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The Academy: Acolyte Ascension


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Osetto
06.23.2012 , 12:09 AM | #31
Chapter Twenty Four: Hours

All who bothered to turn their gaze from their typical focal points were graced with a most peculiar site moving about the halls of the Sith Academy. Two acolytes, battered and bruised, slowly trudging toward their room. Well, one trudged, the other rested upon the trudger’s back. Conversations were lulled and heads were turned as eyes fell upon the unusual pair slowly making their way through the halls and up the stairs, sluggishly eager to return to their suite.

Past the main halls of the Academy, the duo was able to continue their trek in relative peace, free from the discerning eyes of their peers. At the precipice of reaching their home, Lorrik offered to continue of his own accord, lowering himself from his partner’s back. Just in time for the duo to see Arlia leaning against the wall adjacent their suite. She was obviously waiting for something, someone, and Lorrik believed it wasn’t her own partner. Jresh subtly looked to his companion, who casually directed him to head inside whilst he chatted with the other acolyte.

The warrior entered the apartment with little more than an errant glance toward the stationary rival. A moment later, the door shut, giving the two inquisitors relative peace in the hallway between the various residences. Removing herself from the wall, Arlia approached Lorrik, any intention in her eyes sufficiently veiled.

“Can I help you, Arlia?” Lorrik casually asked as he tried his hardest to keep his body’s frame sufficiently rigid and upright, eventually settling upon leaning his shoulder against the wall in as awkward a ‘casual’ stance as his beaten body could muster.

“Cut the pleasantries, Lorrik,” Arlia directly directed.

“You know I’m physically incapable of doing that, you know,” Lorrik stammered, his current physicality actually having an effect on his pleasantries.

“I want to know more about what you did during your duel with Jresh,” Arlia explained.

“Which part? The injuries? The falling down a lot? Let me guess… you want to know about the lightning,” Lorrik said, lifting a single hand, imitating a clawed motion with it. “What do you want to know?”

“I want to know how exactly it is that acolyte like you managed to conjure such a thing. We both know what’s required to use that power. Something you should be utterly lacking. It is not to be harnessed by the weak, the cowardly, or the… pleasant.”

“Well then, I guess I’m not weak, cowardly, or… pleasant, in the heat of combat.”

“How long have you possessed this power? Why didn’t you use it against me in our duel?” Arlia curtly asked.

“Oh, not long, by Academy standards. But to explain our duel, believe me, I tried. But at the time, I guess you could consider me somewhat… plagued by things like self-doubt. My emotional state wasn’t exactly conductive to such conjurations. Needless to say, that is no longer a problem.”

The Twi’lek offered the arch of her brow. “Where did this arrogance come from all of a sudden?”

“Not arrogance. Confidence. And it comes from belief. Actualization. Have you any long-term plans? Any ideas for the future? Anyone to share them with?”

“Sith who don’t focus on the present and what’s real tend to end up missing the knives being sunk into their backs,” Arlia explained. “What’s the point of asking me anyway?”

“I figured your curiosity ultimately stemmed from the fact that you desired this power for yourself. I thought I’d go ahead and help you along your way toward achieving such.”

“You mean… you’re actually helping me?” Arlia asked, baffled. “How hard did Jresh hit you in the head to make you think this is a proper course of action?”

“How do you mean?” Lorrik asked, seeming utterly oblivious.

“You’re weird, but not dumb enough to actually believe that it is a good idea to teach someone who actively desires your downfall an ultimately lethal technique,” Arlia stated, a confused twitch in her eye.

“You just don’t understand our process. Our purpose. One can only receive so much challenge from within, from one’s peers, from one’s environment, if everything remains stagnant. Were you and your partner to be leagues ahead of us, I likely would be content for now, battling, dueling, challenging ourselves against you. But whether you realize it or not, the four pairs currently stand upon relatively equal grounds. We can’t kill each other, and at this stage there’s only so much interaction with Lord Syrosk. Our main source of initiative, inspiration, and progress will ultimately come from one another. Once any of us begin to fall behind, that momentary sense of superiority and satisfaction will be worthless when held up against the continued experience of besting and being beaten by your equals. So yes, I’ll happily share a few secrets of the Force. Because I know for a fact that you’re the kind of person that can utilize any knowledge that comes her way. That you can make something material from immaterial knowledge. I want you to get stronger. I want the others to get stronger. Because that in turn will make us stronger. Power without waste. Pride without disability. Progress without abandonment. Cooperative antagonism. So I’ll ask you, and I want you to think about your answer. I have a datacard that can be inserted into any standard reader, containing the writings from which I drew upon a portion of my knowledge. Would you care to borrow it?”

Arlia remained silent as she sharpened her gaze, furrowing her brow as she studied the curious inquisitor.

----------

Lorrik entered the suite to find Jresh meditating on the living room mat, his eyes closed, his knees bent, and his countenance practically peaceful. Passing close by, the inquisitor made his way to the footlocker that sat adjacent his desk.

“What did Arlia want?” Jresh calmly asked, not breaking his trance.

“A word. Needless to say, I happily gave her one,” Lorrik answered.

“Intent on giving her anything else?”

The Human rummaged through the container’s contents, before returning with a single datacard in his hand. “She’s interested in learning more about Force lightning. I thought I’d give her a study tool.”

“Remember when I said not to let someone take those things away from you?”

“This isn’t taking, it’s giving,” Lorrik explained.

“Understandable,” Jresh calmly stated. “You’ll receive no further inquiries from me.”

Leaning out of the threshold of the apartment, Lorrik offered the waiting Twi’lek a small handheld datacard. The other acolyte hesitantly accepted, still unable to properly process the Human’s actions.

“Give it a good looking over, and return it at your leisure,” Lorrik warmly said.

“I still don’t readily believe that this isn’t an elaborate ruse,” Arlia muttered, almost angry at her fellow inquisitor’s kindness.

“That’s good. I’d hate for you start trusting me more than your own partner. Bye!” With that, the Human retreated into his home, leaving the Twi’lek on the opposite side of the door. Stepping toward his meditative partner, the inquisitor cracked a smile. “Funny, it’s gotten to the point that I can write off my niceness as ‘mind games’.”

“Well, it’s good to see you’re no longer succumbing to fits of pain and exhaustion,” Jresh calmly stated, still in a state of meditation.

“Positivity helps. Speaking of which, I could try my hand at healing some of your wounds if you’d like.”

“You could tend to yourself first, if you’d like,” Jresh replied. “I’m content to meditate whilst you recover from your own injuries.”

“Nah, I want to see if I’m capable of acting under duress, examine how my emotional and physical state impact my ability to use Force healing,” Lorrik explained.

“I see,” Jresh stated, more than content with his partner’s reasoning. “Have you ever actually tried to use this power on another being.”

“Nope.”

“I see,” Jresh repeated, less content.

“We can stop whenever you start to feel uncomfortable. Now, if you’ll take of your robe, we can begin,” Lorrik warmly stated. Finally breaking from his meditative stance the Pureblood opened his eyes to lay them upon his companion. “The only way I know of this power to work is through physical contact.”

“Understandable. Tell me more about the technique,” Jresh asked of his companion as he stripped off the outer layer of his robes. The jacket possessed numerous rips and tears at the various joints and seams, as well as a sizable scorch mark where Lorrik had gotten in a direct hit with his saber.

“Basically, with the Force comes a connections to life, through which comes to ability to alter or manipulate it,” Lorrik explained. “Force-users are capable of bolstering, enhancing, or expediting the natural healing process that occurs within our bodies. Force healing takes that to the next level.”

“Is it a power of the light, or the dark side?” Jresh patiently asked, removing his gauntlets and placing them atop the heaped cloak upon the floor, moving on toward unwrapping his under-shirt.

“Neither. Both. It can actually go both ways,” Lorrik stated. “Through the light, one is able to naturally enhance these abilities. Through the dark, one must draw upon powerful emotion, or siphon vitality from another source. If you wanted to heal yourself, you could meditate, drawing upon inner peace, or you could channel your rage, drawing upon a sort of dark sustenance. Peaceful method takes focus and time. Rage method brings remarkable results, but involves combating the consuming effect that prolonged exposure to dark side energies can have on organic material. Welcome the dark side into your body and it will eventually succumb to decay. However, whomever can master the dark side could theoretically outlast or overcome the deterioration, though sometimes at the cost of mere vanity.”

“And what of siphoning?” Jresh asked.

“With sufficient control of the Force comes the ability to not only manipulate your own life, but that of others,” Lorrik explained. “With a bit of focus I can heal your wounds as I would mine. With siphoning, however, I could steal you energy and vitality to restore my own.”

“Could the opposite be accomplished?” Jresh asked as he kneeled on the meditation mat.

“You mean giving up power for someone else’s benefit? Theoretically, yes,” Lorrik answered with a pondering glance toward his curious companion. The Pureblood had removed his shirt, revealing his battered torso. Cuts and bruises graced the warrior’s musculature, the grandest of the wounds covering much of his side, stretching up from his hip. Removing what remained of his gloves, Lorrik knelt behind his companion, about begin the healing process. Placing a bare hand upon Jresh’s shoulder, intent on testing his abilities on a minor scrape that graced his partner’s flesh, the Pureblood flinched at the first contact.

“I’m sorry, guess I should have warned you before, y’know, touching a wound,” Lorrik softly stated.

“I’ve moved beyond the stage of pain, it’s just… I’m not exactly used to physical contact,” Jresh admitted.

“Makes sense. I mean, when was the last time you touched someone that didn’t involve a saber, fist, or heavy layer of fabric laying in between. We’ve carried each other upon our backs. We’ve shaken hands, I guess. But the Academy isn’t much for interpersonal exchanges. And intimacies are a short and narrow road to betrayal and murder in your sleep.”

“The last personal contact I had was likely before I ever stepped foot in this Academy,” Jresh plainly stated.

“That’d be an interesting topic of discussion,” Lorrik said with a grin. “Familial ties before being shipped off to the Academy.”

There was a pause as the air was heavy with silence.

“Another time, maybe. For now, I’d rather you focus on your technique. I’d rather not have my flesh out of place when we’re done.”

“You got it,” Lorrik warmly stated, closing his eyes and focusing his energies on his companion’s wounds. A soft luminance emanated from his palms as he pressed them against the Pureblood’s crimson skin. Drifting into a meditative state, seconds flowed into minutes. Minutes into hours. Passing from wound to wound, Lorrik graced each aberrant spot on the warrior’s physique with the healing radiance that would transfer from his hand to his companion’s torso. By no means a hasty process, the two remained dedicated to their craft, continuing to recover in silence.

----------

So yeah, I guess you could say today had a profound impact on our group dynamic. That duel was an effective field test of our martial capabilities. It also detailed how far we were willing to go. How dedicated we were to continuing our training. Holding up our ideals. I think we both performed amicably, despite the wounds sustained from an all-out test of might between a warrior and inquisitor. And I think we more than reinforced our commitment to our beliefs.

Jresh continues to surprise me. He possesses a genuine curiosity in matters of the arcane. I’ve always thought fully grasping the nature of the Force and its capabilities somewhat beyond the notice of the warrior sect. Whilst I’ll not know for some time how much he actually understands and how much he “understands”, the fact that he’ll so candidly ask of my opinions, my knowledge, is quick heartening.

The inter-group dynamics seem to be shifting as well. Gave Arlia one of my data cards. Careful study of it and she could harness the power of Force lightning. I have no doubt she’s capable of it. She’s got the source that the doctrines traditionally call upon. The emotion. The drive. Seeing what she does with it will prove intriguing. Will she share it with Isorr? Will she reveal the results of her studies as soon as possible, or keep it hidden up her sleeve. There were no overt signs of rejection when I told her of my philosophies, makes me wonder if my words will have more than a passing impact on her actions and beliefs. Observing our rivals over the coming months will proves as enlightening as whatever teachings Syrosk might impart upon us. I wonder if this is what it’s like for him, planting an item, an idea, a thought, and just watching what becomes of it. If this is what it’s like for him, I’m starting to understand why he goes through it all.

