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The Espadas School of Self-Defense and Swordsmanship!

 

"Ha, making me work for it today!" Erik Espadas called across the length of the training mats while he intercepted a pingpong ball-sized fiery projectile a hairsbreadth from his nose with equally fiery rapier. The flame wrapped around his hand in an elaborate guard and the light of the deceptively delicate blade was picked up in the sheen of sweat across his chest. Where his shirt had gone and why he had bothered to wrap a dark blue bandana over his eyes when they both knew he was using his metamagi sixth sense to anticipate the incoming bolts of fire were questions his training partner had learned not to waste energy asking. Instead another flurry of little fireballs forced him to flip backward and contort his wrist to catch before they could hit him or the flame retardant tarp they'd hung up on the wall behind him.

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"Just don't want you losing your edge, old man!" Raina cackled at the other end of the room, extending an arm without looking to swing herself up onto her broom. His sixth sense could still find her in the air, but at least he couldn't feel her feet on the mats this way.  "There's lot of bad guys out there!" She tossed another handful of carefully modulated fireballs in his direction even as she used the broom to soar across the room and tumble down behind him. As her feet hit the mat, she raised a hand and manifested a fiery sword of her own, not as precisely drawn as Erik's, but bright and dangerous-looking. 

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The miniature fireballs impacted along Erik's swirling rapier with a series of paffs and brief blooms of heat. "Hey, I'm all edge! It's right in the name!" He timed the arc of his swing so that it ended with the blade vertical behind his right shoulder just in time to catch Raina's slashing attack and divert it to the side. He dropped down into a roll to avoid her quick recovery and counter, somersaulting forward into a handspring then spinning about to land on his feet facing her. "Nice change-up! The practice with the broom is paying off!" 

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"I got tired of you punning about seeing me a mile away even blindfolded," she told him, closing in with her fiery blade. She was much more cautious now, fighting defensively against a stronger opponent as she looked for any possible opportunities for dirty tricks. If she'd learned anything from her teachers at the dojo, it was that fighting by the rules was strictly for competitions, never for the real world. "But the broom's not that good in an enclosed space, so I'm just gonna have to rely on the fact that you're old and slow." 

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"Excuse you, Ms. Teen-Years-Behind-Her!" Erik allowed himself to be goaded, feigning indignation as he closed most of the distance between them in a single lunge and tossed off a trio of rapier thrusts that were always a split second ahead of where Raina was about to move her own blade. "You are gonna wish you had calves like these at my age!" He pulled back to strike a pose like a bodybuilder, pointing the toes of one foot behind him while bending the other knee and twisting his waist so that he was only partly facing her. It was obviously a feint that only appeared to leave him open but on the other hand it was probably the best opening she was going to get if she could think of an unexpected way to capitalize on it.

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"Okay, boomer." A quick fingerwave from Raina had her broom, which had been hovering unobtrusively near the ceiling, dive-bombing straw end first onto the rapier master. With the blindfold on, he wasn't in danger from as much as a poke in the eye with a wheat straw, but the sudden paft in the face was certain to be distracting. She dove low with her sword, risking exposure of her own back and arm to try for a shot at his ankles while his body was slightly off-balance. 

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Erik looked physically pained. "Why are you like this." It was somehow more of a statement than a question.

 

He seemed oblivious to the incoming broom until the last possible instant when he abruptly fell backward out of its path. In free fall his empty hand shot out and grabbed the handle of the still inbound broom and pulled. As expected the broom stayed just where Raina had placed it, as it would when she lifted herself up and onto it, and Erik used it as an anchor to turn the fall's momentum into a swing that took him over her slash, flipping through the air and back down in an easy stance, his foot pinning her blade to the mats.

 

Or at least it would have been pinned had the construct had more physical weight and less... fire.  "Gah! Thought I could step on it! Thought I could step on it!" Erik insisted through gritted teeth as he hopped away, waving his scorched foot about.

