My head hits the less than rock hard sparring mat with a bang. Stars dazzle like glitter before my eyes before they finally clear and I'm not seeing three of James Hektor standing over me, saying something in a voice which sounds far away.
"That was...less than satisfactory. Don't be upset though, it wasn't as bad as the first time" he says to me, helping me up by pulling my hand while I use my other to rub the back of my head.
The ceiling above me comes back into focus, soon followed by the rest of the tennis court sized arena tipping slightly as if I am on a boat. Racks containing every type of weapon known to man line the walls, more being found in the room which branches off from the one I stand in. Another area attached to this one contains a locker room and small medical centre, smelling of sterilization and metal with its white cabinets and thinly cushioned table.
From the ringing in my ears and throbbing head, I have a feeling I might be well acquainted with that last place before the day is out.
"Right, let's try that again shall we? It is blatantly obvious to anyone who attacks you that you have received no prior training from the moment they confront you. You're also a bit smaller than most opponents and even though this can be advantageous at the moment it's is nothing but a hindrance for you....for this reason, I believe we need to develop your offensive tactics before anything else" James says, placing his hands on his hips while I gulp down some water from my bottle nearby.
"And what if I wanted to play with really cool sharp things today? That has to count for something...I envisioned myself tossing knives at an apple on Aidan's head during class" I say, wiping the sheen of sweat spotting my forehead with a towel.
This earns me a laugh from everyone in the room, including James who takes a swig from his own beverage.
"Elena, you're going to be kept as far away from the 'sharp things' as possible until my dad is one hundred percent sure you're not going to poke an eye out....or chop off a hand" Aidan flashes me a naughty grin as he swats away Clarisse's fencing sword, the two of them sparring on separate mats in the far corner of the room.
Clarisse responds by whacking him playfully in the back with the flat of her sword, straightening up and resuming an attacking pose before adding in her piece. "Don't worry Lennie, I'm sure you'll have the basics down in a week then you can get to the fun stuff" She smiles at me, surprising Aidan for a split second with a lunge which he takes easily in his stride before striking back.
My attention returns to James when he places his water bottle back down and approaches me again. "Now, I think you've more or less gotten the hang of learning to fall without breaking any bones, so we'll try a few blocking techniques."
James takes my arms and places them so that my upper body is more or less protected, showing me how to angle my arm so that my frame isn't jarred by the impact. He steps away, spacing his feet wide apart and bringing his fists up.
"Well yeah, sort of...I'm not really sure -"
But whatever I was going to say is cut off by James' hand arching round and hitting me in my side. Pain explodes there momentarily, sending spikes of fury up my nervous system and shocking my brain.
"Ouch! Hot dammit that hurt..." I hear Clarisse's contained snicker at my comment behind me and I lean forward to place a hand where I had been hit.
James stands up, sighing. He shakes his head, his body relaxing out of its offensive pose as he walks over to me and moves my hand away.
"I thought you said you were ready? You should have moved your arm to block it like this..." He shifts my arm in the motion he had required, swinging it around so that when I see how he does it now I feel pretty foolish. My tough kid rep has officially taken a low blow to have a reading of negative five points.
He sighs again, stepping away from me about a meter before resuming the attacking position. "Let's try it again. This time, think about what you're doing and apply it to what I'm doing."
Easy for him to say, hard for me to do.