Just like I’m starting to understand why Kar’ai and Ryloh would want to foster the connection they seem to be developing.

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Osetto
07.08.2012 , 01:15 AM | #32
Chapter Twenty Five: Realizations

Time passed. Where once the students would be concerned in regards to each passing hour, days began to slip past their discerning grasp. Training continued. With each new day brought new trials for the acolytes of Lord Syrosk to complete. And with each new trial brought strengthened bodies, hardened minds, and heightened capabilities. Day after day. Week after week. The students knew they were being driven toward something. Something great.

The relationships between the various duos shifted as time progressed. Gone were the distractions of insecurity and fear. Each acolyte had become sufficiently confident in the capabilities of themselves and their partner such that they could appropriately set their sights on the prospect of victory. Each student had begun to respect one another. Strength recognized strength. Knowledge recognized knowledge. One by one the students realized that there was insight to partake in by observing their fellows, if not directly then at least indirectly.

Arlia studied the borrowed tome of Lorrik and eventually saw it returned to its rightful owner, after a sufficient period of time, during which it somehow managed to make the rounds to the other pairs first. Ryloh and Kar’ai had become more connected than ever, supporting one another in their bid for partnered superiority. Nesk and Vurt had managed to channel their opposing temperaments toward a common purpose, combating one another to better themselves without selfish reservations. Bleeding through the walls of the students’ accommodations was the tumultuous sounds of practiced brawling and determined melees. Isorr slowly realized that the others were progressing at a steady rate and dedicated himself to his studies, no longer relying on the perceived innate superiority of his Sith tenets and ideology.

It had been more than half a year since the acolytes had first begun their training under Lord Syrosk and they had yet to fully understand the motives of their enigmatic master, but none could argue with the results. As much freedom as they thought they had away from the training grounds, all could sense the continuing influence of the Sith Lord. An ethereal hand guiding them. An all-seeing eye gazing upon them in their free time. But none could prove it. There was a chance all of it was a fluke. That their progression was simply because of their inherent talents. That Lord Syrosk was an extraneous cog in the machine’s ever so intricate workings. The students knew better, however. Time had passed, but not enough for them to have forgotten their lives before their new master. Years and years of the harsh realities of the Academy under instructor rule were not readily eroded with the passing of the Korriban winds. Whether it was their master, their partner, or the unique assemblage of the eight students, each acolyte was sure that there was some force beyond mere coincidence to blame for their rapidly advancing studies.

Soon, the acolytes found themselves skilled combatants in the way of the saber. Lord Syrosk had taken to private lessons, teaching each of the students the intricacies of the lightsaber forms, shaping and developing a fighting style suited to their unique talents and capabilities. The acolytes found themselves more attuned to the Force, capable of not only projecting but defending against a number of powerful energies. Lifting pebbles turned to lifting stones. Lifting stones turned to lifting boulders. With each new test, each student found a new exhaustion point to be reached. Each pair would push themselves to the brink of collapse and rest up for the next trial placed in front of them. Lorrik and Jresh retained their advantage with recovering because of the inquisitor’s unique healing capabilities, but it wasn’t long before the others each found their own power to draw upon. When the day came for the inquisitors to conjure lightning, they would succeed, or be beaten until their hatred overflowed into manifestation. Four inquisitors were tested. Four inquisitors succeeded.

Each acolyte now held something firmly in their minds. In their hearts. They had finally received the confirmation they so deeply desired. It didn’t come when they discovered they were Force-sensitive. It didn’t come when they were inducted into the Academy. It didn’t come when they endured hours upon hours of lecture on codes and doctrines and tenets and expectations and rituals. It came when each student looked not outward for confirmation, but inward. There, upon gazing into abyssal meadow of potential, each had realized.

They are Sith.



End of Act I

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Osetto
07.11.2012 , 07:01 PM | #33
Act II : Advances

Chapter One: Visions

Darkness surrounds. Penetrates.

A low fog eternally gripped the cold stones upon which the inquisitor treads. With each step, the Human disturbed yet another patch of dust that had laid undisturbed for so long on the tomb’s floor. The deep architecture of stones planted and placed years and years ago at the whim of a Sith Lord basked in the azure glow of the lightsaber held loftily in the seeker’s hand. Relative silence, only the soft hum of the weapon resonating throughout the enclosed space, accompanied by the soft steps of the intruding inquisitor. Then, a crash.

The once soft blue glow immediately turned red, flashing its angry crimson down each direction of the hall. The Human tensed, darting his gaze toward his goal and back toward whence he came. The two directions seemed indistinguishable, only a long corridor leading to utter uncertainty and blackness. No signs of the source of the audible instigation. As the inquisitor turned back toward his destination, the once calm darkness had been disrupted. For now, piercing the red glow offered by his saber, two red eyes awaited in the darkness beyond, aglow with intensity.

The Human froze. Unsure. Frightened. Then the owner of the vile eyes approached. Stepping from the darkness, a monstrous figure. A man. A beast. Towering over the inquisitor, the creature of darkness was sculpted with ability, fraught with power. The humanoid took one step after another, the sharp clatter of its talon toed feet resonating throughout the hall. It was a figure of bulk. Of spines. Of red. An image of blood and bone given form, the towering creature bore a hide of crimsons, from which a number of bony spurs sprouted from its appendages.

Raising his saber, the inquisitor thought to kill, but the beast's intent was greater. Taking hold of the Human’s wrist, the beast was able to force the intruder to let loose his weapon with ease. Subdued, the inquisitor could do nothing as the creature took hold of his neck and raised him into the air. What followed was not mere pain, but a drainage of all things worth holding. Hope. Determination. Belief.

Then, a snap.

----------

Lorrik stirred in his bed, raising himself from his tumultuous slumber. Sitting up, he immediately shook his head, body coated with sweat, mind reeling. Sweeping his legs out from the bed, the inquisitor walked amongst the darkness of his room, eventually settling upon his destination of the bathroom. He winced as he flicked on the lights, catching his reflection in the mirror only through a tempered squint. With a dip of his head, Lorrik began to run his hands under the sink, soaking his face and running his hands through his hair. Shutting off the faucet, he was greeted with silence, forcing him to acknowledged his heavy and rapid breaths. Rubbing his eyes, Lorrik let out one final sigh before resigning himself back to his bed.

----------

Morning. Jresh and Lorrik sat at their respective tables, a plate bearing a hearty breakfast in front of them both. As Jresh contentedly partook in his meal, Lorrik sat stilled, offering his food only a cold stare instead of an intruding utensil.

“Hey, Jresh,” Lorrik spoke, almost at a whisper.

“Yes, Lorrik?” Jresh replied, taking a brief pause in his eating.

“Do you think we’re at the point in our training when we should be having visions?” Lorrik abashedly asked.

“Visions?”

“You know… premonitions, foresights, things of that nature,” Lorrik explained.

“Well, warriors aren’t known to be the most divining. Your connection to the Force on the other hand… why do you ask?” Jresh asked.

“I’m having trouble deciding if something was a vision or just a nightmare,” Lorrik admitted.

“What exactly did you see?” Jresh asked, obviously invested in his partner’s predicament.

“It wasn’t exactly bustling with details. I was alone. In a tomb, probably here on Korriban. Walking down an endless hallway. When all of a sudden, a creature appears,” Lorrik stated, deadpan in his explanation.

“A creature?”

“Well, it was humanoid. To be honest, it looked a cross between you and a tuk’ata,” Lorrik explained. “Big. Red. Angry.”

“Rather blunt of you,” Jresh stated, showing a bit of surprise.

“I don’t know how to describe it. Sith, but not Sith. Beastly… Corrupted…”

“And such a being concerns you?”

“When it’s snapping my neck, yes,” Lorrik muttered.

The Pureblood gently stroked the tendril hanging from his cheek. “I take it death does not play a usual part in your dreams?”

“Pretty much. With all the chaotic events that occur in the Academy, my dreams are a place of relative boredom. I mean, sometimes the Academy and other students play a part in there, but mostly it’s just inanity.”

“What makes you think this last one could be more than a nightmare?” Jresh asked.

“Well, I like to think I’ve trained my mind, attained relative control over it. Last night was concernedly out of the ordinary. Plus… I don’t know. I just felt something about it. Like, actually FELT it. And I…” Lorrik began to trail off.

“Lorrik,” Jresh spoke, trying to catch his companion’s attention.

“Look. We’ve been together what? Six months or so? It’s really hard for me admit that something, anything, frightened me. Which isn’t to say I was frightened. Stirred would be a better word. Yes, stirred. You know me, always got food on the mind. Hah,” Lorrik rambled, obviously in some sort of mental distress.

“I’m not one to needlessly give you orders, but you need to calm yourself,” Jresh emphatically stated.

“You’re right. Can’t let these like this scare me if I want to be a proper Sith,” Lorrik admitted.

“Absolutely not,” Jresh replied.

Lorrik offered the soft arch of his brow. “Pardon?”

“While we are taught to shed our fears at first opportunity, far too many Sith are overzealous in this venture. Soon they find themselves not only casting away their fear, but their caution, their logic,” Jresh explained. “We are not all-powerful. We are not immortal. We bleed. We tire. We inevitably recover, but only so long as we can keep a firm eye upon our limitations. With time, we may come to break past these limits, for that is the nature of a Sith, but we must always remember than until then, there are many forces in this galaxy that would work against us. That would see us dead. If it was simply a disturbing machination of your mind as you slept, then draw upon it. It obviously affected you. Brought emotions to the surface unfamiliar and frightening. Use them to your benefit rather than trying to sweep them under a metaphorical rug. And if it was indeed a vision… then prepare. Arm yourself with power and knowledge so that you not meet the same fate. Remember that you are never truly alone. Within your hands you are capable of wielding weapons both martial and arcane. And if they are not enough, I will gladly lend my own.”

“Unless the vision was some manifestation of you,” Lorrik muttered.

“Then prepare none the less,” Jresh bluntly stated.

“I don’t enjoy the thought of actively working against you,” Lorrik admitted.

“And I don’t enjoy the thought of you being powerless against any foe, even if it is myself,” Jresh replied. “The Force is mysterious, the dark side even more so. If we are ever forced to meet in combat, I cannot guarantee that I’ll be the person you expect. You know me, you know my methods, you know that as it stands I would never voluntarily end your life. But the Academy has ways of changing us. For better or worse. Always remember that.”

“So you’d have no problem with me coming up with ways to strike you down?” Lorrik asked.

“I’d encourage you to do so,” Jresh admitted. “We both deserve something greater than what this Academy has to offer. I’d rather not see either of our journeys cut short because of some manipulative force that might drive us against one another. It does not matter how well we fare against the other six students should our final test lie in besting one another. I’m no more worthy of apprenticeship than you until I am forced to prove it.”

“So have you thought of how you might kill me if need be?”

“If need be,” Jresh plainly answered.

“Enlightening.”

“You can belief with confidence that I would still consider you a friend, even long after your death,” Jresh stated. “And remember, only if need be. I would never needless end the life of a rival, let alone an ally. Precautions do need to be taken in the event of some sort of Force-induced madness or betrayal.”

“So… how would you do it?” Lorrik curiously asked, unfazed by the warrior’s declaration in any negative fashion.

“It certainly wouldn’t involve snapping your neck,” Jresh confessed as he took a hefty bite of the eggs on his plate.

