These things, these places, that had beaten by repetition their lessons into his memory... and a plethora of darker wisdom, quite literally beaten into him elsewhere.
Pain teaches, he remembered Sergeant Tantos say, usually after breaking something belonging to a recruit. Pain sticks with you. And once you feel it, you-
Getting ahead of yourself.
He blinked and escaped his own thoughts. Focused on the urchin in front of him, the flashing steel in her hand, the thudding impact of her straight little dagger against the dummy. Blinked again, and his vision changed further. Form and Passion. Body and Mind. That was how it was described to him. There was the mechanical aspects of fighting, the moves, the blows, the strikes and the counters, all of which needed to seep into muscles and the memory... and then there was the mind. The temperament. Having the skill and knowledge and sheer experience to know how and when to apply what solution to a problem. More than that, having the ice in your veins not to panic when, inevitably, all those clever plans go awry.
One thing more, too. The only test that really counts.
She was gouging a hole through the dummy's belly by the time Kasoria spoke, once and gruffly, certain he'd be obeyed. He was silent as she panted, face a little flushed but not sweating yet. That was good. She'd be dripping all over the cobbles by the end; he wanted her pacing herself. He held out his hand and she paused, of course. Because she was't a fucking idiot, and he was still (almost mostly) a stranger. But then he flicked his fingers towards himself, injected a little more iron into his glare... and she handed it over.
"First of all, you keep yer blade tight to your side-" He demonstrated, holding the blade tight and close to his hip, arm bent, ready to slash or thrust. "-an' don't bother with this shite-" Again, a demonstration, only this time more of a parody. He held the blade out almost at arm's length, like it was a talisman against some monster. "Can't get no power like that. No bend in yer arm. No swing from yer hips. Just shallow cuts as y'wave it about. But from here-"
He half-turned and stabbed out in the same moment, the same movement, the same breath. One moment he was facing her, the next he was facing the dummy-
-and the dagger was half-buried in the belly of it. He waited for her gaze to travel from the metal to his eyes, then continued.
"You know t'go for the soft parts, an' not just cuz yer small and that's all youse can reach fer now. That's good. Shows y'know where to cause damage. Like here." There was a terrible, grinding, scraping sound as Kasoria twisted the blade in the "wound" he'd made. Max didn't want to think about what that would do to an actual stomach, with all the sundry ropy organs and fleshy sacks under the skin. "You twist it. Make the wound bigger. Harder to stitch closed. Hurts more, too. Fucks up their concentration. Also, when y'twist it-"
He yanked the blade free, far easier than she'd done.
"Doesn't get stuck as easy. Don't get predictable, either." He waited for the light to dawn in her eyes... and waited a while. "Means 'easy for people to guess what yer gonna do'. Don't go for the same spot, y'see? Belly's good. So's here... and here... and here... and 'specially here."
The dagger thrust out again into the throat, the kidneys, then stabbing straight into the face, and finally stabbed between the legs of the dummy. Every time, it was from that hip-close stance he'd already shown her. Other hand up, hand open, for balance and for blocking, she assumed. But when the dagger moved... it was smooth. Practiced. Effortless.
Kasoria saw that hungry look in the way she watched. Like she wanted to eat him alive and devour that power, make it her own. He'd worn the same avarice, decades ago. He snorted when it didn't fade even after he castrated the dummy with the dagger.
"This? This'll end every fight out there." He twisted. He gouged. The killer grinned as he ripped the blade out and wood chips pattered onto the cobbles. "Cock or not. Guarantee ye that..."
He handed her back the blade and once she had a grip on it, he held up a hand.
"One more thing."
The Old Man's hand lashed out, and Max felt his knobbly knuckles crack into the back of her hand, blow coming almost before the echo of the last word he'd spoken had faded from the air. The dagger clattered onto the ground and Kasoria grinned even wider at her indignation.
"Yer grip's shit. Hold on tighter."
Kasoria stepped back and out of the bright, deceptive suns bathing the yard in light. Oh, it looked warm. It blinded and bedazzled... until you stepped outside. Then the air proved the lights a liar. Then you froze. Kasoria felt it and did not react to it. Max tried to do the same, as the Old Man walked back to the doorway. His ears pricked as he heard the faint grind and scrape of a dagger being reclaimed from the cobbles. She could do it, right now. Or fool herself into thinking she could. His back turned, yet close enough for an attempt...
He looked over his shoulder, and found her facing the dummy.
Again. Again. Again. Sometimes that was the only word their heard in the training rooms. Just the same, barked command, over and over, until they dreamed of it. Woke up with scraped knuckles and knees, from where they'd drilled in their sleep. Kasoria watched her start to move again. Rough and uneven. Seeing more than just wood, but... finding some semblance, some outline of her form.
"Keep at it," he said, louder so she'd hear him as he went back inside. "Remember: don't always go fer the same spots..."
The steady metronome of metal into and onto wood was almost soothing. Furry opportunists clustered around his feet, like sharks around a whale. He walked to the bookshelf and it didn't miss a step. He found the book he wanted and walked back outside. Watching her progress. Watching his student evolve, not even running or walking, just crawling. He didn't even realize he'd used that word for her, within his own mind, until long after she was gone.
He decided to wait until she asked what he was carrying. Initiative, after all. She had to learn that, too.