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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Advanced training for Count Drakula.


Sam
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Drak had been making good progress. His balance had been bettered by months of rolling ocean; his body had become harder and stronger and the sword at his hip was now less of an ornament and more of a weapon. All was as it should have been and now was the time, Captain Redpath decided, to begin the advanced weapons forms.

 

Again Bobby stood at the prow watching the keel cut through the cold fog of morning and break the surf. Again Drak approached, and again he was handed the single-edged curved sword of his choosing. The scene had repeated itself hundreds of times with no variation and today would be no exception.

 

It was a well known fact that no one aboard The Merry Pauper arose before Bobby and none retired after. In truth he slept very little, content with small ‘cat naps’ whenever there was time and was therefore awake almost constantly and consistently. He was a military man and loved his schedules. Everything needed to be done as efficiently and productively as possible and that was final—training was no different.

 

It was not conducted in the early morning for Drak’s health and well-being, nor was it conducted in the early morning to hide from others the additional tutelage that Drak received; it was conducted in the early morning because no one was around to get in the way and they, too, were out of the way of others. All sorts of mistakes happened when one began firing their blades about willy-nilly on a ship filled with magnetic bodies.

 

“You have done well so far but these forms we shall begin today are more difficult. Take your time and be vigilant. I do not want you to … lose your head.”

 

The Captain assumed the ‘stance’ apple blossoms in the wind. Not really a technique, nor a stance, but a way of movement and holding the blade: low, loose and slow. The latter was what he was interested in for Drak; the reduced speed would teach him the finer points of the forms without risk of damage and it would work wonders on his muscles.

 

From there he moved with excruciatingly slow precision into cat on hot sand then striking the spark. Twisting in wind came next, followed by the wood grouse dances, water flows downhill and finished with thistledown floats on the whirlwind.

 

Bobby placed his sword upon the wooden planks and replaced his tea into his hands. “Those were a few of the forms I wish you to learn; let me see how you do. Whenever you’re ready, begin....”

 

 

 

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Drak listened intently to the Captain’s instructions and watched the slow, intricate dance he performed with the sword. The young Dreadlord had a thorough understanding in the basics of swordsmanship thanks to Bobby’s teachings, but this was a big step forward.

 

The movements would appear like nothing impressive to an unwatchful eye, but in truth they were very complex. The movements were subtle, not the wild swings that children dreamed of when playfighting. Such was the difference between a master and a corpse in a conflict. The corpse didn’t understand the true technique of swordplay, while the master would be free to kiss the girls and eat fine meals long after the battle was forgotten.

 

It would just take time to learn for the young swordsman to master the steps the Captain walked so effortlessly.

 

He knew the names of the newest sword forms he had been shown, but knowing how to do them was something else entirely. Despite the Captain’s slow demonstration and Drak’s own talents, the young channeler still made myriad mistakes. They weren’t huge mistakes, the days he made those were long since past, but they were mistakes all the same. And they would make him just as dead as a result.

 

So throughout the session, the Captain would stop him, adjusting the angle of his feet, raising his elbow just so or shifting the line of his body as he held the sword blade. It would take time for his body to gain the muscle memory necessary for the forms to feel natural, and the struggles he had this morning wouldn’t disappear over night. But under the watchful eye of the Captain, Drak felt more confident at the end of the lesson than he did before it began. His goal of becoming a competent swordsman was one step closer to being achieved.

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Drak's swordplay was going along nicely. Captain Redpath spent a further ten mornings grilling him with sword drills until he was reassured that his student was prepared for the next lesson. The advanced forms were different from those practised by novices in that every one was composed of numerous strikes, thrusts and movements. In the end a soldier would think in a series of strikes not merely single motions and this would render him or her a smarter, faster, more formidable tool. And soon Drak, too, would be a tool to be aimed, directed and spent against the enemies of his dark masters.

 

This day's lesson would be simple; for a time Drak would be left to his own devices without the direct guidance of the captain, "Now, Drak, it is time for your next lesson. For the next two weeks you will study and practise solo. You will construct your own routine. Use any of the forms you have learned and perform it in any way you wish. Bear in mind that this routine will be used by you for many other exercises, so it is imperative that you are familiar and comfortable with it.

