In case you missed the message at the start of Chapter 3... this is the last of the chapters I had written in a backlog, and just left there lying around while working on other stuff. I probably won't continue working on this for quite some time, at least until Cold Steel 3 comes out on PC or if I ever get more free time to work through the Sky games.
Hopefully, it has been at least slightly entertaining so far.
"Hey," Elliot was the first to say when Galen, Laura and Fie had begun their duel. "Isn't Galen fighting differently from back in Heimdallr?"
"Yeah," Elise said, frowning. "It's a very defensive form."
Elise hadn't quite been able to clearly see his movements back then, having been injured by the dragon, but she'd been aware of him literally running circles around their enemies back then. In their morning spar (if she could even call it that), he used a style that balanced offense and defense in moderation.
Now, though, he seemed almost planted in the ground, only moving where it was necessary. His sword was always held tight and close against his body, never overextending, catching Laura's greatsword and diverting it aside time and time again where he didn't dodge. Fie's attacks didn't fare any better, since he was able to somehow knock bullets out of mid-air and step just barely aside from every thrust or sweep of her weapons.
It went on for close to five minutes, and even though he never struck a blow of his own, Galen seemed to be in complete control of the fight. He offered his own ripostes here and there, but only when it was clear that an opening was available right after one of his opponents launched their strikes.
"Look at his feet," Gaius said suddenly. "It's incredible."
"Yeah," Jusis said, frowning. "I noticed as well."
Elise looked to see what had caught their attention. For a moment, she wondered what they were talking about, when it suddenly dawned on her.
"What is it?" Alisa asked, curious.
"He hasn't moved at all from his initial spot," Elise said, voicing her observations. Beside her, Alisa focused on studying his footwork. "He dodges, but keeps to the same general territory. It's almost like a box-step, only moving the bare distance needed."
"Exactly," Gaius said, not taking his eyes off the fight. "It's economy of movement, pure and simple, only taken to the extreme."
"Court fencing has a similar emphasis on footwork, but this is completely different," Jusis added his own contribution. "My style focuses on destabilising an opponent, advancing and retreating, while his is entirely used for defense."
"Some forms of the Eight Leaves also focus on counterattacks, but this takes it to another level," Elise added, carefully studying Galen's movements. "He's not attacking at all unless he's completely certain of an opening."
"You're all able to see that from just five minutes?" Elliot sounded awed.
"Ignore our resident swordsmen and swordswoman, Elliot," Instructor Sara butted in. "They've got an unhealthy obsession with swordsmanship."
Elise was about to retort that she was studying his form just as much as they were, when something else caught their collective attention.
"Um," Emma voiced. "Is anyone else seeing this?"
"Yeah," Machias added dumbly, just as flabbergasted. "What? How?"
For not only was the combat link between Fie and Laura suddenly rekindled with a faint green light, their ARCUS units resonating and glowing the same shade of green, but there was now also a very dim glow coming from Galen, neatly intersecting with their link.
He didn't even have an ARCUS. The light was coming from where his heart would be, but none of the combatants seemed aware of the fact.
"Is that a combat link?" Elise finally asked what everyone was thinking.
"It can't be," Machias replied immediately. "He doesn't have an ARCUS."
"What else can it be?" Jusis snapped.
For once, Machias didn't rise up to his rival's provocation, lost for words, trying like the rest of them to make sense of the impossible phenomenon they were all being witness to.
"But a three-way combat link? Is that even possible?" Elise spoke.
"Wait. Look at Laura and Fie," Gaius insisted.
As one, they did so. Their movements seemed different from before. They felt re-energised, Galen having to move his blade and feet faster now, the circle of territory with which he'd been constraining himself within expanding outward. It seems almost as though –
"They're making use of each other's openings to press the attack," she said. "Their combat link – it's working!"
Her enthusiasm and surprise were shared by the rest. "Go Laura! Go Fie!" They began cheering their classmates on.
The pair was lost in the battle, their cheers not having reached their ears. She knew that feeling well, having entered that state of mind many times in the past when caught in the thrill of battle. She knew that right there and then, all that mattered to them was finding a way to overcome Galen Marek's defenses.
"Sara," Principal Vandyck said suddenly. After having been silent for so long, she'd almost forgotten of his presence. "About Olivert's proposal…"
"Yeah, I know," Sara said, just as enthralled as they were in the fight. "I had my doubts at first, but now I'm a bit more inclined to agree."
"If so, then shall I suggest the idea to him after this is concluded?"
"Not yet," Sara insisted. "I want to test his skills myself."
"You want to fight with Galen?" Elliot blurted out. Both Sara and Principal Vandyck turned toward him, and he flushed in embarrassment, having spoken out of turn.
"What proposal is this, anyway?" Emma asked, curious.
