Training Day 21
Push-ups: 16, 15, 12 TOTAL= 43
Experimentation Day 3: BEGIN. FINISHED. Result: Increasing speed. No improvement of forceball
Skills: Running - COMPLETE, Reading - COMPLETE, Writing - COMPLETE, Spear-And-Oar Dance (8th day of practice -
Alex let out a breath as he shifted from first position and back stepped into the first step of the Spear-And-Oar Dance. He raised an old broomstick into first guard then proceeded to “dance” his way between the second stance—which kept him balanced—and the first step. He used The Mark, letting it correct his form, while he willed the forceball to float around his body in a slow, steady figure eight.
He’d arrived a little early at the regular spot, to go through this routine before Khalik arrived.
His main goal was to become used to controlling his spell with precision while doing a physical activity needing concentration and focus. If he could master both at once, then he’d get to a point where he could control the forceball in dangerous or distracted situations.
And now was a perfect time for training against distraction.
In the past few days, campus had become full.
Students from all over the world were arriving in masses, streaming through the front gates of the University by the day. He was glad he’d picked up his textbook list when he had: the line had been long then, but lately, he couldn’t even see the registrar’s office because of the crowds of students.
Even now, his favourite training ground in the copse of trees was surrounded by new students wandering around campus, looking for different buildings, going to the library and for many—going into course selection. At the same time, exams for upper year students had ended a week earlier and they’d turned to celebrating with a vengeance. They were having as much fun as they could before results came back to either make dreams, or shatter them.
Recently, he’d had to clean up at least two or three empty wine bottles and beakers from his training spot each morning before he could start training. The southern insula had gotten loud at night and was growing even louder as new students piled in daily.
Complicating things for him was information that some of the new students were from Thameland.
He, Theresa, Selina and Brutus had gone wandering around campus for a good half a day, quietly searching out students from their homeland to get news of what was happening back home. They’d found a few who gave them some interesting and surprising information:
The Cave of the Traveller had been found by The Heroes and was being used to evacuate the people who were still in Thameland. Apparently, before the Cave could be used to evacuate anyone, wizards had come from the capital to investigate the area. After the wizards were done, then priests were called to do their own investigation, followed by a benediction. After all that, then it had been about securing and fortifying the area: the humble Alric had suddenly become a major stopover for people using the Cave to escape the Ravener.
Alex had wondered how Peter and Paul were dealing with everything that was going on now.
Doors to friendly countries had been chosen, then emissaries from Thameland had been sent through the portals to negotiate the migration. Once the ink had dried on agreements, the people had flooded through the portals to safety.
Unfortunately, the students hadn’t talked about much more than that: from their clothes—covered in filigree, gold lining and silver buttons—they were from the wealthy class and had been among the first through the portals, and knew basically nothing of the common folks’ situation. They did say that The Heroes were together and taking the fight hard to the dungeon cores. But, they didn’t mention anything about the missing Fool and Alex didn’t ask any questions, not wanting to draw attention to himself by showing interest in the subject. After talking with the Thameish students for a while, the four of them had and gone off to have a little celebration, proud of their role in making it possible for The Cave of the Traveller to be used to get the people to safety.
As Alex shifted from second position to first step—a movement that was now starting to feel natural—and weaved the forceball between the gap in his legs, he wondered if any of those Thameish students would be in his classes.
He jumped at something smashing through the canopy above, but quickly recovered and fell back into second position, not losing his balance. He looked up, raising his broom into guard and…saw Najyah perched there, with an amused twinkle in her eyes.
“Hello, Alex, you are early!” a familiar voice boomed from outside the grove. Khalik stepped between the trunks, raising his hand in greeting. “I see that you are in fine form.”
“I was.” He shot the bird a look, making plans for revenge. “But we’ll see when the course begins.”
“That we will.” Khalik agreed, stretching. “I wish more were said of what would happen. It would make it easier to prepare. But, we will still try to prepare for whatever comes.”
