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Chapter 5

Rain once again haunted her dreams, but this rain was a far earlier storm then the one the night of her escape from the compound. This rain was not the large, heavy drops that had fallen so recently, these smaller more insistent ones mimicked the small tears that rolled down her cheeks to pool on the windowsill below her crossed hands. She pulled her short self up onto tiptoes to see out the fogged window. The movement caused the hot welts on her back to burn, but she ignored them. She was still not used to all this time spent indoors. Back home she would have been outside eve now, helping father get the nets under cover, or with mother herding the few chickens they had into the pen. There was nothing to do here on rain days but sit inside and dream of freedom. In the week since she had arrived here she had been beaten for so many things she had lost track of what they were.

She had fought the first time she had been approached by a man with a cane, but after being given 10 extra lashes for it, she had learned it was better just to accept it. She had been surprised to find that the people here didn’t expect her to work. At home work had been the firt and last thing that she did every day. Here they sat in rooms and listened to people talking for hours. Tar found it boring, and wanted nothing more then to be outside playing. She had seen that there was a stable in the Compound, and the one good thing of this ordeal so far had been her three weeks on horseback getting to the Compound. Even without a conversation, the man escorting her had not said one word to her during the whole trip, she had learned much about the beautiful animals that had helped them reach their destination.

The rain outside picked up in intensity and whispered against the glass pane in front of her. She wished that she could put her back up against the cool surface, but her legs were too short to let her get into the sill. She sighed in frustration, and returned to her small cot. Carefully lying down on her side, she pulled her knees up to her chin and wished for home.

The warm sun in her eyes pulled her from sleep, and the disorienting memories faded quickly. She had no idea why she was dreaming about the distant past, but she didn’t dwell on it. She had another lesson with Nikkaron today and she didn’t want to be late. Her first few had been tiring, but so much fun she couldn’t wait to go back. Even the presence of Hawk couldn’t diminish her feelings on these lessons. She was still horrible at fighting, but Nik was patient and didn’t judge her basic skills. He had a teaching style that made her want to learn more. He had quickly taken a sword from her, and replaced it with a much thinner more graceful piece of steel. She found the lighter blade allowed her to move in the way she wanted to, and didn’t pull down her arm like the broad flat ones had. Hawk said that Nik was babying her, but Taru appreciated being able to not look like a fool.

Hawk still put her on her back more often then not, and she always had plenty of bruises when she left her training with the two, but she was getting better. Sadly her lessons with Shet were not going as well. She had still not been able to explain to him her difficulties with reading and writing, and she had a feeling that he was getting just as frustrated with her as she was with the subject. Jaki had talked to her about it a few times, but her ability to explain what was wrong didn’t work very well. Maybe she was just too stupid to ever get this horrible mage stuff. Shet had been able to help her with the two elements she already knew how to control, fire and air, but as far as moving on to more complicated things, that was a complete and total failure.

Taru had been told when she was in the Compound that it was uncommon to have ability with more then one element, but her instructors down played it as much as possible. She now knew that it was a very rare gift indeed, even Shet only had minimal control over the elements other then his initial one of air. She also discovered that her control was quite good. She hadn’t ever been praised for her ability before, but Shet seemed impressed, so she was pleased. In the compound, people with any amount of elemental ability were trained together, Taru found that now that she was working one on one with Shet, and he knew a lot about control of air, she was learning much more rapidly then she ever had before. She wondered why the Compound trained them in the way they did, but when she asked Shet about it, he would only say that it was because of the need to control. Taru didn’t completely understand his reasoning, but she accepted it. They were awfully controlling in the Compound.

Jogging down the trail to the training building, Taru was surprised to see people she recognized. She hadn’t realized that she had become so comfortable in this place, but there was a naturalness of being here. It was almost as soothing as her dim memories of home. She found that all ties that she had had for the Compound had been neatly, and completely severed. If she had bothered to question this she might have realized it was because here, unlike the place she had spent the last 10 years, people accepted her, didn’t punish her, and were kind to her. That was something that had been missing for so long she didn’t even realize it when it happened. She had friends, she had a crush, and she had freedom. There wasn’t a lot more she could ask for.

She arrived at the sandy training grounds a little early, and hopped over the fence and starting stretching, as she was already quite warm from the jog over. Nik had been shocked that she didn’t know anything about stretching, but she had taken to it quickly, and really liked the feeling of muscles being warmed and pulled until they were more supple and powerful then they were normally. She jogged around the outside ring for a few minutes after her basic stretches and then walked in to find Nik and Hawk. They were both standing at the center of the large room, and she noticed that they were both armed. She didn’t know what they had in store for her, but she wasn’t looking forward to it.