"You'll figure out soon enough; don't worry," Sara said, patting her head. "Anyway, once he's done with Laura and Fie –"
That sudden outburst from Fie caught their attention, and they looked back at the fight. They were just in time to catch Fie throwing some objects in the air, Laura's body tensed and poised to strike, staring hard at the ground with her massive greatsword at the ready –
Flash grenades. Hurriedly, she closed her eyes and covered her ears, and several of her classmates reacted similarly. Sara and Vandyck had already been ready for that attack.
A burst of light and sound temporarily left her dazed even with that, and once her vision cleared she immediately turned back to see the outcome of the fight. Through blurred vision, she could just barely catch a figure wielding a massive greatsword charging toward a shadowy form in the centre, Fie approaching rapidly from the other side in a pincer movement, from a different angle to where she had been previously.
They were about to strike simultaneously, when Galen suddenly stepped aside, dodging Laura's strike while precisely knocking Fie's gun-knives out of her hands with a single blow, without actually injuring her in the process.
In the next instant, he kicked Laura to the ground where she had overcommitted in her swing, believing him incapable of dodging the strike he shouldn't have seen coming, and powerfully pinned down her fallen body with his own weight while holding his sword to her throat.
The fight was over.
"Good attempt," he said with that strangely distorted voice of his. "You almost got me."
How did he see them through Fie's flash grenade? He should have been blinded and deafened; there was no way he could have predicted their attacks.
"How?" Fie asked mutely, not yet picking up her fallen blades. "I was sure that my grenades would catch you –"
"It was a perfect execution, Fie. I was blinded," he said, a hint of humour entering his otherwise emotionless voice. "Against anyone else, you and Laura would have won. Your only mistake was falsely believing I needed eyes to sense you."
"Amazing…" Laura breathed heavily on the ground, movements restrained. "I was sure that our last hits would have landed…"
Elise's eyes widened. She could sense presences, of course, much like any swordsman with a fair amount of training under their belt, but to actively use it in the midst of combat was something else entirely. Whoever Galen Marek was, he was in a whole other league from her.
"Incredible…" Machias said, awed.
"Indeed." For the second time, Jusis agreed with his rival. Would wonders never cease? What was it with Galen, that he could make such impossibilities happen?
"How did you make the combat link?" Elliot suddenly asked Galen, and the three fighters became aware of their audience.
"What's a combat link?"
He made a combat link without knowing what it was?!
Elliot didn't reply, probably just as shocked as Elise was. Principal Vandyck spoke on their behalf instead. "I'm very impressed, Mister Marek. Your method seems to have worked."
"You're a real miracle maker, huh Galen?" Sara commented. "First in Heimdallr, then fixing up these two's mess of a relationship, and now a combat link without an ARCUS…"
She paused for a moment. Elise looked at her instructor, and saw a devilish grin just beginning to form on her face.
"…still, though, do you really have to make advances on every one of my students?"
She gestured deliberately toward the position that Galen and Laura were occupying, him sitting on top of her abdomen, preventing her movements while still holding his sword to her throat.
It was funny seeing the imposing helmeted and armoured figure practically jerk away from Laura, standing some distance away. Her classmate was hurriedly pushing herself to her feet now, face slightly red, although she would no doubt claim it to be the result of the aftermath of battle.
"I can assure you, Instructor Sara, that was not my intention," Galen hurriedly explained.
Was it her imagination, or did he sound flustered? Ah, how she wished he would remove that helmet of his so they could all see his reaction.
"Ah, but you have already robbed my student of her innocence," Sara tutted in disapproval. She drew her pistol and sword, declaring theatrically, "Prepare yourself, Galen Marek! I must fight for my student's honour!"
"Instructor, there's no need –" Laura tried to say.
"Ah, but look! Your wily ways have already charmed my poor student!" She turned to face the still-flushed swordswoman. "Stand aside, Laura. Your lovely instructor will handle this miscreant."
"But –" She seemed to make a careful consideration between attempting to defuse the situation and endure more of Sara's teasing or simply letting Sara do as she pleased, before finally acquiescing. She strode over to the rest of them, Fie joining her midway.
"Good work, guys," Elise praised as they drew near. Off in the field, Galen was still trying to dissuade Sara from their duel; a lost cause. "You two really made it work, huh?"
"Thanks, Elise," Laura spoke first. Then, she turned to face Fie. "You did really well, Fie. I felt like I understood you back there."
"Me too," she agreed. Then, without hesitation, she returned the compliment, "You're really good."
The rest of her classmates looked on with fond amusement. After so long, they seemed to have finally put all that awkwardness behind them.
"Think he can talk his way out of this one?" Elliot gestured at Galen.
"Unlikely," Gaius spoke. "Instructor Sara's already decided before their battle ended that she would fight Galen on her own."
"How did that happen?" Laura asked, alarmed. "What did we miss?"
"Do not worry, Miss Arseid," Principal Vandyck cut in once more, startling her. "I believe that Instructor Valestein simply intends to test Mister Marek's skills for herself."
