Caressa loved the warm sun that shot its rays into her orange skin in the noonday desert. As she stepped off the cold metal shuttle that had brought her here, she took in a deep breath and closed her eyes. Korriban. She was finally here. This planet, with its wonderful dry heat, was her new home. It was the culmination of a long journey, and just the beginning of another, even worthier, one.

When she finished savoring the moment, she opened her eyes again, and continued forward, the shuttle taking off again behind her. She was met by a dark-skinned human man.

"At last, you've arrived," he said. "Good, good. There is much to do and every moment is critical. I'm Overseer Tremel. For decades, I have administered the trials that prove who is and is not worthy to join the Sith order. The trials are a chance to weed out the weak. Those who face them either survive and become Sith, or die."

Caressa was happy, so she let slip a smile as she replied playfully, "Thanks. I'll take the first option."

Overseer Tremel, however, was not amused. "This is no time for levity, acolyte. You are here and ahead of schedule because of me. I expect you to obey."

Great, thought Caressa, her smile evaporating. A killjoy for a master. Ah, well. I will be free of him soon enough. For now, I shall do as he asks.

And so Caressa did, and she did it well. She was commanded to retrieve a Sith Warblade from a tomb, and to destroy the giant slugs that had come to reside there. When she had finished, she took her new warblade into the academy.

Wow, thought Caressa, exhaling. I could get used to this place.

The academy's high ceiling and walls weren't beautifully decorated or anything like that, nor were the groups of robed acolytes milling around and muttering to one another particularly inspiring. But there was a feeling in the place, a feeling located in the Force rather than in the world of the physical senses. A feeling of strength and power, of confidence and control. A feeling she loved. She breathed deeply, soaking in it, letting it strengthen her. This was her home now. She would excel here, she could sense it.

It's funny how few Sith, at least in my experience, take the time to be sentimental about beautiful things like this, she thought to herself as she walked to Overseer Tremel's office. After all, "Through passion, I gain strength." Is not my love for the places I visit a passion?

Two acolytes approached her, breaking her out of her musings. "Hey there, acolyte," one of them, a human with two large scars crisscrossing his face, called out in a commanding tone. "Hold on a moment. Let me get a look at you."

They were blocking her path, so she had no choice but to acquiesce to his command.

He scrutinized her body through narrowed eyes. "Hmm. A Zabrak. Several horns, red hair, facial tattoos. Short, but fit. You look impressive, to be sure. But don't think that will save you." He relaxed his gaze. "I'm Vemrin, and unlike you I've fought and bled for everything I have. I demand respect."

Caressa could already tell she wasn't going to like this Vemrin. But before she could respond, the second acolyte, a large burly guy, cut in. "This is ridiculous, Vemrin. Let's just kill her and hide the body."

Kill me? Caressa thought as her eyes widened in surprise. Wow, that didn't take long. Hmm. They must be leaders among the acolytes, who see me as a threat. Her eyes narrowed. Good. I am one.

"We're not on Balmorra anymore, Dolgis," Vemrin replied. "There are rules. Traditions."

"Fine," Dolgis grumbled. "But listen to me, you useless priss," he pointed his finger at Caressa. "Acolytes may not be allowed to murder each other, but accidents happen. It isn't murder without witnesses."

Caressa elected not to respond with anything but an angry glare.

The two acolytes resumed walking. As Vemrin passed Caressa, he spat out, "No more warnings. I'm the alpha monster here. You go after me, you die."

Caressa let loose a smile despite herself. It felt like the threats of a gizka. She could sense some of the power of these two acolytes through the Force, and while their power was certainly not negligible, she knew herself to be the stronger. As long as she did not fall prey to trickery, but was fought honorably, she would win. Alas, she'd have to start sniffing her drink for poisons, though.

. . .

A few days passed in the academy. Caressa did whatever Tremel and the other masters required of her, be it passing judgment on prisoners, training with her warblade, or even, disgustingly, participating in a rite that required her to dip a human skull in a pool of blood. I can't believe that that rite is as ancient as that old woman claimed, Caressa thought. When my mother talked about the ways of the ancient honorable Sith, before we were reduced to infighting squabblers, she never mentioned acts like that. I hope I'll get the chance to ask her about it. In her heart, Caressa knew that event would be a long time in coming. When she'd been sent to Korriban, after inheriting the force-sensitivity of her parents, she knew she'd be working on her own for some time.

