Nimue was taking Neleh towards the academy training grounds, where she would be tested in her physical abilities and weapons skills. The girl had been an acolyte for a little over a week, but it was already becoming obvious she would be an excellent student. The beginning part of the acolyte training is mostly made up of general knowledge that a priestess should know, and the basic theological information. Unlike the vast majority of other students in the academy, the training for acolytes is personalized to the student’s current knowledge and skills.
This is mostly because the demands to become an acolyte in the grand temple of Rhi’a’non and the academy are very specific, and thus result is a smaller amount of students. While magic students are required to have great talent, that talent can be in any element; while the acolytes must have affinity in the holy element, at least a minor blessing of Elune and a sharp mind. The temples in other cities are a little less stringent, since you can work as a priestess without fitting all the criteria, but the grand temple was different.
Nimue had known beforehand that the girl had more information on the deities in general than many full priestesses, and her general knowledge seemed to be on excellent level already. The possible exception being some information concerning history and the specifics of the various races. Those would be remedied later on easily. Because of the girl’s special circumstances, she decided to take on her training personally. The girl had a wit so sharp it scared her, and it seemed as if she was drawing on some unknown well of information, and simply making modifications to her old knowledge during the lessons, instead of absorbing something that was completely new to her. The questions the girl asked were sharp, pointed and went straight into the heart of the matter. Nimue really enjoyed the challenge to her as a teacher, because the questions and the girl’s fresh take on things forced herself to look at things from new perspectives as well. She didn’t just get to teach things from memory, she actually had to establish both to the girl and for herself how she knew what she did, and whether the lessons were correct in the first place.
They arrived at the training grounds, while two teachers were waiting for them. Dalyor was a large and muscled Moon Elf man, whose features suggested he might have some beastman in his heritage. He still had the typical elven features, but a bit more heavy set, and with an unruly looking dark hair somewhere between dark blue and black. Dalyor was the teacher at the academy who was on charge of training warrior skills aside from waving a weapon around, such as unarmed combat and outer Ki techniques. The other elf was clearly of the Sun Elf heritage with her flaming red hair. She looked like a person who always had an easy smile to brighten everyone’s day, and her body spoke of lithe speed and flexibility. Her name was Solana, and she was the teacher who specialized in spear techniques in the academy.
It was one of the academy’s worst kept secrets that Solana was a member of the ruling family of the Sun Court, though a member who’s presence in the court was neither required nor desired. The rumor was that she was an illegitimate daughter of the ruling Sun King, and the queen had all but exiled her from the court. The veracity of those rumors was somewhat questionable in the minds of the general populace. Nimue herself knew the rumors to be fairly accurate since she had been there when Solana was born, but thought it not her business to confirm or deny them.
She really hoped Neleh would be able to pass the tests that the two teachers were about to perform. She had no idea whether the girl had any talent as a warrior, but she’d be a great asset to the Inquisitors if she did show aptitude, and the Inquisitors really could use someone with a wit as sharp as hers in the coming days. Nimue mused that the girl’s talents could be useful for the Templars as well, but she had always thought it was more important to put the issues of your own house in order first, before going to other lands to help with theirs. And there was enough trouble in the elven lands to go around.
“So this is the girl you wanted us to look at? Looks a bit young to me. A bit small and thin.” Dalyor clearly didn’t evaluate what he was seeing too highly.
Neleh was wearing her usual attire, with the exception of leaving away her cloak and adding a hood to her shirt. A large cloak would be a problem when moving around. She had left her face bared and simply put her hair in a long thick braid, to keep it out of the way. It would not give the best of impressions, to meet her new teachers and hide herself. Nimue had suggested her to use the acolyte’s attire, but that could’ve been just as much of a problem when moving around as the large cloak, and Nimue had to concede on that point.
“Oh? I thought you would’ve learned not to judge a book by its covers by now Dalyor. I seem to recall you said something similar about Solana, and here we are.” Nimue quipped with a small smile, which elicited a chuckle from Solana.
“Aye, I did indeed. And while the runt of a girl is a little less runty now, I seem to recall she wasn’t anything awesome then either.” Dalyor’s words might have been harsh, but there was a hint of jest in them, that suggested he wasn’t all that serious.
