The synthetic fibers strained, slid against each other in their five, woven layers.
The padding groaned. The chain creaked.
All the finely ground powder dangling in the bag hisses as it spun.
Ahzoth reached out and guided the bag back into position; a small reprieve in his assault before he started in again. Fump. Fump. Fump FUMP. He threw his shoulders with every hit, not carrying for the ache in his back. He had little cause to go easy on himself, because easy wasn’t the point. The point was pain, and pain was numbness. The point was to not feel anything when it was over.
Across the room a wheel slide into place with a steel sigh, and the door whined open. The footsteps weren’t heard, except for the one that was replaced with a wooden knock every other step. Of course, Ahzoth knew who it was. This made him hit the bag harder, hoping that maybe some of his fury would steam off him and ward away the man who was not welcome. Jayan was never welcome.
Jayan did not speak for awhile. He leaned on his crutch, watching the man with orange skin and marred visage pound away into the bag that seemed to plead each time it swung and rotated on its chain. When Jayan did speak, it was to the point. “You were always difficult, you know,” he said, “I didn’t know what to expect out of you back then, except for the worst. You never gave me much hope for better. Stubborn and ruthless, so quick to draw blood the first time you had even a training blade. None of the other students could be paired with you, and it had been so hard to convince the council that you could be trained in the first place.”
Sweat ran down like clear snakes off of Ahzoth’s bulky shoulders, flinging venomous droplets as he panted. He stopped hitting the bag, but did not so much as look at Jayan. He clenched his fists, ignoring the sting that welled up as sweat seeped into the red-stained wrappings.
“Still,” the old and crippled master said, “Your faults did not justify my own, and for that I am sorry.”
The room was filled with only Ahzoth’s ragged breath, as heavy and even as an engine. Beneath his skin was a fire, the steam of which wafted off his orange flesh. This fire was not from effort alone, but had been waiting there in its hot coals for years now. Every word that blew threw Jayan’s lips gave more life to the embers.
“What are you doing here?” Ahzoth finally said, “Go back to your cell.”
“It isn’t a cell if it isn’t locked anymore,” Jayan shrugged, “Besides, what can I do with only one hand and one leg left?”
That question didn’t need answering, as they both knew better. Even with missing pieces, a Jedi master was still capable of anything so long as the Force was willing and his mind was clear. Even so Ahzoth was not threatened by him. He’d long stopped letting the man haunt him, because after awhile the phantom had become a target. A target that drove Ahzoth across the galaxy in search of something that would compare, something that was not so out of reach. A target that would challenge him like the memories of this former master did, until he’d beaten down everything he could stand. His goal, once sharp and wicked, was now dulled and bent through the time that had passed. Now that he met Jayan again and realized he could not bring himself to end the man’s miserable life, that old target he once sought had long fell from its chain and crumpled on the floor. At what point had it done that? How long had he been striking out at nothing? He stared at the gently swaying bag, into the void of his thoughts, and realized that he left that old target behind long ago, leaking its sand as the days went on, and on without it.
“I’m grateful, Ahzoth,” Jayan said. His relief was genuine and his voice was soft, gentle. “For sparing me, yes…but I’m also grateful that I was wrong about you after all. You’re not the kind of person I was afraid you’d become. Maybe you’d like to be, but I think we both know otherwise.”
As his breaths began to slow, Ahzoth started to chuckle. Whether his laugh was bitter or jovial could not be discerned, but he was smiling. He turned and drove his bloodied fist into Jayan’s face. A satisfying crack followed and Jayan staggered back, lost his grip on the crutch and fell to the floor with dazed eyes staring up at the ceiling.
Ahzoth looked down at him as he started peeling off the stained, white tape from his knuckles. He stepped over Jayan and made for the door, “You don’t know a damn thing about who I am.”