Work in Progress

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Chapter 11

Rounding the corner of the mansion, Derek saw the smaller building a little bit away from the main mansion. It sort of resembled a small house, almost like a garage. He put his hands in his pockets and walked over to the small brick building. The roof was slanted with grey shingles and there were no windows anywhere, however there were some patches of bricks which were out of place, which hinted at windows which had been blocked off. The door was a sturdy oak and had a small brass knocked in the shape of a hammer.

Derek tapped the knocker against the door a couple of times and was rewarded by what sounded like angry shouting, followed by the sounds of something falling over. There were a series of clicks as the door was unlocked and finally, the door opened to reveal a short man in an exquisite suit. He had a long beard which was braided in two and wore a pair of spectacles on his hooked nose. His hair was blonde and his brow looked like it was cramped in a scowl.

“… Rush me, for crying out loud!” The man barked. He looked up and saw Derek and mumbled something impossible to make out. “So you’re the cockroach I’ve heard about.” He muttered. “Training equipment, yes? I’ll have it ready by tomorrow morning.” And with that, the man slammed the door back shut before Derek even had a chance to speak.

Derek shrugged and turned away. If that was Sub, he wasn’t sure he wanted to annoy the guy. Whatever his clothes were made out of, they were a lot tougher than anything Derek had ever had in the past. He’d ended up just accepting that these very comfortable and, to be honest, good looking clothes also doubled up as armour. He didn’t quite expect the creator of the clothes to be so… Grumpy. Then again, being stuck in that place would likely put anyone in a bad mood.

He went back around to the front of the house, momentarily casting a glance over all the statues and feeling every-so-slightly uneasy. He pushed the thought from his head, however, and walked into the mansion. He looked around for a second before going left, through the large archway and into what appeared to be a dining hall. There was a long table in the centre of the room which had high-backed chairs along each side and one at either end. The table itself was empty, the dark wood reflecting the light cast from the electric chandelier above it. On the right wall was a large painting of what looked like a family. On an armchair was an elderly man with a warm expression. He was wearing a very sharp suit. A dark blue jacket, white shirt, black tie and trousers to match the jacket. Standing beside him was a smiling woman. She wore a long and modest dress which covered her whole body and had a fairly low neckline. Her blonde hair was tied up in a bun. Standing in front of both of them were a small boy and what looked like a teenage girl. The boy had brown hair and wore a small jacket, shirt, a bow tie and shorts. He had a smile, too. The girl had blonde hair and wore a green dress, similar in style to the woman’s except with a higher neckline. The girl was pretty and had a big smile on her face.

The whole picture was framed in a gold frame of elaborate design. The frame had a plaque, which Derek stepped forward to read.

Syman

He looked up at the picture once more and couldn’t help but smile.

“Dinner’s not for another four hours.” A voice said from behind him. He spun around and saw Janice standing in the archway. She was looking up at the picture. “The family who built this place,” She said, walking forward. “Edward and Margaret Syman, the kids are Liam and Helen.”

“Do you know a lot about the mansion?” Derek asked.

“Not as much as I’d like.” She replied. “Fryna told me a bit of its history and some of the stories. Apparently, Liam wasn’t that innocent later in life. When he inherited this place, he turned it into a brothel. Luckily, his son managed to turn it around when he died.”

“Seriously?” He looked back up at the child in the picture and tried to see him as a pimp. Thankfully, the image didn’t come to his mind so he abandoned it. “How long did you spend here?” He asked instead.

“About a week.” Jane replied. “It was about seventy years ago, I’d only just decided to stop relying on others to protect me.” Derek couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t mention Rust. He decided not to ask any questions. “It’s going to be tough, Cockroach. Fryna Starkad likes a laugh, sure but when it comes down to business, well…” She smirked evilly. “Let’s just say I’ve got a fiver on you giving up before the first week.”

“Hey, just because I’m not exactly Hugh Jackman, doesn’t mean I’ll fail.” He replied defensively. “Besides, how hard can it be?”
At this, Jane laughed for the first time since Derek had met her. At this moment, though, Derek wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the punchline of the joke.

“I barely made it past the first week.” She said. “It gets easier after the first week, though. Fryna’ll make sure you’re at least a half decent fighter before we leave here.”

