“What do you mean training?”
Hendrick and Yan were out in the yard, around the back of the Watch House. Worryingly, Ilda was sat on a bench with some paperwork. Hendrik had taken off most of his gear, dressed only in his undershirt and trousers.
“Did you really need to take the boots off? You’re showing off against a kid,” Ilda called out, not even looking up from her papers.
“The Captain told me you’re my new partner,” said Hendrik, ignoring both of their questions. He looked weirdly serious. “No offence Yan, but it won’t look good on me if you don’t last a week of patrolling through the Meadows.”
Yan thought about bringing up the fact that he was fine earlier today with Terry, but he remembered seeing the Mage fly after being hit with a small tree wielded by a walking, barely talking fortress.
“Now, come over here. Face opposite me. Right, there’s good. No, wider stance. Good.”
Yan felt a bit silly standing opposite Hendrik. There was a slight breeze that ruffled his undershirt, and the dry ground felt a lot colder than it looked under his feet. Even with the Sun casting a warm glow across the yard before it disappeared for the night, he was cold.
“Warming up is a must ,” said Hendrik, “always. This is the easy bit but try and stick to what I’m doing. If it hurts a little, you’re doing it right. If it hurts a lot, then let me know.”
“You got it boss.”
He began by squatting down a little and carrying out some breathing exercises. By the time Yan had followed him through the motions and stood up straight again, he was out of breath. And his audience had increased.
Sel was sat chatting to Ilda while Emery was in the process of taking off his overshirt. Yan suddenly felt quite pathetic thinking he looked good in his uniform looking at Emery.
The man looked like he shared distant relatives with Terry.
“What’s with everyone watching?” asked Yan feeling more than a little self-conscious now.
“Workday’s over,” said Emery as he limbered up. Yan was barely listening to him speak as he saw the man stretch one leg out above his head without breaking a sweat.
“I thought I’d join you,” he continued, his head resting against his shins as he stretched his hamstrings, “don’t worry though, I’m just here to watch. You’ll only be sparring against Dik.”
“Really, Sarge? All of you love changing your tune as soon as work’s done.”
“Ha! We all need to destress somehow and you’re just an easy target.”
“Aw, gee, thanks a bunch.” He turned to Yan, and Yan was sure he was about to become Hendrik’s method of destressing.”
“Right, well, c’mon then Yan, limbs now. Try and follow me.”
It was a struggle. Where Hendrik nearly did the splits, Yan’s legs just about formed a right angle. Hendrik was only a few inches off Emery stretching his hamstrings, and Yan’s back was just past being parallel with the ground.
Hendrik and Emery walked over to some straw dummies at one end of the yard and began stretching out their shoulders, until their arms looked painfully twisted behind them. Yan tried to do the same.
“Seriously Yan?” asked Hendrik. “Your mobility is absolutely terrible.”
“Yeah, well you try spending ten years as a smithy,” complained Yan as he rubbed his shoulder, “the only time I stretched was to load coal into the furnace.”
The trio trudged back to the Watch House; the last trickles of sunlight painted the women in a saturated amber. It actually looked like Ilda’s head was on fire, the deep red of her braids going orange at the ends. Her piercings shone like small stars and Sel’s scales gleamed with a dull sheen. Yan noticed Sel was stifling a laugh.
“Something funny is it?” he asked, wiping at the thin sheen of sweat on his forehead.
“Oh, you know,” she said airily, “just something Ilda said.”
“Right… I don’t mean to be rude, but well, don’t you two have homes to get back to?”
“Miners, hun,” Ilda said, her eyes closed as she leaned back on the bench. “Most of the time my boys sleep during the day and work at night.”
Yan looked back at Sel, expecting her usual confidence. He was surprised to see her look awkwardly at the floor.
“Sel, you good?”
“Uh, so, the thing is, I’m kinda—”
“Yan!” shouted Hendrik, “You’re not getting off that easily!”
Yan sighed and turned back to the potential Sadist. He was holding two wooden training swords and looking at him expectantly.
“C’mon, we’ve only got a little daylight left.”
Yan grudgingly accepted a sword and faced Hendrik. He’d made more than his fair share of bog-standard swords, so he had no problem with its weight, it actually felt a little light compared to the ugly things he’d made before.
Hendrik didn’t bother with any words, he just took a slow, blatantly telegraphed swing at Yan, the beechwood moving in a slow arc. Yan didn’t bother to deflect it, he just stepped out of its path.
“I’m not an invalid, Hendrik,” he deadpanned.
“Better safe than sorry.”