"Why, though?" Emma asked. "You mentioned a proposal –"
Again, the question was interrupted before he could properly answer. Sara had fired a shot toward Galen, the man somehow dodging the bullet despite the speed it was travelling at, and the battle was on.
"Here we go," Fie commented.
"Who do you think will win?" Elliot asked.
"Don't know." Fie shrugged. "Galen doesn't seem to want to fight back, though."
Sure enough, he was dodging Sara's attacks, her instructor laughing gleefully as she forced him to move this way and that.
"Come on then, big guy! Show me what you've got!"
"Can't we talk things through –"
"Finding excuses after violating my student? No can do, Galen-boy!"
Sara began ramping up her pace, firing bursts of lightning from her pistol between swipes of her sword. Galen was caught by some of them, unable to dodge at the speed she struck, and Elise saw some singe marks on what was exposed of his skin in the aftermath of where he'd been struck.
"Kriffing damn it!" Galen swore – she thought it was a swear word, at least – and somehow pulled the sword lying abandoned on the ground next to her into his waiting hand, flipping both blades into the reverse-grip he'd employed back in the underground catacombs.
"That craft again…" Elise voiced her thoughts. "And he's using the same form as back then, now…"
"A craft?" Emma mused. "But that's…"
She trailed off. In any other situation, Elise would have questioned her on what she saw, but her attention was fully focused on the fight unfolding before her eyes.
From the purely defensive style that emphasised minimal, tight movements from earlier, Galen was now a blur of motion, darting and leaping around the battlefield. His blades were constantly in motion, intercepting bullets and bolts of lightning, all while attempting to disarm Sara.
Emphasis being disarm. Even now, he was still trying to dissuade Sara from fighting.
"Come on, Sara, it was really an accident –"
"Shut up and fight!" Sara laughed. "Live a little!"
They were both blurs on the battlefield now, and soon Elise wasn't able to keep track of them any longer. Her sword flashed around, coated with purple lightning, bolts flying from all angles toward a target that was just as elusive.
"So that's the Purple Lightning…" she muttered under her breath. She could see why the instructor was an A-ranked Bracer now, despite her young age.
Still, her opponent was no slouch. Now resigned to the battle, Galen was beginning to land attacks of his own, moving his swords in complicated patterns in both the orthodox and reverse grips.
"He's ambidextrous," Laura commented. "He's seems to be switching between forms with each sword, and even letting go of them and switching the way he holds the hilt."
"You can see all that?" Elliot asked, shocked.
"Just barely," she admitted. "Even with different forms, he transitions so smoothly that it's all a blur to me. I can only classify his movements as offense and defense."
"Very astute observations, Miss Arseid," Principal Vandyck said, not looking away from the twin blurs, perfectly tracking their movements. "I daresay that our friend here has trained extensively with this dual-bladed form of combat."
"You can see them, Principal Vandyck?" Laura queried respectfully.
"My military days may be over, but I can assure you that this old dog still has some teeth." He chuckled. "Besides, I highly suspect that they both still haven't shown us the full depth of their abilities."
"This is them holding back?" Elise blurted out. Come to think of it, she hadn't ever truly seen Sara go all out in combat.
"I know at least Sara is," Fie mentioned offhandedly, tracking her as they fought.
"Now I feel silly for accepting her challenge back before our field trip," Machias spoke to Jusis and Elise. "We really stood no chance against her, huh?"
"Yup," Elise confirmed. Even Jusis had to agree with that.
"He's ramping up the pace now," Principal Vandyck spoke for their benefit. "Another few exchanges and – yes, here it comes…"
She saw, as though in slow motion, how he raised one of his swords to parry against Sara's own, utilising the reverse-grip to backhand it away as his body rotated. In that same instant, Sara attempted to fire her pistol at him, but his other blade was now coming into the picture, striking at her weapon from the side and sending its projectile off target.
His rotation continued, and Sara was wide open now. His leg shot out, as his body bent over, kicking Sara squarely in the abdomen before disengaging quickly, raising his guard once more.
"Good one," Sara complimented, resetting her stance. "Let's say we take off the kids' gloves, hmm?"
Galen sighed audibly, at least some irritation in his voice, but mixed with excitement that broke the emotionless mask it had been before. "There's really no convincing you to let this go, huh?"
"And let you make me look bad in front of my students? Never!"
With that final word, she dashed toward him faster than before as the purple lightning of her namesake trailed behind and in front of her, the thrum of electricity echoing through the air. He leapt to try and avoid her strike, but Sara was already fast in pursuit, a wide grin on her face.
"Isn't she getting a little too into this?" Elliot asked hesitantly. "I'm preeetty sure any of us would have severe injuries at the very least if hit by those."
"Yeah, we'd probably die." Heads turned toward Fie at that blunt admission. "What?"
