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A Weed in the Burning Sand

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She's alone. The transport shuttle shuddered as it descended through the atmosphere toward the surface. The interior was barren, just hard metal benches and jump seats lining the hold. A thick metal partition separated her from the cockpit and there were no viewports to see the outside. Not that Massaia needed to view the outside to know where she was headed. The Academy on Korriban, homeworld of the Sith. She let out a breath and pulled at the frayed edges of her tunic. It was one of the few that she owned and had been allowed to take with her when she had been selected to leave the Ziost Academy and continue her studies on Korriban. 'Great promise' is what her instructors had said to convince Korriban's council to allow a former slave an opportunity to train at the most sacred of Sith temples.

The shuttle hissed and vibrated as the landing gear activated and made contact with the ground. Massaia was torn from her thoughts as the door slid open. She stood, needing no instruction to exit the transport, and grabbed her rucksack, slinging it over one shoulder. The heat hit her first. It was stifling and oppressive, a far cry different from the more tempered conditions on Ziost. The air was choked with swirling red sand that stung Massaia's eyes and bit at her skin. She grimaced and stalked forward down the landing pad. All around her massive stone buildings rose up in sharp relief against the sky. Crudely carved statues of vague beings bent at the waist in humiliating deference dotted the landscape. A visual reminder of her place in the galaxy.

At the end of the landing pad stood a tall stately looking Twi'lek male. His dark robes fluttered in the wind and his lekku were tucked neatly under his cowl. He had a severe expression on his face, his eyes were a dark yellow which quickly flicked over her body as she came to a stop before him. Massaia drew herself up. At a mere five foot, four Massaia was small. She was skinny with lithe shoulders and a thin waist. Her hair was a reddish auburn like dying embers in a fire that came to uneven sharp angles at her chin that laid in sharp contrast to pale skin. Calculating russet eyes overlooked dusty cheeks and a small nose that was heralded by sharp cheekbones. The Twi'lek did not seem impressed by her appearance. Instead, he sniffed in disdain and tapped on his datapad.

“Acolyte Massaia,” he inquired in a smooth voice like water running over stones. Massaia nodded in return.

“I am Overseer Nivix. I run this facility and keep track of all the acolytes,” the Twi'lek said turning on his heel and walking down the ramp towards the main building. Massaia scrambled to keep up with his quick strides. They pushed through the doors that slid open and past several throngs of acolytes. Their eyes flickered over Massaia, judging, appraising, sizing her up as either predator or prey. She unconsciously tightened her fingers around her rucksacks strap but did not look down. There was no place for weakness here. The walls were barren except for the occasional red banner bearing the marks of the Empire. Narrow floor to ceiling windows lets in the harsh light of Korriban's suns.

“This is the main dormitories off the Academy. You will be placed with other acolytes and will be expected to be civilized. Save your rivalries and childish aggression for the Academy halls. Engage in any fights, disobey any rules, or cause any trouble and you will be punished,” Nivix explained giving Massaia a dark look. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal,” Massaia said meeting the Overseer's cold look squarely.

He waved her along. They stopped in front of a small cramped room with twelve cots, six on one side of the room and six on the other. There were no lockers or cabinets in the room, only the hard-lumpy looking cots with course gray blankets. Several other beings were lazing around the room both male and female. Nivix escorted her to the last cot on the left side of the room. On it was a small ID card attached to a chain and rusty vibrosword. Nivix gestured with a hand around the room. “This is where you will stay with the other...second-rate students.”

Nivix picked up her ID card. “Carry this with you wherever you go. If you are found without it, you will be punished. The vibrosword and all personal belongings are to be stored under your cot. If you leave your area disheveled, you will be punished. You are to report to the Academy tomorrow at 0600. If you are late you-.”

“Will be punished?” Massaia finished raising a brow.

Nivix didn't appreciate her comment and fixed her with an ominous gaze. He raised one narrow finger in front of her face. “You get one strike acolyte and you just used yours.”

