I know, right? 30 parts?! I hadn’t really been keeping track, but today I counted it all up. Weird, huh?

As promised, I am continuing the series. So far it’s quite uneventful – just Arion learning to swing a sword – but it has been a while since the last part, so you might want to review it. Anyway, enjoy!

“Remind me again why we’re doing this?” Arion squeaked.

“Because you need to learn to fight,” Nephthys replied, lifting her wooden practice sword. “You know you can’t be a helpless drag in the middle of battle. Only cowards do that.”

“Your sense of humor is astounding.”

“Thank you.” Nephthys swung her sword at him, whacking him on the side, then ducked away as Arion tried to retaliate with a clumsy blow.

“This isn’t working,” he complained. “I keep dropping the sword, and it’s exhausting. Face it, Nephthys, I’m not that fast.”

“You’ll get there,” she insisted. “We’re not stopping until I’m satisfied. Try again.”

Arion groaned, then hunched over in the ready position, sword poised to block. He was already battered and bruised from what they’d done all morning, and he wasn’t eager for more, but Nephthys wouldn’t let up, not even for a quick bathroom break.

“You don’t stop for a bathroom break in the middle of battle,” she had told him. “There probably won’t even be a bathroom on the battlefield.”

Now he waited for her to come at him again. He tried to narrow his focus like she had instructed, blocking out where Caddie was sitting on a bench off to side, Artemis curled up next to her, and stared at Nephthys, watching for her next move.

It came quicker than he expected. In an instant, his world turned upside-down as Nephthys flipped him, leaving him lying on his back and staring at the clear blue sky. “This isn’t working,” he repeated, not even bothering to sit up.

Nephthys sighed. “It never will with that attitude.” She prodded him with the wooden blade-tip. “Come on, up you go. Swing that sword!”

He hadn’t noticed when Caddie stood up from the bench, but she walked over and picked up his sword off the dusty ground of the sparring ring. “Let him sit down a moment,” she said. “See how it’s done.”

Nephthys frowned. “He’s not going to learn if he can’t experience it.”

“The three steps to learning,” Caddie reminded her. “You skipped two of them.”

“Read, watch, do,” Nephthys sighed. “Never helped.”

“Maybe didn’t help you,” Caddie said, raising an eyebrow and pointing the wood at Nephthys, “but maybe it would help some other people. At least let him watch, if you won’t get around to reading. You’ve been working him too much.”

Nephthys sighed again. “Fine. One match.”

Arion gave Caddie a grateful smile as he passed her and plonked down onto the bench next to Artemis, whose eyes peered over her black tail, which was draped over her nose. “Cadmea is reluctant to lead, but is an excellent fighter, both physically and spiritually,” she growled.

“What?” Arion asked, his attention mostly focused on the two girls circling each other in the ring. He didn’t notice when Artemis didn’t reply.

Caddie struck first, lunging forward with a feint to the upper body, then swept down to Nephthys’s legs. Nephthys didn’t react quickly enough and fell backwards, but caught herself with a quick roll and leapt to her feet.

Caddie wasn’t done, though. She jumped forward again, attacking on all sides, and it took all Nephthys had to keep blocking, never able to get a blow in. Arion suddenly realized he wouldn’t ever want her as an enemy.

“Cadmea is holding back,” Artemis murmured.

Great. As if Arion needed another reason to be wary of the fox hybrid.

The fight went on for a while in this fashion, until Caddie started to exhaust herself and backed off a little, leaving room for Nephthys to attack. Now Caddie was the one blocking, and Nephthys struck at every opportunity. It wasn’t long before both were tired out, and they ended at a stalemate.

“That was a good fight,” Nephthys panted, smiling at Caddie, who grinned back. “Where did you learn that back-twist?”

“Lycaon was my teacher,” Caddie said proudly, although her voice held a touch of sadness. “He was a tough one, but good.”

Artemis stood up, stretched, and slid off the bench, with Arion close behind as she approached the girls. “Interesting,” she meowed, her eyes boring into Caddie.

“What?” Caddie frowned, confused.

“We need to talk.” Artemis flicked her tail.

“Okay..” Caddie straightened up and followed Artemis, leaving Nephthys and Arion alone together in the ring.

“Welp.” Nephthys looked up at the sky – it was well past midday already, surprisingly. “Too late to keep practicing now, because I’m supposed to be meeting someone in an hour or so. Go ahead and rest, do some stuff. Get to know the townspeople, because we’ll be here awhile.”

She sent Arion back to Caddie’s house to relax a little while she went off in the direction of the security station. As Arion pressed his hand to the recognition pad and pushed open the now-unlocked door, he thought about the day’s events. He wasn’t sure how he could control his clumsiness, but he could certainly try.

He was just about to sit down on the couch when he noticed a small stack of books piled on the table. He picked one up and read the title.

Silver Stones – A Guide to Forging and Sword-Choosing.” He stared at it for a moment, then flipped it over and read the back. “‘This guide will show you exactly how to forge a custom sword. If you can’t, it will at least show you how to choose the right one for you.’”

The other books were history books about wars and historic battles. A note was on the top, scribbled in the same messy handwriting he’d seen on Caddie’s drawings upstairs. He read this aloud as well.

“‘Arion – this is the reading part of the learning process. Take a look at these books – I think you’ll find them useful.’”

Arion stared again at the pile of books, then picked one up and began to read.