A small shockwave exploded from around Edward, scattering dust and a few small rocks in the process. A suitably dramatic wind coursed through his now bluish hair and battered leather longcoat. He felt the surge of power ripple through his body, coalescing within his hands, bringing to mind any number of his favorite anime characters.
Edward launched himself at his target, several meters away, his hand clenched into a tight fist that struck forth like an unstoppable lance of justice...
...which found its mark squarely in the center of a large stone with an anti-climatic meaty thud.
Edward stood there, hand firmly connected with the stone he’d been using to practice his techniques on. The pain in his hand, wrist, and forearm was almost overwhelming. He noted, quite clearly, that the only difference between his current position and that of just leaning against the stone with a clenched fist was that of incredible pain. “Not... as... planned...” he winced aloud.
He wasn’t sure, but he was fairly convinced that if he hadn’t broken his hand, then he had done more than just bloody his knuckles. Cyan’s gonna be pissed.... Pulling his fist away from the stone, Edward then cradled his right hand and carefully slid it under his coat, hiding his folly from view.
As Edward turned from his training site he sighed. He had outwardly laughed off the fact that while he was not the only one shot, he was the only one that had been gunned down by a Gatortrooper. However he knew the reality of things; he just wasn’t strong enough. He wasn’t fast enough. He didn’t hit hard enough. He just wasn’t good enough.
Granted, his choice of attack was likely not the most effective. Hell, leaping into a gunfight when he had a perfectly useful gun was an exercise in stupidity. By all rights, he should have stayed on top of the inn and picked off the Gatortroopers like fish in a barrel; he was good enough to do that at least. But that’s not what they would have done. Of course by ‘they’ he meant people like Masamichi Fujisawa, Goh Saruwatari, or even Asuka Langley for that matter (despite the latter being a girl.)
Instead he went charging into the fight like an idiot. Part of him wondered why he was still breathing. Idiot’s Luck most likely. But that still didn’t change the fact that his current training regime was just not cutting it. Taking down the leader of a ragtag group of bandits was one thing, but these guys had some great armor, better than any he had ever seen, and that only enhanced their durability.
Another sigh. He could almost hear Kamina giving him a verbal beating for the direction his thoughts were taking, or Goku trying to offer some advice to cheer him up which would be genuine coming from him, but would still sound no less trite.
“I guess there’s nothing for it....”
"What were you doing?"
Edward blinked as he was pulled from his thoughts and forced back into reality. If this could be considered reality. Sometimes he just wasn’t sure. “Ahhh, well, you see....” he stammered. He knew the Captain had been watching him, though not for how long and he fought to try to find an explanation that didn’t sound as insane as what it looked like he was trying to do and, upon reflection, as stupid as what it actually was. “I was practicing... yeah.” Good one Ed. If she didn’t think you were some stupid idiot before, she does now.
Captain Jiranee, the King's Justice, looked at Edward with an expression of puzzlement. She was dressed in her arming jacket, hose, and boots, and had her long-bladed sword strapped on. With her darkly-tanned skin, long ears, and silvery hair, she looked like she'd stepped right out of Record of Lodoss War. Although considering her build, Edward was pretty sure putting her in Pirotess’ outfit would be the costuming equivalent of dividing by zero. "Master Edward... I know many techniques for the sword and spear, but none will allow me to shatter a rock with a touch."
“That’s why I was practicing.” He cracked a half-smile in the attempt both salvage some pride and get a laugh. A deep breath. Pause. “Actually... that was sort of what I was wanting to talk to you about.”
Hands on her hips, Jiranee cocked her head and looked at him. "Punching holes in rocks?" she asked with a smile.
He scratched the back of his head. “Heh... yeah. No!” He paused and took a deep breath. She had caught him flat-footed and he was doing his best to keep from behaving like some drooling fanboy. Just listening to her talk sometimes gave him the impression that almost everyone she met was trying to do something to either impress her or show disdain or distrust. A wise man learns from the deaths of others. He bowed his head and any sense of bravado or joking around left him. “I... the fact of the matter is, I need help.” He looked to her, not as a hero, or even a warrior, but as a young man who had been given a healthy dose of reality and clearly realized that for all his talk, he knew he was way in over his head.
