The air is slightly humid, it must have been quite foggy in the earlier morning hours. The sunlight glides through the trees and lands in swatches on the grass surrounding me and gives a dull glow to the rivets across the top of my helmet. It’s copper finish shines with an understated polish, standing out and pleasing the eye but not inviting as a focal point. It has strength with subtlety.

The leather across the cuff of my arm braces digs into my wrist as I tighten down the smaller straps and each arm gives a faint and straining creak as I adjust them on my forearm. The helmet’s somewhat clunky metal flaps fall awkwardly on my hands as I lift it to my head, and the familiar slightly musty smell of stale sweat and physical activity hits my nose a split second before I plunk it on top of my head.

As I cinch down the strap under my chin, I can feel a change come over me, as if my entire perspective on the World has changed in a heartbeat. It is honest and straightforward with no pretence or false fronts, its single purpose to protect me implicitly. This is serious now.

The soft leather of my left glove envelops my hand and forearm like a lover. Protective and comforting, its soft suppleness belies its tough exterior. The sharp contrast between my gloves is never more apparent to me than when I first heft my right glove. With it’s multi-layered riveted leather, it is a turtle shell to its left hand counterpart’s bathrobe. It slides on easier than it would seem that it should, and I flex the fingers instinctively to re-familiarise myself with its feel, with the comfort that it affords while being so protective.

I’m suited up and ready yet in a sense, still bare. I walk a few feet over and in one fluid motion grab both my sword and my shield, the weight of which still surprises me when I first heft it. As I walk toward the field instinct takes over, and I can feel the sword moving through the air in patterns and twirls on it’s own. My shoulders show no sign of the weariness and soreness this very sword and shield produced a week before.

My movements are natural and real to me and I am already warmed-up. No further preparation is necessary.

I am ready to fight.

The melee training has taught me little today other than to stick to my comrade’s side and protect them without expecting any actual protection from them. I have been “killed” by blind shots to my head and ribs repeatedly and I am embittered by not having had the opportunity to face down my actual opponent.I separate from the group and Chef approaches. He’s by far the most aggressive and fluid trainer out there. We square off and I know I’m in for it when I’m “dead” 3 times right in a row without landing a single shot. His wildly intense eyes soften and his stern grimace widens into a smile as he gives me some instruction. He ends with “Calm mind, clear action” and I struggle to keep those words winding through my head as he relentlessly attacks and attacks.Soon, I find a rhythm and a way of breaking his. I time my strikes to a jarring effect into the ease and flow of his swipes and parries. It throws him off enough that I can affect some manner of attack and soon, I am able to “kill” him.“GOOD” he bellows almost proudly, and my own insecurity whispers into my ear that he probably let me have that one. I go for another and he is freshly wounded.

As if he can actually hear the demons in my head, his half-smile peeks from behind a flurry of swings as he says, “I’m not holding back you know.”

By the time I have absorbed what he has said, I have absorbed the slash to the side of my head as well. I am dead.

We share a smile of respect and get back to it.

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