, and in front of him an annoyed inquisitor sat upon the ground, face buried in his hands.

“This one is the keeper of this holocron. What is your purpose?” the robed figure asked once more.

“Oh don’t tell me we’re back to this,” Lorrik muttered. Lifting his gaze, the inquisitor noticed that the keeper had turned his attention elsewhere. Turning his head, he saw his companion standing somewhat dumbfounded behind him. “Jresh? What are you doing here? And where are your clothes?”

The Pureblood looked down to see that his mental representation reflected his physical form, naked aside from the towel wrapped around his waist.

“I just stepped out of the shower. I saw you with the holocron, and… well, you seemed a little out of it,” Jresh stated, a slight bashfulness slipping past his usual stoicism.

“Well, if we're being technical, I’d say I was quite literally in it,” Lorrik declared as he lifted himself from the ground.

“You mean… we’re inside the holocron right now?”

“Our minds are,” Lorrik nonchalantly explained, turning his back on the robed figure. “How did you get here? I had to practically push my way in.”

“I did as well. At least, I think I did,” Jresh admitted. “I was worried when I couldn’t sense your mind. Considering our newfound bond, I considered that troublesome. But it was because of that bond that I was able to eventually find my way here.”

“So you were able to use your connection to me to replicate my connection to the holocron and bring your mind in alongside mine… that’s awesome!” Lorrik exclaimed. The inquisitor’s momentarily high spirits were cut short as he noticed the keeper continuing its robotic chattering a short distance away. Letting out a low groan, Lorrik began to rub his forehead in frustration.

“Is everything… okay?” Jresh asked. “Are you trapped here? Are we trapped here?”

“No. At least… I don’t think so, I haven’t exactly tried to ‘leave’ yet,” Lorrik explained, no sense of alarm in his voice, only quaint exhaustion. “Been trying to deal with this guy.”

Jresh watched his partner jut his thumb toward the stern figure that was now patiently staring them down. “And who is that, exactly?”

“Well, typically, holocrons have a ‘gatekeeper’, a sort of Force-infused artificial intelligence that serves as the layer between a user and the item’s contents. Thing is, they’re supposed to come out of the holocron, we’re not supposed to go in,” Lorrik declared. “It’s all very interesting. And peculiar. But mostly interesting. Also, a little frustrating. I honestly think I got better results dealing with the spirit.”

“You want me to punch this one too?” Jresh asked, almost cracking a smile.

“Thanks for the offer, but I don’t think brute force will get us anywhere here,” Lorrik stated, his spirits once again raised by his partner’s presence. “I need to use finesse.”

“Finesse does not preclude direct action,” Jresh advised.

“I tried being direct. This whole thing feels less like an ancient relic and more like a datapad that refuses to read my datacard,” Lorrik mused. The pair fell silent as they stood atop the plateau, unsure how to proceed. The Pureblood scratched his chin as he pondered the situation, thinking of some way to aid his companion.

“You said this man is the holocron’s gatekeeper?” Jresh asked.

“Well, he just calls himself the ‘keeper’, but he should serve the same role,” Lorrik explained.

“A gatekeeper guards access to something. But if you’re in the holocron, wouldn’t that mean you’ve already been granted access,” Jresh stated. The inquisitor perked up, eyes wide as if a great revelation had been laid upon him.

“That’s it! Jresh, you’re a genius,” Lorrik exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around the Pureblood, squeezing him tightly. The warrior tensed within his partner’s embrace. Even if it wasn’t a true contact between their physical forms, their mental representations touching one another felt real enough. Lorrik released his grip and took a step back, hanging his head in embarrassment but still giddy with his newfound knowledge. “I’ve been going about this all wrong. I guess my head was in the wrong place, figuratively speaking. Then again, it doesn’t help that I seem to be physically and mentally exhausted…”

“You’re forced to maintain a physical connection to ensure a mental one,” Jresh stated. “If you overstay your welcome, it’ll completely drain you.”

