At the edge of the great forest outside of Elcrada, loud noises could be heard. Even though it was early in the morning, two people were furiously dueling in a small clearing in the otherwise incredibly dense forest.
The shout came from the female elf, who was training her new party member in the way of the sword.
Skillfully, her opponent successfully, albeit clumsily, blocked the three consecutive, magically enhanced attacks that were sped up, using the skill. It didn't look particularly difficult for her opponent to block the otherwise high-level skill.
To Robinia, it was mind-boggling to see a man match her skill with the blade. At The Nest, she was hailed as one of the best swordsmen of her class. But the man in front of her was incredibly skillful too. While he wasn't strictly better in terms of technique, he was most definitely stronger, faster and more creative in his ways of attacking.
Lost in thought, the swordsman didn't notice that her trainee was attacking her. In a matter of milliseconds, she moved her hand, blocking the the incoming attack by using the guard of her sword. Like she had done when defeating her undead opponent, a few days back, she turned her wrist slightly whilst lunging forward. She was aiming for her opponent's sword.
When the two swords touched each other, the more experienced wielder pushed the other sword out of the way, exposing her opponents chest.
Not a second passed before the tip of Robinia's sword was pointing at Ash's heart.
"That's the fourth battle I've won in a row, where is my prize?" She asked the defeated elf.
"You're supposed to be training me, so in terms of reaching your actual goal - training me, you're not doing so well".
Even though she was skilled with the blade, Robinia would most likely never be able to match Ash's skill with words. It was almost scary, listening to him completely deflate even the most inflated of egos with a simple sentence.
If Robinia's ego was her armor, then Ash's tongue represented the spear that could pierce her armor, whenever it's wielder pleased.
"Besides, you said I couldn't use any 'tricks', beside what I can do with a sword, which isn't much, as you may have noticed. Let's have a round where I won't have to abide by your petty rules" Ash continued.
The challenged party was astounded to see the otherwise depressed Ash being as fired up as he was. It was rare for him to show emotion at all, aside from annoyance.
"I accept. However, please do abide by one rule... No magic".
"Alright, that I can agree to. Loser pays dinner tonight".
"It'll be nice to be treated by you" Robinia said, before activating ⌈ Gap Closer ⌋. And so, the battle had begun.
The challenger was prepared for a sudden start to the battle, so he easily blocked the incoming ⌈ Cross Cut ⌋. Unfortunately for him, his opponent had more than one skill.
Even though the ability in itself could often be the deciding factor in battle, Ash knew that it was a factor to be considered, when fighting Robinia. After all, he had just fought her four times in a row. Because of that, he jumped back, avoiding both the sword and the bone-breaking bursts of wind that followed.
The defending elf had put so much strength into his jump that he was about to collide with a tree that had been around five meters away from his previous position. This however, was intentional. As soon as his leg made contact with the tree trunk, he jumped back with such force that it dented the tree.
Ash was practically flying back towards Robinia, but more speed was required, so he brought his hand toward the ground, grabbed onto it, almost throwing himself further and faster towards the other party.
This strategy was new to Robinia, who was used to fighting against relatively stationary enemies. But now, an elf was flying towards her at dangerous velocity. She took a defensive stance and prepared to receive the blow head on, since she couldn't exactly be sure whether or not the high-speed attack was a feint aimed at making her break her stance.
The sound of swords colliding resounded throughout the forest.
"Hah! I blocked it-" Robinia began, but quickly realized that she had been wrong in her choice to take the blow head on.
The attacker, who was both faster and stronger than the defender, used the momentum, he had gained from attacking, to grab Robinia by the shoulder, using it as a platform to throw himself further into the air. His attack was far from over.
Surprised, the female elf took a step back to look analyze the situation. Her shoulder hurt slightly from having been used as a launch-pad, but there was no time to cry over that, because the flying elf, Ash, was already on his way back.
Taking a defensive stance, the swordsman prepared for the incoming blow. She had taken one, and could do it again. At least, that was what she thought.
Mid-air, the attacking elf drew his knife and held it out, ready to knock Robinia's blade aside, allowing for his sword to reach her vitals. She could see that Ash truly was an artist when it came to battle. The amount of cunning and creativity it would take, to come up with a strategy like this, was beyond her.
Once again, the sound of blades caressing each other could be heard. Robinia had successfully blocked the knife, but as she had predicted, the sword came flying towards her, shortly after. It stopped millimeters from her throat, as Ash gracefully landed on both feet.
There could be no doubt about the victor of the duel.
Completely at her opponent's mercy, the before-so-confident elf fell to her knees, in utter disbelief. 'How could I have been defeated?', she thought over and over again. The real question might have been "How could I have been so utterly crushed", but Robinia wasn't interested in diminishing her self-esteem any further.
"You can remove the sword now" She said. For some reason, Ash was still pointing his sword at her neck, while staring at her in a way that greatly unsettled her.
Even though the victorious elf was showing signs of improvement, in the way he behaved, he still did strange things every now and then. Things like seeming too eager to get a kill, when he was hunting with the party, or like now, completely disregarding morals.
Finally, Ash removed his blade from the shaken elf's throat, who found herself gasping for air. She had been holding her breath, unsure of whether or not running had been the correct course of action.
