Erk was breathing hard and kneeling on his hands and knees in the training grounds outside the guild. He and Crest had been training for what seemed like hours and Erk was almost completely out of magic. But not once during this entire time had he been able to breach Crest's defenses.
Erk glared at the other mage. Crest hadn't even moved from his spot yet. He pounded his fist into the ground and rose shakily to his feet. "Let's go…one more time." He said between breaths.
Crest looked at him for a moment before frowning and shaking his head. "No this is enough. You're overworking yourself and you're out of magic. If we continue you'll only get hurt."
Erk growled in frustration. "Not yet. I need to keep training." He said, remembering the deal between Jack and the train master.
As if reading his thoughts, Crest softened a bit. "I know you are in a hurry, but you still need to take care of yourself. What would happen if you got hurt because you over exhausted yourself? You'd lose valuable training time." He walked over to the younger mage and put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, there will be plenty of time for training after you rest." With that said, he started walking back towards the guild.
Erk watched him go for a few moments before he fell backwards onto the ground with his arms spread. A cool breeze went by and he closed his eyes as he took one last deep breath. Now that he was thinking about it, he was feeling completely exhausted. Maybe he had been pushing himself too hard. He suddenly remembered something his grandpa once told him. Even a train made of the strongest steel will break if put under enough pressure.
As he lay there, he heard footsteps approaching him. He opened an eye and was surprised to see Lucinda and Saraphina standing over him. "Hey there, lazy bones." Lucinda said with a sly grin. "What are you doing down there? Shouldn't you be training?"
Erk's eyebrow twitched. He had no doubt that she had witnessed a good portion of his training. A lot of the guild members watched every now and then for entertainment. They liked to see the new guy go up against the human wall.
"I don't know," Erk replied with his usual snark, "shouldn't you be getting chased by Julio?"
Lucinda smiled and folded her arms over her corset in a way that made her curves more prominent. "It's not my fault he's fallen for my obvious charms." She said it in a way that made Erk roll his eyes. Julio always hounded after pretty girls and he'd chosen Lucinda as his new target. Everyone in the guild laughed at him because he didn't stand a chance, but she seemed to enjoy teasing him.
"You shouldn't say things like that, milady." Sara said disapprovingly.
Lucinda sighed and dropped her arms. "You really are a stick in the mud, you know that?" She said to her friend. Then she turned back to Erk and crouched down next to him. "You know, I was watching earlier and I thought of something."
"That's a first. Did it hurt?"
Lucinda glared at him and hit him on the head. "No! And do you want my help or not?"
"Ouch!" Erk yelled, rubbing the sore spot on his head before sitting up to look at her. "Fine, fine. What were you thinking?" He asked.
Lucinda stood up and looked at the training field. "Well your magic builds up power the longer you run right?" She asked. "Maybe you'd be able to do more damage if you started running a little farther away."
Erk shook his head. "I don't think I should try that. I'm not sure how long I can go before I lose control. It's safer if I keep to short distances for now."
Lucinda glared at him. "And how do you expect to master anything like that? A true mage doesn't just do what's safe; a true mage will look danger in the face and laugh at it." She raised a hand into the air and brought it down to point at the speed mage. "You need to chart your own course. If it's dangerous, then dive in head first no matter what happens."
She gave him a brief smile before walking away with Sara close behind. Erk thought about what she said and smirked. "Well crap. She actually said something helpful."
He went back to laying on the ground after that and stayed that way until the sun began to sink. Standing up, he brushed himself off and readjusted his goggles so that they rested on his head. "Guess I should stop moping and get ready for tomorrow."
The next day, Erk walked up to the training field to find a surprise waiting for him. Instead of Crest waiting for him, it was Bertrand.
"Uh, hey Bert. What are you doing here?" Erk asked awkwardly.
Bertrand glared at him and raised his cane threateningly. "Respect your elders! My name is Bertrand! Not Bert!" He lowered his cane back to the ground and grunted. "We've been talking about your training regimen and we've decided that maybe Crest's way of teaching is too straight forward for you." A mischievous gleam entered his eyes. "So we're switching it up a bit."
"Okay." Erk said hesitantly. "So…what are we doing?"
Bertrand let out a chuckle. "It's quite simple." He brought up his cane and brought it back down with a thud. "While we've been teaching you the fundamentals of combat, you've yet to learn anything about using magic effectively. Today I'm going to teach you about concentration." He started pacing back and forth. "When using magic, if you lose concentration you lose control. You must always be concentrating on your magic, your objective, your focus." He suddenly slammed his staff into the ground again. "That is what you shall do today. I'm going to set up a field and you need to concentrate on those three things. Three of our guild mates will be hiding in the field. You must tag each one of them in order to succeed and you must use your magic to tag each one." He raised an eyebrow. "Are you up to it, youngster?"
