|Quentin Coldwater (patchwork) wrote in the100,|
@ 2016-02-20 10:16:00
|Entry tags:||!log/thread, cassandra pentaghast|
The gym was ordinarily quiet this time of night, especially in the days following a fight club. Cassandra Pentaghast hated having an audience when she practiced; the dimmed lights and relative lack of people allowed her to mentally drift and return to Thedas and the armies of demons, Darkspawn and hostile Templars and mages. A mere half-hour was required before she was drenched in sweat, dummies looking far-worse for the wear as she returned to the world around her where she was not Divine Victoria or even Seeker Pentaghast… but just another refugee.
It stung more than she wanted to admit. Was her ego so insurmountable that she took this world’s very existence personally? But no one wanted to admit that the Maker was not watching solely them, she supposed. Everyone had difficulty getting outside their own head, their own circumstances.
Cassandra’s legs were weary - shaking, really, Maker was she out of shape - as she collected her towel and wraps. It was only on her way toward the door that she noticed the young woman still working out two-dozen feet away. Mindy Macready, her mind supplied - they had been one another’s first fight the month before. Cassandra had been surprised not by the young woman’s skill - which was impressive - but by her ferocity. That same ferocity was on display now despite the late hour of the evening, and Cassandra shifted her weight slightly to watch.
“You are very good,” she said eventually, her softly-accented voice cutting through the quiet. It was an awkward hello, perhaps, but social nicities had never been Cassandra’s strong point, as she preferred moving into the relevant parts of conversation as quickly as possible.
A month in this weird ass place and Mindy was still struggling to find her niche or whatever the hell it was called. She missed Dave. He was good at making her feel like less of an outcast and more like part of a team. Even if he was a complete idiot half the time. But Mindy wasn’t the kind of person to sit in a corner and cry. She was the type to bury her feelings way down deep and then beat the shit out of a wooden dummy wrapped in padding.
Cassandra’s compliment came between blows, and the wood vibrated under the last strike of Mindy’s booted foot. She turned towards the warrior with half an excited smile.
“Hey, thanks. So are you.” There was one time Mindy was always upbeat and that was talking to someone she knew could kick her ass into next week and who wasn’t a complete douchecanoe. “That thing you do, with the downward strike and the--” Mindy tried to replicate the move, something she was generally pretty damn good at, but didn’t really do it justice. She shrugged.
Cassandra mimicked what Mindy had attempted, her moves practised and fluid, if lacking the power that they had once had gained through deft use. “I am out of practice; I have gone soft,” she griped, smiling in a self-deprecating sort of way as she resumed her normal straight-backed posture. “But that is why we are here, yes? To improve.”
She regarded the other woman for a moment and then offered: “I can show you how to do that move if you would like.”
Contrary to her traditionally-foreboding expression, Cassandra did not dislike people. Particularly not young people. Sure, a lot of them were callous and useless and too loud, and being a mother had never been something that she had yearned for so much as dabbled in considering, but Cassandra did appreciate dedication when she saw it. And Macready wouldn’t be here adding bruises upon bruises to her fists if she was not dedicated. It would be good for them both, she thought. They might learn something. And perhaps if she felt as if she were making a positive difference once more some of her wretched self-pity might lift.
Foul-mouthed and snarky as she was, Mindy had grown up a lot in the last few years. Eleven year old Hit-Girl would've laughed at Cassandra saying she was soft. Full-on cracked up, even. But the sixteen year old version just raised both eyebrows and thumped one taped fist into the palm of her other hand.
“Shit, if you think you’re soft...” Mindy smirked. A quick roll of her shoulders and she looked more confident, eager even. “I've always been better with weapons. Using my size and speed to get in close and kill quickly. This no killing, no weapons crap is taking me some adjustment.” She stretched her hands, worked the tape tighter around her knuckles, and looked up at Cass from under her hair. “So I mean, yeah. If you're offering a lesson, I'm taking it. I need every edge I can get.”
Belatedly Cassandra hoped that she hadn’t sounded full of herself - getting a compliment and responding with an equivalent of “you should see me when I’m not rusty.” But at least Mindy didn’t seem to have taken it any particular way, and Cassandra smoothed down the front of her shirt (gray, soft, currently sweaty, and salvaged from the belongings of a previous Mount Weather resident) to nod, all-business once again.
“It is not easy,” she agreed, “to restrain oneself when one is accustomed to fighting to kill. I did not spar for sport back home, as I suspect you did not. It was kill or be killed - little time for hesitation or mercy.” With a roll of her shoulder, she indicated that Mindy follow her back to the training mat. “Where did you learn? It must have been from a young age.”
