The staff clanged against the spikes of the opposed staff. Almost immediately she pulled it back and spun around, continuing her momentum. She lashed out with another hit, which he expertly blocked as well. Switching tactics, Ishita swung the Khana Staff around her head, causing her opponent to take steps back while parrying.
Grabbing hold of the staff further up, Ishita pulled the weapon close. She began to jab at her opponent, who began his own spinning of his Khana Staff, rhythmically parrying each jab expertly. He glared, stealing glances backward as he was pushed further backwards by Ishita’s assault. He lowered his stance, bringing himself lower to the ground. He picked up his pace, swinging his staff faster and quicker. His hands moved further down his staff, increasing his range. He dropped to one knee, stopping dead and he picked up the pace of his practiced swinging.
This caught Ishita off guard. He caught her mid-jab and her staff was pushed to the side. She used the momentum to complete a spin and lash out, but he was already ready with a parrying blow.
He capitalized on his move by suddenly jumping from his knee and swinging his staff below him in a fluid motion. Ishita barely jumped over the staff. He leaped from his kneeling position and attacked again, pushing Ishita back.
Now it was Ishita’s turn to take steps back as he expertly lashed out at her. Staffs swung through the air, every so often striking one another. They twirled and spun them around their own bodies in practiced motions.
Until he jabbed. Ishita saw his thought process before he had even made it. He diversified his attacks from the left and the right to get her in the pattern of blocking one side then the next. When he adjusted and jabbed out, she was already spinning to make him miss. As his staff passed her stomach and harmlessly hit air, she brought down her own in a stunning show of momentum. One of the spikes at the end of the curved staff caught one of his, and the staff was wrenched from his hands.
With one final spin, Ishita brought the butt of her staff backwards, and it slammed firmly into his back. He let out a small cry, before squinting and grasping at his back, giving out a pained hiss.
“Damn, Matthai, I am not actually your enemy,” whined Harmon Gibson.
“You need to take these things more seriously,” said Ishita, “Our trial is tomorrow.”
“And I do not need to go into it with a new set of bruises,” said Harmon, “I don’t need you taking my eye out with one of those things.”
Harmon walked to a water canteen he had nearby. He plopped down next to it, sitting cross legged and he began to drink heavily from it. Ishita held her Khana Staff in her hands. Around them in the training room many people continued on their training. Two men viciously sparred with Shashki Scythes, their weapons scraping together so hard sparks flew from them. In a far corner, a beginning class was still learning hand to hand combat, and the instructor was teaching the class with a student volunteer. In the opposite corner, another class were cross legged meditating for a cool down. A single man did yoga, holding his body with his arms as his legs stretched into the air. Ishita and Harmon were in the center of the room on one of the two mats saved for Shilambam training with Khana Staffs.
The Khana staff was a tall shepherd's staff. It was made of hardened wood and curved at the top, bringing its height to around six feet tall. Along the curve, metal spikes jetted out from it, making it a formidable weapon. The goal with the staff was to control your enemies distance from you while attempting jabbing and grappling attacks. A skilled Perdadu could disarm an opponent with this method. However, most combatants attempted to just club their opponent off the top of the head.
Ishita wiped the sweat from her brow, joining Harmon on the mat.
“You are getting better,” said Ishita, “I wouldn’t worry about your trial tomorrow.”
“I am worried,” said Harmon, “I am not a great warrior like the rest of you. I am screwed.”
“You know what the Guru is always saying,” said Ishita, “Perdadu is not the same as a great warrior. A Perdadu is so much more than a great warrior could ever hope to be.”
“Not in the Imperial Army,” said Harmon, “If I am to lead, I will need to do so by example.”
“You will be great, nobody is more ready then us,” said Ishita.
“Except any man who lives or breathes,” came a voice from behind them.
Ishita sighed, rolling her eyes. She turned to see two more recruits standing behind them. Initiate Owen Joshi stood behind her, a smirk across his face. Behind him a few new Initiates had entered the training room and were stretching on the mats behind them.
“I see you finally showed up to training today, Owen,” said Ishita.
“I have been drilling all day,” said Owen, “That is, on the skills that matter. We were at the rifle range all morning and now we come to spar.”
“I don’t think the trial will involve firearms,” said Harmon, “Isn’t it centuries old? I was told it would be very traditional.”
“When you are on the battlefield against savage demons or the enemies of our lands they won’t take time for you to pull out a shepherd's staff or your sidearms,” said Owen, “The future of Paorr and Araz will be decided by rifles and artillery. A hundred demons with the best swords and spears known to man are nothing against a solid unit with steam powered, mechanized guns and a well practiced sharpshooter.”