“I seem to recall I aced all your tests, except actually kicking your ass in a fight. And if I actually had managed the last one, then why the heck would I bother learning from you anyway? You are supposed to be a teacher and all that.” Solana had a grin on her face while she returned Dalyor’s words.
“Fair enough, though you too should remember that there’s more to warrior skills than just fighting one on one. Even if you had been as good with the pointy stick as you are now, there would’ve have been plenty of other things for you to learn. There still is in fact.” Solana looked away innocently at the rebuke of the senior teacher.
“Be that as it may, Solana is Solana, and you should do the tests before you form conclusions. You might end up surprised.” Nimue had taken a small gamble and gone out on a limb in the hopes that Neleh’s physical abilities were as good as the rest of the girl. That would allow her to teach Dalyor a lesson, but had the potential to bite her back.
“Well aren’t we confident? Let’s get on with the show then.” Dalyor said and lead them towards the first tests.
The first test was a fairly simple one, administered to all prospective students. The test was designed to test both explosive strength and the use of internal strength. There was a large slab of heavy stone placed on the ground, in front of a small circle about a half of an arm’s length away. Dalyor explained that she should stand inside the circle and strike the stone once, attempting to do as much damage to it as possible. A mage skilled with earth magic would fix the stone every now and then. The test had been done, apparently unsuccessfully, since the last repair because there was a small indent in the stone with a few cracks where someone had tried striking it.
Neleh thought the test was theoretically a good one, but had couple of huge problems with it. Firstly, if a really strong person were to strike the stone from where the designated place was, the shrapnel would end up flying towards the training grounds, possibly causing injury. Secondly the test was completely useless as a tool to measure someone that had skills in both unarmed combat techniques and outer Ki techniques, as she was now about to demonstrate.
“There aren’t any rules aside from one strike and stay in the circle, right?” She made sure just in case and saw Dalyor nod.
One of the basic ideas about combining outer Ki techniques with unarmed combat was to gather your Ki, or in Neleh’s case the power of her Ignasia, into one point, and then driving that power into the body of the enemy to strike at him internally. Or like in this case, Neleh gathered her power, flicked the stone with one finger, and drove her power into the stone where it resonated through the whole stone, turning it into a pile of sand.
The effect would never be this strong against a living opponent, because living opponents used their own internal power to fortify against such attacks. Even if they didn’t know how it was done, living beings did it instinctively. Living targets would also move around and defend themselves, so the hit would not allow for such a clean delivery through the whole body, and finally a living body was made up of multiple elements, so the resonation would not work so uniformly through the whole target.
It did make for an impressive sight in this case though. Nimue had a bit of a shocked look, while Solana simply waved away some of the dust floating in the air.
“Now I know why you double checked the rules. That trick wouldn’t work nearly as well in an actual fight. Nevertheless it was well within the rules, and it did answer the question posed by the test. You have sufficient strength, and can use it with great accuracy.” Dalyor pondered.
“The earth mages won’t be too happy with this, they already hate fixing the damn thing.” Solana said with a chuckle.
“Eh, that’s their problem. If they have an issue, they can take it up with the headmaster, and not whine about it to me. On to the next test! I’m suddenly a bit more interested in how she does on the other tests.” He had almost a chipper tone in his voice, clearly happy about the trouble caused to the mages.
The next two tests were just as simple for Neleh, though for different reasons. The first one required her to move along raised poles in a specific order and as fast as possible, while the poles were a very precarious footing, while they wobbled around. The test was meant to test balance and footwork, both of which Neleh had trained extensively for hours upon hours every day. They were after all the very important basics for any combat, be it armed or unarmed. The ‘Body Sculpting Art’, as she called the exercise she performed every morning, was excellent for perfecting both balance and footwork. She had also noticed that her current body excelled in speed, so that is what she focused on training too. Among a few other things of course. The testing course was not actually meant to be something that a student just applying could complete, just like the next test, but was more of a test on how far along they could get within the allotted time. That Neleh completed it with seeming ease and speed, was a pleasant surprise for the teachers.