 

"Incorporate those strikes and parries you learned in the beginning as well as those more recent combinations. If your mind is cluttered by simple movements you will never be truly proficient and if you disregard them totally you will put out the eyes of your awareness; neither of these is ideal. Strive for balance in all things.

 

"Seek nor aid nor counsel save mine and then only under the direst of circumstances. The purpose of the exercise is independence but do not hesitate if you are having real difficulties. You are here, after all, to learn."

 

 

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

The next two weeks flew by in a blur. Drak knew that he fulfilled his duties on board, rigging the sails and what not, but he couldn’t have said what exactly those duties had been. His mind, even when he wasn’t practicing during his ritual morning sessions, was consumed with crafting a sword kata that would serve him for many purposes for the rest of his life.

 

Needless to say, he paid no attention to his fellow crewmates below decks, either. But he had earned the right to be left alone, at least until the next test came from someone who thought to send the young channeler to a watery grave on some dark night. Death was as ever present on board the good ship Merry Pauper as the wind and the waves, and while he was more accustomed to death than the high seas, none were things it did any good to worry over.

 

Each morning he incorporated new bits to his routine, and the rest of each day he pieced together the puzzle of forms in his mind, mentally picturing how it would work and adding and discarding sword forms as new ideas and problems arose.

 

Finally the morning came for him to present his work to the Captain.

 

As was his habit, the Captain was already awake and waiting on him with a cup of hot tea in the early morning mist. Was that a grin on the Captain’s face as he handed him the sword today? No, it couldn’t be. Just a trick of the light. Shoving aside the odd thought, Drak assumed the Void and moved into the open space he used for practice. Without a word, he began.

 

Unfolding the Fan opened the routine, unsheathing and striking in one motion. He flowed directly into Thistledown Floats on the Whirlwind, a short-range, jumping spin-swipe meant to behead his opponent, an aggressive attack that gave his opponent no time to get set. In the past two weeks, Drak had come to the conclusion that if he were needing to use his sword then things weren’t friendly, and it was likely that he had been shielded and out numbered. His kata was created with that in mind, and was very aggressive from the beginning for that very reason. Better to be the hammer than the nail, the thought skittered across the outside of the Void and was gone.

 

From there, he moved into Cat Dances on the Wall, a series of short slashes, thrusts, and parries, meant to buy time and help him spy an opening in his adversary’s defenses. If his wrists and feet weren’t as quick as they were, Drak wouldn’t have been able to use the form properly. Seeming in mid strike with his blade held high, he brought it down in The Boar Rushes Down the Mountain, immediately went into Tower of Morning which brought his blade high again, and then into The Courtier Taps His Fan, a quick, powerful overhand blow, meant to split the head.

 

At this point, in his preparation, Drak had figured the reinforcements would begin to arrive, and so he had come up with what he thought should give him a chance at surviving.

 

Hummingbird Kisses the Honeyrose a thrust to the face of the first fool rushing in, then Leaf Floating on the Breeze moved his sword into guard position, moving it up and down and side to side. To keep off the second guard through the door, the thought came and went as quickly as only thoughts can. Lightning of Three Prongs launched his attack, and Lizard in the Thornbush finished the two imaginary guards off with a thrust to the chest, then pivoting and kneeling with a thrust.

 

Low Wind Rising returned him to his feet as it slashed diagonally up across the torso of the next enemy in Drak’s anticipated scenario. Now they will come in a rush, he acknowledged, and he flowed into the forms meant to combat multiple adversaries.

 

Apple Blossoms in the Wind allowed him to get loose and ready, shifting his body in preparation for the assault and readying his blade, held low for speed. Launching into Cat on Hot Sand, he followed with Twisting in the Wind as the numbers closed in. Singling out a target from the crowd, he struck with Arc of the Moon before returning to Twisting in the Wind. Wind and Rain followed, multiple short thrusts and quick overhead blows to keep him on the offensive and pick his enemies apart. Striking the Spark, a rapid series of powerful overhand blows pressed his attack on the last man standing.

 

Suddenly he dropped to a knee in The River Undercuts the Bank to end things.

 

Breathing heavily, he held his sword for a few long moments before standing and returning it to its sheath in Folding the Fan. He looked at the Captain and waited.

