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Aaliyah’s Point of View:

 

That wasn’t exactly how I thought that conversation would go, I think to myself.

 

I'm almost back to the village, but I'm still puzzled over why Giovanni didn't sound happier after his man agreed with me that Grey was probably already dead. If anything, he just sounded out of it. And I certainly didn’t expect our conversation to switch towards the order I promised Grey.

 

I’m all for talking business, especially since I could use some more kaglese, but I was expecting to be grilled on why I thought Grey was dead, not asked how my work was going.

 

It might have just been me, but it almost felt like Giovanni was disappointed I killed Grey. Well, I helped kill him if Giovanni's bodyguard was correct. That's probably it; Giovanni wanted his own revenge for what Grey did to his people only to find out he's already dead. To Giovanni, it might feel like he was denied closure.

 

I can't help but let out a small sigh. I might feel bad for Giovanni, but I won't feel bad about killing Grey; he was a conniving monster, and now that he's dead, my family and I are a lot safer.

 

I won’t let Giovanni’s response ruin my day. Yesterday was very productive, and I want to keep the ball rolling. Up ahead, I see a break in the trees.

 

After last night, I feel like I've learned a lot about my skills and overcame some of my fear I have towards my tier 6 skill. I'll still have to be incredibly careful when using it, but like all power, it's how you use it that matters.

 

Walking out of the forest and seeing my house, I stop and close my eyes, letting the spring sunshine wash over me. The weather is simply perfect. A slight breeze catches my hair, and I take a moment to appreciate the serenity of the moment.

 

"You're back." And like that, Tabitha's approaching voice pulls me out of my little piece of heaven. Opening my eyes, I see Tabitha strolling over to me, wearing her usual armor. "I didn't see you running with your mom.”

 

The way Tabitha can say that with a blank stare really throws me off. Is she trying to accuse me of running away? Is she trying to make small talk? I just don't know. The only time I can accurately read Tabitha is when we're sparring or when she's asking me to spar.

 

“I had something else to take care of,” I simply tell her. Tabitha doesn’t physically react to my answer, choosing to keep the blank look on her face. “Aren’t you a little early to be looking for me?” I ask in an accusing voice. I left the house earlier than usual this morning to contact Giovanni as soon as possible. Mom is probably still doing her laps around the village, meaning Tabitha shouldn’t be showing up at my house for at least another twenty minutes or so.

 

"I asked your mom where you were, and she told me you took a trip into the forest again."

 

Damn it, Mom, you couldn't have covered for me! I bet she told Tabitha where I was at just to mess with me. I've explained to Mom and Dad a dozen times about how clingy Tabitha is and how much it annoys me. I bet Mom is laughing herself silly right now.

 

“So, you decided to wait for me,” I interpret Tabitha’s answer.

 

Tabitha nods, confirming my suspicions, before looking me over. She grins, seeing that I'm already in my armor, but her eyes narrow judgingly when her gaze falls to the scimitar strapped to my side.

 

“I know, I know,” I step in before she can say anything. “I’m just wearing it because it’s easier to move through the forest with a sword rather than a big ass hammer.”

 

“You should still be bringing your hammer with you,” Tabitha berates me, finally showing some emotion. “You won’t get any better without practicing with it.”

 

I want to roll my eyes, but I know she's right. It's just so difficult lugging my hammer around everywhere. I can take my war hammer to work with me because I can set it down after arriving, but when I’m constantly on the move, there’s no way. It would be best if I could figure out a way to secure my hammer to my back, but any strap I attach to it would get in the way during practice, or gods forbid a battle.

 

Anime and games always made it look so easy to carry weapons on your back, but drawing from that position is tricky, and that's without armor on. I need to come up with an easier way to carry my war hammer without it inconveniencing me—just something else I'll need to work on.

 

“Give me a minute to run into my house and switch out my gear,” I tell Tabitha, walking past her towards my front door.

 

I move inside and drop off my sword, stashing the communication magic tool under the loose floorboard directly underneath my bed. It's not the most original hiding place, but thieves aren't exactly a problem in a village as small as this. Everyone knows each other, and it's hard to pass off something as yours when everyone clearly knows it isn't.

 

Even though it doesn't take long to drop off my stuff and grab my hammer, I take my time moving around the house. Tabitha is early, so it isn't my problem if she waits for a bit. A trained soldier like Tabitha could probably stand in place for hours if she had to. Besides, I’m mostly just trying to kill some time until Sandra arrives. She should be here soon if she’s as excited as I am to check on the engraving ink.