"I can assure you, Mister Craig, Sara has this under control," Principal Vandyck spoke. Coincidentally, a stray bolt of lightning struck the ground just several meters in front of them, and they collectively took a few steps back in surprise. "Or at least I think so."
"He's really not making it easy for her, huh?" Gaius said, smiling faintly as he admired their duel. "He's moving all over the place, as though carried by the wind. Kind of like you, actually."
He addressed Fie with that last statement. Come to think of it, there was some similarity in the principle behind that agile form and how Fie fought, but…
"He used a completely different form against Laura and Fie, and when we sparred earlier today his form was something else entirely as well," Elise spoke aloud. "Does he know that many forms?"
"You sparred today?" Laura asked, sounding surprised. "When?"
"Before class. It's why I was late." It has only been when she entered the classroom that she remembered that Sara was the one taking their first lesson of the day, and that she really hadn't needed to rush.
"What sort of form was it?" Laura probed.
"It was similar to Gale, of the Eight Leaves. If I had to describe it, it's in between what he used in the fight with you two and what he's doing now."
"So, he knows both single and double sword variants, spanning a full spectrum of offense and defense," Jusis mused. "How terrifyingly bizarre."
That was true. Most experts took to focusing on a single aspect of swordsmanship, but it was almost as though his time had been spent earnestly practicing through all the forms he'd showed. Sure, he was clearly more comfortable with this two-swords variant, but even then such mastery had to have taken a very long time to be earned.
Just how long did he have to train each day and for how many years had he been practicing to reach that level? She felt strangely small compared to them both. Even with how much she had trained in the Eight Leaves, she hadn't fully committed herself to improving her skills.
Again and again they clashed. Finally, after numerous blows had been exchanged, Galen demonstrated the technique he had made use of when facing Elise in their morning spar, sending what appeared to be a wave of energy in the wake of his swing. Sara was caught squarely by it, and was forced to disengage again, clutching a hand to her belly.
"You've been holding back."
"So were you."
A new respect Elise hasn't seen from her instructor burned in Sara's eyes. She took a few more steps back, before unleashing her energy as all master swordsman could do, the air around her sparking with energy.
"What an outpouring of mana…" Emma murmured.
"What say you we settle this, hmm?" Sara crossed her weapons, bracing herself. "I'll show you why they call me the Purple Lightning!"
She leapt up high into the air, a trail of energy left behind in her wake. For several moments, she seemed to hover in the air, a brilliant sun that flared with electricity, then –
"Get behind me!" Principal Vandyck barked. "Now!"
She did as she was told, sensing the sheer overwhelming amount of energy contained in her attack. Her classmates did likewise, and the principal steadied himself, spreading his feet apart in preparation for the attack.
Galen, meanwhile, was simply standing there, considering his options. Elise knew he couldn't dodge – both because there was no way he could possibly outrun Sara's lightning, and because doing so could possibly put the students at risk.
But he couldn't possibly just weather Sara's assault either –
From midair, she launched countless bolts of lightning toward her target, who still hadn't moved. As the first bolts struck, waves of energy spread outward, the wind blowing against Elise forcefully, so much so that it was difficult even maintaining her footing. At the epicenter of where her attack landed, Elise couldn't see through the dense sphere of sparks and lights to identify how Galen was doing.
"Isn't this a bit too much?" Elliot had to shout to let his words be heard through the screech of electricity. "She's not stopping either –"
Sure enough, as she landed, she continued releasing even more lightning toward Galen, waves of lightning from her sword and bolts from her gun coursing toward the impenetrable sphere of light.
"We need to stop her!" Emma urged. "She's going to kill him!"
Machias was already about to move forward, bracing himself against the unrelenting waves of wind that billowed toward them, when Vandyck held an arm out.
"WAIT!" he ordered. "He's still fighting."
"I can't see him, but I can sense him. Whatever his plan is, he knows what he's doing. Besides, Sara's stopped now. All we can do is wait."
Indeed, her instructor was just standing there, breathing heavily, her eyes squinted as she stared at the mess of sparks and light that was just slowly dissipating. Elise thought she saw a brief look of horror and guilt when the effects of her attack continued, showing no signs of stopping.
"Principal Vandyck?" Laura asked hesitantly.
"We can't do anything now, even if we want to." Even he sounded uncertain. "Let's hope he can pull through that assault. Mister Regnitz, please hurry and send for Instructor Beatrix."
Immediately, Machias took his leave, running back to the main complex. The rest looked on worriedly, watching powerlessly from the sidelines as the storm raged on.
Elise hoped Galen would find a way out of this. She really didn't want to be a witness to a murder on the school grounds, committed by one of her instructors on someone who had saved her and her classmates' lives.
"Wait! Look there!"
Laura's words broke her out of her dark thoughts. She squinted, trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
The sparks weren't showing signs of disappearing, but their intensity was decreasing, or…
No. Not decreasing.