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The captain was most certainly grinning now. Maybe the techniques were slightly off, maybe they were slightly rushed and maybe Drak could have done better but he was impressed nonetheless. The clarity of thought and the purpose behind the routine had been excellent, especially so in that Drak had not attempted to incorporate saidin; rather, he had worked on the principle that he did not have that gift, obviously something Captain Redpath approved of.

 

“Fabulous. Well done. You would not believe how long it takes some people to get it. It is truly a shame that you were given into the life of a Dread Lord and not that of a soldier. Always remember that your ‘gift’ is the smallest part of what you are and, between you and me, should be used as seldom as possible; not as often.

 

“Now, incidentally I have neglected to bring along my sword for this morning’s lesson so I suppose you can just go do something else for the morning; in fact, take the day. I’ll see you back here bright and early; go do whatever it is channellers do for fun.”

 

 

(The Next day)

 

“You will notice how I am standing next to this rowboat. You will notice, too, how there are oars inside, as well as moderate provisions and it is right now being lowered into the water. You and I will be going ashore for your next lesson, well, I will be. Leave your sword; there is absolutely no chance of my letting you ruin it in the ocean, we’ll make do with a belaying pin. Get in.”

 

The trip to the small ‘island’, more of an over grown sandbar, was a relatively easy one with both men rowing. The island had not been chosen for its lack of distractions, although they did help, it was chosen for the steeply curved ocean floor around it and the small surf that crashed against it.

 

When they reach the island, Bobby allowed them a moments rest, some hard bread, cheese and a little water. He left Drak alone for fifteen minutes, give or take before instructing him to enter the surf until naught but his neck and head were showing. As an afterthought he mentioned not to forget his belaying pin.

 

These were the instructions he gave:

 

“Here you will be on your own; you will train yourself. I will not be able to tell from here whether or not you are doing things correctly but you will. Continue until you can do no more and then return. Under no circumstances are you to let go of the belaying pin and do not worry about the surf: it is strong enough to tow you out but it won’t drag you under. If you find yourself drifting, swim back and start again. Good? Good. Now go.”

 

 

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Drak was stunned speechless. An entire free day! Before he could screw things up by talking, he nodded and disappeared. It was best not to make the Captain regret his decision. Grinning happily at the knowledge of unexpected leisure time, Drak returned to his bunk, intent on spending today’s free time in the most pleasing way he could think of this far out to sea and in this company.

 

He slept.

 

(The Next Day)

 

In the weeks and months Drak had spent on board the Merry Pauper, the Spartan lifestyle of meager foodstuffs and intense training had forged his body into that of a leanly muscled pirate. Like a wolf at sea, he often thought. But that wasn’t nearly enough to subdue the power of the sea.

 

In the grip of such primal forces, Drak’s body was little more than a twig in a whirlpool. Albeit a well-trained and resilient twig, his ego valiantly asserted.

 

So the Captain’s next training method proved incredibly difficult and taxing. Standing neck-deep in the surf, it was all the young swordsman could do to try and maintain his balance and go through the rudimentary sword forms that he had been taught. The most basic forms, if he were being completely honest. The sea smacked him about far too powerfully for him to do the more complex routines. Like a cat with a mouse.

 

His movements were slowed by the weight of the water surrounding him, and his balance was constantly disrupted by the shifting ebb and flow of the tide. The now-normal feel of the weighted belaying pin in his hand was a natural thing, but the dead feeling in his arms and legs from fighting against the overwhelming strength of the tide was not.

 

Over and over again he was flung into deep water by the surf, and each time he swam back to stand and begin anew. He lost count of the times his lungs filled with water instead of air, and the saltwater held more than a hint of vomit. The cramping in his hands and feet drug him under as surely as an anvil sinks, but each time he managed to fight his head back above water and continue. His pride was too great to admit defeat, even though this enemy was far too superior for him to conquer.

 

He wasn’t aware of when he lost consciousness, nor was he aware of the Captain pulling him out of the water by his hair. Awareness came with a deep gasp of air followed by a wracking series of coughs as he spewed a bellyful of seawater onto the beach.

 

Wiping the foulness off his mouth with the back of his right hand, the left still cramped tightly on the belaying pin, he smiled at the Captain. “I guess I need a bit more practice.”

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Captain Redpath doubted he would have attempted that particular training exercise for any captain, which is precisely why he was a leader and not a follower. Drak could not have hoped to succeed, not in a physical sense. That he had tried and hard at that meant he succeeded even if he failed, at least here. The only annoying thing is that he had been swept so far out when the captain had finally gotten to him but he could hardly blame his student for that.

