The keening cry of steel parting the air disturbed the silence of the early morning with a conclusive crack of impact against the abused surface of a pockmarked training dummy, scattering birds with shrill cries of indignation as splinters flew from the impact. Supervised by the patient gaze of a single early-morning Weyrguard willingly lured in by his own curiosity, Arciel stood shirtless in the early morning sun as he ran through his sword drills. A faint layer of perspiration already clung to his body, rivulets of moisture trailing along the contours of his musculature or along the asymmetrical ridges of scar tissue interspersed across his nineteen-year-old torso.
His bare feet dug stubbornly into the grass-bordered paving stones beneath them, toes curled and heels depressed by his distributed body weight to better grip the slightly uneven arena ground. The scrape of stone against his hardened soles offered no clear impediment to the blond Candidate as he danced back and then surged forwards, his latissimus dorsi back muscles tightening with exertion as he poured power into the calloused hands grasping the hilt of his bastard sword, the forty-three inch blade singing as it scythed in to punish the dummy with another vicious strike. Had the target been made of flesh and sinew, the blow would have cleaved deep into the upper rib cage of an average-sized male.
Instead Arciel pivoted off the heel of his right foot and shifted the grip of his hand-and-a-half bastard sword mid-strike, inverting the glimmering steel blade to perform a form-perfect upwards back-thrust at the sternum of his stationary target. With a flex of his deltoids, the lovingly sharpened weapon impacted the tortured wooden target with a sound like localised lightning; simulating a disturbingly accurate reminiscence of shattering bones as wood chips sailed into the air and the sword sunk three inches deep within the resistant target.
Arciel locked his jaw and ripped the sword out with an exertion of his biceps, ducking under an imaginary oberhau from an unseen enemy and launching himself sideways over the sweep of an imagined poleaxe. He landed in a roll, bare shoulder-flesh tearing on the unyielding stone of the ground below him as he came up to his feet. Ignoring the stinging of his shoulder as readily as one might dismiss the impediment of a minor insect’s stinger, his calves and thighs tightened for a heartbeat before he launched himself back at the dummy with a snarl of focus and concentrated violence of action.
A distance of seven feet was crossed in heartbeats and Arciel launched himself from his run into an aerial twist for greater striking force, unleashing a roar of effort as he poured every inch of his painstakingly curated musculature into a single destructive blow. Even with the greater resistance of a wooden frame and the lack of pliable flesh, his blade’s striking force was not to be denied and – succumbing to a number of carefully inflicted prior wounds to its neck – the dummy’s head detached from its body in a disturbing example of focused ultraviolence.
Arciel landed beside the dummy with a bend of the knees and a concerted downwards focus of his weight to the begrudgingly supportive stone underfoot, sliding perhaps two inches from the inertia of his landing and noting the stinging report of scraped soles as he turned back to examine his work. The dummy’s head had been cleanly severed, albeit at a slight angle, and the figure itself rocked faintly with the aftermath of the sheer force involved in the decapitation. Droplets of sweat rolled down Arciel’s chiselled features and snaked around the defined shape of his masculine jaw, dripping down to join the shimmering plethora already present on his steady-breathing chest as he looked down to examine the edge of his family blade.
A smile graced his handsome features when he noted the lack of strain or damage on the weapon, pleased by its retained edge and the relative ease – as compared to pig iron weapons of the same make – with which he’d beheaded the wooden target. His blue eyes, faintly illuminated in the sunlight of the morning, lifted to look expectantly to the observing Weyrguard. After a moment of consideration, the much older man offered a curt nod in response to the unasked question, and Arciel felt himself smiling in response.
It had become a habit to request the judgement of the experienced guardians of the Weyr on his drills, and thus far he had not experienced any disapproval. Given the standards to which they were held, he knew he would find no empty platitudes among the stern-faced collective that defended Arolos Weyr. It meant that their approval, when given, was never doubted – and it served to validate the strenuous training he put himself through each and every day. Rolling his shoulders to release some of the tension from his earlier exertion, Arciel shook out his arms one after the other while rotating the grip of his blade between them, and then shook out his legs from the thigh to the toes.
With that done he looked up at the Weyrguard and nodded, giving the veteran a signal they’d agreed upon earlier. With a nod in return, the guard stepped forwards and descended the stairs to the training arena, unsheathing a borrowed sword in the process and coming to a halt only when he stood several metres opposite Arciel. Once the older man was in position, Arciel bowed respectfully and received the same in return. “Thank you for your instruction,” Arciel said with honest gratitude, his strong baritone clear within the arena.
The sound of clashing steel filled the air moments later, and Arciel lost himself in the mellifluous lethality of swordplay.