 

After getting a drink of water and filling up my waterskin, I decide I’ve kept Tabitha waiting long enough. Hoisting my war hammer onto my shoulder, I open the front door.

 

And just as I expected, as soon as I step outside my house, I come face to face with a patiently waiting Tabitha. Sandra isn't here yet, but I suppose we can walk towards her house and meet her there. I start walking, and Tabitha silently follows next to me.

 

I expected us to run into Sandra on the way to her house, but there is no sign of her even as we approach her home. Is she staying home today?

 

I knock on the solid wooden door three times until I hear Sandra's voice come from the other side, "One moment!" A minute later, Sandra answers the door with disheveled clothes and hair. "Oh, Aaliyah! Are you done with your morning run already?" Sandra leans out the door and looks at the position of the sun.

 

"I had something else to do this morning, and I finished early," I explain to my friend. "What's with your new look?" I poke fun at her appearance. It looks like she threw her clothes on in a hurry.

 

“Just getting ready,” Sandra hurriedly tells me before trying to straighten out her clothes.

 

Glancing behind Sandra, I see Brother resting against their kitchen table without a shirt on with equally messy hair matching Sandra's.

 

I stare at Richard for a full minute before it finally clicks what they were doing. I start awkwardly coughing up a lung as my face turns bright red. “I’m sorry for interrupting you,” I squeak to Sandra.

 

Sandra realizes what I’m referring to and starts to turn red as well. “We live together, we’re allowed to...”

 

Sandra starts to justify herself like they were doing something wrong, but it only makes the situation more awkward. "I don't need an explanation," I quickly interrupt Sandra before she scars me for life. I already had to block out moments from when I was a baby involving my parents; I'd rather not add to that by discussing what my Brother and best friend do in their spare time. "Don't you have work?" I cast an accusing glare at Richard, who's chucking at our antics.

 

“I’m taking the day off,” Richard matter-of-factly tells me. "Sandra and I have been busy since we came back to the village, and I thought we could spend the day together,” he says, with a widening grin.

 

“Oh… that sounds… nice,” I awkwardly reply. Coughing into my hand, I try to regain my composure. “Does that mean you don’t want to check on the engraving ink with me?” I ask Sandra.

 

“I still want to check on the engraving ink with you,” Sandra reassures me. “I just wasn’t planning to stay and watch Tabitha beat you up again.”

 

"What a friend," I say sarcastically.

 

“And don’t you forget it,” Sandra winks at me. “Give us a few minutes to properly get ready.”

 

“Sure, sure,” I wave her off. ‘Take your time, please.”

 

Sandra walks to her bedroom, followed by Richard. But before he turns the corner, Richard sends me one last cocky grin.

 

He better not think I won’t get him back for this.

 

**********

 

Tabitha and I wait outside for ten minutes before Sandra and Richard come out in each other’s arms. The two of them stay glued to each other the whole way to Master's clearing. Sandra and Richard are so sickeningly sweet together that I think I'm starting to get a stomach ache. I wonder if Tabitha will accept that as an excuse if I tell her I don’t want to practice today? Probably not.

 

No, I’m not going to try and get out of our sparring session today; I'm actually looking forward to it. Last night, after thinking about it, I decided I would wait to distribute my status points until we’re sparring; that way, I might surprise Tabitha and finally score a good hit on her.

 

“Morning, Master,” I call out as our group walks into the clearing.

 

"Morning," he responds without looking at us; he's too busy putting on his armor to notice the extra person in our group.

 

“I take it this means you’re actually going to spar with Tabitha,” I remark as we near Master.

 

“Stone kin don’t go back on their word,” Master huffs as he puts on his helmet.

 

I briefly consider pointing out to Master that he didn’t actually agree to fight Tabitha yesterday, buuuut…

 

If I did that, I wouldn’t have someone to distract Tabitha later.

 

So, Master.

 

For the good of everyone.

 

Sacrifice yourself.

 

I offer a quick prayer for Master’s wellbeing.

 

“There’s one more of you,” Master remarks when he turns and sees Brother standing next to Sandra.

 

"Sandra and I are just stopping by," Brother offers Master a polite smile.

 

"Is that so?" Master doesn't sound interested in Richard's explanation.