“You saw what we are up against. You, yourself said that your sword could not pierce their armor. And I’ve gotta fight these guys. I’ve been lucky... we’ve been lucky. Hell, I should be dead right now. I know what I’ve gotta do, but I can’t do it like this. I need help. I need to be faster, stronger, and hit harder than these lizard guys. I need training... and I don’t know how to do it. Will you train me?”
"I have been training you." The tall elf walked a slow circle around Edward. "Have we not sparred and practiced most mornings since we first met? And it has paid off. Edward, you are faster now than you were before, and I daresay at this rate you'll soon surpass myself. However...." And here she held up one long-fingered hand, "Speed can come from natural talent, or it can come from long practice. One reason I am so fast is that I have trained for seasons beyond count. When sparring with the newest squires, the merest tilt of the head, shifting of the foot, or angle of the shoulders is often enough to tell me what my foe is going to do, often before he knows it himself."
Stepping back, Jiranee drew her long sword in one smooth motion and then nodded. "Bring forth your blade."
Edward found himself standing at parade rest, as she spoke, his attention focused on what she was saying, both with her words and movements. It was only when she told him to get his sword that he realized that he had subconsciously gone back into ‘Basic Training Mode.’ I guess that’s what eight years does to you. He returned quickly, sword in hand, ready for her next instruction.
"Now," she continued, "stand as I do." Back straight, she held her sword up at an angle, the tip high over her head, while her feet slid into what Edward thought looked like a kendo stance. She watched silently as Edward tried to copy her movement, then dropped her own blade in order to shift a leg here and an arm there. "Back straight, Master Edward. Knees slightly bent, feet apart. Keep your eyes forward, on your foes, so he may not surprise you."
Stepping back, she circled him one again, nodding in appreciation. "Good. Now, it is taught that when all else fails, when you seem to have no other options, then your only solution is to throw a blow the foe cannot ignored. It is 'the blow that must be answered,' for to ignore it can mean injury or death." Resuming her stance, she brought her sword up and cut straight down, her hands ending level with her waist. "There. Now you try."
He did as instructed. Part of him felt like he was in an anime now. How many series, movies, and OVAs spent at least some at least some time where the hero was learning how to stand and strike properly? He nodded in understanding at her instruction and mimicked, to the best of his ability, the motion she executed.
"Adequate." Sheathing her sword, Jiranee motioned for Edward to continue. "500 more, Master Edward, if you please. Or until I return."
“Hai Sensei!” Where in bloody hell did that come from? No matter. The intent was clear and he would follow her instructions. At once he began his set of five hundred. The eager student in him wanted to go forth with zeal, but he knew enough about repetitive actions; doing that would only make it that much harder towards the end.
Edward would continue to strike with his sword as she had instructed. He didn’t bother counting, he knew this drill; he was to do this until she got tired and gave him something else to do. He didn’t mind, and in fact, he had almost expected something like this. All of that anime and kung-fu action flicks he had seen couldn’t be wrong about it, right? Even if it was exaggerated, the principal was the same, right?
Sixty-nine... Edward grunted as he brought the sword down again. Was that two hundred and sixty nine or three hundred and nineteen? He really wasn’t keeping an accurate count of the number of sword strokes he had been doing; drifting between counting off his repetitions in sets of ten, twenty or fifty. He saw no point in keeping an accurate count because even if he had finished the five hundred he was told to do, she would still expect him to continue with the exercise. Seventy... While it was possible she may ask him how many he did do, he figured that the inaccuracies would have him performing more repetitions than what would be told.
“You may stop.”
Seventy– “Huh?” Edward paused in mid-stroke at the interruption and then lowered his sword carefully. “Okay.” Setting his own blade to lean against his leg, he rolled and massaged his shoulders. He knew he was going to ache later. Good. Pain is weakness leaving the body... at least that was what he had been told anyway.
Captain Jiranee now wore her full armor—breastplate, re- and vambraces, greaves, the leather and steel somehow more impressive than the bright white armor of what Billy-Jo called a ‘Stormgator.’ She tilted her sallet back from her face, her eyes shadowed, and looked at him for a few moments. “I am pleased to see you still here. Many wish to learn the sword, but then balk when they told the commitment it will take. Here.”
She held out one of the long wooden practice swords Billy-Jo had made. They were dinged and dented from use, but made from a solid oak-like wood. Edward new form experience getting hit with one hurt. “We will use these, to avoid serious injury. But when you train on your own, use your sword, so you’ll gain comfort with its weight.”
He nodded and took the offered sword in his free hand as he sheathed his own blade and set it aside. “I understand. So... what now?”
