Tala reached the indicated building at the edge of the Guardsmen’s training yard and was met in the entrance as soon as she’d stepped inside.
By the insignia, the woman who met Tala was a sergeant, though Tala had never met her. “Sergeant.”
“Mistress Tala. Welcome. I found you on the approved access list, but there wasn’t much beyond that. I was told you wish to use our training yard?” The sergeant eyed Terry with a mixture of interest and caution but seemed to have decided not to comment.
“Or another space, if that is preferred. I will be here many mornings to assist with one of the classes, and it would be convenient if I could train around those times, or if I have need of a space at other intervals.”
She nodded. “Understandable. However, our facilities are generally only used by those in, or directly benefiting, the Guardsman’s Guild. I can check with the teacher of the class, to see if your training, here, would qualify.”
“That could work. I’m really not sure what he’ll say.”
“Very good, Mistress. Please wait here.”
Tala considered what she would do to train if they gave her a space. I guess it depends on what the space will bear. She smiled, thinking about the class of people coming up with tests for her abilities. What madness am I about to be subjected to?
The sergeant returned a few minutes later. “Mistress?”
“There is a courtyard set aside for today, and if I understand correctly, it has been reserved for your use, in conjunction with the class, going forward.”
“Oh! Thank you.”
“Right this way.”
They walked through clean, sparsely decorated corridors, until they came to a place where the current corridor was open on one side. The hallway surrounded a fairly large courtyard, providing a covered walkway all the way around with a few diverging paths going perpendicularly off the sides.
The open space was hard-packed sand, without any other feature.
The sergeant gestured to the space. “Have at it, Ma’am.”
Tala grinned. “I’ll try not to damage it too much.”
The guardswoman snorted. “Kind of you. Is there anything else I can do to assist?”
“I think I’ll be fine. Thank you.”
With a slight bow, the other woman departed.
Tala walked out onto the sand, her feet barely scuffing it. Even so, she felt like it was at least a few feet deep. Just not used very often? It didn’t really matter.
The sand was cool and rough on the soles of her feet, in a smooth sort of way, some getting between her toes. Yeah, Tala, it’s smoothly rough. She didn’t have a lot of experience with sand, but the description seemed to fit.
Terry vanished from her shoulder, appearing on the roof nearby, already basking in the early morning sun. You do you, little guy.
She sat, cross-legged, in the center. Having just come from the Constructionist Guild, she had the incorporators on her mind. As such, she pulled out the three she possessed: cold water, hot water, and hot air. Huh, should I have gotten a cold air one, for completeness, and to cool off on hot days? Winter was almost upon them, though. Maybe, in the spring.
She regarded the devices. Splitting the flow of power increases difficulty. She grinned. With effort, she divided her natural influx of power into the three incorporators, as well as her own body and Flow.
Her reserves began to decline, but not rapidly. She did have vast magic-density, after all.
It was a tricky thing, splitting the magic five ways, but she was able to get a handle on it after a minute or so.
Once she had the pathways locked in place, she created the void around her gate.
A headache began building almost instantly as she strove to hold the six distinct mental tasks in place. But it worked.
The incorporators, which had been dormant, given the pathetic amount that had been funneled their way, suddenly activated. Two were held in her right hand, not overlapping, and the third in her left.
Cold water and hot air trickled out on one side, and hot water dribbled onto the sand on the other.
It was a lackluster amount, but she was doing it.
She clenched her jaw, forcing the division of power, and the void, into existence by sheer force of will.
She held it for ten seconds.
Her concentration slipped.
Her vision fuzzed, and her head rang as if someone had struck her with a hammer.
Tala groaned, flopping backwards onto the hard sand.
The pain passed quickly, relatively speaking. She’d only held the full complexity for less than half a minute.
If her estimate was correct, she took less than three minutes to recover her mental coherence.
Ok. Not bad. She considered how to proceed.
She could repeat the performance, in theory stretching herself and improving, but that felt like a half measure. I need to rethink this.
At the most basic level, she was creating a suction force, pulling power through her gate. Then, she was directing that power down four equal channels, and one which was smaller, that went to her body.
