From that day onwards, my days became much more regimented. No longer would I spend all my time in my cell, being taken out whilst unconscious. No longer would I have no day night cycle. My days were spent performing various exercises, from being trained in the use of my newfound powers, to learning new fighting techniques. My education became about nothing but combat.
Included in that education was lessons on the demons I would face in the future. The unwilling I had already met, but hells forces are numerous and diverse, as you know. I would be given a video demonstrating each demon, and have to take notes on what I saw, preparing me for the day when I would be tested in combat against them.
My nights would come at regular intervals, when a sleeping gas would fill my cell. Within thirty seconds of it being dispersed, I would fall asleep, and so I spent that time moving to my bed, if I wasn't already resting from the days fatigue.
As time went on, I graduated from fighting against unwilling in my weekly tests, on to fighting imps. At first, it was just a single imp, with no restrictions on how I could fight it, however, even then they were a great challenge to me. They moved much faster than the unwilling and forced me to improve the aim of my powers. And whilst they were hardier than the unwilling, before long they too would be felled in one attack from either my knife or fireball.
Once I got to that point, the tests were made more difficult. Sometimes, I would face them in large number, and have to learn to dodge their fireballs, for fear of my body and the pain their fireballs could deal if nothing else. I am not sure how well I would've dealt with such things then.
Other times, the testing arena was altered to make the ceiling barely higher than the heads of the imps, giving me no room with which to fly. However, such occurrences forced me to learn other uses of my wings. It is from these tests that I learned to use them to dash around the arena, out flanking my enemies.
Other times, I would be forced to wear bracelets and charms that prevented me from making use of my powers entirely, forcing me to fight using my body, and the melee techniques I had been taught, These lessons were the hardest on me, but would become my greatest asset to me in the years to come.
By the time I was six, I was introduced to my third demon in combat. The tests had grown to the point where I would face multiple waves of imps, with ten to twenty imps per wave, and I monotonously went through the motions. But on the day of the pinky's introduction, I was given no restrictions. There was no low ceiling, there was no bracelets and charms. I was free to slaughter the vermin as I saw fit.
And I revelled in it.
I did not cower in the air like I did in my first encounter, but took the fight to the demons. The powers of my angle half by now offered me a single spear of light, rather than a little knife, and my devil half would give me access to powerful fire bolts, more focused and piercing versions of my now explosive fireballs.
Whilst the hell spawn was fast, I could match them equally. When an imp threw a fire ball at me, I would dash out of its trajectory, and respond with a bolt of my own. When an imp tried to close the distance, it would be cut down by my spear, before said spear would find itself in the brain matter of another, more distant imp.
This dance went on, new waves appearing before being cut down. No projectiles touching me as I went about my dirty business. Until the ceiling of the arena lowered, and a new wave approached.
The ceiling had never been lowered mid test like that, and so I found myself on my guard. And a new wave of imps appeared, supported by two pinkies. I knew from my more traditional lessons that this monster had to be attacked from the back, so I set to work, thinning the herd of imps whilst waiting for the charge of the pinkies.
Fortunately, pinkies make a rather distinctive scream when they do charge, so I was alerted to it's approach when it started.
The videos I learned from taught me of their speed.
It was another thing entirely to experience it for myself.
The first time I was harmed in these tests came from the pinky, and I found myself flying without intention into a wall of the arena. But I had no time to feel the pain of the experience, as one of the few remaining imps chose that moment to throw a fire ball at my prone form.
So I beat my wings hard, giving me life and forward momentum, firing a firebolt at my assailant. It left me with two imps and two pinkies remaining in the arena. The two imps were dealt with from where I stood in the corner, one with a light spear, and the other with a fire bolt, before I threw a fireball behind the furthest pinky.
The explosion of fire caused its tail to ignite, and it started charging in panic, but this time it had my full attention. I waited until it was moments from striking me, and dashed to my right, causing it to connect with the wall, and be stunned for a moment.
That moment was all I needed.
I summoned a light spear, and plunged it in to its fleshy behind, before yanking downwards, splitting it almost in two, and covering the arena with yet more blood and guts.
The final pinky, seeing its brother butchered so, charged me without needing encouragement. And it was felled in a similar manner.
After that, the ceiling raised once more, revealing Doctor Haden, watching from his usual booth.
"Congratulations on successfully passing yet another test, subject 372." He always referred to me as that, never my real name. Not that my real name had much meaning anymore. It may as well have been subject 372. "However, it is disappointing that you would have trouble with such weak demons as pinkies."
"I handled it, didn't I?" I retorted venom in my voice, "There's only so much I can learn from a video."
"You did handle it, barely. Report to debrief, and then proceed on to classroom seven for further development of your powers." Haden's voice, as always, left no room for argument.
The debrief room was like every other room I'd been to in this place that wasn't the test arena or my cell. Clinical white walls and floor, and single desk with a chair, and a two-way mirror from which instructors would talk, able to see me, whilst I couldn't see them. The only person I ever saw these days was Doctor Haden, if you could even call him a person.
The debrief was standard, giving me a rundown of how I could've more efficiently taken care of each demon I had faced, mistakes I had made in the test, and tips for keeping myself safer. All stuff I had heard before. But my mind was on something I had realised in my last lesson on demons.