Usually people at least blinked when Mindy talked about killing like it was part of her daily to-do list. It was freaky following Badass Warrior Woman over to the training mat and having it not be an issue. Freaky in a good way, at least. Dave would shit himself if he was here. Mindy, though, she just stretched one arm up and over her neck and played it cool.
“My daddy taught me. It was this whole...revenge meets crime fighting thing.” Mindy flashed a sharp-edged smile. Talking about her dad was easier now but still sucked. “He died, but I trained. Got myself a sidekick, trained him. Do you like, command troops or some shit? You’ve got that Wears Armor and Destroys Whole Armies vibe.”
Why did so many promising warriors have dead relatives in their family tree? It was not an unusual for wartorn Thedas, but one would hope for better in other universes. Apparently not. “Your father trained you well,” Cassandra said plainly, her voice measured but kind. She did not offer pity because she remembered how angry pity had made her in the months following the murder of her brother. “As for my own history… I was a Seeker, and so I did most of my fighting against other warriors called Templars and rogue mages. But then I was called to fight against an ancient evil called a Darkspawn. He wanted to end the world.” Her lip curled in a disgusted manner. “...as they usually do. But then, I accepted a position within our Chantry - a religious, political position. I--” Her voice caught, and she looked briefly abashed. “It is a challenge for me. More so than fighting. But restraint is always the most difficult skill to learn. Now prepare yourself. Watch me.”
Cassandra deliberately slowed her movements and exaggerated them so that Mindy could see both her movements as well as the openings that the move left. Weaknesses and strengths - a good warrior had to be aware of both. “Now you try.”
Seeker, Darkspawn, Chantry. Mindy listened closely to Cassandra, but the details pretty much blurred into ‘was a badass, fought scary shit, became a nun’. It was that last part that threw Mindy off completely. She’d met plenty of religious people. None of them were like the statuesque soldier in front of her. She copied Cassandra’s moves nearly perfectly before stepping back to try a second time, slower, and from a different angle.
“So, lemmie see if I got that…,” Mindy breathed, still moving smoothly as she talked. “You fought a war against a Big Bad and then took over a church? And that worked for you? Or is this like a weird cultural difference thing? Like you can only be a soldier for so many years, then you gotta sit your ass down and pray for a few years.” Mindy wrinkled her nose when she said it, but otherwise sounded genuinely curious.
Cassandra paused, her mouth working into an amused frame of a smile. “Ah. You do not understand why I would stop fighting, unless it was a result of societal expectation. Well. That is a long story, and one you would likely find tedious. Ah - perfect, do it one more time, slowly as you did the second time--” Cassandra exploited the weak spot that had been left open at Mindy’s side, striking it to make a point. “You see where you will be vulnerable. That move I only do when I am certain there is no one close to my right or left, because it leaves an opening.”
“But no, it was my own decision. In some ways, I did not stop fighting. I started fighting without my sword, and believe me,” Cassandra’s smile went lop-sided, self-deprecating. “For me, that is far more difficult. But I was another warrior in a vast army. When I became Divine, at least, I was in the position to prevent death rather than add to it. It is not something that I would have had the patience or confidence to do even five years before.”
“Eh, I don’t not get it. People do weird stuff for their own reasons.” Mindy didn't hesitate to adjust and try the move again. If anything, the correcting tap made her smirk and try a little harder. She wanted to impress Cassandra, but mostly it was instinct to improve. Get better or die, that was just what her life had always been. She paused after the second time finishing the move cleanly.
“I mean, I kind of get trying something new. I was never big on being part of a team. I worked with my daddy and then I worked with Kick-Ass. And now,” she shrugged, throwing out three of her own style of strikes. “Now, I've been on a team, a...weird team full of nutjobs, but it...worked, I guess. We got the job done anyway.”
Mindy had blocked Cassandra’s second attempt to break her defense, and Cassandra smiled grimly. “Very good.” Succinct praise, but she had never believed in heaping it on.
Mindy was fast and brutal - clearly well-practised, and Cassandra deflected two out of three of her strikes, the third only half-dodged and hitting her collarbone. Had that been in combat, there would have been a moment required for recovery. “I would not trade my own nutjob team for anything,” Cassandra admitted, “even though they have given me many headaches over the years. But… excuse me,” she said stiffly as she worked through Mindy’s chatter. “Did you say that you fought alongside a person called ‘Kick Ass’? Is that… what a curious term.”
