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The Academy: Acolyte Ascension


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Osetto
08.19.2012 , 12:32 AM | #41
Quote: Originally Posted by Arator View Post
This is so good. Can't wait to read more.
I appreciate the warm comment. Always pleased to see someone enjoying the story, hopefully what's to come stays sufficiently entertaining.



Like most of my stories, I pretty much come up with a beginning an end, and then work to bridge the gap. I "plan" very little in the way of detailed arcs, preferring to keep events and proceedings dynamic and fluid. I have a result in mind, and then do the world building or character interactions that are needed to facilitate that result. The times I'm most motivated to write aren't when I'm about to get to something I wanted to detail since the beginning, but the "a-ha!" moments of inspiration. There was always going to be a character in the space occupied by Darth Tash, but I didn't even have a name or proper description of him until I wrote the chapter he was revealed in. I know eventually I'll address the matters of apprenticeship, lightsabers, character histories and such, but haven't put down any intricate plans so that the moment might organically flow from me.

All that bit of babbling is basically me saying, I've got 1.5 more years of content and events to fill before this story 'ends'. If there is someone or something that anyone would care to see detailed, explored further, or toyed with, I always welcome feedback and ideas. I've planned the rest of the journey through the wasteland and their immediate time back at the Academy. Beyond that, its a matter of wherever my mind takes me.

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Osetto
08.19.2012 , 12:44 AM | #42
Chapter Eight: Drifters

Lord Syrosk exited the lecture hall with a furious haste, his coat trailing heavily behind him as he bustled through the Academy. He stormed through the halls toward his residence in the upper levels, a vile hatred brewing within him. Slipping past the threshold of his cramped quarters, the alien could no longer contain himself.

"Foolish. He’s right. I’ve been focusing too much on my students. Should have never confronting him physically. Should have just revealed his lies. No! No. Even if they believed me, it’d mean their deaths. A person’s word is only as good as his standing in the Empire. He remains above me. Even more so now."

Syrosk let out a low growl.

"How could I have played into his wants again. All that I have done, all that I have achieved has been due to preparation, and I threw it all away because of my anger. My rage. My undying hate. I helped him. And I couldn’t see it coming. Damn! I had forgotten his strength. I had forgotten. Too focused. Too focused on the students. The acolytes. They are progressing. But is it fast enough? I can’t deviate. Not now. I’ve come too far. Sacrificed too much. They’ll fulfill their part. They must. Tash has made his show. A display that went better than even he could have imagined. He’s sure of himself. Of his plans. Perhaps… too sure."

The pacing and stomping Sith Lord suddenly calmed.

"He’s made a public display of my inferiority. In his mind, I’m less of a threat. Less worthy of his notice. Yes. Yes! Tash’s victory can still be used to my favor. I can accomplish more away from the prying eyes of the Darth and his minions. He’ll return to his war invigorated. Less attentive to whatever machinations I may currently partake in. Excellent. This. This I can work with. When the students return. Then. Then we can truly begin."

----------

Jresh led the other seven acolytes across the wasted plains of Korriban in a dedicated trudge. Past the midday mark, the students of Lord Syrosk had resigned themselves to the mindless, numbing task of traversing the lands between them and the Academy. The orange scenescape stretched out before their eyes before it would inevitable end at the beginning of some jagged protrusion or darkened fissure.

“Are we still sure you’re going the right way?” Isorr begrudgingly asked of the group’s shepherd.

“That depends. Are you asking if we’re sure, or I’m sure?,” Jresh stoically replied. “Because I’ve no insight as to your thought processes.”

Isorr released a low, drawn-out grumble. “Are you deflecting the question because you are lost?”

Jresh maintained his forward march unabated. “If I answered no, you’d still have no way of knowing if I was lost or not. After accounting for straight up lies, I could still say no if I was deflecting for a number of other reasons.”

“I’m sorry, I thought I was talking to Jresh, but apparently Lorrik has grown big and red in the last few hours,” Isorr muttered.
“Even on a free day back at the Academy I could challenge my body and mind more than I can on a simple walk across the blasted landscape,” Jresh admitted. “Malnutrition. Simplistic movements. Lack of structure. Our bodies will likely be in a detrimental state upon our return to the Academy. I’m trying to stall the degradation in any way I can.”

“With catty remarks?”

“Any petulance gleamed from my words is merely imagined,” Jresh replied. “I haven’t the time nor energy to devote to whatever vitriol you feel myself capable of generating. I speak truths. Facts. Logics. Severed from emotion. Feelings are reserved for matter of far greater significance, not banters in the middle of nowhere.”

“You realize you’ve passed the threshold of disinterest so far that you’ve looped back straight into caring far too much.”

“Good to see you picked up on it,” Jresh bluntly stated. “I was worried the passive-aggressiveness would go over your head. Sith usually require things to be so overt.”

“I think the heat might be getting to you,” Isorr admitted. “Or perhaps the tuk’ata meat.”

“I’m doing just fine. I simply prefer to be stationary when greeted with long periods of silence. While in motion, my mind does require some form of stimulation,” Jresh stated. The other acolytes continued to follow a short distance beyond the two front men, looking upon them with curiosity.

“I never thought I’d see them talking,” Arlia spoke up.

“To be honest, me neither,” Lorrik admitted, walking adjacent to her.

“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Isorr will ever stop hating Jresh,” Arlia stated.

“Once again, me neither. Then again, I don’t think Jresh would approve if Isorr became a friend,” Lorrik said with a chuckle. “There’s something inside him, something that desires conflict. Strife. Antagonism. He wants to be challenged in all ways. That’s how he thinks he’ll become better. Stronger. And it’s something I can’t wholly provide.”

“I don’t know. You two had a rather remarkable duel,” Arlia admitted. “Both parties holding their own, making a good show.”

“There’s an inherent mental aspect when you duel someone. An ethereal connection. ‘No two duels are exactly alike’, that sort of thing.” Lorrik explained. “I can’t replicate the disdain, the hatred, the abhorrence that can fuel a proper conflict. He’s patient. Understanding. Open-minded. But still a warrior at heart. One with aspirations. And I intend to see them fulfilled.”

“You truly care about him?” Arlia asked.

“I do,” Lorrik admitted. “I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”

“You understand the risk in such strong relationships.”

“I do,” Lorrik repeated. “But I honestly can’t say I’d be in a better place without his companionship. Sith doctrines tell us not to trust, not to make friends, not to fall in love, because it makes us weak. But that is fear. And I consider that a much more potent weakness.”

Arlia offered a dismissive laugh. “Love? There’s something you thought you’d never see in the Academy. Sure there were relationships. Flings amongst the lesser students. But it was always impersonal. Selfish. Short lasting. But I suppose now more than ever anything is possible.”

“If you ever need confirmation, you can just look to Ryloh and Kar’ai,” Lorrik stated.

“Is that so?” Arlia offered with a grin as she turned to the rear of the pack.

Between them and the beastly pair that took up the rear of the group, the Twi’lek and Rattataki walked side by side. They shared not words, nor contact, but there was a connection between the two. Something that could not be seen nor measured, but a unity that perplexed Arlia to a positive degree.

The acolytes pressed forward, eager to put as much distance forward as possible by day. The students had grown confident. There was a cohesiveness within them. A combined strength. They planned to walk. And walk they did. The acolytes covered kilometer after kilometer of ground with no interruptions, no hazardous conditions, and no inhibitors. Their path was bright, and they had no intention of breaking away from it.

But there was only so much light to the day, long as it seemed to the travelers. Day turned to dusk, which turned to night. The acolytes’ eyes adjusted, granting them sight within the darkness. The acolytes’ hearts shifted as well. Spurred on from their victory against the tuk’ata pack, they pressed on unafraid. The students stalked the planes, unaided by torchlight nor flame. Midnight came and went, with the acolytes eventually reaching the end of their energetic reserves. Gazing up into the night sky, their thoughts momentarily drifted from the harshness that surrounded them. The cool breeze offered them respite from the usual heat. The starry sky offered them respite from the usual barren jaggedness that stretched around them.

Eventually, the group happened upon a suitable resting spot against a boulder formation. The acolytes carefully partook in their water reserves. The ration holders generously offered a small division of their bounty to those who went without. The thankfulness quickly turned to momentary regret as they partook in the horrendous substance. The materials managed to offend the discerning tongue of Lorrik, the otherwise unwavering Jresh, and the meat-loving Nesk. Vurt ate his piece with no outward display of emotion, merely the contemplative visage of someone in deep regret of his actions.

With rest, came slumber. The acolytes drifted to sleep under the cover of darkness. No awakenings. No nightmares. They had found a peace worth preserving. Worth succumbing to. For six hours they rested, unconsciously preparing for the next morning. The acolytes eventually came to at their own paces, most welcoming the new day before the sun had ascended beyond the jagged peaks. The students arose, ready to tackle the trek ahead of them.

The tale of their journey thus far could be readily gleamed from their appearance. Their robes were stained with the constant attention of the dust and dirt that perpetually surrounded them. The various seams and trimmings of cloth were beginning to show their wear, stretches, scrapes, and contortions revealing themselves upon areas that had directly offered their touch to the Korriban landscape.