"Sorry for speaking out of turn sir," I interrupted the instructor, silencing him immediately, likely out of fear for what I was capable of, "But why do you talk to me of efficiently in killing demons, when the current slayer uses guns to kill the demons?"
"Your place is not to ask questions child; it is to absorb the information we give to you. Now pay attention."
The none answer frustrated me. In all my lessons, any time I tried to ask something, I would be told that single, stock line. How was I meant to learn if I couldn't test my understanding? All it meant was that I had to learn in the school of hard knocks instead. These more formal lesions were nothing more than a farse.
Eventually, the droning ended, and I was dismissed. I found my way to classroom seven, a classroom I had never been to before but expected it to be the same as all the other rooms.
Awaiting me inside was nothing of the sort.
The room inside was dark, lit only by candles, with none of the sterile floors that I was accustomed to. Also, unlike the other rooms, in this one sat a man, cross legged. He wore the same strange clothes as the man who took me so long ago. Before him lay two wooden swords. One was coloured black, the other was white.
"Hello child, it has been long since we met." The man said, now confirming himself to be the one who collected me over a year ago.
Without hesitating, a firebolt launched at him, only to be stopped by something when he rose his hand.
"Your power has risen greatly since last we met; you did not freeze for so much as a moment upon meeting my aura. But I am not your enemy child, truly, I am not." The deep voiced man spoke his lies.
My response was to glare at him, the hate in my eyes causing him to sigh. "These swords before me are imbued with power." He explained, "One of them calls to you, wishes for you to use it. Take it."
"Why should I do what you want?" I glowered in response.
"You truly hate me, don't you child?" It was not an accusation. He knew the fact as well as I. His sad smile told wonders of understanding of my emotion. "Unfortunately, we will be spending a lot of time together going forward, for I will be your instructor in the use of a sword. Once you take one, we will spar, and you can unleash all of that hate upon me."
At that, he had my attention. And so, I looked to the wooden swords, and listened for a call. At first, there was nothing, and then in a sudden flash, the black sword appeared in my hand.
"Hmm, and so you will one day come to wield Exagryph. Interesting that a cursed sword would take interest in you over a holy one." The man said.
"Do you have a name? Or am I just going to be calling you Collector-Sensei?" I asked.
"Collector-Sensei will do. Prepare for your first lesson." He smiled at me, then launched at me.
Immediately, I made to make use of the powers that had helped me countless times in fights before and sent a spear of light at him. But it never came, and his sword was thrust into the centre of my chest hard enough to send my body to the ground.
When I sat back up with confusion likely upon my face, I noticed the room was now more lit than before. I could make out the walls, made of stone easier to see now, with lightly glowing runes carved into them.
"You should pay better attention to your surroundings child." Collector Sensei mused, "and learn to not freeze when your plans do not work the way you wish. The runes in here will prevent you from casting magic. All you have at your defence is that sword, best learn how to use it."
"And how the hell was I meant to pay attention to my surroundings when you rushed me like that? I barely had time to even make a light spear!" I shouted back angrily, as I got back to my feet.
"As I understand child, you faced pinkies today in your test. My speed doesn't come close to theirs. I should be easy to react to. So, learn to pay attention to more than just your opponent."
I began to make a retort, but it died in my throat for two reasons. First was that this was genuine advice, something that I realised I needed to do. In all my combat tests against demons, I had never needed to pay attention to the arena, they always appeared after I had a few seconds to familiarise myself with the arena of the week.
The second reason was that he was moving towards me again.
This time I was more focused on his attack, knowing I couldn't play keep away using my magic. I knew there was no reason to try and use the martial arts training I had been given, mostly Krav Maga, due to the natural reach advantage offered by the sword in the hands of my opponent. To use such techniques, I would have to be in range of his sword, whilst still being outside of my own striking range.
Of course, such a thing would also be true whilst trying to fight with a sword, but at the very least, I would still be further away, allowing me to retreat from strikes more effectively.
Again, he went for a thrust at my chest, but as I was prepared for such an attack this time, I stepped to the left to avoid the strike. Only for the wooden blade to swing up, and slap me in my left arm. I immediately felt it go numb, and it would not move.
I then got a swift knee to the stomach, and found myself on the floor. When I sat up again, feeling returned to my left arm. "Why did my arm go numb when you hit it?" I asked.
"An effect of one of the runes." He explained, "When one of out body parts is hit in this room, it will be paralysed. When one of our bodies hits the floor, they well be considered dead. Once that happens, all of our limbs will be restored."
That is enough fighting for today however, I now understand what I am working with." He said, returning to his kneeling position, "And I am sure you understand your place with a sword, and why you will learn from me."
Begrudgingly, I agreed with him, and sat before him, "Then teach me, Collector Sensei."
Well, there we go, another chapter done. Sorry this took me so long, I've been very busy recently with definitely not procrastinating, but hopefully this one turned out better than the first one did. The "fight" at the end there was originally going to be our hero explaining what happened in post, but I decided to work on my showing and not telling. Hope you all liked that bit.