Killer Lessons and Killer Looks
Arc 2, day 1
Time: 12:00 pm
The words “Exeo” and “Dead” in the same sentence were like a punch to the gut. The young woman froze, her every feature rigid. The eyes that were so expressive before communicated cold understanding. This wasn't something that happened, it wasn't unlikely, it was hard to believe period. Now that Sarah was looking (or maybe because she was) everything screamed the death at her.
Understanding, not in an abstract way but in a deeply personal way. It wasn't just that it was that way for everyone, it was a literal direct understanding. She knew, the god-queen truly knew her. The science behind it was insufficient to mask the great understanding contained within her. Reverence wasn't the word. The ability to go against Amana's will made absolutely zero sense.
The door latched behind Sarah before she realized she was home. It was like the ten minute walk had disappeared, the surroundings a blur. As if trying to detach the thoughts from her head, Sarah shook her head. It helped a little, and she moved to sit down at the kitchen table. An Exeo was dead. It was like a broken record, skipping, repeating the phrase over, and over, and over until the words meant nothing. A roar of white noise, a roar of the impossible, and the roar of nothing.
A knock at the door roused Sarah, and with no light in her eyes she walked to it. It swung open to reveal a human man, graying edges creeping in faster than he'd like. His prime was more than ten years ago, and his eyes spoke of a gentle life. He was wearing a full suit, appearance pristine in an artificial way. He spoke, his voice sounding equally artificial; it was fitting. ”It's time to train, come on, go get ready. Can't mope around all day. Lose the mask too, it's creepy.” Sarah nodded slowly, hardly processing the words all the while. A sarcastic clearing of the throat roused her, and she moved back into the apartment, heading for her room.
The door shut behind her quietly, trapping Sarah with her thoughts again. There isn't time anymore for focusing on the dead. She thought, but not quite believing it. She unbuttoned the skirt recklessly, throwing it onto the bed. She pulled open a drawer, collecting flexible shorts from within, and sat down to pull them on. With a hop in her step, Sarah stood and moved to the next room. The man looked up at her, and the name Alex echoed in her head.
The room shifted, but not truly. He had moved the two of them to a white walled training area. Red lines cut the room into neat squares. The sides of every square were 10 feet long, the ceiling not even visible. Lighting came from nowhere in particular and yet lit everything equally well. Her teacher stood thirty feet from her, his position not that of a fighter. The weight of the jacket was comforting for Sarah, and her confidence rose when she met her tutor's eyes. His eyes spoke of a respect earned, not through power, or through wealth. Respect earned through deeds. Respect earned through understanding.
A slow movement brought Sarah's right hand off to her side, the halberd appearing as her hand closed around it. Vis flowed with purpose through her body, tripping gates on its path. The mask was removed, the change happening from bottom to top. Hard black edges climbed her legs, the markings thinly reaching out to her fingertips from where they were visible underneath her sleeves. The contrast between her fair skin, and the black lines was striking. Every hard line on Sarah's face was accentuated by a darker design. Two of them framed her beautiful blue gem, meeting its middle at a 45 degree angle, and forming a faux tiara in the process. It broke off from that angle right above her eyebrows, framing her cheeks.
The challenge was simple, she just had to land more than a glancing blow. As soon as she did, the sparring session would be over. The first time, almost a year ago now, had to be ended because of her own exhaustion. She had slowly whittled him down over the months of training, and was now at the point where she could hit him within the hour. In her head she repeated the rules that he had instated: No Vis sense: Go at it blind, as a good enough magic user will be trying to mask their vis anyways. If they're not, it's just another advantage for you. No lethal attacks: There were a couple safeguards in place just in case someone went too hard, but it would hinder future training if either of them were dead. No using vis to increase your own stamina. The fight could last a very long time if they had access to that, and it would be a shame if either weren't fit to protect themselves in the time it took to recharge their stores. The final rule was simple: Give up when too tired to fight.
With a defensive stance Sarah approached Alex. The range that his bare fists provided was not even half of the range Sarah's halberd provided. Her right hand clasped the halberd lower than her right hand, the left meant more for guiding than providing force (though it did). For Sarah it was a truly unwieldy weapon, only manageable because of the Vis imbued into it. When she couldn't apply enough force, she could simply make it go a bit faster. When it was knocked aside by shield or parry, she could stop its momentum that much easier. When it wasn't long enough, she could give it the extra inch or so that was needed. She twisted the halberd, haft over blade in a small spin, while cautiously watching her teacher. Back to the normal position Sarah waited another step before swinging the blade forward. The haft settled on the right side of her leg, her feet bracing as soon as they landed.
Another step was enough, and Sarah thrust her halberd forward-Alex instantly struck it off to the left with his right hand, leaning forward while favoring his left side; his legs were positioned to better take the hits she was dishing out. Quickly recovering from the unexpected force, Sarah took another step forward, and swung the halberd like a pole axe. This time he took a step back, rotating so his left shoulder was farther from her than his right. Hesitantly he raised his hands, crouching down a bit. The axe barely missed, and Sarah made the effort to stop it. He moved forward now, trying to rush in to land a blow. With a burst of speed Sarah swung the halberd back, the weapon's blade coming within inches of his chest before he thrust out a palm to deflect it upward. Thinking quickly, she guided the weapon over her body with the force, before letting it go. It sailed over her shoulder, and Sarah ducked out of the way of his punch. Except he hadn't thrown a punch, he had kicked out at her chest, which was now where her head was.
