Inside, it was hot, steamy and stank of sweat, a lot like the thick jungles of Catachan, but made of steel. Once we had acclimatised to the sensation of space travel, Von Carstien bade us to eat with him. He introduced us to wider imperial culture and food, taking time to teach us in debating. As hard as he tried, he could not however, get very far, having just left very tight viewed communities. Another important skill he taught us was basic manners to those above you in status. After we had finished our discussions and fine food, we were shown to our habitation for the journey. On his way to Catachan, Von Carstien had ordered the ship’s crew to grow a small, self sufficient jungle habitat in one of the interior cargo bays. There was also control panels dotted around, from which we could control the climate of the jungle. As soon as I found one, we set it to max humidity and started a rainstorm while Freya and Karazak constructed a shelter to stay in. Later, having stayed the night in the small, homely lean-to we had constructed, Von Carstien came into the jungle to talk to us from a place where we were comfortable. He started talking about where we were going; the Schola Progenium.
“You will find many others there. Some will try to befriend you; others will try to hurt you. Some will stay on the sidelines.” He began.
“Who runs the place?” I asked.
“The Schola are run by priests of the Emperor, Drill Abbots of His Ecclesiarchy. If you break their rules, then you will be punished accordingly.” Von Carstien replied.
“Where will everyone else be from?” Freya asked.
“Pupils in a schola come from all branches of the Imperium. Some are the sons of planetary governors, others; the children of Imperial Navy admirals. A few will be the orphaned children of Imperial Heroes, like you”
“What will we do there?” Karazak enquired.
“A great many things, Karazak. You will learn about imperial history and culture in a way I would never be able to teach you. There will also be a selection of physical activities, which should be of interest to all of you. Like your father, I see you going on to fight for the Imperium, Freya and Karazak; can see this for you also. Because of this I want to make sure you can fire a gun and wield a blade before we get to Volag Nok so you can participate better in the military exercises. Is everyone OK with this?”
“We can all wield a blade, but I for one have desired to fire a gun from when Freya first mentioned them to me.”
“Also, when you are there, you may see your loincloths as a sign of honour, but others at the schola may not. When you get to Volag, ask for an audience with the High Abbot of Nok about it, but until then I would wear your ceremonial robes or other clothes that the schola provides.”
“Right then, we will start the training tomorrow. In the mean time though, would you give us some blade practice now or at least coach us with our own weapons.”
“It appears that Catachans are eager to learn, and could make fine scholars, no doubt of they wished! I will get a selection of blades from the armoury and I will watch and give advice for I have studied the blade for most of my life.”
“I think I have found my goal in life” said Freya, and then we all started laughing.
As Von Carstien left to get the blades; Freya, Karazak and I started running through the jungle occasionally stopping for a minor bout of unarmed combat to get us in the state of mind for the coming exercise. By the time Von Carstien returned, we were bruised and covered in sweat, but still ready to go on with the blade lesson.
“I see you have been preparing” Von Carstien stated as he passed each of us a sparing sword. The weapons were masterfully crafted, each with a straight hand guard and a one metre blade.
To start our training, we simply duelled with each other while Von Carstien watched and gauged our technique. I fought Karazak first and I noted how resilient he was to the blows that landed, barely even flinching when I hit him while I preferred to dodge the blows as they came. Freya however, having only defended herself fought a defensive battle against Karazak and I, but one of lithe and agile movement, lashing out at a lighting pace then drawing back using the terrain to her advantage. Meanwhile, Von Carstien remained impassive, watching our every move, even when we weren’t duelling!
He then gave us advice on how to improve our technique, giving tips to each of us, such as to avoid the harder blows in Karazak’s case and to be more often on the attack to Freya. To me he advised me to keep my distance and use the edge of the blade where possible rather than the point. He then left us to practice and departed from the jungle room for reasons we did not know.
An hour later, he came back wearing only a pair of shorts and wielding a sparing sword as he called us out one by one to test our skills first hand.
