The first training session with the Captain! How will the girls fare?
Chapter 12 – The First Steps
January 2nd, 2253. 5. Kingsguard HQ – Training Facility. Training Room 210.
“Phew, I made it!” Chirch said, breathing heavily. “I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast.”
Rose, who was already starting her stretches, looked over at Chirch. “I’m impressed you made it.”
“Is Captain Marko here yet?” Chirch asked.
“Not yet.” Rose answered.
“Geez. I ran for nothing, then.” Chirch grumbled.
“I think you made the right choice. If you’re late on the first day, he might make you do a punishment drill.” Rose joked.
“As if the workout plan he had us doing over the holidays wasn’t punishment enough.” Chirch groaned. “I don’t think I’ve ever ached that much before.”
“If your muscles are aching, that means they’re getting stronger,” came a familiar voice from behind Chirch.
“Eep! Captain Marko!” Chirch yelped.
Rose giggled. “What was that noise?”
“Sorry I’m a little late. I had to go fetch these.” Marko then handed the girls each a blue metal staff. As Chirch took hold of it, she noticed the weight.
“This is kinda heavy…”
“It’s 50 kilograms. We’ll be using this for sparring today.” Marko explained.
“What, seriously?” Chirch grumbled, dreading the thought of swinging around such a heavy object all evening.
“I can get a heavier one if you like?” Marko replied, his expression deadpan.
“Nope! This one’s great.” Chirch said. Maybe she should have kept her mouth shut.
“Today’s session is going to be short. I just want to see you guys’ level. Get warmed up, and once you’re ready, we’ll be doing 10 3-minute spars. You’ll be teaming up to spar against me. Your goal today is to hit me as hard as you can.” Marko instructed.
Chirch thought about this. Sure, Captain Marko was in a different dimension to Zak when they sparred last year. But her and Rose had gotten a lot stronger since recruitment week, and their teamwork was smooth too. Chirch looked over at Rose, who nodded back at her confidently. Both of them felt like this was a goal they could achieve easily.
“Just so you know,” Marko continued, “I won’t be as nice to you as I was to Zaklaus.”
Both girls gulped. That beatdown was him being nice?
After doing a few stretches, the girls started warming up against each other with the weighted training staffs. Doing some light blocking drills to get used to the staff’s weight, both of them quickly noticed both the extra power they had to use to just get the smallest bit of momentum, and the extra shock when the staffs collided. Maybe fighting with these for 3 minutes at a time would be more difficult than they thought. Meanwhile, they noticed Marko nonchalantly throwing the staff into the air and catching it with seemingly no effort.
“If he’s doing that to wind us up, it’s working.” Rose said through gritted teeth.
“Five more minutes to warm up.” Marko instructed.
The girls used four minutes of this time to continue getting a feel for the weighted staff, and the final minute to re-hydrate and let their muscles rest before what would surely be an intense spar.
“Hey, Chirch. Somehow, my arms don’t feel as tired as I thought they would.” Rose said pensively.
“Now that you mention it…” Despite the girls swinging quite aggressively towards the end of their warmup, the slight fatigue they’d felt right after ending their warmup had dissipated quite quickly. Maybe their hellish holiday workouts had helped after all. After taking one last gulp of water, Chirch looked over to Rose.
Rose nodded. “Yeah. Let’s do this.”
The girls walked over to Marko, positioning themselves roughly ten feet away. The Captain, who was holding his staff in his right hand, set a timer for three minutes. As they waited for the start buzzer, the girls took a deep breath, preparing their first move. As the buzzer sounded, they both took off instantaneously, both attacking head on. Rose, who was on the left, swung first, aiming for the Captain’s torso. He blocked the attack easily with a single-handed swing. Just as Marko and Rose’s staffs made contact, Chirch launched her offensive, using a powerful double-handed swing aimed at sweeping the Captain’s legs from underneath him. This move was also telegraphed, and Chirch’s staff was blocked with a firm left boot.
Gritting their teeth, the girls retreated. Much like in his exhibition against Zak, Marko remained glued to the spot. This time, they leapt outwards, aiming to attack from the side. Marko, following Rose with his eyes, his glance shifting right. Noticing this immediately, Chirch lunged in, hoping to take advantage of his blind spot. Rose, clocking her partner’s sudden increase in speed, also sped up. As both of them swung all out at their unmoving target, each of them felt a metal staff hit them flush on the cheek, sending them flying. Marko, who had stepped back the instant before their hits could land, sighed.
“You’re not supposed to hit each other, you know.”
As the girls picked themselves up from the floor, they realised they had to be more careful.
“Looks like we can’t just whack him straight away, huh?” Chirch said, hand on her cheek, still stinging from Rose’s swing.
