As the hay exploded into the air around him, Hadrian coughed and swatted it away from his face and eyes. The broken dummy lay in pieces on the ground, it’s straw innards strewn across the floor of the barn that had become his most recent training area on the road to Thunderspire Labyrinth. Thinking his way clear, Hadrian took a deep breath, immediately choking on a few choice pieces of lingering straw. As he hacked them up, a voice called from the entrance.
“And now you’re dead, boy.”
Hadrian turned to see Galen Staul standing in the doorway. “Pay attention, son. You always gotta pay attention.” He tossed Hadrian an apple, which he gladly accepted. Hadrian wiped it on his shirt, then collapsed into a pile of hay and took a bite.
Galen pulled out an apple and smiled to Hadrian. “You know, Douvan told me often about how determined you were to make an honest living for yourself. He said you were as stubborn as an ass.” They both chuckled at that, Hadrian spitting a piece of straw onto the ground.
Galen continued, speaking somberly. “I can tell just from watching you hold your weapon that my brother taught you well. But there is something you need to understand, boy.” He leaned forward slightly, his voice taking on a serious tone. “We are going out into the world to strike at the King’s enemies in their own lairs. So you’re going to need to be better than anyone out there. And I can help you do that.”
Hadrian nodded emphatically. “Okay. But how, Galen?”
Galen finished his apple, tossing it into one of the nearby stables. Dusting his hands on his tunic, he gestured to the other dummies positioned around the barn. “Just do what I say, when I say it. For example: Finish your regimen on these ‘cultists’, then put the hay back where we found it. Then meet Smoke in town. He said he needed your help chasing down leads at the Gnome.
“And I will see you tomorrow, bright and early.” Then he turned and left.
Hadrian snickered. Probably meant that Smoke needed a drinking buddy. He paused as he considered how quickly he and the shadowy Tiefling assassin had become unlikely friends. Smoke’s skills in battle were admirable, but it was the assassin’s slow and steady manner, his lightheartedness in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity, that struck Hadrian as his most admirable trait. Smoke rarely complained, seeming to channel any misgivings or frustration into his attacks, releasing his tension through careful discipline and practice. Hadrian found himself taking a similar approach to his training. Using the practiced, easy manner of his training to focus his strikes.
Which reminded him, he had a lot of work to do before he enjoyed the evening’s festivities.
With a groan, Hadrian stood, retrieving his sword and assuming his most defensive stance, quickly cutting one down before charging into the silent ranks of straw soldiers.