“That is such a narrow minded vision of the future, Owen,” said Ishita, “Combat is not always on your terms and even the best machine malfunctions.”
“Hold your tongue, wench,” spat Owen, “I will not be lectured to by a woman. The only training you should be preparing for is for the kitchen and the bedroom!”
Ishita sprung up, grasping her staff with white knuckles.
“That’s pretty tough talk from a low mark student,” said Ishita, “Perhaps a round on the mat will show you a different perspective.”
“It would be below me to honor your challenge,” said Owen, “You do not belong here. Look around you.”
“I’ll bash your face in,” said Ishita.
“Initiates,” cried Harmon, “Infighting is not the same as sparring. We should let our trial results do the talking. Guru Padhi always says-”
“Guru Padhi has lost his sight for the glory of a true Pardadu,” Owen said, “Guru Bhater knows that a Perdadu is only as good as his prowess on the field of battle.”
Owen looked Ishita up and down before finishing, “And the size of his manhood.”
“Then I would think you have much catching up to do, Initiate Joshi.”
Owen and the two young men behind him suddenly stood straight, their faces going blank. Ishita understood immediately, also stiffening. Harmon sighed and saluted from his cross-legged position.
“As you were, Initiates,” said Warrant Officer Ashton Poddar, stepping into view from behind Ishita, “Don’t go stiff on my account.”
Ishita turned towards the Warrant Officer. He was in full uniform; an officer’s Keppi in his hand, a brilliantly clean khaki tunic with matching pants. A belt where a service revolver hung. Ishita’s eyes narrowed at his pair of crisp officer’s shoes, still on despite walking on the mat. She refrained from rolling her eyes once more. Military buffoons like Poddar didn’t bother with the customs of the Perdadu despite clearly marked signs at the doors.
“I can’t help but feel the need to remind you all the enemy is across the sea,” said the Warrant Officer, “But as I’m sure this little row of yours was only meant in jest, I expect you to be moving on with your registered training exercises.”
“Yes sir,” said Owen and his crew together, “I believe Initiate Gibson and Ishita Matthai were just leaving.”
“Would care to run that by me again, Private,” said Poddar, his eyes narrowing on Owen.
“Initiate Matthai, sir,” said Owen, “It was my mistake. She is a woman, sir.”
“In training fatigues,” said Poddar, “I might have a word with your officer, Initiate. Perhaps a full eye exam before tomorrow’s trial will ensure you don’t miss that in the future.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Owen.
Ishita turned and collected her things from beside the mat, taking a swig from her canteen. She had scheduled time at the course for the day before her lesson and she wanted to be fully prepared for her trial tomorrow. Warrant Officer Poddar, however, was quick to follow her, standing rigid in front of her.
“Initiate Ishita, I hoped to have a word with you.”
“Of course, sir, how can I help you today,” said Ishita.
“Oh, come now, at ease,” said Poddar, “And you’ve been told before, it’s Ashton to you.”
“You are in Uniform Warrant Officer,” said Ishita.
“Ah, but we are at ease, are we not?” smiled Poddar, “Besides, I want to check in on your big day tomorrow.”
“I am looking forward to it,” said Ishita.
“As we all are, I assure you,” said Poddar, “The famous Trial, huh? The Gauntlet! We are all very excited.”
“I see,” said Ishita, “Well, my training continues on. If there’s nothing I can help you with.”
“Dinner,” said Poddar, taking a sharp breath in, “Perhaps a dinner, with me. If you are interested with that. I so enjoyed the last time you dined with me.”
“That was delightful, Ashton,” said Ishita, “But I must decline. I have much to study tonight and with the trial tomorrow.”
“Oh, certainly,” he said, “I wouldn’t dream of it. I hope you will consider it soon, however? After the trial, I mean. Your time should free up considerably.”
“True, at least until I head off to the Officer’s Academy for my tactics and leadership training,” said Ishita, “But I think it would be too early to make such plans.”
“Too right, shouldn’t get your hopes up too much,” said Poddar, “That’s only if you pass your trial.”
Ishita looked away from him, sighing, “When I pass my trial. I do not have the date for the graduation or the dates of the start of the officer’s training.”
“Of course, I meant when you pass,” said Poddar, “I guess we’ll take the guesswork out of it tomorrow.”
“I should hope so, but I feel there isn’t much guesswork there to begin with.”
