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Master Pacore the Deathless’ Point of View:

 

"Your armor is topped-off, Master Pacore," mage Lilian bows her head. She's the senior of the two mages I brought with me, and it's her day to charge my armor. The two mages alternate each day, making sure my armor and gear are always at their best.

 

I’m not sure how the day will proceed, but I have a feeling it’s a good idea everything is full for my meeting with Aaliyah.

 

“Is there anything else I can do for you, Master Pacore?” Lillian asks me, keeping her head down so I can’t see the sweat on her face.

 

"That will be all," I say in my fake haughty voice. "You are dismissed." Lilian keeps her head bowed as she retreats out of my tent. In my head, I wish her a speedy recovery and thank her for helping me. I have an image to keep up, and I don't need any more issues to arise because I dropped my formal persona. My day will be complicated as it is.

 

I adjust the armor on my left arm, and when everything is ready, I step outside my tent. The sun has long since risen for the day; it took Lilian two hours to charge everything fully. Raising my arm, I shade my eyes from the intense light while they adjust.

 

Grunting, I curse the fact I'm out of my particular alcohol. I drank every drop I had last night, and it still didn't help me fall asleep. I wonder if I look like Jason now? The problem with invisible armor is that it doesn’t hide the tired look on my face.

 

“Good morning, Master Pacore,” I don’t even get five minutes to collect myself before I hear young Jason call out to me.

 

Jason slowly walks over to me with General Pitz at his side. Though young Jason greets me with a smile, I can see the worry hidden underneath. The General has no reason to appear friendly, and she looks me over with a scowl on her face. "You look like shit," her words make young Jason flinch, but her honesty confirms what others are too afraid to tell me.

 

“Did you perhaps not sleep last night, my lord?” Jason asks, troubled for me.

 

“It’s fine,” I wave off his concerns. “It doesn’t matter if I don’t sleep for a day or two anyways.”

 

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

 

"Thank you, Lady Pitz, because I wasn't aware of that myself," I snap a little more than I intended to.

 

“Are you going to the village right now?” Jason hesitantly asks me.

 

“The sooner I get this over with, the better.” I take a deep breath and start walking to the front of our camp.

 

Young Jason and General Pitz follow right behind me. Last night I debated a lot as to whether or not I should allow the two of them to accompany me today. I decided, whether good or bad; I should have some witnesses for what's to come.

 

"Master Pacore!" Every soldier calls out to me and salutes as we make our way through camp. I give a few curt straight-faced nods to the first few people, but it quickly becomes old. No doubt those who received a nod will brag to the rest later.

 

“Master Pacore,” the commander greets me at the front of our camp. “Are you heading to the village today, sir?”

 

"I am, commander," I matter-of-factly respond while continuing to walk towards the village.

 

“Your orders, sir?” He maintains his polished military posture despite me brushing him off. “Should I have the men fall into formation?”

 

"No need. If the villagers attack, I want you to focus on capturing them rather than killing. This village is special; it would be a crime if we were to destroy it unjustly."

 

“I understand, Master Pacore,” the commander acknowledges my orders. No matter what happens next, this village must continue to thrive. I don't look back at my commander; instead, I keep my gaze focused forward on the man waiting for us.

 

"The soldiers say he's been showing up sporadically throughout the night," Jason mumbles just loud enough for me to hear.

 

The village headman is standing in between the log fortifications, waiting for us to approach. Though we’re both old, he doesn't have my stats, and the toll of staying up all night is much more prevalent on his face than it is mine. The headman does not attempt to hide the anger he's feeling towards me.

 

When we're a few feet away from the headman, he turns away from us. "Follow me," he starts leading us to the village.

 

I only saw his face for a minute, but it’s troubling me. Reason is often pushed aside by anger. If this is a trap, I’ll have no choice but to make an example out of him. It would be a pity to kill such a man because of a rash decision.

 

Things only look worse as the headman veers left before we enter the village proper and starts leading us down a nearby dirt path.

 

I glance over my shoulder to see how General Pitz and young Jason are reacting to our detour. Jason moves closer to me, looking like a frightened animal, while General Pitz's eyes drill into my own. She stands back, watching everything like a spectator in a play.