The students set out under the sanctum of the early morning. Jresh took the lead to no objections. The Pureblood guided the acolytes across more and more plains, intent on delivering them all closer to the Academy with each passing moment. That intention hit a snag a couple of hours into that day’s journey. The eight acolytes found themselves gazing upon a ravenous stretch of land in the midst of their path. Treacherous pits beset by craggy ridges. The students themselves stood at the edge of a precipitous canyon that descended into utter darkness. They faced perilous climbs and disastrous falls whether they decided upon a path of ascending over the various mountains that bridged the gap on either side, or descending into mysterious depths below and raising themselves upon the opposite face.

“We’ve certainly reached a predicament,” Jresh stoically admitted.

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Osetto
08.23.2012 , 01:33 AM | #43
Chapter Nine: Climbs

“Is this what you were talking about when you mentioned ‘substantive obstacles’?” Lorrik asked in a slightly dreary tone.

“I wouldn’t define this as substantive. Troublesome perhaps, but not substantive,” Jresh clarified. “In the very least, we can see the other side and a way across.”

“A way across? Where?” Lorrik asked.

“The pit lies between two ridges,” Jresh explained, offering a quick gesture to the left and right. “Though steep, the raised formations are not completely shear. We can climb laterally and scale the ridge to the other side of the pit.”

“Seems risky,” Lorrik muttered.

“Less risky than a vertical climb down into the unknown before trying to climb out upon the other side,” Jresh admitted.

“But if we lose our grip on the ridge, we’ll plummet into the pit anyways,” Lorrik replied.

“Then don’t lose your grip,” Arlia plainly offered.

“She’s right,” Jresh added, making no attempt to assuage his companion. “But look more closely upon the right-hand ridge. There is a small ledge jutting from the side to provide ample footing. And below, another ledge should you be forced to catch yourself on an unwanted descent.”

Looking over the edge, Lorrik did see a momentary respite from whatever treacherous fall awaited any who lost their grip. A small ledge, no wider than his shoulders lay at the precipice of shadows, basking in the half-darkness of the early morning sun’s reach into the mysterious pit. The first ledge that rest high above it lay no wider than the width of his foot.

Lorrik granted himself one last passing view of the surrounding area, looking for any other answer, but ultimately found none. “We’ll lose too much time searching for another path through the mountains. Looks like we’re crossing this pit. Any objections?”

The others appeared less than thrilled with the prospect, but could offer no better plan of action.

“Anyone have any ideas on the best way to go about this?” Lorrik put forth to the group.

“This isn’t a time for elaborate plans,” Isorr declared. “Just put all your focus into making it across.”

“We should at least establish a climbing order,” Ryloh offered.

“He’s right, whomever makes it across first can help the others,” Lorrik stated.

“How so?” Kar’ai asked.

“Remember when we had to catch the warriors after they fell off a cliff?”

“You mean, after they got pushed off,” Kar’ai added.

“Yes,” Lorrik plainly stated. “If an inquisitor makes it over first they can help stabilized those following them.”

“How far apart do you actually expect us to climb?” Isorr asked.

“We’ll all cross at once, but the gap isn’t exactly a short one,” Jresh explained. “Plus, we should put enough of a distance between us all to make sure we lessen the strain on the rock.”

“We’ll need someone lightweight but strong, both physically and in the Force, to take the lead,” Lorrik offered. “I suggest Arlia.”

The purple Twi’lek offered a quick shrug of her shoulders. “Works for me.”

“Really? I expected more clout,” Lorrik admitted.

“I enjoy my ego stroked as much as the next Sith, but coming from you…”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Lorrik stated with a gentle waft of his hand. “I can follow afterwards. Then probably Ryloh and Kar’ai.”

“What about Vurt? He’s an inquisitor,” Ryloh added.

“He’s also arguable the most physically strong,” Lorrik explained, the content Nikto standing a short distance away. “I’d suggest he and Nesk take the rear. They’re likely the best climbers, but their claws could unsettle stones the rest of us would grab onto were any of us to go after them.”

“So… Arlia, Lorrik, Ryloh, myself… then?” Kar’ai asked.

“Jresh and Isorr,” Lorrik answered. “Their order shouldn’t matter.”

“He can go first,” Jresh offered.

“Hrmph,” Isorr grunted, showing neither agreement nor abject objection.

“Come on, the sooner we can return to our normal trek, the better,” Jresh called out.

The Pureblood parted from the gathered group and made his way toward the rightward ridge, with the others following with little hesitation. Reaching the jagged wall that crossed the shadowed gap, the acolytes gazed across the far expanse with an inkling trepidation.

“How long you think it’ll take to cross?” Lorrik asked with wide eyes upon the treacherous stretch.

The Pureblood narrowed his gaze as he studied the ridge. “At the pace of a careful shuffle? Maybe twenty minutes.”

“Ugh,” Lorrik offered.

“Haven’t you tired of complaining?” Isorr asked. “We’ve passed physical trials far worse than this.”

“Our time away from the Academy has had an effect on our bodies, whether you realize it or not,” Lorrik explained. “Your body will tire and your focus will wane faster than you expect.”

“Then let’s start sooner rather than later,” Arlia stated as she took a step toward the imposing rock. Reaching a hand up high, she grabbed a firm hold of the nearby facade. Placing a foot near her waist, she began to elevate herself upon the ridge. Ascending, the inquisitor now hugged the wall above the other acolytes’ heads before she was able to place a foot on the thin ridge that stretched across the ridge. Shuffling onto the ledge, she planted the soles of her boots upon the minor extension and let out a deep breath once she was confident in her standing. “Alright. Next.”

Lorrik watched as Arlia slowly began her lateral trek across the cliff-face. Following her original path of ascension, the Human took careful hold of the rocks before beginning his climb. Eventually reaching the ledge, Lorrik saw that Arlia had not yet managed to put a great deal of distance between them. Though the tiny ledge offered a footing, careful maneuvering was still required to cross the gap.

As Lorrik traversed the rocky facade, he offered a brief wave for Ryloh to follow. The second Twi’lek climbed and bade his companion to follow. Eventually, one by one, all eight acolytes found themselves shuffling along the cliff-face, the shadowy pit resting below them. Perpetually moving forward, the students refused to allow themselves pause. Hugging the wall, they were hesitant to remove themselves from the stone enough to turn their head to the chain’s rear. Like clockwork they proceeded. Left hand. Left foot. Right foot. Right hand. Repeat. The acolytes concentrated on nothing but their goal at the end of the ridge. Minutes passed, and eventually, the students had reached the halfway point in the crossing.

With each step, the subtle cracks and grinding of stone against stone plagued the acolytes’ ears. Plagued their minds. Dust would fall from above. Fissures, long since created, tensed the heart upon their recognition. A stone would fall. And bounce from the steep facade below them. And bounce. And bounce. Until it vanished into the consuming darkness below.

Pressing forward, the acolytes attempted to keep their minds calm. Not allowing the sights and sounds to get the better of their rational minds. In the middle of the chain, Kar’ai followed closer to Ryloh than any other two climbers. With each step, each hand movement, she focused her gaze only upon the back of the Twi’lek’s head as his lekku swayed and bounced with each shuffle toward their destination. As she continued forward, she felt a sharp pain in her forearm. A stabbing. A slicing. Her mind couldn’t quite place it.

“Ouch,” Kar’ai let out, remarkably subdued.

“Something wrong?” Ryloh hastily asked, stopping in his tracks but not turning his head or removing his hands from the cliff-face.

“It’s nothing. Probably scratched myself on a sharp rock,” Kar’ai calmly explained. “Keep moving.”

Ryloh immediately complied, moving his hands and feet with careful precision and the rest of his body followed. As the group continued forward, the Rattataki felt each step grow heavier and heavier. Her chest followed as her breathing slowed. Her knees weakened, and her hands and feet grew increasingly numb.

“Ryloh, I…” Kar’ai softly muttered before her eyes fluttered and her body went limp. Her hands releasing their grip, the entirety of her body began to lean away before she finally crumbled and began to slip from the ledge.

“Kar’ai!” Jresh exclaimed, looking past a silent Isorr. Immediately stopping once more and looking to his rear, Ryloh only caught the vacating glimpse of his companion falling toward the pit below. Slipping from the ledge, Kar’ai continued to unconsciously hug the cliff-face as she slid down the inclined façade.

“Kar’ai!” Ryloh screamed, barely able to articulate. With reckless abandon, the Twi’lek removed himself from the cliff-face and jumped down after her. Sliding down the ridge on his side, Ryloh raked his gloved hand upon the rocks as his other reached forward. As they descended, the inquisitor's face tensed with total effort as he tried to seize his partner with the Force slow her treacherous fall into the darkness below. Looking to the falling acolytes, Lorrik caught the attention of the nearby students.

“Keep going! You can help once you’re safely across!” Lorrik shouted before letting go of the rock wall himself. Stepping off the ledge, the Human began his slide down to the descending acolytes, using his gloves and the Force to keep his plunge relatively under control. The remaining students upon the ledge complied with his wishes, and began to make their way toward the end of the ridge.

As the final acolyte, Nesk, crossed the area immediately preceding Kar’ai's fall, he happened across a darkened fissure in front of him. Emerging from the shadowy crack, a large insect covered in a jagged carapace bearing envenomed fangs lashed out from its sanctuary. With remarkable speed, the Trandoshan backed away before snatching the creature within his hand. The corrupt pest writhed and contorted its many legs in the lizard's grip. With a snarl, Nesk crushed the insect before proceeded along the path.