Now, she was just returning from the tomb of Marka Ragnos, after slaying a beast there as Tremel had instructed. She knew she was progressing well in her trials, and was eager to hear what Tremel would have to say to her latest accomplishment. But when she came around the corner of one of the corridors of the academy, she almost ran into someone large blocking her path.

"Well, look who's here," said Dolgis. "Remember me?"

"Oh, yes," said Caressa, smirking. "Vemrin's lackey. He's afraid of me, now, isn't he? Afraid I'll usurp his position as top student. So he sends you to challenge me."

"No," said Dolgis. "He sends me to kill you. Notice anything interesting?" He gestured at the empty corridors around them. "No witnesses. No witnesses means no rules. No more special treatment for you, now. You're just gonna be another dead failure on Korriban."

And with that, Dolgis attacked.

Dolgis put so much force into his initial slash, that Caressa, after neatly sidestepping it, was able to strike before he could recover. She quickly drew her blade and brought the blunt side down upon the hand that held Dolgis' training sword, at the same time as she Force-pushed upon his sword to drive it downward. The excessive force and the sting of Caressa's warblade together resulted in Dolgis losing his grip on his sword. It clattered to the ground, as Dolgis drew his bruised hand back with a cry.

He glared angrily at Caressa then, who pointed her sword at him and announced, "Beat you. Try again. Pick it up." She lowered her sword then, and backed away.

Dolgis looked confused, but then he leaped to do as instructed, picking his sword back up and immediately swinging at Caressa. This time he struck more carefully, so Caressa simply parried, and then initiated an attack of her own. They went back and forth a couple more times before Caressa saw an easy opening and slashed at his shoulder. "Aah," Dolgis cried out, putting his free hand on the wound. With his other hand he swung desperately, but Caressa sidestepped and brought her sword down across his chest, at the same time as she used the Force to tug on Dolgis' blade, ripping it out of his hand and into her own free one. She then pointed both her weapons at the now bleeding Dolgis. "Beat ya again," she announced.

"Alright, alright, I give," cried Dolgis, sinking to his knees and holding out one hand before him as another clutched his bloodied chest. "Look, I was wrong. You're… so strong. Please, I… I don't want to die!"

"Heh," chuckled Caressa. The fight had exhilarated her. She loved the rush of power, the feeling of having just utterly humiliated someone who'd thought to best her. Now she joked. "Not much of a Sith, are you? Offer no mercy and expect none, isn't that supposed to be our way?" She didn't wait for him to answer, but continued more seriously, "Tell me, why shouldn't I kill you? What would you do if I let you go?"

"I…" said, Dolgis, clearly straining to come up with some way to save his life. Caressa relished the fear in his eyes. "If you let me go, you won't see me again. I promise."

"Not good enough," said Caressa, inching her weapons closer to his exposed neck. "How about this? You leave Vemrin, and you become my lackey instead. You serve me as your master, and I let you live. Not only that, but as you have seen, I have the power to defeat Vemrin. I'm going to be ruling this school, Dolgis. By working for me, you assure yourself a place on the winning side. Prestige, success, these can be yours if you serve me faithfully, if you can prove to me that I should trust you, despite your attempt on my life here. But if you refuse me now, or if you try to betray me later, I will cut you down where you stand. What say you?"

"Yes, yes! I… I live to serve you, master," said Dolgis, bowing before Caressa.

"Good," said Caressa. "Then I hand you back your weapon." She did as she said, and then she moved forward, stepping around the defeated acolyte, and said, "Come along, Dolgis." She knew she looked unconcerned with whether Dolgis would use his newly reacquired weapon to strike her in the back, but she was observing his emotions carefully through the Force. She saw the hesitation, as he became aware of the opportunity she had just provided. Would he try to surprise her, betray her? Or accept her as his new master? In the end, Caressa felt his hesitation turn to grim acceptance, as Dolgis picked himself up off the floor and limped after her. Caressa smiled. He would never turn against her again, at least not while it looked like she had power. One step closer towards enacting the grand plan she had for the academy.