"Too wide, a large movement may work against someone slower than you, but anyone faster will take blood with an opening like that."
"Tighten your core, a blade is wielded with more than your arms, strength begins at your feet, swing with your entire body."
"Do not trust the movement of your opponents blade, feints and true intentions are revealed in their eyes. Failing that, observe their footing to understand what strikes they can make next."
"You rely too much on strength to parry an attack, do not simply try to overwhelm their strength, you need only to guide it from its course."
Valor was issuing instructions, as the two resumed a duel with a much calmer Val. Many of his shortcomings were being revealed to him, with the objective this session was to clean up his swordsmanship, rather than try to teach him a new style. After all, Valor wielded the sword with a single arm, while not by choice, teaching a style suiting one armed swordsmanship would not be entirely applicable.
The two continued in this manner for several hours, the sound of crossing steel only interrupted by the occasional instruction. Only when Val's arms truly ached and his hands trembled on the grip of the sword did Valor drop his stance.
"That is enough for today, practice your form in the waking world. While you may be sleeping there, you are very much awake in this realm, it will not do for you to be exhausted and in poor form." Valor returned the swords to the darkness and took a seat by the fire.
"How do I even leave?" Val, still panting, was stretching his limbs, unsure of whether any of this really mattered once he woke up.
"Clear your mind and focus on the brand, for you, it is your gate to this space. You can return much the same way." Valor explained, gesturing to the mark burning on Val's chest.
"I see." Val seemed to be lost in thought though.
"What is it?"
"Does time progress at the same rate here as it does outside?" He had been curious about this point, he did not have his watch here so he was not sure how to measure time in this space. The only thing that seemed to give any indication of time was the burning logs in the brazier, but they all seemed to restore themselves, only to burn again.
"Time here and time there are the same, this space is no shortcut for getting proper rest. Besides, manipulating time is not so simple, even Odin would not so recklessly do so. There are primal forces older than we, who do not take kindly to pulling on those threads."
"Hmph, figures. Alright then, guess I'll get some real sleep."
Valor simply smiled, as Val took a seat and cleared his mind. Calming his power, his runes and eyes dimmed, as he focused his mind on the brand as if to see through it. Sleep quickly overcame him, from Valor's perspective, his body disintegrated into motes of bright orange light.
. . .
It was moments before sunrise when Val woke, confirming he was in his tent and had thus truly woken up, he got up to exit the tent. Most of the base was still sleeping, save for a few residents who seemed to be shuffling about near the kitchens. Flexing his limbs, Val confirmed that while he had near exhausted himself training in the soul realm created by the brand, he felt quite rested. It would seem that he could practice skills in that realm without worrying too much physically, the idea of leveraging it to increase his skill excited him greatly, and he had a newfound appreciation for the brand, despite the torturous trial it had cost to receive it.
Val picked up his sword in its scabbard and headed outside the warehouse, greeting the posted officer who nodded to him with tired eyes. Morning rays were scattering across the clouds, creating a vibrant display of light and dark as one could watch night retreat from the approaching sun. The mornings were growing chillier, Val noted as he exhaled wispy fog with every breath.
Moving out into a clear space in the parking lot, he drew his blade, setting the scabbard on the hood of a parked truck. Val had decided from this point on he would not take his strength for granted, he needed to have more discipline. His body was like rough, poorly sculpted clay, but he wanted to carve detail into it, remove the rough edges, and gain true control over it. Val took a stance, and began to practice his sword, practicing through a variety of sword katas he had learned from Valor. He paid close attention to every muscle along his body as his sword carved through the air, chaining a sequence of steps and strikes in a well choreographed dance. His swiftness and strength dispelled the sleep creeping upon the guard as he watched with great interest as the young man made his movements. Every step taken carefully to drive as much strength efficiently along the length of the blade.
Atop the warehouse, Huginn was observing Val's form intently. Muninn seemed to be nestled up in herself, having just woken up from sleep. Noticing Huginn's intense expression and almost locked up posture, she walked up to follow his gaze.
"Hmm? What is the matter? The boy is just practicing." She remarked quizzically.
"He is not *just* practicing. Look carefully at his technique." He replied in a serious tone.
"Oooh, the boy is growing quite skilled, a bit rough, but there is clear signs of improvement."
"Yes, too much improvement. For him to achieve this on his own would be unthinkable lest he were the very incarnation of a sword saint, and there is no one here to teach him."
Muninn shook her body vigorously, shedding the drowsiness that held her. "You suspect Tyr has eroded his ego and taken control?"
"It is a possibility."
"Is that really a bad thing if it were true?"
"Depends who is in control, if it is Tyr, then that is indeed good fortune, however if Tyr was conquered by Fenrir…"
"Perhaps things are fine and Tyr is simply teaching him?"
"This is Tyr we are talking about, a renowned god of war, known for his ferocity and indomitable valor. A master of single combat, honored by thousands of warriors who pledged their victories to him. Justice was dispensed by the tip of his blade, why would he personally teach a human?"
Muninn simply shrugged. "Our lord took an interest in the boy, perhaps his brother did too, only one way to find out."
