Chapter 8 - Surprise, Surprise

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 Codi winced as the two quarter staffs smacked together, sending reverberations though both her wrists. She wore only her gloves right now while she and Lita free sparred. It had taken another week of training but Vasco finally let them loose on the weapon racks and started training them in a whole new slew of disciplines.

The staffs cracked again as they circled, each searching for an opening in the other’s defences. Then Lita stepped in for an attack and gave Codi an opportunity. Leaping inside the swipe of her opponent, she rammed her own staff crossways against the incoming weapon. Another jarring impact sent Lita’s staff rebounding away. In the same motion Codi twirled and ducked, stretching out her staff to neatly scoop the other girl’s feet out from under her.

Lita hit the ground with a yelp of surprise and Codi stepped over her in an instant, the butt of her staff at the girl’s throat. Her adversary scowled up at her for a moment before swatting the staff away bad-temperedly.

“Touchy, touchy,” Codi chided.

“You’re one to talk,” Lita retorted, picking herself up off the matt. “Nice spin.”

“A compliment? Really?”

“I’m a bit more gracious than some people.”

“Oh, let it go.” She flashed a vicious smile before her attention was snagged by a flashing movement across the training centre. Codi watched as Max, for the first time since she’d joined the academy, managed to hit his chosen target with a bolas. As the weapon wrapped around the neck of the training dummy their normally reserved companion let out a triumphant whoop that echoed across the training centre.

Codi smiled at that. Everything seemed to be looking up. Vasco’s brutal preparatory rituals were certainly taking their toll on the group in all the right ways. Physically she could see the difference in herself and her companions. Although the Gauntlet conditioning was subtle, it was unmistakable.

Everyone looked harder, leaner, their muscles far more defined that when they’d first arrived. And Vasco had also been right about their rising pain threshold. After spending the best part of two weeks, day in day out beating and being beaten by her companions, Codi stopped registering the pain as an anger trigger. For the first time in a long time she felt like she belonged somewhere. The more cynical part of her brain considered it brainwashing.

The twins took to the mats next, both armed with a training-weight Hacktor. Codi watched with amusement as the brothers managed to last a whole minute before the fight degenerated into a wrestling match, their weapons thrown aside. Neither of the burly pair seemed comfortable fighting with anything other than their own bodies. She, on the other hand, relished the weapon training rounds and had found an instant affinity for the quarterstaff.

“Another school yard brawl,” Vasco roared at them from his adjudicating position. “One of these days I’m going to crack your hollow heads together. Use the damned techniques I’ve been teaching you!” The twins exchanged sheepish smiles as he continued. “Codi, Lita, grab a Hacktor and show these two dolts how to spar with a weapon.”

Not exactly her favourite choice, Codi reflected, picking up one of the discarded Hacktors and facing Lita. Even at training weight they weighed a lot, enough to trouble her if a match stretched for too long. And Vasco had already pointed out several times that Gauntlet fights could last for as long as half an hour depending on the skill and endurance of those involved.

“Fight!”

Lita deflected her clumsy lunge with an easy sweep and counter attacked. Codi readjusted her footing to parry in turn, mentally cursing the sloppiness of her opener. A few exchanges passed with neither gaining the upper hand before they edged apart and circled. Looking at the other girl, Codi could have laughed at how different their approaches to the weapon system were.

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