They stood in the courtyard, hands behind their backs with a wide stance, just like the Head Teacher had instructed. A mix of children with different genders, backgrounds, and educations waited nervously as a tall woman took her place before them. She stood stoically in tailored leather with a battle-worn look, her black hair in a small puffy circle around her head. Reyka stood, her one and a half arms at her side a she waited before them as the last student rushed forward and joined the line. That made twelve of them.
“Welcome,” she said. She scanned their faces, the children’s cheeks red from the heat of the day. The sun was beating down into the practice yard, but Reyka would show them no mercy.
“I am Chief Marshal Reyka,” she told them. “And you are all, effective immediately, Third Class Cadets of Her Lordship Queen Monavych III.” She looked at them, though they all had the good sense to stare straight ahead. “You are now under my command, in the 426th Regiment.”
One of the boys, heavyset but not tall, slightly turned his face toward his compatriot, a girl slightly younger than him named Petra. “That’s who’s gonna train us? She only has one good arm!” he whispered. He knew better than to speak; all twelve of the children, between ages eight and ten, had already spent the beginnings of their lives in the monarchy’s Institutions, where they had endured a military-like childhood. Petra could see he was referring to the Chief Marshal’s right arm, which ended just above the elbow.
Petra hardly opened her mouth as she hissed back, “Shut up, Machakov!” She hadn’t been this scared since the day two soldiers had escorted her from her childhood home.
Reyka strode toward them, and Petra silently whimpered. She was terrified of her new training instructor. Reyka had dark skin, even darker than Petra’s mother, and her eyes, which Petra could now see were brown with a golden halo, fixed upon them with a glowing intensity. Machakov visibly straightened and snapped his head back to facing front.
“Would you like to teach the first training session?” Reyka asked Machakov in a soft tone. Machakov, who had finally come to his senses, quivered as he stood and said nothing. She walked past him without another glance.
“I have been informed that you all have rudimentary combat training,” her voice boomed loud this time, echoing off the walls of the circular training courtyard. She walked in a circle back to her original position, planting her feet six or seven yards from the line of trainees. “Attack me.”
No one moved. None of the children even breathed. The confusion read on their faces, and they stared at their new commander in disbelief.
“I gave you an order!” Reyka barked. “Attack me, now!” Her voice was a boom of thunder, and it jolted the children into action. They ran at her, though some more hesitantly than others. Petra was at the back of the group, going as slowly as she could. She had only spent a few months at the Institution before they had been sent to the Wascom Outpost for training, and she was not at all confident in her abilities. She watched as the first girl struck Reyka, a tall blonde girl with long hair. The girl had good form, but Reyka slapped her away with her good arm and kicked her in the chest. She flew several feet before hitting the ground with a thud.
Never missing a beat, Reyka swung her leg low to sweep one of the boys to the floor before hitting another in the shoulder with an open palmed punch that sent him tumbling to the ground. Her good elbow connected with another trainee’s chin as the stub of her arm swatted another in the face. Wincing even as she ran toward her, Petra waited until she was busy dealing with two others before she lunged in with a fist, aiming for Reyka’s side. Faster than Petra had seen anyone move before, Reyka twisted, kicking one trainee in the stomach and grabbing the other, Machakov, by the arm, whipping him around and throwing him into Petra, and the two trainees tumbled violently to the ground. The remaining students were hesitant to charge her, but Reyka growled and lunged at them, forcing them to defend themselves. It didn’t take long before every single student was on the ground, heaving for breath and rubbing several new bruises.
“Never hesitate,” Reyka barked. She stood, glaring at Machakov. “And never underestimate your opponent.”
The children were ordered to do two hundred pushups before they would be allowed to enter the dinner hall. Reyka calmly exited the training arena, passing another officer, Erina, who was leaning against the wall, looking at the trainees now struggling to stand.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Erina said to Reyka as she chuckled.
The Chief Marshal shrugged, a wry smile on her face. “Every lesson is important.”