The force of pulling herself down didn't do much to reduce the dizzying hit to her temple. She rolled hip-over-hip, before scrambling to stand. Holding her head with her left hand, she used vis to steady herself. Small things to correct her position, as Alex kept approaching. She raised her head in time to see a punch coming towards her, and she barely had time to duck underneath the blow, reducing the distance. The blow still scraped the top of her head, pushing her a bit off balance. Her hand became engulfed with fire as she pushed vis into her jacket, the oppressive heat filling the air. She pushed it at his stomach, as he grabbed her hair with his left hand. It was a game of chicken, and Sarah had to perform one motion while he had to do two. The fire pressed against his stomach would've burned her too if it hadn't been for her jacket protecting her.
They were back in Sarah's apartment instantly, and while Alex kept his balance, Sarah fared worse. She fell to the floor, barely catching herself with one hand which wasn't quite enough. Rolling onto her side, Sarah stared up at the ceiling, her hand still pressed against her face. With loud footfalls, Alex reached down to Sarah. He didn't offer a hand up, but instead touched her forehead. The Vis didn't reach his eyes as he healed her body. She let it happen, feeling things rebalance themselves. It was like the slow disorientating recovery of stepping off a rollercoaster.
As the world was rebalanced, Alex removed his hand and moved a step away. A large burned area on his exposed stomach was being healed quickly, fabric restitching over it. "Nice work, though you're still a bit predictable with that halberd-" the weapon appeared in his hands as he spoke, and he handed it to her with two hands, "-just keep practicing. You'll make a great fighter, given enough time. Luckily you have plenty of that, dontcha?"
Sarah nodded in agreement, her face flushed from the effort of the fight. She stood up, moving to get a glass of water, as Alex moved towards the door. ”I'm heading out then. I'll see you again, same time Wednesday.” He said, letting himself out.
”See you Wednesday.” Sarah said without looking, the tap filling a glass of water noisily. She drained it quickly, before filling it again, her breathing labored in the interim. The door closed softly, and after another beat it latched. Sarah set the glass down on the counter, before reconsidering, and beginning the process of washing it.
Finishing, she moved to her room, removing the rune jacket. She stared at the patch near the left pocket, focusing the vis in her body on the task. Slowly she crafted runes into her lower back, the act made more difficult by the thoughts of the dead Exeo at the back of her mind. It took a couple minutes, but soon flawless black lines sketched out a will on her back. In Sarah's mind it was the purest expression of the laws of physics. The will of a universal energy made legible. In this intricate, beautiful writing she had written a ward and some illusionary magic. It changed less, removing the markings across her body, and the gem from her face, but not changing the shape of her features. If one knew the particular racial differences between Prae and human, then they could make an educated guess, but even then there were humans born with Prae like facial structure, not the norm, but still within the standard deviation. The ward was the same as always, replicating a non-magical human's vis.
The rough texture of the material grazed her hand, and she drew in some of the reserves of vis within. It energized her, and gave her a bit of a rush like a child with candy. With a bit more of a pep in her step, she moved to her closet, looking at the dresses hanging there. The first couple starting from the left were more formal, with the collection growing less formal the further you traveled down the row. Her hand brushed the shoulders of each, drifting across the material, stopping every so often to take in a particular dress and frame it in her mind. After a minute she decided, removing a dress carefully from where it hung, and holding it against herself.
It draped across the bed as she set it down, before moving on to take of her clothes. She changed quickly, taking care of the mess of her clothes immediately by putting into a hamper. The undergarments were switched from white to black, and the dress came next. Without bothering to check how it looked in the mirror, Sarah moved on to her hair, brushing the tangled mess it had become into something more manageable. Makeup was next, not too much, but enough to highlight her eyes and lips. The cold tile didn't affect her too much through her socks, which she slowly switched out for leggings ending just above her knees. They wrapped up on the outside a bit more, secured with silver thigh chains.
The next thing to be draped was a shawl over her shoulders, the bottom hem an eye catching white. It mixed with purple as it went higher, the gradient evening out to a black around her neck where it was secured with a choker. Now she looked in the mirror, quietly studying her reflection. The actual dress was a mix of purple white and blue, with black tears running across it at an angle. It reminded her of space. Satisfied with the dress and shawl, she moved on to putting on her heels. Sarah wasn't particularly tall, and heels helped a lot in that regard.
Looking back on the experience in Victorius Secret, it was strange that Sarah had stayed as long as she did considering how timid she could be. Though the shopkeep was a comforting presence, he had (basically) called her Prae. In retrospect, she could have brought it up to Alex, but at the same time he had never been one for idle conversation. She stood smoothly, looking again in the mirror. She was lost in thought as she headed out of her apartment, planning on getting something to eat before the grand (re)opening.