 

"Let's get going," Tabitha steps forward with her battle-hungry expression. Seeing Master in his armor must have pushed her over the edge. All of us sigh together as Tabitha starts walking towards the quarry. Whether I manage to surprise Tabitha with my new Strength or not, I have a feeling today's sparring session is going to be more intense than the others.

 

It doesn’t take long for us to walk to the quarry. And as soon as we arrive, Tabitha happily hops into the pit, brandishing her shield and sword. "Who wants to go first?" She shouts up to us.

 

This woman.

 

"We're not starting yet," I groan in annoyance. She heard us talking about the engraving ink; hell, she even gave us advice. If she’s playing with us, she’s doing a damn good job at it.

 

Tabitha frowns in disappointment as Sandra and I make our way down into the quarry. The two of us ignore her sour expression and walk straight into the mine. We leave Richard behind with Master and Tabitha, he’s never been to an area as magical dense as the bottom of the mine before, and there wasn’t really a reason for him to chance getting mana poisoning on his one day off.

 

“You’re going to regret that later,” Sandra smirks at me after conjuring a ball of light.

 

“I’m well aware,” I suppress a shiver from running up my spine. If I anger Tabitha any more than I already have, she might increase the difficulty of our sparring session right off the bat, and a few status points won’t make up for that. I need her to underestimate me up until I’m ready to strike.

 

Sandra continues to poke fun at me until we reach the deepest part of the mine.

 

“So, what’s there mana level at now?” Sandra asks me as I pick up and examine the bottle of engraving ink that holds our first batch.

 

“800.24,” I tell her.

 

“Is that good?” Sandra cocks her head to the side.

 

"We'll have to do some math. The solution started with 157.38 mana; it then gained .13 mana two hours after we made it. I pumped 627 mana into the solution to bring it up to 784.51. If we subtract the 784.51 from the 800.24, we arrive at 15.73 mana gained since we left the engraving ink down here. The engraving ink has been charging here for almost eleven hours, meaning the solution absorbed 1.43 mana an hour."

 

“Doesn’t that mean the engraving ink absorbed mana twenty-two times faster down here?!” Sandra exclaims.

 

"Yep," I feel a smile creeping across my face. It would be nicer if the absorption rate were higher, but it's still leagues better than what it was outside the mine. But I still need to see how much total mana the ink needs to absorb.

 

Sandra remains quiet while I use Inject Mana on the engraving ink. I start slow and slowly build up the amount of mana I force into the solution.

 

I need to be cautious with my mana; unlike yesterday, I need my mana to train with Tabitha. If I try sparring with her without Mana Skin activated, I’ll get the shit beat out of me in no time at all.

 

10 mana, 25 mana, 45, 70, I slowly channel my mana until I feel the engraving ink stop willingly absorb it.

 

“Another 122.39 mana," I inform Sandra. At least it wasn't too much. "There might be a slight difference in the amount of mana each batch of engraving ink needs, but it should be around 922 mana. If we subtract the mana the ink started with, that leaves us with 765.25 mana the ink needed to absorb."

 

I do some long division in my head and tell Sandra my results. "If we left the engraving ink outside, it would take 490.5 days for the ink to mature, but here in the mine, it only takes 22.3 days.”

 

“That’s amazing,” Sandra jumps with joy. If it takes less than a month for the engraving ink to mature down here, she won’t need to worry about it after I leave.

 

She's right; this is good news. I hold up the bottle of charged engraving ink to better see its contents under Sandra's light spell. The purple in the mixture has become much more dominant than the black, and if you look closely enough, you can see flashes of silver light glinting inside.

 

I want nothing more than to run out of this mine and try enchanting something, but I can't let myself get caught up in the hype of success. If I do, I'll spend all my time enchanting, and my smithing and sparring will suffer.

 

I can practice with the ink on my next day off, but I should wait until next week before really trying to enchant anything. The day we would've spent continuing our research will turn into our enchanting day. I'm sure Sandra will want to watch everything I do and take notes for when she tries herself. In a few weeks, Kervin should return to the village, and Sandra can order the materials Master needs to make her an engraving pen.

 

Then again, Sandra did mention she’s close to figuring out Inject Mana. If she can unlock that skill, she’ll be able to use my engraving pen even though it doesn’t have the runes usually required to work.

 

“Twenty-two days isn’t that long to wait,” Sandra continues to dance with joy. “With this, the engraving ink is officially done!” Sandra skips across the rocky cavern and pulls me into a celebratory hug.