Nivix turned and left in a flurry of black robes. Massaia dropped her rucksack onto her cot and sat down. She skimmed her fingers over the vibroblade. She had trained with one similar on Ziost when practicing martial skills with the instructors. In truth, she lacked any real prowess for physical combat. That was something her brother had been better at. A faint smile tugged at her lips at her thought of him. She wondered if he was here. It had been so long since she had seen him. Not since-.

“Hey slave, what's your deal?”

Massaia turned and saw two men approach. The speaker was tall and lanky with black hair combed back. His eyes were a cold blue with a sharp malevolent edge in them. His companion was thicker with wide shoulders and dusty skin sprinkled with freckles. His face was cut like a box, all hard lines, and edges. Massaia ignored them.

“Aw come on. I didn't mean to offend you. I was just wondering why the Academy would want a dirty slave like you?” They pressed closer and Massaia fixed them with a cold stare.

“I doubt you have any room to judge my past considering you’re a second-rate rate student as well,” she shot back.

The man stopped and cracked a crooked grin. Something about it made Massaia feel uneasy. “Only reason I'm second-rate is because I have a nasty disposition.”

“Leave her alone Draav.” A tall Zabrak male stepped forward. He was well muscled with broad shoulders and a barrel chest. Black angular tattoos twisted around his crown of horns, one of which was broken, and over his burnt orange skin.

Draav turned and glared back at the Zabrak. “Figures you'd stick up for her. Guess you finally have a friend now.”

The Zabrak took a threatening step forward and the two humans shifted back. “I'm just tired of your voice.”

There was a brief staredown between the three. The other acolytes in the room watched with bated breath. Draav and his crony slumped off out of the room and the Zabrak sat down heavily on his cot next to Massaia's. She eyed him for a second taking in the scars that dotted his arms and head. Her eyes landed on a thick scar that cut across the back of his neck from ear to ear. Her fingers reached up and brushed against the same marking that swept across the back of her neck too.

“You're a slave,” Massaia remarked softly.

“Was,” he grunted crossing his hands behind his neck and leaning back.

“Where are you from?”

The Zabraks cheek twitched. “What does it matter?”

Massaia shrugged and returned her attention to her vibroblade that rested on her lap. “It doesn't. Just wondering how another slave came to end up at Korriban.”

He sighed and turned his head to look at her. “Dromund Fels. I came here a year ago on an instructor’s recommendation. You?”

“Ziost after I spent some time at the Academy there,” she replied.

He nodded and stretched out on his cot, his long body nearly falling off. “Best get some rest.”

Massaia wasn't sure if she could fall asleep even if she wanted to. The other acolytes’ eyes were watching her, trying to decipher her strengths and weaknesses, waiting for an opening. Just like how it had been on Ziost. Although there Massaia had been the predator. Her intrinsic connection to the Force and her natural talents at conjuring elemental storms combined with her keen intellect put her at the top of her peers. It was why the instructors had insisted Korriban take over her training. She had outgrown Ziost's facilities even as a slave. Here though...here Massaia could feel the power swirling around her like a palpable wave threatening to swallow her whole if she allowed it.

It wasn't just the confrontation from before that put her on edge, but also all the other acolytes that hadn't stepped forward to confront her. It suggested that the students here were tempered and cunning, willing to wait and manipulate the situation to their benefit instead of immediately throwing their weight around. They were all feral dogs, circling and snapping at each other’s heels. The first time she showed weakness would be her last. One of these acolytes would rip her throat out the first chance they got.

She turned over in her bed so that her back was to the other acolytes. A slow throbbing headache was beginning to bloom at the base of her skull. A side effect of the condition that had plagued Massaia for her entire young life. Damn not now. She couldn’t afford a flare-up. Her fingers brushed against the open nares of her nose. When she pulled them away the tips were stained red.