“Oh, your friend will be half decent after a week.” Fryna walked into the room and smiled at both of them. “After the second week, he’ll be a proper warrior.”

“Warrior?” Derek blinked. “What do you mean? Like the sword-swinging, clanking armour, fight for honour, all that stuff?”

“Oh, no!” Fryna laughed. “That would be a knight. A warrior is simply someone who fights with weapons. Your motives and goal don’t matter, you simply need to wield a weapon with effectiveness.” She then drew one of the swords at her hip and began spinning it around in the air, not even moving her arm. The blade whistled and flashed, her hand a blur as she worked to keep it steady. With her other hand, she reached into a pocket and took out a small carrot, which she then threw into air. For a few seconds, it seemed like the carrot just raised in the air and fell normally. Derek was slightly confused before the carrot hit the floor and split into a hundred tiny pieces. The sword then stopped dead, the blade just underneath Derek’s chin. He looked down at it and gulped before it disappeared and was in the sheath a second later.

“Mr Monroe, I will not teach you everything about swordplay.” Fryna said. “From me, you will learn the basics. It will be up to you to discover your own style and technique. If you adopt a known style, your enemies will know how to counter it. If you create your own, they will know nothing about it.” She smiled and turned. “Don’t be afraid to ask myself or Janice to spar if you have free time, either.” She said as she walked away.

Derek turned to Jane who spoke before he could open his mouth.

“Don’t even bother asking.” She said before she, too, turned and walked out. Derek just smirked and waited a minute before going to explore the rest of the mansion.


Light flooded the bedroom and a bell rang loudly in Derek’s ears. He groaned and turned, pushing his face into the pillow and putting his hands over his ears. He heard what sounded like a sigh before he was suddenly drenched in ice cold water. He sat bolt upright, shouting out as his muscles all tightened at once. He shivered, breathing hard and looked around, taking a few moments to recognise the swords on the walls, the bed and David, who was putting a bucket down beside the door.

“Your training attire is on the dresser… Derek…” He still sounded like he was being held at gunpoint when he said Derek’s name. “I would advise starting your laps as soon as possible, else you won’t have time for breakfast.” The butler bowed and stepped out of the room.

Derek wiped the water from his face and got out of the bed, shaking his head clear and looking over to the dresser. On top, folded neatly, was a new set of clothes, the same dark blue as his previous outfit but this one was a lot looser and still weightless. He dressed in a sleeveless top, shorts and a pair of trainers. He looked like a bad basketball player. He sighed and stepped outside. He saw Janice, wearing a very soft looking dressing gown and with a towel wrapped around her head like a turban. She looked over him and it was obvious she was struggling to keep a straight face. Derek almost felt the same; he’d never seen Jane in anything normal. She always looked ready for a fight, it was strange seeing her in such an everyday set of clothing.

He pushed the thought from his head, though, and walked downstairs before stepping outside. The snow had kept falling through the night, covering all the grounds in a thick blanket of snow. Derek shivered slightly before he set off at a jog. Thankfully, there was a path around the mansion that had already been dug out, as well as the ground-level balcony which was surrounded by a thick stone railing.

Derek passed the front door again and was already breathing pretty heavily. He kept going, however, and just kept breathing. An hour later, he was at forty laps and his legs and lungs were burning. He had a stitch in his side and pushed against it as his gym teacher used to always say. He kept jogging, now moving at a much slower pace, counting down the laps in his head. He now realised the mistake of not drying is hair before coming out here: the water that’d been splashed on him had frozen and his hair was now very brittle and tough. He couldn’t move his head that much so he just kept it down as he jogged.

Finally, nearly an hour later, Derek counted the hundredth lap and sat heavily on the bottom step leading to the front doors. He completely ignored the biting cold that suddenly hit his rear end, instead welcoming it and leaning forward. He was panting heavily and had long since just accepted the pain of the now near unbearable stitch in his side which only got worse with every breath he took. His body was shining in sweat and he’d managed to stop his hair from turning into a flat ice block by shaking his head every now and then. After fifteen minutes of just sitting there, he stood up and groaned as he stretched his aching muscles and joints before making his way up the rest of the stairs to the large double doors.