 

After months of testing and dozens of failures, we’re finally finished. Looking back, it almost feels like a miracle that we made it this far. I’m tempted to ask Giovanni who he got the instructions from because whoever they were, they certainly left out a lot of crucial details. If it weren't for my background in working with magic metals or my overpowered Sense Mana skill, the first few steps would've taken us years to decipher.

 

Then there were the fourth and fifth steps, both of which couldn't have been completed if you didn't have prior knowledge of making engraving ink. This must be how alchemists have kept their trade from being practiced by any fool who manages to get their hands on a recipe.

 

How could an average person possibly tell when the engraving ink has absorbed enough mana? If someone didn't know the engraving ink needed to cure in a high mana environment, it would take a little over sixteen months for the ink to mature in normal conditions.

 

I also find it funny how you need enchantments to craft engraving ink and use it properly. You need a mana gathering array to cure the ink because not everyone has a magicite mine to throw their problems in. Then an average mage needs their engraving pen enchanted before they can enchant other things. It's a complicated system that requires someone who already knows what they're doing.

 

The fact that Sandra and I completed what we have is nothing short of amazing. Wrapping my arms around Sandra, I return her hug. We stay like that for a minute, enjoying our success.

 

But we can’t stay down here all day, and all this jumping around is draining Sandra’s Stamina. When we separate, Sandra has to stop and catch her breath from all the excitement.

 

I patiently wait for my friend to recover before we make our way out of the mine.

 

"So, you're not sticking around?" I ask Sandra as we walk out of the mine and into the quarry.

 

"Sorry, but I'm looking forward to spending the day with Richard."

 

I fake a gagging noise, making Sandra chuckle.

 

“Jealous, she wants to hang out with me instead?” Richard confidently strolls up to us before leaning in and locking lips with Sandra.

 

“Now I really am going to barf,” I turn away from the passionate couple. “Can’t you guys do that somewhere else?”

 

“That’s the plan,” Richard tells me when he pulls back for air.

 

I roll my eyes at Brother and turn to Sandra. "Can you drop this off on the workbench on your way to the village?" I ask, holding out the bottle of engraving ink.

 

“Sure, not a problem,” Sandra takes the glass bottle with a smile. Richard scoots up next to her and wraps his arm around Sandra’s waist. Wrapped around one another, the couple makes their way towards the ramp leading out of the quarry.

 

“I’m surprised you don’t want to stay and watch me get my butt kicked,” I shout at Richard’s retreating figure.

 

"Sandra's told me all about it," he yells over his shoulder. "Let me know when you can actually put up a fight, so I can come and root for Tabitha." Even though I can only see the side of Richard's face, I can tell he's grinning ear to ear.

 

I want to shout something witty in response, but Tabitha chooses this time to step forward. "Ready to start!?" The crazed look in her eye suggests the answer 'no' wasn’t an option. "I've been waiting patiently."

 

I glance over at an exasperated Master, who's sending angry looks at Tabitha. Waiting patiently, my ass, I bet she was hounding Master for a quick spar the whole time we were gone. But considering Master's armor isn't dented, it looks like he refused her request.

 

It’s no wonder she looks ready to pounce at me.

 

I grit my teeth; I don't want to jump straight into fighting. "Ok, I'm ready. But could we start with the Dancing practice first?"

 

Tabitha starts to grin in excitement, but her smile catches when she hears I want to start off slow. She looks disappointed for a moment before she gets a resigned look on her face. “I suppose that’s ok.”

 

Tabitha and I set aside our weapons and square off two feet away from each other. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch Sandra and Richard disappear from sight. I was hoping Sandra would be here when I try and catch Tabitha off guard, but I can’t fault her for wanting to spend time with Richard. That’s what Richard is for.

 

"Ready," Tabitha shouts. That's her way of telling me to prepare myself.

 

Oh well, I guess if Sandra isn’t here, I don’t have to worry about her making fun of me should I fail. “Ready,” I echo.

 

Tabitha steps forward with her right foot at the same time I step back with my left.

 

While it’s Tabitha’s goal to position herself to trip me, it’s my job to mirror her movements. As long as I can directly match her movements, I’ll remain upright. If I don’t… well, it isn’t like I haven’t fallen a hundred times already.

 

That said, it's more complicated than it sounds.

