The next cycle started with my regular training under Jushara. The blades training was a lot harder to grasp than the mind flaying, but she said that it was normal to take a while. Still, I felt like I would naturally be better than I was and it was difficult for me to accept any alternative. About six rotations into the cycle, Jushara suggested that we have Damerion train with us and teach me blades and whips together for two cycles instead of one then the other, thus better preparing me for the battlefield. I agreed, as I was certain she knew better than I did about anything to do with fighting.
The first rotation with Damerion proved to be both horrifying and productive. I found that I was much more comfortable combatting against whips than I was against knives. Jushara was intrigued by this and contributed it to the fact that I was raised on a Tilverhani station. Training with Damerion was difficult because he was consistently in battle mode. He didn’t have a spectrum when it came to his rage, it was either full throttle or nonexistent. Between fights he would speak calmly, albeit loudly, and would show no emotion. Then, once we started fighting, he had trouble holding back and in many cases caused some pretty severe gashes.
After five rotations with both him and Jushara my skills had improved drastically. Jushara once again approached me, this time with a look of concern. “Sha’ayr, you have a moment to talk?” I smiled, trying not to draw attention to her worry. “I have all the time in the world for you Jushara, what is it you need?” Her head lowered and she looked almost pained. “It’s about your training… I just. I just don’t feel comfortable letting you continue with blades or whips. With just blades, you will never be able to survive a one-on-one encounter with a Wilvarok, though you could fend off the attacks of a Tilverhan much easier and with whips you would never be able to defeat a Tilverhan though you would be close to unmatched against most Wilvaroks. I was wondering if you would be interested in trying something a little… Different. I made this for you.” She took her hands from behind her back where she had been holding a fairly large box.
Surprised and a little puzzled, I opened the box and looked inside. There was a beautifully woven whip inside, the end of which was a blade as opposed to barbs. It snapped into place at end with an electromagnetic snap. “If you press this button on the handle, it will cause the mesh to momentarily freeze in place and reverse the polarity of the magnetic snap, shooting the blade forward at a high velocity… in theory… I thought you could use this in one hand and this in the other.” She lifted up a false bottom on the box that I had not even realized was there and revealed a long knife with a blade curved in a crescent. “From my observations, I think this will be what works best for you. I have also made practice blades for each of these weapons so we can work on your training. I hope I haven’t offended or discouraged you; that was not my intention.” I smiled and hugged her. “Of course you haven’t. I am lucky to have a friend like you looking out for me. I am anxious to try these out!”
I spent a good two hours on the training grounds practicing by myself before trying to test my metal against a combatant. When I did, the change was drastically noticeable. At first, I still struggled with the same speed issues as before, but after only a short time I started to really feel the new weapons and soon was able to bend them to my will. After only five rotations of practice, Jushara said she felt as though I were ready to go against the simulators.
The simulators were a lot more intensive than I had ever anticipated. Once inside, they looked completely realistic and there were even nodes hooked up to main pressure points that released electrical shocks whenever I was injured in the simulator. The physics within the simulation perfectly mimicked the real physics of the different gravitational parameters set forth for each of the scenarios. They even programmed the simulator to eliminate the cracking sound of the whip whilst in zero gravity. Zero gravity simulations were my favorite and where I most exceled. I taught myself to use the momentary freeze function of the whip to my advantage and could use it as a shield to block other whips, a tripwire, or even make handles to grab and propel myself in different directions in zero gravity situations. Every rotation, I stayed in the simulator, listening to Damerion and Jushara giving advice on ways to improve my stances and my attacks and my blocks. I began to fall in love with battle, something I had never anticipated I would do. It was almost scary to see myself as someone who was battle hungry. Each rotation Jushara and Damerion went home well before I left the simulator and on a couple of occasions Brindel had to come by and remind me that I had to get sleep to prepare for the next rotation. My head was filled with visions of battlefields and my dreams reinforced my training.
One night, right before the end of my training, I had a dream which I could only describe as an inherited memory. I had almost forgotten about Vea’ayr over these two cycles as I had not had any interaction outside of Jushara, Deran, Brindel, and Damerion. I was either at my penthouse, Jushara and Deran’s, or in the battle simulator. However, this night, I was reminded all too well of Vea’ayr.
I was standing in the cockpit of Veasha looking out over the eternal nothing of the void. The void, beyond space or between space depending on which theory of existence you adhere to, the ultimate beginning of all light and life as well as the ultimate end. It is said that staring into the void through a black hole for too long can drive you mad, and the longer I stared the more I understood why. After a few long minutes my eyes dried out and I blinked involuntarily.