Before he reached the doors, however, the left hand one opened to reveal David, as handsome and flawless as ever.

“Madame Starkad has asked me to inform you of a change in your schedule, Mr Monroe.” He said. Derek didn’t pay any attention to how he was addressed. “Please make your way to the exercise gymnasium.”

“What? I’ve got two hours before those exercises!” Derek argued, confusion in his voice.

“It was Ms Thorne who suggested it, sir. She suggested to Madame Starkad to change your upper body exercises to whatever time you finished your laps on the first day, thus to encourage you to work harder so you may have time for breakfast.”

Derek started to argue but stopped. He narrowed his eyes and grumbled under his breath before following David inside and making his way to the gym. No doubt Jane just wanted him to give up. He won’t give up so easily, especially not for Jane. As he headed towards the stairs leading downwards, he passed Jane and Fryna heading upstairs, laughing at something. Jane glanced at Derek with that smug look in her eye and he just scowled back. When he got to the gym, he picked up one of the many clean towels hanging from the wall and dried his face of sweat before taking another deep breath and starting his exercises. There was an updated timetable on the wall, right next to one that was nearly three times as long as his own and had the title Fryna Starkad.

Derek started with a set of dumbbells. There was a pair which were set aside from the main set and they had his name on a sheet of paper underneath them. He picked them up and they were heavy but liftable. He took another breath and began to lift them. He started by holding them at his side then lifting his arm until it was ninety degrees from his body, keeping his arm straight. It was relatively easy to start with but as he did more, he felt the burn in his muscles. When he couldn’t lift his right arm anymore, he started on his left. By the time his left arm was too tired, his right arm was ready to go.

He did this for an hour before he started pushups, situps and pullups. Fairly standard exercises, even if he did struggle with them for a bit. After an hour of those, he grabbed a pair of large, strong elastic bands which were looped through a pair of metal loops which were screwed to the ground. The bands were only about the length of his shin to begin with, the perfect length for him to hold them with his arms at his sides. He then began stretching them, gritting his teeth as he pulled on the elastic, one at a time, until his hands were level with his shoulder before slowly letting them down again.

For the next few hours, he did these exercises and various others. Suffice to say, he was rather sore afterward. By the time David walked in again at midday, Derek was drenched in sweat again and was panting heavily as he repeatedly lifted the dumbbells. David cleared his throat.

“Mr Monroe, if you would refresh yourself for lunch.” The butler said. “Lunch will be served in the dining hall.” He then bowed and stepped back out of the room. Derek put the dumbbells on the ground and sighed before heading to the shower room adjoining the gym. He took off his workout clothes and stepped under the lukewarm spray, letting the water relax his muscles and clean his body of the sweat. Something must’ve been in the water because he felt stronger when he stopped the water, almost like he hadn’t been pushing his body to the limit at all. He felt almost as if he’d just woken up.

He stepped out of the shower and saw his regular clothes, the dark blue leather jacket hanging from a coat hanger and the rest folded on a bench with the boots tucked underneath. He was instantly glad he’d pulled the curtain when he stepped into the shower. He slipped on the weightless, warm clothes and made his way upstairs. He slowed slightly to regard the many swords on the walls, amazed at the intricacy and craftsmanship in each blade and hilt. He reached the dining hall at half twelve.

“Good afternoon, Derek!” Fryna smiled and gestured to the seat opposite Jane. She was sitting at the far end of the table, wearing similar clothing to yesterday but light grey in colour. Jane was wearing her usual green clothes. Derek sat down and looked around uncertainly. He’d never been in a chair like this before, let alone eaten in a place like this. He was used to eating dinner in front of his computer as he watched videos online or watched TV shows with his sister.

“Given up yet?” Jane asked with that same smug smirk from the morning.

“Not even close.” Derek replied with a grin.

“Don’t get used to the Spring Water, Mr Monroe.” Fryna said. “For today and tomorrow, you’ll shower with the water which soothes your joints and muscles and sharpens your mind. However, after that, you will wash with normal water and your aches and pains will carry with you throughout the day.”

