As we arrived at the training grounds, I was taken aback by the sheer number of Wilvaroks present, all honing their skills in duels or free-for-all mental warfare. There must have been at least a hundred Wilvaroks. “Welcome to the training grounds.” Jushara’s voice had an air of pride, which quickly turned to a stern, authoritative command. “For the next cycle you will be put through an intense training regime. Under normal circumstances, the training process would be over the course of five cycles, but time is against us. We will be training for fifteen hours a turn. You will be tired, worn down, and in excruciating pain. There will be times you beg me to stop the training and I will be forced to ignore you, much like your enemies would. Your chance of survival isn’t even guaranteed, and no other than yourself will be held responsible in the case of your untimely demise. Do I make myself clear?” I gave her a stern nod and replied with a loud bellow, “Yes, Zetha!” She nodded, acknowledging my acceptance of the terms of our training, then immediately went into metamorphosis. Her purple bleeding into a solid black color was the last thing I remember seeing before blacking out.
When I came to, Jushara was standing over me, no longer in metamorphosis. “The Purists aren’t going to tell you when they plan to attack. That is your first lesson. You must always keep your mind tense and ready to fend off attacks. I recommend always trying to keep a neutral defensive thought to guard against all possible attacks. It won’t offer full protection, but it will keep you conscious and, with practice, mostly unscathed for the initial onset of a fight. From that point you can hone in on your attacker and begin strategizing.” As she finished her sentence he eyes shifted to black again, but this time I had already begun prepping my mind for an attack. A sudden spike of pain went from the center of my skull all the way to my ankles, but it faded quickly. Her eyes immediately went back to purple as she exclaimed, “Very good Sha’ayr! Most greenhorns get knocked out at least four times before they are able to get their defenses in line. You are off to a phenomenal start.”
As she finished her sentence, she blinked and her eyes were black when they opened, but instead of an attack, she blinked once more and revealed purple eyes. “Before we work on any more combat, we need to teach you how to control your metamorphosis.” I was in complete awe of her mental control. “How do you do that so quickly? Will I be ever to come out of metamorphosis that fast with practice?” She smiled and shrugged, “Maybe, but I have been doing this for a very long time and sometimes even still have trouble keeping my emotions from trumping my thoughts. Remember our first encounter? It took me almost half a minute to recover my temper. That is rare for me. When you first reach clairvoyance, your metamorphoses are unpredictable at best, deadly at worst. This is because metamorphosis is an emotional response. You must learn to take control over your emotions and use your thoughts rather than your feelings to control your actions. It is much easier to learn how to go into the metamorphose on command, much harder to come out of.”
She spent the rest of the rotation teaching me different techniques of emotional control and ways to best conquer my emotional instincts. She was right about the training. Numerous times I felt dizzy and lightheaded, my skull throbbing in agony. She kept pushing me though and never gave up. She also never seemed to show any signs of exhaustion herself. It was obvious she had worked extremely hard to earn her thorns and I had a very long and difficult path ahead of me if I were ever going to come close to being able to hold my own with her.
After our training for the rotation was complete, she walked me back to my apartment. It was interesting to see her demeanor go from an overbearing general to a friend the second we left the training ground. She talked to me some more about Deran and their life before the Thorns and I told her about my life on Fortitude and about how Brindel and I met. She could hardly believe that Brindel could be embarrassed, or shy, or anything other than intimidating.
I nodded my head to her as we reached the door of my apartment building. “Take care, Zetha.” I said to her as she turned to leave. She halfway looked over her shoulder and replied, “You too, Sha’ayr. Rest up, eat well, torote the real training starts. If you survive torote, you will make it through this training.” Her words were frightening enough on their own, but the tone of legitimate concern and restraint in her voice clearly expressed the seriousness of the training.
The rest of the cycle proved to be more difficult and more taxing than I could have ever prepared myself for, but none as much as that second rotation. During the rotation, Jushara taught me how to attack, how to judge attacks, how to defend, and how to judge your defenses. She was a master of misdirection and, even with my mental map, it was nearly impossible to predict how to attack her. She decimated me that first rotation and I became more and more grateful that she did not decide to fight me the first rotation we met, as I was sure now that I would not have survived.
As the cycle pushed on, I learned more and more about judging her attacks and the attacks of other Wilvaroks. She would pull people from the training grounds and have them each take turns trying to get an attack through and having me counter with a light attack. Eventually, I got to the point to where the only person who could get an attack through on me was Jushara. She expressed many times how proud she was of my progress and how impressed and surprised she was with how strong I had become in such a short time.
For the last five rotations of my training, we had no-restraint battles against one another. I was still losing the battles the majority of the time, but I had actually developed to a point where I was occasionally winning battles against her. I also continued practicing my healing abilities throughout our duels and even found a way through pointed meditation to heal my own wounds. We came up with a name for my abilities and referred to it as mind mending. I tried to teach Jushara how it was done, but she proved to be a better teacher than I could ever be. That, or it really was a power unique only to me.
As we finished up our last rotation of training, she gave me a firm hug. “Sha’ayr, your advancement has been phenomenal and if you show as much fervor and dedication in the rest of your trainings, I have no doubt that you will be a tremendous asset and a formidable leader. Please, do me the honor of celebrating your progress with me and Deran at Rivystrrome. Brindel and Vea’ayr will be there. I would like to say it is all pleasure, but I need to discuss the final results of your training with them so we can decide on a thorn ranking for your mind flaying.” As her voice shifted from friendly to stern, I realized this was not a request. “I would love to join you.”