“We have to be clever about this.” Rose replied. “We’ve got 3 10-minute rounds. That’s a ton of time to try new things. First experiment…”
Before Rose could finish her sentence, she charged straight at the Captain, attacking at full speed. Marko was equal to each of her attacks, though he had started moving backwards as the young soldier led him around the room. Instead of charging back in, Chirch realised what her partner was planning. Watching their fight carefully, she looked for the best spot to sneak in. As Rose’s offensive put Marko in a position where his back was facing Chirch, Chirch took the opportunity to strike, sensing an opening on his right-hand side. He couldn’t attack her with his left, and Rose was keeping his staff arm occupied. Aiming to give him one back in the face for the hit she took earlier, she leapt into the air, swinging downward powerfully. Marko, who had anticipated what Chirch would do, ducked and swung his staff at Chirch’s legs, sending her crashing to the ground horizontally. Rose, who hadn’t noticed Chirch’s attack, was shocked that the Captain was able to react so swiftly. Marko, seeing Rose’s hesitation, gave her the same treatment, sending her to the floor with her partner.
Although this was likely meant as praise, to the girls, who were already starting to tire halfway into the round against an opponent who was besting them with seemingly no effort, it felt condescending. As they picked themselves up, the buzzer to signal the end of the first round started.
“60 seconds rest before the next round.” Marko announced.
As the girls rehydrated, they were completely silent. They had both realised that a seemingly simple task was proving to be anything but. Seconds before the buzzer sounded, Chirch broke the silence.
“We should split the fighting as much as we can to save energy for the later rounds.”
“I was about to say the exact same thing.” Rose replied. “We should pick our moments to go in 2-on-1.”
The buzzer sounded to mark the end of the rest period. As the second round started, Chirch led the offensive. Following a similar strategy to the time before, Rose looked for good openings, and then attacked. However, she was still unable to land a hit. As the rounds progressed, the girls tried varying strategies. An attack from above led to Chirch taking the tip of a staff square on her chin. A sneak attack from behind earned Rose an elbow to the gut. An attempt at a pincer attack was rewarded by the Captain sending both girls flying across the room. Not even Chirch launching her spear square at Marko’s head worked, with the Captain effortlessly evading it while defending against a full powered assault from Rose. As the rounds wore on and the fatigue set in, the girls became increasingly frustrated. During the break before the final round, Marko made an announcement to the girls.
“I’m going to close my eyes for the entire last round.”
This took the girls by surprise. Maybe this was his way of giving himself a handicap? The pace of the fight had started to drop significantly as the girls had started to tire, the weighted staff becoming more of a drain on stamina with each passing round. As they got ready for the final round, the girls mustered the last of their energy.
“Start wherever you want.” Marko said, his eyes already closed.
The girls decided to start on either side of the Captain. As the buzzer sounded, they took off at full speed. Charging in, they both used forehand swings to try and hit the Captain from either side. However, Marko leapt upwards, the girls’ staffs knocking together. No sooner had their staffs made a clanking noise as they collided, did the captain kick them from their hands before he landed. Somewhat shocked, the girls decided to move in and fight hand-to-hand. Marko, holding his staff behind his back, evaded each of their attacks, only using his left hand to block when necessary. As they endeavoured to land a hit, both girls noticed that even though he wasn’t looking, the Captain hadn’t lost a millisecond of speed. Even when they tried to hit him in difficult spots, he seemed to have their every move telegraphed, dodging effortlessly. They continued their assault for the rest of the round, only stopping when the buzzer sounded. Dropping to the floor instantly, catching their breath, neither girl was thinking about the fact they hadn’t managed to land a hit. Rather, they were focusing on getting as much oxygen into their lactic acid-filled muscles as possible. Marko, whose eyes were now open, walked over to pick up the training staffs that had been left on the floor.
“Good work today. You’ve both gotten stronger since the Advancement Exam.”
As the girls sat up, they both felt a pang of frustration.
“Ten rounds of fighting, and we didn’t land a single hit…” Rose lamented.
“You improved as the rounds went on.” Marko replied. “It might not feel that way now, but next time you pick up your swords, you’ll notice the difference.”
Chirch, still laying back on the floor, was only in the mood to complain. “Everywhere hurts…”
“Oh, by the way. Dinner’s at my place.” Marko announced. “Hurry and shower. I don’t want your sweat on my couch.”
7. Adamine City Centre, roughly 15 minutes from Kingsguard HQ. Marko’s Apartment.
“Hey, Rose. Don’t you think the smell from the kitchen is kinda good?” Chirch whispered.
Rose nodded. “I didn’t think Captain Marko was the cooking type.”
“When he said dinner, I thought he was gonna make us eat some gross protein plate that tastes like cardboard. Or he would have someone else cook for him.”
“How do you know what cardboard tastes like?” Rose asked suspiciously.