“Things just keep getting more interesting,” Lorrik declared, completely ignoring the prospect of danger. “This is more than just some repository of knowledge. It has a hidden purposes, hidden agendas known only to its creator. I have so many questions… and I intend to find some answers.”

“Just be careful,” Jresh advised. “It’s one thing to overexert your body. There’s no telling what could happen to you in here.”

“I’ll be fine. I always ere on the side of caution.”

Jresh playfully balked. “Always?”

“Okay, not always. But I got this, you’ll just have to trust me.”

“Alright, I'll trust you,” Jresh admitted. “If you want, I could stay here, make sure everything goes okay.”

“That’s kind of you to offer, but I kind of find it hard to stay focused with a half-naked Sith Pureblood by my side,” Lorrik joked.

“I’m sure if I concentrated I could alter my appearance.”

“No, it's quite okay. You’ve already given me all that I need. Get some rest, I just want to try a few things before I'm done here. If I’m not back to normal in a few hours, I give you full permission to come in and drag me out of here.”

The warrior offered a firm nod of his head as the inquisitor turned his attention to the silent keeper. Jresh took one final look around at the remarkable landscape the holocron had constructed for itself before closing his eyes. After a few moments of concentration, he opened them, finding himself once more kneeling within the apartment’s living area.

Lifting himself from the meditation mat, Jresh saw Lorrik still connected to the relic within his hands. Conflicting emotions brewed within the warrior’s head, but he knew that he had to give his companion the same trust that had been imparted upon him. The Pureblood placed a gentle, comforting hand upon the Human’s shoulder before retiring to his own bedroom.

Back within the fabricated reality of the holocron, Lorrik approached the relic’s keeper, offering only a stern, determined gaze deep into the eyes of the robed figure. He, in turn, offered the usual cold look back to the inquisitor.

“This one is the keeper of the holocron. What is your purpose?”

Lorrik now knew that he had nothing to prove. He had already passed the test and gained access to the holocron’s contents. His mind was within the relic. All that surrounded him was a fabrication, a mere luxury, an attempt to deter the cognitive dissonance that would prevail in lesser minds. Lorrik knew that he could directly access whatever knowledge the artifact held if he chose to exert the willpower. But he also knew the nature of its creator. More appropriately, he knew next to nothing about him, only that he was conflicted, contradictory, and enigmatic. For all he knew, attempting to dig deeper would yield a threat to his mind on par with that of the Massassi. And even as he continued to ponder, he felt the exhausting influence brought about by his continued connection to the relic.

“Inquiry. What is the name of this holocron’s creator?” Lorrik asked, firm in his tone.

“This one does not possess adequate information on this topic,” the keeper replied. Despite the lack of information, it was an answer. Lorrik was making progress.

“Inquiry. What is the current age of this holocron?”

“This one does not possess adequate information on this topic.”

The inquisitor rubbed his chin, keeping his frustration in check. “Inquiry. List all topics available to keeper.”

The robed figure didn’t offer an immediate answer, staring off into the distance as it processed the inquiry. “This one has knowledge on one hundred and thirty eight topics. Would you like a full listing?”

Lorrik’s eyes sharpened as he stared down the robed figure. “Yes.”

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
03.16.2013 , 11:34 AM | #120
Chapter Nine: Pushes

There was only silence as the eight apprentices stood opposite their master atop the all too familiar peak. Once more the students had gathered near the ancient dueling circle at Syrosk’s behest, standing beside their partners in a neatly ordered line, each ready for the inevitable task of the day. Though one stood less ready than his fellows.

Taking his usual place at the terminal edge of the lineup, Lorrik stood in a manner deviating from his usual pep and vigor. The Human’s garb was disheveled, wrinkles showing through the black fabric of his jacket and pants. His hair had abandoned the recent sleek styling for a more unkempt one. His face looked heavy, a drowsiness readily apparent within his vacant gaze.