 

Drak’s comment only made him laugh and vow to get some nice strong rum into his belly, which would warm him up no trouble. That was basically the end of the lesson right then and there; it had certainly been fun to watch Drak half-drown himself at his command; being a Captain was great.

 

(A few days later or something, I don’t know you figure it out)

 

Today’s lesson was an old favourite; Drak would be familiar with it this time around. Given that Drak’s concentration and balance had improved manifold since the last time Captain Redpath asked him to perform this exercise, the captain was not worried too much about his pupil failing. It wasn’t that hard once one got the hang of it, so to speak.

 

Once more the jury-rigged raft was lowered behind The Merry Pauper with Drak upon it. He did not carry the exotic weapon he had chosen for his schooling but a cheaper and plain scimitar. If the worst happened it would not be as difficult to replace and the captain truly despised paper work.

 

Drak would execute the combination of forms he had tailor made for himself and he would do so for roughly forty minutes—give or take—bouncing in the turbulent waters. Mistakes, slips and falls were permissible but not falling from the raft nor losing his weapon.

 

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Drak descended onto the raft with confident ease. They had become old chums, he and this raft. Not friends by any means, but their hours together had certainly given them an understanding of one another.

 

He had spent hours on board, training in the Captain’s unorthodox, but very effective, methods. Looking back at his abilities, or really his lack thereof, from his earliest days under the Captain’s private tutelage, the young swordsman knew that he had made tremendous progress. Admittedly, there was still much for him to learn, but Drak no longer would stab himself in the foot with his own sword.

 

Chuckling at the thought as he stationed himself in the center of the raft as it trailed out behind the Merry Pauper, Drak assumed the void and focused in on the task at hand, his body unconsciously shifting with the ebb and flow of the small craft in the choppy water. The surf was a bit high today, which would make his task more difficult, but that was the way of things since he had become a pirate. Nothing was ever easy.

 

Waiting to begin, Drak braced himself for the jolt as the rope grew taut. In the rough water, it yanked the small platform even harder than normal, but he managed to stay aboard, even if he did lose his footing.

 

In the Void, he was at one with everything around him. The white-frothed sea caps that tossed his raft, he was a part of them; his body in time with the sea, his blood saltwater. The feel of the water-soaked timbers were as much a part of him as the skin on his hands, and he felt it just as clearly. The runnels of water between the planks were as much a part of him as the rivulets of sweat he allowed to course down his back. All was one, in the Void.

 

But as much as it was a part of him, it was also all outside. His mind was filled with clarity, a freedom of thought that was impossible without it. Thoughts skittered outside the Void like water on a hot tin. They were there and then gone, never making a lasting impression. It was a paradox, and one he had often pondered over. But despite the oddities of the Void, it allowed him to routinely do things that were nigh impossible without it.

 

Such as dancing sword forms on a raft in the middle of the ocean.

 

Detached as he was, he could admire the smooth economy of movement as his blade cut through the air; could appreciate the fluidity of his balance as he rode the water on his precarious perch; could respect the skill that the Captain had wrought in him, the speed and agility with which he moved.

 

He could do all that, but he didn’t. He was the fury of the storm, and no thoughts distracted him as he skidded across the slick deck, fell when the raft took a heavy wave, or perfectly executed a maneuver despite the conditions.

 

Before he realized it, he was being pulled back towards the Merry Pauper, drenched with sweat and saltwater, but both were far too abundant here to be a bother. When his foot touched the bottom rung of the ladder, he released the Void.

 

The first thought to enter his mind was, One step closer.

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(If you have not realised that these posts are not exactly following any set pattern of time, you should now as once again we’re several whatevers later. You decide!)

 

Drak’s training was almost complete. Only two challenges remained. Mr. Sweeper had argued thoroughly in favour of being given leave to “be schoolin yer snot nosed little brat” himself; Bobby got the impression that this would be an error on his part and opted to have Drak in one piece for his final challenges; he had come so far, why delay the inevitable with days of traction and bed rest?

 

That was certainly still a possibility. This latest lesson was an attempt to bring all of his schooling together in a simulated environment. No one would die, the wooden practise-swords were cruelly blunt and very painful; they might break bones or cause contusions but certainly there would be no severing of limbs. It would be fun to watch Drak perform.