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"It is MADE OF FIRE!" Raina yelled, leaping up and waving her own arms around some as Erik went reeling off. The sword and Erik's pant leg both extinguished themselves instantly, leaving behind a smell of scorched cotton. "If you step on a fire, it is going to make you be on fire! Merlin!" She turned toward the spectator area in time for Merlin to toss her a spray can of Dermoplast. She pulled off the lid and shook it up, advancing on Erik. "Come on, did it get you? Let me see." Years of sparring had her burn care down to a science, except when the victim was hopping around the room and out of reach. 

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"I'm alright, I'm alright," Erik insisted with a rueful, lopsided grin, one eye squinted closed. He stopped hopping and balanced on his good foot. Indeed, apart from some redness and burnt hair around his ankle he seemed unscathed. "My decision quality is questionable but my reflexes are beyond reproach! Mostly. Ow." He let his rapier dissipate and hopped over to put an arm around a training dummy for support. "Using the broom to split focus was smart! What I was going to say is that it also seems useful as a vault to use some of what you've learned from Talia. Just mind you landings, I guess."

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"Yeah, next time I'll make sure it drops you on your ass instead of holding you up," Raina agreed. She gave the reddened patch of skin a spritz of first aid spray just to be on the safe side. "But you've sparred with Talia for like a bazillion years, so you already know everything she's taught me. And I can't just undo a couple buttons to make you stop thinking like she does, because gross." Raina tilted her head thoughtfully. "What I need is like... oh yeah, that'd probably work." She grinned as a new strategy popped into her brain, but didn't elaborate. "You okay to walk?" The broom floated up helpfully next to Erik, offering a handy grab bar if required. 

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Erik looked down at his bare torso in consideration. "Yeah, double standards are a @#$%." He turned his attention to the nearby broom and frowned. "If I put by weight on that it's one hundred percent going to 'drop me on my ass', isn't it? I think I've gotten in enough physical comedy for today." He put his foot down on the mat experimentally and was confident enough to walk over and retrieve his discarded shirt from where it was strewn across a weapons rack. "Perks of age, though: one of these days? Sword cane." He tapped his temple with a finger and nodded sagely.

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Utsuwa wandered casually down the streets of the West End pausing every so often to look at the print out clutched in one hand as he tried to connect the layout of the streets to the printed map.  He let out a small sigh and continued along his way marking storefronts more unique than the ubiquitous coffee shops and convenience stores to use as landmarks of a sort.  Not for the first time he felt overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the city he'd found himself in.  At least among so many a new face was not so remarkable.

 

The Espadas school of self defense and swordsmanship was certainly eye catching.   He'd kept in practice, he knew little else, in the provided space at the Summers estate.  Yet, this drew him in, perhaps despite it's exterior there was something to this place beyond the mundane.  He suspected it was not but wishful thinking but in a strange land it may be worthwhile to explore his options.

 

Stepping into the cramped reception room he looked at the decor with some curiosity and approached the counter tapping the bell a single time as indicated by the 'ring for service' sign propped there on.  Utsuwa tucked his hands behind his back, the dark tones long sleeved henley covered his tattoos but left something to be desired when it came to keeping cool in the late summer heat of Freedom City.  He shifted on his heels letting the loose fitting grey linen slacks act as a fan and watched the door expectantly.

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"Come on, I don't want to break your brittle old man hip when we're not even sparring," Raina protested, picking up her water bottle and taking a long drink. "You could have a sword cane now," she pointed out, "if you just got one of those stupid little straw hats too and learned to tap dance." She did a quick shuffle ball change combination that was all she remembered of the dance lessons her mother had insisted upon. Merlin looked up from his tablet long enough to applaud politely. 

 

This hilarious byplay was interrupted by the sound of the bell from the outer lobby. Raina looked up, raising her eyebrows. "Not it," she said immediately. 

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"Oh, make the injured guy walk over there. Cruel, cruel!" He laboured over the pronunciation as the shirt went back over his head, fitting in extra syllables while he flounced over the the reception area with melodramatic effort before composing himself with a grin and rounding the corner.