 

Glancing at the back of the headman, I notice his body is tensing up and that his hands are balled into fists at his sides. Everything points to this being a last-stand situation, and that doesn't work for me. I need to persuade him this is a bad idea before I'm forced to do something I'll regret. "An ambush won't work; it will only endanger the village," my voice cuts through the silence.

 

The headman stops in his tracks. He doesn't turn around to face me, only responding in a monotonous tone. “There is no ambush. The village decided your business with Aaliyah is between you and her. I’m leading you to her forge. That is all.” The headman starts walking again, not caring if we’re still following him.

 

So, the village decided to cut ties with her to save itself. And judging by the headman's reaction, it wasn't done lightly. This can mean one of two things, either the village is trying to cut ties with Aaliyah before she becomes my apprentice, or….

 

She plans on fighting me for her freedom, and she doesn't want the village to be blamed.

 

I wonder how many people will stand with her? I don't have to wait long for an answer because we're quickly approaching a clearing up ahead.

 

Following the headman out of the forest trail, I promptly scan the clearing. There are multiple storage sheds, along with a plethora of smithing tools. Sitting on a pair of stone benches is Aaliyah and her Stone kin master. Both are armed and in their armor; however, they're the only two in the clearing. And I don't sense anyone hiding in the tree line either.

 

I was at least expecting Aaliyah’s family to be here. It was my hope having them present would help her to see reason.

 

Jason, General Pitz, and I stand in the clearing's entrance while the headman walks over to Aaliyah and gives her a quick hug. I can't see the headman's face, but I watch Aaliyah mouth 'thank you' to him. She has to gently push him away before he walks back towards us with his head lowered in defeat. He only looks up to scowl at me before he walks back down the forest path.

 

“Thanks for giving us a moment,” Aaliyah calls out to me as she and her master move towards us.

 

"It was the least I can do," I say, walking forward. The two of them don't seem to care about me closing the distance between us; that said, Aaliyah and her master look ready for a fight.

 

Aaliyah glances behind me at General Pitz and young Jason. “You brought them along with you?”

 

Her confused look makes me chuckle a little. "They're the only other two people who know about you. I see it only fits that they act as witnesses for what's to come."

 

“Fair enough,” Aaliyah doesn’t object to their presence.

 

I find myself marveling at the girl even more than yesterday. Her eyes are clear, without a hint of doubt behind them. Whatever plans she's made, she's ready to see them through, regardless of what her chances might be. If I draw my sword, she'll defend herself without a second guess.

 

“I don’t suppose you’ve reconsidered my offer?” I smirk at the young girl, hoping she makes the right choice.

 

I thought it over a million times last night, and unless Aaliyah willingly agrees to become my disciple, I'll have to capture her like I did General Pitz. Even if she resents me for it, I can't leave someone of her caliber here now that General Pitz knows about her. No matter what, I’ll force her to become my disciple. That is my resolve!

 

“I have.”

 

"What?" I reflexively ask. Just like yesterday, she's able to catch me off guard with a short response.

 

Aaliyah shifts the large axe she's carrying over to her shoulder. "I decided to take you up on your offer."

 

I'm about to shout, 'that's great’ when I remember she's wearing her armor and holding a weapon. There is no way she's giving up that easily. "Did you now?" I ask skeptically. "If you decided to become my disciple, is there a reason for you to come to this meeting armed?"

 

Young Aaliyah gives me a merchant's smirk. "Just because I agree to become your apprentice doesn't mean I don't have my own conditions."

 

My eyes widen; the gall of this child!

 

I love it!

 

I start laughing so hard; I have to grab my sides. She got me again. While I'm laughing up a lung, Aaliyah stands there waiting for me to collect myself. When I finally catch my breath, I gasp out, "aren't you a greedy one. Most would consider becoming my disciple the best offer possible. Tell me, what else could you possibly want?”

 

Aaliyah’s face hardens. "First, I want a signed contract stating Scholl won't interfere with Spotted Creek Village any more than it has to."

 

"Hummmm," I pretend to think over her demand; I even stroke my beard for extra show. But inside, I'm happier than I've ever been. Aaliyah decided to join me of her own free will. I might have cornered her into making the decision, but once she sees my sincerity, that shouldn't matter. "I suppose I can agree to that."

