*** I can't resist dedicating this chapter to one of my long-time favorite authors, Scott Sigler, who writes many excellent sparring scenes, and who happens to be on Wattpad. ***
The sparring chamber looked like an emulation of the dead city, with precipitous ledges and rubble. No rain, of course, but it had oil slicks. The space was more vertical than horizontal. Alex explored crevices and passageways with his extended awareness, and determined that his opponent would be able squeeze through to most of them, whereas he could not.
It probably wouldn't matter.
He gripped his sparring disk and stood in the base of the chamber, facing the much smaller Jinishta. A headband held back her puff of white hair. She'd removed the decorative quiver and spears, but otherwise she remained confident in her elegant clothes.
Onlookers peered through cutaways at the very top of the chamber, their faces illuminated by shielded torchlight. Kessa sat in one of the cutaways, probably boosted there by someone. The Yeresunsa were treating her like an honored guest. This secluded palace, with its waterfalls and sparring chambers, seemed to be a sacred place where Yeresunsa rarely received visitors.
"You may use anything within the sparring chamber." Kessa's voice echoed down to Alex. "But do not leave the chamber, and do not use anything outside the chamber." Someone must have given her a rundown of the rules. "No killing. No maiming. Your goal is to mark the skin of your opponent with charcoal."
Jinishta had a ready stance.
Alex thought of his mother, dead in his arms. He thought of Margo, with a leg gone. This combat match was designed to avoid results like that. These Yeresunsa warriors learned to master their powers—they must hold the key to self-control—or else they would not have a functioning underground civilization. It would all be wreckage.
"If you are ready," Kessa said, "I will count down. The fight starts when I say 'one.'"
Jinishta's confidence bespoke skill. She was going to give him a taste of what self-control looked like for a Yeresunsa in battle mode.
Alex gave a nod. If his opponent resorted to brute force instead of exhibiting skill ... he would quit and walk away. He wasn't here to learn brutality.
"Three," Kessa said. "Two."
Alex wrapped himself in a shield of air for self-defense.
Jinishta's disk boomeranged at his face and smacked his air shield, leaving a puff of charcoal dust that never touched his skin. The disk returned to her waiting hand within a second. She looked slightly ashamed of the failed attempt, but she hopped upwards.
About thirty feet upwards.
Alex gawked as Jinishta somersaulted high above him, flipping backwards in midair, to land on a narrow ledge. He had never dreamed of trying reckless acrobatic stunts. Usually, he wanted to minimize the space he took up. Every move he made was cautious, so he wouldn't accidentally hurt his friends.
Before he could throw his disk towards Jinishta, she slipped behind debris, vanishing faster than a cat.
Alex spread his awareness. He located her life spark speeding through a passageway, and he knew he could expose her by tearing down some debris. But that might endanger her. The albino Alashani looked more fragile than ummins.
Something slammed against his air shield from behind. Rocks. He'd been so focused on the target of Jinishta, he'd forgotten that she could attack from any direction, using her powers. He firmed up his shield, determined not to get shoved or beaten.
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