Von Carstien was skilled and defeated Karazak easily and eventually pinned Freya to a wall, but his regular artistic blade flourishes opened gaps in his guard that only a sharply honed mind can spot and he yielded before my blade. He then commented how my bladework was superb and that Catachan would be a great training ground for blademasters and the like.
By this point we had been in orbit for just under w week while the great vessel made its way towards the warp jump point. So after we had cooled off, Von Carstien used a vox link to ask for the time until warp transition. He then told us to tie ourselves to some trees because warp transitions are very ... “bumpy” as he put it. His warning was just as well and in the nick of time as the final countdown began half a minute after Von Carstien had finished tying Karazak to a tree, he then left quickly to find a restraint chair.
After our successful warp transition, Von Carstien came back into the jungle and untied us and after that, our days followed a similar schedule: Get up and have a swim in the “river” in the jungle, then we would go for some exercise (either jogging, swimming some more or fist fights or all three). We would then do other training, such as firearms training and blade-work or lessons on Imperial history and its culture.
One day after our morning exercise, Von Carstien came in early and announced that we were one week from Volag Nok and he wanted us to participate in the ship’s officers duelling contests that were to be held that day, because though we were not officers we were honoured guests to the vessel and he thought we were ready to go against these highly proficient blademasters.
He also told us that our last few lessons would be tough, but also that life at the schola would be harder still. As he left, I asked; “what form will the contest take?”
“A very good question, know your opposition. The contests are normally staged on the bridge where there is a decent open flat space with the sparring swords you are used to using, but if you are willing and the officers agree, we could host it here where the terrain will provide an additional challenge. But beware, some of the officers spend every moment of their off duty lives training with a blade and as such, could best even I, a combat swordsman in the confines of a duel.”
“Then we will use all of our advantages against them”
“Very well, I have left three sparring swords by the door. Just be warned, some of the officers will likely prefer you did not wear your tribal loincloth, but if you wished, we could make the duelling contest unofficial and have all parties wear similar attire.”
“Yes, that would be a change for those officers! Perhaps we could include a round of unarmed combat, most definitely not to the death!”
I looked at Freya and Karazak with eyes that had changed substantially since our first meeting, and then we all started laughing as Von Carstien left our sanctum to let us train.
The tourney was an exhilarating experience; for the first time, I was able to test my skills against experts in bladework. I worked my way up the tables to the quarter finals where I fought the Captain of the ship, Andromicus, who had me on the defensive until I feigned a fall. I then rolled out from under him and almost won, until he lashed out with his leg and knocked me off balance, forcing me to yield. Andromicus then went on to win for the 4th voyage running. Karazak got past the first heat, but was then beaten by the good Captain. Karazak however, Freya surpassed all expectations getting to the semi-finals to be beaten by the head gunnery officer, a stern man called Sohek.
Funnily enough, when we made our offer of unarmed combat duels, many of the younger midshipmen and lieutenants took up the offer and followed us to the jungle sanctum. We all stripped to the waist (aside from Freya and the few female officers) and then paired off to fight.
Few of the officers could hold out long against us, but all the same, it was a good change to fight others with different upbringings. I won the tourney, but by the end of it we were all dripping with sweat, but ready for more. Unfortunately, the officers had other duties to perform about the ship, so i shook hands with 1st Lieutenant Hans, a senior bridge officer and with that the officers left with a hearty salute.
During the last few days, training did indeed toughen, but it was exhilarating and enlightening as well. Two days before planetfall, Von Carstien introduced us to more suitable clothing that still fitted out jungle background. For myself and Karazak, he looked out several pairs of loose shorts and short sleeved shirts; he also told us that they would be suitable for the desert as well. For Freya, he found similar attire, but also included a knee length dress of the style of Volag Nok.
During that time, we got used to the attire of most imperial citizens, and Von Carstien got laser scans of our sizes to make us huge varieties of clothing for every occasion for us to try. Lessons also kept going during this period and the pace quickened before planetfall.