 

"Then I want another contract for the safety of my family," Aaliyah keeps up a strong appearance as she continues naming her demands.

 

"Sure," I readily agree to her second demand. I'm hoping her family follows her to Scholl; they'll be treated like royalty after she's recognized as my apprentice, and I'm sure they must be special themselves to produce such a daughter.

 

Aaliyah’s eyes narrow, probably because I agreed too quickly there. I should probably pretend her demands are harder to accept than they are. "Third, I want the same thing for my master.”

 

“I’m your master,” I jokingly smirk at her.

 

She doesn’t look amused by my joke. “I mean it!” She stresses.

 

"I have little interest in your village, master, or family," I try waving away her concerns. It is nice to see that she genuinely cares about those around her rather than fame or wealth. If this were anyone else negotiating with me, they would include money or other frivolous things in their demands. "Is that everything?"

 

“There’s one more thing,” Aaliyah readies her weapon.

 

"Ooh?" I'm interested to see where this is going; she's already agreed to join me. I look back at General Pitz to see how she's taking everything and see her biting her lower lip in frustration. That's right; I managed to convince her to follow me. I send the general a gloating smirk.

 

"Rolling over for you isn't in my nature. My last condition is that you beat me and my master in a duel!"

 

My head snaps back around, and I stare blankly at Aaliyah. "You want to duel me?"

 

It's her turn to smirk at me. "That's right. You kept saying how great you are; now prove it. There's no reason for me to go to Scholl with you if master and I can beat the shit out of you here."

 

I feel like I should be offended, but I can't help but smile at her challenge. "So, I have to beat the two of you together?"

 

“Yep.”

 

“Without killing either of you, I suppose?”

 

“That’s right, or are you chicken!?” She taunts me.

 

“I don’t know what a chicken is, but I’ll assume you’re making fun of me. I guess every student should know where they stand in regards to their master. I accept your terms. Do you want to do this here?” I scan the clearing again, but I don’t see a good spot for us to fight without breaking something.

 

"We already have that planned out," Aaliyah smiles confidently. I'm just as excited as she is; I wonder how they hope to defeat me? I’m not senile enough to not realize they wouldn’t have challenged me unless they had a plan, or would they?

 

Aaliyah and the Stone kin lead us across the clearing over to a smaller forest trail, similar to the one the headman led us down. It doesn’t take them long to lead us to a more suitable place to fight. “You have your own quarry,” I exclaim when I see the large crater in the ground.

 

“A perfect place for us to go all out,” Aaliyah proclaims before she and her master jump away from me into the pit.

 

I make no move to chase after them. First, I roll my shoulders, loosening up my old joints. Then I slowly draw my sword and let the blade shimmer in the sunlight for a moment. It isn't until I'm fully ready that I jump into the quarry after them. Young Jason and General Pitz stay up top to watch our fight.

 

My two opponents whisper to each other, but they're close enough I can still read their lips.

 

“Are you ready, Master Del?” Aaliyah smiles at the Stone kin.

 

“Ready,” he declares to her.

 

"Just like we planned then,” she mouths. The Stone kin doesn't say anything further; slamming his foot down, he rushes towards me, with his hammer raised over his head. The Stone kin is trying to draw my attention, but I'm keeping an eye on him and Aaliyah as she tries to flank me from my left.

 

Both are fast, but for different reasons. The stone kin rushes at me using only his Strength stat while Aaliyah appears to have a much more balanced stat spread and better footwork.

 

Once the stone kin is in front of me, his massive arms bring his hammer down. My skills scream in my head to dodge rather than try blocking the strike. With Dancing, I gracefully retreat out of his range.

 

The hammer strikes the quarry floor causing the surrounding stone to shatter like it was made of glass. With that kind of Strength, I can't risk parrying any of the Stone kin's attacks. I would survive if he hit me, but the force would send me flying, and that would be more than enough of an opening for them to pin me down.

 

While the Stone kin pulls back on his hammer to ready himself for another attack, I step back with my left foot and face Aaliyah, who's trying to keep up the pressure on me. This is an excellent opportunity to see how she moves in battle. She obviously favors movement-related skills, but she hasn't faced enough people like me who are used to such attacks.

 

With one step, I dodge the first strike she makes. Then, I parry her second swing with my sword. There's considerable weight behind her weapon, and I'm curious how she's able to swing it like she is without falling over.