“I warned you not to spend too much time with that holocron,” Jresh mentally conversed with his partner, his tone not suggesting a great deal of disapproval.

“I’m fine,” Lorrik playfully shot back, a sluggishness apparent even in his mental communications. “Even a Sith can be tired now and again, can’t he?”

“It is that thing’s ability to so easily tire a Sith that has me worried,” Jresh replied.

“This is just the result of a bad night’s sleep. It happens sometimes when I’m, you know, mentally stimulated.”

“Are you sure? You didn’t even seem this out of it after spending a night on the ground in the Korriban wastes.”

“Hey, if I can put just a few of the things I’ve learned into practice, it’ll more than make for any slight inconvenience experienced on my part,” Lorrik explained.

“Don’t become so focused on the future that you forget about the present,” Jresh advised. “Syrosk has not yet run out of tasks for us, and I doubt it would behoove us to be at anything below peak condition.”

“You never know. I mean, what’s left to test us on? Can you say with certain clarity that there will never be a trial that requires us to be exhausted beforehand?” Lorrik joked.

The Pureblood let out a soft, brief chuckle. “There isn’t an artifact in the galaxy capable of sapping your peculiar wit, is there?”

“What can I say, my mind couldn’t care less of my body’s conditions sometimes,” Lorrik warmly stated. As the pair attempted to retain their stoic facades, they found their internal conversations cut short by the external interruption of their master.

“Students…” Syrosk rasped. “You have each delved into the Valley of Forgotten Lords, and retrieved an item of power. Some of you have already begun to utilize them, some of you have tucked them away for safe keeping. But regardless of your material gains, you each walked away with something of much greater importance. You each are now aware of the special bond that connects you. The bond that permits you a greater understanding of yourselves and your partners. The bond that permits you to surpass what any single apprentice should be capable of. Over the course of these past few months, you each have shown remarkable progress, surpassing even my own expectations. Each and every one of you has faced certain death, and yet here you all are. You have been broken, battered, bruised, and yet you all stand before me seemingly unscathed. You have learned to draw upon your passions to sustain yourselves, to drive yourselves forward. And as a single apprentice, as a single pair has advanced, the others have followed. You have all refused defeat, refused to stall. Even now, none of you have achieved your apex. The nature of your progress can only be contained by the nature of your training. I have done almost all I can, training your bodies, minds, and spirits in ways they would never have been tested otherwise. I have provided you the skillset to become proper Sith, in a world that would deny you such a privilege. But there is a limit to what any single teacher can offer his students, which is why the tenet of succession is so deeply ingrained into the Sith Order. I’ve no more knowledge to share. I cannot train your minds further nor offer you a deeper connection to the Force. As far as your trials go, there is but one thing I can offer. One last test to administer.”

With his gauntleted hand, Syrosk began to remove the same heavy cloak that he always wore over his suit of black, battle-scarred armor. Slipping his arms out from the coat, the alien dropped the heavy black garb, which crumpled into a heap beside his boots. Slowly, Syrosk made his way into the center of the dueling circle and unclipped the lightsaber from his belt. With a flick of his wrist, the crimson blade extended from the black casing of his master’s hilt.

“Are you strong enough to challenge a Sith Lord?

The students could only look upon their master with wide eyes as they remained utterly speechless. They had sparred with the Sith Lord on occasion, but only in the controlled environments necessary to propagate proper lightsaber technique. There was always some trick, some restriction, some ploy. Never unbridled combat.

“Curious, usually one of you is so eager to volunteer whenever I have issued a trial,” Syrosk rasped. “I suppose I should offer more details. We’ll engage in a series of duels, as much as two against one could be referred to as such. Full combat, utilizing the entire repertoire of skills I have imparted unto you all, ending only when one side yields. I reserve the right to end the duel at my discretion, and the duel will immediately end if either member of the pair yields. If you do not succeed, you will have another chance, for this will be tomorrows trial. And the day after’s. And the one after that. Until each and every one of you has attained victory over me. How you spend your time between these bouts is up to you. Now, who will be the first to try and best their master?”

