With No Dates On It
The next several days followed a similar pattern of training with magic and swords. I was getting better with manipulating water and using it in our fights. While I still couldn’t do much more than soaking him I was getting faster at it. Master said that precision can be worked on after I can reach a certain level of power.
My swordsmanship was getting better little by little. I was getting more able to deal with his attacks with both sword and staff, alternating between the two as we sparred across the field and even into the forest. I was still having trouble with my surroundings. But even Red admitted that I wasn’t a two swing kill anymore, maybe four swings if he was serious.
For Red, magic was still something of an issue for him, he could manage to generate mana into his sword but it faded out too fast to be used for any magic casting. Experimenting with things he discovered he could keep the mana inside his sword longer while it was flaming, enough that he could cast quick spells.
A similar problem arose as he tried to use flame manipulation. He could make a flame burn hotter on his katana but as soon as the fuel ran out he couldn’t get it to continue. This started several practice runs of him perfecting his quick sheath and draw techniques to keep the flames as long as possible.
We continued to camp in the center of the village each night, the goodwill of the people hadn’t thinned out to my surprise. Even after the village was repaired and things back to normal they were still quite friendly and willing to help us with food and places to clean ourselves.
Bathing was nice to have, even if it was outside with cold water, I was missing the hot baths back home but with the summer heat, the cool water was good to have. Sleeping out under the stars was nice, particularly since by the time we returned from training I was too tired to care where I slept. I am not sure if I can say the same for Red, I never paid attention to if he was sleeping in his own bed because I fell asleep before him and awoke after.
It’s not my place to talk about him anyways, though I do notice how a few of the village girls glance at him with looks I kind of only recognize because I’m not involved and I’ve seen from a certain kind of anime girl. Whatever. It’s not my concern if he’s sleeping around with cardboard characters. I want some more depth first.
Master still hadn’t managed any specifics about what was coming, merely telling us to keep preparing. I voiced concerns about stories happening elsewhere that we might be missing if we stay too long here but his answer surprised me.
“Story Magic has a particular thing for the dramatic. In many cases, there can be a hundred instances of the same event going on, but the one that will be right is the one we arrive at. Pagemasters never miss a story by not being somewhere that it might happen. The Story loves making sure the heroes are there to do what they must, it’s just up to ye to make sure we win.”
That sounded rather bizarre to me, though considering we arrived on the exact day the Gingerbread Man was going to happen perhaps he did have a point about such things. Seemed to be another convenient cheat, I just hope it doesn’t- Nope nope. NOPE! Not going to say it.
“Yer getting tunnel vision, Boy! Open yer sight and watch around him, don’t focus on just the sword!”
I pulled back, dodging a swing from Red’s katana and using my staff to push myself out of his reach. Jumping several meters away, and managing to land with a slight stumble. I had started attempting to use wind manipulation which for the moment the best I could manage was aiding myself in jumping and avoidance. Because of the difference still in our ability to fight, Red wasn’t allowed to do more than use his blade.
He smirked, jumping forward as I sidestepped, gripping my staff with both hands near the upper end and swinging it hard to my left, trying to put some wind power behind the swing. His blade connected sending both bouncing away. Trying to be a little fancy as I rotate and come back around the other way, only to find his sword ready in guard position once I faced him again.
“Cute trick, but you have to be faster to actually hit with it.”
The staff bounced off his blade again, but it was what I was ready for, jumping in closer and aiming the other end pointed toward his face with my elbow toward his chest. He leaned back with a sound of surprise and barely managed to deflect my arm away from him. Giving me a moment to twist and bring the rest of my staff following behind me to hit h-
I was on my back before I even knew what had happened, the wind knocked out of me from the impact and lying there staring down the red blade pointing at my face. Red smirked slightly and let go of his blade, letting it vanish in front of my eyes. Turning back toward Master and walking over to take a long drink from his hide skein of water.
“Well, you are getting inventive, but reckless. You tried to jump in before you knew where my feet were. And once you lost sight of that you were done. Don’t try something like that until you know for certain you can break their stance.”
