23 - Camden Teaches Proper Posture

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Recorded from an excerpt of Journeywoman Jennelcia Akribastes's Travel Log

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Jax doesn't know when the first strike hits. He sees blood, yes. He sees it fly through the air, even tracks the trajectory from his cheek, idly notes its descent to the ground. He doesn't mark the first strike. For him, it doesn't happen. it's only an event that's noted after the fact, like a diary missive, an object passed on the road.

He lost skin from that blow. Camden's whip is always greedy when it comes to skin. That moreso than blood, truth be told. I consider that wise of him. A man can make more blood much quicker than he can make more skin for himself. I've witnessed, after all, just how fast that can grow back.

Jax may just bear an attractive scar. That still won't attract me to him. But maybe it will teach him a lesson. That, I truly doubt, but I'll enjoy every minute of watching Jher Camden teach it to him. I think Jax has gone too long without proper instruction in these lessons. So fortuitious that he's arrived here, with us. With even a fool like Gerald's little brother to witness the rewards of ignorance. Such serendipity. I might start believing in a God if this proceeds any farther.

Nah, that's saying something far too drastic. I might believe in pixies or unicorns. This is Jax, after all. I saw him struggle through how many academy lessons from classes above him, balconies over him, levels so high over his head. Poor dear. He must feel so bad. Feeling so inferior.

But that'll be all stripped away now, with Camden stripping him down.

The boy can't record this properly. Lyric is his name. He writes things, yes, but I'll tell you how Camden's Arms unsheathe, and then I'll take my leave of this. I'd prefer being lost in this moment than recording it. One reason I might never go and be a Poet like so many of my brothers and sisters in Arms. It unfurls, opens, unfolds like a wing from its sheathe, feathers spreading out like rays.

The boy thought it was a sword, even a puny little knife. Not the first to make that mistake, certainly, and at least he has the excuses of youth, inexperience, and ignorance. No, this is no knife. It is a grand weapon. It's enough to make me sign my life over, pledge my allegiance when nothing else earns such a thing. This is no mere weapon. it is its own cause. Gerald has his bullets, I might have my arrows, sometime in the future. Camden will see for sure. But this thing, this beauty--sword is no word for it. And well...neither is the word 'whip'.

It unfurls in a hail of blades, a whirlwind of steel and metal-beyond-steel, a bouquet to the assassin-lover that I might be, if I loved anyone like that. I'd love a man for his weapon, yes. And for a weapon like this...I might stay. It is beautiful, shifting, brilliant, a star and a flower and a tesselating shining spiral of metal folding upon itself into death and better-than-death. I couldn't even describe how Camden looks to a passerby, if I were asked. I could go on for hours over his weapon, though. I'm just that kind of woman. Or as Mom and, fuck, Dad would say...I'm that kind of girl.

That's what faces Jax right now, and he doesn't even have an Arm to his name. I don't know about anyone else out there right now, but I'm savoring that and letting it keep me warm while I sleep tonight.

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Recorded from an excerpt of Apprentice Jax Cruxradia's Travel Log

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I stand there in a state of disbelief for...how many seconds? It's hard to measure. I'd call it stupefication, really. I usually only lose time like this when a cute girl passes by me.

Camden's going to strike whether or not my head's in the clouds, though, and so he does. I'll consider it a favor, since it breaks me out of my daze and snaps me into the battle. And a battle this is going to be, even though I'm guaranteed to lose. Well, I don't know. Maybe my stellar gift of good luck will get me out of--

You know, I could move to the side when he strikes out like that. That could help me too! I'm honestly not sure what to do with this stick, though, except for what I've been taught. I mean, it'd be great for parrying and stuff, against, well...any other weapon. If I ever get in close enough to Camden to srike, maybe I can hit him in the head with it. I don't think there's much of a chance of that, though. Fucker's got a hell of a reach with that whip of his. I've seen Katherine and him spar before and come to a standstill. Katherine. I'm still trying to remember what half the weapons are that I'm supposed to learn, and this guy can measure up even with Katherine?