She frowned. Something about that seemed inefficient. What if…
She sat the cold incorporator aside and focused. Simple first.
She recalled how it had felt to empower each of these, less than an hour before.
She had felt the flow, felt the power.
She held one incorporator in each hand and created mental channels for the power, making the channels large enough for the amount of power that she’d used earlier. Knowing of nothing else to demarcate the paths, since she wasn’t working with power, she opened the paths as voids. In so doing, she made them ready for the power rather than letting the power’s flow create the needed channel.
The newly created, internal canals lead to the two incorporators. Those pathways were utterly devoid of power, empty and hungry. They didn’t move through her flesh, to interfere with her inscriptions; instead, they existed on some deeper level. The domain of magic and the soul? Her body and soul were separate, so it made sense that her body would be mostly devoid in that aspect.
She stretched her mind and connected the channels to her gate.
Power erupted outward. The void of the channels sucking magic through in a relative torrent.
Hot water and wind shot out of the two incorporators, much greater than the most recent display, but not quite what she’d managed, individually, at the guild.
The power channels weren’t full, and the remaining emptiness was a constant pull on her gate, the magic moving too quickly to spread out and equilibrate within the paths.
She gasped, panting as the power blasted through her.
Her output was not doubled from that of her simple void, but her straining mind would have guessed that each void-channel was pulling at least one and a half times her normal rate. Fifty percent increase. That was less than the void, alone, but she felt like if she could create more such channels, each would be able to sustain the same flow.
If I can create four of them, I’ll be sustaining six times my passive rate.
She released the mentally constructed channels, and the power tapered off.
She rolled to the side, up onto her hands and knees and retched. Her whole body wanted her to vomit, but her inscribings effectively countered the urge.
Tala kept her breakfast down.
She groaned. Effective, but awful.
She snorted out a rueful laugh. Awfully effective.
She looked at her third incorporator, at Flow, and finally down at herself. So, I can practice with up to five channels, eh? The one to her body would be smaller, but that was likely safer, in any case.
Her smile was somewhere between a grimace of anticipated pain and a grin of inevitable victory. The result was overtly manic.
“Let’s get to work.”
* * *
Tala was unsure how much time had passed when the sound of many feet became evident, the murmur of voices accompanying the rumble.
She released the sucking, void channels, and the three incorporators ceased their output.
Opening her eyes, she realized that she was coated in sweat. No one was in sight, yet. Maybe I do need the cold air incorporator sooner than spring…
She quickly tucked the two hot incorporators away and created two void-channels, one to her body and one to the brass incorporator. She fought through a growing headache to maintain the constructions.
She stood, dousing herself with cold water and washing away the sweat and sand in a quick moment, at least as best as she could without soap. That device went into Kit as well, and she pulled the artifact comb through her hair, drying and detangling it with a few quick strokes.
How echo-prone are the halls, that they still haven’t arrived yet? She quickly worked her hair into a braid with dexterous fingers flying over her scalp. The action tugged pleasantly at her head, lessening the pain, therein.
Her elk leathers were clean, dry, and fresh, as always. She gave them a pulse of power via a void-channel, topping them off in thanks. It only made her a little dizzy. These are becoming so easy to create. If only the headache would stay down…
She tied off her braid just as the first person came into view. It was the older gentleman, the instructor for the class that she’d met the previous day. I don’t know that I ever got his name… Rane was beside him, and they were speaking amicably.
The rest of the class followed after.
They continued along the hallway, spreading out on the covered walkway, as the instructor, Rane, and Adam came down on the sand.
Rane looked around quizzically. “What happened here? I didn’t think you used any creation scripts.”
Tala looked around and saw that she had disturbed the sand quite a bit.
Aside from the puddles currently around her feet, there were ripples and waves in the sand where water, or something like it, had clearly disrupted the smooth surface, though the culprit was mostly gone, now.
Tala knew that much of the water had discorporated. So, she wasn’t quite sure how it would appear to others.
She looked back to Rane and shrugged. “Practicing. You are right, though: No creation scripts.”
He just grunted.
“So, I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
“And miss this?” He grinned. “This is going to be interesting.”