“Today we are going to do something a little different,” Nik told her with a smile. “Hawk tells me that you know how to ride horses, so we’re going to start on some fighting styles that require you to be mounted.” Taru was excited, but she tried not to let it show. She had missed riding since she had arrived here, but she wasn’t going to be about being allowed to ride. She knew that her body was only recently finished healing, and she knew they were making sure she didn’t get hurt again, but she had missed the absolute freedom that being on a horse gave her. She smiled at Hawk, silently thanking him for this, and she could have sworn that he gave a tiny wag of his tails to her. Nik and Hawk lead her outside to the back of the training building. There was a small stable here, and the horses inside were not the fast, sleek racing horses used for spying missions, or the calm, quiet breeds used for riding when speed was not needed. These horses were large, well muscled, and were far better fighters then Taru could ever hope to be. The beasts before her should have intimidated her, but she was instead enthralled by their size and amazingly powerful looks.

Nik directed her towards a stall near the end of the row, locked inside was a beautiful bay mare. Her face was splashed with a streak of white, and her intelligent brown eyes assessed Taru. She knew that if she showed any hesitation this horse would eat her for breakfast.

“This is Victory, she’s one of our beginner mares, but when I say beginner, she’s not an easy ride. If you give her an inch she’ll make sure you pay for it. She’s not mean enough to be a true warhorse, but she has a wonderful attitude for teaching people mounted combat.” Nik offered the mare a lump of sugar he had kept in his pocket, and she happily accepted. “Oh and don’t think you can bribe her either, she may have a sweet tooth, but that doesn’t change how quickly she’ll throw you if you mess up.”

Taru was a little worried about this, but she was still far more excited about the prospect of being able to ride again. She followed Hawk to where all the tack was stored and picked out a saddle and bridle that would work for both her and Victory. Hawk didn’t speak to her much; she found it interesting that she didn’t mind this like she sometimes did with humans. They both still didn’t like each other, but they had come to respect the other for various reasons. Taru had earned Hawk’s respect only after she had exploded in anger after being dumped one too many times, and had set his tail on fire. After that he made sure not to push her that hard again. Taru respected him in turn for his vast knowledge of fighting and combat.

After tacking up Victory and riding sedately around the outside ring a few times, Taru was handed her sword and a small shield. Nik had told her that they were going to start with sword, and if that worked out well they would move onto other weapons. He let her know that not many people ever progressed past the sword. Taru was sure that with her dismal failure at all other types of combat she would never even master the sword on horseback. She loved the feeling of the warm creature beneath her however, and she was going to try and have these lessons for as long as possible.

Victory was not an easy mount, Nik had warned her, but Taru had not been completely aware of just how much the mare would test her riding ability. She constantly attempted to grab the bit and race back to the stalls, or gave tiny bucks whenever she hoped Taru wasn’t paying attention. She had to admit though that she loved the spirit of the horse. In the Compound all the horses had been broken to the point of apathy. Whips and spurs were needed just to convince them to go faster then a trot. Here if Taru even tightened her thighs Victory took that as a sign to go faster. Nik laughed at her struggles, and Taru glared at him, but was not truly mad. She was sure that her efforts were quite humorous. After two hours Nik called an end to her mounted lesson, and as she dismounted Taru knew she was going to be all kinds of sore the next day.

Nik wasn’t done with her however and he directed her back to the building. He had set up some straw mats and Taru knew today was going to be a hand-to-hand combat day. Nik was teaching her a style that would allow her to get an advantage on large opponents. Taru was far from tall or large, she was barely five feet tall, and weighed not much more then two medium sized rocks. The boys she had grown up with in the compound had teased her about this, and had had great fun seeing if they could pick her up. She knew that her size was a large portion of her difficulty in fighting, they didn’t really make weapons for people her size. Nik was working around that and Taru found that she really enjoyed this style of fighting.

Nik said it was one of the many styles taught ot officers, and that his uncle had trained him. He always found it funny that he was teaching a supposedly elite style of fighting to all the rebels. It would certainly surprise the officers of Malaquent’s army if they were suddenly faced with warriors who knew their fighting styles. This particular style used the idea that it is far easier to continue a motion then to counter it. Using just a little well places force you could redirect someone’s attack and put them in a vulnerable situation. It also taught some nasty joint manipulations that could be use in any type of self-defense situation. Nik had explained that joints were a particularly god place to attack because they were weaker. Elbows and knees especially because they could only bend one way, if you were quick and got them going the wrong way you could get a quick surrender even from much larger opponents.

