Sparring On The River

Berra — Sparring On The River

????, Earth Season, Harmony Week


Context

Earth Season, Harmony Week, Windsday. [[[s02:session-4|Session 4]]]

Events

It is evening, as the group floats down the river towards Karse. The raft has beached for some unknown reason, and a camp has been made. Berra has failed to meditate while food was cooked, and then failed to meditate more while Venlar’s thralls do the work of washing and drying that she would normally take part in. That out of the way, she has drawn both Wind Tooth and her second sword, and is practicing well out of the view of Yamia.

Varanis is drawn to the sword practice. An alynx drawn to a wolf – it might hurt, but it looks like fun, and there’s always a need to keep the claws sharp.

Berra is not her usual fluid self, for she is pausing to consider, and then chaining together what she is thinking about. She is definitely right-handed, but she is experimenting with various ways of using two swords, sometimes very slowly, sometimes stopping to stare at the sky and think. She is deep enough into thought that she fails to spot Varanis.1Failed Scan

During one of the pauses, Varanis interjects. “I think you’re leaving a gap in your defense. Left leg.”2Critical roll on broadsword.

“Eeeh…” Berra scowls. “Show me? What where what?” There is some confusion there.

Varanis draws her rapier and steps in to face Berra. “Go through that last set again.”

The Humakti does just that, her memory for the movements good, although it seems like she is concentrating on that recall more than she would with a shield.

“There.” The rapier darts into a gap on the left leg, where the broadsword is stopping a bit short. “I think you’re focusing on the right hand’s attack and not committing to this parry.”

Berra sighs slowly, breathing out tension and irritation together. “You’re right,” she says. “Let’s see what I can do about that.” She stays in the position she is in, arm and hand moving a little, everything else still. “Annoying. I can’t think of a way to get there without putting my balance out. Which means my balance is out. So more twist, maybe…” She tries a few things, and shakes her head. “I think it’s going wrong a bit before that. I know I can’t commit to the parry and I need to know why.”3Berra has failed her LH Broadsword. She is no better than a normal warrior and this is confusing to her.

“I don’t use two swords, but I’ve had to practice with it a bit. The instructors always made us adjust our stance to start.” Varanis offers.

Berra smiles slightly. “I think I have that part,” she says. “Mostly.” Then she steps back and starts the move before the parry, a feint that threatens the right shoulder of an imaginary opponent. “Here. I’m going wrong here. How?”

Varanis considers. “The right-hand side of you looks good. But your left foot…” She shrugs finally. “It looks like you should be holding a shield. I’m sorry – I’m not much help.”

“Ah, yeah. No, that’s pretty good.” Berra moves her foot back several inches, and lifts her heel from the ground. “More like this, although not so much like this. Then I can push back for the parry…” She does it with an exaggerated motion, almost spinning around. “That should work.”

“Want me to try the attack again?” Varanis offers helpfully.

“Give me a moment.” Berra goes through the defence a couple of times, getting the feel of it. “Has that tightened it up?” Now she is turning to keep her leg from harm as she parries, although a twist of the shoulders keeps her right hand going forwards. It is a typical Berra move, relying on strength, flexibility, and movement.

Varanis watches carefully and then nods readily in reply. “I don’t see the gap any more.”

“Thanks.” Berra goes through the movements another couple of times, and then repeats the whole set that contained them, and then, finally, straightens and salutes Varanis. The Vingan gets given a grin, and a slightly confused blink.

“What’s up?” Varanis asks in reply to Berra’s expression.

“I was just thinking about swords. It took me a moment to really understand who you were.” Berra sheathes her swords, left hand first.

“I didn’t mean to stop your training, Berra,” Varanis says as the Humakti sheathes her weapons. “Don’t let me interrupt.”

“No, I’ve done the thinking. If you want to get some wasters we could go through something, but I should meditate on the methods I’ve been stepping through.” Berra stretches. “Although that might make a noise that would worry Yamia.”

The Vingan, as usual, is wearing her armour, helmet pushed back on her head. Her hair is bound in a single plait, currently coiled around her head like a crown. She looks relaxed, in as much as Varanis is ever relaxed.

“I don’t want to disturb Yamia. I’ve promised Mellia to do what I can to keep her safe.”

Berra looks over to the camp. “Maybe a little further off?” she suggests.

Whatever the reason for the raft pulling up for the night, it has given them a long evening, with plenty of light. There is time enough to find a new practice area.

“Let’s find somewhere we can practice where we won’t disturb the others.”

Berra grins out at the raft, but then is sensible and goes to check out a copse that has nothing but birdsong and an old clearing around a cottage that must have belonged to a charcoal burner once. Nothing moves there now.

