"Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of fighters," Sig said, pacing in front of me. We sat in my room rather than downstairs, which was fine by me. I was in no condition to run around, which chafed a bit at my impatience to improve. Then again, taking a break was the only way to heal.
Bandages wrapped around one ankle, keeping the injury stable, and my ribs ached whenever I took too deep a breath, stabbing as they stretched. According to Sig, I had not broken anything, and they should heal within a few weeks, but that was entirely too long. If all went well, I should have a solution to that problem by the end of the day.
Until I headed, we had to postpone training. At least, the physical aspects of it.
"First, you have the intelligent and practical types. They're straightforward, focusing on fundamentals and improving them to their peak. There is lots of intense training, trying to perfect a set of stances, strikes, blocks, and parries. I call them traditionalists."
That approach sounded appealing, but I should hear what the second was if only to stay knowledgeable.
"Innovators. They're the types to learn more varied, unorthodox techniques, usually adapting as needed. There's less focus on perfecting a small set of abilities and more on using whatever tools you have to win."
"I think I understand. What is better, then?" I asked, cutting to the real question. While knowing all of this was great, the most critical factor remained efficacy and power.
"Neither. Both approaches have benefits and drawbacks."
"So, I should learn both, then," I remarked, crossing my arms and wincing as the motion pulled my ribs taut.
Sig laughed, responding, "Well, for one, I'm oversimplifying things for your benefit. The truth is, most warriors fall somewhere in between. Besides that, mastering a single style can take years, even decades."
I slowly nodded, asking, "If that's the case, what are the benefits and drawbacks you mentioned?"
"As I said, traditionalists are straightforward, and that's their greatest strength and weakness. They tend to be strong, fast, and efficient, but they're predictable. Any guesses what problems that can cause?"
"If they are easy to predict, you know what they will do and how to beat them," I replied, frowning and rubbing my chin with one hand.
"Exactly. Easy to predict means easy to counter. Now granted, that's much easier said than done, but still worth noting."
"And what about innovators?" I asked after a few seconds of writing in my notebook. Sig was moving fast, and I did not want to miss any details.
"Unpredictability and improvisation. They can alter their approach to combat as needed, taking advantage of opportunities or creating their own. You see tricks like altering their grips, changing stances mid-battle, and so on. I once heard about a warrior who carried multiple weapons so that he could change to another and catch his opponents off-guard."
"That sounds...risky," I remarked, frowning as I considered how smart it was to put away your weapon in the middle of a pitched melee.
"Very. Now, what type of warrior you should be will have to wait until we get into the meat of training. Almost as important as how you fight is what you use for a weapon. There are countless types, each with their purposes and-"
"Are you going to teach me swordsmanship?" I interrupted, excitement leaking into my voice.
Back when I was still a child, I had sometimes dreamed of learning to fight with a sword, saving kingdoms with a magical blade in hand. Again, I wondered if some gods above had a sense of irony, considering I had almost fulfilled that boyhood fantasy in one possible future.
Sig raised an eyebrow, and I realized my mistake. Maybe I was growing a little too comfortable around the man. Growing so casual was a bad habit and might end with me speaking out of turn to the wrong noble.
"My apologies, sir. It will not happen again," I said, bowing my head.
He sighed, muttering, "I thought we got past this. Anyways, swords are on the list, but not anytime soon. My grandfather loved to say, "the best weapon is our minds," which is an opinion I respectfully don't share. In my eyes, this is the best weapon,"
Sig waved his hand over the pouch by his hips, and there was a brief flash. When it cleared, he held a long spear, placing it on the table in-between us. The shaft was dark wood, with textured portions that I assumed were meant as grips. At one end sat a triangular tip with keen edges, and at the other, metal shaped into a heavy round ball, turning it into a perfect bludgeoning tool.
Was it wrong to feel disappointed?
"A spear?" I asked, trying not to show my emotions too clearly. Everyone knew spears were the tools of commoners and soldiers, not nobles or mages.
Sig groaned, responding, "One of the greatest misconceptions around is worshipping swords and discounting spears. Tell me something, who wins in a fight?"
"The more skilled warrior,"
"Wrong. The winner is the person who lives, and living requires injuring your opponent without getting hurt in the process. A spear gives you range, which is a serious advantage in battle. Don't discount what a few extra feet of distance can do to your chances."
His words made sense, and I nodded as he continued, "And, as a side benefit, spears are easier to use. They have some weaknesses but trust me when I say they're excellent weapons,"
I pushed aside my childish dreams and focused on what should drive my choices, which is pragmatism. If a spear is the better weapon, then it should be my focus. Still, there was one thing I had to ask.
"Then why are swords preferred so often?"
The spear vanished, and in his hands, Sig now held a blade a few feet long, with a short hilt. He spun it slowly, adjusting it to catch the light from my windows and angling it towards me.
"Swords are lighter and work well with shields. They aren't as good primary weapons as polearms, but they're excellent secondary options. They're also easier to carry compared with a spear. And there's one other aspect that you of all people should know."
"I...I have no idea, sir," I said after a few seconds of racking my brain.