The next test was a tight maze of magically spinning training dummies with various differing speeds and quirks, with a smattering of other obstacles like sand and ropes thrown in for good measure. The student was supposed to use lighting fast judgement on deciding the best route through the maze of obstacles while being distracted by having to dodge the incoming strikes from the training dummies. The course required good judgement, fast thinking, and a perfect control over one’s body to dodge all the incoming threats. Speed was a bonus, but the point was to see how far along the student got into the progressively more difficult maze before giving up, and not how fast you got there. Again this test catered perfectly to Neleh’s training and previous experience, so she managed to clear the full course to the amazement of the three people watching.
Next test was a little more challenging. Neleh and Solana ran around the training grounds with Solana setting the pace, which continually increased until they were going around at full run, with both of then enforcing their bodies with their internal strength to increase speed and to wipe away exhaustion. Neleh was finally forced to surrender when Solana was simply outrunning the speed that she could maintain. She simply had shorter legs than the Sun Elf, and while she could wipe away her exhaustion, she still didn’t have the stamina and musculature of a grown elf body. And Solana clearly was a great runner. Dalyor grunted in satisfaction anyway, partly because Neleh had done better than good enough to pass the test, and partly because he was happy that she wasn’t able to outrun Solana, retaining the pride of the teachers. Also showed the girl wasn’t perfect after all.
The last test was to engage in a single combat with Dalyor. The combat test was placed last on purpose, so that the teachers could monitor the student’s performance while she was already exhausted from all the other activities. Or that was the idea generally anyway; Neleh still had enough gas in her tank, so much so that she didn’t even look tired. She hadn’t been forced to rely on her Ignasia too heavily, and wiping away exhaustion was not a complicated matter, for as long as you weren’t doing it for extended amounts of time.
They took a position in the middle of the training field, and they were now gathering a bit of a crowd. This presented Neleh with a bit of a conundrum. She had decided to stop losing on purpose, but she could clearly sense Dalyor would be a formidable opponent. As such, defeating him would require her to stretch her current strength close to maximum, and that would draw attention from the crowd. She had pulled up her hood and mask when the other people started to appear around the area to watch their fight, but her name would come out. In the end she had decided that what will be, will be. She was tired of holding back, and she would have to come to terms with the attention sooner or later anyway, and she was no longer living with her family, so her time with them wouldn’t be so disturbed anymore. And she had decided to stop worrying about Gabriel.
She was holding a mediocre practice spear, when she asked the teacher a question. “Am I expected to fight you seriously enough to give you a good fight? Because if we really get serious, I’m going to need a better weapon.”
Dalyor looked at her seriously. “Part of being a warrior is the ability to make do with the weapons you are given.” He pulled out a practice one handed sword from a rack and a small parry sword from another.
Apparently this was unusual, because she heard some whispers among the crowd about Dalyor usually only using the one sword, and how he was now getting serious for some reason the crowd didn’t understand. She started to formulate a plan in her mind. She would need to test him out first. She took the same serious stance with her practice spear that she had used against captain Gloridas in their last lesson.
They both gathered their power around them, Solana gave the starting signal, and both of them moved at the same time. The ground beneath their feet gave a crack and caved in a bit, and both of them seemed to disappear from the eyes of most of the audience. The rest of the audience being the actually strong fighters, whom now knew they were in for a real show.
The two came into violent contact, the ground cracking around them with the strength flowing out. The first contact flowed into a flurry of blows from both fighters, neither gaining a real advantage, with both taking turns dodging by a hair’s breadth and sometimes trying to get room to act. Neleh’s twirling attacks were met with Dalyor either lightly parrying her blows with one of his blades and meeting the other end of the spear with the other, or him flowing along with a stronger strike allowing the strength to push him into a spinning attack with the other blade. She managed to push him a little bit when she used her own body as a fulcrum for a strong spinning blow, but he almost welcomed the push, simply bending with the strike and breaking the focal point of the strike, sapping its strength away from where Neleh wanted it, thus weakening the blow.