“Good to know. I suppose I’d have to try and tire you out. To be honest, I’d feel bad manipulating you before a fight. Like, telling you I’m healing a wound when instead I’m implanting corrupting energies into your body. I suppose in the heat of battle however, I’d have no qualms altering your perceptions to my advantage though,” Lorrik cheerfully explained.

“Good to know,” Jresh said, stoically tending to his meal. Letting out a muffled chuckle, Lorrik took a bite of his own food, bobbing his head as he simultaneous chewed and stirred the thoughts within his head.

“What do you think Jedi do when they wake up each morning?” Lorrik asked.

“Can’t say that I know,” Jresh admitted.

“They certainly don’t talk about how they might end up killing each other. And if they did, they certainly don’t do it with the same pleasant disclosure we do. Then again, I don’t even think the other Sith converse as we do.”

“A Sith does not usually part so readily with their secrets,” Jresh stated.

“What’s different for us?” Lorrik asked.

“Well, I assume others believe that so long as something remains a secret, it cannot affect them. Something I disagree with. With secrets, yes, others are restricted from acting upon them, but then you giving control over to a piece of information. You no longer control the information, the information controls you.”

“Everything gets out eventually. Might as well prepare for it instead of hoping it remains a secret.”

“Exactly.”

----------

Darkness surrounds. Penetrates.

From within his chambers, Lord Syrosk knelt in the center of an encircling room. His senses deprived, the Sith Lord was left only with his thoughts, his meditations. Eyes closed, Syrosk sat out of his usual garb of battle-worn armor, in its place a set a black robes. Around his neck dangled a jeweled amulet, a dark yellow stone enwrapped with silver. The Sith Lord held it softly within the grasp of his leathery hands. Lost within his own thoughts, Syrosk sat, eternally still, unburdened by any internal or external force. Then, with realization, he opened his eyes.

“It is time.”

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Osetto
07.12.2012 , 12:50 PM | #34
Chapter Two: Farewells

The eight students found themselves atop their usual training peak. After so many weeks and months of trials, it had become their second home. Their sweat, their blood, it had be shed and absorbed by the wanting dirt. Still early in the morning, their master had called for their arrival far sooner than the usual midday excursions. Facing out toward the vast expanse of Korriban that the ridge overlooked, Lord Syrosk cast his narrowed gaze over the empty wastes of caverns and rocks that populated the area beyond the Academy.

“Students. The time has come… for me to decide whom to take on as an apprentice,” Syrosk stated in his usual drawn-out, raspy tenor. Immediately the eight acolytes tensed up. “Rather, I should say that one final test awaits you. All who survive will become my apprentices. From that point forward, your place under me will be formalized, and your position as nothing more than a mere student of the Academy will henceforth be terminated. With that, comes privilege. To deeper understanding. To greater insight. To more potent ways of drawing out your potential. In the end, all eight of you might achieve the honor. In the end, all eight of you might fail. And for this particular trial, failure means death. Rather, death means failure. Survival is the goal. Therefore, your fate lies in your hands and your hands alone. Do you all understand?”

Immediately the eight acolytes nodded their heads.

“Good. For your trial, all eight of you will be loaded onto a transport and deposited a sizable distance away from the Academy. You are tasked with returning alive. You will have to contend with the Korriban landscape, its fauna, and most importantly, each other. Once you are off of the shuttle, you are longer bound by my code to tolerate one another. You are each well within your right to end the lives of your fellow acolytes should you see fit to do so. Your journey back will likely require several days’ travel on foot. You are permitted only to take with you what you can hold within the pockets and folds of your robes. You will each be given one canister of potable water. It is unlikely that a single container can sustain a single acolyte for the duration of your trek back. You will have only your allotment of water, your modicum of prepared supplies, your training saber, and your wits to ensure your continued survival. Do you all understand?” Once more the Sith Lord was greeted with the immediate nods of his eight students. “Good. You all have an hour to prepare. Then report to the shuttle pad. If you are not present when we leave, you most certainly do not want to be at this Academy when I return. Dismissed.”

With nary a bow of their heads, the acolytes turned and made their way down the path back toward their accommodations. With little time to prepare, and little knowledge of what they were getting into, each acolyte intended to get the most out of their remaining hour within the Academy.

“It would seem we’ve formally been let off the leash…” Lorrik muttered to his nearby companion.

“Indeed,” Jresh stoically replied.

“What of the others? Think they’ll try anything?”

“I have no doubt in my mind. Like always, prepare.”

“And to think, we were all beginning to bond over these past few months,” Lorrik lightheartedly joked.

Jresh maintained his stoic countenance. “The Academy is a place of luxury compared to the wilderness. They will do what is required to get by. As will we.”

“Oh? What are you two muttering about over there?” Arlia called out. “Isn’t this the usual time for mixed pleasantries, heartfelt boasts, poignant barbs of the tongue?”

“We’re secretly plotting over here,” Lorrik sarcastically replied.

The Twi’lek offered a warm, if disingenuous chuckle. “The coming days are certainly going to be interesting, aren’t they?”

“The coming days? You mean you don’t plan to kill me in the coming hours?” Lorrik asked.

“I personally don’t,” Arlia plainly admitted. “Have to keep my energy up. The others however…”

“Yes, yes, I know all about you Sith and your intrinsic murderous intent. Especially you… Ryloh,” Lorrik called out, shooting a sharp, exaggerated glare toward the bewildered Twi’lek.

“Wait… what?” Ryloh confusingly muttered.

“We mustn’t allow ourselves to be distracted,” Kar’ai said as she placed a hand on her companion’s shoulder. “There’s much to prepare for.”

The students made their way back to the Academy in their usual disheveled gathering. Lorrik shot one last glance back toward the peak to see Syrosk still facing out to the surrounding landscape.

----------

Lorrik and Jresh had successfully made it back to their room in record time, as had the other acolytes. The two students gazed upon the entry room of their suite, overwhelmed with their immediate task. They could only bring what they could carry. They could only bring what would prove absolutely needed for the trial. Unfortunately, neither of them knew much about wilderness survival. They had spent enough time defending themselves against other students that they had forgotten anything beyond the Academy boundaries even existed.

An entire planet stretched around it, possessing Imperial dwellings and ancient Sith tombs, but only in a centralized area. Anything beyond that was subject to the whims of any of the Sith Lords throughout history who felt the need to carve their mark into the landscape. An isolated sepulcher here and there, but most of Korriban was unremarkable. But that did not mean it wasn’t filled with treacherous caverns and an ever expanding assortment of vile creatures and beasts. The two acolytes would have to overcomes such hazards. The only question was, how exactly would they do so?

“Any ideas on where we should start?” Lorrik asked of his partner.

“Primary concerns would be food and water. Syrosk is providing us our water, which leaves…”

“Food. Right. I think we still have some dehydrated meat. Preserved and easy to carry, but might wreak havoc on our thirst. Then again, it might not. I’m not a survivalist.”

“What would you need to prepare food in the field?” Jresh asked.

“Let’s see… fire. Don’t exactly want to zap anything we might eat with the Force. Might ensure health hazards, as well as physically drain me.”

“Handheld lighter?”

“I think we might have a hand torch in one of the cabinets,” Lorrik admitted. “See if you can find any spare energy cells. We don’t need our training sabers losing their juice in the middle of nowhere.”

“Good call. How extensive is your datacard collection? Anything on native animals?” Jresh asked as he made his way toward the bedrooms.

“There might be something like that,” Lorrik said as he peered into a cabinet in the suite’s kitchen area. “I seem to recall a pretty in-depth piece on alchemy and poisonous creatures. Could extrapolate some details from that. The ones that have served my cooking could provide some succinct details as well.”

“Would you be comfortable bringing them along?”

“Absolutely,” Lorrik admitted as he reached into the cabinet and retrieved a hand-sized metallic cylinder. “Found the hand torch.” Twisting the base of the device, the other tip began to emit a sharp, contained flame, providing a portable source of light and heat. “Do you think we can adequately prepare for this trial?”

“We can try. But I’m sure our greatest challenge will come from our fellow students,” Jresh stated.

“I don’t know. I think they could be our greatest enemies, but they could also prove to be valuable allies,” Lorrik explained.

“You think yourself capable of manipulating them beyond the boundaries of the Academy?” Jresh asked.

“I wouldn’t consider it ‘manipulating’,” Lorrik replied. “We’ve all come a long way. I’m more than confident we can set aside our differences to ensure our survival.”

Jresh paused his movements, crossing his arms as he stared toward his partner. “Assuming ‘our’ survival is something they want to ensure.”

“The master said the number of successes doesn’t matter. Anyone who returns will become a true apprentice,” Lorrik stated.

“Sith are selfish. I doubt any of them believe they’ll receive the best available training should they be forced to share the spot with the other pairs. Some of them won’t even want to share it with their partner.”

“You're right. Lord Syrosk didn’t even touch on the idea of our pairs in his briefing. Well, no matter what the other students connive, we’ll stay strong, right?”

“Right.”

The two continued their privileged scavenging, darting across the suite to check every errant cupboard and recess, seeing if any hidden gems awaited that could serve them in their trial. As the minutes passed, the time eventually came for them to meet their master at the shuttle pad.

----------

The hour was almost up, and seven of the eight student stood by their master in front of a docked Imperial shuttle. Lorrik was missing. As the acolytes waited, all eyes were set upon the path that led to them from the Academy, wondering if the Human would even show up.

“Jresh, any idea where you partner is?” Isorr coldly asked.

“He’s coming. He said he just had to take care of a few things,” Jresh answered.

Arlia offered a brief shrug of her shoulders. “To be fair, I don’t exactly think it would be to your detriment should he be left behind.”

Jresh was undeterred. His arms folded in front of him, the Pureblood casually leaned against the raised platform on which laid their mode of transportation. Syrosk stood, displaying no signs of adverse temperament or impatience, simply waiting for the hour to pass. Then, on the horizon, Lorrik appeared.

Walking with a tempered haste, the inquisitor showed little signs of worry about missing the flight. As he drew ever closer, variations in his usual appearance became more apparent. Within the other students’ discerning gaze, the Human appeared somewhat disheveled, his robes unaligned and loose. Stopping in front of the group, Lorrik offered his own explanation.

“Sorry, realized that if we’re going on a trip, I wanted a fresh set of robes. Then I remembered how intricate they could be. Time got away from me and…” Lorrik trailed off, seeing only an array of uncaring fazes before him. “Never mind. I’m ready to go.”

“Good to see you all could make it. Let us board the shuttle,” Syrosk called out as he took the lead of the group.

Entering through a small door in the side of the shuttle, the Sith Lord disappeared into the bowels of the compact vessel and the students promptly followed. An array of chairs were built into either side of the passenger bay, upon which the acolytes took their seats. The students were so focused on the coming trial, that none of them realized this was the first time they had entered a starship since their initial arrival on the planet. Syrosk walked to the hind end of the passenger bay, where upon a table sat eight cylinders. They stood in height similar to the length between a Human’s fist and elbow, and bared a similar circumference.

“Within these containers are your allotment of water. Every other resource you will have to procure in the field,” Syrosk explained as he began handing out the cylinders.

Examining his gifted container, Lorrik saw that its cap doubled as a small cup, and a small hook that jut from its side held a thin looped strap. Untwisting the cap, Lorrik put the container’s opening to his nose, sniffing the contents for any aberrant chemicals. The cabin shook as the shuttle lifted from its landing pad, almost causing Lorrik to spill his allotment of water. Looking around to see if anyone had noticed, the Human saw more than one set of judging eyes upon him.

The shuttle lifted itself a decent distance into the sky before setting out into the untouched, rocky fields of Korriban.