Each apprentice was hesitant. As much as they had progressed, none were truly confident in their superiority over their master. At least, not in this time of indetermination. Whoever stepped forward would be the first to experience the unshackled might of the Sith Lord. Despite his age, despite his reserved presence, there was an undeniable power lurking within the armor-clad alien.

But for some, straddling the line between knowledge and uncertainty fell far short of their inherent pride. Nesk and Vurt were the first to step forward, without a word, merely offering a dutiful nod to their master as they approached the dueling circle. Neither the Trandoshan nor the Nikto wielded one of the ancient dueling swords they had procured from the tomb the day before. Instead, it appeared to be business as usual, Nesk garbed in his armorweave bodysuit, Nesk in his perfectly black, formfitting robes.

Within the confines of the dueling circle, they drew their lightsabers as Syrosk situated himself at the opposite side of the confined arena. The warrior gripped the grey hilt within his clawed digits, the lightsaber’s pommel capped with the claw of some fallen foe. The inquisitor’s saber was something of an abnormality for his designation, the silver hilt possessing a slight curvature indicative of a duelist’s weapon. From both sprung red blades of superheated plasma.

The three figures readied themselves, each adopting their preferred stances. Nesk kept his guard high and open, while his partner went low and closed. Syrosk kept his movements to a minimum, allowing himself to change and shift and he saw fit. The subtle whistle of the passing winds quieted and stalled, as if actively trying to avoid interfering with the powerful figures that prepared to do battle.

“Begin,” Syrosk declared.

The apprentices where the first to move, starting the duel on their own terms. Nesk stormed toward the Sith Lord, Vurt following closely behind. As large and physically dominating as the Trandoshan was, Syrosk would not be overcome easily. The advantage of height he possessed against the other students was absent, the armored Lord almost matching him in stature.

The gap was closed almost instantaneously, the warrior lashing out with a heavy overhead strike. With a speed and grace unbefitting the aged and armored master, Syrosk deflected the strike. Rather than follow up, Nesk traveled with the deflection, Vurt soon taking his old place. The Nikto offered an efficient thrust of his saber’s tip toward the Lord’s midsection, only for Syrosk to sidestep it completely. With the swing of his free hand, the Lord swatted the air itself, releasing a swift but powerful Force wave that shoved the inquisitor away.

Whilst Vurt recovered, his master did battle with the Trandoshan, matching the lizard's strength blow for blow. The students on the sidelines could only watch with utter fascination. What unfolded before them put any of the previous bouts they may have observed in their previous months to shame. Their master displayed an uncanny martial ability they had not thought him capable of, not ceding an inch of ground to even the most powerful of strikes, and possessing the speed and dexterity to intercept blows from any direction.

But besides their wonder toward their master’s lightsaber skills, was the intrigue in watching their fellow apprentices do combat. They had expected a fair display of technique and prowess, but never truly expected anything approaching the level of martial discipline they were currently displaying. There was focus behind the Trandoshan’s wild, ferocious strikes. There was a dedication behind the Nikto’s carefully calculated maneuvers. While the two appeared to utilize opposite styles, there was a synchronicity between them. They played off of one another. To the layman, it may have appeared to be the muddling of two vastly different combat styles. To the other students, however, it was a remarkable show of cooperation. What should have been a dissonant pairing had achieved a mutual cadence.

But as much as they had advanced, as in synch as they were, the skills possessed by their master proved indomitable. There was no separation between the Sith Lord’s body, mind, or spirit. There was never a moment in which he was unaware of his opponents’ positioning, their movements. He simultaneously wielded his lightsaber and the Force in a manner that still managed to astound the watching apprentices. He would hold the attention of a single duelist before effortlessly turning his attention to the other, switching back and forth without error.