Adam smiled and gave her a slight bow but didn’t say anything.
The instructor cleared his throat. “Mistress Tala, are you ready?”
She turned to him, smiling. “I think I am; though, I’ve no idea what you all have planned.” She waved at those waiting to the side. “Good morning.”
A hodgepodge of responses came back.
“So, let’s get started. What do you have for me?”
The first test was one of basic strength. They asked her to do push-ups, but she responded by balancing on just her hands and doing push-ups. Without falling, she then shifted into a handstand and did some more push-ups from that position. It was a tricky thing to balance, especially on the stone steps, leading down to the sand, but she’d been practicing. She was not confident enough to do them on the sand, itself.
She finished with an explosive last push, doing a half-turn and landing cleanly on her feet.
The class took a minute or two to rework their tests after that. They decided that her basic strength and balance were as she’d promised.
As such, they decided to trust claims about her own endurance, after she assured them that it was high. The other option was to take much of their time to prove it, and that sounded boring to everyone. They went with option A. Thus, they determined that she wouldn’t have to take risks to end engagements quickly.
They tested her reaction speed, her perception, her vertical leap, and a dozen other aspects. They quizzed her on what her abilities could do, and when she didn’t have an answer, they brought forth tests.
The most painful such test was slamming her arm with a sledgehammer and increasing force until it broke; her forearm that is. It turned out that her bones were close to four times as strong as normal, just like her muscles. I’m glad I’m not full of ending-berry power…It had been wise to let it dissipate, and not renew it, for her stay in Bandfast.
The fracture they were able to eventually cause realigned and healed completely in less than a minute, which was a good test of her regenerative abilities.
As the bone had pulled back together, Tala had felt the odd sensation that, if she poured power into the requisite scripts, she could force the limb to heal faster. She didn’t do so, as the point of these tests was to establish baselines.
When they began discussing what it would take to cut her, she protested. “Why do you need all this to create a fighting style? Some, I understand, but these?”
The participates looked around at each other, no one in particular wanting to answer. Finally, a singularly brave individual stepped forward. “The main reasons are to help determine what you need to block, versus avoid.”
Tala snorted. “That’s easy, avoid everything.”
The woman shook her head. “That would work, if your goal was only survival and departure, but you said you wanted to fight, to defend others.”
“To fight, you have to be able to strike back, and that is easiest if you can block or otherwise create openings.” The speaker looked a bit awkward. “That’s pretty basic to any fighting style, Mistress. We can focus purely on dodging, and if you’re right about your endurance you could probably win isolated encounters via attrition, but you’d be worthless in defending someone else, and you’d fail horribly against groups, especially if they were at all intelligent. Wasn’t that one of your core goals?”
Tala nodded, frowning.
“Then, against groups, you need to be able to finish individual encounters quickly, before you can be swarmed, assuming you can’t just shrug off all comers. In either case, you need to know what damage you can take, of what types, and how to use that to create openings to take down your opponents. Any blow that you could have taken, which you dodge instead, is an attack that you could have made, but didn’t.”
A man stepped forward. “Dodging is wonderful, but it’s a response. If you only respond, you let your enemy control the fight.”
Tala sighed, glancing at Rane. He was grinning happily. He’s loving this… He nodded, adding his thoughts, “They’re right, of course.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine. But why jumping? I’m glad to know I have an impressive vertical leap, but even I know that you usually want to keep your feet on the ground, if you can.” She did not think back to the arcanous birds, snatching her and carrying her through the air. Nope. Not thinking about that.
Every one of the students turned to regard a younger woman near the back. She shuffled her feet, glancing down before sighing and stepping forward. “That is the objection they had…”
Tala cocked an eyebrow. “So?” It was a bit funny that Tala had thought of her as younger, the other woman was likely at least three- or four-years Tala’s senior. Maybe more, given how badly I misjudged Lyn…
“Well, it comes down to one thing: Can you increase the effect of gravity on yourself? I mean acceleration, not just weight.”
Tala opened her mouth to say: ‘No.’ but hesitated. “Technically? Yes. Why?”
