The sound of the bell woke Aualar, and he groggily opened his eyes to see the first hints of the sun streaming in. The rest of the students were already lined up, their beds made and ready for another day.
Aualar, however, was exhausted. He had felt fine, great even, as his spark crept back into their beds. It had been his idea- cutting their practice short by two dozen bits, so their training would remain somewhat secret. It had worked this morning, and no one had been awake as he tried to silently slip between their beds. Luckily the sleeping students were all exhausted, and didn't hear the creaking floorboards, or the muffled curses as he stubbed his pinky toe on an extruding trunk.
But now, it all seemed to backfire. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, but the bed had been so warm, and inviting, he just hadn't been able to keep his eyes open. The exhaustion dragged him down, and it took all his energy to rise. His legs screamed at him, and he groaned in protest. I should've stretched more...
He busied himself with getting ready, and then headed out with the rest of the students. They filed out into the courtyard, where row upon row of dummies were waiting. Groans echoed from the assembled students, and Aran smiled darkly at them.
"All right, listen up!" His voice easily carried over the assembled students, and they quickly quieted their moans of protest. The first trial had been enough to learn that when Aran spoke, you shut up.
"Good. Now this morning is going to be more practice of the basic moves, and this afternoon we'll get more into actual sparring."
A short guy with spiky hair muttered under his breath. "We know this dumb shit. Just move on already."
Aran's head whipped around, and his eyes pinned the boy to the ground as he pushed his way through the crowd.
"What did you say?" HIs voice was quiet, but the sound made the hair on Aualar's neck stand up. The boy looked nervous, but as he looked around at his friends, he drew up courage from somewhere deep inside.
"I said, why are we practicing this baby shit. I know how to do this, so lets move on already."
Aran nodded his head thoughtfully, but Aualar could see a wicked smile beginning on his lips.
"Well, if you're so ready, grab your sword and follow me." He turned and stalked back to the centre of the field, the boy following behind. As he got there, he drew his sword. "If you can touch me with your blade, I'll give you the day off. But if I touch you with mine, you and your spark don't get to practice sparring this afternoon, and will continue to hit the dummies. Understood? Good. You may begin."
As he spoke, Aualar could see the boys eyes widen, and he looked as if he wanted to be anywhere else. A burst of cries from his spark at the terms made him smile, even as the boy tentatively drew his weapon and leapt at Aran.
Calling it a fight would be generous- it implies there was some back and forth. Instead, it lasted all of three swings. The boy made a sloppy overhead swing towards Aran, and instead of dodging, he stepped toward it and simply raised his sword to block the strike. The blades rang together, and the vibrations made the boy drop his blade, numb hands shaking. Aran swung his sword, resting the point on the boy's collarbone.
"No sparring for you today." He said as he sheathed his sword. Turning towards the rest of the class, he told them to get to it.
Aualar walked over to a dummy, and drew his sword. Beside him, Eohky raised her greatsword, and shot Aualar a soft smile. A grin spilt his face as he took his stance. She may be a better archer than I am, but this is my game.
Aran's voice carried easily across the field. "Overhead" With a grunt, Aualar lifted his sword over his head and smacked it down on the dummy. Beside him, Eohky was somehow doing the same with a weapon that weighed nearly half as much as her. The thuds echoed around the field and they drew their weapons back, waiting. "RIght" As one, the assembled students swung their swords horizontally, cutting deep into the notched dummies.
He continued to shout commands as he walked through the lines of students, pausing every so often to give a word of advice. As he passed Aualar, he nodded his head. "Good enough."
Aualar lost track of time, fighting the sweat in his eyes and the burning of his arms with every stroke.
Finally, he called a rest. Exhausted, Aualar's arms dropped. He sheathed his sword, and sat down on the ground, sweat pouring off his body.
"Take a break, go and grab some water, then return. We begin sparring in fifteen bits. If you're late, you don't get to participate, and can join those who thought they were too good for basic strokes." Aran turned and disappeared into the building, and Aualar hauled himself upright to drag his target off to the side.
He and his spark walked into the mess hall, greedily gulping down nearly a dozen pitchers of water before Aualar stopped them. "Guys, don't drink so much. We're gonna be fighting soon, and that's just going to slow you down. Actually, on second though drink as much as you want. It'll just make it that much easier to beat you." He smiled to show he meant no offense, and the rest of his spark chuckled.
"The only reason you could beat me is because your reach is so much longer!" Eohky poked back. "And I don't have some spear that I can use to jab at you with either." She said, looking at Harah.
They made their way back out to the field to see large, white squares outlined by rope on the ground. They looked at each other, confused, but Riheey quickly realized what it was.
"They're having us fight other sparks. Not our own." The realization made them all pause, and nervousness rippled through the group. Aualar felt fine, confident in his abilities, but the rest showed varying degrees of worry.
"Guys, we've got this. Relax. Just think of all the hours you've put in, and do your best. Whatever happens, happens. We won't blame you for a bad fight." He looked around at all of them, resting his eyes the longest on Harah, who looked like she was about to vomit.
Nervous smiles crossed the twin's faces as they nodded at each other. They had both chosen a pair of weapons- Kyreh had a set of Sais, and Herau had an arming sword and a dagger. They looked worried, but they calmed each other down quickly.
When the students had all trickled in, Aran returned, and started yelling out names. Aualar quickly realized that he had organized it so each of the squares was a weapon. In his group, there was only four others- two smaller girls, a boy mere inches shorter than Aualar, and another, fatter boy.
They introduced themselves, shaking hands, but Aualar promptly forgot their names as he turned back to Aran.
"Match is to first 'blood'. Winner moves on, loser gets replaced. Anything goes, but you seriously injure someone and you're sitting out for however long it takes them to return. Questions? No? Good. You may begin."
Aualar turned back to see the two girls already sparring. Their movements were awkward and stilted, but their blades rang together with purpose. Aualar saw several times, openings that he would've used, but the girls showed no awareness of them.
Finally, after several bits, one of them dropped her guard too much, and the dull metal smacked hard against her arm. She let out a cry, and dropped her longsword. Aualar quickly jumped in the ring before anyone else had a chance to. He drew his sword, and glanced down at the small girl. He felt slightly bad for her, but knew that this was no time to take it easy.
He drew his sword, and charged her, his attacks flowing from one into the next with far more grace than the girl could ever hope to block. Within trills her defense faltered, and Aualar's blade snuck in to strike her shoulder, and they halted.
The other two boys went similarly, though they both showed much more practice with the blade. Aualar was soon soaked in sweat, the sword feeling heavier and heavier as he finished the last match. He stopped, grateful for the reprieve as they turned to look at Aran. He looked at them, and gestured to keep cycling through. Aualar groaned as the next in line stepped into the ring.
That night, getting ready for bed, he felt sore all over. It hadn't been long after that when his exhaustion had made him drop his guard, and he earned a blade to the side for that one. Throughout the rest of the trial, he had accumulated a variety of bruises, and he hadn't been able to move his arms for dinner. Climbing under his sheets, he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.