Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SMEAR (03/10/16)
By Sara Harricharan
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Oil made her thick tresses shiny and sleek, but a tad slippery to work with. She undid the braid twice, before it would set right.
Tonight was the induction ceremony for all trainees. Some to the Queen’s Guard, some to the King’s Army and others to the Black Spear Guild. Those who weren’t chosen would have to wait another year to try again.
They could train with new teachers, but after three years, the law demanded they choose another vocation.
Steady fingers looped the leather tie around the bottom of her braid. Starla made herself smile into the small square mirror pinned to the wall.
The other girls were busy prepping in the shared baths and common room, but after six years of prep training, she still felt out of place.
Her fancy red and gold formalwear hung on the wall, artfully arranged to show off fancy stitching and gold braids. She’d tried it on, but the new material felt foreign and heavy.
The dressy cape she’d wear over her plain black training uniform. She’d chosen her cleanest pair.
Her boots were neatly polished, along with her wrist guards and metal-tipped training staff. She’d even scrubbed her face and scoured the dirt from her fingernails.
Chimes sounded in the hall.
Starla rolled up to her feet, hefting her staff carefully in hand. She checked her flexibility with a quick squat-to-stretch test, before heading out.
A stampede of feet heralded her fellow trainees as they streamed out the door in a chattering, excited bunch.
She slipped out after them, bringing up the rear, the cape draped over her shoulders and knotted at her neck.
It felt better to wear it after all.
They arrived in the ceremony hall. Royal Family seated to the right and the training masters to the left. The middle space was the exhibition area, where the student would show their skill, then wait to be approached by a training master.
If none chose them, they would return to the ranks and wait.
Crowded into a neat row, Starla gripped her staff tight. She felt even more out of place. Everyone else wore their formal outfits.
Bright eyed and solemn, they stood at the attention as the master of ceremonies announced the start.
It was a long process.
A timer was set for five minutes per trainee. It began the moment the trainee set foot on the stretch of black carpet between the two audiences.
Some demonstrations were good, but others were odd and awkward. She stopped watching after a time, finding the wait to be unbearable.
When her name was called, she willed her feet to move. The timer reset as she stepped onto the carpet and let her training take over.
Nerves vanished at once, for while her mind could busy itself with trivialities, her body remembered.
Strike. Thrust. Parry. Block. Strike. Strike. Block. Thrust. Strike.
The movements flowed through her. When the sequence was over, Starla dropped to her knees, sitting back on her heels, head bowed, staff beside her.
Silence stretched out, punctuated by her slight panting from the quick workout.
A rustle of cloth from the Guild’s side. A training master. He approached and spoke the words that made her lift her head and rise to a kneel.
There was a look of approval in his strong gaze as he studied her.
“Starla of Ravencroft, would you accept an apprenticeship offered to you in my name? You may accept or deny without explanation.”
“I accept your offer, Master Quinn.”
“Then stand at attention.”
Starla rose to her feet, head lifted, hands on her staff, heels clicked.
From his fancy overrobe, came a container of war paint, a thick, navy blue.
She held steady as he smeared the first stripe on her right cheek, then her left. Over her eyebrows, then down her nose and lips. Dots along her chin and eyes, finishing off with fading streaks down her neck.
He exchanged the blue container for a purple one. It meant that he’d chosen her as an apprentice, having seen potential in her. Not because of regulations or requirements.
The cold glob of color was planted directly on her forehead and smeared up through her hairline, coloring the middle part.
Just as she’d hoped it would.
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