Derek’s face fell and Jane just managed to hold back a laugh. Before any of them could say any more, three butlers walked in from a side door, each carrying a silver platter covered with one of those domes that all the posh people used. Fryna’s dome was removed to reveal a plate which was half salad, including lettuce, tomatoes, onion and cucumber, and the other half was taken over by a large steak which made Derek’s mouth water. She had a glass of what looked like green sludge. It was a sickly green and looked like blended grass.

Jane’s dome was removed next and her meal was similar to Fryna’s, with the steak being replaced by a slice of chicken breast and a little stuffing. She had a glass of plain water. At least, it looked like water.

Finally, Derek’s dome was removed and he looked down at the plate on the platter. His meal consisted of a bowl of soup, a salad and a glass of the same sickly green liquid in Fryna’s glass. The soup looked like tomato soup, with a small leaf resting in the centre like something a famous chef would do. The salad consisted of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrot and what looked suspiciously like a sliced jalapeno pepper. He glanced briefly at Jane and Fryna’s meals before looking back down at his own, feeling a little bit jealous. After a few seconds he shrugged internally and picked up the spoon beside the bowl. He was thankful that there was only one spoon, too. He knew about rich and posh people who had fifteen spoons, forty knives, eighty seven forks… In Derek’s opinion, a spoon was a spoon. It’s a small, shallow bowl on the end of a stick which holds liquids, typically soup or cereal.

He took a mouthful of the soup and instantly realised that this was not, in fact, tomato soup. It was far more sour and had a metallic taste. Derek had always loved lemons but even so, this soup made his face tighten up and he struggled to swallow the mouthful.

“”You’ll get used to the soup.” Fryna said after swallowing a bitesize piece of steak. “It’s a rather original flavour, don’t you agree? It helps strengthen your internal organs and bones so you can withstand more punishment. Not only that, it also helps quicken the removal of unneeded fat and build strength.”

“Did Jane eat this when she was training?” Derek asked.

“No, I just had regular meals.” Janice replied. “Fryna feeds her students what they need to improve.”

“And you were but a twig when you came to me.” Fryna replied with a chuckle. “Granted, a fighting twig yet you could barely hold your training sword.”

Jane glared at her but stayed silent. Fryna then turned back to Derek.

“You’ve already made progress.” She said. “Tomorrow, you’ll have a little bit of time for a slice of toast for breakfast. This time next week, you should have time for bacon, eggs and beans. Of course, you won’t be having that but you understand what I mean.” She smiled and continued to eat, as did Jane. Derek smoothed his hair back with his clear hand and continued to eat his soup.

He got used to the taste after a few spoonfuls and when he was done, he quickly ate the salad and hesitated at the drink. He took a breath and tasted a small bit of it. It tasted like a cross between grass and apple. He took another deep breath and drank the whole glass as quickly as he could before shaking his head clear and coughing a few times. As soon as he was finished, the platter was taken out from under his hands by one of the butlers, who took it back through the door which Derek guessed led to the kitchen.

He looked up at the clock above the portrait of the Syman family. It was five to one, so he stood up and began walking to the back of the house. He still couldn’t help regarding the swords on every wall. There were never two swords that were the same, not even similar. All of them were original and looked custom made. When he looked down from the walls again, he was at the large glass double doors that led to the small patio on the back of the mansion, the one with the stone railing. Fryna was standing there, a sword in each hand. One of them was her won sword and the other was different. It looked like a katana, a very simple sword with an unremarkable blade and plain hilt.

Derek opened the door and stepped outside. He shivered slightly from the cold but quickly pushed that down. He’d always preferred the cold to the warmth. He took a breath, enjoying the feeling of the cold air entering his lungs, and began to draw the shadows into his hand to make his sword.

“You won’t need to do that.” Fryna said and Derek stopped, slightly confused. The Swedsh sword master flipped the katana into the air and pinched the blade between her fingers before holding the hilt out to Derek. He took the sword and instantly realised how light it was. It was almost weightless, as if it was made of Styrofoam.

“Now, attack.” Fryna stood across from him, sword at her side and with a small smile on her lips.

“Wait, what? Attack you?” Derek asked.

“Yes, attack me. Try and kill me.”

“Are you serious? Kill you?”

“Oh, you won’t kill me. You’ll try to kill me. There’s quite a difference.”