When my eyes opened I was suddenly at a docking station. Above the docking station the numbers “00519” were visible. As the ship docked, a Tilverhan shrouded in black greeted me. “Do you have what we agreed on?” His voice was nervous and shaky, but his hands were as still as the void itself. Hands that still only come from turns of battle, rotation after rotation of suppressing your fears and anxieties and steadying your mind to take complete control of every muscle in your body. It is the first thing you learn in Mind Flaying training, to find your center and to take control of your mind and body so others cannot.
“Of course I do, but you won’t see a thing until you give me the information I need.” I felt myself speak, but I wasn’t me. My voice sounded similar, but was lacking of any sincerity or emotion. He gave me a small piece of parchment stamped with blood, a traditional oath of the Tilverhani. I immediately put the parchment in my robe and nodded as I walked back on to the ship. When I returned, I held a very tightly rolled length of prism silk fabric, worth hundreds of thousands of credits on the market. Then, I reached into my pocket and removed four prism stones, all of immeasurable value. I placed the stones in the Tilverhan’s hand and he quickly hid them in a satchel he had draped over his shoulder. He then used his four hands to hold and measure the prism silk cloth. As he did, I felt my hand grasp the blade of my knife and though I tried to stop it, I had no control of my actions in the dream. I sprung forward and buried the knife into the side of the man’s throat, wrapped my hand around the back of the blade sticking out the other side of his neck, put my feet against his chest, and pulled the blade through his throat. As I fell backwards, I kicked the fabric away from him and relieved him of the satchel. “Sorry, I can’t afford to have loose ends. I am sure you understand.”
I woke in a panic, my breath sporadic and my skin clammy from my sweat. Brindel was still asleep, and I considered waking him, but decided to let him rest. He would just worry anyway and the last thing I needed right now was to have anyone dwelling on my concerns. Quietly, I got dressed and went to the simulator to take my mind off the dream. I loaded a simulation for a typical battle against two Tilverhans, one of which had a Wilvarok riding him. The difficulty level of this battle was ranked at eight thorns and was the last to complete to qualify for an eight thorn rating. This battle had been impossible for me to beat on my own, but I was determined that I would succeed before the end of my training in just a few rotations. As the battle began, something strange happened. At first it was minimal and barely noticeable, but as the simulation went on the severity increased. The speed of the simulation had slowed down, and it was easier to gauge their attacks and behaviors.
I had been trying to defeat the Wilvarok first every time, knowing that if she got to me with one powerful mental attack the Tilverhans would butcher me. This time, however, my instincts told me to go after the Tilverhan she was riding. As I went into metamorphosis and sent an attack toward him, his front legs buckled and his collapse sent the Wilvarok flying over his head. As she crashed into the ground, the simulation slowed down even more. Her face struck the ground a decent number of hands in front of me. I whipped downward and then back up to point the blade of my whip toward the back of her head right as it cracked, then hit the polarity reversal button. The blade shot down with the momentum of the magnetic thrust combined with that of the kinetic energy from the cracking of the whip. The blade went all the way through the back of her neck, sticking into the soft ground underneath and killing her instantly. I twisted my wrist to bring the empty end of the whip against the underwing of the Tilverhan as I dove toward the corpse of the Wilvarok. I grabbed onto the blade with my free hand and pulled it from the ground, then threw the blade toward his wing and re-engaged the magnetic field. The flat of the blade locked down on his wing, holding firmly in place against the end of the whip on the other side. The magnetic pull was strong enough to prevent the end of the whip from moving, but was unable to push through the thick, leathery hide. A quick pull on the whip brought his wing toward me, which he instinctively pulled back as hard as he could. This was his downfall.
As soon as his wing was beside me, but before he pulled back, I had spun twice to wrap the slack of the whip around my torso. The force of his pull predictably sent me flying toward him, the curved blade of my knife glistening in the light. As I got almost within reach, I pulled the shining blade from my side and sent another mental attack toward him then quickly left metamorphosis. He buckled again and his hands went to the side of his head, leaving his chest exposed. The tip of the blade sunk into his chest and I pulled up, opening his ribs and throat, the once glistening serrated blade now covered in blood and chunks of flesh.