 

Aaliyah's master tries hitting me from my right, but I dodge by stepping into Aaliyah's striking range. She grins, thinking they've got me, but I dance around her strike and thrust my sword at her right shoulder. Her eyes widen as she jumps backward to dodge my thrust.

 

It’s then that I notice Aaliyah’s first flaw. When she has free room to run, she’s incredibly fast, but she’s not used to minute movements in the heat of battle. I can predict how she’ll move just as easy as I can her master.

 

I was hoping the stone kin would be more of a challenge, but I can tell his level wasn't gained from combat. The two of them have practiced with their weapons, but neither are used to fighting other people.

 

I twirl and thrust my sword at the stone kin's gut to keep him on his toes. He blocks with his hammer as I expected him to, I wasn't trying to hurt him in the first place.

 

This battle is heavily skewed in their favor, but that just makes this more enjoyable for me. I'll show them I can't be harmed until they collapse from exhaustion. I might throw in a few shallow cuts for good measure, but dancing around these two is a no-brainer.

 

Their teamwork is quite good, at least I admit. The Stone kin forces me back, while Aaliyah is the one to try and hit me. I wonder if they'll even manage to touch my armor?

 

I dodge back from another one of the Stone kin's strikes while simultaneously turning to parry Aaliyah's axe. Brandishing my sword, I calculate precisely where I'll need to hit her weapon, so it misses me.

 

I swing to deflect Aaliyah’s strike, only for my skills to warn me of danger. Aaliyah grins at me and vanishes from my sight.

 

“Flash Step!” I curse aloud.

 

My skills tell me she ended up behind me. I expect for her to aim at my head, which wouldn’t be that big of a problem, but my blood runs cold when, from the corner of my eye, I see her swing her axe at my lower back, the spot my armor’s magic gem is hidden!

 

I twist in place, so she hits the front of my armor. Was she aiming for that spot, or was it a lucky strike? I don't have long to ponder because my skills keep screaming for me to move. Without looking behind me, I know the Stone kin is about to hit me from behind.

 

I activate one of my defensive treasures just in time to block his hammer. A magic barrier covers my back for a split second before shattering under the Stone kin's Strength. The magic tool did its job by dispersing most of the force behind his strike. I'm still knocked a few feet forward, but at least I'm not sent flying.

 

After that close call, I retreat for a moment and put some distance between us. That Stone kin's strike was dangerously close to the magic gem as well, too close.

 

“A little lower next time,” I hear Aaliyah tell her master.

 

“Got it.”

 

My eyes threaten to pop out of their sockets; I'm floored. They were aiming for the magic gem! That means they not only know about my armor, but they know its weak spot too!

 

I stare at Aaliyah, she’s the only one who could possibly see my armor, but that shouldn’t be possible!

 

My armor is enchanted to repel magic, meaning it repels all searching type spells as well as Sense Mana. Only the best mages can tell I'm wearing armor at all, and not one has ever figured out where the magic gem is located!

 

I take a deep breath to calm myself. I don’t know how she did it, but I’ll take great pleasure in figuring it out.

 

**********

 

Aaliyah’s Point of View:

 

"We were close," I grin, seeing the old man's shocked expression. We scared him enough he felt the need to retreat.

 

"Don't get overconfident; we haven't won yet," Master reminds me.

 

“I know, I know,” I say, taking a moment to catch my breath.

 

I'm just happy things are working out as we planned. It was a longshot that Pacore would accept my terms, but in the end, he did. Master and I needed a reason to fight Pacore, and we figured if he agreed, we could make the fight more even with a few added conditions. We're free to try and kill him while Pacore needs to have us surrender.

 

Yesterday we discussed how our meeting with Pacore would play out, and it was my idea that Master and I cut ties with the village beforehand. Camden and Mom were against the idea, but we need the village to be safe in case we fail.

 

If we lose, I become Pacore’s disciple. But if we win…!

 

We actually don’t have a plan if we win. We only had so much time to plan things out, and figuring out a way to get him to duel us was hard enough, let alone what we should do should we manage to win the fight. Killing Pacore would be a death sentence for the village, and I'm not sure if I can free General Pitz. If we're lucky, Pacore will acknowledge his defeat and leave us alone. But no matter what happens, word will get out that I'm here.