Varanis heads back to camp and returns to the copse with the pair of wooden wasters.

After the ritual of checking weapons, Berra asks, “Do you have anything in particular you want to do?”

“I think some drills followed by some sparring would be good for me. I find I slip back into rapier techniques when I start to get tired.”

“Then let’s get you tired.” Berra looks around, and points with the wooden sword to a handy-looking rock. “How many push-ups can you do, with your hands on that? Do those, then we’ll start. Your mind will be less tired than your body, so that will help you keep a clear mind next time your body is tired.”

Varanis nods and strides over to the rock. She sets the sword down and takes a push-up position with her hands placed close together on the rock. She lowers herself so that her cuirass almost touches the ground an the pushes herself back up. “One.” Repeat. “Two.”

“Don’t bother counting,” Berra says, dropping into the same position. “You’re just aiming to get tired.” She gets down to the same movements, with the fast, bouncy habit of a sprinter. This may go badly.

Varanis stops counting but keeps up the activity. Rather than try to keep up with Berra, she maintains her pace. By comparison, she might look slow, but her form is solid and her movement steady.4Varanis passes CON x 5. Berra fails.

After a while it is clear Berra is wearing out, and she rolls off the rock and into a sitting position. “Keep going,” she croaks. She’s played out already.

Varanis grins fiercely in reply without breaking the rhythm of the movement. Down, then up, over and over. By the time her arms begin to wobble with the strain, her face has flushed and sweat drips from her forehead onto the rock.

“Pretty good.” Berra’s face has a smile, although it is that of a teacher. “Now grab the waster, and we’ll try that sparring, before you recover.”

Pushing up from the rock one last time, Varanis hops her legs in and comes upright. With a shaky hand, she brushes the hair out of her face then stoops to pick up the training sword. Stepping away from the rock, she turns to face Berra.

Berra instantly comes in, leaving Varanis no time to get her bearings, but she is not moving at her full speed. There could be time to keep control, if only she could think to do it.

Varanis reacts far too slowly, failing to get her sword into place for the necessary parry.

Berra slows down further, giving Varanis time to make it.

The Vingan brings the blade into play correctly for the parry and attempts to shift into an appropriate counter attack. It’s slow, but she gets the sword moving in the right direction.

“Good,” says Berra as the sword impacts on her armour. “Now relax. And this time, think Broadsword. That’s what you’re going to be carrying as soon as we start.” She drops down to try a couple more push-ups. “Get tired. Then start. But your mind should already have started, when your limbs do.”

Varanis takes a deep breath. “I am tired,” she admits. “But I’m focused now.”

“Good. But how long did that take?” Berra grins. “This is a drill for your mind, not your body.” She stands, her sword in hand, and comes up into a guard. “How long is your sword?”

“This long,” the Vingan says, adjusting her stance slightly and then reaching the sword out to touch Berra’s chest at at her furthest possible extension.

“Mhm. But I’m asking because you want to know it.” Berra pauses to consider. “From the moment you have to start thinking about fighting, you should know the length and weight of it. So this practice is to get you knowing what you are using, before you’re using it. When you get up tired, I want you to be thinking ‘broadsword’. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” comes the swift reply.

“Good.” That is a short Humakti stock reply. “This time, around that cottage until you’re tired or I stop you. Always expect that ambush.” Berra’s smile grows. “Maybe it will come. When it does, know what you’ve got.”

Sword in hand, Varanis begins to jog around the cottage.

Her pace, like her push-ups, is steady and consistent. She’s in it for the long haul, rather than a desperate sprint. However, she tires faster, not having fully recovered from the push-ups.

When the attack comes, it is from behind, a sudden rush heralded by heavy footsteps crashing through the undergrowth. Berra’s ambush is not subtle, although she does not yell a war cry. She just sprints in, aiming to catch Varanis before the Vingan can turn.

With a sidestep that comes just in time, Varanis avoids the attack. Turning as she dodges, she attempts a blow to Berra’s upper body.5Passed a dodge roll. And broad sword. Yay! Go Varanis!

Berra turns that neatly on her shield, and counters with a solid blow towards the arm. “How long does your sword feel?” she asks casually, as she pushes forward.

Varanis grunts as she blocks the blade and twists away again. “I. Don’t. Know. What. You. Mean.” she huffs as catches her breath and comes in with a nasty blow aimed at the Humakti’s abdomen. “It feels as long as it is,” she adds recovering a little more.

Berra takes that, on purpose, to get her right hand down low for a slash along her foe’s forward thigh The scale armour and her tensed muscles absorb the blow together. “Rapier or Broadsword?” she asks, as her attack goes in.