 

"Hey, there! Welcome to--" The taste of old copper pennies on the back of his eyelids rolled into Erik like a breaking tide. He knew the dragging fingernail screech of blood magic well but in Talya is was tidy, contained, almost elegant and whisper quiet until called upon. This was ghastly magic forced into too small a container, oozing out through gaps and cracks. This was a malevolent predator on too short a leash made of rusty, gangling chains. Something artificial, cheap store-brand cola poured into aged whiskey. Something almost familiar, hot breath down his neck and choking his nostrils.

 

"--ahrm, ha, sorry, swallowed wrong there!" he continued with only a slight hitch, slapping his chest and clearing his throat with an easy smile for the unassuming young man with the serious expression. "Welcome to the dojo! You just caught up finishing up some training. Hey bengala, give me a hand out here, huh?" He absolutely did not call Raina that, certainly not out of costume and there was nothing he should have needed her help with. "I'm Erik Espadas," he told the youth, casually putting a hand into his pocket and gripping his lighter while gesticulating amiably with the other. "Were you looking to sign up for a class?"

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Raising a brow in concern at the garbled welcome Utsuwa paused uncertainly before bowing his head slightly, "Apologies I did not mean to interrupt."  His accent was slim but clearly present as much in his manner as tone.  "I can wait if you have students to attend to?"  he suggested to Erik and glanced at the sign once more, "The sign..."  he nodded and made a small shrug, "Perhaps I misunderstood."

 

He waited a moment for whomever Bengala might be before answering, "No, I was hoping there might be training space in off hours."  he shrugged and frowned at the empty space next to him.  "I can offer my hands and skills in trade."  cleaning the dojo and minor maintenance in exchange for space or training was not uncommon in his homeland.  Less so in urban New Jersey.

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Raina rolled her eyes at Erik's protests and pulled out the dry mop to sweep soot off the mats. It was a pain in the ass to clean up once it got set in. She stopped abruptly the instant Erik's cheerful greeting cut off. Something was wrong. She took a deep breath and opened her senses. Strange magic, dead magic, the smell of coffin dirt and a strange red haze creeping in from the doorway. It didn't seem actively malevolent, at least not yet, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. Magic like that could cause a lot of harm with no ill intent at all. 

 

She looked over at Merlin, who'd stopped to listen as well, and flicked him the finger signs that meant security system. He nodded and leapt into the nearest air vent, scampering for the upstairs. "Keep your pants on, anciano, I'm coming!" she called, making herself sound put upon instead of unnerved. Snapping a flame to life, she cradled it like a palmed die as she hurried into the lobby. She wasn't sure what she was expecting, but it wasn't a kid, even a sturdy-looking kid who seemed like he might know what he was doing around a dojo. She looked at Erik for a cue. 

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"Could you get those forms from earlier for me, before I forget?" Erik asked Raina, jutting a thumb in the direction of the reception desk. There hadn't been any forms from earlier but walking over the the drawer would put Raina on the opposite side of their guest. "Well, we don't really have unsupervised off-hours," he told the young man apologetically, taking a few casual steps in the opposite direction while continuing to wave his empty hand about in an attention grabbing manner. "We do book chunks of time for sparring, self-guided workouts, that kind of thing though, sure! Are you with a school club or a youth group or anything like that?"

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Subconsciously changing his position taking a step back to keep both the employees in sight, his body blocked square to the midpoint between them, Utsuwa's training took over in the moment.  "Ah I understand."  he nodded quietly as he processed the information and shook his head slightly.  "I am between schools."  he admitted quietly.  "Self guided time sounds right, I'm not certain this Claremont Academy has clubs like that."  he added with a sigh, "Despite my hosts insistence on it's quality."  

 

He did not seem like the type to be attending a prep school, "I trained at my old,"  he paused the words catching as he sought a more appropriate term, "school."  he finished with a small shrug.  "I don't want to lose my edge." 

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Raina moved to flank the newcomer, careful as she picked up the forms to avoid setting them on fire. She still had no idea what the kid's deal was... right up until he mentioned his school. "Oh, you're from Claremont?" she asked, visibly relaxing and waving her hand to let the flame in her palm go out. "Well, that explains why your energy feels like some kind of magic nightmare disaster, I guess." Dropping the forms back on the desk, she gave the kid an assessing look. "Definitely don't join anything you don't have to there, they're pretty much a bunch of losers and the clubs are boring." 