It's bad to focus on negative thinking, though. Daddy says that always sets you up for failure. And that's one of the things I've actually learned from him that have helped me, so I'm not going to forget it now.

So! Positive things about this fight:
I won't lose to a girl, no matter what some of the guys say about Jhe Camden's hair.
I have a stick, as opposed to nothing.
I'm pretty sure Camden won't kill me. If nothing else, it would look bad for the Peacock King to find my dead body in one of his forests. Well, wait, that might make him happy. That would make him happy. Shit. Well...Camden probably still won't kill me. I'll think of a reason why not in a bit.

Oh yeah, that stick thing? Scratch that. I manage to dodge him a few times once things start up, but wouldn't you know it, he disarms me right after that. Hand-to-whip combat isn't exciting me very much, not when it's a whip made of razor-sharp blades strung on leather. I'd never seen it in action before this - I started up this whole Armed gig pretty recently, and Camden's been out on this training mission since I signed up. I mean, I've heard the stories. I uh...I figured people were exaggerating, really. You know how those Poets are. I mean, I do, since I am one. Well, trained as one. I'll properly graduate once I've gotten in more Armed training. That was the plan, anyway. You never know what's going to come up!

Oh, shit. I didn't expect him to step right out in front of me and punch me square in the jaw. That...that's going to leave a mark. And not a dashing-type mark like whatever neat scar comes from the whip grazing my cheek. No, this is gonna cause swelling, plus some really ugly bruising. That's going to suck. Maybe I can borrow Lyric's makeup kit. I know he's got to be carrying one. Kid's gayer than the Peacock King's shoe collection.

So, Camden takes the time to pull me in by the crook of my arm and maul me close-up with that bladed whip-thing of his. Doesn't bother staying away from my face, but ow-ow-ow! Dude, if you stab me right there that might get infected! Not to mention what this is doing to my clothes. And, considering I take the time to choose my clothing for a certain image...guy's got to think about how he looks, you know? Not maybe as hard as Lyric - I'm not going to go into eyeliner and stuff but--

Shit, shit, I've got to think about fighting, I've got to focus on that, because if I do that hard enough I might actually write myself fighting better. I sure hope so because I remember losing this fight pretty miserably. Also Camden ordered me to record what happened as "an exercise in humility", so I need to make sure to do it right the first time or he might make me write this whole damn thing over again.

Camden also knows how to use his fists. And elbows. And knees. And bootheels. Good gods, I heard he was originally a soldier from one of the Hill Clans, but I didn't know the rumors about how they fought were really...well, accurate. Shit, I think he bit me. Like, I'm missing a chunk of my ear and I'm not really sure how else that happened because I don't rememebr the whip being anywhere near my face just right then. Is that crazy or what?

[Rest of log deleted from record by Camden Briarseal. Reason given: Rambling uselessness and stupidity are only useful as an example to others of what not to do for the first 800 words or so.]

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...Wow. He just bit Jax. I've always wanted to do that but I was afraid of him crying off to his Daddy about it. I guess that isn't an option, out here in the Peacock King's territory. Hah!

As much as I could find humor in this, though, I am wincing a lot at what's happening in front of me. I like Jax, actually. He was a good friend. He was a bit of an ass. But he doesn't deserve to um...to die for it, or anything.

I really hope things don't go that far.

I am quite sure Camden could kill him. That should be no surprise - it's something anyone would know after finding out the least bit of info about Camden. But watching this fight, it becomes a different thing than just weighing who's the stronger fighter. Watching Camden makes me afraid to be around him later on. I've always seen him as calm, composed - I'm sure he could fight like that, if he wanted to. But he isn't, right now. He's just Hell unleashed, and Jax has nothing to defend with, not even that stick. Really, this isn't like watching a fight. I'm watching a beating. Considering what he's up against, I think Jax is holding up pretty well. He's still standing. I'm not even sure if that's a good sign, though. I have no idea when this is suppossed to stop.