He straightened and set himself into position. Yan felt a little confused looking at him though. His body was basically facing Yan head-on, as opposed to Yan’s more traditional side-on stance.
This time Hendrik just stood there waiting. Yan assumed it was his turn to strike, so he lunged forward, his sword moving to stab at Hendrik’s left side.
Before he knew what happened, Hendrik was standing to his left and Yan felt like he’d just been punched in the gut.
“What was that?” asked Yan after clutching his midriff and stifling a groan.
“Yan, you’re going to be a Watchman, up against people who’ll do anything to avoid being caught. Please don’t tell me you expected me or them to fight fairly.”
“I’m not really fond of breaking in new recruits,” said Emery as he sat alongside Sel and Ilda, “but it is something you must learn. I need you alive and well before I need some idiot taking up space in the cells.”
Ilda nodded her agreement, but she at least looked sorry to see him go through it. Sel had probably gone home, which Yan was thankful for. The less people to see him getting embarrassed, the better.
“Count yourself lucky though,” said Hendrik after Yan had turned back towards him, “before the Captain got to where he was, official Watch rules were that you were only allowed to defend, never attack.”
He talked as he swung at Yan. Slowly at first, but increasing in power and pace, occasionally throwing feints and chaining swings together.
“I was just a recruit then, same as you, but I remember how bad it was,” huffed Hendrik, slowly building up to a pace where Yan barely had time to think between blows, defending with his life, “old Seral didn’t care what we had to go through. She was content, living off her salary and swiping from the Watch whenever she could.”
Yan parried away a low sweeping attack and saw Hendrik wait a beat to catch his breath. It was the second time he’d done that. He tuned out what was being said, clinging onto the braided rope handle of his training sword.
Someone somewhere had lit the magestone lights around the back of the Watch House, so half of the yard was lit in various shades of white, each magelight illuminated the area in a slightly different colour depending on the hue of the rock it had been made with.
There was nothing else occupying Yan’s mind, just Hendrik’s sword. He swung it without pause now, a constant barrage that Yan either parried or barely dodged away from.
Yan almost smiled as he saw the sword go low again. Again, he parried it. This time though, instead of just waiting for Hendrik’s next swing, he stepped forward and swung out, his wooden blade cutting through the cold evening air, on a path towards Hendrik’s left arm.
One second Yan was eagerly about to take petty revenge on Hendrik, the next his training sword wasn’t in his hand anymore.
It was buried halfway into the ground twenty feet away.
He stood stock still, and turned his head from the sword back to Hendrik in time to see him step into him, slamming the pommel of his sword into his ribs.
He had a shit-eating grin on his face.
“Hey, no fair! Play by the rules Dik!”
In his pain-riddled state, Yan thought he was hearing things. It sounded like he heard Sel shout out at Hendrik with a mouthful of food.
He looked up to see her with a bowl of dried fruits in her lap. She had gone to get snacks??
Ilda and Emery both on their feet looking at Hendrik indignantly… both of them chewing furiously so they could swallow and get a word out.
“Oh no, don’t get up on my account,” said Yan as airily as he could, wincing internally as he lifted his arm to wave them off, “please, sit down, enjoy the show!”
The trio of onlookers walked over to the two of them, training having been unofficially paused. Even so, Yan spared a glance over at Hendrik in case he tried something.
“Aw, don’t be like that Yan,” said Sel, nudging him with her shoulder, “training is like the only action I get to see… well, normally , anyway.”
She shot Hendrik a disapproving glance.
Hendrik had the good sense to at least feel bad for what he’d done. He walked up scratching the back of head.
“Hey, in my defence I…” he trailed off, looked over at Emery and found his voice again.
“Yeahhh, I got nothing. Sorry about that Yan,” he said as he clapped his hand against Yan’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Yan, hesitant to look weak in front of his new workmates. “We doing any more or is that it?”
“Uhh sure,” Hendrik replied, relieved that Emery wouldn’t chew him out for it. He saw the look of displeasure on both his boss and his medic’s face and tried to explain himself.
He’d been in the Watch long enough to know those were two people he definitely didn’t want to piss off.
“Look I just wanted to teach him properly, okay? It’s all well and good fighting fair, but we all know what the job’s like. Anyone who pulls out a sword inside the city will do more than just faint you into attacking.”
Yan silently cursed his stupidity, he genuinely thought he’d found an opening.
“Well it’s getting dark now, so I’m going to head out,” said Ilda, “but since you want to use Skills Hendrik, then I guess I’ll give Yan a little helping hand while I’m gone.”
She walked up to Yan and reached up, placing her hand on his elbow.