As the girls continued to whisper about the surprisingly pleasant fragrances wafting in from Marko’s kitchen, the doorbell rang.
“I’ll go see who it is.” Rose announced, standing up and heading for the door. As she did, however, the aches and pains from training set in, causing her to hobble slightly. As she opened the door, she was greeted by a very familiar face.
“Ha ha ha! How’s my girl doing?” Rio asked, pulling Rose into a tight hug.
“Ha ha! Sore from a long day’s training, are we? If the Captain’s working you too hard, I’ll make him pay! With a pay cut! Ha ha ha!” Releasing his daughter from his bear-like embrace, Rio took his shoes off, and popped his head into the kitchen.
“Long time no see, Marko!”
“Oh. Hi. Rum’s in the usual spot. Help yourself.” Marko replied, his attention firmly on his cooking.
“Ha ha! Don’t mind if I do!” Rio replied cheerfully. Taking a glass from one of the kitchen cabinets, he helped himself to some ice before wandering into the living room. After pouring himself a generous measure of rum, he set his glass on a coaster on the coffee table before perusing the Captain’s record collection, which sat proudly on an open-faced cabinet next to the TV.
“Shiira. When was the last time you listened to your mother’s music?” Rio asked.
“Oh, umm… It’s been a while.” Rose replied quietly.
“Your mom was a singer?” Chirch asked, surprised.
“A wonderful one at that.” Rio replied. Looking at her records for a moment, he felt a wave of nostalgia, followed by a very brief sense of longing. “I’ll put some on later. For now, I’ll pick something a little lighter… how about this?”
Satisfied with his choice, Rio placed the record into the record player. As the music started to play, he took a seat on the armchair. Swirling his rum around in the glass, he breathed a long, heavy sigh.
“Daddy. Why didn’t you tell me your Adamine apartment was in the same building as Captain Marko?” Rose asked.
“Well, it was never really relevant.” Rio answered. “Besides, I figured you’d find out sooner or later.”
“Do you come over here for dinner a lot?” Rose asked.
“When we’re both not too busy.” Rio replied. “We go back quite a long way. We’ve been neighbours here since he was a kid, after all.”
“Wait, really?” Rose replied, surprised.
“Oh, I wonder if there’s any pictures of Captain Marko as a kid here…” Chirch said cunningly, scanning the surfaces for any signs of a young Marko.
“Ooh, let me look too!” Rose said excitedly, joining Chirch on her picture hunt. As she looked, she spotted a framed picture on one of the shelves. “Here’s one!”
Chirch hurried over excitedly to Rose to look at the picture.
“Oh, this is from the Academy!”
A teenage Marko, dressed in his graduation gown, stood next to a tall, smiling white-haired woman.
“Oh, she’s really pretty…” Chirch commented.
“Is she from the Academy? She looks a bit older…” Rose added, investigating the woman closely.
“Maybe it’s his sister or his mom?” Chirch suggested.
“They don’t really look alike, though…” Rose took the picture over to her father. “Daddy, do you know who this woman is?”
Without looking at the picture, Rio replied. “I do.”
“Who is she?” Rose asked.
“That’s for the Captain to tell you.” Rio answered. The evasive answer only made the girls more curious, but before they could probe further, Marko’s head popped out from the kitchen.
Excited for the food, the girls headed to the kitchen to help lay the table.
8. Marko’s Apartment. Dinner has just ended.
“Man, that was great! I’m stuffed.” Chirch exclaimed happily.
“You only had two helpings this time.” Rose commented. “That’s surprisingly little for you.”
“Oh yeah, you’re right.” Chirch replied. “This was just super filling.”
“What you eat after training is just as important as the training itself.” Marko explained. “It’s better to eat right than to just eat a lot.”
“I should really learn how to cook,” Chirch commented, “but I could never pay attention in nutrition classes. The pictures of food just made me hungry.”
Rose giggled. “They don’t teach you how to cook in nutrition class.”
“They should, really.” Chirch replied. “I might pay attention more that way.”
As Marko got up to pour himself and Rio some rum, he turned the TV on. “Oh, yeah. Director Stickman is on air right now.”
Marko switched the channel to the Hiraeth News Network, where the 8 segment was about to begin.
“Good day, and welcome to Hiraeth News Network. I am your host, Frank Gallon. Today marked the arrival of the newest members of the Kingsguard, the 73rd graduating class of the Kingsguard Academy. Who will be the next big star in the Kingsguard? We have Kingsuard Academy Director, Malcolm Stickman, here to discuss. Thank you for joining us, Director Stickman.”
“It’s my pleasure,” the Director replied.
“Now, I hear that the consensus from Academy staff is that the 73rd class are the most talented group since the class of 2244?” Gallon asked.