Barking out a laugh, Mindy stepped back and shrugged. “My favorite of the nutjobs, yeah. That's not his real name obviously, just…” She gestured vaguely behind her. “If he shows up, I don't want to be the asshole who outed him. Don't...tell him any of this if he does get his dumbass thrown in a pod.”
Looking at Cassandra and her warrior’s pose, Mindy smirked and straightened out of her fighting stance. “Actually, nevermind. He wouldn't believe you anyway. Or he’d just stare at all this...” Mindy waved her hand, indicating all of Cassandra, “...you've got going on.” Talking about Dave was weirdly harder than talking about her dad. Mindy cleared her throat and turned towards the towel she’d left nearby. “Doesn't matter either way.”
It wasn’t difficult for Cassandra to see Mindy’s pain. Not for the first time, Cassandra understood how lucky she was having her friends from Thedas here - even those with whom she butted heads. She had once so prided herself on not having the emotional ties to allies that might fall on the field of battle, and now she reveled in them. An improvement.
But Mindy required a distraction. “One more thing, if you do not object. I remember last month when we fought together, you employed a very unique dodge. It was unfamiliar to me. I was wondering if you could show it to me so that I might learn an alternate way of fighting. It was very much like--” Miming the move, Cassandra was awkward and slightly off-balance. Mindy had moved quickly; she had been reeling from a hit to the cheek, and it had all gone very quickly.
Mindy would never thank Cass out loud for the subject change, but it showed in the way her shoulders loosened and her mouth curled up at one edge. “Yeah, sure,” she grinned, pulling a full three-sixty to square up in front of Cassandra. “You, uh, ha, you're so damn tall, and that perfect posture isn't helping you any on this one.”
With an impish smirk, Mindy reached out and smacked Cassandra lightly on the shoulder. She nearly immediately dodged back, just on instinct, but held her ground. Impressing this hardcore chick was not gonna happen if Mindy was a chicken shit. “Keep that shoulder down and twist into it. Half my moves are about going forward instead of going back. Well that and being faster since most people I fight are bigger.”
Cassandra attempted an exaggerated version of crumpling her spine; Mindy was correct in that she wasn’t used to not using her physical stature to intimidate. Dodging forward rather than back was something patently against her instinct - she had trained beneath a shield, after all - but she did as the younger woman asked, keeping her shoulder down and doing her level best to twist into it.
Mixed bag, but by her third attempt, she was feeling better about it. Cassandra had been physically imposing for so long that she had forgotten what it was like to feel small. “Like this?” she asked, and managed to do a decent weave around Mindy, even if she still preferred the idea of lifting up her shield and smashing someone with it.
If Cass were Dave, Mindy would have immediately cracked up. But the only thing Cass and Dave had in common was that they were both tall. So Mindy coughed a strangled chuckle into her hand after the first awkward crumple and that was that. Marcus might have actually been proud. If he were here to see his foster daughter training with an intense warrior woman--okay, no, he wouldn’t have been. This wasn’t all that different from the life Marcus fought continuously to pull her out of and there was no pretending she was normal here. Thank fucking Christ.
“Yeah, that’s better. I’m not gonna lie, though. You’re whole immovable wall thing works for you.” Finally reaching for the towel she’d set aside, Mindy twisted it around her neck and smiled, no snarky edge to it whatsoever. “But if you want to trade a move here and there anyway, I’m pretty sure there is zero chance I’ll miss out on that.” She gestured backwards over her shoulder with a thumb. “Gonna go stuff my face now, though. Catch you later?”
Cassandra knew when she was being laughed at (or in this case, coughed at), but she knew she probably looked ridiculous. There was a reason she was a warrior and not a rogue, but at least her pride allowed her to try new things from time to time. “I imagine you are right,” she answered with one of her slight smiles. “I will never feel comfortable without my shield, but that is no reason not to practice without it.”
“Have a good dinner. I’m going to set some of the equipment back to where I found it. I am certain I will see you here later.” One glancing at the Seeker’s face would be forgiven for finding her expression more threatening than friendly, but it was not the case. Cassandra merely liked it when people kept their promises. Watching Mindy leave, she began to unwrap her hands, thinking of how young she had been when she had begun the training necessary to become a Seeker. How strange, then, that Mindy had spoken of secret identities. How odd a world that discouraged women from fighting for what they believed to be right, and yet, how familiar a government which preferred its civilians docile. She’d see Mindy again in the gym - of that she was confident.