He's taking it pretty well, too. As I would expect of Jax. He's always taken his punches to the chin, as it were. I really don't think he knows any other way to do it. Or maybe he refuses to learn. His enthusiasm and his readiness to take everything on and get through it intact has been impressive...though sometimes what impresses me most is how horribly wrong he manages to make it go. Jax often brags about his stellar luck. Two things he forgets there - one is his success with girls. But romantic tragedies notwithstanding, the other flagrant inaccuracy I've seen regarding his fantastic claims of good luck has been how often he's managed to piss his peers off.

I guess maybe he's asked for it, being such an avid pranker and happy-go-lucky joker. I can't say much, there - I've been in my share of trouble for the same infringements. But Jax has this innate ability to anger others that I've just never managed nor wanted to aspire to.

With Camden, he may finally be learning how much of a detriment this 'skill' of his could be. Well, he'll learn it if he survives this. Just as I think that, Camden manages to land a blow to the side of Jax's head that knocks my childhood friend to the ground. I must have said something, probably squeaked, because Rachella whirls to face me then.

Her eyes pin me, and say more than she might even need to say with her voice. "Don't interfere, and never worry. Sheriff Camden is a fair and just teacher. Please be quiet and observe." I'm impressed with how little emotion creeps into her voice while saying that. It allays my panic a little - but my heart is still pounding. I can't watch someone be kicked when they're down like that and not worry. I just can't.

I wince as Camden flails his whip down at Jax's curled form, then see the weapon gouge a small trench in the ground beside Jax's head. The boy doesn't even flinch.

Camden pauses for a moment, looks down. I see a calm, small smile spread across his face.

Maybe this is a reason to feel more worried. I'm not sure because I stop feeling worry, stop feeling much about this around this point. All I can do is wonder, in my confusion and curiosity, just how this is going to end. The only way to figure that out is to look on.

Jax is still conscious, make no mistake about that. I see his prone form panting, I see his eyes open, looking to the side and locked on Camden's boots. I can see him thinking, weighing contingency plans, trying even now to find a way out of this. His eyes flick upwards, and notice me watching him. His face goes a little blank as he realizes that I've witnessed this whole incident. Maybe I tripped him up there, just by being there. If so, I'm sorry. But Jax couldn't stop what was happening then, and there was little if any way to change what happened next.

He'd earned it.

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Recorded from an excerpt of Peacekeeper Camden Briarseal's Travel Log
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I'm pretty happy with the progress that Apprentice Jax and I have made thus far. He's learned so much about the Arms just in this very short span of time. There's really nothing to compare to up-close, personally gained knowledge of the practical workings of these things that some dare simply call weapons.

No, this is not a lesson he could have learned at home. It's too safe there. Too regulated. Out on the field is where the real class begins. How to survive. How to apologize. How to take a real beating and roll with it. How to tell when to use each of these individal skills, and which are wise to ever combine.

I can't deny it. My whip wants to take over and strip him of more skin than I can allow for this. It's to be expected. Really, if an Armed can't control his weapon, he needs to lay it down and find a different carreer for himself.  I've seen such a thing happen before, enforced it even. I know how to keep my head, and my whip, calm. Apprentice Jax might disagree, but he's not really in a position to debate with me right now. The ground is a bad place to do that sort of thing from. I remind him of that with a strike downward, gashing the dirt next to his head.

...He didn't even jump.

Oh. I recognize that look on his face, as he studies my boots. I've seen it time and again. On his own face, when I've glimpsed him before, and just on the faces of other trainees. It seems like this is just another thing for him to ride out. Once he endures it, the punishment wil be over and he can resume his old ways. Really, I'm just boring him with this. No real point in extending the chastisement. He knows where it's all going.