Sliding down the cliff, Ryloh had managed to grab ahold of Kar’ai with the Force sufficiently enough to catch up with her. Grabbing ahold of her, he wrapped his arms around her body and refused to let go. Focusing what remained of his energy, the Twi’lek tried to slow themselves enough to catch the second ledge that was fast approaching. His feet landing firmly on the shallow ledge, Ryloh let out a exasperated sigh of relief as he crumbled upon his back, Kar’ai still cradled within his arms.

Touching down upon the ledge, Lorrik stabilized himself before tending to the fallen pair. The Human offered a word to the Twi’lek who was ecstatic with his arrival. Offering his aid, Lorrik extended a hand down to the inquisitor. Ryloh put precedence on his companion, lifting her and begging Lorrik to help her. Putting one of her arms around his neck, the Human lifted the unconscious Rattataki and leaned her against the cliff-face whilst the Twi’lek raised himself.

“Is she okay? What’s wrong with her? What do we do?” Ryloh barraged with an increasing concern.

Lorrik looked to the trembling inquisitor, the limp warrior, the ridge above, and the encroaching darkness that surrounding them at their lowered elevation. The Human ran a hand through his hair as he struggled to process the events taking place. Removing a glove, Lorrik placed a bare hand upon Kar’ai’s forehead, feeling a remarkable heat. Closing his eyes, the inquisitor focused his thoughts as he tried to understand the situation. Looking not with his eyes, but with the Force, Lorrik came to a stark realization.

“She’s dying.”

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darthpersipholus
08.26.2012 , 04:00 PM | #44
three days since you left it at a cliffhanger like that D:
Your work so far has been amazing, such good writing.
I get that you need time to write, but the suspense is killing me >.<
.Dark Wolves. [▀▀▀▀▀[]ΞΞ▀▀╬|████████████████████████████████)

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Osetto
08.26.2012 , 05:47 PM | #45
Quote: Originally Posted by darthpersipholus View Post
three days since you left it at a cliffhanger like that D:
Your work so far has been amazing, such good writing.
I get that you need time to write, but the suspense is killing me >.<
Hmm, cliffhanger... maybe the next chapter will have someone dangling over the pit...

Sorry about the wait. The chapter is in progress (which is a lot better than when I usually get stuck between chapters (easier for me to finish things than to start them)). I'll try and get it out soon. Been distracted lately with the plethora of new releases and beta tests I've been occupying myself with. Classes start back up tomorrow, so I can't say for certain whether that will impact my already nonexistent release schedule. Half of my Mondays and Wednesdays will be devoted to college and transit, and well as Friday mornings. A very light semester, so it shan't impart upon me anything resembling a workload I don't think. Although I am taking an 'intro to creative writing' course, which I think will be a fun little experiment/exercise.

As always, thanks for reading. I'll try and wrap up this arc sooner rather than later.

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Osetto
08.26.2012 , 08:02 PM | #46
Chapter Ten: Drops

“What’d’you mean she’s dying!” Ryloh screamed through heavy breaths, physically exhausted but refusing a moment of respite. Removing his hand from the woman’s forehead, Lorrik placed it instead to his chin where he became wrapped in thought.

“Her body seems to be shutting down,” Lorrik struggled to explain. “I can’t explain it.”

“We have to do something,” Ryloh pleaded.

“I know! I know!” Lorrik shot back, unable to assuage the hectic Twi’lek. “Damn it. We can't tend to her down here. We need to get back up somehow.”

Without another word, Ryloh moved in front of Kar’ai and draped her arms over his shoulders, crossing them in front of his chest. Carefully, he lifted his companion from the wall and carried her upon his back, holding her as one might a slumbering child.

“Let’s go. If we can make it to the end of the pit, we can climb back up together,” Ryloh explained. With a confident nod, Lorrik turned toward their new destination and sped forward, taking greater risk with his speed along the wider ledge than he possibly could above.

As Nesk lastly stepped from the cliff-face onto the smooth terrain on the other side of the chasm, he joined the other four acolytes who stood upon the grounds overlooking the darkness below. Peering over the edge, the students saw Lorrik and Ryloh running in their direction on the shadowed path far below them. Reaching the end of the ledge, the two inquisitors and their afflicted warrior looked up see the amorphous figures staring back at them, offering nondescript articulations of inaudible words.

“You ready?” Lorrik hastily asked of the sweating Twi’lek. Ryloh offered an assured nod. The Human turned back toward the ridge above and shouted out. “We’re coming up! Get ready!”

As Lorrik waved him over, the Twi’lek momentarily lowered Kar’ai and tried to stabilize her by his side. Still motionless, her eyes refused to open, her breaths grew further and further apart. One arm around Ryloh’s shoulder, Lorrik took ahold of the other, wrapping it behind his neck. With a pair of mutual nods, the two inquisitors, sharing the burden of their fallen ally, placed their hands upon the cliff-face and began the slow ascent back up the steep facade they had once aggressively slid down.

Gritting their teeth, the two acolytes grasped at the stone with synchronized clenches of the hands. They climbed with caution. They climbed with haste. They climbed with worry. They climbed with determination. The others watched from above as the two slowly ascended with the burden of Kar’ai upon their backs. The onlookers thought to reach out, but couldn’t afford any risks. Without utter coordination between all parties, any utilization of the Force between the two groups would only hamper the climbers’ ascent. But those above stood at the ready. At the sign of first slip, at first fault, they were ready to thrust their arms and minds and clasp at the rising inquisitors with all their might.

Lorrik and Ryloh continued to climb in unison, their knees scratching against the unforgiving facade of the cliff, their sabers dangling and clanging against the rigid rock. As he reached for yet another clutch of an outward stone, Ryloh felt the telltale signs of the arm around his neck slipping. He stopped, as did Lorrik. Readjusting, Ryloh shifted Kar’ai’s limb until it was secured. The Human turned his head to gaze upon his fellow inquisitor. An utter devotion lay present across every facet of the Twi’lek’s being. His eyes narrowed with focus. His face tensed with determination. His body remained forever unyielding against whatever unforgiving elements Korriban would place in its path.

The Twi’lek’s clothes were worse for wear since his controlled slide down the mountain. His companion’s state was certainly worse off. Her robes were wholly stained by dust and dirt. The clothes had been tugged at and torn by the jagged rocks that struck out at her upon her descent. Her face was cut, bruised, and seemingly without life. But the spark within her had not yet been extinguished. Lorrik knew it. Ryloh knew it, even more assuredly.

Through perseverance and blind determinations, the pair eventually made it far enough up the cliff for the acolytes above to get a proper grip on Kar’ai. Reaching out, Arlia focused her mind as she lifted the burden from the inquisitors’ backs with the Force. Jresh offered a steady outstretched hand in assistance. As the Rattataki floated past the threshold of the pit, Jresh instead focused his attention on the two climbers while the others gently set Kar’ai down upon the flat of the terrain a safe distance away.

Jresh kneeled over the edge of the pit, extended his physical hand to Lorrik a short distance away. Spending the last of his energy to remove a single hand from the treacherous cliff-face, he grasped ahold of his partner’s hand and was promptly yanked to safety. The Human spent only a moment to catch his breath before tending to the prone Kar’ai. Jresh returned to the edge of the pit to offer the same hand to Ryloh. As the two met their equally deterministic gazes, they silently took each other’s hand and put the abominable pit behind them once and for all. Taking no moment of respite, Ryloh immediately rushed past the Pureblood to witness the state of his companion.

“Now what? We have to do something!” Ryloh exclaimed.

“We can’t do anything until we know exactly what happened,” Lorrik regretfully stated as he examined the unconscious body. Her robes were in tatters. Her body was splotched in various points with blood likely suffered from the tumble down the jagged cliff-face. The Human studied her, looking for any indication for how to proceed.

“Venom…” Nesk knowingly supplied. Lorrik looked up for more details to see the Trandoshan make a quick jabbing and retracted motion with two of his claws. “From bug.”

“What are you talking about?” Ryloh insistently asked.

“Ryloh, calm yourself,” Jresh stoically advised. “Yelling isn’t helping anyone. You should take this time to tend to your own wounds.”

“I’m perfectly fine,” Ryloh muttered. Without another word, Jresh simply demonstrated his point by softly tapping his own right shoulder. Turning his head, Ryloh saw a sizable blood stain on his robes. He puzzled for a moment, not feeling any wound, before coming to a realization.

“Lorrik! Check her right arm,” Ryloh hastily advised. Complying, Lorrik removed her right glove and pushed back the sleeves of her dirtied garments. Near her elbow, there was a puncture wound on her forearm around which a virulent blackness and swelling had taken over, distinguishing itself from the Rattataki’s numerous tattoos that occupied the area.

“Okay, so we know she was poisoned, what good does that do?” Isorr coldly stated.

“If we know what caused it, we might know how to counter it,” Ryloh suggested.

“With what? The only way to ‘counter it’ out here is to suffer through it,” Isorr combatted.

“Maybe if we know what stung or bit her, we can know what to expect,” Ryloh hoped.

“If you’re expecting anything other than death, you’re fooling yourself,” Isorr concluded.

“Shut up! Shutup shutup shutup!” Ryloh exclaimed.

Lorrik attempted to drown out the shouting and focus on the task at hand.