 

I shake my head, setting those thoughts away for later. First, we have to bring this old man down!

 

Together, master and I start taking steady steps forward. We're both ready to rush in; our target is the spot on his lower back that hides the magic gem. If we can damage that area enough, all of the armor’s enchantments should fail. It hurts having to destroy such a beautiful piece of work, but we have no other choice.

 

When we’re twenty feet away from Pacore, we're ready to make our move. Both of us tense our muscles but Master and I pause when we hear Pacore start to laugh.

 

"I'll admit, I underestimated the two of you. I don't know how you figured it out, but that can wait until later," Pacore sneers at me. "No more nice Pacore. Prepare yourselves because you face Master Pacore the Deathless now!"

 

The air around Pacore practically vibrates, and it becomes heavy. I don't know if it's a skill, but he's somehow affecting the surrounding mana without doing anything through sheer force of will. He briefly did the same thing yesterday, but this time the effect lasts longer than a few seconds.

 

I swear I can hear Mom's voice in the back of my head telling me to run, but I brush it aside. There's no use running.

 

Instead of Pacore waiting for us to attack, he's the one to rush us this time.

 

He slashes at master with such precision; his previous attacks could only be called half-assed in comparison. Master stumbles backward as Pacore starts cutting him in between his armor. The cuts aren't deep, but almost every swing of Pacore's sword draws more of Master's blood.

 

I use Flash Step to get in close and help, but Pacore easily swats my axe away before I can properly swing it.

 

Pacore attacks in such a way, I'm forced to dodge in a single direction. He herds me next to Master and continues his assault, so neither of us can break away!

 

It's like we're fighting a totally different person. Pacore hasn't gotten faster or stronger, and yet he's pushing both of us back. Each step he takes is perfect; with each swing of his sword, he chips away at Mana Skin or opens a new wound on master. I can no longer tell where his sword and hand meet.

 

This is beyond fighting someone with a higher level. How long has he spent practicing his swordplay? How many battles has this monster been in?

 

When Pacore told us he was one of Scholl’s pillars, I knew he would be strong, but I could’ve never imagined this! If something doesn’t change soon, we’re going to lose!

 

And the only way we're going to win is if we get creative!

 

Instead of pushing backwards, I push off the ground. Pacore doesn't miss the opening and aims to stab my shoulder while I'm in the air. If he gets a clean hit, his sword will slice through Mana Skin like it isn't even there.

 

But this was what I was hoping for.

 

I push off the air with Air Walk, dodging what would’ve been a nasty blow. I hear shouting from outside the quarry, but my eyes are focused solely on Pacore. His eyes follow my every movement as I soar through the air. Besides Pacore's smile, he doesn't look surprised by my skill in the slightest. In fact, if Master wasn't taking this chance to keep him busy, I'm sure Pacore would still be trying to stab me in the air.

 

I move to swing my axe from up above, but Pacore is ready for me. He activates another magic item, and another barrier forms around Pacore, but this one expands rapidly before vanishing, pushing me higher into the sky while forcing master back.

 

Oh no, you don't!

 

My axe is still raised over my head, so I throw it with everything I have.

 

Pacore sidesteps my axe, unfazed even though it skims past his fancy armor. I draw my Scimitar and push off the air again, charging him once again.

 

Pacore isn't foolish enough to let me get behind him again; he continually shifts his position to keep Master and me in front of him. Even with aerial superiority, I can't get him!

 

Pacore dodges another one of my slashes; in doing so, he twists in place and drops to one knee. With his change in position, he stabs Master's right knee. I know it's terrible when I hear Master howl in pain.

 

"Del!" I scream. Rushing Pacore, I swing my sword, wanting to get Pacore to move away from Master, who's trying to crawl backwards with his good leg.

 

"You shouldn't let your emotions get the better of you." I don't have time to register what Pacore just told me before he swings his sword directly underneath my foot. Just as I'm about to push off the air, Pacore's sword tears through the mana barrier I built to push off of, and I tumble hard to the ground.

 

I move to get up, but Pacore is already standing over me with his sword pointed at my face. "That’s quite an interesting technique you’re using there. You're quite talented, but you lack experience. It will be fun teaching you," he grins down at me.