“[Healing Touch]. It won’t do much for you now, but if Hendrik manages to keep it relatively civil then you’ll be all good by the time you get to bed.”
“Hey, what about—”
“Night all,” she said cheerily as she made her way back inside. She stopped and called out to Yan, “I left you some spare clothes in your room Yan, they’re definitely going to be too short but they’re good enough to sleep in.”
Yan thanked the darkness that was creeping over the city for hiding his blushing. He’d had his last night at home yesterday, and had told Caiwal to keep most of his things for the other boys.
He hadn’t said anything about it to anyone in the Watch, he’d just taken his small bag of belongings into his room in the morning.
He called out his thanks to Ilda, who just brushed it away and looked to Emery.
“You might as well give him his wages early this month.”
Emery snapped a crisp salute, to which Ilda rolled her eyes and made her way back inside.
“Actually, if she’s going, I might as well go with her,” remembered Sel. “See you tomorrow!”
Yan watched her run after Ilda and turned back to Hendrik, who had his eyebrow raised at him.
“…I’ll forgive you for using a Skill if you don’t say a word.”
Hendrik chuckled a little but held his tongue.
“Are you calling it a night as well Yan?” asked Emery.
“Uh, actually I was going to ask Hendrik if we could carry on,” he said, turning to Hendrik. “Unless you’ve got to go as well?”
“Ha, you’re looking at Upartesk’s most eligible bachelor here,” he boasted before deflating a little. “So, uh, no, actually, I’ve got nothing else to do.”
“Don’t mind me then,” he said picking up the bowl that Sel had left, “I’ll just be here minding my own business.”
Yan went to pick up his training sword and faced Hendrik again. He readied himself and beckoned for Hendrik to come at him.
Again, Hendrik started slowly, building up his pace until Yan was thinking about nothing else but the next attack. Hendrik wasn’t going as hard as he’d been earlier, which allowed Yan to throw in a few swipes in retaliation.
The pair trained, Hendrik comfortably keeping up while Yan’s stamina slowly flagged. He felt sharp pains in his lungs as he gave up on trying to attack and focused on defending, slowly stepping further and further away as Hendrik advanced relentlessly.
Hendrik used the momentum of Yan’s parry to spin, moving with his rebounded blade. He spun around, his back leg coming forward and kicking at the ground, throwing up dust into Yan’s face.
Yan screwed his eyes shut before he got any in his eyes and stepped back, quick to Hendrik’s tactics by now. It was very much a reflection of his personality, the thought flashing through his head.
He opened them again to see a fist flying at him instead of a sword edge. Yan panicked, his instincts telling him not to swing a blade at an unarmed fist. It was inches away from his face by the time he had the presence of mind to move out of the way.
Even though he attempted to move, Yan’s instincts clamped his eyes closed again, anticipating an impending impact.
It didn’t come.
The best way to explain was that it felt like running with the wind at your back. An invisible force, a guiding hand, moved his torso back. Hendrik’s fist hit nothing but thin air.
“Yes! I knew it!”
The dust cleared to reveal Hendrik grinning like a madman. Yan’s feet were rooted to the spot, but his upper body was tilted precariously backwards, walking the fine line between staying upright and falling over.
Yan took a second, confusion and questions running through his mind. He accepted Hendrik’s hand and stood back upright.
“What just happened?”
“You’d think getting your first Skill would be a bit more memorable than that.” Hendrik deadpanned.
“What, [Dexterity]? How does that work then, I didn’t have to do anything?”
“It’s a Static Skill,” said Hendrik, running a hand through his hair. “You sure you’re not a simpleton?”
“Hey, in my defence the only time I’ve seen people use Skills have been Caiwal at the forge and the occasional drunk out in the streets.” Yan scratched at his head.
“So, what, does that mean [Devastating Counter] is like, an Active Skill?”
“No,” sighed Hendrik, silently despairing at the idiot the Captain had partnered him up with, “that’s a Dynamic Skill.”
“Right. So does that mean I can do it all the time?”
“Using any Skill is like flexing a muscle,” said Emery, the resident expert on muscles. “Train it long enough and you could, but it’ll still leave you tired afterwards.”
“Was that what you were trying to do earlier, get me to use it?” asked Yan, a newfound level of respect for Hendrik, a man he’d thought was no brains and only a little brawn.
“Oh… Yes! Yes that’s exactly what I was doing.”
Yan questioned his own intellect for assuming so much of him.
“Let’s call it a night now lads,” Emery said, spinning the empty upturned bowl on his finger. Yan only just noticed how dark it was, now that he looked out away from the magelights. Hendrik turned to the two others.
“Fancy a drink?”