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
07.27.2012 , 09:13 PM | #35
Chapter Three: Questions

Silence plagued the cabin of the Imperial shuttle. Each acolyte sat patiently, doing everything in their power to not intrude upon their neighbors, especially their master, who stood at the hind end of the passenger bay, eyes cold and perpetually staring toward the front of the vessel. Lorrik cautiously darted his gaze toward his fellows from time to time. Studying them. Preparing.

They continued to sit. Minutes passed. Maybe hours. The shuttle’s cabin seemed to deprive the acolytes of their senses. The dim lights of the windowless passenger bay strained their eyes. The echo of the whirring engines resonated within their ears, until they noticed little more than the continuing vibrations against their heads. Lorrik looked to his partner who sat beside him, adopting his usual stiffened stance. Arms crossed, head dipped, eyes closed, Jresh showed no signs of discomfort or discontent. The same could not be said for the inquisitor. Uncomfortable. Restless. The Human stirred in his seat, none too content with the silence.

“So… this is it… isn’t it?” Lorrik said to no one in particular. All eyes within the passenger bay fell upon the inquisitor. “The beginning of the end… of something anyways.”

“Correct,” Syrosk replied. “I can assure you all with confidence, you will not be the same acolytes you were this morning… should you return.”

“Apprenticeship… or death,” Lorrik offered.

“Correct again,” Syrosk stoically admitted.

“Wonderful,” Lorrik muttered. “So, do you truly have a plan for every possible outcome? I mean, I can’t imagine none of us returning being beneficial to whatever it is you’re planning.”

The alien offered a stern arch of his brow. “Is that so? I take it that means you have an in-depth understanding of my plans?”

“Heh, absolutely not,” Lorrik admitted. “To be fair, my prime motivator for getting back is alive is that hopefully the whole mysterious facade thing you’ve been keen on perpetrating was only for us ‘lowly acolytes’.”

Syrosk sharpened his gaze toward the wordy inquisitor. “And so long as you remain a ‘lowly acolyte’ I’d suggest you hold your tongue. I’ve no qualms about throwing you from this shuttle.”

“Hey, that just means I’d land closer to the Academy than where you plan on dropping us off. I’d consider that an advantage,” Lorrik explained.

“And what of your partner? Would you leave him by his lonesome in the midst of the other students?” Syrosk sternly asked.

Looking to his partner, Lorrik saw that Jresh remained stalwart in his stance, trying his hardest not to pay attention to the conversation. “I think he’d make it out okay. But then again, I’d rather stand by his side than get manhandled by a Sith Lord.”

“Your knack for proper judgment astounds me,” Syrosk sardonically stated.

“Hey, I figure there’s a good chance I might die out there. May as well say my piece while I have the chance,” Lorrik admitted.

“Few Sith readily accept their death as an inevitability,” Syrosk plainly stated.

“The good ones do. The ones that don’t rarely accomplish anything before they are cut down,” Lorrik explained.

“Hmm,” Syrosk muttered, neither showing a positive or negative response to Lorrik’s words.

“So what made you decide that we were ready to advance?” Lorrik asked.

“Nothing. Then again, it’s not me who decides. It you. Well, you and Korriban. I am not supplying the test, merely the parameters,” Syrosk explained.

“What’ll you be doing whilst we brave the return home?” Lorrik asked. “I don’t suppose you set up monitoring equipment in the wastes.”

“Nothing of the sort,” Syrosk rasped. “A Sith Lord has ways of knowing what transpires within his dominion. But in reality, I need not know how you succeed, merely that you do so. In the meantime, I will be preparing for your further training.”

“Assuming any of us return.”

“Quite.”

Lorrik had nothing further to add. He knew he would gain no more insight into his master or his future plans. Stirring in his seat, the inquisitor shifted his disheveled robes. Looking across the passenger bay, he found that the other students wouldn’t dare be caught gazing upon him, turning their gaze as he lifted his head. Lorrik didn’t know exactly what he had hoped to accomplish by breaking the silence. Maybe he simply wanted to see what would happen if he challenged Syrosk, though Lorrik knew himself incapable of anything more than the occasional venom from his barbed tongue. For all the time he spent training under the Sith Lord, the inquisitor knew him to be the epitome of inaction, directing with words rather than the back of his hand. And yet, Lorrik still feared him. Syrosk was knowledgeable, but physical manifestations of that knowledge were rarely seen.

Lorrik couldn’t challenge Syrosk. Then again, he wasn’t sure if he ever would want to. He wasn’t a friend, nor an ally, nor a proper mentor. Simply yet another repository of knowledge. One that he had limited access to. One he had doubts regarding its bounty. But still Lorrik sought it. Knowledge. Guidance. Something deep within him knew there was more, and he could never turn away any source of secrets. And Lord Syrosk was definitely a source of secrets. Lorrik wanted answers. The typical answers as well as atypical. He wanted to know what Syrosk wanted with these eight students. Why he would risk losing them all at once. Why he chose warriors who chose inquisitors. Lorrik wanted to know his master’s purpose, as well as his own. There was logic in his teachings, in his musings, in his actions. But the inquisitor had yet to crack the code. He couldn’t stand not understanding it. Lorrik had easier times deciphering the lost histories of Sith Lords dead and forgotten. He could not leave his tutoring unfinished, nor questions unanswered. Lorrik had to succeed. Had to survive.

Taking a note from his companion, Lorrik tried his hardest to relax. Eventually, the inquisitor was able to match Jresh’s meditations, drifting his psyche away from the burdens of his senses, of his mind. The inquisitor became absorbed in nothingness. In darkness. The void. Then a spark. Lorrik opened his eyes as a hand fell upon his shoulder. Looking up, he saw that he hand belonged to Jresh who was now standing in front of him. Turning his head, Lorrik saw that the passenger bay had emptied, and a light shone through the opened hatch.

“We’re here, Lorrik,” Jresh spoke up. Silently, the Human nodded his head. Raising himself from his seat, Lorrik walked behind his companion as the two joined with the other students outside the shuttle. The inquisitor began to rub his eyes, trying to gauge what had just occurred. He had entered a trance of sorts, time had shrunk to utter insignificance. He didn’t know if it had been minutes or hours since his conversation with the Sith Lord.

Stepping off the shuttle, the pair made their way toward the group standing a short distance away, Lorrik trying especially hard not to unintentionally draw the attention of his fellows. Standing side by side in a line in front of their master as they were accustomed to, the acolytes were in a situation none too unfamiliar. However, instead of knowing that the sanctum of the Academy lay only a short trip behind them, they found themselves lost in the vast stretches of dusty plains and barren ridges that made up the unpopulated regions of Korriban.

“Students,” Syrosk began. “Look around you. Take it in. You have the pleasure of being persons of significance by relativity. There is nothing around us. Mind that the nothingness doesn’t consume you. You have your task. Make it back to the Academy alive, and become a full apprentice. Fail, and you will be forgotten like so many before you. The shuttle will head back to the Academy in a fairly straight line. That will be the last bit of guidance I can offer you as acolytes. Farewell, Kar’ai, Ryloh, Nesk, Vurt, Isorr, Arlia, Jresh, Lorrik. The moment you hear me say your name again, then you may consider yourself my apprentice.”

Without another word, Syrosk made his way back onto the shuttle, not offering a single glance to any of the students as he passed them by. Slowly the acolytes turned and watched as the shuttle’s hatch closed behind the Sith Lord. Gazing upon the vessel’s ascension, they made careful note of its trajectory, as it would be their sole measure of guidance for the time being. As the shuttle slowly faded from the students’ sight, they instead turned their attention to one another.

Each acolyte palming the hilt of their training sabers, the dusty air was tense with uncertainty. The line broken, the students has arranged themselves in a motley mob of pairings, each casting a discerning glare toward another. The soft whistles of the Korriban winds passing the landscape were the only sounds that could be heard. No words. No breathing. No heartbeats. No one was sure how to act. They had been given their task. Given their freedom. But none saw fit to waste it. Lorrik, breaking from the stillness, unhooked the saber from his belt. The others immediately tensed, seeing nothing more than the action without regards to manner or intent. Holding the saber in front of him, Lorrik remained for but a moment before setting the weapon softly on the ground in front of him.

“Everyone,” Lorrik began, solemn in his tone. “I know that by no right should I be able to ask this of you. But please, before we begin, before we start the scheming, the backstabbing, the murder, I ask for a moment of your time.”

The others looked to their partners for insight, but none could offer any. They could watch in silence as the Human knelt in front of his saber, the Pureblood standing beside him, arms ever crossed. In truth, none of them knew how to proceed. None of them knew what they wanted to accomplish this early in the trial. They granted the low inquisitor his audience.

“There is much about this that I do not know,” Lorrik admitted. “I do know what has been asked of us. I do know that we do not all get along. I truly believe, however, that it would be in our best interest to work together.”

There were intense mumblings between the other groups. What once were visages of uncertainty, began to shift into glares, grimaces, and other opinionated manifestations. But still, no true words came. It was only until Arlia stepped forth that the natural silence was broken.

“Surely, you cannot expect us to go along with that without a proper explanation,” Arlia haughtily stated.

“Fair enough,” Lorrik replied. “I am asking for cooperation. And not simply for this task, but for future trials as well. I know this is much to ask, but I’ve noticed a growing deal of peculiarities in regards to us, our training, and our master.”

“Like?” Arlia asked.

“Like the fact that I believe that the reason we are out here, has nothing to do with us,” Lorrik explained. The other acolytes remained silent, but kept their ears opened. “Do any of you believe there was any discernible point in our training that would prompt Syrosk to take things to the next level? Things have been a steady climb, but he never truly put us in danger. Everything he’s done seems to be utterly calculated, but this, this seems like it was hastily arranged. And remember our first day of training? He said how we might become his apprentice in as little as one year. It’s been a little over half that. And I doubt we’ve exceeded his expectations by that much.”

“What are you suggesting?” Ryloh asked.

“Some outside force caused this. Or some reaction to an outside force,” Lorrik explained. “I think something is driving Syrosk to expedite his teachings. Or maybe he needed us completely out of the way for a significant amount of time.”

“But why?” Ryloh added.

“Something forced his to return to the Academy in the first place. Something prompted him to leave the battlefield and take on students. Some idea. Or some person,” Lorrik explained.

“And how does this pertain to us?” Arlia asked.

Lorrik passed his gaze over each of his fellow acolytes. “Tell me, has anyone here ever felt like they weren’t being controlled? During all your years of the Academy, you must have noticed it. We were being manipulated, driven toward something. Our teachings under the instructors, can you honestly say they fell in line with the Sith Code? Isorr, I know yourself to be an expert traditionalist. You know what I’m talking about.”

All eyes turned toward the stern Zabrak.

“I’ll admit, I thought the instructors merely incompetent,” Isorr stated. “Since they lacked strict oversight, they were capable of straying from the code so long as they produced stronger subjects for Lords seeking apprentices.”

“But we were lucky in getting out,” Lorrik replied. “What of the others, who will never achieve apprenticeship. For all we know, us finding a master was a complete fluke. Completely out of our control. Syrosk chose us… well, chose the warriors, for a reason. He pulled us from the classrooms, so that we might receive proper training. He freed us from whatever intent the instructors possessed, but now we submit to his.”

“What does this have to do with working together?” Kar’ai asked.

Lorrik took a deep breath, closing his eyes. “I have questions. We have questions. And we all deserve some answers. Answers we can’t get if we’re dead.”

“So we all work together. All make it back to the Academy. And what? Force Syrosk to answer our questions?” Arlia asked, disbelievingly.

“We can’t force anything out of him, but as his apprentices, we’ll be privy to more information than as mere acolytes,” Lorrik explained. “And with eight of us, we’ll have leverage, so long as we can agree to put aside our differences and not sabotage one another until we know our place, our real place, in the chaotic hierarchy that this Academy is perpetrating.”

