The Calm Before the Storm
The next day the Korriban sun seemed hotter than usual. The tension was thick in the Academy among the students who hoped to leave Korriban that week. Newer slaves and Force Sensitives were coming in regularly…and dying regularly as usual. In Talitha’koum’s in-take only one fifth had survived the years of torture – “training” as the Sith called it. The Twi’lek herself had woken up early and gone to the sparring rooms to duel with training droids and remotes. She needed the practice, but she also needed her head space back. Her new Master, if she survived the day, was oddly absent – physically and psychologically. But Talitha just pushed this to the back of her mind.
Her new Lightsaber was becoming an extension of her being, though she was not accustomed to the weapon, compared to the Vibroblades she had trained with. Her opponents had only had one extra day than her to practice. At least those who had used the time wisely, rather than bragging about their new implement of death.
The night before she had been sat in the lab with some of her plants harvested from Ilum. Datapad propped up against a tankard of water she had carefully followed the instructions on overcoming ‘Force Fatigue’ as the Archives called it. It had tasted vile, but had made her more alert, the fogginess of thought had dissipated in a few hours. And the idea that Ilum’s life fuelled hers, only spurred her on.
Shaking her head to bring her focus back to the present moment, she realised she’d been stood there a few minutes staring at a training droid. She deactivated her Lightsaber and closed her eyes. Defence, not attack, was her strength. She would need as much of that as she could muster. She calmed her heartbeat down with careful breathing exercises before allowing her lively, blue eyes to open.
Her moment of peace was interrupted by Korriban’s Announcement System:
“All final year Acolytes are to proceed to grounds outside the Academy for your final trial. Anyone attempting to flee Korriban will be captured and killed.”
The moment of Calm was over. The time of the Storm had arrived.
Duelling in the Storm
As the Twi’lek and her year group trudged out into the bright sunshine of Korriban, she noticed yesterday’s bravado had been whittled away. The reality of the moment was hitting home to even the most brutish thugs seeking approval of the Dark Council.
The Overseers had marked a circle in the sand, and placed roughly-cut poles at various points around that circle.
Sand has a way of covering its own tracks, Talitha thought.
Once the group was assembled around the circle, an Overseer everyone hated, Harkun, stepped into it.
“Right you lousy rabble of worthless filth. Today half of you will die. The other half will live for now,” he began. Talitha barely stifled thoughts of sarcasm, other Acolytes weren’t so self-controlled.
“We are breaking from tradition today,” Harkun continued, “you will each be issued with a robe and hood. Past trials showed that co-students let their personal feelings for each other hamper their fighting. So you will not know who you are to strike down. Dirty non-humans will have to hide your…appendages, inside your robe.”, he spat.
Some first year students were brought out, laiden with the robes, sweating under the dark material. Some averted their gaze from the group, others looked longingly, wishing their could spectate. The Twi’lek took her robe from a shy-looking Mirialan who looked obviously out of place on Korriban. She lifted his face with her hands and smiled at him.
“You will be alright.” was all she needed to say. The Mirialan’s shoulders relaxed and just nodded, before hurrying to distribute his pile of robes.
Pulling hers around her, the rough material chafed her skin, the blackness absorbing all of Korriban’s heat. Mental torture as well as a physical challenge. She pulled the hood over her head, only the slit for the eyes revealed her yellow complexion. She wasn’t the only yellow Twi’lek there.
It was at that moment that a huge dust storm began to take shape around the Academy. Overseer Harkun grabbed a voice augmentation device from a nearby droid and yelled into it.
“This changes nothing. Let the first two Acolytes duel.”
Two Academy Guards pushed two Acolytes into the ring. Talitha felt a sense of dread overwhelm her and she shivered despite the searing heat. She didn’t want to witness one victorious student and another condemned to be beast fodder. The dust was causing everyone havoc, but especially those students who had chosen to use two Lightsabers. The single-handed Acolytes were able to shield their face and still fight. One Sorceror had been particularly inventive – using the Force to draw a ‘Bubble’ of Sand around themselves before blasting their opponent with it. With every fallen student, Talitha’koum felt the Force kick her in the stomach.
So much life, needlessly lost.
