Sslasl and the Mastery #1

The second short story about Sslasl kicks off as Sslasl trains for the mastery while working on the mixer the High Councilor wants for his war ships.
Sslasl wiped the sweat from his brow and took a deep breath. He had hoped he would be a little more competitive with the staff given the training he had received as a child. Not so, the apprentices here had learned techniques he had never seen before and it would be some time before he could compete evenly with them in any of the martial arts.
He had a strength advantage and was able to cover for lack of skill in grappling but even there, he was not good enough to win against Master Nev’s apprentices.
“Don’t sweat it Sslasl, we all had a first day in the martial arts. You have done better than many of us did on our first day, you are fast, and know how to use this, just a matter of technique.”
Sslasl smiled with embarrassment as he took Tul’s hand and climbed back to his feet.
“Thank you Tul, but I doubt you were ever quite a clumsy as I have been today.”
Tul, was much smaller than Sslasl but was very fast and had bested him easily with both the staff and in wrestling. Every one of Nev’s apprentices that he had faced in the testing phase had defeated him easily, and Sslasl was feeling very inadequate.
Tul laughed.
“You would not believe how clumsy I felt on initial testing day. I came in pretty full of myself having fought in the semi-pro circuit. Master Nev put me in against a small girl, and she took me apart easily. My ego still smarts when I see her. Fortunately, she has moved on and is a Jin Master apprenticed to one of the masters on Sharing Six. We usually run into her when Master Masl takes us back there for some meeting or other, and I have no doubt I will have the great misfortune of having her help with my testing someday.”
Sslasl had to laugh in spite of himself when he saw the look on Tul’s face as he spoke of having to face this young master again during his testing.
“Come on young Sslasl, let’s try the sword, Master Nev will want to know where to start with that for sure. There are a couple of places the masters get sent where modern weapons don’t work and the sword is critical for those assignments.”
“I have never used a sword before; does it work anything like the staff?”
“It is sort of a combination of the staff and the knife, except that you don’t ever throw a sword if you can help it.”
He led Sslasl to the weapons rack and picked out two single handed practice swords. Sslasl was amazed at how many different types of practice swords there were in the rack, but the ones Tul picked out looked like the easiest to handle.
Tul handed him one of the swords and then took his position.
“Alright, we begin in this stance.”
Tul stood with his right side toward Sslasl and the sword pointed upward from a slightly bent arm. His left hand was on his hip away from Sslasl.
Sslasl imitated the stance which felt very comfortable to him.
“When I say so, you will begin on the attack, trying to get through my guard. Eventually, I will switch the table on you and test your guard. Are you ready?”
“Not really, but we might as well get this over with, I need a few more bruises to keep my ego in check.”
Sslasl swung the sword at Tul’s knee figuring that taking out the knee would make it impossible to maintain the side stance that kept the sword between him and his attacker.
The move seemed to catch Tul a little off guard and he had to bounce backward and use his speed to recover a defensive posture. Sslasl though was already moving in with a thrust similar to one he would use with the staff, and again Tul had to slip to the side and use his speed advantage to avoid being contacted.
Sslasl felt the rhythm of the battle and slipped into the tight focus he had learned for dealing with new formulae calculation. There was nothing in the world but the challenge presented by Tul.
He pressed Tul constantly and forced him to continually give ground until he reached the edge of the practice mat. Then suddenly Tul attacked and pressed hard. Sslasl was hard pressed to avoid getting tagged, constantly moving backward and to one side or the other to avoid Tul’s strikes. In a few minutes, he had several new bruises, but he had avoided being trapped against the edge of the mat. He had even forced Tul to return to defense a couple of times for a second or two.
Tul stepped back and raised his sword to the beginning position once more, and Sslasl followed suite.
“Not bad Sslasl. I thought you had never used a sword before.”
“I haven’t. It took a bit for me to get the hang of how long it is, but it felt very natural. It is more like Escrima Sticks, except you have to work with only one, which changes the strategy somewhat.
I like this weapon, though; I will look forward to training with it. Light weight, with the combination of staff and escrima techniques. It is challenging.”
“Well, you handled it like you were born to it. Like the staff, you have more than beginner skill.”
“Okay you two, time to hit the showers. Sslasl, we will continue your extra sensory testing after evening meal.”
“Yes Master Nev. Thank you, sir.”
Sslasl was surprised to hear the master’s voice, he had not realized they were being watched. Although he had come to believe Master Nev was always watching everything whether you could see him or not.
…Sslasl did not understand the extra sensory skills testing, it seemed to just be an exercise in working your imagination. They had him visualize another room as though he were standing in it. Then they had him visualize a box moving through the air and setting itself down in another location. Just one thing after another.
Today they were holding up cards and asking him to tell them what was on each of them. At first, he thought that would be easy, he would just look through their eyes and read it. But the testers were ready for that and laughed when he bounced off their shields.
Then he focused on the card, and without fail an image came to mind. He had no idea if he were correct or not, but when he answered they would put the card back down and raise another.
Next, they asked him to write down who would be in the room when the timepiece they produced reached a certain mark. Again he focused on the clock and saw it at the time specified and noted who was present. It was an interesting game, but rather meaningless, why would it matter if he could guess who would still be in the room?
Finally, they asked him to sit in front of a bank of gambling machines and tell them which one would produce the most credits after running 10 times.