She knew she could do much more if she was able to utilize her outer Ki techniques, but the weapon was too weak for that. She was already on the edge of breaking it with some of her stronger blows. On the other hand, he was the resident teacher in outer Ki techniques, so he was laboring under the same restrictions. She did manage a very close call by utilizing his fighting instincts, by faking moving her power into the weapon, which caused him to reflexively jump out of her range. She then followed with a fast and full strength one handed thrust towards his face, which he didn’t take seriously, because he thought she was out of range. She surprised him by letting the spear slide forward in her hand ending up with her reaching towards him with the very tip of the spear, while holding on only to its very butt end. He was definitely caught by surprise but managed to barely move his head out of the way in a panicked full dodge.
Neleh followed this by spinning around and giving him a flat full strength chop where the spear came around in a wide arc. Because he was out of balance, he had to defend against the blow full on, and was thrown back quite a distance, but remained standing, and had not taken any damage. He was clearly surprised though.
While he was surprised, Neleh was somewhat resigned. Now she was sure she had to go with the plan she had hatched before the match started. She had hoped it would not be necessary, but here they were. Time to show another way a spear like this could be utilized. He ran towards her full speed, knowing she had something in mind. While he ran, she gathered as much strength as the flimsy wooden spear could hold without breaking, and threw the spear right at his center mass. He was close enough that there was no room to dodge, so he ran his own strength into his one handed sword, and tried to guide the incoming spear over his shoulder.
He succeeded but the collision of their internal powers shattered both weapons into a million splinters and through the hail of splinters, he could see her running straight at him, full speed. He slashed at her head, hastily, trying to either make some space to regain his bearings, or perhaps even land a hit on the now unarmed girl.
Surprising him and all the people watching, she didn’t even try to dodge, instead meeting his left arm with her right leg in a high kick, driving his blade a bit to the outside. She then bent her leg at the knee around his arm, and threw a punch at his face. He managed to block it with his now free hand, but then took the real attack from her other hand straight into his gut, where she drove in her power in a manner similar to what she had done to the stone in the first test. Except not to destroy, but to fill his Ki pathways with her own power, blocking them and dropping him prone on the ground.
After a moment of silence, Neleh looked at Solana who was acting as the judge of the fight. Solana stuttered a bit raising her hand. “We…we have a winner! The applicant Neleh Khalidor.”
There was quite a bit of whooping and cheering from one part of the crowd, the part that had difficulties following the fight anyway. Those that were more skilled knew that they now had more competition. Someone who might be able to beat them too. They were less excited about the prospect.
Later the four of them gathered again in a more private place. Dalyor was rubbing his stomach where Neleh had hit him, running his own Ki around his body again.
“Well that was exciting. I do believe she passed the tests, don’t you think?” Nimue said with a wide grin.
“Indeed, and both me and Solana already have plenty of ideas on what needs improving.” Dalyor said gruffly, although he was secretly quite excited at the prospect. “It seems your old teacher was great otherwise, but didn’t know how to teach a woman.”
“Explain.” Demanded Nimue, also curious now.
“Well, she fights in large part like a man would. And it’s clear that whoever taught her to fight, didn’t consider the differences between men and women. She has figured some of the things out herself, but she’s only halfway there. A difference in gender means that you skeleton, muscle structure and Ki pathways are different. It’s absolutely impossible that movements that draw out the full potential of men will be the same for women. Compared to men, women excel in their joints’ and muscles’ flexibility. There’s a particularly large difference in their hips and chest.”
He continued. ”Because women’s pelvis is wider, their hip joints are sticking outside. In other words, more than men, their mobility is stronger in wide lateral movements. As she is already using a lot of those, she could get more power out with a little training. On the other hand, women have an obvious obstruction on their chest which hampers their movement paths while trying to make extreme movements with both hands to either side across their chest. The bigger the breasts are, the more problems they can cause.” Dalyor’s rather shameless, but mostly correct comments were on point.
Neleh had herself thought similar things, she just didn’t quite have all the…attributes yet that Dalyor was talking about. Her hips had started to have a nice curve to them already, but her chest was still rather modest. Hard to compensate for something that isn’t there yet. She had compensated well for her Ki pathways though, which Dalyor had noted.
“Although she doesn’t have too many problems in those areas yet, she will later on unless she learns to compensate now. Of course not everyone runs into all those problems.” Dalyor looked pointedly at Solana’s rather modest chest.
“Oi! What do you mean with that you old goat?” Solana yelled indignantly.