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Strife
#1
Spoiler:
So, this was just the result of a rush of inspiration, today. Yes, the character exists.

One of the steps towards learning to master your senses in combat is to learn how to survive without them, one at a time. It was not the first time she’d been thrown into this chamber, and it’d certainly not be the last. She had long ways to go before she was done with this particular exercise.

It was a small, square chamber with a high ceiling and mirrored walls. Ahead of her, she saw her own reflection staring back at herself emptily with her eyes wide open as if expecting death to leap out at her with its claws bared if she dared blink for but a split second and lose her absolute focus. Behind her reflection, an infinite number of additional reflections were lined up into eternity, as is the desired effect of the mirrored room. To cause sensory confusion. But the mirrors wouldn’t serve her any purpose today.

A click; and all lights died out. The room was drenched in thick, impenetrable darkness and it did not take long until absolute silence followed; only disrupted by the strained contractions in her chest when she struggled to continue holding her breath. What felt like half an eternity passed before she finally released the air she stored in her lungs and sunk down into a crouch, hands firmly gripping the hilts of her trusted swords. Her ears stood stiffly in attention, idly turning to collect as much sound as possible. She already knew her opponent was in the room with her.

Her hands clutched the hilts of her swords so tightly her knuckles whitened beneath the mail that covered her gauntlets. The thumping of her pulse sounded loudly in her ears and it quickly frustrated her. She couldn’t hear anything over the sound of her own heart and she drew a deep breath to try to calm her body down, with very little success. The pounding of her heart sounded louder in her ears and she crouched down even further, drawing her blades from their sheathes to get herself ready even though she couldn’t control herself completely. Her opponent ought to make a move soon, and she’d catch him when he did.

A spark in the darkness. She turned her entire body around as quickly as she could manage to swing both blades in wide arcs, a foot to the left of where she’d spotted the spark. She cleaved nothing but darkness and felt a coldness run down her back. Gasping for breath, she leapt forward and collided with the cold mirror wall to evade what soared through the space she had occupied until a moment ago. Whoever her assailant was, he huffed and retreated back into hiding before his presence was veiled once more behind his magical barriers.

This entire chamber stunk of arcane energies. For years, they’d honed her ability to sniff out magical patterns and energies, and this particular exercise involved overwhelming her relevant senses to encourage attention and to keep her always alert. It worked, because she couldn’t find it in herself to relax for a moment. She spun her body around and rolled sideways along the wall, narrowly escaping the next assault on her. Quickly, she lashed out the flat side of her sword towards the space she just left, only to catch nothing, much to her disappointment. She growled, kicking out from the wall and taking place in the middle of the room. Or, what she assumed to be the middle of the room.

Returning to her crouched position, she breathed slowly and deeply to keep herself steady and calm. The pounding of her heart had calmed down and it no longer disrupted her hearing like it did before, her ears twitching repeatedly as they attempted to catch any sounds from her surroundings. This was difficult. Nothing, so far, had given her any hint as to where her opponent was hiding. There wasn’t an awful lot of space to move around in, but the room was too large for her to swing her swords at random in hoping to catch something at the end of her blades. It required at least two and a half of her to stretch across the entire room, and that is excluding the blades.

She held her breath again, focusing her attention outwards to try and spot any kind of disturbance in the magical pulse that surrounded her. He was trying to distract her, for sure. But once he emerged, there ought to be some kind of disturbance in the field he’d encased the room in. She would just have to sit patiently and wait for the opening he was bound to give her.

There.

There it was. A ripple in the magical barrier to her left. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth together, adjusting her grip on her swords. Just one moment. One, two… Three… Her eyes shot open.

Her entire body whirled about once more, twisting gracefully in the darkness that surrounded her with the blades gliding through the air and slicing it with a beautiful ring of the finely shaped metal. They danced around in a wide circle before descending upon a small spark in the darkness. It was the opening she’d been waiting for. It came sooner than she’d expected, but there it was.

The blades cut through it. A gasp was heard in the room, echoing all around her and ringing in her ears as the spark faded without her blades catching into anything. Damn it. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn…

Kzzhing.Hu-Nngh…” Before she could find footing again, something sharp ran across her bared midsection and sliced through her skin and flesh, undoubtedly drawing blood. It threw her off focus for but a second, but that was more than enough. Bright light illuminated the chamber and caught her off-guard, burning at her retinas and causing her to scream out in surprise and sudden agony. Not only did her eyes hurt, but her skin was singed and burned by a wave of magical flames that washed through the chamber.

Focus!” A voice echoed through the chamber before the flames faded out with a slurping sound, disappearing back into the nether as their arcane energy was soaked up by the surroundings. Her body suddenly felt heavier, but she wouldn’t let that stop her. No matter how much her body ached now after the merciless assault on all of her senses. Her skin burned as if she was caught in a burning building and the previously cool room felt hot.

She knew it was just a sensory overload, but it was difficult to think of it as such in that kind of situation. She groaned, gripping her blades again and crouching down to focus her senses outwards once more. Rinse and repeat, as they say. If she fails, she can’t do naught but try again until she succeeds. He has to leave an opening eventually, but that spark was just a trick to catch her attention. She should’ve known. After all, this room was still mirrored.

Even if she saw a spark, there was no way of knowing if the spark was actually coming from where she anticipated. The mirrors would reflect any kind of light to trick her eyes. … Of course, then all she had to do to proceed was to simply not use her eyes at all.

Following her own advice, she sealed her eyes completely and promised silently that she wouldn’t open them. The pulse of the magical barrier around her grazed her burning skin and it tickled her senses beyond comprehension. She snarled, crouching down further and gripping her swords with the same ferocity as before. She wouldn’t be tricked again, and she would catch the next opening when it showed itself.

It took a while this time. Many minutes appeared to pass where she stood there, letting herself be swallowed by the overwhelming silence hanging over her. He was passive, watching her for any little flaw in her defense. He wouldn’t find one this time. Once burned, twice shy. Her body was completely still and her breathing was slow and quiet, in rhythm with her ever-slower heartbeat. The longer time that passed, the harder her heart beat against her ribcage. It was almost painful after a while.

Behind you! Two seconds. Exactly two seconds, then her body whirled around gracefully like before with her blades following. Not even a second later, her swords had caught flesh and the dying gurgling sound of the mirror image of the present arcanist faded back into nothing, taking everything that was left of him with it. The lights came on again, blinding her temporarily with a clapping being heard from overhead.

The ceiling of the room was lifted off to let the bright sun shine down and eradicate the last bit of darkness that was still clinging to the area. She refused to open her eyes, the light proving to be painful even through her eyelids. Even more so as it was reflected endlessly in the mirrors of the room. She remained perfectly still before something grabbed her around the waist and she was lifted off the floor.

Good job. We’re definitely making progress, Linn.

The elven woman, Linn, opened her eyes again. She winced painfully as the light stung in them, yet.

Tomorrow?

Yes, tomorrow. We’ll continue tomorrow.
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