While she wasn’t ready for taking on an opponent Nik had her do an exercise he called ground play. Both started on their knees and when Hawk said go, they attempted to put the other on their back and hold them there. Taru lost every time, but she could tell she was getting better. She also had to admit this was one of the most physically demanding forms of fighting. Your whole body was involved all the time, and you used a lot of energy. Nik kept telling her that she was not doing ti right if she was so tired at the end, but she just huffed at him and tried harder. Nik was trying to convince her that less could be more with this style of fighting, but Taru wasn’t having any of it yet. As she was pinned by yet another of Nik’s lightening fast moved she closed her eyes and went limp. Nik vibrated with laughter above her and she opened her eyes to glare at him again. She seemed to be doing that an awful lot. Then she decided to try something.

That's not funny stupid. She said, trying not to broadcast to anyone other then him and Hawk. Nik was so surprised she had spoken to him, he loosed his hold and she was able to flip him onto his back. Hawk laughed loudly and paced over.

“What are you always telling the students Nik? Don’t let anything distract you? Something like that?” He panted in laughter and nodded to Taru. “That was very well done. Don’t think I’ve seen anyone get the upper hand on Nik in at least a year.”

Nik pushed her off after a moment, and stood, brushing the straw from his clothing. Taru followed his example and smiled at him. She wasn’t sorry she had done it, and in fact was quite proud her little plan had worked.

“I think that’s enough for today Taru, be sure to stretch before you go.” Nik stomped off, but Taru could tell he wasn’t really mad at her, it was more that he was angry his failure had been witnessed by Hawk. Taru could understand that, but didn’t feel bad for doing what she did. She was tired of always getting beat in fighting.

At dinner she told Jaki and Hali about her success in training that day and they bough laughed at her antics with Nik. Taru decided that it was a good a time as any to ask about Nik and Dayn. She didn’t know much about either, and even less about them as a couple. She wasn’t into gossip like some of the girls she knew, but she was interested in the people she spent so much time with.

Nik and Dayn are together. it was phrased as a statement, but both Jaki and Hali knew it was a question. Taru had found that it was hard to make her thoughts focused enough to turn them into questions. Shet didn’t know much about mind talking, and so he said that she would have to talk to Alye or Dayn, or one of the others with the gift to get help with that.

“Yeah, they are together, have been since forever. It’s really nice to see a couple stay together that long. Nik helped Alye and Dayn get out, so at first it was just friendship, but Nik says that he couldn’t let such a hot guy stay single for that long. “ Jaki replied with a smile.

Nik helped them escape. I heard that the first day. Their escape was easy. Again, Taru hated her inability to ask questions.

“Not easy at all, Nik had to do a lot of undercover work, and that’s what he’s still doing. He reports back when he can, but he’s usually here for only a couple months at a time, and then goes away for the same amount of time.” Hali answered this time. Taru wanted to ask more questions, but figured that it would wait until she actually could. She also had a lesson with Shet that evening, and she wanted to try to read some before she went. She knew it wouldn’t help any, but it was worth a shot.

Hali looked over in her direction then, and Taru wondered if the girl knew of her troubles with reading. She sighed, and decided to go back to her room early. She indicated to Jaki her intentions and sent a soft mental goodbye to Hali. She walked back to the infirmary, where she was still living, as no one else had needed the room. She liked the privacy of the infirmary room, and Dayn and Alye had been ok with her staying there for an extended time. She closed the door and pulled one of the books Shet had given her off her small shelf. Shet had talked to her about moving into the main building, as one of the rooms had recently become available. Taru hadn’t asked why it had become available, but there was a large turnover in the camp, and she knew why. Malaquent did not take prisoners.

She flipped through the ancient pages, and sighed. This just wasn’t working. She had to talk to Shet about it tonight. That was all that she could do. Her ability with mental speech was getting better, but it was still annoying that she was not even proficient at it yet. She remembered when she had been brought to the compound, she had been easily fluent in the mental language, and yet for some reason the commanders of the compound refused to let any child there to speak mentally. She closed the book, and tucked it under her arm. She decided that she should arrive early if she wanted to talk about this to Shet.

Onto Chapter 6

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