“Nesk, did you see this bug?” Lorrik asked. The Trandoshan offered an affirming nod. “Can you describe it?”

“Small but large. Fit in palm. Black. Carapaced. Furred around joints,” Nesk carefully explained.

“Damn,” Lorrik muttered. “I don’t need to consult the datacards for this.”

“You know what did this?” Jresh asked.

“I think so,” Lorrik stated, solemn in his admission. “Because of the way Korriban ecology usual pans out, small creatures are typically the most dangerous given what they have to do to survive. If what I think did this, she’s in for more trouble than mere paralysis.”

“What do you mean?” Ryloh asked, tearing his attention away from Isorr.

“She’ll survive the numbness, it’s what follows that will end her,” Lorrik lowly explained. “The venom first numbs the victim, eventually making them lose consciousness. Then comes pain. Pure and unbridled. For hours. For days.”

“How do you know?” Ryloh worryingly asked.

“I’ve read about it. Sith sometimes harvest the stingers and venoms from Korriban’s creatures to use on students as punishment for failure,” Lorrik detailed. “Some bugs produce barbs that overload the victim’s nervous system, wracking their bodies in pain. This was one of them, or an offshoot, or some alchemical deviation. Her body is so busy fighting the first stage that it won’t have any way to resist the second.”

“Can she survive it on her own?” Ryloh hesitantly asked.

“Unlikely,” Lorrik hesitantly answered. “I can… I can attempt to heal her.”

“Really?” Ryloh exclaimed with an exuberance unshared by the Human.

Jresh leaned his close to his partner, speaking at a whisper. “Lorrik… you’ve only mended simple flesh wounds before. Are you sure you are able to do this? There could be complications. You’re already exhausted. The process could do just as much harm to both of you as good.”

“I think the greater question is, since when were you able to heal people?” Arlia spoke up.

“It would explain how they’ve managed to keep an advantage in the recent trials,” Isorr added.

“Look, the reason I didn’t jump at the prospect I because all I can do is accelerate the body’s natural processes,” Lorrik reasoned. “Responses to illnesses included. I’d be accelerating her recovery, but exasperating the side-effects.”

“Meaning she’d still be subjected to the pain the venom would normally cause,” Jresh stated.

“Yes, only condensed into minutes instead of hours or days. It would literally burn out her body,” Lorrik explained. “I can try to repair any damage as it is happens, but I can't do much about the pain. There’s enough of a connection between bodies during the process that I might be able to absorb some of the pain into myself, but with my energy levels waning, it would only break my concentration, leaving everyone worse off than when we started.”

“Then use me instead,” Ryloh suggested.

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

“Let me share her pain. I can take it,” Ryloh admitted.

“Can you?” Isorr pointedly asked.

“I hate to admit it, but he’s right. You do have the mental connection necessary to facilitate the bond, but this will likely be the most excruciating pain you’ve felt in your entire life,” Lorrik explained.

“I don’t care. If there’s a chance that it will save Kar’ai, I will put my life on the line,” Ryloh declared.

“Whoa, wait a minute,” Arlia intruded. “I don’t want to lose a member of our group, but I really don’t want to lose a second, let alone a third. There’s a chance all three of you don’t come back from this.”

“I won’t force you to succumb to my selfish wants, Lorrik,” Ryloh stated. “We’ll only do it if you’re comfortable.”

Lorrik was unsure of how to proceed. He wanted nothing more than for all eight of them to return to the Academy in defiance of any who thought them incapable of the task set upon them. He wanted nothing more than to preserve Kar’ai’s life. He knew the toll her death would take on Ryloh. But he also knew the risks involved. For Ryloh. For himself. His confidence in his own abilities waned, until he looked up to see the ever stoic countenance of his companion matching his gaze. With a silent, assured nod from Jresh, Lorrik had received all the confidence he needed.

“Let’s do this,” Lorrik stated. “Okay, I’m going to need everyone else to back up and give us some room. Ryloh, kneel by her side opposite me.” The other acolytes complied, Ryloh with particular haste. “Take a hold of her hand.” The Twi’lek grasped the limp hand of his companion’s inflicted arm. Lorrik took hold of the opposite. Meditating, Lorrik closed his eyes and directed his focus on all the energies than flowed through Kar’ai’s body. Dismay haunted the internal dialogue of the Rattataki’s organic systems. They were fighting the venom coursing through her veins. Fighting. Defending. Preparing for what was to come. But without intervention, it would ultimately prove folly.

With a deep breath, the Human went to work. An aura softly radiated from the inquisitor’s form, invisible to all but the Force-sensitive. But the gathered acolytes felt an increase in the surrounding pressures. The air shifted around them before drawing to a calm. With each passing second, Lorrik worked toward healing Kar’ai whilst Ryloh gazed upon her visage with a hopeful stare. Emerging from her slumber, Kar’ai drew in a heavy breath, arching her back upon the warm foundation. Ryloh let out an exasperation of joy at the wonderful sight.

“Focus!” Lorrik directed, still deeply locked in his meditative trance. Ryloh tensed up, but still refused to break his gaze from his companion’s now awakened face. But where he thought he might see a sign of relief, he only saw the signs of what was to come. Kar’ai was awake, but silent. No words could escape her open mouth as her mind was just beginning to process the effects of the scourge coursing through her body. She was alive. She was aware. But such was only residing within the momentary state of being between the stages of affliction.

Where once she had arched her back to draw in her first breath of cognizance, she now found herself twitching upon the ground as her body was assaulted from within, her entire nervous system systematically under fire. Her face tensed, her teeth clenched, what had long since been a steady silence was finally broken by the first cry of pain to slip past the warrior’s lips. A grunt. A whine. The mere foundation of what was to come.

Ryloh finally understood that he could do his companion no good simply offering the continuous stare of his piercing gaze. The Twi’lek closed his eyes. Focused his mind. Reached out and connected with his partner. His companion. His lover. A lightning storm was brewing in her senses, lashing out as Lorrik accelerated what would have been faced over minutes into mere seconds. The process continued.

Within moments, Ryloh found himself under siege by the tumultuous pains of his companion’s body as they arced across the bond between the pair. More contortions, more debased declarations of pain assaulted the eyes and ears of the gathered acolytes who continued to watch with increasing trepidation. The process continued.

Lorrik’s hands began to shake as he too succumbed to the painful intrusions of Kar’ai’s affliction. He steeled his focus, devoted the entirety of his mind and body to completing the task he had set out upon. Refusing failure. Denying failure. The Human found a painful intruder battering at the gates to his psyche, all the while Ryloh and Kar’ai bared a much more intense burden. And still the process continued.

The acolytes were fighting the affliction in much the same way they were expected to fight all foes. Through sheer emotion. Sheer determination, almost to a fault. Without caution. Without cause. They had become absorbed in the Sith ideals of passions and pains, coupled with the opposing forces of selflessness and sacrifice. Ryloh clenched the hand of his companion ever tighter, leaning inward as his body was overcome with new levels of pain. With both hands he clasped Kar’ai’s hand, and refused to let go, clutching the hand ever closer to his chest.

There was no song of healing to be heard that day, only the passionate cries of utter sacrifice and pain. Grunts turned to whines. Whines turned to screams. Screams that haunted the other acolytes. Never had they born witness to such sustained displeasure. There was nothing to draw upon here, no relishing the misfortune of others that the Academy had so harshly tried to implant.

The air of calm that encircled the arrangement had begun to stir. No longer was it a matter of meditation, but an utter clash of force against force. Pain against pain. Just as the affliction lashed out against their bodies, their bodies lashed out against the surrounding area. Just as a storm brewed within their racked minds, a storm was beginning to manifest around their bodies. The wind picked up, swirling with a torrent matching the emotions of the three acolytes.

The onlookers covered their eyes as more and more dust was kicked up. They covered their ears as more and more screams permeated the air. The chaos grew and grew until it encompassed the entire area. Even the most stalwart of the acolytes could not fully resist the brewing calamity, crouching as the winds and cries reached their peak. The other students struggled to continue watching, until suddenly… calm. Silence.

The winds had died. The sounds had died. The three acolytes, revealed as the sand and dust settled from their airborne trajectories, each lay upon the flat of their backs, their grips on one another released, their bodied stilled and unmoving.

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Osetto
08.30.2012 , 04:17 PM | #47
Chapter Eleven: Strengths

Five acolytes looked on with uncertainty at the scene of peaceful chaos. Three of their compatriots now laid prone against the hard flat of the Korriban terrain. A stillness permeated the air, the senses, that threatened to suffocate the onlookers as they contemplated on how to proceed. Jresh was the first to break the stillness, stepping from the group to check on his companion. With haste, the Pureblood rushed toward the fallen acolytes before sliding to his partner’s side.

“Lorrik!” Jresh called out as he carefully lifted the back of Lorrik’s head with his palm. “Lorrik, can you hear me? Say something!”

With a stir, Lorrik returned to consciousness, his eyes widely panning across his perspective. Confused. Disoriented. The Human took deep breaths before succumbing to furious coughing fits as he felt a sharp sting within his chest. Eventually, the coughs became sparse as the inquisitor’s status conformed to merely a slight daze.

“Lorrik, are you okay?”

“How are the others?” Lorrik struggled to ask through a slight wheeze.

“One thing at a time. Are you okay?” Jresh returned to his questioning.

