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Wooden Empire

By Alex Wyatt All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Many Lessons

The girl hit the floor of the practice room and rolled. Her body ached from all the times she had been hit and she was finding it hard to catch her breath. The practice mat felt coarse beneath her fingers. The entire room was as dry and dusty as it always was. She could have killed for a drink of water but her mentor kept the room dry for some reason.

She pulled herself to her feet and her vision swam about the room. Sword racks and staff cases lined the walls. How often she had though of grabbing one and just throwing it at her opponent. She could have done it with either muscle or magic.

She wasn't going to win again today. Her mentor called this Free Sparring but he may as well have called it it 'Continuously get punched in the face'. It was her least favourite type of training and that was saying something. There was no objective but to knock him down and she had never come close. A failing student in a class of one.

"Tuck in you elbows Kya. You're losing your focus."

She thought about using her magic, just for a second. Even a drop of it would refresh her wonderfully. Outside this room she never got tired, never found a way to over exert herself, all because of that little well of power that sat within her.

But he would know if she cheated like that. He always knew.

She looked at him, standing much taller than her in his heavy brown coat and lose fitting clothes. He didn't look threatening at all, not on the surface. He didn't tuck his elbows in or place his feet correctly. He slouched and shifted, his heavy, tired eyelids always looked half asleep in these sparring sessions, his bored grey eyes always focusing on something else.

She gritted her teeth as she had done a thousand times before and moved towards him.

Kya had always been told that she was graceful. Her mentor had once joked that if he was training her to be a dancer she would have reached perfection at age five. He also said that grace had it's place in combat but not in the area he was interested in.

And so she flowed towards him with perfect poise and precision, her movements would have put grand masters to shame. All too late she saw how he would block and counter her this time.

Unlike her he had no grace. His movements were always the ones requiring the least effort. He jerked and swayed and jabbed with no pattern or rhythm. Every twitch was a bluff or a double bluff. If he threw a punch it would turn out to be a feint if you moved to block it or a knock-out blow if you didn't. She felt a strike to her neck take her breath away. The moments' opening this created in her defences allowed him to knee her in the ribs. She staggered back and found herself on the mat again.

"Sorry Kya, you were doing well there. For a bit. But that was another three strikes. Recite: The names of the worlds with human civilisations.”

This was a trick question, meant to check her speed. She reeled off the names in no particular order. "Trinia, Myrsguard, Petregon, Scenceta," she coughed, she could barely catch her breath "and there is a single settlement in Helstrom. These are all the human worlds known." She stood again and began to circle him carefully.

"Very good Kya. Now recite: The names of all six past Dark Lords of Myrsgaurd in chronological order."

This was an easy one. As she spoke she looked for an opening somewhere on him. It was useless of course. He always looked full of them.

"Arularch, Mae, Torbos, Pareel, Kasy, Coburn." She said as she tried to shake some feeling back into her limbs and knock the spots from her vision.

"Sorry wrong. You forgot Tyborus. Now I have to think up a penalty."

Somewhere from deep inside her, anger welled up and washed away her fatigue. "You said name six of them. I named six." They had had this argument before.

"Yes, but Tyborus and Torbos were duel Dark Lords. They shared the title and so should both be named together. Penalty."

She felt her fingernails dig into her hands as she balled her fists so tightly. Some days he was like this and some days he would let her get away with anything.

To say she lost control would be wrong. She made a conscious, if angry, choice to reach for the power inside of her. In a moment she felt much better. The bruising all over her body, the cuts on her head and the fatigue in her arms had not healed, she was just able to ignore the pain.

Gracefully she flowed towards him. Things always stood in stark relief when she could use her Sight. You could see how the world worked. He especially was laid bare. He had almost no power at all. A tiny trickle, a dimming candle. A few cobweb strands draped over his body in a laughable attempt to protect himself.

Her fist struck his face. He staggered backwards, blood streaming from his shattered face. He swore in a language she did not know.

If the impact shocked him, it terrified her. Had his skull shattered under the impact? Practising by herself she had cracked bricks with that punch. Had she killed him? What would that mean? Was she free?

Something happened then, and it took her years to figure out exactly what. She felt something hit her in her side. It felt like one of the steam trains they were making now. She spun through the air, her darkening vision only just identifying the weapon racks by the far wall before she smashed into them. Thankfully then she lost consciousness, so she didn't feel it when she hit the floor.


************

She tasted raspberry. It was a strange thing to wake up to but the sharp taste of raspberry cordial was the first thing she felt as she awoke. A dull bit of memory worked its' way into her mind to explain this. Her mentor hated raspberries so he flavoured his healing potions with them. He said medicine should never taste nice.

The second thing she felt was cool sponge being dabbed at her forehead.

The light was incredibly bright, she tried to shimmy her leaden body further under the blankets she found herself wrapped in.