 

If a random person started watching us right now, they would probably wouldn't call what we're doing dancing. They'd most likely call it a game of cat and mouse, with Tabitha chasing after me while I dodge her feet. But not me.

 

The only reason our movements look like Tabitha is chasing me down is that I've yet to reach her level of skill. If I could move better and try to trip Tabitha in return, our training would look a lot more like dancing.

 

But sadly, I'm not at Tabitha's level yet.

 

Sure, I dodge Tabitha’s first few leg sweeps, but the woman is relentless. She keeps the pressure up until I make a mistake and land on my ass.

 

Three minutes and twenty-seven seconds, not a bad starting point for the day. Tabitha always starts strong, and it takes me a bit to get ahold of her rhythm. It's one of the reasons I prefer to start with dancing.

 

Hopping to my feet, I get back into position.

 

Part of me wants to distribute my points now, but I know I only have one chance to surprise her, and I can’t waste it on this.

 

So, I endure; that's what I do.

 

Get up.

 

Dodge.

 

Get knocked on my ass.

 

Repeat.

 

Tabitha and I do this for two grueling hours before she calls out for us to stop. "I think that's enough of a warmup." Tabitha wipes a single bead of sweat away from her cheek while I'm panting like a dog and rubbing my sore hind corners. “Time for the real fun!”

 

I have to keep myself from groaning. Just remember, it will all be worth it later.

 

Tabitha picks up her shield and draws her sword while I'm a little bit slower in grabbing my hammer. Once we both have our weapons, we take up similar positions to when we're dancing, but this time there's fifteen feet between us. You would think that's a reasonable distance to start from, but people at our level can move fifteen feet in a split second.

 

There's a tense moment where the two of us are staring each other down. I roll my shoulders, adjust my grip on my weapon, and double-check Mana Skin, all without taking my eyes off Tabitha.

 

Unlike the dancing, Tabitha won't say when we're starting. She's stricter when we're using weapons and less forgiving. “That’s how it is on the battlefield,” she always says.

 

I, of course, could rush forward to start us off, but I gave up that strategy after our second sparring session. Charging Tabitha in the beginning never works.

 

No, I wait for Tabitha to make the first move. And like a beast watching an injured animal, it doesn’t take long for Tabitha to pounce.

 

Her feet glide across the ground, and in a second, she's right in front of me. Tabitha slashes at me with her sword, but I'm not as weak as I once was. Only using Double Step, I manage to move out of the way of her sword's trajectory. I used to have to use Flash step to dodge Tabitha’s strikes , but now I can radially do it with only using Double Step.

 

Using Mana Threads, I switch my grip on my hammer and anchor myself in place. I swing with all my might, aiming for Tabitha’s shield.

 

Tabitha smiles at my counterstrike, happy as can be. She adjusts her arm a fraction of an inch, just enough so that my hammer won't find much purchase on her shield. Tabitha still needs to step back when my weapon collides with her shield, but that's it; I can't send her flying unless I score a direct hit.

 

Instead of pushing forward with another attack, I take the opportunity to jump back and regain some distance.

 

I don’t like taking such a passive approach to fighting, but it’s the only way I can deal with Tabitha. She’s just too good at counterattacking. Every time I initiate an attack, it always ends with me getting my armor cut to ribbons.

 

Tabitha switches her stance and once again presses the attack.

 

A slash from the left, step back with my right foot.

 

She swings from the right; I step back to the left.

 

Compared to the first time I fought Tabitha, the difference in my movements is almost like night and day. Should I distribute my points now?

 

As soon as that thought crosses my mind, I lose focus for a split second, and Tabitha gets me with a horizontal slash.

 

That was a stupid mistake; I berate myself as I activate Flash Step to gain some distance. If I don't immediately put some distance between us, Tabitha will undoubtedly score a few more hits. As if to prove my point, Tabitha's sword arcs through the air, slicing where I was a moment ago.

 

“You’re getting better,” Tabitha grins at me. “We’re going to have so much fun.”

 

Now, while she’s distracted!

 

I mentally pull up my status page and quickly distribute my status points. Two points go into Vitality, bringing it up to 245. Three points go into Strength, raising it to 155. Then I pour the last five points into Dexterity, also bringing it to 155.

 

A warmth washes over my body, chasing away my fatigue as my soul erupts in vibrant colors. It's been a while since I've last leveled; I forgot how good it feels. The feeling of getting stronger!