They students on the sidelines could have watched the magnificent display all day, but as the seconds passed, it became readily apparent that the Sith Lord was gaining the advantage. In the midst of their battle, one of the apprentices would slip up and be violently tossed to the ground. Whilst Syrosk perpetually endured, Nesk and Vurt grew more and more tired. While it wasn’t readily apparent in the warrior’s action, it was in his technique. The Trandoshan still lashed out with the ferocity typical of his combative form, but he became more and more untamed, driven by pure emotion rather than skill. Slowly, the pair began to slip out of synch, and Syrosk was able to bring the duel to a close.

Nesk released one last swing of his saber before the Sith Lord intercepted him, gripping the bare wrist of his saber hand. With a clench of his gauntleted fist, Syrosk forced a harsh snarl from the lizard as he was forced to let go of his weapon, it’s crimson blade deactivating as the hilt struck the ground. Vurt meanwhile approached his master’s unguarded back, only to find himself interrupted by Syrosk directing the tip of his lightsaber toward the Nikto’s neck.

The Sith Lord had both students at his mercy. Though nothing stopped the Nikto from acting, Vurt offered a cold nod to his master, deactivating his saber and returning it to his belt. Syrosk offered a nod of his own, releasing his grip on the Trandoshan’s wrist and disengaging. Nesk stretched his clawed digits as he regained control of his hand, before retrieving his weapon from the ground. Together, the two apprentices made their way back to the sidelines in silence.

The others accepted them back into their fold without a word or errant glance. Their attention was too focused on their master, who stood none the worse for wear. The first challengers hadn’t managed to land a single complete blow against the Sith Lord, and he had yet to display a single sign of exhaustion.

“Who’s next?” Syrosk rasped. The same hesitance as before managed to persist, but eventually Isorr and Arlia stepped forward to challenge their master. As the next pair made their way toward the dueling circle, the previously dulled expression that dominated Lorrik’s face had been all but expunged. In its place, however, was one of creeping worry.

“Lorrik,” Jresh mentally called out to his companion. He received no reply. He tried again, to no avail, choosing eventually to whisper to his partner. “Lorrik, are you okay?”

The Human shook his head as he tried to regain his senses, rubbing his eyes and furrowing his brow. “I daresay we may be in trouble,” Lorrik mentally conversed.

“This will merely be our first of many inevitable attempts,” Jresh explained. “We needn’t prove anything today. We’ll play things carefully for now. Let me take the lead, don’t take any big risks, we’ll get through the day and prepare for the next.”

“Alright,” Lorrik hesitantly agreed, letting out a depressed sigh. He hated himself for what he had done. He had focused too much of his attention on the holocron, blinding himself to everything else. He wanted to believe it was all for the good of the partnership, but realized it was selfishness that pushed him deeper. Where there was knowledge, he felt the need to consume it.

And now, his mind and body taxed, he had denied himself and Jresh something pivotal. The chance to once and for all prove themselves to their master. To prove their superiority. But in his exhausted state, Lorrik knew he could only work to his companion’s detriment in combat. As he watched Isorr and Arlia ready themselves, he focused every fiber of his being into recovering from the stupor wrought by his overextended studies.

Isorr and Arlia took their places opposite Syrosk. The warrior removed his out cloak and tossed to the sidelines, revealing the heavy-duty armorweave that protected his entire body below the neck. The inquisitor meanwhile was content with her mix of form-fitting and gracefully flowing robes. Whilst her partner possessed a typical Sith’s lightsaber, she had made recent modifications to hers. Replacing its crystal with one procured the previous day’s venture, the hilt produce a radiant beam of purple energy. Meanwhile, there was an audible expression of envy from one of the students watching from the sidelines.

“Begin,” Syrosk declared.

