“Are you finished posing now?” A voice called to him out of the darkness, making me start. My father seemed unperturbed however, stretching his muscles slowly to cool down as he responded.

“I seem to recall you saying that the fundamentals were the most important aspect of training.”

A bokken flew through the air, landing at my father’s feet. “Indeed I did. Perhaps you’d care to show me how well you remember them?”

I smiled briefly to myself as I recognized my Uncle Marcus’ voice. Being an only child I may not be the most qualified to comment on this but it certainly seems as if sibling rivalry is a universal constant. My father is the eldest of a trio of brothers and while my uncles remain fiercely loyal to him, my Uncle Marcus does take every chance he can get to out-do him.

My father slid his foot under the tsuba and flicked the bokken upwards, catching it lightly by the grip. He reassumed the guard position and beckoned my uncle forward.

My uncle raised his bokken slowly; his grip reversed with the grip forward and the blade pointing back towards his hip. For some reason, one I’ve never entirely understood, my uncle has always favored fighting underhanded, even though he swears by its effectiveness.

They stood facing each other for a moment; waiting, gauging each other for weakness, neither one moving a muscle. My father, having no doubt been exercising before my entrance into the dojo, was stripped to the waist and barefooted, his only clothes a pair of loose black trousers and the silver locket containing my mother’s portrait shining at his throat. In contrast, my uncle could have just stepped out of a business meeting, his finely tailored suit flowing around him smoothly. Obviously since they are brothers there is a great deal of similarity between the two men, particularly in the jaw line and around the nose. All members of the Valerius bloodline have long thin noses, even if mine is slightly crooked for having been broken when I was a child. My uncle, being the more physically inclined of the two, tends to be slightly more muscular but they are both in excellent physical condition. Both men had dark hair; my uncle’s is long enough to reach down to his shoulders when it wasn’t tied back as it was now while my father has always kept his short and my uncle wears a short beard while my father has always preferred to remain clean-shaven. They stared each other down, my father’s hazel eyes against my uncle’s blue ones.

 

Without any warning I could discern, they both lunged forward, the wooden blades crashing together as they met in the middle of the mat. They pushed against each other, trying to knock the other off-balance before both pulling back to strike again. The wooden practice swords clacked against each other repeatedly as every successive strike was parried and returned. Even to my trained eye, I could barely follow all the movements they went through as they battled back and forth. My father tried a horizontal slash towards my uncle’s stomach but my uncle tilted his bokken vertically to block the strike, and spun quickly, his blade whistling slightly as it struck my father over his right hip. My father staggered momentarily, but spun around himself, his bokken coming to rest between my uncle’s left shoulder and his neck, a hair’s breadth away from the skin. At the same time, my uncle’s bokken reversed its direction, slicing down towards my father’s neck. They paused, their swords at each other’s throats.

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