As the doors of Rivystrrome opened, I was mortified by the sight I saw. Vea’ayr stood with her blades at the neck of Brindel and her eyes, cold reflections of my own, staring into my soul. “If you want him to live, show me what you’ve learned.” Without a second thought, I sprung into metamorphosis and attempted to lock on to Vea’ayr’s thoughts. It was impossible to read, but not in the same way as it was for Jushara. Jushara’s mind was like a maze of mirrors; false reflections and paths going from lie to lie. Her mind was carefully crafted to confuse and bewilder intruders. Vea’ayr’s mind was just blank, as dark as the Void. I couldn’t lock on to any thoughts, I couldn’t see anything but crushing darkness.
I left metamorphosis and activated my magnearch. I pulled a rib from my armor and fired it toward her arm farthest from Brindel. She moved her arm suddenly to deflect the rib, and as she did her chest opened up. I took one of my daggers and flung it in her direction. As it spun, I ran behind it as fast as I could. She moved completely away from Brindel to dodge the attack and I tackled her to the ground.
The force of hitting the ground knocked one of the blades loose from her hand. As it began to slide away from us, I grabbed it and thrust the blade forcefully into her chest. To my surprise, there was no resistance as the blade pushed through. I pulled it out and stabbed twice more, both times with no resistance. I looked at her chest and saw there were no wounds. When I looked down a smile spread across her face and she reached her hand up, grabbing at the blade. As she did, the holographic projection of a blade coming out of the handle faded through her fingers. “Very interesting.”
Her smile turned quickly to a rage induced grimace as I threw the handle of the blade to the side and punched her in the mouth. “You j’karn bashakai! How could you do that? How could you use Brindel like that? And YOU?!” I turned my anger toward Brindel and threw myself quickly into metamorphosis, sent a powerful attack toward Brindel, then shifted back. He fell to the ground clutching his skull with all four hands. “You let me believe your life was in danger all for a j’karn test?! To the void with both of you!”
Vea’ayr stood, wiping blood from her mouth, her eyes shifting from white to orange to black over and over for five seconds before settling on their natural orange color. “Sha’ayr, I had to know how far you would go to protect Brindel, and I had to see what your real fighting style was like. I am impressed.” I forced back angry tears and tried to understand her rationale for her actions. Brindel stood, legs weak, and spoke with a wavering voice. “I was never in any real danger Sha’ayr. This was necessary to test your strength. We can’t rely on results from a training field to show us whether or not you are ready. We needed to see your abilities in action.” I glared at him angrily, and flickered my eyes into and out of metamorphosis as Jushara did on our first day of training. “And what do you think, Alpha General? Did I pass your test?” He flinched backwards, stumbling to the ground. Suddenly my anger faded as I realized I must have done more damage than I realized. I ran to him and put my hands on the sides of his head using my mind mending ability to heal the wounds I had inflicted. I nodded my head, acknowledging that he understood to pretend to still be injured until we were alone. He nodded in response and limped out the door. Vea’ayr turned to me and objectively stated, “Your abilities seem to have improved much faster than I could have expected. From this rotation forward you will have nine thorns for your mind flaying abilities. Go rest, two rotations, the next cycle will be blades training.” She turned and walked out of the restaurant.
My anger had not subsided and I did not expect it to anytime soon. I picked up the rib of my armor and my blade, putting them back in their respective places, then turned to leave. As I did, Jushara tried to grab my arm. I pushed her hand away, then shoved her backwards, pointedly sneering, “I will see you for training in two rotations Commander Regent.” I hastily stormed out the door. As I walked toward my apartment, I heard Jushara’s voice. “Sha’ayr, wait!” I sped up to try to avoid her, coming almost to a full run. She ran as fast as she could and soon her footsteps were upon me. She grabbed my shoulder and spun me around. As she did, I reached for shoulders and looked her in the eyes, crying. “That was Brindel, Jushara! You have seen what it is like to lose those you love, you should’ve known better than anyone that it was NOT okay to use him in such a way!” Shockingly, I saw that tears were streaming down her face as well. “I swear Sha’ayr, I didn’t know they had that planned. They never told me. I would not have agreed to such an idea.” I pulled her in close to me and hugged her tight, both of our necks becoming moist with the other’s tears.
As we pulled away, I could hear the clicking of Tilverhani claws approaching us. I turned to see Brindel coming for us. “I will come by to check on you tomorrow Sha’ayr.” Jushara’s voice was shaky, and by the time I turned to respond, she was gone. As Brindel reached me, I began hitting him on the neck. “Why would you do that to me? So soon after losing my father, you had to have known how hard it would be on me! Why did you do it?”
His head hung in shame, as he replied nervously, “It was an order, Sha’ayr. I was against the idea, but Vea’ayr said I could either do it voluntarily or she could make me do it. She said she had to test your abilities for herself.” My anger completely dissipated as an epiphany came through. “She had to test me herself because she suspected that would happen…” Brindel turned his head to the side slightly in confusion. “She suspected what would happen?” I explained to him the interaction we had and a look of disconnected worry overcame him. “Why would she give you nine thorns if she couldn’t even see your abilities personally, and how did she know that would happen. Also, why would she want to know that it was going to happen? What use could she have with knowing you cannot attack her?” I shook my head and then hugged Brindel’s neck. “I don’t know Brindel, but I am really worried that we will find out sooner than later.
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.