Alex tied the broom handle vertically to the bottom of the basket. “I suppose the point is that we’re supposed to adapt to situations, right? So, I don’t think Bae-The Chancellor’s going to give us a nice big warning as to what we’re in for.”
Khalik shrugged. “One can wish. Are you ready?”
Alex stretched beside his forceball. “Yep, let’s go.”
The two young men stepped out of the trees and back onto the path, then broke into a swift jog, leaving the path that was now crowded with students.
Najyah followed above.
Khalik was in far better condition, but Alex kept pace with him. He was doing a lot better than when he’d started.
In addition to the near constant burn that had taken up residence in his muscles, he'd begun to notice positive results from his new routine. His skinny form was starting to harden, and his arms and shoulders had grown slightly thicker. He was starting to see hints of muscle definition all over his body, and he was less winded after his exercise routine.
The run to the stadium was less tiring than it had been in earlier days, and when the two young men finally reached the doors and slowed, Alex’s breath was heavy, but he wasn’t gasping for breath as they entered the arena like he used to.
Flashes of light and power spread through the air as students practiced battle magic against fortified targets. On their left, a line of students fired icicles, stones, arrows of acid, and glowing blue bolts of magical energy at a line of impenetrable targets.
At the far end of the stadium, a few students were launching explosive fireballs, beams of exploding light, and crackling lightning at large stone pillars. The explosions were loud even across the stadium’s immense field. Though there wasn’t an official practice or event going on, new students filled many of the seats above, looking down on the field at all the flashy battle magic hitting targets.
Some were studiously taking notes, while others were watching from more of an open-mouthed-gaping-like-it-was-the-end-of-the-world perspective. Some weren’t watching much of what was happening on the field at all, though. One group of boys passed around a wineskin filled with something that made their faces red and happy as they watched a group of young women a few seats below them with interest.
If only they had a giant eagle that liked to play dead as a conversation starter.
Alex and Khalik dropped their gear in front of a couple of training dummies they’d booked for the morning, and stretched again. Alex used The Mark to guide his stretching routine, letting it focus him on past positions that gave his muscles a good long, loosening.
Khalik looked at him curiously. “Have you been exercising for awhile? Forgive me, but at first, I thought you were new to the physical arts, yet you seem to have a certain grasp of the fundamentals.”
“Thanks.” Alex leaned into a long stretch of his back and legs. “I’m just a quick study.”
“Good, if you keep to proper eating habits then you will make gains quite quickly.”
“…proper what now?”
Khalik paused, his expression freezing through his beard. “You…the way one eats to build a larger, more powerful body?”
“I know how someone eats to build a larger, more powerful belly.” Alex offered, but Khalik did not smile.
“This is no good, Alex, how one eats is just as important as how one moves when it comes to the body of an athlete or warrior. One must eat enough to fuel one’s growth, but not too much at once. Meat, fish, fowl are important to fuel the muscles, and fresh fruit and vegetables are needed to balance the diet along with dense breads and grains. Did you not know this?”
“I never really considered the specifics.” Alex admitted. In Alric, he’d seen strong-armed farmhands and smiths swallow ale, bread and meat by the plateful, but he’d never considered the specifics of it. Hard work made you hungrier, and that was that as far as most in Alric were concerned.
He concentrated on The Mark, focusing on the idea of eating for strength.
Images came back to him of plenty of previous meals, especially those rich with wild game from one of Theresa’s hunts, or fish from the nearby river. He noticed only a small number of desert memories.
‘Eating’s a skill too?’ he wondered. ‘What next? Is breathing a skill?’
On a hunch, he thought of improving his breathing.
Images came up of times he’d exerted himself, pointing out details on how his chest and belly rose with his deepest breaths.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered.
“What was that?” Khalik asked.
“Nothing.” Alex waved his hand. “Just thinking about what you said about food.”
“Haha, think about food after training, my friend.”