“I’m… fine,” Lorrik admitted. “Just tired. Check the others, I’ll be okay.”

Softly laying his companion’s head upon the ground, Jresh watched as Lorrik relaxed against the cold dirt with a smile on his face. Shuffling across the ground, the Pureblood skirted around Kar’ai’s legs to check on Ryloh. The Twi’lek’s visage expressed no indicators toward either life nor death. Lowering his head to Ryloh’s chest, Jresh was relieved to feel the slight rise and fall of the acolyte’s chest as he drew in and exhaled a series of minute breaths. The inquisitor was alive, but just that, offering no display of conditions beyond the basest of life signs. Though he couldn’t say if Ryloh was ‘okay’, he decided the student in a satisfactory enough a state to move his attention to Kar’ai.

Circling around the Twi’lek, the Pureblood addressed the body of the originally afflicted. Laying his head to the Rattataki’s chest, Jresh was troubled when he couldn’t detect the warrior drawing in even the slightest of breaths. The Pureblood’s gaze began to quickly dart up and down the fallen acolyte’s body as he struggled to proceed. Looking to the original point of intrusion by the venomous creature, the wound now appeared remarkably clean, only the barest of remnants revealing what had occurred. Mere indentations of the skin, unmarred by the pollution and corrupting blackness that had surrounded it earlier.

Taking ahold of Kar’ai’s wrist, Jresh turned it slightly side to side in examination. Her skin had not yet lost its warmth. Pressing upon her wrist, Jresh searched for a pulse of any kind. Suddenly, he felt movement. However, instead of the subtle beat of a working heart, her entire body began to move beneath his touch. Her once afflicted arm twisted itself to grasp the hand currently holding it. With remarkable speed, the Rattataki shot up from the flat of her back.

“Ryloh!” Kar’ai passionately shouted as she returned to life, her gaze longingly affixed upon the figure grasping her hand. It took only a moment for her expression to drop its splendor as she struggled to understand her current situation. “Jresh? Where am I? What’s going on?”

“You were bitten or stung by a particularly deadly creature whilst making your way across the pit,” Jresh calmly explained. “You fell unconscious and… well, fell. Ryloh jumped to your rescue, and Lorrik followed soon after.”

“Ryloh, where is he?” Kar’ai insistently asked, slowly regaining her vigor. Panning her head across the immediate scene, he instantly saw Lorrik laying upon the ground to her left. Looking beyond the warrior at her side, she saw her companion also prone upon the hard dirt. The Rattataki immediately struggled to raise herself despite not fully regaining control of her muscles. “Ryloh!”

“Don’t worry. He’s okay. Just tired. Same with Lorrik,” Jresh stoically explained. “He managed to heal you, but the process was tolling for your body. Ryloh offered himself to share some of your pain. All three of you will recover in time. Be thankful for that.”

“Pain? I don’t… remember…”

“Great, only her brain was fried by the ordeal,” Isorr harshly offered from the sidelines.

“The experience was harrowing to witness, and far far worse to actually experience. Your bodies… as well as your minds, will need time to recover,” Jresh calmly explained.

“Time? Every moment we waste out here only serves to our detriment,” Isorr bluntly stated. “Should have just let her tough it out. Now we’re down three acolytes instead of only one.”

“Three living acolytes as opposed to one possibly dead one,” Jresh sternly countered as he stood from his tending position.

“It wouldn’t have even been a point of concern were she simply stronger,” Isorr coldly stated. “We’ve been trained to power through such ailments. But she needed the aid of two others to survive.”

“She might have survived on her own. We simply went with the option that offered a more assured outcome,” Jresh explained.

“You call that assured? Even Lorrik didn’t believe in the integrity of his own plan.”

“I believed in him. And he in turn trusted that belief. There was never a doubt in my mind that he would succeed.”

“Then you are as foolish as the Twi’lek. The weakling was unable to withstand levels of pain so insignificant Kar’ai doesn’t even remember it.”

“We all witnessed what took place during the healing process, you can’t possibly believe-”

“Don’t… you call… my partner… a weakling!” Kar’ai systematically threatened as she raised and steadied herself. Slowly, she took a step toward the sneering Zabrak. Then another. Her feet impacted hard against the dirt with each firm stomp of her boot. “I don’t know… exactly what happened… but I know enough… to know that Ryloh is strong. That we… are strong!”

With a slow but assured dedication she trudged toward the leering Zabrak one step at a time. As she neared him, the foundation of that dedicated began to warp and shatter as her body refused to keep up with her spirit. Kar’ai stumbled and fell to her knees, her hands furiously clenching into fists as she struggled to keep her arms a rigid support between herself and the unforgiving ground.

Isorr look upon the fallen Rattataki with disgust. “Such a pitiful display. The weak should know their place.”

His eyes affixed on the struggling acolyte, the Zabrak failed to notice the fast-approaching Pureblood to his side. Diverting his gaze, Isorr only caught the brief glimpse of a red blur before he felt the powerful impact of Jresh’s fist against his cheek. The force of the blow sent the Zabrak spinning toward the ground before he caught himself at the last moment.

“For once we agree on something,” Jresh sternly declared.

“What do you think you’re-” Isorr, upon his knees, managed to get out before finding the Pureblood’s boot being driven hard into his face. Falling upon his shoulder, Isorr let out a quick grunt as he impacted against the hard terrain. Despite being forced to the ground after two harsh blows, the Zabrak appeared more mildly annoyed than properly injured, rotating his jaw as he gritted his teeth.

“You think yourself strong? You think yourself the embodiment of Sith?” Jresh asked, not desiring an answer. As Isorr tried to stand, Jresh offered another kick to the other warrior’s chest sending him downward and back. “You think you understand strength? Tell me. Tell me what is strength!”

“You dare-” Isorr muttered through a snarl before being silence by another intrusion of the Pureblood’s fist. Rolling upon the dirt, the Zabrak attempted to put some distance between himself and his aggressor, unknowing inching back toward the edge of the cliff.

Jresh pursued the retreating warrior, casting his cold glare. “Strength is power. The ability to bring about change. You think of strength as a source. But what is the source of strength?”

Sufficiently annoyed with the Pureblood, Isorr drew and ignited his training saber. Refusing to halt his approach, Jresh sidestepped a downward swing of the warrior’s weapon. As the tip embedded itself into the terrain, Jresh lifted his foot before stomping into the broad of the blade, forcing his opponent to release his grip on it. With a powerful kick, the Pureblood sent the saber flying past its previous wielder. Isorr watched with dismay as it bounced against the dirt a few times before plummeting over the edge and into the vast pit that lay behind him.

Drawing his own saber, Jresh held it firmly by the handle as he refused to tear his stern gaze away from his opponent. Isorr puzzled for a moment when the Pureblood decided to not brandish and ignite the weapon, but forcefully toss it behind him. The saber slid across the ground and eventually came to a stop at the feet of the standing acolytes who had no interest in directly intervening in the conflict. The weapon lying closest to her feet, Arlia subtly lowered herself and retrieved the saber.

Moving forward with a primal surge, Isorr attempted to take control of the conflict as he delivered a furious blow toward his aggressor. His fist impacted against Jresh’s gut to no ill effect. Following up with another punch, the Zabrak struck the other warrior’s face. The Pureblood’s head turned along with the strike, but promptly returned to affix it’s cold gaze to the retreating warrior. Implacable, Jresh continued his assault, driving Isorr back to the ground with a flurry of punches and kicks.

“Do you know where I draw my strength?” Jresh asked. “I find strength in compassion. I find strength in sacrifice. I find strength in my allies. You? You have only yourself to draw upon. And it is sufficiently lacking.”

Isorr shuffled along the ground for only a few moments before he found himself caught between the edge of the cliff and the continually approaching warrior. Lashing out wildly for one final stand, the Zabrak failed to connect any meaningful blows before the Pureblood was fully upon him.

Grasping the fallen warrior’s throat, Jresh lifted Isorr off the ground and on his feet. “The only thing you believe in is yourself. Are you so assured in your narcissism that you think yourself greater than any other? Think yourself above cooperation? Then you’ll surely find a way out of your current predicament. After all we’ve been trained to power through such things.”

Raising the hefty warrior even further, Jresh managed to lift Isorr until his feet hovered a short distance from the ground. Taking a step toward the edge, Jresh now firmly held his opponent over the shadowed depths of the pit they once struggled to cross. The other four acolytes, including the recovering Kar’ai and Isorr’s own partner Arlia, had slowly approached the pair to witness what was to follow.

“You think reliance on others is weakness? You put the entirety of your faith in yourself, and have failed. You no longer hold control of your own life. Your fate is in my hands. Our hands. When we began, we agreed to cooperate. But you’ve remained adamant in your isolation. When we were on the cliff, you were directly behind Kar’ai. Your eyes could not have been affixed on anything but the path in front of you. You saw her falter. You saw her fall. And you did nothing. Because you are selfish. Because you are afraid. You are concerned only with yourself, not because you believe in your strength, but because you believe others will only drag you down. But guess what? Others can also lift you up.”

Isorr was unable to articulate with his throat being slowly crushed within the powerful grip of the domineering Pureblood.