"You may try and hit me. If you can."
Somehow he had seen that coming, he did see it coming and yet he was still surprised by it. She’s an elf, which means she has a high DEX, the armor doesn’t provide any penalties to AC, and has likely been customized over time to maximize her abilities... He knew he couldn’t match her speed, and he would just wear himself out trying to win with raw power.
The more he thought on how best to go about it, the more he realized the depth of the situation. She had likely seen every trick in the book, hell, she likely wrote the dammed book. Do something flashy, she would put him on his ass. Do something cautious, she would put him on his ass. Do something simple and straightforward, she would, again, put him on his ass. So why not do something stupid and really try to catch her off guard? He cast that idea aside before it even finished.
He shifted a bit towards the Captain, favoring his left side a bit before striking out with an attempted feint. The goal would be to get her to think he was coming across her left, but in reality his target was her right knee. The logic being that if he couldn’t beat her speed, he may as well try to slow her down. The feint was thrown in, in the hopes of making an opening or giving him that fraction of a second that would allow his blow to hit... even though he highly doubted it would.
Jiranee lifted her sword away from Edward’s shoulder. “Look at me, Master Edward. Not my knees. I’m taller than you, and have longer arms. You need to cross my killing zone to reach yours. Feint with your body, perhaps, but not your sword. Not until you’re closer.” Stepping back, she cocked her head and seemed to think for a moment. “Perhaps I was too hasty.Perhaps we should concentrate on form first, then movement.”
He expected the rebuke, and while the sting of the blow wasn’t that painful now, he knew it would be later. He nodded with a wince of pain in response to her instruction. “...right....” He understood what she was saying, however, his mind was working on how to do it. While hardly impossible, he didn’t believe he could. After all, he was only human.
Assuming her sword stance, she motioned for Edward to do the same. “We will drill, first,” she explained. “You will step forward and throw a blow, while I’ll step back and do the same. You will throw from the hips, not the arms, to deliver maximum power, and if done right, our blows will meet before each of us finishes our step. Then,” and she nodded at the area in which Edward had chosen to train, “once we run out of room, we’ll reverse direction; I’ll advance and you’ll retreat.”
Edward took the stance as she indicated and listened. “Alright.” Some of this went over his head, as he was not sure what was meant by ‘throwing from the hips’. He chose to not think about it though, for he imagined that he would likely get it by the end of the day, or he would be beaten black and blue... well, the latter was a given at any rate. “I think I’m ready to give this a shot....”
Their swords met with a shudder Edward could feel in his hands. He stepped and swung again, trying to match Jiranee’s smooth motions. She was drifting backwards, looking almost to hover across the ground, her eyes never leaving his. She wasn’t even looking at where she saw swinging; Edward suspected she didn’t need to. Abruptly, she called for a halt.
“From the hips, Master Edward.” She stepped back and then reassumed her stance. “If you wish your sword with just your arms, you’ll tire quickly and have little power. Now,” and Edward watched as she twisted in place, reminding him of someone swinging at a baseball, “if you start throwing from knees and hips, and use your arm to guide your blow, you can put your full weight behind your sword.”
Gesturing for him to hold his sword up and out, Jiranee took a cut at it. Her sword impacted with a resounding clack and Edward gave an appreciative shrug. “That was just using my arms,” she explained, “with none of my weight or height behind it. Now, bring your sword up again, and hold it firmly.” As Edward complied she took a step forward, her sword a blur. A moment later he was picking his sword up off the ground. “I said to hold it firmly,” there as a touch of humor in her voice. Edward suspect she’d pulled that stunt on many a squire over the seasons.
“Now, you try.”
At this point Edward started losing his patience. Not with the captain or her methods, but himself. On one hand, he realized that this was only day one, effectively, and that he should expect to get kicked around a little... ok, a lot, but he wasn’t certain that he was grasping the lessons. Dammit Ed, you’re a computer geek, not a swordsman! Wake up! He retrieved his sword as instructed, took the appropriate stance, and prepared to attack as she had done.
He then stopped himself before bringing the blade about and looked at her. “Are you sure I’m cut out for this Captain?”
Her response was another cock of the head and a shrug. "Are you? As I said, to truly learn the sword takes dedication. It's not something you can expect to master in hours, or even days." She paused and then frowned slightly. "Although... if you're anything like Master Calvin, you might just do so."