Erk took in what Bertrand just told him. Then he grinned and pulled his goggles over his eyes. "This ought to be interesting." He put himself into a runner's sprint. "Let's go!"
Bertrand smiled. "Then let's begin." He slammed his cane into the ground again. "Foggy Realm." Fog began seeping from the end of the cane, quickly spreading over the entire field. After only a few seconds, Erk couldn't even see him anymore.
"Remember to concentrate." Erk heard Bertrand say. "Without it, you have no chance at success." There was a pause. "And I forgot to mention, if you fail you'll be forced to work in the pumpkin patch for an entire week."
"What!?" Erk shouted. Working in the pumpkin patch was the worst punishment someone can get. The Master wanted everything to be perfect for his pumpkins and he forced whoever was working the fields to go to hellish lengths to make sure everything met his specifications. He began looking around frantically but the fog obscured everything from sight. He noticed himself starting to panic so he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes, he looked around again, concentrating on any subtle movements in the fog.
Then he noticed it. A slim shape moving to his right. He grinned victoriously. "Found you!" He got into a runner's sprint and a yellow circle appeared behind him with the sound of a train whistle. "Steam Engine!" He shot off towards the shape but as he neared it, it vanished. He stopped in surprise and looked around. "What! Where'd it go?"
The fog suddenly began to clear around him and he heard a voice say, "That's rude. I'm not an 'it', I'm a she."
Erk gulped and slowly turned around. Becky was standing behind him. "Oh great!" He shouted. "Why do I have to fight you of all people?"
Becky shrugged nonchalantly. "It's not my fault you can't beat me." She got into a battle stance. "Now come on. I could be sleeping instead of this."
Erk gritted his teeth. "Fine. Here I come! Steam Engine!" With another burst of speed he charged at the red headed girl, intent on tagging her out.
But just as Erk reached out to grab her, Becky narrowed her eyes. "Take Over: Serpent Soul!" She became shrouded in bright light and Erk grabbed nothing but air as she turned into a small black snake, twisting herself out of his reach. With a hiss, she slithered away from him at a fast pace.
Erk growled and charged at her again. Twice he attempted to catch her and twice she stayed just outside of his reach. With an angry huff, he glared at the Take Over mage. She was so small and flexible that it was impossible to catch her. He was sure he could catch her on speed alone, but that would mean he'd have to run away to get some distance and he didn't dare let her leave his sight. Plus, she could always just move to the side to dodge him if she saw him coming.
"Concentrate." She said bluntly. Her voice sounded strange coming out of the snake. "Remember what Bertrand said. You need to focus."
Instead, he muttered, "Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate. That's all they tell me to do." But despite his angry muttering, he took a deep breath and focused on Becky. He took in the sound of her hisses and her black scales dragging against the ground. He noticed the way her serpentine body slithered from side to side. And he even took note of the angle which she was moving. He calculated where he thought she was going to end up next and put on a burst of speed. "I've got you now!" With a yell of defiance, he rushed at her and scooped her up before she could react.
"That took a while." She said dryly as she dangled from his hand. "If I'd been allowed to fight back you wouldn't have found it this easy. Now put me down before I bite you."
Erk raised his eyebrows as he tossed her back to the ground. "Easy? You think that was easy? That was hard!"
Becky flicked her tongue at him before she began to glow and she returned to her normal form. "Like I said. Not my fault you aren't that strong." Then she yawned and started walking away. "Now go find the others. I'm going to take a nap."
Erk rolled his eyes at her as the fog thickened again, hiding her from sight. Then he turned and concentrated on finding the next person. "One down, two to go."
It took him a moment to notice it. The soft steps of someone walking nearby. He crouched to the ground and smiled. This time, I'll get the jump on them. It'll be over before it starts. With the sound of another whistle, he charged to where he heard the sounds coming from, only for the sound to suddenly vanish. He stopped and listened. The sound was coming from behind him now. He must have passed whoever it was accidentally.
He charged back the way he came but, again, he heard the footsteps coming from behind him. He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Wait a minute…" Then it hit him. He dragged a hand down his face and groaned. "Is that you Lucinda?"
He heard a giggle. "Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner!" Erk blinked and suddenly Lucinda was standing in front of him. "What? Didn't you think I'd be participating in this? It's perfect for me!" With a wave of her hand, a portal opened up next to her and she jumped through it. "Catch me if you can!"
Erk groaned again. This was going to be difficult. Catching her was going to be nearly impossible. "What's the matter?" Lucinda said through the fog. Then suddenly, her voice was behind him. "Giving up already?" She started laughing and Erk had to keep turning his head to follow her voice. He remembered what Bertrand told him. Magic, objective, focus. In his fight with Becky, his objective was to catch before she moved. But it would take more than that to track Lucinda. Her Transport Magic let her move from place to place in the blink of an eye. He had to focus on her.