“And after we have our answers? We go back to regular Sith relationships?” Arlia asked.

“We’ve already tolerated and thrived alongside the presence of a second. Think about it, would any of you be the same if you had never entered the company of your companion? Would any of you be better off? You know the benefits of aiding one another, of challenging one another, of pushing each other forward. Think of what we could accomplish if we did the same, as eight acolytes. As eight apprentices. Think about it. Arlia, I shared a datacard with you, and you in turn shared it with Isorr, and allow it to pass between the other groups. In the end, we all were able to harness the power of Force lightning in some form, when previously we didn’t even think it possible. We have grown more powerful. And yet we still continue to fight, as we should. We simply need to admit that we affect one another to such a degree that we needn’t dispose of each other until the full benefits of our interactions can be partaken in.”

“Cooperative antagonism,” Arlia softly recited.

Isorr looked to his partner, a confused look upon his face. “Arlia?”

“As much as I’d hate to admit it, he has a point,” Arlia admitted. “At this point in our training, any one of us would be at the mercy of Syrosk should his intentions lie towards our detriment. I don’t know if we’re capable of actively helping one another, but we can agree to put aside our differences until we know who or what is manipulating us.”

“That ‘who or what’ right now, is him!” Isorr shouted, jutting a stern finger toward the Human. “How do we know this all isn’t a trick to get us to play nice. To promise to not to kill him until he can return to the safety of the Academy. He is an inquisitor. What would you do Arlia? Would you risk traveling amongst the Korriban wastes with six people who hate you? Or would you try and gain their trust.”

“I understand if you-” Lorrik tried to speak.

“Shut up!” Isorr interrupted. “Besides, even if we cooperated, Syrosk said that our water ration are unlikely to sustain a single acolyte. Whether we like it or not, we will be forced to fight, to take one another’s water to survive.”

Lorrik lowered himself to his knees. “That is… correct. Unless… we had more than one canister each.”

The other students watched as the kneeling acolyte began shedding his outer layers of clothing.

“You’ll remember I was rather late in arriving to the shuttle. There were some extra supplies I needed to procure.”

Taking off his outer coat, Lorrik reveal that beneath he still had a full set of robes encompassing his body. Slipping his arms through the extra coat, the Human removed it and placed it flat in front of him beside his saber. Stitched into the fabric, rest eight cylinders wrapped in cloth so as to muffle any errant sounds they might have produced through contact. Retrieving two of the containers, Lorrik promptly handed them to Jresh who still remained silent.

“There is now enough water for all of us to make the return trip to the Academy, as long as we ration it and remember to maintain control of our bodies,” Lorrik explained.

“Did Syrosk give us permission to bring extra water?" Ryloh asked.

“Now is the time we obsess over rules?" Lorrik joked.

Isorr cast a stern glare over the additional supplies. “How do we know you haven’t poisoned those canisters?”

“You don’t,” Lorrik promptly admitted. “That’s why I’m asking you all to trust me. That’s why I’m relying only on my words instead of trying to get Jresh to convince you. Can I count on you all? I will lend my knowledge and my aid, and in return, we make the journey home. Together. So that we may all live to see our potentials fulfilled. Who is with me?”

The acolytes looked to one another, seeking answers in their companions.

“We’re with you,” Kar’ai stated, Ryloh nodding his head beside her.

Arlia supplied a jocular shrug. “Sure, why not?”

“Fine,” Isorr muttered, shooting his partner a quick glare.

The acolytes turned to the beastly pair that had remained relatively silent throughout the proceedings. The Trandoshan and Nikto looked upon the Human with mutual trepidation. They looked to one another, but found no insight in each other’s expressions. Then, unanimously, they offered an affirmative nod toward Lorrik.

“Excellent,” Lorrik said with a smile. “Jresh, remember which way the shuttle went?”

“Yes. I also measured the time it took to arrive here from the Academy,” Jresh explained. “Comparing that with the atmospheric velocity of the shuttle, I have a reasonable estimate to how far we must travel before we are home.”

“Since when do you know about starships?” Lorrik asked with a baffling curiosity.

“You have your hobbies. I decided to take an interest in astromechanics,” Jresh admitted.

“Really? Huh,” Lorrik muttered with a positive understanding.

“It’ll take at least four days travel on foot to return. Longer if we encounter substantive obstacles,” Jresh explained.

“Can we make two canteens last that long?” Lorrik asked.

“Most likely,” Jresh answered.

“Most likely,” Lorrik repeated, slowly nodding his head. “Well then… let’s get started.”

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
07.31.2012 , 12:24 AM | #36
Chapter Four: Preparations

The eight students gathered in a circle as the Korriban sun berated them with its petulant rays. The acolytes gathered around Lorrik’s laid out set of robes that acted as a mat upon the dusty planet’s surface. Each student had taken their share of water with a relative lack of hesitance, leaving only the black cloth of the coat’s interior.

“Alright. We need to do an inventory. Everyone lay down what you managed to bring along,” Lorrik told the others. Jresh was the first to empty his pockets and folds, placing a the cylindrical hand torch and datacard reader upon the cloth, followed by a series of additional energy cells for their sabers. The others were less forthcoming.

“We’re merely taking inventory,” Jresh calmly said. “You’ll be free to keep hold of your supplies. None of us will have the spare energy to try and steal them from you.”

Ryloh was the first to comply, presenting two identical small boxes. ‘Field Kit’ was printed upon their tops in Aurebesh. Compact first aid kits. Bandages, cleaning materials, and vials of kolto contained within. Kar’ai followed, presenting two sealed packages of glistening plastic wrapping a nondescript brick of material. Edible rations. Hesitant to be called ‘food’. Hyper-condensed nutritional paste made solid. Sates hunger. Digests slowly. Sustained sustenance at the cost of tasting like dirt.

Lorrik made a note of the materials and offered an approving nod toward the duo. Turning toward Nesk and Vurt, he was simply greeted with the Trandoshan slowly shaking his head.

“Is that a ‘no, these are mine’, or a ‘no, we didn’t bring anything’? Lorrik asked.

“Not require suppliess,” Nesk admitted.

“You speaking for him too?” Lorrik asked, nudging his head toward the Nikto. The Trandoshan offered an affirming nod. “Well, you two are a credit to your species.”

Isorr released a low grumble. “How do we know they aren’t hiding something?”

“When have they ever set out to accomplish anything by means other than pure strength and determination?” Lorrik asked before turning to the primal pair. “A compliment, I assure you.”

“Come on, Isorr, there’s nothing to be gained at this point,” Arlia stated as she reached into her pockets. Releasing another grumble, the Zabrak resigned himself to doing the same. The pair revealed more of the same field rations as well as additional energy cells.

“I’m honestly surprised you two didn’t try to smuggle in any extra water,” Lorrik admitted.

“If there was one trial I would not risk disqualification from, it’d be this one,” Isorr explained.

Lorrik offered a knowing tilt of his head. “Fair point. Let’s see here. One, two… six bricks of Imperial Survival Rations. Each brick typically divided into two meals, eaten at the start of each day. A Sith couple probably halve the portions, making them last four days. Good. Should lessen our need to hunt for food.”

“Are we expected to share?” Arlia condescendingly asked.

“No, no, you had the forethought to bring them, you deserve them,” Lorrik said, not an ounce of disingenuousness in his voice.

“Why didn’t you two bring food?” Ryloh asked.

“I put the extra effort toward securing water,” Lorrik explained.

“That, and he disposed of our rations months ago when he got his hands on some real food,” Jresh added. “Nothing in our kitchen had any real lasting capability.”

“We had a full meal before we departed, and we’ve a certain degree of control over our metabolisms. We’ll be okay for now,” Lorrik admitted. “I don’t think Nesk or Vurt will succumb to hunger anytime soon, either.” Turning his attention to the small assortment of supplies that laid before him, Lorrik bit his lip as his eyes darted to each minimal piece of relief. “Looks like this is what we’re working with for now.”

“What’s with the datapad?” Kar’ai asked.

“I brought some information regarding the planet’s fauna and flora, or rather, lack thereof,” Lorrik explained. “This can help us find what’s digestible, what’s poisonous, those sort of things. Nesk and Vurt will likely be our best huntsmen. I can cook whatever we manage to trap and kill.”

“Anything on the surrounding geography?” Kar’ai continued.

“Sadly, no. We’re going to have to head back to the Academy and hope nothing insurmountable impedes our path,” Lorrik stated. “I’ll keep notes along our journey to keep us on the right track. I’m not exactly familiar with the stars, but if we keep track of the sun’s movement we can be sure we’re heading in the right direction each day. Hopefully.”

The Zabrak crossed his arms as his gaze drifted toward the ground. “For all we know, Syrosk took a curved path home just to screw with us.”

“I doubt it,” Jresh admitted. “I believe he intends for at least some of us to succeed. He’d have no reason to needlessly disrupt our efforts.”

“There is no accounting for that man and his ‘reason’s,” Isorr muttered.

Lorrik lifted his gaze from the assorted supplies, staring off toward the horizon. “We’ve chatted enough. We need to start our travel sooner rather than later.”

“So what, we just get up and walk back to the Academy? Just like that?” Arlia asked in a rather haughty fashion.

“There’s only so much planning we can do at this point,” Jresh plainly stated.

“He’s right,” Kar’ai spoke up. “Better to just get moving until we find a suitable place to rest.”

Ryloh didn’t share his partner’s determination. “We don’t exactly have the materials for making camp.”

“With darkness comes danger. We’ll most likely have to stop long before we tire,” Lorrik explained.

“Are the lowly beasts of Korriban truly so dangerous?” Isorr dismissively asked.

“The creatures are forced to compete and survive, much as we do. They draw upon dark energies, much as we do. Our equals stalk the plains, waiting for us to let our guards down,” Lorrik explained.

“So what do we do? Find a cave somewhere along our path?” Ryloh asked.

“Oh no. Caves are bastions of the darkness,” Lorrik explained. “A boon for a Sith looking for a challenge. Not for one seeking survival. We’ll likely settle down against a ridge. Something not completely exposed.”

“Well, no reason to stand around, I guess,” Arlia bluntly stated.

Each acolyte picked up their previously laid down supplies. Jresh left his materials on the robes, allowing Lorrik to wrap them up in the coat. Now in a tightly wound package, the Pureblood secured the duo’s supplies to his waist by tucking the exposed sleeves of the coat into his belt. With an exchange of nods, the pair was ready to proceed.

“Unless anyone else got a better look at the shuttle’s vector, Jresh should take the lead,” Lorrik offered to no objections from the other acolytes.

Jresh quietly separated himself from the group as he calmly walked upon his set course. With little deliberation, the other acolytes followed in a motley arrangement, choosing to neither conform to a line nor walk closely upon the Pureblood’s trail. In silence the caravan of humanoids progressed from the landing zone, into the mysterious lands that lay between themselves and the Academy. With time, the winds carried forth a new layer of dust upon the ground on which the acolytes once stood, removing any evidence of their presence.

Their boots continuously and methodically stepping upon the hardened ground, the students pressed onward toward their goal. Toward the Academy. Toward apprenticeship. Toward the future. Like so many trials before them, their path lay burdened by inhibitors. However, where once their greatest foes would be each other, now they had formed an alliance. To brave the harsh landscape. To uncover their master’s intentions. To no longer simply survive, but to live. To find a life beyond the machinations of Sith Lords. To step outside the realm of simple dominion. To cast aside gambits and manipulations for the sake of the self.

And so the acolytes walked. For at the moment, that was all they were capable of. But eventually, they would be capable of so much more. They would have to be. They were Sith and they had no intention of shedding that designation. The Academy and those whom would use it sought to control them, as Sith were want to do. As Sith, it was their duty to take that control back. They stood united, cognizant of their potential. Not blind to pride. Not averse to gains. With time, there was greatness to be had. But only with time. For now, survival. But the acolytes were prepared. They had a plan. Though plans made by day’s light rarely survived by the darkness of night.

