87: In Excelsis

on October 25, 2007 in 04: The Body Politick

In Which Mackenzie Is Given A Chance

As soon as Dobbs ordered the fives to pick partners, the boys called Barry and James instantly started arguing over who was going to spar with Tracy. She ended up picking James, and Barry paired off with another guy. Nobody was in a hurry to partner with me, and I didn’t know anybody to approach them.

Dobbs chuckled at the look on my face.

“The problem is, I can’t make anybody fight you if they don’t want to,” he said.

“I’d believe that,” I said wryly.

Dobbs colored.

“I mean, it might be a violation of somebody’s religious beliefs to consort with… someone like you,” he said. “Of course, I can’t give you any credit if you don’t spar, and you can’t spar if…”

“I’ll spar with her,” a girl said from behind me.

Her voice was low and rich, an islander accent… I started to turn and she stepped around to meet my eyes. Her skin was dark… the shade that’s often called “black”, and while it was darker than most, it was hard to think of it with that term now that I’d met a full-blooded dark elf. Her hair was darker than mine, with a fullness about it and a vibrant sheen that my dull, flat hair lacked. Her face was proud, but kind… regal.

She smiled beatifically at both me and Dobbs… who looked at her like she’d just wiped her ass with a portrait of his mother.

He said nothing, but stomped away to berate other pairs of students at random.

“Thanks,” I mumbled.

“What is your name?” she asked, in that strangely musical accent.

“Mackenzie,” I said.

“I’m called Gloria,” she said. “Don’t forget to box your weapon.”

“Oh, right,” I said. I hadn’t actually forgotten to do this… I just hadn’t done it yet. I felt the tips of my ears reddening anyway as I walked to the table and placed my hunting knife in the box.

In a class that was slightly more male than female, why did my partner have to be a girl? Worse, a polished, poised, pretty one. At least she didn’t have really big breasts to distract me. Hers were more, I don’t know… angular? Perky, maybe. Definitely not underdeveloped. Maybe “ripe” would be the word…

I suddenly came to the realization that I’d been so busy not being distracted by Gloria’s breasts that I hadn’t really been paying attention when I closed my knife inside the mockbox and now that it was open, I had no idea which knife was the real one and which was the mockery. Shit. I picked up both of them, but of course they felt exactly the same. I took the one that I thought was more likely the copy, and poked the tip with my finger.

Double shit.

It not only hurt, it also made a little, very real prick. I only had to put my finger in my mouth and taste the blood to know that it wasn’t a clever illusion effect. I sheathed that knife, and hefted the other in my hand.

“Some blades are said to be so evil, they will not return to their sheath until they have tasted blood,” Gloria said, looking at the little dot of blood on my left pointer finger. “Is that the way with your knife?”

“No,” I said. “I… wanted to make sure I was using the right one.”

She held up her own short sword as if she were shading her eyes from the sun with it.

“A mockery is slightly translucent to the light,” she said. “And it will flicker visibly if it comes into brief contact with any true metal. Prolonged contact will destroy it.”

“Oh,” I said lamely. “I didn’t know that,” I added, as if that hadn’t been obvious.

“I only learned it in class last week,” she said charitably. “Would you prefer to be on defense or offense?”

“Um… defense,” I said.

That seemed safer, and easier. I really didn’t know how to fight, and knew I’d make a fool of myself trying to attack a reasonably competent–or even confident–fighter. Defense didn’t require any real skill… you just had to not get hit, right?

Gloria’s weapon was a sword, maybe about thirty inches in length, with two sharp edges and a rather abrupt point that looked only slightly sharp. The pommel, which was white, flared out at the bottom in a kind of rose shape, and the hand guard was a piece of metal twisted into a loopy sort of eight.

Something about it–especially the floral motif at the bottom–just screamed “blessed.” I was really glad we weren’t squaring off with our actual weapons.

Of course, she still had the advantage of length, or reach, or whatever they called it… as well as the advantage of height, and probably skill, and anything else that one person could have an advantage over another with.

And she was beautiful and graceful, while I was ugly and clumsy, and growing more so with every second that she stood there smiling at me.

She grasped her sword in one hand and gave it a few graceful swishes through the air. She obviously was more comfortable with it than I was with my knife.

“Are you ready?” she asked.

I nodded.

“May the Lord Kher…” she stopped, and blushed. “I was about to bless you,” she said. “Well, in lieu of that…”

She clasped her sword in both hands, held it vertically in front of her, and tipped it to me, then shifted into what was obviously (even to me) a fighting stance, the sword once again in her right hand. She took a few steps sideways in each direction, and then came forward, the sword rising backwards and then falling towards me, flashing in the sunlight.

I raised my knife hand… well, I reflexively started to raise both arms, actually… to block it. Her sword collided with the edge of my knife and I felt it jar and slip in my hand. The jolt startled me into shrieking and dropping it. Her swing continued more or less uninterrupted, and I felt the impression of the blade sinking into my arm.

I screamed in pain, though of course, the pain did not last. I was glad I wasn’t in Callahan’s group, and that Dobbs was pretending I didn’t exist… I could feel the hot tears on my cheeks.

Gloria stood back, not looking at me until I’d wiped my eyes and picked up the knife.

“Your knife is not made for parrying head-on like that,” Gloria said gently. “You may be able to turn certain strikes aside, but you’ll never catch the blade and bind it. You’d want a proper dagger, with a hilt guard, for that. Are you ready?”