Isorr and Arlia charged into battle with a strategic caution, attempting to calculate and measure each and every movement they made. The two students utilized almost identical styles, despite the vast differences in their physique, demeanor, and craft. The two challengers exhibited almost perfect balance in their combat methodology, keeping up with their master in matters of both offense and defense. Alongside powerful and elegant saberwork, each combatant would lash out with the Force, waves of telekinetic energy kicking up dust and shaking the ground itself.

But the battle would progress in a similar manner to the first, the two apprentices putting on an astounding display of skill that would ultimately prove insufficient in overcoming their master’s overall prowess. The battle went on longer than the previous one, but only by nature of the apprentices’ caution. They realized the threat their master posed, and for the first time, fought with the intention of prolonging their bout. But such intentions couldn’t hold up against the Sith Lord’s willingness to bring about a swift end should he so choose. All it took was for him to dominate a single combatant, and force the other into submission.

Eventually, the pair stayed down after being knocked to the ground, having reached their limits. Syrosk showed no signs of approval or disapproval, only a willingness to continue. Isorr and Arlia took their place on the sidelines, Kar’ai volunteering herself and her partner for the next bout.

As Lorrik watched the pair proceed into the dueling circle, he knew that there would be no more delays. He and Jresh would face their master next. Still he had not yet overcome the peculiar exhaustion that plagued his body and mind. While he was capable of fighting in such a condition, the Human was wary of the potential outcomes. One slip up, one mistake, even in training, could lead to serious injury. Syrosk expected a certain level of skill from him, and would fight according to that expectation.

Kar’ai and Ryloh took their spot within the dueling circle, the warrior standing tall and at the ready, the inquisitor lurking at her flank. The pair had left their artifact behind, showing up in their usual garb, wielding their usual lightsabers. The blades of crimson extended, and the match was ready to proceed.

“Begin,” Syrosk rasped.

Kar’ai immediately charged into battle while her companion stayed behind. Her torso only lightly covered, the Rattataki relied solely on her dexterity and skills with a saber to aid in her defense. The warrior was capable of outmatching the Sith Lord in speed, but Syrosk proved an indomitable opponent. Her masterful application of acrobatics and movement prove insufficient in breaching her master’s defenses.

And while the duel would not prove to last as long as the previous one, it would hold the honor of testing the Sith Lord. To the surprise of those watching from the sidelines, during the middle of the bout, Ryloh relinquished control of his saber, tossing it across the arena. But its release was not intended to strike the Sith Lord. Instead, Kar’ai intercepted the flying hilt, taking hold of it in her offhand. Saber in both hands, the warrior lashed out with a flurry of blows that surprised even Syrosk. Ryloh, meanwhile, kept to the outer fringes of the dueling circle, releasing a series of Force attacks, telekinetic waves intended to upset the Sith Lord’s balance, and even the occasional quick bolt of lightning arcing from the inquisitor’s fingertips.

Ryloh had proven himself capable of a multitude of techniques, while his companion utilized her weapons mastery. It was an astounding display, one that sufficiently entertained those who watched close by. But despite how intriguing a show it was, eventually Syrosk would prove his superiority. Kar’ai would tire and slow. Ryloh would find himself dragged into the fold. The warrior’s blades would be deflected. The inquisitor’s lightning would be absorbed. And eventually, the pair would concede.

The opposing parties parted without a word, Kar’ai and Ryloh taking their place on the sidelines. Time was up. All eyes fell upon the remaining pair. Lorrik and Jresh shared a look. As they looked into each other's eyes, the Human had a curious feeling. He had expected some measure of disapproval from his companion, some part of him that would be disappointed in his actions. But he found none. Only the same enduring stoicism was present in the Pureblood’s visage.

Jresh was willing to fight alongside his partner no matter the circumstances. And it was this revelation that wiped away the doubt within Lorrik. He was still exhausted, but he knew that he was capable of moving forward, so long as Jresh was by his side. They believed in one another, and trusted in those beliefs.

With mutual nods, the two apprentices stepped forward, ready to challenge their master.