Derek took a breath and thought for a few seconds. Try and kill someone? He knew he was terrible with a sword, he’d never held one before in his life but what if he got a fluke? What if he somehow managed to kill Fryna?

“Are you waiting for the snow to melt?” Fryna said, snapping him out of his thoughts. “Either attack or let everyone on earth down. Even your little sister.” She smirked. It wasn’t the friendly, joking smirk he’d seen her use in the past twenty four hours. This one was almost like a taunt, as if saying ‘Come and get some.’

Derek gritted his teeth, held the sword in both hands and swung as hard as he could, his eyes closed. When the blade didn’t connect with anything, he stumbled slightly and was jerked to a stop by Fryna grabbing the back of his collar and pressing the blade of her own blade against his throat.

“Rage clouds judgement.” She said. “Focus on your enemy and block out all other thoughts.” She yanked him up and back, causing him to stumble again. “Again. Attack.”

He swung again, this time not putting as much effort into it. He pretended to stumble and swung the sword upwards as he bent down, anticipating Fryna to step in and grab his collar again. However, his blade hit thin air again and he felt her blade against his neck again, resting on his shoulder.

“Never use the same attack twice in one battle.” She said. “This makes you predictable and if your enemy knows your attacks, they can work to counter them.” She took the blade off his shoulder and began walking towards the mansion, her back to him. “Again. Attack.”

He stabbed this time, aiming the tip of his blade to Fryna’s lower back. Before it made contact, however, her own sword flipped in her hand and the blade swiped down at his, causing it to go between her legs. She snapped them together and jumped on the spot, turning as she did ad wrenching the sword from Derek’s grasp. As if on instinct, his right hand whipped out and the shadows flashed to his hand, forming the sword he’d made yesterday. He swung it at Fryna, feeling strange as he did. He saw a hint of uncertainty flash in Fryna’s face as she ducked under the blade and rolled to Derek’s left. He swung the sword back up, towards Fryna, who raised her own sword to block it.

The shadow sliced through the metal like it was nothing, causing two thirds of the blade to clatter to the floor.

Derek felt like he had when he’d pinned Clarrigan Garker to the wall. It was as if he couldn’t control his body, like he was a spectator watching through his own eyes.

Suddenly, Fryna’s boot connected with his back and he cried out, his back bending backwards as he dropped to his knees. His hand opened and the sword dissipated back into the shadow. He groaned and fell forward onto his hands, trying to bend his back but whenever he moved, it send shockwaves of pain through his back. He felt the touch of a blade against his neck again and didn’t even wonder what was happening.

“Janice told me you had no combat experience.” Fryna said, her voice now as cold as the stone ground below them.

“I don’t.” Derek replied. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened.”

“You handled yourself rather well. Unfortunately, you damaged one of my blades.” The metal left his neck and he heard the slight scrap of metal being picked up from the ground. “Luckily for you, I know somebody who can repair this without a mark.” She walked around in front of him and held out a hand. Derek raised his own and clasped her forearm. She yanked him to his feet and he took in a sharp breath through his teeth as pain shot through his back. “I apologise for the kick, it was all I could do to ensure you wouldn’t cause any more damage.” She smiled, a warm one this time. She then walked behind him and he felt the palm of her hand snap against the same area she’d kicked. He yelled again, however this time, the pain disappeared instantly.

“I’m sorry,” He said with a sigh. “So, is that it for me, then?”

“Hm?” Fryna raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I broke one of your swords. And I pretty much attacked you, are you still willing to help me?”

Fryna looked at Derek for a second before she let out a laugh.

“Young boy, you are not nearly as difficult as students I’ve had in the past! Of course I still wish to teach you! I enjoy when I mentor people to become masters of the sword. Now, pick up your training blade and we will try again. This time, I won’t disarm you.”

Derek nodded and picked up the katana that was still on the ground. He gripped it in his hand and took a breath.

“Now, the only technique you must remember is that the weapon is an extension of yourself.” Fryna said. “Think of it not as a weapon but as your own arm. Don’t rush into a battle blindly without analysing your foe. Take into consideration their size, their weapon, their stance. Then swing a punch using your blade, change direction if you need to. If they repel your attack, step back and reanalyse the situation. Now, once again. Attack.” She turned to face him again.