 

Using Flash Step again, I attack before Tabitha has a chance to notice the change in my stats.

 

Her eyes widen in surprise as I cover the distance between us faster than usual. Raising my hammer over my head, I aim for Tabitha’s head.

 

I’m under no delusions that I could actually hurt her, but I’ll try.

 

As I'm bringing my hammer down, I see a manic smile form on Tabitha's face that sends a shiver down my spine. Her feet blur underneath her as they instantly take up a defensive stance.

 

Tabitha raises her shield in front of her as if intending to take my strike head-on.

 

Without hesitation, I active Weighted Strike to add even more force behind my swing. No holding back now!

 

Time feels as if it’s slowing down as my hammer slams into Tabitha’s shield. That’s it, a clean hit!

 

Tabitha tries to reduce the force of my blow by taking a step back, but I won’t let that happen. By stepping further into my strike, I keep the pressure on Tabitha. “I’m not letting you shrug this off!” I madly shout.

 

Tabitha just grins behind her shield, “Fine then.”

 

Just then, Tabitha does something unexpected. She lets her stance crumble, choosing to let her shield bear the full force of my attack.

 

Tabitha is sent rolling across the quarry floor before springing up without a single injury to show for my attack. "That attack had some oomph behind it," Tabitha remarks as she shakes out her shield arm. "You leveled up, didn't you?"

 

Damn, it only took her a moment to figure out why I was stronger.

 

“Then this must be your new level of strength,” Tabitha looks me over with a discerning eye. "That's good, very good," she starts walking towards me. "The more you level, the harder I can push you."

 

Of course, she would be happy that I’m stronger.

 

“Let’s see what your new limits are,” Tabitha maniacally smiles at me.

 

Oh, fuck!

 

Tabitha disappears from my sight.

 

It's only thanks to Sense Mana that I know she just flash-stepped behind me to the left, right out of my peripheral vision.

 

I immediately try to use my own Flash Step to escape, but as soon as I switch spots, I sense that Tabitha has followed me, maintaining the exact same position.

 

I can't keep using Flash Step like this, or I'll burn out my Stamina. Double Step helps me turn in place just in time to raise my war hammer in defense, but this time Tabitha isn't holding back. She slashes at me three times in quick succession, of which I only block the first one. The other two cuts smoothly slice through Mana Skin and my chest piece before drawing blood underneath.

 

Activating Intimidating Shout, I swing my hammer, hoping to push her back or make her retreat, but Tabitha easily dodges my frenzied strike.

 

A brief flash of metal in front of me, and I feel another cut open over my left ribs.

 

She's no longer content with just cutting my armor; Tabitha is out for blood. I might have poked the farkas one too many times.

 

Tabitha then slams her shield into me before I can react, sending me flying backward. If it weren't for the Mana Threads out of my hands, I'd probably would've dropped my weapon as I skid across the hard floor.

 

I try to scramble to my feet, but the next thing I know, Tabitha is standing next to me, prepared to stab me with her sword.

 

Giving up on standing up, I roll and swing my hammer at Tabitha’s feet, forcing her to back off. However, I’m still stuck on the ground, and Tabitha isn’t going to just let me stand back up this time. No, she tries to slash at me again, forcing me to roll to avoid her attacks.

 

I can’t even get up!

 

“Are you an insect?! Stop crawling around and fight me!” Tabitha taunts me.

 

This isn’t how this was supposed to go!

 

I was supposed to catch Tabitha off guard and prove to myself and her that I’m not just a punching bag.

 

I knew she was holding back against me, but I had no idea it was by this much. Just using Flash Step, Tabitha has proven she can dodge anything I throw at her. Should I forfeit? I ask myself as I continue to roll across the quarry floor, chased by a sword-swinging Tabitha.

 

This was supposed to be my moment; I grit my teeth. I won't let it end like this. Think! What can I do?

 

First, I need to get back to my feet, which is easier said than done. At least I haven’t lost my weapon yet. My Mana Threads are holding up nicely as I twist across the ground.

 

That's it, Mana Threads! That's how I'll get myself up. I have to time it right though, or Tabitha will just knock me to the ground again.

 

I continue to barely avoid Tabitha’s swings as I look for an opening. And then my moment arrives.

 

During one of Tabitha's attacks, she extends her arm slightly too far and stabs her sword into the stone floor. It will only take her a second to pull it out, but that's all the time that I need.