"You're awake then." a voice said. It was her mentors' voice and there was not a trace of worry in it. There was something like worry though. Something between concern and amusement. He was obviously breathing through an unbroken nose, meaning he must have tended to his own injuries whilst she'd been out.

She tried to say something cutting about his lack of empathy but only a low moan escaped when she opened her mouth. Her eyes were closed again but she could almost hear him smiling.

"Come on, sit up. I need to talk to you whilst the lesson is still fresh in your mind."

He put his hand gently on her arm and helped her sit up. Her eyes were adjusting now. She looked down at the faded patterns on her bed spread. She sometimes found herself dwelling on peculiar things. Right now, she was wondering how much someone had paid for this quilt. She bet it had been quite a lot about forty years ago.

"Do you remember what happened?"

Kya rubbed her eyes with her hand. "I remember punching you in your face." she said. Her head felt like it was in a vice.

"Heh, we'll get to that. I mean before that. It's important you understand." He produced a small tub of ointment from one of his many pockets, opened it and began applying a fingertip full of very medicinal smelling stuff to one of cuts on her forehead, she cringed as it stung but he moved to hold her head still by her chin. This was a routine they had gone through many times before, annoyingly.

"I remember drawing on my magic. It felt... nice. Kind of like having a bath. All warm and bubbly. And then I hit you." She studied his face closely. Not even a scratch. Well, there were scratches, the man was covered in old scars, each well healed and expertly treated. A life time of tiny wounds. "What did you do to me to stop me?"

He smiled as he always did when she made a silly mistake. "Now Kya, are you wasting your question on that?" The two of them had an arrangement, for every clean hit she landed on him she could ask him a question about absolutely anything. She shook her head in a panic as he sat down in his chair. Her forehead had gone uncomfortably numb.

"No. You are about to tell me anyway."

"Yes indeed. You know how sometimes when you come to attack me and I use your own momentum to throw you across the room." She nodded, she knew that only to well. "Well, I did that with your magic." That was the kind of answer he loved to give. It was likely completely true yet it told her nothing. "Now that you have decided to merge your magic lessons with your combat lessons, I'm going to have to show you a few new tricks. Your training will have to be a bit more intensive from now on."

She couldn't imagine what that could mean, though she was sure she would find out soon. "Can I ask my question now?" She saw a twinkle in his eyes that told her he was thinking of saying 'Is that your question?' Her most serious glare made him think better of it and so instead he said;

"Are you sure you don't need time to think on it?" She didn't. She had been waiting to ask a this question for a long time.

"Why did you steal me from my parents?"

His expression changed. He seemed to be thinking back a long way, perhaps remembering, perhaps trying to phrase his answer correctly.

"It was the correct thing to do." He said and let his answer hang in the air. The magic lights in her bedroom began to glow dimly. Little wisps in glass cases. She must have been unconscious for hours if it was already early evening.

"Your supposed to give me full answers to my questions." she said. If he was going to be his usual difficult self about this she might have to punch him again.

He gave out a long, non-committal sigh. "Okay. I took you from your parents because you weren't safe with them. They couldn't protect you. They didn't want to give you up but I pushed the issue. In the end they agreed, though it broke there hearts. So I brought you here, where they couldn't follow us, even if they changed their minds." He rambled the reply off quickly. It was definitely rehearsed and probably carefully worded to tell her as little as possible. He watched her closely, probably half expecting her to leap for him or something.

She didn't feel angry though, frankly it was better than most of the answers he may have given.

When it was obvious she wasn't going to start screaming the house down he began to stand up.

"You should get some sleep girl. We'll start training early tomorrow as I don't have any rounds to make."

He turned to leave.

"Dwen?" she said. It was rare she used his name. A while ago she had made the decision not to call him anything that might make him think she had forgiven him. She was too young when she was taken to have known what was happening at the time but he had always been very open about the fact that he had kidnapped her. It was hard to find a frame of reference but all the books she could find on the subject told her that was strange.

"Is this another question?" he said stopping at her door. He turned to meat her gaze.

"Am I human?" He rolled his eyes at this, like he was expecting another question entirely.

"Down to your bones." She would lie awake at night for some weeks wondering how those four words might have been used to obscure the truth. It would be quite some time before she would find out that even those words were a very true lie. She didn't manage to strike him often, and so answers were slow in coming.

At the time that answer just annoyed her a little.

"I'll find my way back to them some day you know"

He paused just before he closed her door. "I hope you do. Goodnight Kya."

She heard the bolt on the other side of the door slide across. Her eyelids were getting heavy again. She couldn't remember ever being this tired before.

As she drifted off she resolved to start looking for ways to escape this place. Starting tomorrow. There must be someone in the city that could help. She didn't know where she would go or what a ten year old girl could do in the outside world but it would have to be better than being stuck here.

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