This was very confusing to him because he had never understood why anyone would put their money into a machine in hopes it would give them back more. But he dutifully focused on each and wrote down a number that came to mind as he looked at them. The third machine seemed to pull at him, but he resisted it easily. When he had written down numbers for each, he looked at the results and declared that the third machine would produce the most, and that two of the machines would produce nothing at all.
Then they set a cup in front of each of the machines and had him plug the coins in running each machine the same number of times. Sslasl was amazed to see that he had been correct, not only in which one would produce the most, but in exactly how much each would produce. When he looked at his notes and compared them to the count of coins, the head evaluator actually smiled at him.
“Yes, I would say you have a talent for this, could come in handy one day, but be aware that most gambling establishments are filled with people who are depressed and don’t believe the machine will return money. This attitude would drag on someone with your telepathic talents.”
Sslasl just nodded, he could not believe what had just happened. That was truly amazing 20 machines and he was 100% accurate on all 20 when he didn’t previously even know how they worked.
Just then the door opened and without looking Sslasl knew it was master Nev.
“How did we come out?”
“Well, it looks like we have an exceptional precog here, and as you already knew he is a strong telepath. There is a small amount of untrained ability with telekinesis, but no sign of teleportation. The other skills will be in our final report, but I know Master Masl wanted to know about those specifically.”
“Excellent, thank you all for assisting with the evaluation.”
Sslasl stood up and bowed his thanks as well and two of the masters on the evaluation board left the room. Two others remained, and one of them turned over one of his lists of who would be present at a given point in time. It listed the two masters who had remained and Master Nev. Sslasl looked at the timepiece and it was at the designated time.
Nev looked at the page and nodded approvingly.
“Impressive for an untrained talent. Masters, will you join with me as we press his power colors skills? I know it is not normal to press one so early, but Master Masl believes we will be on the front lines and need all the masters we can martial very soon.”
They nodded their agreement, and Nev looked at Sslasl.
“Apprentice Sslasl, describe the color ribbons you can see in front of me.”
Sslasl had gone through that exercise before. The last time it had been Tul who had asked him to describe the ribbons. It took real concentration to see them that time, but he had seen them several times since, and now he simply focused his will and responded.
“Sir, there are a number of yellows twisting with several blues and two whites.”
“Is that all?”
Sslasl sensed that there was more to see from the tone in Nev’s voice so he concentrated.
There! Nestled in between the blue and yellows was a green. When he focused on the green suddenly he saw several more two bronze several blacks and a couple red. How could he have missed those?
“No, sir, there are also several blacks a couple red and bronze and at least one green.”
As he continued to look he felt significant pressure in his forehead to the point that it was beginning to hurt and his eyes were beginning to blur.
“Focus Sslasl, tell me everything you see.”
Sslasl strained until he thought he would pass out from the pain and the stress of pressing a talent that until recently he did not even know he possessed.
Then just as he was about to throw his hands up in desperation, something snapped and he could see color ribbons everywhere. Master Nev was toying with a handful of them, but there were colors of all types in ribbons of all sizes and shapes moving around the room twisting and brushing one another almost playfully.
“Sir, they are everywhere. I see hundreds of colors all shifting back and forth twisting and turning in the air. It is….. Beautiful.”
“Excellent. Now focus on the blues and whites. Envision them flowing toward you and separating so that the blues are on your left and the whites on your right. Do not stop until they are all by you and ordered as I asked.”
“Yes, sir.”
Sslasl concentrated, and willed them to flow to him as he had been told to do. And they came, slowly at first, then much more rapidly. At the same time, the pressure in his head that had gone away earlier when he felt the snap, was growing again. It got worse and worse, and there were still blues and whites out there that he had to draw to himself.
The pain overwhelmed him and he thought that he must have screamed, but he still tried to pull the last few whites and blues to himself.
His vision went blurry again, and he had to operate from memory pulling those last stubborn ribbons to him.
He felt consciousness slipping away, but still he pressed his will on the ribbons. He would not make it; the dark was encroaching too quickly. Then he felt a tear in his mind, and this time he knew he did scream. And the pain and pressure was gone in an instant. As Sslasl’s eyes cleared, he could see that the blues and whites were all aligned as he had been instructed to do.
“I am sorry Sslasl, this is not the way it is supposed to be done. But you can now see and command the power colors the way you would have been able to see and command them after a year or so of training. If the need were not so urgent, we would never have risked such a thing.”
Sslasl looked up to Master Nev and was amazed at how far away his face was. He was suddenly very tired and he dimly felt the floor strike his face as he slipped into sweet nothingness.
…Slasl focused and double-checked the weave. It was exactly like the one Nev had shown him, but he waited for Master Nev to nod his approval before placing it on himself. He felt the tingle he had incorporated as a confirmation and then moved to the mirror.
He could see everything in the room except himself and the other apprentice who just placed the same weave on herself.
Okay, so far so good. Now the sensors.
He moved over to the security door that had been set up for testing. The proximity sensors did not alarm, and the heat sensors didn’t even budge as he placed his hands over one of the sensing devices. It worked exactly as it was supposed to. Sslasl walked back over to his position in the training area.
Finally, I got one right.
He suddenly felt his foot catch on something and he slammed into the floor.
“Remember, invisibility does not make you impervious to your surroundings. You must remain aware at all times to avoid giving yourself away by tripping and falling or bumping into someone.”
Sslasl released the weave and climbed back to his feet. He could feel the blood rising in his face as he had to admit failure yet again.
“Yes, sir.”
As he spoke he heard a loud thump and saw the young lady reappear sitting on her backside in a puddle of liquid.
“Yes sir.”

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