----------

Back at the Academy, the shuttle bearing Lord Syrosk touched down on the landing pad located toward the outer extremities of the Academy grounds. As the pilot began powering down the craft, the Sith Lord made his entrance into the cockpit. The Imperial immediately tensed at the powerful figure's presence. Surpassing the room’s threshold, Syrosk placed a hand upon the pilot’s shoulder.

“Wipe the ship’s logs,” Syrosk plainly directed, his rasp chilling the Human to the bone. Immediately complying, the pilot directed his attention to one of the many consoles upon his dashboard and began furiously tapping away at the interface. The Sith Lord turned to make his exit before taking one final pause. “If you tell anyone the details of this trip… I will exact upon you a most painful demise.”

Without another word, the Sith Lord vacated the shuttle, leaving behind a severely frightened pilot trembling in his seat. Stepping off the ship, Lord Syrosk made his way back to the Academy with a steady haste unbefitting his usual demeanor, his cloak bobbing behind him as it grasped at the passing winds.

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Osetto
08.06.2012 , 09:05 PM | #37
Chapter Five: Intentions

The eight acolytes steadily walked across the vast expanse of desolateness that stretched around them. Dried lands. Dread lands. There was nothing of significance to be seen in any direction. However, none were sure of the danger that rest beyond the limited scope of their eyes. Though seemingly unpopulated, the area was not without its share of details. Rising from the barren terrain were a number of mountains, hills, and ridges that threatened to impede the students. Korriban’s surface was naturally jagged, a place of harshness mirroring its inhabitants.

Keeping to a straight line, the acolytes were forced to overcome numerous changes in elevation, carefully ascending and descending the crackling slopes that lied before them. Occasionally, one student would lose their footing, momentarily forcing them to catch themselves against the orange rock that rest beneath their feet. The acolyte would stumble, then recover, with none of the others batting an eye of concern. They knew these hills were the least of their concern. Paying them any amount of attention would speak worse of themselves rather than the obstacles.

The Korriban sun slow began to lower itself from the sky. Falling ever so slowly, the acolytes’ shadows steadily grew and elongated beside them as they continued their venture. The day was growing short as the light and heat slowly abandoned the acolytes. They had walked for hours, showing no signs of hunger nor thirst, marching with the intensity and integrity expected of a Sith. Hours more passed by, the sun dipping below the peak of a distant mountain ridge, leaving only a dimly orange haze in the place of natural lighting. As their surroundings grew ever darker and a chilled howl emerged a great distance away, the acolytes agreed that it was time to rest.

The students stopped as they reached a crescent shaped ridge jutting from the ground. With little in the way of supplies, there was not much to be done in the way dressing up the site. As the darkness of night began to envelope the group, Lorrik retrieved the hand torch from Jresh’s pack. Digging a small hole in the ground, the Human activated the torch before securing it in its impromptu emplacement. On a low burn, the bit of technology offered a source of light for the acolytes to gather around. Sitting around the shimmering flame, the students lost themselves to their own thoughts.

“Are we sure the light won’t attract any creatures?” Isorr sternly asked Lorrik.

“Any prowling hound could find us with or without the flame,” Lorrik half-answered. “In the dead of night, they’d be more confident in trying to pick us off one by one.”

“Fair enough,” Isorr muttered.

“There really isn’t much more we can do at this point,” Lorrik admitted. “Eat some of your rations if you have them and attempt to get some sleep.”

“Are we sure the rations won’t attract any creatures?” Arlia asked.

“Honestly, they might repel them,” Lorrik joked.

The four acolytes possessing edibles retrieved them from their robes, carefully unwrapping the bricks of murky, solid paste. Tearing off a bit of a corner, Arlia hesitantly placed the material into her mouth. The immediate wince upon her face detailed the ration’s putrid taste. The others followed with similar results, fighting to keep down whatever they attempted to consume.

“How can you tell if these things are expired?” Ryloh curiously asked.

“Well, they supposedly have a shelf life of twenty years,” Lorrik explained.

“An alchemist is behind this… I’m sure of it,” Kar’ai stated through flared nostrils. Prompting a few chuckles, the foodless acolytes took a careful sip from their canteens. With no interest in further banter, the students finished their brief meals before placing their backs to the ridge. Far from a huddle, but the acolytes did arrange themselves in a relatively concise arrangement utilizing the bastion of the rocks behind them. No blankets. No pillows. The students merely laid upon the cold hard ground with nothing more than their robes acting as a cushion. Eventually, the eight drifted into a state of slumber, many of them clutching their sabers should the need to defend themselves arise.

As Lorrik closed his eyes, he traded one darkness for another. The blankness of his eyelids, however, soon turned into a dreamscape. Lorrik found himself standing in the middle of a barren field. Orange rock with only the faintest layer of dust and sand laying upon it. The field stretched endlessly in every direction, no changes in elevation to be seen. Only the vast flatness in the still of the night. Darkness surrounded Lorrik as readily as the harsh terrain, only the soft luminance of the stars above offering their gentle solace. Though he stood in his usual attire, he found himself metaphorically naked, no weapons by his side.

Before he could even begin to get a grasp of the situation, Lorrik heard a sharp crack emanate behind him. Distant, the inquisitor quickly turned to see no apparent source. Again the sound repeated, like the chipping of rock, this time to his left. Turning to face the noise, Lorrik found nothing. Another noise, this time the harsh scratching of blade against stone resonated behind him, louder than ever. Searching for the source, Lorrik caught only the frightening glance of a red blur escaping his vision. Trying to follow the blur proved folly as the inquisitor found himself despairing over his isolation. Nothing was there. Something was there. Haunting him. Lorrik thought to move, but his feet refused to move, except to only turn upon his heels one final time. Facing a new direction, he found the beast of crimson upon him. As much as time could freeze, it could not prevent the raking of the beast’s claws across the Human’s chest. Lorrik fell, and as his face touched the ground, he rose.

Shooting up from his prone position, Lorrik found only the light of the hand torch occupying his view. Awaking from his dream, he rubbed his face as he came to his senses. Looking around the camp site, the Human saw the other acolytes sound asleep. Six of them. Ryloh was missing. Carefully rising, Lorrik tried his hardest not to wake any of the slumbering Sith. Looking outward, the inquisitor saw a softly golden glow upon the ground a short distance away from the camp. Venturing forth, Lorrik carefully shuffled upon the coarse ground in as stealthy a fashion as he was capable of.

Walking amongst the shadows between the two sources of light, Lorrik saw the outline of a kneeling figure between him and the golden glow. Cautiously approaching, more and more details became apparent to the Human. It was definitely Ryloh, and the light came from the ignited training saber that lay in front of him.

“Ryloh…” Lorrik whispered, trying to get the Twi’lek’s attention.

“Lorrik… Can’t sleep either?” Ryloh replied without moving from his spot. Standing beside the kneeling figure, Lorrik saw that the fellow inquisitor knelt with his hands neatly placed upon his lap, his gaze gently affixed on the darkness beyond.

“I guess you could say that. What are you doing out here?” Lorrik asked, a softness to his voice.

“I’ve asked myself the same thing,” Ryloh somberly replied. Unhooking the saber from his belt, Lorrik placed it next to Ryloh’s before kneeling by his side. “It’s strange, you know, seeing you taking control of the group.”

“I don’t know if I’d consider it taking control,” Lorrik abashedly stated.

“You did something I thought impossible,” Ryloh admitted. “Outside the confines of the Academy. All eight of us. No rules. Only the singular objective of making it back. And you managed to keep us all from killing each other.”

“Well, it’s only been a single day,” Lorrik joked.

“I’ve been watching you,” Ryloh warmly stated. “You’ve come a long way.”

“I suppose that’s a compliment.”

“I don’t mean since we’ve begun training under Syrosk,” Ryloh explained. “Lorrik Velash. Student of class two. Friend of Jora Dynn. Enemy of Ornell Barath. Otherwise un-confrontational with fellow students. High marks in academics, but low in physical trials. Obviously some things have changed in six months.”

“You’re… quite the observer,” Lorrik stated, somewhat astounded.

“It’s what I’m best at,” Ryloh replied with a softened chuckle. “It’s how I got through my early years of training. Watch. Listen. Observe. React accordingly.”

“I can relate,” Lorrik admitted. “I could never count on physical superiority, and I never had the cutthroat mentality of other inquisitors.”

“But you were at least personable,” Ryloh offered. “As much grief as the others might give you for your talking, you knew enough about how people work. Entering agreements… offering trades and barters, all without the connotations of conniving manipulation. I wasn’t capable of that. I kept to the shadows, hidden out of sight. Both metaphorically and literally. I isolated myself.” Ryloh’s head sunk as his voice eventually faded.

The Human forced a smile. “At least things seem to have changed.”

“And it seems some changes are still ahead,” Ryloh stated with no variance from his previous tone.

“Does that bother you?”

“In some ways… yes. Can I be honest with you for a moment?” Ryloh softly asked.

“Of course.”

“The fact that I’m even sitting here right now is an accident,” Ryloh admitted. Lorrik offered a curious glance to the Twi’lek. “You remember that first day, Syrosk didn’t pick us, the warriors did. Nesk and Kar’ai were fielding potential partners in the dueling area, having us fight each other for their approval. Vurt managed to catch Nesk’s eye. As Kar’ai watched students duel, I did as well. I wanted nothing to do with it, but I had every intention of understanding what exactly was going on. Then, some classmates managed to push me into the circle. I dueled, lest I draw the attention fleeing would entail. Defended myself. Managed to edge out a victory. Nothing showy. Nothing above and beyond my peers. Yet, for some insane reason, Kar’ai picked me as her partner. At first, I thought she wanted me as a trophy, a pet, or someone to make her look even better. But that couldn’t be further from reality.”

“She was accepting of Syrosk’s arrangement?” Lorrik asked.

“More than accepting. She pushed me to be better. To strive. To accomplish. I had no ambition, no desire to rise above the others. I just wanted to get by. Get out of this Academy alive. I still intend on surviving, but she taught me to want something more. She taught me to take control of my own life. Follow my own destiny. And I’m eternally thankful for that. For her. Now, we’re more than allies. More than partners. But… my mind is plagued with concern.”

“What concerns you? The idea of attachment?”

“No. She provides me emotion. Passion. Strength. She’s the very reason I might stand to call myself a Sith. No, my concern lies with our teachings. Our master. This Academy.”

“You’re not alone. I can assure you when we return, we’ll get some answers,” Lorrik explained.

“My entire stay here… answers were the only thing I ever wanted. Now… now, I’m not so sure. I’m scared of what those answers might be.”

Lorrik eyes narrowed as he maintained his gaze upon the reticent Twi’lek. “Are you afraid of what Syrosk has planned for us?”

“It’s much more than that. There’s more amiss than our master’s intentions,” Ryloh explained. The Human arched his brow before leaning in.

“Tell me more,” Lorrik whispered.

“We’ve been manipulated. Lied to. Misdirected. And not by Syrosk. At least, not solely by him. In all my years of watching and listening for every bit of absorbable information, I came across… contradictions. I thought it was all a part of the process. Just throw misinformation at the students, see what sticks, judge them on it. But now, I’m not so sure. This Academy and its instructors… they’ve been controlling us. And we freed ourselves from them only to fall under Syrosk’s control.”

“We’ll earn our freedom in time. I’m sure of it,” Lorrik emphatically stated.