I turned to see one of the whips of the final Tilverhan snapping toward me. As I watched the whip, the simulation had slowed to a crawl, the whip twisting like an injured snake in the air in front of me. I pulled my whip in and quickly spun, wrapping it the rest of the way around my body and pulling the wing it was still attached to toward me. I fell to my side and rolled, wrapping the wing entirely around myself like a large, leather cocoon. The tip of the whip ripped through the wing and cut my neck, but the wing protected me from any serious wounds. I looked through the translucent wing of the slain Tilverhan and used it as a shield while simultaneously moving it to point the blade toward the remaining Tilverhan and reversed polarity once more. The blade shot out quickly and caught his top right arm forcing him to drop one whip. As the wing I was using as a shield unfolded and I rolled out toward the Tilverhan, I went into metamorphosis and used my mind flaying abilities to completely render him useless. As he lay in a heap of pain screaming and clawing at his own eyes, I approached and wrapped myself around him, straddling the back of his neck. Taking the curve of my blade and pressing it against his throat, I felt my rage growing into something else entirely: Something dark and unfamiliar. “I should leave you here to suffer and watch your mind slowly decay, watch as you peel your own flesh off piece by piece just trying to end the pain. It’s a pity I have to make sure the job is finished.” As I spoke, I felt like I had felt in my dream the night before, and involuntarily pulled the knife through his throat, severing his head and holding it in the air above me, letting the blood drip down my smiling face.
The simulation faded around me and the progress screen appeared. As it did, I fell backwards, trying to quickly crawl away from my own behavior. What was that? I did not revel in death, but I couldn’t stop myself from pulling the blade through the Tilverhan’s neck. Even though it was just a simulation, the thought that I was capable of such behavior sent chills down my spine and into my heels.
I quickly walked back to my apartment and entered without thinking about the fact Brindel was still sleeping. As I threw my armor on the ground and entered the kitchen, Brindel came running from the bedroom. “Sha’ayr! Is everything alright?” As his eyes met mine and he saw the concern on my face, his stance went from aggressive to protective. He galloped to me and hugged me close. “What’s happened?”
I told him about my dream and about my experience in the simulator. He seemed oddly passive about the story. “It is no big deal Sha’ayr, I have heard of this happening to other Wilvaroks and even occasionally to Tilverhans during training. They become so engrossed in battle that they surrender their will to their instinctual drive to survive.” I shook my head and fervently interrupted. “That wasn’t what this was though Brindel. This was beyond survival and beyond surrender. This was being overpowered by a darkness I didn’t know existed, that I cannot imagine has always existed. It wasn’t me, it was her. This was something she would do. Vea’ayr’s personality is bleeding into me, seeping through this festering psychological wound she has left.”
“What was the time on the simulator?” I was startled and confused, not to mention a bit offended by his sudden change in subject. “What? Who cares right now Brindel?” He reiterated, “The time Sha’ayr, it’s important.” I thought back to the simulation and the results displayed at the end. “Four minutes and forty two seconds, why?” His expression shifted into one I had become all too familiar with. He was in what I refer to as his scientific mode. “Interesting…” I let out a forced and angry sigh, but indulged him as I knew he always got to a pretty significant point in situations such as these. “What’s interesting Brindel?” Before I could even finish asking he had pulled up data on his multi-board.
- Damerion – 7:32…………77
- Jushara – 6:55…………81
- Vea’ayr – 5:02…………93
- Sha’ayr – 4:42…………97
Brindel looked at me, then back at the multi-board. “I thought you said the simulator had malfunctioned and had been slowing down. According to this, you were in the fight for less than five minutes.” I sarcastically nodded my head and replied, “yes, but if it isn’t working right, then the time is not right either which is the whole point Brindel.” I could almost see my words splash off of him like water dripping onto a metal surface. “I have to go. I need to talk to Jushara about this, see you tomorrow love.” Before I could even reply he was out the door.
I went back to the bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed, contemplating whether or not to try getting a bit more sleep before my training in a few hours. I knew I should, and I kept telling myself to try, but something in me knew I couldn’t sleep right now. Something in me had to go back to that simulator and keep fighting. Something in me thirsted for the primal thrill of battle, and that something was slowly becoming someone. Who I thought I was continued to fade into the jaws of this beast I made the mistake of uncaging. I knew if I did not learn to suppress it or possibly even control it, I would be devoured entirely and become nothing more than a memory. I latched my armor back into place and walked back to the simulator, my thoughts dragging behind me like a leaden shadow, grasping at my ankles and trying to drag me away from the beast. I took a deep breath and stepped into the pitch black simulator. After all, the only way to escape a shadow is to submerge yourself in darkness. I can only hope that I have the strength to find my way back to the light.