They were being focused. Focused, and condensed.
For in the middle of the storm, there was now only the kneeling figure of Galen Marek. Both his swords lay abandoned on the ground, twin orbs of energy held in his raised and outstretched palms, as lightning arced all around his body; up and down his arms, across his torso, even sparking out of his eyes.
As he stared up at Sara, he knew that he would barely have moments to act. The Force was swirling and building up within her, lightning dancing all around, and he would need to soon make a choice.
He could attempt to dodge, but the speed of the next attack would be a whole order of magnitude faster than what she'd already shown. Agile though he may be, even he couldn't outrun lightning.
Blocking was an option, but even if he used a lightsaber he couldn't fully withstand her attack. With how much power was being poured into her, some stray streaks of lightning would doubtlessly find their way toward him.
It left one final option. Tutaminis.
It was the art of energy absorption, using the Force to block or even outright convert energy that was the Force's essence made manifest. He'd been told that all Jedi younglings were introduced to that Force power early on in their training, and Starkiller had made no exception with him.
Back on Kamino, he had apparently been able to divert the energy of overloaded power cells and natural lightning strikes toward Darth Vader, overwhelming the Sith Lord. The original Galen Marek had withstood Darth Sidious' malevolent Force Lightning, buying time for his allies to escape at the cost of his own life.
This wasn't quite at the same level. Sara's lightning, while stemming from the Force, was not true Sith lightning that struck at body and mind both. Hers seemed to simply be energy given form, burning and jolting where it struck.
It meant that he had a chance of withstanding against what he hoped was the final attack. Tutaminis hadn't been one of his strengths the same way that Starkiller had mastered the technique, but he did at least train to absorb the energy of blaster bolts after being subject to PROXY's unique brand of training. There were even few occasions where, left with no other choice, he had desperately used his own hand to block against lightsaber strikes from PROXY, each time wondering if he would finally be losing a limb.
Hopefully the Force would see him through once again. He dropped both his vibroblades, firmly embedding in the ground below, and held both palms outward as the first of Sara's lightning reached him.
What power! It was more than just energy; there was an unbridled passion within, a manifestation of everything that was Sara Valestein. He rushed to contain it, willing a barrier of Force to form around the attack, wrapping and condensing the energy that was being delivered solely toward him. He was pushed down by the sheer force being exerted on him, kneeling hard against the ground while both hands were at work holding back against her assault.
Focus. Shape the barrier. Reinforce its walls. Never before had he been this glad that PROXY had made Force training a mandatory part of his daily routine.
It was almost overwhelming. Energy was rushing all around, and it was all he could do simply to hold it in place. How legendary Jedi were able to ever convert the raw energy of blaster bolts and even Sith lightning into healing powers, he would never know.
He stood there, gathering what energy he could from what was being dispersed around him. He was dimly aware that everything in his body stung, both from exhaustion and from the stray hits Sara had left in their earlier exchanges. They didn't matter now. All that mattered was the twin orbs of energy in his hands, glowing like miniature suns.
At last, Sara's assault was over. Now all he needed to do was continue to guide the last remnants of her attack into his condensed sphere.
Passion. Thrill. Excitement. Concepts that were not a part of him invaded his psyche, the will that was the foundation of Sara's attacks being incorporated into him. Strike her down. Unleash your energy.
The air was clearing now. He had a clear shot to Sara. She was staring blankly at him, an expression of mixed worry and surprise on her face. He extended a palm toward her. Purple lightning arced around the orb –
What am I doing?!
This was not him. This was Sara's passion. He needed to convert it, to subdue and redirect –
With a primal cry, he held both palms upward, purple transitioning into blue, as the energy of her assault was subverted into his own variant of lightning, twin bursts shooting up into the sky. The air itself was ionised, burned by the energy left in the wake of his converted and redirected attack. Residual sparks of lightning arced around his body, before gradually fading.
He panted, inspecting his hands. They were charred, blackened, and now that he had time to think, they most definitely hurt. He really needed to brush up on his Tutaminis.
He thought back to the feeling from just moments earlier. It was so similar to the mindset he fell into in his limited experience of Juyo, that of overwhelming passion that struggled to be contained, only it was his opponent's emotion that was being fed into him. It was a loop, redirecting energy of his foe toward herself. In fact…
…was this the secret to Vaapad? Was this how Mace Windu could utilise the form so perfectly, while never falling thrall to the Dark Side?
How frighteningly powerful he had to be, in order to master his will that much. If even Sara, whose attack had simply been passion made manifest, had almost overwhelmed him, he dreaded to think what it must have felt like to draw upon the emotions and passion of a true Sith. The Jedi Master must have had the discipline of durasteel and a truly unbreakable will.
The last remnants of Sara's attack was fading now, and with it his sight and vision was finally reappearing –
"GALEN!" He was aware of someone shouting. Firm hands grabbed at his shoulder. "I'm so sorry, I overdid it – are you alright?"
