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The thing that they don't tell you is that having Alexander Villard's attention is like nothing else in the world.

The maestro is like a sword himself, all cold steel and a razor point. Dangerous. When he sees potential in you it feels like you've already made it, like your future's on track and you can do anything. Like you have the whole world on the point of your foil.

When he turns his gaze away, it's as if the sun has gone dark.

Danny Gallagher knows that he isn't the only one to feel the wonderful intensity of the maestro's concentration. That new young student Villard has now, Jim Trebor, is drunk off of it. When the maestro talks with him, Gallagher recognizes the look on his face; he's seen it before -- sometimes on other students, sometimes in the mirror. Trebor will do anything to keep the maestro's attention from drifting to another student. Danny Gallagher had been Jim Trebor once.

After years of working at the school, he knows this now: there will always be another student.

Deep down, Gallagher hates it. It's stepping on face after face, crawling through the wreckage of other people until you reach the top.

And yet...

The maestro wins, time and time again. He stands there on the piste and shines fiercely, like a knight of old. Who would not follow him? If he demands blood then that is surely what it takes for greatness.

So Danny Gallagher says nothing of his thoughts. Day after day he sees his students; corrects their form; laughs with them. Which one will be the sacrificial lamb this time around? It doesn't matter -- he teaches them all.

Once, Gallagher's wife had dropped his kids off just as class was ending. When he emerged from the showers he could see Villard standing next to his daughter and watching intently as she waved a practice stick around, uncaring and happy. "She has a good arm on her, just like you did. Bring her to the school in a few years and I'll see what I can make of her," the maestro had said. Sweat broke out on Gallagher's back but he nodded silently. His daughter smiled up at him, showing off a couple of lost baby teeth, happy with the perceived compliment.

When they got home that night he had forbidden her from ever picking up a sword again.

But this is how it has to be to produce the best, he thinks as he takes the students through their forms. Villard surveys the room from his office like a king on his throne. His eyes measure and dismiss student after student; the maestro pays no attention to Gallagher at all, though by now Gallagher is almost used to it. Out of the corner of his eye he sees a man walk hesitantly into the room. Dark eyes, dark beard, lined face. He's talking with a much younger girl whom Gallagher can already tell is another hopeful student. The older man scans the room and looks in his direction for a brief moment.

Gallagher looks away, then realizes that might have been rude. Ah, well, no doubt the man will be gone soon anyways.