The other woman grinned wickedly. “I knew it. The reason that leaps and acrobatics are so dangerous is that everything behaves the same, once airborne. If you slow and fall twice as fast as your enemies think you will, then their instincts will be on your side, and they’ll struggle to compensate. Opponents don’t consider how fast you’ll fall, it’s a known quantity on an instinctual level. They won’t even consider it. If you are affected by gravity more strongly, that would open a whole host of options to you that anyone else would be foolish to try.”
Tala considered that for a long moment. “It would lower my capacity, make me slower.”
“At first, probably, but you’re faster than normal, now, and your body should adjust.”
Tala found herself nodding. “That has merit.”
The student beamed. “Thank you, Mistress.” She looked around at her fellows happily, standing a bit straighter.
“Well, then…” She looked at the device they’d brought out, returning to topic of her ‘cut-ability.’ It had a blade, and a very precisely controlled actuator. “Let’s see how hard it is to cut me…” She sighed. It’s going to be a long morning.
* * *
The sun was past high noon when the testing was finally completed.
Tala had been broken, stabbed, sliced, punctured, burned, and corroded. She’d balanced and snatched, leapt and pushed. Truthfully, she’d lost track of all they’d had her do, even with her improved memory. That really shouldn’t be possible…
“Alright, then. So… you have what you need?”
The students looked around at each other, nodding enthusiastically.
The instructor gave a bow. “Yes, I believe we do. Thank you.” When he straightened, he smiled. “We will have the foundations completed in a day or so, but it would help if you can get the gravity modifications in place, so that we can understand their extent. Much will be the same as for any human-shaped fighter, but we will be able to fine-tune it as your skill advances.”
Tala sighed and nodded. She suspected that she already had the inscribings to enact the gravity alteration, but she wanted Holly’s input, and she thought an additional set for her feet would be useful as well. I don’t want to be breaking everything I walk on… “I should be able to have that by tomorrow. Expect a fourfold increase in my acceleration due to gravity, if I’m able to get it to work.”
“We can find you, here, then? I took the liberty of reserving this training yard for your use for the time being.”
“Thank you, that was incredibly kind. Yes, I should be here, tomorrow morning. But we’ve set the day after as the start of true training and work on the fighting style, correct?”
The clarification was acknowledged, and the class thanked her and departed, talking animatedly amongst themselves.
Adam walked over to her. “You’re progressing quickly.”
She shrugged. “It’s nice to be fully inscribed, finally.” She hesitated. “Well, nearly so.”
Rane approached. “I still can’t believe that you were walking around with an incomplete set.”
“I’m not blessed with boundless money.”
Rane twitched at that but didn’t comment further.
Adam cleared his throat. “Well, I’ll be your opponent for most sparring for the class in the coming days. I do hope for a bit of a challenge.” He smirked.
Tala rolled her eyes but found herself smiling. “I’ll do my best. I’ll try not to hurt you too badly.”
He laughed. “Thank you. My wife would be cross if I died. We’ll have a healer on hand if we’re to fight, though.”
She looked around. “Right. You have access to those… Why not have one, now? I was certainly injured a lot, today.”
“You said you could heal. We believed you.”
“Still might have been nice…”
“While we work with many healers, they aren’t an unlimited resource.”
Adam glanced to Rane, then back to her. “Well, I’ll leave you to it. I’ll be excited to see what’s changed, tomorrow.” He bowed slightly to her and to Rane, then departed.
Rane cleared his throat. “So… you still available for lunch?”
She quirked a smile. “Sure. You paying?”
“Then, let’s get to it.” The poor boy doesn’t know what he’s signed up for. She’d try to take it easy, but she was hungry after all that they’d put her through, and all that her healing inscriptions had needed to repair.
“After you, Mistress Tala.”
“Thank you, Master Rane.” As they began walking, and after Terry flickered to her shoulder, she glanced towards Rane. “Did you have any place in particular, in mind?”
“Well, I’m not from around here, so my knowledge is limited, but I tried a place yesterday that had fantastic noodles. They had them available with all sorts of topping and sauces. We could go there.”
“That sounds wonderful.”