He needed another few moments to regain his bearings before he could speak. It felt like his entire system had been overloaded by that attack, and he needed to remember what it meant to be Rean Schwarzer, rather than Sara Valestein.
"Let's call it a draw?" he said humourlessly, pushing himself to stand on his feet.
"What the –" she hissed. "Your hands!"
She snatched them away from his side, grasping his wrists gingerly with each hand, wincing. "Oh, Aidios, I'm so sorry. I got carried away; Elliot, Emma –"
"Relax," he said calmly. It stung, but he'd dealt with worse injuries and lived before, courtesy of PROXY's methods. Funnily enough, this reminded him of that time when he first duelled and bested PROXY's Darth Maul module, during his first introduction to Juyo. He'd been so aghast back then, worrying that he'd almost killed his instructor, while all PROXY had expressed was mild amusement. He could see why, now.
He closed his eyes, calming himself, letting the energies of the Living Force suffuse his hands and return them to functionality. A cooling, cleansing sensation washed over them, and slowly burnt flesh began to regenerate and knit together. Surprised, she let go of his hands.
Experimentally, he moved his wrists, and finding that it was remarkably less painful than it had been, began to touch each finger to his thumbs in turn. Not quite back to normal, but it was good enough.
"Good as new," he confirmed. "See?"
"I'll be the judge of that," a stern woman brusquely said. "Stay still, young man."
"Beatrix!" Sara said, stiffening. "You're –"
"And what in Aidios' name ever made you think that releasing a storm in school grounds was an excellent idea? I could practically feel the din you were making from the infirmary!" 'Beatrix' snapped. "Honestly, Sara, I've told you countless times to curb your enthusiasm! It's a miracle I'm not looking at a corpse right now!"
Was it just his imagination, or did Sara actually look ashamed when scolded by the elderly lady?
"Hands." She had shifted her attention away from Sara, dismissing her entirely and focusing only on Rean.
"There's really no need –"
"Stop being so stubborn," she scoffed, then forcefully took his wrists, leaning in close to look at his palms. For someone who he assumed was a nurse, she had a ridiculously strong grip. He gave up on his protests, letting Beatrix examine his palms thoroughly.
Again, he was meeting yet another mysterious person whose abilities didn't quite fit their profile. It seemed to be starting to become a running theme.
"I'm sorry, Galen, it won't happen again," Sara apologised worriedly. This was an altogether different side of Sara from what she'd shown thus far, that it was almost difficult to reconcile her with the woman who seemed to stop at nothing to annoy him over the past day.
"On the contrary, Sara, I hope to challenge you again. I'velearnt a lot from our duel."
He meant it. If this truly was the secret to Vaapad, or at the very least a means for him to begin training to harness and control the essence of passion in combat for his own use in Juyo, then he would need to continue sparring against her. Tutaminis felt like an excellent means of both Force training and improving his understanding of Form VII.
"You want to do that again?" It wasn't just Sara who said that now; some of the students of class VII who had been spectating their battle seemed to think him crazy for even thinking that.
Well, after all the insane Erebonians he'd met, it seemed like he was shaping up to become one himself, too.
"I've had a bit of an epiphany regarding a form that I've been struggling to learn for several years now," he admitted. "What I did back there to absorb and redirect your lightning is a craft called Tutaminis. I believe that further practice would improve my skills with that form."
"Tutaminis, huh? Some Eastern style of combat?" Sara repeated. Now that he seemed to show no signs of having been severely injured in the light of her final reckless attack, her worry had been steadily decreasing. She shook her head in disbelief. "You're a real madman, aren't you, Galen?"
"Are you really the one who should be saying that?" He gestured dryly at the devastation the battle had caused. Parts of the field were charred or simply burnt to ash, the results of errant lightning bolts that had either been off-target or dodged by him. "You?"
To her credit, she looked mildly chagrined at that, especially when Beatrix had taken a moment to glare at her younger colleague. She returned to her normal self soon enough, though, thumping him hard on the back. He hissed at the spike of pain that action brought. He hadn't yet been fully healed of all the many injuries he'd sustained during their battle.
"Ah! Sorry!" She grinned sheepishly. "Still, though, if we're going to be colleagues, I supposed we'll be seeing much of each other, huh?"
His sentiment was echoed by the students, alternating between staring at her and himself. Principal Vandyck sighed heavily, running a palm across the side of his face.
"...oh, right. Vandyck hasn't mentioned it to you yet. Uhh..." Sara looked around awkwardly. "Any chance you could forget what I just said?"
"I suppose now is a good a time as any," Vandyck said tiredly, as though used to Sara's antics. He looked levelly at Rean, his face entirely serious, and the sight of the formidable general forced him to straighten his own posture. "I believe I mentioned that Olivert had a proposal in mind for your arrangements with the academy. Simply put, he has requested for you to join as one of our combat instructors."