Director Stickman nodded. “Yes. Whilst we’ve certainly had talented soldiers emerge over the past few years, it’s been a while since we’ve had such a well-rounded class. There are strong recruits for all the divisions.”
“I see. And are there any names that we should be looking out for? I hear that Zak Niklaus has been held in high regard by the Academy for a long time, and that the daughter of Rio Em Rose is emerging as a bright talent.”
Although she would have preferred it if they had used her name, Rose was shocked to hear herself being mentioned on television.
“Zak is a talent who has the potential to go to the very top.” Director Stickman replied. “As does Shiira Em Rose. Being the daughter of the one known as “Hiraeth’s Mightiest Hero” comes with a lot of expectation, but she’s managed it very well and looks to be forging her own path, rather than the one that was laid out for her.”
“Very interesting.” Gallon mused. “Now, if I’m not mistaken, Em Rose was hand-selected for early recruitment?”
Stickman nodded. “Yes. She was one of three early recruits, and one of two from the soldier division.”
“Would you be able to tell us more about the other early recruits?” Gallon asked.
“I’d be happy to.” Stickman answered. “One is a third-year engineer known as Zagreus Judge. He’s quite resourceful, and most of his design projects are creations that even our professors would be proud to create. The other is a first year, a young soldier by the name of Diana Chirch.”
Had Chirch been eating, she would have choked on her food. Even though she knew it was coming, it was still a shock to hear her name on the news.
“Chirch was the standout prospect from a very talented age group. She’s a very gutsy fighter with a very developed sense for battle. Although she seems inexperienced on paper, her innate abilities, coupled with being a fast learner, are more than enough for her to hold her own on the battlefield.”
“Very interesting.” Gallon replied. “If I’m not mistaken, Chirch is only the second first-year in Academy history to join the Kingsguard?”
“That is correct.” Stickman answered. “The first since the 2244 class, coincidentally.”
“The only other first-year to be selected early is current Elite guard member, Captain Marko. Does Chirch have the potential to reach Elite level?”
“Well, she’s not as polished as Captain Marko was at the same age, but at the rate she’s learning, she could definitely reach that level.” Stickman replied. “With her, Shiira Em Rose and Zak Niklaus, the sky’s the limit.”
“A very interesting insight into the future of our country’s military.” Gallon said, concluding the segment. “Next up. Could your Roomba be recording your conversations? Mia Pachi has more.”
Marko switched off the TV. The girls sat in stunned silence.
“Were we just on TV?” Chirch said, still in disbelief.
“They didn’t show our faces, but… yeah. I guess we were.” Rose replied.
“That’s so COOL!” Chirch said excitedly.
“Who knows. Maybe you’ll get to do your first interview soon.” Marko added.
Chirch shivered. “I don’t think I’d be able to speak in front of a camera…”
“You’d be better off staying away from the press.” Rio advised. “At least for the first few years, anyway. The moment you give them a hint of interest, they won’t leave you alone.”
“You don’t do press, do you, Captain Marko?” Chirch asked.
“I get Rio to do it for me.” Marko answered.
“He doesn’t pay me for it, either.” Rio grumbled.
“I’m going to order dessert in about an hour. Is that payment enough?”
Rio laughed. “Sounds good to me!”
1. Marko’s Apartment – Balcony. After an evening of ice cream, conversation, and for the adults, rum, Marko and Rio sit outside and admire the cityscape.
“Even though the garden view from my balcony is nice, the city view can’t be beat.” Rio said, finishing off his drink and pouring another one. As he took a sip, he turned to Marko, his cheeks beet red.
“So, Marko. You seeing anyone these days?”
“I’m cutting you off.” Marko replied, pouring the remaining drops of rum into his glass.
“Come on… it’s not like your answer is being recorded.”
“I didn’t think it was.” Marko answered bluntly.
“Tch. And here I was, hoping to get some insider gossip.”
Looking through the balcony’s French doors, Rio saw the girls sleeping; Rose on the couch, Chirch on the floor.
“Fine. If you won’t give me gossip, I guess we’ll talk shop. How’d they do on their first day?”
“I was impressed.” Marko replied, seemingly more open to this line of conversation. “They’re stronger than I thought they’d be.”
“You think Director Stickman’s assessment was right?” Rio asked.
“As long as they keep pushing each other along like they have been, there’s no telling how strong they’ll be.” Marko answered.
“You think they can surpass you?” Rio asked.
“I’m certain of it.” Marko replied.
This took Rio by surprise. “That’s an awfully high ceiling indeed.”
“They might even surpass you at your best as well.” Marko added.
Rio laughed. “Of course! If they surpass you, that means they’ve already surpassed me on the way. It sounds like our future will be safe in their hands, at least.”
“I hope so.” Marko replied. “I’ll do what I can to set them on their way.”
Marko took his final sip of rum, and looked towards the city lights. “I just hope I have enough time.”