The blow strikes the leg. “Broad. Sword.” The reply comes through teeth clenched with frustration. Breath hisses out, then back in and the tension seems to release with the movement of air. The Vingan drops in place, but as she does, she thrusts upward with a blow aimed to take the Humakti through the jaw and up into her brain. Although she hasn’t fully committed power to the attack, it’s an act of desperation. Either it works, and she takes her opponent to hell with her, or it fails and so does she.

“Not bad,” says Berra, after she has rocked sideways to avoid that blow. It skittered outside her helmet and she was able to move her sword in around the back of Varena’s knee. “That was broadsword thinking.” She stops where she is and moves backwards gently. “Now we’ll spar, properly. I won’t try to catch you out.”

Varanis pulls herself to her feet to wryly at Berra. She takes a ready stance, and nods.6In rolling for the general result, Varanis gets a special then two passes, and Berra gets two passes then a critical.

Berra, being Berra, takes a step back to establish that she is indeed stepping back, then begins with a series of swift feints towards the face and a strike to the shoulder, coming forward with an odd shuffle that disguises distance.

As Berra closes the distance between them, the Vingan holds her ground. She doesn’t fall for the feints, but easily parries the shoulder strike, stepping offline on the Humakti’s swordside. Varanis blade darts towards her opponent’s head.

Berra manages to take a blow to the face, one that would have hurt if she were sparring with someone like Finarvi, but it still leaves a soft mark that might turn red along her cheek. “Good,” she says. “Nice length.” She twisted at the last moment, obviously caught by surprise, and now she is a touch off-balance.

Varanis nods her acknowledgment, but doesn’t lower her guard, waiting either for the signal to continue or Berra’s next attack, which amounts to the same thing.

“Keep going,” Berra says. “I was guard-weakened then. Probably along the left side.” By then she has her feet under her and her distance better.

This time Varanis initiates the attack. She comes at Berra with a series of blows aimed at the head and upper body. The blows strikes are quick and controlled. She advances as she attacks. And then she is stepping to the opposite side and striking low, with a cut to the inside of the left thigh.

Berra smiles slightly, taking the chance to retreat under each blow, moving almost completely backwards, rather than dodging sideways, and beinf far, far less aggressive than she could be. When Varanis commits to the thigh attack it is a swift foot movement that saves her, and a body twist exactly like the one she was practicing earlier. This was a hole in her defense and now it is not, although without two swords Berra cannot use it to counter as well.

Varanis grins at Berra, a mix of pleasure and ferocity. She begins to attack again, varying her targets, always trying to make the Humakti respond to her. She seems to be seeking to control the fight through constant movement.

Berra lets Varanis control the fight until it becomes, indeed, all about movement. When that is how things are, she starts to slip into the same style, all action and positioning and back-and-forth, never being in the same place for longer than a moment. Exactly as Varanis is doing, she does.

For the longest time she is purely defensive, testing Varanis or letting herself be tested.

The Vingan again rains a series of blows aimed to draw Berra’s guard high before making a viscous low cut towards the shield-side leg.

Berra’s guard goes high, but when that blow comes in she is just not there. She is jumping backwards, but she does not land normally. She lands ready to jump forwards again, and already committed to it. Her motion drives her through the air, her sword coming over to threaten shoulder, neck, back. The waster moves with incredible speed, and she taps at both the edge of Varanis’ upper arm guard, and the very base of her cheek piece. One crippling blow, one killing one.

Then she lands and turns, ready for her opponent to have survived.

Varanis blinks. She doesn’t drop her guard, even as she acknowledges defeat. “That was fast, Berra!” Admiration colours the words. “I didn’t have a hope of blocking it.”

“Well, no,” Berra says. “I might be able to repeat it if I really tried.” And, breathing hard, she salutes. “We could do more?” She seems only halfway sure of what happened herself.

“Water first?” Varanis suggests, finally lowering her guard.

“Water.” Berra no longer keeps all of her gear attached, but she crosses now-trampled grass to get her own bottle. “Alright. I think I know how I did that. Mostly, I could do it again. But you know the feeling when your thoughts don’t get in the way? I just decided what to do and did it. That feeling.”

This gets a thoughtful nod from Varanis. The Vingan reaches for her own water flask. “I get that sometimes.” There’s a wry laugh. “And if I’m lucky, it even works. I must be lucky… I’m still alive.”

“Yes. We don’t know about all the people who do it but are wrong,” Berra says after a moment. “But maybe we fight them sometimes.” She splutters amusement and water all over herself then.

Varanis laughs. She looks relaxed for the first time in days. The exercise has agreed with her.