 

Instead of continuing to roll away, I crunch up my legs, so my feet are flat on the ground. Using Mana Threads, I secure myself in place. Pushing off with my butt, I use my leg and core strength to stand up. This all happens in the time it takes for Tabitha to pull her sword out of the ground, but my weird movements at least caught her off guard again.

 

After being made to roll all over the quarry, I’m not in the best of moods. Drawing back my hammer, I prepare to strike.

 

Tabitha is excited to see me on my feet again, and ready's her shield to block me, but this time I'm quicker.

 

Still stuck to the ground with Mana Threads, I balance on one leg, still in striking position, and kick with my other foot.

 

Tabitha wasn't expecting me to attack with my leg and a smile crosses my face when I feel my boot slam into her fancy armor. I even activate Double Step to kick twice essentially. My kicks don't do much damage, but they succeed in pushing Tabitha back.

 

Now replanting my foot, I switch my stance and swing my hammer.

 

The combo strike works and my hammer lands squarely across Tabitha's chest, sending her into the air.

 

I did it; I got her!

 

Tabitha lands on her feet like a cat, but I can hear her gasping for breath. I must have knocked the wind out of her. Good, finally. I would be happier if she were coughing up blood, but I'll take what I can get. Her armor must have stopped most of the force of my swing. Now I'm even more curious to know what it's made of.

 

What am I doing!? I need to press my attack, not compliment her armor!

 

I flash step to close the distance, but I still haven't fully incorporated dancing into my skill, so my movement is still pretty linear. Tabitha is already prepared for me by the time I appear next to her. She parries my hammer with her sword before activating a sword skill that causes her sword to blur out of sight.

 

I feel a cut open up on my cheek before I even realize Tabitha has her sword up against my throat.

 

“It’s my win,” she proclaims with a radiant smile.

 

I slowly lower my hammer in defeat. At least this is the first time I'm not ending a sparring match on my back.

 

Tabitha sheaths her sword. “That was the first time you managed to hit me, and you did it when I was using most of my skills too.”

 

Most of her skills?! So, that means even after all that, she wasn't taking me seriously. That's another blow to my pride, but at least I'm improving.

 

"You did good," Tabitha honestly praises me, leaving me dumbfounded. "But remember, you won't always have extra status points in every battle. It's better to improve your skills rather than relying on a momentary burst of power."

 

“I understand,” I nod my head, taking Tabitha’s words to heart.

 

"Though at least you put some points in Vitality." I'm confused by Tabitha's remark until she points at my chest, and I look down.

 

One, Three, Seven, Thirteen, Sixteen cuts total. I didn't even feel some of them. Is Tabitha bragging about her handiwork?

 

It takes me a moment to see it, but I finally notice what she meant about raising my Vitality. Though her cuts drew blood, none of them were very deep, and the oldest of cuts have already started scabbing over. Oh yeah, I forgot when you put status points in Magic and Vitality, it helps you recover those faster.

 

Just like how my Stamina is nearly bottomed out, but I can feel it regenerating faster than it normally would be. We just finished fighting, and I usually would need to rest for thirty minutes before my Stamina would start refilling this fast.

 

“We’ll be able to go again soon,” Tabitha happily proclaims.

 

“Uhhhh, I think it’s master’s turn,” I try to divert Tabitha’s attention to somebody else. Sure, this was my best sparring session yet, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to try again so soon.

 

I turn to where Master was sitting, only to not see him there. Where did?

 

I spot Master standing on the edge of the quarry. Why is he up there? "It's your turn," I shout up to him.

 

Master takes one look at Tabitha and flinches back. “I forgot something back at home. I’ll be back in a little bit.”

 

“You’re running away! What about Stone kin not going back on their word?!” I angrily shout as Master turns away from the quarry’s edge.

 

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Master shamelessly yells down to us before walking towards his house.

 

“Let us go again while we’re waiting for him,” Tabitha suggests with a smile that gives me goosebumps.

 

Why did you betray me, Master?

 

I struggle to hold back my tears.

 

Here I go again. It’s a good thing Sandra chose not to stick around.

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A note from kosnik4

6,250 words.

 

What do you think? Our girl Aaliyah is improving. I could've written it in that she surprised Tabatha and won for a change, but that just seemed a little too unrealistic for my tastes, this isn't an anime after all.

 

Thanks for reading, see you tomorrow. 


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kosnik4

Bio: Just love a good story.

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