“Will we? Should we?” Ryloh asked, less enthused. “Would we truly be better off given complete control of our lives? The Academy was driving us toward something. Syrosk is driving us toward something. I was born a slave. I considered myself somewhat free within the halls of the Academy. I was merely isolated. Cut off from those stronger and weaker than I. Stagnant. And eventually my luck of getting by would run out. Kar’ai taught me to take control, but in order to do that I had to freely offer it to her first. She’s given me something more than I ever could have attained were I free. I thank her for it. I admire her for it. I love her for it.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Control and freedom take many forms, each holding positive and negative outcomes. Whilst under the tutelage of the class instructors, our progress waned. Under Syrosk, it has been bolstered beyond what we thought possible.”

“But how much can we credit Syrosk with our success? Much of the time we’d receive a short lesson and he’d send us on our way. We’ve accomplished much without our master’s intervention.”

“Have we? Maybe this is all a part of his plan. All a part of his style. Freedom is an illusion for all but the most powerful Sith. We should focus on making the most of our controller rather than needlessly lash out at what we see as oppression. I know you want answers. I do too. But he is an asset we cannot dismiss. There’s a chance all this is for our benefit.”

“You truly believe so?”

Ryloh released a soft sigh. “Think about it. When was the last time Syrosk seemed surprised by anything? He is meticulous in his plans. He knew what thoughts would pass through our heads out here. You think he’d send us out here without knowing the outcome? In whatever manner we return, he will undoubtedly expect it. Even out of reach, out of sight, he is guiding us.”

“The question is whether his intentions are entirely selfish.”

“There were many things he could have done differently. He pulled us from the Academy classrooms. We would have worshiped him, treated him as our all-powerful savior had he cultivated that mentality. But he didn’t. He’s given us a taste of freedom. He’s given us time to think. He’s given us the opportunity to rebel. He has every intention to influence our paths, but I believe that we walk a path worth following.”

“You think he’s actively working toward our benefit?” Lorrik asked.

“Isn’t that what you’re trying to do?”

“I suppose you’re right. And I suppose there’s room for dissenting thought outside the ranks of unruly acolytes,” Lorrik stated with a smile. Gently, the Human rose from his knees and re-hooked his saber to his belt.

“Thanks for listening,” Ryloh gratefully stated.

“No problem. Try and get some sleep. Or at least head back to the campsite. Wouldn’t want you to get picked off by a hound.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

Together, the two acolytes walked amongst the quiet darkness back to the lambent flicker of the still-burning torch that the others surrounded in their slumberous state.

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Osetto
08.14.2012 , 01:27 AM | #38
Chapter Six: Gambits

The sun rose from its slumber behind the jagged mountaintops of the Korriban landscape. As the hours of morning were fading into those of midday, the eight acolytes had long since moved on from their camp, leaving little evidence of their overnight stay amongst the dusty ridge. Wind swept across the plains, across the hills, across the tumultuous rocks, kicking up dust and providing a subtle tune for those who would care to listen. Further down the path traveled by the Sith students, a much harsher sound echoed far and wide.

A painful howl emanated from a wounded acolyte. At the base of a mountain ridge, Lorrik sat amidst the rustling dirt, clutching at his leg in agony. No others to be seen in any direction, only the unforgiving terrain that surrounded him. No words, only the unclear ramblings of a pained individual cursing the wind with all his soul. The shouts traveled far, and they were not without their recipients, intended or otherwise.

In distance, upon the stretching plains before the wounded acolyte, beasts were beginning to take notice of the feeble Human’s plight. A pack of wild tuk’ata. Sith hounds with blackened, jagged hides fast approached the fallen inquisitor. They approached fast and low, kicking up more dust as their claws raked at the dirt for traction. Clutching at the ground with each step, they feverishly propelled themselves toward their intended bounty as the distance between the pack and the Human grew shorter and shorter. Six strong, the pack would decimate the wounded inquisitor the moment one could sink their teeth into the howling man’s flesh.

Just as the pack leader readied its final assault, it stumbled to the ground without notice, tumbling and tripping the hounds directly behind it. Taking no notice, two flanking beasts pressed forward uninhibited, until they found themselves losing traction as their paws no longer touched the ground. Gently floating into the air, the tuk’ata lashed out with their legs and snapped their jaws at the invisible forces enwrapping them. As the four hounds behind them recovered from their fall, they found the injured man was not alone.

Emerging with frightening haste from the surrounding rocks, four warriors stormed the pack, sabers drawn, energy arrays ignited. Fight or flight engaged. All parties selected to fight. The pack leader lunged at the figure of crimson flesh before being stuck down by the infernal blow of the Pureblood’s weapon. The horned individual faced the spiky hound that graced his presence and extended his clenching hand, suffocated the beast with his invisible grip. Another hound charged the marked female, who stood still in the face of the barreling tuk’ata, stepping aside only at the last moment to offer a gentle riposte, flooring the beast. The lizard charged upon the fourth tuk’ata, matching its ferocity as it bashed the hound with his clawed hand before finishing it with a twist of his blade.

The floating tuk’ata watched as three more figures emerged from the rocks. The blue male gazed upon them with his arms outstretched, whilst the purple and orange figures approached them each with murderous intent in their eyes. In no time at all, the pack had been rendered lifeless. Inert. Dusting off his legs, Lorrik slowly raised himself from his fallen position to no detriment.

“Told it so,” Nesk snarled with an unusual confidence.

“Okay, I’ll admit it was a good plan,” Lorrik stated. “My datacard spoke rather highly of the beasts, I wasn’t entirely sure if they’d fall for it.”

“To be fair, you make a convincing victim,” Arlia joked.

“Because I’ve had so much practice?” Lorrik warmly added, finishing her insult for her. The Twi’lek offered a hearty laugh as she sheathed her saber.

“Keep in high spirits. You’re going to need it when you eat these things,” Arlia stated.

“Can’t be worse than your field rations,” Lorrik muttered.

“I’d be hard pressed to disagree. Well, there’s certainly enough here for all of us. If we have a nice meal we can stretch out our rations. Might be inclined to share some later on,” Arlia teased.

“It was Nesk and Vurt’s plan, they get to decide who eats,” Jresh declared.

“Must harvest meat. Then decide,” Nesk explained as he began dragging tuk’ata carcasses into a tidy pile.

“We don’t exactly have the tools to flense and clean these things, so we don’t have an exact figure for how much edible meat we can retrieve for cooking,” Lorrik admitted.

“Will prove it wrong again,” Nesk muttered as he finished his piling duties. “Vurt!”

Dragging a tuk’ata, the Trandoshan laid it down away from the others, it’s abdomen exposed to the sky. Vurt silently approached and took a knee in front of the displayed carcass. Nesk knelt at the opposite flank and traced a line with his claw from end to end, beginning at the beast’s neck. Closing his eyes, Vurt removed his gloves and placed his sharped nail at the point his partner had instructed. Concentrating, the Nikto grimaced as he focused his power through his hand. Instead of the usual forceful push, a precise cut manifested. As Vurt went to work incising upon the tuk’ata, the other acolyte watched from the sidelines with mixed reactions.

“It may taste better, but when it comes to odor… I’ll stick with the rations,” Ryloh admitted.

“Just wait till you see me work my magic,” Lorrik stated, tinged with self-confidence.

“You don’t mean, like, actual magic, right? I’ve tasted what Sith alchemy does to food,” Arlia offered with an inherent dread.

----------

Lord Syrosk stood, resolute, amongst the drifting winds in front of the Sith Academy. His hands behind his back, his figure utterly motionless aside from the gentle wafting of his cloak in his breeze, the Sith Lord waited. And waited. For something. For someone. His eyes fixed upon the distant horizon, the sight he awaited finally manifested, prompting no joy in the alien’s exposed visage. Descending from the sky, an Imperial shuttle made its way toward the landing pad that lay a short distance in front of the Sith Lord.

Touching down, the vessel let out a soft bellow as it relaxed upon its gears. As the panel concealing the shuttle’s side exit extended, the hatch withdrew revealing only the darkness of the ship’s interior. Such darkness was only broken when the vessel’s sole inhabitant stepped out into the illuminating light of the Korriban sun. Though basking in the rays of the midday luminance, the arriving figure manage to preserve the aura of darkness in his presence.

The man stood in the blackened armor of a Sith warlord. Heavy fabric beset by armored plates, a black cape trailing him. Only the pale flesh of the Human’s head lay exposed from the fully encompassing suit. Taking a step away from the shuttle, followed by another, the figure walked with an intimidation heavily seeded in his gait. The Sith drew ever closer to Lord Syrosk, who refused to shift from his planted position. The dark figure matched the alien in height and bulk, but countered the alien’s perpetual scowl. The Sith appeared sufficiently aged, even more so than Syrosk. His skin was pale and creased, and the grayed hairs atop his head were meticulously kept. Though far in his years, the Sith’s face possessed a sense of charisma in his visage, unburdened by the typical signs of dark side corruption. But the Sith’s power was certain to all who gazed upon him, to all whom possessed even the slightest connection to the Force.

“Lord Tash,” Syrosk coldly greeted with his usual rasp.

“Darth Tash,” the Sith quickly corrected. The two matched cold stares, each unrelenting, each unforgiving. “Surely you do not intend to keep me from my students?” The Darth’s speech was utterly measured. Calm. Bitterly cold and unyielding, yet continuously smooth.

“From your students? No,” Syrosk answered.

“Ah yes, don’t believe that your meddling into my affairs has escaped my attention,” Tash said, no overt hatred in his voice. “While I was out conquering worlds, you intruded upon my flock and plucked eight students for yourselves. Interrupting and disrupting the work of my appointed instructors.”

“You’ve not as much control of this Academy as you think,” Syrosk rasped. “My actions were carried out with the permission of men above both of us. You’re free to continue your operations in the forgotten halls. I’m sure the absence of eight lowly acolytes will make no difference.”

“You should mind your place, ” Tash said with a harsh whisper, breaking his previously serene facade. “I still have the power to put a permanent end your intrusive meddling.”

“You forget the difference between power and authority,” Syrosk countered. “And here… you’ve neither. Tend to your crop, but don’t expect to find any weeds. I’ve ensured that they remain far beyond your reach.”

“You have no idea how far my reach can extend,” Tash replied with a slight curl to his lips.

“You’d be surprised,” Syrosk emphatically stated as he finally removed himself from the Darth’s path. Unflustered, the gray Human continued on his path. Syrosk watched with dispassionate eyes as Darth Tash distanced himself from his position before finally disappearing into the bowels of the Academy. Returning his gaze to the distant horizon, the Sith Lord once again stood alone as the wind gently swept by.

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Osetto
08.16.2012 , 09:56 PM | #39
Chapter Seven: Promises

The eight acolytes sat in a motley gathering upon the warmly lit dirt. A couple of tuk’ata lay harvested a short distance away, out of general sensory range. A small strip of meat lay floating directly in front of Lorrik’s concentrated gaze, his mind holding it as his hand held a fully ignited hand torch.

Passing the flame under the meat at regular intervals the piece slowly but surely darkened as it cooked. Across from the chef, other partook in the bits and pieces he had previously tended to. As Arlia took a bite of her gifted strip, her face offered something far from delight as a response. Luckily, it was just as far from disgust.

“Magic, eh?” Arlia prodded the still focused Lorrik.

“I may… have overestimated my ability to cook with such limited tools,” the Human cautiously admitted, never taking his eyes or focus off his cooking. “Yours turn out okay Jresh?”

“No complaints,” Jresh immediately admitted as he tore into his allotment of food.

To his left, Nesk and Vurt seemed more than content with Lorrik’s treatment of their bounty. The others found a genuinely sweet respite from their horrendously distasteful rations. Finishing his own piece last, Lorrik waited hardly a moment before taking a bite of his strip of meat.