“Surely you realize the only thing that could prevent your death would be if someone protested me dropping you over this abyssal precipice,” Jresh coldly explained. “And surely you realize that the only person that would genuinely offer that protest is Lorrik, who currently rests upon the ground where he lent his strength to someone you thought expendable. You have nothing to offer me or this group, so I have no qualms of ending you. You haven’t earned the slightest bit of respect or companionship with your partner Arlia, either. She is strong. She currently holds in her hands my weapon and hers. And yet she refuses to step forward to alter these proceedings. Not out of a fear of me. But out of an utter apathy toward preserving your life. Because you offer nothing in return to any who would permit you the barest of decencies. We can replace your knowledge. We can replace your strength. There is absolutely nothing preventing me from damning you to the depths of this pit.”

Reaffirming his grip on Isorr’s neck, Jresh turned upon his heels and slammed the Zabrak upon the ground beside him.

“Which is why you should be grateful for my mercy,” Jresh stoically offered as he walked away from the beaten warrior. Intending to return to Lorrik’s side, Jresh found his path impeded by Arlia who stood before him, bearing his training saber. With a flick of her wrist, she turned it over in her hand, offering it back to its owner. Jresh met Arlia's gaze with his own before speaking. “I have no need for it. You keep it.”

With slight trepidation, the Twi’lek affixed the second saber to her belt, before looking upon the beaten countenance of her partner. Isorr lay sitting upon the ground near the edge of the cliff, slowly breathing through a series of cautious wheezes. His fist supporting the weight of his body against the ground, the warrior’s gaze was affixed upon the dirt below him. He stared with an intense ferocity as his facial muscles involuntarily twitched. Kar’ai and the others had already begun their return to Lorrik and Ryloh, leaving only Arlia to gaze upon the fallen warrior. With a condemning shake of her head, she too abandoned her partner.

Isorr found himself alone, only the whistling winds and echoes of rocks crackling in the pit below to keep him company.

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Osetto
09.01.2012 , 10:15 AM | #48
Chapter Twelve: Departures

Lorrik awoke upon the flat of his back gazing toward the brightening Korriban sky. His field of view was sufficiently limited however, as the visage of Jresh looking over him took up much of his sight.

“How long have I been out?” Lorrik asked, slightly embarrassed.

“Not long,” Jresh immediately answered.

“I miss anything exciting?” Lorrik joked.

“I held Isorr by the throat and threatened to drop him of a cliff,” Jresh stated, completely deadpan.

“And they say you don’t have a sense of humor,” Lorrik replied, forcing a chuckle as he rested on the ground. Without a word, Jresh motioned to his rear with a quick jut of his thumb. Raising himself the inquisitor looked past his companion to see Isorr sitting near the edge of the pit alone a short distance away. “Oh. He okay?”

“Hard to say,” Jresh admitted. Looking to his right, the Human saw Ryloh still laying prone nearby, Kar’ai kneeling by his side.

“He okay?” Lorrik repeated.

“Hard to say,” Jresh repeated.

“Damn,” Lorrik softly muttered as he fell back to the ground. Letting out a hard exhale, the inquisitor placed his hands behind his head and gazed longingly toward the Korriban sky. “What are we going to do?”

“Continue?” Jresh offered.

“Think we can?”

“Of course.”

“You really think Isorr won’t take your beating personally?”

“I hope he does,” Jresh confidently stated. “I know a thing or two about how the other warriors operate. I wouldn’t have taken such actions without a plan.”

“Jresh has learned the art of manipulation. No one is safe,” Lorrik offered with a chuckle.

“Try and get Ryloh ready for travel. I’ll go talk to Isorr,” Jresh said as he parted from his companion.

Letting out another sigh, Lorrik stirred from his grounded position as he turned his attention toward Ryloh. Walking back toward a defeated Isorr, the Pureblood ignored the passing glances and stares from the other acolytes that stood between them. The Zabrak looked up from his emotional stagger to see his aggressor looming over him with his stalwart figure. Narrowing his focus, Isorr saw the Jresh had already extended his hand, silently asking the defeated warrior to raise himself with it.

“I neither need nor want your help,” Isorr muttered, his voice not yet fully returning to him.

“You can take my hand, or you can receive my fist. The choice is yours,” Jresh offered. Isorr reaffirmed his gaze and locked eyes with his aggressor. Silence, broken only by the Zabrak heavy breaths, followed. The two warriors remained fully separated, physically and emotionally. But the Pureblood refused to withdraw his hand. “This is what being a Sith is to you? Unable to deal with defeat? This isn’t the Isorr I knew back at the Academy.”

The Zabrak’s face twisted and contorted as he struggled to vocalize his thoughts. “Shut up. Who are you to talk about what being a Sith is?”

Jresh replied only with the stoic circular wafting of his hand over his crimson-skinned visage.

Isorr let out a snide growl as he regretfully wiped his face with the palm of his hand. “This isn’t what I thought apprenticeship would be like…”

“We’re not apprentices yet,” Jresh calmly stated. “Not until we get back to the Academy. So take my hand and let’s get back on our path.”

“Our path? There is no ‘our path’. Each Sith must follow their own path. That path might occasionally align with others and intersect with them at fixed points, but they never merge.”

Jresh reaffixed his gaze upon the sulking warrior. “And who taught you that?”

“No one,” Isorr admitted. “It is the base for all the Sith teaching dating back hundreds and thousands of years.”

“The Sith are dynamic. That is what truly separates us from the Jedi. With each generation, with each battle, with each conflict… we adapt. We change our ways to better facilitate our success. It behooves a Sith to be selfish in their rise to power because they eventually encounter a Sith whose selfishness and power supersedes their own, who hopes to keep them down. The Sith rise. Only the weak seek to prevent ascension. Only the scared. Only the selfish. Tradition has held us back. The Academy has held us back. Syrosk has held us back. If you truly respect the Sith, prove it. Don’t align and dedicate yourself to the musings of dead masters and tyrants. Dedicate yourself to the Code. Derive your wants and desires from that, not from the wants and desires of other Sith.”

“And yet you expect me to take your hand.”

“Because we are not Sith out here. We are not acolytes. We are survivors. We are men and women who have been deceived. Together we can survive. Together can find answers. That is something we all want and desire, even you. Once we return and become apprentices, it is fully up to you how you wish to proceed. You can separate yourself, betray us, combat us, do whatever you feel is required for you to become Sith. I expect you to. But for now… take my hand.”

Isorr’s nose twitched as he processed his opponent’s words. Which a heavy sigh, he succumbed to the Purebloods musings, agreeing to cooperate. Slowly, the Zabrak began to raise himself from the ground without the aid of the Pureblood. He was quickly interrupted.

Jresh thrust his hand in front of the stalled warrior. “I said, you can take my hand or receive my fist. If you refuse my help, I will continue to drive you to the ground until you accept it.”

Begrudgingly, Isorr took ahold of the other warrior’s hand and raised himself from the dirt. Standing in front of one another, the two warriors locked eyes, sharing cold glares. The two remained locked in their stances, refusing to break away from one another. Suddenly, Isorr drove his fist into the cheek of his once opponent. The punch impacting hard against the Pureblood’s cheek and Jresh stumbled for a moment as he reeled from the blow. Returning to his upright stance, the struck warrior offered a hearty chuckle.

“Where was that fire when you were dangling off a cliff?” Jresh offered before turning back to the gathering of acolytes a short distance away, walking off with a hearty gait. Isorr stared at the back of the implacable Pureblood as he returned to the other acolytes, his eyes narrowing, his mouth releasing yet another sigh.

----------

As the early day’s sun hovered upon the Academy’s exterior, Darth Tash walked, almost hovering with splendor, as he made his way back toward his transport. Trailing in his path, one of the instructors within his dominion walked a respectful distance behind him. The two figures walked, one head held high, one kept dutifully lowered. Reaching the landing pad where his shuttle off world resided, the dark lord turned to face his lackey whom immediately straightened his stance and offering his master the level of attention he so rightfully deserves.

“My lord, it would seem all of your affairs and assets are in impeccable order,” the instructor dutifully stated, the trailing Human finding momentary confidence.

“It would seems so,” Darth Tash softly admitted. “Syrosk has suffered and waned, even since his return to Korriban, confirming his status as a non-threat. However…”

“Yes, my lord?”

“I must admit I am intrigued by the news of Syrosk’s students. Eight acolytes plucked from my crop, serving whatever plans the alien currently finds himself partaking in.”

“I’m sure they’re of no threat to you or your plans, my lord.”

“Oh? Is that so? Even when one of them was capable of tricking you into allowing them access to the classroom and single-handedly defeating a number of your students?”

“I am dreadfully sorry, my lord, I didn’t recognize the acolyte. He said he was serving a Sith Lord and I was felt open defiance was counter intuitive with your plans. You told us not to do anything to upset the Sith of the true Academy.”

“I find no fault with your actions. That was in the past, which no longer concerns me. In the present, Syrosk is still of no concern, but his students… I don’t expect you to have felt it, but deep within the wastes there was a flicker, a ripple in the Force. Lasting only a moment, but I noticed it fully.”

“Do you think it was them? There could have been a number of causes.”

“It lacked the inherent darkness held by the usual flares offered by Sith Lords and the various tombs that populate the land. It was unique. Something new. It matters not how far Syrosk has fallen if his students are able to continue his schemes.”

“Could such a weak master produce apprentices that are a sufficient threat?”