Her Battle for Survival
The duels came and went and it seemed only a matter of moments before she was nearly flung into the circle. She unclipped her Lightsaber and ignited it. Only then did she look towards her opponent. Nothing to give away their identity, other than an obvious darkness surrounded them. A red blade snap-hissed from two Lightsabers. Talitha frowned – she had not realised how hard Red Blades would be to see against the red dust, floor and rocks of Korriban. Her Turquoise blade however was blindingly obvious.
Her opponent hesitated before drawing themselves to their full height and pointing one blade towards the Twi’lek in challenge. Talitha took a breath and focussed on the Force to protect her, while she had a moment to concentrate. She returned the challenge, indicating it was accepted. The circled each other, their eyes locking, not bearing to blink. At one point the tips of their sabers nearly touched, a crackle of energy reverberating between them. It was then Talitha’s opponent let out a huge roar that threatened to tear her apart. Using the Force as a barrier, and shutting her eyes to hold her body together she let out a blinding flash of light that knocked her opponent backwards.
The dual-wielder did a backflip and landed on both feet neatly, before doing a huge leap towards her. Bringing her own blade across the the two facing her she had to use all her strength to push them back, her eyes boring into those of her opponent. Through the heat of the battle, and the gritty sand invading their eyes, getting that close she knew it was a human female she was facing. The human blinked first, surprised by Talitha’s resolve. That brief second allowed Talitha to kick a foot from under her sending her tumbling and crying out in pain as bone hit rock.
Seeing her chance, Talitha drew on the Force to speed away from her opponent and jump back. The human grasped at her sabers, finding only one. With insufficient time to find both she swiped wildly at the Twi’lek who caught a glancing blow to her right leg.
She fell to one knee and a cheer went up from the other survivors around the circle. Gritting her teeth and willing the wound to shut, she blinked back tears of pain.
The Warrior in front of her leapt to retrieve her other saber, but Talitha Force pulled it towards her in the nick of time. A look of terror from the human at being weakened made the Twi’lek feel guilty. She swallowed that and quickly clipped her opponent’s saber to her belt before rolling a few pace away. They stood once more, breathing heavily and staring each other down. Talitha had a slight limp but the pain was controlled. She had a sudden thought, which was interrupted by a flash of red which she barely had chance to parry. They whirled around, sabers swiping up and across, sparking cracklings of energy and flashes of light. Her opponent’s physical energy was almost overwhelming. Back and forth they parried for what seemed like an age, until Talitha suddenly caught her foot on a loose stone and the human swiped at her back.
The Twi’lek almost blacked out in pain and fell to her knees, flooded by the blood-curdling cheer of the crowd.
No, I have to survive!
The human was circling her now as a hunter circles its prey. It was in that pain she realised she hadn’t drawn on her Force Focus. As the Warrior approached, Talitha lashed out, binding her opponent to slow her movements. The Twi’lek drew herself onto one knee and fired some lightening which was deflected by the Warrior. Her eyes were blurring reality with the sand storm, and as the Warrior leapt for the killing blow, Talitha pushed on her one good leg, lunging upwards.
A sudden gasp, a cry of anguish and failure and the red blade was extinguished, the figure falling lifeless on the floor.
Talitha stumbled back and fell to sitting on the floor. She pulled her hood over her eyes to hide the tears streaming down her face. She knew that cry. She was dragged out of the circle by a guard to allow the final few duels to take place. Seeing her wounds, the medical droids were instructed to take her to the healers and kolto tanks. She had survived, but at what cost?
Secrets and Lies
“Hello again Acolyte. Your visits are getting regular”, the droid noted.
“And your protocols are developing humour.”, the Twi’lek retorted dryly, not feeling any laughter in her usually bright voice.
“You can return to your quarters shortly. You nearly lost your back in that fight. It will take time to fully heal”
Talitha just nodded. It was then Lord Vitae entered the room. Talitha looked up at her new master, tears welling in her eyes.
“How. Could. You?”, she demanded.
“It wasn’t my decision to make. You must believe me.”, Vitae pressed.
“But – you knew!”, the Twi’lek was fighting against anger, knowing where that led.
“It wouldn’t have helped you if you knew.”, her Master patiently explained
“I would rather have died than … her.”
And Talitha’koum broke down, anger giving way to grief.
Vitae shrunk back into the shadows to give her new apprentice time. Korriban was full of secrets and lies. Nothing could be trusted, not even your gut instincts. She couldn’t wait to get this fragile Twi’lek off this rock.