The next night, Liri rehearsed the same stance and strikes that Aleah had taught her during the previous session.
"That's it, put your back into each swing." Aleah instructed her and Liri followed. Although the difference was slight, the control was the most obvious change. She actually felt like her swings had force behind them now. "Your entire body is the sword."
Liri stopped for a moment.
"Your sword is pretty strange, does the same apply?" She asked.
"Yes. Although these blades are meant to be used by more skilled hands, or I guess, by a more skilled hand, the fundamental truths of dueling never change. Whether it's a straight sword in your case, or a katana in my case. Keep practicing."
Liri nodded, continuing the lesson. Although she wasn't swinging at anything, there was still a strain on her muscles. She had only just started ten minutes ago, and quickly, she was sweating as much as she had the previous night.
"Hey," Lise spoke up from the same stairs as yesterday. "Please take a bath once we get back. I woke up to the smell of death today."
Aleah giggled as Liri shrugged.
A few minutes later, Aleah stopped her.
"Alright, now we start the final test."
"Yep." Aleah said with a smile.
"Was this a scam!?" Lise stood up, angry.
"Haha, calm down." Aleah raised her hand defensively. "You will understand in a moment."
She unsheathed her katana.
"Are you serious?" Liri asked, scratching her head.
"Very. What we will do next is what we will be doing for the rest of our lessons, from here till the lessons stop." Aleah took a few calculated steps and stood in front of Liri.
The princess raised her sword, aiming it at Liri. The Gen raised an eyebrow as Aleah spoke.
"... You're joking, right?" Liri asked.
"I'll hurt you." Liri stated. Just the level difference alone makes this unfair!
"No, you will not. Attack."
"I guess there's no talking you out of this, huh?" Liri shook her head. "Alright, here I come."
Still uncomfortable with the idea of fighting Aleah, Liri's approach was slow and lacking in any real strength. She realized her foolishness immediately. With one quick step forward, Aleah placed her right foot in front of Liri's own, tripping her and causing the Gen to fall clumsily next to Aleah.
"Remember, keeping your feet too far apart makes you vulnerable to sweeps." Aleah said with a smile. Liri blinked, crouched with her eyes on the floor. What just happened? "Again."
Liri stood slowly. Okay, okay. I guess I have to try.
She took a few steps before raising her blade vertically above Aleah. The princess ran up to her, placed her left foot behind Liri's legs and pushed her by her chest. With a yelp, Liri fell harshly on the ground.
"Feet too close together. Again."
Now Liri was mad. Mindlessly, she stood quickly and charged forward. Without even raising her own weapon, Aleah spun, extended her right leg and tripped Liri into a roll. The Gen fell badly once more, and stood immediately. Aleah simply smirked.
Liri ran forward, swinging her sword horizontally. Although Aleah was looking down at Liri's legs, she raised her own weapon and blocked Liri's strike. Once, twice, three times Aleah blocked before she twirled Liri's weapon with her own blade and threw it away, swiftly disarming the Gen.
"I used three techniques." Aleah started. "A sweep, a push, and what's called a 'flair'. Feet too far apart, you can sweep your opponent. Too close, you can use their imbalance against them and push them to the ground. And finally, if your opponent has no control over their blade, you can use the 'flair' to rid them of their weapon. Liri, understand, as much as it seems like I was simply trying to embarass you, each technique I used can lead to a kill."
She leaned down, picked up Liri's sword by the blade and held the hilt out to her.
"Just as long as you understand. Again."
This became Liri's new routine for the next few days.
Liri slashed to the side, Aleah deflected the blow and spun behind her. When Liri looked, there was a blade at her neck.
"Too obvious. It is alright to attack an enemy where they expect you to, but you cannot be that slow and hope for it to pay off."
"Where would someone not expect to get hit? It's a fight." Liri asked skeptically. Aleah twisted her blade, put it in a reverse grip, and suddenly, Liri felt Aleah's weapon poking into her lower back.
"Did you expect an enemy in front of you to attack you from behind? That was an example."
"Okay..." Liri nodded. Aleah smiled back.
Metal clanged out in the dark night air. Rats scurried from one side of the alley to another as Liri slid backwards.
"How was that so strong?" Liri asked.
"It was not. Your lack of balance combined with my direct slash caused that result. Even if your strength is subpar, as mine surely is, a swift strike in the right direction to an unbalanced enemy can tip them over."
"A-Alright." Liri answered, taking a moment to breath.
"You still haven't gotten the footwork down?" Lise asked from the nearby stairs.
"It's... I don't know how to explain it, it's just such a strange concept."
"It was for me as well, at first. The fact that footwork can have such an effect is a fact to behold. Again."
Today, Tagaki had made Liri and Lise go out into a nearby forest to hunt bears. Unlike the last time she sent them to do something similar, this time they actually found bears. Liri defeated them with assistance from Lise. Two things happened then, first off, Liri leveled up as each bear was worth around 30% the EXP she needed. They hunted four in total. Liri chose to place her Attribute Points in other stats (VIT and END) appart from DEX, since she was already working on that with Aleah.