“Syrosk and his master may not have been the most powerful, but they were resourceful. I’ll need you and the others to keep a close eye on them once I’m gone and Syrosk has recalled them from their hiding place.”

The instructor offered a dutiful nod. “Shall we operate as usual?”

“Enough time has passed. Syrosk has a rapport with the Academy, but his students do not. They no longer possess the sanctum of my domain, nor the Academy at large. They are no longer protected by the same set of rules the other acolytes. Proceed accordingly.”

“Might you have any plans for them?”

“Assuming they survive the coming months… of course.”

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Osetto
09.02.2012 , 11:21 AM | #49
Chapter Thirteen: Maladies

Ryloh stirred from his slumber to find the other acolytes patiently gathered around him, his companion directly by his side. Confused and disoriented, he felt solace in the presence of his partner and his allies, even Isorr who stood with his arms crossed a short distance away. Slowly, the Twi’lek rose from the ground and dusted himself off as all eyes fell upon him. Slowly regaining his vigor, the inquisitor was determined to press forth without further delay.

There were few words to be shared between the acolytes, for there was little to be said. The eight students had come to an inherent understanding. They realized that they all traveled along a singular path, that their fates were now connected and intertwined by more than just the meddling of their superiors. A physical, emotional, and spiritual connection resonated between the eight acolytes. And once everyone was assured of each individual’s well-being, the group set out once more to return to the Academy. Toward answers. Toward fate.

Jresh took to the forefront of the traveling pack, ever confident in his navigational skills as he blazed the path across the harsh Korriban terrain. The abominable pit behind them, what rest in front of the acolytes was simply a maddening stretch of lightly jagged plains. And so the eight students marched, for a simple trudge would do them no good. They had their eyes set upon one singular goal, and knew in their hearts that they would see it fulfilled. For all of them. So they marched, and marched, and marched.

“How much longer do you think it will be until we reach the Academy?” Lorrik asked his companion.

“It all depends on any further complications. But I think if we can keep our pace, we may be able to return by tomorrow night,” Jresh explained.

“Good. Good. I was thinking we should make camp early tonight and start early tomorrow. After the ordeal, I don’t think Kar’ai and Ryloh will be good to travel through the night.”

“How about you? Are you holding up?” Jresh calmly asked.

“I luckily managed to mitigate myself throughout the process to some degree. Still, even sensing what they were going through was… difficult,” Lorrik admitted.

“We felt it ourselves as we watched. Externally, it was quite a display. The world around you seemed to take notice of your actions. A fine display of Force prowess.”

“Well, thank you, but that likely had more to do with Ryloh and Kar’ai’s reaction to the experience. You put a Force-sensitive through something traumatic like that… something is bound to manifest,” Lorrik stated.

“You think it will have any lasting effects?” Jresh asked.

“I don’t know. Kar’ai seems to have made a full recovery. Ryloh seems a bit sluggish, but then again, maybe he’s just at peace with his partner being safe.”

“Do you think it had any effect on you?”

“Physically? No.”

“Mentally?” Jresh asked.

Lorrik hesitated. “In the beginning, I can honestly say I had no idea what I was doing. I was afraid of what would happen if we did nothing… afraid of what would happen if I did do something. I was hesitant. I was unsure. I couldn’t believe in myself. But then… you gave me a sign that washed away all those things. A simply nod of the head. All that time I couldn’t believe in myself, and all it took was a simple gesture from you.”

“You have sufficient knowledge and power resting within you. If all you ever needed was the occasional push in the right direction, you’ll find no complaints from me. I’ve seen acolytes with far greater debilitations.”

“I guess I should be thankful.”

“You needn’t be,” Jresh firmly stated. “You’ve long since earned my respect. You’ve nothing to prove to me, and I’ve nothing to prove to you. At this juncture, we are together. It is our duty to lend one another a hand, to lift them when they fall, to push them when they stall. To believe in one another. I am confident in our ability to fulfill that duty.”

The Human let out a soft chuckle. “This place really has screwed us up. Your Sith brain won’t even let you realize that you just defined friendship.”

Jresh set his eyes upon the horizon alongside his usual stoic visage. Letting out another chuckle, Lorrik turned his attention to the trailing acolytes. They walked in their usual pairings, but occasionally would separate and reconvene, intermingling with their fellow students. The Human witnessed Kar’ai break away from her companion, leaving Ryloh by his lonesome. Patting Jresh on the shoulder, Lorrik quickly directed himself to the rear of the group where the male Twi’lek walked.

“Ryloh, holding up okay?” Lorrik asked, voice soft and warm.

“Yeah… yeah. Just trying to get back into the swing of things,” Ryloh sluggishly explained.

“Kar’ai seems to be doing well,” Lorrik stated, looking over to see the Rattataki engaging Arlia in conversation, Isorr walking a short distance them.

“Yeah, I’m glad.”

Looking upon the other inquisitor, Lorrik saw Ryloh’s face momentarily wince as he struggled to return to a norm. “Something wrong?”

“I have a confession to make…” Ryloh whispered as the Human gave him his full attention. “During the… ordeal, I attempted something.”

“What?”

“I just… I just wanted to save Kar’ai from… from, I don’t know,” Ryloh struggled to explain.

“Slowly, tell me what happened,” Lorrik directed, his voice losing some of its previous warmth.

“Back at the Academy, I studied a number of Force applications. I always knew I’d be too weak to summon lightning or move unmovable objects. But the one field I thought I could do, involved manipulation of the mind.“

“Please tell me this isn’t something I don’t want to hear,” Lorrik muttered, the warmth all but gone from his tone.

“I didn’t know what effect the pain would have on Kar’ai. I wanted to make things easier for her. I thought… I thought I could erase the memory of the pain. Make her forget she suffered.”

“You didn’t…”

The Twi’lek shook his head. “You’re right. I didn’t. I tried peeking into her mind, but I couldn’t focus. I instead managed to make myself a lightning rod for the pain she was experiencing.”

“You meant to ease the pain, but ended up taking in all of it…” Lorrik said, almost in disbelief. “That’s horrible! We have to stop. You need time to recover. That much sensory overload should have killed you.”

“I’m… fine.”

“No, you’re not. What you’ve experienced, your mind and body shouldn’t have been able to withstand it.”

“It’s because of Kar’ai. I knew, deep in my heart, that every moment I suffered, meant she didn’t have to. She needs to be in peak condition. I don’t. Now please, she’s coming back, and I’d rather not have her know about this right now. I don’t want her to worry.”

Lorrik stared at his fellow inquisitor with conflicting emotions. He knew Kar’ai deserved to know what Ryloh did for her, but he couldn’t risk the formation of anything resembling a rift at this juncture. Something inside the Twi’lek remained broken, something Lorrik couldn’t fix, regardless of confidence or skill. Assuming it needed a fix in the first place. The Human knew he was capable of sacrifice, and would almost assuredly offer his mind and body should they be require for the sake of his companion. But still he remained unsure, of so many things.

“Hey, Lorrik,” Kar’ai called out. “You do good work. You’d never know I passed out and fell down a cliff if it weren’t for my robes. You have our thanks. Isn’t that right Ryloh?”

“Heh, of course it is,” Ryloh added, now seemingly unaffected by any internal malady. Lorrik flashed a half-genuine smile and offered a wave of his hand as he made his way back toward the front of the group.

‘You do good work’. The words repeated in the inquisitor’s mind. He wondered, could he have done things better? Ryloh was in his current situation because he knew of no other way to heal Kar’ai. He blamed himself. For all the good he’d done in uniting the acolytes, he felt he had a hand in every disaster that befell them amongst the wastes of Korriban.

Lorrik once again walked by his companion’s side. Looking over, Jresh saw a melancholy in the Human’s visage. He thought to speak, but sensed it was not a time for words. Instead, he offered a brief, but comforting hand upon Lorrik’s shoulder. The two had their eyes set upon the stretching landscape in front of them. Slowly, the inquisitor lifted from his low state. He couldn’t stop now. Hardship was the lifeblood of the Sith. Solutions came with knowledge, and so, he would acquire that knowledge. Rather than dwell on mistakes or missed opportunities, Lorrik set his gaze upon the horizon. Toward the future. There he would stand high, with Jresh by his side.

Osetto's Avatar


Osetto
09.05.2012 , 06:03 PM | #50
Chapter Fourteen: Shadows

Night fell on the acolytes. They suffered a full day’s march and were ready to carry on into the darkness, but under the protests of Lorrik, they opted for an early retirement with an early rise the next morning. Sitting around the flame of the planted hand torch, the acolytes dug into their reserves of food rations. Sharing the bits of dwindling bricks with one another, the dismay of taste was fast being coupled with a dismay of lost motivations. The acolytes knew they were closer than ever to the Academy. They knew they were on the right course. But something itched at the back of their minds. None thought to vocalize their concern. Instead, they welcomed the silence of night along with its comforts.

With the next rising of the Korriban sun, the acolytes found themselves renewed and invigorated. The usual heat of the blasted landscape had not yet permeated their being, but the fire brewing in their hearts was unquenchable. Nesk and Vurt stretched their limbs and flexed their muscles coupled with their usual contradicting expressions. Isorr was bickering with Arlia, trying to procure one of her two training sabers, signaling a return to normalcy. Kar’ai had fully recovered and was full of energy, with Ryloh showing little signs of malady. Jresh was, of course, ready and able to proceed and Lorrik would continue to follow him at his side.

