As long as Lucia continues to perform the Steady Mountain Footwork during our duels, the corresponding movements of her blade will become the Steady Mountain Swordsmanship. Over the course of thirty duels, she’s become accustomed to the most comfortable positions for herself to defend and attack from; although she is still vulnerable before my blade. I’ve dueled Roland a few times in the past, and his skills were on par with mine. I guess that made sense since we grew up and trained alongside each other. But I do think I’m stronger than Roland during his prime, at least for swordsmanship, because I had over a millennia to learn thousands of new techniques.
I took a step back and avoided Lucia’s strike before blocking the destructive shockwave that followed with a Breaking Blade of my own. Maybe it would’ve been more appropriate to call it a Breaking Spear. Regardless, Lucia’s gotten to the point where it wouldn’t be advantageous for me to block her strikes head-on. When we first started, there were dozens of flaws in her footwork, posture, and technique that allowed me to disperse the force with a direct collision, but repeated strikes to her vulnerabilities have taught her well. Pain is the best teacher after all. Followed by head pats.
“Not bad, Lucia.” Her hair was damp with sweat and clinging to her face and neck. Even her ears were a bit droopy. With that last attack, she had finally exhausted herself. “Do you know what you did wrong this time?”
“Have less stamina than you?” She looked a bit bitter. If she could steal my vitality instead of the other way around, I imagine I’d have a similar expression on my face.
“Other than that?”
“Have less skill than you?”
“…You’re focusing too much on the spearhead instead of following the movements of my body. The body doesn’t lie, but the trajectory of a weapon can always change or disappear. It’s why you’re reacting too slowly in some situations.”
Lucia sighed and stared at the floor. She grabbed the hand I moved away and placed it back on her head. I amused her whims as we continued to travel south, following after Snow, who had started walking when our spar ended. How long would it be until—?
Snow stopped walking as Lucia raised her head and stared towards the direction the shout came from. Now that I think about it, it’s been a while since we’ve seen any other people. “Should we help?” I’ll let Lucia decide on how to proceed.
But before Lucia could even react, Snow cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted, “Do you have any money?”
A bloodcurdling scream resounded through the forest before someone shouted, “Y-yes!” It was a different voice this time.
Snow glanced at Lucia. “I guess we can wait until they’re dead to loot their corpses.” He nodded and sat down on a nearby boulder, propping his chin up with his hands as he hunched forward.
“W-wait.” Lucia stuck her hand out. “Really?”
Snow nodded. “We’re on the border of the southern pass. Ferocious beasts live beyond this point. Anyone inside should already know the danger they’re getting into.” Snow picked his ear with his pinky. “It could even be a spirit beast pretending to be a human. There’s some who trap prey that way.”
“M-mommy! Daddy!” Screams that sounded like they came from a little girl rang throughout the forest. Lucia stiffened as she drew my weapon body.
“I knew you were a gang leader, but I didn’t think you’d be so heartless, Snow!” Lucia pointed her sword at the rabbitkin before dashing towards the shouts. Snow shook his head and sighed. He glanced at me and raised an eyebrow.
“I’m going to follow her.” Even if I didn’t want to, I’d be automatically pulled into my weapon body if she went too far. From up ahead, I could hear Lucia trampling through the forest. It seemed like she lost control of her body since she left behind massive craters and fallen trees in her wake.
“I’ll save you!” Her voice wasn’t too far ahead. “Wait right there!”
There was a massive crash up ahead, and the sounds of fighting rang out. Lucia had engaged with the enemy. “Die, you stupid fat cat! Breaking Blade!”
A roar echoed through the forest. I made it to a small clearing filled with uprooted trees and broken trunks. A ferocious beast was lying on its side and scrambling back onto its feet as a sword-wielding squirrelkin girl chased after it with a vicious expression on her face. The beast was a large panther with fur as dark as the night. There was no sign of any humans around.
“Where’d they go?” Lucia asked the beast as she repeatedly pounced towards it. Somehow, she managed to appear in front of it every time it tried to run away. Was she reading its body movements? Why couldn’t she do that in the spar earlier? Perhaps it was because the panther didn’t have a single weapon to focus on.
The panther growled and lunged towards Lucia, but it was batted away by the sheer weight of my weapon body. Watching a panther that was larger than a bear being batted away by Lucia, who was mouse-like in comparison, was interesting to say the least. Perhaps Lucia would be able to kill a dragon with a sword strike if her growth continued at its current rate. She one-sidedly dominated the panther, beheading it after exchanging another seven moves. Five moves too many, but it wasn’t bad for her first fight against a ferocious beast even if it was one of the weakest ferocious beasts out there.
“Durandal?” Lucia asked, her expression in a daze. “The family?”
I pointed above her. Snow was right. Three crows were sitting on a branch, staring at Lucia. They seemed to be waiting for her to leave. One of the crows opened its beak and said, “Mommy. Daddy. Help!”
Lucia’s mouth fell open.
“Scavenger crows.” Snow appeared in the clearing from behind me. “They mimic human voices and beasts’ cries to lure creatures into fighting each other. Then they pick up scraps from the aftermath. Their combat strength is on the lowest end of the spectrum, but they’re good at fooling simple people.”
“Don’t call me stupid!”