A tall man approached the pair. He wore training fatigues, like the rest of them, but he wore a Sergeant’s insignia on his turban. He stood tall, his muscles showing through his shirt. His skin was much lighter then many around him, making him most likely from the Northern part of Greater Kantebury. His eyes seemed to glare at Ishita, and they hopped back and forth between Ashita and the Warrant Officer. The man saluted the Warrant Officer, but didn’t wait for his return salute.
“Excited for the big day tomorrow as well, Sergeant?”
“Salute your superior, pork rind,” spat the Sergeant.
Ishita was quick to go stiff, giving a salute to the man. However, he did not return it, and left her standing in the salute as he addressed the warrant officer.
“I am excited. Tomorrow’s trail is the final strainer, separating the pure from the impurities. It ensures we’re not just letting any sap into the Perdadu and it ensures only the best serve under the holy title.”
“Then I am sure under your training,” said the officer, who motioned for Ishita to stop saluting, “Initiate Matthai has nothing to worry about.”
“On the contrary, I would think Initiate Matthai,” the sergeant saluted her finally, allowing her to finish saluting, “Has more to worry about than anyone. I fear after tomorrow she will be left sorely disappointed.”
Poddar frowned, “Sergeant Veerha, I would hope as a training sergeant here you would be competent enough to train your students to the best of your abilities.”
“My abilities are not in question,” said the Sergeant, “I am a seasoned Perdadu trainer. It is that very training that has taught me that it is a waste of time to expect much of soldiers who are lacking between the legs, metaphorically and literally. There is no place for such a Perdadu.”
He turned to Ishita, a devilish smile spreading across his face. Ishita did nothing. Sergeant Yad Veerha hated her. He had somehow been assigned to a large portion of her physical training over the years and he was extra hard on her. She knew he had made it his mission to make her quit or hospitalize her at every turn. Sure enough, she had spent many days and weeks in the infirmary due to his overzealous approach to her education. However, she never let him win.
In that time, she had learned to hold her tongue. He ensured acts of defiance or disobedience were rewarded with hospitalizations. He had also fought for approval to bring floggings back as a punishment, no doubt for her benefit as the years stretched on. Now that she was so close, she knew she had to take whatever he decided to dish out. Only then could she truly hurt him, but succeeding tomorrow.
“What do you think of that, Miz Matthai,” spat the Sergeant.
“I think tomorrow will be my trial and my actions will speak volumes,” said Ishita, “Hopefully my expert training will reward me.”
“We shall see,” smiled the Sergeant.
“And if not, I wouldn’t worry too much,” said Poddar, “I’m sure they will understand. Seeing as your trainer is one of the few Perdadu to not make an Officer’s position.”
At this, Veerha’s jaw tightened. His eyes seared into Poddar’s, who met them with a cool poison only one who was raised in luxury can procure.
“Well, unless I can help you further, Sergeant,” said Poddar, “I’m sure you are very busy.”
Without saying another word, Sergeant Veerha turned and stormed away, leaving Poddar smirking to himself.
“What a brute of a man if I must say-”
“I apologize for the abruptness, Ashton, but I must be heading on,” smiled Ishita, “It was good to hear from you again.”
“The pleasure was all mine, please,” said Ashton, “Continue with your training, Ishita. I look forward to tomorrow.”
Ishita patted Harmon on the shoulder and smiled before heading off to her next training session.
Ishita was fast. She enjoyed running and the feeling of her heart and the burning of her lungs. She did not enjoy the wailing of her body and the soreness of her back as she went through the Perdadu Agility Course here at the Temple of Horbabad. Since the temple was one of the largest and oldest locations where the Perdadu trained their Initiates it had some of the oldest and most traditional training techniques in Jhardhandi.
The Temple of Horbabad was centuries old, filled with gardens and training rooms and classrooms of all sorts. It held an amazing public, open air bath with a system of hot springs that provided a delightful soak. The gardens grew plants and trees of all sorts, carefully cultivated to display the full array of Jhardhandi’s flora. It housed a massive temple of worship broken up into areas for the public, for trainees and initiates, and for Guru’s and priests. It also housed some of the oldest training systems used in ancient times. No one remembered what warriors trained here under the guidance of the ancient monks, for at some point in a war lost long ago the Perdadu rested here, and trained farmers willing to learn in ancient and forgotten fighting techniques.
Now it sits as a shining traditional jewel in the crown of the Kantebury Empire. Here rested some of the most traditional training facilities next to the most state of the art ones. At its heart was a secretive series of trials and puzzles and unknown obstacles known only as 'the Gauntlet'. No where could you find a map of it. No records were kept of its construction. Every soul who entered it swore an oath of secrecy, and nothing was known of those who broke it. Several initiates died every time a class attempted it, and many more were injured, some so badly their career would end.