He concentrated on the sound of her voice, tracking it whenever he popped up somewhere different. That's when he noticed a pattern. Behind, left, forward, right, and then behind again. And it was always from the same spot. She was going in a pattern. So all he had to do was time his charge with the next space she would be standing in and he'd have her. But he'd wasted a lot of magic chasing after Becky so he had to make this one count.
He waited until he heard her to his left before he ran straight ahead. "Steam Engine!" Right as he stepped in front of the place he knew Lucinda would be, a portal opened and she jumped out of it. She was able to look at him in surprise for only a moment before he collided with her, causing both of them to tumble to the ground in a heap.
"Geez!" She groaned. She'd landed on top of him, using his stomach as a cushion. She rubbed her back and kicked him in the stomach. "Hold back a little next time, would you? That hurt."
"Oomph!" Erk groaned at the kick. "Why don't you stay still next time?" He asked. "Now get off me. I've still got one person to find."
Lucinda pouted at him before she stood up and brushed herself off. "Good luck with that." She said slyly. She opened up another portal. "Cause this one's going to be a doozy." With that said, she jumped through her portal.
Erk stood back up, rubbing the spot where she'd kicked him. "One more and then I win." He said with a grin. But then he frowned in thought. "But who's it going to be?"
As if waiting for him to say that, the fog around him began to clear slightly, until he noticed a dark figure standing on the complete other side of the field. The figure was obviously male and had his arms crossed in a fashion that Erk was all too familiar with.
"Oh no." He groaned. The fog cleared a little more, revealing Crest standing there with a confident look on his face.
"So now it's my turn." He said, uncrossing his arms. "This won't be like our normal spars. Because once you tag me, you win."
Erk perked up at that. It was true. He didn't need to do any damage he just had to tag him. He didn't give Crest any more time to talk. He ran straight at him at full speed. "Here I come!" Crest just stood confidently, not moving an inch as Erk ran closer and closer, picking up speed as he did. But just as he got close enough to touch, Crest raised a hand and a glowing blue wall appeared between him and Erk.
With a shout, Erk ran straight into the wall. He didn't even dent it. He staggered backwards with his hand on his head. He shook the spots out of his vision and looked at Crest in surprise. He had never seen the man use his magic before.
"You'll need to do more than that to get past this shield." Crest said.
Erk backed up with a committed look on his face. "I guess this is where I concentrate my magic." He said to himself. But can I get past that shield without causing a train wreck? He thought worriedly. Then he remembered what Lucinda had told him the day before. If it's dangerous, then you need to dive in head first, no matter what happens.
A new fire was lit in Erk's eyes as he backed away from Crest, going as far as he could inside the fog without losing sight of him. Once he was far enough away, he starting gathering all of the magic he could. He almost lost it a few times, but he managed to concentrate it into what he needed. Then, while he still had a hold of it, he ran forward again. "Steam Engine: Full Throttle!" The magic circle appeared again with an even louder whistle than normal. He burst forward with so much speed he was surprised that he didn't trip over himself.
In front of him, Crest smiled wolfishly. "That's it! Show me what you're made of!" With a yell of defiance, Erk rammed right into the shield, his magic still running strong. He could feel the barrier that usually protected him started to strain and crack under the massive amount of pressure he was putting it under, but he didn't let up. He kept on focusing on going through the shield.
"Good!" Crest shouted encouragingly. "Give it all you've got. Don't let up!"
Erk kept pouring in all the magic he could, trying to keep the spell moving him forward. But just as he thought he would run out of magic, a crack appeared in Crest's shield. The crack spread and Erk gave one last yell as he broke through the barrier and rammed into Crest with enough force it pushed the man backwards.
Crest just caught Erk and dug his feet into the ground so that he wouldn't be knocked to the ground. He kept getting pushed until Erk's spell finally faded, leaving the two completely outside the area of fog that Bertrand had created.
"I…win." Erk managed to say. But he had used up all of his magic. With a grin plastered on his face, he fell unconscious.
Crest chuckled as he kept hold of Erk so he wouldn't fall to the ground. He smiled as Bertrand dispelled his fog and walked over to them with a slightly pleased look on his face. "Now how about that. The boy has some potential in him after all." He said, poking the unconscious Erk in the side with his cane. "I'm actually surprised he broke through your shield." He gave Crest a sideways glance. "You didn't go easy on him did you?"
Crest smirked. "Not at all. He broke through with his own power. He may be too proud to admit it, but he's scared of what might happen if he used his magic to its fullest. That accident at the train yard had him second guessing himself." Then he hefted Erk onto his shoulder and gestured back to the guild. "Let's go back now. The others are waiting to hear how it went."
"Bah!" Bertrand said, putting one hand behind his back. "They can wait. It's no use rushing these old bones." He set off towards the guild and Crest could only shake his head with a smile as he followed him.