 

“It’s not over yet,” I hiss.

 

"I think it is," Pacore talks down to me. "It's commendable to want to keep fighting, but you have to know your limits."

 

I glance to my side and see master has managed to crawl a good twenty feet away from us. Time for plan Z.

 

"There's always a way to win," I laugh at Pacore.

 

I raise my hand and recite my spell.

 

“Llaif gamfr ol e nnamse!”

 

Either Pacore recognizes the spell, or he's that sure I can't hurt him; either way, he waits for me to cast my magic. When the small flame appears in my outstretched palm, he can't help but laugh.

 

“You shouldn’t underestimate fire,” I tell him as I gather most of my mana into my hand.

 

The last thing I see before the world fills with fire is Pacore's smile faltering for a split second. The overpowered flame spell isn't as powerful as the last time I used it because of all the mana I used against Pacore, but only by a little. My skills have leveled a lot since the last time I tried to blow myself up, and the resulting explosion is still deafening. Mana Skin holds back most of the blast's force along with most of the heat, but I can feel a burning sensation on the arm I used to cast the spell. I'm glad I invested that extra twenty points into my Endurance, or the damage might have been a lot worse.

 

Thanks to the mana threads I have anchoring me to the ground, I wasn't thrown by the explosion, and I can forcefully absorb a small amount of ambient earth mana underneath me to keep myself from passing out.

 

This time I’m conscious as my spell starts to fizzle out.

 

The first thing I see is the tip of Pacore's sword, still pointed at my face. The flames become thinner, and my heart sinks when I see Pacore's smiling face still looking down on me.

 

Pacore is entirely unharmed.

 

Even the bastard's clothing underneath his armor isn't damaged!

 

I want to curse the old man, but I'm too busy trying to catch my breath. My mana levels are hovering around 10%, making me feel extremely exhausted. My outstretched hand that cast the spell falls limply to my side, with a few minor burns.

 

Pacore whistles, "I was not expecting that! However, I was expecting your last move not to be something unexpected, so it doesn't count," he gloats. "Now surrender so I can send Jason to get the two of you a healer." Pacore refuses to lower his sword until I admit our defeat.

 

I look over at Master, who's standing on one leg. He looks like he's willing to keep going, but the blood dripping from his leg is increasing the more he moves around. I won't let Master kill himself for me.

 

“I surrender,” I wheeze out.

 

Master Del looks at me, wondering if I'm serious. After I slowly nod my head, master falls backwards onto his ass, hanging his head in disappointment.

 

“Jason!” Pacore shouts up to the boy who's staring slack-jawed at us. "Go get a healer!"

 

“Yes, Master Pacore,” the young man stutters before taking off.

 

Pacore watches him leave before looking back at me. "That was a good fight," he grunts as he sheaths his sword and sits down next to my sprawled-out form. "Before General Pitz walks down here, tell me, how did you know about my armors weakness?" He asks in a whisper.

 

Pacore leans over my motionless body, smiling at me like a child looking at an interesting insect. When I don't say anything, he pouts. "Come on now; I'm your Master, you have to tell me." Unlike Master Del, it doesn't look like Pacore wants me to keep my skills a secret from him.

 

"It's a skill," I remark, purposely being as vague as possible.

 

Pacore just snorts at my comment. "If you don't want to tell me, that's fine. Just make sure you and that Stone kin keep the information about my armor to yourselves. Even I can't protect you if the information gets out." For just a moment, Pacore sounds serious.

 

"I can't believe you tried blowing me up!" And the moment is gone.

 

I hear footsteps approaching, but I don't want to raise my head. "You finally decided to join us, General," Pacore quips when I see General Pitz make it into my view. "I was sure you'd try to escape after I had Jason run off."

 

“You know I can’t do that,” General Pitz frowns at Pacore.

 

I don’t know how much those bands seal her, but they have to be strong if they limit someone like General Pitz enough where she can’t survive in the woods.

 

"No reason to be mean," Pacore continues to egg General Pitz on. "I know you're jealous about my newest student, so I suppose it can't be helped."

 

The look General Pitz gives Pacore reminds me of my mom right before she snaps. We can all hear the General grind her teeth in frustration.

 

“If you want to borrow my sword, you can try stabbing him,” I offer the angry woman.