The two young men first faced off against their dummies, and then readied their spells. Alex called the forceball he’d already created, while Khalik summoned Najyah to land on his leather gauntleted arm.
Alex willed the forceball forward, driving it into the dummy.
The crimson orb slammed into the object with such impact that several students looked over in surprise. Alex couldn’t help but smile a little. He’d seen a few other students cast forceball, but none of their spells moved as quickly and smoothly as his, none glowed with the same intensity, and none were as large. He smiled again when The Mark didn’t protest. He’d calculated that it wouldn’t interfere and wouldn’t find a difference between him slamming the forceball—a utility spell—into the dummy, and him slamming it into any other object. It was like when he’d slammed it into the tiles in The Cave of the Traveller; it hadn’t registered that action as combat.
Willing the forceball back, he slammed it into the dummy again and again, enjoying the sound of the heavy impact. His ‘utility’ spell had really come a long way through years of practice, and had come even further in the last month of his experimenting.
It was hitting the dummy hard enough to shake it a little—like someone had thrown a ten pound stone with good speed—and would have done a fair amount of damage if the dummy hadn’t been reinforced by mana. Too bad targeting objects and enemies during actual combat would make The Mark attack him, otherwise, the forceball would make a great weapon.
Instead, he concentrated on whipping the forceball around the dummy in complex patterns. Circles. Figure eights. Zig-Zags. Anything that might surprise or confuse an enemy. Then he focused on stopping the forceball abruptly in midair. An enemy who ran into it at full speed like the mana vampire did, could do some serious damage to themselves.
As he continued to alternate between smashing the dummy with the spell and dancing the orb around it, he glanced over to Khalik’s practice.
First he would send Najyah flying toward the dummy, and her fierce talons—enhanced by his mana through their link—slashed at it before pulling up above it. He would then speak an incantation—something similar to the ‘Summon Stone’ spell Alex had looked at—which conjured a swarm of rocks in front of him.
The stones flew forward as fast as arrows and struck the dummy. Again, Khalik cast the same spell, but this time the summoned rocks were as sharp as stalactites and struck the dummy with a cracking sound. For a third time he cast the spell, but the rocks didn’t appear in front of him, this time they appeared above, beside Najyah, and as she banked past the dummy, the stones fired into the target from her like a rain of arrows from a horse-archer.
Finally, Khalik spoke another incantation then snapped his fingers.
A loud blast of sound detonated by the dummy as though a fireball had just ruptured. It wasn’t loud enough to do damage to the dummy, but Alex imagined a living opponent would be pretty disoriented by the soundburst.
Khalik had obviously been practicing magic for a long time too, and likely had access to more resources and teachings than Alex ever had in Alric. But, even so, the other young man soon ended his strenuous spellcasting as his mana ran low, while Alex continued to practice with his steadily running forceball.
“Hoo, I need more building up.” Khalik let out a breath. “You must have practiced with that for a long time.”
“Years,” Alex said. He bounced the forceball along the ground before ricocheting it into the dummy again. “I think I know it better than my own hand. You know I-”
“Attention new students!” a voice called from the middle of the training field.
A group of three young men—pale and with harsh accents—were standing in the middle of the training ground. Each wore finely tailored, emerald green shirts, with the silver symbol of a beast: a two-headed monster with the howling head of a wolf and the snarling head of a bear.
Beside the trio stood a line of young male students looking uncertain.
The speaker—wearing a glowing full finger ring—jerked his thumb toward the line. “Today, we’re taking any comers who think they have what it takes to enter the Ursa-Lupine Brotherhood of Generasi: one of the oldest fraternities of battle-mages in the history of our fine school. We don’t have room for the gutless, so if you’re tough enough to take our little test, come and see us. ”
The leader grinned widely and his eyes searched through the faces of the bewildered—and some annoyed—students.
Then they fell on Alex and Khalik.
“What about you two? You look fresh. Think you have what it takes to be one of us? Or are you two gonna coward it up?”
The two young men blinked.
They looked at each other.
Then they burst out laughing.