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Erik let out a heavy breath and a soft stream of Spanish profanity hopefully neither of the younger pair understood. "You'd think Summers could send me a courtesy text when she gets another magic sword kid but I think she's still ticked off from that time Talia went all parent-teacher-conference on her." He released his lighter and withdrew his hand from his pocket, folding his arms and giving the teenager a critical once over. Setting aside the overwhelming miasma he looked tightly wound, expression controlled and body language minimized. There'd be time to pry into that later. "In that case we'll work something out. If you can tamp down on the cloud hanging over your head I'd appreciate it, though. We've got folks here who are sensitive to that sort of thing."

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Utsuwa smiled slightly at Rainas reply, "I had that impression myself."  he admitted with a shrug, "My, Hosts, insist it is the best venue for my further education."  he seemed unimpressed with this decision but accepting of it.  The stream of invective didn't need translation to make clear the sentiment behind it and Utsuwa quickly shook his head.  "Ms. Summers has nothing to do with my presence here I came alone."  he declares somewhat defiantly, his independence was clearly of some import to the young man.

 

He however stood as if uncertain that it had been independent as he scoured his conversations looking fro traces of the Ravens influence in suggesting he investigate the area.  The mention of his energy, or the cloud at the least drew a raised brow and a small shake of his head, "Would that I could."  he acknowledged with a heavy sigh, "I was not aware there were those here sensitive to ... that."  he had about to say him but caught himself at the last moment.

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"What is it, anyway?" Raina asked, not bothering to dance around the topic. "I mean, what do your powers do that makes you feel that way? Are you like a fencer but also a necromancer or something?" Up close the sensation was even odder, strange enough that she deliberately blunted her magical senses rather than feel it grating against her psyche. She could afford to, knowing that Erik wouldn't stop paying attention despite the discomfort. Pulling out her phone, she sent Merlin a quick text to let him know that everything seemed okay for the moment. He'd still keep an eye out, too. 

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Glancing at Raina with the first signs of real uncertainty since he'd presented himself int he first place he struggled for words for a few moments.  With a deep breath he pushed out a quick explanation.  "It is a curse on my family."  he paused, "basically."  it wasn't a great even as half truths went, "A haunting of sorts."  Of course blood magic was not quite the same as a haunting to mystic senses and while there wee spiritual magic around him they were overwhelmed by something more fundamental to his being.

 

Utsuwa shrugged, "It is not dangerous to others though, I have it well controlled."  he assured them both with a confident nod.  He glanced from Raina to Erik and looked down, "I will go if it is too much for you here I'm sure there are other places I can practice."  and up went the walls of rugged self reliance again.  To the average teen or swooning schoolgirl it probably seemed the very picture of tortured bad boy.  To a grown adult, it might read more akin to a cry for help.

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Erik waved a hand dismissively. "There really aren't, kid, believe me. You're in the right place." He folded his arms and gave the teenager a deeply unimpressed look. "As something of an authority on both alibis and brooding, yours could use work. Here's the deal: I've know plenty of people who had whatever their thing was 'well controlled'. You start slipping, we'll know," he indicated himself and Raina with an index finger, "and we'll help. You try to be a tough guy and hide it, in doing so putting the people here at risk?" He arched an eyebrow. "Then we have a problem. Now, you got a name?"

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The teen looked up at Erik eyes narrowed for a fraction of a second at the dismissive attitude of his control and then down at the floor not quite equal the task of challenging the older man on his home turf.  "That is perhaps for the best then yes."  he actually agreed, "Loss of control could be very bad, prudent to have someone looking out."  He nodded slowly accepting that this was indeed a fortuitous stop on his wandering.

 

"Utsuwa."  He replied evenly and more boldly repeated, "Utsuwa Ranaga."  If he was going to clean the bloodstains from his family name he'd have to wear it with pride.

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