"Indeed." Huginn leapt from the roof, swooping down to alight on the truck near where Val was practicing.
"Tyr?" Huginn asked with some hesitation in his tone.
"Huh?" Val paused his practice, turning around to face Huginn, whose eyes widened in surprise.
"So it is you, it is good to see you again, Lord Tyr." Huginn's tone sent shivers down Val's spine, it was full of respect he had only seen the bird use with Karl.
"Whoa, don't do that, that is creepy as hell. Val is fine, no one calls me Tyr." Val blushed slightly, scratching at the back of his neck where a fierce itch rooted itself after being treated respectfully by Huginn.
If not for his jet black appearance, Val might have sworn Huginn was beet red in embarrassment.
"You… You… Insufferable…!" Huginn squawked.
"You alright man? You're acting weird today, bad dreams?"
Huginn attempted to gather himself, from the roof of the warehouse a funny cawing noise was issuing, seemingly without control.
*That must be Muninn, guess she's awake too, and… laughing?* Val scanned the top of the warehouse in confusion, spotting a jet black feathered bird with her head raised back.
"Ahem… Your swordsmanship seems to be improving quite a bit. I did not know you had previous training." Huginn commented awkwardly.
"Hmm? I used to fence, but that was saber and foil, very different to a longsword."
"Oh! I met Valor again, he taught me some things last night, I've decided to start practicing in the mornings, it's good exercise and I shouldn't just laze around." Val explained, returning a shocked look to Huginn's expression.
"He… offered… to teach you?" Huginn almost stammered his words out.
"I asked, he obliged. He seemed bored enough as it was, I guess he gets a kick out of it?"
"Yes, I am fine, resume your practice, your elbows are placed a bit too wide."
"Uh, got it, thanks." Val resumed his practice as Huginn returned to the warehouse.
After another half hour of practice, the time to change shifts came for the patrol team, but instead of leaving, Val began to gather a crowd. Both the previous shift and the new shift were gawking as the young man brandished his blade. However Val remained focused on his form, feeling every muscle powering his strikes. It was not until the sound of clapping reached his ears did he realize there were a dozen people, patrol officers and residents admiring his moves. Not feeling too comfortable practicing under the attention of so many eyes, Val walked over to the truck to sheath his blade and take a break. As he did so, Jim approached with a bottle of water.
"Good morning, I see you're keeping busy this morning."
"Hey, morning, thanks. Yeah I need to make sure I keep in good form." Val accepted the water, taking large gulps.
"Ha, that's just practice?"
"Eh, it's alright, any missions today?" Val asked.
"Nah, we're still sorting through how to put the equipment to good use, making some improvements to the base. Now that we have some officers equipped properly we can handle scavenging again on our own."
"Got it, alright, I might go check out some places myself."
"Oh? Looking for something in particular?"
"Yeah, I've got this rescue knife but the blade is a bit short, a few inches won't work well enough and my sword is too long to use in close spaces. A large fixed blade knife would be good, six inches at a minimum, up to a foot." Val explained his need to Jim, who seemed to be mulling over the description.
"There's a large sporting goods store not too far, follow this road up north and you can't really miss it. It's on the way out of the city, they should have some hunting goods. Probably mostly bows, fishing rods, the like, but they tend to have large knives meant for hunting or skinning game. Last I remember this one doesn't really deal in rifles ever since gun control got stricter." Jim gestured along the road as he explained the location, it really did not seem hard to find, just following the roads north till he reached the interstate.
"Great, thanks, I'll check it out."
After having some breakfast, Val hopped on his bike and took off along the roads, heading for the mentioned store. It was barely a ten minute trip when he came upon a large building worn down by the disasters. The double doors and large glass display windows were completely shattered, and a lot of light entered the building. Val could handle ghouls no problem, but it was certainly easier to take care of business without having to deal with them every time. Parking his bike out front, he stepped carefully over the shattered glass decorating the floor. Heading for the back where he could clearly see marketing posters of deer and other kinds of wild game.
Many of the display cases were completely broken, though that only saved Val the trouble since he was not about to go look for a key. A variety of interesting bows hung on hooks along the wall, most were some kind of compound bow, but some were more traditional recurve bows for enthusiasts, being made from fiberglass, ash, or some combination of wood and composite materials. The bows were impressive, but they were not too interesting to Val at this point, if he did need one, he now knew where to find one.
Returning his attention to the knives, a few cases down he found what he was looking for. A case of large bowie knives in a few styles from various manufacturers were resting, some were as short as six inches, and some were as long as a foot. Val eyed a particular knife that had a more traditional Western look to it, plain, broad polished steel little over eight inches in length, ending in a curved, double-edged point, with a simple guard, a light brown wooden handle, and a small leather scabbard with a loop to fit onto a belt. It reminded him of the knife from "Crocodile Dundee", but he shelved the thought, insisting to himself that the function and simple appearance was the reason for his choice.
Figuring it could not hurt to have more than one, he took two of them from the boxes beneath the display case, putting one immediately on his belt on his right side, and taking the other as backup to store in his bike.
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