The group set out under the early morning skies, walking behind the staunch Pureblood that traversed across the cracked plains before them. For hours they walked, continuously and without pause. They had surpassed the petty threats the wilds could offer. They had succeeded hunger and thirst. Their minds and bodies were sustained by their destination. They were driven by the idea of being driven. Such was the way of the Sith. Passing over an extended flatland, the group’s leader captured the attention of his fellow acolytes.

“I believe that mountain range in the distance borders the Academy,” Jresh spoke up. “Looks like we’ll be home by the day’s end.”

The gathered students vocally emoted their pleasure with the news. Cheers and warm faces emerged from even the more reserved acolytes. Revitalized once more, the students picked up their pace, traversing the empty plains with a bounce in their step. Through all the exuberance and jocularity, it was a moment before any had heard the harrowing crack of dirt and stone beneath their feet.

Looking to the ground, Lorrik and Jresh watched as the cracked terrain growled and shifted, fissures spreading and widening under their boots. Just as the floor was about to give way, the two acolytes at the head of the pack met their gazes for an instant before turning to their allies behind them. As the ground beneath them buckled, they stretched their arms out in front of them, sending out a combined Force wave that sent the other acolytes tumbling backwards and away from the growing chasm that Lorrik and Jresh found themselves slipping into.

Not a moment after granting their allies safety, the two students disappeared into the abyss, producing a loud thud as they impacting against the rock a short distance below. The chasm opened further and further before ceasing in front of the other six students. The acolytes steadied and reorganized themselves as they peered over the edge of the newly created pit. Looking into the chasm, the other two students were plainly visible upon the base of what appeared to be a subterranean cave system. The chamber was several meters deep, but the drop appeared to be more of a nuisance to the Sith compared to the previous pit.

“You have got… to be kidding me,” Lorrik muttered from his back, gazing beyond the created fissure toward the Korriban sky. “I am officially… sick of this planet!”

Raising himself without a word, Jresh panned the chamber for any important details. The folded coat filled with belongings that had been secured to the warrior’s waist jostled and rattled, but no signs of damaged goods emanated from within. Looking up, he saw the other acolytes staring down upon them. The pair could reasonably climb out, but the sides of the cave were less forgiving than the ridge they had previously crossed.

“You guys okay?” Kar’ai shouted into the caves.

“Yeah,” Lorrik shouted back with a fair dose of discontent.

Jresh scanned his surroundings with an increasing haste. “Lorrik, we shouldn’t linger. I don’t see any particularly easy way out.”

The Pureblood's advisement was cut short by a thunderous roar emanating from the deep shadows beyond one of the large tunnels that led to the chamber they found themselves in. Shooting up from his grounded position, Lorrik locked eyes with his companion as they shared a moment of silence.

“Lorrik?”

The Human’s legs began to tremble as his eyes widened. “I thought this might have been a shyrack cave… but that howl wasn’t nearly high-pitched enough. Don’t see any signs of k’lor’slug infestation.”

“I’d rather not wait and find out,” Jresh admitted. “Come over here, I should be able to give enough of a boost to get you out.”

A look of worry washed over the inquisitor’s face. “What about you?”

“I’m sure I can just jump out.”

“You’re good… but not that good. Your body’s not operating at its peak.”

Another howl resonated throughout the chamber, louder and closer than before. Shaken by the deafening sound, the acolytes were forced to cover their ears. When the torment has ceased, the two students had looked up to see a figure emerge from the shadows. A giant beast, walking upon two legs. A creature of claws and spines. A creature of corruption. A creature of death. Something far worse than Lorrik’s nightmares.

A terentatek slowly revealed itself as it stepped into the sunlit chamber. The hunched monstrosity inched closer with each heavy step, the spines protruding from its back almost grazing the ceiling. Bearing its claws and its tusked jowls, the monster was fully aware of the acolytes’ presence.

“We need to get out! NOW!” Lorrik exclaimed.

“And then what?” Jresh asked, stilled and focused, his gaze coldly affixed on the approaching creature. “You think we can escape a creature of this caliber?”

“We can try! What, would you rather fight it?”

The Pureblood sharpened his gaze, unwilling to removing them from the approaching beast. “We’re here. We might as well.”

"This isn't a matter of challenge or pride, it's-"

Two soft thuds rang out to the pair’s left. Momentarily rending their gaze from the dark monster, the acolytes saw that Nesk and Vurt had leapt down from above.

“Can’t let it have prize to itself,” Nesk snarled, brandishing his training saber, his silent companion doing the same. Another two thuds followed as Kar’ai and Ryloh joined them.

“Can’t allow our guide and healer to get eaten, now can we?” Kar’ai said with a smirk as she drew her weapon, Ryloh supplying an assured nod as he did the same.

The terentatek let out yet another resounding roar as it fast approached the acolytes with its lumbering gait. Charging down upon them, the students scattered as the monster offered a wide swing of its toxic claws. Diving out of the way, the sharp and heavy hand impacted only against a nearby stalagmite, utterly shattering it. Lashing out at the twisted creature, Nesk let out a savage flurry of blows against the monstrosity’s arm to little avail before its backhand sent him flying across the chamber.

Unable to focus its attention on all of the students, the acolytes surrounded the terentatek, striking with the ignited arrays of their training sabers. The weapons did little in the way of lasting damage, but left a series of scorch marks across the creature’s thickened hide. The terentatek swung its arms out wide and let out a deafening roar, knocking the gathered students back with sheer force alone.

Jresh recovered with lightning speed and approached the creature without weapons nor fear. With only his fists, the Pureblood struck against the monster, searching for a soft spot in its plating. He found none, but refused to relent. With each punch, he channeled the Force, sending a shockwave out and through the terentatek’s hide. The creature resisted the effect, but it was enough to attract its undivided attention. Lashing out at the insignificant Pureblood, Jresh proved nimble enough to outmaneuver it's blows, dodging, sidestepping, sliding beneath the creature’s legs. Looking up, he saw Arlia and Isorr continue to watch from the edge above.

“I guess we should help them out,” Arlia softly stated.

“I think you’ll better understand my desire for a weapon right about now,” Isorr replied.

With a dip of her head, the Twi’lek unhooked a saber and passed it to her partner. Each with a weapon at the ready, Arlia was the first to leap into the foray below. Ever the nimble fighter, Arlia struck out at the creature before dodging its ensuing blows. As the creature focused on the dexterous acolytes, the powerhouses lashed out with all their might upon the terentatek’s exposed figure. Once more, Jresh looked to the edge above to see Isorr casting his typical glare down upon the violent proceedings. With a cold grin, the lone Zabrak stepped away from the chasm until he disappeared from view.

Jresh returned his attention to the monster just in time to be struck with the brunt of its hand across his chest, knocking him to the ground. As the monster readied another shattering roar, a dark figure flew across the exposed sky above with a mighty leap. Landing upon the beast’s back, Isorr grasped a firm hold of the creature’s spines. The terentatek lashed out by shaking its entire body, trying to loosen the insect from its back. Moving erratically, Isorr leapt from the creature’s back as he ran its head into one of the chamber walls.

“Good of you to join us,” Jresh muttered as he lifted himself from the ground.

“Shut up. Let’s just kill this thing,” Isorr said as he raised his saber.

“Right. Lorrik!” Jresh shouted out.

“Yeah?” Lorrik shouted back, genuinely exasperated.

“Get everyone line up against that wall!” Jresh directed, pointing to the surface behind his companion. Not needing an explanation, the Human offered a nod of his head as he shouted to the other acolytes. As the others vacated the area around the beast, Jresh charged forward, Isorr closely behind him. “That applied to you as well.”

“I know. Don’t care,” Isorr curtly replied, prompting a soft chuckle from the Pureblood.

Sharing the terentatek’s attention, they lashed out with a series of blows, Jresh hitting the creature low as Isorr circled around it. Together, they drove the creature toward the wall opposite the other acolytes. With a primal howl, the monster charged the warriors, who deftly stepped aside, allowing the creature to slam itself against the nearby cavern wall.

Recovering quickly, the terentatek turned to see the intruders standing in a line, side by side, their intense gazes beating down upon it. In unison, they raised their hands and stretched them outright. The air in the caverns shifted as the acolytes slowly and deliberately clenched their fingers. The monster took a step toward the organized pack, but found its movement snared. Each further step edged its body less and less close to the acolytes. A force was wrapping around the creature. Overwhelming it. Penetrating it. The focused minds of eight acolytes began crushing the terentatek with the manifestations of their spirits.

The terentatek was strong. But the acolytes were stronger. As every facet, every fold, every inch of battered hide was encapsulated and consumed with the crushing force, the power seeping deeper and deeper within the creature’s innards. Its hide was sturdy, capable of resisting remarkable damage. Its innards were resilient, sculpted by the dark working of the Sith of old. But it could not defend against the combined might of these eight acolytes. Slowly, the terentatek lifting into the air, hovering as it struggled to break free of its shrinking prison.

The corrupt creature succumbed to the acolytes’ will. Green fluids oozed from its various wounds and orifices. The monster of nightmares had been destroyed by the combined effort of eight lowly Sith. Lifeless, the students permitted the corpse to fall and slump to the cavern floor, dripping in its defeat. Releasing their grip, the acolytes slumped in their place, victorious.

Tired. But victorious.