I kept my attention fixed straight ahead, ignoring the sweat that dripped down my face and the heat of the sun on my bare back, concentrating just on the ground, the knife in my hand, and the person in front of me. Derrick, I thought his name was. But that was irrelevant, a thought from the world outside the rough circle scratched in the sand. A dangerous thought. A distraction.
His feet shuffled towards me, a feint. I reacted instantly, leaned left, then springing to the right when he lunged. A feint to counter a feint. I leapt towards him but he had already turned and faced me, jumping aside just as I had done moments before. The sun was merciless. I shifted my weight, watching carefully for any sign of what my opponent would do next; a shift in his balance, a twitch of his eyes, anything that might give him away.
I waited, and I saw nothing. He was being patient, trying to wait me out, looking for a weakness just as I was. So I did something, let him see a mistake. I shifted the knife in my hand, hoping that would be enough but he didn’t moved, still crouched in a low fighter’s stance, eyes following me. I stepped towards him, a cautious step, but still nothing. A stutter-step, nothing. I lunged towards him, hoping a direct attack would succeed where subtlety failed but he spun out of the way, knife lashing out behind him so that I had to roll forwards under the blade. I regained my feet, just in time to see a flash and throw myself flat again, then I felt the pressure on my back as his knee dug into my spine. I lashed back with an elbow and felt it connect with something, scrambled forward to get away from him and his knife. He was already coming towards me again as I regained my feet but he was clumsy. His knife was too low, his side vulnerable. He seemed to move so very slowly as I pivoted away from him and the expression of surprise on his face seemed to come slowly as I stepped back towards him and struck him below the ribcage.
Then he twitched, shook, and fell into the sand, the training weapon doing its job. The electric shock it delivered was extremely painful; I had been on the receiving end often enough to know that, yet caused no lasting damage. It hurt badly enough to teach us our lessons well, but it would be a disaster for them to actually hurt and maim us. After all, without us, who would win the Confederacy’s wars for them?
I turned from my still twitching sparring partner to the Honored They’doh, the training master, and the two Confederacy officers standing next to him, their uniforms crisp and polished and extremely out of place on the sandy wastes of Hell’s surface. They must have been cooking alive. If so though, they gave no sign, merely nodding to each other and saying a few brief words to the training master. He shrugged and waved his hand at me, a clear dismissal, before turning and leading the officers further down the line.
I glanced back at Derrick. Was that even his name? I would have to ask Lily when I saw her next; she knew the names of almost everybody in our war group. I gathered up my shirt and headed back towards the gaping black entrance of the Spire, wiping my forehead with my shirt as I went. All in all, a good day so far. Easy training session, an early release, and back into the coolness of the spire before the heat of day really started.