 

Two shipmates were ready. Individually they were not as skilled as Drak but teamed, as they would be now, they would pose a serious threat. They had had only three days notice, enough to become familiar with fighting alongside one another but not so much time as to truly become ‘one.’ The clash of personalities would be Drak’s ally as in most true battles.

 

“Gentlemen” he spoke quietly, addressing all three men while Mr. Sweeper snorted in the background, “the rules are simple: obey my commands at all times, stop when I order; recommence the same. Go.”

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

Drak bowed formally, first to his opponents and then to the Captain.

 

It was a horrible mistake.

 

Before he finished his bow to Cap’n Bobby, he caught movement from the corner of his eye. The two crewmen had burst into a blur of motion when he had turned, and their swords were out and well on their way to hurt him. A lot. A whole lot.

 

Drak only had enough time to realize his mistake and say, “Burn me.” Before the two men’s wooden swords connected with his flesh, the wooden instruments delivering the pent-up aggression that was always just beneath the surface of every soul on this boat.

 

Little black dots swam before his eyes, caused no doubt by the blunt trauma the taller one had delivered to his head. It probably caused the ringing in my ears, too. The thought came slowly to the young Dreadlord, his head throbbing with pain. Touching his head where it hurt the worst, just above his left ear, his fingers came away red with blood. Ah, well that’s nice. Serves me right for being a fool. Who bows before fighting pirates. Idiot!

 

Drak didn’t notice the broken ribs until he tried to stand. How’d I end up on the deck, anyway? I don’t remember falling… Apparently, the shorter crewman had delivered a nasty strike to his exposed back. That is going to leave a mark. It also left him gasping with pain at every breath.

 

Forcing himself to his feet despite the pain, Drak smiled at their laughter and assumed the Void. The pain was but a distant echo now. “Come on, boys. We’re not finished just yet.” His voice sounded cold to his ears, emotionless and distant. All the better. I am the cold wind that steals your voice. Inside the Void, he was one with the world, and he felt every movement of his two adversaries as they once again separated to come at him from opposite angles.

 

They want to flank me like wolves, do they? I am the wolf at the door in winter. The thought flitted through his mind before it skittered away across the Void, joining pain as thought became but a distant, forgotten echo of someone else.

 

“Begin again,” said the Captain. “Go.”

 

Drak still hadn’t drawn his sword, but the two pirates didn’t hesitate. They lunged simultaneously, sacrificing form for speed. It was a mistake.

 

In one smooth motion, Drak drew his sword, Unfolding the Fan, and flowed into his attack, Lizard in the Thornbush. It was a sword form designed explicitly for fighting two opponents, and when executed properly it was very effective. Like now.

 

Allowing the drawing of his sword to become a thrust, the tip of Drak’s sword caught the charging man in the chest in the soft spot where the ribs join together. Or more accurately, where they don’t. The thought was there, then gone. The man fell like he had been cut in two. He very nearly had been. Pivoting smoothly, Drak dropped to one knee and thrust up into his second foe’s stomach. Had the sword been steel, he would have been a pirate-kabob. But it was wood, and so it just hurt. A lot. The second pirate fell to the deck and dropped his wooden sword, gasping for breath.

 

“Stop.”

 

Captain Bobby’s voice was pitched low, but it carried like a whipcrack. His authority on board the Merry Pauper was like a god’s.

 

The Captain allowed the two men to compose themselves for a bit, before beginning another session, and then another, and another. All in all, the dueling continued until the three swordsmen were completely exhausted. Drak had done well. Though he had numerous bruises and he thought a few of his teeth had been knocked loose, he hadn’t lost another fight since the first. His mistake had taught him a lesson, and the Captain’s teaching had been more than sufficient to overcome the crewmen. At least when I don’t do something stupid, anyway, the thought keeping his confidence in check. His tongue wrestled with his loose teeth. Are they loose? Or is it just my imagination?

 

When it appeared that the Captain was going to call it a day, Drak turned to his two comrades, both of them dealing with broken bones and bruises and welts of their own, and said, “Boys, tonight I’ll buy the first bottle of rum!” The missing-teeth grins they flashed was the ugliest happy sight he’d seen in a while.

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