But completing the trials within would win any man the title of Perdadu. Any man would become the envy of any Military unit. They would be more valuable than any treasure to a family name. They were worth more then any vote to a politician. It was a rank more important to the king than any general could hope to obtain otherwise. They were the knights of the very crown they fought against generations earlier. They were the heroes of every story every little boy ever heard growing up.
And tomorrow, Ishita Matthai was going to challenge everything it stood for. Her academic marks were too good to ignore. She passed every physical test of strength and agility. She was proficient enough at every weapon she put her hands on. They could not turn her away. She had not been the first female to become an Initiate, but after years of training, she would be the first to go that far. Now she ran the agility course for the last time before her trial. She would be the first female to actually take the trial.
She ran and leapt over another hurdle. In a few steps she quickly leaped 2 foot steps up an incline and jumped across a chasm to swing an artificial vine onto a rope swing.
The agility course was designed to ensure a Perdadu could traverse any situation. Movement would never hold one back. Swinging, climbing, running, swimming, all encompassed in over of the most grueling courses designed in Jhardhandi. Ishita was far from the best at it, and she was well aware the trial would involve quick movement and would push your physical abilities to their limit.
With a thrust of her legs she launched herself into a downward incline. She allowed herself to fall into a roll to prevent twisting her ankle and she sprang to her feet at the end. She let out another breath.
“Matthai,” came a voice of another runner.
Initiate Ghordi Rhaman approached her. He was covered in oil and was wiping his brow with an oily rag.
“Lesson will start soon,” said Ghordi, “Have you thought about your gear?”
“My gear?” said Ishita, “Everything of mine is good to go for tomorrow.”
“Make sure your enemies have not sabotaged you," said Ghordi, "The trial will be hard enough.”
"I haven't stopped thinking about that,” said Ishita.
“Trial is tomorrow,” said Ghordi, “Do you want me to look it over before the lesson?”
“No, I will need to bathe,” said Ishita, “And I have to go all the way to the ‘women’s bath’. I will need to leave as soon as possible to make the lesson.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Ghordi.
“I am capable of taking care of myself. Now I must go to not miss the lesson,” said Ishita, “I will go now and meet you there.”
With that, she ran to get her stuff and jogged across the compound to bathe. As she ran, she saw many robed Perdadu walking around, humming hymns in groups. A few training Initiates marched in lines through the wide halls, with watchful sergeants drilling them all the way. A merchant's cart made its way through, a fat oxen pulling it along behind him. A few Perdadu officers were chatting outside of one of the cafes, speaking loudly and laughing as they did so.
As she jogged through she could see some of their conversations die. Men pointed as they whispered at her. Even some of the women who worked at the temple seemed to watch her with great interest. She ignored them. She had to learn to ignore them. She knew some watched in disgust, but others watched with intrigue.
Being one of the only female Initiates, her barracks was not a traditional one. Away from the majority of the men’s barracks, it was tucked up next to the small Ghaza pens of the temple. As she jogged past, she smiled at a few of the Ghaza there. One was very small, roughly the size of a cow. One of the females had given birth over the last winter, and the temple celebrated heavily for the newborn calf.
The female dorm was right up next to the pens, specifically in a converted shed where they used to keep the tools used for disposing of Ghaza dung. It smelt faintly of feces at all hours, and the current place they kept the dung was not far off. When it rained, the smell could practically suffocate Ishita. Worse still, the ‘woman’s bathe’ was a closet in which they moved a small bin into. This bin was once used for storing some of the dung, and Ishita speculated when women Initiates were not here was still used for that purpose. The size of the shack would leave her to speculate there had never been more than two women in training at any one time and she was certain the abysmal accommodations were a factor in why so many left the Perdadu order for the normal military.
However, Ishita remembered her grandfather’s stories and tales of his time in the military. She should not get accustomed to any sort of luxuries, as many of her surrounding initiates would be doing. If she were to see combat, there would be no warm water, no hot springs, and no beds. The smell of Ghaza dung would be heaven compared to the smells of death and decay in war.
So she Soldiered on. She never showed her unhappiness or discomfort. She never was caught holding her nose and she never uttered a complaint. She never reported her fellow Initiates for flinging fresh dung so it splattered her walls.
She grabbed her robes for the lesson and headed for the ‘women’s bathe’.