Much to Alathis' relief, he found the training room empty. He'd thought so; it was six in the evening, so most neophytes were busy with study.
Alathis ignored the training dummies lining the left wall and the wooden weapons on the right while attempting to avert his attention from the large mirror in the north. Weapons of every type hung there, from daggers to double-headed two-handed axes. In the first few years, every neophyte was encouraged to practise with all weapons. First, to learn how to wield, so if they fought an enemy who used one, they knew how to fight it. Second to choose which one to specialise. Alathis had fallen in love with the long sword almost straight away. It wasn't too heavy or too short. It could stab and slice. Its hilt and cross-guard could be used as weapons if needs must and wielded with one or two hands. In short, it was adaptable, practical. But above all else, there was certain artistry, freedom to the long sword. It could be wielded like a curved cutting blade or even a specialist stabbing blade such as a rapier.
Faster than even his eye could follow, Alathis drew his sword and was in a ready stance. Then he launched into it. His every technique, his every step, every cut, stab and parry were perfect. He'd perform a, a downward vertical strike or any other, then the appropriate dodge, block or dart. Then counter. It was called shadow swordplay. He did it by instinct, with no rhyme or reason. It emptied his mind, forced the fear anyway — the anxiety.
They'd been taught meditation from a young age. It'd never worked for Alathis: Sitting and humming couldn't calm his forever busy mind. But swinging a sword or punching and kicking the air, did. Alathis wasn't as naive as most of the other acolytes; he knew Hunters were, for all intents and purposes, assassins. And he knew he had to be a damn good one to live even a year of his apprenticeship. That's if he managed to survive the Ritual somehow.
He was so lost in his training he failed to notice the vampire enter the room.
Alathis leapt so high he almost hit the ceiling and turned to find Kolmath approaching. The once-elf vampire's face was unreadable, her hands behind her back. She was tall for an elf: around 1.77 metres. Like all her kin, she was long-limbed, graceful. She wore plain white robes like all other teachers. Her skin just as inhumanly stark as her robes. She stared at him with large, dark green eyes and her long grey hair pulled back into a bun. She was beautiful, even for an elf she. It almost made him forget his ingrained instinct at recognising the wrongness vampires exuded.
'Teacher,' said Alathis.
Kolmath waved dismissal at Alathis' formality and approached the wall of weapons.
'Karetil came to me,' she said. 'He's concerned about you.'
'Indeed,' she said and reached to touch a broad sword. 'You underestimate him, I think. He may act childish, but he has every bit the same training at reading people like you.'
Alathis didn't reply, he just cut the air, first horizontally, then upward diagonally.
'You know, when you first came to the coven, I was not sure what to make of you,' said Kolmath, while running her long, slender fingers along the haft of a great axe. 'You were so sullen, sulky you more so than the other survivors of the attack. I understood why, after talking with Telric.'
Alathis treated her with his most murderous glare. 'I don't want to talk about that, teacher.'
Kolmath turned to him. 'You will have to, Alathis. One day. What you went through, what you had to do, is something even the hardiest of us would find hard to cope with. It might be a good idea to speak of it before going through the Ritual.'
Alathis couldn't help flinching at her mention of The Ritual.
'Ah. So you are afraid,' said Kolmath as she took a small axe and tested its weight. 'Do not be ashamed; it is only natural.'
She swung it a few times, but the swings were so fast Alathis couldn't count them.
'Every neophyte in your position is afraid before the Ritual.'
'Well, except Karetil,' said Alathis.
'He, too, is afraid, young Alathis,' said Kolmath. 'Again, you underestimate your friend, he is just far better at hiding it. Or you might be overestimating him, from a certain point of view.'
Alathis swallowed. 'I don't want to die.'
'Everything dies,' said Kolmath. 'Even Hunters, even vampires, even the Jaroai. It is nothing to fear. It is just nothingness.'
'You can back out,' Kolmath interrupted, but without anger or condescension. 'Stay here a