"What?" he repeated once more.
"What?" the students echoed, their tones ranging from surprise and shock to ones of excitement.
Him, a combat instructor?
PROXY would have a field day. 'Apprentice thinks he's the master now, does he?' the droid would say. 'We'll see about that when this lightsaber is shoved deep up your -'
He erased that mental conversation with his imaginary instructor. He didn't need that image right now.
"A combat instructor?" he asked numbly. "Are you sure?"
It wasn't that he didn't want the position. At first glance, he could already see how it would be to his benefit. He could have an excuse to watch over Elise and protect his sister, while still making use of the facilities at Trista to advance his own research and figure out what the kriff he should be doing.
The problem was that he didn't know how to properly instruct others. His own experience amounted to being subject to PROXY's grueling training regime, that he quite frankly only endured through long hours of meditation that cultivated a great deal of patience. Besides, his skill with the lightsaber was hardly anywhere near his master's level. To be offered such a position felt...
...well, it felt like he didn't deserve it. Thors was the finest institution Erebonia had to offer.
"I had my reservations initially, but after seeing you in combat, I no longer have any doubt that you will do well in this position," Vandyck told him. "In just one spar, you helped Miss Claussell and Miss Arseid settle their differences where months of lessons have failed. Beyond that, you demonstrated that your skills live up to the praises of our students, being able to match Instructor Valestein in combat."
He felt strangely warm at that compliment, and dare he say it, a little embarrassed. Vandyck was practically a living legend. To hear such praises...
"I'm not worthy," he insisted. "I'm not sure if I can live up to your expectations."
"At any rate, you can help with the swordsmanship of some of our students," Sara readily interjected, sensing his wavering resolve. "I can teach them combat, but the finer aspects of their individual forms aren't something I have all that much experience with. I'm good with my weapons, but I can't hope to match you with purely just a sword in my hands. And all joking aside, I know that Elise, Laura and Fie have already gained some insights through sparring with you."
"That's true," his sister said, smiling respectfully at him. Damn. She knew just the right buttons to push; that alone was making him consider accepting the offer. "Our styles aren't the same, but our spar has given me some ideas to push my development along."
"Indeed," Laura added. "I do hope to cross swords with you again, whether or not you accept the offer."
Fie shrugged. "Ehhh, Sara's going to convince you either way, so you might as well just give up now."
"Are all of you really okay with this?" He asked the rest for their input. It wasn't just them they would be teaching, after all. "You especially, Jusis. I only exclusively use swords, so if I take up this position, I'll probably only be able to properly help the four of you in training."
"I welcome any advice you can offer, Galen Marek," Jusis said formally. "You already demonstrate a wide proficiency in your forms of swordplay."
The rest were offering their own support and encouragement. He still had much doubt about this plan, but Starkiller did always say to seize his own destiny, right?
"If you're all certain..." He looked at Vandyck, and nodded. "I accept."
"Excellent!" he boomed. "I'll meet you and Sara later to sort out arrangements, as well as introduce you to the rest of the faculty that you haven't met yet. For now, though, I believe that Instructor Beatrix has some words she would like to say."
Oh, crap. He'd forgotten about the nurse. Hesitantly, he looked toward her, and her expression was unreadable.
"You aren't seriously injured," she reluctantly accepted. "Frankly speaking, how you managed that with Sara's recklessness is a miracle. Still, you've got burns and cuts all over your body, and don't think I didn't notice how you flinched when Sara touched you earlier."
"I didn't -"
Suddenly, she clapped him on the shoulder, hard, and once more he reflexively jolted upright as a sting of pain shot through him.
"My point exactly," she said smugly. "For the love of Aidios, stop putting up such a hard front. You're coming to the infirmary for a full inspection."
"Ooh la la – " Sara began whistling, but was shut down immediately by Beatrix.
"You're not off the hook either, Sara." Beatrix glared at her. "You two – infirmary, immediately."
Wait. A full inspection would mean -
"Wait, Beatrix, I don't -"
The look she shot at him killed the words before they even left his throat. PROXY would no doubt have loved to meet the woman, if only so he could learn such intimidation tactics for future use.
"For the Goddess' sake, I'm a medic. There's nothing I haven't seen before," she chided. "Come along, now."
Wait, that wasn't even what he was worried about –
She began walking toward the main building, not even letting him get a further word edgewise.
"Trust me, Galen, there's no arguing with Beatrix when she's in this mood," Sara advised. "She's the sweetest old lady you'll ever meet, but she takes treating anyone who's injured very seriously."
"I concur. You really should hurry along, Mister Marek," Vandyck said, then corrected himself. "No - Instructor Marek."
"Come on, Galen! Your senior colleague will show you the way!" Sara skipped past him, waving him along. Left with no other choice, he followed behind her, thinking up any excuse he could to avoid revealing his identity under the helmet.