Chewing, savoring the meal, the inquisitor found himself in the most peaceful of states since the last few days, since before the long journey home had even began. Tuk’ata meat wasn’t the best cooking material even with a proper kitchen. But this wasn’t a matter of taste. It wasn’t a matter of food. It was a matter of fulfillment. Lorrik. Of satisfaction. Of achievement. Lorrik. Of recognizing the beauty of something from nothing.

“Lorrik!”

Looking up, the Human saw the other seven acolytes staring him down. Silent. Baring expressions ranging from judgment to concern.

“Huh?” Lorrik confusingly muttered.

“You okay?” Ryloh offered. “You seemed out of it for a moment. Thought you might have ingested something poisonous.”

“No, no. I’m fine,” Lorrik bashfully answered.

“Good, didn’t exactly need or want to have second thought about this meal,” Kar’ai emphatically stated.

“Good to have something so basic. Just meat plus fire equals food. None of that artificial nonsense,” Arlia declared.

“Actually, the tuk’ata exist because of Sith alchemy,” Lorrik explained. “What species they were based from, I don’t know, but they aren’t exactly natural. Well, I guess that depends on how natural you think dark side influence is.”

“I said I didn’t need second thoughts about this meal,” Kar’ai restated, unamused.

“Don’t worry, all the poisonous bits are along the skull and back,” Lorrik nonchalantly informed. “Get deep enough below the hide and it should be safe to eat.”

“Should be?” Ryloh and Kar’ai exclaimed in unison.

“Most of what’s left living in Korriban has been touched by the dark side or the Sith, and they are forced to compete and feed off one another,” Lorrik explained. “Whatever toxins or taints exist within their prey, they endure it to ensure their own survival. The disparity between strength and weakness isn’t getting enough to eat, it’s enduring indigestion.”

“Somewhere along the line, I think your metaphor lost traction,” Arlia admitted.

“Oh, was I making a metaphor?” Lorrik playfully asked.

“It’s true, the situation the Academy tries to develop for its students isn’t wholly unique,” Ryloh offered.

Lorrik supplied a confident nod. “It’s found in nature. Granted, in nature the Sith fostered, but found nonetheless.”

“Man points how creatures must compete amongst dire circumstances to survive and become strong, the day after he proposes an agreement of cooperation,” Arlia said with a bemused chuckle.

“I think my point stands,” Lorrik admitted. “The Academy tried to tell us we’re all completely separate entities. Completely independent from one another. Completely isolated. These tuk’ata weren’t competing with each other. They ran as a pack.”

“And they lost,” Isorr lowly muttered.

“To a superior force,” Lorrik replied. “Any one of us most likely would have been overrun if we faced the pack alone. And these are the lesser of their kind. The tuk’ata that stalk the wastes have lost much of what their Sith masters had instilled in them. They are force sensitive. Semi-sentient. Some are capable of speech, or living more than a century. You get a pack of the breed Sith Lords use to guard their tombs, you have a force to be reckoned with.”

“And you didn’t know they’d respond to a Human in pain?” Arlia joked.

“Doing a lot of overestimation this morning, I’ll readily admit as much,” Lorrik plainly offered.

“If I regret this meal hours from now, this alliance is over,” Arlia half-jokingly stated.

“I would never knowingly do anything to harm any one of us. I promise.”

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In the grand lecture hall nestled deep within the Academy lower extremities, the entirety of eight classrooms worth of students gathered amongst the stony arrangements that surrounded the empty dais in the center of the room. Where once Isorr and Jresh had sought their partners under Lord Syrosk, the mass of acolytes that failed to or didn’t want to meet their approval sat with growing trepidation. Entire classes of inquisitors and warriors gathered in the same place, with their instructors situated in the row nearest the speaker’s platform.

None had witnessed such a feat. None had any clue as to what could prompt such a gathering. Each student saw others they had only caught brief glimpses of when classes would occasionally share a sparring space. Each student gazed upon the full roster of the remaining warriors and inquisitors that remained within the ring. The subtle murmurs and chatters between the young adults of various species and creeds echoed throughout the circular chamber as their voices carried and bounced off the solid surfaces that surrounded them. All the while, their instructors sat below them, paying no attention to their lessers, offering nothing tantamount to instruction or guidance. Merely the slow meaningless passage of time. Until meaning presented itself as it passed through the chamber’s entrance.

There was no clamorous entrance, no booming intrusion, no sweeping of doors. Merely the contained essence of a Darth entering the threshold of the lecture hall. The audible musings and conversations between students immediately ceased. For the first time, they were in the presence of true power. Tucked away in the forgotten halls, they only had themselves as company. No Council members graced their presence on their way to their chambers. No powerful Lords came to them directly. In their minds, that was the standard. An orchestrated existence years in the making. And amongst them now walked its orchestrator.

Slowly, Darth Tash made his way to the central area below. With each conservative step, the students that sat nearby basked in his aura. As time went on, the acolytes gained greater and greater comprehension of the elder Human’s strength. Where one could expect frailty, they saw only vitality. Where one could expect weakness, they only felt raw power. Where one could expect a distanced superiority, they sensed an odd consideration. The acolytes could not distinguish whether they were there for him, or whether he was there for them. Taking his spot upon the slightly raised dais, the entirety of his surroundings focused on his presence. The students. The instructors. The room’s fixtures themselves.

“Esteemed students of the Korriban Academy,” Tash began, his voice penetrating the ear of every inhabitant. “Warriors. Inquisitors. Acolytes. You have toiled for years under the assumption that you may one day become true Sith. You have not been misled. Within each of you rests the potential. The potential for strength. The potential for knowledge. The potential to unlock the secrets of the Force! And after so long, you toiling has not gone unnoticed. I am Darth Tash. The man who single-handedly won the Battle over Dantooine. The man who drove back the Republic with the Nebulae Campaign. The man who has commanded squads… companies… battalions… in the service of the Emperor! Through my guidance, Imperials have achieved greatness. Mere soldiers turned into commanders. Officers turned into Moffs. I now seek to offer my expertise to you my young Sith. Your instructors have put you on the path… the path toward true power. I will walk amongst you down that path. To shepherd you into the darkness. Through the darkness. There, you will learn to master it. There, you will learn to control the Force.”

As enraptured by the speech the impressionable acolytes were, their attention was interrupted by the intrusion of a new party. From the entrance, a dark figure appeared and began to make his way toward the platform. It was Lord Syrosk.

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“We’re in a situation we couldn’t have prepared for,” Lorrik admitted. “There are forces at work beyond our knowledge. Beyond our understanding. We don’t have all the answers, and to be honest, there’s a chance we never will. But if we don’t cooperate, we’ll eventually succumb to whomever hides those answers.”

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As Lord Syrosk made his way to the stationary Darth Tash, the once silent hall resumed its previous murmurings. Where one would expect outrage, the Darth remained utterly calm and collected despite the intrusion. When Syrosk had make it to the floor level, he had reached his point of confrontation.

“It is unwise to promise that which you cannot provide, Tash,” Syrosk offered with his usual rasp.

“I shan’t disagree with you Syrosk. Fortunately, I have yet to overstate what I can provide these acolytes,” Tash replied, unhesitant to banter with the intruder. The alien fast approached the Darth upon the dais. Directly facing one another, Tash now stood a head higher than his opponent.

“What is it you hope to accomplish?” Syrosk harshly whispered. “Hmm? There are better ways to raise an army.”

“You poor, insolent, fool,” Tash whispered back. “You still believe that I desire an army.”

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“I am certain we can survive this,” Lorrik continued. “I am certain we’ll come out of this venture ahead. Look at how we perform when we point our skills toward a common goal. Effortlessly defeating a pack of tuk’ata. We’ve bolstered our reserve of resources. There will never be a shortage of struggles in this world. In this galaxy. We needn’t keep one another down to achieve greatness.”

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“This man!” Tash turned his attention to the gathered students. “He has already taken a number of students from your ranks. He has sought to remove them from the Academy before they were ready. To distill that which they have earned within these halls. To remove the teachings of your instructors. Is the kind of master you would offer yourself to? One who would disregard Sith tenets… and to what avail?”

“You’ve revealed your incompetence. You’ve no knowledge of this Academy or its workings,” Syrosk rasped. “You have been fighting and killing for personal glory, not for the sake of the Empire. I’ve successfully trained eight remarkable students. Taken them away from the indoctrinating succor of the instructors. I have given them true strength. That which these classrooms cannot provide.”

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“We’ve been given a specific toolset,” Lorrik explained. “By the Academy. By Lord Syrosk. We are capable of great deeds as individuals. As a team, who knows our limits? We were brought here for a reason. We were chosen by Syrosk, for a reason. We chose each other, for a reason. We’re beyond the point of taking whatever our superiors graciously provide. We are at the point of self-providence.”

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“And what exactly are your students capable of?” Tash brazenly asked.

“These acolytes are aware of their strength. Of their deeds,” Syrosk explained. “One of mine single handedly defeated a number of acolytes, mangling one’s hand in such a way that it hasn’t recovered in six months.”

“You have merely capitalized upon the instructions provided within these halls,” Tash replied. “I am capable to doing the same. And to a much, much greater degree.”

“I…” Syrosk rasped before stopping in his tracks. He found himself incapable of speaking. Incapable of moving.

“You’ve been gone from the battlefield far too long, Syrosk,” Tash taunted, not even directly focusing his attention on the shivering Sith Lord. “You’ve become lax. Become content with your little group of acolytes. You’ve trained them at the expense of yourself. At the expense of your own power. Can you consider that strength? Can any of you consider that strength?” The gathered acolytes watched with amazement as Darth Tash dominated the man they had last since believed their true superior. A grimace wiped over Lord Syrosk’s face as he struggled to combat the dark lord’s oppressive force. Bending slightly down, the Darth now stood with his face even with his captive, and began to softly whisper. “Surely, you must have seen this coming.”

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“There is greatness within each of us. But there is also a uniqueness we cannot abandon,” Lorrik advised. “I will never stand at the same level as Jresh on some grounds. He will never match a specific set of skills I possess. None of us will hunt as well as Nesk. Focus as well as Vurt. Fight as well as Kar’ai. Strive as well as Ryloh. Adapt as well as Arlia. Believe as well as Isorr.”

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“Now… kneel,” Darth Tash commanded. Syrosk cringed as he felt a new wave of telekinetic force press down upon him. He continued to fight. Continued to resist. His feet remained adamantly planted. But only for the moment.

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“We will trip. We will fall. We will be beaten. It take strength to fight on through the pain, through the oppression, through the sorrow. But it takes even more strength to offer your hand to a fellow.”

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Slowly, Lord Syrosk began to bend. Began to crumble under the pressure. Lower, and lower his head fell. His fists and teeth clenched with rage, the alien found no release, no proper defending against the onslaught. Eventually, he yielded to the dark lord. His arm upon a knee, the other upon the cold floor of the lecture hall, Lord Syrosk had succumbed to Darth Tash’s will. A concern rose within the fallen Lord’s eyes as they darted from the Human’s boots to the floor, to wherever he could land them.

“You’re as weak as your master.” Tash whispered as he returned his attention to the gathered acolytes, his arms raised in triumph. Syrosk offered a silent curse before storming out of the hall.

“This man was able to produce students of admittedly admirable capabilities, whilst prying them from their instructors. Imagine what greatness I could bestow upon you all, should you finish your instruction. I can offer something much greater than mere apprenticeship.”

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“Our time is coming.”

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“Your time is coming.”

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“Together, we can achieve greatness.”

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“Together, we can achieve greatness.”

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“I promise you…”

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“I promise you…”

Arator's Avatar


Arator
08.18.2012 , 06:36 PM | #40
This is so good. Can't wait to read more.
Ara'tor - 55 Powertech // Ariadne - 55 Juggernaught