"Let's get back to The Nest" Robinia suggested, and started walking in the direction of Elcrada.
However, her companion wasn't as inclined to go with her. He was standing in the glade, they had used as an arena, bathing himself in the light of the sun. The entranced elf was in a complete stasis, as he watched the light escape through the slight cracks between the green leaves.
It seemed like time had stopped for him.
"Are you seriously that happy about beating me?" The defeated elf asked, slightly annoyed.
"What?" Ash asked. It was clear to anyone that he had not been paying attention. In fact, he was still not looking at Robinia, who had stopped walking.
Nevertheless, the entranced elf started following the halted elf, who once again, had her concerns reignited.
An hours time later, the two entered Elcrada. Even though she was usually the last one to arrive at the gates, Robinia reached them first today. It was as if Ash was in a completely different place, mentally. He was walking several meters behind his companion, who, during their trip back to town, had had to stop several times, waiting for him.
Regardless, of her annoyance, Robinia put up with it all. After all, it had been her decision to accept Ash into the party in the first place. It was to be expected that she would have to carry a certain amount of his burden, regardless of whether or not she knew what was burdening him.
The two elves walked into the town square. When people were acting strange or rude, it was usually because they wanted something. That was one of the lessons Robinia had learned from being present when her father was dealing with nobles from abroad. Therefore, she decided to bring Ash to the arms dealer.
"What in fuck's name are we doing here?" Ash asked. His mind was completely present now.
Being with him, even if it had only been a short while, the swordsman had learned that Ash really hated being around people, he didn't know.
"We're here to buy you new equipment. You can't go around, using that ragged cape, and that sorry excuse for a weapon".
For some reason, Ash grabbed onto his knife. It seemed to hold a certain amount of sentimental value.
'Maybe it's from the time when he was enduring all sorts of things. It's probably a good idea to get rid of it' Robinia thought. To her it was nothing more than a simple knife, used to cut flowers. It was impressive how he had survived for as long as he had, using only that knife.
The two entered the nearest open shop. A small, circular tent with enough room for around ten people. It was completely empty, excluding the two newcomers. In the back of the shop, a bald man with light-brown skin was bashing a hammer at a newly-forged blade of some kind. He was wearing nothing on his upper body, and only a simple, brown pair of pants on his lower half.
He turned around, when Robinia used the bell, which was standing on the desk he was working behind.
"What'll it be, lads. Oh! Lad and lady" He said, as soon as he noticed the two. His eyes widened slightly when he noticed the elven girl, who was quite well known around town.
"We'd like some equipment for this guy" Robinia said, giving Ash a slap on the back to indicate that he was the 'guy' in question.
"Anything you prefer, lad?" The arms dealer asked.
Maybe he was surprised at how unsociable he seemed, or maybe it was just the way he was, but the man simply turned around and pulled a wagon, filled to the brim with weapons, out from behind the desk.
The weapons appeared to be secondhand, seeing as they were chipped and rusty, in some cases.
"If you can't be more specific, this is all I have to offer you" The man said.
Ash pulled out his own knife, probably hoping that it could point the arms dealer in the direction of what he was looking for.
"This is hardly a weapon, is it now? Do you stab with it, or do you throw it?".
"Would you allow me to perform a quick check-up on your stats, so that I can pin-point a better weapon for you? Judging from your physique, this isn't the most suitable weapon for you".
The elf nodded in response, giving his consensus to having his stats estimated.
"Level Estimation!" The man bellowed with a voice that was used to shouting at people.
His eyes grew wider and wider, as he read through Ash's stats. Robinia knew how he was feeling. She could see that it was the first time he had seen someone so young, with such high stats.
The man was mumbling things like "unbelievable" and "at such a young age, wow". It was quite reassuring for the party leader, Robinia, to know that she was that good at scouting party members.
In the end, the blacksmith went behind his desk once again without saying a word. A few moments later, he came back with two things. A staff and a knife.
"Young miss, this man is surely one of the strongest men of his age. I can only think of a few adventurers, his age, that would match him in battle. Take these, free of charge".
The elven girl didn't know what to say. She had just been handed a staff, which looked incredibly expensive. The staff itself was made of magically enhanced rosewood, making it almost impossible to break. At the tip, a glass-like crystal was mounted. Lin had once told her that the crystal would change color, depending on what kind of elemental magic suited you most.
Robinia turned her gaze to the knife. It was incredibly light, so she guessed that it was probably also enhanced with some sort of magic. The blade was made of what looked like steel, but it had a slight blue shine to it, so she couldn't be sure of the material.
Still astounded by the generosity of the blacksmith, Robinia handed the weapons to Ash, who solemnly accepted them. She could see a light flickering in his eyes. He really wanted these weapons.
"Thank you for your generosity" Robinia said, and gave the man in front of her a respectful nod.
The other elf, who was still staring at the small treasure in his hands, followed suit, which greatly surprised the elven girl that had been leading the conversation up until that point.
Had she been worrying for no reason? The man by her side was clearly trying to better himself. Trying to function as a normal person.
The pair left the tent and headed back towards their rooms at the inn, spirits high. Robinia was talking to Ash about the small fortune, they had ended up acquiring, but the elf wasn't listening. He was busy talking to someone else. Someone, who's presence Robinia was oblivious to.