When they reached the infirmary, Beatrix set him down on one of the beds, then drew a privacy screen to look over Sara's injuries. He sat there uneasily, wondering what he should do to preserve his identity.
"They aren't too bad," he heard her comment. "More bruises than anything else."
"Galen was reluctant to attack me properly," Sara's voice came over, before she shouted at a volume that was far too loud, considering that he was in the bed just next over. "YOU HEAR THAT, GALEN? YOU BETTER FIGHT ME SERIOUSLY NEXT TIME!"
"And you still saw the need to use that craft of yours, Sara?" In his mind's eye, he could see Beatrix shaking her head disappointedly. He hoped Sara had the decency to at least be embarassed about that. He'd been reluctant to fight in the first place, damn it! "Please do exercise more caution, Sara."
"Will do, Beatrix!"
"Fine. You may go."
"Sweet! See you two later!" With that, he heard the sound of rapid footsteps, the door to the infirmary slamming shut moments later.
A few seconds later, Beatrix drew the privacy screen aside, moving to his bedside. "Alright, then. Please remove all articles of clothing up to your undergarments," she requested in a detached tone that bode no argument.
"About that, Instructor Beatrix..."
"There's no room for argument, Galen. Like it or not, you are now a member of staff of this academy. As you will come to know, within this infirmary's walls, my word is law." She smiled grimly, then sighed. "I don't wish to be harsh with you, but it is my duty to ensure the well-being of those under my charge. Rest assured that everything discussed here will be kept strictly confidential."
He considered her words carefully. There wasn't really much room for him to argue, and if he thought about it more closely, there was no reason why she should be able to link his presence appearance to the Rean Schwarzer of old...
Still, no harm being careful. "You promise?"
"Of course. Now hurry up, young man. No need to be shy." She let some humour leak through, and he could see a bit of the 'kind old lady' that Sara had described her to be.
He sighed, and began removing the clothing he wore one by one. First came his bracers, then the armour on his shoulders, the tunic he wore, then his trousers. He hesitated for a moment, before finally removing his helmet slowly.
Moment of truth.
"What the –" For a moment, the woman who seemingly couldn't be fazed by anything paused, unsure of what to say. He tensed. Did she suspect his true identity? If so, then -
"You're just a boy," she breathed softly. "How old are you?"
He didn't reply immediately, trying to read her emotions through the Force. She was earnest, honest, and the moment he'd removed her helmet there had been shock, and then followed shortly after by a deep sense of sadness, for some reason. At no point did she seem to recognise who he was.
"This will be kept strictly confidential?" He needed confirmation once more, reading her emotions at the same time.
"It would be unprofessional of me not to do so," she affirmed.
Again, he paused, considering his options, but then decided to tell her the truth. "Seventeen."
"By the Goddess..." she said under her breath. "You're so young... What kind of training could you have gone through to develop such skills at your age?"
This was risky territory. He didn't want to have to explain that he'd been on the moon for several years, spending each day fully engrossed only on training that he may one day return. He most definitely couldn't answer this question.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"I understand, of course," she said immediately. "You can rest assured that no one else will know of this."
"Thank you," he said honestly. For some reason, he could see himself trusting her. He sensed no deception from her, only a desire to help others that had led her to her present career.
"Right, then." She continued on after a moment's silence. "On to your injuries."
She withdrew a device – an ARCUS? – and the quartz embedded within began to glow a brilliant blue, as she placed a hand on his body. He could feel the Force coursing through her, guided by the strange powers contained within the septium, flowing into him and suffusing him similar to the way his own Force Heal would normally do. Now, though, beyond simply enhancing his natural recovery, it invigorated him, accelerating his healing beyond what was natural. What injuries remained quickly closed up, burns and bruises fading away, and he felt more pain-free than he'd been in a long time.
Whatever it was that the art had done, it was certainly more potent than his own Force Heal or the bactaspray he'd been using early on in the Rogue Shadow.
"That should be the last of it," she said, after several casts of the art. Despite the effort it must have taken, she was only breathing just slightly heavily, speaking volumes of her experiences in the healing profession. "You can dress yourself now."
With a muted thanks, he began placing his clothing and equipment back on, taking extra care to secure his helmet. He was about to leave, when he was stopped by Beatrix.
"Wait," she said, and he stopped in his tracks. "I want to assure you again that your secret will be safe with me, Galen. You can trust me."
Again, there was only earnest honesty coming from her, alongside some kind of sorrow he couldn't quite fathom the reason for. He nodded.
"Thank you." With that, he gave a final curt bow, and left the infirmary. He still had several more objectives for the day – library, training, and figuring out what his new job at the academy would entail.
For someone who had experienced a Force vision, he most definitely didn't see this course of events coming. Instructor Galen Marek, he tasted the words on his tongue once more. A far cry from Rean Schwarzer, a child dead for eight years, that was for certain.