"Are you ready?"
Two weeks had passed since Elenia had joined the maggots, and she had been joining Lorden in Oakstaff's lessons for the last week and a half. She was improving greatly, though her powers didn't seem to be manifesting themselves very well.
"You strengths aren't in the physical world," Oakstaff had said mysteriously, "but in the infinitely more complicated and diverse world of the human mind."
Oakstaff had tested her as he had tested Lorden, and found that she could only make the plasma bulb glow at half brightness - despite the fact she'd caused a plasma bulb to explode before. Oakstaff had tested her aptitude, however, and she'd excelled. Lorden had watched as Oakstaff extended the tests, even leaning towards telepathy. Lorden had been apprehensive over the last few days ... he didn't want Oakstaff making Elenia read his mind ...
Now they were squaring up for a duel, out in Oakstaff's garden. He had chosen a selection of objects and placed them on the floor between the two of them - a rusty pipe, the plasma bulb Lorden had exploded, a broken PI ... Lorden had no idea what they were for.
"Are you sure you want us to do this?" said Elenia. "We might cause some serious damage."
"You both have Control," said Oakstaff. "If any of your magic is misdirected you know how to cut it off."
Lorden was very reluctant to even duel Elenia. He knew she wasn't as strong as him and he didn't want to humiliate her, let alone hurt her. Hurting women had never bothered him before, even in his street-dwelling days, when he'd mugged anyone and everyone just to stay alive ... so why was this so different?
Elenia was standing opposite him, her face deep in concentration. Lorden had been surprised by her determination to master the power she was supposed to detest - maybe she thought she'd be leaving once she had proper Control ... but the King's stronghold would be riddled with emeroid detectors ... she'd be picked up within a hundred metres of the place.
Then Oakstaff gave the word to begin, and Lorden began to gather his power, as Oakstaff had instructed. Elenia closed her eyes ...
... and as Lorden let loose his first attack - a sharp Spike to the knees, attempting to knock her over - he felt an excruciating pain in his head ... his vision flickered, and he felt a cold steel vice close around his consciousness.
"I win," said Elenia's voice, so close it sounded as if it came from his own mouth.
Lorden tried to move a limb, but couldn't. He tried to release more magic, but his power had been trapped in Elenia's vice and couldn't escape. He had been immobilised.
Alright, he thought. You win.
And the vice loosened on his mind. He opened his eyes, shielding them from the sun, to see Oakstaff's amused face swimming in front of him.
"I think Elenia won that one," he said, barely containing his chuckles. "I thought I told you to keep your mind under control, Lorden. Even I could feel how vulnerable you had made yourself, and I haven't used magic in over twenty years. Try again."
Elenia turned to face Lorden once again. She showed no triumph or smugness, just the same fierce determination. Lorden stared at her, surprised.
This time, he put up a wall around his mind, a wall, he visualised, that was three feet thick and made of solid steel. He could feel Elenia's mind attack coming and moved the wall to deflect it - his thoughts met hers with a clash of confusion, and he fought to single out her attack from his own barrier, as it seemed to be getting through -
- and them Lorden drew on his power and threw it in front of Elenia's attack. She faltered and fell back. Lorden opened his eyes and, maintaining his concentration cast a few Detonations to distract her. Her attention wavered and he aimed his Spike at her knees again. She did not react quickly enough and her legs crumpled.
"Well done Lorden, a little clumsy, but effective. One apiece. We'll try again tomorrow."
Once again Lorden looked at Elenia. She did not seem angry or even ashamed of defeat. He could tell that once she was at full strength she would be a formidable opponent.