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was rapidly running out of ideas. Even now the Minbari simply stood and waited, not even panting, whereas a hot trickle of sweat ran down Vance's face.

The rest of the trainees were staring at them expectantly. Vance could feel Durhan's gaze burning into him. His tutor was watching, evaluating. He had to show these Minbari what he was made of. With blinding speed he shot in and feinted low, blurring his move into a fluid headshot. Merreck did not move until the pike was almost against his face, but then he ducked.

Vance never actually felt the blow - the pain of the strike against his abdomen had no time to register before every ounce of air was driven from his body. He didn't hear the clatter of his pike on the ground or feel the cold floor against his face as he dropped. He was simply lying in the fighting circle, gasping for air. When squirming did no good, Vance tried kneeling on all fours. It did little to help, and he felt like he was going to suffocate. Suddenly, strong hands gripped his waist and lifted his pelvis backward. A little air filtered into his lungs, and Vance gratefully sucked in the oxygen. With each breath the hands pulled him upward, opening his airways and allowing more and more breath into his lungs. Soon he was breathing properly and able to stand.

'Let us continue with the lesson,' said Durhan, stepping back, and Vance realised his tutor had helped him breathe. He found his feet and steeled himself to face the mocking faces of his fellow trainees. Merreck, to his surprise, bore no sneer or self-righteous grin. His look was impassive. The rest of the trainees were similarly unconcerned, and Vance thought it best not to worsen the situation by speaking.

For the next two hours Durhan espoused the basics of the denn'bok. He mainly showed
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