Stamina: 110/ 110
The second thing that happened was that during the multiple bear fights, Liri noticed a change in her form. She was slightly quicker, slightly more calm under the animal threat she faced.
So, seeing the training pay off, she came back to Aleah that night with a head of steam. A feeling that was amplified when she discovered a new skill as she was training with her.
Skill Unlocked!: Sweep (Chance to trip an enemy based on DEX and AGL difference between you)
"What happened?" Aleah asked. Liri smirked. Let's give her a surprise then.
She lunged forward, slipping her leg behind Aleah's. Aleah was startled, but quickly raised her own feet and brought them back ahead of Liri's.
"Huh?" Liri asked aloud. "It didn't work." Well, of course it didn't, you idiot. DEX difference.
"That is how you counter that." Aleah smiled. "Good effort though."
"Do not just wait for an opening!" Aleah called as Liri stood in front of her, impatiently looking for a time to strike. "Create one if you have to."
"How?" Liri asked.
"Misdirection, overpowering me, outpacing me. All of these work, which one seems more feasible?"
Liri took a moment to think. Well, strength is really my only advantage here. She charged, raising her sword horizontally. Aleah prepared for the attack, and Liri smirked. Mid-stride, she changed her attack to a vertical one.
Aleah's eyes widened. As Liri brought the sword down, the princess easily sidestepped the attack.
"Good." Aleah complimented her. "Far too slow to be effective, but I was surprised."
"Good job!" Lise yelled out with a thumbs-up. Both girls had forgotten she was there.
"Gather around." Tagaki called out at the guildhall in the morning. A few yawns filled the room as the sun rose outside. Liri was walking around so tired that she thought she'd collapse.
"What's going on?" Lise asked as she entered the hall with Casira next to her.
"I don't now." Liri replied.
"Settle down, everyone grab a chair or something. I got some important news today." She started. Her black-brown eyes closed as she breathed in. "Last night, a village east of Torasan was sacked."
"Last night?" A chorus of questions and mutters sounded off at the same time. Tagaki slammed her hand down on her desk, and silence reemerged.
"Yes. Apparently," she made eye contact with Liri. "Everything was fine, then, at night, an army of powerful creatures just appeared. Out of nowhere."
Liri actually gasped.
"How close is that village?" She quickly asked.
"Just two day's walk away." Tagaki replied. No one spoke, all of them too shocked to say anything. "The attack happened so quickly that only a few families, some that lived around the stables, the duke's family, were able to escape. They came to Torasan and reported it to the capital just a few hours ago. One of our couriers was there when it was announced."
They're so close. Liri thought. So, it's actually happening. It's happening again.
Tagaki cleared her throat, and several heads turned back to her. She hadn't been the only one distracted.
"We have at most, two days, not including today. Be ready to fight by tomorrow though, finish up any training you want to do today." She let out a long exhale.
She must be as worried as we are. Liri noted. It was so strange, for quite some time the guild leader appeared to be an image of stone, unshakable.
"You will be under the king's orders, same goes for the Warrior's Guild. When the army comes down, you'll be right behind them. If we survive, the king's promised a large sum of gold to both guilds for our trouble. Tonight, the higher ranks will give you some advanced tips. Make sure you come listen. At the field, tell them to any soldiers you can. If you have any family, now would be the time to see or write them. And," she scanned through the room, "I won't judge anyone who chooses to flee. It's perfectly understandable. But if you stay, and of course, you survive, you will receive a promotion. Alright, dismissed."
One man immediately exited the guild.
"As far as our preparations go, what will we do?" A burly man asked Tagaki.
"Well, Havet. While the king sits and waits, we'll be setting traps outside the city walls. Specifically, you, me, Carston, Yava, Jonas, and my lovely sister will undertake the task." She pointed at some of the higher ranked Hunters. "The rest of you," she called out to those who were still around. "Get ready whichever way you can. "
Soon, the room was empty save for just Tagaki, Lise, Casira and Liri.
"Lise," Tagaki spoke up. "You'll have your hands full, but try to focus on helping any of the higher ranked fighters. I don't think you've gotten to know the higher ranked Hunters, they're all marked with a necklace that holds a silver leaf. Be sure to come to tonight's meeting."
"Casira," she turned, "help our Hunters get their blood pumping. They'll be tense, a good workout should calm them down at least a little."
"Liri," Tagaki turned to her. "Don't panic."
"What?" Liri blinked.
"You're about to see what basically ended your world not too long ago. You will definitely freak out. Don't let it get to you. Breath, and keep moving. I heard about how brave you were with the dragon, even when my Hunters got cold feet. You'll need to bring that back for this."
Liri remembered the fear she'd felt over the last couple of months. Fighting at the wasteland, the ruins, the mountains. How her hands would shake, how her teeth would clatter against each other.
I don't think the fear will ever go away. Liri admitted in her mind.
"Alright," Tagaki said, "go. Get ready."