 

“Hey, you’re supposed to be on my side,” Pacore looks like I just slapped him.

 

“Not by choice,” I grumble.

 

“That doesn’t matter. You’ll see, Scholl is a beautiful place.”

 

“If you like miles of rocky hellscape,” General Pitz cuts off Pacore.

 

While the two of them argue, it sinks in that I lost. I'll have to leave the village. I can only hope Pacore doesn't make me leave right away.

 

“Ma, Mast, Master Pacore?” I swallow a lump in my throat after calling him Master.

 

"Yes, my apprentice?" Pacore looks at me with a goofy smile, happy to hear me call him Master. Seeing his smile makes me never want to address Pacore as Master again.

 

"Do I have to leave with you right away? If possible, can I wait until the new year's festival before I leave?" I hesitantly ask; I don't even bother trying to use my skills on him. There's still so much I need to do, and I can't forget about spending time with my family.

 

Pacore chuckles, “you don’t need to leave immediately. You can stay in the village until I finish my campaign and auction off the General here. But why is a new year's festival that important to you?" Pacore curiously asks me.

 

I'm so relieved I don't immediately have to leave the village; I answer Pacore's question without thinking. "I've been looking forward to the festival for years now. This year is the first time I'll be allowed to participate with all the adults."

 

Pacore and General Pitz freeze in place. “This is the first time you’re participating in the festival?” Pacore reiterates.

 

“How old are you?” General Pitz’s fevered eyes burrow into my soul.

 

Crap, I said something I shouldn’t have!

 

Pacore and the general’s gazes become more overwhelming the longer I remain silent. “I turned 15 this year,” I finally tell them.

 

General Pitz and Pacore, two respected leaders of their nations that have reached unimaginable heights, look at me like I’m the monster.

 

“By the gods!” General Pitz swears.

 

Pacore’s eyes widen impossibly large. “You will be my greatest student,” the fanaticism behind his voice sends a shiver down my spine. Everything is only made worse by the fact I'm so tired I can barely move. He makes me wish I did pass out after my spell failed to defeat the old man.

 

Maybe I should just pretend to pass out; that could work, right?

 

I slowly start to close my eyes, but Pacore is having none of that. "You can't sleep on me yet," Pacore gently slaps my right cheek. Opening my eyes, I scowl at the man. I've made up my mind; as soon as I'm strong enough, I'm killing him!

 

“What do you want,” I snap at Pacore.

 

“I wanted to talk about getting some weapons made. That arrow you made for General Pitz was incredible.”

 

I ignore Pacore’s flattery and look at General Pitz. “Did the arrow really turn out that good?”

 

General Pitz smiles at me. "It was; I almost killed him with it."

 

“Well shit,” I curse. “Now I’m going to kick myself for not making it stronger.”

 

“You’re starting to hurt my feelings,” Pacore forces himself into our conversation. “I saw the spears you had back in the clearing. I’d like to buy those and order more.”

 

Great, now I have another person demanding an order.

 

Wait a minute!

 

I smell a great opportunity.

 

I put on a shit-eating grin for my new Master. “Sorry to tell you this, but I can’t sell you anything.”

 

“What, why not!?” He yells.

 

"I have a contract with someone already. I'm only allowed to sell my wares to him," I continue to grin at the old man.

 

"So, break it. I'll cover you for whatever the conditions are and pay you more."

 

“Sorry, no can do,” I take great pride in Pacore’s frustration. “You can’t cover my cancellation cost.”

 

“Oh, yeah?!” Pacore bellows. “What is it?”

 

If Pacore wants to be my master, he should help me take care of my problems. "If I break my contract, I lose 20 levels.”

 

"That's!?" Pacore is dumbfounded for a moment before I see anger start to rise in his eyes. "And who made you sign such a ludicrous contract?" Pacore asks me in a cold voice.

 

Bingo! That’s the reaction I was hoping for.

 

“Well, who was it!?” Pacore demands.

 

“I signed a contract with Lennard Grey shortly before you took Drey. You’ll have to talk to him if you want to buy anything from me.” It’s hard to keep myself from laughing like a villain. “He’s the…”

 

"Head of the Silver Herd branch in Drey. I know," Pacore hisses in displeasure. "I've met him."