“I… yes,” I said.

She came on again, this time moving with exaggerated slowness, obviously teleglyphing each move so that I had plenty of time to step back or aside.

“You’re going slow on purpose,” I said, trying and failing not to sound like it was a sullen accusation. Her face was kind and guileless, but it felt like she was teasing me.

“I want you to see what I’m doing,” she said.

“Isn’t the point to hit me?” I asked.

“The point is for us to learn,” she said, coming after me with another graceful horizontal swing that was only just not quite slow enough for me to step back from completely, but which I was able bring my knife up to deflect. “Very good,” she said.

“Yeah, but what are you learning?” I asked.

“What would I learn by hitting somebody who cannot prevent me?” she asked.

The distraction of conversation cost me a hit against my side.

“Ow!” I cried, before my brain registered that it was a slap rather than a slash. It still hurt.

“Watch my eyes,” she said. “As well as my blade. The hands and the eyes can both lie, but it is difficult for both to do so at the same time.”

“You know you’re hitting me with the flat side of a phantasmal weapon?” I asked.

“In real combat, I’d try to dispatch you quickly and cleanly, but that is not possible with these mockeries,” she said. “I don’t enjoy causing unnecessary pain, whatever my opponent may be”

“Thanks,” I said grimly.

We played through more and more sets of blows, Gloria getting more and more elaborate as we went, and I was strangely reminded of dancing with Ian. It was sort of like dancing… and just like dancing, I got the rhythm of it when I stopped trying to… and just like dancing, I lost the rhythm when I noticed I had it.

Unlike dancing, it hurt when I lost the rhythm. Why the hell wasn’t there a serious fighting class for beginners that used a lower order of illusion? There had to be a way to make weapons that were solid to the touch and to each other, but which passed through flesh harmlessly when it was swung with violence. It was hard enough to learn how to fight as it was without getting pain involved.

Dobbs went up and down among the groups, giving people pointers and periodically telling them to switch or giving them a different excercise to do. He ignored us, though… ignored me.

I really didn’t mind.

“When you have a chance like that, you should use the momentum of my swing to force my blade out wide,” Gloria said, after I managed to push her sword away with the side of my knife again.

“Why?” I said. “I’ve already stopped the hit.”

“Your weapon is shorter than mine,” she said. “That’s one way to make sure you get a chance to dart forward and strike back. If you can get in too too close, you can stab but I wouldn’t be able to bring my sword to bear properly.”

“But I’m on defense,” I said. “I’m not trying to hit you.”

“If you were, though…” she said.

“If it was my turn to attack, I wouldn’t be parrying swings,” I said.

“Real combat does not consist of turns,” she said. “The goal of this class is not to become better at the class.”

“What’s your major?” I asked her.

“Divine magic,” she said. “With a teaching focus.”

“You’re not a bad teacher,” I said. The act of fighting with her… even in such an incredibly simplistic fashion, even in the exaggerated slow motion… was somehow more intimate than mere conversation, and this made it easier to talk to her.

“I just want you to have a fair chance,” she said.

“Is this your first WP class?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I have three older brothers, though… step-brothers, really, but I learned things from watching them.”

“They didn’t let you fight?” I asked.

“They were too smart,” she said, and gave her gracious smile a playful twist. She came on again, and there was a marked change in her pace and style now. She was faster, less transparent, and less forgiving.

I think mostly it was the speed, and some of that was spent in flashiness, so maybe it only seemed like she was trying a lot harder, but regardless, I was still mostly able to keep up with her. As the period wore on, she continued to up the ante in small ways.

Before the class was over, I was exhausted and out of breath. My arm ached… while the phantasmal “wounds” from the weapons flickered away almost instantly, the impact of the blades on each other was very real. I took more and more hits, from the edges as well as the sides of her sword, and fucking hell did it hurt… but I was learning something.

By the end of the class, I think Gloria was actually cutting loose with everything she had. Just before Dobbs called time (in response to Callahan calling it across the field), she faked a wide outside swing which became a deft thrust with a flick of her wrist, and plunged the tip of her faux blade into my chest.

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to have a sword pierce your heart… don’t.

Seriously. Just… don’t.

I don’t know if I actually passed out, or if my senses were just overwhelmed, but I was on my back and conscious at first only of the pain I had just felt, whose abrupt disappearance was as shocking as the sudden loss of a limb.

Gloria stood over me, grinning.

“You are dead, demon,” she said, the same slight curl to her smile but nothing playful or friendly in her eyes.

“Whuh?” I asked, clambering up. I’m not sure if I was trying to ask “what?” or “why?”

“I wanted you to have a fair chance,” she said again, and then turned to walk away across the field. Her hips–and naturally, her ass–had a more pronounced dip-and-sway to them than even Amaranth’s.

I was left unsure whether to hope that somebody else would spar with me next time, or if she would.

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4 Responses to “87: In Excelsis”

  1. BMeph says:

    Heh-heh, Gloria’s got a gladius.

    Current score: 1
  2. pedestrian says:

    I wonder if she is in one of the militant religious orders if Gloria is a virgin. I wonder if Our Mack can smell virginity, perhaps during a female virgin’s menses?

    Current score: 2
  3. Erm says:

    Looking back, I’m really surprised at Gloria here. After this, I mean.

    Current score: 0
    • Anthony says:

      Yeah, this is very different from how she behaves later on…

      Current score: 0