Derek rolled his neck and was about to swing again before he stopped and narrowed his eyes. He’d seen plenty of movies which showed training montages and instruction. His eyes looked over Fryna’s body, noting how she appeared to be in a casual stance. Her sword was in her left hand, her feet shoulder width apart, her right hand resting on her hip. He tightened his grip on the sword handle and stepped to the side.

Fryna smirked and side stepped as well, making sure he couldn’t get behind her. They continued circling for a few seconds before Derek lunged. He aimed high, stabbing towards her chest. Fryna raised her sword to block, however he moved the blade down at the last second, aiming for her thigh. The blade his nothing, though, as she’d raised her leg and now brought her boot down on the sword, forcing it to the ground. Derek managed to yank it away before it was pinned and lunged again, aiming for the stomach this time. Fryna’s blade swatted his away and he spun, using the momentum of the parry to swing the sword around with more force than last time. Again, it hit Fryna’s own sword and she smiled before effortlessly pushing it away. Derek stepped back again to reassess his attack.

For the next four hours, they continued like this. Derek kept pressing an attack, only to have Fryna push him back without moving anything except her sword arm. By the end of it, Derek was sweating, panting and the muscles in his right arm were burning and screaming at him to give them a rest. He smoothed his hair back and got ready to lunge again, his constant failures adding to his growing frustration.

“Enough.” Fryna said. “We’re done for the day. Get started with your laps and come to the dining room when you’re done.” She sheathed her sword and made her way back inside. Derek sighed and followed her back inside quickly to lean the sword against a wall. He then went back outside, climbed down the steps to the cleared path in the snow and began jogging again. It began to snow as he jogged and he was glad it was. Hopefully, it’ll cool him down more than the cold air as he worked.


When he’d finished his laps, he took a few moments to catch his breath and rest his burning legs. When he was done, he walked back into the mansion and made his way to the dining hall. When he stepped into the entrance hall, however, he looked at the clock and saw he had fifteen minutes to spare, so he walked up to his bathroom and had a quick shower before arriving in the dining room just in time for Fryna and Janice to arrive. They all took their seats and this time, Derek spoke first.

“What do you do here?” He asked Jane. “Do you just laze around and watch TV or speak with people…?”

Jane rolled her eyes. “”I exercise.” She replied. “Usually on the other side of the building from where you are.”

“I’m really shocked you haven’t tried flirting with David yet.” Fryna said, grinning at the glare from Janice.

“Why would I?” She snapped. “I’m not interested in anything.”

“It’s just that the majority of young ladies who come here tend to do anything to spend just one night with him.”

“Yeah, well I’m not a young lady and I’m not interested in spending a night with anyone.”

“Such a waste…” Fryna sighed. “Such a pretty girl and she doesn’t want to share her love with anyone.”

“What do you mean a waste? You don’t think I’ll find someone?” Jane was starting to turn red now.

“Well, not at this rate.” Fryna said with a sly smile. “Someone like you could have any man she desires, any suitors just hit a brick wall.”

“It’s not my fault they’re too weak to punch through it.”

“They shouldn’t have to punch through anything.”

“Yeah, well maybe I don’t want a guy who needs me to protect him.”

“Is that why you wanted me to train Mr Monroe here?”

If looks could kill, Fryna would be a cadaver immediately.

“I am not interested.” Jane growled trough gritted teeth.

“Oh, are you sure? I’m sure he could be quite a catch with a couple of weeks of work.” Fryna smirked. Jane took a deep breath and pushed her seat away from the table to sit up.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’m not quite hungry right now.” She muttered. “I think I’ll spend some time in the gym and retire for the night.”

Fryna nodded. “Of course, Ms Thorne. Sleep well.”

Once Jane left the room, Derek looked at Fryna with a puzzled look. She just laughed.

“That lady has always had trouble with men.” She said as their food arrived. Like with lunch, Fryna had a steak and salad. Derek, on the other hand, had what looked like chicken curry and rice. It smelled delicious.

“So do you always poke fun at her because of it?” He asked before putting a piece of chicken in his mouth. The curry sauce tasted very different from any he’d had before.

“From time to time. She needs to work on her anger.” Fryna sighed. “In honesty, it’s one of the reasons I agreed to train you. The girl needs someone to help her calm down and if she just had someone who’d stand up to her and not back down, that would help a great deal.”