 

“That's good; you can send all requests through him," I flatly tell Pacore.

 

“I’ll get right on that.” Pacore looks pissed. He remains steaming until the healer he sent for arrives with Jason.

 

Pacore tries to order the man to heal me first, but I demand that he treat Master Del first, knowing his injuries are worse than mine. The healer Pacore brought with him is much more talented than Anastasia, so much so, master is standing on both legs again after only thirty minutes of treatment. He even manages to remove some of the fatigue I'm feeling from mana exhaustion to the point I can also stand on my own.

 

"Are you okay?" I rush over to hug Del as soon as I’m on my feet.

 

“I’m fine,” he grunts. “Just some phantom pain.”

 

“That should fade in a few hours,” the healer tells us.

 

“Thank you,” I offer the man a small bow.

 

“I was merely following Master Pacore’s orders. Is there anything else you need, Sir?” The healer salutes Pacore.

 

"No, you can return to camp," Pacore dismisses the man in an almost comically dry voice. Where did the annoying old man go?

 

The medical soldier salutes Pacore one last time before leaving the quarry.

 

“What happens now?” I find myself asking the same question as yesterday.

 

Pacore starts stroking his beard again. "For now, you will remain in this village. I'm not sure how long it will take to finish my campaign, but in the meantime, I'll send one of my best students to start your training and to make sure nothing happens to you while I'm gone."

 

You mean to make sure I don't run away, I think to myself.

 

“We should head back now,” Pacore says, glancing up at the sky. “I have much to prepare before I return to Drey. Do you need any help walking back?” He asks me.

 

"I got her," Del protectingly moves next to me.

 

"So, you do," Pacore remarks. He smiles at me one last time, "I'll have the contracts ready for you to sign before we set out tomorrow."

 

"Okay," I respond, hanging my head. It's the only thing I can do to hide my grin. One-sided contracts are a girl's best friend after all.

 

“Okay, what?” Pacore presses me, not leaving until he hears me say it.

 

“Okay…. Master Pacore,” I grit through my teeth.

 

“Needs some work, but all in good time,” Pacore laughs. Master Del and I watch as Pacore walks out of the quarry, followed closely by Jason and General Pitz who secretly steals a glance back at me.

 

We stand there in silence for a good minute.

 

“We lost,” Master breaks the silence. “But at least you got the teacher you always needed.”

 

I’m in no mood for master’s pessimism, so I elbow him in his side where Pacore had cut him earlier. Master groans and folds over, holding the spot where his wound once was. "You're my first master, and that hasn't changed. Pacore can be my second master if I don't kill him first," I growl in frustration. Does Del really think I'm happy about being dragged out of the village?

 

I move next to Del and help back up onto his feet. "Don't say nonsense like that again, okay?"

 

“Alright,” he agrees.

 

"I can't believe you thought I would be happy having that man as a teacher," I complain as we walk towards Master's house.

 

Master softly chuckles to himself, and I consider hitting him again.

 

“What’s so funny?” I ask him.

 

“I just find it funny how much you hate him, considering how much the two of you are alike.”

 

“We’re nothing alike!” I yell.

 

"The resemblance is uncanny," master continues to make fun of me. "It will be interesting to see which of you annoys the other to death first."

 

"Go home and rest because you obviously suffered some head trauma," I tell master as I help him into his clearing.

 

“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Master stumbles over to his hut. He opens the door but turns to me before he goes in. “Will you be fine heading back by yourself?”

 

“I’ll be fine,” I reassure him. “My mana may be low, but I still have some stamina left after dragging your fat butt home.”

 

“Be safe,” master tells me one more time before walking into his house. I envy Master for living alone. He doesn't have a house full of worried people waiting for him.

 

That's not true; I want nothing more than to be smothered by Mom and Dad right now.

 

I might not be dragged out of the village tomorrow, but my time here just became much more precious. My only saving grace is that I know my family will support me no matter what happens.

 

So, I need to get home and show them that I'm all right.

 

Thinking about my family waiting for me helps me make it home faster despite my aches and pains.

 

I reach out to open our squeaky front door, and it occurs to me I might not be able to call this home for much longer.

 

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7,050 words.

 

There's a long one for you; I hope you enjoyed it. 


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kosnik4

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