He scratched the back of his head. “I wasn’t really talking about that... I know that learning the sword is not something that is going to come overnight. This isn’t some silly cartoon or comic where it seems to happen in a short amount of time.
“I was actually talking more about, well, this whole thing... I dunno.” He fell into a crouch with a sigh, arms folded and resting on his knees. “It’s just that where I’m from... I’m in a similar boat as Jonathan. While he crunched numbers for a living, I....” He paused and thought about it for a few moments. “The easiest way to explain it would say that I worked with tools and devices that simply do not exist here at all. At least Jonathan can apply his skills and knowledge. Me? I’ve got nothing.”
Crossing her arms over her breastplate, Captain Jiranee looked down at Edward. There was a long moment of silence. "I was a farmer's daughter before I entered the service of the king of Virava," she said at last. "I never thought or expected to gain the rank of the King's Justice. Master Edward... I cannot answer your question. But..." she paused again, and then gestured out towards the village crossroads, where the Serpent Men sky raft sat. "You have said you've fought twice against these strange Scaled People who come from the sky, fought and won against them. You defeated Ciradou in single combat. You've shown great courage and a willingness to act when you see injustice done. I think you will make a fine knight, one who I'll be proud to say was once in my service."
Edward looked over to the sky raft and gave a slight nod. “Yeah... I guess.” He looked like he wanted to continue his train of thought, but then changed his mind. He had a fairly good list of replies to effectively point out that he had gotten lucky the first time, that the bandits were tired and weakened from their own hardships, and that the latest battle was due simply to acting quickly in setting up an ambush. While all true, they also sounded a lot like excuses.
He stood up and took his sword in hand. “I’m just... worried that it won’t be enough; the training, standing against injustice, all of it. I feel like I’ve got a lot of people depending on me, even if they don’t know it yet... and I don’t want to come up short.”
“You do realize you have companions, do you not?” Once again Jiranee gestured back at the village crossroads, this time indicating the inn. “You’re not in this alone, there are others fighting beside you.”
"Yeah... I know." Edward replied. "That doesn't change the feeling that I may end up failing them at the worst possible moment. If anything it makes it worse."
"If you fear failure," Jiranee said, "then remain here in Jayanama. I can see to it that you're appointed a shire-reeve, where, I suspect, you'll never have to deal with anything more strenuous than deciding to whom a lost cow belongs, or where a boundary lies."
Edward folded his arms over his chest and frowned. “Yeeaahh... no. How long do you think it will take for the enemy to find me here? Do you honestly think that they won’t come back here? Even if it is merely a flyby, they will be back and more likely than not they will find me, which will then result in this place getting leveled simply because those here decided to resist once before, and are thus deemed a threat.” You’re not very good at this, are you? That was what he wanted to toss in there, but he felt it more prudent to keep that particular opinion to himself.
“Look, I’m not an expert on psychology or anything like that, but I do know that fear is a very powerful thing Captain and there is nothing to fear except failure, for the burden of failure is the most terrible punishment of all.”
"So..." she asked slowly, as if unsure of Edward's train of thought, "you fear failure... so you fear to make the attempt?"
He shook his head. “No, I only fear failure. If I feared making an attempt at something, I would have accomplished nothing. Ever.” He took a deep breath, held it for a moment and exhaled slowly. “I think I may have confused you. Fear of failure does not necessarily imply a fear of also making an attempt, though it can. For me, I have a fear of failure, which is why I try to do everything I can to not fail. To put that in the context of where I find myself now, I know what is being asked of me and I refuse to fail at that appointed task... but I fear that I might because what I what I can do is not enough to ensure success.
“While I understand that I do not stand alone and there are those that can help me, I cannot always depend on them, not because they would abandon me, but instead because they have their own tasks to concern themselves with. If I falter, they will have to cover down on my shortcomings, which could then cascade to the failure of others because they could not focus on their appointed tasks as they should. This then means that due to my failings, I brought the group down.”
He paused for a moment. “Let me put it another way; a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I refuse to be that weak link, but at the same time, I do not know that I have what it takes... this does not mean I am not going to try however. Does that make sense?”
"Yes. The only true way to test the temper of a sword is in battle. Only then will you know the worth of your weapon."
"So you understand my concerns then." Edward took up his sword again. "I just... don't want to let anyone down..." he rolled his shoulders in an attempt to loosen up a bit. "Should we try this again?"
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