Berra also grabs for a pouch that has food in, marked with a little square Rune in the leather. “Apricot-probably?” She offers.

With a nod of thanks, Varanis accepts. She opens the pouch and extracts some of the dried fruit before passing it back. Popping a piece into her mouth she sighs happily.

“Ouf,” Berra says happily after a few minutes. She has finished her own fruit and a lot more water. “I got hungry out there on the river. And here.”

Varanis just nods, chewing in contentment. After a time, she says, “I appreciate your teaching me, Berra. My sword-mistress in Nochet lacked your patience.”

A look crosses her face. “Or rather, I lacked patience with her pace, and she lacked patience with me.”

“Eh. She probably had to teach someone who didn’t want to… yeah, that.” Berra washes her fingertips clean in a tiny pool she pours out onto a rock. “We’re in each other’s company anyhow, and… swords are holy. For me, this is pretty close to prayer.”

“The sword mistress accused me of wanting to fly before I could walk,” Varanis admits. “I still don’t know how to fly.” She might still be talking about swords. Or it could be about magic. Or both.

Berra grins. “But you want to, right?”

Varanis’ expression says it all. Of course she wants to.

“And you did. All the way to the flame. Sometimes, you have to walk too.”

There’s a soft huff of laughter. “Did I tell you that Eril says I need to show I know how to fight a gnat?” She glances over at Berra. “That sounds like the same kind of message. All my life people have been telling me to slow down. You understand how frustrating that is, surely?”

Berra considers. “Alright. The way that Bat.. that the Humakti Battalion used to put it was, ‘how do you get your sword to where it is needed?’ It’s the same thing, but asked a different way. I’m not telling you not to do magnificent things. I’m telling you there’s a lot of walking in between, even if you CAN fly.”

Varanis nods. “I know. But walking is painfully slow at times. And anyway, I just thought you might understand why I sometimes rush into things headlong.” There’s that little laugh again. “Believe it or not, but I’m significantly better than I used to be.”

“You’re talking to ME about rushing into things.” Berra runs that past herself. “Got it… but did you notice the gnat on the road, on the way to the docks? That cart? If we hadn’t been there, if I hadn’t been in that sort of mood, hazia smoke might be rising now. That’s what you get when you walk with your eyes open.”

Varanis glances back in the direction of the camp, where the two prisoners remain. “I’m not sure if killing mine counts as being successful or not,” she admits. “No ransom, but he can’t shoot anyone anymore…”

“Yes. He’s never going to sell hazia again. If I didn’t need the money for learning, I’d not accept ransom from people like that. They belong on trees, as warnings.” Berra shrugs. “I don’t have to, but it’s how to get my sword to the right place.”

Taking another sip of water, Varanis scowls. “I’ll be happy to be rid of those two. They offend me.”

“Did you notice that Xenofos seemed to have no problem staying clear of the hazia?”

“Mhm. And if it hadn’t been for… no, I hadn’t, but I hadn’t thought he had a problem with it.” Berra shrugs. “He seemed no more concerned than anyone else, but I wasn’t paying attention. I just wanted it gone.”

“Mellia is still worried. She watches him like a hawk. But she worries too much sometimes.” Varanis sighs. “More? Or should we return? I did promise to keep an eye on Yamia, as Mellia thinks she may seek Humakt by the blade’s edge if she can’t find him any other way. Again, I think she worries too much. But I promised.”

“More, probably. For me, at least. I don’t think Yamia’s in danger. Not from herself. But if you promised then you promised.” Berra stretches. “Probably just something slow for me, if you’re going.”

The Humakti seems thoughtful, though, as she looks towards the camp.

Varanis sighs, looks back towards camp, and then wistfully at Berra. She gives a little shake of her head. “I don’t think she will either, but I promised. Thank you for the sparring. I needed that.”

Berra nods, and rolls to her feet. “At some point, I should spar with her,” she says. “Probably. I want to find out what she’s thinking.”

“She’s good. Don’t take this the wrong way, but she may be better than you.”

Berra pauses, and grins. “Nobody’s better than anyone else, until you have a corpse to prove it,” she says. “It’s about Humakt, as much as skill.” And she shrugs. “I know I’m good. I don’t have to feel bad if other people are faster or stronger or know more. Although if she has anything to teach, I’d like to learn it.”

“Well, if you get the chance, watch her when she does drills. It’s beautiful, if heartbreaking. You can almost see her reach for Humakt.” Varanis sighs again and turns to leave. She turns back, “I mean no disrespect, of course.”

Berra nods. “I know. A broken blade is hard to look at.” She draws herself up to her full height, sword and shield coming up to a guard, and then lets Varanis leave, concentrating on a painfully slow walk-through of a drill.