...Yes, I recognize that look. Maybe I've even had it on my face before. But I was already a fighter at an age when he was still playing with toys and thinking of girls as weird little alien carriers of cooties. I can't really remember the last time I had that expression on my face. Perhaps that makes it difficult for me to sympathize, but it does also make it easier for me to resolve to beat him until he forgets how to even move his jaw, let alone wear an expression as contemptuous as that.

Of course, that won't be enough.

"Stand up." There's a certain way of giving orders that doesn't require rank to be spoken, but it should be noted that a trainee's mind should already have it ground in exactly what he is and how low a rank he is in comparison to his superiors, and if Apprentice Jax's mind is sadly bereft of that particular grindmark, perhaps I need to scuff it in for him. A bootheel would work excellently for that. It's an idea, since my order is not obeyed. I look over to Journeywoman Jenny.

She raises an eyebrow at me, gives a shrug with one hand extended, palm open. She knows he's capable of getting up as well, then. Witnessed.

"Get up or I strip you of your rank and rank-name right here and now, Ethrain." I see his boots twitch first. Then, then he finally responds. He opens his mouth to say something, skirts a glance at my face instead of my feet, and then promptly closes it. He's to his feet, then, in a motion that's almost quicker than my eyes can track.

(Had he done it properly, it wouldn't have been such a slow motion.)

It actually takes him a moment before he remembers his proper position and loses the slouch. Once he adopts it, I give a slow nod, hand on my chin, and walk in front of him. My eyes are out to the side - I'm more pacing in front of him than confronting him directly. I can feel him grow nervous, and that is of course why I am doing this. I can even feel him start to notice my regard of him, my mental watch over his emotions. Good. Maybe he'll begin to get an awareness of my capabilities. Maybe he'll begin to get an awareness of his capabilities. Maybe he'll begin to get an awareness of anything in the goddamn world around him.

...No.  No, he's just wondering what my next strike will be, and how much it will hurt, and what the best method of ducking away from it would be, to spare him from the most pain.

What a waste.

I hear him squawk before I even think about the next motion I make, or perhaps Geillg'a acts faster than what she calls 'the unbearably slow speed' of my thoughts.  He's not on the ground, though.  She, or rather we, I suppose, flung her around his waist.  I hear another indignant squawk as Apprentice Jaxhelshon feels the metal bits in the whip dig into his waist through his clothing.  His eyes widen, and when he looks back at me he's utterly pleading.

Well, will you look at that?  It's at least a change from willful ignorance.  I give my whip a good yank, enough to entice a "HORK" out of the boy as he lurches forward.  His tongue's hanging out of his mouth and his eyes are bugging out.  A few more tugs earn the frog sounds that entirely match his appearance.

And he still looks at me with those stupid, blue, sappy eyes, that puppy-dog pleading face, and he's on the ground before I know it, my bootheel grinding into the back of his head.  He has the indecency to squawk again at that, as if he'd done anything less than earn this dirt-eating stance of his.  I step away, and then snap my whip to the side.  She coils back up into the shape of a subtly barbed blade.  I look down at him.  He's none the worse for wear.  Still squirming.  I gesture up, snapping my fingers in the way that you tend to have to do to get a trainee's attention.  "Come on.  Up!"

He puls himself up slowly, straining to even get to his knees. And. He.  Grumbles.

That he hits the dirt before he even has a chance to get to his feet is no fault of mine.  Geillg'a has a low tolerance for lip, as do I - but it was certainly his choice to disobey.  No one has asked him to come down here across the border and piss me off.  I'd know.  I'd have been sent a missive, Halls help me.

"I didn't even DO anything!  OO-O-O-O-F-F-F-F-F!"  The resulting sound is from me punching Apprentice Jaxhelshon in the face, and then pulling back so that the flat ends of Geillg'a's blades repeatedly thwap him in the cheek.  Then I swing my arm back and wham the pommel of Geillg'a's hilt back into his cheek, illiciting a satisfying crunch.

I hear a light bout of applause from Jhe Jenny at the first breaking of a bone.  I make a proper bow in her direction, then continue.