"Really? Shame. Well, swords are weapons, true, but they're also status symbols. They take dedicated training that commoners don't have time to pursue and cost a lot to forge. Magic has let us cut costs, but the fact remains, most good swords belong to nobles,"
"I see...so if you see someone with a sword, you know they are rich and trained."
"Exactly. Or they're good enough to kill a swordsman and take it off their corpse without running into problems."
I quickly wrote down a summary of his descriptions, wondering how long until we finished up for the day. My ribs still bothered me, and I was eager to get down into the city. Sig seemed to sense my impatience and retrieve another weapon from his pouch, dagger roughly as long as my hand.
"Now, here we have the dagger. You'd think this is useless in a straight fight, but it does have its strengths. First off..."
I let out a quiet sigh and adjusted in my seat. It seems I was not going anywhere anytime soon.
The Middle District of Volaris was home mainly to shops, inns, and other businesses. Ferris's great lie is that all mages are unstoppable juggernauts in battle when the truth is many are unsuited for it. Most prefer a quiet life, and their works filled these shops, supporting a considerable portion of our economy.
The quietest and, in my opinion, most painfully dull of all magical occupations was the humble alchemist. The field itself revolved around creating potions, salves, and other wonders, usually through various processes. The best of them needed steady hands, analytical minds, and near-endless patience. But my disinterest did not mean that the field was useless. The opposite, if anything.
Alchemy was one of the essential parts of my short-term plans. In an ideal world, my training at the Academy would let me create my potions, but that was not the case yet. Instead, I would need to spend my newly acquired gold in a shop, sacrificing money for convenience.
Grace had once more proven that she was both a good friend and a helpful ally, recommending a nearby shop run by a former apprentice.
Kenneth, a younger man in his twenties, had dropped out of the Academy while only in his third year. He had proven unskilled with most elements of magic and decided to instead focus on his specialties.
As it happened, this included alchemy, business acumen, and a kind-hearted nature that drew customers like flies to honey.
I stood outside his shop, dressed in my uniform and with the jingle of gold clinking on one hip. By the end of the day, most of it would be gone, but hopefully, my purchases would prove worth it.
The first thing that hit me was the smells; All one hundred of them. I caught sweet hints of berries, floral notes, sharp tangs like medicinal teas, and a dozen other scents floating just under my awareness. Individually, each might be pleasant or at least ignorable, but together, they made my eyes water.
The second was how it looked more like a storage room than a shop. Rows upon rows of shelves extended from one wall to the other. I spotted glass vials arranged neatly inside, with labels written in tiny, precise handwriting.
Behind a small counter was a man I assumed was Kenneth. Both his face and head were clean-shaved, with robes and a thick apron covering his front. Gloves stuck out from one of the pockets, and a pair of protective goggles hung from his neck.
"Good afternoon!" Kenneth shouted, straightening up and closing something underneath the counter.
"Good afternoon to you as well. My name is Vayne, and I am in the market for some potions and herbs. Grace said you were the best alchemist around, so I hoped you could help."
"I do my best. What are you looking to buy?" Kenneth said with a smile, and I dug into my pocket, pulling out a list and handing it to him.
His eyes scanned the paper, nodding several times and commenting, "Interesting selection. I've got most of them, but they aren't cheap."
"Not a problem," I answered, patting the pouch on my waist.
Kenneth chuckled, responding, "I'm thinking you're underestimating how much all these cost. You got low-grade rejuvenation potions, stamina potions, and mental enhancement elixirs, which are the most pricy of the bunch. Nourishment and hydration beads are a lot cheaper, and I can cut you a deal on bulk purchases. As for the herbs, I have plenty of those, and they're by far the cheapest of the bunch. Still..."
My ribs ached again, reminding me how little patience I had for haggling, and I asked, "How much for a day's supply each potion, the beads, and the herbs?"
Kenneth named his price, and I leaned on my training to avoid showing anything on my face. I wanted to buy as much as possible, but at those prices, I could only afford a week's worth, maybe two, once Sig's contacts paid him for the remains. And even then, that was only because all of my choices were the lowest-grade potions around. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
"I will take a week's worth of everything," I said, not bothering to haggle. I trusted Grace but had also done my homework and researched standard prices, and Kenneth's were reasonable. Not the best, maybe, but his supplies were high quality enough to warrant paying a bit extra.
"Well, in that case, you might need a blood cleanser as well. Using too many potions in quick succession can build up toxins in the body, which cause all sorts of side effects. These will flush those out, though it is unpleasant, unfortunately." Kenneth said, smiling and gesturing towards a shelf of dark glass vials.
Briefly, I wondered if he said that from kindness or if he hoped to sell more products. Both, I assumed, as I answered, "I will be fine, thank you."
I had an idea that might replace those potions, but there was a chance it would not work. If that were the case, I would need to come back and buy those cleansers, increasing my expenses even more.
When I stepped back into the streets, it was with a much lighter purse. Luckily for my sore body, Kenneth had arranged to deliver my purchases to the Academy, where it would get moved up to my quarters. The wonders of magic and the influence of nobles, I concluded with a hint of annoyance.
Still, it was with a bit of spring in my step that I returned to my room, eager to test out my ideas. Hopefully, I was somewhere close to as intelligent as I hoped. And if I was not, well...I was crossing my fingers that I was right. It was preferable to the alternative.