I sighed and continued to lay on the ground a little longer, prolonging getting back on my feet,. As soon as Red was done with his drink I’d be on the defensive again, so I took as long a rest as I could. Trying to process if there was anything else I could manage to do once we resumed. Sighing as my mind was drawing blanks as usual, what was I supposed to do to stop this?
Red tapped my boot looking down at me with a slightly concerned look, his blade left unsummoned at the moment. I gave a quick thumbs up and lifted my feet up, using the momentum to toss my feet over my head into a half-sault, coming back to a stand. Summoning my staff once more and getting ready for his attack.
I placed my feet lightly spread out to maintain my balance for receiving his blows. He stared at me and carefully began to circle around looking for openings. We both knew I was full of them still but the search was about finding ones that were easier to correct. To get me where I could handle myself against long enough for Red to come to rescue me if I couldn’t get away.
It was a humbling and humiliating thought that I’d be relying on this guy to help keep me safe. But being the only one who could currently seal away the books my safety was a higher priority than pride. If I was seriously injured or killed it could be the end for everything.
I shifted in a slow circle keeping my eyes trained on him, while also looking for anything that he could suddenly throw at me or try to distract. I was getting better, at least until we actually started. I couldn’t work out how to keep that kind of information constantly in sight and it was becoming a bit of a detriment on progressing any further in combat.
Keeping a light grip on my staff I waited for his first move, trying to stay relaxed as I continued to wait for his first strike. In a way, I felt good that I was now at least making him take his time in attacking instead of the barrage of attacks we had started off with. I still couldn’t get a ‘kill’ blow but he wasn’t completely controlling our fights.
Shifting to the side he made a feint at my left leg, I responded with dropping the lower end of my staff to receive if he changed his mind, keeping the rest of my staff open to respond to his real attack. The blade jumped positions and shifted upwards in a slash that I deflected, and gathering the air around me into a burst of wind to try and send his blade further away with the deflection.
He let the blow send his blade into an arc that swung around toward the other side, dropping down low to prevent a counterattack, my staff flying over his head for a quick thrust to keep him in check. He backed off slightly, settling for a quick parry trying to break my stance. I leaped back slightly, keeping on the balls of my feet and bracing for the next attack.
Springing at me, he swung low, aiming for another feint at my left leg. I blocked with my staff again and then dodged back, summoning my sword in one hand to block the counter swing. Keeping my movements toward the stream, my objective to reach the water to boost my range of ways to fight him.
Master was watching our fight with keen interest at first but suddenly started looking distracted. Tilting his head in another direction, his feathers starting to ruffle and making it look like his body was expanding. He only did this when he was agitated or panicking.
I didn’t have the time to pay too much attention while battling with Red. Working on my ability to dodge and counter attack, learning how to switch between and simultaneously wield my main weapons throughout the fight was taking a lot of concentration and willpower. He thrust the blade straight for my chest, pulling back and swung my staff down from above trying to knock him to the ground, adding a blast of air to increase the speed.
Red rolled to the side to dodge and gripped tightly to his sword coming p to block any attacks that might come his way. Instead, I used his pause to move further away from him and closer to my goal. I might actually have a chance to land a hit on him this time if it went smoothly.
“Stop! I can feel trouble brewing. It’s spiking like crazy, right now. This is too sudden.”
We didn’t need to ask what. Our fight was done and we looked to Master for direction as our weapons shifted back to wherever they exist when we aren’t using them. Time to get to work.
Master looked around for a moment and then clicked his beak agitatedly as he looked in the direction I was hoping wasn’t going to be the case. Back toward the village. My heart sinking slightly with worry. I knew that these people weren’t real but they had been nice to us despite us mostly freeloading off them after the attacks.
“Let’s go!” Master took off and began flying toward the road, Red and I quickly following behind on foot. Once we got on the road I could see a trail of smoke rising up from the hilltop the village resided. This wasn’t good, I worried over what could have happened. Demons were out of the question since they would have run into us first, or Master would’ve at least noticed them sooner.
It wasn’t far, but it was far enough. Reaching the edge of the village, or rather, what was left of the village, I grimaced at the sight before us, trying to fight back the bile rising in my throat. Bodies scattered around before us, houses burning, livestock slaughtered or scattered around, the remains of a quick and deadly raid. We were too late to save anyone.