Apprentice Jaxhelshon is lying on the ground, slightly curled, cradling his jaw and whimpering.  There's blood on the ground, as if that's anything new.  There's also a tooth, and that's a fine addition.  Perhaps he'll have sharper memories of this occasion now.  I give another swift kick to his head.  What can I say?  It certainly makes a fine target!  He rolls in the dust, bringing his hands up to shield himself, staving off the inevitable.

At least he realizes that there is an inevitable, now, and has a good enough idea of what it might be.

I wouldn't say that Katherine was easy on the boy, and would never imply that she was soft, but there's something to be said for someone else stepping in and handing troublemakers their asses.  Call it a guest lecture, if you will.

"UP."  I stomp my heel into the ground as I say it.  I think the vibration might get his attention more than the sound.  And he might as well get used to paying attention to those signals.

To his credit, he does still lurch upwards, right before I swing my leg around and kick him in the back of his head with my heel.  Then he falls to the ground again, of course, and attempts to clamber to his knees.  Then I kick him down again.

"I didn't tell you to get up, Apprentice Jaxhelshon."

"B-but..." There's something like a cough or a sob.  I'm going to say it's a sob, because I owe this boy no dignity that he hasn't earned.

"NOW get up."  He's a bit too slow about it, so I slash at the ground next to his head with my whip again, in a sudden bout of encouragement.  He screeches and fumbles his way halfway to his feet.  Then he falls down again, losing his balance.  Then he stays on the ground, waiting.

"I told you to get up, Apprentice Jaxhelshon."

"I...I don't know which way is up anymore, Sir."

"Trust me.  You're not there yet.  UP!"

He muffles a curse under his breath, for which he earns a barbed smack in the ass.  He manages not to fall from that, and does, somehow, end up on his feet.  He turns warily to face me.

It's a quiet moment.  Him standing, barely so, rocking back and forth like a boat in docking, trying to look me in the eye.  I know he's seeing possibly three of me at this point, but it's still a valiant effort.  We watch each other, him waiting.

"Why do you keep knocking me down, Jhe Briarseal?"

I supress the grin.  A deadpan is better in this situation.  Jenny can still see the expression I'm trying to hide, though, and I'll be damned if that girl doesn't supress the tiniest snicker.  I'll have words with her later over that.  For now, I have Apprentice Jaxhelshon.  "So you have a chance to prove you can follow commands, Apprentice Jaxhelshon."


I backhand him across the face and manage to make his nose gush even more blood down the front of his shirt before he lurches sideways and falls to the ground.

"See?  Now, up."

He...growls at me as he sits up.  I kick him in the head, this time with the toe of my boot.  He makes a nice sputtering noise before he lands sideways in the dirt.

"No," I say, standing over him, "you don't understand, Apprentice Jaxhelshon, and see, that's how you got here.  I will tell you what to do.  You then do it.  You don't do anything else.  You don't roll, you don't kneel, you don't laugh, you don't curse, you don't grumble, you don't even fart unless I tell you to."  I give him another kick in the head for embellishment.  "And do you know why?  Because NOT KNOWING THAT is how you GOT in this miserable bloody heap of a position in the first place."  Three more kicks to the head, with careful avoidance of the neck when he curls away from me.  "Now, Apprentice Jaxhelshon.  If you would please.  Show the class what you have learned here today."

He doesn't move.  He doesn't weep.  He doesn't even fucking bleed.

"Very well done.  UP."

I can summarize.  He gets up every time I tell him to.  I then promptly kick him down.  Eventually, he loses the spirit to make it past his knees.  I decide putting him out of his misery would make the lesson he's learned rather moot, so he finds unconsciousness far longer than he would like, and far longer than I bet even his daddy would like.

Jhe Hearthborn and Jhe Dovetail haul his sorry carcass back to camp, and roll him up in a blanket.  We can worry about healing whatever's worth healing in the morning.  Much like a hangover, waking up after a lesson like this is, in itself, a very important review.

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