Kisaku awoke with a start, his chest rising and falling heavily. He felt the chill of an eerie draft kiss his skin and it sent a shiver up his spine. Where was he? Memory flooded back to him as his sight returned.
Auteme! Lucien! They were probably still in danger, and yet... He didn’t feel their presence. He scrambled to his feet in the dark corridor of the citadel. Pain shot up him as he stood, all of his muscles crying out in simultaneous agony that drove a gasp from his lips. He staggered down the hallway, hand finding the ice cold stone to support himself. As he came across his lightsaber it flew to his trembling grasp. The recent terror still was fresh in his mind, but it was dulled now by the pain and by the fact that he didn’t feel Carnifex’ presence either. He felt alone in a way he never had before.
It gave him time to think. Even without the crushing weight of hopelessness upon him, he knew every thought he’d had in that moment of despair were all true. In the beginning, he’d only strived to better himself in the combative arts because all of his other failings were impersonal. In matters of academics and of the force it was non-confrontational. It was easy to convince himself he’d get better in time.
But as a child, losing spar after spar, struggling to even come to grips with the basics of the lightsaber it was different. They were all so much better than him. His fist tightened on the hilt of his lightsaber. They were always better than him. How impossible it was to not compare himself to others when he was always the one with the welts and bruises. When he had always felt so small at the end of the day.
Back then the pain drove him. He had nowhere to go but up. And when he got there he fed into the validation, the praise and self-worth it gave him. It was addicting. Intoxicating, to where he built a false identity around it. He just never wanted to feel like that again. Now that he was here he could see how wrong it had all been. How ill-prepared for reality he truly was. He couldn’t protect Auteme. He couldn’t stand with Lucien. He was a mouse pretending to be a lion.
As he came to the gates that were previously open he found them shut. Confusion passed through him, as he couldn’t see past those great doors. His hands went to push them open and a voice stopped him.
He spun around, shocked to find Auteme standing before him. Relief washed over him, he almost smiled but... Something was wrong. Looking at her he could see waves of sadness permeate his being... Sadness, and pity.
“Run Kisaku. There’s nothing you can do now.”
“Master Auteme!” Kisaku said with relief, but hesitation spiked through him. “What do you mean, Carnifex is--”
Lucien appeared just to her side, smiling sadly. He placed a hand on her shoulder even as he looked at him.
“It isn’t too late for you. Not like it is for us. Run.”
He heard the doors open behind him slowly. Groaning as they heralded a sinister arrival. That terror and dread that had left him before returned all at once. Lucien and Auteme faded into a mist -- pure permutations of the force that flowed passed him. Whipping around Kisaku found Carnifex towering over him once more.
This was unreal. It couldn’t be happening. They couldn’t be dead! And yet...
“You’re transparent, boy. I can see right through you.” Carnifex’s voice rumbled like thunder and it shook him to his core. “A coward. Not unusual to find within the ranks of the Jedi... But you may be the most pathetic I’ve seen yet. Come, join your friends in death.”
As he spoke, he raised a hand that glowed crimson with a sinister perversion of the force. Kisaku still trembled from his wounds. He backpedalled several steps as his tears came back to him. They were gone. Gone, because he couldn’t be strong enough!
He finally found the strength to run from it all as he began to sob, stumbling his way through the corridor as fast as his legs could take him. He fell against a wall, scraping his way along it until he pushed off to try and run faster. “I-i’m sorry Auteme.” He cried out. Sorry that she couldn’t have picked a better padawan. Sorry that he’d deceived her as readily as he did everyone else, made her believe the lie he wanted everyone to believe. And now it cost her, and Lucien everything.
He could hear Carnifex’s slow but inexorable advance behind him. His heavy footfalls heralding doom with how they echoed through the corridor.
“Such a selfish whelp. First you cost them their lives, and now you would rather live than attempt to avenge their memory.”
Kisaku staggered to a stop.
Would he? What was left for him even if he survived? Could he return to the temple and just live on? Knowing what he’d done, knowing now that he was a coward without redemption? No... No, he’d prefer no existence at all to that one.
Carnifex stopped behind him, dark amusement filling his voice. “You see it now. Things can never return to how they once were.”
Kisaku’s fists tightened as his breath came in shaking heaves. “T-they can’t... But I can make you suffer for what you’ve done.” The corridor was washed in clashing glows of crimson and violet as Kisaku’s lightsaber exploded into ignition. He let out a scream of rage and pain all at once, turning at heel and lunging across the gap between them with an overhead strike that Carnifex batted aside deftly to his left, and yet it was only the first strike of many. Kisaku’s wrists twisted in the direction of the deflection until the saber came back around from the right, striking with the back side of the blade as his wrists crossed. As that one too was struck aside, he took an aggressive step off to the Sith’s right side, winding the strike back around to his left in a snapping motion made by uncrossing his wrists up high, angling it for his face. With his footwork shortening the distance and the windup it came frightfully fast and forceful.
Carnifex’ expression remained a stone stoicism as he began to step backwards to regain distance and measure, catching the strike with his forearm as he moved. But once Kisaku had him moving back, he would not stop. Rage coursed through him as a body trained in thousands of hours of these motions acted without thought. A mind that had honed itself to win with a practice blade through guile and tactic, through exploitation of angles, timing and distance had a new purpose.
“GIVE BACK WHAT YOU TOOK FROM ME! WHAT YOU KILLED FROM ME!” Kisaku screamed as his shaking body infused itself with the Force. He could feel the threads again around him. The weave of the stones beneath his feet, of himself, of Carnifex. He snatched at them so hard he pulled the strings separate from each other, the weave tightening at the corners as those threads sliced into his soul.
He would never run again. If he hesitated, people he cared about would die. He would advance and never stop. All of that time wasted kicking himself while he was down. Pitying himself, wallowing in fears and insecurities. He may have been the worst padawan for Auteme to ever pick, but that didn’t matter to him anymore. He’d rather die as the worst than survive her another moment.
Kisaku’s onslaught was nothing short of frightful. His technical expertise melded with a single-minded rage and bloodlust to produce a tireless advance. Each strike came with a killing intent, from new and unpredictable angles and yet...
Right now he would do anything for a second chance.
The breath was driven from Kisaku as he felt the dual sensation of his saber being stopped dead at the moment that something pierced his chest. His vision wavered, as he realized that Carnifex had grabbed the blade of his saber and thrust his other hand into his chest. The crimson force around it vanished, pulled into his muscles until he could drive his hand through his flesh like a knife. Kisaku coughed, blood seeping through his teeth as he felt the force start to leave him, his body shaking once more in weakness... But his teeth grit and he turned his lightsaber off, pulling into a thrust towards Carnifex’s chest as he turned it back on.
He saw the sith place his palm over the emitter of the lightsaber, the blade faltering and sputtering against it ineffectually.
“Well done, but mark this well.” Carnifex’s voice came rumbling down at him. He twisted his hand inside of Kisaku’s chest, making the padawan convulse with agony.
“Even in a dream, you are nothing compared to me.”