Entering the arena room for the first time at Sentinal, I slowed my pace to a stroll, and observed my surroundings as per usual. The floor was a carpeted blue, with purple swirls at random locations that covered the floor. The walls were brown, but not an ugly brown. They had an aura of power, a feeling that nothing could possibly tear through those walls. The ceiling was golden, a warm, vibrant golden that didn't burn the eyes when gazed at. White clouds appeared to stall amidst the golden background, providing an almost holy sky to battle under. Some six meters inwards from each wall, the real arena rested: an elevated platform with ropes along the edges and a solid base beneath. The side facing and opposite of me had rope gates, and a small staircase leading to each. I couldn't see the other side from where I was, but I could only assume it was completely symmetrical. To my right of the arena, another platform with a ladder watched over us, a special perch for Ms. Fable. She would explain all the rules and act as a judge, nothing more and nothing less. If needed, I was told she would also send for a medic, but that was somewhat uncommon.

Apparently there was a far larger arena prepared for long-ranged weapons elsewhere, but those were primarily just moving target practice. It was optional though, so long rangers couldn't use it as a replacement for these duels. The reasoning was that even snipers needed to be able to hold their own to some extent if dragged into close-range combat. Unsurprisingly, few of them manage to actually win in this arena.

I mounted the stairs, and clicked open the rope gate, stepping inside the arena. I turned around, locked the gate, and nearly jumped when I turned back towards my opponent. Blond hair flowing down her shoulders, purple dress combat-ready, and a beautiful golden baton clutched in her hands, Alison stared directly into my eyes, unflinching and ready. It seemed that she had not in fact taken the scenic route as I had, instead moving into position long before. I also unsheathed my pitch-black blade, and held the one-handed sword tightly in my right hand. I placed my right foot forward, and finally mustered the courage to return Alison's glare.

Our instructor explained the rules carefully and slowly. She explained how whoever got knocked out first or was unable to move was the loser, and how the limits to the battle were only within the nine-by-nine meter ring. Meanwhile, all the two competitors did was stare into each other's eyes, predicting their opponent's first attack. My dark black eyes ventured into her beautiful crystalline blue, until Ms. Fable finally provided the single word we had been waiting for:

"Begin!"

The first few minutes dragged on for hours, neither of us flinching, our only movements being the shallow breathing in our chests and the brief flickering of our eyelids. It was as if we were one: a single entity, breathing and blinking in unison, connected by the glare we both harbored. This only lasted for about a minute or two, but each second was an eternity, a cycle of life and death, a moment lost without gain. As the second minute ticked its last second away, Alison smirked, and pounced forward, baton held over her head. I had been waiting for this; I lifted my sword up and briefly met her baton, then swung it away harmlessly. As I was recovering from the deflection, she was already on top of me, swinging this way and that with no room to dodge. Despite her obvious skill, I managed to reply in kind, parrying every swing she made, and even launching a few of my own attacks. These she nimbly avoided, and continued her assault. She struck with harsh efficiency, skill I had never seen in someone as young as ourselves. But still, despite her onslaught, I bided my time, deflecting and countering, waiting for the moment she opened up and let her guard down, even if only for a split second.

Alison was merciless, swinging her baton in a continuous assault with no signs of exhaustion. Thankfully, since endurance was my forte, the close up duel lasted longer than I could keep track, exchanging blows and deflections. The scary thing was, it seemed she might actually outlast me, a feat no one, man or creature, had accomplished to date. Suddenly more alert at the realization, I paid even closer attention to her offensive style, and searched harder for a break in the rampage. Finally, I spotted just what I needed, and swept my foot to her right calf, causing her to grimace, faltering her attacks for a split second. In that one moment, I lunged forward, and aimed a jab right at her open chest plate. It made perfect contact, and sent Alison sprawling back a few feet, landing on a knee. She had her baton in front of her, keeping her from falling backwards. Continuing my counter attack, I leapt into the air, attempting to end the duel with a downward slash. It just took one moment to see her expression. She was grinning.

Crap-!

I suddenly realized what she was planning, but momentum carried me forward, right above her baton. I felt a sharp pain as my breath was stolen, knocking me back a few steps away. Between us on the ground rested a crushed bullet, and a rather large one at that. If it had not been for the buffers in my armor, the bullet would likely have torn straight through my chest.

This time it was I who struggled to my feet gripping my aching chest, wasting precious time that she using to regain her footing. I gritted my teeth in frustration and pain; I had lost my advantage as quickly as I had earned it, but at least I now knew one of her baton's secrets. Still feeling the impact of the bullet, I jumped at her, in an attempt to surprise my opponent. Her reflexes were unmatched; she was on top of me, pushing her baton against my blade in a struggle for control over the arena. I could finally see where this battle was heading; we were both tiring out at last, but it seemed as though she would last a bit longer than I would.

I don't have a choice, I have to use it!

The next time she swung horizontally, I parried the golden baton and retreated a few meters away. Wasting no time, I swung my sword from side to side, and flipped a lever on the handle. Alison charged at me again, prepared to finish the match once and for all. She swung downward, I countered it with my sword in my right hand, and before she stepped back, threw my left hand forward, an identical blade swishing effortlessly through the air, making direct contact with her side. This time she harbored a stunned look, so I made the most of it, closing the distance between us, and began my offensive rush, slashing at her open chestplate by using the momentum of each hit to propel the next.

She recovered slightly, and managed to block a few strikes, but eventually my dual wielding overwhelmed her, and she was knocked back by a hit from both blades simultaneously. Right as I was preparing to finish her with another slash from both of my swords, she surprised me yet again by suddenly regaining her footing, launching her baton at me in a fierce jab. My two blades hit her directly as her baton struck my jacket without resistance, a loud bang firing from the tip. We both fell in unison, knocking each other back. I slammed to the ground painfully, and out of the corner of my eye noticed how she had done the same. Even if I wasn't bleeding, pain seared through my chest, coursing through my limbs. I could feel my lungs screaming for oxygen, and dizziness rolled over me.

Somewhere I heard a whistle blow, and decided that it was about time for a little nap. It was a unanimous decision in my mind, so I closed my eyes.

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