“What about Rust?” Derek asked.

“He’s more of a father figure to her.” She replied. “And unfortunately, she’s stuck in the rebellious teenager stage. If you end up finding the Shadow Ruby with them and securing it, there’s a chance she might see you as more than a meat shield.”

“I somehow doubt that.” Derek chuckled. “I’m fine with being the meat shield. At least in the afterlife, I can tell her I wasn’t completely useless.”

“You won’t be meeting in the afterlife.” Fryna said sternly. “Because neither of you will die, not while I’m training you. If you end up being killed by Karl Glacier, I’ll consider it a failure on my part.”

“Do you really think I can be a good fighter?” Derek asked after a few seconds of silence. Fryna just smiled.

“Young man, with the right training, even a monkey could kill a soldier.”

After they finished their dinner, Derek stayed in the high-backed seat at Fryna’s behest while she went to do whatever it was she did after dinner. About fifteen minutes after she left, David tapped Derek on the shoulder.

“If you would follow me, Mr Monroe.” He said before turning on his heel and walking towards the door to the kitchen. He opened the door and held it open for Derek to walk through. He stepped into the kitchen and instantly saw the large pile of plates, bowls, knives, forks, spoons and every other dish, utensil, pot and pan you could think of, all stacked beside a large sink.

“For your first task, you’ll be washing the week’s dishes.” David said. “Do make sure to make sure everything is pristine with no specks of dirt anywhere. Once you’ve finished, meet me in the gym downstairs.” The butler then bowed, ironically, and left. Derek watched him leave before giving a small sight and walking towards the sink. He was glad his shirt and coat were sleeveless now.

He scrubbed the plates, bowls, saucers, cups, mugs, cutlery, knives, spatulas, ladles, pots and pans for nearly two hours before he was finally done. He made sure to inspect each dish before piling them on the other side of the sink, making sure they were all clean. For nearly every dish, he had to re-clean to get rid of a few bits of dirt.

When he’d finally finished, Derek sighed. His arms were burning again from scrubbing all the pots so roughly, trying to get the stuck pieces of steak and chicken off. Nearly two seconds after his muscles had stopped hurting, David walked in again.

“Mr Monroe, if you’ll accompany me, it’s time for you to polish Mistress Starkad’s swords.” He said and held the door open. Derek sighed and followed, shoulders slumped and head hanging. When he stepped through the door, David suddenly stopped him and stood in front of him. The butler tilted Derek’s head up and moved his arms up so his shoulders were straight.

“Always be prepared for a fight.” He said curtly. “Relaxing yourself is a risk you should save for when you’re absolutely sure you’re safe.”

“And I’m not safe now?” Derek asked. He was growing tired and his patience was growing thinner. From what he’d heard, butlers weren’t supposed to tell people what to do. David smiled at his question.

“Never assume a foreign territory is safe.” He said. “On every wall of this mansion is a weapon which can be used to kill you. However, keeping your shoulders straight and head up will also stop your muscles from aching more. Now, this way, please.” David turned on his heel and began walking, hands clasped behind his back again. Derek took a breath and slowly let it out before following, keeping a straight back and his head high this time.

After spending the next few hours gently wiping oil and polish on the blades and hilts of the many swords of the mansion, they arrived in Derek’s room and David gestured to the pile of cloth on the desk.

“Before going to bed each night, you’ll put a clean set of bedding on your bed.” He explained. “You’ll put the previous bedding in the basket by the door to be picked up by the cleaning staff during the night. Sleep well, Mr Monroe.” David then bowed again and stepped out of the room, closing the door behind him. Derek let out a breath and smoothed his hair back with both hands, groaning. He was very tempted to just put the clean bedding in the basket and call it a night but he knew—he knew—that David would know. So, he took off the old quilt cover, pillowcases and sheet from the bed, put them in the basket and worked on putting the new bedding on.

It took longer than he’d have liked, with the size of the bed playing a big factor in the difficulty. Finally, at quarter past midnight, Derek finished and just flopped onto the bed. He laid on the bed for what felt like seconds before he let the fatigue from the day wash over him and he was out for the count.

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